Maybe she'd gotten too comfortable with being out at night again.
Something was irking her, making her uncomfortable. She had to brush it aside. She was a tough woman, and there was nothing a little nighttime sight seeing was going to do to hurt her.
Her pace quickens unbeknownst to her, hands working on pulling up the length of her dress to keep herself from tripping. She just wanted to get this over with, after a long day of nothing it was difficult to find a place to stay where no one strange could see you and often she was left wandering around late at night — she hated this.
She'd receive the occasional odd glance, those people could see her, were wondering why she was wandering around like she was about to be married; but she always tried her best to ignore them and often succeeded in such by burying herself in thoughts.
Tonight was no different, just a means to pass the time and distract her from what she disliked. Rounding a corner she immediately stumbled back. She bumped into someone, and out of reflex, she apologized whether they could see her or not.
Why did it seem like the days were getting longer? He was exhausted: every muscle in his body screamed for rest. He had been on his feet nonstop all day, and the last time he remembered sitting down was during his lunch break. Over ten hours ago. His job was exhausting, sure -whose wasn't? - but, he needed to keep it. It was the only way he could find the answers he so desperately craved to know. This reason, this fact, kept him from losing his sanity.
He was on his way back to his apartment. It was late, the temperature dropping a degree every minute. His cold fingers were stuffed into his red jacket's pockets as he tiredly trudged on home. Everyone who walked past him looked the same: drained and humorless, devoid of any vibrance. That's really what everyone was at the end of the day: a slave and victim to their desires. Their desire to learn, to succeed, to grow, to love, to hate, to harm. How everyone went about achieving what they want varies, but in the end, everyone's just tired.
Barnaby heard hurried footsteps, but thought nothing of it. Until that person crashed straight into him. A flutter of skirts and dark hair flew back away. A girl. Upon further inspection: a woman. A very pretty one, to boot. She was suddenly apologizing, and he shook his hand for her to stop while he adjusted his skewed glasses. "I should have stepped out of your way. It's my fault. Don't worry." His sheepish smile, he hoped, was enough to convince her that he really meant it.
"No, no it was my fault, I wasn't looking where I was go-" She took in the sight of him. He's that hero she'd been seeing all over screens and billboards beside her husband. What was his name again… B… Barnaby Brooks Jr? A poster plastered on the far wall did help her confirm that, saving herself of the embarrassment. "I um, again I'm very sorry…" She looked around nervously before turning back to him. "I didn't hurt you did I?"
He shook his head. "The real question is if you're okay." This woman looked absolutely frazzled. A bit of guilt started to form in his stomach, because it was probably his fault for making her this way. He sighed inwardly. Like he needed to start a guilt trip on top of all his other stress. Despite that thought, he couldn't help but have his thoughts drift back to her. She had been running before they collided. Was she in danger? "Are you being chased?"
"I'm fine, don't worry about it." She smoothed out her dress and fixed her hair for a moment, eyes glancing around once more. People were starting to give Barnaby weird looks — of course he must look like he's talking to himself, and that's a bad wrap for a person such as him; she had to make this quick. "Chased? Goodness no. I just… don't like being out at night and I'm trying to find a place to stay…" The last of her words faded out and became quiet, hues glancing down.
"A… a place to stay?" Out of everything she said. Those words stuck on him. Was she homeless? Her appearance suggested otherwise: she was clad in nice clothes, her hair was shiny, clean and kept. Her perfume, from this distance, was gentle and floral. Definitely not the signs of poverty. Barnaby's eyes narrowed in thought; there had to be a reason why she didn't have a place to return to at this time of night. He couldn't help his suspicions growing, but they weren't so strong for him to just let her go on her way. "Do you need somewhere to spend the night?" It didn't matter that he was a Hero. From her facial expressions, she didn't let on that she recognized him. So, she didn't seem like a threat. So what harm would she cause in his apartment?
"I couldn't possibly do that… Barnaby; that'd really be wearing out my welcome quickly." She was relieved that he offered her a place — but staying with the King of Heroes? Kotetsu's partner and best friend? Of course her husband hadn't seen her, but it'd be bad if she were there and Kotetsu came over — the hero would look crazy. "I don't want to cause you any unnecessary trouble."
Barnaby…He grimaced when he heard his name roll off her lips. He had never revealed his name to her. So, his identity wasn't so secretive after all. Still, despite her knowledge of him, he still couldn't just leave her by herself on Sternbild streets in the dark. That went against his personal code of chivalry. Blond looks shook with his head, and he replied, "No trouble caused at all. I'd be worried the whole night if I knew you were alone out here all night. I wouldn't be able to sleep."
She saw the grimace right after she'd mentioned his name. That was probably a mistake, but despite that, he still welcomed her into his home. Why? She was a stranger wasn't she? She could be some homicidal NEXT for all he knew. Yet, his hospitality and worry made her smile.
He was relieved that she didn't protest too much, because he was too tired to try to persuade her. The fact that everything was going easier than planned was like having a small weight lifted from his chest. A sleepy smile later and he was resuming his trek back to his apartment, with the girl now in tow behind him. Where would she sleep? Barnaby's foggy brain decided that she'd get his bed, and he'd take the extra futon in the closet. He hoped that… that… His mind drew a blank for her name, and he suddenly felt sheepish when he realized that he never did ask for her name. Stifling a yawn -how impolite of him- he questioned her. "What exactly is your name?"
It took her a moment to get it through her head; she had to follow him of course. How else would she get to his home. Her foot steps were silent, for there was nothing on her feet to make noise, like his boots would or another person's shoes would.
Tomoe made sure to stay a few paces behind him, but not so far away that she'd lose sight of the tall blond. He seemed tired, his stride lacking what someone his height would normally take — she wondered if he was alright; but maybe it should be herself asking that same question. His voice made her stiffen, made her wonder if he knewabout her from Kotetsu, but Kotetsu wasn't the type to just talk about things that hurt him.
"Tomoe…. Kaburagi Tomoe."
His footsteps stopped suddenly. No. That wasn't right. The name fit though. It was the same last name as his partner. She had the same name as his deceased wife…the same description, the same warm personality… No, but it couldn't be. She had died years ago… right? Barnaby turned around, his face gravely seriously. "You're not married, are you…?"
If she'd not been paying attention she surely would have bumped into him after stopping so abruptly. She tried to mask her nervousness, push it down so that it wouldn't all come up as one big mistake. Easily, she slid her left hand behind her back, trying to hide the ring that so clearly matched that of her husband's.
"I…" She paused for a long moment, avoiding his gaze. "…was."
Scruples were forming in his stomach, his body starting to tense up, preparing for anything that might be in store. Peridot eyes narrowed, he struggled for words. This- This was Kotetsu's Tomoe.There was not a single doubt in the blond's mind that this woman had been the one that his partner fondly talked about, the wife that had him on the brink of tears when he was drunk, the person who he had created his child with. Barnaby felt sick all of a sudden. "You were married to Kotetsu, weren't you?"
She backed away from the blond — she didn't know what he was going to do, but something told her that she wouldn't be staying anywhere safe tonight. He'd probably already rethought his decision and didn't want her there, in his home. The man would probably shoo her along to Kotetsu, where she should be, or worse call him out.
She just didn't want to put Kotetsu through that pain.
"Please don't call him… I… he can't…"
"Why are you here? You're supposed to be dead." He couldn't understand why she had bumped into him tonight. He was angry, not at her, but because it was her. Why had she suddenly returned to Sternbild, come back to life? How could she do a thing like this, and why couldn't it be his parents instead of her? It was unfair, so fucking unfair, and Barnaby just didn't know why it had to be. Did every deceased person have the chance to come back? Then why hadn't they come back… Frustrated tears pricked the corners of his eyes, and he tried to swallow the lump in his throat. He didn't need to be feeling this. Not now.
She didn't know she could feel so unhappy to be in the presence of someone she just met not ten minutes before. It was almost as if he was blaming her for something she had no control over.
"It's not like I chose this!" She snapped and completely regretted it afterwards. He was crying. Why? It was her fault wasn't it? Her hands tentatively reached out for him, taking a step forward.
"B-Barnaby… I'm sorry…"
"Don't." He stepped back and glared at her through his teary eyes. The outlines of her body bled together with the city lights, making her more surreal than she already was. He refused to be comforted by a dead person. "Just tell me why you're here." His voice cracked halfway through his words, and he used every ounce of willpower to not start sobbing. Thank God, it worked. Once he lost his composure, it never came back too easily.
Tomoe retracted her hands, brows knit together tightly. She didn't know what to do, this wasn't like comforting a hurt child — this was a full grown man trying not to lash out at her.
"I don't know… I don't know." She said, all attempts at trying to make eye contact with him useless.
"How do you not know?" Those words took him by surprise. Barnaby wiped the tears out of his eyes, and looked at her. Really looked at her. She seemed to be admitting the truth. But, even if she was, how was that possible?
"Are you… alive?" He wondered if she had a pulse, like him. If her heart forced blood through her body, keeping cells alive to serve all of her body's functions. Did she feel pain? Could she eat? Could she breathe? Barnaby had so many questions to ask, so many flooding his unstable mind.
"I just don't know." She frowned, "I woke up in the same room I died in. That's what I remember from coming back here." It was the truth, and nothing but.
"Alive? Goodness no, I'm still very much dead — although I have minimal brain activity it seems. I'm more or less like a protozoan."
"So, what were you doing on the streets? Were you going back to see your husband?" His anger was dulling into something that wasn't quite compassion, and not yet pity. He couldn't imagine what this was like. After being dead so long, and then to come back to the world that you had departed from with no warning… She didn't seem to want to go see Kotetsu, so what was she doing? Was she just going to walk the streets alone, like so tormented spirit not able to find peace? Barnaby shivered. How lonely that must be…
"I can't…" Her eyes finally tore from the spot on the ground and looked up to him, filled with a guilty sort of sadness. "I've already tried." Weight was shifted to the opposite leg anxiously, eyes wandering again in thought.
"Doing on the streets? It's not like I have a place to go; I just wander around until I can find some sort of shelter." She looked up at the end of her sentence, a bright light flashing through dark and ominous clouds, the beginning sounds of rain taking over the city. She twitched as one fat drop landed on her cheek and then another, but even that left her unfazed as she lowered her head and gaze to look at Barnaby for any kind of response.
Barnaby exhaled slowly in an attempt to deflate himself from all of the stress and anxieties that filled him. It didn't work, not that he really was expecting it to. He nodded tiredly at Tomoe, and beckoned her to follow him. "You're coming home with me, then." He didn't exactly understand what she meant when she said that she tried (unsuccessfully) to visit her husband, but he didn't want to question her further out here. In the comfort of his own apartment, with a warm cup of tea in hand, was how he wanted to proceed this interrogation. He started walking, hoping that, like the rest of the ghosts that haunted his life, she would follow.
She tilted her head to the side, hesitantly following him after his instruction. The rain began to fall harder as time passed, and she quickly huddled at the blonde's side rather than staying behind a few paces. He didn't seem to be very affected by the weather, even without an umbrella. The man had such a stern face on, very unlike all of the posters and billboards, magazine articles and interviews he was seen in smiling cheerily. Perhaps it was just a mask, a bandage to hide the hurt underneath. Even still, the side that no one saw was a surprise — not unpleasant but not wanted either.
The silence was becoming unnerving, and she wondered just how much longer it would be until they got to his place of residence. Their hair was mopping wet, his pants had gone at least two shades darker from the rain, while her dress — unfortunately — had gone see through. Wonderful.