It should have been a normal patrol, really. It had been too, up until now, when Tsunagu is watching it all fall apart before his eyes, in the most mundane way possible.
They’d stopped when a little girl had squealed Hawks’s name, crossing the street to greet her and her mother. Tsunagu watches Hawks’s face light up as he speaks to the little girl, the cheerful persona he wears around seeming genuine for the first time since Tsunagu had met up with him earlier in the day. It’s nice to see. Hawks is too young, Tsunagu thinks, to look as weighed down as he does.
Tsunagu makes polite conversation with the girl’s mother while Hawks has a nonsensical conversation with the girl herself.
There is nothing to be concerned about, even as Tsunagu idly scans the streets around him while he speaks, and Hawks’s feathers twitch in time with the wind, keeping a careful watch in their own way.
So when Hawks reaches out to ruffle the girl’s hair, and her mother cries out to get him to stop, they’re both caught off guard, but not enough stop Hawks from making contact with the girl.
Several things happen at once.
Hawks’s feathers all dart out in different directions in search of the perceived threat, while Tsunagu readies some fibers for defense. A blue spark races from the girl’s pinky finger up to her face, leaping from her forehead to Hawks’s wrist, where his hand is still hovering close by her head. Her mother claps a hand over her own mouth, something akin to despair in her eyes.
Tsunagu perceives this all at once.
In the next instant, all of Hawks’s feathers drop from the sky like lead weights. Tsunagu’s heart drops with them.
When he turns back to Hawks, what he finds in his place is his signature coat in a heap on the ground, something wriggling underneath it.
“I’m so sorry!” the girl’s mother says, before Tsunagu’s even had a chance to attempt to process what’s just happened. “Oh my god, I’m so, so sorry, she didn’t mean to! She’s only just gotten her quirk and she doesn’t have it fully under control. Oh, I can’t believe this has happened, I’m so sorry! I promise this isn’t permanent! It’s so new to us we don’t know all of the specifics of it, but I swear to you this isn’t permanent, it’ll wear off within a week, I’m almost positive. I’m so sorry!”
Tsunagu is just about to ask what she’s talking about, exactly, when the feathers strewn around them suddenly take flight again, rushing towards the jacket on the ground in front of them.
When Tsunagu looks down to watch them convene on the crumpled garment, he is shocked to find a small child sticking his head out from underneath the collar. The boy looks very confused.
Tsunagu takes a second. He thinks.
He does not like what he thinks.
He curses in his head. Because there are children, plural, present.
And one of them is his coworker.
He really had been hoping for a normal day.
When Keigo finally worms his way out from underneath the mass of fabric on top of him, the first thing he notices is that his feathers are currently not attached to his body.
He does not like this.
He fixes it, quickly as he can.
Well, it’s probably not as fast as possible for him, but it’s better than he used to be capable of, which is pretty cool to him, even if his handlers don’t think so.
With his wings returned to their rightful place on his back, he takes stock of his situation.
He does not know where he is.
He does not know why he is there.
He does not know who he is with.
He is very cold.
This jacket, while very warm, is not his, therefore he cannot use it.
He lets it fall from his shoulders, wrapping his arms around his chest. He could have sworn he had put on a long sleeved shirt this morning. But, now that he’s thinking, he doesn’t really remember this morning or much of what could have led him to this situation.
This situation being “caught under a stranger’s coat, while a strange child stares at him in awe, an adult woman near sobs out apologies, and a man in too many jeans looks on in…”
Well, Hawks can’t tell how he looks or feels. There’s pants in front of his face. Which is pretty silly, if you ask him.
Upon second glance though, the stranger’s outfit is more than just silly looking.
It looks like a hero uniform!
This man must be a hero!
Oh. This man must be a hero. And he’s alone with Hawks with no other Commission people there.
Hawks knows what’s going on here.
When the woman finally quiets down, apparently having apologized enough (and Hawks also knows there’s no amount of apologies that can get you out of consequences when you mess up as bad as it sounds like this lady did), Hawks looks to the man.
“Are you my new handler?” he asks, careful not to make eye contact, he doesn’t know this guy’s rules yet. “Am I supposed to know why I’m here?”
Both adults stare at him in shock.
Oh, he’s messed up.
Well, that was faster than he thought it would happen.
Tsunagu really thinks he wants to reassess his career path, as he hears the child--Hawks, speak for the first time. This is not something he’d ever come across in any of his training or experience. He really wishes it had stayed that way. The universe is not that benevolent towards him, it would seem.
Hawks is trembling, shivering against the cold autumn air, despite the perfectly good coat lying directly behind him. Each individual feather quivers in his wings, but he still makes no move towards the jacket. If Hawks’s question hadn’t been enough to set off alarm bells in his head, this would be raising some red flags.
He elects not to answer the question for the moment, instead focusing on getting the mother’s contact information and assuring her that her daughter will not be held responsible for misdeeds towards a hero.
“Accidents happen with children,” he says as he uses his quirk to draw the fibers of Hawks’s discarded coat towards him. He settles it on the boy’s shoulders as best he can while only half paying attention to it. “This one is unfortunate, but it’s still not her fault. Just get her home, I will handle this. As long as the quirk actually wears off within the week, everything should be fine. I’ll contact you if I have any questions, or if any complications arise, but I assure you, no one is angry with your daughter.”
He sends them on their way, and turns to Hawks again.
The jacket is back on the ground.
Tsunagu squints at it. He could have sworn he’d gotten it onto Hawks’s shoulders.
He must have been more distracted than he thought. With the mother and child gone, Tsunagu kneels to pick up the coat with his hands this time, instead of his quirk.
He wraps Hawks up in the far too large garment, and scoops him into his arms.
Hawks is a very small child. Distantly, Tsunagu wonders how old Hawks is, in this… form.
“I’m going to take you back to my agency so we can sort this all out, all right?”
Hawks nods, but he isn’t looking at Tsunagu.
Tsunagu has not missed the fact that Hawks has gone stiff as a board in his grip. But in the interest of getting him away from prying eyes as quickly as possible, Tsunagu does not set the boy down, as much as he believes he should.
He makes it back to his agency in record time.
His interns and sidekicks all give him curious glances, eyes drawn to the bundle he’s guarding close to his chest, but he doesn’t make any attempt to explain. He beelines for his office instead, finally releasing Hawks as soon as the doors are safely closed behind them.
Hawks seems to relax minutely as he is placed back on his own two feet, but he still hunches his shoulders up around his ears, and puts as much distance between them as possible.
Tsunagu doesn’t push it, instead choosing to have a seat by his desk, giving Hawks plenty of space. There are pieces he is missing here, and until he can figure out what they are, he’s not going to distress this child even further.
“I’m sorry about the rush, I wanted to get us out of the public eye as quickly as possible,” he explains, careful to keep his tone level and calm. “I have some questions, if that’s all right, to try to make sense of this situation.”
Hawks nods, the action almost lost under the weight of the coat still draped over his shoulders like a cloak.
“Do you know who I am?” Hawks shakes his head in response. “All right. Well I’m a pro hero. My hero name is Best Jeanist, but my real name is Hakamata Tsunagu. You can call me Tsunagu, if you’d like.”
Hawks looks at him in something akin to shock, at being told to use a first name. He cocks his head to the side, looking incredibly birdlike, in a way Tsunagu has never seen him behave before, in their limited interaction.
“The Commission says I’m going to be a hero too,” Hawks says, after a long, tense pause. “My name is Takami Keigo--”
Keigo almost chokes on the last syllable of his name, looking around in a panic before shaking his head and clasping his hands together.
“My name is Hawks,” Keigo finishes, shrinking in on himself. “I’m Hawks.”
Tsunagu watches Keigo make himself even smaller, watches his wings twitch and tremble under the coat in an aborted effort to hide himself away.
He watches, and silently vows that he is going to find whoever made this child feel so insecure, made him question his own name . He is going to find each and every single one of them, and he is going to be sure they live exactly long enough to regret every single one of their actions and not a moment more. He is going to raze the Hero Commission to it’s very foundation and then shatter that as well.
What he says is, “I think Keigo is a lovely name.” And it is a very nice name. It’s also, he thinks, the first time he’s ever heard Keigo say it himself.
The look Keigo gives him in response breaks his heart.
“Are you sure you’re my new handler?”
Tsunagu has to use every ounce of his willpower to not leave to take on the Commission single handedly right at that very second.
“Keigo, I am not your handler. But you are in my care for the time being. You are currently under the influence of a quirk. You’re not in any danger, but until it wears off, I’m going to be looking after you, if that’s all right with you.”
Keigo’s head cocks to the side again, his eyes narrowing at Tsunagu. It’s been clear that Keigo has been distressed by this situation, but this makes it obvious that he’s not only stressed out, and confused. Keigo does not trust Tsunagu at all. Not even knowing he’s a pro hero, which usually settles children right away, had done anything to put Keigo at ease.
As much as he doesn’t want to face the facts, they are laid out painfully clearly in front of him.
He thinks this is going to be a very long week.
The child in front of him, this younger version of Japan’s number two hero, has been abused. Tsunagu can see it written into the lines of his body. It’s in the way he holds himself, the way he speaks, the way he reacts to adults.
Tsunagu knows how to interact with children in a crisis. He knows how to calm them in the aftermath of catastrophe. He knows how to handle children in a calm environment. He is good with children, generally.
What he is not good at is caring for a child who has been abused by the very people meant to uphold the safety of the community through it’s heroes. He does not know how to truly help a child who cannot trust him.
He does the first thing he can think of.
He texts Kuugo.
Jeans: Asking for a friend: how do I take care of a heavily traumatized child for four to seven days?
He fires off the texts with one hand, barely glancing at his phone, more intent on watching Keigo to be sure he won’t try to flee out of one of the windows or something. He knows little to nothing about Keigo as a child. Hawks always redirects questions about his childhood, steering any conversation about his past far away from any substantive information.
Even from this brief glance, Tsunagu can see why.
He’s drawn out of his train of thought by his phone going off.
And going off again.
Tsunagu has the feeling he has made a mistake.
He looks back down at his phone, almost dreading opening it.
Oh, that’s a groupchat.
Oh, he’s messed up.
Jeans: Asking for a friend: how do I take care of a heavily traumatized child for four to seven days?
Rabbit: i feel like maybe jeanist has committed some light kidnapping.
Rabbit: have you committed some kidnapping denim man?
Quirk Begone: as a teacher and a pro hero i feel like i legally need to remind you that kidnapping is illegal and committing crimes is grounds to lose your license
Quirk Begone: that being said, do you need a place to keep the kid until people stop looking for them?
Whale: This is very unlike you.
Rabbit: denim boy tell me if you did child removal crimes i wanna know this is very important to me
Zoom: i don’t know if you’ve actually kidnapped a child, but i did sometimes help with raising my brother and he only sometimes gets involved with villain attacks he shouldn’t be anywhere near, so i’m obviously a great candidate for helping you out with this hypothetical kid.
Noise Control Whomst: not that i don’t support you, jeans, i do, but why exactly did you kidnap a child? not saying it’s wrong of course, but i’m curious
Rabbit: DID YOU TAKE A KID OR WHAT??? PICS OR IT DIDN’T HAPPEN OLD MAN!
Jeans: I did not kidnap a child. That text was meant only for Kuugo, I was distracted, and simply clicked on the wrong chat.
Quirk Begone: Hakamata, did something happen on your patrol today? do you actually have a child in your custody?
Jeans: Yes I do. This is a rather sensitive matter, in all honesty. Hawks was hit by a quirk while we were patrolling today. It was nothing more than an accident, a child unused to her quirk. But Hawks was reverted back to a rather young age.
Tsunagu looks up at Keigo, who is still staring at him like he’s grown a second head in the time he’s taken to send a few texts.
“Keigo, how old are you?”
“I’m eight years old,” Keigo mutters into the fur collar of the coat he’s still clutching like a lifeline.
Tsunagu thinks he kind of wants to swear, very loudly.
He does not.
Jeans: Hawks is currently 8 years old.
Rabbit: send me pictures right now immediately this is an emergency
Whale: I don’t think this is the time for joking around, Usagiyama.
Rabbit: keigo doesn’t have any pictures from when he was a kid, now’s the perfect chance to make up for it!
Jeans: I’m beginning to think the reason for that is something rather unfortunate.
Tsunagu looks to Keigo again. The boy is still watching him, but now he is specifically watching Tsunagu’s hands. He seems to relax ever so slightly when Tsunagu is preoccupied with tapping out a message, but the second he stops, Keigo’s eyes dart upward, towards Tsunagu’s face, like he’s waiting for something. What he’s waiting for, Tsunagu doesn’t know, but he can’t imagine it’s good.
“Keigo?” Tsunagu asks, and Keigo goes rigid, the coat shuffling as his wings flare out in alarm. “It’s okay, I just have another question. You asked before if I was your handler. Why did you think that?”
Tsunagu knows Hawks was raised by people within the Commission, but he doesn’t know much more about Hawks’ upbringing. It feels underhanded to get the information this way, but he needs to know what’s going through Keigo’s head in order to help him.
“Well, after the Commission bought me from my parents, they started training me. Whoever’s in charge of that is my handler? And the old guy wasn’t there when I woke up before, but you were? So I thought they left me with you cause I wasn’t doing good enough before.”
Tsunagu has to forcefully loosen the grip on his phone.
Okay, so this is worse than he thought it was.
That’s fine. This is fine. He can handle this.
He takes one more look at the way that Keigo is watching him, the fear shining behind sharp golden eyes, and he knows he is wrong.
Keigo is uncomfortable, at best, being alone with him. Bringing in another adult will likely only make him feel more cornered. He doesn’t want to distress Keigo even further, when he must already be so scared.
Maybe another child would help him feel more at ease? Make him feel less alone?
Aizawa has one of those. That could be a solution.
Jeans: Eraserhead, would it be possible to bring Hawks to Yuuei? It is a relatively safe location and I believe the presence of another child might help him relax some.
Noise Control Whomst: please don’t jinx it by saying that
Jeans: If you don’t mind him being around Eri, that is.
Quirk Begone: she says it’s okay, i’ll let nedzu know you’re coming. recovery girl can look him over while he’s here too, just to be safe.
Okay. This is more like it. He has a plan now. Having a plan is good.
“Keigo,” Tsunagu says, softly trying to get his attention. Keigo’s eyes snap towards him. “We’re going to go meet up with one of my friends and his daughter, if that’s okay with you.”
Keigo seems to perk up a bit at the prospect of another child, and then his face goes through a complicated series of emotions, and settles back into something troubled.
Still, he nods anyway, tugging the collar of the coat a little tighter around him. He pushes away from the wall he’d been leaning against, wobbling a little as he rights himself, and looks to Tsunagu.
“I’m just going to call a car, all right?” Keigo does not respond, and the call is made in silence that sticks around until it is broken by Tsunagu’s phone ringing to say the driver has arrived. Keigo startles at the ringtone, but otherwise doesn’t react.
He simply steps up to Tsunagu’s side, half a step to his right and behind him. Deliberately not beside him, but near enough that Tsunagu could grab him easily. God, he’s gonna wring the neck of the next Commission goon he sees. He thinks, distantly, of how difficult the fibers they are wearing will be to work with.
Hm. Maybe it’s time to shelf that thought for now, before he starts actually considering it.
He reaches out, very slowly, for Keigo’s hand instead.
“I don’t want you getting lost in the sea of sidekicks in the office today. Will you hold my hand?”
Keigo regards him carefully, but takes his hand anyway, falling into step with him as they leave Tsunagu’s office.
He waves off questions from his interns and uses his quirk to push them away with their own clothes if they get too close to Keigo, keeping a careful watch on the boy to be sure he isn’t getting overwhelmed.
What he notices instead, is how much focus and effort Keigo seems to be putting into walking. There’s an odd hitch to his step, a moment where he hesitates just before he puts his foot down, and then a quick transfer of weight almost like a limp, but it’s happening no matter which foot is taking pressure.
It’s almost like he’s hopping, from one foot to the other, instead of really walking . His face is twisted as he does so.
Adult Hawks does not move this way.
When they are finally seated in the car, and pulling away into traffic, Keigo looks up at him, timidly.
“Did I do a good enough job that time?”
Tsunagu does not know what Keigo is referring to, but he agrees, without hesitation. There is not a doubt in his mind that Keigo could use the validation.
“You did great, Keigo,” he says, and Keigo lets out the heaviest sigh of relief Tsunagu has ever heard. It should not be coming from a child.
Keigo curls up under the jacket he’s still being swallowed by, and remains silent for the rest of the ride.
Tsunagu tries not to be bothered by it.
Keigo is pretty confused when the car stops.
Tsunagu had said they were going to meet his friend, but they’ve just pulled up outside the gates of Yuuei High School. Keigo doesn’t know much about it, but he knows it’s a school that trains heroes, and he knows that the Commission has a problem with a lot of the heroes that are graduating from there. They tell Keigo he should be wary of Yuuei graduates. They’re far too much trouble, and don’t listen to the Commission nearly enough. They’re not good like Keigo is.
He wonders why Tsunagu has brought him here.
He does not ask. He already asked about his walking when he got into the car, that’s more than enough for one day. In fact, he’s lucky Tsunagu didn’t yell at him for that.
Tsunagu opens the door for him, and he gets out, clutching the massive jacket around his shoulders closer as he braces against the wind. His wings are getting uncomfortable shoved underneath there, but he’s freezing, and Tsunagu was nice enough to let him use the coat, so he’s not going to complain and risk anything.
He wants to look around at the Yuuei campus, but he has to focus on walking right, so he doesn’t get to, really. It’s difficult to get right, the gradual shifting of weight from one foot to the other and back again, instead of the hopping that comes more naturally to him, but he can do it. He can do it. But still, these shoes are not the ones the Commission had given him to hide his feet better, and they are uncomfortable, and make the whole process that much harder. His feet are getting sorer by the minute, shoved into these shoes, but he knows better than to protest.
It’s not like it’ll change anything.
The next time he looks up, they are inside a building, in a big empty room, with lots of tables and chairs, and a big TV. It’s like the living room in his old house, but far nicer, and with way more sofas. His living room when he lived with his parents had only had one. This one has four.
On one of them, there is a man with long dark hair pulled back into a very messy knot at the back of his head, and a little girl with silver hair. The man is wearing a shirt that seems too big for him, slipping half off one of his shoulders, and loose pants. He has a scar under one eye, and Keigo can see more of them in patches and lines where his sleeves are pushed up to the elbow. He looks very tired, Keigo thinks.
The girl draws his interest far more though. She is small, like he is, probably a little younger than him. She is wearing nice clothes, but they seem just a little too big on her, like they don’t sit right on her body. Like they’re her size, but she’s just a little too thin for them to actually fit correctly. Like all of his clothes look on him. She has a horn on her head and red eyes that tell him everything he needs to know.
This girl is exactly like him.
Tsunagu had called the girl his friend’s daughter, but Keigo knows this man must be her handler.
He can’t help but eye up her horn though. She’s lucky they let her keep it. It must have something important to do with her quirk, otherwise someone would’ve removed it for not looking normal enough.
“Keigo,” Tsunagu says, and Keigo snaps to attention. “This is my friend Aizawa Shota, and his daughter Eri. Aizawa is the pro hero Eraserhead.”
Ah. Another pro hero. Keigo tries to keep the distrust out of his gaze.
“We’re going to talk some things over. Why don’t you kids get to know each other for a bit?” Aizawa suggests. His voice sounds angry, even though his face is neutral, but Eri doesn’t seem off put by it. She lights up at his suggestion instead, giving Keigo an approximation of a smile. It’s better than he can usually manage, anyway.
“Hi! I’m Eri! What’s your name?”
“Ke--Hawks. My name’s Hawks.”
Keigo can feel Aizawa’s glare at his almost-screw-up.
“It’s nice to meet you Hawks!” Eri says, and just like that, the weight of Aizawa’s glare is gone, and the adults have gone over to sit at a table, speaking to each other in hushed tones.
Eri reaches for his hand, and stops just short of touching it, as thought waiting for permission.
After a glance to be sure Aizawa and Tsunagu are not watching, Keigo takes her hand, and lets her lead him toward the couch she was sitting near before. She folds her legs underneath her, and picks up the crayons she’d discarded when he’d entered, and shuffles a couple blank papers over to him. She places a red crayon on his side of the table as well, beaming up at him.
“That one’s just like your wings! You should use it!”
Hawks fights off his urge to perch on the edge of the couch behind him and sits just like Eri did, even though folding his legs underneath himself like she did puts pressure on his feet that aches .
He says nothing, just cautiously picks up the crayon and begins to sketch out his best approximation of an old tree he remembers growing in a park near his parents’ house. He’s only half paying attention to his drawing anyway. His real focus is on the adults across the room, their heads bent in conversation. It is on carefully ignoring the pain of his feet being shoved into shoes that are not designed for them. It is on the door opening to admit two new adults into the room.
Keigo freezes, and drops the crayon, his hands falling into his lap as he flexes them, and tries to calm down.
Eri leans across the table, and whispers to him, “That’s Mic-san, and Shu-sama. Mic-san and Sensei are married, so they can do gross stuff like kissing, and Shu-sama is like a doctor, but with her quirk. She’s nice. She fixes everyone up when we get hurt.”
Oh, so she’s the one who covers for Eri’s handlers when they take training too far. Eri looks mostly fine, so Keigo thinks that Shu-sama must be better than the doctor they found for him.
She also has two handlers, so she must be more important than he is. Her quirk must be really strong.
He glances at her horn again, and then back at the adults.
The man, Mic-san, has hair that sticks up too high and a big box in front of his neck that he’s removing and dropping onto the table as Keigo watches, and he is far too loud. No wonder Eri’s fine with talking so much. She must be used to being around someone who completely drowns her out. She can speak because she doesn’t have to worry someone will hear her.
Shu-sama does not have the same amount of presence that Mic-san has, she is very small and very old, and his something stuck in her hair like an afterthought. But still, the three men in the room look like they’re deferring to her before she even says a word, and Keigo knows she’s the one with the real power here.
She’s the one he has to watch out for.
He glances back at Eri’s horn, and down at his drawing.
They won’t like that he’s still thinking of his old home. Tsunagu glances over at them, and Keigo sticks his half finished drawing under a blank paper quickly, wincing when he jostles his feet in their shoe prisons.
“Hey,” Eri says, softly. This is better, Keigo thinks. Now she’s being careful not to be heard. This Keigo understands. “What’s wrong?”
This, Keigo does not understand.
Why is she asking him that? Is she trying to get him in trouble? Did they tell her to try to find something out from him? Is she doing something for the adults?
Oh no, maybe they know he messed up and they just don’t know exactly how bad yet, and they want Eri to tell on him.
Keigo starts wracking his brain for anything he could have done in the last few weeks and keeps coming up blank, blank, blank, he can’t think, he’s missing memories, he knows it, how is that possible, what happened --
“I’m not gonna tell. I just… you look sad. And when I get sad, Deku or Lemillion always ask me about it, and it makes me feel better. You don’t have to say. But Sensei is really nice, not like the bad people that hurt you, and Mic-san and Shu-sama are nice too! And I don’t know about who you came with, but if he’s friends with Sensei, he’s gotta be a good guy, right?”
Keigo just stares at her in shock.
He does not know how to process that.
They’re really that good?
Keigo’s teachers with the Commission have all been gruff and strict with him, but he supposes that’s his own fault. His teachers wouldn’t have to be so strict if he only performed better. Eri’s must be kind to her because she’s better than him.
But Keigo’s been good today, and Tsunagu even told him that he’d done well with his walking earlier, so maybe they’ll be a little lenient if they find out? And there’s no harm, really, in telling Eri, is there? She’s just like him! It’s okay to share with her!
“My feet really hurt,” he says, finally.
“You should take off your shoes, silly. You shouldn’t be wearing them inside anyway!”
Eri’s eyebrows furrow together in confusion. “Why not?
“Because my feet aren’t right. I’m not supposed to show them to anyone. They’re not good.”
“What’s wrong with them? Maybe Shu-sama can help! Hey, Shu-sama!”
Keigo was wrong. He was wrong, he was so wrong, Eri’s gonna tell them, she’s not just like him, he was wrong, she’s better than him, of course she’d tell the adults he’s being bad.
She stands, reaching out a hand towards Keigo, and he can’t think straight, his mind is racing, he’s gonna be in so much trouble…
His hand darts out before he can stop it as Eri’s enters his field of view, clasping tightly around her thin wrist.
She yelps in surprise and tries to tug her hand away, but Keigo’s is gripped tightly around her arm, and as much as he wants to, he can’t let go.
He is going to be in so much trouble.
“What is it, Eri?” Aizawa calls, and Keigo fixes his eyes on the floor, his wings flaring nervously under the jacket he’s still got on.
“Uh,” Eri says, trying again to pull away from Keigo, and getting nowhere. “It was his feet, but now Hawks won’t let me go.”
She sounds a little scared and Keigo hates it, he hates this, he hates that he’s doing this, he thought she was nice, that maybe he could actually have a friend, even if she was good and had to tell when he was being bad.
“Keigo,” Aizawa says in a low tone, “let her go.”
Keigo swallows and shakes his head.
“Kid, you can’t just grab people, you’ve got to let Eri go. She doesn’t want you holding on to her like that.”
Keigo shakes his head again, harsher this time.
“Keigo.” Aizawa sounds like he’s getting mad now. Keigo can feel a fine tremor running through his whole body, the kind that feels like it’s going to dislodge all his feathers by accident.
“I can’t,” he says, in the loudest voice he can muster, which is barely over a whisper.
He chances a glance up, and sees Mic-san and Aizawa looking at each other in a way Keigo can’t quite pin down. Tsunagu and Shu-sama are looking on from behind them, not yet moving, but still watching carefully.
Keigo looks back to the ground.
After a moment, he is surprised to see feet come into view, and then leather-clad knees, as Mic-san kneels before him.
“Hey there little listener. Do you want to tell me what’s going on? Why can’t you let go of Eri?”
Keigo shakes his head again, his breathing just a little bit heavier than before. “I can’t. I’m sorry. I can’t. I don’t know, it’s because of rapting? Rafter? That’s--my handlers called it--I don’t know. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m not hurting her, I promise I wouldn’t--I’m sorry.”
“Rapting?” Aizawa parrots back at him, and Keigo draws his shoulders up towards his ears helplessly.
“I don’t know what it is, they said it’s a bad part of my quirk.”
“Raptor,” Tsunagu pipes in from behind them all. “It’s a raptor trait.”
“Yes, that--that’s it. It’s that, and it’s bad and I know it’s bad and I’m not supposed to, I didn’t mean to! I promise!”
Mic-san’s hand is in his hair then, and Keigo braces for a harsh pull, for someone to start yelling, for them to let Eri use whatever her quirk is to get him off of her.
But instead, he just feels Eri move closer so his arm isn’t so far outstretched, and he feels Mic’s hand gently settle at the base of his neck, just holding him.
Keigo doesn’t remember anyone being this gentle with him before. At least not for a long time.
“Okay. It’s alright, Keigo. Eri are you okay, kiddo?”
“Yeah, I’m okay. It doesn’t hurt.”
Keigo’s shaking against Mic-san’s chest now, still staring at some invisible point on the floor.
“Well then, this isn’t so bad!” Mic-san says, sounding far happier than he has any right too. “So what was Eri trying to say before then?”
Keigo freezes. He wants to protest, do something, but he knows that’ll just make this all worse in the end.
Eri responds slowly, this time, and with much less enthusiasm than she had when she’d first tried to tell the adults about Keigo’s screw up.
“He said his feet are hurting him. I thought Shu-sama could help.”
“That true kid?” Aizawa asks.
“Why didn’t you say something earlier?” Tsunagu’s voice is much closer than Keigo remembers him being.
“You said I was doing good with my walking today. I didn’t want to upset you.”
Judging by the gasps that draws from the three men in the room, that was the wrong answer.
“Well lets have a little looksee, then, dear,” Shu-sama says, and she comes bustling over to him, cutting through the tension like a knife.
“I’m going to take your shoes off to see how your feet are doing. You should know better than to wear them in the house anyway.”
Keigo would be alarmed by such an admonishment from anyone else, but Shu-sama says it in such a way that doesn’t have Keigo bracing for punishment.
Instead, he simply goes where she prods, adjusting himself into a sitting position on the couch.
Mic-san moves so that he can keep his hand on the back of Keigo’s neck.
Keigo can’t say he really minds.
Still, he’s preparing himself for that touch to turn sour the second Shu-sama takes off his shoes and shows another bad part of his quirk.
One shoe comes off, and then another, and then Keigo uncurls his feet for the first time in hours, and you could hear a pin drop in the silence that follows.
It takes a beat for even Shu-sama to speak.
“Well now, it’s no good for you to have your feet cooped up in those shoes like that all day. Do you normally wear shoes like that?”
Keigo nods. “I usually have ones that are better for hiding my feet, and so I can walk more normal, but I didn’t have those when I woke up before, I just had these on.”
“So you hide your feet all the time, dear?”
“Well yeah, I have to. They’re not nice to look at. But my handlers said that pretty soon, they’re gonna fix them for me, and make them better so they’re not bad, then I won’t have to hide them anymore!”
The room goes silent again, and he thinks he’s said something wrong, but he can’t for the life of him figure out what it is. That’s just what his handlers told him. These people should be excited for him that he’s going to have something fixed so that it’s not bad to look at anymore. Talons make him dangerous looking, and that’s not how heroes are meant to look.
His grip on Eri’s arm tightens minutely, and she scoots closer to him on the couch, placing her free hand on his forearm. After a moment, she rests her head on his shoulder.
“Your handlers sound a lot like the villains that used to have me.”
Eri just sits with him for a while, as Shu-sama looks him over. There’s less poking and prodding involved in this than Keigo was expecting. She’s very gentle with him, just like Mic-san is being.
After Shu-sama has declared him well, told him that the mysterious quirk he’s under isn’t hurting him—and when had that ever been a concern?—she tells him under no circumstances is he to try to put his shoes back on.
Keigo’s heart seizes in his chest at the thought, a grey tinge closing in around his mind as he thinks about something so ugly being on display.
Eri interrupts before he can say more, her free hand moving from his forearm to his shin, a soft pressure, like she’s just testing something out. What she’s testing, Keigo cannot fathom.
“It's not bad that you look a little different than some people. Some of Sensei’s students look super different, and there’s nothing wrong with them, right?” she asks, the question directed at Mic-san.
Mic-san hums in agreement where he’s still behind Keigo, his thumb rubbing little circles into the back of Keigo’s neck.
“There’s nothing wrong with you, little listener. But how about we try letting go of Eri’s arm again, now? It’s okay if you can’t still, but let’s just give it a shot?”
Keigo nods, his heart slamming against the inside of his ribcage at the thought of disappointing them again. He tries and he—
Oh. He lets go. Just like that.
Eri’s arm is a little red, but she’s unhurt, and almost-smiling, and he’s not being chastised.
And now, Keigo really starts to wonder if maybe Eri was right about his old handlers sounding like villains.
They’d never been so nice when he grabbed things and couldn’t let go.
These ones were nice. They touched him in a way that made him happy, not just for training, and Shu-sama actually seemed to care about him being okay and healthy, not just fixing him so he could train more. Eri trusts them.
That means more to him than anything, really.
Because yeah, she’s a lot better than him, but they’re still the same. She’s still just like him. And she trusts these people. She talks first around them, she asks questions, she calls them things besides “sir” and “ma’am”. They let her, without even a sideways glance.
These people have to be different, that’s the only explanation.
Maybe he’s been good enough recently that they’re going to be a little nicer to him?
They were always saying they were only trying to make him good. That if he were only better for them, they wouldn’t have to be so harsh with him.
So he must have been doing better! Tsunagu even told him he was doing good at walking today! He didn’t even complain when his feet hurt!
That must be why they gave him to nicer handlers, and let him meet Eri!
His feathers fluffed up in delight, and Keigo realized that the coat he’d been hiding in had fallen away when he’d grabbed Eri. No wonder he was starting to feel cold. He quickly settled his feathers back down. Couldn’t let them be too expressive. Okay. He should thank these new handlers for their kindness, right? That’s only polite.
“Thank you for letting me let go by myself,” he says softly.
Mic-san’s thumb stops where it was rubbing at the junction of his neck and shoulders, and Keigo almost whines at the loss of it. He did something wrong. Oh no, he thought he was doing something right but it was wrong and now he’s made Mic-san mad and they’re gonna not let him be near Eri anymore, and he really thought that maybe he could have a friend but he messed it up, he messed up, he messed up—
Mic-san starts doing little circles with his thumb again, a little more hesitant than before, but he keeps doing it, and Keigo relaxes just a bit into the touch, and lets out a noise that’s just shy of a happy chirp.
“Keigo, kid, you don’t have to thank us for that,” Aizawa says, and that’s a little confusing, but Keigo’s more focused on the nice touch. It’s new and it’s very nice, and he doesn’t want Mic-san to ever stop what he’s doing. Keigo didn’t know it could be this nice to be touched.
“But it was so nice of you. I was never allowed to just wait before. But I’m being good now, right? I’m not being bad anymore? So I was allowed to wait this time?”
Mic-san stops again, and this time he pulls away entirely, moving away from Keigo. Oh, no, he messed up again.
This time though, he’s not really anxious, so much as just very sad that he’s lost the comforting touch.
When he looks up again, Eri is still beside him, her shoulder pressed to his, but the adults have arranged themselves so they can all look at him, and their expressions are something Keigo can’t figure out.
They look angry? But it’s a different kind of angry than he knows, and he wasn’t scared before, but he’s starting to get scared now. Why do they look like that? What did he do?
For the first time in a while, Keigo just can’t keep it contained. He can’t quite cry, but his eyes glaze over and his face scrunches up like he’s seen happen with other people when they cry. No tears fall, but his breath hitches in an irregular pattern and Eri shuffles a little bit away from him.
No, no, no, he’s scaring her, he’s scared her, how could he be so stupid, oh, no, this isn’t what he wanted--
But then, before he can even process what’s happening, someone’s got their arms around him, and he’s being held very tightly against someone’s chest, and oh.
This is a hug, he remembers.
His momma hugged him, when he was little, he thinks. He doesn’t really remember it. But someone-- Mic-san, judging by the mess of blonde hair suddenly in his view-- is hugging him now.
Why is Mic-san hugging him?
He’s being bad again.
“Keigo,” he hears Tsunagu say, firmly, but not angry like Keigo’s expecting. “Keigo, you are good. You have not done a single thing in the entire time you have been in my care that I would call bad. You have been considerate and polite despite this being an overwhelming situation. You have been nothing but good this whole time.”
And then there’s a hand carding through his hair, gentle and kind and Keigo sniffles and scrunches his face and sobs without crying some more.
“I don’t understand what you want!” he finally cries, still trembling in Mic-san’s grasp and under Tsunagu’s careful hand.
Distantly, he registers that Aizawa has led Eri away, and that Shu-sama has removed herself from the room as well, though he doesn’t know where she’s gone either.
“Kiddo, why do you think we want something from you?” Mic-san asks, pulling away enough to look at him, but not fully releasing him.
“Because you’re my handlers! No one at the Commission is ever this nice to me! I’m bad! I’m bad and they know I’m bad and my quirk is mostly bad and they have to fix me! You have to fix me! Why are you being nice? I don’t understand!”
And then Keigo braces, because he is not supposed to yell, ever, and there’s no way they’ll let that slide, after everything else he’s messed up today.
Tsunagu, if he is being honest with himself, is planning at least one, if not several, murders.
Looking at the trembling child in Yamada’s arms, telling them they shouldn’t be kind to him over some trivial slight, Tsunagu thinks he’d gladly become a villain over this. If that was what it took to make the Hero Commission to pay for what they’d done, he’d do it in a damn heart beat.
All he wants is to find a way to reassure Keigo that they mean him no harm, and they really are just trying to help him and keep him safe.
He looks up to be sure Aizawa has gotten Eri out of the room, and then glances to Yamada, who is still supporting Keigo almost entirely, and takes a chance.
“Keigo, what do you think we’re going to do right now? What does your handler usually do when you’re… bad?” Tsunagu hates this, feels like he is manipulating Hawks to get information, but he needs to know what Keigo is scared of in order to figure out how to fix this.
Keigo sniffles, rubbing at his eyes, even though he’s not producing enough tears to actually cry.
He hesitates for a long moment, before he whispers to them.
“They make me train until I start doing better, and if I don’t get better, then I have to go to bed without dinner, or I don’t get to see the doctor until tomorrow or something. Or if I do bad things with my quirk, then they might decide that that part of it needs to be fixed. Like my feet. They’re no good, so they’re gonna fix them. But you’re different, and it’s weird, and I don’t know what you want.”
God, Tsunagu wishes he had met Hawks earlier in his life. He wishes he could have helped him sooner, that they weren’t witnessing the source of his trauma removed by fourteen years, when they’re helpless to help him. A glance at Yamada tells Tsunagu that he’s feeling fairly similar.
He’s not even going to try thinking about Keigo’s comment about his feet, because Tsunagu knows for a fact that adult Hawks does not have the semi-taloned feet that Keigo has now.
The fucking Commission, with their high and mighty attitude and the way they think themselves above the law they are supposed to help uphold, resorting to villainous behavior to raise heroes--
“You know, Keigo,” Yamada says, interrupting Tsunagu’s train of thought. Probably for the best. “Sometimes, the Commission is wrong.”
“No, that’s not true, they’re alway right. They said so.”
“Of course they did. But that doesn’t make it true. Did you know I’m a pro hero too?”
“You look like one.”
“Right! I’m the Voice Hero! Present Mic! So I have to listen to the Commission sometimes too, but sometimes, they say things and do things that aren’t all the way right, you know?”
“But they said… how could that be true?”
“Well, my quirk has a pretty big drawback, you see. I can make my voice really loud, and that works really well for beating villains, but it’s bad for my ears.” Yamada reaches up, and plucks one hearing aid out of his ear, to display to Keigo. “Before I could really control it, my quirk made me deaf. I can’t hear very well without these aids, and sometimes it’s even tough with them.”
“But…” Keigo stares in wonder at the hearing aid. “But that’s bad. How are you allowed to be a hero if your quirk is bad?”
Yamada doesn’t flinch, but Tsunagu can see it’s a near thing.
“My quirk has a significant drawback, sure kid, but that doesn’t make me a bad hero. I’m pretty good at my job. I help a lot of people, and I’m teaching a lot of kids just a little older than you how to be heroes too.”
“Why didn’t the Commission fix you?”
Yamada moves his hands from Keigo’s shoulders then, to gently cup his face.
“Because there is nothing about me that needs fixing. Just like there’s nothing about you that needs fixing. The Commission doesn’t understand what they are telling you. They are wrong. Just because you don’t look exactly the same as everyone else does not make you wrong. Just because I can’t hear like everyone else does not make me wrong. Someone being different than what people are used to is not wrong, or bad. My deafness doesn’t make me bad at being a hero. Your more bird-like traits won’t make you bad at being a hero either.”
Keigo takes a very long moment to just stare at Yamada. He cocks his head to the side and draws his wings in close to him, protectively. His toes curl, like they’re looking for something to grasp, where his feet dangle off the sofa. Tsunagu reaches out slowly, and holds out his hand.
“Keigo, would you feel better if you could hold on to something?” he asks.
Keigo shakes his head.
Tsunagu rests his hand on the sofa beside Keigo anyway.
“Is that something that they told you was bad?” he asks, and Keigo clams up, wrapping his arms around his stomach like he’s trying to hug himself.
“Hey,” Yamada says, before the silence can settle, “how about we try this? If you don’t want to answer out loud, why don’t you use your hands? Like I do, when I’m not wearing my hearing aids. Do this for yes, and this for no, if you don’t want to say it out loud,” he tries, showing Keigo the signs for ‘yes’ and ‘no’ in JSL. “Is holding onto things like you did before something that the Commission told you is bad?”
Keigo still doesn’t answer right away, but after a second, he raises his hands and meekly signs “yes” in response.
“I’m offering to let you hold onto my hand, if it will help. If I tell you it’s okay, is it bad?”
Keigo hesitantly signs “no”.
“Would you like to hold my hand then?”
There’s a long stretch of silence again, where Keigo signs “yes” a few times, before muttering a soft, “Yes,” as well.
“Okay. Go ahead, it’s all right.”
Once he gets that confirmation, Keigo’s hand darts out lightning fast to latch onto Tsunagu’s hand, holding tight as soon as he’s got ahold of it.
“Are you sure this isn’t bad?” Keigo asks, his voice sounding hoarse.
“It’s not bad at all,” Yamada assures this time, running his hand through Keigo’s hair. “It’s because you have some things about you that are like the bird your quirk comes from right?”
Keigo signs “yes” with his free hand.
“Then it’s a part of you,” Tsunagu assures him, “and there could never be anything bad about something that’s just a part of you. Do you want to just sit here for a moment? You seem a little tired.”
Keigo signs “no”, but at the same time, he’s slumping a little. He must be exhausted after all of this. He deserves a break, a little bit of rest.
They can’t go back in time and rescue him from the Commission, but they can give him this much, for now.
In the end, the quirk wears off after four days and a few hours. They spend three entire days giving Keigo as much freedom as you can give a child, letting him be the child he was never allowed to be. It’s not anywhere near enough, but it’s the best they can do, with what they were given.
Adult Hawks returns to them the morning of the fifth day. One moment, Tsunagu is in the kitchen making breakfast, and the next, there is the sound of several things and a body hitting the floor coming from the guest room that Keigo has been occupying for the past few days.
Tsunagu rushes in, prepared for the worst, only to find Hawks, adult Hawks, tangled in the bedsheets in a heap on the ground, everything that had been on the nightstand beside the bed now scattered around him.
“Oh my god, where am I?” Hawks gasps, trying desperately to free himself from the sheets. Tsunagu takes pity on him after a moment, and uses his quirk to situate the sheets on the bed again.
“You’re in my apartment,” Tsunagu informs him as he gets to his feet. “Do you remember anything of the last few days?”
Hawks shakes his head, his brow furrowed deeply.
“I… we were on patrol together, and we stopped to talk to that girl and her mom. Right? And then she accidentally activated her quirk and I…”
Both of Hawks’ eyebrows shoot towards his hairline, and he falls silent.
“Oh my god. Oh fuck, I’m so sorry, Hakamata-san. I can’t believe… Oh fuck. I’m so sorry you had to deal with all of that. That was more than you signed up for when we went on patrol but you still took responsibility for me as a child, and that’s more than I could ever have asked for, and I am so sorry about all of that. I know I probably worried you a lot, but I promise, I’m fine, it’s not as bad as I made it seem a few days ago, I swear, I’m fine--”
Tsunagu glances at Hawks’s feet, bare, having just gotten out of bed, and interrupts his rambling.
“They fucking mutilated you,” he says, his voice cold and harsh, the curse snapping between his teeth.
Hawks blinks owlishly, as ironic as that is.
“I--what? No, they just… they just fixed me. It was so there wasn’t anything too predatory about me, so I wouldn’t come off as too scary when I was doing hero work. I-- they did it to help me. It was for my own good.”
Hawks does not sound like he believes this as much as he wants to believe this.
“How old were you when it happened?”
“I was ten,” Hawks admits quietly.
“You were a child, and your legal guardians elected to force you into plastic surgery because they decided your feet were an undesirable aspect of your quirk.”
“It… It was for my own good,” Hawks repeats in a dead tone. Tsunagu can tell he doesn’t really believe what he’s saying now.
The typical carefree persona he wears has caved in and given way to the truth. Hawks is a scared young man, who has never had a real support system in his life, and he is realizing now, for the first time, that the people who abused him for years really were in the wrong.
Tsunagu says nothing while he lets Hawks process this shift in his world view.
“They really… I really… I can’t believe I was so stupid ,” Hawks says finaly, and Tsunagu, without thinking, seizes him by the shoulders, effectively shutting him up.
“Don’t you dare blame yourself for any of this, Takami. You are not to blame. The people who manipulated you and took advantage of your trust and your dependency on them are to blame. They were supposed to care for you, and they failed you. That is not your fault. It is theirs. Do you understand that?”
Hawks does not respond to him. The closest thing he gets to a reaction is the almost-flinch at the use of his surname.
There is a long stretch of silence, before Hawks raises his hands, and signs “yes” and then looks up at Tsunagu shyly.
“Keigo,” he says, without any preamble.
“I liked being called Keigo. I… no one’s let me use that name in so long and my family name… I mean, I told you already. They--They sold me to the commission for some easy money. I don’t want to be… would you mind? Calling me Keigo, still? I understand if it’s weird, we’re not that close and I just made you take care of me as a weird little kid for a few days and I’m sorry, this is too much, I really should be going, I’m sorry--”
“Keigo,” Tsunagu interrupts yet again. “It’s not too much to ask. I’m happy to call you whatever you’d like. I think after everything, we could consider ourselves friends, don’t you?”
“I’ve never really been allowed to have friends before?”
It sounds like a question.
“I can’t change what’s happened to you in the past, Keigo, but I can give you whatever support you need to forge your own future. You deserve your freedom, and you deserve the chance to find happiness. The Commission can’t keep you under their thumb forever. They seem insurmountable, but they are not all powerful. I know Yamada and Aizawa feel the same way, and I’m certain others would too, if you ever wanted to tell them. You have people at your back, now. We want you to be well. We want you to succeed. But for yourself. Not for the betterment of the Commission. You deserve that.”
Keigo’s face does something complicated, and then scrunches up while his eyes glass over, and he very, very hesitantly reaches up to grip Tsunagu’s wrist, giving him time to pull away.
Tsunagu does not move.
He plans on sticking around for a while, after all.