~There are good parents, bad parents, and those who are not your parents at all.~
Izuku is nervous for his first day of patrol. He’d barely managed to get here-- his father had almost forbade it.
(He might have gone anyways if he hadn’t said yes, just to cradle this feeling of usefulness in his chest a bit longer, at least until he had it beat out of him again.)
As it was, he would be interning with Sir Nighteye, which meant he got to patrol, and comfort people, and rescue cats and reassure civilians, all with one of his favorite people, Toogata Mirio.
It didn’t matter if Mirio sometimes spoke too loud (like his father) or clapped him on the shoulder too hard (like his father), because Izuku knew he meant well (not like his father, which was really the difference that mattered).
He’s still in awe of the fact that he can actually be a hero-- his father hadn’t beat him so badly he couldn’t show up to classes, and as long as Izuku makes himself scarce he doesn’t think his dad actually cares about what happens.
He’d signed the permission slips for the camp and for the dorms, snorting a ‘good riddance’. Izuku doesn’t even have to visit on weekends unless his dad tells him, and some weeks go by where he doesn't see him.
(After those weeks, he always came back to be slammed into the ground again and again much harder then usual, with his father yelling hot-blooded insults and burning Izuku with his breath. But he didn’t have to worry about that until it happened, so it was alright.)
All Might sees him off, somehow at Nighteye’s agency despite the fact that he said that him and Nighteye had been at odds for years. It strikes Izuku that he must be there because of Izuku, and the fact that he’d put aside his discomfort to ruffle Izuku’s hair and call him ‘my boy’ (not just ‘you, boy’, or ‘it’, like his father) touches him and leaves tears stinging in his eyes.
His mentor laughs affectionately, in a way Izuku hadn’t ever been able to, not for years, and remarks about him learning to cry less.
(The thought flashes down Izuku’s spine like ice, the knowledge that he wasn’t allowed to cry at home, but he dismisses it, refusing to believe that this is the same
it can't be the same he'd already given up un Endeavor and--)
He stammers something out, still not used to the man’s doting attention, and takes solace in Mirio leading him away to grab their hero outfits and change, tossing a shy wave backwards at the man who had taught him how to cry and laugh again.
Absentmindedly, he changes, grabbing his costume from his case. He hears a shocked inhale behind him and turns, blinking confusedly, to see that Mirio is staring at his exposed back with horror.
(He forgets about the burn scars back there, sometimes. His father had long since learned to be more careful, or at least Izuku had learned to hide them better.)
“Training must have been tough on you yesterday, huh?” Mirio says, swapping his wide-eyed look for one of gentle smiles and open facial features. Izuku tries his best not to blanch as he remembers and then catches sight of the mottled bruising on his back, a horrid tapestry of purple and blues and greens.
(His classmates had had a similar reaction the first time he’d changed in front of them, so he changed separately from them now, in the bathroom stall. He hadn’t had it in him to provide a reliable excuse then, and he didn’t have it now, except for Mirio-senpai’s assumption.)
“Yeah, it did,” Izuku says with a breathless smile and an awkward turn back to his costume, trying to keep his hands from shaking. In minutes, he’s changed, because he’s learnt to appreciate the value of time.
(“Why were you late?” A sickly sweet voice mocks, hands coming to rest heavily on his shoulders, heavy and final. “I was worried you wouldn’t come home. You wouldn’t run away, would you?”)
“Ready?” Mirio says, with no trace of fear as he had seemed just a few minutes earlier. Izuku marvels silently, wondering how someone could project such positivity.
(He’d tried to smile through his circumstances, like All Might did. But it was so hard, and the first time he hit the ground and broke his arm he realized he couldn’t be like All Might. It was that realization, not the pain of his arm, that had made him burst into tears.)
“Yes!” He says, and tries not to stiffen under Nighteye’s critical look when they get ready for the patrol.
“Remember, you’re just going on a regular patrol-- looking around, reassuring civilians. See anything out of the ordinary, you come back here and report it immediately. Don’t go around trying to play hero,” Nighteye says, shooting a pointed look at Izuku, which he tries his best not to flinch at.
He knew he wasn’t supposed to get involved in everything, but when he had the capacity to keep someone from being hurt, why shouldn't he?
A small part of his brain tries to argue with Nighteye, as it always tries to argue with his father. They’re training to be Heroes-- why couldn’t he be heroic? Wasn’t that the point?
(He’s not good at this kind of thing.)
They step out into the bright, lively city, and the lump in Izuku’s throat eases a bit as Mirio chatters on. He talks to him about the importance of patrolling, and how it’s to assure the public as much as it is to scout out potential danger areas. Izuku nods along, fascinated, but privately wonders how they’d be able to tell who was a dangerous person.
(His father looked perfectly normal. Friendly, even. He wasn’t. He had never been.)
They’re about to head back, Mirio having exhausted conversation topics and the end of their patrol route coming into sight, when something compels Izuku to turn, and he feels a small child crash into his legs, in a desperate hug.
“Please help me,” the wisp of a girl whispers.
Izuku doesn’t flinch, because he looks down at this little girl with silvery hair and red-rimmed eyes and something roars in his head, a kind of danger that only ever pops up when he comes home a bit too late and his father has a dangerous smile on his face.
Without batting an eye, he picks her up and turns to Mirio, jerking his head towards the direction of their agency.
“You’ll be okay,” He whispers, and Full Cowl flashes across his body as he jumps onto the nearest roof and flashes away, running as fast as he can in the middle of the roofs.
Mirio doesn’t have time to protest and this girl’s abuser has no time to find her, because Izuku damn well knows the look in her eyes and the bandages across her arms and he isn’t about to let her go back into that situation.
Two minutes later brings him to the agency, and he ducks inside with no prerequisite, and he can’t bring himself to fear for Mirio.
He can handle himself.
Bubble Girl stares at him as he approaches the front desk and hisses nearly inaudibly for her to get a conference room and Nighteye, as the girl threads her arms around his neck and squeezes, terrified. He murmurs into her hair, and she looks up, eyes wide, before tears spill over her cheeks and she whispers thank yous against his costume.
Mirio comes back inside halfway through Nighteye’s lecture at him, which involves a lot of pacing and big, aggressive movements that have both Izuku and Eri, because that’s the name of this beautiful little soul, flinching.
Mirio notices, of course. Mirio is a much better hero then Izuku will ever be, because he doesn’t bother with fear, fear that if he vocalises his thoughts there will be punishment. He does it anyway, to save Izuku and Eri-chan.
“Do you know what you’ve done?!” Nighteye says. “We had an operation planned! This child is part of the Shie Hassaikai, and you just stole from their leader!” He points at Mirio, jabs him in the chest, and Eri-chan clutches Izuku closer and closer.
“It’s okay,” he whispers. He’s not sure if either of them believe him.
“You-- you could have been killed! Do you know what that man’s Quirk is? He could have unmade you, right there!” Nighteye’s eyes are frantic beneath his glasses, and Izuku knows he’s just worried, deadly worried and still reeling with what could have happened, but that doesn’t stop the fear from coursing through his veins.
“Please,” he croaks, pressing his back against the wall, trying his best not to run away, and they both turn to look at him in one movement.
It occurs to him that they’ve probably not seen him like this before, not with the girl shaking in his arms and his father’s face overlaying on Nighteye’s. They haven’t seen him afraid of phantom blows, the expression of an abused girl matching his perfectly.
“You’re scaring her,” he murmurs, and Eri-chan looks up, mouth in an ‘o’ of surprise, because he hadn't said ‘us’, just ‘her’, because he needed to be strong for her right now. “You’ll be alright,” he soothes, because she needs something to believe in.
He turns to look at the two who have thankfully calmed down and regards them coolly, something like steel straightening his posture.
“It doesn’t matter what we should have or could have done differently. Eri-chan is here now, and we’re going to keep her safe.” Something glints in the depths of Izuku’s eyes, even if he can’t see it himself. “We should meet with everyone who was planning to be on the mission, though,” Izuku says, nodding to himself.
“And we need to figure out what her relevance to the Hassaikai was.” He feels Eri-chan stiffen in his arms, and he smiles down at her, feeling the lump in his throat reform. “They won’t hurt you ever again, dear. I promise.” She looks up at him again, and he nods once, letting his eyes flash with power and his face set in determination.
This girl doesn’t need to be coddled, right now. She needs to know that she’ll be safe.
“I can help you find them,” she breathes, quietly. Izuku nods.
“Alright. We’ll have you talk, and I’ll be right there with you. There’s a cool man who can tell if what you’re saying is right or not-- it’s super amazing! If I told him the sky was purple, he wouldn’t believe me.”
“The sky isn’t purple, Deku-kun,” she says quietly, and Izuku laughs, partly out of relief and partly out of hapless, antisocial panic.
“You’re right, it isn’t!”
Aizawa-sensei regards the girl with what looks outwardly to be apathy-- however, Izuku can see the worry etched into the crease on his forehead, in his eyes.
“Hello there,” Tsukauchi-san says quietly, and Eri-chan inclines her head once, jerkily, before clutching at Izuku.
“You can tell them to stop whenever you like, Eri-chan. If you don’t like a question, you don’t have to answer it.”
“I… can really? I don’t have to if I don’t… want to?” She asks quietly, blinking innocently and cracking Izuku’s heart clean in half with one blow. He still manages a smile and a nod and her eyes sparkle with something like wonder, and then shyness. “Um… could you read them to me, then? The questions?”
Izuku is so thrown by this that he hesitates for a few moments-- the Detective isn’t that scary to her, is he?
If so, she might have an issue with other authority figures-- he doesn’t notice her eyes widen in fear and trepidation after he doesn’t answer immediately, and then she hurriedly corrects herself, hands jumping away from Izuku to clutch at her sides, bandages catching his sight yet again.
“I know I shouldn’t be asking that, I’m sorry, I’ll be good--” Izuku winces, and is glad it escapes Eri-chan’s sight, before quickly cutting in.
“No, no, it’s alright, Eri-chan! It’s your decision, I just didn’t respond quite fast enough. If you want, I’ll ask you the questions.”
She looks at him and freezes. Her hands slowly curl at the edge of his Hero suit yet again, and Izuku smiles, encouragingly. “Okay.”
Izuku takes the clipboard from Tsuakuchi and scans the questions, wincing at more then a few.
“Here we go, Eri-chan. Oh-- what’s your name? That’s the first question.” Eri-chan blinks at him.
“My name is Eri,” she says softly, and he chuckles.
“Yes. You told me that already, didn’t you? Sorry, that was a repetitive question.” And so, he continues to ask her questions, and Tsukauchi doesn’t shift at all, not once, face the perfect mask of genial neutrality.
It unnerves Izuku more then he’d like, but he doesn’t say anything.
“Alright, Eri-chan. You don’t have to say anything to this, but… did the man who hurt you leave… scars?” Izuku asks softly, holding his breath.
Eri-chan looks up at him, wide eyes wet and dewy. She nods solemnly. “He took me apart every time I was bad or they took too much blood, and then he put me back together again.”
Izuku sucks in a breath. “Are there scars under those bandages, Eri-chan?”
She looks away, and for a moment Izuku thinks she won’t respond, but then, oh so quietly:
“They’re ugly. I’m ugly, and I have a curse. He had to make them to take it out.”
Izuku almost chokes on his rage this time. “Eri-chan, look at me,” He says softly. “I have scars too.”
She blinks at him, wide-eyed.
“I don’t think scars are ugly. I think they’re just proof you survived, that you’re strong!” Izuku says with a smile, tugging his sleeves up, unsure which ones to show her. He sees nicks and scratches on his arms and decides those are enough, pulling his gloves off and gently pulling up the material. “See?”
There’s dead silence from behind him, and Izuku turns to look towards Mirio, Nighteye, Eraserhead and Tsukauchi with some confusion, only to feel Eri-chan’s fingers ghost over--
Izuku turns back and stares at the precise, thin lines on each lower arm, one of them partially over the burn scar by his right hand.
He’d forgotten those were there. He looks up to meet Mirio’s eyes and swallows hard at the unreadable expression on his face, the startled sorrow in his blue eyes. That’s a problem for later.
“You’re like me, Eri-chan.” He says with a smile.
“And you’re like me,” she breathes, and looks up into his face.
(Only Izuku really understands what she means.)
“I’m sorry,” she says carefully, and he gathers her into a delicate hug.
“Don’t apologize,” he murmurs. “It’s not your fault.”
The questions continue. Soon they know exactly who has been taking care of Eri-chan, and how well.
Izuku is disgusted.
“And he left you with different… babysitters?” He asks quietly, going out on a limb. Eri-chan nods slowly. “Were you scared of them?”
“They hurt people,” she says quietly, and Izuku nods, taking that in.
“Did they ever… hurt you?”
Eri-chan goes to shake her head and Izuku almost faints from relief, except then she pauses.
“...Eri-chan? You don’t have to answer,” Izuku breathes, but suddenly it’s a lot harder to talk.
“One time… there was a man who got really angry. He could play with fire… Chisaki got mad when he found us… he had to make me go away and come back again, because I was melted,” she says.
The clipboard snaps clear in half in Izuku’s hands as he crunches the sides into smithereens at the thought of this child being burned like he’d been.
Eri-chan stares at it, wide-eyed, and Izuku forces himself to calm down and drop the pieces of ruined wood and paper.
“I’m sorry that happened to you, Eri-chan. I won’t let anything happen to you, alright?” He says, and she looks up at him with the sort of world-weariness he sometimes saw in his reflection.
“Okay,” she says, not quite believing, and he nods at her with such a wide smile that she relaxes the last bit that she’d been tense for the interrogation.
He’d prove to her she’d be safe from now on, and he’d make sure of it.
Inevitably, Izuku is called away for the meeting between everyone involved with the Hassaikai case. He turns to Eri-chan and sees the fright in her eyes, and begs her to just wait the few hours, he’ll be back, he swears.
(He would spend the whole damn week here with her if he could, but he’s due to visit his father soon.)
She nods at him, but he can tell she doesn’t believe him, and it’s something that tears at his heart.
Tsukauchi promises to look out for her, and the nurses coo over her while Eri tries her best to not shrink away.
Izuku swears it hurts to take every step away from her.
(He won’t know it, but Eri-chan will tense again and then only relax when Tsukauchi says Izuku trusts the man. Tsukauchi will inquire after her behavior, and she’ll hum absently, working hard in a coloring book Izuku'd brought her.
“He’s like me, so I trust what he says. No one else here is like me.”
Tsukauchi will be met with some unease and will later leave Eri with Sansa, whom she likes for his cat ears, to venture off to the meeting, a bad feeling in his gut.)
When Izuku gets to the meeting, it’s chaos— people are yelling over one another, and Kirishima, Tsuyu and Uraraka look overwhelmed.
Rock Lock turns to him and near-screams about how the entire operation has been turned head over heels. Izuku takes in his argument coolly, trying not to tremble. Mirio is there, Nejire is asking everyone arbitrary questions and Amajiki looks even closer to a panic attack then Izuku feels.
And then comes the million dollar issue.
“Chisaki knows we took Eri-chan. He’s her caretaker— he can sue, or demand her back, or come in here with fair premise with the paperwork and a good enough alibi. We have nothing on him yet but some hunches.”
“What if they were just in a disagreement? What if the girl’s Quirk had to do with those scars? We should return her—”
“No.” Izuku doesn’t recognize his voice, but his snarl silences the whole table. Rock Lock looks at him angrily.
“Why not, kid?! There’s a legal way to do all of this—”
“Have you seen her?” Izuku asks, false calm in his voice. “She is covered in scars. She ran out of that alley barefoot, calling for help, and she’s underweight.”
“She might have just been having a disagreement with her father—”
“Bullshit!” Izuku roars, standing up and forgetting himself.
“They always say they’re relatives, or they are, and then you can’t do anything while they hurt you and you’re stuck in a damn gilded cage. Eri-chan just had to answer a bunch of questions about whether people have hurt her, whether people have touched her in places they shouldn’t have, and she almost had a breakdown because she thought she couldn’t refuse.” He stares at Rock Lock.
“I was the one who had to read those questions to her. She didn’t answer falsely once to Tsukauchi-san. We cannot leave her with an abuser.”
“We are talking about a little girl’s testimony, we have nothing to convict Chisaki Kai on—”
“Yes! Yes you do! Emotional endangerment! Physical abuse! She has scars!”
Rock Lock opens his mouth yet again, and Izuku sees red.
“I am not going to let a FIVE YEAR OLD CHILD BACK INTO THE HELL SHE ESCAPED FROM!” He bellows, One for All bursting free and sparkling across his body like a second skin, crushing the table underneath his hands. He'd be horrified if he was less enraged.
“She escaped from a horrible place, and she had to go through what even I can't bear! I won’t let you send her back into the lion’s den, because knowing you are truly, completely alone with the abuser who constantly causes you pain is damaging.”
“--How do you know she’s been abused—”
Izuku chokes on a bitter laugh, the words flying from his mouth before he can stop them.
“We abused kids can just sense each other, I guess.” He says, snorting bitterly. After all, he’d noticed Todoroki immediately. “I saw the way she acted, running towards me, and I saw myself in her desperate eyes. I tried to escape once and the man I was running from hit me so hard I broke three ribs. If I can offer a chance to get a child out of the circumstances that I’ve had to suffer in for fourteen years then by god I will, because at one point the only way I saw a way out of that was to die, ” he heaves, throwing his hands palm-up so everyone sees the discolored scars on his arms.
Ice drips down his back, he deactivates One for All, and then exhales, long and controlled. He'd gotten out of control, and that was no way for a hero to act.
And then he realizes what he’s just told them, and his head snaps up.
The Heroes are pale and wide-eyed— Mirio’s face is grim, Fatgum’s shell-shocked. Aizawa-sensei's face has blanched significantly, and the table is very splintered. Kirishima breaks the silence, uncharacteristically quiet. “Midoriya, you were…”
“Deku-kun?” Uraraka says faintly, eyes wide, glued to his wrists.
Izuku claps his hands over his mouth, what has he done, what has he done, he meets Toshinori’s eyes and almost is sick right there at the pallor of his face, the total, utter horror in his face at this revelation that Izuku was weak.
“Don’t,” he chokes. “Call me that. Please.” His father’s face bleeds into his vision and he spins around, slams through the doors to get far, far away.
They find him with Eri-chan hours later, and suddenly, Eri’s words make sense to Tsukauchi, making him dizzy with the realization. He's like me.
Needless to say, Eri-chan stays right where she is, in safety. Now they just have… a different issue.
(After all, Izuku has to go home soon.)