Kotetsu felt confident as he looked himself over in the long mirror of the dressing room, his hands fixing his green tie. He was wearing an elegant black suit with a white shirt, a perfect match to Bunny’s.
“Are you ready, Kotetsu?” his partner asked as he moved next to him.
Kotetsu blinked. “Yeah.”
Bunny always looked serious when they had a duty, and this time was no exception. He also looked unfairly pretty.
Kotetsu met his partner’s gaze in the mirror. He swallowed; lately, for some reason, seeing Bunny dressed up – or just seeing Bunny, to be honest – was starting to be distracting. He wasn’t worried about it, it was normal to have a few not-totally-platonic thoughts about Bunny, right? But they weren’t always easy to ignore. “Anyway, I don’t really get this secret mission. I mean, I know that we need to arrest the bad guy inside his hotel, but why do we have to join his upper class party?”
From the corner of the room, Ben coughed slightly. “You two will be undercover, Kotetsu. You’ll have a fake identity to get close to the owner of Stern Art Hotel. Ms. Agnes will be here soon to explain everything. There are secret cameras inside the public spaces of the hotel, so everything you do will be recorded and used to make a Christmas Eve special about Tiger & Barnaby.”
“Huh?” Kotetsu scratched the side of his cheek with a finger. “But it’s not Christmas Eve tonight. Also, how can we be undercover if we go on Hero TV? The criminal and the other guests will find out!”
Bunny sighed. “As he just said, everything will be recorded. That means we don’t have to arrest the criminal live. He’s not someone who’s simply running away, so they’ll make a special show that will air in a few days. On Christmas Eve, specifically.” He looked at Ben. “Is that right?”
“Yep.” Ben read the files in his hands. “The man you have to arrest is an art collector who is suspected of theft and murder. Have you heard of the painting stolen from Stern Bild Central Museum last month?”
“Oh, I think it was in the news,” Kotetsu said, trying to remember the details. “A NEXT stole a pretty famous piece of art, right?”
Bunny nodded. “The Sunflowers, the ultimate masterpiece by Rutger van Rogh.”
“Exactly,” Ben continued. “The thief used their NEXT power to kill a custodian who was trying to stop them. Based on the security cameras, it looked like the criminal had the strength of ten people, but their speed was average.”
“So it’s different from our Hundred Power.” Bunny crossed his arms. “I assume it doesn’t have a time limit.”
Ben frowned. “That’s possible. This is why you two have to be careful. The police suspect the criminal the videos showed is the owner of Stern Art Hotel. However, they need a decisive evidence to arrest him.”
“Ha! So that’s what we need to find, right?” Kotetsu clenched his fist, feeling ready for the mission. “Do you think he’s keeping the stolen painting somewhere inside his hotel?”
Ben nodded. “Apparently, that’s very likely.” He placed his files on a table and grabbed a case with a padlock. “Now, put here your wallets, your phones and everything you don’t want to lose. You’ll get your fake passport soon.”
Bunny stepped closer. “All right.”
Kotetsu watched his partner as he took off the big ring he was wearing on his thumb; if it was the same brand of the one Bunny used to have on his index finger, it was probably worth more than what an average person earned in a month. Kotetsu leaned closer and placed his own belongings inside the case: his wristwatch, his two bracelets and his wedding ring – the guy they had to arrest was a thief, so he definitely didn’t want to risk losing it.
The three men turned to the door of the dressing room.
Agnes entered with her usual confidence, scrutinizing them. “So, are you ready, heroes? This is an extremely important mission, you’re not allowed to fail!”
Kotetsu raised an eyebrow. “Is the criminal going to be a problem for us?”
Agnes smirked. “We don’t know about that. But it doesn’t matter, because we’re going to film a special that will air on Christmas Eve. The ratings will be stellar!”
Kotetsu sighed. Of course that’s what she meant…
“There’s something I don’t understand,” Bunny said, standing next to Kotetsu. “If we’re going to a party inside the hotel, shouldn’t everyone recognize us?”
“Of course not! We thought about everything.” Agnes placed her hands on her hips. “Luckily, this is a costume party. A little refined, so you’ll only have to wear an elegant mask on your face, but it’s perfect for your undercover mission!”
“I see.” Barnaby nodded. “So we’ll pretend to be art collectors and approach the owner.”
Agnes swung her index finger. “That would never work. Tiger is a terrible actor, there’s no way he can pretend to be an art expert.”
“Huh?!” Kotetsu frowned. So what? “Sorry, but I’m a hero! I don’t have time to study art!”
Agnes stepped closer, her heels resounding from the floor. “Barnaby, you’ll pretend to be an art collector. Tiger, you’ll accompany him as his husband.”
“What?!” Kotetsu thought he didn’t ear her correctly.
By his side, Bunny was staring at Agnes without moving, his mouth half open.
Kotetsu tilted his head. “What do you mean, his husband?!”
“It means exactly what I said,” Agnes crossed her arms. “This is a party for couples only, so you’ll go undercover as married.”
“But…” Kotetsu glanced at Bunny, trying to understand how he was feeling; his face was unreadable. “Are you sure this is fine for Bunny’s fans?”
“My fans aren’t an issue,” Bunny said, his tone cold. “They’ll be aware this is just an undercover mission and we’re not actually married. Besides, some of them are probably going to like the idea.”
“Eh?!” Kotetsu felt even more confused than before. “Some fans are gonna like seeing us married?”
“Barnaby is right,” Ben caught their attention. “Some fans believe you two would be a good couple. And according to Apollon Media’s last poll, a few of them even think you’re in a secret romantic relationship.”
“What?! Where did they get that from?” All right, maybe Kotetsu had a little crush on Bunny. But he was good at hiding it, right? “I can’t believe it!”
“Rumors are expected when you’re popular,” Agnes said, a smile on her face. “To be honest, I’d be worried if there weren’t rumors about you two at this point! Of course, we know it’s all speculation, but fans love to fantasize. We’ll just give them a little show to enjoy.”
“I see…” So I have to pretend to be married to Bunny in a show my daughter is gonna watch? Great. “What about our names?”
“Of course, we thought about that too.” Agnes moved her long hair behind her shoulders. “Barnaby’s name will be Keith Goodman.”
“What?” Kotetsu raised an eyebrow. “That’s Sky High’s name.”
“Relax, Kotetsu.” Bunny met his eyes. “Nobody knows. Besides, I’m sure there are several people with that name in Stern Bild.”
“Indeed,” Agnes said. “As for Tiger, your name will be Hiroaki Hirata.”
“Huh? That doesn’t fit me at all…” Kotetsu sighed, but he decided not to protest further. He didn’t have better ideas anyway, he was only good at choosing hero names. “So I have to call Bunny Keith? No way.”
“You don’t have to.” Agnes said, her smile back to her face. “Pet names are also great for your cover.”
Kotetsu felt his cheeks heating up. This was getting more and more embarrassing. “Y-You mean like honey, my love and stuff?”
“Yes, Tiger. And now, one last thing.” Agnes pointed at the open box Ben was holding.
Kotetsu leaned closer. There were two small items inside.
The two golden bands were in front of their eyes, ready to be taken.
Kotetsu’s muscles stiffened. This went too far. Marriage wasn’t a joke. Not to him.
Ben looked at him with an apologetic expression. “You don’t have to do this, Kotetsu. You two can pretend to be a couple without the marriage part.”
His boss and old friend’s words made him feel a little better. Ben was the only person in the room who had met Tomoe, the only one who had seen how he felt when she passed away.
“What do you mean?” Agnes glared at Ben. “He can’t ruin my show!”
Kotetsu was going to protest, but he stopped as he saw Bunny taking one of the rings and putting it on his finger without a single word.
Bunny was wearing a wedding ring.
Kotetsu looked at the case. Before he could think about anything else, his hand moved on his own and grabbed the other ring. “It’s fine. I’ll do it.”
“Good.” Agnes nodded.
Ben’s eyes widened. “Are you sure?”
“Yup.” Kotetsu felt his heart beating quickly as he wore the wedding band that matched Bunny’s.
All right. Maybe I have more than a little crush.
Inside the limousine that was bringing them to the hotel, the two partners – now fake husbands – were trying to memorize their own profiles.
“You have a terrible memory,” Bunny complained. As per request, he was wearing contacts instead of glasses, so his glare was even more piercing than usual. “But we don’t have time to focus on this again. We need to think about the rest.”
Sitting next to him, Kotetsu fixed the collar of his winter coat. “The rest? Like what?”
“Well, how can I say it…” Bunny looked away for a moment. “Just telling everyone that we’re married is not going to work. We have to act like a married couple too. To be honest, I think you’re more of an expert than me in this field…”
“Um, I guess, though I’ve only been in one relationship before this one. I-I mean, not that there is anything romantic between us, of course!” He forced a laugh. “What about you?”
Bunny was looking at his knees. “I went on a couple of dates with girls when I was at the Hero Academy, but they probably don’t count, because I was just looking for information about Ouroboros.”
“Um, I see…”
“And last year, a few months after we retired, I met a man while I was traveling overseas. I visited his place regularly for two weeks, until I left the city where he lived. But we weren’t romantically involved.”
Kotetsu raised an eyebrow. “You mean you were friends?”
Bunny looked away. “We were sexually attracted to each other, Kotetsu. We had a physical relationship. Neither of us wanted something different. After the incident with Maverick, there were a lot of things I needed to figure out about myself. Traveling helped, trying new things helped. Now I’m more confident about my sexuality, among other things.”
Oh. So he was sex buddies with that guy? Kotetsu didn’t know how to feel. He was glad Bunny was trying to live his life without being obsessed with Ouroboros, even if last year that life hadn’t involved him; however, Bunny didn’t look happy. Kotetsu forced a smile. “Aw, that’s good! Um, I mean, I’m sorry you had to leave the city where the guy lived.”
“It’s fine. As I said, there was no commitment between us.”
“But why? I mean, I know I’m old-fashioned, but if he was handsome, couldn’t you ask him on a date or something?”
Bunny didn’t reply right away. He lifted his head to stare at the street outside the window. The Christmas lights illuminated his green eyes. “No, I couldn’t. He isn’t the person I want to have a romantic relationship with.”
“Eh?” Kotetsu wondered what it meant. Was there someone else he wanted to be with?
Bunny finally turned to look at him. “Never mind. Let’s focus on our mission.”
“Right.” Kotetsu found himself gazing again at their matching rings. The two of them looked married, just like a real couple. He felt his heart beating fast. You’re a mess, Kotetsu Kaburagi. Stop acting like an idiot. “So, er, to act like husbands, I think we should do something romantic together. Nothing too big, Kaede will watch us… I guess we could, um, hold hands and stuff.”
He was still finishing his sentence when he felt Bunny’s left hand around his. It was warm, except for the cold of the wedding band. Kotetsu squeezed his partner’s fingers. The atmosphere was getting too hot for December.
“I suppose we don’t need to practice holding hands a lot,” Bunny said. “It looks okay.”
Despite his words, Bunny didn’t let go of Kotetsu’s hand. Kotetsu had no idea why, but he definitely wasn’t complaining.
“We should practice other things.” Bunny looked at him with a serious expression. “We might not need to, but if necessary, we should be ready to do everything a typical married couple does in public.”
Bunny nodded. “Everything a general audience can watch. Like caresses, hugs or chaste kisses.”
“K-Kisses?” Kotetsu thought his face was catching on fire.
Bunny let go of his partner’s hand. “Ah. I’m sorry, I suppose kissing me would make you too uncomfortable.”
“No, no! It’s fine!” More than fine, actually. “I just didn’t expect you to bring it up.”
“Well, Agnes is probably expecting at least one kiss in front of the cameras for the ratings. But more than anything, we should do it to catch the criminal. The more he’ll see us acting like a real couple, the less he’ll find us suspicious.”
“Got it. We should practice kissing then.” Kotetsu leaned closer to his partner. “For the mission.”
Bunny nodded. “For the mission.”
Kotetsu raised his hand and placed it behind Bunny’s neck, stroking his curls. Bunny’s hair felt so soft; he was glad to have an excuse to touch it.
Bunny tilted his head and moved closer, his fingers caressing Kotetsu’s jaw.
Kotetsu felt his face heating up. Why is he touching my beard? I guess he hates it. He remembered Bunny calling it old-fashioned more than once in the past.
Bunny raised an eyebrow. “Close your eyes. It’s embarrassing if you stare at me like this.”
Kotetsu blinked. “Oh. Okay.” He did as he was asked and leaned in.
The contact between their mouths felt like an electric shock through Kotetsu’s body. Bunny’s lips were soft, and kissing him was like the most natural thing in the world.
They parted slowly.
“Was it fine?” Kotetsu whispered, their noses brushing against each other.
“Yes.” Bunny smiled. He looked beautiful. “I’m surprised, I expected our first attempt to be a disaster.”
“Hey, what do you mean?” Kotetsu pouted a little, but he found himself smiling back. “We’re the greatest hero duo ever. We know how to work as a team and we understand each other without words. You shouldn’t be surprised we’re good at kissing.”
“Perhaps. Well, I’m glad your beard doesn’t tickle.”
Kotetsu chuckled. “Oh, so that’s why you touched it.”
The limousine stopped at a red light. From the window, Kotetsu spotted a Santa Claus puppet climbing a balcony. I sure got a great early Christmas gift tonight.
“Anyway, a single kiss isn’t enough to prove anything.”
Kotetsu’s heart skipped a beat. “So what should we do? More kissing?”
Bunny looked away. “It can’t be helped. We can’t risk blowing our cover.”
“Ah. Yeah. We should kiss again. To catch the criminal.”
If possible, their second kiss felt even better than the first. Kotetsu stroked Bunny’s hair as he leaned for their third attempt. And their forth. And their fifth.
“Again.” Bunny’s face looked flushed. “I don’t trust you to be able to kiss me properly in public without more practice.”
“Yeah, yeah. I know you’re a perfectionist, Lil’ Bunny.”
“Don’t call me that.”
“Wow, it’s been a while since you tried to convince me you’re not a bunny.”
Bunny frowned. “No, I mean it. My name is Keith now, remember?”
“Eh?! There’s no way I can call you Keith!”
Bunny sighed. “Then shut up and kiss me again.”
“O-Oi, ask me nicely! I’m your beloved husband now.”
As their lips touched, Kotetsu felt like he was losing his sanity. Remember, Kotetsu Kaburagi, this is practice for kisses Kaede will see. No tongue allowed. Bunny would never want that. These are completely chaste kisses.
He swallowed. His dick had a different opinion on the matter. Kotetsu felt glad he hadn’t taken off his coat inside the limousine, because he wouldn’t have known how to hide the bulge in his pants otherwise.
He felt bad for feeling aroused without Bunny knowing, but there was nothing he could do about it. He had been alone for so long, and Bunny was kissing him, caressing his chin and placing his arm around his back… Kotetsu couldn’t stop his own body from reacting, even if he couldn’t indulge in its desires.
This was going to be one of the best nights of his life. And one of the most cursed.
“Good evening, gentlemen.”
A man in a tuxedo asked for their names inside the Stern Art Hotel.
Kotetsu looked around, the Christmas lights and the high ceiling catching his attention. It was a place out of his league, full of golden ornamentation.
“I’m Keith Goodman. And this is my husband, Hiroaki Hirata.”
Kotetsu blushed when he heard my husband in Bunny’s voice, even if their names weren’t right.
They were both wearing masks now, which covered their faces from their foreheads to their cheekbones. Kotetsu’s was green and Bunny’s red, both decorated with shiny snowflakes.
“Ah, um, it’s nice to be here,” Kotetsu said to the man in the hall. There was a microphone and a camera hidden inside their special masks, so he had to remember that Agnes and her staff could hear and see everything.
They were accompanied to the waste room where the party was starting. Everything looked huge to Kotetsu, from the high windows to the Christmas tree, the buffet and the ballroom. On the other side of the room, he could see a stage where a small orchestra was performing classic carols.
“How are we supposed to find the guy here?” Kotetsu whispered in Bunny’s ear. “It’s getting crowded.”
“I’m looking for him. He should already be here.” Bunny took his partner’s hand. “Try to look too. Remember the photo we saw? He’s about my height, with white hair and a goatee.”
“Did you need anything, gentlemen?”
A middle-aged man was looking at them through his silver mask, a polite smile on his face.
“Ah, um, not really. We just got here.”
“Indeed, you must be new.” The man stepped closer. “I don’t remember seeing you before, though your masks might be fooling me. I’m Tom Larsson, and this is my wife Lara.” He placed his arm around the shoulders of the woman who had just arrived next to him. She was almost as tall as Kotetsu, and her long black hair covered part of her golden mask.
Bunny squeezed Kotetsu’s hand. Kotetsu glanced at him. Tom Larsson was the name of the suspect.
As they all shook hands, Bunny once again introduced himself and his partner using their fake identities, referring to Kotetsu – no, Hiroaki – as his husband.
“Nice to meet you.” Lara grinned, showing her white teeth. “It’s always nice to have new guests during our parties!”
“Thank you.” Bunny smiled back, in the same fake way Kotetsu always saw him doing for the cameras. “We’re really glad to be able to see so many impressive paintings. Especially reproductions of Rutger van Rogh.” He looked at the wall next to him. “The colors of that Wheat Field are incredible.”
“Oh, I see you’re a man of culture,” Larsson said in a pleased tone.
Bunny nodded. “I’m an art collector. I travel around the world to look for the best art from every country; but at the end of the day, my husband and I both wanted to celebrate Christmas in Stern Bild.” He looked at his partner with what Kotetsu assumed was a fake loving expression – however, he wasn’t sure of what he was seeing. “It’s the city where we first met.”
“Really?” Lara sounded curious. “So you’re not Stern Bild citizens?”
“Ah, no, I’m from Oriental Town,” Kotetsu said, glad that his fake identity had something in common with his real one. He chuckled, squeezing Bunny’s hand. “We met three years ago.” That was the truth. “It was like fate. There was ice under my feet, and I was falling; he saw me and caught me in his arms.” That was also the truth, in a sense. “You can say we fell in love at first sight.” And that was a big, huge lie.
“That’s almost like a fairy tale!” Larsson said, a smile on his face.
His wife laughed. “I told you, Tom, Stern Bild is underrated as a romantic city.”
“I guess you were right, honey.”
Bunny let go of Kotetsu’s hand. “Well, my husband has always been a romantic. Personally, I wouldn’t describe our first encounter as fate, and I wouldn’t say we actually fell in love at first sight. It’s only after getting to know him better that I started having romantic feelings for him.”
Kotetsu pouted. “Oi, why are you downplaying everything like that?”
Bunny raised his hand to move one of Kotetsu’s tufts behind his ear. “I’m not downplaying it; quite the opposite, I am praising you. Of course, you’re a very attractive man, but your personality is the main reason I realized I wanted to spend the rest of my life with you.”
“O-Oh.” Kotetsu felt his skin burning where the tips of Bunny’s fingers were touching him. He also felt butterflies in his stomach, which wasn’t something he had experienced to that degree since he was a teenager. Damn. Why did he have to sound so sweet?! This is bad for my heart…
A forced cough caught his attention.
It was Larsson. “Well, speaking to you two was a pleasure, but I believe we should greet our other guests. Right, Lara?”
“You’re right,” she said, showing again her white teeth. “We really have to go now. Enjoy the party!”
Lara took her husband by his arm and they left together.
Kotetsu stared at the couple walking away from them, not sure what to think. “Um, I guess they didn’t buy it.”
Bunny fixed his mask on his nose. “I think it’s the opposite, actually. We acted too affectionately in front of them, they probably felt like they were intruding.”
“Huh? You mean like they wanted to tell us to get a room or something?”
Kotetsu grinned. “Well, we already have a room in this hotel for tonight, right?”
“Idiot.” Despite his words, Bunny was smiling too. “Let’s go get something to drink. We’ll talk to Larsson later.”
He took Kotetsu’s hand and led him towards the buffet.
A few hours later, Kotetsu was considering getting drunk. He knew it was a terrible idea, both for the mission and the kids like Kaede who were going to watch the show, but if there was one certainty in his life that night, it was that he didn’t fit in that costume party.
“And then I saw that vase, the same from the other day,” a lady in her early 40s was telling Kotetsu, while Bunny was chatting with Larsson on the opposite side of the long buffet. “So I told my wife: I need it, now!”
“I see…” Kotetsu glanced at his partner and the suspect. They were laughing together, standing rather close to each other. “So you wanted that vase.”
“Yeah! I mean, it’s not everyday that you can find something made four centuries ago in Stern Bild! And I’m sure that’s what I’ll get for Christmas, my wife knows me too well. I’m just sad I can’t take the day off, next week is going to be terribly busy for my company.”
Kotetsu took a sip from his glass of red wine. “Sounds great.”
The lady sighed. “You weren’t really listening, were you? Well, let me tell you something: you worry about him too much. Mr. Goodman has only eyes for you.”
“Your husband. That’s his name, right?”
“Oh.” Kotetsu rubbed the back of his head. “Yeah, that’s him.”
“I can tell that he loves you dearly. You’re lucky to have him.”
I wish you were right… If I had him, I’d feel like the luckiest man on Earth.
“Is everything all right, dear?”
Kotetsu startled as he heard Bunny’s voice next to him. He was never going to get used to those pet names. “Yes! We were just chatting a little.”
Bunny smiled. He took Kotetsu’s hand and lifted it. “May I have your next dance?”
Kotetsu’s heart skipped a beat. “Um… You know I can’t dance.” He had to do it a few times as a hero, like during the concert with Blue Rose, but that just proved to everyone that he wasn’t good.
The lady next to him snickered. “Come on, go with him! I’ll look for my wife,” she said, then she disappeared in the crowd.
Kotetsu sighed, placing his glass on the table.
Bunny pulled him slightly towards the ballroom. “Follow my lead. You’ll be okay.”
“Fine, fine. But don’t cry when I step on your feet.”
The orchestra was now playing classic music Kotetsu recognized from the parties they had with their sponsors. Oh, Bunny loves it, doesn’t he?
“Put your left hand on my shoulder,” Bunny said, sliding his right arm around Kotetsu’s waist.
Kotetsu felt a shiver through his spine at the touch. He did as he was asked, then Bunny took his free hand in his own.
Waltzing wasn’t as hard as he thought. Or maybe everything was easier when it was just Bunny and him. Since Kotetsu had come back to the First League by his partner’s side, everyone had praised their partnership even more than they used to. They said Tiger & Barnaby were a perfect team, that they understood each other without words, that they were made for each other…
In a sense, Kotetsu understood. Everything he did with Bunny felt natural. Catching criminals with him, doing photo shoots with him, singing a duet, pretending to be his husband for a single night… As long as they were together, they could do anything.
Bunny’s face leaned closer. “I talked to Larsson about the stolen painting,” he whispered in his ear as they kept dancing.
Kotetsu tried to ignore the way his heart fluttered when he heard his voice, focusing on his partner’s words. “Really? What did he say?”
They span in the middle of the crowd of dancers.
Bunny stayed close to his ear. It was an alluring torture. “He didn’t say it explicitly, but it’s obvious he keeps the painting in this hotel. This party is an excuse to sell it.”
“Huh? Selling it to whom?”
“The best bidder, of course. You might not have noticed it, but I’m pretty sure everyone in this room is aware of Larsson’s possession. And they probably all want it.”
“What?!” Kotetsu tried to keep his voice low. “But buying a stolen painting is illegal,” he murmured.
“Indeed, these people aren’t innocent angels.”
Their eyes met. Even with their masks on, Kotetsu could see Bunny’s big green eyes. You know what should also be illegal? Your eyelashes…
Bunny’s arm pulled Kotetsu closer to him. “Anyway, Larsson told me he wants to invite me to a private room later. I hope he will.”
“Huh?” Kotetsu stopped their dance. He leaned back, shocked. “What does it mean?! You’re my husband!”
“Shh,” Bunny hissed. “You’ll catch too much attention.”
Kotetsu frowned; he forced himself to start dancing again. “Isn’t that guy married too?” he continued, lowering his voice. “I don’t care what he wants, he can’t just invite someone else’s husband to his room.”
Bunny blinked, as if he had just figured out what Kotetsu was saying. “Good grief, I can’t believe it! That is obviously not what I meant!”
Bunny looked him in the eye, a serious expression on his face. “He keeps the stolen painting there, in one of his rooms. I pretended to be interested in Rutger van Rogh, so he wants to show it to me. This has nothing to do with other kinds of night rendezvous.”
“If you say so…”
Bunny smirked. “Honestly, are you really playing the part of the jealous husband now? You, the man who had a good time alone with the same woman for almost an hour?”
“What?! I talked to her because you kept talking to Larsson!”
“I was just following the plan.”
“And I was just waiting for you!”
Bunny stopped. As he raised his head, Kotetsu followed his gaze.
They had ended up dancing beyond the ballroom, and they were now close to one of the side arches.
“Mistletoe,” Kotetsu said, his eyes on the sprig hanging above them.
Bunny nodded. “If we don’t do anything, we’ll look suspicious.”
“R-Right. We’re married, after all.”
“Yes. We are.”
“Guess it can’t be helped then.” Kotetsu moved his arms around Bunny’s neck, while Bunny embraced him.
Their first public kiss was more intense than Kotetsu expected. Bunny was holding him tightly, their lips pressed together, as if he was trying to convey “This man is mine”.
It couldn’t be. Maybe it was Kotetsu’s imagination. Maybe it was part of the act. Maybe Bunny wanted his fans to fantasize about him as the jealous type. Fuck, why is this turning me on? No, no! This is just a chaste kiss. A pretty long chaste kiss…
Kotetsu’s eyes widened as he leaned back. Shit, Kaede was going to see everything. He had to calm down.
There were a few guests close to them now, so they couldn’t talk about their plan.
Bunny glanced at them, then he met Kotetsu’s eyes, their faces still close. “You know, my dear, every time I kiss you, it still feels like the first time.” The back of his fingers caressed his partner’s cheek.
Kotetsu swallowed. He knew it was all fake, but damn. “Then maybe we should kiss again, so this time it will feel better.”
The people around them left.
Bunny smiled. “As much as I would love to, right now we have a mission to focus on,” he whispered close to his ear. “Behind you, in the corner of the room, I see Larsson talking to a couple.”
“Then I’ll distract the couple, so you can try to speak with Larsson again.”
“Roger.” Bunny leaned back.
“Hey. Just a moment.” Kotetsu grabbed Bunny’s red tie and fixed it. His fingers lingered on the fabric. “Okay, now it’s perfect.” He met his partner’s eyes. He couldn’t resist giving him another quick kiss. “Go get him, babe.”
Bunny stared at him for a moment, his expression unreadable. “I will.”
It was past midnight when they left the party. They took the elevator to reach the last floor of the hotel, where their room was. They found the corridor empty.
“So, did you see that blond guy? He almost tripped on the waiter.” Kotetsu laughed, his hand grabbing Bunny’s arm.
“Stop it,” Bunny hissed. “Hero TV is still recording us, and you look drunk.”
“What? I’m not drunk!”
Bunny sighed. “I know you’re not, I saw what you drank. But you’re still acting like a drunk man.”
“Hey, that’s just me au naturel; it’s not easy to be undercover all night! At this point, I just wanna do whatever I want.” He almost tripped when Bunny stopped in front of one of the doors. “Do they have cameras in our room too?”
“As usual, you didn’t pay attention to what Agnes told us.”
“Ugh. Just tell me, Bunny…”
“No, there aren’t any cameras or microphones, except of course for the ones in our masks.”
“Oh. So we should turn them off.”
“Yes. Anyway…” Before opening the door, Bunny turned to look his partner in the eye. “Larsson invited us to room 303 at 5 am. He probably wants to show us The Sunflowers. This will be the evidence we need to arrest him.”
“I see. Wait, I’m invited too?”
Bunny smirked. “You’re my very rich husband, remember? Of course he wants you to see what I’d like to buy.”
“Oh, that’s right, you married me for the money.”
“No, I didn’t.”
“Just kidding.” Kotetsu chuckled. “Good job, Bunny.”
“Thank you. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without your help.”
“Aw, now you’re making me blush.”
They entered their room in silence. Once Kotetsu closed the door behind them, he saw Bunny taking off his mask and pressing the tiny off button, a tired expression on his face.
Kotetsu removed his own mask too and turned off his camera and microphone. “Finally free!”
“Yes.” Bunny placed his mask on the hall tree next to the door, then he massaged his temples with his fingers. “To be honest, this mission is pretty exhausting even for my standards.”
Seeing his partner’s full face after several hours at the costume party made Kotetsu’s heart jump.
Bunny blinked, his long eyelashes fluttering. “Something wrong?”
“Nah.” Kotetsu smiled, staying close to the door. “Just admiring my beautiful husband.”
Bunny leaned in. “Still joking around?”
“Who said I’m joking?”
Kotetsu had barely time to register what was happening as Bunny pulled his tie and kissed him.
It felt different from before.
Kotetsu responded to the kiss, placing both hands in Bunny’s curls, and he felt Bunny’s hands on his waist. He couldn’t tell who opened his mouth first, but in an instant the tips of their tongues were tasting each other, their kiss deepening in a passionate dance.
Bunny pressed Kotetsu’s back against the door. Kotetsu groaned in the kiss.
It was the first time he made out with someone taller than him, someone with a physical strength that could rival his own.
Bunny moaned. Kotetsu felt his body shivering as their groins rubbed against each other. Bunny was hard, as hard as Kotetsu was. He could feel it through the fabric of their pants.
“Ah…!” Kotetsu moaned again as he allowed himself to breathe.
“Kotetsu,” Bunny whispered in his ear before they kissed again.
Practice or not, undercover or not, Bunny wanted this. Kotetsu didn’t care about anything else. Bunny was kissing him like the world was going to end, and he was going to give him equal passion.
Kotetsu’s PDA rang.
Bunny jumped back, his eyes wide.
His PDA rang again.
Finally, he decided to give it attention. “Um, hello?” Kotetsu looked at the screen that appeared on his wrist.
Agnes showed up, a smirk on her face. “Tiger! You did a great job!”
“Huh?” Kotetsu felt confused. In his entire career as a hero, he didn’t remember ever seeing Agnes so happy after contacting him. “I did?”
Agnes raised an eyebrow. “Of course, do I look like I’m kidding? Naturally, Barnaby did a great job too, but that was expected from him. We’re really surprised, Tiger. You played like a professional actor tonight: you looked actually in love with Barnaby! And Barnaby looked in love with you, like a perfect married couple!”
“Uh…” Kotetsu didn’t know what to say. But compliments always felt good, even when he didn’t feel like he deserved them. “Well, thank you. I did my best.” He scratched the back of his head, embarrassed. “But we still haven’t done the most important thing. The criminal is still around.”
“Thanks to your performance during the costume party, I expect the ratings to be incredibly high!”
She kept talking about her plans for the show, but Kotetsu couldn’t pay attention. His brain was still processing what was going on between him and Bunny since the moment they entered their room.
Fine, I guess I have a lot more than a little crush. And deep down, I’ve known for a long time.
“There’s only one bed.”
Kotetsu said it out loud, even if his partner was in one of the bathrooms. After their conversation with Agnes, Bunny had excused himself and left.
After using the second bathroom, Kotetsu wore his blue button-up pajamas – his favorite, a gift from Kaede for last year’s Christmas – and came back to the bedroom.
He sat on the quilt. Of course they were given a queen-sized bed; after all, they were undercover as a married couple. Luckily, the bed was huge. There was nothing weird about two friends sharing it, unless they wanted to make it weird.
Kotetsu looked at the floor, his eyes unfocused.
If it had been any other of his male friends, Kotetsu would have thought nothing of it, and just shared the bed with him. But it was Bunny, and Kotetsu could still feel the taste of his tongue, the way Bunny’s hands were touching his hips, the way his dick was– No, stop!
He reminded himself that after Agnes’s call, Bunny had left the room as soon as possible. That could only mean one thing: Bunny didn’t want to talk about what happened. Maybe it was just practice for their undercover mission to him. Maybe he just felt horny, like most guys in their 20s were, but he realized he had gone too far with his platonic friend and work partner and wanted to stop.
Kotetsu startled when the door opened.
Bunny was wearing glasses. And almost nothing else.
“Um, why are you in your underwear? Where’s your pajamas?” Kotetsu asked.
Bunny looked at the bed, then he walked towards the opposite side from his partner’s. “I don’t use them.”
“Really? I thought it was just something you said in an interview to look cool.”
Bunny picked up an alarm clock from his bag. “No, I actually don’t own pajamas.”
“I see.” Kotetsu smirked. “Is it also true you drink a glass of hot milk before bedtime?”
“Usually, yes, but I don’t need it now.” Bunny placed his alarm clock on his bedside table, then he slipped under the covers. “Now, if you don’t have other unnecessary remarks about my sleeping habits, I’d really like to get some rest for the few hours we have before the meeting.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Kotetsu sighed. He lied down under the covers on his side as well, before turning to his partner. “Don’t worry, I’m dead tired, so I won’t bother you anymore.”
“I hope so. I’ll turn off the light.”
When his partner lifted his hand towards his table lamp, Kotetsu caught a sparkle, right before the room got darker. “You’re still wearing it.”
“Your wedding ring.” There were a few lights coming from the buildings outside the window, but it was hard to see. For some reason, speaking without seeing each other looked even more intimate than sharing a bed. Kotetsu felt his heartbeat speeding up. “I spotted it.”
“Well, our undercover mission isn’t over, so taking my ring off wouldn’t have been practical.”
“You’re wearing it too.”
He noticed? “Yeah. I haven’t really realized it, I just forgot to take it off.”
“I figured.” Bunny took a deep breath. “By the way, weren’t you dead tired?”
“Jeez, I am! I’m gonna sleep now. Promise!”
“Good. Just try not to snore.”
“What? I don’t snore!”
“You do. Every time you fall asleep in the office or inside Saito’s truck.”
Kotetsu pouted. “That’s just your imagination. And sleeping in a bed is different. I admit this is a pretty good bed.”
“Mine is better, but I’m not complaining.”
“You’re not? ‘Cause it looks like you actually can’t wait to complain, rich kid.”
“Good night, Kotetsu.”
Kotetsu smiled in the darkness. “Good night, Bunny.”
The room got quiet. Only their breaths could be heard around them.
Kotetsu wanted to sleep. He hadn’t lied when he said he was tired, but it looked like his brain had other plans. With his eyes closed, he could see vivid images of Bunny kissing him. Shit…
Next to him, he heard his partner moving.
“Bunny?” he whispered.
“You’re stealing all the covers.”
“I’m cold.” Bunny moved again. It looked like he was shivering. “Is the heating on?”
“Now? I don’t think so, it’s nighttime.”
“And that’s why you shouldn’t sleep in your underwear.”
Bunny sighed. “They didn’t tell me it was going to be so cold inside the rooms. I didn’t bring any clothes except for my suit.”
“Me too. I wish I had a T-shirt to lend to you. I could give you my pajamas, but only if you’ll let me cling to you when I’m freezing.”
Kotetsu chuckled. “Then I guess you can be the one clinging to me. Whether you like it or not, I’m the only hot thing in this room.”
“Oh, really now…”
“Warm! I meant warm!” Kotetsu sighed. “Well, do what you want. I was just trying to be nice, you know. As long as you keep that ring on your finger, you’re still my husband.”
Bunny didn’t reply.
For a moment, Kotetsu thought that he had fallen asleep, but the covers on top of them were still moving.
“All right,” Bunny murmured, his voice getting closer. “Show me how a married couple would behave in our shoes.”
Kotetsu smiled. “Come here.” He moved towards the center of the bed to reach his partner. “First of all, I wouldn’t let anyone freeze, so I’m behaving like a hero would.”
“You said I’m your husband, not a Stern Bild citizen to protect.”
“Hey, you can be both!” Kotetsu embraced him, pressing Bunny’s head against his heart. “Married or not, there’s no way I wouldn’t protect you,” he said, his mouth in Bunny’s curls.
“I can protect myself, thank you.”
Bunny’s skin was cold. Kotetsu tried to warm it up, caressing his partner’s bare back. He felt his own breath getting heavy. He tried to convince himself that the situation they were in was innocent, that he was just helping a friend not to freeze. But as Bunny hugged him back, he felt lost.
How the hell am I supposed to sleep now?
His erection was back in full force. Kotetsu cursed mentally. He should have taken care of that in the bathroom, before going to sleep. Now it was too late to excuse himself: Bunny needed him, and he had no intention of leaving him alone.
“Are you feeling better?”
“Yes. You’re a furnace.”
Kotetsu laughed. “Well, this old man has some good traits.”
Bunny’s hand stopped at the lower hem of the top of Kotetsu’s pajamas. Kotetsu stiffened in anticipation. It almost felt like Bunny wanted to slide his fingers on Kotetsu’s bare back; but he wasn’t moving them, just keeping his hand on the fabric.
This time, Bunny’s tone was different. Urgent? Kotetsu couldn’t tell.
“We’re married tonight.”
“Does it mean I can kiss you?”
Kotetsu gulped. “O-Oh. Practice again? Well, it wouldn’t be the first time, so…”
“If you don’t like it, I won’t do it again.”
“What? No, no, I do like kissing you, Bunny!” Kotetsu spoke without thinking. “I-I mean, you’re a good kisser, that’s why…” He forced a laugh. “You’re always good at everything, aren’t you?”
“To be honest, you’re not bad yourself.”
“Hey, what do you mean not bad? I’m a great kisser!”
“Then prove it.”
Even in the darkness, their mouths found each other soon.
It was like resuming from the moment Agnes interrupted. Except now they were in bed, and layers of clothes were missing. Their tongues wove together, their hands caressing each other’s body. In the heat of the moment, Bunny’s fingers finally slipped under the top of Kotetsu’s pajamas.
Bunny’s touch on his skin was pure bliss.
Kotetsu blinked. “I’m touching you.”
“Touch me more.”
Kotetsu’s heart skipped a beat. “J-Just a moment.” He stretched his arm towards his bedside and turned on his table lamp.
Bunny’s skin looked flushed. His hair was messy. His lips parted.
Kotetsu thought he was going to lose his mind.
His gaze wandered along Bunny’s chest, his tummy and… “Oh.”
Bunny’s boxer shorts had a stain, right at the tip of the bulge that was impossible to miss. Bunny looked away, his cheeks red. “You don’t have to touch it if you don’t want to.”
“But you want me to, right?”
“Then I’ll do it.”
“Kotetsu.” Bunny clenched his fists. “This isn’t part of your job as a hero. Don’t do it for pity.”
Kotetsu leaned closer and pulled him in a hug. “I promise I won’t,” he said in his partner’s ear. “You’re my husband tonight, of course I want to touch you.”
“If you say so…”
Kotetsu felt his body on fire. “Is it fine if I keep the light turned on? I want to see you, and, well…” This time, it was his turn to get embarrassed. “I’ve never touched a dick that wasn’t my own, so I’m a little nervous.”
“Do you find the idea repulsive?”
“What? No, absolutely not! This is the opposite of repulsive, I swear!” He pointed at his own groin. “As you can see, my little tiger here feels very wild too.”
“Your what? Good grief, you’re killing the mood.” Bunny covered his eyes with his palm. “Of course you are. I don’t know what else I expected.”
“Oi, I told you I’m nervous!” Kotetsu placed his hands on Bunny’s shoulders. “Give me another chance.”
Bunny looked at him, his green irises shining where the light hit them. His lips curved into a smile. “Kotetsu, touch me the way you touch yourself. You’ll be fine, like you always are. I trust you.”
Kotetsu smiled back. How could he not have feelings for Bunny? He was so perfect, in his own adorable imperfect way. “Lay on your back.”
Bunny did as he was asked. Kotetsu took another moment to admire his partner’s body.
He placed his hands on Bunny’s chest, using his index finger to tease a nipple.
“Is that okay?”
Bunny blushed. “Yes. But be careful; I’m a little sensitive there.”
“Aw, are you?” Kotetsu brushed his thumbs against both nipples. “So cute.”
Bunny moaned, closing his eyes. “I-I’m not cute!”
Kotetsu smirked, taking Bunny’s nipples between his fingers. “Yes, you are.”
“A-Ah!” Bunny squirmed. “Kotetsu, p-please…”
“T-Take my underwear off. Now.”
“Wow, so bossy.” Kotetsu leaned closer to Bunny’s lips for a quick kiss, then he sat up to do as he was asked.
In the years they had worked together, sometimes Kotetsu had spotted Bunny’s bare body in the locker room. However, this was the first time he saw Bunny hard.
Hard because of him.
Kotetsu swallowed, his eyes focused on Bunny’s cock. He moved his hand closer with hesitation, like he was going to touch something precious. When he finally grabbed the base of the erection, Bunny moaned, his fingers holding Kotetsu’s shoulders.
“Stroke.” Bunny lifted his arms to cup his partner’s cheeks and looked him in the eye. “Please.”
“Yes, sir,” Kotetsu said with a smirk.
As Kotetsu started moving his hand, Bunny raised his back and pressed his mouth against Kotetsu’s. Their kiss deepened fast, muffling Bunny’s loud moans.
Touching someone else’s dick felt odd at first, but not in a bad way. On the contrary, it was great for Kotetsu to see if he could take advantage of years of masturbation to make Bunny happy.
It was working.
Bunny broke the kiss, his hands clinging on the collar of Kotetsu’s pajamas. He touched the higher button. “C-Can I open here?”
Kotetsu squeezed Bunny’s tip, making him moan. “Yes, Bunny. Open everything. Please.”
In a moment, Bunny’s fingers were busy around the blue buttons, exposing Kotetsu’s chest little by little.
Kotetsu kept moving his hand at a steady pace, leaving kisses on Bunny’s chin and neck. Inside his pants, his own cock was aching for any kind of touch, but he tried to ignore it. This was for Bunny. He wanted Bunny to feel good. He wanted Bunny to get everything he wanted.
Bunny finished opening the top of Kotetsu’s pajamas; he held his partner in his arms, making their naked chests brush against each other.
Kotetsu felt a wave of pleasure at the contact.
“K-Kotetsu… Hmm…” Bunny’s nails pressed in Kotetsu’s back as he panted. “Ah… Kotetsu… Ko…”
Kotetsu stroked slower from the base to the tip. “Yes?”
Bunny kept his eyes closed, his hips moving to get more friction. “I’m… I’m…!”
Kotetsu smiled. “Got it,” he whispered. He grabbed Bunny’s cock with more strength, then he gave it a few decisive strokes.
Bunny groaned louder in his ear. Kotetsu grasped some incoherent syllables from his name as his partner finally reached his climax.
The room went quiet.
Bunny let go of Kotetsu’s back; he let himself fall on the pillows, his breath heavy.
Kotetsu met his eyes. Bunny had never looked at him like this; so content, so blissfully happy. Kotetsu knew he was going to remember this sight for the rest of his life.
Kotetsu stared at his wet hand, smiling, then he reached his bedside table to clean it. He took off the top of his pajamas, feeling too hot. Well, I guess we solved the heating problem.
“Kotetsu…” Bunny called in a weak voice.
Kotetsu felt his cheeks heating up. It was rare for Bunny to compliment him so openly, even more when he wasn’t saving people and earning points. He opened his mouth to thank him, but his words died in his throat when Bunny tackled him and moved on top of him.
Kotetsu laid on his back, his head on the soft pillows, staring confused at his partner’s smirk. “What are you doing?”
“I knew it,” Bunny said, his hand removing Kotetsu’s tufts of hair from his forehead. “You’re always so selfless. Always giving, never asking for anything. Did you really think I wouldn’t want to return the favor?”
Kotetsu gulped. “W-Well, I don’t see why you’d want to touch me. Don’t you think I’m too old for you?”
“Stop assuming what I’m thinking,” Bunny hissed. “Didn’t you say we’re married tonight?” His hands were now caressing Kotetsu’s bare waist. “Kotetsu,” he said. Despite the frustration in his tone, he sounded gentle. “Please. Tell me what you want.”
You. Kotetsu looked away. I want you by my side. Always. “I want to come too.”
“Good. And what can I do to help you?”
“Anything,” Kotetsu murmured.
“A-Anything you want, Bunny. I mean it.”
Bunny smirked again, his face getting closer. “Really? Be careful what you wish for.”
“I am careful.”
“You’re not. You just told someone to do anything he wants with your body.”
Kotetsu smiled. “I didn’t tell someone. I told you.”
Bunny didn’t reply, his face turning red.
“Aw, are you embarrassed? So cute.”
“I’m not cute!” Bunny lowered his head on his partner’s chest and licked one of his nipples.
Caught by surprise, Kotetsu startled. “H-Huh, what are do– Hmm…!” It felt good. He wasn’t as sensitive as Bunny was, but he liked it.
“Getting revenge from before,” Bunny mumbled as he moved his tongue to the other nipple.
Kotetsu placed his hands on his partner’s shoulders. “Th-This feels nice, Bunny, but it won’t make me come. Sorry, but after everything we’ve been through tonight, I’m at my limit.”
“Mhm.” Bunny moved his head lower, his tongue now tasting Kotetsu’s navel.
Bunny stopped, looking at him. “Yes?”
Kotetsu pouted. “Stop teasing.”
“Do you not like what I’m doing?”
“It’s not that I don’t like it, but… I expected something different.”
Bunny smiled. It was a very studied, very fake smile.
“All right, then tell me what you want me to do to you, Kotetsu.”
I see. So that was your plan all along. “Take my pants off.”
“As you wish.” Bunny took Kotetsu’s pants off. And nothing else.
“M-My boxer shorts too! Jeez.” Kotetsu sighed. “You’re enjoying it a little too much.”
“You’re enjoying it too,” Bunny pointed out as he freed his partner’s dick. “Or at least, what you have here does.”
Kotetsu hoped he wasn’t blushing. “Well…” he murmured. “Do something about it.”
Bunny grabbed the base of Kotetsu’s erection, making him moan.
…But he didn’t move his hand.
Kotetsu raised an eyebrow. Was he teasing him again? Shit, I can’t take it anymore.
Bunny’s head leaned closer to Kotetsu’s cock; his tongue tasted the tip.
Bunny stopped. He looked at Kotetsu, a confused expression on his face. “You said I could do anything. Is this okay?”
Kotetsu blinked. “What? Yes, Bunny, feels great! Please, don’t stop again…”
“I wasn’t sure, since you were swearing.”
Aw, he was worried. “It was a very good swearing, I swear.” He chuckled. “Whoops, I’m killing the mood again, huh?”
Bunny sighed. “Kotetsu.”
“Can I suck your dick?”
Kotetsu met his eyes. “Hell yeah.”
This time, Bunny took inside his mouth all the length he could.
If Kotetsu had had to guess what heaven felt like, he would have described this. He could feel Bunny’s tongue moving around his cock, Bunny’s lips sucking hard, everything wet and hot inside…
Bunny stopped. He lifted his head. “Something wrong?”
“No, no! The opposite. I…” He gulped. “I’m too close. If you keep sucking, I-I won’t be able to control myself. I’ll come inside your mouth.”
Bunny raised an eyebrow. “And?”
Kotetsu looked away, feeling embarrassed. “And it’ll be amazing for me, but I’m sure it’s not what you want, so I warned yo– Aah…!”
Bunny was sucking again, his tongue licking the tip.
Kotetsu groaned, pressing his head against the pillow.
Okay, I got it.
“Stop assuming what I’m thinking.”
That’s what I always do, right, Bunny? I’m sorry.
He moaned louder, feeling tears at the corner of his eyes. He never thought he deserved good things. He never thought he deserved happiness. He never thought he deserved Bunny.
He grabbed Bunny’s hair and thrust inside his mouth as he felt his orgasm approaching.
It felt incredible.
Bunny seemed to expect it. He swallowed everything he could, then he licked Kotetsu’s cock until it was clean.
Kotetsu sniffled, wiping away the tears he couldn’t explain.
From the window, he could see snow falling on the buildings.
His partner moved on top of him, until their faces were almost touching. He caressed Kotetsu’s wet cheek with his thumb. “Kotetsu.”
“Bunny.” Kotetsu kissed him. He embraced him tightly, burying his nose in the base of his neck. “I love you.”
Slowly, Kotetsu’s brain registered his own words.
It felt like a sad twist of fate, that when he finally admitted to himself his real feelings for his partner, he also said them out loud.
Because Bunny was making him feel like he could open his heart again. Because after the night they had shared, it felt like the most natural thing to tell him.
Even if they were undercover.
Even if their marriage was fake.
Bunny was staring at him, his eyes wide open. He looked like he wanted to say something, but no sound was leaving his mouth.
A ring started them. It came from the alarm clock.
Bunny stretched his body towards his bedside. Kotetsu watched his partner as he sat up naked and sweaty, picking up his glasses and wearing them. His hair was a beautiful mess of blond curls.
“We have to go.”
“Huh?” Kotetsu scratched his head, not moving from the bed. “Is it 5 am already?!”
“No, but we need time to get ready. Remember, our masks will record everything. We need a plan; we’re not allowed to fail.”
Kotetsu tried to focus on the mission. They had a criminal to catch. A murderer. He was in this hotel as Wild Tiger, a hero Stern Bild citizens counted on.
He watched as Bunny picked up his underwear and left the bedroom.
He covered his eyes with his hand.
I fucked up.
They made it to room 303 just in time. They had to put on their masks again, because they had the only cameras that could record the meeting inside.
Tom Larsson had nothing to cover his face. He greeted them with a slight bow and moved to let them enter. “I’m glad to see you here, gentlemen, despite being so early in the morning. This time is not the most appealing for a meeting, but I assure you, what you’re going to see will make it worth it.”
“I’m sure it will,” Bunny said as the two heroes stepped inside, his usual fake smile back to his face.
“Please, follow me.” Larsson led them to a bedroom similar to the one they had in their room. He moved a large abstract painting to reveal a safe. “Just a moment.” He used his fingerprints to open the safe. “Meet my precious treasure. Naturally, you’re not the only ones who showed a certain interest in this beautiful masterpiece, but I’ll let you admire it as much as you wish.”
Kotetsu stared at the painting inside. He lifted an eyebrow. “Wait, these aren’t sunflowers,” he said, pointing his finger at them. “They look like tulips!”
“Oh, well…” Larsson smiled like he was talking to a little child.
That rich snob.
“I am sure your husband can explain the reason to you.”
“This isn’t The Sunflowers.” Bunny crossed his arms. “It’s another Rutger van Rogh painting: The Tulips.”
“Um, I see.” Kotetsu scratched the back of his head. “So what does it mean? I thought we came here to see The Sunflowers.”
“Indeed.” Bunny stepped closer to the host. “I believe this is not the painting I expressed interest in tonight. Would you happen to have The Sunflowers? My husband and I are willing to offer more than the other guests did to buy it.”
Larsson kept his smile. “Now, gentlemen, I’m afraid there’s been a misunderstanding. Mr. Goodman, you love Rutger van Rogh, right? So I’m sure The Tulips is very appealing to you. A perfect Christmas present.”
“It is,” Bunny said, his tone calm. “But this doesn’t answer my question about The Sunflowers.”
“Well, well…” Larsson fixed his tie. “I might or might not have The Sunflowers. You don’t know, and it is not important. Because, you see, that would be Lara’s favorite painting. So, even if I had it – and it’s not something you can know – I would never try to sell it.”
“A man was murdered when it was stolen!” Kotetsu clenched his fists. “This is not a game!”
“So?” Larsson looked Kotetsu in the eye. “This has nothing to do with me.”
“I think it does,” Bunny said. He glanced at Kotetsu.
Kotetsu nodded. Roger. He made sure his hidden camera was pointing at his partner as Bunny took off his shiny mask.
“You…!” Larsson’s eyes widened. “You’re… Barnaby Brooks Jr.?!”
“In the flesh. Heh.” He lifted two fingers and greeted the man in front of him like he was a fan.
Larsson stepped back. “And you!” He pointed at Kotetsu.
Bunny placed his mask on a table, where the camera could frame his partner.
With a wide grin, Kotetsu took off his party mask to reveal… his domino mask.
“Wild Tiger?!” Larsson grunted. “What is the meaning of this?”
“We’re looking for the thief who murdered a custodian in Stern Bild Central Museum when they stole The Sunflowers,” Kotetsu explained.
The suspect laughed. “Then I’m afraid you’re talking to the wrong person. As you can see, this painting isn’t The Sunflowers.”
“But it’s still a stolen painting,” Bunny said, walking closer to the open safe.
“Wait, it is?” Kotetsu asked.
“Yes.” Bunny looked at the precious item. “It belongs to a national museum overseas. It’s worth millions of sterndollars. It’s definitely a valid evidence to arrest someone.”
Larsson’s eyes glowed blue as he tried to run away. Kotetsu activated his NEXT power too, chasing the man before he could leave the room.
“I believe your journey ends here, Mister van Rogh Thief,” Kotetsu said, his hand grabbing Larsson’s collar.
Larsson fell on the floor, his head low. “It’s just one painting! You can’t prove I was the one who stole it.”
Bunny smirked. “Perhaps. But the thief who stole The Sunflowers and killed a custodian had the same NEXT power you just used. Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going to examine this safe closely. It looks like there’s something behind the painting.”
Kotetsu grasped Larsson’s wrists as he tried to move towards Bunny.
There was a smaller safe inside the first one. It was closed, and it looked like it required a numeric password.
Bunny pressed a few numbers, and the door opened.
“What?!” Larsson struggled, but he couldn’t free himself. “I said stop! Stop!”
There was a painting inside the safe. It was small, but its colors were brighter than any other picture they had seen that night.
“Wow.” Kotetsu blinked. “How did you know the combination, Bunny?”
“I didn’t.” Bunny smiled, looking at the man his partner was holding. “But I listened carefully to everything Larsson told me tonight. And I remembered what he said about a romantic trip he had on March 15th, the day of his wife’s birthday.”
“Oh.” 0315? Despite everything, he does love her, huh.
“Barnaby Brooks Jr.” Larsson stopped struggling, lowering his head again. “I know your story. You, of all people, should understand how I feel.”
Bunny stayed close to the paintings. “What do you mean?”
“I lost my parents in a car accident when I was a teenager. My relatives were afraid of my NEXT power, and I wasn’t good at making friends. Lara is the only good thing that has ever happened to me.” He lifted his head, finally looking the hero in the eye. “Do you understand now? I lost my family, but when I fell in love with Lara, I wasn’t alone anymore. Lara deserves everything she wants, and I’d do anything for her. Aren’t we the same? Wouldn’t you do anything for Tiger?”
“Eeeh?!” Kotetsu startled, feeling his cheeks flushing. “W-Wait, you got it all wrong!” He moved in front of the criminal to look at his face. They were recording everything; Kaede was going to see this. He had to clarify. “Bunny and I were undercover at the party. We’re not Keith and Hiroaki, we were just pretending to be married!”
Larsson frowned. “It doesn’t matter if you’re not married. My point still stands: Barnaby should understand, because you two love each other.”
“No, you didn’t get it! We’re partners!” Kotetsu said.
“I said it doesn’t matter!” Larsson shouted. “Partners, husbands, lovers, as long as you’re in love–”
“No! We’re just friends!” Kotetsu tried again.
Larsson glared at him. “This is getting ridiculous. Barnaby, I hope for your sake you’ll file for divorce.”
“But we’re not married…” Kotetsu felt frustrated.
“Please, don’t mind my partner.” Bunny moved next to him. “You’re wrong, Larsson. I don’t understand your mindset, and I’d like to ask your wife if she does.”
“Leave Lara out of this!”
Bunny crossed his arms. “Well then, this is what I think: if you love someone, you don’t need to give them something valuable to make them happy. If your wife married you, it means you’re already the most important treasure she has. But now, thanks to the crimes you committed, you won’t be able to stay by her side anymore.”
“Mr. Larsson.” Kotetsu lowered his head. “I understand the pain of your loss. Many years ago, someone you loved was suddenly taken away from you. It still hurts to think about it, even now, right? I know.” He took a deep breath. “But when you met Lara, life gave you a second chance to be happy. You shouldn’t have thrown it away.”
“Shut up!” Larsson shouted. “Barnaby, tell him! Wouldn’t you kill someone to make Tiger happy?”
Bunny bent down, his hand grabbing the criminal’s arm. “No, I wouldn’t,” he said, his eyes like piercing ice. “Because it would never make him happy.”
After the arrest, Kotetsu felt so tired he barely had the strength to give Ben back his fake wedding ring, pick up his belongings and call a taxi.
He wanted to talk to Bunny, but his partner had left with a short “See you tomorrow”.
When he got home, Kotetsu reached his bedroom walking like a zombie, and fell asleep quickly.
He woke up around noon to use the bathroom. He tried to stay awake, but as he was brushing his teeth inside the bathtub, he kept feeling his eyes closing. Guess it’s time for another nap.
The doorbell startled him.
He wondered who it was. Maybe he got an early Christmas gift from his family? Happiness filled Kotetsu’s heart as he wore his bathrobe and ran to the front door, thinking about what Kaede could have got him.
The guy in front of him wasn’t the mail carrier. To be fair, he was way hotter.
“Is that how you greet your guests now?” Bunny pointed at his partner’s outfit.
“Gah! I thought I got a gift from Kaede, so I was excited!”
“You never change.”
Neither of them continued that conversation. The two men stood in front of each other, an awkward silence between them.
Bunny looked away, his expression shy. Like Kotetsu, he wasn’t wearing his fake wedding ring anymore; but things between them weren’t back to the way they used to be.
“Er, come in.” Kotetsu moved a little to let his guest enter.
Bunny nodded. He didn’t say anything until his partner closed the door behind them. “I think we need to talk, Kotetsu.”
“Y-Yeah.” Kotetsu knew it. But he didn’t know how to start. “Let’s sit on the couch first. I-I mean, wait there, I’ll go get dressed. Not that I have anything to hide you haven’t seen already, but…” Fuck. Get a grip, Kotetsu Kaburagi! “While you’re waiting, would you like something to eat? A drink, maybe? Anything else?”
Bunny walked towards the living room and sat down. “Honestly, there is one thing I’d like.”
Kotetsu smiled, following him in front of the couch. “Good! What is it?”
“The truth.” Bunny’s eyes shined behind his glasses. “I…” He stopped, looking away for a moment. “I’d like to know how you really feel about me, Kotetsu. If everything you did and said last night was fake or not. I don’t care if you hurt my feelings, nothing hurts more than you lying or hiding important things from me.” He showed a slight smile. “Please. Tell me if last night meant anything to you.”
Kotetsu opened his mouth to reply, but he couldn’t say anything. His gut was telling him to lie like he always did in these situations: he didn’t want to be a burden to Bunny; he wanted to save their friendship and their partnership. His feelings for him weren’t so important…
Except that Bunny thought they were.
Bunny trusted him. And he couldn’t betray his trust. Not anymore.
Kotetsu sat next to his partner, his head low. He placed his hands in his hair. “Bunny, you know I’ve never really learned how to act.” He paused, taking a long breath. “Agnes thinks that I suddenly became a good actor, but she’s wrong. During our undercover mission, my role as your devoted husband worked because I didn’t have to fake my feelings.” He swallowed, lifting his head to look his partner in the eye. “I’m sorry, Bunny. I’m sorry I’m actually in love with you.”
Bunny’s mouth opened in surprise. “Why are you apologizing?”
Kotetsu scratched the back of his head. “Well, because I know you can’t reciprocate. Last night we were just pretending to be a married couple, right? So we had a little fun. It’s okay, really. I’m sorry I’m making things awkward for us.”
“Hey, now, there’s no need to be so mean.”
“How many times do I have to tell you? Stop assuming what I’m thinking, Kotetsu!”
“Ah…” Kotetsu paused. Shit, I did it again. “You’re right, Bunny, I shouldn’t. It’s just… I don’t know what else to think. There’s no way you could find me attractive, so I guess last night was just an act for you.”
“Did you realize which names we were calling each other in our hotel room last night?”
“Huh?” Kotetsu rubbed his beard with his nail. “Well, there weren’t cameras around, so I called you Bunny, and you called me Kotetsu.”
“Yes. We weren’t Keith and Hiroaki. We were our real selves.” Bunny met his partner’s eyes. “We weren’t faking anything.”
“What do you mean?”
“I love you too.” Bunny smiled. It was his genuine, wonderful smile. “That’s what I came here to tell you. That’s what I should have said last night.”
Kotetsu stared at him, his mouth half open.
Maybe it was a dream.
Maybe he was still sleeping after that long night.
Bunny grabbed Kotetsu’s hand. Kotetsu squeezed it.
It felt real.
It felt incredibly real.
“Bunny…” Kotetsu moved closer to him. “Are you sure?”
“Yes. I’ve felt this way about you for a long time.”
Bunny placed a finger on Kotetsu’s lips. “If you’re going to say something self-deprecating, I’m stopping you right now. I love you because you’re amazing. You are an amazing man, an amazing hero, an amazing father, an amazing friend, an amazing partner… and an amazing lover,” he added, his face flushed. “So stop feeling unworthy. Because without you, my life would be completely different.” He smiled again. “I can wake up happy every day because I know that you’ll be by my side.”
Kotetsu listened as his partner spoke to him, his heart beating rapidly inside his chest. “Bunny…” He was at a loss of words; he felt like anything he could say would have been meaningless.
He pulled Bunny in a hug. He closed his eyes, inebriating himself with Bunny’s scent. He squeezed him tightly.
“Kotetsu, let me breathe.”
“Sorry.” He leaned back to look at Bunny’s face. He grinned. “I’m just too happy.”
“So, um…” Kotetsu paused, trying to make order on his thoughts. “We’re not married anymore. I-I mean, we’ve never actually been married. What should we do now?”
Bunny placed his hand on Kotetsu’s shoulder. “Well, we have the day off. What were you planning to do?”
“Before you visited? I was going to bed, ‘cause I’m still tired from last night. But hey, it doesn’t matter now! I’ll do anything you want to do. Is the new park in the Gold Stage a good place for a first date?”
Bunny pushed his glasses up with a finger. “Actually, your bed is good.”
“Huh? Wait, what are you implying?”
“I don’t know, what were you implying when you greeted me in your bathrobe?”
“What?!” Kotetsu looked at his outfit. “I was just in a rush! And you didn’t give me time to change.”
“Well, you accidentally managed to seduce me. So take responsibility.”
Kotetsu chuckled. “Jeez.” He placed his arms around his partner’s shoulders and kissed him. It felt so good doing it just because he wanted to. “You know, you really are a horny bunny.”
“I’m not a bunny.”
“Hmm, you didn’t deny the other part.”
Bunny pressed their lips together, his hands grabbing the rope of Kotetsu’s bathrobe. “I didn’t.”