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Of Ghosts and Heroes

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When Aizawa Shouta first met the kid, he had just turned 17. He had not yet graduated from UA and he was interning under the underground pro hero NightLight. He was leaping over a dark side-street close to the end of his patrol route when he heard it. He paused. Somewhere beneath him was a quiet echoing hum, high pitched, soft and distinctly eerie.

He would be embarrassed about this later but his first reaction was to freeze. It was close to 4am, he was exhausted and the humming was echoing ominously in the night air. It was the type of creepy nonsensical tune used as soundtrack in horror movies.

Shaking himself, he scanned the empty street and dropped cautiously to the ground below.

He quietly followed the humming until he found a small lump of cloth curled up in a sheltered alcove. The humming stopped abruptly.

Shouta stared. The kid stared back. It was difficult to tell in the low light, but the round face and guileless eyes suggested a toddler, maybe 7 at most. Shouta was not prepared for this.

He crouched low.

“Um… Hello?”, he murmured awkwardly. The child blinked at him, tilting his head to one side but otherwise showing no reaction. Shouta’s sleep deprived mind flashed back to vivid images of inhuman apparitions. He fought back a shiver and shook the thought away.

Shouta gestured vaguely for the toddler to come forwards, and while the boy shifted, he did not approach.

The toddler was wearing the most old-fashioned clothes Shouta had ever seen. The outfit looked like it belonged in a museum – a dark tunic, layered over a long brown robe and yet another paler layer beneath. The cloth looked thick and sturdy, but still showed tears and signs of fraying. Shouta would be surprised if either the outfit or the boy himself were clean.

“…My name is Eraserhead”, Shouta pointed at himself, speaking slowly and trying not to show how unnerved he was by the kid’s staring, “What’s your name?”

He watched the kid frown, and repeated his hero name slowly. The kid scratched his nose and smiled.

“Yi-ra-zher Hei-do”, he cheered happily, pointing at Shouta’s chest. Shouta nodded encouragingly, despite how badly the kid mangled his hero name. The toddler shuffled forward a little and puffed out his chest, designating himself.

“Wei Ying!”, he declared. Shouta tilted his head and repeated the odd name back, making the toddler beam. So far, so good.

“So, uh, what are you doing out here?”, Shouta asked hopefully.

Wei Ying shifted and frowned hard at Shouta. Finally, he opened his mouth and spoke. It was gibberish. Shouta had always been terrible at languages. His best guess was that this was Chinese, but he couldn’t be sure if it was Mandarin, Cantonese, or something else. He did know it was outside his understanding. Shouta’s language skills were restricted to Japanese and the absolute basics of English that had been drummed through his head at UA.

He ran a hand down his face in exasperation.

“I have no idea what you’re saying, kid.”, he muttered tiredly. Wei Ying stared back, uncomprehending. It was mutual, then. Looks like he would have to mime. Shouta hated mimes.

“…come with me?”, he gestured for the kid to come to him, standing up and moving a few steps back.

Wei Ying yawned and slowly stood, smiling innocently at Shouta while he trotted over to stand next to the teen. Shouta attempted a smile of his own, holding back a wince at how trusting the kid was.

“…this way.”, he said, walking slowly into the main street towards the police station where NightLight was waiting for him. Hopefully someone there would know what this child was saying.

Wei Ying grabbed onto his trousers and practically skipped at his side the entire journey.

--

NightLight was an intimidating woman. She loomed over most people and her skin, eyes and hair were all shades of grey. When in her hero costume, she was truly devoid of any colour, blending with startling ease into even the lightest shadow. She was often blunt and strict with Shouta and her other interns, watching over them like a hawk until she deemed them capable enough. Beyond this, Shouta knew her to be kind and compassionate, with a strong sense of responsibility for the civilians in her care.

When Shouta arrived in front of the police station, he was unsurprised to find NightLight waiting with barely hidden concern in her monochromatic eyes. She approached him quietly, obviously having noticed the toddler at his side.

As soon as Wei Ying saw her, the toddler grabbed hard onto Shouta’s leg, gasping audibly, speaking more gibberish and retreating behind Shouta’s leg in fear. NightLight paused at the little boy’s reaction, lowering herself until she was sitting on the floor, smiling reassuringly.

Shouta reached for the kid and patted him on the head.

“Wei Ying”, he muttered, not terribly confident he knew what to do, “it’s …fine.”

The child glanced up at him briefly and said something urgently, tugging insistently at Shouta’s leg. Shouta just cautiously continued patting the boy’s long black hair, hoping the action would be calming.

Slowly, hesitantly, Wei Ying relaxed. He emerged tentatively from behind Shouta’s leg to stare unhindered at NightLight. Shouta took the opportunity to crouch at the toddler’s side.

He pointed at his mentor and spoke her name as clearly as possible. Wei Ying stared at him questioningly. He pointed at himself, “Eraserhead”, at the child, “Wei Ying”, then at the monochromatic hero, “NightLight”.

The child frowned but shifted forward to peer closely at the seated hero.

“Nai-to-Lai-te?”, Wei Ying sounded out questioningly. It was a much better attempt than his rendition of ‘Eraserhead’.

NightLight nodded, smiling softly. Wei Ying scratched the side of his nose, frowning. He nodded as if to himself and tugged Shouta forwards. Shouta shuffled awkwardly with the kid, until they were within reach of the grey heroine. Wei Ying stared at her suspiciously for a long moment before leaning in and prodding her leg, jumping back cautiously to stare a bit longer. Shouta sat cross-legged to watch, amused.

NightLight held out her arm, grinning slightly, and Wei Ying very warily reached for it, poking it and turning it slowly to examine her palm, frequently glancing up at the hero’s face in confusion. Eventually, he let go and huffed, hands on his hips. He said something in his language, decisively nodding his head. Then he turned and sat on Shouta’s lap.

NightLight took one look at Shouta’s baffled expression and let out a short laugh before turning serious.

“Eraserhead, please explain.”

Shouta sighed.

“…Heard him humming. He was sitting in an alcove on Yurei street, alone. He doesn’t seem to understand or speak Japanese. His name is Wei Ying. He’s… trusting. No sign as of yet of a quirk.”

NightLight raised one dark eyebrow at Shouta’s shrug. She gestured for them to follow and stood, guiding them into the police station. Shouta coaxed Wei Ying off his lap and stepped after her, keeping the child close.

Much to Shouta’s annoyance, they spent the rest of the night at the station. A Chinese translator was finally called in near 8am, after the police had determined the child was speaking Mandarin. Shouta had stayed with NightLight’s permission when it became clear that Wei Ying was not comfortable being separated from the teen’s side. NightLight had left to finish her own patrol, with a final, and remarkably unhelpful, pat on Shouta’s back.

The translator, Kotomi Aki, was a tall gangly man with bright white hair, tanned skin and a dark professional suit. He spoke quietly with Wei Ying for a moment, the toddler obviously ecstatic to find someone who understood what he said.

Eventually Kotomi-san looked up at detective Tanakawa who had been placed in charge, the child protection officer Furuako who had yet to say a single word, and Shouta himself who, so far, had done nothing but provide a reluctant soft surface for Wei Ying to sit on.

“Alright”, Kotomi-san stated, “He says he’s happy to answer your questions. He has questions of his own but I asked him to wait.”

Detective Tanakawa nodded, and with a quick look at Furuako-san, she addressed Kotomi-san.

“Alright, thank you Kotomi-san. Could you ask him to restate his name, and to explain what he was doing out in the middle of the night?”

Kotomi-san turned to Wei Ying and spoke. After a moment Wei Ying responded, waving his arms and pointing at Shouta. He bounced lightly on Shouta’s lap. Kotomi-san asked something else, and the kid giggled, holding his hands over his face in apparent glee.

Kotomi-san sighed, but turned back to the detective.

“He says his name is Wei Ying, as previously stated. He’s homeless. He says his parents are gone, and that he was just waiting for the morning so he could go beg for food at the street stalls.”, the man shook his head, “he says there was an angry … madam?... and he ran away until he suddenly arrived here. He asks if we’re …cultivators? …because of our clothes.”

Kotomi-san frowned, “His mandarin is a bit old-fashioned, and he refers to ‘Yiling’ several times. The way I speak is apparently rather rude, by his standards.”

Detective Tanakawa notes this all down on a file she holds against her knee. Wei Ying asks something and Kotomi-san answers before switching to Japanese.

“He wanted to know what the ballpoint pen was. He said it didn’t look anything like a normal writing brush, and he wanted to know where you were hiding the ink. He asked if it was a …talisman?”, Kotomi-san shrugged, as much at a loss as everyone else, “I explained…”

Detective Tanakawa coughed, “Could you ask him about these talismans, please?”

Kotomi-san did, and Wei Ying appeared almost as baffled as anyone else. A jumble of unintelligible speech later and Kotomi-san turned back.

“He says everyone knows what talismans are. He seemed almost shocked to have to explain it. He says they’re paper with writing for protection against evil spirits, and ghosts, and other monsters.”

There was a slight incredulous smile on the man’s face as he relayed the child’s explanation.

Detective Tanakawa shook her head in confusion, “Okay… Can you ask him where he comes from? Where he was before he arrived here?”

Again, the answer is more confusing than helpful.

“He says, and I quote, he thinks it was still Yiling because someone gave him a spicy pork bun yesterday, but he’s never heard of anywhere with such big ugly buildings and so many shiny lights. He asks if this is the …unclean realm?”

Kotomi-san continued this back and forth for another half hour, by which point both Shouta and Wei Ying had grown more than tired of the entire procedure.

At length the adults came to an agreement and decided to place Wei Ying in a nearby orphanage pending contact with the Chinese authorities. Shouta accompanied him there once he’d signed the appropriate paperwork.

Wei Ying stared at the road and the cars, frowned at every person with even minor mutant-type quirks, and stuck very close to Shouta’s side.

They arrived at a relatively large building with swinging doors and a yard with a handful of kids playing. Shouta and Furuako-san walked the child in. Wei Ying was not pleased. It took some convincing, difficult when one had to mime the entire conversation, but the teen’s leg was released eventually and Shouta left with the promise of a visit the next day.

When Shouta arrived the next evening, Wei Ying was gone.