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Swords, Stars ands Shields

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Everything would have been great if Bakugo didn’t come in.
“What the hell,” he says, watching as I smash one last hit onto the speed bag.
It falls to the ground with a thump, punctuating my grin.
“That wasn’t a question, Bakugo.”
“Shut the hell up,” he swipes his hand down, resting against the bulkier punching bag. “I heard you got that loser in trouble.”
I blink once. “You’re mad about that?”
He snorts, holding up my bag for me. “Just didn’t expect it, I guess.”
“He told me he was fine,” I argue. Does he have to turn everything into a fight?
“You’re still second guessing yourself,” Bakugo notices, circling me. “Stop it, shitty hair.”
“I told you not to call me that.”
“Huh?”
I raise my voice, striking the punching bag he’s leaning against. “I said shut up!”
“That was my line, actually. Guess you’re still the same dumbass, rocks-for-brains,”
He’s such a horrible person! What did I ever see in him?
What did I even do to him?
“Alright,” I hang my arm across his shoulder, hiding the red in my face. “You said everything you wanted to say, right?”
“I’m trying to tell you that your relationship with Nico isn’t healthy,” Bakugo turns as he reaches the doorframe, letting a thin sliver of pale skin sneak out from his skull hoodie. “You’re both pushing so hard to make it work, and it’s painful to watch.”
“Why do you get an opinion?” I ask, stomping toward him. “What makes this okay?”
A little prick of fear flashes in his eyes. “You were just getting ready for your date, and I wanted to tell you to cut it out.”
“I’m not breaking up with him,” I tell him, poking his chest adamantly. I can make my own decisions! “And I’m not going back to you, Bakugo!”
His face flushes, turning a sickly green. “I wasn’t saying that.”
“Yeah?” I try to push the anger rising in my throat out, but it comes out softer than I expected. “Well, that’s what it sounded like.”
“Fine,” his voice comes out strangled as he pushes me aside, letting out a solid hit on the punching bag. “But at least listen to me, okay? It’s like you’re not even fucking hearing what I’m saying.”
I don’t let him take another hit out on my bag. He doesn’t even deserve that release. “I’m listening.”
After I stare him down, he finally trusts me. “Nico’s great to you, and you’re amazing to him.”
“We’re both amazing to each other.”
“Shut the hell up!” He bangs his fist, growling. “Let me finish.”
“Okay,” I mumble, slumping onto the bed. “Then tell me more. I promise I won’t try to interrupt.”
He rolls his eyes but continues anyway. “You love each other, and hell! I actually used to like seeing you two together!”
“Then why all this?” I spread my arms out, shivering a little. “Why were you so mad about everything?”
“When we picked up his journal,” Bakugo recalls. “No one told you you had to go and comfort him. You didn’t need to take that extra step.”
“But I had to!” I call out, standing up abruptly. “I interrogated him the week before, and he was so hurt! I had to help!”
“You idiot. That’s not what I’m trying to say.”
“Then tell me,” I plead. “I’ll understand.”
He pauses before snarling. “It’ll just sound stupid.”
“There’s nothing you can say that’ll sound stupid.”
When we both notice the tone in my voice, I correct myself. “Uh… just because we’re not dating doesn’t mean… um…”
“I get it,” he cuts me off. “You’re still the same amazing guy from before. And I’m still the bastard.”
“Hey!” I try to comfort him, but he just pushes me away again. What is it with all these boys and pushing me away? “Don’t say stuff like that! You’re the manliest, Bakugo!”
“Shut the fuck up,” his voice is violent, but the tears at the corners of his eyes betray everything. “Do you want me to tell your not!”
“Tell me!”
“I wanted to do the same thing,” Bakugo rushes to finish the sentence, suddenly full of energy. “I was going to do that for him too.”
“But-”
“But nothing!” His fist connects with the punching bag again. Is he imaging the fabric as me?
I hope not!
“Did it ever occur to you that I wanted to be the hero for once?” Bakugo lets out a primal scream, knocking the speed bag to the ground after a flurry of rifle-like hits.
“It wasn’t like that for me,” I try to say. “Nico was this guy that I liked, and he was hurt.”
“Oh,” he snorts. “Great. So it wasn’t even about protecting him.”
“That’s not what I’m saying! It just wasn’t all hero work for me. It was personal. No one should have to deal with something like that.”
“Same here,” he bellows. He doesn’t have to yell everything! Why doesn’t Bakugo ever calm down? Was he like this with me? “Kiri, didn’t you think there might be someone else who felt the same way he did?”
“Bakugo… I-”
“Don’t give me any fake sympathy,” the blonde snaps. “Because I don’t fucking need it. You wanna feel bad for me? Join goddamn Deku then. But none of my friends would ever worry about me like that.”
“But that’s what friends do!”
“No,” his face is inches away from mine, hot breath lining the etches of my cheekbones. “It’s what you do, Kirishima. And it’s not what I deserve.”
“You deserve the world,” I remind him quickly. “You deserve so many good things.”
“I didn’t mean that in a self depreciating way, god damn it!”
“Then what are you talking about?”
“I mean that you view me as less. You’re underestimating me.”
“Bakugo,” I let out a little, easygoing smile. “I’d never underestimate you. You’re insanely strong!”
“But you still see me as emotionally weak,” his voice is almost as harsh as his words as he moves to the bed, not sitting. “And I don’t want that. I don’t need it earlier.
“When we dated, it was because I liked how you comforted me, but you didn’t do it because you thought I was weak. You did it to lift me up.”
“And I didn’t want that to change,” I defend. “I still feel like I see you like that.”
“See,” he spits. “But that’s the whole thing. You can’t even see when you’re holding someone back. When you smother someone with love, they can’t go anywhere. And that’s exactly what you’re doing to Nico.”
“What?” I ask, feeling threatened. “And you could do better, right? Because you can always do everything better. Because that’s all you are!”
“That’s what I wanted,” he explains, completely immune to the acid in my voice. “I wanted to make everything better for him. Didn’t you ever fucking understand that?”
I stop, brushing back my red hair. “What are you saying?”
“I liked him, dumbass,” he blows his bangs in sync with me, ignoring the similarities. "I liked him, and then you took him."
"I didn't take him. You told me to call the headmaster, and I went to go do it. You're the reason we're even here, you know."
"Could you shut the fuck up?" Bakugo asked, gnashing his teeth. "I really don't care if that's what happened. Because you took it a step further."
"Oh," I keep my voice even, but there's that little anger at the back of my head, just like the one Nico talked about. "Don't you go there, Bakugo. You weren't helping him, and I did. So that's all there is. If you wanted him, then you should have done something."
"You were already all over him," he accuses. "There wasn't anything I could do at that point."
"You know what?" I pick up my bag, making sure that I don't look him in the eye. He doesn't even deserve that! "Maybe you're right. But it doesn't make the way you treated him and I at the restaurant any better."
"I said I was sorry," his voice cracks at the end, splitting my heart in two. 
"And I forgive you," the words spill out quicker than I expected. "But it doesn't change the fact that it happened.
"Bakugo," I lean in for a hug, but he pushes me away, almost like a cat. "I'm sorry you didn't get to tell me you liked him, and I'm sorry that I'm dating him now. But think about everything else you have!"
He arches his eyebrow. "What the hell are you saying?"
"I've sacrificed so much for you," the words come out slowly, but I squeeze them out anyway. It doesn't even matter if it's painful. 
I just need my buddy back.
"Yeah?" He crosses his arms. "So what?"
"I missed out on so much. I barely even thought about myself the entire time we were together. But with Nico... It's like I finally get to be me. And it's weird, because how can you be nostalgic for something you didn't know?
"I'm happier now, Bakugo. And I want you to be too."
"Damn it," he shakes his head, rearing back for a howl. "Of course I'm happier!"
I can't help but smile at him. "If you say so. Just don't try to come between two people so they feel worse than you again."
His neck twitches. "How did you know-"
"Uh..." I put my hand to my neck awkwardly. Didn't think I'd get this far! "Lucky guess?"
"Well," he snorts. "I was. And I'm sorry for being such a dick."
"Don't worry!" I slap his back, laughing. "It wouldn't have worked anyway!"
His glare creeps up my neck. "What the hell was that?"
"Um..." I struggle to find the words. "You're pretty persuasive! Just not enough to make Nico and I hate eachother."
"Right," he shrugs, not sounding entirely convinced. "Whatever."
I stand there, watching as he takes it in. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine, shitty hair," Bakugo grunts, moving to hug me again. "Do it."
"Do what?"
"Have fun on your date," he tells me, releasing me from his grip. 
Is he for real? "You mean it?"
"I might as well," Katsuki throws himself to the door, looking eager to leave. "No one bets on losing dogs."
I smile, showing him my teeth. "Right!
"See you later, Bakugo!" 
"Don't fuck it up."
That's probably all the affection I'm getting out of him, but it's fine!
I bound out of the room, jumping down the stairs two at a time before letting out a whoop. It doesn't matter if anyone's staring at me. They just get to see more of it all!
It's almost raining outside, that little splash of water before the storm. Yet in the distance, the sun's showing clear skies, dripping down into the horizon.
It's a beautiful day to fall in love!
My feet carry me past the flickering cherry blossoms. I reach out, catching a stray petal and it flutters into my hand, soft and still.
"Nico!" I shout, exploding into a smile as I catch his thin silhouette against the light of UA's main building.
He looks up, flipping up his newly dyed purple hair. 
Lavender locks. It's almost too cute.
"Kiri!" His voice squeezes at my heart as he runs at me, much faster than I could ever go.
His body catapults into me, almost throwing me to the ground. But, an object in motion...
"Sorry," he smiles, staring down at me as I lose my balance and crash against the ground.
Stays in motion.
"I missed you," I hum, tapping his nose as he heaves me up.
"It was only a three hour detention," he defends, crossing his arms swiftly. "But the weeks are up! I'm you're slave now, Sharky."
Heat rises in my face, flushing out my already darkened skin. "I-um..."
He laughs a little, pushing me playfully. "Didn't think you'd be that distraught over it. Something wrong?"
"Distraught," I push away my nerves. "You're learning more words, huh?"
"Actually," he rolls his eyes. "It's for tomorrow's test."
"Crap!"
"Figured you'd forget," he smiles softly. "So I wrote a study guide."
"You're a lifesaver," I snatch the paper from him.
"No," Nico kisses me softly, soft and sweet. "I'm a good boyfriend. Like you."
"You're better than a good boyfriend," I remind him. "And you put up with me."
"More like the other way around," he takes hold of my hand, wiping off the nervous look on his face. "So... are you ready for what's probably the most well orchestrated date you've ever been on?"
"I've been waiting for weeks now," I grin widely, skipping across the path. "What made you think I wasn't gonna enjoy it?"
"Sorry that we couldn't hang out more," he apologizes, burying his face into my sweatshirt. "Wait, is this the sweatshirt you wore on our first date?"
"If by first date," I reason. "You mean interrogation."
"Yeah... sorry I made you do that."
"Made you meet me? Best decision of your-I mean my life. And you're always gonna be my little delinquet, Nico. Just got out of detention, and I'm betting you already want to do something not so legal."
"Not a hero," Nico swings his arm around, picking up a pink petal. "But you don't have to act like I'm a badass either. I'm not."
"You're plenty badass!" I tease, pulling at his hair. It's cut shorter already, barely even touching the nape of his neck. "You cut and dyed your hair sporadically! That's gotta count for something!"
He cringes away a little. "You've been using a lot of exclamation points, Ei."
"Just to balance you out, baby," I murmur, smiling as he lights up like a Christmas tree. "Hey, what's that face for?"
"So first I'm too bold," his voice breaks at the end, hovering a little over a breakdown. "But then I'm not bold enough?"
Oh, Nico.
"You're just right," I insist, gripping his hands tight. "So don't mess with it too much, Nico."
"I guess you're right," he brushes a hand through his hair, but I can tell he's still conflicted. Everything is apparent in his voice. He might be a great liar to everyone else, but he's not getting through this man.
Full disclosure? Nico creates problems when he doesn't need to. It's like he's this gardener, except it's with magic instead of water... If that makes sense.
"Kiri," he shoves me softly. "You're not paying attention."
"Crap," I swing his arm in affirmation. "You got me. Sorry!"
Guess he's better at thinking than I am, even if it keeps falling into overthinking.
But that's the whole problem! What can I do to keep him in the present?
A punch comes at my back, most likely from Nico.
"Since you're not paying attention," he crosses his arms, pulling on yellow sun and moon-shaped sunglasses. "Guess it's gonna be a surprise."
"Cool!" I press my fists into their trademark position. "Uh... That's my plan?"
"Sure," that gets a smile out of Nico. "But don't complain if you don't like it."
"What's not to like?" I ask. "I'm sure you chose some place great! Plus, I get to pick next, remember?
"I don't want this night to end quickly," I whisper into his neck, breathing in his vanilla scent. "So let's have fun with it!"
"Right," he recovers from his initial fluster, pulling out a phone. "It's a bit far, so we're gonna get a driver. That okay?"
To be honest, I'd rather run there. His stamina's great, and I know I can keep up. And while I might be the one who talks to people more, he's the one better at showing off to other people.
If only everything was so perfect, right?
He climbs into a stranger's car, piling near the side door. "C'mon," he beckons, grabbing my arm.
"Of course!" I jump in beside my boyfriend, ignoring the hateful stares coming from the front.
"I'll get you there quickly," his eyes don't even fall on us for a moment. "I don't turn on the radio either."
"That's fine!" I push Nico into the corner before he starts shouting. His temper's getting better, but there's still a long way to go.
"Here," I pop my earbuds into his ear. "We can share!"
"I'll waste all your skips," he threatens, even though he's repeated the same line at least a thousand times.
His leg falls onto mine as the driver speeds off, all piled up. I respond by letting my body weight fall, plopping into his shoulder.
"You're a little too heavy for that," he shifts to my right, copying the movement on my shoulder. "You're fine if I rest on your shoulder."
"Of course," I murmur, smiling. "You're comfy anyway. I love your sweater."
His head keels down, eyeing the purple sweater, loose over a semiformal white button-up. "I'll dress up for you anyday, Kiri."
"You don't need to dress up," I remind him, adjusting his crooked collar. "You already act so formal. Why not let it go a little?"
Nick snorts. "You think I act formal?"
"Okay, well now you're just doing the opposite on purpose!"
"I dress up to feel confident. Not just for you."
"Oh."
"Don't think you're all that important to me, Ei; I'm a selfish bastard."
"You're the most self sacrificing person I know. You're gonna have to try a little harder than that to convince me."
"Oh really?"
"Yeah," I caress his cheek in my hand. "Because I know you'll do all the work of leaning in for me if I-"
"Excuse me," the driver clears his throat. I stare into his eyes, trying to make sure he knows who I am. Nico does the same, but I have to hold back a laugh.
He doesn't even realize how adorable he looks when he tries to be menacing!
"I don't need any public display of affection in my car," his voice is entirely flat as he continues driving. I hate how he says it the full way through; Public Displays of Affection. As if that's a crime.
"Guess you'll have to prove it to me afterward."
I turn to face Nico. His face isn't showing any signs of anger, but there's a remarkable tremble in his voice.
I drop to a whisper. "Do you think he's like..."
"Homophobic? Um..."
"Because he seemed a bit off."
"Thought I was supposed to be the over thinking one."
"Do you think he hates us?"
"Him? No. Why does it matter?"
I pause. Does it matter? "You're right."
"Already knew that, Kiri."
I smile back at him. "You're just trying find excuses to use nicknames as much as possible."
"I like the way they feel on my tongue."
"That's your stop," the driver slams on the brake, throwing us up. "Have a nice night, boys."
I look back at his genuine smile, brightening up. "Thanks, sir!"
Nico rushes out faster than me, eyeing the city. "Told you he wasn't that bad."
"You got me there," I relinquish, trying to guess his destination. "So, where to? I'm sure you're waiting to pile food on, but you could definitely still use some snacks, Nico."
"Stop it," his face gets run through with streaks of red. "It's not that bad."
"I've seen all of you," I confirm. "And I can tell that you need to eat some more."
"Didn't need to word it like that," he mumbles, clapping his hands together. "But you're right anyway! How does a little bit of ramen sound?"
My eyes cross. "You hate ramen."
"I hate how oily it is," he brings his hands out, resting against me as we walk down the street. There's no rain at all around us, but the clouds hover like stragglers, watching us eagerly.
I'd like to see how we look too.
"And," Nico presses his hands out in a 'Tada!' pose. "Here it is!"
"Hey!" I bark, grinning as he leads me into the yellow-tinted, retro shop. "It's where we met."
"Well," Nico shrugs. "Close enough. Do you wanna sit where we sat last time?"
"I'd rather be closer to the window," I offer, placing my hands across my neck. Bad habit! "We don't have to hide anymore."
"Were you ashamed of me before?" He asks, ordering for us. I'm sure he already knows what we're both getting, and I trust him. I'm still used to spicy after Bakugo.
Wait- is that part of my type?
"I can't really say for sure," my hands fall to my sides. I need to stop fidgeting! "But you were sorta cute, if not scary."
"Nah," he denies it, much more casual and happier than he was the last time we sat across from each other. "I was vicious. No cuteness. Did you know you loved me instantly?"
My mind wanders to Bakugo against my will. He said he liked Nico before me but is it true? "You were a little brat," I giggle, pushing away the anxiety. "But I there was something. We're soulmates, Nico."
"Bullshit," he twists a chopstick around his fingers. "Those don't exist."
"Try thinking about it! Wouldn't it be cool if soulmates did exist?"
"I'd love it. But honestly? Think of bisexuals. If I can have just one person I need to date, then why do I even bother being bi?"
"Would you rather I be a girl?"
"No," he cuddles around my hoodie, flicking his hair onto my chest. "You're a good man, Ei."
"Okay," I compensate. "Then I'll change the rule for you. Soulmates exist, but you have more than one."
"Doesn't that defeat the purpose?"
"Listen here," I put on a fit of fake anger, but he sees right through it instantly. "You're just gonna have to accept it and be happy. We can all have a cluster of people made for us."
"And the others are just practice?" I ask. "Well, then I hope you're one of mine. Because I don't want to let you go."
Adorable! I can actually feel my heart racing against my chest!
It's everything love should be.
"Order 777!" A woman's husky voice rings out from the counter.
"That's us!" I jump up eagerly, throwing my body to the counter. "Thanks, ma'am!"
I just love it when someone smiles back at me. Nico greets me with a similar smile, handing me a pair of chopsticks as well. "I got the one with hot sauce and veggies this time. Looks good."
I shrug, biting into a piece of mixed-in steak. "Better than before, at least. We get to enjoy ourselves this time!"
"You seem happy about that," he notices, stabbing absentmindedly at his food.
"Don't think I don't see you," I warn. "Aren't you hungry?"
"Of course," he mumbles in between bites. "But my appetite always seems so much smaller. It's hard for me to eat a ton by myself."
"Well then," I feel a salacious (Thanks, Nico) smile creep up my lips. "I might be able to help with that."
My hands reach up to my chopsticks, grabbing a few pieces of steak and noodles. "Open wide!"
"What?" His mouth falls open, and the sticks rush in. "Hey!" 
"Sorry," I say, barely meaning it. "But you need your protein!"
"I'm not a jock like you," he whines, melting my heart. "And you can't just treat me like a lost puppy!"
"Really?" I raise my eyebrow, glancing beneath the table. "Because you're enjoying it a lot more than you say."
I have to laugh at his reaction. Did he not even notice? "Just... Shut up, Kiri."
I let out another little giggle, pushing the meat to his lips. "C'mon! You need the extra protein again!"
"What if I'm a spontaneous vegetarian?" He feigns illness. "You could be killing me."
"I'm making you a protein shake for breakfast tomorrow," I threaten, feeding him another portion of the ramen. 
"Do you still have some of those wipey things?" He asks, motioning toward my bag. "I don't wanna be all oily after this."
"You and your obsession with looking good," I scoff, secretly loving the way he looks at with so much dependence. "I'm always prepared though, aren't I?"
"Hardly," he accepts another bite from me, placing his thin lips onto the sticks for a moment too long. Is he trying to be seductive, or is it just habit?
"Give me another bite," he whispers. When I lean into his neck, he stares back at me, confused.
"Not like that," he chides. "Another bite of the ramen."
"Oh," I mouth, laughing at my mistake. "Sorry. You're really getting into this, huh?"
"Just give me more," he says in between bites. "You're surprisingly good at this sort of thing."
"I just want my boyfriend to be healthy!" I pump my fists together, scraping the last of the bowl out. "You're all done!"
"Ugh," he rubs his stomach absentmindedly, checking his phone. 
"No one's gonna text you," I remind him, pushing the phone down. "And you're taking away all the fun, man!"
"Ugh," he groans. "Hurts."
"That's barely anything!" I poke his belly softly, smiling when his eyes perk up. "If that made you full, then you're in for a great night!"
"Please tell me you'll feed me more," he whines. "I need it."
"Hell yeah!" 
"Rub, please. I'm gonna get fat because of you, dumbass."
"It's not even really showing!" I bark, complying anyway. Sure enough, I can only feel a tiny little bump in his stomach. It's not like he really had abs anyway.
"So warm," he mumbles. A little bit of drool falls from his mouth as I continue to rub his belly. 
"It's not even lasting fat," I tease. "Is this the first time you've done something like this?"
He whips up from his chair, startling me. "Of course!"
"Well," I eye his sides, where a little bit of the extra chub still sticks. "You gotta live more, then! We both worked hard to get into UA, and we deserve mental health days!"
"If you say so," he gets up, staring down at his midsection. Of course, it barely even jiggles. There's no way it's even close to enough excess wait for that. But it's still adorable.
"Huh," he realizes, letting out a soft burp into my shoulder as he leans into me. "You were right; it really isn't that much."
"We could try for more," I offer. "Uh- only if you want!"
He stares at me as if I'm silly. Which is pretty true. "I'm supposed to be sharp. Not soft."
"I could help you if you wanted to recover," I offer. Now that the image is in my mind, it's hard to let go. "And we wouldn't get too far, I don't think."
"Whatever," he grumbles. I can tell from the little shine in his eyes that Nico feels a lot less apathetic about the whole thing than he's letting on. 
"Aw," I punch his arm playfully. "You're just being a big tsundere!"
His eyes widen. "I am?"
Damn. Keep forgetting he's not from here. "Oh, not really though. You're a hopeless romantic."
"Speaking of that," he intersects, holding the door open to me. Just like a true gentleman! "Where are we going for the next chapter of our, Kiri?"
"I've got just the place in mind," I promise him, looking up the place in just a moment. "Lets run there, since you're still obviously obsessed with that little tummy."
"Hey!" He protests. "You're more into it than I am!"
"Oh," I roll my eyes, smiling down at him as he catches up to me in a moment. "Obviously."
Nice just pushed harder, clearly still affected from before. "Hey," I jog by him, breathing in and out slowly. "You don't have to sprint!"
His eyes narrow. "I'm not?"
"You've been getting faster then!" I tease. "Great job!"
"We're training to be different types of heroes," he reminds me. "So of course I'm faster, right?"
"Sure," I snort. "But don't go thinking you're tougher than me!"
"Oh," he wags an eyebrow, smiling broadly. "But I've already seen your stamina, Ei."
"Okay," I nod. "Okay. But does that really matter when you're saving people?"
"It convinced me to join your side," he mumbles.
"No!" I laugh, hitting him softly. "Oh my god, you did not just say that!"
"It's true."
"Well," I giggle. "It's not happening again. You were the exception, Nico."
"Glad to be the only one," he smiles back at me, ducking under a store's sign.
"Woah," his eyes widen as I grip the back of his collar, hugging him close to me. Luckily, his instincts kick in, forcing his legs to keep running. "Let's not hit signs this late in the afternoon."
Nico's eyes waver at the horizon, where a pale blue sheen still glows from the edge of the city's buildings. "Are you just going to keep throwing me around?"
"It's pretty easy to!"
After a quick session of hateful glowering, my boyfriend just shrugs it off. "Are we almost there yet?"
"You sound like a little kid!"
"Okay," he stresses. "Daddy."
My face becomes an inferno. "I wouldn't try that."
"Why not?" His teeth move up to my neck as I slow down, but I'm not feeling up to it right now. "Don't you wanna be my daddy, sharky?"
"Don't," I warn him. "Fucking stop."
In a single moment, Nico's entire face falls. "Sorry."
"I'm just still not comfortable with that," I amend, hand reaching for the back of my neck. "You know?"
"Is that what Katsuki called you?"
I blink, surprised that he's even able to call Bakugo by his first name. Guess the cultural differences still win out. "Not really? We didn't have that type of relationship."
"He made it sound pretty sexual."
I back off a little, mumbling over the drone of the cars. "It was. But you know... It's not like we had that type of relationship anyway."
"Oh?"
"I'm much more comfortable when I'm with a guy like you," I hug him, smiling as his arms reach around mine too. "Plus, you're mad cute."
"Stop it," he blushes, turning away from me. "This still doesn't tell me why you got so mad at me."
"Damn," I grunt. "You're still on that?"
"You were the one who was angry!"
I laugh it off, jumping back into our run. I just hope the stores don't close early today, especially since we've probably added so much time onto Nico's plan. "We don't have to stay mad at everything forever, right? What would that solve?"
He stares at me, confused. "But you shouldn't just let people walk all over you."
"That's right!" I exclaim. "You absolutely shouldn't! But if we don't let some things go, all we get is angry. And honestly? I'd rather we just skip to the making up part."
"But-"
"Or," I add, seeing that he's not entirely convinced. "The making out part."
My lips touch his cheek softly, filling us both with an electric rush. "The reason why I flipped out was because I haven't exactly had the best relationship with my dad."
"You didn't freak out," he correct. "That's overdoing it. And shit... You told me about that before, right?"
"Yeah," I shrug, not allowing the bad memories to overtake me. "But I never expected you to remember it."
He takes my hands in this. "Tell me how I can change that."
I have to bite back another laugh. It's always so adorable how romantic and adamant he can be. "It's not you, it's-"
"Don't," Nico warns. "I never even want to hear you finish that sentence."
"Woah! Chill out, bro!"
"Don't bro me," he whines. 
"Chill out, babe!"
"Better. Do you want to talk about your dad?"
"What is there to say?" I shrug. "Shitty guy who raised a great man. I wouldn't be who I am today without him, but that doesn't justify the way he treated my sisters and I."
"Did he hit you?"
I look at him with shock. "No!"
"Sorry! I just kinda guessed that because you seemed so pissed."
"I shouldn't have lashed out," I apologize. "It's just that like... Woulda been cool if he even acknowledged me enough to hit me."
"Kiri..."
"It's cool. He never even hurt my mom either. He was a true man, and I want to be an even better one."
"That's beautiful," he whispers. "But I think you've already done it."
"Respect," I hum, remembering how my dad would say the same thing. "But there's so much more I want to do!
"Let's get our dreams together, Nico!"
I grab hold of his hand, giggling as catches up to me, matching my stride perfectly.
"Shit!" I laugh. "The shop was back there!"
"Ei," Nico punches me in the arms. "Not funny, dumbass."
I hold the door open for him, smiling as an elderly couple nods their head in thanks. 
"Tea?" Nico props his head in my arms as I cross them on a thin metal table, reading the menu. "I didn't think you were the type."
"I'm always up for tea!" I shout, ignoring the dirty looks from some of the less belligerent customers (ha! Told Bakugo I could use it!). "Can't believe you thought I wouldn't like it."
"You seem too tough for it," he amends. "Anything in particular?"
"Nobody's too tough for tea!" I slam my fist down, causing some school-aged girl to sneer down at me from her laptop. "Uh, sorry."
"No," Nico smiles warmly, dropping a ton of sugar packets onto the table. "It's cool. I like my men passionate."
"I mean, doesn't that make everybody interesting?" I let out a laugh, looking back at the menu. "Damn, you're really rubbing off on me!"
"What does that mean?"
"It means that I didn't usually have these types of conversations," I explain. "You know, philosophical ones!"
"I hate philosophy," my boyfriend gags, twisting a little purple hair around his finger. His other finger's now preoccupied with the sugar, creating a little fortress. "It's just stupid."
"Well," I hope he's not growing tired of my laugh yet! "You're really good at it!"
"If you say so. But what tea are we getting?"
"Ooh," I bounce back into reality. "Forgot about that!"
"Yeah," he lets out a little snort that sounds a lot cuter than he's trying for. "Couldn't even tell."
"I want you to try boba!" I exclaim, showing him the side of the chalkboard, wincing at the prices. Hero work might pay well, but I'm still just an intern! "It's super cool and-"
“I know what it is,” he tells me before I start ranting for the next hour. I bet if no one told me to stop, I’d probably just keep talking forever. “But, you’re right; I’ve never had it.”
“Well,” I hang my arm across his arm, grinning at the red-haired girl behind the counter. Guess that means we’re twins! “There’s no better day to start! What are you thinking?”
“I’ll match you,” he says meekly. “I don’t really know what I’m doing here.”
The woman doesn’t even tell us to hurry up. She just hands my boyfriend a menu with a soft smile, watching as I lean over his shoulder. 
“I like rose tea,” he decides. “And I’ll just do whatever fruit you want.”
“Milk tea,” I drop a couple extra dollars on the counter just for her gratitude toward us. “And strawberry bubbles.”
“Oh!” He exclaims. “Uh, is that because the nickname I called you once?”
“Strawberry Shark?” I ask. “Not really! But it’s a cute name anyway.”
“Then what’s with the strawberry?” He asks. “I would have pegged you as someone who loved their orange.”
I fake a gag. “You really haven’t head boba tea before, have you? Why would you even choose orange and milk tea?”
“I’m still new to this whole culture,” he wraps his arms around his body, soft sweater still caressed against his small chest. “Remember?”
“Right,” I nod quickly. I like to think that Nico’s love is like a game. You have to just keep working at it and gain points from your affection, and then you get all the rewards! It’s really tough at the beginning, but even a solid effort breaks through to that romantic heart of his. “Sorry for bashing you so hard.”
“It’s fine,” he narrows his eyes with a smile. “You’d be lost with American culture too."
"Hey!" I protest, watching as our drink gets prepared. They're getting even faster at making them, at least! "I could be a cowboy!"
"That's not even close," he sighs, burying his face in his arms.
"What's wrong?"
"Just a little tired."
"Well," I smile back at him, lifting his chin up from the counter. "I could ask for some caffiene to be added into this too."
"Please," his voice comes out in a monotone, but I can tell he's beyond grateful that I remembered to add it in. The woman just nods, taking my extra tip in stride. "If I keep working this hard all day, I'm just gonna get burned out, huh?"
If dating Nico's like a game, being him has got to be a fire. He's always burning pretty brightly nowadays, but it can only keep going for so long. No wonder I keep finding empty coffee cups at the edge of his dorm's floor.
"It's no vanilla latte or pumpkin spice," I thank our server as she lays down the tea. "But you'll like it, even if it's cold!"
"You realize I usually get iced coffee anyway," he mumbles, taking out a straw. 
"Really?" I guess you do learn something new every day! "I always see you get hot stuff."
"Bean juice works best when boiling my insides," Nico nods. "But when I have it for fun, I usually have chilled. Lots of honey."
"Honey? Okay, I don't know how they make it over there, but you've gotta be kidding me!"
"Nope!" his exuberance comes back, all at once. I guess serotonin does it for him too. "Just me. I'm weird."
"You're interesting," I amend. "And I like that."
"How do you..." Nico's voice wavers as he plunges the paper straw into the top of the plastic seal, exclaiming as a little bit of the red liquid splashes up. "Oh!"
"At least we know you're getting stronger!" I laugh, mimicking the motion. He curses at the stain now on his sweater, but I think he gets that it's all in good fun.
"Here," I reach for a few napkins, making sure not to blotch the front of the shirt. I've been with him long enough to know he hates that! "All better!"
"Thanks," he smiles wryly, taking a sip of the tea. "Wait, shit- I take it back. This is actually really fucking good!"
"You haven't even had the bubbles yet!" I notice in between sips of my own tea. I savor the sweet, cool rush running down my throat. There are only so many days when I can let myself really feel like this, and I'm glad I get to share it with him. "Nico, do you seriously never have tea?"
"I mean," he shrugs nonchalantly. "I've had tea before. They just make it really sweet here!"
"It's called sugar," I laugh, passing him a packet. "Here. You said you like sweet stuff, right?"
"I'm fine with sour too," he makes a face. "What is it?"
"Honey," I nod. "Because now I know you like it in your drinks!"
He snatches it quickly, pouring the sticky substance into the tea. "You probably think this is gross."
I pull the straw from his hand, tasting a bit of it. "A bit too sweet for me, but it's actually pretty good!"
"Huh," he places his lips on my straw tentatively, sucking up a bubble with unnecessary force. "You're is actyally really good. I didn't think you were this bitter though."
"Guess it's just the opposites of our insides!" I joke. Nico punches me playfully, pushing the door open for me. 
"Complimentary," he fixes my words. "And now that I'm finally tasting heaven, I think we should stay away from food for a little while on our trip. Plus, I already know where we're going. After that, it's your turn, and then we end."
"Aw," I sigh, checking my watch. "But it's only been an hour!"
He snorts. "An hour, and we're only halfway through with the quicker half. How long are your dates usually?"
"Less than this one," I guess. "But I want to be with you even longer!"
"I'll tell you what," he strikes a deal with me as he sorts through the change in his wallet. "I'll let you stay in my dorm tonight. Nothing... sexy. Just sleep. Mr Aizawa hasn't let us had nights like that in a long time."
"And you still haven't learned your lesson!" I tease. "I mean, isn't that why you got detention?"
"We're not doing anything bad!" He defends, hands wrapped tightly around his chest. "Just let me-"
"Dude," I laugh. "I'm fine with it! Sounds like fun anyways."
"I have the tracking thingy on," Nico states.
"The gps?"
He takes a step back, blinking. "Yeah. Just forgot what it was called. We'll be taking the train for this one, because there's no way I'm walking the distance."
"But you love running!" I protest.
"Not for 40 miles," he leans back into me, breathing in the cold air.
"You're going far," I notice. "Anywhere in particular?" 
"Of course," his teeth chatter as a fool breeze moves through. "What's the deal with the cold?"
"I don't know," something pricks up in my instincts, but I can't even tell what to do or where to go. It's like a mental block breaking against my skull. 
"Nico," something's coming down the alley like a freight train. "Jump."
"What?" He asks, entirely bewildered. It's all fight or flight, and he can't even process which one to use. "Kiri, my drin-"
"Move!" My voice rockets from the bellowing echoes at the end of the street. "Now!"
He follows orders quickly, diving with me out of the way. A stream of ice shoots out from the alley, hitting the exact place where we stood.
"I'll help," Nico offers, flexing and clenching his fists. "Just tell me where to go."
"Not now!" I growl, throwing the drink to the side. It fucking sucks that I couldn't finish it with my boyfriend, but this is all I can do to help the other people on the streets.
"You don't have a hero license," I shout back at him, hacking through the ice with just my bare arms. "And you can't risk that!"
"I'm not just standing here though!"
Damn Nico. Never knows when to take a break. "Get everyone out of the scene then!"
He nods solemnly, pushing the bystanders back. I'm afraid that he's going to use his quirk on them, but I don't have time to overthink. It's taking everything I have just to keep this wall of ice from moving.
"I know you're here somewhere!" I cry out. Can't they fight like a man and face me head-on? "So show yourself!"
I'm not expecting anyone to come out and fight fairly, so I smash the wall down, looking both ways before tearing through the freezing mess.
A hooded girl stares back at me, small crystals falling from his wrist. "Found you," 
The criminal just moves back to her vantage point, and I have to bite back a comment about being unmanly. I might be the hero here, but I’ve seen how skeptics can twist the story. I’d rather keep my name out of those lights!
“Just let go,” she whines, her voice soft and wispy. My hand falls, still hardened to a thick point. 
“Are you being held captive?” I flip the hood off the girl, gasping at her icy blue eyes. Still, it’s her pale, broken hand that’s drawing my gaze more. “What’s wrong?”
“She told me to kill you,” the girl flicks her ghostlike blonde hair back into its ponytail. “And I won’t fail again.”
My vision goes black, taken over by a freezing pain. Even though I can tell it’s not going to kill me, it still fucking hurts! “What was that for?”
“I can heal it,” she pushes her hand back against my chest, lips pressed against my neck. My mind goes blank, taken over only by her soft voice. “If you want… we could be together forever, Kiri.”
She says my name like a storm. Like a curse.
“You’re trying to hurt the people I love!” My arms connect around her waist, quickly whipping her to the ground. Vicious red blood mars her lips as they let out a gasp of air, eyes filled with fear.
She’s still breathing, but that might be the worst of it.
“That’s quite enough,” a distinct snap of gloved fingers comes from further down the alley, echoed by claps. “Beautiful work, Stella.”
“There’s more of you?” My voice cracks, but it’s not like anyone’s around to hear it. If I show one sign of weakness, it’s just begging for the villains to go right ahead and beat me to death.
The blue-haired man from before comes back, accompanied by a woman with similar hair. I spit back on the floor. “You’re the pawn shop guy.”
“Sidney,” he corrects, tapping his cane on the ground. I could pass the two off as normal people dressed like weirdos under any case, but it’s the pure malevolence in his eyes that scares the shit out of me.
The woman stares at the girl, and it’s only now that I realize just how similar they’re all dressed. Blue hair and blue eyes, black coats and dresses, something almost designer. Little buttons of stars sit at the collar, edging on making the duo look monstrously rich.
“I don’t suppose we’ve met,” she purses her black lips. “Mirabella.”
“Who?”
Nico rests his arm on my shoulder, nails sharpened to points. I wince at the little stains of red dripping down onto my sweatshirt. It's not even the fact that he’s ruining my sweatshirt. It's already past that point!
“I thought you didn’t have your hero license?” Sidney adjusts his low-brimmed hat, the smile on his face placid.
“I also didn’t have a fuck to give,” Nico stared back at me. On one hand, I’m beyond happy that he’s talking with so much gumption. On the other hand…what the fuck is he doing?
Oh yeah. Everything’s coming up Eijiro.
“Nico,” I warn. “You really shouldn’t be here.”
“Is that your daughter?” He asks, ignoring me. The girl’s eyes hover on mine, but I purposely look away from them. I don’t even know what to feel.
So I’m just going to act.
I throw myself at the man, hands hardened and heavy. Sure enough, the punch lands on his jaw, catapulting him back.
“You’re quite brutish,” he notices with a sickly laugh. It’s followed by a cough, blood dripping from his throat.
“Disgusting,” Mirabella presses her hand to her chest. “You were supposed to go quietly.”
“That’s not how a man fights!” I bellow back at her. “You don’t just attack when we have our back turned!”
“I guess I’m no man,” she shrugs helplessly. When I raise my fist as a threat, the woman just sighs, dignified as ever.
What is it with villains and constantly patronizing me? Where are the chivalrous justice seekers?
I guess there’s only justice when there’s judgment.
Woah. That’s going too deep.
Mirabella smashes her heel into the girl's leg, causing her to erupt into a scream.
“Stop it!” I shout, pushing at her chest. “You’re too insane!”
“And you’re too loud,” she complains. “And I wouldn’t try that again.”
“Oh yeah?” I push back for a punch, ignoring Nico’s voice at the back of my head. If he chose to push my thoughts away, why can’t I? I’m not even going to focus on that non-man in the corner.
All I need is to taste her blood.
“This is what they do!” Nico reminds me. “These aren’t your thoughts!”
“Shut up!” I drop Nico onto the ground as soft as I can manage, but it’s still hard. His razor-sharp nails end up only an inch away from Stella’s eyes. “Just let me live for once, okay Nico?”
“Kiri…”
“No,” I scream, even though the words are like exploding stars against my skull. “Just stop holding me back, Nico! Leave me the fuck alone!”
There’s a world of hurt in his eyes, but Nico holds on anyway. “You didn’t let me leave before. And I’m not letting you make the same mistake.”
“Do it,” Sidney coughs. “Just let the boy hit his target. It’s all a loose cannon can do.”
“What did you just call me?” My fist meets his gut, causing the guy to double over. He just keeps laughing, just like before.
When do you get to that point in villainy when you don’t even think pain hurts anymore? 
“A loose cannon,” Mirabella smiles smugly, still twisting her heel into the daughter's leg. Pinpricks of blood squeeze out of the bruise, seeping down onto the ground.
We’re painting the whole town red.
“You fire powerfully, but you’re only going to ever hit the ones you love,” she continues. 
“No,” I strike her again, ripping open the flesh on her cheek. The laughter ends on her part, replaced with a horrified silence as she palms the gap, rage filling into her eyes. 
“You called me a boy,” I give the other side the same treatment, matching the swing. “Like I haven’t improved. Like it’s how I was back then.”
“You’re right,” she spits. “Because you are.”
So… there are times when you’re done with a mad tough rep, and then your eyes and mind play tricks on you, right? Like when the black dots form, and you can’t see anything clearly. But then there are the out-of-body experiences when you’re finally getting all that pain out, and your body doesn’t even let you catch up.
That’s what my entire world is now.
“It’s a simple quirk,” I can only hear and see vague glimpses of the conversations around me, like a broken Tv. Nico’s stabbing at the seer, but Sidney’s cane just blocks the blows.
Who are we even up against?
“Touch me twice, and your past is mine,” she explains. “And I’m sure a boy like you has some secrets to keep. There’s a reason you didn’t fall for Stella, even with Sidney’s persuasion. How could a man like you ever love someone like Nico? Like him?”
Her words become murky water, only pushing. I’m pushing and pushing, but that’s not getting me anywhere. 
Because I’m back where it started.
Almost as if it’s like a play, I’m on the edge of the stage, staring in.
Staring at a me with dark hair.
Hideous, disgusting, a fucking mess who didn’t deserve to live.
Because isn’t that what I thought of myself back then?
“My answer is still no,”
My father’s deep voice cuts like a knife, dropping my heart from my chest. When’s the last time I even heard those words, spoken so often that it was like a broken record?
“Dad,” I cringe at my own voice. The thing they don’t tell you about change and inner love is that you’re never going to be able to change who you were. The future’s all up to you, but the past is like a rock. 
Like me.
“I love him.”
“No you don’t!” He slams his fist down, face still concealed by the shadows of my old man’s office. Did he ever let any more light into the room? Even the plant in the corner droops down sadly, nodding its head in agreement to the constant denial.
“But dad-”
“Those are tears, Eijiro. What have I told you?”
“That I shouldn’t cry,” I- his voice breaks. How many tears did I hold in because of this man? How many thoughts were suppressed, how many loves were thrown away?
“You do not seriously believe you could ever love another man,” his shiny, balding head lowers as he sits down at his table, opening the work. Like I don’t matter.
“All I wanted was go to the dance with him!”
He slams his hand down, glaring at us. “You are not a damn homosexual, Eijiro!”
Like it’s a fact. Like it’s something I can even fight.
“There’s never been a Kirishima with any thoughts like that,” my father doesn’t look back up at either of us anymore. I only move around the stage, watching as little me closes his eyes, blinking back eyes.
His hand moves to his neck, just like my own tic. Only this time, I can see how defensive it looks. Almost abrasive. 
“Well,” his voice starts out quiet. “There’s going to be.”
“What?”
It’s not a question. I shouldn’t be falling for this. But the younger Eijiro moves anyway, throwing the papers off the desk. “What if I don’t want to live like everyone else?”
I’m brought back into the scene under that hateful glower my father gives me. My legs carry me around the room, but no one’s noticing me.
“You will do as I say,” he breathes in and out, slow and careful. “And it’s all you’ll get.”
“I’m going to be a hero.”
“No you’re not!” 
The slap isn’t even on my cheek, but I can feel it all the same.
Are the memories of his hate the fire I feel?
“Hey,” I surprise even myself as I speak. The other two stare at me in shock, but nothing even reflects in their eyes. 
Not even fear.
“Shut the fuck up!”
I twist around, watching the silhouette they’re looking at.
“Nico?”
He doesn’t even face me after staring at middle school me.
Would I do the same to him?
“He’s going to be the greatest fucking hero!” Nico gets in my father’s face, and the two barely even react. “SO DON’T SAY ANY OF THAT SHIT!”
I can’t even stop him before he takes the head from my father’s neck.
I’m already soaked in so much more blood than I ever would have expected from tonight, and I’m glad that nothing else is coming back. Only shards of cracked porcelain fall onto my hand, breaking the skin.
Why can even diamonds be soft?
Nico raps his knuckles against younger me, who’s turned into a statute. “I knew it. You’re all gems.”
I stare at him blankly as he rambles on. “But not the cutesy ones. The geodes. The ones stuck in those lackluster rocks. You know the type, right?”
“Where am I?”
It’s barely even a question. I already know what’s going on, but I just need to hear his voice again. 
I need to feel real again.
“Her quirk sends you back in time,” Nico explains. “Fortunately for us, the veil’s pretty weak when she’s unconscious.”
“What happened?”
“Sidney tried stabbing you. I stopped him. I think…”
“Nico…” I look down at his makeshift claws in horror. I knew there was something wrong with his eyes.
“I’ve created an end,” it’s only horror speaking. “There’s a little girl out there now, with no dad. There’s no way he survived that.”
“You don’t know that!”
“Kiri!” He hits me, almost raking the claws against my cheek. “I just killed someone! I’m not even a hero like any of you, okay? I’m a fucking villain, just like Sidney. And nothing can change that.”
“Don’t listen to any of that bullshit,” I order him, sending him into a tight grip. “Okay? Because the next time you open your mouth to say some shit like that, I’ll fucking knock you to the moon, okay?”
He stares at me. “You’re talking differently.”
“Rough memory,” I amend. “But I’m sure you saw it too.”
I can’t tell who’s mad at who, or if anyone’s really angry. Nico just looks devastated.
And this time, I don’t know how I’m going to fix him.
“I want to leave this place,” he tells me, tears rolling down his cheeks silently. There aren’t even any fighting sobs. Because when you really need to cry, it just happens.
There are wars we don’t have to win.
“I promise I’ll make it up to you,” I tell him. “We still have a whole date night!”
It hurts and aches to be happy at this moment, but it’s bringing Nico up.
“And I don’t want us to pretend this never happened, because it did. But Nico… the moment we start regretting our actions is the moment we start fucking up, and I don’t want that for you. You’re not a villain, and you know that!”
“I don’t know what I even need to believe though,” he reminds me. “Because even up until now, you’re the only person who’s ever told me I can be a hero.”
“Nico…”
“And you know?” His voice is distant again, rambling through words left unsaid, and I already know there’s nothing for me to do. When he gets into one of these episodes, I have to watch.
It’s all I can ever do. Just like then.
“I really wanted to be a hero, Kiri. I actually did. And I still do. But if I’m going to get constant reminders of how I’m going to fuck up, how is any of this worth it? What the hell can I even do?”
I try for a smile, but it’s all broken up, just like the porcelain statue of my father sitting in the darkness. “All it takes is one person to start a fire. And I think you’re creating a new future all on your own.”
“Maybe it’s not a future I want.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means that I’m tired of fighting an uphill battle to get anything done. To do anything. And it’s not even like back then, because I’m so much stronger. But watching you go through this… I don’t want to see anyone else be like this.”
“Be like what?”
“Helpless,” he spits at me. “Utterly helpless.”
“It’s the worst part of heroics,” I tell him. “I’m not even a seasoned hero, but do you know how many people I’ve had to leave behind?”
“None?”
I laugh a little, but he doesn’t pick it up. So much for a contagious laugh! “At least twenty. Twenty one, if we’re including that little girl.”
“Stella,” he reminds me. “And that’s who I’m scared about. I think… I’m sure that’s his daughter.”
“His daughter?”
“He’s planning on making her a god, or something,” Nico brushed his finger against the table, admiring the spotless exterior. “She had some disease because he abused her with quirk implants.”
“Not only is that illegal,” I point out. “But it’s impossible!”
“Don’t fucking tell me that now!” Nico screams. “Because it’s not like we can even do anything about it now. 
“He’s dead. He’s dead and that’s all there is.”
“Then you can relax.”
Nico shakes his head, but no words come out.
“Nico, you have me to protect you. And you’re safe now. The guy didn’t have any friends. Only people he influenced. No one’s coming after you.”
“Except for me,” his words feel like acid on my skin, but I hug him anyway, pushing the tears back.
Just like my father would have wanted.
“You are the best thing to ever happen to me,” I assure him. “You’re a hero in that way. You told me you were wondering why you’re even a hero? It’s because you get moments like this. Yeah, things suck right now. Like, a lot. But you aren’t a monster for killing him.”
“I know,” he chokes back a sob, fighting it all back. “I know that he was a horrible person.”
“Then don’t feel bad,” my face cracks a smile, and I’m trying my hardest to mirror the emotion back into my own mind. “You’re giving yourself your own answers. So don’t feel lost.”
“It’s all coming to me slowly,” he explains. “And I really just hope I can recover.”
“You’re making these problems yourself!” I don’t know when this turned into me comforting him instead of the other way around, but it’s easy to fall back into place. It’s an endless cycle of hurt and healing, but that’s what love is made of, right? “Just breathe in.”
He does as I say, breathing out on instinct. “Sorry for not waiting.”
“Well,” I laugh. “I wasn’t gonna tell you to breathe out.”
“What?”
It’s hard not to react to his strangled squawk. He shoots me a look, but I can see it in his eyes.
We’re going to get better.
“You did it all on your own. So nothing’s wrong with you physically! And your brain knew to catch up with your body! So that’s working too!”
“And this is important because…”
“You aren’t broken,” I tell him. “And yeah, I know those were easy things to do. But you did them so well!”
“Complimenting me on breathing?” Nico smirks. “Kiri, you’ve gotta work on this game a little bit more.”
“But it’s making you feel better, right?”
“So much,” he hugs me back. “And you know? I’d rather not stay in here either. I feel like it’s making me worse.”
“Can I have a few more minutes?” I ask. “I usually don’t let myself overthink, but I want to have some time to just…”
“I’ll take you back when you need it,” he smiles warmly, nails finally melting out of their claw-like form. How can I ever make him safe if he doesn’t let himself?
How can I even feel safe?
Nico moves up the side of the theatre, pushing back plush red chairs. Eventually, he sighs, leaving out the door to the right. 
“At least she didn’t die,” he notices. “Who knows what would’ve happened to us?”
“Yeah,” I mumble, not entirely convinced that I should stay much longer anymore. 
He’s already left.
“So,” I can’t help but talk to the blank statue of me. Already, I can see how he’s crumbling. His shoulder’s falling to dust, and I pick up the pieces of him.
“You’re gonna be fine, dude,” I mumble, slapping the dust back onto the chipped shoulder. How long has it been since I’ve even said that word? 
Nico tells me it hurts when I call him dude. Am I sacrificing everything for him? Is he doing the same?
The thoughts aren’t welcome, but it’s not like I’ve ever been good at pushing those things away. All I can do is push forward, and then hope that I get these things right. It’s the easiest way for a man like me, at least.
Even though it hurts like hell, I push myself to stare at my mirror image. Only this time, it’s not my mirror. I’m not one of those dudes who hate looking at their own reflection. I’m not a self-absorbed guy either. But I have to look away from that horrified expression on little Eijiro’s face.
“It’s awful,” I say. “What he did to you. To us. And maybe it messed us up. But I want to be better than that.
“I want to be a man, someone chivalrous. And yeah, I’ve said that a ton of times. I know. I’m like a broken record!”
No one laughs. There’s only the echo of my own halfhearted attempt at one. “But it’s because that’s all I want. I want so much, but it’s all tethered to that. Because who else could I be if not a man? Why do I even live?”
His hair is covering his eyes, a polar opposite of my own red mane. “I wish I knew how to break out of the walls I made before. You’re not loving for yourself. Only other people. And I don’t want that! You have to trust me and love for the things you live for! Don’t live for the ones you love. Love with the ones you live for. Because dude, you’ve got a ton of things coming for you. And maybe you just need that extra push. Or maybe it’s all going under.
“This is stupid. I really can’t talk to myself like this, right?”
Little me doesn’t say anything. How old was I when it all went down? 13?
It’s too young, whatever it is.
“Some day, you’re gonna meet a great guy. And he’s gonna help you through this darkness you’re in right now. And you know? You’re gonna guide him get through his blinding lights. Because you’re a hero, Eijiro.”
The words echo against the walls, settling into my skull. “Yeah!” 
“I’m gonna be a hero!”
I take the rock me’s hand, clasping my arm on his back. “And I don’t want you to give up.”
There aren't any words that I need to say to this man.
Damn! Wish I could yell out my feelings like that more. It's like... You're never gonna get anything out if you harbor all your negative thoughts inside you like a cage. Nah. That's making it all worse. It's when you push back against it and really learn how to live that makes it better.
I like that. Push back, but don't let it push you too.
I'm out of the mind's theater in an instant, sitting with my hand and knees scraping the ground.
"I was worried you weren't gonna come out," Nico whispers, tossing his purple hair away from his face.
I reach out to touch his hair, ignoring the confused look on his face. "Soft."
He scrunches up his nose. "You're such a weirdo."
"But I'm your weirdo!" I laugh, bringing him in for a hug. "And plus, we match."
"Stupid," he plays with my hair too, knotting it around his knuckles. "But at least you're fucking adorable and literally everything I'd want ever."
He leans in for a kiss, and I obey, pressing my chest to his slowly as his face grows red.
"Really?" He pants. "You want that much tongue?"
"Oh," now I'm turning away, hand on my shoulder. "Uh... Didn't do it on purpose."
"Sure."
"Nico!" I catch his shoulder. "I mean it. It was a mistake. Just spur of the moment stuff."
"Kiri," he laughs at me, moving back out into the street. The bottom of his shoes are covered in a thick sheet of icy sludge, only slightly run through with a dirty crimson.
Damn. Wish I could say the same thing about my shoes.
"Yeah?"
"I'm not mad at you," he shrugs, walking in line with me. The station's just up ahead, but I can already feel a few drops collecting on our shoulders. "I'm just surprised."
"You're surprised I wanted to go that far with a kiss?" The absurdity of it's actually kinda hilarious. "I mean, Nico! We've already-"
"Don't you ever have any shame?" he asks, shooting daggers at the other people getting on the train. "I mean, that's not something you just talk about in public!"
"Well," I bark, crossing my arms like him. "It's not like we're doing anything wrong! It's all just fun too!"
He shakes his head, beaming up at me. "Ei, are you ever gonna grow up?"
"I'm already a man!" I argue. "So... yeah!"
"I think I'd rather just be like a lost boy," Nico admits. "But older. Do you think the lost boys fucked?"
"Uh," I move onto the train with him, selecting our virtual tickets. My boyfriend does the same, settling into a wide seat at the back of the train. Our view's mostly eclipsed by the tunnel, but I'm sure he chose this seat specifically to see the city. "Isn't this part of the whole 'Don't talk about it' thing?"
"Yeah," he shrugs, drawing a smiley face across the fog on the window. "But you got to use one, so I get to to."
"You'd be a shitty ruler, Nico."
He just grins back at me. "Like you'd be better?"
"I'd help everyone out!"
"But leaders like that don't get anything done," he supposes. "But enough about politics. It's already fucking with us as it is. And I don't really want to know what's going to happen with that."
"But you're fine with talking about Peter Pan and whether-"
"Whether they had homosexual intercourse, yes," he finishes, rushing through the words. The train picks up speed, throwing him forward a little bit.
"I could be the Peter Pan to your Wendy," I offer. "It's fitting, at least."
"I just think that it sucks that we didn't get to grow up together," he leans by my sweatshirt, drawing more faces on the window. "And that's why I brought up the whole Lost Boy thing."
"Because you think you're a lost boy."
It isn't a question, and I get the silent treatment for it.
“I’ve been lost for so long,” Nico’s mouth is a thin line against his pale face. “And that’s basically it.”
“Didn’t you say that you used to be happy? What happened to the friends back home?”
“It doesn’t mean that I didn’t feel lost,” he splutters, throwing himself against the window. Even I have to admit the sight’s worth seeing; orange sky, grey clouds, and purple lights of the buildings. It’s actually haunting how I’ve walked these streets so much, but I’ve never even notice what happens when there isn’t any danger.
“Let me guess,” he shoves his hands onto my neck, pulling himself up. “You thought that I meant I was super popular and stuff, right?”
“I mean,” I place my hand across my neck again, pushing his hands away. “I wouldn’t have worded it like that.”
“But either way,” his eyes are defiant, pleading. “You still sorta felt like that, right?”
“Yeah.”
“And I don’t want you to think that,” he huffs. “I mean, I did. At first, I wanted you to think I was cool, or used to be."
"Cool's such an annoying word," I rant. "Kinda... What's the word? Subju..."
"Subjective," he finishes. "And yeah, it is. But it's normal, and that sucks."
"Fuck normal," I nod. Nico looks at me weirdly, but it's not like I can't say it. "Sorry."
"Why do you always think you have to hold your tongue with me?"
"Huh?"
"Uh, you don't say words how you want to. Actually, it's more like you're not saying words."
"I mean," I hold a lock of his hair, twisting it slowly in a spiral. Up and down, up and down. "Dude, you got mad at me for saying bro!"
"Sorry," he burries his face into my sweatshirt, erupting my face in heat. "Uh, you can say it if you want."
"Cool," I grin back at him. "But I didn't do it cuz you asked me to either."
"Didn't I?"
"Nope!" I bark. "I just sorta got that you weren't comfy with more masculine terms."
"And you gave that up for me?"
"Nico, without me, you'd probably be holed up in your room without social contact, man."
Nico glares at me, nodding. "True.”
He’s itching to say more, but I cut him off. “And so that’s the cool thing! We both give a little, but we’re getting so much more.”
“And you’re okay with giving so much up for me?”
I let out a little laugh, hoping it doesn’t sound like a cackle. “You’re doing the same thing for me, dude!”
He furrows his brow, only letting out another peal of laughter. “Okay, sorry. But we can slip up sometimes.”
“It’s just that,” he flips his hair behind his ears, staring at me with his dreamy eyes. “My bad habits are a lot more… dangerous than yours.”
“You’ve never self harmed,” my voice falls. “And it kills me that I can’t get rid of any of that.”
“Kiri…”
“I mean,” I brush away at my mouth, eyes locked on Nico’s. “Its not like I can do anything about that now, huh?”
“Are you crazy?” His gaze explodes across the room frantically. “I mean, there are tons of ways to get rid of it!”
“Huh?”
He doesn’t mean to startle me, but I push back a little as he goes into one of his moods, getting a little too eccentric for me. It takes all of me just to keep up with him sometimes. 
“Basically,” he clears his throat, pulling up an article for me to read. As if I can read it in a minute like him. “It’s called psychoanalysis. I studied it before I wanted to do hero work, and it’s cool. Your mind is made up of encoded memories, right?”
“I only got half of that,” I point out. “So… uh…”
“Your brain stores memories,” he moves on in an instant. Sometimes, it frustrates me how he has to dumb down his words just for me. Just like how he’s probably frustrated that I’m not as tough with him as other guys.
“Oh,” I snap, trying not to let him see how annoyed I am. “Got it.”
I don’t think he saw it. Nico taps the article, highlighting a few words. “Some memories make up our core pain and hatred. We’re created out of all these emotions that stack up on top of each other, and when they combine… that’s us. Got it?”
“Words,” I nod. “A lot of them.”
He smiles. “I’ll slow down a bit. Sorry! I’m just really passionate about this!”
“Now you’re abusing the exclamation points!”
He giggles, melting my heart instantly. “Our memories make up how we act. They’re basically new instincts, and they’re like code, but for our brain! And they help us breathe, eat, and work out. It’s actually a really critical moment in exercise if you know how your cognition works.”
“So you’re saying we’re like machines?” My eyes widen. “Cool!”
“Well,” he shrugs. “It’s more like machines are like us. But your past memories decide how you act now, right?”
“Uh…” I do the mental math in my head. “Um, right!”
“And so,” he takes my arm, outlining the thick muscles. “You were bullied for being small. Being weak.”
His words are like falling daggers, but I nod. Wasn’t expecting homeboy to go there!
“And because of that,” he hugs my arm. “You wanted to improve. And so you worked even harder. And when other people feel bad about their bodies, you always jump in first.”
“I do?” The memories are foggy, but it’s weird. I always thought everyone helped out with stuff like that!
“Yeah!” He kisses the arm. “And thanks to that traumatization, you’re a better person.”
“So psychoanalysis helps make us better people? Huh!”
“Well,” Nico grins. “It also tells you to fuck your mom or something. Those old straight white guys were awful.”
“Stupid old straight white guys,” I agree, smiling.
“Stupid old straight white guys basically made the basics of psychoanalysis. Now we’re just trying to clean up the mess they made. I like this part of psychoanalysis a lot better than there’s. I mean, it goes deep into childhood. But those middle years are our core development periods.”
“I’ll just nod and pretend I get all that,” I mutter. “But what’s it got to do with self harm?”
“It’s what makes you special as a hero,” he swoons. “Because you know how to deal with trauma. You’ve faced it all before!”
“So I’m their shield?”
“It’s in your nature, Ei. It’s nothing to feel bad about. It’s why we’re together. It’s why I love you.”
“Huh,” I lean into his head, both of us piled into the backseat. “So I guess it wasn’t all bad, huh?”
“Mistakes are just ways to keep climbing up our mountains,” Nico whispers into my sweatshirt. “And someday, we’re gonna reach the top.”
I shake my head. “You say the weirdest stuff, dude.”
“Just for you,” his hands pull up onto my face, stroking their sides.
“Um,” I place my hand on my neck. “Maybe not here, Nico.”
He bolts up, almost hitting my chin. Dude’s fast! “Our stop’s right here!”
Sure enough, the train slams to a stop right in front of a decrepit station.
“I’ve never been in this part of town,” I admit. 
“It’s not in town,” he yawns. “Sorry. I’m a little tired.”
The sun’s already at the edge of the world. It’s even worse that summer’s coming. We’ve been on our date for so long now too.
Is it bad that I don’t want it to end?
“So,” I clap my hands together. “Where are we going? Somewhere fun?”
His eyes tell a different story. “I didn’t want to go here after the villain attack, but I already bought the tickets and promised my mom. And after the talk on the train? I’m just a mess, Kiri. And I’m really sorry that I-”
“You don’t have to explain it all to me,” I hold his shoulders tight. “I get it. I mean… I don’t know where we’re going! But I understand what you mean.”
“Sorry.”
“It’s fine! Just tell me where we’re going.”
“My dad’s grave,” Nico states simply.
“Oh…” do most dates go like this? I’m going all off of Bakugo… and he’s not the best comparison. “Have you even seen your mom since everything started?”
“Barely,” he admits. “And I’m not ready to start it yet.”
“Nico-”
“No!” He screams, his voice hoarse. He must realize how loud he’s being when he whispers everything else. “I’m not really ready to face her yet. She doesn’t know…”
He gestures at me, and I instantly get it. “She doesn’t know you’re gay.”
“Bi,” he corrects, cocking his head. “Maybe. I’m just not ready to really be gay yet.”
“That’s totally fine,” I assure him. “But that means when everyone was saying you were the girl, and that you were gay as a joke…”
“It fucking hurt,” he stutters. “Like a knife.”
“And what do your parents think?”
If he realizes my mistake, he doesn’t say anything. Instead, Nico just continues down the road, checking the gps on his phone. “Honestly, my mom might’ve moved back to America. She hated Japan.”
“I mean,” I breathe in, trying to word it the best I can. “You guys don’t exactly…”
“We’re not Japanese,” he rushes, ignoring my wince. It’s insensitive, but it’s all he can muster. “And you guys are. I mean, I’m so, so happy that you guys don’t say anything. If the role was reversed, I’d absolutely do the same thing.”
“It’s kinda sucks that it's something we have to even worry about,” I mutter, kicking a can down the road before dumping it into the trash. “What if it wasn’t real?”
“What do you mean?”
“Now I’m the one talking in riddles!” I laugh. The sound feels bitter, and I stop it quickly. 
“Racism has to be one of the worst things,” Nico tells me. “Or cancer.”
“Maybe…” I count it on my fingers. “Racism, because that ruins everything. No one should be treated like that. Then death.”
“Is death really all that bad though?” Nico spins, lifting his sweater, hanging on the entrance to the cemetery, reading the inscription on the head of one stone. “It’s natural. And it’s where we’re all going.”
I cough. “That’s grim.”
“Only if you let it be. So don’t say death’s one of the worst things. It’s how we die that makes it a nightmare.”
“Okay,” I nod, knowing that there’s no way I can beat him here. His hands like the walkway’s gate, sliding meticulously down the line. I don’t even think he knows how adorable he looks as he pores over the words. It’s a beautiful cemetery, sure. I’m not around here, but I’ve seen ones just like it all the time. And to me, all they feel is desolate.
What kind of person does it take to see beauty in darkness?
“So it’s hate as the top bad thing,” I fix my statement, jogging back up to him. “Because everyone just needs to chill out.”
“Right,” he agrees. “And then it’s mutilation.”
“Self mutilation, or…”
My voice drifts off, choking up. 
“Self mutilation is horrible in itself,” he says plainly. I can’t tell if he’s trying to even his tone out or not, but it’s like he’s a surgeon, making sure not to hit my weak spots. “But like all pain, it makes beautiful survivors.”
“Respect,” I hum. “Beautiful.”
“The it’s ignorance,” Nico adds. “Because stupid people fuck everything up.”
“I thought you said I was stupid!”
“You just use your body more,” Nico hugs me, still trailing the fence. “Don’t listen to people when they call you stupid. They don’t understand how your mind works.”
“Thanks,” the words are simple, but they’re life saving. It sucks that Nico can’t even see how much he heals me. “Animal cruelty sucks too, right?”
He shrugs. “That’s part of hate and mutilation.”
“Damn!” I snap. “This is a fun game. I mean, obviously not fun but still sorta interesting!”
“I’m weird,” he shudders. “Sorry.”
“Dude! It’s fine!”
He relaxes a little. “Fourth worst thing? It’s a broken heart. Maybe even love.”
I scoff. “Love is beautiful.”
“But it gives us hideous scars. And almost nothing’s worse than a unrequited love.”
“I’ve only ever felt it a few times,” I share, squinting at a grand, yet faded gravestone for an ex hero. It’s really not great how we let the famous people get more attention, even if they were amazing people. There are so many people I’d love to see with graves like that.
“In Greek mythology,” Nico steps onto a new side of the path, walking in between the rows and rows of newer graves, almost all of them entirely identical. “There was an entire part of the underworld made for people who wasted their lives on love, and then never got it.”
“Well,” I breathe into his hair, ignoring the way he pulls away a little bit. Guess he’ll never be used to that, huh? “Thanks for saving me from that.”
“I should be thanking you,” he smiles back, taking my hand in his. I wince as he slaps it. I’m probably way sweatier than him. “But for some people, it’s got nothing on the next worst thing.”
“We’re just abandoning the order?” I smirk. “So much for the list, Nico.”
“Shut up,” he blushes. “You know I’m bad at organizing my thoughts.”
“Just makes you more interesting!” I assure him.
“The last worst thing,” his voice is filled with dread and oblivion as he stops in front of a grave, tears in his eyes. “Is memory. Because we’ll never be able to get it all back.”
There’s a grave in front of us. The name is Balghera.
And like that, everything stops.
“He’s dead,” Nico smiles softly. “But I’m still here.”
“Dude…”
He doesn’t even swat me away, letting me hang onto his shoulders.
“Nothing will ever bring my father back,” Nico sniffs, still keeping the smile on his face. It doesn’t quite reach his eyes, but there’s something peaceful in them. Like he’s being healed. “And you know the worst thing? I barely even got to know him when he was alive.”
“But you have all this time to learn, right?”
He stares back at me with wide eyes before burrowing his face into my sweatshirt, sobbing hard and deep.
“As long as you want,” I tell him. “I won’t judge.”
I can’t tell if he understands what I’m saying, but he keeps crying into my sweatshirt, a soft trickle of tears instead of the hard, forceful kind. He doesn’t even have to fight them back anymore.
“You know,” I wonder aloud to the darkness, hearing only the quiet sounds of his tears. “I think it’s cool of you though. You remembered him and how he lived, even if you weren’t all that close.
“And I’m guessing he never knew about you liking boys either. And he never even got to see how you failed getting into UA, and then got in. But… I mean what’s that all got to do with you and the memory of him?”
Nico stops, looking up at me with his reddened eyes. “I just feel like I should’ve been closer to him.”
“But what are you gonna do about that now?”
“Repent?” He asks the sky, staring at the satellites mixed with the stars. 
The stars he was so obsessed with. The ones that took over his mind, that greeted him every day he worked a little too hard, blurring his vision and making it all go away.
I know just where to go to cheer him up now.
“Nah,” I swipe away at the sky, pretending to throw the puffy clouds lazily meandering through the sky. “You’ve gotta live. Because it sucks that he died. But if you’re not living, it’s like your both dead.”
“Kiri,” he rolls his eyes. “That’s literally exactly what it means.”
“There’s the Nico I know!” I laugh, grabbing at his sides to pick him up. He fights back a little, but I’m used to him being feisty. “And that’s the man he wants to see too! He’s up in heaven, and-”
“I’m an atheist,” he points out.
“Well,” I breathe out slowly. “I’m not that religious either. All I’m trying to say is that even if our body shuts down, there’s another place after this. And yeah, I don’t know where it is. But it’s gonna be great.”
“How do you know that?”
“We’re heroes,” I ruffle his hair, relishing in the extra inch or two (or three) I have on him. “There’s nothing for us to worry about.”
“I’m not exactly a hero,” he sighs. “Let’s just hope they take in account that they shouldn’t split us up.”
“Woah,” I smile, showing him my teeth. “Don’t go saying we’re gonna last until death, Nico. You’re only 17.”
“I’ll be an adult soon,” he smiles. “Real soon, actually. And we’re gonna be together forever. You know you’re thinking it too.”
I grin. “You got me.”
“I’m feeling better now,” he strokes the grave stone, noticing how it sticks out like a sore thumb with its western style. “My dad didn’t like Japan either. I’ll make sure they move his stone.”
“What about the body?”
“I made them burn it,” Nico takes my hands agains, dancing with me under the bright moonlight like it’s a spotlight. “Cremation, I mean. He always wanted to be in that big mausoleum in California. Maybe I’ll go there too.”
“You’re staying with me,” I make him promise. “And I’m gonna have ashes too, maybe make them into a tree.”
“A tree?” He laughs. “What are you talking about?”
“You don’t know about it?” I ask, running to the edge of the graveyard. It’s in the distance, but I think what I’m seeing is right. “Some people like putting their ashes into tree pots.”
“Bullshit.”
“Well,” I smile again. “I’m gonna help a tree grow. Give the air back to the people.”
“I’m fine with getting thrown out here,” Nico gestures to the general graveyard. “Somewhere final, but happy.”
I shake my head. “I still don’t get how you see graveyards as happy places!”
“I’m just an optimist,” he smiles, jumping over the stone wall with me. “This isn’t your last place on our date, right?”
“Nope,” I jump gleefully. “I’m hijacking yours.”
“Guess you’re trying the whole criminal thing out too,” he punches me softly in the arm.
“I’m more badass than you anyway,” I remind him. “So don’t go getting any ideas!”
“Whatever,” he huffs. “Is this place you’re hijacking my date with outside or inside? Because it feels beautiful out.”
“Outside,” I promise. “And that summer air does feel nice, huh?”
 He narrows his eyes at me. “It’s spring.”
I ignore the comment. Instead, I walk around the corner, laughing.
“I knew I saw a playground!”
Nico scratches his arm, nudging the swings. “Why’d they put this next to a graveyard?”
I direct his head towards the horizon, where Esuha city sits. It’s only a taste of the lights, but they’re there all the same, separated by a large body of water.
“It’s all flat here,” I notice. “No hills. Nothing! Not like back at UA and the city at all! So you get these types of views!”
He looks over it from the swing set. “It’s beautiful. Nostalgic.”
“Just get ready for my trip later,” I tease. “So don’t get too absorbed here! There are more interesting places out there!”
“What are you doing?”
My arms are clenched on the monkey bars, even though they’re kinda digging into my palms.
“I wanna climb on them.”
“You’re such an idiot,” he smiles, watching as I make my way to the top, swinging my legs around so that I’m upside down.
“Look!” I laugh. “My hairs sticking up on its own!”
“And now what?” He crosses his arms. “You’re gonna suffocate if you stay up there, you know.”
“I wanted to try out that kiss,” I explain. “The spiderman one!”
“Oh,” he fakes a swoon. “Because I’m American? How sweet.”
“You know you love it,” I poke his cheeks, wobbling as I lose my balance. “Uh, maybe we should start kissing faster before I fall.”
“Not fair,” Nico shakes his head, placing a finger tentatively on my lips. 
“Huh?”
He jumps to the bars, swinging his body around quickly. Soon enough, he’s upside down too, perched nearly across the bars.
“Uh,” I feel a little twitch down my pants, but there’s not enough time to stop it before Nico notices.
“Oh,” he smiles wickedly. “Someone likes this.”
“Apparently,” I turn it around on him, staring at his crotch for what’s probably too long. “So do you.”
He doesn’t even get flustered. “Kiss me like you mean it, Sharky.”
There aren’t even words to describe the kiss, but I’ll try anyway.
He presses his mouth close to mine, arms daringly wrapped around my waist, venturing and exploring the curves of my muscles. My tongue follows, pressed against the roof of his mouth as he smiles, closing his eyes. I panic, closing my eyes before he accuses me of keeping them open, of watching him feel me.
“Gah!” I break apart accidentally, tumbling onto the ground as his hands reach down my pants. There’s only so much I can take before I lose focus, and Nico’s not exactly helping that with his lips on mine.
“I win,” he flips back onto the ground. “You need to work on your balance and flexibility, Kirishima.”
“Maybe we can fit into our training everyday?” I ask, pursing my lips at him.
His hand slaps my face softly as he pushes me away. “You’re insane.”
“And you’re crazy. Same thing.”
"I'm also tired," Nico points out. "You should carry me back to the train."
"I told you not to run the extra mile!" I point at his quivering legs. "You gotta treat your muscles with respect, dude!"
"I'll work as hard as I can to be the greatest,” he murmurs, dropping down to the ground with me onto his feet. He doesn’t have thick skin, so he can at least afford to add some grace. “After I sleep. Carry me, big boy.”
My stomach knots at the words, lip quivering. “Uh… right!”
My hands curl around his legs as I hoist him up, letting him stare up at the sky. His head sits in my arms, positioned so that he’s looking right at me.
“Um…” I blush, unable to do much else. “Hey.”
“Hi,” he says, looking completely embarrassed. “This isn’t even a challenge for you, huh?”
“Nope,” I grin. “You’re pretty light.”
“Damn,” he curses, jostling around as I step over the gate. “Maybe I should try that bulking session out then.”
“I think you’d look cute with it,” I encourage him. “But then I’ll have to work even harder to carry you!”
“You’re enjoying yourself, huh?”
I trod across the cemetery earth, feeling the soft, peeling grass against the edge of my ankles. “It’s pretty fun!”
“You’ll be fine if I gained some weight,” he tells me, hooking his hands around my neck. My face goes even further red, spreading onto him. “You’re the toughest guy I’ve ever met, Eijiro Kirishima.”
“Oh,” I laugh. “I’m getting the full name?”
He doesn’t respond, drifting off to sleep in my arms as I step onto the path again, dragging my feet through the mud.
His eyes stay closed as I walk through the street, and I try to focus on his breathing as I walk, memorizing the little rhythms of his constant breaths, feeling his pulse rush through me. I even try to slow mine down to his, which is pretty hard because he’s sleeping.
“We’re gonna be alright, Nico,” I hum into his ear. The sky’s gone dark, only lit up with some street lamps dappled across the edge of the road, all jutted out at odd angles.
My shoes touch the edge of the road, strict and slack against my feet. I know I’m gonna have to much time to think, and it’s mad shitty how my brain just tries to push it away. Like it’s a taboo thought!
Instead, I suck in my lips, breathing in the cool spring air. I want to see summer with Nico. I want the trees to grow up with us, spreading their oxygen into our systems like love. And that’s what I want.
My vision goes a bit hazy as I step up to the station, checking my watch. There’s a train at 11:30, just in 6 minutes. Perfect.
I get a few odd looks as I step up onto the station’s dock, but I ignore them, pretending like it’s just Nico and I. Still, it’s hard to act like I don’t see the people slowly coming toward us, in both anger and adoration.
“Hey,” someone taps my shoulder, and I spin around, wiping a smile across my face. Finally! An escape from my thoughts! 
“Oh!” A group of university age girls surround me, surprisingly only up to my nose in height. “Uh… hi girls!”
“You’re Red Riot, right?”
She’s pretty, just not as pretty as Nico. Not as pretty as any of the other boys, at least to me. Still, her purple hair almost sends me, what with it’s similarities to Nico’s. I even catch her looking toward his own hair.
“Is that some kid you just saved?” She cocks her head at him, adjusting the hoops lodged in her ears. “I didn’t know you did hero work in the spring.”
“You guys keep schedules of stuff like that?” I move to scratch the back of my head, but Nico’s in the way. I don’t want to stir him, especially because he’s such a light sleeper, so I just lean awkwardly against the pole.
“We’re big fans of the UA students,” another girl taps her phone, showing off stickers of Todoroki. “You guys have big futures.”
There’s no threat or contempt behind her smile, so I feel comfortable. “Thanks! It’s always great to hear people trust us!”
“But you’re saving people off duty?” The purple haired girl swoons. “That’s so cool. You’re so cute.”
“Yeah…” my face goes red, but my brain’s shutting off. “It’s manly, not cool. Didn’t get to get that out yet.”
“Oh,” she nods. “It’s gonna be your catchphrase or something?”
A bit of sweat drips off my forehead, dropping onto my nose. If I tell them anything personal, there’s a big chance it’ll end up on the internet. Still, it’s better than living a lie!
“I’m gay,” the words come out choked. I still can’t believe there are so many people that don’t know, and it hurts every time someone makes the assumption. “And I’m off hero work right now. This is my boyfriend.”
“Oh,” it doesn’t sound like a friendly oh, but not one I need to really worry about. “So you’re just carrying him around?”
“Pretty much,” I’m darting my eyes around every time they look away, trying to find a nice way to leave the conversation. Sure enough, the train comes just in time, muting the girls’ words.
“I thought I heard something about that,” she nods, sighing. 
“You wouldn’t have snatched him anyway,” her friend teases. “So don’t get too mad.”
“Hey,” I glare at her. “Don’t say that. It’s rude.”
They’re all at least two years older than me, but they listen, quickly shutting up. “Please don’t make it too public,” I plead. “It’s not that I’m ashamed. I just don’t want people to like or hate me because of some random reason.”
“Got it,” she nods. “Sorry if I made you uncomfortable.”
I open my mouth to tell her it’s no problem, but I don’t even have the patience for that. Instead, I nod, jumping onto the train.
Nico stirs a little, and I whisper into his ear, placing him across the same seat as before. “You’re gonna be fine, treasure. I’ll be here.”
I know the meaning of the words aren’t what’s helping him, but he seizes up at the last word, relaxing a second later.
There’s no escaping the rest of my thoughts. I can stare at him for as long as I like. I can thread my hands through his hair and smell his sweet vanilla scent, but my mind’s gonna wander. I can’t really do anything about that.
If he never showed up, where would I be? Still with Bakugo, pretending it’s going fine? With some other guy? I wince at the thought of being with Denki. He’s a nice guy, but I’m not sure where I sit with him. And sometimes, it doesn’t even feel like he takes me seriously. It’s like we’re all jokes to him, up until it actually matters. Then he shuts up, and no one’s allowed to talk to him.
It’s annoying.
Mina’s nice! I just wish she never loved me. And that’s a bad thing to think, I know. It’s not manly at all. But it doesn’t change the fact that I know she would like me more if I was straight, or even Bi. If I could change myself just a little bit to be more likable.
I’ve never really know Jiro very well, even if I wanted to. She’s just distant, even if she’s really cool! I know she probably resents me a little bit for making Bakugo angry, but I hope she understands that I wasn’t trying to hurt anyone. I just wanted to be myself. And that meant protecting the people I love however I need to.
Even if it means hurting somebody I used to love.
Why do all the hardest things feel so good when you’re doing them? Even if it sucks to get there or makes you feel like hell after. It’s just fucking awful.
But it’s not cool of me to think like that. So I don’t. I think about the way Nico’s cheekbones sit across the sides of his face. They make him look like a fairy prince, rising up on the planes of his face so that he’s all sharp angles surrounded by plush, soft curves. I have to stop myself from stroking his cheeks, slapping my hand back. He’d definitely tease me forever if he knew.
I’m actually proud of the way his muscles are forming, even if it’s hard work that’s doing it. Nothing on my manly physique, but they’re defiantly getting there. And it’s pretty fucking adorable to work out with him anyway. I’m bulky and big, and he’s lean and lithe. Yet somehow, it actually works with our workouts. I guess we just help each other be the best we can be. Weaknesses aren’t my favorite thing, but they’re necessary. And if we can just limit the amount of them we have, won’t that make it better?
The train slams to a stop, almost throwing my boyfriend out of his seat. I catch his body, watching with a self satisfied smile as he peeks up at me.
“Hey,” he says casually, standing up to move to the exit.
“Hey.”
“Hi.”
“Hello.”
“Such a dangerous flirt,” he teases. Luckily for me, my teasing does much more to him. He’s not bad at it, just bad at taking anything good or bad. Nico’s not bad at having opinions, just taking them.
I take his hand in mine, watching as the other people move past us, all busy and eager to get home. I let them walk in front of us, standing at the edge of the train. 
“Hey,” Nico calls back to me as he gets off the train. “Kiri!”
“Just a minute!” I hold a hand out to settle against the jostling of the train car as it starts up. Right as it starts picking up speed, I jump out, throwing myself into Nico’s arms.
“You idiot!” He screams. “That’s dangerous!”
“You caught me!”
He pushes his sweat soaked bangs from his face. “And I can drop you too, Kiri. Don’t scare me like that.”
I break down into a fit of laughter, but he’s not laughing. Instead, he drops me.
“Don’t do that again,” he complains, holding out a hand for me to grab. 
“You know you would’ve done the same thing,” I tell him. “You would’ve jumped too, dude.”
“Maybe,” he shrugs, smiling. “But I’m lighter.”
“You’re strong enough to catch me too, apparently! That’s some hidden strength right there!”
“I’m dying to know where we’re going,” he tells me, swinging our hands back and forth. There’s a bit of sweat on the edge of his, tickling my wrists. It’s everything and nothing at the same time.
“And I can’t wait to show you,” I lean against him, pushing my other hand into my pocket. It’s getting a little chilly again, but it’s nothing compared to the heat from his body.
“You’re so warm,” Nico nestles up against me. “Please don’t leave me.”
“Oh, Nico…” my voice comes out a bit choked with tears. “What makes you think I’m ever doing that?
“Let’s run. I just want to run with you.”
“There’s gonna be rain,” he tells me.
“That wasn’t a no,” I point out. When he doesn’t protest, I make a move to shoot out of the station, almost slipping across the slippery pavement.
“Don’t you dare fall!” Nico scolds, scowling at me as he runs too, almost knocking into oncoming later workers.
“Maybe you should listen to that too!” I smile back at him, spinning in the dizzy light from the street lamps. “It’s just up this hill!”
“We’re at the edge of the city,” he looks back at the map next to the train, then up to the hill. “What’s there to do up here?”
“Haven’t you ever heard of hiking?” I ask, catching up to his pace.
“Kiri!” He gasps. “Wait, you actually found a spot!”
He never told me to my face, but I know hiking’s the biggest thing he misses about living back in the states. Which, of course, is ridiculous! We have tons of amazing hiking spots! But nope! Nico wanted to date in the city. That really limited my options.
Fortunately, we can make our own trail. 
“It’s not the best place,” I apologize. “But it’s cool! I walked it a few days ago, after the… incident. Definitely calmed me down.”
“You barely talk about it,” he tells me, moving up the steep road. The pavement’s already become choppy, cracked so much in some places that it’s like we’re already at the mountain. The lights from the road bleed onto the small puddles dashed here and there, streaks of glimmering orange. Luckily for us, the lights are quickly disappearing as we climb up the road. When my boots touch the first mound of rocks, I breathe a sigh of relief, turning on my phone’s flashlight. Sable shadows dance across the hills, dodging behind trees only just starting to complete their bloom.
“I don’t like to,” my words stay clipped. “It wasn’t fun, Nico. It gave me fame, sure. But that’s not what I want. At all.
“Can you tell me anything?” Nico begs. “I told you all about what it was like when I thought I killed all those people.”
“Not the best date topic,” I dodge the question.
“But we’re more than that,” Nico pleads. “Please.”
“It was like a nightmare,” I breathe out. “When Shigaraki appeared… it’s like it was the end. I’m still here, but that doesn’t mean anything.”
“Was he worse than anyone else you’ve fought? Worse than Rappa?”
“Much,” I wince. “With Rappa, I respected the man. Shigaraki was like a demon. And I saw too much destruction.”
“But now you know,” he whispers, hugging my sides as we trudge up the mountain in the bleak darkness. It didn’t feel so bleak before the words came out, but now it’s hard to think about anything else, even with his arms around me. “There’s so much to protect. So much that sometimes, it feels impossible. But we’re going to protect all those people.”
“We?” I ask. 
“I want to help you,” Nico admits. “And I’m not taking no as an answer.”
“Well,” I try for a laugh. As long as I can pretend to be happy, it’ll make me feel better. At least until I can cheer up for real. “I wasn’t gonna say no anyway!”
“Then it’s settled,” he decides. “We’re not letting anyone else see what you saw. If it fucked you up that much that you can barely even talk about it to me, then we’re not letting anyone else see horrors.”
“We can’t just protect everyone,” I smile, shaking my head. “Be realistic, Nico.”
“I am!” He stamps his feet. “Because you’re just that strong!”
“I’m not a god!” Now I’m laughing for real, forcing Nico to join me.
“I’ll make you one,” he kisses my neck. “Need a virgin sacrifice?”
“Then I won’t be going to you,” I stare at him, watching as he swings around the trunks of the trees, almost running face first into one of them.
“Okay,” he breathes in the clean air. “So first, you’re a dick to me. Then you save me? Make up your mind!”
“You’re crazy, Nico,” I tease, calling up his own words from before. Finally, we reach the real trail, arriving at a rest stop where two lights sit, entirely not perpendicular to each other. One sits as a skewed angle, as if it’s trying to lean over the city.
“Woah,” he rushes to the edge with me, leaning out over the edge. I take his right, staring out at the city. “It actually better at night, I guess.”
Our little metal landing dock creeks a bit, as if it’s about to mutiny and throw us down the mountain, but Nico catches my hand, as if that’ll stop it. The city I’ve spent so long protecting and living in sits in front of us, almost like a little kid’s play mat. Towering buildings scrape at the sky, snatching up the stars until they’re glowing like the sky behind us. The stars float lazily above us, twinkling dots mixed in with pulsing red ones. Satellites and stars, all connected and controlled.
“Look!” I point out a familiar building to Nico. “Its UA!”
“You took the easy building to find,” he fakes an angry frown. “It’s huge, and it’s a big H. I’m the one who still barely knows the city!”
“Well,” I guide his hand, standing behind him. A little jolt runs up his body, but he relaxes as soon as I whisper into his ear. “I guess I’ll just have to introduce you to everyone everywhere. I think everyone deserves to have someone like you in their life.”
“A tour of me?” He asks, placing a hand on his chest as he spins to meet me. “You’re too nice, Eijiro Kirishima.”
“Just trying my hardest, Nico Balghera.”
“And you know that’s what I find sexy,” he runs his tongue across his lips, pulling at the back of my hair. “Let’s give the stars a show, Sharky.”
“Anything for you, Treasure.”
It’s a kiss unlike anything else we’ve done before. Every single kiss with this boy- this man just feels better and more important than the last one. And I have no idea how we’re gonna top this night, how we’re gonna make everything better than perfection, but I’m ready for it. Because you know what?
There’s no such thing as perfect, but there’s more than just the gem underneath the rocks. And I’ll show them what that’s like, to be a crystal in a geode.
Because when I’m under the spotlight of the stars with my sword, I know I can slay any beast. 
I’ll get that happy ending.