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18 August 2011 @ 08:11 am
[fic] & bunny - chapter two  
Title: & Bunny – chapter two
Author/Artist: Cheza-chan
Pairing/Characters: Kaburagi Kotetsu/Barnaby Brooks Jr.
Rating: PG-15 (overall R)
Genre: Alternate Timeline; science-fiction; superheroes.
Disclaimer: I do not own the characters, and I definitely don't own the sponsors that they wear.
Summary/Notes: Taking Ben's advice, Kotetsu decides to separate himself from Hero TV and the Heroes of Sternbild (deviated from the original storyline after ep. 15; updated a bit after watching ep. 16).

[ chapter one ]


Kotetsu felt a little sore when he woke the next day, but it wasn't anything that could be shaken off. Kaede had fallen asleep in his arms and, and after tucking her into bed, he'd curled up on the floor under the watchful gaze of Tomoe's memorial picture without a futon. He rolled over onto his back, stretching to work the kinks out of his body. His arms reached high above his head and he smiled as he stared at the ceiling. 'I made it. I'm home.'

The sliding shoji was opened and Kaede appeared in its frame. "Get up, Dad. Grandma's in the field right now. She told me to make sure you eat. I offered to bring it to you, but she said there's no special treatment in this house."

"Really?" Kotetsu chuckled. He sat up before climbing onto his feet. His back protested a little, but he ignored it and kept smiling for his daughter. "Will this be an everyday thing?"

Kaede placed her hands on her hips with a self-satisfied smile on her face. "Breakfast is an everyday thing. It's up to you to make it… every day."

"You have your parents' bluntness," Kotetsu laughed, joining her at the door. Together, they headed down the hall to the kitchen. "What happened to the cute Kaede that cried in my arms last night?"

"She's happy that her dad's back, but decided to move on." Once inside, Kaede headed to the opposite side of the table devoid of food, taking a seat. Legs hidden beneath it, she crossed her ankles and idly swung them back and forth. "Is that a good thing or a bad thing—having your bluntness?" Her question referred to Kotetsu's earlier statement.

The man took a seat across from her, already reaching for the cover on the plate. "I know several people that will tell you it's a horrible thing," Kotetsu laughed, picturing his former Hero comrades. The image of Barnaby remained with him longer and he lowered the fork he'd lifted. "I brought a present for you."

Kaede's eyes narrowed as she frowned, her legs no longer moving. "Please eat first. You didn't eat anything last night—it's my fault. Then you need to clean up. I'm not really interested in a present right now."

'Just like he said. Bunny…'

"You're too old to be upset from your child scolding you. You look like you want to cry," Kaede murmured, resuming the swinging of her legs.

'Cry…?' Kotetsu lifted the fork, staring at his distorted reflection on the back of the prongs. Shaking his head, he finally focused on the dishes that had been set out for him. He laughed softly, using the utensil to lift a piece of rolled omelet from the plate. "This really is special treatment. I missed curry the curry last night, so I get tamagoyaki¹ and miso. No fish?"

"Grandma said you can get that another time."

"But it's part of the meal," Kotetsu mumbled. Making sure Kaede's eyes were on him, he made it a performance by opening his mouth wide to take a bite. Surprise lit up his face and he looked from the plate to his daughter; he knew his mother's cooking, and this wasn't it. "You made this?"

A rosy color appeared in her cheeks and Kaede nodded. "Grandma's been teaching me. She said she doesn't want me to only be able to cook fried rice, like you."

"I resent that, but this is awesome!" Kotetsu exclaimed, forking up another piece of egg. "I'll teach you how to cut sausage into the shape of an octopus," he laughed around his mouthful.

"You aren't going to make me a bento², are you?"

"I can't?"

Kaede glared up at him. "Not for me to take to school."

"When you don't have school, we can eat lunch at home, so I can still teach you." Kotetsu pouted.

"Don't make that face." Kaede tucked her hands beneath her thighs, smiling down at the floor as she listened to her father murmur in amazement as he ate. "Maybe… you'll get special treatment for the rest of the week. That's how long you're staying, right?"

"Yeah." Kotetsu laughed nervously, hoping his daughter wouldn't pick up on it.

"I'm actually undecided, but if I do decide to do something extra for you, you better enjoy it."

"I will!" Kotetsu declared, mouth full and fork held high. Kaede smiled and Kotetsu felt his heart swell. No matter what side she showed him—there was the temperamental Kaede he used to have phone conversations with—he would love her with every fiber of his being.

X

Kotetsu finished his breakfast and invoked Kaede's wrath when he refused to wash his empty dishes. He argued that he wanted to see her off since Grandma was busy working. They stood at opposite ends of the genkan³, Kaede closer to the door. "Can I walk you to school?"

Kaede rounded on her father, hands on her hips and a pointed glare on her face. "No. Absolutely not." Kotetsu pouted and the girl sighed deeply, letting her hands fall back to her sides.

"Stop making that face." After careful deliberation, she walked away from the door back to where her father stood. Kaede reached up, rising onto her tiptoes when he leaned down to her level. Kotetsu's eyes widened at the soft press of lips against his cheek.

"That's the only one you get! You better be here when I get back!" she threatened, running back to the door.

"I promise!"

Her waving right hand disappeared once the door was closed. Wearing a foolish grin, his hand to his cheek where Kaede had kissed him, Kotetsu joined his mother in the kitchen. "Ah. Let me do that." He hurried to where Anju had been reaching up to the overhead cupboard to put away a platter. "I thought you were out back in the yard."

"I came in to get some water. I'm not that old, you know," she chastised.

"I know," Kotetsu laughed. "But…" He shrugged his shoulders. Closing the door, his fingers lingered before sliding down off the smooth wood. He didn't need to have Jake Martinez's power to know what was on his mother's mind, not when her accusing stare cut right through him. There was also sympathy. "I'll tell her," Kotetsu sighed, rubbing the back of his neck as he ducked his head. "There's no point hiding it anymore. I'm… not that person anymore. I just… need a new job first."

"Do any of the other Heroes know you're no longer one of them?"

"Only Antonio," he told her.

Anju smiled, nodding. "Of course. Ever since high school, you two have been close. I remember Kaede asking 'Uncle Tony' to pick her up."

Kotetsu laughed softly. "Something I doubt she'd do right now." A silence settled between mother and child, stretching on almost endlessly. Until the older woman spoke.

"What about that nice young man you had for a partner?"

"No," Kotetsu said abruptly, squeezing his eyes shut. He felt his mother's hand cover his where it lay fisted atop the counter. 'I can't tell him. Not until I've settled in here. I might decide to go back.' He no longer had a future as a Hero.

"How did I raise such an impulsive child? I hope you don't regret anything," Anju sighed. She tousled her son's dark hair before letting her hand fall onto his shoulder.

"I think I'm the black sheep. Aniki's nothing like me."

"At least you understand."

Kotetsu grinned, watching his mother walk away. He found an apron and pulled it on to tackle the dishes. He was left alone with his thoughts, and couldn't help wondering how his "co-workers" were faring.

X X X

The only time Hero TV's Heroes all appeared together—when they weren't in the spotlight—was at Apollon Media's gym. Barnaby entered, heading for the twin machines against the wall. Keith Goodman was in the left one, so Barnaby took the one on the right. He nodded his head in greeting as he passed the former King of Heroes. Keith had nothing but smiles for him in return. Adjusting the weight to his liking, Barnaby took a seat and raised his arms, curling his fingers around the steel handle. He brought his arms forward, the attached pulley lifting the weights behind him.

"Vacation?" The shout came from Karina, but the slamming of weights came from Barnaby.

All attention fell on the young man, but it was Keith that moved first. "Are you okay, Barnaby-kun?" His hands hovered, ready to assist if need be.

"I'm fine," Barnaby sighed, flexing his shoulder. "It slipped. I guess I wasn't paying attention." He gave Keith a tight smile, hoping to drive him back to his arm press machine. No such thing was happening, though, but not because Keith wasn't falling for it. The alarm had begun blaring loudly around them.

"Bonjour, Heroes."

Select PDAs lit up, reflecting Agnes's face, forcing the NEXT members to group together.

"It's a petty crime—a small robbery—that can be managed with two or three," the director continued. "Rock Bison, your presence is a priority." Antonio ducked his head, avoiding Nathan's amused stare. "Any other takers?"

Barnaby remained seated, hands draped across his thighs. The connection was on Sky High's PDA, and he was sure Agnes could see how uninterested he was, but he didn't care. There had been plenty of times he'd arrived on the scene without Kotetsu, but this time, something felt different.

"I'll go," Pao-Lin announced.

"Me too," Ivan stated. Their gazes met and the pair rushed out of the gym.

Because his sponsors were currently pressuring him, Keith had to be on the scene. He felt uncomfortable about leaving, though. Something appeared to be bothering Barnaby and he wanted to help, if he could. "I'm on my way," he told the director, flashing her a bright smile before ending the digital connection. Nathan waved at the former King of Heroes walked away.

"Rock Bison." Agnes spoke firmly, her tone leaving no room for arguments. "Move it. Let's go!" The connection closed and Fire Emblem lowered his arm with a sigh. His hand immediately went for the muscular man's behind, and his groping fingers had Antonio halfway across the room.

"Handsome," Nathan cooed, manicured fingers pressed against his cheek. "Don't get too depressed and forget your ranking. Tiger felt like he needed a break. He deserves one. As far as I'm concerned, you both do."

Nathan's words ignited Karina's temper and she wrung her towel in her hands angrily. "How dare he leave and not tell me?" she scoffed.

"Honey," Nathan chuckled, wiggling his fingers in a wave to get the young girl's attention. "He only told his two favorites. Let's go for a relaxing trip to the spa down the hall. Care to join us, Handsome?"

Barnaby smiled faintly, shaking his head. "No, thank you."

"Your loss," Nathan hummed, taking the lead as he sashayed away.

Karina threw one last glare at the blond before following. "Favorites…" she spat.

Once the doors slid shut, Barnaby fell back against the seat. 'Favorite? No…' He reached into the pocket of his exercise shorts, removing his phone. He didn't believe in bringing it when he worked out—it could be easily damaged if he wasn't careful—but he was still waiting. Barnaby flipped the phone open to view the screen. There was no notice of new mail or a missed call. He closed his phone, tightly clenching it between both hands. 'Why haven't you called, Kotetsu-san?' Slipping the phone back into his pocket, Barnaby sat up straight, resuming his exercising. He didn't have time to be worrying over one person; there were thousands whose protection he had to oversee.

X X X

Kotetsu had spent the better part of the day walking around, familiarizing himself with the neighborhood. There were some familiar faces that remained, and he enjoyed the time spent talking and catching up. At noon, he stopped to grab a bite to eat, sitting at the café's window so the sunlight streaming helped in making things more visible as he looked through the "Jobs" section of the paper. What little money he'd earned, that hadn't gone towards damage fees, wouldn't last. Apollon Media's CEO had given him a 'going away' present of a sizeable lump sum; they were no longer calling it "hush money" like in Mr. Legend's day. Even with everything safely tucked away in a bank account, he didn't want to even think about it running out before he got a steady source of income.

Folding the paper, Kotetsu's eyes widened when he caught sight of the time on his watch. Downing the lukewarm tea, he tucked the paper beneath his arm. Kotetsu dashed for the door, but turned back, heading for the counter when he realized he hadn't paid. As he waited for his change, the television on the wall began airing his and Barnaby's commercial for "Super Dish". He smiled, closing his hands around the coins he'd been given.

Once outside, Kotetsu hurried down the sidewalk to where he was parked—it was a rental; he didn't need his brother chauffeuring him around—and quickly climbed in. He had promised Kaede to be home when she returned from school. He tried to stay within the speed limit as he drove back to the house. Kaede's school had finished twenty minutes ago, but he didn't know how long it took for her to get home. Turning onto their street, Kotetsu realized, in horror, that children were already coming out of their homes to play. "They don't go to Kaede's school…!" He chanted this to himself even after he'd parked and was running up to the front of the house. Kotetsu threw open the door, the shoji slamming against its frame. He ran down the entrance hall. "Kaede!"

The young girl appeared from the kitchen while he struggled out of his shoes. "You're supposed to say 'I'm home'."

Kotetsu grinned sheepishly, making his way through the front room to his daughter. "I'm home. I'm sorry I wasn't here when you get back."

Kaede shook her head, ponytail bouncing. "Grandma told me you went out. I believed her when she said you would be back."

'I have nowhere else to go.' Kotetsu laughed nervously. He blinked, letting Kaede's words sink in. "Are you saying you'll believe Grandma over me?"

"Yes," Kaede stated without hesitation.

"That's not fair, Kaede," Kotetsu whined, his bottom lip poking out. "I always tried my hardest to make it to you."

"I know." The young girl smiled up at her father. "Let's start dinner."

"Nah-uh." Kotetsu took Kaede by the shoulders, turning her around. "Homework first. Then we get to eat."

"What about a snack?"

"I guess we can have those…"

"Are you going to help me with my homework?" Kaede looked up at him over her shoulder, trusting him to guide her in the right direction.

"Of course!" Kotetsu grinned down at her. "I have a lot to make up for, and I plan to. Do you believe me when I say that, or should I get Grandma to repeat it?"

"I believe you," Kaede replied softly.

Kotetsu glanced down at her again and, without warning, scooped her up off her feet. She giggled, laughing outright as he tossed her over his shoulder. Anju had never heard a more gorgeous sound. She sipped her tea with a small smile on her face.

After proudly proclaiming that his daughter was a prodigy, just like him, Kotetsu and Kaede headed into the kitchen, where Anju had just put a pot of water to boil. Kotetsu gathered vegetables from the refrigerator while Kaede tied an apron around her waist in preparation for her duties.

Anju stepped back to watch them, unable to wipe the wide smile off her face. Father moving around the daughter, who diligently chopped the vegetables placed in front of her. The vegetables were then deposited into the pot. Anju didn't mind having curry two nights in a row, because the show she was receiving was worth it.

X

"Will you look at your present now?" Kotetsu begged once he and Kaede were seated on the tatami mats in front of the TV.

"Fine," the girl huffed.

"Yay!" Clamoring to his feet, he rushed out of the living room, heading for where his luggage remained, half-unpacked. Kotetsu dug through clothes until he found the wrapped package. "Ah… Phone." He looked around, patting down his pockets at the same time. "Where did I put it? Wasn't it just in my pocket…?" Groaning, he headed back to the living room and found his phone.

Kaede smiled up at him before averting her eyes back to the touch phone in her hand. Her finger gently slid across the screen. "It fell out of your pocket when you jumped up. Ne…" She turned the phone so it faced him. "Is this a photomanip?"

"Whassat?" Kotetsu mumbled, circling the table to reach the chair. He sank into the cushion, grinning at the picture being show to him. "That was your first present, but he suggested I get you this." The phone was exchanged for the package and he smiled at the image, aware of the sound of tearing paper. Kaede inhaled sharply, holding the 8x11 card at arms' length. Kotetsu had picked out the promotional image. A beta shot that yet to be printed for the public: Barnaby, unsuited, stood back to back with his suited self.

"You know Barnaby?" Kaede hugged the print against her chest, staring up at her father in awe. "He signed this? For me? Is this really his signature…?" The shine in her eyes remained, but her brows dipped as she frowned suspiciously.

"I waited in line like every normal parent who wants to make their child happy. If you don't believe me…" Kotetsu held out his phone to her with a cocky grin. He had brought up Barnaby's name on the screen. All Kaede needed to do was push TALK.

X

Barnaby clicked off the large wall monitor, setting the remote down to reach for his ringing phone. He flipped it open, staring at the name flashing across the screen. Lifting the device to his ear, he sighed out a 'hello'.

"…B-Barnaby…san?" a shy voice spoke.

The young man smiled. "You must be Kaede. How are you?"

"It's really you, Barnaby-san? Did my father pester you into giving him your number?"

"In a way, yes."

"Dad!"

"What? Kaede, it's really Bun—Barnaby!"

"He said you harassed him."

"Don't tell her that! Bunny!"

"Why are you calling him that?" Kaede mumbled. "His name is Barnaby."

"Barnaby," Kotetsu mimicked.

Barnaby couldn't help but wonder if they had forgotten that he was still on the line.

"Barnaby-san?" Kaede addressed him.

"Yes?" Barnaby answered.

"I apologize. My Dad's just an overgrown child."

"Bunny, don't agree with that!"

"Thank you so much for the autograph," Kaede continued as though she hadn't heard her father. "I'm sure you give out plenty—"

"I signed one that I felt was for someone very important and very special."

"Mine?"

"Yes."

"Really?" Kaede's voice rose a pitch.

"Most people ask to shake my hand or take pictures with me. I do not believe you're available to do that."

"Sometimes I go to the Sternbild area for ice skating recitals."

Barnaby crossed his legs, making himself more comfortable. "I believe that's how we met."

"You remember!" Kaede giggled.

He'd only remembered because Kotetsu brought it back up. "Your father asked for this favor. He informed me that you became my fan that day."

"You were so cool!"

Barnaby's smile fell as he heard those words, remembering Kotetsu's dream. "Thank you."

Kotetsu stood from the floor, maintaining a straight face until he was in the kitchen. His shoulders drooped once he was out of sight. Sighing, he opened the fridge, shifting aside its contents. Of course, his mother wouldn't have any beer in the house. 'She called him cool right in front of me.' It hurt. Kotetsu settled for a bottled soda, unscrewing the cap once he'd closed the fridge door. He lifted it to his lips, letting the carbonation work like the alcohol would have. Once finished, Kotetsu exhaled deeply; it wasn't the same.

"Dad!" He perked up immediately, spinning around to let Kaede see his grin.

"Barnaby-san wishes to speak with you." Kaede held the phone up to him. Kotetsu took it, surprised by the small arm around his waist. "Thank you," Kaede whispered.

Chuckling, he placed a hand to her head. "You're welcome. Do you need me to tuck you in?"

"Nope. I've got Barnaby-san."

Kaede showed him the autographed print before skipping out of the kitchen. Kotetsu lifted the phone to his ear. "I'm sure you heard that she has… Barnaby-san," he drawled, wishing the other could see how unamused he was.

"I'm sorry."

"You don't sound sorry!" Kotetsu backed himself up against the counter until he felt the edge against his lower back.

"I am sorry," Barnaby repeated. "Your simple dream has moved even further out of your reach."

"You really know how to hurt a guy, don'cha?" Kotetsu muttered, frown deepening. He combed his fingers through his hair, letting his hand rest at the back of his neck. "I have time to wait. Even if it takes until she's twenty."

"Can you even be cool at that age?" Barnaby inquired with modest honesty.

"Bunny…" Kotetsu ground out, his teeth bared in a mock grin that the young man couldn't see.

"Blue Rose misses you."

Honey-colored eyes widened. "Where'd that come from?"

"She practically damned your soul today for not telling her. Only Rock Bison and myself were aware of your vacation?"

"Yeah, out of the Heroes. Everyone at the company knows. Do you miss me?" Kotetsu's grin withered away at the blunt response given to him through the phone.

"No." Barnaby smiled, picturing Wild Tiger's scowl. He switched the phone to his left hand so he could pick up the toy his parents had given him with his right. "How does it feel, being a father again?"

"Never stopped being one—you know that." Kotetsu idly pushed his empty soda bottle back and forth across the kitchen countertop. "Being home with her, though, it's nice."

"I'm glad that you're enjoying yourself."

Silence fell between them, neither man able to speak their true thoughts. Kotetsu picked up the bottle, staring through its transparent body. I am enjoying myself, and I'm going to be enjoying it longer than you think.

Barnaby squeezed the toy tightly in his fist. Why did I take so long for you to call? When are you coming back?

"I'll be back next week." Kotetsu squeezed his eyes shut, clutching the bottle tightly.

Barnaby sat up straight in the chair, taking the phone from his ear to stare at it. Had he spoken out loud? 'Not possible.'

"Tell Blue Rose I'll bring her back something special. I'll bring you a stuffed bunny—"

"No, thank you. Have a good night, Kotetsu-san."

"'Night," Kotetsu laughed. He hung up and sank into a crouch, covering his head with his arms. "Why did I say that?" He shook his head, groaning loudly. "Maybe I can… No—will! I'll find a reason to go back to Sternbild!" Kotetsu shot to his feet, tossing he bottle in the recyclable trash bin, and ran out of the kitchen.

Barnaby studied the toy with a small smile. He set it back onto the table before standing from the chair. He walked across the expanse of the large room, heading for the door on the other side.


A/N:

¹ tamagoyaki – Tamagoyaki (rolled omelet) - grated daikon radish is often served on the side.
² bento (box) – is a single-portion takeout or home-packed meal common in Japanese cuisine.
³ genkan – traditional Japanese entryway areas for a house, apartment, or building.




[ chapter three ] [ chapter four ] [ chapter five ] [ chapter six ] [ chapter seven ] [ chapter eight ] [ chapter nine ] [ chapter ten ] [ chapter eleven ]