Fat Gum plucks a single mussel from his bowl and sips the soup straight out of its shell. Then he uses his chopsticks to pick out the black and orange mussel proper and pops it into his mouth.
Tamaki takes a bite of his own dish. The brown sauce coats his tongue, rich and savory, slightly sweet with a sour tang as the texture of the octopus pieces in the dish catch in his teeth, firm and chewy. By his left hand is a bowl of fried chicken. To his right, is a bowl of lightly seasoned steaming rice.
A salad sits in the middle of the table like a reminder that even if you’re an elite hero you still need fiber. It’s mainly iceberg lettuce, but there are sliced cherry tomatoes, cucumber wedges, and pieces of carrots cut into the shape of stars tossed into it and mixed with a lemon vinaigrette that Fat Gum makes with fresh lemons from the little lemon tree he nurtures on his balcony.
Eating with his mentor is one of his favorite parts about his internship.
“The salad looks very good.” Tamaki says.
“You should try some! I promise it tastes as good as it looks.”
Tamaki makes a face but scoops a bit of salad into an empty bowl and takes a bite. It is good, the vinaigrette is a burst of flavor, but Tamaki has never and will never be a fan of salads.
“When I leave, I’m never going to eat another salad again.”
Fat Gum laughs. It’s not a mean laugh, it is mostly just laughter for laughter’s sake, loud and booming in the mostly empty space of his hero office. His grin is wide, and it invites most bystanders to join along in his laughter, because if you’re laughing with Fat Gum then you are a step above laughing alone.
The thing is, Fat Gum’s always smiling face and squishy exterior make him a fan favorite. He’s a working class hero, big and protective of his sector, and well liked because he brings good business to local eateries. It’s not wrong to say that Tamaki is nothing like him. But when Tamaki leaves Fat Gum’s office as an intern for the last time, he hopes he will have grown into some of Fat Gum’s quiet confidence, a belief in himself that allows him to come through on the other side of a tough situation with his self worth intact.
“Ah, you’re not leaving yet! We’ve still got lots of work do before the school year ends.”
Third grade was scary for all of the two hours that he didn’t know Mirio.
After that first meeting, every memory Tamaki had of his childhood was filled with the summer sun, the melt-on-your-tongue sweetness of a shared anpan, the pinprick hurt of straining his limbs to manifest his quirk, Mirio’s megawatt smile, and Mirio’s big braying laugh.
It’s not that his parents don’t feature in his memories. Their constant presences in his life were like the earth, the trees, the careful wind that ruffled his hair and the cool river that shaped him with a guiding hand, present and appreciated, but for Tamaki ages seven through thirteen, Mirio had always been the brightest thing in any room. Mirio had been the sun.
They had probably told each other stories of Mirio running around on rescue crews to phase through buildings to help injured civilians and of Tamaki learning to manifest more and more fantastic creatures although they had never seemed to figure out what he’d do with them. The details of their sessions of make-believe have been blurred by time, marker ink in the face of a tidal wave, and all he has left are tender feelings from another place.
“I can’t believe we’re not a commuter campus anymore. I wonder how the dorms will be arranged. How will we eat at night? The cafeteria is only open for so long.” Mirio punctuates his questions with a languid stretch and Tamaki swears he hears the seams of Mirio’s uniform shirt beg for mercy. “Hey, if we room next to each other, can I phase into your room whenever?”
Tamaki doesn’t bother hiding the smile that spreads across his face. “Careful,” Tamaki jokes. “Twenty one questions was always Hadou’s game.”
“Hey, you’ve got a little something.” Mirio points at his own cheek. “Want me to get it for you?”
Mirio’s hand reaches out to cup his face and a thumb sweeps his cheek. The well of his palm had fit so neatly along the curve of Tamaki’s jaw. Tamaki imagines that a phantom warmth lingers against his skin even as Mirio folds the grain of rice into a clean handkerchief.
“Thanks, Grandpa,” Tamaki teases. Who even still carries a handkerchief with them everywhere?
The rest of the walk to campus is uneventful. Mirio continues to throw out wilder and wilder scenarios about what it will be like to board on campus and Tamaki humors him. He plays along, lobbying back more and more ridiculous answers until they’re laughing hard when they reach the front gates.
“And if,” Mirio laughs, “if the shower drain ever clogs up you should—”
“Are you saying I should reach down there? Clear things up?”
Mirio stops laughing long enough to compose himself so his expression is especially grave. “A hero does things for the greater good, Tamaki,” he says in his most serious voice.
That only serves to make Tamaki laugh harder. By the time he and Mirio part ways on the third floor, Tamaki only hurts a little from laughing so hard. Tamaki walks into the classroom a little more subdued now that Mirio has gone, but secure in his daily routine. He nods to a few others as he makes his way to his seat.
“Good morning, Amajiki!”
“Hadou.” He nods and takes his customary seat next to her.
“Can you believe we’re going to dorm on campus? I wonder what the food will be like. How do you feel about communal showers at school? Did you bring laundry detergent?”
“You know,” Tamaki says slowly, thoughtful as he scans the classroom and takes in the familiar faces. “I think, we’ll be ok. Things will work out.”
“How optimistic of you Amajiki! That’s so rare. Did you have a good weekend? Did something special happen?”
When it comes to Hadou it is best to listen until she has completed her barrage of questions and only answer as the ones you feel are relevant to the spirit of her inquiries. Sometimes she likes to ask questions she doesn’t really care for the answers to just because she wants to see if you’ll say more than you intend to. She’s a sweet, curious girl, but she’s far from airheaded. Tamaki likes that about her.
“No, not really.”
“That’s too bad.”
It gets to Tamaki sometimes that silence can be its own answer to a question. He thinks back to how he deflected one of Mirio’s off handed questions earlier this morning, and wonders what that says about him, what Hadou would think that would say about him if she had been there. Hadou’s silence now seems to speak volumes but she doesn’t do more than smile at Tamaki with her usual brightness and turn to the front of the classroom with Midnighter steps up to the podium.
“Would someone please help me pass out a map of your campus housing?”
It’s not too surprising that all the third years end up in one dorm building.
Even though there are two classes with different homerooms, the class sizes are small and don't justify building two smaller dormitories when it seems like the dorms have been built with a standard size in mind.
It’s only nine at night, but the common areas and showers are supposed to be clear. The hallways should only be used for trips to the bathrooms at the end of the hall, and everyone is supposed to be in their own rooms. Lights out is at ten. Tamaki has never been to military school, but he imagines that it must be like this.
Mirio phases into Tamaki’s room just after curfew begins.
Tamaki sighs and goes to rummage through his dresser for a change of clothes. He throws a shirt and a spare set of sweatpants at Mirio before going back to his desk to try and finish his art history reading.
Nudity kind of became a non-issue when you've been around Mirio as long as Tamaki has been. Tamaki was there the first time Mirio phased through a wall and countless times since. It’s a familiar inconvenience that he’s generally prepared for. Mirio only has access to his hero suit when he’s on heroic business. There’s nothing particularly heroic about sneaking into Tamaki’s room after curfew.
Tamaki remembers Miro’s growth spurt, the way it had stretched out his frame seemingly overnight, making his ribs stand out a little more and the sharp edges of his hips grow sharper still. Miro has filled out since then, and he makes Tamaki’s loosest shirt look snug as he pulls it down over his stomach. The pants barely reach his ankles, and Tamaki despairs.
“What are you working on?” Mirio says in a low voice. This late at night, sitting at the foot of Tamaki’s bed with his legs crossed, Mirio looks very subdued. He’s tired, Tamaki thinks. It feels like a secret. Mirio is only ever like this around Tamaki.
“Just some reading for tomorrow. Midnighter is really excited about contemporary costume design. She thinks it’s really interesting that UA allows its first years to design their own costumes.”
“What do you think?” Mirio says even as he flops back onto Tamaki’s bed, limbs all star fished out with the certainty of his welcome. Tamaki regards him over the top of his book and then turns in his chair and reads a passage aloud.
Mirio isn’t a bad student. He’s a determined person in general and likes learning new things, but school never seems to hold his attention. He’s always been antsy in class, and in the lower grades it was easier for him to fall back on the idea that he’d be a great hero today to make up for his lackluster academic performance, but at UA, his general apathy for the classroom is even more obvious because his mood in the classroom is always a 180 from how he is in the field, lit up and excited. Tamaki does his best to make sure at least Mirio is aware of what they're covering in class.
It’s not a hardship to read to Mirio. He always has something interesting to remark about the culture of heroes, and tonight they talk easily about the changes in trends that delineate the Silver Age from the Golden Age.
“Does it ever scare you that we’re witnessing the end of an Age?”
Mirio shakes his head and sits up. His hair sticks up in every direction, vectors radiating outward from a central point, and Tamaki wants to run his hands through that mess, guide them all to a single direction. It’s a familiar feeling he doesn’t know what to do with. “I’m not afraid. We can handle it. All Might could be gone now, but he’ll always be a part of our history.” Here, Mirio points at the textbook in Tamaki’s hand and smiles hesitantly.
“‘Never fear for I am here.’ Right?”
Tamaki wakes up to a hand on his shoulder.
He’s almost sure he fell asleep at his desk reading by the light of his battery powered reading lamp, but Mirio must have carried him to the bed because he can feel the soft press of his pillow against his cheek.
“Hey, I gotta go, but I set your alarm for a little later. Go back to sleep.” Mirio says. His voice is barely more than a low murmur that Tamaki can feel echo in his own chest.
It’s early enough that the room is lit in hazy blue and gray, like coastal fog or a plume of exhaust. You could even mistaken it for the second someone’s breath freezes on a cold winter day. There are moments, when he catches Mirio looking in his direction a beat too long, when their hands brush and no one pulls away. Tamaki tries not to look too deeply into those moments. What are these seconds anyway in the grand scheme of things? A single breath dissipating with the wind.
Tamaki still feels half asleep when he reaches out to draw Mirio down. He telegraphing every action, his touch light and easy, but Mirio follows him all the way down until they’re sharing the same breath. “Is this okay?” Mirio whispers. Morning breath isn’t attractive, but on Mirio it isn’t unattractive. Tamaki barely notices, the rush of blood in his ears is so loud as he nods. This time it’s Tamaki’s hand cradling the curve of Mirio’s cheek, bringing his face down to breathe him in. The kiss starts off slow, barely more than a brush of lips. Mirio doesn’t back away, so Tamaki doesn’t either. He pulls Mirio back into the bed to try to satisfy the urge to be even closer.
Tamaki only pulls back when it feels like his lungs are about to give out for lack of air.
“Good morning,” he grins.
“Don’t say it,” Mirio replies. His answering smile is brilliant. It feels like everything in the room has shifted a few degrees in some unnameable direction. Everything is a little different now, with Mirio in his bed, his face cradled in Tamaki’s hands like something precious. Everything seems to make more sense.
Tamaki shakes his head and feels his nose brush Mirio’s. He can’t stop grinning even as he clears his throat and summons up the spirit of Present Mic.
“Today’s forecast is looking like it’s going to be...Plus Ultra!”
Tamaki can still hear Mirio laughing even after he phases back into his own room to get dressed for the day.