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Most of the times, Shouto wakes up in the middle of the night. He'd lift his blanket, take a shuddering breath, and remind himself the fire, the pain, is no longer there to consume him. This time, he wakes up feeling well-rested, his limbs relaxed and mind peacefully blank, despite only four hours of sleep. He feels the rumble of the incoming train, and stares at the ceiling for a few seconds.

The railway grounded him, lulling him to sleep every late night he finds himself too exhausted to properly eat, and pulled him whenever he spends his day off in his apartment, the muffled sounds seeping through the walls providing him company, as if to ward off the silence that would eventually engulf him.

He heaves a sigh, with it his peace dissipates, an undercurrent of dread and anxiety floods his veins and his toes tingle. He has to meet his father for lunch, and for two seconds, Shouto almost backs out, like he always do everytime his father requests for a lunch or a dinner, but he steels himself. Shouto reminds himself it's fine, they're all working on being a family of some sort, this has been their arrangement for the past three years, it's alright, so he gets up.

Mismatched eyes travel from his palms to the overcast sky. He still forgoes the parka on the rack back inside his apartment. Shouto feels lethargic so he does not spare any more thought about walking up seven flights of stairs, and instead hopes for snow.

It's still November, but there is a noticeable amount of Christmas decorations already up all over the downtown. He closes his eyes and hears the shuffling of shoes on pavement, the shrills of Tokyo, always in a rush, and Shouto remembers it's one of the reasons why he left.

December, Shouto stops on his track, arriving at his destination, December would be such a busy month, he concludes.

Outside, he easily spots his father through the wide windows of the restaurant. Shouto remembers passing by this establishment a few times during his extended patrols when he was still a rookie. It's a family restaurant. There is the familiar feeling of his throat constricting, but Shouto carries himself inside. There will be no promises this year. He greets the Flame Hero with a slight nod.

"Join me."

The meal was silent, but surprisingly comfortable. He cuts a portion of his dessert when his father speaks again. "How are you?"

He frowns, failing to scoop the pudding, "Maybe I should give Mom a hairpin for Christmas." He knows it is far too intimate for their current relationship, but he continues, "Fuyumi helps Mom with the tulips. And I'm fine."

It isn't until a few more minutes when Enji answers at last. "Why do you look so lonely then?"

He cradles his chin with his left hand, runs a thumb along the edge of the table, "It's okay." He won't look at his father. He wonders if time does really dull the hurt, the anger. If forgiveness should take such a long time.

"No, it's not."

"Dad, you do know you still have a lot to make up for..." He thinks he feels his heart cracking, trying to unfold into something so contrary to how he was raised, and his fingers feel as if they all turned into pins and needles and he wants nothing more than to freeze them-

"Here." A serving of pudding enters the line of his vision, surprising him to look up at his father. An apology of sorts, perhaps. Shouto takes it anyway and they spend the next ten minutes in more silence until what they deem is enough. There is still only so much time Shouto can stand whenever he is near his father.

He stopped hanging on to love a long time ago that he cannot remember what exactly his own childhood dreams were before he decided he wanted to be a hero for his Mom. Shouto wonders if he'll ever be with his father without feeling guilt and conflict and longing.

He stands up, his stare lingers at the scar his father got years ago, and he remembers how worried he was, how relieved when he saw his father is still alive.

Shouto wonders if Endeavor gets lonely, too. He takes the paper bag he's kept under the table, hands it to his father, then bows and walks towards the door. He wants to curl in his futon and sleep and forget and never think about things anymore.

But when the night came, he can't sleep (like always) and he focuses on the glow-in-the-dark stars he sticked all over the ceiling. He remembers the magnitude of the quake, and the girl whom they saved as side-kicks. He almost smiles at how reluctant and childish was Bakugou, refusing to let him see the gift for the two of them the blond had the honor to receive (and call first dibs, because Shouto had to stay a little longer in the hospital due to a laceration he got from shielding the girl from the wreckage), but later finds a package in his locker with a scrawled Thank you, Get well soon, she says.

He thinks he's not lonely, really, and pulls the blanket over his head.

The rest of November goes slowly, opposite to Shouto's earlier estimates, as he spends another day on his table reviewing their office budget for the next year. He's preoccupied but keeps an ear to his co-workers' gossiping until Shouto filters them out, figuring he cannot relate to what they're talking about anyway. He worries about what book shall he give his mom next when he visits her overmorrow instead.

He still haven't decided on his gift for his mother when Saturday came and he's on the train heading to Fukuoka. He recalls his trip to Tokyo when he met with his father, and it makes him want to ball his hands and cry for a family and all the nice things he thinks he'll never have in his lifetime.

The ride is three-hour long. Shouto takes on watching the passengers to pass the time and his gaze falls on the elderly couple who boarded the train two stations past. He takes on their forms and it dawns on him like when he's about to sleep and he remembers he still haven't took his laundry from the drying cages- that he's never thought about living past thirty. Putting aside his line of work, he has no idea what else would he be. Ten years taught him not to trust, twenty-something years forged him through calculated tenacity but he's never feared the end. Death is a scary notion for people who have something to lose.

His reverie is broken when a little boy tugs at his right sleeve and he smiles. Shouto takes the notebook and squints to refocus his vision. He sees a few of his high school friends' autographs, his eyes traces the ink as Shouto writes his message. The mother apologises for her son disturbing the hero, but he assures them it's okay, and returns the notebook to the boy.

Shouto resettles on his seat and fixates on the window. It's been three years since his father's agency took over a small hero agency from this far rural town, and Shouto immediately applies for a reassignment. He recalls Bakugou's face when he learns about his decision, and if Shouto fancies for a bit, he thinks Bakugou looked as if he was betrayed.

He recalls the last time he met his high school classmates since he transferred- a hero gala he was forced to attend for PR. He's long lost interest in the rankings but keeps an eye on it for his friends. He takes his phone then and sends a message to Midoriya- Izuku, greeting the current top ranking hero for his latest subdued villain count record. Shouto rests his eyes until his stop.

Once he's outside the station, he goes straight to the bookstore. Perhaps he'll stumble into a book he thinks his mother would adore. He inspects every shelf, every spine, but he finds nothing he deems fine for his mom. He frowns and starts to leave the shop when his attention falls to the journals and he remembers the child from earlier. He picks a Techo in a blue cover, and Shouto, for a second, hopes it doesn't remind her of his father. He purchases the item and heads towards the doughnut shop.

He orders two for all the selections he remembers from his childhood, each piece a tribute for every time Fuyumi dares sneak two for him behind their father's back. As a child, he always resented having to eat them fast. It was such a shame he never got enough time to appreciate their sweetness, and his tummy would ache after. But the flavours of this certain brand of doughnuts never changed, and they're all free to eat the sweets they were all denied during their formative years.

Fuyumi greets him, and his niece shyly receives the boxes of doughnuts. Fuyumi laughs, invites him and Shouto excuses himself for intruding. His sister then informs him her husband is away for a conference in Taipei and he won't be back until Tuesday and it's such a shame her dear would miss her brother's visit, but Shouto assures her it's no big deal, he'll visit again as soon as his schedule allows him to.

Their mother is at the living room, preparing their usual tea selection, and goes to take the mugs from the pantry. There's no more awkward pleasantries, they've made it past those after the first year.

He helps in making gyoza, but it's nothing more than just separating the wrappers and giving them to Fuyumi to place a spoonful of their favourite fillings, who in turn, hands them to their mom- and Shouto can't help but watch in awe as his mom perfectly folds and seals the gyozas.

Fuyumi and his mom convince him to stay for the night, and for the first time, he relents and tells himself it's not because he's lonely.

Shouto lies in his borrowed futon waiting for sleep to envelop his mind like a mantle of comfort, staring at the ceiling of Fuyumi's family's guestroom, the lack of the neon glow of stars capturing his mind. The only light comes from the half-drawn blinds, and Shouto remembers it's a waning moon tonight.

He lost track of when he finally fell asleep, but he knows it was not too late (or too early, like he's used to) when he did, and he feels reacquainted again to that soft sound one hears right before falling asleep.

They're sitting at the engawa. Shouto never stopped feeling like a stranger even with his own family, so he grips tighter at his own hand-painted mug.

"Mom, did you ever love Dad?"

Shouto thinks the silence that usually accompanied him couldn't get any quieter, but then his mom smiles and sets her mug down. "As long as there's such a thing as time, everybody's damaged in the end, changed into something else. It always happens, sooner or later."

"Mom, I told you to stop quoting Murakami," Shouto looks at his sister and her crooked smile. And Shouto thinks, feels- that he doesn't belong here, either. That even with the passage of almost a decade, there still are times when he feels like he's an outsider, even to his own family.

He wonders how can such a brief moment spark so much in him, so instead he straightens his back, "I'm glad you liked the books, Mom." He takes out his gifts from his messenger bag, and hands to his mom a pastel blue box, and a smaller one to Fuyumi. "Please consider these as my Christmas gifts. I hope you find them nice."

Fuyumi tears up and hugs him ever so tightly, like he'll actually disappear if she lets her embrace for the slightest bit, so he pats her back and tentatively smiles at their mom watching them.

She accompanies him to the station and as they wait for his train, he hears her speak.

"Who would make you happier? The one who loves you but may not be able to take care of you? Or the ond who can provide for you but might not possibly grow in love with you?"

Her voice falls softer at her last sentence, and Shouto once again wants to jam his fists into his eyes as he feels them burn because he understands.

His mom softly laughs, tears also welling up in her eyes, and she cups his cheeks, "It's okay, Shouto. You don't have to worry about that. Please remember you will always be loved wherever you go," her fingers gently wipes his tears.

He gives her a timid smile before he boards the train, and plays with the stars all the way home.

It's in the middle of December and Shouto bites the insides of his mouth. He's going to Sendai for a skating exhibition for a cause, and the organisers probably thought it is a good idea to have him and Bakugou included in the program. It's not like he does not want to see Bakugou. He's just not sure how to talk to him again, he thinks of himself as diminished, so far from the prodigal student he once was. Bakugou would probably mock him, and Shouto feels ashamed.

They're not really good with this whole figure skating, but it's a secret past-time Shouto picked up after he was first invited by the same organisers few years prior. He's at his second runthrough, from a spreadeagle into a triple axel, when he exits two meters away from where Bakugou spins, and that's when Shouto dares to laugh. His form is stiff, but he considers how terrifying the blond's technical content would be if he only he does not abhor the cold.

Bakugou chucks one of his gloves at his direction, and they both laugh. Shouto feels relieved.

It's during the gala when the roof crumbles, and Shouto creates a lattice of ice to catch the wreckage. He then joins Bakugou in ushering the.civilians to the exits. It's barely twenty seconds when they hear his ice corrupts, and when the dust and ice settle down, he sees one of the villains holding a girl.

"We've got a hostage. Requesting backup." Bakugou's voice crackles through the intercomm. They do not waste anymore time, Bakugou advances towards the weaker-looking villain, and Shouto attempts to trap the second one with ice, but they're flung towards the bleachers, and his icebergs crumbles.

He gets the gist of their enemies' quirks- the one Bakugou's after controls a mist-like inflammable substance, the second one easily demolishes anything solid. These were tough villains, at least until they manage to rescue the girl.

Shouto adjusts his gloves, ices their boots and the blades cracks from the subzero temperature.

"Bakugou. When the time comes and you have to make a choice, let me go."

The blond wipes the blood from his cut lower lip, "Idiot." He marvels at the man's grin, still cocky and firm, but it looks strained. Then he does a gesture which Shouto easily recognises. It's one of their secret signs for the moves they developed back from UA.

Shouto watches Bakugou attack again, runs and immediately shoots up a thick ice wall when he sees an opening. He reaches the girl and summons ice to propel them away, but it happens between one instant and another. A flare of blue flames shoots from his fingers but he quickly suppresses it. His mind flies back to November and oh- he recalls when his colleagues were chatting about a villain rumoured to have this deadly quirk- something clicks on his mind. He encases the girl in ice, wonders how long will it be until the gastric acids betray his own body.

"Reinforcements arriving in two minutes. Visuals confirm the girl as Rupture. Please refrain from direct contact," the crackle of the comm pulls him from his thoughts, and he sees Bakugou rushing towards him, panic painting his face as he sends explosions at the villains.

Shouto feels his body fall down, feels the throbbing at the base of his skull, the sparks from Bakugou's quirk rains down with him, like the faint glow of the stars back in his room, as if leaning in to whisper whatever it is the secret to stop his chest from constricting. He smiles, and sort of regrets he wouldn't be able to tell his mom that he now knows why there is no sound when a heart breaks.