Actions

Work Header

Tracing Scars

Chapter Text

“Wha … Already?”

He hadn't meant to ask quite so loudly, but the boom of All Might's voice shook the jaunty palm tree in the teacher's lounge anyway.

“Of course,” Midnight answered him blithely, little more than a pair of ice blue eyes blinking up at him from behind the mountain of paperwork on her desk. “It's the sports festival. Did you think such a huge event just fell together in a day?”

All Might shut his mouth and nodded hesitantly, flushing somewhat and eyeing that dangerous pile of forms. He had never been one for planning and still hadn't magically discovered a knack for it now that lessons were the only real thing on his schedule. It plainly blew his mind that, with the sports festival just barely in the review mirror, they were already launching the preparations for next year.

And now that he'd been on staff long enough and the celebrity thrill had worn off, they were probably expecting him to help. He shivered involuntarily, big body full of too much energy to comprehend being trapped at a desk for the next nine months, designing stage sets and obstacle courses. So, when the staffroom door opened and the perfect opportunity to distract presented itself, All Might leapt on it with a trademark gleaming grin.

“Ah, Aizawa-kun, welcome! What perfect timing – we were just discussing this years sports festival and all of the opportunities it presents!”

Aizawa stopped just inside the sliding door of the teacher's lounge with his mouth set in a default frown, arms loaded down with files. He and Midnight traded a look that did not involve Toshinori in the slightest.

If there was a downside to the therapeutic release of being bound and released of crushing emotional stress, it erupted immediately: Yagi Toshinori was now irrepressible. He was a force to be reckoned with, even more than usual, which elevated his tolerable enthusiasm to unbearable excitement. He was happy, quick, energetic and irresponsibly maintained his hero form outside of classes more often than not. Above all, he was very, very nosy – exactly befitting a hero, as he would tell anyone who would listen. Aizawa watched him carouse around with a mixture of satisfaction and mild distaste until, as it would happen, the big man made the mistake of setting his sights a little too close to home.

“Have you eaten?” the homeroom instructor mumbled at Midnight, as though the enormous monolith of a hero wasn't pointing directly at him and throwing off enthusiasm sparkles.

“Yeah. Sorry, honey,” she pouted, cheek in hand. “I let one of the Midnight boys take me out.”

Frown deepening, Aizawa mumbled something that sounded like slut and trudged to the filing cabinet.

“I could take you to lunch, Aizawa-kun!” All Might trumpeted, flexing. “In fact, I've been meaning to sit you down and ask you about one of the most promising participants in this years games and how we can change his future!”

“Would that be young Midoriya, by any chance?” Aizawa asked dully as he picked at his dog-eared papers, not even glancing at him.

“N-no! Guess again,” All Might plied him, enthusiasm only flickering for a bare second at the name and the secret.

“Ah. Well, I couldn't see much from the commenter's box. I might have been asleep during that match.” Aizawa's tone said he may well have been asleep that moment, for all it mattered. Then he closed the filing cabinet, grumbling, “Out with it.”

“Shinsou Hitoshi, of course!” All Might said with another booming laugh, hands on his hips. “What a rare and valuable Quirk that young man has! Don't you see the potential? Think of how many situations he could effortlessly diffuse!”

Aizawa stopped at the staffroom counter, grabbed his mug and began to mess with the coffee maker, which was notoriously finicky. When the silence had gone on long enough that All Might drew breath to begin another enthusiasm attack, the rumpled man spoke.

“Do you see him in class?” he asked. “1-A, or even 1-B?”

“Ah.” All Might blinked, thrown. “Of course not, but –”

“Then he's not your problem. Or your project.” Aizawa shot him a long, cool look over his shoulder. “Drop it. If I remember correctly, you were having trouble keeping up with your own workload, so don't invite another.”

“Ah, but I'm not talking about me, Aizawa-kun!” All Might challenged him, wagging a finger. “You two have such similar Quirks, you would be the perfect choice to mentor him! We all know transfers between General Studies and the Hero Course are like diamond studs in the legacy of the sports festival, can you imagine contributing to such an amazing transformation? To say nothing of giving that boy the chance to live his dream!”

“No.”

“But, Eraserhead –”

“I said no,” Aizawa snapped, turning. All Might gulped involuntarily as the younger hero fixed him with a withering look. He looked exhausted on a deeper level than usual, bordering on haggard, with his usual stubble outgrown enough to count as a beard. To further the mystery, there was something bitter in the set of his mouth. Almost a sneer.

“You've heard me say it before: There's nothing cruel about ending a half-baked dream. If that kid enrolled in General Studies just to pine for three years, that's his decision. He has two more shots but there are some things that can't be done, even in a school like this. To pretend otherwise is its own form of torture.”

With that, Aizawa left. All Might knew, even through the haze of his new energy, that it wasn't wise to follow.

As the door slid shut, he looked over at Midnight, but her attention was fixed on the door as well. A deep concern warped her sculpted red lips and knife slash brows. Together and separately, the two heroes let Aizawa go, or at least let him walk away in peace.

After a moment, All Might sighed, scratching his head. It wasn't like most work-intensive propositions went over well with Aizawa the first time, but this job in particular could take a little more convincing. It involved personal investment, after all, which the homeroom instructor was likely positive he had maxed out on with his own class and his ragtag handful of friends. He may think he had nothing left to give, even, but Toshinori knew better.

To this boy, he could be the world and, to All Might, that was the meaning of being a hero. Didn't Aizawa feel the same?

 


 

“Aizawa-kun, be a friend and just hear me out!”

“You're the one that's not listening. What part of no don't you understand?” Aizawa demanded, rubbing his burning eyes and dropping into his not-so-designated computer chair.

He had avoided the clingy bear of a man for the rest of that morning but he was currently bound by his need for internet access, which found him trapped in the computer lab with All Might, who was a bit like a bull in a china shop in such close quarters. Aizawa pulled himself flush to the desk and deftly wet his eyes, two squeezes each, before pocketing the dropper and setting upon his keyboard, expression faintly murderous.

“I want nothing to do with this.”

“Only because you don't know what wonderful things could result,” All Might insisted as he sat down on the opposite side of the computer pod with his chin perched on his hand, big white grin seeming to emanate its own aggressive light source.

“I know what could result,” Aizawa ground out, a hand to his temple. He refused to look at All Might, who was peeking between the computers with his hair antennae twanging attentively, so instead he glared holes in his screen with his awful stinging eyes.

“You realize getting into this place is only a fraction of the battle. Even if he made it, how would he survive the obstacle courses? Finals? UA is relentless and all that Shinsou kid has is a one-off trick with so many victory conditions it's practically useless. We literally just decided on the match-ups for practical finals and you think, in any logical unfolding, that someone like him would be able to defeat anyone on staff once they knew how his Quirk worked?”

All Might began to speak, but Aizawa shook his head firmly.

“Remember what we do here. The reason those Gen-Hero transfers happen so rarely is that very few who fail the entry exam are even moderately capable of completing the rest of the course. It's simple triage, and it's worked this long for a reason.”

“Yeah, I gotta agree. Cool your heels, All Might,” came a hoarse chuckle from the back of the room, muffled. Snipe sat with a steaming mug of coffee and a magazine, booted feet up. He nodded at their coworker, face hidden behind his flashing lenses, but his dry amusement was apparent. “Aizawa-san isn't the one to call for this goose chase. You know you're talking to the lead expulsor on staff, right?”

“It's not a competition, Snipe-san. I take the conditions of this course seriously, so as not to put stupid, hero-crazy kids in situations that could permanently damage them. Basic humane consideration, in my opinion,” Aizawa said in low tones, continuing to type. Snipe shrugged, and All Might looked between the two men, flabbergasted by their short-sightedness. Then the 1-A homeroom teacher spoke again:

“It's the hardest thing most of these kids will face, and apparently we take pride in that. Even I barely made it.”

“Barely?” All Might boomed, springing back into the conversation and intensely grateful for the foothold. He didn't know much about transfers, but he knew Eraser Head's track record. He shook his head fondly, beaming. “Aizawa-kun, don't demure with me! You're one of UA's most accomplished graduates in –”

“You have no idea what I went through,” Aizawa said sharply, unexpectedly loud in the small computer lab. His narrowed eyes flickered red, now fixed on the huge man opposite him, and his hands were white on the keyboard. When he spoke again his voice was softer, scathing: “You have no idea what he would go through. That was never your life.”

“A-aizawa-kun ...” All Might managed after a second, floored by the bitterness in the younger hero's expression. He glanced back at Snipe, his barrel chest suddenly tight with worry, then flinched as Aizawa kicked away from the computer pod and grabbed his bag in one angry whipping motion, standing and heading for the door.

“We can't all be All Might. If you can't see beyond your own bulging pectorals in terms of personal struggles, you're more of an idiot than I thought, not to mention woefully unprepared to tell kids who can and can't be heroes. You don't want to make the hard calls, that's fine, but with that cowardly, indulgent attitude, you're sending them to their deaths with a smile. Forgive me if I don't think that's fucking heroic.”

“I never ...” All Might began helplessly from his seat, stung.

“I'll have the roster to you by nine, Snipe,” Aizawa called over his shoulder, and the door slammed.

“No rush,” Snipe muttered tiredly. The chuff of his magazine pages turning was the only thing that scraped the uncomfortable silence until the muffled chatter of students passed outside the door, pitchy and excited. After a heavy moment, All Might slumped back into his chair and put a hand to his forehead, releasing a sigh so deep it could have changed the weather.

Just what had he done, now?

Chapter Text

As difficult as the following change was, Toshinori had to admit it followed their trend: Just when he thought he understood Aizawa, he was surprised. Usually, it was a good surprise. This time, it was decidedly not good.

Incredibly not good, if he was going to be honest.

Aizawa had nothing to say to him for days. Toshinori tried briefly to be anything but crushed but couldn't manage it. It was like a return to their previous accord, or lack thereof, and all the more nerve-wracking for what had just occurred between them.

A few days prior, he had seen himself utterly undressed and exposed in the mystery of the man's safe hands, existing for an hour free of shame for anything he wanted or thought, and now it felt as though Aizawa had revised his opinion on what he'd seen that night. More than the argument, perhaps the younger hero had found him undesirable, weak and bad after seeing so deeply into him, and his stupid suggestion was just a good excuse to turn away.

The very thought made Toshinori want to hide, wither, vanish. Immolate from doubled shame. Give up.

It felt like rejection on the deepest of levels, and Toshinori had to wonder if this wasn't an awful idea to begin with, for all their posturing about rules – If it wasn't wise for adults to go around opening each other up and rearranging what was inside while still expected to perform in a professional teaching capacity. With each other, over the same class. It was new territory, terrifyingly new. While the situation may not have violated their original ban on lovesickness, it certainly felt to Toshinori as powerful as a sickness, and one that bent his pathetic body in two when Aizawa wouldn't look him in the face but to cast an impatient glare down his nose or wave him and the children out the door like he was a paid babysitter.

He tried to reorder, rearrange and reprioritize his thoughts around the root cause and not his anxieties, with limited success. In any case, it was clear he'd messed up with Aizawa. Big time. All Might big.

No more was he stampeding around in his hero form unless absolutely necessary, and only then for the children's lectures. He tried to reach out, he really did, but every time the younger hero spoke over him or ignored a clear attempt at communication, Toshinori inwardly recoiled and the stinging, vindictive phrase looped in his head: We can't all be All Might.

It was bad enough that, in a far off part of his mind, he wondered if this was really it. After a day or two, it became obvious that he only had one course of action available to him: He had to wait until Aizawa was ready to speak to him again. The problem was, he'd never been good at waiting. Ever.

Toshinori was always the first one into a dangerous situation, always the first to leap into the dark or the fray. This was primarily because he was a hero, but secondly because he couldn't bear the caustic press of anxiety and the unknown. He had to know, he had to act, otherwise the worry would eat him alive, and this (admittedly more civilian example) was no exception. So, if this was about an issue during Aizawa's school days, he went to the one person who would surely know what it was, if not what to do to make things right.

Between classes, gigs and social engagements, it was a challenge pinning the busy Voice Hero down to an exact time. Yamada was a champ about it and seemed excited to sit down with him for any reason, lack of explanation be damned. However, once Toshinori finally had Yamada in front of him in the staff room, grinning eagerly over the back of his reversed chair, he couldn't quite find the words to describe what had happened, much less what he needed to understand from the intersection of the UA sports festival, Aizawa and a boy named Shinsou Hitoshi.

“So then I … suggested that he train the boy himself,” Toshinori finished, feeling as though he were confessing a sin of epic proportions. To his acute distress, Yamada's jaw dropped as if he agreed.

“Oh no,” the young pro blurted out, eyes wide behind his stylish green glasses. “No no no no no no.”

“Oh no,” Toshinori groaned, putting his head in his hands. His worst fears had been confirmed.

“No, no! I mean, no, definitely not good, broski, but –” the Voice Hero struggled for a moment, tilting his head and his hands this way and that. “I mean, it's not really your fault, Yagi-san.”

“It's not?” he asked, not a bit relieved.

“It's all Eraser, everything about it. It was just a matter of time, honestly.”

“How do you mean?” Toshinori asked hesitantly, settling back into the couch and sparing a glance toward the staff room door, knowing that Aizawa was booked for class that entire hour. They had more than enough time, even if the thought itself stung guiltily, like he was sneaking around behind Aizawa's back. He was, sort of. Across from him, Yamada gave a pained expression, grimacing.

“He got really, uh, emotional during this years sports festival,” he hedged, shrugging. “You know, as much as our boy gets. So, like, an eyebrow twitch? Like, a fully unwarranted eyebrow twitch.”

“About Shinsou Hitoshi,” Toshinori clarified, confused. Yamada nodded.

“The kid, his Quirk, all that stuff about living to be a hero … It hits a little close to home, you know? With the trouble he had.”

“Trouble?”

Aizawa had his fair share of it, as the stories would tell.

Even Toshinori knew how inaccurate or biased the Hero Course exam could be, denying entry to those with a strong heart but weak arms. But this was something he had never thought about: Despite the incredible utility of his Quirk, Aizawa had gained entry to UA based solely on his physical abilities. It all came down to his agility, technique, quick mind, muscle and grit, plus his capture weapon. “Eraserhead”, yet unnamed, had nothing to take from robots. The young, wiry boy with the bruised knuckles did.

And even then, there was only so much he could do, and his brilliant mind made up the difference.

“Oh yeah, dude. He got in entirely on rescue points,” Yamada drawled, cheek in hand and kicking his feet. “He'd logically deduced, according to the types of heroes who were accepted and graduated and their respective Quirks, that another scale of grading had to be in place, so dude bet it all on the idea of rescue points and basically saved a bunch of kids hides and probably cock-blocked them from getting in, haha. I think he dinged, like, one robot. Because his reins got tangled and he broke his wrist but yanked out its processor. Yeah.”

“Oh my,” Toshinori said under his breath, blue-black eyes wide.

“Yeah, he smashed the written portion and his entry exam paints him like a saint. It's funny, considering ...” The Voice Hero gave a shrug, but a quick smile said they loved the rumpled, unsociable man anyway. “Me, I just screamed at everything I could see. It was pretty sweet. Really helped out my written exam, which was, uh, not stellar.”

Previously caught in the tide of Aizawa's story, Toshinori surfaced, blinking at the sunny, bashful man in front of him and his ridiculous upward swoop of hair.

“Forgive me, but …”

“Already done, my man,” Yamada gushed, waving his hand floridly. Toshinori paused and tried again.

“You said your test scores weren't ideal. Mistakes happen, but from what I understand, the Pro Hero scale ranks you highest in intelligence?”

“Ah. Oh. Yeah. I got mad anxiety,” Yamada said sheepishly. “I had a panic attack during the written exam and they kicked me out because, y'know, I was causing a scene or something.”

As if the tense memory was invading his body, Yamada's foot started tapping, quick and shallow.

“I was pretty lucky I managed to get anything down at all and didn't puke on the test booklet. And back in the day they weren't that, y'know, accommodating, so they wouldn't let me stim or anything to take the edge off. It's all about the pressure. Can't do it. I'm smarter stoned on a Saturday than sitting for a test at 8:00 am.”

Then he hastily clapped his hands over his mouth and, despite their serious subject matter, Toshinori couldn't help but laugh, low and tired.

“Your secret is safe with me, Yamada-san.”

“Hey, man, just call me Hizashi,” he said with a laugh, then plowed onwards, running a hand through his upswept hair. “Anyway. I really wanted to be here, to get in. Shouta did, too. You should have seen him after the practical entry exam. Bloodied head to toe and trying to set his wrist with that prototype capture weapon, like a pint-sized badass. I was almost scared of him. So of course I was, like, him. That guy. He's gonna be my best bud. Haha!”

“It sounds like you made the right decision.”

“That's what I said! Everybody else missed out, in my humble opinion.”

Toshinori frowned and raised a brow, not understanding the statement. Yamada, clearly caught, demurred for a minute before sighing and giving up. He explained.

Shouta was not popular. At all. Imagine the shock of new classmates who thought his Quirk was “whips,” only to realize that this strange, quiet boy could kill their natural born abilities with a look.

As the torrid account unfolded, Toshinori found himself aghast. Fooled by his cool logic and unflappable demeanor, the older hero hadn't even thought about how hard it must have been for Aizawa in academy and the discrimination he must have faced. Children that young didn't have much else to prop up their identities: They were their Quirks, and often the most valuable lesson of those three years in the Hero Course was learning who they were without them.

As Yamada chattered, Toshinori tried, looking at his huge hands, to recall his younger days and his reaction to someone who could strip his entire self away with a look. He shuddered. Terror. Resentment. Anger.

If Aizawa wasn't bullied, he was actively avoided. Toshinori's heart squeezed sharply. Almost like Aizawa was avoiding young Shinsou, whose Quirk invited such similar fear. It brought it all too close, didn't it? The unfairness of the world that he had barely escaped. Yet, here the man was, working as a teacher.

And then a well-meaning idiot came along, shouting about mentorships and heroism, and opened the can of worms all over again.

“The idea of this school must have meant a lot to him,” Toshinori said pensively, tense. Then and now.

“UA is the place to be, man. I mean, you went here,” Present Mic said with a shrug, bright green eyes flicking away shyly behind his glasses. Toshinori smiled, thin and cockeyed.

“It was even less accommodating then, I think.”

The younger hero shrugged, lips pursing.

“And we've still got a ways to go, but we're working on it. Gotta make sure everyone is safe and supported, especially heroes,” he said, then, abruptly, his sunny expression darkened. He bowed his head and began furtively flicking at one of the many zippers on his outrageous jacket. “Maybe there was a changing of the guard or something, but … there wasn't a lot available whenever the three of us were here. Not for Shouta, anyway.”

“How so?”

Yamada shifted tensely in his seat, clearly caught by the simple question. He bit his lip. Maybe the question wasn't so simple, Toshinori realized, catching the other man's clear discomfort. For the first time, Yamada seemed to be negotiating the space between a factual accounting of Aizawa's school days and a personal secret.

“He's a special kinda guy. He needed a … special kinda touch.”

Toshinori waited and Yamada gave in after just a few seconds, wincing and waving his hands.

“Ah, shit, just … I can't say anything more, guy. Might've said too much already. Eraser's relationship with UA isn't simple. I was surprised when he came to teach and honestly I thought it might have been peer pressure? Like, me and Nemuri were doing it, but when has he ever worried about what the cool kids were up to? And we'd … stopped talking for a while there. For a year, maybe two.”

Yamada's expression, mournful, said he knew exactly how long it was – possibly in seconds. His foot rapped at the floor even faster, and he started tapping his thumb and fingers together in an odd but purposeful sequence, gaze distant.

“But then he showed up and it was super clear he'd come to bring rain and make change. So. Yeah. Here we are. Our favorite sleeping bag teacher, beloved by all. Still confused on how we got here, but it's good. Been good for a while.”

“I see,” Toshinori said quietly, not sure he did. Yamada shook his head and fretted at his headphones again. He was a very busy man with many moving parts, the older hero realized, and managing them must have taken quite a bit of mental energy.

“You know I fuckin' love this place but I get how it wasn't perfect for everyone. Shouta gets it the opposite way, too. We're good because we're trying to make it better, together.”

“It's an admirable thing,” Toshinori said with feeling. He never knew that there was such a concentrated effort among the staff to change the way the school worked and supported its students, especially as the physical and psychological burdens of professional heroism became clearer over time. The friendship between Present Mic and Eraserhead, day and night in terms of personality, was finally beginning to make sense to him. And how.

Yamada Hizashi was foolhardy, loud, careless – the kind of well-meaning jokester who would hang out with a class terror and think nothing of it. He was the only one brave enough to stick around and see Aizawa, understand him, and realize he would never use his Quirk without reason. Aizawa was many things, a sadist was not one of them ... and Yamada may have just saved his life in school.

“Thanks, buddy. He can be a little much but the guy is my rock, you know? Saved my bacon more times than I can count. Sounds like you've got an eye out for him, too.”

Toshinori nodded, not sure what else to say. Honestly, it was hard for him to take his eyes off the homeroom instructor. And after this, how could he?

“The more people looking out for him, the better. That's how the hero thing works, after all,” Mic said firmly. He gave a sunny smile, extending a hand. “Thanks, big guy. Happy to have you on board the Shouta squad.”

Moving slowly in the surreal moment, Toshinori grasped the younger hero's hand and shook, but immediately knew something more was required to express the tangle of emotions rising in his sore chest. So he added another hand, grasping Yamada's hand and thin wrist securely and looking him in the eyes.

“I know it may seem forward, or even anachronistic,” he began stiffly, trying to find the words. He set his jaw, nodding formally. “But thank you. I can see that you are an incredible friend – and too few young men had the kind of insight that you did in Academy. Where others gave in to fear, you persisted with a smile, which I consider the cornerstone of being a hero. Your heart is truly exceptional, and I'm proud to be working beside you, as an instructor and a friend.”

Yamada was frozen by the attention for a minute, almost spooked. Then he visibly melted under the praise and devolved into ecstatic word salad, one hand to his face.

“Oh my god oh my godddd I cant believe freakin' All Might is freakin' touching me this is so crazy this is so cool oh my god! Holy shit wooooowwwwwww. Wow!”

Apparently Toshinori wasn't the only one happy to be gaining new friends. He certainly didn't expect the full-body hug at the end, but it wasn't bad. On the contrary, having Aizawa Shouta's unexpected best friend nearly lift him off the floor in an impassioned bear hug that only made him cough for five minutes straight, it felt like some sort of beginning … or at least an understanding.

Understanding, he could do. Understanding came naturally to an empathetic soul such as himself. Explaining was another matter entirely, and if Yamada's story revealed one thing, he apparently had a lot of explaining to do to one very important, very brave, very angry teacher.

Chapter Text

The two instructors ended their meeting shortly after with all staffroom windows intact, which was saying a lot, considering how excited Yamada was. Toshinori was sure his last message got through, even if the energetic Radio Hero was particularly hung up on getting a selfie before they parted ways. It was, as Aizawa would say, just Mic being Mic, and Toshinori finally felt like he understood.

Sense of time sharply fractured by an entire childhood condensed into an afternoon, Toshinori felt as though he were entering another universe as he stepped outside, staring around as the rest of the student body filtered onto the green. Gathering himself, the veteran hero stowed his paperwork in his oversized jacket and hurried home with the wind whipping his coat around his spindly legs. The wet grey of the sky promised a late spring storm and the tension in the warm air was palpable, mirroring the heady pressure saturating his chest.

Toshinori's mind raced as he tried to assimilate everything he had just learned – especially everything he'd completely failed to consider about Aizawa and his journey to becoming a hero.

Of course, everyone who wore the hero mantle faced their own difficulties, or else they didn't hold up to the field, but this kind of struggle ... Toshinori shook his head, reflecting morosely on his own privilege. Not everyone could coast on physical powers, and yet, not only was Aizawa usually the smartest, most capable man in the room, his body was chiseled, mercilessly lean and flexible. It was certainly a work of art – and time.

Dedication. Rigor, maybe with a dash of hopelessness. Or fury.

The pull of the two sides of Aizawa's character was stunning: On the one hand, the victory of admission and a successful pro hero career, and on the other, the logic he used to cool the near loss, knowing he would have been thrown out with the bathwater had one or two things gone differently. It must have felt like the world could be swept out from underneath his feet at any moment, like someone could come to inform him, more than 10 years later, that the entry exam was incorrectly judged and he had to rescind his hero license.

It explained the pain and conflict he felt, looking at Shinsou Hitoshi and the boy's intense desire to become a hero. Perhaps it felt like being confronted with an alternate version of himself, one who had one less thing to give and was completely knocked out of the running. Crushed. So crushed, in fact, that Shinsou had a plan B and was currently living it day to day. Any rationalization of their respective situations would amount to little more than chance, or fate, and chance didn't seem like much of a thing to build a life on for such a strict, rational soul.

Moreso, to see the young man's unflinching passion to be a hero, combined with a Quirk so problematic and easily misunderstood? He couldn't imagine what it must have done to Aizawa, now that he saw the haunting similarities between the two.

As he clattered up the stairs to his apartment, Toshinori spared a thought to what he was actually going to say when he saw his co-teacher again. Rather, when Aizawa allowed him to speak to him again. He winced.

The whole thing was rather sticky, and he wasn't entirely sure he should have gone to Yamada about such a sensitive subject, no matter how enlightening the conversation was. Had he broached a boundary that would further distance the private man? He knew he would have to find a balance between apologizing for his brashness and perhaps tacitly avoiding Present Mic's role in leaking such secrets – but he wasn't anywhere near a solution when he and Aizawa met again, which was the moment Toshinori opened his apartment door.

The landscape of his darkened sitting room was different, cluttered, and the veteran hero's instincts sparked, hand tightening on the door handle. His bones crackled with One for All for just a moment, white and slicing, before he recognized the motley head of hair and long body a dozen feet away. Aizawa was sprawled on his couch, arm slung over the side and fingertips barely grazing the top of a beer can. Power draining from his long frame in a rush, Toshinori promptly dropped the files he was holding.

“Shut the door,” came the gravelly command. “It's bright.”

When he'd given the other man his apartment entry code under the coy pretense of Aizawa picking up some papers he'd forgotten, this is not how Toshinori expected it to play out.

“Ai-aizawa-kun,” he stuttered, stunned. There were beer cans literally everywhere, glinting dully in the light from the hallway. The entire apartment was dark. The younger hero had clearly been there several hours ... it was Friday, but what about homeroom?

“Class was cancelled,” Aizawa murmured, as if reading his mind. He breathed in and out shakily, movements glacial and uncoordinated in the dark. Catlike, he stretched his back and reached out a socked foot. “I never realized there was a liquor store a block from here. We should do this again.”

That was all Toshinori needed to know: Aizawa was drunk as hell and there was no we. Anxiety erupted in Toshinori's tight chest, but quickly dulled into simple sadness and exhaustion.

What a mess he'd made, all the more bitter for his thoughtless conviction that he was doing the right, heroic thing. The older hero briefly spared a thought toward Himawari, whose dinner was coming up, then remembered that Aizawa had immediately splurged on one of those timed auto-feeder machines for his furry princess. She would be fine. Lonely, but fine.

Out of excuses, Toshinori shrugged off his coat and tried to straighten out his back as his brain teased through solutions to the drunken lump on his couch.

Aizawa was in such a state that he couldn't even consider calling him a cab – not unless he could tip the driver into carrying him inside and tucking him in, then locking up after. Buying time, Toshinori set about cleaning up, silently gathering the economy-size cans one by one and dumping them into the sink for later recycling. There were too many. Aizawa was not a small man, but the older hero's mind still staggered at the thought of how much liquor he could take and still be capable of speech.

Then he returned and sat on the coffee table next to the couch, keeping a kind of grim vigil until the younger man opened a bloodshot eye.

“Ah. Glad you're alive.”

Aizawa just grunted and tried to roll over on the narrow, new couch. He arched and wiggled until his arm bent back behind his head at a painful angle, face hidden in the back cushions. Toshinori smiled, thin and tense, because there wasn't much else to do. He pulled his tie free from his neck, exhaustion cascading through his body.

“I don't think you're going anywhere tonight, my friend. Do you want to sleep in my bed?”

Toshinori, of course, would take the couch. They'd only slept together once, on Aizawa's own couch, and that could have been medically defined as a coma. Toshinori didn't want this kind of sequel to that, above and beyond the general politeness protocol for avoiding confusing and alarming Morning After situations. No, he definitely didn't want Aizawa waking up next to him after a blackout, especially after they hadn't spoken for days.

Aizawa didn't move or respond in any way, so Toshinori asked again. There was no answer. He waited long enough, then rose to his feet with a sigh.

Picking Aizawa up wasn't easy. He'd spent about 10 minutes too long as All Might that day handling a villain attack nearby and the man's lean, flexible body was infuriatingly noodley, but after a bit of straining and maneuvering he got his arms under Aizawa's back and knees. Toshinori carried him to his bedroom, puffing softly with every step. Right as he was about to set him down onto the covers of his medically necessary Western-style bed, Aizawa's wide, bloodshot eyes opened and he leered up at him with a ghastly smile.

“Are you trying to take advantage of me?”

His arms gave out and Aizawa bounced soundlessly onto the bed, Toshinori flinging himself back from the frightening sight with a hand over his heart.

“Oh my, wh-what in the w-world –”

“I'm not that drunk. I'm never that drunk,” Aizawa muttered, sounding irritated to be dropped, or maybe just to be alive. The trick to highly intelligent people, however, was that they tended to rationalize their irrational states to maintain the illusion of control. No matter how precise his speech, the UA instructor was horribly drunk. And he certainly had control issues, but that went without saying.

Looking at his boneless sprawl, Toshinori half considered draining the cans in the sink and joining Aizawa in his stupor. It had been a long day. A long week, honestly, since his co-teacher and friend had started pushing him away.

Careful and quiet, Toshinori sat himself on the edge of his bed and pulled out his phone, thinking to text Yamada-san to update him on his friend's condition. But maybe because he wouldn't remember it, Toshinori gingerly pulled Aizawa's hair from his sticky face, running his fingers through the dark, tangled mess.

Oh, Aizawa. His heart throbbed, raw.

“If you want to ask me anything invasive and inappropriate, now's the time,” Aizawa muttered thickly from his sprawl on the duvet, head lolling to the side.

Toshinori's lips pressed together, hard. The disdain in the younger hero's slurred voice was palpable, but he just kept gently, methodically brushing his fingers over his damp forehead. He got as far as pulling Present Mic's number from the faculty short list before he put the phone down, wondering if he could possibly make this situation any worse with a few questions.

“What was school like for you?” he asked as gently as he could. Aizawa shrugged, torso jolting comically on the mattress, then laughed, short and sharp, showing teeth. Then he punched straight up into the air, nearly giving Toshinori a black eye.

Plus Ultraaaaaa!”

Others may have laughed, but it just nauseated Toshinori. To be certain, it would be him who withdrew from this encounter before Aizawa: His empathy for the other man's younger days was too strong, wracking his thrice-stapled insides, whereas Aizawa had a nice liquor buffer surrounding his heart.

So he pulled through Aizawa's hair intently and waited, maybe trying to soothe him into sleep and silence.

“I made it, at least,” the younger hero said after a moment, looking off into nothing. “I got the chance.”

Toshinori winced.

“This school … isn't everything.”

“We choose what everything is,” Aizawa countered bitterly. “Meaning is arbitrarily assigned by what we value, and you can't fucking change that, especially not in this hero-worshipping garbage fire of a culture. Just like you can't change what you really want.”

“You must have worked very hard to pass the entry exam.” Toshinori grasped for memories of the tournament, maybe what Aizawa had contributed to the commentary, but he had been so focused on Midoriya. He bit his lip and hedged his bets. “It's not very ... rational.”

Aizawa looked up at him strictly, gaze unfocused but nevertheless piercing. Toshinori coughed politely, caught. Too smart for him, even shit-faced. Still Aizawa-sensei.

He would find out, later, little details about how some of the class was scared of him. The little ways they disavowed him, avoided him, how it taught him not to care; the buffer that the simple swaggering presence of Hizashi gave him and how deep their friendship really ran. Midnight and her care for him, their intricate relationship of give and take that created an anchor of safety and sanity through the years of near-death experiences and trauma.

But there, then, Aizawa just closed his eyes in the dark of Toshinori's bedroom and pushed out a thick, nauseated sigh.

“All for a school that prides itself on beating the shit out of you … Yeah. Perfect.”

Aizawa reached over and took Toshinori's hand, pulling it down, toward his pants. Toshinori instantly leaned back, panicked at the sudden turn and entirely non-consenting to any sort of miserable blackout rutting, but Aizawa held firm. He tugged down the line of his pants with his other hand and simply placed the older man's fingers flat against his hot skin.

“When I say it hurt … I mean it.”

Toshinori looked closer, confused and still paralyzed by dread. It was in the dip of his hip – somewhere no one would see. Visible in the light filtering in from the kitchen, scars criss-crossed the skin, thin and malicious and scattered around concentrated bulges of shiny, fatty tissue, the kind that formed when cut upon cut an inestimable amount of times.

“Did … someone do this to you?” he asked, throat tight.

“Yeah. Me,” he said, releasing his hand. Toshinori drew it back, stunned, and watched as the younger hero just lay on his bed, clearly lost in thought.

“I was a weird kid. I'd always messed around with pain, and how it tasted different depending on what was happening at the time … but once I got into the Hero Course, I started using it to take the edge off of feeling like I was drowning. Then it was like a game of rephrasing, reclaiming the pain of the day into something I could swallow, or maybe a game of who could shout louder. I won.”

It slowly dawned on Toshinori. Aizawa had injured himself in school. Before he learned to harness what his body could do – turn pain into something more – and do it safely, he used it as a coping method for mental pain and fear. A chill ripped down his spine.

“In the end … my body was the only kind of control I had. I could cut myself if I wanted, because it was mine to tear up. If this place was going to hurt me, or even kill me, I'd just beat them to it. Nemuri found me, eventually. Nearly killed me, herself. Said it wasn't safe.” Aizawa smiled to himself, sickly and lopsided. “It wasn't. I should give her a little credit. She might've saved me from something. Who knows? She definitely did later.”

“Aizawa-kun,” Toshinori said, pleading with him. For what, he didn't know. Aizawa shook his head.

“The thing about UA is, I got in on a technicality.”

“You didn't,” Toshinori said immediately, firmly. “I looked at your file.”

“Creep,” he murmured, then grunted, irritated. “I told you, we make our realities. I was so serious about school, but I would never stop telling myself that I barely got into UA. That it was a fluke, that I had freaked out and hit a magic combination I'd never hit again. I barely had control on my capture weapon, and I never had the same relationship with my body as you have with yours. So I kept punishing mine for what I thought it couldn't do. Digging into it, hating it like that would improve my chances. I knew my Quirk could make me a hero, but only my body could keep me alive, and that was the hard part.”

Aizawa raised his hands and turned them, inspected all the creases and scars in the low light. Toshinori followed his line of sight, breathless.

“I take things away from people. That's my ability, plain and simple. Things they're accustomed to, things they religiously define themselves by because they're short-sighed assholes who think they'll never go without,” Aizawa mumbled, brow creased. “Unfortunately, the people left over after Erasing were pretty pissed and could usually still kick my ass. Motivated to, even, because of how I'd exposed and humiliated them by yanking their proverbial crutches out from underneath and proving they could barely walk. Fuckheads.”

Toshinori could see how Aizawa wasn't popular in school, once his anger gained a foothold, sculpted by the derision and fear of his fellows. His was not a Quirk that brought simple pride.

“And your capture weapon?”

“Not sure where that comes from. Think it skipped a generation. Some kind of levitation. It used to give me a headache, until I stopped trying so hard.” He snorted. “Not giving a fuck is usually the key to success for me. Hah.”

“So. What did you do next, in school?” Toshinori asked, desperate to know. “What … changed?”

“After Nemuri blew my cover, I doubled down. Pushed myself to the limit, Plus-Ultra style,” he drawled with a bitter smirk, lip curling up over his teeth. “Found an instructor who was willing to mentor me as well as beat the crap out of me. Got into talk therapy and quit cutting. Built up my body and learned how to use my reins.”

Toshinori wanted to say something, anything, to communicate how relieved he was that Aizawa had adapted and found a way out, but the words wouldn't come. On the bed, Aizawa kept going.

“That's why I train three times a week, every week, before class. To remind myself that I'm not my Quirk and that I can't Erase a situation. I have to fucking deal with it, rationally or physically. I hate people who hide in their Quirks or don't accept that a basic grasp of body intelligence is necessary for being a functional hero. More is needed, both inside and outside this stupid pro system, for you to survive. And thrive.”

Toshinori looked down at the floor, guilt and alarm twisting his insides. If anyone on earth fit the definition of hiding in their Quirk, it would be him.

One for All was so much more, a burden and a legacy, but still: He had all but subsumed himself in the grief of it ebbing away, convinced it was taking his soul with it. His identity. Toshinori covered his mouth. No wonder Aizawa was so confrontational with him from the very beginning, trying to bully him into being something other than All Might.

And then he heard it, as if from a distance: You are not that body and that was never your power. Midoriya and the others need you like this.

A hand touched his leg, warm.

“You need to take care of your body. This body,” Aizawa whispered, suddenly talking to him. “It's important.”

“Aizawa-kun ...” Toshinori said, beyond touched. Sudden and fierce, the older hero wanted to zip the man into his sleeping bag and let him rest for an entire year. He deserved everything. Then, the soft name left his mouth like a prayer, natural for the first time: “Shouta.”

“You know I … haven't actually expelled one hundred and fifty four students,” Aizawa added with a hiccup.

“You haven't?”

“No. That would be insane,” he said with a soft huff of air, maybe a chuckle. “Those records don't distinguish between motions to expel and actual expulsion. So, don't hold me to that.”

Toshinori thought about it. It made a kind of sense, considering the amount of time he'd worked at UA, yet still cast him as the lead expulsor on staff.

“How many students have you actually expelled, then?”

“Thirty … nine? Forty if Mineta doesn't get his shit together.”

“My friend, that's still not great ...”

“I did it because they would have died. Because I couldn't see them living through what I had, now or later.”

That sobered him. Aizawa's keen sense of reality was usually right on the mark. Discerning, rational, and too tired to indulge in simple sadism.

“The ones who were threatened with expulsion, they got serious. Cleaned up their acts. Pushed themselves to the limit – their limit, not anybody else's limit. They fucking dealt and they succeeded. I'm proud of most of them. The ones I let go, it was only because they didn't have that grit in them and they never would. So I thought, they can die on somebody else's watch,” he murmured, deep voice thick with drink or emotion or both. “Not mine. Not at this school. Just fucking kids. They're just kids.”

“You have such a good heart, Aizawa-kun,” Toshinori said at length, soft. His hands had long stilled on the younger hero's damp forehead but then Aizawa nudged into him, snorting.

“I have a very low threshold for bullshit,” he said flatly, eyes closed again. Then, quieter, tenser:

“Which is why I can't talk to that kid. I can't. He's a failure about to happen, and I'd just be prolonging the cruelty. That Quirk is all he has, and he's probably been living in it from day one, for better or worse. Imagine, being in kindergarten and making your friends, classmates, parents do whatever you wanted with a word, probably not even knowing how it worked. Psychological scarring aside, this late in the game, it would be a fucking miracle if he managed to get his physical abilities to a point where he would be able to keep up with the other students, much less protect himself in a basic shootout. A miracle.”

“Isn't that what heroes do?” Toshinori ventured, quiet. “Make miracles?”

“No. We punch people who need punching.”

“If you say so,” the older hero said mildly, all wind gone from his sails long ago.

“I do. And I'm not going to fucking talk to him, unless it's to tell him that his shoe is untied,” Aizawa mumbled, throwing his hands up without an ounce of coordination. “Even then, I don't give a shit. Let him trip. It'll teach him about life.”

The next minute Aizawa's hands flopped back down and he lay still on the bed, all opinions and ideas and “fucks,” as the slang went, clearly spent. In the surly silence, Toshinori sighed gently through his narrow nose and sat for a moment before reaching out and gently brushing the hair from the younger hero's face again. Aizawa leaned into it, grunting peevishly, and he couldn't help but smile, sad as it was.

“I'm sorry I pushed you,” he began, sorrowful. He tried to synthesize it all, everything he'd learned and everything he'd done to insult him, and gave up halfway through. This wasn't about his apology. Instead, he said only what he knew to be true.

“I can see how that particular student would bring up difficult memories for you and even make you doubt your place. I didn't have the slightest idea what I was saying or asking you to do … It was foolish of me. Of course you don't have to speak to him if you don't want to.”

“I wish somebody had talked to me,” Aizawa said after a minute, little more than a whisper in the dark.

The crack of his heart was almost audible, the feeling split him so cleanly. Suddenly, Aizawa's arms snaked over Toshinori's legs and around his waist as he rolled over, cheek scuffing his side.

“Sleep,” he groaned, with no comment or clarification.

Was it a demand, a command? If it was a spell, it worked, because a faint snore filtered from the other hero's rats nest hair with shocking immediacy, and Toshinori had to physically smother his laughter, an explosive product of all the tension of the week and the pain of the man curled around him and his desperate desire to cope with it all. He whacked his chest as it tumbled over into coughing, then shook his head at the whole mess.

Toshinori really did consider meddling to be a cornerstone of heroism, but he would take this entire misadventure back in a moment. After all, he hadn't done anything to help, just indirectly forced the man to spill his guts and relive traumatic experiences. It wasn't a good feeling and he would have to apologize to Aizawa again when he was sober. The good man didn't deserve half of this trouble or pain, that was for certain, and Toshinori realized he didn't know him half as well as he really wanted to.

Nonetheless, the older hero narrowed his focus to the here and now, and the snoring lump welded to his side. He couldn't really wrangle a way out of Aizawa's grip without waking him up, and nor was he motivated to try. He was extremely tired, too.

So Toshinori squirmed them both under the covers and lay back, still fully clothed in his dress shirt and slacks that now had drool on them. Though it was only early evening and his shuttered bedroom window still glowed with flat grey light of the spring storm, the exhaustion of the entire week caught up with him in the space of a moment. He gladly bedded down and fell asleep that way, curled awkwardly at the edge of his own bed with the mighty, cold, rational, completely shit-faced hero Eraser Head tucked into his chest.

This was an okay resolution, considering, but he still should have been prepared for a less than pleasant morning after. When Aizawa finally woke (a loose term to begin with), it was a half-hour process that ended up with him grimacing angrily into nothingness, eyes clenched shut. Toshinori patted at his shoulder.

“Well, it finally happened,” he said meekly. Aizawa, a human black storm cloud bundled into his coverlet, didn't move or acknowledge him, and after a moment he shrugged. “We finally slept together.”

He grinned, horribly nervous. Aizawa's eyes opened, then narrowed a fraction and he shoved Toshinori in the chest, which wouldn't have been half as bad if the older man hadn't already been contorting to fit himself around his drunk coworker the previous night. One shove was all it took and Toshinori fell off the bed, exclaiming. Aizawa bolted up, hand out, then immediately collapsed back down onto the mattress, cursing floridly and clutching his head.

And that was their encore, as sleeping together went. There was … room for improvement.

Things should have gone back to normal after that, and for the most part, they did. The routine of talking and teaching returned, brightened with sleepy smirks and appraising glances that deftly calmed Toshinori's initial reactionary anxiety. There was something subtly different stirring in the younger hero, however: a kind of pensiveness that Toshinori was loathe to ask after, perfectly happy to be back to basics and knowing his budget for personal inquiries with his fellow teacher was absolutely spent.

A week later, however, he was lucky enough to be crossing the campus garden as All Might at the exact time to see Aizawa and Shinsou Hitoshi seated on a shaded bench, deep in conversation.

The young man was taken aback by the entire exchange, if his body language was anything to judge by: His hands gripped his bare arms, forming a barricade across his chest, and the look in his shadowed eyes bordered on terrified. He had obviously been convinced to sit down and Aizawa kept his eyes on the ground as he spoke, strong, scarred hands gesturing sparingly. Toshinori wondered how hard Aizawa must be trying, to keep any semblance of conversation going between two such quiet people.

Then, as if drawn by the gravity of his muscled form, the young man looked up. Their eyes met across the garden and All Might grinned with everything he had, flashing him a thumbs-up. Young Shinsou's drawn face lit up, one part disbelief and one part hope. His hands dropped from his arms. Everything from his posture to his expression simply opened, and it was incredible to see.

Beside him, Aizawa looked between them and his lips twitched. He nodded, a bare incline of his head somehow meant for Toshinori. Then All Might strode on to class, barrel chest thrumming with the brightest of feelings, more eager than ever for tomorrow and all it would bring, while marveling at all that day had already brought him.

No one could help what they longed for, true.

Perhaps teaching, then, had a great deal to do with helping with those longings, finding a way to make them achievable or simply putting them into context. Often that context was pain and fear, but you could, Toshinori realized, heal the hurt that you had gone through, and teach others how to heal theirs, by letting them trace your scars. It took facing down the exposure, the pain and shame of reliving that pain, to help another – and perhaps realize in the process that you'd only done the best you could for yourself at the time. You try to strip away the shame. Promise something better on the other side even with the taste of blood on your tongue.

Toshinori knew it was a tall order. Only the bravest could be true teachers and true teachers were, at their core, healers of the highest order, correcting painful lessons we were never aware we learned and asking us what we truly want from life. True teachers saw more than they ever said and did more than anyone ever knew. True teachers never gave up and yet gave relentlessly of themselves, transforming personal pain into tools for the young to use to get themselves out of dark places.

Aizawa was a truly extraordinary teacher. That much was fact, and Toshinori realized he might have the most to learn from him, given time. Shinsou was a lucky boy. They were lucky in many ways, he thought with dual grief and wonder, to have Aizawa at all.

Chapter Text

His introduction lacked tact and civility, but Aizawa had never bothered with that kind of social posturing. The kid was behind already. They didn't have any time to spare on niceties.

“You won't like me,” he said through his teeth, one hand rising reflexively to dig into the capture weapon wrapped around his shoulders. “I'm going to beat the shit out of you, because that's what it's going to take. I'm not going to lie to you, and I'm not going to pity you, because no one out there will, either. Is that what you want?”

Shinsou Hitoshi bent, dropping into a poor excuse for a fighting stance. General Studies had done nothing for him, in that department. As he was – feet braced too wide, weight unanchored, fingers dramatically kung-fu splayed like they were begging to be broken one by one – there were no fewer than 28 ways to bring him to his knees or incapacitate him in under 30 seconds. And that was at a glance.

“Bring it on.”

“Your funeral,” he said dully, dearly hoping it wasn't.

The physical part of it would come slowly, piece by piece, mapped out in hard mistakes and harder corrections. It was the one part nobody could rush and the kid was either going to take to it or he wasn't, but in the meantime it served well as an intimidating barrier to the entire concept of heroism. For the moment, Shinsou was keeping up.

Now all they had to worry about was his Quirk.

“This is going to be difficult, Shinsou.”

“Yeah,” the kid said, unbidden. He sounded sullen, but it was probably just his face – and his nagging insistence on being recognized every waking moment. Aizawa frowned and continued, trying not to bristle like he'd been interrupted. Maybe he was a little too used to teaching a hoard of kids; having one talk back to him, even in an empty classroom at lunch, was a little weird.

“As a hero, you won't make it onto the fronts of magazines. You can't. Your ability requires the utmost of anonymity ... even more than mine. They can't know your name and they can't know your face, which will have to be addressed by your costume,” he said, mentally adding, should you get far enough to need a costume. “Because as soon as they find you out, they just won't talk, or they may not even be verbal in the first place. And then where will you be?”

“On top of them and kicking the crap out of them and delivering justice,” Shinsou huffed with a sliver of a grin, thumbing his nose like some kind of middle-school dropout.

Aizawa sighed but kept it inside his mouth, trying not to think of how closely that mirrored the explanation of heroism that he'd given Toshinori a few nights ago. He shook his head, pushing forward.

“I'm going to set you up with one of our staff, pro hero Present Mic. He's the Voice Hero, as I'm sure you know, and I think it would be a good addition to your skillset if you learned to throw your voice. It could be a handy misdirect if you're caught in a tight spot.”

“You're making me into a ventriloquist as part of my special hero training?” Shinsou asked hoarsely, taking no pains to hide his skepticism.

No, Aizawa thought, I'm giving Mic something to do so he stops bugging me about karaoke.

“Yes,” he said instead, and pulled his phone out of his pocket. “I'm sending you his contact information now. Text him, introduce yourself and he'll take care of you. I expect you to sit down with him within the school week, and I'm offering no kind of excuse to your regular instructors regarding your work. If you want this, you're going to have to maintain the academic expectations of the General Studies course, and mine as well.”

“I guess ...” Shinsou muttered to the floor, his cheek on his fist. His eyes were stormy, tired, and something about the slobbish cross of his leg in the desk rubbed Aizawa exactly the wrong way.

“Do you want to be a hero or not?” Aizawa demanded, thoroughly pricked. What was it about this kid that pissed him off with a look, a gesture? Then he stopped himself, because there were such things as stupid questions and he really didn't want to spell it out for himself.

He had signed up for this. As he stared at the top of the kid's fluffy sea anemone of a head, Shinsou looked up, sullen expression subtly hardened. Ready.

More ready than him, honestly.

“Yes, sir, Aizawa-sensei.”

“Then get out of here,” Aizawa snapped as he threw his phone back in his pocket and stalked off, desperate to go grade papers or water the classroom plants. “Go mind control a duck or something.”

 


 

“Throwing my voice?”

Aizawa hummed a yes around the paper in his mouth, ignoring his best friend's quizzical tone.

“Shouta, I know you think me a dude of infinite talents, but I dunno how to do that,” Mic admitted after a moment, scratching his head as he watched his fellow teacher tangle with the multitude of open, vaguely alphabetized files scattered on the staffroom table. They – a false term – were organizing the Finals schematics and data according to teams to file them with the board for final approval. Mic was supervising, which meant he had his boots propped vaguely peripheral to where Aizawa was doing most of the work.

“Well, go ahead and learn,” Aizawa said curtly, glaring single-mindedly at one file that kept collapsing and thwarting his efforts to stuff everything in at once. “This kid needs something extra up his sleeve if he's going to make it, and you're the only one around here with a voice Quirk. I know you can learn it quickly enough, so why don't you just do it?”

Mic clearly opened his mouth to agree, common sense swept away by the rare sideways praise, then stopped himself mid-word. He frowned, slowly figuring out where he'd been tricked.

“Wh – hey! I'm a busy person, too! I've got a radio show, and –”

“And thats from 1-4 am. You better find a better time to train because that violates curfew.” Hidden by the mountain of completed files, Aizawa smirked to himself. Digging. “I thought you'd appreciate having a hand in training him. You don't have anything in the way of proteges, how ever will you pass on your ear-splitting legacy?”

“Okay, you –!” Mic yowled, one finger pointed. Aizawa rose and casually secured the last of the team files with very tired rubber bands, shoving them in a pile that Mic would take care of if he knew what was good for him.

“Do it. He has your number,” he said, absently checking his phone. Homeroom in half an hour. Enough time to catch a power nap under his desk. “Gotta go.”

“Well goodbye Mister Popular!” Mic snapped as his best friend strode out and shut the door behind him. Alone, he threw his hands up and then crossed them tightly over his chest, hands tucked, foot tapping. He told himself he wasn't pouting.

Busy Shouta was clearly no fun at all.

 


 

These days, Toshinori found himself holding his breath around Aizawa Shouta – more than usual, that is.

It was a curious, careful time to be sharing a class and a general schedule with the man. Aizawa was clearly preoccupied, clearly split, but Toshinori kept utterly quiet and only offered the most generic of help or inquiries, purposefully limited to their official 20 charges. Knowing the weight of what could have passed between the two in the garden, he sought proof in triplicate before even daring to engage with the concept of his fellow teacher training young Shinsou. Then he saw them.

Instinctively, he hid, retreating behind the nearest building in a pinwheel of limbs. Then, carefully, he peeked: In a small clearing between the gym and the Gen Studies building, Aizawa was kneeling in the grass and slapping at the boy's knees and feet as Shinsou attempted to hold a defensive crouch. His gangly body was visibly jolting from every strike and, as Toshinori watched, Aizawa manually repositioned him, speaking lowly and giving the boy another firm shake. The crouch held and, briefly, a lopsided grin chased across Shinsou's round face, dropping instantly when his instructor glared up at him with another comment. A nod.

They continued, and Toshinori took the long way around the Gen Studies building to avoid disturbing them, smiling and drumming his fingers thoughtfully on his leg.

Whether those dark eyes were on him or not, it was incredible to see Aizawa so focused. It made it a little hard to breathe, but in a pleasant way, like anticipation. Hope. And as Toshinori's anticipation rose, so did his curiosity about the hero behind the teacher who so deftly corrected the boy's posture and the nature of Aizawa's work when he was a dedicated pro. Eraserhead, the underground Erasure hero.

Terror of the night, according to the Internet. They also called him the Wrap Up hero, or less gracious variations – but not solely due to his curious capture weapon. Why? Because when you saw him, your night was officially [expletive] over.

Toshinori should have known better than to do his snooping on school grounds, but his old laptop was the worst at streaming videos and he had only a vague idea of what streaming actually was, so he set up shop in the computer lab. The older hero was, at least, smart enough to choose a monitor facing away from the door, which gave him a split second of bluffing time when he was inevitably discovered by the very man he was technically researching.

“What are you doing?”

The deep voice sent a chill down his spine, and he instantly panicked. He wasn't any good at sneaking and never had been. He was usually too big to even try. Toshinori's long fingers spasmed across the keyboard and nearly crunched the mouse in two as he hurriedly pressed pause and closed every available window.

“Hm?” He looked up, eyes wide, and pretended like he hadn't just knocked the computer mouse into his lap. He suspended it between his knobby knees, supremely casual. “What, nothing. Hm? What?”

For a moment, it looked like Aizawa was going to ask him if he were watching pornography. Then the homeroom teacher just narrowed his eyes and left. Toshinori breathed out. Carefully.

It was all a strategy. Later that day, Aizawa laid in wait, ensconced in his sleeping bag under the table. The moment Toshinori dared think himself safe and turned up the sound to a cellphone video someone had uploaded to a lesser-known hero talk board, a bundle of angry, puffy yellow popped over the older man's shoulder.

“What are you doing?”

Long body snapping straight in his chair, Toshinori nearly passed out with one hand wrenched into his shirt, over his heart. For a moment he just stared up at the ceiling, sweating profusely. Next to him, Aizawa was glaring fixedly at his computer screen.

“Why are you watching this?” Aizawa demanded in low tones, somehow simultaneously bored and suspicious and betrayed.

“I, uh, oh.” Toshinori took a deep breath and held it, less out of a need for oxygenation than a particular move captured by the shaky cellphone camera as the dark figure of Eraserhead vaulted over an alleyway and rode down the length of a lamppost with his capture weapon twisted in a clever sliding knot, showcasing the power in his arms and torso. “Because ... look at you. You're amazing.”

“Turn that off,” he said flatly. When Toshinori did not, Aizawa leaned over, out of his sleeping bag, and reached for the mouse. The older hero caught his wrists, locking them in a suddenly intimate tangle. In what Toshinori had to admit was a small bit of power play, he didn't let him go immediately.

“I'm admiring a colleague,” he said as close to his pale neck as he dared, gratified as Aizawa's expression became ten times grumpier.

“You're collecting intel,” Aizawa griped, straining forward and pausing the video with one finger, then shoved Toshinori with his shoulder hard enough that he let go. The younger hero stepped back and glared at the still shot of his blurred, whippish body frozen in an arc with one foot out and his capture weapon looped around an unsuspecting villain.

“These videos are illegal, anyway. Bootlegged. Why would a paragon of virtue like you be watching them, and on these scummy boards? You're practically in the dark web.”

“Maybe because I've learned that my tastes trend toward the illicit, now that I'm spending time with you,” Toshinori said with a chuckle, brimming with a warm smugness fairly alien to him but still immensely enjoyable.

“Oh fuck off,” Aizawa grunted, jerkily stepping out of his sleeping bag and bundling it under his arm, clearly done with any attempts to nap and their rousing office banter. He turned to go and Toshinori swiveled in his chair and leaned forward, after him, needing to say something but not sure what it was until it spilled out of his mouth, rushed:

“I … really admire that you're training young Shinsou.”

Aizawa stopped in the door, motionless, with his sleeping bag under his arm and his free hand worked into the dark tangle of his hair.

“Who said I'm doing that?” he said oddly after a moment, then walked out and firmly closed the door behind him. In the quiet, Toshinori huffed and rubbed at his neck. Shouta. The name came a little easier to him, even if it was just in the privacy of his mind.

He was a man defined by his actions, purposeful above all and never in the business of seeking validation from others. Perhaps it was a little jarring to be complimented so directly, or a little early to expect Aizawa to fully admit what was happening at all. Toshinori smiled to himself and the smeared freeze-frame on the screen, swiveling easily from side to side, thinking.

He would give it a few days, but there was nothing to do but try again, so that Aizawa knew just how incredible he was.

Chapter Text

Training Shinsou was slow. It was annoying. He lacked a basic understanding of physical combat – or just physicality – that he had clearly supplemented with video games and action movies, and those showy gestures and misunderstandings were now things Aizawa had to chip through to clear the slate for actual technique. It was tedious beyond belief but, as he'd given his word, he persisted. Encouragingly, so did Shinsou, with fewer sneers and eye rolls that made Aizawa want to smack him every fucking time, even as he knew they were just reflexive.

Shinsou wasn't a bad kid. Then again, he'd always known that. Maybe that's what made it all the more trying.

Their off record, questionably legal physical training took place in the mornings before class, outside, while the sun was still rising and steam wafted off the bright green grass like the silent, empty campus itself was breathing and waking up. Aizawa wasn't looking forward to throwing down on the crushed, frosted lawn under a campus streetlamp at the same time of morning in winter, when the sun wouldn't be so ready to join them, but he was also taking his life hour by hour at that point and had no worry to spare about anything but the rumpled lavender-haired mess so dedicated to tripping over his own feet.

Aizawa didn't use his capture weapon. He just fought. It doubled as his own training in the morning, even if it was more mentally taxing than physically, because he spent so much energy correcting Shinsou's floppy joints and holding back the full brunt of his attacks. He wasn't being kind, but he wasn't trying to kill the kid either. He'd get to that later, when the Gen Studies bozo could actually throw a punch.

So they fought. Or, Aizawa fought to get him to hold a fighting stance and so far had found only limited victory. He forgot how much actually went into a working combat style until he was forced to mold a pale, slouching civilian, so it was only natural that he'd push other issues to the side in his quest. He only had so much mental energy, after all. He never claimed to be perfect.

Farthest from it, actually.

“I saw you, this morning. With young Shinsou.”

Aizawa glanced up from his seat on the staffroom couch, pen in his mouth and papers in his hand. He hummed at Toshinori, showing that he'd heard.

It had been going on long enough – a few days, enough time to reach a vague pattern – that Aizawa couldn't logically deny it anymore. He also knew that the older hero had passed by once or twice during their sparring sessions and always promptly hidden himself, which Aizawa vaguely appreciated if only because Toshinori managed to do it without paradoxically causing a scene. Standing a mile high in the door of the staffroom and yet still reflexively slouching to some degree, Toshinori smiled faintly at him and went to the counter, probably to make tea. Aizawa considered asking him to refresh his coffee and promptly shelved the thought. His exhaustion and distraction were making him demanding, or maybe just socially sloppy.

Fuckbuddies didn't ask each other for coffee refills, he reminded himself. Even friendly ones.

“You two aren't very talkative, are you?” the older hero continued pleasantly. Starting the electric kettle, he took a moment to sort the staff box of tea that definitely didn't need to be sorted, long fingers plucking and tucking.

Aizawa frowned. The way Toshinori stalled was so very civilian, so compulsively polite, even when he knew it was Aizawa he was talking to. The homeroom teacher had to wonder where he'd picked up the habit even as it annoyed him. With a Quirk as powerful as his, young kids were usually insufferable from day one. Where had the world's greatest hero learned to be so cagey and careful?

“I'm training him to fight, not give inspiring speeches,” Aizawa said once he took the pen out of his mouth. He looked up, determined to end the interaction. “What's your concern?”

“Ah, concern?” Toshinori repeated, but one look told him he'd been found out and had better not continue to demure. He put down the teabag he was holding – jasmine green, by far his preferred kind – and propped both huge hands on the counter, looking down. He bit his lip then inhaled slowly. “I worry, with Shinsou's particular ability, that you're sending the wrong message by conducting your training mostly in silence.”

Aizawa stared, silent and unbothered. He was definitely doing that, whether consciously or subconsciously. He was trying to get the kid to come out of his Quirk. That was the point. But Toshinori wasn't done.

“I worry that you're wary of him controlling you, as well, and you're hiding it in your training strategy.”

“What is he going to make me do, cartwheels?” Aizawa snorted immediately, going back to his paper.

Scared? No. Annoyed? Yes. Tired? So fucking much.

“I don't –”

“Don't be ridiculous. I'm just trying to get him defenseless so he realizes how much work he has to do. It's part of the process. The deconstruction.”

“That's not it at all,” Toshinori pressed, voice hard enough that Aizawa glanced up again and found himself unpleasantly surprised. The older hero was regarding him sternly down his straight nose, blue-black eyes glinting with reproval and his arms crossed too high and tense to be anything but nerves.

“Consider it, Aizawa-kun. You're frightened of losing control, as we all are, and so you're doing exactly what everyone else does around him. Not giving him a chance to use his Quirk. Not giving him the opportunity to choose, by hiding in silence and assuming he's going to do the dishonest or dangerous thing. Can you see how damaging that would be, from his point of view? You're supposed to be better than that. Here you are, a pro hero and a role model, assuming he's nothing other than his Quirk as you're trying to beat something else into him.”

Aizawa barely stopped himself from baring his teeth, his gut reaction to reject the man's words was so strong. He purposefully sat still and kept his gaze steady, like he wasn't inwardly fuming: Concisely, with scintillating clarity, Aizawa fiercely resented the insight their unusual fuckbuddy relationship gave Toshinori … in the same breath that he had to admit his nosy, maudlin co-teacher was right. Shit.

He didn't let on, though. He just regarded the older hero silently with a sour face until Toshinori sighed heavily, hand to his brow.

“You have to have positive reinforcement as well as negative in order to sculpt a well-rounded personality. A sense of faith and value in one's self. If this boy is going to be a hero, he has to at least believe others are capable of trusting him, that his Quirk isn't something inherently evil. That is one of the foundations of heroism: that you have something to offer that other people can trust in.”

Aizawa's only answer was more silence, although he did skillfully settle back into the couch and glare.

“Please, Aizawa-kun. Talk to him. It doesn't matter about what,” he pressed. As an act of self-preservation, Aizawa looked away from Toshinori's singularly heartbroken look and the beseeching curve of his extended hand. “Don't you wish someone had talked to you, at that age?”

“Oh fuck you,” he muttered instantly, but it wasn't harsh. It was lazy and angry and somehow sheepish, even as he knew the bastard was quoting him.

He'd lost control. Time to bail. Promptly gathering his things, Aizawa glared at the older hero one more time and left with his head high, like he would take the suggestions under consideration and get back to him in three to five business days.

Aizawa slammed the sliding door behind him as soon as he was clear of it, grimacing. Fuck confiding in people. Fuck people knowing him and his beliefs and his weaknesses. It was starting to be more trouble than he'd ever anticipated. It was more trouble than training Shinsou, and that was saying something. Nevermind the connection between the two or how he wasn't going to admit to himself that this was important to more than just the kid, because he just wasn't there yet. Let his stupid charge manage to hold a solid crouch for a minute and a half and then he'd consider it. Then, maybe he'd invest.

Stalking down the hallway, he briefly consumed himself in resenting Toshinori, more for his accurate read on the situation than anything. He was well on his way to mentally banishing the man for the rest of the day when he suddenly remembered that the older hero had promised to bring him food on campus that night for vague reasons that definitely weren't about his extra curricular mentoring obligations. Aizawa paused midstep in a square of sunlight in the spotless, empty hallway, calculating. Dinner was good. Toshinori, less good.

Pressed, he came up with a compromise that wouldn't hurt his pride: He would skip lunch to be really hungry, take Toshinori's dinner, eat everything and still complain about being hungry. That would show him how annoying he was. Perfect plan.

 


 

 

They started talking.

Slowly, little by little, they talked, traded words, and the boy's expression became less and less haggard by degrees. Shinsou obviously didn't trust it, at first. He wouldn't talk back, and that slid a knife into Aizawa's chest on an entirely different level, ironically silencing the last part of him reluctant to admit that Toshinori had been right. Shinsou needed to be able to talk. He needed to be able to trust.

But those were the idealistic, lovely thoughts he had before the kid actually started talking.

“You realize that guy likes you, right?”

Aizawa glanced up from his seat on the ground, too tired to really be confused. It had taken a while to distinguish between his natural unwillingness to speak unless necessary and the silence he had adopted as a protection against Shinsou's ability.

“What are you talking about?” he asked after a moment, surly, struggling with wrapping his feet as he watched Shinsou royally mess up his own wrapping job.

“That guy.” Shinsou pointed over his shoulder, in the general direction of the track. “Your 'senpai'.”

Ah. That. Aizawa grit his teeth.

Toshinori, perhaps not trusting him to make good on his promise, had taken to accompanying them in the mornings as they trained. It wasn't ideal. On the other hand, he wasn't useless.

Perhaps determined not to seem like a nanny, Toshinori helped in whatever ways required a third set of hands: He would take pictures during sparring sessions to help Aizawa point out the multitudinous flaws in Shinsou's form, or bring them water. Sometimes breakfast. He even shyly offered a meal plan for Shinsou that would help him build muscle in a short amount of time. Aizawa raised his eyebrows to see “American Dream Plan” hastily scratched out, but he ripped off that page and threw the schedule at Shinsou's head during their next training session, referring him to Lunch Rush.

Once his duties were complete, Toshinori would loop the track and get his own exercise in, keeping an eye on the two of them. He had trained young heroes before, apparently, so it wasn't entirely unheard of … if a little awkward and overbearing. When asked who he was, Toshinori clumsily volunteered that he and Aizawa had known each other in middle school, and he worked for UA but wasn't a hero. The age difference was a little more than visible, highly improbable for the three-year gap of middle school, but Shinsou kept his mouth shut.

Not forever, unfortunately. Of all things to talk about, did this have to be it?

“The way he talks to you. That dopey smile he gets when he brings you breakfast. He likes you.” Shinsou looked over at him, expression vaguely curious but uncomfortably steady. Slightly bored. Unblinking. “Are you into that?”

“I don't have time to be 'into' anything, Shinsou,” Aizawa said at length, tensely. In the most businesslike way possible, he secured his wrappings and flexed his hands and feet, slapping the excess powder off and giving the Gen Studies kid a dry look. “Especially this morning. We need to get going or else we won't even break a sweat by the time we have to head in.”

“Eh. Well you should probably talk to him,” Shinsou said with an enormous moaning yawn, not even bothering to cover his mouth.

Who fucking asked you, Aizawa wanted to yell, suddenly a little crazy.

The kid's flat, wandering affect drove him to the edge of his patience and that wasn't even considering the kinds of things that Shinsou apparently felt the pressing need to tell him when he should have been evading or punching or just fucking tuning in. He dearly hoped that was the end of it, as he certainly didn't have anything to say to that unsolicited bit of nonsense. But once Aizawa slapped the kid's hands away from the pathetic job he was doing wrapping his feet and took it into his own hands so he wouldn't pull it too tight and break his fucking foot landing on a kick, Shinsou had more volumes of wisdom to share.

“I liked this girl, once. I was really nervous to talk to her, to say how I felt, so I waited and tried to find a good time but things kept getting in the way,” he mumbled, rubbing the back of his neck as Aizawa tangled with his bruised feet. “But then, turned out she knew all along. She just avoided me so I'd never even get a chance, because she was afraid of, I dunno, me making her go out with me or something. She even roped her friends into it, like playing interference. All so I couldn't even talk to her. It felt like being erased, you know? Or made into a villain. It felt really shitty and, if I could, I'd want to make sure nobody else felt that way.”

Aizawa's hands stilled – had stilled on the kid's feet seconds ago – but he came back to himself in a hot, prickly rush and tightened and tied it all off, commanding Shinsou to flex and test it, pointing out the correct balance between the support the wraps could offer and the potential for cutting off circulation.

In his mind, Aizawa struggled with the white cord suddenly connecting him to the kid, tugging, tightening up his chest and thoughts. Sweat dripped down his side, ice cold. They were so alike.

It wasn't a good thing. Not at all.

Quirks were a burden, more often than people realized. There were times in his life that he had wished he were born Quirkless. He had no doubt Shinsou had those moments, too, staring down the barrel of other kids' fear of him. What he could do to their sense of self with just a word.

Yet, here they were. Trying to be something different than nature had made them. Trying to be heroic.

“Anyway. If someone likes you, and you know it, you should probably talk to them. It's a decent thing to do, even if it's just to tell them that you're not into it. That's all I'm saying,” Shinsou finished up with a shrug, then squinted over at the seated pro hero with a vaguely disappointed expression, holding his toes and rocking back on his dusty heels. “And you guys are adults, too, you know? You should probably be better at this.”

“Okay, shut up,” Aizawa said loudly, getting to his feet. His current project knew that tone of voice and got up accordingly, testing out his stance. “Get ready to fight.”

“It's nice, when somebody likes you,” Shinsou continued dreamily, looking into the sky like he hadn't just heard. Aizawa suppressed the urge to teach him about headlocks that day, particularly how you could choke a person into unconsciousness within a minute if you held the jugular right. That would be fun, today.

“What did I just say, Gen Studies?”

“It's even better when you're not very likable,” Shinsou said with a strained grin, raising his fists.

That grin. That devil-may-care stare, that glint of confidence. Surprised, Aizawa found himself mirroring it, thinking, you little shit.

He was going to kick his ass in the most educational way possible.

Chapter Text

It was Thirsty Thursday. All of their other drunk nights revolved and switched and swapped based on their academic schedule – though probably not with as much specificity as was appropriate, and it had become a bit of a spiteful tradition to drink as much as humanly possible the night before practical exams – but Thirsty Thursday was a constant. A holy staple in the relentless five-day misery of their lives, something to look forward to and recover from.

So, Aizawa opened the door to the bar clumsily with his left side to avoid aggravating his pulled shoulder. It was the result of something stupid he'd done, trying to teach Shinsou, and was further frustrated by the way the kid fretted over him and refused to continue training until he saw Recovery Girl. He hadn't had time that day, but tomorrow, yes. Aizawa saw Nemuri and Hizashi parked at their favorite place at the bar and raised a hand, wincing.

“Well look at you, Mr. Busybody,” Nemuri gushed as he approached, waving him to the empty seat beside Mic. “Schedule so full you're cheating on Thirsty Thursday?”

“Made it as soon as I could,” he said dutifully, slinging his bag over the seat.

“Shouta, my man!” Mic trumpeted, clapping his hands. “A beer for the hero over here, please. Actually, we're ramping up for Finals? Life isn't great. Better make it three beers.”

Aizawa murmured his thanks and rubbed at his face once he was seated, sighing thickly. Nemuri looked at him fondly as he grabbed for the offered beer and set upon it like he hadn't had one in weeks, audibly glugging.

“You look a little tired, but I can see you're doing well, my love.”

“I'm working hard and sleeping hard,” Aizawa said with a shrug after draining half his beer in the space of two seconds.

“And drinking hard,” Mic said under his voice, stunned. Aizawa shot him a look and tipped his glass with a smirk.

“No time to think. It's a good balance.”

“Yeah, thinking can really suck sometimes,” Mic admitted, then, on the subject, raised his hand: “Bartender, make that a full carafe of your best brew! We've got a lot of unspecified emotions to drown, if you'd be so kind! Yeah, thanks!”

“I was surprised to see you training that General Studies kid,” Nemuri began, and Aizawa gave her a look that seemed to say yeah, me too. “But, you know, it looks like it's going well.”

“It's going,” he admitted hoarsely. His shoulder, as if on request, throbbed.

“Do you need any help?”

“Oh believe me he does,” Mic sighed as obnoxiously as he could, running a hand along the upwards sweep of his meticulously gelled hair. “But of course he asks me, the only one of his only two friends with a legitimate profession outside of UA!”

“If I thought Nemuri's particular skill set would help him out, I would have asked,” Aizawa said, so incredibly tired. “But he has a voice Quirk and the closest Shinsou comes to magically putting people to sleep is his incessant talking.”

“Oh no, is it another Kirishima?” Nemuri laughed. Beside her, Mic was clearly hectically flipping through his mental list of 1-A, trying to get the reference.

“No, he just talks. At me. All the time, about weird shit.”

“And you haven't punted him yet?” Mic demanded, aghast. Aizawa shot him a look. His friend knew intimately how much Aizawa detested endless chatter and, inconveniently, how he was the only one allowed to chatter like that and not get got.

“Hm. Well, when you think about it ...” Nemuri tilted her head, picturesque as always. She smoothed her dark hair over her shoulder, glossy red nails clicking softly. “If this is the kid from the tournament, considering his Quirk? Maybe this is the first time he's been given free reign to actually talk and express himself without worrying about people freaking out or suspecting him of using his Quirk for untoward things. You're probably doing something really good for his self-esteem by just listening, Shouta.”

“Oh shut up,” Aizawa grumbled, thoroughly sick of everyone having such a good idea of what was going on in his life.

“The kid is such a wet blanket, though!” Mic whined, flopping back in his seat. “He's no fun at all, not nearly good enough of an audience to keep things interesting. He doesn't even get excited or throw his hands up!”

“You're teaching him, not auditioning for him,” Aizawa growled, halfway through beer number two. “Not everything is about you.”

“But I like it when it is!” Hizashi doubled down on the whine, and their glasses rattled on the bar. Midnight put a finger in her ear, glaring, and Mic bit his lip, rebooted, then continued at a softer, infinitely more mopey pitch: “This is my off time that you're so rudely wrangling! I should be able to enjoy it –”

“You'd be spending it on the 'net re-watching your own interviews.”

“Oh look who's talking Mister Cat Videos on repeat! Mister Knows-The-Name-of-Every-Internet-Cat!” Mic yelped in retaliation, covering his mouth when Midnight raised an eyebrow and a hand in warning. He clammed up with visible effort, simmering with resentment.

“I don't dally with Muffins and Yoyo anymore, you should know,” Aizawa said, playing aloof. He smirked. “It would be unfaithful to Himawari.”

Midnight and Mic traded a look. A baffled, curious look that he effortlessly ignored. He had beer to drink. A lot of it.

“Ah, that's right! I still haven't met this new kitty cat of yours!” Nemuri exclaimed, clapping her hands. Mic made an angry noise, somewhere between a snort and a growl, and Aizawa immediately glared at him and whacked his empty glass down on the table, gesturing for a refill.

“If you would just take your damn allergy medication like you were supposed to be doing since Academy, it wouldn't be a problem.”

While Mic had been with him for a decade and a half, and Himawari a little short of two weeks, Aizawa's disdainful tone made it clear who had to change to fit the situation. Mic pouted and crossed his arms, fiddling with the millions of zippers on his jacket to diffuse the sting of betrayal.

“What made you name her Himawari?” Nemuri asked curiously after a moment, stirring her drink. Aizawa averted his eyes. “Not a flowery name I would expect from you.”

“Well, look at her.” He took a moment to pull out his phone and flip through his pictures. He settled on one of Himawari on his coffee table tilting her head with nigh-unbearable innocence, and showed it to them, saying gruffly: “She's yellow.”

Midnight looked at him like she didn't believe him in the slightest. Aizawa sighed loudly.

“I'm not gonna name a cat, fucking, I dunno, Insomnia or Gin something.”

“Wouldn't you, though?” Nemuri pressed, shrugging. “I mean, she's yellow, so why didn't you name her Sleeping Bag?”

Shouta chuckled hoarsely, looking at his phone for a little too long.

“Guess my interests are pretty limited.”

“Hey, who's that?”

In the process of absently scrolling through more photos, Aizawa jerked his phone away from the sudden question and his best friend. Unfortunately, Mic's long fingers tricked him, poking him in the armpit (his only weak spot) and flicking the phone up and out of his hands as he was disarmed. The Radio Hero squinted at the new picture and then turned it around so everyone could see, pointing at a slim brown business shoe and a droopy sock. Aizawa's brain promptly floundered in a rush of average, uncomprehending panic.

“That's not your shoe,” his stupid best friend said plaintively, like he was cheating on him.

Then Midnight inadvertently relieved him from a full-on lie by taking the phone from Mic and giving it a once over, even boldly flipping through a few more of the photo sequences. It was literally just pictures of Himawari frolicking with the new toy(s) Toshinori had brought for her, but Aizawa had been sloppy enough to get some of the other man's shoes and even pant leg in the shots.

Who would pay attention to a snippet of ugly yellow pinstripe suit when Himawari was clearly center stage here?

“It better not be your shoe. Those are like ten years out of fashion,” she harrumphed, looking over at him. “Did you have All Might over to your place for another grading marathon?”

“Ah,” Aizawa managed with a nod, hiding the chill of the near miss in his beer. Bored, Nemuri handed his phone back to him like it was a disappointing romance novel with no smut, and Aizawa immediately shut it off and stuck it in his back pocket. He thanked his lucky stars he wasn't the type to take pictures. Other kinds of pictures.

“Anyway, you say your interests are limited, but they sure haven't been lately,” she clucked, not to be dissuaded from her agenda. “I've seen you eating strange things and behaving in strange ways.”

“Yeah! Like, what's with that lunchbox from the other day, with the yakisoba? And you wouldn't even share!”

“I told you, the spice would have killed you,” Aizawa snapped in rising frustration, not liking the way this was going. Mic continued undeterred, brow knitting in deep thought.

“It's all a little weird, you not living on those juice boxes anymore, and sleeping in your bed more than your sleeping bag. It's kinda like someone else named your cat, too ... or ...”

Then, like a lightning strike, the two most wonderful and horrible people in Aizawa Shouta's very small life looked at each other and clasped hands, screaming:

“Or there's someone else!”

Aizawa closed his eyes and breathed deeply. Fuck.

“Oh Shouta! Tell! It's tell time!” Nemuri shrieked through her teeth, downright terrifying in her enthusiasm. Aizawa raised a hand, but then Mic slapped him on the back and wrangled him by the very painful shoulders, crowing:

“You can't hide that sparkle in your otherwise dead eyes! You're gettin' some!” Then he leaned in, superpowered voice strained to the point of cracking: “Where when how who is your supplier can we split it 50-50 please I'm begging you man.”

Despite himself and his shoulder, feeling his beer a little more than he'd bargained, Aizawa smiled stupidly into his drink.

“Don't think he'd be your type, Mic.”

Namely, a guy. Hizashi, however, gave a dramatic full-body shrug and slumped low in his seat, staring glassily up at the ceiling.

“Buddy, at this point, I'll just close my eyes and let my imagination carry me,” he moaned, hand to his head. “I'm dying over here.”

Now it was time for Aizawa and Nemuri to trade a look. Though he talked a big game (no surprise there), they both knew Mic was almost physio-chemically incapable of simple hookups. He got too involved and overwhelmed too quickly, and the emotional whiplash was too much for him. He was a sweet, soft boy and he couldn't be anything different, even though Midnight had tried to sit him down several times and explain the value of simple but routine physical release in a profession such as theirs. In that particular scenario, Mic had started singing show tunes at full volume until she left him alone.

“You must like this guy, to let him name your cat,” Midnight redirected the conversation in that svelte way she had, bright blue eyes gleaming with interest.

Aizawa snorted. They didn't know it was a bit more complicated than that: The man rescued the cat, named the cat and then rightfully surrendered both the cat and the name to him. She was just Himawari now.

Every so often he turned other names over in his head, stupid whimsical things like Butterscotch or Marigold, but somehow she always looked at him with disdain right as he thought it. Himawari it was, Himawari it would be. Hime was his personal name for her, but he had also (somehow) been arm-twisted into that one, considering what he had to work with. Mainly, Toshinori's ridiculous and relentless poeticism.

“So, you like him?”

Aizawa jolted back to Earth, realizing he had oh-so-purposefully ignored the second half of her earlier statement. So she repeated it. Damn her. He squinted into his drink.

“I ... like him,” he said, then paused. To like – to regard someone with general respect and affection, or just not hate. Yeah, the definition fit, but he ran it again just to be sure. Toshinori was more than just an ambivalent fuck. They were friends.

Friendly, he corrected himself. Then he snorted again.

“Is it so absurd that I'd like someone I'm fucking?”

Yeah,” Mic guffawed instantaneously, slapping the bar. “Like, science fiction, waaaaay out there absurd. Like, impossible but for divine intervention. Like, I wouldn't believe it if you weren't telling me right now. Or, like, I sorta believe it, and I definitely want to believe it, but I also wanna check if you're a body swap or an alien or a clone or –”

Okay, Mic,” Aizawa hissed. Beside him, Midnight rolled her eyes with a hand pressed dramatically to her chest.

“Honey, you reliably pick the most attractive assholes in the world so that you won't feel bad when you dump them like a load of bricks whenever they get impudent enough to ask you for an actual date or something.” She raised her hands peaceably to calm any potential snit fit. Mildly offended that she expected a fucking snit fit at all, Aizawa just snorted again, shaking his head. “And that's you and your needs and that's fine. But who is he?”

“No one,” Aizawa said tiredly, after a moment. How had they even gotten to this discussion? This was Thirsty Thursday, not Thirsty Thursday. “It's just an arrangement. Nothing emotional.”

“Yakisoba spicy enough to kill and it's no one?” Nemuri gawked.

“I bought that, thank you,” he sniped, trying to remember if he'd been sloppy enough to leave the little cat napkin on that day. “You're jumping to conclusions based on correlation, not causality. And I told you, it's not emotional.”

“Have you told him that?” Mic demanded sharply, one finger aloft. Being the resident soft boy, he was always the one to call his best friend out on his potential coldness or lack of regard for the other humans in his life, especially ones he kissed. Aizawa appreciated it, sort of. Sometimes.

Not right now.

“We talked about it. He agreed.” He shot Mic a superior look, but his fellow hero just shrugged with a faintly defeated air, like that wasn't really the point.

“Alright,” Midnight said reluctantly, settling down. “Sounds like you've found someone mature, at least.”

Mature. Aizawa tried not to laugh and failed. It was a little snicker, half-hidden in his beer, but unmistakable. Midnight's jaw dropped.

“You found a daddy!” she shrieked, standing up and promptly knocking over their dish of nuts as she smacked her hands down on the table and scared the shit out of the bartender. “You went looking and got a goddamn daddy! I'm always right about these things!”

“Have not and, god, definitely are not,” Aizawa said with a borderline fond sigh, waving his hand dismissively. At this point, Mic leapt in and caught one of Nemuri's hands, expression pleading.

“Hey hey heyyyy! No more questions, no more accusations!” He gestured to Aizawa like he was a new, upgraded version of himself on display at a mall kiosk. “Look at him, he's happy! He's sleeping! His hair is mostly all going in one direction! He's even outside in the sun doing his training with the kid – combined with the new guy, it's a double helping of that good ol' viiiiiiiitamin D!”

Aizawa laughed into his drink, short and sharp. A beat, and, knocking his glasses down his nose, Mic shared a thrilled look of disbelief with Midnight: He laughed! At a joke! A dick joke, at that! Their boy was feeling silly, even downright sassy.

That was enough to carry the threesome for the rest of the night, as they abandoned the interrogation and simply enjoyed Aizawa's enjoyment and partook of a side of him that didn't see the light very much. It was rare that he was relaxed or energetic enough, in turns, to truly play with them. While they wouldn't trade their usual grumpy cat for anyone else, it was still fun.

More fun still was figuring out a way to subtly extract the name and address and Quirk and favorite food and Zodiac sign of Shouta's daddy, which would begin the instant their friend claimed exhaustion and left. It was what friends did. They were very good friends. Pro Heroes and Pro Friends, even.

Anyone who made Aizawa laugh at dick jokes, even indirectly, was someone they absolutely had to meet.

Chapter Text

Despite the grey sheets of rain that hammered their small college town, Toshinori found himself feeling particularly boisterous as he walked to Aizawa's apartment the very next Sunday, lifting his goofy yellow umbrella high and half-skipping over puddles at an easy, loping pace. Days like this, there wasn't much crime. It felt like the whole world was silent and drinking deeply of the endless pearl grey sky, using the time as an excuse to batten down the hatches and rest. An excellent time, in his opinion, for hot tea and quiet.

Toshinori was happy to be taking that quiet with a friend, and on the plushest couch known to man, as the rain was making his knees ache a bit. He was also quite determined to arrive at his co-teacher's home completely dry and perhaps prove to Aizawa that he did own an umbrella and knew how to navigate rain without getting soaked (or ruining carpets), with or without a stray kitten in tow. It was with a victorious sort of concentration that Toshinori shook out his big umbrella and stowed it in the entryway of the relatively gloomy housing complex, his footsteps echoing eerily against the constant hiss of rain as he climbed up one flight, then two.

Straightening himself and his tie, he knocked at Aizawa's door. No answer. No worries – he was probably napping.

It was a bit of a paradoxical compliment if he was: Formal Aizawa was always on time, but informal Aizawa tended to doze at will. And Toshinori liked informal Aizawa ... a bit more than he should, maybe. Toshinori knocked sharply again, just to be sure, and then entered the key code as the younger hero had given him explicit permission to do, unable to shake an awkward little thrill as he did so. Definitely not smiling, either.

It was just a key code, subject to change. Friends and coworkers gave each other access to their apartments, right? Especially when they worked closely together after hours.

But Toshinori had never really had coworkers before, he realized with a start. Or whatever qualified, beyond his one sidekick of many years (and years ago, at that).

He was actually spectacularly bad at judging what was normal in this work environment, or any other, and was trusting his conception of normalcy to his co-worker when there was utterly nothing about Aizawa Shouta that could be considered normal. Batting that alarming realization aside and focusing on the issue at hand that afternoon – yet another obstacle course for the children – he opened the door and edged himself into Aizawa's apartment, stopping with one hand still on the handle. He frowned midway through prying off his shoes.

For the first time in his memory, the apartment was a mess: practically turned upside-down and shaken out, and the man who lived there was nowhere in sight. Aizawa's small home was usually clean by virtue of being empty, but now there were dishes in the sink and takeout boxes littering every surface, leading to a scrambled map of activity that was manic at best, delirious at worst. Papers matted the floor and a sizable coffee stain had dried untouched on one of the larger islands of printouts. Toshinori bent to pick one of them up, brow furrowed and wincing at the pinch of his knees, and looked up at a soft meow. Himawari was poking her golden head out of Aizawa's bedroom door, sharp ears up.

“Himawari-chan,” he murmured as she approached, stunned. He reached out to pet her and glanced around the messy apartment again, somehow an alien territory once more, but she just streaked underneath his hand and turned, tail high. She meowed again, turning one circle and then running to the ajar door, flitting inside.

Toshinori pressed his lips together, wary. The energy in the sitting room felt quiet, tense and musty, and while it was obvious that the younger hero wasn't hiding behind the couch, he was slightly worried at what he might find in Aizawa's bedroom if he intruded. Was he ill? Too ill to text and let him know – or was he even the type of person to let him know?

The veteran hero rose to his feet and knocked once, twice. Stared at the gap in the door.

“Aizawa-kun?” he called hesitantly. No answer. This time, he worried.

From inside, he heard Himawari give a chirping little meow. Insistent. Despite himself, he smiled somewhat and pushed the door open.

There was no gruesome scene: Aizawa was cross-legged on the floor in an oversized t-shirt and sweatpants with his back to the door, hair half-in and half-out of a sloppy tie and tangling over his hunched shoulders. Other than the diffuse grey wash of light from the shuttered window, the only illumination in the room was from his phone in his lap, hidden by Toshinori's angle but painting the strong curve of the younger man's jaw and neck in cool blues. Toshinori bit his lip.

“Is it that time?” Aizawa rasped before he could speak, not raising his head. Toshinori averted his eyes from the scrambled innards of the man's bedroom, which he had never seen before, and tried to rally. Like this was normal, or at least manageable.

“It's three. Or, almost. I'm sorry if I'm early.” He fretted at his shirtsleeves. Still no response. He cleared his throat. “Do you ... have those schematics you wanted me to look at? For the class?”

“Done,” Aizawa said, absently petting Himawari as she clumsily bunted against his elbow with all her might, and Toshinori felt like he was beginning to understand her insistence. And then he actually heard what his co-worker said.

“Done?” he repeated in disbelief. They had nearly 7 hours of joint work ahead of them that day, plus or minus a shared meal, so Toshinori said the only thing he could think of.

“Aizawa-kun, that's just not possible.”

“Anything is possible at 4 am.”

For a moment, the older hero just stood in the doorway. It sounded like what counted for humor with Aizawa, which was usually just tetchy statement of fact. He had finished everything at 4 am. Why had he gotten up so early to begin the work when he knew he would have help? And then it all clicked.

“Aizawa-kun ... Have you slept?”

“Friday.”

“Excuse me?”

“Slept on Friday, midday,” he grunted, turning his head and casting around for something, either an object or idea, then gave up. Curled and retracted. “Can't focus.”

It was Sunday, and he hadn't slept since Friday? Toshinori's mouth dropped open. It explained the state of the house, which also looked like it hadn't gotten a break since Friday. The image of Aizawa pacing around and rifling through schematics among scattered coffee mugs and takeout boxes at 4 am was distressing, but he also couldn't imagine how stressful it would be to not sleep for days.

“I think sleep takes the opposite of focus,” he murmured, more to himself than the man tangling with the reality of the situation. A stupid thing to say, nonetheless, and Aizawa was alert enough to hear it.

“I can't focus on relaxing,” he said sharply, then he sagged, clearly too tired to be angry. Aizawa's head rolled forward and he haltingly pushed his fingers across his eyes and into his dark, ratty hair, over his temples. Everywhere that clearly hurt. “My fucking head.”

Toshinori's weak heart throbbed again, so like the night he had found Aizawa splayed and inebriated on his couch. Then again, it was probably the same root cause: Shinsou Hitoshi. Toshinori had noticed that his fellow teacher's insomnia flared in response to stressors, and Aizawa had practically just committed to training the boy full-time. This was his first weekend since, and he didn't have school or anything else to distract him. Just more time to dwell and spiral.

It fit, but he kept his silence. Toshinori wasn't going to assume anything, much like he wasn't going to assume he would be helpful here.

It was a paradigm shift, and a painful one for the legendary hero. He couldn't save Aizawa like a hero saves people, not from his own body or mind, even if the realization stung him deeply on some level. Maybe a few years ago – or a few months ago – Toshinori wouldn't have been able to accept it, would have railed and blundered forward with a million ideas and solutions in order to be heroic, but he was learning, now.

Aizawa had been teaching him, and now here the noble, difficult man was, worn down to nothing and motionless on the floor: a cruel kind of test of his aptitude.

“Do you need anything?” Toshinori began softly, trying his best to simply witness and accept what was happening even as his instincts strained and thrashed to do something, anything. Open the window, put on the kettle for tea, talk loudly enough to distract. He glanced around the darkened room for any sign of lack, but there was too much mess to make any sense of what belonged and what didn't, much less what was needed. Aizawa was behind on laundry, as he'd said tended to happen, and Toshinori could hardly see the floor.

“Stupid question,” Aizawa snorted from behind the curtain of his hair. Nothing more. Toshinori pressed his lips together and tried again.

“Would a shower help?”

“Drowning sounds great.”

Toshinori sighed. Well, if he had already done all of their work ...

“I can leave if you would rather, but … would you mind if I sat with you?”

Aizawa just grunted. So Toshinori sat.

It took him a minute to fold his long legs into a sitting position and deal with Himawari rushing at him with an angry, squeaky little sound, only to double back and continue to fret at, between, and over Aizawa's crossed legs, growling and purring in hectic turns. She poked her head out of the crook of the younger hero's slack arm and gazed back at him, eyes steely blue in the grey light, as if to say: Why aren't you helping?

He could ask himself the same, and how. The lump of helplessness doubled, solidly blocking Toshinori's throat. Misery brewed in the airless chamber of his chest, and they sat for long moments, silent.

The distance between them on the clothes-littered wood was respectable, and one that the older hero wanted to cross more than anything. Despite the searing physicality of their arrangement, they had never actually … hugged or touched one another in a civilian way, and the thought shook Toshinori considerably even as such gestures were foreign to him as well. The gap between their modes of relating loomed in the musty, tense space between them until, feeling more pathetic than brave, Toshinori placed a hand on his friend's bent back, long fingers scrubbing lightly. Aizawa shuddered, then bowed into it after a breathless moment.

“Fucked up,” he mumbled, still glaring down at his phone screen. An accurate summary.

“I'm … sorry you're having such a hard time,” Toshnori said carefully, straining to put some feeling into the idiotic platitude. He swallowed. “If I can help, let me know.

Aizawa grunted and nudged into his hand again, then abruptly turned and leaned backward, toward him. Toshinori jumped on the strange gesture, scrambling forward just enough to give Aizawa a shoulder to lean into, where the younger hero lay stiffly, eyes closed, hands heavy on his lap even as Himawari tried to nuzzle under his fingers. Immediately, Toshinori wrinkled his nose.

Aizawa reeked something awful. It was strangely more concentrated, somehow more miserable, than the stink of exertion or a hard battle – but, then again, Toshinori assumed he had been fighting against his body and mind for the past 48 hours. His heart squeezed and so did his arms, unbidden, folding the younger hero into his caving chest.

For a second, Toshinori froze, damning his mutinous body and its apparently heroic insistence on certain things – but then Aizawa's hand came to rest on his, rough fingertips wandering and feeling. He breathed out shakily against the younger hero's shoulder, simply experiencing the simple warmth between them and watching his hands. Their hands.

If there was something intense and desirable and piercing about any of it – holding Aizawa, curling around him and supporting him, with his mouth against his shoulder in the quiet of his bedroom – Toshinori blocked it. Shoved it down and away. This wasn't for him. Any of it.

He had to ask himself: Was this physical reassurance something that either Yamada-san or Kayama-san would do for their friend, to help him? The answer was an unequivocal yes. The veteran hero could have sat there and simply drowned in witnessed misery, but then he remembered that Aizawa responded, at least in part, to a firm hand. Usually that hand was Kayama's, as Midnight, but maybe he just needed someone to have an opinion as to what he should do with himself. Toshinori had more than a few.

“I think a shower would help,” he murmured into Aizawa's tangled hair, trying to sound firm but also trying not to simultaneously memorize and erase every detail of the miserable embrace. The way Aizawa's lean body felt against his, the ratty hair against his cheek, the way his thin forearms locked firmly across his sides and stomach.

“Unless you're gonna carry me,” Aizawa snorted, derisive. His hand stopped its wandering and retracted, balling into a fist instead. Resisting.

“I could do that,” he said, reaching for that fist. He pushed his fingers gently along the seams of the younger hero's aggressively scarred knuckles, nosing into his hair. Distracting. “Are you hungry? You must be hungry.”

“You're annoying,” Aizawa hissed, turning and bumping his head with his own. A sign to back off, which Toshinori did, retreating to his shoulder again, too stunned to even chastise himself for his initial gall. “Why are you still here?”

“Because you take care of the children all day, every day,” Toshinori said slowly into his shoulder, realizing the magnitude of the truth as he said it. “And you should let others care for you when you're not doing well. There's no shame in it.”

“I'm not ashamed, I'm fucking exhausted and out of my head and I can't sleep. And don't bring the students into this. It's cheap,” he grumbled, adding dourly, “You're cheap.”

Toshinori pressed forward, unfazed. He had a goal. He wouldn't give up.

“It's necessary. Today is Sunday. You have class tomorrow. Or should I take over for you? If you need the time.”

“You don't even have an hour left in you,” Aizawa snorted. “What would you do for your class?”

“I would figure something out, maybe with Snipe-san or Yamada-san. Surely they know a thing or two about hero studies. You don't need to worry yourself,” he said resolutely, ardent and hushed. “It's what friends do for one another. Plus Ult- er, you know. Um. Right. Right?”

The statement – the identity issue at hand – stung less than it ever had. His time as All Might, the only man the children knew, was a practical concern and Aizawa was a practical man. But then the man himself snorted and abruptly leaned forward and out of the half-embrace.

“Bullshit.”

Toshinori retracted his suddenly shameful limbs, assuming the worst, but the homeroom teacher just got to his bare feet and immediately stumbled around Himawari, who was very concerned at the flurry of movement. Toshinori plucked the nosy thing out of the way and stowed her in his lap, watching tensely as Aizawa shook his hair loose and shrugged out of his rank t-shirt, which he then peevishly flung over the older hero's head.

“I'm done with you.”

Toshinori made a sound of surprise, tangling with the shirt and the nervous, squirming cat for a moment, and emerged to an empty room. Had Aizawa been referring to him or the shirt? Biting his lip, he leaned out of the bedroom far enough to see the bathroom door slide shut and, after a moment, the hiss of the shower filtered through the small, dark apartment. Toshinori finally breathed out and set their girl down, giving her a good scratch.

“It's okay,” he assured her and himself in low tones, his heart stinging. “He's okay.”

Stranded, waiting, unsure what to do, Toshinori did what he always did: He made tea. Chamomile and jasmine, both relaxers, with a sprinkle of sugar for softness.

A solid half an hour later, more time than it took to drain the apartment's small water heater, Aizawa emerged rubbing a threadbare towel in his hair, eyes closed and undercut with deep, bruise-like shadows. His (clean) pink sweatpants and white t-shirt were horribly bright in comparison, but he already looked a little more alive. He had even shaved. The exhausted young hero paused in the kitchen and took the warm mug Toshinori folded into his hands, then drifted to the couch. Just for a change of scenery, probably.

Toshinori regarded him fretfully for a moment, then set to cleaning out of nothing more than a desperation to distract. He got as far as collecting the first four takeout boxes before getting snapped at.

“Stop.”

He looked over and found Aizawa glaring at him from his seat on the couch.

“Put those down. You're making me anxious. And irritated.”

“Oh?” he startled, ducking his head. “Sorry, sorry. I just … sorry.”

Cringing, Toshinori put down the takeout boxes in an odd little pile, intensely embarrassed. He wasn't judging Aizawa for the state of his home – did Aizawa think he was judging him? The speed at which the teacher averted his gaze, turning and hiding himself in petting his kitten, spoke to the possibility.

At long last, Toshinori's own nerves kicked his feet out from under him. It was well past time for him to go, probably, if he was irritating the man he was trying to help. Aizawa had such a short fuse even when he had his wits about him, he was surprised he had lasted this long with such a nosy guest. The older hero tugged at his tie and turned around, swallowing with difficulty.

“I didn't mean to overstep my, ah, you know. If you're … done with me, I guess I'll just ...” he trailed off awkwardly, trying to remember where he'd put his own folders so he could get out of the other man's hair.

“Hey.”

Toshinori looked over. Now on his side on the couch, Aizawa was little more than a lump of pink jersey knit and damp, curled feet.

“If you want to help, get over here,” he grumbled, deep voice muffled against the cushions.

It took him a minute to process – to believe – but in the end, Toshinori cautiously approached the couch. Aizawa was small, like this, with his thick hair wet and close to his head and his knees folded protectively to his chest. Not at all the imposing specter of 1-A who could level an ego with a single glare and made every day feel like a pop quiz. Toshinori's heart nearly jumped out of his throat, seeing tiny Himawari soaking wet and stranded and shaking all over again, paired with the identical desire to save and hold, or the simple inability to leave.

Still, he hesitated, looking at the conspicuously empty space behind Aizawa and his vague instructions. He sat on the edge of the couch instead, knees together.

“Like this?” he asked, lightly placing a hand on his leg.

“Get in here,” he ordered shortly, twisting to pat the space behind him. Toshinori obeyed.

He had to chase off the princess, who was already circling in the small of her human's damp, warm back. Toshinori apologized half-heartedly to her as he fit himself behind Aizawa, an awkward affair of gangly limbs and shuffling despite the ample space on the enormous couch. It was less the fit of the matter than the situation entirely, and so, as he wrangled elbows and knees, Toshinori ordered himself to calm down, to stop imagining every way this could go terribly wrong.

“Like this?” he asked again, tongue catching on the words. Aizawa curtly yanked his arms around his middle, grunting. The way their bodies fit, back to chest again, momentarily sent Toshinori's mind offline and a glut of shame quickly followed the numbing blast of belonging.

“The longer I stay awake, the more fucked up my dreams,” came the mutter from the other side, dull and somehow angry. “I go into REM quicker, but pressure helps with the night terrors. So, squeeze. If you can.”

“I will,” Toshinori promised throatily, startled. “I'll try.”

“I'm not promising I'm gonna fall asleep,” he added, slurred and even angrier. Preparing him for it. “So don't ask me every three minutes like a dumbass. Okay?”

“Do whatever you need. I'll be here either way.”

He tried to end it there, simply and with feeling, but he couldn't suffer in such conspicuous silence. Or, such conspicuous closeness. Toshinori had to say it, almost under his breath.

“But is this … okay?”

“What?”

“Considering our … agreement,” he said, heavy, careful and dreading it. “Does this violate the premise?”

Aizawa didn't move or speak for a moment, entirely calcified. When he did speak, his voice was steely, empty. Perfectly neutral.

“You're doing me a practical service, by staying. By helping me sleep. If you're uncomfortable with it, you can leave at any point.”

“No,” Toshinori murmured instantly, squeezing his eyes shut as disappointment and dread warred in him. He prayed the younger hero couldn't feel his heart banging away through his back and immediately regretted opening his mouth. What was he trying to prove? “No. This is fine. I'm not uncomfortable. I just wanted to be sure.”

“Okay, then.”

And that was the problem, really: He was horribly comfortable. He had never been more comfortable in his entire life, and that was even considering whatever was stabbing away in his chest. Guilt, maybe dread. A dawning sense that maybe some agreements, no matter how logical and practical, couldn't stand up to the intensity of the kind of work they were doing, digging around in each other. Seeing the other and trusting enough to be seen.

But for now, Toshinori had a job to do, and he was an expert at trimming away mental chatter to accomplish a task.

In the thawing silence, Toshinori carefully settled down behind the younger hero on the wide microfiber couch, cedar and tea tree tingling in his nose. Aizawa's wet hair immediately soaked into his collar and the sleeve of his shirt where his arm cradled his head, but it just seemed to blur the lines between where he started and Aizawa ended, and he didn't mind. Warm and close was fine. It was what Aizawa needed, right now. To sleep.

The mug steamed on the coffee table, untouched but releasing a soothing smell. The rain fell softly outside, a warm spring storm. Himawari had settled behind Toshinori's head, practically roosting in his gaping shirt collar, and was purring rhythmically, ears twitching.

Laying there, Toshinori was more than happy to give Aizawa what he needed. He took his current job very seriously and moved to hold all of him: hold him down, hold him in, hold him to the same standard of care he forced on everyone else. Mostly, he held Aizawa close, breathing in until his scar-mottled chest pushed gently against the man's back, long fingers skimming his angles absently. Self conscious of his breath on his neck. Wondering, then trying not to.

After a moment, Aizawa rooted back into him begrudgingly and his breathing slowed little by little. Too tired to hold himself brittle and motionless like his nerves would have otherwise demanded, Toshinori nudged into the dip of the armrest and sighed quietly, closing his eyes.

He slept. They slept. It rained and rained and the afternoon slipped away.

Toshinori woke an unknown amount of time later alone on the couch, arms outstretched and empty. Himawari was still there, and blearily opened an eye when he shifted around to stare at her, the common sense knocked clean out of him by the depth of sleep he'd achieved.

Outside, the rain still fell and the apartment was silent. He was beginning to feel like he had woken into an alternate dimension, but then Aizawa padded out of the bathroom holding a canister with his free hand in his hair, pulling and squeezing. Relief filled his chest. He must have made a noise, however, because Aizawa glanced up, caught, then continued with his head low. As Toshinori watched, he seated himself at the kitchen table, emptied a handful of foam from the container and continued the concerted motion of rubbing it into his hair. Slowly, the older man began to frown.

“How are you feeling?” he asked in a rough whisper, careful. He felt like little more than a tangle of limbs and confusion as he straightened himself and stifled a yawn in his damp sleeve.

Another grunt. Toshinori accepted it. He wasn't entitled to any sort of explanation, but he worried.

It felt nice, if complicated, sleeping next to Aizawa, but it wasn't the time to say so. The distance between them was obvious, especially considering Aizawa's seat at the table when there were takeout boxes on the floor. It was uncharacteristically avoidant, clipped, and the stubbornness with which the younger hero continued to clench and rub at his hair made Toshinori think this wasn't something off-handed or coincidental.

“If you don't mind me asking –” Toshinori began, propping himself up on his elbow.

“I mind,” Aizawa said shortly, hiding in his hair, which was looking remarkably shiny. Toshinori got as far as opening his mouth, likely just to make an understanding noise, when Aizawa stopped his persistent massage of his hair and sighed through his nose. “It's something I do. Every two weeks.”

“A schedule,” Toshinori said after a moment, processing. He had no idea where this was going, especially as Aizawa set aside the container with a clang and started in on his tangles with a comb. “Why a schedule?”

“It's a sort of check-in. Holding me accountable,” he mumbled, so low it was unclear if he actually wanted Toshinori to hear or if this was another way of getting him to stop asking questions he had no desire to answer. He watched, slightly hypnotized, as Aizawa took a minute to tear loose hair from the comb, head bowed.

It was a ritual, a check-in to hold him accountable – but to whom?

Ever observant, or just knowing exactly how nosy he was, Aizawa took a deep breath and Toshinori found himself tensing, feeling the need to sit up straight and witness as the gruff man began to speak. Explain.

“I was in the Triumvirate job for about 17 months, full undercover. The kinds of things I did while under … probably not the worst, definitely not the best. My only concern was survival, for a while. I was the perfect candidate for the job, considering,” he said, something spiteful in his tone as he combed and pulled. “When I got out, I'd been cornered in one way or another for so long that I didn't know what to do with freedom. I was less than functional. Didn't eat, didn't shower, didn't go outside, didn't sleep. I was having panic attacks every other day, every other hour. Did worse things to cope. Then Nemuri happened.”

Awash in such a candid description of suffering, Toshinori frowned. It was an odd statement for two people who had known each other all through Academy, for one to “happen” to the other so many years after, but it immediately became clear that it was a relationship with a capital R. The only one that Aizawa subbed for, and perhaps for a very good reason with very bad origins.

“She helped you,” Toshinori said quietly, realizing.

He had very much undersold the importance of their arrangement that day in the cafe, it seemed, but the older hero could think of absolutely no reason why his friend – barely a friend at that point – would feel the need to divulge such a painful truth so early. Or now, even. Aizawa nodded, now carding his fingers through his damp hair.

“She saw me spiraling and stepped in to break it. Don't know how far I would've gone, if she hadn't. She worked her ass off and scheduled and micro-managed every aspect of my life so I wouldn't have time to sabotage myself.”

Though he spoke with pristine calmness, something in his face spoke to the depth of the information, the trauma contained between the simple facts, and Toshinori found himself holding his breath – especially as Aizawa rose from the table with his comb and padded over, into the living room. The distance between them, or lack thereof, was suddenly very important.

It always had been, really, so Toshinori hurriedly moved over to give the younger hero room as he slumped against the front of the couch, continuing in low, tired tones:

“Not to say that she didn't enjoy it. Forceful nurturing is her thing. But she really went hard. Meals, daily check-ins, routines, all to stop me from getting stuck in a depressive cycle and to give me someone to answer to.”

Someone who mattered, came the unspoken truth, clear as day. Someone outside his self-hatred.

“After I started to get a handle on basic life skills again and got the mats out of my hair, we reined it in to just a few things,” Aizawa finished. He breathed out slowly, done. “Check-ins.”

“So every two weeks, you do this. Treat your hair, like this.” Toshinori could hardly bring himself to simplify it so much, or even find his voice after such a confession. Aizawa nodded, automatic.

“It's a wellness test. If I have my shit together enough to remember, she knows I'm doing okay, and we don't need to ratchet up the control.”

Toshinori finally understood, even if the amount he surely had yet to learn about the younger hero yawned wide, stunning and quieting. The forcefulness with which Aizawa worked the stuff through his hair was a statement in itself: This weekend stint of sleeplessness was a near miss, and he had no intention of letting it go any further.

The willfulness and bravery of it all stunned Toshinori. Aizawa was, to the best of the ability, heading off the beginning of a well-known destructive cycle. He was making a decision. Using his knowledge of self, regrettable and admirable alike, he was moving toward health.

“And it's her brand,” Toshinori said with some disbelief, eying the purple color palate and signature swooning cursive on the bottle, visible even from across the room.

“Of course,” Aizawa snorted. Then, affectionately: “Slut.”

There was so much for Toshinori to say.

The thoughts crowded in and pushed through, one after the other in a roiling gush of feeling: It hurts me deeply to think of you going through that. I'm so glad you found a way to cope. I'm so impressed that you are using your life experience to become a teacher. Our experiences as heroes are so different that I'm at a loss for how to help you, but I'm so grateful you're sharing this with me.

Then: I'm so glad Midnight is still there for you and your friends are so, so good to you. Most importantly, you are so, so worth it. You are so brave.

There was so much to say. Instead, he swallowed heavily and said:

“It smells amazing.”

By his knee, Aizawa shook his hair out with a quick hand and spread it behind him on the couch cushion, presumably to dry. It was shiny and damp and straight and entirely unlike the man, so Toshinori eyed it, fascinated. He leaned over.

“May I …?” he asked gently, wondering as he did so if he was awake enough to be making good and respectful decisions. Aizawa glanced up at him and settled back, humming.

“Sure.”

Carefully, the older hero reached out and touched his hair where it lay on the couch. It was soft and cool and Aizawa gave no response, so he sank his fingers in and pulled through it, keeping his eyes on his companion for any sign of displeasure or nerves. Every movement kicked up a new wave of the sweet scent, calming and luxurious. Herby french lavender and something rich.

It was a kind of appreciation and honoring, at least to Toshinori, but after a few minutes of hypnotically petting the fragrant, silky mess, his hand began to wander and twirl at will and he tugged, close to the scalp, without quite meaning to. Aizawa made a deep, gruff sound and Toshinori froze, horribly awake. The younger hero turned just enough to look over his shoulder.

“You should do that again,” he muttered, eyes tired but somehow still devious. “But harder.”

Given another job, Toshinori complied as bravely as he could despite having no experience in touching hair. He slid his hand in, capturing the heft of the man's thick black mane between his thumb and forefinger, and clenched. Aizawa immediately sighed hoarsely, but also leaned forward, showing him how hard he could pull. He tried again and the effect cascaded through the teacher's body, loosening him enough that his head lolled to the side, eyelids fluttering. It was plainly incredible.

He was so tuned into any bit of life in the younger hero, any bit of freely given response, that Toshinori's battered heart simply leapt to see Aizawa responding, and in a positive way. It was like waking up, or catching a snatch of sunlight between dark, tangled trees. When Aizawa opened his eyes to peer at him, Toshinori grinned nervously, heart in his throat.

“Is that good?” he asked, just to be sure.

“What do you think?” the younger hero grumbled, peevish but reedy. Weakened, or maybe just comfortable enough to be vulnerable. So, emboldened, Toshinori tugged again and this time Aizawa nosed against his knee and pressed his face there, mouth open and eyes dark. A hand spread across the inside of the older hero's leg and then, eyes still locked on his, Aizawa grinned, reached over, hooked a finger into his belt loop and pulled sharply.

Toshinori let go of everything, skin flaring cold, and scarcely stopped himself from jerking away. That simple, playful tug at his pants always sent him through the roof before, a clear indication of want and fun, but at that moment his whole body pulsed in a bad way, a little like panic or disgust, and his head spun from the whiplash. He grabbed the other man's hand off his belt and set it flat on the couch. He shook his head sternly.

“No,” he croaked, heart pounding. “You're … in a state.”

Aizawa immediately pulled away, retracted mercilessly, any hazy enjoyment replaced by hard anger.

“Toshinori, this is half my fucking life. I know when I'm in a state,” he muttered, now a rigid, defensive ball of limbs on the floor. Then, surly or accusing: “I thought we weren't doing emotions.”

“E-exactly, we're not,” he protested, feeling himself flush horribly. He struggled for words. “And this is ... I don't know, this is too emotional. Fraught.”

At his knee, Aizawa was regarding him with irritation, like he was making excuses. Toshinori sighed, rubbing at his neck.

“It's complicated and not something I can explain. Seeing you like that, I ... just want to help you feel better, if I can.”

“Maybe it would make me feel better,” Aizawa countered, voice low and husky enough to swim in, “if I could thank you for comforting me.”

It was wrong, all wrong: There was a slippery edge to his words and garish smirk, set just slightly off of center, that instantly struck the older man as some kind of learned adaptation or strategy. He hated the clearly forced taste of it even more than the fact that Aizawa was using it on him. He didn't want to think where it had come from, even as he had an idea.

Being undercover made you learn strange things to survive.

There was only one thing to do. As much as Toshinori didn't want to reject Aizawa as a person while he was clearly vulnerable, he would much rather explain his reasoning when the other man was in his right mind than try to justify to himself later why he'd acted against his instincts.

“I'm here to have fun and feel things, not barter,” he said simply, and Aizawa finally, visibly, gave up.

“Fine,” he snapped, falling back against the couch and away from him with ire, and Toshinori finally, shakily exhaled. Maybe hearing his relief, Aizawa shot him a surly look, damp and tousled and clearly pissed, and added with faint menace: “You might not get a repeat offer.”

Toshinori just shook his head.

“Nor would I want one, if the circumstances weren't changed.”

That earned him another seething look, as if Aizawa had made no agreements to host such a level of wholesomeness in his house.

“Huh,” he huffed, waspish. “It's almost like we aren't actually fuck buddies.”

Toshinori could only frown, mildly embarrassed.

“You're a respected coworker and a friend. So, fuck, er, fuck-buddies,” he stumbled on the word, then raised his hands placatingly, “with an emphasis on buddies.”

Aizawa was motionless for a moment, maybe thinking about his wise words, then he turned away.

“Well, that's it. I'm done,” he said, abruptly rising to his feet.

“What?” Toshinori asked, startled. Done with what? Aizawa shook his head, a grim expression on his freshly-shaven face that aged him at least five years.

“That killed it. No more remotely sexual thoughts for at least a week.”

“Which should give you ample time to recover,” Toshinori said firmly, undaunted. Without missing a beat, Aizawa looked over his shoulder, brows high.

“Why, do you have something planned?”

“Shouta-kun!” the older hero exclaimed, stung. He pushed his bangs back, exhaling sharply. “Please, just …!”

Loud and sharp, Aizawa laughed for the first time – probably for the first time that week, but more importantly, for that long, difficult day. The brash sound quieted Toshinori and his nerves in one fell swoop, leaving him in a state of careful observation as his fellow teacher made his way back over to the kitchen and set about scrounging up something to eat. It was just a fruit cup, slurped and discarded without any ado, but his relief distracted him enough that it was only when Aizawa returned to the couch with a box of some kind of snack food that he found his voice again, pushing forward.

“It's just … you shouldn't push yourself to be at one hundred percent so soon, especially with something like this. To do something like that, for another person,” he mumbled, pinkening slightly. He knitted his hands, solemn, as Aizawa settled into the cushions a significant distance away and raised an arm to allow a very needy kitten to curl up against his belly. “Allow yourself time. If you need time to be vulnerable, take it. Your health is important, and you're not just a resource to be used, Aizawa-kun.”

“Really.”

“Yes,” the veteran hero said emphatically, nodding. Feeling as though he were back on his feet and in the right for the first time since opening Aizawa's bedroom door however many hours ago.

“Did you really say that and mean it?” Aizawa asked, dull tone completely at odds with the way he suddenly leaned forward, inches away from the older hero's face and unblinking. Himawari meowed angrily at the upheaval, and Toshinori startled. “You actually mean that.”

“Y-yes!” Toshinori stuttered, body vibrating at the simple but perplexing proximity when Aizawa failed to move away or cease his aggressive staring. Under his co-teacher's hard eye, his nerves shook him the rest of the way apart and he finally blurted out: “I, yes, why?”

Then, abruptly as he had begun, Aizawa leaned back into the couch, rustled himself half-horizontal with a hand to the cat and stuffed another cracker in his mouth.

“Okay. Just making sure.” He pulled out his phone and made a few quick swiping motions. A jaunty little song drifted out, which Toshinori haltingly recognized as the cat collecting game. “I'm going to let you soak in the irony. Check on you in about an hour and see if anything got through your thick head.”

It took the older hero a minute to realize he was being shamed about his own double standards of utilitarianism and self-care (or lack thereof), but he could only manage to poke his fingers together and look at the floor. Something else was bothering him. Hardly a new statement, but still.

“You said you'd been awake since Friday afternoon,” he ventured quietly. When Aizawa just continued to blearily crunch on his crackers, Toshinori cleared his throat. “That's … close to your 72 hour mark. Should we call Midnight?”

“That's not ...”

Toshinori glanced over. Aizawa's expression was a conflicted one, but after a moment his co-teacher snorted and gave an awkward, numb smirk. Then, so quietly, a scoff: we. Aizawa grabbed the remote and flipped the TV on.

“If you're going to hang around, we should sit here and watch this nature documentary, I should fall asleep again as soon as fucking possible, and you should be a foot rest.”

With that, the younger hero swiveled and flopped his feet in Toshinori's lap. He automatically covered them with his hands and watched from the corner of his eye, perplexed, as some big, beautiful cat slithered through the undergrowth of a jungle on the screen. At length, Aizawa sighed.

“Please stop fucking staring at me, Toshinori. Or I'm going to try to blow you again and you don't want that,” he said dryly, not turning from the television screen.

“Ah, of course. I, uh. Sorry,” he amended, pausing. “I was just thinking ... You must be having some hard conversations with Shinsou. Now that ... You're speaking.”

There was no answer, until there was.

“I don't want to talk about this,” he said, little more than a murmur. Toshinori nodded, expecting it.

“Of course. That's fine. I just wanted to tell you that I know it must be difficult, and I'm here for you.

“As a very warm, very quiet foot rest,” Aizawa affirmed, sending him the first lively look he'd seen so far. His lips twitched. “Noted.”

“Alright,” Toshinori said with a slight chuckle, squeezing the feet in his lap and settling back with his new and final task.

He let it be and was actually able to. Aizawa didn't get back to sleep immediately, but his co-teacher still let Toshinori cook for him with a minimal amount of coaxing after a quick run to a nearby market. It did the younger hero good to get out of the house, even if it was rainy – to hear him inhale sharply and just stand for a moment in the tin overhang of the store, eyes closed, as the rain fell in grey sheets a few feet away and Toshinori paid for his things, gave Toshinori an odd kind of hope.

Toshinori also learned a lot about wildcats that day, as well as some secrets to Neko Atsume that would finally lure some of the rarer cats in. Though his time to play was limited these days, he had been sorely in need of some new additions to his digital brood and having Aizawa lean over his shoulder and poke at his phone, mumbling about cat trees and cushions as strategies, was enjoyable. Warm. Friendly.

At the end of the day, as the scant light faded and the streetlights flickered on and lit the shuddering puddles on the sidewalks ablaze, Toshinori left Aizawa sleeping on his couch, bundled into a protective ball with Himawari rolled in the crook of his knees. She opened one eye as he opened the door and slipped on his shoes, then closed it, tail flicking calmly. She would watch over him and so he left Aizawa in her capable paws, pausing only slightly before closing the door and once again entering the code to the keypad.

 


 

The next day, Toshinori saw Midnight and Aizawa in the hallway.

It should have been normal, and certainly not a reason to duck behind the nearest threshold. However, the sudden reverence at the sight was almost as strong as the urge to observe as the two younger heroes strode toward him, unaware of his presence. She chattered away and Aizawa responded with noises and snorts, but then Midnight threw an arm around his shoulders and leaned in.

It was quick, but Toshinori saw it: the deft combing of his loose hair between her fingers, the kiss on the cheek. The proud look and Aizawa's genuine, small, only slightly annoyed smile, thinking they were alone. The way he leaned into her for just a moment, accepting what she was telling him: that he was doing well and deserved to do well. That he was safe and loved and very, very much enough.

Toshinori's heart fairly stopped, and he only barely managed to duck down the nearest hallway in time, thinking he would never see all the ways that love existed in the world even if he lived a thousand years.

The very next day, he sent Midnight a gift basket and had it waiting for her in her office. It was a dozen red roses, bursting with clean white sprays of baby's breath, and a box of bourbon chocolates, the kind that just effortlessly jumped out at him as something a queen of indulgence would appreciate. On it, a simple card with red script read:

“Midnight – a beautiful woman, inside and out

For all the lives you've saved over the years

You are a true hero.”

He heard her scream across campus and wondered if she wasn't hiding a voice Quirk under all her other powers of sleep and seduction. And healing, somehow. He chuckled quietly into his tea and kept grading.

Chapter Text

It was a sunny day after class let out early, which meant 1-A was arranged in their usual rambling constellation on the campus green and yammering about hopes and homework, everything and nothing.

Today, it was clearly something. Half their number were clustered around Tsuyu, who would have looked unperturbed by all the attention to anyone who didn't know her. Upon closer inspection, her meek, rhythmic little croaks belied her anxiety, as did the huge finger tapping against her mouth.

“You saw it? It was really Aizawa-sensei? You're sure,” someone pressed, other students muttering to each other in general disbelief. Tsuyu apparently didn't sleep much and often headed to school early to study, rising with the dawn. That day, on her way, she saw something.

“Yes, and the purple-haired student. I saw them sparring before class, kero,” she said with a tilt of her head, dark eyes glossy. She blinked, one eye just slightly off-time – a reptilian little reminder that never failed to send a shiver down her classmates' unguarded spines. “Why is that interesting?”

“Is it really that kid from the sports festival? Is he even in the Hero course?”

More muttering. It was a bit shameful that they still didn't know who actually belonged in 1-B and who didn't. Maybe the purple-haired kid was right, and they were a little arrogant … or just hyper-focused on their own survival, which had not been nearly as assured as that of the other classes. It led to closing ranks, as only closeness had kept them alive so far.

“Hell no, he's General Studies,” came the scoff, instantly recognizable as Mineta. “What I don't get is why Aizawa-sensei is doing it. He already failed his chance to transfer for a whole year after tanking so hard in the festival, so why train now? If we get extra homework because this guy pisses Aizawa-sensei off, I'm talking to the dean.”

“I'm sure Aizawa-sensei knows what he's doing,” Kirishima's voice lilted, light and hopeful. “Come on, guys, it's not our problem, yeah? We should probably get going, anyway ...”

“Maybe it's preventative – to keep him from turning into a villain?” Ashido whispered, undeterred, her long willowy fingers plucking at her bubblegum curls. “I saw that look in his eye as he left the stage, after fighting Deku. It was spooky. He was, like ... more than angry.”

“Please! That wasn't even a fight, and that's the whole point! He tricked Deku. His whole Quirk is just bad,” Kaminari said with disgust, shaking his head. “Why would Aizawa-sensei waste time on something like that?”

Something like that? Midoriya, cross-legged under a nearby tree and previously hiding in his Hero Law book, couldn't keep his silence anymore.

“I think Shinsou has a noble spirit,” Midoriya protested. He was chagrined by the dismissiveness of his classmates even as he didn't have too much to back up his claim, a realization that hit him just as everyone – Kaminari, Ashido, Mineta, Tsuyu, Sero and Kirishima – turned to look at him. Midoriya's fingers crawled across the page, shoulders rising in reflex to the amount of eyes on him, and he had to fight not to lapse into his trademark stifled mutter.

“Aizawa-sensei probably saw that and is helping him. It's what teachers do.” He swallowed, trying not to hear how dumb he sounded. His neck heated up, acutely aware of how Uraraka and Iida were watching him flounder, too. “And … and he has a name, it's Shinsou, and just because he's General Studies doesn't mean he doesn't have dreams. So if he wants to win the festival next year and transfer, he probably needs to start training right now. To be sure. Y-you know?”

“Must be hard work, losing that big,” someone snickered, and Midoriya shut his book, stung.

“All he wants is to become a hero!” he said through his teeth, louder. Reminding them, maybe, because weren't they all where Shinsou was, at one point? To his surprise, it was Kaminari who stepped out of the crowd, one thumb slung roguishly into his belt.

“Remind you of anyone you know?” Kaminari sighed, pushing his bristling yellow hair back with aplomb. “Stain, maybe?”

“And who was quoting Stain the day after, idiot?”

Kaminari jumped in place, and everyone turned to see Bakugou striding toward them at a breakneck pace, lip curled. The kids promptly peeled away, out of the path he was burning down the campus green.

“Oh! I, uh, I just didn't have – I didn't have all the information, that day –” Kaminari stuttered, waving his hands and instantly retreating under Bakugou's searing displeasure as he came within arms reach. He didn't get a chance to excuse himself or even run, as their resident walking explosion snagged him by the collar and kept going, never slowing his pace and nearly yanking the smaller boy off his feet in the process.

“Next time, don't open your mouth until you do,” Bakugou sneered down at him, then turned to the rest of his crew as he walked off, dragging Kaminari after. “Come on. We're gonna be late to the park.”

Previously frozen, the little cluster erupted in whines and groans.

“O-o-ohhh, was that, um, was that today?”

“Aw, man!”

“Haha, that's what I was trying to say, guys! It's like my internship all over again ...”

“Get your rears in gear, losers! We're going, and you're not gonna make me late!”

Kaachan and the others had public service for getting in trouble earlier that week, as Aizawa-sensei apparently had begun outsourcing his punishments due to the new demands on his time. The notorious crew headed off to their penance with as much rabble as they'd gotten into it: Bakugou dragging Kaminari by the collar even as he insisted he could walk, Ashido and Sero giggling nonstop, and Kirishima assuring them that a little trash pick up would be fun, like a game. The remaining students watched a little too long, if just because it was easier than picking up their conversation.

Sighing quietly, Midoriya turned back to their loose study circle and found one of his classmates with a particularly stricken look on his face.

“Ojiro-kun?”

Ojiro looked down at the sound of his name, closing his own book and taking a moment. As he thought, Tsuyu came to sit beside him with a tiny croak, her legs folded underneath her. She patted his arm.

“Shinsou-san apologized to me, after,” he said haltingly, unsure, and his tail swept fitfully over the ground behind him, sending a fluff of shredded green into the warm air. He shook his head. “I don't know what to make of it. I don't have any reason to believe he's hero material, but neither do I think he's a villain waiting to happen. I can't trust him until I see something more, though, and that's not likely to happen since the courses are so segregated.”

The gathered students nodded in agreement. Ojiro shook his head, resigned.

“At this point, it is what it is ... until next year's tournament.”

“I refuse to believe anyone's Quirk is inherently evil,” Iida said pensively, a finger to his chin. “But I do see how he could be angry ... considering how the festival naturally isn't set up for his abilities, that is. Or the Hero course in general, despite how useful he could be in the field. I suppose those of us with physical Quirks are more blessed than we know.”

Across from them, Uraraka nodded with a firm little grunt, hands balled into fists.

“He has to decide his own destiny! We all do,” she sang, grinning and looking around at her classmates. “He has a chance next year, and maybe Aizawa-sensei sees something in him. Who knows? If there's a place for a miracle like that, it's UA. Ultimate freedom, right?”

“Agreed! Plus Ultra!” Iida called, fist up, and everyone gladly followed the chant – everyone but Midoriya, who was leaning forward and squinting after a flash of purple at the side of the Hero course building. Laughter swelled around him and, far away, his stomach dropped.

“Oh no,” he muttered, discarding his book and pushing himself to his feet. “Shinsou-san.”

His friends called after him, Uraraka's voice rising above the others, but Midoriya just waved his hand behind him as he hauled around the corner.

Just as he thought, there was the General Studies student wandering along the back of the Hero Course building, head bowed with his hands in his pockets. Midoriya's chest tightened, wondering how long he had been standing there, listening. Shinsou's rambling pace didn't change even as the younger student charged up behind him, shouting.

“Sh-Shinsou-san! Hey!”

Shinsou's long strides slowed, and Midoriya's schoolmate drifted to a stop on the fresh grass.

“You shouldn't leave yourself open, you know. Yelling like that.”

“Huh?” Midoriya frowned as he came to a halt, staring at the back of Shinsou's head.

“Nobody ever yells at me. Aren't you afraid,” the other boy said slowly, “that I'll make you do something stupid after you beat me at the festival?”

“No. I'm not afraid at all,” Midoriya said with a shake of his curly head. He pushed on, insistent: “And I'm not stupid for thinking that. I don't think that's the kind of person you are.”

“You sure do know a lot about me,” Shinsou said breezily, rocking on his heels and staring up at the cloudless sky. “You and your buddies.”

Midoriya bit his lip, trying to remember everything that had been said. Everything that could have been taken badly.

“My class, they're … good people, I promise.” Then he flustered, remembering how tall and disdainful the other boy had stood in their class doorway, staring down Kaachan, of all people. He amended:

“Not the best. But good.”

“Why should I believe you about them, when they won't believe you about me?” Shinsou turned his head enough so Midoriya could see a flash of white teeth in a forced grin. He had definitely heard. “Maybe you're wrong both ways. A bad judge of character.”

“It's not my job to judge,” Midoriya started slowly, frowning down at the grass. “But a judge only makes a decision after seeing evidence. I haven't seen any evidence that you're bad, Shinsou-san. I'm just believing you when you say you want to be a hero more than anything else. Like All Might-sama and Eraserhead-sensei.”

“Yeah.”

It was the first soft word out of his mouth, almost a sigh. Midoriya straightened, sensing some give in him. It was the thing Shinsou really cared about, after all: heroes.

Midoriya cared, too, probably more than he thought anyone else here did. He was a hero fanboy at heart, thrust into a mad dream that he was still adjusting to. Maybe he and Shinsou had that in common.

Maybe ... they could be friends.

“They're really, um, inspiring, aren't they? It's amazing to be here, at this school, and learn from them,” he ventured, trying to work his voice above the standard meekness that came with unknown territory. “You … you want to save people and no matter what people say about General Studies, I know you worked really hard to get here.”

“Not hard enough, I guess,” Shinsou muttered, vaguely sing-song, then his chin dropped to his chest. “It sucks.”

“Maybe, but I think it's really cool you're here, and you're still trying!” Midoriya insisted, balling his fists. He buckled down, feeling a smile take his face and warmth rush along his bones. “I think that's what a hero is. Someone who never gives up, and you're not giving up. You're even training one-on-one with Aizawa-sensei and, man, that must be super hard!”

Whatever encouraging stride he'd reached screeched to a halt as the other boy turned around and regarded him sullenly, even suspiciously, like he shouldn't know that. Maybe he shouldn't? Shinsou didn't look happy about it either way.

With no way to back track, Midoriya deflated and tugged at his perpetually stubby tie, clearing his throat.

“I really hope that your training goes well and you succeed and come join us in 1-A next year, or even 1-B. That would be great! And since you'll be around, I guess I'd like to … could we ...”

Shinsou suddenly leaned forward, down, strange-colored eyes fixed on him intently, and Midoriya's voice stuck in his throat. With the other boy so close, Midoriya's detail-oriented mind whirled out of control, sucking in details like they were essential to his imminent survival: The other boy had a bandage over his left eyebrow and a larger pad taped to his cheek, both dusted with red-brown at the edges, meaning they were fairly recent. His brows were sparse but furred and his lip, recently split, had a natural pout to it that lent his face a permanently sullen cast. His nose was scraped but healing.

Shinsou looked deeply, eternally exhausted, but most of all he looked uncommonly interested.

Midoriya felt a shiver plow down his back to have that kind of attention on him, weighty and nerve-wracking with the power of the other boy's Quirk, even as he tried not to think those kinds of thoughts. It was hard not to, after being turned into an obedient husk with a word, but this was a different scenario. They were students, here, not opponents. So he simply stayed put, testing the concept and trying not to bite his lip, until Shinsou spoke.

“You're so nervous. Are you asking me on a date?” he asked quietly, unblinking.

“Wh-what? No!” Midoriya yelped, suddenly violently mobile. He leapt away and clapped his hands over his mouth. “I'm just a nervous, uh, a nervous person! I mean, I don't even kn-know y-you –”

“You knew me so well a minute ago, and now you don't?” Shinsou laughed, brash and sudden, and then straightened and ran a hand through his lavender tangle of hair. He tilted his head, unsmiling. “Relax, kid. I'm messing with you.”

“I'm n-not a k-kid.”

It was all Midoriya could grit out, shivering, with his shoulders up to his earlobes and still burning with the embarrassment of what had just happened ... which he was honestly still a little unclear on. Even as observant as he was, it was impossible to keep up with the strange boy's sudden shifts and unreadable expressions. No wonder Shinsou didn't seem to have many friends – but then, he probably didn't have much practice in being friendly.

“You look like one. Like a kid,” Shinsou said slowly, like he was trying to figure it out. He gestured to the shorter boy's cheek then poked it with an outstretched finger. “It's the freckles.”

Midoriya just squeaked and covered his face, frozen and flabbergasted with utterly no idea how to proceed. Inconceivably, Shinsou picked up the slack.

“But … I guess I'd like to hang out with you. And even your douchebag friends,” he offered in low tones, looking at him and then away, at the wall. “If that's what you were about to say.”

“Y-yeah? Yeah,” Midoriya eked out, head whirling, and pried his hands from his face. “Um. Definitely.”

Shinsou nodded, and Midoriya inclined his head hurriedly, arms straight at his sides. It was settled, somehow.

The truth was, Midoriya knew what it was to be alone, what it looked like, and Shinsou fit that memory all too well. To be a hero was to help. Shinsou didn't look like he needed help, necessarily, but maybe he wanted it. Midoriya was willing to ford the truly unnecessary amount of staring to find out.

What followed was a strange exchange exactly in keeping with the tone of their conversation: Shinsou put out a hand and gestured impatiently until Midoriya realized he wanted his phone. He handed it over, and a smirk split the other boy's round face.

“Cool theme,” he said as he put in his number. Midoriya felt himself blush: It was an All Might background and icon set he had downloaded a year ago and kept because he didn't like the new bubbly, shiny 3D look of the newer versions. It probably made him look like the worst kind of dork, but part of coming to UA was learning to own that kind of thing.

“Th-thanks,” he said with a laugh, cringing only a little. His phone gave a little trill to indicate the number had saved.

“I like Eraserhead better,” Shinsou mumbled, handing the phone back with a limp wrist and his eyes on the ground once more. Midoriya took it, awkwardly trying not to skim his schoolmate's fingers in the process. “But there's no theme downloads for him. Like, ever.”

“I think he likes it that way,” Midoriya offered, and was rewarded with a flash of teeth and a short laugh.

“Yeah. Probably.”

With that, Shinsou nodded and turned heel to go, once more slouching with his hands in his pockets.

“Let me know if they're okay with it. Your friends. I don't go where I'm not wanted,” he muttered, then smirked over his shoulder, adding: “I play a lot of video games.”

“Oh. Okay. Maybe … I can play them with you?” Midoriya called after him, phone still in his hand. He had never had video games when he was a kid. Not real ones, anyway, but then again he'd always been an action figure kind of kid.

“Maybe.”

Shinsou waved, just barely higher than his shoulder, and was gone. Midoriya looked down at his phone with a dawning smile – 41 contacts, up from 40 – and felt his world expanding. It wasn't about the numbers, not really. Not so deep inside, useless Deku from middle school saw every new name and all he could think was: One more friend, up from none, and every one precious.

No one deserved to be lonely. Maybe, in a world where no one was lonely, there wouldn't be villains. Grinning, Midoriya ran back to join his classmates, already wondering where they were going to get their customary after-school studying snack.

 


 

Especially with the days getting longer as they turned toward summer, it wasn't often that Toshinori found himself walking home in the dark, or even outside past midnight. He had gotten caught up with something or other and before he knew it, the campus lights were flickering on. He worked a little longer, then shelved his half-finished lecture and decided to call it a night. With as empty as the Hero building hallways were, he thought he was in the clear for further staff interactions once he crossed the green – but that was before he glanced a certain familiarly rumpled silhouette at the bus station on the edge of campus.

With the height and the unruly mane, it couldn't be anyone other than Aizawa. He was standing in front of a poorly lit vending machine, unmoving. Of course, Toshinori couldn't just walk away, especially considering the inside view he had recently gained on Aizawa's troubled relationship with sleep. After a moment's consideration, he approached with caution, hands clasped behind his back.

“Toshinori,” Aizawa said as he approached, eyes still pinned on the vending machine.

His name was little more than a burdened exhalation, and Toshinori nearly turned tail and left from the sheer amount of disappointment in the younger hero's voice. Like he was ready for something entirely unpleasant. Maybe just to prove him wrong, Toshinori found the mettle to stand his ground at a respectful arm's distance, just inside the bus station awning, and cleared his throat.

“Good evening, Aizawa-kun,” he began carefully. “It's unusual that I catch you on campus like this. I thought you'd gone home hours ago.”

There was a long pause as the two men stood there. Toshinori glanced at the blue-white glare of the weathered vending machine, which held gum and jellies and candy and the like. Quick fixes for exhaustion, as far as Aizawa was concerned, which made the older hero worry somewhat (again) about his sleep.

“Are you … having a hard time choosing a flavor?” he prodded after a moment, forcing a smile.

With that, Aizawa visibly snapped out of something and gave a stilted shake of his head.

“Said I'd help the Principal with something a while back, so I stayed late. No helping it,” he said dully.

Toshinori frowned. Surely the Principal knew that Aizawa had taken on an extra load with training Shinsou – but then, Nezu was extremely demanding as a leader for being so easy to get along with, and his lines, where he drew them, were sharp as his teeth. Toshinori was the newcomer here: He trusted Aizawa to know the appropriate course of action, even if the result left him stranded in front of a vending machine as if hypnotized by the watery, flickering light.

“While I'm crossing things off my list,” Aizawa continued, still staring at the vending machine. “I think it's time for a check in.”

“A check in?” Toshinori repeated, baffled. He briefly wondered if the younger hero was speaking in tongues, or perhaps running a fever. Aizawa nodded.

“On our arrangement.”

He paused, giving Toshinori ample time to simply expire, murdered by the horrendous intersection of Aizawa's incomparable bluntness, the late hour and what was supposed to be a simple bus stop conversation.

“How is it?” he asked, unruffled.

The older man narrowly avoided coughing blood onto his fellow teacher's shoulder and had to sternly muffle himself in his handkerchief for a few seconds until he marginally calmed down. How was it? Their arrangement? Toshinori's poor heart could more easily punch out of his chest than he could find the right words for that particular question.

“F-fine?” Toshinori eked out, glancing around hurriedly to make sure there weren't any eavesdroppers. But no, it really was almost 1 am on the edge of a high school campus. He really should have gone to bed hours ago. The older hero took a deep breath, gathering himself.

“It's … wonderful. Educational. Uh. Surprising, that's for certain,” he finished a little grimly, looking down at the man who still hadn't met his eyes. Aizawa nodded again, in slow motion.

“Good.”

The silence stretched long enough that doubt began to creep through the older hero's panic: Was this less a check in and more of a prelude to breaking it all off? Toshinori's heart pinched dreadfully, maybe more horrified that there could be such a difference in their enjoyment that would trigger such an abrupt end. He thought things were going wonderfully, despite some fumbling and insecurities, but there was the threat that Aizawa would always surprised him when he least expected it.

“And for you?” Toshinori pressed hoarsely when he found his voice, hoping he didn't sound nearly as worried as he was.

“Also good,” Aizawa answered in the same dull tone. Any relief Toshinori felt was immediately derailed with the next question: “Are you having any thoughts about romance?”

“Wh – no?” Toshinori blinked down at him, stunned.

“Want to take me on a date to that new sukiyaki place or make an honest man out of me?” Aizawa continued, unnervingly glib and unpleasant. If Toshinori was startled (and he certainly was), it broke out of him as a halting laugh as he thought through what the relentlessly unsociable man just said.

“Oh my. You hate that side of town, and you certainly don't seem like the type to get married,” Toshinori said, chuckling at the very thought of Aizawa at the altar or discussing cake flavors. Perhaps still in his sleeping bag, with a tuxedo inside?

“So?” Aizawa prompted, looking up at him for the first time. Dry, tired, expectant. Toshinori's mirth died in his throat.

“N-no,” he repeated, affirmed. Insisted. Toshinori swallowed, and found himself looking away, tugging at the edge of his suit jacket. The place where his stomach used to be prickled. “No thoughts of … that nature.”

His mind jangled, trying to sort through the friction between his own words and the painful pull in his chest. He had never imagined taking Aizawa to an overpriced restaurant or marrying him in a spray of flowers. And he never lied, right?

Aizawa continued to study him in the dim, shaking light of the vending machine, looking more into him than at him. For a moment, Toshinori could almost hear something clicking in the rational man's head. Then Aizawa returned his attention to the machine.

“Good,” he said quietly. More silence. Toshinori shifted from foot to foot.

“Was I … showing warning signs?” he ventured, feeling a little sick as the joking words left his mouth. It was probably the late hour. He hadn't eaten, after all. Aizawa tilted his head.

“Just time for a check in,” he repeated, voice as distant as the light buzzing above them. And that was it.

“Aizawa-kun, my friend,” Toshinori began heavily when they stood in deafening silence under the bus stop awning for five more agonizing minutes, “What in the world are you doing?”

Aizawa sighed so deeply the older hero was surprised he didn't deflate on the spot.

“I'm trying to decide whether to go back to smoking or not.”

“What? You smoked?” Toshinori blurted out, then, stern: “You're not smoking again.”

Aizawa just rubbed at his eyes with a pained exhalation, muttering to himself as though he hadn't heard.

“I'm so fucking strung out. I can practically taste it. I want to focus so badly. Damn.”

Toshinori looked between his co-teacher and the machine in a panic, as if realizing the alarming nature of the situation far too late.

“Please, Aizawa-kun. Please don't make this choice,” Toshinori pleaded, barely resisting the dramatic urge to step between his co-teacher and the machine, which held such dangers among the gum and candy. What was a selection like this doing on the edge of a high school campus? “Smoking is terrible for your health, and you were already strong enough to quit once. Don't put yourself through that again. Please. Don't push the button.”

“I already pushed the button,” Aizawa mumbled, brows high. “I'm just standing here, deciding whether or not I want to waste 1,100 yen and give some lucky bastard a surprise.”

Adrenaline electrified Toshinori's long body, perpetually late. He hurriedly stooped and grabbed around in the delivery slot of the vending machine and felt the little package, cold and crinkly to the touch and deceptively light. Victorious, he snatched it out and held it to his side, neck flaring hot at his own gall and daring.

Here he was, a man who had leveled villains the size of high-rises, shaking down to his knees trying to stop his new friend from going back to an unhealthy habit.

“Absolutely not,” he said in his deepest voice, grasping for any bit of conviction. “I'm not going to allow you to make this choice.”

Aizawa had watched it all with glazed eyes, scarcely responding but simply tracking his movement, until he said that. Then a little life came back into his scruffy face. Life, and anger.

“No. There's no allowing,” Aizawa said sharply, with an edge of warning, and Toshinori immediately regretted his choice of words. Aizawa wasn't to be spoken to like a child – or worse, a villain. “You're in no position to allow me anything.”

The younger hero then stepped right up to him, close enough to stifle his automatic apology. Aizawa smirked, but the expression didn't reach his tired eyes.

“By any stretch of the imagination ...”

Looking straight up, into his face, Aizawa looped a finger in Toshinori's belt and yanked, pulling him forward and snatching the box of cigarettes out of his hand in the same motion. He gestured between them with the box, unpleasantly pleased.

“That's not how this works, Toshi.”

This, meaning their arrangement.

Toshinori's face burned, half from the implication and half that precious new name used in such an unsavory way, and Aizawa was clearly very amused by how effortlessly he bent and relented. He took a step back and looked down at the ground. Submitting, or at least telegraphing that he was.

“There must be something we can do,” he murmured into his collar after a tense moment, chagrined.

“You,” Aizawa said bitterly, through his teeth, “can stop trying to override my fucking autonomy. It's annoying and insulting, and I don't have time for it.”

“Why do you want to smoke?” Toshinori asked, at a loss.

“I told you. Between Shinsou and 1-A and final exams, I'm so fucking strung out I'm gonna bite my tongue off in my sleep. If I can get to sleep,” he finished ominously, and Toshinori's heart squeezed. The scene of his last insomniac attack was still too fresh for him to do anything but worry more, and the older hero's mind flew, grasping for anything that he could do to intervene in what seemed to be a naturally difficult situation not due for improvement.

So he decided to do what Aizawa did to – for – him: Ask questions.

“Besides stressed, what are you?” When Aizawa eyed him with barely disguised contempt, like he needed no further defining characteristic at the moment, Toshinori scrambled, correcting: “What do you feel?”

“Irritated,” Aizawa said at length, little more than a growl.

“Besides that?”

“Angry.”

“Angry? At what?” Toshinori exclaimed, stretched so thin he couldn't help but react and raise his voice.

“Just angry.”

Aizawa's tone said he was getting angrier. Toshinori put a hand to his broad forehead, practically rattling himself apart with nerves. Why did this man have to be so difficult? And singularly unpleasant?

“And … besides that?”

“Hungry,” Aizawa bit out, patience clearly spent. “Toshin –”

“There, that! Food! I can bring you food!” Toshinori exclaimed, like he had just found the right combination for a safe. He punched his fist into his palm, baring his teeth in a sort of stunned grin. “I can do that. If I can help and reliably bring you meals, so you can stay well-nourished and don't have to worry about eating, will you put off your decision to start smoking again? At least for a week. Please.”

Aizawa glared up at him with a set jaw, considering. Cold sweat prickled Toshinori's back and sides, and he forced himself to wait. To let Aizawa come to him, because any change for the better or against temptation, like this, would not be forced. He was beginning to learn that and only hoped that whatever their bond was, it was strong enough to allow Aizawa to relent just a little. Trust, and give up this part of his burden to him.

Finally, after what seemed like an eon, Aizawa snorted and put his hand out, and Toshinori seized the cigarettes so quickly he was relatively sure he activated One for All. It certainly felt like electricity was zipping over his skin, or maybe that was just the extent of his relief to have the damned things out of Aizawa's hands.

“Thank you,” he gasped, stuffing them in his coat pocket. Away, out of sight.

“I'm not promising anything,” Aizawa grunted, a familiar phrase by now. Toshinori shook his head, bangs flapping. Promises, he'd long come to realize, were often not realistic and failed to take into account free will, or just ugly happenstance.

“Let's just try. Okay?” he said breathlessly. Hopeful.

Then he put his very empty hand out and they shook on it, the older hero unable to help but squeeze Aizawa's hand, as if to solidify their deal. The homeroom teacher snorted, as if he'd had his fill of meddling and friendship and speaking, and he turned and departed without another word.

Toshinori watched him wander down the street, breathed out and felt all of the confusion and frustration crash in on him at once. A persistent rattle seized his long limbs, and he was reminded once again of how late it was, how lonely and strange it was to be standing in an abandoned bus stop at this hour. He felt for the box in his pocket again, ghosting his fingers over the cheap plastic and feeling a gritty kind of determination take hold.

This was not happening. Aizawa was not going to go back to smoking just because he had too much to do – and certainly not if Mic and Midnight, star meddlers of UA, had anything to do with it.

 


  

Between the insomnia attack a few days back and his attempts to self-sabotage, Aizawa wasn't unjustified in wondering why he was fucking himself up like this over a General Studies first year. Some days were better than others, admittedly, and he was trying to keep that in mind whenever his personal problem bungled a basic move or dropped his stance.

It was a solid morning, that day, and a blessing when Shinsou waited until the end of their sparring to start fucking bugging him about Toshinori again.

They were toweling off in the grass and working on unwrapping their feet in the slanting light of early morning when Shinsou oh-so casually asked him what 'Yagi-san' did for the school, and if they were really good friends during middle school, and if he was dating anyone, or had ever dated anyone. It was all Aizawa could do not to smack him as he prattled, a feat considering the limited amount of sleep he'd gotten that week. Then, as if summoned by sheer inconvenience, the towering man appeared across the track, done up in his enormous slacks and dress shirt and bringing his usual gifts of onigiri and juice.

Keeping in mind their discussion about food (and Toshinori's general compulsive over-attentiveness when he scented struggle or suffering), Aizawa watched the older hero approach with a little more caution than usual – which of course Shinsou noticed, far more attentive to his teacher's mythological love life than his very concrete lessons. Leaning forward, mouth half-pursed in a vision of Cheshire knowingness, the kid drew breath to snark and that was enough to get Aizawa on his feet and walking to meet his co-teacher, partly to gather their breakfast but mostly not wanting to put up with Shinsou's shit.

Said shit ended up following him. Of course. Because, of all the things he'd given Shinsou, apparently range was the thing that was going to come back to bite him in the ass.

“Hey, Aizawa-sensei! Think fast!”

Toshinori peered behind him, over his shoulder, and Aizawa turned, already grimacing in confusion and instant irritation. Of all things, an apple was flying toward him, and he flung out a hand.

“What the hell are you –”

His mind cleared. Instantly. Wiped clean.

With a lavender pop, felt rather than heard, a silky hiss diffused through Aizawa's entire body and emptied his eyes. And he caught the apple, perfectly. The sun glared off the red skin in such a way that it was all his mind could hold.

Aizawa turned forward, his limbs lagging as though pulled by dark water. Tall and careful, Toshinori came to a stop in front of him with a cafeteria convenience box in his big hand. Lunch Rush's work, for students too busy to dine in. He refocused. Toshinori.

The older hero's expression was a bit concerned, but he still smiled faintly. He always found a way to smile.

“I'm sure you'll have room for this, too,” Toshinori chuckled, as if from a thousand miles away. “I mean … You don't like fruit, do you?”

You don't.

“No, I don't,” Aizawa heard himself say, serene and easy. He really only liked juice, when it came to fruit, and even that was just a way to get sugar.

You appreciate him. Show it.

Then Aizawa's hands reached forward of their own accord, but there was no panic in him. He took the food box and put his hand over Toshinori's warm, crooked fingers, gripping. He smiled a light, bright, joyful smile.

“I was actually wondering if you wanted it. I'm so grateful for you bringing my student and I food when you can. I wanted to show my appreciation. Won't you join us for breakfast, senpai?”

Toshinori's blue-black eyes widened and slowly, very slowly, he withdrew his hand and edged away step by step, palms up in the air. His expression bordered on terrified, which Aizawa noted with only curiosity as the older hero turned and began to walk, then jog hurriedly away across the field, golden head ducked low.

Within a moment, Toshinori became nothing more than a silhouette as he left the field. Another purple pop, followed by a cool fizzle. Then, pure rage.

Aizawa turned on his heel, feeling flooding back into his limbs, and there was Shinsou, now fifty feet away and swinging his legs on a set of long bars with a bright orange sucker hanging indolently from his lip. He winked. Chucking the apple to the ground, Aizawa threw himself in his general direction and made short work of getting familiar with his body again.

“You little shit!” he snarled, tearing toward him. His brain, freshly hijacked, locked up on the sheer amount of verbal profanity he ethically couldn't unleash on the kid, so he grabbed onto the first thing that pissed him off: “That sucker's not on your meal plan. Spit it out or I'm going to choke you with it!”

“What? I wanted to have breakfast with Yagi-san!” Shinsou called petulantly as he swung himself to the ground, sticking a stupid and completely unnecessary three-point landing with a borderline demonic snicker. He looked over his shoulder, voice low. “You were just too chicken to ask him, so I helped.”

It was a good chase, Aizawa would admit. Later. Much later.

Their training was working. Shinsou had gotten stronger and faster, and the next trick he pulled with the bars was good and proved that his mobility had improved significantly, as well as thinking on his feet and making use of environmental props. But Aizawa had been a pro hero for years and wasn't about to suffer any fools under his care: He pinned the brat within minutes and smacked his head once, twice, with the flat of his hand. His breath came heavy and harsh, more out of explosive frustration than exertion as Shinsou coughed – coughed, or laughed, it better be coughing – and shielded his face very effectively.

“You're getting better at throwing your voice, but do that again and I will kill you,” Aizawa hissed into his ear. His neck was blistering red, he could feel it. Again, frustration. Not exertion.

And definitely not embarrassment.

“Maybe I was wrong. Maybe he doesn't like you. He seemed pretty scared,” Shinsou giggled thickly, fresh blood streaming from his nose. “Oh my god that was so worth it. Oh my god, wow.”

“You're bleeding,” Aizawa huffed abruptly, as if just registering the bright red smear. He got to his feet as hurriedly as the shock would allow. He tried to calculate, to triage, or just mentally backtrack and see if he had accidentally bloodied Shinsou's nose, but nothing in his head would budge.

So Aizawa dug his toes in the grass and took a deep breath of the clear morning air and tied his hair up, trying to ground and gather some semblance of self from the edge of a freakout he just couldn't have right then, right there. A fucking brainwash freakout. Shit.

Mostly, Aizawa tried not to shoot the kid one last seething glare, because hero role models didn't give their students the stink eye, or so a certain nagging pro had told him.

“Go see the nurse or something,” he ordered, wiping his own nose reflexively and glancing up at the angle of the sun. His brain started moving. “Damn. I have to get to class.”

He straightened himself out and started to walk away, already exhausted and wondering how the hell he was going to make it through homeroom like this. Then Shinsou's voice carried over the early morning air, sudden and sharp:

“Are we still on for tomorrow?”

It took Aizawa a minute to even hear the question, or understand why it was being asked. Then that rope between them tightened again, pulling on jagged pieces of himself that Aizawa had long sealed away: The old fear, deep and empty as a well, that simply using his Quirk carried the threat of driving people away.

A chill grazed his spine, and he had to reach for the grass underneath his feet again. Hold still. Breathe out.

“ … Five am,” he grunted, over his shoulder. An hour earlier than usual. Still on his ass in the grass, Shinsou grinned and wiped his nose, smearing red across his cheek like the happiest of idiots.

“I can do that.”

 


 

“So...”

The two of them stood at the counter of the staff room – Aizawa for coffee, Toshinori for emotional torture. The fiend in question was gently tapping his folder against the side of his long leg, blue-black gaze askance and smiling ever-so-slightly. Like he had been waiting.

“That wasn't me,” Aizawa said quickly, lowly, focusing as hard as he could on pouring his coffee, because apparently it was fucking difficult. Once his mug was full, he shut his eyes again, as if he could lessen the pounding in his head. He and Shinsou were going to have words about that Quirk of his.

“Of course that wasn't you. My god,” Toshinori said with a strained laugh, covering his mouth before it stuttered into a cough. “That was terrifying. You should use that face on the children, they wouldn't cross you in a million years. I think I'm still shivering.”

“So I'm not allowed to be nice?” Aizawa demanded malevolently, glaring at him over the rim of his mug. Suddenly and irrationally pricked.

“You have your own ways of being nice. That was not one,” Toshinori assured him, shaking his head. When the younger hero's surly glaring didn't abate, he leaned down to smoothly cup Aizawa's elbow and ask, brimming with mirth and honesty:

“Shouta-kun, why would I like anything that wasn't purely you?”

And just like that Aizawa locked up again, brain fucking blanking.

His neck was explosively red. He could feel it. He snorted with as much disdain as he could muster, but it didn't magically diffuse the prickling feeling or the sheer disbelief making his head soar (he didn't think he'd ever heard his first name uttered so quietly and with such amusement), so Aizawa did what he usually did when he was trying to keep his shit together, which was erupt with unprompted complaints.

“I hate that you bring me vegetable onigiri,” he blurted out, teeth locked. “You bring the good stuff for the kid but not me. It's stupid. And we had a deal. Have a deal, now, so get with it.”

If Toshinori was startled by the vehemence and weirdness of his response, he gave no indication. It was Aizawa's first real hint that being as unpleasant as possible with the older hero wasn't actually going to get him anywhere in the long run, and it had very little to do with All Might's saintly reputation. Though it was currently beyond the skeptical man's scope of belief, maybe Toshinori meant what he said.

Maybe, he liked him for who he was. An earth-shattering concept.

“I'll try to fix that,” Toshinori amended with a chuckle, giving his elbow a fond little pat and waving as he left. Like nothing was wrong. “Just trying to get your vegetable allotment in, my friend. Forgive my audacity.”

The door closed a moment later, and Aizawa covered his face and forced himself to sit back against the counter and be still, having some sort of delayed freakout under the combined forces of his first brainwashing and whatever wild shit Toshinori had just hit him with. His heart was pounding, just fucking whaling on his ribs. Why, why did he have to get like that? Say such stupid things? Stupid kid. Stupid Toshinori.

Aizawa groaned into his hand, overcome by the sheer amount of stupidity in his life. God, he was not prepared to be a mentor. Who thought this was a good idea? Fuck.

But he found one thing to grab onto, one thing to focus on, distracting enough that he could feel the panic start to ebb. Toshinori. Specifically – regarding their little argument the other day about when he was allowed to be frisky, trauma or no – how hard he was going to blow that man. Which was hard. So hard Toshinori would regret everything. Ever crossing him, ever beginning this whole mess or saying anything difficult to him, ever being so relentlessly and unquestioningly kind.

Aizawa's eyes narrowed as he slowly stirred his coffee. They'd see how Toshinori liked his version of nice once he really put his back into it.

Chapter Text

In the early evening after the Senpai Incident, the two instructors met at the school gates and began walking in companionable silence, drawn together by the exhausting events of the day for a little solidarity. Usually, they staggered their routes to allay staff suspicion, but surely a few shared at-home grading sessions a month wouldn't be enough to spark rumors. At the moment, Aizawa was also prepared to growl in the face of anybody who said anything to him, truth or slander. It had been a long day, preempted by an incredibly long and brainwashy morning, and he was done.

He would be long past done, however, if it weren't for his coworkers and friends: Little did he know that Toshinori had waited no longer than first period to rope Hizashi and Nemuri into the “Everybody Stop Eraser from Being a Nasty Smoke Mouth (Again)” club, and they responded by very enthusiastically taking things off Aizawa's hands and freeing him up so he could balance his shit.

Aizawa didn't even pretend to consider before relenting. He gave over school trips, grading, hero work paperwork – anything the two would take – in an instant. Then there was Toshi bringing him food from the cafeteria, and when he wasn't bringing him food, he was asking him what food he liked, as if a perfect menu would stop him from smoking. He was suspicious, of course, and a little annoyed, but Aizawa simply didn't have the time to accuse his personal goon squad of conspiracy. Things were going smoother, even within a day, and that was all that mattered.

To have everyone rally around him, with a fumbling personal chef at his elbow, it was … Aizawa didn't have a word for what it was, yet, because it was inexorably tangled in his task of training the kid and that was all he could zero in on. He also wasn't pressed to find a word for it because it was working, and that was what mattered, and he learned long ago that giving things names gives them power.

For the moment, he and Toshinori were walking to his place, and he had vague ideas of how he planned to thank the older hero for his culinary service, if nothing else. Nice plans.

They rounded the corner, and Aizawa stopped mid-complaint about something or other. Crouched on a low concrete wall, Shinsou Hitoshi was leaning forward to pet a local cat sprawled on his back, shamelessly baring his tender sakura-pink belly to catch the last of the spring sunlight. Lazy reverie broken by little more than a shift in the air, the white short-hair instantly leapt upright and bolted when the two locked eyes and Shinsou nearly fell from the wall with a scrape of his shoes, gasping.

“Shit,” Aizawa said immediately, unable to help it. Toshinori looked down at him, concerned and curious, and the younger hero took his knife-like elbow and made him walk until they were thoroughly out of sight. He debated what he was going to do right up until they reached his own street, which was uncomfortably close.

“You go ahead,” Aizawa said at length, glancing over his shoulder and waving away the older hero's clear curiosity. “I'll be along. Go.”

That tone did it for him. Toshinori, capable of at least a modicum of subtlety, raised his feathery brows and turned, heading for his complex. He didn't even look back, which Aizawa knew was a Herculean show of restraint from the nosy man. He briefly appreciated it, then turned to his (very personal) problem.

Taking a deep breath, Aizawa walked around the corner, already glaring.

“I live here,” was the first thing out of the kid's mouth, his pale eyes wide. To, what, allay any suspicions that Shinsou had followed him home?

Aizawa had reasoned that instantly: Mochi, a skittish white shorthair, was an older outside cat who belonged to a family in the area, and Shinsou wouldn't have been able to touch him like that unless he was a familiar face. And a soft hand, of course.

Now, standing in front of him, sneakered feet together, the same boy that had so boldly pranked him that morning looked half terrified and half angry, like he would swing whichever way got him out of the situation. Equal opportunity stressed. Again, Aizawa remembered the feeling. Didn't envy him and didn't know how to tell him that.

“You practically live on campus,” he said instead, feigning boredom. “If you're a minute late tomorrow, you have no excuse.”

“I'm never late,” Shinsou shot back, kicking at a gnarled lump of grass that had somehow found a way up through a seam in the pristine sidewalk.

With that, Aizawa realized he was being pointlessly harsh and sighed, glancing back up the street to his apartment. He wasn't on any time limit. Toshinori knew the code to his apartment and could let himself in. He was probably enjoying Himawari and she, him. He'd be fine. But what to do now?

“You live here long?” Aizawa said at length, absolutely strung out with the effort of making even one sentence of small talk. Shinsou just blinked up at him, still looking very ready to run.

“Never lived anywhere else,” he answered, rubbing at his neck. Then he shrugged. “We moved from Saitama prefecture when I was five but that doesn't really count, since I can't remember it. All the good Quirk counselors were here. You know. Obviously.”

Aizawa's mind pieced in the unexpected new information, smoothing and triangulating it into the boy sulking in front of him.

His parents had provided for him in whatever way they could, it seemed. That was good. Above expected, really, considering the kinds of things he'd seen in his scant years teaching. Parents who shunned their own kids for their Quirks earned a particular place in hell, in his opinion, and he was grateful Shinsou had at least been spared that torture.

It was decided. He'd been putting it off, waiting to see if Shinsou would take to the physical portion of their training, but a visit with his parents was long overdue. Aizawa needed to explain what he was doing with their child outside of school hours, as Shinsou was still very much a minor. Aizawa would be cruelly kidding himself if he thought there wasn't a pernicious, lingering fear in their culture that gay men in a position of authority shouldn't be left alone with young men, and he wouldn't allow any room for imagination on that front. None.

But there was another realization to be mined from Shinsou's neighborhood, tucked away on the edge of context. Aizawa pressed, thought, and something bigger clicked into place.

“It's a nice part of town,” Aizawa began, easy. He tucked his dark hair behind his ear, looking over the well-kept sidewalks for any other wayward tufts of grass. There were none. Leave it to Shinsou to find the only one.

“I didn't know, at first,” he continued, “and rented sight unseen when I came to teach a few years ago. I just chose this location because UA is right down the street. Made my commute easy.”

“Yeah. It's … cool, living here. I guess,” Shinsou said quietly, thrusting his hands deep in his pockets. He scrubbed at the grass again with his foot, determinedly not looking at him. “We toured UA a few times in middle school, since it was nearby.”

More than the nearby convenience, the hedging, reluctant reaction confirmed it: His whole waking life, Shinsou had been submerged in the lore and lure of UA.

He had probably watched kids walk down the sidewalk in their prim grey uniforms since he was in primary school. It was easy to see where the drive to join came from. Maybe he'd even convinced himself there was no other option. It explained the single-mindedness with which he pursued the UA Hero course, as well as why he had compromised on the General Studies course instead of trying for another hero school with a less insane entrance exam. One that would have actually let him in and let him shine.

Shinsou didn't just want to be a hero. He wanted to be the best.

Or maybe he thought the only way people would accept him as hero material was if he came from somewhere as prestigious as UA, which Aizawa hated the taste of. No one should have to rely on credentials in order to be humanized, and the honor of graduating from his alma mater hid much more misconduct than he could really forgive ... Especially concerning the Todoroki family.

“You went here, too,” came Shinsou's voice, lilting uncertainly, and Aizawa tried not to tense. It was time for this conversation, then. Below him, looking like a cringing preteen despite his substantial height, the kid bit his lip.

“Did you … um, did you like being a hero?”

“It was satisfying, while it lasted,” Aizawa admitted when he found his voice and the truth … or the fractal of it that would serve that day. He cleared his throat, distantly grateful Toshinori wasn't here to read his body language or see through him as he so tended to. He brushed the thought away. “Hard, but satisfying. Important. I still do hero work, when I can. Midnight patrol, mostly.”

“I followed you, as Eraserhead. When I was a kid, I mean,” Shinsou said, grinning for the first time since that morning. He straightened, brightening a bit. “I thought it was really cool, the way you could just … stop everything. Left the bad guys looking like dumbasses before you just –”

He pivoted and anchored one foot and punched at the air, lips pursed, and Aizawa was slightly gratified to see that his elbow wasn't jutting out anymore. The line of his strike was solid and clean. Not nearly the same invitation to compound fractures. Good.

Processing it all, Aizawa's mouth gave a wry little twitch. It must have been a while ago, considering his time undercover and teaching at UA.

“Those kinds of videos never made it on the local news,” he said, amused despite himself. The fact the kid even knew his name was mildly mind-blowing. “Your parents let you on the computer that young?”

“There wasn't really any letting,” Shinsou said quietly, voice carefully toneless.

There was a wrenchingly distant look in his eyes, and he looked away as Aizawa looked over, creating a joint movement between them that was a little too much like a flinch, a recoiling. Aizawa frowned, struck again by how difficult the kid's life must have been. Must be, still.

That's when he made the decision to not look away.

“You could do the same.”

Shinsou froze, his hands tangled in front of him.

“Stop situations that could hurt people, with just a word. Diffuse danger instead of responding to it, buying into it, and creating more. That's the advantage to our abilities, no matter how hard they are to live with.” Aizawa took a deep breath, regarding him with the familiar (and safe) demanding seriousness of a teacher. “If you get that far.”

“Yeah, I know,” Shinsou mumbled, automatic. Aizawa frowned again, unsatisfied.

“You've got a long way to go if you want to be a useful, reliable part of an agency or a team. You need to be able to survive without your Quirk, in any situation.”

I want to,” he snapped and shoved his hands in his pockets, angry enough that it overrode Aizawa's shock at a fifteen year old yelling at him. His posture was cornered, bristling, and Shinsou visibly struggled with himself before he grit out: “I'm not just that, okay? I'm not. I don't want to be and I'm not going to be, as a hero.”

“As you are now,” Aizawa corrected him after a moment, quiet. “You can't just wait for something to change to make everything right. You have to decide and live it every step of the way.”

“I would, if someone would give me a chance!”

“I'm giving you a chance,” he said, loudly enough to freeze the young man where he stood again. He stared Shinsou down – Shinsou and his bitter anger, understandable and entirely too familiar, but useless, a roadblock to what he truly wanted – until his student looked away, stunned or chagrined.

“And if you're putting your life on hold for the Hero course, thinking you'll find more understanding with the world at large than with your classmates once you get a costume or a name, you're delusional,” Aizawa continued through his teeth, an unpleasantly hot chill prickling his skin as he spoke. The feeling of crushing something helpless beneath his foot always nauseated him, regardless of the necessity.

“It's just a bigger sandbox out there, and adults have even more reasons to be afraid. There are more bullies, an extraordinary number of them with talkshows, who will do their damnedest to map out every way you could misuse your natural abilities. To stir the pot, instill doubt and make the people you should be helping, fear you instead.”

The residential street was utterly silent, save for the distant hiss of tires on the spotless pavement and the wind in the carefully planned trees. Same species, every other street corner, no exception. Shinsou was looking up at him with an open mouth, angry and shocked, like he had made the world this way and then told him about it just to fuck over every hope and dream he'd ever had.

Aizawa sighed but kept it in his mouth, closing his stinging eyes briefly and wishing for his eyedrops, or just a distraction. He hadn't mean to drop this ugly reality on him so early, but he was also sensitive to things coming up at their own pace and in proper context. It was, apparently, time to talk about what people with Quirks more nuanced than “Hit Things Super Hard” had to deal with, as he had.

“You have to be utterly rooted in your morals if you're going to do hero work, convinced of who you are and what you do and why, because people will take any excuse to turn on you. They will tear you down just because your existence frightens them, so you have to be self-sufficient or at least have self-respect. Self-knowledge,” he intoned, trying with everything he had to keep his voice steady. Not betray his own anger, as old as he was almost to the minute and never quite dormant. “Otherwise, you'll start to believe the things they say about you.”

“But … all I want to do is help,” Shinsou protested hoarsely, arms locking across his chest. His anger was fading into something like fear, word by word, and Aizawa hated the way it leeched the pugnacious shine from his eyes. “To be a hero. A good one.”

“I know,” he said with a nod. Gave him that, even as it slid a knife into his heart with how little difference it made. “But that's only one half of the equation, kid. If you dare put yourself out there to try to do something good, put yourself in danger for the benefit of others … whether through genuine concern or simple, self-aggrandizing vindictiveness, people lesser than you will attack you. They'll watch and wait until you make a mistake, even a tiny one, and demand that you be taken out of the field. People who have never put their lives on the line, or even done a brave thing, who hid in the standards of mediocrity and the majority their entire existence, will try to tell you that you're unfit to fight for them.”

Those who had never shed blood usually had the most to say about who was worthy to, and it never failed to enrage Aizawa. But such was life, and it was life – fear, prejudice and social standards – that had fucked the kid over so far. Life was what they were going to have to deal with, to get into this and through it, all so Shinsou could earnestly serve a people who could never unequivocally trust him just because of who he was and what he could do. A people who would probably never see how deep his desire to help ran, how pure his goddamn heart.

Aizawa knew the friction in that. He knew it every damn day, in every way, while pros like All Might were never feared for the simple strength that could end every one of them with the crack of a wrist. It was sick. Willfully ignorant. Spiteful.

Dehumanizing and irrational, he thought, yes, but also not All Might's fault. As a symbol, as the man who smiled at Shinsou across the UA garden, All Might served his own purpose, and Aizawa was coming to respect that. Slowly.

Having the man currently waiting for him in his apartment had solidified that bit of growth, and Aizawa remembered that there were things to hope for and look forward to, even for people as fucked up as him. With a life, he willfully corrected himself for the thousandth time, as fucked up as his had been. The homeroom instructor shook his head, chest bitterly tight with everything he was holding in and away.

“Those are the facts and you have to live with them, Shinsou. Fight it while realizing there's no real winning, in addition to the physical danger you'll face every day,” Aizawa finished, unconsciously tugging his capture weapon – his camouflage and his shield, the one thing about him that was socially acceptable – tighter around his shoulders. “For people like us, it's not easy to be a hero. It's not glorious. It's hard, and you have to want it a thousand times more than every one else or you just won't make the cut.”

Wordless, Shinsou stared down at the sidewalk beneath their feet, cheeks ruddy from embarrassment or anger and eyes as empty as those he ensnared with his Quirk.

Abruptly back in his body again, Aizawa let out a breath he didn't know he had been holding. His skin ran bitterly cold. Shit. That was a lot. He probably should have spaced that little nuclear bomb of truth out over the course of a few weeks, but fine. If the kid decided to drop out now, it was for the best in the long run. The best thing overall, maybe, for him and his quality of life.

But as they stood there, staring down the ugly reality of their unique situation, Aizawa knew something else was needed to bridge the gap between the boy in front of him and the world of heroes that he had spent his entire life reaching for. It couldn't die in just a moment. More importantly, it wouldn't.

“If it helps, I think you can do it,” he mumbled, looking up and scratching under his eye. “I think you're already doing it. It's a process. I know I'm not done with it, but I'm here to help you. That's my job.”

More silence. It stretched on so long without interruption that Aizawa had begun to think he should just walk away and curtail any further damage, when the kid stirred and rallied, balling his fists.

“Thank you … Sensei,” Shinsou said under his breath, a slight stutter to the title. He was clearly concentrating very hard on his next words, and Aizawa waited for them with the necessary respect. “Thanks for taking a chance on me. You didn't have to and I … know you have a lot of stuff to do, with your class. So. I know I'm just Gen Studies, but –”

“You're not just anything. You're you,” Aizawa said firmly, cutting him off. “Don't buy into others' judgments or arbitrary groupings. Just focus on what you want to do. Find your pride there and no one will be able to shake you.”

Shinsou nodded, taking it in. Hopefully. If he hadn't boxed the kid's ears too hard already, that was.

“Aizawa-sensei, our Quirks are … I mean, they're kind of similar, aren't they?”

“They're subtractive, if that's what you mean,” Aizawa allowed, shrugging somewhat. “We take things away from others. There's nothing inherently wrong in that, but it makes people uncomfortable.”

It was a simple question with a simple answer, but the silence still vibrated between them. Shinsou was biting his lip and fidgeting, so Aizawa looked over.

“What's your question?” he asked.

“Did you have friends, when you were a kid?”

In Shinsou's round face was all the fear, all the isolation, that Aizawa had ever drowned in. The way he said friends, like it was a concept, not a staple. Foreign and belonging to a different class of people.

A less dangerous, worthier class of people.

Aizawa thinned his lips, feeling the acrid dread finally punch through the emotional dam he'd managed to hold up so far. Too far. A mile too fucking far.

“A conversation for another time,” he said into the coarse coils of his capture weapon, not knowing if he meant it. Shinsou nodded hurriedly, retreating back into his slouch. Aizawa gestured and purposefully turned away, toward his street. “I'm headed home for dinner. You should, too. Your parents are probably wondering where you are.”

He saw Shinsou nod again out of the corner of his eye, but of course Aizawa couldn't count on this particular boy not jockeying for the last word. That just wouldn't be Shinsou.

“You, uh … you and Yagi-san having a nice dinner tonight?”

Aizawa glared over his shoulder, piercing.

“Not a word,” he intoned, subtle as an ice pick.

Shinsou mimed zipping his lips and then chuckled down at his feet, scuffing his sneakers on the concrete again. It was good to see it, even if the circumstances were essentially mortifying. Aizawa nodded at him, then immediately rolled his eyes as hard as humanly possible when he turned away, biting his cheek. His fucking luck.

“Have fun,” Shinsou snorted after him, indulgent. The last, last word. Always.

It was all he had, probably. For years and years. Aizawa brushed the thought aside with the last of his strength and made himself walk.

“Go eat. You'll need your energy.”

For when I beat your head in tomorrow, he added mentally, straining to get some distance between them mentally as well as physically. You uppity, pint-sized asshole. Fuck you.

“Yes sir, Aizawa-sensei!”

There were no footsteps trailing away down the street, so Aizawa had to endure the knowledge that Shinsou was watching him walk away, probably with a stupid, hopeful smile on his face. Better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, he guessed. He turned the corner as quickly as he could.

As though in a daze, Aizawa walked up to his complex, up the stairs, and paused outside his closed door. Stopped, breathed. His head swam, tangling with the last of that torturous exchange and some unspecified emotions he knew he'd eventually have to categorize and deal with. But not now. Definitely not today, and he was allowed to say that.

If Aizawa was honest, he didn't want to think about much of anything for the next few hours. Which was a perfect excuse to focus on his plans for destroying the oblivious man waiting in his apartment.

With that in mind, Aizawa opened the door, walked in and toed off his boots. He willed his body to go slack and casual as he did so, like he'd run off to attend to a stray cat instead of a terrifying pubescent echo of himself with way too many questions. As expected, Toshinori was seated on his couch in that obnoxiously formal way he had, knees together, back straight, like he couldn't relax while alone even if somebody paid him to.

There was a steaming cup of tea on his lap, which Himawari clearly resented, as she was trying to fit herself around it and under Toshinori's big hands. Toshinori obliged her with doting pets and she became a kind of spoiled impromptu drink cozy, wrapped around the mug. She was getting bigger, Aizawa noted, and her scrappy stub of a tail had lengthened enough that it had some genuine swing to it as she swished it back and forth, curled up in Toshinori's lap in absolute bliss.

Tearing himself away from his hime and the horribly cute picture she (they) made, Aizawa walked into his kitchen without a word. Toshinori obviously wanted to ask, darkened eyes flicking this way and that. So, instead, Aizawa preempted him.

“I'm feeling good today,” he said loudly, clattering around and gathering what he needed for coffee.

“Really?” Toshinori looked surprised at such an explicit, sudden statement of his health and wellbeing, but obviously wasn't about to question it. He grinned, bright as a fucking sunflower. So wonderfully, reliably distractible. “That's great to hear.”

“Very stable. Very healthy,” Aizawa continued as he filled the kettle, not exactly waiting for Toshinori to take a deep gulp of his tea but finding the timing somehow gloriously inevitable as he finished: “Definitely feeling good enough to give some high-quality head.”

Toshinori spat tea everywhere. Aizawa grinned at the wall. He couldn't help it, mostly because he didn't give a shit about his carpet. Not anymore, since Toshinori had come around and his safety deposit was practically forfeit, what with all the rain water and the spilled tea and the other, more enjoyable stains.

Then Toshinori started coughing, whacking at his sternum and chasing Himawari out of his lap with the deep, wracking sounds alone, and he felt a little bad.

“Hey, deep breaths,” he reminded him, not unkindly. He walked over and Toshinori waved him away, a hand over his mouth. Himawari was insistently pawing at his elbow from the safety of the nearby cushion, claws out, so Aizawa scooped her up, thinking her as nosy as the man she was bugging. Toshinori eventually recovered, clearing his throat in gruff staccato, and the silence stretched on long enough that Aizawa couldn't let it sit.

“Well?” he prompted as he pet Himawari a little too quickly, somewhat resenting his own impatience, or the situation that intensified it.

“Uh,” Toshinori said immediately, looking at the ceiling. “D-does this have something to do with last weekend …?”

Aizawa frowned. Why did the man have to religiously justify and contextualize everything? Couldn't he have just woken up this morning with a craving?

“It has everything to do with what I want,” he said shortly. He fought not to curl his lip or be visibly annoyed. “But yes, last weekend got me thinking. I'm guessing that bothers you.”

“It's just a little sudden,” Toshinori admitted at length, rubbing his neck. “It was so serious, then, and I didn't … I still don't want any sense of obligation. And I thought we were going to grade tonight …?”

“Are you going to be able to, now?” he asked with a smirk. Toshinori looked vaguely miserable and alarmed, maybe realizing his body had other plans. He pulled his mug of tea a little further into his lap, looking aside.

Aizawa took the opportunity to sit opposite him on the coffee table and swaddled Himawari on her back like a baby. She immediately squirmed and tried to bat at his hair, but Aizawa put on a serious face despite the adorable distraction.

“Look. Toshinori. I'm going to level with you. As a strategist, I'm bound only by facts, and I know I'm very good at three things.” He raised three fingers, counting them off. Himawari helped, batting them down in no particular order and he shrugged her away. “Pro level qualifications are as follows: Rational analysis, sneak attacks and giving head.”

“Also teaching. You're very good at teaching.” Toshinori said hoarsely, automatically, blue-black eyes wide and completely elsewhere.

Aizawa paused. He considered the obvious bit of deadpan humor – why are you bringing the kids into this? – but knew immediately that would be the one thing that would make Toshinori stand and walk out, and he didn't want that. Unlike Mic, he wasn't willing to disrupt or end a positive situation for the sake of a joke, but that had a lot more to do with how they sought affirmation. So instead, he was honest.

“Teaching doesn't calm me down. That said, you need to know that I use sex to come down, especially after episodes of insomnia or depression. It's a hard, clean reset for my mind and body, and nothing I do out of obligation,” he said, calm and business-like. “I take pride in my work, and I'm highly fucking into the idea of doing that work on you.”

Toshinori looked like he didn't have the slightest idea of what to say to that, which Aizawa had to admit followed trend. Of the … maybe three people that he'd informed of his particular coping strategy, none had any response outside of blank staring. It felt like rejection, of course, or even disgust, but Aizawa had long learned that you couldn't expect anyone to understand something immediately just because you were able to put it in certain terms. He forged ahead.

“Are you okay, knowing that?” he asked as neutrally as he could.

“Y-yes,” Toshinori stuttered with surprising readiness. He blushed heartily, fingertips dancing across his knees before he reached out, across the space between them, and pawed through Himawari's tummy fluff and tangled with her immediate attempts to gnaw on him. “H-happy to, um … help, usually, I just ...”

Worry, Aizawa subbed in, knowing the older hero's tone. He tried not to think about how that touched him, or if it touched him. The parts of him that could feel such things were buried deep, right now, which absolutely failed to explain the skip of his heart. A glitch, maybe.

A glitch that felt suspiciously like yellow confetti, especially with the way Toshinori was still self-consciously petting the cat in his arms. Especially with how Himawari came to them and here they were again, Aizawa on the table and Toshinori on the couch. He cleared his throat, focusing.

“I'm less stressed than I was last week, for multiple reasons, and am in full control of my faculties. And I've slept since yesterday. So.”

“So?” Toshinori croaked.

“So I want to suck your dick, and I want to do it as soon as possible,” he said, wondering if he would have to draw the other man a diagram. God-fucking-damn.

Aizawa exhaled and tried not to let it be a sigh. It was sort of a sigh, but he was also painfully aware of how he was potentially telegraphing his irritation. He just wanted to scream at the man to let him blow him, not quite sure when the situation had shifted from Toshinori getting head to him giving it, and how, but he needed it. A lot. Right fucking now.

“Are you up for it?" he asked at length, jostling Hime higher in his arms and effectively dislodging Toshinori's hand in the process. One last try, and then he would leave it alone. Consent, and all.

“Oh, uh, yes.” Toshinori coughed a bit, straightening. He laced his hands over his lap. “Yes. I would like that, whenever you … already, yes. Literally. Quite, ah, quite literally.”

Aizawa breathed out in a rush. Good. Finally. Then he had to think: This had all started out with him indulging an ill-adapted, sex-starved hermit. How had it gotten so difficult to make the man drop his pants?

He ignored the obvious answer: feelings. Unsolicited, ill-timed, inconvenient feelings.

The exact kind of thing they had banned with explicit intent, but then, maybe these kinds of feelings were a necessary evil considering their … nontraditional range of activities. They were just taking the necessary precautions to ensure a good experience for both sides. Maybe.

At least Toshinori wasn't having any illusions about taking him out to overpriced dinners, he thought. At least they'd made sure of that.

“Good. Then we can grade,” Aizawa promised, like that was the reward for surviving one of his blowjobs. Toshinori blushed even harder, making a sound somewhere between a hum and a gulp and plucking at his tie.

There was only one more thing to consider. Aizawa gave the little demon in his arms a look, and Hime returned it with a challenging lift of her golden head that said there was no way in hell she was going to leave them alone for more than a second. He rolled his eyes, stood and bundled her off to the bedroom, not even apologizing. A little isolation wouldn't kill her. At least he was leaving her in the cozy clothes-littered haven of his bedroom and not the bathroom as someone had once suggested.

The minute he came back into the living room Toshinori rose, but he pointed back at the couch.

“Sit down,” he said firmly. The tiny smile on the older hero's face told him his commanding tone didn't go unappreciated.

Toshinori sat, posture ridiculously closed. Aizawa opened it for him with a firm hand, going down on his knees and moving the man's long legs apart. In doing so, he shoved the coffee table a bit back and out of the way. Down to business.

“If you want to get your hands in my hair, that's fine. Pulling is more than fine. You can guide but don't push,” he said strictly, settling between Toshinori's knees and tying up his hair. “I do not nor will I ever deep throat, as a matter of integrity.”

Considering it was a basic negotiation of terms, Aizawa was not expecting the reaction he got. Above him, the older hero looked utterly stricken and was staring at him with his dark eyes wide, mouth open. Coming from a man with a negative zero sense of entitlement, it was an odd reaction to being told he couldn't choke someone with his cock, so something clearly wasn't clicking.

“You ...” Aizawa narrowed his eyes, disbelieving. “You do know what deepthr –”

Yes,” Toshinori grit out, sounding mortified, and Aizawa had to bite his cheek to keep from guffawing, briefly ducking his head to get his shit together.

Yeah, definitely just learned a new word. Shit, where had this man been for the past ten years? Also, teaching really was his life's natural passion. He was pretty good at it. Maybe he should consider expanding his three skills to four.

“I don't – I would never,” Toshinori was saying thickly, shaking his head in clear distress, scraggly bangs flopping this way and that.

“I'm just saying, I could see how it would happen accidentally ... with you,” Aizawa began, trying not to smile and failing. He pointed. “With that.”

Toshinori put a hand over his red face and simply sat for a moment, clearly embarrassed to the point of death. Aizawa told himself to quit while he was ahead, that the consent to this act could easily be rescinded, but the lure to poke and prod was just too tempting. Almost as good as Toshinori's reactions. It was helping ease the bitter rift in his chest, at least, to just be safe and comfortable with this man.

As fuckbuddies went, he'd really hit the jackpot with Yagi Toshinori (when he could get him horizontal). Who would've thought?

“Dear god,” Toshinori eked out after a moment, teeth clenched.

“No more talking?” Aizawa prompted, as close to gleeful as he ever got.

Please,” Toshinori nearly yelled through his fingers, eyes shut and looking thoroughly ready to curl into a ball to protect himself and his dignity and his endowments. Aizawa put both hands on the older hero's knees and petted through the fabric of his awful yellow suit, just in case he was thinking about it.

You'll be pleading with me, he thought smugly, glancing the gangly man up and down. He was going to destroy this dork.

Part of it was the power play and the utter clarity of who was in control while he was sucking them off. Another part of it was him feeling a little vindictive, or maybe just proud of his skills and proud of feeling good and stable enough to use them for fun. Aizawa honestly wanted to jump right in but seeing him sitting there, so ill at ease, it seemed ... crass, somehow, to just shuck his pants and go for it.

Toshinori needed a little practical romancing, or just foreplay. To avoid a heart attack.

Aizawa started out by reaching up and pulling him down by his tie, mouthing gently at his cheek and chin and opening Toshinori's chapped lips with a press of his own. Coaxing. A little kissing usually did the job to get him happy-excited, not nervous-excited. Toshinori bent and deepened the kiss immediately, his big hands drifting to hold Aizawa's ass and waist, kneading at his jumpsuit, nudging him closer.

Aizawa tugged a little more and Toshinori bent a little more, sighing into his mouth. He was pliant and sweet, responding instantly to the simple use of guiding physical force in a way that warmed the younger hero parked between his knees. All over again, it quietly thrilled him to think of such a huge man bowing to just a sharp tug on his tie, so generous in his submission.

At that point, Aizawa really should have realized that, so much more than needing an outlet for his control issues and struggles with self-worth and overbearing legacy, Toshinori was a shameless fucking bottom and always would be, and maybe Aizawa should tempered his expectations for getting recklessly dicked by All Might in the near future. Such realizations were still miles away, however, and those miles would be enjoyable in their own right. For now, the younger hero just smirked into the shifting pressure of the kiss as he tugged again, and Toshinori moaned so faintly against his mouth, long fingers twitching on his back like he was in a dream.

Only when the older hero was radiating looseness and bliss did Aizawa skim his fingertips along the inside of his leg and cup his palm around the hot tent in the other man's trousers, pressing. Asking. Toshinori shuddered and broke their kiss, allowing Aizawa to skillfully loosen his huge belt and unzip his pants with a minimal amount of noise or fuss. Behind them, the kettle shut off with a muffled click.

He was expecting Toshinori, considering his intrinsic shyness, to simply sit back and go along with it all as soon as air hit skin, but was surprised by the warm hand that came to cup his face as soon as he had finessed the older hero's erection free from his pants. Aizawa looked up, one hand on Toshinori's cock, and found his co-teacher regarding him intently with his blue-black eyes as he dragged his fingertips gently down the line of his jaw, petting and looking and feeling.

The light touch sent unexpected tingles down his neck. Aizawa held his peace and his breath, wondering, vaguely curious, until Toshinori's thumb slowly traced against his bottom lip. Then Aizawa opened his mouth and caught the very tip of the older hero's thumb in his teeth, flicking it with his tongue and tasting salt on the tough skin.

It was a challenge of sorts, not to look away. To test the mettle of Toshinori's want, or how comfortable he was becoming with the physicality of their arrangement. Toshinori bravely obliged him, a flush across his high cheekbones, but still watching him to see what he would do, as if Aizawa's mouth around his finger was infinitely more important than the hand toying with his thick cock. So Aizawa decided to give him a show.

He turned his head a little and, silky slow, slid his tongue under the pad of Toshinori's thumb and followed it with his mouth, languidly sucking down the length of the digit without ever once looking away from the older hero's wide, dark eyes. The heat behind his ears made him well aware how much it was doing for him, personally, but the real reward came when he released Toshinori with a faint popping noise and the older man immediately twitched in a passion, breath catching.

“Fuck,” Toshinori whispered, short and hollow, like he had been punched in the gut. Aizawa looked up at him, placing his cheek back in the curve of the older hero's hand. It was very warm. He pulled gently at Toshinori's straining cock as he did so, fingers wandering over the wet tip and catching, smearing.

“Do you always curse in English when you're excited?” he asked, tilting his head to plant an absent kiss on the inside of the man's palm.

“I try not to curse,” the older hero said hoarsely, throat clearly not cooperating.

Aizawa smirked, feeling his own arrogance dagger out of his lidded eyes.

“Yeah. Good luck with that.” He brushed his lips over the tough skin, tongue out, immensely gratified when Toshinori shuddered and shut his eyes. Trained, now. “Tell me when you're about to come.”

He spread Toshinori's legs a little further for good measure, for once grateful for the seemingly limitless give of the man's oversized clothing. The older hero's hand dropped from his face, pawing at a stray strand of hair on the way. Toshinori clearly tried his best to settle back and relax as Aizawa made no move to conceal or hurry his appreciation of his current task or the subject of it. He handled and gripped the rigid length of him for a moment before leaning forward and slipping the head of Toshinori's pinkened cock into his mouth, skillfully swirling his tongue.

Immediately, Toshinori clapped a hand over his own mouth. Shaking fingers found their way into the tangle of Aizawa's half-up hair as he pushed his mouth down over the older hero's cock, sucking slowly. The fingers in his hair gripped close to the scalp, tugging, and shivers poured down the younger hero's hot neck. Aizawa's eyes fluttered shut, his own dick already horribly hard against his leg in his jumpsuit.

When Toshinori heard the light metallic zip of the younger hero's jumpsuit coming undone, he jolted and looked down, stunned, like there was suddenly entirely too much going on. Aizawa continued sucking cock as if nothing in particular was happening, relishing the girth of it pushing against his tongue with every pass, the way it forced his lips wide. Underneath, he stroked himself with light passes of his hand, just enough to tease and mix with the satisfying rhythm of giving head.

He knew enough about how Toshinori worked: It wasn't that he wouldn't mind, it was that the idea of someone getting off from pleasuring him would make him lose his fucking mind. Even now, he was locking up with impressive speed, struggling to balance his hand in Aizawa's hair, the hand on his mouth, the tongue sliding over his cock and the easy rhythm of Aizawa's own hand in his jumpsuit.

Then, using the grip he had on his hair, Toshinori pulled him back just enough to free his shaft from his open mouth and held him there, kneeling, spit dripping down his chin. Aizawa grinned wolfishly and licked at him, his own hand pumping at his cock and heightening the swirl of pleasure in his gut. Unfazed. Toshinori looked down at all of him, all at once, scalding greed and need painted in every harsh feature with his eyes burning dangerous blue.

“Do you want to stop?” Aizawa asked thickly, through a devilish grin, and the way Toshinori pulled him back onto his cock again, yanking on his hair just a bit, was just the answer he wanted.

It wasn't much at all, length-wise, but Aizawa moaned into the little bit of harshness, gladly taking as much of him as he could and rewarding the older man's daring and desire with doubled effort, even going so far as to stop jacking himself off on the job. Working at his huge cock in earnest, sucking and pulling with his mouth and hand, it wasn't long before Toshinori began to shake and shiver, control eroding in the face of the younger hero's skills.

His overwhelming enjoyment – low, muffled gasps and grunts, split with the occasional thin whine or curse – was all well and good, but when Toshinori began flexing and fretting and leaning over far enough that his tie was gently whacking Aizawa in the face again and again, Aizawa decided to give him a little less room to move and think.

He pulled away just enough to grab the older hero's hands and tug them between his legs, around and below the tortured, sticky arc of his cock. He held Toshinori there, squeezing his thin wrists, and snagged his tie again, dragged him down for a supremely sloppy kiss, then stuffed the tie into his open mouth. Toshinori immediately jolted backward with a strangled, shocked noise, recoiling as much as the hold would allow, but Aizawa leaned back on his haunches to watch for any potential discomfort and, after a moment, it was clear there was none. Just a very startled, painfully aroused man held at the wrists and delicately gagged with his own tie, his ruddy, swollen cock too heavy to stand and dripping on his own wrinkled shirtsleeves.

Flashing his coworker and captive a superior, toothy grin, Aizawa got the fuck back to work.

His head dipped, and All Might shuddered violently and closed his eyes, breath scraping through his nose. His big hands and crooked fingers torqued ecstatically below where Aizawa was working the pulsing girth of him with his free hand, pushing the man's cock into his mouth as mercilessly and rhythmically as he could. Cheeks blooming red, the older hero whimpered into the fabric, biting down anxiously and straining to stay still.

It only took a little more of this kind of torture before the tie dropped from Toshinori's mouth with a strangled noise, his deep voice suddenly clear.

“Sh-shouta,” he whispered, begged, “Shouta, I'm –”

Aizawa wouldn't hesitate to admit it: His name, said like that, made up his mind. Generous as he was, he wasn't selfless, and he wasn't getting out of this without getting off.

Aizawa pulled away and pumped his hand firmly, skin thrilling at the desperate noises daggering out of Toshinori as his dripping fingers closed over the throbbing head with every pass, squeezing him to death with every lean muscle in his body quaking. Too soon, Toshinori yelped and stiffened, jerking against his hold. Whether Aizawa's mouth stayed open out of reflex was anyone's guess, but the next second he was taking the cumshot like a champ: The hot bitter spill gluttonously painted his tongue and chin, dripping down his bare chest, and the silky heat alone made his own cock flex and pull, desperate.

The gush ended and Aizawa slowed, head spinning. He let go of Toshinori's hands, feeling the blood rush back to his own, and distantly worried that he'd gripped too hard. The older hero immediately crumpled in half over his knife-sharp knees, gasping harshly, big hands shaking.

It was done. Toshinori was done, vanquished, laid to rest, and Aizawa's tense, greedy body made it known that he had done his job and could focus on other things. Now.

He took quick stock. His hand was dripping in cum, which was perfect for greasing his own painfully hard cock in the confines of his jumpsuit. Aizawa bit his lip. He was so hard, the first touch was painful. He carefully leaned back and pumped himself from base to tip, a soft, filthy curse falling from his tingling lips.

The electric tension in his body was roiling, paralyzing, and it was much more a need than a thought as he yanked the side of his suit wide enough to work his hand back and under his ass, forcing three slippery fingers in at once and biting his cheek at the fresh sense memory of Toshinori's cock stretching his mouth, spit dripping down his chin. He rolled his hips into it, closing his eyes.

This man was going to fuck him eventually. That or he was just going to die.

Mind offline under the deafening throb of his arousal, Aizawa leaned into whatever fed his wants and within a minute wasn't even stroking his cock anymore, just clenching the head as he fucked himself fast and hard on his fingers. Tugging with his fingertips, he mercilessly worked his ass until he got what he wanted, which was the illusion that there was a very large cock stretching and fucking him.

His body arched, breath coming light and fast. A slip of fingers and the tension spiked, sending waves through his swollen cock. His hand was cramping but suddenly he came, the blissful heat and tension breaking in his gut. His ass tightened on his numb hand, sticky and hot, and cum splattered down his chest from between the tangle of his fingers, hips jerking again and again as he rode it out, groaning.

Aizawa only realized he was torqued into a half moon of agony when his body suddenly gave out and he whacked his head against the coffee table, panting. He hurriedly uncramped his arm from behind himself and just lay back, twitching and shaking. His vision was lopsided and refused to correct so he shut his eyes, breathing out the static from such a long, complicated release.

When he opened them, Toshinori was staring at him like he'd just witnessed a miracle.

“You're amazing,” he breathed, and Aizawa closed his stinging eyes because he couldn't really take that much direct sunlight right then. Or strange compliments.

“You're weird,” he mumbled, body floating.

“I … can I do that?” The question was disbelieving, squeezed. Reverent, almost. “May I?”

Aizawa smirked, like the question was the operative “can” or “may.” What a fucking old teacher he was, and maybe Toshinori was responding to that on some level. But nope, they weren't going there. Also, how long had he been jacking himself if Toshinori had recovered this much power of speech? He thought he'd knocked the Symbol of Peace non-verbal for at least fifteen minutes.

“Do what?” he asked, frowning.

“Touch you like that. I would love to.”

“Unless you have a Quirk I don't know about, that's not fucking happening tonight,” Aizawa chortled, a little giddy from the sweet relief and fully ignoring the L word in any context. They weren't doing emotions. But if Toshinori wanted to get in his ass? He'd take it. Any way, any time.

“Next time, maybe,” he drowsed, already dreaming about it. Getting fucked. How great it would be. Damn. “But first, coffee.”

“First, shower. Then coffee.”

Aizawa opened an eye strictly, like no one should have the nerve to correct him on his caffeine needs, but Toshinori just gestured wordlessly, just a bit mortified, at the Heroes Gone Wild slip and slide of cum down the younger hero's front. Aizawa frowned down at it for a moment. When had he become such an unthinking slut? Guess it was time to throw the old suit in the wash, too. Every month, whether it needed it or not.

Above him, Toshinori was mumbling that he knew how to make coffee even if he didn't drink it and it really would be best if he got cleaned up and if he really wanted coffee even though it was late and was it really healthy for him to take such high levels of caffeine after five pm blah blah blah.

“Fine,” Aizawa mumbled, every bit of him creaking as he got up from his crouch. He winced at the pinch of his knees. He was getting too old for kneeling like that for long periods, that much was certain, and it made him remember the days when he laid undercover for hours on his tenderest of joints, barely breathing, then was able to jump into battle at the click of a safety being released. How time (and cartilage density) flies.

“Aizawa-kun?”

Aizawa turned over his shoulder, blinking slowly over at the older hero as if out of a fog. Toshinori looked down at the floor, crossed arms blocking his front but a timid smile gracing his gaunt features.

“Thank you.”

“Plain. No cream or sugar,” Aizawa said in non-response, shucking his suit even as he walked to the bathroom and hopping to unhook his feet from the stirrups. “And don't burn it. And let Himawari out as soon as you're cleaned up, she's probably shredding the sheets.”

In the shower, Aizawa smirked to himself and shook his wet hair out, the faintest whiff of heady french lavender mixing with the hard green scent of his usual cleanser as the steam rose thick and soothing around him. Mission accomplished. He'd gotten that very particular want out of his system and ruined Toshinori for any other blowjobs in the entire world, hopefully instilling some future obedience in him now that he knew what the rewards could be.

Now, here he was, luxuriating in hot water and finally relaxed and gloating over the ruins of a very honorable man who was now dutifully making him coffee in his kitchen. Life was good.

So good that, when Toshinori dozed off toward the end of their (deliciously delayed) grading session, pen still in his hand, Aizawa almost considered offering him a place to stay. Almost.

But that wouldn't be professional, would it?

Chapter Text

“It's been so long,” Naomasa laughed in that simple, masculine way he had, honest and pleased. “I was afraid you'd forgotten that your paperwork doesn't magically do itself!”

“Naomasa-kun,” Toshinori scolded in low tones, mortified.

Immediately, the officer put up his hands, knowing full-well how thin the line was and how little teasing his ironically superpowered friend could take. The younger man snickered, taking another gulp of his beer. It was nice, to be known. Toshinori went back to stirring the curry pot, an indulgent smile lighting his gaunt face to some approximation of hardiness, if not health.

“All right, all right. I know. You're busy.”

With that, Naomasa hopped up on the narrow, spotless counter beside him, an incredible bit of scalliwaggery for the straight-laced man. It showed how comfortable they were with one another, but also how glad his friend was to see him. Again, Toshinori grinned to himself, awash in gratefulness for the simple sights and smells and memories layered into the officer's small, humble apartment. It was more than a safe space, and he had almost forgotten that he could miss things like this. Was allowed to miss things, or have them again. Why had he put this off?

“So,” his friend began thickly through a poorly-timed mouthful of beer, and Toshinori could clearly smell the skunk of the dark drink Naomasa preferred. He tried not to wrinkle his nose. “How is the teaching job going?”

Toshinori's grin fell. That was why.

Naomasa's tone said everything, stilted and reluctant, his gaze pinned decidedly elsewhere. The last conversation they'd had about this hadn't been pleasant, which was probably another reason why the veteran hero had taken till so late in the semester to visit his friend properly, hospital visits excluded. He still needed to see Gran Torino, for that matter. Toshinori winced.

“Well. It's, ah, not easy … there's a lot to remember, and sometimes it feels like I'm the student,” the older hero murmured, blowing his scraggly bangs away from his face before resolutely tucking them behind his ears, lest they fall into the food. Then, mildly: “You still don't think it's a good idea.”

“It's a bold move, having All Might teach at a hero academy. UA, especially. I worry about the negative attention that you could attract, for both you and the students.” Naomasa inclined his closely trimmed head, finger jutting out from his hold on his beer bottle. He swallowed audibly. “I know you do, too.”

“I always worry,” Toshinori said simply.

“You do.” Naomasa sighed, tapping his bottle on his knee, a half smile lingering.

It was a wistful sort of expression, automatic: It came from seeing too much, even in the years since All for One's fall, but they had trust in one another to respond to what was yet to come. The two men sat in comfortable silence in the tiny kitchen nook in the midtown apartment, Toshinori stirring and seasoning by smell and sipping warm water. After a while, Naomasa leaned over the pot and breathed in greedily.

“That smells amazing. See, here I was teaching you about cooking all those years ago, and now I bet I could learn a thing or two from you about curry,” Naomasa said confidently. Toshinori shook his head, bangs wagging free again. He'd just had time to practice, and it was a pity he couldn't eat more of it.

“Cooking, my friend? Or just rice?” Toshinori asked with the utmost of innocence, not taking his eyes from the pot or his slow, meditative stir. Occasionally, he had been known to tease back, but only when he had the energy.

“It's an art form!” Naomasa protested, scandalized. He grabbed a spoon and raised it like a baton. “Let's put your work to the test, then, Yagi-sensei. I'll be grading your efforts, I'll have you know.”

They sat at his low table shortly after and Naomasa dug in, being ridiculous with how much he enjoyed it: exclaiming, sighing, praising it as the first meal he hadn't had out of a styrofoam cup all week. Toshinori accepted the praise with difficulty, knowing the goodnatured man would press the issue otherwise, and then steepled his hands humbly.

“If you don't mind, I'd, ah, like to take that container back with me.”

“Ah, so much! That's almost half! That was supposed to be my whole week!” the younger man fretted, then grinned, to show he was joking. “Of course, my friend. But it doesn't seem like your fare. Are you taking it for someone special?”

Midway to another sip, Toshinori almost dropped his glass.

“W-with a Quirk like yours, you can't just say things like that,” Toshinori forced out, his throat uncommonly tight. “It's irresponsible!”

“You specifically didn't answer my question,” Naomasa exclaimed, grin tugging at his mouth. His big, blunt fingers tapped at his chin. “An interesting piece of evidence. This might merit further investigation.”

“N-naomasa-kun!”

“You're bright pink,” he said indulgently, pointing. “You scoundrel! Who is it?”

Toshinori covered his mouth and shook his head, fuming. While you couldn't lie in response to an open question, he also didn't want to take any chances. Naomasa frowned, leaning forward and tapping his spoon aggressively on the table.

“Ah, come on, my friend – is your new life really so secret? If I were surreptitiously giving curry to someone, wouldn't you want to know?”

“Because I would want to warn them, yes,” he said blithely, still hiding behind his hand. Naomasa's skill with soup-based foods, or most foods, was non-existent. There was a reason his contributions to their late nights were always takeout.

“Ouch. Delaware smash,” Naomasa admitted, graciously taking the hit and signaling it by dipping his head. Then he looked up, cheek in his hand, poking at the last of his curry and rice. “But really. I'm not prying for the sake of it. Are you making some connections on campus?”

How to answer? Toshinori chewed his lip.

“Yes. Everyone has been wonderfully supportive. It's even a little … intimidating, seeing how close-knit they are, but they've done their best to include me.” Awkward as it often is, he swallowed down. Dealing with the staff at large meant dealing with the line between Yagi Toshinori and All Might, and that was never wholly comfortable.

“It's an amazing community solely dedicated to the nurturing and development of young heroes,” he continued. “I'm lucky to have a place there.”

“That's nice and vague. They should get you to write their promotional material,” his friend exclaimed, perfectly enthusiastic. Toshinori thinned his lips, familiar with Naomasa's peculiar way of disagreeing and thus thoroughly caught out. He relented, reasoning that his closest friend probably deserved a more personal take on his new academic career. Probably.

He still hesitated. Why was he hesitating? Shit.

“I suppose I have a friend. A coworker. He –” The veteran hero cleared his throat messily, most assuredly not sticking on that pesky pronoun. Really. “He likes spicy food. And we're friendly, so.”

He gestured to the container of curry that was certainly not for him. Naomasa nodded, eyes bright. The calm and cautious look of a very clever man getting a lead, which Toshinori was not at all comfortable with.

“Ah. What's he like?”

What a question. A polite, inane question but what mattered was how his insides jumped a bit, pleasantly electrified. Toshinori liked to believe that he didn't smile immediately and blocked the not-smile with a pensive sip of water.

“He's a teacher as well. He's … a bit odd.”

“Par for the course for UA, present company included,” Naomasa joked. “Is it a name I would know?”

Toshinori shook his head.

“He hates publicity. The media. He's a very private person, honestly.” Toshinori was pushing his untouched chopsticks around, frowning somewhat. Across from him, Naomasa tapped the dinnerware with his own chopsticks and All Might started at the sharp noise, laughing weakly. “I guess you could say he's teaching me a few things about that.”

“Then he and I agree,” he said shortly, brows high. He always said All Might needed to stay out of the limelight. Now, Toshinori could see why. A little. Only now, though.

It was difficult not to be that, for everyone. The shining light. The Symbol of Peace. To just exist for himself was an entirely new kind of challenge … but he was getting help in getting a handle on it. Extremely talented help.

“He's teaching a student,” Toshinori said after a moment, staring down at his hands.

“I would hope so,” Naomasa said uncertainly. When Toshinori looked up, his friend was regarding him with clear confusion.

“Ah, I mean,” Toshinori stuttered, putting his face in his palm. “Oh my. Shit. What I mean is, he's a homeroom instructor and he's currently taken on an extra assignment in addition to his class. He's training a child in the UA General Studies course that no one had really given much thought to, one with a rather problematic Quirk. Being private, it's not like him to take on the role of a mentor, and perhaps the situation hits a little close to home, considering his own Quirk, but he's so exceptional … the man, not the student, although maybe both. I, ah, shit, just ...”

Toshinori was very aware of Naomasa staring at him and had no memory of flustering for this long in such a straight sequence. His friend looked similarly amazed and a little concerned. Shaking his head, Toshinori forcibly brought himself back from his rambling and cleared his throat, which tumbled into a short coughing fit.

“He's just busy, and I would like to help him. And, well, curry helps.” he finished with a shrug, sure he was bright red or stupid or both. But suddenly Naomasa wasn't paying enough attention to notice his next set of tells. He was thinking, staring down at his empty plate.

“Wait, if he's so unknown – was this the one you were telling me about? The one who was involved in the Triumvirate takedown?”

Toshinori leaned back and averted his eyes, abruptly motionless, as if it would give him more time to think.

It was a touchy thing. He was still unsure if he should have said anything in the first place about Aizawa and the Triumvirate. He had been so unthinkingly – amazed? Proud? Awed? Maybe awed was the right word – to find out that Aizawa's work and bravery had been the lynch pin to that particular case that he practically ran to tell Naomasa ... but now, especially after he and his coworker had spoken more and Aizawa had confided in him to such a degree, Toshinori wasn't sure his time undercover was a proper subject for discussion. The knowledge of the hell that came after made it even less appealing, more like the bloody dissection of a helpless living creature than a simple crime story. He couldn't not be affected by it.

“I believe so,” he said quietly when he had to speak. He was all too conscious of Naomasa's Quirk, which he knew was involuntary.

“Come on, then!”

The response wasn't what he was expecting, to be sure. Toshinori looked after the young officer, agog, as Naomasa fumbled to his feet and fetched his chunky old laptop and joined him on his side of the table with relish, yammering excitedly.

“I was just a field officer back then, but a year or two ago they told me one of the busts I was in on had to do with the Triumvirate case. I downloaded the reports of that day but never really got the chance to look them over. Now, I know that was a pretty sprawling operation with multiple moles, but let's see if your guy is among them!”

“Naomasa-kun, I'm not sure if ...” he began, but then the screen flashed on and Toshinori found himself quiet and complicit, lip tucked nervously under his teeth as his younger friend rummaged around in the minimalist menus of his standard-issue police laptop.

Part of the allure of being around Naomasa was that Toshinori didn't have to be the savior of the world. He didn't have to be on. When he didn't have to be All Might, his flaws came out ... and today one of those flaws was indecent curiosity. Naomasa pulled up the reports and went to the mugshots, and Toshinori silently settled in beside him, entranced against his better judgment as Naomasa chattered, giving him backstory on the bust and what had led to it and what his part had been in it all.

The lure of seeing Aizawa in this part of his life – or maybe, more selfishly, seeing if he could recognize the other man in his gangster guise after seeing more deeply into him – was irresistible. He just couldn't say no and he wasn't used to that. In a world where those shaped by less attractive Quirks were often driven toward a life of crime, deciphering between mugshots was easy when it was tentacles versus scales versus multiple eyes, but it still took Toshinori a moment to reach out after Naomasa clicked past a particular photograph.

“Wait. Go back,” he blurted out, eyes wide. Naomasa obliged and sat back as the older hero leaned forward, a hand to his chin. “Oh … my.”

“You think … this is him?”

There was something odd in Naomasa's tone, hard surprise or even displeasure. Toshinori nodded. There was no other way.

It was a standard mugshot, and the height put the convict at 6 feet on the dot. Paler than Toshinori had ever seen him, lip curled ever so slightly, Aizawa – or whatever name he had gone under at that time – glared at the camera with ghastly purple dents under his eyes. His head was shaved clean down to the skin with two clean lines cut through his right brow. It was a shocking look, but there was no mistaking that sharp jawline and those dark, merciless eyes.

The skin under his right eye was clean and clear and there was a cigarette hanging from his lip, a grimy five-o-clock shadow darkening his jaw. It was him.

“I take it you remember that night?” Toshinori asked hesitantly when he found his voice, sensing Naomasa's hesitation and tearing himself away from the stunning and disquieting photo. His heart was pounding and he didn't know why.

“Well enough,” Naomasa huffed, tapping the battered screen. “When half the bus is physical Quirk villains, you notice a normaform. This guy nearly broke my buddy's nose for trying to take his sunglasses off for the mugshot.”

“He must have … really gotten into character,” was all Toshinori could come up with, fighting his own surprise to give a kind of apology for his now-friend's behavior. It was too much to process all at once, but Naomasa just nodded.

“Yeah, you have to, if you were running with these guys. It was probably the only way to stay alive,” he admitted, tilting his head and studying the mugshot with clear distaste. “Definitely a yakuza-looking guy. I wouldn't cross the street to say hello. Call me old-fashioned, but I can't imagine him teaching class.”

“Oh, no. He has hair now. A lot of it. He must have shaved for … his Quirk,” Toshinori realized, wincing out of little more than the absolute abruptness of his epiphany. Naomasa raised an eyebrow. All of it unfolded in Toshinori's mind: the perfect sense of it, the brutal and minimalist utilitarianism that so defined Aizawa Shouta. The veteran hero put out his hands and gestured, thinking just as quickly as he spoke and fumbling a little with excitement or agitation.

“His hair, um, floats when he uses his Quirk. So he must have shaved it all off to hide the tell, as well as insisted on sunglasses to hide his eyes, which also change upon activation. That way, he could just sell his secondary Quirk as his only one and people would never know when he was Erasing them.”

The revelation blew Toshinori's mind: It was literally the perfect ploy to sweep people's feet out from under them. The ultimate subterfuge, and a way of taking violence away instead of adding to it. At the perfect time, the peak of violence, all Aizawa had to do was use his Quirk and instantly save lives in a completely untraceable way. Genius.

“Ah, Twofolds. People with stacked Quirks make the best undercover agents for just that reason,” Naomasa said wisely, looking over the photo with a new appreciation. His previous distaste was gone, replaced with a handsome half-smile. “Well, I'm grateful to him. That can't have been an easy job, being around those villains for so long, and the result changed the way we prosecute villainy as a whole. He's quite the hero, in my book!”

Toshinori nodded, still awash in it all. Aizawa letting his hair grow out after his undercover role may have just begun as negligence, but now, with the reverence paid to it, the inclusion in his relationship with Nemuri … it was clear it had become a symbol of his recovery. Suddenly, it was a little amazing that he had his hands in it just a few days ago.

For many, many reasons, he wanted to do it again.

“He is … an incredible man,” Toshinori managed weakly, perhaps realizing just how much as he was forced to put it into such paltry words.

“You don't have to explain it to me, Toshinori-san,” Naomasa said with a low laugh. Toshinori fairly deflated in relief, moreso when Naomasa closed the laptop. “More friends are always good. Maybe we shouldn't have gone digging in old files, but … this mysterious coworker of yours definitely deserves a break. I'm willing to part with the food as long as you're not looking to replace me!”

It was amazing: Naomasa had a way of making everything feel better, if a little simplified. He had a talent for smiling at just the right time and helping the people around him feel safe and cared for, no matter what was going on around him. Cherished. Human. Enough.

It was a skill that Toshinori appreciated deeply and might never have seen, had he not been in a weakened state that required that kind of existential comfort. It was a bittersweet appreciation and yet another dimension to being … like this, that opened his eyes to the value of his friends. It was good. Hard, but good.

“I would never replace you,” Toshinori said solemnly, then smiled. “After all, where in the world would I find another detective with readable handwriting? You're like a gem among rocks.”

“Too true!” Naomasa laughed, and they talked into the night about anything but saving the world.

Their time together ended around midnight on the civil servant's battered couch, with Naomasa being a little too ready to relax and the beer going straight to his head. It was pleasant and familiar and strangely healing. Their conversation started and stopped and started again with easy little vignettes in between sips of beer and water, less an exchange of information than a chance to rest in safe company. Then Naomasa said it:

“You know … you deserve a break too, right?”

“Mm?”

Toshinori responded with a soft, wistful smile, more a sleepy twitch of his lips than anything else. Then he felt a hand on his back, insanely warm, and was subsumed in a rush of memories. All sorts of memories, but all about Naomasa: echoes of the sense, vague yet all too ardent, that he would have done anything for the man sitting next to him, sick with feeling for his smile and approval and touch, while feeling like he had absolutely nothing to give.

The core of affection was still there, golden, but it all stung less, now. Less emptiness for it to bang around in, maybe. He was somehow more, now, despite being half his size. It was good. Hard, but good.

“I mean … we're going to get him. We will,” Naomasa slurred, gesturing with his bottle. “But … in the meantime …”

Naomasa laughed haltingly to himself, and when Toshinori meekly glanced over, the other man's expression was downright incredulous.

“I know it's not a matter of karma or anything, I'm too old for that. Too old, too tired. But if you don't deserve happiness, man, what the hell kind of chance do the rest of us poor saps have?”

“Naomasa-kun …” Toshinori said hesitantly, his hands knitted in his lap.

“I hope you can find someone that makes you happy, Toshinori-kun,” his friend said warmly, eyes closing. “That would make me happy, too. Even if it meant less curry.”

Naomasa was asleep the next second, snoring softly. His snoring had gotten worse over the years, Toshinori noted absently, but it had been a constant soundtrack to their investigative days. Falling asleep over paperwork, over files, drifting in and out when the bitter tang of coffee wasn't enough. Always waking late, just because the work could never be done quickly enough.

After a little digging, Toshinori found the blanket where it always was (folded behind the lamp in the corner) and draped it over his best friend with an uncertain smile. He took the beer from Naomasa's slack hand and emptied it into the sink. Then he carefully wrapped the container of curry in a handkerchief after stopping, considering, and pouring half of it back into Naomasa's pot and putting the pot into the fridge for overnight.

He would take Aizawa out to lunch, instead. It was a brave thought and Toshinori liked the way it felt, telling himself it wasn't just because Naomasa was probably, definitely exaggerating the quality of his cooking. Shrugging into his coat, the veteran hero stopped at the apartment door and turned out the light, saying softly into the dark:

“Goodnight, my friend. And thank you.”

His chances to clean up after Naomasa were few and far between, and it was about time he could return the favor.

Chapter Text

The next day, Toshinori tried not to get overly invested in his first culinary contribution to Aizawa's health, and thoroughly failed.

Around 6, just as homeroom ended, he barely managed to lean back and open a book as Aizawa slouched in. This granted only the vaguest of impressions that he hadn't been poised at the staff room table with a short stack of bento boxes and watching the door. Pausing to shuck his capture weapon, his co-teacher took a seat next to him and reached for the meticulously wrapped bundles after the barest of hesitations. Like he'd finally accepted their deal.

Toshinori smiled, safely hidden in his book. He looked up when he heard Aizawa clear his throat and found him tilting the open box toward him with his brows high. Toshinori grinned and shook his head.

“No, no. It's for you. For today, and tomorrow.” It would have been the full week, had he not caved to Naomasa's pining and his own nerves, but it was done. In an effort to soothe Aizawa's instant frown, he added lightly, “Extra spicy, so not exactly my fare, my friend. Don't worry about me. Please, eat.”

Aizawa's displeasure only deepened as he put the pieces together a little more quickly than the older teacher would have liked. It was difficult, giving Aizawa actual things, if just because he would analyze them to death before accepting them ... if he accepted them.

Toshinori would never forget being forced to retreat in defeat from Eraserhead's classroom on the very first day on staff, clutching a full box of chocolates and utterly chilled by the younger hero's instant dismissal: I don't like this sort of thing, and what need is there to become closer? Aizawa's disdain for the simple gesture was absolutely palpable and had chased Toshinori for weeks, leaving no room to imagine anything but future animosity between them.

Awash in the difference, Toshinori's mouth twitched happily. How far they had come!

“It hardly makes sense to cook something for others that you can't eat,” Aizawa was in the midst of grumbling, plainly accusatory even as he properly unwrapped the bento and placed the cat napkin aside. He cracked the lid and sniffed hopefully. Cautious, but he was a cautious man.

“As it hardly makes sense to do for others what you won't do for yourself,” Toshinori agreed, the epitome of mild knowingness. His tone verged on smug but barely avoided it due to his angelic face. Now Aizawa regarded him with suspicion, like he was the one learning too quickly for comfort.

“Well,” Aizawa said primly. He was clearly mocking him and his nervous little word, but Toshinori just rocked back in his chair and laughed aloud, struck.

The sound startled even him: It was deep and golden and easy, something new about it, or something old. Maybe the best of both, without the bitterness of either. Whatever it was, it felt lovely. Aizawa looked plainly startled by the sound but wasted no time on expressing it, instead silently setting into his bribe/dinner with the force of the three skipped meals that preceded it.

Toshinori retreated behind his book with another amused smile, actually able to read now that the first few bites had disappeared and Aizawa didn't immediately unearth a cigarette from his jumpsuit and light up, driven to the dark side by his meager culinary skills. He wasn't expecting praise, or even explicit satisfaction, but just the simple forwardness with which the younger hero dug in and scooped rice and methodically ate his way to the bottom of the box with his papers balanced in his other hand, given adequate fuel to continue his guidance of the next generation of heroes, was enough.

In that mundane little moment, Toshinori was happy. Useful and strangely, solidly happy and still not at all reading his book. The story would still be there after Aizawa left, after all.

“Less onions next time. And more rice,” Aizawa grunted, sucking the spoon clean and shoving the emptied bento his way. Toshinori snorted, eyeing the remnants of what should have been a two day supply. He should have figured.

“Yes, Aizawa-sensei.”

His co-teacher shot him a glare, but his mouth twitched at the edges.

“You're damn right, Aizawa-sensei. I don't see you grading,” he said under his breath, the picture of righteous irritation as he spread yet more papers in front of him on the table, uncapping his terrifying red grading pen with his teeth and setting to work. Merciless, monotonous work of the weekly variety, which was getting harder to do with the workload of finals bearing down on them.

“Ah,” Toshinori said with satisfaction, wagging a long finger. “But I graded yesterday. We have a schedule for a reason, you know.”

“Funny, how that schedule consistently leaves me with all the weekly quizzes.”

“I just want you to be able to track the progress of your students as closely as you like.” Toshinori made sure to tilt his head and blink owlishly. “Some would consider that generous, Aizawa-kun.”

Aizawa made a scathing, incredulous sound, rolling his eyes, and the two heroes continued like that for a while: bickering back and forth about the responsibilities of teaching 1-A, sliding in a joke here and there and overall flexing the comfort of their odd bond that had surprisingly little to do with the rambunctious and promising class under their care.

They didn't realize they were actually doing anything out of the ordinary – that is, flirting and being excruciatingly shameless about it – until the staffroom door opened quietly and Cementoss walked in, froze, and immediately walked out.

The door slid shut with a short snap and for a moment, the staffroom was so quiet that they could hear the refrigerator ticking tiredly. Then Toshinori abruptly rocked back and started laughing, neck reddening with alarming speed. Aizawa kicked him under the table, which only worsened the laughing fit, then rose, glancing at the clock and hastily stuffing his papers into his bag.

“W-wait,” Toshinori wheezed, wiping his eyes with shaking hands. “Aizawa, my man! Where, um, where are you going?”

“Same place you should be, idiot,” he grumbled, swiped up his capture weapon and was gone.

His exit, efficient as it was, still somehow left Toshinori time to stare after him, cheek on his fist. In the quiet, the older hero breathed deeply and grinned at absolutely nothing, still high on the warming tumble of laughter and the floating sensation in his head – then realized he was staring at the door with a blissful, dopey smile and drawing circles in the condensation on the table with his finger.

Toshinori's gaunt face blanked and, maybe a month too late, he started to piece some things together. Not all the things, by any means, and still far too late, but the sparks of the connections he made were just bright enough to be subtly alarming. Very subtly alarming.

Oh. Oh no. What, oh what, exactly, was he doing?

“Hey.”

Toshinori's head snapped up and heat engulfed his face anew: Aizawa was hanging just inside the sliding door, arching an eyebrow in his general direction.

“Come on, you too,” he muttered from the depths of his coiled reins, unmoving. “Or did you forget?”

“Oh my! No, o-of course I didn't, ha,” the older hero flustered, rising and gathering his things and immediately dropping it all when his hands, in a panic, refused to cooperate.

To his embarrassment, Aizawa waited stoically until he had gotten himself back together again and they walked side-by-side down the hall and down the stairs, then outside, as if nothing had happened.

Nothing had happened, but still. Just walking silently with Aizawa suddenly felt squeezed and odd and … illicit, somehow. It rattled him. Why? He couldn't place it.

The older hero was so deep in thought about the looming feeling and their destination that he physically jumped when Aizawa stopped dead in his tracks on the middle of the campus green, calling in a loud, hard voice:

“Hey. What do you think you're doing?”

Toshinori blinked, craning to see what his co-teacher was scowling at. Barefoot on the grass of the training field and clad in baggy workout clothes, Shinsou staggered mid-punch in front of a vinyl combat dummy, scuffed heel swinging into the air with a zipping noise.

Aizawa had likely waited until just the right moment to yell, and Toshinori had to once again admire the young man's pluck for continuing to train with such a relentless mentor. “The Interruption” was one of Aizawa Shouta's power moves, striking at exactly the wrong time to throw his opponents – or his students, or his fuckbuddies – off balance and see how they would handle it. Shinsou coped by using the misplaced momentum to bend down, snatch up his towel and throw it over his hair, rubbing and pulling and trotting over to a nearby bench. As recoveries went, not bad.

The kid had style, and Aizawa clearly disliked that, judging from the infinitesimal tightening of the man's lip.

“Just a little more work, Sensei. I, uh, I had time.”

The young man looked anything but confident as he said so, palming his water bottle back and forth and taking a long, ostentatious pull while looking at them. As if to say – look, I'm hydrating, see how responsible I am? Then Shinsou grinned.

“Oh! Hey, Yagi-san!”

Toshinori waved at him meekly, then tucked his hand in his pocket when Aizawa shot him a glare that could peel wallpaper. He bit his lip and decided to be very interested in the grass until this little interaction was over. Not interfere, that is, as Aizawa seemed strangely irritable concerning the two of them … for reasons unknown.

“Don't overdo it. Your body needs time to heal,” Aizawa groused just loud enough to be heard over the distance between them, regarding Shinsou suspiciously. Then, after a moment: “Are you sticking to the plan?”

“Yes, Aizawa-sensei,” he answered dutifully. “This is my last training for the week, and I'm prioritizing cardio to round out the strength training from earlier.”

Nodding, Aizawa flashed his mentee a thumbs up that was the most strangely unenthusiastic Toshinori had ever seen. Aizawa's talents were curious in nature but always noteworthy. Who knew anyone could suck the joy out of a good thumbs up?

“You're looking good. Keep it up.”

Shinsou's round face underwent a strange sort of twisting, but to Toshinori it was obvious he was trying not to smile at the rare praise. Ducking to obscure the rainbow of emotions, Shinsou nodded so deeply it was almost a bow, sweat flinging off of his hair, and ran back to attack the dummy with a whole new level of energy, obviously feeling the pro heroes' eyes on him. Making sure Aizawa had already turned, Toshinori gave the boy a salute of his own and the two teachers walked off together in pensive silence.

That is, until Toshinori bumped his friend with a shoulder.

“Shut up,” Aizawa ordered instantly. Toshinori had no plans of shutting up, especially not before he'd even said anything.

“That was amazing,” he said under his breath, through a smile. Too close to Aizawa's ticklish ear, which was probably the main reason why the other man swatted him away. Probably.

“We are not doing this.”

“You're going to be a very good mentor! You already are, look at you.”

“I'm leaving. Goodbye,” Aizawa said flatly and took off at the quickest speed he could without breaking the illusion he was walking. Toshinori let him go, something solid and sparkling like pride welling in his scarred chest. Pride and something so much bigger, so much more liquifying.

Something too big to name yet, if ever.

“We're going to the same place, you know,” the older hero called after him, voice warm and amused. Staff meeting in the main building. He finally remembered. Not senile, yet.

“And I'll see you when you get there and not a moment before,” Aizawa yelled over his shoulder. “Slow down and give me some time to resent you, old man.”

Toshinori chuckled to himself, trying to convince himself his grin wasn't a dopey one even as his cheeks hurt from smiling so much, or so strongly. That man was such a softy.

But there were some things he could miss, in training a boy so close to his heart and his hurt, and that was where another set of eyes came in. That was why there was a 'co' in co-teachers. That's why Toshinori was there, or so he hoped, and he hoped Aizawa felt the same.

 


 

 

The next morning, when Toshinori came wandering not-so-purposefully around the track, Aizawa was practically waiting for him.

He had seen Toshinori lingering longer and longer on the details of their morning training, with Aizawa catching him staring more often than not, and he could see the gears in the older hero's head turning. The only question was when they would click into place. He had acquired enough confidence in the man's opinions not to dread it when Toshinori approached with a napkin full of fresh (very meat-based) onigiri from the cafeteria and a sheepish smile.

After the requisite comments on how early Toshinori was up and a brief commiseration over the fickle nature of sleep with Finals drawing ever-nearer, UA's resident panderer surprised Aizawa by jumping right into it: He believed that Aizawa's training regimen was designed around his own speed-centric, flexible body type and that focus was, at least a little, in error. After watching the boy develop, Toshinori suggested that Shinsou was actually physically stronger than he was fast and voted for shifting the emphasis of the training a little. Just to see how he took to it.

“Show me,” was all Aizawa said.

Then he stepped back, smirking a little when Toshinori gave him a stunned look, like this was not how he expected this particular conversation to go. The younger hero motioned curtly with his hand. Obliging him, All Might stepped forward and cleared his throat, as if on a dais instead of an empty training field still swirling with morning fog.

“Well … You're putting emphasis on evasion, which is understandable, but Shinsou is building muscle at a remarkable pace. Now he has enough weight to throw around and, considering his intelligence, you might consider Aikido.”

“Aikido,” Aizawa repeated tonelessly, resisting the urge to undercut that generous 'intelligence' comment. Shinsou wasn't stupid, he reminded himself, he just chose to use his clear intelligence in stupid ways. Stupid, petty, irritating little ways that he couldn't shut down like he would with his other kids, because he had to maintain his trust. Fuck, this was hard.

Drawing his attention back, Toshinori nodded, gesturing carefully with his big hands as he spoke.

“Yes, Aikido. Especially for honing his awareness of the movements and positions of his opponents and flowing with them, instead of against them. Teaching him not to rush into it, as may seem heroic, but to react as necessary … especially as a method of provoking his marks to respond to his verbal prompts.”

The older hero chuckled and the deep sound seemed to echo in the fog.

“You may not know it personally, but Aikido can be a very frustrating martial art to someone who just wants to land a punch. It could definitely get a less loquacious villain to, ah, loosen up and give young Shinsou an opening to work his particular magic.”

Aizawa wanted to say I do Aikido, but aside from sounding defensive, he also wanted to see what Toshinori would do with the free reign. He motioned again with his hand, inviting and challenging. It was only when he took a sparring stance that Toshinori seemed to actually understand and consider what he was proposing. Aizawa kept his face neutral, even as his particular brand of wry enjoyment threatened to break the facade of professional curiosity.

He had spent the past week and a half doing nothing more than waking up at the ass crack of dawn to dance around and fake punches and take lip from a kid he couldn't technically send to detention. He could have a little fun, right?

Across from him, Toshinori scrubbed at the back of his neck for a moment, glancing around the abandoned track, then relented with an odd smile. He bent to place their breakfast in as tidy a pile as possible, then moved beside him and reached out. An oddly breathless moment hung between the two of them as they stood, slightly staggered, close yet untouching. Toshinori's big hands hovered just above the rough fabric of his jumpsuit, palms radiating a bewitching heat, and the hairs on Aizawa's neck stood rapturously to attention. He unconsciously counted the taller hero's deep, quiet breaths with his entire body. Then, Toshinori patted his back briefly in warning, and Aizawa allowed himself to be bent a bit, to assist in the forthcoming explanation.

“So, I'm the defending partner. Say you dodge someone running at you, you can easily use their momentum against them with a hand here ...”

One big hand to his belly, Toshinori led him through the hypothetical throw with entirely too much caution, too much gentleness, for his tastes. It was all the more tempting for the power the younger hero could already sense in his movements, some sparking vestige of All Might's monumental strength condensed into brittle-looking limbs and the rare, hard glint in Toshinori's blue-black eyes that he could see over his shoulder.

Intrigued, Aizawa decided to pick up the pace and be a villain worth fighting.

“I hate to tell you, but villains aren't as unskilled as they were in your day. I can easily break that kind of hold if I have any sort of hand-to-hand training,” he countered shortly, making himself move just as slowly as his partner. He slipped around Toshinori's hand and torqued his tall body around, an arm locked across his front. “Now I have access to the back of your neck.”

“You do,” Toshinori allowed with a faint laugh, a hot hand to his arm. How could he feel this man's heat through any amount of clothing?

“I might even have a knife. What are you going to do, hero?” he intoned, more doleful than threatening, and Toshinori's long, lean torso shifted just slightly in his grip. Testing, both of them knowing he could sling Aizawa's densely muscled body clean over his shoulder with one try. But that wasn't the point, even if it was hard to keep track of the point with their bodies pressed back to front, his breath quickening on the back of Toshinori's neck. Toshinori chuckled again, a little squeezed this time.

“I sincerely hope you don't have a knife, Aizawa-kun. I would think you a higher caliber of villain than that. But it won't matter, you see, if I go like this ...”

“I can just step aside.”

“Not if I put pressure here, see?”

“Barely. You try that on a rainy day and you're out for the count. You're relying too much on technique and not considering environmental factors.”

“You're particularly demanding today, Sensei! Bear with me, because I haven't shown you what I would do if ...”

Piece by piece, the two heroes pushed and pulled with strict care on the wet grass, trading holds and short explanations in the silence of the brightening air and trying their best to force each other to the wet ground.

The contrast between the shyness of Toshinori's grip and the strength in his long limbs resolved only after the younger hero attempted to knock his knees out from under him with a swipe of his leg, making it clear that he wouldn't accept any half-hearted display of mastery. Then, whipcord limbs cutting the morning air in a fluid arc, Toshinori roughly hauled him over the grass by his elbow and a hand wrenched into the back of his jumpsuit, ready to lay him flat and telling him in certain terms how he was going to do it.

With such a hard grip, the first bit of real adrenaline licked under Aizawa's skin and it was on.

The younger hero planted a heel, turned and gladly shoved back, pushing harder and moving quicker and breaking up Toshinori's explanations at every turn with sharp parries and jabs, giving him as little time to think as a villain would. He coughed out something between a laugh and a growl when his partner smacked him in the sternum with the flat of his palm and used the recoil to spin him around into a remarkably skillful headlock. The sheer difference in their heights was never so apparent as when Toshinori had to bend significantly in order not to choke him, or just let him balance on his toes without any leverage. The deep, breathy chuckle in his ear was … also good.

“Do you yield, then?” he asked softly, and Aizawa's skin did something ridiculous and electric from his ears down to his shaking thighs, raising every hair on the way down.

“Fuck no,” he shot back, swallowed against the hard line of Toshinori's arm at his neck, and went for his knees. Again.

It was a good match, overall. Half the time Toshinori was trying to lock his joints or throw him from behind, so Aizawa took no pains to hide his growing amusement. He couldn't help but grin as he pulled dirtier and dirtier tricks, having entirely too much fun as he tested what Toshinori could actually counter and still stay within Aikido form.

Soon, long limbs irrevocably tangled, Toshinori was laughing haltingly through his own explanations, likely shocked at the unsavory nature of his unexpected sparring partner. A few more pulls and botched throws, and it ended with them both splayed in the grass, Toshinori on his back and huffing and chuckling with Aizawa atop him. Without ado, Aizawa locked the older man's thin arms high on his chest and clamped his knees around his hips, feet hooked over his knees. Conquered.

Despite the relatively low-impact physicality of it, Aizawa was warm and smirking by the end, feeling very victorious and more than a little aroused by all the groping and restraining and pushing. There was a reason he never went too hard into Aikido, after all. He knew himself a little too well for that.

Beneath him, a faint, overwhelmed flush colored Toshinori's long neck and high cheekbones, which made it irresistible to firmly settle down on the older man's lap with a challenging little look and an arch of his brow. Toshinori's breath caught mid-laugh and he shut his eyes and grinned, pure enjoyment star-bursting out of his pinned, supine form. Then the Symbol of Peace strained briefly against the grass, accidentally or not accidentally bucking his hips and immediately collapsing in chuckles again at his own daring. Or the resulting sparks, which Aizawa also appreciated.

It was a wildly inappropriate position unjustified by the normal level of physical fumbling with this kind of sparring, made acceptable only by the fact that they were alone – so of course they fucking weren't.

“So, uh, good morning.”

They both looked up, the moment shattered. Shinsou was standing five feet away, legs braced apart, with the most shit-eating grin on his face.

“I can come back later, if you're training Yagi-san to be a hero.”

“O-oh!”

The sound that came out of Toshinori was little more than a squeak, absolutely inappropriate for such a huge man. Releasing him instantly, Aizawa simply leaned back and lifted his arm to allow his much longer fellow to desperately roll out from underneath him and struggle to his knees in the grass, one hand reflexively clasped over his mouth. Unmoving, still on his haunches, Aizawa simply glared up at Shinsou, whose grin, if possible, only got wider.

“Didn't mean to interrupt anything,” he muttered under his breath like he very clearly did, kicking at the grass. Aizawa got to his feet and brushed off his knees, trying to telegraph the utmost degree of murderousness and warning and threat with his narrowed eyes alone. Today was not going to be easy. Why wasn't it ever easy?

As “Yagi-san” coughed out a lame excuse and strode away as fast as his long legs could carry him, completely forgetting the little pile of onigiri he had initially brought, Shinsou had the balls to look Aizawa in the face and grin.

“You like him back.”

It was a statement, not a question, and one that made Aizawa's hackles raise faster than most filthy accusations. He barely resisted glancing back, to see if Toshinori was solidly out of earshot. Where did this kid get off?

“Too bad I don't like you,” he said through his teeth, steely and automatic. He raised a hand, taking not nearly enough gratification in the way the Shinsou's pale eyes widened as a strip of scuffed carbon fiber wound around his fist with an audible snap. “I think it's time to bring my capture weapon into the mix, if you're so bored that you would give up your training period to anyone who wanders by.”

“That looked like a different kind of training. You were definitely on top of him,” Shinsou continued gleefully, not to be dissuaded by threats alone.

“We were grappling. I won,” Aizawa snorted, feeling his neck burn instantly as he cursed himself for even speaking. Was he actually defending himself? To a child? These extra early mornings were getting to him, not to mention all these sticky social connections and the simple accessibility that just wasn't present with his other students. This is why he didn't try to talk to people or be known or make friends (and so the question remained, why the hell did he have so many of them?).

Across the green, Shinsou tilted his frizzled head, rocking back on his heels with his hands in his pockets.

“Huh. Grappling. Is that what they called it back in your day? Kinky.”

That ended it. Any further “conversation” was derailed, purposefully and with force, by Shinsou's first lesson in escaping traditional and non-traditional tie methods as demonstrated by a certain carbon fiber capture weapon. As strong as the temptation was, Aizawa didn't gag him. Barely.

Still, the lingering chill was hard to shake: Did he just get read by a fourteen year old? Holy shit.

 


 

 

At lunch that day, Aizawa was unsurprised to find Toshinori waiting for him again. It seemed natural, or just appropriate, which he didn't think about at length. Instead, he focused on waving the man back down into his seat as Toshinori bolted upright the moment he entered the staffroom.

“I wanted to apologize for earlier,” the older hero began far too formally, clearly stressed. “I didn't mean to –”

Aizawa just shook his head, taking the seat next to him and pillowing his cheek on his crossed arms with a loud sigh. Did Toshinori ever get tired of apologizing all the time? He blinked slowly, letting his vision unfocus. His body felt like an echo chamber, surreally empty and rattled by random aches, and he wondered about the possibility of a nap before homeroom and where his sleeping bag had gotten to.

“I didn't mean to be inappropriate,” Toshinori said under his breath, looking elsewhere. Or maybe at Snipe and Blood King, who were drowsing on the couch a firmly heterosexual distance apart. Lucky bastards. “Or to … step on your instructional style, really. Between the two of us, you're definitely the authority.”

Aizawa snorted into his sleeve and that seemed to be enough to assuage the older hero's worries. Whatever authority Aizawa had with Shinsou was already vitally diluted and wasn't going to be demolished by seeing him wrestle with a fully grown man. Besides, given time to consider it between periods 1 through 3, he had accepted the conversation preceding it as a well-timed bit of wisdom.

“I think you're right, by the way,” Aizawa muttered into the table. He opened his tired eyes and met Toshinori's strange dark gaze. “About Aikido.”

“Oh? I'm right?” Toshinori chuckled, cheeks pinkening with endearing immediacy. He plucked at his tie. “High praise, from you.”

Whether it was the exhaustion or the shared trauma of a teen interrupting them not-really-grinding on the campus green where they were employed as full time teachers, Aizawa was completely comfortable drowsing next to the older hero, like there weren't really any prickling standards to care about and sit up straight for. He closed his eyes again, just as Toshinori spoke up.

“You could have told me you already knew it.”

It was Aizawa's turn to look over in foggy surprise. Toshinori smiled.

“Your grip. You fell into it automatically, I think.”

Aizawa hummed after a moment – his version of 'no comment'. Toshinori didn't seem to have anything further to say about a co-worker half-tricking him into a sparring session by omission of truth. Instead, the older hero seemed preoccupied with the grain of the table, gaze distant, and Aizawa was content to let it lie.

Instead, he thought about that morning and all of its … surprises. It was enjoyable to simply tussle and dig up a technique he hadn't practiced in a while, but even better was the impressive strength and actual finesse Toshinori demonstrated as they grappled. Although the intensity was modulated by his strict avoidance of Toshinori's side and the latter's reluctance to actually throw him, Aizawa felt like he had learned more about his fellow hero in those ten minutes than in ten weeks – their sessions excluded from that number, of course.

It was smooth, natural, and the scent of crushed grass still lingered in Aizawa's nose. There was no anger or even sharpness in the other hero's movements despite his bony frame: It was all firm and purposeful, intelligent and responsive. Educational, or at least demonstrative, for a man not naturally disposed to education.

All of it gave him hope for All Might's teaching career … and, somehow, an erection. He wasn't sure how the two worked together, but Aizawa couldn't deny that he was interested. Even more than before, which should have set off more alarms than it did, but he was too tired to think about deals and repercussions right then. What he wanted to think about was naps.

“It's been … a while since I sparred,” Toshinori murmured at length beside him, almost too low to hear.

Aizawa opened his eyes to find the older hero looking down pensively at his splayed fingers, pressing at his callused palm. Before this, Aizawa didn't even know if All Might was capable of sparring in that sense of the word, considering his unbridled strength and attacks. Now, he saw there was a great intelligence in Toshinori's body. This body, and All Might's. He had trained and he had expertise, not just brute force.

“It could be good for you, in the long term,” Aizawa mumbled back, barely fighting the tide of sleep. “Keep you active, and your blood flowing, as long as you don't take it too hard.”

Toshinori made a grim sound, open hand closing into a wiry fist. Aizawa blinked over at him. He was belatedly hit by the realization that the older hero must hear things like that, day in and day out, about how to keep up his body by people who had no experience with the kind of discomfort he likely endured. Mental and physical, both. The scar. Aizawa regretted the thoughtless comment even before Toshinori spoke.

“You sound like Recovery Girl,” was all the Symbol of Peace said, glum.

“If it helps, she's usually right,” Aizawa offered with a shrug. Toshinori rolled his eyes.

“It doesn't,” he sighed. He was hiding in the fronds of his light hair, a sure sign of sulking. “My old master was usually right, for all the help it gave me at the time.”

“I think that's the job description of being a teacher. Think of how hard it was for your master, now that you're in the same position and seeing all these kids do stupid shit that could have been avoided with a little common sense,” he snorted, then shifted and frowned. Like a rare beast woken from irreverence, his interest was needling him from every angle, and he couldn't bonelessly huddle in his arms anymore. Aizawa straightened and looked over, begrudgingly curious.

“You had a master?”

Toshinori just nodded and hid a little more. Not positive signs, but he trusted the older hero to draw what lines he wanted concerning personal stories. Aizawa had already spilled his guts, after all, and maybe that earned him a little asking credit concerning the World's Number One Hero and his mysterious past.

“Archaic,” Aizawa commented, trying and failing to make light. He glanced over at the couch where their two resident butches were solidly snoring. They were, effectively, alone if All Might was reluctant to share his personal story for fear of it getting around. Still, he kept his voice soft and low.

“If you don't mind me asking, was this at UA?”

“Ah, he … Before and after. He taught here for just a year. For me.” Toshinori laughed faintly and shook his head, bangs wagging. “I honestly don't know what you'd think of him.”

“How do you mean?”

Another bit of laughter, curtailed by a clear struggle playing out on the older hero's gaunt face.

“I … don't know how the two of you would interact. I literally can't imagine you in the room together. Oh my.”

“Seems like a … character,” Aizawa said at length, not knowing what to do with any of that.

“To say the least,” he huffed, but there was a fond smile on his face. Toshinori tugged at his hair, thinking. “He was harsh but adept. Merciless as he needed to be, I suppose. Considering.”

“Sounds like we would get along just fine,” Aizawa said dryly. That was how people tended to describe him … when they were feeling exceptionally charitable. He'd heard worse from his past students, and those were the ones he hadn't expelled, but Toshinori shook his head sharply.

“No, not at all. Not to me, I mean. He didn't really … speak to me, not in the way that you treat the children.” He steepled his long fingers, fretting and looking aside. “You focus so much on elevating them as individuals, working with their personal struggles and needs to teach them how to overcome, which I so appreciate. Maybe that's why it's taking so long for me to get the hang of it, really, because my master ...”

His jaw was locked. He drew a sharp breath through his narrow nose and cleared his throat.

“Our training was very physical. Mostly physical,” he corrected himself, speaking in clipped tones. “Bruises on top of bruises. I feared him as much as I respected him, and I practically lived in bandages for two years. All because I needed to learn how to fight.”

It was Aizawa's first time seeing Yagi Toshinori genuinely uncomfortable. Stressed, he'd seen, even panicked and crumbling, but the sheer, grinding discomfort radiating from him as he spoke in fragments about his time with his unnamed master was enough to make Aizawa's skin itch. The way he was hedging, there was something there – something that hit the younger hero square between the eyes after no more than a minute of the halting monologue.

“He used to say it all the time. That I was useless, or that all I had was my body.”

Aizawa's eyes were too dry to stare the way he was, but he couldn't leave the whorl of stilted emotions locking up Toshinori's face. His voice trembled slightly, and he cleared his throat again, pressing at his own mouth with the tips of his fingers. Like he shouldn't have said it.

“And I suppose it … followed me.”

Shouta thought. His first reaction, perhaps the expected reaction from anyone with a sense of empathy, was that it was a horrible thing to say. But that wasn't all.

Trying to train a hero was rarely sunshine all the time. There were hard truths to face, to teach children that they couldn't hide in their strengths or ignore their weaknesses, but address both. To send a child out into the field with anything less was a death sentence even as the odds were already stacked against them.

“Ah,” Toshinori's voice was soft next to him, the slightest bit appraising. “I can see I've caught you, Sensei.”

Meeting the older hero's eyes briefly, Shouta wet his lips, frowning and weighing his next words carefully. Very carefully.

“If that was your core strength, then it makes sense to develop it, ” he said slowly, then looked up at him in earnest. “But it shouldn't be to the exclusion of all else. There should be a balance of other encouragement, and efforts to build a cohesive skillset, so it doesn't lead to hyperfocus and counterproductive pressure on that one skill. It's damaging, to wrap a developing child's identity so tightly to one thing. It ensures failure … or at least disillusionment, in the long term.”

That much was obvious, and a regrettably picture-perfect study of it was sitting a foot away from him, biting his lip as if he didn't want to believe it. Toshinori – All Might – had been his body for so long, that part of Shouta was surprised he was still surviving beside him, withered in his voluminous clothes with his big hands clasped in his lap. But Toshinori just shrugged, looking up at the ceiling of the UA staffroom.

“My teacher … wasn't a teacher, really,” he said pensively. “He was a good man put in a hard position. Looking back, he went above and beyond, changing much of his life to fit the task of training me to be a hero. He tried his best. Of that, I'm positive.”

There was something in the other man's voice that implied that was all there was to it – that it was allowed to sit in the past without comment.

“And I'm positive you had more than just your body,” Aizawa said firmly, almost sternly.

“Ah, do you think?” Toshinori chuckled, rubbing at the back of his neck. Shy, if battered. “I'm not sure. I was a pretty useless kid at the time, and slow to learn.”

Aizawa didn't like Toshinori using the same word – useless – as his master, and didn't know how to put that into words. Strangely enough, he also didn't know how to say it in a civilian space: Hearing that, something fierce and stern rose in him that he only let out in the dark, under the creaking sound of his capture weapon tightening. The feeling was unbelievably strong and staggeringly new in the same breath as the push of it was familiar. Is this what Midnight felt, whenever he shit-talked himself?

So, instead of facing that bit of weirdness down, Aizawa distracted Toshinori. Catered to him.

“They say a pretty face gets more work done, at the very least,” he said dryly, making sure to smile.

He could say so much, even as he knew practically nothing.

Aizawa didn't know how much the older hero's journey had cost him and taught him, although the scar on his side gave him an idea of the scale, but there was something golden and giving about Yagi Toshinori that came from the depths of his center. Something he was born with, that he must have always had – the only thing, really, that made his body a worthy vessel for the kind of peace he represented. A feeling, a hope that Aizawa was just beginning to understand, which he visualized as the irrepressible heat of the man's hands hovering above his bare skin.

But Shouta dispensed with any thoughts of cryptic talk when Toshinori bent with a big laugh, wild and sudden. Snipe and Blood King kicked each other on the couch, the latter jerking awake with wide, glazed eyes and a snort.

“A pretty face! Aizawa-kun, are you flattering me?” he exclaimed, then winked. “Too bad so much has changed from those days, no wonder I'm having so much trouble keeping up with my academic workload! It all makes sense now!”

Aizawa elbowed him low on his hip.

“Shut up. Self-deprecation is a lazy and flawed style of relating that leaves others uncomfortable, and in the position of assuring.”

And I don't have the energy for such a task, went unspoken. But Toshinori wasn't done.

“As though you aren't a master of the art? Besides, it's all that I have left sometimes,” he said with a faint sigh.

“You have plenty left,” Aizawa snapped.

It was all too late: Toshinori realized he had tripped a wire about the same time that Aizawa realized he had a wire. The younger hero turned away, body suddenly stiff. Shit.

Aizawa felt suddenly, painfully adrift, in new territory because of some weird sideways thing he had implied about what, exactly, Toshinori had and he didn't know enough to back into or out of it, so he just sat there, ears burning. Not knowing what he'd said, much less what Toshinori had heard.

“I'm s–” Toshinori started to say, and stopped.

The enormous hero bit his lip, looking very chastised, and it took Aizawa a second to realize why even as the irritated automatic bit of discipline – don't fucking apologize – was already on his lips. Then Aizawa snorted. Laughed, actually laughed. They were pre-predicting each other with unnerving accuracy.

He'd been working with Shinsou too much. Scolding came to him as easily as breathing. He needed a vacation. Or just 72 hours of uninterrupted sleep and some head.

“You're ridiculous,” Aizawa said into his hand after a moment. His voice was awfully soft, but he told himself it was just exhaustion.

We're ridiculous, maybe he meant to say, but he had always been so bad at plural pronouns in his life. And he certainly wasn't supposed to be using them here, with this man, the same way he wasn't supposed to be angry and cut to hear him speaking disrespectfully about himself. Annoyed, yes. Stricken, offended? No.

Not part of the fucking deal.

“I know,” Toshinori said meekly but honestly, tugging at one of his bangs with a dopey quirk of his mouth. He glanced over, under his pale lashes. “I'll admit, I like hearing you laugh. Maybe that's why I was trying to be funny.”

“Don't try,” Aizawa said, lying to himself about how fond it sounded. He got up with a low groan and patted him on the back like they were coworkers. “Just get something to eat. You look pale.”

“Yes, Recovery Girl-sama,” he said dutifully, so playful that it made all kinds of feelings stir. Confetti feelings.

“Shut up,” Aizawa said for the fiftieth time that day, wondering why everyone around him needed to hear it. Toshinori chuckling was a very nice sound, deep and warm. It followed him out of the staffroom and into the slanting squares of sunlight in the hallway and he didn't realize he was smiling until he caught his own reflection in the long windows, almost unrecognizable for his shaved mug and easy expression. He blinked at himself, then snagged a jelly pack out of his belt and moved on to class.

All things considered, Toshinori had certainly won this round. Aizawa didn't really mind.

Chapter Text

Looking over at him, frozen by the station coffee machine in the last few moments of indecision, Naomasa had to think: Of all the surrealist qualities that long-ago night had taken on in his mind, the weirdest thing about the Triumvirate bust was how normaform suspect #14 just fell asleep in the station's hold tank after decking Nakamura for the sake of some sunglasses. He had fallen asleep sitting up, out like a light with his jacket over his eyes, while the rest of his mates were scuffling nervously and kicking at the bars and being vile and cagey and yelling that they'd done nothing wrong, that they couldn't be held for something like this.

Naomasa knew the infamous “guilt sleep” that followed confessions intimately, but this wasn't it. If only they'd been so lucky. He was just … asleep. It seemed an impossibly cool bit of behavior for someone facing such intense criminal charges, even if it turned out the thugs were right and they would be back on the streets in under two hours. But, looking back … maybe it was a relief for Aizawa Shouta, to finally be captured. Because if just for a moment, after so long in the lion's den, he was in a place he knew was safe. So he was able to let go and finally rest.

“Excuse me … Eraserhead?”

Aizawa turned at his working moniker, but only enough to look the approaching detective up and down. The underground hero was dressed in a worn black jumpsuit, as tall as Naomasa himself but slouching slightly, with his capture weapon piled atop his shoulders and a clipboard in his hands. Those sharp, dark eyes from the mugshot clicked instantly despite the tangle of black hair framing Aizawa's unshaven face, narrowed somewhere between wariness and impatience. He was still catching up on that elusive rest, if the bruise-like circles under his eyes were any indication.

Crossing the scuffed station floor, Naomasa smiled and put offered his hand out of little more than rote politeness, or maybe to buy time as he figured out what to do with this strange, scruffy man staring at him like he was a bug on a windshield.

"Yes?" Aizawa said curtly when the other man came to a stop, glancing down at the offered hand. The smile crumbled on Naomasa's face, warping into a grimace under the pressure of the hero's unrelenting gaze. He dropped his hand.

Did he stare at his students like that? Homeroom at UA probably wasn't a very boisterous place, with him at the helm. Naomasa had very fond memories of pranking and general well-natured disobedience in his own homeroom, but that was clearly not in the cards for Eraserhead's class.

And this was the man Toshinori was teaching alongside?

"I, uh," Naomasa began brightly, having no idea where he hoped to end up. If he had any illusions about even mentioning the hero's work undercover, they were thoroughly vaporized now. Best stick to street worthy subjects and avoid the incident at USJ, too, just to be careful. Naomasa cleared his throat, absently straightening his tie like it would order his thoughts.

"Ah, I've seen you around the station during night shift, but I've never gotten a chance to introduce myself. I'm Tsukauchi Naomasa."

"You're the lead detective in the Quirk crimes division,” Eraserhead responded without missing a beat, little more than a mumble behind the coils of his capture weapon. He resumed scratching away at the clipboard. "It would be in your best interests if I got these forms filed quickly, then."

Naomasa blinked. How did someone manage to excuse themselves from a conversation so quickly? Within a sentence? Eraserhead elevated efficiency to a level of brutality, precise as the captures he executed and left for Naomasa's crew to wrap up in the early hours of the morning before shift end.

"I'll, uh, leave you to your filing, by all means," Naomasa said as pleasantly as he could, drawing honestly on his never-ending desire for less paperwork mishaps. "I just wanted to say, I've seen you in the rosters on my beat for years now, and always appreciate your clean work, but I don't think I connected the face to the name. Also, I didn't know we shared a mutual acquaintance."

"Not surprising, considering our poor choice in careers."

And that was it. Eraserhead simply shuffled through his papers with lidded eyes as if he didn't exist, effectively shutting down the exchange into silence once again. Naomasa's mouth thinned, pricked with a rare frustration. No room for subtlety, here.

"It's less our poor choices and more a recent vocational change for a friend of ours,” he said lightly, holstering his hands in the pockets of his trench-coat and pausing just for effect. "I'm not sure how much contact the two of you get at UA, but you'll be pleased to hear that All Might speaks well of you."

That got him a look. A sharp look. Then, more scribbling.

"It's a habit of his, regardless of the person in question."

Dismissed again. So, Naomasa pushed a little further and dug in, now that he was sure this man would give him absolutely nothing unprompted. This conversation was going to happen.

"You're right, I guess. He is unerringly positive, like it's his job. Beyond all his other jobs, I mean, and I don't think I could list them if I tried! It's difficult, really being friends with someone like him," he mused in low tones, trying to sound especially meaningful since he was well-informed on the basic nature of their relationship. Maybe tempt Eraserhead into some eye contact. "There's a lot to consider."

"Worthwhile things are often difficult." Eraserhead finally turned to face him, and Naomasa instantly regretted his wish. "Do you have something you'd like to say?"

Aside from what he was already saying? Naomasa's brow furrowed and he opened his mouth, but didn't get to speak before Eraserhead cut him off again in his deep, perpetually bored voice.

"As much as I'm enjoying your dominance display, I like to leave as little as possible to subtext concerning a coworker as public as All Might. Anything else is irresponsible, so please speak plainly so we can get on with our night."

"What? Oh. I'm." Naomasa found himself smiling again through sheer confusion. “...What?”

A few thoughts passed the whited-out screen of the detective's mind, scrambled as it was by the alarmed static: What are you implying, when a moment ago you were being so difficult? What can I say to such a thing? We're in the same line of business. I'm not a reporter pressing you for off-color details, and I'm not trying to be 'dominant' – or maybe he was. Was he?

Maybe his entire approach was coming off as overbearing, with as little as he'd seen Toshinori lately and how strangely protective he had become over the older hero, who most would think could take care of himself. Therein lay the problem. The opposite was brutally true, and that's why there was so much to say while the vast majority of it simply couldn't be spoken aloud, because of who they were talking about. Because of everything Toshinori had to hide, which was everything he had trusted them with.

The weight of his care and his responsibility abruptly blocked Naomasa's throat, his chest tightening. Staring down the only other friend – contact, companion, co-teacher – he'd known Toshinori to have, where did he start? Aizawa-san, he wanted to say, Toshinori respects you so much and he has two paths in front of him. Which are you leading him down? Are you helping him retire early or letting him die early? Do I need to tell you how often he skips meals? Do I need to tell you how thin the veneer on his bravado, how delicate his skin?

I don't know you, but do I need to plead with you to help me help him stop throwing himself into the fire?

All of the questions and concerns and urgency swarmed the young detective, the intensity of his worry previously hidden under work stress and a dozen other things, and Naomasa barely stopped himself before it boiled over. Here he was, expecting to get through an entirely forced conversation, with a stranger, on subtext alone when he really had so many things to say. The detective gave a crooked, overwhelmed smile and recalibrated as best he could. Starting over.

"I'm sorry if I broadcasted anything strange, Eraserhead,” he said with a faint chuckle, shaking his head. He sighed. “It's been a long night, I hope you'll understand. I was just going to say ... I've acted as All Might's police contact for the past five years, so we've gotten to know each other relatively well.”

He took a moment to gesture at the midtown station, which was bustling around them even at 3 am.

“I've seen him day in and day out, through crisis and quiet, and ... Well, I'm sure it won't surprise you that even the Number One Hero has bad days. Now that I'm seeing less of him because he's teaching at UA, I wonder about him, as a friend and coworker. It seems ridiculous, to worry about someone like him ... But I do."

A quick glance confirmed: Eraserhead was watching him, now. Listening. He made sure to make it worthwhile. Naomasa drew a heavy breath, palming the back of his neck and glancing around at the scattered nightshift staff running between desks and stooped over files. The stressed halogens flickered above them, whining ever-so-slightly above the murmur of conversation swilling around the large room.

"Life isn't just strength, or hero work, and even when it is, well … it's complicated,” Naomasa continued quietly, holding the underground hero's gaze with all the earnestness he could muster. "And if you'll let me speak plainly, I hope that you're the kind of person to see why I worry about him."

There was an answering pause, but not too long. Naomasa could see the other man thinking noticeably for the first time, not rushing to answer or shrug him off in favor of a speedy exit.

"All Might attracts high caliber people, in my limited experience," Eraserhead mumbled at last. "I may not rank so high, but I do my part among UA staff to keep him away from deep gorges and open flames and stupid situations that could interfere with his new responsibilities. If that's what your question is."

Naomasa was staring without restraint, caught on what could have been a sideways compliment, when Eraserhead continued in that perfectly bored tone, flipping his completed paperwork off of the clipboard and folding it with deft, scarred hands.

"At UA, we protect our own as much as circumstances allow, and our staff is aware of All Might and in what ... forms he may need assistance."

With that, Eraserhead stared back, blinking slowly at him. Waiting for him to get it.

So much for subtext. He did know. They all knew, and they were accounting for it. Naomasa almost deflated with relief, suspended only by the other man's clever wordplay, dense and indecipherable to anyone who didn't know that the towering, skeletal Yagi Toshinori and Japan's shining hero were one and the same – and struggling, between mouthfuls of blood, to bridge the gap between them.

Appreciation, refreshing and sharp, split Naomasa's tight chest. Maybe UA was the place for Toshinori, after all.

"Is there anything else you needed, Detective? Two coworkers of mine may be filing for me in the near future, so I was just dropping by to fill out the necessary permissions," Eraserhead said with a wave of the folded document, easy and routine like they hadn't just had a conversation around protecting the Symbol of Peace – someone who could never be seen as needing protection in the eye of the public.

Battered as he was by the unexpected turn of conversation, Naomasa couldn't help but laugh, the sound bubbling up and out of him in a clash of relief and off-kilter amusement. He waved his hands, taking a step back.

"Carry on, by all means! Anytime I see your name on the roster, I feel safer knowing you're on duty, Eraser-san, and I suppose that goes double now. Thank you," the Detective said with a bow of his head. His spirits felt considerably buoyed, more than enough to smile over his shoulder and tip his hat as he finished:

"… for protecting the peace, that is."

And so, with his own little bit of wordplay, he left Eraserhead to the quicksand of bureaucracy, thoroughly exhausted but glad he'd had the time and audacity to push through such a strange exchange with such a strange man. The knowledge that Toshinori was being watched out for at his new job took an immense pressure off the detective's chest, even as it made him think about gloomy, exacting Eraserhead and what part the other hero played in that.

Despite the little glimmer of humanity at the end, Naomasa had to think: This man was Toshinori's new friend? Toshinori – bumbling, overeager, crushingly sensitive Toshinori – was close with this stubborn, chilly man with a penchant for spicy food? This, according to Naomasa's Quirk, relentlessly truthful man? Toshinori had a strained relationship with truth on a good day ... He couldn't imagine what they got up to, with as alternatively talkative and shy as his friend was. Did they just stare at each other, or was Toshinori's desperation for connections driving him to make odd friends?

"Hey."

Naomasa turned back when he heard that voice again, jolted out of his rambling thoughts as Eraserhead walked up and drew even with him. He froze, waiting but by no means ready, as the underground hero seemed to intently scan his face with those tired eyes for a split second before tilting his head, sighing deeply.

"Sorry," the hero mumbled, looking askance when Naomasa just stared back. "About your friend's nose."

And with that, Aizawa Shouta was gone, trudging away and out of the station door with one hand dug into his dark tangle of hair.

Naomasa didn't move for a few seconds, thoroughly stuck in place for the second time that night as his world was moderately rocked. The night of the bust clicked into place again, dizzyingly relevant, and after a second the Detective looked down and put a hand to his chin. Wondering.

It had been a pretty good hit, that night. Just short of swiping his coworker's nose clean off his face, if he remembered correctly. Luckily, Nakamura had another to spare, so it wasn't so bad. Maybe that's why Eraser chose him ... his odd brand of consideration, as it were. Naomasa smiled suddenly and made his way back to work, finding himself whistling as he settled down to his desk and his files and another sunrise retreat home with a feeling of considerable accomplishment.

As he told Toshinori, friends were always good. This one? This one might be better than most, unexpected as Eraserhead was, and that was saying something for a man who deserved the absolute best in life.

 


  

Getting up early was a lifelong habit of Toshinori's and always would be, despite his turbulent relationship with sleep.

Recently, he roused himself extra early to accompany Aizawa and Shinsou at the track, but that morning still found him walking the campus green before sunrise, breathing deeply of the chill air and enjoying the quiet of his old schoolyard before it filled with shrieking, yammering heroes-in-training. Such easy, introspective wandering was a welcome change from the beginning of the school year, when the veteran hero would wake again and again in the small hours of the morning and hectically flip through his lecture notes as he paced his apartment, lethally disordering them in the process.

It was better, now. Many things were better now and so, whether it was his meager but growing experience with teaching or another kind of relaxation, Toshinori found himself perfectly happy to spend his morning seated on a woven mat in the dew-laden grass with yet another teaching book on his knee. He had taken the time to stretch that morning, too, so he eased his long legs as close to the ground as he could, knees still a little tight from his unexpected sparring session with Aizawa the other day.

He was very busy thinking about that – all of it, and hiding a tiny grin in his hand as a result – when a shadow fell over him. Toshinori looked up, knowing it had to be one of three people even before he saw the flyaway hair framed against the diffuse yellow glow of the cloudy morning. He closed his book.

“Heya, Yagi-san.”

“Good morning, young Shinsou! No training today?” Toshinori asked as brightly as he could despite – or, perhaps, because of – the boy’s dour expression and downturned face. One job of a hero was to smile when others couldn't, right? Shinsou kicked the wet grass, but did so away from his mat, heaving a guttural, dramatic sigh that bent his whole body.

“I gotta take breaks,” he muttered, crossing his arms. One of them was bandaged rather extensively and two of his fingers were stinted. “I guess.”

“Aizawa-sensei knows what he’s doing, I’m sure,” Toshinori said mildly. Then, as the child continued to stand, staring forlornly at his wet sneakers and the bits of grass smeared across them and rubbing his toes against the ground only to accumulate more, Toshinori patted the woven mat next to him.

“First bell is still a while off. Would you care to sit?”

“Yeah, sorta, I’m just …” Shinsou shook his head and, looking askance, yanked fitfully at the strap to his tattered backpack. He sighed again, but far more quietly. “Yagi-san, could you maybe help me with my homework?”

Toshinori blinked up at him, taken aback by the civilian (or supremely parental) request. The boy looked embarrassed, but mostly tired. There was something about the deep set of his strangely colored eyes that made Shinsou look like he was gazing out from the opposite end of a long tunnel, distant and disappointed, and Toshinori answered before he even considered if he could actually be of help:

“Of course, my boy! Take a seat and let's see what we can figure out.”

Even as Shinsou kicked off his shoes and flopped down next to him, the older hero’s grin calcified unpleasantly: homework! What did he know about algebra and social studies and other high school necessities? The only thing that could make Toshinori panic more was a request for romantic advice, which he was incredibly certain would be forthcoming with young Midoriya someday soon, and he dreaded it every waking moment of his existence.

Seated, Shinsou fumbled his bag off his shoulder and dumped it in front of them, half of the contents sloughing out. Everything was grubby at the edges, most papers bent in two and relentlessly dog-eared. Not a very organized soul. Probably what Aizawa would be, Toshinori thought with a wry sparkle of mirth, if he hadn’t trimmed his life of any trinkets or other excess through sheer exhaustion. It was easy to see the parallels, even without what he knew of Aizawa's darkest days, so it was no wonder the child managed to get under his unofficial mentor's skin so easily.

At that thought, Toshinori made a mental note to check in on Aizawa again. Just in case, because it was important even if Aizawa didn't necessarily welcome it. Because Aizawa and his health was important.

When Shinsou finally located, flattened out and presented the homework in question, Toshinori breathed a silent sigh of relief: It was a worksheet of English, half filled. He actually knew a fair amount, but he also wasn’t about to interfere with the flow of the first year’s learning process. The key was asking questions that made Shinsou think a little further wherever he was hitting a wall, addressing or circumventing any weakness in skill, which Toshinori was coming to realize was a grander part of teaching: letting the students know what they didn’t know while reminding them of what they did.

So the two prodded along on their little woven island on the green, lapsing into periods where Shinsou would scribble intently, his deep frown slowly easing. It was an hour before class and Shinsou was on campus, yet he didn't have training, which made Toshinori wonder if he'd woken and wandered from nothing more than nerves. He knew the feeling. The boy was probably having a hard time keeping up with both Aizawa’s expectations and the General Studies course, and Toshinori tried not to consider how much of that was by design, to test his mettle. His want.

Serious thoughts aside, Toshinori found himself chuckling as they worked through the assignment. It seemed Yamada-san taught General Studies English as well as Hero Course English, and his translation examples were … amusing, to say the least. Toshinori read along in the coursework with a faint smile, but that smile was quick to drop as the older hero read on and began to put some things together.

“What is all this?” he asked, gesturing to the worksheet – particularly, the stiffly inked cartoon animals arranged at the top of the page, which looked like they had been photocopied to death.

“English?” the boy said, blinking up at him sleepily.

“No, the little characters. The stories. It seems … very involved.”

“Oh, you mean the animals. That’s Grumpy Cat. Tall Bunny. Cool Bird. Sassy Wolf,” Shinsou listed, pointing to each in turn and pronouncing their English names with only slight hesitation. “Grumpy Cat, Sassy Wolf and Cool Bird are best friends even though they’re really different. They all go on adventures together. Tall Bunny is new and he’s really shy, but he’s okay. Other animals come by, too.”

Toshinori swallowed audibly.

Grumpy Cat was little more than a pair of nastily narrowed eyes in a black whiskered face, and, to his rising horror, had a crescent-shaped scar under its left eye. Sassy Wolf had dark spiky fur, a saucy grin and very distinctive red glasses. Cool Bird had flashy sunglasses and big headphones and looked to be screaming or yelling in glee.

Tall Bunny had … Well, Tall Bunny was very tall, and was carrying a frilly handkerchief. He didn’t look well, even as bunnies went, and there was something about the forward droop of his long wrinkled ears that made Toshinori very nervous.

“Yamada-sensei draws them all on the board, and we have to translate what they’re saying to figure out the story. Whoever figures it out first, or does the best impressions in class when its time to read it aloud, gets candy.”

Requesting that he continue to talk about it in English, to test him, Toshinori fairly sank into the ground, aghast, as Shinsou continued to explain the general disaster that was his English class, halting every so often to parse verbs and tenses.

“[It’s a cool way to learn vocabulary without reading textbooks. So, Cool Bird is a … music star, rockstar, and sometimes bad things happen in his shows. Like, one time a storm blew away all his instruments, and he cried for a long time. But then his friends sold cookies and used the money to buy him new stuff. Sometimes they fight over stuff, problems, but they’re all friends and help each other out, no matter what happens.]”

“And … Grumpy Cat? In English as well, please,” Toshinori added hurriedly, like he was a normal school employee asking after normal things.

“[Grumpy Cat is my favorite. All he wants to do is sleep all the time,]” Shinsou said with a cockeyed grin, looking over. “[He’s mean but nice? I don’t know the word in English.] Tsundere, though, you know. [Yamada-sensei always says he’s “no fun, no sir.” We all say it, like a chant. Like Cool Bird is “too cool, ya dig?”]”

Shinsou shrugged, staring down at the rumpled-up paper with his lip tucked between his teeth.

“I dunno. It’s a fun class. Better than modern literature, anyway.”

Beside him, Toshinori buried his head in his hands and stifled a cough that threatened to rip him in two through sheer disbelief. Eerie and inappropriate similarities of his characters aside, Yamada might be ruining an entire generation of children through his constant need of verbal feedback. Not to mention giving them wildly inappropriate expectations of interjections in English speaking countries.

Did he dole out candy so indiscriminately to the Hero Studies children as well? It would explain so much …

“[But Grumpy Cat hasn’t been around lately. He’s sneaking off and all the other animals wonders –]”

“[Are wondering,]” Toshinori corrected him stiffly, automatic. “Or wonder. Third person plural, if you’re still speaking in the present.”

“Present progressive,” Shinsou muttered after a moment of thought. “[All the animals … are wondering where he is.] Is that right?”

But Toshinori hardly heard him, right or wrong, over the din of panic in his own head as his worst fears were confirmed. A diary. Yamada-san was basically keeping a diary, and having his students translate it. Oh, no.

Oh, no, no, Yamada-san, no.

Toshinori's mind raced. Did Kayama-san know about this? Did Aizawa?

“I think Grumpy Cat is dating someone and doesn't want anyone to know,” Shinsou continued in a mumble, possibly so Toshinori wouldn't notice he had dropped out of speaking English. “Or that's what Yamada-sensei keeps hinting. We're allowed to submit story ideas so that's what I'm gonna put in the Ask Box next week.”

Toshinori hummed to show he heard and allowed Shinsou to return to the actual translation work for a moment, wondering how on Earth to approach any of it … or if he should. The dating bit he was ignoring with every fiber of his being, but he absolutely had to know if Yamada's antics were common knowledge among the staff.

“Have you ... ever shown your English homework to Aizawa-sensei?” was what he came up with, trying to sound curious instead of uncommonly terrified.

“No. Why?” Shinsou asked, squinting.

“Just wondering! Since Aizawa-sensei is your mentor now, I'm, ah, very flattered that you ch-chose me to help you with it, it makes me feel special,” Toshinori blurted out, not entirely a lie. It meant something, to have one of their young students seek him out and trust him when he looked like this, and it was a new feeling. Beside him, Shinsou grinned.

“Well, yeah. Only someone like you could put up with Aizawa-sensei like you do,” he drawled, then tilted his head as if trying to peek under the veteran hero's bangs, which he was determinedly hiding behind. “Um, so, are you still okay helping me with this last page? You look kinda ...”

“No, no, no of course,” Toshinori assured him, clearing his throat and sweeping his bangs back with a firm hand and a spare clip, as if dedicating himself to a perfectly ordinary tutoring session with no more strangeness. “Please, let's continue and see if, er ... Tall Bunny will ever find his lost handkerchief.”

He should have known better than to hope for quiet and calm, with this particular child.

“What's your Quirk?” Shinsou asked suddenly when they were halfway through the back page, turning that blunt, searching gaze on him without an ounce of guile. “Is it, like, how tall you are?”

Toshinori startled, and hard. He reflexively covered his mouth with a hand as his throat tightened harshly and his skin prickled, cold and caught and a little afraid. A flood of options and half-lies and anxieties momentarily incapacitated him, and he had to look away from Shinsou's unblinking gaze.

He had to think. How many versions of himself existed, now?

Yagi Toshinori the secretary, Yagi-senpai and Yagi-san, Toshinori, All Might. Toshi, even. There was so much that this young man didn't know ... that even Aizawa didn't know, and had to know one day as Midoriya's teacher, and he dreaded that reckoning with every bit of himself. Nervously plucking his bangs out of their clips, Toshinori tried to think up a fitting half-lie as he parsed the hall of mirrors that was his life, but the more he thought, the more there was a simple answer underneath it all: honesty.

As horribly hard as it was, honesty.

“Actually ...” Toshinori breathed out shakily, making himself smile. “I don't have a Quirk.”

“Huh?” Shinsou blinked hard, looking awake for the first time since he sat down. “You don't?”

Toshinori shook his head.

“I was born Quirkless.”

“I don't think I know anyone who doesn't have a Quirk.” Shinsou's pale eyes scanned him, as if looking for a deficiency that he hadn't seen before. A missing limb. A gaping hole, hidden by clothing or assumptions. Toshinori felt the prying acutely, stinging like a brand on the scar swallowing his side, but more so he felt the new tension in the young man. The sudden, crushing concern.

“Were you ...”

“I was teased,” Toshinori said with a nod. He tugged at his bangs, a fretful gesture so old it startled him momentarily. It brought back memories of starched school uniforms and the overwhelming smell of cleaner filling his empty classroom as the sun set and he stayed behind, pushing the mop.

“Back in my day it wasn't so extraordinary, to be Quirkless, but I still had a hard time finding my place. I felt alone much of the time. Left out, or left behind.”

“That sucks,” Shinsou snorted, eyes stormy. Like the boy was angry on his behalf, and bitterly so.

Abruptly, Toshinori felt the familiar pull of that deep, dark well of unspoken suffering that so often laid the groundwork for the best among them. The knowledge of exclusion, pain … the sheer strength of the desire to protect others, knowing what was on the other side of a failure to do so, that nothing could quite imitate in terms of moral drive. It was that vital empathy which brought heroism from a profession of violence to a passionate calling of protection.

A hero with a smile, who transformed helplessness into hope. The heartbeat of One for All.

It was that same brilliant, ever-questing something he had sensed in Midoriya, that led him to entrust his legacy to the boy, but it left Toshinori wondering: Why was pain so often a prerequisite for responsible heroism? It hurt his tired heart, to know people this young were in such pain. It even made his hope in humans waver, for just a moment, because suffering like this was not a villain's doing. Only people could hurt people like this, and yet only people could heal that hurt.

“It was hard,” he agreed, hearing his own voice as if from a long way away off. “But I always had heroes to look up to.”

“What were they like back then?” Shinsou asked and Toshinori glanced over, startled either by the question or the sheer couching of time. “Pro heroes, I mean. I know things were different back then, with a lot of really bad villains, so … What were they like?”

Like a hand raised to stop a howling storm, Toshinori briefly tried not to see her, but she came anyway: dark hair, clever eyes, blinding smile. Her hot hand hard against his back, like she would never let him get knocked down, and her brazen laugh and sculpted arms above the flare of her dirty white gloves. It was almost like she wore white, an impractical and high-maintenance color, just to emphasize the brutal hands-on nature of heroism.

She was never spotless, never perfect, but she never stopped fighting, just like she taught him. Never.

Toshinori's enormous hand, previously wandering around his twinging knee, came to rest on his heart. The beat underneath felt distant, but something familiar and sweet and, yet, far too faint still whispered in his bones. Taking a deep, shuddering breath, the aging hero reached down and pulled at the embers of One for All, out of nothing more than dark curiosity, and clearly felt how weak the response was, how reluctant and spent.

It was almost gone. Almost entirely gone, but he would remain after the last of the light had gone out of this poor vessel, it's duty done. As she would remain, but this time in Midoriya.

They all would, to make him the greatest there had ever been.

“Yagi-san?” came Shinsou's voice, high and hesitant.

“Ah, s-sorry. Yes, heroes.”

Heart beating wildly in his dented chest, Toshinori ducked his head and cleared his throat, dragging himself away from the grey space he knew stretched out ahead of him. His end, foretold.

“I guess … heroes were much like today, I think, with names and costumes, even though it wasn't quite such a business back then,” he said quietly, chewing at his lip. Thinking. Then he smiled a little, because as long as Yagi-san, the Quirkless civilian, was being honest ...

“I even got to meet one. My favorite hero of all time.”

“Oh yeah?” Shinsou prompted, rustling around on the mat and rearranging his legs criss-cross style. Like it was story time, and perhaps it was.

“Yes. I was walking, on the way to school … I was young, a little younger than you, and it was almost summer,” Toshinori recounted quietly, part of him phasing back to that sunny day with a technicolor effortlessness that should have frightened him.

The memory was so clear. He saw the flop of his shoelaces, the cracks in the sidewalk and felt the close, sweaty weight of his backpack pulling at his shoulders. Heard the drone of the multitudinous TV screens in the department store window, expanding on the latest wave of crime to hit the city, sowing panic and fear. Felt the same frustration and veiled, selfish helplessness he always did, hearing about the kinds of suffering inflicted by villains and knowing he could do nothing – less than nothing – to stop it. Maybe become a police officer, but that was it. His future was as bleak and monotonous as the concrete beneath his sneakers, so on he walked.

Then, the sudden, earsplitting blare of a horn and a shower of sparks.

“There was a bus, and something must have happened. Something with the breaks. It was going very fast and there was a man caught in the road. I looked up and saw it and I was right there, so I jumped.”

“You jumped? You're Quirkless!”

“It wasn't like that,” he laughed at the accusation in the boy's voice. “I saw it happening and my body ... moved before I had a chance to think. So I pushed him out of the way.”

“And then what happened?”

The answer was simple: her.

As if through a blurry lens, Toshinori remembered the screech of tires and someone screaming far away. The staggering impact of his shoulder against the man's chest seemed to blank everything else out, his numb fingers wrenched into the scratchy suit jacket as they flew, a weightless tangle of limbs silhouetted in the flash of the sun bouncing off the side of the bus. He couldn't breathe, couldn't think, but simply braced for the impact as best he could, which wouldn't be enough.

When it came, it wasn't an obliterating crash of metal and glass, but white leather gloves and a shout and an impossible acceleration. It was her. Her, tumbling to a halt with her strong arms clutching them both effortlessly. Her, sending the poor businessman off with a wave and rounding on him with a brusque whip of her cape where he knelt on the chill alleyway concrete, coughing and spitting and shaking from shock.

She was furious. She didn't have to be, but she was, because that's who she was. Because she wanted him to be safe. She wanted everyone to be safe.

Geez, kiddo, you could have been toast! What were you thinking, jumping like that?

I … I'm sorry, I ...

His hands shaking at his sides, his eyes wide. Pulling in breath after breath as his skin burned cold. Realizing.

I wasn't.

It was her, and the way she looked at him that day. The first day of the rest of his life.

“Wow,” Shinsou said beside him, heavy and overwhelmed and pulling Toshinori gently back into the present. To green grass and a rising sun. Then the boy glared up at him. “That was stupid of you. You're lucky she was there.”

“Yes, I was,” he agreed, coughing slightly and taking a moment to clear his throat. “I was very lucky, but that's why she was my favorite, you see, because she was around like that. She wasn't very well-known at the time, and to me, being a hero was never about doing flashy things or conquering villains. Of course, that comes with the territory, but a hero's job is to make life safer … both by conquering the bad and by encouraging the things that make a society truly good.”

“We talk about that sometimes, in Civics, but I never really got it. How are you supposed to do both of those at the same time?” Shinsou asked, cheek pillowed on his hand. In front of him, his worksheet lay completely forgotten, but Toshinori saw the opportunity for a greater kind of education in that moment and his stapled, re-wired gut only jumped once at the burden of explaining such an important thing to such a vulnerable pupil.

He was no teacher … but his lived experience had to count for something, surely. Sooner or later, he would be little more than stories, so he should get used to sharing them. So that others could learn.

“Part of being a hero is inspiring hope and easing suffering,” he began, clearing his throat.

He chose his words as carefully as he could with his heart pounding the way it was, with this wide-eyed child looking to him for some snippet of truth. Why Shinsou should keep fighting for others, and how, while having no idea who he was actually talking to.

For the first time, the anonymity lent Toshinori a kind of comfort.

“I think of it that way, anyway, because cowardly behaviors like bullying can't survive in a truly heroic society where everyone knows their own power. True heroes give hope that even the weakest among us still have worth and deserve to be protected, because they are human. That's what it means to be a symbol of peace, because true peace is not only the quiet of safety, but harmony and growth. Understanding. Equality and empathy, and the realization that a blow to one of us is a blow to all of us.”

“Like All Might.”

Toshinori glanced over, trying not to let the sunburst of panic show in his gaunt face. Shinsou just blinked up at him, a little confused.

“Um, you said Symbol of Peace. That's what they used to call him, right? Because things were really bad before he showed up. And then he fixed it.” Shinsou grinned. “He's the coolest.”

Toshinori had to close his eyes, something aching. Actually, it was hard to find something in him that didn't ache at that moment.

“All heroes are symbols of peace, ideally. Heroes bring out the best in a people and show that true strength isn't really defeating evil, but resisting fear and championing those things that make society wonderful. Because if we live well and take care of each other, maybe there won't be any more reasons to turn to villainy.”

The silence of the green was impenetrable as the wall around UA, erasing the chaos and poverty and crime that so many pro heroes didn't understand even as they knocked down victims of it every day. The shadow of All for One still haunted the world and Shigaraki was a troubling call to action for those among with with dark intentions, but true villainy was rare in this day and age when compared to circumstantial violence or anger gone unchecked and unhealed. The lauded pro hero industry didn't exist in a bubble and, in a way, it made Toshinori hope for a future without so many heroes. A world without UA.

But as they sat, the world outside began to filter through: Cars rolled across the wet pavement and students of all shapes and sizes and colors clambered out and strode towards those shining halls, bringing with them everything, good and bad, that they had learned from the world they had dedicated themselves to saving.

Now, today, Toshinori knew that Uraraka's family struggled with money. He knew that Midoriya's ever-striving heart labored under the weight of a lifetime of bullying and flinching and constant fear for something he could never help, much as he had. He knew that the Todorokis were not the model family everyone believed and there was a haunting wariness in young Shouto's eyes that could not be explained away by strictness alone. He knew there was a horrible reason the staid boy reacted so quickly to sharp movements, to physical closeness – and why it was always to pull away.

Toshinori knew these things, in the same breath he knew those same children who had suffered them possessed unimaginable strength, heart, and would not tolerate that suffering in others. Now, today, he believed they could make a world without that kind of pain, or at least begin the process. He believed in them without hesitation, in every way, and would gladly give the last of himself to help them realize their own power, because the world was theirs now.

And, thinking that, Toshinori felt safer than he had in a long time.

“Anyway. That's what I think,” he said, hiding his face behind his hair with one hand to his neck, perhaps to hide the tremble of it. Beside him, Shinsou turned his face to the clearing sky, where brilliant swaths of blue were beginning to break through the warm morning haze.

“Maybe that's why All Might smiles all the time,” he said after a moment. “Even when he's beating the bad guys, I mean. Because he's trying to be good, even when he's technically hurting people, which you shouldn't really do. If you can help it.”

“Maybe that's why,” Toshinori said softly, over the catch in his throat. His eyes stung and before he knew it, he felt a tear slipping down his long nose. He moved to wipe it away, ducking instinctively as he did so, then noticed Shinsou watching him intently. Learning and patterning, intently, and Toshinori had to think: Were tears something to be hidden, in this day and age? He thought perhaps Aizawa would be ashamed of him, so he smiled thinly and made himself put his hands in his lap, sniffing briefly.

“That must've been … really cool for you, to meet your favorite hero, Yagi-san. Important, I mean,” Shinsou mumbled when the silence trailed on, with no explanation for his tears. Toshinori's tired heart throbbed sharply, seeing the young hero watch him with worry written in every bit of his round face. He had such a good spirit, this one.

“Well … it's not every day you get to meet a real hero,” was all Toshinori could say, a grin cracking his face almost painfully. How she taught him.

“Well, now you get to work around them every day,” Shinsou said bracingly, gesturing to the pristine chrome landscape of the campus around them. “At UA. Pretty cool, right?”

All at once, Toshinori was rushed with the sense memory of entering UA for the very first time, overwhelmed by the completeness and hopeful sense of belonging, and he had to close his eyes. It was triumph and it was pain, to pass through those gates with his pressed grey jacket hanging over his shoulder, unable to move at anything less than a jog for his excitement and need. To be past the bloody gauntlet of the entrance exam and surrounded by the greatest heroes of the generation ... and yet, she wasn't there. She never would be, except as a whisper in his bones.

God, but he missed her.

“I'll shut up now,” Shinsou whispered beside him, distant and doleful.

“No, no,” Toshinori choked out, putting out a hand but stopping before patting the boy, instead fretting uselessly at the air. He cringed, swallowed, suddenly feeling like little more than a tangle of limbs and half-told stories. Mistakes, even, and far too battered to make any kind of sense. “Please, my boy, you haven't done anything wrong. I promise, it's fine.”

You don't look fine.”

It was probably true. Toshinori didn't know what to say to that – until he took a breath, a moment, and thought about what Aizawa would say. It got a little easier and the words came slowly but surely.

“I think it's okay, to not be fine. I've worked around heroes enough to know that the ability to feel is perhaps tantamount to heroism. The ability to feel and empathize, that is, because we see so much pain, it's tempting to close ourselves off …” Toshinori shook his head, smiling to cover the waver in his voice. “But I believe we lose the good if we ignore the bad. Because it will always be that feeling, that genuine desire to help those in pain, that will carry you when your body no longer can, and that's what Plus Ultra means to me. To go beyond, because of the strength of what you feel.”

“I guess … I thought heroes were supposed to be happy all the time,” Shinsou said after a moment, hiding in his crossed arms. “That's what it seems like, anyway.”

“We need heroes who can smile, it's true,” Toshinori said with a sigh, nodding. Realizing, perhaps for the first time, how much he had changed since meeting Aizawa, and how it felt to speak a new truth. It was the kind of truth and the kind of world he wanted for future heroes, rather than what he had needed to be for the world for so long.

“You needn't smile all the time to be a hero, my boy … but enough. Enough to remind us what we're fighting for. That way, you'll bring us hope, but be able to take care of yourself as well.”

That was what he wanted. For Shinsou, for Deku, for Uraraka and Todoroki. For everyone under his care and maybe, perhaps, for himself.

Toshinori only realized he was holding his body so stiffly, hunched over his knees as if bowed by the weight of the difficult conversation, when he straightened and wiped at his face and a chorus of twinges erupted from his bent back, making him wince sharply. So much for stretching this morning. Wrangling his long limbs over and above the abrupt wave of exhaustion that flooded him in the quiet, Toshinori turned to reassure the boy once again, but found Shinsou grinning up at him, showing all of his teeth in a ridiculous sort of gleeful grimace. Startled, Toshinori laughed so hard his shoulders shook, tremendous and loud and cleansing.

“Oh my! Yes, very good, that will make a great front page one day, my boy!”

He reached over to ruffle Shinsou's lavender tangle of hair, finding himself mirroring that grin when his charge snorted and snickered and wrestled away from his hand. Then, abruptly, Shinsou pouted, scrubbing at his pink nose with a thick sniff. A bit too late, Toshinori realized the boy was a little pale and a little flushed in all the wrong places, and hot to the touch.

“Aizawa-sensei says I'm not allowed on magazines. Because of how my Quirk works,” Shinsou said heavily, then raised his hands to quote in the air, grumbling in clear imitation of a certain Grumpy Cat: “Absolute anonymity is your greatest advantage. If you ever lose it, you're a smear on the sidewalk, kid.”

Toshinori felt his face fall and he bit his tongue, not knowing what to say – not knowing how much of the boy's desire to become a hero hinged on being known and seen and adored, or simply accepted, considering the problematic bent of his Quirk – but he was saved from any backpedaling by Shinsou sneezing suddenly, then grinning and squinting up at him again.

“But … if that's the way I can help people the most, then I guess it's okay. Because I just want to be a hero and there's a lot of ways you can do that, you know?”

“I do,” Toshinori assured him with as much feeling as he could muster, deep voice suddenly patchy from the melting sensation in his chest. He reached out and, far more softly, tousled the boy's hair. “And if that's true, I think your heart is that of a hero, no matter who knows your face.”

“Thanks, Yagi-san. I think you're really smart, for not being a teacher,” he said brightly. Toshinori was about to thank him, maybe demure, but Shinsou took that moment to haphazardly scrub his nose with his arm and announce in adamant tones: “I think you're way too good for Aizawa-sensei.”

“Wh – excuse me now young man?” Toshinori choked out, clapping a hand over his mouth as hot blood rocketed to the cusp of his throat.

“Yep! Anyway, thanks for the help, Yagi-san. Now I can turn my paper in instead of working on it in first period.” Shinsou leapt up and snagged his backpack with a hand, ducking into the same arm for a series of quick sneezes and then raised a hand and flashed him a watery-eyed grin. “I g-gotta get to class. Bye.”

“Wait! H-hold on a minute, Shinsou, my boy, are you getting sick …?”

It was too late on every front. Shinsou was gone, loping across the grass toward the General Studies building and leaving Toshinori's mouth hanging open. At length, the hero put his face in his hand and forced himself to take a deep, deep breath. Then another.

This boy. This fearless, difficult, absurd and wonderful boy. If Toshinori wasn't grateful for Midoriya's compulsive politeness before, he certainly was now. He breathed out, whistling a bit. And this was just one prolonged conversation with him? Aizawa was braver than he knew.

And certainly good enough for anyone, Toshinori thought before he could stop himself, the sudden heat in his face chasing him up and across campus just before the first bell.

Chapter Text

At the end of the next day, Aizawa was very, very glad to be on his way home.

He hadn't even stayed too long after last bell, chased out by Toshinori and Hizashi and Nemuri, who insisted in chorus that he needed more rest. Any protests that he'd put his ancillary training obligations on hold met with deaf ears, and they jointly chased him out of the teacher's lounge with some truly irresponsible use of a plastic clipboard and the promise of a perfectly graded bundle of papers on his desk in the morning.

Aizawa didn't quite believe that last part, especially the way he heard them giggling like idiots after the door shut, with Mic's whisper rattling the damn wall, but for once he was willing to let it be. He had to, really.

He needed sleep, and badly. Sleep preferably uninterrupted by the tossing, turning, fractured urgency of being pulled by so many diverse responsibilities yet unable to meet all of them adequately, which may have been why he had given Shinsou the week off.

He needed to decompress and regroup, after all this, and the idea of spending the afternoon alone in his quiet apartment with his kitten sounded like heaven. Even the fantasy of rest was enough to quicken Aizawa's pace as he moved through the sunny, quiet neighborhood just off campus, staring around at the little residential gardens and shyly blooming trees dotting the sidewalk as though seeing them for the first time.

Of course, he didn't make it as far as his street without encountering unmitigated disaster. Because that just wasn't what he signed up for at UA.

The first thing he heard in his very quiet neighborhood was scuffing: the sharp and particular sound that came with a lot of weight or curt movement against a rough surface. Usually concrete and shoes, and that alone made him frown and slow, as it didn't sound like running. Then, a definite slap of skin and a stifled grunt.

Then, the worst thing of all.

“You call yourself a hero? Talk. Go ahead, talk.”

Aizawa turned on a dime and ran down the street, already holding his breath, because he knew that voice. He had never heard it so raw, like it had been punched out of him, even as he'd spent the last few weeks of his life punching the kid and giving him plenty of reasons to spit and growl. Aizawa stopped at the entrance to an alleyway, freezing at the scene drenched in sunlight even in the claustrophobic pillar of space between the two houses.

Shinsou was standing close to the far wall, his back turned and his fists clenched, and it took Aizawa a minute to recognize who he had cornered. Always prohibitively short, Mineta looked like a smear on the concrete with the Gen Studies student towering over him. The smaller boy was cowering with a hand literally jammed over his mouth, visibly shaking.

The hectic puff of his breath was audible in the small space, and it was all he dared do, with the Quirk housed in his schoolmate's body – the Quirk Shinsou was threatening him with, savagely, when he could just beat him up.

From his vantage point, even as Aizawa's gut hitched up in dread and consternation and a dozen other panicked, responsible feelings, it was impossible not to notice how Shinsou's physique had changed. The steadiness of his stance, a broadening of the shoulders and biceps defined under the shirtsleeves of his uniform. The second thing Aizawa noticed was how he chose to use that new strength, which was apparently terrorizing his schoolmates.

“I heard what you said to those girls – you're not so chatty now, are you? Talk!”

It was an order, low and breathless and unhinged, accompanied with a shove. Mineta moaned shrilly under his hand, scuffling up against the wall, and Shinsou leaned in.

“Why don't you wanna talk? Because someone can do to you what you did to them? Make you feel helpless, make you do something you don't want to? Does that scare you, you little shit?”

“Is there a problem here?” Aizawa heard himself say as if from a distance, tired and gruff.

Jolting in place, his eyes wide over his shoulder, Shinsou turned immediately at the sound of his voice and Mineta, sweaty and white as a sheet, made a break for it. He barely got two steps in before Shinsou's foot jabbed out and caught him, sending him sprawling. The very next second Shinsou was on him with a knee between his shoulder-blades, pitilessly wrenching Mineta's stick-thin arms up and together behind his back.  

Just like he taught him.

Mineta was begging for help. Aizawa could hear him whining, shrieking  – Aizawa-sensei, please, it hurts, he's hurting me – and his stomach turned sharply because he already knew the kind of thing that Shinsou caught him doing, and, far away, under the deep and present necessity of protecting one of his students, the last of his resolve to give this rat a chance cracked.

“No, you don't,” Aizawa could hear his accidental protege muttering, voice thick with effort or rage, and he knew it was time to do more than ask questions.

“Shinsou, step off,” he barked, making his footsteps heard as a kind of warning as he walked forward, into the little alley. “Now.”

Shinsou froze on the alleyway floor but did not move, his back heaving with exertion. Mineta's constant, smothered whimpering left no illusions as to exactly how much of his weight Shinsou was using to hold him down, and Aizawa tsked behind his teeth.

“This isn't how we do things at this school,” Aizawa grit out, keeping his burning eyes trained on the boy's hunched back and not the student he had pinned, in case he was still trying to use his Quirk. Should Mineta be stupid enough to say something to him at this point, that was, but it wasn't his stupidity Aizawa was so worried about.

The seconds ticked by, marked by harsh breath and nothing else. Each one aged him a fucking year.

Shinsou Hitoshi.”

At last, Shinsou lifted his arms, mechanical, his palms to the sky, but it was all the space Mineta needed to squirm out and scramble away on his ass, holding his bloody nose. The boy then flipped and scrambled over to him, reaching out for his jumpsuit pant leg before he was even upright and babbling shrilly all the while.

“A-Aizawa-sensei, did you see? It's that crazy Gen Studies kid, the one with the villain Quirk! He just attacked me! We're not allowed to use our Quirks outside of class, and he was gonna– ! Did you hear him? If you hadn't –”

Mid-sentence, Mineta looked up, maybe seeking reassurance or promise of due punishment, but Aizawa made sure there was none. The young man's face dropped and his grip wilted and his voice squeezed off to nothing. He sniffed wetly, and a drop of blood slithered down his forearm and hit the concrete.

“I'll deal with you later,” Aizawa said coldly, stepping away without another glance and making his way toward Shinsou.

He heard hurried footsteps as Mineta presumably retreated at high speeds and made a mental note to speak with Nezu as soon as humanly possible. Though he'd held out hope in the beginning, it was obvious Mineta wasn't going to grow into a decent human overnight and something would have to be done in the meantime. After he dealt with this.

Even as he drew even with Shinsou, the kid didn't move: He was still on his knees, slumped over and staring at his hands, and the first spark of anger singed Aizawa's determination now that it was just the two of them.

“Get up,” he muttered, hauling him to his feet by the back of his dress shirt. Shinsou stumbled immediately, and Aizawa pinned him in place with a hand on his shoulder, bearing down on him. Debated backing him against the wall, so he could see how it felt.

“What was that?”

Shinsou muttered something. Aizawa fucking hated that he couldn't understand him, that he was sloppy and churlish and stupid and always in trouble. Or maybe Aizawa was looking for a reason to be pissed. Maybe he hated the fact that Shinsou had a reason to confront this particular kid, without a doubt, and the attack was anything but unprovoked, but what they did never cleanly matched with this kind of vigilante justice.

The satisfaction of beating people who plainly deserved to be punished for their crimes was not lost on him, but he was a teacher. He had to inform and encourage the best in growing children, and that meant stomping out this kind of hazing mentality, so Aizawa played the role. He had to. He grit his teeth.

“Do you have anything to say for yourself? Is this how you're using your training?”

Shinsou pulled away, or tried to. It wasn't much more than a sloppy tug, and Aizawa yanked him back, trying to steady his voice as he leaned in. Mostly, he tried not to get angrier than he already was, or squeeze harder than he had to.

“He's a shit, I know, and I'm going to deal with him. But you can't just take your anger out on him. It's not heroic,” he said stupidly, the painfully simplified kind of thing that Toshinori would say, but it was exactly the wrong sentiment to air.

“Not heroic? He's the one who's not heroic!” Shinsou erupted, voice cracking in rage. His fists shook at his sides and his back was heaving again, tousled head bent. The back of his pale neck was slathered in sweat, and Aizawa realized the cloying heat under his hand wasn't just exertion as the kid threw himself out of his grip, staggering away and propping himself against the wall.

“He was taking pictures up my classmates' skirts and trying to touch them! They told him to stop and he just kept going, seeing what he could get away with – what, because they're Gen Studies kids? Because he's in the Hero course, and he can get away with it? It doesn't make any fucking sense!”

“Shinsou –” Aizawa cut in, trying to be firm and stop the panic ratcheting higher and higher and raising the hairs on his skin in the small residential space, but it only made Shinsou fling his arms out and yell louder, hoarse voice echoing against the houses on either side.

"He has no respect for them, for anyone! It doesn't even matter that they said no! He just took what he wanted – if he had my Quirk he'd be a villain!"

Shinsou was shaking, his breath tearing in and out of him with his hands clawed in his uniform shirt, tall body bent nearly double from the splitting force of his fury. He shook his head, grabbing into his light hair, and Aizawa could see him trembling as he turned.

"But my whole life, I tried so fucking hard, having everybody think I wanted to hurt them, and then a bastard like him ..."

Shinsou's voice caught in his throat, his round face painfully red and slick with tears, and Aizawa saw his knees unlock just a second before the kid pitched forward.

It was close, but Aizawa caught him, taking a knee to the concrete and getting an arm under his chest and his legs and grunting with the impact. Shinsou went limp as he hit, dangerously limp, but as soon as Aizawa righted him in his arms, clammy arms tangled around his shoulders. Shinsou's long body began to convulse with heart-rending sobs, and the boy just dissolved against him, radiating feverish heat and anguish.

“Why,” he choked far back in his throat, little more than a gasp, “Why not me? How can someone like him be a hero, and not me?"

Aizawa instinctively tightened his arms around him, desperately trying to hold him together in some way. Shinsou just curled up piteously small against his chest, his body shaking with grief as he sobbed through his teeth, into his teacher's shirt:

“Why won't anyone let me be what I am?”

Aizawa couldn't respond. He couldn't think, for the panic splitting his chest, but to do damage control.

Hurriedly looking Shinsou over like a crime scene, it was clear that Mineta had managed to pop off and maybe put up a fight before Shinsou physically pinned him. There was a dark globe welded to the alley floor and the telltale purple residue stained Shinsou's ripped UA button-down. His red tie was gone, as were half the shirt buttons, and in his automatic tallying, looking for wounds or immediate problems, Aizawa tightened down to his spine at what he saw past the torn fabric.

He covered it up, yanking the ruined shirt closed. Shit. He hiked the sobbing boy against his chest, close enough to hear what Shinsou was saying between labored, stuttering breaths:

“Have to live … take care of each other. For society. Heroes have a duty … you can't just, you can't …”

“You're not making any sense,” he hissed under his breath, almost to himself. Aizawa jostled him again and quickly palmed his sweaty forehead, wincing at how boneless Shinsou sat against his shoulder. His lanky body suddenly jolted with wet, crackling coughs, and Aizawa realized.

He was sick. Very sick.

“You're burning up. What the hell, kid?”

Aren't you supposed to be fucking resting? he wanted to ask, but he was the one that had to be chased out of the office, and Shinsou, like him, had already showed a troubling habit of working off the clock. Pushing shit, pushing his luck and pushing himself. He should have seen this coming, Aizawa thought, and cursed quietly, boxing up the intimate chaos of the scene with the familiar sting of chastising himself.

This is why he couldn't get exhausted, couldn't let his guard down for even a minute, because so much depended on his ability to predict how fucking stupid the people around him were, but that didn't matter right now. What mattered was Shinsou, covered in sweat and knocked out cold in his arms.

His options were few and sheared further by secrecy, which he detested. Recovery Girl often stayed in her office until sun set, but he also couldn't be seen on campus carrying a battered, unconscious student who wasn't even under his care. Too many questions and too much potential for panic with the villain attacks barely in the review mirror. It was also a long way to go and time could be an issue.

Aizawa looked over the boy in his arms, tallying signs and symptoms as his years of training took over like a thin layer of ice encasing his pounding heart. Shinsou still had some color in his face and was breathing, if fitfully. There didn't seem to be any emergency beyond getting him somewhere safe where he couldn't fall and hit his head or assault any more of his classmates in a fever state. That, he could do.

If there was any remaining doubt on the matter as Aizawa turned tail and sprinted up the empty street, it was gone: He really, really fucking had to meet with the boy's parents. Yesterday.

A few frantic minutes later, Aizawa kicked open his apartment door, and Himawari immediately ran to meet him, winding around his legs as he knocked off his shoes and almost sending all of them to the floor.

“I know, I know,” he muttered, batting her away with his bare foot as she meowed indignantly at him, seeming to realize they had a guest. “Bad idea, only idea.”

After a moment of vaguely nauseated deliberation, he deposited Shinsou longways on his couch, corralling a pillow to wedge under his head and popping off the kid's dirty sneakers and throwing them at the door with a little more force than necessary. Shinsou's fingers twitched at the sound but his face remained slack, reddened lids fluttering. Considering both the state of his uniform and the fever, Aizawa added a blanket for good measure. He was out cold. Crouching low, Aizawa just looked at him and endured the swell of understanding and fear that came to shove his sore heart into his throat, eating into whatever safe distance lingered between them.

Stupid kid. Stupid, angry, hurt kid.

Aizawa himself probably would have behaved even worse, considering all the rage under his skin at that age. He probably would have knocked Mineta's teeth out before anyone could have stopped him, dying for an excuse to pantomime justice and make someone bleed. Maybe he should have let Shinsou get a little further, honestly. He could have taught Mineta a lesson that he, by very sound laws, could not: that sexual abuse would not be tolerated on this campus.

They were a bastion of freedom, not impunity, and maybe UA called to Shinsou exactly because of that freedom. Gen Studies or no, he was here and he was fighting. Because of who he wanted to be, yes, but also who he was: a concept made infinitely larger by the chest bindings Aizawa had glimpsed underneath the boy's wrecked uniform while hauling him off of the alleyway floor.

It had never struck Aizawa so clearly before that moment, the way they did things differently and embraced differences as strengths. UA was a crucible of transformation and offered a chance to start anew in a multitude of ways for students who had never had the room to be themselves before. For a trans kid like Shinsou, the simple option of designating a gender or lack thereof on a student ID card must have seemed like a fucking revolution. A new life, stamped in ink, and the last word as far as the hero world was concerned.

But identity was never that simple: The scummy trails of burst blood vessels he'd seen under Shinsou's collarbone, the skin pinched and stifled and strangled into scarring at the edges of the grubby bandages encasing his chest, told the rest of the story of trying and being in isolation.

His anger hit him in a wave, explosive and sharpened by a stupid, nonsensical sting of betrayal. You're shit at wrapping your feet, he wanted to shake Shinsou and yell, have you been binding your chest this entire time? And you didn't think to let me know?

It was obvious he was overdoing it, and the crude cloth bandages cut into his chest rather than give a millimeter. Fucker probably slept in them. Aizawa thought of every time that Shinsou couldn't seem to catch his breath, every time he'd clotheslined him across the chest just to get his attention. All the baggy clothes.

He wanted to lay the kid flat even as he was already practically unconscious, wanted to take him to task for every little thing that could have gone wrong while physically training someone with a fucking vice around their ribs – dislocated ribs, diminished lung capacity, irreparable scarring – but he was also conscious enough to recognize the jarring, bottomless sensation of when he was truly panicking.

Aizawa hated not knowing things, especially when he was already out on a limb in so many ways with this entire arrangement, but he couldn't go off on Shinsou right now. Not about that. Definitely not about that, when this was already going to be hard. So he sat and breathed, and it echoed in his head, stifled and sick with feeling:

Why won't anybody let me be what I am?

Aizawa knew that the bindings were irrelevant in the scheme of things – far less an immediate concern than whatever sickness he'd worked himself into – but deeper still was a parallel of being that split his heart.

Maybe he'd always passed as the boy he was and it was never a problem, but the friction and the threat remained in Shinsou's very nature: There were people in their world who would never see him as a man, and people who would never see him as a hero, no matter what he did. They would dictate what he was based on their own small fears and unwillingness to learn, to reach, when all Shinsou had ever done was reach to try to tell everyone who and what he was.

It seemed the strongest yet the most helpless thing, to say aloud what you were in a world where public visibility and acceptance were paramount to a successful hero career, and social affirmation was as important as oxygen at this age. Needy and pathetic and powerless, yet the most important thing in the world, to decide and insist on yourself, your meaning and your identity and your dreams, even as everyone said you were something else.

But sick and troublesome and painful as he was, Aizawa knew: Shinsou was a young man and hero in training. That, he would defend to the death.

Frozen on the floor, Aizawa was jolted out of the dark tide of his thoughts by a quiet, curious meow. With no one watching her for three seconds, Himawari had slunk up to the side of the couch and soundlessly alighted on the armrest, inches from Shinsou's upturned face with her whiskers twitching. She was getting better at jumping. She was growing up, even, and it had only been a month or two.

“Get off,” he growled at her, swatting half-heartedly at her tail. “You brat.”

She dodged him and touched her little nose to Shinsou's wet hair, then slunk down and settled beside him in the crook of the couch with an unfathomable sense of decisiveness, tucking her red banded legs underneath her belly and glowering at him. Daring him to come get her. After a moment, Aizawa exhaled with difficulty, forced to let her be or risk waking the kid with the excavation. Not worth it.

With nothing else to do, his apartment silent as death and warped around the incredible weight of the child on his couch, Aizawa sat against the back of the couch and took out his phone. His fingers were shaking as he pulled up his contact list and, though limited in number, every name was a question and another sprawling set of circumstances and factors. In the end, only one person really understood the full breadth of the disaster on his couch, but could he really call Toshinori? Should he?

Aizawa clenched his eyes shut and breathed out slowly. No. He would probably panic and blame himself and they didn't have time for that, especially considering Shinsou's habit of assuming guilt. He was on his own, for now.

As if to impress the truth of that statement, Aizawa heard another sweet, high meow. When he looked over, Shinsou had his eyes open and was staring at his cat, glazed and transfixed.

“Her name is Himawari,” Aizawa said gruffly, still mostly in his phone for the kid's sake. Giving him time.

“I thought this was Yagi-san's cat,” Shinsou whispered at length, carefully touching her face with just the tips of his fingers. She rubbed gladly into his palm and he blinked, pressing clumsily at his wet eyes with his free hand. “He showed me pictures on his phone.”

“He visits,” Aizawa said before he could stop himself. Maybe it was the simplest explanation.

Shinsou looked up at him and then away, taking a deep, shuddering breath and just laying there. Shoeless and helpless. He wasn't even asking where he was. That was a fucking problem, as far as instincts went. They would have to have a talk about that.

Aizawa rose to his feet with a low groan, feeling the dive he'd taken earlier in the pinch of his knees.

“Are you hungry?” he asked blithely, hating it. “Fevers make some people hungrier than normal. Or have you been eating at all?”

Shinsou ducked his head as much as he could, light lashes webbed with drying tears and fluttering as he coughed and tried to swallow it back. He knew he was sick. Aizawa heard him sniffle wetly and then, of all things, the kid rolled over on the couch and curled up, around his cat, hiding his face.

Prepared to throw down just a second before, Aizawa felt something just deflate inside of him.

He was just a fucking kid. One of his kids, by now, but that's why he couldn't just give into the drop. He couldn't just metaphorically throw his hands up and go to bed because he still had to be a teacher. It was his job to take this pain and funnel it into a learning moment, no matter how many pieces there were to gather.

So, to distract himself, he headed the few steps to the kitchen and turned on the kettle.

"I'm making you some basic bone broth that you're going to drink, but this wasn't part of the deal," he began, a hard, distant edge to his voice as he gathered a mug and tried to remember where the packets were. He hadn't been using them as much, with Toshinori cooking for him.

"I agreed to training you with the understanding you would keep up your end of the bargain and take care of your normal studies and yourself. That was to teach you that you can't consume yourself to become a hero. There has to be something left at the end of the day. I don't like to repeat myself, but apparently you didn't listen the first time around."

Watching his hands moving as if on their own, Aizawa was getting angry.

He was angry at Mineta, angry at Shinsou's rashness, but mostly he was angry at the situation, knowing the unfairness beneath it all that pit the two boys on opposing sides of an alleyway. He wanted to tell Shinsou the truth: that the real reason Mineta got into the Hero course had nothing to do with the quality of person he was and there was worrisomely little screening on that aspect of incoming Hero students. It was just something arbitrary, like his Quirk or a split-second decision made in front of the right people or the flawed results of an irrational entry exam, and if there was one pain in being a teacher, it was seeing those kids who would grow up in the privilege of an easy life or an easy Quirk, thinking that they're heroes without ever doing any of the hard self-work.

At best, those kids topped the chart, buoyed by the natural showmanship borne of selfishness. At worst, those kids became Endeavor, became arrogant abusers, because their title of hero protected them or anyone else from realizing they've done wrong. Hurt people. Fucked up, and big, horribly unprepared to handle the true diligence and guts and simple emotional endurance that heroism required when disaster struck and help didn't come in time and people died.

It was exactly how Aizawa wanted to see Toshinori, at first. He'd tried his hardest to see him that way, possibly because All Might set the standard for heroes who couldn't be touched, and so he shadow-boxed the very concept of the man from the beginning, stoically and stubbornly aligning himself against a system that forgave anything in the face of fame. He was wrong. That was okay, but Toshinori was an exception in so many ways, and the reverence for hero work brought out the worst in people more often than not.

It was Aizawa's sworn fucking mission to stop those arrogant kids on the way in, to either reprogram them or dump them, because the world needed good people in positions of heroism … and those good people, in turn, deserved to be healthy and provided for, not fodder to be consumed. They weren't bodies any more than Shinsou was a body. It was fucked. It was all fucked, and he could only do so much to unfuck it, and Aizawa's aching body momentarily whited out with the strain of guiding so many lives into a flawed system, his scarred hands stilling on the hot mug and the spoon.

Along with anger, the relief that came with expelling an entire class was earthshaking in its own way. In one packet of files, he had violently cast off the course of their imagined careers as if to say: Get on with your damn lives. Try something different. Be a human, not a hero. Work for peace, don't fight for it. Be safe.

Please, for god's sake, be safe.

“Is this what it takes, to get you to listen?” Aizawa prompted the kid when he realized how far away he'd gone. Posturing. He heard a shuddering intake of breath, muffled by cushions and possibly a fretful cat.

“I'm sorry I got sick,” came the patchy whisper, cowed and miserable. There was another long, dragging pause, and Aizawa snorted as he stirred in the last of the powdered nutrient broth.

“Is that all you've got?” he muttered, exhausted. It did no good to apologize for your body giving out. It could only do so much. The sentiment was perfunctory and misplaced, just like this exchange.

“Aizawa-sensei,” Shinsou croaked, “do you hate me?

Aizawa nearly dropped the mug. Goddamnit.

“We're not friends, and I get that,” he continued in a murmur, torturously drowsy from fever or simple reluctance. “You're ... you're my teacher, and you don't even have to be training me. But the other day, when you said you didn't like me … sometimes it's like you look at me and you hate my guts.”

Staring down at the cloudy, amber liquid still swilling around the spoon, Aizawa made himself take a deep, deep breath.

He couldn't even think of anything to say to that, at first, because there was too much to unpack in response to such a simple, real insecurity. It was all too much of a fucking mess and airing it might even break Shinsou's concept of what adults were – more often than not, just bundles of coping mechanisms left over from shitty childhoods – but then Aizawa padded over, set the steaming mug down on the coffee table and sat against the couch again.

Himawari picked across Shinsou and came over to him as if she knew, slinking over his shoulder and down his chest. The gentle warmth of her against his legs did a little to anchor his suddenly floating body even as he felt himself dissociating, severe and metallic. He pressed his numb lips together. His heart was already pounding.

"It's not that I don't like you," he said when he could speak, hoarse. "It's that we're very similar, and I think you already knew that."

There was a pause, the air thick between them. He was very aware that he wasn't looking at Shinsou and equally aware that he couldn't. Not right now, not yet.

“Is that a bad thing?” Shinsou asked at last, voice small.

“It's a hard thing.”

The reality of what he was admitting and what that invited caught Aizawa like a yoke around his neck: Was he actually considering telling this to a child? One of his students, no less?

But he was. He had to, because the stainless steel illusion that other people, grown people, didn't feel like this because they didn't talk about feeling like this was what left him afraid and alone, and alone was what nearly forced his hand. He wouldn't leave this child alone. Not like he had been.

He may lose Shinsou to battle, he could lose him to time, and his job was based upon acceptance of those terrible facts – but he would never, ever lose him to silence.

"This place nearly killed me. I couldn't deal with the pressure, or the feeling that I was constantly falling behind or going to fail my classmates. Not to mention the idea that my classmates wouldn't be there for me if I needed it,” he said quietly, staring at the silky steam of the broth rising up into the stale air of his apartment. He really should open a window, but he was already feeling too opened, flayed raw. He swallowed and continued.

“Everyone around me had flashy, easy Quirks and hated my guts, because of what I could do. I didn't try to make friends. There was no point. I had too much to prove, but I was scared. I had nightmares constantly but still slept every second I could. I quit eating for days at a time, just because I was so desperate for control. I thought about dying a lot.”

For a moment, Aizawa's entire world was the feeling of Himawari's warm fur gliding under his fingertips, the trusting weight of her little body in his lap, because that's all he could hold in his mind with such old, dangerous words on his tongue.

Shinsou was so much like him, after all. He had carried these words for a while. Waiting.

“I'm going to ask you something, Shinsou. Have you ever thought about ending your life?”

His question was met with silence so deep as to be otherworldly. He looked over for the first time since sitting down, and the boy dropped his gaze the instant he did so, freezing. Shinsou's hands retracted, and he shrank into the couch. Caught and guilty for it.

Aizawa breathed out slowly.

“I want you to know … that it's normal. Normal enough, anyway. When you're in pain, your mind tries to come up with a way to end the pain, and when the pain is big enough, relentless enough, sometimes that's where it goes. If living hurts, how would it feel to not be living anymore? It's simple problem solving and an extrapolation of options, autonomy, and it doesn't mean you're bad or crazy. Okay?”

The pro hero took a minute to regroup, tallying his body and all the sharp little things going haywire at the mere mention of this, especially the horrible reality of how it was resonating in the boy next to him. He pushed forward, because there was one more thing to make sure of.

“What I need to know ... is if you've ever had a plan.”

Meeting his gaze again, Shinsou shook his head. The wash of relief was sharp enough that Aizawa closed his eyes, and he let go of the breath he'd been holding since he hauled Shinsou up off the alleyway floor. Since he agreed to all this.

No – since he saw the boy in the Sports Festival, limping from the ring with that hollow, resigned look in his eye, that look that said he knew he was bad and deserved to be alone. Deserved to fail, deserved to hurt. He remembered the feeling so well, and it was that red string stretched taut between them that had terrified him from the beginning, because Aizawa knew how it felt wrapped around his neck a lifetime ago.

“Did you have one?”

Shinsou's voice was just a whisper, but the simple, awful question cut through any semblance of control Aizawa had retained, as he knew it eventually would. He knew it was coming, and yet. He locked his jaw and took a deep breath.

Did he ever have a plan?

“Yeah. Once.”

Aizawa swallowed and his throat caught. Drifting away from his purring kitten, his hands twisted repetitively in his hero uniform, feeling along the rough fabric like a physical mantra. Now, not then. Here, not there. Safe, not afraid.

Still, the irrational, crippling fear needled him, paralyzed him: Would talking about it resurrect it back into his life? Would he survive it again if it did?

“But I guess I made some friends, somehow, and they talked me out of it. Not directly. They didn't know. But if I could do it again, I'd tell them what I was thinking. What I was afraid of and how much it hurt. Give them the option of helping me instead of hiding in how lonely I was.”

He shook his head, dimly aware of his hair tangled over his shoulders and into his eyes. He hid in his hair so often, as a kid. Maybe nothing had changed, but then, he knew that wasn't true.

“Assuming nobody would help if I asked … it wasn't true, and it's what almost got me killed.”

Aizawa breathed in sharply as arms locked around his neck again, clumsy and sudden enough to spook Himawari out of his lap with a shrill protest. Lavender hair blotted out his vision, and Shinsou's hot, unsteady breath peppered his cheek. Aizawa instantly reached up to stabilize and half-hold the boy's long body as Shinsou hung off the couch to cling to him, trembling viciously.

“M'sorry,” Shinsou choked out quietly enough to break him. It wasn't the tender, reaching anguish of sympathy but a terribly pure empathy, an understanding so deep as to be mournful, and Aizawa grit his teeth to know it. God, but why?

He heard the boy breathe in as if to say something else, and Aizawa tensed so hard it hurt, completely fucking unprepared. But after an instant Shinsou just hugged him tighter with a thick, miserable sniffle and Aizawa's hand closed over his shoulder, squeezing him. Bracing him, and himself, for what had to come next.

“Listen to me. This is important,” he grit out past the lump in his throat, voice close to cracking.

He gently forced the kid back, onto the couch, so he could look him in the face. Shinsou's eyes were red and blurry with tears, but he was clenching his teeth and returning his gaze with a kind of terrifyingly raw devotion. Like he needed to hear something, anything, and he needed to hear it from him. Aizawa felt the old, ravenous need for safety, deep as a well.

He nodded, like he was letting him know – I see you, I see that you're listening and trying – and put a hand to the young man's head, cupping his temple. Shinsou's eyes flinched shut, and he sniffed.

“I need you to know that it's okay, to not want this. It's okay if you want to stop training, and I wouldn't think less of you, because this shit is hard, and it's not worth it for everyone. It doesn't mean you're weak, Shinsou. Just living, just figuring out how to be happy, it's enough. If it isn't, what the hell do we have heroes for?”

How was peaceful life shameful, when it was the only thing worth destroying themselves to protect? Some part of Aizawa even craved it … still felt a bitter stab of jealousy to see people walking and talking in the sunlight and not flinching at every shadow, sleep splintered by remembered sprays of blood. He wanted a little bit of that, for his kids, even as it felt impossible.

But they were special, he knew. Different. Maybe they could do it. It was all he could hope for.

“Hey. Look at me.”

He tapped Shinsou's nose and waited until he blinked and met his eyes, hazy.

“Whatever you decide, I'm behind it. I'm with you, but I'm giving you permission to quit. I know you're a good kid and you're trying as hard as you can, but you have to make sure that determination is coming from the right place. Because you're good. Better than most. I see that in you, and you have nothing to prove to anyone, Shinsou. Absolutely nothing.”

And if anyone says otherwise, I will destroy them, he wanted to say, momentarily insane with how much this child should be protected, cherished for his heart and wit and spunk and simple, pugnacious trying when all the world had given him was suspicion and fear. Instead, he lowered his voice as he felt Shinsou start to twitch and shake against his palm, a grimace curling his split lip.

“You have friends, in Gen Studies,” Aizawa said, like that was all that mattered. At that age, maybe it should have been, and the burdens of their chosen path momentarily chilled the hero. Tender, he scuffed the boy's wet cheek with his knuckles. “They'd miss you, if you transferred.”

Like sheer refusal was electrocuting his body, Shinsou shook his head savagely.

“I want to be a hero,” he grit out. His voice spiked upwards into a sob as he hectically grabbed for him again, fingers wrenching into his jumpsuit, crying into his neck, “I want to be a hero just like you, Aizawa-sensei.”

They were so fucking young, he had to remember, as Shinsou cried against him, sucking in breath after breath until he nearly shook himself apart with violent coughs and sobs. Fourteen. Why in the world were they so young and facing down such strife?

Overcome, it was all Aizawa could do to hold him hard and hold that space for him, so he could fall apart. Every rough, helpless breath ripped through his decades-old walls like an earthquake and stripped him. It brought back his own pain, but most importantly, what he had needed to hear in that painful place.

“I'm with you, I've got you,” he heard himself say into his damp hair, almost angry. He realized his fingers were clenching into the kid's shirt but he wasn't in his body anymore, so he just squeezed and Shinsou squeezed back twice as hard around his throat, making him cough.

Past the alarming pressure of the chokehold, the feeling was a little like wonder: The kid was getting stronger. How much stronger he would be with support and someone willing to fight for him, understand him, he could only imagine. Aizawa just knew he wanted to see it.

“There will be a place for you in my class next year, I promise,” he choked out, too close to a snarl. “I fucking promise, if I have to bolt another chair to the floor. Okay?”

“O-okay.”

“You'll go see Recovery Girl tomorrow morning, first thing,” Aizawa continued, sniffing thickly. “No more training until you're back on your feet. I'll talk to your instructors and see what I can do about your assignments until then.”

“Okay,” Shinsou whispered again, and Aizawa stayed there, interlocked, until he felt the kid's fingers loosen on his shirt. To let him know: Take what you need. You won't exhaust my resources, and I'll be here for you.

It's my job to be. It's why I've made it this far, to help you. To fix what I couldn't on my own.

Aizawa felt – hoped he felt – Shinsou nod against him, and a few quiet minutes later it was clear the kid had reached his limit and checked out. The arms around his neck went slack, and Shinsou's fitful breathing stuttered and slowed to the occasional hiccup. Ears ringing, Aizawa waited until he was sure it was over before he turned and firmly gathered the quasi-conscious boy and set him back on the couch, only realizing how terribly his heart was pounding when he got to his feet and his head swam sickeningly.

Stripped, he was alone in the wreckage but for Himawari winding anxiously around his bare feet and Shinsou, out like a light and standing out like a raised scar on the formerly safe landscape of his home.

Aizawa drew away out of abrupt necessity, the reality of the situation crashing in and shaking him. Before he could think too much, he switched tracks and subsumed himself in cleaning up. It had been a busy week and there were clothes everywhere. He kept a dutiful eye on the clock and let the kid sleep for maybe half an hour before nudging him awake and watching him drink the reheated broth with his arms crossed. Within seconds, Himawari was already trying to peek into his cup. Her curious antics produced a weak, reedy chuckle, and Aizawa saw his opening.

“You should get going soon,” he said as neutrally as he could. When Shinsou glanced up at him where he sat on the coffee table, Aizawa palmed his hair back from his face with a guttural sigh. “Your parents will be wondering where you are, and I can't let this be our introduction. Understand?”

Shinsou tilted his head and just drank deeply from the mug for a moment – hiding in one task to dodge another. Brat. Aizawa pretended not to notice the way he was holding the blanket close to his chest, over his torn shirt.

“My parents don't get home until maybe 8,” he said hoarsely. Slowly.

“Tonight?” Aizawa clarified, frowning.

“Every night,” he murmured into his cup. He scrubbed his fingertips experimentally over Himawari's nose, who trilled. “They work a lot.”

Aizawa saw the gap: His parents worked a lot, probably to provide their son with the best education they could. It was a double-edged blade, to seek such specialized help and then contort your life to pay for it, maybe depriving that same child of the basic presence needed to develop healthily and feel supported. Not like a floating diagnosis, that is.

“Fine,” Aizawa said after a long moment, terse, and with that little word, Shinsou drained his mug and fell sideways on the couch and was asleep again within seconds. Snoring.

Aizawa worked and graded and did laundry in tense silence, trying to stay out of the way. Himawari stayed by Shinsou's side religiously and guarded him. Occasionally she opened one blue eye as he approached and gave him a look that seemed to indicate exactly how safe she thought the child should be, and how he better not fuck it up. He rolled his eyes every time and went back to work, preferably in the only other room in his apartment that didn't have an unconscious kid in it.

Around 7, he nudged the kid awake again and made it clear he had to get going. It was nerve-wracking, having him in his home, and Aizawa's limits had been reached. He would ford an icy river for the brat, but damnit if his common sense wasn't screaming at him that he had to get Shinsou out of there to keep his job. Shinsou slowly complied in bits and pieces, rising from the couch and then staggering toward the door.

“Bye Himawari-chan,” Shinsou murmured groggily as he gathered his shoes, wiping his nose and giving her one last fumbling scratch. No thanks came his way, and Aizawa preferred it that way. Less pressure.

Hydrate, he wanted to say as Shinsou stood and reached for the door, his mouth thinning into a frown.

Check back with me as soon as you wake up. We have a lot to do, if you really mean it.

You need to get a proper chest binder, one that won't tear your fucking chest up, and all training is on hold until you do. You punched and threatened your schoolmate with your Quirk, and we're going to have to talk about that. If you got me sick, I'm going to kick your ass, and we're also going to have a talk with Yagi-san about what he says to you, because don't think I don't recognize the kinds of things you were saying when you were out of your mind back there.

Be careful. Get well, he wanted to say, chest aching with the difficulty of it. He wanted to say all of it, but he'd already said too much. So Aizawa let him go and let the door shut.

The simple click of metal as the latch caught was like explicit permission to collapse. Aizawa breathed out in a rush, falling back on his couch with a guttural noise. Everything pressed in: Everything he had been holding at bay to keep his arms free for the kid, and suddenly the couch was too high, too exposed. He slid down to the floor again and found himself curling up, his hands digging into his knees. His breath came quickly enough to make his head swim again but somehow sounded muffled in his hot ears. The ground seemed to open up beneath him and he hissed, clenching his dry eyes shut and leaning into the stinging sensation. Suddenly, he was gasping.

Skin hot with panic, Aizawa grabbed and clattered for his phone on the table and pulled up his contact list as the familiar, airless terror circled tighter and tighter, horribly conscious of his thumb shaking above the screen. A second more of it and he pressed. Asked.

She picked up on the second ring. There was a clatter – probably her earrings or her studded choker – and she took a breath. Close.

“Hey, honey! How's kicks? Enjoying your evening off?”

Noise behind her, maybe a party. She was always at parties. Couldn't understand it.

Shouldn't be bothering her.

“Hey.” Aizawa swallowed, and his throat clenched dangerously tight. “Senpai.”

There was a pause and another clatter, the hurried click of heels. The human rabble abruptly faded away into the distance.

“Shou. Are you alright?”

Soft, deep. Familiar. His throat twinged again. Aizawa's fingers yanked into the fabric of his jumpsuit and pulled, trying and failing to dissipate the instant, sour tightening of his skin. The terrifying feeling that if he spoke the truth, what was really going on inside him, that he would never stop puking out pain and his body would never be safe again.

Himawari nosed at his hand, but he couldn't really feel it. The old tapes played.

You're stupid. Don't bother her, just hang up. What's wrong with you? Why the hell would you ask for help for something so small? Nothing even happened. You stopped the kid before he could really hurt anyone. You did your job.

He grit his teeth as hot blood rushed into his neck, prickling.

Why are you so fucked up, that you even need help? Stop being pathetic. You're overreacting. You always overreact.

“Shou, talk to me. Now.”

It was a command in his hot ear, stapling him into binaries and out of the whorl of panic. He nodded, yanking at his jumpsuit and breathing sharply in through his teeth.

“Yeah.”

It was all he could say, dumb and low. Fuck. He dug his fingernails hard into the thin skin of his neck and immediately shoved the offending hand and habit underneath his leg, his heart pounding savagely. His chin fell to his chest and another surge of cold recrimination hit him and bent him in half.

How are you so fucking pathetic? After all these years, how are you still so scared –

“Good. Listen to me. I need you to focus on my voice.”

Her voice. If he closed his eyes, he could focus. He made a sound, to prove he was there when he wasn't really all that certain he was.

“Are you in a safe place?”

“Yeah,” he admitted, trembling. Focused on her questions, not on his own, which would never have answers. “Yeah, at the house. At the house, on the floor.”

“Stay on the floor, where you are. Don't move.”

The clack of heels again. Toward him.

“I'll be right there. You're safe, Shou. I mean it. Trust me.”

He trusted her.

Unable to bring himself to hang up or move, lest he sever the crackling line between them and plunge himself into gray space, Aizawa listened to the line go dead and carefully, very carefully, put his phone on the floor. Distantly aware of Himawari's small body bundled next to his leg, he curled up and clenched a hand into his tangled hair and pulled until his eyes watered.

Coughs shook him as his body clamped down and seized up, rejecting the terror wracking the back of his throat. The self-hatred rotting him through, the needling thought that maybe he just should, this time. Hot tears slipped down his nose, and he swallowed his sobs with dry, wracking sounds, waiting for help to come.

Help came, and it was french lavender and strong arms and cool skin and I've got you, Shou, and he let go, given permission to crumble and fail and be afraid. Then, he wasn't. Because he had help.

Chapter Text

Fifteen years earlier

The last thing he really remembered was her silhouette, the sensation of jerking upright and the feeling of his skin flashing white in fear, and then a pinch in his leg. There was a long heavy stripe of hot blood, then the sound of ripping fabric and the sensation of falling forward, too heavy to stay conscious.

When Shouta woke in the school infirmary, it was painfully silent. Nobody was looking at him. His head hurt horribly, his throat thick and cottony. He could guess what happened, if just because it was bound to eventually.

There were bandages on his hip, thick and menacing and stifling as the dread eating him alive, and he pulled the sheets as high as he could and lay back, breathing short and shallow.

He worried aloud about class, if just to break the silence, but Recovery Girl told him to rest. Nemuri and Hizashi came to see him after last period. He didn't know why he was in a fucking bed, like he was injured, but Miss Chiyo wouldn't let him leave and, to be honest, he hadn't tried.

He couldn't. He was paralyzed, sick to his bones. And when Nemuri and Zashi came to visit him, as angry as he was at her, it seemed that Nemuri was even angrier.

Hizashi did the usual song and dance: asking if he was okay, worrying about him, half-hugging him with one foot in the hospital bed. Clueless and thankfully so. All the while, Nemuri wouldn't meet his eyes, and Shouta didn't want her to try. He was biting the side of his cheek to keep from screaming at her and clawing out of the scratchy hospital sheets to throw her to the ground, to show her how it felt. She was supposed to be his friend but she exposed him, dragged him into this. Made people worry when it was nothing.

She was the one who had the problem. He knew exactly what he was doing. Bitch.

Both overdue and far too soon, Mic beat an awkward retreat, as if sensing that he was the odd one out. Stuttering about homework, about after school clubs, he closed them into the quiet ward, and Nemuri's lips hiked up over her teeth and that awkward gap between them. She was going to have to get that fixed if she ever wanted to be the sex symbol she dreamed of.

An R-18 hero? What a joke.

“Why?” she asked, more hiss than word.

Shouta didn't answer. Didn't look at her, the same way no one would look at him. She sucked in a sharp breath and leaned forward, hands clenched in her uniform skirt.

“Is it because you like boys? Because everybody knows.”

Shouta endured, silent, tense and shaking. He clenched his bloodless fists into the sheets, and he was dangerously close to crying, but he hated her guts too much. He never cried. Not at home, not here.

So he breathed hot and hateful past his teeth and counted the folds in the sheets and tried to guess how many stitches there were in his hip by how it pricked and pulled when he shifted. It felt gross. Sterile.

This kind of pain wasn't fun at all.

“Is there someone who's messing with you?” she pushed. Her voice was hoarse, he guessed from crying, but he didn't care. She shoved the bed, and the IV stand swayed drunkenly. Angry, per usual.

Why did he need an IV? Embarrassing.

“Shouta, you idiot, is there? Is that why you'd do something … just, stupid like this? Tell me! What the hell is wrong with you?”

There was a rattle of metal and a curtain divider peeled back, and Miss Chiyo breezed in, scarcely taller than the students she served with her hair falling piecemeal out of her silver bun and a mild smile on her face. Nemuri pulled back from him like an animal, caught.

“Alright, Miss Nemuri, I think that's quite enough visiting for one day,” she sing-songed, placing a pile of sheets on the counter next to his cot. “It's time for you to head home, isn't it? Please pack your things and leave Shouta-kun to rest.”

Shouta took his opening and turned away, hiking the sheets up again even as he was hot enough to die from everything bottled up inside him, but she caught his sleeve and hung him there.

“You're gonna tell me,” she hissed over the hospital bed rail as she threw her bag over her shoulder, skin a painful pink under her dusting of freckles, blue eyes icy. The air above her skin, above her new leggings and perpetual long sleeves, wavered dangerously like a sickening heat wave.

“And whoever it is, I'll kick their ass. I'll fucking end them.”

“Language, miss, and on your way!” Miss Chiyo said sharply, swatting at her with the sheets and standing as tall as nature made her. “That's quite enough out of you!”

Nemuri even glared at Miss Chiyo as she left, tears in her eyes. Shouta heard her crying ugly and loud in the hall and hated the acoustics of the building. He hated everything.

Despite the fresh, bitter stain of conflict, Miss Chiyo puttered around for just a little while longer before sitting by his bedside and folding the fresh bedsheets by hand, humming quietly under her breath. The 'bots could do it, Shouta knew, and but she always said it kept her fingers busy and stretched. That's what she told everyone, but it was really to talk.

Shouta didn't want to talk. He didn't want to be there, in a very, terrifyingly large sense. He felt sick and empty and fucked up and, worst, fucking caught.

“She can be a little much, can't she?” Recovery Girl sighed at length, smoothing the spotless fabric and moving on to the next bundle. “You all can be, at times, for different things. It's going to help you be incredible heroes, that's for certain. No one gets that good by being small and simple. You have to care about things. Sometimes, too much.”

She said it in a soft way, but there was a touch of sadness to her voice that caught Shouta's attention. He glanced over at her and she caught him, but she just continued folding. Giving him space.

“Do you know why Miss Nemuri is so angry, sweet boy?” she asked after a moment, brushing her hair from her round face.

Shouta snorted, and his breath caught. He didn't have an answer besides she's stupid and a drama whore, and he knew those weren't rational answers. That was a problem, because his rational mind was the only thing keeping him in one piece right then, so he just glared into the curtained dark of the hospital, boiling.

The sun was setting. Were they going to trap him here overnight? For something stupid like this?

“She's angry because she's afraid. I'm sure she can't imagine why you would want to hurt yourself and, because she doesn't understand, she's fearing the worst.”

“It was her fault,” he blurted out before he could stop himself. He was weak to one thing and that was his abilities, his knowledge. He knew what he was doing. Chiyo looked over at him with her clear green eyes, not judging. Waiting. He flushed, hot and ugly.

“She scared me and my hand slipped,” he muttered, pulling at the sheets again. He wasn't stupid. He'd given so much more away than he'd meant in just trying to show he knew what he was doing, but she just nodded.

“Ah, so that explains this one. It was quite deep,” Miss Chiyo said mildly, gesturing to but not touching the mess of bandages at his hip. Then her slender fingers patted further down on the bedding. “And the others?”

Shouta didn't know what to say. Was there even a way to defend himself? Worse, was there a point?

Sometimes, he felt like his world was falling apart and the hot, hateful sting was the only thing louder than how afraid he was. Sometimes, he was so afraid he would want to puke, and he knew he'd never be a hero, and hurting erased that. Most times, he felt like he just deserved it.

It felt good sometimes, but mostly it happened when fear was making him so sick that he felt numb, numb and drowning, and that feeling was as good a reminder as anything that he was still alive even if he didn't want to be.

“I ...”

Shouta choked on air, fingers white in the sheets. Across from him, Miss Chiyo hummed softly, a gentle sound on his hot ears.

“You might be wondering why I have these bandaged up ...” she said quietly, almost to herself. She shook her head, silver wisps of hair brushing against her high cheeks. “It seems a little primitive, maybe, but necessary. You don't get a kiss this time, young man.”

Shouta ducked his head, his worst fears confirmed in a rush of nasty stomach-heaving fear. She hated him. Miss Chiyo, the kindest hero on Earth who slipped them gummies if they brought her tea between classes, hated him.

He'd done exactly what she would hate, after all – he was his own villain, tearing up his body stupidly and leaving her to fix it – and Shouta guessed he deserved that hate. Welcomed it. He blocked all of his emotions and just sat in that empty space, shaking in the bed.

He didn't deserve to be healed. Of course he didn't. He never did.

“It's not that it wouldn't be simple to heal ... but that these aren't wounds. Not of the traditional kind, anyway.”

Shouta looked up, perplexed. She was smiling. At him.

It was a sad expression, but it derailed him from his dangerous thoughts. Slowly, glancing up at him for assurance or permission, Miss Chiyo reached over and gently drew her fingers over the bit of white cotton jutting out of his hospital gown. Her skin was amazingly cool and Shouta felt a flash of relief, or just a blatant hunger for – and fear of – kind touch.

“You see ... You're not the first to come with these marks, and you won't be the last. I know you're smart. I know you probably have a whole list of reasons, and you could turn me on my head with theory. I'm not here to tell you you're wrong or think any one way about what you're doing.”

Shouta ducked his head, heart pounding at the very idea of judgment. He'd built up so many walls against it, against the inevitable exposure and crash and hatred and blame. He recited rebuttals in his bed at night until he was a knot of anger for months, and, here, she breezed right through everything he'd prepared. How?

“People cope with this kind of life in a lot of ways, but those who care about you so deeply – like Miss Nemuri, even if she has an odd way of showing it – well, we have reason to worry about something like this. You see, I hesitate to heal these types of hurts because it simplifies them ... And if the scars were to disappear, it would be just as easy to pretend that the pain that caused them was never real, either.”

Slowly, gently, Miss Chiyo moved from his hip and covered his hand with her own, her fingers wrapping around his hot skin. With that light touch, she held him down, held him together and out of the panic that filled his young body so battered from the strain of lying and trying and failing. In that moment, Shouta hurt so acutely he began to shake. The IV line swayed above him, a world away.

“We will not lose you to silence, sweet boy. I'm here for you,” she promised in a whisper. “Your friends are here for you. We want you to know that you're worth it – worth our time, worth our concern and worth our anger. Because you're worth protecting.”

She squeezed his hand and carefully tucked his tangled hair out of his face, behind his ear, and the touch sent something dangerously sharp down into his hollow chest. It felt like something, and that was dangerous enough.

Shouta looked up at her wordlessly, his breath caught in his throat. She smiled at him. She really smiled, like she didn't hate him. Farthest from it, and it didn't make sense.

“Now, Shouta-kun … is there anything you want to tell us?”

The first sob broke him in half, and it was all he could do just to sit and exist and hold her hand as he fell apart and she stood guard, his cries ringing through the empty ward.

Then, he started talking.

 


 

They were very pretty, or so he reasoned. He wasn't very good at this kind of thing.

Aizawa wasn't used to physically holding flowers, either, but he'd gotten the top-heavy things to the medical ward without swiping the blossoms off on a lamppost or breaking the reedy stems in half. He was confident in his selection – the biggest, bushiest, most colorful blossoms the local market had to offer – until about three steps from her door, where he stopped. It was an effort to knock on her door, as it always was.

Once she called him in, however, the sight of Miss Chiyo levered industriously high in her pink rolling chair, color coding a rainbow of student Physical forms, was enough to quiet his heart.

“I just … wanted to say thank you,” he said gruffly when she turned in her chair and exclaimed happily at the sight of him. The explosion of flowers was abruptly heavy in his hand, and insufferably awkward. What good were flowers?

Across from him, Miss Chiyo leaned out and put her hand to her ear.

“What was that, sweet boy?” she chirped, all smiles. She motioned at him. “Come, come! I'm afraid you'll have to venture closer, my hearing isn't what it used to be. Old age isn't contagious, now, so don't fret!”

Aizawa wanted to think she was faking it, not being able to hear him, but she was so much older now. The simple passage of time, etched in her crows feet and the height she'd lost since he was a student, tended to frighten him, because Aizawa couldn't imagine a world without her.

She was so small. But then, weren't they all?

Drawn by gravity, the weight of the flowers in his fist, Aizawa – Shouta – found himself kneeling in front of her chair, dry eyes locked on the spotless medical ward floor.

“Thank you,” he said, voice hoarse. “For saving me.”

“Mm? Oh, yes, that USJ business was very bad, very bad indeed,” she crooned, leaning forward and tutting and patting his hand. “You almost lost your eyes, you know. It gave me a turn, but I did everything I could. It was enough.”

This time.

The sentiment seemed to go weighty and unspoken, and the pro hero was abruptly shaken with the realization of how much she must have suffered over the years, struggling to save them all as they edged just that much closer to destroying themselves in the name of peace. And yet, here she was. A healer, fighting harder than any of them ever would. Aizawa blinked at a cool, gentle touch at his cheek and let Miss Chiyo tilt his head up, her paunchy cheeks rosy and full as she smiled at him with all her might, simply radiating bliss from the barely visible sparkle of her glass green eyes.

“You are a very special boy, sweet one. You've been through so much, and you're so strong. I'm so proud of you, the way you help those boys and girls! Teaching them how to stay out of my office, hm?”

Aizawa smiled back, barely feeling it but for the warmth on his face. Then he blinked a little harder than necessary, trying to clear something from his eyes and keep it in his chest at the same time. Torn.

“Thank you, Miss Chiyo,” he said, fighting the urge to duck his head again. To hide in his hair. He swallowed thickly. “Not really a boy anymore.”

“Always my boy,” she said in trembling tones, leaning down and kissing him fiercely on the forehead. He felt the instant flush spread over his bruised, exhausted body, lighting it up inside his jumpsuit. Finally, it felt like he could exhale.

They talked about little things and school life. Gossip, or as much as he could offer or abide. He gave Miss Chiyo the bouquet with little ado and she played coy, dramatically offering to go without if he had someone special(er) to give it to, but snatching it up in an instant, and with a cackle, when he dryly insisted it was hers. As he watched her totter around for a vase, muttering to herself about how the linens needed to be pressed before sundown, his eyes began to water, and he was soundly crushed by how generous she was. Then and now.

She found a vase, and water, and the spray of blossoms looked lovely and alive and hopeful on her desk. Lovely as her, almost. On his way out, Aizawa promised to bring her tea every Monday, his heart so full it nearly blocked his tired throat. She brightened even further, ready to clap her hands in glee, then looked beyond him and abruptly cleared her throat, lips pinched severely.

Aizawa turned, and Toshinori was waiting in the doorway, preparatively half-bowed in abject submission.

He had come to bring Miss Chiyo a pen he had accidentally stolen earlier – which was flabbergasting in itself, because she taped big plastic flowers to all her pens just so they wouldn't get stolen, but his pockets were as big as the rest of him so Aizawa guessed it didn't matter – and she rapped him on the knuckles with the contraband for his crimes.

She began to scold him, defiantly leveraging Aizawa's fresh floral tribute to her against the older hero's general lack of care and social graces, demanding gifts of chocolate or tea as recompense. Toshinori glanced at his co-teacher beseechingly, like he wanted to be rescued from his own mistakes and absentminded thievery, but Aizawa just shrugged, chuckling to himself, and let it be. Grateful for the show.

After bidding goodbye to their resident angel, the two heroes left together, shoulder to shoulder and silent. There were no questions, just the occasional comment on the warm, breezy weather that Toshinori seemed happy to breathe in, and when they ended up at the older hero's street, an incomplete offer for coffee was all it took to get him inside. Aizawa moored himself on Toshinori's couch and stared at nothing in particular, feeling out the aches in his body under the blush of the ancient hero's healing Quirk, until a warm hand touched his shoulder.

“You look tired,” Toshinori said softly, with a bracing smile to match.

The way he was leaning down, tall enough to block the light, there was a halo around his wild yellow hair, and Aizawa blinked up at him slowly, unable to process how much he trusted that big hand on his shoulder when so few were allowed to touch him like that. Suddenly, he ached in a different way.

He hadn't even thought about the coffee brewing in the kitchen, or how Toshinori could have bought the tiny hand press for anyone but himself when he'd never seen the man even touch coffee.

“You've been working overtime and Miss Chiyo's Quirk takes a lot out of you, Aizawa-kun. I know better than most, I think,” he continued in low, sweet tones, a deep chuckle effortlessly raising the hair of Aizawa's arms. “One afternoon of rest isn't enough, for the kind of work you're doing. Why don't you take my bed? Just for a little while.”

Staring blankly up at the older hero, adrift in a space not his own, Aizawa thought about protesting.

He thought about leaving, or at least doing the normal noble human song and dance of insisting on the couch, but he was tired. Too tired, inside and out, and too late in realizing it. So when Toshinori helped him up with crushing care, promising coffee when he woke, Aizawa just went.

“Please, take off your uniform, if you like. There's no need for it right now,” Toshinori said warmly as the door closed, and he did, clumsily kicking it to the floor.

Alone and mostly naked, listening to the sounds of the older hero moving around in the kitchen, Aizawa found his hands wandering self-consciously over his skin, and he briefly blinked down at his scarred, toughened body. The puckered bullet holes, the particular sideways mouths of knife wounds, and a story for each. The fat, waxy strip on his hip.

Hesitating for just a moment, Aizawa passed his thumb over it and, maybe for the first time in his life, didn't feel a sour flinch of shame. It had been a long time. Long enough, maybe, to really believe that he'd done the best he could and was trying to do better every day and it was enough.

He was enough, maybe.

In the end, the path of least resistance and a ragged, purely animal need for shelter found the hero nearly naked and sliding into a strange bed he'd only passed out drunk in before, sinking into the densely plush pillows and very aware of his own heavy breaths in the cool dark of the unfamiliar bedroom and the warm, vaguely cinnamon scent of Toshinori that lingered there.

Encased by the reassuring pressure of the comforter, Aizawa curled up in Toshinori's bed and fretfully hung on to consciousness for all of five minutes, which was the approximate time it took to hear the door open and feel careful hands pulling the comforter up over his shoulders, patting. His skin tingled pleasantly as he dissolved into the sheets and the quiet. The door closed again.

Then Aizawa slept, deep and warm and, above all, profoundly safe.