Toshinori waits for Saturday afternoon with baited breath. He can barely focus on his work, and finds himself staring into the middle distance when he’s meant to be watching the students’ supplemental training.
Embarrassingly, he saves a couple of your selfies from your blog onto his laptop. He opens them up occasionally, at night, when he has little else to do but sit around and watch a movie and think. Every time looks at them he thinks about deleting them, but eventually he caves, and simply closes the window instead.
He browses your blog again, too, and his heart leaps into his throat when he sees you’ve written a post about him. It doesn’t mention him by name, but it’s clear who it’s about. You gush about what a sweet man you’ve met, how it’s such a lucky coincidence that you’ve run into him again, your doubts about how he’s truly interested but you hope that he is…
If you knew that he was doing this, would you still feel that way?
Toshinori meets you at the shuttle station on Saturday.
He smiles and waves at you from the other side of the rotating bars. You walk over quickly, excitedly, nearly bouncing. He looks nervous, like last time, but also tentatively thrilled. His movements look like someone restraining themselves, like he wants to swing his arms like a kid or punch the air but he doesn’t want to look silly. He’s dressed more casually this time, just a plain white t-shirt and jeans.
The two of you make idle small talk about how your week has been and about the weather as he leads you to his car.
“I don’t really care for driving,” he confesses, sheepishly, as he pulls the door open for you, “but I promised a friend I would take it easy and stop walking everywhere.”
You just laugh, and he watches you from the corner of his eye as you buckle up and he pulls out of the parking lot.
The drive to his place is mostly quiet until you realize where you’re heading.
“Ah... you live at the hero school?” you ask.
“Yes,” he says, shooting you a glance and smiling that anxious smile. “There are small apartments in one of the buildings for teachers who elect to use them. It’s good to have staff nearby at all times in case of emergency, since we also have on-site dorms.”
“Oh, I see!” you say.
After stopping at a complicated looking gate, he parks and leads you into one of the buildings, and the two of you ride an elevator up to one of the higher floors. The closer you get to his apartment, the more nervous Toshinori seems to get. His face is tinged pink, and he fiddles with the keys inside his pocket.
Finally, he stops at one of the doors in the hall and leads you inside. You slip off your shoes and look around.
The apartment is pretty modern, which makes sense, since it was probably built around the same time as the new dorms. The living room and kitchen have an open floor plan, and there’s a hallway to the right that you presume leads to the bathroom and bedroom. He was right, it is small, but it’s not cramped either. You step further into the apartment and, when you see the left corner of the living room, you begin to understand what he meant when he said he’d amassed a collection.
There’s a large bookshelf, jam packed from top to bottom with VHS tapes and DVDs. Some of the boxes are beat up like he’s owned them for years and watched them over and over, while others look brand new. Some of the shelves hold action figures too, of all shapes and sizes, probably of the superheroes he found most appealing. There’s a lot of red and blue on their costumes. There’s some odds and ends there too – props from movies, maybe?
Against the wall that borders the hall, there’s a pretty sizable TV and sound system, and surrounding it, a bunch of movie posters, old and new. Some are even framed.
“Woah!” you exclaim, a little surprised.
He grins at you as he shuts the door, but his eyes are still anxious. “I told you, it’s a little embarrassing.”
“No, this is amazing!” you say. You lean down to look at a box next to the TV stand. “Are these actual old film reels?”
He nods. “I bought them a while ago and I haven’t really figured out where to put them yet.”
You start scanning the shelves, wondering if he’s already picked out a movie for the two of you to watch. “I can’t imagine owning all this. It’s impressive. What got you started on collecting?”
You turn around and he’s just staring at you, fondly. It startles you a little how soft those dark eyes can look. “Truthfully, I’m just prone to obsession. I think it’s a common trait in heroes. One of my most promising students is the same.” He steps next to you, idly gazing at the shelf. “I went to his home once, and his room was absolutely plastered in All Might merchandise. I see a lot of myself in him.”
It’s sweet, listening to him talk about his students. There’s an obvious affection in his voice.
The two of you are quiet for a moment before he speaks up again.
“Did you have anything particular in mind that you wanted to watch?” he asks.
“Oh, I dunno!” you say. You walk over to his couch and sit down, dropping your bag nearby. “I was thinking maybe show me one of the westerns you like.”
“I thought those weren’t your kind of thing?” he asks, but he’s already picking through a particular section of his collection.
“But they’re your thing, and I’d like to see the appeal,” you explain, and he chuckles.
He pops popcorn as the two of you chat, and he gives you several options to pick from. You settle in on the couch with him as he starts the movie, and soon both your hands buried in the popcorn bowl. You find yourself enjoying the movie even though you hadn’t really expected to – although, maybe his rapt attention and adorable enthusiasm has a lot to do with your level of enjoyment. During a quiet scene, you hone in on Toshinori’s soft breathing, and, bravely, rest your head gently on his shoulder. You listen carefully as he skips a breath, and then the rhythm returns to normal.
It’s sweet, just sitting here like this. It’s been a little while since you’ve dated normally, and if Toshinori’s nervousness is any indication, it’s been a while for him too.
About halfway through the movie, Toshinori pauses it, turns to you, and asks if you’d like to stay for dinner.
You say yes, and he freezes.
“Oh, I hadn’t… I hadn’t planned this far ahead,” he says, voice tinged with embarrassment. He jolts to his feet, and starts looking through his fridge and cabinets. “I don’t… I don’t think I have enough for a proper meal.” He winces at his own lack of preparation. “Would you be disappointed in ordering something? Is that bad form, on a date? To order in instead of cooking…”
He trails off. You heart flutters. That’s the first time either of you have specifically called your meetings a date.
“Toshinori,” you say, twisting around on the couch to face him better. “I am a simple person who enjoys simple pleasures. Delivery is just fine.”
The night passes comfortably. He orders food and buzzes the delivery person through the gate as the two of you start a second movie. This one he’s seen many times, he says, so the two of you chat comfortably and eat while you half-watch the screen.
By the time you finish the second movie, it’s dark out, and the last shuttle will be leaving soon. He drives you to the station, and walks you as far as he’s allowed to go without a ticket or a pass.
He stops you at the gate. His hand is clasped around yours – it’s big, so much bigger than yours is – and you don’t remember when that happened, because you were too busy talking and giggling. The station is more or less deserted.
His other hand cups your face incredibly gently, his thumb brushing against your cheek. His face is red, getting redder by the second, but he’s smiling that excited, nervous smile. He leans in, tentatively, and when you don’t back away, his lips connect with yours.
They’re thin and sort of chapped but the whole thing is so sickeningly sweet that your stomach flips and you press back eagerly. His mouth is hesitant against yours, careful and slow. His tongue peeks out as you get lost in the kiss, brushing against your lower lip. He makes a noise, a rumbling deep in his chest.
You reach out to touch him, and your hand lands somewhere along his ribs.
He pulls away immediately, inhaling sharply as though he’s been electrocuted. His mouth hangs open as he sucks in a second breath and his hand leaves your face.
“Oh, sorry!” you exclaim, unsure how to comfort him.
He wrangles his startled expression back under control with an uneasy smile. “It’s okay. I was just surprised.”
The two of you stand there awkwardly before you pull your hand away from his. “I should get going…” you say.
He nods, and watches you leave.
For a while, you’re worried you’ve done something wrong, but he’s already texting you not ten minutes after you board the shuttle.
“Tonight was fun. Hope to see you soon.”
And then, before you can reply, he sends a second text:
“How about next week?”
Toshinori lies on his bed for a very long time that night. His cheeks burn whenever he thinks about that goodbye kiss, about how your lips felt against his, the curve of your jaw under his fingers…
He wishes he hadn’t flinched away so abruptly. You couldn’t have known that was a sensitive spot for him.
He stays up well into the hours where he should be sleeping, texting you instead. It’s juvenile, maybe, not wanting to go a minute without talking to you, but he feels comfortable with it. He’d googled dating tips earlier, and he was certainly breaking at least one of the rules by talking so late into the night after only the second date, but he decides he doesn’t care.
He was out of touch with the dating scene now anyway. Why pretend that he understood the rules to begin with? You didn’t seem to mind.
He falls asleep with his phone in his hand.
The next few weeks blur together in a mix of long text conversations and nervous dates.
You drag Toshinori to a flea market. Initially he’s reluctant, nervous about the large crowds and small spaces. You talk him into it, and while he spends the first half hour very close to your side, he eventually starts enjoying himself, poking through old VHS tapes and happily listening to you talk about whatever peaks your interest. You catch him staring at you several times with a soft look in his eyes. After spending the day holding his hand, your palm feels very cold when you lay in bed alone that night.
One weekend there’s a movie festival, and Toshinori of course is excited and suggests it to you. It’s fun discussing the movies with him after each showing, but you feel exhausted by the end. Sitting in the dark for hours and hours and focusing, unexpectedly, wears you down eventually, but you stick it out and smile through it for Toshinori’s sake. You’re surprised when he admits afterwards that he was feeling fidgety towards the end, and you end the day with a walk in the park as the sun sets. When you reach a part of the park that’s empty, he pulls you aside, glances around furtively, and kisses you gently underneath a tree.
He surprises you one day by asking you out to dinner that same night. He shows up in a suit and takes you to a restaurant that you’re not quite adequately dressed for. You sit there embarrassed and avoid the waiter’s eyes, even as Toshinori assures you over and over that of course you look lovely. He apologizes afterwards, and tells you he’s ashamed that he’s embarrassed you in public again, and you tell him it’s alright because the food was really good. He laughs at that.
When he drops you off at your apartment, he presents you with a gift, something small and silly that you’d pointed out at the flea market weeks earlier. And he awkwardly asks, “I’m not seeing other people… Are you?”
You smile and tell him you’re not.
It happens when he least expects it, when he’s finally grown comfortable walking side by side with you in public.
And it happens so quickly. He’d forgotten how quickly it can happen, since it’d been a while since he’d been an active hero.
One moment you’re by his side, smiling at him. The next moment both of you have realized there’s a commotion headed in your direction. Another moment, and he is shoved away, grazed by a giant arm and hand as it grabs for you.
He’s knocked back against the pavement, his old wound screaming in a way that it hasn’t for weeks. He opens his eyes, tries to get his bearings. You’re gone, you’re not standing on the pavement anymore. You’ve been snatched up by a villain with a giantification quirk, and he stands in the middle of the street, clenching your body in his massive fist, another person in his other hand, wielding you as a human shield against the two local heroes approaching.
He tries to activate One for All. Nothing happens.
There’s none of that power left inside him. It’s gone, the last vestiges of his ability to transform wasted on something stupid, on some dumb gag he did probably to make a student or a coworker smile.
Cold fear washes over him.
He just wanted to make people smile.
The villain in the street squeezes your body in his hand as he threatens the heroes.
You aren’t smiling anymore.
He staggers to his feet, his side in agony, thinking surely, surely there’s something he can do. If he could muster up a punch, a kick, anything…
He looks down at his clenched fist. It’s weak. There’s no power there. He’s not a hero.
He can only watch in raw, childlike terror as the villain squeezes harder and you spit up blood. That finally forces the local heroes into action, and they bolt forward to attack.
He doesn’t remember the rest. It’s just a blur of horror and fear and action that he’s not a part of. He remembers lying to the paramedics as they carried you into the ambulance, telling them he was your husband in hopes that he could come along for the ride and stay by your side, even though you aren’t conscious.
He remembers the paramedics telling him they can’t let him in the ambulance and running back to his car, his legs and wound blazing with pain. He remembers blowing through several stoplights, recklessly. He remembers panicking at the front desk at the hospital, stammering so badly that the nurse couldn’t understand what he was trying to say.
He doesn’t come out of the fog until he’s sitting in the waiting room at the hospital, the buzz of medical equipment and nurses talking surrounding him. His body is limp and he realizes he’s been staring blankly at the wall for a long time.
Sharp dress shoes come tap-tap-tapping down the hall, heading his direction. He looks up.
“Nighteye,” says Toshinori, dimly shocked.
Nighteye only bows his head minutely in response. He’s cold, stiff. The disagreement from six years ago still hangs between them.
“How did you know I would be here?” Toshinori asks.
Nighteye adjusts his glasses and looks away. “I monitor for any instances of your name being logged in hospital records. It’s for… when you…” He trails off, and thinks better of finishing that sentence, and starts a new one instead. “Imagine my surprise when your name pops up as some civilian’s husband.”
Toshinori leans forward and opens his mouth to say something, but Nighteye simply raises a hand to silence him.
“It’s of no concern to me whether it’s true or not. Though I do I suspect it’s not, and you’ll be answering to hospital staff if they happen to cross-reference civil records to see if the patient is actually married. Regardless, you wouldn’t lie unless this person was important to you.”
Nighteye gazes critically down his nose at his former mentor. Toshinori feels like shivering under his gaze. After all this time, Nighteye still resents his decision. He wonders if the icy exterior is just a façade, or if he really does hate him.
“Have you told them?” asks Nighteye.
“I have –” Toshinori starts, and then he stops. He rests his elbows on his knees, clasps his hands together tightly, until his knuckles turn white. “No.”
Nighteye finally looks away, gazing off somewhere, passively. “How heartbreaking it is that you’re being so unfair. Consider what you’re doing. You’ve survived this long, perhaps outlived my prediction, but we don’t know for how much longer. You are not well. Whoever they are, they deserve to know that.”
“I’ve gotten better,” Toshinori insists, although he doesn’t believe it’s true. “It doesn’t hurt as much, or as often –”
“Teacher, please,” begs Nighteye, and for a moment both of them are transported back to that conversation from six years ago.
Toshinori closes his eyes and covers them with one hand. The hospital lights are giving him a headache, and so is the pained look on his former pupil’s face. “You’re right,” he says.
He can hear Nighteye turn on his heel and go tap-tap-tapping away, and he wishes he could follow and apologize properly, but he feels completely drained. He can’t move.
So he sits, and he waits.