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Hitoshi has a thing about voices.

Part of it's because of his Quirk, probably. He's always listening for that reply. It's the opening, the chink in a person's armor that lets his own voice slip in and hijack their brain. But part of it is that most people are wary around him, so when someone does talk, particularly to him, it stands out. He catalogues the timbre, the cadence, the frustration or disdain or whatever else he might have goaded out of them (if that's what he was trying to do, even). For practical purposes, of course, but--perhaps not always, if he's honest with himself.

Midoriya sounds naiive. Earnest. Too damn young. He looks it, too. Short, with wide, nervous eyes and a face that looks too kind for a fight.

Hitoshi lays the trap. He catalogues Midoriya's outrage as the kid bumbles right into it. He's defensive of his classmates, apparently, quick to get roused on their behalf. That's useful. It makes things easy.

And then the kid breaks out (by breaking his own fingers, what the hell) and Hitoshi doesn't hear Midoriya's voice anymore. Only the pounding of Midoriya's footsteps as he charges in like a tiny, green bull. The thud of Hitoshi's fist in Midoriya's face. A cry of pain--a quick, aborted sound, not even a yell--just before Midoriya grabs Hitoshi's arm and the front of his shirt and judo-flips him out of the ring.

The impact and the ringing in his head are seared into his memory. It hurts. It's frustrating. He doesn't expect to hear Midoriya speak again.

He should stop setting expectations with this guy, it seems.

"Shinsou, why do you want to be a hero?"

He's surprised by how soft Midoriya's voice is. No anger or blame, not even a trace of smugness. The question stings, but it doesn't sound like it's meant to.

Hitoshi swallows the lump in his throat and tells him, "You can't help the things your heart longs for." He doesn't listen so carefully to the sound of his own voice. He doesn't want to hear the defeat and resignation that's probably leaking out of him. He turns to walk away. He aches. His feet feel heavy.

"You were really cool, Shinsou!"

Hitoshi stops, stunned.

More shouts of encouragement follow. The crowd chatters about his Quirk, and--and for once, they're not calling him a villain. They're looking at him and seeing potential. They're--they're telling him he's amazing. He collects every voice he hears, every cheer, every exclamation, and encodes them in his memories with the flare of hope they bring.

Resignation is swept away by resolve. He will get in. It's an uphill battle, but he'll win it. He'll be a better hero than everyone who got to coast their way into the hero course. He declares his resolution aloud. Let them hear me, Hitoshi thinks fiercely. Let everyone know I'm committing to this.

"Yeah!" says Midoriya earnestly.

Hitoshi can't resist slipping in and taking control, just for a second. Midoriya is... something, Hitoshi thinks. He drops his guard and trusts so easily. It's refreshing. But it also puts him at risk of being played for a fool. And if he is--if he gets knocked out the next round because he's too soft-hearted, too easily messed with--it'd make Hitoshi look bad. He tells himself that's why he gives the kid some free advice. It's not out of concern, or anything like that.

 "At this rate, someone will trip you up in no time," Hitoshi warns him. "At least... Don't lose in an unseemly way."

"I won't!"

Hitoshi takes control again and sighs. This guy doesn't learn, does he?

 

Midoriya doesn't lose in the way Hitoshi's afraid of--he isn't curb stomped, isn't swept off the ring in a hot minute. No, he goes out in a blaze of self-destruction and absolute horror. He snaps his own bones over and over and over again, turns himself into a mess of blood and bruises. Midoriya's voice tears out of him, raw with an emotion that Hitoshi can't name. It sounds a little like anger and a little like desperation, but it isn't quite either of those things.

Midoriya has the worst Quirk backlash Hitoshi's ever seen.

How did this guy get into the hero course? What did he have to do to himself?

At the end of it, Midoriya's a limp, smoking body on the far side of the arena. He's carried away unconscious.

Hitoshi feels sick.

 

Relief washes over him when he glimpses Midoriya in the stands later. He's awake and--okay, his arms are bound so obviously he's not entirely alright, but he's mostly alright. Alive and conscious. He doesn't show any signs of pain--though Hitoshi's not sure that means much, because what kind of fucked up pain tolerance does Midoriya have to have to do what he did? 

Midoriya's talking to one of his friends. Hitoshi can't hear Midoriya's voice from here.

He resists the urge to check up on him.

 


 

"Let's go another round."

Aizawa's voice carries the hoarse, bone-deep weariness of a man who's worked himself half to death. But he keeps showing up, training with Hitoshi, pointing out his mistakes and successes and explaining how he can improve, urging him forward. His voice holds a steadiness and an undercurrent of steel, beneath all the tiredness. It's a voice that's never fed up with Hitoshi, never sounds frustrated. Never gives up on him.

It's a jaded voice, sure, but it's not jaded because of Hitoshi, specifically. It sounds like that with everyone he talks to, and it makes sense. Aizawa's an underground hero. His class got attacked by a horror show of high-ranking villains at the start of the year. (Hitoshi remembers the rumors rippling through the halls, in hushed voices mixed with anxiety and incredulity and a million other things.) The man's seen some scary shit. Hitoshi doesn't even try to imagine the scary shit.

He'll deal with the scary shit when he becomes a hero.

"Yes, sir," says Hitoshi.

Hitoshi forces himself to his feet. He aches all over. His reactions are still too slow, and his blocks are sloppy. His stamina needs work. He feels like they've been sparring for ages.

Aizawa considers him, frowning, and when he speaks again, he sounds almost gentle. "Take a water break first. I've been pushing you hard." When Hitoshi merely blinks at him, surprised, Aizawa cracks a smile. "You're doing good. You'll get there. It would be irrational to rush things and not take care of yourself."

Hitoshi sips from his water bottle and watches Aizawa drink from a jelly pouch. He wonders if his mentor practices what he preaches.

 


 

When Hitoshi first hears Jiro's voice, it's through his earbuds. A classmate sent him a link to Class 1A's concert performance. Hitoshi might've gone, if it weren't for him manning the haunted house. Then again, he might've not. Too loud.

Either way, he missed the glittering disco ball, the line dance, the crowds, the guitar and drums that probably would've reverberated in his bones if he'd been there. And he missed this hero kid, Jirou, taking center stage and belting out her song.

Even digitized and fed through crappy speakers, she sounds like a goddamn professional.

Better, even. This is one of the most heartfelt and powerful voices he's ever heard.

Hitoshi bookmarks the link so he can come back to it later.

 

He finds out later that, most of the time, Jirou doesn't talk like she sings. She's sharp, she's guarded, and she doesn't wear her heart on her sleeve. Which is fine. Hitoshi can empathize with that. It makes him wonder how much courage she'd needed to put herself out there for the concert.

He's almost tempted to go up to her and tell her that her song was amazing. But if she's anything like him, she probably doesn't want to be put on the spot. Besides, he's not here to make friends, right? He has an objective. He's going to achieve it.

Focus.

 


 

When Hitoshi reaches the training grounds, he resists the urge to hide behind Aizawa.

Voices chatter at him. There are so many. He hasn't been talked to, or about, so much since... Probably since the Sports festival.

"Shinsou?!" yells Ojiro. He sounds shocked, and he doesn't say much after that. Mentally, Hitoshi shrugs it off.

Midoriya is the opposite. He looks and sounds so damn happy to see Hitoshi, and it kindles something warm and fragile in his chest.

It's distracting.

Focus, Hitoshi reminds himself, and when Aizawa tells him to introduce himself, he gives them his spiel. He's not here to be buddies. He's here to beat them all.

"How stiff," says Tokoyami dryly. His voice is deep and sardonic.

The tape guy (Sero?) grins. "Reminds me of pre-upgrade Todoroki."

What?

"I like this guy," says someone Hitoshi barely recognizes--one of the Class B kids, he thinks--and again, what? Why does that sound so ominous?

 

The red-haired guy--what's his face, Kirishima?--bursts with enthusiasm. Apparently he's decided he's a fan of Hitoshi's, even though Hitoshi just went and called them all obstacles. (Because that's what they are, and he can't afford to lose focus, not when he knows he's being tested.) Hitoshi can't tell if Kirishima is serious or if he's just hyper. He sounds hyper.

Frog Girl--Tsuyu--speaks in a level croak. She's also practical and straightforward. It makes her easy to work with. "Tell us about your quirk," she says bluntly.

Hitoshi's not sure what to make of Kaminari. He doesn't seem like the brightest bulb in the box. He seems well-intentioned enough, though. Hitoshi doesn't bother to correct him on the whole ladies' man thing, but he's... Very much not. For a number of reasons.

"Thanks for having me," says Hitoshi flatly.

 

The ominous kid's name is Monoma. He has the kind of voice that gets under your skin.

It's not smooth like Hitoshi's. It has a shrill edge to it, a tinge of mania. But Monoma does something similar: he needles. He tries to rile people up. He seems to rile himself up more than he riles his adversaries, though. Hitoshi listens, exasperated, as Monoma crows about how they're going to crush 1A together. The guy needs to chill. His lack of chill could be used against him.

"Thanks for having me," says Hitoshi, in the same flat voice he used before.

 

The matches begin.

 

Black tendrils shoot out of Midoriya and tear up the maze of pipes and walls. He screams for people to get away from him, get safe. His voice is wracked with pain.

The gravity girl, Uraraka, didn't hesitate to leap in, and now, she clings to Midoriya while darkness thrashes all around them. She yells at him to use his brainwashing. Her voice is a barked order, loud and urgent. No room for hesitation or doubt or fear.

Hitoshi remembers her from the Sports Festival. She'd kept coming at Bakugou over and over again, storing up debris until she'd had enough to make the sky fall. She's an amalgam of upbeat smiles and goddamn terrifying power.

And now, this terrifying person is counting on him.

But what does he say? How can he trick Midoriya into--wait. No. He doesn't have to trick him. In a scenario like this, he'll latch on to anything Hitoshi asks, right? If he can. Hitoshi hopes he can.

So Hitoshi sucks in a breath and yells:

"Let's fight!"

Midoriya's response is strained, but trusting. "OKAY!"

The switch is flipped. The chaos stops.

Hitoshi breathes a sigh of relief.

 

Midoriya doesn't say a word for the rest of the match, no matter how much Hitoshi goads him. Hitoshi tries to fight back, but then Midoriya uses his own capture weapon against him and he's flattened, pinned beneath Midoriya's weight. (What does this guy eat, anyway? He looks so short, but he feels like he's made of bricks.)

Afterwards, Midoriya comes up to him, anxious and earnest as he insists that he hadn't been faking the loss of control. Hitoshi raises his eyebrows. Was he seriously worried that Hitoshi'd thought that? It was obviously real. He would've had to be a damn good actor to be faking it. Those yells...

Then comes the chatter. The words gush out of Midoriya like water from a spring. He acts like everything Hitoshi did in their match was the best thing since omurice. It's not. It was the bare minimum. It was inadequate. But Midoriya doesn't so much as pause for breath, and Hitoshi doesn't get the chance to rebut him.

There's no trace of the hesitance Hitoshi noticed at the Sports festival.

He doesn't let himself examine why he's happy about that.

 

 

Hitoshi passed.

He passed.

Aizawa's voice sounds close and far away at the same time. It's like a dream, everywhere and nowhere, loud and ringing but surreal. "Shinsou will join the hero department starting his second year," Aizawa declares, and is Hitoshi imagining the gruff pride in his voice? Could he really be-- "Nobody here better dare take him on half-heartedly!"

The ache in his chest is like that day at the Sports Festival, but more.

It's overwhelming.

Hitoshi imagines bottling up this feeling and storing it somewhere safe, so he can return to it later.

 


 

"Good luck with your resolution, kid."

Aizawa's voice is flat and tired on the surface, but Hitoshi's learned to recognize the subtle inflections it carries. Aizawa's amused.

Hitoshi narrows his eyes. "What do you mean?"

Aizawa takes a moment to reply. He strides along the path back to U.A., leaves crunching underfoot, while Hitoshi trails after him. "Your little speech," says Aizawa at last. "You said you're not there to make friends. That's fine. Your approach is rational." And then he looks back, and Hitoshi spots the upturned corners of his mouth. "You're going to have a hell of a time convincing my class to go along with it, though."

Hitoshi frowns.

"They like you," says Aizawa. "And you saved the problem child."

"What--Midoriya?"

"Who else?"

Hitoshi mentally reviews everything he knows about Midoriya. Shattered his own bones in the Sports Festival. Had the freaky quirk development in the middle of training. Attacked by Stain in Hosu. (Something was odd about that. How had Stain come across all three of those hero kids in the same spot, anyway?) If the rumors were correct, Midoriya also got caught right in the middle of the USJ, got into a mess at the training camp, and--didn't he get accosted by a villain at the mall, too, one time?

Yeah, okay, problem child fits.

"They're going to latch onto you," Aizawa warns. "Especially Midoriya. He's too persistent for his own good. Watch out for Kirishima, too." He's still amused. Definitely amused. "He's the one who made friends with Bakugou."

From what Hitoshi's seen, Bakugou's like an angry yakuza. Constantly. It's hilarious. That's something Hitoshi can probably exploit for his Brainwashing, too. Wind him up, spring the trap.

How the actual fuck would a person befriend that guy? Why?

Aizawa slows, and all of a sudden, Hitoshi's not trailing after him anymore. They're side by side. A hand rests on his shoulder, warm and bracing. "It'll be fine." Aizawa's voice carries reassurance, now. It's the tone he uses when Hitoshi's struggling with the capture scarf, or when he's sweating and shaking, his own body betraying him when he tries to push himself just a little harder--become just a little stronger, faster, more enduring. Aizawa's voice is a little lower, a little softer than usual. "They're good kids. They'll keep reaching out, whatever you decide. You can reach back, if you want. They might grow on you."

Hitoshi makes a noncommittal noise.

 


 

"Shinsou! Would you like to sit with us? We saved you a seat!"

Hitoshi shifts the lunch tray in his arms. He opens his mouth to say no, thanks, he wants to eat somewhere quiet, but then he catches sight of Midoriya's hopeful expression. The warmth from Midoriya's voice sinks in. Everything about him is open. Hitoshi would dismiss the openness as naiveté, but he recalls the scary fucking shit Midoriya, hell, his whole class has endured--and that's only the shit Hitoshi's heard about (in one case, witnessed). Why does he feel like there's more?

Midoriya falters. "It's okay if you don't want to. I just thought it would be nice, but if you'd rather--"

Hitoshi folds like wet paper and says, "Sure."

Midoriya brightens.

The moment they sit down, Midoriya pulls a notebook and a pen out from whatever hammer space he keeps them in. He wants to know everything about Hitoshi's quirk. "How many people can you brainwash at once?" he asks eagerly. "You'd gotten a few during the cavalry battle, right? Can you command multiple people at the same time? Does everyone react to brainwashing the same way? Like, do they all keep some semblance of self-awareness? This kind of fuzzy, seeing-everything-through-a-fog feeling? Is it mainly the motor cortex of the brain that your Quirk accesses? But then, how does that sync up with the regions responsible for verbal responses?"

"Wait," Hitoshi cuts in. "You said my quirk makes you feel fuzzy?"

"It's like--" Midoriya gestures ineffectually with his hands. He's still holding the notebook and pen. "I'm still aware. Technically. But my body doesn't do what I want, and it feels like my thoughts move slower. And emotions aren't weaker, exactly, but it feels like they get muffled, kind of? Like when I had the, um, the new development in my Quirk with all the black energy, and you helped me stop it. It felt like--like there was this fuzzy blanket between me and the fear. It took the edges away." Midoriya frowns. "But Ojiro said when you brainwashed him, he completely forgot everything."

Instinctively, Hitoshi tenses.

But Midoriya's voice holds no hint of accusation. It's thoughtful. "So it definitely doesn't always take effect the same way, but I wonder if it's something about the person, or if it's something about the state they're in? Maybe it reacts differently with different quirks--oh, right, Hitoshi, I should let you answer! What kinds of experiences have your brainwashing targets had, under your quirk?"

Hitoshi doesn't actually know how most people feel when they're brainwashed. He's never asked. He's never thought to. When he brainwashes someone, they're an obstacle. They're hostile. "I don't know what it feels like, for most," he says aloud. "Only its limitations and effects. The people I brainwash usually aren't good for interviews." His mouth contorts in a crooked smile. "If I've resorted to using my Quirk, it's competition or a threat."

Midoriya looks startled.

And then his eyes gleam, and his voice is charged with determination. "We should run some experiments," he says, and he grabs Hitoshi's arm in his excitement. He probably doesn't realize how strong his grip is. "It'd be so interesting! And you'd learn more about your quirk, and that would be useful, right?"

Hitoshi barks out a laugh. It sounds harsh and bitter even to his own ears. "Sure. Good luck finding anyone who's willing to put their mind in my hands."

A beat passes.

Uraraka leans forward, fists clenched. "I'll do it," she says. "We should learn more about your Quirk." Her voice carries the kind of conviction that's pushing through fear and nerves. Hitoshi doesn't know how he feels about it. He opens his mouth to tell her she doesn't have to, that she shouldn't feel obligated to go along with Midoriya's crazy idea.

"I will as well," declares Iida. He sounds like he's planning to march into battle, or something. So serious.

"Sure," says Todoroki, and Hitoshi almost misses it because his voice is so level, calm as a frozen lake. It's not something Hitoshi would have expected--not from the way he'd blasted his power around at the sports festival.

"Great!" says Midoriya happily. "I'll talk to some of the others and see who else we can get to join."

Hitoshi snaps his mouth shut.

He's going to make this happen, isn't he?

 


 

In the end, Midoriya gathers himself, Iida, Uraraka, Todoroki, Tokoyami, Asui ("Tsu"), Yaoyorozu, Ashido, Kirishima, and Kaminari, and he lets Hitoshi into 1A's dorm. They're all seated in the common room: splayed across the couches, leaning against the walls, sitting cross-legged on the floor. Another one of the hero kids is messing around in the kitchen. The air smells like chiffon cake. Hitoshi pretends not to notice, even as his stomach grumbles and his mouth waters.

Midoriya beams. "Okay, so," he says, "I was thinking we could take turns having Hitoshi brainwash us and asking us to do simple tasks, and then each person can catalogue what it felt like and how much they were aware of. And then we can go from there, umm..."

"Works for me," says Kirishima brightly. "Me first!"

Hitoshi raises his eyebrows. "Alright," he says, "all you've got to do is give me a verbal reaction."

Kirishima nods vigorously. "You got it, man!"

Hitoshi's grin is all teeth and sharp edges.

He feels it when he flips the switch. He always does. It's like his mind is catching onto Kirishima's voice, finding a string in it. Hitoshi could leave the string alone, but he doesn't. He tugs, and the string goes taut. There's a slight pressure in his forehead as Kirishima's face blanks, as his arms fall to his sides, as his muscles slacken. He's limp, compliant. A doll. A marionette. Hitoshi should probably make the marionette do something.

What, though?

"Sit on the couch," he decides.

Kirishima shuffles over to the couch and sits on an empty cushion, next to Midoriya.

Hitoshi lets the string slip from his grasp.

Kirishima blinks. His shoulders stiffen. His face looks alive again--confused, specifically. "I was standing before, right?"

"Yes," says Hitoshi cautiously. "I brainwashed you and told you to sit down."

"Huh. Interesting. I don't remember it, like, at all." His voice is softer than Hitoshi's ever heard it. Considering. Not enthusiastic, but not frightened or angry, either. "It's like--have you ever been put under anesthesia? The doc puts the needle in because they need you unconscious for surgery, and you slip under, and then you're awake a second later and three hours have gone by."

Midoriya's pen scratches furiously as he mumbles to himself.

Hitoshi blinks. "When did you need anesthesia?"

Kirishima rubs the back of his neck. "I got hurt during work study. I wasn't tough enough."

Hitoshi recognizes the undercurrent of self-deprecation. He doesn't comment on it. He doesn't comment on the injury, either, though he can't help but wonder what Kirishima got involved in, and why UA had sanctioned it. If they had. Had they? Or was this just another case of 1A being a trouble magnet?

Midoriya's stopped mumbling. His expression looks pained.

"I'm working on that, though!" says Kirishima. His grin flashes shark's teeth. His voice is full of determined cheer.

"...Alright. Thanks for your time."

 

Next up is Uraraka. "Do it," she says. Her voice is a peculiar mix of chirpy, determined, and nervous as hell.

"Sure," agrees Hitoshi. "Tell me something: what's the most you've ever floated?"

Uraraka's brow furrows, and she takes a moment to respond.  "I think the most I've ever floated at once was the meteor shower at the--"

Hitoshi tugs.

Uraraka goes slack, just like Kirishima, just like all of Hitoshi's brainwashing victims. Her energy and personality disappear. Hitoshi suppresses a grimace and brushes away the phantom whispers of villain in the back of his mind. He tells her to walk around the coffee table three times. Then he tells her to pick up the coffee table, which Uraraka does with no apparent effort. Hitoshi honest to gods can't tell if she's subconsciously using her Quirk or if she's just that strong.

"Put it down," he says, and when she does, he lets her go.

Uraraka blinks and comes back to herself. "I feel like I was asleep."

"Do you remember picking up the coffee table?"

"I feel like I picked up... Something."

"I also made you walk around it three times."

"Oh. I think I remember moving a bit? It's weird." Uraraka taps her chin. "It's like when you wake up and you know you dreamed but all the details are slipping away."

Huh.

 

"Are you the kind of person who goes jogging at the crack of dawn?" Hitoshi asks Iida.

"Of course! Jogging is excellent training for--"

Got you.

Hitoshi makes Iida lean over and touch his toes. He tries not to think about how robotic the movement looks.

When Iida comes to, he accuses Hitoshi of being rude for interrupting him mid-answer. Hitoshi stifles a chuckle. This guy is too much. Hitoshi stands back and lets Iida give his spiel about manners and complete replies and whatnot, then suppresses a twitch of impatience as Iida leaps back into his answer about jogging. Apparently he has a schedule and a ten-kilometer route that he runs without powering on his engines.

"You are welcome to join me," says Iida seriously.

"I've got my own schedule," Hitoshi replies hastily. Technically, it's not a lie. Aizawa puts him through endurance training. He's just not as fanatical about it as Iida. Or, he's fanatical in a more rational way, at least--one that doesn't involve getting up at five in the morning, because why put yourself through that unnecessary brand of torture? "Anyway, what did it feel like? The Brainwashing?"

"It was odd indeed! I was aware that I was under your power, but I wasn't aware of anything else. What did I do?"

"Toe touches."

 

"Todoroki, has anyone ever told you your hair looks like a peppermint?"

A huff of surprise escapes him, which Hitoshi counts as a victory (though not enough of one for his Quirk). The ice-and-flames kid had scarcely changed expression at lunch, had scarcely said a word the whole evening. He's stoic. A still lake. "No," says Todoroki, "though Bakugou calls me half-n-half sometimes." The lake ripples, and Hitoshi catches it--catches the subtle, amused inflection beneath the surface-level calm. The subtlety remind him of Aizawa's voice, though Todoroki's is less tired. It's a pleasant sound.

Hitoshi activates his Quirk. He tells Todoroki to make snow--and it must be something Todoroki considers a basic motor function, because he does it. Delicate flakes materialize above his right hand, swirling, slow dancing as they drift to the ground. Hitoshi watches, entranced, before remembering that it wasn't logical to keep standing here and wasting time. He lets his control slip away.

Todoroki's fingers curl. He stares at his hand thoughtfully. "Snow," he recalls. "You made me make snow. How did you know I could do that?"

"I didn't. I was just curious. Looks like it's something you do a lot, though."

Todoroki tilts his head.

"It wouldn't've worked if it was too complicated, like if it used a higher brain function," Hitoshi explains. "Your body has to know it the same way it knows how to walk."

"Ah." Todoroki lets his hand fall to his side. "It's a good grounding exercise." More ripples, more undercurrents. There's a tender, honest something in his voice as he adds, "It makes me think of my mother."

Hitoshi doesn't know what to say to that. Silently, he catalogues Todoroki's answer. The cadence. The words. The soft smile.

 

"So Kaminari, is the black streak in your hair natural, or is it a dye?"

"One hundred percent natural, dude!" Kaminari's voice is open and confident (or cocky as hell, to put it less politely). Hitoshi's Quirk catches on the ready response, and he puts Kaminari under. He makes Kaminari flex his biceps, just for the heck of it (it makes him snicker internally; it makes some of the 1A kids actually snicker). He also asks Kaminari if he's ever thought about getting an ear piercing. Like a fang, or a stud. It's a rational experiment, Hitoshi thinks, to see if Kaminari will remember being asked this.

"That would be so cool," says Kirishima in the background.

Midoriya chokes on a laugh.

Hitoshi lets go, and Kaminari's blank puppet look gives way to a puzzled expression. "Oh, dude, how long was I under for? I don't remember any of it."

 

"Yaoyorozu, what are the limitations of your Quirk?"

Yaoyorozu's response is crisp, self-assured. Fitting for someone who can materialize a literal cannon. "The quantity of material I can create correlates with my body fat. There's also a time delay: larger and more complex objects take longer to construct." Hitoshi is about to tug on the strings of her mind when she adds, "And of course, I must know the chemical composition of anything I create."

"Wait, what."

"Shinsou, was that not enough of a--"

Hitoshi remembers himself and activates his Quirk, ignoring the growing pressure in his head. He asks her to make something simple, a block of iron in the palm of her hand. Yaoyorozu goes through the motion of holding out her hand, but no iron appears. Hitoshi then tells her that her memory must be abso-fucking-lutely insane. Except it's not her he's talking to--it's a marionette with no expression, with lifeless coal for eyes.

When he lets go, Yaoyorozu blushes and says, "I study hard."

"...You remember what I said to you."

Her response is warm and amused in equal measure. "Yes."

Hitoshi rubs the back of his neck and glances away.

 

"Tokoyami, are you going for a goth aesthetic?"

"Naturally. I am a creature of the night."

The moment Tokoyami slackens, Dark Shadow bursts out of him with narrowed eyes and a manic grin. "You should turn out the lights," suggests the creature gleefully, and Hitoshi lets go of Tokoyami's mind so fast that it gives him whiplash. His head isn't aching yet, but it feels like it's close. He doesn't know why. The backlash took far longer to trigger at the Sports festival, when he was brainwashing cavalry battle targets left and right.

Maybe he didn't notice it because of the adrenaline. Or maybe it's just that he hasn't been getting much sleep lately. His supplementary training with Aizawa, on top of his normal studies and his insomnia--his stupid, stupid insomnia--could be a lot, sometimes.

"Ignore Dark Shadow," says Tokoyami firmly. "Leave the lights on."

 

Hitoshi is about to brainwash Asui--Tsu--when his stomach straight-up roars.

"You should probably go eat, ribbit," croaks Tsu.

"Aw man!" pouts Ashido. "I wanted to be brainwashed! I wanna know what it feels like for me!"

"You probably wouldn't remember it," says Midoriya absentmindedly as he scribbles something in his notebook. "I think. I'm not sure."

Hitoshi ignores Ashido's whining and listens with only half an ear as Tsuyu says something about Satou and leftover cake. He peers over Midoriya's shoulder. Midoriya's writing is nearly illegible, but Hitoshi can pick out a chart with the students' names and cramped scribblings in the margins. He thinks he sees a list of potential factors, too, which Midoriya is going through and annotating with symbols. Stars and circles and X's. Hitoshi doesn't know what they mean.

"What're you thinking?" Hitoshi asks, close to Midoriya's ear.

Midoriya startles. "S-shinsou! How did you--"

Hitoshi smiles wryly as Midoriya's face goes blank. He's still too trust--

Pain stabs through Hitoshi's head, and he lets go of his Quirk, grimacing.

Midoriya sighs. "I don't understand why you feel the need to do that to--are you alright?"

"Fine," lies Hitoshi, and resists the urge to massage his temples. "I should probably get going, though. Need to grab dinner."

"You didn't eat?"

Tsuyu says something about Sato's cake again, and Iida launches into a lecture about proper nutrition or whatever. Midoriya looks concerned, and then determined--like he's on the verge of shoving Hitoshi into a chair and pressing food on him, or something. But before Midoriya has the chance to act, Hitoshi throws them a goodbye and ducks out the door.

He'll be fine after some ibuprofen and a combini sandwich.

As he walks, he commits all the voices he'd just heard to memory, collecting them like they're shells he's found on a beach. Almost without noticing, he collects the other pieces of themselves they'd given him, as well. Tokoyami's Dark Shadow gets out of control without light to nerf it (or so Hitoshi suspects). Yaoyorozu studies her ass off just to make her Quirk usable.  Kirishima got badly hurt one day because he wasn't strong enough. Todoroki thinks of his mother when he makes snow...

 


 

"What would it feel like if I brainwashed you?" Hitoshi asks Aizawa the next day.

Hitoshi is flat on his back for the seventh time that day, and Aizawa is leaning over him, stretching out his hand. They're in one of the UA gyms, a free one near the edge of campus. It's huge and open, with springy mats and climbing walls that go up for several stories. Hitoshi's uniform sticks to his skin. Sweat beads down his neck. Everything aches. The question slips past his lips before he realizes.

Aizawa stills.

"Sorry," says Hitoshi quickly, and forces himself to sit up. "Didn't mean to say that out loud."

But Aizawa's response is gentle. "It's fine. Let's try it."

"Wait, what?"

"Use your Quirk," commands Aizawa.

"Are you sure?" asks Hitoshi, even as he prepares himself to grab the line.

"Yes."

The hook catches. Hitoshi tugs.

The tension drains out of Aizawa's body. His arms hang limp at his sides. His eyes are empty and still, his face relaxed. Hitoshi's never seen Aizawa this relaxed in his life. He's always watching, or listening, or assessing, even when he's cocooned in his sleeping bag. He's always on guard, Hitoshi realizes, and now he's not.

"Sit down," Hitoshi says. "Criss-cross applesauce."

Aizawa sits across from him.

"Hold out a fist."

His teacher obeys.

"Stand up again."

Hitoshi runs through a few more commands. He doesn't ask Aizawa to do anything silly or stupid, like make cat ear shapes with his hands or make chicken arms. He's almost tempted. Almost. But messing with his teacher feels like it would be crossing a line in a way that it wouldn't with, say, Kaminari. Even if he ends up not remembering any of this. Hell, it feels like he's crossing a line now.

Pressure builds in Hitoshi's head. He furrows his brow and releases his Quirk's hold.

Aizawa seems to take a moment to come back to himself. "Hm," he says, and flexes his hand. "Interesting."

"...Which means...?"

Once again, Aizawa leans over and reaches out to him. Hitoshi grabs on and lets himself be pulled to his feet. "I remained aware that I was under the effects of a Quirk, but awareness of what my body was doing faded in and out." He sounded intrigued, of all things. "It's like I was on the boundary between sleeping and waking."

"Like Uraraka," Hitoshi muses, thinking of her fractured memories and her description of dreaming. Then he realizes he said that aloud. Damn, Midoriya must be rubbing off on him. (How is that guy rubbing off on him already? They barely know each other.)

Aizawa raises his eyebrows. "Explain."

Hitoshi scratches the back of his neck. "It's, uh, something Midoriya roped me into..." And he recounts, from the beginning, how he'd ended up experimenting with his Quirk. His conversation with Midoriya. Midoriya's proposal. Hitoshi's sarcastic agreement, how he'd wished Midoriya a sardonic good luck with finding volunteers, and then Midoriya had actually done it, and at that point, the wheels were in motion, so he'd just... Gone with it? It was advantageous to learn more about his Quirk anyway, right? Gotta use every dirty trick in the book if he wanted to make it.

Aizawa frowns at this, and Hitoshi falters. But Aizawa doesn't say anything, just motions for him to continue, so he does.

He summarizes the different experiences each person had with his Quirk. There's a range. Hitoshi hadn't realized that there was such a range. Not that their subjective experiences matter for how he's ultimately using his Quirk--not that much--but...

"And then Midoriya sent me this e-mail. At three in the morning."

Hitoshi pulls out his phone and opens the message. He holds it out so Aizawa can read with him. Or skim, rather. The e-mail spans several paragraphs. A summary of the participants' reactions. Conjectures about the possible factors that come into play (mental state; the target's Quirk type; intelligence; inclination toward paranoia; and other factors, such as susceptibility to anesthesia). The TL;DR version is, brains are complicated, and so is Hitoshi's Quirk. Also, they didn't get enough data to say anything definitive about those factors. The e-mail reads like the rambling of a mad scientist who's had too much coffee and too little sleep.

Midoriya doesn't even drink coffee. That Hitoshi knows of.

...Midoriya shouldn't be drinking coffee.

"Problem child," says Aizawa, but the words are tinged with fondness.

Then he keeps reading, and he frowns.

"Shinsou. You felt sick?"

"Headache," says Hitoshi quickly, and snatches his phone away. "Ibuprofen knocked it out. Don't worry."

Aizawa narrows his eyes. "Midoriya also asked if you had anything to eat."

Hitoshi tenses. "I had something late. It was a weird day. Busy."

Wordlessly, Aizawa pulls out a protein jelly pouch and presses it into his hands.

"Sensei--"

"You need to keep your strength up," he says. "If the problem child keeps pulling you into schemes, start keeping food with you. Don't forget to eat, and don't put it off." Aizawa pauses. His tone gentles. "Let me know if you get more headaches. Could mean you're pushing yourself too hard." Aizawa's voice gains a familiar layer of reassurance. Hitoshi catalogued that intonation ages ago, filed it away with his other treasured memories. "It's alright if you need to slow down. You're making great progress."

Hitoshi thinks of the late nights doing homework he doesn't have time for during the day. He thinks of the insomnia that's been plaguing him, that kept him up so he was actually awake when Midoriya sent that insane e-mail. But then he thinks of the progress he's making, of being so close, and impatience wells up inside him. He doesn't need to slow down. He'll surmount all obstacles. He'll prove himself a hero--the best hero.

But he isn't there yet.

"I'm fine," Hitoshi says, and tucks his phone back in his bag. "Show me that counter again?"

 


 

Midoriya keeps finding him at lunch--not always, but sometimes--and Hitoshi gets suckered into sitting with him and the rest of his little squad. Their chatter washes over him. Sometimes Midoriya tries to pull him into the conversation. Sometimes Hitoshi lets him. Usually, he forces lunch down quickly and takes out his study materials.

"You're diligent," Iida observes when Hitoshi does this. "Befitting of a hero student at U.A.!"

Iida speaks with an earnestness that's different from Midoriya's warmth or Kirishima's enthusiasm. He takes himself and everything around him too seriously. He accompanies his words with ridiculous robot-chop arms. He's almost yelling--not like Bakugou yelling, just, his voice is constantly raised. It gives Hitoshi a headache.

He ignores the headache and commits the voice to memory. It's annoying, sure, but not all bad. It's calling him a hero student already.

 


 

"Hey, Shinsou, we should spar sometime!"

Those are the first words out of Uraraka's mouth when he sits down one day. Hitoshi blinks at her, bemused, as she chatters about wanting to work on her hand-to-hand, and how she's heard Shinso's been working on that too, he is, right? Hitoshi chews on his onigiri and listens as she barrels on without waiting for an answer. Her ramblings aren't like Midoriya's. They're not gushing, and they're not thoughtful mutterings, either. It's a let's-do-this-thing kind of ramble. Uraraka gets caught up in her own enthusiasm.

Her voice chirps. But Hitoshi remembers the commanding shout she'd given during the joint training. He remembers how this voice can shift.

"--anyway, I usually spar in the evenings. Lots of us practice! Like sometimes I'll practice with Deku, or Bakugo and Kirishima, and sometimes Ashido or Yaoyorozu or Tsu. The dorm gym has a great mat! Springy, lots of space." Uraraka is practically bouncing in her seat. "I'm gunna train tonight, after dinner. You should fight me!"

Hitoshi considers this. He has one-on-one practice with Aizawa after regular classes. Then he needs to do that essay for Mic's class. He should probably eat at some point. Then, theoretically, he should attempt to sleep, because his life is goddamn exhausting, but he usually ends up lying awake for hours anyway.

He might as well take her up on it. Could be useful. It can't hurt.

Figuratively speaking.

 

They do Quirkless sparring, and Uraraka kicks his ass fourteen times out of twenty. She keeps coming at him with a growling determination, then switching to her cheerful, chirpy voice once she's got him down. She gives him advice. Corrections, really. He should aim where it hurts with his strikes. He could've gotten the drop on her if he'd stepped offline instead of back, there. He needs to guard his head when he's pinned like this. Et cetera. Most of it is stuff Aizawa's told him before, stuff that Hitoshi knows he should do but still needs to train into muscle memory.

It's maddening.

The other 1A kids drift in and out of the gym. Some do their own workouts. Some spectate. Midoriya and Kirishima both ask if they can jump in, to which Hitoshi snaps a "no," and Uraraka replies, "I'll take you on when I'm done with him!"

By the end of it, Hitoshi's trying in earnest to slug her in the gut. Uraraka looks happier about that than any sane person should be.

"I'm done," croaks Hitoshi at last. He's stretched out on the ground, gangly and limp, sticky with sweat.

Uraraka splays like a starfish next to him, breathing heavily. "Plus Ultra," she wheezes, and raises a feeble fist.

"Get off the mat, Eyebags," snarls a voice. It's rough and loud, bursting like a firework.

Hitoshi blinks up at Bakugou, who's glaring down at him with narrowed red eyes. "I've fallen and I can't get up," Hitoshi mock gasps.

Bakugou scowls and turns away from him. "Uraraka. You dead yet?"

"No," she says, while Hitoshi thinks, Yes. Dead. I'm dead. Both dead.

Bakugou flashes a murderous grin. "My turn."

Uraraka pushes herself to her feet. She's still panting for breath, but her eyes gleam. When she speaks, Hitoshi swears he hears a trace of aggressive mania in it, swears it's the same kind of lemme-fight-you attitude Bakugou seems to carry with him everywhere. Which is terrifying. How, how does she still have that kind of energy right now? How is he ever supposed to catch up to this?

Hitoshi doesn't bother with standing. He rolls off the mat and inches away like a sad, purple caterpillar. He wastes several minutes staring vacantly at the ceiling, listening to thumps and yells and shouted curses. Distantly, he hears the thunk of weights getting set down, then the sound of approaching footsteps. Midoriya's face appears above him, round-eyed with concern, and offers his hand.

Hitoshi stares at it. It's crooked-fingered and riddled with scars.

"Shinsou, are you okay?"

The voice is soft-edged and high with worry, and it tugs on Hitoshi's mind, drags his focus back to the present. "Yeah," Hitoshi says. He almost doesn't take the hand, but exhaustion beats out pride. He lets Midoriya pull him to his feet. His legs quiver beneath him like a newborn fawn's, and his mouth is dry. He forgot to hydrate, didn't he? He also forgot to have one of those jelly pouch things. He has some in his backpack. He should probably actually remember to eat them.

"Are you sure? I, um, I think you should sit down for a bit."

Hitoshi opens his mouth to say, nah, he'll be fine. Then his vision flecks with grey spots, and he realizes that's probably not fine. He lets Midoriya guide him over to a workout bench, where he sits and sips on some water and a jelly pouch. Midoriya's voice is like white noise, a continuous stream that fades into the background. He mumbles on about physical health, caloric intake, and recovery periods, with an occasional inquiry as to how Hitoshi's doing thrown in. Hitoshi doesn't respond verbally, just lifts a hand in the air and tilts it.

At last, Hitoshi responds with, "I'm alright. Thanks."

Midoriya's response is tinged with relief. "Oh, good. You held up well against Uraraka, by the way! She's been working really hard to improve her hand-to-hand."

On the mat, Uraraka judo flips a snarling Bakugou.

He recovers quickly and returns the favor.

SLAM.

"It's, uh. It's okay to tell her you need a breather, though. Or suggest that you both need a breather." Midoriya's watching the match, his brow furrowed. Hitoshi suspects Midoriya's trying to pick his classmates' fighting styles apart. Despite his quickness to trust and open sincerity, he's obviously sharper than he first seems. He's analytical, and--oh, he's still talking. "Same goes for any of us. It's really, really important to communicate your limits to anyone you practice with, actually. We'll try to pay attention, I promise, but we, um. We can get kind of carried away and might not realize unless you say something."

"Noted," murmurs Hitoshi, and sucks down the rest of his jelly pouch.

The fire in Uraraka's voice, the crackling energy in Bakugou's, and Midoriya's gentle concern stay with him when he leaves. He encodes their voices with the smell of sweat and the feel of his back hitting the mat.

 


 

"--sou."

The familiar voice tugs at Hitoshi, pulls him into grudging awareness. He feels something rough and uneven pressing against his back. He pries his eyes open and squints. A dark figure crouches in front of him, and it takes Hitoshi a moment to realize, oh, that's Aizawa.

Right, Hitoshi was supposed to meet him for training. Hitoshi'd come early, as soon as class let out, so he'd sat down outside the gym, beneath a tree. The weight in his lap was his government textbook. He'd been reviewing the chapter on... some laws, something about Quirks... and somewhere along the line, the words had stopped making sense, and then--

"--you with me?"

Hitoshi pulls himself out of his recollections and acknowledges, "'Zawa." The name comes out muzzy. He struggles to clear his head. "I fell asleep?"

Aizawa lets out a puff of breath. "Looks like it. Cramming for finals?"

"Yeah. Thought I could squeeze in a chapter before training." With a sudden jolt of alarm, he asks, "What time is it?"

"Fifteen after."

Hitoshi winces.

Aizawa sighs. A moment later, he's sitting cross-legged across from Hitoshi. "I misjudged your workload."

"No, you didn't," says Hitoshi quickly, "I can handle--"

"Shinsou."

Hitoshi's mouth clicks shut.

"The general course contains broader and more rigorous theory work than the hero course. I forgot this and miscalculated." Aizawa narrows his eyes. "You fell asleep in broad daylight, against a tree. I've been here for fifteen minutes. I spent three of those minutes attempting to wake you. No one sleeps that deeply unless they've been deprived."

"I swear I can keep up," Hitoshi insists. "I slipped up today, but--"

Aizawa holds up a hand. "You already passed the practical test. You need to prioritize your general studies finals. Then, once you've done well on those and you're in my class--"

Hitoshi's both thrilled and terrified by the way Aizawa says that, like it's a foregone conclusion. Because Aizawa believes in him. Because what if he lets Aizawa down?

"--you'll have combat built into your curriculum. You're here, Shinsou. You've made it this far. It's illogical to push you past exhaustion now." Aizawa blinks slowly. Hitoshi remembers reading an article saying that cats blink slowly when they trust you. The illogical, utterly nonsensical thought occurs to him that Aizawa is doing the reverse: blinking slowly to get Hitoshi to trust him.

Then Aizawa lets out another sigh, and when he speaks again, his voice is the softest Hitoshi's ever heard it. "We'll have study hall today. If you have difficulty with your general coursework, I'll help. We have the time for it. I promise."

 


 

They do not have the time for it.

UA students are called out to help with evacuating Jakku City while the heroes conduct--Hitoshi doesn't even know the details. A raid? A villain takedown? In any case, Hitoshi finds himself directing civilians, trying to make his own voice ring clear over the cacophony of unease and confusion. He can't brainwash the crowds even if he wanted to. There are too many, and they're not giving verbal responses. Aizawa's spare capture scarf coils around his neck. Hitoshi still hasn't mastered it, still can't use it one hundred percent reliably.

He's not alone, at least. Other students are here too, hero course kids, and heroes. He tells himself Aizawa--Eraserhead--will be back soon.

And then the hospital north of the city disintegrates, blooms into a mushroom cloud of grey dust, and Hitoshi damn near stops breathing.

 

Hours later, the destruction is contained, and Eraserhead comes back.

He's alive. He's standing. He's moving on his own two feet, though he looks drained, as if he'd been subjected to Recovery Girl's Quirk. Bakugou and Midoriya trail after him. All three of them are covered in ash and dust, riddled with burns and scrapes and bloodstains. Eraserhead says something to them--Hitoshi doesn't catch what, he's not close enough--and the two hero students peel away from him, toward the first-aid tents set up for recovering heroes.  Midoriya catches Hitoshi's eye and offers a shaky smile, but before Hitoshi can return a grimace, or a nod, or any form of acknowledgement, Midoriya's walking away.

Hitoshi's stomach churns. His hands shake. His feet move before he can think.

Aizawa takes the collision with a sharp exhalation and a steadying grip on Hitoshi's shoulders. He doesn't complain when Hitoshi's arms squeeze like a vice. He doesn't comment on the fact that Hitoshi's hands are shaking, nor on the way Hitoshi hides his face in the front of Aizawa's hero uniform. Aizawa's voice is low and rough, and Hitoshi barely makes it out over his own heart pounding away in his ears.

"Shit," he says. Then, louder: "Shinsou. It's alright. Breathe."

Breathing's hard to do at the moment, funnily enough.

Aizawa keeps talking. His voice is not as steady as it usually is. Hitoshi catches snatches, pieces of meaning. Villains driven off. Not all detained. No student deaths. Civilian casualties. Hero deaths, critical injuries, but not Aizawa. Aizawa's fine. Present Mic's fine. Keep moving forward. A call for water. Something about the Commission. Curses. Not kids' responsibility. Undercurrents of anger, of concern, of reassurance. Gradually, Hitoshi's panicky breathing slows down. His heart rate settles. The adrenaline drains away, leaving chills and fatigue behind.

Hitoshi realizes what he just did and draws back. "Sorry, sensei," he says hoarsely.

Aizawa's still gripping his shoulders. "Don't apologize. Students shouldn't have had to get involved to begin with. It's illogical." He pauses. "I'm glad you're alright."

Hitoshi nods numbly.

He realizes that day that every voice he hears has a chance of never being heard again.

 


 

Despite the tragedies they've just survived, UA holds its final exams. Hitoshi gets through general studies with top marks. Two weeks later, he moves into 2A's dorm building.

 


 

The 2A class is quieter than Hitoshi remembers. A couple of months ago, he would have appreciated this. Now, it sets him on edge. It feels like everyone's more guarded now, holding their breath, checking over their shoulders. Like everyone knows the League of Villains is going to strike again--that the heroes' victory is pyrrhic at best, and next time, they might not win at all. Or maybe Hitoshi's projecting. He just--he can't get the images out of his head. He can almost see it happening. Eraserhead, greying over and cracking. Midoriya beaten. Uraraka brought down. Bakugou defeated. Jakku City reduced to dust.

That actually happened. Half of the city is just gone.

Yeah, so. It would help if his classmates could be louder again. He could use the distraction.

Every once in a while, he'll slip into a conversation and try to tease something light out of them. He calls Bakugou Sparky Sparky Boom Man and cackles while Bakugou screams invectives at him. He asks Ashido why she went by Pinky, then finds out she was going to go by Alien Queen, and shit, that original idea sounds cool. He starts telling knock-knock jokes and puns. Uraraka and Hagakure are both susceptible; they burst into peals of laughter, so easily, to the extent that Hitoshi starts plotting how to use jokes against them in training. Kirishima laughs heartily. Sero snickers. Jirou rolls her eyes but grins. Todoroki either looks blankly at him or catches on and, with a slight widening of the eyes and a curling of the lips, huffs in amusement.

One day, he asks Midoriya before class if he's All Might's illegitimate son, just for kicks. (They do seem close. Weird. Perhaps All Might approached Midoriya similarly to how Aizawa approached him?)

Midoriya's voice cracks as he splutters, "Not you too!"

Hitoshi raises his eyebrows.

"Knew it," mutters Todoroki from beside them.

What?

Then Todoroki rounds on Hitoshi and demands, "You're Aizawa's son, aren't you?"

Hitoshi's left gaping while Midoriya tries, in vain, to convince Todoroki that no, Shinsou isn't Aizawa's well okay he is Aizawa's protégé but not like that, and no, All Might's not my dad, how many times do I have to tell you? Yaoyorozu rests a sympathetic hand on Hitoshi's shoulder and assures him that Todoroki is just being Todoroki, and he's prone to some, well, interesting theories. She doesn't quite pull off sincerity; there's a glint in her eye, and her voice quivers with mirth. It's a charming sound. Or it would be, if the mirth weren't directed at Hitoshi.

"We look nothing alike," says Hitoshi defensively.

Yaoyorozu considers him. The corners of her mouth curl upwards. "Actually--"

"No."

Aizawa caterpillar crawls his way into the classroom, then rights himself. He stares at Midoriya, waving his hands frantically; Todoroki, his eyes narrowed, his voice low and emphatic; and then at Hitoshi, who's caught trying to convey no with his eyes to Yaoyorozu. Yaoyorozu hides a smile behind her hand.

"I don't want to know," says Aizawa flatly. "Seats, all of you. Class is starting."

 


 

It's two in the morning, and Hitoshi can't sleep.

He tried running himself into the ground at the gym. He tried spending hours poring over his textbooks. He tried lying in bed and reading a book on Quirk classification. He tried lying down and staring blankly at the ceiling, focusing on his breathing, on the lulling rhythm of in and out. But thoughts kept spinning and he just couldn't shut down, and now he's sitting up with a frustrated groan. Every little noise is magnified. He feels restless.

Hitoshi cracks open his door and pads down the shadowed hallway. He'll just have a look around. Get himself some tea. Reassure himself that no one's busting through the walls of U.A. right now. His restlessness will settle then, perhaps, and perhaps he'll finally be able to sleep...

Light spills out from the common room up ahead. Hitoshi's heart beats like a hummingbird's. Intruder, he thinks. His mind churns, trying to think of what might goad a villain into responding--

Then he hears the mumbling.

It's Midoriya.

Hitoshi relaxes.

Midoriya's hunched over on the couch, muttering too low and fast for Hitoshi to understand. His pen zips over the notebook paper. He's in his pajamas, so this isn't just him being a workaholic. He obviously tried to get ready for bed, at some point. His shoulders are slumped, like something invisible is weighing them down. He has shadows under his eyes. The eyes themselves have a strange, wild look to them. They're too wide.

Hitoshi's feet move before he can think, and next he knows, he's settling on the couch next to Midoriya. "Hey," he says, keeping his voice low and soft. "You're up late."

Midiroiya drops his pen. "S-Shinsou!"

Hitoshi rubs the back of his neck and looks down at the coffee table. "Sorry. Didn't mean to startle you."

"I-it's okay." Midoriya's tone reminds Hitoshi of when they first talked, back at the Sports Festival. Midoriya seemed more timid, then, more uncertain. It's unsettling to hear him like that again; he always seemed so confident these days... "I was just, uh. Strategizing." He gestured to the notebook. "Sometimes when I can't stop thinking about something, it helps to write it all down and get it out of my system."

Hitoshi watches him out of the corner of his eye. He seems to be calming down; he's picking up his pen again. "Makes sense. What were you strategizing about?"

"I was thinking about all your quirks and current abilities, and doing a breakdown of how you could defend yourselves against different villains we've encountered, and--and I thought it would be helpful. In the future. Possibly." Midoriya falters.  "I-I just thought... It seems like we need to be ready, you know?"

"Yeah," agrees Hitoshi quietly. He feels a weight in his chest. "You're thinking about Jakku."

"Yes. Among other things."

"..."

Midoriya turns and faces him. "Yaoyorozu has lavender tea, and she keeps telling us all we should help ourselves if we need it. Do you want some?"

Hitoshi blinks, caught off-guard. But he finds himself saying, "Sure," and when Midoriya smiles and heads for the kitchen, he trails behind. His slippers shuffle over bare kitchen tile. Midoriya pulls out a fancy, floral-patterned canister and doles a generous heap of fragrant leaves into a tea strainer, while Hitoshi grabs the mugs--they're on the top shelf, within easy reach for Hitoshi but probably in tip-toe range for Midoriya. They wait in silence until the electric kettle whistles.

Midoriya pours the tea. And then they sit on the couch again.

Hitoshi's hands dwarf his mug as he lets the heat seep into his bones. He breathes in the smell of lavender, but he doesn't drink yet. Midoriya does the same beside him. It's a peaceful moment. It feels fragile.

"Was Jakku on your mind too?" asks Midoriya. Like Hitoshi had earlier, Midoriya pitches his voice low, keeping it to a murmur. It's gentle, and it sounds terribly young. (It's interesting, a voice like this coming out of a guy who trains constantly to be able to punch and kick shit really, really hard. But Hitoshi supposes that's Midoriya: an amalgam of boundless kindness and trust and overwhelming strength.)

"Yeah," Hitoshi admits. "I get insomnia anyway, but Jakku made it worse."

"I'm sorry. Maybe Recovery Girl has some medicine to help?"

Hitoshi hesitates. "I don't like the idea of being put under. Don't worry," he adds hastily, "I can deal with it."

Midoriya frowns at him. "We're both down here past two in the morning."

Hitoshi cracks a lopsided smile. "We have tea, and we're not being attacked right now. I'll take it."

Midoriya manages to smile back, but it's a small, forced thing.

Hitoshi drops his attempt at levity. "It's hard," he confesses. "Not knowing what's going to happen."

They sip their tea.

"I keep thinking, I'm going to wake up and never hear from some of you again." Something about the late hour and the smell of lavender makes it easy to let slip these vulnerable truths. Or maybe it's the way Midoriya is sitting there with sincere compassion written all over his face, saying nothing, just listening to him talk. "Like every time one of you responds to me, I don't know if it's going to be the last time. I try not to think about that, but I can't stop. And I--look, I've always wanted to be a hero, but it used to be... simpler. Selfish. I wanted to prove I can be something other than a villain, you know? Prove that I could be something great, despite my quirk."

Midoriya opens his mouth like he's about to say something, but Hitoshi's already moving on.

"But now it's like--the reasons have changed. Now I just don't want to lose all of you." He hears the wavering in his own voice, and he visualizes it: like spiderweb cracks in glass under pressure, spreading fast. "And I'm afraid I will if I don't improve fast enough." His eyes burn. Self-consciousness returns to him, and he hastily swipes at his eyes. "Though that's still selfish. Just a different kind of selfishness, I guess."

"I feel like that too," says Midoriya softly.

Hitoshi's breath catches.

"I'm terrified of losing you guys. Y-you're all the nicest people I've ever met, and I f-feel like if I don't get strong enough, fast enough, I w-won't be able t-to--" Midoriya bursts into tears, shoulders shuddering, chest heaving, and Hitoshi's at a loss. What do you do for someone who's bawling in front of you, crying so openly? What... What kind of reassurance can Hitoshi offer, here?

Hitoshi hesitates, then rests his hand on Midoriya's shoulder. "For what it's worth, I think you're already strong."

Midoriya sniffs. "Y-y-you t-too. Y-your Q-quirk is s-so cool a-and y-you also--y-you're also g-good in s-spars."

Hitoshi considers this as he listens to Midoriya's gasping breaths, waits as they gradually start to even out. "Okay then," he acknowledges at last. "We're both strong. We all are," he amends, thinking of Uraraka slamming him on the mat; Yaoyorozu materializing cannons; Kirishima weathering Bakugou's explosions... "And we'll get stronger. It's enough." Somehow, saying it makes Hitoshi more inclined to believe it. "We're enough."

A minute later, the crying's stopped, and Midoriya's scrubbing the last of the dampness away with his fist. "T-thanks, Shinsou."

"Anytime." He checks the clock. Three in the morning. "Literally."

Midoriya sets down his tea and hugs him. Hitoshi stiffens, startled, but Midoriya clings unabashedly. Slowly, Hitoshi brings his arms up and returns the gesture: gingerly at first, then tighter. The tight, weighted-down feeling in his chest gives way. He makes a concentrated effort not to burst into tears like Midoriya just did (though Hitoshi's tears would be, what, gratitude? Relief?). They'll never get to sleep if they keep getting all emotional.

Though maybe they won't anyway. Hitoshi still doesn't feel tired, doesn't feel like he's ready to shut down. He needs something else to do--something mentally exhausting, something that might knock him out.

"Hey, can I read what you were writing in your notebook?"

Midoriya perks up. "Yeah! If you want to. Can you also tell me what you think of it, and tell me if you have suggestions? You're really good at battlefield analysis, so--so I'd like to hear your input!"

"Sure," says Hitoshi easily, and picks up the notebook.

He reads through page after page, sometimes reading silently, sometimes reading a passage aloud. He makes comments as he goes--this could work, that seems risky, he never would've thought of this one. Sometimes, he finds a passage where the handwriting is too messy to read, and Midoriya leans over his shoulder to read it for him. Sometimes, Midoriya interjects to explain something in more detail, or to ask Hitoshi to elaborate on his thoughts.

Hitoshi stops on a line he doesn't expect. He reads it again, frowning. "What do you mean, my voice is good for talking people down? My Quirk doesn't work unless they respond."

"I'm not talking about your Quirk," Midoriya clarifies. "Although maybe it's a side effect of your Quirk? I just mean the sound of your voice. You use it to agitate people into responding a lot, but it can also be... Reassuring? Like, it can be comforting to listen to. It has a kind of lulling quality to it, sometimes. That can make people want to stop and listen, and that's good for de-escalation or--or stalling, even if you can't brainwash them." Midoriya flips the page and points to a rambling essay about how heroes comfort traumatized civilians or talk down tense situations, the ways their intonation change, and how--and when--Hitoshi's voice takes on those characteristics.

Hitoshi absorbs it all, stunned. Someone's paid as much attention to his voice as he pays to others. They examined it, analyzed it, even more than he typically does. And they like it. They see potential in it.

Despite himself, he smiles.

 

 


(Omake)

 

When Shouta first checked the monitors and spotted his students in the common room, he considered corralling them immediately--but then he saw that they appeared to be talking, and he decided against interrupting. It's good for them to support one another. It's important. And frankly, Shinsou breaking out of his shell is a damn miracle, one that Shouta is loathe to interfere with. He remembers being like Shinsou. He sees himself in Shinsou's guardedness and the pressure he puts on himself.

The current climate doesn't help matters. The Commission should never have asked so much of his kids. His kids shouldn't expect so much of themselves, so soon. It's irrational.

When Shouta checks the monitor again, at four in the morning, they're still down there. Time to intervene.

Shouta strides into the common room and opens his mouth to tell them to go to bed, only to stop short.

The two kids are slumped on the couch, asleep. Midoriya's head is on Shinsou's shoulder. A notebook rests in Shinsou's lap, and at some point, a pen rolled onto the carpet. Two tea mugs sit on the coffee table, half empty.

Shouta silently collects the mugs and cleans them out. He takes the notebook--Midoriya's, he surmises from the handwriting--and sets it gently on the coffee table. Then he goes and fetches a spare blanket. He carefully drapes it over his kids, tucking it in around the shoulders. It's only logical to let them rest; they need as much as they can get, and Shouta's slept in worse places than a couch and a friend's shoulder.

Midoriya mumbles something in his sleep.

Shinsou's eyes crack open, but they're glassy. Not fully awake. He'll probably forget this by morning. "Thanks," murmurs Shinsou, and shuts his eyes again.

Shouta rests a hand briefly on his protégé's shoulder. Problem children, Shouta thinks fondly, and walks silently away.