pairing: Hiro/Satou Erika (Bad Boys J)
word count: 6,308
author's note: I have never read the manga Bad Boys, nor do I intend to. This is my own original backstory based solely on watching the NTV drama.
summary: Maybe he's annoying, maybe he's spoiled, maybe he's petty, and maybe it means she'll have to spend far too much time getting him out of pinches and nursing his hangovers and bandaging his injuries, but on the other hand, maybe she loves all of those things about him.
The first time Erika sees Hiro, she thinks that she's never seen something more ludicrous in her entire life. After a lifetime of hard work at public schools to get the grades good enough to get her into one of the best private schools in Hiroshima in order to forge some sort of upward mobility for herself in a world that had been unkind to her single mother with a half-Japanese child, she had been shocked to find, upon entering a high school supposedly known for getting its students into the best colleges, that none of the students seemed to do any work, or even care about studying at all. Spoiled rich kids, the lot of them, upperclassmen who think they're above the system of both the school and society with their parents' money and political sway, but, she quickly discovered, somehow, the most spoiled, the most idiotic, the most grating of them all was a kid in her own freshman class, and the son of the director of one of the largest hospitals in the city, to boot.
And there's really no other way to describe Hiro than spoiled and idiotic, because that's all that he boils down to. Even without exchanging words with him, from the first moments before their school entrance ceremony, Erika could tell that Hiro was going to be trouble, with his dyed-blonde hair (against school regulations) and his group of boisterous and obnoxious upperclassmen friends (all from gangs, no doubt) and his smug swagger, like he thought he was the hottest guy on the face of the planet (he most certainly wasn't.) And as the school year begins in earnest, Erika watches with disdain as he becomes more and more popular with boys and girls in their grade alike, watches and twitches in aggravation, because why should people like him be here with people like her, who have worked their asses off to get here… it really is ludicrous, she thinks, ludicrous and aggravating and insulting.
But nothing is more insulting than when, a few weeks into the school year, Erika somehow finds herself face to face with Hiro in the worst way possible. She can see him up ahead in the hall, chatting and snickering with his dumbass friends, but that's no different than usual, and since she's neither rich nor spoiled, since she's devoid of the fancy hair and makeup like the girls Hiro's usually hanging out with have and wears a secondhand uniform, she can usually avoid him altogether. But that day, she can see Hiro looking at her, can see him approaching her, and in the seconds that she has to think, somehow, all she can think is fuck.
"Hey baby," Hiro says, expression on his face oozing narcissism and overconfidence, "If you need any help with Japanese, I'd just love to meet up with you after school," and Erika is stunned for a long moment simply because she cannot imagine something more offensive if she tries. But it's only for a moment, and before she knows it, she's slapping him straight across his smug face before turning on her heel to walk away.
"What the fuck?!" she can hear him shouting from behind her, "How dare you touch my beautiful face, you crazy bitch?!" and despite the fact that Erika has never been one to advocate pointless violence, she didn't exactly grow up in the good part of town either, and there's something hugely satisfactory about the pathetic whine to Hiro's voice as she ignores his insults. At the very least, she hopes, this will teach him a lesson, and she'll never have to deal with his offensive idiocy again.
A month and a half later, Erika thinks, why did this have to happen to her, of all people. Perhaps she'd jinxed herself when she hoped that she was through with Hiro the month prior, but more likely, she thinks, she ruined her chances by being the only girl to have ever stood up to Hiro… seemingly in the history of ever. Both his IQ and his attention span are lacking, but unfortunately, he's apparently bafflingly good at holding a grudge, and for the past month and a half, has been letting her know that he has not forgotten the way she slapped him.
Mostly, she doesn't care. She's ignored her fair share of obnoxious suitors and rivals in the past to focus on her studies and taking care of her overworked mother, but for whatever reason, Hiro is really grating on her last nerve. The catcalls and whispering within her earshot are one thing, but when he had finally gone so far as to steal her homework answers one day and return them right before class began with that stupid smug smirk "thanking" her for letting him copy them… that had been the final straw, enough to finally get her to follow through on his constant obnoxious invitations to come to the host club where he worked (illegally) after school hours, though, admittedly, not for the reason he presumably wanted.
She hadn't realized before arriving that the place was affiliated with a gang, the Hiroshima Nights-- she'd heard of them before, of course, the second strongest group in Hiroshima, because even if she tried to steer clear of these things, there had always been kids talking about this gang or that at her junior high school, and she had known, somewhere in the back of her mind, that Nights was affiliated with her high school. But it's all stupid, anyway, stupid rich kids wanting to pretend that they're tough, and she's not afraid as she storms the premises and demands to speak to Hiro.
Hiro smirks when he sees her, that dumb, narcissistic smirk, as if he's won, as if Erika has broken down and come because she thinks he's cool, or attractive, or some other unfathomable adjective, and something about the way he looks at her as she sits down across from him at his opulently arranged table with its tacky fake flowers in a crystal vase and gold-threaded tablecloth, something about being here, about everything around her makes her want to snap, and she cuts into him from the getgo, telling him to leave her alone and to stop harassing her and that if he ever touches her or her homework again, he has another thing coming. She isn't really sure what she means by it all-- generally, she's been someone to think things through her whole life, to stay reserved and not let herself do anything she'll (or her mother will) regret later, but something about Hiro has been pushing her and pushing her and pushing her to the edge.
And so she rants at him, eyes narrowed and voice rising in pitch in her utter frustration, but once she's through, cheeks pink and breath coming in quick gasps, Hiro laughs. Hiro laughs right in her face, and that is the final straw.
In hindsight, she thinks, she should have just dumped a drink on him to begin with and been done with it all, but better late than never, and, she thinks, she'll remember this moment for the rest of her life, standing above Hiro and looking down at the horrified expression on his face as his hair hangs limply down the sides of his head and drips into his eyes. It seems as if time has frozen for a moment, and Erika can't remember ever feeling more victorious in her entire life.
That is, until, a moment later, when Hiro tries to hit her in some misguided revenge for his hairdo, she somehow takes down the twelfth strongest member of the second strongest gang in Hiroshima single-handedly. Despite the shock of it all, despite the fact that this had decidedly not been what she had in mind when she arrived at the club half an hour earlier, despite the fact that she doesn't know what to do when suddenly, upperclassmen who have never spoken to her before are asking her in a more friendly way than she thought possible for this type of guy if she wants to join their gang… it's all worth it, she thinks, to see the bruise blooming purple across Hiro's cheek and know she put it there, to have put Hiro in his place.
By the halfway point of her freshman year, Erika is surprised to find that by being around Hiro much more of the time, she has to deal with him much less. She had been skeptical about joining Nights at first for a variety of reasons besides hating Hiro's guts-- the fact that she was trying to focus on school, the fact that hostess was probably the least appealing part-time job ever, the fact that she didn't really want to beat people up in her free time, for starters-- but eventually, she had been convinced, and after a bumpy first few days in the club, she'd begun to realize that she was glad she had. In Nights, she had really begun to make friends, despite all of her expectations, had begun to form bonds with the other guys who, much to her surprise, after seeing her beat up Hiro, had looked at her as a companion and an equal from the outset, rather than as a girl. And having friends means more time surrounded by people who aren't Hiro, more time chatting or out drinking or even hanging around school with people who she genuinely likes.
And the work isn't so bad either, she's realized, despite her expectations. The Nights club mostly caters to other rich kids at their school and students from local colleges, and while some of her clients are either disgusting or boring as hell, the majority of them are at least marginally entertaining. Erika has always had a level head, more or less, and so after listening to other people talk about their problems, she's usually able to give pretty good advice; after listening to people gloat about their successes, she can usually think of the right words to congratulate them. The money definitely isn't awful, either, and upon discovering that Erika had taken up a part time job, despite Erika's protests, her mother had insisted that she use part of the money on herself. It's not that she's selfish or unhappy with how her life has been so far, really, but being able to buy herself nice clothes for the first time ever is a novel feeling, and when she wears them to the club only to receive nothing but compliments and praise from her friends, she can't help but feel honestly and truly happy.
And so somehow, through becoming teammates with Hiro, she's managed to block him almost completely out of her life, and for the better, she thinks. Sure, sometimes she catches him pouting at her, but the knowledge that she's stronger and more popular than him must be hard to bear, she reasons. It's good for him, spoiled rich kid that he is, to not always get everything his way, and so while she's not usually one to gloat, she can't help it, at least a little, to see Hiro look put out. She's stronger in a fight than Hiro, too, she's pretty sure-- the others think so, at least, and while likely, it's because she has way more brain cells firing up top than Hiro does, she doesn't complain when the others rely on her to cover their backs.
And so Hiro fades in the background, much to Erika's pleasure, until one day, in the midst of a fight with some upstart kids from a neighboring gang, he fades out altogether. Or rather, it's not that she forgets about his existence entirely, not that she ceases to recall his obnoxious face, his stupid, smug smirk, but that, in the heat of the fight, she simply loses track of him and doesn't look back, doesn't think to question that Hiro is nowhere in her radar until they're practically back to the club after all is said and done. In her defense, the fight had been on the overwhelming side, their opponents clearly not confident enough in themselves that they'd brought knives and pipes along with them, but even after Nights had established a clear victory, she couldn't shake the niggling feeling that something was off… until somehow, with the idea barely passing through her brain before coming out her mouth, she finds herself asking, "Where's Hiro?"
They split up to look, but of course, by some stroke of luck (good or bad, she's not sure) she's the one to stumble upon him, curled up in the corner of some disgusting alley nursing what looks like a nasty stab wound to the arm. She pales at the sight of blood and is at his side in an instant without even thinking, crying, "You're bleeding!" as if that isn't already obvious. It's not like her, to get stupid like this in the heat of the moment, not when, from the tender age of four, she had practically been on her own at home when it came to sickness and injury, and she shakes her head, trying to clear it, trying to find something more useful to say. But of course, with Hiro, she can't take anything for granted, because, "No I'm not!" he responds defensively, cowering away from her like a wounded animal, and somehow, it's pathetic, it's almost endearing, really, and she shakes her head again, trying to gather her thoughts and pushing his hands away so that she can take a look.
Years of taking care of herself while her mother was at work haven't exactly rendered her a medical genius, but they have given her a good idea of what requires a hospital and what can be taken care of with a conbini first aid kit, and while there's a terrifying amount of blood, Hiro's gash doesn't look too bad close up. And so, without a second thought, without a moment of deliberation, without even considering the fact that months ago, she probably would have fantasized about leaving Hiro here to die on his own, "Come," she bids, grabbing him by his good arm and helping him to his feet before leading him to the closest Family Mart. They get a few odd looks inside, two kids their age dressed gaudily enough for their line of work, one of them bleeding profusely, but Erika doesn't have the time of day for gawkers. She's in and out with what she needs in a few seconds, dragging Hiro along at her heels towards the only place she knows will be clean, quiet, and safe: her own apartment.
Perhaps she's gone insane, she thinks briefly as she helps Hiro up the stairs to her and her mother's little four-room apartment, perhaps she hit her head in the fight, and that's what's making her think it's a good idea to bring Hiro here. This is the worst way of showing weakness, of course, letting Hiro into her personal sphere, letting him see where and in what conditions she lives, but on the other hand, she knows that her mother will be out at her second job as a waitress at an all-night family restaurant, and that this is basically her only choice besides letting Hiro fend for himself… which, knowing Hiro, would probably lead to an infection and possibly hospitalization and… well, as much as she hates Hiro's guts, she wouldn't wish that on anyone. And so she unlocks the door and ushers him inside, scooting past him as he fumbles with his shoes to lay out her own futon. "Take off your shirt and lay down," she orders when he appears in the doorway, and either her expression is enough to tell him that he shouldn't argue or he's lost too much blood to think properly, because he does as she says without complaint.
He whines when she cleans the cut with alcohol and antibacterial ointment, but a glare shuts him up again, and it's surprising, she thinks, to be able to coexist this way with the person she would have eagerly said she hated most in the world only a few hours ago. Once she's finished, she bandages the whole thing up with some gauze for the bleeding, and Hiro blinks down at her like she's doing some sort of witchcraft. Doesn't your father own a hospital? she wonders, but then again, Hiro is as stupid as they come, and so she just rolls her eyes, announcing that he's done and that he better get some rest before he hurts himself more.
To her surprise, he only nods and, without a word of complaint, closes his eyes. "What a dumbass," she mumbles to herself with a sigh as she begins to pack up the medical kit, but at the same time, as Hiro's breaths begin to even out, his body relaxing, she can't help but think that there's just something about him that's a little sweet, a little sad, too.
By winter break of her freshman year of high school, things have become just plain awkward between Erika and Hiro. They don't talk about the time she took care of him ever again; once Hiro is out of her house, he never mentions it again, and while it's a little weird, Erika is glad that he's never made a comment about her living conditions, her private life. But while he doesn't say anything about the incident… all of a sudden, he doesn't say much of anything to her, no taunts, no obnoxious catcalls, nothing, except the occasional gaze in her direction that he abruptly breaks when she catches him looking and their eyes meet.
She should have thought that that would be a good thing, really, a gift from the heavens, to have Hiro completely leave her alone, but somehow, after almost a year, if it's anything, it's odd. It almost feels as if, after showing her weakness, Hiro is ashamed, or else afraid of her, but she can't really make sense of it in her head. After all, she had showed him her own weakness in exchange, let him into the corner of her life that she kept from everyone but her mother, and while she hadn't thought of it that way at the time, it seems fair enough in hindsight. And so, she can't make sense of Hiro's sullenness, now, the fact that he's suddenly begun mostly ignoring her existence, but she tries to take it as a good thing and not let it bother her.
Yet somehow, the lack of Hiro inserting himself into her sphere of awareness seems to lead to her being only more aware of him, aware of his movements as he purposefully turns his back to her, aware of the distance he carefully puts between them at work, during school, when they hang out together in a group. She can't help but notice, somehow, because while before, Hiro had been like a constant annoying buzz, a bug that wouldn't be swatted away, his absence feels more like a weight, pushing down on her shoulders no matter where she is and what she's doing. It pisses her off, because why should she give a shit about how Hiro is feeling or what he's doing? But yet she does, and she can't stop, and she doesn't know why.
It's tedious and tiring, though, whatever the reason, and it feels like it's going to go on forever. But actually, much to her surprise, it all comes to a head a couple days into winter break, when a skirmish with a few stray members of Beast with either overinflated egos or a lack of common sense pick a fight with them one evening. As a general rule, no one in Nights messes with Beast; they have no intention of aiming for number one when number two suits them just fine, and it's much more fun to party and win a fight or two on the side than to build an army. But these guys are just kids, first years who think they can prove themselves through stupidity, and so the top of Nights decides that it will be easier to just take them down quietly and send them back to Danno with tails between their legs.
Erika has never really felt strongly one way or another about the politics of the Hiroshima gang scene, but she has to admit, guys from Beast are, more often than not, raging assholes, and these kids are no exception. They boast their strength at first, and when things start to get more serious, they begin to resort to taunts and insults, presumably in some attempt to break their opponents' concentration. But Erika isn't one to break, and she knows her friends aren't either… until a relatively mundane insult to Hiro about his mother sends him into a enough of a senseless rage that she's pretty sure the kid from Beast would have been dead if another one of their friends hadn't pulled Hiro off of him.
The entire thing is so hard to comprehend that it seems as if it's over in the blink of an eye, and then suddenly Hiro is bolting away into the night as their friends finish off the last few of their attackers. Erika is torn; she knows she should be helping, but some inexplicable force in her is screaming for her to follow Hiro, and so, with only a moment of hesitation, she darts off after him, stiletto heels clicking against the cement as she throws herself full-force into yet another stupid, impulse decision. She isn't sure what it is about Hiro, but something about him must make her crazy…
She isn't sure what direction he's gone in, but luckily, a loud scream of "fucking--!!" from down an alleyway gives her a decent clue, and she follows the sound of Hiro's cursing, the tight shrillness in his voice sending adrenaline pumping through her veins as she finally rounds a corner and sees him. He's in the process of kicking a brick wall, and dumbass is the first thing she can think, lurching forward to stop him before he can break his foot but stopping herself awkwardly mid-motion when she realizes something even more alarming a moment later-- he's crying. Hiro is crying.
"Hiro--?" is the first word out of her mouth, and god, she hates how stupid Hiro makes her, but she doesn't know what else to say, doesn't know what else to do while here Hiro is, the most stubborn, self-confident, egotistical person that she knows, crying all alone in some alleyway. Not crocodile tears, not complaints to try to get pity and favours out of his friends, but real, honest-to-goodness tears, and she doesn't know what to do.
He starts at the sound of her voice, head snapping in her direction as a look of panic flashes across his features and he tries in vain to hide his tears, wiping at his eyes fumblingly with the backs of his hands. "It's nothing!" he snaps, voice thick and cracking in a way that shows that it's very clearly not nothing, but what it is, Erika doesn't know.
And so, "Are you hurt…?" she asks, taking a few steps closer to him and looking for any sign of injury. She doesn't trust Hiro to be able to take care of himself, that's for sure, but even before inspecting him, she has the feeling that that's not it, that wouldn't have caused the huge breakdown in the middle of the fight, the screaming and the swearing and the rage that Erika has never, ever seen before in Hiro. Hiro the playboy, Hiro the big-shot, Hiro cocky upstart freshman who knows he's stronger than most of his senpai… Erika has never seen anything like this in him, and it scares her for reasons she doesn't understand.
But "I said it's nothing!" Hiro barks, anger in his voice failing to cover the fear and hurt in his face, in his eyes, in the tears that start afresh, and somehow, for some reason, Erika knows she isn't leaving until she understands. She can be as stubborn as Hiro if she wants to be, and while she doesn't spare a thought as to why, right now, she wants to be.
And so, she crosses her arms and takes on her sternest no-nonsense voice, because if Hiro isn't going to respond to help being offered, she has a feeling that there's no way he'll sit back and let her scold him. "You and I are two of the strongest people in Nights… and probably in Hiroshima," she chides, giving him her most disapproving of looks, "You can't hide anything from me. Why are you off hiding from everyone else and crying?"
And sure enough, Hiro puffs himself up, blinking back the tears and insisting "It's nothing!!" for the third time, but as he tries to add a "Leave me alone!" he begins to deflate again, and Erika's heart lurches into her throat as she watches him crumble in on himself like a frightened lost child, mumbling, "It's not my fault that my mom died when I was a kid…"
She doesn't know what it is, or what it means, or why, but something changes in Erika in that moment, and before she can even comprehend her own actions, she's throwing her arms around Hiro, pulling him close and holding him tight in the most comforting way that she knows how. Hiro doesn't resist or struggle, much to her surprise, only cries, cries into her shoulder like a child, and it almost feels surreal as she strokes his hair slowly and urges him to take deep breaths. If someone had told her six months ago that she'd be here, comforting Hiro like a baby, she would have told them they were out of their minds, and yet here she is, and she doesn't mind. Somehow, Hiro doesn't seem so much like a spoiled brat or an egotistical asshole anymore, somehow, Hiro has become nothing more than a frightened, lonely child, just like Erika had been when her father had first left her mother all those years ago…
She isn't sure how long they stay that way, but finally, Hiro begins to grumble. "I don't want your pity--" he mumbles into her shirt, despite the fact that he's making no move to get away from her, but it's a sign that he's still okay, a sign that the Hiro Erika knows and doesn't hate as much as she'd like to pretend is still alive in there. And so, with a smile tugging upwards at the corners of her mouth she replies, "Shut up," before fumbling her handkerchief out of her purse and pressing it into Hiro's palm.
He looks at her hesitantly, but she simply shrugs, her smile growing a little despite herself. "Wipe your eyes and I'll buy you a drink," she says, a fact more than an offer, and something leaps a little in her chest when Hiro doesn't complain, doesn't argue, doesn't do anything but smile a little himself and reply, "Okay." He might come across as an egomaniac, an asshole, an idiot-- heck, he might actually be all those things, too-- but somehow, more and more, Erika is beginning to think that beneath it all, Hiro is nothing but a scared child, enough so that all of her previous anger and annoyance melts away and all she wants in that moment is to look out for him.
By the end of her (their) freshman year of high school, if interrogated, Erika would be forced to admit that, okay, he's pretty stupid and a total douche sometimes, but regardless she actually has a soft spot for Hiro. Or something. Saying she likes him seems like going way too far, but at the end of the day, it's basically, accurate, despite the fact that she'd never admit it to anyone, least of all him. Still, it's not like she tries to hide it; she can't help herself, really. Now that she knows that Hiro is nothing but a petulant child at heart, she treats him as such, telling him to shut up when he's whining and asking if he's eating his vegetables when it begins to seem like he's subsisting entirely on conbini karaage. He pouts at her, but she can tell he doesn't really mind, and it's weird, to have found this weird place of mutual acceptance after everything.
But after that night in December, Erika supposes, she shouldn't be surprised, after she'd sat Hiro down in a little out-of-the-way izakaya and listened to him talk about his life, his family, how his mother had died when he was six, how his father had never had time for him, how the only way he knew to make friends was to show off but then sometimes that backfired too… as he got drunker and drunker, he'd shared practically everything with Erika, and while some part of her had wondered why she was still here comforting the most annoying person she knew, mostly, she found, she had wanted to listen, had wanted to help him feel better, and when, sometime around three in the morning, he had somehow gotten onto the subject of how Erika was just too pretty and too strong, and he didn't know what to do about that or why she didn't like him… well, she couldn't help but think it was a little bit endearing.
And so somehow, they had come to a truce, or something-- it's more than that, she knows, but she likes to think about it that way, so it doesn't seem so much like she's gone soft, like she's warmed up to a spoiled asshole like Hiro. Still, it's a little hard to pretend when they chat at work now, when they willingly will sit next to one another during Nights parties and even sometimes go out for drinks just the two of them, and in fact, it's on one of these outings that Hiro has to go and make things even harder.
Hiro has never been that good at holding his liquor; despite having a large stature and well-toned muscles, somehow, Hiro is always a little too talkative after two or three drinks, and Erika takes secret pleasure in listening to him ramble, knowing he'd be embarrassed to be admitting his secrets to her sober. Sometimes, he'll admit something unexpectedly endearing, like that he still missed the pet dog named Mochi he had until he was in fourth grade, and sometimes, he'll come clean to something she's fairly sure he shouldn't, like having snuck into the female teacher's bathroom at school, but either way, it makes for good things to tease him about (or else topics to avoid) later, and so she listens to him attentively and doesn't mind the fact that she usually can't get a word in edgewise.
But then one day, a mere one and a half drinks into the evening, Hiro mumbles something into his drink quietly that Erika figures he must still be sober enough to have a little embarrassment left. She gets so caught up in the thought of teasing him about whatever it was, seeing him flush with the embarrassment as well as the alcohol, that it takes her brain a moment to process the words he actually said, but when she does, belatedly, she can feel her own cheeks heating up.
I really like you, Hiro has said, I like you, to her, and now he's looking at her expectantly, and, she realizes in slow motion, she's going to have to answer. It suddenly seems like her brain is working in slow motion, because those were somehow the last words she had expected out of Hiro's mouth, and yet somehow, I like you he had said, and more than anything, she was finding herself wanting to say I like you right back. And as much as she's tried to deny it, as much as she's hated his guts in the past, as much as this is the last place she'd have ever seen herself now at the beginning of the year… that, she thinks, is that.
But of course, she's not going to let him off easy, and so she quirks an eyebrow, elbowing him in the side. "What was that?" she asks, a grin tugging at the corner of his lips, "I didn't hear you~?"
Hiro pouts at her and mumbles again, and this time, she can't help but giggle at the intense determination in his expression, the furrow of his brow. It's cute, that this is the one thing that he's actually choosing to take seriously, that she is the one thing that he's actually choosing to take seriously. But she doesn't say that, couldn't say that to Hiro, not here and not now, anyway, and so instead, she pokes him on the tip of the nose with one finger and hums, "If you want me to hear, you're going to have to speak up~"
Hiro's pout only grows, but apparently, so does his determination, because he grips the handle of his beer glass with white-knuckled intensity before chugging the remainder of his drink in one swift movement. It's actually kind of impressive, Erika thinks as she watches him slam the glass back down on the counter, but it's only a passing thought, because then Hiro is meeting her eyes and saying probably a little louder than he should, "I really like you."
And the look in his eyes is so different from the usual, so earnest and sincere and hesitant, as if he's afraid she's going to turn him down, and despite herself, Erika can feel her heart leap in her chest almost enough to make her simply give in. Almost, but part of her feels like it would practically be cheating Hiro to not give him crap, and so she raises her eyebrows again. "And?"
"And?!" Hiro repeats back, clearly floored that she doesn't realize what he's trying to say. "And… and you like me too, right?" When she fails to respond quickly enough, he pales slightly, repeating, "Right??" and looking at her like a kicked puppy, and while she knows she won't be able to keep this up forever, he's too cute to let off the hook that easily.
And so she feigns contemplation, putting a palm to her cheek. "I don't know…" she trails, "You're an idiot and not that good looking, but I guess you're okay…" Hiro's expression turns to one of surprise and offense, and she can't help but break her act to giggle again at his utter disbelief that she might find him anything other than utterly irresistible. At the beginning of the year, she might have found it offensive, self-centered, but now, it's clear that more than his own opinion of himself, her opinion of him matters to him, and it's endearing.
"I--I'm more than just okay!" he asserts, brow furling as he pouts again. "Right? You don't mean that, right??" And he's too cute to keep teasing him, she thinks, and so, before he can get out another whine, she leans over and kisses him on the cheek, just like that.
"You're just okay," she affirms when she pulls back, centering herself on her own barstool and resting her face against her hand, her weight braced against the bar with her elbow, "But… I like you like that."
More than anything else, Erika is delightfully surprised to find that the genuine smile that lights up Hiro's face at her response is somehow the sweetest, most lovable expression she's ever seen, and it really is difficult to believe that just under a year earlier, she would have rather done practically anything than breathe the same air as this man. Then again, it's hard to see Hiro in the same light now that she knows practically everything there is to know about him, now that she's seen him at his lowest, has patched him up and dusted him off and pulled him back onto his feet. In those moments, looking back, maybe she's always known that she loved him, in every wound that she's bandaged, every playful scolding she's given him, every secret she's kept, maybe she's always been trying to say to him what he finally has managed to say to her a few moments earlier. But it hardly matters, because they've made it here now, Hiro pulling her off her barstool and into the most unromantic, childish, heartwarmingly adorable hug that Erika has ever received, and in that moment, she thinks, maybe he's annoying, maybe he's spoiled, maybe he's petty, and maybe it means she'll have to spend far too much time getting him out of pinches and nursing his hangovers and bandaging his injuries, but on the other hand, maybe she loves all of those things about him, and maybe, just maybe, at least for right now, she wants to be with him this way for just a little bit longer.
In April of their third year of high school, dozens of pinches and hundreds of hangovers and thousands of injuries later, Erika sits beside Hiro's bed in solemn silence, one large, manicured, well-toned hand clasped between her own pale small ones and thinks as she gazes at his broken arm and bruised head and the razor-fine cut sliced into his left cheek, come what may, she'll stand by him until the end of time.