Kotetsu sighed, resting his head against the back of the couch and staring disinterestedly up at the ceiling. It was only four days until Christmas, and he was bored out of his skull. Kaede and her grandmother were out shopping. His older brother was working. Barnaby was doing whatever it was he did when he disappeared. Even the criminals seemed to be taking a holiday. Which left Kotetsu with absolutely nothing better to do than to stare at the ceiling. He had been told quite firmly that he was not to touch anything in the kitchen. It really hadn't been his fault, though. He hadn't realized that aluminum couldn't go in a microwave. Shouldn't they come with some sort of warning on them if they could blow up?

Still, he supposed that making fried rice probably wouldn't count as cooking, either, so he might as well just do as he'd been told and stay away from the kitchen. His stomach growled in protest and he sighed, glancing at the clock. It was only two in the afternoon; Kaede had made it quite clear that they wouldn't be home until after dark.

Standing, he shrugged on his jacket and settled his hat on his head. His mask went into his pocket – just in case – and he was headed out the door. As it was mid-afternoon on a Saturday, most places would probably be pretty crowded, so Kotetsu took a left and headed for a little-known, out of the way shop. They never had a lot of the customers, but the ones that came were all regulars, and Kotetsu knew most of them by name. And their food was good, which is what he was interested in right now.

Twenty minutes later, he stood in front of the small shop. It didn't have a sign, and was just known as Gai's Shop, named after its owner. Kotetsu had asked him once why he didn't give it a name. Gai had shrugged and replied, "Why should I? The people who come here know who I am, and they'd call it Gai's Shop regardless of whether or not it had another name." Kotetsu had conceded the point, and the matter had been dropped.

Walking through the door, he was greeted by a handful of the locals that were occasional drinking buddies. His eyes skimmed over the crowd, pleased to see that it was about as busy as usual. Somebody called out across the room, "Hey, blondie! Your buddy's here!" Kotetsu blinked, then followed Paul's gaze, his eyes landing on his wayward partner.

"Bunny?!" he asked in surprise. The blond scowled at him as a chuckle rippled through the room, and he flushed lightly, removing his hat and flashing his partner an apologetic grimace. Green eyes rolled expressively as the younger man sauntered over to him. He tilted his head towards the guy who had called him out.

"Charles here said you'd probably show up today, since the ladies went shopping," he said. Kotetsu grinned over at Charles; he really was predictable that way, and it was no surprise that Charles knew Kaede was out shopping. They always went the weekend before Christmas.

Kotetsu scratched idly at the back of his head as he had a seat, gesturing for Barnaby to do the same. The other patrons went back to their respective conversations, leaving them alone. Nobody butted into anybody else's business here, either, which worked well for Heroes. Even ones that had willingly outed themselves, he thought with a smile. Barnaby looked at him oddly for a moment, but apparently decided that he was just being his usual self, so he went back to perusing the menu. Kotetsu didn't bother; he knew what he wanted already.

Gai himself came over and greeted them. "Hey, there. Long time, no see, stranger," he greeted Kotetsu, who gave him a small wave. "The usual?" he asked, and Kotetsu nodded. "Got it." Gai turned to Barnaby. "What can I get for you? Something to drink, perhaps?" Barnaby ordered a Coke, and Gai walked off.

They waited in silence until their drinks had been delivered. Barnaby took his with a quiet thanks and ordered a simple pasta dish with chicken. Kotetsu raised his eyebrows; he knew the food here was good, but he wondered how Barnaby managed to pick the best thing on the menu? It was the house specialty, sort of, along with curry. But Kotetsu ate curry a lot, so when he came here, he went with the pasta dish.

Gai didn't even bother to write his order down. "Two of the usual, then," he said cheerfully, then turned around and walked off to place their orders. Barnaby looked over at him, surprised, and Kotetsu just grinned.

"What? You didn't think I only ate fried rice and curry, did you?" he asked in mock hurt. The expression on Barnaby's face let him know that the younger man had thought just that, and he chuckled. "Those are the only two dishes I can make on my own and not mess up," he admitted. "So I eat them at home a lot. But when I go out, I prefer a bit more variety to my food."

Barnaby just nodded, sipping at his drink and staring inscrutably at Kotetsu, until the other man squirmed, suddenly uncomfortably. "Anyhow, what brings you here?" he asked. "I mean, not that you can't be or anything, it's just…I can't imagine that there's anything around here you'd be interested in."

His partner shrugged casually. "Nothing that I'd be interested in, no," he agreed. "Except for you." And there was that look again, one that Kotetsu had seen before but hadn't been able to place. Barnaby wasn't good at hiding his emotions, and the older man could usually read him pretty well, but this look left him floundering and embarrassed. He didn't understand it at all.

"Me? Why? Did something come up?" he asked, frowning. He hadn't gotten any calls, though, so that couldn't be it. Unless Barnaby knew something that the other Heroes didn't.

Barnaby opened his mouth, but just then, their food arrived, and he allowed himself to be distracted by the delicious aroma. Kotetsu grinned, "Dig in. If you've got time, we can wander around afterwards. Have you ever been here before?" he asked. Barnaby shook his head, and Kotetsu nodded. "Then I'll show you around," he stated, waiting to see if the younger man protested. Green eyes stared at him for a moment, then Barnaby nodded, accepting is offer. Pleased, Kotetsu turned to his food, and the two men sat and ate in a companionable silence, comfortable with each other.

Kotetsu couldn't help but notice how very different Barnaby was now than when they had first met. Of course, he hadn't been thrilled about being thrown into an unasked partnership with an untried youth, but Barnaby's abilities had never once been in question. He was a capable young man, and if it wasn't for his temper and tendency to act irrationally and without thought for the consequences when things came too close to home, he would have made a perfect Hero. Young, charming, and brave.

Good looks, too, Kotetsu had to admit, if only to himself. Green eyes that were so bright and expressive were even more impressive when glasses didn't cover them. Kotetsu wondered why Barnaby didn't wear contacts, but figured that the whole glasses thing was just a part of his persona by now.

"You're staring, old man," Barnaby's words interrupted his thoughts, and Kotetsu found himself blushing, his eyes dropping from his partner's face to the table. What the hell was wrong with him, that he was having such thoughts about his partner? Barnaby was a good kid, and Kotetsu wanted to help him, if he'd allow it. That was all, though he sometimes got the impression that his interference was completely unwelcome. But Barnaby had always been almost brutally honest, so if he got too annoyed, he'd be sure to let Kotetsu know.

Shoving a forkful of pasta into his mouth, Kotetsu mumbled, "See? It's good, isn't it?" Swallowing, he took a sip of his water and risked a glance up at his partner. Barnaby was looking at him oddly again, but he slowly nodded, then returned to eating, and Kotetsu felt himself breathe more easily again, disaster averted. It wasn't that he didn't want to talk to his partner, but he was feeling a little bit lost at the moment, and didn't feel that talking it out with Barnaby would be productive at this point. Once he figured out what was going on, he'd let the other man know. Maybe.

After they finished eating, the two men paid their bills and put on their coats before slipping back out into the cold. Kotetsu settled his hat on his head, and Barnaby added a pair of earmuffs. They were simple and black, but Kotetsu found himself amused, regardless. It really didn't matter what the other man wore, he still looked good. Barnaby frowned at him, as if he knew what he was thinking, and Kotetsu just grinned wider, completely unfazed.

"Well?" Barnaby demanded after a moment. "Are you going to show me around? Or should I just head back to Sternbild?" Kotetsu refrained from laughing. Barnaby was acting impatient, just like a little kid who had been promised a treat if he finished all of his dinner.

He shrugged. "All right," he agreed easily. "Then let's go this way. There isn't much around here in the way of shopping or activities, but there's plenty of land, and people are seriously into decorating for the holidays around here." Even Gai's place had some tactful snowflakes on the windows and a decently sized, fully decorated tree in the window. Most citizens didn't celebrate Christmas in the religious sense of the word, necessarily, but they enjoyed the concept of decorating, and often went all out for the holiday season.

They spent a pleasant afternoon wandering around town, commenting on people's decorations. Kotetsu greeted a few neighbors, introducing them to Barnaby as they passed by on the streets. The air was cool, but not bitter, and while the sun was mostly hidden by clouds, it would peek out on occasion and warm the streets, glinting off of cars and house windows. As dusk fell, the lights came on, and Barnaby was treated to the site of hundreds of trees lit up for the holidays. One farm in particular had an entire lane of pine trees, all of them decorated with lights that sparkled with an array of colors.

Kotetsu watched Barnaby gaze around in wide-eyed wonder, happy that his partner was enjoying himself. You couldn't see all the lights in the city, because the city itself took away from the beauty of the decorated trees and roadways. "It's even more beautiful when there's snow on the ground," Kotetsu spoke quietly, remembering winters past when he and Tomoe had come here with their then-infant daughter, watching the lights glitter and reflect off of crystal snow.

"I'll bet it is," Barnaby replied at last, his eyes turning to meet Kotetsu's. There was a tense silence as the two men stared at each other, and Kotetsu wondered for a moment if he'd finally get to hear whatever it was that Barnaby was holding back. His partner's next words surprised him, though. "You've been here before, when there was snow on the ground." Kotetsu nodded; of course he had. "With your wife." It wasn't a question, and Kotetsu frowned.

"Yeah, with Tomoe and Kaede. That was before Tomoe became so sick." His words brought back flashes of painful memories. Tomoe used to stare out at the snow from her hospital room, so much pain in her eyes. It had been nearly unbearable to watch the way her eyes would brighten with happiness the moment he entered the room, his presence far more welcome than the snow and the memories it brought back.

Warm arms were around him a moment later, his face pressed against Barnaby's chest as the other man held him, his own face buried in Kotetsu's shoulder. "I'm sorry," he murmured. "I didn't mean to bring up painful memories." Kotetsu stood still for a moment, frozen, then he gave a small smile, his arms reaching up behind his partner, fingers catching in his jacket, holding and being held.

"It's fine," he said. "Those were the happiest days of my life. Tomoe's out there, somewhere," he said, absolutely certain. "She'll watch over Kaede when I can't."

Barnaby pulled back, and Kotetsu dropped his hands, letting him go. Green eyes stared at him, but they were cautious now, and Kotetsu found himself worrying. "Bunny? What's wrong?" he asked. "I'm sorry, I probably brought back memories of your parents, too, huh?" he sighed.

The younger man blinked, confusion flitting across his face, but then realization dawned. "Oh! No, no, of course not," he said. "It's just…you really loved her, didn't you?" He seemed so sad when he said it, and Kotetsu had the urge to hug him again, to offer what comfort he could, but the way Barnaby was standing seemed to indicate that any approach initiated on his part would not be welcome.

Barnaby took one of Kotetsu's hands in both of his, linking their fingers together. His eyes dropped to stare at their entwined hands, and Kotetsu held his breath, waiting. Something was happening, and Kotetsu was afraid that he might ruin it if he said something. The feel of Barnaby's chilled fingers against his own seemed important, somehow, and Kotetsu found his own hand tightening around his partner's. This seemed to encourage the younger man, and Barnaby peered up at him through his bangs, nervous.

"Do you think…you could be happy with anybody else?" he asked, and the words were hushed, muffled further by the encroaching darkness. Realization dawned, and Kotetsu froze, staring wide-eyed at the other man. He didn't know what to say. Barnaby was hitting on him, right? Right?

He was silent for too long, because Barnaby pulled back, his hands releasing Kotetsu's. Desperate not to let him go like this, Kotetsu tightened his hand almost painfully, forcing Barnaby to remain where he was. "Wait, please," he said. "I…it's…this is," he sputtered, incoherent now, tripping over his own words. Barnaby just stared at him, his face expressionless. "Look, I like you," Kotetsu finally blurted out at last. "But…I need time. I wasn't expecting this, and I'm just not ready."

Please understand, he thought frantically. Having that kind of a relationship with his partner had only just occurred to him, so suddenly and so abruptly that he couldn't seem to catch his breath as the world tilted beneath him. He needed to have time to think about it, to settle into this new way of thinking, to adjust to the fact that maybe, just maybe, he could love Barnaby the way he had loved Tomoe.

He had Kaede to think about, too. His daughter was incredibly mature for her age, and she knew that sometimes men had relations with other men. But this was her father, and the Hero she idolized, who also happened to be her father's partner. He couldn't imagine how he could possibly explain this to her without her getting upset.

Barnaby sighed, closing his eyes for a moment. When he opened them again, they were hard and determined. "Time? Very well. You can have as much time as you need." Kotetsu took a breath, slowly relaxing, but Barnaby wasn't done yet. "I expect to have an answer by Christmas. If you need more time than that, then I will have my answer," he stated, and his voice was almost angry, but not.

Kotetsu swallowed, then nodded. He could manage to have an answer in four days, couldn't he? Barnaby's eyes were uncertain, almost regretful, as if he wished he hadn't given Kotetsu an ultimatum, as if he was afraid of what the outcome might be. Kotetsu wanted to reassure him, but he didn't have the words he needed. Instead, he turned to gaze at the endless sea of lights created by the lane of trees they were currently standing in.

Barnaby moved to stand next to him, and his hand reached out, fingers brushing uneasily against Kotetsu's. Not looking at his partner, Kotetsu answered by taking Barnaby's hand, linking their fingers together. In his peripheral vision, he could see Barnaby staring at him, but the younger man didn't say a word, and after a moment, Kotetsu moved forward, his partner moving easily with him.

They walked to the end of the farm lane and took a right, heading back for Gai's Shop. Barnaby's car was there, after all. And Kotetsu lived nearby. The night was quiet all around them, only the sound of their footsteps and the quiet whisper of their breathing surrounding them. It was too cold for insects, and there was no breeze to stir up the trees.

Gai's Shop was reached without incident, and Kotetsu allowed Barnaby to take him home. The car was back, which meant that Kaede and her grandmother had finished their shopping and were probably wondering where he was. Pulling his phone from his pocket, Kotetsu turned and snapped off a quick shot of his partner, who just glared at him. He grinned. "What? If Kaede finds out that I was out with you all day, and didn't even get her a picture, she'll hate me!" he exclaimed. They both knew he was joking, but she would be mad at him, at the very least.

Kotetsu climbed out of the car and hesitated, then turned around and asked. "Are you sure you don't want to come in for a while? Maybe get some food and visit before heading back to your place?" he asked. He didn't know what answer he wanted Barnaby to give him, but the other man just shook his head.

"No, thank you," he answered formally. "I'm afraid that if I come in, you might not have four days." Kotetsu flushed at the reminder, but backed away from the car and shut the door, allowing Barnaby to leave unhindered. The blond gave him a small wave of thanks before turning the car around and heading back to his apartment. Kotetsu watched him leave, standing outside until even his taillights had disappeared from view, then turned and walked inside.

"Hey, Dad. Who was that?" Kaede greeted him. The answer must've shown on his face, because her next question was, "Was it Barnaby?" Kotetsu nodded, and Kaede pouted. "Why didn't you invite him inside?" she complained.

Kotetsu held out his phone, showing her the picture she had just taken. Her face lit up as she snatched it out of her hand and sent it to her own phone. Kotetsu wasn't exactly savvy at that sort of thing, so she couldn't trust him to send it without losing it. "He couldn't come in tonight," Kotetsu explained as she fiddled with the phone. "Said something about needing to get back home. But I'm sure he'll stay to visit for a while next time." At least, Kotetsu hoped he would.

Kaede accepted this after a moment, but demanded that he bring Barnaby to their home for Christmas. "After all, he doesn't a family anymore to spend it with, right?" Her words sent a cold thrill down Kotetsu's back. He hadn't thought about that, but his daughter was right. His parents were dead, and Samantha had been murdered just before the previous Christmas. He had no other family that Kotetsu was aware of, and Maverick had turned out to be the bad guy.

He nodded. He had known, somehow, that he'd accept Barnaby's feelings, but it finally occurred to him that doing so would not only give him somebody else to love, but it would give his partner a new family. "Kaede," he said quietly, still uncertain how his daughter might take it. Would she think he was rejecting his memories of Tomoe? Would she feel abandoned by her own father?

Kaede looked up at him with those large eyes, and he almost backed out. Only the nagging reminder that he only had four days to give Barnaby an answer kept him from making up some lame topic of conversation that would just irritate his daughter. "Daddy's considering asking Bunny-chan to be a part of the family," he blurted out. Kaede blinked, processing his rapid-fire speech, then just rolled her eyes.

"It's about time, Dad!" she exclaimed. "Is that why he wouldn't come in tonight? Because you're being stupid?" she demanded. Kotetsu stared at her, surprised, but also sort of relieved. That had gone a lot better than he had thought it might, and Kaede had seemed to almost believe it had been inevitable.

Wait a minute. "What do you mean, it's about time?" he demanded of his daughter, utterly confused now.

Kaede snorted in disbelief. "Seriously? You've been mooning over Barnaby forever, Dad! It's so obvious. And he'll be good for you. I'm just surprised you finally had the guts to ask him," she said. Something must have shown on his face, because she brought her hand up and rubbed between her eyes in exasperation. "He asked you, didn't he?" she deduced.

Kotetsu gave her a bashful grin. "Was it that obvious?" he asked. His daughter just gave him a look that said quite clearly what she thought of his ability to keep a secret. "Okay, so yeah, he asked me. But I didn't know, Kaede!" he protested.

"Didn't know what?" his mother asked, drying off her hands as she walked into the living room to see what was keeping her son and granddaughter.

Kaede replied breezily, "Oh, he didn't realize he was in love with Barnaby, and vice versa." Kotetsu flushed, absolutely mortified. It had been bad enough having a precocious daughter discern his feelings, but his own mother? He didn't want to look at her, afraid of the disapproval he might find there. But he should have known better. If Kaede knew, it was unlikely that she had been unaware of what was going on between them, even when Kotetsu hadn't realized there was anything.

"He knows now?" she asked. Kaede nodded, and she smiled. "Then that's good. You are going to invite him over for Christmas, aren't you?" she asked pointedly. Kotetsu nodded, his hands tucked behind him like a chastised child who had been caught doing something naughty. His mother smiled at him serenely. "Good. Better yet, bring him home tomorrow, dear. We already have his gifts wrapped and under the tree. We held out hope that you would at least have sense enough to give him a family for the holiday."

Kotetsu swallowed, then bowed his head, unable to completely repress his happiness. "I will," he promised. Straightening, he followed his mother and daughter into the kitchen, his thoughts straying to Barnaby as they settled in to eat dinner. He wondered if the younger man was worrying about his answer. He shouldn't, because they had been partners for long enough that the other man should know how much he cared for him, but then again, it's not like they had ever discussed it. Both of them were straight-forward people, Kotetsu even more so than Barnaby, so if he was planning to reject the other man, he would have been sure to let him know that he just wasn't interested.

Kaede dropped her fork onto her plate, startling him. "Why don't you just call him already?" she asked irritably, "because it's pretty obvious that you aren't going to get anything done while you're busy worrying over him!"

Kotetsu nodded vaguely, not really paying attention to her. Standing, he mumbled an excuse and left the room, leaving his full plate on the table. His family watched him go, but he was already reaching for the cell phone in his pocket. It would be easier just to call Barnaby on their wristbands, but those conversations could be made public too easily. It was safer to call Barnaby this way.

The phone rang several times, and Kotetsu wondered if perhaps Barnaby was choosing to ignore him. At last, on the final ring before voicemail kicked in, he heard the click as his partner picked up the phone. "Yes, Kotetsu?" Barnaby asked, his voice polite and distant. Kotetsu shivered; Barnaby really was expecting to be rejected.

"Bunny-chan, I was wondering…if you don't have anything important at home, maybe you could turn around and come back to my place? Well, I guess it's technically my mother's place, but I talked to her and Kaede, and they're okay with…with us. Being partners," he stammered, the words sticking in his throat.

Barnaby's voice was confused when he replied. "Why wouldn't they be okay with it?" he asked. "We've been partners for a few years now, so of course they won't care. Wait, did they tell you to ask me over? Because I've already told you why I can't."

Kotetsu cut him off. "Not work partners, Bunny-chan!" he exclaimed hurriedly. When Barnaby fell silent, he took a breath and spilled it all out, afraid he wouldn't get another opportunity like this one. "They're okay with us having that kind of relationship. So it's okay to say yes now. I mean, I was going to say yes anyhow," he babbled, "but I was afraid that it might make Kaede hate me, so I was scared, but apparently she knew that I was in love with you already, which is kind of funny, because I didn't even know, and even my mom knows, and you can't imagine how embarrassing that was for me, by the way, and so I'd like it if you'd come back, because I already know my answer and I don't want you to be alone so close to Christmas, because that's just too sad, and—"

He wasn't sure where he was going with his babbling, but it seemed to be going somewhere, eventually. Barnaby saved him the trouble of trying to figure it out by interrupting. "Hold on a minute, Kotetsu," he said, and the older man smiled; Barnaby always used his real name when it was something important. "So what you're saying is that you'll be my lover? And Kaede doesn't mind? And, most importantly, please say it again. That you love me."

The last was almost a plea, and Kotetsu found that he couldn't refuse, even as he flushed. He hadn't really said it the first time, right? He just said that Kaede had known his feelings for Barnaby before he had. But if it made the other man happy, Kotetsu would say it as many times as it took. "I love you," he breathed quietly, as if afraid of being overheard by his family, even though they no doubt knew everything already. "So please, come back."

The phone disconnected, surprising Kotetsu, but he figured Barnaby must have just dropped the call. The road back to Sternbild was scattered with mountains, valleys, and bridges, and sometimes those roads blocked reception between areas. At least, he really hoped that's what had happened. Because if Barnaby was upset with him, he didn't want to know. Maybe it was too soon to tell declare his love? After all, it wasn't like he'd had a whole lot of time to think about it.

Well, he supposed he had until Barnaby arrived to think about. Unless, of course, the younger man wasn't coming. And now he was right back where he had started, worrying about his partner. At the very least, he had told him how he felt. The next step was up to Barnaby.

"Well? Did you talk to Barnaby?" Kaede demanded as she set a hot plate on the dining room table. Kotetsu nodded, not really focusing on her, but she just nodded decisively. "Good!" Then she turned and walked away, heading for a shower and then bed. His mother hovered for a moment, but when Kotetsu picked up his fork, she smiled at him and excused herself as well.

Kotetsu ate mechanically, washed his dishes, then headed for the shower; he was starting to get depressed. If Barnaby had turned around when he'd called him, the younger man would have been here by now. Perhaps he really had put his foot in it this time.

The hallway was dark and quiet as he walked past his mother's and daughter's bedrooms. Kaede had plans with friends tomorrow and would be leaving early. His mother would be taking her to the ice skating rink to meet them, and would probably do some shopping while the kids played.

Setting up the water to be a bit on the scalding side, Kotetsu climbed in, the heat immediately soothing tense muscles. Damn, he must be seriously stressed. And to think that this morning, he had been bored out of his mind. It was amazing how much a little thing like having your partner confess his love to you and want to be your lover, and then returning the confession – after being chastised by your mother and daughter – could weigh on you. It had been a really, really long day. He was looking forward to getting some much needed rest. He'd figure out what to do about Barnaby tomorrow.

He didn't hear the knock, or the rustle of clothing. The first time he became aware of Barnaby's presence was when a warm hand settled on his shoulder and a smooth voice murmured in his ear, "You're braver than I gave you credit for, old man."

Kotetsu nearly jumped out of his skin, his body shifting to put some space between them. Unfortunately, this just encouraged his partner, who stepped fully into the shower. Green eyes, not covered by glasses, watched him intently. "Oh, did I misunderstand?" he asked. "You asked me to come back, confessed to me, then waited for me in the shower. Or did you think I wasn't coming?"

Swallowing hard, Kotetsu stammered, "Ah, Bu-bunny-chan, I was worried that I had made you angry. I didn't think you'd come, so I…so I…" He never did get to finish his sentence, Barnaby's mouth pressing hard against his, swallowing whatever words of protest he might have managed. Kotetsu's hands came up and settled on his chest, preparing to push him away, but his wrists were grabbed and he was pressed backwards, the cold tile against his heated skin making him shudder. Shit.

Barnaby pulled back a moment later, but didn't move far. One hand pressed against Kotetsu's chin, forcing the older man to meet his eyes. "If you don't want this, Kotetsu, you'd better tell me to stop. Right now." Kotetsu blinked, undecided. Things were moving too quickly now, but at the same time, he felt like he'd been waiting forever. So maybe, it was okay?

He shook his head, water flying everywhere, making Barnaby flinch as some got in his eyes. "This old man is not going to have his first time with a guy be in the damn shower," he said. There was no room for argument, but rather than protest, Barnaby just stared at him for a moment before his mouth opened in a wide grin. Tossing his head back, he laughed happily, leaving Kotetsu confused. Was it really that funny?

"Ah, I really do love you, old man," Barnaby said, and the words were somehow resigned, as if he had known it all along, and couldn't have prevented himself from falling in love if he had tried. Taking a step forward, he pressed his wet body against Kotetsu's, surprising him. Barnaby's leg slipped between his own, and Kotetsu shuddered, feeling his body react to the intimacy. Barnaby kissed him again, and Kotetsu felt himself surrender, his body relaxing. When Barnaby's hands released his wrists to settle on his waist instead, his arms dropped to hand uselessly at his side, fingers pressed against the tiled wall.

"All right," Barnaby agreed easily, his lips moving from Kotetsu's mouth to his cheek and jaw. "The bed it is, but we can play in here a little, can't we?" he asked. Kotetsu nodded, unable to force out the words, and Barnaby smiled up at him happily as he knelt on the floor of the tub, his intent quite obvious. His partner's hands pressed firmly on his hips, holding him against the wall as his mouth moved over him, warmer than the water that still pounded down against their skin.

Kotetsu groaned, his fingers curling, scrabbling against tile before moving restlessly. His hands finally found a purchase in Barnaby's blond hair, and he watched Barnaby through lust-hazed eyes as his partner took him in, over and over. His hips twitched involuntarily, pushing towards that wet heat, and Barnaby's tongue curled around him, pressing firmly. It didn't take long for Kotetsu to climax, one hand reaching up to cover his mouth, muffling his groan of release.

He grimaced, staring down at his partner, even as his legs shook with the effort of holding himself up. "Sorry," he muttered. "I didn't have time to warn you." Barnaby just chuckled, licking his lips, and Kotetsu flushed, both embarrassed and aroused at the sight. Once Barnaby was certain Kotetsu could stand on his own, he stood up, and Kotetsu realized that he was just as excited as he had been. Hesitantly, he reached for his partner's arousal, but a hand on his wrist stopped him.

He looked up at Barnaby, who just smiled at him affectionately. "I appreciate the thought, but I don't want to come until I'm inside of you," he said. As the words sunk in, Kotetsu flushed, utterly mortified. How could Barnaby say such a thing with a straight face?! He felt himself twitch in interested, and his gaze turned towards his traitorous cock. What was it doing? He hadn't had such a recovery rate since he was a teenager!

Barnaby seemed to approve, though, on hand stroking over him even as he nibbled along Kotetsu's collarbone. "Bed," Kotetsu managed to choke out, because he somehow had the feeling that Barnaby had willfully forgotten that small detail. There was a muffled murmur against his skin, and Barnaby's hands fumbled back behind him until he managed to shut the water off.

Barnaby climbed out of the shower first, tugging Kotetsu after him. The older man shivered as the cooler air hit his damp skin. Barnaby took one of the large towels and handed it to him to wrap around his waist. He did the same for himself, then dropped another towel on Kotetsu's head, rubbing vigorously. Kotetsu laughed and swatted half-heartedly at his partner's hands. "I'm not a kid, you know!" he protested. "I can dry my own hair!"

Barnaby just ignored him, taking the towel and dropping it into the hamper after giving his own hair a quick drying. Barnaby grabbed his glasses and slid them back onto his face, then opened the bathroom door, gesturing for Kotetsu to go first. Kotetsu stepped outside and listened, but the hallway was quiet. Good, it meant that they hadn't woken the two females.

Kotetsu led the way to his bedroom, his hand holding Barnaby's wrist, suddenly glad that he was at the far end from his daughter and mother. Actually, he would've preferred if they were back in Sternbild, or if Kaede and his mother were out visiting his brother or something, but he didn't think Barnaby was in the mood to wait, regardless of who else was in the house.

The moment they were past the threshold, Barnaby had him pressed up against the door, the towels barely holding between them as he kissed the other man breathless. Kotetsu's arms curled around Barnaby's neck, his fingers digging lightly into the skin between his shoulders. His body shifted restlessly, and Barnaby chuckled into their kiss, the vibrations traveling across Kotetsu's lips and tongue, making him groan with anticipation. Just because he had never had sex with another man before didn't mean he wasn't willing to give it a try, and Barnaby's kisses were absolutely wonderful.

Barnaby broke away from the kiss and lowered his head, kissing and nibbling his way across Kotetsu's collarbone. Kotetsu's head leaned back against the doorway, his legs trembling, and he gasped out, "Bed!" At this point, the only thing he could think about was getting to the bed before he ended up on the floor instead.

At first, he wasn't sure Barnaby had heard him. He was trying to gather his scattered thoughts for a second attempt, but suddenly Barnaby was moving backwards, pulling him along. The towels, no longer held up by their bodies pressing together, slipped from their hips, but Kotetsu didn't have time to be embarrassed before he was lying flat on his back, staring up at piercing green eyes, blond bangs falling haphazardly over his partner's face. Reaching up, he brushed the bangs away, his fingers gently tracing Barnaby's forehead and cheek before dropping to the bed. Barnaby groaned in surrender and bowed his head, pressing his forehead against Kotetsu's chest.

"Bunny-chan?" Kotetsu asked, concerned. His hand came back up and stroked idly through the other man's hair. Barnaby curled up on the bed, his legs lying over Kotetsu's and his head resting on his chest, above his heart. "You okay?"

A smile played along Barnaby's lips. "I'm perfectly all right, Kotetsu. I just didn't expect you to accept this so readily. I mean, I had hoped, but you loved her so much." He didn't speak Tomoe's name, but he didn't have to.

Kotetsu nuzzled his face against Barnaby's damp hair. "I did, yes," he agreed. "And I still do. But I can love you, too, can't I?" he asked. Barnaby made a small choking sound, half-laugh and half-sob, and Kotetsu wrapped both his arms around his partner. "I'll take that as a yes, shall I?" he said blithely, trying to lighten the mood.

Barnaby's head turned, and Kotetsu gasped, his back arching as a tongue rasped across his left nipple. "Hey, what're you – Bunny!" he wailed as teeth sank delicately into his skin. A warm hand slid down his stomach and over, pausing for a moment to follow the curve of his hips before sliding down to the outside of his thigh. Kotetsu squirmed with pleasure at the firm touch; it had been a long time since there had been somebody else in a bed with him.

"Do you have lubrication?" Barnaby asked, his voice a husky murmur in Kotetsu's ear. His slender fingers skimmed over Kotetsu's rising erection, and the other man flung out his arm, reaching blindly for the table next to his bed and pulling the top drawer open. A moment later, as Barnaby's free hand stroked across his chest, he managed to pull out the small tube and hand it over, body trembling in anticipation. He already knew where this was going, and had resigned himself to the fact that he would be the one taken, but much to his surprise, the idea of being taken by Barnaby didn't worry him. Heh. He really did trust his partner, after all.

"You're smiling," Barnaby observed, his eyes curious. Kotetsu just grinned down at him and shrugged. Barnaby raised an eyebrow, but wrapped his slicked hand around Kotetsu a moment later, and the older man forgot his previous thoughts, forgot everything but the heat and touch surrounding him.

He was barely aware of the younger man sliding a finger into him, then two, his mouth and hand far too much sensory input already. Kotetsu's hands moved restlessly, gripping at the sheets below him, or at Barnaby's hair or shoulders, scrabbling slickly across a damp back, digging harshly into shoulders. Barnaby tolerated it all, pausing occasionally to stretch upwards and kiss Kotetsu again, their tongues sliding against each other, stealing each other's breath.

When Barnaby finally slid into him, the burn making Kotetsu gasp and cry out, knuckles pressed against his mouth to muffle the noise, the other man gazed down at him with so much love in his eyes that Kotetsu wanted to cry. "Kotetsu?" Barnaby asked, and his voice was anxious as he froze, not moving. "Are you okay? Did I hurt you too much? I'm sorry," he said, his hand cupping Kotetsu's cheek as he watched him worriedly.

Kotetsu shook his head. "No, it doesn't hurt," he replied softly, his own hand pressing against Barnaby's. "But if you don't move, it might hurt us both." Barnaby just gave him an amused look and started moving, and Kotetsu groaned his approval. It was slow, and gentle, and everything he could have possibly wished for. Barnaby's hands were busy holding him up off of Kotetsu, so the brunette reached his own hand down to fist his arousal. Barnaby leaned down to kiss him again, and the added stimulation was all that was needed, and he came moments later, clamping down around his lover. Barnaby came a few thrusts later, then collapsed on top of Kotetsu, panting.

His arms wrapped around Barnaby, holding him as they both came down. After several minutes, during which their breathing was the only sound in the room, Barnaby shifted, and Kotetsu released him. Standing, he leaned down and gave Kotetsu a brief kiss. "Back in a moment," he murmured. Wrapping one of the towels around his hips, and picking up the other one, Barnaby left the room. Kotetsu propped himself up on one elbow and watched him walk out the door.

He was back moments later, the extra towel now damp with warm water, which he used to clean both himself and Kotetsu, who protested the idea of being cleaned by his lover. He silenced his complaints with another kiss, and Kotetsu submitted to the process. Afterwards, Barnaby helped him out of the bed, and they changed the sheets together before curling back up, exhausted.

Barnaby laid a kiss on the top of Kotetsu's head and murmured, "I really do love you, you know."

Kotetsu smiled up at him. "Yeah, I know. Love you too." Those were the last words spoken before both men fell asleep, curled up together in the bed.