Aizawa Shouta's soul is marked by a giant fluffy black cat with eyes gleaming red standing over his literal heart.
"God, you're such a cat person," Nemuri groaned into his shoulder on the way back from a very hectic shared patrol. "All broody and private. Even your soul is a cat."
Sometimes he doesn't understand how she still lands so far off the mark about cats. If he were to comment on the fact he has a cat for a soulmark, it would be a very agitated grumble about how cats have far too many kittens that cause so many problems.
He's got a line of children's sigils going down his spine, one after the other. A lightning bolt, the kanji for nine, a small pawprint and far too many more marching up his spine. In the span of his first year at UA he goes from having none at all to having twenty stacking themselves up his hips to his ribs, and nine years after a broken clock brings it up to twenty and one.
His friends still wondered how he'd kept them so well hidden that not even his best friends at the time had known. Only well into his twenties did he bother showing them to complain shortly after the clock has shown.
"Whoever my past life is, they must have done something remarkably stupid to earn the burden of twenty one brats."
"Hey hey hey, that's no way to talk about the old cat lady you used to be!"
Jokes are still made about vasectomy at his expense but everyone knows those marks are not biologically linked even if they don't know when he got them. It's a comical amount for any one person to have five or more soulchildren and at that point it was considered a sign of someone who does extremely well with large groups and leadership.
Well. Aizawa doesn't know about that. There was more than one reason he avoided the popularity contest of mainstream pro heroism.
Aizawa Shouta has twenty one kids floating nebulously out in the world, and he waits for them in mute impatience. A long time ago he'd decided to go about any soulchildren the decidedly old fashioned way. The children would have to approach him, not the other way around. It's not anyone else's business, but if he was asked on a particularly lonely day, he might even admit part of the reason he became a teacher was in hopes it would help him meet at least one who felt comfortable enough to come forward.
It's Kayama who nudges him towards teaching at UA, laughing quietly at the idea he'll ever manage to even find twenty-one children outside class at all but still encouraging.
"The class size is Twenty," She whispers conspiratorially. "I figure you'll meet at least a handful in the classroom over the years. They're all in a very crucial time in their lives when their biological parents might not be enough. So."
He goes, and he loves teaching the students so much it never occurs to him he could quit after the first year. Even so he's quick to weed out the ones who don't take the classes seriously enough. His or not, they don't deserve what happens when a hero fails.
With Nedzu's help he learns how to quantify ability, assess how much time it would take to train each student to standards that won't get them killed in action, and boots out anyone who doesn't make the cut. None of his requests to expel students get rejected because he has never done it out of anger.
Eventually Aizawa turns 30 and has yet to have a single student have any sort of confession or even slip up of 'dad'. He's fond but not overly affectionate with most of his students who pass through. Looks out on the sea of teenage heroes in training and wonders. The children should be in highschool by now at least, if he was lucky enough to get them when they were born instead of years after the fact like some others. Did he miss them?
Did they not want him?
He turns away to skulk back to the teachers lounge, trying hard not to wonder. There's a new class again this year. There's always a new class each year.
Midoriya is sloppy technique and bullheaded stupidity wrapped up in a tiny breakable package. Aizawa plans to get him out that first day before he can get too far into the course. But Izuku... When Aizawa stops him from breaking his arm again those green doe eyes burn and takes the warning seriously. Breaks a finger, but it's so much less with so little guidance.
Who had been in charge of his quirk counseling? He'd like Hound Dog to gnaw their head off. Better yet, he'd like to shake them to rights himself. There's something in that kid healed so terribly crooked and maybe with some time he can fix-
...No. No, he can't think like that. He'd gotten too attached his first year to a kid that never came forward and wasn't even his. Not this time.
He won't let himself get attached, he thinks, not this time. And he tries. He does. But then there's USJ where it's no choice but to fight a hoard for a group of children.
The Sports Festival is mostly tame except for the extra student he picks up to mentor. Shinsou Hitoshi is a stubborn boy who seems bewildered by Aizawa's attention. It doesn't matter. Izuku wasn't at all quiet about how 'cool' Shinsou's quirk had been and to a lesser extent his outrage at the gatekeeping that kept the boy from having the means to get into the Hero Course.
Then he overhears Izuku and Shouto talking about their home lives to compare the physically absent Hisashi to the physically abusive Enji. It's quite murmurs on stairs that should be empty between class periods but Izuku had somehow injured himself under All Might's training again and Shouto was pressing ice to the bruising.
"...It's still not right what he's doing, Todoroki." Izuku's eyes are narrowed so thin he doesn't look the same. Frown pulling skin so taut a hint of the jawline hiding under baby fat surfaces. "How does he keep getting away with hurting you?"
"In his mind it's all training Izuku. That's all it ever is." Shouto's eyes carefully never look up from the hand he's iced as they walk slowly to Recovery Girl's office. Flinches just barely as Izuku's hand worms the sleeve of his jumpsuit up to expose burns shaped like grasping fingers. "Besides. He's had less time to train me now that UA is doing it for him."
"Can't you tell your... Your soul parents?"
"Haven't found them yet. Even if I did and one of them believed me it's not like they could do anything." A smile slips on Shouto's lips. "Unless I had All Might of course, but he's rather yours instead isn't he?"
"T-Todoroki! How did you-!" They turn a corner and leave his sight while their chatter turns wordless in his ears. Slipping the sleeping bag off his shoulders as he sits up. His eyes burn with the growing urge to use his quirk on a foe that isn't there.
Blood boiling, he thinks of ways to keep Shouto at school for longer hours. Which paperwork he'd need to find in the sea of bureaucracy to file for child abuse suspicions again. How to fix this.
The thing was. He had never checked Tenya. Never thought to, never wanted to, not because he didn't love the boy but because he thought everything was alright and didn't want to think anything more. But then he visits in the hospital, worried out of his fucking mind, and the boy has a small, black, innocuous mark on his shoulder.
A little cat, curled into a circle. It could be mistaken for a children's tattoo if you didn't realize it was too large.
It makes him retrospectively wonder who else he'd missed in plain sight when he puts the pieces together later. He's too tightly wound now.
There's a moment alone with Tenya who looks- Exhausted. Confused. Guilty and wrung out and barely concealing the tremors of it all in his sturdy frame. Tensei has been Tenya's lifeline in a world of busy parents and having one bond in a perilous career was too little. Aizawa will want to hit himself later for not looking because of his own selfish desires.
Aizawa sighs through his nose as Tenya stubbornly doesn't look at him in silence. Then sits quietly on the bed and tucks Tenya under his chin and close as possible in the awkward position he's put them in. One tremble, two, and then Tenya hitches out a sob and clings tight.
Shouta holds him and lets him crack and waits until he's put himself to sleep out of exhaustion before he turns away. And he doesn't go far, not at all, because. There are two more to look to, two more to check for cracks, and he won't let them hurt even if they aren't his.
When he goes to Shouto's room, the boy has his ankles exposed, and there's a mark. Stretched as though on its back, batting at nothing with one giant paw. His eyes skim over it, not registering the particulars but knowing at least that somewhere someone will take care of Shouto.
(He thinks he needs to talk to Nemuri.)
Shouto blinks up at him blearily for a moment before recognition kicks in and he slips feet under the covers quick as a whip and sits up so fast you can almost hear his spine crack like a glowstick. Marks are private, he knows that better than anyone.
"...Go back to sleep."
Shouto immediately slumps back into the messed up sheets (impressive, considering the hospital corners had been tucked so tight) and silently breathes a sigh.
It startles him a little, that odd show of trust. Shouto still flinches when Hizashi gets loud and doesn't look at Kirishima's face- or rather his hair- when they talk even though the remarkable sunny boy keeps trying to befriend him now that problem child had gotten through to him in the sports festival. Things have been adding up.
But around someone viewed as stern as Endeavor presents himself, Shouta would never have considered Shouto feeling like he could do anything like fall asleep in his presence. It almost makes something warm and hopeful take over his chest, but.
Problem Child is just one door down, and he slips into his room just as quietly as the last two. Izuku is mumbling in bed while writing in a notebook someone must have brought him before Aizawa could get here. There's nothing visible on the skin bare by the hospital scrubs. It doesn't mean Shouta doesn't hold his breath as the boy tenses and glances up, sees it's him and instantly relaxes. He's been nothing but a hardass on him for the past three months, and yet.
He wonders how lonely it must be, for a boy who can't control his Quirk and who only has his mother. There weren't any clubs listed on his school records. No sports. Just cram school.
He wonders if he could be the kanji or the rabbit. He'd like that.
Izuku has three adult marks in total, not that he ever talks of them to people. It didn't seem right to seek them out as a quirkless child trying to prove himself. Still, they're all in the most common spot for bonds, running down his spine in large sigils. A kanji for the number eight, confusing, so confusing until he's fifteen. A tree, still missing. And right near the small of his back is a pawprint whose claws are beared long and thin around the red iris shadowed over it.
He looks at the last two occasionally and wonders who they are, if they'll meet him soon. What they'll be to him. He wonders if they'll accept him, and then he wonders if they'll even care about him, distant as he needs to be.
Then, he watches Aizawa-sensei pick up a cat and hold it for half the day and goes, huh. Shit. That's not something he wants to talk about when Aizawa still seems to consider throwing him out of UA on his ass each time he breaks a bone or disobeys a rule in order to save a friend.
(Aizawa-sensei is of course piecemeal to the number line he eventually sees running up All for One's arm but of course, he's not fucking thinking about that-)
When Izuku sees Eri for the first time he also sees a black cat with an arched back in her palm with ruby eyes and he knows, he knows, she's one of Aizawa's too.
"That's a nice mark, Eri-chan." Mirio's eyes flickers to his questioningly. He doesn't answer yet. "Do you have any others?"
"No." Eri shakes her head slowly with that quiet word, staring at her palm curiously. "Dunno what it is."
When Mirio and Overhaul pressure him to let her go for now he. Doesn't. Want. To.
She's one of Aizawa's and that means she's one of his. His siblings, his family, his future.
"You must be mistaken," He says with that same molten iron tone he's carried since childhood when no one quite believed in his dreams. "This is my little sister Eri. She has our father's mark, you see?"
Overhaul's eyes flick to where Eri's hands clutch at his sleeves with disdain and the anger simmers slowly. It's fed by his fear, his courage, his knowledge that this is his sister now and she needs a big brother.
He will protect her from this man who claims to be her father. With or without Mirio's support.
It's fed by the fact that, in the eyes of the law that has been around for thousands of unspoken years, they will always be Aizawa's before anyone or anything else. Other relations considered moot and point besides those painted on their bodies if they so choose. By the portents of their souls they are His and he is Theirs and nothing is strong enough to keep them apart.
It still ends with Overhaul with more broken bones than whole and knocked out on the pavement, Izuku crackling with energy as Eri presses his clock back and back just enough to steal his wounds as Mirio launches himself toward backup.
Even with Osamu and the police on the scene Eri is still distressed. Perhaps more so. Izuku carries her even as she warns him with sobs not to because she's scared he'll disappear if she keeps clinging and it'll be her fault but she doesn't really want to let go. Until upon his insistence Aizawa is finally called in.
He stares at the scene before him with unparalleled horror until Izuku spots him, rising with the squirming but clinging contradiction that is Eri to pass her over. Aizawa stares at him with utter disbelief until Izuku turns her clenched fist over and open to display his mark.
"Eri, this is our dad."
That leaves both of them silent silent. It also leads to the surrounding support snap their eyes towards the scene unfolding. No one notices Mirio's eyes flicker between Eri's open palm and Aizawa with dawning realization. A child has finally come forward. Come to him and laid it bare.
"I know you don't really know what soulmarks like the cat on your hand means yet but please trust me again. His quirk even makes it so he can turn yours off as long as he can see you." Eri finally uncurls the fist still in Izuku's shirt. Shouta's hands are full of shocked tremors. "He helped me when I couldn't control my quirk either. Perfect fit, right?"
'Oh god,' Shouta thinks, 'I was never going to be the one to make them come forward. Izuku- my son was.'
Oh god Hizashi should have never worried about a vasectomy, he should have worried about Shouta getting his teaching license,
He pushes that from his mind as he takes charge while paramedics crowd, instantly gaining visiting privileges after flashing her hand, unwinding his capture weapon and showing the matching mark over his breast as the final piece of prood, and they all load into the ambulance in silence. When they finally sit, Izuku sags, wheezing as the pain Eri did her best to take catches up to him, and Shouta silently gathers him into his arms with Eri pressed between them. He'd contact Kuga when this is all done to snap him down to calm acquiescence, but for now, he has to make sure his children are alright.
If Hizashi had been first to visit the hospital room, maybe there would have been some humor about the twisted nature of it all. Had it been Nemuri he would have had someone to hiss faux blame at while his kids- god, his children, he had finally been acknowledged by two of many to come- slept peacefully with a hand for Eri and a hand for Izuku. If Osamu came in maybe he could accomplish some sort of hero work and chew him down to size for what Izuku has let slip (this is worse than the Legacy Hero family drama he's dealt with ever sunce he met Tensei) while he processed it all.
But the first to be notified and rush over was Midoriya Inko.
Pushing in with all the focused worry of a mother, Aizawa watches her falter at the way Izuku has curled around Aizawa hand while thankfully unmarred and breathing steady. Gaze tracing to his other arm where Eri's marked palm was half curled but still showing the black cat to the world. Paper bands with pictures of their cat marks around all their wrists presenting them as Bound.
He waited for her to say something. To blame him, or deny it, or- well. Something less than complimentary. Many parents have reacted like that to their children being marked by teachers they barely know.
Instead she met his wary eyes and bows slow and deep.
"You shouldn't-" Do that when I wasn't even there, a part of him whispers.
"Izuku talks about you a lot, Aizawa-sensei." Inko straightens and walks to the other side of Izuku's bed. Strokes his hair so carefully. "Enough to know you're on my side when it comes to keeping him alive and happy. So I will thank you as often as I like, because you protect him in ways I can't."
"I wasn't there this time."
"No." The silence lingers, Inko's gaze drifting towards Eri. "But... I think you taught him enough to keep himself and... this young girl safe."
Eri looks to Izuku on how to act during their brief hospital stay. At first it's a sweet sort of funny, how she watches him eat before copying him down to the way he holds his chopsticks and the way she lets the doctors listen to her heart, shuddering theatrically the same way Izuku did when the cold metal touches skin. Learning how to live a new life.
It's a little more embarrassing when she tries to follow him into the bathroom. Aizawa scoops her up to save Izuku from the awkwardness and she freezes in his arms, unsure what to do and maybe a little scared. Izuku looks back, then at the bathroom door, obviously calculating how likely Eri was to try again later before turning on his heel with a deliberately kind smile and walking back towards Eri. Aizawa stays pliant as Izuku presses her more comfortably into his arms and guides her cheek to his. Eri blinks at the gentle scratch of stubble, moving her cheek against his curiously before checking for a reaction.
Izuku doesn't have to worry about sharing the bathroom after that as Eri takes this as permission to stick as close as humanly possible to Aizawa when he needs to leave the room for whatever reason. It melts his heart a little.
Which is sadly exactly why Hizashi and Nemuri bust into the hospital room while Eri is sleeping on his chest with her face tucked against his neck. Oh, and Izuku snoring on his shoulder.
Only years of practice have Erasure activated before Hizashi can let out a sound despite the surprise entrance. Nemuri's gasp is so high pitched Aizawa almost can't hear it, but Eri huffs half asleep against his throat before readjusting to breathing easy again.
Then hands are flying through the air as fast as they can to talk about the whole mess. Aizawa groans, shutting his eyes and asking himself why exactly he hadn't joined in the nap while he had the chance.
Nemuri is the one to sign, once they force him to open his eyes, that they need to check his class. He shakes his head as hard he can without disturbing the children. She signs it again, more forceful, but.
She only has two marks on her thighs, one found and one suspected. She doesn't have the worry about whether she's encroaching, unwanted, feared- she's already wanted. His, the seventeen he's suspecting and perhaps others he hasn't, they haven't stepped forward even though some must have suspected at this point. He's never taught and kept a class of buffoons.
So why else wouldn't they have stayed hidden?
'HAVE YOU CONSIDERED THE REVERSE,' Hizashi signs with all the force of a moving train, and Shouta squints at him. The blond sighs and rubs his forehead before saying, 'THEY MIGHT BE SCARED YOU'LL REJECT THEM, YOU PARANOID IDIOT.'
'I still can't just come up to them and ask,' he motions. Nemuri wiggles her hand to catch their attention and pulls out a paper, tucked into her purse and crinkled as though it's been handled over and over.
'Students with more than two marks are marked down as possibly needing intervention,' she signs, before passing the paper over to him. He passes it back because that's a major breach of privacy and why does she fucking know who has marks in the first place.
'I run half the counselling sessions. Why wouldn't I?' Shouta's deadpan look only makes her sigh. 'Why not just approach the ones who need it most first then? Let the others see and come to you?'
...He plans to hold Shouto, Yuuga, and Katsuki after class. He can speak to Hitoshi after one of their sessions.
Gods, he's really doing this, isn't he?
Aizawa doesn't realize exactly how fast Izuku- his son, his first son, fucking hell- would get the acquiring children ball rolling once picking up Eri. Which is to say, fast enough to make up for lost time and then some.
Aizawa makes his plans about who to talk to first and how and such a nice little plan he makes, twisting fingers around with worry through it all. It must be delicate, with all of them piled in the dorms like a card tower about to topple over with the slightest nudge. He can't fuck this up. He won't.
Unfortunately, he forgot to account for the fact Izuku can be a sneaky little shit when he wants to. He gets Eri so excited to leave the hospital Aizawa doesn't even think about removing the band that brands them as Bound while trying to keep her calm as possible while balancing showing her it's okay to run around as long as it wasn't too far. It's... A work in progress. What is too far for a six year old? Had she even run her first errand yet?
Nemuri had passed along a guest card allowance for Eri at some point during the meeting of 'Get your shit together, put it in a box' as a subtle bribe to get him back to UA as soon as possible with his youngest in tow. So he doesn't hesitate to corral his kids (his CHILDREN) into the safety of UA.
By then it's too late, Izuku fiddling with the paper bracelet while glued to his side as Eri points at the buildings with the same colorful band hanging off her tiny wrist and- And Aizawa's still attached to the hand Eri clutches.
Ashido is out- running? Maybe? At least she looks like she just finished some sort of workout on the dorm steps when they see her breathing heavily and leaning on her knees. She sees them and smiles widely before something glints in her black sclera. Izuku waves back, and then Eri copies him-
Showing off the undeniable black cat on her palm. that matches the Bonded paper bracelets they're all still wearing.
Ashido lets out a noise something like a deflating balloon and darts inside hollering before Aizawa can piece together any of that. Izuku carefully doesn't look at him with his eyes glued to a darkened phone screen that lights up with a dozen notifications in rapid succession and that's too telling.
Fuck. Shit. Goddamn, Problem child.
He debates taking the phone away before Izuku can respond to anything, but that's a violation he's not willing to really consider. The teen looks at him in a moment anyways with a spark to his eyes and a smile hiding worry and nervousness.
"We've been trying to figure out who the black cat was ever since the first gym day since so many of us have it. No one would believe Tenya and I."
Somehow they manage to dodge all of 1-A on the way to Aizawa's barren room.
Hitoshi, of course expecting Shouta to be alone in his dormitory after arriving back from a long few days of 'Hero Business' doesn't expect a small girl to be sleeping on Shouta's chest or Izuku to be wandering around murmuring to himself and connecting the dots between the students, trying to figure out who may be left and who may need more help finding the rest of their marks while Shouta just lets him.
Hitoshi makes a move to dart out but the moment Izuku and Shouta zero in on him, it's too late. Shouta gives him a Look so he comes back in, stiff as a board in shame.
"Hitoshi," He asks quietly, glancing at Izuku who is watching avidly. "Do you. Have a cat mark?"
The teen stares at him wordlessly and a bit stunned.
"...Isn't that why you started teaching me?" Because you felt obligated goes unsaid.
Aizawa raises both his eyebrows so far they disappear behind his long bangs and then some.
"I started teaching you because you deserve to move up into the hero course." A stark moment of silence before Aizawa sighs into Eri's hair. He's always so good at seeing through Shinsou's worries. "Hitoshi. Come here and meet your first sister Eri."
"Are you-" sure doesn't make it out of his mouth before Aizawa shifts Eri to his side to leave his chest free. Drags down his shirt to expose the mark that connects them and waits patiently as he drinks it in. Hitoshi is next to him between one blink and the next, pressing close to the mark and settling something that had been churning for too long as he pressed his hand against it as if to make sure it was real.
It's all very sweet until Izuku starts muttering about the remaining few again and reminds Shinsou that he's going to have to Share. Eventually at least.
For now he guides Aizawa's free hand to the back of his neck. Hitoshi's mark is a red eyed cat with ruffled fur settled serenely on his nape. Aizawa pats it awkwardly before moving to gently scratch at Hitoshi's scalp. Which is how he ends up with two sleeping kids on him instead of one.
...He needs sleep anyway.
This of course, means Izuku ends up joining the pile after realizing no one is awake to grunt at his theories. Settling in next to Hitoshi like he's always belonged there before breathing easy into a cozy kitten pile of a nap.
(Shouta wakes up to Hizashi taking pictures while vibrating with glee and end up flinging a lamp at him. He deserves it. Cat naps were sacred.)