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After Dinner (Hungry)

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Meal #1: Hayashi Rice

Toshinori wouldn't call himself a chef by any means – his meager skills were geared toward producing food that met his needs, none of which required techniques more outrageous than stirring and cutting and attention to detail – but for a man who subsisted on pre-packaged breads and juice packs for years, he may as well have been.

Aizawa's standards for food were pitifully low, which wasn't to say he didn't enjoy food. He did. A lot.

He was simply too rational to prioritize specific vehicles of calories over the calories themselves, which found him ordering out more often than not, kitchen empty of so much as a measuring spoon. Toshinori fixed that quickly enough and, after his fretting about Aizawa's poor eating habits was met with answering demands of self-care, cooking at his coworker's apartment became a weekly, then a thrice-weekly event.

Tonight, it was Aizawa's favorite dish, hayashi rice. The dish itself was simple: beef and onions in a pungent red wine sauce, a thick and tangy slurry far too intense for the man pleasantly stirring it, waiting for it to thicken.

Aizawa smelled it happening – not a challenge, considering how small the apartment and how very large the smell – and rose from his grading on the couch to pointedly lurk around the kitchen, impatient for it to finish. Reaching out under the thin pretense of checking the progress of the rice in the fully automated cooker, Toshinori watched him from the corner of his eye with a silly, gleeful feeling as powerful as it was entirely new to him.

A satisfied smile was fully plastered on his face by the time Toshinori's love of several months wandered up behind him and looped a strong, warm arm around his side. His good side.

“Hey,” Aizawa grunted, mouth against his shoulder. A huff of air tickled the small hairs on the back of Toshinori's long neck and he shivered minutely, beyond pleased at this entire evolving ritual and the unexpected gift he could give such a hard-working hero.

“Hm?” he hummed innocently, unable to stop smiling even as he knew he was in for some kind of tussle. But then, wasn't that his specialty?

“You don't have to do this,” Aizawa told him in low tones. The underground hero plucked churlishly at Toshinori's voluminous shirt-sleeve, grumbling, “I know you can't eat it.”

There were remarkably few things to say about what he could eat, most of them uncomfortable, so Toshinori just shook his head.

“It's my pleasure, Aizawa-kun,” he said instead, the honest truth, and he said it again whenever they both sat down and Aizawa glanced up at him one more time, with the plate steaming floridly in front of him and his spoon raised. Giving him one last chance to regret all this, or say just this once or never again. Which was, of course, impossible.

The older hero waved him on, taking a bite of his own lightly steamed vegetables and rice as if to assure Aizawa he wasn't going without. As a kind of last minute defense before accepting the gift for what it was, the only thing Aizawa said was doesn't make a bit of sense, and then he dived in and hardly stopped to breathe until the plate was emptied and gleaming with traces of oil.

Home-cooked calories obtained in full, Aizawa sat back and sighed and hummed and absently licked his spoon. When Toshinori laughed at the display, simultaneously deep and shy, the younger hero gave him a wry look, briefly tonguing the spoon in his mouth, like maybe he wasn't quite satisfied for the night. Toshinori went as red as the merlot he had bought for the sauce and wordlessly poked at his plate.

For Aizawa, maybe the idea that someone could cook something just for him when they had exclusionary needs didn't make much sense, but for Toshinori, the reason was right in front of him, clear as day.

Meal #2: Tamagoyaki, Sliced Vegetable Maki, Cooked Salmon Onigiri and Mochi (store-bought, strawberry).

“Ohhhh man, Yagi-san! I can smell that from here! You're the best!”

Toshinori turned as Mic loped toward him, the abandoned school hallway recording his every booted step. The veteran hero raised his free hand in greeting, impressed that Yamada was basically on time to make their exchange, but then again, he seemed like a reward-motivated individual.

“Look at you! Not even coming on the stakeout and you've already saved the day.”

Grinning from headphone to headphone, Yamada reached for the bento bundles with greedy, wiggling fingers and Toshinori surrendered the stack with a mild chuckle. One sported a simple blue handkerchief with little black cats, the other, bright pink and orange swirls with music notes. When it debuted on a similar stakeout that Toshinori had agreed to make food for, Hizashi had squealed in joy and insisted it was proof he was being adopted (Aizawa disagreed violently) and the memory still made Toshinori smile. The Voice Hero's enthusiasm was singularly difficult to resist, and why would he?

“Whoooo, these are heavy! Man! What magazine did he buy you from, huh?” Yamada was babbling, knocking his green shades down his nose to stare up at the older hero with another indulgent grin. “He cleans, he cooks, he teaches, he saves the world! Is there anything you can't do, big guy?”

“Still working on the teaching part, I think!” he said with a laugh, waving his hand and clearing his throat. “In any case, it should be enough to comfortably last you the night. I opted for cooler foods, since I didn’t know how long you two would be out. There are tamagoyaki, fresh vegetables, rice and … oh, onigiri. I hope you like cooked salmon.”

Toshinori flushed some as he tried to remember all the little sections and what he'd filled them with, or the ugly little cat face he'd foolishly assembled on Aizawa's pad of rice in nori silhouette.

It felt good, to do something so simple and playful and personal for someone. It felt … intimate. And nice. A kind of nice he didn't know he was allowed to have.

“My dude, I worship salmon in any form,” Hizashi gushed as they began to walk toward the front of the school, his fingers already prying past the neat bento wrappings.

“Tell you the truth, I never thought Eraser would land himself someone who took care of him like you do. It’s really amazing. Like, I don’t even worry about him on an hourly basis like usual! You can’t believe the load you’ve taken off my mind, Yagi-san. I might even take up a new hobby!”

Toshinori laughed quietly, about to offer that he thought 3 jobs was more than enough for any hero, but Yamada was already chewing noisily on one of the strawberry mochi he had excavated from his box, fingers dusted white and awkwardly pinched in the air as he mumbled around the sticky sweet.

“But yannoe what’s even more incredible? The fact that Shou takes care of you right back. Like, never in my life have I known that guy to stick his neck out for anyone on the domestic front,” Mic continued adamantly, shrugging and gesturing so the bento boxes wobbled dangerously. “I mean yeah, sure, he’ll take a bullet for you any day, but it’s like pulling teeth to get him to bring me something from the caf, yeah? He just doesn’t work that way, doesn’t think that way. Never has. But with you, he’s all checking on you, and asking, and offering, like what? Who the heck is this?”

Yamada erupted in laughter, now gleefully digging into Shouta's box with clear intent to poach his dessert.

“It’s like I hardly recognize our grumpy cat anymore, and that’s all you, big guy! You tamed him, turned him into a real dignified house kitty when we thought he was gonna end up in an alley somewhere! We should give you a medal! Just, like, no returns, yeah? Ha!”

Caught up in his excitement, Yamada didn’t notice Toshinori's gait slowing as he prattled on; the older hero's gaze dropped to the floor word by word, as distant as if staring to the center of the Earth. When the Voice Hero reached the front door, he whooped and bounded back and grabbed Toshinori, rattling him by the shoulders with another round of thanks. Yamada cheekily promised to send him poorly-lit snapchats of the two of them enjoying their bento, flashed a sticky-fingered V, then escaped at a run to join Shouta on whatever rooftop he’d chosen for their stakeout.

The front door closed and Toshinori didn’t move from the empty hall for quite some time, big, empty hand clenched into his oversized dress shirt.

Meal #3: Shoyu Ramen with Mushrooms, Molten Egg, Green Onions and Pork Belly

It was impossible not to notice. Even for a skittish person, Yagi had been on edge lately.

There was a lot going on as they prepared 1-A for examinations, but Shouta found that their unusually easy rapport had faltered noticeably while the paperwork had not. In fact, they were ahead of schedule on that front, which should have been a great relief. It wasn't.

It just wasn't, and his bed was more and more empty as the week progressed, the space between his and Yagi's visits widening and filling only with mumbled excuses.

The older hero just wasn't reaching for him nearly as often, which annoyed Shouta far more than it should have. He'd gotten (indecently) used to being touched and teased and playfully clutched as soon as the classroom door closed and they were properly alone, away from duty and nosy kids. The realization that he could relax and breathe around Yagi came coupled with the inverse realization, that too long apart from him left him stifled and tense. He just didn't like the way he felt at the moment, even if the terror implicit in such creeping and unwitting codependence hadn't quite hit him yet.

He was a solution-oriented man, as a matter of habit. The disruption was more than a day, he judged, but no more than a week. Shouta's timeline for unresolved interpersonal issues solidly clocked out at a week, so as they settled into their 3rd and final dinner on Thursday, he figured it was time to ask.

Unfortunately or fortunately, Yagi beat him to it.

“I'm sorry to bring this up the night before a test, but I'm not sure if there's ever a good time.”

Shouta looked up from his steaming bowl, abruptly aware of the silky noodles hanging heavily from his mouth when he found Yagi looking at him across the table with a twisted face, an entirely new expression that he couldn't name. For a man as transparent as glass and honest as they came, that was cause for alarm. Shouta clipped his noodles where they hung, blinking as the remainder splashed back into the bowl and sent up a wave of rich, salty broth scent.

He waited, unchewing.

“I don't think it's wise,” Yagi began in dull tones, and suddenly all Shouta could see was his big, craggy hand trembling on his frosted water glass, “for us to continue like this.”

Like what?

Shouta stared. Yagi ducked and clearing his throat, not looking at him.

“This isn't your fault. I blame myself. With the enormous responsibility on us as educators and mentors, never mind in the same facility …” the older hero trailed off, wide brow furrowed, and his long fingers toyed with his tie for a moment. He took another deep, rattling breath.

“I underestimated the amount of time and energy and dedication that truly embracing this role would take. I was unprepared and, going forward, I … want to approach this as professionally as possible. For the children, and their education, and to that end, I need to focus and put aside any personal distractions.”

Yagi fairly choked on the last word, adam's apple jumping piteously.

Shouta stared across the small table for what felt like years, broth spoon hanging motionless in his fingers. Yagi stared into his own bowl, hands in his lap. The words entered one ear and Shouta's stunned brain sifted as best it could, separating the cloying formality and double-edged self-effacement and shaking out what, if anything, remained.

He chewed and swallowed. There was only one conclusion to draw from the evidence given, no matter how many passes he made.

And the older hero clearly wasn't going to say it, so he had to.

“You want to end it,” Shouta said with a calmness he didn't feel in the slightest.

What did he feel? Too early for that, yet. Too sudden. There was the warmth of the broth in his stomach, yes, and then something cold and sinking at the edges. Something dangerous but distant. Something he would deal with later, that he was sure of, when the word distraction had lost its sting.

“I think it's best for everyone involved,” Yagi affirmed gravely, nodding so deeply atop the table that his flyaway bangs almost went into his soup. Stupid. Then he straightened, and it was Shouta's turn to talk again.

“Fine,” he said. Because what else was there to say?

He really, really wished Yagi had waited until the end of dinner before springing this on him. It was common courtesy, yes, but mostly Shouta would have preferred to have been spared the sickening impression that the older hero couldn't wait to get it out and get out and leave.

They sat and ate. They sat and finished. The ramen, previously a bowl of rich and savory sunshine, abruptly lost its flavor. Shouta chewed the perfectly cooked noodles longer than he had to, avoiding the sliver of fatty pork Yagi always hid in there for him alongside the soft boiled egg and mushrooms, despite never touching meat himself.

Maybe if he didn't eat it, maybe if he methodically drained the bowl in this awkward cold silence and left it there among the dregs, then always wouldn't turn into never. But really, he reasoned, always was a romanticized fallacy. What they had was only a few months, without a joint living space. Hardly any amount of time to establish joint habits or even test true dependability.

So, they were separating. How hard could it be to go back to normal?

Meal #4: Honeyed Yogurt with Granola and Fresh Summer Berries

It was fucking impossible to be normal.

Maybe there was some truth to Yagi's reasoning and it was a terrible idea, dating faculty – because the same thing that had tangled the two unlikely souls together in the first place was the thing that made Yagi impossible to avoid. Just the way the older man instantly turned from him in the hallway, head low, was enough to make his blood boil and threatened to crack Shouta's chest open with everything he told himself he wasn't feeling.

Food was an issue. That, he would admit.

Bereft, the homeroom instructor aggressively, helplessly went back to energy jellies and every cardboard thing he'd survived on before, ordering in cheap food whenever possible, but the damage was done. He was spoiled. Maybe his body and age had hatefully, magically caught up with him in the space that they'd been together, but Yagi had effectively poisoned him with healthy food and now his stomach turned at the plasticky scent that accompanied dry, mealy prepackaged curry buns. Coffee once again became a set meal.

It had been maybe two weeks, and Shouta was fucked up. He knew that, on some level, and was angry at himself for it, but all he could do was keep working and hiding himself away from perilous social situations so that Nemuri and Hizashi wouldn't notice and ask. Force him to devastate them, basically, because the two nosy numbskulls were possibly more invested in their unexpected relationship than he was.

Definitely more than Yagi had been, it seemed … in spite of expectations built by soft looks and a legendary heart. That fact angered him, somehow, and anger tasted so different when undercut with a sense of betrayal that five months hadn't even fucking earned. How was he being so singularly stupid about this, especially when Shouta thought he would be the one to end things if it came to that?

Shouta wasn't ready to divulge any part of it with anyone in his life and didn't have a timeline for when he would be, so the anxiety that accompanied every heinously early arrival on campus only ratcheted higher when Shouta slouched into the UA staff lounge at 6 am and found he wasn't alone.

Hizashi was seated at the staffroom table, legs spread, back bent and snarfing down something with a spoon as he flipped through a high-gloss trashy magazine. As soon as the door slid open and hit the opposite side of the frame, his best friend turned and the Radio Hero's face lit up in a way that sadly, sourly, made Shouta's charred heart sink. Hizashi patted the chair next to him, swallowing audibly.

“Hey! Good morning, my dude, take a seat. We've got breakfast!”

“What's this?” Shouta asked dully, approaching the table and its contents – people and food alike – warily.

“Fruit and yogurt stuff. Looks weird and sloppy, tastes great. Probably American,” he yammered cheerily, far too alert for that hour of the morning. “Yagi-san came by with a big bowl of it last night – this morning? – and told me to share, which I didn't exactly promise to do.”

In direct opposition to his words, Hizashi was already ladling some into a bowl and set it down in front of Aizawa when he took a seat, zombie-like. Hizashi smacked the table sharply.

“Eat up! Growing heroes gotta get their first meal of the day!”

Aizawa just stared at the bowl, hand on the spoon.

It was one of the few things Toshinori routinely made for breakfast. The smell was familiar, tangy and honeyed, the berries shining through the creamy white of the yogurt in warm reds and shy blues. It looked like summer in a bowl, refreshing and pure, and something like panic soaked through Shouta's dry insides.

Yagi cooked when he was stressed. Upset. Happy. Anxious. Any number of things. Who did he have to talk to, now?

Was it selfish of him to think that it had been better before? That he had been valuable to talk to, even if he wasn't very good at talking? He didn't know a thing about relationships, not really, but he thought he had helped Yagi with things he needed. Help, Shouta thought with growing frustration, shouldn't be a distraction.

“Hey, I was gonna ask,” Mic began through a mouthful of the yogurt stuff, not looking up from his enormous bowl, “are you guys okay?”

The panic intensified, and Shouta swallowed it down. His stomach gurgled piteously, cramping. Hungry.

“'Cause Yagi's been real down lately, and you've been taking more overnight assignments than usual.”

“There's nothing to be okay about,” Shouta muttered, then realized the cockeyed truth of those words and closed his aching eyes. “We ended it.”

There was a clatter. Hizashi had dropped his spoon. Aizawa didn't look up because he didn't need to see his best friend staring at him with wide eyes and yogurt smeared on his chin. Like it was so unexpected, like it would never happen, because terrifyingly that's how he still felt even as he was staring down concrete proof of it.

“Oh man! What? Ohhhhhhh,” Hizashi moaned shrilly, wiping at his mouth and then holding his hand there, wincing. “Fuck me.”

“Yeah,” was all Shouta could say, and even that was a heinous effort. Beside him, Hizashi shook his head mournfully.

“No, that so sucks. Seriously, I was just telling him the other day how great you guys were together.”

Shouta stared at the spoon still in his hand, knowing he had no intention of eating any part of the food in front of him despite the grinding in his stomach.

Everything had been going so well, even for someone with no conception of how relationships worked. Part of him felt as though it was only natural that he had misunderstood their connection or their success. He tried something unexpected, something not at all suited to people like him, and his string of beginner's luck had simply run out with a very kind person and that was that.

But then he heard Hizashi's words, and the internal tape of eternally looming disappointment screeched to a halt.

One very important logical part of Shouta, unstained by his grief, stopped to consider the suddenness of it all. Toshinori's change in mood, the odd way he phrased things over that dinner only three meals after Shouta had found the ugly remnants of a cat silhouette in a late-night bento handcrafted by the man himself. The very impolite timing of it all for a man who worshipped social graces.

Shouta found his brows knitting, his gaze falling to the wood texture in the table as he thought and thought. That pricked feeling, that instinct, vibrated higher and higher, forming his first clear thought in what felt like a week.

“When was this?” he asked. “When you talked to him.”

“Oh, um!” Hizashi startled, tapping his chin with the spoon and looking up. “It was when he made us dinner for the stakeout, when I met him at school and brought it for you. So, last Tuesday?”

“What,” Aizawa said slowly, “did you say to him, exactly.”

“Just, that, like … I feel embarrassed now, but I told him I was amazed at the way you guys took care of each other. The bentos, and that you do so much for him and it's amazing? No shade on your conduct, but you're not a spontaneous giver, so the fact that you just up and do stuff for the guy – or er, did stuff for the guy – it's verging on a miracle and a major change in tune so I thought –”

“Damnit,” Shouta hissed, shoving out of his chair and running for the door. The clean spoon clattered noisily to the ground.

What?” Hizashi yelped after him, then, decidedly more panicked: “What the heck did I do?”

“Told him exactly what he's been waiting to hear the whole time,” Shouta snapped over his shoulder and slammed the staffroom door.

Meal #5: Hayashi Rice

Shouta ran down the sidewalk, dodging students on their way to class with his elbows tucked to avoid the hectic jostle of backpacks. He heard his name as if from afar, in chorus and shrill with surprise – Aizawa-sensei? – and didn't break his pace for an instant, like the only thing that existed was the momentum carrying him forward and he didn't have lecture to give in half an hour. That was somewhere behind him, with Mic and the stupid yogurt. He would deal with it later.

The course to Yagi's apartment was so familiar, but he'd never taken it this fast before. He'd always wandered it, maybe jogged if he was particularly hungry. Shouta hadn't realized all the different kinds of hunger that drove him there until he was streaking up the steps and staggering to a halt in front of the door, breathing sharply through his nose.

Shouta raised his fist and then he hesitated. Of course. There was always a moment of compulsive self-preservation before facing down potential dismissal and humiliation and – heartbreak, he could admit it, thundering fucking heartbreak – but if there was even a fucking chance that what he thought was happening was actually …

He rapped sharply on the thin apartment door, shifting in his work boots and suddenly aware of the thin, prickling layer of sweat underneath his jumpsuit. From the run, he guessed, blinking his excruciatingly dry eyes. Shouta heard a deep voice – one moment, please– and Yagi opened the door, the confusion on his long face blanking into horror at the sight of him.

“Can I come in,” he not-asked icily, knowing Yagi was too polite – or too dedicated to this ruse – to refuse. After a tense moment, the older hero nodded and, head bowed, let him pass.

The first thing that hit him was the smell.

It was hayashi rice. Pungent wine, sweet and salt filled the bare apartment, thick enough to taste in the air – and Shouta's first, stupid, panicked thought was did he find someone else to make it for?

Drifting to a halt, the two heroes faced each other down in the simple apartment living room, just far enough apart to pretend they were coworkers but hadn't ever kissed. Yagi's shadowed gaze was locked on the floor as he tried to condense his mile-high frame by crossing his thin arms over his chest, back bowed. Hiding in plain sight.

But he was still trying to hide, and that meant there might be something worth hiding.

“There's something I'm confused about,” Shouta said as evenly as he could, jumping right in because he hadn't been born with the ability to bullshit with his heart pounding the way it was, resetting his brain every three milliseconds in spurts of hope and terror.

“How am I a distraction to you?”

The older hero's head snapped up. Yagi's mouth fell open, then closed.

“I ...”

“I help you grade,” Shouta continued in the same monotone, ruthlessly holding his gaze. “Even before all this, I hounded you about your time management until you were three quizzes ahead of schedule and got your semester lesson plans in on time for Nezu's approval. I practically watched your priorities change the more you understood teaching, and the more time we spent together, the cleaner your lectures became. I should know. I listened. Even on what were ostensibly dates, we were always working on something. Together, for the class, because it was important to both of us. You never stopped asking questions, and I never stopped answering them.”

As he spoke, Yagi's dark eyes widened – getting more and more terrified as he gained momentum and it all unravelled. These were all things he couldn't deny or never thought he would have to, possibly because the older hero never imagined one irritable, short-on-time homeroom teacher pushing him past his initial excuse for a real answer. Yagi's lack of preparation was clear and staggering and somehow made Shouta even angrier than he already was, which was furious.

After all these years of putting his life on the line for everyone else, was it impossible to think that someone would want to fight for this man?

“Which is to say, if your real concern is the class and the work we do,” he finished, nearly biting his tongue to keep from raising his voice, “I think it's proven that I make your efforts with the class more effective just by being with you. So how am I a distraction?”

“You're very confident about all this,” Yagi said stiltedly, under his breath. His face and posture were blank, unreadable but for the wiry hand clenched tightly into his oversized shirt. A nervous gesture, grasping for something of himself that wasn't there anymore.

“I know what I'm doing,” Shouta said shortly, angrily, with clear challenge in his glare and a raise of his chin: Do you?

The way Yagi nervously looked aside hinted that he still thought escape was an option. It wasn't.

“You talked to Hizashi. To Mic,” Shouta muttered when it was too quiet for too long, suddenly excruciatingly tired. He rubbed at his eye, his scar. “I know. He told me.”

The jig was up.

Any stifled little jolt of victory, or just confirmed suspicion, was instantly tempered by the mournful expression on the older hero's face and the way he turned away and drifted toward the shuttered living room window, like a boat cut loose on flat water. Shouta wanted to snap – don't walk away from me, there aren't any answers over there you coward – but he held his peace, vibrating where he stood.

“I thought it would convince you, if I brought the children into it,” Yagi murmured at last, voice weak with regret.

“Effective and in poor taste,” Shouta agreed bitterly, glaring at his back. “You need to answer my question, Yagi. Why did I need convincing?”

“Yamada-san did speak to me. He knows you so well and I should have consulted him earlier, but he said you've … changed, since you met me,” he began, grave. Shouta heard him breathe in, shuddering. Saw his shoulders jump in a short, stifled cough as he covered his mouth.

“He expressed such surprise to see us together, particularly the way you treat me. You don't normally do things for people. It's not your way. Yet, I'm forcing you to act differently.”

“You're not forcing me,” is all he managed to say. Yagi looked over his shoulder, and maybe it was the pale light of the morning soaking past the curtains, but the emptiness of his gaze was chilling.

“You know very well that it doesn't take a hand to the back of someone's neck to force them to do something, Shouta.”

His given name in such a deep voice was a violation of the space between them, a distance that Yagi himself established and religiously maintained. After weeks of asking him to call him by his first name, Yagi still always skittishly deferred and forced them both to pull back to surnames even as they shared meals and scalding touches and slow mornings. For a second, Shouta was stupidly angry about that, maybe just to avoid understanding the raw grief and resignation on Yagi's face as the older man took a deep breath.

“I'm not well. Anyone can see that. The closer you get, the more you see that's missing, and ... there were already things that you wanted to do that I couldn't manage, physically,” he mumbled, looking down at his long fingers twining together, fretting at his sleeves.

“I understand how obligation can sneak up on a person. I do. I honestly wouldn't expect any less of a hero of your caliber, seeing someone so … pitifully in need, and responding to it. I would never want you to be trapped by that, and yet it's already happened.”

“Goddamnit, Yagi, that's not what he meant,” Shouta snapped before he could even think of a way to be kind, or nice, because the anger was just too loud. “That's what you heard. It's what you've been waiting to hear from day one, isn't it? That you're too much to bear?”

Yagi didn't answer.

Shouta couldn't even voice the outrage that a few kinkier or happenstance requests from him had made such a dent in the older hero's basic self-worth when it was as simple as bad knees. People were allowed to have bad knees and those people should be able to have conversations about what they could and couldn't do and move forward from there. Honesty shouldn't break things apart and sow such distrust, but it just proved what Shouta already suspected – that Yagi was actively seeking excuses to pull away before he could be discarded, grabbing for potential disappointment – so he just asked what he really needed to know.

“Why didn't you talk to me instead of making the executive decision that I'm better off without you?”

“Aizawa-kun, I just thought …” Yagi breathed out sharply and put a hand to his head, wincing. “It was going to happen eventually, so –”

Was it?”

He was yelling. He was yelling in another man's house. Shouta forced himself to calm, or at least lower his voice. When he spoke again, from between his teeth, his voice still shook.

“If it's what you want, then that's one thing. We agreed this would only work as long as both of us were in it, and if you want out, that's the end of the story. I respect that. But if you think you're protecting me from yourself, saving me from you, you have no fucking right to make that call.”

Across the room, Yagi was looking at him with such deep confusion it made Shouta wonder if he was speaking a different language. In a way, maybe he was.

“I just want you to be happy and healthy,” the older hero said quietly. He inclined his head, pain flashing across his gaunt features. “And free.”

“What if you help me stay that way?”

Shouta crossed the space between them and did what he never did. He pushed into Yagi's space and boldly grabbed for his hand, holding it down and firmly wrapped in his own despite the way his fellow hero wavered, trying weakly to pull away. The first contact in nearly two weeks, plus Yagi's singularly helpless look, made his stomach flip nastily. For a moment, Shouta couldn't speak.

“I don't do anything for you out of obligation, you idiot. You give me just as much, if not more, and you aren't any kind of burden to me. You give, and you give, and it's – it's –”

Shouta viscerally struggled for the word to express the roiling stink of injustice and rejection that rose at the very thought, finally blurting out:

“It's goddamn embarrassing that you think you can't have anything in return. Your worth has never been in question, and besides that, you're not some fucking asset to be weighed in pros and cons and expended effort. You aren't a burden to me or anyone else here. Can I even say that enough times to get it through your thick head?”

Yagi's hand was a vice around his. Shouta couldn't feel that hand or his fingers, but then, he couldn't feel much of anything beyond the burn of his neck and the sheer fucking difficulty of words as they stood there in the wake of his outburst, painfully silent. Right when Shouta was sure he needed to say something, apologize just for the sake of it, Yagi's head dipped forward and he covered his eyes with his free hand, breathing in sharply.

Several facts assailed Shouta all at once: Yagi was shaking. Yagi had locked his knees and his face was white. Yagi was tearing up.

Shouta automatically grabbed his elbows, bracing him, and led the older hero onto his own couch where Yagi immediately melted into him, huge hands fumbling into his jumpsuit and clenching there, like he was going to leave if he wasn't tied down. Ears ringing, Shouta sat and tried to touch Yagi back into his shivering body, his dry eyes fixed somewhere on the wall behind them both as he passed his chapped palms over the older hero's shoulders and arms and face like he'd never done and never wanted to do with anyone else.

Shouta couldn't think but to comfort him, bring him back from his doubts, but above all, he still couldn't fathom how all of this lined up into such a massive and spitefully succinct disaster.

“What the hell is this, anyway?” he choked out when the trembling silence and dangerously pliant Yagi became too much, pointing irately at the pot on the stove. “You can't even eat it.”

“I hadn't thought that far ahead,” Yagi mumbled reedily, looking up at him with a mournful expression. His fingers ghosted over his mouth, breath catching.

“I missed you.”

Shouta's insides crumbled and he firmly pressed Yagi's head down onto his shoulder as the older hero started to cry in earnest, long fingers once more seeking purchase in his black suit. Yagi's thin shoulders shook with light, rasping sobs, like he was afraid to cry too loudly and disrupt the mended space between them, and Shouta distantly thought he might have to marry this man before he found another dumbass reason to separate them.

+1 Meal: Vegetable Maki


“Stop being so enthusiastic,” he muttered into his collar, poking at his own portion of the sloppily rolled maki with a deep frown. “It's chopped vegetables.”

“But very well-chopped,” Yagi beamed, covering his hand with his own. “It's my usual fare, Shouta, not some kind of cheap trick. I appreciate it, and the thought behind it. And the salt!”

Shouta flushed a little and grumbled, unused to the sound of his given name in such warm tones and unable to look directly at the sunny face of a man enjoying his very ugly dinner. But, he couldn't help but notice, Yagi already looked so much healthier than during the time they were apart. The hand on his was so warm, and the kitchen even smelled good. Eventually, Shouta had to sigh.

“We're going to have a talk,” he said slowly, staring at his full plate, “about everything that happened, why it happened, and what you think you deserve.”

“I know,” Toshinori agreed, little more than an answering sigh. Those fingertips skimmed Shouta's scarred knuckles and, when he looked up, Toshinori was still smiling, this time dreamily.

“But after dinner, hm?”

Shouta smiled. After dinner, indeed.