Kouda's sitting alone, and he likes it.

Prefers it, even.

A post-exam trip to the Kiyashi Ward mall with the rest of 1-A? Great! The crowds, the shouting, the noise? Not so much.

His spot's a steal, though: a table for two nestled away in an alcove by the escalators—the ones sandwiching the new smoothie stand deemed too hip for the food court. There's even a bakery three stores down, the citrus in the air mingling with notes of cinnamon, cassava, anise...

Definitely worth a stop, he tells himself as he tries to remember where the pet store is located. He's been meaning to buy a rabbit for some time.

"Friends ditched you too, huh?" Jirou's voice glides above the din like silk woven from razor blades.

The mountain of a boy looks up, eyes wide and unsure, and flinches.

I wasn't expecting company, his rocky features seem to stutter.

The hell like I care, her pout stabs back.

An eyebrow cocks, and she brings what's left of her drink to her lips, cheeks hollowing as the straw rattles. "Mind if I join you?"

He doesn't answer. She expected that much. The chair across from him creaks a fraction as she sets her cup down. He shifts in kind, elbows splayed, hands folded like bricks atop the table.

Her gaze flickers from him to the colored stream of shoppers wandering along the central promenade. Sunlight trickles down from glass ceiling above, bathing the two in dappled hues. She breaths in wisps and frowns a fraction deeper than she usually does.

"Hate this song," she mutters, twirling her finger through the air. She doubts he can hear it over the tangle of conversation. The hell if he can't. Mom and dad couldn't either.

He cocks his head slightly, clearly confused, eyes set on his now-fidgeting fingers. She sips at her straw even though there's nothing but ice left.

"You really don't talk much, do you?"

The fidgeting intensifies.

"Chill." She leans in a hair, crossing her forearms against the tabletop. "It's not a bad thing, really. I mean, most of the time it's the opposite." Another sip from the empty cup. "Most people just don't know when to shut up."

He looks up, the jagged line of his mouth opening slightly. Now it's her turn to look away.

"Silence is a rare thing," she continues, resting her chin atop the crook of her arm,"almost impossible for me, quirk and all." Her mood's a stone, eyes splinters. "Funny. You'll have no idea how much fun I had with it when I was younger," she taps her fingers as she runs down the list. "Eavesdropping, tuning into radio radio waves, learning how to tell if people were lying based on their heartbeat..."

She sighs a feather, eyes closed, bangs rustling.

"Now I can't stand it. It's like my thoughts are drowning." She curls a jack-tipped earlobe out from beneath her hair and flicks it to the meter of her ensuing words; "All- the - fuck - ing - time..."

Once again Kouda opens his mouth, arm raised as if to say something, but thinks better of it and locks up. She notices this out of the corner of her eye and smirks.

"You and me both, big guy..."

A well-dressed and tastefully developed woman plops down at a nearby table, sunglasses on, red lips puffed and pouting, phone in hand. Inevitably, Jirou's eyes wander, smirk evaporating as they do. Kouda flinches.

"The hell you looking at?" Jirou snaps, bolting from her chair. "Not every girl can look like Yaoyorozu. Not that I care or anything. It'd be nice, for sure but-" heat rushes to her cheeks as the realization hits her.

Kouda's pressed back against his chair, jaws agape, stiff as the rock he resembles. Her bum hits the chair with a defeated thump, arms crossed, eyes veiled by the asymmetrical slice of her bangs.

"That was uncalled for. Sorry." The paper cup in her grip crumples, and a bitter laugh shoots from her throat. "You must think I'm stupid."

No! No! You've got all wrong! his crags and crevices seem to shout as he waves his hands frantically out in front of him.

Bullshit, she smirks back. It's always cute when people try to lie to her, especially guys.

"No, really!"

The words smack her just as hard as they do him. The blocky hand clasped over his mouth is evidence enough.

It's literally the Exam all over again, except it's her face on fire this time, not her ears.

"...What?" she hisses.

He gulps, eyes closed, fists cinderblocks.

"No, really..." he echoes softly, looking down, hands pressed meekly against his knees."Insecurity is not stupid. I—" the fractured words seem to catch in his throat for a moment, but he grinds onward. "...I would know."

She can hear the flutter in his breath, the racing trill of his heartbeat, nerves so jumpy they'd put Midoriya to shame. His thick, trembling hands tighten against equally shaky knees.

Only when she gets up, gently placing hers on top of them, does the quaking stop. Well, for the most part at least.

"Talking up a storm again, aren't we?" The bitterness is gone from her laugh. A smile – small, inconsequential even – buds across her pink cheeks. A smile nonetheless. "I never really thanked you for knocking down Mic-sensei. Saved these guys a world of pain." She taps her ears.

"I—" He looks at her hesitantly. "I...um."

Too much! his brain screams. Eyes rattle and avert their gaze accordingly, unused to getting so much attention from someone not called 'mom.'

"I um," she echoes, nodding firmly, encouragingly. "You've definitely got a better vocabulary than that."

"Well..." He twiddles his fingers, sifting through words. "Don't mention it," he settles, prodding at what she assumes are his ear holes. "You hurt more, anyway."

"Damn straight I did."

She's back on the chair now, legs folded against her chest as she drapes her arms around them. "But that's not really the point, is it?"

"Well—"

"You saved my butt back there, Rocky."

"Um," he's back to fidgeting, gaze cemented onto the floor tiles. She chances another rattling sip from her crumpled drink.

"We'll work on it," she decides, tossing the cup towards the wastebasket. A dull thump and the crinkling of plastic: two points, fuckers.

"...Work on it?" he attempts an upward glance.

She snorts, bangs bouncing. "You're my friend, aren't you?"

"Well—"

"Don't answer that." She's on her feet now, sleeves rolled, hand outstretched. An eyebrow cocks impatiently. "Walk with me to the pet shop?"

Her open hand hangs emptily in the air.

'

'

'

In the end he settled on a fat angora— marshmallow white, whiskers fluffed, pink nose twitching.

"Should've gone with the Havana," she muttered, prattling on about how the coat pattern resembled the make-up scheme of some indie rocker he didn't recognize and probably never would.

Surprisingly talkative, he thought to himself as they made their way out of the pet shop and back towards the elevators. A departure from the usual—yes, but hardly unwelcome. Filling silences on his own was too tiresome anyway.

They stopped at the bakery en route. She poked a glob of carrot mochi at his new pet, giggling as it nibbled, and the bud that was her smile bloomed to full radiance. Like a gardener he watches — not plucking, content to cultivate.

Kouda's not sitting alone, and he likes it.

Prefers it, even...


A/N: Just a little ball of tooth-rotting fluff I thought up during a plane ride. Don't forget to fave/ review if you liked it!

Plus Ultra,

-Nucleophile