Natsuo sprung from his spot on the rug in the living room, a book clutched in his hands and a sense of curiosity and wonder coursing through his body as he ran into the kitchen, where his mother was sifting through the refrigerator. He excitedly jumped on his heels and pulled at the hem of her shirt until she finally noticed him.
His mother huffed a sigh as she turned her attention away from what she was doing down to her son.
“Mom, do you know what this is?” Natsuo asked and shoved the open book into her hands, the cover torn and chewed from his siblings who had it before him. “It looks like magic,” he added as he pointed at the picture in question.
His mother nodded slightly and explained, “It’s an old tale. When people are in love with each other, or they’re meant to be together, then there’s said to be a red string that attaches them together. I don’t know how true it is...but a lot of people believe in it.” There was a sadness in her expression that Natsuo didn’t understand. His mother was incredible, and she cared so much about him, and his siblings, especially his baby brother, who cried a lot, but Natsuo loved him anyway. He was sure his mother had to have a red string too, but he wasn’t sure with who.
“Do you think you have one?” he asked.
“Oh, I’m not sure. I hope so,” she answered, a small smile returning to her face. “You have to have one, Natsuo, you’re so kind.”
Natsuo beamed a smile at his mother and jumped in place. He took the book back from his mother and held it open-faced against his chest. “I think I do too!”
He zoomed away from the kitchen and plopped back down on the rug to stare at the picture in his book. The picture showed a woman in a black laced cloak and vibrant pink leggings and a man dressed much more casually, in a baggy sport jacket and tennis shoes. They stood back to back and red string was tied around each of their pinky fingers, the slack coiled in a pile next to their feet.
Natsuo got an idea, and he stood up again, but this time ran to his room to rummage through his craft supplies until he found a small length of red ribbon from a gift that he decided to keep. It was no longer than his forearm, but it’d still suit his needs.
He poked his head into the kitchen again and called out to his mother, “I’m going outside!”
Before she could tell him yes or no, he was already running out the door and down the sidewalk. He didn’t really know where he was going or who he was looking for exactly, just the first friendly face he could spot.
It was later in the day, so many of the kids who usually ran around in the front yards of the neighborhood already had gone inside after their parents called them in for dinner. Natsuo stopped his frantic running, and stopped in the middle of the sidewalk. His mouth shifted into a frown as he noticed now that he might not be able to find the person he was looking for tonight. He kept looking around, and kept his pace at a fast walk.
Natsuo’s heart rate picked up as his small legs tried their hardest to carry him and his frantic thoughts through the neighborhood.
Maybe there was nobody out there for him. Was he going to be alone? He needed to tie the ribbon with someone, or he’d be all alone!
His eyes started to burn when he thought he wouldn’t be able to find anyone out here. The sun was nearly set, and he was going to get lost if it got too dark before he could find them.
But then he spotted someone sitting on the neighborhood swing, all alone, with their head tilted down at the dirt under their feet. Natsuo perked up and his legs started moving toward the person on the swing. Maybe this was the person he was looking for! They looked small enough to be around Natsuo’s age, so he had his hopes back up.
“Hey!” he called out to the kid on the swing. He stumbled when he stepped down onto the woodchipped ground, but regained his bearings and began running again. He held out the small ribbon and stopped in front of the swings. “We need to tie this around our fingers,” he said.
The boy in front of him looked up at Natsuo with a confused look. Natsuo noticed his eyes were a vibrant red, even in the dim light, and though he usually associated the color red, especially in eyes, with something evil, or scary, he couldn’t be scared. The boy looked lost and sad, and confused by Natsuo’s request.
“What?” the boy asked, his voice sounding raspy and unused.
Natsuo pushed the ribbon toward the boy again. “We need to tie this around our fingers,” he repeated. “I read in a book that when two people have a red string around their fingers, then they’re meant to be together. If we tie this ribbon to each other, then we’ll always have each other.”
This only made the boy’s face twist further. “Who are you?” he asked with a grimace.
“Am I supposed to know you or something? Why would you even want to be with me? You know nothing about me,” the boy asked again, his saddened demeanor returning.
Natsuo jumped and said, “I can know more about you! What’s your name?”
The boy bit his lip and chewed on his fingernail. “Um. Why do you need to know that?”
Natsuo was becoming a bit frustrated now. He tilted his head and said, “I told you my name, why can’t you tell me yours? Are you a criminal?”
“What? No, I’m not.” The boy walked backward so the swing pulled back with him. Natsuo was standing directly in front of swing still, so he sidestepped to get out of the way of the boy’s feet.
Natsuo pouted and his arm that had the ribbon still clutched in it fell at his side. “Then why not tell me? Do you not like me?”
The boy swung upwards on the swing and the wind rushed past Natsuo’s face. “I don’t know why you’re interested in me.” The words were nearly lost in the wind.
Natsuo noticed that the boy was hardly holding onto the chains keeping the swing off the ground. He chose a strange person to tie his ribbon with. “I just want a friend,” Natsuo said, and the realization that he really didn’t have any friends struck him. “I’m a little weird, I’m sorry.”
“A little bit,” the boy agreed. He planted his feet into the ground to stop the swing and he slid off the plastic seat. He turned to Natsuo. “I don’t have friends. I shouldn’t have them.”
“Why? Don’t you want friends?”
“I do. But I just shouldn’t.”
Natsuo pursed his lips and stared determinedly at the boy’s hand hanging at his side. He gently grabbed the other’s wrist and tied the ribbon around his pinkie. Then he struggled to tie the other end around his own pinkie. “There. Now we’re friends.”
“You shouldn’t touch me. I could hurt you,” the boy said with wide eyes, the light of the moon hanging above them reflecting dramatically on the red of his irises. “But you’re not going to stop, are you?”
“Nope,” Natsuo confirmed. “Now you should tell me your name. So I know what to call my friend.”
The boy hummed and stared at their hands, linked by the ribbon between them. “It’s Tenko.”
Natsuo smiled wide. “It’s nice to meet you, Tenko. Where do you live? Can I walk you home?”
“No, I can go home by myself.”
“Alright, then. Do you want to meet my siblings? I have a lot of them. But not until tomorrow, Dad is probably home.”
Tenko looked up at Natsuo and nodded like he knew exactly what that meant. “Okay. I’ll be here tomorrow too.”
Natsuo jumped in place and grinned, despite the odd expressions Tenko was giving him. He was happy he found someone to tie the ribbon to, even if the person was a bit strange and sad. He didn’t mind it. But he did have to untie the ribbon so they could part ways and get back to their homes. “Uh, do you have scissors? I don’t want to untie the ribbon.”
“Why would I have scissors?” Tenko stared at the ribbon and then looked back up at Natsuo. “I can try something, but it might destroy it.”
“I think I have more at home, try it!” Natsuo encouraged.
Tenko put his other hand over the ribbon and pushed all of his fingers together, then touched the ribbon, and the spot he touched disintegrated into dust. The breath Tenko held in released, but then he groaned when the dust trailed up the ribbon, leaving only the knots around their pinkies. “Sorry. I don’t know how to concentrate it.”
Natsuo stared wide-eyed at the pile of dust at this feet. “That was cool! Is that why you don’t hold things with all your fingers?”
“Yeah. It’s annoying,” Tenko murmured angrily.
“I think your quirk is cool. Do you want to see mine?”
Tenko stared at him, and looked up at the darkened sky. “After this, we need to leave. I think I’m going to get in trouble.”
“Me too,” Natsuo admitted, and laughed. “Here look at this.” He held his hand up and willed it to frost over, his skin glistening and sparkling. “I got my mom’s quirk, and it’s pretty cool. I don’t know what I’ll use it for, though.”
Tenko parted his mouth slightly in awe. “It’s pretty.”
“Oh, yeah, I guess it is,” Natsuo agreed nervously, laughing a bit. He closed his hand and watched the frost melt into his skin. “We think my baby brother is going to have a quirk much cooler and much more powerful than mine. But he’s a baby. So we don’t know yet.”
Tenko shrugged. “My quirk is scary. At least yours isn’t like mine.”
Natsuo didn’t like that Tenko said those things about himself. Even though Natsuo saw firsthand how easily he destroyed that ribbon, it still didn’t make him scared of Tenko. In fact, it made Natsuo that more interested in him. He had a sort of mysterious air around him, with the vibrant color of his eyes and the sunken, saddened look on his face, and a destructive quirk that he seemed insecure about. Natsuo wanted to be his friend even more.
“It’s not scary at all. Do you think I’m scared of you?” Natsuo asked. He stepped half a step closer.
Tenko took a full step back. “Yeah. At least, I thought you’d be.”
“Well, I’m not.” Natsuo balled his hands into fists and placed them on his hips like a superhero. “I’m gonna be your friend forever, I’ll never be scared.”
Tenko snorted. “Alright. Weren’t you supposed to go home an hour ago?”
“Oh yeah. I’ll see you tomorrow. And I’ll bring a better string,” Natsuo said as he turned on his heel and started heading back home. But after a minute or so, he was worried Tenko would still be standing by the swing alone, so he turned around.
Tenko was gone. Natsuo didn’t see him walking away or anything.
“Weird,” he mumbled, but shook the encroaching thoughts that began muddling his brain. “He’s fine.”
The next day, Natsuo bolted out of bed and began pushing through all the different crafting supplies he owned, hoping he’d find something better to tie, and a pair of scissors he could use to cut the string, so each of them could keep an equal half.
He still had the small piece that didn’t get disintegrated by Tenko’s quirk on his pinkie, and a part of him didn’t want to untie it, since it was the first string.
Maybe he could keep it somewhere safe as a keepsake. But he worried his father would throw it away because it looked like trash.
In the end, he kept it on and brought a small ball of yarn and a pair of kid scissors in a little backpack. He spun around the corner out of his bedroom and ran into the kitchen to see if his mom made breakfast yet.
She wasn’t in the kitchen, and Natsuo padded through the rest of the house searching for her. It wasn’t too early, so she shouldn’t be sleeping still. He started to get worried. But he spotted Fuyumi sitting in the living room, sprawled out across the couch, so he hopped over the back and landed on top of her feet.
“Ouch! What’s that for?” she yelped and sat up with a scowl.
“Where’s mom?” Natsuo asked, leaning forward and putting pressure on his sister’s knees.
Fuyumi sighed. “She went out to get groceries, and she took Shouto with her. Can you get off me now?”
“Hmmm,” he paused, wondering if he should tease her further, but stood up from the couch. “Alright. I’m gonna go out then.”
Fuyumi scrunched her nose up. “Where exactly are you going?”
“The park. And I might bring a friend home.”
“What? You can’t just bring some random kid home with you?” Fuyumi shrieked as she jumped from her seat on the couch. “Mom is already mad you came home so late, are you really going to test her patience with bringing someone here?”
Natsuo pouted and crossed his arms. “But I already told him he’d be able to come here!”
Fuyumi groaned and ran her fingers through her hair. “I’ll just call mom then.”
Dread coursed through Natsuo’s veins once Fuyumi reached for the cell phone their mother left for them when they were home alone. He wanted to hide, because he was almost certain she’d say no to letting Tenko come over. He was beginning to regret even talking to his sister, she always wanted things to go according to the rules, and he never liked sticking to mom’s dumb rules.
Natsuo watched Fuyumi closely, so when she turned around to talk, Natsuo ran out the front door before she could realize and follow after him.
He hadn’t thought this through much, because he had no idea if Tenko would even be at the park this early on in the day. And if he wasn’t there, then Fuyumi would definitely catch him at the park and tell on him to mom.
Natsuo just continued running until he got to the park, which of course, was empty. But he turned to see Tenko walking toward the park with a handheld game console in his hands, his pinkies extended so he wouldn’t activate his quirk on it.
“Oh! Tenko! I’m here!” Natsuo called out and waved his arm in the air as he ran toward the distracted boy.
Tenko just held a finger up to signal Natsuo to wait, so Natsuo stood in front of Tenko and leaned forward to look at what game he was playing while he waited. It looked like a strategy-action sort of game, and Natsuo was incredibly distracted from what he was doing while he watched.
When the stage was cleared, Tenko tilted his head up and glared at Natsuo directly in the eye. “What do you want?”
“Oh, I have the string like I said I’d bring. And I’m kind of running from my older sister so maybe we shouldn’t stay here,” Natsuo explained at a rapidfire pace.
Tenko closed his device and stuck it in his pocket. “Alright, where do you think we can go?”
“Well I didn’t think that far ahead.”
“I have an idea then,” Tenko said, and he carefully wrapped his two fingers and thumb around Natsuo’s wrist, then led him down the sidewalk.
Natsuo jumped at the sudden touch, and for a moment he worried that he’d feel pain from Tenko’s quirk, but all he felt was rough and cold skin on his wrist. “Where are we going?”
“It’s a secret base.”
“That sounds cool! I’m allowed to know about it?” Natsuo asked excitedly.
“Sure. I haven’t shown anyone else.”
Natsuo forgot all about running from Fuyumi and the wrath he’d likely face when he got home and his mother realized he ran out of the house to skip breakfast and follow a kid he met the night before to a secret base. He did not forget that he invited Tenko over but likely would be in major trouble when he got home, so there was no sense in trying to test his mother in bringing him anyway.
“Oh, I might have made my mom upset so you probably can’t come over today,” Natsuo told him guiltily.
Tenko sighed. “I figured something would happen anyway. It’s alright.”
“Am I that predictable already?”
“No, parents usually don’t let their kids bring kids they haven’t met before into their home.”
“Oh. I guess so.”
Silence settled between them as Natsuo continued to be dragged along by Tenko, his shoes scraping along the pavement because Tenko's pace was much quicker than Natsuo's.
Natsuo twisted his head around to look around at the neighborhood, and realized he was now in a section he didn't recognize.
"Are we going to your house?" Natsuo asked.
"No, I thought I already told you that," Tenko snapped. He huffed and started walking even faster.
Natsuo bit down on his cheek. Maybe he should stop talking, if it made Tenko so angry. He pressed his lips together tightly and stared at the ground beneath him as he quickly passed it by.
"It's not in the neighborhood," Tenko added, his voice much calmer now. "It's where I usually go when I want to be alone."
"Do you want to be alone now?" Natsuo asked, though he wished he would've thought before speaking. "I'm sorry I'm annoying."
There was silence in front of him, and Tenko's grip on Natsuo's wrist tightened. "I feel fine right now."
He didn't comment back anything about Natsuo's claim, and it made Natsuo's heart sink. But he was sure that the string didn't lie. If he was tied to Tenko, then they had to be friends. Tenko might've just been in a bad mood and didn't want to make it worse by answering. That was the reason Natsuo decided to go with.
They stood in front of a wooded area when Tenko stopped for a moment. Natsuo stared at it in confusion when Tenko began walking toward it again.
"It's in there?" Natsuo asked.
"Maybe we shouldn't go in there."
Tenko turned around and narrowed his eyes. "Why not?"
"My sister told me that there's a bad spirit who lives in there. Haven't you heard about it?" A chill shot up Natsuo's spine and his fingers started to tremble.
Tenko laughed, but it was more like a disapproving scoff than a real laugh. "She made that up, dummy. She's just trying to scare you into following the rules."
Natsuo opened his mouth in shock. He was even more miffed by what Fuyumi did to him earlier. "Of course she'd do that! She's so annoying with all her rules."
"So we can go now?"
Natsuo nodded ferociously. "Show me the secret base."
What Tenko wanted to show Natsuo was more like an actual hideout than just a base. He was expecting something small like a couple sheets draped over some trees and maybe some sticks holding it all upright, but what he saw was a small building with the words "KEEP OUT" spray painted on the outside, and thick branches barricading the door.
Tenko let go of Natsuo's wrist, leaving a damp ring of sweat. Even with how gross having some kid's sweat on his wrist was, Natsuo still kind of missed having that connection to someone. He was never very physically affectionate with his siblings, and definitely not his parents. It was a feeling he didn't get often, so he missed it immediately.
The thudding of tree branches hitting the forest floor snapped Natsuo out of his thoughts. Tenko was holding the door open and gesturing inside.
"Are you coming then?" Tenko asked impatiently.
"Oh! Yeah!" Natsuo exclaimed and sprinted to the hideout entrance.
The inside was even more impressive than the outside. Tenko had shelves stacked with books and knick knacks, and piles of notebooks with pages opened and red marks scrawled across them. There was a lantern hung from the ceiling that only dimly lit the small space.
In the other side of the room, there was a massive stack of newspapers that couldn't be less than ten years old.
Natsuo pointed at the stack and asked, "What are those for?"
"Nothing. You'd think I'm dumb."
It wasn't the response Natsuo was expecting. "I won't think that."
Tenko looked unsure. He traced a finger along one of the opened notebooks absentmindedly. "It's still dumb."
Natsuo hummed. "Okay, you don't have to tell me, it's alright." He spun around in his spot and found a dusty bean bag chair to sit on.
"Didn't you want to show me something?" Tenko reminded him. He was leaned up against a desk that was being held together by duct tape and had his arms folded, his pinkies raised.
Natsuo stopped in his motion of trying to sit. "Oh right!"
He took his bag off and dug through it to find the yarn and scissors. "I brought scissors this time so you don't have to use your quirk again."
Tenko pushed away from the desk and it rattled. He shifted his eyes to look back at it, but shrugged and joined Natsuo by his bag.
"So why are you so determined about this anyway?" Tenko asked.
Natsuo shrugged. "It's kind of fun. And nobody really cares much about me at home, except when Shouto is sleeping and mom isn't busy. I guess Fuyumi pays attention but she's also bossy. Touya never leaves his room so I dunno what he does. And dad is a jerk so I don't talk to him."
"Sounds annoying," Tenko agreed. "So you want me to be the one to pay attention."
"I guess so. When mom said that when people have a red string, they're meant for each other, I needed to find my red string person."
Tenko rolled his eyes and gritted his teeth. "I don't think that's what red string means."
Natsuo narrowed his eyes in question. "What else could it mean?"
"It's not a real string, dummy. It's just a story."
Natsuo pouted. "Are you telling me we aren't supposed to be friends?"
"Sure, I guess. It's not like we need to be. Just because you tied a ribbon on our fingers doesn't mean anything. But I guess you're okay so we can stay friends," Tenko said, his voice never shifting from neutral.
Natsuo breathed out a sigh of relief. He held the yarn out in front of him. "Well, I still want to tie it, then we'll always have something to remind ourselves of each other."
He started by cutting a length of the string, this time longer so he wouldn't struggle tying both ends. Then he held his hand out for Tenko to place his on. Hesitantly, Tenko laid his palm out on Natsuo's, keeping his fingers raised so they wouldn't touch Natsuo's skin on accident. Natsuo tied the knot, then held his own hand out with the end pointed at Tenko to do the other half. Tenko raised an eyebrow but gave in, and quickly tied it to Natsuo's pinkie.
The result looked a lot more like the picture in Natsuo's book. The loose string pooled between them, and they stood closely together.
Natsuo even noticed that Tenko's outfit was very similar to the girl in the picture's. He had an oversized hoodie on that his hands barely poked out of and bright red pants. Natsuo looked down at his own outfit and noticed it was similar to the boy's. He'd stolen Touya's jacket once he quit the school basketball team because he thought being on a team was cool. It helped that Touya grew out of it so it fit Natsuo well enough.
"Hey we look like the people in my book," Natsuo pointed out to Tenko.
"The book I learned about the string in. The people in it are dressed kind of like us right now."
Tenko stared at his baggy clothing. "Really? They have bad taste."
Natsuo laughed. "Well it's not exactly like us. But the girl was wearing this long flowy black thing and she had pink leggings. It's kind of like what you're wearing but it's red instead of pink and you're not wearing anything long. And the boy was wearing a jacket like mine," he said and pointed down at his clothes.
"Weird," Tenko commented.
"It's cool though right?"
"More like strange." Tenko cracked a smile that surprised Natsuo.
"Oh man I didn't think you could do that," Natsuo said, laughing.
The smile vanished almost immediately. "I didn't mean to."
"It's not a bad thing! I was just surprised!" Natsuo explained, waving his hands in dismissal and shaking the yarn connecting them around.
Tenko shook his head and bitterly gritted his teeth. “Just nevermind.”
Natsuo’s stomach flipped and his shoulders fell. He was trying so hard to make Tenko comfortable, but he just kept failing. The second he felt like they could really be friends where both of them were happy, not just Natsuo, his progress just fell back to where he started.
It was frustrating, even if they’d only met twice and hadn’t talked a whole lot yet. Natsuo was impatient, and wanted to be sure Tenko was happy with being friends with him. So far he couldn’t really tell.
Natsuo dropped his arm by his side, and the yarn flopped back down on the ground.
Tenko brought his hand up and stared at it for a moment, wiggling the finger with the string tied to it. “People are always scared when they find out. Heck, sometimes they get scared just looking at me.” He paused and twisted the ends of his hair between two fingers. “I thought you were messing with me when you started talking about this whole string thing. And then just now, I didn’t mean to sound mad.”
Natsuo nodded understandingly. He knew why people would be scared of Tenko when they first meet him, but after learning a little bit more about him, Natsuo couldn’t be. He didn’t have any ill intentions from what he could tell, he was just a bit withdrawn and misunderstood.
“I got it. Don’t worry.” He offered a smile to Tenko. “I should get home soon though.”
Tenko nodded, though slowly and a bit sadly. “Alright. I’ll be at the same spot tomorrow.”
Natsuo smiled brightly and his entire body perked up with the promise of seeing each other again tomorrow. “Let’s cut the yarn so we can go home.” He brought the scissors out from his bag and cut the yarn in half, though it was still long enough that both sides intersected on the floor.
“Do you know your way back home?” Tenko asked as he fished up the length of his string.
Natsuo paused his packing up and shook his head. “I wasn’t paying attention.”
“I’ll come with you then.”
The next day, Natsuo couldn’t go outside. His mother caught him coming home from being out with Tenko during the morning, and she started crying when she saw him. Nobody knew where he went so she got worried.
Today, he wasn’t allowed to go outside or watch TV until he cleaned up his room. He was annoyed and yelled at his mother and sister a couple times, and his baby brother cried over the noise.
Natsuo sat on his bed and crossed his arms as he scanned the wreck of his room, but he didn’t make any movements to get up to clean it. He was war with himself over whether or not he’d do what his mother said, because he really didn’t think he deserved to be punished like this when all he was doing was following his friend around, but he also really wanted to be able to talk to Tenko again.
In the end, his mother won, and he quickly cleaned up all the toys and clothes scattered across his floor. By the time he was done, it was the early afternoon, which meant Tenko might have been waiting for a while, so he bolted out of his room and found his mother sitting on the couch with Shouto in her arms.
“Mom! I cleaned my room!”
She sighed and turned her head to look at him, held a single finger up to indicate he needed to be quiet, but it was too late, because Shouto was stirring in their mother’s arms. Natsuo clapped his hands over his mouth.
“I’ll whisper. Mom, I finished cleaning my room can I have my friend come here?” he asked in a loud whisper.
“I guess that’s fine if you can be quiet.” She hesitated. “Your friend needs to go home before the sun sets though, because your father will come home.”
Natsuo shook his head in understanding and ran out the door, yelling a, “Thanks, mom!” behind him. He felt light as his legs moved faster than he’d ever run before, and the summer sun was still beating down heavily.
He arrived at the park completely out of breath, and Tenko peeked at him while he was sitting on the swing and playing his game. He had a bag of snacks and a water bottle sitting next to him, and he gestured for Natsuo to come over to the swing next to him.
“Hey, sorry I’m so late today,” Natsuo apologized as he took his seat on the swing next to Tenko.
Tenko shrugged. “We didn’t decide on a time anyway.” His focus was still on his game, and his fingers pressed the buttons on the console rapidly, his eyebrows pulled together in concentration.
“I guess so. My mom said you can come over as long as you leave before dad comes home. I don’t want you there when he comes home anyway. It’s...scary,” Natsuo explained, and his voice became soft when he mentioned his father.
Tenko hummed in understanding. “Okay, we can go when I finish this level.”
Natsuo pushed himself on the swing for a while while he waited and looked around at the neighborhood. He wondered where Tenko lived, who his parents were, if he had siblings, why he came to the park every day. He realized how much he’d told Tenko about his own family, but he really didn’t know much about Tenko besides his quirk and how he thought other people thought of him. Natsuo could pick up on his no-nonsense personality and how little he showed positive emotions, how he questioned everything Natsuo did, and how he thought Natsuo didn’t know much of anything.
Even if Tenko thought Natsuo was a complete idiot, Natsuo still wanted to keep learning about Tenko and making him feel like he was accepted, at least by Natsuo. Natsuo’s initial thoughts about Tenko seemed to be right, that he was sad, not scary.
Natsuo bit down on his cheek and stopped swinging.
“I’m ready, are you alright?” Tenko asked. He was standing up and his console was put away. He was holding the bag of snacks and the water bottle.
“I was thinking. I’m okay,” Natsuo answered.
Tenko nodded but sighed. “I’m not buying that, but we can talk about it later.”
Natsuo also nodded. He stood up and joined Tenko on the sidewalk, then led him to Natsuo’s house. Natsuo only noticed now that he was a small bit taller than Tenko.
“I have a question. It’s not related to what I was thinking about,” Natsuo said.
“How old are you? I think you’re my age but I don’t know,” Natsuo explained.
Tenko huffed out a laugh. “How old are you then?”
“Oh. I’m six.”
“I’m a year older then,” Tenko answered.
Natsuo’s jaw slacked open. “You’re my senpai then!”
“Please don’t say that,” Tenko groaned. Natsuo turned around to see he had buried his head in his hand in disappointment and distraught.
Natsuo chuckled and shrugged. “Okay, I won’t say it then. It’s still cool to be friends with someone older than me.”
“It’s only a year, it’s not a big deal.”
“It’s still cool.”
“Your definition of ‘cool’ is weird.”
Natsuo laughed even harder. “Maybe it’s yours that’s weird.”
Tenko rolled his eyes.
They arrived at the Todoroki household a couple minutes later, and Tenko raised an eyebrow at Natsuo when they stood on the front porch. “Are you like...rich or something?”
“Huh? I guess? My dad is a hero,” Natsuo answered.
Tenko’s eyes widened. “What? Really?”
Natsuo nodded. He gestured to the name plate on one of the poles holding the overhang up. “Does the name look familiar?”
“It does.” Tenko pursed his lips tightly like he wanted to say something but he shouldn’t. “I have a family member who also was a hero.”
“That’s cool! We have something in common,” Natsuo exclaimed in excitement. He wasn’t very proud of his father’s hero status, but if that meant it gave them something to talk about, he’d gladly talk about it with Tenko.
Tenko didn’t seem enthusiastic about it though. He subtly nodded and asked if they could go in now.
Natsuo opened the front door and gestured for Tenko to come in.
The scene was different from when Natsuo left, Shouto was sitting on the floor and smashing a colorful block into the wrong hole of his toy, Fuyumi was lying on the couch with a book, and Touya was on the recliner focused on the game he was playing on a console similar to Tenko’s.
“Oh they’re all out here, that’s weird,” Natsuo commented.
“Mom said you were bringing someone over,” Fuyumi explained from her spot on the couch. “We all wanted to know who it was.” She looked up from her book and grinned. “She thought it was a girl but clearly it’s not, so you’re safe.”
Touya snickered and looked up from his game for a moment. “It’s just a creepy looking kid, huh.”
Tenko jumped next to Natsuo at the comment.
“Why are you so rude?” Natsuo grumbled and turned away from his siblings. “We’ll be in my room if you’re going to be like that.”
Natsuo held onto the sleeve of Tenko’s hoodie and led him up the stairs to his room.
“I’m sorry about them, I didn’t think they’d act like that,” Natsuo mumbled.
When they reached his room, and Natsuo sat down on his bed, Tenko sitting on one of the plush chairs Natsuo had, Tenko finally spoke up. “It’s not that weird of a reaction. It’s not good, but that’s what people usually say.”
“Why do people think that?” Natsuo asked, completely baffled by the situation. He put his head in his hands. “Touya has always been a little bit rude. He’s like that with everyone. I thought it was just him.”
Tenko leaned back and sighed. “I don’t know. I’m used to it. It still kind of hurts, but I’m used to it.”
“It shouldn’t be like that! You’re nice, what they’re saying is all wrong,” Natsuo countered. He leaned forward in his seat on the edge of his bed. “They don’t want to try to get to know you. That’s their fault.”
Tenko didn’t say anything. He stared at his knees in silence, then at his hands. He turned them over and over, his concentration becoming more intense. “I don’t want to make you sad. I don’t want to hurt you either.”
Natsuo stared at Tenko. “Why would I?”
“I’m not a good person. I can just tell.”
Natsuo couldn’t think of what to say. He thought he could trust Tenko. He thought Tenko was good and nice. He was a little bit odd but that wasn’t a bad thing. But Tenko seemed determined when he said that.
“I still don’t think it’s true,” Natsuo said.
“I figured.” He slumped down further into the seat. “Do you want a snack, I brought a whole bunch.”
Tenko pulled out a package of fruit snacks and tossed it across the room to Natsuo. “Was there something you wanted to do here besides introduce me to your family?”
“Not particularly. We could watch TV or play a game,” Natsuo suggested.
A couple hours passed by, and Natsuo and Tenko were content playing board games in Natsuo’s room. His mother sent up dinner with Fuyumi for the two of them.
“You haven’t come back down?” Fuyumi asked. “I thought you were all excited to introduce us to your friend.”
“I was. Until Touya was a jerk,” Natsuo said bitterly.
Fuyumi laughed. “I mean, what did you expect, really?”
Natsuo shrugged. “I honestly didn’t think he’d be in the living room.”
“He was curious.”
Natsuo stood up. “I want to try again.” He turned to Tenko in question.
Tenko nodded and stood up as well. “That’s fine.” He still seemed a bit unsure about it.
Fuyumi smiled at them. “I’m really glad you found a friend, Natsu, honestly.”
“I’m glad I did too.”
Downstairs, Touya was still tapping furiously at his game. He didn’t notice when the three of them entered the living room until he finally put the console down and looked behind him. “Oh, hey.”
“Natsuo wanted to introduce you to his friend. So you have to be nice ,” Fuyumi explained. She sat down on the couch.
Natsuo nodded at Fuyumi in thanks. He gestured at Tenko and explained, “This is my friend, Tenko. He lives in the neighborhood, and he’s not creepy.”
Tenko gently smacked Natsuo’s arm. “That’s such a weird introduction.” |
Touya hummed. “Alright.” He didn’t seem interested so he turned back to his game.
“Maybe it’d be best to just leave him alone,” Fuyumi suggested in a whisper.
Natsuo nodded and tugged at Tenko’s sleeve again. “Do you want to go back and play more or do you want to go home? It’s getting late.”
“I think I should go home,” Tenko decided. He seemed tense, so Natsuo agreed he should go home in his head.
Natsuo turned to Fuyumi. “I’ll walk with him home.”
“Alright, I’ll let mom know.” She smiled at them, and it seemed like an actual genuine smile. “Don’t be gone too long.”
Natsuo nodded. He turned back to Tenko. “Oh! You left a few things upstairs I’ll go grab them for you.”
“I’ll come with you,” Tenko said quickly before Natsuo could start walking up the steps. His eyes darted between Natsuo and the chair Touya was sitting in, tapping at his game.
By the time they were walking by the park, it was getting dark. Natsuo noticed a car that looked familiar coming down the street, and he jumped, a spike of fear darting through his body.
“We need to hide,” he said urgently to Tenko. He grabbed hold of Tenko’s sleeve and dove into a bush in front of a neighbor’s house. Tenko was pressed against Natsuo’s back, and he winced with pain. “Are you okay?” Natsuo asked in alarm.
“I think I just scraped my arm. I’m okay.” He lifted up his sleeve to look at the wound. It was small, but the branch he’d hit cut deep enough into his skin that it drew blood. “Was that your dad?”
“Yeah. He’s coming home. I’m glad we decided to leave when we did. I didn’t think he’d be home this early.”
“What do you think would’ve happened if he saw me?”
Natsuo shrugged. “I don’t know. Nothing good.”
Tenko pursed his lips. His eyes widened. “But he’ll know you weren’t home. Won’t you get in trouble?”
“Maybe. He’s less protective of me though. I’m not his perfect child like Shouto is,” Natsuo said, his tone wavering.
Tenko hummed. “That’s your baby brother.”
“Yeah. Dad thinks he’ll be some amazing hero that’ll be better than All Might. I don’t get it, he never thought that about me ! Not that I really want to be a hero anyway,” Natsuo grumbled.
It was crowded in the bushes, so every breath Tenko took, Natsuo felt, and every slight movement from either of them shifted the branches and scrapped at their arms and backs. Natsuo peaked through the leaves to see if he could still see the headlights, but saw nothing, so he assumed it was safe.
“You don’t really care about my life anyway. I think it’s safe,” he said, trying to ignore what he just said to Tenko before.
Tenko didn’t say anything, but followed closely behind Natsuo out of their hiding spot. After they made it to the park, Tenko spoke up, “You can follow me home this time if you want. I don’t mind.”
Natsuo’s smile grew wide. “Really?”
“Yeah. I mean it’s fair if you showed me your house to show you mine. You can’t come in but you can see it.”
“Awesome, I’m excited!”
Tenko snorted. “I don’t know what’s exciting about that.”
Natsuo grinned and leaned his head toward Tenko. “It’s just cool to see where my friend lives. Plus I get to see you a little bit longer.”
Tenko silently smiled and started leading the way.
feelings mayhaps be coming out this chapter
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Days like this passed for years. Countless times, Natsuo got caught sneaking out late, coming home too late, and fooling around in the woods unsupervised.
Even through all the trouble, Natsuo thought it was worth it. He had a genuine friend who liked being around him, and the feeling was mutual.
As they grew older and Tenko was allowed to come over more often, Touya grew more accustomed to him and didn’t call him names anymore. Natsuo couldn’t say they got along , but it was something. Shouto liked Tenko once he was old enough to talk and interact with him. Natsuo thought that maybe Shouto saw Tenko as another brother.
Natsuo entered high school and still hung out with Tenko often, though not as often as when they were kids. They didn’t go to the same high school, so they had to find time outside school to see each other. It worked out most of the time.
As they got older though, their quirks developed more and became more powerful. Tenko started using it more, and came up with some questionable ideas to use it for. It sometimes scared Natsuo, but he still believed that Tenko meant well.
Natsuo’s school friends thought Tenko was weird. They were creeped out by him and didn’t like that Natsuo and Tenko hung out so often. They theorized that the only reason Tenko hung around Natsuo was to use him for something, but Natsuo couldn’t believe that. They’d been friends for too long. He had the cut red yarn sitting on his bookshelf to prove it.
But then they started teasing Natsuo more. They said he wouldn’t ever be able to find someone to love him because he had such a creepy friend. They said the only way he’d be able to be happy was if he got rid of Tenko entirely.
He got rid of those friends. They weren’t really his friends.
It occured to Natsuo when he was in his second year of high school that he may be viewing Tenko as more than a friend. If he was so willing to break up the friendship he had with a group of kids from his own school for Tenko, maybe there was something else there. They’d known each other for so long, and the way they met...Natsuo found out that the red string really meant soulmates, and that meant a romantic connection most of the time.
He started to believe it after a while. But he was scared of losing Tenko if he brought it up.
Even so. He couldn’t leave it hanging like this. Especially when he knew Tenko was graduating soon and he wasn’t sure where Tenko would end up afterward.
“Hey, I don’t want to say anything that’ll scare you, but I’ve been thinking about something,” Natsuo mentioned one day when they were sprawled out on his floor after school at the end of the first term that school year.
Tenko raised an eyebrow at him, his gaze shifting from the game he was playing on the small TV in Natsuo’s room. “How would you scare me?”
“I just have a feeling it would at least startle you,” Natsuo corrected, biting the inside of his cheek and rolling over to face Tenko better. His eyes were wide now, and his character died in the game behind him.
Tenko’s eyes crinkled and he asked, “It can’t really be that bad? It’s you, you’re the most morally good person I’ve ever met.”
“It’s nothing bad oh my god,” Natsuo choked out and buried his face in his hands. “I don’t think it is anyway,” he added, his ears becoming warm and his attention shifting away from his friend lying literally less than a foot from his head.
Tenko scoffed. “If it’s really not that bad then just spit it out.”
Natsuo bit on his lip and shifted his head so it was faced away completely. “Don’t laugh at me.” He took in a deep breath and asked, “You know how that ribbon I tied around our fingers when we first met is supposed to symbolize the red string of fate? And how that usually has to do with soulmates and people ‘meant to be’ together? And how we used to think it was all dumb and meaningless, but we still played along with it anyway?”
Natsuo stared at the garbage that he’d shoved under his bed before Tenko came over today and waited for a response. He started counting how many chocolate bar wrappers there were and how many pencils he’d lost during overnight study sessions, when he finally got a raspy, “Yeah. I remember.”
“It’s stupid,” Natsuo said halfheartedly and laughed. “But I think it might’ve been kind of true. We’ve made it this far and we still hang around each other a lot.”
Tenko rolled over so he was facing Natsuo, and Natsuo carefully turned back. “Are you confessing to me?”
“Sort of? It’s stupid!” Natsuo said in a panic. He couldn’t look at Tenko directly, so he rolled back to where he was staring at the junk under his bed again. It was a pathetic sight; he really wished he could roll back over and look at the person next to him, but he was afraid his heart couldn’t handle it. He pulled his knees up to his chest and laid there waiting for a further response.
Natsuo waited for a minute and then he felt an arm being pressed up against his back. The arm draped across Natsuo’s side and the body attached to said arm was flush against Natsuo’s back. “Wh--” Natsuo breathed out.
“It’s stupid but it’s not that stupid.”
The angle that Tenko had his arm across Natsuo’s side was incredibly awkward and his arm was bent strangely, due to Natsuo’s much wider frame and Tenko’s lanky arms. He was trying hard to get his whole arm wrapped around Natsuo’s side but it wasn’t working, so Natsuo turned to face Tenko, despite the insane rate of his heartbeat and the heat that was attacking his cheeks.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Natsuo asked stupidly, because his brain couldn’t produce any intelligent words at this time. He thought he knew what it meant, with the close proximity he was in with Tenko, but he could never trust his instinct.
Tenko raised an eyebrow at him and asked, “Am I not being obvious enough for you?”
“Maybe not,” Natsuo blurted out. “I’m just trying to process all of this.”
Tenko hummed and leaned his head back a bit. He narrowed his eyes.
“What?” Natsuo asked, his heart rate picking up again due to the slightly intimidating expression on Tenko’s face. His brain was muddled again with what he possibly screwed up to make Tenko annoyed with him. From what he could gather, his confession was mutual, but he really didn’t think this far ahead and didn’t know what to do now.
Tenko shook his head. “It’s nothing.” He rolled away so he was lying on his back. “That ribbon was stupid,” he commented with a sigh.
“I still have it.”
Tenko scoffed with a laugh. “How? It was destroyed.”
“I kept the little bit that stayed on my finger.” Natsuo gestured to his pinkie. “I had to hide it so nobody threw it away.”
Tenko stared in awe. “I can’t believe you kept that.”
Natsuo shrugged. “I thought it was important. It was how we met, right?”
Natsuo turned back to lie flat on his back to mirror Tenko during the silence that followed. He traced patterns in the popcorn ceiling with his eyes to distract himself from the blood rushing and heart pounding in his ears. He made it this far but the conversation seemed to keep flopping.
He sat upright so quickly his vision became spotty and he held out a hand to Tenko who was still lying on the floor. “Let’s go on a walk.”
It was nice to get fresh air after suffocating himself with the rush of uncertainty and impulse ideas. Natsuo walked a bit ahead of Tenko; the sidewalk was narrow and they were a bit too big to both fit on the walkway comfortably.
“Obviously I’m going to ask you about what you said earlier,” Tenko said after they’d been walking for a while.
Natsuo jolted and he laughed to cover his surprise. “Right.”
“All the ribbon and string tying was really cheesy and childish,” Tenko started. “And the whole ‘oh we look like the book people’ was kind of bullshit too, but we were kids so I guess that was expected.”
“Yeah? Is that what you wanted to ask about?”
Tenko didn’t answer immediately, but when he did he said, “No, it’s just part of it.” Tenko poked at Natsuo’s shoulder with his index finger. “I know you’re not this dense. Are you really not following,” he said almost angrily. “You told me you really think we’re soulmates.” He tugged at the back of Natsuo’s jacket and pulled him back to where Tenko was standing on the sidewalk. He stared up at Natsuo, his neck craned back a bit so he could look him more directly in the eyes. Tenko seemed to grow taller, but Natsuo realized he was just standing on his toes now. “I’m trying to tell you that I think that too but you’re being such an idiot you can’t even see that.”
“Oh,” Natsuo muttered. He was leaning back and he was quickly losing his balance; he tripped on his feet. He reached out to gain his balance by grabbing onto Tenko’s shoulder, but he only succeeded in pulling Tenko down with him.
They fell against a bush that was on the side of the sidewalk, so instead of falling onto the ground entirely, they ended up sitting among the branches in the bush. Natsuo was holding tightly to Tenko’s shoulders still and had him almost in an embrace while they sat in the uncomfortable bush. “Sorry!” Natsuo exclaimed when he noticed Tenko’s distraught expression.
“Was it that bad?”
“Was what? Huh?” Natsuo questioned.
Tenko sighed. “Do you at least get what I was saying before?”
“I mean, yeah. I get it, you explained it so plainly I had to understand. I just got nervous...I guess.” He looked at the poor foliage that had become his chair, and at Tenko who was wedged in between the branches and was trying his hardest not to sit on Natsuo by leaning himself into the branches instead. “And I’m not sure if this means anything in particular.”
Tenko narrowed his eyes. “Really,” he said flatly.
“That was the wrong thing to say, huh,” Natsuo commented back with a laugh. He ran his fingers through the front of his hair. “I’m messing up a lot.”
Tenko shifted and stepped out from the bush, though branches snagged on his hair and hoodie. Natsuo pushed the branches out of the way and once Tenko was free, he held his hand out for help. Tenko seemed hesitant to grab hold of Natsuo’s wrist, even with his pinkie far away from where it could come in contact with Natsuo.
“I kind of want to let you get out of there on you own,” Tenko hissed. He retracted his hand from where it was almost touching Natsuo’s. “If I get you out of there you’ll need to follow me somewhere.”
Natsuo stared at Tenko in disbelief. “Where?”
“I’m not telling.” Tenko folded his arms over his chest and smirked with satisfaction.
“You’re so mean,” Natsuo whined and bobbed his head in agreement reluctantly. “Fine I’ll follow, just get me out of here.” He held his arm out and hung his head in defeat.
Tenko laughed as he tugged at Natsuo’s arm. “So dramatic. Just like the rest of your family.” When Natsuo was standing upright, managed to take a breath, and shook his limbs out, partially to get the leaves and twigs that stuck themselves to him off, partially to work out his sore joints, Tenko poked at Natsuo’s chest and added , “Now follow me.”
“Fine, but this better not be something I’ll hate,” Natsuo groaned. He was being pulled along by the front of his shirt.
“If you hate it, then I’m in some trouble,” Tenko retorted, but his voice seemed to waver.
The walk was silent, but it was short, and Natsuo recognized where they were as the old hideout Tenko liked to spend his time in as a kid. Over the years, it had become more run down than when Tenko found it, and he hung out in it less and less as he got older, but it remained standing and held memories within its walls still. It had been at least a year since Natsuo had come here with Tenko, and he wasn’t surprised when it looked exactly the same as a year ago.
“Why are we here?” Natsuo asked once Tenko let go of his shirt and sat down in the seat he always claimed.
“We’re going to talk.”
Natsuo raised an eyebrow. “Can’t we do that anywhere?”
“No,” Tenko said. He leaned forward. “Tell me what you said earlier again.”
Tenko rubbed at his eyes in frustration. “The string thing.”
“Oh!” Natsuo exclaimed, happy he understood finally, but then felt a churning in his stomach that kept him from remaining so happy. “Um, I said that I thought there was something about it that felt true.”
“And...I think we’re soulmates?”
“Yeah, that part.”
Natsuo raised an eyebrow so high he was sure it was rip itself off his forehead. “What was the point of bringing me all the way here just to say that?”
“We’re alone now, so it’ll make all of this easier.”
Natsuo noticed the flush of red on Tenko’s cheeks as he answered.
Since they left Natsuo’s home, he’d noticed that something was a bit off with Tenko, and he seemed much more annoyed and impatient than normal, maybe because Natsuo hadn’t been following this very well. He knew that what he’d said about the strings was a mutual thought, but what he didn’t understand was what that really meant . According to the book, soulmates could be romantic or platonic, but they’d had a platonic relationship for ten years, so why would the topic be brought up if it wasn’t for the former option?
The dots seemed to click then, and Natsuo tripped over nothing as he tried to take a step forward. He landed hard on his knees and he sucked in a sharp breath of dusty, musty, old air. “Oh!” Natsuo tried to say in understanding, but it came out more like a surprised gasp.
“Do you get it?”
“I think so.”
Tenko clicked his tongue. “You’re really dense for an honors student.” He stood from his seat. “What do you want to do about this?”
“Oh,” Natsuo said again, but this time it was more like a realization that things were about to change a lot for them. “We could go out somewhere I guess.” His tongue seemed to double in weight. “Like on a date? I’m assuming that’s what you want, right?”
Tenko nodded swiftly. “You finally said it.”
“Were you waiting for that?” Natsuo sputtered.
“Sort of. I just wanted to make sure you were on the same page as me,” Tenko explained. He was poking around the papers that were sitting on the makeshift desk against the wall. His other hand was clenched into a fist, which counteracted his calm demeanor. He must have been just as nervous as Natsuo was.
Natsuo nodded. “Yeah.”
Tenko hummed. “But I don’t want to go anywhere.” He turned away from the papers and offered a tiny smile. The fist didn’t relax. “Unless you’re okay with going back to your house.”
“Oh, sure.” Natsuo made to turn toward the entrance, but paused. “Are you doing okay? You look really tense.”
Tenko gnawed at his lip. “I’ll talk about it when we get there.” He stepped next to Natsuo and covered his hand with the end of his hoodie sleeve, his thumb poking out of a hole he’d cut into the cuff, then placed his palm on top of Natsuo’s. “This is good for now.”
“Alright.” Natsuo wished he could’ve held Tenko’s hand properly, but this would have to do. There was nothing he could do about the nature of Tenko’s quirk, and frankly, he liked not being disintegrated.
The walk back to Natsuo’s house felt strange, much different from the one away from his house. Like they’d just gone in a circle, but they still made a little bit of progress, even if they were baby steps.
In his gut, Natsuo understood exactly what was going on, but his tongue wouldn’t cooperate, and defaulted to being confused and dumb. Tenko wanted to talk about the string, what it meant, and what they were going to do about it. There’d been something going on between them for a while, but it was an elephant in the room, neither of them wanted to address it.
But they were old enough to handle it now, and that’s what they needed to do.
Natsuo let himself be dragged along the sidewalk back to his own house, where they walked around the back of the house and slowly crept the sliding door open, slipping in silently and going up the stairs to Natsuo’s room.
He didn’t let go of Tenko’s hand, though covered by his hoodie sleeve, as he was looking through games they could play or movies they could watch.
“Stop,” Tenko said from behind Natsuo.
He turned around and raised an eyebrow. “Did you want to do something different?”
“No, I mean, yeah, sort of.” Tenko groaned. “Can we just talk for a moment, and get this over with.”
Natsuo nodded. “Yeah, let’s do that.”
They sat across from each other on the floor, sitting with their legs crossed and their knees pressed against each other.
“Do you want to start?” Natsuo asked. His heart was pounding so rapidly he could feel it in his throat. It shouldn’t have been this terrifying to face Tenko like this, when they’d already established their feelings.
Tenko nodded, but he wouldn’t make eye contact. “Look, it’s fun to skirt around each other like this and all, but I’m going to be serious for a moment.” He looked at Natsuo, and his expression hardened. “I’ve been thinking about kissing you for like two years, so are you going to do something about that or keep playing around?”
“Oh,” Natsuo breathed out. He couldn’t understand how Tenko could say that with such a straight face, when his chest felt like it was about to explode. “Um, I guess, yeah, me too.” His fingers were shaking and every inch of his skin was red hot, almost like it was going numb. “Sorry, I’m not sure what to do right now, I’m thrown off,” Natsuo tried to explain, but his throat choked his words up and they came out hardly louder than a whisper.
Tenko leaned forward, and unfolded his legs, swung them behind him, and sat on his knees. His nose was almost touching Natsuo’s. His breaths came out in short spurts, and brushed against Natsuo’s cheek as he stared directly into crimson eyes. Then the color vanished, and there was a pressure against his mouth.
For a moment, he didn’t know what to do at all. He just stared at closed eyelids and all of the blood in his body seemed to rush to his head at once. Natsuo squeezed his eyes shut too, because he assumed that was what he was supposed to do now, and grabbed hold of Tenko’s hoodie sleeve. His legs were quaking to the point he was losing his balance while he was sitting.
Natsuo was so overwhelmed by the situation that he wasn’t able to focus on the fact that Tenko kissed him? It was already over and Tenko was sitting back on his heels by the time he was able to come to terms with it.
“What…” Natsuo mumbled to himself.
Despite Tenko deciding to make a move so abruptly like that, he looked flushed too. “That was weird.”
“What? You were the one who decided to kiss me out of the blue like that!”
Tenko twisted his face. “I mean it’s like I waited so long to do that. It was weird.” Tenko sat back and pulled his knees up to his chest. “Never mind. If you didn’t like it then it’s fine.”
“I’m confused,” Natsuo said. That seemed to be his state of being for the day.
“You sound so annoyed by it, maybe all that shit you said about soulmates was fake or something,” Tenko huffed and buried his forehead in his hoodie sleeves.
Natsuo had somehow screwed things up without doing anything at all, but maybe that was exactly why he screwed things up. Tenko wanted him to do something, but he wasn’t quite sure what it was.
“I’m not annoyed that you kissed me,” Natsuo explained. The words felt foreign in his mouth, but he continued even as the weight of uncertainty and panic welled inside of him. “Why did you think it was weird, really? Can you explain it to me?”
Tenko relaxed a bit and stretched his legs out in front of him. “Like, it’s been something I’ve been waiting for, and then it happened, and now it’s over.”
“I think I felt that too,” Natsuo started, “I didn’t really know how to feel about it because it was over so fast. So I guess it’s a little bit different.” He bit the inside of his cheek. “It’s not like I didn’t really want to kiss you I just wasn’t ready in the moment? I don’t know. I can’t really recall how it felt besides my face being really hot and that was about it.”
Tenko huffed. “I never said I was good at it. But I was impatient.”
“I’ve noticed,” Natsuo said, laughing. “Oh, I have a couple things, hold on a second.” He got up and started rummaging around his drawers. He pulled out three things and showed them to Tenko.
Natsuo nodded and cut a length of string, but then held out the third object, besides the string and scissors. “These are artist’s gloves, so there are two fingers covered up completely, but the others are open, Shouto gave them to me because he got a new pair, and he said I could give them to you, if you want them. So you don’t have to worry about activating your quirk on accident. It might be helpful for like...since...I don’t know, whatever is going on with us. I’ve wanted to actually hold your hand for so long.” He rushed the last few words and took in another breath. “Put them on, and then I can do the string thing.”
Tenko took the gloves from Natsuo and stared at them for a moment, then put them on and curled his fingers back and forth. “This should work,” Tenko commented. “But why would your brother have two of them? He’s not ambidextrous is he?”
“Oh, yeah, I guess...that was kind of a lie,” Natsuo admitted. “I got one of them from him, but I bought the other myself.”
“So that’s why one of them is all scuffed and the other one is perfectly untouched,” Tenko observed. “Thank you, I appreciate this.” Tenko offered a small smile, and Natsuo felt like he was stabbed directly in the heart.
Natsuo clutched at the string in his hand and stuttered through a, “Yeah, you’re welcome.” It was horribly rare to see Tenko smile genuinely like that, and to have it directed at him just now really almost ended Natsuo. “Here, I’ll tie this thing now.” Natsuo offered. He knelt next to Tenko and tied the string around Tenko’s finger first, then his own. “It still looks sort of dumb.”
“Yeah. But it’s like...our thing now, right? So it doesn’t really matter.”
Natsuo nodded. “Yeah. Good thing I happened to read that book the same day you were sitting at that park.”
“I sat there every day though, you would’ve seen me eventually,” Tenko said, confused.
“But the only reason I came up to you was because of the string. I just wanted to find someone to tie it to.”
Tenko huffed. “Do you not think we would’ve met anyway? Are you sure you get the whole soulmate premise?”
Natsuo jolted. “Oh, wait! No, I mean, I still think we are,” Natsuo tried to explain, but the words were getting lodged in his throat. “I keep messing this up!” Natsuo raised his torso up by putting his weight on his knees. He put a hand on either of Tenko’s shoulders. “I promise I really think we’re soulmates, it would be stupid if I didn’t.”
The string that was tied to their pinkies got tangled around Natsuo’s arm when he reached his hand out to Tenko’s shoulder. Natsuo tried to shake it off, but Tenko took hold of it instead.
“Just leave it.”
“Okay.” Natsuo sat back on his feet again. “Can we try something again?”
Tenko nodded and hummed in agreement.
Natsuo bit down on his cheek and removed Tenko’s hand from around the string, then pushed his fingers through Tenko’s, so their palms were flush against each other. For the first time ever. Natsuo wondered why he’d never thought of using the glove Shouto got for his drawing tablet before. It was so relieving to finally be able to hold Tenko’s hand properly.
But that wasn’t exactly what he set out to do, just one step of it.
It was nerve wracking, he didn’t know where to put his other hand or how to even begin to go about this. He decided to try to replicate something he’d seen in a movie at one point, and used his other hand to cup the side of Tenko’s jaw and bring him closer. He held his breath before he pulled Tenko close enough to kiss him, but that horribly backfired when he realized that kissing requires more inconvenient access to breathing.
“Wait, sorry,” he mumbled as he retreated and blew out the breath he was holding in.
Tenko groaned, “Oh my god, you have no idea how this works do you?”
“What, do you really know better? Unless you’ve been hiding something, your first kiss was like fifteen minutes ago.”
“You have a point, I guess. But still.”
Natsuo grimaced. He took a breath in, but let it out too this time, and was swifter with pulling Tenko in to kiss him.
Tenko grunted and squeezed Natsuo’s hand, the other one sliding its fingers through the shaved side of Natsuo’s head.
Natsuo could feel this one, and he greatly thanked the fact that he could touch Tenko, and Tenko could touch him, without worrying. There was a warmth spreading from his chest and continued throughout his entire body, until he felt numb, but also like he could feel every millimeter of a shift from Tenko.
He wished he would’ve been more prepared for the first kiss they had, that was the one that really mattered. But, like the string, redos seemed to be their thing.
The rest of the afternoon was comfortable, they set up a pile of pillows in the middle of the floor and laid down while they watched movies and played games (which Natsuo lost every single one of) but there was still an unanswered question hanging between them.
“Am I allowed to call you my boyfriend now?” Tenko asked during a lull in the movie on screen. He had his head propped up on Natsuo’s chest, completely disregarding the pile of pillows surrounding him.
Natsuo jumped, but more from the sudden noise directly in his ear than the actual question itself. Until he actually comprehended the question that was asked, that is. “Oh, I didn’t even think about that.”
“Of course not,” Tenko sighed. “You’re not opposed, right?”
“No. Not opposed at all. It’s just like…” Natsuo paused to think. “This is all happening fast.”
Tenko raised his head just to raise his eyebrows and twist his mouth into a frown, then plopped back down on his chest pillow. “Fast, huh. How long have we known each other, exactly?”
“Uh, I’m seventeen now, so eleven years? What’s your point…”
“You must not have picked up on any of the hints I’ve been dropping for two years.”
Natsuo was finding that he was a bit of an idiot, after all of the very obvious things he’d managed to miss that Tenko has now brought to his attention. “I’m really stupid, I’m sorry.”
“I know. Will you be my stupid boyfriend, then?”
Natsuo huffed with a laugh. “Yeah, sure.”
god I'm enjoying this they're so dumb