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We Can All Be Heroes

Chapter Text

Izuku wanted a lot of things.

To not be quirkless, to be a pro-hero, for Kacchan to act like his friend again.

But at the moment, he wanted his teacher to stop talking.

"—and we're going to be discussing the high schools you all chose to apply for," his teacher said, voice a dry monotone that did nothing to stop Izuku's growing unease.  He was keenly aware of Kacchan sitting two seats behind him, lax for the time being, a caged monster at rest.  The easy atmosphere would disintegrate the moment Kacchan found out he had been planning on applying to UA, and he sucked in a breath and silently begged his teacher to stop.

His teacher didn't stop.

Izuku sank lower in his seat while his teacher went across the room, announcing his classmates' choices with little fanfare until he paused over Kacchan's name.

"Oh, Bakugou, you and...Midoriya seem to both be applying for UA," their teacher said, staring at the list in his hand.  "Wouldn't it be great if you both got in?" He asked, but neither student was listening.  Izuku was trying to vanish, and Kacchan emanated pure rage at his back.  Izuku guessed he had about three seconds before his friend either blew up his desk or his face, and he started counting.

Three, two, one—

"What the fuck are you trying to pull, Deku?" Kacchan yelled, explosions knocking over Izuku's desk.  Izuku barely managed to scramble backward in time to miss the blast and ended up on the floor.  He opened his mouth to respond, but Kacchan cut him off.  Today wasn't a talking day, apparently.

"I'm the only one from this shitty class that's going to apply to UA!  How the fuck would you even get in when you're quirkless?"  Kacchan spat and Izuku flinched, hiding slightly behind too thin arms.  Izuku watched explosions pop in Kacchan's hands as he tried to form an answer, anything to calm Kacchan down but reasoning and excuses never worked before so why would they now?  He shouldn't have thought he could apply—

"Bakugou, if you will, sit down," their teacher snapped, voice cold and precise as everyone fell silent.  Izuku swallowed, keeping his eyes on Kacchan until his friend gave him a murderous look and stormed back to his seat.  That look meant he would go home with new bruises and his mother's smile would falter.

"Midoriya, that means you too," his teacher said, staring until he scrambled to right his desk and sit down.  Scorch marks littered its surface and he ran a finger through the soot as his teacher rustled his list and continued. 

Izuku didn't try paying attention to the rest of class.  He couldn't stop dragging his fingers through the soot, willing the clock to slow down, slow down please, he didn't want to fight him.  Kacchan kept snapping pencils behind him, a silent promise.  Impossible to ignore.

At some point, he managed to slide out his pro-hero notebook and flipped listlessly through a few pages, but he couldn't form coherent sentences to add.  Ideas skipped and jittered in his mind, making his fingers twitch around his pencil as he tried to ignore the clock.

And then, the bell rang.

Izuku should have put away his things and stood to leave.  Instead, he stared at his desk and took stuttered breaths while the rest of the class filtered out.  He only managed to stand when his last classmate left, and for a brief second he thought Kacchan might leave him alone.

"Where do you think you're going?" Kacchan snapped, looming in front of Izuku and glaring him down.  Izuku shifted on his feet, one hand clutching his backpack strap while he looked around Kacchan.  He blocked the door with his body and hands, too large to get around and the room behind them too small.

"H-home," Izuku stuttered, looking at his feet.  Avoiding Kacchan's gaze wouldn't make him leave, but it might stop him from exploding if he couldn't find something he hated on Izuku's face.

"As if!" Kacchan said, stepping forward while Izuku stepped back.  "You didn't answer me earlier.  What the fuck makes you think you can apply to UA?"  He shouted, hands sparking.  Izuku cringed, mouth dry and words failing.  There wasn't anything he could say that would appease Kacchan.

"Answer me!" Kacchan yelled, voice grating and rough. "Is it because you think you're better than me, you shitty Deku?" Kacchan asked, and Izuku managed to form a reply.

"N-no!" He frantically said, making the mistake of looking up and meeting Kacchan's eyes.

They had been friendly once, years ago.

Now they breathed hatred and Kacchan snarled, face twisting into a violent expression and where did things go wrong?  Izuku found himself taking another step back, but not before Kacchan lunged and tore his backpack from his shoulder, wrenching his right arm.  He gasped in pain and then watched as Kacchan pulled his pro-hero notebook from his bag.

"You're still writing these stupid things?  They won't make up for the fact that you're fucking worthless," Kacchan spat, flipping through a few pages before sneering in disgust and lighting the book on fire with a small explosion. 

Izuku moved without thinking, body jolting and arms reaching for his book.  Kacchan shoved him away with an explosion, singeing his shirt and skin but that didn't matter because his future was burning.

"See?  You can't even fight back.  Even if you did apply, there's no way someone as pathetic as you would get in," Kacchan said, turning toward the windows they stood beside, Izuku belatedly wondering when they had backed up far enough to reach them.  Kacchan lifted an arm, aiming.

"If you're going to be such a shitty use of space, why don't you just—"

No, don't.

"—go jump off a building or something!" Kacchan yelled, throwing his smoldering book out the window.  Izuku watched in vain as it fluttered through the air, vanishing from sight before landing with a wet splash in what he guessed was the small pond below.  Kacchan grinned, and Izuku stared out the window, mouth open, hand frozen mid-air.

"What the fuck, now you're crying?" Izuku startled, hand falling back to his side.  He didn't bother trying to wipe his face.  "Maybe you'll finally understand that people like you can't be heroes," Kacchan spat before shouldering his own bag and storming out.

Izuku cried in the silence.

Soft, muted gasps while he curled in on himself, arms trying and failing to hold himself together.  What had he done wrong?  He shuddered, tears soaking his arms and knees and he knew he should go fetch his notebook, try to save it, but he couldn't move.  His breathing was the only sound in the room, ragged, loud, and painful enough that he hoped a janitor wouldn't hear.

Several minutes later he finally stood, not wanting someone to find him crying alone.  Snot dribbled down his face and his head felt fuzzy, thoughts muted and dull as he slowly left the room.  He might still manage to salvage his book if he tried.  He only had to turn left and go down the staircase.

Instead, he went up.

Izuku leaned against the railing on the roof, arms crossed, sniffling as he looked out over the city.  He had been surprised to find the door unlocked, and tried not to attribute that to some divine sign of what he should do. 

His notebook was a mess, a tiny dot in the small pond—very far, too far— below.  He watched a few pages float away from the binding, trying not to picture the pro-heroes it had housed or the hours spent on drawings. 

He shouldn't look down.

But he did it anyway, pressing his forearms into the railing until pain brought him back and he deflated with a shaky sigh.  He turned his gaze to the city then, picking out tiny people and sheer movement that reminded him how the world moved and would keep on moving.

Izuku didn't know how long he watched the city.

The sun had almost set by the time he blinked and realized he was cold, shivering on the roof in his thin uniform.  Unsure what time it was or where the hours went, he shakily pulled his cell phone from his backpack and flinched when he opened it.  He had missed a few texts and at least three phone calls from his mother, and if he rushed he might be able to make the last train home.

Shivering, he dialed his mother's cell and left the roof, relieved when the door wasn't locked and he slipped out of the school in silence.  The phone rang once before his mother answered, sounding frantic.

"Oh thank god, Izuku are you alright?" He winced, biting his lip and fingering his shoulder strap while he nodded into the air.

"I'm fine mom.  I just..." he trailed off, walking toward the train station as excuses slipped past him.  He couldn't tell her he had stayed after school for something, clubs never ran this late.

"I—" he choked, muffling a sob with a hand, unable to continue.

"Izuku, honey, are you heading home?" Inko asked, and he made a small sound of agreement.  "Then that's all that matters, okay?  We'll talk when you get here, just...be safe for me, okay?" She asked and Izuku nodded again, despite knowing she couldn't see.  He made another small sound and then hung up, rubbing his eyes when he stepped into the station.  Thankfully, he made it in time to catch the last train, and he ignored multiple worried glances when he stepped on and rode home, keeping his head down the entire time.

When Izuku stepped through the door at home his mother had been waiting for him, leaning against the hallway wall, anxious hands wringing out her shirt.  She waited until he shut the door and set his backpack down before she embraced him, holding him tightly and sobbing.

"Never do that again," she said between breaths, and then Izuku was crying, nodding into her shoulder.  She held him for a few minutes, both of them shaking, before she pushed him back and looked him over.  She frowned when she saw no visible wounds.

"What happened?" She sternly asked.  He looked away, unsure how to explain when his stomach growled.  Inko's gaze softened and she sighed as she let him go.

"You're going to eat a late dinner and then explain everything to me, alright?" She said, already walking toward the kitchen.  He followed, swallowing around the tightness in his throat and nodding.

Over a reheated dinner Inko slowly pulled the day's details from Izuku, her sharp gaze never leaving him as he picked and prodded at his food.  He didn't feel like eating, but his mother wouldn't let him leave until he finished, so he ate.  And talked, and lied.  Well, skirted the truth.  By the time he finished his mother had worked out his lateness had something to do with Kacchan, but she couldn't get anything more.  Izuku didn't want her to know, didn't want Kacchan to be punished, didn't want to voice the dark thoughts that had been spiraling through his head.

She took in his half-truths with a pained look and sighed.  He looked up when she walked around the table and pulled him into another hug.

"Will this happen again?" She asked, voice terribly small.  Izuku hugged her back and shook his head.  "You know you can talk to me about anything, right?" She said, fingers gripping him tighter.

"I know, mom," he said as she pulled away with a kiss to his hair.  She held him at arm's length and searched his expression for a moment before she nodded and let him go. 

"Go get some sleep, honey.  Tomorrow's going to be better," she said with a pained smile.  Izuku nodded and fled to his room, managing to shut his door before he broke down.  The faces of every pro-hero on the posters in his room bore down on him, watching him cry until he petered off into little hiccups.  When he finally looked up, he met All Might's gaze from across the room and shuddered.  He could never compare himself to someone like him.  Kacchan had been right.  How could a quirkless nobody become a pro-hero?  People had been telling him this for years but he had never listened, had never wanted to listen.  But if everyone was telling him the same thing, then maybe they were right.

When Izuku sat down for breakfast the next morning, rings under his eyes, hair still a mess, his mother beamed and handed him a plate of waffles.  He took one look at them and then spoke.

"I'm not applying to UA," he said, spearing a waffle with a fork.  Inko froze, coffee cup halfway to her mouth.  He watched her blink and then lower her cup.

"Are you sure?" She asked.

"There's never been a quirkless hero," he blandly said.  "I'm going to look up other schools today," he added, spearing another bite with his fork.  He didn't look up when his mother sniffled, and he finished his breakfast in silence.

"I'm sorry," she eventually said, covering her face and leaving the room.  Izuku watched her go and shoved away his own tears as he pulled on his backpack.  When he left for school, his mother called out from the other room.

"I love you, have a good day!" He gritted his teeth and called back the same before he turned to face the day.

**

Kacchan didn't show up for school.

Izuku had hesitantly sat down at his still-burned desk and had been surprised Kacchan wasn't already in class.  Despite Kacchan's standoff nature, he had some of the best grades and never missed a day.  Izuku dismissed his absence until the bell rang for homeroom and their teacher walked in.  Kacchan still hadn't shown up.  Unsettled, Izuku pushed him from his mind and immersed himself in school work, getting lost in the routine.

Kacchan didn't show up the next day.  Or the day after that.

It wasn't until a week later that Izuku stepped into their classroom and saw Kacchan sitting at his desk.

Izuku froze.

Kacchan was actually sitting at his desk, head down, notebook already open.  Izuku stared, unmoving until someone tapped him on the shoulder and asked him to please move because he was blocking the door.  Confused, he sat down and pulled out his own things before twisting around in his seat, opening his mouth to ask Kacchan where he had been.  But then he got a good look at Kacchan's face halfway through his question and paused.

A large scar covered most of Kacchan's right eye and a bit of his nose.  Stunned, Izuku stared until Kacchan noticed and looked up, immediately snapping his pencil in half.

"What are you looking at, Deku?" Kacchan hissed, narrowing his eyes.  Unable to respond, Izuku numbly lifted a hand to his own eye and watched Kacchan flinch

"It's a scar.  Stop staring, you idiot," Kacchan said, but there was no heat in his voice.

"But...what happened?" Izuku managed to ask, still staring, unable to stop because nothing could hurt Kacchan.  He was invincible, the golden child with the golden quirk, smearing Izuku's face into the dirt.  Something akin to hurt flashed through Kacchan's eyes, and he looked away, hiding his face.

"Didn't you watch the news?  There was a villain attack last week," Kacchan said.  Izuku waited for him to continue, but he didn't.  He just stared to the side and then pulled out a new pencil when their teacher walked in.  Izuku wanted to ask him again about what happened, but class began and Kacchan avoided him for the rest of the day.  It wasn't until Izuku looked up the news at home did he get the entire story.

 Apparently, a sludge villain had attacked a crowded intersection last week, and Kacchan had been caught in the middle.  Izuku watched a shaky video of the sludge villain attacking Kacchan, overpowering him within moments.  The video showed a few pro-heroes arguing, trying to keep the crowd back while figuring out how to save him.  None of them seemed to be able to get close enough, and Izuku watched his friend struggle and vanish when the villain shoved itself down his throat.  Izuku held his breath, reminding himself Kacchan would get out of this alive, and watched a large explosion light up the screen.  A few bystanders screamed and the video shook, but not enough to stop Izuku from seeing how Kacchan had reappeared with a hand aimed toward his face.  He set off another explosion, driving the villain back enough for him to scream profanities and heave a breath as blood dripped down his face.

"DO NOT FEAR, FOR I AM HERE!" All Might's voice rang out in the chaos, off-screen for a moment until the video swung his way.  And there he was, brilliant and tall and Izuku breathed a sigh in relief.  It was a matter of seconds before All Might took advantage of the opening Kacchan had created and pulled him free.  All Might set him down near the crowd and then took care of the villain, the camera focusing on him for the rest of the video.

Stunned, Izuku leaned back in his chair, trying to wipe the expression Kacchan had been making in the villain's clutches from his mind.  He had looked so scared, like he needed help, but none of the pro-heroes had been able to save him.  Izuku watched Kacchan turn his quirk on himself in his mind until his mother knocked on his door and opened it.

"I wanted to let you know that dinner's ready—" she stopped and blinked, taking in his tears and computer screen.  He didn't stop her when she walked over and restarted the video, watching it play through in silence until the end.  Only once it finished did she hug him tightly until their emotions ran dry.

The next day, Izuku walked into class and took one look at Kacchan, meeting his surprised gaze and giving him a brief nod.  Kacchan scowled, but Izuku ignored him and sat down, resolving to do better, to find a path that could save people.  He couldn't be a pro-hero, but maybe he could save lives in his own way.

**

All too soon, graduation was upon them. 

Kacchan had been accepted into UA, Izuku into a few different high schools.  All were good options, but they felt hollow when Kacchan yelled about his own success.

But Izuku moved onto his own high school while Kacchan moved onto UA, and Izuku didn't speak to him again.

**

The years trickled by after that while Izuku studied and worked and graduated from high school.  They were surprisingly calm, mostly gentle, and passed with an anonymity he had never experienced in middle school.  He didn't forget about Kacchan so much as quietly move his friend to the farthest reaches of his mind, locking his feelings behind a wall.  A wall that only grew stronger when Kacchan graduated UA and started his pro-hero career. 

Because while Izuku studied health and medical training, Kacchan built a name for himself.

Detonator.

Violent—passionate, his fans would come to say—and reckless, savage in his efforts to save and to destroy.  His anger became famous, mimicked by children, manipulated by villains, stirring up controversy on all sides until he clawed his way into the number two hero slot.

And what a pair him and the number one hero, Endeavor, ended up making.

Izuku spent late nights pouring over emergency procedures.  He studied everyday situations and then switched to pro-hero videos to watch how civilians were saved and treated.  He watched the top two heroes meet up during battles and begrudgingly agree to work together, if only because they believed no one could beat either of them.  Somehow, Izuku didn't find their constant swearing at one another funny as some of the news reporters did.

Maybe because they had never had those words directed at them.

Regardless, the two heroes worked together more than Endeavor and All Might ever had, even if neither party seemed enthusiastic about it.  They still weren't All Might.  Izuku watched video after video and never saw the sheer hope he had seen emanating from All Might in either of them.  He would heave a sigh at this point, look at the clock, and force himself to sleep.

All the late nights and analyses proved worth it when he completed his training with high marks and received his paramedic certification.  Grinning, he had raced home, certificate in hand, and celebrated with his mother until they were both stuffed with food and laugher.  He wasn't a pro-hero, but it was something.

Time skipped and jumped in spurts after that.  He landed his first job as an emergency responder, working under another paramedic until he could direct a crowd or a frightened mother to safety.  He moved into his own apartment—albeit a small, dingy one—and took up visiting his mother on weekends.  He worked third shifts, morning shifts, and random hours until he gathered enough experience and respect to be allowed in an ambulance as a first responder for villain attacks.

He would always remember the bright, vivid moment of his first villain aftermath.  He had thrown up behind the ambulance, shaking until he wiped his mouth and grabbed his medical bag, rushing toward the people who needed his help. 

On the good days, he saved lives.

On the bad days, he cried alone in his apartment after work, covered in blood or soot and unable to let it go.

Despite everything, he woke up early, greeted the day with a smile and went about his normal routine.  He ran as the sun rose, and then stopped at a corner shop for breakfast and coffee.  He could make his own, but then the elderly woman who owned the place wouldn't have anyone to talk to.  He went to work and cleaned the ambulance, coated his arms in blood, restocked supplies, and brought people down from panic attacks.  He'd stagger home, wash the day away and then fall into bed.

Rinse, then repeat.

He didn't fight villains, only watched the pro-heroes fight until it was safe enough for him to help the civilians.  He didn't have a hero name or recognition, but people clung to him when he saved their lives.  And that was enough.

Wasn't it?

He should have been happy.  He didn't exactly have friends, but his co-workers were nice, celebrated with him on his birthday, invited him to parties he never went to.  He worked hard, and his mother welcomed him home every weekend. 

And yet.

He couldn't escape the dull ache of loneliness and failure that lurked during the night.  The sense that he should be doing more, that what he was doing wasn't enough.  He would whittle away the hours filling his pro-hero notebooks with details until he fell asleep at his desk. 

Analyzing every new hero until he knew their names by heart. 

Analyzing every person he had lost on the job until he knew their names by heart, fingers scraped raw as he dug his pencil into his notebooks and wrote ways to save the dead. 

He wrote until the rings under his eyes became a staple he covered daily with concealer.  Until he looked in the mirror every morning, forcing himself to smile despite the weariness dragging at his sleeves.  Until he built himself up enough to face the day, and then challenged the world while knowing he wasn't doing enough.

Rinse, then repeat.

Chapter Text

Izuku, unlike most people his age, was a morning person.

He enjoyed waking with the sun, and his positivity in the early hours baffled his co-workers at first.  But as time went by and his upbeat attitude persisted, they threw their hands up and attributed his mood to nothing short of sheer determination.

He was a morning person, but it didn't mean he enjoyed waking up at 3am for what his co-workers had affectionately dubbed the night-morning shift.

Izuku's alarm blared loudly, jolting him from a nightmare. 

He winced at the sudden crick in his neck, rubbing at it as he wiped drool off his face and contemplated his clock across the room.  He had fallen asleep at his desk again, and his pencil rolled away when he stiffly stood and shut off his alarm.  He had an hour before he needed to be at work, and he rubbed his eyes and sighed before moving into the bathroom, hoping a shower would wake him up.

Slightly more alive after his shower, he dressed and covered the rings under his eyes before heading into his kitchen.  It was less of a kitchen and more of an addition onto the living room, but the stove worked and he couldn't complain.  His stomach protested the toast he made, insisting it was too early, but he didn't have a choice.  He would feel sick the rest of the day if he didn't eat, so he forced down two pieces of toast and jam.  Making a cup of coffee for the road, he packed his medical bag and slung it over his shoulder, squaring his shoulders and reminding himself to smile.

The benefit of working such an early morning shift was that he spent most of his time restocking and cleaning the ambulance.  No one wanted to be up that early, villains included, and the majority of their emergency calls were health-related.  He used to work those calls, but ever since he worked his way onto the special unit covering villain attacks, his early shifts changed from heart attacks to stocking gauze.

Needless to say, he preferred his day and afternoon shifts a lot more.

Izuku waved to the secretary when he arrived at work and clocked in, giving him a polite smile and greeting.  He didn't stop to chat, instead adjusting his bag and heading back towards the stock room where his co-worker, Yoko, would likely be.

Sure enough, he walked into the room as she dropped a few boxes on the ground, a loud thud echoing in the relative silence.  She dusted off her hands and turned toward him when she heard him enter, a slow smile stretching across her face.

"Morning, Izuku," she said, turning back toward the boxes of what appeared to be gauze and bandages. 

"It's too early, Yoko," he quipped, setting his bag down before moving to help her with the supplies.  She laughed and kept unpacking, pointing him toward a few other boxes.

Izuku had been paired with Mori Yoko for almost a year, and they had long since dispensed of using their respective surnames.  Izuku had been hesitant at first, but after too many hard days pressed against her side, covered in fluids and trying to save lives, he had given up caring. 

It helped that Yoko was a tall woman—taller than Izuku—with a sturdy build and kind eyes.  Her dark hair was always tied in a complicated braid, keeping it out of her face and away from her young daughter's grabbing hands.

Izuku had seen more pictures of her daughter than he could count, but he never complained.  Partially because he liked kids, and mainly because Yoko drove their ambulance with what could only be described as a vengeance.  He didn't want to get on her bad side.

Izuku grabbed a pair of scissors and then went to work beside her, methodically unpacking the supplies and sorting them into piles, Yoko keeping up a steady stream of banter about her daughter as they went. 

They were halfway through the various piles the when emergency call sign started flashing in their room.  Surprised, Izuku stared at the sign for a moment until Yoko threw him his bag.

"Let's go," she said, striding out the door while he scrambled in her wake. 

They received the details of the call as Yoko drove, Izuku relaying the information while he listened to the scanner.  Someone had frantically called for an ambulance and claimed a pro-hero had been injured, but hadn't mentioned the pro-hero's name.  They had only given a vague location before hanging up, and Izuku frowned as they sped through the still dark streets. 

They ended up in a rough neighborhood, the kind of place he didn't want to be aimlessly driving around in.  He hoped the call wasn't a prank and then grabbed the door handle as Yoko swerved around a tight corner.  He shot her a glare and she grinned, hands gripping the wheel and eyes never leaving the road.

Since they weren't given a specific location, they guessed the area and slowed to a stop on what looked like a normal street, if you ignored the bars and broken bottles lying around.  The entire street was deserted in the early hour, and they exchanged an uneasy look.  No police cars were there yet, which meant they had to wait in their vehicle in case villains were still around.

"Should we...?" Izuku hedged, looking around as if that would make someone appear.  Yoko made an aggravated sound, resting her head against the steering wheel.

"We can't," she said.

"But what if—"

"Izuku, no," she said sternly, head still against the wheel.  Izuku bit his lip, looking outside as his fingers twitched, itching to do something; to check things out, to look around and see if maybe they were only missing who had made the call and someone might be needing their help so they should just—

A loud clatter in the street jolted him from his thoughts and Yoko's head snapped up.  They watched a desperate looking man knock over a trashcan as he darted out from an alley and then scrambled away.  He vanished down the street, and they sat in silence until Izuku unbuckled his seatbelt and Yoko hissed.

"Izuku," she said, giving him a sharp look. 

"I'm only going to check," he said while opening the door and jumping down.  "It's likely that was the only villain and if he's running away that means a pro-hero needs our help," he added.  Yoko stared at him and then sighed, gritting her teeth.

"This is a terrible idea, but you're going to go whether I let you or not.  Be quick about it," She said and he nodded, already jogging toward the alley.

He only had to run a few meters before nearing the alley's entrance, and he cast a quick glance back at the ambulance when he slowed down.  Yoko glared at him over the wheel, gesturing a few times before he turned back around. 

The entrance to the alley was oppressive, dark and hidden from the few streetlights.  He hesitated for a brief moment, and then continued, a small thrill running through him at the idea of the sheer unknown.

A few more steps and he stepped into the alley, blinking in the darkness.  Silence and darkness greeted him, and he grimaced and pulled out his phone, already resigning himself to having to report a false call.

It was only after he had swiped his phone light on did he freeze, the light illuminating the alley.  It took his mind precious seconds to process the scene and then he ran, darting out of the alley and frantically signaling to Yoko.  She jolted in her seat and then started scrambling out, grabbing their bags on the way. 

Meanwhile, Izuku heard sirens in the distance and turned back into the alley, casting a quick glance around to make sure that no one was hiding in a dark corner.  Satisfied he was alone, he ran to the dark shape of a man lying on the ground, surrounded by a pool of blood.

Eraserhead?

He blinked back shock when he recognized the pro-hero, catching sight of a broken pair of yellow goggles and a tattered scarf lying scattered across the alley.  Izuku knelt beside him, searching for a pulse and sighing in relief when he felt one.  It was faint, but there, and he looked up when Yoko skidded into the alley.  Her eyes narrowed and then she moved, sliding Izuku his bag as they started to work.

Between the two of them, they braced Eraserhead's neck and turned him over, finally able to see the source of the blood.  A gash ran across his forehead, still sluggishly bleeding and a thin line of blood dripped from his mouth.  His suit was torn across his chest and arms, and Izuku held his neck in place as Yoko bandaged up the worst cuts. 

Izuku couldn't help wondering what had happened.

Eraserhead had been a pro-hero for years, and although he didn't have the notoriety of other heroes, Izuku knew he was a force to be reckoned with. 

Years ago, back when Eraserhead still taught, a group of villains attacked UA and he fought them off single-handedly until All Might had shown up.  He had almost died, but he had taken down numerous villains with him.  And yet, Izuku had only seen one person running from the alley, so what the hell had happened?

"Shouta?"  Izuku flinched as a voice echoed through the streets and into the alley, unnaturally loud and frantic.  Yoko's hands twitched but kept moving, stopping the bleeding and ignoring the shouts.  In the background, the police sirens grew louder.

"Izuku, can you get the stretcher?" She asked, and another yell ripped through the alley.

"Shouta!" He winced and nodded, standing and running back toward the ambulance in a fluid motion. 

He recognized the voice, although he couldn't pinpoint from where.  It wasn't until he pulled the stretcher out did he realize where he had heard that voice before.  Another yell—closer this time—and a man burst out from around the street's corner, yellow hair down and glasses askew.

"Present Mic," Izuku breathed, stunned for a moment until the weight of the stretcher brought him back.  He started wheeling it toward the alley when Present Mic saw him and broke into a run.

"Do you know where he is?" Present Mic called as he ran toward him, racing past the alley and inadvertently blocking his path.

"Sir, you need to move," Izuku said.  Present Mic merely shivered and looked around.  Belatedly, Izuku realized he didn't have a coat on, and seemed to be dressed in what looked like pajamas.

"But have you seen Shouta—"

"I'm trying to help him but you need to move," Izuku said, glaring until Present Mic numbly shifted aside.  Yoko called out from the alley and Izuku hurried to move, watching Present Mic's head whip toward the sound.

"Izuku, if you're not back here in two seconds I'm coming to—"

"I'm here," Izuku rasped, out of breath after wheeling the stretcher into the alley.  Yoko was waiting for him and looked relived as she moved to help him lower the stretcher.  They worked in tandem to strap Eraserhead onto it and then they were off, wheeling him out of the alley and onto the street.

They almost ran over Present Mic when they left the alley, the pro-hero jolting out of the way at the last second.  His eyes had gone wide, a hand outstretched toward Eraserhead when they wheeled him past.  Izuku looked away from the painful gesture and focused on avoiding the broken glass in the street. 

By the time they reached the ambulance, Present Mic trailed after them in muted silence and a police car had pulled onto the street.  When they lifted Eraserhead into the back, Present Mic blinked and came back to himself, catching the door before Yoko slammed it shut.

"I'm coming with you," he said, stepping into the van with Izuku. 

"Sir, you can't—" Yoko protested, but he cut her off.

"I'm his medical proxy and best friend, and I'm coming with you," he said, voice sharp.  Exasperated, Yoko made eye contact with Izuku for confirmation and groaned when he nodded.

"Okay, fine.  Since we're breaking all the rules today anyways," Yoko muttered and then slammed the door shut, heading to talk to the police.  Izuku heard her quickly relaying what they had seen before she climbed into the driver seat and slammed the door.  He held a breathing mask over Eraserhead's face, keeping it secure when the ambulance rocked and started moving forward, sending Present Mic into the side of the wall.

"You can sit down over here," Izuku gently said, pointing his free hand at a makeshift seat built into the side of the small space.  Present Mic nodded and fumbled his way to the seat, all but collapsing into it as they jolted around a turn.  He reached toward Eraserhead, hesitating and looking at Izuku for a moment before grabbing Eraserhead's hand, gripping it tight. 

Izuku swallowed around the sudden lump in his throat, looking away while Present Mic bent over Eraserhead's hand in what looked like devotion or prayer, as if sheer emotion could save his friend.  It was too much, suddenly too real in the small space and Izuku barely managed to keep his breathing steady as they rounded another turn.

"Hold on, Shouta, please," Present Mic rasped and Izuku closed his eyes, unable to stop intruding.  Dimly, Izuku heard Yoko shouting over the radio, and then they were stopping, light flooding into the back and a crowd of people already waiting.

Within moments Eraserhead had been wheeled out of the ambulance and off into the hospital, a group of nurses and doctors already working as they rushed to save his life.  Present Mic ran after them and they vanished through the hospital doors, silence falling in their wake.  Izuku jumped when Yoko sat down on the back of the ambulance beside him, hands still stained red. 

"That was a pro hero, right?" Yoko asked, giving him an odd look.  "Because he didn't look like much," she said, and Izuku stuttered out a laugh, shoulders shaking.

"Oh my god," he groaned, almost making the mistake of burying his face in his still dirty hands.  Yoko chuckled at the motion and then hopped down, tilting a head toward the hospital.

"Come on, we should get ourselves cleaned up.  We still have all those supplies to unpack," she said with a roll of her shoulders.  Izuku pushed himself up, looking forward to washing the blood from his hands while he tried not to worry about the pro-heroes.

He knew Eraserhead was in good hands.  If he survived that school attack, then this was nothing, right?

Izuku stared in the direction the nurses had gone before shaking himself and running to catch up with Yoko. 

After all, their day had only just begun.

Chapter Text

"Shouto, you're too old to be pulling these rebellious acts."

Shouto didn't flinch—he had learned not to years ago—even though he could feel the heat of his father's flames from across the room.  He shouldn't have come home, but his father had been pestering him for weeks about a visit, demanding and forceful until what little confidence he did have bent in the wind and carried him to the door.

He never wanted to come but always did, their conversations spinning around a focal point Shouto detested.

"I'm not seeing her," he said, holding back the anger, his face a blank mask.  Endeavor tightened his fists and Shouto breathed, telling himself he was too old to be fearing those hands.  But when they flexed, he shivered, and Endeavor narrowed his eyes in victory.

"She was in your graduating class, surely that's good enough for you," Endeavor said, sighing in frustration and walking toward Shouto. 

Shouto did not back away.

"I barely know her," he said, lying and failing to keep a tendril of exasperation from his tone.  He couldn't keep his eyes off his father's hands, couldn't stop feeling the heat, and didn't realize a small patch of ice had formed under him on the floor.

"What does that matter?  Surely you found her pleasant enough back then," Endeavor gritted his teeth and continued.  "Do you understand how lenient I'm being with you?  You refused to meet with the last two women, and you never showed for the meeting I set up for you with the third!"

"Of course I didn't!" Shouto snapped, mask slipping as it gave way to fear.

"Of course?  Shouto, do you know what I had to do to set up that meeting?  And then you went trouncing off like a defiant teenager, making me look like a fool," Endeavor hissed, steam parting his lips.  Shouto took a step back, hitting the kitchen counter.  He wasn't being cornered, he wasn't being cornered, he wasn't being cornered.

"I—"

"Just meet with the damn girl!" Endeavor cut him off with a shout, flames flaring.

Shouto flinched. 

His father stared him down, eyes burning holes through him until he sagged and dropped his gaze to his feet.

Submission.

"See?  Now was that so hard?" Endeavor said, turning away in dismissal.  "The meeting's later today, I'll have someone pick you up so you can't run away this time," he added, and then turned back to look at Shouto.

"Did I make myself clear?" He asked, his voice tearing into Shouto like a knife.  Shouto nodded, and his father smirked.  Appeased, he left the kitchen and Shouto managed to stand for a few seconds before crumpling into himself.  Shaking, he allowed himself a moment before he pushed everything away, tucking it neatly behind a blank face and tight fingers.  His nails dug into his arms, grounding him enough to get out of the house.

Shouto headed to work after that with his head down and hood lifted.  He couldn't deal with strangers flocking to him today, not when his thoughts kept spiraling around his father and today's meeting. 

He didn't want to marry anyone.

It wasn't that he didn't remember Yaoyorozu, or even disliked her, but that he didn't want his father forcing him into a marriage.  He didn't want to end up like him, bitter, angry, and burning everything he touched.  A brief picture of Yaoyorozu protecting a small child flashed through his mind and Shouto blanched, shuddering and tightening his hands around his forearms.

He could only hope she didn't want a marriage either, but he couldn't remember enough about her to know if it was a feasible idea.  They used to talk and he remembered a few things, but only in the vague way he remembered all of his high school years—hazy and obscured by a dark cloud.

More recently he had run into her a few times while working disaster relief missions.  She would be the calm pillar amongst the chaos, working in the background and directing heroes and emergency responders where they needed to go.  Meanwhile, she created supplies and extra materials to hand out for those who needed it.  He admired her ability to interact with multiple people and multitask in a way he never could, but his father had set them up only because of her rich family and powerful quirk.

And no matter how many times he failed to stand up to his father, he refused to marry someone for their quirk.  He let out a clouded breath and blinked, pulling his right side back under control and tugging his hood closer until he finally stepped into the pro-hero office where he worked.

Shouto hadn't been close to his classmates when they had graduated.

He had set out to destroy his father and garner no friends, and had succeeded at the latter.  Although, very few of his classmates had been friends after everything that had happened, and he wasn't surprised when they scattered to different hero agencies.  In fact, the only person he regularly saw anymore was Kirishima, who had managed to get a position in the same hero agency as him.

"What's up, Ice King?" Someone cheerfully called when he stepped into work, and he looked up to see Kirishima leaning against a table, coffee in hand, toothy grin on his face.  Shouto frowned, and Kirishima grinned wider, playfully laughing.

"What?  I heard that one yesterday and it's so manly!  Much better than Freeze Ray, if you ask me," he said, holding out the coffee.  Shouto sighed and accepted the drink, grateful that despite the bantering, Kirishima was a decent person and used his pro-hero name, unlike the rest of the public. 

A decent person who didn't need to drink coffee in the morning, but still.

Kirishima's energy was encompassing and infectious, and Shouto started to relax as they walked back to their offices, mentally preparing for the stack of paperwork that awaited them while shoving Yaoyorozu from his mind.

They completed a good chunk of their paperwork as the morning went by, although Kirishima complained every hour.  He kept his banter light, sending glances toward Shouto periodically and adjusting his tone from whatever he saw. 

The distractions were appreciated, and Shouto relaxed into the monotonous work until they were called out for a minor villain attack.  Shouto encased his left side in ice as they went, the motion turned into muscle memory from years of use.

The 'minor' attack turned out to be a few villains who had attacked civilians and stopped traffic in a crowded intersection.  Shouto clenched his hands and took in the large crowd, emergency and police vehicles, and where the villains were holding a few people hostage.

"I'll take the one on the left," Kirishima said, arms already hardening while they slipped through the anxious crowd, and people parted for them when they recognized Kirishima's hair and Shouto's icy armor. 

Drawing closer to the villains, Shouto stiffened when he realized one of them was holding onto a small girl, roughly yanking her hair as she wailed for her mother.  He wailed as a slap tore through the air and his mother fell, protecting until her tears graced the ground and suddenly she was damaging, boiling water everywhere—

His control cracked.

One moment everyone was yelling, and the next everything was encased in ice.

"What the heck, man?" Kirishima said, surprise and anger crossing his face as he looked at Shouto.  Dead silence fell over the intersection and Shouto let out a cloudy breath, closing his eyes against his work.  He hadn't meant to—

The little girl was still crying, and he opened his eyes when he heard Kirishima walking toward her.  Unlike the villains and half the buildings around them, the young girl and the rest of the civilians were untouched by the ice.  Kirishima put on a bright smile and crouched down, calming the young girl.  She hiccupped and wiped snot from her face before allowing him to pick her up, and then everything jerked back into motion.

There was no clapping.  No civilians cheered.

Everything had happened so quickly that the crowd stood stunned, hands half-raised in belated gestures, phones half-pulled from pockets.  They only moved when the police and paramedics rushed forward. 

Shouto watched them, then looked at the sharp ice encasing the ground for a long moment.  Kneeling, he started melting the extra ice while the police handcuffed the frozen villains.  Shouto unfroze them last, looking away.

His gaze landed on a young paramedic across the street who seemed to be checking over the girl Kirishima had carried away.  Shouto watched the young man work, surprised by the bright smile and tangle of curls as he knelt on the ground to talk to the girl.  He made large gestures and smiled until the girl nodded and he lifted her onto the back of an ambulance.  He started to wipe her face clean, and then Kirishima snapped Shouto out of his trance.

"I talked to the police, they'll be sending by the paperwork later today," he said, hands somehow tucked into the almost non-existent pockets of his hero uniform.  Shouto stared at him, drifting.

"Are you okay?" Kirishima asked with a furrowed brow, a hand half-raised toward him.  Coming back to himself, Shouto rolled his shoulders and flexed his hands with a shrug.  Kirishima sighed and walked past him with a sullen look.

"You coming?" he paused to ask, looking back at Shouto, an unspoken question in his eyes.  Shouto swallowed and nodded, knowing Kirishima wanted to ask what was wrong.  He wouldn't though.  He had given up trying years ago.

Instead, he hesitantly patted Shouto's right shoulder when he caught up to him and Shouto did his best not to flinch.

"Let's go get lunch," Kirishima suggested, and Shouto minutely relaxed, nodding and following when Kirishima led them away from the scene.

**

Later that day, Shouto stepped out of the car his father had sent and grimaced at the sight of a high-end restaurant.  Of course his father set up the meeting at one of the nicest restaurants around, as if the high-class atmosphere and small portions would cajole him into changing his mind.  Thankfully, he had changed into more formal clothes.  He would rather not be overdressed, but he'd had a feeling his father would do something like this.  Sighing, he adjusted his cuffs and strode inside.

The faster he went in, the faster this charade could be over with.

When he walked inside and gave his name, a suited waitress led him to a table where interestingly, Yaoyorozu was already waiting and fiddling with a champagne glass.  He thanked the waitress and sat down, greeting her when she looked up in surprise.

"Good evening," he stiffly said, resting his hands in his lap while he tried not to frown.  He didn't want to be there, but that didn't mean he should take it out on her.  She likely had little say in the matter, so he would be polite and grit his teeth and then come up with a reason not to see her again.

"It's been too long, Todoroki," she said with a soft smile, setting her glass down and folding her hands on the table.  Shouto warily watched the precise movement, taking in the set of her hands and shoulders and wondering what she had planned. 

"You've been doing well with your pro-hero work though," he said, watching her fingers twitch.  She caught his gaze and stared back before abruptly dropping her cordial expression.

"You don't want to be here," she said, although it sounded more like a question.  His eyes widened and he sat up, regarding her carefully.

"I don't, no," he said, pausing and fiddling with his own glass.  "Despite voicing my inclinations, my father continuously throws me at women in a desperate attempt to stroke his own ego," he said with a small frown.  He looked up sharply when Yaoyorozu laughed, and watched her cover her mouth with a hand.

"Well, that makes things a lot easier," she said through her hand, and the tension drained from her shoulders.  "I don't want to be here either, but my girlfriend at least understands that my parents won't stop trying to set me up with suitors," she said with a grimace as she picked up the menu.

"Your...girlfriend?" Shouto hedged, unsure if she had meant to let that slip.  Judging by her sudden blush, she hadn't.  She coughed and waved a hand, hiding her eyes in her menu.

"Yes, I—" she hesitated, looked to the side, then met his gaze.

"Do you remember Jirou from class?" she asked.  He shook his head.  He barely remembered anyone's names from their class.

"The one with the earjacks?"  She clarified, looking amused. 

"I'm sorry, I don't remember her," he said, picking up his own menu.  He scanned it quickly, mouth pressing into a line at the exorbitant prices.

"It's alright.  But since we're both not interested, how about I fill you in on what you've missed and we enjoy a meal on your dad's tab?" She suggested with a grin.  Shouto huffed, the smallest laugh escaping him as he nodded.

"We used to be friends, you know," she said as set down her menu and stared.  "I miss that at times."  Shouto sighed and ran a hand through his hair, looking away.

"I know, I just—"

"It's hard."

"Yes," he acknowledged, turning back to meet her gaze.   Before high school, they had confided in one another, trading secrets over stuffy dinners and in the background where no parents watched.  But then high school started and they were devoured by their emotions and the burden the villain attacks put on their shoulders.  Neither had cracked under the strain, but by their third year they barely talked despite seeing one another daily.

"So let's order the most expensive thing on the menu and get you caught up," she said while waving a waiter over.  Shouto smiled and then passed the rest of the evening listening to her.  She filled him in on her pro-hero career, on Jirou, on every mundane bit of her life until they were both bursting with food and she was slightly tipsy.

He escorted her home and smirked when she made a comment about how they must look like a young couple.  She giggled and patted him on the shoulder before she headed inside, and he watched her until she disappeared.

Feeling better than he originally had hoped, he turned and headed back to his own apartment, mind starting to slip back into crafting the lies he needed to tell in the morning.  Half-truths sounding real enough that his father would stop forcing him onto women for a month or two.

He'd never escape him.

The thought hit him like a blow as he stepped into his apartment, and he stopped on his doorstep and clutched his shirt.  A rush of what felt like needles pulsed through his chest and he gripped the doorframe with his other hand until he heard it strain and crack.  He jumped and turned to see a patch of ice cracking the frame, and his left arm shook when he raised it to melt the ice.

How long would his father keep pushing him?  The training sessions had ended long ago but then the match-making had started.  It didn't matter that he had moved out, that he worked across the city, that he refused every woman his father threw at him.

The smell of burning wood broke him from his thoughts and he blinked to see the doorframe smoldering under his hand.  Flinching, he smoothed over the wood with his other hand and then stepped inside to shut the door.  His neighbors weren't nosy, but considering the danger of an apartment fire, they'd investigate if they smelled something burning.

Safely out of the hall, Shouto tried to wring out the tension in his shoulders and took a hot shower when he failed.  Something about the hot water always managed to ease the knots from his back, and he sighed in relief when he stepped under the steaming spray.  His thoughts drifted as he washed himself and his hair, straying to the villain fight from earlier.

He had overused his quirk again.

The sight of half the intersection covered in ice had made him step back.  He hadn't planned on using that much ice, but he had been angry and frustrated from talking to his father and his control had slipped.  He frowned in the shower, looking down at his right hand.  His control hadn't slipped like that since he had graduated high school.

Normally, it was satisfying enough that he had made a career without using his father's quirk.  But he wasn't free.  Steam rose from his left side and suddenly he was too hot, his face was burning

He slammed the dial to cold and gasped when icy water sloshed over him.

He shivered and finished his shower in the cold, shaking until he stepped out and dried himself off.  A bedraggled stranger greeted him in the mirror, hair falling just over his eyes, a perpetual frown etched onto his face.  When had he stopped smiling?  He flexed his fingers and turned away, drying himself off and getting dressed.

Encased in a warm sweater, he grabbed a glass of water and sat down on the couch in his small living room, turning on the TV.  He didn't want to watch the news, but he needed the background noise until his fingers stopped shaking.  Not surprisingly, the news was running a story about the villain attack from earlier, mostly using pictures and relayed descriptions considering the lack of videos.

Wait.

Shouto blinked and re-read the ticker tape at the bottom of the screen. 

Pro-heroes Red-Eye and Red Riot apprehend villains in seconds.  Shouto stared and swallowed his frustration, setting his glass down before he broke it.  He wasn't thirsty anymore, anyways. 

No one remembered his pro-hero name.

It had started back in high school.  His classmates had been hesitant—it was his given name after all, they said it felt weird—and eventually settled on using his surname. 

Then one of them accidentally called him something different in public.  Something made up, just a name to use among themselves.  But a reporter had heard the name, and because Shouto had left to avoid interviews, they had assumed it was his pro-hero name.

Things spiraled from there.

He was listed at his agency as Shouto, but everyone from the press to the pro-hero fans used something different.  He corrected them when asked, but nothing he did seemed to fix the issue.  At the very least, the made-up names were better than being referred to as Endeavor's son. 

"—underground pro-hero, Eraserhead, was found early this morning in the wake of a villain attack."  Shouto froze and looked back at the TV, moving to turn up the volume. 

"First responders say there were no civilians injured, but the number of villains involved in the attack is yet unknown.  No villains were apprehended, and the person who called in the attack could not be reached.  Police were given a general location and asked to send emergency vehicles, which our reporters say they saw leaving the scene when they arrived.  No further information is known about the attack, and the villains may still be on the loose.  So if you live in..."  Shouto turned off the TV and picked up his phone, an uneasy sense that he should do something washing over him. 

Aizawa had been his teacher, although ruthless, but he had guided them throughout the mess of their high school years; and not knowing if he was alive left an unpleasant taste in his mouth.  Shouto stared down at his phone, thumb hesitating over his contacts list.  Who did he even have to call?

His contacts list was sparse, nothing more than Fuyumi's and a few of his old classmates'.  Yaoyorozu, Kirishima, and oddly enough, Asui—Tsuyu, a voice said in his mind. 

He had never felt lonely but there was something depressing about the short list of names.  Probably that he could see them all at once without scrolling.  His thumb hesitated over Kirishima's name and then he threw his phone onto the floor in frustration.

They weren't friends.  Friends made plans and did things together, or whatever friends did whenever he saw people walking in groups on the streets, laughing and hanging off shoulders as if the entire world was a joke.  

Giving up, he left his phone on the floor and headed toward his bed.  He wouldn't bother Kirishima this late.  They'd see one another in the morning and he could ask him about Aizawa then. 

Scrubbing a hand over his face, Shouto slid into his sheets and tried to sleep.  He tossed and turned for awhile, skin crawling, needles poking his chest until he gave up with a groan and shoved back the covers. 

He rubbed his eyes and headed toward his desk.  If he couldn't sleep, he might as well get something done.  His laptop whirred on with a sigh, his eyes protested, and his body slipped deeper into his seat as he pulled up some paperwork.

Aizawa would be fine.

Chapter Text

The weekend arrived with little fanfare. 

It dawned slowly, syrupy thick and with a gradual warmth that permeated the spring day by noon.  Izuku enjoyed wearing a lighter jacket as he went to pick up flowers for his mother.  He had started the tradition years ago, and seeing his mother slowly but surely smile every week at the flowers filled him with a warmth that kept him going.

He dipped into a small flower store on his way to her place.  He had become a regular there almost as soon as he had stumbled upon it, loving the close atmosphere and wide selection.

The store was busy when he stepped inside, but when he placed his order they said it wouldn't take too long if he didn't mind hanging around.  He smiled, told them not to rush, and then wandered around the rest of the store.

He ended up near a large collection of succulents, and although the miniature plants had always appealed to him, he never bought any.  Between his job and general lack of sleep, he doubted he would remember to take care of one, and he didn't want to wake up one morning to see it shriveled and dead.  He rubbed his face and then leaned closer to the plants, at least enjoying the smell here if he couldn't at home.

"They're cute, aren't they," a woman said and Izuku jumped, thrown off-balance and falling toward the plants.  An arm shot out between him and the plants and he ran into it with a huff, regaining his balance and turning to the person beside him with an apology on his lips.

"I'm so sorry I—"

"It was my fault," the woman said, blinking slowly, focused on the small plants.  Something about her voice stopped him from apologizing again, and he looked her over.  She had a strong build but relaxed posture, shorter than him and wearing a green sundress that suited the warm weather.  Her dark green hair was tied up in a complicated hairdo, and Izuku tilted his head slightly.

Did he know her?

She seemed vaguely familiar, but before he could try to remember from where, she spoke again.

"I like them because they're small," she said, hands resting near her chest, hanging limp in a way that would have been strange had it been anyone else.  The motion suited her somehow, and Izuku followed her gaze back to the succulents.

"Do you have any?" he asked, and she gave the faintest nod.

"An entire collection.  Keeps everything fresh.  You?" She asked, and it took him a moment to realize she had directed the question at him.  His eye itched and he rubbed it, shaking his head.

"I don't think I'd have enough time," he softly said, looking back at her.  He started when he saw her already looking at him, a finger pressed to her lips, tongue hanging down slightly.  He paused, holding her gaze until she suddenly turned around and walked away.

"Wait here, ribbit," she said before vanishing into a darker corner of the store.  He stood there for a few moments before he realized he didn't want to bother her and should probably go after her and let her know that she didn't have to do anything for him—

"Here," she said, returning with a small plant in her arms.  It had large green and yellow leaves, and when she dropped it in his arms the pot was heavier than he had expected.

"What—"

"Devil's Ivy," she said as she pulled out the small name tag for him to read.  "Impossible to kill."

"But I can't..." he trailed off when she furrowed her brow, and he hid his gaze in the plant, absently rubbing at one of its waxy leaves.  He didn't look back at her until he felt her tap his arm.

"It's nice to have something to take care of," she said, reaching up and tapping her face.

"Because it reminds you to take care of yourself," she added and he froze, fingers going tight around the plant.  How did she...?

Stunned, he watched her give him a pointed look before she leaned around him and scooped up a succulent.

"It needs partial sun, ribbit," she said and then she was gone, weaving through the store and to the checkout counter.  It was only after she paid and left did he realize who he had been talking to. 

He hadn't seen the pro-hero Froppy in civilian clothes before, after all.

"Order for Midoriya?"  Izuku jolted at the sound of his name being called from the checkout counter and mutely made his way over to see the cashier holding a bundle of flowers.  He thanked her and paid for the bouquet, hesitating briefly before he bought the Devil's Ivy as well.  When she started laughing, he looked up from his wallet to see her waving a hand at him.

"I'm sorry, but Froppy got to you too, didn't she?" The woman asked with a grin as she took his money. 

"What?," Izuku blinked, not understanding, and the woman rushed to clarify.

"She comes in here a lot to visit an old friend who works here, and I swear she sells more plants than my co-workers do," she said with a soft laugh before handing him his change.  Izuku pocketed it and picked up his plant and the bouquet, juggling them for a second before he managed to hold them securely.

"Was her friend here today?" He hadn't seen the pro-hero talking to anyone before she left, and the thought that he had stopped her from visiting a friend knotted his chest and pulled his shoulders toward the floor.  The cashier wilted slightly and turned toward the store's back room.

"He wasn't in today, no," she said, her voice heavy.  Izuku nodded and managed to gesture with one hand, almost dropping the pot in the process.

"I'm glad I didn't bother her," he said, and was relieved to see the woman perk up.  "I'll be going then, have a nice day," he added, and left after she wished him the same.

On the way out, he caught his reflection in the door's window and paused, eyes widening at the dark circle beneath his one eye.  His thoughts flashed to Froppy tapping her face and he sucked in a breath.

She had been trying to help.

Dazed, Izuku used his shoulder to push open the door and then headed to his mother's place.  He stopped for a brief moment to reapply concealer when he got there and then knocked on her door.

His mother answered with a smile and a warmth only she could achieve.  Blinding, radiant, and all-encompassing as she swept him into a hug while minding the flowers in his arms.  She stepped back after she released him, but not before giving him a quick kiss on his forehead that had him affectionately scrunching his face.

"Mooommm,"  he complained, wishing he had a free hand to wipe his forehead.  She grinned and scooped the bouquet from his arms before heading inside.

"I do it because I love you," she cheerfully said, walking into the kitchen and heading toward the now week-old bouquet on the kitchen table.  Izuku groaned and followed her inside after shutting the door, setting his own pot down on the table while she exchanged the flowers.

"I hope you like them, they had tulips this time," he said as he sat down, mindlessly stroking one of the ivy's waxy leaves.  Inko hummed and nodded, straightening up the new flowers as she filled the vase with water.

"Of course I like them, dear," she said when she turned back around.  "They liven up the place," she added, setting the vase down with a resounding thud.  Izuku watched the movement and then took a closer look at his mother.

She was smiling, but the lines around her eyes told a different story.  As did the makeup she wore.  She never wore makeup.

"Mom, is everything—"

"I'm fine, honey," she softly said, patting his hand before sitting down.  "I worry, that's all, and some days I worry more than others." She was still smiling.  "Today's just one of those days," she finished, looking toward his plant.

Izuku swallowed and fiddled with another leaf.

"I'm sorry," he said, the words bubbling up and out before he could stop them.  Her gaze hardened and snapped back to him and he shrunk into his seat.

"There is nothing you need to apologize for, do you hear me?" she said, staring until he nodded and she sighed.

"It's just that...I know your job is stressful and sometimes I wish I could be there for you.  You're all alone in that apartment," she said, looking at her hands. 

She's all alone here too.

"Izuku?  Honey, why are you crying?  I'm alright, I promise," she said and then she was around the table, arms encircling him before he even realized he was crying.  He buried his face into her shoulder and clung to her for a few minutes, reveling in her warmth.  I'm sorry, mom.

After a few moments he sniffled and pulled away, and she cupped his face, wiping off a few tears. 

When she suddenly frowned, he froze.  Her brow furrowed and she bit her lip, meeting his gaze.

"You haven't been sleeping," she stated, her voice bitter around the fact. 

"I..." Izuku trailed off and looked away, not willing to voice the truth but unable to lie.  She sighed and stood, heading toward the counter.

"How was work this week?  You had those early shifts this time, didn't you?" She asked, tactfully changing the subject as she filled a kettle with water, and he latched onto the change like a lifeline.

The rest of his visit passed over soothing tea while he told her about his week, skimming over the more dangerous details and filling them in with stories about Yoko's terrifying driving.  They laughed together and Izuku felt his chest lift by the time his tea was gone.  He refilled his cup and then nudged his mother about her own week, snorting when she complained about her co-workers and how one person had brought pre-made cookies to a potluck. 

He asked if they had been good cookies, and she gave him a stern look, saying she hadn't tried them on principle.  Potlucks were for cooking, and mooching food when you were someone who couldn't cook; not for bringing store-bought pristine cookies.

It made everyone else look bad, she said, and then broke into a fit of giggles that smoothed the lines from her face.  Izuku mirrored her smile, and when he finished his second cup he stood to leave.

Inko walked him to the door and held his plant while he slipped on his shoes.  When she handed it back to him she paused, both their hands resting on the pot.

"Izuku, are you happy?" she asked, and he made the mistake of looking in her eyes. 

The sadness he saw there would haunt him.

"I save lives every day, mom," he said, forcing himself to smile.  She stared and then let go of the pot, patting his shoulder.

"You'll come by next week?"

"I'll come by every week," he promised, managing a one-armed hug before he waved and left for his own place.

Izuku made it to the end of her street before his shoulders caved and he buried his face in his plant, unwilling to let anyone see his tears.

**

Izuku devoted Saturday to his mother and Sunday to his notebooks.

He sat at his desk with his latest one—number 23—open in front of him, flipping through the pages as he tried to find the entry he was looking for.  His new plant sat on the corner of his desk, soaking in a patch of sunlight.

He hadn't named it yet. 

A voice in his mind whispered Katsuki whenever he looked at it, but his stomach twisted uneasily at the idea.  Frowning, he shoved the name away and kept flipping through his notebook.

There.

Izuku smoothed his hand over the well-used page, grateful he had decided to switch to lineless notebooks.  He had gotten better at drawing pro-heroes and their equipment over the years, and the lineless space was much easier to work with. 

Hero name: Shouto
Quirk: Ice Creation  Half Cold-Half Hot

A half finished picture of the number three hero greeted him and he grimaced, pulling up a reference picture on his phone.  Izuku had been trying for weeks to draw Shouto's left side correctly, but something about the encasing of ice threw him off every time.

Sighing, he looked at his reference picture and then got to work, trying to capture the ice's fluidity and the body hidden underneath.

His eyes had been so sad.

Izuku paused, thinking back to when he had happened to catch a glimpse of the pro-hero in person.  Yoko and him had arrived on the scene of a villain attack and had barely stepped out of their vehicle when everything had gone cold.

Izuku had stared in awe with the rest of the crowd, unable to look away from where Shouto stood by Red Riot, arm falling back to his side.  The ice had been beautiful, but Shouto's lips had been turned down, his eyes full of pain.  At least, the eye Izuku could see looked haunted.  Shouto's left eye was nothing more than a red hole, vacant and piercing, and Izuku couldn't bring himself to look at it for too long.

Even now, as he sketched it onto the page, it devoured him whole.

He shivered and looked away, gaze landing on the ever-growing list of names people used for the pro-hero.

Nicknames: Snow Cone, Ice King, Frozone...

The list continued partway down the page, and Izuku added Red-Eye to the bottom.  The new name had popped up on the news in the last few days, and he'd check again for others later. 

He chuckled at some of the names on the list and gave up again on Shouto's left side.  He had managed to draw the left side of his face and shoulder, but he couldn't force himself to finish it now.  Instead, he jotted down a few pieces of information he had worked out from seeing him in person and moved onto a much easier sketch of Shouto in his civilian clothes.

When he finished, a stern face greeted him and he flicked away some eraser shavings, proud despite how forlorn Shouto looked.  Unsettled, Izuku abruptly closed the book and slid it into place alongside the previous volumes on his bookshelf, taking a moment to run his hand along their spines. 

His notebooks were stashed on the bookshelf beside his desk, each volume a different color that boasted his handwriting and the mark of time from years of use.  He had re-done his oldest ones years ago when the pages had started falling apart, and his hand briefly paused where number 13 should have been, but wasn't. 

Don't dwell on it.

Izuku moved on and grabbed the notebook that contained Eraserhead and Present Mic, flipping it open to their pages and ignoring the line of black notebooks on the shelf beneath his colorful ones. 

After all, he hadn't lost anyone this week.

Amusingly, he had made Eraserhead and Present Mic's pages back-to-back.  The notebook was years old by this point but considering the new information he had about their relationship, their pages being close together seemed fitting.

Because no one ran into a dingy street that early in the morning for just a friend.  Present Mic's frantic screams echoed in Izuku's mind, the pro-hero's torn expression, how he bent over Eraserhead and gripped his hand. 

Izuku faintly blushed and shook himself, wiping the image from his mind and jotting down Eraserhead and Present Mic??? underneath their relationship sections.  Izuku had assumed the two were only friends, but considering how difficult it was to get any information on Eraserhead, he could be wrong.

Regardless, he'd pay more attention to their interactions in the future.

**

The new work week dawned bright and early.

Ochako enjoyed the warm weather while she ate her lunch on top of a partially constructed high-rise, munching away at a tuna sandwich.  She sat on a crossbeam, swinging her feet and watching the city move far below.

Her sun-tanned skin was covered in sweat and a pair of dirty gloves sat beside her.  Her sandwich tasted heavenly for once, a practiced combination of nausea medicine and remembering to drink water making it sit lightly in her stomach.

"How's the weather up there?" Ochako swallowed a bite and looked down, leaning slightly to see a group of her co-workers standing on the completed floor a story below.  She grinned at them and waved.

"Not too breezy!" She yelled back, and they laughed in return, packing away the remains of their lunches as their break ended.  Quickly finishing her own sandwich, she packed away her trash and clicked her lunchbox shut, shifting slightly to set it on the beam behind her.  As she turned, her elbow rammed into her water bottle and it teetered precariously for a second before she scrambled and grabbed it, stopping it from tipping over the edge.

Relieved, she tucked it under her arm and grabbed her gloves, activating her quirk on herself and dropping down lightly to the floor below.  Lunchbox away and gloves on, she grinned at her co-workers as their supervisor started barking out orders.

She was soldering a junction together when a frantic shout caught her attention.

"Oh shit, Uraraka, the beam!" Someone yelled and she looked around in time to see her co-worker point toward the junction of two platforms, where someone had precariously stacked some extra beams.  The pile in question was shaking—probably from the twenty or so people walking around up here—and one beam had slid long-ways and into thin air.

Ochako gasped and scrambled toward the beam, arm outstretched, knowing she only had to tap it—

But to her horror, it groaned and tipped over the edge before she could reach it.

She heard multiple people swear and she stared after the beam as if that would bring it back. 

And then, without thinking, she dove over the side of the building.

The wind whistled past her ears, and a small part of her started screaming.

She had jumped off a building.

Ochako could see the beam below her, falling quickly—too quickly—toward the street, far enough away from the building that it wouldn't hit the scaffolding that covered part of the sidewalk.  People were walking below, chatting on phones, heading to work, and she folded her arms above her head like a dive and plummeted faster.

The sidewalk rushed toward her, but so did the beam.  Her ears were ringing, telling her to activate her quirk, to slow down, please slow downpleaseslowdownpleaseslowdown.

The beam loomed just out of reach, and she gritted her teeth, stretching out an arm.  She ignored the impending ground, the scattered screams, the taste of tuna sandwich in the back of her mouth.  Just a little farther.

And then she slapped the beam as hard as she could, activating her quirk on it and herself.  Her stomach lurched when she suddenly slowed, only a few meters from the ground.  She grabbed the beam and clutched it to her chest until she floated down and her feet touched the sidewalk, the beam landing with a solid thud.

She shakily blew out a breath, and looked up from the beam into the greenest pair of eyes she had ever seen.

Thrown, she accidentally deactivated her quirk and the beam fell to the ground, ringing loudly and cracking the sidewalk.  Her and the man in front of her both jumped at the sound, along with a few other people walking past.  They shot her angry glares before heading on their way and then the man cleared his throat.

"Are...are you okay?" he asked, his voice softer than she had expected.  His large eyes were full of worry, a small crease appearing between them as he tilted his head full of equally green curls.  Belatedly, she realized he was wearing some type of work uniform, and she opened her mouth to let him know she was alright.

And then her stomach revolted and upended her tuna sandwich on his shirt.

**

Thankfully, the man was a saint.

He flushed and waved his arms as she profusely apologized, wiping her face on her dirty arm and inadvertently smearing dust across her face.

The sound of her phone ringing startled them both, and she fumbled to pull it from her pocket, gesturing at him to wait.  She winced when she answered it, her supervisor yelling loud enough that she had to hold the phone away from her ear.

In his defense, he only wanted to know if she was alright and if that person standing beside her was going to sue them.  Ochako blinked and looked back at the man, covering her phone.

"You're not going to sue us, are you?" she asked, and the man stared back before fluttering his hands again.

"W-what, no!  I'm sure it was an accident and I'm perfectly fine there's no reason to—" Ochako let the man ramble, telling her supervisor everything was alright except for the man's ruined shirt.  He sighed and informed her there should be some extra clothes in their staffroom and then hung up.

"—and I really wouldn't want to be a bother," the man finished, looking down at the ground as if he had done something wrong.  Ochako pursed her lips and slipped her phone back into her pocket.

"Hey, it's alright.  My boss isn't mad, and he says we've got some extra clothes if you want to change?" she asked, smiling and pointing toward the building.  The man looked relieved and nodded, stepping to her side.

"Are you sure it wouldn't be a problem?"

"I can't let you walk home like that," she said, wrinkling her nose.  He looked down at himself, as if he had forgotten the vomit, and then for some reason started laughing.

"Honestly, I've had worse," he said and Ochako choked on a laugh.

"Really?" she asked, leading him into the building and making a beeline for the staffroom.  He followed, keeping by her side.

"I'm a paramedic, it comes in the job description," he said with a small grin and suddenly his uniform made sense.  Her face fell and she stopped just inside the staffroom.

"Then that means I ruined your...oh no, were you on your way to work?" She asked, and he waved a hand, shaking his head.

"Again, it's fine.  I just finished my shift and was heading home," he said, and then looked around the staff room.  "You mentioned there were extra clothes?" he hedged, and she nodded, walking toward a locker.

"I'm glad I didn't ruin your work day before it started.  And here," she said, pulling out a folded stack of clothes from a locker, "I'm not sure what's in this pile but something should fit."  The man accepted the pile and carefully held them away from his ruined shirt, staring at her awkwardly for a moment.

"Do you um, have a bathroom where I could change?" he softly asked and Ochako blushed, quickly pointing to the back of the room.

"Sorry!  There's one back there, and I'll grab you a plastic bag to put your shirt in," she said and then rummaged around for a bag as he went to the bathroom.

A few minutes later he reappeared, clad in an old work shirt and holding his soiled uniform away from himself.  Ochako rushed to hold open a plastic bag and he looked relieved when he gingerly tossed the uniform inside and tied the bag shut.

"Thank you," he said, looking up at her and Ochako was struck again by his eyes.  So green.

"It's no problem, Mr...?" She paused, realizing she hadn't caught his name.

"Midoriya, it's nice to meet you," he said, nodding her way.

"It's nice to meet you too, although I wish I hadn't lost my lunch.  I'm Uraraka, by the way," she added, walking out of the staffroom and back toward the building's entrance.

"Is that a side effect of your quirk?" He asked as they walked, and when she turned toward him he was looking back, curious.  She blushed and nodded, rubbing her neck and smearing more dirt on her skin.

"I normally take medication for the nausea, but when I overuse my quirk I still get really sick," she explained, and was surprised to see him nod and pinch his bottom lip, brow furrowing in thought.

"I see, so it's likely you only use your quirk to help lift smaller objects while you work, but it probably comes in handy for moving larger materials without the help of a crane.  And you'd be able to move around high locations more freely without worrying about falling and I imagine that—" Midoriya stopped muttering only when he seemed to realize Ochako had stopped a few feet back, her eyes wide.

"O-oh, I'm sorry," he stuttered, blushing.  "I sometimes go off on tangents and well...," he trailed off and Ochako grinned, catching up to him.

"No, that was amazing!" she said, bouncing slightly on her toes.  "Is that your quirk?  Something analysis based?" she asked, glowing until his face fell and he looked away.

"Ah, I'm quirkless.  I just really like studying these things," he said, voice detached in a way that spoke of years of repeated conversations with the same outcome. 

"Well I think it's really cool!" She said, determinately beaming at him until he looked back and his eyes widened at her expression.

"Your quirk is amazing too, by the way," Midoriya said, and Ochako was relieved to see him shyly smile as he pulled at a piece of his hair.  She mirrored his grin, and then they were back at the building's entrance. 

They stopped when they stepped onto the sidewalk, Midoriya fidgeting with his shirt and Ochako staring at the fallen beam.

"I guess I should get this back upstairs," she said with a groan, leaning down and activating her quirk so she could stand up the beam.  Her stomach complained, and she complained back, willing it to stop until Midoriya left. 

"I...may I have your number?" Midoriya asked and Ochako flushed, clinging to the beam as he rushed to clarify.  "I-I mean, it's that I'd like to return this shirt after I get home," he said, pulling at the hem, the plastic bag crinkling against his leg.  Ochako calmed herself enough to nod, and then looked at the beam she was holding.

"How about I give you my number and you send me a text?" she suggested, and he nodded, pulling out his phone and fiddling with it.  When he was ready, she relayed her number and he smiled, sending off a quick text before putting his phone away.

"I'll see you around then?" He asked, and she grinned.

"Of course!" she cheerfully said, and then glanced up at the top of the building. 

"I should probably get going though.  It was nice meeting you!" she said, lifting the beam and turning back toward the building.  Midoriya nodded and waved as she stepped inside.

"Have a good day!" He called, and when she looked back he was gone, already walking down the street.  Ochako watched him and then lugged the beam inside, unsure whether her stomach was fluttering from her quirk or her emotions.

Smiling, she shifted the beam in her arms and practically floated to the top of the building.

Chapter Text

A few days after meeting Uraraka, Izuku walked into work and found the lobby in a state of relative chaos.

Nurses were rushing around, ushering people out of the lobby and into a side hall, and Izuku watched people filter out in confusion.  He walked up to the main desk and the secretary gave him a weary greeting.

"What's going on?"  He asked, and the secretary sighed, rubbing his eyes.

"It's Present Mic.  He came to visit Eraserhead and well—"

"—YOU CAN'T KEEP DOING THIS!"  A pained yell echoed down the hall and Izuku winced, covering his ears.  The secretary gritted his teeth and did the same.  So loud. 

"He started yelling five minutes ago and nobody can get close enough to stop him.  We're moving everyone out of the lobby until we do," the secretary explained and Izuku furrowed his brow.  Present Mic's voice sounded strained, and Izuku pictured him bent over Eraserhead, disheveled and worried.

Another yell ripped through the hall and the secretary flinched, tightening his hands over his ears.  Izuku looked down the hall and back and was startled to see the secretary crying.

"No one could get him to calm down?" Izuku asked, and the secretary shook his head.

"Could you let Yoko know I'll be late?" Izuku asked before heading toward Present Mic's yells.

"Midoriya, wait!" The secretary called and Izuku paused, looking back, an argument on his lips.  The secretary wiped his face and gestured down the hall.

"He's in room 178," he said, and then waved Izuku on.  Izuku nodded and took off down the hall in a jog, covering his ears, his medical bag thumping against his thigh.  The yells grew louder until a brief silence descended in the halls—he assumed Eraserhead was talking—and he picked up his pace.

Izuku skidded to a stop in front of Eraserhead's room and wrenched the door open, staggering against it when Present Mic started yelling again.

"DON'T YOU THINK I CARE?" The force of Present Mic's quirk was deafening, and Izuku painfully covered his ears and took in the room. 

Eraserhead was sitting up on his bed, propped up by some pillows and covered in a few bandages.  He stared at the wall with an expressionless face, ignoring Present Mic.  Izuku looked toward the other man and sucked in a breath, startled.

Present Mic was a mess. 

His hair was disheveled, barely tied up in an uncoordinated bun.  It looked greasy, as if he hadn't washed it recently, and his iconic glasses lay discarded on the side table beside Eraserhead's bed.  His clothes were wrinkled as well, and his posture threw Izuku off.

Present Mic stood facing Eraserhead, fingers tightly gripping his sides as if to keep himself from falling.  But his shoulders were hunched and his face was turned toward the wall, away from Eraserhead.  Izuku followed his gaze and swallowed.

There was a sizeable dent in the wall where Present Mic had turned his face.  He was trying to protect Eraserhead.

"Who the hell are you?" A gruff voice broke the silence Izuku hadn't realized had descended and he jumped, glancing back toward Eraserhead.  He blanched under the man's intense stare and looked away.

Shitty Deku.

"M-Midoriya," he said, slowly uncovering his ears when it seemed like Present Mic wasn't going to yell again.

"Why are you here?" Eraserhead snapped and Izuku looked back at him, surprised by his tone.

"It's Present Mic, his voice is distressing the other patients and—" Izuku stopped when he heard Present Mic's breath hitch.  Unprepared, he turned toward the hero and watched him bury his face in his hands and start to sob.

"Sir, it's alright if you stop yelling, you can keep visiting him," Izuku gently said, taking a step toward Present Mic.

"I'm sorry, I can't—" Present Mic started and then broke off, stepping past Izuku and rushing out of the room.

Silence hung heavy in his wake and Izuku cleared his throat, turning back toward Eraserhead.

"Get out," Eraserhead said, still staring at the wall, mouth a tight line and hands fisted into his sheets.  Izuku hesitated, flexing his hands.

"But sir, are you alright—"

"I said get out," Eraserhead snapped and Izuku jumped, clutching the strap of his medical bag and quickly stepping out of the room.  He closed the door and made it a few steps down the hall before he had to stop and lean against the wall as the situation caught up to him.

Present Mic hadn't been yelling at him.

Theoretically, Izuku knew this, but regardless his mind screamed loudloudloud and his body shook as he counted his breaths and tried to pull himself together. 

You're a worthless piece of shit, Deku!

He gripped his chest and closed his eyes, trying to shove Kacchan's voice back behind the wall in his mind. 

"Izuku."

A blast echoed, Kacchan's laughter bouncing with it as Izuku fell to the dirt, tasting blood.

"Izuku," Someone said and then a gentle hand tapped his shoulder.  Izuku gasped and opened his eyes, seeing Yoko in front of him—not Kacchan—with a worried expression.

"Breathe with me," she softly said and then tapped his arms in time to her breathing until he stopped wheezing.

"Thank you," he finally managed to say, pushing himself away from the wall as she patted his shoulder and Kacchan's laughter faded.

"Any time.  When you didn't show up I went to the front desk and they said you'd come down here to help.  But you still hadn't come back and I got worried," she explained as they started heading back toward the lobby.  Izuku shakily followed her, small jitters still running through his chest.  Loud sounds normally didn't bother him, but something about people yelling always dredged up memories.

"It wasn't Present Mic's fault.  I don't know what he was shouting about but something between them is wrong," Izuku said, shaking his head.  Yoko sighed as they entered the lobby, and Izuku watched the secretary give him a relieved wave.  He waved back when Yoko spoke.

"Whatever it is, it's not your problem, okay?" She sternly said, and Izuku frowned.

"We have our own job to do, and sorting out pro-heroes' emotional lives is not part of that job," she stated and he deflated, knowing she was right.

"Alright," he said and followed Yoko back to their workroom.

"Try not to worry about it too much, okay?  And hey, I think I might have packed some juice boxes in my own lunch by mistake.  You want one?" She asked, already pulling out her bag.  They still had hours before lunch, but Izuku faintly smiled and nodded.

"That'd be nice," he said, and gratefully accepted the small box she handed him.

**

Izuku was late.

He had finally worked up the nerve to text the woman he had met—Uraraka—and they had decided to meet later today in a small cafe close to where she worked.

After that morning, he had almost texted her to reschedule their meeting but Yoko talked him down and assured him the rest of their shift would be fine.

And it had been.

Until they were called out just before the end of their shift and Yoko nearly flipped the ambulance avoiding Mount Lady's foot when the pro-hero arrived. 

Thankfully, the villains were quickly restrained and no civilians were seriously injured, but the sheer amount of residual damage Mount Lady caused had them running from building to building to make sure no one had been crushed.

By the time they made it back to the hospital, Izuku was covered in dust and half an hour late to meet Uraraka.  He had frantically texted her that he was on his way and then had taken off, hastily grabbing his things and heading toward the cafe. 

He arrived out of breath and caught sight of Uraraka already sitting at a table, cradling a steaming mug.  She waved when she saw him, and he sighed in relief, walking over and sitting down.

Izuku went to greet her, and then promptly sneezed into her face.

Mortified, he blushed and grabbed a few napkins, covering his nose and sliding a few toward her as he rambled.

"Oh my god I'm so sorry I didn't have time to wipe my face and I'm covered in dust and I—"  He stopped when Uraraka laughed, snorting and almost tipping her mug.

"Now we're even!" She giggled while wrinkling her nose and snatching a napkin, hastily wiping her face and sliding the soiled napkin off to the side.

"I'm so sorry," he repeated, trying to clean the fallen dust from the table and only succeeding in smearing more across it.  She smiled and waved a hand.

"Like you, I've also had worse," she said with a small groan before sipping from her mug.  "I once got drenched with the backwash from a cement mixer."  She shuddered and pulled at a longer strand of her hair.

"The smell didn't come out for days and I had to cut my hair really short!" She added, and he tried to picture her with shorter hair and failed.

"Either way, I'm still sorry," he said, and she pursed her lips and let out a puff of air.

"I'm glad to see your uniform's okay," she changed topics and he blinked, looking down at himself with a nervous laugh.  If you ignored the bits of rubble and cement dust, his uniform was okay.

"Nothing a quick wash can't fix, and oh—here's your shirt back," he said, handing her the borrowed shirt in a plastic bag, making sure not to drop dust into her mug in the process.

"Thanks!  We have a million of these extra things, but we like to make sure to bring them back so we don't run out."  She beamed, and he flushed, unprepared for the sheer amount of positivity she sent his way.

"Can I get you anything, sir?" Izuku jumped at the sudden appearance of a waitress, and Uraraka chuckled as he stammered and ordered some decaffeinated tea.  The waitress nodded and walked away, and when he turned back toward Uraraka she was watching him, her chin resting in her one hand.

"So do you always get off early for your shifts?" She asked, sipping her drink.  He sighed and sunk into his seat, ruffling his hair as he replied.  Cement dust covered his hand and the table after he touched his head, and he hastily wiped both clean with a napkin.

"Yes.  Well, no.  I mean, I always get off around noon for my really early shifts but I don't always work early shifts?"  Uraraka tilted her head and he scrambled to explain.  "We rotate schedules every two or three weeks, so sometimes I'm working day or evening shifts too." 

"Lucky, I wish my shifts were that consistent," she said, rubbing her arm.  "Like, sometimes they're fairly normal but it depends what we're working on.  I once had to work third shifts while we were repairing a road and I was asleep on my feet for weeks," she complained, and Izuku smiled, relaxing.

He had been anxious about meeting with her.  Mainly because he hadn't hung out with someone his age in a long time, and he had been worried they'd sit in awkward silence until she left.  But as the waitress returned with his drink, he melted into the conversation and her easy-going nature.

They chatted and traded stories after that, finishing their drinks while Uraraka kept a close eye on the time, considering she had only taken off work for her lunch hour.  They were almost out of time when Izuku watched her run her fingers over her left arm and he noticed a long scar stretching from her elbow to her wrist.

He didn't want to intrude, so he quickly looked away but not before she caught him staring.  Her face sobered as she traced a finger over the scar.

"It's alright to ask," she softly said, and he gripped his mug, staring into the dregs of his tea.  They had just met, he couldn't—

"I shouldn't—"

"I used to go to UA," she said, smiling painfully into her hands.  Izuku's head snapped up at that, and he stared.

"R-really?" he asked, and she nodded, still looking away.

"I got this during the entrance exam, of all things," she said with a forced laugh, mouth twisting down in a grimace.

"What happened?" He asked, hesitating slightly, unsure if she wanted to talk about it.  Her frown grew, and he wished he hadn't pried.

"It's..." She trailed off and sucked in a breath, and he was startled to see her eyes watering.  She hastily rubbed them and shook her head.  "Sorry, it's been years but thinking about it just makes me so frustrated."

"Do you know how the entrance exams work?" She asked, and he nodded.  Admittedly, most of the exam procedures were kept secret, but the basic structure was on public record.

"Okay so during the physical part of the exam, we had to destroy robots—as many as we could before the timer went off," she explained, fingers twitching and loosening as she started using them to gesture.  "Everything was fine until the last minute or so, when I got my leg stuck under a pile of rubble," she said and Izuku winced.

"Someone helped you get free, right?" He offered, and froze when she fixed him with a piercing look.

"One of the largest robots showed up," she said, her voice sharp and cold.  "Everyone around me ran and I was too nauseous to use my quirk to free myself," she continued, and he tried not to picture a younger version of Uraraka, tapped and scared while everyone fled.  A faint memory played in his mind, Kacchan turning his quirk on himself in a similar situation.

Someone helped her, right?

"The robot broke my arm when I tried to defend myself, but I was lucky the timer went off before it could do any more damage," she finished, and Izuku forced himself not to rub dust into his watery eyes.

Shit.

"Wait, you said you used to go to UA.  That means you passed the exam?" He asked, blinking away his half-formed tears and pinching his lip.  She sighed and nodded into her empty mug.

"Yes, I passed," she said, shoulders falling.  "I was there for almost a year but I ended up dropping out.  Things got a little too dangerous for me, you know?"

"I only wanted to be a pro-hero for the money, but after all those villain attacks..." She trailed off and Izuku's eyes widened.

"You were there that year?" He asked, suddenly a lot less surprised she hadn't stuck around UA.  A string of villain attacks targeting the school had cropped up the same year Kacchan had started there, and Izuku had followed the news diligently, scanning for Kacchan's name in the lists of the injured.

Uraraka nodded, and Izuku blinked when he realized she was crying.

"I'm sorry I—"

"It's fine.  I'm just...glad I left when I did," she said, using a napkin to wipe her face.  Izuku watched her and hesitated.  She looked like she wanted to say more, and he moved to ask her, but then a sharp ringtone pierced the air.

Izuku jumped, and a cloud of dust coated the table.

Uraraka scrambled for her phone, rushing to apologize.

"Sorry!  It's my alarm, I have to start heading back to work," she explained, already standing and reflexively brushing her hair behind her ears.  Izuku rushed to join her.

"R-right.  I could walk you back?  I mean, I'm heading that way anyways," he blurted, hoping he wasn't overstepping any boundaries.  He didn't want to push his luck, but he'd feel bad all evening if she left before he could try to cheer her up.  She looked down at her phone and then gave him a small smile.

"That sounds great," she said, and they paid and left.

They walked toward her workplace in a tense silence that Izuku desperately wanted to fill, but didn't know how to.  He wanted to apologize for making her talk about her arm and UA but she had stopped crying and he didn't want her to start crying again because then he might start crying and—

"Oh look," she suddenly said, pulling him from his thoughts as she stopped on the sidewalk next to a small crowd.  He stopped beside her, following her gaze toward what looked like a large TV set up in a storefront, airing some type of sponsored event.

"He never changed," she sighed and Izuku didn't have to ask who she was talking about because oh, there was Kacchan.

The TV was broadcasting either a charity event or a press conference—Izuku couldn't tell which—but the important thing was that the top three pro-heroes were all standing side by side.  Endeavor stood in the center, and him and Shouto were impeccably dressed, wearing matching suits that seemed better fitted to Endeavor than Shouto.  Kacchan stood opposite Shouto, slouched over, hands in his pockets and wearing a disheveled suit. 

Eerily, Izuku realized Kacchan and Shouto's facial scars mirrored one another's, creating an odd effect of damage and pain that was unbroken by Endeavor's dominating build.

Without thinking, Izuku stepped closer to the screen until he could hear what they were saying. 

"—the fuck am I here?" Kacchan snapped, openly glaring at Endeavor as the man refused to respond.  Meanwhile, a few reporters winced at Kacchan's swearing.

"We're grateful that we were invited here today," Endeavor began, ignoring Kacchan and nodding to the crowd.

"Grateful?  I don't even know what the hell's going on." Kacchan spat, and Endeavor's flames subtly flared.  Shouto, who had been standing poised with an unreadable expression, seemed to stiffen and lean slightly away from his father.

"For this opportunity to further—" Endeavor continued and Kacchan blanched, face twisting into a scowl.  The crowd watched in bated silence, and Endeavor stopped and coolly turned toward Kacchan.  The man whispered something too quiet to be heard, and Kacchan snarled before storming off-screen and presumably off-stage.

Uraraka hummed in thought beside him, but Izuku didn't look away, watching as Endeavor cleared his throat and placed a hand on Shouto's shoulder.

Izuku squinted and leaned closer when he noticed Shouto freeze, and he missed Endeavor staring his speech again.

"I'm not surprised he stormed off," Uraraka said and Izuku nodded, unable to look away from Shouto.  The hero had yet to unfreeze, despite his expression never wavering from a general look of disinterest, and there was something about the pinched tightness in his shoulders that made Izuku pause.

And wait, was his shoulder smoking?

"Bakugou was too cocky, even back then," Uraraka said with a frown and Izuku looked to her for a second.  When he looked back the scene had changed, an ad playing as a commercial break rolled.

"Kacchan was always angry, even when we were little," he said, shaking away a few memories and looking at Uraraka.

"Kacchan?" She asked, confusion heavy in her voice.  He blinked and let out a small laugh, rubbing his neck.

"Bakugou, I mean.  We were friends when we were little, and yeah, he was as explosive then as he is now," Izuku said, and Uraraka stared.

"I can't imagine him having friends," she said, and then slowly smiled, moving forward.

"But if you were as cute as you are now, I can maybe see you being friends!" She playfully said, rocking forward on her feet while Izuku spluttered.

"I am not—Shouldn't you be getting back to work?" He quickly said, blushing and following her, unable to look her in the eye.  She paled and looked at her watch, cursing under her breath.

"You're right, I needed to be back five minutes ago," she groaned, dancing on her feet.  "I'll see you around then?" She asked, and he paused in surprise, having thought she wouldn't want to see him again after he managed to ruin their meeting.

"Y-yeah!" He stuttered, and she beamed and waved, already dashing forward.

"I'll text you later!" She called and then she was gone, darting down the street and past a few people who stared as she went.  Izuku watched her until she vanished into the crowds, and then shook himself and turned toward home.

He was still covered in dust after all, and he had a feeling that a hot shower would help wash away the day's emotions and the tenseness in his shoulders.

At least Uraraka seemed to like him enough to want to meet up again, although his blush returned with a vengeance when he thought about how she had called him cute.

As if someone like him could be that.

**

The sun was setting blood red against the sky when a construction worker bounced out of a building in the shopping district.

The worker looked like a man, but walked like a young girl, swinging his arms and grinning far too widely for it to be comfortable.  Had anyone stopped to look at him, they'd have run the other way.

As it was, most of the stores had already closed, and none of the people scattered across the street paused to look at him.

Toga thought she had done a great job.

It had been so long since they had actually done something, and she giggled into the hands that weren't hers as she distanced herself from the building.

She hummed in an off-key tone, excited that she got to start things off this time around.  She had wanted to begin sooner, but no, she had been told to wait and was enticed with promises of larger-scale destruction if she did.  Think of the chaos it'd cause, he had said, and she had pouted but agreed to wait.

As long as the so-called 'heroes' were torn to shreds, she would be happy.

Cocky bastards.

She giggled again, blushing as her quirk's effects started to dissolve.  The man walking down the street melted into a young woman, and she eerily clasped her hands together and then threw them wide apart.

"Boom!" She said, doubling over laughing and clutching her stomach in pure glee.

A few streets behind her, a partially constructed high-rise exploded.

Chapter Text

By the time the charity event ended, Shouto relished stepping outside into the cool twilight air.

His father had left before him, phone pressed to his ear as he called for their ride, and now he stood on the sidewalk, glaring down the street as if that would make the car arrive sooner. 

Shouto reluctantly followed him, carefully stopping far enough away so he couldn't feel his father's flames. 

Endeavor had burned him again.

The sensation was nothing new, but it had been long enough that Shouto had almost forgotten how it felt to have that man's hands leave their mark.  Thankfully, he had years of practice managing his pain and hadn't flinched when Endeavor placed a burning hand on his shoulder during the event.

He had left it there until the questions ended.

Shouto didn't wince as his shoulder throbbed against the cold air, protesting the cloth of his suit.  Instead, he sent a silent glare toward his father's back.

Bastard.

With a sharp motion, Endeavor pocketed his phone and turned back toward Shouto, his facial flames flickering.

"Our ride will be here—"

Before his father could finish, a low reverberation shook the ground, pulsing through Shouto and almost knocking him off his feet.  A second later, a loud explosion tore through the air, echoing against the streets and leaving silence in its wake.

The streetlights flickered, and then went out.

Endeavor swore and started running, heading toward the sound and expecting Shouto to follow.

And follow he did.

Because as much as he detested his father, Shouto wouldn't stand by if someone needed help.

He took off running after Endeavor's flames, pushing away the pain in his shoulder and preparing for the worst.

**

Ochako had barely made it home when she got the call.

Tired and sweaty from a hard day, she answered her phone with a sigh and immediately had to hold it away from her ear when her supervisor yelled across the line.

"Tell me you're home," he shouted, and she looked at her phone in confusion before pulling it back toward her ear.

"I left a bit later than everyone else, but I'm home, why?" She asked, uneasy.  He had their phone numbers for emergency reasons, but he rarely called unless he needed them to fill in for someone.

"Thank god," he breathed, and if she wasn't worried before, she was now. 

"What's going on?"

"There was an explosion at the construction site," he said and she froze, fingers tightening around the keys in her hand. 

What had—

"Uraraka, you were the last one to leave, right?" He asked and she nodded, forgetting he couldn't see her.  "Uraraka?"  He repeated and she jumped, voice stuttering into existence.

"Y-yes!  I was the last to leave," she blurted, and he let out a sigh of relief.

"Good.  I'll keep you updated once I know what's going on, but until then, don't bother coming in tomorrow," he said and then abruptly ended the call.  Ochako stared at her phone in disbelief, mouth hanging open, and then jerked into motion.

She gripped her keys and shoved her phone into her pocket before sprinting out her apartment door, her feet carrying her toward the construction site.

She knew it was a terrible idea; that she should stay away from whatever was happening, but her heart thumped against her chest and urged her onwards until she couldn't turn back.

**

Izuku had been making dinner in his tiny kitchen and wondering if it was too soon to text Uraraka when his ringtone pierced the air.

He jumped and fumbled for his phone, barely catching it before the last ring and shoving it against his ear.

"Izuku where are you?" Yoko demanded, and Izuku blinked in surprise at the seriousness in her tone.

"I'm uh, at home?" He offered, moving a pot from the stove and turning off the heat.  Something told him he wouldn't be eating his dinner anytime soon, and he'd rather not burn down his apartment.

"There was an explosion in the shopping district and they're calling in anyone who can get there for backup," she explained, and he almost dropped his phone.

"What type of explosion?" He asked, already jogging to his bedroom to grab his medical bag.

"The kind that takes down an entire building, apparently," she said and he threw his bag over his shoulder and ran to his door.

"Should I meet you at the hospital?"

"Yes.  I'll see you there," she said and then hung up.  Izuku slipped his phone into his pocket and left his apartment, accidentally slamming the door and wincing at the sound.

He couldn't help picturing the damage a fallen building would cause, images of international emergencies filling his mind.  Yoko mentioned the building was in the shopping district though, and he prayed it hadn't been overly crowded considering the late hour.

He ran onto the street and took off toward the hospital.

**

Izuku arrived at the hospital to find a swarm of people rushing around and multiple ambulances leaving at the same time.  Out of breath, he gasped and dashed around until he found Yoko standing by their ambulance.  She looked relieved when she saw him, and she waved him over, already slipping into the driver's seat.  He ran the rest of the way and jerked open the passenger door, barely ducking inside before Yoko revved the engine and left.

"Does anyone know what happened?"  He asked, scrambling to shut the door and put on his seatbelt.  Yoko frowned and shook her head, skidding around a turn, sirens blaring as Izuku wiped sweat from his brow.

"I'm not sure.  The building that went down was a construction site, so thankfully no one should have been inside, but..." she paused and gritted her teeth, eyes locked on the road.

"No villains have claimed the attack."  Izuku snapped his head toward her, hands tightening around his bag's strap.  But then who...?

"Was it an accident?  Some type of mechanical failure at the construction site?"

"Possibly, but the construction workers were building, not demolishing the high-rise that came down.  I can't think of why they'd have something explosive on site," Yoko said, careening around another turn.  Izuku frowned and pinched his lip, trying to make sense of the situation.

"It's possible that a faulty water heater exploded, but even that shouldn't have taken out an entire high-rise unless it was a top-down unit.  But no one really uses those anymore so explosives must have been planted which means it was some type of villain attack but then why has no one claimed it?  Unless—" He cut off as Yoko skidded through an intersection, and he pressed himself against the door in terror.

"Shit, sorry," she said, regaining control and easing up on the gas.

"It's fine," he breathed, and then peeled himself away from the door as he noticed flashing lights.  A large crowd loomed, and the pavement turned from black to grey.  A trick of the light?  Izuku glanced toward the sky, watching the last vestiges of twilight fade into night and then his thoughts clicked and he heavily swallowed.

Dust.

A thick layer of dust coated everything.  The streets, the buildings, and a large number of people who must have been outside when the high-rise came down.  As Yoko maneuvered through the crowds and toward the other ambulances, Izuku popped open the glove compartment and reached for the stash of facial masks they kept there.  He pulled out as many as he could find, and then slipped one over his face while Yoko stopped near another ambulance.

They were out their doors in a second, and Izuku tossed a mask to Yoko as they turned toward the mess in front of them.

Izuku froze at the sight.

Police cars, ambulances, and firefighters were spread out across an entire block; lights flashing, people running back and forth and yelling into radios as someone tried to make sense of the chaos.  The streetlights were out, and someone had set up emergency spotlights directed not at the road, but toward a few buildings down the street.

"Well fuck," Yoko breathed, and then started running toward the lights.

All that remained of what Izuku assumed was the high-rise was a twisted pile of rubble.  Large chunks of concrete had taken bites out of nearby buildings and now decorated the road.  Beams sprouted from the mess like an inverted child's toy and Izuku shuddered as he ran, trying to figure out how many buildings the high-rise had taken down with it.

He conservatively guessed at least four.

As they neared the lights Izuku spotted various dust-covered pro-heroes running around and delegating civilians and emergency responders alike. 

Mount Lady was the easiest to pick out—already the size of a small building—as she efficiently lifted large pieces of cement and rubble out of the way.  Working near her was...Endeavor?

Izuku stared.  The number one hero was burning and clearing rubble out of the way, firefighters swarming around him as they searched for people in the mess.  The pro-hero seemed to be wearing a suit, and Izuku's thoughts flashed back to the broadcast he had seen earlier.

"Pardon me, ribbit," a familiar voice said, and then the pro-hero Froppy soared above him, using her tongue to pull herself above the crowd and toward the rubble.  Another moment and she vanished, climbing down into a difficult to reach spot.

"Izuku, pay attention!" Yoko snapped, and he stumbled and apologized, following her as she ran toward the woman who stood in the center of everyone.  Izuku recognized the pro-hero Creati, standing tall and composed with a megaphone in her hand, delegating people left and right without pause.

When they reached her she took one look at them and pointed toward a group of dust-covered civilians.  Izuku reached out, wanting to see if he could help somewhere else, do something more, but she had already turned away and Yoko dragged him toward the civilians.  This is enough, he grimly thought and then rolled up his sleeves, getting to work.

At least two hours had gone by and Izuku hadn't stopped moving.  The group they had been sent to had fairly minor injuries, and they had quickly bandaged up the worst ones and passed out as many masks as they could.  They had escorted the group away from the epicenter and then returned to Creati.  She sent them toward another group, and Izuku managed to give her a mask before they were off again.

They repeated this pattern until Izuku ran out of masks and bandages and Yoko ran for supplies, telling him to not do anything stupid.  In the brief pause, he wiped his face on his arm and blanched when dust covered it.  He blinked until his eyes cleared, and then within the chaotic background noise, he heard a muted cry.

Izuku snapped his head toward the noise, his body already moving while he tried to pinpoint the sound.  He ran toward a larger pile of rubble, dodging firefighters as he went, and then straightened when he heard the cry again.

There.

The cry sounded weak, almost swallowed by the noise around them. 

But Izuku had heard it, and he would be there.

 He honed in on a small opening near the top of the rubble pile and began to climb, grateful that everyone seemed to be too preoccupied to notice him picking his way up.  Don't do something stupid, Izuku. 

When he reached the top, he took off his bag and leaned toward the hole's opening.  He breathed, tuned out the noise around him, and listened.

The sound was faint, but he heard someone yell and then break off into what sounded like crying.  He pulled down his mask and called into the hole, praying whomever was down there could hear him.  Silence stretched for far too long and then—

"H-hello?" A hesitant voice called and Izuku let out a relieved sigh.  He cupped his hands to his mouth and shouted back, belatedly noticing that his hands were shaking.

"Are you alright?"

"I-I think so, but my leg's stuck under something."  Izuku cursed under his breath.

"Don't worry, I'm going to get you out of there," he called, and then leaned away from the hole and looked around.

The only opening he could see was in front of him, and it was surrounded by large, cracked slabs of concrete.  A twisted beam rose into the air on his left, and Izuku briefly left his bag near the hole and picked his way down the pile, looking for entrances while he went.  He reached street level without finding another possible entrance and clenched his hands, knowing he had to find a pro-hero to help.  Don't do something stupid, Izuku.

"M-Midoriya?" Someone gasped, and Izuku jerked around to see—of all people—Uraraka standing a few feet away, holding a large piece of cement with her quirk.

"What are you doing here?" She asked as she dropped the piece, wiping dust across her face and walking over.

"I could ask you the same thing?  I got called in for backup," he said, and she nodded with widening eyes.

"That makes sense!  I'm uh..." she turned and frowned, staring at the debris.  "This was the building I had been working on," she explained and he reeled, trying to place the memory of entering her worksite against the destruction.

"B-But why are you here?  You weren't here when it...?" Izuku paled and Uraraka frantically waved her hands.

"I wasn't!  My boss called and I had to see if I could help.  My quirk's really useful in these situations," she explained and he straightened, gaze snapping toward his medical bag and the hole.

"Uraraka, I need your help," he said, and she shifted at his serious tone.  "Someone's trapped under that pile of rubble, but the hole's too small for me to reach them," he explained and she nodded, clapping her hands together and creating a small cloud of dust.

"Show me where.  I can still use my quirk."

She followed him up to the hole, and then he watched as she picked her way around the pile, touching a few pieces here and there before coming back with a grim expression.

"I think the entire pile will collapse if we try to remove anything, unless we take pieces off one by one from the top down," she said, and Izuku dug his hands into the concrete. 

They didn't have that much time.

Izuku looked into the hole, and then reached into his bag and pulled out a small flashlight, using some medical tape to strap it to his arm.

Yoko was going to kill him.

"Midoriya, what are you—"

"Can you move this piece here?"  Izuku asked, pointing to a slab that formed one edge of the hole.  Uraraka frowned, but moved forward and touched it with her hand.  Immediately, the structure groaned and the piece floated into the air.  He watched in awe as she maneuvered it away and then released it, sending it crashing harmlessly to the street below.

 "Amazing," he breathed and she faintly blushed, wiping her hands on her shirt.

"Why did you have me—"

"Does your quirk work on people other than yourself?" He asked, cutting her off.  She nodded and then a horrified expression crossed her face.

"You're not going to..." she trailed off when he looked back at the hole and clicked on his flashlight.

"I'll be fine, but I need to you negate my weight and start clearing as much of this pile as you can.  I don't know how far down they are, but their leg's stuck.  If I can help them get free, I should be weightless enough to make my way back up without too much trouble," he reasoned.  She stared for a long moment, and he almost thought she wouldn't agree when she sighed.

"Okay," she said and then tapped his shoulder.  He gasped when he felt himself lift from the ground, and he quickly looked at Uraraka to see her gritting her teeth in concentration.  A moment later, he was back on the ground, but he still felt light.  An experimental push sent him into the air for a few seconds before he floated back down.

"I can't keep this up for very long," she gasped, and he snapped to attention.  "Please hurry," she added, seeming to steel herself as she waved him on.  Izuku moved to the now larger hole and stared down, trying to ignore his racing pulse as his flashlight illuminated the darkness.  Don't do something stupid.

"Don't worry, I'm coming!" He called into the hole, and then descended into darkness.

Izuku coughed as he went, dust coating his nose and mouth until his lips started to crack.  The air felt damp in the cramped space, and he carefully avoided broken beams and various pieces of metal that barred his way.  As he went he heard the person's—a woman?—voice grow louder, and he struggled to go faster, knowing Uraraka wouldn't last forever.

And then, after several long minutes, he found her.

The woman broke into tears when she saw him, and she blindly reached up from where she was stuck, her hand extending past a large beam and toward him. 

"Oh thank god," she wept, and Izuku felt a wave of dread rush through him.

He had landed on a large beam that blocked her from him.  The space around him was no more than a meter wide, but he managed to crouch down and clasp her hand.  Something sharp stabbed into his knees and side, but he ignored it in favor of making sure the woman was alright.

"Are you still stuck?" He asked, and she tightened her grip around his hand, nodding.

"My left leg's stuck under something," she said, and then started crying again.  He let go of her hand and moved his arm to shine the flashlight into the hole.  The woman was covered in dust, her clothes ripped and long blue hair snarled.  He leaned further and shone the light on her legs, and only his years of training kept him from wincing at the sight. 

Her left leg was trapped under a large piece of cement.

Izuku swore and flicked the light back over her, making sure she didn't have any other pressing injuries.  She didn't, and he leaned back on his heels, not knowing what to do.

He could climb out and send Uraraka down, but if she moved the slab the entire thing could collapse on both of them.  And there was the matter of the beam.  If only they could pick apart a small exit directly toward them without moving—

He gasped and sharply looked at the woman.

"Ma'am, what's your name?" He asked while trying to orient himself toward the road.

"A-Araya Kanako," she stuttered and he beamed, forcing himself to smile.

"I'm Izuku, and I'm going to get you out of here," he said and then pointed toward his ears.

"I'm going to need you to cover your ears for a second, okay?" He asked, and she slowly covered them.  He looked toward the wall of debris, praying he had judged his location correctly, and then shouted as loud as he could for Uraraka.

Silence descended, and he coughed into his arm and waited, starting to shake as the seconds ticked by.  He still felt light, so Uraraka hadn't passed out but maybe he was too far away for her to hear—

"Midoriya?" Uraraka's voice sounded through the debris and he melted in relief.  He turned toward her voice, thankful she didn't sound as far away as he had feared.

"We're over here!" He yelled, and then started picking away at the debris, pulling at small pieces and trying not to rain dust onto Araya.

"Midoriya, where are you, I can't see anything!" Uraraka shouted as he dug a miniscule tunnel until he could reach an arm into the hole and shine his flashlight through.  He heard Uraraka digging from her end and then fresh air brushed his hand.

A moment later he felt Uraraka's hand wrap around his, and he choked on a relieved cry.  She squeezed his hand and then he let go, pulling his arm back and pointing his flashlight down the hole.

"I can see you!" He shouted and then moved his light away so Uraraka wasn't blinded.

"I can see you too, but how are we going to get you out?" Uraraka asked, the eye he could see full of worry.  Izuku bit his lip and pushed against the sides of the hole, testing its balance.

"I think if you remove only the pieces that are in the way, the structure will hold," he said, and then she vanished from the hole.  He held his breath until she reappeared, out of breath.

"You'll have to tell me which pieces to move, but I think it could work!" She said, and they began to dig.

Izuku didn't know how long they worked in tandem; him pointing out pieces and Uraraka pulling them away.  But as the minutes dragged on, more and more of the floodlights pierced the darkness and he sucked in more and more fresh air.

Every time the rubble shifted and moaned they'd freeze, holding their breaths until Izuku coughed and Uraraka deemed it safe enough to continue.  Twice, Izuku heard her move away and throw up, but she refused to take a break until she reached him.

When they connected in the darkness, they both weakly smiled and he introduced her to Araya.

"We're getting you out of here," Uraraka promised through a watery smile, and Araya sniffled and coughed, murmuring a litany of thankyouthankyouthankyou.

"The problem is this beam," Izuku said, pointing down.

"I think that goes the entire way out.  If it does, I can move it from the outside," Uraraka said and then scrambled back out of the hole.  He longed to follow her, but he couldn't leave Araya alone in the darkness.

He heard Uraraka grunt and then curse, and the walls around them groaned.

"I need help!" She called, leaning into the hole.

"I can't—"

"I-I'll be fine," Araya said, wiping her face.  He furrowed his brow and then tore his flashlight from his arm and handed it to her.

"Keep this, okay?  Yell if you feel something moving," he explained and then left, pulling himself from the hole.

He breathed in the night air and then staggered as Uraraka deactivated her quirk.

"Sorry, I couldn't keep it going," she gasped, and he shook his head.

'It's fine.  Where did you need help?" He asked, and she pointed to a beam sticking out from the pile.

"This is the beam that's near her, but this other crossbeam is pinning it down," she added, pointing to another beam slightly above them.  "If you can push that up, I should be able to shift the beam without everything caving in," she finished.

He listened and then leveraged his back against the higher beam, planting his feet and watching Uraraka.  She nodded and he pushed up against the bar, gritting his teeth while she strained to shift the other beam.

He heard, rather than felt, when she managed to move it.

"It moved!" Araya called from inside the rubble, but Izuku almost didn't hear her over the loud grinding sounds emanating from the pile.  The structure around him shuddered and the weight on his back doubled.  He bent forward while Araya screamed, and he coughed and tried to keep the beam up.

Uraraka rushed to his side and pressed her hands against the beam, sweat pouring down her face and leaving behind dustless stripes. 

"I-I can't activate my quirk!" She wheezed, tears mingling with sweat and what Izuku realized was vomit on her chin.  Frantic, he looked out at the tangle of people rushing around for someone who could help.

But he couldn't see any pro-heroes, and he couldn't tell if any of the rescue workers had sufficient quirks and there wasn't enough time to analyze the situation and his back was going to be crushed and that woman would die and it would all be his fault—

There.

Izuku gasped when he picked out the pro-hero Shouto's iconic red and white hair in the chaos.  He stood not too far away, using his ice to reinforce some structure and Izuku didn't hesitate before he started screaming.

**

"Shouto!"

Shouto jolted and whipped around at the sound of his name—his name—being called, trying to pinpoint the source and ignoring the shivers racking his body.

"Shouto!"  Someone called again and then he spotted a pair of people on a pile of rubble, struggling to hold up a beam.  They were both covered in dust and dirt, and Shouto started running when the beam shifted and they cried out.

"Move!" He briskly said when he reached them, not wanting to freeze their hands.  He pushed them away and braced it himself while creating a supportive pillar of ice. 

"There's a woman in there," someone rasped, and he turned around to see a man bent over his knees, coughing into his hands.  A woman covered in what smelled like vomit stood beside him, rubbing his back.  The man composed himself and then pointed toward the rubble.

"Her leg's stuck under a cement slab," he explained, and Shouto could have sworn he had seen him before.  Those curls look familiar.  Pushing the nagging thought away, he turned toward the hole and started to work.

In the end, the man's quick thinking saved them all.

Shouto had pulled himself into the hole to reach the woman and then used his ice to leverage the slab off her leg.  Free, he had dragged her to safety while she cried and they breached the hole.  He shivered, a spasm wracking his body, and then the man had screamed, lunging forward and shoving them over the side of the pile.

With a loud crack the ice pillar Shouto had made shattered and the rubble pile collapsed.

Shouto tumbled to the street, managing to shield the woman in his arms as he landed on his back.  He heard a groan when they came to a stop, and opened his eyes to see the man sprawled on the road beside him.

"Are you okay?"  Vomit-woman called, and Shouto sat up while she scrambled down from the pile, tripping and stumbling the entire way.

"M'okay," the man slurred, and then pushed himself to his feet, swaying until vomit-woman steadied him with an arm.  He weakly smiled and then looked toward Shouto, his eyes widening.

"You got her!" He breathed, and then he was close—so close—to Shouto, gently pulling the woman from his lap and laying her on the ground.

"Araya, can you hear me?  Are you alright?" The man asked, speaking gently and already working on the woman's leg.  She groaned, and the man glanced around as if looking for something.

"Uraraka, did you see my bag—"

"Izuku!"  Someone called and the man froze, his eyes locking on something across the street.  Shouto followed his gaze and shuddered.  A paramedic had spotted them and was storming over, her face a mask of rage.

"Izuku you idiot where the hell have you been?"  She seethed, and Shouto clenched his shaking hands, reminding himself that she wasn't his father.  She will not hurt you.

"Doing something stupid Yoko, but we saved her life," Izuku coughed while vomit-woman deflated by his side and flopped backwards onto the street.

"Damn it, you can't keep doing this," Yoko hissed, but removed her bag and started helping.  Meanwhile, vomit-woman nervously laughed, covering her face and repeating oh my god into her hands.  Feeling out of place, Shouto stood and breathed out frost, another shiver running through him.  Izuku looked up when he moved and frowned.

"You overused your quirk," he stated and Shouto narrowed his eyes.

"I'm fine."

"You're obviously not.  Sit down with Uraraka until we stabilize Araya," he ordered, and Shouto didn't want to obey but he had already sunk down next to whom he guessed was Uraraka.  Frost crept over his arm and face, and he hated that he couldn't stop his teeth from chattering.  Weak.

Shouto wrapped his arms around himself in vain, trying to find Yaoyorozu in the midst of the chaos.  But his eyes stopped cooperating and then he was against the road, violently shivering and failing to hold himself together.

**

With Yoko's help, they stabilized Araya and then Yoko dashed off to find a stretcher.  Already shifting gears, Izuku turned toward Uraraka and the pro-hero.  They had both overused their quirks and he needed to—

"Todoroki, you need to use your fire!" Izuku watched in mute horror as Uraraka tried to pull Shouto off the street.  Literally.  Ice was spreading rapidly around the pro-hero while he trembled and curled in on himself, as if to hold in what little body heat he did have.

Izuku was beside Uraraka in a flash, and together they pulled Shouto from the pavement until he fell, still shuddering, into their arms. 

"Uraraka, hold onto me, okay?" He quickly said and thankfully she didn't question him.  He silently apologized to the pro-hero for covering him in Uraraka's vomit, but she didn't hesitate wrapping her arms around Izuku's shoulder and trapping Shouto between them.

"Shouto, you need to use your left side," Izuku said, and to his surprise Shouto shook his head and curled tighter against them, still shivering. 

"He can use his flames, can't he?" Izuku asked, and Uraraka lifted her head and why did she look so sad?

"I-I actually don't know.  He never used his left side in school and I can't remember him using it for any hero work," she said, arms shaking.  If Shouto's quirk was out, at the very least they could keep him stable with their body heat and wait, why was his arm burning?

Izuku winced and glanced down.  Ice from Shouto's shoulder had crept onto him and must have been cold enough to start burning.  Izuku tried to shift his arm away but Shouto's entire right side was covered in ice, and so he bit his lip and rode the pain.

"Izuku, I found a stretcher.  Let's get Araya back to our—"  Yoko cut herself off as she rushed into view and swore.

"I left for two minutes, what the hell happened?"

"Quirk overuse," Izuku shakily said, ignoring a mumbled protest from Shouto.  "We need to get him somewhere warm, now," he added, and Yoko swore again while looking around.  Another moment and she flagged a firefighter over to help.

"Can you two get him back to the ambulance?" Yoko asked while her and the firefighter strapped Araya onto the stretcher.  Izuku weakly smiled and locked eyes with Uraraka.

"I think so."

"Good, I'll get her back and crank the heat in the ambulance so we can get out of here," Yoko said and then dashed off, wheeling Araya toward the line of vehicles across the street.

"Izuku, I can't lift him with my quirk," Uraraka said, lightly shivering. 

"If you can lift him from one side, I'll take the other, okay?" He suggested, and she gave him a determined nod.  Shouto breathed out puffs of frost as they shifted their hold and weakly pushed to their feet.  They teetered for a brief moment until Uraraka locked her arm under Shouto's left armpit and Izuku locked his under his right.

"I-I can walk," Shouto stuttered, and Izuku snorted.

"No you can't, just let us help you."

Shouto grimaced, but Izuku ignored him and together they staggered through the chaos back to the ambulance.

Yoko rushed to help them when they got close, and then Izuku was jumping into the back of the ambulance and pulling Shouto in after him.  Yoko urged Uraraka inside and then slammed the door.

Thankfully, it was already hot inside.

Izuku panted in the heat, and Uraraka helped him maneuver Shouto around Araya's stretcher and onto the makeshift seat on the side.  As soon as they set him down, Uraraka groaned and sunk to the floor, leaning against the metal wall.

The ambulance roared to life beneath them, and Izuku briefly checked on Araya before turning back to Shouto.  The ice coating his right side had thankfully started to melt, and Izuku coughed and pulled out a shock blanket to place over him.  The pro-hero was still trembling, after all, eyes clenched shut and jaw chattering.

Only once the worst of Shouto's trembling had stopped did Izuku sink to the floor beside Uraraka.

"T-Thank you," he breathed, and she let out a weak laugh.

"Oh my god, we saved her," Uraraka said, and then she was crying, hiccupping into her hands.  Not sure what to do, Izuku awkwardly rubbed her shoulder.  And then he was clinging to her and the floor as Yoko veered around a sharp turn.

Izuku willed his pulse to slow down, and then scrambled out of the way as Uraraka doubled over and threw up on the floor.

"Oh god, I'm so sorry," she started saying, her words cascading into a muddled repeat while his own stomach rolled and he tried to wipe her face clean.  Please, let us make it back in one piece, he silently prayed, and then clung to her for the rest of the ride.

Chapter Text

Over 50 injured and at least 5 confirmed dead.

The news had started to loop, displaying scene after scene of the explosion in the shopping district.  Rescue workers rushed around behind the news reporters, covered in dust and blood and frantically trying to save lives.

The camera panned around the chaos and Endeavor dominated the screen.  The number one hero leading the rescue efforts, they said.

He should be there.

Large hands shook around a cup of tea, and Toshinori watched the news in the darkness of his apartment, dribbling blood onto his hands.

A cough.

He didn't bother wiping the blood away.

He should be there.

Another cough.

His tea was ruined, blood ran down his chin.

Had this happened a few years ago, he would've thrown the cup against the wall in frustration.

As it was, he wheezed and let his cup drop to the floor.  It bounced off the ratty carpet, tea spreading out in a murky stain.

He should be there.

Toshinori bent over his hands, swallowing the taste of blood.

In the muffled silence, his tears dripped onto the carpet and mingled with the tea.

**

It was past midnight by the time Izuku finally sat down.

When they had reached the hospital, him and Yoko had rushed Araya inside before going back for Uraraka and Shouto.  Uraraka had insisted she was fine, but she was dehydrated and nauseous enough that Izuku wouldn't let her leave.  He left Uraraka in the same room as Shouto, and then had been dragged off to another part of the hospital.

Between incoming patients and outgoing supplies, him and Yoko hadn't been able to head back to the shopping district.  People pulled them in different directions, and he only caught glimpses of her as he pressed gauze to wounds and mopped blood from the floors.  He rushed around with piles of rubble in his mind, a small voice inside him screaming that he wasn't doing enough.

He could have been pulling people from the debris and helping the pro-heroes; but instead he was stuck at the hospital, running out of time, his hands fumbling with bandages.  He should be doing more.

Izuku directed a group of people coughing from dust exposure toward a doctor.

His own throat itched, and he swallowed the feeling.

So much more.

At some point he had started crying, shoulders shaking in frustration.  He waved away co-workers' concerned looks and avoided Yoko.  She'd make him stop, and he didn't want to feel more useless than he already did.

Izuku only sat down when the rush of ambulances slowed and Yoko caught sight of him.  She had narrowed her eyes and pulled him into their break room before pushing him into a chair.

Immediately, the room swayed and he panted, clutching his stomach and faintly realizing he had never eaten dinner.

Yoko pressed a water bottle into his hand and roughly dragged a chair in front of him, sitting down and pulling out a medical kit.  He blankly stared at the water bottle for a moment, and then shakily failed to open it.  Yoko sighed, opened it for him, and gave him a deadly glare when she handed it back.

"Izuku, I'm proud you saved that woman earlier but don't you fucking dare do that ever again," Yoko said, her voice full of steel.  "Our job is to help people back to the hospital—"

"I did that—"

"No," she snapped, "You recklessly endangered yourself trying to play hero.  There were other rescue workers there for a reason," she added, snapping open the medical kit and pulling out bandages and antiseptic.

"But—"

"Izuku, you're bleeding.  Did you even notice?"  She sent a pointed look at his knees and he blinked, looking down.  Blood covered his knees and ran down his legs, his pants torn open and ragged.  Dimly, he realized his side hurt and a quick glance showed he was bleeding there too.

He had no idea when that had happened.

"You can't keep doing this to yourself, Izuku," Yoko said, carefully rolling up his pants.  He winced, pulling up his shirt and staring at the large gash across his side.  The cut had stopped oozing blood, but his side was covered in grime and Yoko made a sound at the sight of it.

"I had to do something," he insisted, setting down his drink and accepting an antiseptic wipe for his side while Yoko worked on his knees.

"What you could have done was told a pro-hero," Yoko snapped.  She brusquely wiped his knees, making an aggravated sound.  "Jesus, did you kneel in glass?" She hissed and he flinched.  He tried to defend himself, but Yoko barreled on while picking shards from his knees.

"How do you think I felt when I came back and you were gone?"

"I heard her calling for help, I couldn't just—"

"Playing hero is not our job!" She hissed, pulling bandages tight around his knees.  "You've done this before and I know you'll do it again but fuck, Izuku, we can't keep working like this!"  Izuku stared in shock and then broke into a coughing fit, clutching his side as tears filled his eyes.  Yoko forced the water bottle back into his hand and he gulped it down.

"As long as I'm saving people, why can't I help where I can?" He rasped, crushing the empty water bottle in his hand while Yoko gritted her teeth and stood.

"We're paramedics for a reason, not pro-heroes!"  She snapped, and then he did too, hating the rush of anger that surged through him.

"And how worthless are we when we have to hang back until the pro-heroes arrive?  We don't do anything, Yoko, and I can't just stand there while people are dying!" He shouted and then gasped, blinking back tears.

He shouldn't have—

"Go home, Izuku."  Yoko stiffened and turned away, arms crossed over her chest, disappointment radiating from her back.  Izuku heaved, trying and failing to breathe through the pain in his side and the tears in his eyes.

"I said go home, Izuku," Yoko repeated, more softly this time, and Izuku numbly gathered his things.

He went home.

An empty apartment and long-forgotten dinner greeted him.  He discarded his keys and medical bag on the floor of his bedroom and stared at the bookshelf beside his desk.

One row of color.

One row of black.

His breath hitched and then he slowly crumpled into himself, crying into dirty hands while the pain in his side flared and he didn't carehedidn'tcarehedidn'tcare.

Covered in grit, he crawled into bed and curled on his uninjured side, shaking.  He knew he should shower, should clean his wounds and call Yoko to apologize because he was terrible and she deserved someone better than him, but his body refused to move.

He held himself and cried, and when sleep finally took him, he slept like the dead.

**

Ochako woke slowly, realizing her face was mashed into an unfamiliar bed a moment before her stomach rolled. 

She scrambled out of bed and toward the bathroom but was met with an unfamiliar room.  Thankfully, she found a small trashcan in the corner before she started dry-heaving, having gotten rid of everything she had eaten hours ago.

Ochako groaned over the trashcan, trying to remember what had happened.

She remembered the dust, the sweat and chaos and Midoriya

Hopefully he was okay.

They had made it to the hospital in one piece, and then he had led her to this room before heading back for Todoroki.  Eyes widening, she looked up from the trashcan and finally took in the room around her.

There were two beds with small monitors beside them, and the one she had been sleeping on had its sheets strewn halfway across the floor.  Todoroki was on the other bed, and she paused when she saw him sleeping.

He looked vulnerable, his face smoothed into a calm expression she had never seen him wear while awake.  Feeling intrusive, she swallowed and glanced away.

A knock rang out in the room, and before she could respond the door opened and a man wearing a worn suit stepped in.  He looked toward the beds and seemed to pause before looking around.  Ochako took the small moment to wipe her face and stand before he noticed her.

"Hello?" She hesitantly asked, unsure why the man had entered their room.  She didn't recognize him, and for some reason she doubted Todoroki would either.  The man relaxed when he saw her, putting his hands into his pockets and walking over.

"Pardon the intrusion, Uraraka.  I'm Detective Tsukauchi," he said, stopping a few feet away.

"You know me?" She blurted, and then covered her mouth.

"No, but I looked up your file.  Did anyone tell you I was coming?" He asked, and frowned when she shook her head.  His eyes flickered across the room and he turned around, gesturing toward the door.

"It's nothing bad, I promise, but maybe we should talk in the hall?"  Ochako quickly glanced at Todoroki and nodded, following Tsukauchi out of the room.  He waited until she had shut the door behind her before beginning again.

"As I'm sure you're aware, last night was fairly chaotic for everyone involved," he started, and she shifted on her feet.

"Medical personnel and pro-heroes responded to the call, and some civilians who had been in the area helped where they could, but witnesses say they didn't see you there when the building came down."  Tsukauchi paused, as if waiting for an answer, and then continued when her silence provided him one.

"Despite this, there were accounts of someone using an anti-gravity quirk last night.  I'm inclined to believe that person was you," he said, and Ochako shrunk at his cold tone.

"That was me," she managed, pressing her hands together and staring at the floor.  She only looked up when she heard the detective heavily sigh, and she saw him pinching the bridge of his nose.

"You're aware you don't have a license outside construction work?"

"Yes."

"And yet you showed up to the scene and used your quirk," he said and she frowned, realizing what he was implying.

"Am I in trouble?" She hedged, and he gave her a weak smile.

"Technically, you should be," he said, and she froze.  "But technically you didn't use your quirk on another person as far as we know, and there's the matter of the news broadcasting that rescue—"

Wait, the what?

"—So in light of the fact the public would go haywire over us charging someone they're calling a hero, I'm inclined to let things slide on one condition," he finished, and Ochako fumbled for a response.

"...You don't want to be charged, right?" He slowly asked when she didn't respond, furrowing his brow at her expression.  Shaking herself, Ochako frantically waved her hands.

"N-No!  I just...what do you mean, they broadcasted a rescue?"  She asked.

"You haven't seen the news?  Someone recorded the stunt you pulled with the pro-hero Shouto and that paramedic.  It's been plastered across the news for hours," he explained, and Ochako stared.  If her boss had seen that video, he was going to kill her.

"Regardless, I'm willing to drop the charges if you promise me you'll get a hero license before you do something like that again."

"But I'm not in school," she said, and oddly, Tsukauchi gave her a small smile.

"I'm aware."

"But then how—"

"This is still in the works, but we're working with UA to develop a hero licensure program for adults.  We're trying to dissuade vigilantes and give adults who want to be a pro-hero a chance at doing so," he explained.  Gruesome images of her teachers covered in blood and an alleyway at night filled her mind, and Ochako unconsciously took a step backwards.

"I don't want to be a pro-hero," she whispered, her voice catching on the words.

"I hope that considering the lives you saved last night, you might rethink your answer," he said, holding her gaze until she had to look away.  "The program wouldn't start for a few weeks and the details are still up in the air, but think about it, okay?" He asked, running a hand through his hair.

"Because we could use a pro-hero like you," he said, and when Ochako looked back at him, he was holding out a business card.  She hesitantly took the card and slipped it into her pocket without reading it, too focused on trying to swallow around the pressure in her throat.

"We'll keep in touch," he said and then he was gone, walking down the hall and vanishing around a corner.  Ochako watched him go, and then numbly went back into the room, glancing at Todoroki to make sure they hadn't woken him.

Thankfully he was still asleep, and Ochako sunk onto her bed, clasping her hands in her lap.  Could she really be a pro-hero?

She had given up on that dream years ago, turning to something less dangerous to earn money.  But if she was being honest, her job paled in comparison to the rush she had felt last night.  She had been terrified, but every time she used her quirk she had felt like she was floating, soaring high above the chaos. 

It had felt amazing.

Her chest constricted and then she was crying, large tears rolling from her face and onto her hands as erratic laughter bubbled its way from her lips.  She tried to reign in her emotions, but every time she thought about becoming a pro-hero her heart fluttered and her nerves prickled at the sheer absurdity of it.

She wasn't a hero.

But it had been almost eight years since she had dropped out of UA, and something in her wanted.

Wanted to try again.  Wanted to work with people like Midoriya.  Wanted to know she was doing more than just—

"Todoroki, are you okay?" A voice asked, and Ochako jumped, gaze snapping toward the door.  She hadn't heard it opening, and she hastily rubbed at her eyes as she realized someone had entered the room.

"...Uraraka?" The man asked and she gasped, recognizing him.

"Y-yes!  You were in my class, back when I was in UA," she said and he flashed her a grin, hooking his hands into his pants and walking over. 

"It's been awhile," Kirishima said, his hair sticking up in every direction like she remembered, although it seemed to be a bit longer now.  He paused when he reached her, looking over her shoulder.

"Are you here to visit him too?" He asked, and she followed his gaze to Todoroki before she shook her head.  He blinked and then let out a laugh, scratching his face.

"Oh right, I saw you on the news.  You overused your quirk, didn't you?" She blushed, nodding and rubbing her arm.

"That was pretty chill what you did last night," he said, holding out a fist.  Ochako wiped her eyes one last time and weakly smiled, bumping a fist against his.

"Thanks.  But why are you here?  Are you and Todoroki...?"  She trailed off and Kirishima scrunched his face, waving a hand.

"We're in the same pro-hero company, that's all.  Someone's gotta check on him, because he won't do it himself," he said, his smile slipping. 

"I'll leave you to it then," she said, pushing herself to her feet while he gave her a worried look.

"What?  I don't want to kick you out or anything."

"I was heading out anyways," she lied, and then stepped around him.  "Could you thank Todoroki for me when he wakes up?" she asked, and Kirishima brightened and gave her a thumbs-up.

"Of course!" he said with a grin, and then Ochako stepped out of the room, shutting the door behind her.

Alone in the hall—or as alone as she could be with nurses walking the halls—Ochako rubbed at the card in her pocket, possibilities swirling through her head as she headed toward the lobby.

And it was because she was so distracted that she didn't notice the man walking toward her until she slammed into him.

Reeling, she stumbled backwards, flushing and apologizing before she realized who it was.

"Aizawa-sensei?" She gasped, taking in her old teacher.  He looked disheveled, bandages wrapped around his head and wearing ill-fitting clothes.  For some reason, he held a pair of glasses in his one hand, and he rubbed his eyes with the other.

"I'm not your teacher, kid," Aizawa gruffly said, and Ochako stepped back at his tone.

"I'm sorry I—"

"Don't need your apologies either," he snapped, moving past her.  She went to respond, but he was already walking away, his shoulders set in a way that made her hesitate.

Maybe he was here to visit a friend?  Ochako blanched at the thought and then shook herself.  It wasn't in her place to pry, and she should focus on getting home.  She wasn't sure what time it was after all, and she wanted to text Midoriya to make sure he was okay.

Sighing, she turned back toward the lobby and headed out, the card burning a hole in her pocket as she walked home.

**

Shouto remembered being cold, and the feeling of warm arms wrapped around him.

He woke with a start, jerking upright as his eyes flew open.  An unfamiliar room greeted him and he sucked in a breath, clutching at sheets he didn't recognize while his pulse raced in his ears.  Where the hell was he—

"Heyo, Ice King, welcome back to the land of the living," a familiar voice quipped and Shouto jerked his head toward the sound.  Kirishima stood beside the bed, nonchalantly smiling with his hands tucked into his pants. 

"I'm in a hospital?" Shouto asked, clenching his hands against the scratchy sheets, categorizing the dull pain in his right side.  Frostbite.

"You don't remember?" Kirishima asked, genuinely surprised, and Shouto frowned.  "Wow dude.  You really did a number on yourself," Kirishima breathed, and then glanced around and dragged a chair over toward the bed.  He plopped down and crossed his arms, dropping his smile.

"Yeah, you're in a hospital.  You overused your quirk last night and had to be rushed here, apparently.  Any longer and you'd have gotten severe frostbite," he explained.  Shouto furrowed his brow and flexed his right hand, hating how it shook with the effort.  Weak.

"Does my father know?" Shouto asked, and when Kirishima rubbed the back of his neck, Shouto paled.  From one moment to the next, Shouto threw back the covers and stood, swaying slightly, spots clouding his vision.

"Woah, hey wait dude what are you doing?" Kirishima said, standing and placing his hands on Shouto's shoulder to steady him.  Shouto winced in pain—his shoulder throbbed—and Kirishima immediately released him, frowning.

"You're still hurt, you can't leave yet," Kirishima reasoned, and Shouto shook his head, trying to figure out what time it was.  How long had it been since he had passed out?  If his father had left the explosion and found out where he was...

"I need to leave," he rasped, stepping around Kirishima, who watched him with a worried expression.

"You're serious," Kirishima sighed, running a hand through his hair. 

"Okay, I won't stop you.  But at least let me help you get out of here."  Shouto hesitated, staring for a moment before nodding.  Kirishima gingerly reached out an arm and then wordlessly switched sides when Shouto pointed toward his unburned shoulder.  He hooked a hand under Todoroki's armpit, and together they shuffled out of the room.

As they limped down the hall, Shouto's gaze darted around, searching for any sign of his father.  Despite Kirishima by his side, he couldn't stop himself from pausing before every corner, his body locking up at the possibility of a towering figure and flames.  He wasn't being cornered, his father wasn't here.

Kirishima stopped when Todoroki did, his expression slowly melting from confusion to steel.  Kirishima didn't respond, but instead tightened his hold and moved them forward until they stepped outside the hospital.

Shouto breathed in the cool air—safesafesafe—and let go of Kirishima, trying to move away.  Kirishima held onto him though, his voice quiet when he spoke.

"I'm helping you get home, bro," Kirishima said, looking away with a frown.

"...Okay," Shouto said after a pause, and the silence wrapped around them until Kirishima managed to flag down a cab.

**

When Hizashi stepped into the radio station, Jirou took one look at him and told him to go home.

She had been more than surprised when he actually listened, but Hizashi didn't care.  The thought of trying to make it through another night of cheerful listeners and tinny music made his stomach churn.

Instead, he headed home but somehow ended up at Nemuri's apartment, knocking on her door.  Considering the late hour, he hadn't expected her to answer but she did, slowly opening the door and eyes widening when she saw him.

Hizashi swallowed against the pressure in his throat and then covered his face with a hand, pressing back the tears that threatened to spill.

"Nemuri, I need your help," he managed, and then started shaking when she wrapped her arms around him, letting him cry into her shoulder while she pulled him inside and closed the door.

**

If Toga whined one more time, Shigaraki would be tempted to disintegrate her right then and there.

He wouldn't, but he really wanted to.

As it was, the woman was sprawled across the bar, rubbing her face into its smooth surface while Kurogiri methodically cleaned a glass.  Compress sat somewhere in the corner, nursing a drink and fiddling with his cane while blatantly ignoring the rest of them.  Which was at least better than Dabi, who had only recently made his way back to their new hideout, having ignored Shigaraki's orders for almost a year.

"You said we'd get to have some fun," Toga whined, her words muffled against the bar.  Shigaraki set down his glass and lightly scratched his neck.

"I let you have your fun," he said and she looked up, puffing her cheeks.

"But no one knows it was me!" Shigaraki slowly grinned and rested his head against his hand.

"We're in invisibility mode," he offered, and she frowned until Kurogiri spoke up.

"What he means is that the heroes don't know we're alive.  As long as we don't claim the explosion we can keep moving around undetected," he explained and Toga pursed her lips.

"But I—"

"Now it's time to wait," Shigaraki said, cutting her off.  Toga huffed and smashed her face back against the bar.  Shigaraki ignored her and glanced across the room at Compress.  The man finished his drink, set it on a table, and stood with a flourish.

"I believe I'll start preparing then," Compress said and then strode out of the room.  Shigaraki smirked, tapping his fingers on the bar before turning around and switching on the news.

Chapter Text

"Icebox and unknown heroes rescue woman from wreckage."

With an enraged snarl, Katsuki threw the TV remote against the wall and watched it shatter into pieces.

"Fucking Deku," he spat, shoving himself off his couch and stabbing the TV's power button so he didn't have to see that familiar face plastered all over the news.  Like that quirkless loser could ever be a hero, could ever be more than a dopey-eyed nuisance plastered to his side, calling him 'Kacchan' as if they were friends.

Explosions sparked in his palms, and he went and threw on his hero uniform.  Technically, he didn't have to work until later today but hell if he was going to wait inside while his skin crawled and his blood burned.  He needed to shove some villains' faces into the pavement, and it wasn't even noon.

It didn't help that the old geezer had been dominating the news, either.  Acting like the world revolved around his shit and all that crap.  Uniform on, Katsuki snatched his keys and yanked open his apartment door, wanting to scream. 

But who would listen?

He stopped on the threshold, crushing the doorframe under a sparking hand.

He didn't—

Fuck.

Fuck this shit.

He slammed the door and stormed out of the building, glaring at anyone who dared look his way.

**

Shouta stepped into his apartment for the first time in a week, flicking on the lights and taking in its mostly unfurnished appearance.  Half-empty takeout boxes were strewn across the floor, overflowing from the singular table he owned.  A haphazard pile of bills and newspapers covered the kitchenette counter, and a pile of dishes filled the sink.

The smell of old food and sweat hit him like a wave, but he didn't flinch.  Instead, he mindlessly closed his door and made a bee-line for his sleeping bag in the middle of the floor.

Crawling into the yellow bag was its own form of heaven, and Shouta blatantly ignored the pile of boxes he knocked over when he slipped inside.  One tug and he had encased himself, blocking out everything he couldn't when the world decided to keep moving.  He clenched his hands, and then quickly released them when he heard a soft crack.

He had forgotten he was holding Hizashi's glasses.

Shouta moved to throw them from his bag but stopped at the last moment, hands shaking—or was his entire body shaking?—and pulled the glasses close to his chest.

"Don't you think I care?"

Hizashi cried in his mind, bending over his bed and looking like he had been hit by a truck—all because Shouta was a piece of shit.

He didn't remember being saved, and had gone out that night with every intention of picking a fight he couldn't win. 

It wasn't the first time it had happened and it wouldn't be the last.  But for some reason, people kept helping him.  Whether it was a random civilian, a pro-hero, or apparently, an idiotic paramedic who didn't know when to leave well enough alone.

Shouta gritted his teeth, and then stiffened when he heard a knock on his door.

Maybe if he didn't answer they would go away.

"...Shouta?"  Well shit, it was one of the few people that wouldn't leave him be.

"Go away," he grumbled, knowing Nemuri wouldn't.  There was a pause and then she knocked again, her voice louder this time.

"Dammit Shouta, open the door," she demanded, but he didn't move.  He only stirred when he heard the lock click and the door swing open.

He hadn't given her a key.

"You can't keep hiding like—Oh lord," Nemuri entered and gagged, covering her mouth with a hand.  Shouta peered out from his bag and watched her take in the room.  He should have been afraid of the look she gave him when she spotted him, but he couldn't bring himself to care.

"Can you even smell this filth?  Or do you not care enough to give a shit?" She hissed, and he turned on his side, not agreeing with either.  He felt her stamp across the carpet, and then scrambled when she suddenly ripped open his bag's zipper and upended him on the floor.

"Nemuri, what the hell—"

"Don't you fucking start with me Shouta," she snapped, planting her hands on her hips, dominating the room.  Shouta pushed himself into a sitting position, shaking crusty noodles from his hands and tucking Hizashi's glasses into his pocket

"How did you get in?"

"Hizashi gave me your key, but that's not the point," she said, towering over him.  "The point is that you're a fucking mess and you're coming with me."  She held out a hand and Shouta blankly stared at it, having no intention of going anywhere with her.  Her frown grew when he didn't take her hand, and her next words lashed into him like a whip.

"Hizashi broke down crying on my doorstep."  Shouta snapped his head up and met her eyes, his posture breaking when he realized she wasn't lying.

"That man is too good for you, but he asked me for help and I still consider you my friend, despite your radio silence," she said, still holding out her hand.  He ignored it, clenching his hands against his side.

"I don't think you understand," she continued, her voice menacing.  "You're going to put something half-decent on, and then we're going to UA to talk to Nedzu."  He stiffened, and she roughly grabbed his arm and pulled him to his feet.  He slapped her hand away once he was on his feet, reflexively flaring his quirk.  She glared and then wilted, sighing against a hand.

"Shouta, I know it's difficult for you but you can't keep avoiding this, it's not healthy" she said, giving him a look he couldn't bear.

"There's nothing there for me now," Shouta rasped, his voice gritty from disuse.  "Or did you forget I haven't worked there in years?"

"Nedzu is offering you a job, you asshole," she hissed, and he glared at her, a mix of fear and anger rolling in his gut.

"I won't teach children—"

"You wouldn't be," Nemuri interjected.  "Just...come listen to his offer, okay?  You know he's not going to let this go if you don't at least hear him out," she sighed, and he reluctantly agreed with her.  Nedzu was a force unto himself.  If he wanted to talk to Shouta, he would find a way, even if it meant dragging him there by force.

"Fine," he grumbled, walking to a pile of clothes in the corner of the room.  Nemuri watched while he tore off his shirt and threw on another, and didn't turn away when he also switched his pants.  They had both seen one another in enough compromising situations to not give a shit, and neither cared for the opposite gender.  Clothed, Shouta grabbed his keys and headed toward his door, letting Nemuri lead the way.

"...Is Hizashi alright?" He asked after a moment, hating the concern that leached into his voice.  Nemuri gave him a wretched look and his chest constricted.

"He was fucking crying, Shouta.  Enough to ask me for help.  How do you think he's doing?" She snapped, and he held back a response, letting the silence pool around them as they walked toward UA.

Actually stepping onto UA's campus was its own form of hell.

Shouta walked beside Nemuri, glad he hadn't eaten anything considering the acid clawing its way up his throat.  He couldn't remember the last time he had been on campus, and he wasn't sure if it was a good thing that not much had changed.

The only obvious difference was a slightly higher gate and more complicated security measures.  Nemuri swiped an ID card and pressed a finger to a scanner before they were allowed to enter, and Shouta felt the weight of the building as they walked inside.

Apparently it was a school day—he had lost track of the days long ago—and he couldn't stop his gaze from lingering on every kid that passed them, smiles plastered to their faces.

They didn't know.

A few students waved at Nemuri, and she waved back, faking smiles to keep them at ease.

They were all so small.

The halls passed in a daze, and thankfully they reached Nedzu's office before any bells rang and children swarmed out.  Shouta didn't care how terrifying Nedzu was—if a bell had rung he would have gone and never come back.

As it was, he told himself he wasn't hiding behind Nemuri when she knocked and opened the door.

Nedzu's office looked the same, albeit maybe cleaner.  The creature himself was sitting on a chair, a cup of tea in hand and a pot on the table between him and the couch.

"Ah, there you are," Nedzu said, and Shouta couldn't tell if Nedzu was happy or going to tear him to pieces. 

He wasn't sure which option was worse.

"Thank you, Nemuri," Nedzu added with a nod, and then waved a paw toward the door.  "You may go back to your students now, I'll handle him."  Shouta frowned at his tone, but Nemuri merely nodded and left, sliding the door shut with a deafening click.  Nedzu smiled and gestured for Shouta to sit and he did, blatantly ignoring the teapot.

A cup of tea appeared in Shouta's hand before he could blink, and Nedzu sipped his own drink, drawing out the silence until it was uncomfortable.

"Did Nemuri tell you why I brought you here?" Nedzu finally asked, boring into Shouta with small eyes.

"You're offering me a job."

"It's not an offer."  Shouta stiffened and set down his cup, eyeing the principal.  "It's a lifeline," Nedzu added, and Shouta narrowed his eyes.  What the hell?

"Your self-destructive tendencies have been brought to my attention, and Detective Tsukauchi and I came up with a symbiotic solution," Nedzu said, pausing to sip his tea, his smile growing.

"We want to begin offering a course for adults at UA," Nedzu explained, and Shouta leaned back in surprise.  "We've been enjoying relative peace, but vigilantes have been on the rise and we wanted to give them—and other capable adults—a way to legally enact their dreams.  Why should children be the only ones with a way to become a pro-hero?"

"I'm not teaching."

"You'd be teaching night classes, with maybe three or four students," Nedzu said, steamrolling over Shouta's words.

"I said, I'm not teaching."

"Classes would run three days a week, for two or three hours each lesson and you would meet every other weekend for practical—"

"I said I'm not teaching," Shouta snapped, jostling the table as he stood.  His tea spilled across the surface, the cup rolling and smearing liquid until it fell to the floor with a crack.  Nedzu's smile didn't falter, and he gently set down his own cup and looked toward the door.

"I thought I sufficiently explained that this wasn't an offer?"  Shouta followed Nedzu's gaze, but no one knocked.  "Let me make myself clear; either you accept this position or I will not stop Detective Tsukauchi from rescinding your pro-hero license."

A slow, syrupy fire threaded through Shouta and he tightened his fists, turning a glare on the principal and hating the desperation that leaked into his voice.

"You have no right to—"

Someone knocked on the door.

"Ah, they're right on time.  Come in!" Nedzu called, and Shouta couldn't have been prepared for who opened the door.

No.

Shouta paled and mutely sank back onto the couch, dread curdling in his stomach and mixing unpleasantly with the taste of tea in his mouth.  He could only watch as Tensei maneuvered himself into the room, his eyes widening when he saw Shouta.

"I'm not interrupting something, am I?" Tensei asked, and Nedzu waved a paw and gestured him over.

"Not at all!  You're quite on time, in fact," he said, grinning as Tensei wheeled himself toward the couch.  Memories wrapped around Shouta's throat, choking him with images of blood and guilt. 

"I was just telling Aizawa about the adult program we're working on," Nedzu said and Tensei brightened, turning toward Shouta with a smile.

"He's the one you wanted to teach that class, right?"

How could he ask that?

"He is.  But it seems that he doesn't think he should take the job,"  Nedzu explained and Tensei gave Shouta an inquisitive look.  He stared until Shouta had to look away, and then faintly sighed.

"You're still blaming yourself," Tensei said, his voice solemn.

"I am not—"

"Then why did you quit teaching?" Tensei quietly asked.  "Why do you refuse to come back?"

"I...," Shouta started but trailed off, excuses dying on his tongue.

"Tenya's gone," Tensei said, and Shouta's head snapped up, his eyes wide.  "It wasn't your fault, and there wasn't anything you could have done."

"He was my student," Shouta snapped, frustration leaching into his words.

"And he was my brother.  No one could have known he was going to run off, and you weren't even in Hosu that day," Tensei's voice wavered, and he pressed a hand against his eyes. 

"It was my job to keep him safe," Shouta whispered, images of a blood-covered alley threatening to drag him under.

But the kid had died alone.

"It's been over five years, Shouta...," Tensei breathed, and Shouta stood, his hands minutely shaking.

He couldn't just—

A memory looped in his mind, replaying the day his students had found out.  Shouta hadn't known how to tell them, had planned to be as blunt and clear as possible before dismissing them early.  But then someone had looked at their phone, had seen the news and raised their hand with a halting gesture to ask if what they read was true.

Shouta had nodded in the dead silence, and a few students started crying.  Uraraka had sobbed and ran from the room, Asui on her tail while Kirishima's phone fell from his hand and cracked.  Kaminari awkwardly laughed, asking if this was some type of joke and then paling when Shouta didn't respond.  Yaoyorozu simply packed her things and left, and then Shouta dismissed the rest of the class.

Hizashi had been waiting for him when he left the classroom, but Shouta had been too tired to respond, his nerves frayed.  He had pushed Hizashi away, and then kept pushing him away as the days passed and the tension in his class grew.  It cumulated into a monster that hung over them until Mineta tried to spy on the girls while they were changing.

Shouta expelled him on the spot, and the fragile balance had snapped.

Uraraka dropped out.  And without someone to hold them together, the growing friendships in the class sputtered and died, leaving an oppressive atmosphere.  Classes were quiet, outbursts were extreme, and the constant villain attacks were enough to break most if not all of his students.

Shouta had stayed with them though.  Had dragged those who remained through their next two years before he resigned when they graduated. 

No one had been smiling that day.

"Shouta, you know how much he respected you as a teacher," Tensei said, breaking Shouta from his thoughts.

"A sense of misguided anger is what got Tenya killed in the first place.  How is what you're doing anything different?"  Shouta froze as Tensei's voice hardened and he rolled closer.

"If you still feel guilty, then start doing something about it instead of trying to destroy yourself," Tensei snapped.  "You're a damn good teacher, but throwing yourself into fights you can't win hurts more people than yourself," he added and Shouta flinched.  Shit.

"Hizashi tells me everything, and he's more worried about you than you know.  Nemuri too.  So stop killing yourself and take the damn job, okay?" Tensei said, his hands pressed white against the armrests of his chair.

"There will be a meeting about the class next week," Nedzu spoke up and Shouta blinked, having forgotten he was there.  The principal stirred his tea with a tilt of his head.

"I expect to see you there," he added.

"No kids," Shouta managed, and Tensei visibly relaxed.

"Only adults, I promise." Nedzu grinned.  Shouta dug his hands into his pockets, turning to leave.

"Go talk to Hizashi," Tensei called when Shouta reached the door.  He paused, fighting the urge to turn around.

After a moment he sharply nodded and walked away, fleeing before the next bell could ring.

**

Izuku woke to an aching body and at least five missed calls from his mother.

He groaned and quickly called her, jerking the phone away from his ear and promptly falling out of bed when she started yelling.  Untangling himself from the sheets, he pressed a hand against his side, holding his phone far enough away that his ear didn't ring.

He spent the next half hour convincing his mother that he was alright while he watched the news, realizing why she sounded so worried.  The video they kept airing wasn't pretty.  It was loud and rough and captured him and Uraraka trying to hold up a falling beam.  They made a horrid picture; Uraraka covered in vomit, Izuku in blood, and he flinched when he watched himself scream for Shouto.  The video continued until they pulled the woman free and Izuku tackled Shouto out of harm's way.  The camera jostled around for a few more seconds before cutting out, and then the news switched back to a reporter. 

"Did you see it?"

"I promise I'm alright," Izuku rasped for the hundredth time, trying and failing to clear dust from his lungs.  His mother sighed, whispered words of love, and finally hung up.  Izuku coughed and then lifted his shirt to look at his side.

He wasn't surprised to see how angry the gash looked, although thankfully it hadn't started bleeding again.  With a wince, he slowly pushed himself to his feet and rapidly blinked away the black spots that filled his vision.  He glanced at his phone, taking in the missed calls from Yoko as well as the time, and slowly realized that if he didn't start moving he was going to be late for work.

Yoko.

Tears pricked at his eyes and he bit his lip, limping his way into the bathroom to get ready. 

He took a shower and ignored the bruises littering his body, cleaning his wounds.  Methodically, he re-bandaged his cuts and pulled on his uniform, running a hand through his unruly hair in vain.  He applied makeup underneath his eyes, brokenly smiled in the mirror, and then left for work.

The hospital was less frantic than the night before, but still busy when he arrived.

Izuku mutely waved to the secretary, then swiftly walked to the back room, an apology tumbling from his lips as he stepped into the room.

"Yoko, I'm sorry I yelled at you.  I shouldn't have gotten so mad and I knew you were just trying to help because you were worried—"  Izuku froze, his words coming to an abrupt halt when he realized who was in the room.

Yoko was there, but beside her was their supervisor, standing sharp and tall, her eyes hidden behind round glasses.  He swallowed, and then tried to keep a hold on his breathing as his supervisor calmly told him he had been suspended from field work.

For an entire week.

Until then, Yoko would be paired with someone else, and Izuku would work on cleaning and restocking the ambulances as well as helping with incoming patients.  Their supervisor tapped her clipboard and then walked out, leaving him drowning in nerves.

Izuku didn't realize he had started crying until Yoko walked over and gently laid a hand on his shoulder.  She handed him a tissue, and he stared at it before wiping his eyes.

"Yoko, I—"

"You need a break, Izuku," she said, giving him a concerned look.  He vaguely tried to remember how to breathe, and crumpled the tissue in his hand.

"I'm sorry."

"I know, but this is the only way I could think of to get you to stop.  What you said last night..."

"I didn't mean—" he tried, but Yoko cut him off with a sharp look.

"You don't say things like that unless you believe them on some level," she sharply said and then sighed, giving his shoulder a squeeze.  "Take the week to think about what you want from this job, okay?" She asked, and then released his shoulder.  She waited until he gave her a shaky nod and then she left, leaving him in deafening silence.

Izuku shuddered in her absence, gripping his arms and hunching into himself, wheezing for a few moments until he could breathe again.  What did he want?

He walked to his locker, pulling out some makeup to re-apply under his eyes.  A clip of All Might standing broken—so thin—but grinning played in his mind, the hero raising a fist after defeating pure evil. 

What did he want?

He pictured Kacchan and Endeavor teaming up, saving people without a smile, without the radiant hope All Might had carried.

Shouto joined the image, his eyes full of pain and sadness, and the image flickered to when Izuku had held him in his arms.

He wanted to be a hero, didn't he?

Izuku gasped, shaking as he forced himself to reign in his tears, not wanting to mess up his makeup again. 

It didn't matter if he wanted to be a hero. 

Kacchan had beaten that dream from him long ago, and no matter how much he wanted it now, it wasn't like he could go back to high school.  Grinding his teeth, he locked his emotions away and then started his day, wandering down the hall toward the stock room.

**

The week dragged by slowly, and Izuku was more than relieved when he finished his shift on Friday.  He had spent the entire week itching to do something, while apologizing to Yoko every chance he got.  She had eventually rolled her eyes and crushed him in a hug, telling him to stop beating himself up and that she'd see him on Monday.  He had shakily nodded into her shirt, and had clocked out after she released him.

Izuku drifted in his thoughts when he walked into the hospital's lobby on his way out.  Out of habit, he briefly looked up to wave at the secretary and then stopped when he saw who was standing in front of the desk.

"Shouto?" He breathed, and then flushed when the pro-hero heard him and turned around.

"I...I'm glad to see you're okay," Izuku hesitantly said, shifting on his feet before walking over to the hero.  Shouto stepped back from the lobby counter, and Izuku was relieved to see his right side wasn't covered in bandages.  His frostbite had been severe, but Izuku had hoped it wasn't enough to leave lasting damage.  Judging from the lack of bandages, it hadn't.

"Thank you for saving me," Izuku added, and blinked when Shouto's eyes widened.  The hero stared, and then his face fell and he glanced away.

"I'm sorry I was an inconvenience," Shouto said, his voice softer than Izuku had expected and wait, what?

"W-what do you mean?" Izuku spluttered, and Shouto looked back at him with a faint frown.

"I should have been paying better attention to my limits.  If I had, you wouldn't have had to take me to the hospital.  Again, I apologize for the inconvenience," Shouto said, and then stepped past Izuku as if to leave.

"W-wait!" Izuku called and caught up to Shouto, frantically fluttering his hands.  "It wasn't an issue!  I was only doing my job and you needed the help and if you hadn't saved me and Uraraka we would have died," he rambled, and then jumped when he realized Shouto was intently watching him.

Izuku swallowed, and Shouto shifted on his feet in the silence.

"You're welcome," Shouto eventually said and Izuku blushed, struck by the sincerity in his tone.  He unfroze when Shouto moved to leave, and he moved with him, not wanting the conversation to end.

"Ah! I'm sorry, I never introduced myself.  I'm Midoriya Izuku, and you're Shouto...but oh, it's probably rude of me to call you by your hero name all the time since it's also your given name, so I probably should call you Todoroki but—" Izuku stopped when Shouto calmly held up a hand.

"...Shouto's fine," he said, and then turned toward the door, his smile slipping.  "I need to leave."  The last bit was mumbled under his breath, and Izuku had a feeling that he hadn't been meant to hear it.  Regardless, Shouto started walking again, exiting the lobby.

"I'm actually headed out too," Izuku said, tagging along while wondering what the hell he was doing. 

Shouto was a pro-hero; Izuku not only knew him by name, but had also followed him since his debut.  He could list off his quirk's attributes and various weaknesses without batting an eye. 

Shouto was the number three hero for a reason, which meant he probably had somewhere to be and didn't need Izuku tagging along like an overbearing fan. 

And yet, Izuku couldn't stop himself from following Shouto outside, even though the hero gave him a confused look.

"...Are you headed this way as well?" Shouto asked, pointing down the sidewalk.  Much to Izuku's surprise, he was heading in that direction, and he nodded.

"Would you mind the company?" Izuku asked, and tried not to stare at Shouto's shoulders when they tensed. 

"It's fine," Shouto eventually said and then started walking.  Izuku briefly hesitated at Shouto's tone, but ran to catch up with him, having to take large steps to match his stride.  It wasn't that Izuku was particularly short, but Shouto still had a good ten centimeters or so on him.

They walked in silence, and Izuku fidgeted in the uneasy atmosphere.  He stole a glance at Shouto, but the hero was looking ahead, his face an expressionless mask despite the lingering tension in his shoulders.  He shouldn't have bothered him.

"Is something wrong?" Shouto bluntly asked and Izuku jumped, not having noticed Shouto turning toward him.  Izuku waved his hands, stuttering out a response.

"N-no!  I mean, well, I guess I was just wondering if you can use your left side?"  He asked, pinching his lip.  "Theoretically, you should be able to, but no one's ever seen you use it.  I didn't even know it was an aspect of your quirk until they announced it with your debut, and you didn't use it to negate your right side's backlash last week—"

"I can use it," Shouto hollowly said, stopping Izuku's muttering.   Shouto was clenching his jaw, his body posture stiff and uncomfortable and Izuku was an idiot.

"I'm sorry!" He blurted, and Shouto slowly blinked in what might have been surprise.  "I shouldn't have asked.  It's your quirk, after all, you don't have to explain yourself.  I was just curious," Izuku quickly said, nervously running a hand through his hair.  He took a few more steps, and then paused when he realized Shouto had stopped walking a few meters back.

"...I only want to use my mother's quirk," Shouto slowly said, staring at his right hand, his expression closed-off and guarded.  Izuku faintly registered his odd wording, but pushed aside his thoughts and tried to save the conversation.

"Well, I think your ice is beautiful," He said with a smile, and then blushed because oh god, that was weird wasn't it and he just called a pro-hero pretty—

Shouto laughed and Izuku froze, pulled from his thoughts.  Truthfully, it was less of a laugh and more of a startled cough hidden behind a hand, but at the very least, Shouto didn't look upset.  By the time he walked back to Izuku's side his levity was gone, but Izuku had tucked the sound safely away in his mind. 

He had made a pro-hero laugh.

Well, it might have been a laugh.

"We haven't passed your stop, have we?" Shouto suddenly asked, and Izuku glanced around.  He grimaced when he realized that yes, he had missed his turnoff by at least a block.

"I shouldn't be keeping you then," Shouto softly said, and Izuku scrambled for a response.

"It's fine!  I wasn't planning on doing much the rest of the day, and talking to someone my age is nice," Izuku rushed, and then frantically tried to make that sound less awkward.  "N-not that I don't talk to people my age, but most of my co-workers are older than me and I can't exactly talk to our patients, but it's uh—I'm sorry," he sighed, covering his burning face with a hand. 

"I know what you mean," Shouto said, and Izuku uncovered his face, looking at him in surprise.  "But I should be going," he added, turning away from Izuku.

Right.

Shouto was a pro-hero.  Izuku couldn't just take up his time as if he somehow mattered.

"I-I'll be going then," Izuku said and the hero nodded before continuing on his way.  Izuku watched him until he vanished into the crowds, unable to move, wanting to reach out and call him back.

Shitty Deku, who would want to be your friend?

Izuku let his shoulders drop and pushed Shouto from his mind, heading toward home.  The hero had better things to do than talk to someone like him.

When Izuku stepped inside his apartment, the lingering tension from the day melted from his shoulders and he rubbed at his aching eyes, not caring if he smeared his makeup.

No one was around to notice, after all.

He changed his clothes, re-bandaged his almost-healed wounds, and then started making dinner, scrolling through his text messages while he waited for his food to cook.  Uraraka had sent him multiple messages throughout the day; mostly complaints about the extensive clean-up work they were doing at the explosion site.  He squinted at her most recent texts, and then smiled when he read that she wanted to try to meet up for lunch over the weekend.  She mentioned wanting his advice about something, but Izuku was simply excited she still wanted to see him.

He sent her a message that he was free on Sunday, and then went about finishing his dinner.

Stomach full and a quick shower later, Izuku sat at his desk, toweling off his hair and tossing the towel onto his bed before he pulled out his latest hero analysis book.  He quickly flipped around until he found Shouto's page, and stared at the half-drawn sketch of the hero before he nodded to himself.

It wouldn't be accurate, but Izuku didn't want to draw Shouto covered in ice.  Seeing the hero earlier, his left side free, blue eye unguarded and full of life—no blood-red hole that bored into him—had made Izuku want to draw that side of him. 

Izuku carefully erased the little ice he had drawn, and then closed his eyes and pictured Shouto.  He softly smiled, then began to work.

The sun was starting to set when Izuku finished the sketch.   He stretched, taking a moment to check on his plant—not Katsuki—before he brushed away errant eraser shavings.  Shouto stood on the page in his hero uniform, his left side free of ice and Izuku felt a jittery warmth spread through him.  Something about the picture seemed right, or at least softer than the attitude Shouto exuded during interviews and videos.

Izuku tilted his head, staring at the sketch before he pulled out his colored pencils, deciding to add color.  He wasn't good enough to do Shouto's hair and eyes justice, but he would try.  He only hesitated once, when he went to color Shouto's uniform, pausing with a white colored pencil in hand and frowning down at the page.

He glanced at his pencils, swapped the white for a deep blue, and then finished coloring Shouto's uniform.  Satisfied, he gently brushed a hand over the completed picture and then flushed, quickly closing the book with a snap.  What was he doing?

Shaking himself, he put the notebook away and went into his living room, turning on the TV and pulling up a movie to distract himself.

Izuku couldn't stop thinking about Shouto though, his mind circling back to why the hero refused to his use left side.  Their conversation and his eyes spiraled in Izuku's head, distracting him from the movie until he fell asleep on the couch a few hours later, credits rolling from one movie into the next.

**

"So how was the checkup?"  Shouto paused in his writing and looked up to see Kirishima leaning on his desk with a large grin.  The expression didn't reach his eyes though, and Shouto sighed, setting down his pencil.

"As I told you before I went, I'm fine," he said, forcing himself not to roll his still-healing shoulder.  He wasn't used to having his burns properly treated, and he had forgotten how itchy bandages were.  His left eye itched with a phantom pain, and he allowed himself to gently rub it while Kirishima blew out a puff of air.

"That's good!  Cause I was really worried when I heard you'd ended up in the hospital, you know?" Kirishima said, his voice falling quiet.

"...You need to use your fire sometimes," Kirishima added after a moment, and Shouto pushed himself up from his desk, startling Kirishima.

"I will not use his power," Shouto snapped, and immediately regretted his tone when Kirishima slumped into himself, resigned.

"...I know," Kirishima said, shoving his hands into his pockets and turning away.  "You wanna get dinner?" He asked, and Shouto stared at his desk, knowing Kirishima was offering him an olive branch.

Words pooled in his mouth, and he let the silence drag out too long, not knowing how to accept and apologize at the same time.  Kirishima sighed, hunching further into himself.

"It's fine man, maybe tomorrow night," he said and then walked back to his own desk.

'Can you use your left side?' Shouto swallowed around the tightness in his throat, slowly sinking into his chair.  Bright green eyes—a stranger's really—burned in his mind.  He couldn't he couldn't he wouldn't—

He dug his nails into his healing shoulder, grounding himself with the pain.

"I'm sorry," he offered, but the words fell meaningless against the heavy silence around his desk.

Chapter Text

Shouta was warm.

Hizashi curled tighter against him, breathing in the comforting scent of his aftershave.  Shouta felt real and safe and home, and Hizashi burrowed into him more, blissfully snatching what few moments he had before Shouta would grumble and push him away.

Hizashi stiffened in surprise when Shouta wrapped his arms around him, and then he smiled, melting into the touch.  Warm.

Shouta never let Hizashi cuddle him.  They weren't together, after all.

 But for some reason Shouta was holding him back and Hizashi didn't question it.  Didn't question the feel of his arms, the softness of his chest, or how they had ended up on his couch.  Hizashi simply basked in the warmth, burying his face into Shouta's side.

"Hizashi?"  Shouta sounded loud, and Hizashi whined, gripping tighter and trying to drag out the moment.

"Hizashi." His name was punctuated with a loud knocking sound and Hizashi jerked away, startled.

Consciousness came back to him like a cold slap when he fell off the couch and landed hard on the floor.

Disoriented, Hizashi groaned against the carpet, chasing the warmth of his dream.  Across the room, someone kept knocking on his door, and he willed them to go away.

"Hizashi, I know you're in there," Shouta called through the door and Hizashi paled, head snapping toward Shouta's voice.

Right.

Of course Shouta wasn't with him.  Didn't want to be with him, if his silence at the hospital had been any indication.

They weren't together.

"Don't make me use my key," Shouta grumbled, and Hizashi slowly pushed himself to his feet, swaying slightly.  What did Shouta want?

Not Hizashi, that was certain.

He flinched at his thoughts and ran a hand through his greasy hair, making a face at himself.  Sighing, he stumbled to his door and pulled it open.

Shouta looked well.

Hizashi stared, taking in how he had actually showered, washed his clothes, and had taken the time to shave.  Shouta smelled clean, and raised an eyebrow when he caught Hizashi's gaze.  In contrast, Hizashi knew he hadn't showered in days and was wearing a sweater so old the lettering had faded, small holes scattered across the hems.

Hizashi took all this in, and tried not to cry.

It didn't help that tears were already trickling down his face, and he belatedly wiped his eyes.  Shouta heaved a sigh and pulled him into a hug, tucking Hizashi's head into his chest and rubbing his back.

"I'm an ass," Shouta rumbled, and Hizashi dug his fingers into Shouta's shirt, hope trickling through his chest.  "And you smell like shit," he added and Hizashi brokenly laughed.  Shouta gently pulled him away from his chest, a hand moving to cradle his face and Hizashi sniffled, unable to meet his eyes.

"I took the job, and we need to talk," Shouta softly said.  Hizashi let out a relieved laugh, cupping Shouta's hand closer to his face.

"Okay," he breathed, and Shouta released him—no, don't go—before stepping past him and into his apartment.

"It doesn't make things okay," Shouta started, pausing without looking back.  "But I have to start somewhere."

Hizashi rubbed his eyes and wearily smiled before stepping inside to join Shouta, closing the door behind him.

"Okay," he whispered.

The I love you went unsaid.

**

Izuku had almost walked past the cafe Uraraka picked for them to meet at.

It was a hole in the wall type of place, and Izuku had to backtrack and stare at his phone for a solid minute, questioning the "You have arrived!" until he spotted a hand-crafted sign that told him it was the correct place.  He second-guessed the sign for a few seconds before shifting on his feet and stepping inside.

The cafe had a surprisingly cozy atmosphere, and thankfully Izuku spotted Uraraka quickly.  He weaved his way across the room and sat across from her with a relieved sigh.  She smiled when he sat down, waving a waiter over as she cradled her own drink.

"No dust this time?" She asked with a soft laugh and he chuckled, rubbing the back of his neck.

"I'm still sorry about that," he said, and she waved a hand.  The waiter walked over before he could continue, and he ordered a decaffeinated tea before turning back to Uraraka.

"So how was your week?" Uraraka asked, tracing a finger around the edge of her drink.  Izuku grimaced, and she quickly dropped her jovial tone, giving him a pointed look.

"That bad, huh?"

"No...I just—" he paused and stared down at his hands.  "I was sort of banned from field work for the week," he said, flushing.  When she didn't respond he looked up to see her staring, her mouth slightly parted.

"But why?" She asked.  He held back a wince, picturing Yoko standing behind their supervisor, desperation in her eyes.

"Because it's not my job to be a hero, and I put myself in danger," he muttered, clenching his hands.  Uraraka frowned, sipping her drink and tilting her head.

"You were only trying to help, just like I was," she huffed, puffing out her cheeks.  "Although I almost got arrested that night, so I understand," she casually added, and Izuku stared.  Their waiter, who had walked over to hand Izuku his drink, gave Uraraka a worried look and then slowly backed away from the table.

"W-what?" Izuku stuttered, trying to fit Uraraka and arrested into the same sentence.  She hesitantly laughed and rubbed her arm, glancing away.

"I used my quirk—," she started and suddenly Izuku understood, words spilling out to finish her sentence.

"—In public.  Without a license." She nodded.  "Wait, almost arrested?"  He asked, and she pursed her lips.

"They offered me a deal?  It's actually what I wanted your advice on," she said, fidgeting in her seat.  "Apparently they're starting a hero licensure program for adults at UA—"

Izuku froze.

"—and the detective said they wouldn't charge me if I considered taking the class," Uraraka finished, pulling out a business card and sliding it across the table.  Izuku numbly picked up the card, not really reading the print so much as trying to corral his spiraling thoughts. 

A hero course for adults?

He swallowed, sliding the card back to her.

"You should do it," he said, surprised by the force behind his voice.

"That's what I've been thinking, but...it's been so long since I went there and I can't forget about Iida—" she abruptly stopped, her expression falling as she bit her lip. 

Why did that name sound familiar?

"Do you mean Ingenium?" He asked, remembering the news reports from years ago.  The pro-hero had been attacked and left paralyzed by Stain, but Uraraka should have been too young to have known him.  Unless...

"You knew his brother," Izuku breathed, wishing he was wrong.  Uraraka flinched and nodded into her drink, her shoulders falling.

"We were in the same class," she confirmed, and oh, he should have known.

That year's class 1-A had become infamous.

Between the villain attacks and All-Might's retirement, he'd forgotten Ingenium's younger brother had been in UA.  It had gotten lost in the coverage of the sports festival that year, which had been vicious.  He vaguely remembered a younger Uraraka making it to the last round only to have to fight Kacchan.  He had beaten her into the ground, and then won the event on a technicality in the last match.

He had fought Shouto, winning when the latter overused his quirk and froze himself to the ground, unable to dodge Kacchan's right hook.  Kacchan had fumed about it during the awards ceremony, cursing Shouto out until the news had to cut away to protect their ratings.

"I know it was a long time ago and he did something he shouldn't have but I just..."  Uraraka rubbed her eyes, and Izuku blurted out the first thing that came to his mind, not wanting her to see her cry.

"I could go with you."  Uraraka straightened in her seat, blinking away tears as Izuku internally panicked.  Oh god, what had he just—

"I-I mean I couldn't be a pro-hero but if you're worried about going alone I could be there for moral support?" He offered, his voice crawling upwards toward the end.  Why was he still talking?  He was nothing, and she wouldn't want him holding her back—

"Would you really?  I was worried about going alone but if you're there I'm sure I could do it."  Uraraka beamed with a determined nod, clapping her hands together.  "You could probably join the course too!" She added and Izuku backpedaled, fluttering his hands.

"W-wait, I couldn't—I mean I can't join the course," he stammered, burying his face in his tea.

"Why not?"  She asked, and he looked up in surprise.  Wasn't it obvious?

Quirkless Deku.

"I'm quirkless, there's no way I could—"

"There are lots of quirks that aren't physical, right?"

"Well yeah, but—"

"Don't those heroes essentially fight quirkless?" He paused.

"They do, but a lot of their quirks at least level the playing field," he said, and she waved a hand.

"Then use support weapons, like Aizawa-sensei."  Izuku sucked in a breath, Eraserhead surfacing in his mind as he fought with his capture weapon.  He was an underground pro-hero, sure, but he was still a hero.

And Izuku wanted to be a hero, didn't he?

He frantically rubbed his eyes when they started to water, trying not to smear his makeup.  Uraraka reached across the table, clasping his hand as her smile faded.

"You don't have to join the course if you don't want to.  Coming along for support is more than enough," she said and he shook his head, forcing an uneven smile.

"N-no, I want to, if they'll let me," he said, wiping his eyes again.  "I'm just really happy, that's all," he added, hiccupping as he failed to suppress the wave of emotions rushing through him.  He could be a hero.  Uraraka looked unconvinced, but eventually nodded and slid the card back across the table.

"Here, keep this for now.  I'll call and see when the first class is meeting and then text you the time.  We can ask when we get there if you can join!" She grinned.  "I'm sure they'll let you in!"  Izuku let out a watery laugh, jitters running through his veins.  Uraraka glanced at her watch and then groaned, starting to stand and pull her purse over her shoulder.  Izuku hastily followed, scrambling to his feet.

"I'm going to miss my train if I don't head out soon," she whined.

"I'll walk you there if that's alright?" He hesitantly asked and she enthusiastically grinned.

They quickly paid and left, Uraraka leading the way as they headed onto the sidewalk and toward the train station.  They walked in silence for a few moments, Izuku losing himself within the possibilities of being a pro-hero until Uraraka spoke.

"I forgot to ask but, do you know how Todoroki's doing?" Uraraka asked with a small frown.  "He was still sleeping when I left."

"He's alright," Izuku said, thrown by the subject change and unable to stop himself from blushing.  His thoughts flashed to how Shouto had felt in his arms, his portrait watching him from his notebook, and Izuku buried his head in his hands.  Uraraka watched his reaction and made an excited sound, her eyes lighting up.

"Oh my god, do you like him?" She asked, and he frantically waved his hands, spluttering.

"N-No!  He's just really polite and his eyes are two different colors and they're really pretty—"  Izuku bit his tongue, stopping himself because he had called Shouto pretty again.  He huffed when Uraraka laughed and playfully bumped into him, making him stumble.

"I'm glad he's okay," she eventually said, and Izuku looked up from his hands, his face on fire.  She gave him a warm smile, patting his shoulder.  "He was closed off when we were younger and he always looked lonely.  I'm sure he could use a friend," she said, and Izuku blinked in surprise.

"I probably won't run into him again soon though," he sighed.  "And I was too shy to ask him for his number," he said, his voice trailing off.  What was he doing?  Uraraka hummed and walked a few steps before suddenly gasping.

"I could ask around for his number, if you want?" She asked, giggling to herself.

"I-it's fine, really!" He tried, but she had already whipped out her phone.

"Tsuyu has everyone's number, it's no big deal!"  She quipped, rapidly shooting off a few texts.  "If she doesn't have it, she'll know someone that does, and I'll forward it to you!"  Mortified, Izuku groaned and thunked his head against her shoulder.

"What would I even say to him?"  He asked, his stomach churning at the thought.  Shouto's almost-laugh echoed in his mind, and he buried his face into Uraraka's shoulder more.

"I'm sure you'll think of something!"  Uraraka cheered, sliding her phone into her pocket.  "It shouldn't take long for Tsuyu to get back to me, so don't worry about—"

"Hey you!"  They both paused at the sudden yell, glancing around.  When they didn't see anyone, Uraraka shrugged and they continued, Uraraka starting to pick up her dropped sentence.

"No wait, you two!" The voice called again, and they turned to see an extremely short man peel himself from a building's wall and streak toward them.  The man waved and gave them an excited look, carrying a pad of paper and a pencil in one hand.  A reporter?

"Mineta?" Uraraka hissed and Izuku jumped, surprised by the coolness of her tone.  She glared at the strange man, her hands curled into fists by her side.

"That's me!"  The man confirmed and then suggestively winked at Uraraka.  "I can't believe you recognized me, it's been so long!  But I guess my good looks left quite an impact," Mineta said while striking a pose, running a hand through his hair.  Izuku frowned, an uneasy feeling pooling in his stomach.

"What do you want, Mineta?" Uraraka coolly asked and Mineta gave her a sleazy grin, leaning toward her.

"The scoop!  You two were the 'mysterious heroes' on the news last week, weren't you?"  Uraraka wrinkled her nose and crossed her arms, Izuku quickly mimicking her pose and trying to mirror her confidence.

"We were, but why should we talk to you about it?  What are you even doing here?" She asked.  Mineta tapped his pencil against his notepad, stepping closer.  The smell of energy drinks and sweat hit Izuku and he blanched, stepping backwards and covering his nose with a hand.  Somehow, Uraraka held her ground against the onslaught, her expression radiating contempt.

"I'm a photo journalist for some websites and everyone's been trying to figure out who you are.  How cool is it that I recognized you!"  He laughed, and Izuku shivered at the sound.  "Well I didn't know who you were," he pointed his pencil toward Izuku, "but I guessed you were friends and I would find you together," he said, nodding to himself.

"We're not going to talk to you," Uraraka snapped, and Mineta wilted for a split second before he stepped closer, gesturing to the camera around his neck.

"I only want a few pictures!  Just something more current to capture how much you've grown," he said, blatantly staring at Uraraka's chest and wait, was he drooling?

Thoroughly disgusted, Izuku pulled on Uraraka's arm, willing her to ignore Mineta and walk away. 

"And think of the headlines!  I'd be promoted for finding the curvaceous new hero and—" Mineta paused, and Izuku's skin crawled when Mineta raked his eyes over him.  "Whoever you are.  You're not bad looking yourself.  A bit plain, but I'll focus on Uraraka in the pictures so it won't matter."

"Uraraka, we should leave—" Izuku tried, but Mineta cut him off as he suddenly took a picture, the flash blinding Izuku for a moment.

"Mineta, what the hell—"

"So are you two a thing?" Mineta asked, somehow his pencil already back in his hands.  Izuku clutched Uraraka's shoulder, his breathing starting to stutter as he blinked spots from his eyes.  She gave him a worried look and then glared at Mineta.

"We aren't, but that's none of your business—"

"Oh good, you're still available!" Mineta cheered, scribbling onto his notepad.  Uraraka stiffened and finally turned around, pulling Izuku with her.

"Hey wait, come back!"  Mineta called as they started walking away, and oh god, he was following them.  Izuku leaned into Uraraka as she walked faster, trying to figure out where they were and if there were any stores they could duck into.

"Just a few more pictures!" Mineta shouted, and Uraraka started to jog, tucking Izuku's arm around hers.  Sweat dripped down the nape of his neck and he forced himself not to look back, to instead take in his surroundings because they needed to get away from this creep but he didn't recognize the area and they were going to—

There.

Izuku gasped when he made sense of the street in his mind, the small shops slotting themselves into order.  A few stores were closed because of the weekend, but the flower store he normally went to should be open and hopefully Mineta wouldn't follow them inside.  Locking his eyes on the store's entrance, Izuku picked up the pace and then pulled Uraraka inside, letting out a sigh in relief when the smell of fresh flowers washed over him.

That is, until he glanced back and saw Mineta rounding the corner outside the shop.

Before he knew what he was doing, Izuku had pulled Uraraka into the back of the store, maneuvering them behind a few large ferns and a tall display shelf.  The cashier had waved in recognition when he had entered, and now stared at them in confusion, a hand hesitantly raised, their mouth hanging open.  Izuku motioned for them to be quiet, and then froze as the store's door chimed.

Izuku held his breath as Mineta walked inside and to the counter, asking the cashier if they had seen two people run inside.  Uraraka grabbed Izuku's hand, and he squeezed it until they heard the cashier say they hadn't seen anyone come in.  They offered to sell him flowers, and Mineta must have declined, because he turned around and walked out. 

Only then did Uraraka let go of his hand and they both deflated.  Izuku wheezed, and Uraraka rubbed his back while the cashier gave them a thumbs up.

"How's the plant, ribbit?" Someone abruptly asked and Izuku jumped, knocking his head against the shelf behind him.  He bit his tongue against the pain, holding his head and scrambling to his feet when he heard a crash.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to startle you," They added, and Izuku blinked away tears, turning toward them. 

"Tsuyu?" Uraraka hesitantly asked, her eyes growing wide.  Froppy?  Izuku's pounding head supplied as he took in the pro-hero in her civilian clothes, her hair tied up like before.  Froppy smiled and Uraraka beamed, moving forward and throwing her arms around the pro-hero in a tight hug.

"It's good to see you," Froppy said, and their conversation rapidly dissolved into excited, albeit slightly tearful, words and smiles.  Feeling intrusive, Izuku rubbed his head and stepped backwards, only to look down when his foot hit something.

"Yagi!  There's a spill over here, could you bring the broom?"  The cashier called over their shoulder and Izuku winced, staring at the broken pot by his feet.  He must've knocked it over when he had hit the shelf.

"I-it's alright, I'll clean it up," he stammered, leaving Uraraka with Froppy and walking over to the cashier.  They waved a hand, staring into the back of the store.

"It's fine, this happens more often than you'd think," Izuku frowned, moving to pull out his wallet.

"I-I can pay for it, at the very least—"

"Don't worry about it!  You come in here often enough and it was an accident," they said, and Izuku flushed, shifting on his feet.

"Are you sure?"

"Positive!  But Yagi will probably need help with the bigger pieces.  He tries to carry them himself, but he's not supposed to," they explained, making a face over their shoulder at the person walking into view with a dustpan and broom in hand.  An extremely tall man stopped behind the cashier and Izuku balked, baffled by how he was standing, let alone coming to work, as it looked like a strong breeze would knock him over.

The man was skeletal, his clothes hanging loosely on his frame, his pants sagging and pooling near his feet.  The apron he wore looked handmade, with small sunflowers decorating the bottom and a few colorful stains scattered across it.  His hair was sallow, but golden, messy in a way that should have looked unkempt but seemed to suit him.  Izuku took in his eyes last, and then gasped, because he knew those eyes.

"A-All Might?" Izuku stuttered, gaping and twisting his hands into his shirt, his face turning red.  The man frowned, coughing slightly and tilting his head.

"I haven't been All Might in a long time, kid," he rasped, and Izuku's self-control vanished because he knew that voice.

"I can't believe it you're All Might like the All Might and wait, do you work here?  No, that's a stupid question you're wearing an apron of course you work here I've just never seen you before.  I mean I only come on Saturdays, but oh, you probably don't work Saturdays, do you?" He rambled, pinching his lip and muttering, missing the dumbfounded expression All Might gave him.

"The news stopped following you years ago and I always wondered what'd happened but you fell off the radar which sort of sucked because you were the best hero, I mean you still are the best hero even if no one ever—"

"I appreciate your enthusiasm kid, but I'm not that man anymore," All Might slowly said, stopping Izuku mid-sentence.  Izuku stared, and the cashier merely shrugged, turning away and leaving them to sort it out.

"B-but you're All Might, the number one hero!"  Izuku spluttered, and watched as All Might walked past him to where Froppy and Uraraka were still chatting, stepping around them to reach the broken pot. 

"I was the number one hero," All Might clarified, wheezing as he crouched down by the broken pot.  Izuku trailed after him, and Uraraka and Froppy stopped their conversation when they noticed the pair.  Uraraka blinked and then gasped, suddenly clapping her hands together.

"Sensei!" She exclaimed, and All Might stared up at her, looking surprised.

"I...it's been a long time since I was a teacher too," he said, and Froppy tapped her face with a finger.

"Ochako was in the same class as me," Froppy said, and Uraraka enthusiastically nodded.  All Might faintly smiled and coughed, turning back toward the mess.

"I'm glad to see you're doing well," he simply said, starting to pick up the larger pieces.  Izuku—face still beat red—stared before jerking forward and grabbing some broken pieces.

"Ah, l-let me get this!  I didn't mean to make a mess and I'm so sorry you don't have to clean it up," he rushed, his heart beating through his chest, pounding away with a steady beat of All Might was beside him, his childhood hero was right there oh my godohmygodohmygod.

"I'll sweep up the smaller pieces!"  Uraraka offered, and between the four of them, they readily cleared the broken pot and swept most of the debris into the dustpan.  Izuku, still frazzled, watched All Might toss the broken pieces away before he did the same.  He walked back to Uraraka in a daze, turning toward All Might like a sunflower toward the sun, and All Might dusted his hands off on his apron and spoke.

"Thank you for the help, but I should be getting back to work."  Froppy nodded and tapped a finger against her mouth.

"I'll be here next week, ribbit," she said, and All might gave her a small smile before he started walking away.

"WAIT CAN I HAVE YOUR AUTOGRAPH?" Izuku blurted, and then slapped his hands over his mouth and hid behind Uraraka, mortified.  He watched All Might sigh and pull out a piece of paper from his apron, scribbling onto it.  He held it out to Izuku, who shakily accepted the slip and sucked in a breath at the sight of All Might's classic signature scrawled across it.

"I can die happy now," he whispered to himself and Uraraka burst out laughing.  Not having heard him, All Might looked confused, but merely waved and drifted into the back of the store.  Izuku mutely stared at the signature until Uraraka bumped into his side, and he almost fell over before he steadied himself, carefully tucking the slip into his pocket.

"He was one of my teachers at UA, you know," Uraraka said with a grin.

"Although he left after one year," Froppy added, and something about her tone brought Izuku back to reality. 

"Oh right, he was really sick after the Kamino Ward incident, wasn't he?"  Izuku breathed, remembering how close All Might had come to dying that day.

"He was," Froppy confirmed and Uraraka furrowed her brow, looking toward the back.  Izuku followed her gaze, but All Might had already vanished.

"I hope he's doing okay," Uraraka sighed.

"I don't think he is, ribbit" Froppy bluntly said and Izuku frowned, feeling the urge to go after him.

"Sorting out pro-heroes' emotional lives is not part of our job."

Yoko's voice echoed in his mind and Izuku winced, a hand fluttering to his healing side.

"We should be heading out, shouldn't we?" He asked Uraraka and she glanced at her watch, wrinkling her nose.

"Well, I've already missed my train, but if we hurry I could catch the next one."

"You can stay at my place for the night if you want," Froppy suggested, her tongue slightly sticking out.  Uraraka blushed, pulling at a piece of her hair.

"Are you sure?"

"I have a comfy couch," Froppy added and Uraraka grinned.

"Okay then!" She cheered, and then looked at Izuku, still blushing.

"Are you going to be okay getting home?"

"I live nearby, actually.  Don't worry about me," he said before they waved and he left the store, Uraraka promising to see him again soon.  Oddly buoyant, Izuku walked home and fell into his normal routine, carefully placing the paper All Might signed on his desk before he curled up on his couch in his pajamas. 

He had forgotten that Uraraka had asked around for Shouto's number until she sent it to him later that night, along with a few thumbs-up emoticons followed by some overly enthusiastic hearts.  Izuku blushed and saved Shouto's number, but couldn't bring himself to send the hero a text.  How would he explain having his number?  Izuku swallowed, trying not to think about Shouto's hair, and jumped when his phone buzzed again.

The hero class starts in two weeks!! Thanks for agreeing to come with me! <333

Izuku smiled at Uraraka's enthusiastic texts, blatantly ignoring how his fingers itched to send Shouto a message.  It would be weird. 

Exasperated, he stood and tossed his phone onto the couch before walking into his bedroom, ruffling his hair with his hands as if that'd shake away his thoughts.  His gaze landed on All Might's signature, and he walked over to it, reverently running a hand over the writing.

Oddly enough, All Might's eyes had reminded him of Shouto's, and he carefully placed the paper next to his plant with a small frown.

His eyes had looked so sad.

Chapter Text

"Huh, that's weird," Kirishima said, and Shouto looked up from his desk to see Kirishima tilting his head and staring at his phone.  Shouto didn't respond, but Kirishima continued anyways, scooting on top of his desk until he faced him.

"I found an article that says Uraraka and the paramedic you helped out are dating.  And that Uraraka's a pro-hero?"  Kirishima furrowed his brow, scrolling on his phone in apparent confusion. 

"She's not a pro-hero."

"I know that, I just—"

"Why are you reading the tabloids anyways?" Shouto asked, jotting down a few notes until Kirishima made a displeased noise.  Shouto looked up in time to see Kirishima jump down and walk over, holding out his phone.

"I dunno!  It's good to know what the news is saying about us?"  Shouto raised an eyebrow and Kirishima groaned, dropping his phone in Shouto's lap.  "Okay, not the news.  The tabloids.  Gossip is trashy and it sucks but I'd rather know what people are saying about me behind my back than find out an uglier way."

"Just read it," Kirishima added, waving a hand towards his phone until Shouto sighed and started to read.

"Hero Duo from Wreckage an Item???"  The title alone made him raise an eyebrow, but he forced himself to keep scrolling.

"In an exclusive interview with the unknown heroes from last week's explosion, it seems like love is in the air!  Witnesses say they saw the couple meeting in a small cafe, affectionately sharing drinks.  They apparently left hand-in-hand, and the girl (Uraraka Ochako, pictured left!) was practically escorting her hubby home!"

Below the line of text was an enlarged picture of Uraraka and Midoriya.  They both looked surprised, and Midoriya was clinging to Uraraka's arm, tucked against her side, his green eyes wide.  He looked scared.  Frowning, Shouto glanced at the photo credit.

Mineta Minoru.

"I know, right?  It's trash," Kirishima said, gently pulling his phone from Shouto's hands, which was probably a good idea.  Shouto clenched his hands, trying to push away the image of Midoriya essentially hiding behind Uraraka. 

He fervently hoped neither one read the tabloids.

"There's nothing about you though, so at least there's that," Kirishima said as he continued to scroll.  They sat in an uncomfortable silence for a few moments and then Kirishima set his phone in his lap, leaning on his hands and staring at Shouto.

"Hey, I'm sorry about the other day—"

"It's fine," Shouto quickly said, cursing himself when his words came out terse and cold.  He shifted in his seat, fumbling for a correction.  "...I mean, I'm not upset.  It's fine." He tried, and blinked in surprise when Kirishima's expression wavered, a flicker of sadness overtaking him before he quickly shoved himself off his desk.

"Yeah, okay man.  That's what I meant," he sullenly said, and Shouto watched him walk away, his thoughts tripping against one another in a drunken spiral.

"I'm sorry," he mumbled, a horrid mirror of the conversation from the other day.  Like before, Kirishima had already left—probably to patrol—and Shouto was left half-standing at his desk.  He pressed his hands into his paperwork, shutting his eyes until he heard a crackle.  He startled and snapped open his eyes when he realized he had frozen half the papers on his desk.  One of his co-workers glanced up from across the room, and Shouto promptly walked out.

He couldn't chase after Kirishima—that required an actual apology, and Shouto's words were tangling in his mouth—but he could do his job as a pro-hero.  He coated his left side in ice as he walked, not caring where he went.  He simply wanted to distance himself enough to make sense of the situation and figure out how to apologize to Kirishima.

Because he had an uncanny feeling Kirishima wouldn't reach out to him again.  He knew Kirishima didn't consider him a friend, but they worked well together and the thought of Kirishima ignoring him when he went to work—no coffee or terrible jokes—wasn't pleasant.

A scream caught his attention as he rounded a corner, and he pushed Kirishima from his mind, ice crackling in his hand as he started to work.

By the time Shouto returned to his apartment later that day he was exhausted.  He had come across a few petty villains and a hostage situation that had taken up most of his shift, his pulse thundering in his ears until he had managed to resolve the situation with little violence.  He had run into Kirishima when he staggered back to work to clock out, and Kirishima had grinned and given him a thumbs-up, a motion that looked hollow and forced—even for Kirishima.

Anything Shouto might have said died in his throat, and he had blankly stared at Kirishima until the latter sighed, running a hand through his hair before he grabbed his coat and headed out.  Shouto quietly checked out after him and headed home, pulling up his hood in an effort to block everything out.

And so, he was more than surprised when he stepped into his apartment's hallway and saw his father leaning against the wall by his door.

"Fuck." The curse slipped out and Shouto stiffened, his mouth going dry as his right side grew cold.  His father looked up, thankfully made no comment about the swear, and scowled.

"You're late," he rumbled, his arms crossed over his chest, his facial flames flickering dangerously close to Shouto's door.  Shouto carefully pulled a mask over his expression and walked toward his door, moving to unlock it.

"I didn't realize I had to keep a perfect schedule," he said, trying to ignore how he could feel the heat from his father's flames they were too closetooclosetooclose—

"You don't," his father sneered, leaning closer.  It took everything Shouto had not to lean away.  As it was, he almost dropped his keys, and he forced himself to focus on putting them in the lock.

"But I texted you that I'd be here an hour ago, and you're late."  It was possible his father was telling the truth, but Shouto had turned his phone off hours ago, not wanting to see a message from Kirishima.

"My phone died, my apologies," Shouto stiffly said, finally managing to turn the keys in the lock.  He pushed open his door and stepped onto the threshold, turning around to block his father's path.  His father glared, his flames flaring—too hot—for a brief second.

"Shouto, let me inside."

"I wasn't expecting you, my place is inadequately cleaned and prepared."

"So you're going to talk to me out here?"

"It would be an insult to invite you inside with my room looking as it does," Shouto carefully argued, knowing entirely well that his apartment was nearly spotless.  But the thought of his father entering the one space Shouto had carved for himself made him clench his jaw, frost trickling up his arm.  Not here.

"If you childishly insist, then fine.  I talked to Yaoyorozu's parents, and they've informed me that you two never met past the first meeting," he said, malice lacing his tone.  Shouto swallowed, ice dusting his shoulder.  No.

"I was under the impression that you two were engaged with one another.  Was I wrong?" Endeavor's eyes bored holes into him, and he forced himself to hold his ground.  Don't look down.

"I—"

"Don't you dare spout lies.  Yaoyorozu was a perfect match, but you've been lying to me for weeks.  You're lucky I found out sooner rather than later, so I could find someone else."

No.  He didn't want—

"I've set up a meeting with Tanaka Hayato's daughter.  He owns one of the largest electrical companies in Japan and his daughter's quirk allows her to manipulate electrical currents.  It'd be a strong addition to yours," Endeavor said, and Shouto sucked in a breath, unable to stop himself from dropping his gaze and hunching his shoulders.

"The meeting's in a few days.  I'll have someone pick you up, and they'll be bringing you back this time so you can't lie about where you've been," his father hissed, and Shouto stared at the floor, unable to respond.

"You don't have to like this girl, Shouto.  You merely have to be able to work with her.  Do I make myself clear?"

"Yes," Shouto said, the word tearing his throat like glass.

"Good," Endeavor said and then he was gone, stalking down the hallway and out of sight, his flames casting flickering shadows in his wake.

Shouto watched until the shadows were gone and then he crumbled, trying and failing to hold onto the doorframe.  Ice picked its way across his right side, and he barely managed to step inside and shut his door before he froze it.

He couldn't escape his father.

His throat tightened and he curled into himself, pressure building behind his eyes despite the lack of tears.  He shivered, and then scrambled to his feet when he felt his left side start to compensate for the temperature change.

Shouto stumbled to the bathroom and into the shower, barely remembering to peel off his uniform before he slammed the dial on and icy water rushed over him.  Under the freezing spray, he could ignore the warmth spreading from his left side and he dug his fingers into his arms.  The water dripped from his hair into his eyes and he shut them, trying to pull himself into the semblance of something functional.

He woke up curled against the side of the shower sometime later, his body numb, a warm lull seeping from his left side. 

Shouto stiffly turned off the water, his muscles protesting as he stepped out and dried himself off.  He avoided looking at himself in the mirror, gathered his clothes from the floor, and headed toward his bedroom.  Dropping everything in a pile on the floor, he pulled his phone from his pants pocket and plugged it in. 

Another moment and he crawled into bed, burying himself in the sheets, not caring that his hair was still damp and soaking into the pillow beneath him.

**

Tanaka Emiko.

The woman whose father owned the electrical company, and the one his father had invited to dinner with Shouto.

Shouto had arrived before her—thanks to his father's escort—and had ordered a drink before she showed up.  She had arrived in a storm, striding across the restaurant until she found him.  Her hair bounced around her head, curls dyed a light blonde, and she had sat down in a way that left her dress inching up her thigh. 

Not that Shouto had cared, so much as he disliked how everyone in the vicinity had started to stare.

He had held back a sigh and she introduced herself, her voice immaculate and sharp.  She spoke fluently, mentioning how thrilled she was as she touched his hand.  He stiffened when a spark shot through his hand, and he hastily pulled it toward himself.  She merely continued the conversation, ordering wine after flagging down the waitress.

Shouto barely managed to keep himself from leaving by the time they finished their meal.  Tanaka was a highly intelligent woman, but she talked with the air of someone who was used to getting what she wanted, and she kept leaning over the table, the front of her dress dipping low.  Shouto grimaced and stared over her shoulder, supplying one-word answers until she finally sighed and swept to her feet.

"Well!  I should think we've gotten to know one another better, haven't we?" She asked with a grin, pulling out some lipstick to touch up her lips.  Shouto nodded, standing in relief.

"Did you father provide a valet?" She suddenly asked, and he minutely frowned.

"He did, why?"

"Oh great!  My father forgot to send one, so it shouldn't be a problem if you take me home, will it?" Her grin was terrifyingly self-assured. 

"Of course.  It won't be an issue," he said, although he knew she could likely find a ride—but appearances had to be upheld.  Shouto turned to lead the way, and then stiffened when Tanaka took hold of his arm and tucked herself into his side.

Her curls scratched his face.

She talked on the way to the car and then for the entire ride home.  Poking and prodding him with questions as if to edge her way into his life, which he smoothly deflected with thinly-veiled lies.

Needless to say, Shouto was relieved when they pulled up to her apartment.  She unbuckled her seatbelt and paused, turning toward him.

"Would you be so kind as to walk me to my door?" She breathed, touching his arm again, another spark snapping through his skin.  If he refused and she told his father—

"Of course," he hollowly said before stepping from the car and walking to her side.  She held onto his arm as they walked inside the apartment complex and didn't release him until they reached her door.  And then she leaned against it, smiling at him.

"Thanks for dinner," she said, playing with one of her curls and biting her lip.  He nodded, and she slightly shifted closer to him, tilting her head.  "I had a great time, Shouto," she added, and he stiffened.

"It's Todoroki," he coolly said, shifting backwards.  She mirrored his movement with a small pout.

"But we had such a good time!  And I really think we got to know one another, don't you?" She said, reaching out a hand to smooth the front of his jacket.  Shouto stilled, holding his breath and forcing the frost crackling on his arm away.

"In fact, I think I'll tell my father I'd like to see you again.  What do you think about that?" She hummed, pressing her other hand over his jacket.  Uneasy, he shifted backwards again but she followed him, ending up closer than before.  Her eyes bored into his, and the smell of her perfume washed over him, clogging his throat as he forgot to breathe.

"You're cute, you know that?" She smirked and then leaned toward him, abruptly locking her fingers into his jacket and pulling him toward her.

And then she was kissing him.

No.

He shuddered, automatically shoving her away, his dinner threatening to crawl up his throat.

He hadn't wanted—

Tanaka stumbled backwards, steadying herself as her face twisted into a scowl.  She crossed her arms over her chest and sneered at him, narrowing her eyes.

"What the hell was that for?  I'm only doing what your father asked," she snapped, venom lacing her words.  Shouto froze, ice crawling over his skin and crackling up his arm.

What his father...?

Before he could think better of it, he turned and ran.

He didn't care where he was going so much as that he got away.  Once he hit the sidewalk, he didn't stop, instead running past the few people still outside in the twilight hours. 

He couldn't breathe, and he scrubbed at his mouth as if that'd take away the spit clinging to his lips.

Shouto ran until the streetlights flickered on and a park spread out before him.  Only then did he stumble to a stop, chest heaving and frost dusting his entire right side.  Sweat dripped into his jacket, and he hastily tugged it off, yanking his tie with it.

Finally able to breathe, he looked around in a daze and spotted a bench across the park.  Ice snapped through his veins, clashing against the heat in his face until he felt tears pricking at his eyes.  She had kissed him.

Rushing over to the bench, he wiped his lips again, missing how lipstick smeared across the back of his hand.  He sank onto the bench and then buried his head in his hands, shuddering.

"S-Shouto?" A hesitant voice asked and Shouto jolted, his head snapping up and toward the sound.  He stared at the other end of the bench, stunned into silence when he recognized Midoriya—greens eyes and flyaway curls—staring back at him.  Midoriya flexed his hands into his oversized hoodie, and swallowed when Shouto didn't respond.

"A-are you okay?"  Midoriya started, and then softly frowned.  "I'm sorry, that's a stupid question.  You're not okay, are you?" He whispered, and Shouto merely shivered and sank into the side of the bench, unable to respond.

How could he explain that his father was forcing women onto him in an effort to marry?

All because he wanted strong grandchildren.

Shouto couldn't dump that onto a near stranger, even if Midoriya looked worried.

"I—" he tried, but the words scrambled in his mouth and he dug his fingers into his arms.

"What are you doing here?" Shouto managed to ask, shifting the focus away from himself, defending his emotions with a well-used mask of indifference.  Midoriya stared for a moment and then looked away, and Shouto realized he had dark rings under his eyes.

"I come here sometimes when I need a break.  When this," he made a circling gesture around his head, "is too loud.  It's relaxing here."  He faintly smiled, his expression softening while he talked. 

"I had a rough shift today, and figured I'd relax here for awhile," he added, tugging at the sleeves of his hoodie.

"What happened?" Shouto quietly asked, pulling himself together while Midoriya talked.  His voice had a soothing lilt, and Shouto timed his breaths to its cadence until the ice melted from his arm and his fingers relaxed.

"...I lost someone today," Midoriya said, his breath catching on the words.  The air around them stilled, the moment balancing on a thin ledge.  Midoriya was a paramedic, wasn't he?  The silence stretched, and then Midoriya sighed.

"There wasn't anything we could have done.  The pro-heroes arrived to the scene late, which meant we were called in even later.  It didn't matter that Yoko drove, we couldn't get there in less than ten minutes."  Shouto watched him talk, the space on the bench seeming to grow smaller when he noticed the tears gathering in Midoriya's eyes.

"She bled out, and we only could've saved her if we'd been there immediately," he said, wiping his eyes as he started crying.  "I'm s-sorry, you were upset but n-now I'm the one crying."

"I don't mind," Shouto whispered, keeping his voice soft in the growing darkness.  "I think you're allowed to cry."  Midoriya hiccupped, giving Shouto a wobbly smile.

"T-thanks," he said, wiping his eyes with his hoodie sleeves a few more times while Shouto watched the sky slip into darkness.  Around them shadows turned the park eerie, twilight floating away until the only light stemmed from a lone streetlight.

"Here," Midoriya eventually said, and Shouto turned to see him holding out what looked like a wet-wipe.  He blinked, and Midoriya started stammering when he hesitated too long.

"I-it's for your hand," he said, gesturing with the wipe.  Shouto looked down, realizing Tanaka's lipstick had smeared across the back of it.  Oh.  Wordlessly, he accepted the wipe and cleaned the back of his hand, and then glanced up to find Midoriya staring with a faint blush in his cheeks.

"Ah, you also have...some right here," Midoriya squeaked, lifting a hand and tapping the side of his mouth.  Shouto grimaced, and hastily rubbed the wipe around his mouth, hoping he had managed to get it all off.  Thankfully Midoriya seemed to understand, and he gave Shouto a soft smile.

"I think you got it all."  Shouto nodded, and then tucked the soiled wipe into his pocket, unsure how to continue the conversation.

"Can...can I have your number?" Midoriya suddenly asked, and Shouto's eyes widened.  Midoriya was blushing for some reason, his hands buried into his hoodie as he stared into his lap, a crease forming in his brow.  Confused, Shouto hesitantly pulled out his phone.

"Why would you want my number?" He asked, and Midoriya frantically hid his face in his arms.

"N-not for any particular reason!  We just keep running into one another and you're really nice and I thought it'd be nice to maybe meet up for coffee sometime?  But you're probably busy with pro-hero stuff so it's fine if you can't—"

"You can have my number," Shouto said, faintly amused by Midoriya's rambling.  Midoriya stopped when he spoke, uncovering his face and staring with wide eyes.

"R-really?"

"Sure," Shouto agreed and then paused, frowning slightly.  "Actually, I don't remember my number.  Put yours in and I'll text you," he said, holding out his phone.  Midoriya hesitantly reached for it and then quickly typed in his number.  Shouto heard a faint ping, and Midoriya smiled before handing back his phone.

"I sent myself a message, so you don't have to worry about it!" Midoriya explained, patting his pocket.  Shouto slipped his phone away and pushed himself to his feet. 

"It's getting late," he started, and Midoriya's smile fell as he scrambled to his feet, his blush fading.

"R-right!  You probably have to head home, don't you?" Midoriya asked, and Shouto nodded.  "I'll stop bothering you then," he said, and before Shouto could stop him, he turned and fast-walked away. 

Shouto watched him vanish into the streets, his hands hanging uselessly by his side, a frown etched onto his face.

Midoriya hadn't been bothering him.

Sighing, he turned away and headed home himself, gently running his fingers over the back of his hand.

**

The weeks before the pro-hero class passed quickly, and then Izuku found himself meeting with Uraraka, her having suggested they walk together in order to better explain why he had shown up.

He met her outside UA's gates with an old backpack thrown over his shoulder, stuffed full of notebooks and a few other things he thought he might need.  Uraraka waved when she saw him, bouncing back and forth on her feet with a wide grin.  She also had a bag thrown over her shoulder, although it looked more like an old equipment bag rather than a backpack.

"Are you excited?" She asked when he reached her.

"I think so," he replied, turning to look at UA, craning his head to see the tops of the school's buildings.

He was really doing this.

"Hey, I'm sure they'll let you in," Uraraka said, patting his shoulder with a determined expression.  "There's no way they wouldn't when you're super smart and have medical training!" She added, and he let out a shaky breath, rubbing the back of his neck.

"I hope so," he said before looking around, realizing the gates had some type of pin and swipe card access point.  "Do you...know how to get in?"

"Nope!" Uraraka said with a laugh, pulling him toward the gates.  They stopped in front of the pin code box and Uraraka leaned over it, staring into what looked like a small glass oval.  She let go of him and then waved at the oval with a smile.

"Do you think that'll work?" Izuku asked, peering around her shoulder at the unmoving glass.  It looked like the cameras he had seen at the entrances to other schools, but without a bell to push.  For all they knew, no one was actively watching the screen and the door wouldn't—

A loud buzzing sound interrupted his thoughts, and UA's gate clanged open.

"I knew it'd work!" Uraraka cheered, and then tugged Izuku inside.  He let her lead the way as he stared at the school's grounds and various buildings, trying to take everything in.  He was at UA. 

The UA.

Uninvited, and about to try and join a pro-hero class.

Breathing was suddenly difficult, and he pulled back from Uraraka, bending over his knees as he tried to catch his breath.

"Midoriya, are you okay?" Uraraka asked, turning toward him with a worried expression.  He nodded and she walked back to him, rubbing his shoulder until he steadied his breathing.  "Seriously, they'll have to let you in.  And...even if they don't, it won't hurt for you to hang around for a day," she said with a soft smile.

"I just can't believe I'm here," he shakily said, fluttering his hands as he straightened.

"Yeah, it's weird.  I mean, I haven't been here in years," she said before walking to the entrance and opening the door.  She waved him inside and then followed, the heavy door clanging shut behind them.

"Are you alright?" Izuku asked and Uraraka rubbed her arm, looking around the halls.  He followed her gaze, taking in the vast empty corridors and wondering how it would've felt to come here as a student.  And then decide to leave.

"I'm...not alright, but I will be," Uraraka eventually said, starting down the hall.  He trailed after her, keeping pace as she pointed out her old classrooms.

"What's nice is that we're meeting in my old homeroom, so I know where we're going," she explained, taking turns without pause, and Izuku followed her until she stopped in front of a large door labeled Class 1-A. 

And then, before he had a moment to prepare himself, Uraraka slid the door open and stepped inside.

A standard classroom greeted them, although it was practically empty.  There was only a man with wild purple hair that Izuku vaguely recognized sitting near the back and a teacher standing near the front of the room.  Uraraka waved to the teacher and Izuku started to do the same until he realized who it was.

"E-Eraserhead?" He stuttered, freezing as the pro-hero glanced up from his binder and furrowed his brow.  Uraraka blinked, looking between them with a confused expression.

"You know Aizawa-sensei?"

"I saved his life," Izuku breathed, and then flushed, frantically waving his hands when he realized how that sounded.

"I-I mean I was only doing my job and we happened to find him after a villain attack—"

"That's enough kid," Eraserhead grumbled, and Izuku bit his tongue.  The hero placed his binder on his desk and fixed Izuku with a sharp gaze, crossing his arms and sinking into his capture weapon.

"Why are you here?" he asked, narrowing his eyes.

"B-because Uraraka asked me to come and I want to join the class," Izuku managed, trying not to wilt under Eraserhead's intense glare.  Beside him, Uraraka shifted closer, pressing her shoulder against his in silent support.

"What's your quirk?"

"I-I'm quirkless."  Eraserhead's eyes suddenly flared, his hair lifting from his shoulders.

"Get out," he snapped and Izuku flinched, shrinking against Uraraka.

"But sir, I can—"

"I said, get out," Eraserhead pointed toward the door.

"Aizawa-sensei, if you give him a chance—"

"I'm not teaching someone who's going to get themselves killed."

"I don't have to fight." Izuku quickly said and the room fell silent.  Uraraka gave him a startled look, but he kept his eyes on Eraserhead.  When neither one broke the silence he continued, forming his argument as he talked.

"I don't even have to be a pro-hero," he continued, hating the words spilling from his mouth.  Hewantedhewantedhewanted.

But what he wanted and what he might be allowed to do were two very separate things.

"A lot of heroes work on recovery and rescue missions, right?  I'm a trained paramedic and have extensive background knowledge of what to do in emergency situations.  I can focus on giving emergency medical attention to pro-heroes or civilians that might otherwise be severely injured by the time ambulances can arrive," he explained, thankful Eraserhead hadn't stopped him.

"At the very least I want to be a sidekick, and I can practice with Uraraka.  I don't know if you've seen the news but we have and do work well together," he said, sucking in a shaky breath in the tense atmosphere.  He glanced at Uraraka and started when he saw her grinning, unprepared for the full force of her smile.  She leaned into him more and he looked back at Eraserhead.  The hero's frown had deepened, but he hadn't kicked him out.

"How many years of training do you have?"

"Three years of active service, including an entire year assigned to a villain-response team."  Eraserhead narrowed his eyes, his gaze piercing until he deflated, heaving a sigh.

"Fine, you can stick around," he said and Uraraka let out a cheer, bouncing on her feet and spinning Izuku around in a hug.  Izuku let out a relieved laugh, stumbling slightly when Uraraka set him down, giddy with relief.

"Thank you Aizawa-sensei!" Uraraka beamed and Eraserhead tugged at his capture weapon, shuffling the papers on his desk.

"What's your name, kid?"

"M-Midoriya Izuku," he stammered and Eraserhead nodded before pointing toward himself.

"And I'm Aizawa here, not Eraserhead.  Understand?"

"Yes, sir."

"Good, now go sit down," Aizawa said, gesturing toward the desks.  They quickly sat in the front row and turned their attention toward Aizawa, shuffling their bags under their desks.  Aizawa walked around his desk and sat on it, leaning over his knees and fixing them with a stare.

"This course will not be easy," he started, and something in his voice made Izuku straighten in his seat.  "None of you have professional training, although all of you have either worked with pro-heroes or have previously gone to this school.  Some of you will be working to re-write your image," Aizawa's gaze traveled to the man sitting behind them. "And some of you have other jobs and lives to balance."

"These are all daily issues pro-heroes face, and if you can't balance them you're not cut out to be a hero."  Izuku clenched his hands, chilled by Aizawa's tone.  "That's not to say that you can't do it, but it will take a lot of hard training and practice."

"Since I have no idea of where you all stand physically, today's going to be devoted to testing your abilities and deriving training plans.  I hope you brought exercise clothes.  Meet me outside in five minutes," he finished, and then pushed himself to his feet.  Izuku blinked and watched him shuffle out of the room before he realized he was serious.

"He's just like I remember," Uraraka said, suddenly beside his desk.  "Did you bring extra clothes?" She asked, tilting her head.  Izuku shook himself and then grabbed his bag with a small sigh.

"No.  I only brought a few notebooks," he said, resisting the urge to bury his face against his desk.  Instead, he stood and followed Uraraka out of the classroom.  Unlike him, Uraraka had brought another pair of clothes and he waited for her outside the bathroom until she emerged in running shorts and a t-shirt, slinging her bag over her shoulder.  She led him outside to the training grounds, and they joined Aizawa and the other man, who had also changed into more suitable clothes.

Aizawa raised an eyebrow at Izuku when they reached him, and the other guy took one look at Izuku before pulling something from his bag.

"Here," the man said, throwing a shirt at Izuku's face.  Izuku barely managed to catch it before it hit him, and he blinked in surprise at the plain t-shirt now in his hands.

"T-thanks," Izuku said, and then hastily switched into the t-shirt.  It was too large, but it would do.  Anything was better than trying to run in a button-down shirt.

"I never caught you name," Izuku said after he changed, turning toward the man with a small frown.  "At least I don't think I did?  You look familiar?"  The man's eyes twitched and he scowled, the rings under his eyes standing out starkly against his pale skin.

"I'm Shinsou, and you don't know me," Shinsou said before walking over to Uraraka and Aizawa, ending the conversation.  Izuku stared after him and then joined the group, Shinsou's appearance nagging at him. 

"Okay, now that you're all ready, we'll start with a ball toss.  Feel free to use your quirks," Aizawa said as he held up a tennis ball, his face expressionless.  Aizawa handed the ball to Shinsou, and Izuku watched him lob it a good distance.  Izuku swallowed, and then stifled a laugh when Uraraka negated the ball's gravity and it vanished into the sky.  Aizawa sighed, pulled out another ball, and handed it to Izuku.

"Your turn," he grumbled and Izuku gripped the ball, turning toward the throwing rink.

He knew he wouldn't measure up to Shinsou or Uraraka.

And yet—

He gritted his teeth before throwing the ball as hard as he could.

When it landed a good distance away, Aizawa made no comment.  He simply jotted down the distance and then ordered them onto the next activity. 

By the time they had finished, the sun had set and Uraraka and Izuku were sprawled out in the grass, gulping down water and thoroughly exhausted.  Surprisingly, Izuku hadn't done too bad.  Uraraka had used her quirk whenever she could, but Shinsou hadn't seemed to use his; which meant his quirk probably wasn't a physical one.  Regardless, it meant Izuku came fairly close to Shinsou's score, and he hoped Aizawa wouldn't change his mind about letting him stay.

Aizawa handed them a few more water bottles and then tucked his hands into his pockets.

"Go home, get some rest.  I'll see you all Wednesday," he said, and then abruptly turned and walked into the school.  Silence fanned out for a second before Uraraka laughed, a bit slap-happy.

"He's exactly the same!" She said between gasps and Izuku smiled, running a hand through his sweaty hair before he pushed himself to his feet.

"Shinsou, do you want your shirt now?  I was going to wash—"

"Do what you want," Shinsou said, cutting him off.  Izuku's expression fell, and he watched Shinsou shoulder his bag and leave before Uraraka managed to pull herself together.

"Wow, okay, that was a first day, wasn't it?" She asked with a grin, her energy spilling into him.  Izuku relaxed and nodded.

"Yeah, it was.  I'm excited though."

"I told you they would let you stay!" She giggled, bumping into him.  He made a face and then smiled, shouldering his bag.

"I'm glad they did," he softly replied, and then they started toward their respective homes.

It wasn't until Izuku had gotten home and showered, curled up on his bed and scrolling through articles on his phone before he realized why Shinsou looked familiar.

"Three more villain captures from the past two weeks are being attributed to White Noise.  As you may know, White Noise is an elusive vigilante that's been taking down villains in the past few months, giving local pro-heroes little chance to..."

"Oh my god," Izuku blurted, almost dropping his phone when he saw the blurry photo attached to the news article.  There's no way—

He quickly pulled up a few older articles about the vigilante, searching until he found blurry photo after blurry photo.

No one knew exactly what White Noise looked like.

In fact, depending on who you asked, White Noise was either a man, a woman, or someone who floated in between.  But despite the varying descriptions and the mask they wore, one thing stayed the same across all the photos.

White Noise had extremely messy, purple hair.

"Holy shit," Izuku breathed, and then frantically called Uraraka.

**

Shouta walked through UA's empty halls to the teacher's lounge, grabbing his coat before he headed out.  Considering the late hour, the other teachers had already left, and so he was more than surprised when he heard someone roll up behind him.

"So how'd it go?" Tensei asked and Shouta grimaced, trying to look unruffled as he turned toward Tensei. 

"Good, although somehow Uraraka already has a paramedic sidekick," he blandly said, relishing Tensei's surprised expression.

"Wait, you're not joking?"

"I wish I was.  The arrangement is practical, so I'm allowing him to come for now.  He's a smart kid."  Shouta shrugged and then started toward the building's exit, not waiting for Tensei. 

"Well that's a new one," Tensei said, quickly catching up and keeping pace beside him.  "But when I asked how it went I wasn't talking about your students," he added and Shouta paused, a hand resting on the entrance door.

"I'm fine."

"Are you?"

"He saved my life."  Tensei frowned, opening his mouth to respond, but Shouta spoke before him.

"The night when I ended up in the hospital, I had no intention of being found," he said, the words cracking in the air between them.  Tensei's eyes widened and he rolled closer.  Shouta buried his chin into his capture weapon, staring at the floor between them.  Otherwise he would think too hard and the words would dry up like they almost had when he told Hizashi.

"I was in a secluded alley, and no one knew where I was.  I only survived because a paramedic decided to risk their life and search the surrounding area.  It was a dangerous thing to do, but it saved my life." He clenched his hands, working his jaw for a moment before he continued.  Hizashi had started crying at this point, telling Shouta that he had quite literally run into the paramedic.

"I never found out who it was, but when that kid walked into my class he recognized me and said he'd saved my life."

"You think he helped you that night?"

"Despite my inclinations, I've only been rescued by a paramedic once."  The conversation lulled, and Shouta hesitantly lifted his gaze, blinking at Tensei's concerned expression.

"I...I don't know if you're aware of it, but I head the mental health advocacy group within this school.  Ever since my brother..." Tensei paused, his brow furrowing.  "Ever since what happened to my brother, I've helped hire school counselors and refer students to them.  I refer teachers to outside therapists as well."

Shouta's hand tightened on the door and Tensei held his gaze, holding him in place.

"If you'd like, I know a few people who may be able to help," Tensei softly said, and Shouta broke their gaze, turning away.  He pictured Hizashi's tears, Nemuri's worried face, and how he couldn't stand to be around children for more than a few minutes before his skin started to crawl.

"Okay," he said and then hastily left, letting the door slowly close between them.

Chapter Text

"Why are you staring at me?"

Izuku jumped, his hands slipping on the grass and sending his upper body too far between his legs as he stretched.  He squeaked when his muscles protested the movement, and then scrambled to push himself up while stuttering a response.

"I-I wasn't!"  Shinsou gave him a skeptical look and went back to stretching, but not before he shifted his body away from Izuku.

"I know stretching isn't the most exciting thing, Midoriya, but pay attention," Aizawa grumbled as he stretched, bent flat over his leg.  Izuku flushed and hastily mimicked him, barely able to reach his toes let alone touch his nose to his knee. 

Their second hero class had started with Aizawa handing them training sheets full of daily stretches and exercises to help build their stamina and strength.  He had lectured them on proper diets and various signs of muscle strain before heading outside to walk them through the stretching routine. 

Izuku had thrown Uraraka smalls looks while they sat in the grass working through each stretch.  She had been skeptical when he called her about White Noise, noting that blurry pictures and purple hair didn't make Shinsou a vigilante.   He had reluctantly agreed, but possible connections kept spinning through his mind, distracting him until Uraraka suggested asking Shinsou about it.

Izuku had shied away from the option, not wanting to make Shinsou feel weird if he was wrong.

And he was probably wrong.

Well, maybe.

Every time Izuku had met Uraraka's eyes, she tipped her head toward Shinsou in slight encouragement until he finally turned and watched him, trying to mirror his movements over White Noise's.

Which is how Shinsou caught him staring.

Beside him, Uraraka dipped low over her leg and gave Izuku a reassuring smile, her hair covered in a fine layer of dust.  She was part of the group still working on cleaning up the destroyed building, using her quirk to lift the heaviest pieces.  When she showed up to class she had been covered in a thick layer of dust, apologizing for being late and quickly changing into exercise clothes. 

Izuku almost blew the dust from her hair, but then Aizawa shifted into a new stretch and Izuku followed, chancing another look at Shinsou when they stood and reached toward the sky.  Shinsou stood taller than Izuku, even with his slouched posture, and he fluidly transitioned through each stretch, the movements well-practiced and familiar.  In contrast, Izuku was sweating, his body straining while his mind raced, trying to match Shinsou's height and stance to pictures in his mind.

It would've been easier had there been any videos of White Noise.  As it was, Izuku stretched and watched and flushed every time Shinsou caught him staring.  By the end of the lesson, Izuku was no closer to confirming his suspicions and Shinsou glared at him, throwing his bag over his shoulder before he left.

"Any luck?" Uraraka asked, handing Izuku a water bottle.

"Not yet," he said with a small frown.  Uraraka patted his shoulder, insisting that if anyone could figure it out, it'd be him.

"Or you could ask him," she said with a grin.  Izuku fluttered his hands and she laughed, tucking her schedule into her bag before she turned away.  "Maybe Friday then!" She called, and then headed through the gates.

Izuku stared after her, pinching his lip.  He muttered and packed his bag before leaving, missing how Aizawa watched him go with a furrowed expression.

On Friday, they spent the entire class inside while Aizawa lectured.

Considering Shinsou sat behind him, Izuku couldn't look his way without Aizawa noticing.  Sighing, Izuku dutifully followed along with the lesson and bided his time. 

When Aizawa paused for a five minute break, Izuku turned toward Shinsou and only managed to catch a glimpse of him as he quickly left the room. Not willing to chase after him, Izuku reluctantly pushed him aside in his mind, leaning over and pulling out one of his colorful pro-hero notebooks instead.

A few pro-heroes had been in the news recently, and he wanted to write down the new information before he forgot.  He normally saved the work for the weekend, but their first training session was this Sunday—a time he normally spent devoted to his notebooks.

And so he had brought a colored one, hoping to save some time. 

He couldn't carry the black ones around, after all.

Izuku flipped the notebook open to a newer entry, getting lost as he worked on a sketch and jotted down notes across the page.

"Woah, you draw really well!" Uraraka said, startling him as she leaned over his shoulder.  He blushed and his pencil slipped from his fingers, which Uraraka deftly caught before it rolled off the desk.

"Why are you drawing a pro-hero, anyways?" She asked, holding out his pencil while he buried his face in his hands.

"I-I know it's weird but I like analyzing their techniques and quirks," he started, his voice tipping up like a question.  "And knowing their strengths and weaknesses is really helpful when I'm in the field.  N-not that I stalk anyone or anything!  I just pay attention and watch the news."  Uraraka's eyes widened and he winced, waiting for an explosive outburst.

"That's so cool!  May I?" She asked with a grin, gently tapping the journal.  Thrown, he stared and almost said no, the word coming unbidden and automatically to his lips.  But unlike Kacchan, she looked genuinely interested.  He nodded after a moment, the sound of a journal soaring through the air echoing in his mind.  He could trust her, right?

"Thank you!" She chirped, her smile growing as she flipped through the pages.  He watched her, his face growing red, and then started rambling to fill the silence.

"I-I only do it because when I know a pro-hero's quirk, I can compensate and plan for certain injuries or know how dangerous it would be to start treating civilians while a pro's still fighting.  Like if Endeavor's on call I'll bring more salves and gauze for treating burns but at least the fights are pretty short.  But if it's Mount Lady, we have to avoid her fights entirely and bring oxygen pumps to treat dust exposure," he blurted, unable to watch while Uraraka hummed and kept flipping pages.

"I think this is amazing, Midoriya," she eventually said, and his head snapped up in surprise.  She ran a finger down a page, tapping as she went.  "I mean, look at all the details!  Are you sure you don't have a perception quirk?" She asked, squinting at him.

"I-I don't!"

"Could've fooled me," she said and he nervously laughed, not used to someone being happy about his notebooks.

What the fuck, is that me?

Kacchan's voice bloomed in Izuku's mind and he barely managed to not flinch.  Instead, he wiped his sweaty palms on his pants and remembered how to breathe while Uraraka turned a page.

"Oh, Midoriya..." He jolted when she spoke, his heart racing, waiting for backlash before he realized she had fallen still, staring at a page.  "You drew this, right?" She softly asked, gently setting the notebook between them.

The two-page spread Izuku had devoted to the pro-hero Shouto stared up at them, and he blushed.

"Y-yes," he stuttered, knowing she would've noticed that he hadn't taken the time to color any other sketches.  He also rarely dedicated more than one page to each hero, having learned his lesson after Kacchan had found multiple pages of himself.

 Surprisingly, Uraraka smiled, her hand lingering over the colored sketch.

"He looks good in blue," she eventually said, beaming at Izuku.

"He does," he replied, and then blinked and buried his head behind his arms.  "N-not that I think there's anything wrong with his current uniform!  Any color would look good—" He cut himself, thunking his head against his desk while Uraraka laughed.

"Hey, it's fine.  I know what you meant.  The blue really does look good though," she said before she gasped, clapping her hands together.  "You should tell him!" She exclaimed.

"There's no way I could—"

"I'm sure he'd appreciate it!"

"I can't just randomly text him!"

"Why not?  You have his number, don't you?"

"I do, but he's a pro-hero and he doesn't have time for stupid fans like me," Izuku said and Uraraka's expression faltered, her posture melting as her hands fell to her side.

"...Midoriya, you're not—"

"Okay you two, break's over," Aizawa grumbled from the front of the room, a piece of chalk already in his hand.  Uraraka frowned but didn't protest, quickly moving to her seat while Izuku tucked his notebook into his bag.

Uraraka threw him worried looks for the rest of class, and Izuku couldn't help but replay their conversation, words spinning through his mind.  He startled when class ended, and looked up in time to see Shinsou dart from the room.   Izuku watched him go, and then looked at Uraraka, wincing at her solemn expression.

"I'll see you Sunday, right?" She asked, her light tone clashing against the hollow look in her eyes.  Izuku swallowed and nodded, silently watching her leave.  He stood for a few moments, tightly gripping his bag until Aizawa cleared his throat and Izuku jumped, having forgotten he was there.

"Do you need something?" Aizawa asked, shuffling papers on his desk.

"I don't!" Izuku said, and then rushed from the room before Aizawa could question him further.

**

Early Sunday morning, Izuku checked his phone to make sure he had the correct location for their class.  He glanced at the screen, looked up at a half-faded sign reading Dagobah Beach!, and furrowed his brow.

The place before him wasn't a beach.

Well, the sign suggested it may have been one once, but it was overflowing with teetering piles of trash that rendered it less of a beach and more of a landfill.  When the breeze shifted, Izuku gagged, covering his nose as a putrid combination of saltwater and rotting food washed over him.  This couldn't be the place.

"Oh thank goodness you're here!"  Izuku turned when he heard Uraraka, and he watched her wave and jog over, her bright pink sneakers standing out against her tracksuit.

"I was worried I'd gotten the wrong place," she huffed, wrinkling her nose and giving the 'beach' a wary look.  Izuku nodded, following her gaze and flexing his hands.

"Maybe it isn't so bad on the other side?" He hesitantly offered, skeptical.  But Aizawa had brought them there for a reason, hadn't he?  "Have you seen Aizawa or Shinsou?"

"Not yet, but they should be here soon.  I'm not that early," she said with a soft smile, pulling out her phone and flashing him the time.  Five minutes till.  He casually avoided telling her he had arrived almost ten minutes ago, worried he'd be late or get lost or—

"Is there a reason you're waiting over there?"  They both jumped at the sudden appearance of Aizawa, his hands tucked into his pockets as he buried his chin into his capture weapon.  He yawned, looking akin to a bedraggled cat, and then frowned when they didn't respond.

"I told you to meet me on the beach.  We've been waiting for you two to show up.  Or were you going to stand around here and chat?"  He asked, his expression blank.  Izuku flushed and waved his hands.

"N-no!  We didn't know you meant on the beach and we've never been here before so we didn't know where to go I promise we've been here for a few minutes we're not late or anything—"

"It's fine, kid," Aizawa interjected, lazily waving a hand.  "No need to mutter about it.  I came to get you for a reason," he said before turning toward the piles of trash and starting toward what Izuku realized must have been a boardwalk onto the beach. 

"Thanks, sensei!" Uraraka cheerfully called as they caught up to him, her grin slipping toward Izuku until he faintly smiled.  Aizawa grumbled under his breath, rolling his shoulders and taking them across the boardwalk.

The boardwalk itself was rotted, weather-worn panels tinged green and eaten away in various places.  Aizawa carefully picked his way across, avoiding certain sections and panels.  Izuku quickly learned that stepping elsewhere resulted in his foot going through the wood.  He had yelped, and once Uraraka pulled him free he paid more attention to Aizawa's steps, boring holes into the wood.

The stench that drifted on the wind hit him full force when they stepped onto the brown-black sludge that should've been sand.  Uraraka flinched and covered her nose, Izuku following suit while Aizawa sunk deeper into his scarf.  Garbage lived in heaps around them, everything from old appliances and broken glass to rotting food.  Aizawa led them closer to the ocean where they spotted Shinsou, who turned around with a narrow look when they approached.

"Can anyone tell me why I brought you here for our training session?" Aizawa asked when they reached Shinsou, stepping back and surveying them with a bland expression.  Uraraka glanced at Izuku and he tilted his head, pinching his lip.  Shinsou was equally quiet, and only after a few minutes of silence did Izuku speak up.

"Is it...to teach us about civic duty?"

"Good guess, but only tangentially.  You're here because you're all out of shape," Aizawa bluntly said and Shinsou stiffened, crossing his arms over his chest.

"Don't lump me in with those beginners," he said, the circles under his eyes seeming to grow deeper.  Izuku faintly wondered why he didn't wear makeup, and then Uraraka seemed to register the insult.

"Hey, I work in construction!  I lift heavy objects every day," she hastily said, giving Shinsou a look.  Izuku glanced away and hunched his shoulders, knowing he couldn't protest.  Stretchers were heavy, but they were nothing in comparison to heavy construction pieces.  Shinsou started to respond when Aizawa cut him off.

"Walking around late at night isn't enough to keep you in shape, and you've told me you don't do daily workouts," Aizawa said, holding Shinsou's gaze.  "And lifting heavy equipment using your quirk is great for strengthening it, but it does little for your body," Aizawa added, shifting his gaze toward Uraraka.

"So yes, you three are out of shape.  Which means I can't train you until you're able to keep up with the workload."  Shinsou's frown grew but he held his tongue, eyes flickering away.  Uraraka pursed her lips and nodded before Aizawa continued.

"In addition to your training regimes, you're going to come here in your spare time and clean up this place."  Uraraka gave a determined nod and Izuku balked, his eyes catching on the mounds of scattered trash.  "Without using your quirks," Aizawa added and Uraraka deflated, her grin slipping.

"Can we use any tools?" Izuku hesitantly asked.

"No," Aizawa said, pausing for a moment when their faces fell.  "You may use gloves, nothing more.  I don't want you getting sick from touching stuff like that," Aizawa said with a tip of his head toward what looked like a broken bag of soiled diapers.  Izuku swallowed and nodded, his nose protesting the stench and his body protesting the heavy appliances.

"There's no time limit.  You can work alone or together until the beach is cleared.  After that we'll start with combat training.  Understood?" Aizawa finished, and Uraraka and Izuku nodded.

"Yes sir!" They replied, while Shinsou shifted on his feet without agreeing.  Aizawa leveled him with a heavy look until he made a disgruntled sound of assent.

"Good, now get to work," Aizawa grumbled before he walked back to the boardwalk and curled up in what looked like a vibrantly yellow sleeping bag.  Izuku jumped when Uraraka burst out laughing, but she simply waved a hand and shook her head when he asked her to explain.  Her laughter trailed off as she looked around them, and she sighed before rolling up her sleeves.

"We might as well get started, right?" She asked with a weak smile.

"Yeah," Izuku replied, wishing he had brought a mask to cover his mouth.  He had dealt with terrible smells before—it wasn't uncommon for him to treat heroes that had fallen in trash or fought in the sewers—so it shouldn't have been too bad.

It was nothing short of revolting.

Uraraka and Izuku worked side by side for hours, ending up drenched in sweat and sludge by the time Aizawa whistled for them to stop.  They collapsed in a relieved heap on the boardwalk stairs, Izuku flailing when he fell through a rotted section.  Aizawa snorted and handed them water, dismissing them and telling them to take a shower after they left.  Uraraka puffed her cheeks out and Aizawa raised an eyebrow, holding her gaze until she sighed.  Satisfied, Aizawa turned and walked toward a car that had pulled up not too far away.

He had a ride?

Izuku dimly wondered if it was Present Mic, but shook the thoughts away when Shinsou strolled over and snatched a water bottle.  Uraraka gave him a wary look and Izuku stared, his ideas about White Noise slipping into his mind.

"What are you looking at?" Shinsou coldly asked, his eyes piercing despite the dirt and trash smudging his face.  Izuku stuttered and flushed.

"N-Nothing!  I was just, you have something on your face?"  Izuku offered and Uraraka giggled, almost covering her mouth with her hands before she thought better of it.

"In case you haven't noticed, we all have something on our face.  You're not very perceptive for a paramedic, are you?" Shinsou asked and Uraraka was on her feet in a flash, throwing out an arm as if to protect Izuku, fire burning in her eyes.

"You don't have to be mean about it," she said, her voice clear and strong.  Izuku paled and shakily stood.  Why was she...?

"You don't have to—"

"I was only telling the truth.  He's been watching me during class, after all.  Like there's something wrong with me.  You'd think he'd notice that we're all covered in trash."  Shinsou gestured to himself with a dark expression and Izuku flinched. 

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to—"

"So you were staring?"

"I was but I didn't—"

For a split second, everything abruptly stilled.

Izuku couldn't move. 

And then as quickly as the feeling came, it went, his limbs heavy as he twitched and his body responded.  He rapidly blinked, working his jaw and turning when he felt Uraraka gently touch his shoulder.

"Midoriya, are you okay?"  Izuku flexed his hands and shivered.

"Yeah, I just..." He trailed off, fumbling for words.  Unable to find them, he glanced at Shinsou and started.  Shinsou had paled, his posture stiffly frozen until he met Izuku's gaze.  Shinsou flinched and backed away, pressing himself against the boardwalk's railing.

"Just leave already, would you?" He said, and Uraraka carefully regarded him for a moment before she tugged at Izuku's hand.

"Come on, we should go," she gently said, stepping away.  Izuku paused, balanced in the moment.  Are you White Noise? hung on his tongue, but then Uraraka's grimy hand tugged his and he let the words drift.

"I have leftovers if you want to come over for dinner after you shower," she offered.

"That...that sounds nice," Izuku softly replied, and started down the boardwalk, Uraraka by his side.

Shinsou waited until they were gone, and only then did he grit his teeth and roughly kick the boardwalk's railing.  A piece snapped on impact, crumbling and flying into the piles of trash, leaving behind a jagged hole.

Shinsou glared at the hole and then left, his shoulders pressed against his ears.  He couldn't stop picturing Midoriya's stares, the way he watched him with large eyes.  Judging him as if he knew what his quirk was and couldn't trust him.

Just like everyone else.

Clenching his hands, Shinsou turned toward the city, telling himself he'd feel better after he had sent a few villains walking into police stations.

**

Katsuki had been walking his typical patrol route, begrudgingly nodding at civilians who recognized him, when the ringtone he had set for his pro-hero agency rang out.  Scowling, he pulled out his phone and scanned the message.

Apparently, a young boy vanished from his mother's side in broad daylight less than twenty minutes ago while he was supposedly holding her hand. The boy's only four, and they want every hero in your area to keep a lookout while the police try to confirm what happened.

Katsuki tightened his grip on his phone and then roughly shoved it into his pocket, turning on his heel.  Who the fuck thought they could mess with kids on his watch?  He gritted his teeth and headed toward the location his agency had sent, his body coiled in barely restrained anger.

Because kids didn't just vanish in the middle of the day, regardless of the report not identifying any villains.

Fucking bastards.

He carefully managed to keep himself from running, not wanting to scare random civilians.  As it was, he radiated enough menace that the crowds parted around him, people's eyes lighting up in recognition seconds before it morphed into wary fear. 

Not that he cared.

He had information to gather and a lost kid to find.  Screw what people thought of him.

But then who would listen?

Sparks crackled in his palms and he clenched his fists, smothering the flames along with his emotions.  He didn't have time for this shit.

Annoyingly, nothing looked out of place when he reached the street where the kid had gone missing.  Teens walked in lumped groups with raised phones, laughing as if their petty dramas actually mattered.  Adults headed to work in various states of dress, and parents dragged their kids past a candy store, ignoring weepy faces and scattered cries of "But Mooom, please?".  Katsuki carefully took it all in, trying to imagine how no one had noticed a young boy being snatched.

"Oh, I forgot your route was near here," a vaguely familiar voice said, and Katsuki turned to see shitty-hair staring at him, standing a few feet away.

"Is there a fucking problem with that?" Katsuki snapped and Kirishima frowned, looking to the side.

"There's not."

"Then why are you here?" Katsuki asked, glaring daggers.  Kirishima merely rolled his shoulders and watched the people on the street, his mouth pressed into a flat line.

"I was headed home and got the message.  Figured I'd see if I could help," Kirishima calmly said and Katsuki grimaced.  "But if you don't want me here, then I'm going home."  Katsuki stiffened and leveled Kirishima with a cold gaze.  The fuck?

"You're good with people, shitty-hair.  Might as well ask around and see if anyone saw something," Katsuki said.  "I'll see if the kid got himself stuck in a dark alley or some shit while you're at it," he added, and Kirishima's sullen expression slowly melted.

"Okay man, let's find this kid," Kirishima said before he turned toward a local shop, already calling out to a few people on the street like an idiot.  Katsuki cracked his knuckles and began sweeping the alleys, determination making his palms spark and glow as he pictured throttling the villain responsible.

An hour passed before Kirishima circled around to reconvene with him.  They had steadily worked their way across the city, asking around and checking alleys as they went.  Shitty-hair scrolled through his phone for updates while they talked, both having found no possible leads. 

"Hey, we're close to Todoroki's location.  Why don't we see if he—"

"Shut up," Katsuki suddenly snapped, holding up a hand as he stopped walking.  Thankfully, Kirishima didn't try to argue.  He stopped and gave Katsuki a confused look, his phone still half-raised.  Katsuki ignored him and carefully tilted his head, angling his mask's spikes toward where he had heard a cry. 

Over the years, he had turned the spikes from decorative fucking spikes into functional fucking spikes.  They worked like small hearing enhancers now, and he had subtly moved them until they covered his ears—although they didn't make him look like a goddamn fish fuck that one reporter.

There.

Katsuki snapped open his eyes when he heard the sound again, and judging from Kirishima's surprised reaction, he had too. 

"Let's go," Katsuki said before taking off down the street, leaving Kirishima to follow in his wake.  They followed the sound of a young boy wailing, and as they rounded a corner the crying burst out loudly, emanating from a small crowd gathered down the street.  Most of the people were throwing worried looks at one another, and Katsuki shoved his way through to find Endeavor—of all fucking people—standing in front of a crying boy.

The old geezer looked like he was going to burn a hole into the pavement if the kid didn't stop crying.  When they stepped into view and walked over, he looked up and grimaced.

"What are you doing here?" Endeavor asked, flames flickering around his face.  Shitty-hair crossed his arms and held his ground, standing tall.

"Does it matter?  We heard a kid crying."  Kirishima's eyes flickered to the boy.  "Why is he crying, anyways?  Did you try talking to him?"

"I did, but the brat started screaming when I went near him," Endeavor explained, agitatedly waving a hand in the boy's direction.  Katsuki followed his gesture and then stilled, his eyes locking on the boy's posture and hands.

Shit.

"Endeavor, you're an idiot," Katsuki stated as he brushed past the hero.

"And why am I one today?" Endeavor asked, condescension dripping from his words.

"Because you didn't think to check if the kid could hear you," Katsuki said as he knelt in front of the boy.  He took in the words the boy's hands painted; a frantic litany desperately signed with increasingly disjointed movements.

I want my mom. I want my mom. I want my mom.

"How could I have known to check for that?" Endeavor scoffed behind him.

"I think it's pretty obvious, dude.  Not that hard to notice," Kirishima said with a wolfish grin.  Katsuki carefully tuned them out and focused on the boy, tapping his knee to get his attention.  The boy jolted and fell backwards in surprise, hiccupping as snot ran down his chin.  He stared wide-eyed at Katsuki for a moment before starting to cry again, and Katsuki started signing before the boy could close his eyes.

What's your name, kid?  He asked, ignoring Endeavor as the man stepped closer, his flames heating his back.  The boy's eyes widened at Katsuki and then flickered up to Endeavor, his lip starting to curl as he sucked in a breath to wail.

We're both pro-heroes, I promise.  Katsuki quickly said, relieved when the boy closed his mouth with a sniffle, lifting his hands.

Are you really?  He asked, rubbing at his face.

"What are you saying?"  Endeavor interrupted, leaning closer.  Katsuki clenched his jaw and threw a glare over his shoulder.

"It doesn't fucking matter if you know what I'm saying," he snapped and Endeavor frowned, still looming.  Annoyed, Katsuki turned his gaze to Kirishima and thank fuck he seemed to understand.

"Hey Endeavor, did you notify the police yet?  Because we should probably do that," Kirishima said, pointing over his shoulder as he took a few steps back.  "And someone has to keep an eye on the crowd, right?  We're no help here," he added, and Endeavor narrowed his eyes.  After a tense moment he followed Kirishima, but not before he side-stepped in front of him as they headed toward the crowd.

Do you think normal people wear outfits like this?  Katsuki belatedly said, answering the boy's question.  The kid blinked, wiped snot from his nose, and then shook his head.  Tension drained from his small body and he started signing.

Can you take me to my mom?  He asked, and Katsuki rolled his eyes.

Of course I fucking can.  I'm the number two hero.  Katsuki said with a smirk.  The boy's expression wavered and then he scrambled to his feet, pitching forward and wrapping himself around Katsuki's side.

"What the hell kid, I can't talk to you like this," Katsuki grumbled, hoping the boy would let go.  He didn't, and Katsuki pushed himself to his feet.  The kid tenaciously clung to his waist, and Katsuki grimaced and snaked his arms underneath him to hold him up.  When the boy realized he could let go and free his hands, he did and swatted Katsuki's chest to get his attention.

You're strong!  The boy excitedly said.

"I have to be.  But I can't talk when I'm holding you—"

And you're the number two hero.  The boy scrunched his face in confusion, half-starting a few words before he switched to finger-spelling.  Detonator!  He grinned and Katsuki tried not to think about how much snot he was dripping onto his uniform.

No one ever knows how to talk to me, but you're a pro-hero and you know how! That's so cool!  The boy rambled, his hands moving rapidly in a way that reminded Katsuki of Deku.  At least the kid's hair wasn't a curly mess; although if he looked close enough it did look green.  Shifting the boy in his arms, he walked over to Kirishima and Endeavor, who were trying to disperse the crowd while talking to a police officer.

"Oh hey, he looks alright.  Is he okay?" Kirishima asked, turning away from the crowd when he saw Katsuki.

"I think he's fine but hell if I know, I can't answer him.  Here," Katsuki said before peeling the boy off his chest and dropping him into Kirishima's arms.

"Hey wait dude what are you—"

"Just hold him, okay?" Katsuki grumbled while Kirishima scrambled to wrap his arms under the boy.  The kid looked off-put and kept leaning away from Kirishima, not liking being dumped onto a stranger.

He won't drop you, and he's also a pro-hero.  Katsuki said, and the boy stilled enough for Kirishima to get a hold on him.  When he looked like he wasn't going to scramble away, Katsuki continued.  Are you hurt?

No.  The sign was quick and short, punctuated with a loud sniffle before the boy wiped his nose and then not too subtly wiped his hand on Kirishima's shirt.

"Dude, I'm not a—"

Good.  Do you remember what happened?  Katsuki asked, cutting Kirishima off.  The boy scrunched his face and hid against Kirishima's chest for a moment before he pushed out his hands.

I was with my mom and then everything went really dark.  I was in a tiny space and no one could see me for a long time and then I wasn't in the dark anymore.  I was here and I don't know where here is but no one could talk to me and then Endeavor showed up but he looked really scary and he couldn't talk to me too.  The boy explained, and then clung to Kirishima's shirt as Kirishima blinked in surprise.

"What did he say?"

You don't remember who took you from your mom?  The boy shook his head.

It got really dark really fast. 

"He's alright," Katsuki said, turning away to wave over the police officer.  "Doesn't know what happened though.  I don't know how the hell he didn't see anything, but he says he didn't," he continued, digging his hands into his pockets.

Kirishima handed the boy to the police officer when she walked over, and the boy looked confused, his face twisting.

She'll take you to your mom.  Katsuki said before the kid started wailing again, and the boy softly bobbed his head, patting the police officer's shoulder.  Katsuki briefly explained to the officer what had happened, and then she radioed the station and carried the boy away.  The kid waved as they watched her go, and then Katsuki dug his foot into the ground.

"Well, at least he's okay."

"It's fucking weird," Katsuki snapped and Kirishima gave him a sharp look.

"You'd rather he not be okay? What the heck—"

"I didn't mean that, shitty-hair.  I meant what asshole takes a kid and just leaves him halfway across the city for no reason?"  Kirishima paused, his mouth slightly parted.

"Oh."

"Exactly.  Kid got lucky this time; maybe they needed someone they could talk to.  Either way, this situation smells like bullshit."  Katsuki bristled and turned his gaze toward the dwindling crowd, Endeavor having managed to get most of them to leave.  They stood quietly for a few moments, and then Kirishima sighed.

"...I didn't know you knew how to sign."

"Of course I fucking know how, don't be an idiot," Katsuki said, throwing a glare at Kirishima and pausing when he saw his expression.  He was staring at the ground, his face twisted into a pained grimace, his shoulders dipping toward the pavement.

"That's not what I...never mind," Kirishima said, scuffing his foot against the ground.  The fuck was up with him?  Katsuki watched him flex his hands before he spoke again.  "I should be going.  See you later, Bakugou," he muttered and then he was gone, vanishing into the dwindling crowd.  Katsuki waited until he left and then started home himself, pushing Kirishima's expression from his mind.

Contrary to what people might expect, Katsuki's apartment was fairly clean and orderly—if you ignored how his door didn't close properly because he had cracked the frame.  The frame had been too weak, that's all, and it still locked.  He could handle intruders, anyways.

Regardless, all this meant was that when he arrived home his door was a blatant reminder.  He had no one.

Once inside, he stripped and tossed his hero costume into the wash before stamping into the bathroom.  Carefully removing his hearing aids, he set them by the sink and took a scalding hot shower.  Skin rubbed raw and free of snot, he stepped out and wrapped a towel around himself, wiping a hand over the foggy mirror in his bathroom.  He stared at himself, taking in the scar around his right eye and pretending it didn't itch.

A jar of skin cream sat next to his hearing aids.

He didn't need it.

Determined, Katsuki stormed out of the bathroom and into his nightly routine; making and scarfing down dinner, knocking out a chunk of paperwork, and yelling at the shitty TV drama he couldn't stop watching.  His face itched, but he stubbornly ignored it until he went to bed and tightly wrapped himself in his sheets. 

An hour later he was still awake, his eye twitching, and he roughly threw back the covers and trudged into the bathroom.

He didn't need it.

And his fingers didn't fucking shake as he carefully applied the cream.

'We want you to join us.  You already look the part, after all.'  A man with too many hands gestured toward his scar and Katsuki roughly smashed the light switch off.  He shakily swallowed, scooped up his hearing aids, and slunk back to his room.  He left the hearing aids on his nightstand and then cocooned himself again in his sheets.  In the silence, the crickets whispered outside his window, their chirps grating out a mocking song.

Who would listen? Who would listen? Who would listen?

'No one will come for you.'  The villain dug his hands into his own throat, scratching, his words a menacing truth.  Katsuki screamed into his pillow, drowning out the memories until he fell into a fitful sleep.

Chapter Text

Shouta stared at the pile of filthy plates in his sink as if that'd make the caked on food and mold go away.  Dressed in ratty pajamas, he sighed and tied his hair back in a messy half-bun, telling himself that the kitchen was the worst of his apartment.

It wasn't, but he could pretend.

He didn't want to clean, but Hizashi had started visiting more often, and the amalgamation of rotting food and dirty clothes was starting to make his allergies flare. 

Earlier, Hizashi had come over, exhaustion dripping from his shoulders as he collapsed on Shouta's dirty couch.  He had fallen asleep within minutes, and then Shouta had gently transferred him to the bed in his bedroom.  Shouta rarely slept on it, and he needed to start cleaning his apartment without worrying about waking Hizashi up.

Intentions aside, he couldn't stop staring at the dirty plates, contemplating whether or not he should just throw them away and buy new ones.  Abruptly, someone knocked on the door and he squinted, turning toward the sound.

"Nemuri, I gave you a key weeks ago.  You can come in," he called, and a moment later the lock clicked and his door opened.  Nemuri stepped inside with pursed lips, dressed in loose-fitting clothing with her hair pulled back in a ponytail.  Shouta blinked, trying to remember the last time he had seen her with her hair up, and she rolled her eyes.

"Despite my inclinations, I'd rather not walk in on you and Hizashi doing anything," she said, closing the door and walking over, a bucket full of cleaning supplies and trashbags in her hands.  Shouta warily eyed the supplies, wondering if they would be enough.

"We're not a couple."

"You keep telling yourself that, hun," Nemuri said with a wink, setting the bucket on the kitchen counter.  "Ten bucks says he's here right now," she added, and Shouta lightly flushed.

"I didn't invite him."

"Sure you didn't," she said with a feral grin.  "Where is he?  I thought he wanted to help."

"Idiot overworked himself and fell asleep.  I put him in my room—"

"Kinky," Nemuri interjected and Shouta glared.

"He's sleeping," he grumbled, turning back toward the sink.  "Did you come here to make assumptions or to help me clean?" He asked, and she let out a small whine.

"Good lord, yes, I'm here to help.  I figured you'd be a lost cause on your own," she said, pulling out gloves and snapping them on before throwing a pair at his head.  He calmly pulled them from his hair and then slipped them on, giving her a small nod.

"So are we starting with the sink?" She asked, eying the precarious stack that overflowed onto both sides of the counter.  Shouta nodded and she grimaced, moving beside him to assess the mess.  "Honestly, you should pitch the whole lot."

"I would, but I don't exactly make enough money to replace everything."

"I will literally replace them for you," she offered, prodding a stack and stepping back when it shifted with an ominous groan.

"You know I won't let you do that," he said and she sighed, placing her hands on her hips.

"It was worth a shot.  If one of us clears the plates and we clean the sink, how about we do line-duty and only pitch those unworthy of saving?" She suggested.  Shouta nodded and Nemuri grinned, pulling out her phone as he grabbed a trashbag.

"Good!  Now let's get some music going." Before he could protest, she turned on a station and slipped her phone into her back pocket.  Upbeat, electro music rushed out and he sighed, resigning himself unless he dared to reach for her phone.

He wasn't that stupid.

Nemuri smirked, grabbing a few plates from a random pile and Shouta begrudgingly followed suit.

By the time they cleared the sink and countertops, it was well past noon and their hands were scrubbed raw.  On the upside, Shouta could see into his sink and a vast amount of stench had vanished, but on the downside, Nemuri's station had started to repeat songs and he absentmindedly started humming them under his breath. 

With a satisfied sound, Nemuri stripped off her gloves and tossed them into a trash bag, stretching and cracking her back before giving Shouta a look.

"I'm hungry.  Let's order food and wake sleeping beauty when it gets here," she said as she clicked off her music and started dialing.  Shouta stared, unable to protest when she ordered food and then slipped her phone away within a minute.  Deciding it would be easier to roll with it, he threw his soiled gloves in the trash and then glanced at his fridge.

"I'd offer you a drink, but..."

"Please don't," Nemuri said, wrinkling her nose as she looked around for a place to sit.  The couch in the living room was covered in dodgy stains, and she ended up scrounging around for a chair and pulled it into the kitchen.  She sat down with a relaxed sigh while Shouta continued to stand, leaning against the clean counter.

"So how'd your first week of classes go?" She asked and Shouta stiffened, looking at the floor.

"They're not idiots."

"I mean, Nedzu picked them out, of course they're not," Nemuri said and Shouta frowned.  He shouldn't have been surprised that Nedzu hand-picked his students, but it was unnerving to hear how far ahead Nedzu had planned.

"Well, Tensei mentioned you had someone new join?" Nemuri asked, flexing her hands and pulling her hair down until it fell in waves down her back.  Shouta pictured Midoriya, watching the boy scribble in notebook after notebook and diligently ask questions even though they had barely started class.

"Don't remind me," he grumbled, sinking against the counter.  "I'm not sure I made the right decision considering he's quirkless."  Nemuri snapped to attention at that, her gaze piercing.

"But he's perceptive and has medical training.  It'll be good to have him around during attacks."  Shouta slowly met her gaze, and then held it until she looked away.

"You'll have to talk to the support department about finding him a weapon."

"He's not going to be fighting, Nemuri."

"You can't leave him defenseless," she said and he clenched his hands, knowing she was right.  "Bring up the idea when you start combat training.  Because even if he doesn't fight, he should be able to protect himself," she said, and then stood when someone knocked on the door.  She waved her hand when Shouta moved to answer it.

"It's on me.  You go wake Hizashi," she said, walking toward the door.  Shouta sighed and headed to his rarely-used bedroom, knocking before he carefully stepped inside.

Hizashi was sprawled across his bed, somehow half-tangled in the sheets, one arm stuck in the air and hair half-twisted around his face.  He was snoring into a pillow, and Shouta stared for a moment before he walked over and gently nudged his shoulder.

"Come on, Hizashi, food's here," he said, and Hizashi scrunched his face, burying himself against the sheets with a theatric groan.  Shouta raised an eyebrow and took a step back.  "I'll let Nemuri have first pick if you don't get up," he said, and watched with a small smile as Hizashi jolted and scrambled from the sheets.

"Alright, alright, I'm coming!" He rasped, his voice scratchy and tired as he rubbed his eyes.  Shouta snorted and headed into the kitchen, knowing Hizashi would follow.  Nemuri was setting their take-out on the table, pulling out and opening boxes. 

She slid a box toward Shouta when he walked over, handing him a pair of chopsticks.  She did the same for Hizashi, and then passed him a bottle of water.  Somehow, she had managed to find another chair, and Hizashi gratefully sank into it, downing half the water while Shouta moved to lean against the sink.

They started eating in silence, and then Hizashi froze, his head comically snapping up and toward Shouta.

"The kitchen's clean," he breathed, noodles slipping from his chopsticks.  Nemuri chuckled, and Shouta resisted the urge to bury his head in his hands.

"Nemuri helped," he explained, watching Hizashi turn toward the living room and then frown when it wasn't clean.  "Living room's next," he added, gulping down a mouthful of noodles to hide his embarrassment.

"I'll help when you get there," Hizashi said, nodding to himself and tucking into his dinner again.

"I know you're busy, Hizashi.  You don't need to—"

"I want to help, Shouta," Hizashi sharply said, holding his gaze.  "Let me help you."  Shouta swallowed in the silence, his fingers tense around his chopsticks until Nemuri tapped her foot.

"Three pairs of hands are better than two, and mine need a break after today.  My students are going to wonder what happened," she said, holding up a still-red hand.

Hizashi grinned and Shouta didn't argue, knowing they'd come over no matter what he said.  He quietly finished his meal, letting Nemuri and Hizashi trade teaching stories until they all tossed their empty containers into a trashbag.  Only then did Nemuri stand, stretching onto her toes as she reached toward the ceiling with a satisfied sound.

"Hizashi, don't you have to be at the station soon?" She asked, and Hizashi hastily pulled out his phone with a soft curse.  "And Shouta, you're going on patrol tonight, aren't you?" Shouta nodded, wondering where she was going with this.

"Good.  Since we'll be awake, why don't you share your location with us?" The so we know where you're at went unsaid, Nemuri narrowing her eyes when Shouta looked like he would protest.

"Fine," he grumbled before pulling out his phone and sharing his location, making sure everything worked before he walked them to his door.

"Don't do anything stupid, and call us if something goes wrong," Nemuri sternly said, waiting until he nodded before she waved, striking off down the hall.  Shouta turned toward Hizashi when she had gone, watching him fidget and pick at the bottom of his shirt.

"...please be safe," Hizashi eventually whispered, his voice soft and low.  Thrown, Shouta numbly stood while Hizashi leaned forward, reaching out before he pulled away at the last second, his hand curling into a fist that landed lightly on Shouta's chest.

"Okay?" Hizashi asked, and something in his voice tore at Shouta.  He flinched and leaned forward, resting his head against Hizashi's.  Hizashi sucked in a shaky breath and they floated in the silence until Hizashi pulled back with a broken laugh, running a hand through his hair.

"I'm sorry, I—"

"It's fine, Hizashi.  Go yell about your weird music at work," Shouta said, smirking when Hizashi scoffed.

"Weird music? Shouta! I'm appalled!" Hizashi loudly said, a faint blush dusting his cheeks.  "I only give my listeners the highest quality of—"

"They'll get no music if you're late," Shouta interrupted, ruffling Hizashi's feathers.  Hizashi huffed and then laughed, playfully tucking his hands into his pockets.

"Okay, okay.  I'll see you later then, yeah?"

"Don't wake me up too early," Shouta deadpanned, and Hizashi chuckled before heading out.  Shouta stepped back into his apartment and closed the door, and only then did he wilt, sighing and rubbing his face.  Why did they put up with him?

His eyes strayed toward his clean kitchen, and then he quickly changed in his room, pulling on his hero uniform and wrapping his capture weapon around his neck.  Double-checking his phone's power and his nightly route, he headed out, vanishing into the shadows when he reached the street.

**

The night passed with little fanfare.

Shouta had drifted through the streets, reconnecting with the people of the night.  Bouncers at bars asked where he had been, joking that drunks hung around longer with no one to help them home.  Women and men coyly called from alleys until they recognized him, and then turned to flooding him with information.  So and so hadn't shown up for awhile, could he check on her?  A villain had been accosting them lately, could he check around the block?  Was he sure he wasn't interested in a good time?

Shouta had rolled his eyes and promised to sweep the area as they laughed, blowing kisses before he continued his patrol.  Hizashi—despite being at work himself—kept sending Shouta texts full of things his listeners had said along with a few calm messages of how are you doing?  Shouta had fondly responded and then continued his route.

At the end of his shift, Shouta hadn't run into any villains, and he headed home with an odd sense of accomplishment and longing.  He tucked his chin into his capture weapon as he walked, hiding a yawn and counting down the blocks until home.

He was a few blocks from his apartment when he heard what sounded like a cat's cry.

Shouta paused, wondering if he had imagined it when he heard it again; a high-pitched, distressed sound coming from the alley on his right.

He should've kept walking.

Instead, he stepped into the alley, pulling out his phone and turning on the flashlight.  Trashcans and a dead end greeted him, and he almost walked away when he heard the meowing again, coming from a rusted drainpipe.

Crouching down, he shone the light in the drainpipe and was greeted by a pair of very small, reflective eyes.  A kitten?  The scrap of fur froze, and then meowed when he moved the light away from its face.  Shouta sat on his heels, staring at the drainpipe and knowing he couldn't take care of something when he barely cared for himself, and then pictured how Hizashi would react if he didn't try to help it.

Rolling his shoulders, he tried tapping the pipe higher up to scare the kitten out, but it only meowed louder.  Using his scarf as a mock-string didn't work either, and he ended up trying to fit his hand into the pipe.  His hand somehow fit, and he quickly grabbed the kitten's scruff and hauled it from the pipe, wincing when it bit his hand.

As soon as it hit free air though, it released him before wailing and hanging limp.

So light.

The kitten was young, small enough to fit in one hand and despite its long fur, it weighed practically nothing.  Shouta returned his phone to his pocket and pulled the kitten closer, stepping out of the alley and into the streetlights.  Its fur was dark brown, matted and covered in something slimy that smelled as bad as it looked.  It stared at him with large, green eyes and he begrudgingly accepted that he was going to take the kitten with him.

Cradling it to his chest, Shouta briskly headed home, relieved when it stopped wailing and seemed content to burrow into the crook of his arm.

The kitten—he soon found out—was not brown.

After a few washes in his bathroom sink, the kitten came away bedraggled, its fur a light grey color.  A quick check told him it was female, and Shouta carefully pulled her from the sink and let the water drain before wrapping her in a dry towel.  She shivered in his arms, and then purred when he began rubbing her dry.

"I'm not naming you," he grumbled, hoping he wasn't pressing too hard.  "If I name you then Hizashi will make me keep you," he added.  The kitten simply closed her eyes and leaned against his chest, still purring.

Once she was mostly dry, he carried her into his living room, glancing between his sleeping bag and his fridge.

"I don't have any milk."

He was talking to a cat.

"Bedroom's off limits.  But it's not like I sleep there either."

He crossed to his sleeping bag and gently set her in the middle of it before stepping back.

"And I'm not sleeping in my uniform, so stay here."  The kitten stared at him, her grey fur fluffed up, tufts sticking out her ears.  He eyed her for a moment, and when she didn't move he went and changed in his bedroom, slipping on a soft sweater and ratty sweatpants.  When he returned, the kitten was gone.

Shouta cursed, looking at the lingering piles of trash and filth, wondering how the hell he'd find her.  He walked over to his sleeping bag, picked up the wet towel he had wrapped her in, and then realized his sleeping bag was moving.

Shouta blinked, and then leaned down and lifted the edge to find the kitten curled up inside.

"That is mine, and it's off-limits," he said, carefully plucking her from the bag before he crawled in himself.  Cocooned inside, he set her on the towel beside him, tucking it up around her.  She had the nerve to look wretched—shivering and staring with too-large eyes.

"My bag, your towel.  Goodnight," he said, and belatedly realized the lights were still on.  Groaning, he slipped out of his bag and shut the lights off before climbing back inside, only to find the kitten had crawled in again.  He scowled, shuffled her out, and placed her by his head.

"Okay fine, inside the bag is mine.  Sleep anywhere else," he grumbled and then curled on his side away from her.  Silence draped around him, and he had started to relax when he felt the kitten step on his hair.  He almost moved, but then she curled up near his ear and he begrudgingly let her be.

Only for tonight.

He sighed and closed his eyes, ignoring her until he drifted to sleep.

When Shouta woke around noon to the smell of cat pee and a pile of fur in his face, he grimaced and buried his face against the floor, wondering how the hell he had thought this would be a good idea.

**

As the hero course and beach clean-up continued, time tripped by in starts and bursts, days turning into weeks and Izuku hurt.

Everything about him was sore.

Everything.

The first week had been the worst: waking up in the morning with heavy limbs, his body protesting every movement until he dragged himself to work.  Every other day he had the hero class, and although Aizawa hadn't started physical training, the combination of information-laden lessons and going to Dagobah beach left Izuku exhausted by the time he crawled home.

His nightly routine happened on autopilot, and then he collapsed into bed and slept like a rock.

Granted, he was less sore after the first week, but it didn't make the trash lighter and he was still adjusting his cooking to match the calories he burned. 

And he was always hungry.

Despite it all, he began to notice the small benefits.  He felt more awake throughout the day, noticed outlines of muscles when he looked in the mirror, and became fast friends with Uraraka as they worked together to clean the beach.  Between the two of them—possibly three, they never really saw Shinsou—Dagobah beach grew steadily cleaner.

And in the small moments when they took a break on the decrepit boardwalk, Izuku would stare at his phone, fingers hovering over Todoroki's name before he'd shake himself with a whisper of maybe tomorrow.

Because while Izuku hadn't texted Todoroki since the night in the park, Todoroki hadn't texted him either.

He was a busy pro-hero, of course he hadn't.

If Uraraka ever caught him starring at his phone, she didn't mention it.  Instead, she would jump to her feet with a clap of her hands and they'd get back to work.

Even Yoko noticed the changes.

A few weeks in, Izuku had arrived at work to find her unpacking boxes, preparing for their god-awful early shift, when she had looked up to greet him and froze.  He had asked her what was wrong, and she had mutely walked over and stared at his face.

"You're not wearing makeup," she said, tilting her head.  Izuku flushed and touched his face, mortified.  How had he forgotten to—

"No, I didn't mean that.  Stop thinking too hard," she said with a small smile.  "You're not wearing makeup, but I only pointed it out because you don't need it," she added, and Izuku blinked in shock.

"What do you..."

"Go look in the mirror," Yoko said, pointing over her shoulder to the one hanging on the wall.  Unsteadily, Izuku walked over and then gaped, almost pressing his nose against the mirror.

The rings under his eyes were gone.

Well, they were still there, but only a ghost of what they normally were.

"Does whatever you're doing every other day have something to do with it?" Yoko asked and he jumped, not having realized she had walked closer.  Should he tell her?  He let out a startled laugh and turned to face her.

"Yeah, I uh, started taking a night class," he shakily said, his eyes flickering to the side.

"You're going back to school?"

"Sort of?  It's only one class," he said, his hands fluttering when he couldn't meet her gaze.  He only looked up when she let out a laugh, and caught her grinning.

"I'm glad to hear that.  What's it for, anyways?" She asked, moving to pick up a box of extra supplies.  Izuku tensed, and when the silence dragged on for too long Yoko turned toward him, a box in her arms.

"You don't have to tell me if you don't want to," she offered and he shook his head, moving away from the mirror and toward another box.

"It's not that, I just..." he trailed off as he lifted a box, dimly marveling at how light it felt now that he was training.  "It's sort of a pro-hero class?" He offered, carrying the box to the table to unpack.  When Yoko didn't respond he looked toward her, an anxious feeling twisting through his stomach.

She was staring at the ground, her brow furrowed before she slowly looked up.

"I-I mean, it's a hero course but since I'm quirkless I'm learning more sidekick stuff and would act as medical support so it's not like I'm—" Izuku started rambling, and then cut himself off when he saw Yoko's expression.  She opened her mouth, pausing for a few seconds before closing it.

"Izuku, you don't have to..."  She frowned, shook herself out, and set her box down beside his.  "You're enjoying the class?" She asked, and he started in surprise before nodding.  She sighed and then grinned, stepping around the table to ruffle his hair.

"Then that's all the matters.  Don't hurt yourself, okay?  I need someone to keep an eye on my driving," she playfully said, and the tension in the room dissipated.  They both laughed, and the conversation picked up while they unpacked their boxes, falling into a familiar routine.

By the time the beach was almost clear, Izuku wasn't sore anymore, and the stretch and pull of his muscles created a welcome warmth as he worked alongside Uraraka.  They spent their weekends hauling trash, screaming at spiders or stray animals, and rubbing one another's shoulders when their muscles twisted into knots.

And then, before they knew it, they had hauled the last piece of trash from the beach.

They had dropped an old washing machine in the trash bin and then had walked back to the beach, prepared to keep working until they realized they could see the ocean.  Uraraka had gaped, quickly looking up and down the beach before she kicked off her shoes with a scream and ran into the water.  Startled, Izuku had followed her—although he kept his shoes on because the sand was still mostly black—and jumped into the freezing cold water.

They played around for a long time, splashing one another until they fell exhausted in the shallows, letting out twin screams of sheer exuberance.  They must have looked odd—two adults drenched and screaming on a beach—but neither cared.  They simply basked in the radiance of their hard work and then Uraraka looked over to see Izuku crying.  She had worriedly waved her hands and he had shakily laughed, rubbing his eyes.

"We actually did it," he said, jumping when a cold wave hit his back.  Uraraka beamed and stood, holding out a hand.  The scar along her forearm contrasted sharply against her tanned skin, and when he grasped her hand, she hauled him to his feet.

"Heck yes we did!" She cheered, making her way onto the beach.

"Which means our real training will begin," he said as he followed her.  She enthusiastically nodded as they stood on the beach, sopping wet and turning the black sand a murky grey before she posed, giving him a thumbs-up.

"And it's gonna be great, Izuku!" She smiled and then paused, flushing as she waved her hands.  "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to—"

"It's fine!" Izuku stammered after he managed to unfreeze, his face turning red.  "My co-worker uses my given name too and I—" he paused, rewording his sentence. "—I don't mind if you do too," he finished, and she clapped her hands together.

"Okay then, call me Ochako!" She chirped and he smiled, wiping away the last of his tears.

"Okay, Ochako," he said, the name tasting unfamiliar in his mouth, although not in a bad way.  It couldn't with how Ochako laughed and then raced him back to the boardwalk, kicking up sand as they went.

All the while, Izuku couldn't stop thinking about their next class, and the expression on Aizawa's face when they'd tell him the beach was clean.

**

"Did you hear about those children?"

"The ones that were kidnapped?  I did, isn't it awful?"

Toshinori glanced up from sweeping the flower shop, his gaze catching on two women chatting by the hanging baskets.

"I heard on the news another kid disappeared this morning," the one said, and the other covered her mouth in shock.

"Did they find them?"

"They did, thank god.  They were found across town, alone like the others," she said and her friend frowned, looking over some flowers.

"I don't know why the heroes haven't found the villain yet.  This is what, the fifth kid in the last few weeks?"  They both shook their head as Toshinori tightened his grip on his broom, keeping his head low.

"I know what you mean.  But at least the kids aren't hurt."

"Yet," the other woman replied and then they both sighed, walking toward the door and out of earshot.

The resigned 'yet' rang in Toshinori's ears, and he almost snapped his broom in half.  As it was, he caught himself at the last moment, leaving grooves along the smooth wood.

Five children in a few weeks, almost ten in the last two months.

All snatched during broad daylight, most from right under their parents' noses.

All left alone in a random part of the city, unharmed.

It made no sense.

"Yagi?" The cashier called, jolting him from his thoughts.  He glanced up, realized he had stopped sweeping at some point in order to glare at the floor, and sheepishly rubbed the back of his neck.  "You okay over there?"  The cashier asked and he nodded.  They frowned, looking skeptical as their eyes flickered to the clock hanging in the store.

"Wanna take your break now?  You've been at it for awhile," they offered and he turned away, his expression twisting.

"I'm good," he said, his voice scratchy.  He heard them sigh and then politely greet someone.

"Your friend is here," the cashier called and Toshinori turned to find Tsuyu staring at him from the register, her hair tied up in a complicated style.  Most days, she offered to style his hair when she visited, but he always turned her down.

He had no one to do it for.

Tsuyu caught his gaze and walked over, her hands hanging near her chest, her expression calm and collected.  She carried what looked like a small box wrapped in a playful cloth, covered in tiny frogs with exclamations of Ribbit! scattered throughout.

"You haven't eaten lunch yet, right?" Tsuyu asked, tapping her lip with a finger and staring him down.  Toshinori shifted on his feet, resisting the urge to drop his gaze like a chastised child.

"I haven't," he admitted after a few seconds, and she didn't sigh so much as her shoulders dipped toward the ground for a soft moment.

"You need to eat, and your co-worker told me that you're on break," she said and he glanced behind her at the cashier, who slyly grinned and whistled like they hadn't done anything wrong.  Toshinori looked back at Tsuyu, taking in her large eyes and unrelenting gaze before he agreed.

"I...could go for some food," he said and Tsuyu smiled, holding up her box.

"Let's go, ribbit," she said, and then led him into the back of the store and to the nursery, familiar with the layout despite not actually working there.  They sat down on a bench surrounded by humid air and small flowers and she unpacked their lunch, handing him a portion that consisted of soft, easy to eat food.

Toshinori swallowed around the tenseness in his throat, wondering what he had done to deserve a student like her.

But she wasn't his student anymore.

Tsuyu started eating after he took a bite, and he mechanically chewed, barely tasting the homemade food.

She...wasn't his student anymore.

And she hadn't been for a long time.

Yet here she sat, a young woman—a young pro-hero—that came by every week to see him, sometimes with food, sometimes with stories.  He knew she traveled for her hero work—she visited the coast more often than not—and it couldn't have been easy carving out time to see him.  She had no obligation, but she still showed up, and he hadn't realized how much he cherished her visits.

Outside work, he couldn't bring himself to meet with anyone, and after he had left UA, he fell out of touch with most of his former co-workers and fellow heroes.  No one wanted a washed-up All Might.

His food tasted like ash, and he slowly set his chopsticks down, staring at the carefully prepared portion in his lap.  Why did she...?

"Is something wrong, ribbit?" Tsuyu asked, breaking the heavy silence.  Toshinori clenched his hands and then lifted his head, his eyes watering.

"You..." he started and trailed off, words failing to align properly.  Why do you come? rested on his tongue but he held the question back, terrified of the answer.

"It's nothing, just...thank you for the food," he managed, dropping his gaze and lifting another bite to his mouth.  He could feel her questions in the air, but she didn't say anything.  Instead, she merely let out a small 'ribbit' and went back to eating her food.

Toshinori thanked her again after they finished, and she tilted her head, staring at his hair.

"Are you sure you don't want me to do it?" Tsuyu asked with a slow blink.

"Maybe next week," he offered, tensing for her response even thought he knew it wouldn't change.  She came by every week but maybe she would change her mind, would realize that he wasn't more than a decrepit shell—

"Maybe next week," she replied, cutting off his thoughts.  He held in a relieved sigh and then walked her to the store's door, waving when she left and took off down the street.  He watched her vanish, and only then did he turn around and move toward his broom to finish sweeping.

Her food sat heavily in him, full of affection and questions that churned as he worked.

Why did she come?

Chapter Text

Ochako was practically bouncing out of her seat and Izuku watched her, unable to hold back a grin.

When Aizawa walked into class, he looked around and shuffled a few papers on his desk before glancing at Ochako, taking in her already raised hand with a small sigh.

“What’s so important that you can’t wait until class has started to tell me?” He asked while he leaned against his desk and crossed his arms.

“We finished cleaning the beach!” Ochako chirped and Izuku nodded, warmth bubbling through him.  Aizawa paused, and then gave Izuku a look.

“Everything’s clean?” Aizawa asked, raising an eyebrow.

“All the trash is gone, sir.  The sand was still dirty when we finished but we assumed a good rain would take care of it so we didn’t—”

“I only asked you to clean the trash, didn’t I?” Aizawa rumbled with an amused expression and Izuku flushed, fluttering his hands.

“Y-You did, sir.”

“Exactly.  Don’t sell yourself short,” Aizawa said, pushing off his desk and burying his hands in his pockets.  “And since the beach is clean, go put your gym clothes on and meet me outside.  We have a lot to cover today,” he added and then walked out the door.

Bubbling with excitement, Izuku and Ochako quickly changed and headed to the training grounds, falling into easy conversation and speculations about the day’s practice while Shinsou trailed quietly in their wake. 

When they reached Aizawa, he looked them over with a blank expression and then jerked a thumb over his shoulder.

“Shinsou, go run laps,” he said and Izuku stiffened, feeling Ochako do the same beside him.  Shinsou paused, pressing his mouth into a thin line.

“Aren’t they running laps too?” Shinsou asked, his shoulders tense.

“No.”

“Then why—”

“You didn’t help them,” Aizawa dead-panned, cutting Shinsou off.  Izuku sucked in a breath, looking between the two as Shinsou narrowed his eyes.  “He didn’t, did he?” Aizawa asked and Ochako startled, playing with a strand of her hair while Izuku stared at his feet.

“I went when they weren’t there,” Shinsou said, gritting his teeth.  Aizawa frowned and took a step closer to Shinsou.

“You’re not in shape,” Aizawa said.  Izuku shivered and leaned closer to Ochako while Shinsou took a step back.  “Did you think I wouldn’t notice how they’ve honed their muscles and you haven’t?  I’m not an idiot, and I know hard work when I see it,” Aizawa sharply continued.

“The entire purpose of cleaning the beach was to build your stamina and strength in a relatively short amount of time, and you clearly ignored my assignment in favor of—”

“Don’t,” Shinsou snapped, his hands shaking as he glared at Aizawa.  The air grew taught in the following silence and Izuku held his breath, barely registering when Ochako gently laid a hand on his arm.  Aizawa’s eyes flashed, his hair lifting minutely before he pointed to the edge of the training grounds.

“I am not obligated to help you,” Aizawa darkly said, his chin dipping into his capture weapon.  “Nedzu may have recommended you, but I can and will expel you if you think you’re above my authority.  Do I make myself clear?”  Shinsou boldly held Aizawa’s gaze, and then deferred, looking away.

“Good, now go run laps.”  Shinsou scuffed a foot against the ground and then took off, jogging toward the training ground’s edges.  Unsettled, Izuku watched Aizawa adjust his capture weapon before he turned back to them as if nothing had happened, his expression carefully blank.

“Show me your fighting stance,” Aizawa abruptly said and Izuku blinked in surprise.  Ochako shrugged and let go of his arm, stepping a few paces away before sinking into a somewhat-shaky stance.  Izuku swallowed, trying to picture various heroes as he shifted into something he prayed was an accurate stance.

He bent his knees and lifted his arms while Aizawa watched, and he tried not to tremble under his gaze.

Because he didn’t know what he was doing.

Ochako had at least done this before but he hadn’t and he knew his stance was wrong but this was what he had done when he fought Kacchan even though it never actually worked and Aizawa was going to—

“I’m glad you remember something from your classes,” Aizawa said, stepping toward Ochako.  “May I?” He added, raising an eyebrow as he lifted a hand.  Ochako slowly nodded, holding her stance. 

Aizawa began tapping her shoulders and arms, readjusting her posture while offering verbal corrections.  Within seconds, Ochako’s stance went from shaky to sturdy, and she grinned when Aizawa stepped back.

Izuku didn’t realize he was shaking until Aizawa looked at him, his expression difficult to read.  When Aizawa asked his permission, Izuku nodded and closed his eyes, waiting for Aizawa to tell him he was doing everything wrong.

“You watch a lot of pro-hero fights, don’t you?” Aizawa asked and Izuku’s eyes snapped open in surprise.  What? 

“I guessed as much from the notebooks you keep bringing in but your stance confirms it,” he continued as he moved around Izuku, gently shifting his body and repositioning his arms and legs.  “You have a basic understanding but your weight’s all wrong.”  A quick tap to Izuku’s hip, and then a few more across his shoulders until they relaxed.

“It’s not a bad thing,” Aizawa finished, stepping away with a final glance.  He scratched his chin and then waved a hand.  “Memorize this position.  Everything you learn will build off this,” he explained and Izuku bit the inside of his cheek, trying to press the stance into his bones.

They began training in earnest after that, Aizawa slowly walking them through basic movements and adjusting their positions along the way.  It all felt foreign to Izuku, but he pushed himself through, spurred on by Ochako mirroring the movements a step faster than he did.

After an hour and a half Aizawa finally gave them a break, handing out water bottles as they sank to the ground, covered in sweat.  Izuku gratefully downed the water and then gasped, leaning over to rub a hand across his aching legs.  Ochako flopped backwards onto the grass beside him with a small groan, wiping sweat from her face.

“I forgot how tiring these practices were,” she said with a laugh.  He chuckled and gave her with a weary smile, resting his arms on his knees.

“We still have half the class left, too.  And I doubt he’s letting us out early,” Izuku sighed and Aizawa smirked.

“You’re right, I’m not.”  Izuku startled, not having expected an answer.  “We’re done with physical training though,” Aizawa said before calling Shinsou back to their group.  Shinsou jogged over and snatched the water bottle Aizawa offered, gulping it down before he left out a relieved sigh and scrubbed a sleeve over his face, sweat dripping from his hair.

“What are we doing for the rest of class?” Shinsou asked, finishing his water and crushing the bottle.  Izuku felt vaguely sorry for the bottle, and then shook himself when Aizawa responded.

“Hero costumes.”  Ochako gasped and jumped to her feet, clapping her hands together.

“Are we visiting the support department?” She asked as Izuku stood.  Aizawa nodded and Ochako beamed, letting out an excited noise.  Shinsou looked surprised and self-consciously pulled at his sweaty clothes, and Izuku pretended he wasn’t freaking out because he had forgotten to even think about a costume design.

He couldn’t wear his paramedic uniform, after all.

Before he could worry any further, Aizawa waved them on, turning and heading across the school and expecting them to follow.  They set a quick pace, Ochako in the lead while Shinsou trailed at the back until they stopped in front of what looked like a large warehouse on the outskirts of campus.

“The support department’s head can be a little…enthusiastic,” Aizawa offered, shifting on his feet.  Izuku warily watched the movement, wondering who was unnerving enough to unsettle Aizawa.  “Don’t let her distract you,” Aizawa said, and then pushed open the large doors.

A wall of smoke and a high-pitched siren greeted them, and before Izuku could properly react he was already moving, lunging into the smoke. 

He covered his mouth with a hand, mind tripping as he listened for screams and tried to pinpoint the fire, but an eerie silence greeted him.  The only sound came from his feet hitting the floor, and then he crashed into someone.

Izuku let out a started yelp as he careened to the ground, palms skidding on the pavement.  He coughed, dimly wondered why the air smelled like burnt sugar, and then scrambled to his feet.

“I-I’m sorry, but we need to get out of—”

“Whopsie!  Didn’t know someone was coming in,” a loud voice laughed in front of him and Izuku strained his eyes, trying to see through the smoke.  “Stay here!” They yelled, and then Izuku heard them run away.

Suddenly, a loud grinding sound echoed through the room and Izuku was buffeted by what felt like large fans.  He coughed again, waving a hand in front of his face until the air cleared, and then he gaped, his mouth falling open.

He could see the entire room.

A sturdy woman with long, pink hair grinned and waved at him from across the room, the lingering scent of sugar still in the air.  She pulled a lever and the fans stopped, and with another low groan all the windows in the warehouse slid closed.

“What in the…,” Izuku breathed, dumbfounded as the woman jauntily jogged over.

“Sorry about that!  I may have been testing out a new smoke bomb and accidentally set the entire batch on fire,” she quipped as she stopped in front of him.  She reached out and grasped his hand, shaking it forcefully.

Her bright pink hair was covered in dirt and soot, tied in a clumsy ponytail and partially held back by the pair of goggles on her head.  She wore a tank-top and long pants, and a belt holding more tools than Izuku could accurately name.  Her bright eyes looked uncannily like the crosshairs of a weapon, and she towered over him by a few inches.  And when she grinned, Izuku unconsciously edged backwards.

“Do you always run into dangerous situations?” Aizawa asked, and Izuku whipped around to see him and the others walking toward them.

“I…” Izuku stared and trailed off when Aizawa gave him a stern look.

“Don’t make it a habit.  Even if you have emergency training, running headfirst into a situation where you don’t have equipment or backup is unnecessarily dangerous,” Aizawa said and Izuku winced, an echo of Yoko’s voice sounding in his head.  ‘We’re not pro-heroes for a reason.’

“Are you the support girl from the sports festival my freshman year?” Ochako asked, shifting the conversation as the woman tilted her head.

“I might be?  What babies did I use that year?” She asked and Ochako lit up when the woman said ‘babies’.

“Oh my god you’re the one who used Iida like a walking advertisement,” Ochako said, laughing into her hand.  The woman blinked and then grinned, planting her hands on her hips.

“He was so kind to my babies!” She crooned, and they quickly devolved into excited chatters.  Baffled by the exchange, Izuku glanced at Aizawa and then paused, a chill running down his neck.

Aizawa was boring a hole into the ground with a twisted frown, his one hand digging into his thigh and his chin buried in his capture weapon.  Pain.

Izuku blinked, and then the woman clapped Ochako on the shoulder, drawing his attention as her expression turned serious. 

“I was looking forward to designing babies for him,” she quietly said, and Ochako furrowed her brow, her smile wavering before she let out a weak laugh.

“I’m sure they would’ve been great,” Ochako replied, and then Shinsou cleared his throat, breaking the somber moment.

“Reunions are great and all but we came here—”

“Oh right!  You’re here to design costumes, aren’t you?” The woman grinned and Shinsou snapped his mouth shut.  The woman looked them over and then fixated on Izuku, pointing a thumb toward her chest.

“The name’s Hatsume Mei, chair of the support department!” She exclaimed before throwing her arms wide.  Aizawa mumbled something under his breath that sounded like ‘She is the entire department.’ before Hatsume continued.  “And everything here is my babies or projects my students are working on.  We have everything,” she finished, her eyes rapidly flickering around.

“Do they all need designs made?” Hatsume asked, directing the question toward Aizawa.  He grunted, taking a step to the side.

“You have an hour and a half until they need to leave.  I’ll be outside if you need me,” he said, and then walked away, his shoulders stiff.  Izuku frowned as he left, and then hesitantly turned toward Hatsume, startled when he saw her already in front of Ochako, leaning into her personal space and asking rapid-fire questions.

“What color were you thinking?” Hatsume asked, wrapping a measuring tape around Ochako’s chest as Ochako blushed and blurted out a response.

“N-not pink!”  Hatsume glanced up and hummed, moving the tape around Ochako’s legs.

“Your quirk’s anti-gravity, right?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Can you use it on yourself?” Hatsume asked, standing and measuring Ochako’s shoulders.  Ochako nodded and Hatsume smirked, slipping her tape into her pocket. 

Izuku blinked, and then jumped.

Somehow, Hatsume had vanished, returned with a pair of boots, and had already strapped them to Ochako’s feet.

“These are my super-charged trampoline babies!” She chirped while Ochako lightly bounced in place, lifting a leg to look at the odd contraption.  “Once you activate your quirk, they’ll allow you to achieve soaring heights with minimum effort!”

Ochako shifted her weight and then pressed her hands together.  Another moment and she jumped—

And almost flew straight into the ceiling.

Izuku spluttered, frantically waving his hands before she deactivated her quirk at the last moment and fell toward the ground.

“The soles are built to absorb and dampen landing shock too!” Hatsume called, and thankfully when Ochako landed, she only stumbled slightly before staring down at the shoes in awe.

“These are so much better than my old ones,” Ochako breathed, and then her and Hatsume started trading costume ideas back and forth without pause.  When they finally stopped for air, Ochako had complied a working idea for Hatsume that consisted of the boots, various weighs around pressure points, and reinforced material around her torso.

“My original costume was too soft and bubbly,” Ochako explained, scrunching her nose when Izuku asked her about it.   Hatsumi quickly jotted down Ochako’s suggestions and then turned her gaze toward Shinsou and Izuku, her eyes flashing.  Izuku blanched, slightly intimidated.

Before he could say anything Shinsou stepped forward, his expression carefully blank.

“You’re the one that almost got into the hero course, aren’t you?” Hatsume asked, already butting into Shinsou’s personal space with her measuring tape.  Shinsou frowned, ignoring her question as he calmly lifted his arms.

“I want something black,” he began and Hatsume pursed her lips.

“No black.”

“I work at night.”

“Then dark purple or blue.  Pure black stands out more than you think,” Hatsume said and Shinsou’s frown grew while he lowered his arms and she moved to his shoulders.

“Fine.  I don’t care what it looks like, but I need my mouth clear,” he said and Hatsume briefly paused.  Confused, Izuku turned to Ochako only to see that she had wandered off to look at a table full of gadgets.

“Oh right, because of your quirk,” Hatsume said with a nod, tilting her head.  “Do you use any additional weapons?”

“I don’t need to.”  She huffed at that, waving her measuring tape in front of his face.

“You don’t want any of my babies, do you?” She coldly asked, stepping away.  Shinsou scratched his face and shrugged.

“Not really.  I just need a functioning costume.”  She glared and stormed over to the table Ochako had wandered to, surprising her as she dug through the mess on the table before breezing back with a few small objects in her hands.  She practically threw them at Shinsou as she spoke, her voice brokering no arguments.

“Voice amplifier.  It reduces static and improves speech clarity so almost anyone can hear and understand you, even if you’re speaking quietly.”  She pinned a small button to his collar and then shoved a pair of rings into his hands.

“Extreme no-lock handcuffs that can only be deactivated with your handprint.  And as soon as they lock they double in weight, hindering any villains that try to escape.”

“No one ever tries to—”

“Ultra-condensed smoke bomb.  When you’re facing a lot of villains at once you can confuse and pick them off one by one,” Hatsume smoothly said, and then shoved a few more items in his face.  Shinsou turned most of them down, and the two bickered until he agreed on the first few items.  Satisfied, Hatsume carried her gadgets back to the worktable while Shinsou turned and left, mentioning something about fresh air.

Izuku watched Shinsou leave, and when he turned around Hatsume was inches away from his face, her gaze piercing.  He stiffened, and then tried not to blush when she quickly began measuring him, her movements precise.

“So what’s your quirk?” She asked, pulling the tape taut around his chest.

“I don’t have one,” he offered, explanations falling from his tongue.  “I-I mean, I’m going to be supporting Ochako, so I don’t need anything complicated?  Although, I’d like to have my hands free,” he rambled, flexing his hands and barely noticing when she crouched down to measure his legs.

“Gloves would block my sense of touch too much, I think,” he said, ideas starting to piece together.  “But could you make a mouth guard?  Like one that filters the air?” He asked and then blushed when he realized Hatsume was still crouched in front of him, staring upwards with a concentrated expression.  Her mouth melted into a feral grin and Ochako wandered over.

“Can I make a mouth guard?  That’s child’s play!” Hatsume laughed, standing and snapping her tape across his shoulders.

“You’re worried about smoke, aren’t you?” Ochako asked.

“And quirks that release poisonous gases.  Heroes aside, the more freely I can move around in a situation, the better,” he said.

“You’ll need an equipment belt,” Hatsume chirped, and Izuku startled when a weight settled around his hips.  “This is one of my most popular babies, the super-everything belt version X!” When had she…?

Surprisingly, the belt wasn’t heavy, despite the multitude of pockets and a few dangling pieces.  Hatsume happily explained how it worked, pointing out places to store everything from bandages to a whip—he turned red at that, and Hatsume merely shrugged and mentioned Midnight—and explained how most of the pieces were interchangeable and customizable.

She removed the belt before he could react, and Ochako giggled at Izuku’s expression.  He wasn’t sure what Hatsume’s quirk was, but if it wasn’t for her odd eyes, he’d swear it was speed related.  As it was, he tried not to reel when vanished and returned with what looked like an odd collection of weapons.

“What do you prefer to fight with?” Hatsume asked, holding up a long rod before pursing her lips and switching it with two smaller rods that sparked at the ends.  Izuku paled and waved his hands, leaning away from the electricity.

“I-I don’t need a weapon, do I?” Izuku stuttered and Hatsumi’s eyes flickered toward the warehouse’s door.  Her face clouded, and then she sprung back into motion with a cheery grin.

“Of course you do.  My babies are exceptional, and that includes fighting weapons.  You can’t walk around unarmed,” she quipped, setting down the rods in favor of picking up a small knife.  She tossed it between her hands and then shook her head.

“Maybe a taser-based baby?”

“Hatsume, I really don’t—”

“It’s non-negotiable,” she said, cutting him off, and Ochako gently tapped Izuku’s shoulder.

“She has a point.  You may not like it, but I’d feel better knowing you had the option,” she slowly said, rubbing her arm.  Izuku sighed and pinched his lip, looking over the offered weapons.

“If I’m carrying a weapon I need to keep my hands free.  Do you have anything that would allow me to do that?” He asked.  Hatsume raked her eyes over him and then gasped.  She darted to her table and back in a second, and then cuffed something metallic around his wrists.

“These are still in the works but these babies are like small tasers!  The two spheres on the inside of your wrists produce an electric charge that’s activated when the spheres touch.  I lined the cuffs with rubber, so don’t worry about getting shocked.  As of now, the charge is restricted to the spheres, but I could extend the charge around the entire cuff so you could use them as a shield or to attack,” Hatsume rambled, tapping various parts as she explained.

Carefully, Izuku touched the spheres together and jumped when they sparked and hummed against his wrists.  He flexed his hands while Ochako leaned over his shoulder, and then he frowned, pressing his hands together.

“The shock won’t work through your hands,” Hatsume interjected, pulling Izuku from his thoughts.  “And they can’t accidentally activate.  The sensors are low enough that you have to cross your wrists for them to activate, which means you can work with your hands in close quarters without risking injury.”  She said and Izuku nodded, tapping the spheres together to turn them off.

When they continued humming, Izuku paled, holding his arms away from himself.  Hatsume scratched her chin, and then picked up a rod she had set down.

“I forgot to mention that there’s currently no way to turn them off unless they discharge?  But I’m working on it, I promise!  Until then, just touch this rod and you can take them off!” She said, and he gave her a skeptical look.  Hesitantly, he touched his wrists to the rod and jerked back when electricity shot across the gap.  Thankfully, Hatsume didn’t look fazed and the spheres slowly dimmed.

She quickly removed the cuffs from his wrists and hummed happily to herself.

“What color do you want?” She asked.

“For the cuffs?”

“They’re going to be silver.  I meant for your costume,” Hatsume explained.  Half-drawn crayon drawings surrounded by All Might Boy! came to mind and Izuku hastily shoved them away, tamping down a creeping blush. 

All Might’s colors were out—he’d be mortified if he ever ran into the former hero—and when his mind suggested blue, he pictured Shouto and had to shake himself.

“How about green?” He found himself saying with a smile, taking to the idea once he said it aloud.

“But not a forest or yellow-green,” Ochako suggested, eyeing Izuku’s hair.  “It’d clash,” she said with a grin, and he softly laughed.  Hatsume scribbled everything down before she looked at her watch and whined.

“We’re out of time, but I’ve gotten what I need.  My students and I will have you suited up with my babies and ready to go by next week!” She said, pulling her goggles over her eyes. 

Ochako and Izuku thanked her for her help, and then wandered outside to find Aizawa and Shinsou talking in low voices.  They stopped when they walked over, Aizawa’s expression unreadable as he readjusted his capture weapon.

Aizawa readily dismissed them after that, and as they left Ochako invited Izuku over for dinner.  He sheepishly agreed, and they spent the evening tossing ideas back and forth until Izuku realized how late it had gotten.  He hastily left, mentioning an early shift before rushing home.  He wouldn’t have much time to sleep, but a few hours were better than nothing.

When Izuku walked into work the next morning for a night-morning shift, Yoko was as cheerful as ever, sipping away at her coffee and going over their supplies list.  He eyed the coffee, rubbed his eyes and gratefully grabbed a cup.  Yoko chuckled, playfully teasing him about his night as he sat down.

Five minutes later, they had started counting their supplies when their alarm went off.  They both stared at the flashing light in shock—they were rarely ever called this early—and then were out the door, listening to what had happened over their radios as they rushed to their ambulance.

Quirk fire.

**

Shouto jolted awake, his face half-mashed into his pillow and the tethers of a dream slipping from his grasp.  He blinked a few times, pulling himself into some semblance of awareness when he abruptly realized he couldn’t see.

His breath clouded the air and a chill coursed through his chest, his heart beating too-fast and ringing in his ears while the silence in the room compounded.

Thump, thump, thump.

Everything around him blurred, his breaths catching in ragged pants but he was awake he had to be awake

Another few blinks, and he belatedly realized his right eye was buried into his pillow.

Oh.

Shaking slightly, he pushed himself into a sitting position and kept blinking, his senses returning to normal when the room came into focus.  His left eye ached and he gently rubbed it, warding off a tension headache from trying to see clearly through that eye.  Breathe.

‘You wouldn’t get headaches if you used an eyepatch.  You’d be like a manly pirate!’ Kirishima laughed in his mind, the memory a bit too bright for whatever god-awful hour of the morning it was.  Shouto paused, realized he hadn’t been woken from a nightmare, and wondered what had woken him.

He jerked when his phone vibrated loudly against his nightstand.

Scrambling to grab it, he didn’t stop to look at the caller ID before he shoved it against his ear.

“Todoroki?”

“I’m here,” he rasped, still rubbing his eyes and pushing back tremors.

“Good.  Multiple fires have broken out across the city in high-rise apartments, and they’re calling in anyone they can because the fire department’s spread thin,” his supervisor explained, and Shouto threw back his covers, pressing his phone to his ear as he grabbed his uniform.

“I’m guessing they think a villain’s responsible?”

“Five fires have broken out within the hour.  That doesn’t happen by accident.”  Shouto cursed under his breath, tugging his uniform on while his supervisor gave him one of the locations.  He ended the call as he rushed out his door, already coating himself in ice by the time he headed onto the street.

Chapter Text

Izuku yanked off his earpiece, rubbing his ear as too many voices clashed over the radio while Yoko careened around a corner.

“Shit,” Izuku muttered, pressed against the door until Yoko righted out of the turn, sirens wailing in the thin hours of the night.

“What’s happening?” Yoko asked, weaving around cars and through an intersection, her eyes never leaving the road.  The earpiece crackled in his lap, and Izuku pulled out a pair of facemasks, slipping one over his head and letting it rest against his neck.

“At least five apartment fires that seem to be the cause of a quirk, but no one knows for sure.  Everyone’s arguing over the radios trying to get ahold of the fire department and pro-heroes for help.”

“What about the fire we’re headed to?”

“I don’t—” Izuku stopped, gritting his teeth and daring to replace his earpiece.  He winced at the onslaught of information, and tried to parse out what they needed.

“The fire started less than an hour ago, and someone’s insisting that blue flames were reported before it happened?”  Izuku tried to ask what they meant by blue flames, but his voice was lost in the mess as police officers shouted about the pro-heroes arriving at their sites.

“Creati, Thirteen, Backdraft, Wash and IceFroppy’s coming, isn’t she?She’s at the coast, you idioSTOP YELLINGFuck, our building’s coming down—"

Static and a loud crash overtook the earpiece, and Izuku tore it off again, sucking in a ragged breath.

“T-they’re calling in pro-heroes, but I don’t know if someone will be at our site,” he managed, and Yoko dug her fingers into the wheel, looking grim.

“Well, we’re about to find out,” she said and then screeched to a stop, throwing the ambulance into park in a swift movement.  Yoko threw open her door and Izuku did the same, his eyes going wide when he jumped onto the pavement.

The night sky was ablaze, flames greedily illuminating the darkness and blotting out the stars.  The high-rise’s top floors were already lost—windows shattered and structure crumbling from the fire.  Police cars and other ambulances were scattered around the building as people streamed out covered in soot and clutching their pajamas and children to their chests.

One lone fire engine battled the searing flames, the firefighters running ragged under the pressure of trying to smother the fire with only a handful of hoses.

Izuku swallowed, pulled his face mask up, and threw one to Yoko.  She caught it and then they shouldered their bags and ran toward a police officer.  The officer directed them to a group of coughing people as she yelled into her radio, and they followed her direction.

But not before Izuku asked which pro had been called to their location.

“I don’t know,” she yelled, her eyes trying to keep pace with the people running in the background, frantic and overworked.  “Thermostat?” she offered, the name less of a statement and more of a question.  Izuku felt a tremor of relief, and then Yoko pulled him away, ushering him toward people who needed their help.

Time slipped as they worked; handing out water and masks left and right while patching up scraped knees and bruised arms.  Children wailed in their mother’s arms, spouses clung to one another’s hands, and Izuku led an elderly man to the back of their ambulance, giving him oxygen as he wheezed and coughed.

Residents streamed from the building while Izuku worked, most stumbling out coughing, but unharmed as the fire raged from the top floor down.  All the while Izuku rushed around, sticking close to Yoko’s side and filtering the caterwaul of voices around him.

Someone yelled about their belongings, others prayed in hushed silence, and one man screamed profanities into the blaze while several officers struggled to hold him back.

Fuck you Deku!

Kacchan shoved him from his desk and Izuku landed hard on his arm, pain rippling and making him cry out as his arm went numb.

“—hear me? Izuku? Izuku!” He jolted at the sound of his name, the chaos around him dimming.  He couldn’t breathe and Yoko was staring at him, soot smeared across her cheek and a mask in her hand.  Her own was around her neck, and she reached out and pulled his down in slow-motion, her voice syrupy.

“You need to breathe, dammit!” She snapped, and everything tilted into focus.  In front of him, a young girl sat cradled in her father’s lap, crying as blood ran down her knees.  Izuku worked his jaw and used the alcohol and gauze he didn’t remember picking up to wipe her knees clean. 

He didn’t look at Yoko, and kept working until a cheer went up from the crowd.

Izuku glanced up in time to see a spray of ice shoot toward the far end of the building, and the firefighters next to it wilted in relief.  Shouto.  The hero was hidden from Izuku’s line of sight, but knowing he had arrived unknotted a line of tension from his back.

Shouto would help get the fire under control, and judging from the ever-growing crowd, most if not all the residents had been evacuated. 

Izuku wiped a sooty arm across his face and turned back to Yoko.

Only to have to his gaze snag on a window.

A few stories high, a young man pounded on a window, attempting to break the glass.  Izuku paled as the man wrenched his shoulder against the pane, bare-chested with what looked like his shirt balled against his mouth.  Izuku held his breath, and then the man managed to pry the window open, dropping his shirt in the process.

He leaned out the window and coughed, smoke billowing from his room and almost completely obscuring him from sight.  He looked terrified, and he started screaming between coughs, calling for help.

Izuku ran.

He kept his gaze on the man as he sprinted toward the apartment’s entrance, his medical bag discarded on the sidewalk.  The fire had already overtaken the floor the man was on, but it hadn’t moved to the lowest levels and if he could reach him then he’d—

Meters from the apartment’s entrance, Izuku froze.

He stopped mid-step, hands clutching thin air as his mind ground to a halt.

He wasn’t

Sweat dripped down his brow.

Don’t do something stupid, Izuku.

His fingers twitched, water and ice cascaded in an arc above him.

He wasn’t a hero.

Izuku gasped, coughing around the bile that threatened to make him vomit.  He clutched his chest, tears spilling onto his hands because he couldn’t run into the fire and that man was going to die.

A few people ran from the apartment, scrambling past Izuku and frantically pushing their way through.  Someone elbowed him hard in the eye and he reeled, stumbling backwards until he bumped into a police officer. 

“Sir, are you alright—”

“Can you get pro-hero Shouto?” Izuku asked, holding a hand to his eye as he forced his voice from his chest.  The officer stared as if he had spouted nonsense, and Izuku tried again—he couldn’t hear past the ringing in his ears so for all he knew his words were coming out garbled.

“We need Shouto, a man’s still in there!” Izuku shouted, and the officer took a step back, their eyes wide.

“I don’t know who you’re—” They started but Izuku gave up before they finished.  He cursed and then ran toward where he saw ice arcing into the air, rubbing his eye until his vision cleared. 

Izuku almost sobbed in relief when he spotted Shouto standing next to a firefighter, dousing flames with his ice.  In his haste, Izuku forgot to slow down and he almost careened into Shouto, barely managing to stop.

As it was, he skidded into Shouto’s line of sight and the hero’s eyes widened, firefighters starting to yell when he stopped shooting ice.

“Midoriya?”

“There’s a man trapped inside!” Izuku rushed, snapping his arm toward the other end of the building.  Shouto let out a cloudy breath and hardened his gaze, focusing on Izuku.

“Where?” He asked, and then followed Izuku as he led him away from the group of confused firefighters and toward where he had seen the man.  Thankfully the man was still there, leaning out his window and waving his hands.

A small crowd had formed on the ground beneath him.

Shouto started running when he saw the man, and Izuku breathlessly watched as ice crackled from Shouto’s right side.  It cascaded across the ground and into the air, forming a solid line to the man’s window in what Izuku realized was a makeshift slide.

The slide started melting immediately, but the man quickly crawled out the window and slid down.  Shouto maneuvered the man’s speed until he came to a rest at the bottom.  Then the crowd cheered, the man wept, and the building groaned under the heat.

Shouto abruptly flinched when sparks flew from the building, but before Izuku could do anything Yoko found him.

“You done now?  We’ve got people to help,” she said, and then tossed him his bag.  He caught it and chanced a look at Shouto, only to watch him move back across the building, shooting ice as he went.

Yoko tugged Izuku into the fray again, and he was buried under the needs of the people.

The sun had started to rise by the time the fire was doused, and all that remained of the apartment building was a severely burned husk.  The police had escorted most of the residents away, and ambulances had seen to the rest.

Yoko and Izuku stood near the back of their ambulance, attending to stragglers while they gave the reporters brownnosing around the edges of the area sidelong glances.  The police were conversing with a few of the major tv stations, trying to hold off the tide and failing under the sheer number of reporters and flashing cameras.

Yoko sat down on the bed of their ambulance with a heavy sigh, and then bumped her fist against Izuku’s shoulder.

“Good job out there,” she softly said, and he picked at his sleeves.

Unsure how to respond, he let the silence hang and accepted a bottle of water when she handed it to him.  He unscrewed the cap, and then almost dropped it when he caught sight of Shouto across the lot.

The white half of his hair was stained red, a hand pressed against it while he talked to a police officer.  Izuku was too far away to hear what they were saying, but the officer kept gesturing toward their ambulance until Shouto turned and followed the movement.  He frowned, waved a hand at the officer, and then started jogging toward Izuku.

Yoko glanced at Shouto in surprise and Izuku tried not to flush, his voice lost as Shouto stopped in front of them with a wince.

“They told me I had to see you if I wanted to leave,” he said, still holding a hand against his head.

“What happened?” Yoko asked, sliding to the ground and steering Shouto until he sat.  He frowned at the movement, eyeing her before his gaze flickered to Izuku.

“I think a piece of the building hit me,” he said, his breath clouding the air.  “But I’m fine,” he added, and Izuku carefully looked him over.

Shouto was shivering, his breaths frosting the air as ice crept over the right side of his face.  He hid the motion well, but it was there in the minute way his hand shook against his head.

“Respectfully, you’re not alright,” Izuku said, missing how Yoko raised an eyebrow as she dug around in her bag for supplies.  Shouto held Izuku’s gaze, his expression cracking for a brief second before he looked away.

“May I?” Izuku asked, reaching for Shouto’s bloody hand.  He nodded and Izuku went to move it from his face to look at his head, only to realize he couldn’t.  Frozen.

“Shouto, you’re…” Izuku trailed off and Yoko glanced up, scoffing.

“You froze it,” she said, and Shouto startled, his eyes widening as he gently pulled at his hand and realized that yes, it was stuck to his wound.  The bleeding had stopped, but blood had frozen in trails on Shouto’s cheek, creating an eerie effect.

“Can you warm yourself up for me?  It’ll restart the bleeding but I need to see where you were hit,” Izuku softly said, accepting the gauze and wipes Yoko handed to him as she found them.  Shouto’s expression shuddered, his left hand digging into his thigh.

“Please?” Izuku asked, and Shouto let out a shaky breath before steam started drifting from his right side.  Relieved, Izuku caught Shouto’s hand when it fell and then gently wiped it clean, making sure he hadn’t cut his hand.

Shouto stiffened, but didn’t protest when Izuku set his arm in his lap and then turned his attention to where blood sluggishly dripped from Shouto’s head.  The cut wasn’t deep, but it had bled quite a bit and Izuku started cleaning the blood from around the wound.  He worked in tandem with Yoko, handing her soiled wipes when she handed him clean ones, and within minutes the blood was cleared and Izuku could see the entire cut.

“Good news, you shouldn’t need stiches,” Izuku said, thankful when Yoko understood and handed him butterfly bandages.  Shouto gave a small nod, and Izuku explained what he was going to do as he worked.

“Just a few bandages and some antiseptic to reduce the chances of inflection, and you should be alright.  You know to keep it dry, right?  And if anything starts looking infected after a few days you need to see a doctor,” Izuku rambled while he worked, carefully closing the bandages across the cut until it pressed together and the bleeding abided.

Shouto sat perfectly still the entire time, only minutely nodding in response to Izuku’s suggestions.  When Izuku finished, he leaned down with a clean wipe and gently cleaned the rest of the blood from Shouto’s face, concentrating hard enough that it took him a few moments to realize Shouto was staring.

When he did Izuku froze, his gaze locking with Shouto’s, his hand inches from Shouto’s face.  Izuku flushed, his hand starting to shake as he realized how close he was to the hero.  What was he doing?  Shouto could have cleaned his own face and now they were too close and he couldn’t move and Shouto hadn’t looked away oh god

“Nice job Izuku,” Yoko said, and the moment shattered.  Both Izuku and Shouto unfroze, and Izuku hastily leaned away, trying to hide the heat dusting his cheeks.

“I’m going to be waiting in the front,” Yoko said with a sly smile, gesturing toward the driver’s seat.  Izuku blinked, and watched her vanish into the front seat before Shouto moved and captured his attention.

“Thank you,” Shouto said, his gaze averted as he uselessly brushed soot from his uniform.  White really was a terrible color, that soot would be hell to clean

“I shouldn’t keep you,” Shouto added and Izuku spluttered, waving his hands.

“I-it’s no problem!  I’m just doing my job and you’re the last one so there’s no rush.”  Izuku paused, glancing at Shouto’s head.  “You should have someone check on that in a few days though, just to be safe.”

“I’ll be fine,” Shouto said, pushing himself to his feet.  Izuku fidgeted, knowing he needed to step away when Shouto started to frown, too polite to try and shift around him.

“I…I could check on it?” Izuku said and then promptly flinched, his face growing hot.  He hastily hid his face behind his arms, not wanting to see the disgust on Shouto’s face because what was he saying he didn’t even know Shouto and he was offering to

“How…” Shouto started but paused, and Izuku peaked out from behind his arms, blushing when he saw Shouto staring at his feet with a furrowed brow.  “Why would you…” he stopped again, clenching his hands and visibly straining to find the correct words.

“I mean we don’t see one another that often or really at all but maybe we could grab coffee and I could check it out then?” Izuku blurted, and jolted when Shouto’s eyes snapped toward his.  Surprise flickered across his face, and then was carefully tucked behind an expressionless mask.

“You would do that?” Shouto asked.

“What do you mean?”

“You would want to have coffee with me?” Shouto clarified and Izuku nodded, wringing his hands.

“I-if you’re not too busy, that is!  You have my number after all, so you could just text me whenever you’re free if that’s alright but you don’t have to agree if you don’t want to I’m sure you have someone else who could—”

“I’ll text you then,” Shouto calmly interjected, and Izuku nodded again.

“I’m free around noon all week?” Izuku said, realized he was still blocking Shouto’s way, and then stepped to the side.  Shouto nodded, brushing his hands over his uniform before he walked away. 

Izuku watched him leave and jumped when Yoko abruptly honked the ambulance’s horn.  He closed the doors and rushed to the passenger seat, slipping inside to find Yoko giving him a suggestive grin.

“W-what?” He asked, putting on his seatbelt and shoving his hands into his lap, unable to meet her eyes.  She chuckled and started the ambulance, smoothly pulling onto the street.

“I didn’t say anything.”

“But you were laughing.”

“Of course I was, did you see your face?” She said with a smirk and Izuku let out a groan.  “What was that all about, anyways?”  Izuku hesitated, his nerves fluttering up and down his arms from the exchange.

“I asked Shouto if he wanted to get coffee,” Izuku said, his voice trailing upwards as he sunk into his seat.  He screeched when Yoko almost ran a red-light and then clutched his chest, glaring at her.

She shook herself, watching the streetlights before bursting out laughing.

“What?” Izuku hissed, his heart still thrumming.  Yoko kept laughing, bending over the steering wheel until she managed to gasp out a few words.

“Did you…did you just pick up a pro-hero at a crime scene?”

“We don’t know if it was a crime scene or not—” Izuku started and then spluttered, his cheeks burning as he yelled.  “WAIT NO, THAT IS NOT WHAT I MEANT!”  Yoko cackled, and Izuku dropped his head into his hands, not caring that he likely smeared soot across his face.

“Oh my god you got a date—”

“I DID NOT!”

“—with the number three hero.  Good for you, Izuku,” Yoko said with a wink, and Izuku melted into his seat with a whine, wishing he could sink through the floor.  Yoko continued laughing for a few minutes, throwing him good-natured pieces of advice and encouragement until they reached the hospital.

When they stepped out of the ambulance Izuku’s face was still red, and Yoko walked around and playfully bumped his shoulder and ruffled his hair.

“Hey, you really did good today, pro-hero dates aside,” Yoko said with a smile.  Izuku weakly managed one in return, his embarrassment pooling into a warmth that twined through his chest.  Yoko stepped away and then paused in the morning light, peering at Izuku’s face.

“Although, you somehow managed to get a shiner, so I guess I shouldn’t be praising you too much?” She said with a chuckle and Izuku touched his bruised eye.

“I didn’t—”

“Come on, let’s get an icepack on that, yeah?” She offered and then tugged him inside, smoothing the conversation over with the enticement of juice-boxes.

**

Katsuki angrily tore through his paperwork with the ferocity of someone drunk of caffeine.

And he hadn’t even finished his coffee.

Fucking shitty-ass villains who decided to try and poison a waterline.  Katsuki had smeared them into the dirt before they could, but the subsequent paperwork had all too quickly piled on his desk.

It didn’t help that someone had set fire to half the city last night.

Early this morning?

Fucking semantics.

“D-detonator?” A man hesitantly asked, and Katsuki snapped his pen in half, barely managing to toss it into the trash before it spilled onto his paperwork.

“What do you want?” He snapped, hating how his pro-hero office insisted on an open floor, open desk policy.  It meant that anyone could fucking interrupt him, including the nervous-looking secretary standing in front of his desk with a memo.

“T-there’s a uh, I mean…Endeavor left a message for you,” he stammered, thrusting a piece of paper onto Katsuki’s desk before he scurried away.  Scowling, Katsuki snatched the paper and quickly scanned it.

“What the fuck does he mean, we have a press conference today?” Katsuki shouted, the message burning as explosions sparked across his palms.  The office fell deathly quiet around him, and he glared at everyone.

He made an aggravated sound and stormed from his seat, yanking out his phone and pulling up news articles from the night before.  Because apparently Endeavor decided they should speak about the recent attacks, which meant Katsuki needed to head home now if he wanted to be prepared.

Fucking shit.

**

Inko took her time preparing her tea in the morning, relaxing before work with gentle sips while she scanned the morning news.

She almost dropped her tea when a special report came on and she caught sight of Izuku in the background.

The reporter was going on about a few fires from last night, flipping between videos of flaming buildings and hard-working heroes. Creati directing people to safety, Backdraft and Thirteen dousing the flames as best they could, and Wash almost single-handedly putting out a fire.

But when they flipped to a video of Windchill—that wasn’t his name, was it?—she froze, catching sight of Izuku not too far from the hero, frantically pointing toward a window on the burning building.  Inko caught her breath as the camera swung, catching the hero creating a slide to save the trapped man. 

The video cut away and Inko startled, reaching for the TV as if to draw her son back to her.  She almost knocked over her tea, and she barely caught it at the last second, setting it on the coffee table as her fingers shook. 

The reporter was still talking but she didn’t listen.

Inko pulled out her phone and dialed Izuku’s number without pause, needing to hear her son.

**

“You don’t think—”

“There will be questions,” Nedzu said, casually sipping tea across from Tensei.

“Are you going to give a statement?” Tensei asked, the tea in his lap untouched.  He couldn’t drink past the sour feeling in his stomach.  Nedzu hummed and pushed himself off the couch, refilling the teapot with a smile.

“Our name’s not in the clear.  Parents’ memories are more tenacious than you would expect, as I’m sure you’re aware,” Nedzu said, briefly glancing at Tensei.  He sighed and forced himself to take a sip of tea, tensing slightly when Tenya came to mind.

“We haven’t been attacked yet, but we were the explicit target all those years ago.  Someone’s bound to try and make a connection,” Nedzu continued, tapping his lap until he deemed the tea ready and poured himself a fresh cup.  Tensei tried not to stare when Nedzu immediately took a drink—the water had to be scalding—and he suppressed a small shiver.

“We will have to present a united front, and well,” Nedzu paused, setting his tea in his lap.  “I would like to have you there when I answer questions,” he finished.

Tensei didn’t pause to second-guess himself.

“Of course,” he quietly said with a small nod.  'You’re the best brother, you know that?’  A young Tenya grinned and ran around the kitchen, arms akimbo as he gestured.  ‘You help everyone and anyone and you’re the coolest pro-hero!’

Tensei dug his hand into his thigh and hastily blinked away his emotions, taking a deep breath.  Everyone and anyone.

“Good,” Nedzu said with another smile, somehow already finished with his tea.  “I’ll send you the details later,” he added, and then dismissed Tensei.

Tensei thanked him for the tea and then wheeled out of the room, pulling out his cell phone.  He quickly dialed Nemuri, and shifted down the hall while he waited for her to answer.  When she did he sighed in relief, forgoing an introduction.

“Nemuri, I think I—”

ING HELL, SHOUTA, WHAT IS THIS?”  Tensei yanked his phone from his ear before Nemuri blasted his eardrums and he frowned at his phone, confused.  Tentatively, he inched it closer to his ear and listened to Nemuri yelling at Shouta as something made loud banging sounds in the background.

“LIKE HELL THAT’S LAUNDRY.” Nemuri shouted, and then must have realized she was holding her phone. “Sorry about that Tensei.  You alright?” She asked, and Tensei stifled a laugh when he heard Hizashi in the background, asking something about a name.

“It sounds like you’re having fun?” Tensei offered, a smile pulling at his lips as he headed toward the elevator.  Nemuri laughed, and then he heard a disgruntled rumble.

“So help me Shouta I am not touching that.  There is literally mold on those clothes.” Tensei heard a faint response, and Nemuri groaned.  He pictured her surrounded by chaos and couldn’t stop himself from laughing.

“It’s not funny Tensei.  Shouta’s place is a dump.  I don’t know why he doesn’t just move in with Hizashi,” Nemuri sighed and the background noise abruptly stopped. 

“Nemuri?”

“Well, now I know how to shut Shouta up.  You should see him blushing,” she slyly said and Tensei heard Shouta yell ‘I am not blushing!’ in the background.

“Sure you aren’t, hun.  But anyways Tensei, did you need something?” Nemuri asked as Tensei reached the elevator.  He hit the button and then shook himself, not wanting to ruin their mood but knowing he needed to talk.

“Nedzu wants me to help answer questions about the recent attacks, and he’s fairly sure they’ll ask about the older attacks too,” he said.  Nemuri seemed to shift her phone, and then he heard a faint click.

“Why don’t you come over to Shouta’s?  We’re about to break for a late lunch,” she said.  His brother zoomed around in his mind, running in circles over and over like the spokes of his wheelchair and Tensei faintly smiled.

“I’ll be there soon,” he said and then slipped his phone away, grateful he had friends he could rely on.

**

“The fires went smoothly.  I assume you’ll be heading out soon for the next step?” Kurogiri asked and Shigaraki scratched his neck, setting down an empty glass on the bar.

Liquor tasted better when everything went as planned.

“Did Dabi return yet?”

“No, he’s still…out,” Kurogiri hedged, methodically cleaning a few glasses that Shigaraki knew were already spotless.  At least Toga had slept in, because he didn’t want to deal with her right now.  Shigaraki forced himself to leave the glass in one piece, and then pushed away from the bar.

“Is the video ready?” He asked and Kurogiri sighed, setting down the glass.

“I still don’t see how that will work.  Won’t they accuse you of being a copycat?”  Shigaraki frowned.  “But yes, it’s ready.  Those you assigned to the conference are already there as well,” Kurogiri added. 

Shigaraki smirked and left the bar without another word, pulling a cap over his hair and tucking himself into a non-descript hoodie as he stepped into the street. 

Chapter Text

"...And we're back, coming to you live from outside the Endeavor Hero Agency.  The company's namesake, Endeavor, and the number two hero, Detonator, are here this afternoon to answer questions about the recent attacks.  Let's tune in as Endeavor makes his opening remarks."

Katsuki resisted the urge to pull at his tie as Endeavor started the conference with his typical bullshit of thanking everyone and rambling about his own accomplishments.  Katsuki felt sweat drip down the back of his neck as he stood on Endeavor's right, his flames radiating a stifling heat.

When Katsuki had left for the conference he hadn't been wearing a tie, but he had run into Endeavor's PR crew and they forced him into one before shoving him onstage.  Scowling, he buried his hands in his pockets and looked out over the sea of people holding cameras and notepads.  Civilians were scattered across the crowd, parents holding children or radical signs as if that'd get them a few seconds on a television screen.

"—thank everyone for coming.  We'll start taking questions now," Endeavor said, his expression a steady mask before the onslaught of cameras and microphones.  As soon as he stopped talking, chaos erupted.

Everyone started talking at the same time, the entire crowd shouting questions left and right, their words turning muddy as they intermingled.  People surged forward in a wave, waving equipment and shouting louder and Katsuki barely managed to stop himself from flinching.

He couldn't hear anything.

Trying to pick apart voices in a small crowd was hard enough, but trying to piece together words in a constantly moving mob when he couldn't see their faces and everyone was yelling at the same time?

Fucking impossible.

Katsuki grit his teeth against the onslaught, letting Endeavor take initiative and point at a random reporter.  The reporter startled, and then rushed to take advantage of the small pocket of silence that fell.

 "Sir, is it true that the fires from this morning were all connected?" The reporter asked, the crowd waiting in bated silence.

"We have no current evidence to support that," Endeavor said, eyes minutely narrowing when the reporter frowned.

"But they all started within an hour of each other.  Surely they're connected?"

"While that is possible, no villains have claimed the attacks and there's little to suggest they were purposefully started," Endeavor explained, and a large section of the crowd nodded and scribbled notes. 

"Next question," Endeavor barked, and then pointed to a reporter near the front.

"Speaking of attacks, have you found the villain responsible for abducting over fifteen children?" The reporter asked as she waved her notepad in the air.  Endeavor's fingers twitched against the podium before he smoothed himself and stood taller.

"We are doing our best to—"

"So you haven't found them yet?" The woman accused, a torrent of noise rising from the crowd.  Katsuki subtly leaned away, resisting the urge to cover his ears.

"No, but the children were not harmed and we are working with their families to find the villain responsible.  We have the situation under control."  The crowd murmured, seemingly appeased until someone called from the back.

"So you just expect us to wait while our children are being stolen?"  A woman yelled, clutching a toddler to her chest.

"What exactly are you doing to protect our children?" A man near her added, shaking a fist.  Endeavor's flames subtly flared, and Katsuki felt the growing tension in the air. 

"Pro-heroes have increased their street patrols.  Rest assured, your children are safe," Endeavor explained.

"But we're not safe!" A man shouted, turning toward the reporters with cameras around him, as if begging their attention.  "What about the building that exploded a few months ago?  People died and you still haven't found the villains who did it!  Who's to say it won't happen again?"

Everyone stared at the man, and then the crowd exploded.

"Aren't you heroes supposed to protect us?"

"How many more people will die—"

"Why can't you—"

Katsuki winced as their voices grew into a caterwaul that pounded against his ears while Endeavor tried to get a word in. 

"We can only take one question at a time—"

"We want answers!"

"Are our children safe?"

"What's going to happen next?"

The crowd rippled forward, reporters shoving their way closer to the podium to be heard and fuck that, he'd had enough.  Katsuki snatched a microphone from the podium, ignoring Endeavor's angry protest.

"We protect you with our lives every fucking day!  You should be grateful!" Katsuki hissed, glancing to the side when he saw a few curls of smoke.  Endeavor's hands were pressed against the podium, burning handprints into the wood.

"Protect us?  You didn't stop these attacks!" Someone shouted, and a chorus of agreement traveled through the crowd.  Katsuki tried to reply, but someone cut him off.

"Do you think you're better than us?"  A man asked, cameras swinging toward him.  Katsuki stiffened, scowling and almost crushing the microphone in his hand.

"The hell do you mean by that?"  He snapped, ignoring Endeavor's hushed 'Give me the microphone'.

"What do you actually do to protect us?  Run around in fancy costumes all day?"

"Acting all high and mighty—"

"Pro-heroes are trained to handle situations that—" Endeavor started, leaning toward another microphone, only to be interrupted.

"Your son doesn't even use his full power!" A woman yelled and people started nodding, their expressions turning dangerous.

"Yeah, what's with that?  Does he think he's above us?"

"That we're not worthy enough for his full power?"  Their voices grew, intermingling until Katsuki couldn't follow them even if he tried.  Broken sentences and words spiraled around him, and he was dangerously close to setting off explosions when Endeavor's flames flared.

"ENOUGH," he boomed, his voice sharp and severe enough that it cut through the crowd and wrought an uneasy silence.

"My son has nothing to do with—"

"We don't need so called 'heroes' that never show!  You're all too preoccupied with your commercials and publicity stunts," Another voice called and Endeavor's expression twisted.

"Who are you, to deem yourself 'heroes', anyways?"  The man kept speaking, but Katsuki didn't listen.  He had frozen, his ears ringing as he dropped his microphone.

He knew that voice.

The smell of alcohol assaulted his nose, memories clawed up his throat.

He knew that voice.

Endeavor shouted over the microphone, trying to control the situation while the crowd thrashed and surged, screaming profanities and accusations.

"All you heroes and villains do is kill one another!" A young teen screamed before he was pulled away by his caretaker. 

Where was he.

Grimy hands reached toward his neck, one finger kept clear as he toyed with Katsuki, keeping him on the edge of almost while he whispered poison into his ear.  'Join us.  It's much easier on this side.'

"All people do is mindlessly rely on heroes that never come!"

Where the hell was he.

Katsuki couldn't pinpoint his voice in the crowd and he let out an enraged snarl before tearing his hearing aids out and shoving them in his pocket.

The background noise faded, and he ignored the moving mouths and people, trying to find the one person he knew had caused this hellhole.  But everyone kept moving, shoving their way closer to the stage, fights breaking out on the edges. 

A constant mass of flowing bodies that defeated his efforts.

Until—

There.

"SHIGARAKI!" Katsuki snarled, lunging forward only to be abruptly yanked backwards.  "What the hell!" He snapped, looking over his shoulder to see Endeavor's hand clamped around his arm.

"Something's wrong," Endeavor said, his voice muted, the words barely registering.

"The fuck do you mean?"

"Look," Endeavor hissed, pointing toward the crowd.  Katsuki followed his gesture and stiffened.

For a few seconds nothing seemed amiss, and then the crowd slowly undulated and dipped in the center, falling through the concrete in a wave before people registered what was happening.  When they did, they scattered from the growing hole, shoving and elbowing their way through the chaos.

The ground crumbled into dust, sucking people into its yawning mouth before Katsuki screamed, jumping from the stage and propelling himself toward the growing hole with explosions.  By the time he reached it he had lost sight of Shigaraki, and Katsuki landed on the crumbling edges, yelling at the crowd as it crept toward his feet.

"Stay the fuck away!" He shouted, forcing people backwards.  He frantically held out his arms, shoving people away from the cracks while he tried to find Shigaraki again.  He scanned the edges of the growing hole, catching sight of Endeavor shepherding a large group to safer ground.

And then his gaze snagged on Shigaraki standing across the growing gap and grinning like a fucking maniac, his hands nonchalantly tucked into his hoodie. 

"You're dead, you piece of shit," Katsuki snarled, holding his gaze until Shigaraki's eyes flickered toward the ground. 

Katsuki frowned and followed the movement only to see the road crumble beneath his feet.

**

Shouto woke to the afternoon sun casting rays across his face and the sound of his phone buzzing off his nightstand and onto the floor.

He grimaced and rolled over, scooping his phone from the floor and blearily waiting for his eyes to adjust.

Kirishima?

Surprised, Shouto quickly accepted the call.

"Is something wrong?" He asked, clearing his throat.

"Er, not exactly?  But I'm outside your door dude, let me in," Kirishima said, and Shouto stared at his bedroom wall for a few seconds before the words registered.

"What."

"I brought food?  Please just let me in, your neighbors are starting to stare," Kirishima whined, and Shouto made an affirmative sound, ending the call and tossing his phone onto his bed as he jerked free from his sheets.

He tripped twice getting out of bed, and then almost ran into his doorframe before his eyes decided to work.  He padded to the door and opened it to find Kirishima standing in the hallway, toting bags of takeout and holding what looked like a black wig.  Kirishima sheepishly grinned before stepping around Shouto and carrying the takeout into his living room.

Shouto shut his door and turned toward Kirishima, not sure how to respond when he immediately set down the bags and started opening everything.

"I figured you'd be hungry," Kirishima said, tossing Shouto a grin as he emptied the bags.  Shouto hesitantly crossed the room, eyeing what he was reasonably sure was a wig lying discarded on the floor.

"What's going on?" Shouto asked while Kirishima pulled out a pair of chopsticks and held one out.  Shouto stared at the chopsticks until Kirishima met his gaze.

"Nothing, really," Kirishima started and then winced, his eyes darting to the side.  "Well, nothing too bad.  But the paparazzi are camped outside your place and I know you don't cook that often..." he trailed off, still holding out the chopsticks.  Shouto reluctantly accepted them and a box of cold soba noodles before he spoke.

"Why are there paparazzi outside my apartment?" He asked, automatically starting to eat.

"I'm guessing you didn't see the news?" Kirishima asked, shoving a wad of food in his mouth.  Shouto shook his head and Kirishima softly chuckled.

"You crashed after this morning, didn't you?" Shouto huffed at Kirishima's grin, flushing slightly.  "Hey, no worries man, work gave you the day off," Kirishima continued, waving his chopsticks while he talked.

"Anyways, your old man and Bakugou held a press conference and things got bad really fast."  Kirishima paused, staring into his food.  "They said some nasty things about you, dude.  And I'm guessing the paparazzi wants to know what you think."

Shouto sighed, setting down his food and gently rubbing his aching head, mindful not to touch his bandages.  Jeers and outright insults were nothing new, but he could handle them when they were thrown at his back or smeared across tabloids.

Having that hatred camped in front of his apartment was another thing entirely.

"Wait, are you okay?" Kirishima suddenly asked, and Shouto looked up to see him leaning across the coffee table, almost spilling his food.  Shouto blinked and nodded, carefully tugging his hair over his wound.

"I'm fine—" Shouto started, hesitating when he watched Kirishima's expression shutter and his shoulders fall.  "I mean, I will be alright.  Nothing major.  I didn't need stitches," he explained, and Kirishima perked up, looking relieved.

"I'm glad," Kirishima chirped and leaned back, taking another large bite of noodles.  They finished eating in amicable silence until Kirishima rested on his hands and happily patted his stomach.  Shouto snorted at the movement—earning a playful scowl from Kirishima—and then set down his empty carton.

Kirishima's demeanor slowly stiffened after that, his hands flexing before he leaned forward on the table, holding Shouto's gaze.

"To be honest...the paparazzi is only half the reason why I'm here," Kirishima said, his tone somber.  He picked at his nails, frowning and glancing away before he sighed and collected himself.

"Look, we need to talk."

Shouto blinked.

Images of soap operas and dramatic confessions came to mind, and he hastily shoved them away.  But when Kirishima's expression didn't change, Shouto realized he was being serious.

"Is...something wrong?" Shouto slowly asked, clenching his hands in his lap and ignoring the creeping sensation of frost across his arm.  Kirishima fidgeted, seeming to fight with himself before he rubbed his neck.

"Have you been okay?" Kirishima asked, holding up a hand to stop Shouto when he started to respond.  "Don't lie to me.  You've been acting weird for months and I'm really worried about you," he added with a concerned frown.

Shouto stared, unable to respond as frost crept further up his arm. 

He knew he wasn't okay.

'Find a wife, Shouto.  Think of my grandchildren,' his father said, backing him against the kitchen counter.

He pictured sleek black cars ferreting him to fancy restaurants, Momo's laugh swirling into the coy flirtations of other women who draped themselves over his arm.  Perfume clogged his nose, delicate hands tugging at his sleeves—painted red or blue or neon green.  Strangers stared, whispering vile sludge behind bejeweled hands that soon filled the tabloids.

How could he—

Shouto didn't realize his breathing had hitched until he felt Kirishima gently tug at his arm.  He startled, and limply let him pull his frost-covered hand onto the table.  Kirishima gripped Shouto's hand between his own, gently rubbing and working his fingers until the frost melted.

"Shouto, you don't have to tell me, but as your friend I'm here to help.  That's what friends do, yeah?" Kirishima offered with a wobbly smile, his fingers gently soothing and prying apart Shouto's walls until he cracked.

My father's forcing me into a marriage.

"Someone kissed me," Shouto said, and then abruptly bit his tongue.  Kirishima's eyes widened, surprise coloring his face.

"O—Okay?" Kirishima started and Shouto flinched.  "Wait, shit, I didn't mean it like that," he rushed, squeezing Shouto's hand. 

"I was just surprised, is all.  Uh, congrats?" Kirishima said, tilting his head.

"I...did not kiss them," Shouto numbly said, his gaze dropping to their hands.  Kirishima frowned, looking confused for a few moments before he jerked with a horrified expression.

"Shit," he breathed, shifting around the table and sitting in front of Shouto, never letting go of his hand.  If anything he held it tighter, inadvertently keeping Shouto grounded as he shivered and closed his eyes, trying not to recall how Tanaka's spit had felt.

Her lips had been chapped.

Shouto shuddered, dragging his free hand across his lips to wipe away the sensation.  Kirishima released his hand and then gently wrapped his arms around his shoulders, tucking him against his chest and rubbing his back.  Shouto sank into the gesture, belatedly realizing he was shaking.

"Hey, I've got you," Kirishima murmured, rubbing circles and keeping Shouto warm enough that the frost gathering on his side melted as it formed.

'Mom, I don't want to be a hero like him,' he sobbed, clinging to his mother's chest with small hands.

She had hummed and cradled him close, her response lost in the foggy haze.

"I'm sorry," Shouto managed, curling tighter into Kirishima.  He needed to stop.  To pull away and tell Kirishima to leave.

"I hate him," he said instead, the words spat against Kirishima's chest.  Kirishima tensed and then tightened his grip, leaning his head on his shoulder.

"I know," Kirishima whispered.  "But you're stronger than he'll ever be and I've got you," he added, flexing his arms.

Safe.

Kirishima felt safe.

'That's what friends do, yeah?'

Shouto let himself break.

**

Izuku watched the press conference in muted horror, perched on the edge of his couch with his dinner long forgotten in his lap.

He watched the crowd ripple, people falling into what looked like a sinkhole before Kacchan jumped from the stage and kept them back.

Kacchan, move.

The edges crept closer but he didn't step away.  He was snarling at something across the gap when the pavement crumbled.

For a split second Izuku held his breath, tears gathering in his eyes before Kacchan used his explosions to send himself flying to solid ground.

After that, the scene was an utter mess.  Cellophane, Kamui Woods, and Mount Lady were called in to rescue those who had fallen through the concrete and into the sewers below.  Creati arrived to direct the crowd, and above it all Endeavor stood on the stage, trying to mitigate the damage.

Izuku flinched when the news cut away and a reporter started questioning the heroes' actions, wondering if they really helped the city.  He quickly changed the channel, but every newscaster voiced the same concerns: were heroes really worth it?  Or were they as unreliable as they seemed?

Disgusted, he turned off the TV and realized his dinner had slid from his lap onto the floor.  He sighed and cleaned it up, wondering if he should call Kacchan and see if he was okay.

Kacchan would hate that.

Izuku bit his lip, eyeing his phone.  Maybe he could call Kacchan's mom?  But no, he hadn't talked to her in years and he wasn't even sure if Kacchan still talked to her.  Izuku recalled her lamenting their relationship to Inko when she visited, cursing up a storm and angrily cooking dinner.

Resigning himself to checking the news in the morning for updates, he cleaned up his ruined dinner and forced himself to go about his evening routine, the lingering smell of smoke following him through his second shower of the day.

It wasn't until he crawled into bed, checking his phone for messages did he realize Ochako had sent him a few texts and a video.

'Watch this.'

He pushed his curls from his eyes, about to click the video when she sent another text.

'They're the ones who attacked UA.'

Izuku stilled, his finger hovering over the link before he shakily clicked it.

He watched the video, swallowed the bile crawling up his throat, and then watched it again.

A slow, creeping horror crept across his skin, leaving him shaking by the video's end.

It started with a clip of the day's press conference—the terrible moment when the crowd had dipped and fallen into a yawning hole.  Then it quickly flipped through clips of villain attacks from the last few months, highlighting the building explosion, fires, and moments when the heroes had arrived too late. 

All the while the video kept up an eerie narrative about how unreliable heroes were, interspersed with audio clips from parents' whose children had been kidnapped.  Their anguish made the clips more haunting, and then drove their pain home with recordings of them being interviewed.

The video ended with a dark screen and the words 'Where were the heroes?'.  Underneath, there was a small symbol and 'L.O.V.' in crisp text, and Izuku dropped his phone into his lap, staring into his hands.

All Might stood pointing toward the sky, victorious, victorious, victorious as Izuku cried on the streets, watching a TV in a store window.

Hadn't they won?

Izuku shook himself and forced his fingers to move, immediately calling Ochako to make sure she was okay.  When she answered, they both let out a relieved sigh and traded their worries into the night.

**

The days following the press conference and the video's release were strained at best.

Endeavor was constantly on the news, trying to control the damage.  UA's principal and a few teachers—was that Ingenium?—held their own interview, stoic in the face of worried accusations and harsh comments.  Reporters followed the top ten heroes, shoving mics in their faces and begging for interviews they didn't grant.

Unsurprisingly, the League of Villains' video went viral.

People whispered on the streets, questioning and worrying and sometimes agreeing, and it was all Izuku could do to keep quiet when he walked the halls at work and heard 'I don't like them, but I think they have a point.'

Thankfully Yoko kept him from spiraling, gently reminding him of pleasant moments: her daughter's first day of pre-school, videos of cats falling off shelves, and photos of her hair after her daughter had 'styled' it. 

The last one made Izuku laugh so hard apple juice flew out his nose, and he choked until Yoko swacked him across the back.

And then, near the end of the week when they were taking a break from restocking supplies, he got a simple text.

'Coffee?'

He blinked.

"Izuku?" Yoko asked and he jumped, dropping his phone on the table.

"Y-yes?" He stuttered, staring at her with wide eyes.

"Everything okay?  You're blushing," she said and he fluttered his hands.

"I-I'm fine!  I just, Shouto asked if I wanted to meet today," he rushed, already typing an affirmative response.  A moment later Shouto texted him an address followed by 'Noon?' and Izuku couldn't stop himself from grinning when he responded.

'See you then!'

"You're still blushing," Yoko said, smirking as she rested her chin on her hand.  Izuku squinted and hid his phone, trying to will away the heat from his face and promptly failing.

"It's not a bad thing, you know.  I'm sure he'll find it cute," she said with a wink, and Izuku melted into the floor.

Yoko spent the next five minutes laughing and apologizing, appeasing him with juice boxes and pictures of her daughter.

When Izuku got off his shift later that day, he rushed home and quickly changed, wishing he could shower and knowing he didn't have enough time.  He sighed at himself in his bathroom mirror, reapplied makeup to cover his healing black eye, and then quickly left.

His fingers twitched as he headed to the address Shouto had sent him, jitters rippling through his chest and arms.  He kept glancing at his phone, checking the time and trying not to run when he realized he would be a few minutes late.  He couldn't show up a sweaty mess.

When he finally reached the address, a quaint cafe greeted him and he steeled himself for a brief moment before stepping inside.

A wave of spice and cinnamon hit him when he stepped inside, and he reflexively smiled and felt himself relaxing in the soothing atmosphere.  A bell above the door jingled as the door shut, and a barista briefly waved before turning back to their current customer.  Glancing around, Izuku scanned the tables for Shouto.

It took him a few seconds, but he spotted Shouto near the back, wearing a beanie that covered most of his hair and a grey cardigan.  Probably to avoid the media.  Without thinking, Izuku waved and called to him.

"Shouto!" He chirped and then squeaked, flushing as a few people looked his way.  Embarrassed, he hunched into himself and made his way over to Shouto, who had looked up in surprise.

"H-hello, sorry about that," Izuku stammered when he reached him, tugging at the bottom of his shirt.  Shouto blinked and glanced down at the cup of tea in his hands before looking back at him.

"It's alright," he said, looking across the cafe.  "If you want anything, you have to order over there first," he added and Izuku jolted, spinning toward the counter.

"R-right! Um...one moment please!" Izuku blurted and rushed away, fumbling through his drink order when he reached the barista.  They laughed and took his order, winking when Izuku pointed to where he'd be sitting.

Izuku hurried back to his seat and sat down before he could question himself, anxiously smoothing his hair before he dared to look at Shouto.

Shouto was carefully watching him.

Izuku paused, struck for a moment by Shouto's eyes; a mismatch of colors that contrasted with his hair, or at least with what Izuku could see sticking out from under his beanie.  In the middle a few strands had intermingled, and he was surprised to see they held their color instead of mixing into a soft pink.

Shouto quietly sipped his drink, and Izuku realized he was staring.  Oh god why did he—

"S-sorry!" He said, clasping his hands and staring at the table.  How many people stared at him like that?  Like they could look and take what they wanted just because he was a hero?  And he had done the same thing and Shouto probably thought he had been staring at his scar—

"I'm used to it," Shouto said, and Izuku jerked his head up in surprise.  "I don't mind," he continued and Izuku sighed in relief.

"But still, I shouldn't have stared.  I just, I've never really seen you in a normal situation," Izuku laughed, rubbing the back of his neck.  Shouto huffed—that barely there laugh that Izuku recalled with a flutter—and faintly smiled into his drink.

"Oh, right!  Your head!" Izuku suddenly said, remembering the reason Shouto had agreed to meet him in the first place.  Shouto set down his drink, briefly touching his head.

"I should...um, may I?" Izuku asked, leaning forward.  Shouto nodded, tugging off his beanie—Izuku did not stare at the mashed together strands—and allowed him to reach over and gently check his wound.

"Good news is that it's healing well," Izuku said, sitting back while Shouto replaced his beanie.  A waitress stopped by with his tea, and he thanked her before he continued.  "Are you having any headaches or sensitivity to light?"  When Shouto shook his head Izuku beamed, cradling his tea.

"Then you shouldn't need to see a doctor, which is a relief," he breathed and Shouto gave a small nod.  After that, silence wreathed around them as they sipped their drinks, Izuku trying to figure out how to start an actual conversation without putting his foot in his mouth.

"Are you—"

"How long—"

They spoke at the same time and then stopped.  Izuku blushed and buried his face in his drink, muttering apologies.

"You can go first," Izuku said, waving a hand.  Shouto tapped his cup with his left hand and took another drink before he spoke.

"I was going to ask how long you've been a paramedic," he said.  Surprised, Izuku fumbled for an answer and kept his hands around his drink so they wouldn't wander.

"Almost four years by now, but I've only been working villain attacks for a year and a half," he explained and Shouto nodded to himself.

"That explains why I've only seen you more recently," Shouto said, and then softly asked him what his job was like.

Izuku relaxed as they traded stories, not realizing how much he was talking when Shouto kept asking him questions—everything from what he liked or disliked about his job to how he spent his free time.  He didn't seem to mind when Izuku starting rambling and talking with his hands, his gestures becoming more enthusiastic as he went.

Shouto simply listened and let him talk, and Izuku only realized how much time had passed when he went to take a drink of his tea and found it cold.

He made a face, and Shouto looked at his drink with a small frown.

"Here," he said, reaching for his drink.  Izuku handed it over, slightly confused until Shouto held it in his left hand and wisps of steam started to rise from it.

"Amazing," Izuku breathed as Shouto handed him his drink.  Izuku took a sip and hummed, before almost spitting it out when Shouto spoke.

"It's nothing special," he bitterly said and Izuku coughed, trying not to dribble tea down his chin.  As it was, he had to hastily wipe his face with a napkin.

"W-what do you mean?  Your quirk is extremely powerful, and it's one of the few with a dichotomous attribute!" Izuku said before pinching his lip.  

"Even without using your fire you're able to effectively take down villains and you ended up in the top three pro-heroes despite being so young.  I mean Kacchan's in the top three too but he uses the full extent of his quirk and he's too stubborn to do anything else—" Izuku stopped and sucked in a breath, biting his tongue and rethinking his words when he saw Shouto's shuddered expression.

"Only my mother's power is a good thing," Shouto said, his gaze flickering to his hands.

"Shouto...why don't you use your fire quirk?" Izuku softly asked, growing increasingly worried that he overstepped his boundaries when Shouto didn't respond.

"How much..." Shouto started and then stopped before meeting his gaze.  "How much do you know about quirk marriages?"

"Weren't those what happened when quirks originally started appearing?  They fell out of practice decades ago though," Izuku said, a chill creeping through him when Shouto calmly looked at his left hand with a frown.  No.

And then, Shouto talked.

He haltingly explained how his father had married his mother; offers of money for a complementarily strong quirk with endless possibilities.  Explained how his father had child after child until Shouto was born, a seemingly perfect combination of his parents' quirks.  Explained how everything changed when his quirk manifested when he was four.

"My mother couldn't protect me from him, and he drove her to the breaking point.  She poured boiling water over me when I was five," Shouto said, covering the left side of his face.  Izuku tensed, unable to respond.

"She said I reminded her of him," Shouto continued, his voice biting around the words.  "He sent her away after that and I vowed to never use his quirk in a fight.  I wanted to prove that I could become a hero without using his power," he said, letting out a frosted breath.

"And you did," Izuku whispered, startling himself.  Shouto twitched and then nodded, fiddling with his cup.  When he didn't continue, Izuku stared down at his hands, thoughts spiraling.

"I'm sorry you had to go through that," he eventually said, watching Shouto's shoulders tense.

"It's fi—" Shouto closed his mouth, working his jaw.  "Thank you," he whispered, the words hanging heavily in the air.

"And...it may not mean much coming from me, but I think you're a great hero," Izuku added.  Shouto looked surprised and softly nodded, and for a brief moment they floated in the silence.

"Oh my god, you're Red-Eye, aren't you?" A high-pitched voice squealed and they both jumped, the mood shattered.  Izuku turned to see a young teenager wearing too many colors and heavy makeup practically bouncing out of her shoes as she stared at Shouto.

"You're him, right?  I mean like, I saw your hair and no one else has those colors and when I saw your face I just knew!" She eagerly rambled before thrusting out a notepad and pen.  "Can I have your autograph?  My friends are gonna flip!"

Izuku glanced at Shouto, his breath stuttering at the blank mask that had descended over his expression, and he bit his cheek when Shouto pulled out a fake smile.

"Of course," he said, accepting the notepad and quickly signing his name with precision.  The girl gushed when he handed it back, hugging it to her chest before she fumbled for her phone.

"Can I have a picture too?" She asked, already holding up her phone.  Shouto minutely blanched, and Izuku rushed to intervene.

"Ah, actually we're running late!" He blurted, and the girl stopped bouncing around and fixed him with a look, as if she had just realized he was there.  "M-Maybe some other time?" He offered.  She squinted and then shrugged, turning away.

"Okay!  Didn't mean to keep you then!  Thanks for the signature!"  She called before running out of the cafe.  People watched her go, and then started to turn and look at Shouto, seeming to realize who he was.

"We should leave," Shouto said and Izuku readily agreed.  They quickly left, and Izuku hesitated on the sidewalk, not wanting to part ways just yet.

"Your place is in the same direction as mine, isn't it?" Shouto asked with a small gesture.  Izuku nodded.  "I'll walk back with you then."  Izuku blushed, about to protest when Shouto started walking.  Izuku jogged to catch up, and then stayed by his side and tried not to stare.

"Thank you," Shouto said after they had gone a few blocks.

"What for?"

"For..." Shouto paused, gesturing toward Izuku.  "Everything.  I don't like photos."  Izuku wrinkled his nose.

"She didn't even get your name right," he said and Shouto snorted.

"No one ever does."  Izuku tripped over his feet, stumbling before he caught himself and kept walking.  He glanced at Shouto, taking in how calm he looked, walking forward as if his name didn't matter.  Izuku opened his mouth, and then kept his thoughts to himself.  He had his reasons.

When they reached Izuku's apartment building, they parted with a brief goodbye and Izuku numbly walked inside.  He climbed the stairs to his room and unlocked his door on autopilot before he stepped inside and closed it behind him.

He dropped his keys on the table, walked into his room and pulled out one of his older hero analysis books, flipping through the pages.

Pro-hero name: Endeavor.

Izuku quietly tore out Endeavor's pages and threw them in the trash.

And when Shouto texted him later that evening, saying he had enjoyed their meeting, Izuku bent over his phone, clutching it between shaking hands and wishing he could do more.

Chapter Text

Shouta shuffled his lesson plans and scratched his chin as he stepped into his classroom, trying not to sneeze when cat fur ended up plastered to his nose.  He paused by his desk, setting his papers down before he pulled the fur from his nose and tossed it in the trashcan. 

Somehow, he still had the kitten.

After waking up covered in cat pee, he had planned to take the kitten to a shelter before it happened again.  Then one day turned into two, and before he knew it weeks had passed and Hizashi had litter-trained the scrap of fur. 

Bowls for food and water—along with a litter box—had appeared in his apartment, and Shouta stopped questioning every time he stepped on a toy or tripped over the kitten as she careened around.

He was still getting used to the piles of fur she left everywhere though, and it didn't help that she had taken to nesting in his capture weapon if he left it lying on the floor.

The sound of a moving chair abruptly pulled him back to the present, and Shouta looked up to see Shinsou sitting in his seat, resting his head on his hand and staring out the window.

"Shinsou," Shouta started as he walked around his desk and leaned against it.  Shinsou flicked his eyes toward him and Shouta crossed his arms, holding his gaze until Shinsou sighed and lifted his head.

"Yes?" Shinsou eventually said, slowly blinking before he rubbed at the dark circles under his eyes.  Shouta watched the motion, narrowing his eyes and picturing how Midoriya's similar circles had started to vanish.  Shinsou wasn't sleeping enough.

"Perhaps I wasn't clear about this before, but you can't keep doing vigilante work if you want to stay in my class," Shouta sternly said.  Shinsou stiffened, his eyes flashing toward the door before he looked back and straightened his shoulders.

"Who says I haven't stopped?" Shinsou asked, his voice carefully level.

"Villains are still showing up in police stations, turning themselves in only to protest once they've been handcuffed or touched," Shouta said.

"That doesn't mean anything."

"It does when people have spotted White Noise within the last few weeks."

"You can't prove that," Shinsou snapped, clenching his hands before he rearranged his expression into something more neutral.

"Do you want me to pull up the time-stamped pictures from the news?" Shouta asked, continuing when Shinsou paled.  "Or how about the ones from the gossip magazines?  I warned you before and I will not warn you again.  If you want to be a pro-hero you can't break the law every night."

"But I—"

"But what?" Shouta interrupted, freezing Shinsou in place with a piercing glare.  "Do you think you're above the law?"  Shinsou looked away, gritting his teeth.

"How would it look if the public found out one of our students was a vigilante?" Shouta started, his voice deathly calm.  "Especially now, with the League of Villains returning and start-up villains and vigilantes moving to join them?" He continued, watching Shinsou's shoulders tense.

"What would they think?  That we're in league with the villains?  That heroes are above the law?  Or maybe they'll start losing trust in pro-heroes and listen to the what the League is saying."  Shouta lifted his chin, waiting until he caught Shinsou's attention.

"And if that happens, we're only one step away from letting the villains win," he finished, a heavy silence descending over them.  Shinsou swallowed and looked down, boring a hole into his desk.

"I just—" Shinsou started and then stopped, grimacing.  "How can I stop when I'm actually doing something?" He asked and Shouta sighed, walking over until he crouched in front of Shinsou's desk.

"I'm not asking you to stop forever," he said and Shinsou's eyes widened.  "I'm asking you to wait until you obtain your license, like every other pro-hero."

"You're not the first person who wanted to skip the courses and training and go straight into hero-work.  Do you know what happened to them?" Shouta asked, continuing when Shinsou didn't respond. 

"They got themselves killed or ended up in jail because of their arrogance.  I doubt you want to follow in their footsteps," he said, watching the tension drain from Shinsou until his shoulders dipped toward the floor.

"...Okay," Shinsou whispered, turning back toward the window and resting his chin in his hand, covering his mouth.  Shouta stood after that, heading to his desk and starting to organize his papers when he heard footsteps in the hall.

A moment later, Uraraka and Midoriya stepped into the classroom, the pair oddly subdued.  Neither looked his way when they sat down, too pre-occupied with whatever they were talking about.  Shouta couldn't make out the conversation, but Midoriya was clutching a notebook to his chest and didn't stop until Uraraka reached out and pulled his hands away.

Sighing, Shouta pinched the bridge of his nose, telling himself that his students' personal lives weren't his problem.  The worry was still there though, floating under the surface until he cleared his throat and greeted them.

Midoriya jolted in his seat, snapping to attention and almost knocking his books off his desk while Uraraka startled, seeming to hit her knees against her desk.  She whispered something under her breath and then waved a hand, exclaiming that she was fine when Midoriya fluttered his hands around her.

Shouta interrupted Midoriya's frantic muttering and then started his lesson, keeping an eye on Shinsou until he looked away from the window and pulled out a notebook.

**

After the hero class Shouta went home and stepped into his apartment, and for once wasn't hit by a thick wave of rotting food and mold.  Instead, something chemical and laced with citrus washed over him, and when he closed the door he caught the faint strains of a pop song.

He followed the music and found Hizashi in the bathroom, pants and sleeves rolled up, hair tied back, and jauntily singing along to English lyrics.  The kitten sat on the toilet while Hizashi scrubbed the sink, her fluffy tail flicking back and forth.

Hizashi didn't notice Shouta at first, and it wasn't until he leaned against the doorframe that Hizashi happened to glance up and spot him.

"Shouta!" Hizashi exclaimed and Shouta held back a wince.  He calmly tapped his ear with a look at the radio before Hizashi's eyes widened and he sheepishly laughed.  Hizashi quickly turned off the music, leaning away from the sink before greeting Shouta again.

"Sorry Shouta, I was excited," he said at a normal volume and Shouta softly sighed.

"I know," Shouta replied, looking around the bathroom.  Hizashi followed his gaze and his expression lit up.

"I cleaned the bathroom!" He grinned, throwing his arms wide and almost knocking the kitten off her perch.  As it was, she hurriedly jumped down and padded across the floor to rub herself against Shouta's legs.

"You didn't have to do that," Shouta murmured and Hizashi laughed, throwing a rag over his shoulder.

"But I wanted to.  This was the last room that needed cleaned," he explained as Shouta bent down to pet the kitten.  Shouta paused when he registered Hizashi's words.

"Everything's clean," Hizashi said, adjusting his glasses with a soft smile.

"Everything?"

"Go look for yourself," Hizashi added, stepping around Shouta and into the living room.  Shouta followed him into the room and then around the apartment, words constricting in his throat while Hizashi kept up a playful banter.

Shouta's apartment was clean.

No lingering smells, piles of clothes, or errant mold were anywhere.  Even the couch in the living room had been scrubbed free of crumbs and stains, and Shouta realized Hizashi was staring at him, waiting for a response.

He swallowed past the tenseness in his throat, resisting the urge to bury his hands in his pockets.  Why had he...?

Hizashi's expression wavered as the silence dragged on, and Shouta opened his mouth to respond when the kitten latched herself onto his leg.

He jerked and Hizashi guffawed as the kitten climbed up his leg until she reached his shoulder.  She head-butted Shouta's chin and then buried herself in his capture weapon, purring.  Shouta frowned, reaching to pluck her out when he realized Hizashi had doubled over laughing.

"That's—" Hizashi wheezed, wiping his eyes.

"—adorable!" He finished and Shouta flushed, plucking the kitten from his shoulder and holding her in his arms.

"Only you would think that," he dryly said, waiting for the kitten to stop fidgeting.  When she did, he gently rubbed her ears, listening to her purr.

"Doesn't mean it's not true," Hizashi laughed before he managed to control his emotions.  When he did, he closed the distance between them and gently brushed the kitten's head, softly cooing.

"Have you named her yet?" Hizashi asked after a few moments, his gaze flickering upwards to meet Shouta's.  This close, Shouta stiffened, thrown by Hizashi's eyes. 

Had they always been green?

"I'm not naming her," Shouta eventually said.  Hizashi huffed and flicked Shouta's shoulder, his glasses slipping down his nose.

"It's been weeks Shouta, she needs a name," he said, scratching her chin and smiling when she purred.

"I'm not keeping her.  There's no point in giving her a name," Shouta grumbled and Hizashi gave him a skeptical look.

"You have food and water bowls for her."

"Which Nemuri bought."

"What about all the cat toys?" Hizashi asked, gesturing to the few scattered across the floor.

"Hizashi, you bought those."

"True, true!  But I only did because you look happier when she's around," Hizashi grinned, leaning over to scratch under her chin again.  "Of course you're keeping her," he added and Shouta sighed before depositing the kitten on the floor.  She shook herself out and then chirped, staring at him and Hizashi before heading toward an errant toy.

"So what's her name?" Hizashi asked again, straightening and brushing a strand of hair behind his ears.  Shouta blinked, glanced at the kitten, and then looked back at Hizashi.

"Koneko," he calmly said, relishing when Hizashi froze, eyes widening and mouth popping open.  He stayed like that for a few seconds and then sprung into motion, exaggeratingly scowling and shaking his head.

"Shouta!  You can't name her that!" He said, dramatically gesturing toward where the kitten was rolling around on the floor, attacking a toy.  Hizashi paused when he saw her, his expression softening before he caught himself and glared at Shouta.

"She's not going to be a kitten forever, and it's not a name!"

"I think it's appropriate," Shouta calmly said.

"What about Sumōkī?" Hizashi offered.

"That's a boy's name."

"Hai?"

"Isn't that from one of those hand-held games you play?" Hizashi frowned and placed his hands on his hips, looking serious.

"Gurē?"

"Koneko," Shouta insisted, smirking when Hizashi wilted and groaned.

"Fine," he playfully whined.  "But I still think my names are better!" He added with a grin and a dramatic pose.  He held the pose before he burst out laughing, covering his mouth with a fond expression.

"Only you, Shouta," Hizashi said as he fixed his glasses.  Shouta furrowed his brow in confusion and Hizashi rushed to clarify.  "Everyone thinks you're the sensible one—"

"I am," Shouta interjected and Hizashi grinned.

"—and then you go and do something like this," Hizashi continued with brief look at Koneko before he turned back toward Shouta.

"It's one of the reasons why I love you, you know," Hizashi said with a smile, casually dipping his fingers into his pockets.

What—

For some reason, the words landed heavily between them.

Shouta had heard them before, had heard Hizashi carelessly toss them out over the years.  They never meant anything, were nothing more than Hizashi's odd brand of friendship that he threw at his closest friends on a regular basis.

But never when they were alone.

Hizashi blinked, his smile slipping when he realized what he had said.  He flushed and then sighed, looking away before he collected himself.

"Hizashi—"

"I'm not taking it back," Hizashi gently said, lifting his chin.  "I've felt this way for far too long—"

What was he saying?

"—and it's fine if you don't want what I do but I can't keep pretending you're not important to me," Hizashi continued, his voice faltering as he went.

Hizashi couldn't—

Shouta caught his gaze as Hizashi sniffled and hastily wiped his eyes, refusing to look away.

"...you love me?" Shouta breathed, the words foreign and dangerous on his tongue.  They tasted wrong, words used amongst other people and couples and ones he hadn't heard in a long time.

And never directed at him.

"Fuck, Shouta.  Why do you think I was so worried when you tried to hurt yourself?" Hizashi whispered as he ran a shaky hand through his hair, pulling out his hair tie as he went.  Shouta flinched, sinking into his capture weapon.

"You never told me," he quietly said.  Hizashi reached toward his face and then paused, stopping inches away as if he didn't have permission.

He always did.

"I didn't think you were interested," Hizashi said, his fingers hovering between them.

"In you?"

"In a relationship," Hizashi replied before dropping his hand.  Without thinking, Shouta reached out and caught it.

Hizashi's hand felt small, soft in a way his own weren't, nails clean and covered in a clear coat of polish—because it was Hizashi, after all.  Shouta gripped his hand, realized he didn't know what to do with it, and gently let go.

"What told you I wasn't interested?" He finally asked.

"You never dated anyone," Hizashi started, giving Shouta a pained look.  "Or talked about a future partner," he said, absentmindedly tugging on his hair.  Chilled, Shouta stepped closer, not wanting Hizashi to continue but unable to stop him.

"You always turned away from couples—"

He had?

"—and you didn't mind when I dated other people.  Which is fine," Hizashi rushed.  "I'd never let my feelings affect our friendship, and I don't expect you to force yourself to feel something you don't," he continued, rubbing tears from his eyes.  "You'll always be my best friend."  Shouta sucked in a breath, unable to respond.

Until recently, he had never questioned why Hizashi stayed with him.

Never questioned his unfaltering friendship; had always attributed it to Hizashi's unrelenting personality and stubbornness that barreled into Shouta their first year at UA and refused to leave.

And for one small moment, Shouta pictured Hizashi walking out of his life, taking his exuberance and ear-piercing jokes and laughter with him.

Shouta stiffened.

"Don't leave," he rasped, the words broken and small between them.

He didn't know when he had claimed Hizashi as a constant in his life, expecting him to understand the rules without having voiced them.  He had simply let Hizashi worm his way into his daily routine, gave him a key to his apartment, and wasn't surprised to return home to find Hizashi asleep on his couch, dinner or breakfast long-forgotten in the kitchen.

"Shouta—"

"I'm not good at this," Shouta quickly said, tensing when Hizashi closed the distance between them and lifted his arms.

"You want me to stay?" Hizashi shakily asked, hands still raised—an invitation.

"I thought you knew," Shouta mumbled and stepped into the hug, hesitantly wrapping his arms around Hizashi.  Hizashi shuddered and buried his face into Shouta's shoulder, his hands digging into his back.

"I should've told you," Shouta whispered into Hizashi's hair, and Hizashi lifted his head, sniffling.

"You're telling me now, yeah?" He said with a wobbly grin and Shouta sighed.

"I'm sorry."

"I know.  I'm sorry too," Hizashi brokenly chuckled, resting his forehead against Shouta's.

"Does this change anything?" Shouta asked, and thankfully Hizashi didn't laugh.

"Only if we want it to," Hizashi whispered before leaning back.  "I, for one, would love to touch you more," he said and Shouta blushed, raising an eyebrow.  Hizashi frowned and then turned red, almost losing his glasses as he scrambled backwards.

"Shouta!" He exclaimed, his voice slightly too loud for the small apartment.  "I meant affectionately.  Like cuddling and holding hands," he continued with a small groan.  "I'd love to do more but I'm fine with whatever you're comfortable with.  We don't have to jump into things and I'm not in a rush, you know?" He said, reaching out and squeezing Shouta's hands with a small smile.

"What more would you want to do?" Shouta slowly asked, focusing on how Hizashi held his hands and debating if he liked the feeling.  It felt odd, but not in a bad way, and there was something to be said about how he could feel Hizashi's pulse thrumming under his skin.

"I'd like to kiss you," Hizashi quietly said, his eyes flickering down to Shouta's lips for a brief moment.  "But if that's not something you want—"

"Go ahead."  Hizashi blinked, pausing mid-sentence.

"What?"

"I said, go ahead," Shouta calmly repeated.

"Are you sure?" Hizashi hedged, looking concerned.

"Don't make me repeat myself again," Shouta grumbled, holding Hizashi's gaze until he softly nodded.  Hizashi hesitated for a moment before he gently cupped Shouta's face, closing his eyes and leaning forward.  Shouta dimly realized he didn't know what he was doing and then Hizashi kissed him.

It felt...wet.

Kissing had always been a lackluster event for him, but he had assumed kissing Hizashi would have made it better.

It didn't.

Hizashi seemed to melt into the motion, reverently holding Shouta close for a few seconds before he stiffened and pulled away.

"You didn't like that," Hizashi breathed, looking vaguely horrified as he released Shouta's face and tried to step away.  Shouta quickly stopped him, holding his shoulders and hating how Hizashi shied away.  You didn't do anything wrong.

"But you liked it?" Shouta asked.

"Of course I did—"

"Then I can learn," Shouta said, releasing Hizashi in favor of tugging his capture weapon closer to his face.  "I didn't dislike it either," he added and frowned when Hizashi stepped backwards.

"Shouta, I would never—" Hizashi started and then stopped when Shouta moved forward and reversed their previous motion, cupping Hizashi's face and kissing him.  Like before, Hizashi sank into the motion, letting out a pleased hum before he realized what he was doing and pulled away, his glasses askew.

"You don't have to..." Hizashi trailed off, running a hand through his hair.  Shouta huffed and grabbed his hand, pulling him toward the couch.

"I'm tired," he grumbled in lieu of a response, flopping down on the couch before tugging Hizashi's arm.

"We should talk about what you're okay with," Hizashi softly said, holding his ground.

"That's hard when I don't know.  Kissing is bland, but I like that you enjoy it," Shouta said, still holding Hizashi's arm.  "I don't know about cuddling, but I'm tired and we might as well try."

Hizashi stood frozen before he swallowed and climbed onto the couch, radiating hesitation.  Slightly annoyed, Shouta wrapped his arms around Hizashi and pulled him close, breathing in his fruity shampoo as Hizashi tucked himself against his chest.

They balanced in the silence, Hizashi slightly shaking while Shouta ignored how his one arm was going numb.

It didn't matter.

Hizashi was warm, somehow loved him, and that was enough.

And when Koneko jumped onto them and almost scared Hizashi off the couch, Shouta held him tighter, drifting to sleep as she settled between them, purring against their chests.

**

A week had passed since Izuku had seen Shouto, and every time he closed his eyes he saw Shouto's resigned expression, calmly explaining how his mother had poured boiling water over his face.

Izuku had to shake the images away, his fingers itching until he turned to drawing the pro-hero, half-completed sketches in which he tried to make Shouto smile.  The sketches looked forlorn though, and Izuku scrubbed out his attempts at happier ones, the smiles seemingly fake on Shouto's face.

A soft huff of almost-there laughter.

Izuku sighed, gave up on another sketch, and gathered his things so he wouldn't be late for his pro-hero class.

He met up with Ochako along the way, appreciating her light laughter as they walked.  Her energy slowly bled into him, and by the time they stepped into class Izuku was smiling, debating the merits of capes on hero costumes as they sat down.

"Now that you're all here, go get changed and meet me at the training grounds.  Your hero costumes are in your lockers.  Don't keep me waiting," Aizawa grumbled from the front of the room before he pushed himself off his desk and walked out.  Izuku blinked, barely registering his words before Ochako gasped and bounced over to his desk.

"Our hero costumes are finally in!" She cheered, clapping her hands together with a grin.  "I can't wait to see what they look like!"

"Me too," he agreed as they headed toward the locker rooms, Shinsou trailing silently in their wake.

Once Izuku had changed, he gently tugged on his costume's material in disbelief.  It was lightweight and soft, durable, and clearly expensive.

He didn't deserve this.

The costume was something for heroes—not for him.

Izuku clenched his hands, swallowing his thoughts as he walked outside to the training grounds.

"Izuku, you look amazing!" Ochako shouted and he jerked toward her, watching as she waved and jogged over.

Her hero costume was buoyant.

She wore a deep red jumpsuit with stylized cuffs of dark, denim blue around her wrists and throat.  A heavier fabric of the same blue covered her chest in a chevron shape, sturdy and ending near her navel.  Cargo shorts and sleek boots with a small heel completed her outfit, and judging from the slight bounce in her step, the shoes were the same that Hatsume had thrown at her before.

Unlike hers, Izuku's costume was mainly comprised of a teal tracksuit edged with deep red lines that matched his shoes.  Dark grey pads protected his knees and elbows, and thankfully his sleeves ended just after the pads, leaving his arms free.  The belt he wore was mostly empty—Hatsume having left a small note telling him to fill it with whatever medical supplies he used the most.

"Oh, and the cuffs turn off now!  Just tap them together twice to turn them off!" - Mei

Izuku had sighed in relief before he had slipped on the silver cuffs, trying not to fidget from their weight.  Completing his uniform was a silver mouthpiece, although he let it hang around his neck for the time being.

"You look great too," Izuku said with a grin, waving toward Ochako's costume.  She beamed and slipped into an offensive stance, punching the air a few times.

"It's lighter and a lot more functional than my last one!" She said before she paused and leaned forward, tapping his upper arm.  "Is it a good idea to show you're a medic?" She asked with a small frown.  Izuku brushed a hand over the off-white patch with a red cross, furrowing his brow.

"I honestly don't know?  If villains try to single me out, I should be able to defend myself until a pro-hero arrives.  But considering I may be working with any number of heroes, having something that easily identifies me as a trained medic is probably the most important—"

"Are you two going to join us?" Izuku jumped when Aizawa's deep voice cut across the grounds.  He stood beside Shinsou looking slightly disgruntled, and it wasn't until Izuku and Ochako rushed to join them did Izuku realize Aizawa wasn't the only teacher there.

"M-Midnight and Ectoplasm?" Izuku stuttered, leaning against Ochako as Midnight blew him a kiss and Ectoplasm tersely nodded.

"I shouldn't be surprised you know them," Aizawa sighed, rubbing his eyes.

"You didn't tell me how adorable he was," Midnight crooned, playfully poking Aizawa's face.  Aizawa pinched the bridge of his nose, and when Midnight turned her sharp gaze on Izuku, he abruptly realized she was talking about him.

He blushed and spluttered, waving his hands while Ochako giggled and Midnight smirked.

"It's nothing to be ashamed about, hun.  Use it to your advantage," she said with a wink.

"Are you done?" Aizawa asked, giving Midnight a look before she placed her hands on her hip.

"They're all yours."

"Good," Aizawa said, schooling his expression before he continued.

"As you may have guessed, we're going to be starting practical training from here on out.  Normally, I would've sent you to internship with a pro-hero for a week.  Do you know why I didn't?" He asked, and Izuku hesitantly raised his hand.

"No one knows who we are," Izuku offered, surprised when Aizawa's eyes widened for a brief moment.

"Exactly.  As UA students you would've competed in the sports festival and had the chance to broadcast your abilities," Aizawa explained.  "You three didn't have that exposure."

"Which is why we're here!" Midnight interjected with a sly grin, laughing when Aizawa glared at her.

"They agreed to help with your training, and Midnight and I will be allowing you to shadow us on our patrols," Aizawa continued.  "Midoriya and Uraraka, you're with Ectoplasm and me.  Shinsou, you're with Midnight." 

No one moved for a second and then Shinsou frowned, breaking the silence.

"Why am I with her?" He asked, and Izuku started when he noticed Shinsou's costume.  Heavy, dark purple fabric moved around him like a second skin, and a large hood threw most of Shinsou's face into shadow.  Izuku couldn't tell if the hood transitioned into a cape or if it molded into the rest of the costume.  Either way, it moved with Shinsou in a fluid motion, and Izuku had to look away after a moment.

"Midnight's stubborn.  If you can get your quirk to work on her, you'll have little trouble with anyone else," Aizawa grumbled and Shinsou gritted his teeth, biting back a response.

"Come on then, let's get to work!" Midnight said before she strode forward and started dragging Shinsou to the other side of the training grounds, ignoring his shouted protests and struggling.  Ochako giggled, and then snapped to attention when Aizawa clapped his hands.

"You goal is to reach me," Aizawa started, walking until he was about ten meters behind Ectoplasm.  "Midoriya, Uraraka is the leader here.  You default to her, and your goal is to support her.  Understood?" Aizawa asked and Midoriya sharply nodded with a hesitant look at Ectoplasm.

"Use any means necessary to reach me," Aizawa said before he promptly sat down in the grass, slightly unraveling his capture weapon.  Ochako tilted her head, turning toward Izuku when Ectoplasm grinned and moved.

"Oh," Ochako breathed, and Izuku balked at the handful of copies that now stood between them and Aizawa.  "Well, we won't get anywhere if we don't try!" She smirked, sinking into an offensive position.  Izuku swallowed and hastily mimicked her pose, falling into place by her side as he tried to analyze the situation.

And then, all of Ectoplasm's copies started to move.

By the time Aizawa called for them to take a break, Izuku was covered in bruises and they hadn't taken down any of Ectoplasm's doubles.  Ochako was in a similar shape, and as soon as Aizawa called for them to stop they both collapsed on the grass, chests heaving.

Ochako groaned, holding her head between her knees while Izuku rubbed her back, accepting water from Aizawa when he walked over. 

"I'm sorry," Izuku suddenly blurted, wincing when Aizawa stared.  "I kept moving before I could think and I never meant to run into Ochako but Ectoplasm was everywhere and I couldn't analyze the situation and—"

"Midoriya," Aizawa grumbled, holding up a hand to stop his rambling.  "Do you trust Uraraka?"

Izuku paused and Ochako looked up, her face still a bit green.

"Of course," he replied, automatically opening one of the water bottles and pressing it between Ochako's hands.  She leaned into him in response, weakly smiling as she sipped the water.

"Then trust her judgment.  It's alright to analyze the situation, but you can't overstep Uraraka's authority," Aizawa explained and Izuku flushed, tightly gripping his water bottle.

"...I know."

"Do you?" Aizawa asked before dismissing Ectoplasm.  The hero grinned and left, straightening his cape while Aizawa sat down in front of Izuku and Ochako.

"Supporting Uraraka means that while you analyze the situation, you're analyzing it to see where she will need your help.  You know how her quirk works; now apply that in a fight.  Learn how she's going to move and be ready when she does.  Only then will you work together effectively," Aizawa explained as he unraveled his capture weapon.

"That said, you both did well today," he offered and then looked across the training grounds.  "You at least held your ground," he added, nodding toward where Midnight and Shinsou were also sitting in the grass.

Izuku choked on his water when he realized the pair wasn't merely sitting—Shinsou was fast asleep, Midnight cradling his head in her lap with a satisfied grin.

Ochako giggled and then turned and dry-heaved, groaning while Izuku scrambled to pull back her hair and Aizawa grimaced.

"Recovery Girl's not here, so try not to over-do it next time," Aizawa sighed and Ochako blearily nodded, giving him a wobbly thumbs-up.  Izuku clenched his hands, wondering what they'd do if anyone was seriously injured.

"You're free to go.  We'll practice again next class," Aizawa said before he stood and went to Midnight.  She grinned when he walked over, laughing and stroking Shinsou's hair.

"Do you want to come over for dinner?" Izuku asked Ochako, not surprised when she made a face.  "Movie night?" He suggested and she smiled as she wiped her mouth.

"Only if you bring out those really soft blankets!" She chirped. 

Izuku laughed and then they stood, heading toward the school to change before they left.

**

Over the following weeks, Izuku steadily learned how to re-direct himself during hero training.

Don't rush into things—Ochako was the priority.

Analyze the situation from her perspective, defend and distract while she attacked.

Move like a shadow at her side, retracting before she asked and shifting before she tripped over him.

And ever so slowly, they came together as a team.

Ochako's hesitant suggestions turned into confident commands and Izuku learned to follow them, reminding himself over and over that he trusted her, didn't he?  Whenever they managed to destroy one of Ectoplasm's clones, the hero only upped the stakes, backing them into corner after corner until they were forced to use their quirks.

Or rather, Ochako used her quirk—on herself, and Izuku—while Izuku learned how to use his cuffs.

The first time he activated them, he hadn't stopped to think about it.  A clone had lunged at Ochako when her back was turned and he had shot forward, automatically brushing his wrists together and slamming them into the clone.

Electricity had jolted through the clone before it vanished and Izuku had panted, staring down at his shaking hands before Ochako called for help and he pushed his nerves aside.

After that, he didn't hesitate to use them.

He wanted to be a hero, didn't he?

He fought and learned and listened until the day they reached Aizawa.

They had been fighting Ectoplasm's copies for almost an hour when Ochako spotted an opening and slapped Izuku's shoulder, activating her quirk.  He had jumped, using his cuffs to destroy a clone before he used the momentum to catapult through the air.  He had almost careened into Aizawa, and only missed because Aizawa had looked up and leaned to the side at the last moment.  Regardless, he had called the exercise to a stop after that, declaring they had passed.

Moments later, Midnight had walked past them in a daze, her eyes oddly unfocused.  They had all turned to see Shinsou standing disheveled but grinning from across the training grounds.  Aizawa had sighed, tapping Midnight's shoulder, and Izuku jumped when she jerked and vibrantly swore.

Visions of villains walking into police stations swirled through Izuku's mind, and he minutely frowned, pinching his lip.

White Noise.

He glanced at Shinsou again before Ochako caught his gaze, giving him the smallest nod.  Izuku let out a breath, nervously re-adjusted his uniform, and carefully tucked away the information for later.

It wasn't a solid confirmation, but he doubted Shinsou would ever admit it.

Having officially passed their lessons, their evening classes were slowly replaced with nightly patrols.  Izuku and Ochako shadowed Aizawa while Shinsou followed Midnight—after a few muttered protests and complaints.

Izuku had been nervous at first, arriving early and anxiously adjusting his uniform and belt.  But then Aizawa and Ochako had arrived, the former seamlessly sweeping them into his nightly routine.

Which was surprisingly tame.

He was an underground hero for a reason.

Aizawa's patrols were in seedier areas, but he focused on simply talking to the people of the night—checking in with bouncers, the homeless, and flirtatious men and women who coyly toyed with Izuku's hair when they saw him.

He gathered information with a blank expression, and only after making his rounds did he start to look for villains.  Sometimes they found them, but most of the time the alleys were eerily quiet in the late hours of the night.

Izuku had almost frozen the first time they had found a villain, but then Aizawa had barked a command and Ochako sank into place at Aizawa's side, Izuku following suit.

He could do this.

After they swiftly dispatched the villain, Izuku shifted into his medic role, checking everyone for injuries and patching up the few he found.

They escorted the villain to the police, parted ways for the night, and then continued when they met again for the next patrol.

On the nights he didn't patrol with Aizawa, Izuku worked with Yoko, their usual mornings shifts switching to nightly ones.

Yoko had protested at first, worried about leaving her daughter home alone at night, but their supervisor had been adamant.  Villain attacks had spiked ever since the League of Villains had released their video, and the hospital was working overtime to keep up.

They needed everyone they could find on call, and their more experienced members working at night when most of the villain attacks were happening.

Yoko had sighed, rubbing her face before she reluctantly agreed.  She would have to call in her sister to watch her daughter on those nights, but she would make it work.

Night shifts were their own form of hell.

Izuku and Yoko had always been busy, but they never received more than a few calls during a shift.  Now they were hurriedly driving for most of the night, Yoko skidding around turns as they rushed to villain aftermaths and false calls. 

Everyone seemed to be taking to the streets in the name of the League of Villains.

Mostly villains, sometimes vigilantes, and often young teenagers who had nothing better to do than harass each other.  Regardless, Izuku would clutch the side of the ambulance while Yoko drove, mentally preparing himself for whatever they'd find.

And in the depths of his medical bag, his silver cuffs lay nestled, clinking softly whenever he slung the bag over his shoulder.

Just in case.

Izuku whispered the words to himself, ignoring the voices telling him it was a bad idea in his mind.  He knew he wouldn't need them, but whenever he packed his bag he pictured arriving to a scene too early, the pro-heroes needing help or Yoko being attacked.

He would shakily pack his cuffs, burying them underneath his other supplies as if that'd hide his actions.

Just in case.

Chapter Text

"Yagi, your hero friend is here," one of his co-workers called out, leaning into the nursery where Toshinori was watering plants with a hose.  Toshinori stiffened, slowly switching off the water before he turned around.

"Have you eaten yet, ribbit?" Tsuyu asked, tilting her head and sticking out her tongue.  She was carrying a bag in her one hand, but what caught his attention was how her other arm was in a sling.

"What happened to you?" He asked, still awkwardly holding the limp hose as she walked over.

"Villain attack," she offered before she placed her bag on a bench and nodded toward him.  "You haven't eaten yet," she stated, holding his gaze.  He tightened his grip around the hose before he deflated and hung it up, following her when she sat down.

"Are you okay?" He asked as he folded himself onto the bench, his side protesting the movement. 

"It was a clean break," she said and then methodically started unpacking their lunch.  Toshinori coughed and moved to help but she gently brushed his hands away.

"Sorry," he sighed, clenching his hands in his lap, unable to meet her eyes.  Even injured, she still...

"You don't need to apologize, ribbit."  She held out a small box, lily pads decorating the outside cover.  "It's not like you did this to me, and we caught the villain responsible," she added, deftly opening her own box with one hand.

He watched her pull out a pair of chopsticks and start to eat with her non-dominant hand, and swallowed the guilt churning in his gut when she slightly fumbled.

"Villain attacks are on the rise," he said into his food, staring at the small portion and shapes.

"They're always on the rise," she replied, successfully eating after a few more attempts.  "But I know what you mean," she continued, dropping her gaze.

"If only I could—"

"You would've retired by now," Tsuyu interjected, cutting him off with a level look.  He winced and forced himself to take a bite of food.

"Even if you could've kept using your quirk, we would've taken up the mantle eventually," she calmly said, another piece of food slipping from her grasp.  It fell into her lunchbox, breaking apart on impact.

For some reason he couldn't look away.

"It's still good," she said, carefully pushing the pieces together before she popped it into her mouth.  "It doesn't have to be whole."

Toshinori stilled, his eyes widening until a cough wracked his frame and Tsuyu handed him a small cup of tea.  He downed it in one go, flushing when some spilled down his chin.  Or was it blood?  Either way, he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, ignoring the bright red spots smearing across his hand.

She picked up the cup when he set it down, moving it closer before she refilled it and handed it back.

The entire sequence was meticulous, a slow combination of lifting and setting down each item, her hand minutely shaking when she lifted the heavy drink container.  She didn't complain though, didn't ask for help or pretend like he owed her something.

She merely cared.

Toshinori swallowed another bite of food, chasing the metallic taste from his mouth with more tea.

"Why do you come here?" He whispered, the words escaping before he could pull them back.  Tsuyu paused, setting down her chopsticks and tapping the side of her mouth before she replied.

"Because I want to," she said with a slow blink, as if it could be that simple.  "And no one deserves to be alone," she added, turning her head toward the small flowers growing around them.  Toshinori set his chopsticks aside before he could accidentally snap them, an odd mixture of frustration and sadness slamming into his chest.

"Thank you," he wheezed, blinking away tears as he tried to voice a better response and failed.  Instead, he continued eating, savoring the soft flavors until they both finished.  Only then did he meet her eyes with a smile.

"I think my hair's a mess today," he sheepishly said, scratching the side of his face.  Tsuyu let out a surprised croak and lit up, quickly standing and pulling a brush from her bag.

"I've only got one hand, so I'll need your help," she said, stepping behind him.  Toshinori nodded, holding still.

"That's alright, it'll be better than what I normally do," he chuckled and then jerked when she roughly dragged the brush through his hair.

"Stay still, ribbit."  She patted his hair with her brush and continued, slightly laughing when he jolted again.

"It's full of knots, it won't feel good for awhile," she explained.  "My little brother always complained when I had to brush his hair too, and he could never sit still."

She had a brother?

Another pull on his hair—gentler this time—and Toshinori leaned with the movement.

He didn't know anything about her.

"I have a sister too," she said after a few moments, surprising him.

"What are they like?" He asked, closing his eyes as he drifted into the tug and pull of her brush.  She hummed and then began to talk, sharing little details as she worked.

Toshinori's co-worker found them like that several minutes later, Tsuyu finishing his hair and Toshinori halfway asleep while Tsuyu talked about her family.  His co-worker had paused in the doorway before slowly backing out of the room, more than happy to give him a longer break.

Later that evening Toshinori sat alone in his apartment, feeling oddly refreshed as he slurped down a bowl of instant noodles and watched the news.  He flipped through a few stations until one caught his eye, a reporter off-set against a chaotic scene.

"...coming to you live from downtown, where it seems as if every villain in the area decided to simultaneously attack."

Toshinori froze, almost dropping his bowl before he carefully set it down and turned up the volume.  Not again.

"There's no sign of the League of Villains, but as you can see a handful of villains openly attacked the crowded square behind me." The reporter said, gesturing behind her.  Crowds of people were mashed together, giving a wide berth to the group of heroes and villains that were fighting.  "Some of the top heroes have responded tonight, but sources say more villains have been spotted across the city and the heroes are scrambling to keep up."

Toshinori coughed, unconsciously leaning forward.

They needed—

"Even now, the heroes seem to be having difficulties containing—" The reporter cut off when a loud explosion rang out, smoke and debris blowing from the side of the screen.  People screamed, the camera swinging toward a building with a gaping hole in the side.  A lone figure stood in the chaos, laughing while people ran.

"That's right, you better run!" The figure—a woman—yelled before she swung a heavy bag over her shoulder and took off running, odd flickers of shadows trailing in her wake like ink.  The reporter looked frazzled, staring at the villain before she composed herself.

"I-it seems as if the villains just keep coming; but rest assured, the heroes should be taking care of—" She stopped again as something whipped by.  A strong breeze covered her with frost and her eyes widened as she followed something off screen.

"I can confirm that Red-Eye has appeared on scene!" She breathlessly said, the camera turning only to catch the young hero disappearing around a far corner.  "Paramedics and police are starting to arrive as well.  We can only hope that the heroes will have everything under control..."

Toshinori abruptly stood, striding across his apartment and pulling on a light jacket.

If he went down to the police station and talked to Tsukauchi then he could—

He paused in the doorway, gripping his keys.

He could what?

He wasn't a hero anymore.

But they needed someone to rally around.  A symbol.

They needed All Might.

Toshinori shoved his keys in his pocket and rushed out, heading toward the police station.

**

"How many?" Yoko asked as she hooked their ambulance around a corner, her hands slipping on the wheel.  The ambulance swayed and Izuku gripped the door before she straightened them out.

"At least five villains in the main plaza," Izuku said, moving a hand to his earpiece as he tried to pick out the information.  "S-seven pro-heroes are on the scene?" He continued with a wince as too many people yelled over the radio, their voices tangling together.

"Crowd?"

"I think a big one," he gasped and then tore the earpiece from his ear when an explosion blasted through the speakers.

"—uku, are you okay?" Yoko asked, her eyes darting toward him.  He clutched his ear and nodded, trying to hear past the ringing.

"I-I'll be alright," he stammered as they raced through an intersection.  Yoko tersely nodded, her hair starting to fall out of its complicated braid.

They were two hours into their night shift, and Izuku wasn't sure if they had sat down for more than five minutes since they started.

The strain was starting to show. 

Yoko's sleeves were rolled up, her arms and hands still damp from hastily scrubbing off blood.  Flecks of it dotted her uniform, and at some point her jacket had come undone.

Izuku was in a similar state, his uniform dirty and rumpled as sweat dripped from his hair down the back of his neck.  He was fairly sure he had blood on his face, but he didn't have time to clean it off.

"Did you restock the gauze?" Yoko asked as she steered into another turn.

"Yes, I grabbed the—" Izuku cut himself off as a pair of headlights flooded his vision.

"Yoko, look out!" He yelled, reaching over and jerking the wheel.  The ambulance skidded to the side—thankfully away from the headlights—and he quickly let go of the wheel, his heart hammering.  Oh god, they had almost—

He slowly looked at Yoko and shuddered as he blinked to clear the spots from his eyes, his one ear still ringing.  Her knuckles were white against the wheel, her arms minutely shaking.

Izuku reached out a hand, opening his mouth before Yoko gritted her teeth and careened around another turn, the momentum forcing him against the door.

"We're almost there," she said, her voice cracking on the words and Izuku frowned.

"Yoko, what just happened?"

"Nothing," she snapped and he flinched, flashing lights growing in the corner of his vision as they neared the plaza. 

In the relative silence, Yoko sighed, deftly maneuvering them between a few other ambulances and switching off the engine.  She stared into her lap before she unbuckled her belt, facing him.

"I'm sorry.  I'm just a bit stressed, but I can deal with it later," she said, stepping out of the ambulance before he could respond.  Izuku jumped when she slammed the door and then jerked into motion, hastily clambering out.

"Yoko, wait—"

He was abruptly hit by a wave of noise and people, and anything he might have said shriveled in his mouth.  Yoko was already a few feet away, and Izuku jogged to catch up with her, rubbing his ear as they tried to find a way through the chaos.

A large crowd had formed a ring around the outer edges of the plaza, a sea of phones and cameras trying to catch the fighting.  Police were trying and failing to move the crowd backwards, and paramedics rushed between everyone, ushering the injured away. 

What looked like a bank sat smoldering on their right, one wall having been blown apart.  Streetlights and neon signs illuminated the entire scene, and Izuku's gaze snagged on a far corner where darkness reigned, the streetlights having been smashed.

The heroes and villains were still fighting.

And in the middle of it all they found Creati, steadily directing police and paramedics with a slight woman by her side.  Earphone Jack?

"Where are we needed?" Yoko asked when they reached her.  Creati turned around, raking her eyes over their uniforms before she pointed toward a few police cars.

"Over there.  We've three injured heroes and a few burned villains," she sharply said, her eyes flickering to the side.  Izuku followed her look, watching a blaze of fire rise from the plaza.

Endeavor.

A rush of anger shot through him and Izuku bit his lip, tasting blood.  Shouto's face bloomed in his mind, a hand covering his left eye as if it shouldn't be seen.

"Come on, Izuku," Yoko said and he swallowed the metallic taste, shoving his thoughts aside as they headed toward the injured heroes.

Not for the first time that day, Izuku coated his hands in blood.

He worked alongside Yoko, bandaging wounds, setting splints, and patching up heroes before they returned to the fray.  When they weren't helping the heroes, they helped the detained villains, ignoring vibrant curses as their charges protested the treatment.

One villain even tried to bite Yoko's hand, managing to get his teeth around her before Izuku shot forward and knocked him out with a swift hand to the back of his neck.  Yoko had paused, holding her hand before she shook it out and thanked him.

Through it all, Izuku's ear throbbed, a small blessing that dulled the shouts of the crowd and kept him grounded.  He wiped sweat from his eyes—smearing more blood across his face—and pulled away from wrapping a wound to breathe.

And in the brief moment, a flash of light from the corner of the plaza caught his eye.

He squinted at the dark area, telling himself he was seeing things until it flashed again.  Although, it looked less like light and more like—

Ice.

Izuku sucked in a breath, his blood running cold.

Shouto was over there.

"I'm good to go back now, yeah?" Red Riot asked with a wide grin, holding out his half-bandaged arm.  Izuku started, fumbling slightly before he finished tying the bandage and waved the hero off.  As soon as he left, Izuku looked at where he had seen the ice, anxiously gnawing on his lip.

Shouto would be fine.

Another flash of ice and Izuku took a step before he froze, his breath hitching in his throat.

He couldn't leave he couldn't leave he couldn't leave.

But what if Shouto needed help?

Izuku quickly scanned the plaza, counting the heroes he saw against the reported numbers and paling when they matched.  Shouto was alone. 

He was the number three hero for a reason and he should be fine but he had arrived before Izuku and still hadn't come back and what if he needed help?

"Izuku, I need more gauze," Yoko said, catching his gaze.  He stared, unable to respond until she repeated her statement and he fumbled to open his bag.  He quickly handed her some gauze and then paused, his fingers brushing against the silver cuffs tucked away in the bottom of his bag.  

Izuku hesitated, his gaze flickering around to see if anyone else had noticed the ice.  Not surprisingly, everyone seemed preoccupied with the fights in the plaza, their eyes turned away from the darkened corner.

Don't do something stupid, Izuku.

"I'm sorry, Yoko," he whispered, snatching his cuffs and slipping them on.  Their weight felt familiar now, and his hands shook as he snapped them into place.  He could do this.

"Did you say something?" Yoko asked as she sent another pro-hero away.  He nervously smiled and she furrowed her brow, her eyes dropping to his hands.

"...what are those?" She breathed, her posture going rigid.  Behind her, another flash of ice rent the night.

"I think Shouto needs help."  Yoko frowned and followed his look, her eyes widening when she saw the flashes of ice.  She whipped around, reaching out and gripping his arm, her nails digging into his skin.

"Izuku, you can't," she rasped and he looked away.

"I've been training for this."

"That doesn't mean you can—"

"I have a weapon and I've got you as backup," he interjected, his voice growing stronger as he went.  "You know where I'm going to be and I'm not going in blind. I'm not trying to be a hero, it's just—"

He sucked in a ragged breath, shuddering.

"What if he needs help, Yoko?" He gasped, managing to meet her eyes.  She stared for a few seconds before she released his arm, leaving behind a bloody handprint.

"Damn it, Izuku," she cursed, gritting her teeth.  "I shouldn't let you go."  Izuku held his breath, willing her to understand. 

"I'll come back if it's too dangerous," Izuku said and Yoko shakily laughed.

"We both know that's a lie."

"It isn't this time," he insisted, and after a tense moment Yoko deflated, her shoulders sagging.

"Don't make me regret this," she whispered, brushing her bangs from her face before she straightened.  "And if you're not back in ten minutes—"

"Then send Red Riot after me," he offered.

"Not Endeavor?"

"He's the last person you should send," Izuku said, flexing his hands.  Yoko paused and then nodded.

"Don't get yourself killed."

"I'll try not to," He nervously laughed and readjusted his cuffs, slinging his bag over his shoulder before he took off running.

Izuku prayed he wasn't too late.

He weaved through the crowd, dodging people and debris as he picked his way across the plaza, his bag thumping against his leg.

Izuku ran into the darkness, his feet pounding against the pavement until he rounded a corner and stopped dead.

Shouto.

Weak moonlight illuminated the scene; a partially destroyed alley covered in ice and Shouto standing in the middle of it all, his uniform torn and dirty as a woman lunged toward him.  Shouto jerked away, moving to counteract the woman but he was moving too slow—

Izuku's bag hit the road and he raced forward, the pair freezing when they heard them.  Another second and Izuku slammed his fist into the woman's jaw, gritting his teeth as the blow rang up his arm.

The woman staggered and regained her balance, gaping at Izuku before her expression twisted.

"What the fuck," she seethed, rolling her shoulders as Izuku pulled away and moved behind Shouto's right side, sinking into a practiced stance.

"Midoriya?" Shouto asked, his breath clouding the air.  Izuku flushed, not taking his eyes off the woman when he replied.

"I-I came to help," he stuttered, forcing himself to smile.  Shouto minutely frowned, ice creeping over his right side while chunks flaked from his left.  The effect was eerie, a grotesque patchwork that hid his left eye behind a glowing red hole.

"You called for backup? Thermostat, I'm honored," the woman hissed, anger leeching into her tone.  She worked her jaw and spat out blood before she lifted her hands and Izuku stiffened.

"Midoriya, you need to leave," Shouto said, shifting slightly in front of him.  "This is no place for a paramedic."

"But I've been—"

"Move!" Shouto abruptly shouted, shoving Izuku to the side as shadows around the woman writhed and shot forwards.  They ripped through the air and hit where Izuku had been standing, whipping past Shouto's cheek and side.

Oh.

Izuku knew who she was.

He didn't follow villains often, but he had seen her on the news.

Villain name: Nightshade. 

Quirk: Ability to manipulate shadow-like tendrils of acid.

Shouto clenched his teeth, and Izuku watched in horror as his cheek started to bleed and the fabric on his side disintegrated.  Without pausing, Shouto slid his right leg forward and a wave of ice crackled across the ground.  Too slow.

Nightshade easily dodged, her shadows sizzling against the ice.

"Midoriya, leave," Shouto repeated, blood dripping from his face and staining his uniform.  "It's too dangerous." He exhaled another frosted breath, and Midoriya realized he was shaking.

"You need to use your fire," Izuku breathed, ignoring Shouto's request as he tried to analyze the scene.  The alley was dark, ice covering the buildings and a forgotten sack lying behind Nightshade with what looked like wads of money spilling onto the pavement.  If they could force her around the corner and into the streetlights then they could—

"I'm not using his power," Shouto roughly said before Nightshade ran at them, shadows encasing her hands.  Shouto threw up another wall of ice, only for it to shatter and send them skidding backwards.  Izuku yelped when a piece caught him across the cheek, and Shouto spared him a look, alarmed.

"Izuku, please—"

"Look out!" Izuku shouted, racing forward and punching Nightshade before she could slam her fist into Shouto.  She stumbled backwards and Izuku turned, glaring at Shouto.

"We don't have time to be arguing and I know what I'm doing so let me help you!" He snapped, ignoring the small voice in his head chanting ohgodohgodohgod.  Shouto hesitated, ice creeping over his arm before he tersely nodded.

"What do you know?"

"Mid to short-range support," Izuku explained, stepping to Shouto's side.  "Do what you normally do and I'll follow."

"...you won't leave?" Shouto slowly asked, looking over his shoulder.  Izuku shook his head with a wobbly grin.

"You can trust me," Izuku said and Shouto's expression twisted before he looked away, hiding his face.

"I can still hear you, you know!" Nightshade scowled.

"Leave attacking to me," Shouto said, ignoring Nightshade and gathering ice in his hand.  Izuku nodded, realized Shouto couldn't see the movement, and started to speak when Nightshade moved, throwing out her shadows.

They barely managed to dodge the attack, Izuku scrambling to the side while Shouto jumped out of range.

Shouto met Izuku's gaze for a split second before he blinked, their connection broke, and the fight began in earnest.

Nightshade was fast, and before long Izuku was covered in small cuts, bruises blooming across his arms. 

Shouto wasn't faring much better, red creeping over his uniform while his movements slowed and he started to pant, constantly shivering.  Izuku tried to move between volleys, throwing punches and creating distractions until Shouto could retaliate.

Shouto sent another sluggish attack at Nightshade, and she darted to the side and grinned, shadows streaking toward him.  Izuku tackled Shouto, her attack barely missing as they skidded across the ground, shards of ice and pavement digging into their skin.

Izuku gasped, quickly releasing him and staggering to his feet.

"S-Shouto, you need to use your fire," he stuttered before whipping around when he realized he had put his back to Nightshade.  She had started to advance, darkness obscuring her hands like wraiths.

"I won't," Shouto coughed, ice drifting from his skin as he stepped in front of Izuku.

"But she's going to—"

"I'm not using my damn father's quirk!" Shouto snapped, glaring at him.  Izuku flinched and bit his tongue, heat rising to his face as he choked on his words. 

"Stop fucking talking!" Nightshade hissed, pulling their attention.  She looked off-kilter, her hair disheveled as blood dripped from a gash across her forehead.  "They told me you heroes weren't going to show up, so I should've been fine," she continued, her shadows writhing.

"The heroes will always show up," Izuku replied, his voice somehow confident despite the anxiety crawling up his throat.

"If they're anything like him," she gestured to Shouto, "then I wouldn't call them heroes," she snapped, jumping aside when Shouto shot another wave of ice. 

"He's still a hero," Izuku rasped, clenching his hands as Nightshade scoffed.

"He's nothing more than a spoiled rich kid who's only in the top three because of his father," she spat and Izuku froze, watching Shouto stiffen.  "Hell, he doesn't even use his full power!" She shouted, advancing toward them. 

"You don't know what you're talking about," Izuku darkly said, watching Shouto's back and waiting for him to attack as the shadows around Nightshade grew.

But Shouto didn't move.

Nightshade stepped closer, darkness encasing her hands.

She was going to kill them if Shouto didn't use his fire to counteract her quirk.

Nightshade was going to kill them.

Izuku's breath caught in his throat and he let out a pained sound, clenching his hands.

"You don't have time to half-ass this!" He suddenly yelled, rushing past Shouto and punching Nightshade, who diverted his attack with a well-placed kick that sent him flying.  He slid across the pavement, dirt coating his mouth before he pushed himself to his feet.

"I'm giving it my all, aren't I?" Izuku angrily said, turning toward Shouto.  "I-I know I'm quirkless so I haven't got much to give but I'm still trying because I want to be a hero!"  Shouto's expression shuttered, and Izuku felt tears drip down his face.

"SO WHAT ARE YOU DOING?" He shouted and Shouto seemed to crumple, his hair falling and covering his eyes.

And then, Nightshade shot a shadow toward him.

Izuku lunged and Shouto threw up a wall only for it to shatter, a tendril piercing his shoulder.  He cursed, stumbling before Izuku yanked his frozen feet from the road and stepped between him and Nightshade.  She bared her teeth, shadows swirling around her arms.

"I'm doing what I've always done," Shouto gasped, shivering.  "I've never needed to use his damn—"

"Your father isn't here, Shouto!" Izuku snapped, looking over his shoulder, tears and snot dripping down his chin.  He hiccupped, wiping a grimy hand under his nose and hating how vulnerable Shouto looked, his eyes blown wide.

"All I see is you, and it's your power, isn't it?" He yelled, holding Shouto's gaze before he turned and saw Nightshade almost entirely encased by shadows.

Another second and she threw her arms forward, a sea of acid rushing toward them and there was nothing they could dotherewasnotime—

Shouto was behind him.

Izuku brushed his wrists together, electricity crackling in the air before he threw up his arms and the shadows crashed into him.

**

Shouto couldn't move.

Midoriya's words tore through him, stealing his breath.

"It's your power, isn't it?"

His mother stroked his hair, a grainy video of All-Might playing in the background as he sat in her lap and cried. 

He didn't want—

'You can be a hero, Shouto,' his mother said, kissing his forehead and nodding toward the screen.  He sniffled, watching as All Might insisted that children's quirks were their own.  They only had to recognize themselves, after all.

'You don't have to be a prisoner of your own blood,' she whispered, breathing hope into his small hands as she gently wiped away his tears.

What had he been doing?

Shouto unfroze when a bright flash lit the alley and Nightshade reeled backwards, her clothes singed.

Midoriya screamed.

The sound ripped through Shouto, and he blinked away spots from his eyes in time to see Midoriya bend over his hands, his arms shaking.  Red streaks covered his hands and arms, blood dripping onto the pavement as he silently wailed, his eyes squeezed shut.

What had he been doing?

Anger trickled through his veins and Shouto glared at Nightshade, warmth pooling in his chest until the ice covering him melted and his shoulder caught fire.  She paled, taking a step back when he started to advance.

Just like his mother—

No.

His flames flickered and then grew, blazing around him.  She had hurt Midoriya.

"N-now, let's not be hasty..." Nightshade began and flinched when his fire flared.  She took another step away and then flat out ran.

Shouto didn't chase her.

He let his flames billow in his left hand, the fire feeding upon itself and condensing like his father's—

Tears trailed down his face, smearing blood and dirt, and in the corner of his eye Midoriya was still bent over his hands, his own tears falling in fat drops and splashing against the ground.

Breathe.

Shouto sucked in a breath, his fire growing until the air around him rippled.  He kept his eyes on Nightshade, drew back his arm, and let his flames fly.

Another moment, and the alley exploded.

The force knocked Shouto backwards, his ears ringing as he panted.

He couldn't see—

He inhaled a lungful of smoke and coughed, his eyes watering until the air started to clear.

The alley was in tatters.

Chunks of stone littered the street, the buildings cracked and covered in a layer of soot.  Across from him Nightshade lay slumped against a wall, and for one small moment Shouto felt a wave of relief.

And then someone behind him coughed.

Midoriya.

Shouto spun, frantically searching for Midoriya—please let him be alright—until he spotted him on the ground a few meters away, curled into himself and protecting his arms.

Shouto closed the distance in a heartbeat, sinking to Midoriya's side and reaching out to help.

"Don't," Midoriya hissed, his eyes cracking open.  "G-Go make sure she's restrained f-first," he insisted and Shouto stared in disbelief.

"But—"

"Just go!" Midoriya yelled, spit trailing from his mouth as he clasped his arms, his gaze unrelenting despite the blood and tears marring his face.

Shouto jerked and pushed himself to his feet, dashing across the alley to Nightshade.  She was still unconscious, but thankfully her pulse was strong when he felt for it.  He hastily pulled out a pair of handcuffs and cuffed her before he ran back to Midoriya.

"Did you—"

"Yes," Shouto said, cutting Midoriya off, not wanting him to waste his energy.  Midoriya sighed and then grit his teeth, shivering.  "Midoriya, what can I do?" Shouto asked, helping Midoriya into a sitting position. 

As soon as he let go though, Midoriya listed to the side and Shouto gently caught him.  His skin burned under his hands and Shouto shifted him to his right side, activating his quirk.

"W-water," Midoriya gasped, trying to cradle his arms and whimpering when they brushed his chest.  Shouto quickly formed a block of ice in his right hand before shifting it to his left, melting it and letting the water drip over Midoriya's arms.

Midoriya cringed, sinking into him and shaking his head.

"M-more," he stammered, his eyes falling shut.  "I-In the plaza, my partner..." He struggled for words, sweat beading on his skin.  "Get me to her," he finished, and Shouto moved.

He didn't stop to think, merely scooped Midoriya into his arms and ran.

Shouto's heart pounded in time to the sound of his feet slapping the pavement as he darted from the alley and into the plaza.  He held Midoriya against his chest, trying not to jostle his arms as he burst into the light.

People were everywhere.

He couldn't tell if the fighting had stopped or not, but it didn't matter.  He quickly scanned the edges of the crowd for ambulances and started to jostle his way through when he spotted them.

Thankfully, people readily moved when they saw Midoriya in his arms.

As he neared the ambulances, he saw a vaguely familiar woman running toward him with a horrified expression.

"Izuku!" She shouted, scrambling around people.  Midoriya stirred in his arms, blearily lifting his head and turning toward the woman.

"T-that's Yoko," he said with a wobbly grin, and then Shouto slammed into someone, having looked down when Midoriya spoke.

"Shouto?" A familiar voice asked as he stumbled, and he looked up to see Kirishima rubbing his shoulder before his eyes widened.  He started to speak but Shouto stopped him, stepping around him and towards Yoko.

"There's a villain handcuffed in the back alley.  I'll explain everything else later," he rasped and Kirishima stared as he ran to meet Yoko.  She immediately pressed her hand against Midoriya's forehead, frowning as her eyes flickered over his arms.

"Acid quirk," Shouto said and she stiffened, meeting his gaze.

"Can you carry him to our ambulance?" She asked, ignoring Midoriya when he weakly protested with a soft 'M'fine.'  Shouto nodded, and quickly followed her through the crowd.

When she reached what he guessed was her ambulance, she threw open the back doors and lunged toward a compartment, yanking it open and rooting around before she pulled out a bottle of water.  She twisted it open and then gently pulled Midoriya's arms away from his chest, careful not to touch the burned welts.

Shouto felt Midoriya flinch when she upended the water over his arms.  He hissed, but didn't complain and Yoko jerked her thumb over her shoulder.

"Lay him down," she ordered before darting to the front of the vehicle.  Shouto heard a door slam, and when the engine revved he startled and climbed into the back, gently laying Midoriya on the stretcher.

Shouto had barely pulled the doors shut before the ambulance took off, sending him into the wall.  He winced, swallowed the bile in his throat, and looked around for more water.  He only found one other bottle, but it was better than nothing and he quickly poured it over Midoriya's arms.

Midoriya hissed, mumbling someone incoherent, and Shouto abruptly realized there wasn't anything more he could do.

Shit.

Suddenly exhausted, he sank onto the makeshift seat along the wall, swaying when the ambulance turned and belatedly noticing he was covered in blood.

"T-thank you," Midoriya whispered and Shouto froze, his mouth going dry.

"Why?" Shouto asked, clenching his jaw.  When Midoriya didn't respond, Shouto leaned forward to see he had passed out, his breathing rapid in the relative silence.

Worried, Shouto hesitantly placed his right hand against Midoriya's forehead, trying to cool him down.

"Please be alright," he whispered to himself, a pair of green eyes brightening in his mind, curious hands fluttering.

They sped into the night, sirens wailing as they raced toward the hospital.

Chapter Text

Shouto stared at his hands, flexing them and feeling the gentle tug and pull of the bandages wrapped around his fingers.  His shoulder throbbed with each movement; a steady pulse as he sat on a hospital bed, a thin blanket wrinkled around his lap.

Beside him, Midoriya lay sleeping on another bed, his curls splayed out in a messy halo.  Bandages covered his arms, and Shouto couldn't look at him without a thick wave of guilt threatening to swallow him whole.

Midoriya was too still.

Shouto blinked, shivering in the chilly room.  He had been given a hospital gown after they had bandaged his wounds, but it did little to stave off the cold.  He flexed his hands again, flames dancing in the corners of his vision, taunting him as his eyelids drooped from lack of sleep.

"Shit," Someone heavily sighed and Shouto startled, turning to see that Midoriya's partner was still in the room.

Considering she was wearing different clothes, she must have left and come back without Shouto noticing, and he tried not to dwell on how he had missed her.  As it was, she only looked slightly less disheveled, her hair still falling from its braid.

She sank into the seat between their beds when she sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose before she opened her eyes and looked at Shouto.

"Oh, you're awake," she softly said, her eyes widening.

"I've been awake," Shouto replied.  He couldn't sleep.

"Sorry."

"I don't mind," he said, and they lapsed into an uneasy silence, words playing on Shouto's tongue.

Was he going to be alright?

Yoko turned towards Midoriya, her brow furrowing.

He saved me.

"I wish he wouldn't do this," she said, fisting her hands in her lap.  "He's not a pro-hero yet and I told him to come back if things were too dangerous."

"I had hoped that after being suspended before he would have—" She stopped, her shoulders sagging, body half-turned toward Midoriya in a moment that Shouto realized he shouldn't be watching.

It spoke of an intimacy he didn't have, and he flushed, looking down at his hands.

"I don't know how to stop him," Yoko continued, her voice wavering.  "I've tried, our boss has tried, and I'm worried the only thing that'll get across to him is if she fires—"

"He saved me," Shouto interjected, surprising himself and Yoko.  She stared and then frowned as he shifted towards her.

"What do you mean?" She asked, and Shouto felt phantom flames curl around his left hand, shadows writhing in the night.

"He saved my life," he repeated, gently covering his left eye.  His scar felt dry under his hand, familiar ridges spreading out in a sea.

"If he hadn't..." Shouto started and trailed off with a grimace, struggling for an explanation.  He couldn't explain his father's flames, his own stubbornness, or how Midoriya had shattered everything with a few simple words.

"I overused the wrong side of my quirk.  He was defending me when the villain attacked, and if he hadn't, I would've been..." Shouto clenched his hand over his left eye before letting it drop, his eyes falling to his lap.

Yoko sighed, wearily rubbing her eyes.

"I'm glad he helped you, but this isn't the first time he's hurt himself—"

"Hey Todoroki, what happened earlier?"  They both jumped when the door to the room swung open and Kirishima walked inside, running a hand through his spiky hair.  He had changed into civilian clothes, and when he noticed Yoko he back-pedaled, holding up his hands.

"Oh shit dude, I didn't mean to interrupt," he roughly said and Shouto winced, his eyes flickering toward Midoriya.  Kirishima followed his gaze and abruptly stilled, his expression falling.

"I can come back later," he quietly offered, shifting awkwardly on his feet until Yoko stood.

"It's fine.  You're here for him, right?" She asked, gesturing towards Shouto.  When Kirishima nodded she weakly smiled, heading toward the door.

"You can stay then.  I should be getting home to my daughter anyways, god knows how late it is," she said.

"It's more early than late by now," Kirishima sheepishly grinned, stepping away from the door to let Yoko pass.

"Of course it is," she grumbled, smoothing her shirt before she paused in the doorway, looking back at Shouto.  "Thank you for bringing him back to me," she softly said.

Shouto swallowed in the silence, unable to move.

Yoko held his gaze for another moment and then left, shutting the door behind her.

As soon as the door clicked, Kirishima moved, worry etched into his posture as he crossed the room and sat beside Shouto.  The bed creaked under his weight and Kirishima winced at the sound, darting a quick look at Midoriya.

"Who is he, anyways?" Kirishima asked, shifting on the bed until he faced Shouto.  He rested his arms against his legs, his hair starting to droop.

"...he's a paramedic," Shouto quietly said, watching Midoriya's even breathing—too still.  "That woman was his partner," he added and Kirishima nodded, scratching his chin.

"Like, a we're-married partner or a work-buddies partner?"

"Co-workers," Shouto said with small laugh, a smile tugging the corners of his mouth.

"Okay then, at least that makes sense," Kirishima said before his eyes locked onto Shouto's.  "But what happened earlier?  I didn't even know you were at the scene and then all of a sudden that woman was yelling at me to go to this back alley and you ran out carrying him," he explained, reaching out and gently pulling his hand away from his arm.

Shouto hadn't realized he had been digging his nails into his bandages, grounding himself in the pain.

He slowly breathed, closing his eyes and reminding himself that Kirishima was his friend before he started to talk.

"I used my fire."  Kirishima's hands stiffened and Shouto opened his eyes, watching him stare.

"To fight?" Kirishima breathed.

"Against a villain," Shouto confirmed and Kirishima squeezed his hand, his grip surprisingly gentle as he waited for Shouto to continue.

"Midoriya...reminded me of something I'd forgotten," Shouto began, before he haltingly told Kirishima everything, the story coming out in pieces until it was whole.

And throughout it all, Kirishima held his hand, his pulse a steady presence that kept Shouto from drowning.

When he finished, Shouto met Kirishima's gaze and started, thrown by his feral grin.

"You did good, man," Kirishima softly laughed, his smile growing wider, and Shouto felt a weight lift from his chest.  Oh.

"And I'm glad you're okay, yeah?" Kirishima asked, tilting his head.  Shouto minutely nodded before his eyes flickered to Midoriya.  "Hey, no, don't blame yourself," Kirishima said, pulling his attention.  "If anything, blame the villain who decided to attack you guys.  It's her fault, not yours."

"I should've protected him—"

"From what you told me, he showed up to help.  It's a two-way street, you know?" Kirishima said, holding his gaze.  "You both helped each other and we caught the villain, so you shouldn't keep—"

"IZUKU?"  A plump, petite woman suddenly burst into the room and Kirishima jolted while Shouto froze himself to the bed.  She looked at them, frantic, before she caught sight of Midoriya and ran to him, kneeling by his bed.

Midoriya had jerked awake at the loud sound, and was blearily rubbing his eyes when the woman started crying.

"...Mom? W-What are you doing...?" Midoriya started and trailed off, blinking rapidly as his mother hiccupped, fat tears dribbling down her face.

"Izuku," She sobbed, and then Midoriya was crying, equally large tears spilling over as his expression twisted.

"I'm s-sorry, mom," he said before she threw her arms around his neck, pulling him close and tucking him against her chest.  His breath hitched and he buried his head against her, shoulders shaking as he tried and failed to return the hug.

Shouto couldn't look away.

'M-Mom?' He gasped, small hands pressed against the wooden floor as he retched.  His mother knelt between him and his father with her arms outstretched, a pillar against his might.

'Enji, this needs to stop,' she stiffly said and then Shouto cringed when a slap sent her to the ground.

Midoriya sobbed and Shouto watched his father step over his mother, dragging him away and his arm was burning—

"Shouto, you're crying," Kirishima worriedly said, pulling him back to the present.  Shouto slowly turned to look at Kirishima, and when he didn't respond Kirishima furrowed his brow, leaning forward.

"Have you been cleared to go?" He asked, gently brushing tears from Shouto's face.  Shouto mutely nodded, and Kirishima pulled his half-frozen hands from where they were stuck to the blanket.

"Then why don't we get out of here?  Give them some privacy, yeah?" He asked, his gaze flickering toward Midoriya and his mother.  Shouto paused, something in his chest pulling

"But I haven't..."

"You can tell him later," Kirishima suggested with a concerned smile as he pushed himself from the bed.  Another moment and he tugged Shouto to his feet, winding an arm around his side when he stumbled.

'Father, when can I see mom?' he asked, rubbing, rubbing, rubbing the scar over his left eye, the skin itchy and raw.

'Later,' his father grumbled, closing his office door with a definitive click.

Shouto stopped in the doorway, ice creeping over his bandages.

"He'll be alright," Kirishima said, and Shouto allowed himself to be pulled into the hall.

The door shut behind them and then Shouto blinked, looking up from the floor when Kirishima guided him into a chair.  When had they...?

"What's wrong?" Kirishima asked, sitting beside him as nurses walked by and briefly spared them a glance.  Shouto gripped his hands, his mouth dry despite the tears still falling into his lap.

"He—" Shouto started and stopped, swallowing his words.  "I...never visited her," he managed, staring at his hands, unable to stop their shaking.

"...Who?" Kirishima hedged, resting a hand on his knee until Shouto looked up.

"My mom," he rasped, shuddering as he closed his eyes against the memories.  "I haven't seen her since I was five," he continued, and then Kirishima's arms were around his shoulders, pulling him into a hug.

"What have I been doing?" Shouto asked, his voice muffled by Kirishima's shoulder.  Kirishima tightened his arms, holding him close.

"Trying to survive," he replied before he gave another squeeze and released Shouto, rubbing at his own eyes.

"Why don't we get you home?" He asked, tilting his head with a weak grin. 

Shouto shivered, but minutely nodded.

Kirishima looked relieved and stood, holding out his hand while Shouto blankly stared.  Disinfectant clogged his nose as he sat on a too-large bed, Fuyumi crying at his side while his father loomed in the background.

"Stay with me," Kirishima whispered before pulling Shouto to his feet, winding a steady arm around his side again before they started heading out.  Shouto dimly realized he shouldn't be making Kirishima do this, but he hadn't slept in almost an entire day and he doubted he could make it home himself.

This was alright, wasn't it?

Unsure of the answer, he let Kirishima lead him from the hospital, not protesting as they made their way to his apartment in the dim morning light.

**

Ochako had stolen his kitchen.

Izuku had been discharged the day after the attack, and he had gone home in the afternoon to find Ochako standing outside his door and carrying multiple grocery bags.  She had pouted when she saw him, before promptly dropping her grocery bags and engulfing him in a hug.

"What happened?" She asked, and quickly released him when he squeaked in pain.  "Sorry!" She exclaimed, stepping away and anxiously smoothing her hands over his shoulders, skimming the bandages covering his arms.

"I-It's fine," he stuttered, lifting his arms and holding out his hands.  His movements were slow, pain keeping him from fluttering them like he wanted to, but at least he didn't need to use a sling.

Ochako had puffed out her cheeks and then grabbed his keys, opening his door and dragging her groceries inside before she demanded a full explanation.  Izuku tried to help, but she merely sat him down on a stool near his kitchen and threatened him with a spoon.

Only once he promised not to move did she beam and start gliding back and forth across the kitchen, putting away groceries and making dinner while he talked.

By the time he finished, Ochako was stirring a pot on the stove with a small frown, a rich smell permeating the room.  She shifted on her feet before she looked up and pulled on her bangs, worried.

"So there's no permanent damage?" She asked and he nodded, starting to reach up and rub his neck before his fingers protested.

"They won't know for sure until they can remove the bandages, but they said I shouldn't lose any movement in my hands.  A-Although they did say it would scar, but I guess I can't complain if that's the worst that'll happen," he explained with an awkward laugh.

"Izuku, that's not..." Ochako started and then huffed, switching off the stove.  "You looked terrible on the news, you know.  I was so worried," she said, sliding the pot to another burner and grabbing some bowls.

"W-Wait, I was on the news?" Izuku stuttered, his eyes widening.

"You didn't know?" Ochako asked, glancing at him before she started filling the bowls.  "It was a pretty big deal when Todoroki carried you out of nowhere, especially because you were both covered in blood," she continued, her expression going dark.

"I...was worried that something worse had happened," she haltingly said, and then Izuku was out of his seat and across the room, gently bumping her shoulder.

"I'm sorry, I didn't think..."

"You're alright now, that's all that matters," she said, turning around with two steaming bowls.  She carried them past him and into the living room before sitting on the couch and setting the bowls on the coffee table.

Izuku slowly followed her, unease pricking his chest.

His mother hadn't been the only person he had scared.

"Shouto," he breathed, freezing as he sat down and realized he hadn't seen him since the attack.

"Todoroki?" Uraraka asked, sliding him a bowl and a spoon that hurt to hold.

"I didn't see him after I woke up," Izuku started, his chest constricting as he clutched the spoon.

"I think he's alright too," Ochako offered, waving her hand until Izuku relaxed his grip on the utensil.  "I mean, he carried you from the villain attack, I'm sure that's a good sign."

Izuku frowned, biting his lip.  Ochako was probably right but what if Shouto had been injured more than they had realized?  He had overused his ice enough that Izuku would've been surprised if he didn't have frostbite, not to mention how he dimly recalled something causing the alley to explode—

"If you're so worried, why don't you just text him?" Ochako asked, taking a bite of her soup.  Izuku absently mirrored her, and then melted when he tasted the soup.

"Ohmygodthisisamazing," he blurted before downing a few more bites while Ochako giggled.  Only when he came up for air did he remember she had asked him a question.

"Ah, t-that might be a little hard right now," he sheepishly said, looking at his hands.  "I doubt the touch-screen would work."

"I could do it for you?" Ochako offered, pointing with her spoon before she flushed.  "But only if you want me to.  I wouldn't read your texts, I promise," she said with a determined nod.  Izuku considered her for a moment and then nodded, pulling out his phone and handing it to her with a small smile.

"Thank you."

"It's no problem!" She chirped as she took his phone.  He quickly told her his password while he took a few more bites of soup, savoring the taste as she pulled up his messages. 

"Done!" She said after typing something out.  Izuku leaned closer to see what she had sent when his phone buzzed and she jumped in surprise.

"Okay, he must be alright if he's responding that quickly," she laughed, sliding her soup to the side and away from his phone.

"What did he say?" Izuku asked, not realizing he was holding his breath until Ochako tilted her head.

"He wants to know what your apartment number is?" She said, turning the screen toward Izuku to show him.

That was...odd?

"Uh, you can tell him?  We've walked home together a few times, so he already knows where my building is," Izuku said, and blushed when Ochako perked up and her mouth popped open.

"You've walked home together?" She asked with a grin.

"Only because we live in the same direction!" Izuku spluttered, waving his hands and dropping his spoon.  It fell into his soup and splattered some across the table, and Ochako started laughing.  Izuku groaned, burying his face behind his hands while lamenting the loss of his soup.

"I see how it is, Mr. I-have-walked-home-with-the-most-elusive-pro-hero," Ochako bantered as she typed a response.  "And sent!" She said before setting his phone between them.

"He's not the most elusive pro-hero," Izuku replied, and Ochako raised an eyebrow.

"Okay fine, maybe not in general but out of the top ten he is," she retorted, picking up her spoon and waving it around for emphasis.  Feeling oddly defensive, Izuku returned to eating his soup and dove into the conversation.

They finished their meal with laughter as they pulled out examples of pro-heroes who were increasingly unknown to the public.  Izuku couldn't stop smiling, the pain in his hands forgotten as Ochako puffed out her cheeks, insisting that 'Of course White Noise counts!  It doesn't matter that we know him from class!'

Izuku pointed out that he was a vigilante, not a pro-hero, and she had thrown up her hands before cleaning up their bowls and carrying them into the kitchen.

They kept bantering until Ochako looked at the time and sighed, begrudgingly mentioning that she needed to head home.

"But!  Promise you'll call me if you need any help, okay?  I put the extra soup in your fridge and there's enough to last you a few days," she said and Izuku sucked in a breath, blinking away sudden tears.

"I promise," he said and Ochako enveloped him in a hug, his feet lifting from the floor before she flushed and deactivated her quirk, rambling apologies.

And then she left, chirping a few more good-byes until she shut the door, leaving him behind in the silence of his apartment.

It was deafening.

Izuku stood there for a few seconds before Ochako's warmth started to filter away and the pain crept back into his arms.  He gritted his teeth and wandered into the kitchen, rummaging around for the pain medication he had gotten at the hospital.

He had washed it down with a glass of water when someone knocked on his door, and he set his glass down in surprise.

"The door's still open, Ochako!" He called, wondering what she had forgotten.

"Midoriya?" Someone asked and he paused.  That wasn't Ochako.

Izuku rushed to open the door and then froze, his mouth parting.

Shouto stood in his doorway, dressed in civilian clothes and with a familiar beanie hiding his iconic hair.  He shifted on his feet when Izuku opened the door, meeting his eyes for a brief moment before he grimaced and glanced to the side.

"S-Shouto?" Izuku asked, still gripping the door because oh god Shouto had come to his apartment and what if he was still mad at him for refusing to leave the fight and—

Izuku jumped when Shouto abruptly removed his beanie and bowed.

"Thank you," Shouto said, holding the pose as Izuku flushed.

"W-What are you—" Izuku started, words slipping away when Shouto lifted his head, his brow furrowed.

"I mean, t-that's not necessary!" Izuku stuttered, waving his arms and wincing before he drew them back to his chest.  Shouto straightened, his eyes drifting to Izuku's hands.

"Of course it is, you saved my life," Shouto said, meeting Izuku's gaze with a quiet determination that was too much, he didn't deserve—

Half-formed sentences died on his lips, and it took him a few moments before he sucked in a breath and nodded.

"Y-You're welcome," he said, anxiously tugging at the bottom of his shirt, his cheeks still red.  They stood staring at one another before Izuku coughed, willing himself to stop blushing.

"D-Do you want to come in for tea?" He asked, and then winced when Shouto frowned.  Of course he didn't want tea, he only stopped by to be courteous—

"You shouldn't be using your hands," Shouto softly said, still holding his beanie.  Izuku awkwardly laughed, scratching his chin and missing how Shouto followed the movement.

"R-Right.  I guess I forgot about that, but I'm sure it wouldn't be too much—"

"You don't need to go out of your way for me," Shouto interjected.

"But I want to," Izuku sharply said before he bit his lip and looked at his feet.  "I mean...I've been worried about you too and I want you to stay?" He admitted, his face growing redder as he tried to hide behind his hands.

"You...were worried about me?" Shouto slowly repeated, and Izuku looked up with a soft nod, watching Shouto's expression shutter.

"You're aware that you were the one who passed out?" Shouto asked and Izuku groaned, scrunching his nose.

"Not on purpose!" He insisted and Shouto huffed, a small breath of laughter escaping him and breaking the tension between them.

"Of course," Shouto replied, faintly smiling before he looked over Izuku's shoulder.  "I can stay for tea, but at least let me make it."

"O-Okay," Izuku stuttered, stepping backwards and letting Shouto inside before he closed the door and led him into the kitchen.

A pro-hero was in his apartment.

Shouto was in his apartment.

Izuku found himself sitting on a stool and throwing nervous glances at Shouto while he moved around the kitchen.  This wasn't happening.

"Where's your tea?" Shouto asked, and Izuku mutely pointed to a cabinet before Shouto nodded and continued working.

Everything about him was quiet.

Shouto didn't make a sound as he padded around the stove, his feet gliding across the floor as he carried himself with an unspoken grace.  He meticulously boiled the water and readied their cups without saying a word, and only after he had steeped the tea long enough did he hand Izuku a cup, murmuring a warning about it being hot.

Izuku cradled the tea, warmth seeping through his bandages as he caught sight of similar ones peeking out near Shouto's collar.

"Is your shoulder alright?" Izuku whispered, not wanting to break the silence.  Shouto followed his gaze and nodded, leaning against the counter as he held his own cup.

"It'll heal."

"No frostbite?" Izuku asked, taking a sip of his tea and accidentally burning his tongue.  Shouto furrowed his brow and took a sip of his own, seemingly unfazed.

"I used my fire," he quietly said, looking down at his left hand. 

"...I thought you had," Izuku muttered to himself, pinching his lip.

"You don't remember?" Shouto asked and Izuku jumped, almost spilling his tea.  He shyly tugged his hair, shifting on the stool.

"I uh, things got a bit hazy after the acid exploded," he explained, his shoulders tensing as he fluttered a hand.

"S-Sorry about that, by the way!" He continued, unable to meet Shouto's gaze.  "I forgot that acid is a good conductor of electricity.  I didn't mean to cause an explosion," he sighed, his head snapping up when Shouto set down his cup.

"That's not something you need to apologize for."

"But I—"

"Midoriya, you didn't know it would cause an explosion.  It's fine," Shouto said and Izuku bit back his apologies with a small nod.  The silence stretched, and Izuku took another sip of his tea before Shouto broke it.

"How did you..." Shouto started and trailed off, pressing his mouth into a flat line.  "When did you learn how to fight?"

"O-Oh, I've been taking a hero course at UA," Izuku replied, flushing when he realized how that sounded.  "I-I mean, I'm learning how to support pro-heroes which is why I knew how to help you and why I had a weapon," Izuku rambled, his hands minutely shaking.

Shouto frowned, opening his mouth before he looked away, his expression tense.

"I-I've only been training for a few months though, s-so I've still got a lot to learn," Izuku stammered, hunching into himself.

"You were the only one who realized I needed help," Shouto said, his voice steady.  "Don't sell yourself short."  Izuku flushed and nodded, and eventually relaxed when Shouto began asking him questions about the hero class, calmly guiding the conversation with gentle tugs.

And all too easily, Izuku lost himself in his words, his hands twitching as he talked.

They had finished their tea before Izuku realized he had been the only one talking, Shouto merely nodding along and offering a question here and there.  Izuku blushed, falling silent as he fiddled with his empty cup.

"...Midoriya?"

"I-I'm sorry, I've been rambling and you probably don't want to hear—"

"It's nice," Shouto said, a light flush dusting his cheeks.  "And if I wanted to leave, I wouldn't be here right now," he added, and Izuku scrambled for a response.

"R-Right!  That is, um...how much control do you have with your fire quirk?" He blurted, cringing when Shouto stiffened.  Idiot.

"Y-You don't have to answer that," Izuku hurriedly said, but Shouto shook his head.

"No, it's..." he paused, emotions warring on his face before he continued.  "I don't have much control," he started, flexing his left hand.  "The most I've done is use it to warm things, but never with open flames."

"So you probably can't use both sides of your quirk at the same time, can you?" Izuku asked and then backpedaled, almost dropping his cup.

"Wait, I didn't mean—"

"You're not wrong," Shouto said as he stepped forward and took Izuku's cup.  Izuku swallowed, watching Shouto drop the dishes in the sink before he turned around.

"Even before I..." Shouto hesitated, gesturing toward his left eye. "I don't think I could use both at the same time."

"Huh," Izuku eloquently said, pinching his lip.  "I wonder if it has to do with the rapid temperature fluctuations?  Maybe your body can't sustain two widely different temperatures at the same time, or they end up canceling one another out..."

"I think I don't have enough control," Shouto said and Izuku jerked, realizing he had been mumbling out loud.  "My body's constantly two different temperatures," he continued, walking over and holding out his arm.

Izuku looked from Shouto's arm to his face, and then shakily touched his arm.

Even through his shirt and Izuku's bandages, Shouto's right arm felt cold, and Izuku blinked in surprise.  He let go and then reached out to Shouto's left arm when he offered it, warmth blooming under his fingers.

"Amazing," he whispered, and then made the mistake of looking up from Shouto's arms.

His eyes were beautiful.

Izuku blushed and quickly backed away, picking at the bandages on his hands as he avoided Shouto's gaze.

"B-But if it's a control issue, then all you need is practice," Izuku nervously stammered and Shouto nodded.

"I'm aware.  It's finding the time that's difficult, and I wouldn't know where to start."  He frowned, and Izuku blurted out the first thing that came to mind.

"You should join the hero class," he said, and then buried his face behind his arms, mortified.  He couldn't just ask Shouto to do something like that.  He had better ways to learn—

"When does the class meet?" Shouto asked and Izuku slowly lowered his hands, staring in disbelief.

"What?"

"It's UA.  They've placed you on a rigorous training plan, haven't they?" Shouto asked and Izuku faintly nodded.  "Then I'll try and go," he added before he asked Izuku about the course's logistics.

By the time Izuku finished explaining how the class worked, the pain had started to creep back into his hands and despite himself, he had started to yawn.

Shouto quickly noticed, and with a few quiet words took his leave, grabbing his beanie and slipping it on before he headed out.  Izuku watched him until he vanished down the hall, and then shut his door with a click before collapsing against it.

Shouto had just—

Izuku wheezed, his breath stuttering as he tried and failed to slow his racing pulse.

Another second and he scrambled across the room for his phone, planning to text Ochako when he remembered that he couldn't exactly use his phone.

Groaning, he turned and headed into his bedroom, tossing his phone on his bed before the sketches on his desk caught his eye.  Izuku trailed a hand over the drawings, willing Shouto to smile and wondering what it'd be like to see him openly use his fire.

He shivered and sat down, pulling out a clean page and starting to sketch despite his protesting fingers.

They ached, a constant drag of painpainpain, but he couldn't stop.

And he didn't until a rough sketch of Shouto, leaning against a counter and sipping tea, stared back at him.

Only then did he set down his pencil, crawl into bed, and cradle his burning hands until he drifted to sleep.

Chapter Text

Water dripped from a hose as Toshinori watered the nursery flowers, the sound rhythmic and loud in the relative silence.

'Toshinori? What are you doing at the station?'

Tsukauchi's words haunted Toshinori as he slowly maneuvered around low-hanging pots.  His side ached, a constant throb that rippled with every movement, gnawing on his nerves until he couldn't—

"Yagi?" Toshinori blinked, looking up to see his co-worker watching him from the doorway, her brow knit in concern.  He coughed and distantly realized he was standing in the middle of the room, a growing puddle of water soaking his feet as he gripped the hose.

"...You okay?" She asked, taking a step forward.

"I was just finishing up," he said before turning off the hose.  His co-worker gave him a skeptical look, but didn't question him further.  Instead, she merely sighed.

"If you're sure...then when you're done we need you out front," she said before walking away.

'You can't help us, not like this.'

'You don't need me?' Toshinori asked, blood staining his tongue.

'That's not what I said.'

Toshinori mechanically hung up the hose, picturing how Tsukauchi had grimaced and waved him into his office before closing the door.

'Have you looked at yourself lately?' Tsukauchi asked, taking a sip from the coffee on his desk before he promptly frowned and dumped it out.

'Of course I have, but what does that have to do with—'

'Have you really?' Tsukauchi hedged, cutting him off with a sharp look.  Toshinori paused, hesitantly swallowing.  'Because you look like a man who's given up on everything.'

Toshinori stepped out of the nursery, watching customers mill around before he headed to fix some displays.  Customers smiled and waved when they caught his eye, and he shallowly nodded back, keeping his head down.

'That's not—'

'You can't see it, can you?' Tsukauchi softly asked, his posture sagging.  He ran a hand through his hair, and Toshinori startled when he noticed the heavy rings under his eyes.

'If I let you go out there now, the world isn't going to see the former symbol of peace.  They're going to see an underweight shadow of who he used to be.'

Toshinori swallowed the cough building in his throat as he straightened a display, adjusting flowers and wiping away dirt.  His thoughts spiraled, memories hazy after Tsukauchi had dismissed him.

He had wandered home in a daze and had ended up on his couch, head buried between his hands as blood trickled from his mouth to the floor.  He wasn't needed.

"...Oh dear, what if he doesn't have room for a larger one?" A soft voice murmured, and Toshinori glanced to the side, catching sight of a plump woman fussing around a display.  Her dark green hair was pulled back in a half-bun, and she kept fluttering one hand, the other pressed against her face.

"But the doctor said he shouldn't use his hands so maybe cut flowers would be better..." she sighed, turning toward the register with a concerned expression.  "He always gets them for me, though.  And they wilt so quickly..." she muttered, shifting on her feet as she glanced from the display to the register and back.

Toshinori didn't realize he was staring until she happened to look over and meet his gaze, her expression lifting.

"Oh! Maybe you can help me, sir," the woman said, beaming as she leaned into her hand. 

Nana?

Toshinori blinked—of course she wasn't Nana—and tried not to wince when she walked over.

"I'm looking for something for my son, but he can't...well, he shouldn't be using his hands for awhile," she sheepishly said, tugging on her hair before she flushed and waved her arms.

"N-Not that he normally can't use them!  He burned them, so I don't want him lifting a large plant but cut flowers die so quickly and I'm not sure how much space he has in his apartment—they're so small these days, you know?" The woman rambled, wringing her hands as she talked.

"Most of our houseplants are very small.  They might work?" Toshinori suggested, and the woman startled when he spoke, her eyes widening.

"Is...something wrong?" He slowly asked, stiffening when she didn't respond.  Another moment and she blushed, hiding her face with a hand.

"I'm sorry, you sounded like my son's favorite..." she trailed off, her eyes drifting from his face to his nametag and back before she let out a soft gasp.

Don't say it.

"You're All Might," she breathed, and he flinched.

"I'm just Yagi," he tried, closing his eyes against the words.  The woman frowned, pinching her bottom lip with a worried expression.

"Ah, that was rude of me, wasn't it?  I'm sorry, you probably get that a lot—"

"It's fine," he interjected, lifting a hand.  "I'm just..." he hesitated, trying and failing to smile.

"It's just one of those days?" The woman asked, gently patting his arm before she startled and retracted her hand.  She curled it into her cheek, looking away.  "Y-You said something about a houseplant?"

Toshinori paused, staring at his arm before he registered her question.

"We have small ones that need little water," he explained, stepping around her and toward the plants.  "If your son can't use his hands, then I would recommend one of them," he added as she followed him.

He fidgeted as she contemplated the plants in silence, and then went to excuse himself.

"Thank you, by the way," she said before he could speak, her expression suddenly serious.  She reached out and picked up a plant, holding it carefully in her hands.  The pot was kid-themed, with All Might! in bold letters across the side.

"It's my job," he replied, watching her cradle the plant.

"I meant, thank you for everything," the woman repeated, her voice full of conviction.  "My son always...you were his inspiration to become a hero," she said with a sniffle, blinking away tears.

"Your son is a pro-hero?"

"He's a paramedic," she said with a watery smile and Toshinori released a breath, warmth trickling through his chest.

"I should be thanking him for his service," he replied, tucking his hands into his apron.  The woman laughed, shaking her head and brushing tears from her eyes.

"T-that means a lot, coming from you," she said, gripping the plant to her chest.  "If only he..." she paused and then shook herself, hiding her face.

"I'm sorry, you don't want to hear me ramble," she said and Toshinori awkwardly rubbed the back of his neck, looking away.

"I'm sure he'll like that plant," he offered, unsure how to respond.  She glanced down at the plant with a smile, nodding.

"I think he will," she agreed, pausing before she turned toward the register.  "I guess I'll go check out." 

Toshinori half-raised a hand to wave to her off, but she had already started walking away.  He smoothed his hand against his apron, about to turn away when the woman stopped and spun around.

"Wait!" She called, seeming to startle herself before she flushed and walked back over.

"Would you sign this for him?" She asked, holding out the small plant as Toshinori blinked in surprise.

"Of course," he said and quickly pulled a marker from his pocket.  He scrawled his signature across the pot and handed it back to the woman, and she thanked him before leaving.

Toshinori watched her pay and head out, and then he finished his shift with a soft smile, Tsukauchi's words brushed to the back of his mind.

Time drifted and he finished his shift, wiping dirt from his hands as he planned to take a hot shower when he returned home.

It wasn't until he stepped into his apartment's hallway and saw a familiar figure waiting for him, did reality come crashing back onto his shoulders.

He started coughing, blood spattering onto his hands as he bent over in a fit.  The figure by his door padded over, extending a small handkerchief with his paw.  Toshinori took it and wiped his mouth clean before he hesitantly met Nedzu's gaze.

Nedzu smiled, and Toshinori swallowed a mouthful of blood, dread creeping down his spine.

"Hello Toshinori," Nedzu began.  "May I come in?"

**

Katsuki slammed the door to the police station and garnered a few looks, not that he cared.

Let them fucking stare.

He glared at the onlookers, sneering until they jumped and rushed on their way, burying their faces into their phones.

Tsukauchi had called him down to the station for a routine report, but he hadn't known anything new about Shigaraki when Katsuki asked.  Tsukauchi had looked exhausted, sinking into his chair as he admitted Endeavor's press conference was the first they had seen the villain in years.  He promised to keep Katsuki updated, and then warned him not to do anything drastic.

As if he was a fucking princess.

Katsuki shoved his hands into his pockets and stalked down the street, his eye twitching in irritation.  Dry fingers closed around his throat, four fingers tilting his chin upwards as he struggled to breathe—

"Hey man, watch it," someone sneered and Katsuki jolted as he ran into a man, their shoulders roughly knocking together.  Katsuki stumbled, palms sparking as the man realized who he had run into and his eyes went wide.

'They're already scared of you.' Katsuki flinched at the echo of Shigaraki's voice and the man twitched, lifting his hands and starting to apologize.  Shit.

Katsuki rolled his shoulders and clenched his hands, ignoring the man as he brushed past him and continued down the street.

He made it halfway home before he spotted a small park and an open bench and threw himself onto it, burying his hands into his hair.  He yanked at his roots, biting his cheek as he fought to keep the bile down, to keep his palms from sparking out of control, to stop that fucking voice from cackling madness into his every waking thought.

No one would come for him.

Katsuki wheezed, a manic sound before he released his hair and rubbed his face, inhaling the smoky scent of his hands.

He wasn't shaking.  He wasn't.

Instead, he relished the familiar scent and opened his eyes, glancing around and catching sight of a discarded newspaper on the ground.  He leaned over and picked it up, and then almost set it on fire when he saw the headline.

"Permafrost Rescues Mystery Paramedic!"  The title screamed, and the enlarged photo beneath it made Katsuki grit his teeth, hating how Deku had somehow become popular despite no one knowing who he was. 

It was a picture taken in the aftermath of the recent villain attack, with Half-n-Half carrying Deku through a crowd. Todoroki looked like someone from a shitty movie; cradling Deku to his chest, both of them covered in blood, and Todoroki's uniform torn to shreds.  For once, Todoroki didn't have ice covering his left side and he looked frantic, running toward something that wasn't in the picture.

Katsuki skimmed over the article, narrowing his eyes.

"At the scene of the villain attack last week, Permafrost was seen carrying an injured paramedic from the aftermath.  The identity and condition of the paramedic are unknown, but we can't help but wonder: just who is this man?  Reporters spotted him and Permafrost together (pictured below) after the May explosion in the shopping district, and then again last month when over five fires broke out in one night.  Onlookers say that..."

Katsuki set the paper on fire when he saw a picture of Deku cradling Todoroki's hand while the hero sat on the back of an ambulance.  They were both covered in soot, and Katsuki threw the smoking paper on the ground, watching it burn before he grit his teeth and smothered the fire with his foot.  Shitty Deku.

"Bakugou?" Katsuki jerked and looked up to see Shitty-hair standing a few steps away in his hero uniform.  He looked concerned—the hell?—and slid something into his pocket before he took another step forward, his eyes flickering to the ashes on the ground.

He furrowed his brow and then released an exaggerated breath, flopping down on the other end of the bench.

"I'm glad you're here dude, I needed a break," Kirishima groaned, briefly stretching backwards before he leaned forward with a grin, as if they sat down to chat every day.  "So how've you been?"

"No."

"But bro—"

"I said no," Katsuki snapped, roughly itching his scar and cursing when he felt the skin tear.  Kirishima watched the movement and then quietly pulled a tissue from his pocket, holding it in the air.

"It sucks to get blood out of clothes," he stated without looking at Katsuki.  Behind them, children screamed in the park and Katsuki begrudgingly accepted the tissue to wipe his face.

"How are you taking a break?" He asked, ignoring Kirishima's outstretched hand in favor of shoving the soiled tissue in his own pocket.

"It's a slow day," Kirishima said with a half-smile, dropping his hand as he made an odd gesture to the strangers walking past them.  Katsuki gave him a skeptical look and Kirishima snorted, crossing his hands behind his head.

"Okay, yeah, we both know that's a lie," he laughed and for some reason, Katsuki felt himself start to relax. "But I figured I could do for a break and you looked..." Shitty-hair trailed off, and before he could continue, a kid's ball rolled to a stop in front of them.

They watched as a young boy and girl ran over, playfully shoving one another as they went.  At the last second, the girl dipped under the boy's arms and snatched the ball, dancing in a small circle of victory until she noticed them.

She froze, her eyes going wide as she stared at Kirishima.

"Are you Red Riot?" The girl excitedly asked as she clutched the ball to her chest.  Beside her, the boy gaped as snot dripped from his nose.  Katsuki rolled his eyes, but Kirishima grinned, leaning forward as he nodded.

"That's me!" He cheerfully said and the girl gasped.

"You're my favorite hero!" She exclaimed, and the boy pushed her shoulder.

"Nu-uh!" He frowned, puffing his cheeks.  "You said Creati was your favorite!"

"No I didn't!"

"Yes you did!" He insisted, and she stuck her tongue out at him.

"She was my favorite last week!" She huffed and Kirishima gently laughed, drawing their attention.

"You can have more than one favorite," Shitty-hair offered and the kids squinted, contemplating the statement before sagely nodding.

"So is he your friend?" The boy suddenly asked, pointing at Katsuki.

"He's a pro-hero too, actually," Kirishima said, deflecting the question.  Katsuki gave him a look, wondering what he was trying to pull when the boy stepped into his personal space.  They stared one another down and then the boy gasped as he rubbed his nose with his hand.

"You're Detonator!" The boy said, leaning forward as Katsuki forced himself not to lean back.  "But why aren't you wearing your costume?"

"I'm not on duty all the time, kid."

"But you're a hero!"

"And right now I'm not.  If you want a hero, talk to Shitty-hair," Katsuki grumbled, pushing himself to his feet.  He didn't need to deal with this shit.

The boy jumped when he stood, and Kirishima hurriedly stood as well, lifting his arms in a gentle gesture.

"Sorry about that, he's a bit tired right now," Kirishima sheepishly said.

"The hell I am, Shitty—"

"So why don't you two run along?  I'm sure you want to get back to your game, yeah?" Kirishima continued, reaching into his pocket when the kids started to protest.  "I'll sign something for you if you do," he quickly offered, and the kids cheered.

The girl demanded he sign her ball, and once he did the pair giggled and thanked him before running away.  Katsuki gritted his teeth, palms sparking as he turned toward Kirishima.

"I didn't need you to—" he started, and stopped when he heard a loud thud followed by a high-pitched wail.  Kirishima and him glanced toward where the children had gone, only to see the boy crying on the ground.  The girl sniffled and tried to help him up, but he only cried harder, the sound grating on Katsuki's ears.

Another moment and Katsuki strode over to the boy, lifting him by the arms and setting him on his feet.

"Stop crying, you're fine," Katsuki snapped, looking the kid over as he continued to cry.

"I said you're fine," Katsuki repeated, brushing drift from the boy's pants and arms before he glanced over his shoulder at Shitty-hair.  "Give me your first-aid kit," he said and thankfully Kirishima didn't question him.  He merely nodded and rushed over, pulling the kit from his belt.  Katsuki snatched it when he held it out, and then snapped it open and grabbed some wipes.

Katsuki methodically cleaned the boy's hands, and by the time he had wiped off his knees, the kid had finally stopped crying.  He watched as Katsuki cleared the blood and dirt away, and even chose the bandages Katsuki placed on his knees, pointing to Red Riot and Endeavor with a small hand.

"There," Katsuki said as he closed the first-aid kit and pushed himself up.  "Don't trip over random shit, okay?" He added and the boy nodded before he took off with the young girl, the pair vanishing into the park.

Katsuki watched them leave before he turned to Kirishima and held out his first-aid kit.  Kirishima looked from the kit to his face, his brow furrowed until Katsuki waved the kit in his face.

"Take it, Shitty-hair.  You have to go back to your shift eventually, right?" He said and Kirishima quietly accepted the kit, hooking it to his belt before he slowly smirked.

"What?" Katsuki asked, and Kirishima broke out into a full smile.

"Nothing," he said, hooking his thumbs into his pockets.  "But you're right, I should get back to my shift," he added, taking a step back.  "I'll see you around, yeah?"

"Don't count on it."

"I'll take that as a yes," Kirishima laughed, and then stepped onto the sidewalk and strode off down the street, casually waving to people as he went.

Katsuki watched him go and then headed home, Kirishima's laughter ringing in his ears until it twisted into Shigaraki's, the bastard creeping his way into his mind until Katsuki slammed his already broken door shut.

He shouldn't have to deal with this shit.

**

Ochako wasn't running late.

She simply missed her train and was rushing halfway across the city to make it to UA on time.

No big deal.

She normally walked with Izuku from the station and she hoped he had seen her frantic text telling him to leave without her.  Breathless, she skidded around the last turn to UA, running full tilt toward the entrance.

Ochako realized too late that Izuku wasn't the only one there and she tripped in surprise, the pavement rushing to meet her.  Hello, ground.

She yelped and quickly activated her quirk, stopping herself inches away from the ground.  A small giggle burst from her lips and she clutched her stomach as she laughed, not stopping until Izuku walked over and spun her to her feet.

"Ochako?" He asked as she deactivated her quirk, stifling her laughter with a wave of her hand.

"Oh my gosh, I'm so sorry," she lightly said, giving him a reassuring grin.  He looked her over again, fidgeting with his bandaged hands before he nodded.

"I'm glad you're okay," he said with a smile and Ochako grinned, about to respond when she remembered that he hadn't been waiting alone.  She quickly glanced behind him and caught sight of all-too familiar hair and eyes.

"Todoroki?" She breathed, and he shifted on his feet, stepping beside Izuku. 

"You two were in the same class, right?" Izuku asked, looking between them.

"We were," Ochako replied with a faint flush while Todoroki nodded, looking uncomfortable.

"Ah, that's good!" Izuku chirped before he made a circling motion with his hands.  "I sort of...um, I may have invited Shouto to join our class?" He rushed, his voice pitching upwards.

Ochako smirked, lifting an eyebrow as Izuku spluttered.

"I-It doesn't mean anything, Ochako!" He stammered, and Todoroki gave him a confused glance.  "He was having trouble with his fire and I figured that UA would be a good way for him to train and—"

"It's alright, Midoriya, I don't think she was implying anything," Todoroki calmly said and Izuku deflated, burying his face in his hands with a small whine.

"I wasn't!" Ochako giggled and winked at Todoroki, who blinked in surprise. "And I'm sure Aizawa won't mind," she added when Izuku looked up.  He sheepishly smiled and she gave him a thumbs-up before she dipped her head toward Todoroki.

"After all, it'll be fun having a real hero in our class!" She cheered, her smile fading when Todoroki frowned and Izuku looked away.  Odd.

"A-Anyways, we should probably head to class.  We shouldn't be late," Izuku stuttered, pointing over his shoulder toward the door.

"Not that you'll be training," Ochako quipped, ruffling his hair as they headed inside and passed through the gates with ease.  Todoroki fell into step beside Midoriya, his expression neutral as he faintly nodded at her words.

"No, but I can still take notes," Izuku said, pinching his lip.  "Although, considering we've been doing a lot of practical training lately I'm surprised he called us in for a normal lesson.  Maybe we're starting a new type of training?" He rambled and Ochako glanced at Todoroki, taking in his intent expression with a small smile.

Izuku continued muttering until they reached class 1-A, and only fell silent when Todoroki paused at the door with a faint frown.

"I didn't think I'd come back here," he quietly said, the moment heavy and silent while Ochako reflexively rubbed her arm.

"Me either," she whispered and Todoroki gave her a calculating look, searching her gaze—Didn't he remember?—before Izuku shifted forward and led them inside.

Aizawa was sitting on his desk with his eyes closed, his capture weapon wrapped around his neck and a stack of papers lying beside him.  In the back of the room, Shinsou was sitting at his desk and staring out the window.

"Why are you here?" Aizawa abruptly asked and Izuku jumped, stepping backwards.

"B-Because we have class?" Izuku replied, and Ochako shifted closer to him, brushing his shoulder.  On his other side Todoroki tensed, and then Aizawa sighed, rubbing his face.

"I should expel you, problem child," he said and wait, what?  Beside her, Izuku froze, and she opened her mouth to defend him when Todoroki stepped forward.

"You can't do that," he coolly said, his hands clenched at his side.  Aizawa gave him a slow look, holding his gaze before he turned back to Izuku.

"I read the police reports," Aizawa started.  "You ran straight into a pro-hero fight."

"That's not what he—"

"But I didn't—"

"You could've permanently damaged your hands," Aizawa interjected, stopping both Todoroki and Izuku.  "And you acted without a license," he added, pushing himself from his desk.  Izuku winced and Ochako gently rubbed his shoulder, letting him lean against her.

"He didn't break the law," Todoroki vehemently said and Izuku jerked with a surprised expression. 

"Yeah!  It's not like he illegally used a quirk," Ochako chimed in and Izuku flushed, hunching his shoulders.  When Aizawa didn't respond, Todoroki stepped in front of Izuku, and Ochako swallowed at the tense line of his back.

"I was there.  He didn't do anything wrong."

"But I did," Izuku quietly said and Todoroki whipped around, his torn expression wrenching a surprised gasp from Ochako.

"Izuku, you didn't—" He started, but Aizawa cut him off.

"Let him speak," Aizawa roughly said and Todoroki flinched.  Ochako resisted the urge to pull him to her while Izuku swallowed in the following silence, shifting on his feet.

"I used a dangerous weapon intended for hero support without a license," he started, hesitantly lifting his eyes to meet Aizawa's.  "And while it technically isn't illegal, if I use my weapons against criminals without a hero license, then I'm no better than a vigilante," he finished and Aizawa nodded, crossing his arms over his chest.

"Exactly."

"That doesn't mean you should expel him," Todoroki insisted, specks of ice dusting his shoulder. 

"I said I should expel him, not that I would," Aizawa grumbled and Izuku wilted in relief, sinking against Ochako.  She watched Todoroki frown and lilt backwards, his confidence slipping.  "He saved a life and contained the villain without collateral damage.  I'd have to be an idiot to expel him."

"That being said, don't ever do it again," Aizawa huffed as he returned to his desk and picked up a stack of papers.

"I won't!" Izuku babbled, wiping his eyes while Todoroki looked down at his hands.  Ochako gently touched his arm, registering the smallest twitch under her hand before he caught her eye.  It's alright.

"Good.  Now go sit down," Aizawa said, and Ochako followed Izuku to their normal seats, watching as Izuku gestured for Todoroki to sit near them.  It was only after they all sat down—Shinsou heaving a sigh from behind—did Aizawa give his full attention to Todoroki.

"Todoroki, why are you here?" Aizawa asked and Todoroki flexed his hands, his eyes flickering toward Izuku.

"I wanted to train."

"Pro-heroes normally train in their own facilities," Aizawa said, shuffling his papers. "You don't need to come here to do that."

"I can't..." Todoroki started, trailing off.

"I-I asked Shouto to come," Izuku stammered, picking at his bandages.  Ochako pursed her lips and swatted at his hands until he stopped and flushed.

"My question still stands," Aizawa said and Todoroki closed his eyes, seeming to compose himself.

"I want to learn how to use my fire," he calmly said, and then everyone jumped when a loud thud sounded from the back of the room.  Ochako turned around to see Shinsou rubbing his knee with a soft hiss.

"You refused to use your fire in school."

"I'm aware sir," Todoroki murmured.  "Izuku helped me...I realize I was being stubborn, but your training would allow me to practice safely," he said, slightly dipping his head.  Aizawa considered him for a moment and then heaved a sigh, waving his hand.

"I assume you know when we meet?" He asked and Todoroki jerked his head up in surprise.

"I do."

"Then I expect you to be here on time, barring pro-hero emergencies," Aizawa grumbled and Todoroki nodded.  Beside Ochako, Izuku shakily giggled until she was giggling too, and thankfully Aizawa allowed them a few moments to compose themselves before he straightened his papers and continued class.

Ochako was surprised by how easily Todoroki fit into their class's odd dynamic.  He took notes when Aizawa lectured, joined them in their warm-up exercises, and even traded a few words with Shinsou, who bristled and stalked off, leaving a confused-looking Todoroki behind.  Ochako giggled at the interaction, watching Izuku pull Todoroki into a conversation before Aizawa interrupted them.

"I forgot to mention this earlier, but we're training here for the next few weeks," he explained and Shinsou frowned, pausing mid-way through a stretch.

"What about our practical training?"

"Considering recent events, we're going to focus on strengthening your quirks—" Aizawa's gaze flickered to Izuku. "—and your weapons.  Tactical practice with UA's facilities as well.  Understood?" Aizawa asked, holding Shinsou's gaze until he gritted his teeth and nodded. 

"Good.  Now let's get started, we're working on endurance today," Aizawa said before he strode off across the grounds, expecting them to follow.

**

Shouto's nerves tingled and his shoulder throbbed as he unlocked the door to his apartment after the hero class.

He had forgotten how intense Aizawa's lessons were.

But at least he hadn't thrown up.

Shouto stilled, sucking in a breath and reminding himself that his father wasn't there before he quietly shut his door and went about his evening routine.

It wasn't until he stepped out of the shower and changed his bandages did he pause, staring at himself in the mirror for a moment before he picked up his phone from where he had set it on the sink.  He looked at his contacts, his finger hovering over a name for a few minutes before he forced himself to click it.

He listened to the phone ring once, twice, three times before he started to worry, to question why he was even calling—

"Hello?" Fuyumi breathed, her voice the soft whisper he remembered and he choked, covering his mouth with a hand.  He heard her shift on the other side of the phone and then she spoke again, her tone hopeful.

"Shouto?" She asked, and he shuddered, clutching the phone as he forced himself to speak.

"Fuyumi, do you know where mom is?"

Chapter Text

Shouto stood in front of a plain door as nurses walked behind him, their uniforms crisp and smelling of antiseptic.

Open it.

His fingers twitched, and he swallowed around the heaviness building in his throat, his eyes flickering to the sign beside the door.

Rei.

All he had to do was open the door, to lift his hand and step inside—

Shouto shuddered, clenching his hands as he let out a frosty breath.  He raised his hand, lowered it, and cursed quietly under his breath.

'I just want to see her,' he cried, burns licking across his arms as he knelt on the floor.  His small hands slipped in his own vomit as Endeavor sneered, flames dancing in his hand across the room.

'Beat me, and I'll let you see her,' he offered, cracking his knuckles as he stepped onto the training mat, his fire growing hotter until Shouto couldn't see past the flames.

"Can I help you, sir?" A voice asked and Shouto startled, ice covering his arm before he registered the nurse standing beside him.  She was holding a clipboard, her eyes wide as she stared at his arm.  He glanced down and then brushed his left hand over his right, averting his gaze as he spoke.

"I'm fine," he said, biting his cheek as he pictured Kirishima.  "I'm going in now," he added, and the nurse eyed him for another moment before she nodded.

"Have a good visit then, sir," she cordially said before continuing down the hall, her shoes clicking on the bare tile.  Shouto watched her go, and then shakily lifted his hand and opened the door.

The room was full of light.

His eyes landed on an older woman sitting by the window, knitting as a soft breeze stirred the curtains behind her.  Her white hair was long, carefully braided down her back and she looked up from behind a pair of glasses when he stepped inside.

Shouto felt his breath hitch.

That wasn't his mother.

And then she smiled, and Shouto was four again, burying his head into her lap.

"Mom?" he whispered, and when she nodded the tension within him broke.

He swayed, unbalanced, reaching forward blindly until she met him halfway and folded him gently against her.

"Shouto," she breathed, and they sank to the floor, clinging to one another like a lifeline.

**

"Let's see how your hands are doing, alright?" Izuku's doctor cheerfully said as Izuku sat across from her in a hospital exam room.

It had been two weeks since the villain attack.

Two weeks spent watching his friends train during their hero class and watching Yoko go into the field with a temporary partner.

Izuku bit his lip and held out his hands for his doctor, watching her flip through her clipboard before she set it down and turned to his hands.

"How've they been feeling these last few weeks?" She asked as she started peeling the bandages away, layer after layer of white slowly unraveling.

"G-Good," he stammered and then ducked his head.  "I-I mean as good as they could've been considering the burns, but they didn't hurt that bad?  I could write without too much pain—"

"You weren't writing with them the entire time, were you?" She asked, cutting him off with a soft click of her tongue.  Izuku flushed, dropping his gaze to his now bandage-free left hand as she began to unwrap the right.

"I did, but not for long periods of time," he offered, and his doctor faintly sighed as she pulled the last bandage free.

"You shouldn't have done that, but all things considered they healed nicely," she hummed, examining his hands and turning them over while she manually flexed his fingers.

Izuku stared at the patchwork of scars creeping over his hands and arms, phantom pains sending a shiver down his back.

"How's your range of motion?" His doctor asked, motioning for him to bend his fingers.

"I think the same?"

"Any lingering pain?"

"No, but they're a bit stiff," Izuku said as he slowly moved his hands.  His doctor nodded, writing a few notes before she gave him a warm smile.

"That's normal, and should go away in a few weeks as long as you keep applying burn cream and stretch your hands daily," she explained and he nodded, standing to leave when she dismissed him.

"T-Thank you," he said and she softly laughed, waving a hand.

"You're welcome.  But try not to land yourself back here again too soon."  Izuku awkwardly chuckled, rubbing the back of his neck before he stepped into the hallway.

Izuku ran his fingers over his arms as he walked through the hospital, heading toward the backroom where he normally met Yoko.

His scars looked like ink, and he clenched his hands, feeling his skin pull tight. 

It had been worth it.

Shouto had been behind him, after all.

"How's your hands, Izuku?" Yoko asked and Izuku startled, looking up and realizing he had wandered into the backroom.  Yoko was sipping a juice box at the table, her uniform jacket draped across the back of her chair.  When he didn't respond, she set down her drink in favor of holding one out to him.

"I'm cleared to work," he said as he accepted the drink.  Yoko raised an eyebrow, and then stilled when she caught sight of his hands.  She frowned, her brow knitting before she stood and chucked her juice into the trash.

"The guy they paired me with can't keep his lunch in his stomach when I drive," she said as she picked up her jacket and slipped it on.  "It's a good thing you're back," she added, flashing him a grin.  Izuku sighed in relief, opening his juice box and taking a drink.  She wasn't mad.

"Oh, I'm still mad," she said and Izuku jolted, crushing his juice box.  How had she...?

"It's written all over you face," she explained as she shouldered her bag.  "But you're a damn good partner, and that pro-hero of yours seemed worth it," she grinned and Izuku spluttered, flailing his arms.

"He's not mine!"

"But he could be," she chuckled, tossing him his jacket.  He squeaked, barely catching it before it smacked him in the face.

"Yoko, he's a pro-hero," Izuku quickly said, even as he pictured slipping his hand into Shouto's, hearing him laugh as they walked down the street, fighting at his back during their hero class—

Oh god.

"You're picturing it," Yoko quipped, and Izuku buried his burning face in his hands.

"Why do you do this to me," he groaned and Yoko laughed, pulling him into a hug.

"Because I was worried," she said, and Izuku sucked in a breath as she tightened her arms around him.  "And I'm glad you're okay," she softly added, giving him another squeeze before she released him.  He sniffled, and then quickly rubbed his eyes, blinking away tears.

"I shouldn't be surprised," Yoko sighed and Izuku shakily laughed, fluttering his hands and giving her a weak smile.

Yoko started to hand Izuku a tissue when the sound of the emergency alarm blaring made them both jump, and she glanced from the alarm to Izuku before she grinned, grabbing her keys from the table.

"You ready?" She asked and he nodded, already following her out the door.

**

Later that day, Izuku rounded the turn to UA and waved when he saw Ochako and Shouto waiting for him by the gates.

Ochako cheerfully waved back, floating a few inches above the ground.  Izuku laughed and jogged over, watching Shouto gently tap Ochako's shoulder.  She blinked, looked down, and then deactivated her quirk with a giggle.

Shouto smiled at her, and Izuku paused at the gentle expression, his breath catching in his throat.  He lifted his arm, reaching towards Shouto before Ochako spoke and Izuku startled, his face turning red.  What was he doing?

"So how're your hands?" Ochako asked.  Izuku awkwardly coughed, shaking himself before he held out his hands.

"No permanent damage," he replied, and she pursued her lips, gently tracing his scars.  Beside her, Shouto had frozen, a hand half-raised toward his own scar.

"I'm sorry," he whispered, his fingers curling into a fist as he looked away.

"It wasn't your fault," Izuku quickly said, chasing the ghost of a smile and wishing he could bring it back.  "And I would do it again."

Shouto jerked, meeting Izuku's determined gaze with a pale expression.  He opened his mouth, swallowed, and then hesitantly nodded, a faint flush dusting his cheeks.

"Thank you," he said, and then Ochako tugged on Izuku's hand, wrapping him into a sideways hug.

"Hey look, on the bright side, we've all got matching scars now!" She chirped, holding up her arm for emphasis. Izuku blinked and Shouto frowned, glancing from her arm to Izuku's hands.

"They're all different," Shouto said with a confused expression.  There was a beat of silence, and then Izuku snorted and Ochako doubled over laughing.  "That wasn't a joke," he insisted, and they only laughed harder.

Shouto huffed, and Izuku reigned in his laughter, giving Shouto a faint smile before Ochako managed to control herself.  She playfully giggled and then dragged them to class, bumping their shoulders along the way.

When they walked into class, Aizawa was writing on the chalkboard and there were small whiteboards and markers on their desks.

Izuku picked up his marker when he sat down and glanced at Ochako.  She gave him an excited grin, winking before she turned to face Aizawa.  In contrast, Shouto was staring at his whiteboard with a furrowed expression, his fingers white around his marker. 

"Most of you already know what we're doing," Aizawa said, drawing their attention as he turned around.  He slowly blinked, rubbing his eyes while he gestured to their whiteboards.  "For those who don't, you're going to choose your hero name."

Izuku stilled, almost dropping his marker.

"As the first adults completing this course, you'll be thrown into the spotlight sooner rather than later," Aizawa grumbled.  "Pick a name you won't hate," he finished before he sat on his desk, crossing his arms with a bland expression.

In the following silence, Izuku bored a hole into his whiteboard, setting down his marker before he hesitantly raised his hand.

"What is it, Midoriya?" Aizawa asked, and Izuku ducked his head.

"I-I don't need a whiteboard, sir," he stuttered, his throat tightening around the words.  He didn't deserve a name.

"I'm not going to be a pro-hero, so I can't—"

"Even sidekicks have a name, kid," Aizawa said, cutting him off.  Izuku bit his lip—belatedly rubbing his eyes when he realized he was crying—and watched as Aizawa sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose.

"Is Recovery Girl a pro-hero?" He asked and Izuku blinked, thrown by the question.

"O-Of course she is," he stammered, wincing when he met Aizawa's gaze.

"She doesn't fight."

"N-No, but she heals people and saves lives," Izuku replied, sinking into his seat.

"How is that different from what you'll be doing?" Aizawa asked and Izuku paled, holding his breath. 

"Not all pro-heroes fight.  And if you're going to support them, you have to acknowledge yourself," Aizawa said, holding Izuku's gaze until he looked away. 

Izuku clenched his hands, watching his scars shift before he hesitantly picked up his marker.

Maybe he was allowed to do this.

The bare whiteboard taunted him as he tried to think of a name and pictured the ones he had scribbled long ago into the margins of his notebooks.  Small Might!  All Might Jr.!!!  Captain Might!!

Embarrassed, he sighed and thunked his head against his desk.  He couldn't copy All Might.  

Izuku didn't look up until Ochako stood and bounced to the front of the room, presenting her whiteboard with a small flourish.

Uravity: The Gravity Hero.

"It's not super creative, but I liked this when I was younger and I still like it now!" She quickly said, tugging on her hair.  "I think it's fun, but dependable," she added with a grin.  Aizawa slowly blinked and nodded, and she walked back to her seat, sitting down with a relieved sigh.

She giggled and turned to beam at Izuku, her energy spilling into him until he relaxed.  He smiled, and then turned to watch Shouto when he stood and made his way to the front of the room.

"I already have a pro-hero name," Shouto said as he turned his whiteboard around, his gaze flickering to Aizawa.  Shouto was written in precise script, and Izuku faintly nodded while Aizawa scratched his chin.

"Do you?" he calmly asked and Shouto frowned, glancing at his name.

"It's Shouto."

"Is it?"

"I don't—" he tried, but Aizawa held up a hand.

"Is that how the world views you?" He asked and Izuku gasped, quickly covering his mouth to stifle the sound.

No one called him by his hero name.

Shouto's fingers tightened around his whiteboard and he looked away, his expression dark.  The silence stretched, heavy and stifling until Shouto spoke.

"I don't know how to fix it," he admitted, his shoulders minutely shaking.

"There's nothing to fix," Aizawa rumbled and Shouto started, snapping his gaze to Aizawa.

"Then how—"

"It's your name, isn't it?  Let the world know who you are, and correct them when they're wrong," Aizawa said as he adjusted his capture weapon, absently plucking off what looked like fur and dropping it into the trashcan beside him.

Shouto watched the movement and then minutely nodded, and Izuku followed the tense line of Shouto's shoulders as he sat down.

Izuku reached out a hand, wanting to offer support but not knowing how, and then Shinsou stood up from the back of the room.

"I guess it's my turn," he grumbled as he walked forward.  From his seat, Izuku couldn't see what Shinsou had written, but whatever it was made Aizawa frown.

He opened his mouth to speak, but Shinsou ignored him, already turning his board around.

White Noise.

"I knew it!" Izuku blurted, and then hastily slapped his hands over his mouth, mortified.  Shouto startled at the sound, and Ochako abruptly choked on her own spit, coughing and slapping her chest.

"Oh my god," she wheezed, her eyes watering.  Izuku echoed her statement, his theories of the vigilante snapping into focus in his mind. 

He had been right.

"You're not using that name," Aizawa stated and Shinsou glared, holding his ground.

"Why not?" Shinsou asked as he crossed his arms.  Aizawa narrowed his eyes, his capture weapon shifting around him.

"Because White Noise is an illegal vigilante."

"And no one's seen him for months," Shinsou replied, leaning forward.  "Just like you told him."  Aizawa gritted his teeth, rubbing the scar under his eye.

"That doesn't mean you can use that name.  You'd have to publically announce your hero status and give a formal explanation," Aizawa said and Shinsou shrugged, shoving his hands into his pockets.

"Then I'll do that.  People have been misjudging me my entire life, it won't matter if they keep doing it," Shinsou said, holding Aizawa's gaze until he barked at him to sit down.  Shinsou smirked, picking up his whiteboard before he walked back to his seat.

Izuku was still reeling when Shinsou sat down, and it took him a moment to realize that everyone had gone but him. 

He uncapped his marker—as if that'd make a name appear—and stared at the whiteboard, knowing that whatever he wrote would define him to the world, would be what people remembered when they thought of him, the quirkless nobody who was pretending to—

Fucking Deku.

Izuku shivered, biting his lip and shoving Kacchan from his mind. 

He was allowed to have this, wasn't he?

Even Recovery Girl had a name.

"It's you turn, Izuku," Ochako said and Izuku jumped, turning to see her give him an encouraging smile.

"I know, I just...I never had a nickname before, and I d-don't have a quirk to base my name off of.  I don't want to use my first name like Shouto does but then there's nothing that I can—"

"You never had any nicknames growing up?" Ochako asked, stopping him before he could spiral.

"N-Not really?" He stuttered, fluttering his hands as he ducked his head.  "I-I mean Kacchan used to call me Deku, but I never really liked it."

"Why not?" Ochako asked, tilting her head as she tapped her cheek.  "I mean, it sounds like 'You can do it!'" she chirped with a grin, nodding to herself.  Izuku blinked, he hadn't thought about it like that.

"I..." he started, trailing off and glancing at Shouto.

"It's your decision, but for what it's worth, I think it's a good name," Shouto said, his eyes flickering to Izuku's hands.  Izuku flushed, turning back toward Ochako and jumping when he saw her smirking.

"So what do you think, Izuku?" She asked, tipping backwards in her chair.

Izuku gripped his marker, letting out a breath before he steeled himself and pressed it against his whiteboard.  He wrote quickly, and then stood, nerves prickling his arms as he made his way to the front of the room.

He clutched the whiteboard to his chest as he faced the class, knowing they would make fun of him as soon as he turned it around; it was a worthless name and Kacchan had been right—

No.

Izuku forced himself to breathe, reminding himself that Ochako and Shouto were his friends.  They wouldn't make fun of him, wouldn't use his name to torment or shove him into the dirt.

They weren't Kacchan.

Izuku steadied himself, his hands slightly shaking as he turned his whiteboard around.

Deku: The Paramedic Hero

"I-I think it'll work," he said, forcing himself to look up.  "It's short and easy to remember." Ochako beamed, bouncing in her seat while Shouto smiled with a soft nod.

"Not bad, kid," Aizawa said and Izuku jerked, having forgotten he was there.  "Now go sit down, I have a lecture to teach," he added and Izuku rushed to his seat, holding his whiteboard close.

He brushed his fingers over his name as he sat, smearing the ink before he wiped it clean and pulled out his notebook.

Warmth bubbled in his chest, and he couldn't stop himself from smiling when Aizawa started the lecture, tears pricking his eyes.

He had a name.

**

Shouta stepped into the teacher's longue after his lecture, and almost turned around when he saw Nedzu sitting on the couch in the middle of the room, calmly sipping tea.

Nemuri was sprawled over the chair beside him, and she looked up when Shouta entered, resting her chin in her hand.

"Oh good, you're finally here," she said and Shouta frowned, eyes flickering to Nedzu before Hizashi stepped into view, carrying a cup of tea.

"What is this?" Shouta asked as Hizashi walked over and gently tugged his folders from his hands, replacing them with the tea.

"It's a faculty meeting, of sorts," Nedzu said with a calm smile, still sipping his tea as if this didn't look like some sort of intervention.  Nemuri snorted from her chair, lazily waving a hand while Hizashi leaned against Shouta's shoulder.

"You wouldn't have come if we told you about it," she said and Shouta stiffened.

"She's right, babe," Hizashi gently said, briefly squeezing his arm.  "For what it's worth, it's not about you," he added, and Nemuri jerked upright.

"Holy shit, are you two finally a thing?" She asked with a wolfish grin.  Shouta flushed, dipping his chin into his capture weapon.

"So what if we are?" He grumbled, grimacing when Nemuri chuckled and leaned forward in her chair.

"That's great, but did you two fu—"

"Nemuri!" Hizashi shouted, cutting her off.  Everyone winced at the sound, and Shouta tugged on Hizashi's arm, catching his attention before he tapped his own ear.  Hizashi flinched, hunching his shoulders and murmuring a quick apology.

 "I only wanted to know the details," Nemuri said, rubbing her ear.  "I've been trying to knock some sense into you since high school."

"As heartwarming as this is, we do have a meeting to attend to," Nedzu interjected.  "So if you would, please take a seat," he said with a nod toward the couch. 

"A meeting no one told me about."

"For a good reason, Aizawa," Nedzu quipped before waving a paw at the door.  "But let's not be rude.  We have a new faculty member to welcome," he said as footsteps echoed down the hall.

Another moment, and Shouta dropped his tea when Tensei wheeled into the room with All Might beside him.

Thankfully, Hizashi caught it before it could break, but tea sloshed over his hand and he let out a pained hiss.  Shouta cursed, pulling out a tissue and wiping Hizashi's hands while Tensei awkwardly cleared his throat.

"Did we come at a bad time? I know we're late, but I found him waiting outside the old faculty room," Tensei said as he wheeled himself over to Nemuri, greeting Shouta and Hizashi along the way.  All Might shifted on his feet by the door, his hands clenched at his sides.

He looked like hell.

Dark circles lined his eyes—like Shinsou—and his clothes hung from his thin frame.  His skin looked sallow, and when he coughed into a stained handkerchief Shouta wondered how he hadn't collapsed yet.

"You're not eating, are you?" Nemuri quietly asked, breaking the silence.  All Might started, tucking his handkerchief away as he met her gaze.

"I take care of myself."

"Bullshit you do—"

"Why don't we begin the meeting?" Nedzu interrupted, motioning for everyone to sit.  Nemuri narrowed her eyes and crossed her arms, begrudgingly picking up a cup of tea. 

Shouta glanced at Hizashi when he guided him to the couch with a hand on his back, but he didn't protest.  He merely tensed when Hizashi sat down and leaned against his shoulder with a sigh, and didn't relax until he realized no one was watching.

All Might sat down last, gingerly folding himself into a chair, his bones straining against his skin.

"As you may know, we started an adult pro-hero class here at UA," Nedzu began, pouring everyone tea before they could protest.  Hizashi rested his cup against Shouta's leg, and Shouta focused on its warmth.

"Aizawa's been teaching the course, but I thought it would be beneficial to supplement the students' lessons with someone who has veteran training," Nedzu continued.  "Students at UA have more than one teacher, after all," he said with a laugh that no one echoed.

Nedzu paused, looking around the room before he coughed and moved on.

"That being said, I called you here to help Yagi with his transition back into teaching," he explained, and All Might choked on his tea.  He coughed, wiping his face as the tea turned to blood, and waved a hand when Tensei offered him another handkerchief.

"I never said I would come back," All Might rasped and Shouta stiffened, Nedzu's words running through his mind.

It's not an offer, it's a lifeline.

Shit.

"He'd be teaching the adult class once a week during practical training, unless you need him otherwise," Nedzu continued.

"I'm not a teacher," All Might protested, setting down his tea.

"You did...fine your first time around," Nemuri offered, and then shrugged when Hizashi gave her a look.  "What, he wasn't great but Shouta's going to be there.  If anything, it'll help him take care of himself."

"If it's because of your health," Tensei started, the mental hanging implied. "I know a few professionals who would be willing to help," he said with a brief glance at Shouta.

"You don't understand, I told Nedzu that I would think about it.  I haven't decided yet," All Might insisted.

"Practical training is on the weekend, so it won't interfere with your other job," Nedzu grinned, and Shouta raised an eyebrow.  He had another job?

"Nedzu, I can't—"

"He's not giving you an offer.  It's already been decided," Shouta grumbled and the room fell silent.

"Aizawa's correct," Nedzu said, his smile growing. "So I expect we'll see you starting in two weeks, won't we?"

All Might stared, gripping his cup before he deflated, coughing and sinking into his chair.

"Okay," he whispered.  Nedzu drained his tea, setting down his cup with a definitive click.

"Good.  You're all dismissed," he said and Nemuri stood, planting her hands on her hips and facing All Might.

"Your apartment's not a piece of trash, right?" she asked and Hizashi chuckled, blushing when Shouta shot him a glare.

"No?" All Might said, looking confused.

"Good, because I already cleaned one dump and I'm not doing it again. But you sure as hell don't know how to cook for yourself, so give me your address," she commanded as she walked around the couch toward him.

Shouta sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose when he realized he'd have to adjust his lessons plans.

Not to mention how he'd explain it to his class without losing Midoriya to hero worship.

Considering how the kid had reacted to meeting Shouta, he couldn't imagine his reaction to All Might would be any better.  Problem child.

Everyone slowly started to filter out withTensei leading the way, followed by All Might and Nemuri, who rattled off questions about where he lived and what he liked to eat.  Hizashi stood and rubbed his neck, holding out his hand to Shouta.

Shouta met Hizashi's gaze, reminded himself that Hizashi wasn't going to leave, and slipped his hand into Hizashi's.

Hizashi pulled him to his feet, and then held on as they turned to leave.  They only paused when Nedzu cleared his throat, and Shouta turned around, biting back a sigh.

"Yes?" He asked as Nedzu padded over, ignoring how his eyes flickered to their hands before he spoke.

"You have four students now, correct?" Nedzu asked.

"I do.  We picked up Todoroki two weeks ago, why?"

"Ah, no reason.  I simply wanted to warn you that you'll be getting another student in the next month or so.  Two, if things go as they should," he grinned.

"What do you mean?"

"It's nothing to worry about!" Nedzu quipped, waving them off.  "But I hope you two have a good evening," he added, and Shouta frowned, knowing he wouldn't get a better explanation.

Hizashi tugged on his hand and he followed him out, pushing Nedzu's warning to the back of his mind.

He could worry about it later.

For now, he focused on Hizashi's warmth and steady presence as they headed home.

Chapter Text

Shouto stared at his phone, scrolling through weeks of unanswered texts from his father and wondering if he could get away with blocking his number.

The messages all demanded the same thing.

Text me.

Like hell he would.

Shouto forced himself to breathe and shoved his phone into his pocket, turning toward the stack of paperwork he had been steadily working through at his pro-hero office.

"This stuff never ends, man," Kirishima groaned, splaying across his desk and sending some papers to the floor.  Shouto chuckled, reaching down and picking up the papers before placing them on Kirishima's head.

"You knew this was going to be part of the job," Shouto said, smiling when Kirishima made an unintelligible sound.

"That doesn't mean I have to like it. It's the weekend!  We should be out doing manly stuff," he said, lifting his head and sending the papers to the floor again.  He glanced at them, sighed, and begrudgingly started to pick them up.

Shouto leaned down to help him, letting himself relax into the banter.

They had been working for most of the afternoon, knocking out a good chunk of their paperwork, and Kirishima had started going stir crazy after the first hour.

"We only have an hour left," Shouto said, picking up his mug as he stood and walked to the coffee pot.  He grabbed Kirishima's cup along the way, and prepared him green tea before he poured himself some coffee.

"An hour's too long," Kirishima grumbled, perking up when Shouto walked back and handed him the tea.  "Thanks, Shouto," he grinned—somehow already taking a sip—and Shouto paused, his eyes widening.

When he didn't move Kirishima looked up and sheepishly laughed, rubbing the back of his neck.

"You don't mind, do you?" Kirishima asked and Shouto paused, forcing himself to sit down, ignoring the tightness pressing on his throat.

"I..." he started, cradling his coffee. "It's nice, thank you."

"You can call me Eijirou, if you want," Kirishima offered, and Shouto opened his mouth, hesitating a moment too long.

"No pressure, dude.  You'll get there when you get there," Kirishima laughed, turning back to his work.  Shouto ducked his head—it was only a name—and forced himself to continue as well.

The silence didn't last.

Another five minutes and Kirishima was complaining again, leaning backwards in his chair and ruffling his hair.

"What're you doing after work?  Because we should go get food," he said, his smile wavering when Shouto stared at his paperwork, his fingers tight around his pen.

"Ah, it's fine if you don't want to.  I just thought—"

"I do want to," Shouto interjected, holding Kirishima's gaze until his expression softened and he leaned forward.

"But I have...class after work," Shouto said.

"Class?  Is that where you've been going every other day?" Kirishima asked and Shouto nodded, setting down his pen.

"It's a hero course at UA.  I've been learning how to control my fire," he explained and Kirishima grinned, slapping the desk and making him jump.

"That's great, yeah?  I've been wondering if that's why you haven't iced your left side during fights lately," he said.  Shouto nodded, trailing his fingers over his left arm.

He couldn't hide anymore.

"Have you..." Kirishima started, furrowing his brow before he looked down at his papers.  "Done what we talked about at the hospital?" He quietly asked, twisting a pen in his hands.

"I mean, you don't have to tell me but—"

"I have," Shouto softly said, and Kirishima stiffened, questions filling his eyes.

"She was..." Shouto tried, biting his lip before he continued. "I'm glad I went."  His phone buzzed in his pocket and he clenched his jaw, not daring to look.

'He tries to contact me too,' his mother said, her knitting lying still in her lap.  She squeezed Shouto's hand, giving him a weak smile.  'The letters are in a box on my desk.  I can't bring myself to open them, not yet.'

'He doesn't control me anymore,' she whispered, resting her hand against his scar, the motion gentle—so gentle—and he found himself leaning into it.

'And he doesn't control you.  Remember that, Shouto.'

"That's awesome," Kirishima said with a wide grin.  "Maybe we can grab food tomorrow then?" He asked and Shouto blinked, reaching out and accepting the olive branch, unspoken apologies drifting between them.

"I'd like that," Shouto said, a smile pulling at his lips.  Across from him, Kirishima laughed, accidentally scattering a few papers as he dived back into his work.

**

Izuku shifted on his feet, adjusting his hero uniform while Ochako radiated excitement.

His cuffs felt cool against his wrists, a solid presence as he double-checked that he had packed all his medical supplies into his belt.  Beside him, Shouto tugged on his sleeves and Izuku glanced his way, his breath catching at the sight of Shouto in his hero uniform without ice covering his left side.

Izuku lifted his eyes and startled when he realized Shouto was watching him, and he fumbled for something to say, fluttering his hands.

"I've never seen you in your uniform," Shouto said, and Izuku froze, half-formed words breaking apart in his mouth.  "It looks good."  Izuku ducked his head, clenching his hands as he blushed.

"T-Thank you," he stuttered, belatedly gesturing toward Shouto.  "Yours does too," he added, and then tried not to panic because Shouto was a pro-hero of course his uniform looked—

"You should tell him it'd look better in blue," Ochako whispered in Izuku's ear and he jumped, jerking away with a small sound.  Ochako grinned, and Izuku hastily buried his face behind his arms.

"Is something wrong?" Shouto asked, and Ochako quipped a cheerful 'Nope!' while Izuku wheezed.

They were waiting outside one of UA's training facilities for their practical training, watching Present Mic call directions to a group of students finishing their lesson.

Aizawa stood beside Present Mic, his arms crossed as he occasionally grumbled advice, a calm wall compared to Present Mic's excited gesturing.  Not too far away, Shinsou stood in his uniform, his mask pulled up as he waited for their turn.

"They're taking too long," Aizawa commented and Present Mic pouted, his posture minutely deflating.

"They're still first years, Shouta.  And Yagi's late, so it works out!" He grinned before spinning and yelling encouragement at his students. 

Izuku covered his ears at the sound and watched Aizawa sigh, pinching the bridge of his nose.

"Is another teacher coming?" Ochako asked as she rubbed her ear.  Aizawa paused, slowly uncrossing his arms.

"Yes, but he should've been here ten minutes ago."

"I am here!" A voice called, and everyone watched as an underweight man in a baggy shirt walked across the grounds, coughing into a handkerchief as he approached.

"All Might?" Izuku breathed, flushing.  All Might tucked his hands into his pockets, giving a sharp nod as he stopped beside Aizawa.

"Yagi is fine, kid," he replied, and then seemed to do a double take, staring at Izuku.  "Have I met you before?" He asked, but Izuku was still tripping over the fact that All Might was their new teacher, he was going to learn from the number one hero—

"You did!  In the flower shop, remember?" Ochako chirped, bumping into Izuku's shoulder with a grin.  All Might paused, seeming to consider her words.

"You're young Uraraka, correct?  You have a...gravity quirk?" He asked, nodding to himself before he looked back at Izuku. "Although, I don't think I got your name, young man."

"O-Oh, it's Midoriya, sir.  I'm a para—"

No.

Izuku bit his tongue, sinking into himself.

All Might didn't know he was quirkless. 

"He's a paramedic," Shouto quietly offered and Izuku winced, missing how Ochako pursed her lips.  She huffed, and then swacked Izuku on the back.  He squeaked, snapping his head up with a confused look.

"And going to be a support hero," she added, turning toward All Might.  He paused, eyes flickering to Izuku's hands.

"Do you—"

"Shinsou's the one brooding in the back," Aizawa interjected, rolling his shoulders as he pointed over his shoulder.  "But enough introductions, we'll have time for this later."

"My students aren't done yet, Shouta.  You can keep—" Present Mic started, and then stopped when a scream rang out from the training grounds.

The students had been yelling the entire time, shouts of laughter and anger ringing from the grounds, but this scream was something more.

There was a brief moment of silence, and then another scream rent the air.

Whoever it was sounded frantic—like they were calling for help—and within seconds Aizawa and Present Mic were running toward the entrance, everyone following on their heels.

They stopped at the entrance and stared into the half-demolished cityscape, straining to see what was wrong.

"Is...that fire?" Ochako gasped, pointing into the arena and Izuku followed her gaze, his eyes widening at the billows of blue fire flickering against the sky.

"Hizashi—"

"None of my students have fire quirks," Present Mic rushed, slipping on his headphones.  Aizawa cursed, pulling his capture weapon from his neck as he strode forward, his expression dark.

"Todoroki, come with us," Aizawa said while he slipped on his goggles, Present Mic already at his side.  "The rest of your stay here," he commanded and Izuku winced, knowing he couldn't object.

"But we could—"

"You don't have licenses," Aizawa snapped, stopping Shinsou with a cold look.  "We don't know what's going on, and we need someone to watch the students we send back.  Is that clear?"

Shinsou abruptly closed his mouth, gritting his teeth with a sharp nod.

"All Might, call Nedzu and Recovery Girl; let them know what's going on," Aizawa ordered before he took off, running into the arena with Present Mic and Shouto.  Izuku swallowed, watching them vanish while All Might fumbled with his phone, muttering shitshitshit under his breath.

Minutes crawled by as Izuku forced himself to stay put, his nails digging into his palms while Ochako paced beside him and gnawed on her thumbnail.  Izuku flinched with every scream he heard, and he had to remind himself that the pro-heroes had gone to help, that the students would be alright, that Shouto would be okay.

When the first group of students stumbled out—three girls covered in soot and clinging to one another—Ochako and Izuku guided them away from the entrance, Ochako calming them down while Izuku checked them for wounds.

He methodically patched up the few he found, and paused when he realized Shinsou was beside him, kneeling to look the girls in the eye.

"What's going on in there?" Shinsou asked, and Ochako frowned when the girls cringed.

"Shinsou, let them breathe," Ochako huffed, but Shinsou ignored her, holding one of the girl's gaze.

"I know this is scary, but we need to know what you saw," he explained, and the girl sniffled as Izuku finished tying a bandage around her arm.  She stared at the ground for a few seconds, shuffling her feet.

"T-There were v-villains in there," she whispered.  Shinsou swore and strode away, kicking the ground.

"How many did you see?" All Might asked as he walked over and knelt down, his phone pressed against his ear.  The girls stared at him with wide eyes, and it took Ochako gently prompting them before they responded.

"I s-saw three?" One girl said and the others bobbed their heads.  All Might thanked them and stood, walking away and relaying the information.  The girls sniffled, and then another scream tore through the air.

They started to cry when another group of students stumbled out, covered in debris but thankfully uninjured.

"We need to go in there," Shinsou said, his hands shaking at his side.

"You know we can't," Ochako replied, directing the new students toward their growing group.

"Fuck licenses, I can't sit around doing nothing!" He snapped and Izuku bit his tongue, his eyes flickering to his cuffs.

"You two can't go," Izuku started, pushing himself to his feet as he unlatched his cuffs.  "But I can,” he said, slipping off his cuffs and letting them drop to the ground.  Ochako stared at him with a horrified look.

"Izuku, you can't—"

"You don't have a license, just like us," Shinsou hissed.  Izuku brushed the uneven skin on his wrists, slowly meeting Shinsou's gaze.

"I don't, but I do have a paramedic license.  And it's not like I can illegally use my quirk, can I?" He darkly joked, already turning toward the entrance.

"I won't fight.  I'll bring back what students I can, which means the pro-heroes can fight without worrying about them," he explained, holding Ochako and Shinsou's gaze until the former looked away and the latter sighed.

Izuku spared All Might a glance, watching his thin back bend as he talked into his phone, and then he took off at a run, heading into the arena.

The training grounds had been modeled after a typical city, but in the chaos buildings had been demolished left and right, debris covering the ground and soot filling the air.  Izuku coughed, wiping his eyes before he pulled up his mask, whispering a silent thanks to Mei.

The destruction grew as he ran; blue fire and smoke curling in the distance while Aizawa's capture weapon shot into the air.  Near the center of the arena, Izuku could hear Present Mic's yells followed by a series of explosions, and he moved away from the noise, not wanting to run headfirst into a fight.

He couldn't help there.

Izuku headed toward the right, ducking around corners and keeping to side streets until he ran into a frantic student.

Literally.

They slammed into one another and Izuku wheezed while the student cried out, tears streaming down his face as he fell.  He tried to back away on the ground, and Izuku quickly held up his hands, speaking softly.

"It's okay, I'm here to help," he said and the student hesitated, staring at Izuku.

"Y-You are?"

"I am," Izuku assured him, showing him the medic patch on his arm.  The kid quieted at that, wiping his face on his hands.

"Are you hurt?" Izuku asked, checking him over while keeping an eye on their surroundings.  They were tucked into an dim alley, and Izuku was relieved when the boy shook his head despite the blood covering him.

"I-It's not my b-blood," the boy stammered as he picked at his uniform.  "S-Shiroe was right behind me and I couldn't—" he started and then stopped, clutching his face with a sob. 

"Where's your friend?" Izuku gently asked and the boy shook his head, looking over his shoulder.

"B-Back there.  S-She couldn't stand, her leg was..." he trailed off and Izuku stood, helping the boy to his feet.

"There are pro-heroes here now, okay?  Everything will be alright," Izuku assured him, forcing himself to smile.  "But I need you to go out the exact way I tell you to."

"Can you do that for me?" He asked, and the boy nodded with a shiver.  Izuku quickly pointed out the route he had taken to get there, and waited until the boy had vanished before he turned and ran in the opposite direction.

Izuku skidded through the tattered streets, ducking around corners and slipping on ash until he heard what sounded like crying.  He stilled, holding his breath before he changed directions and ran into a small intersection.

At the same time, another student stepped into sight across the clearing from him, and Izuku froze.

The student paused as well, and then they both turned toward where another girl was crying on the side of the intersection, her leg crumpled beneath her.  Izuku scanned the edges of the area, making sure it was clear before he ran to the fallen girl.

"Shiroe?" Izuku asked when he reached her, kneeling down as she shakily nodded and rubbed her face.  She was covered in blood, and Izuku bit his lip when he saw a broken bone piercing through her leg.

"That's a lot of blood," someone said and Izuku jolted, turning his head to see the student from before standing over them.

"D-Don't say that!" Shiroe cried as she hugged herself, bending over her leg.  The other girl giggled and Izuku put out his arm, stopping her from moving closer.

"It's not safe here.  I can tell you how to get out but you need to leave now," Izuku said and the girl rocked backwards on her heels.

"You're pretty, can we be friends?" She asked, her face flushing as her grin grew, and Izuku felt everything still.

He swallowed, slowly pulling bandages from his belt.

"Shiroe, I'm going to stabilize your leg, alright?" He carefully said, starting to work while Shiroe looked from him to the girl, her eyes wide.

"W-What are you saying?" Shiroe asked the girl, but she pouted and ignored Shiroe, crouching beside Izuku and staring at his face.

"Hey, what's your name?" Izuku forced himself to breathe, stopping the bleeding around Shiroe's leg before he slowly twisted open a flask of water from his belt.  He paused, and then spun and splashed it into the girl's eyes.

Please let him be right.

The girl reeled, stumbling backwards until she realized it was only water.  When she did, she opened her eyes and glared at Izuku, her form starting to blur.

No, melt.

"I just wanted to be friends," she frowned, and Izuku watched in horror as her face and clothing dripped away, auburn hair shifting into blonde, grey eyes into gold.

He was left staring at a woman wearing nothing but a few odd vials strapped to her leg and he flushed, keeping his eyes on her face as he estimated the distance between them.

Two, maybe three meters at best.

If he could get her away from Shiroe...

"Who are you?" Izuku asked as he inched backwards, keeping his hand near his belt as if he had a weapon.

Not that he did, but the woman didn't know that.

"I asked you first," she pouted, walking toward him.  With every step, Izuku backed away, watching the distance between them and Shiroe grow.

"Hey, what's your quirk?" The woman asked, a dreamy look crossing her face.  "Does it involve blood?"

"N-Not exactly," Izuku stuttered, still moving backwards as he ignored the churning in his stomach.  There was an open street not too far behind him, and if he could get her there he might stand a chance.

The woman opened her mouth, and then a loud crash splintered the air.

Izuku jerked, automatically glancing toward the sound—shit, no, he didn't have time—

He felt more than heard the air shift in front of him, and he automatically dropped to the ground before the woman lunged, her fist meeting open air.

She stumbled and Izuku kicked out his leg, sweeping her legs from under her and sending her to the ground.  He scrambled to his feet as she hissed and spat out blood.

Izuku started to retreat, and then she was upon him again, pushing him backwards with each attack.

They traded blows, and bruises bloomed over Izuku's arms as he blocked and dipped under her.  He landed a few hits of his own, but each time she would eerily giggle, grinning wide with too-sharp teeth before she'd lunge again.

Izuku should've paid attention to where he was going.

Between one moment and the next, he shifted backwards and felt his heel connect with a piece of rubble, and was falling before he could stop himself.

He gasped when his back slammed into the ground, and barely managed to lift his hands before the woman slammed her fist into his face.  Pain lanced up his arms, and he squirmed under her as she pinned him to the ground with her knees.

"See?  You're better when you're covered in blood," she giggled, her hair falling into Izuku's face.  He coughed, spitting around blood and hair while he tried to shove her away.  She frowned and dug her knees into his abdomen, metal flashing in her hand.

What was she—

Izuku cried out when she drove what looked like a syringe into his arm.

He watched it fill with blood, and shoved his hand in her face, trying to push her away.

"Don't worry, this won't take long," the woman cooed, dodging his hand and pressing her weight upon the syringe.  Izuku shuddered and tried again, aiming for her eyes.

She stopped him with her mouth, her teeth digging into his hand as she bit him.  Izuku gritted his teeth against the pain, yanking his hand free as she laughed, blood dripping down her chin.

He couldn't escape.

His throat tightened with the realization and his breathing started to stutter.  He gasped, looking over the woman's shoulder for something, anything to let him know that one of the pro-heroes were close, but he couldn't see anything and she was going to—

When his vision started to blur—whether from tears or blood, he wasn't sure—he took one shuddering breath and then screamed for help.

**

Shouto ducked under Compress's hand, throwing a volley of ice that had him dancing backwards.

Steam parted Shouto's lips as he warmed himself, keeping an eye on Compress while the villain nonchalantly adjusted his hat, as if they hadn't been fighting for the last few minutes.

Shouto hadn't known what to expect when he had run into the training grounds with his teachers, but they quickly split apart when they realized there were more than a few villains.  Shouto had run through the battered streets, sending a few students to safety before he had come across a villain.

A villain with a duplication quirk, who sat encased to the neck in ice at the edge of the clearing.

Shouto had barely managed to capture that villain before Compress had strolled onto the scene, almost snatching him before he realized who he was and sent up an ice wall between them.

Minutes later, and Shouto couldn't keep enough distance between them to restrain Compress.  The villain would spin out of reach and then flash forwards, hands always too close as he tried to activate his quirk.

And in the back of his mind, Shouto watched Bakugou slip from his grasp, trapped in an orb plucked from his hands when he wasn't looking.

He couldn't let Compress touch him.

And so he dodged and slid across his ice, moving quickly whenever Compress attacked.

Shouto would have been fine, until he suddenly heard a panicked scream—Izuku?—and paused, hesitating for a second too long.

"Too slow," Compress smirked, snapping his fingers before everything went dark.

**

"Hey, hey, don't scream in my ears," the woman whined, pressing against Izuku before she pulled the syringe from his arm and strapped it to her leg.

Izuku shuddered, tears marring his vision as he struggled beneath her, hoping someone had heard him.

But the seconds ticked by and no one came.

The woman grinned, blushing as she leaned forward and cupped his face.

"I like men covered in blood," she panted, her breath hot against his face.  "Won't you tell me your name?"

Izuku blanched, trying to figure a way out but she was too strong, he couldn't escape—

A clatter of debris echoed through the clearing, and Izuku coughed when the woman pulled away and looked toward the sound.

"Mr. Compress!" She called, pushing off Izuku and bouncing toward an oddly dressed man with a top hat and cane.  He stared at the woman before he handed her his jacket, watching her slip it on as he rolled what looked like a marble between his fingers.

"I see you've been busy," he commented.

"Yeah," she grinned, leaning over the marble in his hands.  "Compress, those weren't our orders," she quipped, and Izuku rolled onto his stomach, trying to push himself to his feet.  He needed to get away.

His injured arm buckled beneath his weight, and he barely caught himself before his chin slammed into the ground.  The movement alerted the villains, and the woman was stepping toward him when a loud bang and a flash of smoke erupted from the man's hand.

Izuku felt a wave of relief sweep through him as Shouto somehow appeared from the smoke, fire dancing across his arm.  The villains jerked backwards, quickly putting a few meters between them.

"I thought I told you to wait outside, kid," a familiar voice grumbled, and Izuku looked up to see Aizawa kneeling by his side, his capture weapon gripped in his hand.

"I-I came as a paramedic," Izuku stammered, letting Aizawa pull him to his feet and grateful when he kept a steady hand on his arm.  Aizawa frowned, but turned toward the villains, addressing them.

"You have nowhere to run," he called while Shouto iced the ground between them, creating a barrier.  The woman pouted, clinging to the man's arm.

"He's coming to get us, right?" She asked as the man tapped his cane against the ground.

"Any minute now, you know he's always—"

"You're not going anywhere," Shouto snapped, ice crackling over his arm before he shot a wave toward the pair.  They barely managed to dodge, and then the air around them distorted, twisting into a black hole.

Another second and the hole engulfed them, obscuring them from view until the hole vanished, taking the villains with it.

Izuku stared at where the villains had been, and jumped when Aizawa cursed.

"We were this close," Shouto said, his voice strained.

"What's important is that we protected the students," Aizawa rasped as he eyed Izuku, looking him over.  The students.

"Oh god, Shiroe—" Izuku started and then pushed himself from Aizawa's grasp, tripping over himself as he scrambled past Shouto and towards the intersection.  He didn't wait for the others, but heard them as they followed, their footsteps loud against the pavement.

Izuku ignored the pain in his arm as he ran, and he wilted in relief when he spotted Shiroe in the clearing where he had left her.  She was still bent over her leg, her eyes wide and fearful until she recognized him.

"I thought you wouldn't come back," she cried as Izuku kneeled beside her, already pulling supplies from his belt while Aizawa and Shouto caught up.

"A paramedic always comes back," Izuku said with a wobbly grin, starting to change the makeshift bandages he had hastily applied.

"Izuku, how can we help?" Shouto asked and Izuku grimaced, focusing on Shiroe's leg.

"I need something to use as a makeshift brace," he explained, pulling a bandage tight before he started clipping away the torn clothing from her leg.  He didn't hear Shouto move away, but within minutes both him and Aizawa came back with pieces of a broken pipe.

Izuku murmured thanks as he took the pieces, keeping up a steady stream of nonsense to distract Shiroe while he used the pieces to splint her leg.

It was rough, but it would work.

"We need something we can carry her with," Izuku muttered, pinching his lip as he looked at Aizawa, dismissing his capture weapon before he turned to Shouto.

"Can you make a stretcher?" Izuku abruptly asked and Shouto blinked.

"Out of ice?"

"Aizawa can protect his hands with his capture weapon and the ice won't bother you," Izuku said, already using a hand to guide Shiroe into a sitting position.  "Unless you can think of a better idea..."

"I'll do it," Shouto replied, and then knelt down and flattened his hand against the ground.  He created a layer of ice, adding crude handles to each corner before he pried it from the ground with a grunt.

"Amazing," Izuku breathed before he unzipped his jacket and draped it across the makeshift stretcher.

"To protect her," he offered at Shouto's confused look.  "Can you two help me get her onto it?"

Aizawa bent down while Shouto nodded, and together they gently lifted Shiroe onto the stretcher.  Izuku fussed around them, making sure her leg was settled and she wasn't touching the ice directly.

"Shouto, I think you'll need to keep freezing it as we go," Izuku breathed, absently wiping his hand on his uniform when he realized blood had started to trickle down his arm.

"Will it hold her weight?" Aizawa asked as he gripped the ice, his hands already wrapped in his capture weapon.

"It should, theoretically," Izuku hedged and Shiroe hiccupped, her eyes finding his.

"D-Don't say that," she stuttered.

"It'll hold," Shouto gently assured her, taking hold of the ice before Aizawa and he heaved, lifting the stretcher from the ground.

The ice groaned, cracking around the handles until Shouto strengthened them.  Everyone held their breath, waiting and watching the ice until Izuku saw Shiroe shiver and deemed it passable enough to get her out.

They made quick work of their exit, Izuku staying by Shiroe's side while Shouto and Aizawa carried her, maneuvering around the rubble with ease.

When they reached the entrance to the training grounds Izuku blinked away tears, wiping his face as Ochako and All Might came into view.  They were surrounded by a large group of students, and Recovery Girl walked among them, handing out kisses and candies as she went.

Ochako spotted them first and sprung to her feet, racing forward to meet them.

"Izuku, what happened—"

"Use your quirk on her," Izuku blurted, motioning at Shiroe and Ochako hesitated, looking toward Aizawa.

"Special case, just do it.  I'll take the blame if anyone says anything," he said and Ochako nodded, reaching out and tapping Shiroe's shoulder.  As soon as she started to float, Aizawa and Shouto dropped the stretcher, letting it crumble upon the ground.

Aizawa winced and rubbed his hands, and then Recovery Girl was upon them, pushing her way through to Shiroe.

"What happened?" Recovery Girl asked, and Izuku launched into an explanation, pulling Ochako along.  Recovery Girl listened with a frown before directing them to her office, helping them carry Shiroe across campus.

After that, everything started to blur.

Izuku helped Recovery Girl when they reached the infirmary, thanking Ochako before they kicked her from the room.

Recovery Girl had only let Izuku stay after he had managed to stammer out his medical background.

They worked together until Izuku's hands were covered in blood and Recovery Girl had pieced together Shiroe's bones enough to heal her with her quirk.

At some point, Izuku had washed his hands and been excused from the room, and he found himself sitting on the hallway floor beside Ochako, staring at the opposite wall.

The silence stretched thick and heavy until footsteps echoed down the hall and Shouto appeared.  He glanced at Izuku and clenched his hands, crouching down in front of him and staring at his arm.

"Your arm's bleeding," he softly said and Izuku jumped, coming back to himself.  He opened his mouth, but his words jumbled together and Shouto sighed, opening a canister from his belt.

He gently wrapped gauze around Izuku's arm, his fingers trailing goosebumps across Izuku's skin.

"I was so worried," Ochako whispered, turning to face Izuku as she rubbed her eyes.  Izuku blinked, and then he was crying, his shoulders shaking as he covered his face with his hands.  Ochako leaned into him, wrapping her arms around him and holding him tight.

And ever so softly, he felt Shouto grip his shoulder, squeezing gently as Izuku shuddered.

They sat there for what felt like hours before All Might came to find them, coughing into a handkerchief as he asked them to follow him.  He stiffly led them outside the infirmary and into another building, turning corners and walking down hallways until they stopped in front of what looked like a teacher's lounge.

Shinsou, Present Mic, Aizawa, and what looked like UA's principal were already in the room, and they watched while everyone shuffled in and sat down, not daring to speak. 

Izuku sandwiched himself between Ochako and Shouto on a couch, and didn't question it when a cup of tea appeared in his hands.  Dazed, Izuku floated between the warmth of the tea and the heat radiating from Shouto's left side.

"For those of you who don't know, I'm Nedzu, the current principal," Nedzu said, his paws clasped in his lap as he held everyone's gaze.  "And considering the recent turn of events, I need you to tell me everything that happened."

The teachers shared a heavy look, and then Aizawa sighed, standing and explaining what he had seen.  Everyone slowly recounted what had happened, and by the time they had all spoken Izuku was clenching his hands, his shoulders starting to shake.

Ten students injured, one in critical condition.

He had been lucky.

There had been an upwards of seven villains, most of whom had been working in pairs to keep the pro-heroes occupied.

Only Shouto had managed to capture one, and when they had gone back to collect him he was gone, presumably warped away with the rest.

Nedzu was still speaking, but Izuku didn't hear him.  He had hunched into himself, gritting his teeth.  

The villains had won.

"T-The villains fought together, right?" Izuku asked, his voice shaking.  The room quieted, and he felt Ochako rest her hand on his arm, prompting him to look up.

He didn't.

"They did.  What are you thinking, Midoriya?" Aizawa slowly asked and Izuku dug his hands into his shirt, trying to ground himself.  He wasn't a hero they weren't going to listen—

"Izuku, it's okay," Shouto gently said and Izuku snapped his gaze towards Shouto, his breath catching in his throat.

Shouto had—

His name.

Izuku blinked away tears, rubbing his eyes before he faced the room.

"Why don't heroes fight in teams?" He asked, forcing himself to continue. 

"Because we could, couldn't we?"

His words were met with silence, and then Nedzu set his tea down with a sharp clink.

"That," Nedzu started, a smirk pulling the corners of his mouth. "Is a very good question."

**

The students were dismissed before the teachers, and Izuku found himself walking out the gates with Ochako and Shouto.  Shinsou had already left, having gone as soon as he could, his tense form striding down the street.

Ochako had wrapped Izuku in a hug, burying her face against his shoulder before she released him and headed home herself.  Izuku watched her go, and didn't move until Shouto shifted beside him, taking a step forward.

"Would you...?"

"Yes," Izuku breathed, and together they headed toward their apartments, their shoulders brushing as they walked.

You can call me Izuku.

Izuku bit his lip, holding back the words he wanted to say. 

This was enough.

Walking beside Shouto, their uniforms torn and dirty as the streetlights flickered on was enough.

It had to be.

They reached Shouto's apartment all too soon.

Izuku hesitated on the sidewalk, watching Shouto walk to the door.  He didn't want to be alone.

Shouto paused, his hand resting on the doorknob before he turned around, furrowing his brow.

"Do you..." he started and trailed off, shifting on his feet and flickering his gaze toward the ground.  "Do you want to come inside?" He asked, a faint flush coloring his cheeks.  Izuku blushed, fluttering his hands.

"I-I do," he stuttered, and Shouto gave a sharp nod.

"Good," he blinked. "That is...I have a first aid kit.  For your arm," he added, gesturing toward Izuku. 

Izuku felt a laugh burst from his lips and he quickly covered his mouth, smiling to himself.  Shouto hesitated, and then headed inside, motioning for Izuku to follow.

The walk to Shouto's room was quiet, and Izuku was about to thank him when he felt Shouto stiffen.  Izuku paused, wondering why he had stopped in the middle of the hallway.

Shouto's expression had twisted, and Izuku followed his gaze across the hall, paling when he caught sight of who was waiting beside what Izuku guessed was Shouto's door.

Fire rippled around the man's face and his presence filled the hallway, dominating the space until Izuku felt himself lean into Shouto's side.

Endeavor.

Chapter Text

"Shouto."

His father's voice echoed like a slap and Shouto gritted his teeth, automatically shifting in front of Izuku.

Endeavor followed the motion, narrowing his eyes as he stepped away from the wall.

"Who is he?" Endeavor harshly asked as flames flickered onto his shoulders.  Shouto clenched his hands, frost crackling across his arm before he forced it away.

He wasn't his father.

"He's my friend," Shouto replied, tensing as he laid claim to the term.  Relief curled through him when Izuku didn't protest, merely curled his fingers tighter into Shouto's uniform and agreed with a sharp nod.

 Endeavor frowned, uncrossing his arms and walking across the hall before he stopped in front of Shouto.

"We need to talk," Endeavor rumbled, his flames rippling hot, too hottooclosehecouldn't— "So send your...friend home."

"Shouto, I can go," Izuku whispered and Shouto stiffened, tucking his emotions behind a mask he hadn't let himself use for weeks.  A false calm that sunk into his exhausted nerves as he faced his father and lifted his chin in defiance.

"Whatever you need to say, you can say it here," Shouto said, his voice steady and controlled.  Izuku shifted at his side, but Shouto didn't look away from his father, unwilling to admit defeat.

"You haven't been answering my texts," Endeavor said after a pause, his gaze flickering to Izuku.

"So you decided to visit me unannounced?" Shouto asked.

"Am I not allowed to be concerned about my son?" Endeavor shot back and Shouto flinched, his mask cracking.

"We both know that's a lie," he said, the words hanging heavy between them.  Endeavor glared at him, demanding submission and grimacing when he didn't back down.

"Should I assume your phone's been dead for weeks?" Endeavor asked, sarcasm dripping from his words.

"Only for you," Shouto snapped and then paled, holding his breath.  He had said too much.

Endeavor moved before Shouto could react, fire rippling over his arm as he drew back his hand.

"I am your father, don't you dare—" Endeavor started, his hand halfway to Shouto's face before he abruptly stopped, his eyes freezing over Shouto's shoulder.

Shouto wheezed as he stared at his father's hand, his breath tripping and stuttering as he struggled to breathe.

"I think," Izuku said, his voice ringing clearly into the silence. "That this conversation would be better after a night's rest," he finished as he rested a hand on Shouto's arm and gently squeezed.  Endeavor slowly lowered his arm, giving Izuku a deadly look.

"Who are you to—"

"No one," Izuku interrupted, his hand minutely trembling on Shouto's arm.  "But if you call UA they will tell you there was a villain attack today.  Your son is exhausted," Izuku explained, and Shouto felt a trickle of warmth spread through him, soothing his nerves as his breathing evened out.

"Is that so?" Endeavor asked, and Shouto swallowed around the dryness in his throat, focusing on the steady feel of Izuku's hand.

"It is," Shouto said, casting a look at Izuku.  "And he's injured.  So if you would step aside, I would like to stop him from bleeding onto the floor."

Endeavor considered them for a moment and then scowled, his flames rippling.

"Fine.  We'll talk about this later," he grumbled before he stepped around them and walked away.

It wasn't until they heard the door to the stairs slam did the tension slide from Shouto, his shoulders dipping as his body sagged.  He heard a sharp gasp and he jerked, looking at Izuku in alarm.

"I-I see what you m-meant," Izuku stammered as he curled into himself, clutching his chest while tears streamed down his face.  He was shaking, shudders rippling through him as he covered his mouth; and when Shouto reached for him, he realized his hand was shaking too, a thin layer of ice running up his arm.

Shouto clenched his hand and let it fall, anxiety and fear burning away into anger.

"Izuku—"

"I-I can leave," Izuku said and Shouto closed his eyes, blurting out a response.

"Please don't," he rasped, waiting for a rejection and opening his eyes when he didn't hear one.  Izuku had frozen, staring at Shouto with a shocked expression, his hands pressed against his mouth as he continued to cry.

"Okay," Izuku whispered, wiping his eyes as he smiled, the expression trembling and unsteady on his face.  Shouto nodded in relief and then looked at his door, tugging Izuku along before he headed toward his apartment.

Shouto unlocked his door and motioned Izuku inside, letting it shut before he toed off his shoes.  Izuku did the same, muttering what sounded like a string of apologies while he sniffled.

"Izuku, it's alright—"

"That was not alright," Izuku gasped as he met Shouto's gaze.  Shouto startled, surprised by the intensity of his look.

"How was any of that," Izuku repeated, gesturing vaguely with his hands. "Alright?"

Shouto opened his mouth and then slowly closed it, words twisting uselessly in his gut.

"It's...nothing new," Shouto managed and Izuku flinched, shaking his head and rubbing his eyes, smearing dirt across his face.

"Shouto, that's..." Izuku trailed off, staring at the ground.  "...is he still forcing you to train?" He hesitantly asked, his voice barely a whisper.

"That ended years ago," Shouto murmured, moving past Izuku and heading to grab his first-aid kit.  Izuku padded after him, pausing in the living room when Shouto ducked into the bathroom.

"Then what is he trying to do?" Izuku asked when Shouto returned, his eyes wide as he shivered and rubbed his hands over his arms.  Shouto bit the inside of his cheek, tightly gripping the first-aid kit.

"My father's been trying to force me into a marriage," he stiffly said, staring at the kit as he knelt and snapped it open, pulling out supplies.

"For your quirk?" Izuku gently asked and Shouto froze, glancing up to see Izuku kneeling beside him, his hands quietly folded in his lap.  Startled, Shouto blinked, faintly nodding.

"Have you...a-agreed to any of them?" Izuku stuttered, his cheeks flushing as he pressed his hands together.

"I don't want to end up like my father," Shouto replied, almost crushing a bottle of antiseptic before he relaxed his hand and reached toward Izuku's injured arm. 

"May I?" He asked, waiting until Izuku nodded before he started to unwrap the dirty gauze.  Shouto moved carefully, and Izuku didn't flinch when he removed the gauze and cleaned his wound.  He simply watched, tremors occasionally rippling through him.

Shouto worked in silence, ignoring the aches dragging at his arms.  He frowned at the wound on Izuku's arm, brushing antiseptic over it and about to ask what had happened when he paused, his gaze catching on Izuku's hand.

"Did...someone bite you?" Shouto asked as he lifted Izuku's hand, wiping away dirt and blood to reveal a set of bite marks.

"Ah, I didn't think she drew blood," Izuku replied and Shouto furrowed his brow, pulling Izuku's hand closer to his face.

"These wounds are dangerous," Shouto said before he turned Izuku's hand to clean the matching mark on the other side.  Izuku made a small sound, and Shouto glanced up to see him blushing, his shoulders hunched as he ducked his chin.

"I-I know, t-thank you," he stammered, shivering while Shouto finished cleaning his hand.

"You're welcome," Shouto said, methodically double-checking Izuku's hand as he tried to ignore the scars that crawled up his arm.  He did that for you.

Shouto hesitated, and then abruptly tugged Izuku's hand closer, ignoring his surprised squeak.

"S-Shouto?" Izuku asked, but Shouto was caught on the line of bruises trailing up Izuku's arm.  He brushed his fingers over them and glanced at Izuku's other arm, frowning when he saw it in the same state.

"I'm sorry I couldn't help you," Shouto softly said and Izuku shook his head, fluttering his hand.

"I've had worse, I promise I'm fine," Izuku said, his gaze flickering to the hand Shouto was still holding.  "And ah, m-may I have my hand back?" He asked, blushing as he gently tugged on his arm.

"N-not that I mind!  But it's a little embarrassing because I like you—" Izuku rambled and then stopped with a choked sound, his eyes going wide.

"Oh god, I didn't mean to say that," he babbled while Shouto stared.  "I promise I didn't mean to say that.  I know you're a pro-hero and there's no way you would—"

"Izuku, stop," Shouto quickly said, squeezing his hand.  Thankfully, Izuku shut his mouth with a click, tears trickling down his face as he met Shouto's gaze.

"Do you...," Shouto started, looking down at their hands.  "...have feelings for me?" He asked, unsure whether or not he wanted to hear the answer.  Izuku bit his lip, shakily reaching toward Shouto's face before he hesitated at the last moment, his hand curling into itself.

"I do," he whispered.  Shouto flushed, heat crawling up his neck.

"Oh," he breathed and Izuku flinched, hunching into himself.

"I-I'm sorry, I'll leave—"

"I don't want you to leave," Shouto interjected, surprising himself.  Izuku blinked in response, his breath hitching as he hiccupped.  "If I did, I would tell you."

Izuku hiccupped again and slowly smiled, a small laugh bubbling from his lips as he wiped his face, squeezing Shouto's hand.

"Okay," Izuku said and Shouto lifted his arm, gently brushing tears and dirt from Izuku's face.  He was a mess.  Izuku's breathing stuttered, and Shouto pulled back his hand, looking away.

"Shouto, may I..." Izuku started, and Shouto glanced back to see him beat red, his freckles standing bright against his skin.  "M-May I kiss you?" He asked and Shouto froze, anxiety closing around his throat.

Would he lose him if he said no?

Tanaka's sneers snagged in his mind, her lips smashing against his as she gripped his jacket—

No. 

Izuku wouldn't do that.

Shouto tensely nodded, shoving away the phantom feeling of lipstick and chapped skin.  Izuku jumped, his expression lighting up before he sucked in a breath and nodded back.

Another moment and Izuku closed his eyes, leaning forward.  Shouto stiffened, his nerves prickling, telling him to lean away, he didn't want this before he closed his eyes and held his breath.

There was a whisper of movement near his face, and then Shouto felt a feather-light touch under his left eye.

What?

He opened his eyes and lifted a hand to his face, ghosting his fingers over his scar as he looked at Izuku.

"You didn't look like you wanted to," Izuku quietly said and Shouto let out a soft breath, his anxiety trickling away.  His vision blurred and he blinked, wiping his eyes in surprise.  And when Izuku started worriedly babbling over him, Shouto laughed and let him be, floating in the warmth.

It was minutes before either of them calmed down, and then Shouto stood, helping Izuku to his feet before he glanced toward his bathroom.

"You should take a shower," Shouto said and Izuku blushed, tugging on his hair.

"I'm getting dirt everywhere, aren't I?" He chuckled and Shouto frowned, looking him over.

"It's late and I want to make sure your wounds are properly treated.  I have clothes you can borrow too," he explained and Izuku blinked, shifting on his feet.

"Oh.  Thank you, I'll just..." he trailed off and spun, disappearing into the bathroom.  The door clicked behind him before Shouto walked into his bedroom, automatically pulling out an old pair of sweatpants and a t-shirt.

He left them outside the bathroom door, knocking to let Izuku know and chuckling when he got an embarrassed response.

Shouto wandered into the kitchen and was boiling tea before he realized what he was doing, and he watched the kettle, tugging on his mother's dress as he asked when it would be ready, dolloping too much honey into his cup and over his hands as they laughed into their tea.

And when the kettle whistled, Shouto languidly prepared two cups of tea, his body warm and heavy despite the dirt and sweat clinging to his skin.

**

Izuku stepped into the shower—Shouto's shower—as his legs shook and he moved under the running water.

He had kissed Shouto.

Izuku sat down before his legs gave way, and tucked his head between his knees, forcing himself to breathe.  He shivered, blindly reaching out and turning up the heat before he sighed, the hot water soothing the bruises on his arms.

But Shouto hadn't wanted to.

Izuku swallowed and pressed himself against the wall, a hot tendril of guilt picking its way through his chest.  Shouto had seemed scared even as he agreed, and the look of pure relief on his face when Izuku pulled away had been confirmation enough.

At least he hadn't asked him to leave.

So he didn't hate him, right?

Izuku groaned into his knees, his face still flushed when he pushed himself to his feet.  He swayed, clutching the wall before he methodically washed the dirt and blood from his skin.  Shouto would want to shower too, and when Izuku vaguely pictured that, he turned the heat up and focused on the sting of the water as his face burned.

When he finished, he stepped out of the shower and quickly dried himself, wrapping a towel around his waist before he glanced at the door.

Shouto was out there.

But Izuku needed the spare clothes.

He steeled himself, clutching the top of his towel and opening the door a crack before he grabbed the clothes and hurriedly closed the door.

Shouto's clothes were soft; a well-worn shirt and sweatpants that Izuku had to roll up a few times so they wouldn't drag on the floor.  He tied the waistband tighter and then ruffled his hair, knowing he couldn't do much better without a brush.

He sighed and turned toward the mirror, his breath hitching when he saw himself.

He looked so small.

In the stark light of the bathroom, he was dwarfed by Shouto's clothes, his skin pale and hair disheveled like a child's.  The bruises on his arms stood out, an ugly combination compared to the scars reaching up his arms and he blinked, unable to look away.

'No one would ever want you, stupid Deku,' Kacchan shouted, shoving him down, down, down as he cried into the dirt.

Izuku felt Kacchan's hands—no, the woman's—press against him, pinning him until he jerked and stepped away from the mirror.

Worthless Deku.

He shivered, rubbing his scars before he forced himself from the bathroom.  He found Shouto sitting in the living room, two cups of tea and his first-aid kit spread on the table in front of him.

Izuku hesitated when he saw him, a gentle ache tugging on his chest as Shouto stirred something into his tea, looking content despite his torn uniform and tattered appearance.

"I made tea," Shouto said and Izuku jumped, flushing as he met Shouto's gaze.  "I didn't have anything smaller," Shouto added, furrowing his brow, and it took Izuku a moment to realize he was talking about his clothes.

When he did, he blushed, readjusting his shirt so it wasn't hanging off his shoulder.

"T-They're fine!" Izuku insisted, waving his hands.  Shouto laughed, a small, gentle sound, and Izuku watched him smile as he sipped his tea.

Beautiful.

Izuku relaxed, tucking Shouto's expression away as he walked over and sat beside him, accepting a cup of tea.  It was warm, and he leaned over its steam, breathing in the heavy smell of chamomile.

"I'm going to..." Shouto murmured, letting the sentence hang as he gestured at Izuku's wounds.  Izuku sheepishly nodded, trying to keep himself from blushing when Shouto started bandaging them.

They sat in silence while Shouto worked, and it wasn't until he had finished that he spoke, his voice quiet as he stared at Izuku's hand.

"Izuku, I don't know if I..."Shouto began, releasing Izuku's hand in favor of curling his fingers around his tea.  "I don't..." he frowned, shifting as he seemed to struggle for words.  "No one's ever liked me before."

Izuku stilled, his mouth parting as he stared.

How could no one—

"You don't have to feel the same way about me," Izuku whispered, surprised when Shouto grimaced and shook his head.

"It's not that," he replied, meeting Izuku's gaze.  "I don't know how I feel about you, but I enjoy spending time with you.  I'd like to keep doing that," Shouto added and Izuku flushed, clenching his hands around his tea.

"I'd like that," Izuku replied—maybe he could have this—and Shouto relaxed, finishing his tea before he stood.

"There are blankets and a pillow on the couch.  Let me know if you need anything," Shouto said, waiting until Izuku nodded before he left and walked into the bathroom.  Izuku stared at the door when it closed, and then thunked his head on the table, nerves fluttering through his chest.

Shouto didn't hate him.

Blushing, he gripped the table until the heat drained from his face, only moving when he realized he didn't want Shouto to see him sitting there when he left the bathroom.  He scrambled to his feet and hurriedly skittered to the couch, burying himself in the offered blankets.

His heart was beating too fast, and so he listened to the sound of running water from the bathroom, sinking into the repetitive rhythm until he drifted to sleep.

In the morning, Izuku woke to the sound of someone knocking on the door.

He jolted upright, almost falling off the couch before he caught himself.  Disoriented, he wiped his eyes as his body protested, trying to remember where he was as the knocking continued.

An incoherent sound came from the bedroom, and Izuku watched Shouto stumble into his doorframe, cursing under his breath as he rubbed his face and continued toward the door.  Izuku watched him open it, and stared when he saw Red Riot on the other side.  He was dressed as a civilian, a grocery bag hanging off his arm as he tucked his hands into his pockets.

"Hey man, I heard there was an attack at UA.  You alright?" Red Riot asked, his posture nonchalant despite the worry laced through his words.

"M'fine," Shouto replied, leaning into the hall and calling an apology before he waved Red Riot inside.  "You woke the neighbors," he mumbled, rubbing his eye while Red Riot sheepishly stepped inside and closed the door.

"I was worried, dude.  The news said someone was injured but they didn't say who, and I knew you had your class—" Red Riot chatted, stopping short when he noticed Izuku.  "Oh," he said, his eyes flickering from Izuku to Shouto and back.

Izuku flushed when he realized what the situation must look like.  Shouto's shirt was hanging halfway off his shoulder and he tugged it back up before Shouto walked into the room and sat on the other end of the couch. 

"I didn't know you had company," Red Riot said, a grin breaking across his face as he set his bag on the table.  Shouto huffed, squinting in his direction.

"He's in the hero class with me," Shouto explained.  "He's a friend."

"Only a friend?" Red Riot asked, looking between them before he winked at Shouto and Izuku blushed, stammering as he covered his face with a blanket.

"I-I was injured so he offered to let me stay the night!" Izuku rushed and Red Riot laughed, smiling as he waved a hand.

"No sweat, dude, I'm just messing with you," he joked.  "Any friend of Shouto's is a friend of mine," he added, sitting across from them and holding out his hand. 

"I'm Kirishima, nice to meet you," Kirishima offered, and Izuku hesitantly shook his hand, surprised by his gentle grasp.

"M-Midoriya," he stuttered.  "Your hero name takes after Crimson Riot, right?" He blurted, and then clapped his hands over his mouth.  Oh god.

"Yeah!  How'd you know that?" Kirishima asked while Shouto chuckled, and Izuku devolved into a mess of embarrassed ramblings, his hands fluttering as he talked. 

Kirishima listened, and before long they were trading hero stories; Shouto's voice a soft murmur, Kirishima's loud as he tossed in dramatic events, and Izuku's a hesitant babble that grew more confident as the morning slipped by.

**

Shouta woke up cold.

He grimaced and rolled over, his eyes snapping open when he shifted into the couch.

The couch?

He sat up, his sleeping bag cocooned around him as he stared at his living room with a frown.

Koneko was nowhere to be seen, and the door to his bedroom was mostly shut, a reminder of why he was sleeping on the floor and not in his bed with Hizashi.

Shouta laid back down and rolled until his face was mashed into the floor, knowing he had to apologize to Hizashi.

After the villain attack, Nedzu had sent them home and Shouta had been exhausted, failure dragging on his body while student's screams echoed in his mind.

He hadn't been ready.

The students had been young, and Shouta's skin had been crawling by the time Hizashi and him stepped into his apartment, a dark alley and too much blood haunting his thoughts.

Hizashi had dropped his gear on the doorstep before he pulled on Shouta's hand, tugging him into a hug and tucking his head under his chin.

"We're okay, yeah?" Hizashi asked, and Shouta clenched his teeth as the smell of blood and cement flooded his nose.

"No," Shouta ground out and Hizashi pulled away, his eyes large behind his glasses.

"Babe?"

"They attacked our students," Shouta rasped, his hands shaking as they dug into Hizashi's shoulders.

"And we protected them," Hizashi replied, gently removing Shouta's hands.  Bile rose in Shouta's throat and he heavily swallowed, turning away.

"Every time I saw a kid, Hizashi..." Shouta tried, his stomach rolling. "I could only picture him," he continued, yanking off his capture weapon—he couldn't breathe.

"Shouta, we did our best," Hizashi tried.  "We didn't lose—"

"If Midoriya hadn't been there, that girl could've died," Shouta roughly said, cutting Hizashi off.  "How was that our best?"  

Silence unfurled between them, and then Hizashi stepped around Shouta, heading for the bedroom.

"We still saved them," he whispered and Shouta could only watch as he had vanished and shut the door.  Shouta had tossed his capture weapon on the ground, yanking his sleeping bag over himself before he burrowed into the floor, his nerves rattling.

It had been hours before he had fallen asleep.

Judging from the fact that his bedroom door was now open, Hizashi must have let Koneko in at some point during the night.

Shouta sighed, rubbing the sleep from his eyes before he pulled himself into the bathroom, showering and scrubbing the dirt and sweat—no blood, the kids were fine—from his skin.  He wrapped a towel around his waist and padded into the kitchen, frowning into his fridge before he quietly prepared breakfast and tea.

He carried it into the bedroom on a makeshift tray, nudging open the door and pausing when he saw Hizashi.  He was sprawled across his bed; glasses half-buried under his arms, gelled hair sticking to his face and pillow, and Koneko splayed out at his feet.

Shouta sighed—he hadn't left—and quietly set down the makeshift tray before he pulled Hizashi's glasses free.  He placed them on the nightstand before he sat down on the bed, nudging Hizashi awake.

"I made breakfast," Shouta said when Hizashi woke, stretching and pushing his hair from his face as he sleepily blinked at Shouta.

"I'm sorry," Shouta added and Hizashi smiled, reaching out and laying a hand over his arm.

"I love you," Hizashi said, his voice a cracked whisper from overusing his quirk and Shouta faintly flushed, the words rolling over him.  They still sounded weird.

"I know."

"Get in here," Hizashi murmured, patting the bed.  Shouta raised his brow, giving Hizashi a look.

"My hair's wet."

"I don't care," Hizashi laughed, lifting up the sheets until Shouta sighed and crawled under them, muttering 'But I made breakfast' as he went. 

Hizashi huffed and wrapped his arms around Shouta, pulling him close and falling asleep within minutes.  Shouta watched his breathing deepen, wondering why him until he sank into the warmth and let sleep pull him under.

**

Tsuyu stepped into the flower shop with a small basket on her arm, enjoying the freedom of having her cast removed as she pushed open the door with her other hand.

Moisture rolled over her as she walked inside, and she waved at the cashier, breathing in the heavy scent of plants as she looked around for All Might.

When she didn't see him, she headed toward the back room, only stopping when the cashier called out to her, sounding worried.

"He didn't come in today," they said, tugging on their hair as Tsuyu walked over to the counter.

"He didn't, ribbit?" she asked, tapping her mouth as she frowned.  Odd.  The cashier sighed, looking at the clock.

"His shift started at the usual time, but he didn't show.  He didn't call off either," they explained, and Tsuyu tightened her grip around her basket.

"Thank you for letting me know," she replied, curtly nodding before she turned and left the shop.

She made it two blocks before she pulled out her phone, scrolling to her old teacher's number.  She hesitated with her thumb over the call button, and then shook her head, slipping her phone away as she continued down the street.

Chapter Text

Shouta stepped from his therapist's office and into the hall, curling his hand against his thigh as he walked into the waiting room.  Hizashi sat waiting for him in the corner, tucked into an uncomfortable chair and dressed in civilian clothes, his hair pulled back into a messy bun as he typed away on his phone.

After the villain attack at UA, Hizashi had suggested scheduling an additional appointment.  They had been curled together in Shouta's bed, his hair still wet from a shower and the taste of their argument from the night before still lingering.

But Hizashi had been warm—had stayed—and Shouta couldn't stop hearing the screams of their students echoing in his mind.  He had called his therapist later that morning, Hizashi leaning against his shoulder while Koneko slept at their feet.

Every session with his therapist left Shouta drained, but then he'd walk into the waiting room to see Hizashi sitting there, insisting he didn't mind the wait.

Today was no different.

Hizashi glanced up when Shouta walked over before reaching out and pulling his clenched hand away from his leg.  He rubbed his thumb over Shouta's knuckles, standing as he slid his phone into his pocket.

"Hey babe, you alright?" Hizashi quietly asked, leaning into Shouta's side.  Shouta hesitated, looking at the other people in the waiting room before he steered Hizashi toward the exit.

"It wasn't terrible." Shouta sighed, rubbing the scar under his eye before he looked closer at Hizashi and took in his pinched expression.  "What's wrong?"

"It's nothing—" Hizashi grimaced, pulling out his phone as they left the building.  "It's just odd."  At Shouta's questioning look Hizashi ran a hand through his hair, tugging on the ends.

"An old student texted me."

"Are they in trouble?" Shouta asked as they started home—or rather he directed them home while Hizashi frowned into his phone.

"She isn't.  But she's...do you remember Asui Tsuyu?"

Shouta's fingers twitched.

A villain's hand stretched inches away from a too-young face as Shouta spat cement and blood, pressed against the concrete while his eyes burned.

"I remember her."

"She asked me if I've seen All Might recently," Hizashi explained.  "He hasn't shown up at work in a few days."  Shouta slowed at that, moving to tug on his capture weapon and grimacing when his fingers met thin air.

"I tried calling him, babe, but he didn't answer."  Hizashi swallowed, reflexively adjusting his glasses.  "The last time you disappeared was because you—"

"I know." Shouta roughly said.  He hated how Hizashi flinched, his shoulders sinking forwards before he looked away.

"Hizashi, I..." Shouta pinched the bridge of his nose, forcing himself to breathe through the smell of alcohol and rotting trash in a dark alley, blood pooling around his head in a sticky halo— 

"All Might isn't like me," he managed, swallowing the bile crawling up his throat.

"I know," Hizashi said, pulling Shouta's hand into his as he hesitantly met his gaze.  "But he looked out of it after the UA attack and we both know he isn't eating properly.  What if he ended up—"

"Where does he live?" Shouta softly interrupted.  Hizashi clenched his hand tighter and changed directions.

"I hope I'm not right," Hizashi whispered, leading until they arrived at a tiny apartment building and walked inside, stopping in front of a dirty door.  Hizashi sharply knocked and rocked backwards on his heels, fidgeting.

"He's not answering."

"We've been here thirty seconds," Shouta replied, unease curling in his stomach.

After two minutes Hizashi knocked again.

Shouta sharply rapped on the door as well, and when All Might didn't answer Hizashi let out a shaky breath.

"Fuck, Shouta he's not answering," Hizashi repeated loudly, his voice rising until Shouta gestured toward his ears.

"He could be out."  Hizashi shot him a desperate look before pulling out his phone and calling someone.  Hizashi wrapped his hair around his finger, biting his lip before he abruptly lit up.

"Nemuri, do you have a key to All Might's apartment?" Hizashi quickly asked, his eyes darting toward the door.  Shouta raised an eyebrow and crossed his arms, hearing a muffled laugh.  Hizashi wilted in relief at whatever Nemuri said, nodding vigorously and waving at All Might's door as if she could see it.

They traded a few more words before Hizashi hung up and let out a sigh, running a hand through his hair.  And then between one moment and the next he crumpled, pulling his hair as he wrapped a free arm around himself.

He was shaking.

"Hizashi."

"Nemuri's on her way," Hizashi babbled as he started to pace in front of the door.

"Hizashi."

"She has a key, so we don't need to—"

"'Zashi," Shouta gruffly said and Hizashi startled, halting mid-step and staring at Shouta.  He looked lost; his hair a disheveled mess and glasses askew, worry radiating off him like his happiness did whenever he smiled. 

Shouta briefly wondered if this was what Hizashi had looked like the night he had tried to kill himself.

Another moment passed and Shouta reached for Hizashi, folding him against his chest in an awkward hug.  Hizashi squawked in surprise before going limp and tucking his head under Shouta's chin.  He shuddered, and Shouta gently rubbed circles between his shoulders.  

They didn't part until they heard the determined click of high-heels striding down the hall.  Nemuri strode into view, dwarfed in an oversized turtleneck sweater and holding a key-ring.

"Why do you have a key?" Shouta asked with a small frown.  Nemuri rolled her eyes, spinning the keys around her finger before she picked the correct one and turned it in the lock.

"Because I work with idiots," she huffed, twisting open the door.  "Why do you think I got your key from Hizashi months ago?  I mean, did you even care your place was a shithole?  Or were you going to wallow around in trash indefinitely?" She asked, looking over her shoulder. 

Shouta's silence was answer enough.

Nemuri blinked and swore under her breath, shaking her head before Hizashi agitatedly gestured toward the door.

"If we could just..." Hizashi trailed off and Nemuri sighed, stepping inside and calling for All Might.  Hizashi followed her, calling out as well while Shouta trailed behind, uneasy.  He half expected to see piles of filth when they stepped inside.

Instead, an eerie silence and the faint crackling of a TV greeted them.

They stood in the empty entrance for a few moments before Nemuri shifted forward.  She strode into another room and then loudly cursed. 

Shouta rushed after her to find her cradling All Might's head in her lap as she called an ambulance.  Blood dribbled down All Might's chin and a teacup lay spilled on the carpet, mingling with what looked like ramen and takeout boxes.  Behind him, Shouta heard Hizashi's breath stutter and Shouta turned and blocked his view, steadying him when he started to sway.

"Please tell me we're not too late," Hizashi choked, his glasses slipping down his nose as he clutched at Shouta's chest.  Shouta looked back at Nemuri, taking in her frantic mutterings and the broken man lying between them.

"We're not too late," Shouta murmured, crushing Hizashi close until the thin wail of an ambulance spun into the thick silence.

**

Izuku wasn't sure what to expect from their first hero class after the UA attack.

He hadn't seen anyone aside from Shouto, and it felt weird to be heading to class as if nothing had happened.

Yoko had already fussed over his injuries, critically examining his bandages and begrudgingly admitting that whomever had wrapped his hand had done a great job.  When Izuku had mentioned that Shouto had helped him, she had given Izuku a suggestive look until he devolved into a messy explanation, blushing the entire time.

Although, he carefully neglected to mention the kiss or the fact that he had stayed the night.  Yoko already wouldn't stop referring to Shouto as 'your pro-hero,' and she didn't carry enough juice boxes to stop Izuku spluttering from any further implications.

Let alone if Izuku actually meant something more to Shouto.

Which he might.

Maybe.

Oh god.

Izuku wheezed as he headed toward UA, willing the blood from his face while he clutched his bag's strap.  By the time UA came into view his usual nervousness had replaced his embarrassment, trickling thoughts of how class would continue tripping around in his mind.  He resolutely stared at the ground as he walked, and then he ran into a throng of people surrounding UA's entrance.

Izuku stumbled back in surprise, catching sight of a few flashes that had him blinking away spots before he registered the large crowd.  UA's entrance was surrounded by paparazzi and reporters, people muttering to themselves or into their cameras as they tried to peer through the gates.  The woman Izuku had run into barely noticed, sparing him a scathing glance before she twisted around and blocked his way.

"If you want to get in you'll have to wait like the rest of us," the woman said, her tone clipped.  Izuku winced, ducking his head and spluttering apologies as he tried to step around her.

"S-Sorry!  I didn't mean to—I'm not trying to..." he paused when the woman glared over her shoulder.  "I just need to get by," he managed, looking for an opening between her and the rest of the crowd.  The woman stiffened, turning to face him and jostling another person in the process.  They complained and then more heads started to turn as the two reporters started to bicker.

Woefully out of his depth, Izuku lifted his hands, trying to apologize and slip past when a nearby man lifted his camera and took a picture.

"Holy shit, you're that paramedic, aren't you?"

Izuku blinked and heavily swallowed, shifting backwards.  "I-I don't know what you're talking about," he tried, but the man shoved his way forward, already pulling out a notepad and pen.

"My boss is gonna freak when she finds out.  Tell me, what is your relationship with pro-hero Thermostat?" The man asked and stepped closer with a grin. 

To Izuku's growing horror the man's words caught the crowd's attention, and the woman Izuku had originally bumped into had gone from looking shocked to pulling out a recorder.

"Have you always been a paramedic?" She asked, leaning forward as the crowd shifted and swelled closer.  Izuku choked as he tried to think of a response, inching backwards until he realized people had closed in behind him and blocked his way.

"Were you involved with the latest attack on UA?"

"What is Red-Eye like in his down time?"

"Is there a reason you're visiting the school?"

The crowd surged, recorders clicking and beeping faster and faster until Izuku couldn't remember how to breathe.  He looked at UA's gates, willing someone to notice, for the doors to open, for something—

"Do you think the recent failures of pro-heroes—"

Izuku couldn't see past the multiple cameras flashing, and when someone ran into his injured shoulder he gasped.  He fleetingly thought of calling Ochako or Shouto, but they were probably already inside and Aizawa wouldn't let them answer their phones and he was going to be late and his shoulder hurt—

Izuku stumbled when someone shoved a recorder into his face.  Wincing, he tried to imagine what Yoko would do if she were here and he shakily squared his shoulders.  "I'm sorry, but I need to get through," he said, determinedly edging his way past the gaggle of reporters.  They frowned and hesitated to move, but Izuku bit his tongue and pushed forward.

Like Yoko careening through the streets toward a villain attack.

Izuku barely managed to reach UA's gates.  He quickly flashed his ID card and wilted in relief when the gates groaned open, only to jump when he saw Nedzu waiting on the other side.  The crowd heaved at the sound of the gates, jostling Izuku forward and skidding past Nedzu.

"Hello everyone, if I may have a word," Nedzu cheerfully addressed the crowd.  He stepped around Izuku and through the gates as the crowd stilled—no one dared to pass him.  Nedzu turned and winked at Izuku before UA's gates closed.

Unsettled, Izuku rubbed his shoulder before jolting into motion when the school's bells began to chime.  He was going to be late.

Izuku burst into class at a run, nearly toppling to the floor as he threw open the door.

"S-Sorry!"

Shouto and Ochako looked up from their desks in surprise while Shinsou jerked and rammed his knee against his desk, cursing under his breath.

"What are you apologizing for?  Is this usual for you?" An unfamiliar voice asked, and Izuku belatedly realized Aizawa wasn't the one standing at the front of the room.  Instead, a very tall and muscular man was there, weary lines carved into the panes of his face that gave him an intimidating look.

"Where's Aizawa?"  Izuku blurted then slapped a hand over his mouth, wincing as he jostled his wounds.

"You must be the paramedic."

"A-And you're Vlad King.  I'm sorry, sir, I didn't mean to—"

"Kid, it's okay," Vlad King said with a weary sigh, setting his papers down before he stepped around the desk.  "I'm filling in for Aizawa today.  He's dealing with an...emergency."

"He wasn't injured during the attack," Shouto spoke up, his brow minutely creased.

"He wasn't, but that's all I can tell you.  If you want to know more you'll have to ask him when he returns," Vlad King explained before snapping his gaze to Izuku, who had started inching toward his seat.

"No use in sitting.  We're headed outside," Vlad King said with a flick of his hand.  "Go get changed and meet me at the training grounds, I trust you know where that is," he finished before he turned and strode from the room.

**

Izuku stepped onto the training grounds and joined the others as he anxiously adjusted the cuffs around his wrists.

Were they going to talk about what happened?

They should talk about what happened, even if Vlad King hadn't been there.  Izuku couldn't forget his half-muttered suggestions and Nedzu's uncanny grin as the entire room had fallen silent.  Present Mic had reached for Aizawa's hand, his mouth popping open while All Might shuddered and coughed into his hands. 

Why don't heroes fight in teams?

"Aizawa will explain this better when he gets back, but you're going to be training in teams," Vlad King spoke, jolting Izuku from his thoughts.  "Nedzu took your advice—"

Izuku flinched when Vlad King looked at him.

"—so today your goal is to get to know your partner and start thinking of ways you can work together," he finished and crossed his arms.  Izuku glanced at Shouto and briefly wondered if they'd be paired together.  Not that he could help—

No.

They had fought a villain together and Izuku hadn't dragged him down.

He could do this.

"—will be paired with Midoriya.  Now get to work." Izuku blinked when he realized Vlad King had said his name, and then startled when Shinsou shoved his way past him.

"What the hell, you're pairing him with me?" Shinsou asked.  Izuku turned toward Shouto and Ochako in confusion, only to see them already walking away.  If they had been paired together then that meant he was with...

"Is there a problem with that?" Vlad King asked, holding Shinsou's gaze.

"Those two have the strongest quirks among us," Shinsou roughly gestured toward Shouto and Ochako. "You're just going to pair the two weak—" Shinsou bit his tongue, clenching his hands.  When he didn't continue, Vlad King narrowed his eyes and stepped closer.

"What are you trying to say?"

"Midoriya doesn't have a quirk!" Shinsou snapped and Izuku curled into himself, tightening his hands around his cuffs as if that'd stop the truth. 

"That has nothing to do with—" Ochako started but Shinsou cut her off.

"You wouldn't know what it's like," he insisted.  Ochako frowned and moved to stand beside Izuku, gently brushing her hand against his.  "People trust your quirk, and you can actually do something with it.  All I can do is order people around, I can't fight."

"What does that have to do with Izuku?" Shouto calmly asked, moving to Izuku's other side.

"...How does pairing a quirkless student with a non-combat student sound fair?" Shinsou asked after a few moments, his hands still shaking.  The resulting silence was deafening, and Izuku swallowed around the bile rising in his throat, leaning into Ochako as he fumbled for words and failed to find anything to say because Shinsou was right.

"From what I understand, Midoriya is training with a weapon," Vlad King interjected and everyone jumped, having forgotten he was still there.  "You are, aren't you?"

"I-I am.  But he's r-right, I'm only a paramedic."

"Didn't you fight a villain with Thermostat over there?" Vlad King asked, and Izuku faintly nodded while Shouto furrowed his brow at the name.

"Then you can hold your own.  Kid," Vlad King looked at Shinsou, "I didn't make these pairings.  Aizawa did.  If you have a problem with that, take it up with him and get the hell out.  I don't need to deal with this."

When Shinsou didn't respond, Vlad King dismissed him with a wave of his hand and motioned Izuku along as well.

"Good.  Now get to work, I'm sure you'll figure something out."  Izuku hesitated, glancing at Shinsou's furious expression and starting to say he didn't mind stepping out when Shinsou deflated and strode away.

"Come on," he grumbled over his shoulder before pausing when he realized Izuku hadn't moved.  "Well?" He asked and then Izuku shifted forward, anxiously picking at the bandages on his hand.  They could make it work, right?  Between Shinsou's quirk and his cuffs it shouldn't be too hard for them to think of something.

It didn't work.

They managed to work together for less than fifteen minutes before Shinsou had given Izuku a deathly glare and stalked away, picking up his gym bag as he left the training grounds.  Izuku had winced and rubbed his hands before heading back toward the others.

As soon as Vlad King saw him walking over he sighed and told Izuku to sit down and watch Ochako and Shouto for the rest of the lesson.  Izuku quietly obliged, sitting on the edge of their training circle as they moved around one another, sparing for a few beats before they would break apart and trade ideas as if facing an unseen enemy.

They worked well together. Ochako levitated Shouto as he slid across his ice, sending him racing around the grounds.  She did the same to pieces of ice he tried to throw, and he unsteadily shot her forward with a pulse of ice.  They were shaky and unpracticed, but Izuku couldn't help seeing how they could work against a real villain, ideas flashing through his mind as his fingers itched for his notebook.

"Ah!  Sorry!" Ochako abruptly chirped as she pin-wheeled into Shouto and he stumbled under her weight.

"It's alright," he replied, setting her on her feet and shaking out his right arm.  Izuku watched ice crystals flake from his arm before he worriedly pushed himself to his feet.

But before Izuku could say anything Shouto had brushed his left arm over his right and the color returned to his face and arm.  Surprised, Izuku awkwardly fluttered his hands and flushed, realizing how closely he had been watching Shouto.

"I don't know why I keep running into you, though," Ochako continued, lightly rubbing her arm.  "I'm trying to stay out of your way, but..."

"It's because you keep standing on Shouto's left side," Izuku said, pinching his lip.  They both turned as he spoke and Ochako tilted her head while Shouto stared.

"Does it matter which side I stand on?" Ochako asked.

Izuku nodded and walked over, maneuvering Ochako around to Shouto's right side.  "He can't see very well out of his left eye."

There was an awkward pause and then Shouto sucked in a breath, his calm expression cracking into something more open and raw.  Thrown, Izuku stared in return, unable to speak past the dread curling through his chest.  He had said too much.

"...Izuku, you..." Shouto began and trailed off as he lifted one hand toward his scar.  Flecks of ice started to creep over his arm and Izuku blindly reached for him, wanting to soothe while knowing that he did this, he had said something he shouldn't—

"...I thought everyone knew?" Izuku whispered, and then startled when he realized Shouto was crying.  Soft, silent tears trailed down his face and Izuku scrambled to pull a wet wipe from his belt.  Shouto didn't move when Izuku tried to hand him the wipe, merely blinked and brushed a hand over his scar.

"No one's ever noticed," Shouto murmured, lifting his gaze.  "I only told Kirishima.  How did you...?"

"Shouto, you're crying."  Izuku leaned forward and gently wiped Shouto's face, dragging the cloth over his cheeks. 

"How did you notice?" Shouto repeated.

"I-I paid attention," Izuku stuttered and blushed, his hand twitching against Shouto's face.  Shouto closed his eyes, his brow furrowing as he seemed to struggle with what to say. 

"But why...?"  Shouto opened his eyes, unflinching as Izuku brushed the wipe over his scar.  Izuku knew he was still blushing, knew he was going too far, but he didn't stop himself from taking hold of the pause, chewing on his lip before he met Shouto's gaze.

"How could I not?"

Shouto's breathing stuttered and he softly chuckled, leaning into Izuku's hand for a brief moment before he took the tissue and finished wiping his eyes.

"Izuku's right.  I'm partially blind in my left eye.  It will work better if you stand on my right."  Shouto turned toward Ochako, who had frozen with her hands over her mouth.  She was blushing, and she jumped when Shouto spoke before breaking into a wide grin, her eyes shining.

"Oh my god," she breathed, "when did you two—"

"Now's not the time, Ochako!" Izuku squeaked, blushing harder.  Shouto blinked when Ochako cackled, rubbing his eyes while Izuku buried his face behind his arms.

Someone abruptly coughed, and they all stiffened before turning toward the sound.

"I don't know what's going on, but maybe we should stop here for today," Vlad King suggested, his arms crossed over his chest.  "Go home, I'll let Aizawa know you didn't do horribly."

They quickly muttered thanks before heading to the locker rooms, Ochako leaning on Izuku's shoulder as he flushed and insisted nothing had happened.

After they left UA, Izuku shouldn't have been surprised to find himself walking home with Shouto.  They walked home together after most lessons, but Izuku was still reeling from earlier, his fingers tingling from where he had touched Shouto's face.

It didn't help that Shouto was walking with his hands at his sides, and Izuku was keenly aware of how their fingers kept brushing.  He'd flush and stutter every time it happened until Shouto finally paused, forcing Izuku to stop when he realized he had trailed a few steps behind.

"I don't mind," Shouto said, frowning down at his hand before he looked back at Izuku.  "I would let you know if I minded."

"I-I'm sorry, I—"

"You don't need to apologize."  Izuku blushed and ducked his head, fluttering his hands.  He didn't look up until Shouto caught up to him, and when he did he realized Shouto's face was slightly red.  Oh.

Very, very quietly Izuku considered asking Shouto if he could hold his hand.

And then they turned the corner and were hit by the sound of a large crowd that was gathered in front of Shouto's apartment building.

"They must be here because of the attack.  They were camped outside the school earlier," Izuku grimaced.  Shouto huffed and shifted on his feet, looking for a way around the crowd.  The reporters hadn't noticed them yet and Izuku hesitantly took a step backwards.

"Do you...," he paused when Shouto looked at him before he forced himself to continue.  "D-Do you want to come to my place?"  He asked, stumbling for an explanation when Shouto's eyes widened.

"I-I mean, to avoid the reporters.  They still don't know who I am, so I doubt they're camped in front of my place too," he rushed, wincing until he heard Shouto make a soft sound.

"I would like that," Shouto said with a small smile.  Laughter bubbled from Izuku's lips and he grinned, leaving the reporters behind as he headed toward his apartment and Shouto walked beside him.

**

"Why the fuck am I here again?" Katsuki snapped, directing his attention toward Endeavor as a petite woman puffed foundation onto his face.  He gagged when some got in his mouth and snarled at her, sparks popping in his hands. 

The woman had the gall to calmly raise an eyebrow before puffing more shit onto his nose.

"The League of Villains is gaining too much traction," Endeavor replied while adjusting his own tie and fixing his cuffs.

"So you drag me to another press conference?" Katsuki hissed and batted away the woman's hands.  She pursed her lips, setting down an eyeliner pen before picking up a flat jar.

"We need to address the public's concerns."

"Because that worked so well last time."  Endeavor spun and glared at Katsuki, his facial flames flaring as he clenched his jaw.

"If you had listened to me there wouldn't have been a problem," Endeavor sternly said.  "I don't need your input destroying everything I've—"

"Bullshit, you don't need me.  Icy Hot's a top hero.  Why don't you get him instead?" Katsuki asked before cursing when the woman tried to smear concealer over his scar on his face.  He grabbed her wrist, stopping her hand from touching him as he glared. 

"Don't you fucking dare." 

The women narrowed her eyes but nodded and Katsuki released her wrist, pushing himself to his feet.  Endeavor was standing near the door, pinching the bridge of his nose.

"My son," Endeavor practically spat the word, "refuses to listen to reason.  I'm sure you can bear with a press conference for twenty minutes." 

"UA should be giving this talk, not us," Katsuki insisted, his fingers twitching at his sides.  Endeavor stiffened and looked him over with a frown.

"You're acting like a child," Endeavor said.  He held up a hand when Katsuki snarled in favor of listening to a women with a headset as she leaned inside.  She whispered something to him and he nodded, gesturing for Katsuki to follow him like he was a fucking dog.

Well fuck that.

Katsuki ripped the tie from his neck and stormed past Endeavor, only managing a few steps before Endeavor grabbed his upper arm and spun him around.

"You're not leaving."

"I don't have to listen to you."  Katsuki snapped, jerking his arm from Endeavor's grip.  "You're not my father." 

"It's only twenty minutes!" Endeavor seethed.  "It won't kill you to stay."

"You don't understand, I can't fucking—" Katsuki bit his tongue, cutting himself off.  Shit.

"Can't what, Detonator?" Endeavor sneered.  Katsuki grimaced and stalked away, ignoring Endeavor's protests.

Like hell he was going to tell that asshole he couldn't hear well in crowds.

No one tried to stop him as he left, and he pulled out his hearing aids and shoved them into his pocket, letting the sounds of the world dull around him.  In the muted haze, Katsuki swiped a hand over his face and tried to rub off the shitty makeup as he stormed home.

And in his haste, he missed the worried glances strangers threw his way, teenagers whispering to their friends and parents pulling their children closer as they warily eyed the pro-hero storming down the street.

**

The sun had dipped out of sight when Tatsuma Ryuko pulled her hood closer to her face, adjusting her ear buds as she walked in the twilight toward her apartment.

Her body ached, a side-effect of using her quirk that lingered despite her many years of being a pro-hero.  Thankfully the air wasn't too chilly—although autumn was coming on fast—and she looked forward to a long soak after a hard day's work.

An eerie clink sounded from behind her and she paused, sweeping her eyes through the darkness.  She could see better than most in the dark because of her quirk, and she grimaced when she caught sight of a rat skittering into an alley. 

At least she wasn't just hearing things.

Rolling her shoulders, she continued on her way, tapping her hand against her thigh in time to her music.  She had started humming along when she turned a corner and ran into someone.  Stumbling, her hood fell down and she lifted her arms, already starting to apologize.

But before she could, the air whistled behind her and pain bloomed from the back of her head.  She teetered for a moment, stumbling into the side of a building, then everything went black.

Chapter Text

"Thank you," Shouto murmured as he followed Izuku into his apartment and quietly shut the door behind them.  Izuku had been toeing off his shoes when Shouto spoke and he paused, staring up at Shouto with wide eyes.

"Y-You're welcome," he stuttered and averted his gaze, ducking his head as he finished pushing off his shoes.  "I couldn't just leave you to those paparazzi.  I mean, you're probably used to them by now and you don't need me to step in but—"

"Izuku, it's alright," Shouto interrupted.  "I'm...not a fan of the press, and I would rather avoid them," he explained as he removed his shoes and set them by the door.

"O-Okay." 

Shouto relaxed when Izuku stuttered, chuckling to himself before he picked up Izuku's shoes and moved them by the door as well; a habit so automatic that he didn't realize he had done it until he turned around and saw Izuku watching him, his cheeks flushed.

"I—t-that is," Izuku spluttered, fluttering his hands as he took a step back.  Shouto stilled, his father looming in the back of his mind.  He hadn't asked permission.

"I shouldn't have—"

"W-Would you like something to eat?"

Shouto clicked his jaw shut when they both spoke at the same time, turning his gaze to the floor as he brushed his left hand over his right arm and tried to shove his thoughts away.  His father wasn't here. 

And Izuku was his friend.

"I would like that," Shouto slowly said, letting out a small sigh when he didn't feel frost pricking over his arm.  "I can pay for takeout."  Oddly, Izuku blushed and ran a hand through his hair, glancing toward his kitchen.

"I was going to cook?"

"You don't have to do that for me," Shouto replied, furrowing his brow.  "I have more than enough to pay for something."  Izuku flickered his eyes back to Shouto, their gazes meeting for a moment before he straightened with a determined nod.

"Let me cook for you, S-Shouto," Izuku said, stumbling over his name.  Which was odd, because Izuku had been calling Shouto by his given name since they had met; but there was something about how he said it that made Shouto pause.

"If you're sure it's not a problem."  Shouto flushed when Izuku beamed at his words, and Shouto belatedly covered his mouth, warmth spreading through his chest.  Warm tea and honey and his mother's laughter.

"I was going to make dinner for myself anyways," Izuku grinned, nodding as he waved a hand and walked into the kitchen.  "It shouldn't take me long," he added, already opening the fridge and pulling out various vegetables.

Shouto quietly shifted on his feet when Izuku started to work, feeling slightly awkward.  He wanted to help—his father always made Fuyumi and him cook—but this wasn't his home and he didn't know the rules.

"Do you...can I help?" Shouto asked, taking a step toward Izuku.  There was a sharp snick of a knife before Izuku looked up, staring for a few moments before he seemed to register the question.

"I'm good."  Izuku looked Shouto over before he shyly waved a hand toward another room.  "I-If you want, you could take a shower?" He suggested before he blushed and looked down at what he was cutting.  "Not that you smell bad or anything.  I know I feel gross after class and normally shower but I didn't really do much today so I'm fine and I have an extra set of clothes if you need them?"

There was another snick of the knife before Shouto nodded, remembered Izuku wasn't looking at him, and made an affirmative sound.

"Thank you," he replied and then padded to where Izuku had pointed, passing a dimly lit room before he found the bathroom.  He stepped inside and closed the door, dropping his bag on the floor and pulling out his spare clothes while he tried not to disturb Izuku's belongings.

Everything was All-Might themed.

From the toothpaste and facial products strewn across the sink to the shower curtain that proclaimed 'I AM HERE!' in bold letters.  Shouto chuckled as he started the shower and stripped, picturing how furious his father would be if he knew Shouto was anywhere near this merchandise. 

Izuku's shower sputtered to life in a welcoming steam unlike his own shower, which held too many memories of him collapsed against its sides while water streamed down his face.  Shouto closed his eyes and forced himself to take a low breath before he stepped into the warm spray.

The mirrors were clouded when Shouto finished and realized he didn't have a towel.  He glanced at the one hanging on the back of the door and flushed before he ran a hand through his hair and used his quirk to dry himself.

Admittedly, it didn't exactly work.  He ran his left hand over himself, steaming away the water until he reached his hair.  It was starting to get long—dipping below his ears—and he had absolutely no idea what to do with it.

Sighing, Shouto left it alone and pulled on his clothes before opening the door, pausing when he saw a small pile of clothes on the floor.  Izuku had left him a pair of stretched-out shorts and what would've been an oversized hoodie had Izuku worn it.  Oddly, it had 'Shirt' printed across the front and Shouto almost carried both back when he remembered how Izuku had looked wearing his clothes.

Soft.

Shouto stared down at the hoodie, water dripping down the back of his neck before he hastily pulled the hoodie on over his shirt.  The hoodie was surprisingly soft, and Shouto tugged it into place as he walked back with the pair of shorts.

Izuku was humming in the kitchen, stirring something over the stove as he lightly bounced on his feet.  The heavy scent of a thick broth permeated the room and Shouto breathed it in, his mouth starting to water.

"The hoodie fits," Shouto said as he stepped into the kitchen and set the shorts on the counter.  Izuku startled, a glob of stew flying from his spoon when he jerked his hand back.  They both watched the glob hit the floor before Izuku nervously chuckled and wiped it up.

"I-I'm glad," Izuku replied before he looked up at Shouto and froze, his face turning red.  "You're beautiful."

Shouto stilled, his hand twitching and heat warming his left side.  Izuku thought he was...?

Not knowing how to respond, Shouto looked down and caught sight of Izuku's hands.  Blood?  He frowned and stepped closer, missing how Izuku squeaked.

"Izuku, your hand is bleeding."

"W-What? No, I'm—Oh." Izuku lifted his hand and grimaced, setting down his spoon before tugging the bandages tighter.  "It's fine, I'll change them after we eat."

"Will you let me help?" Shouto asked and Izuku softly smiled.

"S-Sure," he said, turning back to the stove.  "Everything should be ready!"  The curry smelled great, and they both quickly grabbed and filled a bowl before moving to sit across from one another on Izuku's couch. 

Shouto resisted the urge to point out how Izuku wasn't using his bandaged hand, and instead took a bite of curry.  A rich, spicy taste flooded his mouth, and he hadn't realized he had closed his eyes until he heard Izuku chuckle and he opened them, watching Izuku duck his head into his bowl.

"I'm glad you like it?"

"It tastes like my mother's," Shouto slowly replied, faintly smiling when Izuku blushed and tried to hide behind his bites.

They readily fell into their food, and by the time they both finished Izuku was rambling about his co-worker while Shouto pleasantly listened, leaning against the side of the couch.  It wasn't until they set their bowls aside and Shouto's still-damp hair fell into his face that he huffed and raked it back with his hand.

"Do you have a hair tie?"

Izuku looked surprised at the question and pinched his lip, leaning forward for a few seconds before he scrambled to his feet.

"I think so?  My mom leaves them here when she visits sometimes," Izuku said before he slipped from the sofa and into another room.  He was back within a minute and tossed Shouto a black hair tie.

"I hope that'll work?" He asked and Shouto shrugged, trying to scrape his hair back and frowning when he realized it wasn't quite long enough.  Strands kept escaping and he sighed, moving to give the hair tie back when he realized Izuku was watching him intently.

"I...can I try something?"  Izuku picked up the hair tie as he spoke, waiting for Shouto to nod before he motioned for him to turn around.  Shouto shifted, putting his back to Izuku and hating how it made him uneasy.  Too many training sessions where he had made that mistake were ingrained into him, and he forced himself not to flinch when Izuku moved behind him.

"My mom had a hard time with her hair when I was little.  She cut it short after—" Izuku paused, and Shouto heard him edging closer, phantom fingers resting millimeters from Shouto's head before Izuku started combing his fingers through his hair.

"When she started to grow it out, she always pulled back the top and left the bottom," Izuku continued as Shouto relaxed into the feeling.  Izuku's hands were gentle, scraping lightly at his hair as he worked.  A few more tugs and Izuku was tapping his shoulder.

"Not too tight?" 

"No," Shouto said before he stood and padded to the bathroom to look in the mirror. 

"Do you like it?" Izuku followed him to the bathroom and Shouto swallowed as he nodded, clenching his hand against his leg.  His hair colors overlapped and the top half was pulled back into a small knot while the bottom hung free.  It was messy and left his face exposed but when he shifted his gaze from himself to Izuku in the mirror, Izuku was staring with a stunned expression, his cheeks flushed.

"I like it," Shouto murmured, resisting the urge to pull pieces in front of his scar.  Izuku lit up, happily fidgeting before Shouto's eyes drifted down to his bandaged hand.  Right.  "Where do you keep your first-aid kit?"  Izuku lifted his hand, wincing when he saw blood seeping through.

"It's on the desk in my bedroom.  I can take care of it, you don't have to—"

"Let me help," Shouto interjected, stepping past Izuku and heading toward the only other room in the small apartment.  Judging from the All Might poster decorating the door, it had to be Izuku's room.  Shouto stepped inside, scanning past a messy bed, pro-hero merchandise, and a bookshelf before he saw Izuku's desk.

And went deathly still.

Everything was suddenly too hot, his face heating up as a strange feeling wrapped around his chest and tugged until he couldn't breathe.

"S-Shouto?  You're on fire!"  Izuku exclaimed and Shouto started, not having heard him enter the room.  He turned to see Izuku waving his hands at his shoulder, and he followed the gesture and realized that yes, his shoulder was on fire.

"Oh.  I..." Shouto patted his shoulder with his right hand, flushing more when he realized it wasn't going out.  "This doesn't happen often."  A few seconds passed before Shouto stopped his quirk, and when he did Izuku sighed in relief, chewing on his lip as he tugged at his hair.

"Did I do something wrong?  Why did you..." Izuku started and then trailed off when Shouto turned toward the desk.  "Oh god, I'm so sorry," Izuku blurted, rushing forward and hurriedly shuffling the papers on the desk.

"Shit, it's not what it looks like—I promise I wasn't doing anything creepy!  I just thought you were pretty and wanted to draw you and then messed around with your uniform because white really sucks to clean and Ochako thought it looked good and—" Izuku sucked in a breath, shuddering as he dropped his head and clenched his hands.

"I'm sorry," he repeated, barely meeting Shouto's gaze.  "I-I can get rid of them if you want."

"Do you...how long have you been drawing these?" Shouto slowly asked, stepping closer and gently nudging Izuku from blocking his view.  Izuku swallowed, clasped his hands, and stared at the floor.

"S-Since I first saw you take down some villains by freezing an entire intersection."  Surprised, Shouto brushed a hand over the drawings before him, taking them in.

They were all drawings of him.

Mostly in his pro-hero uniform, sometimes in his civilian clothes, and all sketched with an attention to detail that took his breath away.  There was a picture of him shooting ice at a burning apartment, him smiling as he tugged at his beanie, and him chuckling as he walked down a street. 

He sifted through the sketches, trailing his hand over one that showed him leaning against a counter as he sipped some tea before a flash of color caught his eye.  Shouto picked up a picture of him standing tall in his hero uniform, except Izuku had changed a few minor details.

Details that shouldn't have mattered but left Shouto reeling, his hand shaking as he lifted the picture.

Izuku had drawn him without ice covering his left side, his expression confident as he posed in a dark blue uniform. 

Dark blue, instead of white.

"You designed this?" Shouto asked, quickly rubbing his eyes before he looked at Izuku.  Izuku nodded—his face bright red—and picked at his hands.

"I mean, there's nothing wrong with your current uniform.  I just thought blue suited you better?" He offered, his voice trailing upwards as he finally met Shouto's eyes.

"Izuku I..." Shouto paused, struggling for words.  "Thank you."  He set the drawing down on the desk, then looked back to see Izuku crying.  Startled, he lifted his hands, awkwardly reaching toward Izuku and hesitating over his shoulder.

"I like blue," Shouto softly said and then Izuku let out a sob and hunched into himself, covering his face as his crying turned into broken laughs.  Steeling himself, Shouto rested a hand on Izuku's shoulder and gently squeezed.

Thankfully, Izuku hiccupped and rubbed his eyes, blinking rapidly.  "S-Sorry, I'm just happy."

"That I like your drawings?"

"That you didn't set them on fire," Izuku replied, his eyes going wide before he slapped a hand over his mouth.  Shouto paused, holding Izuku's gaze before he steered him toward his bed and motioned for him to sit.

"Why would someone burn them?"

Izuku picked at his bandages and deflated, gesturing toward his bookshelf.  "I have books."  Shouto frowned and Izuku started pulling the bandages free.

"N-Not books full of drawings but um, analysis books.  Which I guess are also full of drawings but mostly writing and information on pro-heroes and Kacchan hated that I wrote about—"

"Kacchan?" Shouto interrupted, walking to the desk and picking up the first-aid kit that sat next to a large plant.  He walked back and knelt in front of Izuku, waiting until Izuku held out his hand before Shouto took it and finished unwrapping the soiled bandages.

"B-Bakugou Katsuki.  We uh, used to be friends when we were kids."

"I have a hard time picturing him having friends," Shouto deadpanned, pressing his mouth into a thin line as he started cleaning Izuku's wound.  Granted, he didn't know Bakugou well, but every time they were in the same area Bakugou was always angry, spitting curses at the media or Endeavor and storming around without thought to those around him.

More than once Shouto had found himself flinching from his sudden, sharp movements.

"He was the only one who let me play with him," Izuku explained, wincing when Shouto brushed antiseptic over his hand.  "No one wanted to play with the quirkless kid."  Shouto frowned, forcing himself not to tighten his hand around Izuku's.

"Then they were idiots," Shouto replied as he started to wrap Izuku's hand.  "But what did you mean about analysis books?" He added, shifting the subject and sighing when Izuku relaxed.

"I thought that knowing everything about pro-heroes would let me become one," Izuku sniffled as Shouto wrapped his hand.  "It didn't, but it does help when I'm working as a paramedic, so I never stopped."

"That's..." Shouto finished wrapping Izuku's hand.   Do you have one on me?  He wanted to ask but held himself back, not wanting to see how he looked from a hero perspective.  He was well aware of the persona he had crafted to keep his father at bay.  Cold and impersonal.

"I'm done," Shouto said instead, looking up from Izuku's hands.  Izuku whispered thanks before he reached toward Shouto's face, biting his lip.

"Can I kiss you again?"

"You want to?" Shouto breathed, his eyes widening.  Izuku nodded and brushed his hands behind Shouto's ears, cupping his face.

It was abruptly too much and warmwarmwarm and Shouto didn't know how to respond, wanting to lean into the warmth without knowing exactly how.

"Okay," he said before closing his eyes, holding his breath when Izuku tugged him closer and ignoring the rush of not like this that trembled through his chest.  He felt lips press against his forehead, and he opened his eyes when Izuku released his head, confused.

"That's enough, until you want more," Izuku whispered.  "Unless you want more," he corrected himself.  Shouto's breath hitched and he nodded, faintly smiling.  It took him a few moments to collect himself and then he laughed, his shoulders shaking until Izuku started laughing as well, both of them holding onto the other until Izuku wiped his eyes and glanced at his door.

"I doubt the press will leave your place anytime tonight.  If you want to stay and watch movies I know a few good ones?" Izuku suggested with a grin.

"I'd like that," Shouto replied before he let Izuku pull him to the living room, gathering a mound of blankets around them as they settled on the couch.

** 

Toshinori woke to the smell of antiseptic and flowers, the scents dragging him from the heavy darkness wrapped around him.  A cough rattled through his chest and he jerked into a sitting position, covering his mouth as blood splattered over his hand. 

Or at least, he tried to sit up.

A sharp stab of pain flared through him when he tried to move, and he ended up coughing blood all over his chest, gritting his teeth against the pain.  Belatedly, he realized he couldn't lift his left hand very far, and when he looked down he saw a needle tapped to the back of it.

Where...?

Toshinori blinked and looked around the room, swallowing blood as a cold feeling of dread washed through him.  He was in a hospital.

Flowers covered every available surface; baskets dusting the windowsills and vases set on the bedside table.  Daises, anemones, peonies, and a few others he couldn't remember were overflowing from the arrangements, their colors warm and welcoming.

They probably meant something, but Toshinori had smiled and waved away his coworker when they tried to teach him—knowing their names was enough.  A card rested in the vase next to his bed, and Toshinori weakly picked it up and turned it over.

All his coworkers had signed the card, wishing him to get better soon.  Someone had drawn sunflowers over the margins in detailed patterns and scribbled in a tiny picture of him holding a flower.  He hadn't done anything worthy of this kindness.

He couldn't even help children when they needed him.

Another cough splattered blood over the card and he grimaced, setting it down before he struggled to push himself into a sitting position.  His arms shook as soon as he put weight on them though, and he collapsed against the bed, frustrated.

Weak.  Fragile.

Pathetic enough that when Aizawa had ordered him to wait outside the training grounds while their children were being attacked, he had listened.

Someone knocked on the door, and Toshinori turned to see Kayama and Yamada stepping inside, the latter carrying a bouquet of white lilies.  They looked surprised to see him awake, and then Yamada shuffled forward, awkwardly setting the bouquet beside the other flowers.

"I'm glad you're awa—ARE YOU OKAY?" Yamada shouted and Toshinori winced, covering his ear with his free hand while Kayama flinched.  Confused, Toshinori followed Yamada's gaze to his chest and sighed when he realized he was covered in blood.

"I'm fi—" he started to say before he spluttered into another cough, barely registering when Yamada rushed to sit him up and started rubbing his back.

"—should call a nurse," Yamada worried and Toshinori shook his head, swallowing blood and another wave of pain.

"I'm used to this."

"You shouldn't be," Kayama said with a frown, moving to press a small button on the side of the bed.  "And don't say it's because of your injury.  If you actually took care of yourself you wouldn't be spewing blood every five minutes."

Toshinori opened his mouth to protest, but bit his tongue when Kayama shot him a deadly glare.

"Alright," Toshinori sighed, looking toward the door when a nurse walked in.  The man glanced at him before moving to pull a clean gown from a cabinet.  "How long have I been out?"

"Almost a full day.  We brought you in last night," Kayama replied.  "You should be thankful that Hizashi thought to check up on you."

"One of my past students was worried," Yamada added as he dragged a hand through his hair.  "Her name is Tsuyu; she said you should know her?"

Toshinori sucked in a breath, gripping the sheets and only letting go when the nurse edged forward and gave Yamada and Kayama a look. 

"They can stay," Toshinori mumbled, still caught on how Tsuyu had thought to let someone know.  She had been worried.

He made her worry.  Some hero he was.

The nurse raised an eyebrow but didn't complain, swiftly tugging the soiled gown from around him before trading it for a clean one.  "Tsuyu visits the flower shop often," Toshinori explained, thanking the nurse when he finished tying the gown and carried the soiled one away.

"Anyways, everyone's waiting to visit you, so try not to cough blood in their face, okay?" Kayama sighed before tugging on Yamada's arm.

"Wait, how many—"

"We're glad you're okay," Kayama added before she pulled Yamada from the room.  Toshinori didn't miss how Yamada looked halfway to falling over himself.  What had he done? 

The door had barely closed when Aizawa stepped inside and pushed it shut, his shoulders tense.  It wasn't until he looked Toshinori over did he minutely relax, and then he pulled a chair over and sat down, rubbing his eyes.

"What you did was stupid," Aizawa grumbled.

"I know."

"And selfish."

"I know."

"And suicidal."

"I—" Toshinori cut himself off, snapping his gaze to Aizawa.

"You're dehydrated, underweight, and we found you passed out on your floor."

"I wasn't trying to," Toshinori slipped over the words, digging his hands into the sheets, "kill myself."

"When was the last time you ate anything?" Aizawa asked with a grim expression.  "Actually ate.  Reheated ramen doesn't count."  When Toshinori didn't respond Aizawa pinched the bridge of his nose before looking away.

"Refusing to take care of yourself and putting yourself in dangerous situations is still harming yourself."

"But I wasn't trying to—"

"Then what were you doing?" Aizawa snapped, looking back.  Toshinori almost flinched at his expression, dimly realizing why so many students had rushed to listen when Aizawa spoke.  "Because starving yourself and not caring if you wake up is the same as me throwing myself at a villain and hoping they'd win."

Toshinori's eyes widened when he realized what Aizawa meant.  His fingers twitched and then he was coughing, bending over himself and hating how he could feel his ribs sticking out.  Oh god.

He had tried to kill himself.

All too quickly he realized he was crying, tears dropping onto the blood staining his hands—weak, so weak—and he would've left them that way if Aizawa hadn't handed him a small rag.

"Why did you...?" Toshinori rasped, knowing he didn't have the right to ask but needing to know.  Because Aizawa was worth something.  He was still a hero; people didn't try to protect him or pity him or whisper what a shame when he walked past. 

Aizawa waited until Toshinori started cleaning his hands and uselessly tried to stop himself from crying before he responded.

"...I didn't think I was worthy," Aizawa slowly said.  "A student died under my care."  He grimaced, clenching his hand before he continued.  "I don't know what haunts you but...Tensei knows people who can help."

Toshinori heavily swallowed in the resounding silence, his tongue a deadweight in his mouth.

"He's going to visit later today.  You can talk to him then," Aizawa added as he stood, averting his gaze.  "I need to check on Hizashi, sorry," he mumbled as he walked away, holding the door open for someone on his way out.  Toshinori hastily wiped his eyes, trying to compose himself before the door clicked shut.

"Hello Toshinori," a crisp voice said.  Toshinori blinked when Nedzu crawled onto a stool and pressed a cup of tea into his hand.  "Drink," he ordered and Toshinori obeyed, wincing when he burned his tongue.

"I believe we have a few matters to discuss."  The tea steamed between Toshinori's hands and he stared into its depths, waiting for Nedzu to tell him he didn't want him to come back to UA.

"I offered you a lifeline when I hired you," Nedzu began with a tight smile.  "With the expectation that working at UA would remind you why you're an asset to future generations of heroes," he continued.  Toshinori snapped his head up at his words, staring.

"Do not take what I am about to say lightly, Toshinori.  I am not one to offer second chances," Nedzu paused, eyeing Toshinori's tea until he took another scalding sip.  "You will to return to UA as a teacher for the adult course once you have a clean bill of health."

"But I can't—"

Nedzu raised his hand, cutting Toshinori off.  "You are not at fault for the actions of villains," he calmly said, draining his tea.  "That being said, your knowledge is valuable.  You are valuable, and I suspect we have come to a sufficient agreement?"

The room fell quiet, only the beeping of Toshinori's heart monitor echoing in the few moments it took him to weigh his options.  Granted, considering he was talking to Nedzu, he didn't really have any.

Sighing, Toshinori scrubbed a hand over his face and finished the rest of his tea.  "Okay," he said and Nedzu smiled, pushing himself from the chair and taking the empty cup from Toshinori's hands.

"Good.  I'll see you in a few weeks," Nedzu said before he left.

Thankfully no one entered after him, and Toshinori stared at the ceiling in the resulting silence, letting his eyes slide shut as another cough rocked through him and he belatedly clutched at his side in pain.

**

Katsuki didn't know why he still watched the fucking news.

He slammed into his couch, almost spilling his dinner as he watched the headlines blast across the screen.

League of Villains responsible for recent crimes?

Bullshit.

"Fuck Shigaraki," Katsuki snarled as he took a bite of food, resisting the urge to chuck it at the screen.  The screen hadn't done anything, other than broadcast shit that people were idiotic enough to believe.

"—reports are stating that the attempted robbery was not the work of the League of Villains, but of a villain known as Nightshade, who was captured last month in the aftermath of an attack.  Authorities are exploring additional ideas as Nightshade is reportedly still incarcerated—"

Katsuki paused when the newscaster suddenly stopped.  The woman held her hand against her ear, her eyes widening before she composed herself and shuffled her papers, the video behind her changing when she started to speak.

"We have received breaking news that pro-hero Ryukyu was found downtown in critical condition.  We go now to our reporter who is live on the scene..."

The video changed, and Katsuki broke the chopsticks he was holding in half.  What. The. Fuck.

In a dimly lit alley, a bruised and bleeding woman was pinned to the alley wall with the words 'Where were the heroes?' written in what looked like blood underneath.  Katsuki recognized dragon-face immediately, and he could only watch as a paramedic ran forward and confirmed she was still alive.

Then why the hell weren't they getting her down?

Katsuki narrowed his eyes and leaned closer, swearing when he realized she wasn't merely pinned to the wall.  Someone had fucking molded the wall around her wrists.  The paramedic was calling for help while the police scrambled to find a pro-hero who could get her down safely.

Cementoss could help, but he was halfway across the city at UA and with a scream of frustration Katsuki threw down his dinner and yanked his hoodie over his head.  He had pulled on his hero uniform by the time he stormed from his apartment, and was blasting toward the scene within minutes.

Because while his quirk wasn't made for detailed work, without his gauntlets he could use minute blasts to get her free.

It might also give him a chance to find clues leading to Shigaraki.

And fuck if he wasn't going to take anything he could get.