Anaka and Aizawa found a table available near the floor to ceiling window with a view of the lake on the Expo grounds.
The lake is frozen over and heavy snow blankets the black branches of the bare cherry blossom trees, the landscape is barren and foggy but it's tranquil.
Being so cold out, most have settled indoors leaving the outside untouched by the bustle of many attendees of the Expo.
"So professional or personal interest?" she asked as they waited for the table staff to appear.
Shota glanced at the menu before looking at her. His unblinking stare didn't unnerve her, it was the state of his eyes. He looked like he hadn't slept in days or that he'd been crying for hours.
The sclera is his eyes were more red than white and make his dark iris appear like a void surrounded by an angry firestorm.
"Not to assume you do, but after my laser surgery I suffer from dry eyes. It was an issue before with my work but when I had the corrective procedure it only got worse.
I wear a therapeutic eye mask to sleep and an optometrist's blend spray during the day. It keeps me comfortable and not well, suffering dry eyes.
" She gestured to his and he still continued to stare unnervingly at her before he looked to their view and then down at the menu again.
"Do I make you uncomfortable?"
"What? No?" She read his uncertainty and increasing discomfort. Something compelled her to blurt out, "It's something I do. I'm sorry, you didn't ask for my advice.
I look for problems and try to solve them.
I'll be quiet now," she said more softly, the racing of her heart and brain slowing when she felt him settle on a level of doubt and then a deep thought. She allowed herself to relax.
The waiter arrived to take their order and Komorebi listened as he ordered a sushi roll and black tea before gesturing for her to give her order.
"I'll have a slice of matcha cake with kukicha tea, thank you."
"Heroes look for problems to address them before they escalate. Can't fault you for your perception. I don't recognise you," he said looking at her again.
In a nervous gesture she tucked her unruly flyaways behind her ears and glanced at him with a timid smile, encouraged by his assumption. "I'm not a Pro-Hero, only a consultant.
I work with the Hero Public Safety Commission."
"Nothing wrong with being Hero Support. I've worked with Sir Nighteye once or twice. Looks like a strong wind could blow him over but he's smart and fast."
She sensed admiration from him and it gave her confidence that her instincts that this man wasn't your regular Hero type were on point. Most Heroes valued physical strength over anything else.
He was different.
Tea blended into pursuing the Expo together, and observing some of the demonstrations. At the end of the three-day event, she hadn't seen her colleagues at all.
She wouldn't hear from him again until a week before the school year began.
::: ::: :::
They decided to meet at a teppanyaki grill. He suggested it.
She had arrived early, having driven from her home in Ome to Tokyo city and knowing she would need time to make the walk to the restaurant from the paid garage.
The restaurant was nearby Rikugien which would be perfect to walk off dinner if they finished earlier enough and relatively quiet as it was still quite cool even though most of the snow had already thawed.
She spotted him easily, approaching the restaurant from the opposite direction.
He was dressed warmer than she'd last seen him, although his signature scarf, black combat pants and boots were in appearance along with a grey thick wool coat and a black sweater.
His hair was tied back and she couldn't help grinning as she could openly admire his chiseled jaw, straight nose, pale skin and dark eyelashes, framing his equally striking dark eyes.
He wore the facial scruff nicely and she was thankful he'd controlled his curtain of thick hair, so she could look her fill easily without him hiding behind it.
He waved to her in greeting when he noticed her.
"Aizawa," she said, still smiling as he stopped a respectable arms length from where she waited.
"Anaka-sensei," he replied with a head bow.
Komorebi rolled her eyes. "I'm not your doctor," she huffed indignantly. "You don't type that in your messages, please at least call me Anaka if you're not ready to call me, Rebi."
"I don't call you anything in our messages."
Komorebi smiled wider at his monotone counter remark. "True. And you don't respond to my baiting either. Maybe you're exhausted enough with questions from your students to reply to my questions.”
"My days aren't that interesting."
"To you maybe. I would like to hear about something other than civil complaints, department infighting from over-inflated egos and watching the ceiling mould spread."
"Your office has a mould problem?"
"The tea room does. The leaking from the fridge and the sink pump that is regularly blocked creates humidity issues."
"That seems like a health code violation."
Komorebi shrugged. "Probably, I try to avoid it." He held the door for her and they both entered the restaurant.
Aizawa nodded in greeting to the maitre d, and they were gallantly shown to a quiet area of the restaurant where a chef stood waiting at an empty grill.
She make herself comfortable before asking, "Do you like coming here for the atmosphere and demonstrative cooking or the food?"
"The food's good and I don't have to talk."
Well that certainly set the tone. She stared at the utensils and wondered if a date had been such a good idea after all.
They communicated better through texts, even if it meant that she couldn't read him or see his face.
"What menu would you like to choose this evening?" the chef asked her, breaking her inner spiral of despair.
"Oh," she said looking up. "We're doing a tasting?"
He was watching her patiently with his signature sleepy stare. He was calm but there was a hint of surprise at her question.
She assumed with his last comment that he wanted to get through this meeting as quickly as possible. She really needed to stop jumping to the worst conclusions with him.
Of course he didn't make it easy being so tight lipped like an oyster and confusing to read.
"We'll do the Ume," he said. "If that's okay with you." He arched an eyebrow at her and she nodded quickly.
They sipped tea in silence and watched as the chef prepared their first course. Out of the corner of her eye she studied his profile. He sat slightly hunched, shoulders curled forward.
The table was too low for his height.
Without thinking, she moved to pick up a long grey hair from his sweater and froze when his gaze swung to her in an arresting way, her fingers centimeters from his clothing.
Her cheeks warmed and she read his extreme discomfort and confusion. "Ah, there's a hair, it's not yours, on your back."
"Oh," his pale cheekbones coloured slightly, a spot of dusty pink. "It belongs to my cat. Her hair gets on everything."
Komorebi plucked at the offending hair and dusted her hands under the table. "I've never had a cat but my dorm mate did. She smuggled it in and I would find it in the strangest places.
It once chewed through a tube of toothpaste. Do you know how hard it is to wash it out of fur? I think out of the three of us, my roommate and I got more wet than he did."
Aizawa eyes twinkled in a amusement but quickly faded. "I haven't had it long. There was a job, I couldn't let it become a street cat."
"It was kind of you to take her in. Don't take it to heart if the cat doesn't stay with you. Cats often return to where they're most familiar, regardless if their human companions have moved on.”
"I'll keep that in mind. She seems very lazy. She doesn't seem to move around much. Is that normal?"
Komorebi laughed. "Cats nap a lot, because they're prowlers. They can be more active at night. What breed is she?"
"I have no idea." He retrieved his phone from his coat. "This is her," he said tilting the screen so she could see.
"Are you sure that's a cat? It looks like an expensive shag cushion." She tried not to laugh.
He bristled in irritation and quickly blackened the screen and put his phone away. "I'm sure."
"I'm sorry, I've never seen anything like her. But I'm sure a Google search will give you some possibilities."
He didn't answer and only muttered to himself for a moment before taking a sip of tea. "So any cat advice for me?"
Her mouth fell open in surprise. He was asking for advice? He never asked for advice. "Ah, well Jeffery likes dry fish biscuits and Emi would bake her own sugar and dairy-free treats for him."
Komorebi paused with her chopsticks halfway to her mouth. "You know her? Of course you would, she's a teacher and a Pro Hero too."
Aizawa groaned, his eyes closing as a deep furrow appeared between his brows. He looked like he was battling a migraine. "She has a cat called Jeffery? That's an image I can't unsee."
Komorebi shifted uncomfortably. His irritation was spiking. "I get that she can be loud..."
"Every time she sees me, she is trying to propose or announce our love story."
"Oh," Komorebi responded quietly, feeling increasingly ill-at-ease. Or was that his feelings?
"She's exasperating and loud," he said with an annoyed growl.
"She's a dear friend." She couldn't help feeling defensive of Emi, while also conflicted at the idea that despite his protests to the contrary, he might actually be attracted to her.
Aizawa didn't say anything and began eating. She followed his example. Why didn't it click before now? Emi rambled on about a dark brooding hero that made her equal parts annoyed and swoony.
Aizawa checked all those boxes. She sighed. Now she was getting a headache.
"I like seeing you, Aizawa, but I don't ever want to impose on your time."
"You couldn't be more opposite," he said firmly. "Preparation for school year begin next week. I would like to see you again. May call you when I have a free evening?"
"I'd really like that."