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The Lilac Garden

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The night Shinsou Hitoshi returned home from the Sports Festival - sore and exhausted and downright humiliated - he was greeted by the sight of his foster mother tossing his stuff out the second-story window.

He watched with a blank face as his school bag split open when it hit the ground, miscellaneous broken materials cluttering across the freshly watered grass. The clothes that wriggled their way free of the haphazardly packed bags sank into the muddy lawn below. 

Shinsou blinked.

It had taken years of practice to act disinterested and bored out of his mind in the midst of being thrown out. He'd long since internalized the conflicting emotions racing through his brain. The instant he slipped up and let his feelings known, he’d garner a reaction from them, and they’d put on a show. 

“Oh jeez, I’m uh- I’m sorry bud, but I really gotta keep movin’,” His tabby cat cab driver muttered, eyeing the rampaging woman wearily as his feline tail puffed up.

With a heavy sigh, the lilac-haired teen trudged out of his cab and watched as it zoomed off, only for it to be replaced with the familiar black car he’d deemed his home away from hell. He’d witnessed this scenario far too many times to forget what its presence entailed. He and his caseworker had built up something akin to friendship at this point.

So, like clockwork. Shinsou was being kicked to the curb. While this outcome was far from favorable, he came to terms with it long before publicizing his quirk on live television. It was a risky move since he was fully aware that his current family didn’t know (or care) about his quirk. But it was a risk he was willing to take; a risk he had to take if he had any hopes of becoming a pro hero. And if he were being honest with himself, this was probably one of the smoother instances of his, err, rehousing. The last family that finally figured out what his quirk actually entailed were... less than thrilled.

 At least this family, in particular, had the decency to call the foster number and kick him out semi-maturely, rather than beat him within an inch of his life and leave him the corner of the street with a muzzle strapped to his face.

Not his best night. Especially since he had to enlist one of the U.A. teachers to help him have the damn thing removed. And of course, he pestered Shinsou about who did it, and where they were, and the teacher refused to come to terms with the fact that he couldn’t do anything about it since the perpetrators had long since up and left the city, and it was bad enough knowing that he had to fucking help him and… ugh.

Really, really not his best night.

Miss Suriza was the seventh family he’d been stuck with so far. Her husband was a wealthy American businessman who passed away shortly before he was taken in. Whether Miss Suriza needed the company or simply needed the money, Shinsou didn’t know, and he didn’t particularly care. All he knew was that he actively avoided discussions about his quirk to all of his foster families precisely for this reason.

Interestingly enough, the majority of foster homes he’d visited didn’t actually care about his quirk. Well, no, not exactly. They didn’t care about him , and they never asked. So well, he never told them. 

Those who did learn about it came to fear him. Those who weren’t were either completely indifferent or exceptionally suspicious of him. Some desperately needed that extra bit of cash tacked onto their paychecks for taking in a kid everyone else was too afraid to look after.

Shinsou certainly wasn’t expecting Miss Suriza and her daughter to actually watch the Sports Festival, even if it had been to mock him for attempting to go up against hero students while still enrolled in General Studies. He’d been hoping that they would ignore this extracurricular activity like they always did with the others. Underestimating the sheer popularity of the U.A. Sports Festival was his first and last mistake. Because of course, they weren't watching for the likes of him. They were watching it to cheer on kids like Midoriya.

That fucking Midoriya...  

Shinsou lightly shook his head, freeing his thoughts from the kid who humiliated him in front of millions of people, and begrudgingly returned to the present.

Upon catching a glimpse of the boy standing idly in front of the house, the snake woman let out a long angry his. She slithered down the open window in the blink of an eye.

“You ssson of a bitch,” The mutant sneered with her lanky arms crossed indignantly across her chest. She approached him threateningly. 

(Not that he was too concerned - the caseworker was literally sitting two feet away. If she wanted to go out of her way and have her foster credentials revoked, who was he to stop her? It would be kind of satisfying to watch her dig her own grave.)

Shinsou didn’t notice Miss Suriza's tail until it was latching onto his ankles and yanking his feet out from under him. 

His backside collided into the concrete with a dull crack.

A figure stormed out of the black vehicle and helped ease Shinsou to his feet. The man then turned his attention to the distressed woman with an infuriated scowl.

"Miss Suriza! Stop this at once! Do not make me call the authorities for-"

"For what exactly, Missster Hajimari? Thisss brat'sss clumsssinesss? He tripped!"

“Miss Suriza, just, please calm down! I just need you to sign some papers, and we’ll be on our way, alright?”

“Why didn’t any of you people tell me I was taking in a monssster!? And with my preciousss Darling under the sssame roof, too!?” She snarled, pointing a sharp claw in Hitoshi’s direction. 

Her daughter was almost as much of a handful as she was. Shinsou could attest to that. 

Suriza Darling. She took after her American father in every way but one - the tuft of writhing, living snakes emerging every which way from her scalp. She was highly similar to the pro-hero and celebrity Uwabami - that is, if Uwabami's snakes were on steroids and engulfed her entire head in place of hair. 

She reminded him of the girl with vines for hair in the 1-B Heroics class. Only, Darling didn't have a single kind bone in her body, and the snakes were just as feral as her. Her quirk, Stone Gaze, allowed her to immobilize anyone who she looked in the eye.

It rightfully earned her the nickname Medusa, though very few knew what it was in reference to. That fact alone was enough to depress Shinsou. His love for ancient Greek Mythology nearly outweighed his love for underground heroes. Nearly.

Shinsou had actually suggested the code name to her at one point, upon hearing that she was interested in pursuing hero work herself. "You would make a great sidekick to Uwabami," he remembered saying kindly the day they met. It must have been the wrong thing to say, because he wound up paralyzed and pushed down the stairs. So much for getting off on the right foot, he supposed. There wasn’t much small talk between them after that.

Not one of the worst interactions he’s had with older foster siblings, sure. Not something he envisioned a hero in training doing, either. It was kind of contradictory, and incredibly disheartening. She was accepted into a heroics course with a mean streak like that, while he was hung out to dry, good intentions and all?

"Jussst keep him away from my Darling! Get thisss freak off my property, before he corruptsss her!" The snake continued. And yeah, although he's done this song and dance before, and knew better than to speak up and cause a big scene... he stupidly did so anyway.

(He likes to think that he did so out of spite.)

"Oh please, lady," He started, a mischievous grin gradually overshadowing his obvious disdain.

"Do you really think I'm the bad influence here? Do you know how many boys she has over to fool around with while you're out of town? Where all that expensive wine is going, hmm?"

Miss Suriza glared daggers at him, clamping her mouth shut and aggressively signing the papers sprawled across the hood of the car. Silently signing him out of her life, like clockwork, like all the others, too afraid to bid farewell or scold him one last time.

Oh, so she wanted to play it that way, huh? Fine, then. He'll pull out the big guns.

Ignoring the pleading stare from Mr. Hajimari that begged him to not do what he was about to do, Shinsou pressed on. There was a fire in his eyes that wasn't there before, aching for closure, or perhaps conflict. 

"How’d your husband die again, Umehi?" He spoke, his flat tone of voice clashing with the satisfied scowl scrawled across his features. And oh, he relished in the shocked look that followed. 

Her lips lightly twitched. 

So he kept pushing.

"You told me he was sick, but you wanna know what your preciousss little Darling told me the other day?"

"Shinsou," the caseworker said, "That's quite enough,  the papers are signed, let’s just-"

"She told me he was filing for divorce." The blatant lie fell easily from his mouth, and goddamn was he glad he started hanging out with Monoma, because the way he said it was just begging for retaliation. 

The snake mutant physically jolted. He was definitely onto something here. His quirk’s urge for control writhed in his chest.

"Yeah, she told me he was gonna leave you. And what would you have done then I wonder? A single, jaded stay at home mother with no job and a daughter to support?"

"Shinsou!" Mr. Hajimari raised his voice, throwing open the passenger door and urging the teenager inside.

He didn't budge. Suriza was close to snapping. He could feel it.

"It’s okay. You don't have to answer. I already know what you did." He bluffed confidently, "I know that you're a coward at heart. Most people with quirks like yours are." 

Low blow, but it got results.

"Hitoshi, stop it!"

"You know what I think?" 

He went in for the kill. 

"Your husband left because you've got the heart of a snake, not a woman."

Her jaw dropped and her vicious fangs were on display. It would have intimidated Hitoshi, had she not taken the bait.

"Oh! Why you insssufferable-!"

The hands she'd been reaching out towards Shinsou froze in place. They dropped to her sides, and her eyes became vacant.

The brainwashing teen didn't miss a beat. 

"Did you use your quirk to trip me earlier?"

"Yesss,"

"Mmh, that's what I thought. Go inside, count to twenty, and trip on your own tail for a change." He spoke coldly, watching as his ex-foster mother turned on her heel and began trudging towards the front door.

The caseworker stood in place for a long moment, even after Shinsou climbed into the passenger seat and buckled his seat belt.

"I have to add that to your Quirk Incident Report now, ‘Toshi." Hajimari said somberly when he finally got into the car, with a hint of amusement in his scolding tone.

"Don't care," Shinsou muttered under his breath. 

"Why’d you have to go and do that?”

“Uh, cuz she deserved it?”

“I’m… I’m not gonna argue with you on that one. But, do you think she really…?"

"I mean, I was bluffing, Haji, but she sure looked scared out of her wits to me. Isn't that the police's job to investigate? I’m no interrogator."

"You're right, I suppose. I think I'll, uh, give them a call later. In the meantime, let's get this show on the road."

(Later, the duo learned that Miss Suriza had, in fact, poisoned her husband and was taken into custody. Nobody knew where Darling went after that, and at the time Hitoshi couldn't bring himself to care.

Shinsou's Quirk Incident File mysteriously lost a recent report shortly thereafter. Hajimari said he accidentally replaced it, but smiled to himself whenever Shinsou looked away.)

 


 

The new set of victims they had lined up for Hitoshi were on the wealthier side. 

That was the first thing he noticed when they pulled up to their three-story western-style house, merely four days after the Suriza incident. He tried not to absorb all the details. Odds are he’d either be kicked out or forcibly removed within the year. Best not to get too attached.

Standing in front of the ornate household was a short, sturdy man and a lean, towering woman. Both were generously adjourned with fanciful clothes and sparkling jewelry.

Before Shinsou or Hajimari could even make it all the way up the concrete steps, a plump sweaty hand was grasping his and shaking it vigorously.

“It’s nice to finally meet you, Shinsou. I saw your match on T.V, it was outstanding! You’ve got quite a quirk on ya!” The burly man greeted him enthusiastically, with a little too much sparkle in his eyes.

“Thank you, sir.”

“Please, formalities are completely unnecessary. Just call me Mezame. I’m retired now, but I used to work over in The States with the police!”

The man gestured to the elegant woman beside him.

“And this is my lovely wife, Nakidori. She’s a professional singer. Yes, her voice is just as beautiful as her, if you were wondering.”

“Oh, stop it you!" The woman swatted him away playfully. Her intricate updo and rippling blue dress were enough to rival Uwabamis. 

"It’s wonderful to meet you, dear!” She spoke with a voice like honey, delicately taking his hand and shaking it gently.

“Y-you too,” Shinsou muttered over the hushed “Well what am I, chopped liver over here?” from Hajimari. He inspected the wealthy couple before him.

Their pearly smiles were forced. Their posture was too open and relaxed. He could tell by their sickeningly sweet tone of voice that they were merely putting on a show for the caseworker. That much was painfully obvious. 

Again, recognizing these things was something he’d grown accustomed too by this point. It was a fact he’d learned early on in life. Rarely are foster homes genuinely looking for a cute, quiet, quaint little family; especially homes that were located on this side of town. Even if this house was one that looked fairly well-off, there was always an underlying motive with these people. At least his expensive U.A. attendance wouldn’t be in jeopardy. It was almost always the first screaming match in most previous households.

Well, ulterior motives or not, Shinsou would just have to keep his head down until he got his own place. Maybe if he were lucky, U.A. would introduce dormitories in the time he was there, so that he could just focus on hero training. He highly doubted it. 

If Shinsou had to guess, he’d say that this couple, in particular, wanted a foster child to show off and make them look good to their other snobbish friends. Like a fancy new car, or another priceless pair of earrings. When it boiled right down to it, Shinsou was only ever invited into a home for show or for child labor, really. He came with a check, he didn’t necessarily expect anything else.

He just prayed that they would be more tolerable than the other families who knew of his quirk. Mezame and Nakidori were obviously well aware of it, since they watched the Sports Festival, and they went out of their way to choose him over the countless other foster kids. 

So, like always, he braced himself and waited for the other shoe to drop. 

But even after Haji left, the act was upheld. Their smiles still appeared genuine and their boisterous laughter rang through his ears.

He waited for the other shoe to drop, as Mezame cooked the first homemade dinner he’d had in years, and Nakidori sang him a calming melody by the fireplace.

He waited for the other shoe to drop, as the couple excitedly showed him his new room and offered to take him on a shopping trip to decorate it.

He waited for the other shoe to drop, as the days turned into weeks, and the weeks turned into months; as the trio gradually opened themselves up to each other, and the smiles he gave them were less obligatory and more on his own jovial conviction.

After a couple of months, Shinsou finally managed to convince himself that there wasn’t ever an act to begin with. The reality check he’d grown accustomed to receiving simply didn’t exist within these walls. Mezame and Nakidori never mocked his lifelong dream, or raised their hands at him, or demanded that he tended to the house (aside from keeping his room clean and helping with the dishes here and there). They showered him with praise when he got high marks, and asked how his days went at school, and told him that his quirk would make him an incredible hero, that he was one in a million.

For the first time in his life, Shinsou felt… safe. 

The proverbial shoe that would inevitably remind him of his place in the world, it seemed to be frozen, suspended in the air, as if that gravity girl from 1-A had gotten a hold of it.

Shinsou was just beginning to tell himself that the shoe didn’t exist, right up until they asked him if he would consider dropping out of U.A High.

Chapter Text

“And that concludes this completely unnecessary lecture that was a huge waste of time and will not benefit any of you in the slightest.” Aizawa finished bitterly. He slammed the textbook shut and gestured to the door in a half-assed manner.

“Class dismissed. Tomorrow we’ll focus on something that actually matters.”

Class 1-A took the hint and sped out of the classroom. Some of them trickled out slower than to his liking, and gave them a vacant stare until they all finally scuffled out.

Shouta sighed and closed his eyes.

Hero Likability and Social Image? Really? He thought to himself in disdain. We’re training these kids to save lives, yet there’s a full chapter based around how you should smile?  You've got to be kidding me.

After closing his eyes for a couple of minutes, he realized that his routine after-school nap was out of the question. The damn reality check that heroes were now essentially celebrities rather than protectors would keep him seething for a few more hours. Odds are, he'd be sulking around until Hizashi made him feel better. Grumpily, Shouta clambered to his feet and began aimlessly wandering around the premises. He was hoping to run into the voice hero so that they could go do something before Aizawa’s night patrol. They usually only had time to get a quick bite to eat and catch each other up on their day's before they had to split. Because of their conflicting schedules (and Present Mic's radio show), they hardly had the opportunity to see each other outside of school or the apartment. And no, Aizawa adamantly refused to qualify the teacher-wide karaoke night as one of those outings. Aizawa was in the middle of trying to decide whether or not he wanted to catch a movie or go to his favorite cat cafe, when an unfamiliar adult voice echoed just down the hall.

He quickly switched from unbothered teacher to unbothered hero and listened carefully, trying to distinguish if it were possibly a student or a guest one of the teachers allowed on-premises. After the USJ attack, no one could blame him for being so high-strung about this sort of thing.

“I know how you feel, dear, I just want you to know that there are other options out there for you. Mezame and I think you’d do wonderfully at the private school we have over here-”

“But I don’t need any other options. And I’m not going to some stuffy private school, Naki. I’m going to become a hero no matter what it takes. I told you this before. I've come too far to give up now."

Ah, he'd know that monotone voice anywhere. Shinsou was, in earnest, a younger version of him. Insomnia and all. 

Aizawa discreetly moved closer and stopped at the corner of the hall, where it became apparent that Hitoshi was speaking on the phone with someone, on speaker, for whatever ungodly reason.

Although he certainly didn't recognize the voice on the other end of the line. It sounded nothing like Miss Suriza, this voice was far too kind.

See, most of the teachers became aware of Shinsou's living situation a few weeks in; when they witnessed his emergency contact information change three times before finally settling on Miss Suriza; when Shinsou needed to stay overnight with Recovery Girl, but they couldn't get ahold of the woman, because she'd intentionally given them the wrong contact information.

 After that, Aizawa wrote his own number on the form, in pen. The looks the teachers gave him didn’t deter him from his choice, and the next foster family could kick sand for all he cared. 

If you couldn’t be bothered to give the accurate info, why take in a kid? What if the next family actively neglected him like that? He wasn’t about to take that chance. It was only logical for him to be concerned for a student’s well-being.

That, and Shouta personally became aware of Shinsou’s situation long before Miss Suriza was part of the picture; when he’d found the boy huddled by a dumpster in the rain a few years back, muzzled and terrified. They haven’t held down an actual conversation since then, as Shinsou was equal parts mortified and traumatized afterward. But occasionally, when they passed each other in the halls, they’d greet each other with subtle nods. Aizawa was thankful he had that much.

(He would never admit aloud to his husband that Shinsou was the sole reason he’d been reconsidering adoption. He wouldn’t give Hizashi the satisfaction.)

“Oh, I know honey, I’m just worried. What about your insomnia? If it’s getting worse-”

“I’ve always had insomnia. Dozens of kids my age have insomnia. Hell, even some pros have insomnia. It’s really not that big a deal. It comes and goes.”

“I’m sorry for harping on you like this, Shinsou. I’m just concerned. That school’s been all over the news in light of that League of Villains incident. That seems dangerous.”

“Being a hero is dangerous. Besides, they’re occupied with harassing 1-A right now, poor bastards. I’m in General Studies.”

“Oh? But didn’t you say-”

The phone was suddenly turned off speaker and Shinsou began hastily bidding her goodbye.

“Uh, Naki, I’ll explain this a little later. I gotta go. Yeah… Okay… I will, I will! You too. Bye.”

Huh, well the kid probably had somewhere to go. He must have lost track of time in their discussion. The personal discussion regarding his future, that the teacher had been shamelessly listening in on for the past several minutes. 

Again, could anyone blame him? It was only logical that he ensured Shinsou’s family weren’t pestering him to the moon and back. It was only logical.

Aizawa was just glad that this family seemed civil, compared to the barbaric ones he’d witnessed and heard of in the past. They weren’t harassing him for his choices, and seemed to show genuine concern with his safety. He smiled at the thought of Shinsou finally being able to consider somewhere home. After all he’s been through, he deserved to be treated-

“I know you’re there.”

Fuck.  

A perturbed Hitoshi turned the corner and nearly ran into him.

“Jesus, doesn’t anyone know how to properly eavesdrop anym- Ah! Mr. Aizawa?”

A kaleidoscope of emotions gleamed through his face all at once, before settling on mild embarrassment. Immediately, Shinsou backtracked.

 “Wow, I-I am so sorry, I didn’t- I thought that you were Monoma, so I-”

Aizawa lazily put his hand up to get the boy to stop muttering. This kid's like Midoriya in more ways than one, he thought absentmindedly.

“No need to apologize, Shinsou. Though, it’s impressive you heard me to begin with. I had no idea you were aware of my presence until you announced it.” He gruffed, with a twinge of pride. 

Although Shinsou still looked awkwardly out of sorts, the small compliment earned him a bashful smirk. It made Aizawa’s heart hum happily. This kid didn’t smile nearly enough.

(Then again, Shouta had to pry a metal mouthpiece off his face when he was twelve years old. He couldn’t blame him for not being Midoriya-level cheery.)

“Your irritation is justified, anyhow.” Shouta continued. 

“I apologize for listening in on your discussion with…”

The open-ended question served to be a hook for conversation. They haven’t spoken since that awful night, not earnestly. Aizawa wasn’t expecting to delve into anything regarding the incident right off the bat. He just wanted to know how Shinsou was adjusting since then.

He’d also been meaning to talk to him in the first place. So, win-win.

“My, uh… my foster mother.” The teen responded hesitantly.

“Is Miss Suriza giving you problems again?” The pro questioned, feigning ignorance and nonchalance, so as to not scare him off.

“No. Not anymore, at least. I-I moved again, after the Sports Festival.” Shinsou answered honestly. Resentment laced his voice.

“Oh.” 

Oh? Wow I’m not good at this sorta thing, Aizawa quipped internally. Obviously he was kicked out, his previous foster home must have seen him use his quirk.

“Are things... better?” Aizawa struggled to find the right words.
“Yeah. Things are… things are better, for a change.” Shinsou struggled equally.

“Well, that’s good.”

“Yeah.”

They stood in front of each other for a moment, Shinsou looking everywhere but him, and Aizawa boring holes through his forehead as his thoughts raced.

Now or never, Shou, the annoyingly obstinate voice of his husband rang through his skull.

Aizawa finally spoke. 

It was only logical for him to offer his assistance, after Hitoshi showed so much promise and determination at the festival. It was only logical for Aizawa to make sure that the inkling of hope in this kid was kept alive. It was only logical to want to see him succeed and achieve his life long dream, to see to it that the pro does everything in his power to make it happen.

It was only logical, he told himself.

Logical.

“Speaking of your performance at the Sports Festival, I’ve been meaning to ask you something...”

Chapter Text

The song Hizashi pleasantly sang to himself as he waltzed out of the classroom was one that, oddly enough, reminded the voice hero of Shouta's newest cat.

Upbeat, but slightly reserved; peppy, but moderately so; outrightly discussing the pros and cons of committing murder, but in such a lighthearted way, Yamada couldn’t help but to sing along. It fit Shouta’s recently adopted, rascally little devil cat to a T. It was also a really catchy tune that demanded he harmonized with the chorus.

Don't ask him why he associated songs with the teacher's animals in his free time. It was just a thing he did when he ran out of people to assign theme songs to. 

The pro had just finished matching songs to each and every one of his coworkers, and he’d catch himself humming their respective tunes as he bumped into them throughout the day. A few of them seemed to have caught on by now. And upon receiving a lengthy and unwarranted explanation about his eccentric musical pastime, were thoroughly pleased by Hizashi's selection. There were other teachers who were unimpressed with his decision, but hey, if they wanted to pick out their own theme song, who was he to stop them?

There had been a few times during U.A. meetings in which he’d catch himself singing something out of nowhere, simply because the villain or student they were speaking of reminded him of it.

That’s not to say he didn’t take villain missions and debriefings seriously, mind you. It’s just… when you’re sitting at a table staring down at a file for hours on end, and no progress is being made, and your cohorts already have themes… what else would you expect him to do? Seethe like his grumpy husband? Or somberly think of the worst like All Might? No thank you. At least Nedzu understood his need for music, despite meticulously examining and rating his selections.

But in the words of Shouta, after Toshinori had asked why Present Mic thought that “Another One Bites the Dust” was an appropriate song to associate with Shigaraki Tomura, “Unless you want him to ruin another song for you, don’t even ask.”

Speaking of Shouta, the eternally tired pro-hero informed him yesterday that he finally got around to talking to Shinsou. It certainly took him long enough. An actual conversation between the two was long overdue. Even if it was only a training proposition in the end, progress had been made. The Sports Festival ended nearly two months ago, he should have approached him then, cast and all!

However, Hizashi knew his husband well. While he appeared to be collected, calm, logical, rational, unbothered… in reality, he was an awkward, flustered, anxious, nervous mess. After a bit of time, it became common knowledge. 

The excuses that his nervous wreck of a husband gave him went from,

“Are you kidding? Asking him right after the festival is too on-the-nose.”

to

“I’m not going to talk to him looking like a mummy, Hizashi,”

to

“You saw how he took his loss at the festival, give him some time.”

And finally, to the root of the problem:

“What if he doesn’t want my help after what happened? Zashi, look, I have... no goddamn clue what I’m doing.” 

If any of his students got to know him past that icy nonchalant barrier, Hizashi could guarantee that they’d have a field day. Shouta was hands-down the most socially inept introvert Yamada had ever met. He saw it even before walking through the doors of the high school his freshman year. Even in a classroom full of future heroes at his dream school, Shouta looked like he was miles away, like he wanted to be anywhere else, if that were possible.

So yeah, it might have taken Aizawa two whole months to muster up enough courage to speak to Shinsou, but he still kept his word in the end. That fact alone made him feel happy. Not only had Shouta been desperately wanting to take Shinsou under his wing since the Entrance Exams, but all Hizashi could see was a man itching to be a stable father figure in that kid's life. And Yamada could wholeheartedly relate.

That talk must have been rather... bizarre for the both of them, given the events that transpired three years ago.

On his way to the teacher’s lounge, Present Mic found that his train of thought was constantly revisiting the enigma that was the lilac-haired boy.

Shinsou Hitoshi. The Gen Ed student who, against all odds, made it to the finals of the Sports Festival on sheer confidence and willpower alone. The confident strategist who nearly defeated Izuku Midoriya and his crazy-ass powerful quirk within the first ten seconds of the match. The steadfast teenager who didn’t take no for an answer and was adamant about becoming a hero, regardless of the challenges and obstacles in his way.

(The quivering child that Shouta had brought in during one of his late-night patrols, drenched in rain, with that monstrous contraption digging into his face; dashing out of their apartment as soon as he was free of it before they could even-)

The boy that nearly just walked into Hizashi headfirst and didn’t seem to realize it.

"Well hey there, little listener!" Yamada greeted enthusiastically. His bombastic voice still rang through the halls without the use of his quirk.

Shinsou blinked tiredly, shaky hands momentarily fumbling to catch the bulky mask-like device that began slipping through his hands (not a muzzle, Hizashi noted subconsciously, and scolded himself). The bags beneath his eyes seemed more pronounced than usual. 

"Mmh? Oh, uh, hello Present Mic." He mumbled back.

“How you been, little dude?” Hizashi asked the boy who towered over the majority of his classmates.

Shinsou covered his yawn in the crook of his arm.

“Fine, thanks. And you?”

"Livin the dream little man! Livin the dream."

"That's good."

"Yyyup!"

"... Uh… yup…"

Damn, this kid was more like Aizawa than he thought. Couldn't hold down a proper conversation if his life depended on it (although Hizashi was willing to bet his obvious tiredness had something to do with it). If Shinsou was this awkward with Shouta, he’d have to give his husband mad props for even finishing his sentence without backing out.

Luckily, Hizashi was nothing if not a shameless extrovert that was desperate for attention.

"Whatcha got there?" He asked curiously, gesturing to the black speaker-like device in the boy's hands with an exaggerated point.

"Err, it's a…" Another yawn. 

"A, a voice alteration mask, from uh… from Hatsume. She made it for me."

"Oh, that's pretty neat! We'll be twinsies now!" Yamada brightly exclaimed, prodding at his own directional speaker. 

Then he paused.

"Hey wait, why do you need something like that, little guy?"

Shinsou's bloodshot eyes looked up at him for a moment, before glancing to the floor.

"Well, I figure… if people saw me at the festival, and already know about my quirk, they won't respond to me, so… I'll just have to be somebody they will respond to. So, you know, I could use it."

Logical reasoning, a lot like Shouta's, but it was still mildly depressing to hear it said in such a brokenhearted manner.

The voice hero reached out and ruffled his hair gently.

"You got a smart head on your shoulders, kiddo!" Hizashi immediately attempted to correct the forlorn look on Shinsou's face. (It earned him a half-smirk - score!)

"But ya look beat! More so than usual, that is. Shouta isn't goin too hard on you, is he?"

The concern in his voice made Shinsou shrug halfheartedly.

"N-no, we haven't started training yet,  we won't till next week. I just… haven't slept for a few days, is all. Insomnia."

Ah, that's right. Shouta had mentioned something about that before.

"Aww, I'm sorry to hear that, Shinsou. Hey, have you tried-"

His sentence was interrupted by a blaring, all-too-familiar ringtone.

"A phone call is here! A phone call is here!"

The source was Hitoshi’s pants pocket.

An obnoxious grin overtook Hisazhi's face, his eyebrows raised in both surprise and amusement. Shinsou hurriedly pried his phone out of his pocket with a mortified expression. It took him a few tries to locate his cellular device, and nearly dropped it when he finally managed to wrangle it free from his uniform pants. 

He looked down at the caller ID and Hizashi could've sworn his face lit up.

"I'm uh, I'm sorry. I have to take this, it's my- uh. It's important." The timid teen caught himself.

"Talk to ya later, little listener! Cool ringtone, by the way!"

The content look on Shinsou's face was replaced with a murderous glare.

"Tell no one."

"Wouldn't dream of it!" Present Mic lied through his teeth. He would be calling Toshinori later tonight to mock them both.

His smile never fell as he watched Shinsou’s form disappear down the hallway. It only grew wider when he heard the kid have a decent conversation with a foster family for the first time in his life.

"Hello?...  Yeah, thanks. I'm on my way now… Naki, if pills won't help I doubt tea will… haha, yeah, okay. My day was fine… Hmm? Uh, okay, we learned about..."

 


 

"So, that Shinsou kid..."

Hizashi sat across from Shouta in the teacher's lounge, sprawling out on the couch and flinging his arms across the paper-cluttered table between them. Hizashi eyed his husband carefully as the mess of black hair flew wildly out of his face with how fast his head shot up from his papers.

"What about him?" Aizawa shot back abruptly, forgoing any of his standard quips and trademark tired remarks.

Hizashi put his hands up in a form of surrender.

"Oh, he's fine, Shou!” He laughed. “I didn't mean to worry you."

"I'm not… you didn’t worry me," Aizawa mumbled, and the blatant lie made Hizashi stifle a giggle. 

"Sure! Okay!”

"You just said it weird, like something happened to him." He hissed defensively. 

"I ran into him in the hall earlier, is all." Yamada continued.

"Oh? How is he?" Eraserhead prodded, paperwork long forgotten.

"He's got worse insomnia than you do! He nearly dropped his mask five times, and kept yawning halfway through his sentences!"

"Mhmm. Sleep deprivation does that to you."

"Oh, poor kid, he needs a nice nap… Hey! Is it illegal to give your students prescription sleeping pills?"

"Highly. If it gets worse, I'm taking him to Recovery Girl." Aizawa said sternly, leaving no room for argument. "Wouldn't be surprised if the new home situation has him anxious. Wouldn't blame him."

"Well! Sleeping issues aside, he seems... happy! Happier than before, at least." Hizashi noted.

"Mhm."

"These folks act like they actually care, you know? Must be a good change for him!"

"Yeah, but you know how long it takes to get used to that after being treated like garbage for most of your life? It's probably throwing him for a loop." Aizawa said with a bitter tone, before continuing with a hushed, thoughtful one.

"They call him an awful lot, too. It's… odd. Like they're keeping tabs on him, or something."

"Yea? You sure you're not just jealous?"

"I'm just being careful. Comes with the territory of being a pro. Hell, Hizashi, your Brat Complex is showing-"

“Oh hey, speaking of which! Do they mind you training with him one-on-one?”

“Hmm? No, Shinsou told me he’s not going to tell them, just in case they try anything funny. Smart move. Are we done with Twenty Questions now? Last I checked, we both have papers to grade.”

"Uuugh. You're right, you're always right, Shouta." Yamada said playfully. 

"I know. I'll keep an eye on him though. You better do the same." Aizawa ordered. 

"Of course, Shou. Hey, you have got to hear Shinsou's new ringto- wait... Shouta, what the fuck is a Brat Complex?"

 


 

Suriza Darling couldn’t remember the last time she felt this afraid.

The scratchy blindfold wound tightly around her eyes made her entire face itch, and her snakes writhed uncomfortably beneath it. Her body was starting to cramp up after being forced into such a small, awkward position. The plastic zipties binding her hands behind her back were beginning to cut off her circulation, and the smallest movement caused them to cut further into her sensitive skin. The area around her wrists were rubbed raw. She could feel the warm blood trickling from them, collecting into her clammy palms. 

“Ya ever hear the story about Medusa, girlie?” A raspy voice above her made her flinch.

Darling reeled back from the voice, her snakes hissing angrily at the sudden movement. Her back collided with what felt like small, thin bars-

A cage, her mind numbly supplied for her. She’d been put in a cage.

Darling didn’t reply. She physically  couldn’t reply. She tried screaming out for help for the last three days, but nothing came out. It was as if someone had stolen her voice.

But if she could speak, the only word that would have fallen out of her mouth would be Shinsou . Because it was Shinsou, the younger brother she never particularly wanted, who first introduced her to the legend.

And it was Shinsou, more than anyone else in the world, who she wanted there with him.

“Oh, that’s right, ya can’t talk.” The gruff voice laughed.

He went on, unphased by Darling's sudden tremoring.

“It’s an old classic. Ancient, even. See, Medusa had a quirk like yours. Turned people to stone if they looked at ‘er. Funny thing is though, even after they chopped her head off...”

A long, cold length of metal pressed threateningly into her neck. It was a stark contrast to the heat coming off him through the bars.

“The quirk still worked. D’ya think that the same would go for you?”

Another silent sob wracked her chest.

“Holy shit, Kaneki! Knock it off! Boss’ll be mad if you cut her up!”

The coldness disappeared, but the impression ghosted along her throat.

“Ahh, chill out I wasn’t gonna do nothin’. I’m not stupid enough to damage the merchandise. Is he here yet or what?” The knife-wielding voice breathed impatiently, his words echoing off walls.

“Sorry I’m late, boys!” A new, jovial voice greeted enthusiastically. Its holder could be heard hastily approaching the other two men.

“Where’ve you been!?”

“I landed a good one back at home, Kaneki! An exceptional quirk, incredibly rare too. Anyways, I’ll introduce him when the show’s over. You know how it goes with these U.A. brats. Now let me see her!”

The blindfold was torn violently off her face. She fearfully glanced up between the bars of the dark, musty warehouse.

A stout, well-dressed man stood before her, with a wide pearly grin and a little too much sparkle in his eyes.


“It’s nice to finally meet you, Darling! You’ve got quite a quirk on ya!”

Chapter Text

If Toshinori had never met Nana Shimura, he’s certain he would have ended up becoming a gardener. 

He’d been contemplating this for the past couple of minutes while watching the students slowly ebb out of the classroom. Long before he wanted to break into the hero realm, he was absolutely taken by gardening, catching glimpses of Crime Watch television shows from his grandparent’s spacious, luscious backyard. Anyone who knew him well enough was aware that his flat was basically a greenhouse by this point. His long-deceased sensei's shrine was always generously overflowing with flowers of all shapes and sizes, flowers that expressed gratitude and metamorphosis and love. 

While most teachers preferred patrolling after a day of teaching, or perhaps socializing until they couldn’t keep their eyes open any longer (*cough* Midnight), quite frankly… teaching exhausted him. It was something Toshinori wasn’t quite acclimated to yet, although he really should have been so sooner, seeing as Midoriya would need a suitable teacher for One for All. That aside, he’d much rather spend the remainder of his day doing something that wasn’t taxing him any further. It was far from easy to tire him out even while in his true form, but some days tended to be longer than others, and required an easygoing reprieve.

Gardening was just that! It was always something he looked forward too after one of those long days. It was an activity that wasn't too physically demanding, and it was a relaxing craft that put his mind at ease after a particularly gruesome mission.

Not only that, but it was a wonderful way to appreciate the underlying beauty that was nature.

Toshinori had heard many theories that, if quirks hadn't appeared and temporarily halted human advancement, civilization could have possibly destroyed the planet. Even without superhuman abilities, they were actively running themselves into the ground. Just as quirks appeared, they were on the cusp of complete pollution, among many other environmental atrocities that hurt Toshinori's heart to hear. After the Quirk Collapse, those with fitting quirks began to introduce safer means of production. People began to once more appreciate the ground they walked on. A lot had changed once these abilities appeared (for better or worse).

And because he spent so many years caring for a multitude of plant life, it was only natural that he familiarized himself with their symbolic meanings. One flower could tell a thousand words. A single petal was capable of expressing emotions better than any hand-written letter ever could. They had inherent messages when they were given as gifts or during certain events. Messages that ranged from “I love you to the moon and back” to “Stay the hell away from me”; from “Good Graces to your family” to “Be warned - something’s coming”; from “Rebirthing” to “Remembrance”. 

Arguably, most of the time, he found himself working with herbs and spices compared to flora. He couldn't indulge in a vast majority of his favorite foods anymore, not after his surgery. So instead of sulking on it, he resorted to giving his own homemade recipes a little more flavor (or, umph! , as his delightful successor once dubbed it, whatever that was supposed to mean). The self-reliance and gratification earned from gardening granted him a small sense of control, in chaotic times when that much alone seemed to escape him.

Speaking of chaotic, he really ought to convince Bakugou to cook with him sometime. All Might had yet to see the boy prepare meals personally, but Young Midoriya claimed that he was an exceptionally talented cook, even at a young age. If the Bento boxes Bakugou kept bringing for lunch said anything, he was as merciless in the kitchen as he was on the training grounds.

All Might sauntered out of the high school's towering building, donning his muscular form as he meticulously marveled the rows of flora lining the paved walkway. The sun wasn’t quite set, but it was on the cusp of painting the petals gold. Within an hour or two they would be glowing. That was part of the reason why he stuck around after everyone left, to be completely honest. It was one of the simpler pleasures that his patience rewarded him with.

It might be odd to witness the world's #1 Pro Hero flower gazing, but it wasn't like other pros had their own strange hobbies. Present Mic gave people theme songs, for Pete's Sake. Ectoplasm and Cementoss had a thing for Disney sing-alongs. Midnight - well, he wasn’t even going to go there. And Aizawa wasn't much better with his obsession for taking in stray cats. 

Speaking of, Aizawa seemed quite occupied as of late. That, or he was simply avoiding him. Again.

Crouching down precariously to better inspect the flower bushes, All Might's thoughts wandered to his coworker. He and Aizawa were never particularly close. Despite their frequent karaoke bar outings with the other teachers, Eraserhead was always reserved in nature, and didn’t make it a secret that he disdained All Might’s inane popularity. Lately, however, it seemed like his mind was occupied with something. Despite Toshinori’s years of extensive training, he couldn’t tell you if it was a good change or a bad one, because that damn man was an inconsistent enigma that only showed genuine emotion once every blue moon.

At first, Yagi assumed he’d found yet another cat, one that he really resonated with. The smiles he let slip throughout the day were easy-going rather than eerily intimidating. He and his husband would talk animatedly about something or other (Toshinori didn’t care for eavesdropping, the erasure hero had it out for him enough as is). Those moments let him to believe that the recent change in his life was for the better.

But as quick as they’d come, those brief moments of content would slip away, replaced with the anxious gnawing of his lips, the constant drumming of his fingers, the nervous running fingers through his tangled hair.

So yeah, his best-educated guess was a cat, but maybe… maybe it was sick? Maybe it was a stray that didn’t have much time left? Perhaps if Toshinori approached this carefully, he could offer his assistance however he could? The bad blood between them would lessen, at least.

“Gah, stupid sun.” A young voice snapped him out of his trance.

Yagi caught sight of the student wobbling past him headed towards the drinking fountains, a hand over his face as a makeshift sun visor, and All Might shot up from his crouched position to say hello.

"Good afternoon, little one!" He beamed jubilantly. 

And loudly. Quite loudly.

His trademark grin fell as he watched the student jump violently, fumbling to catch the now airborne water bottle with visibly shaky hands.

"Ah!"

The boys brightly colored hair immediately made him think of lilacs (flowers that represented the beauty and joy of youth, truly fitting for a student) and that's when he recognized him.

“Agh, Jesus… Christ, man!" Hitoshi gasped. He clutched at his chest, eyes wide in both surprise and mild disbelief. 

They matched All Might’s own wide eyes, because he was taken aback by how brash that response was. That in and of itself was quaint; in all the times he'd ever spoken to Hitoshi, he seemed very reserved and respectful.

Of course, Toshinori did just manage to scare the ever-loving shit out of him. That could contribute to it. 

Way to go, Toshi. You’d think the Number One Hero would have a little more tact than this.

Especially given the circumstances. Hitoshi was the student who went through three emergency contact changes in the span of the first quarter, before Aizawa took it upon himself to-

Ah.  

Ah, so maybe it wasn’t a cat after all.

"I apologize, Shinsou!” He bowed hurriedly. 

“I didn't mean to startle you. I was simply admiring the flowers, and…"

And that's when All Might got a better look at him, and all thoughts of cats and lilacs left him.

Shinsou was… exhausted. Exhausted to such a degree that it set off alarms in the back of his mind. 

The student's eyes were dry and reddened, one of them twitching repeatedly. The usual dark crescents under his eyes were far more prominent, accentuating just how pale he’d gotten. His hands were trembling, gripping his flask so hard that his knuckles turned white. He swayed uncertainly in place, as if merely standing in one spot was in and of itself was a tiring ordeal. 

One look at the child and he could say without a doubt that he hasn't slept in days.

"Are you feeling alright?" He asked worriedly, after disconcertingly staring at him for the past several moments (which Shinsou didn’t appear to notice).

The teen eyed him questioningly for a few seconds.

"... 'm fine." Shinsou mumbled.

Yeah, Toshinori didn’t believe that for a second. 

He gently placed a hand on Shinsou’s shoulder.

"Are you sure? Recovery Girl is still here. Perhaps you should go rest at the infirmary-"

"I said I'm fine !" The Gen Ed student snapped abruptly.

All Might nearly jumped, quickly taking a step back after realizing how close he had gotten. He recalled how much some of his students (ie. Bakugou) despised it when people breached their personal space and, given how sleep-deprived this one was, the hostile reaction was suddenly not all that shocking.

A few moments after yelling, Shinsou clenched his eyes shut, clasping his head in his hands with a small grunt of pain.

"As you say, then." All Might said quietly.

It must have taken Shinsou a few moments to realize who he had just screamed at. Toshinori had already made peace with the outburst, but like a buffering computer screen, the remorse gradually began to show behind the pain.

"I-I'm so sorry, sir! I just… it's been a long couple of days. I-I moved recently, and I… I haven't been able to sleep, and I’ve-I’ve tried everything , and it’s just… "

Well, that much was obvious, All Might thought pointedly, but the latter part of that sentence really concerned him. In an instant, his mind raced with all the things that were wrong with this situation. 

There was a vast array of quirks, after all, and if Shinsou were being targeted by a long distance-

No. No, he was just being paranoid again. U.A. had some of the best security systems available at their disposal. Villainous interference could be spotted from lightyears away.

Then what about the U.S.J? All Might’s mind taunted him. If that’s true, then how could that have happened? You know exactly why. Because they had a quirk that slipped under the radar. And if that’s what’s happening here

Shinsou had always had severe insomnia though, according to some of the other teachers. Everyone’s been pretty paranoid recently. He reasoned with himself, before returning to the present.

"No need for apologies, Shinsou.” He chuckled lightheartedly. “And formalities outside of school are unnecessary. Everyone calls me by All Might anyhow!”

Shinsou looked vaguely uncomfortable at the remark, for some reason. So All Might backpedaled.

“You know, I never had the opportunity to tell you how impressed I was with your performance at the Sports Festival! You show much promise, little one."

That same look of discomfort shone through his drained features.

"... Thanks.” Shinsou replied emptily. If he didn’t know any better, All Might would have assumed that he was being sarcastic.

The tone settled into the air and Shinsou sighed, realizing how it must have sounded out loud. He gently shook his head, pressing on as he stumbled over to the water fountain. 

“I uh, I'm sorry, I really do mean that, thank you. Coming from you it’s- it means a lot, too, it's just… strange, to be getting so much praise for it, after…"

The conflicting expressions battling for control on his face dissipated.

And briefly, Yagi already knew the answer for the explanation that had fallen apart on him. He’d heard what the boy said to Midoriya at the festival after all. He knew why it seemed like he never stopped moving. He knew why so many of his classmates fervently avoided him.

So, arguably, Shinsou never needed to finish, because Toshinori understood, and it made his heart ache.

However, the boy’s face dropped so quickly, as if the words falling out of his mouth up and left him rather than gradually dissipated.

"... after?" The number one hero urged. 

"Huh?” Shinsou murmured. He was staring at the wall, emotionlessly, his hand not moving from its place on the button. 

“After-after what?"

The flask of water began to overflow. It trickled down into Shinsou’s sleeves. He didn’t flinch.

"Err, Shinsou?"

"Hmm? ...Oh, shit!"

Hitoshi released the button quickly and shook out his sleeves. He moved to drink some of the overflowing water, somehow ended up missing his mouth, and spilled some all over the front of his uniform. 

This kid was a wreck. How was he even functioning properly?

"I know you already said you were fine, and I won't bother you any longer. But please, promise me you'll let someone know if it gets to be too much, okay?"

"O-okay. I uh,” Shinsou yawned. “I promise. Uh, actually, do you know where I, uh… where I can find, Miss… err, Miss…"

"Midnight already left for the day, unfortunately. I'm sure she can help you first thing tomorrow morning though! Take care of yourself, little one."

"I-I will, thanks."

All Might watched as Shinsou shuffled down the walkway, and he furrowed his brows in concern.

So no, not a cat. But he’d still put the offer to help on the table, anyways.

And no, probably not a quirk... but he’ll still tell Nedzu about it, just in case.

Beside him, flowers trembled in the wind.

 


 

By the time Shinsou got home, it was late. 

Much later than he’d been hoping for. But he forgot his wallet at home and his phone was dead because he neglected to charge it the previous night, so he had no way of contacting Nakidori or Mezame to let them know he’d be running later than usual. 

Shinsou had expected himself to be beyond mortified after that awkward altercation with All Might, but he found himself too tired to care, and the words they exchanged were quickly disappearing in the back of his mind. 

At this point, tomorrow couldn’t come soon enough, so that Midnight could knock his ass out and he could sleep for a few days.

Shinsou dragged himself up the stairs and unlocked the front door. Despite his current disposition, he couldn’t help but feel a wave of relief wash over him upon stepping through the threshold.

Because sleepless or not, this house was the only one he’d felt comfortable calling  home. Mezame and Nakidori never hovered, aside from calling him at school every so often. They expressed their concerns with his troublesome insomnia, ordered prescriptions for him, took him to therapy, but they understood his boundaries. The two would often make remarks about how his pride just might end up getting him sick, to which he could only laugh and agree. They weren't helicopters. And they also weren't abusers, so. Win-win.

Even when they suggested pulling him out of U.A., it wasn’t done so with malicious intent. It had nothing to do with the cost, and didn’t dissolve into a shouting match like all his other foster houses inevitably did. They even told him word for word that it was only because of the recent villain attacks were they considering the option.

And Shinsou had to say, after being brushed under the carpet for most of his life, the outward concern that they showed for his safety was… it was nice.

If only he could get his damn insomnia under control. He wanted to blame it on the move, but the truth was, he’d been living with these two for nearly two months now, and had grown more comfortable here than he did in any home. So why was his brain refusing to let him sleep?

Shinsou kicked off his shoes (Mezame told him it wasn’t necessary - an American custom that clung to him from overseas, probably) and began making his way to the living room.

He paused when he heard them talking.

"I'm just saying, it's been a while."

"You can't pull off a decent poker face to save your life, dearest."

"Oh, don't give me that Mezame! Why don't you collect before this gets out of hand?"

"Patience, my little songbird. This is a tedious task, we can't afford to screw this one up. And I already have bids nearing two million yen. Slow and steady wins the race."

That was… odd, his exhausted mind vaguely noted, before forgetting what was odd about it in the first place.

"I-I'm home, guys." He announced, turning the corner to see his foster parents seated around the coffee table. It was cluttered with faux poker chips and playing cards. 

"There now, see Naki? He's just fine. You worry too much." Mezame chuckled.

Nakidori flung herself up from the table and wrapped herself around Shinsou.

"Oh hello, baby bird! How was your day?"

"Good…"

His foster parents had long since abandoned convincing him to stay home and rest, which he was grateful for.

"I didn't know you gambled." He said absentmindedly, eyeing the table.

"Ah,” Mezame rubbed the back of his head, “We've lived in The States for too long, it seems. It must have rubbed off on us. If you choose to gamble, Hitoshi, please do so responsibly."

"I don't think I ever will.” He responded, finally comfortable enough around a foster family to give his own opinion. “A waste of time if you ask me. You could easily lose everything."

"Not if you play your cards right, kiddo.” He spoke in confidence.

The joyful man stood up with a stretch, and made his way to the back door.

“C'mon then, let's go weed the garden. We'll put more lilacs up in your room, and you can head to bed a little earlier tonight. Maybe that'll coerce your restless brain into getting a good night's sleep!"

The lilac garden was a new development in the backyard. It wasn’t a large garden, if it could be called a garden at all. It was just a small patch of fertilizer beside the patio that used to harbor vegetables.

They changed it shortly after Shinsou’s arrival. To match your hair , they said with a laugh, though he wishes now that they were lavender instead.

"Didn't we just do that yesterday, Mezame?" Shinsou groaned, rubbing a hand over his face.

"A gardens no good if you don't keep weeding it, Shinsou. Hop to it!"

“We’ll see ya out there, honey!” Naki beamed, following her husband outside, humming a lighthearted tune.

“Mm, I’m comin’, I’m comin’.” He mumbled. A smirk tugged at his lips.

He sighed contently. His headache had passed, and the exhaustion seemed to dissipate whenever he got home. He moved to push in the chairs of the table, pondering why on earth they would be betting against each other rather than going to a casino somewhere and winning actual money. Why encourage your vices with placeholders, anyhow? Especially when they could have the real thing-

Shinsou looked down at the living room table, and his breath hitched in his throat. The comforting atmosphere of the home wavered.

A missing person poster with Darling's face was smiling up at him from between the worn playing cards.

 

He didn't get a wink of sleep that night. His insomnia didn't have anything to do with it.

Chapter Text

It had been a few days since All Might ran into Shinsou outside the U.A. campus.

If Toshinori were being honest, he wouldn’t be surprised if the teen was outwardly avoiding him. After what happened, he would probably try and avoid himself too. And Shinsou struck him as the kind of student who adamantly refused any sort of help from his peers, much like Bakugou or Todoroki. He was probably dancing around his other teachers as well.

But as it turned out, he wasn’t the only one.

According to Present Mic, Shinsou's been attending classes regularly, but was still just as exhausted as he’d seen him that day. He’d stopped speaking to his friends and classmates altogether, and his class notes were nigh indecipherable. He waltzed into class right as the bell rang (unheard of for Shinsou), and left abruptly the moment class was dismissed. He spent his lunches outside now, far away from the others, lying on the grass, probably trying to catch up on all the lost sleep he obviously wasn’t getting at home.

All Might hasn’t quite had the opportunity to bring up Hitoshi’s insomnia with Aizawa yet. Toshinori anticipated bringing it up to him when he was by himself, but every time the number one hero caught a glimpse of the other teacher, he was preoccupied with something. Be it speaking to Recovery girl with a darkened expression, or being bombarded by reassurance via his equally worried husband. Both of whom, he was certain, were discussing the very thing All Might wanted to speak with them about.

In the end, All Might opted against bringing it to his attention. It appeared as though the eraser hero was already well aware of Shinsou’s rapidly deteriorating condition, and it was taking a toll on him, too. That, and All Might knew the student was now officially Aizawa’s pupil, and certainly didn’t want to impose.

In the meantime, to put to rest his own anxiety, he'd been speaking on and off with Principal Nedzu regarding the boy's insistent insomnia. Apparently, Shinsou’s foster family had already been actively searching for the cause on their own. This info, however, came directly from Shinsou, and to get that much out of him was akin to pulling teeth. All Might was forced to take that with a grain of salt, because if that were true, there would at least be some improvement, right?

Not much could be done quite yet, he was told. 

“Now I’m not saying that I doubt you in the slightest,” the principal commented. “And I want to thank you for your vigilance, All Might. However, Quirk usage or not, we can’t very well act without a sign. And we certainly can’t reverse its effects unless the perpetrator makes themselves known. I’ll have security do a sweep and ask the teachers to be on their guard.”

“Make no mistake, All Might.” The mouse said sternly. “The instant Quirk usage is confirmed, we will act swiftly. Until then, please keep an eye on Shinsou.”

Toshinori was going to be doing just that, anyhow. As would Aizawa, and Present Mic, and all of Shinsou's friends.

All eyes on him, and he didn't seem to notice.


Monoma sighed and flopped onto the grass.

“What a joke,” He muttered to no one in particular, glaring up into the shade of the courtyard.

After finally having rid himself of the Broccoli Head from Class 1-A, he was tired, if not a little perturbed. He just wanted to enjoy his lunch in peace. (Sure, he could say the same for Class 1-A, when he occasionally felt the need to put them in their place - but Monoma did what he felt like, and that was that). 

The living vegetable had the audacity to confront him and ask him about the nature of his relationship with Hitoshi.

"You two are close, right?" The walking tree had said to him. As if it were a question, as if it weren’t common knowledge already. As if Shinsou being particularly close with anyone was unheard of.

Or, perhaps that was just how Monoma had interpreted it at the time. However, he’d already been approached by dozens of students asking if he’d been brainwashed and forced to hang out with the Zombiehead from the Gen Ed course. Forgive him for leaping to conclusions and hopping on the defensive here and there.

“We’re all concerned for him.” Midoriya quickly added when Monoma only offered up a glare in response. 

“My-my class and I, I mean. He doesn’t look well, and I said hi to him earlier but he ignored me… Do you know if he’s okay?”

Monoma couldn’t help but chuckle at that.

“Are you sure he’s not ignoring you because you humiliated him at the Sports Festival?” He spat back, and when that wasn’t enough, he kept going. Unnecessary hostility was his specialty.

“You know, his old foster family kicked him out after seeing him use his quirk on you. He told me so. Could you imagine having to pay that price without having anything to show for it in the end?”

The reaction he garnered was priceless, well worth the unwarranted animosity. It looked like Midoriya had been shot through the chest. And finally ( finally! ) he slunked away with a brokenhearted expression.

Monoma had to admit, he did feel bad for roughly three seconds. Because, yeah, the Green Bean had a point. They were close. 

Close enough for the 1-B student to know that that’s not the kind of person Shinsou was at all. Close enough for him to know that Hitoshi had a better heart than he had. A bigger one, more empathetic and open and honest. Not shallow enough to outwardly ignore someone like that, not without a good reason. So maybe Midoriya was being an oversensitive crybaby, as per usual, and Shinsou simply didn’t hear him.

At the very least, that fiasco would prevent Midoriya from trying to bump shoulders with Shinsou. The lilac-haired boy was heartbroken after the Sports Festival, he didn’t need any pity or sympathy from the same person who cost him both a home and a chance to transfer classes.

And besides, if there was anything wrong with Shinsou, Monoma would know. He hadn’t spoken with him in a week or so, because he kept running off right after school, leaving him hung out to dry (which he truly couldn’t blame him for - he seemed like he had a decent place to call home now, all the better).

But although Midoriya was most likely overreacting, the instant he caught wind of his friend falling ill, he took it upon himself to investigate. Pride be damned.

Which was why, after Midoriya spoiled his appetite in the cafeteria, he went outside and sat beneath the trees.

Which was why, when he heard somebody collapse beside him with an exasperated huff, he knew exactly who it was.

"Fancy meeting you here." The blonde said snidely.

He wasn't braced for the way Shinsou violently jerked back from him. Like he… didn’t notice Monoma was lying there at all...

Monoma immediately thought back to what Midoriya had told him earlier, and sat up briskly.

"Hey, are… are you alright?"

He was met with silence. Monoma backtracked.

"Look, Hitoshi. I know I've been kind of an ass lately, but you know I don't mean it. You can tell me if something's going on. We're friends, aren't we?"

A few more moments of silence passed, in which time Monoma looked his friend up and down and knew without a doubt that something was going on with him.

Shinsou’s hair was greasy and matted, sticking out every which way in a bizarre imitation of his usual hairstyle. His deathly pale skin was blotchy with sweat, and his eyes were bloodshot and watery, unwilling to focus in one place for more than a second at a time. The bags under his eyes looked more like bruises, and made it appear as though he’d been suckerpunched.

They were close. Close enough for Monoma to know that this wasn’t Shinsou’s standard fatigue. Close enough for him to know that this was dangerous.

"Yeah…” Shinsou muttered, voice hoarse, snapping Monoma out of the panic he was rapidly spiraling into. He continued.

“Yeah, I just…” Hitoshi looked around once, twice… three times, before falling comfortable beside him. “I thought I saw something is all, I could have sworn I-"

And then he was back up, eyes impossibly wide, a few stray tears ebbing down his cheeks. And he was looking around again.

"... Shinsou? Are-"

"Someone's fol-following me,” he said hastily, his breath coming in short bursts. “Someone's following me, Monoma, s-someone's following m-me!"

Monoma glanced around the empty courtyard. He shot a quizzical expression towards his companion.

"When was the last time you slept?" The blonde asked earnestly.

"I'm not crazy, you-you asshole!" Shinsou snapped, jumping to his feet only to lose balance and nearly faceplant into the dirt.

Monoma was up in an instant, steadying Shinsou and urging him to sit down.

"Hey whoa! I wasn't implying-"

"Just-just because I have a-a mind control quirk doesn't make me brai-braindead! God, goddamnit why doesn't anybody listen to me!? Why doesn't anyone take me seriously-"

"Hey, hey. I’m sorry, Hitoshi. I didn’t mean it like that,” Monoma said quietly, settling Shinsou’s shaky form back on the ground and plopping down right beside him. 

“Alright, I'm listening. Who's following you?"

"How the hell am I supposed to know that, Monoma?"

"Well, have you seen them?"

"No, no I haven't seen them… but they're loud. They keep, they keep whispering things to me."

“Oh? What are they saying?”

“I dunno, ‘s just whisper sounds.”

Monoma’s hand rubbed comforting circles on Shinsou’s back while his thoughts raced in his mind.

The blonde wasn’t well versed in the long-term effects of sleep deprivation, but he was willing to bet that paranoia was bound to be one of them. Shinsou’s entire demeanor screamed exhaustion, but what on earth could be causing it? Shinsou's insomnia generally lasted a few days at a time, but lord only knows how long he'd been awake for him to reach this point. If a person were to reach this level of fatigue, wouldn’t their body eventually force them to rest? If it was forced to stay awake any longer than it had to, wouldn’t it just… shut down?

Monoma gnawed on his bottom lip anxiously. He considered his options, and spoke slowly, calmly.

"Mmm. Okay. Well, the U.A. campus is real tight on security, okay?” He told the quivering boy beside him. “So they won't be able to try anything. You're safe here, Shinsou. And I'm right here. We got your back, okay?"

That seemed to help, because Shinsou’s shoulders fell in relief.

“O-okay,” He said. He raised his head with a small sniffle and stared at Monoma, before tearing his eyes away and clenching his fists.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry Monoma, I didn't mean to snap at you, I'm so sorry, I didn’t-" He rambled hurriedly, and Monoma shook his head.

"Hey hey, take a breather! It’s alright, I know you didn’t mean it. You’re just tired, huh?

“... Yeah…”

“Mhm. You aren't lookin’ too hot right now, buddy.  Is there anything else bothering you? Aside from uh,”

Another cautionary glance around the courtyard.

Nope, still vacant.

“Being stalked?"

Shinsou sighed, resting his head in his hands.

"My, uh… my old foster sister went missing, and it's… I can't get that dumb poster outta my head..."

It was a little jarring to hear that Shinsou was this worked up over the disappearance of someone who detested his existence. Monoma could only assume that it was only a part of it. That, and he knew Hitoshi had a heart of gold, so this wasn’t that out of the ordinary.

"I'm sorry to hear that,” Monoma said sincerely. “But, hey. Darling's strong, you know that. I'm sure she's okay. How did you find out?"

"... New fosters had it on their desk."

Which, arguably, had to be very hard for Shinsou to see in the first place. Again, heart of gold, not out of the ordinary, but something akin to fear shot up Monoma’s spine nonetheless. 

"Exactly." Shinsou spat, sitting back up with renewed vigour.

"Exactly what? I didn’t say any-”

Shinsou cut him off. 

"They- I went to every neighbor on the block and-and they don't have one! Those posters aren’t-aren’t put up anywhere except for the north- no… the south side of the city, how would-why would they have it if they don’t even-don’t even a reason to go that side of the city, Monoma? Why would they have-have it?"

His hands moved animatedly, everywhere at once, running through his hair, wiping copious amounts of perspiration off his forehead, accentuating his maddened rambling, not waiting for a response from Monoma.

"Err..." He began, before Shinsou’s energy collapsed once more and he went limp against his side.

“I just, I keep thinking, there's-there's something bad happening, or something bad about to happen, it's breathing down my neck, it’s right there , but I…”

And Shinsou sobbed. 

“I'm so tired, Monoma. I don't-I can't sleep, I can't think and every time-every time, I… I just, I don't know..."

This was far worse than what Monoma had been expecting. When Midoriya told him he was worried for Shinsou, he was expecting a cold, or a limp, or his usual bouts of self-depreciation, or... something. Something he could help with, something he was familiar with, to work with.

This wasn’t something the blonde said often, but what was going on with Shinsou was not something he could fix by himself.

He wound his arms around Shinsou and aided him up onto his feet. He briefly contemplated just slinging him over his shoulder, and then he realized that he could hardly lift a bag of potatoes by himself, and opted against it.

"Let's uh… let's get you to Midnight alright?” He suggested softly. “She can-"

"Wait!”

Shinsou shot out of his grasp, stumbling for the cafeteria- no, stumbling towards the main gates, with a steely look of determination in those eyes that he could barely keep open. 

“No, no I- that won't help Darling, and I've- home. Gotta get… home. Naki, she-she's calling me." He stuttered, although his ringtone wasn’t going off at all.

The lilac-haired teen shot like a bullet through the courtyard.

“What? Shinsou, what about you!?” His desperate holler fell on deaf ears, and Monoma had half a mind to chase after him and follow him home and-

He paused mid-sprint. He turned and looked back at the towering U.A. building.

No. If Shinsou was this adamant that something else was going on, he’d go straight to the source.


Monoma reached the principal's office in record time.

He ignored every curious look he got from his classmates. He didn't spare Midoriya a second glance.

He didn’t even grace them with a knock. He barged right through the doors without an ounce of hesitation.

A tall skeletal man with a mess of blonde hair sat crouched before the principal, shooting his head up to look sternly at Monoma for interrupting their meeting.

The 1-B student couldn't care less. Only one thing mattered right now.

"Excuse me, little one, but we're in the middle of an important-"

"Something's wrong with Shinsou." He interrupted.

The man abruptly stopped talking. The two professors exchanged a worrisome look.

Nedzu set his tea down on the table.

"Come on in, Monoma."

Chapter Text

This had to be what going mad felt like.

Shinsou suffered from insomnia for years. Living on and off with abusive families tended to do that to you. He knew the toll it took, and this wasn't it. He knew when his insomnia would let up, but this affliction was adamant.

He ran the entire way home. His chest heaving, cold sweat dripping down his clammy face. He ran like his life depended on it, the fear chasing him back into the Lion's Den he'd mistaken for a haven. He ran with a purpose, his exhaustion an afterthought, his quirk surging in his chest, poised like a sword. He’d never fought lions like this before. He wasn’t sure how it would end, but images of Darling cowering before them, with snakes caught in their teeth, urged him to run faster.

Or at least, he think he ran. He couldn't quite remember.

All he could remember was the sheer amount of panic that practically followed him all the way up to the front door.

(And just the other day, he and Mezame repainted that front door together. Mezame somehow got paint all over his face and Shinsou had doubled over with laughter, and Naki took pictures from the window and hung them up all around the house-) 

His hands were shaking. 

He knew, realistically, there was no reason to be overreacting like this. He knew that this was most likely one of the several symptoms of severe sleep deprivation he'd been subject to for the past week, and making hasty assumptions like this was downright ludicrous. He knew that the odds of these two being involved in his crippling mania were incredibly slim, that it was likely a delusion. He knew that these two going out of their way to simply watch him suffer was absolutely nonsensical.

That didn't make this foreboding feeling any less suffocating.

Because, all logical thought aside, the situation Shinsou was currently in seemed... quite frankly, too good to be true. Restlessness aside, he knew without a doubt in his mind that the family he was currently with had something else happening behind closed doors. He figured, after all he’d been through in the past, he had every right to be wary. That poster only served to solidify his concern.

Confronting them didn't seem wise. However, after days of paranoia and unpredictable mood swings, wisdom was no longer one of his strongest attributes.

In the state he was in, the only tangible thought that would process in his muddled mind was,

Where was Darling?

Mezame was standing in the living room when Shinsou all but barged through the door, leaning heavily against the shiny new frame.

The plump man shot him a patient smile, before it fell into a worried frown.

"Oh goodness Shinsou, are you alright?" 

(And just last week Hitoshi, in his haste, tripped down the stairs and managed to scrape up his knees on the way down. And Mezame all but dropped the can of beer he had clutched in his hand and rushed forward to help him to the table, and disinfected the cuts, and gingerly wrapped them with gauze and said, “Oh goodness, Shinsou, are you alright?” And-)

Mezame stepped forward.

"The neighbors called from next door and told me you weren’t looking too well. Your condition isn't improving at all-"

"Why do you have it?" Shinsou rasped, cutting right to the chase and throwing caution to the wind.

He wrestled back the instinct to step back away from Mezame. Instead, he took an aggressive step forward. It probably didn't look as intimidating as he was intending for it to be, because Mezame only blinked.

"What was that?"

"The poster. The-the missing person's poster. Why do you have it?"

Mezame paused. He danced around numerous expressions that Shinsou could barely catch - shock, fear, resignation. In that order. 

In that moment, the half-baked theory rolling around in his brain was confirmed. He saw through the phony sympathy that followed after. Looking through people's bullshit came with years of practice. 

(So then why, why had it taken him this long to realize it?)

"They were passed around the neighborhood shortly after her disappearance." The man he almost accidentally called 'dad' the other night lied through his teeth. 

"Every house in the neighborhood has one, Shinsou, why does it matter?"

"Oh, do they?"

Mezame’s frown deepened. Shinsou’s hands twitched at his side.

“My boy… I fear your insomnia is making you-”

"Something's not right." Shinsou muttered, pacing the living room, feeling around for invisible puzzle pieces that tucked themselves away in his head. He glanced around the room.

(And just last week, he’d lost his phone here in this same living room, and rather than tell him off or berate him for his forgetfulness, Mezame and Nakidori damn near tore the whole room apart until he realized he’d actually left it upstairs, and they all collapsed into each other and laughed in the middle of the mess they made-)

Shinsou shook his head.

"She-she wouldn't run away, she's not that stupid. And she's strong, she's not a pushover."

"Ah… you knew her personally?"

Past tense, Hitoshi noted, as if she was already a goner.

"I'm so sorry... I didn't think to put it away, I had no idea you two were acquainted-"

"Do you know where she is?" The words fell out of his mouth before he could stop them.

Mezame scoffed.

"Oh, come now. How would I-"

In a moment of reckless rage, Shinsou activated his quirk.

His foster father's eyes went blank.

"Do you know. Where she is." He seethed through clenched teeth.

"Yes."

"Where- agh!"

A sharp, piercing pain shot through his skull and Shinsou fell to his knees. He clutched his head and let out a quiet whimper. It felt as though someone was hammering nails and weaving needles through his head. A steady stream of blood ebbed swiftly from his nostrils and dripped loudly onto the floor.

"Oh Shinsou... why'd you have to go and do that?" Mezame drawled passively, almost disappointingly. 

"As if this whole thing wasn't already so complicated… but your quirk doesn't work very well without cognitive function, does it?"

This was wrong.

"Yours is a mental quirk at its core, so it only makes sense that if the user is afflicted…"

This was all wrong.

"Who-who are you people?" The teen managed to hiss out, barely audible over the ringing in his head. His vision blurred.

Mazame pointedly averted his gaze, outwardly ignoring his question.

"Naki. I’m afraid Shinsou’s not in his right mind. He's obviously distressed enough to misuse his quirk. Wouldn't want to make the same mistake twice, now would we?"

At some point, the woman must have snuck into the room. That, or Shinsou was merely too out of it to notice her presence directly behind him.

"Come here, little songbird." She said calmly.

(And two weeks ago exactly, Shinsou had been toiling over his piles of schoolwork, terrified of the prospect of failure, of anything less than perfection, and Naki could see it written all over his face. And she sighed, she opened her arms welcomingly and said, “Come here, little songbird,” and-)

Her slim arm wound around him in a mocking embrace. Her free hand brushed his throat, and Shinsou feared the worst. 

"Don't touch me!” He shrieked. “Get your hands off-"

She tapped his Adam's apple and backed away.

Shinsou crawled backwards, colliding with the door he didn’t remember closing behind him, looking up fearfully at the two adults that loomed over him with unreadable expressions.

"There now, how does that feel? Better?"

Shinsou opened his mouth to speak. 

You were the only ones in the world that I ever brought myself to trust, he was going to say. 

I thought I was finally safe , he was going to say.

I thought this was home.

He opened his mouth to speak, but no words would come out.


This had to be what dying felt like, he thought to himself for the fifth time that evening.

And funnily enough, staying awake for days on end felt a lot like... sleeping.

He figured to himself, the analogy didn’t make an ounce of sense, but being this drained was akin to trying to wake up from a nap, completely disoriented. He'd been awake for too long, he noted absentmindedly. As if that wasn't already obvious. As if multiple people haven’t already brought it to his attention. 

His stamina was shot. His concentration, even more so. Even if he could vocalize and use his quirk, the exhaustion strained his control, and it would be pointless.

He remembered (vaguely, dreamlike, hazy - as if it had happened yesterday in the early hours of morning compared to ten minutes ago. Or was it twenty? How long had he-) being thrown into his room after confronting Mezame.

Not the stupidest thing he’s ever done, but with how this evening’s events were unfolding, it was rapidly making its way up the list. 

Only snippets of conversations weaseled their way into his brain, all jumbled and nonsensical. From different moments in time and different people’s voices, mumbling all at once, ringing through his ears. 

"Are you joking, kid? Do you really think anyone in their right mind would open their arms to someone like you?"

“If you’re gonna act like a dog in my house, you’re gonna be treated like one.”

"This is for the best, honey. A quirk like yours, well… you would have never become a hero."

“The exam weeded out applicants that still have potential. We’ve both experienced that firsthand.”

“Hey man I’m just saying, Zombiehead would be a wicked hero name. A homage to a certain underground pro hero, too. Embrace it!"

“A garden’s no good if you don’t keep weeding it, Shinsou!”

“I just need you to make her tell me yes.”

Shinsou collapsed to his knees, chest aching as he desperately attempted to stand back up. His nose bleed had finally let up, after generously dousing his uniform and a good portion of his face in crimson. The colors of his bedroom blended together, a shoddy mural of washed out colors with no names, and the edge of his vision occasionally darkened too much to make heads or tails of where the door was located. 

Not that it mattered. He was sure that Mezame locked him in. He said something about tomorrow, about a transaction-

An airy, voiceless chuckle rattled his chest, and an empty grin spread along his face.

That's right. That's right, he was the transaction. He'd culled the bids. Harvested. He could only assume that Darling had already met the same fate, since he was already too late. Too late, like always, because Mezame was right wasn't he?

And now, he was incapacitated. Unable to reach out for help or escape the same hell Darling went through.

He’d come back to the Lion’s Den for answers, and now, he couldn’t leave.

If he had the energy, he would cry.

A strong gust of wind ruffled through his hair, pulling him from his thoughts long enough for him to realize that the window was left ajar. It mocked him, seeing as he could barely stand without help, much less remember why he was upset - but it was a chance, nonetheless. 

With a soundless grunt, Shinsou dragged himself over to look outside, occasionally forgetting what he was supposed to be doing, and pausing to catch his breath. Though his sense of time was long gone, the painstaking trek to the sill had to have been more than an hour, simply to gaze outside. And why he wanted to do so in the first place was a mystery, he bitterly thought to himself, the rays of the setting sun only worsening the ache in his head.

Two stories. The lilac garden was just beneath him. 

(To match your hair, Mezame had said.)

Would anyone truly miss him, if he were to die here? Would anyone actually care if he didn’t survive the fall? Would Monoma be devastated or exhilarated? Would Mr. Aizawa-

Mr. Aizawa.

A flicker of determination shot through him before he could finish that thought.

Once more, he glanced out the window, squinting as his vision blurred into an array of gold, green and purple. Numbly calculating his odds of survival, of getting out of this mess alive.

Mezame and Nakidori wouldn't be back until the following morning to "collect" him. They’d left in a hurry, something about a warehouse, and didn’t look back. He couldn't very well call anyone, not without his voice, but he could... just maybe, he could...

Shinsou knew he didn't have much time left to make a decision. His thoughts came slowly, disappearing as soon as they made themselves known, but they were persistent. Even with the ever-present possibility of capture or accidental death, they pressed on. 

Monoma's voice was playing on loop in the back of his mind. For a moment, it almost seemed as though he were there, tugging him up to the windowsill, urging him to stand.

"You're safe here, Shinsou. We got your back."

U.A. would help him. 

Aizawa would help him. He'd know what to do.

He always did, he always would. It was the one constant in his life, that his teacher was always there at his worst.

Below him, the lilacs beckoned his descent. Their petals quivered in anticipation.

"Just get to him," he mouthed silently, and the goal reverberated, echoey in his mind, until it was the only thought left.

Just get to Aizawa.

Closing his eyes, he leaned forward, and fell out the window.

Chapter Text

The day felt strange as soon as Izuku’s alarm went off.

Call it a “hero’s sixth sense”, or call it “anxiety combined with hunger, probably”. But the instant he’d opened his eyes that morning, he could feel that something was amiss.

It felt a lot like leaving your house without something important, but you couldn’t quite put your finger on what the heck it was.

"Do you have your phone on you? Is it fully charged, or did you forget to plug it in again? Well either way, I got you a portable charger, just in case! You have my number on speed dial, right? And you have your wallet? And all of your homework, you have that together, don’t you? You checked the back to see if it was double-sided? Did you remember to-"

Inko Midoriya rattled on without taking a moment to breathe, her hands moving animatedly as her face gradually grew redder.

Izuku sighed at the sight. He was thankful for his mom's supportive, albeit slightly overprotective nature. She was actively working on reigning in those impulses, for Izuku's sake, but occasionally she slipped up. She wasn’t perfect after all. Maybe she sensed the inherent dread he was feeling for seemingly no reason? She could be very empathic when she wanted to be, so he wouldn’t be surprised if she was trying to find the cause of his own innate anxiety before he could.

And as he watched his mom go down her list, mentally making sure he had all these items ticked himself, Izuku couldn’t help but smile. If he looked like this while he was rambling on about heroes, it was no wonder he got such odd, concerned looks from classmates and teachers alike. The both of them looked like a pair of tomatoes by the time they got finished with what they had to say.

After a few more minutes though, it became clear that she was showing no signs of slowing down. The freckled teen gradually placed his hand on the doorknob, letting her know he had no intention of staying to hear the whole rant, and smirked awkwardly. 

"Mom, it's fine," He interrupted. "I've been walking to school for the past two months! I-I have everything! And I can take care of myself, you know," 

Inko shook her head with a nervous smile to match her sons. If she was going to be this high strung about him walking to school, he could only imagine what it would be like when he left for the training camp coming up.

"Oh, I don't doubt that one bit, Izuku. I'm just concerned you'll be late. After the Sports Festival, you've gathered quite a few fans!"

"Haha, well the earlier I leave, the sooner I can beat the morning rush." Izuku hastily interjected, but not before another flurry of worried remarks escaped his mother’s lips.

"Izu, I just want to make sure you're safe out there! What if someone notices that hair of yours? Not everyone has green hair, you know, what if someone recognizes you? And then tells their friends about your route!? And with those villains lurking about, oh goodness what if-"

She was rapidly working her way into a frenzy, and he removed his hand from the doorknob to place it reassuringly on his mother’s shoulder.

"Mom, please calm down. I take a different route every day, and I know when someone's following me. I'll be fine, okay? And I have my cellphone on me. I'll call if something happens. I promise!"

His mother seemed appeased at that, and she lurched forward to give him a hug.

"I'll see you after school, okay?" She said sweetly.

"Okay mom, bye!"

When the front door finally shut, Midoriya heaved a heavy sigh.

Again, he loved his mother to bits and pieces. Even when she was rightfully worried and somewhat overbearing, she was his mother, but sometimes…

Well, he understood why his muttering sometimes set people off now, he supposed.

Just as he'd expected, the morning was calm and quiet. It was still early enough to be fairly dark out, which would change in a few minutes when the sun shook off its own slumber and returned to the sky. There were few cars out on the road, and even fewer people.

Izuku breathed in the fresh dawn air and smiled. He’d always been an early bird.

That small act of comfort did little to deter the odd, uneasy feeling wrapping itself around his lungs.

He couldn’t have forgotten anything. In fact, he probably grabbed more than necessary in an effort to subdue this stubborn anxiety. He’d checked the news before he left for any other League of Villains sightings, or attacks of a similar caliber, and there wasn’t a thing. Not a thing was out of place when he woke up, so why was his nervousness off the charts?

He occupied himself with his phone, glancing at the text messages he'd recently exchanged with his friend.

 

Drifloon:

Hey Deku!! Sorry for texting so early :/ You still on for the mall later today?

Breloom:

It's no problem. Yup! I have a list of supplies I'll need for the trip. Is everyone else going?

Drifloon:

We're still trying to convince Bakugou, but it would be funner with a bigger group, don't you think? 

Breloom:

Yeah, safer too.

Drifloon:

Hey, why dont you invite Shinsou to join us? I know he's not going to the camp but… he looks really out of it :( Maybe he could use some lame t-shirts and greasy mall food. I'll pay!

Breloom:

Sure, I'll ask him later today. That's so sweet of Uraraka :3

Drifloon:

Pshh, what's the point of having money if you're not willing to help people out? Anyway, I gotta go get ready. See you at school! :D

 

Upon the mention of Shinsou, Midoriya gnawed at his lip, pocketing is phone and readjusting his backpack straps for the sixth time in a row. Yeah, he really ought to invite him along, seeing as Izuku was responsible for the hardships that had recently come his way. It was only fair.

Monoma’s voice shrilled in the back of his head.

“Are you sure he’s not ignoring you because you humiliated him at the Sports Festival?”

Lost in thought, he turned the corner. Only a few blocks left until he reached U.A., and he'd still be nearly half an hour early. At least that would give him enough time to figure out how to approach the Gen Ed student-

Midoriya let out a startled yelp as he tripped over something in the sidewalk. He floundered, waving his arms haphazardly to regain balance, which actually worked in his favor this time around.

He took a moment to right himself before leaning over to inspect what the heck caused him to nearly faceplant into the concrete. Who leaves a bag of clothes lying right smack dab in the middle of the-

His heart plummeted.

A body was curled up on the pavement. A shattered cellphone sat a few feet away from its unmoving hand.

Briefly, a numb panic overtook him as the worst-case scenario immediately lurched to the forefront of his mind. 

He’d found a body. He’d found a body, and it was wearing a U.A. school uniform, which likely meant that they were either attacked unprepared or struck with a quirk, presumably from a long distance. And if it were the League of Villains, there wasn’t a doubt in his mind that this was some kind of trap, and if that were the case, the likelihood of them still being in the vicinity of their victim was very, very high, and he was in no position to take on the lot of them by himself and-

Izuku looked around. He took a deep, steadying breath through his nose. 

He needed to calm down. Shaking his head aggressively, he smacked his freckled cheeks a couple times, making sure that the mess of bruised limbs before him was real, and not some sort of hallucination. 

Okay, no, it’s real. So now what? Call the cops? Call a teacher? No, no you learned this in class, idiot, first make sure they’re alive. Make sure they’re breathing and then get help. You wasted enough time gawking at it! Follow protocol, just like Mr. Aizawa said!

He recollected his bearings and knelt down beside it. Well, him, he presumed, given the male uniform, and assuming that the student was still alive. To be fair, it was still fairly dark out, and he couldn’t make heads or tails of this poor guy’s position - so forgive him for automatically assuming it to be a corpse.

Midoriya’s hands were cold and clammy, despite being already taught how to go about this situation from his hero course, and they carefully readjusted the body to get a better feel for his pulse.

"Please don't be dead please don't be dead," he muttered to himself, steeling his nerves and-

A purple flurry of hair flung up from the jumble of lanky limbs, and Midoriya was so taken aback by the sudden movement he leapt back and shrieked. His gaze finally landed on the student’s face.

"... Shinsou!?"

The Gen Ed student blinked at him, and then collapsed against the concrete once more, his eyes wide open.


 "What in the hell…?"

Aizawa checked his phone again, squinting at the most recent notifications as he waltzed into the high school building. 

Four missed calls from an unfamiliar number, all with three-minute voicemails that were completely silent, save for the occasional sound of a car driving by or birds singing jovially; and two text messages that were merely a jumble of miscellaneous numbers and letters, indecipherable and meaningless. 

Chewing the inside of his cheek anxiously, Aizawa pocketed his cell. He didn't give out his personal number to anyone else, not that he could recall (although eventually, he ought to exchange numbers with Shinsou at some point to manage his training, he noted).

Whatever. He'd look into it later, after his coffee kicks in.

With a tired grunt, the teacher pulled open the doors, heading towards the teacher’s office. While he was used to arriving early, be it to grade papers or review the day’s curriculum, he would never get used to waking up in the morning. Or waking up at all, for that matter.

As he continued absentmindedly strolling to the lounge, a tuft of dark green hair caught his eye. In the corner of his vision, Midoriya was seated just outside Recovery Girl’s office, with a look on his face that made Shouta’s skin crawl.

The pro hero turned on his heel and stopped a few feet away from him.

"Why are you here so early, problem child?" He started. “Did you break something? Again?”

The boy didn’t budge. He was biting his fingernails, muttering miscellaneous mumbo-jumbo under his breath, his face contorted with concentration and fear.

The sinking feeling grew heavier in his stomach.

“Midoriya.” He said sternly, finally snapping the student out of his stupor.

"Mr. Aizawa?”

“I was asking you what you were doing here.” 

Midoriya wrung his hands together, not looking his teacher in the eye.

“Uh- well, I- it's Shinsou, he’s… n-not looking very good, and I think..."

Midoriya trailed off, but Shouta stopped listening and was already bursting through the door.

His breath hitched in his throat.

Shinsou was splayed out on one of the infirmary beds, and he looked like death itself. His uniform was crumpled, covered in remnants of crushed flowers and grass stains. Dark red splotches were soaked through the blue fabric. His eyes looked clouded over, and every inch of skin that fell below his nose was doused in dried blood. He didn't appear to notice that Shouta even entered the room. 

Midnight was sitting beside him, dabbing a damp cloth across the dirt lining his bloodied forehead.

Destroyed lilacs were caught in his tangled mat of hair, blending in with the soft purple hues.

"Good, you're here.” Midnight said, and Aizawa was launched back into the present, his eyes finally dragging themselves away from his injured student. “I was going to call you earlier, but-"

"What happened." He cut her off.

"Apparently, from my understanding," Midnight said, glancing at the green-haired student who was curiously peeking his head inside the doorway. "Midoriya found him on the way to school this morning. He was unresponsive on the sidewalk for lord knows how long, and we can’t get a word out of him."

Shouta’s eyes scanned Shinsou's mangled state once more - littered head to toe with an unsightly array of bruises and wounds, crusted over with old blood and smeared grass. Hitoshi had the eyes of a corpse, unmoving and unemotive. If it weren’t for the slow occasional blink he gave, or the steady rise and fall of his chest, Aizawa would have assumed that to be the case.

The sight made him livid.

"And why hasn't he been healed yet? They’ll get infected, and he’ll be in even worse shape," Shouta spat as he lurched forward and began to meticulously clean out the injuries himself. He hadn't meant for that to sound so demanding, and he didn’t know that he’d he snatched the rag from Midnight’s hand until after the fact - but she appeared to have understood why, and god bless her, she didn’t question or refute it. She merely got up from her seat and moved out of the way.

"Recovery girl went to grab some more supplies, to take care of his injuries manually. She says it's too dangerous for her to use her quirk on him right now. For obvious reasons, poor boy hasn’t slept in days, maybe even weeks. I just wish he'd come to me sooner."

Aizawa glared at the gash along Shinsou’s forehead, cleaning it slowly and carefully, thoughtful of the amount of pain he had to be in right now.

Only, if he were in pain, he certainly didn’t show it. He didn’t show anything. Aizawa’s hand stilled on the cut, the rag gently prodding against the open skin. Nothing but a blink.

“Midoriya and I both tried to get him to talk,” Midnight said lowly, as if reading Eraserhead’s mind. “But he’s despondent.”

Shouta hummed in thought. He set the bloodied rag down on the bed, taking Shinsou’s face into the palms of his hands, and turning his head to look him in the eyes.

Shinsou blinked.

He was sure that both Midnight and Midoriya had already tried this, but he would be damned if he didn’t do everything in his power to make this kid alright. Typically, if someone were still conscious, they'd answer if their name was spoken repeatedly. So, that’s exactly what he’d planned to do, and it would take as long as necessary before they’d get a response.

"Hitoshi.” He spoke as slowly and calmly as he could to his pupil, fighting off the panic steadily building up in his chest.

“Come on, Hitoshi, I'm right here. Hitoshi. Can you hear me, Hitoshi?"

Shinsou blinked a few times, brows slowly furrowing in concentration, as if he were putting the words together in the back of his mind piece by piece, until the blank expression would return. Shouta pressed on, and each time the name fell from his lips, it was laced with more and more urgency.

He was about to let go and call it quits, before Shinsou’s eyes lit up in recognition, and shot up to look at Shouta pleadingly.

One of Hitoshi’s quivering hands clenched the fabric of Aizawa’s shirt and drew him into a shaky half-hearted embrace, while the other clawed at his dirtied throat, his mouth clumsily forming words that refused to come out.

(And suddenly, he was three years younger, clawing at the iron cage digging into his face, unable to even properly cry with it on, covered in hand-shaped bruises, holding onto Shouta as if the world was falling away around him-)

Aizawa released the breath he didn’t know he was holding, and prodded Hitoshi’s hands away from his now scratched-up throat.

“Hey kid, don’t-don’t do that, you’re alright. You’re gonna be fine.” He spoke reassuringly, unknowing if the student was capable of processing his words or not. 

“Recovery Girl will be back soon, and then Midnight can put you to sleep, alright? But you have to tell me what happened, Hitoshi, can you do that?”

Shinsou squinted and shook his head.

"It’s alright, you don't have to speak. We know you're sick, but can you write?"

Again, Shinshou shook his head, a little more aggressively this time. He gestured around the room and, as clear as he could, mouthed a few more words.

"… You’re not… sick?”

Shinsou nodded.

“Aizawa!”

Recovery Girl burst through the door, ignoring the startled yelp that left Midoriya’s lips as she pried her way past him.

"What's wrong with him?” Aizawa spoke. He moved to stand up, but Shinsou’s quaking hands shot back out again, and he couldn’t bring himself to pry them off. He settled back down into the bed.

“Not a thing." She spat incredulously, and tossed a collection of papers and photos into his lap. She paced around the room, fuming.

"No bumps or cysts along his throat! No breathing troubles. No other signs of infection or sickness! As for the insomnia, I’ve personally checked his file. We have high-dosage medication strong enough to rival your own, Shouta, and it has no effect! Several brain scans that don’t show any abnormalities or growths. Given how exhausted he is, for all intents and purposes, he should be asleep on his feet right now! How many days has he been awake now?”

They looked at Shinsou, who merely blinked slowly in response, like their words never met his ears.

“Seven or eight, assumably.” 

“Hmm, while that certainly looks the case, it shouldn’t be physically possible, Shouta.” She turned to the other pro hero. “Now, I didn’t want to do this, because it’s risky. But I believe this is the only way to prove my theory correct. Midnight?"

The scantily-clad hero reached for her sleeves.

"Step out of the room, please."

The duo begrudgingly complied, closing the door behind them and waiting impatiently for the results. 

The feeling of Shinsou’s tremoring fingers ghosted along Aizawa’s chest, catching his heart in a vicious grip of ice, and it ached. He had half a mind to hold his breath and tell Midnight he wasn’t leaving, but he wouldn’t be very useful to Shinsou if he was asleep. That, and he had questions that only Midoriya could answer.

Said student was wringing his hands, looking just as anxious at the others. 

"Where did you find him?" Shouta asked quietly.

"... J-just two blocks from here. He was lying on the sidewalk, so I carried him to Recovery Girl’s office. Uhh, I-I picked up his phone. I don't know if it helps, but it-it’s something…"

Aizawa nodded, taking the device from Midoriya’s hand. He pressed the button and swiped the screen. No password - which was odd, because he expected otherwise from Shinsou, but he would think about it later.

With the homescreen unlocked, it opened automatically to the most recent app he’d been using. It looked like his messenger app.

Aizawa recognized the messages instantly.

 

Sent To: Sensei (1:43 AM)

1,;:”’’’’’ mlkwp lep em

Sent To: Sensei (2:27 AM)

jhlrp me gpsters ytavvicping

To: Sensei

yley tllllk hrr yoey tooj dalring plresr

> Send Message? Y/N

 

The phone nearly fell from his hand.

Shinsou had been texting him. He’d been trying to reach him since two am this morning, and Shouta didn’t do anything but brush it off, because he didn't even consider the fact that Shinsou could have gotten his phone number elsewhere. While he was bathing his cats and telling Hizashi to stop blaring "Don't Stop Believing" in the middle of the night, Shinsou was literally crawling around in the streets, injured and bleeding and looking for help and-

"Is he gonna be okay?" Midoriya spoke. 

"... He'll be fine," Shouta said, to himself more than Midoriya. 

Just then, Midnight slammed open the door, earning another startled yip from Izuku. The remnants of her gaseous quirk were still dissipating behind her, and sweat was beading around her mask.

"Nothing. If anything, I think I made it worse."

Aizawa glanced at Shinsou from the doorway, who was slouching into himself, eyes still wide open.

Recover Girl shook her head.

"The-the only feasible explanation I can come up with is a-”

“A quirk.” Shouta and Midnight finished in unison. 

Midnight made her way to the door.

"I'm calling Nedzu. Aizawa, contact All Might if you can. Midoriya, stay with Shinsou."

"Uh, o-okay!"


“Aizawa, you're up early! How is Shinsou? Has he recovered?”

“No. It’s only gotten worse. Where are you right now?"

“The Cat Cafe with Detective Naomasa. Is something the matter?”

“Get to U.A. as soon as you can. And bring him along, too. Quirk usage has been confirmed."

"What!?"

"We’re taking this to Nedzu immediately.”

"..."

"Toshinori?"

"We'll be there in two minutes."


"But of course Hydra bid the highest for her!" Mezame laughed jovially, unlocking the front door and opening it for his wife.

"I still don't know what they would want with a girl like Darling." Nakidori said plainly. She shrugged off her coat and readjusted her hair in the mirror. "They're just another one of those Liberation groups, are they not? What need do they have for a quirk like that?"

"It doesn’t matter who they are, Naki. What's important is that they put their money where their mouth is! It's still nothing in comparison to the brainwasher."

The thought alone made Mezame smirk devilishly. Shinsou was hands-down the most profitable child he’d ever managed to sell in this line of business. Which wasn’t at all surprising, given the nature of his quirk, but it made his chest rumble with joy. And it was easy to lull the kid into a sense of comfort, despite the small hiccup towards the end of his stay. Most kids in the system were. Just pat them on the back a few times, tell them white lies about their optimistic futures, and just like that, they’re under your thumb. It was a lot like training dogs, and he was nothing if not a good trainer.

At the end of the day, Mezame was in it for the money, sure. But he wouldn’t have gotten invested in the business if he hadn’t already come to terms with his own darker desires. Because the money, in reality, was only a small part of it. He was paid in other ways, too. 

He could use his quirk whenever and however he pleased, and he could watch as the children in his care slowly fell into a sort of druggy madness. He could give them the world, and watch the shattered lok in their eyes as he took it all away from them again. He could show them what their quirks were capable of, why they shouldn’t expect the things that regular children were offered.

What was ironic about Shinsou’s case though, the man thought to himself, was the fact that the group who bid the highest for him, and the group that had been terrorizing U.A. high, were one and the same. They were well known now, and despite the childish nickname they granted themselves, Mezame had to admit that they were very professional. 

For once in his life, Mezame was glad that he hadn’t been the only one to set his eyes on Shinsou after the Sports Festival. It made his job much easier, seeing as he now had free advertising.

"That little brat's an up and coming villain whether he realizes it or not," their leader had said with an aggressive scratch to his splotchy neck. "We can show him that. We can help him if he’s on our side. Before he's tainted by those uppity hero wannabes. Before they make his quirk something it’s not. So name your price. I'll double it. Just get me that kid."

Mezame always prided himself on his timely deliveries. By this time tomorrow, Shinsou would be, more or less, a debut villain. And Mezame would be at home with more money than he really knew what to do with.

He threw Darling’s missing person poster away. He reached into his bag and pulled out another.

Vivid purple hair replaced the nest of snakes.

"Shinsouuu!" He called out brightly, knowing fully well that he wouldn't be getting a response. He stomped up the stairs, key in hand. Locking it was a simple precaution, but it was likely unnecessary. Mezame had done this song and dance long enough to know that Shinsou would still be crumpled on the floor, lost to the world around him.

Ironic, really, that all these kids he’d taken in wanted to be heroes, and yet they all give up so easily. They were certain they'd be strong enough to put their lives on the line for others, and one or two passive quirks was enough to subdue them? The reality check had to have been painful. 

"I'm afraid this living situation isn't working out.” He droned on haughtily. “But don't worry! We have a new home all lined up for you! And I'm sure you're already familiar with them, no?"

He unlocked the door, stepped inside, and froze.

The window was wide open. The flowers below it were in disarray.

Chapter Text

When Aizawa was a kid, he distinctly recalled how much he envied the attitude cats had about them.

An odd thing to marvel for a kid his age, who ought to be enraptured in their glossy fur or their friendly mewls. But Aizawa had always been a strange child. More reserved and analytical than most.

“We can learn a lot from them, Shouta,” his mother had told him matter-of-factly, giving him a young kitten for his seventh birthday. 

He didn't smile, but there was a happy glint in his eyes as the ball of fur clumsily leapt into his outstretched arms.

“See how they carry themselves?" She explained, with a voice soft like silk. 

"They act as though they rule the world from a distance, with nothing but the sheer confidence in their eyes. Pretentious creatures, sure, but even when they’re not in charge… well, it certainly seems like they are anyway, doesn’t it? Remember that, Shouta. Sometimes, when you're losing, acting like you have the upper hand is all it takes.” 

He distinctly recalled how, after applying that own kind of uncaring demeanor to his everyday life, he was able to process things better. He was in a state best suited for making logical decisions, something he would be grateful for in the years to come.

When his mother fell sick, the act allowed him to treat her efficiently.

On her deathbed, the act gave him enough willpower to properly say his goodbyes.

At her funeral, the act demanded that people keep their distance so he could grieve.

It took time, to act as though nothing got under your skin as it was killing you from the inside out.

“With all due respect, Mr. Oshiro, Shinsou’s condition isn’t natural.”

It had taken years for Aizawa to master the art of acting unbothered whilst on the verge of losing everything. It was only logical to appear collected in a scenario like this, when everything was on the line. 

He continued calmly, fighting the urge to glare at the man seated before him.

“Recovery Girl herself said she wouldn’t be surprised if Hitoshi’s being targeted by a villain’s quirk as we speak.”

Aizawa blatantly refused to say the words “your son”. He couldn’t even bring himself to look over at Shinsou’s haggard condition, lest the illusion of resolute detachment shatter immediately.

“All the more reason to take him home, where he’s safe and out of their line of vision!" The shifty man, who introduced himself as Oshiro Mezame, responded far too quickly. "This school seems to be a magnet for trouble as of late, and I knew this would happen if we allowed him to keep attending.” 

Aizawa felt suspicion creeping up his spine, and was grateful that he listened to his gut and allowed his peers to witness the altercation from the cameras.

The foster parent appeared moments after everyone gathered at U.A., asking if Shinsou had "up and left for school against his wishes".

Toshinori, Principal Nedzu, and Detective Naomasa were watching the meeting carefully after villainous activities were suggested. While Shouta handled the situation below, a full-blown investigation was underway directly above them. Aizawa specialized in stealth, and this needed to be handled carefully. Otherwise, Shinsou might finally fall asleep only to never wake up again.

If a villain were to willingly step on U.A. premises, they were either stupid, strong, or desperate. If this man was the reason, or was associated with whoever was responsible for Shinsou’s debilitation, he had to play his cards right. Hopefully, luck permitting, this man would fall under the stupid category.

At first glance, Shinsou’s guardian looked to be a standard father, donning business casual clothing and a concerned look on his plump face.

Shouta steeled his resolve and channeled his fear into upholding his act, and the man continued. 

“Once he recovers from this illness, I think it would be best if we were to pull him out of U.A. High.”

Aizawa noted the Mezame's obvious distress. Although it was predominantly aimed at the barely conscious boy seated in front of him, he caught how his eyes subtly shifted to the door. The haste in his eyes didn't go unnoticed by Shouta. He was desperate to take Hitoshi and go.

Oshiro rattled on.

“Clearly, he doesn’t prioritize himself over his desire to become a hero. I’ve allowed him to attend classes even long after these symptoms started, and that was bad judgment on my part. I’ve seen how hard you push your students here, and while I’m thankful you’re so passionate about training these soon-to-be heroes, I simply don’t think Shinsou is a good fit here. My wife and I have no issues with homeschooling!"

Then, Mezame firmly pointed a gloved finger at Shinsou, who stopped being responsive altogether ten minutes prior.

"And this boy's tenacity is something else," his scolding fell upon deaf ears, "Something I don't want to be bolstered by this academy's reckless tendencies. Why, I told him to stay home and rest, and-”

"-he climbed out the window, didn't he?" Aizawa finished for him bitterly.  "That explains the blotches on his uniform."

And the gash on his forehead. And the fractures, and the bruises and all that blood -

Aizawa wasn't born yesterday.

Shinsou wasn’t being obstinate or rebellious, or whatever this man was trying to make him out to be. A rebellious Shinsou, he knew, would combine dirt with their coffee grounds, and salt with their sugar. He acted subtly, taking a page from Denki's book and meticulously setting up ornate prank-like endeavors to express his disdain. He'd heard of the stuff this kid had sneakily done to previous fosters, and was grateful he was never on the receiving end. 

A rebellious Shinsou was a witty Shinsou, more so than the gifted boy already was - and he was not easily driven by desperate, reckless actions.

So he was trying to escape from them. By any means necessary.

"Yes well, my Shinsou has always been obstinate, but this has gone far enough."

An animalistic rage writhed inside Aizawa's chest.

My Shinsou.

It was possessive in all the wrong ways. Shinsou didn't belong to anyone, much less a stuffy, stuck up prick like Oshiro. The boy wasn't a shiny new toy or a rare artifact, so why did it feel like that's all this man felt about him?

“This isn’t adding up, Shouta. He's dancing around the issue. He hasn’t looked Shinsou in the eye once, and won’t take off his gloves, either. We’re searching the system for his quirk as we speak.” Detective Naomasa’s calm voice emitted from Aizawa’s concealed earpiece, along with a few grunts of approval from the two men beside the microphone. 

“Ask him if this has happened before.”  All Might's deep resounding voice all but demanded.

“Remember to keep things pleasant, Eraserhead!” Nedzu’s jovial voice rang, reminding him that this was, in essence, an undercover investigation with a child’s life at stake.

Shouta sighed.

“Well, if that’s your decision, I can’t stop you.” Aizawa muttered with a shrug.

“Thank you for respecting my decision, Professor. Now if you excuse me, my son needs to come home. His mother made him some-”

Aizawa did not miss the flicker of fear in Shinsou’s glazed eyes, and moved to step between them.

“However,” He calmly droned with practiced ease, “As I’m sure you’re already aware, there’s a protocol that must be followed in cases like this. Before we can sign him out of the nursery wing, we need to pinpoint the cause so that Recovery Girl can take care of him properly. He may not be able to leave for a few days, until his condition is stable.”

Oshiro briefly paused, before his face warped into a disbelieving snarl.

“What!? What do you mean, until you find what’s wrong with him!? Wha- look at him!” Mezame exaggeratedly gestured to Shinsou, who was sprawled out every which way on the plush infirmary chair. His unfocused eyes were squinting around the room, and he was absentmindedly fiddling with the now useless voice-alteration device around his neck (Aizawa requested Hatsume to bring the spare in to see if it might help him talk easier through it - no such luck, go figure). 

Drool ebbed slightly from the corner of his ghostly pale lips. He didn’t appear to notice.

“He’s overworking himself, he’s clearly exhausted! All the pressure that your school is constantly piling on him is just worsening his insomnia, that much is evident!” Oshiro argued loudly.

“Well that doesn’t explain the voice loss,” Aizawa stated bluntly over the man’s raising voice. “His throat is fine and there are no underlying signs of sickness. Do you know what may be causing it?”

Upon hearing this, Mezame seemed to calm down a bit. He readjusted himself and shook his head.

“Not a clue, I’m afraid.” The man said with a heavy huff. 

Detective Naomasa’s voice spoke softly in Shouta's ear, just above a whisper.

“He’s lying.”

Aizawa’s fist clenched in his jacket pocket.

“From what he’s told me, it’s never gotten this bad before, but I simply don’t know." Mezame lied through his teeth. "We’ve tried therapy, sleeping medications, herbal remedies. Nothing seems to work. Look, I know Shinsou. I know what he needs, and I know how to best take care of him. And in light of recent events, I have reason to believe that this academy is-”

Tsukauchi’s voice in the earpiece drowned out the rest of the man’s inane argument.

“So far, he’s lied about the voice loss, the cause of insomnia, and about er, ‘knowing’ Shinsou. He’s also lied about taking Shinsou back to their house. They'd be going somewhere else.”

Aizawa’s blood boiled beneath his skin.

“So he knows how it happened or who did this,” All Might’s voice growled roughly, “And he didn’t question the possibility of Shinsou’s condition being caused by a quirk. He’s getting anxious now, see his posture?”

Aizawa clenched his jaw, grinding his teeth together.

“He’s quirk appears to be unregistered, but he’s a match in the report, nonetheless! Oh goody, the big ones just all seem to waltz right through our doors, isn’t that right, Toshinori?” The smile in Nedzu’s voice fell, leaving nothing a hollow, eerie impersonation of positivity.  

And although the team above finally found something to bring him in for, although those words confirmed this mans imminent incarceration… Aizawa still couldn't help but to feel enraged anyway. He was anticipating villainous activities, and braced for it accordingly, knowing it would result in an arrest. Shouta cared about all of his students, and would be upset regardless of who was slumped in that chair, dead to the world.

But having it be Shinsou made it so much worse.

He'd already been through enough as it is. Shinsou was being forced through this ordeal, tortured and thrown through the wringer for nearly an entire week, and for what? What was this man's goal? Who would knowingly put a kid through this? And why, why didn't Aizawa catch on earlier?

“I’m sending the squad to the infirmary office as we speak, Shouta! Keep him on the line and we’ll reel him in.”

“-don’t underestimate the effectiveness of a well-earned vacation, big guy!”

Eraserhead, still caught up in his rapidly spiraling thoughts, watched as Mezame moved to scoop Shinsou up in his arms. 

The crazy-haired teen didn’t seem to notice until a gloved hand brushed his arm and, albeit a very delayed reaction, desperately clambered out of the chair. His legs have long since given up supporting him, but before he could clumsily crumble to the floor for the fifth time that morning, Aizawa sprang forward and caught him. 

Shinsou swayed in place, a pained expression on his face, breathing heavily after the overexertion.

The kid didn't have much time.

That detail didn’t go unnoticed by All Might.

“Nedzu?”

“Yes, I see. It looks like we have enough here. You can head down now. Aizawa, go ahead."

Shouta didn’t need to be told twice.

His hair flared up wildly and he shot a murderous red-eyed glare towards the man. His scarf ensnared him in an instant, keeping him firmly in place.

Mezame had the gall to look taken aback, almost offended, if not a little frightened. He still maintained the posture of an innocent father, surprised and concerned for his son’s well-being. If this wasn’t what the pro-hero did for a living, he would assume that to be the case. He would think he’d made a terrible mistake by restraining him and erasing his mystery quirk, which was still unknown to Shouta.

Then Shinsou buckled with a grunt and went out in Shouta's arms like a light. 

The unspoken confirmation nearly drove him over the edge.

“Oshiro Mezame,” He spat with a livid growl, “You’re under arrest.”

And that's when Oshiro finally seemed to put two and two together. He saw the earpiece hidden beneath Aizawa's hair. He heard the loud, angry stomps rapidly approaching the door, and his eyes grew to the size of saucers.

It would have been easier on everyone had he just cooperated, had he accepted defeat right there. But, like many other villains, he resorted to fighting, acting out of sheer desperation.

After realizing the situation he was in, the man's demeanor changed instantly. Like the flip of a switch, he unsheathed a strange dagger, and sliced through the restraints like butter.

It momentarily caught Aizawa off guard, how easily that this prick was able to walk into the school armed without it being caught by the bot scans. Brief images of a black portal appearing in front of his students flashed before his bloodshot eyes, and he grimaced. 

This was the last. No one else would ever have the chance to hurt his kids ever again.

"Look, I just want my kid." Mezame stated shakily, as an ethereal liquid oozed from the blade of the dagger. Acid, Shouta's mind supplied, before his lips were moving on their own.

"If you think he was ever yours to begin with, you're stupider than you look."

Without warning, the man charged with a holler. Aizawa used the remnants of his destroyed capture weapon to weave out of the dagger's reach, putting as much space between them as possible.

Honestly, this wouldn't last for too much longer. The instant All Might entered would be the instant the man was apprehended, like clockwork. The man would realize that putting up any sort of struggle was futile. If that was the case, then why was Shouta still so… on edge? 

By this point, Aizawa's protectiveness was shooting off the charts. As carefully as he could in his haste, he readjusted Shinsou's unconscious body so that he was resting on his mentors back, maneuvering what remained of his capture weapon to secure him safely in place. There was no way in hell was he going to risk putting him down, not until All Might- no, not until this man was put behind bars. Only then would he consider letting Hitoshi go.

(Even then, it was a longshot.)

All Might violently burst through the door, sending piece of metal crashing haphazardly into the office with far more force than necessary. Shouta would ream him for his recklessness, but he couldn't blame him. The look on his face was enough to give the eraser hero nightmares. He was grateful that his colleagues were just as enraged as he was.

"This ends here." The towering number one hero said with a steely voice as a small group of police officers filtered in behind him. No traditional introduction, no over the top monologue that the nonexistent media would eat out of his hands. He said three words, with such finality Aizawa was grateful he was involved.

Oshiro staggered backward, and let a devilish smile creep onto his jittery features. 

"Hah!" He turned to face All Might head-on, back turned on Shinsou and Aizawa. "Do you think this changes anything? Wow, what a phenomenal feat, you've saved one child! Out of the hundreds you've single-handedly managed to leave behind!" He mocked, tearing the gloves off his hands. 

All Might clenched his fists at his sides. If only looks could kill.

"This ends here? What a load of bull. Business is booming, no, this is far from the end. For that brainwashing kid, maybe. What do you think waits for him here? Nothing. That brat's never going to become a hero-"

“Mezame!” A feminine voice called out behind him, and Aizawa faltered. All Might glanced around suspiciously, and relief flooded Mezame's widened eyes.

Shouta recognized that voice. When did the foster mother get onto the promises? Was Oshiro distracting them so she could sneak into the room? And was she involved as well? Where was she!? What was her quirk? How-

“Naki! Grab the boy, he-” The man started without turning around, still glaring into All Might and the officers with a gaze sharper than the useless dagger in his clutches.

Then, he stopped moving altogether. 

Mezame's arms limply dropped to his sides, the dagger slipping from his hands and onto the floor with a deafening clank. Staggering, he turned around to face Shouta, his eyes void of any emotion.

It took a moment for Aizawa to realize that the feminine voice emitted from directly beside his ear.

A small, shaky hand shifted behind Shouta’s scraggly hair. Shinsou weakly slipped the device off from around his mouth.

“T-tell them... what y-you... did.” Shinsou rasped with his eyes closed, brows furrowed in concentration and sweat dripping down his temples.

And that was all it took.

The dead-eyed man robotically obeyed, and told them everything. 

Shinsou went limp once on Shouta’s back once more as the empty words fell into the open air for all of the stunned officers and heroes to hear.

For the first time in years, Aizawa dropped the act. 

His fist moved on its own volition.

No one, not even All Might, moved to stop it.


Despite that morning's horrific events, Midoriya went to the mall anyway, hoping it would help get his mind off of Shinsou's lifeless gaze. With the teachers on the case, he was sure the gen-ed student would be fine. 

But the anxiety that loomed over him since that morning never loosened its grip, and it wrapped around his throat like an empty threat. 

Behind him, a dark silhouette stalked his shadow. Its hands twitched eagerly in anticipation.

Chapter Text

Aizawa tore his tired eyes away from the files sprawled across the hospital table. He read through them dozens of times already, the guilt and shame only increasing when he glanced over to Shinsou’s withered form in the hospital bed. 

Although Shinsou’s foster parents had already been apprehended, he couldn't quite quell the anger that was still running rampant through his veins.

Instead of glowering at his paperwork, he glared at the clock ticking noisily overhead. It didn't serve to be a satisfactory distraction. 

The Oshiro’s updated Quirk Registration Forms mocked him from their position on the hospital table. 

 

Oshiro Mezame

Quirk: Restlessness

Through physical contact, it allows its user to force one or more persons to stay awake, regardless of corrective outliers. It will remain active until the user makes physical contact once more, or until the target eventually dies from exhaustion

Oshiro Nakidori

Quirk: Hush

Upon hearing someone’s voice, this quirk allows its user to temporarily disable that person’s vocal chords. The more someone speaks to the user, the longer their voice can be disabled. May result in permanent disability when used on its own; when simultaneously used with another quirk, effects are substantially lessened, but still present.

 

The former worked with the American police for a while under the not so subtle monicker “Wide-Eyed”. Mezame's quirk was primarily used as an interrogation technique, until he was fired for unethical quirk usage - ironic, given the States legally acceptable levels of torture, but it went to show how cruel of a man he truly  was. Afterwards he was taken in for (and subsequentely released from) questioning, after there was evidence of human trafficking near his lakehouse. All claims regarding the trafficking were fervently and adamantly denied, according to the report.

"I'm heartbroken to hear that this is happening so close to my home," he'd said in the interview that Aizawa scrounged up earlier that evening. "I will assist personally in the investigation as much as physically possible. These monsters will be stopped."

Ironic, coming from the one behind it all.

Which, thanks to none other than Shinsou, they now had an official confession for. After nearly being caught in the Americas, he and his wife fled back to Japan and continued their business there.

The Oshiro’s harbored a broad human trafficking system that took up nearly half the precinct. It would explain how they sustained their living situation while Mezame was retired and Nakidori sang for minimum wage at seedy nightclubs and bars. He admitted to selling children with valuable or fearful quirks to whoever bid the highest, most notably underground fighting rings and villain groups. The couple started with homeless or runaway children, using their quirks to subdue them before being sold. 

When they’d grown more confident in their endeavors, they upped the ante - kids who were alienated at school, abused by their parents, tossed into the system without a second thought. They would wait until there was a connection, effectively manipulating the children into thinking that they were their own; their doors were always open for them. They’d subtly use their quirks on them, before using it as an excuse to pull them out of their everyday lives. Waiting until their absence wasn't questioned. Taking them from their schools, their friends, their families, under the guise of “giving them a safe space to recover from their illness”. 

Then they’d be whisked away to the warehouse, which was found and shut down mere minutes after the forced confession took place.

After locating Nakidori and assisting in her arrest, Shouta went to assist at the warehouse personally. There were six children present, all catatonic and locked in cages. It took some time and much-deserved "interrogation" to find the recent children who've been sold. Luckily, their most recent transaction wasn't sent out yet, though she'd " already been paid in full " (hearing the grunts speak about children as if they were cattle made Aizawa nauseous).

Shouta immediately recognized the snake-haired girl, having been told about her quirk by Shinsou.

When Darling could finally speak, the first words out of her mouth were, "Please tell me Shinsou's okay."

In his time working as a pro, Aizawa had helped dismantle these kinds of things. It was the work that underground heroes tended to prioritize, while those with flashier quirks helped citizens in the spotlight. 

Aizawa rested his head against the wall and pinched the bridge of his nose with a heavy sigh.

Just because he’d had the training, and been through this song and dance before, did not mean that it no longer shook him up every time he saw it. Especially in this instance.

Because, to top this atrocity off, the Oshiro’s had taken Shinsou in to fortify their perfect public image, before ultimately disposing of him with the rest. A couple of good-hearted Samaritans, looking out for their community. A couple who were fully prepared to shed crocodile tears for the pre-emptive disappearance of their new foster son.

Had Midoriya not accidentally stumbled across Shinsou on his way to school, they probably never would have seen him again.

The thought alone made Shouta's stomach lurch.

All the red flags, all the signs, and still you insisted everything was okay, he internally berated himself. 

The slight shuffle of blankets snapped him out of his self-deprecating stupor, and Shouta straightened up to see that Shinsou was finally waking up.

After the events that transpired three days ago, Shinsou was immediately hospitalized. He'd been asleep, off and on, for hours now. Sometimes he woke up, looked frantically around the room, and passed back out again without a word.

This time though, he stayed awake, blinking the grogginess from his eyes and sitting up to fully take in his surroundings.

“Welcome back to the world of the living,” Aizawa tried to grumble as lightheartedly as he could.

Shinsou didn’t respond. He stared up at the teacher standing across the room with a blank expression, blinking groggily all the while. 

Shouta wouldn’t have been surprised if the kid was still too sleep deprived to realize that he was awake. If Shinsou hadn’t been the one to draw the confession, he would be afraid that Nakidori’s quirk was permanent.

After gazing up at him for a few more moments, the boy turned his head away.

"Present Mic gave it to me." Shinsou said quietly, nearly a whisper. 

"What?"

"Your phone number. I… I asked for it, just in case things went…"

Shinsou went silent. 

Aizawa didn't say anything either, not wanting to force Shinsou to talk about the ordeal until he was ready.

“They didn’t tell me.” The student grumbled after a long while, his voice hoarse.

“Hmm?”

“They didn’t…” Shinsou closed his eyes with a shaky sigh.  “They didn’t tell me what their quirks were. Said they were like me, didn’t wanna… scare me off. I didn’t know until it was too late.” He said in a tone wrought with shame.

His voice cracked toward the end of his sentence. Shouta didn’t have to readjust the scraggly hair in his eyes to tell that Hitoshi was trying to keep himself from crying, and was failing to do so.

The homeroom teacher made an affirmative hum in the back of his throat. He wouldn’t pester him for his tears, they were well-deserved after the ordeal that this kid had just been through.

(An ordeal, he thought to himself, that he should have been able to prevent.)

After another moment of uneasy silence, Aizawa cleared his throat and spoke softly, opting to dispel the silence with words of comfort and encouragement.

“Of course you didn’t know, Shinsou." He said softly. "How could you have possibly-”

Well I should have!

Shinsou interrupted angrily, his booming voice reverberating off the walls. Aizawa shot his head up.

Hitoshi was running quivering hands through his hair, shaking his head disbelievingly, his face contorted with anger directed towards only himself.

“I should have known! Fuck, there were red flags everywhere!" He spat. "Why-why Mezame was so-so intent on hugging me, and why Naki would ask me how my day went, and I knew it wasn’t genuine, because it never is!"

Then Shinsou through his head back and laughed. 

"It never is and it never will be! And I was stupid for letting my guard down!”

The tears weren’t held back any longer, freely cascading form his bloodshot eyes, small sobs racking his chest, a spiteful smile tugging at his quivering lips. Aizawa’s heart clenched at the sight.

The pro hero had a reputation for making unruly students cry, for inadvertently crushing dreams they could never hope to reach, so he wasn’t all that unfamiliar with tears. Usually, he would know what to say, or how to react appropriately. Hell, in his line of work, he was bound to stumble upon stranded and traumatized children, and was professionally trained to handle that sort of thing. 

But this was different. 

Shinsou was grieving.

Grieving the one foster family that finally granted him a semblance of normality. The one that finally treated him well, as he deserved to be treated. The one that he thought would last. 

The one that turned out to be a couple of low-life child traffickers only looking to sell powerful quirks.

Aizawa could feel his heart crumbling in his chest. 

“I never should have fell for that,” Shinsou seethed venomously, wiping his eyes aggressively. 

“I-I-I’m trying to become a-a hero, and-and I can’t- I stayed with them for two m-months and I couldn’t even put the pieces together and it's pathetic!”

“Shinsou-” Aizawa started, only to be cut off.

“How could I have b-been so stupid?”

“Hey.”

“I should’ve just- agh! What's wrong with me!? I could have just-”

“Enough!”

The abrupt exclamation caused the teen to jerk back, his eyes wide with fear, and Aizawa could have slapped himself for startling him. But he couldn't stand to hear the kid berate himself anymore.

He let out the breath he'd been holding and tugged a chair directly beside Shinsou’s hospital bed, sitting and leaning down into the boy’s tear-stained face.

“Hitoshi, look at me." He spoke firmly. "You didn’t fall for anything. You put your trust into people who were supposed to protect you, and they betrayed that trust. You were almost taken by them. You’re the victim here.”

Shinsou blinked, his owlish eyes full of self-doubt and confusion.

“But I-”

“You will not blame yourself for something that was out of your control. Do you understand me?”

“... I shouldn’t ha-”

“And we wouldn’t have been able to stop Mezame's plan at all, had you not intervened.” The eraser hero noted, effectively silencing the lilac-haired boy, who now simply gazed up at him in disbelief. 

“Despite all that you’ve been through, despite… being under the influence of two separate quirks, you were still able to catch him off guard, and get him to respond to you. Just like you did at the Sports Festival with Midoriya. You did that, you alone. Despite the state you were in, you were able to detain him, and get him to confess. You saved lives today, Shinsou. The lives of the officers and heroes in that room, and the lives of those who were taken. Don’t forget that. Don’t you dare forget that.”

The words were met with agonizing silence. They were true, and that's what threw Hithoshi off, he knew.

They sat like that for some time, in a bizarre staredown with no real outcome, in the deafening silence that was becoming all too common in the white walls of the hospital room. Shinsou didn't move a muscle, his vacant stare shooting straight through Aizawa's unrelenting gaze.

The next time Shinsou spoke, words choppy and hesitant and full of insecurity, he didn't look away once. 

“... I just… for a moment, I-I thought it…"

And Aizawa's expression softened then, because he knew what was coming. He knew what the words would be before they fell out into the open air.

"I wanted it to be real .”

And that was all it took.

“C’mere, kid.”

Hitoshi scrambled up from the bed and threw himself into Shouta's open arms.

The walls that barely barred his emotions came crumbling down around him, and Aizawa promised that he'd be there to pick up the pieces. Shinsou clutched him like a lifeline, like he did years ago, and the hero promised that he'd be just that; the lifeline, the savior, the fallback, the sunshine, the lilacs below the window to catch him when he fell. In that single moment, he'd made up his mind.

Hitoshi wouldn't have to worry about anything else being "real", not ever again. 

Shinsou cried in his arms until he fell back asleep. Aizawa never let him go.

He was going to make this right.


"Is your throat okay?"

"Yeah, I'm fine."

"Good, good. Did Shigaraki say anything else to you in the mall, Midoriya?"

"I-I really don't know what he was talking about half the time… the hypocrisy of heroes, the necessity of villains, but he, er… 

He asked me about Shinsou."

Chapter Text

The disheartening thing about hospitals, Aizawa thought to himself as he clutched Hitoshi's unconscious hand in his own, was that time never failed to move slower there. 

This was a discovery he made long before entering the hero realm. By that time, he'd already become intimately familiar with the expanse of white walls, the migraine-inducing beeping machines, the hushed voices of busy nurses rushing by, and the overpowering scent of bleach. But no matter how long he had to grow accustomed to it, the stagnant atmosphere still shook him to his core. 

It was foreboding, almost threatening. Aizawa knew what this place was, and it certainly wasn't a place of healing or refuge. 

It was a tomb disguised as a shrine. These walls were glorified sterile cages where people either came to be introduced to the world, or where they came to leave it indefinitely. They held heartfelt promises that were rarely fulfilled, and horrifying secrets that were rarely kept.

He would know. He'd been on the receiving end of both. It was always the hallmark of a life-altering event, where fear, hope, and death all coalesced into one morbid cycle. Grief and good graces shuffled around one another here, in a dance that made Shouta's head spin, countering the hopsitals slow-motion state.

Where miracles haphazardly bounced from person to person, leaving awe and devastation in its wake. Where one room could easily witness two vastly different events: the long awaited birth of a healthy son, or a man's heart finally giving out after a long and losing battle. 

Where, two doors down from his own terminally ill mother, a popular hero was recovering from a horrific injury, procured in a fight he refused to publicly disclose. Aizawa remembered that time moved slowly that day too, as all the nurses and doctors and surgeons rushed in and out of the number one heroes hospital room, in a race against a frozen clock. 

All the while, his mother fell away.

All encounters here wrapped up the same, though, as far as he could see. Regardless of the circumstances, those hands in the bed were held tight to the bitter end, when it finally arrived with bated breath. Kind of like right now, with Shinsou's in his.

It was almost as if all of Japan's hospitals were under the influence of some slow-motion quirk, and a pin drop would be enough to make the tile floor beneath them crumble into nothingness. Highly unlikely, but possible.

Every time Aizawa looked at the slumbering form huddled in the bed, he had to blink away the visions of a sickly woman with the reaper perched eagerly by her side.

Every time Aizawa heard the boys soft breaths, he had to shake his head to dispel the haunting sound of the same tell-tale death rattle that kept him up at night years ago.

Despite being informed that Hitoshi was perfectly stable, minutes seemed to trickle on by simply to spite him. The doctors and nurses told the distraught teacher to just give Shinsou some time , but that was asking a lot in a place where that much was considerably altered. Outside, the birds overstayed their welcome with an annoyingly cheery song, and the sun slid painstakingly slowly behind the mountains.

Seconds moved like minutes, minutes moved like hours. Most of which Aizawa spent beside his pupil, comfortingly stroking his crazy purple hair when he tossed and turned in the scratchy hospital sheets. At least the pro could gain solace knowing that Shinsou was no longer in harms way. Knowing that he wouldn't be sitting beside a corpse by the break of dawn. The teen caught up on some much-needed sleep, and had his vitals checked almost religiously during his impromptu stay. The nightmares were to be expected after the events of this week, but he needed the rest. Nearly the whole hospital stay, the boy slept.

Aizawa didn't sleep a wink. 

So to distract his thoughts from his mothers lifeless face, and to silence ghosts of passing nurses voices detailing the removal of a heroes eviscerated intestines, Shouta made some phone calls.

He called All Might and Present Mic, informing them both of Shinsou's steadily improving condition. Then he bluntly demanded that they cover his classes until Shinsou was released, because Shouta wouldn't be leaving without him, and that was that. 

He called Principal Nedzu and, after a brief update, urged him to transfer Shinsou to the hero course for the umpteenth time. Maybe Aizawa was just being a bit too optimistic, but it seemed like the principal was seriously considering it for a change. He mentioned having Shinsou take part in one of Class 1-A's training sessions, and the eraser hero hoped Nedzu wasn't just saying it to appease him, or the creature wouldn't hear the end of it. If he was as smart as he claimed, he should know better than to try that on him already. 

Shouta called Detective Naomasa and told him that his student's statement was not to be collected until well after he'd recovered, and when Hitoshi felt comfortable with sharing. The kid had just been targeted by the foster parents with which he'd had the most stable relationship - Shouta would be damned if anyone tried to pry him out of his comfort zone so soon after that fiasco. 

Upon hearing the firmness in the pros tone, the detective begrudgingly complied.

Then, after collecting the number from Hitoshi's cracked phone, he called Hajimari. 

And they talked.

Aizawa didn't leave the hospital once. Not for food, not for clean clothes, not for some desperately needed shuteye. He was sure he smelled like a rancid garbage fire and looked like a homeless crackhead at this point, but that wasn't too different from his usual look, so he didn't really care. Even with his husband's incessant badgering, he couldn't bring himself to leave, and he adamantly turned down every offer of visitations or breaks. He needed to be present when Hitoshi woke up, needed to be there for him. 

He did, however, accept two very brief visits. The first being Yamada's offer to drop of the child's backpack. It would be good for the kid to have something familiar to him (and it was good for Aizawa to have Hizashis comfort, if only for a moment).

The second being Hajimari, who made time in his schedule to personally see Shinsou, as well as to uphold the promise he made on the phone. After he'd held Shinsous unconscious hand for a long while (a quiet ritual that was obviously done before), he left a stack of papers on the desk, and left.

"I dont want him to see me, or know that I was here." He told Aizawa with a heartbroken expression. "Don't get me wrong, I care about him. I really do. But when I'm here, he'll think I'm moving him. So if you're gonna go through with this, there's no point in having him believe otherwise."

Aizawa could understand that much.

Shinsou was released from the hospital three days later. It felt like three weeks. 

When Shinsou woke up on the third day, with fully rested eyes and a healthier complexion, he was greeted by his haggard-looking teacher, his beaten up school bag, and a plethora of doctors. 

And Hitoshi greeted each of them by name, like he knew them personally, long before this stay. Some of the more sociable nurses even jokingly applauded him for staying away from the hospital much longer than usual. 

It wasn't surprising information, all things considered, but that fact still made Aizawa's stomach churn with worry. Suddenly, Hajimari's practiced ritual made far more sense.

Shinsou was probably just as familiar with hospitals as he was.

The quirk analysis didn't take long. The doctor showed no hesitation in asking Shinsou to brainwash him. He was ordered to command the doctor to complete a few simple tasks, and to tell him if he felt anything strange while using his quirk.

Turns out, Shinsou didn't have to say anything in the end. The instant the doctor was under his control, a steady stream of blood began to trickle down Hitoshi's nose. He clutched his head in pain, immediately severing the connection.

The doctor then said that the brainwashing quirk may have been affected by both Mezame and Nakidori - which, honestly, should have been the first thing he said.

"Now according to their files, there's no specific backlash that we know of, residual effects or otherwise." He'd said, briefly adjusting his glasses as he spoke, completely unfazed by being brainwashed a few moments prior.

"However," He continued, "Sleep deprivation in general is known to have some harmful effects on both the mind and body. Since your quirk is a mentally activated one, you may find it more difficult to control at times, perhaps even painful. But don't panic - this is natural, and you'll regain your bearings over time."

Shinsou didn't look too thrilled at this news, and Aizawa couldn't blame him. But that was fine; he'd work with him personally to build it up to its previous glory once more.

With a placating hand at the boys shoulder, Aizawa was finally able to lead them out the doors.

The pro swore it would be the last time Hitoshi would ever see this place again. He would make sure of it. 


The funny thing about this hospital in particular, Shinsou thought to himself, was that it was so familiar to him that it could rightfully be called home. It was also funny that all the homes he's stayed in before were in this specific hospitals vicinity. It certainly made things much easier in the long run. 

Every time he wound up here, he knew instinctively that he'd be moving around once again. Then he'd be hurt elsewhere, and the cycle would start over. 

Maybe that wasn't funny at all. But Shinsou's been told he had a dark sense of humor. And as the teen walked out of the imposing buildings towering doors with his mentor protectively at his side, he couldn't help but ponder the irony. 

He was supposedly born in this hospital, and at many points in his life, he was sure he would die in this hospital, too. 

Hitoshi wound up staying here far more than other children his age for a multitude of reasons. As a small child, he had a terrible immune system, making him prone to sickness regularly. It was always an expensive, stressful ordeal for all parties involved. Shinsou always pulled through, though. 

Those random bouts of illness were the only instances he could recall in which he wasn't put hospitalized because of someone else.

When Shinsou stayed with one family at seven years old, they made their foster kids physically fight over their meals. Maybe they thought it made for good entertainment, or maybe they were taking it upon themselves to punish the weakest links. Either way, the loser went hungry. 

Shinsou was never a great fighter. So, naturally, he always went hungry. 

When he collapsed in his classroom, he was hospitalized for severe malnutrition and dehydration.

When he woke up, he left with Hajimari and went to a new home. 

The next time it happened, the foster father of the household was a violent drunkard. One slip up was all it would take to earn you a broken nose, or worse. By this point, Shinsou was fully aware that he was targeted solely because of his quirk. But being the bullheaded child he was at the time, before his resolve withered away, he would speak out of turn to spite the bastard.

The result was pretty self explanatory. 

The hospital stay was much longer then, but it was marked on his record as "obstinate behavior" and "misuse of his quirk" (a blatant lie told by his foster father; he rarely used his quirk in these homes).

He left with Hajimari that day, too, with a new set of scars to show for it. Sent to another home where something awful would put him in critical condition, wake up in the hospital wishing he was dead, rinse and repeat.

And the cycle continued. And it would, until he finally turned eighteen. 

Many grotesque and inhumane incidents resulted in his numerous and inevitable hospitalizations (he was surprised he didn't have a room reservation yet). Incidents that were heavily altered, or never exposed in his file. Some he never told anyone, and he swore that he would take them to his grave.

At one home, he'd been forced to eat dog food for a week, and then forced to eat his own vomit if he got sick. They muzzled him when he cried over his mess, and made him sleep outside chained to the fence like "the animal he was".

When he woke up in the white room, he left with Hajimari and an unfortunate aversion towards dogs.

At another home, he'd been shoved into a small footlocker for breathing too loudly. He'd been trapped for nearly four days, with no air, no light, no food; curled up in his own mess of sweat and piss and puke.

Regained consciousness in the same uncomfortable bed. Nearly got permanent brain damage and needed to be on oxygen for a week.

He left with Hajimari. 

And, like clockwork, the cycle continued. Bruises, blisters, and broken bones were some of his best friends growing up. At least, until the hospital took those away from him, too, so he could start all over.

You really couldn't blame him for his distrust in the system at this point. Nearly becoming a victim of human trafficking was one of his tamer experiences in foster care, even if it did shatter his trust in most adults completely. The concept of Shinsou having a genuine family was already laughable, but that fiasco really drove it home. 

Not that it mattered. He wouldn't be needing one when he became a hero. In fact, it probably would have held him back, so the Oshiro’s were a blessing in disguise, really.

And truthfully, after enduring years of various abuse and borderline torture, Shinsou thought, hey, he was pretty damn well adjusted. A handful of mandatory therapy sessions and a couple of cheap prescriptions dulled the events enough for him to detach from them completely. To top it all off, he had firsthand experience with a whole different breed of villains. He knew now to brace himself, to wait for the other shoe to drop. He knew now to look further past someone's facade and keep them at arms length by any means possible.

He had a method for coping with the bouts of fear and restless nights, and it was called, " Don't think about it. "

Now, waltzing out the same old hospital doors after recovering from yet another foster care mishap, he was expecting the same. The cycle was a constant. It was one of the only things he knew for certain would be there for him.

But Hajimari was nowhere to be found. 

There was only his teacher beside him, holding up Hitoshi's scrappy backpack and telling him he would have to work hard to catch up for his missed days.

It through Shinsou for a loop. Briefly, he looked around the hospital parking lot searching for the caseworker, careful not to jostle his headache around too much.

"What?" Aizawa asked hoarsely, his dry eyes still looking forward as they walked. "You forget something?"

The brainwasher squinted up at his mentor, dumbfounded.

"Where's Hajimari?" He asked meekly. "When is he coming to pick me up?"

"He's not." Aizawa replied far too quickly for Shinsou's comfort, without even taking his eyes off the sidewalk in front of them.

"Oh."

"Mhm."

They walked in silence a little further. This hospital wasn't too far from the academy, and Aizawa wanted Shinsou to stretch his legs, so they opted against taking a taxi or calling one of the teachers. 

The silence wasn't quite peaceful, but it wasn't tense, either. 

The anxious knot in Shinsou's chest forced him to break it regardless.

"Where am I going to go?" The words fell out of his mouth in a nervous jumble before he could stop them. He would have scolded himself for how desperate he sounded, but right now, he was caught up in a rapidly building panic.

"School. Obviously."

"Okay… then what?"

Aizawa briefly paused at that, thinking of an answer that would no doubt overlook Shinsou's question entirely.

"We'll postpone our one-on-one training to give you a chance to catch up on coursework. We'll resume next week."

Yeah, there it was. An unsatisfactory answer to a question Shinsou would have to reword again. Classic Aizawa.

"That's not what I'm talking about and you know it." Shinsou spat impatiently.

Aizawa didn't snap back in return. He merely sighed.

"Kid. You just got out of the hospital." He said somberly. 

"Yeah, so?" Shinsou shrugged.

The teacher shot him a disheartened expression from over his shoulder, and Hitoshi forced himself to look away until it swiveled back around.

"Give yourself a break and just focus on your classes." Eraserhead said, loud enough for him to be heard, but not stern enough to come off as an order. "A familiar routine will do you some good. And I'm sure your friends are worried-"

"Where am I supposed to live?"

Shinsou didn't mean to interrupt his teacher. He also didn't mean for his voice to crack like that, or for his eyes to water so quickly, or for his hands to start shaking.

The cycle was a constant. It wasn't one he looked forward too, sure, but it was reliable, recognizable. The hospital may have been a pit stop, a brief faux reprieve, but Hajimari was always there. They would talk shit about his last home and make bets on how fast he'd have to be moved on to the next. That was the constant. 

And yet, Aizawa was a constant, too. Albeit one introduced much later, albeit one that seemed secondary in his day to day life.

But now they were conflicting, and Shinsou was left somewhere in between, scrambling for stability.

The brainwashing teen was sure that if it were anyone else disrupting this familiarity, he would have fallen apart at the seams by now.

Luckily, Aizawa caught on to that. 

"I took care of it." The scraggly hero said softly.

"But Hajimari-"

Aizawa stopped walking, nearly making Shinsou walk directly into his back, and he immediately shut up. He was sure that he finally pissed him off. 

But the teacher spun around, placing his hands on Shinsou's shoulders, and gave him a deadpan look.

"Hitoshi." He said firmly. An order, this time. "I took care of it. Don't think about it. Alright?"

And although his palms itched for his trash bag of clothes, although more questions were dancing on the tip of his tongue, he complied. He never had a reason to distrust the man that was the closest he'd ever had to a father, logical ruses aside.

So with a numb nod, he followed Aizawa towards the school, and did what he did best.

He didn't think about it.


They got to the school about twenty minutes later. Shinsou would be halfway through his mathematics class. The academy hallways should've been empty by now. Key word "should've".

A frantic blur donning a U.A. uniform came flying around the corner, and Shinsou really should have expected it.

"I missed you, idiot!" Were the first words out of Monoma's mouth. They were immediately followed by two arms wrapped tightly around his body. A demanding, all encompassing hug that just screamed Monoma.

"Sorry about that."

"Sorry? Don't apologize!" The blonde nearly shrieked. He grabbed Shinsou by the face and thoroughly inspected his eyes with a thoughtful expression. And wow, his face was really, really close.

"Uhh-"

"Looks like you finally caught some shuteye." Monoma said nonchalantly, continuing his meticulous inspection like nothing out of the ordinary was happening.

"Yeah, uh, I-I did." Shinsou stuttered back. "But do you really need to hold on to my face like that in order to-"

"Yes." 

"Hmm." Shinsou hummed in defeat.

After a couple of moments the blonde terror finally freed him. Hitoshi sighed, rubbing at the spots where Monoma's fingers pinched his cheeks. He was about to ask what possessed him to loiter around waiting for him, but Monoma was preoccupied. 

Said student was suspiciously eyeing the teacher duo behind them, and it prompted Hitoshi to turn around and take a look himself. 

Mr. Aizawa and Present Mic were standing farther away, just beside the entrance of the teachers lounge speaking animatedly under their breath. Aizawa was face palming, with Yamada looking far too pleased with himself.

For a moment, he allowed himself to think about if they were like that at home. Their relationship was no secret, just discreet enough for them to keep it away from prying eyes. He wondered if Yamada was a morning person, how many juxtapositions the teachers relationship actually entailed.

Then he stopped thinking about it, because he would probably never know. 

Instead, he thought about it logically. 

Shinsou was certain that Eraserhead was just updating the teachers about his recovery, or something inane like that. Maybe he was telling the English teacher to give Monoma detention for loafing around in the halls like an idiot.

Then he noticed that Aizawa was openly staring at him, and just like that, all his insistence on logic fell away. Shinsou couldn't help the infectious smile that crept onto his face.

At this point, Shinsou didn't care where he wound up. Because at the end of the day, hed be training with his teacher, and he'd become a hero yet.

Aizawa was the constant, and the cycle was history. 

"Hey uh, are you and Mr. Aizawa like, best buds now or somethin?" Monoma looked on in shock as, against all odds, the teacher genuinely smirked back.

"Heh. Yeah." Shinsou grinned ear to ear. "Yeah, something like that."


Upon arriving at the school, Shouta left Shinsou with the 1-B student who was definitely ditching his class waiting for them to show up. How many classes he's skipped so far, just to guard the halls like some self-appointed sentry, Shouta did not know. 

The blonde didn't pay him any mind, making a beeline for Shinsou and hugging him far more aggressively than necessary. 

If anyone asked, the teacher didn't see anything out of the ordinary when he arrived. The halls were definitely empty. 

Leaving the students, Aizawa walked on, spotting a beacon of yellow hair exiting the teachers lounge with a hideous leather jacket and an exaggerated pout.

Seizing his chance, he pulled Hizashi aside and threw him back into the doorway of the teachers lounge.

“Shouta!" He grinned mischievously. "Not here, you dog ! At least wait until the other teachers-”

“Shut up, you horny bastard. You said you wanted kids, right?” He yanked Hajimari's crumpled paper from his pocket and thrust a pen into his husbands hands.

“Uhh…" Yamada faltered. He didn't even glance down at the paper. "Y-yeah? But uh, you know how that works , right, Shouta? Unless you've got a hidden hole somewhere I didn't know about-”

“Zip it. We’re having one."

Hizashi froze, and Shouta swore he could see his husbands brain buffering, like too many tabs on a loading screen.

"... A hole?"

With a heavy sigh, Aizawa pinched the bridge of his nose.

"Look at the paper, Hizashi." He said, thoroughly disappointed in his husbands ability to put two and two together.

"I mean, babe, you know I double dip." Yamada continued like an absolute dunderhead. "But you're gonna go all out with that Fancy Feast, eh? Wanna pump out some kittens of your own, huh!? Mrowww-"

"We're adopting."

"Wait, what are-"

"The kid, you dipshit. We're adopting the kid!" He hissed.

At least the duo talked enough about Shinsou for Hizashi to realize which kid he was talking about. And then the dumbass finally decided to look at the paper. Aizawa watched as Yamada had to bite his lip to contain an ear-splitting shriek. 

“I mean, don’t get me wrong hun, I’m psyched . Been lookin’ forward to this day since we got lost in the store and wound up in the kids section that one time, but now I'm confused."

"I was never getting a sex change. You drew your own conclusions. Why your mind went to that first, I have no damn clue-"

"No! No I get that, but like... didn’t you say children were gross and rude and just basically awful all-around? And then when I suggested we adopt older kids, you said, Well I put up with those miscreants for a living, Zashi, so if there’s one thing I’m never gonna change my mind about it’s this?
“Yeah, well…”

He saw Shinsou look up at him from across the hallway, Monoma still glued to his side, and smiled.

All the fight left his body.

“That’s exactly what happened." He openly admitted. "I changed my mind.”


The bar smelled like blood.

No matter how many times Kurogiri cleaned it, no matter what products he used, it always managed to smell like blood. 

He had both Shigaraki and Toga to thank for that, what with the bloodstains permanently soaked into the floor and the unhinged school girl's uniform constantly soaked in gallons of the stuff.

Kurogiri busied himself by polishing a glass, trying to distract himself from the musty, coppery smell. He found it strange that he could still smell and taste, despite being simply a mass of darkness.

For some reason, seemingly out of nowhere, the smell of rain would waft from his body. Unprompted and unexplainable, but familiar in ways he couldn't describe. 

How he missed the calmness of the storm. Now, the League of Villains was always in the eye of it.

"Where is Mezame?"

Shigaraki's scratchy voice yanked him from his thoughts, and he took a deep breath, bracing himself for the oncoming tantrum.

"He and his wife have been apprehended by the authorities." He informed the leader. "Shinsou escaped before the transaction could-"

"Find him." 

Kurogiri sighed. 

"Dabi and I have already looked into the situation. Right now, we are not sure where Mezame is being held-"

"Not that sniveling little salesman, you idiot." Tomura interrupted him again, scratching at his neck with such fervor the raw skin split open under his blunt, bloodied fingernails. "The brainwasher. I want the brainwasher."

The mass of darkness walked around the bar to stand by his masters side.

"Tomura… I will do as you ask, but I implore you, do not take this lightly. We cannot expect him to understand the nature of his quirk simply by-"

"I know that! I'm not stupid."

Below them, a picture of a haughty looking blond child smirked up at him from the counter.

"He'll figure it out soon enough. Even if we have to pull the strings."

Kurogiri watched as Shigaraki's hands stilled, and his cold, calculated eyes pierced his own. A devilish grin engulfed his face.

"Find Toga." He ordered.

And Kurogiri left to do just that.