[identity profile] aphelion-orion.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] off_the_homerow
Title: Infinity Road
Fandom: Tiger&Bunny
Pairing: Kotetsu/Barnaby
Rating: G
Contains: Set post episode 13.
Summary: Bunny is fighting demons, Kotetsu tries to help, and runs into a couple of roadblocks of his own. Like how he didn't know he'd really like to kiss Bunny.
Note: This killed LJ's character limit, so the fic's been posted in two parts. Continued from here.




The only reason he wakes up in the morning is because he turns, slips, and years of reflex training keep him from ending up ass-first on the floor.

Kotetsu squints, the sunlight in his eyes too much to process, trying to distinguish up from down. It takes him a moment to realize that he didn't manage to fall out of bed, and that the light is coming from the wrong direction, and that the pain in his lower back means he fell asleep on Bunny's windowsill. Managed to steer them over there sometime halfway through the night because Bunny didn't much feel like letting go, and he didn't much feel like letting go, either, and the sill seemed like a marginally better place to fall over than the floor. It worked out pretty well, he thinks, but then his brain wakes up enough to stop feeling all warmfuzzy and pleased with the origami technique that allowed both of them to fit on a ledge a couple of inches wide, to notice the other half of the pile is absent.

A part of him wants to say that he should've expected that, Bunny getting embarrassed and going off to find some space to regroup, but that's before the faint thundering in the background registers as the shower going.

Oh. Well, perhaps he should start giving Bunny more credit; he sure as hell would've tried to run away.

The time between the shower shutting off and the bathroom door opening leaves him just enough room to run through a couple of eventualities, the huffy greeting or the "I don't want to talk about what happened last night" greeting or the "everything is totally normal" greeting, but that's before Bunny pads around the corner barefoot, towel in his hair, and gives him a lopsided smile.

"I think I owe you a shirt."

"Uh," Kotetsu says, because he couldn't have hit upon the relaxed happy Bunny scenario if he'd had a hundred years to prepare, and then, "Uh, don't worry about it."

"You're welcome to borrow one of mine. And the shower. I don't have anything besides cereal around, but..." He shrugs. "Do you take coffee?"

"Uh," Kotetsu says again, his brain still stuck on lining up last night with this morning and wondering whether he dreamt parts of it, or he's dreaming this, because Bunny is living up to his nickname leaping from A to Q, while Kotetsu's still trying to figure out the way to B.

A part of him, the stupid part, feels like he should be complaining about this. Instead he says, "Coffee's fine, thanks," and since he's looking hard enough for clues, he doesn't miss the involuntary twitch in Bunny's expression, like he's surprised the invitation went over so easily. Like he was expecting Kotetsu to go lunging for the door.

Kotetsu blinks, rubs at his stubble, and figures he should start applying for the cosmically stupid guy of the day award because this isn't Bunny being comfortable, this is Bunny so far out of his comfort zone that he's resorting to his impeccable manners, and while he spent the first couple of weeks wishing Bunny would at least give him a modicum of courtesy, he really doesn't want him to start now.

"Hey," he says, just as Bunny is about to vanish round the corner, "you doing any better?" and has the distinct pleasure of watching Bunny go wide-eyed and faintly pink.

"I... yes. Yes, I think so." A smile, and this time it's the genuine article because it doesn't look the least bit like any of the others, small and tentative and real. "Thank you, Kotetsu."

Kotetsu is left to sit back down on the windowsill while the espresso machine is gurgling to life two rooms away, a little elated and a little proud and kind of weirdly jittery all of a sudden since there isn't a smile in Bunny's arsenal that isn't weapons-grade material, whether he means for it to be or not. At this rate, it would be better to skip the coffee and just go for the cereal, this morning is already doing a number on his old heart.

------

He's not sure what changes, afterwards. Part of Kotetsu wants to say "nothing" because he's still using Bunny's head as a landing pad for paper planes when he's bored at work, and Bunny still whirls around to promise him murders he never gets around to committing, but this is the part of him that likes to act oblivious, the part that doesn't like having to ponder interpersonal relationships and prefers for them to sort themselves out.

He's the doing guy, not the thinking guy, and in this case, he'd have to be the risk-benefit guy, too, because Bunny is one of the most complex human beings he's ever met, and for all his dictionary-compiling, there are a lot of translation issues left to work out, and far too many blank pages where the vocabulary runs out because the topics just don't come up in casual conversation.

Like where they should take things from here. Whether they should take them anywhere at all. What the whole exchange meant to Bunny, if it meant anything in the first place and Kotetsu wasn't just a convenient outlet, the person who happened to be there when things got critical. Whether it's okay to still be warmfuzzy about that. Whether he'd like space, or not like space, and what on Earth ought to come after this.

They've been bouncing around all over the place, Kotetsu thinks, from zero to one hundred, hot to cold, and nothing really fits together, nothing arranges itself in a logical pattern, and while he's not a big fan of mathematics, he's a big fan of knowing how far he can go. At least with Bunny, because Bunny's made up of a lot of thorns, and hardly any rose patches, and maybe he's thinking too hard about this if he has to resort to describing Bunny in shoujo metaphors, so he stops.

Goes to get a coffee, and comes back to a double set of mayonnaise packets in his take-out chow mein.

And a bag of rock candy that makes everyone in the office wince when he munches on them.

And a smoothie with extra ice.

It takes him until Friday to catch on, since Friday is the day he finds an extra stapler and paperclips on his desk and remembers an interview from three years ago that was a right and proper disaster, where they spent roughly five minutes on his person and thought the most relevant thing to print was the fact that he keeps misplacing his office supplies. And while there is a chance that someone caught him stealing Bunny's stapler and decided to take pity on him, if he adds up all the incidents of the mysterious gift-giving desk, the far more likely thing is that Bunny's been spending his free time since The Incident going through years-old magazine gossip in an effort to build him a golden bridge.

Maybe that should creep him out, Kotetsu thinks, but this is Bunny and Bunny lives on his own planet with its own orbit and its own polar caps and its own hole in the ozone layer, and that means he'd rather start wading through the Hero TV archives than tap Kotetsu on the shoulder and ask about his favorite pizza toppings. It's sort of cute, except for the part where it means that Bunny has no idea how to go about making friends.

It also makes Kotetsu a giant chicken.

At least Bunny is willing to thoroughly embarrass himself for his sake, while Kotetsu is sitting there moping and turning questionnaires into paper planes, and when did he turn into such a worrywart?

"Hey," he says, and makes sure to drape himself halfway across the desk to come across as sufficiently noteworthy. "What are you doing?"

"The same thing you should be doing," Bunny says, pen flying across the paper, but his tone doesn't match his disinterest.

"Yeah. Well. I've been thinking. We never did get to finish that dinner."

Smooth. Really smooth, and would he like to drop a bomb on Bunny while he's at it, he's frozen up so nicely.

"Not that that's a bad thing or anything, just wondering if you'd like to repeat— well, okay, not repeat repeat—" And if he's hell-bent on upsetting Bunny, he's making good time so far, "Just. My place? After work? I'll cook?"

"...you'll cook?" Bunny repeats, and communicating his ineptitude in chunks seems like the better idea, less room for a faux pas and less room for Bunny to misunderstand him.

This should be the part where he puffs himself up and waxes poetic about his amazing spatula-wielding skills, but what comes out in the face of that honest interest is just, "Yeah. I'll cook."

Bunny tilts his head. "No mayonnaise?"

Okay, even in Bunny's world, that has to be teasing. That can't not be teasing.

Kotetsu swivels away from the desk, confident in his grin. "Cross my heart. I'll spare your plate."

------

It isn't until they hit the apartment that Kotetsu remembers Bunny has never been further than the downstairs door.

The only person who sees the inside of his apartment with any regularity is Antonio, and Antonio has known him way too long to even quirk an eyebrow at any stray UFO boxers lying around. That's not necessarily the impression he wants to leave on Bunny, though, and so he spends the thirty seconds it takes for Bunny to unlace his boots frantically scouring the vicinity for any laundry he left lying in the open, any orphaned socks or empty beer cans. It shouldn't matter, really; an untidy apartment never said anything about the trustworthiness of its inhabitant — here, he stuffs that morning's towel into the obliging CD drawer — but that doesn't mean he has to take any chances.

"I'll take care of that."

He snatches up the bag of groceries before Bunny can so much as blink in protest, and darts towards the kitchen, where last night's dishes are still awaiting a good washing.

"What should I—"

"Gotta do something real quick! Just make yourself at home!"

He means it, Kotetsu realizes, even as he's banging around with the crockery and the kitchen cabinets and splashing suds all over the sink, it wasn't just a meaningless phrase to let Bunny know he can do whatever, take a look around and get comfortable. More an invitation, some kind of signal that he can show up here whenever it suits him, crash on the couch, raid the fridge, that sort of thing. Part of him still can't wrap his head around how anyone could think of that neat, empty place with any sort of fondness, how Bunny can go there every night, kick off his shoes, lie back and not go insane for the lack of stuff, all the little clutter, souvenirs, potted plants, the garish comforter a friend thought made a good housewarming present.

Maybe he shouldn't be making assumptions, maybe he's got it all wrong and it's just not his type of lifestyle, but that's before he ducks out of the kitchen to find Bunny staring at the collection of Kaede's artistic efforts on the living room walls like he's never seen anything like that in his life.

"That's a fairycorn," Kotetsu says helpfully, only to have Bunny jerk away with a vaguely guilty glance, like it's inappropriate to look. "A unicorn with fairy wings. They eat magic flower pollen and sleep on rainbows."

And now the guilty face has been replaced with one that has aspirations of questioning Kotetsu's sanity.

"That was before she upgraded them, though." He gestures at another picture. "Mericorn. Half mermaid, half unicorn."

"These are your daughter's?"

"Yeah, when she was about three." Probably not the best moment to be playing the glowing dad, but he can't really help it.

"You kept all of them?"

"Yeah. Well, not all of them. Her grandmas wanted to keep some for themselves, and I didn't have room to hang up every single thing, so I shelved the rest."

"I... see," Bunny says, like he really doesn't, studying Kotetsu with a strange intent.

"It's just a parent thing. You keep everything your kid does. Doesn't matter how it looks, to you, it's the best thing ever. You know?"

Perhaps he should be looking into maintenance for that brain-to-mouth filter, because of course that last question was necessary, talking to someone who had to stop being a kid long before Kotetsu ever gave a thought to becoming a responsible adult.

Bunny has pressed his lips together, considering. "I'm... not sure if I did that. Sometimes, I don't remember so well. I've been keeping notes, so I don't start forgetting." Curling his fingers towards his palm, as if trying to imagine himself holding the crayons, doodling flying houses and sparkly robots and every imaginable creature in the world. "I probably did. I must have, right?"

It takes a second to realize Bunny's looking to him for confirmation, like Kotetsu can hand him the certificate to his missing memory, that he was a normal child, a good child, making presents for his mom and dad. It might be conceited to think he can, to think he knows anything of Bunny's past, but he thinks he knows enough about the person who loves his parents so very much that he can smile without hesitation.

"I'm sure of it."

Squinting a little, Bunny drops his gaze, searching for something else to look at and settling for the photographs on the sideboard. Kaede learning how to ride a bike, Kaede on her first day of school, Kaede waving a shovel and wearing her grandmother's big wide gardening hat. "Is that...?"

"Yeah. That's my girl. Kaede."

Bunny is leaning closer. "From the skating rink..."

"You remember that?"

"Of course I remember," Bunny says, almost a little offended, and then, "...You never said anything."

"Well, I didn't want to make things weird," Kotetsu mumbles, scratching his neck. "And later on... there just never seemed to be a good time. I mean, how do you drop that, anyway? 'By the by, that kid you saved two months ago was my daughter'?"

He doesn't say "and I owe you half my soul for that," but Bunny is most likely putting two and two together on that one.

"Not very casual, no," Bunny agrees, lips twitching. "I should have noticed, though."

"Eh?"

"She looks rather like you."

Okay, silly dad pride is go, and judging from the way his collar is getting hot, he's well on his way to blushing. "Heh. Most people I know say she looks like Tomoe."

And this would be the awkward pause since he forgot to mention talking about Tomoe isn't a taboo. They made that a rule, Kaede and him, and extended it to other people as time went on, not to start acting like all the movie people who don't talk about their dead loved ones, who keep cutting them out of their life step by step. It's better this way, made a lot of things easier, and this would be the point to let Bunny know, before he gets it in his head that he did something horrible.

Flashing a conspiratorial grin, Kotetsu moves the photo in a show of assessment. "But just between you and me... I think so, too."

------

The other thing about the silly dad pride is that once it's taken effect, he can keep going for hours. Usually, the only one who gets subjected to the barrage of Kaede-this and Kaede-that is Antonio, who pretty much knows what to expect, and by the time his brain catches up to his mouth again, thinking he ought to have possessed better tact than to do that to a guy who is barely able to look back on any part of his childhood as happy, it's too late.

Bunny doesn't seem to mind, though, ostensibly busy with the tomatoes, head cocked in that peculiar way that means he's listening intently. It's odd to have his attention just like that, no yelling, no frantic arm-waving, no outrageous stunts involving traffic signs, and the part of him that enjoys acting out way too much for his own good is almost disappointed, while the rest of him is mostly just basking. Well, and keeping order among the bell peppers.

The attention problem goes all the way back to highschool, and it's probably lucky that the people whose attention mattered gave in pretty quickly, otherwise he'd have spent most of his teenage years in detention. Kotetsu isn't sure when simply bothering Bunny into giving him the time of day stopped being an issue and it became more about figuring out how to fit together, schedules, personalities, goals. He likes to think it's a recent thing, though, because if it isn't, then — surprise — he hasn't been going about it in a very constructive way.

It's not even that Bunny is listening to his chatter; he talks about as much as the day is long and half of that, if he's honest, is superfluous background noise. It's mostly just that he's here, and isn't a wall of iron resistance, that he shifts to the left without prompting the moment Kotetsu leans right to reach around him for the garlic. It's good, this having a rhythm thing, this sense of knowing where the other person is, and what they are doing, and maybe Kotetsu got too caught up in talking nonsense and replicating the reaction with the cutting board and the salt shaker and a peeler he doesn't need, because Bunny just said something, and he missed it.

"Hmm?"

"Nothing."

"Sounded like something to me."

A sigh, more a breath than true exasperation. "I said, I've never done this before."

"What?"

"This," Bunny says, waving the knife at the kitchen counter, the dish rack, the pot of spaghetti, the geranium that has miraculously not given up hope in Kotetsu's care, and goes back to slicing tomatoes like a pro chef who's wheeled out the caliper for extra accuracy.

With anyone else, he'd assume they're kidding, but he's seen Bunny's kitchen, all two hundred stainless-steel-framed square feet of it, and really, the only part of Bunny's apartment that looks even remotely lived in is the bathroom with its host of oversized towels and the absolutely ridiculous parade of conditioner on the sink. At the time, he didn't really think about the smell of brand-new electronics, that he had to unwrap some of the knives from their plastic or the fact that all of the supplies were sealed up, that the rice and the pasta and the flour were sitting there more to give the place an illusion of normalcy rather than because anyone was actually using them. At the time, he just thought it hilarious to imagine Bunny living on a diet of raw vegetables. At the time, he was pretty dense.

"It's... very new."

"But not a bad new?" Kotetsu asks, and if he looks at them from the right angle, Bunny's ears are going pink.

"No." Bunny looks up, a small quirk to his lips, a steadiness in his eyes that wasn't there before. "No, not a bad new at all."

Anyone else would have left it at that.

Anyone not called Kotetsu Kaburagi would have dropped his gaze, and gone back to his bell peppers, and gotten started on the sauce. Nobody with even an ounce of sensibility left would have chosen that moment for an epiphany, or immediately forgotten what the epiphany was about. Nobody in the universe would have taken that moment, exactly as it was, with the way both of them moved and breathed and lived, and leaned across the space between, and kissed Bunny.

And nobody else would have jerked back a second later, rattled to the core not by the weight of his action, but by Agnes's impeccably timed, "Bonjour."

-----

According to Cosmo, there are forty-eight hours to act after a person has kissed their best friend.

Kotetsu knows this because Karina brings the magazine to work and lends it to Nathan or the other way around, and sometimes Kotetsu gets bored waiting for the sauna or the simulator, so he just grabs the nearest thing to read. Granted, if he actually kissed his best friend, he'd have to be pretty drunk, and he wouldn't need forty-eight hours, either, he'd start laughing right away and Antonio would, too, and that would be the end of that, no problem.

He's pretty sure kissing the person to whom he's the first genuine friend in the world is a million times worse.

He's also pretty sure Cosmo doesn't account for weekend bank robberies with hostage situations or coverage on live TV, or that by the time they can even take the helmets off, it's close to one in the morning and then Bunny mumbles that he's completely wiped, he should be getting some sleep. No word on what just happened, and Kotetsu doesn't even find the chance to call after him, to at least pave the way for a heart-to-heart on the next day, before he has a microphone shoved in his face again.

Getting back home is a blur, a lot of "Why did I do that?" crashing into "I can't believe I did that," creating a nice thirty-mile pile-up of horns blaring "Bad thing, bad thing!" and the little drivermen clambering out of their wrecked thought-cars to wave their fists and start swearing incoherently.

Home is little better, with the pasta pot still sitting where they left it, limp noodles drifting abandoned in the water. Kotetsu tries tidying a little, cleaning out the pot, placing the cut-up vegetables back in the fridge. Scrubbing the counter-top. Trying to ignore the full-body jolt he gets each time he passes by that precise spot against the sink, all the tiny details he didn't even notice at the time leaping to the forefront of his mind and adding a bunch of flaming little rescue helicopters dive-bombing into the concrete to the side of the clogged-up highway.

The feel of Bunny's lips, soft and still half-curled, tasting faintly of bland chapstick. The scent of some vaguely flowery shampoo. The look in his eyes, right before Kotetsu closed the gap, stuck on the first syllable of, "Kotetsu, what are you doing?"

Taking a deep breath, Kotetsu turns on the tap, splashing his face with cold water.

The silly teenage contortions of his heart are keeping the focus away from the important stuff, stuff like how there are six hundred and seventy-two reasons why kissing Bunny was a terrible idea, and only twenty-three of them have anything to do with himself and his own issues. Half of them aren't even all that pressing, constants in his life in one way or another, thoughts of Tomoe, thoughts of Kaede, thoughts about how he's almost twice as old as Bunny.

His own life isn't the issue here. His own life isn't allowed to be the issue here because he went ahead with it, he crossed the line, and he was the one who added himself to the royal mess that is Bunny's baggage. Moving too fast. Always moving too fast. Cosmo can't even fathom a situation where a person knows everything about being sexy for the camera and nothing about making pasta sauce in his spare time, who's working so hard to hide that he had to grow up somewhere left of normal.

He doesn't even want to think about Bunny's perspective, the light this shines on every single thing he ever said about trust and sincerity and support. Whether Bunny thinks he was joking around, or looking to humiliate him, or that Kotetsu is the kind of guy who says one thing and means another, that it was all just a prelude to getting into Bunny's pants.

There's no recipe for making this right. No way to phrase it so Bunny won't think he can't be himself, that Kotetsu's expecting something from him, that he's open season just because he's good-looking, because he knows how to be good-looking, because there are approximately six million teenage girls who lose it every time he appears on a cover with the top three buttons undone.

There's no way for Kotetsu to explain his epiphany, the one that got elbowed aside because Wild Tiger is all about gut feeling and not in the least bit about introspection. The epiphany that consists of this thing inside him, this bright confusing carnival balloon filled to bursting with the realization that Bunny is beautiful, in his strength and his weakness and his sarcasm and his care and even in the way he holds a plastic dinner fork.

Between thumb and forefinger. Tilted to the side like a writing pen, and that's the point where Kotetsu turns on the faucet again because that's just a completely crazy thing to notice and the stupid balloon won't stop expanding and nothing about this can be arranged to make any goddamn sense.

--------

Kotetsu can face down telepathic madmen with laser fingers and never flinch, but unbuckling his seat belt, crossing the parking lot and riding the elevator all the way up to his desk on Saturday morning is one of the hardest things he's ever done.

He likes to think he's prepared for anything, for Bunny to be furious or disappointed or in the process of applying for a new partner, but what he isn't prepared for is Bunny not being around at all. Not at his desk, not in the gym, not in a meeting or at a surprise press conference, and there's that anvil of guilt, dropping on Kotetsu's head. He can't get any work done like this, interview plans and talk show programs where every second question is "What do you think of your partner?" and that's just the fastest way to send the little rescue crews into meltdown, who are still busy untangling the pile-up from yesterday.

By the time mid-afternoon rolls around, he's laid out in the best position to find a way to phase through his paperwork just to avoid checking the door every other minute, when his desk gives a little lurch, someone propping their hip against it and making him blink. It's not aggressive enough to be Agnes, and Karina only does that when she's mad, and Nathan just doesn't jostle any place he sits down on, period.

"Do you have a bit?"

He's probably looking pretty foolish, shooting up ramrod straight in his chair, but either Bunny files that under "weird things Kotetsu does," or he's too preoccupied with the bouquet of chrysanthemums in his arms.

"Bunny, you—"

"I asked for the day off."

"Um."

Perhaps this should be the moment where he blurts out how sorry he is, that he didn't mean to put Bunny on the spot like this, but judging by the way Bunny's fingers are brushing along the white and yellow petals, apologies seem to be the last thing on his mind.

"Um. Sure."

No need to ask where they're going. Bunny can take him to a military testing ground and spend the day launching rockets at him for all he cares, everything is better than sitting at his desk, alone, wondering about damage control.

They take Bunny's car since he left it parked in the fire zone, silence following them past the central crossing and up the exit ramp to Sternbild North. Kotetsu spends the ride with the chrysanthemums on his lap, holding them out of harm's way when they hit the road bumps coming off the belt highway, unable to decide whether the way Bunny is keeping his eyes on the traffic means he's an attentive driver or avoiding the passenger seat.

He can't decide on anything to say, whether he should even be making the attempt, but then the car slips into a parking lot at a nondescript corner, and Kotetsu stops trying to decide anything at all.

The place could be a park, hydrangeas stretching out alongside an ironwrought fence, trees spreading their shade across the winding gravel pathways. If he were passing by on his own, he would be looking for the dogs and the children, the ice cream vendors, but the flowers are dripping through their wrapping paper, and he isn't alone, and that is all he needs to know.

"I'm sorry for kidnapping you like this," Bunny murmurs, taking back the bouquet as they step past the open gate. "I realize I should have said something, but... I was worried that if I tried explaining, I wouldn't be able to go through with it."

"That's— that's quite all right." Kotetsu swallows, fumbling with his hat and almost managing to drop it. Part of him is wishing he'd have started keeping a suit at the office so he'd be able to properly honor the occasion, or that he'd at least get control of his dumfounded gaping in the face of the gift that's just been handed to him.

"Thank you."

No, he wants to say, no, you've got that totally backwards, but his throat has been put in a vise, strangling his protest. Nothing is making any sense, but this isn't about him, he's just the wingman, and it doesn't matter whether he deserves it or not, Bunny's asked him to do this.

Their destination is tucked away against the far wall, a simple slab of speckled marble sitting in a patch of clover. No statues, no decorations, just an array of slightly wilted white and yellow buds, spread out across its surface.

"My mother's favorite," Bunny says quietly, crouching down and picking up the flowers one by one. "She used to grow them on the front porch, always saying that she didn't have time for actual gardening. I used to help... well, for a measure of helping. Mostly I ended up waterlogging every pot I could find."

He laughs a little, lost in some private moment from forever ago, and it's so strange, imagining him as the little boy from the photograph, barely tall enough to drag the watering can around.

The ribbon comes loose, sending the bouquet spilling out over the headstone, and then there's just the silence, Bunny reaching out now and again to drape a flower back into formation, Kotetsu busy not fiddling with his hat or stuffing his hands in his pockets or doing any of the things he knows Tomoe wouldn't mind, but he wants to make a good impression here. A worthy impression. Something that shows he's working to be the person he was making himself out to be, and even a couple of things he wasn't making himself out to be. Mature. Reliable. Not quite so bull-in-the-china-shop.

After a while, Bunny rises again, taking off the glasses and rubbing at his eyes.

Kotetsu finds himself reaching out and stops just in time, unsure if the contact is welcome, redirecting his hand to where he was trying not to put it the entire time, toying with the change in his pockets.

"You need more time?"

"No. It's fine. I was just saying goodbye."

"...goodbye?"

"Yes." Slowly, Bunny tilts his head back, turning towards the sun. "From now on, I don't think I'll be coming here quite so often."

-----

There's something different about the apartment this time around, though Kotetsu can't quite say what it is. Everything's still in the same place, and all the little things are still missing, not a speck of dust to be found, but it still feels like something happened to it, like the walls and the furniture and the modern art painting all let out a breath they'd been holding, and now the sunset is flooding in.

Kotetsu is digging socked toes into the carpet, resisting the urge to start plucking at the plush like grass. Bunny has uncorked a bottle of rosé, pouring a bit into two thin-stemmed glasses.

"Listen, I..."

"Hm?"

"...I don't want you to feel like you owe me anything." It's a rather poor start, and quite possibly ruining the moment, but he doesn't want it to linger anymore.

"I don't feel like I owe you anything," Bunny says, handing him a glass.

"Yeah, but I... Yesterday, I..."

"Hmm." Bunny stops swirling his own glass, setting it back down and leaning against the table. "You know the excuse that you were drunk and didn't know what you were doing?"

"Um."

"That's why I'm doing this before I drink anything."

At his age, maybe he shouldn't be making quite that noise, the dying mouse noise that comes from all the air getting stuck partway up his nose and that makes Bunny pull back, give him a mildly concerned look, and dive right back in. Clarysage, Kotetsu thinks, the shampoo smells of clarysage, and that's about the most meaningful thing he figures out before Bunny withdraws again, the tip of his tongue darting out to catch the aftertaste.

"Um." If Kotetsu ever knew how to talk, he certainly doesn't, now, not with Bunny's hand still resting on his cheek. "Are you... are you sure?"

Bunny's eyes narrow. "Do I look unsure?"

"I... no." He can't really help the laugh at the hint of petulance, like they're back to deciding which way to go and Bunny's dead-set on left and doesn't really feel like second-guessing. "No, I just... isn't... isn't this rushing things?"

"Is it?"

"I don't know." There's so much to say here, about mistakes and ineptitude and how suddenly life can give or take happiness, how this is too precious to mess up on a whim and how the balloon doesn't seem to care and is, in fact, blithely adding "really good kisser" to the list of noteworthy things about Bunny.

"I don't know, either." Dropping his hand, Bunny casts a glance at the floor, the play of red and orange against the outline of their shadows, slanted enough to be only a hair's breadth apart. When he looks up, his gaze is direct, and very clear.

"There's something else I haven't told you. That time, when I called you... I was having a dream. In that dream... you died, in that ring. You died, and I woke up, and I didn't know what was real anymore, so I had to make sure. It's... really stupid."

"No," Kotetsu says, and on this point, he can stay firm. "No, it isn't."

"It wasn't the same thing all the time, but... when I wasn't dreaming about that, I was dreaming about the fire. And then... that night, when I... and you said..." A vague gesture. "I haven't been dreaming since."

"You..."

"It's strange. I go to bed, and I'm just resting. That's when I realized... until that point, I hadn't been looking forward. Not really. All I was doing, any plans I made, everything, it was all looking back. You were right, when you said that thing about feeling better, and feeling worse."

A smile, one of the small ones that always give Kotetsu an odd twinge, too rueful for such a young face.

"I'm still not there... trying to figure things out. But... I want to keep going forward. I want to keep accelerating. I want to find out what's down this road... with you."

"Wow." Kotetsu lets out a breath, shaking his head a little. "That's... one hell of a thing to say."

"I..."

"No, I mean," and that's a good moment to put the glass down and reach for the hand that's resting against Bunny's thigh, "that's really... one hell of a thing to say."

It's not the mark of a skilled hand-holder, their fingers aligned more like one of those mutant creatures from the deep, all tangled up in no particular order, and he probably should have wiped his palm before, nobody likes sweaty palms, but then Bunny's thumb is nudging against his own and he stops caring.

"Perhaps I've taken a page out of your book here."

Kotetsu coughs. "I live by it. It's not a terribly smart book, Bunny."

A smirk. "That's all right. Mine's not a terribly smart book, either."

"So, um. Is this the part where I... you know...?"

"If you like."

"Yeah," Kotetsu murmurs, leaning forward to bump noses. "Yeah, I really would."








-Fin-

-----

A/N: What can I say, except I love this show? XD Anyway, C&C is much appreciated.



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Off the Homerow: Fanfiction Journal of Aphelion Orion

January 2012

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