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Daydreaming

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This room feels empty without him. This place feels like a prison without him. These things Hizashi has left behind, these memories that he has left surround Shouta- they watch him like they’re vigil to a funeral procession.

And the note flutters as Shouta’s hand shakes ever-so-slightly. It trembles to the floor like a falling leaf, just one more part of Hizashi to die.

Shouta feels the words of Hizashi’s parting letter seeping into his skin, stinging him with tears, clogging up his throat like he’s swallowed it.

None of it would seem real, were it not for the fact that he remembers it all so clearly.

000

It’s hot. UA sits atop its hill behind Shouta and the other heroes fighting to protect it. The forest line at the base of the hill is glowing with fire. The train station spews screaming civilians as they escape the nomu that are smashing the building with ape like fists and child like screams. Shouta grits his teeth and feels the heat of the growing flames bake his skin through his suit.

All Might is not here this time. It’s a stalemate between nomu and heroes, and even with Endeavour here, Shouta wonders how much time they have before The League releases phase two of whatever plan they have. He can’t believe how smoothly it’s all running. Compared to how chaotic and disorganised Shigaraki is, thanks to his childish arrogance, this affair seems far more calculated. Shigaraki stands and smiles on a rooftop two buildings down. The smoke like figure of his accomplice watching. Silently- even from here, Shouta can tell he’s silent.

And the nomu continue to tear Mustafu apart.

“We need to contain them before they spread throughout the city!” Thirteen shouts this to the heroes present, apparently thinking along the same lines as Shouta. Most of them have come down from their UA homes to help- this is far too close to the school for comfort.

There’s a small explosion that comes from the tall shopping mall beside the train station. It stops some of the heroes in their tracks, but Shouta makes his move. He runs blindingly quickly towards one nomu- gratefully smaller than the one that almost killed him at USJ- and ensnares it, smashing it against the tarmac with his capture gear. The ground breaks and shudders beneath his feet with the force. The nomu’s eyes loll back into its skull.

“Eraser!”

Hizashi is an exception to every rule in Shouta’s book. Loud things grate on his nerves, all except for Hizashi. When he’s mid fight, he’ll turn away for no one, except Hizashi. Now, he turns towards the familiar voice.

“Mic.”

Perhaps it’s the way the flames from the forest line bathe his face in an eerie orange, or perhaps its the way that the steam from the fire engine water-hoses have made his hair deflate, fall over his shoulders. Or maybe it’s the frightened look in his wide eyes. The waves of anxiety that Shouta doesn’t understand, that have been radiating from Hizashi for weeks- and he’s asked Hizashi if he’s OK, if there’s something going on, and he’s told every time that it’s nothing for him to worry about which makes him worry all the more because they’ve never kept anything from each other.

Perhaps it’s the way that Hizashi approaches without another word, making no announcement and giving no orders, spewing no cocky speech or weird English colloquialisms. It’s the way his gaze fixes on Shouta’s, for a moment unmoving, then beginning to approach again as if waiting for his permission.

It’s the way that, amongst the flames and injured heroes and dying nomu, Hizashi steps close and lays his hands on Shouta’s arms. Eyes shining. And Shouta is suddenly transfixed with dread. He can’t understand this version of Hizashi, not here, not now. Not when it’s here instead of under the cover of darkness, whispering quietly as school boys in their childhood bedrooms at sleepovers, talking about their deepest darkest fears. And Hizashi’s hands rise slowly up to his face, removing his goggles gently, like he’s absorbing every second. And Shouta still doesn’t understand.

He can’t understand it when Hizashi brings him into a kiss.

It’s painfully gentle. The flames of burning buildings warming their faces and the sounds of their breaths smothered by footsteps and heroics. Shouta feels it all at once, heart-stopped in confusion and traitorous joy as his lips part beneath Hizashi’s.

Shouta blinks open his eyes, watering from using his quirk, little good that it does against nomu. The tears that stream down Hizashi’s cheeks aren’t from quirk use. Shouta feels his heart climb up his throat and he still doesn’t understand.

“‘Zashi-?”

“Do you trust me, Shouta?”

He blinks, registers the question, answers: “Yes.”

“You have to trust me, Shouta. Please.”

His voice breaks when he says it, face crumpling and he looks so terrifyingly vulnerable that Shouta cups his face in return, possessive and desperate, wipes away the tear streaked dirt. The sight of Hizashi crying sends his instincts into autopilot.

“What’s going on, Hizashi? What can I do?”

Hizashi appears stunned for a moment, then just shakes his head minutely and lets out a sob that is barely audible over the roar of flames. Shouta feels him rest his forehead against his. And he hasn’t felt this truly frightened since he was a child. All the times he has been frightened since, Hizashi has been the one to dispel any fear. Now, it’s as if the ground is being torn away from his feet as the person he cares most about, more than anything or anyone else, scares him beyond belief.

“Trust me. Say you trust me.”

“Of course I trust you-”

His lips are stopped by a crushing kiss. Shouta tears himself away.

“What’s going on?” he demands.

And Shouta has never really known fear until this very second- when Hizashi’s expression dissolves into one of complete emptiness. Blank and broken and decided.

“I love you, Shouta. I love you.”

The warm, gloved hands on his face disappear and he watches Hizashi’s back, watches him run towards the burning shopping mall, and for a long moment, Shouta doesn’t do anything. And he still doesn’t understand. But his gut at least tells him what’s about to happen.

“HIZASHI!”

He’s about to follow, but he’s grabbed by a giant, dark blue hand. It picks him up like a toy soldier and makes to smash him against the ground. Shouta’s mind catches up with the situation, he climbs onto the nomu’s arm and swings himself off- he needs to get to Hizashi- but now he’s surrounded. And he’s dodging ten swiping hands and ducking and jumping over any that he can.

Two of them collapse onto their faces, two great hands pressing them into the tarmac- Vlad grins in atavistic determination.

“We’ve almost got all the nomu, any eyes on the League?”

Shouta has almost forgotten about the feeling of Hizashi’s lips on his. Almost.

He gestures to the building beyond. “Shigaraki and that one with the portal quirk are up th-”

That’s when he notices Hizashi.

The top of the shopping mall is high enough that the flames send a red smoke into the dark blue-grey sky. It’s low enough that he can see Hizashi standing at the edge, damp hair falling over his directional speaker and arms spread out wide.

“What in the hell…?” Vlad starts to say, but Hizashi interrupts.

His quirk makes the ground vibrate. It makes Shouta’s heart jump.

The day has come for the mystery to end!

It’s not the announcer’s voice that he uses when commentating. It’s not his normal voice, either. It’s somewhere in between the two. This voice sounds thick, filled with tears and dread.

“No.” Shouta hears the word come out of his mouth before he registers the choice to say it.

I am the UA traitor. I brought the League of Villains into the school. The pursuit is over.” And with a twisted sense of theatrical flare, he adds All Might’s words, through tears. “I am here!

The world is stunned to silence, the nomu’s screeching in the background fading in Shouta’s ears. Nothing is happening around him at all, nothing except the sight of Hizashi standing there and-

He still can’t understand it.

And he sees the light of the explosion before he hears it, feels it beneath his feet. He sees the glow of it as it brings down the shopping mall, the concrete crumbling from the base upwards like a game of jenga and Hizashi is stood at the top of it.

“NO-”

And he feels the burst of air gush towards him, almost taking him off his feet, almost, but it doesn’t and he runs- he sprints towards the building- if he can use the falling debris as leverage to climb up to Hizashi-

He feels two arms wrap around his waist and he thinks it must be a nomu, but he hears Vlad’s voice shouting something. He doesn’t know what, he can’t hear it- all he hears is the ringing in his ears from the boom of the explosion. He can’t hear his own screams. The sound is absorbed by the night. And so he watches the building collapse, writhing in Vlad’s arms, his feet scuffing against the earth. He watches the shopping mall burn in a bright, hellish red. Feels the heat burn his face.

He watches helplessly as Hizashi disappears in the flames.

000

Shouta watches Hizashi’s parting note flutter, dance dreamily to the floor. His apartment is quiet. It is deadly silent inside Shouta’s head. The pictures on the wall seem colourless and the plants on the windowsill are already wilting.

And the world has come to a slow since it happened. It was only yesterday. Or was it the day before yesterday? The world has slowed and so much has happened since. Everything has happened and Shouta feels none of it.

The police reports.

The news.

No body to identify.

Shouta looks down at his hands, at the note on the floor. He can barely remember what it said. The words have seeped deep down in him, somewhere he can’t find. Somewhere too dark and mindless and filled with grief to see. All he sees instead is flashes of that moment. Hizashi falling backwards into the fire. He hears the strained timbre to his voice before he died.

Before he died.

“Aizawa.”

The way he said those words, that confession; Hizashi was never a good actor. He knows him. He knows that he was innocent. He knows Hizashi better than anybody. He knows him. He knows him.

He trusts him.

“Aizawa?”

He had asked him to trust him, as if he’d needed to ask. Shouta would follow him into hell if he asked. But that isn’t what Hizashi asked. That isn’t what he asked of him in his last moments. He asked him to trust him.

But beyond all that- even if Hizashi hadn’t said a word- Shouta has always trusted him. More than he trusts himself.

“Aizawa.”

He registers the sound of his name and turns his head slightly in acknowledgement.

“Aizawa,” Tsukauchi begins softly, speaking somewhere over Shouta’s shoulder. Shouta turns his head back to stare at the floor. Stares at the indents of where the police’s footsteps have left marks in the rug.

His mind is grappling for some sort of focus, but he can’t focus on Tsukauchi’s words. It’s only when he feels his hand on his shoulder that he starts, realises he hasn’t been listening at all.

“- It wouldn’t be good for you,” he continues, as if Aizawa knows what he’s referring to. “I suggest you go to Kayama’s, or Toshin- All Might’s. He’s had his fair share of loss. He’ll understand better than most.”

He doesn’t show any evidence that he’s absorbed this information. There’s too much to absorb at the moment. These words aren’t worth displacing anything else.

“And,” Tsukauchi adds, removing his hand from his shoulder. “I know that I’m probably too involved in the investigation to offer this kind of thing, but- I know how much All Might values you as a friend. And any friend of his… well. I’m here to listen, if you need an ear.”

Shouta blinks, and he finds he can’t open his eyes again. He looks into the dark of the back of his eyelids and stands there. Feels his body breathe, ache, hurt, click along like the well oiled machine it is, working on auto-pilot whilst he feels his brain shut down. Hears the police officers gradually disappear around him like from another world, hears Tsukauchi say a quiet goodbye from some other dimension.

He’s not entirely sure how long he’s been standing on that same spot, a half empty room of random items left behind to Shouta. Everything else boxed away and sent to Hizashi’s parents. Like he’s simply moving house, or clearing out his things for a downsize. It makes Shouta angry that he feels the temptation to laugh- to laugh at how methodical and logical this process seems, when it’s anything but.

Hizashi was innocent. Of that, he is certain. But he’s still dead. And that isn’t logical.

Shouta blinks, feels a deep breath swell his chest like a balloon. He stoops slowly to pick up the note again, folds it open. It reminds him of the notes they used to pass to each other at school. Hizashi’s handwriting as an adult is not much better.

Was. Was not much better.

He feels his throat click as he swallows, blinks at the note. He walks over to the bookshelves and places it on the third shelf down from the top, in front of the Italian-Japanese dictionary he used to thumb through religiously, just a year or two ago. Shouta watches his hand move towards the book like someone else is guiding his body, his finger tracing the wrinkles in the spine where it has been bent.

Nothing is dusty yet. There isn’t any real evidence that Hizashi is dead. This room almost makes it seem like it’s some big misunderstanding. It is just as he left it, all except for the few things that have gone to his parents: there are books on the coffee table that he was in the midst of reading, the TV remote lying on the arm on the sofa. Dishes dried in the rack. But there are no dirty dishes left on the side, waiting to be cleaned. Hizashi hadn’t planned on returning that night.

Shouta carefully transfers himself to the sofa and sits. He feels like he is sitting in a museum.

He hasn’t slept yet. The exhaustion settles on him like a dark blanket. It matches the dark heaviness that weighs on his mind. Damp and claustrophobic.

And he doesn’t want to sleep. He doesn’t think he can, not after everything, not after losing his best friend. Not after all that’s happened. He doesn’t want to sleep, doesn’t know what he’ll see in his dreams. But perhaps, just for a while, all of this will disappear.

Hizashi said that he loved him.

Beyond everything, he feels the knowledge of that in his chest, and it is searingly painful. Because now he’s dead, and Shouta hadn’t even had a chance to say that he loves him, too. Loves him now, still, always.

His eyes close without him noticing.

When he wakes up, it’s almost morning. There’s a little light pouring through the open curtains- a dusty dark blue. It’s a time that doesn’t feel real. And there’s a second before his mind wakes up where he doesn’t remember anything, where Hizashi is alive. Why wouldn’t he be?

It’s the wetness on his cheeks that reminds him, the damp circle of dream-tears on the sofa.

Suddenly, with little warning, Shouta is filled with a realisation of what he must do. As if his understanding of the world has been erased and replaced with something new, something so vitally important that it fills his mind entirely. He sits up, and looks about the room. The bookshelves, the memories, the traces of Yamada Hizashi’s existence. In here there is evidence that Hizashi is innocent. There is still a criminal out there that can be proven guilty. A stone cold decisiveness hardens his stomach.

Shouta is going to prove Hizashi innocent.

He may be dead, but he can still be exonerated. Shouta will clear his name, even if it means that it’s all he lives for.

His elbows dig into his thighs as he leans forward and covers his face with his hands. His breath makes his skin warm and damp, trapped between his face and palms. It’s not just that Shouta wants to prove him innocent. To cleanse the tabloids of all the shit that they’ve been saying about him. To restore his reputation- something he’d worked so hard to build. To make himself a trustworthy, positive influence. No, this is far bigger than Shouta’s desire to help Hizashi.

If Hizashi had been so desperate to know that he trusted him, then there is something else to this. Perhaps there is something in this apartment that Hizashi has specifically left to Shouta. And, perhaps, just perhaps, Hizashi’s death had been strategic. He had asked him to trust him. Shouta can’t stop thinking about the implications. Searching for some reason.

There is a reason for all of this.

Hizashi has left him a trail, and has trusted him to follow. Asked him to trust him enough to follow.

All he needs to do now is figure out exactly what that trail is, and where it leads.

Shouta breathes, imagines the world beyond the darkness behind his hands. Since he arrived with Tsukauchi, he hasn’t gone further than the living room yet. Through the door in front of him, is Hizashi’s bedroom. He knows that there must be something in this apartment that can give him a clue as to what Hizashi wanted him to do, where he wanted him to start in all of this. But he’s frightened. Almost too frightened to remove his hands from his face and see what he can find.

Almost.

He takes a deep breath, feeling his stomach unsettle with nerves. Opens his eyes.

And Shouta goes very, very still.

Behind the coffee table, stands a figure. It is not really there. And he knows this immediately. He knows this in the way the hairs stand on the back of his neck, the way his insides go cold and the way the figure seems slightly, just slightly translucent.

Hizashi stands before him and looks at him like he never truly left.

Chapter Text

Shouta can’t breathe.

Hizashi looks at him from behind the coffee table. He looks just like how he did the day before he died, before he put on his hero outfit and fell into the burning rubble. He’s wearing jeans and a band t-shirt, arms falling loosely by his sides. He is staring at Shouta, now wide eyed and alarmed. Just- looking at him. Somehow, he is not quite there, but all the same, he is looking at directly at him.

Shouta doesn’t move. Like a panicked animal, he feels his breathing become rapid and his body freeze. So instinctive a reaction, such a bizarre sense of fear at the sight of the person he loves the most.

Except, Hizashi is dead. So, this can’t be him.

“Shouta?”

The sound of his voice, so loud and clear in his ears makes him jump. Shouta scrabbles off the sofa and backs away urgently, not really knowing where he’s going except away. Anywhere but here, where his friend is watching him with a look of pain and anxiety. He can’t bear it.

He can’t bare to see the sight of his dead best friend.

“Shouta- Sh- it’s me, I’m here, it’s me, calm down-”

“It’s not real, it’s not you.” Shouta watches the figure approach and says these words so quietly that he can barely hear them himself.

Hizashi stretches out a hand, desperate to comfort him. His eyebrows draw together, pinching his forehead in such a typically Hizashi mannerism that it almost, for a moment, makes Shouta think that it’s him. That it’s really him, not some ghostly form standing in the half empty carcass of his apartment.

Shouta feels his back hit a wall, feels his face flush hot and cold as he keeps his eyes on the figure in front of him. It’s then that he realises that he’s using his quirk. He feels a cool bareness at the sides of his face where his hair usually hangs. His eyes sting from staring, but he can’t stop. How can he, with what he’s seeing.

“It’s me,” Hizashi says. His voice is there, it’s real, more real than he looks at least. But then, Hizashi’s voice was always clearer than anything else.

“No,” is all Shouta says at first.

He swallows. He turns his head away, but can’t remove his gaze from the figure. That really does look like Hizashi. Down to the way he’s picking at the varnish on his nails. Down to the way his hair falls out of his messy bun. The twitches and totally Hizashi movements that no imposter could make up. This seems so real. All except for the fact that the edge of this figure seems slightly dull, slightly transparent. Not quite there. Not quite.

That, and Shouta notices that he casts no shadow.

“Shouta-”

“Don’t come any closer.”

“Sh- shit. Shit shit shit, how do- I didn’t think this through.”

Shouta doesn’t blink, can feel his eyes streaming with tears. He thinks it’s because of his quirk, but it’s heart to tell. His heart is hammering so hard that he can feel it in his head, hear it in his ears, see his t-shirt move.

Hizashi- whatever this is- looks at him through prescription glasses that reflect no light. Green eyes widen in determination. Blinking away tears that don’t appear.

“Shouta,” he says quietly. “I- I don’t know what’s happened. I don’t know why… I’m like this, but I... I woke up somewhere weird and I walked so far to get here. At least, it felt like walking, but it’s more like I’m in a dream. This- you-”

He gives up on speaking, shakes his head, runs his hands through his hair desperately. Waves his arms about in frustration, unable to say what he thinks. And Shouta feels his throat close up with the threat of tears.

How cruel is his mind, to make him hallucinate his best friend? The person that he’s been in love with for so long without really realising? How savage his subconscious is, to conjure up Hizashi and torture him like this. These past few days, Shouta has been drifting by without really feeling anything. It is like some great weight has been pushing down all the grief and anger and betrayal. It’s not an active decision to cast it aside like that- it’s a self-preservational reaction, he realises. But now, apparently, his brain has changed its course and decided to drive him insane by showing him Hizashi.

Hizashi, who is covering his mouth with both hands in distress.

“I don’t know what’s going on,” he says behind his hands. “I just knew I had to find you.”

Shouta finally blinks. Tears are pressed out of his eyes. He opens them again. His hair falls back down to the sides of his face, and Hizashi is still there.

“You’re not really here,” he says, to himself. “You’re dead.”

Hizashi looks at him, hands still covering half of his face. His brows pull together in thought. What Shouta has said doesn’t seem to have horrified him, frightened him, or even upset him. This is the expression that Hizashi has when he disagrees with something and doesn’t know how to express it. It’s a serious expression that he’s seen in staffroom meetings and night patrols. Shouta isn’t sure if he’s surprised by the reaction- nothing could surprise him at this point. He can’t predict any of what’s going to happen next. It’s all too confusing. But this is a strange reaction.

Not one that his brain could have come up with by itself.

Then again, Hizashi has occupied his thoughts for over a decade now. He has thought about him, loved him daily. It truly would not surprise him if he had taken over enough to survive in Shouta’s mind.

Hizashi removes his hands from his mouth, opens it to speak, closes it. Considers his words carefully, which is not something Shouta witnesses often. Hizashi doesn’t normally have the self restraint for such consideration, but this is not a normal situation.

“I don’t think I’m dead,” he says decisively. He looks up and holds Shouta’s gaze. “And for what it’s worth, I’m definitely here.”

The palms of Shouta’s hands press against Hizashi’s wall. This apartment is physically here. All of Hizashi’s things, his memories, the various chapters of his life shown in objects- they are all here. Tangible. And yet, weirdly, this vision of Hizashi feels more real than any of it.

The way his dyed blonde falls out of the hair tie. Wisps of it surrounding his face. The smile lines by his eyes and mouth. The wrinkles in his forehead from the ridiculous expressions he pulls with his eyebrows. The t-shirt promoting some terrible band that Shouta hasn’t heard of. That Hizashi probably told him all about, and he forgot.

Shouta wishes he listened better. He always listened to Hizashi, of course, but he never listened with the knowledge that it would all be gone so soon. He wishes he could have committed everything that Hizashi said and did to memory.

It is this thought that urges Shouta speak. What has he got to loose now?

“If you’re not dead,” he croaks, swallows again. “If you’re not dead, then you’re not a ghost. And if you’re not a ghost, you must be a figment of my imagination.”

Hizashi shakes his head vigorously. Aggressively, like he might give himself a headache. Another terribly Hizashi mannerism.

“I’m here. Like, I’m not a figment of your imagination. I’m one hundred percent sure.”

“You would say that.”

“No, for real!” Hizashi exclaims, marches towards him. And Shouta tenses, waits for what comes next. Hizashi places his hand on Shouta’s arm.

He doesn’t feel any contact. It clearly settles there, but there’s no sensation. Hizashi watches the gesture with a dark expression. He stands opposite Shouta. And the last time that they were this close was-

“Listen,” Hizashi whispers. “Listen, I know I’m not… if I were just in your head, how could I be aware? I mean- I’m conscious, Shouta. I know that I’m here, I’m aware of my existence. I feel that I’m here. I feel. How can I be just in your mind if I have that kind of awareness?”

Shouta replies quickly. “You could be lying. I could be lying to myself.”

Hizashi barks a laugh. “Sorry. No, you- when have you ever lied to yourself? You’re literally the most brutally honest person in the universe.”

Shouta thinks on this comment. It’s not a trait of his that he’s ever actively considered. He just doesn’t see the logic in lying when it isn’t needed. And in this case, lying to oneself doesn’t seem healthy at all. Definitely not logical.

But then, it would be just like Shouta to hallucinate a highly logical ghost, reasoning him into believing he’s really there.

“I’m being serious, Shou, please. I-” Hizashi removes his hand. Even though he couldn't feel it, he misses its touch. “It... feels more like I’m asleep. I… it was really hard to get here. Like, loads of weird obstacles, that… thinking back, I can’t really remember how I got here. I just know it was hard. It feels like I don’t have much agency in all of this. But- I dunno, dude. I have enough of an understanding to know that I’m here, and it’s real.”

Shouta shakes his head minutely. “You died,” he whispers.

And Hizashi’s lip wobbles, his face crumples. It is far too close to the expression he gave Shouta before he died.

Before he died.

“I can't... I know it probably sounds weird, but I can't believe it. God, this is just- crazy. Shou, I’m sorry. Shit this is so intense. I - I don’t even know what happened before all this… I don't remember anything. None of this makes sense. And I’m so sorry if I’ve put you through… I…”

“What’s the last thing you remember?” he asks, before he can think better. He shouldn’t be indulging in this, if it is just a part of his mind.

Hizashi rubs his face in exhaustion. “I, uh… god, it’s all so fuzzy. It’s like I’ve just woken up. Or like I’m asleep. I don’t know. I think… the last the thing I remember for sure,” he points a finger in realisation, “is the sports festival. Bakugo won, and you and I went to get udon.”

Green eyes meet his curiously. Shouta doesn’t know how to respond for a long moment.

“The last thing you remember is the sports festival?”

Hizashi nods. “Yeah. Why? How much am I missing here?”

“About three months.”

Hizashi releases a long breathe between pursed lips. Pushes his glasses up the ridge of his nose out of habit. Then his eyes settle on Shouta again. He stretches out a hand once more, towards Shouta’s face. This time, he doesn’t tense. It ghosts over the scar on his cheek.

“That explains this, then. I don’t remember this scar.” Shouta makes no response, simply allows him to look. “You look good. Better than I last saw you.”

Shouta shrugs.

“I was so angry,” Hizashi whispers, voice cracking slightly. “I couldn’t believe what they did to you.”

“I remember,” Shouta says softly.

“I’m sorry I made you do the sports fest with me. I know you hate that sort of shit, I just, I dunno, I felt like I had to keep an eye on you. Like- as in, you’ve never let me look after you when you’re sick or injured. I just-”

“It’s OK. I know. You’ve apologised for this already.”

Hizashi blinks in surprise. Then he smiles. There’s little joy in the expression.

“I died,” he says, an unsettling statement. Matter-of-fact. “How did it… I mean, how did I...”

Shouta breathes in. He breathes out. “There was an attack from the League of Villains. You announced that you were the UA traitor, then fell backwards into a burning building.”

Hizashi physically recoils. He steps back, looks at Shouta with wide, panicked eyes. “I did what?”

Shouta doesn’t repeat, he doesn’t need to. He watches Hizashi shake his head to himself, cradle his chin in thought and pace about the living room. Like he never really left.

“No,” Hizashi decides, loudly and confidently. “I would never- I’m not- I would never do that to the kids, to you, I mean, you remember how angry I was. I’m not the traitor, you have to-”

“I know,” Shouta says wearily. If this is some part of his mind playing tricks, it’s certainly conjured up a realistically exhausting Hizashi. “I never believed that part. I figured you had some sort of motive- some reason to take the blame that was bigger than I could understand.”

Hizashi stops pacing and smiles at him, a smile too bright and affectionate for the conversation. “See, you and I have always got each other.”

“I trust you,” Shouta says quietly.

Hizashi’s smile falls into something soft and sad. He nods. “Good. That’s good, I trust you too.”

“That’s what you said, before you-” he cuts himself off. “You asked me to trust you.”

He doesn’t add the part where Hizashi said he loves him. A selfish part of him tells him that he should. Aches for the fact that Hizashi doesn’t remember- if this truly is him. But this is not the time.

Hizashi frowns into the distance, fidgets and paces again. “Oh, Shou, I’m so sorry. I’ve really put you in shit here, whatever it is that’s happened.”

Shouta watches him. “What do you mean?”

Hizashi looks at him in disbelief. “Seriously? Shouta- I- listen, now that you've told me how it happened, I find it really believe that I died that day. I mean, even when you said it the first time, it didn't feel right. I don't feel... it doesn't feel like I'm... I don't know. It just doesn't feel right.

"But listen, it's more than just a feeling. I can’t imagine that I just like, decided that falling into a burning building was a fab idea. And, you know, if it is the case that I’ve sacrificed myself or some shit, then- I’ve done something awful to you. I’ve left you. And if I’m not really dead, which I seriously fucking hope I’m not, then- well, that’s just as bad. I’ve made you think that I am. I’ve still left you. And what’s more, I’ve left you with a really, really shit job. Do you see? How shit this all this? I've put you in such a crappy situation. I just- fuck.”

Shouta watches Hizashi as he collapses onto the sofa. Strange that he doesn’t fall straight through it. That he can rest against physical objects, that he can put his hand on Shouta’s shoulder but it can’t be felt.

Shouta approaches the sofa and sits beside him.

“‘Zashi.”

He turns to look at him, distraught. Somehow paler than before, like there should be tears rushing down his cheeks, but they don’t come.

“Shouta, I’m sorry.”

“Stop apologising. You don't need to. I know that you’re innocent. I know that there’s a reason you wanted me to trust you. There’s something to solve here, and I’m going to do it. I’m going to find the real traitor, and the world will think you’re innocent again.”

Hizashi smiles weakly. He tries to put his hand on Shouta’s knee, hesitates as he remembers. Then he places it on his knee nonetheless. Shouta’s heart aches for the warmth of that hand.

“I really don’t think I’m dead,” he says, quite reasonably. Like they’re disagreeing on an answer to a Trivial Pursuit question. “I can’t think of a reason that I’d sacrifice everything and just, fucking- die. And, by the way, insulted that you think I did.”

Shouta can’t help the laugh. He couldn’t make this up. His mind can’t fabricate all of Hizashi’s absurd perfections like this.

“Hizashi. I watched you. I saw it happen.”

“Yeah, well, I’ve seen some magicians do some spooky shit before, and they’re all OK in the end, right? I know that there’s a reason for all this. I know… if I know myself well enough, which I think I do, I had some grand plan that got out of hand. I think maybe, I could have said that I was the traitor to take the attention away from the investigation.”

Shouta looks at him. “What?”

Hizashi shrugs. “Well, you know… listen, I’m never going to get over how pissed off I am about what happened at USJ. I can’t let something like that happen again. If I know myself well enough, I probably did some investigating of my own, got in too deep, tried to save the world single handedly and then faked my own death to get everyone else off the scent. Something along those lines. Sound like Hizashi to you?”

The sigh that overwhelms Shouta is long and deep. He closes his eyes and covers his face with a hand. A clock ticks softly in the background. “Why would you do something like that alone?”

“Because as much as I’m smart and can solve mysteries, I’m a dumb bitch. Remember?”

Shouta snorts. And he feels the temptation to cry, all of a sudden. With another deep breath, the urge disappears. “OK, yeah. That does sound like you.”

Hizashi chuckles. “No, but for real. I can’t imagine myself dying like that. Not if it meant leaving you.”

He peers at Hizashi for a moment. Hizashi smiles at him nervously then looks away.

“And even if it was really, really bad. Even if I found out too much and ended up being blackmailed- I know I’d figure out some contrived way of getting out of it alive. That’s what this is.”

“If you’re alive somewhere, why am I seeing you on your sofa,” Shouta says evenly.

Hizashi tuts. “Thank you, Mr Logical. Fine, maybe I am a ghost. Here for… unfinished business?”

He says this with a smirk as he waves his arms in an attempt at mystery. Shouta shakes his head. “This is serious, ‘Zashi.”

“I know it is,” he replies, smile fading away. “I’m being dead serious. OK- that was a bad choice of words, but I’m being serious. I'm not a ghost.”

Shouta shakes his head again.

“OK, and before you say it, I’m not in your head. Ghost or hallucination can’t be our only two options.”

“Then what else is there?”

Hizashi opens his mouth, grumbles in frustration. He tucks a stray hair behind his ear. Shouta feels that out of the two options, ghost seems more likely. He has never believed in that kind of thing- more, he’s never given the idea much thought. But this also seems too much like Hizashi to purely be some figment of his mind.

“Lemme- I can prove to you I’m not just some thought in your head. OK? I’m going to think of something in this apartment that only I could know about. And then you’ll find it and you’ll know for sure. Right?”

Shouta shrugs minutely. Feels a nervousness creep up on him. He doesn’t want to be proven right. He eyes Hizashi a little suspiciously as he stands up and spins around on the spot, searching for something to prove his point.

“OK. Second draw down in my bedroom,” Hizashi announces, pointing towards the door with a flourish, other hand on his hip. “You will find the letter that you sent to me in our first semester at UA, asking me to help you with English homework. The first time you spoke to me.”

Any anxiety or suspicion melts away. Shouta blinks up at Hizashi, who seems to regain some colour in that semi-translucent face. A blush.

“I’d forgotten about that. You kept that note?”

“Go! Get! This is important, remember!” he gushes bashfully. “Bedside drawer!”

Shouta stands up, tries not to pause in apprehension at Hizashi’s bedroom door. He goes inside, trying not to think about the fact that he hasn’t been in here since Hizashi died- left. The last time he was in here was to pour him into bed after a drunken night out. Shouta goes straight to the draw.

Wait! Not-” Hizashi flaps his hands urgently, grimacing. “Not the first drawer. Please. Uh, yeah, there’s stuff in there you don’t wanna see. It’s the second drawer.”

Shouta’s stomach churns nervously, almost jealously at the implications. Instead of dwelling, his hand moves to the second drawer, and he opens it.

“At the bottom of the pile,” Hizashi says.

Shouta searches, and there- there it is. That is his handwriting from when he was fifteen years old.

wanna work on the English assignment together

A man of few words, even in his teen years. It seems like a perfectly concise, reasonable message to Shouta, but he remembers Hizashi finding it hilarious.

He places the note gently back in the drawer and closes it.

“See? Doesn’t that prove something?”

Shouta stands up straight, looks Hizashi in the eye. “Maybe I’m not going insane. But it makes it far more likely that you’re a ghost.”

Hizashi’s jaw drops. He lets out an infuriated growl, looking like he wants to tear out his hair.

Bitch, I’m not dead! Why would I just go and die? Fuck, we're just going around in circles here!”

“Maybe it was that bad. Maybe you were blackmailed, like you said.”

“I’m not- look- OK, I can’t say I know what happened. Maybe something unthinkable happened and I had to die, but I just find it super hard to believe that I couldn’t somehow get out of it. The League of Villains is good, right, but I’m smarter than that wrinkly fucker, OK?”

Shouta sighs, pinches the bridge of his nose.

“I’m better than that. And there’s too much to lose. I- I can’t promise anything, not when I remember so little. But considering how I felt about the USJ stuff, I know that I wanted to do something to help- to solve the thing and stop people from getting hurt or dying, you feel? Shouta?”

“Yes, I get it,” he mutters, still pinching his nose. The morning light is beginning to brighten up the bedroom. Hizashi’s aloe vera plant casts a long shadow on the carpet. “But what other options does that leave?”

Hizashi opens his mouth to reply, but the light seems to pour through him. Shouta watches as Hizashi becomes more and more translucent- blending into the sunlight, thin like a mesh curtain. And he can barely hear him as he slowly melts away.

“Shouta- I…”

Shouta doesn’t stretch out a hand to try and grab onto him. He knows he can’t, and it wouldn’t make any sense to try. All he can do is watch as Hizashi disappears, helpless, standing in his friend’s tidy, unlived room.

Remarkably, he feels more alone than he did before.

000

And so he finds himself walking back to his flat, unable to stay in Hizashi’s and unsure of what else to do. The walk is fifteen minutes, and it feels so familiar. As if he’s just left his friend’s after a normal night in. It’s still early in the morning, and the streets are quiet. It occurs to Shouta then that it’s a Sunday- ordinarily, he’d be in bed right now. Hearing class 1a screaming through his apartment walls.

Walking up the hill to UA, he remembers what it was like to be a student here again. He remembers the hot summers, the cold winters. He remembers trying to climb the hill when it was icy, battling his way up the street hand in hand with Hizashi and unable to stop laughing at how ridiculous they look, clinging onto lamp posts and falling bum first.

It’s almost enough to make him smile to himself.

When he gets to his flat, letting himself into the deadly quiet building- the students are still asleep, then- he closes the door behind him. And once again, he finds himself merely standing there, uncertain. His plan had been to come here, to leave Hizashi’s ghost-empty apartment. But now that he’s here, having completed this simple task, he finds himself aimless again.

He stares about the apartment. His best friend is dead, missing at least- and everything in here is the same. It feels as if the universe should have shuddered to a halt, but it hasn’t. It is strange, how little the world shifts when something life-changing happens.

Strange- and even stranger, it makes Shouta angry. Angry that the world isn’t mourning with him. He feels his teeth grind in his skull, an explosion of grief and fury bursting in his chest.

He turns around and leaves his apartment again.

These few days have drifted by in a grey, sickening haze. Unlike Tsukauchi, Nezu has ordered him to take some time off, perhaps go stay with friends- likely knowing full well that he won’t listen to him. It’s only now that Shouta realises that having time off work means no distraction. It means no schedule, no structure- only an unending, gaping sea of confusion and loss. He feels that he has to come back to UA- to do something, anything. Now that he’s here, he doesn’t see how Nezu could possibly ask him to do nothing at all.

Then again, now it seems that he has something to focus on, at least.

He’s going to figure out who the real traitor is. And when he does, he’s going to kill him.

Shouta powers down the hill, pedestrians widening their eyes and giving him a wide berth. He probably looks as furious as he feels.

Whilst he isn’t certain about everything Hizashi said earlier today- he can barely believe it actually happened- there’s one thing he can agree on. Hizashi must have been planning something. This must have been some way of taking the attention off the traitor, bringing it on himself so that an undisclosed investigation can go ahead. With Hizashi being dubbed the traitor, the real culprit can relax- make mistakes, leave clues. It makes sense, and it is very much the type of thing for Hizashi to plan.

Either way, whatever his motives, Shouta knows that Hizashi is innocent. He will figure this out. For himself, as well as for Hizashi.

Hizashi.

Shouta finds himself beginning to run down the street. Towards nowhere in particular, for no real reason other than his feet want to.

What happened this morning is too confusing to actively think about. It’s too upsetting. It doesn’t seem as if he is going insane, at least- quite a relief. But that does leave only one other option- his friend is dead, and haunting him.

A nauseating nervousness runs through him. There’s something wrong about that idea- it doesn’t seem right. And it’s not just because of what Hizashi said- that he wouldn’t simply die, no matter the cause. He is- was- is- smart enough to get out of anything alive. He also can’t believe that his ghost would simply follow him around after death, failing to remember anything. He isn’t a figment of his imagination, but he isn’t certain that he’s a ghost, either. None of it adds up.

And what unsettles him most about this is that it leaves Shouta with no answers. No reason as to why Hizashi appeared to him this morning. And that frightens him- the hope of it frightens him. He can’t stand to fool himself into thinking he’s alive, only to go through the grief of it all over again.

Shouta’s feet keep on pushing him forward, till he’s running towards the beach. People are jumping out of the way in alarm. He must look as if he has somewhere important to be. He might even look like a villain on the run.

He reaches the beach, and the sand gives way pleasantly under his shoes. His calves are burning and his throat his burning and his chest is burning. Everything hurts but at least it’s better than what he’s feeling.

If that was really Hizashi- ghost or not- does that mean that he’ll see him again? Will he spend the rest of his life, or at least until he figures all this out, seeing Hizashi there with him? What is he seeing?

Why is he seeing Hizashi? If he’s alive and there’s some other reason this is happening, why is he seeing his image- how is it happening? How could this happen? Why is it happening to him? Why has any of this happened?

The salt wind is making his eyes water, and he can feel hot tears pour down his cold-bitten cheeks.

Why did his friend die-?

Shouta chokes on the air as he sprints down the beach. The sea is some distant grey mass in the distance, the sky is grey too, the people not really there. He just runs until his lungs give out and his brain stops thinking. Till he almost forgets that this morning happened.

That is how he finds himself collapsing onto the sand on his back, chest heaving and mouth dry. His heart hammering painfully and his legs quivering. He has run just over ten kilometers, and he doesn’t remember running most of it.

He watches the grey sky, the blurred edges of darker clouds moving quickly overhead. The wind whips up his hair, sends sand into his face. His fingers dig into the sand.

And this blissful moment of thoughtlessness is replaced with the ache of missing Hizashi all over again.

Shouta pants, lying on his back and feels the temptation to make sand angels. He can see his breath in the air. It’s colder than he thought. He blinks against the sun, peeking from behind a dark grey cloud.

The light seeps through the image of Hizashi’s face. He bends over him, hands on his hips and brows raised in interest.

“You went for an angsty run?”

His smile is shining with sunlight. And as much as it takes Shouta aback- as much as it confuses and unsettles him to see the ghost of his dead best friend- it is comforting too. It’s like he’s been here this whole time. It makes him forget how much he was missing him, just moments ago. The memory of his loss erased.

Seeing him smirking down at him makes him truly believe that there's a future beyond all of this.

And then the thought pops into his mind.

“A quirk,” Shouta mutters to himself. He lays his hand on his forehead, looking up at Hizashi under the shade of his plam. His apparition is making the sun less blinding, makes it easier to look at. It’s almost like the light is coming from him. In a way, that’s exactly what it is- how Hizashi’s always been. “It could be a quirk.”

Hizashi cocks his head. “Yeah, I was thinking that, too. Before I sort of, disappeared on you.”

Shouta blinks up at him, crumbling sand between his fingers. His mouth is sticky from dehydration, from running ten kilometers out of nowhere. And Hizashi is simply there, watching him from above.

“This morning did happen, didn’t it. I wasn’t making it up.”

Hizashi snorts. “It’s still morning, my dude.”

Shouta shrugs.

“Yeah, it happened," Hizashi confirms. "At least, I remember it.”

He sighs- more of a huff than anything. “I feel like I shouldn’t be convinced by that.”

“But you are,” Hizashi prompts.

“Yes,” he replies. “There’s still a chance I could be hallucinating this whole thing. But there’s…”

Shouta’s words trail off.

“I want to believe that this is real. That you’re alive somewhere.”

Hizashi sighs. He stands up straight, disappearing out of Shouta’s vision. Shouta sits up so that he can see him. He doesn’t want to lose sight of him.

“None of the answers coming to my head make sense.”

“I think you’re along the right lines with quirks,” Hizashi replies, crossing his arms in front of his chest and looking up at the sky. Shouta realises that he’s wearing a different outfit to before. It’s a summer outfit that he recognises. Probably from some holiday a while back. The weather is cold, but Hizashi is wearing a bright pink tank top with a pineapple on the front. And jean shorts.

“I don’t see why anyone would use their quirk to make us see each other like this.” Shouta sits on the beach, watches the sea roll through Hizashi’s ephemeral image. “And then, if it is a quirk- if you’re alive somewhere, then...”

“Where am I,” Hizashi finishes. “And what the fuck happened?”

Hizashi looks down at Shouta with a sad smile. They fall into silence, listening to the waves side by side.

And the people who pass Shouta on the beach see a tired looking man, sat by himself.

Chapter Text

Shouta’s capture gear feels heavier around his neck than usual, and the blood on his hands is starkly red.

It’s his own blood, mixed with the villain’s that he just clocked in the face. His knuckles are scraped and the sleeves of his jumpsuit are rolled up. His lip feels a little sore- his opponent managed to land a punch, too. Pretty unusual, just for a normal patrol. It wasn’t as if he was a particularly accomplished villain either.

He probably shouldn’t have gone out on patrol tonight. But fuck ‘should’. And fuck sitting at home, letting the emptiness eat at him till he feels like he could disappear.

Shouta huffs to himself. It’s frustrating being sent home from hero work like this. Almost embarrassing, if he ever indulged in such a thing. Kamui Woods wasn’t wrong when he said that he wasn’t on his game, that he was only putting himself and others in danger by being on the streets tonight. But Shouta doesn’t exactly like hearing it from other people’s mouths.

That villain really shouldn’t have been able to hit him.

His huffing turns angrier- infuriated sighs making plumes of steam in the cold night air. He feels his lip throbbing, tastes blood in his mouth, spits into the gutter. If he can’t go back to teaching at UA, can’t even distract himself by doing hero work, then what? What does that make him? A civilian?

Shouta walks down the puddled streets, the lights of Mustafu nightclubs shining in the water. Even with his goggles on, he knows he looks like he’s ready to murder someone- maybe like he already has, blood dripping from his lip and face contorted angrily. That even, blank expression of boredom that he’s effected so well throughout his life feels completely unavailable these days. But people are too drunk at this time of night to notice or care about Shouta’s stormy expression. Too busy to know that they’re in the way. People drink, people have dinner late into the night. The streets are busy and teeming with life.

The whole world is continuing as if it doesn't matter that Hizashi isn't here. As if his being gone wasn’t the worst thing to happen to it.

Pursing his lips against the feelings boiling up, Shouta breaks into a run. He wraps his capture gear around a lamp post and swings himself up onto the adjacent building.

He runs across the rooftops, leaps through the sky like an alleycat. For a moment, soaring through the air above the Mustafu apartment buildings, he feels free.

It’s beginning to rain- just slightly, enough to make his hair damp and his face uncomfortably cold. Shouta runs from rooftop to rooftop, approaching Hizashi’s apartment. He had been planning on going back to his UA flat- but somehow, instinctively, he has found himself here. This apartment, which he used to share with Hizashi. Now, it isn’t anyone’s.

Shouta still has the key to his old flat- even though he’d moved out, even though it had become Hizashi’s, they’d both agreed that he’d keep a spare in case of emergencies. Now, he hangs from the fire escape of the apartment building, holding onto his capture gear like a spider dropping from a string of silk. Feet planted against the brick of the building, he looks at Hizashi’s balcony, considers whether it would be sensible to spend his entire time in his flat.

He decides that he doesn’t care about sensible right now. There’s nothing sensible or fair about this entire situation, after all. And so he swings himself onto the balcony, removes the key from the small compartment in the sole of his shoe. He doesn’t hesitate as he lets himself into the apartment.

It’s dark, lights off. The heating off. Nobody lives here.

Stepping inside, he watches the way his footsteps leave wet marks on the linoleum floor. Now that he’s no longer outside, he realises how wet he actually is. And he looks about the empty flat, hoping that Hizashi will appear again.

Hope is dangerous.

He hasn’t seen Hizashi since yesterday morning at the beach. He had hoped that he’d come back soon, as easily as he disappeared. But he hasn’t. And the more that Shouta looks about the room, looks back at yesterday’s events, the more he feels that he must be making the entire thing up.

If he spends his time waiting for Hizashi to come back, he really will go insane.

The illogic of it all makes the anger swell uncontrollably inside him, and he feels like a furious, defiant teenager again. How can he allow himself to wait for Hizashi’s ghost? How how can he stand there, trying to convince himself that he’s alive somewhere?

He’s delusional. He’s tearing himself apart with this. And he can’t absolve Hizashi if he’s torn apart.

Suddenly, violently, furiously he pulls off his capture gear. He throws it in a damp pool on the rug. He shakes his hair out with his hands, spraying bits of water about the place. And he goes to find the spare clothes in Hizashi’s room that he’d left months ago, after he’d moved out. They stayed at each other’s regularly enough that it had seemed like a good plan.

Shouta opens the bottom drawer of Hizashi’s chest of drawers, finds a selection of clothes that he’d forgotten entirely about.

He can’t stop his hand from pulling out the giant, holey white t-shirt. He recognises this without even having to unfold it. This is the t-shirt that Hizashi made when they were just starting out as heroes. It had meant to be a joke- Hizashi had made it to give to Shouta, but Shouta refused it point blank, knowing full well Hizashi would appreciate it more. It’s a plain white t-shirt, with an Eraserhead design drawn on with felt-tip pen. When it became clear that the underground nature of Shouta’s hero work meant that he had no merchandise- whilst Present Mic was taking department stores by storm- Hizashi took matters into his own hands.

Shouta holds out the oversized white t-shirt. It must be almost a decade old by bow. It’s worn thin in places, and there’s a coffee stain on the front. There’s a terrible drawing of Eraserhead done in sharpie, holding what looks like a snake but is meant to be his capture gear. He’s seen Hizashi wear it as a pyjama top before, but had mostly forgotten about it.

The pain that clenches at his throat makes him impulsively swallow. Shouta closes his eyes, folding up the t-shirt carefully and replacing it in the drawer. He tries hard not to dwell too much on the rest, until he finds a pair of tracksuit bottoms and a jumper at the bottom. He hangs his hero suit in the bathroom to drip-dry, washes the blood of his face and hands.

And then he finds himself standing in Hizashi’s living room again. He hasn’t turned the lights on yet- it’s dark, orange street lights bathing the room in an angry, surreal tint.

It’s strange to think that he once lived here, too. It had always felt like home, but only now does he realise that this was because Hizashi had been there. Now that the apartment is Hizashi-less, it couldn’t be further away from feeling like home.

And he feels that aching loneliness. A loneliness that he hasn’t felt since he was a young boy. Because even when he wasn’t physically with Hizashi, he felt him there. He never truly felt alone again, after meeting him at UA. How their friendship started, he’s not even entirely certain. It had been gradual, and surprising. Gradual enough, distracting enough that it made Shouta forget all about how lonely he was.

And he cannot drive away the feeling that he is alone now. Despite the friends that he still has. Despite the knowledge that Hizashi may not actually be dead- although he is still struggling to accept this. No- he has never felt so alone in his life as now. Standing amongst Hizashi’s things in the dark, aimless and empty.

Not entirely empty, though; he feels pain and grief rising up in him like bile. And he knows that he shouldn’t push it down. He’s been told by Hizashi not to ‘bottle things up’ for most of his life. But he also fears that if he indulges in it, lets himself into that grief, he’ll never get out again. So he merely watches the sea of loss creep closer, inevitable and frightening. Waits for it to swallow him whole.

It is just past midnight, and Shouta feels suddenly exhausted. Emotionally drained. He lies on his back on the sofa, finding a blanket on the arm of the adjacent chair and covering himself. It’s cold in here.

He stares at the stationary ceiling fan, doesn’t think he’ll fall asleep despite how tired he is. He is sure that he will never sleep again.

He drifts off without noticing.

When he opens his eyes, his mouth his dry and he is stiff from cold. His bones creak and his stomach growls- but he doesn’t want to listen to his stomach right now. Eyes heavy and body sore, he rolls onto his side. His mind is remarkably awake, like he hadn’t been asleep at all, like he’s merely blinked. He remembers everything that has happened this week and exhales slowly.

Today, he plans to start his investigation. He’s going to try and exonerate Hizashi.

The room is a little lighter than before. That means he probably got a solid few hours. Shouta lies there on the sofa, his arm going dead from leaning on it, staring at the bookcase and thinking of nothing.

Deciding that he should do something- anything- Shouta gets out of bed and drifts towards Hizashi’s bookcase.

His stomach gives another growl in complaint, and Shouta places a hand over it, as if to quieten it. His other hand follows Hizashi’s CD collection, reading the spines and recognising very little. But he knows some of them, recognises the covers of some that Hizashi bought with him when he dragged him shopping. In a way, Shouta had always quite enjoyed the experience- if not just to see Hizashi excited about things.

He feels the grief monster twitch in his chest when his eyes start scanning his book collection. Some of these, Shouta had bought for him for Christmas and birthday presents. Shouta lets out a long, steadying breath. So many things. Hizashi collected so many things. Passionate about so much. What a wonderful trait to have. He almost feels jealous.

His hand traces the shelves, and his fingers pick up dust.

And then, in the half light of the living room, a piece of paper floats to the floor, knocked off the shelves by Shouta’s moving hand. Hizashi’s goodbye note.

For a long moment, Shouta eyes it warily. He doesn’t really remember what it said. When he first read it, he couldn’t process anything. He had been so angry and distraught. So in shock that he absorbed none of it at all.

Now, he picks up the note again, gently unfolding it. He can only just read it in the semi-dark.

Dear Shouta- dear dear dear Shouta.

I wish I could say how sorry I am. And I wish I could give you a good reason why. I can’t.

I’ve left you most of my things. I know it might be too painful to keep most of it, I understand. I’m sure you’ll be happy to get rid of a lot of it. The sofa that I demanded we get and that I know you hate. And that fucking washing machine.

It’s my goodbye note, and I don’t even know how to be serious. I’m sorry. I like to think that you always like that stupid side of me. I hope so. You’ve certainly put up with me these past fifteen years.

And, as if it wasn’t clear enough already, and just in case I chicken out tonight- I need you to know that I love you. And that it’ll all be ok.

I love you. God, I really, really do love you.

Hizashi x

Shouta sniffs, huffs out a sigh. He feels his eyes sting, and he holds onto the bookshelf for support.

So many years, neither of them saying how they felt. So much time spent, neither one of them brave enough to do anything. It breaks Shouta’s heart. He really can’t imagine loving anyone else other than Hizashi, and now he’s gone. For whatever reason, he’s gone.

Shouta probably will give most of these things away. He shouldn’t be here at all, reliving old memories and making it harder for himself to move on. But it’s even harder to say goodbye- especially with the hope that this could all be some grand, master plan. That Hizashi could be alive somewhere. At some point, when he’s built up the courage, he’ll donate most of this to charity shops, or give it Hizashi’s family. The ugly sofa included.

Shouta smirks at the memory, Hizashi exuberantly chattering with the sales assistant about different shades of mustard, whilst Shouta curled up on the sofa to test its comfort levels. It wasn’t as soft as the others, which is why it wasn’t his favourite- but then, if it made Hizashi happy.

He frowns to himself, looks back at the note.

I’m sure you’ll be happy to get rid of a lot of it. The sofa that I demanded we get and that I know you hate. And that fucking washing machine.

It’s a strange joke to make, for many reasons. Now, on the third reading, the bizarre, light-heartedness of the note doesn’t escape him. Truly, it doesn’t sound like a real goodbye. Something in him shifts uncomfortably, fights with the giddy, careless hope that’s rising up within him.

And that fucking washing machine.

Shouta thinks back on all the times that Hizashi has had a screaming match with said washing machine. It has, in the past, had a habit of spinning so violently that it shakes itself out of the wall. Their flat was flooded badly one time because of it. Shouta has been woken up on Sunday mornings because Hizashi has been shouting at it and smacking it inanely in an attempt to make it work better. The idea of buying a new one, as Shouta suggested, didn’t seem to appeal to Hizashi. Shouta had occasionally pointed this out, suggesting that Hizashi enjoys having something to shout at.

And he so desperately doesn’t want to delude himself any further than he might have already, or get his hopes up. But he can’t help but hear his instincts calling out to him: this is strange. This means something.

Shouta places the note back on the bookshelf, strides into the bathroom. He stands in front of the washing machine, suddenly feeling silly.

Well done, he thinks to himself. You’ve found the washing machine. Now what?

For a few moments, he merely stands there, arms hanging by his sides and staring. Then, he grabs onto the edges of the machine and pulls it.

It doesn’t take much effort to remove it from the wall. It had never taken much in the first place. Now, he steps back to look at what he’s done. All that he’s achieved is breaking his dead best friend’s washing machine.

He rubs his face, and sighs.

And then, through his fingers, he sees it.

Shouta slides onto his knees and peers through the small gap he has created between the wall and the washing machine. There’s something behind here. Pipes, dust, darkness- and what looks like a box. Maybe more than one.

Scrabbling to his feet, he pulls on the machine with more force now, being careful not to break the plumbing and flood whatever has been hidden behind there. With some shuffling, he manages to move the machine enough that he can fit an arm through the gap.

And he removes four shoe boxes from the wall.

Shouta places them on the bathroom floor, sits down and looks at them, leaning his back against the edge of the bath. Mouth hanging open slightly, going dry. He can barely believe it. He can barely believe that he was right.

Hizashi has left him a trail to follow. He had trusted this to Shouta. And he had asked Shouta to trust him in return.

And as if he hadn’t been certain before, Shouta now knows with even more surety that Hizashi is innocent. He knows now that Hizashi had meant for Shouta to figure out who the real traitor is.

Standing up quick enough to get head rush, he gathers the shoe boxes and drops them on the coffee table. But before he can unpack them, he heads over to Hizashi’s CD player. He looks at his CD collection for a moment, alphabetically organised by band, before making a decision on which one to play first.

He decides to start at A.

000

It is nine AM. Two mugs of half-finished, cold coffee leave circular stains on the table. Arcade Fire are playing and Shouta stands amongst a sea of photos and notes.

“Holy shit, ‘Zashi,” he mutters to himself.

Around his feet lie crime scene photos. He recognises some of the ones from USJ, spots a couple from places that he’s never seen before. There’s a dizzying number of photos of the woods from the summer camp trip. And then there’s pictures of victims, autopsy photos. Photos of villains with their quirks written in pen on the back. There’s a stack of paper- lists of the villains supposed to be a part of the League, some who are suspected to join, or follow Stain’s ideology. Then there’s the list of names of all the police officers within Mustafu. A select few personal files- contact details, quirks, everything.

Even more amazingly, there are a couple of little zip-lock bags- evidence. One containing a dark blue button, the other some kind of sediment, or dirt. Hizashi must have stolen them somehow, breaking into the evidence labs. Shouta crosses his arms in front of his chest and looks down at the messy collage of information pooled around his feet.

This looks unreal. Like a crime drama.

Holy shit, he thinks to himself once more. Then out loud, “How deep did you get, Hizashi?”

And it’s as if he’s on queue. Ever theatrical, Hizashi walks onto the scene, a spectre stepping into the living room from nothing.

Shouta doesn’t have any time to acknowledge his presence, no time to fully consider the fact that Hizashi is continuing to manifest himself. That it’s real, that he wasn’t just mad with grief yesterday. No- the moment he walks in, Shouta has no time to process it because Hizashi releases a God-awful shriek.

“What! The fuck, Shouta! Holy shit, my living room!

Shouta looks up, arms still crossed. When his eyes settle on Hizashi, there’s a twist in his chest, a jolt of surprise and anticipation and anxiety and all sorts of things that he can’t decipher.

Hizashi clutches the sides of his head in distress, waves his arms about inarticulately.

“Calm down,” Shouta mutters.

Hizashi growls in infuriation, and only then begins to consider what it is that he’s looking at. This isn’t just clutter, it’s-

“-Evidence,” Hizashi says more sobrely, arms falling lamely to his sides. “Evidence. Yo... where did you find all this shit?”

“Behind the washing machine.”

Hizashi raises his eyebrows, fiddles with his moustache thoughtfully, and Shouta realises his mistake. If Hizashi asks him why he thought to look there, he won’t be able to lie. Shouta has never been a good lier. He’ll ask him why he chose to search behind the washing machine, and he’ll have to tell him about the note. And Hizashi, being constantly curious, will want to read it. And then he’ll find out that he told Shouta he loves him.

And he’s not sure he’s ready for that conversation yet.

Even after all these years of being too scared to admit it, to saying anything- even after the regret of never acting on those feelings- Shouta is not ready.

Thankfully, Hizashi doesn’t press any further. Instead, he sits on the edge of the coffee table, frowning at the evidence spread out across the floor. Shouta watches him, forgets everything and watches him.

Hizashi really is here. This is real. All of this is actually happening. They’re both here- both him and Hizashi.

This is the most present, most grounded he’s felt in days.

“This is insane,” Hizashi says uncharacteristically quietly. “I really got into some shit.”

“Mhm,” Shouta replies, eventually. He can’t stop looking at Hizashi, as he scrutinises photos and shakes his head in disbelief.

“I must have hacked into the Mustafu Police server. And I mean, this physical evidence… shit. I don’t wanna think about how I… well, I guess I must have-”

“What’s that outfit?”

Shouta doesn’t think that he’s said this out loud. In fact, he was almost sure that he hadn’t, but Hizashi looks up at him in acknowledgment, then down at his outfit. It’s an oversized hoodie with a Guns ‘N Roses logo on the front, the hem almost reaching his knees. Underneath he’s wearing ripped black jeans, and platform converse. He’s also wearing new earrings that he’s never seen before. In fact, he doesn’t recognise any of these clothes.

Apparently, Shouta has paid a lot more attention to what Hizashi looked like than he realised.

Hizashi grins up at him, a sharkish smile that’s borderline absurd. “You like it? It’s cool, huh! I saw something like this in a magazine, it was rad. Love this sorta shit, but never had time to wear it. So much work, so little time, amiright?”

Shouta blinks. His arms are still crossed in front of his chest, and he finds himself hugging his arms a little nervously. Because he could have sworn-

“How are you doing that?”

Hizashi’s smile softens. “Doing what?”

“The logo on your hoodie just changed.”

Hizashi looks down. No longer Guns ‘N Roses, it’s now some other band logo. Hizashi pulls at the hem of his hoodie, stretching it so he can get a better look. He makes a contemplative noise.

“I’m just kinda wearing whatever I want. Yesterday at the beach I was like, ‘let’s shake this up a bit’, and decided I’d wear that pineapple shirt I like. You remember the pineapple shirt?”

“I remember the pineapple shirt,” Shouta humours him wearily, “But I don’t remember a magically changing hoodie.”

Hizashi cocks his head from side to side, twisting his lips in thought. And then he stands up and wanders through the sea of evidence and photos and confidential information, swinging his arms happily. As if he isn’t presumed dead. As if this is just a normal Tuesday afternoon. “I suppose,” he begins, “I suppose it’s like I said before- it’s kind of like I’m in a dream? Like, I have some agency in things, like my clothes or whatever. But I have pretty much no memory of what my life is like when I’m awake. And I can’t control when I wake up and stop dreaming.”

He watches Hizashi settle cross legged on the floor, examining a personal file in front of him. “You know, I think I remember a little more now, though. Of what happened after the sports festival.”

Shouta doesn’t move at first. Then, after a brief moment of consideration, he sits down on the rug beside Hizashi, picking up the file he was looking at. Tsukauchi Naomasa.

“I remember the internships, and how much you were worried about the kids. And I remember you coming back from the summer camp without Bakugo.” Hizashi gives him a sidelong glance, brows knit together. “Is he OK, Shouta?”

Shouta smiles to himself. And instinctively, he lays a hand on Hizashi’s knee. Neither one of them feel it. It makes him feel achingly distant.

“He’s fine,” Shouta eventually says quietly. “He’s fine. Let’s focus on getting you back.”

Shouta spends a blissful couple of hours going through evidence with Hizashi. There’s a lot of stuff on Tsukauchi; Hizashi had obviously been suspicious of him in particular. The more they look through the crime scene photos, the more they consider how much Tsukauchi knows and his close relationship with All Might, the more it seems like he- or at least someone in the police force with inside information- could be the traitor. There’s a likelihood that it could be someone like Nezu- he’s smart enough to pull such a thing off. But the motive is unclear. A rogue police officer, however, is common enough. That, and they’re always there at the scene after the crime, which could explain any DNA or physical evidence left behind by them.

What is most convincing about this theory is the photo of the footprint- made by standard issue police shoe-wear, outside of USJ. The officers on the scene after the break-in had taken a picture, obviously because it had appeared before any of the investigators could get there. And so it was recorded as evidence; that an officer had been there before the police’s official arrival. It is the same size as Tsukauchi’s.

It’s somewhere to start, at least.

“We can’t get stuck on the idea that it could be Tsukauchi,” Hizashi says, looking over his shoulder at the list of police force and their quirks. “It’s easy to believe it is, right? Because he shares all this info with All Might, All Might trusts him, he has a link with UA, he has inside information within the police force. He’s likeable and could get pretty much anywhere, and like, we know so little about him. Right?”

“Right,” Shouta agrees, reading down the list of names.

“But just because it’s the easy answer doesn’t mean it’s right. It could still be one of the teachers, even a student. Motive isn’t always obvious, we need to do way more background work. It looks like I was pretty heavily focused on the police, though.”

“Makes sense for it to be within the police,” Shouta says, “You can move around easily, get access to almost anything. And as crazy as it sounds, working within the police force is more flexible than being at UA.”

“How so?”

Hizashi twirls a strand of hair around his finger as he listens, and Shouta finds it momentarily distracting. It’s almost silvery in this light, in its ghostly state. He finds his voice eventually. “Think of all the security checks we had to go through when we started at UA. All the security checks we’ve all had to do, including Nezu. There’s always someone impartial who comes in to assess the staff.”

“Yeah,” Hizashi replies. “I guess. I mean, no, you’re right, it’s just- I think we have to be careful not to get fixated on Tsukauchi, just because he’s super suspicious, you feel?”

“Mm,” Shouta responds. And he looks at Hizashi again. Some sad, acoustic singer that he doesn’t know plays distantly, and Hizashi is here, but he isn’t. His skin is pale and shining. “You look more real today.”

Hizashi’s eyebrows pull together. “Huh? For real?”

“Yeah. And you remember more. It’s strange.” I'm not entirely sure whether that's a good thing, he wants to add. He doesn't.

Hizashi looks down at the floor and considers this. “It feels…”

It is rare that Hizashi is lost for words. Even when he doesn’t have the vocabulary to articulate how he feels, he gesticulates. Or fills in the silence with English, or nonsense. Now, he gazes at the floor in quiet thought.

“It feels like… this is going to sound so dumb.”

“Say it anyway,” Shouta prompts gently.

He wants to thread his fingers with Hizashi’s. He doesn’t.

“I know you were worried that I was in your mind. That you were hallucinating me. And, uh, I get it, man. Mostly ‘cause, it sort of feels like you’re in my head. And like, well, like this is all just a dream.”

There’s a brief pause. Then, “You keep talking about dreams. Do you think that…”

Shouta doesn’t continue. Hizashi laughs.

“Right? It sounds dumb, doesn’t it?”

“You started this conversation,” Shouta retorts, rubbing the back of his neck uncomfortably. “You say what you think first.”

“OK, OK,” Hizashi complains. “OK. Well, maybe I’m somewhere else, and we’re connected by dreams. Or something. I don’t know. Maybe there’s some kind of quirk that means that our minds can sort of…”

Hizashi’s sentence trails off, and Shouta doesn’t try to finish it. He wouldn’t know how.

When his phone buzzes on the coffee table, it startles them both. Hizashi smiles to himself, a look that’s both self deprecating and nervous. Shouta leans over to pick up his phone.

Yagi Toshinori has sent you a message!
Aizawa-kun- I hope ur well. I was wondering…

The alert only shows him the beginning of the message. He opens the rest, and Hizashi peers over his shoulder. Shouta nudges him in the ribs, and Hizashi snorts in a mix of disgruntlement and laughter.

Aizawa-kun- I hope ur well. I was wondering if you would be around for a drink tonight. Not to put too fine a point on it, we’re worried about you! I know ur not the type to talk about feelings- particularly not with me- but let me buy you a drink? I’ll live vicariously through you.

This is followed by a string of emojis. Only an old man would text like this.

Shouta sighs to himself, and feels a headache coming on already.

“Yagi wants to buy me a drink,” he says, with some resignation. He knows he’s been ignoring everyone. Everyone else, who has no idea that he’s working on absolving Hizashi, and currently talking to his apparition. Everyone else, who is mourning over Hizashi, too.

“You should go.”

Shouta looks at him a little pleadingly, and Hizashi rolls his eyes.

Go. You can’t forget about the rest of the world.”

“I know,” he responds quietly.

The two of them stare at the floor for a long moment, unsure of what else to say. It doesn’t need to be said that Shouta’s priority is to figure all of this out, and that he doesn’t particularly want to see anyone. But it also doesn’t need to be said that he probably should anyway. For their sake as well as his.

He wants to buy you a drink,” Hizashi drawls, in a mocking tone that makes Shouta frown. “Almost sounds like a date.”

And Shouta smirks. Hizashi pouts.

“Almost sounds like you’re jealous.”

It takes a second for Hizashi to register Shouta’s half-joke. And for that second, Shouta’s heart stops in anxiety, worried he’s said the wrong thing. Then, Hizashi’s eyes widen comically, and Shouta laughs. He can’t believe it, but he’s laughing.

“Jea- me-? That’s not- I didn’t- what are you-? Shouta-”

“Calm down,” he says for the second time that day.

When he eventually leaves the apartment to go meet Yagi at a nearby bar, he turns to see if Hizashi is following. He’s nowhere to be seen.

000

The bar is warm- almost unbearably. Hizashi’s flat had been as cold outside. It’s a chilly, rainy October evening, and the moment that Shouta steps into the heat of the bar, he rolls up his jumper sleeves. He hadn’t thought to grab a coat before leaving- possibly because he hadn’t wanted to borrow one of Hizashi’s.

The place is full. The lights are dimmed slightly, people crowded around the bar eating edemame and yakitori sticks, businessmen in their suits laughing raucously, red in the face from the booze. Compared to the quietness, the echoing silence that he’s experienced these past few days, it’s almost too much. Shouta feels his shoulders tense instinctively as he searches for Yagi.

Of course, he’s not difficult to spot. He’s sat at the bar in the corner, tall figure bent over his phone. Shouta’s surprised to see that he isn’t being harassed by fans. It’s possible that people are still a little frightened by this version of All Might- slim enough that he looks like he might disappear. Shouta braces himself. It feels like it’s been forever since he’s truly spoken out loud to someone, been in a room with another physical human.

Yagi looks up, a small smile playing on his lips. He waves Shouta over, and he takes the spare stool beside him. Shouta hates bar stools. They’re incredibly uncomfortable. He doesn’t know how someone as tall as Yagi is able to find his centre of gravity and not fall off.

“Aizawa,” Yagi begins warmly. Overwhelmingly, annoyingly warm. Just like the heat of this room.

“All Might.”

He slides a sake cup towards him along the bar. “No need to call me that here.”

Shouta doesn’t know why he doesn’t call him Yagi to his face. There’s something weird about the idea of calling him by anything but All Might, even if he thinks of him as Yagi.

Yagi leans his elbows on the counter, and Shouta keeps his eyes trained on the bartenders and chefs. He feels Yagi’s eyes on him.

“I won’t bother asking how you’re doing-”

“Good,” Shouta agrees.

Yagi seems to soften a little in his seat beside him. Shouta hears his quiet sigh, sees him in his peripheral as he turns his eyes away from Shouta. They both look beyond the counter, watching the chef prepare snacks. A middle aged woman with a pinched face warms up sake.

“Kayama and Iida tell me that they haven’t seen you since it happened.”

Something unpleasant twists in Shouta’s gut at those words. His friends. He knows he should be with them right now. He knows they're hurting, too. He’s seen their messages in the group chat, sharing their condolences. He’s read them, and they’ll have noticed that he’s read them. He’s grateful that they’re not pressing any kind of response from him. And he knows that the only reason they haven’t arranged to meet him is because they know better.

Shouta is almost grateful that Yagi doesn’t know better.

Yagi stretches his long legs out underneath the counter. “I know how terrible it is right now-”

“Do you,” Shouta snaps, a ferocious despair driving his words. A defiance that he can’t control. A bitter flavour left on his tongue.

“Yes, I do,” Yagi says carefully. “We’ve all lost people.”

Shouta feels his brow form a frown, looks down at the counter and the rings of condensation left behind from whoever was occupying these seats before. He closes his eyes, senses that he’s grinding his teeth. This is too much. He isn’t ready for this, to talk about it.

Yagi waves for the bartender’s attention beside him. Shouta watches distantly as he pours him warm sake, watches like he’s seeing it all from behind a glass screen. And he looks down at the little cup, the steam rising from the clear liquid warming his face. His chest squirms painfully.

He downs the cup in one.

Yagi snorts. Shouta doesn’t turn to look into those tired, dark eyes, instead stares ahead and feels the sake’s silky heat running down his throat.

“Not that I would encourage this kind of behaviour usually,” Yagi says, “but I really do know how you feel right now. At least a little.”

“And this helps,” Shouta half says, half asks.

Yagi shrugs. “Not especially. But one or two with a friend is no bad thing.”

Those words settle on Shouta slowly. He supposes they are friends, of sorts. It’s not something he’s actively considered. He’s aware that Yagi has been trying to make friends with him for almost a year now, but he’s been paying very little attention to those advances. He supposes he must be a good friend, to have invited him out here tonight. It isn’t an easy thing, to visit someone who's grieving.

Shouta picks up the empty sake cup, rolling it around on its base and watching the leftover drops of liquid trickle and shine.

“If it’s any consolation,” Yagi says, and Shouta rolls his eyes before he can help himself. Nothing could be a consolation right now, and he’s stupid to say such a thing. “I don’t think Mic was the traitor.”

Shouta feels a frown form again, and finally looks at Yagi. The pitch black of his eyes is shining, serious but gentle.

He turns away again.

“You and me both,” Shouta admits quietly. It feels like a secret, a dangerous secret not to be said aloud. “I haven’t been looking at the news at all recently, but I’m guessing we’re basically the only two.”

“Not at all. Most of the papers are saying that he was the traitor, of course. And the school is a mess of rumours, and…” Yagi shakes his great head, looks down at his glass of Fanta. The bubbles pop happily around the edge of the glass. “It’s a mess.”

On that, the two of them can agree.

“But,” Yagi continues, “we aren’t the only ones. Theories are popping up all over the place, in popular news forums all over the internet, liberal leaning news sites. Everywhere.”

Shouta nods. Perhaps he should care more than he does. All that really matters is that he knows Hizashi is innocent. And he’s going to prove it by catching the real criminal. Until then, people can say what they want.

“I’m surprised that you think it wasn’t him,” Shouta says eventually, voice coming out even and unemotional. “That you’re challenging the official police report.”

Yagi breathes in deeply, scratches his head. “Well, I’m not publicly challenging anything right now. Safest to let the dust settle, I think.”

“Right. But you know that’s not what I’m getting at.”

Yagi gives him a sidelong glance. Picks up his glass, then puts it back down again. He sighs.

“I’m not sure what to think,” he admits. “Tsukauchi gave me a rundown, and… it’s not that I disagree with him.”

“Except that you do.”

Yagi doesn’t respond to this, takes a drink of Fanta. They fall into a brief pause.

“I’ve always worked closely with the police,” Yagi continues slowly. “As the symbol of peace, I couldn’t do it any differently. I didn’t want to do it any differently. I trust the police, trust that the law will help in situations where heroes can’t. And the evidence, the confession… it all points to Mic. But in this case… my heart tells me something different.”

Shouta watches him as he speaks. He knows the weight of what Yagi- All Might- is admitting. He looks back down at his empty cup, and gestures for a refill.

“I shouldn’t be telling you this-”

The bartender comes along to refill, and Yagi holds his tongue. A tense quiet settles between them whilst they wait for privacy again. Eventually, Yagi continues. “I shouldn’t be… you were told that there wasn’t a body to identify. Weren’t you?”

The cold dread that pools in his stomach makes him nauseous. His hand curls around his cup subconsciously. If Yagi tells him now that they found Hizashi’s body, that he’s irrefutably dead, then he doesn’t know what he’ll do.

“What did you hear?”

Yagi hesitates, rubbing his arm. “Tsukauchi told me that there was. But it…”

Shouta doesn’t breathe. “But it what, Yagi?”

“It melted,” Yagi says seriously. Then he looks at him, gaunt face staring at him. “I have no idea what it means, but- it melted, Aizawa.”

And the first thing that comes into his head is the villain that he fought during the summer camp. The patchwork looking villain. The one who had melted beneath his capture gear during a fight like wet clay. Could it be that someone created a body? A clone, to pass as a corpse?

Why?

The fact that Tsukauchi had chosen to tell Yagi doesn’t pass by Shouta. If he were the traitor, if this were part of some plan to frame Hizashi and fake his death, it would make little sense to reveal this information about the body to Yagi.

But now there’s the fact that the police have issued their official report- and have lied. They have said that there was no body found at all. And there’s been no sign of the police investigating any strange circumstances.

Something is going on, and the police are doing nothing about it. Tsukauchi knows something, and he’s decided to tell Yagi, and no one else.

Shouta steeples his fingers in front of his face, feels his breath on his hands, feels his hair hang around him in a comforting curtain.

This makes it even more likely that the traitor is working within the police force. And as much as Tsukauchi seems willing to share info, it doesn’t look good on him that he also seems to know things the rest of the world doesn’t.

Yagi heaves a great sigh beside him, leans on the counter wearily.

He doesn’t know how to reply. He’s amazed that Yagi has shared this information with him, breaching whatever confidence he has with Tsukauchi. He really must doubt the police at the moment. Perhaps even his friend.

He’s trying to think of what to say, but his brain stops working when he feels a familiar rise of goosebumps on the back of his neck. Shouta turns to look to his left. Hizashi is sitting on the bar beside him, leaning a little against the wall. His legs dangle off the edge of the counter, and his hair pours naturally over his shoulders. He’s wearing something quite restrained right now. The green khaki jacket that he likes to wear on casual days off. White tshirt, jeans. Shouta looks at him, feels the initial surprise wear away. Hizashi gives him a small, sad smile.

“Are you OK?”

Shouta blinks, turns towards Yagi, expression gentle but concerned. “What?”

Yagi hesitates, then shakes his head minutely. A smile that doesn’t reach his eyes. “You look as if you’ve seen…”

“A ghost?” Shouta supplies.

He’s almost amused. Almost, but he very much doesn’t want to talk about this. Hizashi, meanwhile, lets out an impromptu burst of laughter, swinging his legs happily as he cackles, head tilted back.

Yagi doesn’t reply. Shouta knocks back the cup of sake.

“Holy- Shou, slow it down a bit, maybe?” Hizashi suggests, voice high with nervousness.

It takes him a second to remember that he can’t reply to Hizashi here, not around everyone else, not with Yagi watching. Instead, he gives Hizashi a dry look of disregard. Hizashi sighs.

“‘Spose I can’t stop you. And I would if I were you, too.”

Shouta nods slightly to himself. He thinks he deserves a drink after all this. He doesn’t see how Hizashi could blame him.

“There’s another thing,” Yagi says, voice tense.

Shouta looks down at the counter on Yagi’s side, see’s a small, sobre looking invitation. He slides it to Shouta, who picks it up. He immediately wants to drop it again.

In memoriam
Yamada Hizashi
The honour of your presence is requested at the memorial service of the hero Present Mic.
Satudray 23rd October 2019, 12pm
at
UA High School

Shouta feels his throat close up, betraying the need to cry. He clears his throat, feels his chest heave with uncomfortably heavy breaths.

“Nezu has organised the ceremony. We all figured Mic would want it to be at UA. And since… there’s no body to bury now…”

Yagi doesn’t add to this, only watches Shouta. He can feel his eyes on him. Shouta turns the invitation over. There’s Iida’s handwriting- just as messy as it was when they were students.

We’re here for you anytime you need, old friend. I know that Hizashi would have appreciated it if you said a few words. I know he’d also immediately come to your defence if you decided you couldn’t. Either way, I’ll be happy to see you. Tensei

Shouta covers his mouth with his hand, sighs. It doesn’t feel real. It seems so wrong, almost sick, like some performance to have a funeral. It’s not right, not when he believes that Hizashi is out there somewhere.

Hopes.

What if this is the bit that’s real, Shouta thinks. What will I do if I find out I’ve been deluding myself. That he’s really dead and I’ve just been fooling myself.

There’s a low whistle from Hizashi, on his left. Shouta looks at him, brows raised expectantly. As he guessed, Hizashi continues with, “Dude. That’s heavy.”

And against all his other instincts, he smiles to himself.

“Aizawa.”

Yagi is looking at him seriously again, a little wide eyed. “Are you sure you’re OK?”

Shouta thinks about the image of his suspected-dead friend, sitting on the bar beside him.

“I know you can't seriously expect me to say yes to that.”

Yagi flounders for a moment, then recovers. “That’s not what I meant. I only meant to say that… you seem distracted. Like there’s something else going on.”

Shouta stares back at him, is a little taken aback. How astute, coming from someone usually so unobservant. He casts a passing glance towards Hizashi, who returns his gaze. Then, looks back down at his empty sake glass. He can feel the warm haze of alcohol settle on his thoughts. Usually, he doesn’t like it too much. Right now, it feels nice to let go a little. For a moment, it’s tempting to tell Yagi everything.

Eventually, he settles with, “If I told you, you’d think I was crazy.”

It sounds like a cheesy line from a movie the moment he says it. Hizashi snorts in amusement. When Shouta glares at him, he raises his hands in a thin attempt at an apology.

“You’re seeing him right now, aren’t you?”

His words don’t settle in fully at first. Shouta can’t have heard straight. But when he turns to Yagi, the wide eyed awe from before is even more obvious.

“What,” Shouta whispers.

“You’re seeing him. Here, right now.”

Shouta opens his mouth to reply, finds that nothing comes. He doesn’t want to admit it, he won’t. Yagi's expression is intense and a little frightening. Hizashi has gone very still and quiet beside him.

Then, suddenly, Yagi laughs. The sound is too light, nervous. “Ah, don’t listen to me- I’m just an old man who-”

“What makes you say that?” Shouta interrupts.

Yagi won’t meet his eye, looks suddenly apprehensive, fidgety, like he’s regretting saying anything at all. “Ah, well. All I’ll say is that…” he trails off. His gaze turns a little distant. Shouta watches him. “There are people that I’ve lost. My master. She... sometimes… The human brain is more complicated than we know, Aizawa. There’s so much we don’t understand about how it works. About how quirks work. If you told me that you were seeing your friend right now, I wouldn’t call you insane.

“I can’t even begin to explain why it happens. Maybe it’s because of a quirk. Maybe it’s because of some other bond that’s shared, like a master and their student. But sometimes, people, not just me, they see- visions of people. People that they’ve- shared something with. Dead or alive. And… Well. Whatever it is, I don’t think you’re going crazy.”

The noise of the bar clatters around them, the clinking of glasses and the roaring of laughter. The world continues around them, as if Yagi hasn’t said the most baffling thing Shouta’s ever heard.

“What the hell is he talking about,” Hizashi mutters. Shouta doesn’t reply.

And then Yagi laughs again, anxious and suddenly returning himself- returned from whatever memory or experience he was speaking from.

“Don’t worry about me, I don’t know what I’m talking about.”

“You sound like you know a lot about the topic, actually,” Shouta remarks.

“You can’t make a speech like that and then just laugh it off!” Hizashi argues, inanely.

Yagi just continues to laugh over Shouta’s words, an All Might laugh that’s deep and confident and self-assured. Shouta sighs in response, begrudgingly aware that he won’t get anything else from him now.

After that, the two of them settle into companionable silence. Shouta is grateful that Yagi doesn’t push for conversation, try and make small talk or even worse, discuss Hizashi’s death. Instead, he has the surprising awareness to merely sit quietly beside Shouta, nursing his Fanta as Shouta continues to knock back sake. Hizashi is uncharacteristically quiet too. Nothing much needs to be said, it seems. Or perhaps he’s just thinking.

Eventually, as the world becomes a little blurrier, Hizashi fades away. When he realises that he’s gone, Shouta stops drinking. He's scared he's drunk him out of his mind. He sees the wave of grief is fast approaching, and he’s too drunk to outrun it. Yagi takes him home to his UA apartment, announcing that he’ll stay the night in the living room to make sure he's not alone.

Shouta wakes up in the night and sees Hizashi’s ghost lying beside him, a sad smile shining through the dark.

Chapter Text

They are walking down a sunny street in spring, blossom falling like snow. On March afternoons like this, when he and Hizashi hang out after school, he gets home and finds bits of blossom in his tangled hair. He finds the weight on his shoulders lighter and a humming in his chest.

“Maybe we can go to the bowling alley,” Hizashi suggests. His hands are in his trouser pockets, jacket collar turned up in an attempt to look cool. His brows are pulled together in a contemplative frown above his sunglasses. “We haven’t been bowling in ages.”

“I’m tired,” Shouta says.

Hizashi pouts. “You always say that, and then I end up convincing you anyway.”

Shouta snorts. He can see the logic in that at least. “Fine, we can go bowling, but I’m not going to do anything. I can just watch you.”

“What? No! You can’t just sit and watch, we gotta compete! How lonely do you want me to look, throwing a bowling ball over and over again by myself, Shou?”

Shouta grins at the image.

“You’re so mean!”

Both of them know that he won’t actually just watch, without participating. Shouta acts like he doesn’t want to join in on things, but most of the time, if Hizashi is involved, that’s just for show. He’ll go anywhere that Hizashi goes.

They walk a little further. Shouta’s pace slows. Hizashi walks ahead and looks at him pointedly over his shoulder.

“Hurry up! It’s not that far, I know you have enough energy, come on!”

Shouta doesn’t say anything, just walks painfully slowly to irritate Hizashi. Then, Hizashi crouches a little, extending his arms behind him for a piggy back.

“No,” Shouta states.

“If you’re gonna be a lazy little shit then yuhuh I’m gonna give you a piggy back!”

“I’m not a baby.”

Hizashi doesn’t respond, just grins at him, frozen in the same pose. Anticipating Shouta climbing onto his back. Eventually, wordlessly, Shouta acquiesces and hops onto Hizashi’s back. After some unhelpful comments from Hizashi about how heavy he is, they begin the rest of the short journey to the bowling alley, Shouta’s legs swinging out in front of Hizashi.

Shouta watches this scene. He remembers this. The sense of deja vu that’s been filling him this whole time is because it's a memory.

“Shouta?”

And then he finds himself in a room he doesn’t recognise. It’s nondescript- an apartment that he doesn’t know. His mind won’t focus on any defining features other the fact that it’s bright and happy and his mind feels warm. He is sitting on the sofa, as if he’s been there this whole time, and hasn't just relived a childhood memory in Mustafu city centre.

And now there is Hizashi, coming through the doorway with grocery bags, dropping his keys and talking to him. Talking to him about some inside joke and patrol last night and the fact that their boiler has broken again. Such mundane, normal things.

“I got some more juice packets. And they ran out of animal crackers so I got pocky. And some soda. And before you start, I know you don’t like giving the kids that much sugar, and obviously they’re going to bounce off the walls as soon as we give it to them but I think they’ll disown their parents if we start being even more uncool.”

“Right,” Shouta agrees distantly.

And the more he looks about the room, the more he notices that this isn’t an apartment, this is a living room in a house. This is not a home for just two people. There are children’s shoes by the door. Little red wellington boots and trainers with velcro. Not old enough for shoe laces yet.

Hizashi comes over to him, bends over and holds his face in his hands with a big smile. “How’s my husband?” he sings, like it’s something he says every day.

Shout doesn’t reply, just watches and waits for what comes next, like a movie.

Hizashi laughs and chatters away, replies to him as if Shouta had given him something to reply to in the first place. Like he’s forgotten his lines, and Hizashi is continuing like nothing happened.

“I came back from patrol so late last night- this morning, I mean. Dude, you were barely awake, do you even remember me coming back? Well anyway, I must have been fast asleep when you left because I didn’t hear you head out this morning. Did class finish early? You’re not usually back at this time…”

And Shouta can’t say anything. Not just because he doesn’t know the answer to Hizashi’s question, but because he doesn’t want to break the spell.

Before he can consider any further, he measures another presence on the sofa, beside him. Hizashi. Shouta turns to the kitchen, where Hizashi also continues to put food away. Then he turns back to the Hizashi on the sofa. Somehow, this Hizashi, the one beside him, seems more real. Less rehearsed.

“This is a nice dream,” this Hizashi him says quietly.

Meanwhile Hizashi in the kitchen fusses with the arrangement in the fridge, unaware of anything else happening around him. Shouta turns back to the one on the sofa.

“This is a dream,” he realises, equally quietly. He doesn’t want to disturb anything.

And yet the Hizashi on the sofa with him feels so real. The one in the kitchen- along with the make believe family with the little garden outside and wedding photos in the living room- he can believe is a dream. But this Hizashi, right here, sat with him- he feels real. Undeniable, tangible almost. Shouta feels as if he is gravitationally drawn to him. Like he is connected to him, two links in a chain that can’t be taken apart.

This Hizashi is not a dream. He’s the real thing. Shouta is sure of it. He is the spectre that he has been seeing when he is awake, the man he’s known half his life.

And then the Hizashi beside him tries to smile, but doesn’t seem to manage it. “You have nice dreams, Shouta.”

He feels the world disintegrate around him. And he tries desperately to grab onto it mentally, but it slips away like smoke.

“No-”

 

Shouta feels the warmth of his breath trapped between the sheets. When he opens his eyes, no one is there. There’s a wet patch on the pillow, on his cheeks.

That is the first time that he has woken up and remembered a dream for a very, very long time.

000

Shouta stands in his bathroom, the harsh mirror light making him look more washed out and exhausted than usual. His skin is damp from shaving. There is a small knick on his jawline from here the blade caught him. Even at thirty one, he still can’t quite get shaving right. It’s part of the reason he’s too lazy to do it, usually.

He can’t stop thinking about his dream last night.

And it isn’t because he doesn’t usually remember his dreams. The last one he remembers waking up from and recalling was from when he was a teenager; he’d had a very uncomfortable sex dream about Hizashi. It wasn’t easy to forget. He is sure he’s had several since that he has, thankfully, forgotten the moment he wakes up.

But last night had happened. He had been dreaming about something that he doesn’t really remember the details of- he thinks he was at Hizashi’s house, but it wasn’t anywhere he recognised. And then, Hizashi had appeared. The real Hizashi.

And it had been like they were touching. Mentally touching.

Shouta purses his lips and sighs through his nose. This is all so confusing. So nonsensical and upsetting and baffling, and he wishes just one thing could make sense. He wishes something logical could happen to override all this chaos. But he knows that won’t happen.

He looks back at his reflection. He really does look tired. Far worse than usual, and not just because of the unflattering light. He looks more like a ghost than Hizashi. His white shirt is unbuttoned, the tie hung around his neck. Hair still a bit of a mess, although he plans to tie some of it back so that he doesn’t look too much like he’s been found in a ditch.

The funeral is in a couple of hours. He’s dressed far earlier than he needs to be, but he’s awake and doesn’t know what else to do with himself.

The more he thinks about it, the more convincing it feels that Hizashi is dead. The more his mind starts replaying Hizashi falling into the flames of the burning building.

It comes in flashes- images of hot red fire, of Hizashi’s arms spread wide and falling. He remembers the feeling of his shoes scuffing against the tarmac as Vlad held him tight. Remembers the feeling of his arms around his chest. The feeling of his throat burning with smoke and screaming. The feelings fill him, lift his mind from his body and make his breath short.

A shuddering breath escapes him and he leans his hands against the sink, head hanging and hair pouring around his face.

Not today. He isn’t going to break today. Some other time, after all this is done. After he’s solved it. He’s been holding it together so that he can figure this all out for Hizashi, absolve him and even get him back.

He isn’t going to break, not now.

His breaths are shallow and it almost feels as if his body has forgotten how to take in oxygen. Even when he breathes deeply, it’s as if his lungs fill up and don’t know what to do next. His throat is dry and he feels light headed. But after some time, manually forcing himself to breath and clinging onto the sink, his body steadies again.

He squeezes his eyes shut. Tells himself to simply put on his tie. That’s all he needs to do right now.

He stands up straight again. Hizashi looks back at him in the mirror.

“Hey,” he says simply.

They measure each other for a long moment. Hizashi looks at him, smiling quietly, brows pinched. Biting his lip. And Shouta wants to ask him if he remembers being in his dream last night, but it’s such a strange thing to ask that he doesn’t know how to. Doesn’t want the possibility of hearing Hizashi deny it.

Hizashi gets there before him.

“Your dreams are far nicer than mine,” he says quietly.

He’s looking away from Shouta’s gaze now. He’s leaning against the doorway of the bathroom, whilst Shouta stares at his reflection.

“I wish I could remember more of it,” Shouta says truthfully. “I just remember sitting on a sofa with you.”

And then those green eyes lock onto his. Day by day, Hizashi’s apparitions seem more physical than the last, more real. “You don’t remember?”

Shouta shakes his head minutely, fiddles with his tie, gives up. “I never do. All I remember is you appearing. I guess at the last minute.”

Hizashi smiles weakly, lips quirking almost like a shiver. “Right.”

And Shouta feels very much as if he’s missing something. He desperately tries to recall what he dreamed. He very much hopes it wasn’t anything embarrassing, like his teenage dreams. By the way that Hizashi stares at the floor, wide-eyed and almost like he’s been rejected by a prom date, he knows it must have been something important.

Shouta doesn’t have any response to this. He tries to do his tie again- it’s not like he’s ever had issues with tying one before, but today, everything feels hard. As soon as he finishes, pushing the knot to his neck, he steps back and evaluates his reflection. He doesn’t do so often and doesn’t enjoy it much, but today is different.

“You look great,” Hizashi croaks.

Shouta’s eyes meet his again in the reflection. And then he turns around to face him properly. His hair is half tied up, but strands fall in his face as ever. He’s wearing a typical Hizashi outfit- black jeans and a band t-shirt with the sleeves rolled up.

“I didn’t feel like dressing up much,” he whispers.

They look at each other. Shouta feels the urge to cry.

“I’m scared,” Shouta admits.

And though he doesn’t feel it, he appreciates it when Hizashi steps into his space and hugs him. He turns his face towards Hizashi’s hair. There’s no smell, no softness against his cheek. He squeezes his eyes shut.

“I’m scared, too.”

They simply hold each other for a while, standing in the bathroom. It passes Shouta’s mind that if someone were to walk in, they’d probably see him hugging thin air. A strange thought, one that doesn’t bring him much amusement, as comical as it would probably look.

“It’s all just so fucked,” Hizashi says into Shouta’s shoulder. “I don’t understand anything that’s happening. And I hate to see you go through this. And I’m scared to see… I mean…”

“I know,” Shouta whispers. He strokes his hand along his back, even if neither of them can feel it. The gesture comes to him naturally. “I think it’s probably normal to be frightened of seeing your own funeral.”

Hizashi doesn’t respond at first. And then, Shouta hears him laugh.

“A totally normal reaction to a normal situation,” Hizashi adds weakly.

Shouta smiles. Hizashi steps back, his hands coming to rest on his cheeks.

“I’m going to be there with you. The whole way. You’re not alone, OK?”

Shouta feels his brow pinch, his lips pursing. He wants to cry so much.

“You can’t guarantee that. You can’t even guarantee that you’ll be there when I get to the funeral. You might not see any of it after all.”

He simply shakes his head. “Nah. I don’t care what happens- I know I can’t control this much, and that I disappear whenever, but, I’m always there. With you in spirit, or whatever. I know it sounds like a Disney movie, but… you know?” Shouta does, but he wishes that he could actually be here. Then he wouldn’t be going to his funeral in the first place. “Besides. I feel like I’m hanging around a lot more than I used to. It’s taking longer for me to disappear each time. And like… the connection is stronger. Like super good wifi.”

Shouta closes his eyes and huffs a laugh.

“I don’t know whether that’s necessarily a good thing,” Hizashi continues. “But it’s something. And after last night…”

“Our minds are connected somehow.”

“Everytime we see each other...in your dreams or awake. It gets stronger each time. Like a muscle.”

They look at each other again. Shouta doesn’t know what else to say. He’s going to be saying a lot this afternoon- perhaps that’s why he finds himself particularly speechless this morning, in anticipation. He pulls Hizashi close again, holds him and wishes he could feel a warmth there.

000

Hizashi has disappeared. The moment Shouta arrives at the ceremony, hundreds of chairs lined up outside on the grass, he’s relieved that he has.

He shouldn’t have to witness all of this.

Shouta stops in his tracks as soon as he turns the corner and sees the set up. It’s at one of the grassy knolls at the edge of the campus. There’s flowers, colourful ones. And a framed picture of Hizashi at the end of the makeshift aisle. Not Present Mic- but Hizashi. It’s a fairly recent photo from the summer holidays. He’s sporting his classic giant grin, no sunglasses. Just Hizashi, unhidden.

Tensei is at the front of the aisle up with Nemuri, and they’re talking quietly. Not many people are here yet- people have been dribbling in here and there. The whole school is planned to attend, as well as outside guests. Some of the students are sat in patches throughout the isles, in assigned seats. Vlad is there too, making sure that nobody is getting up to no good. A funeral though it may be, these are students. And he can see Thirteen walking over with Cementoss. Everyone is dressed in black. And that shouldn’t surprise him- none of this should. He’s known that he’s coming to a funeral all week. But this is real.

This is far, far too real.

Shouta nods to himself, scratches his chin. It’s itchy from shaving. He finds himself fixed on the spot and doesn’t know if he can move. He knows that he should go and join Nemuri and Tensei. It’ll be the first time that he’s seen them since Hizashi left. But he doesn’t feel like he can move his feet. There’s some instinct that’s holding him in place.

Fear. He realises now- that instinct is fear. Paralysing anxiety.

“Aizawa.”

He almost jumps. Ectoplasm. He gestures to the quickly filling seats.

“Come with me. I think you’re a couple of seats away from me.”

Shouta remembers to respond, nods mechanically and follows Ectoplasm to the front of the row of seats. It’s then, as he’s walking, that he realises music is playing. He recognises this song. He had been playing it on one of Hizashi’s CDs yesterday.

And the walk to the front row is so long that he thinks at some point, his knees will give way. They don’t. The aisle feels like a never ending corridor, and he wants to run in the opposite direction. When he eventually reaches the right row, Ectoplasm has to point him to his seat. He hasn’t found the presence of mind yet to read the names on the chairs and find his own.

He has no idea how he’s going to manage speaking in front of hundreds of people.

Shouta sits down, and as much as time seemed to slow when he was walking to his seat, equally, time speeds up as people start appearing in their seats around him. Everyone is suddenly here, and he doesn’t know how he missed it.

Nemuri, Tensei and Nezu are talking in low tones at the front. Shouta meets eyes with his two friends, who make their way to take their places on either side of him. Nemuri smoothes down the material of her dress as she sits, seeming uncharacteristically self-conscious. Tensei gives him a warm smile, shining eyes, stops his wheelchair beside him.

“Good to see you, Shouta,” Tensei greets him genuinely.

The unbelievable pang of guilt that jolts through him from that single, innocuous sentence leaves him speechless. He doesn’t respond, only half nods, pursing his lips. Nemuri is quiet beside him. She is breathing deeply and shakily.

When she offers him her hand, palm upwards, Shouta takes it.

And he can feel that awesome wave of grief approaching, fast and unavoidable. He can feel it and it will take all his effort to outrun it, just in time for this to be over. Tilting his head back and staring at the blue, springtime sky, he imagines a way through this in which he doesn’t crumble.

The ceremony starts with Nezu welcoming everyone. He does not address the audience with his usual serious but positive tone; he sounds different today. Not strained or urgent, as he has heard him before. Rather, there is a light, airy sound to his voice that Shouta doesn’t recognise. And he can barely hear the words he’s saying, his mind can’t concentrate. He is focusing too much on keeping it together to listen properly. But he hears him mention Present Mic being one of the greatest heroes of their time, irrefutably. That, despite recent events, his legacy as a hero should live on, for the good he did. And Shouta doesn’t miss the way the crowd mumbles at his words, doesn’t miss the way his heart twists at this response.

He’s so glad that Hizashi isn’t here right now.

He looks about to gauge the people who seem to be disagreeing with Nezu’s words. It is then that Shouta notices that there are guards stationed around the place. A little further along from his row is a man with a rhino horn quirk in a black suit, with an earpiece, arms crossed gruffly. He sees two more on his left.

Nemuri's hand is still firmly in his. He’s glad for the physical contact. It is the first he’s had in a while, and it’s only now that he realises how much he needs it.

Somehow, he manages to make it through Nezu’s welcoming speech without knowing much of what was said. He watches one of Hizashi’s sisters take the stage to read his eulogy. He hasn’t seen Nana in years. She has always looked the least like Hizashi out of his two sisters, although she has the same shocking green eyes.

And he finds it so hard to listen. His brain shut down the moment he arrived at the funeral, and now he’s afraid that he won’t be able to get up on stage. All he can do as he watches his sister speak so eloquently, so carefully trying not to cry, is remember the times he had stayed over at Hizashi’s as a teenager. Having sleepovers at the Yamadas’, Nana bursting in at eight am to announce that breakfast was ready and waking them up just to get on their nerves. Their younger sister, Matsuri, copying everything that Nana did. Hizashi yelling at them to get the hell out! and both of them running away laughing. Shouta hiding under his sleeping bag.

And then he manages to make it through Nemuri’s reading. Even though he can’t catch all of what she’s saying, she reads beautifully. Shouta can hear people crying and it feels wrong, strange.

Hizashi isn’t here, but he can imagine what he would say. “I mean, dude. I’d be kinda offended if nobody cried.”

Shouta closes his eyes. Takes a deep, body filling breath.

When he opens them again, Nemuri is back in her seat beside Shouta, and she rests a hand on his arm.

Tensei leans towards him. “You’re up, Shouta.”

He looks up at the small stage. Hizashi’s photo. Flowers. This is nothing like the press conference. Speaking in front of this many people is possible, that’s not what worries him. He doesn’t know if-

“You don’t have to go up,” Nemuri says quietly. The first thing she has said to him this whole time. “Nobody’s forcing you. One of us can-”

“No,” he replies. “Just give me a second.”

He stares down at his hands. Dry and scarred from all the fights he’s won in the past, survived. This somehow feels harder than any of those. And it’s illogical that it should feel so hard when he knows- believes- that Hizashi is alive somewhere. But it is. It’s almost impossible, and the little podium at the front of the crowd looks like a scene from a nightmare.

He and Hizashi had discussed before what would happen if one of them died- how the funeral would go. Hizashi always joked about wailing so loudly that no one would be able to hear the eulogy. Shouta shrugged, not much wanting to talk about it. Even then, just the idea was too unsettling. Now the moment is here and it feels like a farce. Hizashi is out there somewhere, and he’s meant to just go on stage and talk about him like he’s dead.

Maybe this would feel less wrong if he weren’t playing along, if he weren’t pretending he thought he was dead. No less difficult- but less wrong, perhaps.

That’s what makes Shouta stand up and step up to the podium. The knowledge that he will find Hizashi and that this isn’t the end- this isn’t real. Even if the fact that everyone else mourning makes it feel like it is. Even if his heart is being torn in two.

He ascends the two steps to the podium. He can smell the flowers from here. He watches his feet as he takes his place, takes a deep breath with eyes closed.

When he opens his eyes, he sees the crowd.

Hundreds of students. The teachers on the front rows, along with Hizashi’s family. More guests in between the school and the teachers. People he doesn’t recognise, looking up at him and waiting.

He had written down notes for this. Usually, he doesn’t like reading off notes- he doesn’t bother planning most things, but then, of course, this is different. So he removes the little folded up piece of paper from his jacket pocket, and finds himself suddenly very aware of the fact that he needs to speak. The world is expecting him to speak. Shouta shifts slightly, moving from foot to foot, places the notes in front of him. Holds onto the lectern. Opens his mouth slightly, looks down at the people.

His class. They’re all sat together near the front with the other first years. Iida, Midoriya and Uraraka looking up at him with frightened, tear streaked faces. Jirou hiding her face on Yaoyorozu’s shoulder. The security team, stationed around everyone. And there’s All Might- he gives him a small, encouraging nod. Tsukauchi is beside him, grave and pale.

Tsukauchi is here. Him, and a handful of other officers. That somehow makes all of this seem even more like a play. There are things that the both of them know, things that only Tsukauchi knows- and he’s watching Shouta rehearse his lines on stage.

There’s a small microphone in front of him. The world can hear him hesitating in front of it.

“Shouta.”

Against better judgement, Shouta turns his head towards Hizashi the moment he hears him say his name. In his peripheral he sees his blonde hair, impossibly, catching the spring sunshine. Sees him standing beside him, barely a foot away. The crowd watches a confused, exhausted Eraserhead standing mute in front of the microphone.

He hasn’t breathed for as long as he’s been standing here.

“You’re doing great, Shou,” Hizashi whispers. Shouta hates it when Hizashi whispers. It isn’t right coming from him. “You’re doing so great. I’m sorry I wasn’t here sooner. I’m here now. I’m here.”

And he knows he can’t look at him right now. Not just because of all the people watching him, but because if he looks now, he’ll never look away.

Looking down at his notes, he finds that he can’t read them. His brain is in some other place. He looks away from them, at the space above the crowd. Anywhere but in their eyes.

He opens his mouth, and the first thing that comes out is a sigh.

“Mic…” The grassy clearing echoes with his voice. He swallows, squares his shoulders. “Mic was an easy person to be friends with.”

Everyone watches and waits. His class are transfixed by him. They have never seen him like this, no one has. Not even Nemuri and Tensei, who are holding onto one another’s hands across Shouta’s seat.

“He didn’t let anyone not be his friend,” he adds matter-of-factly. And there’s a ripple of noise, almost laughter. “Anyone who knew him understood how much he had to give. I was lucky to know him better than most. Someone who… typically, wouldn’t have chosen to make friends with someone like him.

“Mic was… noisy.” Another chorus of understanding and amusement. Shouta doesn’t smile. “You always knew when he was there. Even if, for some reason, he wasn’t saying anything, you could tell he’d entered a room. He was obnoxious and ridiculous and… overwhelming, sometimes. He’d pull pranks and shout and... Some of you will know that those aren’t things that I usually put up with, but Hiz- Mic… Hizashi was different. People didn’t put up with him, they adored him. He was different. He meant a lot to a lot of people. He didn’t just entertain and save lives, he genuinely wanted to make people happy. Myself included- something that I never understood, never…”

He finds his words trailing off, and for a moment, he forgets about everyone else. He senses Hizashi’s presence, sees his hand move towards the lectern. It lies beside his. There, but not touching.

“You’re doing so well, Shou,” he croaks. He hears Hizashi stifle a sob.

And Shouta closes his eyes because if he turns to see him crying, he won’t be able to continue. He takes a shuddering breath, and the audience is deathly silent. He sees a bird zip across the sky above them, hears the traffic beyond the school’s walls.

“Hizashi was my best friend,” he continues quietly. He can still hear his low, carefully stable voice humming through the air from the microphone. It feels as if it buzzes through him. And his mind temporarily freezes in panic. He feels as if he is about to lose control of everything, all the feelings that he’s been walking so calmly away from.

“He was good,” he continues, more loudly. And then the words start escaping his mouth. “And honest, and kind. Generous and thoughtful and better than most of the people here. He was a brother and a friend and a son and a partner. He was everything.”

“Shouta,” Hizashi whispers. Shouta doesn’t feel Hizashi’s fingers stretching to touch his.

“He was a hero.”

At that moment he sees one of the security guards wrestling with someone trying to get in. A journalist, camera pointed at him. And something settles in him. A solid, cold determination that fills him from the stomach, makes him feel heavy and light-headed all at once.

“How did they get in here?” Hizashi mutters. “The school’s defences should have…”

The crowd begins to take notice- the column closest to the journalist and security guard in question turning around and glaring.

“He was a hero,” he repeats.

He sees all the eyes on him. He sees the camera point at him. He sees several more people running in with cameras, he hears the complaints and he feels the words pour out of him.

“He was innocent.”

And the quiet mumbling that had started at the journalists’ arrival becomes outright noise. People mutter to each other, people are standing up to help show out the journalists, people are panicking and trying to figure out how they got in. People are staring at Shouta in horror, in pride, in agreement and disgust, and all the while, Shouta stands and watches on his stage. He watches the beginnings of chaos rise up.

“Shouta, no.”

He turns to look directly at Hizashi. He’s shaking his head at him with wide eyes.

“He was innocent,” he continues. “And I’m going to figure out who the real traitor was.”

Shouta, stop- we- you can’t give yourself away like this, they’ll start shadowing you and they’ll find all the evidence and ruin all the work we’ve done- you can’t Shouta- ”

He was innocent,” he says looking back into the crowd.

Someone is standing up within the crowd. Midoriya. Eyes filled with defiant tears, lips wobbling in at attempt not to cry. And then Iida stands. And almost three quarters of the student population start to stand up. They’re all standing and looking up at their sensei in what looks like pride. Allegiance.

He’s blinded by camera flashes.

“He was-”

He feels a hand on his arm. He looks down, sees it clutching his bicep, looks up to see one of the security guards. “Alright, that’s enough. That’s enough.”

And everything that he had been fighting back before seems to suddenly overwhelm him. An unbridled, uncontrollable anger fills him and all he can do is simply stare at this imbecile who is trying to remove him from the stage. He hears people shouting, he sees blotches in his vision from the camera lights. And then it’s as if he can’t see anything at all.

“Take your hand off me.”

The words are quiet, even, deadly. He hasn’t heard himself speak like that in years.

“Come on, buddy, I don’t wanna-”

Shouta’s fist hits the security guard’s face before he can stop it. All the words have poured out, and now his body is moving on its own. And it’s as if all the furious grief has possessed him.

Shouta!” he hears Hizashi shout.

And that’s when he comes back to himself- enough, at least, that he sees what he’s done. A baffled security guard, holding his jaw, as if he can’t believe that he let someone hit him. And Shouta, looking down at his hands, trembling like the surface of a glass of water.

“I’m sorry,” he whispers.

And then he’s being dragged by the security guard and a police officer off stage, escorted across the grass and away from the ceremony. And the shouts and righteous anger that he hears behind him, the people calling his name and saying things he can’t hear- he doesn’t know whether it is encouragement or criticism- it all drifts over his head. He watches himself being taken away from somewhere else, being lead to a police car.

As he’s being forced into it, he sees his students running after him, shouting for him and screaming at the police officers to let him go. Hizashi isn’t there. He must have disappeared as he was being pulled away. Maybe it was Shouta's anger, his clouded mind that did it- that cut their connection. Or, maybe, Hizashi doesn’t want to see this. Maybe he is too disappointed to stay.

The last thing Shouta sees as the car pulls away is his students’ face- Nemuri and Tensei watching by the curb.

000

Shouta spends the evening in a cell, staring at a wall and trying to remember who he is. Hizashi doesn’t come back.

It’s some hours before someone comes in. It’s Tsukauchi, accompanied by some other officer and Nemuri. Nemuri waits in the doorway of the holding room, the assisting officer leaning against the wall and looking at the floor. Tsukauchi takes the keys from the invigilating guard and lets Shouta out. It takes a moment for him to realise that he’s being released. His mind is reacting a little slower than usual. He doesn’t feel like he’s really in his body, dizzy with exhaustion and overwhelmed.

As he’s leaving the cell, suit jacket over his shoulder and white shirt unbuttoned, Tsukauchi lays a gentle hand on his shoulder. For a second, Shouta comes back to himself. He measures the hand lying on his shoulder, and how quickly it removes itself. He looks up at Tsukauchi, who holds his gaze. They seem to be communicating silently. Shouta’s skin crawls.

Now they both know that they’re implicit in this.

“Be careful, Aizawa.”

With those words, Tsukauchi steps away and leaves the room, squeezing past Nemuri. Shouta watches his back, his trenchcoat billowing as he leaves, assistant in tow.

He isn’t sure what to make of that.

The car journey back to UA is silent. It started raining at some point this evening. It’s eleven thirty at night, and the streetlights make strange, tangled patterns in the rain drops on the windscreen. Nemuri drives with her hands tight on the wheels, expression slack.

When they get back to UA, she gives Shouta a hug. It’s tight, and he reciprocates hesitantly, hands on her back. He feels her hands grip onto his shirt. And then she turns towards her apartment and leaves.

Shouta looks at the door of his apartment, holding his keys in his hands.

He turns away and walks back outside.

The journey to Hizashi’s never takes long, but tonight, the time somehow disappears. Shouta gets to the front door without knowing how he got there, and lets himself in, dripping wet from the rain. His hair clings to his cold face and his white shirt is a thin, cotton membrane. Water drips from his lashes and he feels puddles in his shoes. In front of him, he sees the pool of evidence that he has been working through. The pin board with notes and red marker pen, circling sentences and people and nothing.

It's all nothing. None of it means anything.

Hizashi is gone. What if he really never comes back?

Standing in the dark of Hizashi’s flat, Shouta feels the crest of the tsunami break. The wave of feelings pours over him and washes him away, and there’s no controlling it now.

His back crashes against the front door and the air fills his lungs like he’s been drowning. And he doesn’t stop. He can’t stop breathing and panting and choking on nothing, and it takes a moment for him to realise that he’s crying. He is dizzy and hot, but still cold from the rain. He feels weak and tired and despairing and like there is nothing left for him in the world. He can hear the sobs being wrenched from him, angry crying sounds that remind him of being a child. And he presses his back and palms against the door, trying to find stability, finding none. He can't breathe. All of the grief is forcing itself out and it hurts.

The corridor is filled with the sound of his uncontrollable tears.

With a sudden, overwhelming need to warm up- to stop shaking and crying and watching the tears fall on the carpet and mix with rain water- he stumbles to the bathroom. He turns on the shower. Kicking off his shoes, removing none of his clothes, he stands beneath the warm water and lets it wash away his tears.

Hizashi is gone. He’s gone. He's really gone. He’s alone again. He doesn't know if he's dead but he's gone. He's gone.

He finds himself sliding down the bathroom wall and sitting under the water on the tiles. Hizashi’s shampoo bottles fall on their sides and scatter. The crying is louder in here. The echo of his choking sounds like he’s physically hurt.

He hadn’t heard the front door open. But now he can see Nemuri through the bathroom doorway. She’s staring at the ocean of evidence in front of her, eyes wide in shock.

“Oh my…”

And then she notices Shouta. Maybe she can hear him sobbing, maybe it’s the steam pouring through the door. Either way, she turns towards him, and her wide eyes flutter.

“Shouta,” she whispers.

He can’t look at her. He rests his forehead against his knees like a younger version of himself and weeps- the sound is trapped inside him and ripping itself free. The way he is crying sounds painful, and it is. Nemuri sits beside him on the floor of the shower. He feels her take his hand. It's tight, almost too tight. He has never been so grateful for physical comfort.

The water pours over them both. Hizashi is still gone.

Chapter Text

By now, Shouta has listened to about a fifth of Hizashi’s CDs. Some of the songs he recognises, a lot of them he doesn’t. He listens to Eva Cassidy and looks amongst the walls of evidence he has accumulated.

He isn’t surprised that Nemuri was a little horrified at seeing this. It’s intimidating.

Shouta hunches over Hizashi’s dining room table, hands splayed over photos of the League. A cup of coffee cools rapidly in front of him, a sandwich that he half-heartedly made. There are crumbs on the photos. The plastic zip-lock bags of evidence are pinned to the board before him; the pin attached to the bag of sediment is joined with red string to a map. They’ve discovered that this dirt was found at a separate incident involving the League, Twice specifically. And, according to digital records, it matches sediment found at the top of the building where Shigaraki and Kurogiri had stood that night, during Mic’s confession. It also matches several possible locations at the outskirts of Mustafu, implying the location for their new hideout. The bag with the blue button is still undefined. It hangs in the middle of the board.

His laptop is open on the postmortem page. Hizashi had helped figure out a way into the server. The glare of the screen shines through the half dark; the lamplight in the living room is dim and warming. The page he’s looking at is for the body that melted away. He refuses to think of it as Hizashi’s body because it isn’t.

He had expected to find some details on the body, but there weren’t any- not a single note. Everything has been deleted.

So Hizashi had been right. There is someone within the force manipulating the evidence, hiding it. However what Shouta finds confusing, nonsensical, is this- if Tsukauchi were the traitor, why would he share information with Yagi after deleting it from police records? Equally, it makes no sense that he has withheld the information he knows from everyone else. It doesn’t make him seem entirely innocent.

Shouta sighs, leans on his hands against the desk.

Considering that the body melted away, out of existence, then that is most likely due to the copying quirk of the villain Twice- Shouta looks at the villain’s photo in front of him, all the notes he’s made on his quirk. The connection with the police, the planted evidence- it points to the theory that the League are trying to cover up proof of the real traitor, using Hizahi as a scapegoat. And for that to happen, Hizashi must have been in deep trouble. Maybe he had been caught sniffing around the real traitor. Maybe he had been blackmailed, afterall. It’s not as if this is news, or especially surprising- but it’s alarming nonetheless for Shouta to see the picture building in front of him.

Hizashi might be with the League right now, held as prisoner.

Shouta sighs through his nose, looks up at the pinboard. His hand comes to rest on a picture of Tsukauchi- one of many.

He can’t stop thinking of what he said last night after the funeral. Be careful, Aizawa. The look he had shared with him. Somehow, Tsukauchi is at the centre of all of this, and Shouta will figure out why.

Suddenly filled with a burst of restlessness, he abandons the desk and grabs his hero gear. He pulls on his costume and leaves, stepping lightly off Hizashi’s balcony. He leaves the music to play.

At this time of night, he knows that Tsukauchi is on duty and should be on his way home by now from the station. He also knows where he lives. He knows a lot about Tsukauchi’s wearabouts thanks to the research he spent all day today undergoing, desperate to distract himself. There might not have been much progress this week in his investigation, but he has at least found a wealth of information on Tsukauchi and has almost made a full report of all the members of the Mustafu police force. Now, he puts that knowledge to the test.

He runs along the rooftops of the city, goggles hiding his determined glare.

It’s warm tonight. It hasn’t rained at all since the day of the funeral.

Shouta runs through the dark, keeping to the shadows and willing his heart to steady. Ever since his breakdown last night, he has intermittently been crying. Now that the floodgates have opened, it’s harder to hold it back than before. He refuses to think about it, but his mind ignores this self-imposed rule. He doesn’t want to think about anything anymore; he spoke to Nemuri last night, he doesn’t need to prod his feelings any further.

It feels a little better at least, to know that he’s not alone in this. Nemuri knows everything. Everything, down to his visions of Hizashi, his belief that he’s alive, that he’s innocent. It makes his chest feel a little less constricted. Even if he still can’t control his tears. Now, he feels one roll down his cheek. Like last night, they appear out of nowhere, to the point that he’s surprised to feel the wetness on his face.

Shouta runs through the sky, towards the West side of the city.

The lit-up streets below look like rivers- orange, glowing rivers. The people walking and cars passing by like leaves on the surface of water, slowly drifting. And despite his efforts, Shouta thinks of yesterday again. He can’t stop thinking about it. He thinks about the funeral and the people standing up in allegiance. He thinks of the camera flashes and the guard’s harsh grip on his arm. He thinks of telling the world that Hizashi was everything, remembers Hizashi standing beside him, quietly listening.

He needs to tell Hizashi that he loves him. If he can’t keep his grief inside of his chest, if he can’t trap that there, then there seems to be no reason that he should keep his love a secret. He can feel it all bleeding out of his heart, sickening, painful and right.

The air carries him over to the West of the city. Soon, he should reach Tsukauchi on his way home from-

Shouta comes to an abrupt stop on an apartment building roof. Stepping around a water tank, he stands on the edge and looks.

There is a billboard, a giant TV screen that usually displays the news or music videos, movie trailers. Right now, it is showing his face.

It’s a photo from yesterday. It’s in surprisingly good resolution- even blown up at this size, it isn’t very blurry. His furious expression is plastered on the screen, several feet high and wide. Hair slicked back and face shaved, just like the press conference. But now he seems far more tired, eyes more bloodshot and expression more determined than angry. It is righteous and confident- feelings that had been overwhelmed by grief at the time. He doesn’t see much of the hurt in that expression, even if he does look exhausted. It is strange to see himself like this. He doesn’t much like seeing photographs of himself at the best of times. Behind him is yesterday’s blue spring time sky, and below, a headline:

UNDERGROUND HERO ERASERHEAD DEFENDS PRESENT MIC

The screen is frozen on his face, the various days’ headlines streaming below. And then it shifts to people marching- marching with pictures of Hizashi. To people holding billboards with Shouta’s face emblazoned on them-

“HE WAS INNOCENT”

Shouta feels stuck to the spot. This is the first time that he’s looked at the news all week. The giant screen starts showing people wearing t-shirts with his face on it. People have redesigned the photo into aesthetically pleasing propaganda. And it had only been taken yesterday.

Looks like he’s finally getting a range of hero merchandise. Hizashi would be pleased.

With that, Shouta turns away from the news of his sudden popularity and runs further West.

It doesn’t take long for him to find Tsukauchi’s route home from the station. Soon enough, he spots him walking down the high street talking on the phone, carrying a 7/11 shopping bag. He can’t hear what he’s saying from here- Shouta keeps to the roof, hero suit camouflaging him against the black night sky. He follows Tsukauchi, tracing the edge of the buildings like a cat, crouched low. There’s a slight wind that picks up his hair and capture gear.

Tsukauchi is approaching his apartment building. Shouta watches from the corner of the adjacent office block. Tsukauchi walks under one street lamp, then the next, then the next- shadow lengthening and shortening eerily in the orange light. This street is fairly quiet. Tsukauchi stops under a light, removing the phone from his ear.

He looks up to the sky, to the surrounding buildings. Shouta crouches out of vision.

He can tell he’s being followed, Shouta thinks. He’s no fool.

And as he ducks behind the pebble dashed wall of the office building, he wonders what that could mean. Is Tsukauchi worried about being followed for any particular reason? Perhaps he’s hiding something. But something tells Shouta that the reason for his suspicion is because he’s in as much trouble as he is- as Hizashi was. Is.

Shouta is following him because he knows that Tsukauchi is involved in some way. But his gut tells him that he isn’t guilty, either.

He allows himself a quiet sigh, before peering over the wall again. Although particularly skilled in tracking villains silently and invisibly, he is also aware that Tsukauchi’s got good instincts. And so he watches from a safe distance, barely able to keep an eye on him as Tsukauchi lets himself into his apartment building. He watches the sensory light being triggered as he steps up the stairwell, watches his figure through the glass until he disappears out of vision. He watches the lights of his flat flicker on, pouring through half closed curtains. Sees him sitting at a small, kitchen table and look at his phone, nursing a beer.

Shouta watches him a while longer. He hopes that he’ll see something. Perhaps someone coming to visit, anything. At this point, he isn’t sure what he’s looking for. And it’s clear that Tsukauchi suspected he was being followed; if he had anything to hide, it’s unlikely that he’d do anything now.

With a long, weary sigh, Shouta sits down on the roof and leans his back against the low wall. Tipping his head back, he looks up at the sky.

He wonders if Hizashi can see the sky, where he is.

Deciding that it isn’t worth dwelling on such thoughts, Shouta gathers himself once more and heads back to Hizashi’s apartment. A strange mixture of frustration, anxiety, and resignation fills him. He doesn’t know which emotion he feels most- they’re battling each other for power. He doesn’t particularly enjoy the prospect of experiencing any of them in larger doses than he already is. He starts running homewards.

And he notices something approach from his right as he’s flying through the air. Something is barrelling towards him.

He has a fraction of a second to turn his head to see what it is. His capture gear wraps around a drain pipe just in time, before a winged nomu tackles him mid-air.

Shouta feels the air being knocked out of him immediately. He slams against the brick wall of the opposite building, nomu’s clawed hand pinning him by the throat. And he unravels his gear and traps the nomu’s wings. They both tumble through the remaining two meter drop to the ground, and the wet tarmac smashes against his face. Pain bursts through his cheek and jaw, and he can taste blood on his tongue.

He doesn’t let himself lie there for longer than a second. Finding his feet again, he sees another nomu landing in front of him- and it’s not alone. It drops a person from it’s talons.

Shigaraki Tomura.

Shouta holds his position. He takes a furtive look about- they’re in the middle of an alley. There’s a couple of dustbins, a back door to a restaurant or a bar. Steam is pouring from a vent and he sees the shadow of a cat run past. Shouta’s exit is behind the nomu and Shigaraki. And he can’t help but wonder at the fact that Shigaraki is here, rolling his shoulders and watching him with mad eyes through the splayed fingers on his face. Shouta doesn’t think he’s ever seen Shigaraki without Kurogiri- which he recently discovered is the name of the strange gaseous looking villain. It seems reckless to come here alone, even with nomu.

That’s as far as he gets, before the two nomu run towards him screeching.

Fighting these things alone is not his favourite option, not after last time, but it’s all he has. Soon enough, a hero on patrol will find him. And so he trusts that he’ll survive long enough until then, wrapping up one of the nomu in his gear and slamming it against the other. Fast and strong though they may be, they are impulsive and stupid. The nomu crash into the wall, leaving a dent in it like a meteor-crash site. A dangerous looking crack spreads up the brick building and the nomus’ eyes roll around wildly.

“You’re a lot less disappointing now, since your fight at USJ.”

Shouta glares at Shigaraki who approaches him slowly. He initiates his quirk, feeling his hair rise around his face- he remembers how fast Shigaraki was at USJ. But then, Shouta remembers a lot from USJ. He remembers a lot from the summer camp too. He’s improved since.

With his quirk still activated, he backs away, Shigaraki approaching slowly but threateningly. Shouta knows there’s little way out of this other than biding time. Unless he can prove the theory that’s germinating in his mind.

“I know better now,” he replies eventually, eyes stinging slightly. “I know that it’s no use using my quirk against your nomu.”

“Oh, sure. And, so I’ve heard, you’ve been learning a few other things too. Snooping about, trying to absolve your precious friend. Finding out things you shouldn’t. For your own sake, I think it’s best if you tell me about it all. Friend to friend.”

Shigaraki’s voice shivers, it’s weak and sickening. The closer he gets to Shouta, the more he steps out of the dark and into the lamplight. He looks half dead, shriveled and gaunt. Shouta continues to back away. And it’s not out of a fear of the fight, out of some will to escape. His quirk is almost useless in this situation- he won’t fool himself into thinking that he can outmatch two nomu and Shigaraki with nothing but physical strength and speed. But he has to try something.

“I’m going to figure out who the traitor is,” he says simply. Because it is that simple. He doesn’t need to answer Shigaraki’s questions, so he won’t.

Shigaraki’s eyes seem to flicker with something, his step falters. “You heroes. Nothing that I do can stop you from your self-righteous acts of valour- it’s so… infuriating-”

Shouta finds the neck of a broken bottle on the dustbin behind him. His eyes are watering, hair still rising up around his face. Shigaraki stops in his tracks, suddenly overwhelmed with fury.

“Present Mic has told the world that he’s a traitor- and you’re still helping him. You should all be losing faith, not trying to fix it! Why aren’t you angry? Why aren’t betrayed? Your friend lied to you this whole time! What’s wrong with you?

And the nomu are stirring again. But he can see a figure at the top of the building behind Shigaraki. Shouta sees the nomu crumple into a pile again, before they have the chance to move. He can’t think of many heroes that would be able to do that whilst barely moving a muscle, standing meters away- his best guess is-

Why don’t you heroes just give up already? It makes no sense, I should have spoiled your hope, your trust in-”

Shouta swipes quickly at the villain with the bottle.

As he suspected, no blood comes. Only a strange clay like liquid. The clone looks at him with wild, incandescent eyes peering through the clawed hand. And as he begins to melt away, he speaks.

“You should think twice about coming after us,” Shigaraki simpers, face melting grotesquely. “Or you might just lose him for real…”

And so the body turns into a puddle of grey, mixing in with the water of the alley floor. Shouta stares at it for a long moment, blinking away the tears from using his quirk. His hair settles comfortingly on his shoulders. Despite Shigaraki’s threat, he doesn’t feel frightened.

He feels closer to figuring this out than ever.

When he looks up to the rooftop, he sees Best Jeanist standing there, theatrical and poised. Several strands of fibre are piercing the nomu’s brains.

“You shouldn’t be on the streets right now, Eraserhead.”

Shouta looks up at him for a moment longer, turns turns and leaves the alleyway. He doesn’t have time for lectures.

“Thanks for the help,” he calls lazily, and heads towards Hizashi’s apartment.

He feels Best Jeanist’s eyes on him as he goes, walking down the high-street like he hasn’t just come out of a fight in an alleyway with an evil villain clone and two monsters. He licks the blood of his lip, getting the feeling that he escaped an interrogation rather than an assassination.

000

When Shouta returns, the last song on the CD he left playing is just coming to an end. The CD player clicks and hums out of use. Shouta closes the balcony doors behind him.

He makes a b-line to the bathroom. He does it almost on autopilot, after all these years of hero work. The moment he catches his reflection in the mirror, a dribble of blood from his lip, he sighs. There’s going to be a nice bruise on his jawbone after being slammed against the alleyway floor. And on top of that, he can sense that there’s something stuck in his suit. He unzips it as far as his belly button, letting the material hang about his waist. A small piece of bottle glass. It must have lodged itself there in the fall. It’s a bit of a surprise- he hadn’t felt it happen.

Shouta pokes the tiny shard of glass experimentally and hisses through his teeth. It’s small but deceptively painful. He can barely see it in the bright light of the bathroom. He takes some tweezers and removes it carefully, blood beginning to dribble down his chest.

“Fuck,” he comments wryly to himself.

It’ll need disinfecting. He gathers up some things and transfers himself to the living room, where it’s frankly quite a lot warmer than the bathroom. He collapses on the sofa.

And he sees Hizashi step into existence again.

At first, Hizashi doesn’t say anything. He’s appeared before him in a tight white t-shirt and jeans. It’s a simple outfit, unusual but one that he saw Hizashi wear from time to time in the past. It’s a flattering look on him. Shouta doesn’t initiate conversation himself, merely looks at him. And so they both end up staring at each other wordlessly for a long moment- Hizashi stands there, appearing strangely bashful. Gazes at him, shuffling awkwardly on the spot.

Shouta suddenly remembers that he’s topless, although he doesn’t think that could have anything to do with Hizashi’s sudden coy behaviour.

“Hey,” Hizashi starts, eyes flitting away, then back at Shouta. They widen suddenly, soft expression turning absurd with a contorted look of concern. He’s noticed the blood on his chest. “Yo, what the fuck’s that?”

Shouta shrugs. Hizashi swoops to Shouta’s side immediately, moves to touch him, to nurse his wound, before realising that there’s nothing he can do. Shouta rips open a packet of bandaging with his teeth, mildly begins to disinfect with alcohol before sticking down some gauze.

“Did you get jumped?”

“Mmm,” he replies in assent. He tries to clean some of the blood running down his stomach muscles. “Some nomu. And a clone.”

Shit,” Hizashi hisses. “Fuck, Shou. How did they find you? What were you doing?”

He doesn’t reply immediately, knowing that Hizashi won’t approve. And possibly, is a little angry at him for revealing to the world that he’s investigating the traitor. Shouta peers over at him, Hizashi waits with expectant, raised eyebrows.

“I was tracing Tsukauchi.”

Hizashi doesn’t argue, or tut, or sigh theatrically. He stares at the point where Shouta cleans his wound, brows knit in concern. “They know that you’re close to figuring out. And they somehow figured that you’d be looking into Tsukauchi.”

“Doesn’t look good for him,” Shouta agrees.

“They found you as soon as you started following him. Which means that they must be keeping a close eye on Tsukauchi. Which… really, super duper implies that he’s involved in this.”

Shouta sighs, pauses his work in cleaning his wound. He balls up the cotton pads stained in blood and throws them into the bin across the room. Perfect aim.

“Show off,” Hizashi mutters with a smile.

Shouta shrugs again.

“I just don’t get it,” Hizashi continues. And he’s shuffled up close to Shouta on the sofa. Not close enough that they’re touching, but it’s cosy. It’s alarmingly distracting, considering the seriousness of the conversation. Hizashi looks over Shouta’s shoulder as he speaks. “It doesn’t make sense for it to be Tsukauchi. I mean, he’s suspicious as fuck right now. But…”

“It’s illogical,” he agrees. “The facts, the evidence- that’s irrefutable. But the story it’s building makes no sense.”

Hizashi nods vigorously. “I think that Tsukauchi is being used as a screen. I think it’s gotta be someone close to him, in the police force. Maybe he’s even protecting someone.”

Shouta sighs. “Maybe.”

Leaning back on the sofa, he looks down at his newly bandaged wound on his left pectoral. Another scar to add to the collection. He licks his lip, still tasting a little metallic with blood.

Hizashi’s eyes are on him now.

“You haven’t been visited by the police since yesterday?”

He shakes his head.

Hizashi pouts slightly. “You’d have thought they’d have come by now. Gather what intel you’ve collected, give you a slap on the wrist. Or worse. You know, since… we have stolen evidence here. You’d think that they’d want to tell you to back off. Right?”

Shouta has considered the same. Tsukauchi hasn’t told him much more than be careful, Aizawa.

“I don’t think Tsukauchi wanted me to stop,” he says eventually. He feels Hizashi’s eyes trained on his lips as he speaks. “I think…”

“He’s letting you investigate,” Hizashi says slowly. “He hasn’t stopped you because he wants you to figure this out- I mean, Tsukauchi could have sent in all the king’s horses and all the king’s men by now. He hasn’t. And think about it,” he’s on a roll now, turns towards Shouta and leans closer. “If Tsukauchi knew something and wanted to uncover the traitor, he couldn’t do it himself- no one within the force could without being caught. They’re too close to it. If the traitor is working within the force, any police officer investigating and finding out too much is in real trouble. There’s no room for manoeuvre.”

Shouta nods. That does seem to make sense. It also explains why Tsukauchi would pass on information to Yagi. It even explains how Hizashi managed to get away with taking so much evidence without issue. He has been enabling the investigation, handing it over onto safer hands.

“Although, that’s kind of… a moot point now,” Hizashi adds. “Since, you know, you’ve told the world you’re involving yourself in this. So. It’s just as dangerous for you now to be doing this as it would have been for him.”

Shouta pinches his nose. “Yes, thank you for reminding me. I’m sorry I fucked up, alright.”

“Woah, woah, woah,”Hizashi flounders, waving his hands frantically. “I never said that-”

“I’ve led the League to the investigation. I’ve made our position more vulnerable.”

“Shou- ok, please chill.” Hizashi turns resolutely towards him. There’s a fierce look in those large, green eyes that never fails to make his heart stop. “I get why you did it. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make you feel bad. Yeah, it maybe wasn’t totally logical, but fuck. Who’s thinking logically right now? Yeah?”

“Mm,” Shouta replies noncommittally. He stares in the distance, unable to look at Hizashi like this. This is a serious conversation. All of this is a matter of life and death.

And yet he can’t stop thinking about the squirming affection in his chest. The urge to tell him he loves him.

“And it’s not like it doesn’t come with advantages, right? I mean, the League are clearly panicked.”

“Yeah. And if they’d wanted to kill me tonight, they could have done it. But they didn’t,” Shouta adds. Hizashi tenses a little at the blunt delivery. “It felt like they wanted to know how much I’d found out. Myaybe they wanted to trace it back and figure out how many people are involved. Before killing me.”

Hizashi smiles a little to himself. Shouta frowns. “And you didn’t tell them anything.”

“Obviously not.”

“Brave, stubborn Shouta.”

He blinks at Hizashi. He resumes his frown and looks away, arms folding across his bare chest.

“It’s a compliment!” Hizashi laughs.

Shouta doesn’t say anything. It’s not that he’s offended. It’s just that he’s had something weighing on his mind. He’s not sure how to say it.

“You were gone a while this time,” he says evenly. “I thought maybe you didn’t want to see me after what happened yesterday.”

Hizashi stills, goes unnaturally quiet. Shouta refuses to look at him. The dim glow of the living room side lamp makes it feel warmer than it is. It feels like time has slowed. The anticipation of what comes next makes Shouta’s throat constrict.

“After what you said?” Hizashi prompts.

“Yes. Ruining our cover.”

There’s a pause. Then, a huff of laughter. Shouta finds Hizashi shaking his head and rubbing his face wearily.

“What?”

“See, here I was, thinking we were going to talk about the fact that you told hundreds of people that you think that I’m ‘everything’.”

Shouta feels his heart shudder to a halt. He remains exactly where he is, leaning back into Hizashi’s sofa, watching the way his friend gesticulates nervously, fidgets, shrugs too enthusiastically. He watches the way his hair falls out of his tie, half tied up. The way his lips twist in uncertainty. Thinks of all the times he has looked at Hizashi, felt the entire world in his heart and never done anything about it. It feels like a crime, in retrospect.

“And…now, here’s me immediately realising that I read too far into it, so- I’m an idiot, I’m just- oh man. Yeah, I’ll just see myself out-”

“‘Zashi.”

Hizashi moves to get up from the sofa, but stays put at Shouta’s words. He turns his head towards him, but doesn’t look at him.

Shouta doesn’t think about it. It comes out more naturally than he could have imagined.

“I wasn’t exaggerating. You are everything. To me, at least. I’m in love with you.”

He says it like he’s stating the weather outside. Matter of fact, because it is- a matter of fact. He loves Hizashi, and this is unchangeable. Meanwhile, Hizashi looks at him slack-jawed.

“You do?” he whispers.

Shouta snorts. “Yes.”

“I love you too,” Hizashi says quickly, so quickly that it’s almost too hard to tell what he’s said.

Shouta nods to himself. “Good.”

Hizashi raises his eyebrows, eyes wide. “Good? That’s- wow, so businesslike. That’s what you have to say about this?”

He shrugs. He’s enjoying the way his casual reaction is making Hizashi smirk, splutter and blush. “What else is there to say?”

“Well- I mean- I dunno?”

“Mm,” he hums in agreement. “When this is all over, maybe we can move back in together.”

Hizashi grins. “I’d like that. Although, am I allowed to live with you at UA?”

“Don’t see why not.”

“And can I bring the ugly sofa?”

“You can bring whatever you want. Do what you like, Hizashi. Just don’t traumatise the students with your singing in the shower. The neighbours were always pissed off enough hearing it through the walls.”

And then Hizashi laughs. It’s like any other conversation, except there’s a light to Hizashi’s eyes that isn’t usually there. And when he speaks, Shouta hears the threat of tears. “I’ll try not to,” he manages.

They survey each other for a long moment. Hizashi seems so real today. So real. His hair pouring down his back. A warm hue to his skin that he’s never seen before. He feels more present than ever. And the sound of people talking outside, drunkenly walking home fills the silence. There’s the soft tick of a clock and the room is warmer than before. He feels strangely self-conscious under Hizashi’s gaze- in a way he hasn’t felt since he was a teenager, battling with his crush. His eyes fall on Shouta’s lips.

“‘When this is over’,” Hizashi repeats, eyes still fixed on Shouta’s lips. And then he sees Hizashi raise his hand, moving to stroke his thumb over the cut on his lip.

Shouta tenses and automatically moves away.

He felt that.

Hizashi’s eyes widen. From this short distance, Shouta can hear the air leave his parted lips.

“Did you-?”

“I felt that,” he says, predicting what Hizashi is about to say.

And then Hizashi lays his thumb on his bottom lip again. He feels the slight sting from his injury, a soft, undeniable, almost-not-there warmth. Hizashi strokes his thumb along his lip, his jaw, slow and considerate and intentional. Shouta watches Hizashi silently, mouth falling open, eyelids feeling suddenly heavy. He sees Hizashi’s wide-eyed, awed expression. Feels the warmth of the hand on his face radiating through his whole body. Feels his chest explode with a million feelings, a baffling myriad.

“It’s like-” Hizashi starts, but doesn’t finish. His expression softens into something dazed and hazy and awestruck, eyes following the path of his hand, fixed on Shouta’s lips.

Shouta’s face instinctively lean towards the contact, and he considers what it feels like for him. For him, it feels as if Hizashi isn’t quite touching him; it’s like the anticipation of a touch. The sense of goosebumps, of feather-light ghosting fingers. Of shivers down the spine, of not-enough-but-perfect.

Almost like a dream.

“I love you,” Hizashi says again, simply, eyes meeting Shouta’s. His hand stills on Shouta’s cheek, thumb on his lips once more.

“I love you,” he replies.

When he speaks, he feels Hizashi’s skin brush against him as his lips move. And he hardly has to move to press a light kiss against Hizashi’s hand. It is gentle, the physical feeling almost ticklish. Hizashi catches his breath, holds his hand still on Shouta’s cheek. Shouta presses another kiss there- barely a kiss, more of a graze. And he finds himself raising a hand to Hizashi’s arm, running his fingers along his skin and feeling him. Feeling him. It doesn’t feel like how it would if he were really here, but he’s tangible. He can feel him.

Perhaps all of this is because their mental ‘bond’ is strong enough that their brains are conjuring up the sense of touch. After all, physical sensation is just one more thing that the brain controls, Shouta knows. But that is as much as Shouta can come up with right now. He doesn’t want to overanalyse. He doesn’t think he could even if he wanted to. He is so transfixed by the feeling of Hizashi beneath his fingers. Feels drunk on the knowledge that he is here with him, can be held and loved openly.

Shouta can love him openly now.

And he can hear Hizashi’s breath trickling from him, almost inaudible in how shallow it is.

“Shouta,” he says. “This is…”

He watches as his hands reach Hizashi’s hair. Gold pours through his fingers. It’s miraculous and unbelievable.

Hizashi doesn’t say anything more, only looks at Shouta like he’s just as miraculous and unbelievable. He shifts closer to where Shouta is sitting, slouched on the sofa. Shouta’s hand slips through his hair like it’s water, and he feels its softness. He feels the tips of his fingers brush Hizashi’s neck. He sees the way the lamplight shines through the strands. He isn’t so transparent today. Shouta can almost see the darkness of a shadow cast across his face. Almost.

Leaning against the sofa, pressing closer to Hizashi, their knees brushing. Hizashi’s free hand, stretching to touch Shouta’s chest. Gently brushing the pad of his index against the skin around his bandage. Shouta looking down in fascination at the gesture. His free hand resting over Hizashi’s on his chest, following it’s movement.

“I can feel you,” he says, stating the obvious. But he finds it hard not to comment on.

Hizashi’s breath rushes out. Shouta sees some of his hair move with the air. He wants to feel Hizashi’s breath against his skin. He raises the hand on his neck to rest on his face, absorbing the warmth in his cheeks. A blush. He can feel Hizashi’s blush.

This is not something that he could make up. His imagination has never been this good. His dreams never so elaborate.

He doesn’t want to move. In case he breaks the spell.

And then Hizashi moves closer, turning around on the sofa so they are facing one another. He leans his weight on Shouta’s chest as he does it, and Shouta feels his eyes flutter shut at the sensation, almost shivers- arches his back ever so slightly, searching for more contact. It is almost as if he were really here. Really physical.

Almost, but not quite.

Eyes closed, he feels Hizashi run a hand through his hair- tangled and unkempt, and he feels himself sigh silently at the sensation. The number of times that he has been desperate for Hizashi’s touch; how often he imagined feeling his hands on him, being able to touch him as affectionately as he is now, cupping his face. It is surreal and frightening, makes his heart-rate spike, and it is perfect.

Almost.

He opens his eyes, because he can’t miss out on looking at Hizashi- he can’t miss a single moment that he’s here. Hizashi’s lips are parted, eyelids fluttering a little. And Hizashi leans in closer. Shouta turns his head towards him, sitting up to close the gap further. They are inches away. And then Shouta wonders how he would feel against his lips, not just his fingers. Hand on one cheek still, he hesitantly presses his lips against Hizashi’s other cheek. And he can hear his breath beside his ear, shuddering and almost silent.

And he feels Hizashi’s hands move- from his chest to his shoulder, for support. From the back of his head to his neck. He feels giddy with the sensation. He cannot believe how sensitive he is, how much he feels each light touch in his chest.

Hizashi’s breath tickles his skin. He kisses him again on his cheek. Somehow, finds his lips brushing against Hizashi’s. So soft and yet so real.

There is no taste there. There is no wetness. Just soft skin and warmth.

And the ever-so-slight vibration of Hizashi humming into his mouth.

He’s kissing Hizashi.

They’re kissing.

He has imagined this for almost fifteen years. He has to admit, this isn’t exactly how his limited imagination figured it would happen.

Shouta can barely believe it’s real. In a way, it isn’t. But it feels so real. And Hizashi is real, even if not wholly present-

There is no room in his mind for him to consider any further as Hizashi’s lips move slowly against Shouta’s. It is strange and wonderful. His cut stings a little but not enough for Shouta to care. And he feels Hizashi moving beneath his hand as he shifts closer- shifts into Shouta’s lap. He can’t help but halt in the kiss, momentarily amazed by what’s happening. Looks down at Hizashi straddling him, hands on his bare chest. Looks back up at Hizashi, who is blushing furiously.

Shouta laughs.

Hizashi’s eyebrows fly up self-consciously. “What?” he demands, a little shrilly.

“Nothing,” Shouta assures, “I haven’t seen your face so red before.”

Hizashi blinks, a small, bashful smile on his lips. One hand touches his warm cheek. “Uh- I guess. ‘Cause I’ve never made out with a ghost boyfriend before.”

Shouta laughs again, a quiet huff. Boyfriend, he thinks. His hand nudges Hizashi’s out of the way, so he can caress his face. He leans into Shouta’s palm. Hair pours over the back of his hand. It’s one of the most amazing sights that he has ever seen.

“It suits you,” he says quietly.

Hizashi snorts, looks at him through narrowed, half-closed eyes. “You’re a much smoother talker than you realise.”

“Hm,” he considers. “No. I’m aware.”

And then Hizashi laughs, bright and real, brows pulled together. He leans back down to capture his lips in another kiss. That semi-absent sensation of heat and gentleness; it isn’t a normal kiss, but it’s wonderful nonetheless. Shouta has never been more grateful.

His hand rises along Hizashi’s thigh, and he feels, hears him sigh into his mouth. It finds the skin above his waistband, searches for more. Shouta frowns, realising that he can’t feel Hizashi’s t-shirt. He cracks an eye open, finds Hizashi magically topless.

Hizashi evidently feels his confusion in the way their kiss slows. “Ghost magic,” he mutters with a smile. Shouta feels him speak against his lips.

And he doesn’t question it. He just lets his hands run along Hizashi’s body, aching for more but already dizzy with what he’s feeling now. He can feel the planes of Hizashi’s muscle, his hip-bone, his battle scars, his nipples, his collar-bone, a softness to his skin that he knows isn’t just in his mind. The sound of their breaths mixing makes him heady, the sound of the needy noises coming out of Hizashi’s mouth intoxicating.

And he can feel it all. Really feel it. He can feel Hizashi’s hands running through his hair, grabbing desperate fistfuls of it, feels the heat of the inside of his thighs and his lips. His lips. Sensations that he could never have imagined. H could never have even conjured a fraction of this feeling. This is no daydream.

Shouta’s hands slide around to Hizashi’s back and he shuffles against Shouta’s body, until they’re closer. Closer. He can feel- he can feel-

“Can you feel me,” Hizashi breathes, hopeful and fragile.

“I can feel you,” he replies. His voice sounds too loud, the noise trapped between them.

They touch each other in all the ways that they never knew how, until now.

Hizashi rolls his hips and Shouta gasps. The breath runs out of him with an aah, a noise he’s never heard himself make before. And Hizashi makes a responding surprised noise, something Shouta’s never heard him make before. His mind holds onto it, wraps it up and contains it somewhere to remember for another time. And the friction of Hizashi rocking into him, Shouta raising his hips to meet him and create as much closeness as possible, as much feeling as possible-

It’s not enough. It’s not enough, because Hizashi isn’t really here.

But Shouta doesn’t dwell on that. He just feels him for all that he can- feels his erection, unmistakable, hot, rubbing against his own, and Shouta sits up straighter, pulls him closer, kisses him deeper, searches for more, tongue running along the skin of his neck to find some taste, digs his nails into Hizashi’s ass cheeks, licks and bites and chases after more. No bruises blossom on his neck.

He hums against Hizashi’s skin, Hizashi whines into his ear. He has always loved hearing Hizashi. He has always loved how loud Hizashi is in every aspect of life. He has always been the exception in Shouta’s rulebook.

And they find a rhythm- one that starts of slow and deliberate, taking the time to touch each other all over and feel everything, feel it all, feel as much as they can. But it doesn’t last. The pace quickens until it is urgent and it is like the past fifteen years have accumulated into this moment. Hizashi pants into Shouta’s mouth. And despite how surreal it feels, despite how light-headed he is with it all, this is the realest thing that he’s ever experienced. The most present he has ever felt.

And maybe they should be taking things slowly. Maybe they shouldn’t be touching each other at all. Maybe they should talk about their feelings and hold each other when they’re truly together, when Hizashi is safe in his arms, but neither of them consider maybes. They don’t consider anything other than the feeling of each other. They don’t consider anything but that moment and the sensation of skin against skin. They chase that feeling as far as they can without caring about should-s or possibly-s or maybe-s.

Shouta bites down on his lip as he feels the heat of climax growing. He feels it all so much, Hizashi’s breath tickling the sensitive skin of his lips as they move against each other- it is still not enough. Not enough for the hole in his chest.

However, it is enough to make him choke out Hizashi’s name as he comes, face buried in Hizashi’s neck. The sound of amazed, satisfied panting pours out of Hizashi’s mouth, ‘Shouta’ filling his ears over and over again. Amazed at what has happened, just as much as Shouta is. And Hizashi continues to chant his name until Shouta feels- he feels- Hizashi arching his back beneath his hands, head thrown back and hair falling over his shoulders.

For a while, they stay where they are, holding each other and absorbing the feeling. Warmth trapped between them. Flesh almost real.

Almost.

“Shou.”

He doesn’t reply, just nuzzles his face further against his neck. He doesn’t want to acknowledge the inevitable.

“Shou. Look at me.”

He closes his eyes. He breathes in deeply. He can’t smell him. His hands grip harder on the material of his jeans. Holds on as tightly as possible.

Eventually, Shouta moves back, looks up at Hizashi’s blushing face. The lamp light pours around him and through him, catches the edges of his body like a sunset over a horizon.

“I love you.”

And the sudden urge to cry is hard to push back against. It hurts his throat and he squeezes his eyes shut. If Hizashi is going to disappear, as he knows he will, then he doesn’t want to have to watch and wait.

“I love you too,” he says, voice gravelly. He’s never said the word so many times in such quick succession. Perhaps because Hizashi is the only one he’s ever wanted to say it to. “And I’m going to find you. I’ll figure this out. I’ll bring you back.”

He opens his eyes. Green eyes fix on his, soft and serious. “We’ll figure this out.”

Shouta lets his fingers card through his hair. Even if it is fleeting. Just for now.

“I’m going to go in second,” Hizashi says. His voice climbs too high for it to pass as natural. He is trying not to cry, too.

They rest their foreheads together. Shouta can hear his ragged breaths. But he swears that he feels him, hears him less now. He can see the bookcase through Hizashi’s body.

And he knows that he will see him again, one way or another. He knows, in his heart, that he will save Hizashi. He knows that he would never forgive himself if he didn’t. He knows, just as much as he knows that Hizashi is innocent, that he will be able to find him.

It’s just a matter of being brave until then.

And so, with a deep, steadying breath, Shouta pulls away, looks up at Hizashi and touches his cheek one more time, skin translucent beneath his fingers.

“See you later,” he says.

Hizashi smiles, and it wobbles a little before his bites his bottom lip to stop it. He places his hand on Shouta’s. He doesn’t feel it.

“See you later.”

Shouta blinks, and he watches Hizashi fade away, dissolve like a dream. His hand stretched out, where it had been touching Hizashi’s cheek.

He lets the hand drop, leans back against the sofa and closes his eyes.

 

Somewhere, in a dark, cold room, Hizashi wakes up.

Chapter Text

28th August 2018

As Nezu speaks at the head of the staff meeting table, Hizashi feels dread settle in his stomach.

“Right now, the media’s in a frenzy with criticisms of UA. Bakugo likely became their target when he exhibited his wild nature at the sports festival. If he is somehow brought over to the side of the villains…”

It had been hard enough dealing with the consequences of the USJ attack. The children had been terrified. The teachers weren’t so immune to that fear, either. They had arrived at the scene to see the students hiding, fighting, crying. All Might struggling.

Shouta, half dead.

That day had solidified something in Hizashi’s mind; he had known after he’d seen Shouta being carried off to hospital that he needed to do something. The memory of that moment sticks in his throat and makes him sick with anger. But it is only now that Hizashi realises how urgent the situation is. One of their own students. Kidnapped. It is clear now that USJ wasn’t a fluke, that the threat hasn’t passed; the danger will always be looming over them. Shouta will come back bearing more scars every time, if someone doesn’t do something.

Hizashi knows that it must be him.

He looks at the crescent moon on Shouta’s cheek. Fists clenching and the knowledge of the truth seeping into him, nauseating.

He takes a quiet breath, and speaks.

“Since we’re already talking about credibility, this seems like the right moment to bring something up. It’s absolutely clear at this point.”

All eyes turn to him. Hizashi looks back, gaze hidden behind the safety of his sunglasses.

“We have a traitor in our midst. Only we teachers and the pussycats knew about the location…” He can barely believe what’s coming out of his mouth as he speaks, but he knows it must be true. There has to be someone on the inside. “If a student used the GPS function, perhaps, on his or her phone-”

“Come on now, Mic give it a rest,” Nemuri says from across the table.

He had been about to go on to list a couple of other options, ticking them off his fingers as he speaks, but he’s cut short. “Like hell I will! We have to sort this out, here and now!”

“Can you even cough up proof that you’re in the clear?” Snipe adds. “We can’t even declare that one of us ain’t the traitor.”

Mic raises his eyebrows, cocks his head and crosses his arms, his best impression of you really wanna do this here?. “Ummm?” he remarks pointedly.

But it’s not as if Snipe doesn’t have a point. He can’t make the argument about a mole within the school, whilst making himself exempt from it. And it worries him; the whole thing is frightening. A traitor, here. The insane amount of security checks held at UA should be enough to prevent this sort of thing. To think even that can’t keep traitors from infiltrating-

Unless it isn’t someone at the school.

The staff continue to debate and Hizashi falls into deep thought. All the while, Shouta is looking at him. He can probably hear the cogs whirring in Hizashi’s mind.

When Yagi’s phone goes off- a ridiculous ringtone that makes everyone groan and roll their eyes, Hizashi’s included- it makes him wonder what could be so important that he would leave this meeting. There isn’t much that would make Yagi leave his post at such a critical time, sliding the door shut sheepishly.

Although, there is one person who comes to mind.

 

19th October 2018

Hizashi sits on his living room floor, coffee in one hand and Tsukauchi Naomasa’s file in another.

It has been too easy pulling information on the police force. Far, far too easy. After doing as thorough an investigation as possible of the UA teachers and students, with Nezu’s help, he has found himself back at the idea of a mole within the Mustafu police. Now, he is surrounded by evidence that he has printed from the police server. He has full list of the employees of Mustafu police force on the floor in front of him. He has crime scene photos.

This information has taken weeks to gather and involved a fair bit of grafting. It has meant missing out on social events that he normally wouldn’t skip, getting even less sleep than usual, and seeing his friends even less. And he knows that his anxiety levels have been noticeable, to Shouta at least; he’s picked up on the increased fidgeting and nervous humming and twitching. He knows he’s worried. And it kills Hizashi to hide this from him, but he knows that anyone he tells would be in danger. And the whole point of this is to put people out of danger. To solve this alone.

He stares at the evidence around him.

Hizashi sighs loudly to himself, tucking hair behind his ear and pulling down the sleeves of his jumper. It’s a cool, rainy day and it’s nice to be wearing something that resembles a sweatshirt, rather than giant, loose-fitting tank-tops. He drops Tsukauchi’s file, picks up the list of employees.

Tamakawa Sansa
Tsuragamae Kenji
Tsukauchi Naomasa
Toyota Sayako
Ueda Hinata-

Each of these people will have to be researched. This list doesn’t state their quirks- just their names, not even their roles. This is only one example of where it appears information is missing on the Mustafu police archives. He’s pulled Tsukauchi’s file first, but he can’t stop there. No rock can be left unturned.

Hizashi shivers. The heating is doing a poor job at keeping the place warm. Usually he’d be complaining to Shouta about it right about now. The living room of what used to be their apartment- although, Hizashi has to admit that he'd commandeered the space as his own with his books and CDs and ugly sofa- it feels emptier. Shouta hadn’t been a noisy presence, but he had been hard to ignore. At least, Hizashi couldn’t ignore him. Now, then, always- he is on his mind. He finds himself waiting for Shouta to walk through the door and collapse face first on the sofa.

Hizashi’s heart aches. He misses him. He hopes Shouta will forgive him for acting distant recently.

And then he looks down at the crime scene photos from USJ. And his heart burns.

He has never felt so angry as the day he chased away those villains. Seeing Shouta like that-

Hizashi huffs, rubs his face, tries not to think too hard about it. And yet he feels an uncontrollable, sickening defiance rise within him. That same defiance that spurred him on to start investigating these last few weeks.

Images of Shouta in the hospital, wrapped up in bandages fill his mind.

And then there’s All Might. His skeletal form revealed to the world. The teachers. The students- Bakugo, all of them in danger. The injustice of it all lights a fire in his stomach. He knows he has to do something. Hizashi supposes that’s part of what makes him a hero.

There’s a light tapping sound on the window. Hizashi turns- it’s beginning to rain. Only the grey sky is visible from where he is sitting on the floor, and the paths of the raindrops along the glass. The steam of his coffee rises to his face. The mug is too hot in his hands.

If anything, almost losing Shouta had planted the idea of investigating the League in his mind, before the concept of a traitor had seemed so undeniable. Not only that, it made it all the clearer that he loves him unconditionally. It’s what drives him in his investigation- not quite a possessiveness, but an urge to protect Shouta from whoever tried to touch him. Thinking about it now makes his cheeks burn and his heart jump.

Usually, Hizashi is smart enough to know that taking matters into his own hands isn’t the right thing to do. But at the moment, he doesn’t care about what’s smart.

Realising that he’s zoning out, staring out of the window- he hasn’t slept in twenty four hours, working on the investigation as soon as he’d returned from patrol- he redirects his attention to the evidence on the floor.

He focuses his eyes on the report on USJ.

15th April 2018. USJ attack at UA High School. Villains retreated before identification. Deceased creatures called ‘nomu’ found [see autopsy report dated 17/04/2018]. Nomu taken down by All Might. 2 injured, 1 casualty, 0 fatalities.

“One casualty,” Hizashi says, voice light enough to float away. “Shouta.”

He pushes his glasses up his nose, and his finger follows the text.

Footprint found outside USJ boundaries. Size 9 standard issue police boot [See photo #4958091]. Eye witnesses describe…

“Yeah yeah yeah,” Hizashi nods to himself, scanning through what he knows.

His finger stops.

Detective on site: Tsukauchi Naomasa.

Hizashi halts on this. It shouldn’t be unusual for a detective of Tsukauchi’s rankings to be leading the USJ investigation. But as Hizashi wades through the sea of evidence, throwing photos and files this way and that, he recalls all the other events involving the League- finds the reports on all the incidents that happened after USJ, ones that came before that he's only just learning about. Tsukauchi was on every scene, after the event took place. Now, Hizashi creates a circle of reports around his crossed legs. All of them involve Tsukauchi.

“He was there after it happened, though,” he tells himself. He pulls out his hair tie and reties it, out of habit and wanting to keep his hands busy. “He’s a detective. It’s his job.”

But there is something unusual about the fact that he phones Yagi and discusses cases that he shouldn’t. That does throw his integrity under the light, somewhat. That, and more importantly, Hizashi has noticed that, like the list of Mustafu police employees, a lot of the records on previous League of Villains cases have information missing. Not just missing, if his instincts are correct, but erased. There are cases of the League entering buildings that they shouldn’t know about, finding locations of high-security events that no one should have intel on. And yet, they somehow find a way. And there are very few people who would have the authority to erase that sort of information.

Hizashi’s eyes fall on a newspaper clipping. Tsukauchi and some other lower ranking police officer, avoiding the paparazzi with hands in front of their faces. This was just after the press conference earlier this month.

Something tells Hizashi that Tsukauchi is involved. But something doesn’t sit right. For as much as it seems that he’s got a loose tongue and the power to alter the investigation, he just doesn’t-

The sound of his letter box opening distracts Hizashi from his train of thought. He’d really been on a roll there, too. He sighs loudly in annoyance, stands up to pick up the post.

It’s a blank brown envelop, without an address.

For a moment, Hizashi simply looks down and stares at it. And then his body acts quickly, stepping around the parcel and opening his front door. Peering down the corridor, the sensor lights are already on. But nobody is there- they got out of there quickly.

Hizashi closes the door, looks back down at the parcel on the floor.

He should open it. No, wait, he really shouldn’t. A nameless parcel posted by a stranger is not something to be opened.

Hizashi hesitates only for a moment longer, before going to retrieve rubber gloves and a mask from the bathroom. When he snaps them on, the elastic of the mask digging into the back of his head, he slowly picks up the envelop and peels the seal. He’s about to look inside when he stops himself- instead, he takes the parcel to the kitchen counter and gently shakes it.

Two plastic, zip-lock bags fall out.

item #3029188. Blue plastic button, with thread fibres. USJ scene, likely torn off by bush/branches. Adjacent 4.7cm to footprint [See photo #4958091]

item #3029188. Sediment found at location of sighting Twice sighting 01/09/2018

Hizashi looks down at the two bags. The first thing that comes to mind is that there was no online record of this physical evidence. The second thing he considers is whether he can find anything on the police server that might match with the dirt sample. It might point him towards a location to investigate. The third thing that comes to mind is who’s button this is.

Hizashi isn’t very good at tracing people. He isn’t the silent, sneaky type. But he’s certainly going to try.

Because there aren’t many people who’d have access to this kind of evidence, other than a police officer. This early Christmas present just encourages Hizashi to believe that, somehow, a police force member is involved and manipulating the evidence. That there’s an someone who knows Hizashi is investigating, wants him to continue for whatever reason. Someone within the force is erasing evidence, and someone else is following them, trying to make it accessible. Posting it through Hizashi’s letter box. Perhaps they’re too close to it to investigate themselves; perhaps they can’t do anything without being noticed by the mole.

Tsukauchi’s face floats in Hizashi’s mind. He looks down at the photos on the floor, of Tsukauchi and accompanying police officers. He gathers everything up, places it in the empty shoe boxes he found in his wardrobe, and hides them behind the washing machine- just as he has done every time he has left the flat.

Hizashi waits until nightfall.

 

20th October

His head hurts. It hurts so much that he thinks for a moment that he can’t lift it. Everything feels heavy. There’s something tying his arms behind him and he’s sitting upright.

It takes every ounce of effort he has to crack open his eyelids.

Through a curtain of blonde hair, he sees the blurry silhouettes of several people. They’re talking quietly amongst themselves, sat across from him. He hasn’t got his glasses on, but he knows who they are without needing to see. Around their figures, the room is dark and unrecognisable. Cold. The sound of the metro rattles overhead.

Instinctively, Hizashi wriggles against the restraints. Plastic digs into his skin.

“I wouldn’t try that if I were you,” Shigaraki’s voice drifts over. “Harder you struggle the tighter they get.”

Hizashi squeezes his eyes shut. He can’t believe he was caught. One moment, he had been tracing Tsukauchi. Then next, he had a dart in his neck and he was collapsing to the floor. And yet it can’t have been Tsukauchi who saw him and ratted him out- he hadn’t looked up from his book the entire time Hizashi had been watching, all of one minute. Somehow, the League knew he was following him. Somehow, they knew.

“Tsukauchi…” Hizashi starts, words slurring a little.

“Oooh, you’re warm, but not there yet, bro!” That sounds like Twice. “Hoo boy he has no idea! If you’d snooped a lil’ further you’d’ve been hot, right on the-”

“Shut up,” Shigaraki warns.

The villain doesn’t need to speak loudly to scare his companions into silence. Even someone as frenetic as Twice.

Hizashi’s tongue feels dry and fuzzy. He swallows. Narrows his eyes so he can try and focus more on his surroundings. “Why didn’t you kill me,” he attempts, voice raspy.

“Are you kidding?” Shigaraki replies, and there’s almost a laugh in that voice. “Your quirk is way too powerful. There’s no way we’re letting a power like that go to waste.”

“Try anything, though, and you’ll regret it,” someone else adds.

Then there’s the sound of someone muttering, speaking in low tones to Shigaraki. Hizashi’s best guess is Kurogiri- he’s the only one restrained enough to speak so secretly- but there’s no way of knowing.

He really should have got laser eye surgery.

“You haven’t even,” Hizashi swallows again, stares at his lap. He tries again. “You’re not even going to torture me.”

“No point with someone like you. We know heroes can be tight lipped when they want to be. Besides, we don’t want to hurt that pretty face. We have different ideas for you, Present Mic,” Shigaraki continues. Through the haze of drugs and bad eyesight, Hizashi can make out the grey-blue hair.

Meanwhile, his brain works as fast as it can. Where is he? He’s somewhere dark, a little damp- underground, beneath he metro. Why is he here? He was close to figuring out the traitor. They’re keeping him alive to make use of his quirk somehow, and maybe even mine him for information. It’s not like they can let him out of here without giving him some sort of bargain.

“You have ideas,” he prompts.

“No spoilers!” Toga Himiko sings.

“You have a lot of knowledge,” Shigaraki replies. “I know that those other heroes leave your skills untapped- we’re not so stupid. I want to use you.”

Not too far off what he suspected, then. The metro rumbles again above. Dust falls over them.

Hizashi turns his eyes to the ceiling.

“Don’t get too smart,” Someone says. Dabi? “We’re not dumb enough to take you to our official hideout. No use figuring it out.”

Hizashi’s heart sinks and then-

“You’re gonna let me go,” he says.

There’s a pause, and then there’s laughter. Sickening, almost childlike laughter from Shigaraki.

“Oh, we’re not letting you go. You’re very much a part of us know, whether you step outside of this temporary prison or not.”

“Cut the crap and just tell me what you’re planning,” Hizashi argues. Somewhere, people might be wondering where he is. Somewhere out there, Shouta is still in danger. Because there’s still a traitor on the loose.

“Talking like that is going to get you killed.” That’s Kurogiri. He knows his associate well enough to understand his irrational temper.

Hizashi’s kind of banking on pissing him off and getting some information out of it. Judging by the plastic restraints digging into him, and the sinking feeling in his stomach, there isn’t an easy way out of this, though.

Shouta, he prays, heart aching. Because he knows that somehow, all of this will hurt him.

“You’ve learned too much.” Shigaraki’s voice is far more deadly now. “But we’re not planning on killing you. No, we’re going to do much worse. We’re going to kill Present Mic.”

At first Hizashi frowns. He doesn’t understand.

And then he does. He closes his eyes and sighs.

“Stripping All Might of his power apparently wasn’t enough,” Shigaraki continues. “You’re going to kill Present Mic. You’re going to kill heroism. The wonderful, sparkling, friendly face- going down in flames. Not just that. No, you’re going to really break their hearts.”

Hizashi keeps his eyes closed. He listens, a certain stillness falling over him. Listens to his death sentence.

“You’re going to tell everyone you’re the traitor. You’re going to undo all the work you’ve done, you’re going to let our person do their job and you’re going to die a villain. Make all those poor little fans cry. Destroy people’s hope in heroes. All the while, the rest of them will just be relieved that the mystery is solved.”

There’s no sound other than the drip of water running from the ceiling.

“I thought you weren’t going to kill me,” Hizashi says. His voice sounds unnervingly blank, even to him. It reminds him a little of Shouta’s when he’s trying to control his temper.

“Ah, there’s the interesting part,” says the lizard guy. Spinner, if Hizashi remembers. It doesn’t really matter, now. Twice nudges Spinner pointedly to indicate for him to shut up, hard enough that he grunts, tuts in annoyance.

“We won’t actually be letting you die,” Kurogiri explains. So reasonable and still. “It’ll seem as if you have died. Burning within a falling building, if you follow our directions properly. But I will be transporting you to our hideout.”

“Where we’ll keep you for a while and drain you for all you have,” Shigaraki finishes, and he can hear the smile in his voice.

The train thunders over head once more. Hizashi clenches his fists.

“Sound good?” Shigaraki simpers.

The idea tears him apart. He knows there’s no way out of here without agreeing. But he thinks as quickly as he can. He feels his brow wrinkle, purses his lips against tears.

Shouta, he thinks again.

The faster his brain works, the more he wonders. Yes, the League can mine him for information, find out more about his quirk, keep him here as prisoner. They can undermine the public’s belief in heroes. They can break his friends’ hearts- most of them being heroes. They can try and break their trust in what they’ve believed in for so long. Make them think that the system they’ve been brought up in is corrupt- their friend tainted by evil.

But Hizashi wonders if there’s also something he can get out of this.

“What if I say no,” Hizashi prompts, playing along as best he can until he figures this out. “What’s stopping me from breaking free and ignoring you?”

Someone snorts. Someone else sighs in irritation- this is taking too long.

“Well, we’ll just kill you and everyone you love!” Toga says.

Hizashi looks up at the blurry figures in front of him, back down at his lap. Closes his eyes again.

He’s really fucked. He’s got himself deep. There's no way out of this that he can think of that doesn't involve agreeing with these plans- or dying. He could scream and take this whole place down with him- risking the civilians above. None of the options seem good.

He should have stayed out of this. But ‘should’ wasn’t what he was thinking- not when he knew what was at stake. He couldn’t bare to see Shouta like that again. Can’t bear the dread of one of the students being taken. Someone dying. But that doesn’t stop the wave of regret washing over him, the urge to cry that he won’t give in to, not here, not in front of them. It hurts.

It hurts to know that he’ll be leaving everyone. Lying to them. That they’ll all think he’s dead.

Will they mourn him? Will they have a funeral for him? Or will they be too ashamed, too betrayed to pay tribute to the hero Present Mic? Will they miss Yamada Hizashi, too?

His throat hurts and he can feel his wrists throbbing against the tight constraints. He had been trying to help. A part of him thinks he’s made it worse. This will hurt people- he’s thinking specifically of Shouta, he can’t deny it- so much. Too much. Unforgivably.

And yet, as the reality drips through him, like water through cloth, he sees the results of this plan more clearly. In a way, this could work in his favour. Or at least, it works against the real traitor. Whilst they relax, with Present Mic taking the blame, they could get lazy. Make mistakes. They may not consider that an investigation might continue.

Hizashi plans to use that against them.

He just has to trust that Shouta will pick up where he’s left off. And pray that he will find him.

000

He is taken to a location near his apartment with Kurogiri’s portal. He is escorted to his home like a prisoner being taken out into the yard by his guards, Twice and Dabi. He is told to put on his hero costume. He is allowed a short moment to write a parting letter to Shouta. It is checked and deemed both pathetic and harmless. He sits in his living room with two villians, thinks of the evidence piled behind his washing machine. Thinks of all the pain that he is about to put his friends- put Shouta through. And he sees the flock of flying nomu through his balcony windows, a heavy understanding sitting in his stomach. An excruciating apprehension making his heart beat fast.

They wait for the signal.

000

He looks down at Shouta from the edge of the building. Eyes wide and furious and frightened and confused. Hizashi has done all this for him, but now, seeing his face, he wonders whether it was right.

The flames and rubble move to engulf him.

He falls backwards into Kurogiri’s portal.

000

When he reaches the other side, he is immediately greeted by a needle to the arm, and his knees feel weak. Consciousness holds him long enough for him to see Shigaraki step through another portal, Kurogiri watching.

It is dark here. But then, maybe that is because he can feel his mind shutting down.

“Plug him in now. Don’t give him a chance to use his quirk-”

“On it already, boss.”

“Remember not to give him too high a dose.”

Hizashi can still hear them. He’s still conscious. He isn’t knocked cold like he thought we would be- although he can feel it fast approaching.

“Chill, we gave him what you said! Jeez, you’re a mean old man!”

He doesn’t recognise the voice that’s speaking now, all he knows is that there's a lot of people making sure he does what he's told. Not that he has a choice anymore. Everything is dark and his mind feels cold. There are people dragging him somewhere, his feet trailing along the floor. Head hanging.

“And be careful with him. He’s a prime patient. There aren’t many with a mind like Present Mic’s, I won’t have you pulling him along like a ragdoll.”

“Who the fuck is this guy anyway? Just some random doctor?”

“Do what he says.”

“I dunno, Dabi, I think this is the weirdest shit we’ve done so far. This ESP stuff is kinda bullshit, don’t you think?”

"It's not ESP, dummy, we're hacking into his memories."

Keep your mouth shut- he’s still conscious.”

What? But we hopped him up on- on- whatever this crap is! I thought he was out!”

“He has to reach the correct state of unconsciousness for this to work, he can't be completely knocked out- Doc was saying that we can’t pull information from his subconscious unless he’s somewhere between stage two of REM sleep and comat-”

“That’s some crazy cool psychology.”

“Didn’t I tell you fools to be quiet?”

Hizashi no longer feels the floor beneath his feet, dragging along the concrete. He just feels a pleasant coolness seep through his mind. He finds that he’s getting used to it. Like dipping into a cold lake. It’s nice.

Maybe he’ll stay here for a while.

000

The cold coats his mind like a blanket. A blanket that holds him still. It is blissfully peaceful. He is lying in a pitch black ocean, back against the sand. The dark covers him and it is safe here. Nothing is coming through and nobody is here. He could stay in here forever, in this soft, cold shell. Dark and silent, no echoing, no noise, no memories. Only a quiet understanding of himself. Only the waters of consciousness tickling his skin, lapping against him teasingly. A knowledge that it’s more frightening out there than it is when everything is empty.

The first thing he remembers isn’t his own name, it’s someone else’s. Shouta.

000

“... more desflorane, the isoflorane doesn’t have the right affect.”

“Patient is gaining consciousness, doctor.”

“Desflorane, more desflorane.”

“How can we tell if it’ll work? None of the other anaesthetics have worked, he’s gone through 7 sleep cycles by now and-”

“We can’t tell what will work. It’s impossible to know- sleep is a complex science. This is entirely experimental. Just do as I say.”

“Heart rate decreasing. EEG readings stable…”

000

Somewhere, there is the understanding that he is asleep. That he has been unconscious, held under this cool dark blanket for too long. He’s being kept here. There is an understanding that time has passed, but this concept doesn’t mean anything here. Only dark and cool. No dreams. No names. No things. Just cold. Cold isn’t something he is used to. Quiet isn’t something he knows. Only loudness and buzzing thoughts and warm skin and beating heart. Here there is none of that. Here, he can float. Here, he doesn’t know who he is, and it’s peaceful.

It is dark.

It is empty.

A vast void on the edge.

The longer he stays here, the less tranquil it feels. The less safe it feels. The more frightened he is.

Cold water washing over his body. Consciousness feels far away now. He senses it over the horizon somewhere. If he swims there, he won’t get any closer. Someone is pulling consciousness away. Only an endless sea of nothing. It is closed around his mind and it is directionless, dizzying and muffled. Nonsesensical, mad and suffocating. Cold and dark. Cold and dark and pressure pushing against him. No thoughts allowed in here.

Lying in the water is all he can do.

Something is moving- time is moving, but in no real direction. It is hard to tell at first. Everything is in a claustrophobic stasis here. It is only when the water starts to recede, lowering gently and slowly that he realises. Only when the cold-dark sinks lower and lower around his mind like bath water does he realise he’s coming out of it.

The first thought that enters his mind is Shouta.

He lies there on the sand. Hard and gritty, sticking to his back. It is still cold. Too cold. He feels the water recede, and the world around him becomes a little less dark. The world returns and he can make out the silhouette of objects. A building of some sort. No, they’re ruins. It is grey and he can only see a little from where he is lying, unable to move. No longer trapped, but still unable to move. And as the cold-dark recedes further, he sees that the world isn’t grey- this is snow. And this is rubble. He knows this place-

And he knows who he is. He remembers his name. Yamada Hizashi.

It is a struggle to sit up. And he knows now- he knows where he has just come from. Some dark hole deep in his mind. The last stage before nothing. He doesn’t want to go there, as comforting as it had seemed at first.

This place is not much better. This place is the shopping mall that the League exploded. What happened here again? Hizashi remembers some things, but not enough. This part of his mind is still cold. There is snow covering everything, including himself. The sky is stormy and there is nothing, no one here except for him and the ruins of this place.

And it is frightening. He is scared like a child lost in the supermarket, left at a gas station. No one is coming for him, he knows it is only him here in the landscape of his mind. Barely any memories, in this dreamplace. He is aware, he knows who he is, but not enough. It is frightening.

The sky rumbles overhead. It starts to snow.

Shouta.

It is just as instinctive as fear. The desperation to find him and be with him is just as natural as the loneliness and confusion and fear that runs through him. Here, deep in his mind, alone, Hizashi stands up and starts walking.

Shouta.

He walks and it is slow. Painfully slow. It is difficult and it is like he is on a treadmill, the ground moving him further backwards the harder he tries. But he walks in some sort of direction- not truly knowing where or why. It is an indistinct pull, an impossible force that is stronger than the thing that is holding him back.

Hizashi walks towards Shouta. He senses the way.

The snow falls harder.

And he knows as the snow begins to settle on his shoulders that he is falling deeper into unconsciousness again, he is going back into the cold-dark place and he walks faster, as far as he can through streets that he recognises but don’t look quite the same, dream versions of places he once knew, down streets that he and Shouta once knew together, through snow that’s as high as his knees now, the sky flashing with lightning and Hizashi forces his way through the storm. Through the climbing snow. It engulfs and freezes him.

The cold envelops him again.

The water coats him and blankets him and the world goes empty again.

Shouta.

000

Who knows how many times he returns to that grey, snowy world, only to be pulled back into the darkness.

000

When he emerges from the cold-dark one more time, Hizashi comes to more quickly. He finds himself in the same place, in the rubble of the shopping mall. The moment he becomes lucid, he gets up and starts walking through the grey, dream image of Mustafu once more.

The sky is dark grey overhead. He knows where he is going.

It only starts to snow when he reaches next street along. He is more aware this time. Hizashi knows that this is some higher level of his subconscious. That the cold-dark is something deeper. Something less human and absent of soul. It’s the closest to death as he thinks is possible, and he will do whatever he can to stay here instead.

It is getting cold fast. He can see the storm approach, a hurricane spinning around him. There isn’t much time.

Hizashi keeps walking. He doesn’t know where he’s going or what this feeling is or how this ghost-link works, but he knows that if he walks in this direction, he will find Shouta. The pull is so much stronger this time. It is like he is following some invisible string through the labyrinth of his mind. Like he is being led to him, pulled from the other end.

He climbs over fences, walks through buildings and out the other side to get there faster. And the further he walks, the harder it is. The harder it is to have a hold on lucidity. The harder it is to push through, the worse the obstacles seem. The fences higher, the hills steeper, the snow thicker. The air colder. The snow begins to settle on the pavement and he knows that he has to get there this time. He can’t do this again, not when he’s this close. He can feel Shouta’s presence, magnetic and undeniable.

He is walking through his dreams to find him, and he is aware enough to know that all of this must be impossible. But it is instinctive, intuitive enough that he knows it is real.

There.

Over there, through the flurry of increasing snow.

Shouta is standing in the middle of the street, the empty road with no people or cars. Shining and strange and ghostly. It is some dream version of Shouta, in this plane of Hizashi’s mind, not quite real but there. No one else here except for them. Hizashi wonders if he can see him too, but he doesn’t stop to consider it further, only pushes through the storm. The storm that has come so suddenly to sweep him away, take him back into that cold-dark. He won’t let it. Not now. Not when he can see Shouta there, standing and looking up at the snowy sky with a blank, tear streaked face.

“SHOUTA!”

He isn’t really shouting. There’s no point shouting inside his mind. He imagines the words, conjures them. Shouta turns towards him and looks. The expression doesn’t change.

Hizashi is almost walking horizontally now. It is getting harder. So, so hard. He’s being pulled into the cold again and his mind is resisting. He walks head first into the wind, forging a path through the snow that’s waist deep now.

Shouta-”

It would be so easy to give up now. To stop walking and lie in this snow, let it settle over his dream-body so he can sink into the cold water again. But he can’t. He won’t. He doesn’t know what he’s doing or what’s happening but he knows that he has to reach Shouta. This glimmering, ghost image of Shouta.

His friend looks tired. He looks broken and disbelieving.

Hizashi bears his teeth and grimaces with the effort. The snow is so high, so hard to walk through. Shouta doesn’t move. Perhaps he doesn’t understand. Perhaps this isn’t really him, but even as this thought occurs to him he knows that’s not true.

He can feel the snow fill him up. Shouta’s brows twitch into a small frown, and he stretches out a tentative hand.

“Sho-”

Their fingers graze-

000

It isn’t cold here.

Hizashi doesn’t know why that’s the first thing that he thinks of, but it is. Why should it be cold here?

He is standing in his apartment, and he doesn’t remember how he got here.

And in front of him, Shouta sits up from his lying position on their ugly sofa. It seems has just woken up. Hizashi feels like he has just woken up too- but he doesn’t feel awake either. He is simply- here. One minute he was having dinner with Shouta, after the sports festival. Now, he is in their living room, as if by magic- as if he has been knocked out and forced awake in another world. He knows something must have happened in between, but the memories are buried somewhere. Blurry and distant. He feels not quite present. Neither breathing or feeling. Like a dream.

How did he get here?

Shouta rubs his face with his hands, shoulders heaving with a sigh, and Hizashi watches. He realises in that moment that the apartment is half empty; a lot of his things have been taken away. He can't think why. Why would Shouta get rid of some of his stuff? And when Shouta removes his hands and Hizashi sees he has been crying, his heart stops. When Shouta looks at him and his eyes widen in fear, Hizashi is too frightened to speak at first.

Then he asks, in a quiet, fragile voice that doesn’t sound like his own:

“Shouta?”

 

Now

Hizashi wakes up.

The first thing he notices is the sound of regular, steady beeping.

It is cold here. Not as cold as where he came from- he remembers, he remembers- but it is cold. A real cold that seeps into his bones. And he is only able to crack open his eyes a little, but he can tell it is dark too. His body feels heavy. This is his real body, not his mental one- not his astral projected self, if that’s truly what was happening.

It’s hard to believe that happened, hard to believe it wasn’t just a dream.

He stares at the ceiling before becoming truly lucid. That beeping is his heart rate. It is increasing, the more he realises where he is.

He is too heavy to move. His muscles are out of use. Everything aches and is stiff with cold. His wrists and ankles especially. Something smooth and hard traps him to this table. Cuffs, maybe.

Hizashi rolls his head to the side.

The lights are off. His eyes won’t adjust yet. There is a rectangle of light- the edge of a door. There is the beeping of the machines, a tangle of wires, tubes, an empty TV screen, medical equipment. Dripping water from the roof. A steady pour of water, filling a corner of the floor and draining out again. Beyond the sound of the machines and the sound of his ragged breathing, there is noise. People talking. His brain is foggy and he is nauseous. He closes his eyes, strains to listen. Forces himself to remember that this is real and he has to concentrate.

“... act now!”

“Idiot, we can’t go in all guns blazing. The heroes and police are on high alert.”

“Didn’t stop us before. We managed to drug Present Mic and get him here.”

“That was different, Eraserhead’s got everyone all flustered and jumpy now.”

“But I mean, come on- we were never going to scare Eraser with a clone and two nomu, we should have gone ourselves and brought him-”

“And risk losing any more of us, at such a critical time?”

“We’re expendable, Shigaraki’s made that clear-”

“Shut up! He could hear you!”

“He’s panicking. He isn’t cut out to do this.”

“Didn’t you hear me tell you to shut up?”

“You should not be talking about Shigaraki like this. You know what he does with people who talk behind his back.”

“But- we need to stop Eraser before he figures it out. He was way too close, tracing Tsukauchi, he could have seen her. We’ll be-”

A door opens and closes with a heavy, metal clang. Hizashi steadies his breathing. His throat is dry. He’s thirsty. Everything hurts and his mind is hazy but he has to concentrate.

“Talking about me?”

“No, no way, Shigaraki, we were-”

“We’re finishing up with the new wave of nomu. Then we’ll see what the heroes think of them.”

There’s a brief moment of silence. More nomu? How could they possibly make them any worse?

“Are they ready?”

“What if- I mean, they-”

“Weren’t you just talking with the doctor?”

“Is that blood?”

Shigaraki sighs. “Oh yes, him. Well, it seems that he was considering deflecting. He was having doubts in the experiment. More than that he was a coward, afraid of what the heroes would do with him if they found him.”

“Him and his team? All of them?”

“I couldn’t just have all of them blabbing our plans to the world, could I?”

“Shigaraki. You should not have killed them-”

“The research was unsuccessful. Just another quack. We had no use for them.”

“And what are we going to do with the hero next door?”

Another moment of silence. Hizashi hears the beeping of the heart-rate machine jump, feels his chest hurt with the pain of it beating. The first thing that goes through his mind is that he could shout. Scream out his location. He has an idea where he is, remembering his and Shouta’s research. But if he does that, there’s no guarantee that he won’t be killed. And it crosses his mind to cause an earthquake with sound-waves, but that would be just as obvious. He could break out. Whatever he does, he could get himself killed. And he doesn’t think he could follow through with any of those options, anyway. His muscles have atrophied and his mind is fuzzy.

The wisest thing he can do right now is pretend that he is still unconscious. And hope that he can project to Shouta. Just one more time.

“We knock him out,” Shigaraki says simply.

“Sounds stupid. None of us know what we’re doing when it comes to medical stuff.”

“How hard can it be?”

“Better than having him awake and causing havoc, I guess?”

There’s footsteps. Hizashi shuts his eyes and lifts his head to its original position. He wills his heart to calm down, take slow, even breathes. And when the door opens, he tries desperately not to flinch. A cluster of footsteps approach, wet splashing sounds as they pass through the puddles. He can hear their breathing- specifically Shigaraki’s shivering breath. It’s not hard to recognise. An overhead light is turned on and it passes through his eyelids.

“This looks like anesthetics, don’t you think?”

“Shigaraki,” Kurogiri warns. “His quirk isn’t so useful to Master that we need to keep him alive. He is not worth this effort.”

“What’s the point in keeping him alive if we can’t access his memories and don’t steal his quirk? Then we’ve just got a dumb hero in our closet.”

“I told Master I would use him, that’s what I’m going to do! I'm not going to fail. So don’t piss me off!

And he can feel himself going under again. It’s a heavy feeling. Like there’s a weight attached to his mind and he’s being pulled deep. The dread of it makes him feel sick.

“Now,” Shigaraki’s voice is distant. It’s wavering and thin, fading away with the rest of the world. “To more pressing matters… what to do with Aizawa Shouta…”

Hizashi is pulled into unconsciousness. And he’s being taken immediately down towards the cold-dark, deeper than ever before, and he knows this is his only chance to talk to Shouta. He plummets into sleep, falls and falls and falls. He sees all the layers of his subconscious, rows and rows like bookshelves. He careers past them, towards the pitch black.

When he sees a flash of Shouta in his living room, leaning over a dining room table filled with evidence, Hizashi stretches out and grabs onto the image with all his mental strength.

Chapter Text

The television lights up the dark living room with the news. It flashes with different coloured light every time the image changes. A news anchor speaks seriously but silently, muted.

The people of Japan have taken to the streets.

In the time since Shouta told the world that he was going to find the true traitor, he has gained a mass of followers. Fans is not the right word; they seem less interested in him and more taken by his ideal, in believing Present Mic’s innocence. Shouta is happier that way. He has not been outside since his failed attempt at tracing Tsukauchi, and he is thankful that nobody has found out where he’s hiding. That they’re not trying to get his autograph and bring him into the public eye. Although, judging by what he’s seen on social media, his face is being plastered everywhere, still, two days after the funeral.

At least it’s just a photo. At least his followers aren’t literally following him. He doesn’t want to be on the streets with them. He doesn't want people to turn to him for encouraging words and conspiracy theories. He doesn't want to be the leader of a rebellion.

He’s far too close to be distracted.

It’s the middle of the night- or perhaps early morning, he can’t tell. He hasn’t bothered to check the time. It’s dark, either way. Since Hizashi disappeared a few hours ago, Shouta has found that he can’t sleep. His mind is awake. He can’t do anything else except work. Research. Do all that he can to get them closer to bringing Hizashi home. Their last encounter- it had been wonderful. But it had hurt too much.

Shouta is determined that the next time he touches him, it’ll be in the flesh.

Sitting on the sofa, Shouta crouches over his laptop, the list of police employees beside him. He ticks off several names that he has fully researched and that have come up clear.

Toyota Sayako
Ueda Hinata

He marks off Toyota. She appears to work in PR and has a tail quirk, not unlike Ojiro’s. He can’t imagine that someone so clearly a part of the public sphere would be able to get away with what the traitor has done. So far, none of the people he has looked into have set off any alarm bells, and most of them don’t have any reason to interact with Tsukauchi. Shouta rubs his temple and stares up at the ceiling.

He closes his eyes.

He’s so exhausted. Not just physically and mentally, but emotionally. He’s tired of working and getting less and less sleep each time. He’s so tired of all of this struggle.

Scrubbing his face with his hands, he returns back to his work, refocusing on the computer screen. He’s getting a headache.

“Ueda Hinata,” he mutters to himself, typing their name into the police server. Only one link crops up from his search. This doesn’t surprise him- most of the employees at the police force don’t have any reason to have more than their personal file on the server. Too much information is dangerous, and very little seems to be uploaded- Shouta assumes, because people like him and Hizashi could hack in and find out confidential details. Shouta follows the link to Ueda’s profile.

For a moment, he thinks that the computer is taking its time to load the page. Then, he realises that there is nothing to load. The boxes which would usually have the employee’s information entered are largely empty- no contact details, no emergency contact, no fingerprints, not even a photo.

No quirk.

It is a universally known law that a person’s quirk must be divulged to all employers. A person’s quirk must be recorded, either physically or digitally, by all companies and organisations. To hide one’s quirk from an employer is strictly illegal. Naturally, many people do so anyway. It is a civil right that is often under debate- whether someone’s quirk ought to private. Whether someone should be forced to reveal it. Whether it should be considered the same as someone’s sexuality or race.

A few people’s profiles so far have had some information missing, but nothing suspicious enough for Shouta to pursue it. Ueda Hinata has a noticeable amount missing. In fact, all that’s shown is their name.

He could try looking them up in the Quirk Directory. All citizens have their quirk logged in the directory as soon as they are divulged, and everyone receives a form every two years asking to update the log for any quirk changes. Parents find themselves changing their child’s quirk regularly, considering that much of the time, a quirk reveals more with age and practice. Shouta bins his letter from the Directory every time. His hasn’t changed. On the other hand, Hizashi discovered last year that he could use his sound quirk for echo location, and had to inform both the Pro Heroes Association and the Quirk Directory. He’d been quite excited about it.

Shouta closes his eyes and breathes in, painful nostalgia running through him at the memory.

Of course, all of information on the Quirk Directory is confidential. But thanks to Hizashi’s hacking skills, he’s been able to get into pretty much anything. They’d managed to access medical records and the Directory before, looking up as much as they could on Tsukauchi. Now, Shouta tries to find his way back to the page that Hizashi had hacked into on the Directory. After a bit of fumbling and digging, he finds a search tool.

Ueda Hinata
Gender: Female
Date of birth: 08/09/1996
QUIRK: ELUSION
CITIZEN’S QUIRK UPDATE OVERDUE

Shouta knows that he really should be wearing his reading glasses right now, because he’s sure he hasn’t read that correctly. He leans closer to the screen, turns on the lamp beside him on the sofa.

QUIRK: ELUSION
11/09/2000: confirmed quirk; -1 metatarsal bone
11/09/2002: presence in room unidentifiable when attempt is made; is noticed by occupants of room if she is already known to be there; cannot deactivate her quirk; average length of time in which patient is able to apply quirk 42 seconds
1109/2004: presence in room unidentifiable when attempt is made; is noticed by occupants of room if she is already known to be there; cannot deactivate her quirk; average length of time in which patient is able to apply quirk 3 minutes and 15 seconds
11/09/2006: presence in room unidentifiable when attempt is made; is noticed by occupants of room if she is already known to be there; cannot deactivate her quirk; average length of time in which patient is able to apply quirk 10 minutes and 33 seconds
11/09/2008: presence in room unidentifiable when attempt is made; is noticed by occupants of room if she de-activates her quirk; average length of time in which patient is able to apply quirk 55 minutes and 20 seconds
CITIZEN’S QUIRK UPDATE OVERDUE: AUTHORITIES ALERTED

Shouta reads and rereads. Ueda was confirmed to have a quirk at four years old, like the majority of the public, because of the missing toe bone. She is able to pass unnoticed by the people around her. She can wilfully activate and deactivate her quirk. And at the age of 12, she could apply it for almost an hour.

At twenty three years old, Shouta is sure that she could infiltrate the police force. And UA.

This person has been off the radar for just over a decade. And it is no doubt because of her quirk that she’s able to do so. Perhaps she’s missing, or dead. But the fact that she appeared on the police server’s list of employees suggests she isn’t- rather, it suggests that she has developed a public identity at the police. It makes sense. It wouldn’t be safe to infiltrate the police, to lose stamina in using her quirk, to then suddenly pop into existence and have everyone notice her snooping around. Her presence isn't questioned if she's actually registered. And it occurs to Shouta that she must have thought to change her name, that it is strange that she hadn't- but then, someone with a quirk like hers is likely to be arrogant. To forget the normal methods of remaining incognito.

Shouta sits up straight on the sofa, scrolls through the limited information on her profile, reaches a photo. A young girl with dark brown hair, almost black. A round face, sad eyes. She must be twelve in this picture.

Something in him sinks. He feels suddenly hot and cold. He recognises this person.

And he can’t put his finger on it. Which probably means that he’s seen her multiple times whilst she’s been using her quirk, and he hasn’t fully noticed her- just acknowledged her. It sets his heart racing with infuriation.

Where has he seen her before?

Shouta stands up from the sofa and searches through the photos on the dining room table, bringing the laptop with him. He wades through the files, the police paperwork and evidence, searching for one photo. And when he finds it, the breath rushes out of him. The newspaper clipping, from sometime shortly after the press conference regarding Bakugo’s kidnapping. The photo where Tsukauchi and several other accompanying police officers are covering their faces, hiding from the press.

The officer beside Tsukauchi is Ueda Hinata.

And now he remembers. He didn’t just recognise her from this photo- the memory is flooding back to him and he feels sick with frustration. This is Tsukauchi’s assisting officer. She had been at the funeral, and she had been the one to accompany Tsukauchi to the jail where Shouta was being held. They had literally been in the same room. Shouta had seen her, he had seen her following Tsukauchi out of the room. He had acknowledged that Tsukauchi had an assistant, and hadn’t even truly noticed her, let alone considered her a suspect.

She’d been right under his nose all along, and she’d made sure Shouta barely even saw her.

The urge to panic is overwhelming. The urge to pace the room and frantically figure out what to do, to berate himself for not figuring this out. For not noticing her. But he knows there was no way of knowing; there’s a reason she’s avoided being caught until now, after all. And so, instead, he goes back to the computer, goes to type in her name into the search bar on another window.

What must it have taken to pass the background checks at the police force? She must have infiltrated before she took up the assistant position in order to register herself, manipulate her personal details. That way, she could make sure she wasn’t listed as missing by the police- or remove any alerts for her overdue Quirk Directory update. In that case, Shouta doubts anything will come up online with a simple Google search. But if there’s a chance, then-

Shouta frowns. His throat is dry and his heart is hammering so hard that it hurts his chest. He looks back at the newspaper clipping.

He can’t be sure. This photo is in black and white, so he can’t be sure. But the coat that Ueda is wearing has large, dark buttons. None of them are missing, but then, it’s still possible that the button in the zip lock back in front of him-

There’s a loud thwump. Shouta instinctively turns towards the sound. Hizashi is sprawled on the floor, as if he has fallen through the ceiling.

Shouta doesn’t hesitate, heads over towards him. “Hizashi, I’ve figured out-”

“Shouta- listen, I don’t have much time-”

The moment he realises how transparent Hizashi is right now- worse than the first time he saw him appear, much worse- Shouta comes to a standstill. Hizashi is pale and ghostly and his eyes are wide. Urgent. He scrabbles onto his feet, marches over to Shouta and grabs him desperately by the shoulders.

“What’s going on?” Shouta demands.

And this whole scene suddenly reminds him of that day. The day that Hizashi kissed him, surrounded by flames, by nomu, crying and asking him to trust him. Now, Hizashi looks wild and frightened, too frantic to cry. He can see the bookshelves through his body. Shouta doesn’t feel the grip of his hands on his biceps.

“Shouta- I think I know where I’m being held- you know the dirt sample?”

Shouta frowns at him.

“The dirt sample, Shouta! The one they found on that Twice case!” Hizashi cries.

“Yes- yes, we matched it to different locations around-”

“I’m being held under a mass of water- it’s pouring through the ceiling, I think I’m under the reservoir, Shouta- I don’t think there’s much time, they’ve drugged me way more heavily this time-”

Through the suddenness of it all, the confusion, he feels sick. His mind clouds over with anger. “Drugged,” he repeats darkly.

Hizashi whimpers, hangs his head and looks back at him in desperation once more. “We don’t have time for this, Shou, I’m gonna go any second, I need for you to gather as many heroes as you can and find the hideout under the reservoir, OK? OK?

“OK,” he nods. He realises that he’s instinctively holding onto Hizashi’s shoulders, even if he can’t feel it.

“And don’t tell the police anything, nobody, just send an alert to Nemuri and-”

It’s like Shouta has blinked; Hizashi is suddenly no longer there. There is no fading away this time- he is gone as if he has been switched off.

Shouta doesn’t wait. He doesn’t allow himself time to consider or reflect on what he’s heard, what he’s discovered himself.

He puts on his hero costume and he runs out into the night.

000

Street lights blur and the sun isn’t coming up, not yet. It’s dark and quiet and Shouta runs as fast as his feet will take him.

People are coming home from clubs, from bars. People are going into work for early shifts. People are walking around him and calling out his name, cheering him on, cursing him, pumping their fists and applauding and Shouta sprints past like they’re nothing more than another part of the landscape.

He knows where he is going and nothing is stopping him.

The cold air whips his hair out of his face as he runs. Images of Hizashi flash through his mind.

”I’m being held under a mass of water- it’s pouring through the ceiling, I think I’m under the reservoir, Shouta- I don’t think there’s much time, they’ve drugged me way more heavily this time-”

The anger in him is boiling. It’s boiling him from the inside out. Underground. Hizashi has been alive, held underground. Drugged unconscious all this time, been kept by the League whilst Shouta's been playing detective. All this time he’d thought that finding the real traitor would lead him to Hizashi. At the end of the day, Hizashi had been the one to figure it out and tell him. Shouta could have found him sooner if he’d focused on locating the League, rather than hoping that the real traitor would bring him to Hizashi-

No. He can’t go down that rabbit hole. Not now, when there’s so much at stake.

When he reaches Tatooin station, Shouta sees the train leaving Mustafu for the suburbs. He runs along the trainline barriers. And then he makes a jump and grabs onto the side of the train. His feet hit the window with a thud and the few passengers inside jolt in alarm. Some people recognise him and take pictures, film him hanging on like a monkey.

Not exactly legal to hitch a ride on the side of a train carriage like this, but he has more important things to worry about.

Shouta watches the city landscape turn into countryside. This is a direct train- it’s fast. Fast enough that his capture gear is near strangling him as it flies over his shoulders, the speed of the train pulling him forward. Tower blocks turn into detached houses and houses turn into farms. Shouta doesn’t know how long he holds onto the rim of the train window, arm aching with the effort of keeping himself from flying off.

When it reaches the first stop, beginning to slow just a little, Shouta times his jump so that he doesn’t break anything. With help from a telephone pole, he uses his capture gear to swing himself off and slow the momentum before hitting the ground. He’s at the edge of a rice paddy, the damp ground sinking beneath his feet. He stands up straight. The sun is just about to come up; the sky is a dark blue and the distant horizon bathed in purple light.

The reservoir is one of the main bodies of water that feeds these rice paddies. Shouta takes out his phone to get his bearings.

1 notification from Midnight
Eraserhead: I know where Hizashi is. He’s with LOV at nabu reservoir. gather as many as you can, don’t tell the police yet.
Midnight: we’re on our way. Don’t do anything stupid till we get there

Shouta reads the message. And he knows precisely what she means, but he’s going to ignore her advice. He’s not waiting another minute.

He checks Google maps runs towards the reservoir.

He runs along the edges of the paddies, faster than he thinks he’s ever run. The cold, morning air fill his lungs and dries his mouth. His mind goes blank, except for the image of Hizashi. Limited though his imagination may be, he can’t stop imagining him lying in a cold, damp room, unconscious and alone. God knows what they’ve done to him.

All he can do now is run.

And when the reservoir comes into view, sunlight just begins to peek over the horizon, making the surface of the water glitter. The sky burns orange; it’s like there’s a fire running along the edges of the earth.

When he feels a presence at his side, his head snaps to see who it is.

Nemuri. She’s here already, running by Shouta’s side and her hair dancing as she goes. And Emi, too. The water of the rice paddies splashes up and around them. He turns to his right- Best Jeanist. And Kamui Woods, Mount Lady, Thirteen. And he hears more feet behind him, but he doesn’t stop to look.

“You got here fast,” he shouts.

“We took the train,” Nemuri responds. Something tells Shouta that they did it the traditional way.

“How many of us are there?”

“Ten, including you,” Kamui calls.

Something in Shouta’s expression must show the surprise he’s feeling. The unbelievably strong feeling of relief and gratitude.

“We weren’t going to leave you alone in this, Eraserhead.” Shouta turns to measure Best Jeanist as he speaks. “We’ve all worked with Mic for a long time.”

“He’s our friend,” Emi adds. The smile on her face isn’t joking today. It’s about as fiercely determined as a smile can get.

Shouta looks at Nemuri. He isn’t sure how much she’s told them, if anything. It doesn’t matter now. They’re here and they’re going to find Hizashi whatever it takes.

All this time, Shouta has felt alone. Thought that he was the only one to truly know who Hizashi was, to trust him. And even if he’s the only person to know that he is alive and innocent, he was never really alone. He sees that now, as he looks along the line of pro heroes at his side.

Shouta leads the way at the front of their v-formation.

The reservoir is huge. It is only now as they arrive at its edge that Shouta realises just how much ground they have to cover. He’s glad that he called for backup. If he were alone, he would never have the time to look for the hideaway around the reservoir’s entire circumference.

“We’re looking for an entrance underground, somewhere that leads beneath the reservoir,” Shouta starts.

“Maybe some sort of sewerage system or water mains entrance,” Best Jeanist says, hands on his hips as he looks out over the expanse of water. The sun is rising higher.

Time is running out.

“This area also has bomb shelters.” Shouta turns to see who’s speaking- it’s Fatgum. And there’s Hound Dog and Gunhead. People that he and Mic have worked with since their early hero days. Fatgum continues, “If it's an underground entrance that we’re looking for then I reckon that’s a good start, too.”

“Hound Dog, do you think you can sniff out an entrance?” Nemuri asks.

Hound Dog doesn’t reply- perhaps he knows that there’s no use attempting to explain when they could just as well follow him. He begins to jog in one direction, sniffing the air. Wordlessly, they follow.

And Shouta would wonder at the sight of so many pro heroes in one place, on such a quiet, seemingly uneventful morning; the water shining with winter sun; the peaceful landscape around them as still as can be; the sound of birds overhead and butterflies dancing across the footpath in front of Shouta. He would wonder at it all, if he weren’t focused one thing and one thing only. He senses Emi running along with him, keeping pace and looking about for any sign of underground entrance. They don’t speak, only silently search for some sign of an entrance as they trust in Hound Dog’s nose. Normally, Emi is the type to strike up conversation, even in the most dire of times. At least today, she knows that the situation is different.

Shouta runs through the undergrowth, looking for something and nothing and feeling increasingly frustrated that they haven’t found anything yet. And he has no idea how long they’ve been looking, how long he’s been following. The urge to run ahead and tear the ground open with his bare hands and pull Hizashi out of it is strong. It’s days like this that he wishes he had a different quirk.

And the flash of the sun fully emerging over the horizon almost blinds him. He shelters his eyes with his hand, looks out towards the water as he runs. It’s burning bright orange, the sky a purplish blue.

And it is strange. Strange that at such a critical moment, in such an urgent situation, the memory should come back to him-

”Wake up, Shouta! Come on, wake up!”

He covers his eyes with his arm. His duvet is warm and Hizashi’s hands are cold as they shake him awake, gently patting his cheeks. Shouta swats him away and rolls onto his stomach.

“Shou, come on, look, the sunrise looks so cool right now!”

“I don’t care,” he complains, pillow muffling his words.

“No for real dude, it’s so cool come watch! I’m awake anyway-”

You’re awake,” Shouta argues. “‘M never inviting you for a sleepover again.”

“Don’t be so lame! Look, we can watch it from the fire escape!”

Shouta sighs, his breath trapped between his pillow and his face. It warms his skin. And he knows that Hizashi won’t stop poking him and tugging at his pyjama top until he gets up, so he reluctantly steps out of bed, bringing his duvet with him. Hizashi looks as bright and cheerful as ever, as if it wasn’t-

“Five o’clock in the morning,” Shouta says dryly, checking the time. “Fuck’s sake, ‘Zashi.”

He turns to get back into bed.

“No, no! Look!”

Shouta sighs, turns to look through the window. For a moment, through the sleepy haze, the sight does make him stop. The sky is pink and orange and blue like a watercolour. He doesn’t remember the last time he was awake this early to see the sunrise.

“Nice,” he says mildly.

Hizashi grins. And Shouta finds himself more transfixed by that sight than anything else. But he's only sixteen years old, and he doesn’t understand that feeling. Not just yet.

They crawl through the window and onto the fire escape, share in the heat of Shouta’s duvet. Their legs dangle off the edge and their arms are propped up on the railings. They sit and watch the sunrise, until Shouta falls asleep with his head on Hizashi’s shoulders.

Strange how memories overtake so suddenly and without warning. And that a simple sunrise should make him think of Hizashi. But then, almost everything makes him think of Hizashi.

He won’t lose him. He can’t.

And then there’s a loud, feral growling noise from up ahead- Hound Dog.

Found something,” he barks, and begins to immediately claw at the earth with his hands.

Shouta and Nemuri fall to their knees and pull away foliage and weeds. It comes away like a blanket. Beneath it all there is the edge to something metal. They uncover it. Nemuri and Hound Dog step back. Shouta sits on his heels. They look down at a rusted door.

Shouta moves to grab the handle.

“Eraser-” Thirteen’s hand moves to stop him, grabs him by the elbow. “If the League are in here, we should wait for police backup.”

Shouta looks up at them all. The sun is bright enough that it’s hard to see them. They stand around him and watch him kneeling there. He can just about make out their expressions. Most of them look calm and serious; he can tell that they are nervous, behind the well-trained stoicism. He can tell, only because he has a better brave face than them.

“No police,” he says. “Not yet.”

Some of them look at each other. Kamui and Mount Lady share a glance. So Nemuri hasn’t told them everything. And then the thought suddenly crosses his mind- he wonders if Ueda is down there. If she knows, if she's been alerted somehow, if she has escaped already.

“We trust you Eraser,” Gunhead says. Always so much gentler than he appears. “But we can’t just rush in.”

He looks at Gunhead. And then he looks at Nemuri.

She gives him a small nod.

Shouta opens the door. “Watch me.”

He jumps down into the dark.

Pain jolts through the balls of his feet when he lands, but there is little sound. Through his goggles, he can’t see much- but even without them, he reckons it would seem just as dark. He can hear water dripping. And the more his eyes adjust from the bright winter sunshine, the more he can tell that this is a long corridor. There's the smell of damp. No doors in sight. He hears the sound of someone dropping down behind him. There’s the distant sound of Best Jeanist up above, telling Mount Lady to wait outside, of her arguing back.

Shouta starts walking without looking back. There is absolutely no time to waste. Wet footsteps tell him that they have all come down to join him. For a minute, nobody speaks.

“It’s quiet,” Emi mutters.

“This had better not be like last time,” Kamui says. Shouta realises that he must be talking about Bakugo’s first rescue attempt.

Shouta walks with silent purpose through the shadows. “It won’t.”

It is almost pitch black, the further down they go. But not quite. No, there is some light coming from somewhere. There is life down here. Shouta’s fingers go to find his capture gear, readying himself.

“They must be panicking,” Gunhead says quietly, walking just behind him. “Someone could have come to kill you by now, Eraser. They haven’t made a move.”

Shouta nods. He looks over to Nemuri, on his other side. She purses her lips nervously. It’s a habit she’s had since high school.

“Mount Lady,” Shouta starts, staring at the dull light pouring through the door. “If this gets bad, can you use your quirk to break through to the surface?”

“Yes. The drop didn’t seem too deep.”

There's that, at least.

The heroes turn silent as they walk down the long corridor, curving slightly. As if this is one giant circle, beneath the reservoir. Not a door in sight yet. And he knows what the rest of them are thinking right now. It’s crossed Shouta’s mind too, that they’re walking into a trap. That the League will be prepared. But that doesn’t matter. They could throw everything they have at him and he would still fight tooth and claw for Hizashi, without hesitation, without waiting any longer. Whatever they have for him, Shouta is ready. They can try what they like. He just doesn’t care.

And at first, he doesn’t notice it. It’s the way the hairs on the back of his neck stand, the way his skin crawls that makes him stop. The splashing footsteps of the others stop, and they all turn to look at Shouta.

Then he hears it.

It almost sounds like a whining, from this distance. Like someone’s dog left outside, crying. The others begin to hear it too. Kamui begins to extend some of his branches, Best Jeanist taking a battle stance. And then the sound gets louder, and that distinct screeching echoes down the corridor.

“Nomu,” Nemuri calls.

“Let the bastards come,” Gunhead says, extending the guns on his arms, the usual gentleness immediately absent.

“Let’s not be rash about this,” Blue Jeanist orders, “Half of us stay here whilst the others keep going and find Mic.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Fatgum grins, making it clear which half he’s decided he’s joining by assuming a battle stance.

They won’t be able to see them coming, but they can hear. Nomu are not quiet. They are stupid and loud and merciless. Shouta stares down the corridor, looks into the pitch black and bears his teeth in frustration. They’re trapped down here with some of the most dangerous monsters the world has ever seen. And he’s about to leave his friends to fight them alone.

Shouta turns to Nemuri. He doesn’t need to ask; she’s joining him.

He breaks into a run further down the corridor now, and some of them follow, leaving the others to the nomu. And the sound of Thirteen’s quirk being activated echoes behind them as they run. His stomach churns with nerves.

They are running into hell. He can feel it.

“There, look!”

Kamui extends a long, twisted branch towards a door and opens it. A stairwell, just as dark and damp as the rest of this place. It’s enormous; this feels less like a bomb shelter and more like a base of some sort, a war bunker maybe.

“Kamui, Jeanist, Mount Lady, you keep going down the corridor," Nemuri orders. 'Me, Eraser, Hound and Joke will head down here.”

There’s the sound of shouting, of fighting down the corridor from the direction they came. There must be a lot of nomu this time. And they must be more advanced than the last wave.

Shouta grimaces, wordlessly looks into the dark stairwell and starts descending. There is the red light of a security camera in the top corner. He glares at it, and feels an atavistic grin spread across his face, threatening and furious. He whips his capture gear and snatches the camera off the wall. There’s a shower of sparking electricity, then nothing. And then he’s jumping from the bannister of the stairwell to the next level, finding a door.

“There’s a few more levels down here, Hound and I will try the second one,” Emi calls out as they run further down into the dark.

Shouta turns to Nemuri, and he opens the door. The rusted metal peels away under his fingers.

A giant room. One giant room, just as dark as the last. Darker even. Silent, all except for the sound of water pouring from some leak in the roof.

Quiet.

But not empty.

Shouta grabs his capture gear before his mind can catch up with what’s happening. A hero moves without thinking, their body moving against their will. He thinks he understands what All Might has been saying this whole time, after today- it’s the thought of Hizashi that makes his body move.

Nemuri tears a hole in her clothes by her shoulder. “Shouta, there’s-”

It’s so dark that he barely sees the fist that comes towards him, but he was ready. He ducks out of the way, grabs the arm and twists it. There’s a yelp of pain- but his opponent must have the advantage of sight, night-goggles perhaps, because Shouta finds himself being pushed against a wall that he didn’t know was there. A fist makes contact with his stomach, and the air rushes out of him- he grabs onto their arm again and pulls them close, knees him hard. He hears them grunt- hears Nemuri fighting someone else, hears her struggling. If only he could see-

And Shouta realises that they’re intentionally keeping the lights off because of him. They knew that if anyone would come for Present Mic, it would be Eraserhead.

He can’t erase anyone’s quirks in the dark.

Whilst his opponent is momentarily down, Shouta swings for a punch, and lands it. He can’t use his quirk, but he can fight in the dark somewhat, thanks to his training. And then the ground is kicked from under his feet and he begins to fall backwards. He grabs onto the villain with one hand and uses his capture gear with the other.

“Oh no you don’t!” They argue, and Shouta receives a fist to the face. His head snaps to the side with the force, and he spits blood out of his mouth- last night’s wound reopened. He snarls, still clinging onto the villain. Rams his boot into their instep.

Fuck- asshole-”

Shouta feels them double over, and he climbs onto their back-

“What the fuck is this guy-”

He wraps his capture gear around their neck.

“We need more over here!” the villain wheezes.

“I’m a little busy!” Nemuri’s opponent shouts. They have the same voice.

Twice.

“Shouta, get out of here!” Nemuri shouts.

Shouta tightens the capture gear, and the clone chokes, grabbing at his feet to try and peel him off his back. He stumbles backwards and rams Shouta against the wall. Shouta’s back hits the concrete and it sends a jolt of pain through him, but he continues to tighten his grip. He feels the villain wobble beneath him, knees giving in, and then his capture gear is squeezing nothing- the clone melts away beneath him and his feet land against the wet floor.

“Shouta, go!”

And he knows that if they’re going to get out of here in good time and retrieve Hizashi, he’s got to leave Nemuri to use her quirk. And so he stands up and runs the opposite way they came in, squinting through the dark for a door, the sound of his breath hissing through his teeth.

There- a door. He grabs the handle and runs through, closing it behind him to trap Nemuri's mist. Another stairwell. This place is endless. A labyrinth. He is stepping further and further into a pitch black abyss, and it feels like the doors and corridors will never end. He looks up and sees another security camera with a red blinking light.

Let it watch him. They can look all they want, he’s getting out of here with Hizashi whether they like it or not.

Then there’s that echoing. Up above, from the other floor- Shouta doesn’t need to see to know that it’s nomu, on their way fast. That hellish screech is enough to make him move. Shouta jumps down to the next floor, grabs the handle of the next door, into the next level of the maze, into whatever nightmare awaits the other side. The moment he reveals another long corridor, the door from the floor above crashes open. The screaming of nomu fills the stairwell.

Shouta doesn’t hesitate. He runs.

Sprinting down the corridor, he hears his footsteps and his ragged breathing, hears the sound of nails digging into concrete behind him, hears their cries. He runs. This place reminds him of those old nightmares where the faster he runs, the further away the door at the end gets. And he thinks of Hizashi, desperately tries to figure out where he could be in this enormous place, tries to figure out where he’s going to other than away. He feels the nomu follow him, feels the shiver up his spine at the knowledge that they’ll catch up soon.

And then he sees a figure. It’s dark but he can see a figure standing there, waiting, and Shouta doesn’t stop running. That is not the silhouette of one of his colleagues.

“Here he comes,” the person announces to themselves.

Shouta runs towards them. Grabs onto his capture gear. This villain is still, calm. Shouta is usually calm too, but not now. Not now. The collected Eraserhead isn't here right now. He feels a flood of pure rage, animal, aggressive, territorial. They took him.

The nomu are right behind him.

The figure extends a hand.

Shouta throws his capture gear.

Blue flames erupt around him and the walls dance with their shadows.

Chapter Text

The moment the corridor lights up with blue flames, illuminating Dabi’s figure, Shouta activates his quirk.

And the flames fall away, like a cooker turned off.

It’s then that Shouta realises the trap he’s fallen into- as darkness surrounds him again, and all he can sense is the ground beneath his feet and the sound of nomu screeching behind him. He reels his capture gear back in.

All this panic, all these thoughts of Hizashi turning through his mind has made him reckless. Because the flames bring light. And the moment that Shouta can see, he’s on the same playing field as Dabi. But as soon as he uses that sight to erase the flames, remove the light, he’s left at a disadvantage; because Dabi has night vision goggles.

Shit, he thinks to himself, deactivating his quirk and waiting for the fire to reignite. Nothing happens at first; Shouta feels the nomu fast behind him, and he keeps running, picks up enough speed to run past and out of Dabi’s reach. He doesn’t have time to fight right now. He needs to find Hizashi.

Dabi has different plans.

Shouta sees the light burst through the corridor once more, feels the heat and hears the woosh of flames igniting. Sees a a river of fire gushing towards him, massive and hungry and flowing down the corridor through the path of least resistance. And Shouta is in that path. With the momentum from running, he pushes himself off the ground and runs along the wall- it’s only a few steps before gravity does it’s work and brings him back down the ground again, but it’s enough. He narrowly avoids the licking tongue of blue flames before he hits the floor, putting Dabi and his flames behind him.

And Shouta goes to keep running. No time to turn back and fight Dabi when-

A wall of fire bursts in front of him. He skids to a sudden halt, falling backwards. A hand braces him on the drying ground to avoid running straight through. Shouta gets back on his feet, looks over his shoulder. Dabi stands amongst the flames. A demon watching with the light dancing in his eyes.

The nomu are screaming, all of them disintegrating in the fire.

Perhaps these nomu are indiscriminate killers, Shouta realises. Maybe that’s why Dabi killed them. Maybe they wouldn’t have simply run around Dabi to attack Shouta- the rest of the League could just be that dispensable to Shigaraki. Or maybe, Dabi simply doesn’t care about any of it- and wants to kill Eraserhead himself.

“I think we got off on the wrong foot last time, Eraserhead.”

This asshole can monologue all he wants. Shouta’s not listening.

He whips his capture gear towards Dabi who directs another burst of flame towards him. Shouta ducks- slides below the path of fire like a flower blown sideways in the wind, back to the floor. And when he gets the chance to stand upright again, Dabi has narrowly avoided the capture gear, but he hadn’t anticipated Shouta getting this close to him this quickly. Surprise breaks the villain’s even expression and Shouta grabs him by the throat, rams him against the wall.

Dabi’s face is lit up blue and purple. Now, Shouta can use his quirk- the wall of fire that trapped him disappears, but the nomu continue to burn, the fire feeding on them. He feels his hair raise of his shoulders, the heat of the scorching air making his skin tingle. And even now, Dabi looks almost expressionless as Shouta presses his hand against his neck, pinning him against the wall and trapping his limbs with capture gear.

“Looks like I’m backed against a corner again,” Dabi coughs, trying to get air but only breathing in scorching heat. “Fighting you is such a pain.”

Shouta really, really doesn’t care.

He slams him hard against the wall, enough that it knocks the villain out. He drops him, and Dabi crumples to the floor. There’s blood on the brickwork, but Shouta doubts that he’s dead. That wasn’t his intention, at least.

He has other things to worry about right now.

Breaking into a run, Shouta continues down the corridor. The light of Dabi’s flames dim as he runs. He can hear the fight up above, sees dust falling from the ceiling to the ground like snow. Whoever they are fighting, his friends are struggling. He needs to hurry.

And he’s running so fast that he almost skids right past the door. When he sees it, he knows that there’s something behind it; there’s a dim light pouring between the cracks. Shouta’s heart turns. But he doesn’t hesitate.

The light hits him immediately. It isn’t bright, but it’s brighter than the darkness he’s been wading through till now. It bathes the place in a moon-like glow. He steps into a room that hums quietly with energy- computer screens. No, security camera screens, in the middle of an enormous room of panels. All of them silent, but flashing. This is control room. There’s a few empty mugs, indicating that someone’s been in here keeping watch until recently.

Shouta’s more preoccupied by what’s on the cameras.

He steps slowly towards the wall of screens, face lit up by their grey-green light. He sees his friends, fighting wave upon wave upon wave of nomu- every one more hellish than the last. He sees Nemuri, stalking down a corridor towards some unsuspecting villain- it looks like Toga. He sees Hound Dog taking down a nomu, and Emi, struggling but surviving. Her hand to hand combat was never the best. Kamui’s branches piercing several nomu at once, the computer screen shuddering and pixelating as he knocks the camera from the wall with a vine. And he sees Best Jeanist, Fatgum, standing their ground but their energy clearly depleting, there are so many nomu this time, and he sees Thirteen and Mount Lady, he sees-

He sees Hizashi.

Shouta finds himself marching over, palms pressing against the screen as if he could crawl through and grab him from here. There he is. Hizashi’s here; he’s strapped to a table in some room on the 4th level down, according to the label on the screen. He’s completely still. Completely, terrifyingly still. Plugged into a machine and left there in the dark like-

Shouta feels cold with resolve. He removes his hands from the screen and turns, boots echoing loudly in the silent room.

And before he leaves, he notices something. On the wall. A glass pane with a fire alarm.

If this is an old war bunker, he thinks he knows what will happen next when he takes the hammer and smashes that glass. Shouta slams the alarm button.

A siren- an old nuclear war siren. That haunting, deadly sound. The room is suddenly plunged into a hazy red light.

Shouta grins. I can see you all, now, he thinks.

He pushes open the door, and the corridor glows with red. In the control room, the light was continuous, but here, it dims, before brightening again, then dimming, then brightening. There’s something incredibly unsettling about it- it’s the anticipation of what he’ll see when the light returns. An ancient, instinctive fear of what hides in the dark. He starts running again, the sound of his footsteps swallowed by the echoing siren- a sound that instinctively fills him with dread, even if he had been the one to set it off.

He knows where he’s going, now. He knows where Hizashi is. His heart is hammering in his chest. His mouth is full of blood from his fight with Twice, the skin of his left arm burns, probably from Dabi’s flames. He hears the distant screeches of nomu, creating a horrific chorus with the siren.

Shouta lets his feet take him to Hizashi. It’s almost like he’s being pulled there.

He rams open the next door with his shoulder, and the alarm in here is particularly loud, the sound trapped within the narrow stairwell walls. More than that, the light in here isn’t continuous, and it’s not a slow dimming and brightening- it’s practically a strobe light. The stairwell is pitch black, save for the bright flashing red light that illuminates the stairwell for only fractions of a second at a time. He runs down the stairs, watching his shadow appear and disappear beneath him. And-

Shouta notices it before his brain registers what it is that he’s seeing. He spins round to meet the villain hiding in his peripheral, and his fist immediately hits Spinner’s face.

Spinner stumbles back, hand cradling his jaw, reptile skin not green but red in the flashing light. He doesn’t have his usual weapon of choice, the giant bundle of swords.

“You made a big mistake, comin’ here-”

Without hesitation Shouta sends a roundhouse kick, and he ducks, and out of nowhere pulls a baseball bat- launches it into Shouta’s ribs.

The pain is blinding. The flashing red light makes no difference as for a long moment, Shouta’s vision goes starry and dark. He only lets it stop him for a moment, he snatches the bat and pulls the villain towards him, grabs him by the arm and flips him onto the ground, slams him hard so that even above the sound of the siren, he can hear the thud. Arms splayed out wide, bat rolling across the concrete floor.

Spinner seems unconscious- he should be, he hit the ground hard- so Shouta keeps moving.

He presses on, wades in further, back into another corridor with the red light receding and brightening over and over. Shouta holds onto his flank with one hand, runs as best he can but it sends searing pain through him with every footstep. He ignores it. He can ignore a broken rib, he’s done it before, he’ll do it again.

And there’s a door at the end of this corridor. Until now, Shouta hasn’t found an end to any of the corridors. The light shines bright, disappears, shines bright again, and sure enough, there is a door there. Rusted and peeling blood-brown-red. Shouta’s feet guide him towards it.

One with on hand cradling his ribs, he kicks the door open.

There he is.

In the middle of this huge, practically empty room, Hizashi lies on a surgeon’s table. His hair pours over the side, dyed red by the alarm-light. Medical equipment shows empty screens.

And then, he sees who else is in the room.

Shigaraki is pulling open the restraints on one of Hizashi’s wrists when Shouta walks in. He looks up at him with wild eyes the moment Shouta starts walking towards them.

Behind him, Kurogiri opens a portal.

“We are leaving, Shigaraki. Now.”

“Eraserhead!” Shigaraki exclaims, ignoring Kurogiri’s warning, frantic eyes fixing on him through splayed fingers. His hands still scrabble at Hizashi’s restraints. “I was wondering when you’d-”

Shouta’s fist meets Shigaraki’s face before the villain has a chance to finish. His eyes sting with quirk use and his hair rises, leaving his neck cold and bare. Shouta grabs Shigaraki by the collar of his shirt. Beneath the hand that covers his face, a trickle of blood runs from a cut on Shigaraki’s cheekbone.

When he looks down at him, he feels nothing but fury and disgust. When he looks down at Shigaraki, he sees something other than fear in the villain’s eyes.

The villain grins. “You know, you’d make a good villain, Eraserhead. Maybe this is where it all starts for you. I’d be honoured to be part of your origin story.”

He punches Shigaraki again, the villain’s head spinning round to the side. A weak, sickening, almost childish laugh escapes Shigaraki’s lips. Blue hair hangs in front of his face.

“Release him.”

Shouta doesn’t look at Kurogiri. He trains his eyes on Shigaraki. Doesn’t even blink. Even a millisecond not looking at him will mean turning into dust.

“Eraserhead- kill him, and I will kill Present Mic. You might not see it but I am very capable of doing so from here.”

And he doesn’t doubt it. He knows what Kurogiri’s capable of, and he feels himself shaking with defiance and fury and an overwhelming desire to kill the man in his grasp. To make them pay for what they’ve done. What they’ve done to Hizashi. Pay for what they’ve taken away from him.

But that is not what he’s here for.

He throws Shigaraki at Kurogiri. He doesn’t tear away his gaze, his eyes are streaming with tears. Kurogiri begins to pull Shigaraki into his portal.

“Kurogiri, we’re not leaving without-” Shigaraki extends an arm towards Hizashi- or towards Shouta, he isn’t sure. “Kurogiri- I won’t fail this time-”

Shouta watches as Kurogiri absorbs Shigaraki into himself, the tips of his fingers engulfed by the darkness. It is like watching a man drowning. And even then, he finds that he cannot stop watching. He doesn’t want to take any chances.

“Until next time, Eraserhead.”

The portal begins to close in on itself, until Shouta is left alone.

Almost.

He blinks away the tears. Spins around and sees Hizashi.

He’s so pale. So pale, even in the red light. His lips are slightly chapped. Shouta presses his hands against his cheeks, rough with facial hair- there is a little warmth, but he’s cold, far too cold. He checks his pulse; it’s there, and it’s strong enough. For a moment- the blank screens and turned-off medical equipment had made Shouta wonder if-

No time to dwell on that now. No time to waste, no time to think or feel. Only do. Shouta fumbles at the restraints, ends up pulling them open with brute force. The siren continues to blare, echoing and filling his ears. The light paints Hizashi’s skin pink.

He removes the IV from his arm, gathers him in his arms- he’s light as a feather. He’s lost a lot of weight since he last saw him, he could tell as much just by looking at him but now that he’s holding him it is obvious. Shouta’s ribs complain when he starts to move but he ignores it, grimaces as he starts to leave the room and step through puddles, water splashing up his legs.

He runs through the red flashing lights, runs through the pain, runs through the noise. The sound of sirens and screaming monsters and heroes shouting. An orchestra of sounds straight from hell. And all the while, Hizashi is here. The relief of it is deep in him somewhere, beneath the urgency and disbelief- he just can’t feel it yet. But he can feel him, though. He’s here. After all this time of wondering if he was hallucinating, if he was mad, if Hizashi was dead, he is alive and in his arms. Shouta feels him.

It’s like holding a doll. Limp and light, hair pouring over his arm like a curtain. Mouth hanging open and head rolling against Shouta’s chest.

At some point, his mind goes blank and everything around him seems to fade. He adjusts to the red flashing lights, the noise disappears into the background. All his thoughts slip away and he finds his body move of its own accord.

The building appears to be coming down around him. The floor above is beginning to fall in on itself, the path ahead of him glows orange. Someone’s set off an explosion. But he doesn’t stop.

Shouta runs into the stairwell again, the strobe light flashing and Spinner no longer lying on the floor. The baseball bat has rolled to the bottom of the stairs.

And Shouta runs up the stairwell, the sound of his breath too loud in his ears, louder than the sirens.

And the door above him bursts open, nomu crawling out, and Shouta turns back around, back down the staircase and into the corridor where the ceiling is coming down in great chunks now, smoke filling the air and his lungs and he pulls Hizashi to his chest as he runs.

He runs.

And he runs through smoke and jumps over rubble and he leaps out of the way of incoming concrete, tumbling from above. And now there’s another door with another stairwell and he runs into it, doesn’t stop running, knows that the nomu are just behind him and he clings tightly onto Hizashi, gets to the top floor again and opens a door into a corridor of fire, of burning nomu bodies and branches and bricks and smoke, lit up alarm-red.

He runs.

He doesn’t stop running, not even when he finds the corridor blocked with rubble, has to turn around and run the other way. Not even when he feels his vision blur and his lungs rejecting the air, coughing and clutching onto Hizashi and smoke tears streaming down his face.

And when he sees someone approach, he prepares to run right past them. Mount Lady stops him, hand on his shoulder, covering her mouth and shouting to him, miming for him to take cover.

And he falls to his knees, not to take cover but because his legs know that they can stop, now. And the place suddenly floods with light, the red and grey and black cloud dissipates and Shouta winces. Feels the floor beneath him disappear. And he’s being carried to the surface through the ceiling- Mount Lady’s great hand picking him and Hizashi up and laying them gently on the ground like she is setting a spider free outside.

It’s morning. The sun is too bright for him to see.

And Shouta still wants to run. They’re surrounded by paramedics and he has something wrapped around his face forcing air into his lungs, but the urge to run and take Hizashi away is still there. He can’t believe that he’s safe. He has to get Hizashi out. He has to save Hizashi-

And he feels someone prying his arms open and people swarm around Hizashi, Shouta kneeling there and watching them flash torches in his eyes and put a mask over his face, and Shouta feels someone drape something over his shoulders- a foil blanket, that he shrugs off almost immediately.

And as the paramedics buzz around him, prodding him and asking him questions, he watches them pull Hizashi onto a stretcher, moving towards an ambulance. He tries to stand up and follow but his legs won’t work now. The urge to take Hizashi away, take him somewhere safe still courses through him- but his legs won’t move. His breath echoes loudly in the oxygen mask and his throat burns. And someone comes into his vision- Nemuri. She’s holding Shouta’s hands and crying, taking off his goggles and wiping smoke off his face. She’s saying something he can’t hear. He can’t hear any of it right now. He just kneels there, still cradling his ribcage, a paramedic trying to peel his hand away so he can check the damage.

They carry Hizashi away. Shouta wills himself to move. Reporters and policemen block Shouta’s view. He tries to see around them but he feels lightheaded and the edges of his vision darken. A sea of police officers coming onto the scene. Tsukauchi looking at him with concern and relief.

And Ueda.

She’s standing there, right beside Tsukauchi. Ueda Hinata is scanning the scene, eyes running over everything and chewing her lip in panic. Shouta’s vision is darkening, but in that last moment, he stares at Ueda.

His hair rises off his shoulders.

He spots Tsukauchi frown at him in his peripheral. Sees Tsukauchi turn to find the person he is aiming his quirk at.

And there is a split second where Ueda just stands there, mouth hanging open, eyes wide in horror and fixed on Shouta. Then, she breaks into a run.

The darkness swallows Shouta’s vision the moment that Tsukauchi grabs hold of her and puts her in handcuffs.

000

When he wakes up, it takes several doctors and Nemuri’s help to stop him from tearing out his IV and going to find Hizashi. The only thing that stops him is Nemuri’s assurance that he’s fine, that he’s stable, that he probably won’t wake up for a good few hours at least.

The two of them talk for a while. Neither one of them have much to say- simply because there’s too much to say. And so they discuss the weather, the classes that they’ve missed at school, the students, the most recent episode of some terrible soap opera that Nemuri is openly obsessed with and that Shouta secretly likes. They talk, and the doctor comes to update him on the damage he’s sustained- a bad burn to his arm, three broken ribs, split lip, oxygen deprivation. He’s had far worse, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t feel awful.

He asks after Hizashi, and Nemuri’s hand on his arm tightens in response. The tears that she’s been holding back start to pour down her face as she silently gazes out of the window. And the doctor speaks like he’s made this update several times already; he’s stable, he’ll probably be awake in a few hours’ time; he’s a little malnourished and dehydrated but should make a decent recovery soon enough; some burns around his wrists from the restraints that are at risk of infection, but will heal in a day or two; the main concern is the anaesthetics that he’s been fed for so long, and the dependency that he’s developed because of it. He will have to stay in hospital for a couple of days at least, to take him off the drugs slowly and responsibly. That, and his muscles have atrophied from being unconscious for so long. He’ll need regular physio for at least six months.

It hurts to hear. It hurts more to hear about Hizashi’s condition like he’s somewhere else, out of reach. It still feels like he’s gone. Shouta needs to find him.

And so when Nemuri is ushered out of the room, and the doctor leaves him in peace, Shouta waits for the door to click shut before he rolls himself out of bed. He pulls out the IV easily, the machines beep in complaint. His ribs hurt, but they already feel better than they did before.

Barefoot, Shouta walks down the hospital corridor, light blue walls and shining lino floor cold beneath his soles. Nurses shout after him and he ingores them, picking up the pace. He has no idea where he’s going.

He turns a corner, runs straight into Emi.

“Sh-Shouta!”

She’s wearing civilian clothes right now- a yellow, summery dress and her green hair tied into two buns. She’s holding a polystyrene cup of bad coffee and her eyes are wide in shock.

Shouta stands there, doctors and patients walking around the two of them. People staring. A couple of people taking pictures. He’s still famous, then.

“I was just coming to visit you. You’re up and about, I see,” she says with a smile and raised eyebrows that suggest he shouldn’t be.

“I’m looking for Hizashi’s room.”

“I know.” She nods, an understanding smile. And then she smiles. “I know. I’ll show you. Just don’t tattle on me, OK?”

Shouta smiles a little in return. And she gestures for him to follow her back the way she came. When people stare at them, she waves enthusiastically in return. He isn’t sure if she’s intentionally trying to take the attention away from him, but it’s working, and he appreciates it.

“You know, I’ve been thinking about what to say to you all day,” she eventually says, holding the cup close to her face and eyes distant. “I know you didn’t want to see me after everything that happened. I had all these comforting words. But now, you know… I just don’t know what to say.”

Shouta looks down at his bare feet, the bright white lights of the corridor making the floor shine strangely. He bumps his arm into hers as they walk side by side. It’s a quiet gesture, but it’s enough to make Emi give him a wobbly smile. He sees her wipe her face, hears her sigh.

They pass a vending machine, and she buys him a juice packet. He accepts it with a quiet thanks, takes it from her with a calloused, cut-up hand. And they continue down the corridor, Shouta listening to Emi talk compulsively about her students and their improvement since the provisional licence exam. He lets her talk, quietly sipping from a straw.

Turning the corner, Shouta sees a small cluster of police officers. Two of them drink coffee and chatter, one of them stands guard more seriously outside the door of a room.

“In there?” he asks.

“Mmhm. I reckon they’ll let you in. Nemuri managed to see him, at least.”

Shouta nods. And suddenly he’s nervous. Ridiculous, after all this time of desperately trying to find him, prove to himself that he’s alive. Now that it’s over, now that Hizashi’s safe, he can’t quite believe it. And he finds himself nervously anticipating what will happen behind the door his room.

He feels Emi’s hand on his arm. She looks at him with big, sincere eyes. “It’ll be fine. It won’t be the same as before, but it’ll be fine.”

He blinks at her. Shouta often forgets how insightful Emi is, behind the jokes and laughing and smiles. He often things her true power is knowing exactly what someone’s feeling before she has a chance to make them laugh. He nods, steps away from her grasp and steps down the corridor.

“By the way,” she calls after him.

He stops, looks over his shoulder.

She splutters a laugh, covering her mouth. “Nice ass!”

She barely manages to say it before dissolving into peels of laughter. Shouta turns back around and shakes his head. He’s been ignoring the fact that he’s only wearing a medical gown. It’s not his fault that nobody left him any clothes in his room.

Meanwhile the police officers outside the room look like they’re having difficulty containing their own amusement. They look him up and down, before remembering who it is that they’re looking at. They sobre up quickly.

The youngest of the three straightens up nervously “Uhm, Mr. Eraserhead, sir, I’m not sure if you can-”

Mr. Eraserhead?” Another raises his eyebrows at them, shakes his head. Looks Shouta in the eye. “I’m sorry, you shouldn’t really visit him right now- we’ll need to check it with our superiors, first. And besides, you’re not meant to be out of bed.”

Shouta looks at the bandages on his arm, prods his ribs. “I’m fine. Let me in.”

“Sorry, but it’s a no.” The more serious one by the door looks at him. “I’m sure you can understand that there’s a level of security required here.”

He looks at the officer’s deadly even expression, feels the other two policemen shuffle uncomfortably and look the other way. And Shouta realises then that the fight isn’t over; he’s found the real traitor, but there are those who don’t believe it. Present Mic will never be entirely absolved.

“Come on, Nakayama.”

“Listen, Detective Tsukauchi said friends and family,” the youngest says. “I think it’s pretty clear that this qualifies. Right?”

The two officers look at each other, reach a tacit decision. The officer by the door continues to stare at Shouta, and Shouta glares back. After a long, tense moment, he steps aside.

Shouta steps inside.

Hizashi lies in half-light, the curtains partially closed and a beam of sunlight cast across the room. His hair is tied up out of his face. There’s a little more colour to his cheeks now, his beard and moustache grown out, unshaven. The sound of his heartbeat is steady. He looks peaceful. His cheekbones a little sharper than before, his collar bone a little more pronounced.

Shouta stands by the door for a long moment. And then he pulls up a chair, drags it to Hizashi’s side and sits. He places a hand over Hizashi’s, rests his head on his arm. His skin is warm and more real than anything he’s ever felt. He watches Hizashi’s eyes twitch in his sleep. And before he knows it, Shouta finds himself closing his eyes himself, and falling asleep.

When he wakes up, Hizashi is looking at him. Head rolled towards him and green eyes watching. He smiles, eyebrows pinched.

“Hey, sleepy,” he croaks.

The relief is overwhelming.

Saving him, carrying in his arms hadn’t felt real enough. Hearing that he was stable hadn’t been real. But this- this is real. That smile, the sound of his voice. He’s here. Hizashi is OK.

“You’re awake,” Shouta replies a little blearily. He doesn’t know how long he’s been asleep. Not too long, judging by how far the sunlight has moved across the room.

“Mhmm.”

“How do you feel?”

Hizashi shrugs. For all that he’s been through, unnecessary movement seems like a lot of effort. But it wouldn’t be Hizashi if he didn’t shrug and gesticulate and pull faces. “Kinda like I have the longest, worst hangover of my life.”

Shouta lifts his head, shuffles closer to Hizashi’s bed. Hands on his arms. Feeling the real warmth of him here. “Doctors said you’d need a couple of days to recover.”

“Figures.” Hizashi rolls his eyes, makes a snorting sound that conveys both distaste and boredom. His head presses against the pillow, and there are deep, dark rings under his eyes. His gaze fixes on Shouta, brows pulled together. And then he measures the bandages, his lips twisting in concern. “You need to stop ending up in bandages,” he says with a sad smile. Then, “How are you feeling?”

The simplicity of the question makes Shouta huff a laugh. “Fine.”

Hizashi purses his lips. “Your lip looks worse than when I last saw it.”

Shouta touches the cut on his lip, is about to reply, when he realises the implications of this. He hasn’t had much time to consider their experiences before Hizashi’s rescue. The image of Hizashi visiting him- it seems so strange, looking back. Surreal.

Shouta’s hand rests gently on Hizashi’s arm.

“You remember,” Shouta half says, half asks.

“Yeah. I remember everything. All of it.”

A strange wave of anxiety and relief rolls over him. Shouta looks at Hizashi, swallows. His mouth is sticky. There’s a stack of cups and a jug of water by Hizashi’s bed- he pours two cups, sticks straws in them, tries to busy himself with this small task to distract himself from the feelings fighting in his chest. “You remember everything?”

“Everything,” Hizashi replies quickly, seriously.

And Shouta feels Hizashi shift- he looks down, finds Hizashi linking hands with him, fingers entwining. Shouta swallows again, something in him squirming, his throat tight and sore.

“I don’t… I don’t completely understand it all,” Hizashi starts. “But I remember.”

And so Hizashi starts from the beginning. He tells Shouta everything. Down to the anger he felt at seeing him get hurt at USJ. To the urge he felt to find the traitor, to his capture, to the experiments that the League did on him. Their attempt to hack into his mind in his sleep. And Hizashi’s theory- that all this time, he has been astral projecting to Shouta whilst unconscious. That at some point, in their sleep, their minds had connected. And Shouta considers this; considers that day when he first went to Hizashi’s apartment, laid down on his sofa to sleep, woke up and found Hizashi’s image there in the living room. He considers the fact that they have always known each other inside and out, that they had known each other better than anyone else already. Even before all this.

And he considers All Might’s words in the bar that day. “I can’t even begin to explain why it happens. Maybe it’s because of a quirk. Maybe it’s because of some other bond that’s shared. But sometimes, people, not just me, they see- visions of people. People that they’ve shared something with.”

Shouta’s shared everything with Hizashi.

Shouta listens to Hizashi explain what he saw, what he felt when he was deep in his subconscious. These are the times that he remembers least; but the moments that he had with Shouta, when he was able to reach out to him, he remembers as clearly as if he were really there. He explains how he woke up, how he figured out where he was and was able to connect with him one last time. And Shouta describes what he found out about the traitor. Explains that he saw Ueda being apprehended just before he passed out.

He wonders if Hizashi will address the fact that he told Shouta he loved him, that day. The day that the League took him and he fell into the burning flames of the shopping mall. He wonders if he’ll ask Shouta why he never brought it up. Why he didn’t confess earlier. Perhaps he knows that it was too difficult. Perhaps he knows that it was too hard to talk about it, when neither one knew whether Hizashi was truly alive.

By the end of it, they just look at each other, hands still entwined, the light beginning to dim. The sound of evening songbirds outside.

“I wonder how long we’ve been here,” Hizashi says casually. Then, “I wish someone would brush my fucking teeth. My mouth tastes disgusting.”

“I think it’s been just over twenty-four hours.”

They look at each other a while longer. It feels strange, and Shouta feels a little self-conscious, but it’s a relief to be able to have the certainty that he’s truly here.

“Are you even allowed to be in here with me?”

Shouta stares at him. “They let me in, didn’t they?”

“Yeah, but you’re in your hospital gown,” Hizashi says. Then his brows raise. “Do you even have anything on under that?”

Shouta merely continues to stare at him. Hizashi laughs- it’s a dry, throaty sound, and he starts coughing. Shouta passes him a cup of water, and Hizashi takes a sip from the straw. Then, “Oh my god, you really walked over here with your ass hanging out.”

“I wanted to see you,” he replies reasonably.

“Oh my god,” he wheezes, one hand wiping a tear from his eye. “It’s cool, you got a good ass. Work it.”

Shouta snorts. Then he remembers, “I think people were taking pictures.”

And then Hizashi laughs again, head pressing back into the pillow. This sounds more like his usual laugh. It makes Shouta grin uncontrollably. Hizashi turns to look at him, laughter dwindling, but smile still there. Brows raised to his hairline.

“You said you were kind of a celebrity now. Does that mean that I can finally buy Eraserhead merch? Is it all gonna be ass themed now?”

Now Shouta starts laughing, resting his head against his arm and hiding his face.

“You’re totally shameless. You know your butt’s gonna be on the news now, right?”

Shouta rolls his head towards Hizashi, glares at him. Hizashi grins smugly. It’s true that Shouta’s never really cared about what anyone thinks of him, and it’s always brought Hizashi great amusement.

“That reminds me. Did you have a TV in your room?”

Shouta’s smile disappears, something uncomfortable settling on him. He shakes his head. “I don’t want to know what the news is saying.”

Hizashi squeezes his hand. “We’ll have to at some point. Not yet, no way. But at some point.”

Shouta looks away. He doesn’t care what the world thinks of them, not right now.

“I’m sorry.”

Shouta frowns, closes his eyes. His stomach turns. “Don’t, Hizashi.”

“I’m sorry,” he continues, voice cracking. And Shouta’s eyes are squeezed shut, but he feels Hizashi’s other hand rest on his arm. “Shouta, I’m so sorry I put you through this, and you had to come save me, and-”

Hizashi,” Shouta argues, and his eyes sting.

“No, please, please just- please, let me apologise.” His voice is strained with tears and he can hear his shaking breaths. Shouta dares to open his eyes, sees Hizashi’s eyes red and brimming. “I was trying to protect you and instead I let my anger get in the way, and- I wanted to stop them from hurting you again, and I thought I could do it alone but I ended up putting you in danger, and-”

“Hizashi, please,” Shouta whispers. He can’t bear to hear him apologise. He can’t bear it, he can’t bear the nauseating guilt. He swears he’ll burst into tears if he hears him apologise again. But he knows he has to let him get it out.

“You came and found me and you saved me and I was the one trying to save you- and I owe you so much for that and I don’t know if I can forgive myself for leaving you and hurting you. God, Shouta I’m so sorry. I’m so fucking sorry, I’m so-”

Hizashi lets out a sob, and Shouta stands up, sits on the edge of the bed, wipes away the tears that start pouring down Hizashi’s pale cheeks. And he strokes his hair out of his face even when it’s already out of the way, wipes away the tears even when they’ve stopped, until Hizashi’s sobs quieten and he looks up at Shouta with green, watery eyes.

“You have nothing to apologise for,” Shouta says. It’s hard to keep his voice even. “I’m… I’m the one who should have come sooner. I knew that there was something going on and that you weren’t telling me everything. I should have looked harder.”

His voice clicks when he swallows. The knowledge of this, the guilt at letting Hizashi get into trouble, saving him only at the eleventh hour, and then hearing him apologise- it’s too much.

Hizashi’s hand rests on Shouta’s shoulder, rises up to his neck.

“No way. No way do you get to apologise and feel bad when you’ve saved my life.”

Shouta looks down at him, blonde hair fanned out over the pillow, hair tie falling out. Stubble that he doesn’t usually see on Hizashi. Eyebrows pinched apprehensively.

He leans down. Hizashi’s eyes widen.

“Wait wait wait,” he babbles, hand holding Shouta back by the shoulder. “I haven’t brushed my teeth in like, three weeks. You don’t want to kiss me right now.”

Shouta just looks at him, shakes his head minutely. “I do.”

Hizashi blinks, nods a little shakily. And Shouta presses a gentle chaste kiss against his chapped lips. It’s short, sweet, barely even a kiss. But it’s there. It’s real. He feels Hizashi’s hands rest against his cheeks.

When he pulls away, Hizashi opens his eyes and looks at him. And Shouta is struck by just how brilliantly green they are. He’s never seen them up close before.

“We’re only fifteen years too late,” Hizashi grins.

Shouta nods. There’s so many feelings coursing through him, squirming and fighting that it’s hard to know what to say next. “Better late than never.”

Hizashi nods, smile softening. “It’s better in real life, too.”

“You’re really here,” Shouta finds himself saying, like words coming out from someone else’s mouth.

“Yeah. Yeah, I’m here. We’re here, it’s all good now.”

He doesn’t know where it comes from, or why it happens now. But the tears suddenly well out of him, and he finds himself taking a deep, unsteady breath. He finds himself choking on that breath, finds his cheeks wet with tears and hears the sob come out of his mouth before he can do anything about it. He squeezes his eyes closed, clamps his jaw shut, and lets his body shudder with tears. Hizashi’s hands cup his face.

“Oh, Shou. Come here. Come here.”

He lets himself be guided down to the bed. Hizashi lets him lie on his back beside him. They barely fit on the bed like this. Shouta covers his face with his forearm, the sound of his quiet crying muffled, trapped in the crook of his elbow. All the while, Hizashi buries his arm beneath Shouta’s neck and brings him close into his arms.

“Come here. It’s OK now. It’s OK. I’m here.”

The tears don’t stop. Everything comes up at once, and it’s like the day of the funeral, except quieter, more fragile. The fear of being alone again, the fear of Hizashi truly leaving him. It still hurts, even with him lying there. It still hurts, because-

“I can’t lose you again,” Shouta says through gritted teeth.

There’s a sharp intake of breath that sounds like Hizashi is crying, too. Shouta removes his arm from his face and turns to look. He’s biting his lip, loose hair pouring into his face. Stroking Shouta’s cheek.

“I’m not going anywhere. Things are different for us now, OK?”

The evening sunlight casts a bright glare in his face. Shouta closes his eyes. “OK.”

His breathing quietens and Hizashi lets him lie there. At some point, they both fall asleep. No one comes to take Shouta away.

000

It’s several days later, and Shouta is sat in the chair by Hizashi’s bed, covered by a sleeping bag and head rested against the bed sheets. After all the time that he was kept under anaesthetics, the withdrawal process has been tough on Hizashi. Combined with the physio, he’s not able to do much other than sit in bed and read a book. Much of the time, he’s asleep. Either that, or his family come to visit. Shouta doesn’t leave his side, as much as Nemuri and Tensei try and pull him away for some rest.

Hizashi watches the news on his phone and absent-mindedly strokes Shouta’s hair whilst he pretends to sleep.

”Officials are calling this one of the most sophisticated infiltrations seen in their lifetime, a quirk so dangerous that laws surrounding quirk transparency will need to be reviewed. ‘We need to crack down on citizens who do not divulge their quirk to superiors or avoid their Quirk Directory updates. Leniency in these laws is what allows people like Ueda Hinata to walk free-’”

Shouta listens, head rested against his arms. The sound of doctors and visitors and patients outside Hizashi’s room passes through the door. The radiators click on.

Ueda was apprehended shortly after the hero Present Mic was found at the League of Villains’ hideout. Police reports say that Ueda had been registered at the Mustafu Police Force for over a year before being discovered by the hero Eraserhead, who erased her quirk on the scene and revealed her to the police. Detective Tsukauchi states that he had ‘never even seen her before at the force- she must have been using her quirk this entire time’.

Weeks after the event, citizens share their concerns over the lack of vigilance amongst heroes and police, letting villains work amongst them. ‘It’s pretty scary when you think that, you know, there are these people living with us and just walking around, using their quirks to trick the people we trust most.’

‘I think so long as there’s someone like Ueda, there’s a hero like Eraserhead. So long as there’s an unbeatable villain, there’s an unbeatable hero, like All Might. I just wonder what the police can do in a world like this-’

There’s the sound of the door opening, and Hizashi pauses the news on his phone He continues to stroke Shouta’s head. The door clicks shut.

“You don’t want to watch to that rubbish.” There’s a smile in that voice. Tsukauchi.

“Ah, I know, it’s all bullshit. Loads of them still think it was me. I mean, I dunno if I can blame them.”

“There’s more trust in heroes that you’d think. The League underestimate people’s ability to hope.”

There’s a stretch of quiet, the sound of Tsukauchi pulling up a chair. Shouta feels Hizashi shift in the bed, sit up straight. Then a quiet laugh- Shouta feels the hand continue to stroke his head.

“Oh- yeah. He never leaves. He doesn’t get much sleep these days.” A pause. “Did you find out anything?”

“Ueda doesn’t know a lot. We don’t know where the League are now. But we can safely assume that their experiments on you were failed. Whatever quirk that doctor had, whatever he was trying to do, they didn’t find any information. For now, we don’t think that UA security has been compromised.”

Hizashi sighs, his hand coming to a brief stop on Shouta’s head. “Fuck. That’s- fuck that’s a relief. My nosy ass knows too much about UA’s security systems. And, like, a lot of other stuff too.”

Tsukauchi hums. “Which reminds me. You and Aizawa seemed to have a lot of information on the police. And from the Quirk Directory.”

There’s an awkward pause. “Uh. I. Found it all by chance?”

“How did I not know that you were a hacking genius?”

Hizashi laughs uncomfortably.

“It’s fine. You solved the case-”

“Shouta did,” Hizashi emphasises.

“Either way, you’re not in trouble. Just- don’t hack into the police server again.”

“Sure, no problem dude. Naturally! Sorry… about that.”

“Why did you hide how smart you are? I’ve seen your stats. You have an off the scale IQ. You could be a government strategist.”

Well- I prefer for the public to think that I only have one brain cell. It’s generally safer that way.”

They fall quiet again.

Then Tsukauchi: “There’s something I came here to say. Other than to inform you that the students are safe.”

“Oh- uh, sure. What’s up?”

There’s a deep intake of breath. “I’m sorry that the police force have failed you. Both of you. All of you heroes. We should have known that Ueda was there. She shouldn’t have been able to slip through. We have a job to support you heroes, and we failed.”

“Woah- settle down, it’s all good, you feel?”

“No- we should have done more. We should have known earlier. The moment I realised there was a mole, I did what I could to investigate. I knew I had to make it right, but I couldn’t without being caught. Everyone’s eyes were on me, especially the traitor’s. So, as soon as I found out that someone had hacked into the server and traced it to your address- I did nothing. I told the tech team to stand down. I tried to do what I could to help without getting caught, I knew that approaching you both would just put us all in danger. I gave you all the physical evidence that I could-”

“I figured that must have been you.”

“But I should have done something sooner. I’m sorry.” Shouta hears the rub of material, of Tsukauchi standing up- he guesses he’s bowing.

“Ah- man, you don’t have to do this. Really! It’s good, you helped us in the end, right?”

“Ueda’s apprehended now, but that doesn’t mean similar events won’t happen in the future. I’m going to make sure-”

“Hey, hey- firstly, it’s cool, please chill. Secondly, could you keep it down?” Hizashi’s hand on Shouta’s head continues to stroke again. “I mean, not for him. He’s totally faking it, I just have a bit of a headache. Withdrawal’s a bitch, you feel?”

Shouta cracks open an eye, and Hizashi grins at him.

“Saves me from having to update you both separately, I suppose,” Tsukauchi says a little wearily as Shouta sits up and looks him in the eye. He’s as tidy and smiling as ever, if not for the fact that he looks rather more tired than usual. “Feeling better, Aizawa?”

Shouta grunts in assent. His feelings towards Tsukauchi are mixed, these days.

“Wearing more clothes today?”

He glares at Tsukauchi. Hizashi bursts into peels of laughter. “Oh, babe. I bet you weren’t banking on being more famous than me, huh?”

“No, I wasn’t,” he mumbles. That only makes both other men laugh harder. Hizashi takes Shouta’s hand in his and laces their fingers together.

He’s not sure he’ll ever get used to that.

There’s a knock on the door- and Yagi steps in, bending down beneath the door frame and waving.

“Visiting hours have ended,” Shouta announces dryly.

Hizashi elbows him pointedly.

Yagi only chuckles. “I won’t stay long, I promise. I only came to say that you have a few guests, Mic.”

Hizashi looks at Shouta, who returns his look. Tsukauchi stands up, takes Yagi’s side, looking like he knows what’s coming.

“I do?”

Yagi nods with a smile, peers through the window of the door and beckons for someone to come in. The door opens, and a green head of hair pokes around the doorway apprehensively. Then a smile.

“Sensei!”

Midoriya Izuku, with a melon the size of his head in his hands. And then Uraraka. Iida. Todoroki. Kaminari. Bakugo, even- all of them. The whole of class 1A have come, a lot of them bringing fruit. Bakugo has brought a melon even larger than Midoriya’s, which makes Hizashi laugh uproariously. They pour in, talking over each other and asking how he’s doing, anxiously circling around his bed. Tsukauchi and Yagi slip out quietly, Yagi passing Shouta a smile over his shoulder as they leave. All the while, his students ask endless questions, proffer a cornucopia of get-well-soon fruit, and Hizashi grins the whole way through.

If they notice the way that the two of them are holding hands, they don’t point it out.

Chapter Text

Shouta closes the door behind him, lets Hizashi step ahead of him into their apartment.

He’s brought in a lot of Hizashi’s stuff. The ugly sofa has been reinstated, clashing wonderfully with the UA apartment that was largely furnished when Shouta arrived. He had a day to clean up the place before he went to pick him up from the hospital, and decided to put a little effort into the place, for once. There are house plants, now. Shouta’s never knowingly bought a house plant in his life- when he used to share with Hizashi before, Hizashi had been the one to buy that sort of stuff. And he’s framed some photos, rather than leaving them in boxes. And whilst he would be perfectly happy living in an empty room with a mattress and a microwave, he knows that Hizashi likes fairy lights. He’s strewn some here and there, across bookshelves and the mantelpiece.

Hizashi stops, looks around. His hair is tied into a messy half-bun. His jacket doesn’t hang so loosely on him these days. His mouth is parted in quiet surprise. This is not a usual look for Hizashi, who ordinarily expresses surprise through screaming.

“Shouta… this is amazing.”

“It didn’t take too long.”

Hizashi looks at him. “You didn’t have to do this.”

“I wanted to.”

Hizashi blinks at him, looks about the apartment again. He takes a slow deep breath. “Feels like home.”

Shouta lets him absorb the moment. He watches as Hizashi removes his leather jacket, hangs it up on the coat hanger beside the front door. “We live together now,” he says dreamily, as he stares about. Then, turning to Shouta, and putting his hands on his shoulders. “So, aren’t you gonna show me round?”

Hizashi grins. Shouta huffs a quiet laugh.

“You’ve seen it all before.”

“Not like this though! We’re together now, I’m seeing it through new eyes!”

Shouta nods wearily, carries Hizashi’s small bag of things that he’d needed whist at the hospital, and he starts him on a tour around the small flat.

“Bathroom,” he says bluntly, nodding his head in its direction.

“Oh yes, very good to know!”

He gestures the other way. “Kitchen.”

“I’ve never seen it before! Incredible! Man, look at this kitchen that we share now!”

Shouta smirks at Hizashi’s childish game, shakes his head to himself, walks down the corridor. Hizashi follows. He nudges one door open. “Spare room and office.”

“Very official and important. Lots of homework unmarked, I see-”

And,” Shouta interrupts pointedly, glaring at Hizashi. He pushes the last door open. “Bedroom.”

Hizashi props his head on Shouta’s shoulder, looks into his bedroom. “Hmm yes, I think the only time I’ve been in here is when I had to take you home after that night out. Remember, you drank so much that-”

“We don’t talk about that.”

Hizashi laughs. Shouta turns to him.

“If you want to take the spare room…”

Hizashi looks like he doesn’t understand for a long moment. And then his brows fly up to his hairline. “Pffft. Shou. Seriously. That’s not gonna happen.”

Shouta nods, drops Hizashi’s bag in his room. “OK. I thought it’d be worth asking. Didn’t want to assume-”

He forgets what else he was going to say when Hizashi steps into his space and wraps his arms around his waist. “You’re so cute,” he says through a pout.

“Not cute.”

“Well I think you’re cute.”

“That’s your problem, not mine.”

Hizashi grins a little drunkenly, and Shouta kisses him. Soft and slow. He still can’t believe that this is something he can do; that he can simply kiss Hizashi like this. That he can feel the warmth of him beneath his lips.

All of this is real.

Hizashi pulls away. “You remember how you asked me if there’s anything I wanted to eat when I got out of hospital?”

“Mm.”

“Pizza. Like, I want a fucking giant pizza.”

Shouta snorts. “We can do that.”

Hawaiian.”

“Absolutely not.” Hizashi laughs. Shouta smiles. “Pizza and movie?”

Hizashi nods emphatically. “Sounds perfect.”

And so they turn the lights down, find a movie and order enough pizza to survive for the next few days. It’s the school holidays and Shouta doesn’t need to be on duty- so they have a beer and watch films until past midnight, tangled up under blankets. Shouta lies his head in Hizashi’s lap, but he doesn’t fall asleep. He doesn’t want to.

When they go to bed, it’s strange. Shouta tells himself that it shouldn’t be, that they’ve shared a bed before, but this is different. He changes out of his day clothes and gets into bed as he usually would, feels acutely aware of the fact that Hizashi is there too. Hizashi is pulling on the Eraserhead t-shirt that he made him all those years ago, wearing colourful boxer shorts and a slightly bashful smile as he slides into the space beside Shouta.

Lying there, he looks up at Hizashi, who’s propped himself up against the bedframe with pillows.

“I’m going to read my book,” Hizashi announces a little loudly and awkwardly.

Shouta merely watches him get out of bed, go to the bookshelves in the living room, then return. Walking in a way that suggests he's trying far too hard to act casual. He gets back into bed beside Shouta, turns on the bedside light and flicks off the switch for the main light. His eyes zip self-consciously over to Shouta, before opening the first page of his book.

The bedside light is bright but Hizashi’s angled it towards his book, at least. And Shouta is feeling far too alert right now. On edge. Anticipatory, maybe. He can’t sleep, but that doesn’t mean he won’t try. He turns on his side and closes his eyes.

It must only be ten or fifteen minutes later when Hizashi sighs decisively. Shouta hears him close his book and drop it on the bedside table. He feels the bed shift as Hizashi settles down beside him, shuffling under the covers.

“You awake?” Hizashi asks. Like they’re at a sleepover.

“Turn the light off.”

“Don’t want to yet.”

He cracks an eye open. Hizashi is lying unbelievably close. His hands are tucked under his pillow, and he’s taken his glasses off.

“What detergent do you use,” Hizashi asks.

“Why do you care what detergent I use.”

“Because your sheets smell nice.”

Shouta looks at him. The nervous pursing of his lips, the wide-eyed gaze.

“It’s really warm in this apartment. Do you think it’ll stay cool during summer?”

“I don’t know, Hizashi.”

“I- I think I noticed that the windows are double glazed, I guess that’s why it’s so warm, you know? Uh, but, you know, if it gets too warm you can always just. Open a window, which is handy, and-”

Shouta leans in and stops his words with a kiss.

Hizashi sighs against his lips. He pulls him closer, an arm draped over Hizashi’s side and hand on his back. Hizashi shuffles closer, tangles their legs together, and Shouta feels his hand on his cheek. The sounds of their breaths stuck between them, only for them to hear. It’s so much more intimate a kiss than any other he’s had with Hizashi so far. Much more intense. He feels it more, feels his skin shiver.

Hizashi pulls away just slightly, but Shouta can still feel his breath on his lips, his eyes still closed.

“God, thank you- I can’t believe I was talking about double glazing.”

“Neither can I.”

A self deprecating laugh, before Hizashi whispers, “I was nervous.”

“I could tell.”

Hizashi smiles against his lips, kisses him. And Shouta’s hand winds under Hizashi’s t-shirt. Hizashi finds Shouta’s waistband.

Tonight, Shouta feels him so much more than last time.

He feels Hizashi’s goosebumps beneath his fingers. He feels his heart beating, feels how real he is. He feels the softness of his skin. He feels Hizashi’s breath, feels him panting into the crook of his neck and into his mouth. He feels the warmth of his thighs and the silkiness of his hair. He feels the arch of his back beneath his gently tracing hands, feels the featherlight touch of his fingers along his spine. Feels the gentle bite of his teeth. Tastes his sweat and the sweetness of his lips. Hears the quiet whimper of his name beside his ear, the loud cry of his name to the whole room.

Tonight, it feels so much more real.

000

From the roof of the apartment building, they can see the whole city.

The sun is going down over Mustafu and the horizon burns orange. It’s a quiet, springtime day, people going about their lives on the streets below. Present Mic stands beside Eraserhead, and they look out over the cityscape. It is the first time that they have been on patrol together since the day of Hizashi’s capture.

An airplane drifts across the sky, leaving a fluffy white trail in its wake. Hizashi looks up at it. And Shouta watches Hizashi.

“Lives to save,” Hizashi says loftily, hands on his hips. Shouta hears the anxiety in his voice.

He extends his hand. Hizashi looks down at it through his sunglasses, brows pinched. He smiles, takes Shouta’s hand in his. The light wind catches Shouta’s hair and capture gear, blows them across his face.

“Are you ready?”

That smile turns into a sharkish grin. “So ready, babe.”

They step into the world together, and they don’t look back.

000

Shouta comes home with bags of groceries, juggles them as he attempts to find his keys in his jeans pockets. It’s term time, so Hizashi should be keeping the noise down. The students are meant to be studying, right now. Nonetheless, he can hear music through their front door.

Shouta smiles to himself, shakes his head, lets himself in.

The moment he opens the door and clicks it shut behind him, he hears Hizashi and Eri call welcome home! from the kitchen, followed by Hitoshi’s distant mumble. Their voices can only just be heard over the music; Hizashi’s been introducing Eri to what he calls ‘classic divas who take no shit’. Currently, Gabrielle is singing her dulcet tones throughout the apartment.

Stepping through into the kitchen, Shouta finds them baking. Eri is stood on a stool so she can reach the counter, is wearing a too-large apron and is covered in icing sugar. She turns to see Shouta arrive, waves a powdery-white hand at him with a smile that’s alarmingly close to Hizashi’s. Hitoshi has been given the task of beating the batter by the looks of it- he’s showing Eri how the ingredients change the more he mixes, tilting the bowl towards her to look inside.

Hizashi, meanwhile, is washing up plastic bowls and spoons. He flicks his hands dry, comes over to Shouta and kisses him.

“Hello again! We’re making cookies.”

“I can see,” Shouta says, dropping the bags on whatever free space he can find on the kitchen counters. Most of the place is covered in flour and sugar and loose chocolate chips. “Looks like you’re almost done.”

“We’re making cupcakes too,” Hitoshi says mildly, putting down the cookie mixture. There’s flour in his purple hair, like he’s been snowed on. “Denki said the charity bake sale doesn’t have enough participants so I’m making extra.”

“Ah,” Shouta replies simply. He looks at Hizashi as he unpacks groceries, who passes him a secretive oh my god, we have to talk about this later, does he have a boyfriend? look.

“Toshi says we get to keep some for ourselves, too,” Eri explains, carefully. “And we’re going to decorate them all together.”

“And you have to join us,” Hitoshi adds.

Shouta wouldn’t dream of doing otherwise.

He allows Eri and Hitoshi to show him how to correctly disperse the mixture into proportional balls on the baking paper. Hizashi has taught them how to do this, he realises, and feels a warmth at this knowledge. Hitoshi encourages Eri to take the lead and show them how it’s meant to be done. And when they put the cookies in the oven, Hitoshi goes to wash the remaining bowl, whilst Eri and Hizashi prepare cupcake mix. Shouta retrieves the ingredients he’d bought, very specific things that he purchased for this very purpose, although he knows next to nothing about baking. He followed Hitoshi and Hizashi’s instructions to the letter.

And four people baking together is busy and chaotic, but they try all the same. Hizashi belts the lyrics to Gabrielle’s Dreams Can Come True, dancing with Eri in the middle of the kitchen and drowning out the lyrics with his singing.

“Do you have to sing so loudly,” Hitoshi comments drily.

Hizashi looks at him pointedly. “Hey, this might actually help your English skills!”

The cookies are cooling on the side, and Shouta is pushing in a tray of cupcake mixture into the oven. He says, so only Hitoshi can hear, “If you get good enough you can teach Kaminari some English, too. He needs the extra classes with those grades.”

He sends Hitoshi a look. Hitoshi reddens spectacularly.

What- no. That would be weird.”

Shouta closes the oven door, shrugs. “It was just a suggestion,” he says reasonably.

Hitoshi seriously considers this advice for a long moment, staring at the floor. “Maybe,” the boy mumbles.

Shouta snorts, pats Hitoshi on the shoulder- who looks decidedly in the other direction.

And so they spend a quiet afternoon listening to music and dancing in the kitchen. Decorating cupcakes and eating cookies with milk. Hitoshi pipes icing messily onto the cakes, Eri focusing intently on her own unicorn inspired designs. Hitoshi mixes more pink icing for her, shows her the ones that he’s done so far, and she coos in admiration over them. Hizashi and Shouta stand side by side, watch them work together and talking quietly amongst themselves.

Shouta leans against the counter, crosses his arms in front of his chest. Peers over at Hizashi, who looks happier and more relaxed than he’s ever seen him. It’s hard to believe some of things they’ve experienced to get here, hard to believe how long it took.

And Hizashi notices him watching. He smirks. “Staring at my beautiful face?”

“Yes,” Shouta says simply.

“Sap.”

Shouta smiles back. The sun pours through the windows behind Hizashi. Music plays, Hitoshi and Eri chatter together. And Shouta never imagined that he would have this future, outside of this dreams. He wonders if Hizashi ever thought that things would work out like this. Hizashi leans in for a quick kiss and Shouta obliges. No- he never imagined that he’d be able to spend the rest of his life with someone he loves, that he would have a family.

He never thought that he’d end up buying a ring and planning to propose to Hizashi on an ordinary Wednesday afternoon after work. And yet here he is, ring box in his jeans pocket and heart racing.

Hizashi smiles at him, takes his hand. He feels it, undeniable and warm and real in his own. Sunlight pours over Hizashi's shoulder.

And if it weren’t for everything that they’ve been through, he could almost believe that he’s daydreaming.