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Fear Is How I Fall

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Shouta walked through rows of sparring students, looking out for improper forms or injuries. He had been running a self defence class for his students for a few months and all of them had shown marked improvement. He had been hesitant in the beginning but he couldn’t deny he felt proud of them.

It had been pure chance that he had been there to protect Tsuyu and Midoriya from a violent mugger. He hadn’t even blinked before jumping in, using over a decade of training to swiftly take him down. When the rest of his students found out about it, one after another came to him to profess their interest in self defence. They didn’t live in the roughest area, but Musutafu saw its fair share of crime and they used the mugging as a perfect reason to teach them.

When he had drilled it into their heads that this wasn’t to be used as an excuse to go around hitting people and they still said they wanted to learn, he figured there wasn’t any harm in it. He had tried to direct them to a proper trainer like Kōji Okino at Gunhead Dojo but they were adamant about wanting to be taught by him.

While the group wasn’t the entirety of his homeroom class, it was still most of them. He had been surprised when so many parents reacted positively to him teaching their children martial arts. He had expected at least some pushback, but they seemed to trust him when he stressed that he would be focusing on self defence.

It had taken weeks before he allowed them to do anything that even resembled fighting. He wanted to make sure they were taking it seriously, so he treated it more like a general work out at first. It had mainly been about building endurance and theoretical knowledge; he had them running laps and wrapping their hands for a solid week.

He wanted to frustrate anyone that had just wanted to fight into quitting, but he had to hand it to his students; they all stuck to it, patiently waiting for him to let them advance.

“Bakugou! You’re meant to be defending. If I see you go on the offensive again, you’ll be doing theory work for the next three classes.”

Bakugou let out a loud “GAHH!” but stepped back into a defensive stance, letting Kirishima have his chance to attack. Shouta kept an eye on him as he moved on.

“Tokoyami, you need to stop twisting your fist in. If you land a hit like that, it will snap your wrist,” he told the boy as he gently, but firmly, corrected his posture. Shouta slowly demonstrated the proper way to strike, then again sped up. He held his hand up and nodded approvingly when Tokoyami hit it correctly.

He drifted to where Midoriya was sparring with Shinsou and wondered if he would have to break out his med kit again for him. The kid had plenty of determination and technical knowledge but was a bit of a disaster when it came to bodily awareness. He had already planned on bringing a small kit to the class in the beginning but after the first day of sparring, the thing had doubled in size. He was quick to add first aid to their roster after that.

“Alright, break it up! That’s it for today,” he called out. Ashido and Kaminari gave twin overdramatic groans and slumped to the ground. Shouta rolled his eyes and stepped over them to the front of the group. “Eyes front!”

He led them through their typical cool down routine, keeping an eye out for any restricted movements or flinches of pain. When he finished, he nodded and watched as they dispersed to talk to each other and take off their wrappings.

He stuck around for a bit to ensure Bakugou left without bothering Midoriya. He was a remarkable student, but Shouta didn’t like his attitude when it came to the other boy. While his aggression control had improved, Shouta still wanted to make sure he didn’t do anything stupid with the adrenaline still coursing through his veins.

Thankfully, Kirishima pulled him away, saying something about the arcade, while Midoriya got caught up talking to Shinsou. The purple haired boy was new to their lessons and Midoriya had been quick to offer him his help so he could catch up to the rest of them.

He glanced up from undoing his own wrappings when he heard them settle in front of him.

“Sensei, would it be okay for me and Shinsou to go over some more things on our own?” Midoriya asked.

He eyed them carefully to see if he could find anything that would cause concern. Midoriya looked earnest while Shinsou stood slightly behind him trying, and failing, to look uninterested. He finally nodded and went about gathering his things.

“Stretches and stances only,” he told them. “No sparring. Overworking will only hinder your progress and I don’t want you fighting without supervision. I’ll know if you do.”

“We won’t, we promise!” Midoriya swore. “Thank you, sensei!”

“Not too much longer though, alright? It’s getting too cold, your muscles will cramp,” he added, as he wrapped his scarf around his neck.

“Yes, dad,” Shinsou rolled his eyes while Midoriya eep’d at his impertinence.

“Watch it, brat,” Shouta ruffled his hair before pushing his head down. Shinsou snorted. “Now, get back to it, if you’re going to; you don’t want to cool down too much.”

“Yes, sensei!” Midoriya hopped back to where they had been practicing, while Shinsou nodded to him and followed at a much more sedate pace.

He was glad those two were getting along. He had been worried about Shinsou when he first joined his home room and defence classes. Like recognised like after all, and it didn’t take much to piece together his less than ideal home life.

He was pleased to see him fitting in with the rest of his gremlins. He went out with Midoriya and his group after class instead of going straight home, he snarked with Shouta and didn’t flinch when he touched him anymore. He had even started to lean into it and Shouta refused to acknowledge how much that warmed his heart.

His presence was good for Midoriya as well. Helping Shinsou brought out a lot of confidence in the other boy, who in turn soothed Shinsou’s ego when he didn’t pick up something as quickly as he wanted. It was hard to feel like someone was looking down on you when they were so overt in their desire to help.

Shouta reached up and pulled the tie from his hair, letting it flop around his shoulders as he walked through the park. They were deep into Autumn and the park was a mass of reds, oranges and yellows. Dried leaves crunched under his boots and he breathed in the crisp breeze. It wasn’t long before sundown and he had half a mind to stick around to watch the sky change to reflect the colours of the trees around him.

Grading waited for no man however, so he trudged along the path towards the park exit. At least his defence class didn’t have essays to grade. He gave them handouts so they could reference forms when they practiced at home but unless they did something worthy of a punishment, the class was blissfully paperwork free.

Shouta could admit he wasn’t quite paying attention to his surroundings. He came to this park nearly everyday for his own workouts as well as twice a week for his class. He had walked this path so many times he could probably recreate the low stone wall that run along it in his sleep. He was looking up, taking in the falling leaves, then he heard something running towards him just in time for it to tackle him to the ground.

He grunted as he landed, making sure to keep his head from hitting the ground. He blinked at the trees above him a few times as he registered the heavy weight in his lap. That impact had been entirely too purposeful to have been an accident and if it was one of his brats, he was going to kill them. He lifted himself onto his elbows, looked down and his eyes widened.

There was a dog standing on him.

He inhaled sharply and shoved himself backwards, hands scraping along the ground. He pulled himself out from under the animal and kept skittering back until he hit the stone wall. He felt his blood freeze and his breathing pick up as the dog followed and excitedly wagged its tail. He was trapped.

Shouta had fifteen years of mixed martial arts experience under his belt, he had grown up in a very rough area and he taught teenagers for a living. He knew how to keep himself calm and controlled; but all of that was thrown out the window as he took in the beast that just took him down.

He was not a small man by any means and this thing could probably rest on his shoulders if it stood up on its hind legs. It was a mass of white fur and its panting mouth revealed large, very sharp teeth.

It barked and he flinched back, smacking his head on the wall behind him. It stepped forward to claim back the space and one of its paws stood on his thigh and suddenly he wasn’t in the park anymore.

He was in the street, gravel digging into his back, weight pressing him down and teeth tearing, drool mixing with blood, staining skin and fur red, red, red-

“-et off him, you know better than this! Koto, off now.”

The voice cut through the haze of panic and memory and he took a stuttering breath. His fists clenched into the leaf litter he was sitting in; the feeling and sound of the dry leaves crunching helping to bring him back to the present. There was a man in front of him; the dog’s leash wrapped tightly around his hand and an arm splayed across its chest.

“Man, I’m so sorry about this, she’s not normally like this, Koto, back,” his voice was firm as he tugged on the leash. The dog took its paw of his leg and the absence of its weight finally allowed him to steady his breathing. The dog whined and strained forward and Shouta couldn’t help flinching again as the leash slipped a little in the man’s grip and it lunged forward.

“Baby girl, please, for once in your life, just listen to daddy,” the man begged, grip moving from its chest to gently pull on its bedazzled collar. The tug seemed to work, as the dog whined again before shuffling back and sitting. It seemed upset by the forced distance, it shuffled its feet restlessly and its tail was wagging so hard that it swept up the leaves around it.

“There we go. I’m sorry about that, yo, her leash slipped,” he reached out the hand that wasn’t holding the dog back. “I hope she didn’t hurt ya or anything.”

Shouta managed to tear his eyes away from the dog to the man standing above him.

Holy shit, his eyes are pretty.

They were bright green and had darker shades running through them that gave the impression of concentric rings. He had never seen eyes that like before and they were getting progressively more concerned looking as he went longer without answering.

“Crap, if she made you hit your head-“

“I’m fine,” he interrupted. “Just surprised me.”

He finally reached out to take the offered hand and the dog took the opportunity to surge forward and lick it. He gasped and pulled back sharply, pressing himself into the wall.

Koto, bad girl!” The man pulled her back and stepped in front of her. “I’m really sorry, I swear she’s harmless, yo, she just doesn’t vibe with personal space yet.”

He kept his hand outstretched and with his body angled in front of Koto, there was no way she’d be able to get to Shouta again. He was still slow to reach out again and didn’t take his eyes off her for a single moment. The man easily pulled him off the ground and lightly brushed off his arm.

Now that he was off the ground and in a less vulnerable position, he finally had the wherewithal to take in the man in front of him. He had long, blonde hair that he had tied into a messy bun, showing off twin hearing aids. Red framed glasses covered those unique eyes and he had a small, meticulously maintained moustache. He wore an unbuttoned flannel shirt with the sleeves rolled up, showing off tattooed forearms, and his neck and wrists were a mess of chains and leather bands.

He was gorgeous.

He was also looking for a response.

“It’s fine,” he managed and was proud when it didn’t waver.

“That’s a relief,” the man grinned. “I’m Yamada Hizashi and this little bulldozer here, is Koto.”

Koto bounced a bit at the sound of her name and he looked at her warily. “Aizawa Shouta.”

“Nice to meet you, yo,” he offered his hand to shake. “Sorry again about her.”

“It wasn’t your fault,” he dismissed as he took it.

“I think she saw something and just took off. Her breeder didn’t bother with any training, so her recall is in the negatives,” Yamada shrugged as he patted her head. “But she’s only a puppy; she’s got plenty of time to learn.”

His eyes widened. “Wait, puppy? She’s huge.”

“She’s only eight months old, she’s gonna get waaaay bigger than this, yo,” he gestured up around his hips.

Shouta looked at him with mild horror.

Yamada laughed lightly at his expression. “Not a fan of big dogs?”

“I’m more of a cat person,” he said and hell, if that wasn’t an understatement. He was pretty sure he had spent a small fortune on buying food for the strays that lingered around his neighbourhood.

“That’s fair, cats are pretty great too. Do you have one?”

“No, I’ve always wanted one but it’s never quite felt like the right time.” That and he worried if he got one he may never stop.

“Yeah, I hear ya,” Yamada agreed. “It took me a while to work up the courage to get Koto. ‘Cause I work so much, I was worried about leaving her alone all the time. I made a deal with my neighbour though, so he watches her when I’m out late.”

“That’s good of him,” he said. “That’s one of the benefits of cats, they’re pretty self sufficient.”

“I’ve always felt they were a little too independent though. I’m pretty needy, I need constant affection,” he joked. He gestured to the dog. “Hence Koto; nothing says ‘love’ like a dog the same size as you laying on top of you.”

Shouta’s collarbone ached. “I’ll have to take your word for it,” he said uneasily. Koto had apparently had her fill of Yamada’s petting and trotted forward to him. He immediately stepped backward and Yamada’s hand tightened on her leash.

There was a calculating look in the man’s eyes as he looked between him and the dog. “Train her with me.”

Shouta froze. “What,” he deadpanned.

“Yeah!” Yamada grinned, warming up to the idea. He pulled the top of a small pack of dog treats from his pocket. Koto abandoned her attempt at reaching him and stretched to try and get to the bag. “That’s why we’re here, to work on her commands when there’s distractions all up in her bizz. Stick around, that way you can see she actually does listen sometimes,” he put his hands under her ears and ruffled them.

“If it wasn’t obvious, I don’t exactly have experience in dog training,” he stalled.

“Meh, you don’t really need it,” Yamada waved away. “We’re not doing professional training and this ditz isn’t earning any PHD’s anytime soon, so it’s nothing complicated. We’re just doing lowkey stuff; sit, stay, come, all that jazz.”

Shouta shifted on his feet and debated the merits of pretending to get a phone call to excuse himself. Yamada seemed like a decent enough guy but he was still thrumming with anxiety at being this close to Koto. He couldn’t exactly avoid the dog if he had to be close enough to correct her behaviour.

“You know the thing about training an animal? You’re the one in charge,” Yamada stated casually. “You’re the one with the reward; the one they have to listen to. You have all the control.”

Shouta looked at him sharply, but his attention was still on the dog. So, he wasn’t as oblivious to Shouta’s anxiety as he seemed; but he wasn’t directly calling him out on it either. Shouta had tried forcing himself past his fear before, tried ignoring and avoiding it but it clearly hadn’t gotten any better.

He knew, realistically, that not every dog in the world was out to get him. That wasn’t enough for him to let go of his panic whenever he saw one. Yamada was right though; a training scenario would give him control over the situation. It was just like his defence class; his students had to listen and follow his instruction because he was in charge. Koto wouldn’t try to attack him if he had something she wanted. And Yamada would be there to back him up.

This would be his best opportunity to overcome his fear.

He nodded decisively. “Okay.”

Yamada’s loud “WHOOP!” startled him slightly. “Sweet! This’ll be great, yo, trust me!” He stooped down to pick up Shouta’s fallen bag, stumbling a little at the unexpected weight, and they stepped off the path onto the open grass. Yamada was careful to keep himself in between him and Koto and Shouta eyed him with silent appreciation.

“We’ll work on her sit first,” Yamada told him as he gently placed Shouta’s bag to the side. Koto still strained to try and reach him but was thoroughly distracted when Yamada opened the bag of treats and took one out.

“Okay, now what you’re gonna do, is hold the treat over her head like this,” he raised the treat, “then guide it back so she leans back and sits. Sit.” Yamada demonstrated and after shuffling back a few steps Koto sat, excitedly accepting the treat and praise afterwards. “Yes! Good girl!”

Yamada handed him another treat and stepped to the side so Shouta could stand in front of Koto. He rolled it between his fingers and tried to make himself step forward. The second Koto saw the new treat, she got back on her feet and it was only Yamada’s hand on her leash that stopped her from crowding him.

“What if she jumps?” tumbled out of his mouth without his permission and he tensed. He sounded so pathetic.

“She won’t, I promise, she’s too fat to jump. She might do a little hop,” Yamada bounced on his heels, “but I guarantee those tootsies aren’t leaving the ground.”

Shouta gritted his teeth and hesitantly stretched out his arm. His hand hovered over the dog’s head and he hated seeing how much it shook. “Sit.” He tried doing what Yamada said, kept the treat visible and began leading her head back. She shuffled back once, twice, then hopped up to try and take it from him.

It took all he had not to yelp as he dropped the treat and flinched back, holding his hand protectively to his chest.

No! Bad Koto,” Yamada reprimanded her, stepping on the treat before she could eat it.

“This is ridiculous,” he tried to sound stern as he took a step back, refusing to call it a retreat.

“Hey, you were doing great, man! Let’s just try again, okay? Here, let’s try this.” Yamada placed the treat back in his hand but instead of stepping away again, he placed his own on top of it so he was gently covering his fingers. “This way, you’re not doing it alone!”

His hand was so warm on Shouta’s and he ducked his face into his scarf. It was just because of the growing chill in the wind, he was not blushing at some innocent hand holding like one of his students. The skin warmed metal of Yamada’s bracelets pressed into his wrist and he could feel each long, lightly calloused finger over his, contrasting his own roughened skin.

His pulse was pounding and at this point he couldn’t tell if it was because of Koto or Yamada.

“Ready?” Yamada asked softly.

Shouta took a deep breath and gave a stuttering nod.

He nodded back and gently pulled their hands up above Koto’s head. “Sit.” Like before, she raised up to try and take it. Yamada’s hand tightened slightly around his and lifted it out of her range. He didn’t let him pull back or drop the treat and Shouta could feel the shaking in his hand get worse.

No,” Yamada admonished. He waited until she settled back down, then guided their hands back over her head. “Sit.” She stumbled back a few steps before finally sitting. “Yes! Good girl!”

He gently used his fingers to open Shouta’s own and the treat dropped into her waiting mouth. He couldn’t even begin to describe how relieved he felt at not having to hand feed her the treat. He took in another deep breath and released it slowly, trying to control the anxiety thrumming in his veins.

“You did it, man!” Yamada praised, shooting him a wide grin. He then seemed to realise he had kept hold of Shouta’s hand and dropped it with a slightly strangled giggle. “Wanna try another command?”

Shouta nodded determinedly.

It took ten minutes for his hands to stop shaking whenever he lifted a treat. Trying to get Koto to lay down had been a trial; getting her into a sit was difficult enough but she refused to drop down when he pulled the treat forward, she would just get back up on her feet. He still flinched whenever Koto barked or moved unexpectedly but Shouta knew this wouldn’t be a one time fix; you don’t just get over a phobia with one good experience.

After the next successful command, Yamada grinned and turned to Shouta, “We should do this again sometime! You were great with her and this furry little menace still hasn’t gotten everything down pat yet.” He buried his hands in Koto’s fur. “‘Ay, girl, we still got a long way to go, huh?”

“We’re done already?” Shouta asked, surprised.

“Yeah,” he kept ruffling her fur, “if we go over commands too much, she’ll just get frustrated. Short sessions every day are the best way for her to learn.”

Shouta hummed. He couldn’t lie; he was a little disappointed that his time with Yamada was over. He was happy the training itself was done with; as proud as he was at his progress, he still wanted to get the hell away from Koto so he could finally relax. He hadn’t been this tense, for this long, in years.

But he also didn’t want to leave Yamada just yet. He was surprised; he usually barely wanted to hang out with people he considered friends, let alone a complete stranger. But there was something about Yamada that drew him in.

Yamada seemed to be thinking along the same lines. “Do you, maybe, wanna get some coffee or something?” he asked, fiddling with one of his necklaces.

“We don’t have to,” Shouta stalled.

“I know, but I want to,” he assured. “I also feel like I owe ya for Koto running you over.”

“You don’t owe me anything.” Yamada nodded his head, still smiling but also looking disappointed.

He seemed like he wanted this to continue, but did Shouta? Sure, he found him attractive, but he knew he wasn’t really a pleasure to be around. He wasn’t exactly a people person; he was dour and set in his ways and Yamada was completely out of his league.

But he had offered. And he wanted to help him with his fear, even if he hadn’t been obvious about it. Yamada had seemed like a bit of an airhead but he saw that just having him pet Koto wouldn’t be enough to calm his nerves; he’d figured out that he had to give Shouta control over the situation.

And Shouta didn’t want this to end just yet.

“Where were you thinking?”

Yamada lit up. “I have a feeling I know somewhere perfect for you, yo,” he beamed.

Shouta looked down at Koto. “What about her?” he asked.

“It’s all good,” Yamada waved away, “that neighbour I mentioned before can take her. You cool with a little detour?”

Shouta nodded and they began to make their way out of the park. “Do you come here with her often?” he asked. “I haven’t seen you around here before.”

“Only for the last couple of days,” he replied. “I only got Koto recently and I wanted to get her settled before bringing her somewhere this crowded. You?”

“I do my workouts here, I’m usually around about sunrise though,” he told him. “I also teach a self defence class, I just finished it before meeting you.”

“God, I can’t imagine working out that early,” Yamada groaned. “I mean, I try to get to the gym once or twice a week, but that’s just nasty.”

Shouta rolled his eyes. “I prefer it; it forces me to get up in the morning.”

Blegh,” he shuddered.

They were nearing the exit gate when Shouta spotted a familiar head of spiky, blonde hair. Apparently, Yamada recognised it to.

“Yo, Yagi!” Yamada called, waving an arm. Koto was clearly excited to see him too; she was barking and straining against her leash to try and reach the other man. Shouta flinched as the sound dug into him.

The older man turned at the call and grinned, lifting his own hand in greeting. “Yamada, Aizawa! It’s good to see you!”

Yagi had become a semi permanent fixture in his life after the man had adopted Midoriya. He made a point to come to every open day and showing, and treated parent-teacher conferences like they were an honour to attend. His exuberance could be a little much at times, but his obvious pride in Midoriya had caused the boy to blossom and Shouta would never dismiss that. He had even gone out for drinks with the other man a few times; he was a surprisingly good conversationalist.

“You too!” Yamada turned to Shouta. “Yagi was the one I was talking about taking Koto,” he explained.

“I wasn’t aware you two knew each other!” Yagi said brightly.

“We just met, actually,” Yamada replied, a hand sheepishly rubbing his neck. “Koto kinda bowled him over.”

Yagi’s eyes immediately started searching for injuries. “Are you alright, Aizawa?”

“I’m fine,” he assured. He could tell the older man didn’t quite believe him. He had taken advantage of Yagi’s EMT training to avoid a hospital visit once or twice. If you couldn’t take advantage of your student’s adopted father’s medical prowess, then who could you?

“Are you here to pick up Midoriya?” he tried distracting him.

Yagi gave him a look that said he knew exactly what Shouta was trying to do, but he went along with it anyway. “Yes, I had a doctor’s appointment and he said he’d hang out with young Shinsou.”

“Everything go okay?” Yamada inquired, concerned.

“They said the new lung is stable and getting stronger,” Yagi smiled. “Who knows, maybe I’ll be able to join your class soon, Aizawa.”

“You know I won’t go easy on you,” he warned. He meant it as well. Shouta had made a point to not hold back on him and he knew Yagi appreciated it. He had said before that it could be a little condescending to be constantly handled with kid gloves after his accident.

“I wouldn’t want you to,” he laughed.

“Yagi, could I ask you a favour?” Yamada asked. The other man nodded. “Would you be able to take Koto for a bit? We wanted to go get some coffee and, well, a bull in a china shop’s got nothin’ on this one,” he noogied Koto’s head.

Yagi’s eyes sparkled as he looked between them. “Of course, I’d be happy to!”

Yamada grinned and gave a small sigh of relief. “Thanks man, I owe ya!”

“Oh, nonsense, what else are neighbours for?” Yagi reached out to take Koto’s leash and Shouta tensed for the few seconds that it wasn’t being tightly held. He let out a silent breath when she settled against the tall man’s side. She was clearly enamoured with him and Shouta took it as the blessing it was that she had all but forgotten him.

“Be a good girl for Uncle Yagi, okay?” Yamada told Koto as he cradled her face. She gave him a lick in return and he laughed as he pulled back and wiped his face.

“Have fun you two,” Yagi said with a knowing grin and Shouta ducked into his scarf.

They watched Yagi and Koto walk deeper into the park before continuing their way out of it. They were silent for a few moments but it was comfortable. Shouta began to relax as the further away they got from Koto the more his anxiety started to fade.

He absently brought up a hand to rub his collarbone. “Thanks.”

Yamada hummed and tilted his head. “For what?”

“Not saying anything... about the dog thing,” he explained haltingly.

Yamada shrugged. “Everyone’s afraid of somethin’. God knows if a bug was on me, I’d scream my lungs out.” He paused for a few moments. “Did you just never get to hang out with dogs or...?”

He hesitated. “I was attacked by a dog when I was a kid.”

Shit,” Yamada breathed.

“I don’t even remember what breed it was,” he continued, “just how it pinned me down and kept biting me. I couldn’t see the sky... just its teeth above me. I would’ve been maybe six.”

Its weight had snapped his collarbone and he still had deep scars on his chest and shoulders from where its claws and teeth had dug into his skin. He thought he was going to die and all he could focus on, beyond the pain, was that he just wanted to see the sky one last time.

“Man... I’m so sorry,” Yamada apologised. “And getting pinned by Koto... God, no wonder you were so freaked.”

Shouta shook his head. “It was an irrational reaction. It happened decades ago, I should be over it by now.”

“Dude, there’s a huge difference between walking past a chick with a chihuahua in her purse and being jumped on by a great pyrenees mountain dog,” he refuted. “Most people would be freaked out, let alone someone with that kinda history.”

“It’s why I agreed to your offer,” he confessed. “I don’t want to be controlled by fear. I’ve never let my life be dictated by my emotions, I’m not about to start now.”

“That’s really brave of you,” Yamada praised. Shouta scoffed. “Seriously. Facing your fear head on like that... I know I wouldn’t be able to do it.”

They settled back into silence as they walked until Yamada brought him to a stop in front of a familiar shopfront.

Shouta looked up at the shop name in disbelief. “You brought me to a cat cafe?”

“Well, like I said, I kinda figure I owe you one. You said you prefer cats so...” Yamada blushed and rubbed his neck. “I mean, if this was a complete swing and a miss we can go somewhere else.”

Shouta smiled slightly to himself and shook his head in wonder as he pulled out his wallet. Yamada watched him curiously as he flipped it open and pulled out a pink and yellow card. “I’m a regular,” Shouta said and Yamada broke into a wild grin. He showed the side that had nine cat face stamps. “You just got us a free half hour with the cats.”

Honestly, Shouta came to this cafe so often that describing himself as a ‘regular’ was like saying the sun tended to rise. He came at least twice a week and was practically another member of staff with how much he helped with the cats.

Akiyama gave him a wide smile from the counter as they stepped through the front door and he immediately made a beeline to the cat room. He was a creature of habit and she knew his order by heart; he felt no shame in leaving Yamada to order on his own.

Three cats were on him the second he sat down; Remy, a Siamese, immediately climbed into his scarf to nap, while Lemon and Jethro duked it out for his attention on his lap. All the lingering tension from being around Koto drained out of him as his scratched behind ears and rubbed under chins.

He registered Yamada sitting down at the table and raised his eyes to see if he was annoyed at being abandoned. Thankfully, he seemed to be enraptured with his own cat; a large black tom that had splayed himself on the table in front of him.

“Aren’t you just the cutest little squish?” Yamada dropped his face into the cat’s pudgy stomach. “Such a chonky boy!” Just when Shouta thought he couldn’t light up more, the cat let out a throaty, broken meow that sounded like he had been smoking a pack a day for all his nine lives. Yamada lifted his head, his eyes wide and he gave Shouta a delighted grin. The cat jumped into Yamada’s lap and the man looked like he was about to start vibrating.

“Enjoying yourself?” Shouta asked rhetorically.

“Dude, I never wanna leave,” he said reverently. He brought his hands up to cradle the cat’s face. “How long have you been coming here?”

“Years. I moved here straight out of high school. I was going through a bit of a rough patch, then I stumbled on this place. I looked pathetic enough that they let me volunteer to help with the cats,” he explained.

As he talked, Akiyama came over with their coffees. “You were never pathetic, Aizawa,” she admonished, “you just needed a purpose. And what better purpose is there than cats?”

Shouta nodded in agreement and gently pulled Jethro away from the steaming cup. He wasn’t ashamed to admit that this place had gotten him through his early twenties. As happy as he was to get away from his mother, it didn’t make job hunting any easier. It was a shame they couldn’t afford to hire him but Grandma Azumi had been kind enough to let him hang around. He had slept on the cot in the back room too many times to count while he tried to sort his life out.

Yamada looked contemplative as he scratched the cat in his lap. He shook his head slightly and smiled up at Akiyama. “Does this guy have a name?” he asked.

“Not yet. He came in this morning and made himself right at home. Deaf as a post, but he’s very sweet,” she told him.

“Will that hurt his chances of getting adopted?” Yamada asked, clearly concerned. He pulled the cat closer to himself, as if that would protect him from that fate.

“I’m not going to lie to you, it could. Even with how affectionate he is, a black, deaf cat isn’t usually people’s first choice,” she said apologetically.

Yamada deflated. “Oh.”

Akiyama bit her lip awkwardly. “Well, just shout if you need me.”

Shouta nodded in thanks as she made her retreat. He watched Yamada for a few minutes, waiting to see if he would pick himself back up, but he seemed lost as he rubbed the cat’s cheeks.

“Yamada, you okay?” he finally asked.

He hummed without looking up. “I’m good. Just doing some hardcore relating to this little dude.”

Shouta wrapped an arm around Jethro and Lemon, who contented themselves with nuzzling into his forearm. “I’ve been told I’m a good listener.”

Yamada finally lifted his gaze, a bittersweet smile on his lips. “I was in an accident when I was a kid. I was at a gas station, sitting in my booster seat in the car, when one of the fuel tanks caught fire and exploded.” He tapped his ear. “Left me almost completely deaf and messed with my eyesight. I was two. My parents were inside paying. As far as I know, they got away without a scratch.”

He reached up to play with some of the hair that had fallen out of his bun. “I guess they didn’t wanna deal with me, so they gave me up. I bounced around a few foster homes; I was very energetic, very loud and with my hearing and stuff... no one wanted an imperfect kid. When I was thirteen, I got adopted by my moms. Both of them are hard of hearing, so they got it, you know?”

“It was wrong of them,” Shouta said after a pause, “to just give you up like that.”

“I know,” he shrugged, “but then I never would’ve met my moms. I would rather a life with them than with parents that would give me up at the drop of a hat.”

“Your birth family isn’t always the best one for you,” he stated, memories of his own flickering through his mind.

“Most people would disagree. ‘Blood is thicker than water’, and all that jazz.”

“Have you ever heard the full phrase?” Yamada shook his head. “‘The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb’. It means the family you choose is more important than the one you’re bound to.”

Yamada looked at him with a mix of shock and awe on his face. Shouta felt his cheeks redden and he ducked into his scarf.

It was silent until the tom stretched and let out a strangled yowl.

Yamada laughed and shook his head and pet behind the cat’s ears. “Well, that got heavy real quick, let’s liven up this gig!”

He huffed a light laugh. “Alright, what do you suppose we talk about?”

Weeeeell, I’m a radio host,” Yamada suggested.

“Really?” he asked, intrigued.

“Yeah! I do the Put Your Hands Up Radio! show Monday to Friday and I DJ on weekends. The show is mostly nonstop music but I do some segments too...” he trailed off. “Why are you looking at me like that?”

Shouta had tilted his head with a look of realisation. “You’re Present Mic,” he said.

“Hell yeah I am, listener!” Yamada grinned and shot finger guns at him. “I wouldn’t have taken you for the late night radio type.”

He shrugged. “It helps keep me awake when I’m catching up on grading.”

“Wait, grading?” Yamada flapped his hands and bounced in his seat, almost dislodging the very determined to nap cat in his lap. “Are you a teacher?!”

Shouta smiled softly at his excitement. “Yeah, high school. Home room and ethics. They’re all a bunch of brats.”

“That’s so cool! I am too!” Yamada put his elbow on the table and rested his head on his hand, the other absently running through the cat’s fur. “I teach English and JSL at the local college. I thought about doing high school, but I felt I’d be more helpful teaching people who need it, you know? I’ve always had a knack for languages so I figured, why not help others out with them?”

“How many languages do you speak?”

“Fluently? JSL, Japanese and English. My Mandarin and Russian are acceptable and my Italian gets me a couple free breadsticks when I order pizza,” he winked.

He snorted. “So, when you say ‘a knack for languages’, you actually mean you’re a genius?”

Yamada blushed lightly and leaned back, waving away the praise. “Hardly. I just remember a bunch of squiggles that people have assigned noises to. I still fish out stuck toast with a fork, so genius is a stretch. But what about you? You said you taught a self defence class?”

“Yeah, for my home room,” he nodded. “They found out I did mixed martial arts and wanted me to teach them.”

“How long have you been doing martial arts?”

“Since I was fifteen. I was small for my age and came from a rough area. I was sick of getting my ass beat so I went to a dojo.” He ran a hand over Lemon and took a sip of his coffee. “I couldn’t afford lessons so I would watch through the window. The teacher saw me and made me come inside. I thought he was going to yell at me but he instead made me spar with him. I impressed him with how much I had picked up through just observation, so he let me join in for free.”

“Damn, I’ll make sure to never get on your bad side,” Yamada joked. Another cat had come over and began playing with the laces on his boots. “I always liked the idea of learning to fight. In the foster homes, sometimes the other kids would try stuff, but I was always faster than them. It felt a little cowardly to just bolt all the time.”

“There’s no shame in running away,” he told him. “Running is just another way of protecting yourself. I tell my kids the same thing.”

Yamada looked at him softly. “You always know just what to say, or am I just that easy to read?”

Shouta fiddled with his scarf. “It’s only rational.”

“Rational,” he repeated gently. He looked at him for a few moments with that same fond expression before he blinked. “How ‘bout this: what’s something about you that people wouldn’t expect?”

“Well, the whole cat thing tends to throw people off,” he looked down and busied himself with petting Jethro.

“But I know that already!” Yamada whined.

“I dunno, I’m not all that interesting,” he deflected.

“C’mon, I highly doubt that,” he begged. He leaned across the table, careful to avoid squishing the tom, arms stretched in front of him and wiggled his fingers in front of Lemon’s nose. Shouta raised an eyebrow. Yamada huffed before perking up. “Here, I’ll go first. I sing opera.”

Shouta’s other eyebrow raised up to join it. “Really?”

“Yep! My ears are shit but I got a rockin’ set of lungs,” he winked. He pulled himself up and dropped his chin onto his laced hands. “I like the amount of control it takes. I’ve always been interested in the different facets of the voice. It’s why I like languages so much. Speech in general is fascinating to me; it’s such a complex process to be able to form those sounds. Then I got into impressions and throwing my voice and stuff. Eventually, I got into music and the moment I heard opera, I knew I had to try it. Same with screamo. Doing it properly without shredding your vocal chords takes skill.” He wiggled in his seat. “Now, your turn.”

Shouta rubbed the back of his neck. He was fairly straight forward, all things considered; he liked naps, coffee and cats and that was really it. Things like teaching self defence and being a fighter weren’t all that surprising. He was a hard looking, no nonsense type of man.

Though, there was one thing that he knew people really wouldn’t expect, but it wasn’t something he had shared before. But then, if Yamada got that excited over different functions of the voice, maybe he wouldn’t be an asshole about it. “... I do aerial silks.”

Yamada’s hands fell forward and his jaw dropped to the table. “You what?”

Shouta tensed and dropped his hand. “If you’re just gonna make fun of me-“

“No, no, no, no, screw that! I just said I was an opera singer that liked to do voices, there’s no judgement from me,” he was quick to reassure him, shaking his hands. “That’s sick! You any good?”

Shouta snorted. “I didn’t go through six years of rope burn to be shit at it. My friend Oboro got me into it. Remember that rough patch I mentioned earlier? He made it his life’s mission to get me a new hobby. I was already doing MMA, so he thought if he could find something that would lend itself well with that, I’d be more open to trying it out. He said it would be good for my strength and flexibility and bugged me ‘til I agreed.”

“‘Flexibility’, huh?” Yamada waggled his eyebrows and Shouta couldn’t help snorting at how ridiculous he looked. “I’ve never seen it in person before. Do you perform or is it just, like, a workout?”

“Oboro’s been trying to convince me to perform. He says he knows someone that owns a club that I could do it in.” He shrugged. “I’ve never been one to draw attention to myself, so I don’t know if I’ll ever do it in front of a crowd.”

“I’d love to watch you someday,” he said, still lightly flirtatious but genuine.

“I’ll bring you round to the studio sometime,” he told him. He was being uncharacteristically forward, but he couldn’t deny wanting to impress Yamada.

He knew what he looked like normally; he wouldn’t exactly call himself attractive, but when he was up in the silks he felt like he could be seen as striking. There was a level of confidence that being over twenty feet in the air gave him. Watching someone weave and spin in free fall was amazing and he hoped he could inspire that reaction in Yamada.

“It’s a date then,” Yamada promised with a shy smile.

They looked at each other softly until Akiyama came over to collect their empty cups. “I’m afraid your time’s up,” she told them. “Unless you’d like to buy another half hour...”

Yamada pulled out his phone to check the time and frowned. “I can’t,” he said apologetically, “I have to head home and get ready for work.”

Shouta nodded and took out his wallet to pay for the coffee. Yamada lifted a hand and shook his head. “Don’t worry about it; I already took care of it,” he said. Shouta gave him a look and he smiled. “My treat remember? You can pay next time.”

He looked down. “Next time,” he agreed.

He began dislodging the cats on his person. Remy made a valiant attempt to cling inside his scarf, but he was an old hand at removing determined cats. Yamada seemed even more disinclined to get up; he had pulled the tom cat tight to his chest and was hugging him for all his worth. He was whispering to him as he pet him and Shouta thought about his story. He looked away to give them a moment.

Yamada finally stood with a sigh and settled the cat on his chair. The tom gave another broken meow and snuggled into the warmth. Yamada looked like his heart was breaking and Shouta felt his own clench. He managed to scrounge up a cracked smile and gave him one last caress before stepping back.

They made their way to the front door where Yamada paused before turning to address Akiyama. “Are people that aren’t adopting allowed to name the cats?”

“Of course!” She pulled out a large folder that held all the information about the cats and he made his way to the counter. “I’m guessing you’re wanting to name the tom?” she asked as she flipped through.

“Yes,” he confirmed. Yamada’s smile got more solid as he lightly drummed his fingers on the counter and Shouta came up behind him.

“Okay, what were you thinking?” she asked once she reached the right page.

Yamada winked at him before throwing up jazz hands. “Mr. Boombastic!”

Shouta couldn’t help the snort that burst out of him and he brought a hand up to cover his mouth. “Are you serious?”

“Hell yeah!” he grinned. “It’s perfect for him, yo!”

Akiyama looked slightly mystified before nodding. “We can accept that,” she said as she wrote the new name on his file.

“Sweet!” Yamada shot her finger guns. “We’ll have to come back soon; can’t leave the little listener hanging.”

She bid them goodbye and they stepped outside. Shouta shivered as the cold air rushed over him and he watched Yamada pull his sleeves down. They paused on the sidewalk, neither wanting to be the first to leave.

“Hey, you got your phone on ya?” Yamada asked. Shouta nodded and took it out. He unlocked it and handed it to the other man, who opened his contacts and put in his number. “There! We gotta visit Mr. Boombastic together. And you owe me a performance.”

“Oh, do I?” Shouta smirked.

“Yep!” he said confidently as he handed the phone back. “So you better text me.”

“I will, Yamada.”

He saw him twitch, before he reached out a hand to curl around his own. “Call me Hizashi,” he proposed with a hopeful look in his eyes.

Shouta bit his lip and nodded. “You can call me Shouta, then.”

Hizashi grinned and squeezed his hand. “Okay. Shouta.”

“See you around, Hizashi.”

He squeezed his hand again before dropping it. He walked backwards a few steps then turned to walk away. Shouta waited until he saw Hizashi turn the corner, then went back inside the cafe. He stepped up to the counter and Akiyama looked up at him in confusion.

“I would like to place an adoption application.”