The flowers weighed heavily in her hands as she approached the front desk. They were carefully arranged, and she held them upside-down so they would not wilt. The anxiety over trying to piece together the right bouquet had stalled her that morning, causing her to be late for the train, and she felt like a mess as she thumbed the thin red tissue paper that held the flowers in place and smiled at the nurse.
"You say…" The nurse glanced between the visitor's form the she had filled out and her face. "… that your name is Todoroki…?"
"It is," she said, though that felt a bit like a lie. She squirmed a bit under the woman's stare.
"Todoroki Fuyumi," the nurse said, tilting her head to the side. "I'm sorry, but you understand why I'm a little skeptical. I was told not to let anyone in, not even family. Only Pro Heroes are allowed to visit at the moment."
"Oh." Fuyumi watched the nurse smile up at her, almost pityingly, and she forced herself to push her nervousness aside. "Is that all?"
Fuyumi balanced the flowers beneath one arm, careful not to crush them, as she pulled her wallet from her purse and flipped it open. Her fingers did not even tremble as she offered the card out between her index and middle finger. The nurse gaped at her momentarily before snatching the card, and blinking down at it.
"I expect that will suffice?" Fuyumi asked.
The nurse looked a bit dazed as she handed back Fuyumi's card.
"My apologies," she said, looking a bit flustered, "Nightingale. I'm sorry for not recognizing you, that was my—"
"Please," Fuyumi sighed, "I don't mind at all. Can I please go see my father now?"
"Yes, yes!" The nurse handed back her license quickly. "He is in room three. Though, he already has a—"
She was halfway down the hall by the time the woman finished her sentence. Ice Queen, a voice in the back of her head said snidely.
It should have been easier to ignore by now.
When she got to the door, it was open. She stared into the doorway, feeling awkward as she hung around and watched. Hawks, who she had met in passing more than a few times, swiveled in his chair to look up at her curiously.
"Yukitomo," he greeted, his lips splitting into a lazy grin. "Ain't that something. You didn't come to see little ol' me, did you?"
Fuyumi supposed that it was useless to pretend like she was not lingering in the doorway uncertainly now, so she stepped inside the room and fixed Hawks with a blank stare until his grin slid away. Then she turned to the man in the bed.
The bandages shocked her, and she did not hide that. She opened her mouth, and then she closed it. Her father stared at her through one fierce, turquoise eye, and she found that she could not keep eye-contact with him.
"I brought flowers," she said, her voice a bit strained as she turned sharply to the window sill. Sunlight filtered in, hitting the red tissue paper and casting it aglow.
When Todoroki Enji did not reply, she knew it was not because he did not have one, but because the bandages were covering his mouth. She plucked up a stray plastic cup from the tray beside Enji's bed, and went to fill it with water.
"Sorry…" Hawks, to his credit, did sound apologetic. Fuyumi glanced back at him expectantly. "Is there… something going on between you two? I've never seen or heard of Endeavor and Nightingale working together before."
"That's because we don't," Fuyumi told him curtly. She peeled the tissue paper away, and set the flowers delicately into the cup.
Hawks glanced at Enji expectantly, and of course the man was simply staring at Fuyumi, his one good eye narrowed.
"Would you like me to leave?" Fuyumi did not bother with actually dignifying that with a response. Instead she sat down on the window sill, allowing the warmth of the sun to brush against her cheek as she fixed the loosened flower arrangement. The begonias were already wilting a bit, but the azaleas seemed to be holding up.
Enji continued to glower at her until she caved into her discomfort and glanced at him. He shook his head slowly.
"Okay." Fuyumi smoothed out her skirt, and she realized that this was probably the first time her father was seeing her in… a while. She pushed her cropped white hair behind her ears, and she sat up straight.
Hawks chewed on his lower lip, and his eyebrows shot upward. "I'm gonna go," he said gently, throwing up his hands in concession. "This is clearly personal."
Her father either huffed or snorted. She would put her money on the former.
"You don't need to leave," Fuyumi said to him. He glanced at her incredulously. "You were here first, and I certainly won't be staying long. Besides, I'm sure he'd rather the company of the man who saved him than me."
At that, Enji's eye flashed to her again. It was a warning look. She did not know how she felt about it, but a familiar sort of terror crept up on her and made her whole body coil up. Of course, she did not budge, and she did not let him know that she was afraid, but she twisted her fingers together in her lap so that they did not begin to shake.
"Can I…?" Hawks glanced cautiously from Fuyumi to Enji. "Can I ask why you're here to begin with…? Or…?"
"That's fine," Fuyumi said, ignoring the jerk of Enji's chin. "I'm his daughter."
Hawk's, to Fuyumi's surprise, only nodded. When Fuyumi stared at him blankly, he laughed.
"You look enough like his son," Hawks said with a shrug.
That startled Fuyumi, because the first son that came to mind… well, she had looked in the mirror enough times, searching for her older brother's face and coming up with the ghost of her mother, to know that Touya wasn't coming back.
"Shouto," she said carefully, ignoring the way her father absorbed every word of this conversation. "You… think I look like him?"
"Enough like him," Hawks said, smirking at her. "You've seen him, haven't you? On TV?"
Of course she had, but admitting that felt like losing. So she shrugged. "I don't watch TV much."
"You always say that."
"Why didn't you go to UA?"
He was genuinely curious about her past now, which was dangerous. Especially with her father hanging on her every word.
"Why didn't you?" she replied in kind.
He laughed, and he waggled his finger at her. "You know, some people think you are a frigid bitch. They're so wrong. You're hilarious."
"So why isn't your last name Todoroki?" Hawks blinked between her and her father. "Or is that too personal? You don't have to answer."
"I don't mind," she said, her stomach churning at the look Enji shot her. Like he would light her on fire with a stare. "Yukitomo is my mother's maiden name. I've been using it since high school."
"That's a choice," he said, his brow furrowing. "You must've known getting into any hero school would be leagues harder without Endeavor's name tied to you."
"I was aware, yes."
Intimately aware, in fact, as Endeavor himself had barred her from using his name in the first place.
A muffled sound rasped through Enji's bandages, and Hawks fell silent. Like the clever bird he was, he quit twittering when the forest threatened to burn. So he shot Fuyumi a short smile, and nodded to Endeavor.
"I'll leave you two alone," he said. "Families need to talk. Yukitomo, I'll see you later?"
That was inevitable. They were both young heroes, and Hawks and Nightingale tended to gravitate toward the same type of danger. Once, at a party a year or so back, they had actually bonded over their similarities. Not in personality or skill or past, but in the way that they saved people and their philosophy in general.
Though she did still think he was lazy, he had not minded at all when she told him so.
She knew that the laziness was not the only thing motivating him, though many did not realize that. Perhaps her father had underestimated him too.
After a pause that she had accidentally allowed to linger for too long, she nodded at Hawks. He smiled at her, and he winked.
"Birds stick together, eh?" He waved at Enji as he moved toward the exit. "I'll come again tomorrow, kay? Hopefully those bandages come off."
And then, just like that, Fuyumi and Enji were alone. Fuyumi chewed on her lower lip and stared at the door, feeling the heat of Enji's gaze but unable to meet it. She felt small, like a fourteen year old again, and the back of her throat burned with bile. She swallowed it down.
"You know," she said, "I didn't expect for our first meeting in almost a decade to be like this. Did you?"
Enji, of course, could only stare. She was thankful for the bandages over his mouth, and yet it seemed to make him scarier. The silence had always frightened her more than the screams, though she had never told Natsu or Shouto that. Once, when she had been very small, she had told Touya. But it did not matter what she had or had not told Touya now.
"I suppose you are wondering why I'm here," she said, leaning her head back against the window and closing her eyes. "Why did I bother? After all, I am disowned. I am a castoff, like Touya. It really is a miracle I made it to becoming a Pro Hero at all. Right?"
She cracked an eyelid open. Her father was no longer looking at her, and instead had found something more interesting to glare at on his blankets.
"Well," she said, "like it or not, I am your daughter. And a daughter brings flowers when her father is in the hospital, even if he hates his daughter, and wishes she had never been born."
He shook his head at that, and she closed her eyes once more, nausea burning inside her stomach.
"Don't," she murmured. "Don't do that. You said that. You told me you wished I'd never been born, that it would be better that I was never born than if I became a hero. Don't shake your head and pretend you didn't."
More silence, more silence, and that made her unravel. Tears burned behind her eyelids, and at the very prickle of them she was on her feet.
"Get well soon," she told him stiffly.
She strode from the room without another word.
Hawks caught up with her at the bottom of the stairwell, stuffing his hands into the pockets of his jacket and trailing after her when she ignored him.
"Your dad, huh?"
"Please," Fuyumi murmured, "I don't want to talk about it."
Hawks considered her for a moment, his brow furrowing, before he nodded. "Okay," he said. "So… how have you been?"
She and Hawks were about the same age. The main difference between them was that she was pretty far behind on her hero career. She had her Pro Hero license, but because she had been a few years behind and had gone to school in a rural area, she was as good as a fresh UA graduate. Which she did not think was necessarily a bad thing.
"I'm finishing up my last internship right now," she admitted, her fingers twisting around the holes in-between the knitting of her sweater. "Umbara wasn't quite as thorough as UA in preparing us for the cut-throat politics of the hero world."
"I wouldn't know."
"Where are you interning?"
Fuyumi walked briskly, knowing that her legs were a bit longer than his. The way he quickened his step to meet hers gave her a stab of satisfaction, as spiteful as it was.
"Right now I'm with Red Dahlia," she said.
"Oh, ew," Hawks said, wrinkling his nose. "With homicide? Yukitomo, you're better than that."
"Better than what?"
"The point of being a hero is to catch the villain before the civilian is dead. Remember?"
Of course she knew that, but it didn't really matter much. She had gotten this internship because of her brain, not her quirk. That had been refreshing enough on its own.
"The Dahlia is nice," she said simply.
Hawks snorted, his chin tucking to his chest indignantly. "Yeah, she is," he said. "And she makes a living off murder. You really gonna waste your talents on detective work? You could've just became a detective at that point."
"It's just an internship," Fuyumi said coolly. "What does it matter to you, anyway? What do you know about my 'talents?'"
"I know you're too good to be cooped up doing paperwork for Red Dahlia and her creepy paintings." Hawks looked at her square in the eye, and she realized he had slipped in front of her without her noticing. Sneaky. "Listen, I'm gonna ask you something, and maybe we'll both regret it later, but…"
That made her nervous. She and Hawks got along well enough, if only because she reminded him of Natsuo, or even Touya at times, but that resemblance also repulsed her a bit. Men took a liking to her often enough that this sort of tone, the cloying suggestion in Hawks's voice, it made her want to pivot and dart away.
"… Would you join my agency?"
"Oh," she said.
"Oh?" Hawks raised his eyes toward the sky, and he whistled low. "C'mon, Yukitomo, gimme a break. You're not my type, anyways."
"Well," she said, "I will count my blessings."
He stared at her for just a moment before he snorted and burst into a fit of laughter. "You are cold," he gasped, his smile genuine as he held out his hand. "But I'm okay with that. Join up with me, Yukitomo."
"Why?" she demanded.
"Why not?" he countered. His smirk was irritating. "I'm the Number Two Hero, remember?"
"Weren't you always saying hero rankings are a joke?"
"They are," he said, "but being popular still matters, right? The only way you could do better than me is if you join up with your dad."
Fuyumi averted her gaze sharply.
"Which," Hawks said, his voice strangely delicate, "I can tell is a sore topic. So why not? You get good benefits, and you really get to be out in the field, and—"
"I'll think about it." Fuyumi shouldered past him.
After all, she still had time. Her internship didn't end for another few weeks.
She paused mid-step, and a million anxieties gripped her as she stared ahead expectantly. He would continue to prod her, to goad her into joining his agency, to ask her about what was going on between her and her father, or maybe he had already guessed. Maybe he had formulated the truth the moment she had walked in, with her long skirt and high-neck sweater. The way her father had stared at her probably had revealed it all.
"Take care of yourself, alright?"
With that, Fuyumi winced. Guilt crept up on her, snatching her up in its cold embrace and locking her limbs in place. When had she become so cynical, anyway?
Unable to formulate a response, she moved forward as quickly as her legs allowed. She did not stop until she reached the subway.
When she got to her internship the next day, she was bombarded.
"You've gotten a request to join Hawks's agency?" Red Dahlia demanded.
Red Dahlia was a tall woman with an incredible arrangement of unruly red hair. She wore a pair of round, tortoise-shell glasses, and rarely wore her Pro Hero costume. Instead, she lounged around her office in stained overalls, multiple paint brushes stuck in her red curls.
Fuyumi, who had been cataloguing the newest round of paintings, closed her eyes tiredly. This would not be an easy thing to shake, she knew it now.
"Yes," she admitted.
"Fuyumi," Red Dahlia said, "do you even understand how huge that is?"
My father is Endeavor, she wanted to say, so yeah, kind of.
Instead, Fuyumi stared at the horrific smear of green and black paint that blended from a forest to a shadowy face within the painting in front of her. The details were stunningly realistic, like she was staring into a photograph. Red Dahlia's quirk could have made her very rich, if these unsettling scenes were of anything besides grisly murders.
"I'm beginning to suspect," Fuyumi said dryly. She picked up the canvas and turned it around to show the Dahlia. "Endor Forest?"
"Could be," the Dahlia said, frowning at her own work. She readjusted her glasses and peered closer. "Do you think my vision was from earlier in the night, then?"
"No. Obviously the vision was within ten minutes of her death, and I doubt she was conscious for the last few. The killer wouldn't have had time to move her all the way to Pantora Park."
"So she was moved?"
Red Dahlia grimaced. "That'll be fun to investigate," she sighed, smoothing back her hair. "At least I know his face."
Frankly, Fuyumi did not mind working for Red Dahlia. The paintings were creepy, and according to the Dahlia, the reason the agency didn't get many interns was because the job could get incredibly difficult to deal with. There was little traditional action, and too much detail-oriented work. Fuyumi had spent nearly every day for the past two months carefully combing through the last thing dozens of victims saw and deciding what was significant and what wasn't.
Thankfully, there had only been one victim who had died in a fire. She had gladly handed that painting off to another hero in the office.
"You know you can't stall me," Red Dahlia said, folding her arms across her chest. "Are you seriously thinking about turning Hawks down?"
"I…" Fuyumi frowned. She set the painting back on the table and shook her head. "Can't I just feel strange about the whole thing? Who said that I'm a good fit for that agency, anyway?"
"Um, I do!" Red Dahlia rolled her eyes. "Fuyumi, darling, I love you, and you are doing wonderful work, but you did not become a hero to study art and murder all day!"
"Maybe I like studying art and murder!" Fuyumi objected, feeling small and childish as the Dahlia laughed in her face.
"Maybe," Red Dahlia conceded, "but you can always do that as a hobby. And, sorry to say, but you know we can't take you on full time."
"I know that."
"So why not take up the offer?" Red Dahlia's eyes searched Fuyumi's face curiously.
Fuyumi shook her head, if only because that was all she could do. She didn't really have an excuse.
Inevitably she did have to make a choice, and that choice came quicker than she had anticipated. Red Dahlia had to do an interview with a small-time news outlet, and Fuyumi stood patiently on the other side of the camera while the Dahlia spoke emphatically about her close relationship with the police due to her specific skill set. She also worked with private investigators and other heroes when necessary.
And then, in the middle of the interview, the improbable happened.
An intern beside her was approached by a frantic young woman. "Endeavor is here."
Fuyumi heard this, and she stiffened. Perhaps she had made a mistake by visiting her father that day, but she did not regret it. Easing her conscience by knowing that no matter the harm Todoroki Enji had done to her, she was still the bigger person. It was a small sense of solace in a grand web of pain and shame and utter devastation.
The interviewer looked shocked when the intern murmured the news into her ear, and she glanced at Red Dahlia in disbelief before beaming at the camera.
"It seems that we've been graced with a surprise guest!" The interviewer smoothed out her skirt and folded her hands on her lap. "I'm pleased to greet the Number One Hero— Endeavor!"
Red Dahlia blinked twice. She held herself with an admirable amount of poise for a virtually unknown hero with a passive quirk who had just found out her interview was being hijacked by the most famous hero currently at work.
When Todoroki Enji stepped out, Fuyumi was incredibly thankful for her mask. It hid her eyes completely, as well as much of the upper half of her face. The Dahlia had been telling her lately that for her next costume she should turn the mask, which was a flexible metal, into a helmet and start calling herself Knightingale. Fuyumi thought that was a fun idea.
Now she really wished she did have a helmet. She wanted to hide her face completely.
The scar on his face was… intense. Fuyumi could not help but stare at it, as the rest of the crew around her stared at it, and she thought to herself: good.
Then she felt guilty, and she turned away. She felt her father's stare as the interviewer babbled to Endeavor about his fight with the Nomu.
Fuyumi drifted toward the back of the room, hoping to make herself scarce. This was not anything she had anticipated that morning, and she felt weak very suddenly. Sweat gathered at the back of her neck as her stomach turned to an uncomfortable degree. She grasped a plastic cup and filled it with water at the cooler in the corner, taking small, shaky sips.
It was one thing to see the man mute and immobile in a hospital bed. It was another to watch the flames wisp around his square jaw while his turquoise eyes followed her every move. It was suddenly so warm that Fuyumi thought to strip down to her underwear then and there, knowing how terrible that would be on multiple levels.
"— I'm actually here with an intern of mine."
No, Fuyumi thought, squeezing her eyes shut. Dahlia, no. No, no, no.
Fuyumi sucked in a deep breath. She froze the remaining water in the cup instinctively, allowing the wave of coolness to wash over her. Of course her hero costume was insulated, and it warmed her almost immediately after using her power, but the relief of feeling an immediate reprieve from Endeavor's heat was overwhelming.
She edged along the set, not quite stepping in front of the cameras, but getting filmed all the same.
"Nightingale," the interviewer said thoughtfully. "Yes, I've seen you before. You helped with the White Devil last year, didn't you?"
"Yes," Fuyumi said.
"She's very modest," Red Dahlia said brightly. "She rescued nearly two dozen civilians before Hawks even showed up."
"I was lucky," Fuyumi corrected, "to be in the right place at the right time. Hawks arrived very quickly, and he rescued many more than I did."
Her father's eyes were glued to her face. She stood stiffly behind the Dahlia, her jaw set and her shoulders squared. She would not look at him. She refused.
"That certainly is an interesting costume," the interviewer said. "What inspired it?"
"Joan of Arc."
There was a brief, uncomfortable pause as Fuyumi tipped her head to glance at her father. He did not look impressed. She doubted the interviewer would understand the reason for the awkward silence, but Fuyumi knew, and that was enough.
"Nightingale's very bright," Red Dahlia said, beaming up at her. "A suspect last week confessed to a murder because Nightingale deduced her relationship to the victim by her shoes."
Fuyumi said nothing, allowing herself to be praised while simultaneously pushing her nails into her palms hard enough the distract from the soreness of her throat. Her hands were gloveless, since she needed her skin to produce ice.
"It sounds like you are quite the capable hero, Nightingale," the interviewer gasped. "What do you think of her, Endeavor?"
For just a few seconds, Fuyumi drifted out of her own head. She heard her father's voice, and she was on the floor of her childhood home, gripping Natsuo in her arms and biting her tongue to keep herself from melting into an inconsolable mess of sobs and shrill shrieks as the smell of cooked flesh stung her nostrils.
"I think," Endeavor said, "that Nightingale should join my agency."
Cooked flesh, bubbling, bubbling, sloughing off.
Don't look, don't look, don't look at him, Natsu—
The silence fell upon her like snow.
She thought if she looked hard enough at nothing, she could see her older brother writhing in the walls.
Reality hit her hard when the interviewer laughed nervously. Fuyumi turned her attention fully toward the woman, and she bowed her head apologetically.
"I'm sorry," she said curtly. "It isn't Endeavor's fault." The lie came smoother than she expected. She wondered if Natsuo would see this and laugh. "You see, I've already accepted an agency's offer."
"Oh?" The interviewer's eyes were bright and hungry for more information. Fuyumi didn't dare look at her father. She knew without looking that he was enraged. "You're so popular already! Who is the lucky agency?"
"I'll be working for Hawks," she said, ignoring how the Dahlia twisted in her seat to look up at Fuyumi incredulously. It was the first time in the entire interview that Red Dahlia seemed to truly question what was happening with her.
"Now that truly is remarkable!" The interviewer grinned, looking between Fuyumi and Endeavor eagerly. "Was it your familiarity with Hawks that drove you to him?"
"We have similar goals," Fuyumi said simply. "Nothing more."
She excused herself after that, allowing the interview to progress naturally. She could not leave without looking suspicious, so she went to the bathroom, peeled off her mask, and stared at her pink-tinged eyes dazedly.
What a fucking asshole.
Part of her was angry at herself for turning her father down. She knew that he would be angrier than ever, and he would never let her back in the house again now. If she had accepted his offer, if she had just swallowed her pride, maybe then she could see Natsuo and Shouto again.
The thought of it made a sob bubble up, unbidden, and burst from her lips. She flicked on the faucet and pushed her head under it. The water was warmer than she would have liked, but her tears melted easily away with the flow of it.
When she was done crying, she lifted up her head and stared at herself once more. Her eyes were no longer tinged pink, and were now an angry, agitated red around the rims and the whites. They were puffy and dull, and her cheeks were just as flushed. She blotted her face with a paper towel, sniffling as she smoothed back her bangs.
The door opened, and Fuyumi froze.
"What did Endeavor do to you?" the Dahlia demanded, closing the door hard.
Fuyumi pressed her lips together thinly. She sniffed again, and studied her reflection. Her white hair, shorn free of red strands, was curling against her chin as it dried.
"It's nothing," she said, her voice small and clipped.
"No," Red Dahlia sighed, "it isn't. You know I've seen enough horror to know when someone is upset, and even more-so scared. I have never seen you scared before, you know."
"Please," Fuyumi murmured, leaning heavily against the sink, "drop it."
Red Dahlia studied her over the round, tortoise shell frames of her glasses, and she sighed heavily.
"Hawks," she muttered. "That's how I knew. You really felt that desperate? That cornered?"
"Hawks isn't so bad."
"He isn't," the Dahlia agreed, "but you seemed pretty certain you didn't want to work for him yesterday."
"Well, I had a change of heart," Fuyumi said. "I'm flighty, am I not?"
Red Dahlia stared at her blankly. She shook her head slowly, disbelief glimmering in her eyes. "Do you need me to stall for you?" she murmured.
"No." Fuyumi tossed the paper towel away and placed her mask back on her face. She brushed past the Dahlia and walked briskly back into the studio.
She thanked the interviewer for her time and patience while Endeavor continued to watch her. He ignored a small crowd of fans, pushing one particularly unlucky one out of his way as he approached. Fuyumi was grateful when Red Dahlia appeared at her side, putting a physical barrier between her and Endeavor.
"I expect great things from you," the interviewer was saying, beaming down at Fuyumi. "If such great heroes have taken an interest, you are bound to go far. You have an ice quirk, don't you?"
"Yes." Fuyumi did not want to manifest her ice in front of her father, so she resisted the urge to demonstrate her quirk. After so many years of believing her quirk was weak, knowing now how strong it could be was something that assured her when she was feeling particularly full of doubt.
The idea that her father might see her use her ice made her want to cry again.
"I see why you'd want her," the interviewer said, addressing Endeavor. "Having an ice sidekick around while your son is still in school would have its perks."
Endeavor did not look at the interviewer when he said, "Yes. It would."
Fuyumi bit her tongue.
"So sad that Hawks got to her first," Red Dahlia said, sighing wistfully. "Anyway, thanks again for letting us come. I don't tend to get much publicity, since most people get a bit disturbed by my quirk."
"Any time!" The interviewer beamed. "Your quirk is fascinating, and it saves a lot of lives. Also, getting to meet Nightingale was a treat. And without Nightingale, perhaps Endeavor would not have bothered to come at all!"
"I wouldn't have," her father said candidly.
"I'm sorry you wasted your time," Fuyumi said, unable to stop herself. When she looked at him, he was peering down at her, the flames of his beard flickering against his skin. Her breath caught in her throat.
"Hawks did not tell me he approached you," Endeavor said sharply. "He should have."
"It's not really your business," Fuyumi said.
"That is not true."
Fuyumi sucked in a sharp breath. He really was going to try and start something! In front of a journalist, no less. She shook her head.
"It was good to see you, Endeavor," she said curtly, raising her chin to look up into his face. The strange, pinkish discoloration on his face designated the new scar. "That scar is ugly, isn't it? It suits you."
Fuyumi processed her own words, nearly gagged, and she whirled away without another word.
Red Dahlia cackled all the way back to the office. Then, over a pot of tea, she cajoled the story out of Fuyumi.
"Your father," the Dahlia said very cautiously, like the word might come to life inside her mouth and steal her tongue away.
Fuyumi sat, plucking threads from the sleeve of her sweater as the tea cup steamed in her right hand. She thought about rolling it up, baring her arms, letting all the years fall out onto the table like chips in a pile. Of course that would cause more problems than it was worth, so instead she merely shrugged one shoulder and watched the reflection of the office light in the surface of her black tea.
"Fuyumi, why didn't you say something?"
A far cry from the bejeweled, elegant costume she had worn that afternoon, the Dahlia now sported torn leggings and a stained, baggy tank top. Beneath it, a gray sports bra peeked through. Her unruly red hair was piled on top of her head, held by a blue velvet scrunchie. The Dahlia was not young, but she wasn't quite old either. There were no visible gray hairs lining the bright, fiery red, but her face was lined in a way that suggested that she was at least two decades older than Fuyumi. The atmosphere she gave off was entirely youthful and energetic, which had thrown Fuyumi at first, because it had tricked her into believing the Dahlia was younger.
"I didn't realize we'd be seeing him today." Fuyumi tapped her cup thoughtfully. "How did he even know?"
"About the interview?" Red Dahlia frowned. "That sort of stuff is pretty public info. I know my own publicists probably mentioned that you'd be coming with me to it."
Fuyumi closed her eyes. This was not a great situation, overall. Now she had to go work for Hawks, on top of everything else.
"Can I ask…" Red Dahlia peered at her over the frames of her glasses. "Why exactly does everyone know about your brother, but not you?"
With a sigh, Fuyumi set her cup down. She had been expecting this question.
"My brother…" It was hard to say anything about Shouto. The boy on the television was a stranger, and Fuyumi liked to push that fact out of her mind more often than not. "He has the perfect quirk. Me and my other brothers, we didn't get so lucky."
She didn't mention Touya, because she had cried enough today.
"He seemed interested in your quirk today," the Dahlia pointed out.
"Today, yes." Fuyumi closed her eyes. "Twenty years ago? I don't have a single memory of him ever picking me up or smiling at me. He thought I was a failure, and that my quirk was useless. When I told him I wanted to become a hero…"
"That didn't go so well?"
A bitter laugh came bouncing from her mouth before she could stop it.
"He disowned me," she said, leaning back in her chair.
"What…?" Red Dahlia blinked rapidly. "Disowned? Properly?"
"I was cut off financially," Fuyumi said, "which is why I entered high school late. I had to scrounge to find a school that would accept me, and that was after I trained for a year in multiple shelters and foster homes. I needed a bunch of scholarships, so I had to be pretty outstanding for anyone to consider me. In my mind, every school was as difficult to get into as UA. So I trained like I was applying to UA. Eventually I got out of the city, graduated, and became Nightingale, but…"
"But you had to leave your family behind." Red Dahlia grimaced. Her sympathy was sweet, but Fuyumi squirmed a bit uncomfortably. "How did your mother take all of that?"
Fuyumi stared at the Dahlia, wishing she could go back in time and had just completely ignored Endeavor entirely. Or better yet, not gone at all.
"My mom is in a hospital," she said. "I haven't had any contact with her for… about ten years now?"
"Oh," the Dahlia said softly, "I'm so sorry. Fuyumi, why didn't you tell me any of this before? I could have helped. I would have never publicized that you would be with me today. I—"
"I can handle my father," Fuyumi cut in coolly. "He just caught me off guard today. I don't know what he's thinking, asking me to join his agency— like I would ever, after what he put me through when I decided to become a hero."
"I'm glad that you turned him down," the Dahlia said with a small smirk. "He was pissed. Did you notice? He didn't say anything, but I could tell he was angry. Anyway, he doesn't deserve you. Do you even realize how talented you are, Fuyumi? I count myself lucky that I got to mentor you."
"I'm serious." The Dahlia watched her with tired eyes. "You could have gone to UA. You're as good as any UA graduate. And you don't need your shitty father to give you anything. You made your path on your own, and you're going to continue doing so."
Hesitantly, Fuyumi nodded. That was true enough.
"I'm just glad I had Hawks's offer to fall back on," Fuyumi admitted quietly. "What would I have done otherwise? My father would have insisted, and I would have been forced to say yes or explain."
"It's a small blessing, yes." The Dahlia studied Fuyumi and she offered a small smile. "Are you alright?"
"I think so." Fuyumi wasn't so sure, but she smiled back at the Dahlia anyway. "Thank you for listening. I never really… get to tell anyone this stuff. I always think people won't believe me."
Red Dahlia looked at Fuyumi steadily for just a moment before she stood up and rounded the table, crushing Fuyumi to her chest and forcing her into a hug. It was surprising, to say the least, and Fuyumi sat awkwardly through it. Her face flushed, knowing she was too stiff and uncertain to really reciprocate the hug, but she was thankful regardless.
She handed the contract in the next day. Hawks himself greeted her, his lazy gaze fixed upon her as she signed the last line and pushed it toward him.
"You know," he said, leaning forward and resting his chin in his hands, "I really thought it'd take more convincing than this. What gives?"
"I weighed my options." Fuyumi looked away sharply. Her arms itched. When she glanced back at Hawks, his eyes were narrowed. "You're the best one. So, do I have the job, or…?"
"Can't I conduct an interview first?"
"You know that question was just a formality, right?" Fuyumi shoved her anxiety deep down in her chest and locked it tight. "You already gave me the offer. You won't get rid of me now."
Hawks smirked. "Wasn't dreaming of it," he said coyly. Then he straightened up, and Fuyumi was alarmed at how his playful demeanor fell away. "I'd hate to do this to you, but I'm a little short staffed at the moment. Naru is gonna be out on maternity leave for a while, and Shiraishi's leg is pretty much busted. Would you mind starting a bit earlier?"
"I…" Fuyumi had expected to be eased into the new Pro Hero job, not be dumped head first into it. But then again, when had anything ever been simple for her? "I suppose… that's… fine. Um…" She was nervous now. She was going to start stammering if she wasn't careful. She did not look him in the eye when she spoke. "I can't work every day. I still have to finish my internship."
"Of course." Hawks nodded firmly. "I don't want to stretch you too thin. Could you work here Tuesdays and Thursdays?"
"That…" Was entirely reasonable. Better than expected, even. "That works. Thank you, Hawks."
"I'm just glad to have you aboard." Hawks winked at her.
To her immense surprise, he didn't ask her about her father. At least, not then. He gave her a quick tour around his agency, and Fuyumi was introduced to a few other heroes. Hawks really was short-handed, she realized. Naru, who was a hero called Queen Midas, had metal powers that made her adept at weaponry. From what Fuyumi came to understand, Naru was the sort of cavalry when targeting strong villains. The woman was also very pregnant. Shiraishi, on the other hand, had a seismic quirk. Unfortunately, even when he created a controlled earthquake it could cause problems, and now he was wearing a boot on his foot.
The other heroes were an older hero with three eyes known as Chiron and a third year work-study from UA named Amano Shiori. Fuyumi wasn't sure what Chiron's power was, and she did not ask. Amano's hero name was Dream Weaver, and her skillset involved highly ornate illusions. Her eyes bore no irises or pupils, and instead contained what appeared to be a cloudy pink film.
"Amano has classes," Hawks said, "so she's not here all the time. Chiron usually gets solo missions— his quirk isn't suited for combat, and frankly I'd hate to see him in a battle. Tokoyami's not here much anymore, since I think his work-study stint is just about done, though I'm sure he'll be back."
"So what you're saying," Fuyumi said amusedly, "is that it's just me and you?"
"Essentially." Hawks shot her a broad grin. "You think you can keep up with me, Yukitomo?"
There was a real challenge hidden beneath his playful grin and ringing laugh. Fuyumi stared at him blankly until he fell silent and waited for her to respond.
"I don't think that will be a problem," she said.
That only made him grin again.
Fuyumi had known many young heroes like Hawks in the years since she'd left home, but Hawks did have something that all those other aspiring children didn't: success. Fuyumi operated on a general sort of "fake-it-'til-you-make-it" mentality. It was why she did not get overly flustered when he challenged her, because, if she was honest with herself, she knew that she could not keep up with Hawks.
She was pretty sure he knew that too.
But he thought she was funny anyway, and being liked was more important than being honest at this point.
As promised, Fuyumi arrived at Hawks's agency on Tuesday. They almost immediately were called out of the office, and "they" meant simply Hawks and Fuyumi.
"Hawks and Nightingale!" He flew her down into the street, and much to her dismay, dropped her a few feet before the ground. Instinctively, ice shot up to meet her, and she slid breezily to her feet. "It has a ring to it, doesn't it?"
Fuyumi was focused on dodging a ball of tar that went smacking against the asphalt. It oozed and hissed behind her, and she grimaced a bit.
When she got two civilians to safety, dividing them from the conflict, Hawks swooped down beside her and shook his head.
"Don't worry about the rescue!" he gasped.
"Don't worry about it!" He wheeled her around, his fingers gripping her shoulders tightly. She stared at the tar villain, who was oozing black liquid from every orifice. He stood in the middle of the road, tall and gangly, as steam shuddered around him. "I can handle the rescue. Okay? Listen, you're my offensive right now."
"What?" They had discussed the offensive capabilities of her powers before, of course, and Hawks had seen her use them, but it still surprised her. She had never considered herself someone with a strong offensive quirk.
"You know I can clear the area faster than you," Hawks said urgently. "You also know that you can freeze that dude and end this pretty quickly."
"I'm not sure—"
"You can," Hawks gasped, squeezing her shoulders. "C'mon, Nightingale! You're a hero, aren't you? Go kick his ass!"
He shoved her forward, and she stumbled momentarily as she stared at the villain. After so much time working toward this, she finally had a chance to be a hero, and she was totally freezing up. The steam was distracting her, and the pressure too, because she knew that she was being filmed.
Her father would see this.
A ball of tar collided with her leg, and she went crashing to the ground. Her back smacked against the asphalt, and she stared up at the sky dazedly.
If her father saw this, he'd think that he was right to do what he did. That she was weak. That she could never really be a hero, not the way he was.
Fuyumi jerked upright. The tar had damaged one of her shin-guards, and she placed her hand over the glob, watching the black liquid solidify under her touch. It hissed and crackled as it iced over, hoarfrost blooming in the cracks of the black mass.
The truth was, Fuyumi would probably rather die than prove her father right.
She stood, stamping her right heel and cracking the rest of the frozen tar. It shattered upon contact with the ground.
"Okay," she breathed, holding out both her hands as she stared down the tar villain. "Okay…"
She broke into a sprint, pain shuddering up her leg for the first few seconds. The impact had shocked her body, she knew, and it would probably leave a bruise. As she ran, she spun to dodge another glob of tar, and she slid across the ground to miss another one, a large one, that had been lobbed at her head. Ice sprung from her finger tips, and at the third oozing ball that was thrown toward her, she flung her hands up and let it impact her palms.
The tar burst apart in a strange array of black dust. The ice particles danced around her, catching in her white hair and in the crevices of her suit.
"Please," Fuyumi called, knowing this was a futile effort but needing to try anyway, "stop fighting."
The tar villain looked at her for just a moment before he cackled.
"Are you begging, little girl?" he taunted her.
Fuyumi wondered why all villains seemed to be the same brand of stupid.
She was already crouched down, so touching the road was no problem. A trail of ice slithered across the asphalt, quick as a snake, and the tar villain noticed it a bit too late. His legs were locked tight in a prison of his own tar, his legs frozen solid. The frozen tar was jagged, and hot tar oozed over it, melting a bit of it as he struggled.
That meant she probably didn't have too much time until he was free again.
"I'm only asking," Fuyumi said coolly, "for your sake. Stand down."
Once more, the villain cackled.
Fuyumi shook her head. It wasn't wise to try to reason with villains, but Fuyumi did it anyway. She knew the circumstances that drove many people to crime, and she wanted to give every person a fair shot.
When the tar villain melted into the street, she took a quick step back. Obviously he was trying to blend into the asphalt so she wouldn't see him coming.
What he didn't realize is that she was entirely too aware when the air around her got a bit hotter than before, and with a jolt she was in the air, snow whirling around her. She skidded back, her head snapping to one side as an arm, tar dripping from his sleeves and fingers, came dangerously close to smacking into her cheek.
I'm getting too cold, she thought, shaking the frost from her finger tips and backpedaling as the tar villain lunged at her.
As warm as the rest of her body was, there was nothing that could be done about her hands. Various support teams had been working on gloves for her for years, but she always seemed to freeze them, or they inhibited her abilities somehow.
The tar villain slid suddenly, his legs melding into one oozing limb as he lurched toward her. She gasped as she was knocked backwards, two balls of tar coming too fast for her to dodge both, and she sat for a moment in shock as the tar rolled upwards and the man towered over her.
You will not tarnish my name—
The heat rolled off the villain's body as he grabbed her by the neck.
If you think you're so tough, fight me! Make me let go.
The tar was hot against her armor.
The villain laughed at her, and that laughter rung in her ears.
Do you think a villain will let you go? Do you think if you cry enough, beg enough, a villain will decide to spare you?
"Start begging, little girl."
Cry a little harder, girl. You think this hurts? You think this is pain? You'll never be a hero.
The tar brushed the sliver of exposed skin at her next, and the pain shocked her. The familiarity of it, the blinding shock of heat against her exposed neck, the tightening of fingers around her throat as it all burned, and steam burned her prickling eyes. White stars danced beyond her vision, and she wondered if this is how Touya had felt.
The villain screamed, and she coughed violently, wincing as her numb fingers brushed the burn on her neck. The moment she'd broken from her stupor, the moment the pain had launched her back to reality, she'd clapped her hands against the asphalt and sent two spires of ice through the villain's shoulders.
"I told you," she rasped, her voice strangely gravelly from being choked, "I was only asking you to stand down for your sake."
She pushed herself up and held both her hands out. His body, all of that tar, cracked and hissed beneath her fingertips as it froze over.
He struggled a bit afterwards, which reassured her that she hadn't frozen anything vital. She turned to greet Hawks as he landed beside her, whistling a bit as he admired her handy work. Then he ushered her out of the villain's earshot.
"I saw some of that," he said, glancing at her worriedly. "I was close to lending a hand."
She sucked in a sharp breath. "I handled it," she said.
"Yes." He nodded once. "Very good. I'm impressed. But you came very close to losing. Why did you hesitate?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean," Hawks whispered, "you were caught, but you always had the ability to send that— what's that move called?"
"Oh." Fuyumi shook her head. "There's no name for that. I don't like doing it."
"It messes up my hands." She held up her reddened, throbbing fingers. She was starting to regain feeling in them, and it hurt.
Hawks stared down at her hands, and he took then for a moment to examine them. He flipped over her palms and frowned.
"This happens often?" he asked.
Hawks shook his head. "That's an easy fix." He dropped her hands. "Does the rest of your body get too cold?"
"No. Just my hands."
"Good." Hawks nodded to her. "We'll get you something that will regular the temperature in your hands."
"I've tried that before," Fuyumi objected. "Support items don't work."
"That's because, not to be rude, but you were working from either student supports or cheap supports. I'm gonna get you something good. Alright?" He waved broadly at her chapped hands. "I'm not chancing any of your fingers because you're stubborn. That last move was incredible. We're naming it, okay? ASAP."
"Oh, here come the cameras." Hawks nudged her meaningfully. "Don't forget to smile."
Fuyumi didn't smile, but she didn't shrug off Hawks when he leaned against her and smirked at the camera.
"Yes, this is my new sidekick, Nightingale."
Fuyumi managed a small wave. There were cameras flashing, and people speaking to her, and she couldn't help but tune them all out in favor of standing absolutely still. The amount of attention she was getting was overwhelming. Nobody had ever paid this much attention to her before, even when she had taken part in some large rescue ops.
"I'm going to help the police with the villain," she murmured to Hawks, avoiding answering questions. Hawks glanced down at her, and he snorted softly.
"Go on," he said, jerking his chin.
As she walked away, she heard Hawks tell the journalists, "Isn't she funny? Don't take it too personally, she's really just shy. But damn if she isn't a badass, right?"
She didn't go into work for Red Dahlia the next day, and instead sat in her apartment and iced the burn on her neck. Most of her day was spent curled up on her couch, petting her cat, eating ice cream out of the carton, and crying.
She cried a lot.
Her phone was blowing up. School friends were texting her videos of her fight the day before, excited and congratulatory. A few news outlets had tried contacting her outright, and she was grateful that she could just forward their queries to Hawks's agency and ignore them. It was all really exhausting.
To make matters worse, the video of her interview with Endeavor dropped that night. If she thought her phone was blowing up before, now it was unbearable. She turned it off. Then she watched TV, since her eyes were a bit too swollen to read, and she fell asleep.
The next day, when she came into the office, Hawks called her aside immediately. She didn't even have time to sign into her work computer.
"Yes?" she asked him tiredly.
He studied her face, his eyes glued to hers, and she couldn't help but look away. She had hoped that putting on eyeliner and mascara would mask how puffy her eyes were. They had almost been too agitated to put contacts in that morning.
"I like to think I'm a pretty chill boss," Hawks said, leaning against his desk. She knew already, from just a few days of being in the office, that he hardly ever used it. "What do you think?"
"I don't know," she admitted. "I've only worked here a day."
Fuyumi wrung her sleeves around her hands nervously. She'd decided to wear a pink, loose knit cardigan over a tee-shirt, which made her feel a little exposed. She'd covered most of her neck with a thick choker.
Hawks watched her fiddle with her sleeves, and he was silent until she stopped.
"This is about the Endeavor interview," she said tiredly, "right?"
"How'd you guess?"
She shot him a pointed look, and he grimaced. He sat down fully on his desk and folded his arms across his chest.
"Look," he said. "I like Endeavor. I'm not sure what beef you have with him, but I need to know it."
Hawks stared at her incredulously, and he scoffed.
"Why?" he echoed her, almost mockingly. "Yukitomo, you know that he's the Number One Hero, right? And that I'm the Number Two Hero? I'm going to have to see him constantly. And now that you work for me, so do you."
Fuyumi choked down an impudent, "Do I really?" If only to shoot Hawks a cold glare.
"What's that look for?" Hawks held his hands out desperately. "C'mon, Yukitomo, I'm not a mind reader. If it was my choice, I'd let you have your family secrets, but you decided to come work for me to spite your old man, so… come on. Spill."
She pressed her lips together thinly. In her worst bouts of anxiety, she tended to shred the skin of her lips with her teeth.
"Okay." She inhaled sharply, her fingers pushing through the neat cut of her bangs. "Okay… um… you probably shouldn't mention it to anyone."
"I'm a great secret keeper," Hawks said, his smile small and almost bitter. "Don't worry."
She nodded. Very slowly, she lowered herself into the single seat across from Hawks's desk. He watched her, and he waited patiently as she chewed on her lower lip.
"My dad didn't want me to become a hero," she said. She waited for Hawks to make a comment. He merely nodded, beckoning her to continue. "I… I don't really know how to explain this. My father… he isn't nice."
"I know that."
"You don't," she told him gently. "That's okay, I wouldn't expect you to understand it. The only child my father ever paid any attention to was Shouto, and Shouto never wanted that attention. Well, before Shouto, he paid attention to Touya, but…"
They sat in a strange and uncomfortable silence for about a minute while Fuyumi stared at her hands.
"Touya," Hawks said, his voice very cautious, "is another brother?"
She nodded, not trusting her voice.
"What happened to him?"
Fuyumi raised her eyes to look up at Hawks. He was perched on his desk, watching her with his sharp eyes, and she wondered if he'd already pieced together the horror of it all.
"I don't know," Fuyumi whispered.
Hawks continued to watch her for a few moments longer before slipping off his desk, rounding it, and producing a box of tissues from the window.
She took one. Then two. She wiped her make up away, sniffling pitifully, while he crouched beside her patiently.
"Listen," Hawks said gently, "I won't make you tell me anything else if… if it's really that painful. But you have to promise me that you'll be civil if you see Endeavor."
"I can try," she murmured.
"Well," Hawks said, clasping his hands together as he stood up, "that's probably the best I can ask for."
She chewed on her lip as he leaned back against his desk again.
"If there's anything I can do," he said, "let me know."
She nodded. She stood up and moved to leave, but she hesitated at the door.
"My brother…" She took a deep breath, and then she turned around. "Touya was involved in a— an… accident…" That word was wrong, and she knew it. She fiddled with the ends of her sleeves. "That was ten years ago. I haven't seen him since, and my father wouldn't tell use what hospital he got put into."
Hawks's eyebrows furrowed, and he blinked at her. He bent backwards and reached across his desk, pulling a note pad and a paper pen onto his lap.
"What was his name?" he asked. "Touya?"
"Shit. Right." Hawks scribbled out the characters of her adopted last name. "Todoroki Touya… okay. I can look into that."
"Really?" Fuyumi leaned back against the door, blinking rapidly in disbelief. "I mean… I don't know if you'll find anything. I've been looking for years."
"Hey, I've got my connections." Hawks smiled at her. "If you could get me a photo, that'd be great."
"Ah…" That didn't seem entirely accessible at the moment, but she managed to smile at him anyway. "I'll try. Thank you, Hawks."
That day was much less hectic than her first day, and she was content to do paperwork and change into her hero costume only to answer questions on the agency's social media pages. An intern made her laugh while recording her, which was nice.
The routine became studying murders with Red Dahlia, keeping herself busy with paperwork, and gaining a strange amount of popularity as Hawks's sidekick. She didn't get stopped on the street, thankfully, because she was private enough that most people did not seem to know or notice her civilian name and look, but she saw herself on the news and heard people talking about her when she got coffee in the morning, and frankly that was terrifying.
A little fun though.
Just a little bit.
One Tuesday, as Fuyumi was finishing up some paperwork, Hawks appeared at her desk.
"Yukitomo," he said, leaning casually against her desk. He had started making a habit of this, and it did not bother her all that much. She had noticed how he often readjusted his stature so he was not leaning over her, and she was grateful that he put conscious thought into respecting her boundaries. "Have you met Tokoyami?"
She raised her eyes to the boy who had appeared with Hawks. He was wearing a UA uniform, and his head was the head of a bird. She had heard his name before, of course, and now that she looked at him he seemed familiar. She must have seen him on TV.
"I haven't." She smiled at the boy gently. "Hello, Tokoyami."
The boy nodded to her curtly. He stood stiffly, his eyes quick to take in her face. Perhaps he had seen her on TV too.
"Tokoyami isn't working here at the moment," Hawks said, "but I always have an open door for my fellow bird boy."
Fuyumi couldn't help but laugh at that. Tokoyami seemed a bit flustered as he hunched, rubbing the back of his neck sheepishly.
"Birds of a feather," Fuyumi said brightly.
"Yes, exactly." Hawks pushed off her desk and tapped her shoulder. "C'mon, let's go get something to eat."
"Dinner?" Fuyumi eyed her computer. "I haven't finished up my report."
"You," Hawks said tiredly, "might be the only hero I know who likes doing paperwork."
She scowled. "It's important," she objected. "And who else is going to do it? You?"
"Yes, I'm sure." Fuyumi smiled in spite of herself. Hawks was hanging his head back, exasperated, and it was times like these when they began to banter that she was reminded of Natsuo. "If I leave this, I'll have to leave it until next Tuesday."
"Curse your internship," Hawks said, rolling his eyes. "Why do you even need an extra one? You've graduated, you have a job…"
"Because I like working for Red Dahlia?" Fuyumi shook her head. "You wouldn't understand. It's not like I expected to get a job offer from the Number Two Hero. I thought I'd be unemployed for a while."
"Well lucky you have me, then." Hawks waved impatiently at her computer. "I'll have Chiron finish that. Come on, let's go."
Fuyumi blinked up at him, and then peered at Tokoyami. The boy shrugged at her.
"Is this a bird thing?" she teased, gathering up her rain jacket from the back of her chair. "You know the Nightingale thing, unfortunately, is not literal?"
"You wanna be a bird, Yukitomo?" Hawks asked with a laugh.
"I think it would be a fun quirk," she admitted. "Flying isn't so bad."
"You hate flying."
"I don't!" She flushed, ignoring Tokoyami's inquisitive gaze. "It's just a little frightening when you're not used to it!"
"I think I still have scars from where she was digging her nails into my arms," Hawks told Tokoyami. "She's pretty strong."
Hearing that made Fuyumi smile a little. He said it so flippantly, it was almost easy to believe. Even Tokoyami seemed to bob his head in agreement, though that could easily be because Hawks was saying so.
"What year are you, Tokoyami?" Fuyumi asked as they stood in the elevator.
"Oh." Tokoyami blinked. "First year. Miss Nightingale."
"Miss Nightingale," Hawks cooed. "That's cute. You should become a teacher, Yukitomo."
Fuyumi didn't tell them that teaching had been her back up plan, if the hero stuff hadn't worked out. She rolled her eyes instead, elbowing Hawks when Tokoyami wasn't looking.
"You're mean, you know." Hawks shoved her aside by her head. It was a playful move, and once more she was reminded of Natsuo, who had been about as tall as Hawks when she'd left. "People think you're sweet and shy, but you're mean."
"Who thinks that?" Fuyumi scoffed. "You said it yourself, people think I'm a frigid bitch. Everyone used to call me Ice Queen."
"If I may ask," Tokoyami said very cautiously, "why isn't that your hero name?"
"Because," Fuyumi replied, "I don't like it."
"Nightingale is an interesting choice, though." Hawks glanced down at her curiously. "I thought you might have a musical quirk when I first heard of you."
"Nope." Fuyumi shrugged. "I just… I didn't like that people had changed my initial hero name, Snow Queen, to Ice Queen. It made me sound… not nice."
"What's the correlation?" Hawks asked, frowning. "I know I'm missing something."
"It's more trivia than anything else," Fuyumi said sheepishly. "The Snow Queen is a fairytale. The man who wrote it wrote it for a woman he loved, who was a singer known as the Nightingale. I thought it was pretty, so I took it."
Hawks blinked as the elevator doors opened. "Huh," he said.
They stepped out of the elevator and into the lobby. The receptionist glanced up at their arrival, and Fuyumi met her eyes. The woman looked a little distraught.
As Hawks, Tokoyami, and Fuyumi rounded the desk, they stopped. Fuyumi nearly ran into Hawks, and she grabbed onto his shoulders to steady herself.
"Hey," she said, stepping around him, "what—?"
Then she saw the boy sitting beside the door. He was sitting hunched over, his hands clasped together tightly as he chewed on his thumbnails. The hair on its own was enough of a give-away, but when he raised his eyes, Fuyumi felt her heart drop into her stomach and disintegrate.
Shouto lurched to his feet at the sight of her.
The look in his eyes was feral. He looked ready to run out the doors, ready to leap into her arms, ready to fall to his knees and scream.
They stared at each other with wild eyes. She wanted to—
She didn't know what the hell she wanted in that moment, really.
Of course she had seen him on television, and of course she knew that he was bigger now, and of course he was, but the sight of him made her feel small again. Simultaneously, she was small and tall, she was young and old, and she stood as still as a statue and thought herself for just a moment an impossible thing. The paradox of living had caused her brain to short-circuit, and she was spiraling off track.
It seemed like everything that had mattered before was trivial now.
Finally, with a nudge from Hawks to draw her out of the cyclical hellscape of her own brain, where she was spinning around and around, pushing the heels of her hands into her ears so she would not hear Touya's screams, Mom's screams, Shouto's screams, until she herself was screaming. That spiral burst apart, and she was grounded suddenly by the sight of Shouto's feet scraping forward.
He jerked to a stop, his mouth teetering open and closed.
"Shouto," she said, her voice strained.
He was wearing his UA uniform, just like Tokoyami. They must have come here right after class. That made her want to laugh.
"Fuyumi," Shouto said, his brow furrowing, and she could feel the desperation radiating off him.
Hawks took this opportunity to step between them. "How about we all go for a walk," he suggested.
Fuyumi was in a daze as Hawks led them out of the office and into the street. Shouto was just as quiet, though Tokoyami did whisper to him as they walked. Shouto did not speak, but nodded or shook his head in response. Tokoyami, who was not talkative himself, let the conversation die quickly.
"I feel like I just allowed myself to get stuck with the three worst conversationalists in Japan," Hawks whined. "Come on, Yukitomo, what do I pay you for if you're not talking to me?"
"Yukitomo?" Shouto blurted, his eyes flashing wildly to Fuyumi's face.
Fuyumi glanced up at him, startled at how much taller he was than her, and she nodded.
"You know," she said quietly, "like…"
Fuyumi bit her lip hard, and she turned her face away from Shouto. This was difficult. Much more difficult than she imagined.
"You can't let him know you saw me," she murmured.
Shouto dug his heels into the concrete, causing them all to stop. Fuyumi winced at the chilliness of his stare.
"I'm not afraid of him," he said boldly.
That surprised her. She could tell from the look in his eyes, the passionate glint of defiance there, that this was true. He was being completely honest.
"Maybe you should be," Fuyumi said softly.
"Is that why you've been gone so long?" Shouto demanded. "Because you're afraid of him?"
Fuyumi didn't know if she would laugh or scream or gag when she exhaled sharply. The result was a strange mix of all three.
"Yes," she gasped, unable to look Shouto in the eye. "Of course— of course I'm afraid of him. But I'm more afraid of what he'll do to you if he knows you came looking for me."
"Why?" Shouto stepped forward sharply. She blinked up at him in alarm. "Like I said, I'm not afraid of him. What can he do to me that he hasn't already done?"
All at once, they both seemed aware of the company they kept. Shouto ducked his head, his jaw clenched and tight. When Fuyumi looked at Hawks, he was frowning at her, his sharp eyes gazing at her face tiredly.
It was not a surprised look at all, which worried her.
"Only the fool walks into the dark without fear," Tokoyami said, his voice very quiet. "The wise man fears the dark, but never forgets that the night must end eventually."
"This is why I love this kid," Hawks said. "A well of wisdom right here. Oh, here's a park."
Hawks strolled right in to a grassy little park. Tokoyami trailed slowly after him, shooting a meaningful look back at Shouto. They both stood silently at the entrance before Shouto sighed and stalked forward. He made a beeline for the small pond.
The grass was damp when she sat down beside him. She tugged her raincoat down a bit farther. Then she tugged it over her knees.
"I just…" Shouto sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose between his two index fingers. "I don't understand. Dad can't hurt you anymore! Why should you be scared of him?"
"Because I still feel like he can," she admitted. "And even if he can't hurt me, he can still hurt you. Hurt Natsu."
"Natsuo wouldn't take that shit," Shouto said firmly.
Fuyumi glanced at him in disbelief. "Shouto," she said gently. "When I left… Natsu tried visiting me. We managed to hang out a few times while I was in various shelters. He brought me food or money sometimes." Fuyumi tipped her head up toward the sky. She had felt a raindrop. "Dad… when he found out, he kicked Natsu down the stairs, and then burned all of his football stuff right in front of him. He had someone deliver me a box of the ashes of Natsu's things and an X-ray of his broken leg with a note that said: This is what your influence brings."
Shouto stared down at her. She was startled to see the rage in his eyes, the cold fury that enveloped his entire face.
"I don't remember that," he whispered. His voice sounded hoarse.
"I'm grateful for that," Fuyumi said, looking up at him with a small smile. "There are so many things that happened to you that I… I wish I could have done something to intervene. If you don't remember something terrible, that's for the best."
Shouto rocked a bit, his legs folding up to his chest. "When you left…" He closed his eyes. She watched him hold them closed, like it might make the memory go away. "I don't really… remember it all that clearly, but… he hurt you, didn't he?"
She did not hesitate.
"Not even how he would hurt me," Shouto continued, sounding bitter. "He…" Then Shouto's eyes snapped open, and his gaze flitted to her neck. Fuyumi touched it, and her turtleneck prevented her from brushing the damaged skin there.
"Do you remember what happened to Touya?" she asked him gently.
Shouto blinked twice. He shook his head.
"I know there was an accident," he said cautiously. Then, bitterly, he scooped up a rock and smacked it against the surface of the pond. The water splashed upward, and he froze it in place. "It felt like it was one accident after another. Except they weren't accidents."
"No," Fuyumi murmured. Her eyes were prickling with unshed tears.
"Touya," Shouto said bitterly, plopping another rock into the water, "Mom," another rock, this one bigger, and the resulting ice reaction taller, "you."
Fuyumi reached out and snatched his wrist before he could hurl the last rock. With her meager touch, his fingers unclenched, and the rock fell limply from his hand.
"Sometimes," Fuyumi sighed, watching his fingers twitch toward her hand. They grappled at her fingers, and then clutched them tight. He stared at their hands together, like he didn't quite believe they were actually touching. "Sometimes I think that it all started with Touya."
"What do you mean?"
"Mom's instability," Fuyumi said, noting the immediate distaste in Shouto's expression. "The reason your training got more intense. My sudden desire to become a hero. Doesn't it start and end with Touya?"
"I never thought of it like that." Shouto frowned. "Can you explain? I don't remember much about him."
"Well…" Fuyumi scooted a little closer to him. "He doted on you. Do you remember that?"
Shouto shook his head, which made Fuyumi incredibly sad.
"He used to put you on his shoulders and march you around the house," Fuyumi said, smiling fondly at the memory. "He would save his desert and give it to you, especially when you weren't allowed any. He made you a pillow fort. He read to you before you went to sleep, and played songs for you on his guitar. I think you were his favorite."
Shouto stared at her, and she watched him blink away the glaze of unshed tears that had appeared in his eyes.
"Oh," he said.
"When Dad pushed him too hard…" Fuyumi closed her eyes. "Listen… Touya was pretty soft-hearted. He didn't want to be a hero to begin with, but it was always a gamble. You hadn't shown your fire quirk yet, just your ice one, so Touya was still the prized child in Dad's eyes. But Touya wanted none of it. The older he got, the more he rebelled. When you showed your fire, he was finally free, and he took advantage of it. He played with us in the yard, he snuck out to play gigs in random places when he could… at fourteen, no less."
"So Dad was pissed," Shouto concluded.
"I never saw him so angry before," Fuyumi admitted. She winced. "At least until I told him I wanted to be a hero. I think something really snapped in him that day. He took Touya's guitar, smashed it, burned it… Touya lunged at him, and they— they fought. In the living room. Mom was screaming, I think, and she… she grabbed you, and she dragged you out of the room, because you tried to stop them, and…"
"I don't remember any of this," Shouto whispered.
"Me and Natsu were shouting at them to stop," Fuyumi continued, "but they wouldn't. And then… it wasn't even a fight anymore. It was just Dad on top of Touya, hitting him over and over and over, and I told Natsu to cover his eyes… and then Touya was on fire."
"What?" Shouto asked flatly.
"Touya's quirk was never well suited for his body," Fuyumi sighed. "He always complained to me about it. His fire would leave little burns sometimes, so he had to keep the temperature controlled. He was good at that, at least. Maybe it was something he inherited from Mom."
"Did… did Dad…?"
"No." Fuyumi tugged at the thread of her sweater as the rain came down a bit harder. "Touya had tried to fight back, but he had been so badly beaten that he couldn't control the temperature of his flames. He burned so hot that the fire was blue."
Shouto's eye twitched at that. He didn't say anything, but she could see him processing that fact.
"After that," Fuyumi said, her voice thick, "nothing mattered anymore. Mom was scared of her own shadow— she saw the end of it, after she locked you in your room, and she was inconsolable. She was convinced that Dad was going to kill her. She would come into my room at night, crying, in those last few weeks, and pack all my clothes in a little bag, and she… she said we were going to go on a trip. Then she'd leave my room, be gone for an hour, and she'd come back and unpack my bag in a daze. It happened every night. She never did it for Natsu. It scared me. And she'd go into Touya's room sometimes and just sit there for hours, or cry in front of his mirror, with his clothes in her lap, and…"
"I don't really want to hear this," Shouto murmured, pulling his hand abruptly from Fuyumi's.
That yanked her out of her memories. Hard.
"I'm so sorry, Shouto," she gasped. "I didn't…"
"She's better now," Shouto said suddenly. He glanced up at her. "She asks about you all the time. 'Any news about Fuyumi?' I always have to let her down gently." He smiled a little, and his face brightened so much so suddenly that she was struck silent. "Last week I showed her the video of you. That one where you fought the tar villain? She cried."
Fuyumi processed that very slowly. She sat and stared at the water as Shouto stood up. The back of his blazer was wet.
"Would you think about coming to visit her with me?" Shouto asked, offering her a hand. She stared at it, and she knew her fear was evident in her face, because Shouto launched into an explanation quickly. "He won't know. Even if he did, he won't do anything. He's not ashamed of you, not anymore, at least, and he's annoyed that you chose to join Hawks over him. If you're worried about me, I— I don't even live there anymore, and neither does Natsuo. We both dorm. So please, just think about it—"
"Yes," Fuyumi said, reaching out and grasping his hand.
"You— you'll go?"
Shouto's expression melted with relief. He pulled her to her feet.
They grasped each other's hands awkwardly. She wondered if she should hug him, or if that would just make them both uncomfortable.
When he released her hand, she found herself feeling overwhelmingly disappointed. She had missed her chance to hug her little brother for the first time in a decade.
They said goodbye quickly after that. Something about a curfew and the wrath of Midnight. Hawks decidedly took her to dinner after anyway, claiming to feel guilty about tempting her with food.
"That seemed like it went well," Hawks said brightly.
She scowled at him over her cup of water. He threw his arms up indignantly.
"What?" he gasped. "I didn't plan it!"
"You obviously told them when I would be there," Fuyumi said.
"I may have mentioned it," Hawks said, "but they were so pitiful! Really, Yukitomo—"
"Just call me Fuyumi," she sighed.
Hawks's eyebrows raised. "Wait, really?" he asked eagerly.
"Yeah. It's fine." You're basically Natsu anyway, she thought, taking a sip of water.
"Fuyumi, then." Hawks looked all too pleased to be saying her first name. She wondered idly if she had made a mistake, because she was not a fan of a delighted Hawks. "Your brother showed up at the office yesterday, basically demanding to see you. Your family is great at communication, huh?"
"We learned from the best," she said dryly.
Hawks's eyebrows shot up, and he nibbled at the end of his grilled cheese. She didn't know why they had to go to a restaurant for something as simple as that. She could have made a grilled cheese at the office.
"Are we gonna talk about that," Hawks said, "or…?"
"I'd prefer not to," Fuyumi said.
Hawks grimaced. "I was afraid you'd say that," he said.
"You shouldn't have heard any of it." Fuyumi shook her head. "You said you like my father. If you want to keep liking him, don't ask me anything else about my childhood."
Hawks sighed. "Well," he said, "the good news is that your brother told me he can get me a photo of Touya."
Fuyumi perked up, and she searched Hawks's face eagerly.
"Don't," Hawks said, holding up a hand, "get your hopes up. It's still a longshot."
Hawks glanced at her, and he smiled. Genuinely. "I'll try my best," he said.
And that, Fuyumi realized, really was enough.
When Fuyumi's internship ended, she cried. She hugged the Dahlia and cried into the woman's shoulder for longer than was probably appropriate. The Dahlia shushed her gently as she hiccupped, smoothing her white hair back from her face.
"Who could ever call you an ice queen?" the Dahlia said softly, dashing the tears away from Fuyumi's splotchy cheeks. "You're the most thoughtful person I've ever met. That Hawks doesn't know what he has."
Fuyumi had choked a bit on her own laughter.
She went into work the next morning and Hawks was not there. She went to his office after getting dressed in her costume. He still was not there.
"Have you seen Hawks?" she asked Shiraishi. He was tossing grapes into his mouth at his desk, also in costume.
"He might be taking some me-time," Shiraishi said, chewing as he spoke. Fuyumi frowned. "Hey, don't sweat it. He does this sometimes."
"He just doesn't show up?" Fuyumi asked. "And you never worry?"
"He's Hawks." Shiraishi rolled his eyes. "Honestly? I'm worried for the poor motherfucker he ran into."
Hawks did show up. He showed up flustered and angry, and he slammed his office door behind him. Fuyumi watched this with Shiraishi at her side, and she folded her arms across his chest as he gaped.
"You still think he's taking some me-time?" she asked.
Shiraishi pulled a grimace. "I'm not touchin' that," he said waving vaguely at Hawks's door. "Let's go patrol. He'll cool down eventually."
Shiraishi, or Aftershock, liked to catch villains by surprised by moving the earth subtle beneath their feet and slowly disorienting them before getting in close quarters and physically ending the fight. That made for an interesting patrol. Fuyumi was good enough at dodging that she could adhere to the strategy, but she preferred to be closer to the villain. The farther away she was, the more likely her ice would give her frostbite from overuse. Hawks was still waiting for the manufactured gloves, and she was anxious about adjusting her fighting style to fit this group when she was at a physical disadvantage.
They ended up getting caught by the media as they captured the second villain of the day. Fuyumi was speaking to the police when Shiraishi was bombarded by reporters.
"Hawks usually joins one of you when you're fighting crime. Where is he today?"
Shiraishi seemed genuinely flustered. He stammered a bit as he tried to come up with an excuse.
Fuyumi stepped away from the villain and set a hand on Shiraishi's shoulder.
"Hawks was feeling a bit under the weather today," she said. "Sorry if you were excited to see him. There were no immediate or extreme threats, so he's in the office resting up."
She didn't answer any further questions, and turned her backs on the cameras.
When they returned to the office, she went to Hawks's door. She knocked on it cautiously.
"Hey," she called. "I brought food."
The door swung open.
Hawks was on the floor, wrapped in a blanket. One of his feathers had opened the door. Figured. She nudged the door closed behind her and set the grilled cheese on the floor. She also produced a carton of ice cream from behind her and offered two spoons.
"Do I just radiate a pathetic energy right now?" Hawks mumbled, taking a bite of grilled cheese and frowning.
"A bit." She folded her legs beneath her and shrugged. "I've had my fair share of breakdowns at various jobs, so I know how shitty it is to have people tip-toe around you. Do you want to talk about it?"
"Ugh." Hawks leaned his head back against his desk and sprawled out his legs. "No. Yes. No." He shook his head furiously. "It's… not something you'd really want to hear about."
Hawks pursed his lips and took another bite of his grilled cheese.
"You've heard a bunch of my family drama," Fuyumi said gently. "You can tell me about your love life. I won't judge."
"Okay, I want you to really just keep that statement in mind," Hawks said, "because I'm a dumbass."
"I already knew that, Hawks."
"See, I love that brutal honesty," he said, rolling his eyes. "Fuck, I get enough of that from…"
"From…?" Fuyumi pushed him. "Your girlfriend?"
Hawks choked on his grilled cheese, and legitimately had to cough it out into a tissue.
"Boyfriend then," Fuyumi conceded quickly. "I'm sorry for assuming."
"No, no," Hawks said hoarsely, "I'm just glad I'm still straight-passing. My god, that threw me. Also, no, he's not my boyfriend."
"But you want him to be your boyfriend."
"Yes. No! Shit." Hawks groaned. "I fucked up."
"You messed stuff up with the guy you like," Fuyumi deduced.
"I shouldn't even like him," Hawks said quietly. "He's an asshole. He's like, one of the biggest scumbags I've ever met."
"Do you think he'll always be that way?"
"Then fuck him." Fuyumi pried open the ice cream and offered him a spoon.
Hawks stared at her dazedly, and then he smiled.
"Yeah," he said quietly. "Fuck him."
The thing about Hawks, Fuyumi noticed, is that he never let things get personal. He only pried into her business when it seemed to affect him, like when her little brother was camping out in their lobby, or her estranged father made an unexpected appearance at the same charity event as them. He was careful, when they were in public, to steer her away from most things involving Endeavor. So when he admitted to anything involving his personal life, or even just his feelings, it surprised her.
One night, after she had fallen asleep on her couch, there was a knock at her window. She woke up with a start, an icicle materializing in her hand as she bolted upright. In the shadowy light, she saw a figure, and she suddenly wished she had gotten a guard dog instead of a fat housecat.
When she got closer and saw Hawk's bony, angular face peering at her through the dark, she nearly collapsed.
"You almost gave me a heart attack!" she gasped, pushing the window open. Hawks shambled through, his body loose and jerky. "Hawks? Are you okay?"
"Fine." His voice was small and strained. "Do you have beer?"
"I have wine."
Fuyumi rushed to the kitchenette, turning on lamps as she went, and she retrieved the unopened bottle of cheap red wine. She grabbed two cups and returned to her couch, where Hawks was sprawled out, his fingers dragging lazily against her cat's long ginger fur. His name was Duckling.
She saw the bruise that stretched from his cheekbone down to his jaw, and she hurried back to the kitchen to snatch a package of frozen peas from the freezer. Wrapping it in a clean rag, she returned to him and offered it out.
"Thanks," he mumbled, grasping the makeshift icepack and holding it to his cheek. He winced.
"Were you patrolling?" Fuyumi asked. "This late?"
"No." He sighed, and he frowned at Fuyumi's cat, who had stretched himself over his lap and was pawing at his leg.
"Was it the guy?"
That was what they were calling the mystery crush. The guy. It seemed innocent enough, and Hawks hardly ever disclosed extra information about his love life, so it seemed right.
Hawks eyed her, his brown eyes gleaming yellow in the dim lamplight, and he slumped a bit. That was all the confirmation she needed.
"You need to stop seeing him," she told him firmly.
"I can't," Hawks sighed.
"Well," Fuyumi huffed, "you can't be chasing after a guy who punches you in the face! You need to feel safe and loved, not— not like your partner might kill you if you say the wrong thing."
Fuyumi tore the cap off the wine. It was a twist off bottle, thankfully, and she poured herself a cup hastily.
Hawks was watching her with a small, bitter smile.
"I know that," he told her gently. "It's… a little more complicated than that, though."
"He hit you, didn't he?"
Hawks's smile thinned out into a grimace. He plucked the wine from her fingers and took a big gulp.
"Hawks," she said softly, watching his wings shudder a bit as he pulled the icepack from his cheek. "You shouldn't see this person anymore."
Hawk stared down at the cat in his lap. He took another long drink, draining the glass, and he poured himself another immediately after.
"Are you listening to me?" she asked desperately.
"I hear you."
"Then say you won't see him again!"
Hawks snorted softly, his jaw tight. He peered at her, his glass drifting close to his mouth, and he smiled.
"You're awful bossy, Miss Nightingale," he said, taking another big gulp.
She snatched the wine from his hand and set it down on the table. "I'm worried," she corrected him. "You've been acting strangely for weeks."
He shrugged. He did not look her in the eye, and instead pet her cat idly.
"Hawks," she said, "please. Can't you talk to me?"
"Like how you talk to me?" he countered, his eyes flashing coolly to her face. "No."
That stung. She jerked back a bit in alarm. She realized, with a sudden icy creep of dread, that though her arms were covered by her loose cardigan, the scars that crept along her neck and throat were visible. It wasn't clear if he had noticed them, but she knew that Hawks was observant and clever.
Chewing on her lip, she pulled her legs up onto the couch and hugged them tightly.
"I'm sorry," she said quietly.
"So am I."
"Are you?" She glanced at him tiredly.
A muscle in Hawks's jaw leapt tensely. He pushed her cat off his lap, and he stood. His wings stretched out before retracting.
"Listen," Hawks said, his head bowed. "We might have to fight some tough villains soon. Are you up for it?"
"What?" She frowned up at him confusedly. "I'm a hero. I'll do whatever I have to do. What brought this on?"
"It's just been on my mind, okay?" He looked down at her, and she could see the exhaustion weighing heavily in his eyes. Did he sleep at all? "I've fought with the League of Villains before, and they're… they're no joke."
"I know that."
"Your father almost died, Fuyumi," he said, turning to face her fully. "I just… I do care about you, you know. All of you. I don't want to have to watch another person get cut down because I hesitated."
"It's not your job to rescue heroes," she said firmly. "What happened to my father wasn't your fault, okay?"
Hawks's head jerked away sharply. So he was still blaming himself for what had happened to Endeavor during the Nomu attack? No wonder he seemed so jittery.
"Also," Fuyumi said, "my father brought all that upon himself. He's always been arrogant, and he relies too much on his quirk that it's become a crutch. I'm glad he almost lost. He's definitely been humbled, and that… is a relief."
Hawks shook his head. He did not agree with her, and that was clear, but she didn't really care. He sat down again, looking into her eyes pleadingly.
"The League of Villains has a guy with a fire quirk," Hawks said. There was a strange thickness to his tone as he spoke, like he was fighting back tears. "His name is Dabi. If it comes down to a fight, Dabi is going to go for you."
"Why?" she asked, blinking confusedly.
"Because you have an ice quirk."
"So?" She huffed. He was acting like they were dealing with absolutes rather than conjecture. She didn't understand why he was so worried. "I'm not the only person in the world with an ice quirk."
"No, but you're a rising young hero," Hawks sighed, rubbing his face tiredly. "Listen, I don't know what's gonna happen, kay? I just want to prepare you for the worst."
"I can handle a fire quirk," Fuyumi said steadily.
And for a moment, she really believed that.
Hawks fell asleep on her couch after drinking most of the wine, and when Fuyumi woke up the next morning, he was gone. The next day, which was a Sunday, she finally had a day off. She sat on a bench outside the hospital, plucking nervously at the ends of her sweater.
Natsuo had always been tall. Not quite as tall as their father, but still tall. Where he had been fairly scrawny as a child, he'd filled out now, and she was shocked to see how broad his frame was as he approached her. Beside him, Shouto looked small, lanky, and sullen.
She sat on the bench and gazed up at him, at a loss for words. Natsuo looked at her, and she saw tears shining in his eyes.
"Yumi," he gasped, falling onto the bench beside her and flinging his arms around her shoulders. She sat stiffly, the bulk of his arms enveloping her, and it was a familiar enough feeling that she felt transported. All at once she was twelve again, on the floor of her bedroom, crying into her brother's shoulder as he held her, just as he held her now, tight and secure. But now he was the one crying, and she could do nothing but sit and bear the foreign feeling of being held.
"Natsu," she murmured, raising her hand cautiously and placing it on his head. He wiped as his face with the sleeve of his jacket, sniffling as he leaned back. "You're… so tall."
He laughed. As he sat up straight, it became difficult for her arm to stretch to the top of his head.
"You're not," he gasped, eyes glittering. "You're just as small."
She laughed a little too, in spite of herself.
"I guess so," she said. "Um… I didn't realize you were coming."
"I asked him to," Shouto said, his hands stuck in the pockets of his jacket. He was wearing a black turtleneck, same as her. When she peered up at him, she saw a lot of herself in the right side of his face. Even their hair seemed to be nearly the same length.
"I've missed you so much," Natsuo gasped, gripping her by the shoulders and staring down into her eyes. "It's been so— so lonely, Yumi, you don't even know."
Shouto nodded in agreement, but did not elaborate on why. She could imagine how lonesome the house might be without her, without Touya, without their laughter echoing in the halls or in the kitchen. She bit her lip, and she nodded.
"I'm sorry," she said, looking up into Natsuo's eyes. They were gray. That was a familiar enough sight. "I wish it was different. I wish I'd…"
"No." Natsuo gripped her shoulders a bit tighter, squeezing them reassuringly before letting go. "Shut up. You're not responsible for anything that happened."
Once more, Shouto nodded in agreement.
"I'm happy for you," Natsuo continued, his smile small and lop-sided. "You did it. You got out, you… you became a hero. A good one, too."
"My friends have been talking about you a lot," Shouto said quietly. "They think you're really cool."
"She is." Natsuo grinned, throwing his arm around her again and bumping his cheek against the top of our head. "Our big sister is amazing! What's that move you did, when you first started working with Hawks? The stabby one?"
"Oh." Fuyumi frowned. "Hawks named it. He called it Queen's Check."
"Why?" Shouto asked.
"I used to go by the name Snow Queen," Fuyumi said. "The move is close range, and… it can be very detrimental to the health of anyone who gets hit by it. Possibly lethal. If I use it, and my opponent isn't invulnerable, it's likely I've gotten close to winning just by hitting them."
"Do you have a Queen's Checkmate?" Natsuo joked.
"Not yet." Fuyumi smiled, shrinking a bit as Natsuo laughed into her hair. "I'm still not used to being an offensive player. I was defense and rescue oriented in school, and during all my work-study opportunities. My last internship was mostly desk work."
"Good." Natsuo stood up, pulling her with him. "Hawks seems like he knows your potential. His quirk is pretty versatile— he could play offensive if he wanted. The fact that he's trusting you to fight the big fight while he handles rescue is rad."
"You seem to be a close-range fighter," Shouto said, tipping his head to the side. "That's surprising, given you're used to defense."
Fuyumi shrugged. She knew she wasn't as refined in terms of her hero persona as many Pro Heroes, who had gone through UA and been prepared for the spotlight. Her fighting style was, simply, whatever she needed it to be.
"Can you do an ice wall?"
"Did you watch the UA sports festival this year?" Nastuo asked. "Shouto's big special move."
"Oh." Fuyumi was embarrassed as she shook her head. "I saw it. Sorry, I can't do that. Not on that scale, at least."
"I'm sure you can," Shouto said eagerly. "I can teach you."
"No." Fuyumi bit her lip, and she did not look at either of her brothers' faces. "I… actually can't. Shouto, you're more powerful than I am. Your quirk is more stable. Don't argue with me, I know."
"You don't have to have a strong quirk to be strong," Shouto argued, his eyes set in that intense way. "If you let me, I can teach you how to use your ice like me." He paused, glancing away for a moment before looking back at her. "Would you teach me to use ice like you, too?"
That made her smile. It warmed her heart like nothing else, the way he stood before her, nervous yet determined.
How could she saw no to that?
"Okay, Shouto," she said gently.
His whole body seemed to unravel, the tension leaving his shoulders as he slumped. Then, weakly, he smiled back at her.
The three of them talked quietly as they entered the hospital. Shouto was the one who spoke to the receptionist, while Natsuo fussed over how white Fuyumi's hair was.
"Do you dye it?" He fluffed up the bob around her ears. "It's cute. Dad must hate it."
"He didn't mention anything," she said, if only because she'd only talked to him twice in the last few years, and he had been unable to speak the first time.
"You know," Natsuo said, "when he came home from the hospital, he was really… I don't know. I don't like him, and I'll never forgive him, but he really did seem remorseful."
"He talked about seeing you," Shouto said, handing them both visitor's lanyards. "It really shook him up. I think almost dying mixed with seeing how well you were doing without him threw him into an existential crisis."
"Which, you know," Natsuo said, rolling his eyes, "good."
Fuyumi bit her lip as they approached their mother's room. "Should we be talking about him here?" she asked softly.
"She's okay," Shouto said with a shrug.
"He apparently keeps leaving her flowers," Natsuo said, rolling his eyes. "I still don't believe it, though."
"That… doesn't sound like our father, no."
"Who else could it have been?" Shouto asked.
Fuyumi stayed silent until they reached their mother's room. Outside the door, her heart jumped into her throat, and she snatched the nearest hand she could find. Shouto looked down at her, alarmed. It was his left side that she'd grabbed. A strange flood of warmth trickled through her, and she realized as he squeezed her hand, he was radiating heat.
That didn't bother her as much as she'd expected.
"Mom," Shouto called as he slid the door open.
"Shouto!" The clarity of her mother's voice made her jerk back. It was a voice she had not heard in so long, and it was just the same as it had been in her childhood. She wanted to sink to the floor and fall asleep. "Natsuo, too? This is…"
Their mother trailed off. Fuyumi raised her eyes, knowing that she'd been spotted.
The inside of the room was sterile and sparse, but it was well lived-in. There were books on the desk. A photo too.
At the desk, in a chair, sat their mother. She looked older. Her eyes bore more bags and more lines than Fuyumi remembered, and around her mouth was lined too. Her hair was longer, and her eyes…
They were glistening. Tears had pooled over them and dropped onto her cheeks.
"Hi, mom," Fuyumi whispered.
In the end, Fuyumi ended up crying. She let herself be held, and she cried silently as her mother began braiding her hair while Natsuo talked endlessly about his classes, how he was thinking about switching to psychology, or double majoring, or dabbling in it regardless. Shouto had crossed the room, sat on the floor beside Fuyumi, and took her hand in his once more.
"Did you ever think about becoming a hero?" Shouto asked Natsuo suddenly.
The room was silent. Their mother had stopped braiding Fuyumi's hair, if only because she'd run out of hair to braid. The stubby little plait unraveled against her ear.
Natsuo rocked back on his heels, and he looked up at the ceiling.
"Maybe when I was little," he admitted. "But… I don't know. Dad killed that dream fast."
"Natsu…" Fuyumi murmured.
Natsuo shook his head furiously. "I'm good!" he gasped, waving them off. "I like what I'm doing. I like being a student and looking at theory and ethics and stuff. Hero business just ain't for me, okay?"
None of them seemed incredibly convinced, but they dropped the subject quickly.
"Hawks is a good boss," Fuyumi said, after the conversation had cycled back to her. Her mother's eyes were focused on her face, searching for any sign of dishonesty. "He reminds me a lot of Natsu."
"Eh? Me?" Natsuo wrinkled his nose. "Why?"
"I don't know. He's kind of dumb."
Shouto chuckled into his hand, and their mother combed her fingers through Fuyumi's hair absently.
"That's so rude?" Natsuo huffed. "I forgot how rude you could be. Didn't I raise you better than that? Learn your manners, Yumi."
"You? Raised me?" Fuyumi rolled her eyes. "Okay. Dream on."
They met each other's eye and burst into a fit of laughter. Natsuo sunk to the floor with the rest of his siblings, and they talked. And they kept talking.
Fuyumi did not cry again. She did, however, laugh. A lot.
They left the hospital around dinner time. Natsuo insisted that he treat them both to dinner, and Shouto trotted alongside Fuyumi while Natsuo led the way to a restaurant he knew, talking at the air as he went.
A warm hand grasped hers. She smiled.
At dinner, Natsuo demanded that they see each other regularly.
"Every week," Natsuo said firmly.
"I don't think…" Fuyumi said hesitantly.
"No." Natsuo jerked a finger in her face. "This is not me asking. I am demanding that you see us once a week."
"Who gave you the right to demand our time?" Shouto asked quietly, sipping at his matcha milk tea when Natsuo turned to glare at him.
"I am your brother," Natsuo gasped, "and it is my brotherly right to demand that you see me. I may not be a hero, or a hero in training, but I'm still your brother, and I want to see you both."
That made Fuyumi falter. She stared at him, watching him shrink a bit as the reality of his own sadness came flooding out into his voice and his words. He rocked back, frowning at his food, while Shouto exchanged a glance with Fuyumi.
"You can see us," he said gently. "We'll make time."
"Yeah." Fuyumi's voice was a bit strained as she smiled at Natsuo. "I… I don't have a lot of days off… Hawks has me working overtime because Naru's on maternity leave, and he wants her to get as much time with her baby as possible… but I can work around that."
"I can't stay out past curfew," Shouto admitted. "There are also days when I'm barred from leaving the school, like when the League attacks."
"I don't think either of us will be able to get out much in that case," Fuyumi said, smiling a little. "But… I'll talk to Hawks. See if I can get a stable schedule."
They both looked at Shouto. He stared back at them, sipping his tea with a blank stare.
"What?" he asked.
"Well, what about you?" Natsuo asked.
Shouto merely shrugged.
"I'll make it work," he said.
Fuyumi raised an eyebrow. She wondered if Shouto was a little rebel at school. That Tokoyami boy was polite enough, and Shouto had never struck her as rebellious before, but she'd read enough news stories about Shouto's class to know that they all seemed to be a magnet for trouble.
Before they went their separate ways, Shouto stopped suddenly, looking struck by a sudden thought.
"Oh," he said, pulling his messenger bag around and prying it open. "I nearly forgot."
Fuyumi blinked as he retrieved a small polaroid photograph from the bag and handed it to her.
As she grasped it in her hands, she felt a little dizzy.
"What?" Natsuo gasped, leaning over her shoulder to peer at the photo. "Is that a photo of us?"
"And Touya." Shouto gripped the strap of his bag and stared at Fuyumi intently. "Will that help?"
It was a photo of the four of them just before everything had gone south. Their father had been called away, hero business, and their mother had taken them all to an amusement park. Fuyumi saw herself, with her shoulder length hair dashed with crimson streaks, and she wondered if anyone would recognize that child as her. The little girl was grinning broadly, her teeth too big for her mouth, her wire-framed glasses askew. She wore an All Might baseball cap, and she remembered very clearly that Touya had won it for her at a stall. Her shirt was stained, she remembered, because Natsuo had dripped chocolate ice cream on her. She wore a jean skirt embroidered with flowers.
Natsuo was to her left. He was nine here, sporting a missing front tooth as he grinned shamelessly, his arms thrown over her shoulders. His eyes were closed, and he was missing a flip-flop. Had he lost it on a ride? She could almost remember him hobbling off a roller coaster, wiggling his toes at her with a bold laugh. He had chocolate ice cream smeared on his nose.
Shouto was perched upon Touya's shoulders. His smile was small, but his eyes were bright. His chin was buried in Touya's red hair.
Touya himself was about fourteen. He gripped Shouto by the legs, his bright, bluish-green eyes bright with laughter. At this point, he had already been in a band, and he had few piercings in his right ear. His jeans were torn in several places, and he wore a white tee with an album displayed on it. She remembered sitting on his floor, around this time, while he pulled an old record out from his collection and showed it to her. She had laid on her stomach, reading the lyrics on the inside cover while he'd danced and sang along.
Oh, she thought, tears forming behind her eyes. He looks so young.
She wondered what he looked like now.
"This…" She swallowed hard, the lump in her throat remaining. Her fingers slipped beneath her right eye, dashing a stray tear. "This is perfect. Thank you, Shouto."
"What's it for?" Natsuo asked confusedly. He plucked it out of her hands, peered at it, and he laughed. "Wait, is this the day I lost my shoe on the High Flyer?"
"Fuyumi is trying to find Touya," Shouto said.
Natsuo blinked. He looked down at the photo, perhaps struck by the sight of Touya, just as Fuyumi had been. Once more, he blinked, this time rapidly, and he handed the photo back to Fuyumi.
"Oh," he said. He frowned deeply.
Shouto peered up at him. "You don't think she can do it?" he asked.
"I don't know." Natsuo rubbed the back of his neck. "I mean… what if Touya doesn't want to be found?"
"Don't be stupid," Shouto said fiercely. It surprised Fuyumi, but then she saw that tell-tale determination glinting in his eyes, and she knew her brother would not be dissuaded. "He's our brother."
"Yeah," Natsuo said quietly, "and Fuyumi is our sister. Shouto, if you hadn't stuck your nose into her business, you know she never would have come back into our lives, right?"
She wanted to object to that. She even opened her mouth to say that it wasn't true.
But then she remembered Natsuo's broken leg, and her father's warning, and she clamped her mouth shut.
"That's dad's fault," Shouto said firmly. "Not Fuyumi's. If it weren't for him, she would've been with us the whole time. Don't you think it must be the same with Touya?"
"Look," Natsuo said gently, taking on a strange tone that Fuyumi was not used to. She realized, watching her brothers interact, that she was no longer the oldest in Natsuo's perspective. He was. And for most of both their lives, that was the fact that rang true. Natsuo had to be the responsible one. The one who bandaged Shouto's scrapes, and cooked him dinner when their father was not home. That fact alone made Fuyumi nearly start crying again. "I think Yumi's been filling your head with ideas about Touya… and the fact is, Shouto, you didn't know him."
"Yes, I did," Shouto said sharply.
"No." Natsuo sighed, and he shook his head. "You barely remember him, okay? And, like, don't get me wrong. Touya loved you. I mean, he was a pretty loving guy. But he was also dying in that house. As bad as all of us had it, Touya always got the worst of it."
Shouto scowled. "I want to find him," he said. "I don't want him to think that we abandoned him."
"But we did." Natsuo looked down at Shouto, and he seemed desperate. "We left him to… to… I don't even know. I don't know what happened to him after the ambulance took him away. It's not fair, but we didn't do anything to stop it, either."
"We were children," Fuyumi murmured.
"And so was he!" Natsuo shook his head. "I'm just saying that if Touya is out there, living his life, then… maybe it's better if we let him."
"I don't believe that," Shouto said.
"Me either," Fuyumi admitted. She ducked away from Natsuo's stare. "Look, I thought I was fine. Before Shouto came, I was okay with not seeing either of you, because I thought it was better that way. But it wasn't." She reached out and snatched both their hands. "I see that now. But the only way I could see it was by being with you. Do you understand?"
Natsuo's eyes softened. He sighed, a bit exasperated, before a small smile rose to his lips.
"You two are too stubborn," he whined. Then he tugged them both to him, squishing them into a hug.
Both Shouto and Fuyumi seemed to stand stiffly, alarmed and unsure. Then they relaxed against their brother and melted into his embrace.
The next morning she was unexpectedly thrown into an unsatisfactory situation.
"A photoshoot?" she asked weakly as Hawks dragged her away from her desk. "Can't Shiraishi do it?"
"Shiraishi's not as popular as you."
"I'm not that popular!"
Hawks rolled his eyes at her, and he pulled out his phone. She was forced to look at her rank, which had gone from the triple to double digits since the last time she had looked.
"That's fake," she said simply.
"You're impossible," he told her. "Don't argue with me. People love the Hawks and Nightingale schtick, and we haven't done any real publicity together besides whatever the social media team cooks up."
"Isn't that for a good reason?" Fuyumi was desperate as she trailed after him. "We both have terrible personalities."
"We have unconventional personalities, which people love." Hawks handed her a box as they got into the elevator. "Put these on."
Inside, there was a pair of slim black gloves. She ignored the glassy mask in favor of them, plucking them up and running her fingers over the smooth fabric. It was some kind of experimental polymer, but it felt like suede.
"Do this work?" she whispered.
"You tried the prototype, didn't you?"
"The… the support team said there was still things they needed to work out." She blinked rapidly. "The flesh contact thing was throwing them."
"The fingers retract," Hawks said, point out a seam on the gloves that acted as a button. "That way when you need to use your ice, you can use it as much as you need."
"My fingers will still get cold, though," she pointed out.
"It will regulate the temperature in your hands so your fingers don't get too cold." He smirked at her. "Don't worry so much. I told you, I'd get you the best."
"Well," she said, shifting awkwardly. "Thank you."
"What's the mask for?"
"Oh." Hawks shrugged. "Your old metal one looked clunky. I thought this was cuter."
"Maybe I don't want to look cuter?"
"Then don't wear it?" Hawks rolled his eyes. "I don't give a fuck. It's just an option, if you ever want to go lighter." He pulled a packet of candy from his pocket and shook it in her ear. "Want some?"
She scowled at him. Then she held out her hand.
Hawks flew them over to the studio. Fuyumi was getting used to being carried, and she didn't even need to cushion her fall with ice when he dropped her. She landed on her feet, and followed Hawks into the building.
"Have you ever done a photoshoot before?" Hawks asked as the photographer barked orders.
She shook her head.
"Well," he said, "we're going to be in a magazine, so they'll be putting us in a few different outfits. Our interview is on Friday."
"Try to have fun, okay?" Hawks nudged her gently. "This is the relaxing part of our job."
Fuyumi tried to keep that in mind. She was already feeling anxious, knowing that her neck might be exposed in anything she was put in.
Her fears were very much validated when she was handed her first outfit.
"Um," she said, looking from the assistant to the photographer himself. Hawks was by her side, making sure his shirts had holes for his wings. "I can't wear this."
"What do you mean?" the photographer asked flatly.
Fuyumi swallowed. She held up the shirt she had been given, which was a low-cut white tee that was very clearly cropped. Hawks paused to glance at her.
"I…" She shook her head. "I just… I'm not comfortable wearing it."
The photographer stared at her. He took a deep breath, and he clasped his hands together.
"Nightingale," he said steadily, "you are a beautiful young woman, and I do not have time for your insecurities. Go put that on."
He left her to gape after him, rage turning to cold shame in her veins. She avoided Hawks's gaze as she gathered up her outfits and fled to the dressing room.
The make-up artist stared at her when she came out.
"I know you don't have time," she said quietly, slipping into the chair. "Don't worry about them. Just do my face."
She was grateful that the man did not ask her any questions. He just did her make-up, giving her an alarmingly bold red eyeshadow with a precise black wing, and a dark red lip to match. After that she was pushed to a hair-stylist, who did not do much to her aside from put pomade in her short, bobbed white hair to give it a bit of a wave.
The nausea came all at once. It struck her hard, as though it was a symptom of being stared at, and she raised her head as high as she could, blinking back tears, as she walked onto the set beside Hawks. He, too, was staring at her.
That, she thought, was the worst part.
The scars were not as dark as, say, Shouto's, but they were entirely too visible. They varied in degree of severity. Her forearms were pretty gnarled, patches of skin raised and uneven from the burns. There was a stark red mark on her bicep that was clearly a handprint, and streaks of scar tissue surrounded it. Her stomach had a few angry red scars here and there, some darker than others. And around her throat, another hand print. This one was dark. It was clear that someone had put their hand around her throat and left this dark mark one way or another.
"Okay," she said, her voice hard and steady. She surprised herself. "I'm ready."
Hawks was wearing a blue shirt, and his eyes were painted blue as hers were painted red. On the back of her shirt were a pair of red wings, and she was glad to show that part off, because the backs of her arms were not nearly as bad as the fronts.
The photographer did not comment on her scars, which she was thankful for. He did clear his throat, clearly embarrassed for not listening to her earlier, but he did not ask what had happened.
The shoot finished quickly enough, and she changed, gathered her things, and bolted.
Hawks did not let her get away that easily.
He landed in front of her halfway down the block, startling some civilians. A few people gasped and took out their phones.
"Please," she begged, "not here."
"Why didn't you say something?" he demanded.
"It's not your business!"
He shook his head in disbelief. At this point, he noticed the phones, and he offered a small wave before shooting her a sharp glance. He scooped her up when there weren't too many people around, and he flew her to his apartment.
"Okay," he said, depositing her on his balcony and holding up his hands in surrender when she lurched away from him. "We're alone. Can we talk now?"
She tore the mask from her face and felt the urge to throw it over the side of the balcony.
"You already know," she said bitterly.
"I don't," he gasped, "because you don't tell me anything!"
She shook her head.
"Your dad," he conceded, "right?"
Fuyumi dropped her mask onto the balcony and glared up at him.
"I want to go home," she said.
Hawks watched her, his expression unreadable, and he nodded slowly.
"I'm sorry," he said.
"It really isn't."
"I said it's fine." She shot him a cold look. "Don't. Don't pity me, okay?"
"I'm not pitying you," Hawks snapped, "I'm trying to understand what happened to you!"
They reached a stalemate after that, because she just bit her lip and gripped the rail of the balcony. A tear had managed to slip against her nose, and she watched it fall into the street below.
"Will you come inside?" Hawks asked.
She took a deep breath. She wiped at her nose, and she nodded shakily.
Hawks let her borrow an oversized sweatshirt of his. She curled up on his couch like a cat, gripping a cup of steaming tea while he sat on the floor in front of her. It was strange to see him in civilian clothes. He still had blue eyeshadow on, and it clashed with his pink joggers and a crescent moon shirt that Fuyumi suspected was Miruko merch.
"I'm sorry," Hawks said quietly.
"You already apologized."
"You know," he said, looking up at her tiredly, "when I found out about your family, I thought it was weird. I knew that it didn't make any sense for Endeavor to have another child, a Pro Hero even, that no one knew about."
Fuyumi took a sip of tea. She was tired.
"The thought had crossed your mind," she deduced, frowning at her tea, "but you like Endeavor too much to entertain the idea that he might have been a bad father."
"A child abuser," Hawks corrected.
That made her pause. She'd never really associated the term with her father before, for obvious reasons, so hearing it now made her brain feel heavy inside her skull.
"I guess," she said.
"No, Fuyumi, not you guess." Hawks's stare was sharp and even. "I need to hear you say it."
"Fuyumi," Hawks said, his voice softer, "did Endeavor hurt you?"
Her fingers flew to her throat instinctively. Hawks's eyes followed them.
"Okay." Hawks stood up.
"What are you doing?" Fuyumi murmured.
"I'm gonna call UA."
"What?" Fuyumi jerked up so fast that she spilled tea on the carpet. She hissed, setting the mug down and rushing after Hawks. "You can't do that."
"Um, yeah," he said, rolling his eyes, "I can. Your brother is still a minor, and your father is still his legal guardian."
"Endeavor will never forgive you for that accusation," Fuyumi said sharply. "Not only that, but you'll ruin your career. No one will listen to you."
"You wanna bet?"
"No! I don't!" Fuyumi managed to catch his wrist before he realized what she was doing, and he yelped when a thin layer of frost coated his fingers. She snatched his phone from his twitching hand.
"Fuyumi!" Hawks shook off the frost, his nose scrunching up irritably.
"No." She clutched the phone tightly to her chest. "I won't let you make this mistake, okay?"
"The school needs to know!"
"You'd really risk Endeavor's wrath?" Fuyumi asked desperately.
"I don't know!" Hawks's expression was strained, and his eyes darted away from her face. "Shit, Fuyumi, I don't want to think too hard about it! I do like Endeavor! He was my hero, when I was growing up! I really do admire him, and I feel fucking sick right now."
"How do you think I feel?" she retorted, her voice cold and calm. "He's my father. Of course he was my hero too. I loved him."
Hawks raised his eyes, and he looked down at her.
"That's exactly why it's so fucked up," he said gently. "That's why I have to call the school."
"They can't do anything without proof," she argued.
"You're my proof."
"I'm not," she said firmly. "I won't show them the scars."
Hawks raised an eyebrow.
"Fuyumi," he said, not even bothering to pretend to look guilty, "you don't have to."
It hit her all at once that she'd been manipulated. She backpedaled, gaping up at him, and she watched as he rubbed his eyes tiredly.
"You liar," she whispered. "You knew the whole time."
"I suspected," Hawks admitted, "which is different."
"You set up that photoshoot just so—!" She felt sick. She felt absolutely infuriated, so infuriated in fact that she started to cry.
"Shit," Hawks swore, approaching her quickly, "Fuyumi, don't—"
"Don't come near me." She brandished his phone at him, watching his face become blurry. "I'm not your friend."
"Well," Hawks said with a scowl, "you're mine. You think I'd do all of this if you weren't?"
"Friends don't manipulate each other."
"You wouldn't tell me anything!" Hawks grimaced. He held up his hands, and signaled that he was trying to bring his voice down. "I'm sorry. I knew you'd never tell me anything, and I knew I'd need proof. The photoshoot wasn't me manipulating you— okay, well, maybe a little. I did come up with the theme's idea, and I asked for short sleeves, but the photoshoot itself kind of fell into my lap."
She shook her head furiously. It wasn't an excuse.
"And I know that's not an excuse, and I'm sorry." He took a step toward her. "I just… I knew something was wrong. Like I said, Endeavor is my hero. It was hard to process he might be a piece of shit who abuses his kids. I needed proof, not just for other people, but for me."
She wanted to snap at him that he should have asked her, but of course she never would have admitted anything.
Lying about it was instinctive.
"You can't go to the press," she said quietly. "You can't tell anyone."
"Let me at least try the school," Hawks pleaded with her. "A kid like your brother… he seems nice. Really dedicated and smart. Why should he suffer?"
"You don't even know what you're talking about," she said miserably. Except she was starting to agree. She sucked in a deep breath. "Fine."
Hawks's eyes brightened. "Really?" he asked.
"On one condition." She shoved the phone back into Hawks's hands. "You need better proof than me. You need to find Touya."
The brightness in Hawks's eyes fell away in a second.
"Oh, great," he muttered. "Are you gonna tell me this guy is somehow in worse shape than you?"
"I don't know," she admitted. "I haven't seen him since the accident. But he always got the worst of it, and… and it's my dad's fault, you know, that he…"
Hawks nodded sympathetically. "Can you give me a little bit more to go on?" he asked. "I've been looking, but it's been… pretty unsuccessful."
"Oh. I have a photo." She turned toward her discarded things, which included her wallet, and she returned to Hawks. "Touya has a fire quirk, like my father. He always got pushed hard because of it, even though Touya had to focus really hard to keep the fire from burning him." She flicked the wallet open and produced the photo. "One day my father… got too angry, and…" It was hard to tell this to someone who wasn't family. Her throat constricted. She had to power through it. "He just… started… and he didn't stop. And everyone was screaming, and crying. Touya was crying. And then he was burning, and he was screaming too."
Hawks watched her silently. He looked exhausted.
"Was it Touya's quirk?" he asked tiredly.
"Yes." Fuyumi handed the photo to Hawks, and he took it. She watched as he frowned at it. "Touya is the one with red hair. He was fourteen. He'll look different now, though. The fire got too hot— it turned from red to blue— and he couldn't regulate the temperature, so his face might be…"
Hawks had gone an uncomfortable ashen color. His eyes were glued to the photograph in his hands.
"Scarred?" he uttered. He sounded like he wanted to laugh in disbelief.
"Well…" She blinked up at him. "Yes? Are you okay?"
He blinked rapidly, and he nodded. He held up the photo.
"Can I keep this?" he asked. "I'll make a copy and give it back."
"Yes." Fuyumi frowned. "Did you figure something out?"
Hawks glanced down at the photo again.
"Maybe," he said. "I'm not sure."
She thought he might be lying, but she wasn't going to push it.
Fuyumi went home feeling worse than she'd felt in weeks. Months, really. She was upset that she'd allowed herself to be fooled by Hawks, no matter how well intentioned he was, and she was tired of hiding her scars out of necessity.
It wasn't that she was protecting Endeavor. Right?
Somehow, along the line, she'd convinced herself that she would never be taken seriously. Perhaps it was something that she had been told as a child. Or maybe she had told someone and they hadn't listened, and now she believed that it was impossible for the truth to come out.
Or maybe she just really was ashamed of the whole thing.
Because wasn't all that Endeavor had told her all her life true?
She was weak. She had been too weak to save Touya, and she had been too weak to save her mother, and she had been too weak to save herself.
After lying on the couch for about an hour, staring at the ceiling with her cat on her stomach, she texted Shouto.
She waited. She closed her eyes. She dropped her phone on her face.
Her cat raised his round head, his smushed face clearly annoyed that she was moving as much as she was.
"Sorry," she mumbled. She sniffled a bit, and swiped at her eyes. It was annoying how much she was crying lately. She was sure that she had not cried so much since she had left home.
Left. Thinking about her own word choice made her feel foolish.
Her phone vibrated, and she sat up eagerly.
Can we talk?
Are you busy? We don't have to
Give me a minute.
Fuyumi waited for Shouto, ignoring how her cat pawed at her impatiently. He had been comfortable before she'd sat up.
When Shouto finally called her, she answered eagerly. His connection was a bit shoddy, and he was clearly wearing his pajamas.
"Are you okay?" he asked immediately.
"Yeah." She batted her cat away. "I… I mean, for the most part. Physically, I'm fine."
She sighed. That was the thing, wasn't it? It wasn't like anything had really happened. She had been hurt by Hawks, but it wasn't even so much Hawks's doing as it was her own. Shouldn't she have known better?
"Hawks found out about dad."
Shouto's face darkened. "What do you mean?"
Fuyumi sniffed, wiping her nose on her sleeve as Shouto's eyes flashed dangerously.
"What did the bastard do?" he demanded.
"Hawks?" Fuyumi croaked.
"Dad." Shouto wrinkled his nose. "Why? Did Hawks do something?"
"No. I mean—" She winced. "Not really. He got me to do a photoshoot today so he could see my scars—"
Shouto sounded alarmingly angry. His voice had gone cold, and Fuyumi watched as his nostrils flared.
"He wanted proof that dad… hurt me." She chewed on her lip. "It… sounds worse than it is. I was upset too when I realized, and I already yelled at him. You know he was about to call your school?"
"Hawks was going to call UA?" Shouto scoffed. "Why?"
"He doesn't think dad should be allowed near you." Fuyumi smiled. "It was actually a nice gesture. I… will probably forgive him. He meant well, he just didn't know what else to do. I wouldn't say anything to him."
Shouto was silent. His expression was taut, and he clearly wanted to say something, but instead he merely nodded.
"You don't seem shocked," Fuyumi said.
"I wasn't exactly careful with the things I said in front of him." Shouto sighed. "I had to tell Tokoyami a little bit about it too. Tokoyami is a good friend, and he promised to keep it a secret, but he and Hawks can easily contact each other. I'm sure they've been comparing notes."
"What… what are you going to do?"
"Nothing." Shouto's eyes were tired. "What are you going to do?"
"I don't know."
"Do you want me to come see you? I can skip."
"You are not going to skip."
Shouto's face was difficult to read, and she could hear him rolling back his chair.
"Shouto, you're not skipping class!"
"Relax." He rolled his eyes. "It's fine."
"No it's not!" Fuyumi scowled at him. "Do you know how many kids would kill to be in your position? Getting to learn at UA is a privilege, Shouto!"
His expression softened. "I know that," he said.
"Then act like it!"
Shouto studied her, his face coming very close to the camera.
"Yes, mom," he said. If his voice wasn't so monotone in its delivery, this remark would sound snide.
"Shh." Shouto had gotten distracted by something. He stood up and crossed his room. Fuyumi heard a shriek, and the camera jostled in his hand. "What are you three doing out here?"
"We heard you talking to a girl!" an unfamiliar voice squeaked.
"Kaminari said he thought you might have a secret girlfriend," a feminine voice said. "I said, you know. Bet? So…"
"I'm talking to my sister. Please leave."
"You have a sister?" Another unfamiliar voice said.
"What? Todoroki?" Another voice squeaked. "Wait, really? I never—"
"Do you want me to call you back?" Fuyumi asked him amusedly.
Shouto sighed, bringing the phone back up to his face.
"Yes," he said, shooting a glare at the gaggle of classmates who were haggling him. "If you want to stop by here tomorrow, you're welcome to. Since you won't let me come see you."
"I never said that."
"You implied it."
"Todoroki, is that really your sister?"
"Sorry, sorry— I was just— you never mentioned her— I'm gonna just keep walking this way, goodnight—"
Fuyumi smiled and shook her head.
"Thanks for calling. I'll see you next week?"
"Yeah. Same time?"
"Right. Goodnight, Yumi."
She was too startled by the use of Natsuo's nickname for her that she didn't have a chance to say goodnight back to him before he hung up.
The next morning when she went into work, there was a stuffed orange cat on her desk. When she picked it up, there was a card pinned to its stomach.
Sorry for being a bastard
Taped to the paper card was an SD card. She plugged it into the computer to make sure it was what she thought it was.
Sighing, she hugged the cat to her chest and made her way to Hawks's office.
It probably shouldn't have given her any satisfaction that he looked tired and miserable, but she couldn't help but feel a bit vindicated.
"How did you get the photos so fast?" she asked him, closing the door behind her.
He lifted his head from his desk, clearly having woken up from a nap.
"I promised to do another shoot for free," he said. "Do you like Little Duckling?"
"You know my cat's name?"
"He has a nametag." Hawks shrugged. "Anyway, I wanted to apologize. For… you know, everything. Again."
She nodded. She sat down on the chair across from his desk, burying her mouth in the stuffed cat. Hawks studied her, and he smiled weakly.
"If nothing else," Hawks said, "I'm going to get this dealt with quietly. I was up all night thinking about it, and you're right. People will think I'm just trying to ruin Endeavor's career, and that'll look bad."
"Yes," she murmured, "it will."
Hawks lowered his chin against his desk. It was all at once that Fuyumi saw how young he was. He was her age, and he already had an entire hero agency. He was the Number Two Hero! Of course he had more to think about than how she might react to him trying to expose her father's abuse.
Abuse. She was going to have to use that word, wasn't she?
"You were right too," she sighed.
Hawks raised his eyes but not his head. He merely stared at her blankly.
"Shouto…" She twisted her sleeves in her hands, and she shook her head. "He's too sweet to be stuck with my father. And what he did to us wasn't right. I… I don't want to pretend like it didn't happen."
Hawks sat up straight.
"Okay," he said.
Hawks smiled at her. It actually seemed to reach his eyes.
"I'm gonna save Touya," he said. "Then, I guess, I'll have to make things right with Endeavor. I… don't know how that will work out."
"Probably badly," Fuyumi admitted.
"Probably." Hawks smirked. "Yeah."
"If it's any consolation," Fuyumi said, "I'll be by your side."
Hawks did seem to visibly relax. He toyed with a guitar pick that she'd seen on his desk before. It was black and plain.
"I should warn you now," he said, watching the guitar pick dance between his fingers, "you might not like where the search takes you."
This was not the first time she'd been told this, and honestly, she was already tired of it. Of course she knew that she might not like what she found. Touya could be dead.
She would rather have a body to bury than live the rest of her life slowly suffocating under the weight of her doubt.
The questions, the anxiety of it all…
It would be better to have an answer once and for all. Even if that meant looking upon her older brother's grave.
"I understand," Fuyumi said firmly.
Of course, she didn't. Not really.
She and Shouto visited their mother again that Friday. She had to work that weekend, so Shouto got special permission to miss a class so he could come with her. He told his mother about his classes, about a boy who had initially been put into a general class, but would transfer into the Hero Course next year.
The weather was getting colder. She was more comfortable sitting in a turtleneck, even leaning into her brother's warmer side.
But the days were getting shorter too.
"We should get dinner," Shouto suggested after their mother spent twenty minutes saying goodbye. His hair was a bit ruffled, but he looked happier than Fuyumi had ever seen him.
"Don't you have to go back to school?" Fuyumi teased him, smoothing the unruly strands of hair back from his forehead. The minute she fixed it, he shook it back into place, much to her dismay.
"Technically the curfew is set for eight," Shouto said.
"Technically you should be back before dark."
Shouto rolled his eyes. "I want to spend more time with you," he said, in a voice that made her pause a little.
She glanced up at Shouto and she thought for a moment he was trying to trick her by being cute, but Shouto's bright eyes were glowing with sincerity.
"Fine," she conceded. "We'll grab something to eat. Quickly. And then I'll walk you back to UA."
Shouto lifted his chin high and turned his face away. She pretended she did not see his contented smile, and they continued walking.
With some coaxing, she got him to talk about the relationships he made at school.
"They meant well," he said, trying to explain the end of their call quickly. He paused, thought about it, and grimaced. "Well, Midoriya and Kirishima meant well. They just happened to be passing by. Jirou and Kaminari did listen in, but I don't think they heard much."
"It sounds like you have a good group."
Shouto nodded. They were sitting on a bench, eating sandwiches they had bought at a nearby food truck. His nose was a bit rosy, and he tugged the scarf she'd loaned him up a bit higher. He was not wearing a jacket, to Fuyumi's annoyance.
"Are you cold?" she asked him.
"Cold blooded," she said, waggling her fingers. Frost glittered as it fluttered from her fingertips. "Remember?"
"Half of me is cold too."
"Only half," she said, poking his left cheek and watching him shimmy away with a scowl. "Do you ever get uncomfortable if it's too hot or too cold?"
"All the time," he mumbled. "It's annoying."
"I can't stand the summer," Fuyumi sighed. "The heat drives me crazy."
"It must suck," he said. "You always wear long-sleeves and turtlenecks… it must get stifling. Since you run so cold."
"I try to wear more breathable fabrics in the summer," she said, tugging at the edge of her turtleneck. "I… guess I'm lucky I can cover up my scars."
"You don't have to, you know."
Fuyumi looked down at him, surprised.
With a shrug, Shouto continued to eat his sandwich.
Of course, Shouto had been living with a terrible scar far longer than she had. And, of course, he did not have the luxury of being able to hide it.
She was so used to boxing away her feelings, to concealing the evidence of her past mistakes, to hiding the truth behind heavy layers… she was not sure if she even knew what she was trying to hide anymore.
"I don't know…" She twisted the ends of her sleeves between her fingers. "Maybe."
"Just think on it."
"What if… people ask?" She had gotten enough questions at school about it, when people saw. It had been inevitable. She had always lied and said a villain had given her the handprint scars.
"So what if people ask?" Shouto shot her a dull look. "Are you going to let what other people think stop you?"
She shook her head furiously. The thought of it… even just exposing the handprint on her neck… could that old lie hold up? Even thinking about it made her feel awful, like her stomach was dissolving itself.
"I'm not saying you have to," Shouto said, much gentler than before. "I'm saying you have a choice. You shouldn't let those scars stop you from doing anything."
"I… know that…"
"Do you?" Shouto watched her, and she shrunk a bit under his hard stare. "Do you even know how strong you are?"
"I'm not that strong, Shouto."
In the silence that followed between them, they listened to the city breathe around them. Short breaths, like car horns. Long breaths, like a distant bass drumming hard and fast as it faded in and out of earshot. A sigh of the wind through the dying leaves and empty branches above them.
Shouto reached out and grasped her hand. His fingers were warm, and that was familiar now, and welcome. Then he pulled her hand up to his face, and pressed her fingers to his left cheek. Her nails just barely brushed the edge of his dark scar, and she curled her fingers inward.
He seemed to feel her flinch away from the puckered skin, because his eyes slid sharply to her face. Gently, he pulled her sleeve down below her wrist, and lifted her hand higher so the bubbled, mottled scar on her forearm sat beside the scar on his eye.
"You're strong," he said firmly. "You are the strongest person I know. And All Might is my teacher."
A short, disbelieving laugh bubbled up in her chest. She realized too late it was half a sob.
"Yumi," Shouto said, grasping her hand in both of his. "You deserve to be happy with yourself. Stop trying to shave away the things that scare you because they remind you of our father. If you do that, then you're letting him take ownership of the parts of you that make you you. Dad doesn't get to influence your decisions. So don't let him."
She did not quite see the panic in his eyes when she burst into full blown tears. They came too fast for her to choke them down, and they flooded her face, ugly and thick, while she heaved deep breaths. He gaped at her. Then, a bit too stiffly, and a bit too urgently, he grabbed her by the shoulders and crushed her to his chest.
As a child, when she'd often cried a bit too much, Touya would always patiently smooth back her hair, pull her into his lap, and hold her until she stopped.
"Cry baby," he'd murmur, rubbing her back while she hiccupped. "What's wrong now?"
Shouto wasn't Touya. He didn't know how to hold her gently while she cried, or to smooth her hair back so it didn't stick to her cheeks, or to rub her back until the sobs dissipated.
But he did hold her so tightly she could hardly breathe, his chin pressed against the crown of her head while he hugged her.
"I'm sorry," he mumbled into her hair. "I didn't mean to— I didn't— I'm sorry."
"No…" She wiggled out of his grasp, her hands clapping against her warm cheeks. "No, no, no! Don't apologize!"
"I made you cry," Shouto said flatly.
She shook her head, smearing her tears with her sleeve as she laughed thickly.
"You're so smart," she said, a little breathlessly, "and— and thoughtful, and kind. When did you get so kind and wise?"
She saw, through her bleary eyes, how sheepish and flustered that made him. She laughed again, bright and amazed, because how had this boy ended up like this? She certainly hadn't raised him, and there was not a shred of Todoroki Enji and the boy's soft words and awkward smiles. Perhaps Natsuo had influenced him, but she couldn't be sure.
"Come on," she said, sliding off the bench and offering out her hand. "Let's get you back to school."
Shouto looked down at her hand. He smiled hesitantly, and he let her pull him to his feet.
Halfway down the block, he touched his shoulder. Fuyumi blinked up at him as he grimaced.
"My bookbag," he said.
"You forgot it?"
He nodded. He turned to look behind him.
"I could get it tomorrow," he said.
"No, no, it's fine." Fuyumi checked the time. It was nearly eight. "We'll just take the train so we can get back to UA on time. How's that sound?"
Shouto thought on that for just a moment before nodding.
As they made their way back to the hospital, he asked about Hawks.
"Oh," Fuyumi said, rolling her eyes, "that's all dealt with now. I still want to hit him sometimes, but he's a good person at heart."
"The Number Two Hero. A good hero and a good person," Shouto said in a breezy, monotone voice. "Who thought that was possible."
Fuyumi swatted his arm gently before laughing. Shouto had an easier time making jokes about their father than she did. It was easy to be glad about that.
"Tokoyami said I should apply to Hawks's agency," he said, "for my work-study."
Fuyumi looked up at him eagerly. "Yes," she said, "you should."
"Dad will be pissed," he said thoughtfully.
"All the more reason?"
"Yeah." Shouto said with a small smile. "Honestly? Yeah."
Fuyumi offered to go inside once they reached the hospital, but Shouto shook his head.
"I'll be just a minute," he said. His eyes were bright in the dark, and his hand fell on her head as he backed away. "Wait here?"
"You just want extra time with mom," she said, ducking away before he could ruffle her hair. "Fine."
Shouto smiled a little, and he turned quickly to jog inside.
It did take a minute. Then two. Fuyumi checked her phone and saw that Hawks had called her. She pressed her phone to her ear and walked toward the nearest bench, which was out of sight of the entrance to the hospital.
"Hey," she said tucking her hair behind her ear. "Do you need me to come in?"
"Nah," he said. "UA asked me to be a guest speaker for something or another, and usually I'd be like, nah, not my thing, but I know your brother's there…"
"So do you want me to go in your place?" Fuyumi could almost hear him grinning.
"Would you? You're the best. Let me just call—"
The ground rattled beneath her as a deafening roar exploded all around her. She was blasted off her feet, heat flooding all her senses as the distinct smell of smoke caught inside her throat. Shattered glass rained around her as she rolled onto her side, coughing and blinking rapidly. The smoke was thick and black, and she realized, her heart sinking, that the building behind her was ablaze.
"Mom," she choked out, her eyes watering from the noxious fumes. Panic was a slow and vicious beast. It crawled over her, creeped into her skin, and then suffocated her. "Shouto!"
She heard yelling. So much yelling. Her brain was not quite processing it at all.
Then she was moving. It took her a moment to realize that she was running toward the fire, but she was, and the smoke blinded her. It took her a moment to stumble upright, her shoulder falling into a nearby wall. Heat startled her, and she tore her cardigan off with a shriek. Ice lanced up her arm quickly, and she was relieved when the fire was smothered by it. She cast away the ice, if only to save her strength, and she started forward dazedly.
The fire danced around her like gentle blue waves rising and falling.
"Shouto," she rasped, continuing forward through the smoke. Her left sleeve was tattered, and she ripped it from its seam. "Shouto!"
There were screams all around her. Even if Shouto called to her, she could not—
Fuyumi thought of Shouto's face, and his determined gaze, and she remembered something.
She was strong, wasn't she?
Shouto thought so. So she had to be.
The ground was hot as she dropped to her knees and clapped her palms to it. The resulting blast of cool air had her shuddering, her hair fluttering madly around her head as frost blew into her stinging eyes.
As maddening as the heat had been, she was shocked by how cold it was now. She kept her fingers to the floor, listening to the shuddering hiss of the walls as the fires were smothered by the forceful sheet of ice that had burst upward from every surface. The walls, the floor, everything was ice.
The ice hadn't fully extinguished the fires. She knew that. But the smoke was dissipating enough that she could see the fires dimming, and the blue of the flames were only small, flickering bulbs of orange.
Fuyumi sucked in a deep breath, and she got a mouthful of smoke. She coughed, grappling at her throat with sore, icy fingers, and she stumbled to her feet.
"Shouto?" she rasped, stamping out any residual fire she saw. "Shou—"
The receptionist stumbled into her, and Fuyumi nearly toppled backwards.
"You!" the receptionist cried, gripping Fuyumi's shoulders. She was unburned, Fuyumi saw with some relief, but there was a cut on her neck seeping blood into her color. "Yukitomo— your brother—"
Fuyumi gaped at her. "Ma'am," she said, her voice cutting through her throat as if it was filled with small beads of glass, "are you okay? Is anyone else hurt?"
"The fire was a distraction," the receptionist gasped, shaking her head. "He went out the back!"
"What?" Fuyumi couldn't imagine how that big of a fire had been a distraction, but now that she saw the lobby of the hospital… it seemed relatively untouched compared to the entrance. "Who? Shouto?"
"The villain!" The receptionist's eyes were watering. "He— I'm so sorry, I didn't realize…"
Fuyumi felt lightheaded.
"And… Shouto is…?"
"Taken," the receptionist said, gripping Fuyumi's arms as she swayed. Her fingers were numb. There was ice clinging to her eyelashes. Beneath her feet, there was ice, and along the desk, and on the ceiling. "He tried to fight him— he must have realized immediately that the man was a villain— but…"
Fuyumi jerked out of the woman's grasp and rushed forward. She did not know where the back exit was, but she had to find it.
Before she could, her cheek was pressed to the floor. She had no idea how that had happened. She struggled to get to her feet, but her head was pounding, and her whole body felt numb.
A pair of hands slipped beneath her underarms and dragged her to the stairwell. The moment she was upright she began to cough violently, tears blinding her, and she tried to scream when she was picked up and taken out into the street, but she couldn't breathe. She caught a glimpse of the glittering street sign before the light of it realigned itself, splitting off into fractals of stars, and she watched each star get brighter and brighter until her eyes were filled with them and everything was white.
And then, like a faulty television set, it all went out in a blink.
When she woke up, she couldn't really see. She could breathe, which was a relief, but when she opened her eyes, everything was blurry.
Shouts were garbled all around her, and she wondered if it was her fate to wake up to shouting after every brush with fire.
She blinked rapidly, her eyes burning, and she managed to shake the glaze from her eyes as she peered up into Hawks's face. With a groan, she sat up.
"Hey!" a startlingly familiar voice growled. A large hand grabbed Hawks by the shoulder and ripped him from her side. "She shouldn't be sitting up—"
"Don't," Fuyumi rasped, squeezing her eyes closed. There was an oxygen mask over her mouth, and she pushed it up over her head.
"Fuyumi," Hawks said, sounding desperate, "you need to keep that on—"
"Don't," she snapped at him, her eyes flashing between both men coldly. She sucked in a breath of fresh air, and her chest felt tight. She coughed, and the hollow hacking sound startled her.
The events leading up to her lying on a gurney with an oxygen mask fastened to her face came swiftly. In a daze, she swung her legs over the side of the gurney.
Both her father and Hawks made a grab to catch her, and she beat them both back with the heated blanket around her shoulders. Her hands were throbbing, and when she looked at them she was relieved to see she still had all her fingers.
"I don't need," she hissed, her voice garbled, "either of you to treat me like I'm going to— to shatter at any moment." She balled up the heated blanket and threw it on the gurney behind her. "Where the hell is Shouto?"
Her father's eyes burned with a great and sudden attack of rage.
"Perhaps you could tell us that," he spat.
"Hey, hey!" Hawks shot Endeavor a sharp look. "It's not her fault the villain took him!"
"That villain," Endeavor said, "clearly has a vendetta against me. What do you think he will do to my son?"
Hawks met her eye, and his expression softened when he saw the flood of panic come over her.
"I'll deal with it," Hawks said heavily.
"You," Endeavor said. His scarred lip curled back in a snarl. "You? Where the hell were you, if you are such the savior, Hawks?"
"Stop," Fuyumi murmured. She drew her hands over her eyes, and her breath rattled as she stood there and tried not to cry. "It's me you blame. Don't drag Hawks into it."
"You—" Her father glared down at her. She nearly shrunk under the heat of his gaze, but she remembered Shouto's hands against hers, and his gentle affirmations of her strength.
So she did not buckle under the weight of his stare.
"You're angry that Shouto and I were spending time together," Fuyumi said, too quickly for comfort. Her voice was raspy and thick. "You're angry that we were visiting mom. You're angry that you didn't even know about it. You know what I'm angry about? I'm angry that you have the audacity to stand there and pretend to be worried about me, or Shouto, when all you've ever cared about is yourself."
She didn't bother waiting around for his response. With a shove, Fuyumi edged past him, catching by surprise enough that he stumbled back.
Her escape was cut short by a lanky, bedraggled looking homeless man.
She realized, embarrassed, that he was a hero when he spoke.
"Yukitomo," Eraserhead said, "was it?"
Fuyumi went to wipe at her cheeks with the sleeve of her shirt, only to find her bare wrist. She looked down and numbly took in the sight of her bare, scarred arm.
"Yeah," she said. She sniffled sharply, and then began to cough again. The man steadied her, and led her cautiously to a nearby bench. "Sorry."
"Don't apologize." Eraserhead shook his head. "You're the one who put the fire out, aren't you?"
She nodded. "Not… all of it. Ice is finicky like that. Um, you're Shouto's teacher, aren't you?" Eraserhead's eyes widened momentarily. She could see the question in his eyes. "I'm his sister."
"Sister." Eraserhead nodded, though his lips tugged into a frown. "Okay. Interesting. Did you see what happened?"
"No." Fuyumi was still struggling to grasp what had happened herself. "What did the receptionist say? I heard there was a villain—"
"Yes." Eraserhead's jaw clenched. A chill ran through her as she realized the enormity of what had just happened. "Dabi. He's part of the League of Villains."
"The League of…"
"This isn't the first time a child in my class has been kidnapped by them," Eraserhead said bitterly. "According to the receptionist, who is our only eyewitness, Todoroki went with Dabi willingly when he threatened her life."
"How did the villain even get into the hospital?" Fuyumi gasped. "Why was he even there? Was he targeting Shouto?"
"He must have been." Eraserhead frowned. "The receptionist said that she thought he was just a flower delivery man. His face was often hidden by a scarf so she didn't notice the deformities, or if she did she chalked it up to his quirk."
"I don't understand," Fuyumi said faintly. "I don't…"
"I'm sorry," Eraserhead said. He sounded genuine, but exhausted. "When we have more information, I'll let you know."
"I want to be part of the investigation," she demanded.
Eraserhead stared blankly at her.
"Don't," she breathed, "look at me like that. I'm a hero too, and I want to find my little brother."
She was oddly thankful when Hawks landed at her side in that moment, a little breathless and certainly annoyed.
"Did you have to leave me to deal with your dad?" he asked, scowling down at her. "Hey, Eraserhead."
"Hawks." Eraserhead glanced between the two of them. "Nightingale, huh?"
"Does nobody know my real name?" Fuyumi peered up at Hawks. "You're bad at publicity."
"Yep." He crouched beside her so that they were eyelevel. "How're you feeling? You scared the shit out of me before. I thought you were dead."
"Clearly," Fuyumi said dryly, "I lived."
"Got another burn, though."
That remark made her glance down at her arm. She hadn't really noticed, though now that it had been pointed out, she certainly could feel it.
"It's nothing," she said.
Hawks glanced at her, unconvinced, but he said nothing. He stood up and nodded to Eraserhead.
"I'm spearheading the rescue mission," Hawks said.
Eraserhead eyed him, clearly unconvinced.
"The last time we rescued a child from the League," he said, "we lost All Might."
Those words settled between the three of them, and the weight of Shouto's disappearance sunk in. It was not going to be easy.
"I'm not All Might," Hawks said finally, "and I am going to make this right."
Hawks took to the air without warning, and Fuyumi sat in shock as she stared after him.
She exchanged a look with Eraserhead.
"Don't ask me to explain," she sighed, "he's just… like that."
Fuyumi had to go to the hospital, which she wasn't thrilled about. Every news station was broadcasting Shouto's kidnapping. She couldn't turn it off because she was sharing a room with another unfortunate bystander, and they had control of the remote.
After getting her cheek and shoulder patched up, she was free to go.
She bolted back to the office. She donned her costume (just in case) and sat down at her desk. The rest of the night, which was a mere few hours, was spent on her computer. There were numerous articles on Dabi, who she realized was the villain Hawks had warned her about, but there were no clear photos of him. Just details of his exploits, and rough police sketches.
He looked horrifying.
The thing was, Shouto could take care of himself. She knew that. Both Shouto and this villain had fire quirks, but Shouto also had ice. She waited anxiously, praying for some miracle where Shouto had saved himself.
There was no call.
She woke up to shuffling around her, and she bolted upright.
Hawks was standing outside his office, looking just as bewildered as her. Out the window, Fuyumi saw dawn's first trickling white light crack across the sky.
"What are you doing here?" Hawks asked sharply. "Shouldn't you be at the hospital?"
"They let me go early." Fuyumi pushed herself shakily to her feet. Her body was even more exhausted than her brain. "I looked up Dabi. When you fight him, I want to be there."
Hawks did not even look at her when he said, flatly, "No."
"What?" Fuyumi rushed up beside him, ducking into his office before he could slam to door on her. "Why?"
"Because you're injured," Hawks said with a sigh, "and you won't be in a condition to fight by the time a fight comes up."
"I'm not that injured."
"Your arm is burned."
"Yeah," Fuyumi said, "and?"
"And you're exhausted. You haven't slept."
"Actually," she argued, "I clearly just woke up. You however, definitely have not slept. Maybe it's you who should sit this one out, Hawks."
He actually glared at her at that.
"I said no," he said, his eyes squeezing shut, "okay? No. You're not fighting him."
"Why?" she demanded.
"Because. Because—" He scowled. "Because I'm your boss, and I'm ordering you! Got it?"
With a shuddering sigh, his whole body seeming to buckle beneath the weight of it, Hawks dragged his hands through his hair and collapsed at his desk.
Fuyumi had seen him this distraught before. She stood at the door, watching him grip the back of his head with interlaced fingers, and swallowed hard.
"It's Dabi," she said quietly. "Dabi is the guy you like? The scumbag?"
Hawks raised his eyes tiredly to hers.
"God," he said, "you don't miss anything, do you?"
She remembered how confident he was when speaking to Eraserhead about getting Shouto back. She remembered the bruises, and she remembered the days when Hawks would come into the office looking like he did not sleep at all.
"Are you working for them?" she whispered.
The way Hawks winced was answer enough for her. Her fingers grappled with the doorknob and she darted out of the room, into the hall, and made a dash for the stairs.
Hawks, she knew, was faster than her. A feather nicked her armor, and she ducked into the stairwell.
"Fuyumi!" he yelled after her. "Stop. It isn't what you—! Fuyumi, don't!"
She jumped over the side of the railing without thought. The drop had her almost paralyzed in fear, and she scrambled to create enough ice to slide to a successful stop.
Hawks got to her before she could fully slow her momentum, and she screamed.
"Get off me!"
She clamped her hand down on his left wing, and he shrieked as a chunk of his feathers were coated in a thick frost. While he lurched back in pain, she kicked him in the chest. Her fingers slapped the floor, and he cursed under his breath when his boots were caught up in a sheet of ice.
They stared at each other for a moment, both of them frozen in the shock of the fight.
"Fuyumi," he breathed, "I am not a traitor."
The worst thing was that she wanted to believe it. Hawks had been kind to her, despite some hiccups, and he was a good hero. The more she thought about it, the more she didn't believe that it could be true.
Yet none of it made any sense. Why would he be conspiring with Dabi if he wasn't a traitor?
"If you aren't," she said, her voice small and desperate, "then can you tell me where my brother is?"
He opened his mouth, and then, with a pained expression, he closed it.
"Wrong answer," she said.
Ice shot up just as he flung a volley of feathers her way. The ice shattered, and she flung herself away, skidding toward the door.
A feather brushed her cheek, and she clasped her hand against it, expecting blood to bubble up from the wound.
There was no wound.
The feather that had struck her had hit the wall, tip first, and fluttered to the ground harmlessly.
She stared at it, knowing Hawks well enough to understand that he did not make mistakes when he could control his feathers, and she decidedly pushed onwards and out the door.
Sunlight bathed the street now. She dug through one of the hidden compartments around her belt, and she pried it open. The light, flexible mask that Hawks had gotten made for her fell into her hand.
It was ironic, and she might have laughed if she was not panicking.
She was certain that Hawks wasn't evil. That didn't mean that she wasn't scared, or that she wasn't going to run while she processed what was happening.
Shouto was missing, and in the League of Villains' hands. Hawks, who she had begun to consider a close friend, was possibly a traitor. She had to find someone she could trust, and she had to do it quickly.
Of course, she kept forgetting.
Hawks was ungodly fast.
The feathers hit her hard enough to knock her off her feet. She had enough time to break her fall so her face didn't smash into the pavement before Hawks had her in the air.
"Let me go!" Fuyumi struggled against him, much to his dismay, and he wrapped his arms and legs around her to hold her still. "Hawks, I swear, I—"
"Shut up," Hawks hissed, depositing her on the office's roof. The moment her feet touched the ground she tore away from him, scrambling back. "Nightingale, you need to be quiet, okay?"
"Be quiet?" Fuyumi heaved a deep breath. Her lungs still had not recovered from last night. "Hawks, I'm going to kill you!"
Hawks's express remained utterly unchanged at the sound of another voice on the roof. That made Fuyumi's heart sink in her chest.
"Hawks," she whispered, "what have you done?"
"Just be quiet," he hissed at her, his eyes narrowed, "and let me talk. Okay?"
"No," she said. "Not okay. What the hell is wrong with you?"
"Seems like your partner isn't really in on the whole charade, Hawks," the villain drawled.
Hawks glanced at her, and she watched his whole body slump with exhaustion. It seemed like he might tip over the side of the building, or collapsed forward and crumple to the dirty roof floor.
"Dabi," Hawks hissed through gritted teeth. "I told you not to wait here."
"Since when have I ever done what you tell me to?"
Fuyumi turned slowly to look at the villain before her. His voice was strange. Almost too soft for his face, which was far more horrific than Fuyumi had expected. Even from this distance, Fuyumi could see the gnarled skin of his throat, his jaw, under his eyes, and the sunlight glinted off the visible line of staples keeping his skin together.
"You," she said breathlessly.
Dabi cocked his head to one side. She did not know what color his eyes were, but they looked hollow from where Fuyumi stood. His black hair fluttered lazily in the morning breeze.
"Do I have to kill her?" Dabi asked. "It might actually help me if I do. At least I won't have to go back to the League with nothing."
"If you were smart, you wouldn't touch her," Hawks said sharply, a thinly veiled threat imbedded in his words. Fuyumi glanced at him in disbelief.
Dabi whistled low, and Fuyumi watched his feet as he seemed to prowl along the edge of the roof, his chin dipped low and his teeth gleaming.
"You trying to make me jealous, birdy?" Dabi stopped short, and she watched him sneer at them both. "It might work if I didn't know you so well."
A hand grasped Fuyumi's bicep, squeezing it hard.
"You need to take one of my feathers," Hawks whispered, "and leave, okay?"
"What are you whispering?" Dabi called, moving a bit closer. "C'mon. Are we not all friends? C'mon, Hawks. Let me have the songbird. I can play nice."
Fuyumi stepped back instinctively, a shudder flooding through her. Hawks steadied her before she could tip off the edge of the roof.
"Dabi," Hawks said, gripping Fuyumi by the arm and half shielding her from him. "This is… a mistake. Okay? We should talk."
"It was a mistake," Dabi said, "and now I'm rectifying it. I told you I'd let you be the hero, but it looks like you got yourself in deep shit. Can you really be the hero when your own sidekick thinks you're a villain? Just hand her over to me, and the boy's yours."
Fuyumi acted on impulse. She sprung forward, her hand brushing Hawks's so he would loosen her grip on her, and she ran at Dabi. Her legs objected to the strain, but she pushed them as hard as she could, as fast as she could. Dabi raised an eyebrow, and she saw him lift a scarred palm toward her as she neared him.
She flung her hands behind her, ice shooting her forward like a projectile, and she missed the roar of blue flames by a head. Her whole body slammed into his, and the force of it sent him teetering off the edge of the roof.
"Shit!" Dabi yanked at her hair, and in response Fuyumi twisted her head and sank her teeth into his gnarled purple wrist. The wrinkled skin caught between her teeth, and Dabi yelped like a wounded animal.
His fist collided with her temple, knocking her and him around as they plummeted.
Without warning, they were both whisked apart and yanked upwards.
She and Dabi dangled perhaps a foot off the ground. The street below was now bustling with cars, and several passersby stopped to stare at them.
"What," Hawks snapped, landing in the street and glaring up at the two of them, "the fuck is wrong with you two?"
The feathers, which had caught them just in time, dropped them, and they both stumbled. Their legs were weak from the shock. Fuyumi spat Dabi's blood at his feet.
Dabi glanced down at his bloody arm. He laughed.
"You know," he said, "if I wasn't about to kill you, I'd probably like you."
"Where is Shouto?" Fuyumi demanded.
"Hawks knows." Dabi turned to smirk at Hawks. Fuyumi felt a little ill when he winked. "Don't you, birdy?"
Hawks looked pale as he glanced between Dabi and Fuyumi.
"You aren't lying," Hawks murmured, "are you? You— you are such an asshole, Dabi."
"Hawks," Fuyumi said, glancing at him. "If you know where he is, go get him."
That made Hawks look at her, his eyes big and desperate.
"There's something you both need to know first," he said, taking a step forward.
"Tick tock, little man," Dabi drawled. "Tick tock."
"You wouldn't hurt him," Hawks snapped at Dabi. Fuyumi blinked as Dabi froze, his expression blank and his mouth falling open slightly. "I know you wouldn't."
"How would you know that?" Dabi snapped. "God, you're such a fucking hero. After all this, could you at least pretend to be a bad person? Go fuck yourself."
Hawks exhaled shakily. He looked at Fuyumi, and the desperation was gleaming in his eyes. He was sweating, his whole body taut, and when he stepped forward again, Fuyumi glared at him.
"Fuyumi," he said, his eyes flashing pleadingly to Dabi, who jerked upright. He had been hunching all this time, and she saw just how tall he really was in that moment. He looked like he might have been the same height as her father, though he had none of the bulk. "You need to listen to me. Dabi is—"
"If you want me to trust you," she said, her voice low, "stop asking me to listen to you, and go do something. Go save Shouto."
Hawks shot one last glance at Dabi, who had fixed his gaze upon Fuyumi, and he shrugged.
"Remember that later," he muttered. He sprung into the air, disappearing in a blink.
Fuyumi did not waste time after that.
She propelled herself forward with ice once more, and for a moment, she saw Dabi's expression shudder.
Just before her fist collided with his cheek.
The momentum sent him flying. That was the trick with larger targets, she knew. Gather momentum. Keep low.
Right. She could do this.
Some civilians nearby cheered for her. She didn't have time to glance at them, or to tell them to get out of here. Dropping to her knees, she pressed her fingers to the ground and froze him in place.
Dabi laid on the ground, ice incasing his arms and legs.
His head lolled lazily to the side, and he stared at her.
"This is hell, you know," he said softly. "You're my punishment."
Fuyumi faltered, unsure what she could spit back to match whatever issue Dabi had. She was so confused that she noticed too late that the ice was steaming over, and she jerked back when he lunged at her.
Ice flew between them, but he crushed it with both palms out and flaming blue.
The sight of the blue flames wrenched something visceral out of her, and she fell onto her back without ever being hit.
Don't look, don't look, don't look at him, Natsu—
Cooked flesh, bubbling, bubbling, sloughing off the bone.
A shadow loomed over her, blocking out the sun.
Dabi had swung one leg over her so he stood above her, staring down at her with shadowy eyes.
"This," he spat, his unblemished fingers falling upon her cheek. She sat on the sidewalk, paralyzed with fear. "This is not happening…"
A long, thin icicle erupted from the ground behind her and sliced through his shoulder.
His scream pierced her ears, and for just a moment, if she blinked, she saw him consumed by his own blue flames.
Don't look, don't look, don't look at him, Natsu—
Her stomach turned. She would smell burnt flesh if she closed her eyes, but she couldn't. She didn't dare.
Stop it! Stop it! Stop hurting him, please— Natsu, don't look—!
Hawks's desperate eyes when he'd begged her to listen, and his stupid voice laughing at her.
You don't miss a thing, he'd said.
You might not like where this search takes you, he'd said.
I'm not sure, he'd said, lying through his teeth while staring at a photo of her older brother.
Fuyumi did not make a sound when Dabi melted the icicle in his shoulder and grabbed her by the neck before pinning her to the sidewalk.
His eyes. She saw them up close now.
They were that bright, familiar turquoise hue that haunted her dreams.
The worst part was, he wasn't even squeezing her throat.
He was just staring at her.
"Touya," she whispered.
His wrinkled, scarred lower lip trembled.
With her own shaky hand, she raised her fingers to her cheek and pried her mask away carefully.
Dabi let out a small, strangled breath.
As though he was the one with hands around his throat.
And then, he rolled off her. She laid beside him, staring up at the skyscrapers while he sat, dragging his hands over his face.
"Are you going to run?" she whispered.
The sirens were wailing in the distance now. He clearly heard them. People were taking photos.
Dabi shook his head mutely.
"Touya," Fuyumi said, lifting her head. He did not move. He just sat, his head in his hands. "Touya, go. Run."
He was a murderer. He'd killed… she didn't even know how many people.
She was supposed to be a hero.
"Touya." She was pleading now. "Don't just sit there. Do something. Fight me. Run away. Are you a villain or not?"
From beneath his scarred hands, she heard him laugh. She had heard that laugh before, when she had watched her father's fight with the Nomu on television.
Dabi… Touya… He'd tried to kill their father.
Everything about him made sense, and yet she still wanted to throw up.
His laughter was loud and frantic, crazed and deranged, and it bled into harsh, erratic sobs.
Fuyumi dragged herself to his side, pulled his hands from his face, and she grasped both his cheeks in her palms. Tears were pooling in the odd pocket between his scarred skin and his unblemished skin. Blood from the staples was seeping through his cheek and onto her gloves. She searched his face, desperate for answers, but he just cried.
She wanted to ask him why he had killed people. Why he had thought that this was the path that would bring him happiness. She understood the desire to destroy their father, to an extent, but…
But she couldn't ask.
So she gingerly brushed his tears away, and she smoothed his hair back from his face as he gazed at her, wide eyed.
"Why?" he rasped, his whole body wracking as another sob fell from his lips. "Why are you doing this?"
She could not respond. If only because she had no words, and if she did, they denied her tongue.
He crumpled into her arms the moment she wrapped them around him. She closed her eyes as he clung to her, his head dropping onto her shoulder.
As she rubbed small, soothing circles into Touya's back, she had a few thoughts.
Firstly, she might be a bad hero for wishing her idiotic, murderous older brother had just run away the minute he'd realized who he was fighting.
Secondly, she was going to kill Hawks.
Even with that thought, she was relieved when Hawks arrived before the police. She peeked over Touya's head as Hawks gently set Shouto down on the sidewalk before them. He looked no worse for wear, which made her relax, but he did wear an expression of disgust and disbelief that suggested he had no idea who Dabi really was as he watched Fuyumi soothe his kidnapper.
Hawks, however, looked a bit pained.
"Shit," he said.
Fuyumi had words to say to him.
She settled on glaring, not wishing to upset her brothers any further.
"God," Hawks said, "what's that look for? I told you—"
"You should have told me earlier," Fuyumi hissed.
"What the hell is happening?"
At the sound of Shouto's voice, Touya tensed up in Fuyumi's arms.
The sirens were getting closer.
"You should apologize," Fuyumi murmured to him.
"Fuck," Touya mumbled into her shoulder. "Couldn't you just…" He hiccupped. "… kill me instead?"
"Why are you still so dramatic?" she asked, him lifting his head from her shoulder. "You are going to get arrested. You made sure of that. Go apologize to your brother while you can."
She did not miss the panic and shock that flashed through Shouto's eyes.
Touya sighed, and he lifted himself up unsteadily. Once again Fuyumi was startled by how tall he was.
"Hey," Touya said, jerking his chin at Shouto. "Shouto. I'm sorry for kidnapping you. That was a mistake."
"A mistake," Shouto repeated flatly.
"Yeah. I realized you recognized me, and thought I could… I dunno. Fix it." Touya hung his head, and he rubbed the back of his neck as multiple police cars squealed to a stop beside them. "And then I had you, and I didn't know what to do with you. I couldn't kill you. I couldn't give you to the League. I was just stuck with you."
"Stuck," Shouto said. "What… the hell? Who are you?"
The police burst out of their cars. The last one to climb out was Eraserhead, exhaustion glassing over his red eyes as he eyed Touya, erasing his quirk.
"Kid," Touya said, holding his hands up in surrender, "if you haven't figured it out yet, I'm not gonna tell you."
"Touya," Fuyumi said sternly, rising to her feet.
Both her brothers shot her sharp, bewildered stares at that name. She couldn't bring herself to regret it, either. Shouto deserved to know who Dabi really was, especially if he'd been held captive by him for hours. Though Shouto was clearly physically fine, Fuyumi was still worried about him. What had happened?
"What?" Shouto said vacantly. His eyes swiveled to Touya.
"Todoroki," Eraserhead called.
In response, Shouto, Fuyumi, and even Touya glanced at him.
That gave Eraserhead a bit of a pause. Fuyumi had to glance up at Touya for him to avert his gaze. Eraserhead was clearly only here to keep Touya's quirk at bay, and Fuyumi wondered if that was even necessary.
"Where is the rest of the League?" Eraserhead asked Touya sharply.
Touya lowered his hands just a bit, and shot Eraserhead the most incredulous sneer.
"Do I look like I know?" Touya scoffed. "I wouldn't be standing here surrendering if the fucking League of Villains was chilling around the corner."
"You're surrendering," Eraserhead said flatly. "Why do I find that hard to believe?"
Touya rolled his eyes at that. He turned to look at Shouto, his jaw set.
"I am sorry," he said, his voice softening a bit.
Eraserhead, who was loosening the white bindings around his neck, stopped for a moment. His eyes widened, but he did not blink.
Shouto looked torn between confused, dazed, and utterly devastated. He just stared at Touya silently.
Fuyumi wanted to scream, or cry, or destroy something.
Then the bindings fell around Touya's shoulders, and he blinked a few times. As, perhaps, if it had just hit him that he was going to prison.
"We're going to talk about this," Eraserhead said, glancing between the three remaining onlookers. He gripped Touya by the bicep and dragged him forward.
"Will he have visitation hours?" Fuyumi blurted, feeling a little foolish when Eraserhead shot her a blank stare.
Touya laughed, and he looked back at her.
"You'll see me again," he said. To anyone else, it might have sounded like a threat. To her, it sounded just like a promise. She relaxed.
Touya glanced back at Shouto, but his expression seemed to falter. He shook his head, and he allowed himself to get wheeled into the nearest transport vehicle. He and Fuyumi watched each other until the doors closed, barring him from view.
Hawks stepped closer to her.
"Do you… need a hug…?"
Fuyumi closed her eyes. "Do you?" she asked him coolly.
"You should have told me," she said, the tears she had kept carefully locked away finally clawing their way to her eyes. "Why didn't you tell me? You knew, and—"
"It tried to!" He objected, ignoring the stares they were getting from Eraserhead and Shouto. "What did I say, Fuyumi, what did I say? I said remember that you wanted me to leave later. You didn't want to listen to me!"
"You thought that telling me— telling both of us, since you clearly didn't tell him either— while we were trying to kill each other was the best time?"
"Better than after he killed you." Hawks shrugged. "Which, by the way, he would have. He's not a nice guy, no matter what… I don't know, whatever just happened between you two."
"What did you think was going to happen? That we'd just kill each other?"
"Well," Hawks said with a grimace, "I was hoping not, but you both have pretty strong personalities…"
"You should have told me!" Fuyumi couldn't help it. She'd had enough. The tears leaked from her eyes, and she scraped at them desperately, trying to stop them from falling and only making them come faster. "Why didn't you tell me?"
She did her best to stifle her tears as Shouto cut between her and Hawks and grasped her hand.
"I think," Shouto said in a voice much stronger than hers, "someone needs to explain what's happening."
"I have to agree," Eraserhead said, folding his arms across his chest.
Hawks looked to Eraserhead, then to Fuyumi. He groaned.
"Shit," he said, hanging his head back.
They ended up in Hawks's office. The explanation of how he knew Dabi went quickly. He was a double agent, and he told Eraserhead to go ask the Hero Public Safety Commission if he did not believe him. That made Eraserhead scowl, but he didn't refute it.
When it came to actually explaining who Dabi was, Hawks hesitated. He glanced at Fuyumi, who had stopped crying, but would not let go of Shouto's hand.
"Why," she murmured, "are you looking at me?"
"Because?" Hawks shrugged. "I have my issues with Dabi, but at least the dude likes you."
She did not miss the bitterness in Hawks's voice. With a sigh, she looked to Shouto, who was frowning at his hands.
"You want me to say it's not true," she said gently, "right?"
Shouto closed his eyes and said nothing.
"I'm sorry," Fuyumi murmured, squeezing his hand. "I… don't want it to be true either. Maybe Natsu was right. We shouldn't have looked for him."
"I don't regret knowing," Shouto said, his voice calm and clear, "if it's true."
When Fuyumi looked at Eraserhead, she saw him waiting patiently for the explanation. She took a deep breath.
"Dabi…" she said, wincing at the name her brother had given himself, "is our older brother. His name is Touya."
Eraserhead blinked. He looked between the two of them.
He then exhaled very hard, and he pinched the bridge of his nose.
"That's too fucking much," he murmured.
"You're telling us?" Hawks asked, flopping back into his chair. "Dude, I've been stewing over this for days! I've literally been dancing around Todoroki drama for months, and now that it's all fallen on top of me, I'm wigging it."
Eraserhead nodded, not really acknowledging Hawks... being Hawks. It probably made sense for someone who worked with kids all day.
"So your brother," he said, addressing Shouto and Fuyumi, "attacked your father a few months ago? Is that what you're telling me?"
"Sounds about right," Shouto said.
"Shouto," Fuyumi murmured.
"What?" Shouto rolled his eyes. "The only thing about this whole ordeal that makes any sense is that Touya tried to kill dad. I can't even blame him for that."
Shouto shrugged, unfazed.
"Are you joking, Todoroki?" Eraserhead asked tiredly.
At that question, Shouto clearly froze up. He opened his mouth, and then he closed it. He glanced at Fuyumi for support, but she could not help him. Not with this. Because even she did not know how she felt about it, knowing now what she knew. Was it justified? She would never have done it, but did that mean that she blamed Touya for taking the chance?
"Not completely," Shouto admitted.
Eraserhead inhaled deeply. He rubbed his eyes.
"Start," he said, "from the beginning."
Fuyumi straightened up, and for the first time, she wasn't afraid to speak. All those hidden things that she had locked away seemed small now as she let them unravel in the light.