Perhaps he wasn’t doing as well as he’d thought.
Surely, Shouto believes, if he was in a right state of mind, he never would have looked at that bakery-café on the corner of his neighborhood, pink and green and with succulent plants practically everywhere, donning a flowing white banner that read “Everyone UraRAVES about our cakes”; he would’ve turned right around and marched back to his apartment.
So, it is with every ounce of confusion and helplessness that he wonders why, exactly, he took a step through the door and proceeded to find a seat.
The shop itself is a charming little thing, not as grand as, say, one of the big chain coffee shops, but homely and quite roomy as it is; enough room to keep a grand piano in the corner. The walls hold up square and window-shaped suspended bookshelves, some filled--according by height--with rows of books, and others meticulously crafted into succulent plant holders. There aren’t any bright ceiling lights either; instead, above each table, a mushroom lamp protrudes from the wall. They’re all switched off, though, as the daylight sifting in through the windows seems to provide just enough for them to get by.
Shouto finds his seat in the corner of the shop, right beside a window and directly in front of the store’s second cash register. The layout is… a little strange, he has to admit, in that it seems like the store is split exactly in half, one side a bakery, the other a chic café. It’s not that the interior design is inconsistent--it’s that one side of the room is notably busier than the other.
“Welcome!” a kind voice greets him from over the bakery side’s counter, across the room. A young woman bounces with each step she takes, moving from one end to the other behind the glass display. In her arms (more aptly put, over her shoulders) are two hefty trays of baked goods. The woman, whose brown hair flutters with each movement, sets them on the counter and wipes her hands on a nearby rag.
“We actually take orders at the counter,” she chitters, wiggling her way past two other employees as she leaves her station, heading toward Shouto. Her cheeks, a rosy pink not unlike the shop’s overall coloring, pinch up into a bright smile. She holds out her hand. “Uraraka Ochako, I’m the owner here.”
Shouto, feeling obligated at this point, rises from his seat and offers his own hand, carefully cupping it around hers. “Shouto,” is all he says, eyes sliding from her face to her nametag. Above her printed name, in gold enamel, he reads GRAVITY CAKES.
“First time here?” Uraraka asks, tilting her head.
His gaze shifts back up to her face and Shouto expects he should feel a little embarrassed for openly staring at her chest--at least when taking her perspective on it. But the young owner just smiles at him, waiting for him to gather himself. With a slow start, Shouto clears his throat and nods, “Gravity Cakes?”
“Our specialty!” She motions to the counter, where a small potted succulent sits with a watering can hovering-- yes, hovering--over it. Shouto blinks-- that’s a cake? “That one’s for display, though, so it’s fake. We make cupcake versions too!”
His brain isn’t even caught up to his mouth when he says a simple, “Oh.”
Uraraka either doesn’t sense his dumbfounded stare or she’s chosen not to comment on it. Either way, she walks him to the counter and hands him a menu pamphlet. Unsurprisingly, the shop is called Gravity Cakes--Gravity Cakes & One For A Latte, from start to finish. The latter he reads aloud, quirking a brow.
“That’s… a long name,” he says.
Her smile turns wry. “Deku’s always been one for packing a punch.”
Shouto blinks past the name drop and instead allows his eyes to briefly roam over the menu before they flicker to the watch around his wrist. He jerks, nearly dropping the pamphlet, then catches himself, orienting himself toward the door. “Uh, sorry, I--”
“Busy day?” Uraraka says, no exasperation or bitterness in her voice. She looks all the more understanding. “Hey, have a good one, okay? I hope to see you around soon!” And she turns around, reaching over the counter for a white paper bag, scribbles of neat cursive ‘bagels x6 + str cc’ written in black marker. “Take this--on the house!”
“I… what?” The bag hangs between them and Shouto hesitantly reaches out, gently taking it from her. “But… isn’t this someone else’s order?”
Uraraka shakes her head and her short bob bounces. She pushes the bag more forcefully into his hand and steps back. “For to-go. Don’t worry about it. I’ve got another batch at the ready.” When his hand drops to his side, she raises her own, pressing it to her lips to hide what looks like a smile. “It was nice meeting you, Shouto!”
Shouto can’t help but quirk his lips in return. “Yeah. Me too.” Then, startling at the feeling of vibrations in his pocket--his phone, either his editor or his father, he thinks with dismay--he makes his way out of the shop, brushing past another employee with a sack of coffee beans in his arms.
The sun beats down on his head as he steps onto the sidewalk and he finds he already misses the cool ambiance of the bakery-café. He unfolds the flap of Uraraka’s bag and peeks inside.
Bagels--six of them--and strawberry cream cheese.
A small laugh rumbles in his throat and, admittedly, the rest of his walk back to the apartment is done with an extra giddiness.
Work. The constant cycle of revision, urging his editor to remember to leave Track Changes on, adding comments to certain sentences to indicate that, yes, the play on words here is clearly intentional and not a grammatical mistake--and on top of this, having to constantly swipe right when his father’s face lights up on his cellphone screen, rejecting the call: Shouto is tired.
Shouto is exhausted.
A leak in the ceiling (his upstairs neighbor had left the water running in their tub, probably having fallen asleep) rendered his laptop useless. Along with all the manuscripts on it.
Now, he’s one to make at least four backups of his work. The only problem--and entirely his fault, he admits--is that his most recent backup had been four days ago. Four days of lost work. Four days’ worth of writing even his editor hadn’t seen, so no email copies either.
This, according to his mental calendar, sets him back at least another week. A discouraging one.
And his phone buzzes again--a text message from Fuyumi, asking his whereabouts.
You should come home, Father asked me to call you, he said he wants to talk, just come home.
His own reply is cryptic: what home.
He’s been disowned, after all, and as far as he knows, this apartment he’d spontaneously signed a lease for is the closest thing to home. It’s a little ironic--his entire life, classmates and acquaintances bemoaned his wealth and status as the Todoroki heir. Now, twenty-three, he sits in his empty apartment with a lumpy futon, two seat cushions, a drenched laptop and a single box of possessions.
His stomach rumbles. He thinks back on the bagels and, pushing his pulsing migraine to the back of his thoughts (a difficult feat, considering his entire head hurts), he resigns himself to a walk outside. And maybe a visit to Gravity Cakes and… One For A Latte.
The name still sounds strange. He can’t be bothered to care, though.
Shouto locks up and slowly descends the metal stairway until he reaches the bottom floor. Then he makes a right and allows his legs to guide him to the little corner bakery. The sky--it’s a lot grayer than usual today, clouds not so much fluffy as bulky and threatening to rupture. He holds his hand to his forehead, a motion similar to a salute, and squints into the distance. Something cool hits his forehead.
From there, the water droplets come rushing down, pelting his hair and the back of his neck with stabbing little needles of cold, cold, that’s freaking cold.
He picks up his pace and rushes for the familiar pink-and-green building ahead. His brain, as if trying to beat back against the attacks of the rain, feels like it’s trying to puncture through his forehead. He nearly trips over his feet--and is it the rain distorting his vision? He just sees spots.
A red figure exits the shop and reaches up to pull some sort of awning over the store’s facade. Shouto sees, for a moment, the figure turn, say something, and reach out for him.
Oh. He’d said, “Hey, are you alright?”
Shouto grits his teeth. “Yeah,” he says, belatedly. And then the ground is flying upward.
First, he hears something beautiful.
It draws him in like a moth to a flame: a melodic sort of tune, and the gentle airy tapping of keys being pressed. Shouto thinks, Mother.
Memories of light. Of lazy mornings, strawberry-themed pajamas, sitting on the piano bench beside his mother as the echoing notes of Clair de Lune flew from her fingertips. Fuyumi and his brothers sitting somewhere nearby, talking in hushed tones over some strange gadget.
But this song is not Mother’s. It feels lighter, more whimsical, a little nostalgic.
Shouto’s heart clenches. He opens his eyes.
What he sees, when his sight adjusts, is red--red and teeth, and wide, wide eyes. He freezes, unsure, for a breath before he registers that there are hands connected to this person, and they’re shaking him by the shoulders.
“Um.” Shouto scrambles for something to say. “You can let go now.”
The person stops jostling him. Slowly, his hands retreat, too. “Whoa, man,” the person, with a passion for hair gel, it seems, smiles down at him, eyes crinkling at the corners, “Cold! We had a bonding moment.” He presses one hand to his chest, the other dramatically held out. “I cradled you in my arms!”
Blinking, Shouto swallows. “Um. Okay.”
“Kirishima, don’t overwhelm him!” a voice calls over their heads. The red-haired man--Kirishima, Shouto assumes, turns to look over his shoulder and gives a noncommittal shrug. Then--green. Green hair peeks just over Kirishima’s gelled updo before vibrant green eyes follow it. A hand, faintly scarred, is offered to him.
Shouto, caught unawares, takes the offered hand and rises into a sitting position. The world spins a bit, but he’s overall okay. The stiff, heavy clinginess of his clothes to his skin seems all the more apparent, however.
“I’m Midoriya Izuku,” the man says, kneeling down to his level.
“...Todoroki Shouto,” Shouto replies after a moment.
“Oh?” This time, the voice he hears is familiar-- “A full name this time?”
Uraraka leans down into his view, handing him a white towel. He takes it gratefully, throwing it over his hair to dry it off. As he finishes, Midoriya turns to Kirishima, waving toward one of the back doors, and the other man scurries off. Uraraka helps Shouto to his feet.
“You’ve got a pretty bad fever,” she says, arms folding over one another. “It’s died down some, but I don’t think you should go out--” she motions to a window, where a world of gray and dark and heavy downpour wreaks havoc outside, “--there for a while. At least, not until the rain lets up.”
Shouto’s throat hurts. “I don’t mean to be rude, but,” he starts, meeting Midoriya’s eyes this time, “Don’t you have an umbrella I could use?”
Midoriya opens his mouth, but Uraraka beats him to it. “We do. We’re just not letting you use it.”
This time, Midoriya speaks. “I--well, we, don’t really think you should be walking around like this.”
“Yeah,” Kirishima says, emerging from the back room, “Dude, you passed out on our doorstep. Not a good sign.”
“I live just around the corner,” Shouto says, frowning.
“You were coming from the apartment complexes, right?” Kirishima tosses a clump of fabric his way--a shirt and pajama bottoms. “If I’m right, then you couldn’t even make it from home to here without fainting.”
Shouto has nothing to say to that, so he doesn’t say anything. Uraraka just gives him a knowing smile and presses against his shoulder, ushering him aside. “C’mon, go change out of those clothes in our break room. Just trust us on this, okay, Shouto?”
He relents and does as he’s told, prying the wet layers off of his skin and wondering how, exactly, he stepped inside this shop for the second time.
When he returns to the front of the shop, Kirishima is back outside, flipping the ‘open’ sign to now read ‘closed.’ Uraraka leans against one of the chairs, broom in one hand, a book in the other. A blond man walks briskly across the room, past Shouto, shooting a brooding scowl his way before disappearing into the room connected to the bakery side of the store. Stepping out of what appears to be a storage closet, Midoriya carries a large sack of coffee beans toward the counter.
“Ochako,” he calls, slowly setting the bag down, “What if we have a leak somewhere? All these good beans and coffee grounds will go bad.”
“Deku,” she says, and Shouto takes a moment to recognize the name, “I checked. Eijirou checked. Even Kacchan made his rounds and checked--and you owe me for that one, he practically swore my face off!” Then, she glances to Shouto. “Enough about that--make yourself useful and feed our guest!”
Shouto steps forward, shaking his head. “It’s okay, you don’t have to--” But his stomach fails him and growls, earning him a stifled giggle from Uraraka.
“Deku,” she says, this time with an extra hidden meaning--Shouto can tell, he just senses it--in her tone. “Give him the Double Deku House Special!”
“Ooh,” Kirishima pipes up from behind him. “That’s a good one.”
Midoriya looks at Uraraka, gives her a long, intense stare, before, a sigh puffing through his lips, he nods and disappears into the back room. Shouto stands with an almost helpless look on his face.
“Have a seat, Shouto,” the young woman says, waving him over to the table beside her. As he slides onto a chair, she plops down in front of him. “So, what is it you do?” The unasked what made you overwork yourself rests between them.
“A writer.” Not a novelist, not yet. “Something went wrong and I lost a lot of progress on something,” he adds at her arched eyebrow.
“It’s not my place,” she says, then, “and I’m no doctor, but… you should take a good long rest. You look like you need it.”
Something twinges in Shouto’s heart. He buries it deeper, throwing dirt over the metaphorical hole in his chest that aches for some sort of feeling, interaction, attention, anything from anyone. Instead, he answers, “Okay.”
In just the perfect moment, Midoriya returns to them, this time holding a steaming plate and-- it smells divine.
“Curry and coffee?” Shouto asks, staring down at the aromatic objects before him. He turns to Midoriya, who looks back at him, and their eyes hold each other’s for a second too long. The man slowly sets a spoon by Shouto’s hand and their knuckles brush.
“Enjoy,” Midoriya says--and he’s gone, disappearing into the back room. Uraraka giggles behind her hand.
“That’s my partner in crime,” she says at his confused expression. “He owns the other half of this place--One For A Latte.”
That explains the Deku then. He takes a sip of the coffee and feels the urge to droop into his seat further. The flavor profile is mellow, but there’s something about it--a sweetness, a little acidity, that just appeals to his taste buds.
“He’s cute, isn’t he?”
Shouto nearly spits out his drink.
“What?” he asks, for lack of a better word. “You--what?”
Uraraka beams, sitting up straighter. “Deku!” She spreads her arms above her head, gesturing to the entirety of the room. “He actually decorated everything here. Isn’t it cute?”
That’s not what you just said.
Shouto just nods, spooning a good amount of curry before shoving it into his mouth. This tastes divine, too. A strangely satisfying combination.
When he finally clears his plate, Midoriya returns, taking the dishes away from him. He wears a small smile on his lips, and Shouto thinks he hears him humming that tune--the one he’d heard in his half-conscious delirium.
“Thank you for the meal,” Shouto says, looking up before the other man can fully escape. “It was wonderful.”
“Oh, no,” Midoriya stutters in turn, waving his hand back and forth (and giving Uraraka a heart attack when he almost drops the plate and mug). “Please help yourself!” Then he freezes, eyes wide, turning red. “I-I mean, it was no problem, I’m glad you liked it!”
He shoots Uraraka another one of those looks then scuttles off, leaving Shouto before he can form any response.
Uraraka, donning a sly smile, pushes out of her seat noisily. “Well, Shouto,” he hears her yawn, stretching, “looks like the rain’s let up. You’re good to go.”
Shouto looks out the window. The rain has stopped, the clouds have parted, and a nice stream of sunlight peeks through.
Huh. He supposes he feels a bit better, too.
When he finally submits his manuscript to his editor for one final revision (his wallet screams at him, at the huge dent purchasing a new laptop made out of it, at the intimidating rates editors went by for jobs--fair rates, he knows, but still daunting for a new writer), Shouto feels relief and the strange tingling of bliss all at once.
This, he deems, calls for celebration. So, in a right state of mind, he leaves his apartment for Gravity Cakes & One For A Latte.
His mood’s lifted. Earlier that day, his neighbor from above came down to apologize, handing him a gift fruit basket. Dinner, he knows, will be great. He won’t have to spend a dime.
His cellphone buzzes. That feeling vanishes.
I gave Father your address. Then: I’m sorry.
He turns off his phone. He doesn’t turn back to his apartment. No, he keeps on walking forward, eyes staring determinedly ahead.
The bakery-café pops out like a beacon in the sea. He enters and hears the bell jingling at his back. Someone startles in the corner of the room, seated at the piano. Midoriya, Shouto realizes.
“We’re clos--oh!” the other man starts, leaping to his feet. “Hello--Todoroki.”
Shouto turns around, and yes, the sign had been flipped to say closed. He’d barged in without even thinking. Quickly, he backtracks, heading toward the door.
“Wait!” Midoriya calls, chasing after him. “It’s alright! It was my bad for forgetting to lock up. We’re closed Fridays, by the way… but it’s a little late to tell you that.”
Shouto looks at his feet, standing there awkwardly, half in and half out of the door. “I’m sorry,” he says, partially turned to face Midoriya. “I just…”
Midoriya smiles, and it’s a smile that has Shouto seeing stars. It’s blinding. His stomach does flips. “Come on in.”
“Is Uraraka not here?”
“Just me today,” Midoriya says. “My turn to take stock, haha.”
They watch each other, not necessarily avoiding each other’s eyes, but it happens all the same. Then, jerking his head toward a table, Midoriya tells him to have a seat. Shouto does so for the third time, finding himself, once again, looking at the design of the room. Eventually, his gaze falls on the piano, where Midoriya sits, watching him.
“You know how to play?” he asks.
Midoriya nods. “I’m self-taught.” His hand glides over the piano’s surface fondly, a soft expression falling on his face. “I told Ochako I’m not that great at it, but she still went and got a piano for the café.”
“That was kind of her.”
Midoriya smiles, eyes distant. “I know.” Then, tilting his head, he fixes a warm gaze onto Shouto. “Would you like to hear?”
An inhale--Shouto’s breath catches in his throat. He nods.
That song--or, the song, as Shouto has come to call it--fills the entire room. It absorbs Shouto in its soothing melody, drawing his heart beat into a rhythm that matches the arrangement. He closes his eyes and he is home, with his mother, in that time and place where everything felt right and okay.
It’s not Clair de Lune.
“An original,” Midoriya says after the final notes ring out. “Just in case you were wondering.”
“It’s beautiful,” Shouto says, and he knows with every fiber of his being that he means it. Honest to god, he means it.
“Thank you,” Midoriya answers, turning to face him. “It’s called Morning Rain. I wrote it for my mom.”
Shouto holds his breath. Counts one, two, three, four, and exhales. His heart feels full.
“You don’t have to answer…” Midoriya pauses, thinking for a moment. “But, did something happen today? You looked a little upset.”
Strangely enough, his heart does not constrict as it normally does.
“It’s a little complicated,” he says. Then, clasping his hands together in front of him, he looks up at the ceiling. “I’m a writer.”
Midoriya nods, patient. “Ochako told me.”
So you’ve talked about me.
“I wasn’t supposed to be a writer, though.” His gaze returns to Midoriya. “I was groomed to be a doctor, to follow in my father’s footsteps. To save lives.”
Midoriya purses his lips.
Shouto shakes his head. “It’s not that I--it’s not that I didn’t want to save lives, no. It’s just…”
“Hey,” Midoriya’s voice becomes gentle, soothing. “It’s alright. I understand.”
“He’s controlled every aspect of my life. I just wanted to have something that was me. ”
Midoriya says nothing; he just continues listening. But his presence itself speaks volumes to Shouto. It tells him, you are you.
“So when I told him I was going to do this, he kicked me out. He disowned me in front of my sister. I didn’t care anymore--it felt right at the time.” His mother’s words, before she passed, flicker through his mind: I want you to be happy, Shouto.
Happy. Happy is free.
He looks at Midoriya. “I moved here a week ago. It’s been rough--starting out as a writer, even though I practically know nothing about it--but I’ve managed. I’ve been blocking my father out, but…”
He’s here. Shouto closes his eyes.
“He’s here. He’s coming to my apartment.”
Shouto opens his eyes again and blinks. Midoriya stands before him, one hand on each of Shouto’s shoulders. He opens his mouth, and then: “Don’t doubt yourself.”
Shouto’s jaw goes slack, his mouth parting in mid-question.
“You know what’s best for you, Todoroki. You’re not him, he’s not you. So he doesn’t know what’s best--the decision is yours, okay?” His voice almost cracks, so he rushes to clear his throat. “I’m just a stranger, I know. We don’t know anything about each other.” At this, Midoriya’s eyes dart around, as if he’s nervous. “I-I know springing this on you means nothing to you, because I don’t know what you’ve gone through or your experiences--”
“No,” Shouto says, softly, but it is enough to stop the other man. His heart aches. When was the last time he genuinely spoke to someone? “You’re wrong. It… means a lot, actually.”
Midoriya falls silent. He stares at Shouto, and Shouto stares back. Then, the embarrassment hitting them both mutually, they turn away from each other. Midoriya retreats a step.
“Um, well,” he says, scratching the back of his head, “Would you like anything to drink? Or eat? Since we’re at a café and all.”
The awkward air is thick, but still, Shouto realizes he is comfortable. The weight on his shoulders lessens considerably.
He looks at the menu pinned onto the wall, searching. It’s not there.
“I don’t see that dish,” he says, glancing at Midoriya. “The, uh, the Double Deku House Special.”
Midoriya lights up like a candle. Eyes wide, he appears to vibrate suddenly in nervous energy. “O-Oh! Actually…” he looks at Shouto through his bangs, which have fallen from where he tucked them over his ears. “That was never on the menu. Ochako was teasing me. The curry was, well, from home. I packed it. I’m glad you liked it.”
Shouto feels the heat swarm up to his neck before he even registers that he’s embarrassed. Averting his eyes, he just says a rather soft ‘oh’ and looks anywhere but at Midoriya. At last, unable to contain his flight or fight-- definitely flight--response, he turns to the door and casts a lingering look over to the other man. “I-I should get going. Really, thank you for listening to me.”
Midoriya beams. He has freckles, Shouto realizes, a smattering of them on the bridge of his nose. Then, a lot of them on both of his cheeks. He decides then and there that he likes them.
Shouto turns back around.
“Here--” Midoriya grabs a nearby stickynote, pulling a marker from his front pocket. Scribbling something hastily, he presses the paper into Shouto’s hand, face taking on an interesting hue of pink. “If you ever need help settling in, you can c-call me anytime. Or come here! Our doors are open to you any time, just help yourself.”
It’s amazing, he thinks--that he’s only been here for a week and nothing has felt more like home. He nods, and the tinkle of bells signals his departure.
Shouto leaves One For A Latte with the paper nestled securely in his pocket. Then he faces his father--and a little bit of himself as well.