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21 April 2013 @ 07:57 pm
harrumph  

Title: From Land to Foam – chapter six
Pairing/Characters: Kaburagi Kotetsu / Barnaby Brooks Jr.
Rating: R (M for Mature)
Genre: AU
Disclaimer: I do not own the characters (of Tiger & Bunny).


It was John's barking that alerted him. Dawn had already broken, which meant Keith woke with it. No sooner had he finished relieving himself, the Golden Receiver begin barking excitedly somewhere in the house. Keith washed his hands, taking a moment to splash some water across his face. He stared at his reflection, wondering what was different about it.

Cis still isn't here. It's been almost six months since her last letter.

The thought only served to make his smile grow wider. Keith soon realized that's what was different. He did indeed smile every day, but only out of politeness. Thinking about Cis no longer made his heart feel heavy. If anything, it made him feel grateful that she was out living her dream. "It's time to live mine," he whispered to his reflection, blue eyes shining. The appearance of a stranger at the lifeguard shack started a new turn of events.

John barked impatiently and the blond pulled away from the sink, rushing out of the bathroom to see what was bothering man's best friend. John was sitting at the front door, tossing his head impatiently. Keith looked confused. "It's not time for your walk..." John whined, lowering his head to nose at the crack at the bottom of the door. Keith's eyes widened. "Barnaby!"

The young man hadn't returned yesterday, as promised, but was obviously back since John was so excited. He hurriedly unlocked the door, running out almost as fast as the dog. There was no sign of the young man on the front porch, but John knew exactly where to go. Keith walked to his truck, where the Receiver sat obediently, and looked into the cab. Barnaby was curled in a fetal position, his shirt serving as a makeshift pillow. All it took was a gentle touch to rouse the young man.

"Let's get you inside," Keith whispered, holding out his hand when Barnaby sat up. "Kotetsu and Antonio will be here sometime today. I'm sure you're still tired." Barnaby moved on autopilot, and Keith was surprised he didn't trip climbing over the side of the truck. Granted, he offered assistance, but the ground was far enough that it was a possibility. They headed back into the house—John waited at the open door, his tail wagging happily—and Keith proceeded to tuck Barnaby in, in the guest room he was using. From there, he continued with his morning routines. He'd asked for today off so he could oversee the tagging of the shark.

X

Keith kept Barnaby's nightly escapade to himself after the biologists showed up; the young man looked ever grateful to him because of his decision. Keith thought it best to take his truck as a precaution, but Kotetsu demanded he ride with them. To make things more awkward, he was given the privilege of riding shotgun in the passenger's side. Kotetsu sat behind him, speaking a hundred words a minute to a young man hanging onto his every word. Keith fiddled with his hands until he shoved them between his thighs to keep them still. He inhaled then exhaled deeply. He glanced out the window, taking note of their surroundings, and realized they still had a good ten minutes of driving left.

"How's the surfer kid doing?"

Keith startled at the sudden question, jumping as far as the seatbelt allowed, and twisting around to stare at Antonio's profile. "The shark victim? I hear he's doing fine. The mother demanded my number and is constantly sending me updates. Like, one of the puncture wounds made by the shark's tooth needed ten stitches."

Antonio smiled, keeping his eyes on the road. "Sounds like you've got an admirer."

"Sounds like someone's—"

Barnaby elbowed Kotetsu in the ribs on Antonio's behalf. Kotetsu clutched his side, howling dramatically. Antonio smirked at his youngest passenger in the rearview mirror, nodding his thanks.

Keith was still stuck on Antonio's comment, but decided to let it slide. "We're going to have to put up signs on shark attacks now," he mumbled softly.

"The good thing is that no one died," Antonio reminded him.

Keith smiled. "That is always a good thing."

The tension lifted and small conversations sprung up between them, lasting only until they arrived at the dock. It was the same one Keith had taken Kotetsu to when they first met. He stepped out after the car park, pressing himself close against the car. This wasn't his territory and he didn't want to overstep his boundaries.

"Bison!" a falsetto voice cooed.

Keith looked around and find the source of the voice to be a dark-skinned male, tall in stature, but that also may have been due to the two-inch high ankle boots he wore. He waved in their general direction and Keith turned around to see everyone else waving back. He pressed himself closer against the car.

Kotetsu noticed and grabbed his arm, peeling him away. He dragged him to Nathan, energetically introducing them. "He's a lifeguard. Saved the surfer while Barnaby distracted the shark with his seal tendencies."

The man named Nathan shot Kotetsu a skeptical glance before smiling brightly at Keith. "I have no idea what you're saying most of the time, but I like your taste. This one's more matured than Handsome is. And you say he's a lifeguard?"

The question hadn't even been given a proper answer before his shirt was yanked up and long fingers slid across Keith's muscled abs. The blond blushed a deep red, taking his shirt back as he stumbled away. A broad back blocked Nathan from his view and he quickly realized Antonio had stepped between them.

Nathan smirked, pressing his fingers against his lips. His tongue darted out for a taste of the lifeguard he'd managed to grope. "That's him? This is going to be fun."

"Not right now." Kotetsu walked between the showdown, waving his hands; Barnaby was hot on his heels. "We have a shark to lure and tag."

Nathan's sultry expression was replaced with a bright smile and he leaned sideways to see around Antonio. "Sorry if I scared you. There's no need to be shy around me, darling."

Keith smiled nervously, still gripping the hem of his shirt tightly. "I actually think I might be in the way. Even Barnaby received training... I can sit this one—" Keith swallowed the remainder of his words when Antonio turned and glared down at him.

"You won't be in the way," the brunet stated gruffly. He turned back to Nathan, a bit of the stiffness easing from his body. "Is the boat packed?"

"Mm-hmm," Nathan purred, wrapping both arms around Antonio's right one.

Keith forced a smile onto his face as he followed after the duo. All of his self-confidence from this morning had dissipated.

X X X

Everyone on board was a highly experienced swimmer, so there was no need for life jackets. The large slab of beheaded fish was attached to the equally large hook by the extra staff hand Nathan had brought along and dropped into the water. The boat's engine hummed softly as they coasted along and basically fished for a predator. After two hours and no bite or sign of said animal, Barnaby suggested a new location. Nathan didn't outrank the other two scientists, but this was his jurisdiction, so he headed to the bow to put the engine into full throttle. He followed Barnaby's instructions as best as possible, arriving at their new location after a few minutes. They were still in the shallows, but the color of the water had darkened, informing all that the ground beneath the waves had indeed dropped. This time, however, they dropped anchor and tossed out a fresh new line.

After a forty-five minute wait, Keith spotted the dorsal fin just mere moments before the line went taut. Hands protected with the proper gloves, Antonio reeled in the animal caught on the wire, keeping it close against the side of the boat. Keith watched in amazement as the quartet of men worked as a well-oiled machine. Almost as though realizing it could a portion of its jaw if it struggled, the Bull shark stuck to the side of the boat, shifting with the waves. At one point, it pulled itself up out of the water and fixed its gaze on the man poised to shoot the dart into its fin. Barnaby paused for a moment, staring into the animal's eye.

The staff member and Nathan—both worked to keep the animal secured—received a spray of water as the shark thrashed its tail.

"Keith!"

Keith snapped himself back to reality, turning towards the shout. Despite the hook snagged in its mouth, the shark was indeed attempting to free itself. Antonio couldn't release his cord and the one deck hand they had seemed to be struggling with the tail at this point. "Help him keep it steady!" Antonio nodded down at the end of the shark.

Kotetsu smiled, leaning over the side of the boat to rub at the animal's exposed underbelly. "Bunny made her upset. She knows what you plan to do."

"I'm going to stick a tracking device in her," Barnaby muttered, a scowl tugging at his lips at the nickname. He glanced at Kotetsu, raising an eyebrow at the man's surprised stare.

"You know what a tracking device is?"

"Antonio told me that's what this is." Barnaby lifted the long pole with the tag at its end higher. His eyes narrowed and he pushed Kotetsu back just as the shark twisted, jaw snapping at the air near where the man's arm had been a few moments ago.

With a cold resolve, Barnaby took aim once the shark had been rightfully rotated, and stuck the animal, the tag lodged where it needed to be. He drew the pole back, tossing it to the side, and helped with keeping the animal's thrashing in check so Nathan could collect a muscle sample and clip a tiny skin sample. After a few more minutes, Barnaby was reaching down to dislodge the hook from the animal's jaw. Without splashing, the Bull shark slipped out of sight into the depths of the water.

Kotetsu patted Barnaby on his shoulder, grinning widely. "Good job, rookie. You, too, Keith!" He tilted his head, his expression a muddled look of confusion as he stared at Antonio's back. "What's wrong, Bull Tank?"

Antonio stiffened, but his shoulders sagged mere moments later. Slowly, he turned until he was facing the duo beside him.

Kotetsu's eyes widened before his friend could speak, and he pounded a fist into the palm of his hand. With a grin, he held both hands up to Antonio; the scar was a pale line across his palm. "Still here, so don't get depressed for no reason. Didn't you just tell Keith—and I quote—" Kotetsu cleared his throat, deepening his voice to mimic Antonio's, "The good thing is that no one died." He grinned.

Antonio reeled in his shocked look before reaching out to curl his arm around Kotetsu's neck, pulling him against his chest in a crushing hug. Kotetsu laughed, slapping at his arms. They separated before Nathan had to demand they do so, and the clean up began so they could return to shore.

"We should go out for sushi to celebrate," Kotetsu deadpanned the second everyone had stepped onto the dock. "I wonder if they have shark…" Nathan chewed on his thumb to hold his laughter back. "What?" Kotetsu scoffed, tilting his head haughtily. "I'm Asian, let me enjoy my cuisine. Bull Tank—"

"Don't go there," Antonio warned, picking up the cooler with the samples to carry to the van Nathan and his staff member arrived in. Kotetsu chased after him, unrelenting in his teasing.

The remaining quartet was back in their rental car and watching the van pull away. "We need to shower before anything," Antonio sighed, wrinkling his nose as the scents of the sea began building in the confined space. "And Nathan has to process his samples."

Kotetsu yawned in response. He smiled sleepily up at Barnaby beside him. "How was it? Your first tagging?"

Barnaby looked to the right before his gaze fixed on Kotetsu. "She felt some discomfort, but that's because I was getting her back for that stunt she pulled."

Kotetsu laughed, "You did jab pretty hard, but you hooked the dart spot-on."

Barnaby relaxed into a smile, leaving the duo in front wondering about the strange conversation.

x

Keith and Barnaby were dropped off before Antonio and Kotetsu could return to their temporary home. Both men were surprised when they found the sports car already there. They were greeted with the sound of running water after stepping inside, the sound letting them know Nathan was already cleaning up.

"How'd he get here so fast?" Kotetsu mumbled as they climbed the stairs.

"His car," Antonio tossed back.

Kotetsu punched him in the shoulder before making an awkward dash for the master bedroom and its shower. Antonio shook his head, disappearing into the hallway's bathroom.

x

The call from Keith came just as the sun began to set. "I'm sorry," he whispered to Kotetsu over the phone. "I took a nap that lasted longer than it should have."

Kotetsu drew a leg up, resting his chin on bended knee. "Don't apologize. I'm sure you were busy before we came and scooped you up. Antonio's glaring at me because you didn't call him."

Keith listened to the shriek of laughter and raised voices through the phone, torn between confusion and amusement. Antonio spoke to him, rather than Kotetsu. "He's indisposed, but we're still waiting for you to lead the way for dinner. This is our last night—we'll be heading back tomorrow."

Barnaby couldn't offer his host any comfort and endured the disappointment and sadness that washed over him. Keith smiled, the action unseen. "I'm sure everyone at your lab will be happy to have such great men returning home to them. As for dinner, if you want to meet here, I can take the lead driving. Otherwise, I can give you the address—"

"We'll come over."

Keith nodded. "We'll be waiting," he chuckled. He ended the call and placed his phone beside him on the couch, reaching down to smooth a hand over John's fur. Remembering Barnaby was in the room with him, he perked up, laughing for his guest.

"You can still text and talk to them both. I do it with Kotetsu when we can't meet."

Keith gave him a lopsided smile, but no verbal response.

X X X

Dinner went as smoothly as it could with the ragtag group of mismatched men. Kotetsu spent most of the night attempting to teach Barnaby how to hold chopsticks. Even after they resorted to the 'learning' chopsticks, held together with a rubberband and a piece of paper for easy movement, it was still difficult. Kotetsu then took it upon himself to feed the youngest member of their group.

"They're practically married," Nathan sighed, low enough for only Keith and Antonio to hear. "Our dear Kotetsu is so naive."

Antonio smiled as he stared at the back of Kotetsu's head. "I'm just glad he's enjoying himself. After the anniversary of her death—" Nathan nodded, not wanting to linger on the subject too long, "He started behaving... differently. He bounced back far faster than normal, so I think that might have been when they first met."

Nathan's eyes lit up. "They've been like that for so many months?"

"Not like... that." Antonio grimaced as he watched Kotetsu make one final attempt at showing Barnaby how to hold his chopsticks. "I only just met Barnaby when we arrived here." He glanced at Keith, catching the look of surprise that flashed across the blond's face.

Keith relaxed as a smile appeared on Antonio's face. The next words out of Antonio's mouth made him duck his head to hide his own smile:

"I'm actually glad Kotetsu said we should take this vacation."

"I'm glad, too," Nathan purred, snuggling closer to lay his head atop Antonio's shoulder. "I hardly see you boys anymore. I've actually been thinking of transferring to your lab division, but it'll be so far from home."

Barnaby glanced across the table before turning completely away from Kotetsu. He picked up the fork to spear a piece of tuna and leaned across the table, holding it low so Keith could see it was being offered to him. Wide blue eyes stared at the young man over the fork, then back to the piece of fish. He smiled, realizing he was being comforted, and opened his mouth to take the tuna off the fork's prongs.

"Thank you," Keith told him after he'd finished chewing.

Kotetsu grinned, turning in his seat to give the older blond his undivided attention and drag him into their odd conversations. "I had to throw away those fries because you never showed me your technique for reheating!"

Keith relaxed, picking up his chopsticks to shuffle the leftover contents of his plate around. "Everyone's been busy. I did make a promise and I plan to keep it, if you'll let me."

"I'll come back for a visit. Just me and Barnaby, since Antonio'll be busy with all the work I leave behind."

Keith smiled, "Nathan will be there to help him, I'm sure."

Barnaby was the only one smirking at the table. Kotetsu was laughing. Barnaby had to a hand on the back of his chair to keep him from toppling over. Keith looked worried; he had spoken the truth, hadn't he? Nathan and Antonio were clearly together, in that sense, so it was understandable they would work together if Nathan did indeed transfer.

"I need some sake," Kotetsu panted, now leaning against the youngest blond for support.

Keith looked to the quiet pair, hoping they would be able to shed some light on the situation. Nathan's pink eyes roamed over every visible inch of him in appraisal, an arm still draped languidly over Antonio's shoulder, almost challengingly. Keith smiled as Antonio continued to grin at him, flushing in embarrassment. Maybe it would be better if he just voiced his thoughts. "I—"

"Don't," Kotetsu exclaimed, waving his hands and cutting him off. The bottle of sake had been delivered, along with five cups. He set one in front of each person at the table, filling them halfway. "A toast." He lifted his own cup—Barnaby had poured his serving for him, and waited for everyone else to do the same. "...to new friends, and the best vacation I've had in a long time!"

Barnaby clinked his clay cup first. Keith, Nathan, and Antonio followed suit with the remaining toasts. Once everyone had touched cups, the rice wine was downed.

X X X

Kotetsu sat with Keith on the back bumper of the blue pickup. "If you ever decide you want to move to Sternbild, and want to keep doing your lifeguard duty, I will personally talk to the beach owners for ya."

Keith smiled. "It'll be a while before that thought crosses my mind, but I appreciate the effort."

Kotetsu pouted. "Why'd you dump me?" he whimpered. Keith laughed softly, easing the brunet away as he leaned in too close. Barnaby quickly retrieved the older man, guiding him back to the rented silver sedan. Before he could push off from the back of the truck, a shadow fell across his lap, courtesy of the street lamp and the burly man standing over him.

"You seem to be under the misconception that Nathan and I are an item."

Keith's eyes widened and he gasped out, "You're not?"

"No. The whole reason I came out here with my idiot friend was because of someone else. Someone I spent a great day with... also thanks to my idiot friend."

"Oh." Keith squared his shoulders with a smile. "Did you get to see this person again?"

Antonio smirked. "I did."

'Why does my chest hurt?' Keith hoped for a distraction and one came in the form of Kotetsu setting off the car alarm after trying to break into the rented vehicle. Antonio scoffed, pulling the set of keys from his pocket. He pressed the alarm control and it chirruped as the incessant noise ended. He turned back to the blond, smiling sheepishly, before walking away.

Keith remained where he sat, hands fisted atop his thighs. This was a familiar pain; he'd felt this same way when Cis turned him down. 'But why does it hurt... worse?' A hand landed atop his head and he looked up to find Barnaby smiling down at him.

"Don't feel like that. Your heart will get what it wants. I promise. Can I drive back to the house?"

Keith choked out a laugh, wiping away a few tears that managed to escape. "Show me a license and I might think about it."

"What's that?"

Keith's laughter reached Antonio's ears and he grinned before slipping into the car. Kotetsu leered at him from the passenger's seat. "You're not gonna take what you want?"

"No. It's better if he comes to me on his own. Just like you did."

"I was bi-furious," Kotetsu slurred, slumping down in his seat.

Antonio resisted slapping his forehead and settled for groaning as he turned the key in the ignition. "Who let you watch that movie?"

"I watched it with Ivan," Kotetsu giggled. "He promised me I could read the comics whenever I wanted."

"Sometimes I can't believe you're the same age as me."

Kotetsu let out another giggle before eventually falling silent and into slumber. Antonio rolled his eyes and focused on getting them back to the house in one piece.


Nathan forced them both awake for goodbye kisses before taking off for the lab to process the samples, which he'd skipped out on doing the day before. Kotetsu refused to leave his bed until his head stopped protesting. He checked his phone once he was able to view the screen without squinting and saw he had two messages from Keith.

/Barnaby – I'll see you back in Sternbild, old man./

/Take care, Mr. Kotetsu. I had fun, and I hope you can visit again so I can teach you my fry technique./

Kotetsu chuckled and slipped the phone under his pillow before getting comfortable again.

Antonio finally managed to drag him out of bed by late afternoon. "The car's already packed. You can sleep until it's your shift to drive."

Kotetsu hummed softly, yawning afterward. He waited until Antonio left the key in the mailbox and joined him before moving, not trusting himself to stay upright without support.

X X X

They weren't the only ones leaving. Barnaby stared at the pink bunny Kotetsu had given him, his brow furrowed in concentration. He didn't want to leave it behind, but it wouldn't survive the trip back to Sternbild.

Keith solved his problem for him, plucking the stuffed animal from his hands. He placed it next to his dolphin on the couch. "I'll use it as an excuse to visit."

Barnaby smiled, "Thank you."

"Are you ready? It's time to head to the beach."

"I'm ready. I'll leave the clothes where you first found me." Barnaby flexed his fingers nervously before leaning into Keith's space to wrap his arms around the older man. "Thank you, for everything."

"You're always welcome here," Keith told him, hugging back firmly. They separated and he grinned, squeezing Barnaby's shoulders. "Let's get you home before you get too emotional."

Barnaby laughed softly, allowing himself to be lead out of the door. John barked excitedly, dancing around their legs. This time, he wouldn't be left behind.

X X X

Barnaby savored the cool embrace of the ocean once he'd dived into it. After going so many days wearing clothes, it was a relief to be back in a more natural state.

/Come home./

There was no asking for a reason; he had to return without question. The only thing that pained him was the indefinite time he would probably have to spend away from Kotetsu. Barnaby swam deeper into the ocean, exchanging his legs for something more efficient; something that would take him farther faster. His slip of the tongue with Kotetsu hadn't been far from the truth; folklore really did give his kind a bad name. The human race called them "mermaids"—merman in his case, a term they had all come to accept, but mermaids didn't sink ships or lure sailors to their deaths. That task was left with rusalki and Sirens.

Barnaby increased his movements with a simple flick of his tail. His final destination was a cove reachable only to those of an aquatic nature. He broke the surface with a shake of his head, looking around at his fellow brothers and sisters. He picked a low rock, dragging himself out of the water, his long legs helping him climb to a proper height so he could take a seat. There were others that did the same as him, but most stayed in their natural habitat of the water.

/My children./ The gentle, soft voice reverberated in their hearts and minds. /Another of your siblings returned to the sea from whence she was born, but in the form of foam. It was not her husband that witnessed her on the night of her transformation, and this stranger held nothing but a black selfishness in his heart. Barnaby./

Barnaby sat up straight, eyes wide in surprise. Everyone else turned to stare at him.

/You've been experiencing feelings of unrest lately, haven't you?/

"Yes," he replied out loud.

/Be careful./ The waters before him stirred and from them, rose a gorgeous woman, her hair an inky black like the night sky, shimmering as though filled with stars. Her dress appeared to be made of the colors of the sea itself, containing reflections of the mountains, sun, and anything else. She reached out, her fingers gently ghosting over his cheek. "It would be unfair to pick favorites, but I'm deeply concerned about you."

Barnaby bowed his head, conveying his gratitude for her concern.

"Stay within the area for a while. You'll miss him, but if you're gone forever, I know he'll be sad."

Shoulders shaking, he nodded slightly. She smoothed a hand down over his head, over his cheek, before disappearing with only a slight ripple that told them she'd been there before. "I need to tell him I'm away," Barnaby whispered, hands fisted atop his bare thighs. "My phone's still in Sternbild."

"You have a phone?" a young girl asked, her brown hair floating out behind her; she stared up at him from the water, her arms pressed against the rock. "I haven't been allowed out of the cove, but everyone comes back with stories." A sparkling sea-green shape could be seen stretched out behind her, the hint of pale fins just visible above the surface of the water.

Barnaby smiled sadly. "He bought it for me."

"Jealous," she squealed. Rising gracefully out of the water, pale scales visible at her waist, she placed a hand atop Barnaby's fist. "I'm sure someone here is willing to either get your phone or pass on the message."

"I can get your phone," a male voice stated. Barnaby looked up to see someone waving from a rock over. "The problem is keeping it charged," the man laughed. Barnaby flushed, realizing he spoke the truth. "I'll still get it," the brunet said with a smile. "It's been a while since I've been to Sternbild."

Barnaby moved to the edge of his rock, dropping one leg into the water. "You've been to Sternbild?" he asked softly, surprised.

"Most of us have. It's a nice place—honest. And the beaches are amazing, aren't they?"

Barnaby nodded in agreement. "They are. There's also another place..."


A/N: I feel no remorse for that "bi-furious" comment. I was like half-asleep... and it just popped out, so I kept it. My editor OK'd it also, so... nyaa! Scott Pilgrim XDD And yay, Barnaby back story reveal~ not all of it, but the rest comes... later.