“You’re doing great,” Izuku says, smiling from the small screen. The phone is propped up against the back counter so Eri can see him. “Careful, it’ll be hot.”
“I know,” Eri responds. “Thanks for helping…”
Guilt bounces back in a rippling wave. He’s been on the call with her for the past two hours, happy to keep up conversation and guide her when she’s needed it.
“I’m sorry,” she adds, glancing over. “I know you’re really busy.”
In the warm kitchen light, even on the phone, Izuku looks tired. She can see dark circles under his eyes, and if she looks carefully she can see the bruising along his jaw from his fight earlier this week. Being a new pro hero isn’t exactly easy, but he’s been keeping up okay.
She worries about him, of course. The last time he’d been available to visit was two weeks ago, and they’d talked quietly for half an hour before he’d drifted off to sleep, exhausted. Eri doesn’t mind when that happens, though Izuku is still embarrassed about it.
He’s really a hero now, though, a hero -hero. Like Aizawa.
It makes Eri smile. Now everyone can see Izuku the same way she sees him—the same way she saw him, almost four years ago now, smiling, a picture of hope.
“I want to talk to you,” Izuku tells her firmly. “Is Aizawa-sensei home yet?”
She glances at the door, then at the time. “No. He should be home soon, though.”
Eri sticks her tongue out in concentration as she fetches the rectangular pan. “I left the tamagoyaki for last,” she admits, “it’s the only thing I haven’t made yet.”
“You’ll do great, Eri!”
Somehow, having Izuku here cheering her on makes Eri feel a lot better. He never fails to; seeing him smile makes a warm feeling trickle in her chest.
“I’ve never made it before…”
“I’m sure Aizawa-sensei will appreciate it,” Izuku chirps.
He leans back. Distantly on the call there’s the noise of the front door opening; Eri can always tell, because the apartment door squeaks loudly when it opens and closes. Izuku says they haven’t gotten it fixed because if someone breaks in, it’s like a free warning system. Katsuki says it’s because Deku spends all his money on hero merchandise, pointedly ignoring his own.
“Oi,” Katsuki yells.
“Come say hi.”
As Katsuki heads over, Eri reaches for her bowl and three eggs, cracking them carefully. Salt. Sugar. She oils the pan.
“Move over,” Katsuki is saying, “it’s my turn.”
“She called me,” Izuku says, but he scoots over and Katsuki enters the frame. He’s still in his hero costume, though he’s taken off his mask.
“Hi,” Eri replies, beating the eggs together. She thinks the pan is hot enough now. “Any advice?”
Katsuki leans in. “Do not,” he starts, “change. The direction of the eggs.”
“That doesn’t even make sense, Kacchan.”
“It makes perfect sense, dumbass.”
Eri doesn’t really know what that means—the direction of the eggs—but she nods seriously. Aizawa always makes tamagoyaki for her, after the first time she’d tried it from a street vendor and loved it.
It’s been years now, she thinks; years of standing at the counter, at first perched on a stool, watching Aizawa with wide eyes as he carefully rolls each layer of tamagoyaki and later cuts it to reveal a perfect spiral.
A thin layer first, the video tutorial instructed, so Eri pours just a little bit and moves the pan around so it fills the whole thing.
“I’m nervous,” Eri says to fill the silence, worrying her lip.
“You could burn the shit out of the egg and Aizawa-sensei would still eat it with a smile,” Katsuki says. “Don’t worry about it.”
“Oh, a grimace?” Izuku grins at Eri from the phone. “You know, Kacchan burnt—”
“I did not! Fuck you!”
Eri laughs, then checks her eggs. Carefully, balancing her spatula and chopsticks, she starts to roll the first layer. It tears. Eri bites down on her lip— it’s okay, it’s okay —and finishes rolling, then pushes the egg to the end of the pan and pours another layer.
“Good?” Izuku asks.
She lets out a breath. “It’s okay.”
It’s a little lumpy, and bigger than Eri would like. But—it’s okay.
They talk a little more as Eri finishes, rolling each layer carefully, the way Aizawa does it. Finally she runs out of egg, and there’s a very large piece of tamagoyaki that Eri plops out of the pan onto a plate.
Well, it’s not perfect, but Eri slices it and finds a wonky spiral in the center.
“I did it,” she tells her audience, taking the phone and switching the camera so they can look. Katsuki makes an appreciative noise, and Izuku cheers.
“Alright,” Katsuki says, “I’m off. I need a shower. See you, kid.”
Her phone buzzes. A notification bar appears at the top of her screen.
Aizawa 7:32 PM
Hey. Coming home late. Something came up. Make yourself something to eat. Don’t stay up.
Aizawa 7:33 PM
Take care of yourself.
Eri nearly drops the phone. She doesn’t, but it shakes.
She opens her messages and reads the texts again. Presses her hand to her mouth. Coming home late. Don’t stay up.
Eri sets the phone down on the counter as disappointment wells in her stomach.
On the small wooden table in the dining area, there’s a spread of dishes. Baked fish, a plate of bok choy, stewed peanuts Eri bought—Aizawa’s favorite kind. The very last dish is the tamagoyaki. All of them are still steaming.
She did it for him.
With shaky fingers, heart trembling in her throat, Eri sends I thought you were done with the case. Does she sound too accusing? You said this morning we would eat dinner together.
He's supposed to be stepping through the apartment door, shoulders untensing and a faint smile on his face when he sees her. He’s supposed to be home.
Aizawa 7:40 PM
I can’t. I’m sorry.
“Eri?” Izuku prompts again from the phone. She whines.
“He- he just texted,” Eri whispers. She slides down on the kitchen floor, cradling the phone and pulling her knees in towards her chest. “He said something happened. Not to wait for him.”
She bites down hard on her lip. She’s not going to cry, she refuses to, but already she can feel her face flush.
“I’m sorry,” Izuku says, and she hears it like she’s underwater. “You worked so hard, Eri.”
“I—” She does start crying, and hates how pathetic and small she feels. “He- he’s been so busy with the case, and I just wanted, I thought he would be- be home, and we could—”
Eri wipes at her eyes with the back of her hand.
“Sorry,” she sniffles.
“Don’t—no, Eri, don’t be sorry, Aizawa-sensei will appreciate it, you know that. Okay? It’s okay.”
“Do you want me to stay on call with you? You still need to eat.”
Eri considers it. It’s not the same, and she feels silly for wanting to say yes , so she says no. Manages a wobbly smile, excuses herself, and ends the call.
The phone clicks.
Eri sits on the floor for a minute. Only a minute; she fixes her eyes on the clock, counting the seconds, like she’s still waiting for her guards’ shift to change. The shadows steal across the kitchen.
She gets up on shaky legs and carries the plate of tamagoyaki to the table.
Eri’s already set it for two. Carefully she drapes a napkin over Aizawa’s rice bowl, and then picks up her own chopsticks.
She checks her phone again. Sets down her chopsticks.
Thirty minutes, Eri decides. She’ll wait a little longer.
Without Izuku on the phone and in the near-empty apartment, Eri rediscovers a feeling she hasn’t known in a long time—loneliness. Soft, cold light illuminates the dining area, crowded in the corner of the kitchen. She sits at the table, her feet barely scraping the floor, and sinks back into memory.
She always used to eat alone. Overhaul had meals delivered, and Eri would curl in the corner between her bed and the wall and eat quietly from the tray. She was contaminated. She was not to know the word kindness , because kindness had no place in a world confined to white walls.
Overhaul ate with her, once. That, Eri has since learned, is not kindness. The keen loss of company left her hungrier than before she’d eaten.
In her memories a little girl sits alone, waiting for someone to join her.
Eri tries not to think of those days, anymore, but she can’t help it. Aizawa is usually here to chase her old fears away.
Fifteen minutes pass, then twenty, then thirty. There’s only silence, no sound of the keys slotting into the lock or Aizawa’s first step into the doorway, right foot in front.
Her stomach rumbles. Eri picks up her chopsticks, pulls her bowl of rice closer, and swallows her loneliness and hurt alongside it. The food is already cold.
She doesn’t feel like leaving the table when she’s done. Across the table is an empty seat and an untouched rice bowl. Eri pushes her plates away and lays her head down, nestling in the corner of her elbow.
Her phone is silent.
Eri reaches for it. Maybe she can call Izuku, but she stops just short. She doesn’t want to bother him since he’s already spent so much time on her tonight.
She does open her messages with Aizawa and texts him to ask how things are going. He doesn’t read it.
What if, her mind whispers. What if he’s not coming back?
Then, what if he doesn’t want to come back?
Eri closes her eyes and shuts out the voice in her head that sounds like Overhaul, that says the same words to her. He still haunts her dreams, sometimes. Every time she stands in a dark hallway, alone, and he says to her, no one is coming for you. You are not worth it.
She bites down hard on the inside of her cheek. He’s gone. In reality a little girl sits at one end of a table, waiting for someone to come home.
It washes over her, then, her fear. Eri gives in.
A few hours later she’s still sitting there, every light but one shut off. She curls with her legs up on the chair, half-draped over the table and tired.
Keys in the lock. A footstep.
She wills sleep away and sits up, scrubbing at her eyes as Aizawa slips into the kitchen and finds her. He’s dressed in black, but that doesn’t hide the bandage poking out from under his sleeve or the split lip.
He crouches down in front of the chair. Eri feels like she’s ten again.
“You’re hurt,” she whispers, reaching out to touch his face.
“I’m fine,” Aizawa says, voice gruff. He sighs. “Eri, don’t—”
She activates her Quirk, and feels her power hum through her veins. Aizawa’s lip heals over.
“Thank you,” he murmurs. “I’m sorry I’m late.”
Her chest cracks open. Eri slips out of the chair and throws herself into his arms. Aizawa wraps her into a hug, his hands reassuring along her back and relieving the ache that’s lined her shoulders.
“I was— alone,” Eri whispers, and he strokes her hair. The touch is so gentle it almost hurts.
“I’m sorry,” Aizawa murmurs, “I’m sorry… it’s alright. I’m here. I’m not going anywhere.”
They stay there for a moment. She holds onto him, clinging to the fact that he’s real—that he hasn’t left her, that he’s come back to her, because he wants to. He chooses to.
You are not worth it, Overhaul says.
“I’m here,” Aizawa says.
“I made dinner,” Eri says. Her voice sounds so small. “It- it’s all cold now, but…”
Aizawa shifts. He looks at the table, and something unreadable enters his eyes.
“You made all this?” He reaches out and touches the corner of a plate. “For me?”
Eri nods once. She’s never cooked an entire meal before, like this, but they’re all ones Aizawa taught her to make.
“I wanted to surprise you,” she admits when Aizawa turns his gaze back towards her. “I- since you were working hard, I thought, maybe, I could… make something. For you.”
“God, Eri, ” Aizawa says, and his voice cracks.
She doesn’t know what that means, the way he says her name. But a moment later Aizawa comes back and pulls her into his arms again and whispers thank you fiercely into her hair.
“Will you eat?” she asks.
A part of her expects him to say no, but Aizawa circles the table to the other seat. He’s smiling, the sort of soft smile he only directs at her.
“You’re so kind to me, Eri,” Aizawa says, taking a piece of tamagoyaki, and it’s enough to make her eyes burn with tears.
“You taught me kindness,” Eri replies, and knows it’s true.
Aizawa eats. He stays. This is the difference, Eri thinks, that one person can make to a little girl, sitting alone.