Sara (flowrs4ophelia) wrote,

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FIC POST: AGMIHTF, Chapter 2: "I'm Not the Man They Think I Am At Home" (Tiger & Bunny)

Title: A Good Man Is Hard To Find
[CHAP. 1]
Characters & Pairings: Kotetsu/Barnaby, some Kotetsu/Tomoe, + ensemble (notably featuring Kaede, Nathan, Karina, Antonio)
Rating: hard R
Summary: The city was complicated and dangerous, everything shrouded in facades, and maybe it was no wonder someone like Barnaby who'd never known anywhere else would be so reluctant to trust anyone. Still Kotetsu could imagine nothing lonelier than the childhood he'd spent in a safer and simpler place.
Notes: In which my personal canon of what Kotetsu/Tomoe were like as a couple contradicts the popular model in a bajillion ways and I regret nothing. XD Chapter title from "Rocket Man" by Elton John.

Chapter II
I'm Not the Man They Think I Am At Home


"Got plans for your days off?" Kotetsu asked Barnaby while he was giving him a ride home.

"Some," Barnaby answered curtly.

When a few more seconds passed and he hadn't bothered to elaborate, Kotetsu grinned with inner amusement. "Okay. Hot date or what?"

"I'm getting a new sound system installed in my apartment."

"That sounds great. Though...I've never even known you to listen to any music at home. Or really anywhere."

"I usually find it too distracting. But I did try to play something last night and it wasn't working, so clearly I need a new system." He meticulously explained this with a tone of boredom that seemed to say "What are we even talking about, why do you care?"

"Clearly," Kotetsu agreed.

"I might also visit a friend I haven't seen in a while. Someone who worked in our household taking care of me when I was a kid...You're probably going to see your family."

He shook his head. "Nope, I'll still be on call just in case something serious comes up. And I'm a little behind on paperwork, so I'll probably be going in at least on Sunday."

"Ah." Barnaby seemed a little surprised. After a moment of silent thought, he asked, "Why is it you hardly ever take time off? If you don't mind me asking. You talk about your daughter all the time, I'd think you'd want to see her as often as you can."

Kotetsu was completely unprepared for that. "Oh...Of course I want to," he said with a sigh. "But I don't know that she's so eager to see me all the time. I can't tell her what I do, and when I'm always having to break my promises it gets hard to try to make it up to her."

"So what?" Barnaby smirked for an instant, and his next comment was said in a vaguely teasing way. "When somebody acts like they don't care to have you around much, usually that doesn't do a thing to discourage you."

Out of the corner of his eye, Kotetsu saw him glancing over at him again. Whatever Barnaby saw on his face must have made it clear he couldn't make this go over well by making light of it.

"Sorry," he said, sounding more uneasy now as if thinking he'd said too much. "I'm sure you must have your reasons, I'm not trying to...You should just understand, even if you aren't always appreciated, it doesn't mean you aren't needed."

"Sure, Kaede needs a dad," he said, muttering low and reluctantly. "But most of the time it seems practically impossible to be the kind of one she needs."

When he was made to say it out loud, something in him recognized for a fleeting moment how ridiculous it sounded. "Well, tough," he heard in his head from long ago, the night he'd had to take Tomoe to the hospital with a broken ankle and they'd had a horrible argument while in the waiting room. It was a memory that had somehow become more and more painful with the passing of time rather than fading in relevance.

At hearing those words, Barnaby had kept his eyes fixed ahead with a sudden stiffness about him. He shifted his grip on the steering wheel and simply said, "I see."

It wasn't like Barnaby looked angry, but it was obvious there was something quite different from "I see" that he might have liked to say. And that memory, however it had surfaced, was flaring up now as a burn of growing anger putting him firmly on the defensive, making him feel almost like he was back there fighting with her again. It was so unusual and unexpected for Barnaby to actually express any kind of curiosity or concern about Kotetsu's personal life, but now he thought he was starting to see exactly where these questions were coming from, which just set him on edge a bit more. Barnaby had been just four when that unimaginable nightmare left him an orphan. The same age Kaede was when...

It wasn't the same, though. It wasn't.

"I understand that you must have been really lonely growing up, Bunny," he said, making himself keep his tone conciliatory. "I know it was really bad. But don't make this about you."

Barnaby had stopped at a light, and when he looked at him briefly, his expression was unapologetic. "Kind of seems you're the one making it about me," he said, almost coolly. It was like a challenge. Sorry, just saying it for your own good, old man. He still thought this was cute.

Fortunately, five years of marriage and about that many years of an occasionally tumultuous relationship before that had taught Kotetsu something about controlling himself when he needed to be careful not to say anything he'd really regret. So at first he fell silent at that instead of replying with anything horribly easy and pretty irrelevant he might have been thinking like What would you know about what it's like, nobody depends on you, you've never had to worry about losing the only job you can do if you aren't entirely committed or All you have to do is show up on screen, flashing your stupid fake smile and flipping your beautiful fucking blond hair in that way that tilts your head back and makes people uncontrollably think about licking something off your neck, and they throw money at you like they would at some stripping harlot.

Instead he only said in a low voice, repeating Barnaby's words from a few weeks ago, "'Within reason.' Got it?"

When Barnaby said nothing back, he took it to mean he understood. In the silence between them that followed, he soon found himself able to think a lot more clearly again, and it suddenly seemed strange that he'd almost gotten so worked up about it. The feelings he'd been having just minutes ago already seemed unexplainable and ridiculous as he realized it hadn't been Barnaby he was really angry at.

By the time Barnaby pulled the car up to his block, his expression was mild and he seemed to have gotten similarly contrite. The two of them could still get under each other's skin now and then, but this felt completely different and new in a way that had simply turned awkward at some point after they'd stopped talking.

"I'm sorry I brought it up," Barnaby said as Kotetsu got out of the car.

"Yeah," he just said back.

As a brief last exchange the words were not quite warm, but they seemed to leave the thing reasonably resolved. He was sure when they saw each other again in a couple days, it would practically be forgotten.

There was no window in Barnaby's bedroom, only very dim light shining in from somewhere outside the door. Dark walls, dark sheets, and in the center of this cave, calm green eyes opening. They looked up to see him with realization but not surprise.

This sure wasn't like a lot of sex dreams Kotetsu had ever had before, if that was where this was going. With Barnaby lying across his bed before him, he bent over him on all fours, not touching him yet, just framing him protectively. Then without a word they were kissing, deeply and heavily. When he then kissed Barnaby on the forehead, that made him blink with some sharpening awareness, and a bit of nervousness and confusion came into his eyes.

It's just me, Kotetsu assured him.

How did you get in? he demanded.

You let me in. Remember?

He shook his head, looking like he wasn't sure. No...

Yeah. Kotetsu took both his wrists and held them down on the mattress by his head, fanned out his fingers in Barnaby's palms to gently pry his hands open, and then interlaced their fingers together securely. He leaned his forehead down against his as he kept speaking. You're okay. I'm not going to take anything. Just want to make you feel good. Let me do that?

Want to make yourself feel good, Barnaby said. It was more like a cold correction, So naïve, than an accusation.

Sure. He then spoke so close to him that his lips brushed against his as he kept whispering. But I won't hurt or use you or screw you over, see. And maybe you'd like to make me feel good, too...?

Barnaby shuddered a little. Slowly he opened his mouth, let Kotetsu press his tongue inside and run his hands everywhere, feeling the shape of him in the dark. Barnaby took hold of his hand to guide it down and pressed it over his cock, and Kotetsu heard his breath catch as he started rubbing him gently, cupping him through his pants. As it went on, Barnaby seemed to start looking at him with more familiarity and easiness.

Then Kotetsu heard something, or felt something; either way it made him look back behind him toward the open bedroom door. What's that?

What are you talking about? Barnaby asked, practically in a gasp as Kotetsu kept touching him. But then he knew it was here, too. Something or someone had snuck in. He gripped Kotetsu's back hard, wanting, getting angry, both. Idiot. You let it get in behind you.

No, I swear. That was already here. Dropping his hands to the mattress, he looked again and there it was. Sitting on the shelf at the top of the closet, one of those ugly stuffed bears was staring at them with its empty black eyes. Inanimate and harmless, but...

It becomes something else when we're not looking, he said, looking back at Barnaby. It was the only logical explanation. Damn, how had they been so stupid? What were they going to do?

Impossible. Barnaby had started sort of panicking now, struggling to get Kotetsu off of him.

But Ouroboros...

Ouroboros is gone. She'll tell us that when she wakes up. Now freed from Kotetsu's protective cover, Barnaby was getting himself back under the blankets. This isn't working, you fucked up. Please just get out. Make sure you close the door behind you this time, and I told you about getting that window fixed. Cats and all.

No, I'm not leaving you alone with that thing. What was going on? There was something right in front of his face, something very wrong with Barnaby's life, and if he didn't get it out of here nobody else would, nobody else had ever gotten close enough to see it. But he was already a lot less close than before, kneeling on the mattress three feet or so away from Barnaby, as the bed seemed to grow...

When Kotetsu's eyes came open, the first thing he was aware of was the pang of hardness between his legs. He groaned at this with annoyance, rolling right off of the couch where he'd dozed off last night.

Well, that had not made any sense at all. He dragged his feet clumsily all the way to the bathroom, kicking some beer cans strewn in his path. Drinking before bed, that would always do it.

He promptly got rid of the dream in the shower, closing his eyes and starting to stroke himself the moment he stepped in under the water. It was good while it lasted, and then he had a whole day to himself ahead of him while all the other Heroes would be enjoying their time off, and thinking about it kind of made him feel like he'd just like to go back to bed.

At least it made him feel a little better, and in a strange way less alone, to remember that the most exciting thing Barnaby was doing with his time today was trying out some new speakers. And to think he once felt like they had nothing in common.


Tomoe's favorite law show she had to catch every week was on. She was relaxing back against Kotetsu's chest and between his legs as they shared a place on the couch with their feet up on the recliner. Now a couple months into her pregnancy, she was developing a habit of occasionally keeping her hands rested over her stomach in a way that seemed unconscious. Her hands kept flying up to hit him on the leg, however, whenever he was distracting her with his own hands.

"I'm trying to pay attention!" she said, giggling a little and trying to squirm away as he put little kisses along her neck and shoulder.

"Too late anyway," he said. "You probably already missed the most important details about the case earlier while you were in the kitch—"

"Shhh!" she said, reaching back and failing amusingly to cover his mouth with her hands without turning around.

By the time of the next commercial break, he'd finally settled for playing with her hair for a while and was arranging it in a long braid.

"Heidi mentioned something about this show at the office today," Tomoe said, "and then everyone got in this big debate over whether Perry Dubois is actually that hot after I said I don't understand the big deal about him."

"Which one's he?" he asked. "The guy who plays Warren?"

"Yeah, everyone loves him." As he laid the finished braid over her shoulder, she turned to sit sideways across his lap so she could look at him. "I like the show and everything, but I'm tired of seeing his face on cologne ads and stuff all over town, you know?"

"Well..." Kotetsu's lips tightened as he tried not to grin.

She raised an eyebrow. "Seriously?"

"You really don't think so?"

"Nuh-uh. Not hot."

"He is!"

"He's not even that talented, and he looks like such a cocky sleazeball," she said, now in teasing laughter.

"Honestly, why else do you think I tolerate watching this show with you?"

She laughed even more, hitting him on the chest. "I don't know, there's his assistant Esther, too."

He pursed his lips in consideration for a second. "Well, yeah, I'd say she's just as good-looking. But she doesn't appear nearly as much as Warren."

"Jeez, it's lucky for me you have better taste in women than men," she said haughtily.

"Lucky for me you have lousy taste altogether," he muttered with a smirk.

"Aww, shut up." She circled her arms up around his neck as he turned his head down to kiss her.

When the first scene to come on after the commercial break was over showed Dubois's character at home with no shirt on, Tomoe immediately covered his eyes to annoy him, laughing as he struggled to get her hands off him saying, "Hey, pay attention, you're missing important stuff!"

They switched over to another channel once the episode was over, and Kotetsu eventually laid his head back and closed his eyes to the droning of the news, feeling Tomoe also getting still and calm where she lay curled up against him with her head on his chest.

It seemed he was half-asleep later, lulled by the soft noise of the television, because it was the sudden absence of the noise after Tomoe had picked up the remote and turned it off that woke him up.

He felt Tomoe's whisper close to his face. "Kotetsu..."

When he opened his eyes, blinking and taking in the surroundings in the now dim room without the screen on, he found that she seemed to be listening intently for something, her eyes fixed away from him on nothing specific. She was sitting very still.

He started murmuring, "What—?"

Tomoe lay a tense hand on his chest and finally looked at him. "I think there's someone in the bedroom," she whispered, and then her eyes went back to the closed door with a very uneasy look.

Instantly getting attentive, he followed her gaze in the direction of their room. The idea that someone could have broken in seemed ridiculous. The apartment they had then was in one of the more dangerous areas of Sternbild, all so Kotetsu could be close to work when he had to report there in a hurry, and all the windows in residential buildings around here had bars over them. But with how many NEXT were walking around these days, one could never be sure that would keep anyone out. Especially in cities like this, sometimes there were stories...

As they both stayed still and silent for a few seconds, first Kotetsu heard nothing. Then Tomoe drew in a nervous, slow gasp of a breath when there came a quiet creaking from inside the room that sounded like the closet door moving on its hinges. Kotetsu's eyes narrowed with immediate determination as he glared at the door, tightening an arm around his wife. "Oh, hell no," he said in a low voice.

And at that, Tomoe actually let out a nervous laugh, shrinking in against him and covering a hand over her mouth. He hooked an arm under both her knees to lift her off of him and set her to the side on the couch. As soon as he stood up, he activated his power and then looked back at her, pointing downward to signal her to stay hidden down low. She sunk down against the couch, just barely peeking over the top to watch.

"Hey!" he shouted in warning, serious enough that he managed to sound pretty threatening, or so he hoped.

When he then approached the door, he heard soft sounds of someone stirring inside the room once more. Scurrying off in fear, Kotetsu thought. Yeah, he was pretty scary right now.

"Whoever you are, you better be ready for a professional ass-whooping!" he said as he gripped the doorknob.

He threw the door open dramatically, and then yelled in surprise when something shot past his feet.

He and Tomoe looked down at the thin, slightly sickly-looking white cat that had just darted into the middle of the room, then looked back up at each other. Kotetsu knew one of them was going to start laughing first any moment.

He was hoping it would be Tomoe.

"Um..." Kotetsu put up his index finger. "You might have had a point about how we need to tell the landlord about that weak latch on the window."

"I told you," she said, getting up from the couch.

"You have to admit even you never expected something would be able to squeeze through the bars while it had fallen open."

Tomoe shook her head, looking over at the cat that was mewing pathetically yet didn't look very easy about approaching either one of the people in the room. "This city, I swear," she said with a sigh of annoyance. "Poor thing...What should we do? You don't think it'll figure out how to get back in, do you?"

"Maybe if we left some milk at the window that would keep him happy enough he won't keep trying to sneak in and watch the news."

"Grown cats aren't actually supposed to have milk, Kotetsu," she said, slipping slightly into the know-it-all tone that she'd never completely lost since high school.

"Fine, I don't know!" he said with an exaggerated shrug, and his light irritation made her finally start smiling in amusement.

He was starting to edge his way closer to the cat. He got about five feet away and then darted forward to grab it from the floor. With his Hundred Power still working, the cat didn't even have a chance to see him coming and try to dodge him.

"Oh, he smells," he realized out loud, making a face. "Alright now, kitty, I think you've just gotten yourself lost..." He quickly adjusted his hold on the cat as it tried to squirm out of his arms. Figuring he better get it right out of here before his power got close to running out, he turned to take it back to the window in the bedroom.

As soon as he started into a brisk walk, he ran right into Tomoe. She fell over like she'd been side-swiped by a car, letting out a shrill yelp of pain as his heightened hearing picked up the sound of breaking bones. In an instant the cat had dropped out of his hands as a seizing horror sent Kotetsu backing right away from her, covering five feet in the blink of an eye and pressing himself back against the nearest wall.

"Tomoe." In his panic, his voice barely came out.

In the middle of her fall, she'd toppled to the side and hit her face hard against the shelf beside her. She was gasping with a hand flying to the side of her face, eyes squeezed closed as she waited for the worst of the pain to pass.

"Oh no," Kotetsu moaned, raising his hands over his eyes miserably for a moment. "I didn't know you were coming behind me, I didn't know you were there, fuck..."

"Don't, it's okay," she rasped quietly, every word coming out sounding like a wince. "I know...Hey, get off." The cat had jumped onto the coffee table and was walking all over the greeting cards she was working on making; she leaned to the right just enough to reach out and push it back off to the floor.

Tomoe looked down at her right foot, lifted up her knee just a little to try to move her leg, and cringed. When she looked back at him still standing there like he was paralyzed, her eyes were now tearing up a little and something terrible, something other than the physical pain, started creeping into them. "Why are you over there?" she said.

He widened his eyes, now only feeling worse as he realized what he was doing. It seemed all in a second he'd reverted back to what had been reflexive for him when he was still just a kid. He hadn't even thought about it, he'd just run away from her and stayed back as if he still needed to be careful not to touch anyone at all when he was like this.

Finally shaking himself out of it, he went forward and dropped to her side. He put his hand to her face where she'd hit it as he started looking her over. "Where did you...?"

"I think it's just my ankle," she said. "Kotetsu..."

"You can walk on the other leg?" he asked, lifting her arm up by the wrist to hook it over his neck.

"Yeah, it got pretty banged up but that's all. Kotetsu, look at me."

Her voice was much more steady now as she gripped her hand on his arm to make him stop for a moment. Kotetsu went still and finally managed to look directly at her face, knowing his eyes still must have been wild with the fear that still hadn't quite died down in his stomach since the instant he heard her scream.

"It's not that bad," she said softly. "Okay?"

He let out a final shuddering breath, getting the last of it out, and then nodded. She held onto him around his neck as he clutched her around the waist and carefully lifted her up to stand on her left leg. Just then his wristband started beeping.

"Ah, crap," he said under his breath, looking down at the blinking light.

Tomoe put her hand on the shelf to support herself so she could keep standing without his help. As he left her side to go to the closet at the other end of the room, she asked, "Aren't you even going to answer it?"

"Are you kidding, why? Should I get the wheelchair or the crutches?" He got injured on the job often enough that they already had a varied supply of such items. His power drained just as he started looking around for either one, and then with his eyesight returned to normal he had to switch the closet light on to see.

"Doesn't matter. Wheelchair, I guess. You've never ignored a call, don't you at least want to know what's going on?"

"If it's something serious, why should I waste their time?" He brought the wheelchair over and folded it out.

"It's not like I'm dying," she said in a sigh as he helped lower her down into it. They were silent the rest of the time going down to the first floor and outside. While they rode in a taxi to the hospital, Kotetsu got another call and answered it this time to explain that he was in the middle of a personal emergency and had just used his powers anyway, as Tomoe had a point that it might make him look irresponsible to just ignore it, after all. He almost wished he hadn't answered, especially with her there to hear; it was a fire somewhere on a college campus that couldn't be put out because it seemed some crazy NEXT who must have started it was freezing every drop of water in the area. Kotetsu said he'd report in if he was available later and they still hadn't stopped the guy.

While they were waiting in the emergency room, he still stayed mostly quiet sitting beside Tomoe. He kept feeling like he should be saying something, doing more than just sitting there not touching her, but he couldn't help it. He couldn't stop thinking about the moment it had happened and feeling almost sick over it again and again.

There was a TV up on one wall in a corner that most of the other waiting patients were sitting near with their eyes glued to the screen. It was faced at a bad angle for Kotetsu to be able to see even vaguely from far away what it was showing, but Tomoe had already perked up curiously a moment ago when she heard "back to a Hero TV live broadcast." After a while she finally looked to the side at him and said, "We don't have to sit here. Don't you want to go watch?"

She reached over and clutched his wrist when he didn't answer, pulling him out of his own head. "Not really," he said. "Not right now."

He heard her sigh a little and she drew her hand away, practically dropping it dejectedly. "Shoot. That cat is probably going to piss all over the place before we get home."

The mention of it brought other things to his mind. He looked down at the shallow bump of her belly, like a bomb she was holding in there, and the horrible feeling crawled over him all over again. "This is why I don't like the idea of bringing up a kid here," he said.

"Because there are stray cats?" she asked with a confused look.

"Because we have to be so paranoid about every single noise that might be somebody breaking in."

Tomoe sighed again, with much more exasperation. This was a discussion that had come up before. "And I don't like the idea of bringing up a kid practically on my own."

"I told you it wouldn't be like that."

"But you'll have to be away enough as it is when you're out late working so many nights. You having an apartment here and needing to leave the city every time you visit home, that's too much." She shook her head suddenly, looking like she hated to think about it right now, and added before he could respond to that, "Forget it, this is a terrible time to try to have this conversation with you."

"What do you mean?" he asked, now a bit irritated. "Why?"

"Because you're all sullen and hating yourself too much right now." She gestured down toward her injured foot. "You're making way too much of this."

He looked down at his lap, picking at a small stain on his pants, and muttered in a dull tone, "I'm sorry I'm such lousy company."

Tomoe looked a bit apologetic. "That's not the point," she said, more gently. "Be sullen and depressing, I don't care. But be here with me. I hate when you still sometimes get like this, you sort of...shut me out and get so withdrawn like it would be some burden on me not to just deal with things on your own...Even when you're dealing with a lot or not being the best company I want you to come home to me, you know. I'd miss you too often if I could only see you on TV most days of the week."

"But come on, you really see us staying in that apartment forever? You weren't even crazy about the place from the beginning."

"We can get a different apartment, but there's no way I want to move back home. Of course I have worries about how dangerous it can be here, and you know I'd like to be able to see my family and your mom more. But have you forgotten how much you disliked growing up there?"

"Because it was especially difficult being different in a place like that," he said. "In a community that small people forget nothing you've done and you can't risk letting secrets out."

"Well, you never know...Any kid of yours could end up being different, too. There are those recent studies. They may be pretty inconclusive, but as far as I understand they seem to point to something."

"But not necessarily that it's hereditary, because there's no clear pattern that can explain it that way," Kotetsu said. "Thankfully. If it were that way it'd probably be better for me not to have kids at all."

When she immediately went very stiff and her eyes widened just a little, he knew he'd screwed up. Bad.

"Oh, Tomoe..." He shook his head. "I'm not—"

"That's a terrible thing to say," she said quietly, shifting in her seat in the wheelchair with a sudden restlessness. "What's wrong with you?"

"Look, I'm not saying I'd...My parents didn't care any less about me when it turned out I was like this. Or at least, you know, with my dad that was never the problem," he added off-handedly, really not wanting to touch that subject any more than necessary. "They did the best they could to help me deal with it, but I still had a really hard time. All I meant was I'd hate for my kid to have to go through that."

"Well, tough," she said, her voice now coming out stronger; if they hadn't been sitting in a mostly empty end of the waiting room, they surely would be drawing a lot of attention now. "This isn't anything hypothetical, Kotetsu. We are having a child. You can't just say things like that anymore! You want our son or daughter to grow up hearing those kinds of ideas? Even if we were both normal, there'd still be a small chance the baby could turn out to be a NEXT. Did you ever think about that?"

When he just sat in a sad silence after that, unable to think of what to say, she raised a hand to her face and dabbed her palm over one eye to quickly catch a tear.

" never thought about having kids at all. Or getting married, or any of it." As he opened his mouth she cut him off, adding, "I know, I know you want this. But it's not enough to just want it. I guess it would be a lot easier for you, having your family far away."

"Don't be ridiculous," he said automatically, his voice uncontrollably turning a little hard.

"You might as well not even be here if you're just going to sit around beating yourself up," she said, crossing her arms. "Go to work, you could probably still try to help even without your powers. That's where you want to be anyway."

His mouth dropped open a little in shock. They were the kind of words he'd never in a million years expected to hear from her, even if they would have made more sense to him than her completely selfless and unfailing support. "Tomoe..."

The tears were running liberally down her face now. "Don't look at me like that," she said with a sniffle, wiping at her eyes.

He swallowed and then his voice came out faintly. "You've always told me you understand my job is going to interfere with my personal life sometimes, but it's okay. That it's too important for me to worry about not being able to put you first..."

She shook her head in a jerking movement, putting her purse down in her lap and grabbing the wheels of her chair. "I never told you to use it as an excuse."

"Please, Tomoe, just—What are you doing?" He held onto the arm of her wheelchair as she started trying to steer herself away.

"I don't care if you're not going to watch," she said bitterly, pushing his hand off. "I want to see what's going on."

When she went over where she could see the TV screen, she only got to watch a couple minutes of coverage before her name was finally called and she was taken back to get attention. At first Kotetsu just stayed where he was, looking restlessly down at his callband for a moment of fleeting consideration, even though he knew he couldn't really go. But soon he couldn't just sit there anymore, and he got up to go watch the program. Somehow with Tomoe out of the room, it was easier for him to have interest in it, and the longer he watched the more it started to clear his head and make him feel a little better. Most of the fire had finally been put out now that the culprit was trying to flee the scene, and they needed only to close in on and catch him. He laughed out loud a bit when he spotted Antonio in the distance in one shot getting pulled out of the frame because Red Wave's cape had caught on one of his horns. He hoped that wouldn't get edited out in the reruns so Tomoe could see it.

When she came back out all fixed up with a cast, he was waiting in the same seat as before with two cups of coffee. She approached him in her chair with a tired, halfway resigned expression. He held one cup out to her and said regretfully, "It's not very hot anymore."

She took it anyway. After taking a sip, she grimaced a little. "Not at all."

"You want to get another one?"

She bit her lip for a second in thought. "Okay."

He showed her to the area where all the vending machines were, and she got up to stand on one foot in front of the coffee machine. Kotetsu went to her side and grabbed her waist to steady her more. "Should you be...doing that?"

She just shrugged as she started putting coins in.

"If you're not supposed to put any weight on it at all yet—"

"I need more change," she said, reaching into one of his pockets.

He rolled his eyes at her typical stubbornness as she dug around until she found the last coin she needed.

After she had her full cup of steaming hot coffee, she leaned toward the machine so Kotetsu could let go of her and turned to rest her back against it and face him. As she stood blowing on her coffee, he crossed his arms and looked down at the floor for a while. Then she stopped blowing on it, but didn't drink it either, didn't do anything for a moment, and said quietly and sadly, "I didn't think this was still a problem for you."

Her sympathy was even harder to take than her just being angry with him. With a frustrated sigh, he said, "When I'm injuring my wife? Yeah, then it is still a problem."

"This is nothing like what happened with your brother when you were nine. This was entirely my mistake. Come on, I know it's best to keep my distance when you're powered up, but I was overconfident that nothing could happen and got in your way."

"It doesn't matter, if I was being more careful I should have heard you behind me. I could hear everyone in the building snoring but didn't even pay attention to where—"

"When you can hear everything within half a mile, how are you even supposed to be able to tell exactly how close somebody is just from the sound of their heartbeat? I know you're not that good."

That got him to smile, just a little, before he knew his face grew a bit pained again as he looked closely at her. The side of her face that had gotten hurt was swelling and bruising horribly. "It's just...what something like this happening brings me back to. I can't help it, it's hard for it not to scare the hell out of me."

She shook her head slowly, looking bewildered. "What I just can't understand is how you know you can catch a cat while you're in that state without hurting it, but still you've somehow got it in your head that you can't take care of anyone. That you can't be a father. I know you had this state of mind for a long time that it wasn't ever going to be in the cards for you. But you don't have to worry about being alone anymore."

He hesitated a while before he could say it, so softly and weakly, the thing he could barely even stand to think. "What if I'd done worse than just broken your ankle? What if I'd...the baby...?"

She circled one arm tight around his middle, pulling him a step forward, and looked straight up at his face. "And what if somebody had really been breaking into our home?"

As she kept looking at him with that even gaze, something in him reluctantly began to calm. She reached for his hand and squeezed it lightly. "Let's go home and take care of that furball."

As they rode back, Kotetsu was quiet in thought for a while and finally told her, "I don't want to move back home. You're right, I hated it there and I still wouldn't want to be there most of the time."

She just put her head on his shoulder and said, "We don't have to talk about it now."

"No, I'm serious. I know we still can't quite afford the kind of place where we'd like to be settled for good, but we can get an apartment in a nicer part of Sternbild for now."

She smiled softly with her eyelids falling shut. "Okay."

Something melted inside him as he looked to the side at her then, completely calming him for the first time in hours. He leaned his head against hers as she put an arm loosely around him, resting her hand on his shoulder. He raised her hand from his shoulder to the side of his face, closing his eyes as he pressed it flat against his cheek. "I love you so much," he whispered. "If anything happened to you...I don't know how I'd..."

"Shhh," she said, almost too softly to hear. "I love you, too."

go to chapter III.

Tags: my fic, tiger & bunny, tiger & bunny fic, tiger & bunny fic: mine, tiger & bunny: a good man

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