A fill from the Tiger and Bunny Anon Meme. Prompt: Kotetsu has been learning how to care for pet rabbits, and uses this knowledge to improve his relationship with Barnaby, who has a conspicuously high number of bunny-like behaviors.
Warning: References of sexual contact.
The easiest way to tell when a rabbit is irritated is if he starts thumping his hind legs on the ground. When your rabbit is thumping, back away and give him some space until he calms down. If thumping persists, then there could be something dangerous in the area.
Barnaby did not understand why Wild Tiger had to be so ungodly annoying. It was one thing to have an incompetent, dull-witted fool by his side in the field, but another thing entirely to complete paperwork side-by-side with the idiot, too. His flaws proved endless: he kept his desk in disarray and covered in stupid mementos, he chose the most inefficient way of calculating totals, he constantly joked about and discounted his own mistakes, Lloyds had to nag him daily about deadlines and overdue forms, he kept arriving late for dumb reasons, and he used equally moronic excuses to try and leave early! If Barnaby didn't have company orders to be part of this team, he would quit it in a heartbeat!
Specifically, in this moment, Barnaby felt that quitting would not properly address the wrongs inflicted upon him. Kotetsu had bought a fountain drink with lunch, and spent half an hour sucking up the absolute last dregs of liquid with a horrific slurping noise. One he got bored of that, he popped the top off of his drink and started chewing on the ice cubes, the sickening crunch resounding through the entire office and putting Barnaby's teeth on edge. Yes, more than quit, he wanted to wring Kotetsu's neck as vengeance, this man who turned Barnaby's office life into a living hell!
Barnaby tried valiantly to ignore it. He stared all the harder at his computer, tapped all the harder on his keyboard, and willed his ears to stop hearing his stupid partner's stupid mouth, but, surprise, that didn't work. Frustration boiled over and vented out the only outlet Barnaby could find that didn't involve inflicting bodily harm on a certain old man: tapping his foot rapidly on the floor, the soles of his boots adding light clicks to Kotetsu's racket. As satisfying as punching that moron in his ice-crunching jaw would be, Barnaby chose to be the better man and quietly rapped his toes on the floor, just to give himself some sort of relief from stress.
To Barnaby's surprise, just a few minutes after he began tapping his foot, Kotetsu stopped crunching his ice. He looked over at Barnaby with a really weird, mostly confused expression. Barnaby paused his work to glare at Kotetsu.
Kotetsu pulled one of his dopey faces: lower lip pinched by his teeth, one eye scrunched up, the other eye wide. "Uh… am I annoying you?"
As much as Barnaby hated to admit it, the old man hit the nail right on the head. "Yes," he answered curtly. "The way you're eating that ice is very distracting."
"Gotcha," Kotetsu said. He took the cup of ice, lid, and straw, tossed it all in a nearby trash can, and sat back down at his desk. "My bad."
Barnaby almost couldn't believe it. The stupid, tactless old man, showing sensitivity to Barnaby's wishes? Possible? Probable? Happened.
But it's not like one act of kindness would cause Barnaby to suddenly think favorably of his partner or anything. Any one of his other faults was more than enough to drive Barnaby up the wall. But for the moment, his foot stopped tapping, and he felt calm enough to complete his paperwork in the peace of a quiet office.
Be sure to only use positive reinforcement with your rabbit. DO NOT punish bad behavior; just ignore it. Your bunny won't always understand what he's done wrong, so punishment does nothing. Your bunny has to feel safe around you before he can change. At the same time, be sure to reward good behavior with treats. Rabbits respond very well to sweet fruits. Be careful! Chocolate is toxic to rabbits.
Barnaby's not entirely sure why he decided to pick up coffee for everyone in the office. He had already invented a pre-prepared excuse to use in the event that someone questioned him on his sudden generosity: since he was already out buying coffee, it made sense to think of the others, so they could begin the workday faster. But Barnaby had never considered bringing in coffee before, no matter how often he bought it for himself. The notion hadn't even crossed his mind before. But now, in the aftermath of Lunatic's attacks, against all odds, Barnaby… tolerated Wild Tiger. No amount of luck could erase his partner's flaws, but Kotetsu's rapid and at times helpful responses—doing independent research, disarming Lunatic with his wires, immediately telling Barnaby about a suspect that had survived the burned church—certainly helped Barnaby not resent their partnership as deeply as he had before.
So he arrived with the coffee, trying his hardest to act like it was no big deal. The secretary obliged him and said a very normal "thank you," but Kotetsu just had to make a big deal about Barnaby bringing coffee. He almost cooed sickly, simpering gratitude, phrases along the lines of, "Aww, Bunny! That's so nice of you!" Honestly, such exaggerated thanks almost made Barnaby regret bringing coffee in the first place. Barnaby (probably) brought the coffee so that the office would run more smoothly, not grind to a halt thanking the person who did the favor. Besides, if he wanted attention and praise, the media and his fans did a much better job at stroking his ego. Barnaby could care less about his partner's approval.
When Kotetsu finally got bored of exalting the coffee, he turned to Barnaby and said, "Oh, hey, Bunny—"
"My name is Barnaby."
"Whatever, I bought a variety-pack of candied fruits a little while back, just to try them out. I brought one to the office today." Kotetsu retrieved the packet in question from his desk drawer. Dried, candied mango chunks. "Wanna try it?"
Not exactly. Barnaby wasn't in the mood for sweets, and he didn't care much for mango either way. But, this could be a chance to show his overexcited partner the proper way to say thanks for favors. Barnaby took the handful-sized packet of fruit and said, "Thank you." Simple as that. Kotetsu beamed, and the both of them turned back to their work.
The mango was really good, actually. Tangy and sweet, contrasting strongly but pleasingly with the bite of his coffee. Barnaby ended up nibbling on the rest of the packet through the morning, and finished it by lunch. Then, a pattern started to emerge. Whenever Barnaby performed some favor, no matter how small—be it bringing coffee to the office, offering to stay a few minutes late to straighten up, or even lending Kotetsu a pen when he inevitably lost his—Kotetsu tossed a little packet of candied fruits his way. More mango, but also pineapple, kiwi, papaya…
It startled Barnaby exactly how delicious the candied strawberries were. With the other fruits, Barnaby would eat little chunks one at a time when he was bored, but with the strawberries, Barnaby devoured the entire package immediately, savoring the gummy-sweet-tart flavor of the delectable berry. When Barnaby ate the last chunk, he paused, realizing his indulgence had robbed him of a snack for the rest of the day. Really, Barnaby should have better discipline than that. That sort of behavior was unbecoming of a star hero.
Barnaby set the empty package next to his keyboard, as if there were still fruits inside, and got to work. If Kotetsu noticed how quickly Barnaby consumed the strawberries, he didn't call attention to it. But about an hour into work, Barnaby realized that he had become extremely accustomed to having those little morsels of sugary fruit to snack on through the morning. His fingers twitched, and he had a very strong craving for something, anything, sweet.
Well, he definitely couldn't just ask Kotetsu for another packet or anything! He knew by now that the veteran stocked them in his desk, occasionally eating one himself, but at nowhere near the same frequency with which he gifted them to Barnaby. Even with the source so close, Barnaby's pride would not allow him to ask for another. He'd just have to go about getting his sugar fix some other way.
Barnaby took a quick break from his desk and consulted the office vending machine a few halls down. He found the closest comparison to his candied fruits—a packet of M&Ms—and brought them back to his desk. Try as he might to open the packet carefully, the first tear sent a small cascade of candies rattling across Barnaby's desk, catching Kotetsu's eye. Barnaby just swept them up as best he could, and then brought one to his mouth.
"No!" Kotetsu cried suddenly. Barnaby jumped, the candy in his fingers jumping for freedom and onto the floor.
"What?" he demanded, glaring at Kotetsu.
"Chocolate's no good!" Kotetsu insisted.
"Why?" Barnaby asked. "Are you meddling in what I eat again, old man?"
"I mean… some people have chocolate allergies," Kotetsu explained a little further. "So, it's dangerous."
"I don't have a chocolate allergy. I would know if I did," Barnaby scolded Kotetsu. "And I bought these because I wanted them."
"Oh… So, chocolate's okay…" Kotetsu's panic wilted, but he recovered quickly, making a pinching motion at Barnaby's M&Ms. "Can I have one?"
Already irritated with his partner's meddling, Barnaby decided, "No. These are mine" But while he prepared to further defend his right to the chocolate he purchased himself against the lazy old man, Kotetsu just turned back to his computer and said, "Okay."
Kotetsu seemed to instantly forget and forgive Barnaby's refusal. The day continued as if no such tussle had occurred. The next day, Barnaby made the decision to not let Kotetsu one-up him and took the high road as well, bringing in coffee to the office in spite of Kotetsu's meddling yesterday. Kotetsu thanked Barnaby in his usual overzealous way, but as he rooted around in his desk for Barnaby's usual fruit snack, Barnaby spoke up, completely on impulse, and asked, "Do you have a strawberry one?"
Kotetsu grinned at Barnaby, and plucked a packet of red fruit out of the drawer. "For being such a good Bunny," Kotetsu teased.
"My name is not Bunny, old man," he said. "It's Barnaby."
But, regardless of what Kotetsu called him, Barnaby would not refuse those divine candied strawberries.
Bunnies can get bored sitting in a cage all day. It's usually best to provide your bunny with a lot of toys, and see what type of toys your bunny chooses as his favorite. Then you can start inventing new games where you and your bunny can play together!
One day, Barnaby caught Kotetsu staring at his phone with a very frustrated expression, stroking his beard and scowling.
"What's wrong?" Barnaby asked.
"I'm playing this word-scramble game with my daughter," Kotetsu said. "She thought of a four-letter word that I'm trying to guess. She tells me how many letters are right and in the right place, or right and in the wrong place." Kotetsu turned the phone to Barnaby. He could see two messages: Kotetsu to his daughter, Ages? with her response, 0 bulls 4 cows.
"She says I've got all the letters, but none of them are in the right place!" Kotetsu grumbled. "Where am I supposed to put them?"
A, g, e, s… "Have you tried 'sage?'" Barnaby asked.
"Eh? Sage?" Kotetsu ran through the letters in his head. "Yeah, that's got all of the letters in another order!"
Kotetsu hastily typed out his new guess, and a few minutes later, cheered. "That was it!" he cried. "You're good at this, Bunny!"
"It's a logic game," Barnaby said. "You just look for patterns."
"Still, impressive work!" Kotetsu grinned.
The next day at work, Kotetsu tossed a little wad of paper into Barnaby's work space. Barnaby unfolded the paper and read, written at the top I'm thinking of a four-letter word with a little three-column table written beneath it, one column labeled guess, another column labeled bulls and the third labeled cows. The 'bulls' and 'cows' columns had little notes with them, right letter, right place by the bulls and right letter, wrong placeby the cows.
Barnaby glanced at Kotetsu, the veteran trying valiantly and failing miserably to mask his interest in Barnaby's reaction to his note. Could this old man think of any more ways to waste time? Barnaby rolled his eyes, but decided he had no reason to ignore Kotetsu's challenge. A game of wits broke up the monotony of the office, too, and such a simple game would keep Kotetsu entertained and out of trouble with minimal effort. And how could he resist a chance to one-up his partner?
He penned the first four-letter word he could think of in the 'guess' column, dolt, then folded up the paper and passed it back to Kotetsu. The veteran whimpered when he saw Barnaby's first guess, but, took it in stride and scrawled down the number of correct letters before proudly passing Barnaby back his results.
Bulls 0, Cows 0
No correct letters. No big deal, that just meant Barnaby could eliminate all words containing the letters d, o, l, and t. Barnaby quickly thought of another word and passed it back to Kotetsu: Sing.
Bulls 0, Cows 0.
Excellent. More eliminated letters.
Bulls 0, Cows 2
Two cows, huh? Statistically, the vowels had the stronger chance of being the cows, since vowels were less common than consonants. If he guessed another word with those vowels and cycled out the 'f' and 'c,' he had a good shot at pinning down some of the letters.
Bulls 3, Cows 0.
Three letters in the correct place. No 't' for 'heat,' no 'f' for 'fear,' but Barnaby could make a lot of progress identifying which letters were correct if he started by changing the first or final letter. Deciding to start with the first, Barnaby penciled in his next guess.
When Kotetsu unfolded the note, he let his hands thunk on his desk and glared at Barnaby with a half-disgusted, half-amazed expression. Barnaby just smirked and waited for the note to pass back with Kotetsu's admission of Barnaby's victory: Bulls 4, Cows 0.
"My turn?" Barnaby asked.
"Sure," Kotetsu said.
Barnaby thought for a second, then picked his word: lamp. He drew a line dividing his guesses from Kotetsu's and passed the paper back.
Kotetsu's fist guess: Hero.
Bulls 0, Cows 0.
Kotetsu's second guess: Rare.
Barnaby blinked at the paper. "I just told you all of your letters from the previous word were wrong."
"So I guessed a new word!"
"But your new guess is extremely inefficient. You only guessed one different letter, the 'a'. At this rate, you'll never guess my word."
"Is the 'a' in your word?"
"So put that down! I got a cow!"
Barnaby looked at the word again. The 'a' in 'lamp' matched where Kotetsu had placed the 'a' for 'rare.' "Actually, it's in the right place. It's a bull."
"Then write that down!"
Barnaby passed the paper back to Kotetsu, Bulls 1, Cows 0 properly accounted for. He spent a few minutes tallying his latest expense report as Kotetsu puzzled out his next guess.
Kotetsu's third guess: Star.
"Old man, are you even trying?!"
It turned out Kotetsu was terrible at the Bulls and Cows game, beyond any stretch of the imagination. The old man's complete disregard for guessing logic needled Barnaby, though Barnaby himself enjoyed the game quite a bit when he was the guesser. Soon, Kotetsu stopped guessing Barnaby's words and just kept inventing new puzzles for him to solve, upping the letter count to five, then six letters per word. With six letters to worry about, not to mention the interruptions of work and training, Kotetsu and Barnaby's little note-passing game could last for hours, or even days. And it certainly made the hours spent stuck at a desk a tiny bit more enjoyable, a small distraction that made Barnaby look forward to seeing his partner just a little bit more.
Feed your rabbit a diet of pellets, fresh hay, and vegetables. Be very careful that all food is pesticide-free and fresh. There's a lot more delicious food than just carrots to feed your bunny, and they can be quite finicky. Experiment, and discover your bunny's favorite, healthy meals!
"Kotetsu," Barnaby began. "I know you're concerned about eating more vegetables, but… isn't this a bit excessive?"
"Is it?" Kotetsu tilted his head to the side. "I just didn't know what would taste good together, so I bought a lot of different stuff."
Kotetsu's kitchen counters looked like he had pillaged a farmer's market and raided it of everything leafy or green. Some of the vegetables Barnaby recognized, like a head of romaine lettuce, spinach leaves, celery, broccoli, green peppers, and carrots, but a whole host of other plants looked very strange to Barnaby: stringy, or ruffly, or wildflower-y. Kotetsu had a check-up with the doctors a month after the Seven Matches, and though they declared him almost completely recovered, they had a few recommendations on improving Kotetsu's lifestyle. Eating more vegetables had been part of the list, but the only one that Kotetsu seemed to take to heart, though he openly asked Barnaby for help on how to make this change a reality.
"Well, I'm deferring to your gourmet taste here, Bunny!" Kotetsu declared, adding a mock-reverent bow. "You choose, I'll chop, and we'll eat like kings!"
Still a little suspicious of his partner's overly enthusiastic approach to salad-making, Barnaby took a few steps toward the garden bounty. He set the lettuce and spinach on the cutting board immediately, common staples of salad-making, and then assessed another large, leafy plant with red stems. "What's this?"
"Eh…" Kotetsu tapped his forehead, thinking for a second. "Chard, I think that's called."
Barnaby looked back at the plant and broke off a small piece of the leaves. Nibbling, Barnaby found the taste actually very bitter, and put the plant back.
"Don't use the chard," Barnaby advised.
"Got it!" Kotetsu confirmed, already slicing the romaine head apart.
Barnaby picked over a few more vegetables and found a bunch of fresh, ruffle-leafed parsley. "Were you planning to put parsley on this salad?"
"Only if you asked for it."
"Parsley is usually a garnish for other dishes," Barnaby said. "It doesn't go in salads."
"Oh, is that right? Um, put that back in the fridge, I'll cook it with something else another night."
Barnaby picked up the parsley, and noticed another, similar little bunch next to it. They definitely weren't similar plants, not at all, but since Kotetsu had already failed once to distinguish garnish from ingredient, Barnaby was wary. He broke off another small leaf, rolled it between his fingers, and sniffed. "Kotetsu, this is peppermint."
"Peppermint almost never goes in salads, either."
"All right, I get it!" Kotetsu griped. "Stop shooting down what you don't want and pick more stuff you do want!"
"Why is this all about what I want, anyway? This is your salad, too."
"I told you, I don't know what a good salad is supposed to taste like! That's why you should pick the ingredients."
Sighing, Barnaby put the parsley and peppermint in the refrigerator and looked back to the assembled ingredients. Some orange carrots and white watercress stood out against the mass of green vegetables, so Barnaby set those aside for Kotetsu to prepare. He supposed celery would be a good addition, and maybe the bell pepper, too. Most of the inconsistencies of taste would be smoothed over with the dressing, anyway. Picking out all of these choices among Kotetsu's mish-mash of options—more garnishes, like cilantro and mustard greens, and wheatgrass, which Barnaby could barely believe his partner had been fooled into buying for a salad—proved difficult, but Barnaby also found some sugar snap peas and the broccoli from before.
Finally, Kotetsu had a sizable pile of ingredients, which he tossed together in a bowl and started stirring with salad tongs.
"Do you want yours without dressing?" Barnaby asked. This would be the step where Kotetsu added the dressing, but if for some strange reason he wanted his salad plain, that'd be his choice. Though, it would be very strange for a man trying to adjust to eating more vegetables. Dressing would make the whole salad easier to swallow.
Kotetsu paused. "Dressing?"
"Are you planning on eating your salad raw?"
Barnaby raised one eyebrow. "No, I'm not."
Very slowly, Kotetsu eased the salad tongs down into the bowl, let go, and pulled his hand away.
"Uh… I'm really sorry, Bunny," Kotetsu tried to laugh. "I wasn't thinking about salad dressing."
"Do you have any?"
Barnaby slapped his forehead with his hand. "How could you not think of salad dressing? These aren't the easiest vegetables to blend. Who told you to buy all of them together?"
"Um, the Internet?" Kotetsu offered. "Hey, if we shouldn't eat them together, we can eat them one at a time, right?"
Barnaby glared at Kotetsu. "Are there any grocery stores nearby that are open at this hour?"
"I think there's one—"
"Let's go. I won't eat any of this without dressing."
Once they sorted out the dressing debacle, the salad actually tasted surprisingly good. Barnaby questioned a few mouthfuls, but other combinations of leaf and veggie could even be called delicious. Kotetsu took particular joy in this success, and promised that he'd bring leftovers to Barnaby the next day whenever he had salads at home.
And that didn't sound like such a bad idea. In fact, Barnaby was looking forward to it.
A rabbit's happiness is defined by how easily he can get up and run. If he's in a position where running would be very difficult, then he's very relaxed. For instance, if your bunny suddenly flops on his side, he's so happy, he can think of no better way to show it than just flopping over and taking some time to chill. Bunny-flops are a great time for some relaxed petting: the ears, cheekbones, and temples tend to be 'sweet spots.' If your bunny likes the petting, he'll usually close his eyes, and maybe lean toward the contact.
This day could not be more perfect. From waking that morning refreshed, to breezing through some very simple confirmation forms, to saving the strawberry packet from that morning until after lunch and eating it alongside Kotetsu's most delicious vegetarian creation to date. And that was just all the good things that happened at the office. He and Kotetsu got called out to respond to a bank robbery with five suspects. Kotetsu successfully punched the back door open to let Barnaby inside, and the rookie used his Hundred Power not for strength, but for agility, knocking the thieves to the ground and assembling them in a neat pile for a total of one thousand points. Kotetsu used his power to bust through the bank's front window and ferry the hostages inside to safety, and though he missed out on points due to a technicality (with Barnaby's swift dispatch of the criminals, the citizens were no longer in danger when Wild Tiger rescued them) Kotetsu only cared that the people made it out all right, and his effort was at least regarded as noble.
The sponsors were happy. The people were happy. Kotetsu was happy. Barnaby was happy.
They returned to the Apollon Media transport and removed their outer armor, riding back to the office in the small mobile lounge. A few replays of the night's action rolled on the TV screens: Tiger and Barnaby's show-stopping victory. An excellent episode, if Barnaby did say so himself. He had never imagined there could be a day where things went so right, where he felt an uncontrollable urge to smile. He did control it, mostly, leaving the broad grinning to Kotetsu, who kicked his feet up on the low coffee table and stared at the ceiling, chuckling a little.
As for what happened next, Barnaby couldn't entirely explain it. One minute, he was sitting upright, and the next… he wasn't. There was no turn in the road to force him to the side, no sudden dizziness or loss of balance, Barnaby just flopped over and breathed a heavy sigh of contentment. And it felt wonderful. Lying down after such an exciting day, yes, that sounded great. If he took a nap, ah, that would be the perfect ending…
But some part of Barnaby still recognized that this sort of flop probably looked very strange, a feeling that intensified when he remembered Kotetsu was in the transport, too. And what would he think of Barnaby suddenly falling over? He probably looked ridiculous, or maybe sick. As much as he didn't want to, Barnaby opened up his eyes and noticed Kotetsu staring at him, jaw dropped.
I messed up. Barnaby set about unpinning his own limbs and trying to sit up. "I'm sorry, Kotetsu," he said, finding purchase in his hands but not quite enough strength to push up. "I don't know what came over—"
"No, no, it's fine, Bunny!" Kotetsu moved much more quickly than Barnaby, scooting down the sofa to right beside his partner's head. "I don't mind," he added, reaching out and brushing the fine hairs around Barnaby's ears.
Now that felt good—tingly, tickly, and fantastically soothing. Barnaby abandoned his attempts to sit back up in favor of letting Kotetsu comb his hair back with his fingers. An awesome day of either not doing hard work or succeeding beyond expectations, and now Kotetsu decided to further please Barnaby with a head-rub? The light scratch of his barely-there fingernails, the warm pressure in the pads of his fingers, the relaxing path of his strokes, starting at his temple and brushing back behind the shell of his ear, and then rubbing a little circle at the base of his skull, and then starting all over again. Oh, if sudden losses of balance made Kotetsu stroke his hair like this, Barnaby might have to make a habit of it.
Though Kotetsu's fingers felt good, the veteran decided to explore a bit, changing the path of his fingers with each stroke. The variation frustrated Barnaby a bit, because it meant Kotetsu passed by little spots that made Barnaby shiver, but it had the upside of revealing more sensitive places on the side of Barnaby's face, around his ears, and at the top of his neck. However, Kotetsu's accuracy proved rather inconsistent—he spent an odd amount of time brushing his cheekbones, which didn't feel that good—so Barnaby did the best he could to encourage Kotetsu toward the sweet spots, lifting his head and pressing slightly up into Kotetsu's fingers when they touched a particularly sensitive area. Soon, Kotetsu figured it out, until each pass had Barnaby shivering with joy.
"You were really great out there, Bunny," Kotetsu said, smoothing out a few of the curls near the top of Barnaby's head with his other hand. That felt pretty good, too, but the real happiness still centered on the area just around his ears. Barnaby just sighed again and hummed, unable to imagine any greater joy than lying here with Kotetsu stroking his hair. Well, lifting his head to seek more pressure did put a little strain on his body, but that was a perfectly acceptable trade for the sensation of Kotetsu's fingers through his hair.
Kotetsu seemed to take notice of that little discomfort, so he gave Barnaby an extra little scratch behind his ears before he cradled his partner's head and scooted just a few inches closer, laying Barnaby's head down on his lap and completely removing the pressure on Barnaby's neck, leaving only the warmth of Kotetsu's lap under him and the wonderful shivering sensation above. His eyes closed as the little tingles filled his body. Oh, this was the life… This was so great… Ahhhhhh…
Eventually, the transport arrived at their destination. "We're here, Bunny," Kotetsu prompted. More distressingly, he stopped petting, which made Barnaby pout and snuggle closer to Kotetsu's lap, hoping to encourage a few final strokes. Just a few more, really. Okay, and maybe a few more after that…
"C'mon, we gotta get out of here," Kotetsu said. "Saito needs the undersuits back, and they're going to lock up the van."
"Five more minutes," Barnaby decided. They could wait five minutes, right? And hadn't Barnaby done such a great job for Apollon's sponsors? He felt justified making that sort of request.
Kotetsu chuckled, and gave Barnaby a few more, quick brushes just behind his ears. "Don't worry, Bunny. We can do this again later. But we gotta leave."
Barnaby still had no intention of getting up. Would Kotetsu really be so heartless to make Barnaby get up when he felt this wonderful? That would be the definition of cruelty, interrupting such a blissful paradise.
"I can continue for as long as you want anywhere else…"
Barnaby's eyes opened, and he glanced up at Kotetsu. Kotetsu looked back down at Barnaby, awaiting his answer.
You drive a hard bargain, Barnaby thought, but he finally pushed himself up to a sitting position and let Kotetsu stand. But Barnaby had every intention of holding Kotetsu to the 'long as he wanted' part of his deal.
He hoped the old man had the stamina to go all night.
"Chinning" is a way your rabbit marks possession, rubbing his chin all over things he calls 'his' - which may include you. Licking and grooming is another way bunnies show affection. Small bites are also affectionate, but what your bunny thinks is a little nip can still hurt quite a bit. Again, never punish your bunny, but you can let him know that the biting is the problem by making a loud sound when bitten and turning your back on him. He'll get the picture.
Barnaby ran his hands up and down Kotetsu's back, feeling the smooth lines of muscle underneath his shirt. Kotetsu mirrored Barnaby's exploration, a soothing, sensual massage. They stood chest-to-chest in the living room of Kotetsu's apartment, an impromptu but nevertheless welcome embrace.
This had been their life for about a month now. Barnaby still had moments where he wondered how on earth he had gone from absolutely no one in his life that he loved to suddenly being in love, but Kotetsu himself admitted to similar bewilderment, and they decided to simply go one step at a time, just feeling out what the two of them enjoyed.
Barnaby knew he enjoyed kissing. Yes, kissing counted as one of Barnaby's favorite things to do with Kotetsu. But at least as good, or possibly even better, were the close embraces like this, where Barnaby could hook his chin over Kotetsu's shoulder and nuzzle him gently. Moments like this reminded Barnaby of Kotetsu's realness, his presence and permanence in Barnaby's life. Kotetsu was his partner—his partner, Barnaby's partner—and come what may, Barnaby would always have this shoulder, and by extension, this person, to rely on.
Kotetsu rested his chin on Barnaby's shoulder as well, but he didn't nuzzle as aggressively as Barnaby. Barnaby felt a little amused rumble in Kotetsu's chest as Barnaby's standing snuggle turned a little closer to Kotetsu's neck. Kotetsu's cologne drifted into his nose, a light, citrusy, sweet scent. He turned toward Kotetsu's neck and brushed his lips against the smooth skin. Kotetsu hummed again, resting more heavily against Barnaby's shoulder, his beard scratching lightly on Barnaby's own neck. Emboldened by Kotetsu's reaction, Barnaby pressed kisses against the long muscles of Kotetsu's throat, growing braver as the embrace tightened. He kissed more firmly, opened his mouth to taste Kotetsu's skin—salty, hot—sucked on little patches of skin, and bit—
"Aaaaagh!" Kotetsu cried out right in Barnaby's ear. Before Barnaby could evaluate the situation, Kotetsu pushed him away and backed up, putting distance between them.
"What happened? Are you all right?" Barnaby asked, confused. He noticed Kotetsu's hand clapped over his neck, right where Barnaby had bitten him.
"Fine," Kotetsu said. "I just… want a beer."
Bemused, Barnaby stood and watched as Kotetsu crossed to the kitchen, pulled a beer out of the fridge, and popped the top. He wouldn't meet Barnaby's eyes, and Barnaby couldn't shake the feeling that Kotetsu was angry with him.
"Kotetsu?" Barnaby's voice sounded so small, even to his own ears.
"Hm?" Kotetsu sipped his beer.
"Nothing's wrong," Kotetsu shrugged.
"Don't lie!" Barnaby snapped, but he quickly suppressed his anger. How pathetic is this? Barnaby thought. The only reason I'm upset is that we're not hugging anymore. Since when was I so needy? But, unwilling to let the matter go without answers, Barnaby continued, "Kotetsu, do you dislike necking?"
"No, necking's fine."
"Then… did I bite too hard?"
Kotetsu smiled, and the worst of Barnaby's anxiety evaporated. "I know you meant to give me a love-bite," Kotetsu said. "But it felt more like a love-chomp."
"So it was too hard."
"Just a tad," Kotetsu smirked, lifting his pinched fingers to indicate just how small Barnaby's error was. Barnaby frowned—the bite must have been very painful to warrant such an extreme reaction—but he joined Kotetsu in the kitchen and gently took the beer from Kotetsu's hand, setting it aside.
"May I try again?" Barnaby asked.
Kotetsu raised an eyebrow. "You think you got the hang of it?"
"How am I supposed to do that if I don't practice?" Barnaby stepped a little closer and threaded his arms under Kotetsu's.
"Aw, you're adorable, Bunny," Kotetsu cooed, returning Barnaby's embrace.
Barnaby took a moment to just hold Kotetsu close, resting his chin on Kotetsu's shoulder, before he turned his attention back to Kotetsu's neck. He started again with little kisses, exploring exactly how his and Kotetsu's bodies fit together when pressed this close, and then moved on to small licks. With one hand, Barnaby reached around and combed his fingers through Kotetsu's hair, smoothing it back. Kotetsu unwound in Barnaby's arms and sighed a little. Briefly, Barnaby wondered if he should just abandon learning 'how' to bite, since things were going so well, but he decided against it. He liked biting—he wanted to bite Kotetsu in a way that he would like, too.
Opening his mouth just a little, Barnaby sucked and drew some of Kotetsu's skin between his teeth, gently pinching. With the taste of Kotetsu in his mouth, Barnaby longed to just bite down, hard, but he feared driving Kotetsu away again. He settled for light pressure, almost a massage on Kotetsu's neck… but it really didn't seem like Barnaby was 'settling' for anything at all. Kotetsu gasped and clutched Barnaby's back, pulling him closer rather than pushing him away. Barnaby lifted his head and repeated the action on another spot on Kotetsu's neck—suck, press, little bite-movement with almost no real pressure, but Kotetsu loved it, whispering Barnaby's nickname as his fingers dug into his back.
Satisfied that his second try biting Kotetsu's neck pleased his partner, Barnaby pulled back and let his forehead rest against Kotetsu's. His partner's amber eyes stared back at him, pleased.
"Good, Bunny," Kotetsu whispered, before he added teasingly, "Want some strawberries for that?"
Barnaby smiled, but turned his head a little and kissed Kotetsu firmly. Kotetsu kissed back, using his leverage on Barnaby's back to keep them pressed together. When they broke, Barnaby answered:
"This time, I'd like some Tiger instead."
Barnaby wasn't entirely sure why he had opened the bedside table drawer at two in the morning. He knew he had been looking for something—a tissue for his sticky chest? His glasses case?—but when he found a thick bundle of printed pages, curiosity got the better of him, and he abandoned his original objective in favor of reading.
With Kotetsu snoring, for all intents and purposes dead to the world, Barnaby turned on the lamp and looked at the first page: a printout from a website called 'My Pet Rabbit.' Barnaby flipped through the pages, and found more of the same, printouts from various pet-rabbit websites. The Bunny Basics. Rabbit-dot-org. BunnyCare-dot-net.
Strange? Certainly. Suspicious? No. But then Barnaby looked closer at the contents of the pages and found Kotetsu—presumably, because who else lived in this house?—had heavily marked the pages, underlining some sentences and crossing out others.
The easiest way to tell when a rabbit is irritated is if it starts thumping its hind legs on the ground… Rabbits respond very well to sweet fruits. Be careful! /Chocolate is toxic to rabbits/… Feed your rabbit a diet of /pellets/, /fresh hay/, and vegetables... If your bunny suddenly flops on his side… The ears, /cheekbones/ and temples tend to be 'sweet spots'… "Chinning" is a way your rabbit marks possession, rubbing his chin all over things he calls 'his' - which may include you.
Barnaby stared at the pages in confusion. Why would Kotetsu need so much information on rabbits? And why would he cross out some information, some of it crucial to the health and safety of a pet rabbit? Barnaby found a few other lines marked with question marks, such as Most rabbits do not enjoy being picked up, since they're ground-dwellers by nature. and Rabbits can jump hard enough to break their own backs, so always let your bunny go if he struggles. Why would Kotetsu question documented facts about bunnies?
Kotetsu stirred beside Barnaby, noticing the light and lack of his partner's presence. He sat up, rubbed one eye, and blearily asked, "Bunny? You okay?"
The pieces suddenly fell into place. Of course. But Barnaby asked, "Why do you have all of this information about rabbits?"
Barnaby showed the papers to Kotetsu. "You've gathered a lot of research on pet rabbits."
Kotetsu stared at the pages, until recognition dawned on his face. "Oh! Y-Yeah, I did."
"Is it for your pet rabbit?"
"Kotetsu, focus!" Barnaby snapped at him. "Why do you have so much information on rabbits if you don't own a pet rabbit?"
"Eh…" Kotetsu scratched at the back of his head. "Let's go back to sleep. Talk about this in the morning…"
But Barnaby wouldn't wait. "Am I the pet rabbit?"
"Wha? No! What makes you—"
"You've edited these notes to reflect my behavior!" Barnaby accused. "You're treating me like your pet! Is that all I am to you?"
"No, that's not what I was trying to do! Bunny—"
Hearing his nickname, Barnaby snapped. He threw the research down on the floor, stood up, and found his clothes: underwear, pants, shirt.
"Oi, Bunny, where are you going?"
"I am not a bunny!" Barnaby shouted. He slid his glasses onto his face and stormed out of the bedroom. "Don't treat me like one!"
Downstairs, Barnaby flipped on the lights, waiting a minute to adjust to the much brighter light. How dare Kotetsu think of me as an animal! As his pet! Something he could train! Barnaby blinked just a few more times, and then found his jacket and boots near the doorway. He sat down and unlaced the shoes, shoving his left foot inside.
"Hang on just a second!" Kotetsu thudded around upstairs, and soon appeared at the top of the stairs in a pair of lounge pants. He took the stairs two at a time to catch up to Barnaby. "Please, let me explain!"
"How can you explain training me as a pet?" Barnaby spat, tugging forcefully on his laces.
"Just listen, Barnaby," Kotetsu used his partner's name. "Please."
Barnaby paused. It was atrociously late at night, and for all of Barnaby's anger, he really didn't want to make his way back to his apartment via public transport, with all the drunks and crazies. He supposed he could give Kotetsu a few more seconds to try and talk his way out of this. He turned around and folded his arms, waiting for Kotetsu to explain.
"Okay, I did start the bunny-research back when I really didn't like you," Kotetsu said. "You just—I really didn't like you, and I wanted more ways to tease you and compare you to a bunny rabbit. I'm not gonna lie about that."
Barnaby's eyebrows tightened. The old man was not doing himself any favors, starting chronologically.
"But the first thing I noticed when I was looking up bunny stuff is that you really do tap your foot when you're irritated. Thumping, that's called. And it turned out, I could use your thumping to know when I was annoying you. And then I could stop whatever I was doing and things would go back to normal. It made it easier to get along with you, back when we didn't want to be partners."
Barnaby remembered that part—whenever Kotetsu's most annoying behaviors got too bad, Barnaby would tap his foot rapidly, and in a minute, Kotetsu would get the hint and cut it out. And he might not have known to do that without looking up facts about rabbits, and then Barnaby would have been even more miserable for even longer.
"And all the stuff I kept finding, it wasn't about how to tease or annoy rabbits. It was about how to care for them. I mean, I guess it's a little weird that so much of the stuff actually worked, but I'm not complaining. It meant I had clues about how to make you happy, and I could use them to make the both of us happy together."
Kotetsu plopped down beside Barnaby on the floor and took one of Barnaby's hands in his.
"I know it's not really romantic, if I need a guide to figure out what's going on in your head," Kotetsu said. "And I'm not that good at this reading-between-the-lines stuff. But I promise, Bunny, with all of my heart—I want you to be happy. I want you to know I'm here to take care of you when you need it. I want you to feel loved. Because I love you."
Barnaby stared at his shoes, but didn't let go of Kotetsu's hand. Yes, Kotetsu's reasons for beginning the bunny research infuriated him, and he felt humiliated to know how effective those rabbit-training techniques were at altering his behavior. But Barnaby really had felt loved, especially when Kotetsu pet him around the analogous rabbit sweet-spots, and when Barnaby had a chance to 'chin' Kotetsu's shoulders, and feel his close presence.
"We can talk about this again in the morning," Kotetsu promised. "If you really look at those sites, most of them talk about rabbits as intelligent and inquizzy and stuff."
Snickering, Barnaby squeezed Kotetsu's hand. Yes, a chance to explain more fully—in the morning—would be welcome. Finally, Barnaby looked to Kotetsu, disheveled and desperate for Barnaby to stay.
"Will you pet my hair until I fall asleep?"
"Do you want me to?"
"Then I will," Kotetsu said, reaching out and brushing his fingers along the well-learned set of sweet spots. "Thank you."
Barnaby squeezed his eyes shut and shivered. "Upstairs, old man," Barnaby told him. He unlaced his boots and followed Kotetsu back to bed, the shock still present but the insult wearing off. Barnaby supposed this was proof of love; if he would go back to bed with a man who treated him like a pet bunny rabbit, there had to be some stronger emotion compelling Barnaby to stay.
While most cats despise water, tigers love taking baths to help keep themselves cool. They'll submerge themselves in lakes and streams, but neck-deep only. Tigers don't like getting water in their eyes, to the point that they'll actually enter the water backwards to prevent this from happening!
Sternbild enjoyed really consistent weather through all seasons. The summers stayed cool enough for Kotetsu to wear black dress pants, and the winters only required coats and scarves for a few weeks out of every year starting around Christmas. But, there were a few 'snaps,' where the temperature spiked low enough for blizzards in winter and high enough for heat strokes in summer. Those days, Kotetsu just did the best he could to ignore the wacky weather and get on with his day.
Once, a summer hot snap fell on the weekend, and Kotetsu begged Barnaby to go to the pool with him. He didn't have to beg too hard, since even Barnaby couldn't deny the heat, though he did insist on packing a proper Pool Bag: towels, goggles, sunscreen, snacks, lunch (Barnaby's favorite combo of bunny-veggies with an Italian vinaigrette, and a double-stacked deli meat sandwich for Kotetsu that he could slather mayo all over without offending anyone) and a special bag of pool toys that Barnaby kept absolutely secret.
Whatever, who cared when there was a pool? A freaking pool! The neighborhood pool near Kotetsu's house had been built for a swim team, so it had three depth-zones: a shallow three-foot end, a medium five-foot end, and a super-deep twelve-foot offshoot for a diving board. Kotetsu didn't like diving as much as he liked swimming and floating, so as soon as the two staked out some lounge chairs, Kotetsu jumped right in at the five-foot depth. He braced his knees properly to absorb the impact of his heels on the cement bottom without letting his head dip underwater. The cool water covered his shoulders and sapped the excess heat from his body, and that's what counted.
"C'mon in, Bunny! The water's great!" Kotetsu called to his partner on the deck.
Barnaby slipped into the pool much more delicately, also walking along the bottom, jumping and drifting slightly as he made his way toward Kotetsu.
"This does feel nice," Barnaby smiled.
"Wasn't this a good idea?" Kotetsu poked Barnaby's arm, but Barnaby splashed a wall of water at his partner, which Kotetsu barely blocked with his arm.
The pair chased each other around a bit, but Barnaby insisted that Kotetsu keep the worst of the waves away from his curls. Kotetsu saw a chance to tease his partner about fussy grooming, but he let it go, successfully betting that if he left Barnaby's head alone, his partner would show the same courtesy. Even with the water cooling them down and restoring energy, neither hero had much interest in horsing around, but they did spend a long time drifting together, paddling around in lazy circles, chatting pleasantly.
After the better part of an hour, they broke for lunch. Kotetsu wolfed down his sandwich, and then lounged on his chair, enjoying the feeling of the breeze on his wet skin. Barnaby mostly left him in peace, but insisted that Kotetsu apply some sunscreen after a while. The oily lotion felt slimy, but he did enjoy the back rub Barnaby offered to make sure Kotetsu was completely protected. He even liked returning the favor, a chance to put his hands all over Barnaby's strong back.
A few minutes later, Kotetsu felt ready to get back in the water, easing himself in backwards and always keeping his head above water. Barnaby wanted to stay on land, but he produced the first toy from his bag: a nylon ring-frisbee that could fly far with just a little flick. They started up a land-water frisbee game, Kotetsu leaping high to snatch the ring out of the air, before passing it back to Barnaby in his chair. He was proud to report that Barnaby only had to get up three times to retrieve the ring when Kotetsu overshot his chair.
When that game finished, Kotetsu spent another half hour in the pool, just lying on his back and staring up at the puffy clouds in the sky, the water lapping at his chin and hairline, but never higher. What a fantastic way to spend a day: just him and Barnaby at a cool blue pool, beating the heat and enjoying each other's company.
But then Kotetsu tried to get out of the pool. He swam over to the edge and pushed up with his hands, before he suddenly noticed Barnaby standing before him… with a water pistol.
Barnaby shot Kotetsu in the center of his forehead, the water blasting in every direction from the point of contact, into his hair, onto his eyebrows, and even into his eyes. Kotetsu yelped and wiped at his face with his hands—the very hands he was using to support himself on the pool's edge. Without that support, Kotetsu fell backwards into the water, submerging completely beneath the surface and getting even more water on his face. Kotetsu finally surfaced, spluttering, furiously wiping his face and finding that his wet hands only served to make his face even wetter.
Finally, Kotetsu dried his face enough that he could lean on the wall and glare at the evil, evil rookie who had decided to spray him in the face. "What the hell was that for, Bunny?!"
Barnaby smirked, and fired a few warning shots into the air, raining down on Kotetsu. "I'm not the only one with animal behaviors, old man," Barnaby said. "Tigers are the only cats who enjoy water… but they hate getting their eyes wet."
Kotetsu sank back down in the pool until the water lapped at his mouth. Stupid Bunny, bullying an old man like that…
But he had to admit, Kotetsu was at least a little bit curious to learn what other traits he shared with actual tigers. And he was double-glad that Barnaby was willing to do all the hard research for him.