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08 April 2012 @ 11:59 am
[fic] & bunny - chapter nine  
Title: & Bunny – chapter nine
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. 16).

[ chapter one ] [ chapter two ] [ chapter three ] [ chapter four ] [ chapter five ] [ chapter six ] [ chapter seven ] [ chapter eight ]


Bu – Barnaby. I’m not available now—I left to take Kaede home, but we need to talk. I don’t want things to end this way. I’m really sorry I didn’t tell you first, but… I felt like I shouldn’t burden you with my problems when you had your own. I’m sorry.

X

Kotetsu had been holding onto his phone ever since leaving the voicemail, not wanting to miss the one call that would probably never come. Kaede sat quietly across from her father, her heart reaching out to him. She could tell he was troubled—worried about Barnaby—and it made her upset that she could do nothing about it. It was also upsetting that they were heading back to Oriental Town. With a deep sigh, she leaned back in her chair, staring out the window at the moving scenery.

Kotetsu smiled apologetically at her profile. “I know you probably don’t want to go back, but it’s for the best. We don’t know what you can do from what you can’t.”

Kaede lifted her hand from her lap, curling her fingers into a fist. She recalled that day at the ice rink. The rifle had bent in her hand like a toy. Rather than feel invincible, she’d been overcome with courage—the courage to protect her father and other innocents. At Apollon Media, after literally bumping into Sky High, she’d felt calm, but that was before realizing she was floating; she’d panicked after that. Then Barnaby caught her… The one thing in common with each situation was that she had been in contact with all of them.

“Otou-san,” Kaede began, sitting forward in her seat to keep her voice low. “Do you think it’s possible that I get the powers of NEXTs that I touch?”

Kotetsu’s eyes widened. “It’s… possible. But we don’t have a way to test that theory.” Kaede’s lips curled upward and immediately, he knew he’d lost.

X x X x X

Karina sighed, tossing her school case onto the well-made bed. No sooner had she taken a seat at her desk, the band on her wrist began to go off. Making no effort to hide her annoyance, she accepted the incoming transmission. Her face lit up at the grinning face of Kotetsu that appeared on the digitized screen of the PDA. “Tiger.”

“Bl—Karina! You’re wearing them.” The reference was toward the ‘blue rose’ earrings.

Karina’s cheeks heated up as a blush rose into her cheeks. The color faded away and Karina brought her wrist closer to her face. “Tiger. Is it… true?”

Kotetsu smiled sheepishly. “I can’t say. But I’d like to ask a favor of you, if you don’t mind. Think we can meet somewhere?” They had gotten off the train at the next stop, and were currently waiting on one that would take them back to Sternbild. “The Helios building, maybe?”

“Why not the Justice Tower?” Karina murmured, a delicate eyebrow arching. They both knew Nathan wouldn’t mind if they dropped by.

“I’m not allowed,” Kotetsu laughed. “Bunny kicked me out.” Kaede rolled her eyes where she stood beside her father.

“When do you want to meet?”

Kotetsu’s gaze left hers as he checked his watch. “Thirty minutes,” he replied, smiling at her. “Give or take.”

Remembering the act she usually showed the older Hero, Karina sighed deeply, tossing her hair. “I guess I’ll do you this favor.”

Kotetsu’s eyes widened and he looked as though he’d made a mistake. “If you’re busy—”

“I’m not. I’ll see you when you get here.” Kotetsu’s grinning face vanished as the transmission ended. Karina lowered her arm, folding both atop her study desk. She laid her head down atop the appendages, sighing deeply. ‘Where does this leave me? You were the reason why I decided to keep being a Hero. Tiger…’ She squeezed her eyes shut tightly and attempted to burrow deeper into her arms. “Kotetsu-san…”

X x X x X

Father and daughter were silent as they rode the train back to Sternbild, both preoccupied with their own thoughts. Kaede hadn’t seen who her father had been talking to, but she had heard the voice, and the name said disembodied voice had been addressed with. There were only two female Heroes, so they would either be meeting Dragon Kid or Blue Rose. Kaede allowed herself a small smile as she realized she was involved in her father’s life now. No one had planned for it to be the way it was currently progressing, but there was no family that didn’t have issues. ‘I’m trying, okaa-san.’ Kaede let her eyes slide close. She must have been more tired than she realized, because she slept for the remainder of the trip.

Upon their return to Sternbild, she was still asleep. Kotetsu smiled at his daughter, who was curled in the corner of her seat. He’d taken off his jacket and draped it over her as a makeshift blanket. “It wasn’t supposed to end up this way,” he sighed aloud. Kotetsu adjusted his hat, pulling it tighter, and stood to collect his most precious cargo.

X

Kaede woke up while Kotetsu was taking a call: “We may not be able to meet after all. My daughter’s—”

“I’m fine,” she mumbled, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. Kaede sat up straight, realizing that she was in the SUV that was now becoming familiar. “There might not be another chance to do this. Otou-san…”

“Is that… your daughter?” Karina forced out after hearing the second voice.

Kotetsu smiled—their audio transmission meant she couldn’t see it. “Yeah.”

“And you were bringing her to meet… me?”

“There’s something only you can help me with. Kaede—”

“I’m fine,” Kaede repeated, more firmly, her gaze unyielding, leaving no room for arguments, as it always was.

Unable to stop himself, Kotetsu reached out, cupping her cheek. “You look just like her…” He laughed softly, drawing his hand back. “I’ll be there shortly, Karina,” he spoke into the band on his wrist.

X

Karina slid her jacket sleeve back down over her own band, pressing her hands between her thighs. She freed a hand, tucking loose strands of hair behind her ear, and let her fingers dance over the rose earring.

“You look like you just lost your best friend,” Nathan hummed softly. He stood at the front of his desk, hip propped against the edge. His arms were crossed over his chest as he studied the girl sitting in the spare chair for visitors.

Karina sat up straight in her seat, smiling tightly at Fire Emblem as she idly swung her legs, making sure her boot-covered feet didn’t brush the floor. “Not yet. He’s coming to see me, so I’ll be okay.”

For how long?’ Nathan smiled and pushed away from the desk. “Unfortunately… I have business to take care of elsewhere, sweetie. I’ll walk you to the room I picked out. No security cameras, so you can do whatever you wish.” He chuckled softly at the blush that tinged the girl’s cheek. Karina jumped to her feet, hurrying ahead of him.

X

The secretary at the front desk informed Kotetsu that Nathan Seymour had stepped out, but there had been a special room set aside for him. Words of gratitude were exchanged and Kotetsu took Kaede’s hand as they followed the woman to the elevator.

Karina grew tense when she heard the hushed voices outside the closed door. Slowly, the handle was turned, and it was pushed open. Her features immediately tightened into a frown. “You’re late.”

Kotetsu ducked his head with a sheepish laugh. “Traffic?” he offered as an excuse.

Karina’s gaze swept toward the small girl. Kaede slid her hand free of her father’s, taking a few tentative steps forward. “Blue Rose?” she inquired. Karina pressed her lips together in what she hoped was a passable smile and nodded. Kaede tucked her arms against her sides, bowing. “Kaburagi Kaede. It’s so nice to meet you.”

“Karina Lyle,” the teenager offered. Her smile became genuine the longer she studied the girl, and she found herself relaxing. So much that she executed her trademarked pose. “My ice may be a little cold, but your crime has been put completely on hold.” Kotetsu chuckled softly.

Kaede laughed, her eyes sparkling. “It is you. You’re…” She shook her head, taking a few steps forward. “I figured Dragon Kid was around my age, but… And you’re so skilled.” Kaede pursed her lips together before smiling. “I noticed that you don’t use the ‘Cutie Escape’ anymore. I think that’s a good thing.” She turned, throwing a glare at her father. “A Hero doesn’t run away.”

Karina giggled, meeting Kaede the remainder of the distance. She sank into a crouch, one arm draped over her thighs. The other was outstretched, fingers brushing back Kaede’s hair to tuck it behind her ear. “Now I see why Kotetsu-san loses to you.” Karina lifted her eyes to the man standing nearby. “She’s a precious child. What did you need me to do?”

Kotetsu grinned. “You’re already doing it.”

Karina blinked in confusion, her brown eyes questioning. She looked down and found the Kaede also smiled up at her. The reason why—unbeknownst to her—was her hand, which rested atop the young girl’s shoulder. Kaede moved away from the light touch, shooting her father a worried glance.

“You’ll be fine,” Kotetsu told her. “And I’m here if things get out of control. And so is Blue Rose.”

Karina nodded and straightened up, stepping back to give Kaede more room. Kaede inhaled deeply, closing her eyes. As she exhaled, a cloud of condensation escaped from her lips. Both Kotetsu and Karina watched as a thin layer of ice slowly crept across the office floor with no real direction.

“Kaede,” Karina called out softly. “Open your eyes, look at me, and concentrate on sending it only in my direction.” Kaede opened her eyes. She gasped after looking down and the ice gained speed, creeping over Kotetsu’s feet, up his calves. He showed no outward reaction, save for the grin that remained on his face.

“Do as she says,” Kotetsu told her.

Kaede turned back around, focusing on Karina’s smile. Reaching inside, she pushed everything in the aspiring pop star’s direction. Karina’s body became outline in blue, and she took a step back, accepting then redirecting the ice. Kaede laughed, feeling the pull of Karina’s control over the element, and pushed back. Karina responded in kind. When both girls were finished, they had created an ice sculpture—as tall as Kaede—of a bloomed rose. They faced Kotetsu, all rosy cheeks and innocent smiles.

x x x

Kaede chattered away during the ride back to the apartment, through dinner preparation, and dinner.


Kotetsu drummed his fingers idly atop his thigh as he waited. The ringing ceased and he grinned at his mother after her face appeared on the small screen.

“Is everything okay?” Anju questioned. She knew her son well enough to not be fooled by his smiles.

“Everything’s fine,” Kotetsu laughed, waving a hand dismissively.

“You were supposed to be here. What happened?” Anju pressed on, not ready to be brushed off.

“Change of plans. Everything’s fine, kaa-chan. Kaede’s sleeping. There is one thing…”

Anju sighed, “I knew it.”

“It’s nothing like what you’re probably thinking.” Kotetsu’s small smile disappeared as he pressed his lips into a thin line. He lowered his gaze to the floor, taking a deep breath. “Kaa-chan…” He lifted his head, meeting his mother’s gaze through the phone’s hand’s free monitor. “I want Kaede to live with me.” Anju’s eyes widened. “Tomoe had already told her what I really do,” Kotetsu cut in before she could voice her thoughts. His smile was empty. “What I used to do.”

“It’s obvious that you still want to do it,” Anju told him. “Why don’t you just tell them… you made a mistake? You’re Wild Tiger. They probably won’t think twice and just take you back. There might be a cut in pay, but… stop destroying things and you won’t have to worry!”

Kotetsu ducked his head, mumbling beneath his breath.

“All that aside, can you handle it? And Kaede still needs to finish school.”

“We discussed some of this already,” Kotetsu admitted, leaning forward almost eagerly. “We also figured out what her NEXT abilities are!” His wide grin softened and Anju saw the responsible man her son could be. “I want to do this, kaa-chan.”

She sighed, closing her eyes. “Come back. Collect a few of her things, keep her until the end of the week. Tell me your final decision then.”

“I already know my decision.”

`-`-`-`-`-`-`-`-`-`-`-`-`-`-`-`-`-`-`-`-`

Karina managed to catch him just as he was finishing up in the training room. Barnaby lifted his eyes, finding the source of the shadow that fell across his thighs. The high school student stood beside the machine, arms cross over her chest. “You need to talk to Tiger.”

“He should have—”

“Save it,” she snapped, poking him in the chest with two fingers to keep him seated. “You’re just as much to blame as he is. Granted, he was stupid to have just quit. When I… He told me… He made me realize what it meant to be a Hero.” The wistful look on her face was replaced with the previous glare. “Hear him out—listen to his reasons!” Karina had somehow become Kotetsu’s confidante. They had talked a few days ago, and he’d told her that Kaede would be living with him by the end of the year. He’d sounded so excited—so proud—that she couldn’t help but congratulate him.

“He lied—”

“He lied to protect you. I’m sure he’s lied before?” Karina studied the way Barnaby’s brow furrowed as he probably recalled Wild Tiger’s so-called “lies”.

“That doesn’t excuse him—”

“You’re older than I am, Barnaby.” The ‘Handsome’ nickname was gone. “You’re an adult. If this is your logic—” Karina waved her left hand, at nothing in particular “—it’s not good at all. You’re being very childish.”

Barnaby’s eyes narrowed; this was the second time someone used that term, in reference to himself. And both individuals were younger than him. With a shake of his head, he rearranged himself on the seat, making it easier to rise and bypass the teen.

“Talk to him.” Karina’s soft plea followed him, even after the glass doors slid shut.

Barnaby fisted his hands at his sides after coming to a halt. Kotetu’s voicemail from a few days ago had asked him to do the same thing. Was it really childish of him to ignore his partner—former, his mind supplied. Blue Rose had just spoken her piece, and he was now expecting Rock Bison to come bearing a speech, but all the other Heroes—save for the ice NEXT—had been keeping their distance. The metaphorical “ball” was definitely in his court. A softer voice pushed through his thoughts, reminding him that Kotetsu’s mistakes had always been unavoidable—they had all been accidents.

He lied to protect you.

Barnaby clenched his fists, nails digging angry welts into the palm of his hands. ‘I’m not the bad guy here…!’ With renewed determination, and a plan of action, he headed for the showers to get cleaned up.

X x X x X

Kotetsu stopped his window shopping to answer his phone. The number was unknown, but he lifted the device to his ear nonetheless. “Hello?”

“Tiger! Thank God,” was breathed out after the sudden exclamation.

Kotetsu looked around before casually resuming walking forward at an even pace. “What’s wrong?”

“Agnes told me that Maverick will be making an announcement tonight. She didn’t say about what, but… I think it might be about you. Where…? Is Kaede with you?”

Kotetsu marveled at the words the teen had managed to speak in one breath. “No,” he replied. “I’m still in Sternbild and she’s with her grandmother. She missed enough days of school and I don’t want her missing anymore.” A silence followed that made Kotetsu falter in his steps to check and see if he had accidentally hung up. “Kari—”

“It’s my fault,” Karina whispered. “I tried to get Barnaby to talk to you. He probably went to Maverick.” Kotetsu’s eyes widened. He thought she was going to apologize, but the following words reminded him he was still talking with Blue Rose. “It’s your fault everything’s falling apart!” was yelled at him. He grinned. “If you hadn’t quit, which… I can’t believe you did!”

“Karina,” Kotetsu drawled, unable to help the chuckle that escaped. “Would you like to join me tonight? We can watch the announcement together at the bar.” Again, the silence stretched on, but Kotetsu waited it out. He received a soft ‘okay’ as a reply. “When’s Maverick supposed to be on the big screen?”

“7:30.”

“So we meet at seven. Don’t be late for our date, Karina-chan!” Kotetsu laughed, knowing the call had definitely come to an end. He took a few moments to save Karina’s number in his phone, but only after he’d searched for, and found, a picture of a gorgeous, blooming blue rose. After tucking the phone away, he wondered if the sudden broadcast really had to do with him. ‘I’ll find out tonight.’ With a deep sigh, he continued down the sidewalk, no real destination in mind.

x x x

Kotetsu arrived at the bar around seven that evening. He smiled after walking through the door, catching Karina’s eyes. The young teen had kept herself busy waiting for him by playing new and experimental pieces on the stage’s piano. The patrons didn’t seem to mind, as most of them were awaiting the broadcast from Apollon Media. Rather than jump down to be at his side, Karina finished her current performance, took a bow, and took her time approaching the bar stool where the older man sat.

“Club soda for the talented Miss Lyle,” Kotetsu told the bartender, his warm smile directed at the glowering teen.

Karina tossed her hair, gracefully taking a seat on the stool beside his. “Late, as always. And you should be more concerned,” she hissed.

“Why do you assume it’s something bad?” Kotetsu thanked the bartender after their drinks arrived. He turned his half-filled glass, lifting it from the counter, and clinked it against Karina’s. “Here’s to… the most fantastic news.”

Karina lowered her head, the creases disappearing from her brow as her frown faded away. Kotetsu’s smile waned, but never disappeared. He faced forward, lifting the glass to his lips to take a small sip.

X x X x X

The unlikely duo weren’t the only ones waiting for Maverick’s announcement. “Popcorn!” Dark Star leapt over the back of the couch, spilling a few kernels from the bowl she held, and landed next to Evelyn. Radboud sat in the single chair to said couch, one leg crossed over the other. His fingers idly stroked over the fuzz of his goatee as he watched the television. Dark Star munched noisily on her mouthful of popcorn as the camera panned away from Maverick’s face, bringing Barnaby Brooks Jr. into the frame.

“It is with a heavy heart that I report this terrible news,” the bespectacled man began. For dramatic effect, he left the silence stretch on for a few more seconds before the fabricated story came tumbling forth. “Wild Tiger has been captured. It happened not too long ago after Dark Star’s escape. He was in pursuit when we lost contact. As of now, we are still looking, hoping that he can send us a signal, because we know he is not lost to us.” Barnaby remained impassive as Maverick continued, his hands folded behind his back.

Dark Star had fallen against Evelyn’s side, popcorn forgotten as she laughed uncontrollably. A smirk, partially hidden behind his long fingers, was the only proof that Radboud was amused. “Maybe we should capture him,” the brunette gasped, wiping at her eyes. “Oh, my…” She thought it over, ignoring the man that droned on and on on the television. “That would be a fun day. For an old man, he’s pretty hot…” She smirked. “Can we kidnap him, Ray?” Dark Star popped a few kernels into her mouth, shooting a beseeching look at the older NEXT. “Please? Maybe that prude of a partner will finally break.” She turned away from the man, glaring at the television screen. “Look at him,” she sneered. “No concern.”

“That’s not true,” Evelyn stated softly. Radboud glanced in his sister’s direction, gliding his pinky against the stretched seam of his smirking lips. The redhead cocked her head slightly right as she studied the screen. “He’s… angry, but also sad.”

Dark Star scoffed, hugging the bowl of popcorn against her chest as she slouched down on the couch. “It’s only because I like you, Evy, that I believe you. But I still don’t like him.”

Evelyn had unconsciously perfected her own emotional mask, making it slightly easier to see through everyone else’s, especially someone as emotional as Barnaby.

“He’s just a tool,” Radboud sighed. He dropped his crossed leg and stood, taking his leave. Evelyn’s eyes followed him, until Dark Star nudged her into paying attention to the television screen.

X x X x X

Kotetsu had escaped the bar and was outside, leaning against the side of the building, an arm covering his face. That had been horrible, almost scarring news. He’d just hung up from talking with Kaede. The young girl had called, frantic, unable to calm down even after he had answered the phone. He heard the door open, and the soft rustle of cloth, and Kotetsu knew Karina had joined him.

The teen wrung her hands together, unsure of what to say. An apology was in order, but it still didn’t feel like enough. Kotetsu lifted his arm, peeking out from beneath it to stare at her profile. He smiled weakly, letting his arm fall away, back to his side. Karina started, clutching her hands together tightly as she stared at him, eyes wide.

“Let’s get you home,” Kotetsu chuckled.

“Okay,” she agreed softly.

He pushed away from the wall and extended an arm, gently wrapping it around delicate shoulders after Karina stepped towards him. “Don’t worry about me,” he sighed. “I’m sure Maverick will call me in and discuss whether or not I get rescued.” Kotetsu felt Karina stiffen under his arm and told himself I hope.

“You’ll come back,” Karina scoffed. “Who else am I going to yell at for being incompetent? There’s no one… like you,” she whispered beneath her breath, ducking her head.

Kotetsu grinned, squeezing her shoulder reassuringly.

x

Kotetsu waited until she was safe inside her home before pulling away. He made it back to his own apartment, but remained seated in his SUV, unable to bring himself to leave the vehicle. He took out his phone, unlocking it to bring his contacts on screen. The bunny stared back at him, taunting him to make contact with the real one.

We will do everything in our power to bring him back. Wild Tiger was reckless and impulsive, as always, but his actions are never without an underlying good cause. He was doing his job, as a Hero of Sternbild, and I will do mine.

Kotetsu gripped his phone tightly, unknowingly placing a call as his thumb brushed over the touch screen.

x

Barnaby watched Kotetsu’s name roll across the narrow display screen of his phone. He flipped the device open right before the call would have ended, but said nothing. The silence stretched on, broken only by a pained sound.

“I’m sorry… Bunny. I still can’t tell you, but… I’m sorry! Why won’t you forgive me… talk to me? Bunny…”

Barnaby snapped his phone shut, squeezing his eyes close. He had only agreed to being a part of the broadcast because Wild Tiger was his partner, and it would appeal to the citizens—Maverick told him this. It wasn’t in his nature to snivel and cry. He’d fought his way through life, so he would fight to bring his partner back; that was what he’d told the citizens of Sternbild after stepping up to the podium. His fingers uncurled from around his phone and he stared at the device almost questioningly, as if he had no idea what its purpose was.

x

Kotetsu’s eyes widened as he stared at the bright screen of his phone; it informed him that a call had ended. “…no.” He found the call history and felt his stomach sink as he realized he’d been “talking” for almost five minutes. Exhaling deeply, Kotetsu took his keys from the ignition and left his car, heading for the apartment. He almost tripped up the stairs when it began trilling in his hand. With wide eyes, he stared at the bunny. Clearing his throat, he accepted the call. “Hello?”

“Come to my place tomorrow, if you can, and we’ll talk.”

Kotetsu opened his mouth to speak, but the call had already ended. Closing his mouth, his lips curled up into a weak smile. He would find the strength, draw from it, and tell Barnaby everything—tomorrow.


A/N: I have no idea where this came from, ‘cause I sure do still feel blocked. I fed off you gaiz’ well wishes and inspirational words to me *om nom nom* and this was born. I let my editor, whom I appointed myself, give it a read, and she gave it a thumbs up (but with a bit more spastic flail, tee-hee). Have a happy Easter present *goes back into hibernation*


[ chapter ten ] [ chapter eleven ]
 
 
 
kazi_kunkazi_kun on April 9th, 2012 01:05 am (UTC)
*tucks in taintedkibou* You've done great, rest well! ^^
さ-ちゃんです: Hot Gimmick//Ryoki & ? - taintedkibou on April 9th, 2012 11:01 am (UTC)
Mmm *gets comfortable* Thank you~ ♥

but I'm still gonna stress my brain trying to move onto the next chapter *le sigh*

Edited at 2012-04-09 11:01 am (UTC)