You Can Plan on Me
"You know," Kotetsu said, "according to the HeroTV Christmas Special, right now we're supposed to be gathered around an open fire singing a carol medley with a bunch of puppets."
Barnaby surveyed their surroundings: the smoking ruin of five or six cars, the fantastic spumes of Blue Rose's ice glittering in the dizzying whirl of emergency lights, the policemen, the press, the omnipresent thud-thud-thud of the helicopters, the criminals sullenly allowing themselves to be handcuffed, and his partner standing there in a mud-spattered power suit, offering Barnaby a cup of coffee in a styrofoam cup.
"I'll take this version over that one any day of the week," Barnaby said, and took a long, grateful swallow of the coffee before passing it back to Kotetsu. "You know I'm not really that much on Christmas, anyway."
"Yeah," Kotetsu said, trying not to think of Barnaby's shattered childhood, of a small boy alone in the hands of a ruthless enemy, of Christmas blotted out by smoke and murder and betrayal. It was unfair in a way that Kotetsu found it hard to accept, that at an age so young and innocent that a child could have everything come undone around him, and on Christmas Eve, of all days.
Maybe it was better this way, Kotetsu thought, trying not to stare at Barnaby as he watched the police cordon off the crime scene. Maybe without the trappings of Christmas, especially those featured ad nauseam in that TV special, it was easier for Barnaby to forget.
"Is there something on my face?" Barnaby asked without looking at Kotetsu, busy instead with a modest smile and a wave at the fans who had gathered on the far side of the street, away from the police barricade.
Kotetsu started, sheepish. "No, no. I uh..." He foundered a bit, uselessly. "My family's not too big on Christmas either, you know. Japanese. New Year's is bigger. Kaede's sleeping over at a friend's house tonight, even. She was gonna come up, but..." He made a vague gesture at the mess in the street. "You know. Crime never takes a day off!"
"So I heard," Barnaby answered dryly, and flicked an imaginary speck of dust from the sponsor's logo on the forearm of his suit.
"So yeah," Kotetsu went on, not even sure where he was going with it, only where he wanted it end up. With Barnaby not alone, mulling over a photograph and a wind-up toy, alone in his sterile apartment. "So I don't have any, y'know, any plans or anything. Tonight. I mean, after this. If you wanted to. If you wanted to, um." Barnaby was finally looking at him now, and that made it harder and harder to talk, for some reason. "Go and... and I don't know. Do a thing. Or eat some stuff. Or--"
"Kotetsu." Barnaby was wearing that same impenetrable smile, his eyes unreadable in the swirling lights of the police cars as they began to pull away. "Are you asking me on a date?"
Kotetsu froze. Is that what he was doing? "Well," he said, and then said it again, because Barnaby was still looking at him, and worse, so was everyone else in the vicinity, including their fellow heroes. "Am I?" He met Barnaby's gaze then, and in spite of the crowd and the cold and the helicopters, it made something warm and quivery bloom under his breastbone. He could not tell if more of the emergency vehicles pulled away just then, or if suddenly his whole world had dimmed around him so it could hold more of Barnaby.
"Yes," he said, without stammering this time. "I am."
"All right," Barnaby answered, without hesitation, and the ambulances were gone now, so the only light in his eyes came from him, and was for Kotetsu. "I'd like that. Let's go."
From somewhere far away Kotetsu thought he heard a whoop of encouragement that sounded suspiciously like Nathan, and Antonio's unmistakeable "Pay up," in response.
Barnaby ignored them with the same ease that he ignored the flashbulbs of paparazzi, straddling the motorcycle in one easy and dangerously distracting motion. Kotetsu tripped a little on his way into the sidecar. "Where would you like to go?" he asked, once Kotetsu had sorted up from down.
"I hadn't thought that far ahead, honestly," Kotetsu admitted. "Just that I wanted you--" Barnaby arched a blond eyebrow in his direction, and Kotetsu's mouth went dry. "...you to not be alone tonight--" (both eyebrows were up now) "Or me either, I mean! Us, not that we're us, just--" He stopped. Barnaby had reached across to place one cool, armored finger across his mouth.
"I understand," Barnaby said, revving the bike's engine so that only Kotetsu could hear him. "But maybe you shouldn't say anything else unless you want it on the front page tomorrow." His eyes flicked over Kotetsu's head to the crowd pressed up against the police cordon, and the multiple cell-phone cameras pointed in their direction.
Kotetsu felt himself blushing at the idea. What would Kaede say? "Good point, Bunny."
"I'm not very good with Christmas tradition," Barnaby confessed, as though Kotetsu didn't already know that. "So let's just make it up as we go."
"My place, takeout, movie?" Kotetsu offered.
"Sure." Barnaby reached over to flip Kotetsu's visor back down. "But maybe we should turn our suits in first."
"Oh. Right." Kotetsu paused, remembering that there was one Christmas tradition that he'd always kept. "Hey, if we hurry, we might catch the end of Mr. Legend Saves Christmas! They show it every year, you know."
It was Barnaby's turn to pull his face guard down, but not before Kotetsu got the full force of his expression. "Just in case you're serious," he said, "I'm taking the long way home."