When Mirio wakes up with a start, it’s still night out. There’s a pale light from the lamppost coming through the window, shyly brushing against the half-closed curtains and painting the hard lines of his bed in faded out blues. Darkness looms heavy, making those lines of fragile light feel that much more stark, and none of that helps stopping his heartbeat from hammering violently against his ribcage.
His chest inflates and deflates too fast for his breath to catch up, his lungs screaming for oxygen, and it’s only because of his intense training for his Quirk that he knows how to recognize the warning signs of a panic attack and how to cut it short before he makes himself faint from hypoxia.
A quick assessment of the situation tells him that sitting up might exacerbate the feeling of suffocation, as moving would consume more energy in debt of air, and although lying down with the phantom weight of the whole world pressing down on his chest is not exactly the best option, he makes due, raising his knees and holding his breath, counting in groups of four to force a pattern back into his breathing.
After a few minutes of Mirio drawing air in and out in regular loops, as the stillness of the room seems to grow harder and colder, his heart rate finally slows down enough to let Mirio think undisturbed.
It’s with a profound sense of bone-deep exhaustion that he retraces his memories back into his unconsciousness, and finds what has ripped him apart from the few, rare hours of sleep he was finally granting himself: another nightmare. And not just one out of the many he has collected over the past few years thanks to the full assortment of traumatic experiences that come with the package of choosing to pursue the hero career, but the particular nightmare he has been forced to watch as it replays in his head over and over again ever since the day he lost his Quirk.
The What Ifs of that day haunt him still, and Mirio doubts he’ll ever be able to fully recover from them. Questions upon questions that demand he answers for near-misses and close-calls that would have changed him forever, come apart at the seams, and left him bereft to the world: what if he hadn’t arrived in time? What if he had lost? What if his Quirk hadn’t been enough? The answer to that has been afflicting him almost every night ever since—flashes of blood splatters on the walls and on his shaking hands, and that split moment of disconnection where he wonders how a body so small can contain so much blood, before he screams and violently tears himself from the reality of his dream.
He always wakes up at that point, and every time he has to calm himself as quickly as he can so he’s lucid enough to stop trembling and check his hands, reassure himself they’re clean.
Today, too, looks like he’s in the happily-ever-after of his life, and it’s such an Earth-shattering relief, truly, but the uneasiness always chokes him into sitting up, the urge to see her and make sure she’s okay, that she’s real, nearly throwing him into an anxious fit again.
It never takes more than a handful of minutes before Mirio is out of his room, and tonight is not an exception, body moving on autopilot as he walks down the corridor on the left, aiming for the stairs of the dorm. Mirio could probably do this while sleepwalking and with a blindfold on his eyes, his body that stubbornly set on a single-minded purpose, like it’s simply following its predetermined genetic commands, and Mirio has no other choice than to witness the inevitable. He’s not entirely sure he hasn’t already done this while completely unconscious one or two times, in fact, and it wouldn’t surprise him in the least if that were actually the case.
Out of the habit he has built for his recent night walks, he forgoes slippers, welcoming the shocks the cold floor sends through his blanket-warm soles, grounding him as he silently makes his way past rooms and soft snores.
As he reaches the staircase and he grips the railing to carefully make his way down without the faintest noise, Mirio wonders what it will take tonight for the remnant spikes of horror from his nightmare to stop stinging his veins, millions of pinpricks numbing his body from the inside out and tricking him into the soul-crushing agony of believing he has lost absolutely everything, and all he can do now is to watch the ruins.
Mirio moves slowly but with certainty, used to navigating through the blackest darkness with his now past Quirk, and he makes it to the bottom of the stairs in less than a minute.
His room is one floor up, right above Eri’s, and a bittersweet routine has formed right away where he will wake up gasping for air, desperate to see her and make sure he hasn’t imagined saving her, and then will walk down to her room. Sometimes he only needs to lean against her cold door and focus past the ringing in his ears, deafening in the dead of the night, to hear her soft and regular breathing. Sometimes he can’t hear her, or it isn’t enough to calm him, and he will carefully let himself inside just to get a quick glimpse of her. It never has to be much, he doesn’t even need to see her clearly; just the contour of the petite lump of her body drowned in huge and soft blankets, and the minute rise and fall of her breathing, peaceful and familiar and safe and real in a way that nothing else feels like anymore. It always settles his heart and has him slumping back against the door, so relieved he could almost cry. He’s usually able to go back to his room then, finally ready to test sleep again.
He craves that feeling now, too, his muscles tensing in anticipation as he shortens the distance between them with every careful step, now coming heavier and more hurried as his goal comes into view.
The room at the end of the corridor on his right pulls Mirio in like there’s an invisible string tied impossibly tight around his heart, squeezing painfully and tugging harshly. He brings a hand to his chest to soothe the pain, walking toward the solitary door and frowning once again at the decision to put Eri in a room that is more isolated than the others.
It had been unanimously concluded that Eri needs to be both surveilled and protected, needs to have closest to her the best pro-heroes of the academia to ensure that if anything ever happened, they’d be at the ready in a matter of seconds, Aizawa in particular taking the next room on her left. Yet it was still agreed on that they all need a small layer of protection in case her Quirk gets unconsciously activated, and all they did for that was pushing her slightly into the corner for sleep, even adding to that careful control of her internet access, in case she found upsetting details about the Shie Hassaikai’s activities she had been forced to take part of. And while Mirio can’t fault the desire to protect her from news she would only blame herself for, he thinks the rest is absolutely ludicrous. If she really used her power, it wouldn’t be a few feet of distance that would save them, and all that the barriers around her accomplish to do in the meantime is just letting her believe that she is different from the others, and needs to be kept away from people.
Case in point, Mirio wasn’t even supposed to be here originally, his room mere feet from Midnight’s, but there had been too many strangers around, and as much as Eri is a trusting and loving soul, she had been shaken enough by the abrupt change in her life that she had voiced the desire to have Mirio stay with her. Although, ‘voiced’ is a hyperbole; she had barely managed to get the words out in a stumbling and urgent rush of breath when Mirio had accompanied her to the door and had just waved goodbye, her doe eyes immediately glossing over as her face looked more and more ashamed and remorseful, like she wasn’t supposed to ask for anything and she was bothering everyone just by virtue of having to listen to her soft voice.
Honestly, the teachers couldn’t have stopped Mirio from staying with her even if they had tried, Quirk or no Quirk.
Finally at her door, Mirio lets himself breathe out slowly, forcing his muscles to relax and the faint pain of heartache to ebb enough to leave his ears free of the repetitive drumbeat of his heart and the ring of his blood flow. He turns his head to the side, straining to hear the smallest sounds from inside the room, every passing second of silence sitting heavy in his gut. Closing his eyes, Mirio tries to resist the compulsion to open the door, the distance between them growing unbearable into a maddening itch under his skin, demanding all his attention and preventing him from thinking about anything else.
He begs himself to wait just a bit longer, sure that he’ll detect the smallest rustle of fabric from the other side of the flimsy barrier separating them, and then he won’t have to risk waking her up by getting inside. Mirio is confident in his ability to move soundlessly, yet can’t help being paranoid about failing her in any way, and his right hand hovers hesitantly over the door handle, still debating against himself. Just a little bit more, he’ll hear something soon. But the silence grows deeper like it just rolled into a bottomless pit, and flashes of dust and red fill Mirio’s vision, choking his airways for a second too long. He swallows down a groan of pain, and he loses the battle against himself.
Mirio buys a few seconds to plan his actions, and it’s right before he’s positive he’s found the best way to ensure the most unobtrusive movement, careful in a way he wouldn’t really need considering how many times he’s done this, that he hears a little sound coming from inside the room, a tiny squeak followed by a sharp gasp, and the entire world slows to a halt as his blood turns ice-cold. He opens the door, this time uncaring of making himself heard. He wants to make himself heard, in fact.
“Eri-chan?” he calls, softly, soon as he’s stepped inside the room and has closed the door behind himself.
Differently from his own, Eri’s bedroom has been decorated to be as welcoming as possible to the little girl: the walls have been painted of a warm pastel blue matching her hair, with stencil animals littering swirls and hearts in every direction; a small table has been put at the center of the room, now covered in pencils and color books mostly left ignored, although a few figures have been meticulously filled out with uncanny precision; a bookcase looms in a corner, filled with fairy tales and teen adventures and hero magazines; she has also a tablet with a modified version of parental control on, positively limiting her activity on it only to games, currently forgotten on the dresser in front of the bed, too high for her to reach; Mirio has never even seen her ask to use it once. Lastly, next to the window is her bed, covered in so many pillows that it is always difficult to find her in the midst of all that fluffiness, and a nightstand next to it allowing for a night light shaped as a smiling cloud to cast a warm orange gleam into the room.
It’s thanks to that soft glow that Mirio is able to see Eri’s small frame on the bed, the petite lump of her body bent over as she clutches one of the pillows to her chest and hides her face in it, her back trembling and jerking when the sobs are too strong to be contained.
Being almost killed during the raid had, in fact, been less painful than this for Mirio.
“Eri-chan?” he calls again, sure that she hadn’t heard him the first time around, adamant on making himself known before he’s too close in case she gets scared of the sudden presence in what should be a safe space.
It works this time, her head snapping up and turning to him, her big eyes shining bright with tears, lit up in red and orange glints thanks to the cute cartoon-ish cloud on her nightstand, her cheeks wet with trails that pave the way down to her lips, reddened and swollen probably from her newfound oral fixation of biting into anything soft she has under her hands, a little coping for being suddenly allowed to use her mouth to speak whenever she wants to but still not able to bring herself to every time she has something to say.
Mirio has taken careful steps toward her without even meaning to, drawn to her on such a deep level that it overrides every possible rational thought. Eri doesn’t shy away from him, though, never has despite him being ready to react if she ever does so. It’s not the first time that he has walked into her room to find her awake and in distress, she had even tried to find him once on a past occasion where she had had a nightmare, only ending up wandering through the dark corridors until he had found her while he was on his way to her room. He had promised her then that he would come to her every time, worried sick by the idea of her being alone by herself in the dark, looking for someone she can’t find.
“Did you have a nightmare?” Mirio asks, pushing as little weight into his voice as possible, trying to mask the agonizing pressure on his chest at the sight in front of him, in favor of conveying calm and safety.
Eri’s gaze loses focus for a moment, like she’s falling back into the spiral of thoughts he had found her in, and he’s about to call her back to him that she snaps out of it on her own and raises both arms toward him, letting out this tiny choked sound as a tear rolls down her right eye, and Mirio had thought himself reliably strong until he had met her, but he’s getting used to being constantly put in front of his own inadequacy as he helplessly feels her pain like his own, and closes the distance between them, offering his hands to be clutched onto like lifelines. Her nails dig into his skin, and Mirio finds himself climbing on the bed as Eri pulls him in, seemingly not satisfied until the majority of the pillows have fallen on the ground and he’s lying down as she trembles against his chest, half sprawled over his body.
Arms carefully circle her, waiting for the smallest hint of discomfort, and when it doesn’t come and her small fists wrinkle his shirt, Mirio allows himself to draw her closer still, his mind registering the sweet and fruity scent that always seem to accompany her, permeating the pillows and the blanket and the very air around her, almost coloring it in pink hues. Or maybe that’s just how much Mirio likes her. With her in his arms, he’s just about ready to dare the laws of physics and Lost Quirks to stop him from fusing their bodies together and becoming one.
She’s still trembling and crying, wordless shushes falling from his lips as he tries to calm her down, to remind her of where she is, that she’s safe and sound and won’t ever have to worry about anything for as long as she’ll allow him to be close to her. He always wants to ask her what she dreams about, in hopes of finding a way to help her, but the few times he has tried to breach the subject she has always shut down, too terrified of walking back into that mindset while still conscious.
So Mirio stays in the present and focuses on the here and now: on his hand finding its way through the silky strands of her hair, and cradling her round skull, even the innocent shape of it making his heart swell with fondness, unbelieving that there’s really not a single part of her that isn’t painfully lovely.
“Hey, it’s alright, you’re alright, everything is fine,” Mirio whispers against her forehead, his lips drawing invisible kisses as he speaks on the soft skin there, his fingers slowly massaging her head, feeling the strands of her hair caressing him back.
“Mh?” He looks down, trying to see past the crown of her hair. “Didn’t quite catch that, can you repeat it?”
A silent beat passes where he feels her hands tighten on his shirt, and then she’s lifting her head, red, wet eyes finding his. “Sorry,” she finally says, a frown twisting her face into bearing the onslaught of another sob, eyes falling shut once again.
Mirio doesn’t think his heart is even beating anymore, doesn’t know how to deal with how that single word out of her lips makes him feel. He decides to release her from his hug so that he can cup her round cheeks with both hands, tolerating the ache of not having her as close as before thanks to her weight still half on his chest. Eri doesn’t try to hide her face again, letting Mirio see every tear as it drops down past her cheeks and on his shirt. His thumbs gently brush under her eyes, clearing the path for fresh, new ones.
“Sorry for what, Eri-chan?”
He wants to understand her, find the key to read her thoughts so he knows the exact words to say to break through every fear and worry in her mind. And yet, as she breathes in to gather the strength necessary to give voice to her self-perceived faults, the familiarity of her words don’t come with the necessary awareness of what he should say to finally convince her of the contrary.
“I hurt you. And everyone else...I’m sorry, and you lost your, because of me—”
She looks like she’s working herself up into another fit of sobs, and Mirio squishes her cheeks with his hands, turning her words into ridiculously pouty vowels until she stops entirely and stays still as he pulls her close to start dotting kisses all over her eyebrows, eyelids, eyelashes, button nose, the globs of her wet cheeks. She releases his shirt to put her hands over his, keeping balance under the light assault of his affection as if he could really ever let her fall away from him.
“What did I tell you? There’s nothing you should apologize for, what I’d like to hear from you instead is ‘You’re welcome.’”
And her voice is too unsure for Mirio’s heart, so he pulls her back in and starts kissing her again, this time with more force, making obnoxious sounds as he presses his lips over every inch of skin he can reach, and he’s rewarded with her momentarily forgetting that her face was supposed to stay set on a frown, as she lets out a helpless giggle. There’s nothing quite like Eri’s voice bubbling into a happy laugh, jury still out on whether Mirio will ever be able to hear it without tripping over his own feet, rendered instantly speechless and useless in front of her, disarmed with just that sound.
The skin under his thumbs finally feels damp instead of wet as he traces again the puffy arc of her cheeks, tears kept at bay for now, red irises clear as rubies decorated with golden leaves as the night light illuminates her gaze.
“Because,” he starts, pressing the pad of his index finger on the tip of her nose, before going back to warming her cheek, “it’s the polite reply to someone saying ‘Thank you’. And I will forever thank you for being safe. I’m even quite proud of myself for helping! I did a good job, don’t you think?”
“But you got hurt and—”
The kisses resume, cutting short her reply, and this time he can feel her huff in annoyance at being interrupted, even as she still keeps herself immobile so he can properly make sure that she has enough kisses stored in her nightstand for the night. A small part of Mirio wonders whether he will be able, with time, to make Eri feel safe enough to express annoyance and anger without fearing punishment in return. He might just have to spoil her rotten and smother her in cuddles until she finally gives up on her fears and tells him to stop. In his head, she will be rolling her eyes and will look exasperated but will still wear a smile on her face, like he’s being overbearing but in a harmless way, a boundary easy to set between them both, drawing the line for what she feels comfortable with and what she will decide is not for her.
It’s still too soon between them for that, so Mirio has to set that line for her sake as they get to know each other in the wake of the ruins they came out of. Sure, he wasn’t initially expecting Eri to bond with him like this, considering how she had initially made a more immediate connection with Midoriya, but he figures somewhere between their initial meeting, the raid, the consequences of that fight, the time in the hospital, and then the time spent outside of it where Mirio unofficially assigned himself the role of her companion, since his hero career has suddenly swerved into unknown territory now that he is Quirkless, Eri has seen in him both someone that has paid a high price for rescuing her, and also someone who has been right there next to her during and after incredibly scary moments.
Mirio recites the chronology of her affection every day, keeping himself from mistaking their bond as something he might be tempted to see as mutually permanent. He has to do that, because without that limiter there’s no way he can stop himself from completely devoting his life to her, watching as his entire existence starts rotating around her as if she were the Sun and he just a little planet inevitably caught in her orbit. It has felt that cosmically life-changing when he met her, but he knows he’s not supposed to make it shown, let alone to her. Mirio isn’t sure others can’t already see it in him, but he hopes at least Eri is clueless enough not to feel pressured and influenced in her choices. God, he just wants her to be happy, would give anything to make that happen.
“How can I be anything but ecstatically happy that we all worked very hard, you included, and things turned out so great? So, you see, I can only say ‘Thank you’ because I wouldn’t be this happy otherwise.”
Eri studies him then, maybe trying to see if she can find the lie in there somewhere, the fake coddling only aimed at appeasing her while hiding from her the truth, manipulating reality the way she was used to seeing from others. Mirio lets her, giving her all the time she needs to realize that he isn't joking; he is really and immensely grateful to her for being there with him all in one piece, as happy as she can be, and as safe as he can make her.
A small hand lands on his cheek, and Mirio lets his eyes fall shut, minutely turning his head to press harder against her palm. What was that Shakespeare had said about holy palmers’ kiss?
"You're welcome," he hears then, voice still somewhat uncertain but definitely more stable than before, a hint of that amused annoyance detectable in the silver ring of her timbre.
The smile that blossoms on Mirio’s lips is not entirely under his control, unexpected and unprepared for just like he usually is when he’s with this small creature currently lying on top of him, all long hair and big, doe eyes making the rest of her body look almost disproportionately tiny, such a welcome pressure on his lungs compared to the earlier suffocating ache of fear.
Eri pouts as she tries to throw her head back to move her hair away from her face, a tickling cascade on his chin and a source of never-ending huffs and puffs and blows for her every time she sits or lies down. He stands still, pretending he’s trying to help her while in fact he softly keeps her head in place, causing only more locks to fall forward as she gets increasingly worked up the more she gets tangled in her own trap. She’s too cute for her own good, and definitely too adorable for his own.
Mirio doesn't want to move his hands away from her face yet, even though his inability to hug her at the same time is becoming a logistic problem of growing concern, so he tries for the next best thing and angles his body better on the side, aligning himself with hers so that she falls slightly off his chest and on her flank, but positively making them fit together from chest to toes. Her toes, at least, his body considerably longer, but he compensates as he bends one leg to slightly press over hers, careful not to hurt her, in tune with the smallest twitch of her muscles.
She squirms a moment to better settle against the pillow, freeing her face of the tangled mess he contributed in causing, and this time Mirio helps, fingers carding through her hair so he can see her properly, the new position allowing her head to be higher than it was before and bringing her almost eye-level to him, the puffs of her damp breath now properly against his face. Mirio isn’t yet satisfied of their closeness, so he stretches one arm under her face and replaces her pillow - and that's a troubling movement that makes her grumble under her breath, much to his delight, until he settles down again and finally stops disturbing her by moving too much - while his other hand returns to cradling her cheek.
This isn't so bad, he thinks, as he bends the arm that is under her and envelopes almost entirely her back, his hand flat against her spine.
It seems like Eri is waiting for some other unplanned movement, and when it doesn't come she relaxes, her body pliant and warm and soft against his. Mirio closes his eyes again, content beyond words. She does something with her hips and legs that might be the equivalent of a little puppy circling around in its nest before flopping down, and when she stops she’s not just flat against him, it feels like she’s slotted her body like a missing puzzle piece. Mirio could fall asleep like this, he's sure.
Eri’s hand against his face shifts a bit, seemingly to find a position more comfortable with her arm, until he feels the movement being repeated in small increments and in different directions, and he realizes that she’s caressing him. As a pleased sigh falls from his lips still pulled up in a serene smile, he mirrors her movements with his hand at her back, giving her a way to control it through her own gestures. She’s an intelligent little thing, she figures it out almost instantly, making the brushes of her palm against his face broader so that his hand draws the biggest arc it can on her back and side, limited by half of his arm under her head.
Eri seems to have a specific goal in mind, though, because her hand settles halfway between his temple and his hair, stretching her arm up and away in what must definitely be an uncomfortable position, and Mirio’s hand fails to copy her movement because his joints stop him halfway up her back.
Opening his eyes, curious to see what she thinks she’s doing exactly, he finds her looking at him with a pensive light frown on her face. He stares, not understanding, and she turns her head in a way that makes the hand he still has on her cheek slide backwards. He almost stops the movement from happening, but then Eri turns her head again, in the same direction, and Mirio might just know what she means to do.
Leaving his thumb touching her temple, the rest of his palm slides back almost all the way to her nape, covering it entirely, also making his arm press against her shoulder in the process. It must be heavy, but when he tries to move it Eri makes a sound of protest and snuggles closer.
“You could have just asked, you know,” Mirio says, amused.
Eri moves her hand back in a more comfortable position, now lightly scratching the line of his jaw close to his chin. Maybe she is feeling the beginning of his stubble, usually slow to grow but still difficult to ignore by the time night comes.
“Don’t need to, you understand anyway,” she unexpectedly replies, even sounding mildly smug about it, if Mirio is not hallucinating.
Pride washes over him at her words, but he still tries to give her a good message, always worried about how she can settle comfortably in society with an ocean of strangers, infinite Overhauls walking the planet at the same time as her. He tries not to dwell too much on how terrifying it sounds, and focuses on his job of protecting her and letting her grow free of chains. “You should still say it when you need or want something, not everyone will be able to understand.”
“I know,” Eri says simply, the light scratch of her nails against Mirio’s skin the only sound in the room beside their breathing, for a moment. “But you’re not everyone.”
Eri lowers her gaze down to his chin, the orange glow of the night light making the blush on her cheeks even darker than it would look like under daylight. It feels like she just said something very important that took her quite a bit of courage to pull out, and Mirio honors it with a heavy silence and a firm nod of his head.
“You’re not everyone, either,” he feels compelled to say, not entirely sure what exactly they’re talking about here, but still confident that whatever Eri is trying to convey to him, he wholeheartedly reciprocates in spades.
Eri sucks her bottom lip in her mouth as her eyelids fall heavy on her eyes for a beat, and Mirio is fairly sure he got that one right, he said the perfect thing. He can’t stop himself from caressing her nape and back again, wanting to cuddle whatever emotion she’s feeling, letting her bask in it for as long as possible because it looks like she likes it and is making her somewhere around happy, and truly, isn’t that precisely Mirio’s new goal in life? He’s really proving his worth here.
“I...can say if I want something?” Eri asks, lowering her head shyly.
“Then…” there’s a pause where her cheeks darken even more, and Mirio’s hand at her nape turns from casually caressing to actively trying to comfort her. “...can you stay?”
Mirio stares at her, not understanding what she’s referring to. Is this about staying the night with her? He has never done that, always going back to his room after seeing her and occasionally calming her down from one of her nightmares, but he doesn’t think there would be much of a problem if he did, beside the obvious obstacle that a single bed would become quickly uncomfortable for the both of them. It’s easier to stay so close when they’re both awake and conscious of where their limbs are.
Would the other teachers have problems if they found Mirio sleeping in Eri’s room? He’s honestly not sure; they’re clearly aware that Eri is attached to him and Mirio is entirely too fond of her, and they must know that she still has deep, invisible scars from the life she was forced to live until shortly ago, they can’t possibly expect her to really be fine with sleeping on her own in a completely different environment suddenly. No, ultimately he thinks he could find some kind of compromise with them so that Eri has what she needs.
“You mean tonight or in general?”
Eri purses her lips before shaking her head and then squeaking some kind of little sound before she hides her face in the crook of Mirio’s neck. Taken by surprise and not a little amount of worry, Mirio tries to twist to see her face and make sure she’s not crying again, that he hasn’t said something that has hurt her. She struggles against his movement, managing to stay hidden, and her breath comes faster on his skin, her hands now again clutching his shirt and pulling the fabric toward herself.
“Hey, hey, baby, it’s okay, what happened?”
He doesn’t know whether he should remove his hands, if feeling the weight of them against her body might trigger her, but she’s still clutching his shirt and is positively plastered against him in every possible way, so Mirio assumes physical contact is not the issue here.
“Can you tell me? Did I say something wrong?”
Mirio doesn’t expect Eri to answer immediately, sensing that she has to work through whatever inner turmoil is blocking her, and decides instinctively that he can only wait it out, encouraging her all the while and reminding her that he’s there with her until the end. He tests contact with his hands again, slowly moving the one against her back, drawing lines up and down her spine, and when he feels her sigh against his neck, tries with the hand cradling her nape. There’s a minuscule shift in her face as her nose brushes against his skin in a small oval shape that awakes goosebumps all over his shoulder and down his arm, and Mirio renews his efforts to cuddle her out of whatever anxious state she has worked herself into.
As his fingers stroke her nape and tickle the fine hairs at the V of her hairline there, Mirio lets his thumb brush up over the side of her face, unbearably soft and heated from their close proximity, over her ear and the fragile cartilage of its shell, and then up again, leaving the safety of the back of her neck for the uncertainty of something he hasn’t dared do until now. Mirio holds his breath, heart kicking his ribcage as his thumb brushes over the base of her horn. He feels the bump of her skin as it raises over the bone underneath, and he stills, terrified, as Eri starts trembling again in his arms.
He’s about to move away, but she makes again that tiny, choked up sound, and grows a bit bolder in snuggling against Mirio and brushing her nose against the side of his neck, now deliberately moving her head like she’s exploring how touching him skin-on-skin feels. The shift doesn’t allow him to properly control where his hands go, and his thumb ends up pressing against her horn, hard and hot under his pad, smooth in a way he wasn’t expecting, and some part of Mirio’s brain still miraculously functioning registers that he finally knows that its point isn’t sharp at all.
He worries the accidental touch will scare Eri away, but what happens is instead the exact opposite, as she exhales hard against the crook of his neck and then decides to remember only then of what she’s learned to do when she’s encouraged to talk even though she can’t bring herself to: she drags her lips against his skin as she opens her mouth, and then latches onto the patch under her teeth, biting down.
Mirio has a full body twitch as he feels teeth sink down on hyper-sensitive nerves, goosebumps now traveling down his spine to spread over his entire body. He bites his bottom lip to avoid making any sound that might scare her, but has to do something when her tongue laps at his skin as she swallows, and Mirio is incapable of keeping still more than that; he buries his face in her hair, breathing in deeply. The scent of raspberries from her shampoo hits him full force, and Mirio finds himself unconsciously copying Eri’s movement from before, brushing his nose against the shape of her head as his hand at her back stops caressing up and down, his fingers unwittingly gripping whatever they have under them, ending up with a handful of her delicate hip, fitting almost completely in his palm.
Mirio doesn’t remember whether he pulled the blankets on them or not, brain too fogged up to solve a puzzle that simple, but he wonders how it is that everything feels so hot against his skin, clothes starting to stick almost uncomfortably as his body realizes it has to sweat the heat out. Eri should be feeling way too warm as well, knows that the pajamas under his hand is damp, but maybe that’s just the heat of his own hand. She doesn’t seem to mind the temperature between them, only puffing harder against his neck as she breathes through her nose, while her mouth is still firmly latched onto his neck.
Somewhere far in the back of his head, Mirio wonders whether he’ll have to wear a turtleneck tomorrow to hide the marks of her teeth, but his entire focus is occupied by the little girl in his arms, and he forgets why wearing her tiny mark on his neck should be any problem at all. He belatedly finds his hand back in her hair, encouraging her to stay where she is, mouth on him, thumb periodically caressing over her horn; swears he can feel it pulsing in time with his own heart.
Eri swallows again, and the action makes her tongue twist again against Mirio’s skin as she creates a stronger suction, and she must realize that she has reached the limit of her mouth’s capacity, she can’t bite any more than that, because she tries to sink her teeth down again but the more she tries the more skin slips out, wet and slippery with her spit. It must be frustrating her, because Mirio feels her tense against him, and he’s not entirely there rationally, too many physical stimuli to process all at once, so he acts on instinct to calm her, kissing her head over and over as he murmurs endearments into her hair.
She melts at that, giving up on chewing his neck and opting for tilting her head to drop the tiniest kiss against the sensitive skin under his jaw, close to his ear. Mirio mumbles something sweet against Eri’s head that must spur her on to do it again, this time a little more on the side toward his face. Mirio resumes caressing her then, needing to do something to settle the electric current under his skin, and Eri stops just short of purring, her lips raining kisses at regular intervals, drawing a love line starting from the corner of his jaw and down his face. Mirio doesn’t realize he’s accompanying the movement by turning his head until he feels Eri’s soft lips land on the corner of his mouth, and there’s this fragment of a second where his tongue darts out to wet his lips in anticipation, and then he freezes, heart suddenly in his throat.
Eri hums under her breath, not really registering her actions past the heavy haze of their cuddling, least of all past Mirio’s sudden stillness, and she turns her head just that fraction enough to lean forward again to press her mouth on his, slightly off-center but still there in every way that matters.
Mirio jerks back in surprise, eyes wide in shock, adrenaline seemingly wanting to make his heart claw its way out of his throat.
What did just happen?
It takes a moment too late for Eri to realize that a crack has found its way in their cocoon, her eyes glazed over and mouth soft and red and wet, her hair more disheveled than usual thanks to Mirio’s ministrations, cheeks tinted with a deeper rouge, a light sheen of sweat making her skin glow and a few strands of hair glue to her forehead, one of her legs bent to press against the inside of his thigh, curving her spine into his hand still tight around her, looking so beautiful and for all intents and purposes downright edible, and Mirio has never been more scared in his life.
The temperature in the room drops several degrees, as if a spell has just been lifted from them, returning them to a reality that is colder and darker than the one they were enjoying together. Mirio needs to carefully extract himself away from Eri, needs to do it before she realizes that he— before she starts asking questions, and guilt settles heavily on his tongue, disgust growing a lump of nausea at the back of his throat. He shouldn’t be here like this, he had made it a point of setting boundaries for her sake, protecting her from the world, including himself. Caring for her should never come with the accompanying feeling of hunger, let alone the relief from it.
“S-sorry, Eri-chan,” he starts, not even knowing where to begin to fix the mess he just made. If a fix is even possible at all, but Mirio doesn’t want to think about the option where the line he has crossed means the end of them, because that’s something his mind cannot possibly wrap itself around, not after everything they’ve been through together, not after everything he has gladly given up on for her.
There’s a small hiccup coming from below him, and he has never wanted to have his Quirk again like right about now, so he could sink into the floor and never come back out. He’d hold his breath long enough for that.
When he tentatively looks down at her, he’s greeted with a face so red it might as well be the same color of her eyes, and there are again tears barely holding on to her dark lashes as others are already rolling down her cheeks, and Mirio just did that. It’s all on him.
Eri pushes hard against his chest and successfully extracts herself from him, although the mess of limbs ends up causing more than an elbow and knee hitting his chest and legs. It’s okay, it’s not like Mirio thinks he doesn’t deserve it, but then she doesn’t keep hitting him, simply curls up a bit farther down the bed, knees up to her chest and head hidden behind her arms, as she shakes again with silent sobs.
Mirio is ready to open the window and jump down if she asks him to, yet he finds himself petrified on the bed, at war with himself between getting away from her and at the same time not wanting to leave her alone while she cries to herself. He really just wants her to be happy, how could he fail so miserably at that?
“Eri-chan, please talk to me. I’m so sorry, I should have never...just tell me what I can do to help you.”
A sob wrecks through her small body again, and the shape of her doesn’t look as clear as it was before. Blinking a few times, Mirio finds his own eyes wet with tears, and he wipes them with his sleeve, hurriedly.
“Don’t hate me.”
That’s what he’s thinking, but it didn’t come out quite with the correct voice. It’s an inexplicable mystery until Mirio remembers his own timbre and confirms that he wasn’t the one who has talked.
“Please,” she begs from her temporary refuge between her arms, her voice coming out muffled and distorted. “I’m sorry, I won’t do that again, but please don’t hate me.”
Mirio can hardly believe what he’s hearing, but he’s not making this up, the pain in his chest too strong not to be real, the aches where Eri had inadvertently hit him as she scrambled away already blooming into light bruises, the side of his neck still feels damp from her mouth. It’s not a dream. It’s not a dream, and she’s apologizing to him.
“I could never hate you,” he hastily replies, scared of what thoughts her mind is conjuring up. “I could never hate you, Eri-chan. I don’t hate you, it’s the complete opposite, there’s nothing you should apologize for, it’s me that—”
“I did a bad thing, and now you’ll hate me,” she whimpers, the end of the sentence almost impossible to understand as it completely morphs into a sob.
Mirio should stay where he is, a healthy distance between them. But is it healthy, really, when she talks like that? As he looks at her, defenseless and hurt, there’s not a single cell in him that can stop him from moving forward and hugging her again, making his whole body a shield for her against the world and anything else that might ever dare to hurt her. It’s ironical and tragic that he’s now trying to defend her from himself.
“You did nothing bad, Eri-chan. Everything’s alright, I could never hate you.”
She tenses up under him but doesn’t push him away, instead buries herself even deeper in his shirt, now that their position makes him loom over her. She’s minuscule against his body, it’s incredible how she has destroyed him several times just tonight without even trying, despite being so small.
“B-but,” there’s a hiccup that bounces from her frame against his ribs, and Mirio tightens his hold on her, feeling again that impossible warmth spread out from every point of contact between them, heart growing twice in size at the mere sight of her, and he would suspect her Quirk if he didn’t know how it works in detail, and if he were more naive. He knows what this is. He knows he shouldn’t dare feel like this, but it’s still there.
“But you didn’t like it, and I’m sorry. I won’t do it again,” Eri finishes miserably, sniffing quietly to herself as if he wasn’t plastered over her, aware of every minuscule detail.
Panic shouldn’t clutch his heart, not when Eri kindly offers Mirio the perfect way out. It would take the smallest rephrasing to reassure her that this isn’t her fault at all, has done absolutely nothing wrong, that this is all on him but he will never hate her, it’s really as simple as not doing it again, because it’s just an innocent matter of personal tastes. It’s like being offered one food when you’d rather have another, no shaming in not liking something rather than something else. It would be so perfect, also working on teaching Eri that just like she can say no to people without the fear of hurting them, so others can say no to her without that meaning they hate her. Boundaries and consent all neatly packed into this perfect line she’s just served him, and if she had been closer to his age, Mirio would have thought she was doing it on purpose to put him out of his misery.
But she isn’t, and he’s so much weaker than that.
“I was just caught by surprise, it’s not that I didn’t like it.”
There, that’s a nice hole in the ground he has just dug up for himself. But then Eri tilts her head up and looks at him with her huge eyes and cute nose and adorable lips before hiding again in his shirt, and Mirio figures he can wait a bit before lying down in it. Has a few more important things to attend to before properly punishing himself.
“You didn’t...not like it?” Eri asks, then frowns in confusion as she gets momentarily lost in the cruel grammar of Mirio’s cowardice.
She’ll solve it soon enough, but he still feels horrible for making her cry again, so Mirio leans down and presses his forehead to her shoulder, her raspberry shampoo calling him home again as he makes sure she’s well and properly engulfed in his bigger body.
“I liked it, it’s okay,” he says.
“So you won’t leave me?” Eri asks cautiously into his shirt.
Mirio feels as if he has just fought a whole army of Nomu, with how exhausted and boneless he feels. There was a line, at some point, he thinks. Couldn’t find it again if his life depended on it now, though.
“Not until you tell me to leave.”
Eri lets out a helpless whimper at that, sounding still too close to tears, although her shaking has subsided considerably. “I won’t tell you that.”
“Then as long as you won’t tell me that, I’ll stay.”
Her head perks up at that, causing him to pull back slightly, her eyes growing so wide that a few stray drops fall from her eyelashes and down her cheeks. “You’ll stay?”
And it’s the way she says that word that causes Mirio to go back to the question she had asked him, the one she still hadn’t given context or explanation to, the vaguest request to ‘stay’ where everything around her should already tell her the fact that yes, he is absolutely present and quite difficult to get rid of completely, given as they’re both on U.A. ground. At best she could get him to do his best in avoiding her, although it would break him to pieces. Mirio would do it if Eri asked him to, though. That was obvious.
It’s his train of thought as he considers the broadest context of them sharing space at the school, and the specific reply he had given her that had prompted her question again, that finally gives Mirio the key to read her words.
He hasn’t nearly forgiven himself for crossing the line with her, but that’s not something that she needs to know or be privy to. To her, Mirio has already decided he will never show anything other than unconditional acceptance and love, in whatever form she wants and needs to receive them.
Gathering more courage than what he usually needs to fight villains that could very much kill him, Mirio pulls back just enough to offer his hand between them, palm up, unassuming, but still inviting. Eri looks at it for a few seconds, hesitant to reach out even as her body seemingly starts and aborts the action a couple of times, but she looks at him in such an apologetic way that it’s almost as if she’s being cautious for his sake, rather than her own, so Mirio waits patiently, wearing his heart on his sleeve.
Her hand ultimately comes up from around her knees, and she tentatively puts it on Mirio’s, palm to palm, and he has a flash of his English Literature class years before, and that specific quote from Romeo&Juliet. If he remembers correctly, from the palmers’ kiss follows a cheeky exchange about taking back one’s sin from the lover’s lips. He wants to laugh as much as he wants to cry, but Mirio holds it in for her. Always for her.
“I’ll stay for as long as you’ll want me to,” he states, although the truth of it should have been clear right from the start. Mirio will have to do something about that deep fear Eri has of being abandoned, possibly something that will allow him to watch her bloom and grow into the diamond she already is, waiting for the day she’ll be able to stop considering herself someone different and dangerous to be kept away from others, and see herself through his eyes instead, even for just an instant.
Because she is different. God, she is unique, but in the most beautiful and fragile and strong and breathtaking way, nothing she should ever feel ashamed or scared of. And if things went his way, Eri would never feel alone for the rest of her extremely long life, and would never have to doubt herself and her place in the world. He would dedicate his whole life to that.
Eri does something painfully cute with her eyebrows as she struggles to get out the words that had failed her before. Mirio squeezes her hand gently, always encouraging, and she adorably blushes down to her neck as she takes a huge breath just so she can let out the tiniest, "Even forever?" that pretty much undoes him right there and then.
She’s going to be the most devastating and stunning death of him.
“Yes. Even forever.”