A/N: This story was written for the following prompt on the anon meme:
Kaede tries to give Kotetsu a surprise visit only to find Barnaby riding her father on the couch. Kotetsu then has to explain to his daughter as much as he loves having her around he would really like for her to tell him when she's arriving, also explain just what was going on.
This was my first fanfiction uh...ever, so please be gentle! And of course, please enjoy! (:
Also, a mega-awesome, wonderful artist!anon has begun to illustrate this story for me too! Wow! So far s/he has completed two pages, but since I cannot post the links here, please visit my profile and check out his/her work!
Let's Be Honest Here
She could see her father's face already – lit up like the sun, eyes wide, and then he would laugh and scoop her up into a big bear hug, telling her how much he loved her and that he had just been thinking about how much he missed her. And he would be so impressed that she made it all the way to his apartment by herself, then scold her for not thinking about her own safety of course. And then he would ruffle her hair and tell her how smart she is and how quickly she's growing up.
Kaede gripped her hand bag a little tighter, an excited smile claiming her lips. She was off from school for two days, and last night, she got the idea of coming to Stern Bild during the down time and surprising her dad. Grandma had deemed her old enough to be able to make it just fine on her own. After all, many kids her age commuted that far for school on a daily basis. Her dad would have no clue she didn't have school today. Since he hadn't been able to visit home during his birthday last month, she wanted to take this opportunity to finally give him his birthday present – a small, shallow clay bowl in the shape of an upturned tiger paw she had made in art class. It wasn't something that could be used very practically, but she hoped her father would put something small in it, so that the paw looked like it was holding onto it for him. Getting to surprise him with a visit would be another gift in itself, she figured.
As she arrived at his apartment, she adjusted her backpack before walking up the front steps and stopped in front of the door. Luck had been in her favor, she thought, noting that a light was on inside. He was home.
Instead of knocking, she felt around at her pockets for her copy of the key to her father's apartment. Feeling the bump of metal in her back pocket, she reached her hand in to take it out.
That's when she noticed sounds coming from beyond the door in front of her. She pressed her ear to the door to try and make out what it was. She heard what sounded like a pained groan, but it didn't sound like her father's voice.
Then she heard a second voice - smaller and harder to make out, but definitely different. Two people? Either a friend was over or the TV was on, but either way, this was good. She grinned. The distraction would allow her to sneak in and really give him a shock! Oh, the look on his face when he turns around and sees his daughter already inside his apartment without his knowing! This will be too good.
Kaede bit her lip to stifle a giggle that threatened to escape.
Slowly, she slid the key into the lock and turned. When she felt the bolt unable to rotate any further, she removed the key and slowly, ever so slowly turned the knob and pushed the door. She knew she had to be careful; if her father was sitting on the far side of the L-shaped couch, he might notice her movement out of the corner of his eye. Hopefully he would be sitting on the side closest to the entrance, as that way his back would be to her, and thus would allow her to move about freely.
When the door was open just enough, Kaede poked her head in and cautiously looked around the front room. Empty, as she figured. She smiled and slipped herself the rest of the way inside and quietly closed the door behind her. So as to make less noise as she moved, she removed her backpack and set it down by the entrance, but kept a hold of her hand bag. That was important.
A desperate-sounding moan coming from the other room made her stop in her tracks. Now that she was inside, the sounds she couldn't make out before were loud and clear. She knit her brow, thinking maybe someone was hurt. But what was that creaking noise? She proceeded toward the main room and pressed herself up against the wall beside the entryway.
"Ahh…nngh…little slower- AH! Just like that…hng…"
Whoever was here sounded distracted enough, and she deemed it safe to take a look without being noticed. Peeking from around the corner, her eyes immediately fell upon the only animated object in the room – the sofa.
She did not see what she expected to see.
Instead of finding her father, all she saw was…Barnaby's back? It was definitely him, she concluded. He wasn't wearing his signature jacket, but had his usual black shirt on. What was he doing? If she wasn't so short, maybe she could see what was going on. All she could tell was that he was…rocking in a steady rhythm…and his normally perfect hair looked uncharacteristically tousled. The back of the sofa blocked her view from everything else, so she ventured to move closer. What in the world would he be doing in her father's living room like this? And just where was her father, anyway?
Her eyes darted around the room, looking for his familiar face, but saw no one else. At that moment, Barnaby quickly pulled off his shirt and tossed it carelessly onto the ground. Kaede gasped and clapped a hand over her mouth, her face on fire. Barnaby Brooks Jr. just took off his shirt right before my eyes, she thought. She dropped her bag in the process, and the weight of the gift inside caused it to fall with a loud thud against the tile floor.
The sound of the fallen pottery made the blonde let out an embarrassingly effeminate yelp in surprise and he whipped his head around to face the source of it.
Kaede expected Barnaby to laugh when he recognized her, but instead, he looked as if he was seeing a ghost. Suddenly a second head popped up inquisitively, barely visible above the top of the sofa, and that's when she finally figured out where her dad was.
Her face screwed up as she tried to figure out what she was looking at.
"K-K-K-AEDE!?" Kotetsu sputtered, eyes wider than saucers.
The girl was frozen in place. She didn't know what to do, or what to think. The scene in front of her was so unfamiliar she couldn't figure out what exactly it was she was seeing, but by both of their reactions – and the fact that Barnaby was shirtless, or possibly even naked - she at least concluded that she was not supposed to see this.
"H…Hi Dad," she meekly responded, "…S-Surprise?"
Barnaby turned his head away and ducked low, grabbing a nearby pillow in an attempt to conceal himself. Kotetsu, whose face had lost all color, scrambled to find words. "K-Kaede! Wait outside! Don't look!"
Startled by the urgency in his voice, she did exactly that. She quickly turned around and practically dove through the doorway, pulling the door shut behind her with a loud slam.
While she stood outside, heart pounding, she heard hurried footsteps scuffling around along with panicked voices going back and forth. She was so taken aback she couldn't very well hear what they were saying.
As she waited, she tried to think about what she must have seen. Why had Barnaby taken off his shirt? And if her father was where she saw him, then Barnaby must have…
Kaede's eyes nearly popped out of their sockets. "Oh my god! No way. But why? I don't…!"
But there was no other explanation. Barnaby had been shirtless- no, naked while on top of her father. On top of her father.
Her father and Barnaby were having SEX.
Her mind raced, trying to understand how that could be. There was no way. Dad? And Barnaby? Sure, they were partners and good friends, but really? Since when did her father like men? He had married her mother, hadn't he?
Her face was scarlet, and she felt hot tears stinging her eyes. She dropped to the ground and hugged her knees. She was so confused and shocked and abashed and this was such an unexpected discovery and what the heck was she supposed to think and now the cute bowl she made for her dad was ruined and-
She was pulled from her thoughts when she heard the scuffling feet approaching the door, along with her father's muffled voice. "Shit, I need to wash my hands!" She heard his footsteps move away briskly, but a minute later, they came back.
The door behind her flew open and she turned her head to find her father. His features went from mortified to concerned as he saw his daughter sitting on the porch. He knelt down and hugged her tightly, pulling her to her feet.
"Kaede, I am so, so sorry," he said, his voice somewhat hoarse. "I had no idea you would be here! Honey, come inside with me. Let's talk, okay?"
Kaede nodded silently and followed his lead. He shut the door behind her and guided her over to the sofa. The sofa she had just seen her father and her idol on together only moments ago. She sat as far away from the scene of the crime as she could.
Kotetsu planted himself on the side opposite her to face her. He sighed. He was at a loss for words, and tried to figure out what to say next. The now-clothed Barnaby was in the kitchen, anxiously looking for something to do. The room smelled faintly of sweat.
Kaede would be the one to break the silence. She felt her face get warm again as a question formed on her lips.
"Dad," she started. She wanted to cut to the chase and ask, Were you having sex with Barnaby? But a part of her still couldn't believe something like that could be true, so instead, she simply asked, "What were you and Mr. Barnaby doing?"
The older man blinked at her, as if he hadn't expected her to ask that question. His expression seemed to say you don't know? He fidgeted with the rolled-up sleeve at his elbow, searching for the right thing to say. Kaede noticed he was missing his vest, and his green shirt looked to have been hastily tucked in, further validating her suspicions.
Her father's amber eyes lit up momentarily as he thought of a good answer. "Aahh well, you see, Bunny was uh, um-massaging my muscles!" He began rubbing at his side, as if to prove it. "I pulled a muscle the other day and could hardly move, and he knows I hate doctors, so he wanted to help, and-"
Kaede folded her arms across her chest, her expression hard and accusatory. Did he really think she would believe that? They may spend most of their time away from each other, but she could read her father like a book, and knew he was lying as soon as he opened his mouth.
"I'm not stupid!" She bit her lip, the words queued in her throat, but her mouth wasn't ready to say them. She glanced away, and forced the words out anyway. "…Y-You were having sex, weren't you!"
Kotetsu gaped at her. For some reason he had not expected his daughter to see right through it all so easily. He was clearly shocked.
"Kaede! When did you learn that word? You don't even know what that is!"
She rolled her eyes. Truth be told, she had just had her first sex-ed class last grading period, but every kid had at least heard about it long before that. All the boys joked about it, as if they actually knew what they were talking about.
"I'm not 5 years old anymore, Dad. I learned about it in school," she stated, the subject making her uncomfortable enough to look away again.
"Oh…already?" he said, surprised. Kaede was about to enter middle school, so of course she was old enough to learn that by now. He looked at her, the situation coming clearer to him. He changed the subject. "What are you doing here, anyway? It's a Thursday night. Don't you have school tomorrow? You didn't come here by yourself, did you?"
Remembering why she was there in the first place, she frowned. This scene was nothing at all like she had imagined it would be.
"We have today and tomorrow off, since we didn't have to use them for snow make-up days," she answered. "I didn't tell you because I wanted it to be a surprise." She bit her lip when she felt it quiver. "Since I didn't get to see you for your birthday, I wanted to bring you your birthday present, and I thought you would be happy to see me too." Her big surprise had been totally ruined.
Her dad looked crushed. "Honey, I am happy to see you! You know you are always welcome here! I just…wasn't expecting you, that's all. Had I known you were coming, I would have…planned accordingly. You need to let me know these things."
She was quick to put the ball back in his court. "You never answered my question," she pointed out, "What were you and Mr. Barnaby doing? And don't lie. I always know when you're lying."
"That's not true! You believed in Santa Claus for a while, and you had no idea I was Wild-"
"Stop dodging my question!" the little brunette demanded. She was in no mood to put up with his bull.
The veteran hero scratched his head nervously, his eyes searching the room for something else to look at. He really was a bad liar. He couldn't think of anything even remotely convincing, so he refrained from speaking.
Kaede answered for him. "So you were having sex, weren't you."
Kotetsu took a deep breath and let out a heavy sigh. He cast his eyes down to the floor, defeated. He nodded.
"I am so sorry, Kaede. Papa did not mean for you to ever see that. I would never have wanted you to find out about us…like that." He leaned forward with an elbow propped up on his knee and rested his forehead against the palm of his hand. His eyes were closed. "I wasn't ready to tell you about it," he continued, "about Bunny and I, I mean."
At the mention of the younger hero's name, Kaede looked toward the kitchen to find Barnaby. He had settled on boiling up some water and was pouring himself a cup of hot tea. She wondered how he was able to spend that much time heating water.
She looked back to her father. "So, what exactly is going on? Are you two…" She felt weird saying the next word. "…dating?"
Her dad nodded again. "It's hard to say when it really happened since we've been close for so long, but we both realized we had feelings for each other and things just…went from there."
Everything felt so surreal. Her own father was seriously telling her he's not just in love with, but is actually dating Barnaby Brooks Jr. More and more questions flooded into her head.
"But why? I don't understand. What about Mommy?" She looked at his left hand, and sure enough, his wedding band was still in place, as it always was. "I didn't know you…liked guys. I'm so confused…"
"I didn't know I did either!" he exclaimed, completely honest. "But it just sort of…happened with Bunny. It's hard to explain, but we connect on such a deep level. I wasn't even attracted to him in…that way, until a long while after we had been working together. And even then, it took me a long time to figure it out." His tongue darted out to wet his slightly bruised lips. "Of course I still love your mother too. Always have, always will. There isn't a day that goes by where I don't miss her." He opened his left hand and looked down at this wedding ring. "She will always have a place in my heart."
He started playing around with the ring, mindlessly turning it around on his finger while his eyes were focused beyond it. "Over the years, I've had a lot of time to think about her, and about myself. I thought I could never love someone as much as her, and honestly, I didn't have any interest in finding someone else. But then Bunny came along, and…" His voice softened, and a small smile stole his lips. "…I really care about him. He gave me a new outlook on life, and being with him feels…totally natural. Like it was supposed to happen this way."
As if cued, the younger hero finally felt brave enough to join them in the living room and brought a small tray of tea with him. He set it down on the coffee table before them and placed a hot cup in front of each person. He picked his own cup up and took a seat next to Kotetsu, naturally, but kept some distance. Kaede could practically smell his unease.
Reverting her attention back to the topic at hand, Kaede sighed. It was her turn to be at a loss for words. Before today, she had never put any serious thought to the idea of her dad dating. Even though her mom had been gone for years, it had never occurred to her before that her dad might get lonely enough to want to see someone. She had classmates who spoke of having step parents, and she half wondered what it would be like to have a step mother. But to have a step-father instead? And for it to be the Barnaby Brooks Jr., of all people? She knew her dad cared a lot about him, but the concept was so bizarre. She didn't know how she should feel right now. "Does Grandma know about this?"
Her dad nodded again. "I called her when I was first starting to realize what I was feeling. Honestly, I was a little freaked out. I didn't know what to do." He glanced at his partner, realizing what he said. "Nothing personal, Bunny." Barnaby shrugged and sipped his tea.
"I was worried about what Mom would think too, but I didn't know who else to talk to about it," he continued. "She took it surprisingly well. Said she could see it in my eyes when she watched Hero TV, or somethin' like that."
Barnaby quirked an eyebrow, but remained silent. The older man leaned forward to grab his tea from the table and took a sip. He hummed his approval of the taste.
Kaede, just now remembering she had been given a cup as well, did the same. The tea was still steaming, but it had a nice, minty fragrance. She blew on it a couple of times before sampling it. Sure enough, it was mint tea. It was too hot to hold for long, so she set it back down to let it cool for a while.
Kotetsu set his drink back down on the table as well, and picked his story up where he left off. "Your Grandma said some interesting things. She's very wise, you know." He chuckled. "You know what she said? She said she thought maybe Tomoe paired us up somehow. Can you believe that? After she knew about everything that was going on, what with Bunny's personal issues and all, she thinks your mom must have been watching over us and somehow knew we both needed each other. When you think about it, our fates did seem kind of like they were shoved together." He cracked a smile, briefly recalling a time when they literally were tangled together in the beginning. "And you know what? I'd believe that, too."
Barnaby looked at Kotetsu with a bit of wonderment. "I hadn't heard you say that before," he quietly stated. Kaede swore his complexion looked a little pinker than she remembered. Her father continued on.
"I know that sounds like a bunch of crazy talk, but that's how it feels to me too. If Tomoe is up there right now watching over us, I know she couldn't be jealous because she'd know I hadn't stopped loving her or forgotten about her. I'm confident she would want me to be happy, and if Bunny made me happy, I think that would make her happy too."
Kaede blinked back tears she hadn't felt forming, and then scooted herself closer to her father.
"This is a lot for me to think about. I mean, if you really love each other that much, then I don't suppose it's a bad thing, it's just…not something I saw coming." She swallowed. "I didn't get to spend much time with Mom, but I'm sure she would want you to be happy. And I want you to be happy too, Dad."
When she met his gaze, relief seemed to have washed over him. He suddenly sat a bit taller. "Really? You're okay with it?"
Kaede nodded hesitantly. "I know you and Mr. Barnaby are close, and if that's what it is, that's what it is I guess. I just need time to process all of this." She looked up at him. "A lot of time," she added quickly.
Kotetsu was ecstatic. He leaned over and grabbed her in his arms, giving her a big squeeze. "Thank you honey, that means so very much to me." He released her from his nearly suffocating grip and beamed at her. Kaede thought his eyes looked misty.
Another important thought appeared to cross his mind. "Ah, right, and another thing. I am…very relieved that you have not marched out the door by now, but I also want you to know that I am not expecting you to start thinking about Bunny as your new mother or anything silly like that. I know it will take a lot of time for you to come to terms with everything, and however you feel about Bunny is up to you. Maybe he will eventually feel like family to you, maybe not. It's up to you, and we will both understand and respect your feelings. Okay?"
She nodded, and gave him a small smile. It seemed he had been thinking about this talk for a while. Her dad reflected a smile back at her twice as big before leaning forward and planting a kiss on her forehead. "I love you."
"I love you too, Dad." She reached out and gave him a warm hug. As he embraced her, she heard her father inhale and exhale deeply, as if he had been taking his first breath in a long time. Barnaby seemed to relax quite a bit too.
Suddenly remembering her gift, she pushed him away and stood up. Then it dawned on her that she must have broken her bowl when she dropped her bag. "Oh no!" she cried and hopped over to where she had left her bag. As she picked it up, she heard what sounded like two pieces rubbing together. She frowned. There shouldn't be two pieces.
Kotetsu knit his brow, concerned. "What's wrong?" he asked.
Disheartened, Kaede returned to her place on the sofa. "Your present," she answered. "I broke it when I dropped my bag."
He frowned. "Aww, I'm sure we can fix it! Let Papa see it."
He watched her pull the two pieces out. Even though it was broken, he could tell exactly what it was. His face lit up. When he held out his hands to accept it, Kaede handed the pieces to him.
Barnaby leaned over to examine it. "It's a clean break," he observed. "That should be an easy fix."
His partner agreed. "Absolutely! Kaede, did you make this yourself?"
He held the two pieces together and smiled, admiring her work. The paw had been colored with a soft orange glaze. The stripes, as well as the upturned paw pads, had been filled with a dark grey. It was obviously not the work of a professional, but that was precisely why he loved it.
Kaede perked up a bit by his positive reaction. She was relieved it could be fixed at least. "It's a bowl, sorta. That was what we were supposed to make, but I decided to make mine less boring." She was proud. "You can put small things in it, and it'll hold it for you like a hand." She poked the middle of the paw to demonstrate. "A tiger was an obvious choice. It's just like you. You catch the bad guys, but you're too nice to kill them in your grip, so you just gently hold onto them instead."
Her father was at a loss for words. Even Barnaby looked impressed by her thoughtfulness.
She saw her dad's bottom lip quiver just moments before he scooped her up in his arms for a second time. "Kaedeeeeeeeeeee! What a thoughtful gift! I love it. Thank you so much, sweetheart." He gave her a big kiss on the cheek before setting her back down. She laughed and wiped at the wet mark in mock disgust.
Barnaby smiled and stood up. "Kotetsu, do you have any super glue?"
Kotetsu turned just enough to point toward the cabinets on the far wall behind him. "Yeah, there should be some over there somewhere. Uhhh, check the cabinet on the far left."
The blonde followed his direction and walked over to the cabinet. Kotetsu continued to marvel at the ceramic paw, turning it around to examine it from different angles.
Barnaby was able to easily locate the glue, and brought it over to the table. Kotetsu reached out to take the small bottle, but Barnaby yanked it away.
"You'll screw it up. Let me do it," he said plainly, earning a scowl from the older man (which went completely ignored).
Kaede nodded in agreement. "He's right. Don't touch it, butterfingers."
"Ouch…Siding with him so quickly!" Papa whined. He jutted his jaw out to emphasize his hurt feelings, only to be met with Kaede's rolling eyes. Reluctantly, he passed the bowl halves to his partner.
Barnaby couldn't fight back an amused smirk as he removed the cap from the glue bottle and started applying it to the severed areas. After drawing a careful line along the broken edges, he pressed the two halves together and waited for the glue to cure.
Kotetsu looked down at his watch and raised his eyebrows. "Ah! It's almost 8 o'clock already? How the heck did that happen…?" He turned to Kaede. "You must be hungry! You haven't had dinner yet, have you?" She shook her head. "Then let's eat something soon. Since you're our special guest, you get to pick. Anything you like!"
Now that he mentioned it, she was starving. She had skipped lunch to make the earliest train she could, so she was running on empty. She thought about it for a moment, and then decided she was too hungry to have much of a preference. "Let's go out somewhere! I don't care what kind of food, just some place I haven't been to before." Going out somewhere would help take her mind off of things, too.
Her dad rubbed his chin in thought, trying to come up with a good suggestion. Stern Bild was well-equipped with small, unique restaurants, each with its own vibe. Then it came to him. "Oh! There's a place a few blocks away I've been wanting to try, but it's not a good place to go if I'm by myself. It's an all-you-can-eat style restaurant where you get to cook the food yourself. Each table has a small grill built into it, and you bring your plate of raw foods back to it and cook it. It's supposedly expensive as hell, but let's do it anyway."
Barnaby lightly pulled at the halves to test the strength, but decided it needed more time. "So you pay the restaurant to let you do the work yourself? Sounds like a rip off," he quipped.
Kotetsu swatted at the air. "No way, it's fun! You get to pick whatever you want to eat and then watch it cook. It's an experience. I ate at a place like that once a long time ago, and everyone loved it. Five bucks says you'll like it too."
Barnaby was not entirely convinced. "If you enjoy cooking so much, wouldn't it make more sense to just cook at home?"
"Like I said, it's all about the experience!" Kotetsu insisted. "It's not the same as cooking at home. You get to look around at all the foods they have and pick what you want. And that's another thing – they have so many different things to choose from, everyone should be able to find something they like. Trust me, you'll like it!"
"I think it sounds fun," chimed Kaede.
"It doesn't sound much different from shopping at a grocery store before cooking dinner to me," joked the blonde.
The older man stood up. "Too bad! It's two against one, so we're going!"
Barnaby set the bowl down on the table and smiled. "I never said I was against it, I just said it sounded like a rip off."
Kotetsu picked the bowl up to examine it again, now that it was fixed. "It's perfect! Thanks, Bunny."
He held it up for Kaede to see. She smiled. It looked almost as if it nothing had even happened to it.
Kotetsu looked around the room to find the perfect place to put it. It didn't take him long to figure it out. He headed toward the front door.
"I'm going to put it on the little table by the front door," he called out. "That way, I can use it for my keys, and I'll see it every day."
When he came back into the room, Kaede nodded in approval. She was glad he liked her gift.
"Well, shall we get ready to go then?" Barnaby asked, now that the ceramic paw was taken care of.
"Okay!" said the Kaburagis in unison.
All three of them dispersed to get ready. Kaede went back to the entrance to fetch her backpack. As she walked up to the door, she couldn't help but smile at the sight of her artwork on the table. She grabbed her bag and headed upstairs to toss it on the floor next to her dad's bed, where she always kept it when she came to visit.
Since she didn't need to do anything to get ready, she waited downstairs on the couch. It wasn't long before her father joined her, now looking a little neater with his vest on and his hair freshly combed back.
The more comparatively tidy hero took some time to fix his hair before he rejoined the other two in the living room. She was surprised to see he had opted to tie the longest part of his hair into a low ponytail. It was the first time she had ever seen him sport such a style. Despite the simplicity of the change, she thought he looked notably different that way. Maybe that was the point, she wondered. They were about to go out in public, after all. He refrained from bringing his jacket as well. Luckily, it was warm enough outside for him to get away with that.
When everyone confirmed they were ready to go, they set out.
The party of three arrived at the doors of a restaurant that had been ingeniously named Bob's Kabob's. Kotetsu stepped in front of the other two to hold the door open for them. Even at almost 8:30 at night, the restaurant was still relatively busy. The place was loud and lively, with steady traffic moving between the dining and food selection areas.
The three were greeted at the entrance by a young gentleman who looked, to no one's astonishment, fairly exhausted. The host escorted them to their table and gave them a run-down of how everything worked. He demonstrated how to use the grill, reminding them to be careful not to burn themselves, and to kindly turn it off when they were done using it. When their host was finished with his recited introduction, he told them they were free to begin.
Feeling her stomach rumble with hunger pains, Kaede nearly jumped to her feet. The smell of the food cooking all around her was unbearable! She glanced back at her dad and Barnaby to see why they were so slow, even though they were both already easing out of the booth themselves.
Together they walked into the buffet, starting on the vegetarian side. Dishes upon dishes of assorted vegetables were arranged and ready for their diners to select. Kotetsu picked up three plates from the stack next to the display and handed one to Kaede, and then to Barnaby. He grabbed a handful of skewers from the container next to the plates and dealt them out.
"You're supposed to stab the vegetables and make your own little kabobs," Kotetsu explained excitedly. "Grab as much as you want! But don't fill the skewer up all the way, because you'll need to leave room for the stick to rest on the edge of the grill. You'll want all of the pieces to reach the fire."
Kaede set a few skewers on her plate but kept one in hand as she studied the selection. She decided it didn't matter what order she chose and decided to just pick them out as she went down the line. It didn't take her long before she filled up three of her skewers and waited for the other two to finish with their collections.
Next up was the meat. The meat pieces were pre-arranged on skewers, so it was only a matter of picking out what kind and how many you wanted. Kaede took two of the chicken and one of the beef. She wanted to take more, but she had run out of room on her plate. She could always go back and get more, she noted.
The short brunette wasted no time making her way back to the table. When she arrived, she found the host had dropped off three empty dishes, as well as a stack of small saucers for them while they were away. She slid back inside the booth and her dad took a seat next to her. Barnaby set his plate down on the other side, but remained standing.
"I'll go get drinks for everyone," he offered. "What would you like? I assume they have the typical selection of soft drinks and tea."
Kotetsu answered first, "A melon soda for me!"
"I'll have, um, whatever unsweetened tea they have. Please!" she answered.
"All right, I'll be back." Barnaby looked around momentarily for the beverages, then departed once he located them.
Kotetsu reached around the front of the table and turned on the burner. Immediately, heat began to rise from the grill in front of them. He set a couple of his skewers on the grill, letting the end of the sticks rest on the rim. He gestured for Kaede to do the same.
Kaede did so, starting with one vegetable stick and one chicken. She eyed Barnaby's plate, wondering if they should start cooking something for him too.
"Should we wait for Mr. Barnaby to get back before we start?" Kaede asked, secretly hoping it would be okay not to wait, but also feeling impolite about it.
Kotetsu shook his head. "Nah, I'll just go ahead and throw a couple of his on here too. That way he won't have to wait any longer than us." Her dad reached over and plucked a couple of sticks from the younger mans' plate and set them on the grill as well.
Kaede watched her food cook in front of her. The wait was torture, as the tantalizing aromas wafted up and made her stomach growl. The popping and crackling of the juices falling and burning into the heat source hardly helped. It felt like it was taking eons.
Her dad looked at her, noticing her pained expression. "Are you feeling okay?" he asked, a little worried.
She blinked, only now realizing she must have made a face. "Yeah, I'm fine. I'm just really hungry," she explained. "I didn't bother with lunch because I wanted to get here sooner."
Kotetsu looked both touched and sympathetic. "You must really be hungry then!" He turned the dial on the grill up a bit to speed up the cooking time. Kaede was grateful for that.
Barnaby came back with his hands carefully pressing three glasses together. He set them down and handed each respective drink to its owner. He had only gotten water for himself. Examining the grill top, he pointed to the two sticks closest to himself.
"Are these mine?" he asked.
"Yup," her dad replied. "It's about time to turn them over too." He grabbed the ends of his two skewers and flipped them to the other side.
Kaede followed his example and turned hers over as well. The upturned side had browned nicely. In order to make the second half of the wait less torturous, she decided to distract herself with conversation. She looked across the table at Barnaby.
"I know a few girls in my class who will be heartbroken to know you're not available," Kaede teased with a playful smirk. Or straight, she added mentally.
Barnaby smiled, but before he could respond, her father jumped in quickly instead, his voice lowered.
"Ah, right. Kaede, please don't tell anyone about us. If word gets out, it'll spread like wildfire. It'll just be our little secret, okay?"
His daughter hadn't thought that far ahead, though now that he mentioned it, she could already picture their faces on the front of one of those raunchy magazines she's seen when going through the grocery store checkouts with her grandmother. That wouldn't be good. "Right."
Kotetsu smiled and placed a hand on her shoulder. "Thanks."
And what a secret, she thought. Though she had to admit, she felt good being trusted with such a deep secret (not that they'd had any choice but to let her in on it). If she was mean-spirited, she'd feel like she actually had some power. But she would never blackmail her dad. Except maybe once in a while. She quickly erased her amused grin before the other two noticed.
"Everything looks ready to me," Kotetsu pointed out. "Dig in!"
Before reaching for his food, Kotetsu passed out a small, clean plate to each of them, and set out a couple of dipping saucers for each of them as well. The three of them retrieved their portions and slid the food off onto the newer plates.
Kaede grabbed her fork and popped a piece of chicken in her mouth. It was juicy and tender, though a bit plain as it was without seasoning. She glanced over to the side of the table where a small rack of sauces were placed. Soy sauce, teriyaki, a sesame sauce of some kind, a spicy barbecue sauce, and the usual ketchup and mustard. She grabbed the teriyaki and filled one of her dipping trays with it.
Her father glanced at the rack for something as well, and frowned when he didn't see his first choice. "It would be nice if they had mayo," he complained.
Kaede wrinkled her nose. "Dad, you don't need to eat mayonnaise with everything, you know."
Barnaby agreed. "It's a rather disgusting habit."
Exasperated, Kotetsu threw his arms up. "Hey! It adds a good, mild flavor!" He pouted, mumbling something about the two of them ganging up on him, and settled on the barbecue sauce.
Barnaby went with the teriyaki, preferring something sweeter. He dipped a piece of beef into it and took a bite. His eyebrows rose, reflecting his unexpected approval. "Wow, this is really good," he said after finishing the bite. He set his fork down and placed three more of his raw skewers on the grill.
Kaede nodded in agreement as she moved onto her second skewer. Before taking a new bite, she went ahead and put new skewers on the grill as well.
Her father grinned smugly. "See! I told you you'd like this place," he said in Barnaby's direction. "Now, does it still feel the same as cooking at home?"
His partner sighed in defeat, though he smiled as he did. "I admit, it helps knowing that I don't have to do any of the dishes."
Kotetsu snickered, evidently pleased to be right about something for a change. He turned to Kaede, winked, and gave her a thumbs-up. "Papa just got five bucks richer!"
Barnaby shook his head. "I never bet anything. You were the only one who said that."
Kotetsu's grin fell, his victory stolen from him. "Yeah you did! Pay up!" He stuck out an open palm and rubbed his fingers, as if expecting Barnaby to hand him a bill.
"I did not."
"You said you bet five bucks that I would like it, but I never said I agreed to bet."
"Sure you did! You said 'deal'!"
"That part must have only been in your head."
"It was not!"
The blonde was clearly amused. Her father did this all the time, and Barnaby knew it. By now he was fighting off laughter. "It seems you're beginning to lose your memory, old man. Should I be concerned about you remembering to take your meds every morning now?"
Kaede couldn't contain her giggles. Even though they were bickering, she could feel the warmth between them. Her dad did not look seriously offended, so much as he looked like he was having a good time.
He then turned to her for support. "I'm right, aren't I Kaede? You remember what he said, don't you?"
She shook her head. "Mr. Barnaby's right. He never said he would bet. You just assumed he agreed to it. I don't know why you're surprised. You do this to Uncle Muramasa all the time."
"Told you," Barnaby said before taking a sip of his water.
Kotetsu glowered at the both of them, and mumbled his complaints under his breath as he childishly stabbed at his food.
Kaede looked at Barnaby to see his reaction, and he looked back at her and winked. She smiled involuntarily and felt a warmth creep up inside.
Maybe she could get used to this.
After finishing their current helpings, the three of them took turns going back to the food area to get seconds, picking up a few side dishes they had completely skipped over on the first go. Kotetsu warned them not to get too full, because there was still dessert left to tackle, to which none of them heeded and stuffed themselves anyway. By the end of it, the number of customers had dwindled down to about a dozen, and the workers were busy cleaning up. One of the servers walked through the dining area, warning the customers that they were nearing closing time and were offering a last call on the food.
Prompted by the call, Kotetsu slid out of the booth and looked toward the dessert corner. "Hey, how about we just grab a small cone of the soft-serve ice cream? We can eat it on the way out."
Kaede didn't think she could eat another bite, but thought a little something sweet would be nice to finish off the night. "Okay, sounds good."
"All right, this way!" Kotetsu led the way, with Kaede and Barnaby trailing behind.
As he pulled out a cone, Kotetsu proposed an idea. "How about we make a game out of this? Whoever can make the neatest-looking cone wins. It's harder than it seems."
Barnaby didn't look too sure, but agreed to the challenge anyway. "All right."
Kaede grabbed a cone, but stood back. "You go first Dad, since you seem to know what you're doing."
Confidently, Kotetsu stepped up to the plate. He held the cone under the dispenser and pulled the lever. The machine kicked into action and the soft cream started squeezing out. Quickly he caught it with his cone and began moving the cone around to spiral the cream up. He released the lever when he had gotten enough, and the delay of the dispenser caused him to receive more than he intended. Before the excess could fall to the floor, he twisted his cone to catch the rest. Aside from the awkward finish, his spiral looked pretty neat.
"Hah! Not bad, eh?" he said proudly. "Who's next?"
After watching her dad try, she felt like it looked pretty easy, so she moved closer. Imitating his example, she pulled the lever and tried moving her cone in a circle to stack the cream. It really was much harder than it looked, she found, as the cream came out faster than she expected and ended up in an awkward pile on her cone. She let go of the lever before it could get any worse and frowned. She held the cone out for the other two to see. "You weren't kidding, it is hard!"
Kotetsu patted her head and chuckled. "It was a good try!"
Barnaby pushed up his glasses, an oddly determined look on his face. He started the machine and gracefully turned the cone around in his hand. Kotetsu's face fell as he watched his partner form a cone that could rival a professional's. Barnaby dropped the lever and pulled his cone away, presenting it for the others to see. Even he looked impressed with his work.
"Beginner's luck, I guess," said the hero with feigned modesty.
"Nice job! That looks perfect!" Kaede said, admiring his form.
Kotetsu wasn't so impressed. "You had a chance to learn from us first, so of course you did a better job!"
"Careful, old man. Your wounded pride is showing," the blonde remarked before savoring his ice cold victory.
"…You are merciless."
Kaede gave him a pat on the back. "It's okay Dad. If it makes you feel any better, yours is way better than mine."
Kotetsu changed his attitude quickly. "What? Well for your first try it wasn't bad, sweetheart! You should have seen my first try. Only about half the ice cream made it onto the cone."
His daughter laughed and licked her ice cream. Somehow that didn't surprise her.
Desserts in hand, they made their way up to the register to pay their bill. Barnaby swiped the tab from Kotetsu and pulled out his wallet. The older man protested, but eventually let it go and thanked him for it, even though the restaurant had been his suggestion.
Watching them, she was starting to understand why they felt so natural together. They really did fit together like oddly-shaped puzzle pieces.
Kaede was grateful to be back at the apartment. Now that she had a full tummy, she was ready to lie down. When she entered the room, she went straight to the couch and plopped down with a contented sigh.
Kotetsu saw her land and poked the top of her head. "Hey, if you're going to do that, you should get ready for bed first."
Kaede groaned, but after a minute or so, she did as she was told. The feeling of the sugar on her teeth was motivation enough to get up and brush them. She went upstairs first to unpack and change. When she came back downstairs, on her way to the bathroom, she saw Barnaby gathering his things to leave. She stopped.
"Are you leaving?" she asked.
Barnaby looked up, surprised by her question. "Yes," he answered simply.
Somehow Kaede didn't think he really wanted to, so she pressed further. "Would you have stayed over tonight if I hadn't come?"
He blinked and smiled sheepishly. "Well yes, but don't worry about it. I don't want to intrude on your time with your father."
Kaede frowned, feeling a bit bad for ruining their night. Even though I was the one that intruded, she thought to herself. "In that case, don't leave! I mean, don't leave just because I'm here. You should stay," she insisted, but quickly added, "…please."
The taller man looked perplexed, but nodded. "…All right, well if you insist." He smiled and set his things back down by the couch, as it would be his bed for the night.
Kaede smiled and continued on her way to the bathroom. By the time she returned to the bedroom upstairs, the bed had been neatly made and a corner of the sheets had been pulled back for her. She climbed into bed and shortly after, her father came up to tuck her in. Since she didn't have a bedroom of her own there, this was the only time she would sleep in the same bed as her dad. She would never admit to him, though, that she looked forward to these nights.
Her dad walked over to the bed and pulled the sheets up to cover her. "I'll be back up here soon. I'm just going to go down and check to make sure Bunny has everything he needs. I'll join you in a few minutes, okay?"
Kaede nodded. He cupped a hand to her cheek and smiled. "Good night."
"Good night," she responded as she snuggled into the blankets. She always forgot he had a softer bed than hers, and it felt good after such a busy day. Having forced herself up from the couch to get ready for bed however, some of her drowsiness had left her. She heard her father's footsteps fade as he descended to the first floor. She closed her eyes, but was unable to fall asleep just yet.
Downstairs she heard the two of them whispering. Curious, she strained her ear to try and make out their words. She knew it was wrong to eavesdrop, but hushed voices usually meant she wasn't supposed to hear it, which piqued her curiosity further.
Then she realized her dad had just touched her face. If she reeeaaally wanted to hear their conversation, she could…and as long as she didn't move, it shouldn't cause her to screw anything up…
She wiggled further under the blankets and pulled them over her head before activating her power. The Hundred Power enhanced her hearing well beyond the point of being able to understand everything they were saying without moving from the bed. She gave herself a mental pat on the back for her own clever idea.
Their voices were perfectly audible now.
"…Here you go," she heard her dad say.
"Thanks," Barnaby replied. She heard someone take a drink of something, which she assumed was him.
The sofa creaked as weight dropped down on it. Her father's voice was even lower. "Bunny, I am so sorry about today. I swear I had no idea she was planning on coming over."
She heard him set his glass down on the table. "Never thought I'd find an instance where I'd actually wish to use Maverick's power on someone," he joked. Whatever that meant. Her dad snorted.
Barnaby continued. "Well, it's finally out of the bag now. I suppose there's some relief in not having to hide it from her anymore," Barnaby continued. "I can't believe she handled it as well as she did, honestly. She's very mature for her age."
Kaede felt herself blush.
"Heh, no kidding. I'm very proud of her," her dad agreed.
"I can tell," Barnaby commented, and chuckled. "Though I have to say, she had some pretty awful timing. I don't know about you, but I haven't exactly sat comfortably all evening, if you know what I mean."
Her dad laughed unintentionally loudly, which made her ears ring.
"Poor Bunny," her father cooed. "Well, I'll make it up to you after she leaves."
Barnaby's voice was playful, though still hushed. "I'll hold you to that."
She heard someone get up from the couch. "I'll get you some blankets." It was her dad. He walked over to fetch them from a cabinet, which she heard open and close. Moments later, she heard the fabric tossed onto the couch, and the other hero thanked him.
Her father spoke again. "Thank you for putting up with this mess of a day. And sleep well." She caught what was unmistakably the sound of a kiss, which made her feel incredibly weird to hear.
That's when she heard footsteps climbing the stairs, which meant her dad was about to come to bed. She panicked, afraid that he would pull back the covers and find her blue glow, but as luck would have it, the five minutes ran out just moments before he got to the bed. She silently thanked the heavens and pretended to be fast asleep.
Her dad must have been very exhausted, because he was out within minutes of lying down. Kaede on the other hand was still awake. She couldn't stop replaying the day through her head, and each time she did so, she felt worse and worse. She kept wishing she had just called ahead of time instead of walking in. Her dad had given her a key to the apartment, but that didn't mean it was okay for her to barge in unannounced. And Barnaby…He must have been absolutely humiliated, she thought. She imagined Barnaby accidentally walking in on her naked and buried her face under the sheets. How awful!
She poked her head out from the sheets and saw that the downstairs lights had been turned off, but the lights around the kitchen had been left on. A faint clicking could be heard of what sounded like Barnaby doing something on his phone. He must be awake.
She swallowed. Now would be her chance to talk to him if she wanted to.
She glanced at her father, whose breathing was deep and even. Very carefully, she slid herself out from under the blankets and crawled off the bed, being extra cautious as she moved around her dad's legs.
Quietly, she padded down the stairs, but made it a point to let Barnaby know she was approaching, so as not to startle him…again. "…Mr. Barnaby?"
As she thought, he was awake and looking at his phone, a half-finished cup of milk in his hand. He turned his head when he heard her quietly call his name.
He knit his brow when he saw her and set his phone down on his lap. "Kaede? Are you all right?" He adjusted his position to take up less of the couch, opening up a place for Kaede to sit, even though there was plenty of room. "And please, just call me 'Barnaby'." He eyed her as she quietly rounded the couch. "Is something wrong?"
Kaede shook her head and took a seat on the far end of the sofa. "I'm not really tired anymore," she admitted, "and I was thinking about what happened earlier."
Barnaby shifted again, looking uncomfortable. "Oh. Um, well, I'm really sorry you had to…see that." He turned the glass around in his hand, needing something to do. "We had no idea you would be by today."
Kaede hugged her knees. "I know, I'm really sorry. I didn't mean to embarrass you. I should have called first."
The other man rubbed his arm nervously. "It's okay. You didn't know."
She looked down. "Still, I should have called."
Barnaby emptied his glass and set it down. "Hindsight is twenty-twenty, but you can't blame yourself for something you couldn't see coming."
Kaede nodded. That was true enough. "I promise I'll call first from now on."
The taller man softened and smiled. "That certainly wouldn't hurt."
Kaede was quiet. She sat there thinking for a while. Barnaby didn't say anything either, though he must have wondered why she was still there.
"It's still really weird, all of this," she started again. "It's a lot for me to think about. I hadn't pictured my dad dating someone, let alone…you of all people. I mean, I guess the more I think about it, the less surprised I should be that he had feelings for you. During the time that he was at home last year, all he would ever talk about was you. It was obvious he really missed you. I just assumed it was because you were friends, and didn't consider that it could be anything else."
Barnaby remained quiet, and listened.
She bit her lip. She hoped she wasn't pushing this too far. "But how is it that someone like you would settle for someone like my dad? You could have anyone, but you're with my dad. I think that's the hardest part to understand about this whole situation."
She looked up at Barnaby, and found his expression serious.
"Kaede," he began, and then paused to think a moment. "Didn't you make a trip all the way out here to surprise him today?"
Kaede nodded, confused by his question. "Yeah, but-"
"And you wouldn't do that for just anyone, would you?" he continued.
She looked down and shook her head. "Well, no…"
"Then you should know exactly what 'someone like me' sees in him," he went on to say. "Kotetsu isn't just any person. I realize you don't have a very accurate picture of what our relationship has been like, but you do know that Kotetsu always puts others before himself."
Kaede nodded in agreement, and Barnaby continued.
"He's my partner, and he took that seriously from day one, even when we fought. He never once abandoned me, even when I was being a total ass-" he corrected himself, "Sorry, a jerk I mean. But he endangered himself more times than I can count just to spare me pain. It can be a fault of his really, but what matters is that he is genuine. I've come to trust him with my life, as he does with me. I can't say that about…anyone else, really."
It was weird to hear someone talk so highly of her father. Usually he was made fun of and put down. She was certainly guilty of that herself. But he could be so frustrating.
"I wish he wouldn't hide things like this from me," she said. "I wish he trusted me as much as he trusts you. He never tells me anything important."
Barnaby was sympathetic. "Kaede, he did mean to tell you, but he didn't know how to break it to you. What with your late mother and all…" he trailed off, unsure of how to finish the sentence. "He fretted over it quite a bit, trying to figure out how to tell you without you rejecting him. It's not exactly an easy thing to explain."
She sighed. She supposed she couldn't really blame him this time. "You're right. I just hope he'll be more honest with me in the future. When all these crazy things happen, maybe they'll be less shocking when I don't have to figure them out by stumbling upon them."
Barnaby laughed. "That really is a problem, isn't it?"
Kaede smiled. "He's such an idiot."
"Yes, yes he is," he agreed.
Kaede giggled with him, and realized she felt a little better. After a minute, she stood up and stretched. Perhaps she would be able to fall asleep now. In any case, she should probably at least let Barnaby go to bed.
"Thanks for talking to me," she said as she walked around the couch. Before she reached the stairs, she stopped and turned back to the young hero again. "Even though it's weird, I think I'll get over it." She offered him a smile. "If my dad is going to be with another person, I'm glad it's you."
Barnaby was caught entirely off guard. "O-Oh, well thank you."
Kaede grinned. "Good night!"
"Good night, Kaede."
She tiptoed back upstairs and slipped back into bed next to her father. Shortly after, she saw the remainder of the downstairs lights turn off, and heard Barnaby getting comfortable on the couch. Her eyes were temporarily blinded by the drastic change of lighting, but after a few moments, they slowly began to adjust.
Even at a half-moon, the light was bright. The countless dots of city lights joined in to fill the bedroom. Just when she was about to close her eyes, she noticed her dad's breathing wasn't deep anymore. She turned her head to look at him, and found a smile on his lips. His eyes were still closed, but he was awake.
Had he overheard her conversation with Barnaby? She hoped not. But her fears were confirmed when he reached out to her and drew her close.
"I may be an idiot, but I'm the luckiest idiot in the world," he whispered, hugging her tight.
She considered them even, just for tonight.