Tiger & Bunny
The Heart Remembers What the Head Forgets
Barnaby had left Sternbild a little after eight thirty in the morning. He was heading to Oriental Town, to visit Kotetsu.
It had been a few years since he had last seen his partner. When Kotetsu retired for good, he moved out of Sternbild and back to his home town. He seldom came to the city, even when Kaede moved to there to become a hero, like her father. Barnaby and Kotetsu kept in touch by letter and phone, but recently, Kotetsu was writing and calling less.
Two months ago, Kaede went to visit her father, and didn't return to Sternbild. She sent a letter of resignation to her company, stating that she was quitting being a hero for personal reasons beyond her control. She told no one why she suddenly gave up her life as a hero. Then, a week ago, she called Barnaby and told him he had to come see her father.
So that was why Barnaby was driving to Oriental Town. He only visited Kotetsu's childhood home once; after the incident with Maverick. It was years ago, but Barnaby still remembered the way.
After a few hours of driving, Barnaby arrived in Oriental Town. He drove further into the little town, until he came to the Kaburagi residence. He didn't get out of the car right away. Instead, he turned the engine off and leaned back into the seat. Kaede's call was ebbing away at Barnaby's mind, causing him to worry. Finally, he undid his seatbelt and stepped out of his car, walked up to the door and rang the bell.
He didn't have to wait long. Kaede opened the door seconds after it rang.
"Barnaby? You're here earlier than I expected." She stepped aside and gestured for him to come in.
"Your phone call worried me a bit and I wanted to get out here as soon as possible."
"Ah, yeah. Well, Dad's been, please take your shoes off," Kaede said quickly, before Barnaby could walk any further.
"Oh, sorry, it's been a while since I was here last." Barnaby sat down and began to untie his shoes. Once he had removed them, Kaede handed him a pair of slippers. Barnaby expected for her to lead him into the house, but she stayed in the foyer, twisting her fingers together. Barnaby was beginning to think that he had right to worry. "Kaede, why did you call me out here?" She sighed deeply.
"This is probably going to be hard to hear. I haven't even told anyone else, not even Mr. Lopez, uh, Antonio. I only called you because Dad asked me to, and even if he hadn't, I still would have." Kaede breathed in deep again and exhaled slowly. "Dad hasn't been right the last year or so. He's hidden it from me well, but when I came back home a few months ago, Dad was acting so strange. He was forgetting where he left things and even forgetting how to make fried rice." Kaede took another deep breath. "Dad has dementia."
Barnaby's heart stopped.
"A few months ago, Dad went to his doctor with complaints of headaches and… they found a significant amount of… brain damage. They said it was a result of too many contusions to the head. The damage probably happened when-"
"When he was a hero."
"Yes. Dad, always put others before himself and was reckless."
"How bad is it?"
"Not too terribly bad. Yet. He's lucid for most of the day. But the doctors said that with the severity of the damage," Kaede's voice cracked, "his mind could deteriorate at an… accelerated rate." She pulled a tissue from her pocket and dabbed her eyes. "He usually has… episodes in the morning and evening, and sometimes in the afternoon, but they aren't very long. Mornings are the worst, but recently his evening ones are getting bad." Kaede wiped her eyes again.
Barnaby had no idea what to say. From what he knew of dementia, it wasn't good. Very slowly, the mind would begin to lose its sharpness and the memories of the individual became scrambled and eventually the person can't remember simple things. The memories sort of get locked away in the mind and the person becomes nothing but a shell. Barnaby shuttered. He almost felt like crying himself. It didn't seem fair that Kotetsu would lose all he had worked for in his life.
"May I see him, Kaede?"
"Hm, oh, yes, of course. That's why you came all the way out here. He's in the garden right now. I'll take you to him." Kaede slid open a door and took Barnaby to the back of the house, where Kotetsu was sitting on the porch, leaning against a post, looking at the vegetable garden. He wasn't dressed like Barnaby remembered him; he wasn't wearing his green shirt and vest or grey slacks. Instead, Kotetsu was wearing a dark green pattered kimono, tied loosely at the waist. It didn't suit him, Barnaby thought. It made him look… vulnerable.
If Kotetsu noticed that his daughter and Barnaby were standing next to him, he didn't make mention.
"Dad, look who came to visit you. Barnaby." Kotetsu didn't move. He mumbled something inaudible to himself. "He does this on and off in the morning," Kaede said, turning to Barnaby. "The doctor said it's normal in most patients. He'll come out of it. He always does." She knelt down beside her father and put her hand on his shoulder. He looked down at her hand and then at her face.
"Tomoe," Kotetsu said, "the garden is pretty. Mom's kept it nice."
"Yes, Da- Kotetsu. Listen, I was going to make tea for you and your guest. Would you like that?"
"Tomoe, since I have some time off, why don't we go on a vacation. Why not the beach?"
"Sure, we can do that. But I'm going to make tea, okay?" Keade got up and said to Barnaby, "I'll leave you two alone so you can talk. He should come out of it soon." She smiled at him and went inside. As she left, Barnaby saw tears welling in her eyes.
Barnaby sat down next to his partner and looked at him.
It had been a long time since he had last seen Kotetsu in person. It was five years ago when Hero TV had a special, interviewing all the retired heroes. Kotetus was so excited about it; he actually prepared cards about his greatest arrests. But it turned out he didn't get to talk much; Barnaby was asked the most questions. Five years ago, Kotetsu was grey at the temples, but his beard was still its dark brown. Now, his hair was salt and pepper, with more salt than pepper and his beard was completely white. He looked so tired. Of course, he always had, but he just looked worn now. His shoulders were slumped and his eyes were so distant. Kotetsu didn't even see Barnaby.
"Hello, Kotetsu." He didn't respond.
Where do I start? He doesn't even see me. What am I supposed to say?
Barnaby looked at his hands, remembering, for some reason, the first time he had met Kotetsu. He saved his life, as well as embarrassed him in the process by "princess" carrying him. He'd found Kotetsu so irritating, going so far as to insult him with 'old man.' Now he really was an old man. The two just couldn't seem to get along, but Kotetsu had trusted Barnaby, almost from the beginning. For Barnaby, it took Kotetsu risking his life more than once for him to finally trust his partner. Now, Barnaby couldn't help but feel respect for his partner. They'd had good times together. He thought about all the memories Kotetsu would lose in the coming time. It just didn't seem fair. He bit his lip to keep from crying. It was all too much.
He looked up. Kotetsu was staring at him, actually seeing him. He blinked a few times and Barnaby noticed how clear his eyes were. "What are you doing here?"
"I came to visit you."
"Oh, that's right, Kaede told me you were coming. Yeah, I keep forgetting things. That's what happens when you get old, right, Bunny-chan?"
"You're not that old."
"Ha-ha, that's funny hearing you say that."
"I suppose it is, old man."
"Yep, there it is. So, how have you been, Bunny-chan?" Kotetsu slapped Barnaby on the back, knocking his glasses askew. He righted them in a matter-o-fact way.
"Fine. I've been doing a lot of book signings lately."
"Oh, right, you had a memoir come out. I read it. Sorry, but it was crap."
"You could do better?"
"Who'd want to know about me?"
"You're more popular than you think. My readers tell me they like the parts where you're in it."
"That so? Hm. So besides that, what else have you been up to? Don't you teach some classes at the Hero Academy?"
"Yes, but it's part time. Nothing exciting there to talk about."
"Mm, Sky High is there, isn't he? And Origami too. I'm surprised those guys are still heroes. Sky High has to be getting up there, right? I heard he's still King of Heroes. Man, at his age. He really needs to retire. What are the others up to?"
"Poa Lin went back to China. She opened a martial arts dojo especially for Next."
"Good for her. What about Blue Rose?"
"She's just Karina now. She retired about a month ago. She's singing in musicals now and she has her own record company."
"Ah, good, she needed to get out that business for awhile now. Oh, now I remember, yeah, I read about it the paper and they had a special on TV on her. she had a big event revealing her true identity. I think I recorded it."
"She's also got married." Kotetsu smiled at this. He ran his fingers through his hair and grinned broadly at Barnaby.
"I should give her a call and congratulate her. What about Fire Emblem?"
"He started a fashion line."
"I'm not surprised," Kotetsu laughed and Barnaby laughed with him. "Did you hear that Bison moved down to Mexico?" Kotetsu asked.
"No, what's he doing down there?"
"He's a volunteer. He told me, after he retired; he still wanted to feel like a hero. He builds houses and teaches kids, which scares me. He sent some pictures; I can show them to you later."
"That'd be nice."
"Yeah, seems like everyone's busy but me."
"I think you deserve a rest, Kotetsu.
Kotetsu didn't say anything else. He looked back out into the garden and smiled. He pushed himself off the porch and walked over to the vegetable patch. He inspected the cabbages and tomatoes and began to pull weeds out.
"I was never one for gardening. That's what I liked about my apartment in Sternbild; no yard work. But Mom was always so proud of her garden. And this house doesn't feel right without one in the back. What do you think of the sunflowers I put in?" Kotetsu swept his arm in front of a very large bed full of towering sunflowers. The flowers themselves were bigger than Kotetsu's head and they were even taller than him.
"They're very nice. I didn't know you liked sunflowers."
"Yeah. They're Tomoe's favorite. She's been complaining that she doesn't have anything pretty to look at when she's working in the house, so this is my gift to her." Barnaby noticed that Kotetsu was speaking in the present tense about Tomoe. "I'm on vacation and she wanted to come home. I wanted to go to the beach, but she wants to visit family before we go back to the city. It is nice to be home though. Nice to relax." Kotetsu trailed off. He stared at the sunflowers. He crossed the yard and picked up a hose with a sprayer attached to the end. He turned the faucet on and walked back to the sunflowers. He began to water them.
"Yeah, they're pretty, but they won't last much longer. Fall'll be here before you know it, Bunny-chan. Say, do you wear that scarf I sent you for Christmas a few years ago when it's cold?"
"You mean the pink one that looks like that stupid bunny toy you gave me for my birthday?"
"No," Barnaby lied."
"Oh, that hurts."
Barnaby chuckled to himself and watched Kotetsu water the flower bed.
Even though Kotetsu looked tired, he seemed at peace, almost like he had accepted what was happening to him. Barnaby was sure that this was probably worse for him than anyone else; it was all of his life he was losing. But it really didn't seem to bother the old man that much. Of course, Kotetsu was good at hiding his feelings. He never let anyone worry about him. That habit still pissed Barnaby off.
Kotetsu moved to watering the vegetable garden when Kaede showed up with the tea and some snacks.
"Here's the tea. Sorry it took so long. The eclectic tea kettle wasn't wanting to work." She handed a cup to Barnaby. He took it awkwardly; it was a Japanese style tea cup, with no handle or saucer. He wasn't quite sure how to hold it. He took a sip and set it beside him.
"It's good tea, Kaede." She blushed and smiled. She then saw Kotetsu out in the yard.
"Dad, I told you I was going to water the plants later."
"Nah, Kaede, I have to do something to keep myself from being lazy. Remember the last time you called my lazy? I went back to being a hero." He gave a hearty laugh, rolled the hose up and turned off the water. He sat back down on the porch and snatched up one of the biscuits Kaede had brought out. "Besides, I just finished. Papa can still do some things. I'm not that old yet." He rubbed the top of Keade's head affectionately.
"Don't treat me like a kid, Dad," she mumbled, scowling and turning red. He only smiled.
Kaede excused herself and left the two to continue their chat.
"You're staying for dinner, right?" Kotetsu leaned back and flopped down on the porch, letting his arms fall outward. "I'm making fried rice."
"You always make friend rice."
"So are vegetables."
"Not when they're boiled dead," Kotetsu said as he blanched at the idea of boiled greens.
"Yet, you grow them to eat."
"Kaeda eats them. I prefer them raw."
"Aren't you supposed to feed the vegetables to the dog under the table?"
"We don't have a dog. We do have a garbage disposal."
"Fancy." Kotetsu chuckled at Barnaby's sarcasm. He hadn't heard it in a few years. It brought back good memories. Which reminded him.
"You're probably wondering why I wanted you to come out here."
"I did wonder. You had been saying in your letters that you needed to set a date for me to meet you out here. I figured you wanted to have tea."
"No, well, yes, can't have a visit without tea, but… it's something else. I'm forgetting things, Bunny-chan. Like big chunks of something's. Important things. The doctors told me I have dementia. It's some kind of memory lose disease. It's not so bad yet. I remember certain things at random, but everything's still there, just scrambled, you know. I forget what Wild Tiger means and my hero days. Some days I even forget that Tomoe is dead. I think those days are the worst. I keep upsetting Kaede. I know it can't be helped, but a parent shouldn't put their child through such pain. I've already done so much to her. It's not fair to her." Barnaby wanted to say it wasn't fair what was happening to Kotetsu. "She told you, didn't she? Kaede told you I'm going senile." Barnaby breathed in deeply.
"Yes, she did."
"She was probably afraid I wouldn't tell you. I was. I learned my lesson the last time I kept something from you. You pointed a laser gun at me."
"You told me to!" Barnaby said indignantly.
"Yeah," Kotetsu grinned. "I still can't believe you didn't check my pulse." Barnaby rolled his eyes. "Boy, I was reckless. Tomoe always chided me about it. She'd say what would happen to Kaede if she didn't have a father." Barnaby said nothing to this.
It was odd; in all the years that Barnaby had known Kotetsu, he'd never heard so much about his deceased wife. Maybe Kotetsu was making sure he still remembered some things. It was a sad thought and Barnaby chased it out of his head.
"Neither of us ever expected it would be her that Kaede wouldn't have." Barnaby glanced at Kotetsu, sprawled out on the porch. His face was blank, his eyes emotionless. Barnaby knew the face well, for it had been his at one point, until he'd met Kotetsu. No amount of pain was equal to losing someone you love. Not even losing the memories of that person.
"Kaede's a strong girl, isn't she?" Kotetsu spoke more to himself, than Barnaby.
"Well, she apprehended a lot of criminals as a hero, so I would assume yes."
"Oh, yeah, that too. No, I meant, she has a strong heart. She doesn't let a lot of stuff get to her. Not anymore. She's always been a big girl. You know, Bunny-chan, she only cried when I would leave for work. Tomoe said she'd have a devil of a time getting her to calm down. I'd have to call at least four times during the day just so she could hear my voice. And when I'd come home… ah, nothing compares to the smile she'd give me. Nothing."
"I'm sure seeing her made you happy too?"
"You kidding? I'd scoop her up and wouldn't let anybody else hold her for the rest of the night till she was put to bed. Heh, Tomoe made her these tiger jammies. I still have them. I kept all of her baby stuff. It's in a box somewhere. I should go looking for it." Kotetsu sat up, taking another biscuit and poured himself some tea. "You know something, Bunny-chan, Tomoe always called Kaede Wild Tiger's second biggest fan. She had this club looking jacket that said 'Wild Tiger Fan Club.' She was the only member, though."
"Oh, that's not true."
"No, I'm not kidding. It was on the back of the coat and on a patch on the front and sleeves."
"No, I mean, you must have had fans back then. People love rookies."
"Easy for you to say, pretty boy."
"Maybe your suit scared them."
"My old suit was awesome!"
"Sure it was."
"At least is didn't make me look like a cute little bunny."
Barnaby missed this, the bantering back and forth. They were infamous for it back in the day, even when they got along, they bickered. One time, Blue Rose had told them it was because they were too much alike. That had really set them off.
"We were going to tell her that Papa was a hero, but…we never got the chance." Barnaby was startled out of the amusing memory. Kotetsu was staring into his cup, swishing the tea slowly. "I couldn't take care of her by myself, you know? I wasn't strong enough after Tomoe died."
Barnaby actually did recall a story he'd read when he was researching his partner when they were first paired together. Five years after Wild Tiger had become a hero, there were a few months of absence. The only information the press got from Hero TV and Topmag was that Wild Tiger was dealing with personal troubles. Barnaby had never suspected that it was due to family, not until he'd made mention his wife died and that he had a nine year old daughter.
"Leaving Kaede with my mom was the worst mistake I ever made, Barnaby. I thought I'd done the right thing, but not seeing her every day, watching her grow up in pictures. She barely knew me. She loved me, but she wasn't sure how to love me, I guess. She'd get mad at me and I had no clue to make it up to her. I hate myself for it, for leaving her. It's one of the two things I regret in my life." Kotetsu's voice caught in the back of his throat.
Barnaby wondered what Kotetsu's other regret was. He didn't press for it.
"I'm sure she doesn't hold it against you. Certainly not when she found out why you left her; you were a hero. She even nagged you into being a hero again."
"True, but it still doesn't help." Kotetsu drained his cup and set it aside. "For some reason, Bunny-chan, losing my mind has actually given me a lot of time to think."
"Think about what?"
"Oh, lots of stuff. Like how I probably should have learned to cook something other than fried rice and how I shouldn't have destroyed so many buildings."
"You can't say you didn't leave your mark on Sternbild."
"Haha, you're right. Hell, I helped fund rebuilding half the city."
"Sure. Remember, I had ten years if destruction under my belt before you and I became partners."
"I often didn't see a dime of the money I made being a hero. Most went back to the city and what was left went to Mom to help pay for Kaede's school and other things. Sometimes I didn't have enough to pay my bills. One month I had to make sure not to destroy anything so I could get my lights turned back on. Boy that was a fun month. But money doesn't really matter when you're a hero."
"Yes, especially when a hero is as good of one as you were."
"I had to be. Tomoe was watching." Kotetsu looked up at the sky. "Weren't you, honey." Baranby looked up too.
"She was, just like my parents did."
"They're still watching you. Parents never stop caring about their child." Kotetsu sighed. "We're lucky, aren't we, to have guardian angels like them?"
"Yes, we are."
Kotetsu wound up not making dinner. He'd gotten tired and went to take a nap, apologizing that his old age was interfering with Barnaby's visit. Barnaby only shook his head, saying it was fine.
Barnaby sat in the kitchen and talked with Kaede as she washed dishes and started dinner. She tried not to talk about her father. She interested herself in Barnaby's current events. She said she'd read his book and loved it. He offered to sign it for her. She told him she already had his signature.
"Dad got it for me, course I suppose it wasn't that hard to get it from his partner."
"No. It wasn't. I made fun of him for it, though. He actually wasn't as bad as I expected, talking to him."
"Yeah. He's gotten nostalgic. His room is full of his hero memorabilia and other stuff. He's putting together photo albums with descriptions by the pictures. He says he can be reminded if he forgets." Kaede fell silent. She put her hands on the counter and stared into the sink of dirty dishes. "I don't know how he's doing it, Barnaby. I really don't. He's losing everything and there's nothing that can be done. It's like he's losing his powers all over again. I just don't know how he's doing it."
"You're dad is strong. He's the strongest man I've ever known."
"Me too." Kaede wiped some tears from her eyes and returned to the dishes.
Kotetsu didn't join them for dinner. Kaede check in on him, but he was still asleep. Barnaby said he'd wait for him to wake up to say good-bye, but it had become quite late. Barnaby had to get going. Kaede saw him off at the door.
"Thank you so much for coming, Barnaby. Dad really enjoyed himself. I haven't heard him talk that much in a while."
"It was my pleasure, Kaede."
"I'm sorry you had to learn this way."
"It's probably better that I did."
"I still need to tell the others."
"I'll tell them, Kaede. I think it was hard enough just telling me."
"I'd appreciate that, Barnaby." The two hugged and said farewell when they heard a creak on the floor boards. Kotetsu had gotten up and was walking to them.
"Oh, Dad, you're up. Barnaby was just leaving."
"Barnaby? Is he one of your friends, Tomoe?"
Barnaby's heart just about stopped. The old man had already forgotten him. He cleared the lump from his throat.
"Ah, I actually know you, Kotetsu."
"How does this man know my name? I'm wearing my mask, I'm Wild Tiger right now."
"Da- Kotetsu, it's your friend, Barnaby."
"Maybe you'll remember me as Bunny-chan."
"Bunny-chan? What a stupid nickname. How on earth did you get to be called that?" Kaede quickly turned to Barnaby.
"I'm sorry. He can get really bad in the evening."
"It's… alright. I did expect this, eventually. Good-bye, Kaede, Wild Tiger." Baranby bowed slightly and turned to leave."
"You leaving Bunny-chan?" Barnaby stopped. He turned around and looked at Kotetsu. His eyes saw him.
"Yes, I have to get on the road before it gets too late."
"Alright. Drive safely, the roads are dark out here. Thanks for coming. I really enjoyed myself today. It was nice seeing you again. We need to do this again before I forget who you are entirely." Barnaby blinked back tears.
"Right, old man. We should, talk about the good old days."
"I'd like that. Bring some pictures next time."
"Yes, good-bye." Barnaby opened the door and walked out of the house. He walked down the short path, unlocked his car, sat down in the front seat, closed the door and stared at the road before him.
Barnaby started to cry.
In three years, Kotetsu, didn't recognize Keith, Ivan, Nathan, or Poa-lin
In five years, Kotetsu, always called Kaede 'Tomoe.'
In six years, Kotetsu didn't recognize Karina.
In eight years, Kotetsu didn't remember Antonio and they went to school together.
In nine years, Kotetsu still called Barnaby 'Bunny-chan.'
In ten years, Kotetsu didn't remember a thing.