Shouta pushed the window open, allowing a sharp, wet wind to blow into the room. Leaning his arms on the sill, he let his gaze wander over the rooftops that crowded together before him. One slanted up to right under his window, the tightly-packed, old houses standing haphazardly thrown together, built before a time when city planners had their watchful eyes on the streets. This block was no doubt a nightmare for anyone trying to plan an escape route during a villain attack, but it still made a good spot for Shouta to set up camp. From here, he’d only have to drive two stations to U.A. when he began teaching there at the beginning of the next term in four months’ time.
In retrospect, he was still not entirely sure how he had let himself be talked into giving teaching a try. Midnight had handed in his résumé, but that wasn’t an obligation. Still, at some point, while he was listening to her and Hizashi’s tell stories from school, a seed of something like interest had taken root in his mind. He had had a couple of sidekicks, after all, and Hizashi especially had had to listen to his complaints of all the failures of their education that he had been forced to readjust once the would-be heroes had fallen into his hands. If he did want a competent batch of pros to follow his own generation then the most direct way to go about it was to help straighten them out himself at the earliest opportunity.
Of course, aside from some hand-picked exceptions, Shouta was not overly fond of the company of people in general or children in particular, but that was a bridge he would cross when he came to it. If he was lucky, some modicum of reason could be appealed to or at least enforced with the classes, making them bearable. After all, he wouldn’t be teaching kindergarten.
Shouta took another breath of cold air before he stepped away, glancing at the half dozen boxes and disassembled pieces of furniture he had carried up the stairs. Now only the mattress was waiting for him in the tiny lobby where the people driving the moving van had left it. He grabbed his keys and pushed open his door, descending a narrow staircase with the edges of the steps made round and slippery by years of use.
The mattress leaned next to a slim row of dented steel mailboxes that had been nailed to the wall. Shouta was just considering how best to take a hold of it when he heard a voice from behind him.
“Can I help you with that?”
Shouta looked up towards the staircase and hoped that he had instinctively suppressed his first reaction, which was to flinch. The man who had spoken looked like a ghost that would haunt an old house like this in a half-baked horror movie. His cheeks were sunken and his eyes laid in hollows so dark that Shouta could only see the light overhead catch in his blue irises. His wild blond hair made him think the stranger might have recently put his finger in a power outlet. The suit he wore hung off his tall body like clothes off a hanger. Wouldn’t this skeletal creature be toppled by the weight of the mattress?
He had asked, though, which meant he should be sure he could handle it. Besides, Shouta could use a hand. The mattress was, though not too heavy, quite unwieldy.
“Yes,” he said, tilting the mattress a bit. “Can you grab on to the other end?”
The man did, wrapping his long, twig-like fingers around the bottom of the mattress. Carefully, he shifted it so that he could glance over his shoulder at the steps he was now walking up backwards.
Slowly, they navigated the mattress upwards around the narrow corners of the landings. Shouta held on tighter when they were on the second floor to halt the gaunt man’s movements.
“This is my place,” he said, nodding towards the door.
“Oh,” the man said, keeping the mattress steady as Shouta pulled the key out of his pocket and opened the door, “you’re right next to me.”
Shouta had no intention of making nice with the neighbours because he did not want them on his doorstep all the time, but he figured it would be impolite to ignore the attempts at conversation someone was making while he was helping him.
“I see. I’m Shouta Aizawa,” Shouta answered as he grabbed on to his end of the mattress again and they finished the last few steps of the journey, leaning the mattress against his living room wall.
“Toshinori Yagi,” Yagi said, looking around. “Do you need any more help?”
“No, the mattress was the last piece.”
“Oh,” Yagi halted, surprised. “That’s not a lot.”
Yagi wasn’t wrong, but Shouta had left nothing behind that he needed. There were six boxes with clothes and paperwork, a desk, a bed frame and a shelf in pieces, as well as a small fridge and a TV. His old sofa from two homes ago was still in Hizashi’s basement, where it’d be collected from during the weekend. A kitchen with cupboards came with the rental.
“I never liked clutter,” he said. “Most of it is from my office.”
“Right. You’re a pro hero, aren’t you?”
Now Shouta was the one who could not keep the look of surprise from his face. Though neither his real name nor occupation were a secret, the way he conducted his business meant even the frighteningly obsessive hero fans only ever knew his alias, if that.
Noticing Shouta’s expression, Yagi raised both his hands.
“Ah, sorry, I know you try to keep under the radar. Don’t worry, I won’t spread it around the house. It’s just that I’m in the business – not as a hero, of course. I’m All Might’s private secretary.” He ran a hand through his mop of hair. “I don’t usually tell people outside of work, but since you’re also a hero, I figured it makes sense. We might meet, after all. I didn’t want it to seem like I was keeping secrets.”
Slowly, Shouta nodded his head. So far he had been spared working close enough with All Might that they had to compare notes on the paperwork they were going to hand in. All Might’s missions included things like rampaging giant quirk users or collapsing buildings. Though Shouta had met him briefly during a few large-scale rescues in the city, the kind of villains and incidents they were involved with did not overlap very much. Shouta, for his part, was grateful for that. All Might’s missions often ended up spectacles whether he wanted it or not (and it certainly didn’t seem to bother him). That was not Shouta’s style.
“I imagined All Might’s secretary would be flashier,” he said, looking the man up and down in his drab grey suit and white shirt. He’d seen All Might’s office in Roppongi before – the gaudy monument to the legend that was All Might was hard to miss if you were anywhere in a few mile radius. Even the receptionists in there were dressed up in bright primary colours which Shouta would have considered a special form of workplace violence, but of course these people lapped it up.
“Well, I don’t really have any representative functions,” Yagi said, rubbing the back of his neck with an awkward smile. “Anyway, it’s nice to make your acquaintance. Since you brought all your things, are you going to run your office from here?”
“That’s the plan,” Shouta said with a shrug. “I’m going to start teaching at U.A. this spring, so there’s no reason to keep up an actual office, even if I’m still going to participate in solving incidents sometimes.”
In truth, he’d never had both, his own home and his own office, because it had seemed like a waste of time and money to him to travel between two places when he spent most of his time at work, anyway. Instead, he had designated a storeroom in his office as his own, pushed mattress and fridge in there and thus lived in a chamber that wasn’t much smaller than what most people rented in Tokyo. All that had changed now was that he’d shifted gears in his living space in favour of his private life again, since the bulk of his work would be done in a place where he couldn’t also live.
“You’ll be a teacher? That’s great!” Yagi said like he actually believed it.
“We’ll see,” Shouta answered laconically. He could still cancel if the brats were too annoying to handle.
Faced with his lack of enthusiasm, Yagi seemed to be at a loss for how to continue the conversation for a moment.
“I’m sure it will be fine,” he settled, still smiling brightly, perhaps under the impression that Shouta needed an ego-boosting encouragement.
When Shouta didn’t deign to answer the platitude and the moment of silence had stretched to an uncomfortable length, Yagi took a step towards the door.
“Uh, I have to go to the supermarket. Do you know the closest one yet?” he asked Shouta.
Shouta had often lived food cart to food cart to begin with; he hadn’t even had a kitchen to cook in his last ‘apartment’ and he hadn’t truly missed it, either. His mini-fridge had stored all the items that he needed on a day-to-day basis, but of course he had emptied it for the move.
“If you have time, I can show you,” Yagi offered.
Once more he smiled and Shouta found that it was relatively easy to get used to his face, after all. Though at first the dark eyes were unsettling, they did add to the starved look which made him resemble a mangy stray, vaguely pitiable and not especially dangerous. Plus, he did have an honest smile you could appreciate once you got over the fact that it seemed to stretch over nothing but bone.
Shouta checked for his wallet and keys and then nodded at Yagi, allowing him to lead the way out of the apartment. Together, they walked back down the stairs. Shouta looked at the smudges on the wall, about the height of children’s hands, and hoped that family didn’t live above him or at least that the dirt was old enough that the kids had grown up by now.
Outside, the narrow street already laid in shadow now at five in the evening, the pale winter sun hiding behind the houses. Bicycles lined the road and plastic lanterns with electric lights dangled in the wind before the entrances of small bars and convenience stores.
“What made you decide to become a teacher?” Yagi asked after they had walked down the street and taken a turn into an alley just broad enough to stand abreast. Being so close to him, Shouta had to tilt his head up to look him in the eyes.
“I had grievances with the way my sidekicks were taught, so I figured the best place to start was where they are educated. We have too many so-called pros on the streets who think that weaselling their way into the last places in a hero licence exam actually qualifies them as full-fledged heroes. It’s dangerous to them and others.”
Halfway through his explanation, an unhealthy, deep-seated cough had taken hold of Yagi. He held a tissue in front of his mouth and crumpled it up after.
“Ah, you’re right. Preparing people for what they face in the real world is complicated work,” Yagi agreed, still a little choked.
“It’s also about keeping out those who don’t belong in this world altogether.”
“Everyone deserves a chance.”
“One, not twenty. By that time they might have already gotten in serious trouble.”
His guide gave a brief huff of a laugh.
“I have a feeling you’ll be a teacher students fear before tests.”
“Tests aren’t there to make anybody feel good.”
“But it’s important to build confidence, too,” Yagi argued.
The small, winding alley had led them straight onto the parking lot behind a Super Yuki chain store stuffed into a drab, flat-roofed building. The wind the walls had shielded them from blew into their faces, carrying drizzle so fine Shouta only saw a pervasive mist.
“If they have no abilities to be confident in, that would be lying to them,” he gave back.
“They could learn… It’s a school, after all.”
The logic did not seem to escape Yagi fully, judging by the wavering in his voice, which was good to know. Shouta didn’t think he could have continued talking to someone who had been robbed of his last shred of reason by the unending, unrealistic positivity that All Might’s brand stood for; but it seemed Yagi hadn’t swallowed that kool-aid whole.
Once they were inside the store under bright white LED lights shining down on shrink wrap and neon-coloured packages, each of them broke off onto their own trips down the lanes. Shouta grabbed some ready-made onigiri, a couple of water bottles, a beer, eye drops and a few apples that would have to serve as his vitamin source for the week. When he found Yagi again, he was contemplating an avocado with a few dodge marks. Clamped under his arm he was carrying protein bars and cat food.
“Do you have a cat?” Shouta asked, interest suddenly piqued.
Yagi placed the avocado down before he led the way to the counter.
“Sort of, I guess.” He smiled. “He didn’t start out as my cat. I don’t think he belongs to anyone. He comes by most nights, though. I took him to the vet once, which I don’t think he has forgiven me for yet, but since it’s cold now he will still hang out at my place.” Yagi turned to look at him. “Do you like cats?”
“Sure,” Shouta said, perhaps making an attempt to sound more indifferent than he was.
Yagi placed his groceries down on the conveyor belt. Peeking out from under a leek and a few cans of wet food was some over-the-counter pain medication. Shouta didn’t comment. The man looked like more than a few things were wrong with him, so this made sense.
“You can have some of my treats. I’m sure he won’t mind having someone else to feed him around the neighbourhood.”
After they had paid, they stepped back out into the cool afternoon. The biting wind that had picked up now howled about them in the alley and blew sheets of fine raindrops into Shouta’s face. Next to him, Yagi ducked his head, the wind swiping back his shaggy blond hair.
“Hopefully there won’t be too many villain attacks tonight. This is not great weather to do hero work in,” Yagi said as he unlocked the front door for them.
“Rain makes for good protection with the right quirks. Of course, obfuscation is not your employer’s style,” Shouta noted.
Yagi smiled lopsidedly.
“That’s true,” he admitted as they trudged up the stairs, leaving wet bootprints.
Yagi stopped in front of his own door. Reaching into his bag, he took a small plastic bag of cat treats and handed it to Shouta before he put his key in the lock.
“It was nice to meet you,” Yagi said.
“You too,” Shouta replied and found that he didn’t have to lie. His stance on neighbourly involvement in his life hadn’t changed in an hour, but he could imagine greeting this guy in the hallway. He was quiet and agreeable, someone he might allow to intrude at the fringes of his life.