Now Serving Mr. Lloyds

Chapter One: Spelling Bee

Barnaby was sick of this.

Well, not literally sick, but it was close. 'Fed up' wasn't extreme enough for what he was feeling, and 'tired' didn't even scratch the surface of the simmering defensiveness he was experiencing for his partner right now. If anyone attacked Kotetsu, Barnaby wanted them to have a criminal record so that he, Barnaby Brooks Jr., would be justified in flattening them. While he really couldn't flatten his immediate boss, the temptation to do so was very, very real.

Had sucking up to people in authority been an Olympic event, Barnaby Brooks Jr. knew he was working for the US team captain. Spineless boot licker to the core, Alexander Lloyds was, after a brief honeymoon following the Justice Day attack, back to his usual posture of treating Koketsu like he was somehow disposable. It was a bad habit that had started the day the two men had met and Lloyds had never given much effort to break in order to get Wild Tiger to comply with directions. Though he could no longer threaten Wild Tiger's job, he could nitpick and ride his back at every opportunity. Granted Kotetsu could be stubborn and dense and a whole host of related adjectives and to put it mildly he and Lloyds had gotten off to a bad start, but he had been blindsided by the change in employers and Lloyds had been anything but welcoming to the veteran Hero. Lloyds had considered Wild Tiger yesterday's news and made no attempt to mask his contempt. Kotetsu answered with the respect due an employer and not much more. Over the past three years, their relationship hadn't improved simply because it had never really developed past the threat stage.

Wild Tiger was back by popular demand, back where he belonged in the First League, back with his partner. The citizens of Stern Bild had pretty much gone wild for Wild Tiger, and the other Heroes had gladly stood back and let him ride the wave of popularity he so richly deserved. Hero TV was keeping that upswell going full force with interviews, charity events, appearances and promotions. It was exciting and fun and now that Golden Ryan was mercifully out of the picture, Barnaby was as close to perfectly happy as he'd ever been. They were almost as busy as when Barnaby had been crowned the King of Heroes, and with his partner receiving equal attention, this time around was even more enjoyable.

Except in the office.

Tension was running high more often than not, courtesy of Alexander Lloyds.

And right now, Barnaby had taken about as much as he could stomach. Yes, Kotetsu could be clumsy in word and action, but at the end of the day he still embodied many of the traits to which Barnaby aspired. He was a Hero in every sense of the word.

"Kaburagi, are you even capable of spelling?" demanded Lloyds, appearing in the door to his office. He displayed a handwritten form and had a look on his face that said he wanted to roll the wad of paperwork up and smack Kotetsu upside the head with it.

Said Hero was already on his feet and moving toward the exit for an appointment with Mr. Saito. Glad to dodge this speeding bullet, he flashed a grin over his shoulder. "No, Mr. Lloyds. My specialty is endurance."

The door closed behind him. Lloyds glowered, then glared at their secretary as if somehow Wild Tiger's inability to spell was her fault. He fully intended to make it her problem.

"Carol, make sure he knows how to spell my name the next time he turns in a report."

She reached for the paperwork and gave it a quick glance, noting the issue immediately. Throughout the page, Lloyds had been spelt with just one 'L.' Carol hummed faintly as she returned the report, giving Barnaby a quick look as she did so. He sensed an ally in his irritation. Granted he had a slight echo of sympathy for Lloyds' dilemma, seeing as how Koketsu had saddled him with a childish nickname almost as soon as they had met. It had taken Barnaby the better part of a year to get over himself and to wrap his brain around the phenomenon that was Kotetsu T, Kaburagi, and today he looked upon the name 'Bunny' as an endearment from his best, closest friend.

"Can do, sir," Carol promised. "It should only take about three months."

"What?" he barked, scandalized.

She fixed him with the same gaze she would have used on a misbehaving dog or toddler. "Isn't that about how long it took you to learn to say his name correctly?"

Taken aback, Lloyds could only gape, but his silence spoke more than words about the truth of the matter. Barnaby steeled himself not to respond to such a lack of professionalism on Lloyds' behalf. Carol got back to typing.

"Kotetsu doesn't do so bad, all in all," she said calmly. "Sure he spells a lot of stuff phonetically, but then, English is his second language."

Barnaby saw his chance and pounced. Taking his cue from the older woman, he kept typing as he said, "Third."

They ignored Lloyds and his indignation and got down to the business of singing Wild Tiger's praises.

"Third?" Carol prompted, impressed. "Japanese, English, and . . . ?"

"Japanese, Spanish, then English. I got some fan mail from Mexico City last week that he translated for me, and he even helped me send a reply in Spanish."

"I'm going to remember that tidbit," swore Carol. The picture of innocence, she glanced to where Lloyds still occupied the space beside her desk, clearly trying to figure out how he could recover his status of victim in this situation. "Do you speak another language, Barnaby?"

"I can hold my own in French, but it takes a lot of focus. I'm not as fluent at Kotetsu," gushed Barnaby, his typing reduced to gibberish in his distraction. "How about you, Mr Lloyds? Do you speak another language?"

Only Barnaby Brooks Jr., Apollon's golden child, TV heart throb, and one-time King of Heroes could have gotten away from such a line of questioning unscathed. Then again, he could have crushed Lloyds with his pinkie if so inclined. There was a pause, and finally he looked up to Lloyds with feigned curiosity. He was rewarded with a frown.

"Let's get some work done, people!" Lloyds snapped, closing his office door behind him with a little too much force as he beat a hasty retreat.

They were silent for a few moments, enjoying their little victory.

"Man's a twit," stated Carol under her breath, and Barnaby, who was too intelligent to argue, let out a little hum of agreement as he got back to work, feeling smug as he thought,

Wild Tiger 1, Lloyds 0.