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26 April 2013 @ 07:55 pm

Karina knocked twice on the closed door before entering the office. She closed it behind her, leaning against the hard surface. Her dislike for Barnaby was mostly jealously. Every time she was asked to help out with testing or even feeding, she very blatantly displayed her dislike or the sea folk, no matter how childishly. Kotetsu loved her, but not like he loved Barnaby. Before they had even been graced with his name, Kotetsu asked everyone's opinion over things like cell phones and even clothes. Whenever he spoke of Barnaby, he lit up like in a way—quoted from Antonio: I haven't seen that look in almost a decade. Karina gritted her teeth, hands clenched into tight fists. 'He doesn't deserve you, but… I won't stand in your way.'

Kotetsu eased his glasses upwards, letting them rest atop his head, and stared at the teen. The authoritative air that usually surrounded the girl seemed to have vanished. "Karina? Is everything okay?"

"Do you love him?" she whispered.

Kotetsu's eyes widened.

"If you say you do, I'll help you execute whatever absurd plan you're working on..." Karina lifted her head, eyes shimmering as she glared at the man. "Do you... love him?"

"He's important to me..." Kotetsu stated hesitantly. "I..." —bought him a cell phone; invited him to my house and got upset when I found him at Keith's, even though I told him I wasn't; was scared when he was off punching sharks; got worried when he missed our scheduled meetings. I… enjoy his company. Kotetsu bit his lip, looking away from the teen that continued glaring. I was torn apart when I thought I would never see him again… His gaze ended up on the wedding band he continued to wear—would always wear.

/He'll understand./ A transparent hand covered his, a similar band on the delicate, slender ring finger.

Kotetsu didn't tense under the touch. 'Are you... really here?'

A soft giggle, /In a sense—yes./

'You won't—'

/Mind?/ The giggle turned into a laugh. /I wouldn't want it to be anyone but him. We've both loved you for a very long time./ Kotetsu smiled, closing his eyes as Tomoe caressed his face. /I'll be moving on soon, my Tiger, once you say what's in here./ Her other hand drifted down to his chest, her fingertips ghosting across the location of his heart.

'I'd rather tell him directly, if you don't mind.'

/Of course not./ Tomoe's melodious laugh filled his head and then her presence was gone.

Kotetsu faced Karina and the young girl saw that she'd been defeated by a fish. "Don't expect this to change anything," she scoffed, pushing away from the door. "If anything, I'll probably be even harsher with him."

Kotetsu chuckled, "I don't understand why you two don't get along."

"And that's why..." Karina trailed off, shaking her head with an annoyed sigh. "Ivan!"

Kotetsu blinked in surprise when the other intern stepped out from behind the lab coat rack in the office. He remembered only Karina entering the room. "Are you a chameleon?" His eyes grew wider, brighter. "Can you take on another form like Barnaby?"

Ivan shook his head with a shy smile.

Karina removed her hands from her hips, crossing them over her chest, and cocked her head questioningly at the older man. "Mr. Kotetsu, have you developed a fetish for the scaly?"

Kotetsu's brow furrowed as he pursed his lips. "That fetish may have already been there, considering... my job." He grinned, hoping to draw Ivan out of his shell a bit more. "Do you and Edward have a fetish?"

The shy teen perked up, almost ready to answer, when Karina swatted Kotetsu in the back of the head. "Don't," she threatened—a threat directed at both of them—with a glare that promised more bodily harm.


"What's your plan?" she interrupted.

"Yes. What is your plan?"

The trio's excitement vanished and a cold settled in the room as they all turned to face the door. So caught up, they missed Antonio entering. The burly man stood just inside the office, arms crossed over his broad chest. "What are you planning, Kotetsu?" he asked again, eyes narrowing in a glare.

Kotetsu stood from his seat, matching his friend's glare with one of his own. "How to set Barnaby free. He's not an animal—you can't keep him caged up!"

The glaring match continued for a few more moments before Antonio shook his head with a sigh. "If you were being a team player, and still joined the meetings, even if to just yell at us like you're doing now, you would have realized we were planning to release him within a month's time."

Kotetsu's face split into a wide grin and he practically skipped across the room to reach the other man. He pulled up short, eyes narrowing in suspicion. "Are you going to tag him?"

Antonio drew his lips into a thin line, his brow creasing as he remembered the conversation. "We planned to, but he made it clear he'd take it out."

"Sounds like Bunny!" Kotetsu laughed, throwing his arms around his friend. "Wait..."

Antonio waited until Kotetsu had pulled away before rolling his eyes. Kotetsu jabbed him in the chest. "Why the sudden change? Before, you practically wanted to separate us—thinking he was controlling me and everything..."

Antonio rubbed the back of his head, looking away. "He managed to convince Nathan to give him paper and pen and explained everything to us. Well, not everything. Nathan started cooing over him once he realized he wasn't a threat to mankind. You know he gets touchy feely..." Antonio sighed deeply. "But your merman agreed to our remaining tests, and we'll release him once we're finished." He arched an eyebrow. "Are you going to return to meetings from now on?"

"Yes," Kotetsu stated, his train of thoughts already heading down a second path. "But I think he's stuck... as he is now. I'm sure you all remember he had legs before... Even while in the water, they never changed to his tail. And his voice..."

Karina cleared her throat, smiling sweetly when everyone turned her way. "I might be able to remedy that. I do like him as a mute, though..." She sighed dramatically, waving a hand to dismiss her last statement. "I did some research..." She thought over her words, then shook her head. "Not really 'research', but I read through a few forums and even Wikipedia, since... it's Wikipedia, but it seems as though it's a backwards case of," Karina sighed softly, still unbelieving that this was what her life had been turned into, "The Little Mermaid."

Antonio lifted a hand, pinching the bridge of his nose, while Kotetsu and Ivan gave her their undivided attention.

Karina trudged on, "The individuals of the forums made claims that they were involved in relationships with sea folk. While I thought them foolish, I read on and realized that some of their situations were indeed similar to Mr. Kotetsu's and... him. While the mermaid in our story wanted legs, but she lost her voice, he already had both of those. So, if you reverse the situation..."

"The cure necessary for the conclusion is still the same?" Antonio asked.

"Unfortunately. Mr. Kotetsu has already realized what needs to be done, so now it's up to him to do it."

All eyes fell on Kotetsu. The brunet smiled, feeling no fear over the task handed to him.


Barnaby opened his eyes after sensing Kotetsu, but his presence was also surrounded by several others. Lifting himself, he stared through the pristine water—they'd cleaned his holding tank a few days ago—and found he had an audience of four. Ivan smiled brightly at him, lifting his hand to wave shyly. Barnaby returned his smile, the gesture only lasting so long as his gaze swept across the other intern standing beside Ivan. Karina childishly stuck out her tongue, crossing her arms over her chest as she gave him the cold shoulder. Kotetsu came before Antonio, so he stopped his wandering gaze there when the shorter marine biologist stepped forward.

The minute Kotetsu moved, the other three turned and walked out of the lab. Barnaby wanted to be worried about their behavior, but nobody's emotions revealed anything that said this wouldn't bode well for him. If anything, they were all happy for him; except Karina, of course, but he was used to her now. Kotetsu slid his fingers along the glass as he made his way to the detachable staircase. He climbed slowly, his grin widening with each step. Wary, Barnaby floated to the top to meet him.

Kotetsu folded his arms atop the edge of the tank, chuckling softly. "I'm thinking now… I've been apologizing to you for everything, ever since we met. I'm going to offer you a few more apologies again now. I'm sorry it took almost a year for me to realize this. I love you, Barnaby, and not as a friend or family. I love you. I would love to learn more about you—all of you. I…" Kotetsu couldn't say it enough. "I love you."

Barnaby lifted his upper half out of the water, floating over so he was face to face with the older man. He smirked. "You should apologize for something like that."

Kotetsu laughed, a torn sound of relief. "I've missed your voice… I've… I love you—I really do."

Barnaby smiled, a slight blush tingeing his cheeks. "I love you, too, Kotetsu T. Kaburagi."

Tomoe Kaburagi placed a kiss to the top of each man's head, no longer able to be seen by either one of them. She was now an official Daughter of the Air and would continue her good service elsewhere.

Unlike in Disney's version of The Little Mermaid, there was no supernatural bright light and melodic music. Barnaby held onto the edge of the tank, his hands beside Kotetsu's. The scientist tilted his head, looking down into the water. Slowly, the tail fin split in two and the scales dissolved, disappearing as they fell away to reveal the pale skin of Barnaby's legs. "I really think you need to watch The Little Mermaid," Kotetsu mumbled. He would spend most of his time watching the young man to see his reaction to the film.

The doors to the lab slid open and Nathan made a squeal of appreciation. "Handsome in all his glory!"

Barnaby smiled shyly at the dark-skinned man, but made no motion to cover himself.

Nathan had the better view while standing flat on the floor and felt no shame staring. "Now I see why you like him so much, Tiger."

"That's not true!" Kotetsu sputtered, turning as red as Barnaby had.

Nathan hummed loudly, tapping his fingers against his pursed lips. He tossed his hand with a sigh, wiggling his fingers. "No matter. He's mine now. Antonio left me in charge of today's tests and research. You can stay and help. I might need it, since no one else is coming back. Ivan's… well, Ivan. Karina doesn't like him, and Antonio said he needed a vacation. First things first… Can willingly return to your other form?"

Barnaby nodded, releasing the edge of the tank. He sank to the bottom, and the second his feet touched the floor, he sank a little lower as his tail formed and curled. He lifted his head, smiling first at Kotetsu then at Nathan.

Nathan clapped. "Let's get to work!"

"Why aren't you pruny?" Kotetsu mumbled, his arm offered to the young man finally able to climb from the tank.

"I'm going to assume it's because I was born of and from the water that I'm immune to the 'wrinkled skin' syndrome." Barnaby allowed Kotetsu to guide him down the stairs. Ivan, his face a bright red, rushed forward with a robe. Barnaby wrinkled his nose as soon as the cotton touched his skin.

"I know, but not everyone's used to your nudity like I am." Kotetsu smiled as he pulled the article of clothing on, moving in front of the blond to tie the strings. "I'm..." His hands lingered on Barnaby's thighs, gripping the robe. He would be chastised for apologizing, but that's what he wanted to do; apologize for the fact that tests still needed to be done on him.

Barnaby smiled, "I understand."

"Thanks," Kotetsu laughed softly. He stepped to the side, walking with the young man to the new lab where he'd be poked and prodded. Kotetsu wanted to stay—wanted to oversee every procedure to make sure the young man wasn't mistreated, but Barnaby was in good hands under Nathan's care.

"I'll be fine," the blond told him as the older man lingered at the table's edge.

Kotetsu frowned, glaring at nothing. "I know, but..." He sighed, shaking his head. "When this is all over, we'll take a break." 'Go home and meet my family.' He couldn't verbally say it, but he hoped Barnaby picked up on his wishes.

The merman did indeed. He placed a hand to Kotetsu's shoulders, leaning in to press their foreheads together. He tilted his head, leaving a brief kiss to the tip of Kotetsu's nose before pulling away. Nathan smirked behind his hand, willing to wait out the cat and mouse game of the new couple. Kotetsu grinned, rubbing the back of his head. He laughed sheepishly, waving with his other hand as he backed out of the room. Barnaby rolled his eyes before turning his back to Kotetsu. He undid the strings of the robe, letting it fall just as the door slid shut.

Kotetsu fell against the wall of the elevator after the doors closed, groaning. "I feel like I'm in high school again..." He wasn't nervous, just excited that he had indeed fallen in love again. "And to a mermaid!" Kotetsu laughed, covering his face. 'Tomoe was a mermaid, too.' "I obviously attract a certain kind. I wonder..." He shook his head. "No, he's a bull." Feeling a bit more relaxed, Kotetsu ran from the elevator, his coat flapping behind him, and down the many halls that would eventually lead him to the one where his office was located.

Kotetsu made a detour, stopping outside of the door on the right rather than his, which was the door on the left. The thought of bursting into Antonio's office crossed his mind, but he didn't know if his friend was dealing with an experiment or not. Quietly, he pushed open the door, peeking in. Antonio was indeed bent over a Petri dish at his desk, carefully swabbing something. Kotetsu took a moment to admire him and also to make his presence known. After a few moments, Antonio straightened, glancing over his shoulder.

Kotetsu grinned, raising his hand in a salute. "Reporting for duty, sir!"

Antonio smiled. "Tomorrow is our aquarium visit. I went to the first one already, while you were plotting against your own job." Kotetsu ducked his head, but Antonio caught a glimpse of the look of guilt he'd been attempting to hide. "Finish whatever you're working on, go spend some time with your new boyfriend– "

"Don't go there, Antonio."

"He's not your lover yet, so..." Antonio shrugged his shoulders, turning in his chair.

"He's Barnaby," Kotetsu mumbled. He chewed on his lip to hide the smile his thoughts created, 'He's Bunny—my Bunny.'

"You look like a perverted old man."

Kotetsu sputtered indignantly, turning red in the face, and stormed across the hall to his office.

Antonio shook his head with a smirk. Teasing his friend would be his favorite pastime, and it was even more fun now that Kotetsu was once again truly happy. Antonio sighed, leaning back in his chair to stare at his phone just out of reach on the desk. What with finding a merman and all the emotional baggage that came with it, contact with Keith had dropped to nil in the past month. He wanted to call, maybe even text, but Keith Goodman was a busy man just as much as he was; a jack of all trades. There was also the fact that he wanted the other man to realize he'd been flirting with him when they hadn't been chasing down Bull sharks. Pinching the bridge of his nose, Antonio sighed and rolled closer to the desk to finish studying his culture.


Barnaby turned down the room they offered him in favor or sleeping in the tank. The only thing he asked was that the water come directly from the ocean. Kotetsu, Ivan, and Nathan were his regular visitors.

"One more month... Technically, three weeks!" Kotetsu held up three fingers. "And you'll be able to go home." He smiled through the glass. "Promise."

Barnaby returned his smile, his tail easily keeping him afloat with a few gentle swishing motions. Kotetsu pressed a hand to the glass, grinning when Barnaby returned the gesture. Taking a step back, he waved. Kotetsu almost didn't make it to the door after he doubled over in laughter when Barnaby used his tail to wave. Just like he'd told Antonio before: Barnaby was Barnaby. The courtship stage had obviously passed without him knowing, and he was more than okay with where they "were" now.

Wiping at his eyes, Kotetsu ducked out. He made his way to the elevator and with every step he took, his smile waned. He felt incomplete, and the reason why had been left behind in a tank. The metal doors slid shut on the brunet's frowning face.


Barnaby was finally drifting off when a familiar excitement grew stronger. The doors slid open as he sat up and Kotetsu stumbled in, arms full with a futon. Barnaby shot to the surface, hanging off the edge. "What are you–"

"You're spending the night at my house the first night you get released." Kotetsu grunted as he dropped the bedding as close to the tank as possible.

"That doesn't explain why you're sleeping here," Barnaby sighed.

Kotetsu tilted his head back to stare at him like he'd grown another head to go along with his tail. "Because you're going to be lonely if I'm not here."

"Vice versa, yes?"

"Yes," Kotetsu admitted, a grin tugging at his lips. Before it could grow, he turned away and flopped onto the futon. He faced the tank, his eyes already closed. "Night, Bunny." "Good night, old man." Kotetsu smiled, tugging the cover up to his nose to hide it. Barnaby continued to float at the surface a bit longer, sinking beneath the water after Kotetsu slowly embraced the sleep that called out to him.

Kotetsu went looking for Antonio the next morning, only to find out from Nathan, when he came to collect Barnaby, that Antonio was gone; family emergency. "Huh..." the brunet mumbled. He pulled out his phone, sending a quick text of is everything OK. He didn't wait to receive a response and shoved his phone back into his pocket. He grinned at the duo across from him. "That means I get to spend today's test with you."

"Again," Nathan sighed, holding out the robe to him.

Kotetsu bounded over, practically pushing the dark-skinned man aside so he could put the robe on him. Barnaby smiled at him, allowing himself to be tugged in whatever direction Kotetsu desired.

Nathan rolled his eyes. "Today's test will be a bit invasive. Antonio pointed it out in one of the meetings a certain someone stopped attending. We don't know how our beloved Handsome breathes while under water."

Kotetsu rounded on Barnaby, his eyes wide and filled with realization. "That's right! You don't have any gills!"

The eye rolling baton was passed on to the blond. He sat through Kotetsu tilting his head left, then right, looking for any signs of slits on his neck, possibly. The older man even went so far as to check beneath his arms.

When he got to Barnaby's waist, he decided he'd done enough searching and stepped back. Kotetsu curled his fingers around his chin, thumb stroking along his beard. "When you think about it, though, Ariel didn't have any gills, and neither did the mermaids in the Pirates movie... We really need to watch that movie."

"The Little Mermaid?" Barnaby guessed. He was rewarded with an enthusiastic thumbs up. He shook his head, turning his attention to Nathan, who waited patiently, arms curled around his waist. "I don't know what to tell you, other than I just... breathe."

Nathan smiled, "And we're going to find out how."


A chest radiograph was taken once Barnaby had been properly set up, and he was left sitting upright on the table while Kotetsu and Nathan pored over the images that were available via monitor. Nathan used the mouse to point for more accuracy. "Yeah," Kotetsu mumbled. "I see it."

Barnaby cocked his head to the left. "What... do you see?"

The scientists turned, pinning him with matching stern stares. "You have an extra respiratory organ," Kotetsu told him. "At least, we're assuming it's a respiratory organ."

Just because their main focus lay with marine life, it didn't make them less aware of the human body and what normally lay within it. Kotetsu allowed a radiograph image of himself to be taken for comparison. It was uploaded and placed alongside Barnaby's for comparison. Barnaby noticed the obvious difference almost immediately. Everything matched, but he did indeed have something extra.

Nathan was out of his seat and pacing the room, hands animated as he plotted aloud. "I think... we need to..." He trailed off, shaking his head. "We need an upgrade in equipment. We'll have to wait for it to be delivered, which means you're off the hook for now, but you still can't leave the lab."

Kotetsu moved the mouse's pointer idly across the screen. "It's not that hard to believe, though. Considering that the molecular makeup of water contains oxygen..." He grinned lopsidedly. "Just like the red-eyed green tree frog, or any amphibian, really. While he may not make the exchange via his skin, this organ allows the water to be taken in, and pushed back in a single breath, leaving the oxygen behind. It's like... an aquatic lung." Realizing there was no longer any sounds of movement around him, Kotetsu turned in the chair he'd taken after Nathan evacuated it and found both men staring at him in muted wonder. "I'm just... making speculations," he muttered.

"Tiger!" Nathan threw himself at the seated man, enveloping him tightly and rubbing their cheeks together; whisker burn was a turn on as much as Kotetsu himself. "Sometimes, I just find it so hard to believe you and Bison were so-called 'thugs'."

Kotetsu laughed sheepishly, tilting his head away. "Well, we're leading the life of a manga or any comic, really... bad boys turned good."

"I don't mind you still being a bad boy," Nathan purred, letting his fingers dance down the front of Kotetsu's shirt. Before they reached the hem, they were grasped firmly. "That's right. We need to test your strength." Ignoring the interference, Nathan slipped from Kotetsu's lap, already working out the next experiment for the merman.

Kotetsu grinned up at the blond. "I like my jealous Bunny."

"Puke," Nathan groaned.

Barnaby allowed himself a small smile as Kotetsu laughed.


It was on their way back to the tank that Kotetsu received a reply from Antonio.

Everything's fine. Thanks. But you're not off the hook. Tomorrow.

Kotetsu smiled, tucking the phone away. Now, it was time to sleep. His futon was already in the room with Barnaby's tank; had been kept there ever since Ivan's first visit, though he had taken it out to get it aired.

"Your mind... seems so interesting. Your emotions and your thoughts flutter constantly."

"I think a lot," Kotetsu chuckled, tucking his arms behind his back. "I'm sorry if it's distracting."

"It's not. It's..." Barnaby looked skyward, searching for the right word. "It's comforting."

Kotetsu grinned, throwing an arm around the blond.