Sara (flowrs4ophelia) wrote,

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FIC POST: A Good Man Is Hard To Find, Chapter 6: "Rabbit's Foot" (Tiger & Bunny)

Title: A Good Man Is Hard To Find
Characters & Pairings: Kotetsu/Barnaby, some Kotetsu/Tomoe, + ensemble (notably featuring Kaede, Agnes, 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: A lot of the scenes in this chapter and the next one were actually some of the first parts of this fic I worked on when I started writing it after episode 22, so starting right here this is now going into AU territory. (And after making it only 33,000 words into this thing, finally established-relationship territory does not feel so far away for me to get to anymore, LOL. And to think I thought this might end up under 10 chapters...)

Chapter VI
Rabbit's Foot


It was supposed to mean they both had seconds left, hearing that stupid voice counting down three, two...

But their powers were never going to start and stop working simultaneously again, and the activation of that feature on both their suits seemed to hold some bitter irony now as they both landed their attacks, in sync but charging at each other this time. That combined strength had been enough to shatter a layer of diamond armor once, and it was only right before the collision that Kotetsu realized he didn't even know how dangerous this might be, that last thought flying through his head just before they charged together with a horrible and deafening crush as of two cars speeding right into each other.

Barnaby had swung his leg up to catch him right in one side of his chest, the same side he had turned forward to land a punch with his right hand, so that both of them were directing all their strength to roughly the same point of contact and their blows met each other practically directly. The force of the impact sent them both immediately recoiling away from each other before landing in heavy, spinning crashes on the hard surface of the bridge.

The impact had also just shattered the protective armor of Kotetsu's power suit along the right side of the torso. Inside his helmet, red warnings were flashing at his face informing him of system malfunction. With disgruntlement he reached up and just tore the thing off his head, then threw it aside and looked down at the damage. All the pieces that had covered his right arm and shoulder all the way up to his neck were completely demolished and had fallen away, along with a big chunk off his chest and the plate that used to cover his thigh. Almost nothing was securely attached to him anymore. Their suits were easy to move in because the separate parts weren't designed to hold together too tightly, so with so much of his damaged Kotetsu was essentially left with some remaining limbs with no connecting nervous system instead of some still-useful remnants of an exoskeleton...or something like that. It was something Saito had once explained could happen which was one of the only significant shortcomings of his design.

When he looked over at Barnaby, he saw the damage to his suit had been even worse and he'd also already taken off his helmet. Both of them were left to throw off most parts of their armor that were now just cumbersome. While Barnaby did this with a determined silence where he'd fallen on the road about ten feet away, Kotetsu called over, "You alright? Did that calm you down yet?"

In response to this, Barnaby's movements only seemed to take on more of an impatient fervor. He didn't seem to be injured, though, which was a relief.

"Doesn't it bother you?" Kotetsu then asked.

"What?" Barnaby said, his tone vicious and cold.

"That thing in your life that doesn't make any sense."

Barnaby rose to his feet and approached him by a few feet. "What's that supposed to mean? Stop talking like you know me."

Kotetsu didn't rise from where he was. "I know why you're going so crazy with anger right now. It's not just that you've lost someone again, it's that it seems so senseless and without reason again. Another murder without motive. It's like no matter what you keep suffering and you don't understand the reason. Come on, doesn't it feel kind of like you're missing something right in front of your face? Like the pieces don't fit right?"

"Shut up!" Barnaby snapped.

He sighed. "I guess it's only typical you wouldn't really be in touch with your instincts about anything..."

"Enough already! Get up!" Barnaby shouted, crossing the rest of the distance toward him.

"...No." He shook his head, suddenly realizing he couldn't do it. "I'm not going to fight you anymore."

Barnaby bent over and grabbed him by the front of his suit to shake him vigorously. "What kind of a coward are you?! You bastard!"

They both blinked when a sudden bright light shone from overhead; they both looked up and saw an Apollon Media helicopter hovering far above. It gave Kotetsu a small, sudden hope to see that they seemed to be getting filmed.

Then while Barnaby was still looking up at this, Kotetsu's powers ran out. He looked down at his own returned-to-normal form with his eyes going a little wide with dread.

Then Barnaby's eyes were fixed furiously on him as he shook him again. "Just tell me why!" he demanded. "For what evil and senseless reason could you do that to a helpless old woman?!"

"I'm telling you, I didn't," he yelled as he finally got to his feet. "The others were trying to tell you this, too! God, you're hopeless when you get like this! You get on my case for not thinking things through, but then when you get really emotional the mistakes you make are even worse!"

Finally driven past his limit, Barnaby threw a fist right into his gut. He was moderating the amount of strength he used, at least, so that he didn't even hit him much harder than he could have without use of his powers, but it was hard enough. Leaning over and clutching at his stomach, he went on through his heaving breaths, "If that other guy is Wild Tiger...whoever the hell he is...why isn't he here stopping you from doing anything stupid? Isn't that what your partner's supposed to do?"

Then came the first kick to his legs, knocking him right onto the ground. Barnaby grabbed onto his arm to raise him back up enough to punch him across his face, throwing him to the side so quickly he barely caught himself with his hands before falling all the way over. He stayed leaning over like that and staring down at the pavement as he breathed heavily through the dizzying pain, and then spat out blood and wiped at his mouth with his arm before looking back up at him.

"Okay...It's okay." His head sunk down miserably and he could hear the hopeless emptiness in his own voice. "Just arrest me if you have to. I'm sorry. I just want you to know this wasn't your fault. Whatever happens now, if you figure all of this out later, please don't think that..."

When he looked back up, he could see Barnaby wasn't even hearing him. There was nothing in his eyes but blinding white-hot rage. Barnaby grabbed him around the neck and started lifting him effortlessly, practically shaking all over in his anger. Kotetsu started choking and struggling as he was lifted up onto the tips of his feet.

Barnaby spoke in a low grind of words. "I swear I will...Just tell me why you're doing this!"

Suddenly Agnes' voice, severe and serious, came faintly over a speaker, and Kotetsu realized it was coming from the communicator still functioning in Barnaby's helmet. "Barnaby! This is being filmed and now going out live, do you understand? We're broadcasting the audio feed from your suit as soon as I stop this transmission. Now will you get a damn grip and arrest the fugitive already!"

As he heard the last of this, Kotetsu's eyes started falling shut as he got close to blacking out. Then before he knew it, he'd been dropped back onto his feet and was falling to the ground gasping. Barnaby's expression was now filling with the heaviest despair, as if he felt he'd just been denied the one pitiful last thing he had left. At some point in the last half-minute his Hundred Power had reached its time limit without Kotetsu being able to notice.

He was still catching his breath in frantic gasps with his hand around his sore neck when everything abruptly got turned over.

He heard Barnaby give a shocked gasp and looked up to see him leaning over with his hand pressed over his forehead and his eyes closed in a pained look.

"Bunny?" he said, a note of fear in his voice. He had seen Barnaby like this before—the last time he'd seen him before now, in fact. Was it happening to him again?

Barnaby finally lowered his hand from his face and looked up, looking incredibly lost and disoriented, and then his eyes focused on Kotetsu with a slowly registering look of horror. He backed away from him a little and then sank right to the ground, his feet giving out in his shock, and then it came as a faint gasp. "Kotetsu..."

His breath poured out in a heavy sigh, and he allowed himself to just cave in on himself completely for a moment in his relief at hearing his name from him again, leaning his head over on one knee with his eyes closed.

"No," Barnaby moaned, and Kotetsu looked up to see him shaking his head, his eyes wild. "What was I doing? Kotetsu!"

Kotetsu didn't even have a chance to respond to that before Barnaby started clutching at his head again. Something terrible was still happening to him. Kotetsu crawled over to him and grabbed his shoulders. "Bunny! What is it?"

"I remember it all—Maverick! It was him!"

"I know," he said softly, squeezing his shoulders. "He's the one behind this."

"No, it's not just this! It wasn't just Aunt Samantha, he—" The way he looked as he had to say all of it was terrible. He was splitting open with pain right before his eyes, talking almost hysterically. "He was the one! My parents! I saw that he did it!"

Kotetsu felt his own mouth drop open. It was something he probably should have been able to put together by now, but it was just too cruel to imagine, showing a level of evil in Maverick he never could have automatically assumed anyone was capable of. In some ways this had to be just as horrible for Barnaby than never finally knowing, for Maverick to have not just taken advantage of what had happened and never wanted it completely resolved for Barnaby, not just taken measures to cover up the truth about it for some self-interested purpose, but to have actually killed them himself and then committed to such a painstakingly thorough manipulation of him as a surrogate father and so unflinchingly played that part in the life he had ruined.

"No," Kotetsu said faintly, shaking his head as they were both clutching each other like there was nothing else stable to hold onto. "Why?"

"He's with Ouroboros! He always has been!" Barnaby's eyes were still wide and full of horror, seeming to see more right now than what was in front of him, remembering. "He's orchestrated crimes just to serve the show. They figured it out, so he—"

As his voice caught with a sob, Kotetsu reached a hand up to his hair, just holding the back of his head securely. "I'm so sorry," he said in a low voice. "He won't get away with it, Bunny, I swear we'll—"

"God..." Barnaby's eyes shut tight again and he sank forward, his head almost falling against him. "It won't stop coming back, all of it, I don't want to see all of this! I can't..."

"Hey, hey, I've got you," Kotetsu said, keeping a not too close but strong hold on him. "It's gonna be okay, Bunny...Bunny!"

Barnaby was swaying heavily to one side, his eyes rolling up. Then they closed and he fell limp in Kotetsu's grip.

"Hey!" Kotetsu said, lowering him gently to the pavement and then giving him a couple shakes. He heard repeating beeps and saw Barnaby’s callband was lighting up. He picked up his wrist to answer it. “Agnes?”

Her voice came through, urgent and overwhelmed. “Tiger! What’s going on? What’s wrong with Barnaby?”

He was rendered silent in surprise for a second. “Wait—You remember me now, too?”

“Of course, I—This is crazy, I don’t know what’s happened! I feel like I’ve just been slipped a hell of a roofie and woke up in the middle of some ridiculous and elaborate prank.”

“It’s Maverick, he’s a NEXT and he's been screwing up everyone’s memories. Barnaby just recovered his, too, but—I don't know, I guess there was a lot more for him to remember, and he passed out. It’s happened to him before, I think he’s fine...”

She was silent a moment as she processed all of that. “Well, I think I can tell you what happened to make everyone recover at once,” she said dryly. “Maverick’s dead. It just happened.”

He blinked. “Dead? How?"

“Lunatic," she explained simply. "He broke into the building and got him.”

“Did someone see it happen? How do you know this?”

“Because he just came and told us that he did it and warned us that we better get out of the building if we don’t want to die, too. The whole place is still evacuated except for us in the studio, so he’s started a damn fire.”

Kotetsu’s eyes widened as those words sunk in, so much more serious than she was actually making them sound. “The Apollon Media building’s on fire? Well, get out of there!”

“We are just now,” she said, strangely calm about saying it like only Agnes could be.

“Are the other Heroes alright?” he had to ask quickly. “My daughter was still with them.”

“Yes—I don’t know where they have her now, but they know what’s happening and I’ve sent them to do what they can to stop Lunatic. We’ve sent an ambulance for you two, just stay there.”

There were so many other things he could have asked then, but he knew they couldn’t keep talking right now. “Right—And you get out of there, Agnes, don’t try to film anything!”

He heard an exasperated sigh from her. “Don’t worry, I’m quite done getting this mess caught on camera today,” she said before breaking communication.

He looked back down at Barnaby, lifted him up across his lap to see his face closer, and gave him another light shake. "Hey, come on.”

Barnaby’s head lolled off to one side and his chest kept moving barely noticeably with breath, but he still wouldn’t wake up. Kotetsu held his face with one hand, tilting it back toward him, and he leaned over to kiss his forehead with his eyes shut tight with brimming emotion. “It’s okay now, Bunny,” he said softly, getting an arm under his legs. “It's done with. He's gone.” He started lifting up Barnaby's upper body with his other arm, making his head fall back. “Guess I gotta carry you for once, huh?”

It was hard to do, even with much of their armor gone. The last couple days he had already been running and fighting so much of the time with little rest, and now as he stood up lifting Barnaby with him, he felt all the sudden how sore and battered he was from all the attacks he'd taken. He knew an ambulance was on its way, but if part of that confrontation really had been broadcasted just now, he wanted to get as far away from this immediate area as possible before the crowds started gathering hoping to see more. His head felt groggy and his feet kept dragging more and more, but he kept going until he had made it almost off the bridge.

He managed just three more steps and then stumbled to his knees, sighing, "Shit." He heard the shrill sirens approaching just before he lowered Barnaby all the way and collapsed onto his chest.

He knew where he was as soon as he opened his eyes. Sternbild General Hospital was located pretty close to Apollon Media and most of the other Hero agency companies, and by now he felt like he knew half the staff of this emergency room after all the times he'd been treated here before. The nurse taking care of him was a handsome young man with black hair who Kotetsu was pretty sure he'd heard called Adam several times in the past—yeah, A. KIRSHNER it said on the ID he wore. As soon he woke up he started looking around, already knowing it was pointless; the staff at this hospital had perfected their own procedure for handling Hero patients without compromising their secrecy, so he had already been brought into a very isolated room just for shining a flashlight in his eyes and the rest of the fussing-over routine he knew was coming before they'd be satisfied he didn't need anything more than a few bandages and let him be on his way.

When he immediately wanted to know where his partner was, Adam smiled as if thinking he should have been ready for that. "Are you going to be as difficult as he was?" he asked, holding him in place with a hand on his chest after he sat up anxiously. "He's just fine, sir, I think we just let him go. He seemed to have just passed out from exhaustion. You can join him as soon as we can be sure your injuries aren't serious."

That put him a little at ease, but he couldn't help being somewhat impatient while trying to cooperate until it was determined that at worst he had a minor concussion, overall nothing that rest and putting ice on everything wouldn't help.

When he was finally making his way through the halls toward the main entrance of the emergency room, he heard an urgent "Coming through!" from behind him as a group had to run past him pushing a gurney. When he followed them around a corner, he saw who they were taking it to: Antonio was rushing forward, carrying Karina in his arms. For a frozen instant, all Kotetsu saw was the blood.

"Karina!" he gasped as Antonio quickly set her down on the gurney, and then they both started following for a while as she was taken off down the hall. She was cut up all along one side of her face and body, some pieces of glass stuck in her arm. Almost the whole right side of the bodice of her costume was darkened red with blood from the deepest cut on her inner arm. Above it her arm was secured with a tourniquet put together with a length of cloth from something and what looked like part of a thin table leg, which she was holding in place with a trembling, white-knuckled hand. On top of it all, it looked like the wrist of her same arm was broken. Pale and shaking in pain, Karina looked like she was barely keeping from passing out.

"Things got messy," Antonio explained quickly after he saw him.

Attempting a smile that just looked kind of delirious, Karina looked up at Kotetsu and said, "You called me Karina. Wow. I must look really bad."

He looked at her with a sympathetic grimace. "Hang in there, alright?"

"You're gonna be fine," Antonio assured her. "Before you know it you'll be all drugged up and dreamy-eyed staring up at that pretty-boy nurse you and Fire Emblem are always giggling over here..."

That got some more certain signs of life out of her, making her roll her eyes and groan, "Ugh, shut up, I do not..."

That got Kotetsu to smile just a little as they took her back through some double doors and out of sight, and then he turned towards Antonio as he took off his helmet for a moment. Getting some deep breaths and shaking around his sweaty hair, he started explaining. "It looked like we might not be able to stop Lunatic from torching the whole place, but then he finally took off after Origami got a blade in his back. We thought some of us could chase him down while he was hurt, but we lost him just a block away from here, right after Blue Rose took a fall dodging his fire and fell through a window."

Kotetsu cringed.

"You know, she was the one who called Agnes and convinced her to send the cameras over there," he said. "When it looked like he honestly might kill you, she hoped he'd stop himself from going that far knowing everyone was watching."

"Good thinking. I'm sure if anyone were going to kill me, Agnes wouldn't miss it for anything."

Antonio managed to huff with laughter. Then, remembering something, he went on, "Oh right, Kaede—Dragon Kid stayed out of everything to stay with her the whole time. They're probably back with all the others now." With that thought, his face fell into a gruff frown, and it wasn't hard for Kotetsu to guess he was remembering his last words to him from before. "And don't ever be saying shit like that to me again."

He just lowered his eyes a moment. "Sorry...So how bad is the damage?"

"Nothing devastating. It spread mostly to office areas on the upper floors. They'll still be able to conduct business in most of the usual places while that part's under reconstruction...Still, enough damage is done now that everybody saw the building on fire on the news. You realize how bad this looks?"

"That we let Lunatic get away with something again? Is that really the worst thing that's happened tonight?"

"That's not what I mean. Somehow that son of a bitch figured everything out about Maverick. Like that's not gonna do wonders for validating that giant God complex of his in the eyes of some people. And after getting Maverick, he moves right on to trying to send a message or something against the entire company?"

Kotetsu's eyes widened a little. "I see your point."

"So everyone's memories are back to normal now, right? Barnaby's, too?"

"Yeah, I guess it was just Maverick dying that did it somehow."

"If I wasn't just reminded of what a bastard and a half Lunatic is..."

Kotetsu frowned. "I know." That wasn't something he was ready to think about now. How lucky they really had gotten to make it out of this dark tunnel by now, all because Lunatic was apparently the most formidable detective in Sternbild and had good timing. After all, he had a feeling that Barnaby being able to recover every memory Maverick had ever written over had overall not been much of a mercy. There was no telling what and how much he was carrying around now.

Which all made Kotetsu unable to have much interest in everything else Antonio was telling him about, as serious and shocking as it sounded. Now that he knew everyone else was okay, he found he couldn't care much about all the professional concerns this had raised, or whether Lunatic had gotten away or not, or how almost everyone in Sternbild had to be watching coverage about this whole incident and coming to their own conclusions about it before they even had the whole story. All he could care about right now was how Barnaby was dealing with this.

"Right..." Antonio lifted his helmet to put it back on. "Guess I'll see you back there."

"Yeah," Kotetsu said. "Tell Kaede I'll be coming right back as soon as I can."

Antonio nodded, then rushed off down the hall and around a corner to get to a back exit.

As he made his way toward the front desk area, Kotetsu started wondering whether it might be better to just take off his mask and hope nobody recognized him just from the black jumpsuit. For all he knew, the recent events since he was framed had made it easy enough for the public to put two and two together and the whole secret of his identity had just been blown anyway. He hadn't come to any decision about it before a nurse stopped him, looking surprised to see him headed this way. "Oh...Wild Tiger, sir?" she said with her voice kept low. "You don't have to leave that way, there are a lot of people out there to see you right now."

"Yeah, I'm just trying to find Mr. Brooks," he explained. "He should have been discharged already."

"Let me go find out for you," she said, and then left him there waiting in the hall. When she returned a minute later, she told him Barnaby had left a message up front for him that he would be up on the rooftop landing. He thanked her for her help and then went to find the nearest elevator.

It felt a little surreal to find Barnaby up on the roof, leaning one shoulder into the fence that surrounded the top of the building. They had been up here together before, right after Kriem had died here with her last words that would make the world stop for them for a while. It felt like it had been such a long time ago, but here they were, back together. It seemed everything besides that had changed so fast, with this left as the only constant.

When Barnaby heard someone approaching and turned to see him, he took on an overwhelmed look like he didn't even know what he could say now. His mouth had moved to speak once already before he finally got something out. "Are you alright?" he asked once Kotetsu was within a couple strides of him, and then started shaking his head. "Kotetsu, I'm so s—"

"Shut up," he muttered, pulling him close with strong arms.

He had never tried this, actually giving Barnaby a hug. He didn't expect him to accept it very readily, as he was pretty sure hugging was a language Barnaby had needed to re-learn for quite a long time. And sure enough, his first reaction was to just go stiff in surprise, drawing in a quick and mildly shocked breath. Then his arms raised and found where to go, and suddenly he knew exactly how to do this, clutching Kotetsu's back almost too tight while he still felt so sore all over.

"This is so fucked up, Bunny," Kotetsu said softly, almost right into his ear. "I don't even have any words..."

He heard Barnaby's breathing get a little shaky for a moment as they kept holding onto each other.

"I'm sorry, too, by the way," he went on. "Just in case you're still mad at me."

"Heh..." It was almost a hysterical laugh, sounding more like a sob. "I can barely remember it now."

Kotetsu kept holding him, waiting for his every muscle to stop feeling so tense.

Then Barnaby asked quietly the only question that could follow that mention of their last encounter days ago, and with it his voice started sounding empty and detached in a way Kotetsu hated. "Are you still quitting?"

In the following silence, they slowly drew away from each other. Kotetsu dropped his face down, staring at his feet sadly for a moment. "Yeah. I can't change that."

A tired and melancholy acceptance settled in Barnaby's expression, and then he looked right at him with his eyes sort of pleading. "Why?"

He made the one word sound so heavy, like something such a long time coming, no joking around this time. Kotetsu had every intention of finally explaining, but when he opened his mouth nothing would come out yet and he just ended up sighing in frustration.

"Were you lying about it before just so I wouldn't feel bad?" Barnaby said, his eyes shifting away uneasily, and Kotetsu straightened up with surprise. "Is it...because of me? Because things couldn't be different between us?"

Kotetsu wasn't even fully registering what that might or might not mean, only that Barnaby was somehow blaming himself, before he quickly shook his head. "No, Bunny—"

"Because I haven't been honest about everything either, is the ridiculous thing, and I'm sorry, I—"

"It's nothing to do with you! It's not even really a choice for me."

"Please, just—" Barnaby was starting to sound almost frantic, putting his hands up to stop him. "Don't. I can handle it, okay? If you never tell me the real reason, I can't even—"

"I'm trying to tell you," Kotetsu said, grabbing his upper arms firmly and looking straight at him. "Seriously, it's not anything you've done. It's not because I don't want to work with you anymore. It's about my powers."

Barnaby shook his head. "What?"

"They're declining. I'm losing my powers."

Barnaby stared at him in astonishment, but not the right kind; it was amazement at the ridiculousness of what he was hearing that quickly turned into bitterness. There was hurt and anger starting to come into his eyes when he opened his mouth again, but Kotetsu interrupted him again.

"Bunny, I know how it sounds but I swear, it's true," he said in an uneasy but steady voice, holding him firmly and making him look right at him. "I didn't know this could happen to anyone either, but it's happening to me all the same. My time limit keeps getting shorter. You haven't noticed because I was being careful to hide it, but it started weeks ago."

Barnaby's face was changing the more he let himself look directly into Kotetsu's eyes. Now as he started shaking his head again, he looked full of shock. "No," he said, sounding almost desperate, his hand reaching out to his chest like he felt if he held onto him he could fix all of this. "No, that can't..."

He gave him a weak smile. "There's nothing to be done about it. I'm sorry."

"But I don't understand, is it...Is there something wrong with you?"

Barnaby was nervously gripping him where one of his shoulders met his neck as if suddenly terrified there was some danger of him dropping dead; Kotetsu assuringly grabbed his wrist to lower his hand away. "No, there's no known cause for it, I'm perfectly healthy. I'm just...turning normal." He looked down a moment as they let go of each other and gave a dry laugh. "It's crazy...There was a time when I would have liked nothing more than for this to happen to me."

Barnaby now just had a look of deep regret and sympathy. "I'm so sorry, Kotetsu." He sighed. "Why didn't you just tell me? You shouldn't have had to deal with this alone. I know a lot has been going on recently, but you should have told me as soon as it started happening."

"I know. I know that now..." Attempting a small smile, he added, "I guess it's just hard for an old man to admit he's getting weak."

"Well, that's not fair at all. I've told you...everything, I mean...I've been more honest and open with you than I've ever been with anyone."

"No, it wasn't fair. You're right."

Barnaby's expression smoothed over into a resigned and accepting one, and he looked out across the city in the direction of the Apollon Media building. From here, they could see a little bit of the darkened corner of the structure that had burned, the slightly bruised color of the sky above the building. It was strange, now of all times, for Kotetsu to feel the least bit of attachment to the place, but it still came as a small unpleasant shock to see it that way.

"Have you heard if everyone's okay?" Barnaby asked.

"Yeah, I think so," Kotetsu answered. "They just brought Blue Rose in 'cause she got it pretty rough, but she should be alright."

"...I could see some of the fire," he said, his voice turned a little numb as he kept looking that way. "Before they had the last of it put out...It still makes me uneasy. But still, now I just feel kind of pathetic about how much it used to unsettle me sometimes."

"You mean fire?" he asked softly as he realized what he was talking about.

Barnaby nodded, turning his face back to him but keeping it pointed down. "The memory isn't so vivid anymore. It's like it never was. Sights like that don't bring all the images to the surface so sharply. It's like it's supposed to be something I can keep locked up in some dark place, but he wouldn't let me. He kept the memory strong somehow when he kept re-writing and reinforcing it...I feel like I'm seeing for the first time how I was. How obsessed with it and easily controlled by that torment I was."

"I think that just means you're stronger than you've ever realized," Kotetsu said. "I've always been able to see that."

"You don't understand...I feel...empty without it." As he kept looking away from him, he said it with so much shame, like he actually expected to be judged for it.

He grabbed Barnaby's wrist briefly to make him look back at him. "Of course you feel that way right now," he said gently. "You've found out almost everything in your life was a lie. But I know you better than that. I know you weren't feeling this way the first time you thought your parents' murderer had been taken care of, and I know you've always had what it takes to survive and move on. Nobody's expecting you to feel ready to do that right now."

The look in his eyes softened, then seemed to crumble a little, and he shook his head again. "You and me...that's the only thing that has been real. How could I still have pushed you away so easily? Why couldn't I tell the difference?"

"Don't do that," Kotetsu said, shaking his head. "It wasn't your doing. Don't start thinking that way."

Barnaby turned away a little, looking in the same direction as before. "Just tell me it's really over this time." He said it like the words were still kind of like a hopeless dream that he was afraid to believe.

Kotetsu reached for his shoulder and gripped it surely. "It's over."

Barnaby reached up and gripped his hand over his as he kept silently absorbing a view that would never look the same as it used to.

go to chapter VII.

Tags: my fic, tiger & bunny, tiger & bunny fic, tiger & bunny fic: mine

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