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And the Beat Goes On

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(16)

“Hey Aizawa,” Yamada said, poking at his arm with a pen. “Are you busy after school?”

Shouta paused. He was tempted to say no, that he was free. Yamada was looking at him expectantly, hopeful, and it was hard to disappoint his only friend. But- “Training,” Shouta muttered, lowering his eyes. He was too far behind the other students already, he couldn’t afford to skip a single day.

“Yeah, I know,” Yamada nodded. “I mean after that? Do you wanna hang out?”

Shouta looked back up. “It’s two hours. Did you to want meet at your house after?” He hadn’t considered that, but it was a good idea. He’d taken the bus to Yamada’s before - with Yamada, admittedly, but he could get there on his own. And he’d like to spend time with Yamada later. He’d like it a lot.

But Yamada shook his head. “Nah,” he said, and Shouta’s heart dropped in disappointment. “I’ll just wait for you. If you’re sure you don’t already have plans?”

“Wait? Here?” Shouta repeated, not sure he was following. “For two hours?” He ignored the part about already having plans. That was unlikely enough to be laughable.

“Sure!” Yamada grinned, like it was nothing at all. “I’ll do my homework while you train, and then we can get something to eat, okay?”

“Okay,” Shouta repeated again, feeling a little foolish. Why would Yamada want to waste his afternoon waiting around for Shouta? Was it - could this be a date? Shouta couldn’t imagine Yamada, who was popular and handsome, wanting to date him, but then a few months ago he wouldn’t have been able to imagine Yamada wanting to be his friend either. Still, Shouta thought, as he tried to remember what day he’d last brushed his hair, it definitely wasn’t a date.

Though he half-expected Yamada to get bored and take off at some point, he was as good as his word, sitting quietly and studying while Shouta trained. Every time Shouta looked over, there he was at the edge of the practice yard, a textbook open on his lap. Embarrassingly, the thought that Yamada might be watching put a little more force into his kicks and punches, and once, after a particularly successful move with his binding cloth, he shamefully glanced over to check if Yamada had seen. Worse yet, he hadn’t been able to tell if he had or not - Yamada’s sunglasses made it too difficult to tell where he was looking.

“You looked great out there, Aizawa!” Yamada said afterwards, gathering up their things and passing Shouta his bag.

“Oh - you were watching?” Shouta said, feeling his treacherous face redden into a blush. He tipped his head down, hoping his hair would hide the worst of it.

If Yamada noticed his struggles, he didn’t say anything. “Sure! I don’t know why you don’t use that scarf thing in class, you’re amazing with it!”

After winning a brief internal battle, Shouta managed not to bury his burning face in his hands. Barely. “Where are we going?” he asked, desperate to change the subject.

“Oh! Uh… It’s a surprise?” Yamada’s smile turned a little sheepish. “Do you mind a bus ride?”

Shouta didn’t mind, and said as much, and before long Yamada was pulling at his sleeve. “This is our stop.” They walked for another block, Yamada uncharacteristically silent until they arrived at their destination, a cosy-looking cafe with a window full of sleeping cats.

“You like cats, right?” Yamada said as they entered. “I mean - you’re always stopping to pet them and stuff, so I thought-”

“Yeah, I - I like them,” Shouta said, overwhelmed. An orange tabby meandered over to weave between his feet, and Shouta crouched down to run his hand along its back, almost on instinct.

Yamada grinned. “Great!! You meet the cats and I’ll get us something to eat!”

“Wait-” Shouta wanted to ask why Yamada brought them here, or at least offer to get his own food, but Yamada was already headed towards the counter. So he just walked around, looking for an empty table, slow and distracted by the cats that seemed to lay across every surface.

When he finally found a booth, there was a tiny black cat curled up on one of the benches. Shouta slid in next to it, not quite far enough to sit comfortably, trying not to disturb the animal. Hesitantly, he reached out to stroke between its eyes, and was rewarded with a sleepy blink. “Hello,” Shouta said, delighted.

The cat pushed its face upwards into Shouta’s hand, purring softly. Taking the hint, Shouta continued petting it, running his fingers gently down the soft fur of its back, towards its twitchy tail. Eventually the cat stood up, apparently satisfied, and stepped gingerly across Shouta’s lap to the edge of the bench before jumping to the floor. “Bye,” Shouta said as it walked away. When he looked up, he was startled to see Yamada sitting across from him, and two plates on the table.

“That was…” Yamada paused, like he couldn’t think of the words he wanted. “Really cute.”

“They’re all cute,” Shouta said, though he had to admit the black kitten had been a little special.

“Yeah!” Yamada laughed a little, bringing a hand up to rub the back of his neck. “I guess they are. Anyway, here,” he said, pushing a plate towards Shouta. It had a slice of cake on it, and a strawberry cut in the shape of a flower. “I know you like chocolate,” Yamada offered, his cheeks tinged pink.

“Thank you,” Shouta said, more confused than ever. Was this a date after all?

“Well… happy birthday!!” Yamada smiled.

Shouta blinked. “It’s my birthday?” He thought for a moment; today was Friday, so- “Huh, you’re right.”

Yamada stared at him, glasses slipping down his nose. “Aizawa. Did you forget your own birthday?”

Shouta shrugged, embarrassed. He knew birthdays were a big deal to some people. People whose family celebrated them, people with friends. People like him now, Shouta thought suddenly, remembering where he was, the cake in front of him.

Warmth spread through Shouta’s chest. Yamada remembered his birthday, when even Shouta forgot. And not only did he remember, he brought Shouta here, had gone to the trouble of thinking of someplace Shouta might like. He’d even bought him cake. It was - well, not better than a date with Yamada, but just as good. Wonderful.

“When’s your birthday?” Shouta asked, eager to return the favor.

Yamada laughed. “July. But don’t worry. If you forgot your own birthday, I’ll understand when you forget mine.”

Shouta smiled. Yamada had been joking, but what he said was probably true. He would understand if Shouta forgot. They hadn’t known each other long, but so far he’d been very good at understanding Shouta. But that didn’t matter this time, Shouta promised himself, because he wasn’t going to forget. Yamada’s birthday was important.

Thanks,” he said, trying a bite of his cake. It was delicious.

 

———

 

(17)

When Shouta arrived at school, he knew right away that something was off. For the first time almost since he’d started at U.A., he had to walk through the gates alone - normally Hizashi waited for him, no matter how awful the weather, and talked Shouta’s ear off as they walked through the halls to class. But today his usual spot against a pillar was empty, and though Shouta stood around for a few minutes, he never showed up.

He felt like a fool for waiting when he reached the classroom and saw that Hizashi was already there, perched on Kayama’s desk and talking rapidly to her and Tensei with a serious look on his face. Shouta hesitated in the doorway, not sure if he wanted to approach, or if he should just sit at his desk and ignore them.

His decision was made for him when Hizashi looked up, directly into Shouta’s eyes. His face reddened, and he ran a hand through his hair in a frustrated manner before hopping down and walking over to his own seat. “Sorry,” he said as Shouta approached, more confused than irritated now. “We were talking about… uh… homework, and I lost track of time.”

“Homework.” Shouta repeated the obvious lie, his annoyance returning with force.

Hizashi nodded furiously. “Yeah!! Uh… Kayama wanted some help with the English assignment. You know how tricky prepositions can be!!”

Shouta looked over at Kayama, who was staring at him with a smirk. Beside her, Tensei looked almost as nervous as Hizashi. They didn’t look like they’d been talking about prepositions. And there were no books or papers on their desks, either.

“Sure,” he said, surprised at how hurt he was to be excluded. It was nothing new - he’d never been a people person, never really had friends until he started at U.A. But things had been different since he met Hizashi, who’d always welcomed him in spite of his awkwardness, and had smoothed the way for him to make other friends, too. By now Shouta had gotten used to being part of the group, and it stung to think that might be changing.

“Hey,” Hizashi said, interrupting his morose thoughts. He looked nervous, biting at his lower lip and tapping his fingers against his desk in a quick rhythm. “You’re still coming over today, right?”

Shouta blinked. “I was planning on it?” he said, not quite sure why Hizashi was asking. Did he need to cancel? Shouta’s heart thudded. Had Hizashi made other plans? Was that what he’d been talking to Kayama and Tensei about? The best way to ditch Shouta? “If you still want me to?”

YES!” Hizashi said, his quirk slipping just enough to startle the class. “Yeah, of course,” he corrected, lowering his eyes. Though Shouta had to wince at the sudden volume, it was honestly a bit of a comfort. It didn’t sound like Hizashi wanted to be rid of him. He was probably overreacting. Hizashi was acting a little off, yes, but they’d been friends for a while now. He’d earned some trust.

The rest of the day was… strange. Hizashi was babbling and silent by turns, and more than once Shouta caught him exchanging meaningful looks with Kayama and Tensei. Something was definitely going on, something they didn’t want Shouta to know about. He tried to ignore it - just because he and Hizashi were friends didn’t mean Shouta was entitled to all of his secrets - but it was hard.

It was a long, awkward walk home. Hizashi seemed distracted, pausing to look in every shop window, making them stop to stare at things he couldn’t possibly be interested in. He spent over five minutes standing in front of a display of dishwashing liquid before Shouta finally broke the silence to suggest they get a move on. “Oh,” he half-laughed, checking the time on his phone. “Yeah, I guess so.”

They walked the rest of the way in silence, and the sun was low in the sky by the time they reached Hizashi’s. But once they arrived, Hizashi, who’d been lagging behind the entire way, suddenly burst into action. He dropped his bag and kicked off his shoes before Shouta was completely through the door. “Meet me inside!!” He called as he ran out of the entryway, disappearing into the darkened living room.

Shouta set his bag down slowly, more confused than ever. “Hizashi? What’s going on? Why are all the lights off?” If Shouta didn’t know Hizashi as well as he did, he’d suspect this was the start of some cruel prank. But unless he was the best liar in the world, Hizashi wouldn’t do that to anyone. Shouta stepped through the doorway to follow him, unnerved.

The moment he set foot into the room, it exploded into light and noise. “Happy birthday!!” screamed a chorus of voices, and Shouta’s pure shock was the only thing that kept him from running back out the door.

“Surprise, Shouta!!” Hizashi cheered from the middle of the crowd. And it was a crowd. Kayama and Tensei were there, as well as a few of their other classmates who sat with them at lunch sometimes. Colorful paper streamers hung from the walls, and there were bowls of snacks set out on the coffee table. This was a party. A birthday party. For Shouta. Because it was his birthday. And, just like last year, it had completely slipped his mind.

“So, were you surprised, Aizawa?” Kayama asked, beckoning him forward, out of the doorway.

“Yes,” Shouta admitted with a shrug. They’d be smug about this for weeks now, but he couldn’t bring himself to lie, not when they were all smiling at him hopefully. And anyway, they’d earned it.

“Really?!” Hizashi’s mouth fell open in disbelief. “How? We were so obvious!!”

Tensei flexed, then reached out to punch Hizashi on the shoulder. “Speak for yourself, I’m a master of subtlety.”

“You really aren’t.” Kayama rolled her eyes indulgently. “Come help me with the cake.”

“I can’t believe you didn’t catch on,” Hizashi said, as their friends headed off to the kitchen, still bickering. “I bet you forgot it was your birthday again.”

Shouta looked at his shoes, embarrassed, but Hizashi just laughed. “Hey, don’t worry about it! It’s good, actually. Now all your birthday parties can be a surprise!”

All his parties? Shouta didn’t know which was more startling - the party itself, or the idea that this sort of thing was going to become a habit of Hizashi’s. His heart thudded as he looked around the room and thought about how much work it must have taken to set all this up, and how nervous Hizashi had been all day, waiting to see if everything would go the way he wanted. It was nice, really nice. But Shouta thought he would have been just as happy with only Hizashi there to celebrate, like last year.

“Everybody’s gonna leave after dinner,” Hizashi said, low enough that only Shouta could hear him.

Though he knew it was ungrateful, Shouta couldn’t help feeling a little disappointed. He’d hoped to spend more time with Hizashi today, before going back to his own house. He tried to keep his expression neutral. “Oh - that’s fine. I have some stuff to do at home-”

Hizashi shook his head rapidly. “No! I mean - I thought you could stay over? I’ll let you sleep in tomorrow. Promise!” He said the last part coaxingly, like he thought Shouta might need convincing.

Before he could accept, Kayama and Tensei burst back into the room, a cake lit up with candles held gingerly in Tensei’s arms. “Okay, got it! Should we sing?”

Hizashi lit up, but after a glance at Shouta’s horrified expression, his wide grin mellowed into something softer. “Nah. Just blow out the candles, Shouta!” Hizashi prompted, slinging an arm around his shoulder and guiding him forward. “And don’t forget to make a wish!”

Shouta took a deep breath. There were a lot of things to wish for. But here and now, with his friends around him, and Hizashi watching him with an even bigger smile than usual, it felt greedy to want anything more. And it wasn’t like he believed in wishes, anyway. Still, he thought, meeting Hizashi’s eyes for a moment before looking back down at the flames, maybe - maybe someday-

He blew out the candles to stop himself from finishing the thought.

 

———

 

(18)

With only a few months left before graduation, Shouta hadn’t had a free evening in so long he couldn’t remember the last one. There was too much to do - written exams to study for, training for their upcoming Heroics Course final, and most importantly, the Hero License exam. Not to mention applying to Hero Agencies and figuring out where and how he was going to live on his own.

But even with all of that to occupy his time, he hadn’t been able to pass up the opportunity to spend an afternoon with Hizashi, not when he didn’t know when he’d next get the chance. Hizashi was even busier than he was - he had an internship lined up at a prominent local radio station, set to start in just a few weeks. So when he’d asked if Shouta could spare a day for him, Shouta hadn’t hesitated to say yes.

It had been a good day, too. Shouta had come over before lunch, and they’d walked to the arcade together, setting an easy pace and not talking about anything serious. Hizashi hadn’t even made him play DDR, just let him blend into the crowd and watch as Hizashi made a spectacle of himself. When they got bored, they headed back to the house and put on a movie, though Shouta paid less attention to the screen and more to the warm weight of Hizashi leaning heavily against his side.

“Thanks for hanging out with me today,” Hizashi said, sitting up as the credits rolled. Shouta frowned, not knowing how to answer, if he should thank Hizashi back. Before he could decide anything, Hizashi continued: “I know we’re really busy preparing for exams, but you have to celebrate at least a little!”

“Celebrate?” Shouta echoed, not sure what Hizashi was talking about, what there was to be celebrating.

“Yeah?” Hizashi said, like it was obvious. When it became apparent that Shouta wasn’t following, he clapped a hand to his forehead. “Your birthday, Shouta! I can’t believe you forgot again! Are you ever gonna remember?!”

Oh. His birthday. That made sense. Hizashi was looking at him, clearly expecting an answer, but Shouta hesitated. Hizashi wouldn’t like the truth, that his birthday just didn’t register as important, especially compared with everything else currently going on in their lives. So he just shrugged without saying anything. Even so, Hizashi looked at him sharply, like he knew exactly what Shouta was trying not to say.

“One day you will,” he said firmly, like a promise. “Maybe next year.”

Shouta paused. He’d been thinking a lot about next year. Worrying actually might be a better way to put it. “Next year, huh?”

“Sure!” Hizashi said, smiling now. “But don’t worry. If you forget, I’ll remind you like always!” Those were the magic words that made Shouta relax. Hizashi hadn’t said much about his plans for after graduation, but it was a comfort to hear that he thought they’d be together on Shouta’s birthday, at least.

“I suppose that’s true,” he said, trying to sound indifferent and not sure whether or not he succeeded. Hizashi looked just as enthusiastic either way.

“Well yeah! And it’ll be even better because we’ll be living together then!”

“Living together?” Shouta blinked, wondering if he was dreaming, or if he had simply misheard.

“Oh… uh, I was thinking we could be roommates? I guess I forgot to actually ask!! Sorry about that!” Hizashi smiled awkwardly, a blush spreading across his cheeks. “What do you think?”

Roommates. Hizashi wanted to be roommates. Wanted to live together, to see Shouta every day. It was almost, almost enough to make him believe in birthday luck. He looked down at his hands, hoping Hizashi didn’t notice the small smile he couldn’t quite conceal. “Yeah, okay.”

“Really?!” Hizashi brightened. “You want to?”

Shouta blinked at him. “You thought I wouldn’t?”

“Ah,” Hizashi’s smile faded, and he blushed again. “I wasn’t sure? I know you like it quiet…”

That was true. Shouta did like the quiet. But not as much as he liked Hizashi, though he had no idea how to say so without giving too much away. All he could think to say was, “if you’re not around, who’s going to remember my birthday?”

“Hey that’s true!! My first official roommate chore!” Hizashi cheered, raising his arms above his head like he’d won some kind of victory. “OH!!” Hizashi leapt to his feet, his mouth falling open comically. “I can’t believe I almost forgot!”

He ran for the kitchen, leaving Shouta behind on the couch, bemused. A moment later he was back, carrying a small, clearly homemade cake. “Ta-da!! Happy Birthday!” Hizashi grinned sheepishly. “Sorry it’s really ugly.”

It was. The chocolate frosting was uneven, lumpy in some spots, absent in others, and the whole thing was lopsided. He’d apparently tried to write ‘Happy Birthday Shouta!’ in yellow icing, but run out of room, so the last few letters were tiny and squeezed in at the edge. It was possibly the ugliest cake Shouta had ever seen, and he loved it with all of his heart.

He didn’t know what to say, how to thank Hizashi for any of this. For remembering his birthday. For taking time he really couldn’t spare to make him a cake. For wanting to be roommates. For being his friend. It was difficult to keep the words from pouring out all at once, so Shouta did the only thing he could think of - he reached out to steal a fingerful of frosting and pop it into his mouth. “Tastes good,” he said with a shrug.

“Shouta!!” Hizashi complained, even as he started laughing. “Gross!”

Shouta didn’t even bother to try and stop his grin. “You better get used to it.”

 

———

 

(19)

Shouta scowled as he looked at the clock for the third time in as many minutes. Hizashi was late. Not very - it was barely half an hour past when he usually got back from the radio station - but Shouta worried when he wasn’t home on time. They didn’t live in the best neighborhood, and though Hizashi was a more than competent hero, he could be taken by surprise as easily as anyone, especially when he didn’t have his gear. After a quick internal struggle, Shouta decided it wouldn’t hurt to call him, just to check in.

Irrational, he told himself, even as he pulled out his phone. He winced as he looked at it. A dense spiderweb of cracks spread from the upper corner, making that section of the device unusable, but Shouta had learned to deal with that. The annoying issue was the touch screen, which only worked about half the time. Still, Shouta would have to tolerate it a while longer. There wasn’t room in his budget for a new one, even a cheap model, though maybe he could get something used, he thought. He’d have to save up for a bit, and it was a wretch to think of giving up the few extras he allowed himself, but he had to have a phone for work, and this one was nearing the end of the line.

He was distracted from his brief mental debate by the rattle of Hizashi’s key in the lock. “Hey Shouta! I’m home!” he called from the entryway, a wrapped package and a bag from the local bakery in his arms. “There’s the birthday boy!!” Hizashi shouted, juggling the items from hand to hand as he dropped his shoes and jacket by the door. When he noticed Shouta’s blank, confused expression, he laughed. “Did you think I would forget?!” he said. “I’m not like you, Shouta! November eighth is a very important day for me!”

November eighth? It was his birthday already? Shouta supposed it must be, if Hizashi said so. “That makes one of us,” he said, just to be annoying.

But Hizashi just smirked good-naturedly. “We’ll see if you say that in a minute!” he said, dropping himself across from Shouta at the coffee table. He pushed the bakery bag over. “Look what I got for you!”

Shouta looked. Inside was a single, perfect chocolate cupcake in a transparent plastic box. It looked delicious, and expensive. “Did you get one for yourself?” Shouta asked, not seeing another bag.

“Nah,” Hizashi said, with a disinterested shrug. “They didn’t have any flavors I liked.”

An obvious ruse. Shouta didn’t bother to dispute it, just took the dessert from its packaging and broke it in two. He handed half to Hizashi, who accepted it with a small blush.

It was so very Hizashi, Shouta thought as they ate, to make himself late in order to buy a treat for Shouta’s birthday. He hoped Hizashi hadn’t spent his dinner money on it, but from the quick way he devoured the cupcake, Shouta had his doubts.

When they finished eating, Hizashi slid the other package across the table. “Here!” he said, grinning wide and nearly vibrating with excitement. “Happy birthday!!” The gift was wrapped in a bright, almost offensively yellow paper, and Shouta ripped it open gingerly, not sure what Hizashi could have chosen. What he could have afforded, considering the shameful way he was paid as an intern. When the wrapping fell away, he almost dropped the contents in shock.

He was holding a phone, brand-new, expensive, and much nicer than the cheap, out-of-date model he’d been considering getting for himself. How long had Hizashi saved for this? What necessities had he given up to buy it?

“I threw out the receipt,” Hizashi grinned. “So don’t think you can return it.”

Shouta frowned. Hizashi’s jacket had rips in it, his boots could only be repaired so many times. There were better uses for his money than an expensive gift for Shouta. “It’s way too much, Hizashi.”

“Shut up, you needed it.” Hizashi rolled his eyes. “And they’re talking about bringing me on full-time at the radio station, so things won’t be so tight much longer!”

“Really? That’s great. About time they started noticing what you’re worth,” Shouta said, momentarily distracted. Hizashi’s smile widened.

“Agreed!” he said, reaching out to take the box. “So let’s set this baby up!”

“No,” Shouta said, leaning backwards and pulling it out of his reach. “We’re selling it.”

Hizashi’s mouth dropped open. “No way!” he said, lunging forward to try and snatch it from Shouta’s hands. “You need a new phone!”

You need new boots,” Shouta said, dodging out of the way and clutching it against his chest. He jumped up and took a few steps back, debating his next move.

Hizashi stood too, running around the coffee table to head him off, but Shouta rolled over the back of the couch, landing on his feet and sprinting for the kitchen. “Shouta!” Hizashi whined, exasperated. “You need a new phone more than I need new boots!”

“I can get a cheaper phone!” Hizashi was right on his heels. Shouta could practically feel him grabbing at his shirt. He turned in the direction of his bedroom before realizing he’d miscalculated - Hizashi had him penned in now. There was nowhere to hide and no other exit. There wasn’t even time to shut the door behind him, unless he was willing to slam it in Hizashi’s face. Instead, he made it to the middle of his room and turned, almost laughing at the sight of Hizashi trying to block the doorway with his narrow frame.

Shouta could get past him easily, both of them knew that. Just as they both knew he wouldn’t, not if Hizashi was really trying to prevent it. “Please, Shouta,” Hizashi said, his eyes wide and pleading. “Please keep it? I bought it for you.”

How can I say no, Shouta thought. Hizashi must have saved for months, must have given up so many of the little luxuries that brought him joy. Shouta hadn’t seen him with a latte or a new CD in a very long time. And now he knew why - so he could buy something nice for Shouta. A stupid, impractical, generous thing. “All right,” Shouta sighed, touched in spite of his misgivings. “but you have to set it up for me.”

Hizashi lit up, reaching for the phone with grabby hands. “Yes! All right! Thank you, Shouta.”

Ridiculous man, Shouta thought, thanking him for accepting an extravagant present. “Thank you, Hizashi,” he said, the words long overdue and waved away with a flick of Hizashi’s hand.

“I wanted to,” he said, like that explained anything. But then, considering the warmth in Hizashi’s eyes, maybe it did.

 

———

 

(20)

Shouta prided himself on his rational mind. His ability to keep a cool head during combat was one of his greatest strengths, a fair counterbalance to the limitations of his quirk, in his opinion. He could maintain his composure through pain, amidst the panic of those around him and facing almost-certain defeat. He assumed he was prepared for anything.

Until a villain brought a building down on Hizashi. Then rationality went right out the window.

When he came back to himself, the criminal was on the ground, bound in Shouta’s capture weapon from head to foot, unmoving, and rescue heroes were already pulling people free of the rubble. He let the police take the villain without a word, too busy staring as body after body was pulled from the building’s remains. Finally, he saw Hizashi’s familiar figure, floated in midair by someone’s quirk. “Don’t touch him!” The hero warned as Shouta hurried over. “He needs to stay immobilized!”

They sounded very certain, so Shouta obeyed, holding himself back and watching as Hizashi was loaded into an ambulance. They let him ride along to the emergency ward, where he was allowed in by virtue of being Hizashi’s medical proxy. Silently, he thanked his friend for remembering those little details and taking the time to actually file the paperwork. Hizashi’s parents were out of the country, visiting his mother’s family, so there was only Shouta here for him, useless Shouta who couldn’t even keep his friend from getting hurt. But at least he could do this, he thought, during the long wait while the doctors did their work. Afterwards, much later, he was brought to speak with Hizashi’s doctor, who was looking at his chart solemnly.

“We were able to repair most of the injuries to his neck and spine. Any remaining damage will heal over the next few weeks-”

Shouta felt himself slump in relief. “That’s good, that’s really… When can he come home?”

She hesitated. “I can’t say. The trauma to his head was severe.”

“How severe?” Shouta asked, switching from relieved to panicked in an instant. The doctor wouldn’t meet his eyes, and her clipboard was tilted out of Shouta’s sight. The look on her face was too-familiar from his hero work: a schooled expression, useful for giving bad news.

“He might not wake up. And if he does, there may be further complications,” the doctor warned. Shouta tried to focus on her words, on the rest of what she was saying, but it was hard to hear over his pounding heart, the blood roaring in his ears.

“When will we know more?” he made himself ask when she was finished, needing the answer but terribly afraid of it.

The doctor looked apologetic. “When he wakes up.” Or doesn’t, Shouta finished the thought for her.

“Thank you,” Shouta said, as if on autopilot. “I’d like to see him now.”

“Of course.” She seemed relieved to be finished with such an unpleasant conversation, and some absent part of Shouta sympathized. But he forgot her the moment he walked through the door to Hizashi’s room and laid eyes on his still form on the bed.

There was a chair in the corner, and Shouta dragged it over to the bedside, wincing at the scrape of its feet against the tile. Hizashi didn’t stir at the sound, and Shouta sat beside him despondently. He tried to think of something, anything he could have done differently, some way he could have prevented this, but he couldn’t. No matter how many times he ran through the takedown in his mind, the building still came down on Hizashi. In every scenario, Shouta failed. It ought to have been a comfort, knowing there was nothing he could have done, but with Hizashi so pale and quiet in front of him, it didn’t feel like one.

He didn’t keep track of the time as he sat there, thinking grim thoughts. What would he do if Hizashi didn’t wake up? How could he keep living in their apartment, knowing Hizashi would never walk through the door again? How could he go to any of their usual places alone? What would it be like, never to wake up to Hizashi’s obnoxiously loud singing too early in the morning? Who would remind him to do his taxes? Who would remind him to eat? They’d had dinner together that evening, and Hizashi must have smiled at him, he was always smiling, but Shouta couldn’t picture it. He’d taken it for granted, like it wasn’t possibly the last smile of Hizashi’s he would ever get.

Hizashi was always just there; immutable, unshakeable. Shouta had never considered a world without him, and now that he’d been forced to, it wasn’t something he could stand. “‘Zashi, be okay please,” he whispered, reaching out to take Hizashi’s hand, for once not caring what it looked like, or what might be written all over his face. It was all Shouta could do not to crawl into the bed beside him, to throw his arms around Hizashi and physically hold him there.

I need more time, he thought, gazing down at the edge of the bed as his mind wandered. They had been planning to upgrade apartments soon, now that they were both making decent money. Hizashi had been talking about traveling, taking Shouta to visit his family overseas, and though he’d complained, Shouta had been looking forward to it. And - and there were things he needed to tell Hizashi. Words he’d been saving for when he was ready. But now he might have missed all his chances, might never know what could have-

Please, Shouta repeated to himself, though he didn’t know who he was asking. Please. I need more time. Let me have more time.

As if in answer, he felt Hizashi’s fingers flex gently against his own. He was on his feet in an instant, leaning down to peer at Hizashi’s face. His eyes were open just a slit, just enough for Shouta to make out a hint of green. “Hizashi.” Shouta squeezed his hand a little tighter. “Are you in pain? Should I call the nurse?” Hizashi mumbled something Shouta couldn’t quite make out. “Say that again.”

Hizashi took a deep breath, and when he spoke again, the words were quiet, but clear. “What. Time is it?

“What?” Shouta asked, incredulous and suddenly even more afraid. “That doesn’t matter. Do you hurt anywhere?”

Shouta,” Hizashi sighed. Shouta’s heart pounded in his chest. Hizashi knew him, at least. That was something.

“It’s past dawn,” Shouta said, glancing at the clock above the door, unwilling to deny Hizashi anything, no matter how irrational. “You’ve been out for hours.”

Impossibly, the corners of Hizashi’s mouth turned up into a shadow of his usual smile. He took another breath, and his next words came easier. “…Happy birthday…”

Panicked, Shouta dropped Hizashi’s hand to reach for the call button, ready to summon every nurse and doctor in the hospital before he realized - the sun was up. It was his birthday. Hizashi wasn’t delirious, his mind was clear. If anything, he was currently sharper than Shouta.

Shouta’s eyes burned, and he halfway-reached for his eyedrops before realizing that he didn’t need them. For once, the heat was tears he had to blink away. “I think we’ll have to go out for drinks another day,” he managed to say, forcing the words through the tightness in his throat.

Hizashi made a displeased noise; no doubt he’d had plans to celebrate tonight. “You’ll live,” Shouta said, without thinking about it. And once the words registered, he had to laugh, pathetic a sound as it was, had to wipe at his eyes. “You’ll live,” he repeated, reaching out to take Hizashi’s hand again.

 

———

 

(21) +1

It’s my birthday, was Shouta’s first thought as he opened his eyes on November eighth. The sun had been up for hours, but Shouta kept late nights, and it was early for him still. He got up anyway, too full of nervous energy to stay in bed.

It’s my birthday. He took his time getting ready, washing his hair with Hizashi’s nice shampoo for once, instead of his usual cheap soap. He even shaved, though he regretted that decision afterwards - it made him look younger, too young. Not exactly what he was going for. Still, once it was done there was no point regretting it. He put it out of his mind as he dressed, foregoing his usual threadbare pajamas in favor of slacks and his nicest button-down, the one Hizashi had given him and he’d barely worn.

It’s my birthday, he reminded himself as he tidied the apartment, waiting for Hizashi to get home. It wouldn’t be long - he’d had a morning patrol today, and would be back by lunchtime, no doubt wanting to take Shouta out somewhere. He’d been dropping hints about the cat cafe over the last couple of days, and any other time, Shouta would be excited about it. But not today. Today he had other plans.

As expected, the clock hardly struck noon before Hizashi walked in. “Shouta, I’m back!” he called, dropping his sunglasses and keys on the little table by the door. He probably expected Shouta to be sleeping, still.

“It’s my birthday,” Shouta blurted out, before Hizashi finished kicking his boots off. Hizashi looked up at him, surprised, and grinned.

“You remembered!” he said, shucking off his jacket. “I can’t believe it! After all these years! How am I gonna surprise you now, huh?” He paused, like he was considering something, then smiled even wider. “Actually, this is better! Now I won’t have to trick you into coming out with me!”

“I had something else in mind,” Shouta said, hesitantly. He’d been planning this for weeks, maybe longer. Maybe since his last birthday. Maybe since the first one he’d ever spent with Hizashi. But now that the moment was here, with Hizashi walking towards him, he felt his doubts starting to creep in. He clenched his fists, trying hard to keep his face impassive and his anxiety concealed.

Hizashi blinked. “Oh. Sure! It’s your day! What do you wanna do?” He looked down at Shouta’s clothes, then back up to his face in surprise. “Wow, Shouta, look at you! Handsome!” Hizashi grinned wider, reaching out to poke Shouta’s smooth cheek. “Baby face! You wanna go somewhere fancy or something?”

“No. I thought we could stay in.” Shouta took a deep breath. This was it. Now or never. Since he’d met Hizashi, his birthdays had been happy ones, and he was counting on that pattern to continue, at least one more time.

“But you’re all dressed up,” Hizashi said, brows knitting in confusion. “Didn’t you want to-”

Shouta reached out, pressing his hand against Hizashi’s chest, cutting the words off in an instant. He could feel Hizashi’s heartbeat through the thin material of his shirt, fast and getting faster. “Shouta-” Hizashi said, eyes widening.

Shouta almost pulled back. He still had time - he could stop, apologize, and hide in his room potentially forever. But no - there was one thing, only one, that he truly wanted, and no birthday wish was going to drop it in his lap. He moved forward, slowly enough that Hizashi could stop him, or protest if he objected. But Hizashi just held very still, like he was almost afraid to move. That wasn’t encouraging, and combined with his own nerves it was too much for Shouta. He froze, unable to continue, their mouths centimeters apart. “Hizashi,” he started, not knowing what to do.

Hizashi broke with a gasp, cupping Shouta’s face in his hands and leaning in to bring their lips together into the kiss Shouta had been thinking about all day. All year. Longer. It was sweet, innocent enough that they might have been sixteen again, but so momentous that Shouta felt it change him, felt himself break apart and come back together as something more, something he’d been waiting and waiting to become.

“Hizashi,” he said again when they broke apart, just to say anything, still trying to understand what had happened. In his wildest fantasies, Shouta had never allowed himself to picture Hizashi like this, broken-apart, eyes wide and vulnerable and desperate. Imagining it would have been too much, but here, with Hizashi staring at him longingly, it wasn’t enough, not even close.

Sure of himself now, Shouta pulled him into another kiss, less chaste but just as sweet. He ran his tongue across the seam of Hizashi’s lips, which parted beautifully, and suddenly there were so many things Shouta wanted to focus on that he almost lost track of them all: the pleased hum Hizashi made as Shouta licked into his mouth, the taste of him, the firm muscles of his back under Shouta’s hands. And apparently Hizashi had goals of his own - Shouta shivered as his hair was tugged free of its loose knot, couldn’t help the soft moan that escaped when Hizashi threaded his fingers through it.

“Tell me,” Hizashi gasped, leaning back just far enough to speak, “that we don’t have to wait for my birthday to do this again.”

It took Shouta a moment to switch gears, to remember how to form words. “I don’t know about you,” he said, tightening his arms around Hizashi, keeping him as close as possible. “But I’ve waited as long as I can already.”

“Shouta!” Hizashi pressed his face against Shouta’s neck. He felt very warm against the bare skin above his collar. “You can’t just say things like that!”

“Why not?” Shouta said, his smile taking the bite out of the complaint. “It’s true. I’ve been waiting for you forever.” He kissed Hizashi’s hair, his temple, anywhere he was able to reach.

“Shouta,” Hizashi repeated helplessly, looking up and getting another kiss for his trouble. Shouta’s heart fluttered as he realized that after spending so many years admiring Hizashi’s smile, he liked it even better like this, against his own. After a moment, Hizashi pulled away, pressing a quick kiss to the corner of Shouta’s mouth, his cheek, the tip of his nose. “Hey,” he said, tugging gently at Shouta’s hair, like he needed to do anything else to get his attention. “I didn’t get a chance to say it yet.” Hizashi kissed him again, light and easy, like it was something they’d done a thousand times. Like he’d be doing it forever. “Happy birthday.”

 

———