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26 April 2013 @ 07:41 pm

Kotetsu's eyes flew open and the familiar stucco ceiling of his apartment stared back at him. The staring contest continued until he dragged an arm over his eyes. "Ugh... What day is it?"

"Not even 'what time', but 'what day'," a deep voice scoffed.

Kotetsu moaned, rolling away from the voice. He wasn't startled by said voice or the presence of his friend. "Go 'way, 'tonio. My head's killing me..."

"Because you drank yourself stupid." Antonio crossed to the bed, placing a glass of water and two pills down onto the nightstand. "You get one day of rest, and then we need you back at the labs. Expect to get a beat down from the kids."

Kotetsu groaned into his pillow, curling into a fetal position. He unfurled moments later, rolling over to squint at the cup. He glared at Antonio before reaching out. Antonio noticed the way Kotetsu's hand shook and swatted it away before he could spill the water. With one hand, he picked up the glass, and with the other, he lifted Kotetsu's head as he took a seat on the bed. He placed it back down atop his thigh. Kotetsu took a tentative first sip of the water when the glass rim nudged his lips. He opened his mouth when asked, swallowing the painkillers and the remainder of the water that followed. When Antonio felt he'd drank enough, he set the cup back onto the nightstand.

Kotetsu sighed, making himself comfortable, Antonio's thigh still his makeshift pillow. "I can't remember anything..."

"That's what happens when you almost suffer from alcohol poisoning." Antonio felt his friend flinch and smoothed a large hand down over the unkempt hair.

"That bad?" Kotetsu whispered. "You were ranting about Tomoe, how she left you... again."

Kotetsu dug his fingers into Antonio's thigh, burying his face in the material of his pants. "'tonio..."

"Stop holding it in," Antonio whispered, letting his hand rest atop Kotetsu's shoulder. "Maybe... Maybe you should take a break. Go home. If I need any help, I can always call Nathan. He definitely won't mind, just so long as he gets to grope my ass."

"You have a nice ass," Kotetsu mumbled into the man's leg.

Antonio chuckled, squeezing Kotetsu's shoulder gently. "Go home, Kotetsu. I'm saying this because I'm your friend. You never know what's going to happen, and you don't want all of that eating at your conscience." Kotetsu whimpered, digging his fingers in deeper; Antonio could almost feel his nails through the material. "Do this for me. If not for me, do it for Tomoe."

"Shut up," Kotetsu spat, his voice trembling. He fought to see past the booze, trying to find the reason that drove him to drink in the first place. The closer he got to finding out the truth, the more painful it became. When the dry sobs started, Antonio kicked off his shoes and swung his legs up onto the bed. Repositioning them so they would be comfortable, he stayed with Kotetsu the entire day.

Kotetsu still felt like crap the next day, and Antonio was still with him. He climbed from his bed, taking a few moments to find his legs, before walking shakily out of the bedroom, following the scent of food. "'toni..." Kotetsu cleared his throat and found it extremely dry. He wobbled to the fridge and plucked a bottle of water from the inside of the door after opening it.

Antonio watched him guzzle the entire bottle with a small smile. "At least you're up and about."

"I'm hungry," Kotetsu grumbled, glad that his voice no longer sounded horribly hoarse and scratchy.

"That's even better. Take a seat."

Barely lifting his feet, Kotetsu dragged himself to the table. He sank into the wooden chair and buried his face in his crossed arms. "Bunny's gone..."

The statement was muffled, but Antonio managed to hear it. He stirred the contents of his pot, chancing a quick glance over his shoulder as he asked, "The nudist alien?" He remembered hearing that particular nickname tossed around in the presence of the young man.

Kotetsu laughed, the sound sharp and tinged with tears. "Yes... He was..." He didn't know how to explain what happened that night.

Antonio turned off the stove, moving the pot to another burner, and gave Kotetsu his undivided attention. "He was sick? If he knew his time was coming, that's probably why he behaved the way he did."

"It wasn't his time!" Kotetsu glared at his friend over his arm. "It wasn't... her time or his time..." He turned away, hiding behind his arms, and Antonio returned to tending to his pot.

They ate in silence, Antonio cleaning the dishes after the meal was finished; Kotetsu disappeared to take a shower. After his task was completed, Antonio waited patiently, as he needed to clean himself up as well. Kotetsu walked out, looking a little bit better, but there was no smile on his face or in his eyes. Antonio didn't like this version, but there was no helping it, and he would just have to deal. As he passed, he placed a hand to the damp chestnut-brown hair, tousling playfully.

Kotetsu swatted his hand away, showing him a tired smile. "I'll be fine, promise." He widened his smile, keeping up the show until Antonio disappeared into the bathroom. Kotetsu snatched up his phone as he dropped onto the bed. He unlocked it, pulling up his contacts. After a few rings, a young girl picked up on the other end. "Kaede?" Kotetsu whispered, almost fearing that she would disappear the more he talked to her.

"Dad." Kaede took a seat on the sofa, holding the phone close with a smile. His first call after so many years had been startling, but they had crossed the hurdle together. It was refreshing to get some form of contact from him now. "It's really good to hear from you again. You should try to visit, but I'm sure you're busy."

Kotetsu fisted his hand beside him on the mattress, forcing himself to grin even though she wouldn't see it. "I'll visit," he laughed. "Antonio decided to give me some time off."

"That's great!" Kaede tucked herself into the crook the couch's arm. "I promise it won't be as awkward as you're probably thinking, even though you practically abandoned me for five years."

"You have her biting wit," Kotetsu told her gently, laughter audible in his voice. "And I'll try not to be awkward. Is there anything you want me to bring as a gift?"

Kaede clicked her tongue. "You should know we don't try to buy into this family. Also, that would be cheating. If you spend enough time, you'll soon figure out what I like from what I don't."

Kotetsu decided to take a leap of faith. "Mermaids?" The silence lasted only a few moments, but it was all he needed.

"I love mermaids," Kaede whispered.

"I'm sorry." Kotetsu bent forward after making the statement, elbows braced on his thighs.

"Don't be," Kaede countered.

"I love you so much—"

"I've missed you, dad...!"

Antonio pushed away from the bathroom door after listening a few more seconds as Kotetsu tearfully rambled on to his daughter.

Anju smiled as she watched her granddaughter reconnect with her father.


Kotetsu had still been talking on the phone when Antonio left, so nobody was there to properly tuck him in. The phone remained nestled beside his head, since all he'd done was hang it up and sprawl across the mattress. His fingers clenched before relaxing, a sad smile tugging at the man's lips as he slept.


Kotetsu clenched his hands tightly atop his thighs after taking a seat in the chair beside the bed, staring at the woman that continued to smile at him despite her condition. "Tomoe..."

Tomoe Kaburagi laughed softly. "That's not a good look on you, Kotetsu."

His fingers dug into the palm of his hands and he almost bit through his lip in an attempt to hold his voice back.

"I want to save her." It wasn't her best impression of her husband, but it did the trick. Kotetsu's head snapped up and Tomoe reached out, her thumb brushing across his lips, gently unlocking the bottom one. "Ah, it's already bruised. You've already saved me in more ways than you can imagine. Now it's my turn to save you, Kotetsu. You need to keep moving forward. There's so much left for you out there. Kaede..."

The chair toppled to the floor after Kotetsu shot out of it. His hands hovered over Tomoe's shoulders as she endured a coughing fit. Tears burned his eyes at the look of pain his wife wore. Just as she'd told him—it wasn't a good look on her; it was a look he'd never seen on her, until now.

Tomoe breathed deeply once the moment had passed, her hands still pressed against her chest. "I'll ask for just one more favor..." She lifted her head, cheeks flushed for the effort of moving, but still managed to smile brightly. "Tiger."

Her favor required a great deal of bargaining and pleading, but they were successful in getting it granted.

The nurse stood at the top of the sand bank, his hand resting lightly on the back of the wheelchair as he watched over his charges. Making sure each step was careful as to not jostle the woman in his arms, Kotetsu moved lightly over the sand towards the water below. Once at the water's edge, Kotetsu set her down onto her feet, but left his hand at her elbow to keep her steady. The wind picked up around them and a melodious sound filled the air. Tomoe was laughing again; a strong and powerful sound. She lifted a hand to tuck back her hair, tilting her head to grin up at him. Kotetsu smiled in return, trying to ignore the voice that kept telling him this would be their last time together. His wife was happy, and he would keep moving forward for her sake.

"That's all I ever wanted you to do."

Barnaby could see them clearly from where he hid beneath the waves. She looked so fragile now, but it was still the same woman that dragged him through all the oceans to go on adventures; the woman that held his hand when he cried. He couldn't hold her hand now.

/Silly, Barnaby. I don't need you to hold my hand because I'm not crying./

/Tomoe...!/ While he had some control over the elements from which he was born, it wasn't as strong as the others', but he managed to stir the sea with his emotional distress and started a breeze that danced around the couple. He could hear her laughter reverberating through his head. Her husband's sorrow waned, but would never truly vanish.

/I need you to look after him for me, Barnaby. Please. He needs you.../

Barnaby clenched his hands into fists, feeling the sea tremble around him. /I need you!/

/No. You two... need each other./


Barnaby gasped, unexpectedly coughing out water; it was neither fresh nor salted. It was much worse than pipe water—worse than Keith's, which he would welcome right now—because this batch tasted contaminated with cleaning supplies. He heard voices and felt too many emotions; the same as the first time he'd gone into town with Kotetsu. He let his eyes flutter open, his third eyelid settling so he could see underwater, and lifted his head to look around.

Drifting, Barnaby realized that his movement was limited. His fingertips pressed against a solid surface; glass. He backed up, his tail propelling him, and found another glass wall behind him. He was trapped, on all sides; caged. Fear flowed quickly through his veins and he began thrashing in his prison, throwing himself against the glass in a futile attempt to free himself.

Barnaby ignored the voices and raised emotions, lowering himself to the floor of the tank. He fisted his hands over his ears, letting out a shrill scream that caused the glass to vibrate; unfortunately, it didn't shatter. He had been given a second chance, but for what purpose? He was captured, with no hope of ever seeing Kotetsu again. After realizing the truth, Barnaby sank limply along the bottom of the tank, resigning himself to becoming another experiment.

Even though Kotetsu had promised both Antonio and Kaede, he wasn't just yet ready to make such a grand leap. Right now, all he could do was throw himself back into work until the pain went away. Unfortunately, the universe had other plans for him.


Kotetsu's lab coat continued to flap behind him as he found it increasingly more difficult to pull on as he ran through the halls to the underground labs. Antonio had called and reported that they made an amazing discovery and worry had filled his gut like lead. The discarded coat lay on the floor of the elevator after Kotetsu stumbled out. Kotetsu frantically punched in his security code and the double doors slid open. He froze just over the threshold. He could make out the usual crew: Antonio, Nathan, Ivan, and Karina; everyone was gathered around the tank, gawking and whispering excitedly at the living myth within. Kotetsu watched, tears burning his eyes, as Barnaby swam from one side of his confinement to the other, his tail elegantly sweeping along behind him. As though sensing the older man's sudden appearance, he floated higher in the tank, hands pressed against the glass as he stared over the heads of everyone else.

Kotetsu released a broken sound that could have been mistaken for a hiccup and ducked back out of the lab. He put his body on auto-pilot, glad that his feet took him to his SUV. His hands, however, refused to listen, shaking as he attempted to open the car door. The keys fell with a clatter and Kotetsu sank to his knees beside them. "I'm sorry... I'm so sorry, Bunny!" He pressed his forehead against the cool metal of the car door, tears flowing down his cheeks. "I'm sorry...!" He continued to cry his apologies to no one, sinking into a sitting position.

Antonio found him a few hours later. Kotetsu was asleep, his eyes swollen, his cheeks displaying the obvious tear tracks. With a soft sigh, he crouched, carefully slipping his arms beneath his friend to lift him properly. Kotetsu exhaled softly, a whispered name on his lips, "Barnaby..."

Antonio didn't take him home, but back inside and to the lounge. He sat with his friend until he woke. Kotetsu mumbled a complaint about his neck as he stood shakily. He thanked Antonio, ignoring his calculating gaze as it followed him all the way to the door of the lounge. Washing his face, Kotetsu headed back to his own office, where he attempted to do as much work as possible.


Kotetsu entered the lab after he was certain everyone was gone for the evening. He'd lingered behind, poring over every little piece of work he could find so he had good reason to ignore anyone that came with questions in regards to the mythical sea-folk they had discovered.

From where he'd positioned himself in the back left corner of the tank, Barnaby lifted his head the minute the doors slid shut after someone had walked in. The water churned as he propelled himself forward, pressing his hands against the glass expectantly. Kotetsu smiled somberly, slowly walking forward. He stopped a foot from the glass, unsure if he wanted to get any closer. Barnaby frowned at him, showing his displeasure at the distance. Smiling sheepishly, the older man stepped closer. He lifted a hand, hesitantly placing it against the cold glass. Barnaby drifted closer, mirroring Kotetsu's actions, and smiled.

"I'm so sorry, Bunny."

Barnaby frowned again, pounding against the glass.

Kotetsu rolled his eyes, chuckling softly. "That's what you're upset about—me calling you 'Bunny'? Not the fact that you're confined in a glass bowl?"

Barnaby lifted his shoulders in a shrug, his nonchalant expression back, as though saying, "It doesn't matter".

"It should," Kotetsu sighed, leaning forward until his forehead bumped the solid surface. The cool glass was comforting. "It's my fault..." There was a soft tapping and he peeked up to see Barnaby shaking his head. Kotetsu wanted to argue that it was, but he knew the other would win despite the lack of voice. He leaned even closer, if possible, and mouthed something to the sea-folk, not trusting the security in the room: "I'll get you out—promise!"

Barnaby's smile returned and he leaned in close, pressing his lips against the glass where Kotetsu's mouth was on the opposite side. Kotetsu's eyes widened, but he didn't pull away. Slowly, a grin spread across his face, along with the faintest hint of a blush.

"Stay?" Barnaby mouthed.

"Un!" Kotetsu grinned. He took a seat, trying to angle his body comfortably, so he could ramble on to Barnaby while leaning against the glass at the same time. He paused a moment to take a breath, and to admire the lower half of Barnaby. Noticing the scrutiny of his self, the blond unfurled his tail, stretching it out. In the lighting of the lab, it shimmered silver and pale blue.

Kotetsu pursed his lips in thought before hurriedly scrambling to his feet. He stepped out of his shoes and grinned. "I wanna see if you're taller than me." Barnaby rolled his eyes, but smiled and straightened to full height. His fingertips touched the glass, a precaution to keep him steady, but his tail fins were the only thing still sweeping the floor of the tank. Kotetsu's grin fell and he wilted against the tank. Barnaby practically towered over him by at least four feet or more. "I want Bunny back—the one that's only a few centimeters taller than me," he whined, pressing his hand longingly against the glass. "I just..." Kotetsu shook his head and bent, scooping up his shoes. "I'll be back soon, Bunny!" he shouted, already halfway across the room.

The door slid shut as Barnaby floated back down to the floor of the tank. He sighed, bubbles escaping him, and closed his eyes. /My name's not 'Bunny', old man./

Over the course of the following week, Barnaby obediently allowed himself to be tested without fuss. His fins slapped against the side of the metal operating table—he was too long to fit—when they decided to take samples from his tail. He exhaled through his nose, turning to search for Kotetsu. Said brunet stood as far back as possible, eyes wide in fear and worry for his friend. Barnaby offered him a weak smile, desperate to stand and walk to the man; take his hand and pull him into a hug to reassure him that everything would be all right. He looked away, trying to relax as they probed his veins to continue more blood work.


Kotetsu took it upon himself to feed Barnaby. He knew what the young man wanted and what he didn't. He displayed this fact in a rather outrageous manner, knocking the tray filled with raw seafood out of a lab assistant's hands to the floor. It might have been his food of choice almost half-a-year ago, but the sea-folk enjoyed human food now. Kotetsu was climbing down from the top of the tank, an empty plate once filled with fried rice in his hands, when Antonio and Nathan met him at the bottom. He looked between the two, his eyebrows rising in question.

"Kotetsu..." Nathan hummed, elegant fingers pressed against his cheek.

"Yeah?" Kotetsu urged, not wanting to stay too long; he had a plan that needed plotting.

"We're worried about you," Nathan practically whimpered.

"We think that creature is doing something to you," Antonio added, his brow furrowing as he frowned.

Kotetsu laughed, the sound hollow. "So he's a creature now? Just because he's different from us? Last time I checked, one of you thought him to be "handsome", and the other had finally accepted his existence." He smiled emptily at Antonio. "I guess you had a reason to be suspicious of him after all, hmm?"

"You accepted him too easily," Antonio stated, ignoring the accusation.

"It's been over six months, Antonio!" Kotetsu clutched the plate tightly, glad that it was plastic otherwise it would have shattered in his grip. "What? Do you think he's telepathically controlling me? Is that what you're saying?" He turned towards the tank, thinking as loud as he could without actually speaking, 'Bunny, are you a telepath?'

Barnaby tore his glare away from Antonio and met Kotetsu's gaze with a frown, but quickly looked away. Kotetsu's grin waned. "Can you... really read my mind?"

Nathan exchanged a look with Antonio, tugging on the man's arm. "Send him home," he pleaded.

Kotetsu walked back to the tank, placing his hand against the glass. He waited until Barnaby floated at eye level before allowing his stoical mask to slip back into place. "Can you read my mind?" he questioned. Barnaby shook his head, the blond curls having nowhere to bounce to. Kotetsu patted the glass once. "I just noticed… you have a nictitating membrane." A third eyelid, in a sense, that allowed him to see underwater. With one more pat, he pushed away from the oversized fish tank, breezing by Antonio and Nathan without a second glance.

Barnaby smirked before swimming away from the glass. He flipped his tail arrogantly and returned to the corner he usually tucked himself away into when Kotetsu wasn't with him. He would have to find some way to explain to Kotetsu that he wasn't telepathic per se, but empathic. And whenever the older man addressed him as 'Bunny', there was a telltale spike of happiness. He curled his tail, bringing it forward to trail his fingers over the transparent fins. A mild case of fin rot was settling, but there were no signs of decay. He could feel the ailment due to the chlorinated water. Barnaby sighed, a stream if bubbles escaping him, and closed his eyes, hoping for sleep to come quickly.


Barnaby woke to the emotional swirl of feelings that was Kotetsu. He didn't show he knew the human was there, and remained curled in the corner. There was something troubling Kotetsu, but he had already come to a conclusion; he was just nervous about the delivery. Barnaby didn't hear the sigh, but he felt the vibrations through the water when Kotetsu touched the glass.

"Bu—Barnaby. I don't know why I got upset earlier. I napped on it and realized that wasn't your judgmental frown."

'I have a judgmental frown?' Barnaby mentally shook his head.

"That was the 'don't call me Bunny' frown."

Barnaby couldn't see Kotetsu's grin, but he felt his relief and amusement.

"And then I told myself... it doesn't matter if you're telepathic or not—it doesn't matter if you never get your legs back... I promised to get you out, and I will. Right now!"

/No!/ Barnaby churned the water as he spun to face the biologist. He swam over, pounding against the glass with his fists. He contemplated using his tail since it was stronger, but his protests stopped when he saw Kotetsu grinning cheekily at him. Barnaby punched the glass one more time, snarling silently. /You knew I was awake?!/

"I knew you were awake," Kotetsu chuckled, proving his abilities to read the sea-folk well.

Barnaby slapped his hands against the glass, pushing away angrily to swim back to his corner.

Kotetsu pressed his face against the glass, the material fogging over with his breath. "Oi, Bunny... Bunny? Barnaby~?" He pulled away to tap lightly on the glass. "I did research on your people. There're a lot of sea creatures out there. You're not an evil spirit, are you? Bunny, look at me."

Barnaby hunched his shoulders up to his ears.

"Fine, then." Kotetsu sat down on the floor, leaning with his back against the glass. He pulled out his phone, pulling up one of the vast pages of information he'd stumbled across in his search to find out of mermaids are telepathic or not. He read his findings out to his companion, "Mermaids are telepathic. While submerged it is difficult to speak. They communicate with each other through thought, mostly in the form of images and occasionally words."

Somewhat true. 'I can't read your mind, though.' Barnaby relaxed in his corner, but didn't leave it.

Kotetsu looked away from his phone, touching the back of his head against the glass. "You're not like the mermaids in the last Pirates movie, are you? Am I your 'jolly sailor bold'?" He laughed at his own quip. Behind him, Barnaby rolled his eyes. "What about singing? Can you sing?" the brunet questioned offhandedly.

'I can sing, but I'm not a Siren.' Barnaby blew out a stream of bubbles, determined to see his silent tantrum through until the end.

After realizing he was still being ignored, Kotetsu continued to read off the sometimes fictional facts he found about mermaids. He knew Barnaby had finally gotten close enough by the time he had finished, and turned to stare into the blond's shimmering green eyes. He touched the glass gently. "Your nictitating membrane is pretty thin…" Kotetsu flailed until he managed to turn himself around, all the while searching on his phone. He pressed the device directly against the glass. "It would be so cool if your membrane was like the red-eyed green tree frog!"

The membrane of said amphibian is covered in thin golden stripes, similar in color to the gold at the edge of their eyelids, and similar in design to a tiger's stripes; similar to the tiger as well, the decorated membrane is useful to help camouflage the frog against predators.

Barnaby shifted his gaze from the phone to the grinning man holding it. He blinked slowly, retracting his own third eyelid; it quickly slid back into place. Kotetsu pressed himself closer, eyes wide in amazement. "Can I take a video of that?" he asked, his voice low in awe. "For science, of course," he added with a grin.

Barnaby pointed upwards and Kotetsu all but ran for the set of stairs that led to the top of the tank. Barnaby folded his arms over the edge of the tank, leaning forward to give the marine biologist a better angle. He waited until Kotetsu held up the phone, and whispered "recording" before merely blinking his nictitating membrane. Kotetsu laughed triumphantly, holding the phone close as he replayed the short video capture. With a shake of his head, Barnaby removed his arms and slid gracefully back into the water.

Kotetsu started down the stairs, freezing at the bottom when the door whooshed open. He relaxed at the sight of Ivan hidden behind the spare futon he carried. It was Kotetsu's; he left it lying around for quick comfortable naps. "Edward must really trust me to let you out of his sight this late," he chuckled. As he knew he would, the teen blushed a bright red, burying his face in the soft material. Kotetsu laughed, extending a hand and beckoning the intern closer. Once close enough, he wrapped the same appendage around the small shoulders. "Bunny. You remember Ivan, one of my protégés." Kotetsu grinned sheepishly down at the boy standing at his side. "Ivan, this is, apparently, the real Barnaby."

Barnaby couldn't help but smile at the amount of excitement the teen exuded. No fear; just wonder and amazement. He tucked a hand at the section of his waist where skin became scale, and performed a bow. Ivan laughed, stepping closer. The blanket in his arms barred him from getting too close. "It's a shame…" he whispered, lifting his hand until his fingertips brushed the glass. Barnaby reached out, their fingers meeting. "You're like a caged bird, with no voice to sing."

Kotetsu stared down at Ivan, tousling his messy blond hair with a chuckle, "Very poetic." His gaze softened as he turned to stare at Barnaby, trapped behind a glass prison. "And so very true…"

"Whatever you're thinking of doing, I'll help you," Ivan stated softly, unable to tear his eyes away, even after Barnaby's expression reflected his surprise.

Kotetsu turned the teen away to face him. "No. I don't want you to get yourself in trouble because of me." Ivan smiled, and Kotetsu could see in the boy's blue eyes that he had no intention of changing his mind. "You've been hanging around Karina too much…"

Ivan perked up. "She said she didn't want to see him—Barnaby, that is, but she'll help also."

Barnaby scoffed, the sound unheard, but his bubbles visible.

Ivan held up the futon, managing to hide himself behind it. He lowered his arms, revealing his wide smile. "It's time to sleep. Karina told me you wouldn't leave the labs, and said I should come and keep you both company."

Kotetsu glanced at Barnaby, his heart tightening as he thought it would have been nice if they could sit and talk together until everyone fell asleep. Barnaby smiled reassuringly, pointing at Ivan. The brunet chuckled and helped Ivan lay down the futon. Biologist and intern took a seat on the covers of the futon, not ready to slumber just yet. It wasn't one-sided per se, but Barnaby was still included in the conversation. Ivan nodded off first, almost banging his head on the tank if Kotetsu didn't catch him by the shoulders. The brunet smiled and set about tucking the teen in. Instead of sliding in next to him, he sat with his back to the tank, the covers covering his lap. Barnaby lowered himself to the bottom of the tank directly behind of him. He curled his hand into a fist before splaying his fingers against the glass wall that kept him separated. Closing his eyes, he focused on his visitors and fell asleep quite quickly.