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Sometimes the words stick in the back of his throat. Many of his seatmates might scoff at the idea-- Mumbling Midoriya, at a loss for words? If only-- but he'd had a stutter as a kid that never really went away. His mom used to coach him to stop and take a breath to order his thoughts before he spoke. Kacchan used to whack him on the back and yell at him to "Spit it out or shut up, D-D-Deku!" One of his last vague memories of his father was his advice to practice speaking when no one was listening.

 


He'd looked up at the man sitting in front of his computer, quailing back a little as those eyes turned from the screen to meet his. Father sighed, then said, "You need to learn to enjoy words. Tonguetwisters, poetry, find a way to taste them and line them up. I think your brain goes a bit too fast for your mouth, so you can either slow your thoughts or work on speaking as you think."

 

 

Izuku had taken that advice to heart, which is probably where his mumbling habit had begun, come to think of it. Those stumbling early days of sitting in his room muttering about raw buckwheat and raw eggs (namamuginamagomenamatamago), and two chickens in the back yard (niwanihaniwatorigairu), until he barely noticed himself talking. When he wasn't concentrating, his thoughts burbled from his lips, a subvocal river. When he tried to talk in front of people, the river beat against his teeth but never flowed smoothly.

 


When he was pushed down the stairs, a startled screech was the last sound he was able to make, right before he collided with the new transfer student from class C.

 


"Shit, you okay?" the purple-haired pre-teen asked, groaning as he pushed himself off the floor. Izuku, sprawled awkwardly across the other boy's legs, tried to scramble backwards, bow and apologize all at once. His right arm had already begun throbbing in time with his heartbeat.

 


"S-s-s-" His throat clicked on a swallow, and he tried to take a calming breath. Purple-hair focused on the arm Izuku cradled to his chest.

 


"Dude, that looks bad. Is it broken?" Izuku looked down at his wrist, which looked mostly normal except for a rapidly reddening patch just under the heel of his palm. The pain pounded insistently, rivers of fire racing from his wrist to the socket of his shoulder, and he choked down a whimper. From the top of the stairs, Tsubasa started laughing.

 


"Look, Deku's gonna cry again. What a ~loser~," he jeered. Izuku flinched at the dark look on Purple's face.

 


With a sudden jerk, Purple pushed himself straight up, glaring at Tsubasa. "Hey asshole, why'd you push him?"

 


"Deku tripped on his own feet, you--"

 


"Shut up and go tell a teacher what you did." Purple ordered. With a blank look in his eyes, Tsubasa snapped his mouth shut and pivoted sharply away. Izuku was momentarily distracted from his wrist by musings about Purple's quirk-- Could it be a physical puppeteer quirk like the underground hero Shadowboxer, or something more mental like Suggestability or Hypnosis? It seemed like vocal responses might be the trigger (unless it was eye contact, but physical contact obviously wasn't needed), but did it have to be words or did it work with nonverbal responses like sighs or hand signs? What would happen if it was in a different language? Or something like singing, since Izuku had read that singing lyrics accessed a different part of your brain than just speaking. Either way, it sounded like an awesome--

 


"You know, if you talk that fast, I can't answer your questions." Purple stated, reaching out a hand to pull Izuku up by his left arm. "Anyway, let's get you to the nurse. You need some ice."

 


"Oh. U-um, thank you." Izuku winced as the new position jostled his arm. "Sorry for, um, for the trouble." He ducked his head as Purple shot him a sharp glance.

 


"You--?" He sighed. "You got pushed down the stairs... and you're apologizing for it." He stated blandly. "That seems counterintuitive."

 


"Um... sorry?" Izuku whispered. He was starting to shake a little, adrenaline flooding his veins and leaving him cold. He had no idea what Purple was going for with his blunt statements and the hand reaching toward his shoulder as if to steady him, but apologizing was generally safe.

 


"You don't have to apologize, dude. I don't know your name, but I doubt it's actually Deku."

 

"Um. Midoriya." Izuku peered sideways at Purple as they rounded the corner. "Izuku Midoriya. Deku is just, um, just what my... friends call me." He winced.

 

"Sounds real friendly." They'd reached the nurse's office, and Izuku's eyes widened as Purple knocked on the door, glimpsing red on the other boy's palms.

 

"You-- blood-- you're bleeding!" He cried. Purple looked momentarily surprised, then his face fell back into tired cynicism.

 

"It's what happens when you fall, Midoriya. Don't apologize for someone else's actions. Especially when you're hurt worse."

 

"S-still," Izuku insisted, "because of me, you- you got hurt, so..."

 

The nurse had finally come to answer the door.

 

"Midoriya, again?" She asked, something tired and contemptuous in the curl of her lip. "You're too clumsy."

 

Izuku almost raised his hands to wave apologetically, but an abortive jolt of his hand stopped that. "Sorry, sensei, I-- um. I fell."

 

Purple looked between them. "He got pushed down the stairs by some kid with wings."

 

The nurse turned to Izuku. "Did that really happen?"

 

"Uh-um."

 

She persisted. "Last time, Bakugou told me you tripped because you weren't looking. Are you sure you were pushed?"

 

"Excuse me," Purple interjected. "Before you continue, he has a sprained wrist. It's your job to fix that."

 

The nurse rolled her eyes. "Okay, Midoriya. The ice packs are in the fridge. Please take one with you to your next class."

 

"... That's it. That's all you're going to do," Purple stated, disbelieving. "You haven't even looked at it. He could have a broken bone."

 

The nurse turned to Purple. "Which one of us has a medical certification here? Midoriya would know if his bone is broken. If he isn't crying, it's just a sprain." Izuku flinched at the reference to the last time he'd been forced to limp to the nurse's office in tears, when Bakugou had tripped him in front of his desk and broken two of his toes.

 

Anyway, the nurse's quirk, Pain Scale, did somewhat help with diagnoses, since she could look at someone and see how much pain they were in. The only drawback of the quirk was that it didn't have a gauge for people's different pain tolerance, and it tended to ignore things like fatigue caused by pain, or give more accurate readings for sharp types of pain rather than constant low-level aches. Izuku had asked about it earlier in the year when he'd needed to borrow burn cream.

 

"I can't believe you haven't even called his parents yet," Purple was saying as Izuku tuned back in. He started shaking his head frantically before the nurse could answer.

 

"Mom's at work, I can't bother her for this," he explained. "Th-thank you, um..."

 

"Hitoshi Shinsou."

 

"Sh-Shinsou-san, but I'll be okay now, so..."

 

"Midoriya," Shinsou said, face entirely serious, "you need to report this. You were pushed down the stairs. That kid should be expelled. Or suspended. Something."

 

Izuku looked down. "They won't suspend Tsubasa for something like this. A-anyway, it was an accident, so, um." He wished he could have a quirk to sink into his floor, where his heart seemed to be. It made him a little happy that Shinsou seemed to be angry for his sake-- or at least angry that he'd been involved in Tsubasa's joke-- but Izuku had been through this too many times to expect it to change. They'd call his mom, who would start crying and asking what had happened, if anyone else had been hurt (usually not), and the teachers would suggest that Izuku might be trying to get attention, or that it had been a joke that went a bit too far, or that Izuku had tried to do something his classmates could do but unfortunately, with no quirk-- well, they hoped he'd be more careful in the future, for the sake of his health.

 

"I think I hit my head." Shinsou said, finally giving up on the nurse. "Let me call my guardian."

 

"Phone's on the desk," the nurse pointed. Izuku bobbed his head at them both, then scuttled over to the fridge in the corner, picking up a bandage on his way. It would be hard to secure the ice pack and wrap his wrist by himself, but maybe if he only wrapped the Ace bandage a little and then slipped the ice pack in and wrapped it into place? At least he had some practice wrapping his arm by himself, so he wouldn't have to bother the nurse.

 

"Here, I can wrap it." Shinsou left the phone in its cradle and reached out to stop Izuku. "Let me know if it's too tight."

 

Izuku's eyes prickled with heat and he raised his uninjured hand to swipe across them. His mom was the only one who ever really tended to his injuries, and she always winced while doing it, like Izuku was hurting her. That was why he'd googled how to treat his own scrapes and burns, to ease that teary-eyed look of guilt from his mom's eyes (I'm sorry, Izuku, I'm so sorry) and keep her smiling like nothing was wrong.

 

Shinsou's hands weren't as gentle as his mom's, but that steady, cautious support on his elbow and the slow steady wrap of the bandage was somehow warm. Izuku chewed his lip guiltily as he noticed how Shinsou kept his hands curved to keep from bleeding on the bandage. Wrapping finished, Shinsou calmly retrieved a gel ice pack from the fridge and handed it over.

 

Turning back to the nurse, he stated, "I'll take that phone now." The nurse huffed out an offended sigh, retreating to the back of the office to write them late passes. With nothing to do but sit and elevate his arm, Izuku listened to Shinsou's side of the call to someone named Aizawa.

 

"... Yeah. But this time it's another kid. Some dipshit pushed him down the stairs onto me. I'm fine... Yeah, I did, but he deserved it... No, self-defense. Yeah... Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Okay. Bye." Shinsou dropped the phone back onto its receiver, lips curling into a smirk.

 

"Now we just wait," he told Izuku.

 

"... Wait for...?" Izuku ventured, shifting nervously in his chair.

 

"For my guardian to come and rip the staff a new asshole." Shinsou replied with obvious relish. Izuku "eep"ed at the phrasing, and shut his mouth as his face grew hot with embarrassment.

 

"... That was adorable," Shinsou commented thoughtfully. "Like hearing a rabbit hiccup or something."

 

"Um." Izuku had no idea what to do with that... observation? Compliment? He winced as the ice pack dripped onto his pants, cold seeping through his skin.

 

"Here." Shinsou fished a handkerchief from his pocket. "To keep it from melting on your uniform."

 

"... thank you, Shinsou," Izuku mumbled. With the adrenaline from the fall seeping away and his wrist firmly splinted, he felt himself drifting into that numb space where he was just too overwhelmed for emotions to touch him, wondering vaguely whether he should tell Mom he fell again or go into more detail, like maybe he tripped on his shoelace, oh and maybe he should ask if she still had that wrist brace she used for carpal tunnel, that might be easier than trying to re-wrap every time he needed to wash his hands, but he was pretty sure they were out of ice packs again since that time he'd read something funny on his phone and Bakugou assumed he'd been laughing at him.

 

Shinsou kept looking at him like he wanted to say something, but in the end he just opened the nurse's first aid box and pulled out a couple band-aids.

 

"I'm going to wash off in the bathroom, watch my bag until I get back." Like nearly every time he spoke, Shinsou's flat tone turned what could have been a question into a statement of fact. Izuku nodded and drew up his feet on the chair so he could huddle around his arm. The handkerchief helped, but now the A/C in the nurse's office was blowing directly down on him and he couldn't get warm. With a slight smirk, Shinsou paused to turn back, rummage in his backpack and pull out a thick scarf, which he proceeded to wrap around Izuku's neck until his nose and mouth were fully covered. "Watch the scarf, too." He left, snickering. Izuku buried his reddening face into the --thick, soft, warmwarmwarm-- purple scarf and gave up trying to understand the new transfer student.

 

-----

 

When Shinsou returned, he was not alone.

 

"... and now you owe me another cat," Shinsou was saying, with the air of someone who has just conclusively won an argument. The dead-eyed, sparsely stubbled man who'd followed him --Presumably Aizawa the guardian?-- gazed consideringly at Izuku's hunched form and at the desk where the school nurse was winning at online solitaire.

 

"...Only one cat." The man responded. "And this is the kid?"

 

Izuku shrunk a little more into his chair. He hoped he wasn't in trouble, he really hadn't meant to fall on Shinsou, he'd just seen Mari on the step beside him and he hadn't wanted to fall on the only other student who'd lent him her notes after Noburu had decided to use his notebook as shredding practice.

 

The man held his hand out, palm up, expectantly. Izuku instinctively inched backward, and tried to calculate how much money he might be asking for, then bit his lip at the split-second look of annoyance on the man's face.

 

"Give me your wrist, kid. I have EMT certification, I want to check it over."

 

Izuku blinked at him, eyes darting to Shinsou's. He gulped, pulled off the icepack and extended his arm to rest in the man's broad palm. Probably-Aizawa's fingers gently tested the wrap for any sign of looseness or over-constriction.

 

"How long have you had the ice pack?" Almost-definitely-Aizawa asked. Izuku opened his mouth, but he hadn't been keeping track of time. Again, he glanced at Shinsou for help.

 

"Around when I called you, Aizawa," the other boy volunteered. "So like, 15, 20 minutes."

 

It had been that long? Izuku was probably missing most of the math review already.

 

"Another 10 minutes, then take it off for a bit, okay kid?" Mr. Aizawa instructed. "And if the pain stays bad for the next few days, or your wrist seems out of shape, you should go to the doctor for an X-ray. Tylenol or Advil as needed, and don't try and write with that hand for a while."

 

Izuku nodded. He knew the drill for sprains. One of the reasons he was fairly proficient at writing with his left hand, though definitely not ambidextrous.

 

"Now." Aizawa pierced the nurse with his eyes. "Who do I have to speak to to report an instance of bullying and physical assault?" The nurse choked on a sup of her Calpico. An evil smirk slowly spread across Aizawa's face as she grabbed a tissue and dabbed at her face, coughing harshly.

 

"Ph-physical assault?" Izuku asked. His mind was blank with horror and guilt. "I-- I'm so sorry! Really!"

 

Shinsou and Aizawa turned to him, eyebrows raised.

 

"I-I really didn't mean to, honest! I just didn't, didn't see you when I tried not to hit Mari, an- an- and..."

 

"He's reporting the boy who pushed you, Midoriya," Shinsou interrupted. "Obviously."

 

"O-oh," well, that was a relief. For about three seconds. "But, um, but Tsubasa didn't really mean to, I mean, he wasn't really--" the words dried up on Izuku's tongue as Aizawa leveled him with a look a few shades softer than a glare.

 

"Ice off now, problem child." Back to the nurse, he said, "Either contact the teachers for Midoriya and this Tsubasa kid, or contact the principal and let him know I want to talk." Without looking at him, Aizawa reached out a hand and rested it gently on his shoulder, squeezing briefly before letting go.

 

Maybe Shinsou took lessons on being confusing from Aizawa?

 

Ten minutes later, Aizawa, Shinsou, Izuku, and his homeroom teacher were all in the principal's office. Izuku had expected the same script they always gave his mom, but apparently the double power of Aizawa and Shinsou's looks of deadpan disbelief unnerved the principal enough that he was now blustering randomly about the school's excellent record with graduating students and how sometimes thin-skinned kids needed to be toughened up a little before they went out into the world.

 

"I'm betting if we opened Midoriya's records, we'd see a lot more toughening up than the other students," Aizawa observed. Izuku privately doubted that they'd recorded most of his injuries, especially the ones that were obviously caused by particular recognizable quirks. It wasn't like that many students could leave blast marks wherever they punched.

 

"You don't agree?" Shinsou asked him in an undertone.

 

"They only write down when they have to dispense medicine," he murmured. "Bandages and ointment aren't notated." Not to mention, he only had to go there when his own supplies ran out.

 

"Putting that aside, you have a witness who saw another student attack with intent to harm. You also should have the confession the instigating student gave to his teacher."

 

"Under the influence of a control quirk," the principal objected. "How do we know he wasn't brainwashed into pushing Midoriya?"

 

"Because that's not--" "So you admit he--"

 

Izuku and Shinsou turned to look at each other when they both spoke at once. Shinsou lifted an eyebrow at Izuku, which he took as permission to speak.

 

"Shinsou-san's quirk doesn't work like that. It requires a response before he can take control, and he only used it after we both fell, so, he, um, so you can't--" Izuku lost steam when the principal curled his lip at him. Aizawa came to the rescue.

 

"Your blatant attempt at blaming my ward aside, I'm sure if we asked around we could find other witnesses who saw both the initial attack and the fact that my ward only used his quirk in self-defense. I could take this to the police, who take accusations of quirk discrimination very seriously," here Aizawa paused. "But I honestly don't think that would do much to change your mind, or more importantly, your actions. So instead, I'm going to ask how you're going to punish the instigator, and how you're going to protect Midoriya and my ward from any attempted reprisals."

 


After several more minutes of dithering, it was decided that Tsubasa would be suspended for three days, and given a week of detention. Also, apparently Izuku would never be made to be in a group with him or sit next to him for the rest of the year. Izuku wished they could do the same for the rest of Bakugou's group, but he was at least thankful to be separated from Tsubasa as much as possible. Well, until his teacher decided to ignore it, most likely. Mr. Nakamura tended to seat him next to students he thought were "disruptive," as if Izuku could do anything to rein them in.

 


As they left (Izuku had missed all of his Math class, but the homework would still be written on the board until they finished Literature class), Aizawa did the shoulder-pat-squeeze of comfort to Shinsou and Izuku in turn, and handed the latter a card with his number.

 


"Call this if you get injured again, or if another student tries something," he instructed. Then, to Shinsou, "Make sure he does."

 


"'Course. See you tonight," Shinsou answered, while Izuku tried to figure out whether a stranger had really just instructed his son (ward? their last names were different) to watch over a random kid they'd just met.

 


Aizawa nodded and left without a second glance. Izuku buried his nose into his borrowed scarf, hoping against hope that with all the talking done, he would be free to slink away to his next class.

 


"I don't have your number." Shinsou remarked.

 


"O-oh. Um. No?" Izuku responded.

 

"You should give it to me."

 

"You really, um, really don't have to actually, you know, check up on me?" Izuku tried. It wasn't that he didn't want to give Shinsou his number, it was mainly that the last time a classmate had asked for his number, it was so they could share it with the members of class who thought it was funny to tell him to kill himself and "remove his dud genes from the pool." Plus, his screen was still cracked enough that it was hard to read the end of any messages longer than a line.

 

"Check up on you? Midoriya, I'm offended. I thought you knew I'd fallen for you."

 


Izuku choked for a second, flush spreading across his face. Then the pun registered.

 

"... Really?"

 

"Have a nice trip. See you next fall," Shinsou continued, smirk starting to grow into a grin.

 

"Shinsou."

 

"Did you sprain your wrist when you fell from Heaven?"

 

"D-Did it hurt when you broke through the Earth's crust to crawl out of hell?" Izuku shot back, starting to smile back. Shinsou let out a bark of surprised laughter, which devolved into breathless giggles as he covered his smile.

 

"You have sass, Midoriya. Obviously we need to be friends." Shinsou held out his hand, "Phone."

 

Izuku sighed, but fished his phone out from his bag and turned it on. Shinsou navigated the menu and added his number in silence.

 

"I texted myself already, so I have your number. Feel free to let me know when the douches try again, or like, if you meet a nice cat or something."

 

"You, um, you like cats?" Izuku asked, accepting his phone back.

 

"We have six little idiots and I love them," Shinsou affirmed. "I can send you pictures."

 

Izuku smiled, genuinely warmed at the thought of someone wanting to send him nice messages just because. "I'd like that."

 

Maybe later Bakugou would try to explode his phone because he was smiling at it too often. Maybe he had to hide the scarf in the depths of his backpack with the handkerchief in order to keep them unexploded so he could wash and return them. Maybe halfway through literature class his wrist would start throbbing hard enough to bring tears to his eyes and he would realize he'd forgotten to get another icepack from the nurse. Still, in all, this had ended up being one of the better days Izuku had spent since kindergarten.

Chapter Text

Sometimes Izuku was ready to swear that Shinsou was just as terrible at the social aspect of life as he was. From watching his classmates, Izuku assumed that most friendships were based on proximity, similar interests, and popularity. There was a clear hierarchy, Bakugou had stood at the top of it since they were four, and Izuku was at the very bottom. If this was the food chain, Bakugou would be a lion, and Izuku would be the grass he stepped on while he chased gazelles. If Bakugou were a shark, Izuku was plankton.

Maybe he shouldn't have watched so many nature documentaries. Anyway. Shinsou didn't do the friendship thing like most other people did. He didn't send texts asking Izuku to hang out at the arcade or go to karaoke. He didn't set up study meetings or join any school clubs (not that Izuku could fault him, being a card-carrying member of the Going Home Club himself). What Shinsou did instead, was appear, seemingly at random, whenever one of Izuku's bullies found him outside of class.

"Yo, Tsubasa, how's detention going?" He called out when the winged boy had Izuku backed against his locker, sharp fingers tight at his collar.

"Oi, Baka-gou, the teacher's looking for you. Says to keep the goddamn noise down and find a life," he drawled when he found Bakugou looming over Izuku's shoulder in the cafeteria with sparking hands.

"Science says you should see a doctor about getting your head removed from your ass," he growled when one of the seniors had dragged Izuku into a group and commented loudly on an article he'd read about the evolutionary duds that were just waiting to die out, wasn't that funny, maybe they should stick Deku into a museum as the last of his kind, or donate his body to science.

After two weeks of this (and the return of Shinsou's scarf, handkerchief, and some mochi he'd bought from the store as a thank you), Izuku finally put his foot down.

"Shinsou! Do, do you want to, um, go somewhere after class?" His voice pitched higher than usual in nervousness. Izuku clenched his fists by his sides, bracing himself.

Shinsou blinked. "Sure."

At that point they both kind of stared at each other and waited. A bit more. And a bit longer.

"...So I'll meet you at the school gate?" Shinsou asked, quieter than normal. Izuku nodded. And looked down at his hands. And back at Shinsou.

"I, um. I'll see you then!" He smiled, partly with relief that the conversation (short as it was) had gone well, and partly excitement that he'd be hanging! out! with another human! Someone his age, even, who didn't seem to hate him!

Shinsou smirked back, hands in his pockets. "Keep both feet on the ground till then, Midoriya. Can't have you falling for anyone else before we go."

Izuku gave that the laugh/groan the joke deserved and beat feet back to his classroom before he could try and pun back. He couldn't wait for after school!

 

------

Izuku had made a terrible mistake. And the mistake wasn't inviting Shinsou, or trying to talk to his sort-of-friend-sort-of-anti-bully-squad. The problem was assuming Shinsou would like to do what he preferred to do after school, which was mainly head home and watch the news while doing homework.

Izuku was such a boring person! He had no talents or hobbies, no quirk, no reason at all Shinsou should want to be friends with him!

Also, he was really regretting letting Shinsou into his room at all, since the other boy hadn't stopped snickering about his posters and All Might patterned sheets for the past five minutes. Particularly at the posters of doujinshi illustrations of underground heroes, come to think of it. (And no, not EXPLICIT posters, he'd never have something like that on his walls. It's just, when you're a fan of an underground hero, who by default has no merchandise or official fan club events, you kind of have to create your own content or pay someone to make it for you. Izuku is not at all ashamed of supporting the underground hero fandom, especially since he's noticed that a lot of those heroes tend to be extremely skilled with using their subtle quirks and occasionally quirkless martial arts. He just wished Shinsou hadn't found that one commissioned work of Eraserhead glaring down at a scarf-wrapped, de-flamed Endeavor. Izuku had bought that one after reading a post on Pro or No (the top hero debate site) comparing heroes by thousands of yen of property damage per fight and how much of the repairs they personally reimbursed. Endeavor was highest for causing collateral damage, including occasionally burning innocent bystanders, and his lawyers were specifically criticized for trying to weasel out of repair costs. In comparison, Eraserhead was nearly always precise enough to avoid property damage, used weapons specifically designed to immobilize without injuring his opponents, and was generally loved by anyone who had been saved by him.) Izuku's favorite was All Might, because of course it was, but he'd sort of dreamed about how awesome it would be to meet a hero who didn't rely on just his quirk and fought with his mind and strength.

Shinsou raised his phone to take a picture, framing so that Izuku's red face was in the frame.

"Aizawa's gonna love it," he commented, grinning that wide evil smile he seemed to have inherited from his guardian.

"Shinsouuuuuuuuuuu," Izuku whined. "You can't-- I mean, I don't-- I mean--"

"He replied with a cat pic." Shinsou sat next to Izuku on the bed and turned the phone around to show him an image of a cat covering his eyes with one paw, head down in shame. "I'm pretty sure that means he loves it."

"S-so Aizawa-san is a fan of Eraserhead?" Izuku hazarded.

"Eh, not really." Shinsou shrugged. "I am, though."

"H-he's so cool!" Izuku burst out, hands waving enthusiastically. "H-he uses a capture weapon in addition to his quirk, probably because his Erasure quirk only works on Emitter type and doesn't stop physical or secondary mutations. A-and I heard he's famous for intervening for kids and making them feel safe. At le- At least, that's what I've heard from the forums! There are a lot of people who are super grateful to him, e-even though he's never really talked to the media or tried to sell himself as a hero. I always thought- Um." Izuku swallowed. He'd been about to say, 'I always thought maybe I could try to be a hero like him.' Better not to go there.

"You know a lot about heroes." Shinsou observed. "Did you find that analysis online?"

"O-oh. Um." Face burning, he gestured at the shelf of notebooks above his desk. "No, I wr- wrote that from watching the news. And from hearing people's stories. It's, um, nothing special."

"You figured out his quirk's limitations even though you've never actually seen him in action. I'm guessing you've done that for all the heroes on your wall, too."

Izuku shook his head. "No, um, I mean. I write about other people in our class, too. It's good practice, because I can see how it works more easily."

Shinsou pursed his lips. "Am I in one of those?"

Izuku twisted his hands in his lap. "I- I only wrote a little. Nothing bad! Um, I can... show you?" This was the point where people usually called him creepy, pathetic, or freakish, the part when they saw how he'd dissected their quirks for strengths and weaknesses.

Shinsou held out a hand, expression neutral. Izuku scrambled up and fetched his latest notebook from his desk, flipping to one of the more recent pages, and tentatively placing it in Shinsou's hands. He sat back down, gingerly, while Shinsou started to read. In the silence, he almost thought he could hear his heart beating fast and frantic in his throat.

"Huh."

"Yes?" Izuku straightened up, met Shinsou's eyes and immediately looked back down at his hands.

"Do you mean it?" Shinsou lay the notebook on the spread between them, tapping one line at the end of the page. Izuku leaned over to read it. 'Shinsou's quirk seems perfect for underground heroics, especially hostage situations and any sort of undercover work (especially if quirk can be used to erase memories or make people confess truthfully). Might be smart to disguise quirk's "trigger" to keep as ace in sleeve-- pretend it requires physical touch or eye contact if quirk is voice-based, etc.'

Izuku nodded. "Um, y-yeah. It would definitely be smart to keep the, um, trigger sequence a secret if you were an un-underground hero."

"You think I can be a hero?" Shinsou was staring straight into Izuku's eyes, as if daring him to say he'd been joking about it all.

"Y-you, um. Every time you use your quirk, it's been to save me. So. You're on your way to being a hero already, Shinsou-san." Izuku held Shinsou's eyes for as long as he could, hoping to impress exactly how serious he was. They were both quiet for a moment, caught in an unspoken tension. Finally, Shinsou bit his lip and looked down, nodding.

"Okay."

"O-okay?"

"I've decided, Midoriya." Shinsou's lips curled up, a crooked smile just a little smaller than his typical, well, what Bakugou would call a "shit-eating grin."

"Decided? Um..." Izuku looked back at the book, then up at Shinsou. "What do you mean?"

"If I... When I become a hero," Shinsou continued, "you are only allowed ONE picture of me on your wall."

"Wh-wh-" Izuku stuttered, blushing furiously. "But, um, if you get higher in rankings, then, um, group- group photos! I can't get just one, so, um--"

"You're only allowed group photos if you're in them too," Shinsou decided. Izuku's jaw dropped.

"Midoriya, you want to be a hero too, right?" Shinsou pinned Izuku with his eyes, implacable like Aizawa's dead-eyed stare. "So if you want photos, you'll have to be there too."

"Shinsou, but, don't you--" Izuku thought he'd heard by now. "I- I'm--" useless. pathetic. worthless "--quirkless."

"So?"

"So I-- I can't--" Izuku's voice broke. "No matter how hard I try, I can't do anything special, so--"

Face flat, Shinsou picked up the notebook, leafing through it. As if he'd found what he wanted, he paused on one page, nodded to himself, and closed the notebook.

Then he lifted it with one hand and used it to smack Izuku on the top of the head. "You can't say you're not special, not after showing me this. If you can look at quirks and see their weaknesses that clearly, you can definitely use that to save people. After all, you were the one who stood up for me to the principal and told him how my quirk worked after seeing it once. You think every hero can do that?"

Izuku found, to his horror, that his eyes were filling with tears. It was just, too nice, too warm, too much praise. Too much.

"Ah shit, I didn't mean to make you cry." Shinsou frowned, rummaging in his pocket for a handkerchief. "Please don't, it feels like I kicked a puppy."

Izuku's lips trembled harder as Shinsou put the handkerchief in his hands. A tear slipped down his cheek, soon joined by another and another. Trying to calm down, he held his breath, but all that did was pause the flood for a second. With a tearing sob, he had to breathe again, and his world became a blur of heat on his cheeks, warm soft cotton in his hands, and a ball of terrified hope caught in his throat.

"Fucking..." Shinsou dragged a hand over his face. "Would a hug... help? I mean if contact is okay. I'm so fucking bad at this. Just, uh. Nod once for hug, shake your head for no hug. Okay?"

Izuku nodded, eyes clamped shut.

"Wait does that mean okay you understand or okay you want a hug? Shit, wait." Shinsou was dithering, which Izuku might have found funny in any other situation. Instead, he just inched forward slightly, slowly enough Shinsou could back away if he, well, if he didn't want to--

"Fuck it, hug it is," Shinsou declared, curling one arm around Izuku's shuddering shoulders. "Just, um. Let it all out, yeah?" He looked down at the poof of green hair that was all he could see of his friend's downturned face. "Don't worry about it, Midoriya." With a sigh, he pulled his arms closed, so that Izuku was prompted to curl up against his left shoulder, where Shinsou predicted his shirt might never dry. "Does talking help? Hearing me talk, I mean? Sometimes when I get bad it helps to hear about something else, anything really. Um. Nod your head once for 'keep talking,' shake your head for 'shut up?'"

Izuku nodded, small and tentative against his friend's shoulder.

"Okay. Um. Fuck. Well. I have cat stories? That's literally all I can talk about, like ever. Well, memes and cat stories. Cat memes mostly. But they aren't funny if you just describe them. Anyway, our youngest idiot cat is about 10 months old, she's half ragdoll kitty half something else cuz a breeder lost one of his cats and found her again pregnant and didn't want the mixes. She has really pretty blue eyes and absolutely no brain. Anyway, she's decided that any time someone uses the fridge it means they're getting her food, so she'll just come RUNNING whenever she hears you walk towards it, but she's not all that good at stopping on our tile floors, so she's run straight into the kitchen counter about three times. We're getting a little worried she has amnesia because she keeps doing it. So Aizawa got tired of it and tried putting up like, a baby gate? To keep the cats out of the kitchen. It worked great for like a day, but then Aizawa's partner was trying to make coffee one morning and just tripped spectacularly and nearly broke his nose. So long story short we took down the gate and now there are pillows taped to the sides of our counters to idiot-proof the kitchen for our cats."

Izuku let out a watery chuckle, then sniffled. He was finally calming down, which was good, but brought with it the embarrassment of breaking down in front of a new friend because he said a nice thing.

"You know, my guardian told me crying is a natural way to relieve emotion, and it just gets worse if you try and hold it back. Like trying to hold back a sneeze for too long."

Izuku stilled for a moment, then pulled back to look up at Shinsou. The other boy cocked an eyebrow at him and drawled, "Crying is just sneezing from your eyes, Midoriya."

He couldn't hold back a snort of laughter at that, covering his face with his hands and Shinsou's crumpled handkerchief as relief buoyed him up and hilarity stole his breath.

"Sh-Shinsou," he choked out between chuckles. "You can't SAY THAT."

"Pretty sure I just did." Shinsou looked extremely pleased with himself. "Laughter is kind of like sneezing too, I guess."

"STOP IT," Izuku pushed at Shinsou's shoulder gently, admonishing. "I can't... breathe..."

"I'm really not that funny, which means you're probably just punchy right now. Or maybe you're just..." the pause dragged on ominously, "...falling over laughing?"

At that, Izuku managed to straighten up and glare (kind of, his eyes were a bit swollen and tired from crying). "You are going to run out of "falling" puns eventually."

"And on that day, I may fall down dead," Shinsou declared, faux-dramatic. Izuku huffed a sigh, and did what had to be done.

He pushed Shinsou off the bed.

The other boy landed with a loud "oof" and lay there as if stunned for a moment-- it definitely hadn't hurt, Izuku's bed was barely a foot off the ground.

"...Midoriya," Shinsou drawled, an evil glint in his eye, "if you want me to fall for you, you only have to ask."

"Give me your phone, I want to tell Aizawa-san his son is about to be murdered," Izuku shot back. "And that he HAD IT COMING."

"Nah, you'd never kill me," Shinsou answered breezily. "Because you don't have anyone to... take the fall."

Izuku grabbed his pillow and threw it at Shinsou's face.

"Aw, thanks, Midoriya, now I can... fall asleep." Shinsou grabbed the pillow tightly when Izuku tried to take it back, leading Izuku to rally with a stuffed All-Might figure and face Shinsou in pillow battle. No clear winner was declared by the time they started panting and flopped down on the ground, but at least Shinsou was too out of breath to make any more puns.

Shinsou left to eat dinner with his guardians before Izuku's mother came home, and Izuku had straightened his room back into order by the time her key turned in the lock. She didn't comment on his red eyes or rumpled shirt when she served dinner, and Izuku scrupulously avoided looking at the way she twisted her wedding ring and glanced at the phone. (It had been two months since his father called, although the check had arrived in their account like usual. At this point, Izuku could barely remember the last time he'd seen his father's face outside of his mother's photo albums. All he knew was that his father left when he was four, then the doctor visit had happened and his dad just... never came back. After ten years of distance, he probably couldn't call Hisashi Midoriya a "dad" at all, but he was still Mom's husband.) Izuku straightened his shirt, thanked Mom for the meal and washed the dishes, sleeves rolled up slightly past his wrists (but never further up, bad idea to get into a habit like that with a classmate like Bakugou).

"I made a friend, Mom," he said softly.

"You did? Oh, Izuku, I'm so happy! Do they," she paused, smile falling, "they don't know, do they?"

Izuku shut his eyes tight, then opened them, looking back down at the dishes. "No, he knows."

"O-oh." Mom appeared lost for words. Izuku finished washing the last dish and dried them all carefully, hands steady as his heart wasn't.

As he stood at the sink, she walked up behind him, laying a gentle hand on his shoulder.

"I'm glad, Izuku," she whispered, voice wavering. Biting his lip, Izuku nodded, thanked her, and headed back to his room to finish his homework.

It took half an hour before that soft ' they don't know, do they?' would leave his head.

 

 

Chapter Text

In the next three weeks, Izuku and Shinsou fell into a routine. They'd meet in the mornings before class and talk about the latest public hero fights and cats they'd seen (under duress, Izuku had started to subscribe to a few cat-sighting Insta accounts purely to have something to talk about), and then separate to their own classes. After school, they'd either head to the nearest 7/11 for tea and donuts (Shinsou ordered iced coffee "as black as his soul," which turned out to be a light milky brown saturated with sugar), or hang out at Izuku's home, which was a short walk from the school. Izuku tended to direct them to the convenience store as often as he could. The food was starting to make a dent on his wallet, but at least that way they had less chance of confronting Bakugou and his gang.

 

When Izuku was finally able to remove his wrist brace, he and Shinsou celebrated with a visit to the Starbucks at the train station. Izuku curled around his hot chocolate as he saved a seat for Shinsou in the booth by the window. At the counter, Shinsou was ordering the last of the cronuts ("My treat, Midoriya, put your wallet away.") and a hojicha latte. Izuku pondered if he should start brushing his teeth more frequently, since he always seemed to eat a lot of sugar when he hung out with Shinsou. It would suck to get a cavity.

 

"So." Shinsou set their food down, sliding a cronut over to Izuku. "I want you to meet my parents. When are you free for dinner?"

 

Izuku choked on a sip of his cocoa. Coughing he reached for a napkin to wipe his face. "A- Are you sure? I mean, you're welcome to um, meet my mom, she's asked after you a lot but normally she comes home later than your train so maybe a weekend would be better but--"

 

"Midoriya. Breathe." Shinsou propped his cheek on his hand and took a bite of his treat. "I'd be happy to meet your mom any weekend. But my guardians tend to work weekend nights, so a weekday is best for us. Aizawa has been asking after you, anyway."

 

Izuku nearly responded, "Sounds fake but okay." An adult? Interested in his welfare? Historically, not probable. Instead, he fished out his phone.

 

"I-If you're sure, um, I can just tell my mom I won't be home for dinner?" He offered. Shinsou grinned.

 

"Awesome! Finish your food, I want to introduce you to the cats."

 

Under the pressure of Shinsou's expectant gaze, Izuku finished his food in less than two minutes and pitched his empty cup of cocoa into the trash-can. Following his friend to the ticket machines, he reflected that the "treat at Starbucks" trip had been part of Shinsou's dastardly plan from the start. Did it count as manipulative to bribe someone to meet your parents if the bribe was a cronut? Or was it just cunning?

 

The train was less crowded than Izuku had expected, but he and Shinsou still ended up standing after Izuku gave up his seat to an elderly lady with a cane (she pinched his cheeks when she thanked him, which made Shinsou nearly cry with laughter). Riding with another person, Izuku couldn’t justify just checking the hero news sites on his phone like normal, and Shinsou apparently normally listened to music when he traveled. They ended up sharing headphones to listen to one of Shinsou’s playlists. Izuku smiled through the first couple songs, but by the third he had a growing suspicion. When he finally asked to see the song titles, Shinsou bit his lip to keep from laughing.

 

“‘Fallin for U,’ ‘Catch Me I’m Falling, ‘Fallen Angel’ and ‘Sugar We’re Goin Down’ by… Fall Out Boy.” Izuku leveled a look at Shinsou. “I had no expectations, but somehow I’m still disappointed.”

 

Shinsou cracked up, nearly slipping as his hand fell from the strap. Izuku grabbed his arm to steady him as more passengers flooded in, rolling his eyes. “I’m pretty sure your tombstone will say something like ‘Good friend, good son, too bad about all the puns.’”

 

“Planning my epitaph already, Midoriya? You’ll have to get in line. Aizawa swears he’s going to have it say ‘Dead of Stupid.’”

 

Izuku laughed, but his thoughts took a slightly darker turn. Before Shinsou, he would have sworn that his mom would be the only one to notice if he died or disappeared. It was a somewhat accepted fact that Quirkless people were three times more likely than their peers to commit suicide (from a study he’d looked up in America), and at a higher risk for things like abusive relationships, mental health problems, substance abuse and hate crimes. He’d never met another quirkless person his age, but he could list off twelve who had died at high school age in Japan in the last fifteen years. The day after a suicide in Tokyo had made the news, his classmates had left flowers on his desk as if to say, “What are you waiting for?”

 

Shinsou poked him in the side. “Come on, it’s our stop.” He seemed to have picked up Izuku’s change of mood, because he only spoke to give directions as they walked to his apartment.

 

“Okay, it’s before 8, so Yamada should be home but Aizawa will still be working,” Shinsou informed him once they reached the building. “Yamada’s cool, though, you’ll like him.” He pulled Izuku into the elevator, pressed the button for the tenth floor, and bounced on his heels. “I can’t wait for you to meet all our cats, they’re such beautiful fuzzy idiots.”

 

Shinsou unlocked the door, calling out, “We’re home!” He bent down to pull off his shoes as two cats came up to sniff at his ankles and meow imperiously. Behind him, Izuku peered at the entrance way, taking in the abundance of slippers for visitors, the pictures of Shinsou, Aizawa and a blond man making funny faces together at an amusement park, and a tiny cactus in a pot by the door.

 

“Welcome home!” The tall blond man from the photos came bounding out of a side room, face lit up with a wide smile. “Hitoshiiiiiiiiiiii, introduce your friend!”

 

Shinsou grinned at Izuku, who had sat down to take off his shoes and was now besieged by curious cats. “Yama-dad, meet Izuku Midoriya. Midoriya, this is Yamada, Aizawa’s partner.”

 

Izuku tried to get up but gave up when one of the cats settled in his lap. “I- I- It’s nice to meet you, Mr. Yama--” He sniffed. “Ya- ah-- kchew!

 

Yamada’s eyes widened. “Hitoshi,” he said urgently.

 

“I’m sor-- ah-- kchew! ” Izuku sneezed again, fishing a handkerchief from his pocket to cover his nose and mouth. “I think I’m a-- all-- kchew!

 

Shinsou looked like his birthday had come early. “Midoriya,” he said, voice trembling. “You sneeze like a kitten.”

 

Izuku narrowed slightly watery eyes at him. “I’m s- sorry, Yamada-san,” he managed to get out. Yamada’s expression mirrored Shinsou’s look of ecstatic surprise.

 

“I kind of want to offer you allergy pills but I also kind of want to record this and put it online,” Shinsou said reflectively. Yamada laughed, loud and booming, and finally moved over to scoop up the cat and let Izuku up.

 

“Come on, Midoriya, let’s get you some tea and Benadryl. I’m allergic to cats too, so we have a lot in the house,” Yamada explained, leading the way to the kitchen. Izuku was starting to get the feeling that he’d heard Yamada’s voice before, but he wasn’t quite sure from where.

 

“Y-you’re allergic t-to cats?” Izuku asked, nearly tripping as two other black and brown furballs came racing for his feet.

 

“Yeah, but Hitoshi and Shouta both love ‘em, so I gave in.”

 

“He gets first dibs on TV remote and radio in exchange,” Shinsou interjected, arms full of a very fat tabby cat that seemed determined to stick a paw in his mouth. “And he --pbtht, stop it young man-- he makes us watch rom coms and Disney far too much.”

 

Yamada laughed again, pulling a box of allergy medication from a cabinet and placing it in front of Izuku's seat, gesturing for him to sit.

 

“You can never have too much Disney, Hitoshi! One day, it’ll be ~ part of your world~ ” Yamada exclaimed, hands fluttering slightly as he sang the last phrase.

 

“Y-you’re Present Mic!” Izuku exclaimed, voice unintentionally loud. Yamada nearly dropped the kettle he was trying to fill, while Shinsou gave a triumphant shout.

 

“Yes! I told you he’d figure it out! You owe me a Lord of the Rings marathon, Yama-dad!”

 

Izuku looked between the two, jaw nearly on the floor. “Y-you-- you-- I -- what?”

 

Yamada set the kettle to boil and turned back to face them, grinning full force. “Nice one, Midoriya! What gave me away?”

 

“U-um.” His mind was a jumbled mess of confusion, excitement, hero worship and shock. “Present Mic is mike-ing me tea. I mean making. I mean. Um.”

 

“Yama-dad, you broke him.” Shinsou sat next to Izuku, handing him the tabby. “Pet Young Man for a bit, then try again.” Izuku nodded, automatically stroking the heavy cat on his lap. Twenty pounds of warm soft weight began to purr like a freight engine.

 

“Y-young man?” He asked, after a moment.

 

“Yeah. You know, like “Young Man, there’s no need to feel down, I said, young man, pick yourself off the ground,’” Shinsou elaborated, deadpan. “He’s named after the YMCA song, cuz he always reaches up with both paws like he’s dancing.”

 

“O-oh,” Izuku nodded.

 

“Those two,” Shinsou pointed at the brown and black cats that had followed them to the kitchen, “are siblings, Stella and Sombra. There’s an orange one that hates strangers hidden in my room probably, his name is Leon, short for Chameleon. The white one that sat on you earlier is our idiot Siamese baby, she’s named Luna. And our oldest kitty is probably asleep in Aizawa’s sleeping bag, her name is Support.”

 

Izuku tried to commit that information to memory. “So… Young Man, Stella, Sombra, Leon, Luna and Support?”

 

“Yep.” Yamada poured them both tea from the kettle. “Good going, kid. But seriously, I’m curious-- how could you tell?”

 

Marshalling his thoughts, Izuku took a gulp of tea and swallowed quickly as it burnt his tongue. “Um. Well, first it was your laugh, I um, I listen to your radio show? And your voice is normally lower than when you’re presenting someone so it doesn’t sound the same, but your laugh doesn’t change. Plus, um, you do sign language videos twice a month? And I saw the one where you did sign language versions of different Disney songs, so. You almost did it just now.”

 

Yamada nodded, somewhat impressed.

 

“Also, when you’re in hero uniform you wear sunglasses and your hair is up, but it doesn’t cover that much of your face and your clothes right now are kind of similar to your uniform when you first debuted. If you were trying to conceal your civilian identity, it might be better to have a voice amplifier that always covers your mouth and just turn it on and off when you need it. You could even add in an air filter to keep out smoke and gases, or add in a voice changer if you wanted more anonymity.” Izuku took a breath, and let his shaking hands drop to Young Man.

 

“Told you he’s a genius,” Shinsou said proudly.

 

“I-- I’m not--” Izuku gave up on words for the moment and settled for smacking Shinsou’s arm reproachfully. He took the moment to gulp down the Benadryl, feeling another sneeze coming on.

 

“Well, in any case, it’s nice to meet you, Midoriya.” Yamada grinned, echoing his words with his hands, nice to meet you. “It’s nice that you’re interested in sign language, it comes in very handy for heroes to be able to communicate with no one listening in.”

 

“O-oh,” Izuku replied, hands automatically returning the greeting, nice to meet you. “I’m not very good, I can only, um.” Taking a risk, he switched to sign language. I’m learning, not good at sign but I can f-i-n-g-e-r-s-p-e-l-l. “I like it but, um, but it’s hard to practice.” Alone, he meant. He was kind of sort of studying German and Spanish in his own time, but it was hard to practice any language on his own.

 

Shinsou grinned at them both. I’m learning, too, we can practice t-o-g-e-t-h-e-r. Yamada shook his head. Together , he signed. Means t-o-g-e-t-h-e-r.

 

“At any rate, Shouta will be pleased. He likes signing more than talking most days,” Yamada confided.

 

“A-Aizawa-san can sign too?” Izuku wasn’t sure if what he was feeling was hope or envy. It seemed like Yamada and Aizawa were both really busy (Yamada was a hero! Shinsou lived with a pro hero, how cool was that!) but they still made time to teach Shinsou new things and watch Disney together and have all these happy cats even though Yamada was allergic. He wished his apartment allowed pets, it would have been nice to come home to someone that would always be happy to see him.

 

“Aizawa will be home in a bit, right? Midoriya and I can do our homework until then,” Shinsou volunteered. “I know you have to get back to grading.”

 

Yamada groaned, slumping forward in his chair. “Can we switch? I’ll do your English if you you grade mine.”

 

“I’d say yes but last time we tried I gave all of your students stickers that said ‘Me-wow’ and failed three of them for not talking about cats enough,” Shinsou replied.

 

“You were like, seven, I was just impressed you didn’t grade them in crayon,” Yamada shot back.

 

“I was twelve.”

 

“Same difference, squirt.” Yamada grinned at them both. “Table’s all yours, let me know if you want the radio on or off.” He dusted off his hands, rescued the black cat that was curiously sniffing at the kettle on the counter, and left the room.

 

“Shinsou,” Izuku murmured, cradling Young Man. “Pinch me I think I’m-- ow!”

Chapter Text

 

Doing homework at Shinsou’s house was different. A cat snoring softly on his lap, hot tea at his elbow, and the score from some action movie playing in the background. Shinsou’s pen tapping against the table as he looked over his English reading, occasionally shouting questions to Yamada in the other room. Even the blanket Shinsou had decided to drape over his shoulders when he came back from changing out of his uniform, some kind of novelty fuzzy blanket that ended in a hood with cat ears. Izuku was pretty sure Shinsou only did that so he could take pictures of the hood trying to fight the natural poof of his hair, but it was so warm and soft, he just shrugged and tucked it closer around himself.

 

Around 6, the background music changed to something that Izuku vaguely recognized as Phantom of the Opera, and Shinsou offered him earplugs because it was Yamada’s “music hour.” Izuku nearly vibrated out of his seat as he scribbled amendments to his Present Mic page-- obviously, Mic’s vocal quirk did not just increase his natural volume, but it was more effective at different pitches, so it made sense that the hero would need to keep his voice in good shape in order to use his quirk to peak effectiveness. Was Present Mic’s quirk a Mutation that increased the range and durability of his vocal cords? Or was it a Mutant Emitter quirk that allowed him to control the waves of sounds that he emitted from his mouth? Could he change the direction and focus at will? Izuku wasn’t sure if Present Mic was able to break glass by emitting sound waves at a certain pitch, it seemed like something he probably didn’t practice at home. But if his vocal blasts were powerful enough to send villains flying backwards and damage structures behind them, was it possible he’d be able to use it as a propulsion system if he could focus the sound waves directly at the ground? Izuku was pretty sure he’d read a comic at some point with a character who could fly by using vocal blasts to repel himself from the ground, and maybe that might not be feasible within city limits, but it would be good to be able to slow a fall from a tall height maybe, or…

 

There was a person leaning over his shoulder to read the Present Mic page. Izuku nearly jumped out of his skin when he heard Aizawa mutter, “Not bad, kid.” This time, he knew to expect the hand that gently patted his shoulder.

 

“Welcome home, Aizawa,” Shinsou said. “Midoriya’s over for dinner, so we’re actually having food. Yamadad’s cooking.”

 

“...Food.” Aizawa’s voice was hoarse, and his eyes were just as shadowed and red as when he’d come to see Shinsou at school. Izuku nodded to him politely as the man gave him a sweeping glance before heading to a different part of the apartment.

 

“He always naps when he gets home,” Shinsou explained, turning to a new page. “But he keeps forgetting to take out his contacts, so Yamadad’s probably gonna scold him after Music Hour.”

 

Izuku smiled at the obvious fondness in Shinsou’s voice. Sure enough, when Yamada returned to the kitchen to start preparing dinner, he shouted over his shoulder for Aizawa to “take your contacts out before your eyes dry up, hon, you’ll feel much better.” Aizawa shuffled into the kitchen within fifteen minutes, groping blindly for the fridge door and extracting a can of iced coffee that he downed in a minute flat. He slouched into a chair facing Yamada and waited for the other man to turn around before signing, Food?

 

Izuku was pretty sure Yamada’s response had something to do with fish, but by that point all the cats in the apartment had begun to gravitate to Aizawa’s chair, meowing loudly. Without changing expression, Aizawa pulled a handful of cat treats from his pocket and distributed them to each cat in turn, giving them a firm pat on the head and a soft rub behind the ears for the elderly Support that started to climb up onto his lap. Izuku muffled giggles at the behavior of the cats-- they acted like they’d been starved all day!

 

He looked up in time to see Yamada sign something about talking and point to him and Shinsou. He looked at his friend for answers.

 

“Yamadad says it’s rude to talk about people in a language they don’t know,” Shinsou explained. “Also apparently we’re having salmon and rice for dinner, because no one thought to buy vegetables.”

 

“I offered to go shopping on my way home,” Aizawa grumbled.

 

“Cat food and coffee are the only things you buy and we have enough,” Yamada rebutted, pulling ingredients out to season the fish. Izuku was still trying to process that they’d apparently been—

 

“T-Talking about me?” He looked between the adults. “Sorry, I just—“

 

“Hitoshi’s been mentioning you a lot, we just were sharing—“ Yamada began.

 

“Apparently you can dissect any quirk from direct or indirect observation, you want to be a hero like this one” Aizawa jerked his chin at his ward, hands occupied with a very affectionate cat, “and you sneeze like a kitten.”

 

“Wh- wh- why would—“ Izuku looked at Shinsou, panicking slightly. “ Why does your dad know how I sneeze?” He hissed.

 

“Midoriya, if I could, I would share it with the world,” Shinsou informed him. “Also I texted him and he picked up during a staff meeting.”

 

“Th- that’s why you were laughing over your phone so much!” Izuku was aghast. “You didn’t, I mean you shouldn’t have, I mean…!” He wanted to hit Shinsou on the arm but didn’t want Aizawa to think he was violent. Or a bad influence. “I’m so sorry you were disturbed in a meeting, Aizawa-san!”

 

“Don’t worry about it, my coworkers said it was fine as long as Hitoshi sent video next time.”

 

Izuku physically couldn’t.

 

“Ya-Yamada-san, is there anything I can do to help?” He started piling his books together to clear off the table a bit.

 

“Mind if I see the notebook before you put it away, kid?” Aizawa held out a hand.

 

Izuku looked at it for what felt like a very long moment. He’d never show his notebook to anyone but Shinsou. Not volume 11, at any rate, Mom had seen volumes 1 through 4 before. And the kids in his fifth grade class had all seen volume 5, laughing and shouting and throwing it around over his head before the teacher took it away and wouldn’t give it back to him for a week.

 

He’d never really had anyone just ask to see it before, though. And Shinsou obviously thought it was fine, from the way he was nodding his head.

 

Izuku handed it over and hunched back in his seat, wrapping his arms in the blanket that was somehow still over his shoulders like a cape.

 

Aizawa took his time reading, face varying between “deadpan,” “deadpan with one eyebrow raised,” “smirk with one eyebrow raised” and “proud smile.” Judging by the last one, Izuku thought he might be reading Shinsou’s page.

 

Without closing the book or looking up, Aizawa asked, “Why do you want to be a hero?”

 

Izuku looked around. Yamada was humming at the stove, (Present Mic was preparing him dinner!!) and Shinsou was just watching his guardian with a small smile.

 

“M-me?”

 

“No, I’m asking the cat blanket on your head.”

 

“Sorry?” For a moment Izuku wasn’t quite sure if he was apologizing for not being the cat blanket, or if he was apologizing for speaking over the blanket. Under. Speaking in place of the blanket? Did the blanket speak?

 

“Aizawa, maybe hold off on the sarcasm, he’d blue-screening.” Izuku was turning blue? “Midoriya, just ignore him being intimidating, he has resting murder face. Just, um, if it was me asking why you want to be a hero, what would you say?”

 

With effort, Izuku dragged his eyes away from Aizawa’s impassive expression and met Shinsou’s eyes. If Shinsou were asking?

 

“To, um, to save people? I think it’s really cool to be able to save someone.” He said, voice low. “I, um. It’s probably silly. Definitely. It’s kind of, um, not a great reason?”

 

“I don’t think it’s silly, keep explaining,” Shinsou prompted. Izuku tried to get his thoughts in line.

 

“Um, you remember that picture from my wall?”

 

“The Eraserhead slaying Endeavor like St. George and the Dickhead Dragon one?” Shinsou answered. Izuku could see Yamada's shoulders trembling with laughter.

 

“N-no! And please stop calling it that!” He mumbled. “No, the kind of old one of a lady from the forties?”

 

“Yeah, you said her name was Beep.”

 

“Miep! Her, her nickname, anyway. It’s kind of a long story, but I was, um, researching Germany? The president of their national hero academy raised the bar for minority and disability representation, and there was recently a team of five blind heroes that made it big, you know, the Nightlifers?”

 

“Never heard of it but continue,” Shinsou responded.

 

“R-right. Um. So the president of the academy is Jewish? And has family who lived through the Holocaust. So I was looking through their website for heroics history and I found a reference to Miep Gies, who helped hide Jewish people during the war to keep them safe and was nearly killed for it. And I found this quote by her.” He shyly looked up at Aizawa. “It’s on the inside of the front cover, you can read it if you want.”

 

Aizawa leafed back through the pages to the inside cover and began reading. “‘I don't want to be considered a hero. Imagine young people would grow up with the feeling that you have to be a hero to do your human duty. I am afraid nobody would ever help other people because who is a hero? I was not. I was just an ordinary housewife and secretary.’”

 

“U-um. The one under that.” Izuku corrected, wringing his hands. He wished he still had a cat on his lap, Young Man was excellent at quelling his anxiety.

 

“‘But even an ordinary secretary or a housewife or a teenager can, within their own small ways, turn on a small light in a dark room. People should never think that you have to be a very special person in order to help those who need you.’” The words fell with a certain gravity in the silent kitchen. 

 

“Y-yeah.” Izuku didn’t dare raise his face now. Everything from his forehead to his chin felt hot, and his eyes were prickling. “She didn’t have a quirk. I mean, no one did back then, but she saved people. She saved their lives as much as she could and she saved their spirits by, by, by showing them that someone was willing to fight for them. To, to lie and give up food and bake a birthday cake on war rations a-and risk her life for theirs. I want, um.” He took a shaky breath. “I want to be a hero like her. One who shows people you don’t need to be the best to save someone, you just have to care and do everything you can. One who, um, who makes you feel they’ll do everything possible to make sure you’re alright. No matter wh-who you a-a-” He gulped. “Um. No, no matter what.”

 

Shinsou was definitely staring at him, but Izuku didn’t look up. He couldn’t, not with his vision blurring. Aizawa gave a long, drawn out sigh from his seat, closing the notebook.

 

“You were right, Hitoshi,” he muttered, sliding the notebook back in front of Izuku. “I do feel like I kicked a puppy. Get him to…” he gestured at Izuku’s quaking shoulders. “Please.”

 

“Come on, Midoriya, I think I should show you my room. Dinner won’t be ready until the rice is done, anyway.” Shinsou waited for Izuku to stand, then draped an arm over his shoulders. “Shake your head if you want me to stop touching you, okay?”

 

Izuku nodded, glad he could look only at the hall and the doorway with a purple sign that said “Welcome home, Hitoshi!” at the end of it. One of the cats, he thought it was Sombra, shadowed them from the kitchen and tried to trip Shinsou before he could open the door, purring madly.

 

“It’s not much, but I like it,” Shinsou prefaced, ushering Izuku in. Now that he was calming down somewhat, Izuku wrapped the cat blanket tighter around his shoulders and gazed around, taking in the light blue paint on the walls and the amount of cat toys littering the floor. Shinsou’s room was about the same size as Izuku’s, but his mostly bare walls and desk made it seem bigger. Other than what looked like a nest of different fuzzy blankets on the unmade futon in various shades of purple, a small space heater by the foot of the desk and a small bookshelf under the window, it looked rather empty.

 

“Wh-why do you have a welcome home sign?” Izuku ventured.

 

“Oh, that was something they did after the adoption went through.” Shinsou’s cheeks were pink. “My sort-of aunt went to a hospital and bought all these ‘It’s a Boy’ balloons, it was a whole thing. And then his coworkers misunderstood so we got a lot of baby blankets? The cats ended up loving them, so we kept a few.”

 

Izuku felt a smile growing, expanding from the warmth in his chest. “That sounds like they really love you.”

 

Shinsou coughed, face now entirely pink. “Um. Yeah. They uh, tell me that a lot. It’s, um, good.” As if determined to get away from the embarrassment, Shinsou slumped down into a seat on the floor, dragging one of the blankets over his legs. Sombra startled at the movement and pounced on the blanket, chasing it over Shinsou’s legs.

 

Izuku kind of wanted to ask how old Shinsou had been, and who he’d lived with before, but he had a feeling it wasn’t an entirely happy story. And he still had the actual dinner to get through.

 

“So did you, um, name the cats yourself, or did they come with names already?” he ventured, sitting across from Shinsou and picking up a small stuffed mouse for Sombra. She ignored him entirely.

 

“I named a few, Aizawa named a few. Yamadad is prohibited from naming animals, he wanted to name two of them Pusheen and Hello Kitty.” Shinsou rolled his eyes. “As if the first thing people say to most cats isn’t ‘hello, kitty,’ anyway.”

 

“To, to be fair, I was expecting more, um, puns?” Izuku answered. Shinsou laughed.

 

“You should see what Aizawa calls them in sign, it’s all ‘black cat, brown cat, orange cat,’ and then Luna is ‘idiot cat.’”

 

“Does he have nicknames for you too?” Izuku asked.

 

“Well--”

 

------------------------

Shou, I love you but just because 'Toshi brought him home does not mean he’s ours now, Hizashi signed, keeping an ear out for the boys.

 

I owe Sleepy Kid another cat, though.  Shouta gestured to his hair like he was pulling up a hood. Cat ears.

 

Midoriya is a human being with parents, they might object. Hizashi  was smiling, though. You’ll have to find another Green Hair Kid somewhere.

 

Shouta shook his head. Green Kid and Sleepy Kid get along well.

 

Hizashi cocked his head to the side. Plant Hair? He questioned, using a different sign for green that looked like a bushy, springy plant.

 

Plant Kid. Shouta dropped his hands and turned towards the hall. We’ll have him over for dinner more, anyway, if he wants to learn.

 

“Fine. Boys, dinner time!” Hizashi called, taking the time to lean forward and wrap his arms around Shouta’s shoulders, a brief backwards hug. “Try not to make him cry again?” he said in an undertone.

 

“No promises, I think he came like that,” Shouta murmured back.

--------

 

“Wait, so Yamada’s sign name is just “Loud” twice?” Izuku asked, fascinated. “And what’s yours?”

 

Shinsou grinned. Sleepy -- he raised a cupped hand towards his face and pinched four fingers and thumb together in time with his closing eyelids-- Kid-- he dropped the hand palm down at chest level and circled it gently.

 

“And Aizawa?”

 

Shinsou’s grin grew larger. Shou Sleepy.

 

Izuku groaned. “Howwwwwww did I know there would be a pun?”

 

“Boys, dinner time!” Yamada called from the kitchen.

 

“I can’t believe I’m saying this, but you should probably take off the cat blanket,” Shinsou advised. “Yamadad sometimes tries to gesture while he’s eating, and his chopsticks can be a hazard. Aizawa keeps saying he should wear a bib.”

 

With some regret, Izuku let the cat hood fall off his head and folded the blanket, setting it at the foot of Shinsou’s futon. Shinsou suppressed a snicker.

 

“Half of your hair is de-fluffed. I didn’t even know that was possible.”

 

Izuku frowned, fruitlessly running his fingers through his hair to make it lie flat.

 

“Aaaaaand it’s all poofy again now. I think your hair might be magic.”

 

Izuku swore he was not a violent person, but Shinsou seemed to invite him to slap at his arms. Which he did, with prejudice.

 

“Do you do that because you’re too short to reach my face?”

 

“Keep- keep it up and you will sink low enough for me to reach,” Izuku threatened, turning to exit Shinsou’s room. “Come on, Sombra, let’s go find people who make sense.”

----------

 

Hizashi didn’t have to be able to see Shouta’s face to recognize his slow smirk of delight when the boys re-entered, having left the cat ear blanket behind.

 

Plant Kid’s hair stands up like Sleepy Kid’s hair. I think it’s magic, his husband signed to him, an inch away from snickering.

 

“Words, Shou. Use words around the kids,” Hizashi reprimanded gently.

 

“Fine.” Shouta turned back to their son and his friend, smile firmly in place. “Midoriya. Have you ever done martial arts?”

 

The poor green-haired kid ( plant child, Shouta’s voice corrected in his mind) looked between Shouta and Hitoshi with an expression of betrayal.

 

“Wh-why doesn’t anyone here make sense?” He whispered.

Chapter Text

There was probably some sort of rule for friendships that you didn’t like, assume your buddy would like something just because you liked it. Hitoshi was pretty sure. His last friend had been some random blue-haired kid when he was three (he thinks, there are a couple crayon doodles he managed to save to that effect anyway) but he was pretty sure that most people didn’t want to like, pick their friend up and drop it in a pile of their other favorite things and say “Stay.”

 

Hitoshi thought most people were probably missing out.

 

Besides, if anyone understood the impulse, he was pretty sure it would be Izuku “My Walls Are A Tribute To All My Favorite Heroes” Midoriya.

 

Hitoshi’s not one to judge. He got the impulse. There were days he just wanted to scribble all the words he couldn’t say into the plaster walls of his old foster home, write the questions in red so they’d have to see it. Have to notice him and respond. Even if it was just to yell at him for making a mess. When no one acknowledges you at all, you want to be able to leave some proof to yourself that you exist. Sometimes he wondered why All Might sounded so victorious and happy when he cried out “I am here.” It never sounded that triumphant when he whispered it to himself.

 

Anyway.

 

Midoriya.

 

To be honest, this hadn’t been at all what Hitoshi expected. Not the apologizing after the stairs, or the honest gratitude when Hitoshi used his quirk, and definitely not the actual trust afterwards. Hitoshi had more been expecting the usual reaction, you know, like “He turned me into a newt! Burn the witch!”

 

Not, “Don’t punish him.” And definitely not, “Do you want to hang out?”

 

Like, Hitoshi got loneliness. He’d just never met a poor bastard so lonely they’d consider befriending him. And even after three years of living with Aizawa and Yamada, of seeing a therapist and getting used to having people to fall back on, he was just not used to anyone his age thinking he was worth the trouble.

 

Which, he guessed, was exactly why he and Midoriya understood each other so well.

 

Still, if there was one thing Hitoshi should have maybe kept in mind, it was that most people didn’t necessarily react… favorably? To being tossed into a new environment. Even if it was a nice environment with lots of cats. He maybe should have remembered how long it had taken him to actually interact with his guardians without falling back on silence and glaring as primary communication methods. Or that Aizawa, while an awesome dad, was honestly shit at making conversation, in any situation, ever.

 

Oh, and that Midoriya tended to cry like a faucet whenever you were the slightest bit nice to him, a trait Hitoshi was sort of hoping he’d grow out of because he didn’t have an unlimited supply of spare handkerchiefs, dammit.

 

Anyway, if he’d thought about it at all, Hitoshi probably could have predicted that a) Midoriya would immediately guess at least one of his guardians’ pro hero identities, b) Aizawa would go off on some bizarre tangent and c) Midoriya would probably cry.

 

He maybe should have realized that his friend might not necessarily react well to crying in front of strangers, though. Hitoshi was, unfortunately, kind of used to Midoriya sniffling back tears at the sight of a kitten climbing out of a teacup and falling. He took it so much for granted that he was pretty sure his guardians knew to start preparing extra tissues last week. He really should have recalled the other side of the equation there.

 

And he really should try and actually, possibly, help Izuku calm down from sobbing hysterically over his salmon, but he had absolutely no idea what to say and it was actually getting concerning how fast his friend was breathing. How the hell did it get like this?

 

Oh yeah, Aizawa offered to sponsor him to join Hitoshi’s self-defense classes, and said he would need to get in shape if he wanted to make it into a hero course. Thanks, Dad.

 

Across the table, Aizawa and Yamada traded looks, like ‘Are you serious?’ and ‘Hey, it was my turn last time.’ For a second, Hitoshi was pretty sure they were going to play jan-ken-pon to decide who stayed and who left. From his right, Midoriya curled in further into his seat and covered his face with both hands.

 

Aizawa huffed out a sigh, pushed away from the table and motioned for Yamada and Hitoshi to leave the room. I’ll handle Plant Kid now scoot , is how he put it, actually, but Hitoshi took the hint, and his plate, and scooted.

 

“Now, kid, I want you to listen to me and breathe in when I count to three, okay?” he heard his guardian say. “I’m gonna stay right here.”

 

-----------

 

Shouta was, unfortunately, very used to helping people through panic attacks and crying jags. Nemuri used to be prone to them, especially around testing times, and it had been a struggle to calm her down before her quirk flared up in self-defense. Panic attack + crowd of helpful bystanders in snoozeland had been rather inconvenient for all involved.

 

He was kind of hoping the calm voice and counting would be enough for Midoriya, because Nemuri tended to prefer gripping his hands like a pregnant woman giving birth and he really didn’t want to associate that image with this tiny fluffy green child.

 

Thankfully, the kid followed directions pretty well, and was soon breathing slowly, even if he kept crying miserably. Shouta really wished the cat blanket was still on hand.

 

“Can you talk now, kid?”

 

Midoriya shrugged a shoulder but managed a quiet, “Mm-hmm.”

 

“Are you good with me here, or do you want Hitoshi instead?”

 

The kid curled impossibly smaller. “Y-y-you,” he whispered.

 

“Okay. Do you want to talk about it, or do you want me to distract you?” He pulled his chair over and sat at Midoriya’s side, leaning down to try and meet the kid’s eyes. “I’m good with either, but I’d like to know what set this off.”

 

Midoriya’s hands twisted together, hard enough he was probably hurting his fingers. Bad habit, but it’s not like Hitoshi didn’t have those when they got him. Some kids lean on pain when they’re hurting.

 

“I-i-it was,” Midoriya gulped. “It wa-wa-was nice of you. The dojo. But I-I-I ca-ca-” he started to shudder again.

 

“Okay, you don’t have to say it. Just nod or shake your head,” Shouta ordered. “Is it that you don’t want to?”

 

Fervent head-shake, sending all that green hair flopping. Shouta hummed.

 

“Is it the money? Because we get a discount, I’m sure we could make it work.”

 

The kid lifted a shoulder. Somewhat about the money, then.

 

“If it’s about permission, I can talk to your parents,” he ventured. The kid flinched back into his chair. Bingo.

 

“M-m-my mom. Wouldn’t l-l-like it,” Midoriya ventured, eyes darting up to meet his. “Sh-sh-she thinks Ka-ka-kacchan w-w-would-- a-a-and it’s not li-, not like I could h-h-hurt anyone, but--” the kid took a deep breath, “I-I-I’m just too, too weak .”

 

“So… you think your mother wouldn’t approve… because she thinks you’ll fight someone and get hurt?” Shouta tried, looking the kid up and down. From what he’d seen, and what Hitoshi told him, this was the kind of kid who’d try to stand up for someone else but never for his own sake. “It’s not MMA, kid, this is just the kind of stuff that teaches you how to take a hit and put the other guy down so you can get away.”

 

Midoriya let out what could have been a laugh if his face weren’t so bleak. “I a-already know how to take a hit.”

 

Shouta sighed, rummaging through his pockets for a pack of tissues, now that all the crying seemed to be done. “I’m sure you do, kiddo. It’s not a bad thing to know how to fight back though, you know? Heroes fight to protect others, but the first person they have to be able to protect is themselves.” The kid’s face dropped even further at that, like Shouta had just smashed his dreams and ground his face in the remains. Fuck.

 

“Look, normally I wouldn’t tell you this, but I think it’s something you’ll want to hear. I’ve told Hitoshi, at any rate.” Shouta turned, fully facing Midoriya. “There’s a time for every hero, when their quirk is not enough. Either they’re in a situation where their quirk would actively make things worse, or they’re too tired to use it. Some heroes make it to the top before they hit that point, and some face it as soon as they graduate and meet their first villain. I’ve seen people deal with that situation and run away as far as possible, even quit the hero scene.” He stared at Midoriya’s wide-open eyes, patient and serious. “I can’t say that you’ll make a good hero. I can’t tell you you’ll fulfill your dreams. But I can say this…” he raised a hand, poking a finger at Midoriya’s chest. “In that same situation, if you learn, you will have an advantage that those heroes will never discover.”

 

Midoriya looked taken aback at that. “A-a-an advantage?”

 

“Think on it,” Shouta advised. “I won’t ask you about the dojo more tonight, but I will talk with your mother about it if you want me to.”

 

Midoriya nodded, somewhat more thoughtful than resigned now that he’d been given a riddle to think over.

 

“Now, I know you’re tired and the last thing you want to do right now is think,” he continued, “but Hizashi and Hitoshi are probably pretty worried. If you have to go home, I can drive you back and make sure you get there. But if you don’t, I’m pretty sure they’re in the living room right now setting out blankets and arguing over which animated movie would be most appropriate to make you feel better.” Plus, Hitoshi had asked them to buy extra clothing a little while back, so he was pretty sure the kid was aiming to turn this into an impromptu sleepover. Shouta was fine with it as long as they asked the kid’s mom, to be honest, since he was pretty sure Midoriya would crash soon anyway. Part of the reason he didn’t want the kid taking a train tonight.

 

In response, Midoriya actually gave him a small, watery smile. Shouta resisted the urge to pat him on his fluffy, fluffy head.

 

“D-do you, um, have H-Hercules?” He asked. Shouta grimaced.

 

“We do not,” he lied. Truthfully, he just found that movie’s message about heroes and mass marketing irritating as hell. “But Hitoshi’s always up to watch Mulan.” Which had much better messages about learning to use your own smarts and skills, and an extremely funny dragon.

 

Midoriya nodded, gave him another smile, and got up, braving the first few steps towards the living room. Before he reached the door, he turned and gave a quick bow. “Thank, um, thank you, Aizawa-san.”

 

“Any time, kid,” he returned, getting up to start clearing the table. “Tell Hizashi I’ll be there once the hot chocolate’s done.”

 

That got him a real smile, before the kid bowed again and left. Shouta cleared his throat once, then again, rubbing at an eye. “Damn kids,” he muttered, getting down the cocoa powder and mini marshmallows.

Chapter Text

It was never completely clear to Izuku what precisely convinced his mother to allow him to join Hitoshi in aikido. (“You have fallen asleep on my shoulder in a cat hoodie blanket. I have pictures. You are no longer allowed to refer to me by last name,” Shins-- Hitoshi had corrected him when he left after the movie. “I’m still stuck on whether to call you Izu, Zuku or Midori, though. Don’t worry, it’ll come to me.”) Whether it was the hesitant conversation Izuku had begun when he returned from the Aizawa-Yamada home, eyes red and hair liberally covered in cat fur, or the “pros of self-defense training” list Hitoshi had helped him write and paste on the fridge, or the conversation Aizawa himself had initiated on Friday night, showing up dressed for battle in actual slacks and a mostly-clean-shaven face, the result was the same. Izuku was joining Hitoshi in his aikido lessons.

 

Or, well, to be precise, Izuku was attending the same dojo as Hitoshi, but in the beginner class. Most of the other students were between seven and ten years old. Izuku would have been embarrassed to join them, but he was too busy enjoying the experience of being the “good example” for the class. The dojo focused entirely on quirkless self-defense, partially because aikido as a style predated the evolution of quirks, and partially because quirk use in self-defense was a legally thorny subject. (Minors tended to have some leeway since they were assumed to have less control over their powers, but starting at age 15, quirk use in self-defense by civilians was deemed potentially lethal and could result in anything from a fine to manslaughter charges. The government was serious in discouraging any behavior that could lead to vigilantism.) Anyway, Izuku had found that his observational skills and talent for mimicking movement helped him in class, and Kawai-sensei had apparently told Aizawa that if Izuku continued to improve at his current pace, he’d be eligible to test into Hitoshi’s intermediate class within six months.

 

Izuku smiled to himself as he knelt on the padded practice mats, eyes closed in meditation-- Kawai-sensei had them meditate before and after class to “ready their minds” for learning. On his right, little Satsuki Asui shuffled in her squatted position. Her partial frog mutation made kneeling in seiza too awkward for her ankle joints. Asui-chan, (“Please call me Tsuki-chan”), tended to be his partner in blocking drills. She’d grabbed his sleeve the first day, dragging him to a spot in the corner because apparently “Green should stick together.” When he’d told Hitoshi about it, in between rambling thoughts about the efficacy of certain moves he’d learned, his friend had nodded thoughtfully. (“So that’s one more vote for Midori as your nickname. I’ll update the tally.” “Update the—? Hi-Hitoshi, who have you been asking?” “That’s for me to know and you to wonder about forever.”)

 

Izuku was pretty sure Asu—Tsuki-chan had mainly chosen him as a partner because she wanted to practice with a taller opponent. She might be only seven, but with her economy of motion and the advantage of a lower center of gravity, she’d make a terrifying opponent once she was old enough to build up some muscle mass. And she hit surprisingly hard.

 

“Thanks, Midori-chan,” she whispered. “But it’s meditation time.”

 

Izuku squeezed his eyes shut, whispered back an apology and tried to focus only on his breathing. In and out, slow and steady, in through the nose and out through the mouth. Trying not to force his mind blank, but to accept the thoughts that came and allow them to float away, harmless as dandelion seeds on the breeze.

 

Kawai-sensei clapped her hands, signaling them to stand, bow, and start on their warm-up exercises. Izuku huffed and puffed his way through jumping jacks, push-ups, sit-ups and slapping falls, rolling down to his side and slapping the ground to disperse the force of the fall. (Izuku had finished the first class and met a smirking Hitoshi in the changing room. “How was your first class?” “I-It was awesome! We practiced punching and some basic blocks and.. how to…” “Fall?” Hitoshi’s smirk grew. “Izu, did you fall for someone else already?” Izuku had been forced to thwack Hitoshi repeatedly with his uniform top before the other boy would stop giggling.) Izuku liked to think he’d managed to bulk up a bit since starting lessons, especially since he’d taken to doing push-ups and stretches at night and in the morning as well. Not that you could tell from his noodly arms, but, well, he could hope.

 

“Midori-chan,” Tsuki reminded him. “It’s your turn to attack.”

 

Pulling his mind back to the present, Izuku nodded and waited for her to shift into her ready stance before he stepped forward to push her lightly. She deflected his arms with a slight frown, then attacked in return, striking quickly. Izuku deflected and readied himself to try again.

 

“Midori-chan… can I ask you something?” The little girl looked oddly serious.

 

“S-sure.” They didn’t pause in their pattern, back and forth flowing smoothly.

 

“Can you attack like you mean it?”

 

Izuku drew back slightly, feeling somewhat stung.

 

“Wh-what?”

 

“I need to be able to practice hard in order to get better. That’s what my sister always says. So I should get better if I fight someone stronger. But it doesn’t help me if you act gentle.”

 

Izuku couldn’t really say anything to that. “S-sorry, Tsu-Tsuki-chan. I-I-I didn’t mean to—“

 

“I know,” she said, calmly. “You’re nice, so you don’t want to hurt me. But if someone else attacks me, they won’t be nice. I’m small, and I’m not strong… yet. But if I get used to fighting people who are bigger and stronger, I’ll be prepared for when I need to fight for real.”

 

Izuku’s eyes widened. “Y-you’re right. I’m sorry.” He took a deep breath and settled back into his ready stance. “Th-then, please get ready.” Tsuki nodded sharply at him, and he pressed forward quickly, hands impacting her shoulders. When she rolled into a fall and bounced back up, her face was split in a wide grin.

 

“My turn!” She chirped, surging forward and forcing him back a step. Izuku caught himself before he staggered back into another practicing pair and found himself echoing her smile. She was right, of course. No one learned how to get stronger by fighting a weak opponent. Hadn’t someone said adversity was the best teacher? And since he was, a little, somewhat like Tsuki if you thought about it-- outweighed, outclassed, disadvantaged, (disabled)-- he’d pretty much always be… fighting… a stronger… That was it!


--------------

 

When Aizawa came to pick up him and Hitoshi for their carpool, Izuku was almost vibrating out of his skin with exhilaration.

 

“Hey, kiddos—“

 

“I-I figured it out!” Izuku cried, cutting off Aizawa’s languid greeting. Hitoshi and Aizawa exchanged a quirked eyebrow glance and looked back at him. He shrank back a little.

 

“S-sorry for interrupt, for interrupting, Aizawa-san. An-and thank you for, for the ride. But!” He clenched his fists, grinning up at the man, heart racing with exhilaration. “I figured it out! My advantage, the one you, um, t-talked about.”

 

Aizawa held out a hand for their backpacks and herded them out of the dojo. “Tell me in the car, kid. I want to hear, but I have to drop you and Hitoshi off soon.”

 

“O-oh.” Izuku hurried to catch up (stupid tall people and their long legs). “Drop, drop both of us?”

 

“Hizashi and I have work this weekend. Your mom volunteered to watch the two of you tonight and tomorrow.” Izuku felt his jaw drop. Two days? And Hitoshi would get to stay? This was going to be awesome! They could watch movies and, and read some of Izuku’s comics and maybe even practice more aikido up on the apartment complex roof if the weather was good, or maybe they could—

 

“Not to stop your planning, but didn’t you have something to tell me?” Aizawa cut in, glancing back to check they had their seatbelts on before starting the car. Izuku yanked himself out of his daydreaming, smiling nervously at Shinsou, who looked far too amused.

 

“Y-yeah. I was pr-practicing with Tsuki, um, she’s seven, and she said something that made me realize. I, um, I’m weaker than most people with quirks, I mean, practically all people with quirks unless it’s something like changing your hair color or, or something that negatively impacts your health. I-I would always be fighting at a disadvantage.”

 

Aizawa hummed thoughtfully. “And so?”

 

Izuku grinned. “S-so if I get into a situation where I can’t use my strengths, I’ll be prepared to use something else. If, if I get skilled enough, I won’t be scared to fight a stronger opponent. I just have to, to learn how to use their strength against them.”

 

Aizawa grinned, fierce and satisfied. “You let them have the upper hand. And then you use it to pull them down and kick ‘em somewhere tender. That’s it, kid.” Without glancing away from the road, the man took a hand from the wheel and reached back, patting Izuku firmly on the head.

 

Hitoshi chuckled, copying his guardian and giving Izuku a quick noogie. “So that’s what you were muttering about after class. I thought maybe you’d managed to give someone a bloody nose again.”

 

“Shin-- um, H-Hitoshi-kun, that was an accident,” Izuku hissed, darting a glance at Aizawa in the mirror. It looked like he was holding back a smile.

 

“Well, accident or not, that is one kid who will never insult Eraserhead in front of you again.” Hitoshi giggled at the tomato red of Izuku’s face.

 

“I-I didn’t MEAN to hit h-him! I was talking about how Er-Eraserhead uses his capture weapon instead of depending on his quirk, and I just gestured a little, and, and his face hit my hand! And I SAID I was sorry!” Izuku huffed, crossing his arms. He did feel terrible about Kobayashi-san’s nosebleed, but mainly he was just embarrassed that he--

 

“It would have been less funny if you hadn’t tried to bow in apology and immediately headbutted him in the face.” Hitoshi had been lucky enough to walk into the room at that point and had laughed so hard he couldn’t stand upright for another ten minutes. “And then he tried to complain to the teacher and she told h-him--” Hitoshi was finally too breathless with laughter to go on.

 

“She said she thought he’d misunderstood blocking if he was trying to do it with his face.” Izuku smiled again at the memory. “It was nice that she believed me about it being an accident.”

 

Hitoshi nodded. “Sensei’s pretty fair like that. No matter which Sensei it is.” Kawai-sensei’s quirk allowed her to make multiple corporeal clones that shared a mental link, which came in extremely handy for a teacher of a small dojo who had to cover multiple classes. The only real downside was that if one of the clones was injured, she'd be hurt too, unlike Ectoplasm's clone technique which did not transfer injuries. Izuku was awed not just by her quirk, but by her work ethic-- she’d obviously trained hard to make sure all of her clones were remarkably solid and stable. Izuku kind of wished he could make a clone like that so he’d be able to watch more hero fights and still make it to school. Not that he hated school, it was just, he knew that pretty much everyone else there would prefer he didn’t attend. Or didn’t exist. He’d heard Bakugou tell him to disappear more than he’d heard anyone use his actual name.

 

“Teachers should be unbiased enough to treat all students equally, but aware enough of their students to recognize when they need extra help,” Aizawa interjected. “Ignoring kids with special needs or letting them struggle is the mark of a useless adult.”

 

“Y-you really, um, care about education,” Izuku responded, fishing a little for information. After weeks of knowing Aizawa, all he really knew about the man was that he looked perpetually sleep-deprived, loved cats, and seemed strangely knowledgeable about heroes.

 

“Aizawa works at a school,” Hitoshi explained, wearing that faint ‘I’ve got a secret’ smirk he sometimes got when they talked about his family.

 

“Which, um, which one?” Izuku asked, not really expecting an answer.

 

“I could tell you,” Aizawa said, deadpan. “But I’d--”

 

“Have to kill you,” Hitoshi finished, nodding along. Izuku pouted down at his hands. He understood secrets, but he hated unsatisfied curiosity.

 

“Do I have to be a level ten friend to unlock your tragic backstory?” He muttered, only a little bit not joking. Hitoshi nudged his leg, somewhat comforting and somewhat admonishing.

 

“Izu-kun, I would sell you my tragic backstory for a jelly donut. Aizawa’s… kind of not kidding about his job confidentiality, though.” Hitoshi was unnaturally serious, well, serious for him. “I’m not even really supposed to know.”

 

Izuku sighed and leaned back in his seat, accepting that that was all he’d get. For now, at least. He wasn’t very good at leaving interesting things alone.

 

As they neared his home, silence reigned in the car. Aizawa shrugged and turned the radio on after a couple minutes, tuning in to an American pop channel Izuku recognized as the same channel Present Mic used for his nighttime talk shows. Stopped at a light a couple blocks from his neighborhood, Izuku spotted a Mr. Donut corner store.

 

“Hitoshi.” He poked his friend’s shoulder and pointed at the store. “Jelly donut?”

Chapter Text

Izuku made a lot more sense when you met Mrs. Midoriya, Hitoshi reflected. It was sort of like how people said he’d come to look like Aizawa after he’d been adopted. Apparently they smiled the same now? Hitoshi didn’t really see it, but whatever.

  

Izuku and his mom didn’t look much alike, either. Oh, you could see that the green highlights in his hair were his mom’s, and the contented-hamster roundness of his cheeks, but his extremely fluffy hair and scattering of freckles were probably from the other side of his family (not that there were any photographs of Mr. Midoriya he could see to check). But when they walked in the door, Mrs. Midoriya did the Izuku Lip Tremble that meant ‘I am overcome with an emotion and may burst into tears’ as she greeted them and thanked Mr. Aizawa for setting up the sleepover. She wrung her hands just like Izuku did as she asked whether Hitoshi needed help carrying his sleepover bag to Izuku’s room, and that beaming smile when she announced that dinner would be Hitoshi’s favorite curry was pure Izuku Sunshine Smile.

 

As Hitoshi began laying out his borrowed futon on Izuku’s floor, he took a deep breath of relief. Nothing against Mrs. Midoriya in the slightest, but she was almost intimidatingly nice. Disney Princess nice, the kind that made you check over your shoulders for swarms of happily chirping bluebirds. She’d sent Aizawa off with a tupperware of curry leftovers and a tiny note folded in the shape of a cat. He was pretty sure he’d never seen his guardian’s eyes go quite that wide before. He just hoped he could make it through the next day without convincing her he was too much of a petty bastard to be friends with her son. 

 

“Do you w-want to watch a movie after dinner?” Izuku asked, bouncing slightly on the balls of his feet. “Or we have some computer games, or-or-or Monopoly but Mom always wins, and, um, I thought maybe we could practice aikido in the morning? Or go to the mall and see if they h-have any new issues of Heroes International or--”

 

“It all sounds good,” Hitoshi said honestly. “My brain’s a bit too fried for board games, though.” Plus sitting around in a circle trying to count fake money for fun sounded like a unique form of torture, but meh. “Mall could be fun, I need to get Yamadad something for his birthday.”

 

“O-oh, when is it?” Izuku stopped bouncing and knelt down to help Hitoshi spread the comforter over the futon.

 

“July 7th, a week after mine.”

 

“Oh! Mine is July 15th.” Izuku smiled. “I g-guess we’re all Cancers then.”

 

Hitoshi placed a hand over his heart. “Are you calling me a cancer on society? Izuku, I thought we were friends!”

 

Izuku raised a pillow threateningly. Hitoshi reached for another, preparing for battle.

 

“Izu-kun~~, Shinsou-kun~~, Dinner’s ready~~~~” Mrs. Midoriya called out. The pillows were gently placed on Hitoshi’s newly-made bed, a dinnertime détente already in effect. Hitoshi pulled his shoulders back. Once more into the breach.

 

“Thank you for the meal, Mrs. Midoriya,” he greeted, bowing slightly. “It smells delicious.”

 

“No need to be so formal, Shinsou-kun. Izuku’s told me so much about you, I feel like I know you already,” she dismissed, waving a hand towards his seat.

 

“Oh really?” Hitoshi turned to his right, where Izuku had begun to hunch over, face crimson. “If he said anything good, it was all lies.”

 

“He did say that you were an amazing friend,” Mrs. Midoriya mused. “But that you have a... punfortunate tendency in jokes.”

 

Izuku slid further down in his seat, groaning, “Mom, nooooooooo.”

 

Hitoshi perked up.

 

“Was that intentional… or punintentional?”

 

“Welll~”

 

“Mom, whatever you do, don’t do the joke.” Izuku tried. He was ignored.

 

“Now that you mention it, I know a great joke that Izuku used to love,” Mrs. Midoriya snapped her fingers and pointed at Hitoshi. “What is All Might’s favorite sandwich?”

 

“Is it a gyro sandwich?”

 

“Please Mom no.”

 

“It is a gyro sandwich with Extra Just-fries!” Mrs. Midoriya patted her son on the shoulder, ignoring his subvocal whine. “Izuku came up with that when he was four years old!”

 

“Mom, why.”

 

“That must have been adorable,” Hitoshi commented, taking a bite of his curry. “I have no idea what I was like at four, but it probably didn’t include All Might puns.”

 

“Mom, if you bring out the photo albums, I will hide in my room,” Izuku pronounced.

 

“Don’t worry, baby, the photo albums are safe,” Mrs. Midoriya placated. Relieved, Izuku took a big mouthful of curry. “But I did just unearth some of our old home videos.”

 

Hitoshi cackled while Izuku, still chewing, looked between his mother and his friend in betrayal and horror.

 

“I think we’re going to get along just fine, Mrs. Midoriya,” Hitoshi said. “And this curry is just to dine for."

 

“Oh my god Hitoshi why are we friends.”

 

--------------

 

Hitoshi blinked at the screen, caught between hilarity and shock. A four-year-old Izuku was running around in an All Might onesie, shouting “DIE SHI-Y CWIMNALS,” along with a blond brat he somewhat recognized from school. 

 

“Uhhhhh…” He looked between Izuku and the screen. “Explanation please?”

 

“Oh, that was all Kacchan’s influence,” Mrs. Midoriya stated. “His parents don’t believe in censorship, and Izuku picked it up from him. I had a devil of a time teaching him which words weren’t appropriate for a child.”

 

“GO TO HELL, DICKHEAD!” screeched baby blond brat. Mrs. Midoriya nodded, point made.

 

“So how did” he gestured at tiny Izuku, middle finger raised high in the air as he ran after his friend, “turn into” he gestured at his tomato-faced friend with his head buried in his hands. “Pretty sure Izuku never swears.”

 

“Oh, we went with a reward system in the end. For every week he used his best language, he got 100 yen to save for hero merch. And every day he did say a swear word, no candy after dinner.”

 

Hitoshi thought back on Izuku’s walls plastered with posters and his shelf of action figures. “That makes sense.”

 

“Also, I told him All Might himself never said a swear word because swearing was for villains,” Mrs. Midoriya added. Elsewhere, several cities away, All Might himself stubbed his toe against the counter while preparing dinner and intoned a heartfelt, “MOTHERFUCKER.”

 

“I suggested the Bakugous do something similar for Kacchan, but they apparently prefer a different style of parenting.” From the face Mrs. Midoriya pulled, it was clear she was dubious. “I hear he still has a bit of a potty mouth." 

 

“Oh yeah, he definitely told me to fuck off and die the other day,” Hitoshi answered. Mrs. Midoriya and Izuku gave identical “eep!” noises of surprise. Maybe because it was the first time he’d sworn since he arrived? “Uh, shi-sorry, whoops?”

 

“I’d say no candy after dinner, but Izuku went and bought those donuts already,” Mrs. Midoriya reflected. “Plus, if your parents don’t mind, it’s not really my place.”

 

“H-he doesn’t really swear a lot, Mom,” Izuku said, face unsure. “O-only when something’s wrong or, or he’s quoting Kacchan.”

 

“Izu-kun, I honestly have no room to judge,” Mrs. Midoriya assured him. “My parents stopped trying to wash my mouth out with soap when I was thirteen. I only intervened when you were a kid because I wanted you to know that other people would be shocked by what you thought was natural speech.”

 

Izuku looked like his mind had been blown.

 

“You’re almost fourteen now, and I’m sure a lot of your peers will be trying out new language. Just make sure you know what something means before you say it, try not to call someone a word you wouldn’t use to describe yourself, and don’t get in the habit of saying things that could be seen as--”

 

“--racist, sexist, quirkist, ableist, age-ist, or judging people of different religious, economic and social backgrounds,” Izuku completed. “S-so you really don’t mind if, if I s-say…” he looked down, then up, and whispered, “shit?”

 

Hitoshi burst out laughing. “Yeah, no, I can’t. You’re hereby banned from bad words, Izu.”

 

Mrs. Midoriya was covering her mouth, but her shoulders were shaking. “No candy after dinner, Izu-kun.”

 

“Awwww.” He actually looked disappointed. Hitoshi slipped sideways down the couch, still snickering.

 

“I was just joking, honey.”

 

“Oh, phew.”

 

“Or was I?”

 

“Mom, pl-- wait, Hitoshi, are you okay?” Izuku peered down at his friend, slid halfway to the floor. 

 

“I-Izu, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” Hitoshi cackled. He actually thought he might be crying a little.

 

“Mom, let’s just leave him there all night.”

 

“Oh, I’m headed to bed, but you two have a good night. Don’t stay up too late, and please don’t wake me up before 8 tomorrow.” Mrs. Midoriya stepped around Shinsou’s giggling form. “Have a nice trip, Shinsou, see you next fall.”

 

“Yessss!” Hitoshi shouted.

 

“Mom, he used that one already!” Izuku complained.

 

“Lights out at ten, boys,” she blew them both a kiss and swanned out of the room.

 

“Haha- ha- ahhhh,” Hitoshi finally got his breath back under control, pulling himself back onto the couch. “Your mom is awesome.”

 


“Yes, she is.” Izuku nodded. “Wanna trade?”

 

“Nah, I don’t think I could handle being nice the whole time.” Hitoshi noticed Izuku’s face twist slightly. “What?”

 

“It’s nothing.” He still looked troubled. Hitoshi nudged his foot. “I can tell you later. Tragic backstory, yeah?”

 

“Jelly donut first.” Hitoshi pushed Izuku lightly, chivvying him to the kitchen. “I want the raspberry one.”

 

-------

 

In bed, teeth brushed and lights dimmed (except for the All Might nightlight Hitoshi had totally known Izuku would have), Hitoshi curled up under the blankets and met Izuku’s eyes.

 

“You really wanna know?”

 

“Only if you want to tell me,” Izuku answered seriously. “It’s not my business, really. I’m just curious.” 

 

Hitoshi shrugged. “I don’t really wanna give my whole life story. It’s pretty long and boring. And it’s not like I wanna talk about myself all night.”

 

“Question for a question?” Izuku offered, shuffling down so he could prop himself up on his elbows, peering at Hitoshi over the pillow. “And we can veto whichever ones we don’t want to answer.”

 

“Deal.” Hitoshi reached out for a handshake, semi-serious.

 

“So… where did you live before Aizawa and Yamada?” Izuku asked. Hitoshi supposed that would be the first question he asked, too.

 

“Foster home. Started living there when I was about three, I think. The whole organization got investigated when I was around nine, some kids had gone missing and turned up in a couple… organizations. I met Aizawa around that time, he offered to take me in when the home switched management.” All true, minus some key details. “Took me a while to get used to people who wanted to be, you know, parental. Uhhh… what happened with you and Blondie? Seemed like you were pretty close friends.” Hitoshi regretted the question a little when he saw Izuku wince.

 

“We were. Or at least, I thought we were. He was always really… adventurous? You know, first one to start a new game and a pretty natural leader. I looked up to him a lot. But…” Izuku rolled over, staring up at the ceiling. “I don’t think he ever really liked me as a friend. Just as someone who would follow him around and say he was cool. And when he got his quirk and I didn’t get mine… I think he decided I wasn’t good enough to even follow him anymore.”

 

“Did he start the bullying?” Hitoshi asked quietly.

 

“He didn’t stop it,” Izuku replied, equally softly. “Anyway. Your turn.”

 

“Right.”

 

“Um…” Izuku rolled back over. “Why did you transfer to Musutafu?”

 

“Couple reasons. Yamada wanted a bigger apartment. Aizawa wanted to live a bit closer to his school. But mainly… people at my school found out about my quirk. And some of them decided, if they never spoke to me, they wouldn’t have to be afraid of it.”

 

“Oh no…” Izuku whispered.

 

“Yeah. Even the teachers wouldn’t call on me. It’s not like I would have used my quirk on them anyway! I know how to control it!” Now. He knew how to control it now . “But it was like being invisible, the whole day. They’d talk about me, right in front of me. But they wouldn’t let me say a word.”

 

Izuku sat up, moving to sit on the floor next to Hitoshi, leaning against his bed. He pulled the blanket down to cover his knees.

 

“In fifth grade, Kacchan-- um, Bakugou, thought it would be funny to get everyone in class to ignore me. I don’t know why. They wouldn’t even hand me homework in class if the teacher passed it out. They got bored of it after a few weeks, but… it was horrible. I’m sorry they did that to you.”

 

“Thanks.” Hitoshi looked away and cleared his throat. “I’m sorry, too. You didn’t deserve it.”

 

Izuku lifted a shoulder, looking down. “At least I had my mom.”

 

“Yeah, you’re lucky,” Hitoshi murmured, a little sleepy now. They sat (well, lay in Hitoshi’s case) in silence for a while. Through the apartment walls, a neighbor’s TV program carried through in indistinct murmuring tones.

 

“M-hmm.” Izuku kept looking down, face closed. “Hitoshi? Can I tell you something?”

 

Hitoshi propped himself up on one elbow, rubbing at his eyes. “Sure.”

 

“I heard my mom once, with Mrs. Bakugou. She was saying that maybe if she’d gotten pregnant earlier, I would have gotten the quirk gene… or something.”

 

Hitoshi’s heart sank. “Izuku…”

 

“But if she had… that kid wouldn’t be me . I looked up DNA and genes and things, sometimes people think that it’s the father’s DNA that determines whether you get a quirk, but it’s not entirely clear because there are a couple different genes involved and they’re mostly on X-chromosomes. I didn’t really understand it at the time. But I kept on thinking about the kid Mom would have… rather had. If she wanted a girl or a boy. If they would have had telekinesis or fire powers. If Kacchan would have had a better friend, if Dad would have--” Izuku’s voice stayed in a horrible, quiet monotone. Resigned. “It never felt like I deserved to have been born… you know, as me. When everyone would have preferred a different Izuku.”

 

“I understand why you feel that but please shut up about a better you,” Hitoshi answered, once he was sure Izuku was done. He’d sat up, and started to move forward so he could sit next to his friend. “As far as I’m concerned, you are the best possible Izuku in any world. You’re my friend, and I don’t let anyone talk shit about my friends. Okay?”

 

“Okay,” Izuku responded, voice tiny and wavering. Hitoshi slung an arm around his shoulders.

 

“Good, because I will personally kick your ass if I hear anything more about deserving to be born. Nobody deserves anything like that. We just get to be grateful we’re here.”

 

“Okay.”

 

“And if you don’t feel grateful, that’s okay. Just come talk to me. I’m always gonna be grateful you’re here.”

 

Izuku nodded and slumped sideways, a warm weight against Hitoshi’s ribs. “You too, okay? And thanks.”

 

“Anytime, Izu.”

 

“Okay.”

 

“And I meant it about kicking your ass.”

 

“Okay.”

 

“I know aikido.”

 

“Goodnight, Hitoshi.”

 

They shuffled their way back into their respective beds. Hitoshi wished, briefly and fervently, that his cats were here. No one could feel sad with five cats all trying to steal their blankets. The sixth would, of course, be on their pillow attempting to sleep on their face.

 

“Goodnight, Izuku.”

 

———-

 

“Izuku. Izuku! Wake up!”

 

“Mmmfgh.”

 

“Wake up!”

 

”Ughhhh... wha’ timezzit?”

 

”3 a.m. now LISTEN.”

 

”Wha’...?”

 

”Izuku. What did All Might have for dinner in America?”

 

”I’unno, it wasn’t in the article. Why?”

 

”He had a Liber-Tea and Just-Fries for All.”

 

“....” Izuku flopped over to direct a glare at Hitoshi’s shit-eating grin.

 

”A Little Tea and Just Fries? Which one do you think works better?”

 

“Hitoshi. If it weren’t for the laws of this land I would—“ Izuku swallowed a yawn. “Murder you. Lemme sleep.”

 

”You would burger me? I’m intrigued.”

 

”Hitoshi.”

 

”Hm?”

 

”No offense but go the FUCK to sleep.”

 

”Izu! You said a swear! No candy after dinner!” Hitoshi was aware he was, as the kids might say, cruising for a bruising.

 

Izuku pointedly rolled over. “Too tired to murder you. Morning. Kill.”

 

”’Night Izuku. Sweet dreams,” he said, just to be annoying.

 

”Mmf.”

 

Hitoshi rolled over and took out his phone, dimming the screen light reflexively. “Scrolling for cat pics it is,” he murmured to himself.

 

An All Might plushie sailed over from Izuku’s bed and landed on his lap.

 

”SLEEP.”

 

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, g’night.”

Chapter Text

Despite going to sleep at ...probably 4 am, considering the cat videos… Hitoshi was the first one awake. It wasn’t that he usually woke up early in the mornings (that was what cats were for), or that he’d managed to trick his circadian rhythms into the perfect cycle of light and REM sleep (healthy sleep was for people with schedules, purpose, and commitment to being the best that they could be. Hitoshi could manage maybe one of those at a time).

 

It was… well, to be blunt, it was Izuku’s sleep-talking. The kind of indistinct, background mumbles Hitoshi could have tolerated, but when Izuku started snickering at 7 am about “something something chicken kitchen?”, he gave up and left to acquire caffeine. The Midoriyas’ kitchen, while somewhat tiny and cramped compared to his own apartment, was extremely clean and well-organized. Hitoshi briefly considered raiding the fridge for any left-over donuts, but the thought of Izuku’s puppy-eyed look of Extreme Disappointment and Crushed Hopes killed that plan. Instead, he checked the cabinet over the coffee maker for mugs, and started the machine he’d seen Mrs. Midoriya re-fill after dinner. Considering the first time Izuku saw him drink coffee, he’d been horrified that Hitoshi might “risk stunting his growth,” it was pretty clear Mrs. Midoriya was the coffee fiend of the family. To be honest, she wasn’t that much taller than her son, so Izuku might be on to something there with the growth-stunting warnings.

 

Hitoshi took a sip of his coffee. His face spasmed. His eyes widened. He set the mug down, walked over to the sink and very calmly spat out the mouthful, leaning under the faucet to gargle the taste out of his mouth. He very, very carefully held back the scream and list of swear words he wanted to spit out with the last dregs of bitterness. He’d put in just as much milk and sugar as usual, what the SHIT was in that mix?

 

“Ah, ‘morning, Shinsou-kun,” Mrs. Midoriya said from behind him, halfway through a yawn. He nearly pulled something trying to yank himself away from the sink and say hello. Shit, had she heard him?

 

“Good… morning, Mrs. Midoriya,” he managed, trying not to make a face at the wretched taste still in his mouth. He’d been about to pour his coffee down the drain. Could he still do that, or would she be offended? Maybe if he found a houseplant she didn’t like very much?

 

Without responding past a sweet smile and a nod, Mrs. Midoriya moved past him to start up the coffee machine again. Was she… aware that it was broken? Should he tell her? But then she might think he broke it and tell him to never come over again and then maybe Izuku wouldn’t be able to come to aikido anymore, which would suck, except then maybe if he didn’t tell her and she found out anyway, he’d get in trouble for breaking the machine and lying about it? What exactly was the protocol on confessing your maybe-accidental sins to your friend’s parent in the kitchen in your kitty pajamas at 7 a.m.?

 

Before he could warn, advise, confess or beg, Mrs. Midoriya filled her mug, poured in half the sugar bowl, stirred in what looked like cinnamon and took a sip. He waited for the spit-take.

 

“Whoo! That’s a rush!” Mrs. Midoriya blinked wide a few times, then grinned. “Best way to start a morning.”

 

Hitoshi wasn’t sure if he was more impressed or unnerved, but he was definitely going to be more wary of her cooking if that’s what she thought coffee was supposed to taste like. No wonder Izuku never wanted to try his! He must have tried a sip of this shit, which was somewhere between ‘put hairs on your chest, boy’ and ‘radioactive swamp sludge.’

 

“Are you hungry, Shinsou-kun?” Mrs. Midoriya asked, already done with her coffee. She moved back to the machine. Hitoshi very very slowly slid away.

 

“I’m good!” His voice definitely had not been that high-pitched since he was ten. “I was just gonna… wait for Izuku… you know, plans.” He might have to bribe his friend to help him acquire coffee from the conbini but like hell was he going to ask for any from here.

 

“I see.” Her eyes looked suspiciously shiny. Oh, shit, what if she thought he didn’t like her cooking? If he made Izuku’s mom cry, was he automatically assigned to a special hell, or would he just die on the spot? “I just wanted to say,” she continued, “thank you.”

 

“Uh.” For possibly breaking her coffee machine?

 

“My Izuku has never had many friends, but he’s been so much happier since he met you. I’m glad I can see him smiling and excited to go to school again.” She wiped at one of her eyes, missing the way his face grew steadily redder.

 

“I, uh-- he started it?” he said, weakly. Was he supposed to say ‘you’re welcome?’ Or ‘thank you’ for, you know, raising Izuku to be his friend? Was that a weird thing to say to someone? None of this was covered in his ‘how to be a social person’ training!

 

Mrs. Midoriya covered her mouth, laughing quietly. Well, that was better than crying, even if it wasn’t all that kind on his ego. He absently raised his mug to have something to do with his hands and very quickly lowered it again. Not today, Chernobyl Coffee, not today.

 

“Have you been settling in well at Aldera?” She asked, pulling white bread from the fridge. “Toast?”

 

“Uh…” Which question was he supposed to answer first? “Yes and no. Thanks.”

 

She turned back to him, confused. Izuku did that same slight-pout-furrowed-brow combo whenever heroes on the news used their quirks illogically. Or whenever you gave him a compliment, but then he’d start sniffling and rubbing his eyes immediately, so it wasn’t quite the same.

 

“... So you do want toast?” Mrs. Midoriya asked, reaching back into the bread bag.

 

“N-” It was too late, she’d added it to the toaster. “Okay, thank you.” At least she hadn’t started saying he was too thin for a boy his age, like Grandma Yamada always did.

 

“Good. I worry, you know, Izuku’s never hungry in the morning either. But kids your age should be eating small meals all day to keep up your energy.” Well, close enough. “I heard from Mitsuki Bakugou that Kacchan has started eating two eggs and a protein shake every morning to build muscle. He always has so much energy, it’s really admirable!”

 

“Sure. Admirable.” Shit, he hadn’t meant to say that out loud. Still, for his friend’s mother to be praising his biggest bully like a favorite nephew…

 

“Hm?” She collected plates and began removing butter and jam from the fridge. Hitoshi resigned himself to eating two huge slices of toast as she placed his plate next to hers at the table. “You know Kacchan?”

 

“Unfortunately.” He took the chance to ‘spill’ some (all) of his coffee in the sink as he went to wash his hands. “Whoops.”

 

“Oh, I can make more--” Mrs. Midoriya got up from the table, reaching for his mug.

 

“NO!” He cleared his throat. “It’s okay. I only wanted a little. Didn’t want to… stunt… my… growth?” Man, could Izuku wake up and rescue him already? Breakfast conversations with adults who were coherent and verbal before their third cup of coffee was weirding him out.

 

“That’s what Izuku always says. I think it broke his little heart when he figured out he’d never be as tall as All Might. Short just runs in the family.” Mrs. Midoriya muffled her giggles with a bite of toast.

 

Hitoshi kind of had to laugh at that. Not that his friend’s disappointed hopes were funny, it was just. Seven foot tall Midoriya? He’d either be the stringiest green bean you could imagine or… nah, pretty much just string bean.

 

“I don’t really know what runs in my family, but Aizawa says I’ll probably hit six feet,” Hitoshi confided. He’d already started his growth spurt, and they’d had to buy a heat pack to deal with the leg cramps that came with it. Yama-dad kept packing bananas in his lunch because potassium was supposed to help him grow. So far, all they’d helped grow was Hitoshi’s aversion to bananas.

 

Mrs. Midoriya smiled at him. “From meeting Aizawa and Yamada-san, I think we can say that kindness runs in your family, Shinsou-kun.”

 

Hitoshi looked down at his half-eaten toast, feeling his cheeks turning pink. “Thanks, Mrs. Midoriya.”

 

She sighed a little. “I sometimes wish… I could have-- Well. Izuku didn’t really win the genetic lottery, did he? My poor boy.”

 

Hitoshi felt his hands clenching under the table. Suddenly his throat felt like he’d swallowed a rock. “Don’t say that.”

 

Mrs. Midoriya blinked. “Hm?”

 

“He’s not… someone you can pity. Izuku’s amazing.” His voice was raising, but Hitoshi barely noticed past the heat in his chest, the white-knuckled clench of his fists.“He’s not lacking because he doesn’t have a quirk. Aldera’s full of kids with strong quirks, but he’s the only one brave and kind enough to be my friend. He always says you don’t have to be special in order to save someone, and he’s gonna use that to save a lot of people!” Mrs. Midoriya looked like he’d slapped her in the face. He was beyond caring. “Izuku has more strength and, and admirable qualities in his fricking... hair poof than Katsuki fucking Bakugou has in his entire body!”

 

Someone coughed behind him and Hitoshi’s soul briefly left his body. He was standing, shouting across the table at Mrs. Midoriya (and yeah, fuck, maybe he’d just sworn at her and made her cry, shitshitshitshitshit) and he’d managed to wake Izuku up at just the wrong time. Could lightning come and strike him dead? Please?

 

“Shinsou-kun.” Mrs. Midoriya’s voice was cracking. “I’m… I’m sorry.” She bowed deeply over the table and retreated from the room, pausing briefly in front of Izuku as if she wanted to give him a hug. Izuku reached out tentatively, and she clasped his hand, squeezing it tight before she fled. Hitoshi sank into his seat, avoiding Izuku’s eyes. He could hear his friend’s pre-tears sniffle already. Shittiest. Fucking. Morning. Ever.

Chapter Text

Izuku heard everything.

 

Well, everything after his mom spilled the beans about that time when he was seven and started crying because no one in his family had ever approached six feet. Not that he actually knew what his biological grandparents looked like, since his mom had been adopted as a baby, but even his father was only about 5 foot 8. So Izuku was probably cursed to hit… maybe 5 foot 6 if he was lucky. And ate all his vegetables. Hitoshi was ALREADY 5 foot 7, well, 5 foot 8 if you counted his hair. It was seriously unfair.

 

Anyway, he’d been about to go in and start making oatmeal when Hitoshi had blown up at Mom. In a very Hitoshi, Must-Fight-Anyone-Who-Disparages-My-Friend-Even-A-Little kind of way. He hadn’t really known how to react when his mom clasped his hand and excused herself from the room. She was probably, no, definitely going to crumple up and cry until she felt calm again, but he didn’t want to try and follow her. Mom didn’t like people seeing her cry when she got like this. Especially whenever she thought she wasn’t being a good enough parent.

 

Izuku swallowed and walked into the kitchen, where Hitoshi was staring very hard at his half-eaten toast. He bit his lip, wondering whether he should sit next to his friend or stay standing, or… no, his mom definitely wanted to be alone, but maybe he should make some coffee for her and bring it in a couple minutes, when she’d had time to wash her face.

 

For once, there were no words fighting their way to his lips. He was genuinely… blank, of any reaction except that hatefully familiar burn of heat in his eyes.

 

“Didn’t mean to make you cry. Or your mom. Sorry.” Hitoshi said gruffly. He sat stiffly, like he was expecting Izuku to start shouting, or push him over, or something. Izuku desperately wished he knew what to do. He couldn’t say thank you for sticking up for him, because it was his mom in the other room crying. But he also couldn’t get angry at his friend for, well, for saying he was amazing, in that angry passionate tone he used to say that anyone who hated cats was clearly related to Satan. There just, weren’t any words. He reached a hand to Hitoshi’s shoulder, and was shocked when his friend got even stiffer, holding back a flinch. Shit. He swallowed, reached a little further, and tapped Hitoshi on the shoulder, a silent ‘Look at me.’ Reluctantly, silently, Hitoshi turned miserable eyes his way.

 

Pinching his right index finger and thumb in front of his eyes, he opened his hand and let it fall forward. Sorry. And, right pinky finger resting on the back of his left hand, he raised his right to chest height. And thank you.

 

Hitoshi’s eyes dropped. Why ‘thank you?’ Your mom crying.

 

Because. Izuku tried a small smile, wavering a bit. Good friend.

 

Hitoshi half-heartedly smiled back. Why ‘sorry?’

 

Because. Izuku took a deep breath. I’m angry.

 

At that, Hitoshi really did flinch back. Izuku bit his lip harder. He really, really hated the look on his friend’s face-- half shocked, half resigned, like he should have known this was coming.

 

“M-m-” He tried. Shuddering breath in, shuddering out. He felt a little light-headed, and groped for the chair, pulling it out to take a seat. “M- Mom is-isn’t bad. She l-, she l-l” He shook his head, raised his hands again. Mom loves me. Again, fingers shaking. Mom loves me .

 

“She was saying you--” Hitoshi stopped, eyebrows shooting up at Izuku’s raised hand.

 

Mom loves me. You-- Izuku stared Hitoshi down, trying hard to keep his gaze serious but not too accusing-- hurt her.

 

“Only because she--” Hitoshi subsided again, frowning at Izuku’s raised hand. “Can I finish a sentence?”

 

No. Izuku shook his head firmly. You listen now.

 

“Fine.” Hitoshi folded his arms, sitting back defensively. “I’ll shut up.”

 

Izuku paused, hands stalling as he tried to figure out how to say, sign this. If I, he tried finger-spelling since he didn’t know the word, s-h-o-u-t at Yamada, say he’s a bad father. How you feel?

 

“I--” Hitoshi looked, briefly, the way Mom had before she left. “I didn’t say she was a bad mom.”

 

You don’t say, but she hear it. Izuku really hoped this made as much sense to Hitoshi as it did to him. She think she t-e-r-r-i-b-l-e mom.

 

“I didn’t mean that! I just wanted her to stop saying that shit about you!” Hitoshi had pulled his chair back further, entirely out of arm-reach from Izuku now.

 

I know. Izuku sighed. How could he tell Hitoshi, in a way he’d understand, about those periods of his childhood when his mom would hug him close to her and apologize through her tears. And the times she could barely look at him without holding back a sob, so she would sit next to him and pat his hair while he worked on his notebooks, gazing fixedly at some other point on the wall.

 

How could he tell him about the days where she would take him out to picnics at different parks, to hero history museums and theme parks, racing him to different rides and taking thousands of pictures of his beaming face. The way she never asked him what went on at school, but made his favorites as often as she could, taped his favorite segments of news so he could re-watch them a million times even if she didn’t understand how he never got bored with it.

 

And how she told him she was proud of him for every test score and report card, even when his grades fell because people stole his homework? Mom might not always say what he wanted to hear, but she had a million ways to tell him how much she loved him.

 

And that was enough.

 

What you say, not wrong. Words you say, too much, he settled for. Hitoshi just looked confused. Dammit. He opened his mouth and tried. “Y-y-you,” he was honestly surprised his friend hadn’t told him to just spit it out already. “You w-weren’t wrong. To say she p- she p-pitied me. But she s-s-still loves me. A-and she’s always h-here when I need her. Tha-tha-that’s more important. To me.” He slumped forward slightly, completely out of words now.

 

“...Okay.” Hitoshi had taken to looking down at his hands again. “I… said too much. I’m sorry.”

 

Izuku smiled, more genuine this time. He kicked Hitoshi’s chair leg gently and nodded towards the bedrooms.

 

“And I’ll apologize to Mrs. Midoriya too. But not right now.” Hitoshi took a deep breath and let it out, turning back to the table. “Could we just, I don’t know, have breakfast?”

 

Izuku nodded, hair flopping into his eyes. I make c-o-f-f-e-e? He offered, tentative.

 

“NOPE, no, no, I’m good.” Hitoshi grimaced. “Pretty sure that’s where coffee goes to die.”

 

Izuku cocked his head to the side. C-o-f-f-e-e bad?

 

“Dude.” Hitoshi leveled Izuku a dead-serious look. “The shit from that machine probably counts as grounds for, I dunno, a charge of cruel and unusual punishment. Manslaughter of taste buds.”

 

Izuku absolutely did not giggle. And if he did, it was only because Hitoshi no longer looked like a cat expecting a cold bath.

 

“I’m serious. Any more of that and I’d be really... depresso.” Hitoshi pulled a face at his own pun. “That sounded better in my head.”

 

Izuku nodded seriously, getting up to rummage through the cupboards. Black tea okay? He asked.

 

“Depends, does it taste anything like the coffee?”

 

No, tea tastes good. He pulled out the box to show Hitoshi. I like it.

 

“Alrighty.” Hitoshi had that I-just-made-an-awful-joke grin on his face now. Izuku raised an eyebrow at him. Obliging, Hitoshi raised his hands to spell it out. A-l-r-i-g-h-t-e-a.

 

Izuku grabbed the dish-towel and raised it threateningly. His friend’s laughter sounded less like amusement than relief, but it was enough for now. Izuku turned back to the kettle, hiding a smile as he set the coffee machine to make another cup.

 

“I am sorry,” Hitoshi said to his friend’s back. “Didn’t mean to make your mom feel bad. She’s… really nice.”

 

Izuku nodded.

 

“Do you think… there’s something I can do? To apologize?” Hitoshi might be aware he was begging, a little, but. This was Izuku’s mom. Even if he didn’t feel like shit for blowing up at her, he would have to fix this before Aizawa came to pick him up. Or there might never be another sleepover.

 

Izuku dumped the rest of the sugar bowl into the mug he stuck under the coffee drip, and placed tea bags in two mugs for Hitoshi and himself. Turning back to Hitoshi, he signed, I have an idea.

 

---------------------

 

Sniffling, Inko splashed cold water on her aching eyes and patted her face dry. She should go back out and fix a lunch for the boys, especially if they were planning to go out. But that awful twisting feeling in her stomach was back, that terrible dark feeling that whispered all her flaws in her ears. She hated that voice that laughed at her every effort to be there for Izuku, taunted her that she was never enough to shield her precious baby from the world. And worse, that it was all her fault, that her tiny ball of sunshine boy was stuck growing up in a world that wanted to snuff out every light he lit.

 

Still, Inko Midoriya refused to be a coward and hide in her room from a thirteen-year-old who had a point . Smacking her cheeks, she glared at her reflection, sniffed hard and turned around to head back to the kitchen and apologize. A lot. To Shinsou-kun and to her poor-- no, to her son.

 

Opening the door, she nearly stepped on a tray. A quick glance had tears brimming in her eyes. A bowl of oatmeal with raisins sprinkled in a smile-y face, that was all Izuku. A cup of coffee in her favorite chipped “Mighty Mom” mug. A small vase with, yes, that looked like a flower cut from the neighbor’s camellia bush. She’d have to scold them for that, even though half of the plant tended to encroach on her balcony. Stealing was not a heroic trait. The flower was beautiful, though.

 

As she knelt down to pick up the tray, she saw a small note written on one of her cat-face post-it notes. “Sorry, Mrs. M. I got angry and overreacted. You’re really nice and a good  great mom. --Hitoshi,” she read aloud to herself. “Oh, you sweet boys.” She laughed, watery but real. “Let me finish this coffee and then you are getting the hugs of your lives.”

 

Around the corner she heard a worried, “Hugs?” from Shinsou-kun.

 

“Y-you just wait, Mom’s hugs are the best,” Izuku whispered back.

 

“Well, yeah, I mean, she’s you but more mom-ly. Of course she gives good hugs.” Shinsou said it like it was fact. Inko couldn’t hold back her laughter anymore.

 

“Thank you, boys!” She called out. “I’ll be right out and we can eat together.”

 

Worried silence.

 

Shinsou, in a soft, horrified undertone. “... Do you think she heard me?”

Chapter Text

Katsuki ran every day after school, but he reserved weekend mornings for the longer routes to test his endurance. Sometimes he got what the old hag would call “overambitious” and had to limp home on trembling legs, but he’d learned his lesson the second time he had to do physical therapy for an ankle sprain that hadn’t completely healed. Now he took his time with stretching and warmups (in his room where he didn’t feel like a fucking pansy with people watching him), and he regularly made it up to four and a half miles before he started feeling like his legs would fall off. Sometimes he’d listen to a rock playlist while he ran, but for the most part he liked to listen to the controlled hiss of his breath and the satisfying smack of his shoes against the ground. On good days, that smack sounded like a battle drum, stronger, stronger, I’m getting stronger.

 

On bad days, it sounded like a metronome slightly out of synch. Not enough, not enough, not enough. It was no big deal. Days like that helped him push harder, go further. You didn’t become number one hero by being satisfied with mediocrity.

 

Still.

 

Today was a bad day.

 

He was rounding a corner that took him past Auntie Inko’s apartment block when he saw them. Deku and his new pal, that purple-haired troll-doll-looking fuck that kept mouthing off at him in school. 

 

The little shits were huddled over a phone doing a counting game to decide something, he could hear them as he jogged closer. Deku in that sing-song tone going “ dore ni shiyou ka na, kamisama no iu toori, teppou utte ban ban ban, mou ichido ban ban ban, kaki no tane,” like he used to when they were kids trying to decide which ice-cream to get from the vending machine. Deku always ended up getting mint chocolate chip, because he thought green things were healthier for you, the stupid fuck.

 

Purple-haired fuck-head (Katsuki knew his name, it was a stupid name, he’d made his own) was laughing and correcting him, “I learned it Teppou utte ban ban ban, shinjatta. My friend liked it best.”

 

Deku opened his big fucking mouth and went, “Kacchan probably would have liked that too, violence was always--”

 

That was enough. He sped up, skidding to a stop in front of them with a growl. “WHAT were you saying about me, you little dweeb?” Deku gave that hitching gasp of horror he always did when he got scared. Pussy.

 

Purple-hair rolled his eyes. “Would you calm the fuck down? No need to go all Explodo-boy on us.”

 

Deku had suggested hero names for him when they were three-- stupid shit like “Boom Boy” and “KaPow!” and… “Explodo Boy.” He’d written them down in that stupid notebook in bubble letters next to Katsuki’s suggested “Nerd Boy” and “Green Fucker.” That shitty notebook was supposed to be buried in a backyard somewhere, not paraded around for every asshole who took pity on the quirkless brat. Katsuki stepped closer, leaning over the pathetic midget.

 

“WHAT THE FUCK HAVE YOU BEEN SAYING ABOUT ME, FUCKING DEKU?” He roared, bringing a hand up to the nerd’s face. The purple-head tried to grab his arm, but he smacked him away, furious.

 

“I-I-I di-di-di--” The nerd’s throat clicked in terror. Couldn’t even apologize if his life depended on it. Katsuki grabbed him by the shoulders and shoved him down-- not like he was gonna give the nerd a black eye right near Auntie Inko’s place. He’d stay down if he knew what was good for him.

 

“Keep my fucking name out of your stuttering mouth, shit-head,” he snarled, turning around to deal with the troll-doll. Of all the fucking days to find out Deku was still spewing that shit about their childhood memories to anyone who would listen.

 

“How about you keep your fucking hands off my friend? We didn’t do shit to you!” Purple Fuck retorted, trying to shove past him to where the nerd lay on the ground. Katsuki stuck out a foot to trip him and sneered down at the groaning pile they made.

 

“Fucking weaklings should know their place,” he growled, ready to storm off home and shower. “Next time I won’t be so nice.”

 

Deku grabbed at his friend when he tried to rise, doing some shit with his hands. Talking about him in sign? Fuckin’... “WHAT DID I JUST SAY?” he roared, turning back to kick at Deku’s quivering arms.

 

Purple surged up, grabbing his leg and pulling it higher while he kicked at his standing leg. Katsuki cursed as he went down, trying to kick himself free.

 

“You… are a grade-A nutcase! What the fuck!” Purple Fuck exclaimed. “Do I have to order you to leave us the fuck alone? Izu didn’t do shit!” Behind him, Deku was starting to tug on his shoulder, trying to drag them both away before Katsuki came back up to beat them into the ground.

 

“He doesn’t have to do shit, he’s DEKU!” Katsuki growled, ready to expound on all the irritating clinging nonsense he’d been forced to deal with since Auntie Inko and his old hag had started prenatal yoga together. All the goddamn pictures he’d been forced to sit next to the shit-nerd for shichi-go-san, the way their parents still cooed about how they’d bathed together and taken naps in matching pajamas, it made him want to barf just thinking about it.

 

But he couldn’t

 

Think

 

At all.

 

-----------

 

“Hi-Hi-Hicchan, pl-please,” Izuku whispered. “Le-let’s just, just go.”

 

Hitoshi’s shoulders were shaking under his hand, tense tremors of rage. He looked like he wanted nothing more than to punch Kacch-- Bakugou where the boy stood, hands steaming as the explosions ceased, eyes eerily blank.

 

“This is what he does all the time, isn’t it? Rags on you just for being there.” Hitoshi’s voice was unnaturally calm, measured. In a corner of his mind, Izuku wondered that he was able to hold off on the effects of his quirk even as he maintained the hypnosis aspect. Depending on how long he was able to wait before giving the implanted “command” (and how close he needed to be to do it), his quirk was looking more and more perfect for infiltration and information gathering.

 

But if he was caught using it here, in a residential area with no unbiased witnesses to help claim self-defense, he could have a mark on his permanent record. It could severely affect his chances of being accepted to a hero school. Izuku pulled harder on his shoulder.

 

“Hicchan, STOP!” He shouted, desperate now. “We h-have to go!”

 

His friend’s eyes widened, and he hesitated before looking into Bakugou’s eyes. “Stay here for five minutes.” At Izuku’s questioning glance, he shrugged. “He’s on the sidewalk, he’ll be fine.”

 

Izuku dropped his grip to Hitoshi’s wrist and started pulling him to the nearest subway entrance. They’d been looking through cafés in the area, but with Bakugou on the warpath, Izuku wanted them out of the city for the day. He’d probably give Izuku the beating of his life the next time he found him alone, but that… was a worry for another day. 

 

Izuku abruptly released Hitoshi’s arm as they started down the stairs. When they finally made it past the ticket machines and into the station proper, he risked a glance at his friend. “S-sorry. For pulling. A-and for y-yelling at you.”

 

Hitoshi glanced back, somber. “Sorry I scared you. I was just angry at him. I shouldn’t have--”

 

“Y-you didn’t scare me!” Izuku waved his arms frantically. “I-I knew you wouldn’t hurt him, and I was interested in how long you ca- can hold someone before y-you give them a command, but it wasn’t-- you weren’t-- I knew you wouldn’t, and--”

 

“Breathe, Izu.” Hitoshi was at least looking at him again.

 

“R-rules.” Izuku gulped and tried to explain. “Schools are different from-- from public places. You c-could have gotten in trou- in trouble, so I wanted to--”

 

“... Oh.” Hitoshi took a second to breathe in, shakily, and sigh. “That’s what you were scared of?” He sat down on a bench, slumping against the back rest. Izuku perched next to him, gulped and nodded.

 

It wasn’t a lie. Even if he found it a bit… odd to see Kacch--Bakugou, he had to call him Bakugou now-- frozen and still like that, his face lax instead of screwed up in rage. Even if he still felt a pang of worry that his-- old friend? Acquaintance? Recurring nightmare?-- was standing dazed on a corner, in public where anything might happen. Even if he was worried about that, it wasn’t Hitoshi’s fault or anything. And he’d never be scared of Hitoshi for standing up for him, even if the other boy shouldn’t have to.

 

“I-I’m sorry,” he said again. “Y-you shouldn’t have to, to defend me all the time.” I should be able to stand up for myself, he meant. 'The first person a hero has to protect is themselves,' like Aizawa said.

 

“I don’t have to,” Hitoshi corrected. “I want to. There’s a difference.”

 

Izuku nodded. Remembering suddenly, he looked his friend over, top to bottom. “Are you o-okay? He tri- tripped you wh-when--”

 

Hitoshi took one look at his face and started snickering. 

 

“Wh-what?” 

 

“You’re not gonna like it,” Hitoshi warned, still stifling laughter. Izuku’s eyes widened, then narrowed.

 

“D-don’t you dare. I ju-just want one day wh-where we go to a café and n-no one makes terrible jokes,” he ordered. Hitoshi slid down the bench a little, getting out of arm’s reach. Preparing.

 

“Izu,” he said. “Guess what just happened.”

 

“No.”

 

“Izu, guess what Baka-gou just did.”

 

No. ” Izuku slid closer, arm at the ready.

 

“Izu, he made me fall for y-- ow, ow, ow, stop it!” Hitoshi batted away Izuku’s hands as they prodded him in the ribs.

 

“That joke was so bad, you h-have to be punished,” Izuku informed him, getting up as Hitoshi started to back away. His friend’s eyebrows raised.

 

Pun -ished? Izu, I’m impressed. You may have… pun-tential.” At this, Izuku growled in frustration and debated kicking his friend in the shin. Obviously shoulder-smacking and rib-poking were insufficient deterrents. “Please stop planning my murder, our train is here,” Hitoshi said, already heading to the line for one of the entrances.

 

“I-if I were planning to kill you, you wouldn’t see it coming,” Izuku muttered, following his friend. “H-have we decided where we’re going yet?”

 

“Well….” Hitoshi slanted him a look. “Since we’re already headed out of Musutafu, and it’s a weekend… I figured we could stop by Yamadad’s work for lunch.”

 

Izuku’s jaw dropped. “Y-Y-Yamada-san’s work?? You mean--” his voice cracked. He shifted to a whisper. “You mean pro hero Present Mic’s r-r-radio show??”

 

Hitoshi shifted closer to whisper back. “Yep.”

 

Izuku’s knees buckled. Hitoshi managed to grab him before he fell over as their car started to move.

 

“Holy shit, dude, I would have tried that earlier if I knew it would make you fall for me.”

 

Izuku retained enough presence of mind to realize that he should smack Hitoshi for that pun if he wanted to keep the negative reinforcement consistent. His remaining two brain cells were busy imagining what Pro Hero Present Mic’s workplace would be like. Would they have tons of merch? Was there a secret exit where Yamada could leave if he had to go fight a villain? What about the team that helped him decide which stories to talk about, would he get to meet any of them? He had so. Many. Questions!

 

“Izu, you’re literally vibrating and it’s starting to get worrying,” Hitoshi cautioned, watching his friend bounce on the balls of his feet at an alarming rate.

 

Izuku froze and turned to Hitoshi. “You’ve been to his work before? What’s it like? Is there a dress code? Can I meet some of the other talk show hosts? Do I need to sign anything? Howdotheydecidewhatnewstotalkaboutandwhatkindofmusictouse, doyouthinktheytranslatenewsfromothercountriesalotbecausetheytalkaboutinternationalherostoriesmorethanotherstationsand--” he took a deep breath, “--isitreallyokayformetocomewithyou???”

 

Hitoshi’s eyes were the widest he’d ever seen them. “Izu, how much caffeine did you have today?”

 

“Onlyalittle!” Izuku chirped, bouncing up and down again. He couldn’t stand still when he was about to see! Present Mic! In Action!! Sure, he’d met him as Hitoshi’s dad but STILL.

 

“I’m gonna text Yamadad and let him know I’ve created a monster,” Hitoshi informed him, pulling out his phone. Izuku drooped slightly, pleading with his eyes to keep his friend from cancelling the trip. He’d never been in a hero’s workplace before, he couldn’t help if he got excited. And he’d only had three cups of tea because Hitoshi wanted to stay and make sure his mom didn’t have any hard feelings when they had breakfast!

 

“Jesus christ, now the puppy eyes?” Hitoshi shook his head. “If you ever weaponized those, they’d be lethal.”

 

Izuku widened his eyes a bit further, letting his lower lip push out a little. Mom had coached him on that face for whenever they were riding the bus and she wanted someone to give up their seat. It didn’t work as well now that he wasn’t six, but it was still somewhat effective.

 

Hitoshi tried to look away, but The Eyes got even wider, and slightly watery. He wasn’t sure how Izuku managed to make his hair flop slightly into his face like that, but somehow he looked smaller, younger, and Just About To Cry in a way that was different from his usual Trying Not To Cry expression.

 

Hitoshi opened his text messages. He looked back into The Eyes and gulped.

 

Hitoshi closed his phone and put it away. To his relief, The Eyes blinked and Izuku smiled up at him, his normal beaming grin.

 

Thank you, he signed cheerily.

 

You’re welcome , Hitoshi replied. “Just, warn me next time you bring those out, huh?”

 

Izuku tilted his head in confusion, but Hitoshi was on to him now. He’d stared into green wells of Disappointed Hope and Dashed Dreams. The Eyes had stared back.

 

He quietly hoped Aizawa was the next one to get hit, because his guardian was astonishingly weak against anything small and cute. There was a reason he had six cat siblings, after all.

Chapter Text

The last time Hizashi had seen a kid bounce that much, he’d been at a fair with his three year old cousin waiting in line for the port-a-potties. For all that he knew that Midoriya was a nearly-fourteen-year-old fueled mainly by excitement and wonder, a voice in the back of Hizashi’s mind was still screaming “Show him to the bathrooms! Stat!”

 

He ignored the voice and grinned down at Hitoshi and his over-excitable friend. “Ready to take a tour, little listeners?”

 

“YES!” Midoriya cried, fist pumping in the air. Hitoshi smacked a hand to his forehead, probably to hide his snickers. Midoriya obviously couldn’t care less, gazing around the lobby with starry eyes as he continued to bounce. 

 

“That’s what I like to hear!” Hizashi boomed, clapping a hand to each boy’s shoulder and spinning them towards the front desk. “Let’s get you your visitor passes and get this show on the road!” The receptionist, long used to exuberant behavior, handed Midoriya and Hitoshi name tags with an indulgent smile and offered them tea and coffee from the lounge.

 

Hitoshi, one eye on his vibrating friend, declined for both of them. “I think he’s had enough for… the next week, at least. Any more and he’ll be bouncing off the walls.”

 

“Bouncing off walls would be a cool quirk!” Midoriya exclaimed, not at all bothered. “If you had enough maneuverability, you’d always be able to hit the villain where they don’t expect it! Although it would take some practice to fight in three dimensions instead of two, especiallyifyou’refastenoughtoactuallybounceofftheceilingaswellasthewallswithoutfallingandlosingspeedbutstill--”

 

“Aaaaand here we are at my office!” Hizashi cut in, gesturing both boys forward. Hitoshi immediately flopped down onto the oversized bean bag where he’d spent many a summer morning, riffling through Hizashi’s shelf of Shounen Jump to see if there were any issues he hadn’t read yet. Midoriya stepped in cautiously and then squeaked with what Hizashi assumed was joy. He rushed forward to the wall of pictures pinned up behind the desk, greedily devouring the board with his eyes. Hizashi usually took a picture with any guests on his show, unless they were anonymous or underground heroes.

 

“Th-th-that’s Ingenium! A-a-and Best Jeanist! And--” Midoriya’s voice failed him as his eyes fell on the one picture of All Might standing next to Hizashi, both beaming and doing the “peace” sign. The boy reached a trembling hand forward, barely breathing. “Y-y-y-you have a picture with ALL MIGHT?!”

 

Hizashi noted that Midoriya was able to reach a surprisingly high register for a teenage boy. Maybe he’d be interested in joining in during singing hour, since Hitoshi had all the music sense of a drunk meerkat.

 

“Yep,” he affirmed. “He was on the show a few years back, as part of a fundraiser for some disaster relief program. He was worried some of the people he rescued wouldn’t be able to afford a new place to live.” He eyed Midoriya’s wide-eyed expression and prepared to dig out his extra handkerchief if the waterworks started.

 

“Wh-what was he like?” Midoriya whispered reverently. Hizashi grinned, coming forward to clap the kid on the shoulder.

 

“Larger than life, kiddo. Larger than life.”

 

Hitoshi snorted, star-fished on the bean bag. “His hair dented the doorframe to the recording room.”

 

“That too,” Hizashi confirmed. Midoriya turned to face both of them, eyes bright.

 

“C-can I see?” 

 

There was no way in hell Hizashi could resist that face. “Sure, green bean. We have someone already there that I wanted you to meet, anyway.”

 

“S-someone you want me to meet? One of the other hosts?” Midoriya asked, bouncing on his heels again. “Is it the morning host? Or one of the tech staff?”

 

Hizashi chuckled, reaching a hand to Hitoshi to pull him out of his beanbag nest. “I guess you could say she’s a coworker. And a family friend.”

 

Hitoshi’s eyes widened. “ She’s here? Are you…” he glanced at his friend and then back at Hizashi, “ absolutely sure that’s a good idea?”

 

“Don’t worry, Toshi, she’s been warned.” He ruffled Hitoshi’s springy hair and guided the boys towards the recording room. “Besides, what’s the worst that could happen?”

 

Under the cover of Midoriya’s quiet muttering, he was sure he heard Hitoshi groan. Kids were so much fun!

 

--------

 

Izuku hung back slightly as Yamada and Hitoshi entered the recording booth. He was a bit nervous about meeting her , whoever she was, but also. Well. The dent was there, right in the middle of the door frame. Right above his head. Where All Might’s head had been. 

 

While his friend’s back was turned, Izuku stood on the tips of his toes and reached up.

 

....Nope, he was too short. 

 

Well, nothing else for it.

 

He crouched slightly, then leaped up and managed to graze the top of the frame with his finger tips. It was like he’d jumped up and brushed against a star. He tucked his hand (never washing those fingertips again if he had his wish) against his chest and grinned.

 

Hitoshi, Yamada, and an unfamiliar woman in a knee-length sweater/dress were watching him. Yamada was grinning. Hitoshi was shaking his head, quirking a smile. The woman clasped both hands to her cheeks, delighted.

 

“That was so cute! ” She squealed. “You didn’t warn me he was this cute , Zashi!”

 

“There is no warning,” Hitoshi responded gravely. “You have to see it to believe it.”

 

Izuku faltered, looking between them all. “U-um…” Had he missed something? Like the introductions? “I-I’m I-Izuku Midoriya. Nice to, to meet you!” He bobbed a quick, nervous bow.

 

“I’m Nemuri Kayama. Feel free to call me Nemu, okay, cutie?” She grinned at him as she snaked an arm around Hitoshi, squishing him against her side. “This guy used to call me older sister, before he got ‘too old’ for it.” She rolled her eyes.

 

“I’m not the one too old for it,” Hitoshi muttered, then winced as his cheek was pinched. Kayama’s grin grew wider.

 

“Toshi forgets I babysat ‘im back when he was a tiny baby goth.”

 

“We didn’t meet until I was eleven,” Hitoshi grumbled.

 

“He forgets I have pictures, ” Kayama continued, ignoring the way Hitoshi tried to squirm out of her grasp. “Easily accessible. On my phone. Of the first time he tried to do his own eyeliner.” 

 

Hitoshi gave her the stink-eye. Kayama continued smiling at Izuku, who was torn between laughter and concern for his friend.

 

“I-I-If Hicchan doesn’t wa-want me to see it, I wo-won’t look,” he said, glancing nervously up to meet Kayama’s eyes. Hitoshi nodded at him in gratitude. “E-e-even if it’s really funny. S-s-sorry.”

 

At that, Kayama cracked up in laughter, letting Hitoshi go as she doubled over and slapped her knee. Hitoshi slunk behind Yamada and over to Izuku’s side, rubbing the redness away from his pinched cheek.

 

“Thanks for your support,” he commented drily as they watched Kayama devolve into giggles.

 

“Welcome,” Izuku murmured back. Yamada, meanwhile, was lending a shoulder as Kayama straightened up, still chuckling.

 

“Ahhhh, that’s what I like to hear,” she proclaimed. “Good on you, kid, for setting boundaries like that.”

 

Izuku stared up at her. “...Huh?”

 

“You let me know you were uncomfortable and refused something because you value your friend. Good on you.” Her voice turned unexpectedly serious. “It’s like I always tell my students-- if I say or do anything that makes you uncomfortable, lemme know so I know your boundaries. And if another adult does or says anything that makes you uncomfortable, lemme know so I can kick the shit out of ‘em.”

 

Hitoshi was expecting the Izuku Eep of Surprise for hearing a swear word. He wasn’t expecting his friend to literally jump in place like a startled bunny.

 

“Y-y-you’re Pro Hero Midnight!!” He shouted. Then he clamped his hand over his mouth with a squeak.

 

Yamada had stepped back and started quietly filming. He’d just won a bet against Shouta, after all.

 

Kayama’s eyes widened, before she grinned again, the sharp, nearly feral grin of the R-rated Hero. “How’d you know?”

 

“I-I-I heard an interview. W-well, Mom wouldn’t let me lis-, um listen to your interviews for a while, b-because she said I’d learn new words? A-and I was too young. But when y-you gave a speech about, um, about costumes for heroes a-and the different needs of people w-with skin-based emitter quirks, y-you said that any, um, anyone who looked at a minor wearing a ne-necessary costume and s-sexualised them deserved to have the…” he trailed off, shooting Hitoshi a helpless look. His ever-so-helpful friend smirked and waved a hand, urging him to go on. “...the shit kicked out of, out of them,” he whispered. Yamada smothered a laugh, stopping the video to hit send. Shouta would get a kick out of it, he was sure.

 

“You heard that one, huh? Yeah, that was before the censors really started whinging. You threaten to castrate one-- a couple-- okay, you threaten to castrate literally everyone who touches a minor or another person in a way they don’t consent to, and suddenly you’re ‘R-rated’ and ‘not fit for children’s television.’” Kayama’s air quotes were accompanied by a generous eye roll.

 

Yamada coughed. “Coulda been the costume too, Nemu.”

 

Kayama raised an eyebrow. “Got a problem with leather now, Cockatoo?”

 

Izuku spluttered out a surprised laugh, imagining a parrot in Present Mic’s leather pants and jacket. Hitoshi shook his head in resignation.

 

“Yamadad, we’re hungry. The costume argument can wait until the restaurant.”

 

Kayama spun to face them. “Food?”

 

“We were going to get sushi, right Toshi?” Yamada asked, looking grateful for the save.

 

“If Izu’s okay with it,” Hitoshi shrugged.

 

Kayama’s intense stare switched from Hitoshi to Izuku. The latter curled back into himself and hesitantly nodded.

 

“Great!” Kayama cheered, punching a fist to the sky. “Zashi, you’re treating!” Her sweater hiked up slightly, showing off the disney pajama shorts she was wearing underneath. Izuku blushed effervescently and looked away until she settled down.

 

“Why is it always my treat,” Yamada sighed, gesturing for Izuku and Hitoshi to precede them.

 

“Because wage gap,” Kayama said bluntly.

 

“We work at the same place. It has the same pay,” Yamada pointed out, fruitlessly.

 

“And you have two jobs. Checkmate,” Kayama replied, unconcerned.

 

“You just want to save for another spa trip,” Yamada accused. Hitoshi and Izuku, walking slowly, exchanged a speaking glance. On Hitoshi’s side, it said ‘not this shit again.’ On Izuku’s, it was more like, ‘pro heroes! Two pros! Eating lunch with pro heroes Present Mic and Midnight!!’

 

Hitoshi sighed. Lunch would be… interesting. At least Yamada had promised they could go to a cat cafe as a treat.

Chapter Text

The thing about languages was, you couldn’t choose your first. Mother tongue, native tongue, first language, whatever you called it, it was the mixture of sounds and meaning you pick up from what you hear as an infant and turn into a means of communication.

 

His mother was half-Korean half-Japanese and had tried to speak both to him as a child so he'd grow up bilingual. His father, not to be outdone, had countered with Japanese and English whenever he returned home from the veterinarian office, picking up his tiny son with gentle hands and cooing.

 

Both of their efforts, however, were in vain.

 

Kouji Kouda’s first language was Cat.

 

His mother, whose Quirk allowed her to copy a voice and accent after hearing it once, was confused when her baby insisted on meowing at her whenever he was hungry. His father, whose Quirk let him understand how animals felt by touching them, took copious videos and found it hilarious.

 

The kids in his daycare were less understanding. When they weren’t teasing him about his looks (too pink, too block-like, didn’t he look dumb as a rock they giggled), they laughed at him for the way his sentences would lapse into hisses, how his words meandered downwards and upwards tonally the way Marshmallow Kitty had taught him.

 

By the age of six, Kouda communicated mainly through written notes and sign language.

 

Animals, though. He loved them, loved the way they perked up as soon as he drew near, tails wagging, eyes wide and loving, yes, you hear me, you know me, trust you trust you love you. If only they could understand his hands instead of his voice, Kouda would have been perfectly happy. Who needed human friends, after all, when he could sit in a pile of puppies behind his father’s desk, assuring them all in whispers that yes, their teeth were fierce and sharp, their fur was thick and soft, they would grow up strong and beautiful and loved.  When he could scratch the crests of the parrots and let them dance across his shoulders to the songs they selected, crowing out what lyrics they knew to make him laugh. When he could whistle at the sparrows on his way to school and have them waiting on his way back for the crumbs he scattered by the sidewalk, telling him earnestly of the crows encroaching on their territory and that one of them! Had seen a cat! But flown away in time!

 

Who needed human friends.

 

Still, he sometimes wished he could have… support. Back-up for when he visited shelters and pet cafes on the weekend to make sure everyone was happy and healthy. Then maybe he wouldn’t be stuck trying to write out a respectful message to this cafe owner that Pumpkin actually didn’t like her name or all the grabby-hand humans that came to play, and that she especially didn’t like when the cafe owner brought her son to work on weekends and the little boy tried to grab her tail with his sticky hands.

 

As it was, the woman barely glanced at the note before telling him he had another half hour unless he wanted to pay for more time.

 

Kouda suppressed a growl and raised his hands fruitlessly. Please listen to me, read the note , he signed, pointing again at what he’d written.

 

“E-excuse me,” a soft voice interjected. Kouda turned to see a green-haired boy approaching, one of a small party that had arrived while he’d been listening to Pumpkin. He wouldn’t have noticed, except that the boy had been sneezing forcefully until his friend gave him allergy medicine.

 

Turning to him, the green-haired boy smiled tremulously and gestured, nice to meet you. Can I help?

 

Kouda wasn’t sure exactly what it was about that smile, the helping hands speaking his language, but for a moment he was unable to contain the hope welling within his chest, the wonder that this boy might be like him.

 

Nice to meet you! Thank you so much! Can you tell her to please read the note? It’s important!, he responded, pointing again at the cafe owner and the note.

 

The other boy’s eyes widened but his smile didn’t falter. You want… her to read… that? , he responded, hands slow and uncertain. Sorry, you sign fast and I’m learning.

 

Kouda deflated a little at that, disappointment bitter in the back of his throat. Yes, you’re right , he answered. At least the boy knew enough that he could help with the owner.

 

“O-okay. Um.” The boy looked at the cafe owner, who was beginning to frown at them both. “Miss, he just wants you to read that note. I. Um. Know a bit of sign? I can try to help translate i- if that’s, um, if that’s okay?” He looked between Kouda and the woman uncertainly, shrinking back a little. “U-um, not to say that you c-can’t communicate! I mean, there’s the note. But, well, I’m here a-and it seemed like you might want a little, um, help?” He was looking at Kouda now, eyes as wide and sincere as the two-week old puppies his father had let him help raise when their mother got sick. Kouda… had no way to deny that look.

 

He nodded, somewhat warmed by the way the other boy’s eyes widened further as he relaxed slightly and grinned back.

 

The cafe owner finished reading the note and sighed. “Is this a Quirk thing? Because all of our cats are trained to be friendly to visitors. I haven’t noticed any issues with Pumpkin or the others.”

 

Kouda frowned. Of course she hadn’t noticed, she barely glanced at the cats as she went around to deliver food and drinks to the customers. Why on earth someone would want to run a cat cafe when they didn’t care about cats was a mystery to him.

 

The other boy looked at him, cocking his head to the side in question.

 

Kouda sighed. Pumpkin said she can’t see well out of her left eye. She hates it when people walk in her blind spot and your son keeps running over and grabbing her when she can’t get away.

 

The boy gulped slightly but nodded to him. “He says that… Pumpkin? Has a problem with her left eye. She doesn’t like… people? When she can’t see. And, um, something about your son?”

 

That wasn’t a bad translation, actually. He grabs, Kouda signed, gesturing large to make it clear. The boy grinned at him, signing a quick thank you!

 

“He grabs her. She doesn’t like it,” the boy added, standing a little straighter as Kouda nodded at him. 

 

The owner sighed. “Look, kids, I understand you want to help… but ultimately this is a business. I can’t just not take my son here or keep people from walking around because one cat has a problem. My hands are tied here.” She pointed at a sign behind the counter. “If you feel that strongly, these are all shelter cats. They’re up for adoption.”

 

Kouda drooped slightly. He wasn’t allowed any more pets, and the kennels at his dad’s office were already full. The other boy looked at him apologetically. “I… I don’t think I can. My mom is allergic too, s-so…” I’m really sorry, he signed.

 

The tall purple-haired kid who’d arrived with the nice green boy chose that moment to walk up. “What’s going on, Izu?” he drawled, slouching an elbow on the shorter boy’s shoulder.

 

“Oh! U-um. Th-this is—“ ‘Izu’ stuttered to a stop. Sorry! He signed, What’s your name? I’m Izuku Midoriya.

 

Kouji Kouda , he responded. Nice to meet you.

 

I’m Hitoshi Shinsou, Midoriya’s friend answered, pulling back upright to free up his hands. What’s going on?

 

Midoriya elbowed Shinsou in the ribs, gently. You say Nice to meet you, he reminded, frowning.

 

Nice to meet you. What’s going on? Shinsou corrected. Kouda looked between them, somewhat surprised. Midoriya didn’t really seem like the type to be friends with this blunt, laid-back stranger, but then, he didn’t really seem the type to run in to help when he saw someone using JSL, either.

 

Kouda pointed at Midoriya, who looked confused for a moment. He smiled and gestured, talk. It would be faster than trying to sign the whole thing out again, and he had no idea how much Shinsou would understand.

 

“O-oh! Um.” Midoriya took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “K-Kouda was asking the owner, um, telling her that one of the cats is unhappy? She, um, she can’t see with her left eye, so, um, so she doesn’t like strangers grabbing her o-or the owner’s son.” 

 

Sticky hands, Kouda explained with a grimace. Shinsou grimaced back in understanding.

 

“A-and the owner said she can’t help? But, um, but all the cats are up for adoption? Kouda can’t though, and I-I’m allergic, so--” Midoriya wilted slightly.

 

Shinsou squinted thoughtfully, then pulled his phone from his pocket. “I have an idea. But for it to work, you both have to do exactly what I say.”

 

Midoriya and Kouda exchanged a glance, but nodded back. 

 

For Pumpkin, Kouda said.

 

For Pumpkin, Midoriya agreed.

 

Shinsou grinned, slow and evil.

 

------

 

Shouta was on his lunch break (nap, his nap time, yes, yes, he knows, Snipe, stop snickering. Damn weekend meetings.) when his phone buzzed. The attachment came from Sleepy Kid. Shouta opened one eye to see the contact photo (his son, twelve years old, fast asleep in a puddle of cats) and sighed.

 

The video loaded.

 

Midoriya sat next to a pink-headed kid he didn’t know, holding an orange cat. If this was another kitten sneeze video, he was going to save it until after his nap.

 

“U-um! A-Aizawa-san! S-s-sorry to bother you at work, but um, this is Pumpkin.” The pink-headed boy lifted the orange cat slightly, and she started purring and rubbing her head against his cheek. Cute. “She, um, lives at a cat café but she’s not happy here. Kouda-kun’s Q-q-Quirk is Animal Whisper (so cool!), so she, um, told him she’s blind in one eye and doesn’t like all the people--” Relatable. “--but she’s, um, up for adoption! A-and Kouda-kun’s family can’t and, um, m-my mom is allergic, so--”

 

Hitoshi, holding the camera, whispered, “Do the face!”

 

Midoriya sputtered, but steeled himself and peered imploringly up at the camera. His eyes were wide and watery. His lower lip trembled. His floof of hair quivered sadly. 

 

Actually, that was probably the camera shaking as Hitoshi tried not to laugh.

 

The pink kid next to him turned Pumpkin around so that she looked at the camera and gave a tiny chirp.

 

Aizawa turned off his phone and dropped it on the couch. 

 

Goddammit.

 

“... We’re getting another cat,” he grumbled, collapsing back on his side and covering his face with one arm. Not even the other underground heroes walking quietly by would be able to see the huge grin spreading across his face. Those damn manipulative kids.

 

He was so proud.

Chapter Text

Hitoshi turned off his phone with an air of satisfaction. “And now, we wait,” he declared, joining Izuku and Kouji on the floor. He offered his hand to Pumpkin for a sniff, waiting until she butted her head against his knuckles to stroke behind her ears and under her chin.

 

You think this will work? Kouji asked. I don’t want to get her hopes up.

 

Don’t worry, Hitoshi responded. My dad loves cats.

 

Izuku nodded fiercely. Aizawa wasn’t really the type you’d expect to have a soft spot for, well, anything, but he definitely caved the instant one of his cats wanted to be picked up and petted. Izuku had stopped being startled by it the third time Hitoshi sent him a picture of his guardian asleep on the floor with cats strewn all over his sleeping bag. One of them had been asleep in his hair in the last one.

 

“S-so when d-do you think you can take Pumpkin home?” he asked, looking past Hitoshi to where Yamada and Pro Hero Midnight Kayama were arguing over whose costume was better. They’d been arguing for… nearly half an hour now and showed no signs of stopping. It was actually kind of impressive.

 

“Probably Monday or Tuesday, Aizawa won’t be home until then--” Hitoshi stopped, turning to Kouji. Sorry, I said we could a-d-o-p-t her Monday or Tuesday.

 

Kouji smiled wryly. It’s okay. I can hear. He waited for the usual question. ‘Why don’t you talk if you can hear like a normal person?’ He always wanted to answer, ‘Because I don’t talk like a normal person, obviously.’

 

“Oh!” said Izuku. “That’s cool! I-I mean not that it wouldn’t be cool if you c-couldn’t hear? But, um, I’m not good at sign yet, so it’s sort of a relief-- I mean-- Um.” He fell silent, hoping Kouji hadn’t heard the words over the sound of his foot in his mouth. 

 

Hitoshi smiled, reaching over to pat Izuku on the shoulder. “Okay, phew, cuz I realized I’ve only been signing like half of what I said.”

 

Izuku jolted slightly as Pumpkin meowed loudly-- an affronted accusation that Kouda had * stopped petting her why would he do that her fur was soft and amazing keep petting now.*

 

Kouji laughed and obeyed, signing Sorry with his off hand out of habit.

 

“D-do animals understand sign?” Izuku asked, leaning forward with curiosity. Hitoshi snickered, patting his friend on the head as he walked back to their table to retrieve his iced coffee.

 

Kouji shook his head sadly. Only my voice , he answered.

 

“Th-th-that’s so…” here it comes, Kouji thought glumly. “...cool!”

 

He looked up. Izuku had shot to his feet in his excitement, fists clenched. He looked like he would start bouncing any minute.

 

“C-can you talk to any animal? O-or only mammals? Vertebrates? Do you h-hear them in Japanese o-or is it more like impressions? Isitonlyspeechtheyunderstandorcanyousingatthemtoo, becauseIkeepaskingHicchanifhisquirkworksbysingingandhehasn’tansweredbutohmygodwow!!” Izuku’s face was split in an incredulous grin. “That’ssuchagreatquirkforahero!”

 

Kouji was gaping now, he was pretty sure. Izuku was still bouncing on the balls of his feet, but his voice had faded into a low mutter, and Kouji was pretty sure he was currently debating whether Animal Whisper would work over a microphone system and how it could be used for reconnaissance and search and rescue missions.

 

Hitoshi sidled back up to them and slumped down next to Kouji, taking a deep gulp of coffee. 

 

“He gets like that, don’t worry,” he murmured to Kouji. “If you wanna know what he’s saying, ask to see his notebook in a bit.”

 

Kouji nodded dumbly. He said I could be a hero, he signed, halfway to himself. No one but his parents had ever told him that.

 

Hitoshi smirked, not unkindly. We are going to be heroes. If we can, you can.

 

Izuku seemed to notice that he’d been talking too fast and covered his mouth, turning red. He sat back down, gingerly. Sorry, I talk too much, he apologized.

 

Kouji shook his head. Thank you , he answered. I want to be a hero, too .

 

From the way Izuku and Hitoshi both grinned at him, he’d said exactly the right thing.

 

-----------

 

By the time Yamada walked over, they were trying out different names for Pumpkin, who absolutely rejected anything Hitoshi suggested.

 

To be fair, he’d started out with “Zucchini” and followed up with every other kind of squash he knew.

 

Izuku, on the other hand, was campaigning hard for her to be named Mandalay, Pixie Bob, Ragdoll or Tiger.

 

Kouji was bemused. Those are all different breeds of cat? She is a tabby cat , he pointed out.

 

“B-But they’re heroes! The Wild, Wild Pussycats!” Izuku curled his hands into paws, “Y-you know, ‘Lock on with these sparkling gazes! We’ve come to lend a paw and help! Coming out of nowhere… Stingingly cute and catlike! Wild, Wild Pussycats!!” He punched a ‘paw’ to the sky.

 

Hitoshi lost the battle with his giggles and fell on his side, laughing. He just barely managed to save his coffee from the fall, setting it safely to the side. Kouji at least managed to curl over Currently-Unnamed-Kitty as he shook with laughter.

 

Yamada, behind Izuku, could only shake his head. Aizawa would be sad he had missed lunch today.

 

“So what’s this I hear about our new kitty? Who’s lucky number seven?” he asked, hands in his pockets. Kayama had followed, plate of cheesecake in hand.

 

Izuku dropped his hands, blushing. “U-um. Seven? Oh!” He turned back to Kouji. “We could name her Nana!”

 

“Izuku Fluffles Midoriya,” Hitoshi intoned from the floor. (“--’s not my middle name,” Izuku muttered.) “Did you. Just suggest. We name our seventh cat SEVEN?”

 

“H-hey! Mom likes that name! I-if I was a girl she would have named me Nana,” Izuku defended. He stretched out his foot and poked Hitoshi in the side, warningly. Hitoshi rolled away, onto his back. From behind him, a curious brown kitten stalked forward, aiming at his rumpled hair.

 

“I like it.” Hitoshi declared. “What does her majesty think?” He winced as the kitten batted at his hair, catching some of it in her claws. Luckily, she retracted her claws before he sat up, although Kouji thought he heard a disappointed * awwww* from her direction.

 

Kouji looked between his two new-- acquaintances? Friends? One moment, he signed, bending over Not-Pumpkin’s purring form to whisper in her ear.

 

Possibly-Nana took a moment to uncurl, languidly stretching her back. She flicked her tail idly from side to side before stepping gingerly out of Kouda’s lap and walking over to Izuku, brushing against Hitoshi’s knees on her way. With a brisk leap, she settled on top of Izuku’s knees and purred.

 

She likes it , Kouji signed, grinning. 

 

“Yes!” Izuku grinned, reaching down to smooth his hand along Nana’s fur. “Nice to meet you, Nana!”

 

Yamada grinned as Kayama leaned against his shoulder munching on the last of her cheesecake. “Guess I’ll call Shouta with the news. Don’t adopt any more cats before I get back, okay?” 

 

Kayama ducked down to give Nana a rub behind the ears, then headed to the counter to return her plate. It was possible she would get another slice of cheesecake on her way, since she’d already eaten two. ‘Calories eaten with friends don’t count,’ she’d said when she ordered the first one.

 

Thank you both , Kouji said. Thank you so much.

 

“Hey, what are heroes for?” Hitoshi said, grinning down at the brown kitten trying to climb his shirt to reach * purple fluffy toy mineminemine .* “Saving the world one kitty at a time.”

 

“A-aizawa won’t let you a-adopt all the cats,” Izuku reminded him. Hitoshi lazily waved a hand.

 

“Keep it up with the face, we’ll have our own cat café in a week,” he assured his friend, who pouted in return.

 

Kouji started laughing as Nana began kneading at Izuku’s leg, claws flexing and relaxing.

 

She says her pillow keeps moving, he explained. You can take over the café? Is that your quirk? He pointed to Izuku. P-e-r-s-u-a-s-i-o-n or something?

 

“Ah. Um. That’s kind of…” Izuku glanced at Hitoshi, a ‘do you want to tell him’ look.

 

“That’s my Quirk. Brain-washing.” His voice was flat. “I can’t use it on you, don’t worry.” Kouji shrugged at him and watched as the other boy’s shoulders relaxed slightly.

 

“Y-y-your Quirks are actually really similar, though!” Izuku added, high-voiced with worry. “I-I-It’s almost like Hi-Hicchan has People Whisker, I mean whisper, if, if you, um, think about it.”

 

Hitoshi raised an eyebrow. “That’s the second pun you’ve made in the last ten minutes. Izu, are you feeling well?”

 

Kouji nodded at Hitoshi. Your quirk is pretty cool, then. And you, Midoriya?

 

Izuku looked down at Nana, biting his lip. I don’t have one , he answered. For some reason, it was easier if he wasn’t speaking. Saying “don’t have one” instead of “Quirkless.” Like he was talking about the latest hero action figure instead of the power everyone else had and he was born without.

 

Kouji waited until Izuku met his eyes. Okay, he signed.

 

“Okay?” Hitoshi asked incredulously. “Just ‘okay?’”

 

Kouji shrugged. I have Animal Whisper voice power and I don’t speak. He has no quirk. Together, we saved Nana. Save the world one cat at a time.

 

Izuku’s eyes widened, prickled with tears. “Y-y-you really mean it?”

 

Kouji smiled and nodded. If I can be a hero, you can, too, he affirmed.

 

Hitoshi appeared to have lost a step, expecting an argument that had fizzled out before it started. He stared between Kouji and Izuku, who had started sniffling back tears as his face split in a wide, sunshine grin. Grumbling slightly, he dislodged the kitten from his shirt and fumbled for his handkerchief.

 

“Izuku has raved over your quirk, you’ve made him cry happy tears, and you helped me get a new cat. We’re friends now,” he explained to Kouji, who had started looking distressed at Izuku’s waterworks. “Don’t worry, crying is just a way to let out emotions. It’s like an emotional sneeze.”

 

As expected, this led to Izuku’s one-handed attempts to whack at his shoulder. He was fortunately hampered by Nana’s disgruntled attempts to * keep soft pillow still nap time stop stop stop moving .*

 

Helplessly, Kouji started to laugh, attracting the rest of the cats from the corners of the room. By the time the owner realized they were monopolizing the entertainment, Hitoshi was star-fished giggling on his back with a cat on each limb, Kouji was whispering encouragements to the kitty army from the side, and Nana had decided that her * pillow face leaking stop stop stop*  and was grooming Izuku’s hair with a rough tongue, paws placed on his shoulders to keep him from squirming away. Kayama, next to Kouji, had a lap full of Maine Coon cat and was trying to get the best photo possible of her model’s fluffy tummy while holding cheesecake out of reach of a curious tabby with her other hand.

 

Yamada returned from his phone-call, grinned, and took another video. Yeah, Shouta was definitely coming with the next time they went to a cat café.

 

Chapter Text

“Okay, boys, have a great day! Izu-kun, let Aizawa-san know I might not be home when you finish your aikido lesson, okay? You have your key and there’s miso soup and leftover curry in the fridge, okay? Don’t wait for me if you get hungry for dinner--” Inko bustled around the kitchen, straightening her cardigan around her shoulders, washing her breakfast dishes and searching for her coffee thermos. “Izu-kun, do you know where my--?”

 

“I think it’s on the counter, Midoriya-san,” Hitoshi said, scooping his last bite of oatmeal from the bowl. “Sugar bowl’s empty, though.” He and Izuku had found a recipe for microwave-able mug cakes the night before and tried it out. They ended up with somewhat goopy chocolate messes, but it had still tasted good. He might give Aunt Nemu the recipe so she could make them at work, she always complained that there wasn’t enough chocolate in the teacher’s lounge.

 

“Oh, we have a refill… where was it?” Inko raised a hand and ‘pulled’ gently, opening the taller cabinets one by one. 

 

“Spice cabinet, top shelf,” Izuku pointed out, covering his mouth as he chewed.

 

“Thank you, sweetie!” With slow, controlled movements, Inko ‘beckoned’ the bag of sugar forward, floating it down into her arms. Setting it on the counter, she pinched both hands in the air above the bag and ‘pulled’ slowly to tear it open. Izuku clapped as the bag wobbled slightly but opened with no spills.

 

Inko ‘pulled’ the sugar bowl, sliding it across the counter to rest at her elbow, lifted the bag and poured until it was full.

 

“This is my favorite part,” Izuku whispered to Hitoshi.

 

Without looking, Inko reached over her shoulder and used her quirk to open the top drawer of her desk. A ball of elastic bands sprang forward, launching itself straight into her waiting hand. With aplomb, Inko removed a band, twisted the bag of sugar closed and set it next to the coffee machine. 

 

As she turned around, Izuku and Hitoshi gave her a standing ovation. Grinning, Inko took a bow, left hand over her chest.

 

“Thank you, thank you--” she looked down, catching a glimpse of the time, “oh no.”

 

Much more quickly, she stirred sugar and cinnamon into her piping hot thermos, closed the lid, ‘pulled’ her bag from the hallway, and bustled around the table to give Izuku a smacking kiss on the forehead and Hitoshi a quick hug around the shoulders.

 

“Have fun at school, be good, and kick some butt at your lessons, okay dears?” she called over her shoulder, pulling the door open and yanking it closed behind her.

 

Hitoshi stretched his arms over his head, yawned massively and stood up to bring his and Izuku’s bowls to the sink. “Your mom is cool.”

 

“Mm-hm!” Izuku affirmed, chugging the last of his tea. He wiped his mouth and brought his mug up to wash. “She didn’t, um, didn’t used to use her quirk around me? I th-think she thought it would make me sad, or, um, jealous? But Aizawa said I should, should take every opportunity to analyze quirks and see if I’m correct.”

 

“I remember,” Hitoshi answered, frowning. Aizawa had been trying to get Hitoshi to demonstrate his own quirk, which was not happening. He hated using it on people he liked. Stopping bullies was fine, but seeing that blank, glazed look on the face of a friend (watching it fade into shock and fear and disgust)… the thought turned his stomach.

 

“So! Um,” Izuku glanced at him apologetically and went on. “So I asked if she could demonstrate? And we figured out that even though Mom’s quirk only works to pull small objects, she can, can pull from any direction towards herself, even if she can’t see it. And if it’s close enough, she can pull one object multiple ways to get it to open. Or, um, break, I guess.” He rubbed the back of his head nervously. Mom had basically… exploded the tennis ball they’d been practicing with when they figured that use out. She must have been practicing a lot to make the sugar open so slowly. “I-It’s really cool! The next test is if she can pull a part of a larger object, or if it only works on complete objects. I think if, if she can figure out how to pull something past her and aim, it would, um, be really good for self-defense! She can ‘pull’ things really fast sometimes, it could leave serious bruises!” Although, actually, it might be more effective with something like bits of gravel or shards of glass, if she could ‘pull’ multiples at once. It would effectively be a kind of scattered shrapnel attack.

 

“Your brain is a scary place sometimes,” Hitoshi stated, cutting off Izuku’s thoughtful muttering. “Brilliant, but scary.”

 

“Um.” He had no idea how to respond to that. “Th-thank you?”

 

“You’re welcome. Now brush your teeth and let’s get going,” Hitoshi ordered, shrugging on his school jacket. His duffel bag was all packed in Izuku’s room, so he planned to leave it there until Aizawa drove Izuku home from their lesson. “Remember, we’re going tomorrow after school to pick up Nana.”

 

“R-right!” Izuku grinned and bounded to the bathroom, already excited for the next day. Kouda had texted them to say he could come meet them to translate for Nana before Aizawa and Yamada adopted her, just to make sure she’d be happy with them. Izuku hoped Kouda would have time for the list of questions he’d written in his notebook in preparation… Animal Whisper was just such a cool quirk! (Mainly, he was wondering whether humans counted as ‘animals,’ since if they did, Kouda might be able to use his quirk like Hitoshi did, a bit. Or maybe Hitoshi could see if he could command animals as well as humans, if there was an overlap. Man, if that was true, they might be able to do things like help train police dogs and therapy animals as a hero side job!)

 

“Ten minutes until the train!” Hitoshi called from the kitchen. Izuku hurriedly finished brushing, gargled, spat, and splashed water over his face. He grinned at the mirror. He was so ready for this day!

 

-------

Izuku squeezed his eyes shut, opened them again, and blinked. The note on his desk didn’t vanish, like he was hoping it would. The handwriting was familiar, as was the faint sweet smell of smoke from the scorched edges. Kacchan must have been really angry…

 

“Stay after class, fucking Deku,” was all it said. Biting his lip, Izuku raised his eyes from his desk to meet the blazing red eyes of his childhood friend across the row. Katsuki glared harder, waiting.

 

Izuku gulped and nodded, sagging in relief as Katsuki turned back to face the board. He had some idea of what this might be about-- Hitoshi had used his quirk in public, after all, Kacchan was probably angry, no, furious, that he’d been caught in it, but... why would he be asking Izuku to stay behind? Was he supposed to give Hitoshi a message from Katsuki?

 

...Was it possible Katsuki was scared to speak to Hitoshi himself? 

 

Izuku covered his mouth, making sure he wasn’t thinking aloud. If that was true, and that was a big if , then… Katsuki would be even angrier. He hated anything like weakness. Which was why he hated Izuku. This could be… really, really bad. 

 

...He still had bandages and burn cream in his backpack. If… the usual happened. He might have to take the day off from Aikido but, he’d, he’d be fine. Eventually.

 

Izuku sunk deeper in his seat, hunching his shoulders fruitlessly. That warm feeling he’d been carrying all weekend, cradled in his chest, sputtered and died.

 

-----------

 

Hitoshi looked up as Izuku finally approached the school gates. “Hey! Where were you? We have to get going,” he said, starting to turn towards the bus station. They wouldn’t be late if they caught the next bus, but they would be cutting it close. Kawai-sensei didn’t like people coming in part-way through a lesson.

 

“S-s-s--” Izuku hitched a breath, let it out and signed, Sorry. Sorry l-a-t-e as he hurried to match Hitoshi’s pace.

 

“Did the teacher ask you to stay? I thought you asked for all your cleaning days to be Tuesdays and Thursdays for lessons.”

 

Izuku frowned but nodded. Teacher. H-o-m-e-w-o-r-k question .

 

“You… sure you’re okay?” They’d made it to the stop, with a few minutes to spare. Hitoshi eyed his silent, pale-faced friend. “You look a little sick.”

 

Izuku shook his head. I’m fine.

 

“And is there a reason you took off your jacket? I thought you were cold this morning.” Hitoshi could see goosebumps on Izuku’s arms.

 

Jacket d-i-r-t-y. Izuku looked away, hunching in on himself.

 

“Do you want to borrow mine? I think I still have my scarf in my bag, so I’m good.” Hitoshi slid his backpack onto one shoulder and started rummaging through it. He didn’t see Izuku’s hands waving, no no no I’m fine.

 

Smiling, Hitoshi pulled the scarf from his backpack (it had been hiding under his science notebook) and wrapped it around his friend’s shoulders. Izuku tried to smile back but it fell off his face.

 

“Seriously… are you okay?” Hitoshi asked, eyeing his friend over. Maybe he’d caught a cold? He hadn’t seemed sick this morning, though.

 

Izuku shook his head. Thank you. I’m fine.

 

Hitosh raised an eyebrow. Izuku turned to stare at the bus schedule intently.

 

“Izu…”

 

Fine Fine Fine Fine . Izuku’s hand slapped against his chest as he repeated the sign.


“... I was just gonna say that the bus is here.”

 

… Oh. Izuku dropped his hands, blushing. He followed his bemused friend onto the bus and slouched against the pole after they showed the driver their passes. 

 

“I won’t ask again if you’re okay, but… you know I’m here if you want to talk. Or sign,” Hitoshi said, low-voiced under the automated bus announcement.

 

Izuku nodded. Thank you. He placed his hand on his chest and slid it slightly downward. I know.

 

“Good.” Hitoshi eyed him for a second, then turned to his phone. If the “I’m here for you” talk didn’t yield results, he knew who to text for reinforcements.

 

-----

 

Shouta had expected some trouble when Hitoshi texted before the boys’ lesson but… this was concerning. Hitoshi, he could read perfectly well, after years of deciphering which morning scowls meant hunger and which meant insomnia-fueled crankiness. It helped that the kid tended to mirror his expressions more often than not.

 

Green kid, though, his expressions switched from calm and happy to upset or tearful at the drop of a hat, and it wasn’t always easy to tell the cause. For now, the problem child was curled up next to Hitoshi on the bench, arms wrapped around his knees. He was currently sneaking sideways glances at Hitoshi, who had lounged backwards in his “defying authority” pose but kept glancing back to his friend.

 

Someday, Shouta would no longer find that cute.

 

“Explain,” he prompted. Kawai-sensei had already called him to let him know what had happened, but he wanted to hear it in their words.

 

“I-it was my fault--” “That kid nearly killed him--”

 

The talking at the same time thing was, unfortunately, also cute.

 

“Midoriya,” he prompted, one hand gesturing at Hitoshi to shh! His son rolled his eyes but settled further into his seat.

 

“I. Um. We w-w-were in the locker room,” Izuku started, glancing again at Hitoshi. “I w-wasn’t, um, watching. Where I was going. T-Tanaka-kun was t-t-talking with his f-friend. He-- I tripped.” 

 

Shouta noted that Hitoshi’s frown had become a scowl as Izuku explained.

 

“Thank you. Toshi, your turn.” He nodded at the green kid, who curled up tighter into his ball.

 

“It wasn’t an accident! Ta-baka was laughing with his friend about Izu being in the kids’ class, he said some shit about Quirkless people being no better than toddlers, then he stuck out his foot while Izu was passing!” His son shifted so he was glaring at Kawai’s office, where she was currently having a talk with the other kid. “Izu nearly fell onto the changing benches, he could have been hurt!”

 

Shouta sighed, bringing his hand up to pinch the bridge of his nose.

 

“And this is supposed to explain why you controlled both boys in the locker room and had them write “Idiot” on their foreheads with permanent marker?” 

 

Hitoshi nodded, fully justified. “They should come with a warning label.”

 

Izuku sunk further into his ball. His hands were clasped, wrist to wrist, tightly enough that they trembled.

 

“And why … did you have to brainwash them in the locker room?” he asked.

 

“Because it was too close-quarters for a fight, Izu could have gotten hurt,” Hitoshi answered promptly.

 

Shouta sighed. “For future reference, kid, there are no security cameras in your changing room. That would defeat the purpose of a changing room. So there is no impartial witness to prove you used your quirk in self-defense.” Keep this in mind for next time, he very carefully didn’t say.

 

Hitoshi scowled.

 

“In normal circumstances, it would be your word against theirs… and we both know how that would look.” Shouta eyed both boys seriously. “Any incidences on your permanent record showing you do not follow the law to the letter… would look very bad for hero school applications.”

 

Hitoshi squirmed in his seat. Izuku, unable to curl up any further, started sniffling back tears.

 

“Luckily, this time one of the other boys in the locker room was willing to come forward and support your claim of self-defense. He is the reason you will not be receiving any caution or warning from the police. Hitoshi, you and Tanaka will still be suspended from lessons until next week,” he smirked slightly, “by which time the ‘Idiot’ sign will hopefully wash off.”

 

Hitoshi relaxed, finally, sitting forward and offering Shouta a rueful half-smile.

 

“Izuku, you are welcome to come to lessons this week, and Hitoshi and I will still come pick you up. Your mother already agreed you can stay at our house Wednesday night anyway, since she’ll be busy until late that evening.”

 

The miserable ball of boy didn’t relax, exactly, but he did look up to give Shouta a weak, watery smile.

 

Shouta clapped his hands. “Lecture over.”

 

Hitoshi bounced up, turning to lend Izuku a hand up. “See, I told you he wouldn’t yell,” he assured the other boy. Head bowed, Izuku pulled himself up and nodded mutely. “I’ll grab our bags.” As he walked away, Hitoshi shot Shouta a ‘do something!’ look.

 

He must have learned that one from Hizashi, they had the same undertone of ‘I tried already, now it’s your turn.’

 

“Kid.” Shouta dropped a hand onto Izuku’s shoulder. “You’re not in trouble.”

 

As he probably should have expected, that was the phrase that started the waterworks. As he rummaged in his pocket, he thanked Hitoshi mentally. “Bring extra handkerchiefs to aikido today” indeed.

Chapter Text

Saturday afternoon.

Hatefully familiar snickers. “Do the face” in a hushed undertone. Silence. Deku’s voice. “I-i-is that good?”

The Purple Fucker again, “Perfect, Izu. Now let me send it to everyone we know.” “W-wait, no--!”

His mother turning off the phone as he entered the room, taking one look at his livid face and bursting into giggles. Refusing to show him what Aunty Inko had sent her. Dawning realization of what must have happened in that blank period of time before those weakling assholes (let him go) ran away. The knowledge, burning like a coal in the pit of his stomach, that Deku and Purple Fucker would die Monday.

 

“Did you think it was funny?” He asked, fists clenched. Released to stretch aching fingers, tensed again.

 

Deku had the gall to look confused. “W-what?

 

“Bet you thought it was fuckin’ hilarious.” Clench. “Was it your idea or his?” Release. Breathe. Clench. It had to have been Purple Fucker’s idea, Deku was too much of a goody-goody. Reason number 5,000 Katsuki hated him. 

 

“Hi-Hicchan only d-did it in self-defense,” Deku stammered, eyes flicking from his face to his hands. 

 

“Oh, really .” Lips curled in a snarl. “Self-defense. That’s why you took a video to send to ‘everyone you know.’” Don’t strangle the nerd, don’t strangle that fucking liar , even when he goes back to faking confusion, fake, fake, looking down on you .

 

“Wha-wha-what video, Ka-Kaccha--” Hand on the nerd’s lying throat, fist in his lying gut. Shove him backwards, staggering through the line of desks until he hit wall. Couldn’t let the slippery lying fucker squirm his way out of this.

 

“Stop. Fucking. Lying.”

 

“I-I-I’m n-n-n-” Shove his head back so it smacked against the wall.

 

“What did I just! Fucking! Say!”

 

The nerd just gulped and nodded, eyes wide. Final-fucking-ly.

 

“You and that Purple Mindfucker took a video Saturday. I heard when Auntie Inko sent it to the old hag. Who the fuck else did you send it to?”

 

“Th-th-that wasn’t--” Squeeze the hand at his throat slowly. A warning. Feel his words sputter out and die. Good.

 

“I heard it. Purple Fuck saying “do the face.” Then your fucking stutter ‘Is that g-g-g-good enough?’” Voice high and mocking, watch as he flinched back. “And then your fucking future villain butt buddy goes, ‘Perfect, Izu. Now let’s send it to everyone we know.’” Deku gulped hard, paling.

 

“So here’s how it’s gonna go.” Voice almost pleasant now. “You’re going to send me that video. And then delete it. And if Purple Fuck ever talks to me, or looks in my direction , I will go to the police with evidence he used his quirk illegally in a public place. I’m sure they’d be happy to make a note of it on his permanent record. After all, he’s just a warning away from being blacklisted for villainy anyway.” Watch the look on Deku’s chubby fucking face turn from shock to horror.

 

Step back, point made. “Send it tonight, fuckface.” Turn away just as his fast breath turns into sobs.

 

“W-w-wait.”

 

Turn back, expecting that teary fucking crybaby face. 

 

Deku was.

 

Laughing.

 

“I-It’s not going to work, Kacchan.”

 

Growl, fists catching a spark, “Dekuuuuuuuu--”

 

The nerd flinched back, hands raised. “Hicchan’s n-not like that. You ca-can see the video! It’s not you, Kacchan! W-we were at a cat café! He wasn’t using his--”

 

“Don’t you fucking dare try to lie to me,” ground out between clenched teeth. “I have evidence.” Pause, beginning to grin nastily. “And even if I didn’t, say I go to the police. Purple Mindfucker used his quirk on me, and I can’t remember anything that happened next , officer! He’s friends with the only kid in school fucking stupid enough not to know how to defend himself! Better keep an eye out for him before he finally figures out he’s just another third-rate villain!”

 

“I-I never figured you for a coward, K-K-Kacchan.” Deku’s voice high-pitched but steady as he pulled himself straight. “Y-you’re just af-afraid of him.”

 

That did it.

 

“Do I look. Like I’m afraid. Of anyone?” Stride forwards, palms sparking wildly. “I’m not you, Deku.” Hands clenched at the front of the nerd’s jacket, already smoking. “I’m. Better!” One final explosion, loud enough to knock him back against the wall head-first. Barely glance as he slides to the floor, tears streaming. “You’re pathetic, Deku. Don’t forget.”

 

Leave him shaking on the floor. Where he belonged.

 

-------------------------------------

 

Shouta raised a hand to his chest, settling it against Midoriya’s head as the kid leaned into him and cried. The boy flinched away. He blinked and looked down.

 

“Kid, did you hit your head when you fell?” If so, he had an apology to give Toshi, and a score to settle with that Tanaka kid.

 

“N-n-no. It- It was--” The kid’s shoulders shook harder. “I-I can’t t-t-tell.”

 

He settled his hands on Midoriya’s shoulders, easing back so he could look the kid in the eyes. “Midoriya. If someone else hurt you, you can talk to Hizashi, your mother, or me. But you will tell an adult, today.

 

Midoriya hunched further back, shaking his head frantically. “I-I-I can’t!”

 

Shouta scowled, thinking. He noticed Midoriya cringing back and made an effort to lose the expression. Scaring the kid further was counter to his purpose. 

 

“Okay.” He pressed the handkerchief into Midoriya’s hand and patted his shoulder again. “Here’s how it’s going to go. I’ll drop Hitoshi off first. And then you will tell me what happened, or I will call your mother and take you to the hospital to see how badly you’re injured.”

 

The kid looked horrified, then pleading, but Shouta would not bend on this. No matter how big those eyes got, he would do whatever was necessary to protect his-- the kid.

 

“...o-okay.” Midoriya was whispering, eyeing Hitoshi as he re-entered the room. “B-but you can’t tell!”

 

Shouta hummed, neither confirming nor denying. No matter what the kid wanted, if he was seriously hurt, Shouta had a duty as a teacher, a parent and a hero to report it. 

 

--------

“U-um. D-d-do you want some tea, A-Aizawa-san?” The kid pulled his shoes off and headed into the apartment, not meeting his eyes.

 

“Sure.” It would probably help the kid open up, having something to do with his hands.

 

Silently, Midoriya padded into the kitchen, switched on the electric kettle and pulled a box of green tea from one of the drawers in the kitchen. Decaf, hopefully. The last thing the kid needed was more adrenaline in his system.

 

Shouta waited until they were both settled at the kitchen table, hands cupped around steaming mugs. “So. What’s going on, kid?”

 

Midoriya bit his lip, looking down at his hands. “I-I want you to promise you won’t tell. I-It’s not that bad, really! I-I have it under c-c-control.”

 

Shouta hummed. “What’s under control?”

 

Midoriya looked back up, swallowed hard. “P-p-please promise, Aizawa-san.”

 

Shouta sighed. “If you are not in danger of being seriously hurt, you have not been seriously hurt, and what you say does not involve anyone else being seriously hurt, I promise not to tell.” Not to tell anyone but Hizashi and Mrs. Midoriya, he meant. He wouldn’t keep a secret about Izuku from his mother.

 

Midoriya sighed and sat back in his chair, gaze returning to his hands. “I-it was… a friend. He th-thought Hitoshi and I u-used Hitoshi’s quirk to… take a mean video of him.”

 

Shouta frowned. That was an oddly specific accusation. So far as he knew, Hitoshi hadn’t used his quirk on anyone but the Tanaka kid. “And this ‘friend’ is…?”

 

Midoriya shook his head. “Th-that’s not really im-important. He was… hurt. And s-scared.”

 

Shouta sighed. Like pulling teeth, seriously. “What did he do, Midoriya?”

 

The kid shrugged slightly. “G-got angry.”

 

“At you? When was this?” It must have happened at school, that was the only time he and Hitoshi had been apart since this weekend. Inseparable, those kids.

 

“J-just after class. H-he wanted me to s-send him the v-v-video. And he--” Midoriya sniffled slightly, voice rising. “He, He said he’d go to the police! A-A-And say he didn’t r-r-remember what Hicchan told him to do, a-a-and keep him from being a hero!” That face again, aimed straight at him. How the hell did the kid manage to get his eyes that big? Shouta squirmed slightly, uncomfortable with the sudden urge to pat the kid on the head and promise everything would be okay.

 

“Did he hurt you?” he asked instead. The kid shook his head, looking down again as a tear fell. “Midoriya-- Izuku. I need to know.” Voice lower, almost gentle. “Did he. Hurt you?” Because if he did, I will murder him and have Hizashi hide the body.

 

“H-he was hurt,” the kid said again. “He… was holding my shoulders. I fell against the wall.”

 

‘Fell.’ Yeah, right. “So, your head. Anywhere else?”

 

Izuku shrugged again, using just the right shoulder. His left, then? “Kid, did you hurt your shoulder?”

 

“I-it’s just… a bit?” Biting his lip, the kid pulled the collar of his shirt down slightly, showing a patch of skin that looked reddened and sunburned. Some kind of heat-manipulation quirk, then. That would make it easier to find the culprit. “It’s not h-his fault.”

 

“He burned you accidentally, then?” 

 

The kid bit his lip and didn’t answer. Shouta sighed. “Why do you not want me to report this, Midoriya?”

 

“B-B-Because he wants to be a hero, too!” The kid burst out, looking shocked at his own volume. “H-He’s always wanted to, since we were kids!” Still are kids, Shouta mentally corrected. “I… I can’t be the reason his d-dream… I can’t.

 

“So it’s fine if he hurts you because he wants to be a hero?” Shouta asked, sarcastic. Izuku nodded, then paused, confused.

 

“I-- He doesn’t-- It’s not like--” The kid sighed and tried again. “H-he’s not always… angry. He’s. Strong. And really, really smart. I… I know he can be a, a good hero.”

 

“The first duty of a hero is to protect, kid,” Shouta said wearily. He’d run into this attitude time and time again. “Strength alone isn’t enough. Strength that you use to hurt is the sign of a villain, not a hero.”

 

The kid gulped. “I… I know. A-and if he does try to hurt Hitoshi, I-I know what I have to do.” 

 

‘Hurt Hitoshi,’ Shouta noted. Yeah, that was Midoriya through and through.

 

“So what’s your plan,” he prompted. Because the kid had a plan, he could tell.

 

“T-tonight, I send him the video. A-and a picture.” Izuku looked up, determination burning in his eyes. “A picture of my jacket and my shoulder. I-If he goes to the po-police about Hitoshi, I…” he bit his lip but forged on. “I will, too.

 

Shouta couldn’t help it. He started chuckling. This kid…!

 

“You’re keeping the evidence. As blackmail,” he stated. “When did you come up with that?”

 

The kid smiled a little, timidly. “Wh-when he mentioned going to the police.”

 

Shouta shook his head, sobering slightly. “You came up with a plan on the fly, and followed through. Well done,” he praised. Izuku obviously wasn’t expecting to be praised, and he flushed a deep pink. “But you forgot two things when you made that plan. Can you tell me what they were?”

 

“U-um,” he shook his head.

 

Shouta leaned forward slightly, face serious. “Hizashi and I would never let some playground bully mess with Hitoshi’s future. No matter what, we will support him and his dream.” And yours, but it was probably too early to say that. He didn’t want the kid to start crying even harder, after all. 

 

Izuku nodded and swiped at his cheeks, looking embarrassed. He wasn’t used to the idea that he could turn to adults for help, it seemed.

 

“And second… when you made that plan. Did you provoke him into using his quirk on you?” Shouta wasn’t entirely sure, but it seemed like a very Midoriya thing to do.

 

The kid bit his lip but nodded slightly.

 

“Any plan that depends on you being hurt is a bad plan, kid. Running away is an option. Acting like you agree and then going off to regroup is an option. Calling for backup is an option. When you’re by yourself with someone who is angry, making them lose control is a risk, kid.” He reached out and ruffled Midoriya’s curls firmly. “Don’t. Take. Stupid risks. Got it?”

 

The kid nodded, eyes wide.

 

“Good. Now, what’s the kid’s name?”

 

The kid shook his head.

 

“I can and will ask Hitoshi. I’m assuming you don’t want him to know…?” Shouta prodded.

 

Izuku deflated, took a sip of his tea. Stalling. 

 

“Midoriya.”

 

“K-katsuki Bakugou,” he whispered. 

 

“Good.” On a whim, Shouta ruffled the kid’s hair again. “So, here’s how it’s going to go. You will keep that jacket I assume you’re holding in evidence. I will help you buy another for school.” The kid smiled, tremulous but wide. “You will not send a picture or do anything to let Bakugou know you have it.” If he’d read things right, that would only lead to an escalation. “Since the term is almost over, I won’t be able to transfer you out of his class immediately. But after summer break, you will be joining Hitoshi’s class.” Or Shouta would launch a police investigation of the entire school for quirk discrimination, but that hardly needed saying. “I will have a talk with Bakugou and his parents, and if he threatens you or Hitoshi or any other student, he will be banned from applying to hero schools immediately.”

 

Midoriya looked rebellious at that, but Shouta merely raised an eyebrow. “This is not on you, Midoriya. Any kid who misuses his quirk on an innocent does not deserve to be rewarded for it.”

 

“B-but! Hero school is--” The kid paused, reordering his thoughts. “Hero schools were-- weren’t originally a reward!”

 

Shouta smirked slightly. So the kid did know, after all. “Go on.”

 

“Th-they started as-- as education programs. In prisons.” Midoriya gulped but continued. “Th-they were an attempt to, to prove that people w-with powerful quirks could be, could be trained. To use them for good. A-and that they didn’t have to, to be villains.”

 

“‘Villain’ didn’t come into popular use as a term for criminals until after the first hero school programs were created,” Shouta noted. Midoriya waved a hand in acknowledgement.

 

“I-I know. But… that’s what they’re for! The schools. For kids with, with powers to learn how to use them to help. To p-protect. Ka-Kacchan deserves a chance. To learn that. B-Because he’d be a, a really powerful hero.” Shouta met Midoriya’s eyes and saw the truth the kid was trying to avoid.

 

“Because if he doesn’t become a hero, he’d be a powerful villain,” he finished, very softly. Midoriya winced, tears beginning to well up. “He’s not your responsibility, kid. His future is on him.

 

The kid had no answer for that, curling inward. Shouta sighed. He wouldn’t push any further tonight. 

 

“It’s getting late. I’ll make dinner and we can wait for your mom to get home.” He didn’t want to leave the kid alone like this, looking defeated and small. “Finish your homework and you can watch cat videos.” That always cheered Hitoshi up, anyway. 

 

Midoriya looked up at him, tears slipping silently down his face. Thank you, he signed. Done with talking, apparently.

 

“Alright, fine, you can watch the cat videos first,” he grumbled, looking away. The kid stood up and walked tentatively closer. No. Thank you.

 

Shouta sighed. Again, how the hell did the kid make his eyes so big and… and sparkly, dammit. He ran a hand through his hair and sighed again.

 

“Midoriya. Do you want a hug?”

 

The kid’s jaw dropped open, but he closed it and nodded slowly. Shouta raised an arm and let the kid step under it, bringing him to his side in a gentle squeeze. He didn’t cry, surprisingly, but his shoulders trembled for a little while. Shouta let him lean in until the kid tensed slightly, then lifted his arm to let the kid pull away. He couldn’t resist one last pat to the kid’s fluffy, fluffy head.

 

“Cat videos. Scoot. I’ll call you when dinner is ready.”

 

His kid flashed him a small, bright smile and scooted.

 

Shouta sighed, long and drawn out. He pulled open the fridge to find the meal Mrs. Midoriya had left for her son and set it on a plate to reheat. While it heated, he texted Hizashi. “We need to talk about Plant Kid.”

Chapter Text

Inko’s thoughts were fuzzy as she plodded out of the subway station, running repetitive tracks of work regrets and future worries. If Uehara tried one more time to take credit for her contributions to the opening of the new office, Inko vowed she would “spill” salt in the woman’s coffee for a week. Normally she was very forgiving about any sort of trouble in the workplace, but that woman’s pointed comments about ‘broken families’ and ‘children needing both parents for stability’ were like, well, like the snapped wire in her bra that kept poking her in the ribs, actually. 

 

So maybe Hisashi hadn’t called for a few weeks. Last time he’d said he was busy with his younger coworkers, showing them the ropes-- not that he would discuss exactly what he was up to. Always secretive, that man, but she’d known that when she married him. So what if he hadn’t been able to take vacation time for a year, a few years, he worked hard for her and Izuku! And she would do something drastic to the next person who implied her family was broken.

 

Hisashi always said it was cute how murderous she could get when she was tired.

 

Her feet ached from the pinch of her heels, she felt overly sweaty from the crowded train, she was nearly sure the man behind her had snuck a grope at her ass, and overall she was ready to scarf some leftovers, soak in the tub and say hello to her bed. Izuku would most likely be in bed by the time she got home, reading under the covers the way he did when he didn’t want her to know he was staying up reading articles. With a sigh of relief, she rode the elevator to their apartment, unlocked the door and dropped bag, coat and shoes in the hallway. Turning to the side, she reached behind her back, and unhooked her bra with a sigh of relief. That was… so… much… better.

 

Sagging with exhaustion now, she walked into the kitchen, still fully lit. “Izu, don’t leave the lights on if you’re…” 

 

Inko blinked at Aizawa, sat at the kitchen table glaring at his phone. He looked up and gave her a nod. 

 

“Ai...zawa...san?” What was he doing here?

 

“Midoriya-san.” He stood and bowed. “I was hoping to talk to you. Did you see my message?”

 

Her phone had lost battery halfway through her trip home, just another shitty part in her crap sandwich of a day. She shook her head. 

 

“I apologize for intruding on your evening. Izuku was involved in another bullying episode at school and I wanted to make sure you knew.”

 

Inko grasped at the chair in front of her, legs weak. “Another— Is my baby okay? I thought— he said they stopped! How badly is he hurt?” She spun, nearly slipping on her stockings as she turned to Izuku’s room. Aizawa cleared his throat and raised a hand, signaling for her to stop.

 

“The kid’s okay. Banged his head a little and his shoulder has what looks like a mild burn, but he says he provoked the bully on purpose.” From Aizawa’s wry tone, she gathered that he thought this was somehow funny. She might have snapped at him for that if she weren’t so occupied pondering which of his classmates could have burned him. 

 

“He-- you said-- another? But he-- and the school never--” Horrifyingly, she felt her face heat and tears start prickling at her eyes. “They told me they’d stopped it! In, in fifth grade! There was an assembly, and, and Izu never said anything, and--” She couldn’t tell if it was anger, fear or shame coursing through her veins, but whatever it was burned like scalding sludge, roiling in the pit of her stomach. Tears dripped unheeded down her cheeks.

 

Aizawa, through the haze of her vision, frowned harder and dug a handkerchief out of his pocket, offering it to her. She shook her head and swiped at her face with the back of her sleeve.

 

Who was it, Aizawa-san.” She barely recognized her own voice, low and strained.

 

He sighed. “Sit down, Midoriya-san. I’ll tell you what I know.”

 

By the end of the story, her hands were clenched on each other, trembling.

 

“...Kacchan did?” Her voice was weak. “But… they were so close. Always running together, playing hero… like brothers, I always thought-- and he never-- always saying Kacchan did well on a test, did best in gym, was, was this happening the whole time and I never--” She wasn’t making sense, but her thoughts weren’t making sense, either.

 

“From what Hitoshi’s told me, Bakugou is the ringleader, at least for Izuku’s class. He wasn’t the one who pushed Izuku down the stairs, but Hitoshi’s had to intervene other times.” Aizawa’s voice was blunt, but not unkind.

 

“Izu was pushed down the stairs?! ” Belatedly, Inko remembered to keep her voice down. The walls in their home were not thick.

 

Aizawa blinked at her and sighed. “...For now, it’s safe to assume that any injury Izuku got from ‘falling’ or ‘being clumsy’ was caused by a classmate.”

 

Inko choked on a sob. The bruises she’d glimpsed on her boy’s arms throughout his childhood, the way he occasionally limped or seemed sore, injuries she’d worried and fussed over, at least until Izuku started to assert that he could care for them himself. Injuries of an active boy, she’d assumed, and wasn’t that so blind of her, to see her lonely boy and the way his smile faded and think that everything was fine. To think he was still that happy four-year-old banging his knees on the playground and bouncing back up to chase after his best friend. When had that changed, and how had she never noticed?

 

“I don’t understand,” she whispered. “Why did he never tell me? I could have helped.

 

Aizawa sighed again and set a gentle hand over hers, barely-there pressure against her clenched knuckles. “... Hitoshi used to bite his lips until they bled,” he said.

 

“H-huh?” Sniffling, she met his eyes.

 

“We met when he was ten. Quiet, barely spoke, kept biting his lips raw. He stopped after a while, my friend figured out that he liked mint chapstick and it helped him break the habit.”

 

Inko drew her hands back, and Aizawa leaned back, mirroring. “What does that have to do with, with Izuku?” She mopped at her face again, trying to settle her breathing.

 

“When he turned fourteen, he finally told us. Middle of dinner. Turns out one of the older kids at his foster family had a quirk they couldn’t control, so they used to scratch their arms till they bled. The kid told him pain would help him control his quirk so that the family wouldn’t be afraid of him.”

 

Inko pressed a hand against her mouth. “That’s horrible!”

 

Aizawa nodded. “But not uncommon.”

 

She had no answer for that.

 

“Four years after we met him, two years after he’d stopped… that’s when he felt comfortable telling us. Any time we asked before that, he’d just shrug.” Aizawa glanced at his phone again, checking for a response, it looked like. “Kids don’t always tell us what we need to know, it’s not a judgment. It’s just how they work.”

 

Inko pulled her arms around herself. “He told you.

 

Aizawa shrugged. “I cornered him. Besides, Bakugou threatened Hitoshi too. He… He’s better at protecting others than himself.”

 

Inko laughed, a humorless sound. “He’s always wanted to be a hero. If only he… Well.” She hugged herself tighter.

 

For a moment, she was sure Aizawa’s eyes had turned red as he glared. The next moment, his face had smoothed over again. “Izuku’s future aside. Bakugou threatened both of our children, on the false assumption that they took a video of him. I told Izuku to go ahead and send over the real video, no reason to foster that delusion.”

 

“Why did Kacchan-- Katsuki think it was of him?”

 

“I assume because Hitoshi used his quirk on him at some point. He must have heard when Toshi told Izuku to make that… face he does. Misunderstood.”

 

Inko felt the corners of her mouth twitching, involuntary. “He’s good at it. The eyes.”

 

Aizawa clapped his hands, a ‘change of subject’ signal. “Anyway. I plan to visit the Bakugous tomorrow evening. After that meeting with the cat they found. You’re welcome to come. I think it might be best if the both of us… had a talk with them. About what happened, and how to keep it from happening again.” His tone implied that this would never happen again or else. Inko couldn’t disagree.

 

“I’ll be home after 7 tomorrow. I can call Mitsuki tonight and set something up.” She glanced at the clock. It was late, but not so late that her friend would be in bed. “Thank you, Aizawa-san. For letting me know. I… will see you tomorrow.”

 

Aizawa nodded at her solemnly, collected his phone, and left. He set the handkerchief, a soft cloth covered in paw-print patterns, at her elbow as he passed. “Until tomorrow, Midoriya-san.”

 

Inko sat at the table as his steps faded down the hall, as the door latched, as the apartment settled back into quiet. She heated her dinner and sat, eating bite by bite, as tears pooled again in her eyes and ran down her cheeks. Finally, she pushed her plate away and hunched over, hugging herself. “I’m sorry, Izuku. I’m so sorry,” she whispered.

 

--------

Izuku slumped against his bedroom door, pressing his forehead against his knees in a defensive ball. Aizawa had finally told him he’d be telling his mom, when he’d asked why the man was staying. No amount of pleading would make him relent. 

 

So Izuku had pretended to go to bed early, and listened at his bedroom door. It was what he used to do when Hisashi called home and he and Mom had “adult conversations” he wasn’t supposed to listen in on. Arguments, really, even if they never shouted or called each other names like the Bakugous did. He still hated it, having to listen to his mom trying to defend her purchases of hero figures for him, or the need for a new computer when their old one had broken down and Izuku wanted to type up his research. He hated sitting here in the aftermath, listen to his mom break down because of him.


Crouched against the cold floor, Izuku curled over himself and shook. Over and over again in his mind, he heard her sob, ‘I’m sorry, Izuku, I’m so sorry.'

Chapter Text

Hitoshi was nearly skipping as they walked to the café, turning around every few steps to direct another remark at Izuku.

 

“-- and Support is great with new cats, she’ll probably spend a few days trying to groom Nana like a kitten, she even does that to Aizawa, Izuku are you listening?”

 

Izuku jerked, looking up at his friend. “U-um. S-s-support?” Behind his back, his hands twisted together.

 

“Yeah… You okay? You’ve been quiet all day.” Plus there were bags under his eyes, and he’d barely reacted to the last five puns Hitoshi had slipped into their conversation. Distinctly un-Izuku behavior, and therefore suspicious.

 

Under Hitoshi’s concerned gaze, Izuku wilted slightly.

 

“I-It’s n-n-n-” For some reason, it was always harder to talk when he hadn’t slept well the night before. He shrugged a shoulder instead. “T-tired.”

 

Hitoshi hummed and turned back to face forward, casually stepping a bit closer so he could bump his shoulder against Izuku’s. Not hard enough to knock him over or mess with his stride, but a solid moment of contact. A silent ‘I’m here.’

 

He counted the shaky smile he received as thanks.

 

“Will you be okay to meet up with Kouji? If you’re too tired, you can always claim a headache and sit it out while we talk.” That was his go-to excuse, since people didn’t take ‘I’m too tired to be a person right now’ as a good excuse. Insomnia and introversion really didn’t mix well.

 

I’m fine. Thank you. Izuku bit his lip and then stepped slightly closer to return the shoulder bump. Anyway. I like Kouji.

 

Hitoshi thought back to the fifty pictures of rabbits he’d received over the past two days and couldn’t hold back a grin. “Yeah, he is pretty awesome, huh?”

 

Behind them, a startled squeak sounded. If it weren’t for the sound of footsteps, Hitoshi might have thought it was a passing cat. He turned to look back, Izuku following his lead.

 

Kouji, five feet behind them, had covered his face with both hands, blushing a bright red. From the corner of his eye, Hitoshi could see Izuku’s face beginning to match. For a moment, they just stood there, frozen.

 

“...This is the kind of silence,” he reflected, “they mean when they say you can hear a pun drop.”

 

Wait for it.

 

Wait for it.

 

Wait for--

 

“Hi-Hicchan! Th-that was terrible!” Izuku, still red-faced, turned to smack him on the shoulder. “Y-y-you can’t just, just pun your way through awkward-- um.” 

 

Kouji was muffling laughter behind his hands, but not well enough. They turned to face him, just as he took a wheezing breath and then broke down, guffawing.

 

Hitoshi exchanged a delighted look with Izuku. There was no denying it.

 

Kouji had a weird laugh. 

 

Like, imagine if you somehow mixed up a dog happy-barking with a squirrel chittering and took it down an octave or two. And then tickled the dog and the squirrel. It would be hard to identify as laughter if you couldn’t see Kouji slowly doubling over, face growing steadily pinker as he struggled to breathe. It was even harder to resist joining in.

 

Izuku’s lips were twitching even though he struggled to keep a straight face as Hitoshi leaned helplessly against him, snickering. “I-It’s not that f-funny, Kouji,” he tried. “You sh-shouldn’t encourage h-h-him.”

 

P-u-n. D-r-o-p, Kouji spelled out, one-handed. He straightened up, still chortling, and wiped at his eyes. Not funny. It’s g-e-n-i-u-s.

 

“Thank you!” Hitoshi cried, vindicated.

 

Izuku looked between them and sighed. “N-now there’s two of them,” he muttered. Hitoshi patted him on the shoulder, barely noticing how he flinched at the contact.

 

“You know what they say. If you can’t beat them…” He grinned.

 

Izuku nodded. “T-try harder.”

 

Kouji looked ready to start laughing again, but he waved to get their attention. Shall we go up? I want to see Nana again.

 

“You have a point,” Hitoshi agreed. “So does Nana.”

 

Izuku leveled a look at him.

 

“Several points. At least six. Wait, how many toes do cats have?” Hitoshi grimaced. “That one got away from me.”

 

Izuku nodded pointedly.

 

“Guess I got… pun-formance anxiety.” Hitoshi dodged the smack and bounded into the building, closely followed by his friends. By the time they reached the right floor, they were flushed and giggling like preschoolers. Aizawa, slouched on a seat in the waiting area, opened one eye to look them over, then closed it again with a sigh. Really, his kids.

 

Kouji tapped his foot on the floor to get their attention. I’ll talk to Nana first, then you can come over, he signed, before removing his shoes to enter the café. Hitoshi slumped into a chair next to Aizawa, but Izuku remained standing.

 

Aizawa’s eyes remained closed. Izuku avoided looking in his direction. Hitoshi looked between them.

 

“Will one of you tell me what’s going on, or do I have to make another pun?” Hitoshi asked.

 

Eyes still closed, Aizawa muttered, “It’s up to Problem Child.” His voice was low and raspy, a sign that he’d probably had to shout a lot at work. Hitoshi was pretty sure this class wouldn’t reach summer break intact.

 

He turned to Izuku, whose face had lost all of its happy flush. “Izu?” he prompted.

 

His friend shrugged. A knock on the entrance startled them all. 

 

You can come in, Kouji told them, leaning against the door. Nana had followed him, rubbing her head against his shin and leaving orange fur behind.

 

Aizawa sat forward, eyes fixed on the cat. Hitoshi grinned as his guardian stood up to enter the café, movements unhurried even though he was clearly biting back a grin. In no time at all, they were sitting in a circle inside the café, waiting for Nana to greet them.

 

Hitoshi spent a good few minutes petting her back while she sniffed at his sneakers. She is smelling the other cats, Kouji informed him. She approves.

 

Aizawa was also given the Nana Seal of Approval, conveyed by her fascination with his long hair and scarf, which she batted at with curiosity. Aizawa unearthed one of the ends of the long garment and dragged it across the floor for her to chase and “kill.” Luckily, the material was strong enough not to be damaged by kitty claws, although Nana gave it her best shot.

 

Izuku, seated slightly further away, tried to hold off a sneeze and failed miserably. He should really start carrying around allergy pills if they kept visiting cats, he reflected. Nana came to investigate, walking into his lap to sniff at his face, tickling his cheeks with her whiskers. She mewed and shoved her nose under his jaw, purring at his surprised giggles.

 

She says you smell like leaves, Kouji translated.

 

“Like she likes your shampoo? Or maybe your hair is just bushy enough to confuse her,” Hitoshi mused.

 

“I-I-It’s probably the al-aloe,” Izuku clarified. “I got-- ouch! Nana!” The cat had reached his shoulder and butted her head against the sore spot. “I, I got a bit, um, burned?”

 

Hitoshi looked between Izuku’s downcast expression and the dark scowl on his dad’s face.

 

“This is something that’ll make me mad, isn’t it.”

 

Izuku hunched his shoulders, silently confirming it. Kouji’s eyes narrowed at the two of them.

 

Did someone hurt you? He asked. Izuku wasn’t looking, so he tapped the floor impatiently to get the other’s attention. Someone. Hurt. You?

 

Izuku bit his lip. No. A-c-c-i-d-e-n-t. His hands jerked, before he returned them to Nana’s fur,

 

“Kid,” Aizawa said. Just that, a gentle reminder. ‘I am here and I know what happened.’

 

“Izu, please. ” Hitoshi leaned forward, trying to decide whether he should move closer or if Izuku would prefer not to be crowded. “I want to help.”

 

“I-I won’t say the n-n-name,” Izuku said, hesitant. “He, um, he was just angry. At me and you. I-i-it’s fine.”

 

“But you’re injured!” Hitoshi protested. “You’re, what, burned? Was it one of the seniors again? Or, wait, it was Explodo-boy, wasn’t it? I’m gonna--”

 

“NO!” Izuku protested. “Th-th-that’ll just m-make--make--” His throat clicked. You can’t! He’ll be so angry, he signed. Nana meowed at his movement and slunk away to Kouji’s lap to stay out of range of his distressed flailing.

 

 Kouji cleared his throat, pointedly. I used to be bullied, he signed, smiling placidly.

 

“...Used to?” Hitoshi asked, eyeing the smile.

 

For some reason, birds kept pooping on them until they stopped. Kouji’s smile widened. So strange.

 

Izuku’s jaw dropped. Hitoshi whistled, impressed.

 

“Dude, you’re like… a spiteful Disney princess,” Hitoshi stated. “I appreciate that about you.”

 

Kouji nodded magnanimously.

 

“So, Izu, will we be setting the birds on Explodo-Boy? Or is there someone else we should be pooping on?” Hitoshi asked. All three boys took a moment to pull a face at that phrasing. “You know what I mean, come on.”

 

Aizawa snorted quietly, reminding them all he was there. “What have we told you about making revenge schemes, Toshi?” 

 

Hitoshi grinned sheepishly. “Save it for when you’re not listening, so you have plausible deniability. Sorry, Aizawa.”

 

With one last pat to Nana’s back, Aizawa stood and stretched. “I’m off for a talk. Hizashi should stop by as soon as he’s done recording to fill out the adoption forms, but feel free to eat before dinner if you get hungry. Kouda, you’re welcome to dinner as long as your parents say it’s okay.” By this point, Izuku knew to expect a light tap to his (uninjured) shoulder as the man left, but Aizawa took a moment to ruffle his hair instead, entirely nonchalant.

 

“Wh- I- uh-” Izuku sputtered.

 

“Toshi, no more than two cups of coffee, it’s after 4,” Aizawa instructed, clasping his son on the shoulder. 

 

“Yeah, yeah, bye.”

 

Lastly, Aizawa turned to the kids’ new friend, currently occupied with trying to keep Nana from chewing his jacket. Kouda, he signed. Good luck.

-------------

Mitsuki Bakugou was probably the only person on the planet who knew at first sight just how terrifying Inko Midoriya could be.

 

This had to do with the manner of their meeting. After all, it’s not every day that a plain, green-haired woman yanks your drink out of your hand with telekinesis, pulls your date off his seat with the other hand, and hisses, “What. The. Fuck. Did you just add to her drink, you FUCKING CREEPER?” loud enough to grab the attention of every person in the bar.

 

Mitsuki had never told anyone but Masaru that story, partially because Katsuki was not old enough for the concept of things being added to women’s drinks, and partially because she didn’t want to explain the warning she’d gotten from the police after stomping between the man’s legs hard enough to severely damage his chances of procreating. Inko had refused to leave her side all the way to the police station, and had somehow transitioned from a take-no-prisoners-badass to a concerned, compassionate friend on the way.

 

It had been years since Mitsuki had heard Inko that angry, and she was hoping that her friend had finally had the sense to dump Hisashi on his ass. She just wasn’t sure why Inko had decided to leave work early to visit her, or why she’d insisted on another man being present. Best case scenario, she’d met someone else and wanted Mitsuki as bridesmaid (Masaru could help design the dresses, she had the perfect shade of green for Izuku’s ring-bearer tux just in case)--

 

A knock on the door sounded, cutting off her train of thought. She dashed to answer it.

 

“Inko! It’s been so long, come in, come in. Do you want tea or something to eat?” She took a moment to glance between Inko and the stranger next to her. Taking in the bloodshot eyes, the 4 o’clock stubble and the long hair pulled into a bun above an all-black outfit, she sighed internally. Not Inko’s type at all. Oh, well.

 

“Thank you, Mitsuki. Are Masaru and Katsuki home?” Inko asked, wringing her hands anxiously. Mitsuki nodded, beckoning the two inside.

 

“Sure, you want to speak to them?”

 

“Y--”

 

“MASARU, KATSUKI! INKO’S AT THE DOOR!” She shouted, leading the way to the kitchen. 

 

“FINE, I’M COMING, OLD HAG!” her brat yelled back. 

 

“RESPECT YOUR MOM, YOU LITTLE SHIT,” she called, and chuckled at the sound of tiny explosions from his room. Kids. So fun to mess with. He was just like her at that age. Mitsuki turned back to her guests. “So? Why the visit, Inko?”

 

Inko was already sitting, face twisted in an anxious grimace. The stranger stood near the other open chair, apparently waiting for everyone to arrive.

 

“And who are you again?” she asked, unable to rein in her curiosity.

He raised an eyebrow, and turned slightly to watch Katsuki stomp in, hands shoved in his pockets.

 

“My name is Shouta Aizawa. I work in the pro hero field,” he said. Mitsuki saw her boy’s head prick up like a dog who’d scented a cat. “You may have met my son, Bakugou-kun. His name is Hitoshi Shinsou.”

 

“YOU’RE THAT PURPLE FUCK’S DAD?” Katsuki erupted, pointing at him in disbelief. Mitsuki smacked a hand against her forehead and slapped the other against the back of his head.

 

“Watch your fucking language, Katsuki,” she groaned. Aizawa looked between the two of them, eyes narrowed.

 

“Do you know why I am here, Bakugou-kun?” he asked, voice deadly soft. Mitsuki’s boy scowled but shook his head.

 

Masaru chose that moment to walk in, rubbing at his eyes. He’d probably been napping in his office again. “What’s all this noise about?” he asked blearily.

 

“Your son,” Aizawa growled, “has recently threatened my son, and attacked Inko’s.” Mitsuki turned to Inko, hoping she would somehow deny it, but her friend looked up to meet her eyes and nodded.

 

Fuck.

 

----------

 

Shouta hadn’t expected a very favorable reaction from meeting the Bakugous. No one liked to hear their precious angel was a bully, after all.

 

Still, this had been outside of his expectations.

 

Mitsuki Bakugou rounded on her son, scowling. “Did you fucking hurt Izuku?”

 

Her son scowled back, “The little fuck deserved it! He got his boyfriend to--”

 

“Do not finish that sentence,” Shouta interrupted. Inko shifted beside him, but stayed silent. She’d agreed to save her comments for last when they’d planned this out.

 

“I know that by now, Izuku has sent you the video,” he continued, staring at the boy who scowled back. “You are aware that it has no connection to you.”

 

“Those little fucks still--”

 

“Used a quirk in self-defense to keep you from kicking Izuku, who was on the ground after you pushed them.” Shouta refused to let the boy control the narrative here. His parents were both looking at their son with-- resignation? They weren’t even surprised?

 

“I am aware,” Shouta continued, “that you threatened to go to the police and accuse my son of misusing his quirk, in order to ruin his future.” He smiled, slowly. “I regret to inform you that my husband and I are well-connected with the police force in Musutafu, including a detective with a truth-detecting quirk. You may feel free to go visit him, at which point he will inform you of the same thing I am telling you now. The use of a quirk in self-defense or defense of another that leaves no permanent damage to the attacker is perfectly legal, especially in minors.” His smile sharpened.

 

“On the other hand, quirks used to intimidate, threaten or injure,” he stressed, “may be recorded as ‘first offenses.’ Especially if the victim does not retaliate, or have a quirk of their own.”

 

With satisfaction, he watched the color drain from the boy’s face as he processed that. Before the shock could turn into anger, he pulled out a chair and sat next to Inko, who had pressed her hands so tightly they were shaking. Shouta gestured at the remaining seats pointedly.

 

“Sit down. And if you can, convince me why I should not report you for the same offense of which you accused my son.” He smirked internally at the thought that Hizashi, had he been here, would have called his last phrase a ‘mic drop.’

 

-----

Inko sat in silence as Katsuki’s angry words petered out and fear began to shine through. Aizawa had sat impassive through it all. As the boy she’d sometimes thought of as another son gulped, Aizawa raised an eyebrow and leaned forward.

 

“You want to be a hero, that’s your justification?” At the boy’s nod, Aizawa frowned. “Do you even know what a hero’s primary function is?”

 

“You fuckin’ fight villains and win,” Katsuki grumbled, fidgeting in his chair. He’d done that as a child when he and Izuku had dropped one of her nice plates and tried to hide the pieces so she wouldn’t know. Looking at him, she still couldn’t believe he’d intentionally hurt her baby. What happened to the boy who used to drag Izuku around by the hand to show him beetles in the park?

 

“Wrong.” Aizawa looked disappointed but not surprised. “If a hero has to choose between defeating a villain and protecting a civilian, their primary duty is to protect. To protect, not to attack. That is what separates us from villains.” Inko noted the ‘us.’

 

Aizawa folded his arms, staring the Bakugous down. “Heroes have no need for strength if that strength is not used to protect. The only reason that this conversation is being held here and not in front of your principal or the police, is that Izuku argued for leniency. He, at least, still believes you can be a great hero.”

 

Katsuki’s face spasmed as if he wanted to say something, but at a glare from his father, he quieted down.

 

“I am very sorry for what the brat’s done,” Mitsuki said, bowing in her seat. “But please, do not take his dream away from him. I- I know he can be better than this.”

 

Aizawa turned to Inko, expectantly. Her turn, then.

 

“We, we’ve talked it over,” she began, voice soft. “As long as Katsuki does not approach Izuku or Hitoshi-kun for the rest of the year, he will not be punished. And, after summer break, I will have Izuku transferred from Katsuki’s class.” She sighed heavily. How had it come to this?

 

“Katsuki.” For the first time since she’d arrived, her friend’s son met her eyes. In his face, she read embarrassment, shame, fear and, she hoped, regret. He looked away immediately. “I don’t understand… why you would try to hurt Izuku. Even after you two stopped playing together, my boy would always say… how amazing you were. How hard you were working to be a hero. He, he admired you so much.” The words she’d agonized over throughout the day, planning on the train and during downtime at work, suddenly flowed.

 

“I don’t understand why you would try to hurt someone who looks up to you so much. Who has always, always wanted the best for you. I know my boy. I know he will forgive you for this. For whatever else you’ve done to him over the years.” Her voice wavered with tears she would not let fall. “He will forgive you if you show an ounce of regret.”

 

Katsuki bit his lip but continued to glare at the floor.

 

“He may forgive you, but I will not.”

 

At that, Mitsuki, Masaru and Katsuki all stared at her. At the sudden iron in her tone.

 

“You will leave my boy and Hitoshi-kun alone, Katsuki. You will leave every other student you even think of hurting alone. Because if you ever prove that you cannot refrain from hurting someone because you feel like it… I will not let Izuku’s kindness keep me from reporting you.” Tired, she was so tired, at the look of fright on Mitsuki’s face, the frustration on Masaru’s. The shaking of Katsuki’s shoulders. Even though she knew it was necessary, she felt like a monster for aiming her words at the chinks in the boy’s armor. Fourteen, he was only fourteen.

 

But her baby wasn’t even that old yet. And she had to protect him.

 

“If you can’t treat my boy how he deserves, stay away from him,” she whispered. “I know you’re a smart boy, Katsuki. You should know you won’t like the consequences if you don’t.”

 

She looked to Aizawa, checking that he had nothing more to say.

 

“Masaru, Mitsuki. I am sorry to intrude on you like this. Please forgive me.” She stood, bowed, and turned to leave.

 

“Inko!” her friend’s voice was quiet, more quiet than she’d ever heard it. She turned back.

 

“I’m so sorry.” Mitsuki said, hushed. “Let Izuku know, alright? I’m sorry…”

 

Inko nodded, offered a weak smile, and left. Aizawa leveled a glance at the family, nodded, and followed her out.

 

Only long acquaintance with Izuku prepared him to shepherd her back to her apartment as her eyes blurred with tears. As he left, she tried to take comfort in his last words. “You did well in there.” And “Don’t worry, Hitoshi was already plotting revenge when I left.”

 

If he had to lose the closest friend he’d had since childhood, Inko was at least glad he’d managed to meet a precious friend like Hitoshi-kun.

 

-----------

 

Hitoshi glanced at Kouji as Izuku excused himself to grab tissues from the bathroom. He really needed to carry Benadryl more often.

 

“So you can really get birds to harass Baka-gou if I give you a picture?” he whispered.

 

Kouji nodded. Crows are good at facial recognition. They’re great at stealing things, too.

 

“And the best part is, he won’t have any reason to connect it to us,” Hitoshi gloated. “Thank you, Kouji. Seriously, you’re the best Disney princess scheming partner I could have wished for.”

 

You’re damn right, Kouji returned, before glancing up at Izuku’s return. Izuku, may I offer you a cat in this trying time?

 

When Izuku was finally too occupied with keeping Nana from chewing his hair to look suspicious at them, Hitoshi and Kouji exchanged a grin. They could tell this was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.