"Ping pong. You want to play... ping pong with me."
Hawks studied Endeavor with a lazy gaze. God, the man's frustrated face was so great. If the word could really be applied to him at all, it was almost cute how irritated he got trying to figure out what Hawks was about. How had he described it in Yoritomi Green before everything went to hell? What his 'endgame' was?
Buddy, it's for your own good.
(...And to ease Hawks' guilty conscience. But it was a bit selfish to focus overmuch on that.)
"Well, yeah," Hawks said as if it were the obvious thing for a Kyushu-based colleague to suggest after 'coincidentally' bumping into Endeavor on his way out of the office in Musutafu after a hard day's work. "It'd be fun, don't you think?"
"Fun." Endeavor spat the word like it'd insulted his youngest child. Having done that once, Hawks knew what it looked like. "I don't have time for fun."
Ha! Tell me about it...
Hawks didn't either, but he'd happily devote what freedom he did have to this, uh, endeavor, if you would. After learning Endeavor really would be losing his left eye after all—
(And for what? Because Hawks had roped him into Dabi's plan. The pronouncement, when one of the medical staff at the hospital had finally deigned to tell him as Endeavor surely hadn't, had struck Hawks like a freight train. He'd been grateful, then, that black-lined eyes couldn't get red-rimmed.)
—Hawks had hit up the old moogle search to read up on what to expect. If he wanted Endeavor back on his feet as the number one hero as quickly as possible, there were going to be a handful of new difficulties.
The sudden lack of depth perception would be the most troublesome to overcome. Ping pong, surprisingly enough, had been suggested more than once to regain competency. Or rather, it'd been listed again and again as out of the question now, which, if he thought about it, meant it was just Endeavor's game. Nothing like a rapid-fire little ball being shot repeatedly at his face to get him thinking fast, right? Endeavor didn't know the meaning of the words 'give up.' He'd master it in no time.
Hawks could even sell it to the League as testing Endeavor out, deflecting suspicion, and gaining more of his trust.
The best lie was always the truth. ...If he could even get the man to agree.
"A couple matches really wouldn't take that long. I mean, the place I know—"
The place Hawks had looked up on his maps app last night after settling into his new quarters.
"—only lets you play for thirty minutes at a time anyway. We could even call it table tennis if it'd make you feel better about it."
Hawks watched Endeavor struggle with that new information. He held back a sigh. It was gonna be a no, wasn't it? He should probably just count himself lucky Endeavor had listened to him this long. He hadn't expected the first foray to be a success anyway.
Finally, it seemed Endeavor had made up his mind.
He crossed his arms and tilted his head like a judge reviewing an unruly plaintiff. "...I'll allow it. Just the once."
Well, hot damn. Endeavor said yes!
"Don't worry, Endeavor-san. You won't be disappointed!"
Hawks tucked the basket of white balls under the table where it would be out of the way of his feet. He straightened, holding one in his right hand, the paddle in his left.
Across from him Endeavor shifted awkwardly. He wasn't facing Hawks head on, more on a slight diagonal so he could see the full length of the table with his single eye. Hawks didn't actually know if that was good or bad. He let his wings flutter out – a shrug without really shrugging. There was nothing for it but to begin.
"I've got first serve."
He tossed the little thing into the air and smacked it smartly down the table.
In less than the blink of an eye, Endeavor dropped his paddle, thrust out a hand, and vaporized the ping pong ball with a blast of Hellflame.
A bead of sweat rolled down Hawks' temple from the residual heat. He stared at the motes of ash settling on the far side of the net. It'd been an impressive display of skill – if not the skill he was after.
"...Okay," he said and bent to grab a new ball from the basket. "New rule. No quirks from here on out."
After that, Hawks won.
To be perfectly honest, when he'd cooked up this idea Hawks knew Endeavor wouldn't hit it out of the park on the first go around, but he hadn't thought he'd be destroying him so completely. Guess that just showed how necessary it all was, but it was almost... sad.
Endeavor had really started to try and try hard, but his depth perception was totally shot. The mask of fire that had burst forth all across his face and grown with each subsequent loss probably wasn't doing him any favors either. It was technically violating their house rules (not to mention the law since they were in public but not on duty), but Hawks figured Endeavor would need to get used to it eventually and held his tongue.
...Maybe he should up the ante. Give Endeavor a really cutthroat incentive to beat him. If Hawks just won again... Well. No one who'd ever accused him of being an opportunist had ever really been wrong.
(Who wouldn't be, though, with his quirk? With his life?)
Hawks made a show of glancing at the clock. "Huh, looks like we've got time for one more round. How about we put a little wager on this one, Endeavor-san? If I win, from now on I get to call you by your real name."
He bounced a ball over the net. It puttered toward Endeavor and bumped into his hand. That wasn’t saying much since he had a lot to work with, but instead of just crushing it like an egg as Hawks half expected, he picked it up with a scorching stare, and served it.
Hawks wished he could say the final bout had been evenly matched. As it turned out, things just didn't change that quickly despite how much effort anyone put in. He offered his opponent a consoling rub on the arm anyway, pretending he wasn't seizing the moment to feel up his muscles.
"Don't sweat it, Enji. There's always next time."
He grumbled but didn't swat Hawks away.
"...You won't win so easily again."
Hawks grinned. He actually hoped he wouldn't, but he already knew expressing a wish to do less than his best would drive this guy off. Much better to fire him up in other ways.
"Sure I won't. Sooo. Drinks? If you like saké, there's a nice place not too far from here..."
Hawks couldn't believe Endea— Enji had actually allowed him to drag him somewhere else.
He'd heard good things about this dim little bar and the traditional décor might help set Enji at ease since he obviously didn't get out much, and coming from Hawks that meant a lot. He led him to a lantern-lit booth secluded by a latticework of wood and slid in along one side with a sigh. A half hour of table tennis didn't even count as exertion, but he always appreciated the chance to get off his feet.
When Enji settled across from him, Hawks had already made short work of the hot towel provided and was perusing the menu.
"Are you gonna get anything to eat? I am."
Enji snorted. "Let me guess. Yakitori."
Hawks rested his chin in one hand and smiled. "Oh, Enji, you already know me so well."
(Inaccurate, but Hawks hoped to change that in time. Certain things he'd have to keep omitting, of course, but that was a regrettable necessity for the greater good. Everything else – everything important – that was and would be true. But it'd be best not to think of that. Not here, not now. He could always tell Enji later his favorite food was actually mizutaki hot pot. When the chicken flavor came out well, it always tasted like home.)
Enji's face was doing something interesting again. Hawks saw his scarred cheek twitch. He must've been gritting his teeth quite hard to achieve that effect.
Buck up, big guy. I won the right to call you Enji fair and square.
(Had he really, though? Was anything about this fair at all? Hawks ruthlessly locked that line of thought back down.)
"Just double the order. I know you'll eat whatever I don't."
Hawks raised his brows but did so, requesting a flask of saké to wash it down. It wasn't really his drink of choice. He'd be happier in the crowded yatai stalls of Fukuoka, elbow to elbow with a bunch of not strangers, new friends and a hot water shochu. But they weren't in Fukuoka and shochu wouldn't help Enji any anyway.
When the waiter brought them their order, he poured the first drinks. Just a courtesy. For the rest, that'd be where the real test began.
Hawks contemplated taking his like a shot as they clinked cups, but Enji was hardly enthusiastic and didn't even chime in with the cheers! There was only so uncouth he could be before he went too far. Plus, it'd be better if—
Enji knocked his back and held out his cup for another.
Hawks allowed himself a single sip before he set his own cup down to take up the small flask. He'd actually be a little insulted if this didn't play right into his hands. He topped Enji up and was gratified to see he slowed down for this one. At least Hawks hadn't driven him to drink completely yet.
"So," he ventured grabbing a chicken liver skewer along with his saké, "how's life?"
That opener didn't work out so well, but as Hawks worked through his food and his drink, he eventually coaxed Enji into talking. So what if it was about his kid? Hawks would listen to the guy read a phonebook if he got to sit beside him while he did it. When he expected it least, that's when Hawks struck. Mid-boast about Shoto's grades, he held up his cup for a refill.
"C'mon, Enji! Hit me up."
Hawks watched, eyes keen, as Enji scoffed at his wording but grabbed the flask of rice wine in a one-handed grasp. He watched Enji hesitate as he gave the tiny proffered cup a good look with his right eye. Hawks held it completely still. And yet, when Enji was at last satisfied he'd judged the distance aright... Hawks watched him miss the rim entirely and pour saké all over the table.
Just as he knew he would.
Enji swore and shoved the flask down with a thunk. He lunged for the napkins but charred up the first fistful when Hawks started to laugh.
"Brat, if you think this is funny—"
"Oh, I do," Hawks said and before Enji could bristle further added, "A big guy like you, tipsy already?"
He teased the unspoiled napkins from Enji's unresisting hand and tamped down the spill himself.
"Maybe you shouldn't have drunk that first one so fast."
A nice Catch-22 he'd woven for Enji there. He could either submit to the joke or admit what had actually happened. And oh, there was that twitch in his cheek again. He must have realized it too. Instead of answering right away, he lifted the cup Hawks had abandoned in lieu of mopping up the puddle of alcohol. He set it back down beside his own plate and grabbed the flask for a second attempt. His left hand settled around the cup to steady it as if it were a little bird that might flutter away if let go.
This time when the saké flowed, it filled the cup to the brim.
Hawks reached to accept it, but before Enji pressed it into his palm, he paused. He leaned forward, good eyebrow furrowed.
"I'd like to see you handle it better, small as you are."
He released the cup into Hawks' grasp and Hawks failed to fight back a grin as he brought it to his lips.
Trust Endeavor to come out swinging.
"Okay, first of all," Hawks said, trying to keep the thrill of having Enji's intense gaze leveled at him out of his voice, "I'm short, not small. And second, bring it on.”
When he took a swallow, Enji's eye didn't waver from him for a moment.
The single flask of saké would never have been enough to get them drunk, not when paired with their meal and especially not when so much of it ended up wetting down the table or Hawks' hands instead. A second round would've been welcome, but not when duty called. They'd both have to work tomorrow. Still, Enji proved surprisingly tolerant of Hawks' repeated jabs at his ability to hold his liquor... if the stormy glare that thundered over his face and the threats of getting burned could be considered tolerant.
Yet only the napkins had suffered that.
All in all, Hawks decided, stuffing a few final pieces of chicken into his mouth as he trailed Enji to the cash register, it was a much better evening than he'd been expecting. He didn't even have to pay for it! Enji had waved off his token offer to split the bill like it was a personal insult, still smarting, maybe, that Hawks had covered the paltry sum for ping pong before he could get his wallet out.
When they finally left the warmth of the restaurant, Hawks looked up at Enji, still chewing his last bite. Enji looked back down at him and... sighed.
"...I'm free again next Wednesday," he said, resigned.
Hawks swallowed and gave Enji a double thumbs up. If the League had plans for him then, he'd just tell them to stuff it.
(He wouldn't. He'd do whatever they asked.)
"I can make that work!"
His wings picked up the minute vibrations of rustling cloth and calm breathing before he even heard the quiet footsteps approaching on the stone-paved path.
Hawks hung up on Dabi without saying goodbye. He kept the phone pressed to his ear, took a moment to let his irritation drain away, and grinned at the closed door in front of him.
"For the last time, ma, I'm doin' just fine up here, promise," he said to no one, letting his hometown dialect bleed through for added effect. Only then did he cast a glance over his shoulder and wave at Enji's youngest son with his free hand. "I'll be seein' y'all soon enough when I get on back down there. Love ya, bye!"
He mimed ending the call, stuffed the phone in a pocket, and finally turned around.
"Hey, Shoto-kun," he said as the kid stopped several paces in front of him. "What's up? Shouldn't you be in school?"
He stretched his wings with a casual roll of his shoulders, blocking Shoto from joining him on the front step. He was unfairly tall and Hawks didn't want to give up the high ground. Even with the height boost he still had to look up, though the distance between them disguised it. He eyed the aesthetically placed boulder at his left. Maybe if he jumped up there...
Ah, but Shoto was looking at him like he was stupid. "...It's Saturday night."
"Well, yeah," Hawks said, resisting the urge to perch with a smile. It was Saturday night – the first Saturday night he'd kind of had off for a long time. "But I thought U.A. had you guys dorming it up now."
Shoto shrugged. "I thought you lived in Fukuoka."
Awww, that counter was kind of adorable. So he had heard Hawks' fake conversation and was trying to dig up more information. What a nosy little hero-in-training. Hawks would just have to find a way to put Shoto in his place for that before he left.
"I do," he conceded for the moment with a familiar pang of homesickness, "but the Hero Association has me up here for extra guidance."
It was the same thing he'd told Enji when he'd asked, per the Hero Public Safety Commission's instructions.
Hawks had denied continuing the nomu investigations too. Rooting out the secrets of the nomu – and more besides – from within the League itself was a top secret mission that had been assigned to him alone. The last thing he needed was Endeavor himself offering to team up with him. There could be certain advantages to that tack, sure, a better excuse for the League for why he could relocate so far North being the major one, even though they were the ones who wanted him up here in the first place. A seed of rebellion kept Hawks from considering it. If he wanted a world where heroes had free time, he couldn't get caught up preventing the strings of parallel missions from getting tangled. So he said what was true: that he'd sat through a debriefing with the League Search Team about their fight in Fukuoka, left the rest to them, and leaving him with his own flexibility intact.
(As intact as his relief that he wouldn't be responsible for any more injuries Enji might have acquired if a team up had gone through. In fact, if Hawks could help it, if he could help Enji, Endeavor wouldn't be getting any more any time soon... at least none caused by disabilities he'd already gained.)
Enji had accepted his prepared excuse – extra guidance – without comment. He'd dropped the line of inquiry entirely, actually. It was enough to make Hawks wonder... especially because Enji's face hadn't done what Shoto's was doing now.
That was real sympathy in the kid's voice.
"...Thanks," said Hawks and meant it. Ugh, he needed to change the subject before he got all maudlin. "Anyway, I'm here to pick up Enji."
"You know. Todoroki Enji. Endeavor. Your dad."
"I know my own old man's name."
"Just checking. You seemed confused for a second."
"That's... Why would you hang out with him? Are you patrolling together...?"
What a perfect question! Hawks wasn't even in uniform. He could see where Shoto was coming from, though. Even in civilian garb, he nearly always wore his support items. He never quite felt complete without them and they always came in so handy. Still, here it was. He couldn't wait to lay this on the kid.
"Oh, no. This isn't a hero thing. It's just ping pong and saké night, that's all."
And there they go.
Hawks held back a laugh. This whole family was incredible. Seeing the little gears turn in their heads before their brains broke after he said almost anything would never get old. But then the kid went and rallied.
"...Are you going to sing karaoke after?"
Hawks actually pulled his visor off just so he could appraise Shoto better.
So, the hype really was real.
This kid was a certified genius.
"We weren't, but we will now."
With sublime timing, the last syllable of Hawks' boast fading, the door behind him slid open and Enji stepped out. A slight intake of breath, the minuscule shifting of cloth under tensing muscles... His feathers caught it all. Enji hadn't expected to see Shoto tonight. When he spoke his son's name from over Hawks' shoulder, Shoto didn't reply. His expression only went flatter than Hawks had seen it yet.
He didn't need Mighty Wings to tell him there was some kind of weird energy passing between the two. Perhaps it'd be best to make himself scarce. He hopped down from the front step. He half turned and met Enji's eye.
"I'm just gonna be waiting..." He gestured down the path and received a tight nod of acknowledgment.
As he meandered away, Hawks slipped his headphones over his ears. His thumb hovered over the button on the side. A few presses and he could amplify the ambient sound enough it'd be like he'd never left. ...But no. Their conversation wasn't his business. He was already taking advantage of Enji's trust in so many other ways. He tapped in a different sequence instead, letting the wireless technology connect to the music library of the phone in his pocket. He cranked the volume up loud, nodding his head to the beat of the bass and the drums. His wings would tell him when they were done.
Sittin' here, eatin' my heart out waitin' ♫
Waitin' for some lover to call ♪
Dialed about a thousand numbers lately ♫
Almost rang the phone off the wall ♪
Lookin' for some—
Hawks cut the music.
That was fast.
He had just enough time to shove his headphones back around his neck before Enji stormed by with a gruff, "let's go."
Hawks hesitated. He looked behind him at the door.
Shoto was still standing there, glaring daggers at the both of them.
Hawks managed a single step after Enji and sighed. Curse his weak heart. He had no obligation to Shoto, but he was his hero’s son. He couldn't just leave him like that. He turned around and cupped his hands over his mouth.
"Catch you later, Shoto-kun! And good luck on that math exam next Thursday!"
The anger didn't exactly drop from his face and he didn't look shocked, maybe more mildly surprised than anything else. For a kid that inexpressive, Hawks would treat it like a victory. He waved. Shoto held up a slow hand in farewell and disappeared at last into the house.
When he finally sauntered up to the end of the path, Enji looked strained. Had he... not known what Shoto was coming home for? It was a bit awkward telling Enji what his own children were up to, but if Hawks had the information, this was one secret he didn't mind divulging. Besides, it was Saturday. There was no way in hell this was all they'd be doing.
"That's why he's here tonight," he confided, affecting a casual yawn. "Fuyumi-san is helping him study. She told me before I stepped out."
(Before his phone had rung with an incoming call from a restricted number and, heart in his throat, he'd known he'd have to take it. He'd ducked out the door, laughing about overprotective mothers. He'd gotten lucky. It hadn't been anything requiring his immediate attention. As soon as Hawks had answered, Dabi had just rattled off the coordinates for where to meet the following night. He'd been trying to ask something else when Shoto had appeared. Hawks would have to explain the hang up tomorrow, but for now, his evening was safe.)
...Except a hint of something sullen passed over Enji's face.
And Hawks couldn't have that.
Time to initiate his newest plan.
"Enji, why don't we mix things up a bit? Let's go do karao—"
Let a guy finish, maybe...
But at least now Enji was looking galled again instead of glum.
"How about this: I win at ping pong, we find a karaoke bar instead of our usual place. That'd be fair."
"You're only saying that because you haven't beaten me yet. I'll only drop it if you win tonight."
So of course the bastard had to go and actually do it.
Oh well. Who knew it'd take the threat of singing badly in public to get Enji to finally start overcoming his depth perception problems?
Usually Hawks was a man of his word, but if it'd already worked here, it might be worth doubling down on the whole karaoke thing. It'd make him sound like a pest, but that was what Enji thought of him already. Plus, there was always the off chance Enji'd just give in. He did that sometimes. It was the only reason ping pong and saké night was even happening in the first place.
He brought it up again over dinner.
"Hey, so if we had gone to karaoke— No, don't glare, this is just hypothetical, okay? What song would you pick?"
"We're not going. It doesn't matter."
"Look, I'm just trying to make conversation here. What would it be? Disco? You're old enough for disco, right? Did you ever go disco dancing back in the day? Were you hip to the jive, Enji? It'd be 'Hot Stuff' by Donna Summer, wouldn't it? No wait, it should be me singing tha—"
"You really like the sound of your own voice," Enji interrupted, exasperated. "Don't you?"
"Well, yeah," Hawks said and glanced into his saké cup. He frowned to find it empty. "Why do you think I want—"
He broke off.
Because Enji had captured his hand in his.
His palm flexed, warm grip wrapping more firmly around Hawks' own hold on his cup. He guided his ensnared prize toward him and Hawks put up no resistance. Enji gave their joined hands a stern look like he were commanding them to stay and reached for the flask of saké at his right.
He poured a perfect cup.
When Enji finally released his hand, Hawks brought it to his mouth on autopilot.
"I still think," he said weakly and took a sip to wet his suddenly dry throat, "we should sing some karaoke."
"No," Enji said again, but if Hawks wasn't entirely mistaken, he actually sounded amused.
It wasn't until a few weeks later that Hawks noticed it.
It had to have been an issue for longer, but prior to this, Hawks had always made a point of walking at Enji's right, just to be polite. He'd switched it up now since he'd seen – and his wings confirmed – the way Enji tensed and edged away when someone on the street came up too quickly on his blind side.
He mentally berated himself. How much time had he spent gazing starry-eyed at Enji's face? He should've caught this earlier. He'd even read about it! But the idea of it afflicting Enji had just seemed absurd.
"Hey," he said and waited for Enji to twist so he could see him. He tapped his cheek. "I think you missed a spot."
More than a spot, really. All along the left side of his jaw, the hair was scruffier and the line of his beard inexact. There was even a nick near Enji's ear.
Enji clenched his fists, nostrils flaring. "What of it?"
...Hawks would have to tread carefully with this one. He shrugged, nonchalant.
"Nothing, nothing! Just wondering what you even use? I like a straight edge myself. It's the only way to go, in my opinion."
Enji stared at him. The gears – they were turning.
What's my angle, big guy? Oh, you'll see.
"What? Are you surprised? C'mon, I understand the art of the beard. Here." He held up a hand to get Enji to wait. "Maybe I could get my guy to do yours. I'll just check if he's busy."
He fished his phone out of his jacket pocket. He glanced at the black screen – 1, 2, 3 seconds – then put it away.
"Yeah, he's free."
Enji's single eye narrowed. "You didn't even turn that thing on."
"Nope! You've got a good eye. I didn't. That's because all this," Hawks gestured at his chin, "is me. So what do you say? I've got two hands and I know how to use 'em."
He raised his arms above his head and stuck his chin out, all the better for Enji to see for himself.
Enji's eye narrowed even further to an outright glare.
Hawks dropped the pose. It'd be a rejection then. Not unexpected. Even without the unintentional pun or with the intended innuendo, there was no way Enji would let him get all up in his face with a pointy object.
Hawks nearly reeled in surprise.
Beside him, Enji crossed his arms and tapped his foot. He peered around them at the passersby like they were interlopers about to make off with classified information. Rude ones might sneak a picture, maybe, but hanging out together wasn't a crime, despite how Shoto might feel about it.
"Friday morning," Enji said at last. "Early. Come to the house. We can do it then."
He sounded like he was setting up some kind of clandestine encounter instead of making an appointment with an acquaintance offering to be his personal barber.
(Hawks would know the difference. Covert operations were eating up more and more of his time every week.)
Friday morning wasn't great for him, but Hawks couldn't care less. He could always reschedule that photo shoot. Somehow. Maybe. ...It'd probably be easier to just pull out of that one altogether. A small sacrifice, really, in the face of a much better reward.
He beamed. "Alright, Enji! It's a date!"
Enji went still at that. He half turned to Hawks, paused, then turned away again to bring a fist to his forehead as if that would exorcise the sudden onset of a migraine.
What? Was the phrasing really that bad? Hawks smirked.
Well, honey, it's too late to back out now.
Feeling playful, he sidled right up beside Enji and weaseled a hand around the crook of his elbow. He pretended not to notice how he flinched at the unexpected contact coming from an angle he couldn't see.
"So, what are we waiting for? Let's get going. I'm hungry."
It was a miracle Enji didn't just immediately shove him away. Hawks had even flared out his wings in anticipation so he wouldn't stumble too much when it happened. Instead, to his elated bewilderment, Enji just shot him a disgruntled look and escorted him stiffly to their bar like he'd mow down anyone who got in his way.
Their conversation that night was fun. They talked shop about lathering techniques and blade maintenance and whetstones and stropping and how the hell a young guy like Hawks even ended up with a single clue about old-fashioned wet shaving in the first place. Hawks had been delighted to brag that his straight edge razor had originally been his grandfather's and was a present from his dad when he'd opened up his hero agency four years ago.
(He didn't share that it was actually his most cherished possession, second only to the Endeavor plush his mother had made him as a child. Neither did he tell Enji how awkwardly his father's gift had been offered, or how he knew it came from the guilt of forfeiting him to the government for financial stability. Stability for his parents, for his little siblings ...and for himself.
It was the reason his family rarely ever contacted him and why he kept his distance.
He knew he made them feel bad.
He wished they wouldn't, though. He hadn't protested being taken away. He understood why his parents had done it. Besides, creating a society where heroes had more free time than they knew what to do with?
It had always been his goal.
He'd started with them.)
Bright and early at the start of Friday morning, Hawks found himself in another awkward situation.
How early was early to a guy like Enji?
Hawks knew he worked late nights at his hero agency. He'd been doing a little furtive reconnaissance and learned Endeavor had a tendency to burn the midnight oil. Yet he always showed up by at least nine the next morning, which meant Hawks should be at his house... when, exactly?
He showed up at 6:00.
The first murky rays of winter sunlight were only just beginning to struggle against the gloom of night and the house was silent and dark.
Too early, then.
He didn't want to disturb anyone's sleep.
He took a flight around the neighborhood instead to kill some time. At least that kept his blood pumping. It was damn cold today. He almost wished he'd worn his hero uniform. It was warmer than his civilian clothes, but then again, everyone knew you had to suffer for fashion. He could just imagine what they would've been stuffing him into if he'd kept that modeling appointment...
He alighted on one roof, put his headphones on, and learned entirely too much about the sunup proclivities of Mr. and Mrs. Next Door. He swiftly moved on, shaking off the knowledge of those vibrations, and, really, how did Aunt and Uncle Down the Street have this much passion for politics at daybreak? Young Mother on the Corner Two Blocks Over, though, she was cute. She was scolding her little boy for interrupting her during daily morning laundry to demand another Endeavor-themed bento for school. Hawks hoped the onigiri in that were flavored with spicy mentaiko. Ah— Wait. He tilted his head and fine-tuned the sound amplification on his headphones. Just pickled plums?
It was getting on near 7:00 when he found a little hole-in-the-wall café and decided to give up eavesdropping. He breezed through the door and pointed at whatever on the menu. He didn't care what it was. Buying it was just something to do. When he got his drink, paper cup blessedly hot against his cold hands, he nearly laughed to see what the barista had written on the side.
❀≁☆*ﾟ ゜ﾟ*☆ YOU'RE A STAR! ☆*ﾟ ゜ﾟ*☆≁❀
It was a nice phrase. Maybe he could use it on someone else one day...
(Because there was no way he warranted it himself anymore. All the faith the public had in him... It was only a matter of time before he lost it all. He stared at the cup too long anyway. It was the sting of the winter wind that made the sight blurry, he was sure of it. It'd got in even through his visor.)
He returned to the Todoroki house and took up a defensive position on the boulder near the door. It was a good rock. He liked it. He spread his wings and closed his eyes, searching for any signs of life from within the building. And yes! Someone was coming this way! His feathers sensed it – near-silent steps and a placid gait. It must be—
Fuyumi stepped out of the house humming, glanced to her left, and shrieked.
Hawks jumped down from his huddle on the boulder. For want of a way to pacify her, he thrust out his untouched drink.
"I got you this."
She spluttered, turned red, and didn't take it. "What? What?! You're! But you're dad's—"
"Yeah," Hawks cut in, relieved. "Enji. Is he up yet? I didn't want to just, uh..."
"What, knock? Or ring the doorbell? Yeah, he's up. Actually. ...He's been wound up all morning. It's because you were coming over, wasn't it? It's your fault!"
He knew she didn't mean it like that, but Hawks couldn't help but take the accusation to heart. He hadn't even gotten inside and he was already marring their morning.
"Yeah," he agreed again. "He invited me here."
"Well," Fuyumi said, still red-cheeked, "you two better not be getting up to anything weird in there while I'm gone! If you do, I don't want to know!"
Anything weird? Oh, Fuyumi-san, you have a dirty mind.
Hawks grinned at her. "It'd depend on your definition of weird, I think."
She covered her ears. "Ugh! I said I didn't want to know! Now, I've got to go or I'll be late to work."
"Wait, but you didn't take it." He offered her his drink again. "I didn't taste it if that's what you're worried about. It's still hot too."
Fuyumi eyed it dubiously. "What is it?"
She sighed and reached for it. Her hand brushed his as he passed it over and she gasped.
"You're freezing! No wonder you were holding on to this. How long have you even been out here? Get inside, you doofus! Go!"
Apparently she didn't trust him enough to actually do it, because she manhandled him through the front door herself. It was truly a mighty feat with only one free hand and Mighty Wings in her way. Hawks was impressed. Less so when she opened her mouth again.
"DAAAAAAAAD!!" she bellowed right by his ear and Hawks winced. If he'd ever doubted she was Endeavor's daughter, he didn't anymore. "Hawks-san is here! And he's COLD!"
Fuyumi finally let him go.
"You're welcome," she said at a normal volume and with a guarded look. She left again for work.
Enji found him when he was still untying his shoelaces. Hawks looked up, one foot in his hand, and nearly tripped himself. Enji was in sweatpants. And a tank top. A tight one. It left... very little to the imagination.
"Um," Hawks said intelligently.
Enji beckoned him forward. "Then come."
Hawks felt his face heat.
Sir, yes, sir. Anything for you, sir.
He got his shoes off, finally, and stepped up into the house proper. He spared a quick glance behind him, but he'd been in this house before and now, as then, as every time, there was never an extra pair of ladies' shoes or house slippers in the entryway. There could be more than one reason for that, though, just like there could be more than one reason Enji didn't wear a ring. Once, there had to have been a wife, there had to have been a mother. Yet Hawks had never heard a word about her anywhere, from anyone. Dead or gone now, he supposed. He shook off the shame of how hopeful that made him feel.
Hawks followed as Enji led him down a hallway and into a room dominated by a large kotatsu. He sat where told to and Enji joined him at his right. He'd... He'd willingly chosen to sit like that, trusting Hawks to be in his blind side. He opened his mouth – probably to make some dumbass comment that would ruin everything – when the warmth hit him.
"Oh, whoa! That's some heater you've got under this thing."
Enji's scarred lips twitched but he didn't reply.
And... Hawks didn't really know what else Enji expected him to do at the moment so he looked at the TV. It was turned to some cooking show which Enji couldn't have been watching himself. Hawks had seen the way he diced up buildings. No consideration at all for proper technique.
Enji followed his gaze and huffed out what might've passed for a laugh.
"Haven't eaten yet today, have you?"
Aside from the neighbors' onigiri, Hawks hadn't actually spared any thought to food that morning.
"Not yet," he admitted.
Enji shook his head and heaved himself up.
"Stay here, you bottomless pit. Typical that you'd show up only to eat me out of house and home."
Hawks hadn't even asked for anything. And just because Enji was leaving didn't mean he had to turn the heat off for everyone else! Hawks rearranged the kotatsu blanket around his lap and glared at the TV. It had become clear to him now that, whatever show this was, it was a special episode on egg dishes. For some reason, it gave off a threatening aura.
Thankfully, Enji returned quickly carrying two bowls: one of rice and something steaming that smelled like miso soup.
"Hey," Hawks said before he could get all the way over, "while you're up could you turn that off? I don't want to think about murder when I'm with you."
Enji glanced at him sharply then at the TV. The celebrity chef was pouring a bowl of egg yolks over a skillet full of spiced vegetables.
"You just scramble in the raw egg, and then bam!"
"You stuff your face with yakitori but have a problem with that?"
"What can I say?" Hawks joked. "I have a soft spot for kids."
"You are," Enji began and stopped, apparently trying to find a single word that would satisfyingly encapsulate how frustrating Hawks was, "ridiculous."
He shut the TV off anyway.
Hawks relaxed. Ridiculous? Sure. That was actually much kinder than he'd describe himself. But so be it. He'd play the fool if it got him what he wanted in the end. The best lies, he reminded himself, were always the truth.
(He forced himself not to wonder if the murder he feared would be his own or... someone else's. He already felt scrambled up enough inside as it was.)
Enji set both bowls before him and Hawks couldn't help but cheer up at the thought of Endeavor serving him breakfast. His singsonged itadakimasu! was downright gleeful. Even though the food was plain, it would probably be the best he ever tasted. He considered making a game of it, just to see what Enji would do if he really savored it, but then Enji sat again and the heat returned and Hawks lost that train of thought. He was simply too happy to risk anything about this.
The rice he finished quickly. He set his visor on top of his head before he turned to the soup so the surface wouldn't fog over and polished that off in no time too. Then he was fed and warm and it was quiet and still with Enji here beside him, just watching him while showing all that skin. Hawks was utterly satisfied and his eyes... were heavy and he thought... for just... one second... just... one... he'd close them...
He awoke with a jerk, head on his arms and slumped halfway over a kotatsu table top.
His visor and headphones were resting in front of him where empty bowls used to be. Odd... he didn't remember taking those off. He sat up, too disoriented to catch an extra blanket that had been thrown over his shoulders – which – where were his feathers? He glanced around, bleary-eyed, to locate them and himself and— There was Enji observing him with the softest expression Hawks had ever seen. He blinked, once hard, then rapidly, and checked again. Nope. Enji was back to his usual serious self. That look must've just been the wishful thinking of a tired mind.
"How long was I...?"
"Sorry," Hawks apologized anyway. "I know we've got a job to do."
He yawned and checked his watch.
...Not long? He'd been asleep for over an hour.
The jolt of it woke him better than caffeine ever could and he shot to his feet. His feathers fluttered around him and wavered back into wings and he stopped. ...When was the last time he'd slept deeply enough that they'd come undone? And Enji had just sat there and watched over him this whole time...? He must have stood like that for a beat too long, because Enji was regarding him now with some concern and Hawks appreciated it but just.
He pulled himself together.
Time to act casual.
He turned to Enji with a slowly growing grin. "You're gonna be late for work, Endeavor."
And god, he really was a fool. He'd been addressing Enji by just his given name for how long now? Yet it was going back to his hero name without any honorific at all that really got his heart pounding.
"I took the morning off, Hawks."
"Yeah?" he breathed, enjoying the simple syllable of his nom de guerre and the angle of Enji looking up at him to say it.
(...He didn't enjoy learning his earlier worry had been for nothing. Hawks always hated finding out he hadn't been provided with a vital piece of intel, but he shoved his irritation down, eclipsing it with his elation that Enji was actually devoting a whole morning just to him.)
"You promised me something and I expect to get it."
That line shot straight to his groin. Hawks bit his lip around his grin in hopes the pain would prevent him from crawling into Enji's lap right then and there and offering him anything he wanted. With great restraint, he schooled his features, sighed, and slumped as if to say everything was out of his hands.
"Well, I've actually got to disappoint you then." He waited until his wings assessed just enough uncertainty in the way Enji shifted then continued slyly, "Fuyumi-san warned me we're not allowed to do anything weird in the house."
Hawks watched the emotions flicker across Enji's face. Surprise and confusion dominated – but did he see? A trace of displeasure? At what exactly? Could Hawks hope it was for being denied? – before settling into his usual flash of temper.
"You!" Enji barked. "Get up!"
Hawks was already standing, thanks, but he obligingly stepped back as Enji got to his feet.
By the time he did, he'd descended into calm again. "We'll do it on the veranda."
A nice compromise and one that kept up their game, even. The veranda was neither inside nor outside, and the chill air would definitely prevent Hawks from having any problems. With the way they'd been chatting, he might have if he hadn't moved things along.
"Sounds good to me," Hawks agreed. He removed his watch and set it on the table top with his other things, then let his wings drop so he could take off his jacket too.
Beside him, Enji eyed the simple white shirt he wore beneath. "You'll just get cold again without a coat on."
Hawks shrugged, the gesture more massive than he meant it as his wings reformed. Leather sleeves didn't exactly roll up tightly enough to stay and he didn't want to get them wet. That thing had been expensive.
"I'll be standing right next to you, won't I?"
But that quip didn't affect Enji as Hawks thought it would. Instead of frowning, he crossed his arms and smiled.
"So, did you finally realize it?"
Hawks raised a brow as his heart rate increased again. "...Realize what?"
Enji nodded at the kotatsu. The kotatsu where he'd guarded Hawks as he slept so soundly. The kotatsu with the wonderful warmth... that had come and gone only when Enji did.
Hawks opened his mouth to speak and absolutely nothing came out.
As Enji strode forward to brush past him, he stopped alongside Hawks and his smile grew into a smug grin.
"Keep up, boy. Your lack of experience shows."
He left Hawks standing there in the room alone.
Hawks... was going to need a second. He never thought he'd live to hear anything like that from anywhere but his own imagination.
(Because oh, the fantasies he'd come up with, the things he'd indulged in under the steely eyes of the Endeavor posters his private tutors had only begrudgingly let him hang in his room at the facility where they'd made him into a hero...
In the secrecy of his own mind, it had happened a thousand different ways. Endeavor watching him, inspecting him, seeing how hard he worked, how hard he trained, how hard he was right now. Would he be pleased? Would he want more? Hawks could give him more, he could give him everything. And, one day, panting, he'd decided, he'd break Endeavor's record too – top ten by twenty? Hawks would do him one better. He'd hit a home run right off the bat. He'd make Endeavor see what happened to experience in the face of enthusiasm.
He'd imagined other things too – things that made his heart sink. Endeavor would never actually praise Hawks for his goals, not when they were so diametrically opposed to his quest of overtaking All Might's spot at the top of the hero charts. Hawks would always admire him for being the only one who ever dared to try, but by the time he was through with Japan, no one would ever need to give a damn who the number one hero was again.
All that'd be left for heroes to do was just rest.)
But things were different now.
Endeavor was number one, Hawks called him Enji on the regular, and he'd called Hawks here specifically for his experience.
So Hawks took a deep breath and kept up.
They set everything up on the veranda as Enji had decreed.
Hawks had paused a moment, arms full, to look out over the garden. He rarely slowed down long enough to partake in traditional sights like these. He didn't exactly have a discerning eye for it, but even rimed in frost he could tell it was a lovely place. He knew decorum would dictate he prefer the blush of winter beauty to anything else, but Hawks had always had trouble following rules to the letter. There was another view he liked much better, as offensive as he knew his desire for it was to everyone.
He turned away and set down his load of fleecy white towels.
It was a makeshift barber shop they'd assembled, with a stool, a basin of Hellflame-heated hot water, a few bottles of this and that, and a fine lacquer box in black and gold which Enji hadn't let him carry. Hawks got to open it, though, kneeling in front of it on the hardwood of the porch with Enji seated at his left.
Hawks whistled. "You've got some nice stuff here. Is this a silvertip badger brush?"
Enji didn't answer, so Hawks let it be. He unfolded a towel beside the box. He'd lay out all the tools here like a surgeon's instruments. A tiny pair of scissors, so small he had no idea how Enji ever used it. A beard brush of caramel-colored wood with black bristles, probably of boar. He got out the shaving soap next, unscrewed the lid, and brought it to his nose. No fragrance but the rich scent of something clean. Hawks dipped a quick hand into the hot water, shook off the excess, then let the remaining drops trickle from his fingers onto the surface of the soap. He set it aside to soften.
The delicate porcelain bowl was next. Hawks rotated it in his palms to appreciate the intricate pattern of ocean waves glazed on in bellflower blue then scooped it half full of steaming water. Into this he put the shaving brush and placed it beside the soap to let the bristles soak.
Finally, he lifted out the crown jewel in this case of treasures: the blade.
The bowed handle was paneled in opalescent white and the detailing, Hawks was sure, was silver.
"This is mother-of-pearl, isn't it?" He opened the razor to test the edge on a thumb and couldn't help but ask, "Is this really what you use all the time? Or maybe you just brought it out because today's a special occasion? Hey, I'm touched! You've prepped it and everything, right?"
"Do you ever shut up?"
Hawks could shut up alright, as he knew Enji knew. He'd shut Hawks up himself less than fifteen minutes ago. But he could see the way Enji had tensed. His fists were clenched tight in his lap and his head was tilted just so to keep his lone eye on Hawks, nervous, as anyone would be, when the person beside them had a knife they meant to use in their hands.
Silence wasn't going to be the way to go with this, Hawks decided, and answered, "Not really."
The razor was sharp, anyway. Hawks didn't need Enji to tell him that. Didn't need his help at all to picture him, agitated as Fuyumi had said he'd been before she'd let Hawks in, honing it to perfection. Hawks could almost hear the sound it would make, sighing up and down the leather strop, as Enji smoothed the metal to a keen edge.
All just for him.
It was enough to quicken any guy's pulse, he reckoned.
He lined it up with the other things, almost reluctant to set it back down, but it was time to get started.
Hawks grabbed another towel, rose up just enough so he could crouch on his heels, and looked Enji over. How... were they going to do this? Enji surely didn't expect Hawks to stand between his knees to give him a shave, did he? Hawks would love to, but they'd yet to invent a temperature low enough that would make that option safe. The danger was the same if Hawks hovered beside him. He could just imagine draping himself over those shoulders and—
If only there was some way to get Enji to recline even if just a little...
A stray draft of wind gusted through his wings. Hawks' lips quirked against the biting breeze. Here now, a little tit for tat for that trick with the kotatsu. Enji wasn't the only one who could use his abilities to make someone comfortable.
"You can go ahead and lean back," he said feigning disinterest.
Enji scoffed and peered down at him. "On what?"
It was almost funny how he hadn't even noticed the giant wings diminishing right in front of him.
"Why don't you take a look?"
Enji paused, suspicious, then shot a glance over his shoulder. His eye widened when he saw the red bed of feathers floating there.
"No," he said with an emphatic shake of his head. "No."
"They're strong, you know."
Still Enji hesitated, so Hawks tried again. He kept his face and voice as neutral as he could to show there wasn't any joke here, no ploy, no trap for the unwary.
"I didn't name them Mighty Wings for nothing."
(No, not for nothing. Just after one brilliant day in a sea of bleak drudgery, so long ago it felt like it'd come from another life. There'd been a rare interview on TV of Endeavor, eyes as aflame as the fire on his face, going on about the Path of the Mighty. His weary parents had folded to his pleas and taken them all to the library in the city center after. They'd gotten to play around the giant owl statue out front and even pose on the bronzed branch beside its two chicks when a passing woman with a vintage Polaroid camera offered to snap their photo. Inside, two of his siblings ran to and fro getting shhhh!'d for squawking. But he sat quietly between his parents, dictionary heavy in his lap, the baby nestled on mommy's, as they took turns reading out definitions.
To be 'mighty' meant to be strong. It meant to be sturdy, stalwart, valiant, massive, magnificent, fearless, ferocious...!
And sure, that sounded like some other hero too, but it had somehow always made his parents happy seeing how excited he'd get about Endeavor. He remembered how they'd laughed the day he'd first gasped out, "He looks like me!" They'd teased him about red wings and red hair and yes, of course that was part of it. But even as a child he'd never had the heart to tell them what he'd meant was that, unlike All Might, Endeavor was a hero who rarely ever smiled.)
He wasn't smiling now either, so Hawks did it for him. Something soft, something patient. He glanced away and let Enji take his time. He'd figure out this was the best way soon enough.
But it seemed it was a good day for bad memories, too, because he couldn't help but recall...
(Why can't you be more like All Might, his tutors had chided him. Why can't you at least smile? Why don't you ever laugh? So Hawks had taught himself to smile and taught himself to laugh and grin and joke, because if he thought about it, hadn't they just more or less given him permission to play tricks?
They had learned to fear his smiles by the end for they could mean so very many different things.
None of it was fake with Enji, though, never with— Well. Mostly never. Sometimes maybe it wasn't entirely— ...Did it even matter what it was if your heart was in the right place? If you were using it to achieve something good in the end? Was that— Wasn't that what a smile was anyway?)
Either way, it worked.
With a deeply distrusting sound, Enji finally leaned back to rest his weight on the deconstructed wings, and Hawks' breath caught. He hadn't been lying. His wings were powerful. It took barely any thought at all to do this, but...
Never before had Hawks wished so fervently for his headphones. If he could just switch over to noise cancelling mode... If he could just cover his nose and close his eyes... If he could just stay like this forever, reveling in the reverberation of Enji's shape... Even without the added depth of blocking out his other senses, the knowledge of it bloomed in his mind like colored dye diffusing in water. The broadness of his back, the breadth of his shoulders, the curve of his neck, pillowing his head...
Hawks knew it all now, every contour, every line.
And it was everything.
It was his entire world.
It was pure euphoria, and it felt... it felt almost as if something broken inside him were mending.
Like a fracture he'd forcefully forgotten was at last being healed.
...Like the mental desolation he'd weathered when his wings had crumbled to ash was itself crumbling away, replaced with something infinitely better.
But who cared about any of that?
He'd felt sightless, grounded, and bereft? That scar was... it was just temporary. Things like that didn't count if they never left a mark. It wasn't even something he'd physically withstood. Even new, it was nothing but a memory. His feathers always regrew. He hadn't even lost all of them. And the remembrance of pain—
(Only it hadn't just been pain, had it? It had felt good, the way his feathers had blazed with Hellflame, like a heady brand on his brain – right up until there was nothing left. That, surely, was the most twisted thing of all.)
—was nothing next to the real thing.
Enji would never get back what he'd lost. The spark in his eyes from days gone by was halved now, and Hawks knew whose fault that was, no matter what Enji said.
Who could say why, really? He was cold. He was contrite. And Enji was finally relaxing into his feathers with a grumbling sigh that strummed in Hawks' head like a cat's purr.
As blissful as it was, it was also a reminder.
Hawks had to stop crouching here and get on with business. He'd been trained in this after all: to compartmentalize against the overstimulation his wings could wreak. He took a deep gulp of bracing, near-freezing air and slowly let it mist out until all his memories and all his yearning were just distant things and he could focus again on his task.
He plunged the towel in his lap into the hot water with a determined hum and stood, wringing it out with quick twists. Rivulets of excess liquid ran down his arms to drip from his elbows.
"A hot towel to start, right?" he said, stepping in beside Enji to lay it on his face. "Hey, it'll be just like back in the hospital..."
He trailed off mid-jest, still holding the towel, because not only was Enji giving him an absolutely flat look but also...
"Ah. I think we're gonna have to take that off."
Hawks motioned at his eye patch with one sodden fleece-filled fist.
Enji's single turquoise eye bore into him.
"Don't wanna get it wet or soapy."
And flicked away and down as he folded his arms across his chest. "Go ahead."
E-Enji wanted Hawks to take it off? Well, s-sure...
He rubbed one wet hand down his front drying it on his shirt as much as possible before he reached out and removed the dark scrap of cloth with a soft tug. It came away easily, ruffling through Enji's hair without a sound. Hawks let it drop from his clammy palm to land beside the black lacquer storage box.
And what was underneath...
Hawks hadn't dealt this blow but this was his handiwork. He'd chosen his prize fighter and won for it, so the damage done...
There was no eyelid. Just the barest remains of an eyebrow above a clawed up sunken crater where an eye should have been. No wonder Enji hadn't opted for a prosthesis. What would've been the point? He would've needed far more than a simple glass eye to appear anything like he'd looked before.
"That's better!" Hawks said brightly despite his despair and finally tucked the damp towel around the lower half of Enji's face.
Enji shot him a quelling look and Hawks grinned for him. "Now that I've got you as a captive audience! Enji! Have I ever told you about the time I stopped a pair of almost art thieves? Who steals from a museum, honestly? That's our cultural history, you know! Anyway, so it was on one of my first ever patrols, right, and—"
It was one of the few stories of his hero work he enjoyed telling.
The two men had tried to run when they saw a hero with giant red wings descending on them like a demon, but they'd been unwilling to part with the painting they'd been carting between them. Hawks had done his best to detain them without damaging it, to haul the men away with his feathers while keeping the painting upright, but they wouldn't give it up. Then they'd started wielding their quirks and yelling out facts at him like it was some kind of art history lesson. It'd ended up as a three-way quirk-infused tug of war match until Hawks had used the old 'let go suddenly' trick. The thieves had landed flat on their asses and the painting had landed right on their heads.
The canvas had torn like tissue paper.
Hawks had panicked.
The thieves had panicked and begun to weep.
The police had shown up to take custody of the criminals and the museum's collections staff had shown up to take custody of the artwork, or rather... the 'artwork.'
The actual painting, the museum's executive director had been forced to admit later in her official statement, had been quietly taken off exhibit several months earlier for intense restoration work. What the thieves had made off with and what had accidentally been shredded was nothing but a cheap display copy. The museum was still immensely grateful for Hawks' attempted, uh, aid, and they would, of course, be updating their security protocals!
They'd done it too. The two idiots involved had been arrested and served paltry sentences on minor villain charges. After doing their time, they'd ended up employed as security guards at the very museum they'd tried to rob. The last time Hawks had checked in, they were even helping out with some kind of outreach program connecting inmates with art.
It was the type of crime with a feel-good end Hawks wished his days were full of instead of, well... almost everything else he'd faced since then.
(He probably wouldn't have taken any special note of it had it happened any later than his first official week on the job. Certainly not it if happened today. He'd just move on to the next case, and the next, and the next—)
"That'd be the life, you know," he told Enji anyway, wrapping up the story as he unwrapped and removed the towel. His face should've soaked enough by now. "If that's the kind of patrol we had every day."
"What, the kind where you fail the objective?"
"If it'd been a real painting, you'd have been in a world of hurt."
I'm already in a world of hurt...
He couldn't say that, though. Hawks wasn't that melodramatic and it wasn't even true – not right now, not with Enji here giving him grief.
"A real painting wouldn't rip that easy," he guessed and picked up the pre-shave oil as Enji gave a thoughtful hmmm. Hawks held up the little bottle before he poured a small pool of it into a palm. "I'm gonna put some of this on you, by the way."
"It's why it's there."
Ooh, there was some irritation seeping back into his tone. Or maybe nerves?
Hawks bit back a smirk. He could think of all sorts of other fun things to do with someone with oil, but he'd better get his mind out of the gutter or he really would be in a world of hurt because Enji would—
He ground his palms together almost violently to stave off that train of thought.
He swayed back into the radiating warmth of Enji's space and put an oiled hand to his left cheek, almost covering his scars entirely. It would be so easy, the thought hit him as his heart skipped a beat, just one small movement for his thumb to brush along Enji's lips. To tilt his face toward him, to descend...
Their eyes met.
All three of them.
The ridges of Enji's scars were suddenly all Hawks could feel.
He didn't move.
At last, Enji's remaining lashes fluttered closed. He gave an exhale of hot breath through his nose that ghosted along the back of Hawks' wrist and somehow seemed to say get on with it.
Hawks unfroze. With a word of warning he brought up his other hand. He worked the soothing oil into Enji's scarred and stubble-rough skin, along his neck, his jaw, softening his beard, that tiny moustache, and if his fingers did trace Enji's lips, well, that was just a natural part of this process.
"And now the brush," Hawks murmured, bending quickly to get it. Enji's style was short and minimalistic. It only took a few quick strokes to get his whiskers in order. "And the scissors. How long do you like it, huh?"
He replaced the brush and shook out a few towels, cloaking Enji's shoulders with them as he grunted out his answer. Hawks twirled the scissors around a finger as he examined Enji's face, finally nudging him into an ideal angle as he trimmed his beard to the appropriate length. He'd never done this before, not for another man, and he was intent to get it right. He checked and re-checked his work, first on one side and then, slipping around Enji's back, the other. He only became aware of his determined frown and furrowed brow when he leaned back, satisfied, and noticed Enji watching him.
Hawks immediately let his features smooth into a smile. Looks good he almost got out when Enji said, "Forgetting something?"
Hawks had only gone along Enji's jaw, hadn't he? He took a firm hold of his chin, bending in to see better, and Enji's gaze abruptly felt red hot and piercing and oh, this was... this was...! Easy! Just a quick press of fingers and a few swift snips and Enji's dapper little moustache was as good as Hawks could get it without the razor's refinement.
"All done! Now for the best part!"
Not quite that far yet. Hawks wet a corner of yet another towel and hastily wiped down Enji's face of any stray hair before he turned to the shaving brush and soap. It lathered up like a dream, the dark wood of the handle clinking as he whipped it up in the porcelain bowl.
"You ready?" he asked, holding up the brush thick with foam. He waited for Enji's nod and didn't mention how forcefully he'd seen him slam his eye shut or the far off way his feathers had felt him again go rigid.
Hawks dabbed the lather on until Enji looked like he had a second beard all whorled on in white, and, with a laugh, he told him so. He kept up a constant stream of optimistic chatter as he ran a finger through it, demarcating exactly where he wouldn't need to shave. Hawks was sure Enji didn't even hear the soft snick of the razor as he opened it again at last. He couldn't just spring it on him, though. That'd be a recipe for disaster. It was already almost too much again that Enji was actually letting this happen and putting such a valuable thing in Hawks' hands to do it. What if Hawks butchered his beard? What if Hawks butchered Enji? Wasn't there a movie all about that?! People ended up eaten. Enji wouldn't think Hawks would do that though. So what if he liked chicken, that didn't mean anything, he wasn't some cannibal, he was—
"I'm starting now," he said, cutting off his own thoughts. In his experience, the best defense against doubt was to just jump in. He couldn't be afraid if he went too fast to feel fear.
He didn't stop talking either. From the moment the razor touched Enji's face, Hawks narrated his every move in advance. If he casually switched to dialect halfway through, that was only because he knew how much more mellow he sounded using the simpler verb forms and pleasant intonation of Hakata-ben.
(They'd wanted to rid him of this accent, his tutors did. They'd only ever allowed him to use proper Japanese with them. A hero shouldn't speak in regionalisms. Hawks had understood that, eventually, but he'd been stubborn even as a little thing. He'd made a secret pact with a special friend – the only friend he'd had for so many long and grueling years – that he wouldn't forget. He'd teach it to him! He prolly knew lots anyhow on account of he done got used to hearin' it already, but if he tried mighty hard, just like his name, ya know, weren't no reason he'd not be an expert right quick!
That friend was tattered now and faded, just as stitched up as he'd gotten the real thing.
Hawks' affection had always taken its toll.)
It wouldn't now, though. Not doing this.
His confidence grew with each pass of the razor. Enji was loosening up again, lulled by the hushed scrape of metal on flesh – and maybe, maybe the sweet cadence of Hawks' voice.
Overall, it was proceeding well.
The drawn-taut skin was coming up smooth bit by bit as Hawks prodded Enji this way and that. He muttered his request for Enji to dip his head back with a tap on his chin and took special care as his neck was laid bare so calmly. Hawks didn't let himself dwell on how submissive that looked. Didn't let himself dwell on what all this might mean – how pliant this rough-and-tumble man was being for him right now. He merely finished up and switched to the other side, the scarred side, and maneuvered the razor with even greater reverence than he had before.
At long last, Hawks stood back.
Nearly all the lather had been cleared away now. The only thing left was to correct for anything he'd missed on the first round until every line was meticulous and clean.
As Hawks set to it, he wished he were allowed to enjoy it more, this simple act of tender service.
But it couldn't be only that - not for him.
Should his off-the-books hero business come to light in the worst way and his connection with the League go public, it'd be in the best interests of the Hero Association to denounce him without calling the mission off. Hawks could appear to throw in with them wholesale that way, and the deeper down he fell, the more of monsters he'd uncover. It was just one possibility, but it was exactly why he already needed to start gathering moments like these. They'd be his evidence to either win back Enji's trust, or, more likely, not get fried alive before he could even begin to explain. They'd be something real he could point to. That, just for example, Hawks had had Enji prone and at his mercy, sharp blade at his throat, and all he'd done was cradle his head gently in his arms and make him look fine as hell.
He had to hope he'd get that chance.
(Because it would go a long way, wouldn't it? The word of Japan's number one hero, the very one whose approval rating he'd sought to advance, should Hawks need him to vouch for him one day. Really, he wasn't exploiting anything when this was how he'd act anyway. His proposal had been genuine. It had only hit him later how convenient it could be. And because of that, he was on better behavior than he would've been normally!
Even if it wouldn't have ever come to this if things were normal.
No, their association would've ended backstage during the billboard rankings when Endeavor, furious with disgust, had told Hawks he was the kind of person he hated most. ...Unless Hawks engineered some other scheme to get his attention and—!
—and that was how he would act anyway, wasn't it. Normally.)
The shave was done. And done pretty damn well, in Hawks' estimation.
Enji didn't appear to have noticed. His breathing had deepened into a slow rhythm, eye still shut. It was flattering in a way Hawks didn't know how to describe, but it made the frigid air less bitter.
Hawks spared a second to rinse the razor. He set it down to dry and tidied up a few other things. He gathered up all the used towels to be carried back inside then took up one final clean one and dipped it into the now-chilled water.
"This is gonna be cold," he warned Enji, who didn't react.
Hawks touched it to his face.
Enji frowned, clearly displeased, but he didn't wake up – if he even truly were asleep. Hawks stifled a laugh. As he washed off the last remnants of soap, the towel warmed in his hands. Enji really hadn't been kidding about the Hellflame, had he? Hawks probably would've died of exposure by now in his t-shirt if Enji weren't doing something – he'd noticed that much – it just hadn't been so blatant before.
Hawks patted Enji's face dry absently then stooped to scrutinize the last two remaining bottles. Honestly, he wasn't expecting much. He picked up the first one and yep. Witch hazel. Entirely unsurprising, really, for a guy with a flame-based quirk and a tendency to overheat to keep a big thing of it around – even if all he used it on was razor burn. And the other...
Really? So uncreative!
Just a thick alum and aloe lotion. Unscented. But that was heroes for you. It wasn't like Hawks was any different. You never knew what kind of nose the enemy might have. They'd pinpoint you anyway if it were good enough, but why tempt fate and make the job that much harder? Even someone with an average sniffer could pick up perfumes if the wind were against you.
Hawks splashed on the witch hazel. The scent was strong, but it faded fast. He dotted on the lotion until it looked like Enji had a whole squadron arranged in an array across his forehead, down his nose, across both cheeks, and chin. Then Hawks got to wreck it. With deft fingers, he massaged in the hydrating cream. He skirted around the empty socket. He wasn't avoiding it so much as... as being respectful. He was capable of that! Though he did let himself look, really look, and linger... even if he let his eyes fall shut when he circled the rim of it with a phantom touch.
Endeavor-san, I'm sorry...
He drew his hand back, thinking hard. Enji was always dealing with this, always favoring his left side, always accounting for the blind spot. It had to ache.
Hawks came around to stand behind him. He placed both hands on the curve of Enji's shoulder, sending the feathers he disrupted sailing away to reattach at his back. His hands were small here, but they were strong enough. He jabbed his thumbs down right in the center of the tough knot of tension he found, just shy to the right of Enji's spine.
Enji lurched forward with a hiss.
...Guess he'd been a little too correct with this one.
"Hey," he said, hanging on and leaning down close to speak into Enji's ear. "I'm done with the shave! I had to get you up somehow."
Enji cursed and tried to yank himself free, but Hawks dug in with his thumbs again and a savage press with the heels of both hands. Enji groaned – a long, drawn out, and deep thing. Hawks knew that sound – when something hurt so good the pain became pleasure.
That hilarious kisama pronoun again, was it? Awww, but Hawks had been so happy Enji had upgraded him to omae recently! This must be really getting to him... and he was getting away.
"C'mon," Hawks said even as he let Enji escape, "I've barely gotten started. Sit back, relax, stay awhile."
Enji was already up off his feathers and rotating his shoulder like he was assessing a wound. He wouldn't find one, Hawks knew. He returned his wings to their rightful place and crossed them in front of him almost like an extra set of arms. He could feel it still, the warmth Enji had left behind. There was a scent too, masculine and faint. Hawks made a wordless vow not to preen again until it disappeared.
He smiled, and smiled wider when he caught the slight vibration of a sigh. He was fairly expert at reading people from the way they breathed. He'd go all in with this bet: Enji was satisfied.
He'd moved on from feeling up his shoulder to feeling over his face. He'd picked up his patch too when Hawks hadn't seen and had it on again, secure and snug. When he caught Hawks looking, the corner of his mouth turned upward.
So that's how weak Hawks was. Just two words of flimsy praise were all it'd take to cause a heat to curl low in his belly. Well, hey, at least those two words weren't good boy—
Even the thought made everything worse. But it wasn't true. He wasn't a good boy. He wasn't 'not bad.' He was—
In clear need of a way to rein this in before his mood spiraled out of control! And, hey, what better than the usual way?
"You know, besides being good with my hands, I've got a great voice."
What was it called to be relieved and regretful at the same time? Then to laugh anyway? Messed up, probably.
You seemed to like it when I had you under the knife, he didn't say. Instead, "Hey, you don't know! I could be a singer of note."
He raised an admonishing brow as he ducked around Enji to finish packing up all the supplies. A few things would have to be taken out again later to dry properly, but they'd be alright in the box for now. Hawks heard and felt Enji move so he was standing right above him. Yes, yes, Hawks knew how to put these things away! He didn't need to be observed like this! He closed the lid, flipped the rickety little golden latch, and handed it up to Enji with a pointed look. Oh no. He'd lifted it up.
Enji accepted it but didn't pull it from his grip. "What note?"
Was that... Had Enji really just... made a joke?
Enji, unimpressed by his failure to reply removed his box from Hawks' weakening grip. "Looks like it's flat."
He tucked it under one arm and turned away to the house, abandoning Hawks for the second time that day.
"What, no! Enji, that's not fair!"
Enji wasn't listening. He was halfway back inside already. Hawks grabbed up the stool just so he'd be appearing to help and sprang after him as behind them it began to snow.
"Wait up! Give me another chance—!"
"You know... you and me... together we could be a pirate angel."
Hawks grinned to himself. He really must be tipsy if this was what was coming out of his mouth tonight.
He and Enji had just left their bar and not a drop of saké had been spilled – again. Enji's hand-holding trick was pretty magical. And the table tennis? Pfft. When was the last time Hawks had won more than a match or two – at best? Whatever this was they were doing, it wasn't necessary. Not anymore. Probably hadn't been for a long time. But every time Hawks had subtly tried to quit – Oh, sorry, that day doesn't work for me. Interns, right? I've got that evening booked out for patrols. Extra guidance really takes it out of you, you know. – Enji had gamely suggested another day, another time, and Hawks couldn't bring himself to do anything but acquiesce.
Maybe they just needed something new. He'd been hearing a peep or two about an owl café not far from here. Animals were good therapy, weren't they? Hawks had always liked owls...
He analyzed the storefronts to see if he could spot it as they strolled side-by-side down the crowded street twinkling under string upon string of lights. Even with his feathers fluffed up from the cold, Hawks wasn't picking up any bad vibrations, just Enji going through the flow of people like a pro. Altogether, it would be enough to put him in a wonderful mood, except Enji had just taken an odd intake of breath. Hawks glanced at him and received an even odder look, like there was something wrong with him.
What had he been saying? Had it been something top secret?
But wait, no, no – he found the thread of his thoughts again under the confused jangle of fear and yes, yes, it was perfect.
"A pirate angel. You know." He fired off a finger gun at Enji's face, letting the recoil point at his own back. "With your eye patch and my wings. We'd be better than Thor."
Enji stopped walking. He peered down at Hawks like he'd suddenly grown a second head.
(Maybe he had. He felt like it these days.)
Hawks, a step ahead now, swung back around. He hadn't meant to, but he'd gotten so close he and Enji were standing nearly toe-to-toe. All he'd have to do to be flush against the broad chiseled chest Enji was so unjustly hiding beneath his thick coat and sweater was sway forward. The best part was, this deep into December, they looked like any other couple on the street standing just like this.
No one gave them a passing glance.
Hawks leaned forward almost against his will, drawn in by the vivid blue of Enji's eye, and caught himself. Enji hadn't moved away, still patiently waiting on Hawks to explain himself, but—
But they weren't a couple. Not really.
Gazing up at him, Hawks could see that Enji's beard was slightly askew again. He hadn't asked Hawks back a second time for another 'not bad' shave. Maybe it had been too much – too much talking, too much touching, too much of the same annoying little guy who wouldn't leave Enji alone.
So of course all Hawks could do was ramp it up to eleven.
"C'mon, Enji. It was in the newest Avengers movie. I know it's American, but it's got heroes in it."
Enji snorted and threw his head back in an eye roll as if what Hawks had just said explained everything.
"With your outlook, I'm not surprised you waste time on that trash."
Hawks blinked at him, stunned.
He couldn't deny that one hurt. He knew perfectly well the childish wording of his goals and the chill attitude he adopted made him seem like a slouch, but that was just the character he played for the public. For Enji to act like he believed it and not his other reputation for ferocity when he'd seen that in action right beside him...
(But had Hawks ever had a single, serious adult conversation about what he meant about heroes having free time? With Enji? With anyone? And when did the character stop and the 'real' Hawks begin anyway? How much of the truth of who he was had he even succeeded in telling Enji? He'd told the League of Villains more to justify his joining, to gain their trust, and to secure his position.
...Forget that. Forget it.)
Hawks put on a pout. "It's not trash. It's cool. Look, what kind of hero doesn't watch hero movies?"
Enji just raised his eyebrow.
Okay, fine. Hawks would give him that one. He only even really liked some of them himself because it was nice getting to see other people fight for once and against the type of otherworldly foes he'd never have to deal with. Plus, sometimes they managed to have pretty neat ideas. That Falcon guy's visor, for instance...
But that was getting off track!
"You do watch some movies, though," he pressed. "Right?"
"It's late, Hawks," Enji said with a shake of his head and without answering the question.
He didn't wait for Hawks to reply either. He sidestepped around him and walked on like there was nothing more to say. It wasn't so unusual for them to go their separate ways without Enji saying goodbye, really. Hawks wouldn't usually give it much though, just wave him off with a promise to catch him next week, but—
"We should go see a movie," he called after Enji's retreating back, a bit desperate.
God, there really was something wrong with him after all. Enji clearly didn't think much of him even after all this time. It would be so much better for everyone in the end if Hawks just stopped, but he didn't want their evening to be over yet. If Enji left now, Hawks would have to go back to his temporary, near-empty rented room and sit alone with the suffocating guilt of all his growing secrets.
He wouldn't last long like that.
He'd end up throwing himself out the window, back into work.
(There was always someone screaming, somewhere. Hawks could hardly sleep for it, some nights, the faint tingling in his feathers like a haunting shadow on the very edge of his mind. Even now when everything seemed so peaceful, if he were to just stop and spread his wings out wide...
So how could he rationalize what he was doing here anyway? Every time he went out with Enji instead of patrolling, how much farther did he fall behind on realizing his goals? How many potential victims was he ignoring right now? When Enji didn't even need him anymore? ...Had he ever needed him? The Age of Endeavor had started in earnest. Number one was still racking up completed cases like he hadn't had a medical setback, although his sidekicks were assisting more, it was true. He was even doing better with his burgeoning fanbase. No one ran off sobbing into their scarves anymore, as far as Hawks knew.
It was just... if he could spare himself a little longer... Surely it couldn't cause that much harm? These were such small glimmers of happiness.)
It'd be a nasty trick, but Hawks knew there was one thing he could try that might get him his way.
He wove through the crowd until he was bobbing at Enji's elbow again.
"Oh, wait, no, of course not," he said as if he were the one who had to disappoint Enji and he didn't care one whit about it. "I mean, since you've only got the one eye, it'd make seeing anything in 3D useless anyway. Forget I said anything. It was a stupid suggestion."
He flung his arms out in a slow-moving shrug and was rewarded when a vice-like grip clamped down on his wrist.
Hook, line, and sinker.
Except now Hawks was learning exactly how a fish felt as Enji hauled him along down the street. He didn't bother going around anyone or dodging patches of ice – he just powered straight through with single-minded determination and boots that could melt any hazards. The destination, Hawks found when he was slung, staggering and slipping, in front of Enji at last, was the end of a line of people in front of a cinema.
Hawks paused to rub some of the pain from his sore wrist. It was probably going to bruise later, but it was an appropriate enough punishment for egging Enji on like that. Only Enji wasn't done with him yet, apparently, as Hawks' eyes went impossibly wide. He'd stopped long enough for the line to move ahead and the man who went too fast for his own good must've been too slow for Enji because he'd just pushed him forward.
With a hand.
On the small of his back.
Under his jacket.
And he left it there.
Every time the person ahead of him shuffled ahead, Hawks felt the full expanse of Enji's palm urging him onward, and god, was he trying to kill him here? He might could encompass his entire waist if he used both hands. Could definitely pick him on up so easy and if he'd just move this one a mite lower...
...In line for tickets at a movie theater was the last place Hawks expected to suddenly and vividly relive entertaining teenage fantasies while the real Endeavor touched him. The end result if he kept doing it would be endlessly embarrassing, and finally Hawks couldn't stand it any longer. He whipped around, wings sideswiping Enji's coat, purses, and hairdos, nearly knocking over three separate stanchions, and earning him a record-breaking number of dirty looks.
Hawks ignored it all as he set Enji's coat back to rights by the lapels before he could do it himself.
"Say, we gettin' our own tickets or you fixin' to—?"
That sure was a soul-destroying glare. If it was 'cause of the dialect Hawks couldn't help it! It just done happened sometimes when he got excited all unexpected-like!
"Cool. This one'll be on me."
"...You're holding up the line."
"Oh, am I?" Hawks asked, finally getting his speech under control and perfectly aware of the growing gap behind him. He waited a beat more until it was large enough that he'd be more or less the next person to be called up to pay before he let go of Enji's coat and caught up. Funny how Enji hadn't asked him to apologize to everyone he'd disrupted. Might be, if he hadn't wanted attention, he shouldn't've been near feeling Hawks up in public!
When he ambled up to her booth, the cashier shot him an apprehensive glance which Hawks chose to disregard.
"Hey there, can I get two for..." he perused the options, scanning the lit up board until his gaze caught on something more flawless than a pirate angel. "Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again?"
The cashier looked at him. Then she looked at the surly, biceps-laden, one-eyed man lurking over his shoulder. Even if she couldn't actually see the definition on those gorgeous arms, Hawks knew what was there. And even if she knew exactly who they were, she could go ahead and break that taboo by announcing it and questioning his choice at her peril.
He grinned at her and passed her his card.
She accepted it with a tentative smile, swiped it in payment, and slid card and the tickets back through the window without a word.
Hawks grabbed them up with a snappy peace sign and thank you! before leading the way through the double doors of the complex, through the ticket taker who announced their auditorium would be on the third floor, and through a throng of milling people to the base of an escalator.
He turned to face Enji as he returned his credit card to his wallet, taking his dear sweet time slipping one ticket in behind his hero license.
"Hawks..." Enji reached for the other, and of course Hawks would hand it over - in his own way.
"That's the ticket," he said as he stepped up, backwards, onto the ascending stairway.
Enji, so concerned with securing a meaningless shred of paper, ended up a good drop below him.
Excellent! Now Hawks could provoke him properly from a place of height!
"So, this should be good! At least that's what the reviews say. Plus, it'll be bright, colorful, and there'll be songs in it too. Gotta get my kicks somehow since you keep vetoing karaoke. You know, I even heard Cher was gonna be in this! I bet you like her song 'Emotional Fire,' don't you? I mean, I do." As the escalator reached its zenith, Hawks stepped smoothly off and kept up his assault uninterrupted. "Anyway, it might be a little confusing since you haven't seen the first one—"
Enji had gotten off too and was bearing down on him fast.
Hawks flapped his wings to keep his balance as he backpedaled. He still tripped over his own shoes passing an oversized cardboard advertisement for A Quiet Place and ended up with rumpled up wings when his back hit the wall of an out-of-the-way alcove. He dispersed some feathers to be more comfortable and, well, really in case it turned out Enji actually did hate musicals enough to fly off the handle and he had to defend himself. O-Or maybe they were something mostly only villains liked and Hawks had just given everything away without realizing it.
Enji planted a fist on the wall above Hawks' head, boxing him in.
Hawks was reluctantly pleased it was the left one before he finally allowed himself to start feeling angry. Enji had brought all this on himself with his dig about Hawks' 'outlook.' He was the one who'd brought them here in the end, too, and he hadn't said no when Hawks had asked the cashier for these tickets. He hadn't voiced any kind of preference at all. He didn't get to be pissed now. And so what if Hawks wanted to escape for a few hours to a goddamn Greek island where he could care about the paternity of an actually decent human being instead of a burned up Voldemort?
Before he could spout off as much and effectively ruin his whole top secret double agent gig, Enji loomed down until their faces were nearly level. The breath of his exhale was angry and hot.
"What makes you so sure," he growled, scars bunching, "I haven't seen the first one?"
Hawks' mouth dropped as he let out an incredulous laugh.
"Now, I know you, you little glutton," Enji went on, unaware of how very mistaken he was, but Hawks couldn't seem to mind at the moment. "You're probably already hungry again, somehow, so go get in line."
He wasn't, actually, but popcorn was basically just air and wouldn't be amiss the longer Hawks thought about it.
"...Of course," he said but made no move to duck out from Enji's arm. "You want anything?"
"Hn. It's already enough you haven't dragged me to that American junk. You may like your heroes performing song and dance routines, but I don't."
There was so much wrong with everything Enji had just said. Hawks didn't even know where to start. For one thing, Hawks hadn't carted himself here and for another it almost sounded like Enji was saying he would've let Hawks buy tickets to a movie he hated which he couldn't even properly see... not to mention... not to... What? ...But. But the movie he had chosen was a musical, so that other part... that? Was that... what Enji had meant...? Earlier? That Hawks liked to see his heroes perform. Could Enji have understood? That Hawks preferred when heroes were nothing but fiction? Maybe Hawks was reading too much into it, too willing to forgive – he had still called Avengers trash after all. Maybe Enji really did just hate the thought of karaoke that much.
(He might hate too that Hawks had told him being the number one hero was all about the performance. But saying it didn't mean Hawks liked it. It was just true. Top heroes had to be popular to be effective. Being unpopular meant being untrusted and untrusted generals didn't win wars.)
Or it could be a bit of everything. A lot of things Hawks said he meant more than one way, so why not for Enji?
...Wait. Was this how Enji felt whenever Hawks opened his mouth? And yet he still agreed to spend time with him every week? That must be lov—
"Are you saying Donna Sheridan isn't a hero?"
"You know what I mean!"
Well, he did now!
"You might change your tune about singing heroes if you ever let me actually do a musical number one of these days."
"...Go–! Get out of here!"
Enji didn't force Hawks away, despite the harshness of his tone. He pushed off the wall, dug his billfold from his coat pocket, and pulled out enough cash to buy popcorn for a small army.
"I will save you a seat," he promised as if they hadn't been assigned and Hawks' spot beside him was in actual danger instead of guaranteed. He pressed the money into Hawks' hands and turned away.
Hawks unglued himself from the wall and surreptitiously returned the feathers he'd cast out to his wings. He fisted the borrowed yen in one hand and trotted after Enji, catching him by the left sleeve with the other. To his credit, he didn't react outwardly at all. He waited until they'd emerged from their secluded corner to pry himself free and then his warm palm went under wing and under jacket again to nudge Hawks in the direction of the concessions.
It would've been almost endearing, Hawks thought, if Enji didn't look like he might explode at any moment from the effort of it. The rage on his face only seemed to get worse as he made for the escalator to the third floor. Was he going to brood through the whole movie? Hawks had better end up sitting to Enji's left no matter what his ticket said. Watching Endeavor watch a romcom while he couldn't easily see Hawks doing it...
This was going to be the best night of his life, wasn't it?
The bittersweet cream of this dessert was witnessing the exact moment Enji nodded off and the way he'd claimed, when Hawks finally roused him after the credits started to roll, that he'd just been resting his eyes. Hawks didn't call him on it. It was late. Enji had even said that. It was tiring, forcing one eye to see for two.
Hawks should've known better.
But if he had... would Enji have ever let him prattle on as they left, giving him the play by play of everything he'd dozed through as if Hawks had just loved the movie so much he had to relive it right then? Would he have taken one long look at the stairs and escalators and grumbled a quiet, "this way," and led Hawks, still talking, to the elevators instead? Would he have permitted Hawks to cram into the taxi after him, still talking, so Enji would focus on him and not fret about how his lack of depth perception made the driver appear incompetent? Would he have listened all the way to his own front door when Hawks, satisfied at last he wouldn't fall asleep again until he'd gotten home, finally wrapped it up and said, "and that's why you should get some rest, Endeavor-san!"
It... had come out that way unbidden. Just. Just the natural flow of the polite speech he'd never given up, that was all. Maybe Enji wouldn't even noti—
He was staring at him, more alert than he'd been since he'd had Hawks up against a wall. Hawks felt pinned again under that gaze – eye blue as water, hot as fire – and stretched his wings just to know he could as his feathers went rigid with the need of flight.
"Call me Enji," Endeavor said, every word deliberate.
Right now, he could have it right now, couldn't he, if he just—
"Of course, of course, Enji. Guess I must be tired too."
He let the suggestion seep into his voice, let his feet carry him closer, let his glance flow up to Enji's and to the door and back again.
And Enji? He waited. Was he trying to build up suspense or something?
C'mon, Enji, take your turn! Invite me in!
"Good night... Hawks."
Enji just looked exhausted again and put upon and his breathing read disappointed.
So. Hawks had chosen the wrong words. No matter. He could arrange an artful withdrawal to regroup for when conditions were more favorable. Sound tactics, that. On the bright side, this just gave him a shining opportunity.
"Haha, yeah! See you Monday then."
"...I'm working Monday."
Well, that sounded like a lie. It sounded like Enji had just made that up on the fly. Too bad Hawks was the expert at that sort of thing and didn't know how not to press an advantage once he'd found one he intended to pursue.
"Hey, me too!" He raised his brows in clear flirtation and winked. "Guess we'll have to make it quick."
But Enji couldn't scold what had already flown away. He couldn't scold laughter on the wind at all.
(The poisonous cherry on top of that evening came a few days later and was finding out that villains did like musicals.
Hawks knew he'd said he hoped they'd get along better, but he hadn't expected this. Turning Dabi down was the most sickly awkward and darkly hilarious thing Hawks had ever done. If it happened again, he'd probably have to accept, but for right now? The look on his face when Hawks had held up his bruised wrist and informed him, with complete sincerity,
"Oh, sorry... Already saw that one. It was a spur of the moment thing. Endeavor literally dragged me to the theater. He didn't even give me the chance to say no. What an asshole. The things I've put up with to get information for the League... At least he's starting to really trust me. Next time, maybe ask me these things in advance?"
It'd been priceless.
Then Dabi had told him the other news.
About what they'd need him for come Monday night.
Hawks had put on his best smile, all teeth.
"Finally," he said. "Waiting for this has been killing me.")
Hawks had been planning this one for a long time.
A little here, a little there, he'd scoped out the terrain and gathered the necessary intel for how he'd pull it off. A hero uniform in a hero agency really was the best disguise. Except now, just after dark on Monday, he'd hardly need any of it. His incursion had been almost entirely unobstructed. Without the place being fully staffed, he'd been able to set it all up at his leisure without anyone questioning his loitering around.
He was ready to start.
It'd be just like tipping over the first domino in a carefully orchestrated sequence.
Hawks summoned up all enmity he had for his own situation and let it shine through on his face. And then he had Endeavor's office door open. He stalked forward. Enji was standing behind his desk in full regalia. He appeared to have been contemplating the pine-covered landscape painting hanging there. Hawks guessed he'd caught him in the interim – of coming off patrol or about to head out, he wasn't sure. It didn't matter.
"Hawks," Enji said, surprised. "What—?"
Hawks had gotten to the ostentatiously oversized Persian carpet now and jumped with a simultaneous flap of his wings to get him airborne. He could've easily just stomped on through but the thought of getting his boots all over something so grand was too much. It made the whole job trickier, what with dodging Enji's chandelier, but Hawks could handle that – even if its very existence threatened his carefully cultivated mask of wrath.
No, Enji's mask of fire was going to be the big uncertain question. Would he do it? Would he cut the Hellflame for Hawks? Hovering over Enji now, Hawks didn't dither. He reached out and, yes! All along his face, all along the whole top half of his costume, Enji let the inferno flare away, and Hawks demonstrated his strength by heaving Enji up by the neck of his bodysuit in safety.
"You, me. Roof, now," he snarled into Enji's face, their noses nearly crushed together. A gasp, only fleeting felt with his feathers working so fast. Enji's eye dilated wide with... interest? Hawks didn't have time to process that properly before he released his quarry. His wings beat in a back stroke, bearing him away. He landed to the side of the carpet and marched out the door on foot, shoving it closed.
Then he ran – straight for the stairwell where he'd propped open the door. He kicked away the doorjamb to cover his tracks and hopped up and over the railing. It was a difficult maneuver, flying down in a tight space like this, but Hawks managed it. He emerged on a floor five below Enji's ballroom of an office, jogged along one hallway, across darkened, abandoned cubicles, and up to the window whose latch he'd left undone. This was the kind of time being short served him well: he could balance on and take off from windowsills with ease. It was a zippy little flight up to the roof from here.
The whole retreat had taken him less than a minute. Not bad for a first and only run through.
He touched down in front of the access door and spread his wings. It wasn't easy picking up anything through sealed steel and concrete, but Enji's office was almost just below his feet, so maybe...
Too difficult to sense or Enji hadn't even moved yet.
Well, Hawks knew how to wait.
He strode over to the ledge directly across from the door and stepped up to settle in. He'd be the first thing Enji saw when he arrived. Instead of scanning the horizon like he'd planned, however... it was almost like an outside force, stifling and cruel, that compelled him to look down.
The sidewalks far below were puddled in pools of cheery yellow and all the trees at the base of the building were spiraled in snow-powdered glittering brilliance. Pretty enough, but nothing like the ethereal illuminations gracing the more popular streets. There wasn't anyone wandering by to see these. His Mighty Wings, so much like satellites, told him that much even if he could see it for himself.
It was a benign observation, but with an abrupt flush of animosity, Hawks reminded himself that everything, everything wrong was because of them.
He let his hold on his feathers grow tenuous. They fell to the roof behind him.
He knew how long it would take without them.
Less than eight seconds, and he'd never have to worry about anything again. He wouldn't have to fight. He wouldn't have to feel or lie or sneak or protect or act or deceive or... do... what the League expected him to do tonight.
But ending it all... He didn't have the right to make that choice.
He owed too much to too many people for that to ever be an option. They were relying on him. He had to make it worth it, and he had so much work left to do anyway.
And his quirk... it was a blessing. They said so... Mighty Wings was strong: flight, complete mental control of every feather, and the ability to sense all the vibrations generated by people. He'd saved countless lives over the years using that power. He'd never regret it. So didn't that make him the worst, still wanting it to stop? That last aspect of his quirk... To go one day where he didn't have to feel people in trouble... where he didn't have to make himself numb just to get a few hours of relief from the ones who weren't...
He'd rid the world of every last crawling parasite if he could have that.
(But what did it mean now he was becoming one himself?
...Not yet, though, not yet. He had a little more time before that corruption was irreversible.)
He'd wondered, sometimes, if he could go the other way. Throw Mighty Wings away instead.
(But he'd done that before, hadn't he? More than once.
His tutors had been furious the first time. And the second. By the third, they'd gotten thoughtful. What was the range of his mental link, they'd wondered. How far would he have to be from his feathers before it snapped? Could they improve it?
By quite a distance, they'd all discovered, by the time he'd turned eighteen.)
No, they weren't something he could escape.
They grew back.
In less than a working week, he'd be fighting fit again.
But as much as he occasionally dreamed of it – (dreams of burning, nightmares of nothing) – he was always so much more miserable without wings. Wings meant flying and to fly was to exist in a state of glory. To be high enough so all there was was wind and sky, to flip so all he could see was an endless expanse of blue shot through with sun-touched clouds – it was the only time he'd ever felt blessed.
(It was the only training he'd ever relished. Sprints like obstacle courses to prove his agility. Flight endurance that let him stretch his wings. His tutors had mapped out routes all across Japan to see how long it'd take him to get from place to place. Then he'd do all of it again and again: fly harder, Hawks, fly faster!
He'd thrown himself into it until his feathers were just a synonym for speed.)
He'd been able to offer flight to others too. He'd shared that splendor with Enji and Tokoyami both now. Though Enji hadn't been in a position to appreciate how much that meant, Hawks figured.
Tokoyami, though, Tokoyami. His dear little intern. What would he do if "Master Hawks” went and offed himself? Hawks couldn't do that to him, even if he'd never wanted Tokoyami around, not really.
No, Hawks had only ever needed him as a source of intel about the League, and now... It'd all become so upside down. He needed Tokoyami as a source of intel for the League.
It felt an age ago, the U.A. Sports Festival, but it had only been this spring. Hawks had gone this year for three reasons: to see Endeavor, to see Endeavor's son, and to get his hands on one of the kids who'd faced the League of Villains so they could cough up the details. He'd thought them just a band of little punks back then who were complicating his goals. Hawks had wanted to take them out as soon as possible when it would still be easy, but he'd need eyewitness accounts for that and no one else was talking.
And then he'd seen Tokoyami.
And his heart had torn in two.
Because every time he looked at him, he thought of siblings whose faces he no longer knew.
We're both birds.
That had factored into his decision far more than Hawks had been willing to admit out loud. So of course, he'd promptly been a dick to him the whole week of his field work – on purpose. He'd thought maybe he could get Tokoyami to second guess his career path.
(Maybe he could save him...)
Show him how inglorious the front lines were, how demanding. Make him see how weak he really was, how ceaselessly he'd have to work to make a difference.
Hawks had underestimated his stubbornness, though.
He'd been dumbfounded when Tokoyami had actually asked to be taken on again. Hawks had accepted for two reasons. As a joke: he fully expected the application to be rejected. What kind of school would let one of their prized pupils take a ten hour round trip commute on the regular just for a little hands-on training with a guy who barely bothered to teach? Especially at a time like this? U.A., apparently. And as security: because it wouldn't have looked good with the League if they'd found out after he made contact with them that he'd turned down a prime source of information straight from class 1-A.
Now Hawks was stuck with him.
Moreso than ever with traveling rendered a non-issue with Hawks stationed up here in Musutafu for the foreseeable future. He actually had to impart wisdom too, because if it came down to it and Tokoyami couldn’t protect himself... that would be on Hawks. At least he'd be relatively safe as long as Hawks' cover was secure. Shigaraki wasn't stupid enough to send his people after their own unwitting informant.
(No, they wouldn't try to kidnap him again. They expected Hawks to do it more subtly this time, to bring Tokoyami around to their side ideologically bit by bit. It was exhausting developing the doublespeak necessary for an objective like that when in truth Hawks didn't want Tokoyami on any side.
...All the more reason for Hawks to make his goals a reality as fast as he possibly could.)
But god, Tokoyami was trusting. He clearly didn't like being thought of as just a source of gossip, but he hardly needed any prompting at all to unburden all his woes on Hawks. He'd recounted any number of schoolboy stories so innocently — spars with class 1-B he lost, math exams he didn't know if he'd pass, how all his classmates were coming along in comparison — and he took almost everything Hawks said to heart.
Hawks hoped he would remember it, the night he'd flown him to the top of Fukuoka Tower. It might make his treachery sting less should Tokoyami ever find out the beasts Hawks had fed with all the tales he'd told him. Hawks always did his best to filter out what he could and obfuscate what he couldn't with Tokoyami-isms, but a spy had to give in order to get. At least he always reported exactly what he'd passed on.
(He could pretend, that way, that whatever happened next wouldn't be his fault.)
It was that night, too, which got Tokoyami effectively thinking in three dimensions at last. Here Hawks had been trying his best to be inspiring, and as soon as Tokoyami had actually achieved flight, he'd promptly named the move after Satan. Hawks had laughed at the irony until he'd nearly cried. Tokoyami had been so offended. His head had puffed up twice its size in embarrassment and Hawks had melted.
"Ah," he'd said, knowing he had to butter him up again and fast. The best way would definitely be to throw him for a loop. "I know I said I'm not nurturing, but you didn't have to be so mean, Tokoyami-kun. Black Fallen Angel? Is it because of all those times I left you behind?"
Tokoyami had been aghast at the possibility of having unintentionally insulted him, as predicted, and hastened to explain.
Hawks had 'forgiven' him and even complimented him for having such a strong aesthetic. Something like that would only help him in the long run if he did end up a full-fledged hero. Only to himself could Hawks admit he'd been unsettled, but that was... that was just Tokoyami rubbing off on him. To see an ill omen in it. There was no need to worry the kid had somehow known. That he'd sensed it. That the corruption Hawks had accepted of his own free will was becoming visible even then.
...Well. It wasn't like Hawks had ever thought his back was broad enough to play the Archangel Michael or anything anyway. No, that role would be much better suited for someone like—
"Hawks, get down from there!"
Enji really had taken forever getting up here. Any longer and Hawks might've done something drastic.
He tottered around as if he wasn't on a windy ledge some sixty stories off the ground. "Get down from where?"
Ooh, Enji was mad! He extended one imposing, gauntleted hand. "Don't play cute with me! That's—"
"Dangerous?" Hawks suggested as Mighty Wings took shape at his back again, the feathers flocking up from the little lee where he'd left them. Even at his lowest point, he'd been unwilling to let them get blown away.
Enji let his arm fall. Hawks watched his ire fade, replaced with the rankling knowledge of the futility of lecturing a guy who could fly about the danger of heights.
If you only knew...
"You..." Enji said, pausing. "You were upset."
"Oh, that!" Hawks waved a dismissive hand. "That was just to get you up here."
"Hawks... You could have just asked."
"Sorry, sorry! I can do it now." He spun, earned himself a frizzle through the feathers as Enji nearly choked, and flopped down with a fwump. He cast a come-hither look behind him and raised his right hand in invitation. "Sit with me?"
Enji came closer. He hid his trepidation well. His eye was set on Hawks' hand and then on Hawks and it was assessing. Hawks didn't know how long they stayed like that in a frozen tableau, but it broke when his hand was crushed in an iron-tight hold. Hawks grimaced, trying not to sag under the superior strength, but squeezed back in support as Enji took his place beside him. Instantly, everything felt easier, brighter, warmer – physically and... the other way. Inside.
"I thought... you were angry," Enji said. He seemed to be dredging up the words from an uncomfortable place. "Since I'm working tonight."
"You do see how I'm dressed, right?" Hawks countered. "I told you the other night I booked myself up for patrols too."
Hawks had already completed those hours and more earlier in the day. It would show on his record he wasn't lying.
"We'd have to 'make it quick,' you said."
"...I should've known."
Okay, Hawks didn't know what Enji was implying to sound so rueful saying that so he didn't reply. He'd just have the alluring quality of a good mystery do the work for him. He let the silence stretch. It didn't gnaw at him so viciously now he wasn't alone. Enji and the soft flickering glow of Hellflame between them kept the malice of his thoughts at bay quite nicely. Funny, how a quirk named after the torment of damnation had only ever felt like salvation. It was doing ghastly things to the scars on Enji's face, but after having traced all those gouges and ridges with his own fingertips, Hawks couldn't help but feel... possessive. Even as awful as they looked, now, as ever, for all the long years he'd been watching, he could still only see Enji one way.
"The stars are beautiful tonight."
Enji's head tilted in the direction of the single, tenacious star shining through the light pollution of the city laid out under their dangling feet. Hawks could just imagine the eyebrow on his unseen eye rising.
"You're the oth—"
"You're the other star," Hawks finished anyway and laughed as Enji made to cuff his head.
Only he didn't.
He settled a steadying hand at the nape of Hawks' neck and combed his fingers upward, burying them deep in the unruly pale gold of his hair.
And Hawks forgot what air was.
He bowed his head under the caress.
When Enji drew his hand away – quick yet somehow halting and too soon – Hawks missed it intensely.
"For god's sake," Enji said. "Do you even hear the nonsense that comes out of your own mouth?"
The words should have been indignant, but all Hawks heard was baffled fondness. He lifted the headphones from his ears and leaned into Enji's space with a grin.
"I'm sorry, what?"
Enji shoved him away in disgust but hung onto his shoulder as he levied himself back to his feet. If Hawks hadn't been watching for it, he'd never have noticed the barest quiver of hesitation.
...Happy to take your mind off it.
Hawks stood too and idled after. The quiet now was charged with imminent farewell, but if Hawks could just eke out a second or two more, even if Enji's hand was already on the doorknob to retreat inside. Instead of opening the door, he paused, and turned again.
This would be it, Hawks decided. A pivotal moment.
"Hawks," Enji said. He pronounced the word as if he could taste it. The breeze was pitiless tonight, but it wasn't why Hawks shivered. He gazed up at Enji, ready and eager for anything. "What's your real name?"
Hawks forced a laugh, despite almost wanting to strangle himself at the unexpected question. He hated that even to his own ears, it didn't sound fake.
"Oh, please! Just keep calling me Hawks. I prefer that, honestly. My real name is embarrassing."
His parents had chosen it for him and for that, he adored it. What was embarrassing was being unable to recall the last time anyone had ever actually used it. Or the last time he'd spared it a thought himself. How could he admit he'd forgotten what his own name sounded like when spoken aloud? He'd never once stopped to imagine it, but to hear it in Enji's voice would be a gift, though not one he deserved. He hadn't been that person for such a long time anyway. To deny Enji the knowledge, then, perhaps it would be one small agony he could spare them both. It was balm enough he'd even cared to ask.)
But it seemed that answer wasn't satisfactory.
Mighty Wings knew intimately the harshness of a brewing argument, but Hawks couldn't. He couldn't. Not today, not tonight. At this rate, he was already going to be late meeting the League. A bad sign. He was unprepared just when he needed his wits about him and all it'd taken to throw him off his game was a kindergarten-level question.
"I've got to go," he announced trying to stave off... everything. He didn't know. He just needed this not to be happening, but Enji looked about to insist or grab him, so Hawks blurted out the first thing he could think of.
"Wish me luck!"
...An awful, stupid thing to say. If Enji ever thought to ask for what, Hawks wouldn't know how to answer. Best case scenario he'd just assume it was for whatever the hell 'extra guidance' even was and save himself the trouble of wondering.
Before Enji could verbalize any of that, capture him, or worse, Hawks rammed the proper sequence into his headphones to initiate protection for an upcoming rapid change in air pressure. It wasn't the same as noise cancelling, but it had that effect. With his other hand he smoothed his coat closed. The metallic snapsnapsnap of latching magnetic buttons zigzagged through his wings and pinged along his mind like the perfect pick-me-up.
There was something else, too – the same puff of air, repeating like a broken chord. He could see Enji's mouth moving. It was probably his name – the might-as-well-be-the-real-one.
(Because if it wasn't real then what was he? Who had he been this whole time?! He knew who he was! He had to know!! If he didn't know, everything would fall apart!!!)
"Can't hear you!" Hawks told Enji, louder than necessary. He pointed at his headphones with both hands and waved. "I'm ready for take off!"
He didn't wait for a response. He turned on his heel and launched himself from the top of the skyscraper at a sprint in a daredevil dive. This was what he was: force, momentum, speed, precision – the swoop and strike of a hawk in search of prey.
He tucked in his wings and hurtled down along the face of the building. His blood was pounding, adrenalin spiking, and the ground was coming up fast. He leveled out with the street lamps, glided a ways, beat Mighty Wings, once, twice, thrice, caught an updraft, and soared. He released the suction of his headphones as he gained altitude, the safety feature no longer necessary.
Just once, Hawks glanced back over his shoulder as he banked around a high rise office. It was still there, he saw – the fire of Hellflame blazing bright like a beacon in the night. He wondered if Enji stayed up there to search the sky for him. His success would be unlikely, but that was never the sort of thing that'd stop Endeavor. Even if he did manage to spot him, Hawks would look like nothing more than a black-winged shadow creeping over city lights.
It was the last thought he allowed himself before he cleared his mind for the horror to come.
Hawks got back into the Endeavor Hero Agency through the same window he'd opened to fly up to the roof.
Nice security, Enji...
Provided they could get up this high, any kind of villain could just waltz in.
He locked it after himself and slunk through the crypt-like quiet, keeping to the shadows. He snuck into the first bathroom he found. It was for the ladies, but that was fine. Better even. Who would ever think he'd been in here?
He pulled off his gloves one after the other and dropped them to the tile. They weren't wet with it. Shigaraki wouldn't let him put them back on until it had dried on his hands.
(He'd been very insistent on that. It had always enraged him whenever Hawks didn't ignore someone in trouble, like it were some kind of personal insult when he left no victims behind. This time Shigaraki had been gleeful. In his benevolence he'd deigned to do Hawks a favor. He'd gotten rid of it and it had taken everything Hawks had had left not to react. Let him think it was just some petty taunt. It wasn't as if it were the first feather that'd been touched with Decay.)
In any case. The gloves were ruined.
Hawks nudged the faucet on with a forearm and hiked up the sleeves of his coat as much as he could with his elbows. He thrust both hands into the lukewarm water and watched dispassionately as red swirled away down the drain.
Dispassionate because it wasn't his.
Dispassionate because if he thought about that too deeply he didn't know what would happen.
Dispassionate because he had to be – he had to be.
There was no other way.
(No other way than to inter the spurting sensation of the cessation of those vibrations. Bury it deep beneath the hollow feeling where he stored the memory of everyone he'd been too slow to save. Pretend it was different when it happened in the line of duty. Pretend it was different when he held the knife.
Just add it to the number of every final breath his feathers had ever felt.)
He only reached for the soap when the water ran clear again. He scoured his hands of every last trace of his crime, reached for the soap a second time and did it again, reached for the soap a third time but curled his shaking fingers into fists.
It was just some silly mental thing that made him want to scrub them so raw the blood really was his own. He didn't actually need to do it. He couldn't take that risk anyway.
If even one janitor thought to complain around about a single soap dispenser that was so out-of-proportionately empty compared to the others and it somehow got back to Enji and it turned out he'd noticed the stupid window which was left open for a while, and he thought oh, that's a coincidence, those two things happening nearby, but oh, that was because Hawks was here that night, and oh, wasn't that the same evening he'd said that odd 'wish me luck,' for no damn reason then reappeared later acting weird, and oh, wasn't he only gone exactly within the parameters of the estimated time of death on that body that'd been found with its throat slit, and oh, hadn't he joked about thinking about murder once before—
That was impossible. It couldn't happen. Hawks just wasn't thinking straight right now. He'd closed up the window and no one had been here to see it'd ever been open and who would even care about the soap dispenser and Shigaraki wouldn't just leave it lying around to be discovered, they needed the parts, it was just. That was all it would take.
Things were never as secret as people actually thought. Once the seed of truth was planted, it was easy for all the subterfuge and misdirection to fall away. And Wing Hero Hawks, who always saw and heard so much more than he ever should, he knew it very well. He'd known it as soon as they'd asked him to take on this mission.
He'd slip up eventually and his spun web of lies would shatter like glass.
So why, considering all that, had he even taken the chance of coming back here tonight?
(Why did he ever come back?)
Hawks took his visor off and set it on the edge of the sink. He stuck his hands back under the faucet and cupped his palms full of water. He stared as it began to overflow. He shut his eyes tight and splashed it on his face, scrubbing away the salt stains. He kept them closed as he forced another handful into his mouth and spat out the taste of bile. He groped blindly through one of his coat pockets. C'mon, c'mon, he knew he'd squirreled away a couple in here! He dug out a few mints at last, tore through the wrappings, and shoved them past his teeth. He dried his face as the candy dissolved on his tongue.
He took a few measured breaths and blinked into the mirror. He ran a hand – clean, it was clean – through his hair and grinned, going for something debonair and devil-may-care. After all, it was Christmas Eve. The most romantic night of the year. Even if he had to be in uniform, he should still look his best.
Hawks thought he hit it pretty well.
He picked the gloves up off the floor. They didn't even smell wrong. He stuffed them in one of the back pockets of his trousers and grabbed his visor as he turned to go.
He exited the bathroom and, with his back near flush to the wall, prowled down the hall to the landing. The whole building had been on a skeleton crew today, as many people as could manage it out with their sweethearts. Even if his feathers couldn't sense it were true, it wouldn't have been much of a gamble, figuring there'd only be one other person here for several floors up or down. Hawks still didn't want to be the kind of creep who got caught on video coming out of a women's restroom. Even if he hadn't spied any cameras on this level, he had to be careful.
He glanced at the stairwell when he passed it, but he really didn't think he could manage five flights right now. He continued on and called the elevator instead. There'd be security footage of this, but the poor sap who might get stuck reviewing that could draw their own conclusions. When he stepped inside, he hit the button for the top floor and then punched in the clearance code no one had ever told him.
Speaking as one workaholic about another, he knew Enji would still be here. Sure enough, when the elevator dinged for his destination, he found the entrance of Enji's office limned in light. Hawks placed a palm on the colossal door. It was the only thing keeping him from one of the sole sources of comfort left in his life. He pushed it open, knowing he should leave.
Enji was at his desk again. He was sitting now with a giant stack of case files in front of him beside a laptop. He'd changed, too, into something more casual – flame-free in a simple sweater with the sleeves bunched up at his elbows. He glanced up at the sound of the door and Hawks smiled across the cavernous weight of the space between them.
Enji regarded him almost warily. "I'd thought you'd gone for the evening."
"You think you can get rid of me that easily?"
Hawks had every intention of making himself at home for as long as Enji would let him. He approached the little seating set-up Enji had as the center point of his office and kicked off his boots. He chucked the gloves from his back pocket onto the table, set his visor down with care, and pulled his headphones off next. Then he started in on his belt, unclipping various pouches.
His feathers hadn't picked up any rustling of clothing to indicate Enji had so much as twitched since Hawks had come in.
He looked up.
Enji was watching him. He sat there, fountain pen poised in the air, as Hawks undid his buckle. The deep breath he took as Hawks slid it free was like invigoration. He was almost tempted to go on like that – to thumb the button of his trousers and see what Enji would do then, but he didn't. Hawks had to think long term and with the restrictions of his mission, house rules applied. If he wanted to make it to the end of the match with both players still invested, still... intact, the opening move could never be so overtly his own. He tugged his arms free from his sleeves instead.
Hawks was just about to dispel his feathers so he could get his coat off when Enji opened his mouth and said, "No wings on the couch."
"I've seen what they can do."
Wow, you use your feather katanas to slice up a bunch of nomu one time...
Hawks would've thought making a non-hazardous barber's chair out of them would've left more of an impact, but he could comply with this request. It meant he really had been mistaken last week about Enji writing him off as just a lazy guy who took it easy. Plus, it might be nice to let his hair down for a while, as it were. It beat getting cut up about what else his feathers could cut through if he let them.
Don't. Don't think of it like that.
He shot Enji his best miffed face anyway. With his coat hanging from his shoulders like a cape, he did a circuit of the table to give the couch and armchairs a thorough examination. There wasn't the barest indication of a scratch or singe on any of them anywhere.
He crossed his arms and laid his feathers down in neat red rows like a commander setting up battle formations. He covered as much of the entirely excessive carpet as he could. Two he reserved to float the coat right off his back. He kept the weak plumage that covered the musculature of his wing bones, of course, as usual. If Enji took umbrage about that, it would be Hawks' pleasure to look him right in the eye and ask if he wanted to pet him to see how soft it was. Now he'd thought it, Hawks almost wished Enji would, but when he glanced over, he saw he'd returned to scribbling away on his reports, and really. There was a computer right there on his desk! Who still worked on hard copies these days?
(Probably a good number of heroes who hadn't been personally handed a hyper secure smartphone by Madame President herself with the words, "You'll know what to do with this.")
Hawks pulled his phone out of the pocket of his suspended coat and had his feathers leave it on the armchair before joining their fellows on the floor. He collapsed at last onto the couch and lay back, putting his feet up. He held his phone two handed above him and pulled up the Hero Association's official app. Solid on its own, impenetrable on Hawks' device. He usually left nitty gritty details like these to his sidekicks, by whatever method they wanted to do it, but he'd been doing it all himself these days while he was up here without them.
Had he turned in his reports from this morning yet? For some reason he couldn't remember, like there was a chasm in his memory between Now and Before. But there they were: a long series of them dated to today with tiny green arrows indicating they'd been submitted.
...Had he checked the sidekicks' work yet? He switched to the tab where they forwarded him their debriefings for approval before he passed those on, and he'd... done that already too, apparently.
Nothing left, then. Unless he wanted to impart what his sacrilege had won Japan.
Hawks had a special tab for that, available only under layers of encryption. He still didn't like it – would never like anything that wouldn't let him sense there was no one listening in. Feathers couldn't be hacked. It was the best method for transmitting his intelligence, though, especially when time was of the essence. But was it really necessary right now? To confess the sins of his shadow life to a blank screen in this cave Enji called an office while he sat right behind him?
"Hey, Enji," Hawks called, mesmerized by the white glow of his phone. "Still hard at work, huh? You should take a break, you know."
Enji didn't reply. Hawks would have to try again. Something safe, something safe.
(What was safe, anymore?)
"If we left now, I'm sure we could find loads of karaoke bars still open. Let's go!"
All he got for that was the forceful crinkle of a turning page. What was Enji writing on? Tissue paper? If he stacked all the sheets on top of each other, could he read right through to what was written on the last one?
"At least put me out of my misery and tell me what you'd pick."
It was harder to pick up a single breath when his feathers were fanned out discretely, but without any adverse input to contradict it, Hawks would definitely put his money on that huff being annoyed. Good. That meant Enji might actually do something soon.
"I know it's ABBA now. They only have so many songs. I'll guess it eventually."
And yes, that is a threat.
But since Enji didn't seem about to take him at his word, Hawks levied his ultimate attack.
"If you don't say anything, I'm just going to assume your go-to is 'Dancing Queen.'"
That earned him a snort. He heard the sound of a pen thrown down, the slap of a closing folder, and the scrape of a pushed back chair as Enji stood. The vibrations of his heavy footsteps cascaded through his disembodied wings like the excitement of approaching a waterfall. He didn't slow when he got to the feathers patterning his rug, but he hadn't needed to as they eddied out of his way at Hawks' whim.
When Enji loomed over him with a glower, Hawks brought his phone down close to his chest. The screen had gone black from disuse. He hadn't written a single word.
"Why," Enji stressed, hands on his hips, "are you like this?"
Hawks blinked up at him, not sure if he should laugh or cry at the loaded question.
Should I break it down for you by percentage? Why not just say it the fastest way?
Enji pinched the bridge of his nose, as the breath went out of him like a bellows. He eyed Hawks over his fist for a long moment, glare as relentless as an incoming tide. Then, too quick for Hawks to react, he seized him by the heels of both feet. Hawks had time enough to utter a single "oi!" before his knees were bent as Enji sat. Hawks' feet thumped down across his thighs. He would've been happy enough to not have them shoved off except Enji leaned back into the cushions with his whole upper body angled away.
"Hawks." Enji said it slowly. Like a peace offering. For the first time Hawks wondered if Enji's growing preference to have him on the left was less about having faith in him and more about not having to see him. Maybe it was easier for Enji to deal with him that way. "About earlier—"
"I'll tell you," Hawks cut him off on impulse, "in four days."
I'll tell you anything if you just look at me. Please, look at me.
It worked. Curiosity always worked.
Enji inclined his head toward Hawks. "...What's in four days?"
Would his other name sound like that when Enji said it? He'd grown used to hearing this one spoken with the flash fire of frustration tinged with the edge of something else. Or it could be, if he allowed Enji to help him dust off the old one and polish it up, it would sound like something completely new.
"It's my birthday. Hey, this way you won't even have to spend anything!"
Well, damn. Didn't that just reveal entirely too much? His mouth really did get him into trouble sometimes. Good thing it could get him out of it too.
"I still want a—" proper present Hawks didn't manage to finish as warming hands wrapped completely around his ankles. "A-Ah."
Hawks didn't know what to make of this. What he could see of Enji's scarred expression had morphed into something downright menacing but he stroked Hawks like he were fragile. S-So his feet were dainty, maybe, that didn't mean Enji had to— had to— Enji abandoned one ankle and engulfed the other with both massive hands. He sifted them down, massaging his thumbs along the arch of Hawks' foot to the ball and pressed into his curling toes as if he could hunt out any chill in his flesh better than his thick, woolen socks. Then he did it all again.
Hawks clapped a hand across his mouth as he fought not to squirm despite being reduced entirely to shuddering liquid.
So it was then that Enji said, low and accusing, "I know what is you've been doing this whole time."
Hawks tensed, sudden dread and anxiety unfurling over his stomach like hunger.
"Do you really think my ophthalmologist didn't warn me about what would happen because of this?” He didn't bother indicating the patch over his eye.
Hawks folded up his unease and stashed it away. It should probably disturb him how effortless it was. Almost like flipping a switch. But Enji was still talking and he needed to pay attention, though he wasn't making it easy.
"Pouring. Shaving. Movies. Heights." He kneaded in another rub along the curve of Hawks' foot as he listed each allegation as if it were punctuation. "Even that goddamned ping pong. She suggested it herself, though she said it'd be too hard."
He didn't think much of that. Hawks could tell by the way his grip became almost searing.
"...F-Fine," Hawks managed against a muffled moan, and, since he never knew how not to court danger even when he'd been absolved by lady luck, went on, "so you caught me red handed. But I really helped you out, didn't I? Can you deny it?"
"I told you before," Enji bit out, not answering but admitting the truth all the same, "quit being so noble."
That was the second time he'd called Hawks that and it was just as false as the first. If Hawks was anything, it was manipulative, but Enji's opinion still felt like a patch being sewn over the gap that used to house the piece of soul he'd lost tonight. Hawks knew it would start to fray as soon as he was alone again, but for now— God.
Enji had switched over to his other foot.
Hawks tried to focus on something innocuous to avoid just writhing there against the cushions. Imagining the way Enji had said 'ophthalmologist' should do it, right? ...Nope. Even words like that were a turn on with that voice. Enji could've just whispered it in Hawks' ear and he'd have swooned. This needed to stop, now, and there was only one recourse left – the one thing Hawks kept appealing to again and again. So what if it'd be the second time tonight?
He twisted his ankle free from Enji's hold and swung his legs to the ground as he sat up. He switched on his phone, pressed his thumb to the unlock screen, and— His report. Hawks logged out faster than he'd ever logged out of anything in his life. Later. Later tonight, he'd do it then, after Enji finally got fed up and kicked him out or sent him on his way as he left for home himself. For now, Enji wasn't paying his phone any attention. His hands had wilted into weak fists in his lap and he'd turned away again. What Hawks could see of his face was set in a classic Endeavor frown.
His cold dose of reality had set Hawks back to rights, but what was a game plan if it went unused?
Hawks stood and sat again, farther down the couch. With his feet tucked under him, he was thigh-to-thigh with Enji and nicely nestled into his side. He could feel it – not with his feathers, but with his body – the way Enji's chest moved in a deep inhale. If he'd been caught off guard, that was the only clue. Enji tried to free his arm from the trap of Hawks' body. Hawks checked the attempt as he held up his phone, clear now of anything unusual.
"Here," he said, tilting the screen so it'd be easily visible to them both. "I'll quit the nobility if you just tell me your song."
"This is what you're angling for?"
"Well, I'm curious!"
"There's an expression for that."
Hawks decided not to justify that with a response. He opened his web browser, typed in list of abba songs, and clicked the first result.
"Mine would be 'Take A Chance On Me,'" he offered as he began to scroll. That was laying it on thick, but the title and the lyrics said everything he couldn't. He'd never get Enji to a karaoke bar anyway, so it was only an idea – a suggestion, not a seduction. "You don't even have to say yours. You can just point."
Enji did not point.
Enji smacked the phone right out of Hawks' hands. It flipped end over end high into the air. Hawks shot up after it, grabbing for it fruitlessly but catching it nevertheless as his feathers reacted to his wordless terror, depositing it intact on the table.
"Enji," Hawks began, rounding around, "that's my phone! You can't just—"
He stopped when he saw he was admonishing a sweater stretched tight across a broad chest. The pause was long enough for Enji to grab a fistful of the collar of his shirt and yank him up nearly off the feet he'd just been attending mere minutes ago. What... what was this? Some kind of payback since Hawks did this to him earlier? Well, Enji could just—
"'Kisses of Fire,'" Enji said against his mouth and kissed him.
It took Hawks a shocked second to realize that was the name of a song and not a prediction.
And well, fuck him if that choice wasn't obvious after all.
Enji released him and sank back into the couch. Hawks followed, caught by the noose of his lips as he sat bestride his hips and hot hands fell to the small of his back. Hawks kissed Enji desperately and deep, wove his fingers into his hair to tug him closer still. He didn't have to see it to know he liked this red against them so much better.
Hawks faltered at the thought and Enji pulled away.
He extracted Hawks' hands from his hair, breathing rough and looking almost surprised Hawks was there at all. When Hawks met his mismatched gaze – clear-eyed and clothed – Enji searched him for any doubt.
If Hawks slowed down enough to think beyond the longing of his racing heart, he had so much. How could he do this on top of everything else he'd done tonight? How could he have forgotten it for even one second? How could he seek relief, contentment? He'd joked about it. He wasn't... he wasn't a hero anymore. He was hardly even human. If Enji knew... if he knew the atrocity Hawks had done, he would be revolted. However much he might've thought he liked Hawks, he would discard him – and rightly so.
(After all, it had happened already once before. Everyone had said it was the best choice, leaving home to be a hero, and he agreed. He'd been glad to ease the pain. What else could they have even done with a little boy who kept running off to rescue strangers but relinquish him to those who would see him safely jessed? And he was doing so much good in the world now, wasn't he? He was giving everything to make it better. So why did it have to hurt so much?)
Hawks opened his mouth to tell Enji, to spill out all his vile, disgusting secrets, but...
Enji was always so quick to tell him to be quiet. He was regarding Hawks now as if he were actually something precious, and...
Hawks wanted this. He wanted it so badly. And what he wanted, he never could let go.
Hawks threaded his hands back in Enji's hair, the same burgundy as dried blood, and admired it. There were bruises there, he noticed now, ringed around his left wrist in faded yellow from a week before. Fresh ones, too, of purpling blue on the back of his right hand – evidence of the trust placed in Hawks atop the roof, of the trust Hawks had just irrevocably betrayed and Enji didn't even know.
But what did it matter?
He'd never been foolish enough to truly believe he could win against this darkness.
This mission would kill him in the end.
Enji might even be the one to do it and Hawks would never blame him.
He only ever had himself for that.
"Please," he begged instead, shameless to the last.
He'd already chosen to burn his wings up once for this man.
Hawks let Enji press him back into the supple black leather of the couch. The heat of him was everywhere.
If this was what drowning was, it would be an ardent surrender.