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The Reeducation of Midoriya Izuku

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***

Today is awful. It’s so utterly awful, Benjiro wouldn’t be able to find the right words to explain it, even if he had someone else to explain it to.

Which he doesn’t.

The people he loves are all dead, and it’s not like he could say anything without choking on a mouthful of blood, anyway.

But if they weren’t or if he could, if he did have someone, he could maybe say that today is a culminated backlog of awful that has been steadily building for months. Today is the shit-stained cherry on top of the sticky, toilet bowl sundae that is his year. His vocabulary is lacking, but if someone was listening, he thinks he’d probably try to explain that everything has been terrible for a while now, but today is somehow objectively more terrible.

For example, he has been tired, cold, and hungry for weeks. But today, he is tired, cold, and hungry, and there are three thugs dogging his every step as he sprints down a secluded back alley, haphazardly overturning trashcans to block their path as he tries - and fails - to slow their pursuit.

None of the terrible things that happened yesterday are gone. But today, there are new terrible things to worry about. And it’s awful. It’s impossible and awful and so damned unfair.

He gasps for air, legs aching, chest burning. He has no breath to cry out for help. Soon they will catch him, unforgiving hands outstretched to snag the back of his shirt. They will throw him to the ground and beat him until they are satisfied, and he knows they will not be satisfied quickly or easily and how did it even come to this?

Only, no.

No, he knows exactly how it came to this.

People don’t like his face.

It sounds so very stupid, but seriously, if anyone cared to listen, Benjiro would try to impress upon them that he understands, okay? He has always been big for his age, starting when he was born half a kan heavier than the other chubbiest newborn in the hospital. He has always towered over the children of his neighborhood as he was growing up, and while they might have been willing to overlook his build, all of them still ran away at the first glimpse of his scary face, crooked nose and angry eyebrows.

It certainly didn’t help that once upon a time he’d fallen out of a tree and cut his cheek on a rock when he hit the ground, and the long, wicked scar it left looks more like it came from a knife fight than a childhood mishap. And at five years old, the kids at his school already avoided him due to his appearance, but when his quirk came in?

Shark teeth sound really cool in theory. However, Benjiro will be the first to attest that being unable to talk without slicing his lips and tongue is less than ideal. When the blood drips down his chin and even the teachers look at him like he is something to be shunned, to be feared -

Well, it wasn’t as though he talked much before his quirk presented.

The school’s quirk councilor told his dad to buy him a pair of blunters for his teeth and hope for the best. He had been given the choice to either slur his words around the big, bulky rubber protectors in his mouth or talk without them and bleed.

It’s a hell of a lesson to teach a kid, really, that sometimes choices are only choices in name.

So yes, Benjiro gets it. He understands the root of the problem with apathy born from helplessness, and he continues to exist with the miserable self-awareness that there is nothing he can actually do about it. It started in childhood, when he had no choice but to let his scary face do the talking for him, and people don’t like his face.

To be fair, no one liked his father’s face, either.

Benjiro can’t understand it himself. It has been so long that he barely remembers what his father looked like, his memory a jumble of hazy impressions - a face carved from jagged rocks, weathered and scarred, a hand so big it covered Benjiro’s entire head as it ruffled his hair, and dark, stormy eyes that were always warm, even if his dad’s mouth didn’t actually do much smiling.

Between the two of them and their scary faces, not many people were willing to get close. Elementary school years were particularly hellish. No one wanted to talk to Benjiro, no one wanted to play with him. Being lonely was awful, but it was less awful than having his classmates and even sometimes his teachers turn away from him or threaten to expel him because he was bullying the new kid.

And for the record, it hadn’t been anything like that, okay? The shiny mint-condition All-Might action figure fell out of the new kid’s backpack, and Benjiro had picked it up to try and return it. But he’d smiled, and that was stupid, smiling with teeth like his. The new kid took a single look at his sharp, shark teeth and burst into tears, and the teacher didn’t even listen to his side of things before scolding him.

His dad listened that night, silent and solemn. His dad hugged him with one arm and pressed a kiss to the crown of his hair and told him that he had done nothing wrong.

His dad died in a car crash when he was ten years old.

Benjiro remembers the wake vividly. Standing in an empty room, head bowed, he hadn’t been able to meet the eyes of his father’s unsmiling portrait. He remembers crying. He had cried so heavily and with such abandon that he hadn’t even noticed the elderly woman who’d materialized by his side as though summoned by his sorrow.

Her hand had been warm on his shoulder, through the thick layers of his shirt and the only respectable jacket he owned. Benjiro remembers staring up at her through the blur of tears and recognizing her face from the family album, though he’d never met her before that day. His last remaining relative, his maternal grandmother. She never talked about the rift between herself and his father, but she had mourned at the funeral with him just the same.

His grandmother had been tough but fair. Like his father, she lived simply, without dramatics or other nonsense. The transition from his apartment to hers had been surprisingly easy. She helped him pack his things and filed all of the confusing paperwork. The little bit of money leftover from his father’s accounts was put into a trust fund, to be given to Benjiro when he reached legal adulthood.

She never looked at him like she was afraid. She loved him and his face and stupid teeth, and that was all he ever really needed from anyone.

Only, she had been older than his father, and very frail, and as Benjiro learned to love her, he couldn’t help but worry about disappointing her. They had been poor, and her income was just enough to pay rent on their tiny apartment. He’d wanted to help her, then, but she’d ruffled his hair gently, hand shaking with the tremors of age, and told him not to worry and to focus his energy on his friends and his schooling.

The idea of friendship in high school was laughable. The kids in his class avoided him constantly. No one troubled him or tried to bully him, but no one talked to him, either. Teachers didn’t call on him for answers, so he handed in his homework every day and did okay with his grades, and it was fine.

And if Benjiro perhaps overheard the prettiest girl in the school telling her friend that she thought he was scary - she is terrified in class, it’s hard to concentrate with him in the room, and wouldn’t it be such a relief if he stop coming to school? - well, whatever, he was used to that sort of thing. It hadn’t been as though he liked her or anything.

With his grandmother’s health in mind, he opted to skip trying for university. He had been marginally hopeful that he would be able to find a job and help her with rent, but he struggled because on top of everything else, he was awful at talking to people.

Even when he managed to keep the stupid blunters on his teeth - bleeding all over a prospective new boss was to be avoided at all cost - they still rejected him. The blunters made every word that came from his mouth practically worthless, unintelligible and slurred. It had been so bad at one point that an interviewer even accused him of coming to the interview drunk.

He had been frantic - he wasn’t, he wouldn’t, he’d be happy to take any test to prove it, it’s just the blunters, please, just give him a chance! - and the woman with the doe mutation behind the desk had gone pale. Her large, curved ears had flattened against the side of her head at his raised voice and bared teeth and she’d stuttered an excuse about him being a poor fit for the company. She side-eyed the scar on his face, lips pursed, adding that perhaps he might do well in a more physically demanding environment?

He had stiffened a little at the implication. He swallowed the sting - everyone he meets thinks he is some sort of thug, it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter - and bowed his head and taken his leave.

Benjiro’s grandmother died when he was nineteen, and he had yet to hold a steady job. On the rare occasion he was able to find work at a convenience store, usually taking the night shift, he had been fired due to petty complaints. Without anyone willing to give him a chance, he had known he wouldn’t be able to make rent on the small apartment he had called home for almost a decade.

He remembers shifting his father’s portrait, just a little to the left, to make room for his grandmother. He had knelt on the ground, forehead touching the floor, and given into the fear and confusion and sadness. Every tear he’d held back at her funeral came pouring out of him, body wracked with violent sobs, punctuated by helpless hiccups.

He doesn’t remember how long he stayed there. He wept until he was empty, until the floor beneath him was slick with tears and blood that dripped from where he’d carelessly cut his mouth. When he was spent, he picked himself up from the ground, cleaned his face of tears and snot, and took a short walk to the nearest dark alleyway.

The local yakuza had been offered him cash to run errands for years. He never thought he would find himself desperate enough to accept.

But his family was dead. Between his grandmother’s meager savings and the small trust fund left for him by his father, he would have been able to cover maybe three months of rent. He had been waiting nineteen years for someone to give him a chance, and he just wanted to pay his bills, okay?

He didn’t ask for shark teeth. He hates how often he cuts his lips and tongue, even when he’s not saying anything at all. But the clunky feel of the blunters in his mouth, the way they don’t fit right no matter how many new sets of teeth he grows, he hates that even more.

He’s not a bad guy. He’s not, he’s not. It’s just him against the world, and he’s had to learn to throw a punch over the years, to stand there and look mean and threatening. He’s never really hurt anyone, okay? He just doesn’t have it in him.

The problem, with a face like his, is that the people he worked for hired him with certain expectations.

Benjiro can only admit his quiet shame, complacent in his ignorance.

A week went by, a month, then two, and he got used to looming in the background like a particularly intimidating statue. He participated in the occasional scuffle, where he’d be ordered to rough someone up a little, a motley of bruises and the intermittent busted nose. It was all small and petty and almost innocent.

Then his boss handed him a lead pipe and told him to break a kid’s arm. And Benjiro? Benjiro stood frozen, mind empty, staring blankly at the rusted pipe in his hands.

At his feet, the kid in question. Dark hair and a rabbit mutation, with those sad little ears that flopped forward over liquid bright eyes as he cowered. Pinned to the ground like prey, struggling weakly and flanked by two thugs who hold his arms straight and taut. Probably still in junior high school, crying big, fat, ugly sobs, begging them - he’ll get the money for his dad, he promises, he promises, just give him a chance.

Benjiro doesn’t remember much about what happened after that. He doesn’t know what words were spoken, or how long he stood there.

He does know how it ended, with his boss on the ground, clutching his busted nose. One of the thugs reached for the boss, the other reached for Benjiro, both of them wearing twin expressions of utter bafflement. Then the metal pipe was clattering to the ground and the kid was over Benjiro’s shoulder and his boss, blood streaming from between his fingers, was screaming, “You’re dead, you’re fucking dead, you hear me you little shit, DEAD.”

The kid must have given him directions at some point, because when awareness filtered back slowly, like the setting sun through half-closed blinders, Benjiro found himself in a living room he didn’t recognize. The kid thanked him, and the kid’s dad thanked him, and Benjiro was unable to tell if the anxiety in his chest stemmed from worrying about the inevitable fallout of his actions or being smothered by an uncomfortable amount of floppy-eared, teary-eyed gratitude.

The next day, both the kid and the father were nowhere to be found, off to stay with relatives in the country. Their gratitude couldn’t pay his bills, and the local yakuza knew where he lived anyway. By the time he made it home, ducking at least half a dozen neighborhood lowlifes out for his blood, he found his grandmother’s apartment had been thoroughly trashed.

Benjiro wished he could skip town too, but where would he even go? He started to pick through the overturned furniture and broken glass, but a nearby voice yelled “Where is he?” and he bolted instead.

Which brings him to today.

He’s poking through the trash behind a strip of restaurants when three of his old coworkers spot him. He gets in a couple of good punches, puts some distance between him and his pursuers, and sprints for all he is worth.

They catch him, because of course they do. They haven’t slept on a park bench for the last month. They don’t have to pick through the trash to find something to eat. They haven’t been running on tension and spite, hunted like some kind of animal, hypervigilant and perpetually paranoid.

He cowers on the ground, covers his head, and takes the beating.

Seconds pass, or maybe minutes, and one of them laughs from somewhere above him. “Keep walkin’, salary man.”

“Hey, what the - ”

“Fucking shit, he’s got - ”

There is inarticulate yelling and a couple of thumps and yet more yelling. There is the telltale echo of a metal pipe as it hits the ground, and Benjiro slowly comes to a certain awareness. No one is hitting him.

“Oh, wow, they really got you good, didn’t they?”

The question is entirely unexpected. The words come from somewhere above him.

The man’s voice is pleasant, not particularly deep but not high pitched or squeaky, either. It falls somewhere in the middle, soft and soothing, and Benjiro slowly uncurls his arms and lifts his head.

Traditional salary man, like the ones he always sees board the trains. The man wears a nice suit and holds a briefcase, and his hair is black and a little wild. Honestly, in a lineup of other stiffs in suits, Benjiro would be hard pressed to pick him out.

“How are you feeling?” the man asks. “Are you okay to stand, or should I call for an ambulance?”

“Can’t afford it,” Benjiro admits, cautiously poking his ribs. There is a throb of protest, but he is fairly certain that nothing is broken. He’s about to say so when he hears a pathetic groan, and he spots all three of the yakuza who had been beating on him in various states of unconsciousness, sprawled on the ground like discarded tissues.

“The fuck kind of quirk you got?” he asks before he can stop himself, and he feels his lips catch on his stupid sharp teeth and split open, and the blood dribbles down his chin and drips to the ground.

The man has glanced behind him, looking at the men with raised eyebrows and a placid expression. Like he wasn’t the one who somehow incapacitated all of them without even breaking a sweat. “It’s registered as One Week Recall,” comes the cheerful reply. “A passive memorization quirk which I usually brag makes completing paperwork easier.”

When the man looks back, his eyes widen. He’s on his knees in a heartbeat, uncaring of the dirty ground, pulling an actual handkerchief out of his pocket and offering it to Benjiro. “You’re bleeding, are you sure - ”

“It’s my stupid fucking quirk,” Benjiro spits out, harsher than he means to. He’s just so sick of today, of this month, of his life.

“Your teeth are incredible,” the man says, smiling slightly. He’s still extending the handkerchief, patiently waiting. He doesn’t seem even remotely phased by Benjiro’s scary face or the fact that he’s bleeding. “That’s a double set, isn’t it? Like a shark. Do you lose them often? Can you regrow them infinitely? How sensitive are they, to touch and temperature? Oh, they’re amazingly sharp, aren’t they?”

The man rambles on pleasantly, seemingly content to kneel there for as long as is needed. His plain, brown eyes are bright with enthusiasm, and he looks directly at Benjiro’s face without any fear. In fact, he seems hyperfocused on his stupid shark teeth, leaning forward intently to get a better look, without any disgust for the blood that’s still warm and dripping from Benjiro’s lips.

And Benjiro just. He just can’t, okay? He’s exhausted and on edge and in pain, and this absolute stranger who should be running at the sight of him but for some reason isn’t is the last straw. He feels the tears well up in his eyes, and he is completely helpless to stop them.

“Oh, heck, I’m sorry,” the man says, instantly contrite, and still so very kind. “I love quirks, you see, but I’ve been told that I’m... a lot, when I get going. I didn’t mean to overwhelm you when you’ve clearly already had a very stressful day. Can I help you up, please?”

Benjiro can’t bring himself to speak. He nods once, ashamed, and tries to get a hold of himself.

The man extends a hand, and Benjiro notices he’s wearing a nicely tailored set of gloves. This strikes him as strange, but is quickly forgotten as the man carefully helps him to his feet. Benjiro has at least half a meter on the guy, but the man pulls him up so easily, bracing an arm around his waist and steadying him without a word.

Fuck, he’s strong, a solid wall of muscle beneath the deceptive button down shirt. Muscles like that, and probably trained to use them, if he’s able to stop three gangsters by himself.

“Here, I’m sorry,” the man says, angling close and gently touching the white handkerchief to Benjiro’s lips, dabbing at the blood there. “Let’s go across the street to that café. I know the owner and I’m sure she won’t mind if we use her backroom to get you cleaned up a little. We can call the police to deal with these three and I’ll buy you a cup of hot tea and a sandwich if you think you can stomach it?”

And just like that, Benjiro is swept away in the man’s steady pace. Together, they gingerly step around the semiconscious bodies and cross the street. The owner of the café seems more than happy to lend her backroom to them, despite the fact he looks like the worst kind of criminal. She’s clearly terrified, but she must trust the man who’s helping him without reservation because she doesn’t even hesitate.

What does that kind of blind faith feels like? Benjiro can’t imagine.

The tea is hot and sweet and it soothes his throat as he drinks it. The sandwich is crisp and fresh, and it tastes so good, and it’s been so long since he’s had a meal he didn’t salvage from the dumpsters, and he starts to tear up all over again.

All the while, the man talks to him, asking questions in that calming tone, something about his cadence almost hypnotizing: who were those men and why were they after him and where does he live and is there anyone who he’d like to contact?

It should be harder than this, telling his story to someone else. It’s such a strange feeling, having someone genuinely interested in his words. Maybe it’s the kindness that undoes him, because Benjiro couldn’t pick this guy out of a lineup of other suits and yet he gives him the whole sob story without hesitation. His father and his grandmother and his grandmother’s apartment, the only places he has ever felt safe and how they are inevitably torn from his too-weak hands.

He says more to this man with his gentle probing than he has spoken to anyone since his grandmother died. He answers slowly, with as much care as he can, but he can’t help the involuntary cuts inside his mouth and on his tongue. It must be disgusting, the blood and spit drooling from his lips, but the man’s earnest expression doesn’t once falter.

After the tea is done and the meal is paid for, the man offers him a hand and says, “You know, I have a friend who has a spare room he lends out from time to time, for people who are trying to get back on their feet. Would you like to take a look?”

And like that, they’re taking a taxi to somewhere Benjiro has never been, to look at some room in some house, and fuck, if this guy is going to steal his organs, at least he’s been really nice about it?

***

The house is comfortable, a decent size and well maintained, and in a relatively safe part of the city. The man knocks twice, quick and sharp, and the door swings open a moment later to reveal a creature who is even taller than Benjiro, whose visible face and hands are formed of thick black and purple smoke. Benjiro stills, wary of those piercing, electric yellow eyes.

Certain worries are eased. Between the intimidating height and inhuman appearance, well... if this is the aforementioned friend, it’s not a surprise that Benjiro’s face didn’t even phase his savior.

“I wasn’t expecting you today.” The voice is definitely that of a man, deep and somewhat static, and the door opens wider to allow them entry. “How may I be of assistance?”

“This is Nishikawa Benjiro-kun,” his savior introduces warmly, still smiling. “He’s had a really bad day, and I was wondering if I could trouble you to lend him a spare room for a couple of weeks?”

“As you wish,” the shadowy man replies without hesitation. “Will he require anything else?”

Benjiro opens his mouth to protest, but can’t even make a sound before his savior says, “A couple of changes of clothes in his size, I think. And three decent meals a day until he gets himself sorted. Oh!” The man nods to the owner of the house, a belated introduction. “This is Kurogiri. He’s really nowhere near as scary as he looks, and he’s super dependable. Please let him know if you need help with anything.”

“I don’t - what - how can you just - ” Benjiro splutters, incoherent. The blood bubbles to his lips and he struggles to swallow it back down.

“There are a couple of basic house rules, but it’s nothing too difficult, I promise!” the man says. “Just, you know, be respectful to anyone here, and expect them to treat you with that same respect. And if you’re worried about finding a job, I have a friend who could use some help in her warehouse. I’ll check with her, but it’d be a decent, steady paycheck, and you wouldn’t need to do much talking, if that sounds okay?”

Honestly, all of it sounds too good to be true, but Benjiro can’t actually say that because he’s too busy choking on his own blood.

Everything happens quickly after that. All at once, he has a place to stay and he’s not hungry and there is the tentative promise of a paycheck and none of the people he meets seem to be afraid of his face. He stares at the ceiling, trying and failing to find a comfortable position to sleep when he realizes, he never asked the man for his name.

***

The next morning is uncomfortable. The awkward reality of the situation crashes down on Benjiro with all the subtlety of All-Might’s signature Smash. He has a bed to sleep in, and the promise of food and work, but how much can he actually trust these people? Surely this kindness has a price.

Break his arm, comes the insidious whisper, and for a moment he’s back in that room, faced with the terrified reality of what a paycheck is actually worth.

He tries to put it out of his mind, but he finds three changes of clothes in the closet, and they fit him exactly. His anxiety skyrockets.

Benjiro has been on edge for weeks, and the floorboards are certainly creaky enough to wake him from a dead slumber. The clothes weren’t there when he’d checked the previous night. He sits on the corner of the bed and forces himself to breathe, one, two, in, out.

As the air stutters in his chest, he finds himself wondering if he should just run. His internal debate is interrupted by the delectable scent of something spicy and rich. It lures him unwittingly out of the bedroom and into the nearby kitchen.

Kurogiri-san stands silently by the stove, stirring a large pot with single-minded focus. Without even bothering to look up, the man - stranger, really - asks, “Are you hungry?”

“Um,” Benjiro replies intelligently. His heartbeat, which had calmed to a hard, dull thud, instantly explodes. Kurogiri-san’s lack of expressive emotions makes him difficult to read; it’s nerve-wracking.

The man has given him sanctuary based solely on the word of someone else - someone who has known Benjiro for less than a day. And even if they weren’t complete strangers, Benjiro is well aware that his face doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. Shouldn’t Kurogiri-san exhibit some sort of leeriness?

Instead, Benjiro is greeted with placid pot-stirring and a polite inquiry of satiety.

This isn’t normal.

Kurogiri-san plates a generous serving of white rice and tops it with freshly made chicken curry, sliding the dish onto the counter directly in front of Benjiro. A paper towel and utensils follow shortly.

A tiny curl of steam rises from the plate, and Benjiro reflexively takes a deep breath in, tantalized by the warm spices. The brown sauce is laden with neatly diced potatoes, carrots, and onions. He reaches for his chopsticks, the quiet rumble of his stomach temporarily outweighing his suspicions, and takes a single bite.

The gentle heat of it burns his mouth in the best way. The chicken is tender, and the vegetables are cooked just right, soft but not mushy. The sauce of the curry mixes with the rice, the perfect blend of taste and texture. His mouth waters the instant he swallows.

Benjiro inhales the first helping with a speed honed in passing starvation and is rewarded with a second plate. Knowing he will make himself sick, he forcibly slows his pace.

“The clothing in the closet is yours,” Kurogiri-san says tonelessly as he moves to clean the kitchen.

“It.” Benjiro stops, swallows reflexively. His heartbeat quickens, and his stomach goes tight. He is acutely aware of his dirty clothes and the fact that he hasn’t taken a shower for almost two weeks. “It wasn’t there last night.”

“Ah.” The sound conveys quiet realization. “I possess a warp quirk. I did not wish to disturb your rest and placed the clothing directly into your closet. It was not my intention to make you uncomfortable, but I believe that was... poorly done of me. I will not use my quirk to access your room in future.”

Okay, Benjiro thinks, and slowly lets out the breath he hadn’t realized he was holding. He can understand a man not thinking twice about using a quirk in his own house. He nods his head, accepts the apology, and shovels another bite of curry into his mouth. His heartbeat slows as he counts each inhale and exhale in his head, one, two, in, out, and steadily chews his food.

Kurogiri-san continues, “There is a bathroom across the hall from the room in which you are staying. It is one of three, so feel free to make use of the facilities at any time. Though I will provide you three meals a day, I keep an abundance of food in the house, which you are welcome to eat at any time.”

“Are you for real?” Benjiro blurts out.

“I have been directed to assist you,” the man replies, matter of fact. “I can do no less than what I have been tasked.”

Benjiro is dizzy, yo-yoing between unexpected surprise and artificial calm. He has so many questions.

Is Benjiro’s savior a CEO or something? This behavior isn’t friendship, it’s subservience. The abject deference Kurogiri-san shows in the face of his orders is almost feudal in its loyalty. What is their relationship? Master and butler? Lord and vassal?

A place to sleep and food to eat, the comforts of clean clothes and access to hot, running water. Who just gives these precious things away without asking for anything in return? What the fuck? he thinks. Who does this?

Benjiro opens his mouth to ask, but Kurogiri-san adds, “If you have any questions, the young master will return later tonight.”

Okay, sure, why not? Benjiro thinks as Kurogiri-san fills his plate for the third time. He knows when he’s being told to shut up and eats his curry.

He can’t even be mad about it. It’s fucking delicious.

***

Following the delectable meal, Benjiro lowers himself into a frankly luxurious bath. He soaks his aching muscles for at least thirty minutes, nearly pruning himself in the process. He helps himself to the soaps and shampoo, and drags a palm against side of his face, scowling at the patchy smattering of slowly growing facial hair.

He finds a packet of disposable plastic razors beneath the sink, alongside a half-empty can of shaving cream. Later, when he puts on the clean clothes that Kurogiri-san left in his closet, he feels closer to human than he has in weeks.

He is balancing on the edge of the bed, drying his hair with a fluffy towel, when someone knocks softly on the door.

Benjiro is across the room in an instant. He flings the door open and demands, “What’s your name?”

The man in the suit blinks once, startled. His cheeks flush faintly, pale and pink. “I didn’t introduce myself yesterday, did I?” He lowers his hand. “Kurosu Hide, at your service.”

“Kurosu-san, then. I didn’t. I mean. Fuck.” Benjiro bows his head. “Thank you. For yesterday. And all of this.”

“It’s fine, Benjiro-kun. Oh, that’s rather forward of me, I think.” His savior - Kurosu-san - sounds abashed. “Would you prefer it if I call you Nishikawa-san?”

It’s Benjiro’s turn to blush, and he glances up while awkwardly scratching the back of his head. Yesterday, he’d been so distraught that the intimacy hadn’t even registered. In hindsight, having someone treat him so familiarly had actually lessened the sting of a stranger seeing him at his most vulnerable. Kurosu-san is somewhere in his late twenties, so it almost felt like the affections of an older brother.

None of which he can admit to, not without sounding like a desperately needy child. But he finds himself responding, “Benjiro is - it’s fine, like that. You saved my life, you can use my given name.”

“In that case, would you care to join me in the kitchen for a cup of coffee, Benjiro-kun?” The man smiles warmly, completely at ease. “I have a few things I’d like to discuss with you.”

Kurogiri-san is nowhere to be seen as Kurosu-san moves about the kitchen with practiced familiarity, pulling a French press from one of the cabinets with gloved hands. He fills an electric kettle on the counter with water, adding ground coffee from the freezer into the French press as he waits for the kettle to boil.

“Are you settling in well?” Kurosu-san asks, sliding a small container of sugar across the counter to where Benjiro sits.

Instinctively, Benjiro’s hands wrap around the sugar bowl. “Yeah. Yeah, I’m good. Um.” He fiddles with it absently, feeling a little desperate as he scours his brain for small talk. “Kurogiri-san’s a really good cook.”

“He likes to pretend he doesn’t care, but I think it would make him happy that you think so,” Kurosu-san replies. He pauses. “I spoke to my friend at the warehouse. She’d love to meet you.”

Benjiro’s grip tightens imperceptibly. The lid of the sugar bowl becomes skewed, and he takes a moment to straighten it before pushing the whole thing away. “Are you sure? I mean, did you tell her.” He is so careful as he speaks. He hasn’t cut his mouth once during this conversation. “Did you tell her about me?”

“Don’t fret too much about the interview,” Kurosu-san says in lieu of a reply. “The job is yours, if you want it.”

How can someone make that kind of promise, Benjiro wonders.

When he realizes that the man is patiently waiting for a response, he chokes, “I want it.”

Kurosu-san nods once, as if that’s that. “I happen to have the day off tomorrow, so I can drive you over to meet the boss, and to negotiate your schedule and pay. It’s not terribly far, so you can commute using the bus, but it’s close enough to reach by bike, if you prefer. It depends on if you’d feel more comfortable borrowing the bike, or borrowing the bus fare until you get your first paycheck.”

Benjiro hesitates. “I don’t have a bike?”

“I’ve got an old one tucked away in storage.” Kurosu-san hums thoughtfully. “We can get that for you tomorrow as well. Now, about your teeth - ”

The electric kettle whistles, and Benjiro feels as though someone has kicked him in the face. Why did he let his guard down? He knew it, he knew this was all too good to be true. What’s it to be, then? Probably blunters, or a warning to not display them casually. It’s not quite betrayal, but the sting is similar. It hits Benjiro harder than expected, the sick feeling in his stomach twisting like an actual, physical pain. And then -

“ - if you’re willing to put up with a terrible taste until I have a chance to make something better, anyway.”

Benjiro blanks out. He’s sure he misheard something. He swallows, throat dry, and says, “What?”

Kurosu-san flicks the power off the teakettle, effectively silencing the high-pitched whine. He carefully pours the boiling water into the French press, unperturbed as he relays the information for a second time. “Your blunters. From what you’ve told me, they seem uncomfortable and ineffective. Chemistry is something of a hobby of mine, and I have a project that I think will suit your needs, but it tastes awful. I can fix that with enough time.”

“What do you...?” Benjiro trails off, uncomprehending. He repeats blankly, “Project? Needs?”

Kurosu-san fixes the lid on the French press, then pushes down on the plunger in the middle, slowly screening the coffee grounds from the resulting dark liquid. He seems wholly devoted to his task, and he absentmindedly replies, “Your teeth are truly incredible, but they damage your lips and tongue unless you speak slowly, with the utmost caution. When we were in the café the other day, you mentioned how useless the mass produced blunters are, so I thought something like my project might better suit you.”

The man sets the French press aside. He pulls a pot from one of the lower cabinets and places it on the stove.

“It’s a temporary coating originally meant to blunt sharp weaponry. It’s specifically meant to work on hard surfaces like metal and bone, and it’s a liquid so you can apply it by using it as a mouthwash. Because it doesn’t adhere to flesh, your gums and tongue will remain unaffected. It’s safe to ingest, though I wouldn’t recommend drinking it, and it tastes absolutely awful. I think I can fix that, though. I’ll just need a bit of time.”

Without pausing for breath, the man continues his explanation, even as he opens the refrigerator and pulls out a gallon of milk. He measures a little over a cup, pouring it into the pot on the stove and turning up the heat.

“I’ll need to do some trial runs, and I’m sure we’ll have to tweak the formula a bit, but I’ve already got the bulk of the work done. I don’t know if you’re interested in talking to people, but I’d like to at least give you the option. Quirks are amazing, you know? No one should be hurt by their own - oh, heck, are you okay?”

Benjiro doesn’t know when the tears started. He knows he feels like the biggest baby in the world at the moment; how many times will this man reduce him to a snotty, sobbing mess?

It’s just. All of his problems. All of the things he’s learned to accept, no matter how unfair they are. His homelessness, his joblessness, his stupid face, and now even his stupid teeth. Is this the magic of being an adult? It seems almost effortless.

Kurosu-san offers him a wry smile and a clean handkerchief from one of his magic pockets. Benjiro gratefully blows his nose, then watches the man simultaneously pour equal parts of coffee and scalded milk into two dainty cups. The cups are placed onto the counter in front of Benjiro with a little flourish, and a spoonful of sugar is added to each.

It can’t be the magic of adulthood, Benjiro thinks, because he knows that both his dad and his grandmother would have helped him if they could. That means this specific brand of crazy is unique to Kurosu-san himself. In which case, Benjiro wants to know -

“What the fuck do you even do?”

“Hm? Oh, nothing particularly impressive,” Kurosu-san replies with a noncommittal wave of his hand. “I occupy a minor position in government management, interdivisional communication and excessive paperwork.” He smiles blandly and sips his coffee. “Just another suit, you know?”

***

The following day, Kurosu-san introduces him to Seiyaku Nemu, a tiny, vibrant woman half his size, a sprig of bluebells in the shadow of a pine tree. It clearly doesn’t phase her because she takes one look at his arms and grins. She invades his personal bubble, blatantly patting him down like a prized beast, and he can do nothing but blush and stutter out a greeting.

“Nemu-hime, we’ve talked about boundaries,” Kurosu-san admonishes gently.

You’ve talked,” Seiyaku-san - Seiyaku-hime? - replies, but she does take a step back as she bounces on the balls of her feet. “Look at those muscles! I need a heavy lifter, De-kun!”

The nickname throws Benjiro off for a moment until he remembers Kurosu-san’s first name. Hide to De-kun, he muses. They must be quite close.

As it turns out, Seiyaku-hime runs the primary warehouse for a local pharmaceutical company. Apparently she’s been meaning to hire a helper for months but never quite found the time. She tilts her head back to meet his eyes directly, fearless as she invades his space, and nods sharply. “You’re hired, Togatta-kun.”

Benjiro splutters at the unexpected nickname, and Kurosu-san gives him an encouraging smile before making himself scarce. They speak frankly of hours - every weekday, seven to three - and pay, which is more than generous and promised to him on a bi-monthly basis. She wants him to start immediately.

It’s so easy.

It’s too easy.

Benjiro breathes and counts, one, two, in, out.

After that, the days blur together. It’s uncomplicated and good in a way that Benjiro never believed he could attain, having a place to sleep and attending a job that suits him and consuming three delicious meals that he isn’t even paying for. Kurogiri-san is a ghost, unseen but omniscient. When Benjiro accidentally tears one of his shirts at the warehouse, he finds an undamaged replacement outside his door the next day, neatly folded, smelling faintly of fresh linen and lemons.

There is a sharp double knock on Benjiro’s door twice daily, once for breakfast and once for dinner, and there is always a place set for him at the counter. His lunch waits for him by the front door, neatly packed in a small, portable cooler. And when he damages the frame of his borrowed bicycle in a minor accident, he finds it repaired without notice the following day, still hooked to the bike rack in the front of the house.

Honestly, it’s like being attended by the world’s most frighteningly competent butler. Benjiro feels intimidated just looking at Kurogiri-san’s profile, and not for the first time, he wonders about his mysterious host and his mysterious savior.

He has so many questions, but it’s impossible to ask. It’s all fresh and new, and he is hesitant to cause waves when they have given him so much and asked for nothing in return.

It has been a little over a week, and Benjiro is currently melting into the kitchen counter. The shrimp and vegetable tempura is golden, crispy perfection. He can’t help but savor the sweetness of the vegetables and the saltiness of the dipping sauce. He takes a bite of white rice to cleanse his pallet, then sneaks a tender shumai from one of the side plates.

There is a knock at the front door, three bangs in quick succession. Kurogiri-san’s warp portal opens, and he is gone from the kitchen. Benjiro hears Kurosu-san’s familiar voice a moment later, and the two men enter the room, not quite together. Kurosu-san is a step ahead, and Kurogiri-san seems content to follow.

“That smells fantastic,” Kurosu-san says, and makes a beeline for one of the cabinets. He snags a dish with one gloved hand, waving amicably to Benjiro with the other. “Good evening, Benjiro-kun. Sorry I haven’t been around in a while, buried in paperwork, you know how it goes.” He helps himself to a scoop of rice, then proceeds to pick through the tempura, stealing a few choice bits. “How are your teeth doing?”

Benjiro grins recklessly, displaying his teeth without shame. He hasn’t cut his mouth even once since he started using Kurosu-san’s mouthwash. The application tastes terrible, but it’s a small price to pay for twelve hours of being able to talk clearly and without pain.

The other man responds with a small, pleased smile.

Unexpectedly, Kurogiri-san speaks up. “By chance, is your increased workload due to the cold case that has been the talk of the precinct?”

“Partly. The detective in charge stirred up some hornets with his investigation,” Kurosu-san replies absently, sliding his plate onto the counter and pulling up a stool. “Honestly, I’m not even upset about the paperwork at this point. Anyone who can follow a fifteen year old paper trail is a hero in my book.”

“You still feel that way after their second visit to Tartarus Prison?”

“Ugh,” Kurosu-san groans. “Don’t remind me. My secretary is still unresponsive, just mutters ‘in triplicate’ every time I ask if he wants a coffee.” The man pauses, eyes narrowing as he points his chopsticks at Kurogiri-san’s head. “And don’t think I don’t know which little birdie sang, my friend. You’re suspiciously well-informed.”

Benjiro shovels more rice into his mouth and keeps his head down, listening curiously. He has no idea what the two are discussing, has the barest inkling of what Kurosu-san’s job entails, but the way they talk to each other is more interesting than the content of their conversation.

If the expression on Kurosu-san’s face has any impact on the shadowy gentleman, it doesn’t show. He simply asks, “Has the Hero Public Safety Commission been informed?”

“Mm-hm,” Kurosu-san hums. “The Board of Heroics too, of course. How many months will they waste over pointless infighting, do you suppose? Three? Four?”

“I couldn’t dare comment.”

Kurosu-san laughs. “That’s a dirty lie. You staying out of it implies that bets have already been placed.”

“I couldn’t dare comment,” Kurogiri-san repeats, blankly and without feeling.

That was. That was a joke, wasn’t it? Benjiro smothers a grin.

Oblivious to Benjiro’s unexpected delight, Kurogiri-san continues, “What are your thoughts on the matter, young master?”

“I wish you wouldn’t call me that.” Kurosu-san takes a delicate bite of tempura, chewing thoughtfully. He swallows, then shrugs, “Three months, minimum. The Board of Heroics will ultimately come out on top. The Commission’s been hemoraging influence for years, they’re clearly in their death-throws. Really, they’re the only ones who don’t realize their ship is sinking. But they still have their uses, I suppose.”

Something in the air seems to shift.

There’s a sort of heaviness in the room that wasn’t there before. Kurogiri-san stands, not quite at attention, but close enough that it makes Benjiro inexplicably nervous.

Kurosu-san’s voice is - it’s still pleasant and he isn’t any louder, but there’s an undertone there. A sharpness as he continues, “After all, when you’re trying to tie things up, nothing beats red tape.”

Then he laughs, a sweet, light sound, and the thread of tension is dispelled. “Anyway, enough about work. I’ve been threatened by our favorite princess to coordinate my schedule for a family dinner. So here I am, coordinating.”

***

A week passes. The knot in Benjiro’s stomach slowly loosens.

His job at the warehouse is so very different from his limited retail experience. For one, it’s physically demanding to the point of exhaustion. Exposure to Seiyaku-hime’s relentless energy only adds to his fatigue, and he is often asleep the moment his head hits his pillow.

The biggest difference is that his boss never shames him. For all her irreverence when it comes to personal space and her pension for childish nicknames, she never makes him feel less. When he can’t recall a particular shipping procedure, she is happy to teach him, again and again until he is comfortable with the knowledge, and she actively encourages him to take notes in a little booklet she has him carry in his pocket.

Her patience is strange, at odds with what he imagines to be her attention span. She is alive with perpetual motion, tapping her fingers on the counter, slapping her hand against her thigh, dancing on the balls of her feet as she transitions between the main computer and the warehouse shelves. Benjiro has never seen anyone else who finds such joy in movement.

If he had to describe her in one word, it would be... loud. Distracting. Her vibrant t-shirts, her torn-up jeans, her neon blue hair. She’s older than Kurosu-san, but her round face and her wide smiles make her seem much younger.

She hums under her breath all the time. She tries to steal bites of his lunch stating, “You get Moya-kun’s cooking every day, you lucky bastard.” She invades his personal space without a single thought to his comfort.

She is his boss, but she’s more like a big sister and a little sister rolled into one. Benjiro finds himself looking forward to seeing her each day.

Another week passes. He no longer wakes in the middle of the night every time he hears a creak.

He opens an account with a different bank, and updates his temporary mailing address. He starts searching the internet for apartment listings, forwards his information to reasonably priced realtor, and checks the public bulletin boards on the way as he cycles to work. Several additional changes of clothes appear outside of his door, courtesy of the shadowy butler, and Benjiro’s lunch expands to include a picturesque cake slice or an exquisitely decorated pasty.

“Practice,” Kurogiri-san divulges on prompting, “for what I will be making for the family dinner.”

Kurosu-san stops by once or twice. There is no set pattern to his visits, but he always takes a moment to check with Benjiro: how are you feeling, and is Nemu-hime treating you well, and Kurogiri mentioned you didn’t eat a lot at dinner yesterday, is everything alright?

Aside from these questions, the man has never asked him for anything. Benjiro is starting to honestly believe that the man will never ask him for anything. This level of self-sacrificing altruism is both humbling and horrifying.

Benjiro’s family is dead. He has no old classmates worth mentioning, no former colleagues worth knowing. He has no friends, and no one to depend on, and aside from his dad and his grandmother, no one in his life has ever tried to help him because no one else has ever cared.

Kurosu-san has a job in the government, and the kind of connections that money can’t buy. Kurogiri-san and Seiyaku-hime would move the moon if he asked them, and Benijro recalls the woman who owns the café, who let a bloody stranger use her backroom without question, and thinks they’re probably not the only ones. Kurosu-san is smart, he’d have to be to create something like the teeth-blunting mouthwash. He’s strong, too, if the way he took out three burly yakuza is any indication. That’s money and power and influence on a scale that’s almost incomprehensible.

The point is, there is nothing that Benjiro can give him that he doesn’t already have.

There is no reason for Kurosu-san to have saved him from those thugs. There is no reason for this continued assistance, living quarters and food, a job and the time to get his bearings. There is no reason for these questions, this quiet, honest interest in his mental health and well-being.

The only rational explanation is that for some inexplicable reason, Kurosu-san cares.

It doesn’t make any sense, so Benjiro can’t understand it. But having seen the evidence, having lived it, he has no choice but to accept it.

He breathes into a paper bag that night, and counts, one, two, in, out.

***

Another week passes. The weather has just started to shift, carrying with it that little bit of chill that Benjiro can feel in his bones. The slight drop in temperature is heralded by two events, courtesy of the omniscient Kurogiri-san. First, he finds a fleece-lined winter jacket hanging outside of his room that morning. Second, a thermos of hot chocolate so thick he might lovingly call it sludge materializes next to his lunch box in the hallway.

He takes a sip before he leaves the house, and he has to stop for a minute because it is literally the best thing he has ever put in his mouth. It’s heavy on his tongue, sinful and bitterly sweet, and he is struck by the certainty that he could finish the entire container in a single sitting, that the richness would leave him sick to his stomach, and that it would be completely justified because the stuff was just that fucking good.

Benjiro hides the thermos from Seiyaku-hime as soon as he reaches the warehouse. It takes her less than ten minutes to sniff it out, and she dances through the warehouse singing “Kue, kue, kue~ choco-kuro~.” She downs two thirds of the container before he manages to steal it back.

That night, he hears quiet noises coming from the kitchen well after Kurogiri-san is usually asleep. Benjiro peeks his head through the open doorway, only to find Kurosu-san sitting at the counter, quietly muttering to himself as he thumbs through a stack of paperwork. There is an oversized mug to his left, alongside a familiar-looking thermos.

“Everything okay?” Benjiro asks awkwardly.

Kurosu-san glances up, his gaze sharp. The expression softens in the split-second it takes him to recognize Benjiro. “Oh, did I wake you? Sorry about that, I have a rather troublesome habit of talking to myself when I work. A childhood mannerism I never quite outgrew.”

“S’fine, I wasn’t asleep.” Benjiro nods meaningfully towards the thermos on the counter. “But if you really wanna’ make amends...”

The man in the suit laughs. “You drive a hard bargain.”

Benjiro huffs. “Seiyaku-hime stole mine this morning.”

“Ah.” Kurosu-san grins knowingly. “Kurogiri only makes hot chocolate on special occasions, so you’ll have to take care to guard yours better in future. As it is, I think I can bear to part with a cup though. Just this once.”

Benjiro is familiar enough with the kitchen now. He opens one of the cabinets, finds a twin, oversized mug to match the one Kurosu-san is using, and pours himself a coveted cup of hot, chocolate sludge. He settles onto one of the kitchen stools, blowing short puffs of air across the surface of the drink to cool it.

Internally, he marvels. His mouth and tongue work in tandem, pursing with each breath, but there is no pain, no coppery jolt to ruin the taste of chocolate as he brings the mug to his lips.

There is something inherently comforting about watching Kurosu-san as he returns to his work, shoulders relaxed as he twirls his pen. He scribbles notes, circles words, and slashes whole paragraphs until each page drips with red. The movements are nothing like Seiyaku-hime’s frantic, high-strung energy. The rustle of paper, the soft scratch of ink, and Kurosu-san’s voice, a near inaudible murmur - these things lull Benjiro to an unfamiliar place of calm.

It is into this calm that he quietly admits, “Met with a real estate agent today. She put me in touch with a couple of guarantor companies, but... none of them wanted to sign for me because of my fucking face.” He clutches his mug and scowls at the counter, ashamed.

Kurosu-san pauses, glancing up to meet Benjiro’s eyes. He takes a moment to straighten his papers, only to set them aside. He doesn’t look surprised by the statement, nor upset or offended or any of the other reactions Benjiro had imagined.

“I used to have a scar like that.”

Benjiro blinks. He stares at his savior’s entirely unmemorable face, but can find no visible trace of scarring. “Kids in my grade used to tell each other stories, that I got it in a knife fight with a rival gang’s boss or some shit.” He pauses, wondering if he will be believed. “I got it falling out of a tree when I was a kid. Sliced my face on a rock like some kind of dumbass.”

The man in the suit smiles faintly, dragging a gloved finger from his brow to his chin. “I would have rather sliced my face on a rock.”

“You don’t - I mean, there’s no scar - ”

“Not now, but... there were two, originally. The first was relatively small, just under my eye. The second actually blinded me.” Before Benjiro can parse through that horror, Kurosu-san adds, “Thankfully, a dear friend of mine was able to heal me completely.”

Benjiro thinks about how they met. He’s thought about it before, more than once. The way Kurosu-san stopped three yakuza cold, without difficulty or any injury to himself. How collected Kurosu-san was in the face of such violence, how unfazed he’d been by the blood and the bruises.

“That kind of thing is terribly inconvenient, isn’t it?” Kurosu-san continues, voice gentle with understanding. “It’s all some people seem to see.”

“That day... why’d you save me?” The question has plagued Benjiro since the beginning, though he’d been too wary to ask it. He doesn’t even know if he really wants an answer.

“Hm.” Kurosu-san tilts his head to the side, smiling faintly. “Would you like the long answer, or the short one?”

Benjiro realizes his savior is waiting for some sort of reply. “The long answer?” he says, more question than statement.

“All right,” Kurosu-san agrees easily. “I can get a bit long-winded so feel free to stop me at any time. To understand the long answer, you have to go back, oh, two decades, give or take?”

Benjiro blinks. “Excessive.”

Kurosu-san laughs. “I suppose it is, a bit. Back then it was common for society to ostracize anyone born with what they called a ‘villainous’ quirk. For example, mind-control or a frightening physical mutation... I’m sure you’re quite familiar with how those children were treated.”

No one calls him a villain to his face - thankfully, that’s the kind of insult that would warrant a week of detention in school if a teacher overheard - but Benjiro has been dealing with fearful side-glances and hushed whispers his whole life. He nods.

“So society looked at those children, at their power and their potential, and instead of offering acceptance, they passed judgement instead. There was actually a study conducted during that time, a truly massive undertaking which compiled the results of roughly four hundred interviews from imprisoned villains.”

“Huh. I never heard of a study like that.”

“You wouldn’t have. At that time, sensitive information was tightly controlled by the Hero Public Safety Commission.” Something in Kurosu-san’s tone goes strange and flat. “Let’s leave that can of worms for a different conversation.”

Benjiro nods, and Kurosu-san resumes his lecture, his tone taking on a particularly engaging cadence. “Back on topic, it was found that ninety-five percent of the prisoners interviewed had been labeled as villains from birth, based solely on their quirks. Eighty-two percent initially admitted to committing their first criminal act in direct response to such treatment - after all, if society already thought they were villains, what was the point in trying to be anything else?”

“It’s terrifying, really. Somehow shunning a significant portion of the population was done so mindlessly, people didn’t even consider there could be consequences. Those were the social norms: to fear the holder of a ‘villainous’ quirk as a villain, to elevate a child with a flashy, ‘heroic’ quirk as a hero, and to treat those born without a quirk as less than human.” Kurosu-san sighs. “Society supported this toxic mindset blindly, and as a result, it very nearly destroyed itself.”

“It took years of legal reform to make a dent in those behaviors, and the institution of both corrective and preventative measures. One example of such change is that all government-regulated jobs are required to participate in a series of mandatory seminars, including but not limited to encouraging interdivisional teamwork, understanding the importance of emotional health, and appropriate language in both the workplace as well as daily life.”

Kurosu-san must see the touch of incomprehension on Benjiro’s face, because he continues without prompting, “That last one is just common sense; the world ‘villain’ isn’t inherently problematic, or at least no more so than words like ‘murderer,’ ‘liar,’ or ‘thief.’ The actual problem lies in appropriate condition and use. For example, you wouldn’t accost a person on the street and call them a murderer, not unless you had concrete evidence of their crime. Calling someone a villain is much the same, and is now considered defamation of character. If someone were to call you a villain based on your appearance alone, you could bring them to court - and you’d win.”

Benjiro nods again. He’s never really heard it put in so many words before, but he’s peripherally familiar with all of this information, fragments of elementary school lessons and his own father’s teachings.

“I’m getting sidetracked again,” Kurosu-san admits ruefully. “What I’ve just described was a single core problem, the treatment of children who fit into a ‘villainous’ mold. However, despite the solutions that I’ve just described, attempting to fix an issue back then was an exercise in futility. Tug on one string, and you’d find yourself tangled in a web.”

“Twenty years ago, villainy itself was at an all-time high. More attacks meant more civilian casualties, which resulted in higher numbers of children sent into the system for fostering or adoption. More children in the system meant existing resources were spread even thinner. Not enough qualified social workers resulted in uncaught abuse, poor placement in foster homes, and lack of support when some of those children developed their own ‘villainous’ quirks. It wasn’t uncommon for those children to turn down darker paths themselves.”

“There weren’t enough prisons to house apprehended villains. Again, a higher number of prisoners led to fewer resources and inadequate supervision, which in turn lead to unqualified quirk councilors and abusive prison guards. All of which ultimately destroyed the chance of rehabilitation for men and women who might have otherwise learned to integrate as productive members of society. Instead, once they were released, almost all of them returned to a criminal life of familiarity.”

“I can cite other studies done at the time, on the correlation between villainy and homelessness, and another on homelessness and quirklessness. That’s another separate discussion, I think.”

Kurosu-san shakes his head. “And don’t even get me started on the schools. The glamour of the heroic industry was practically spoon-fed into every child’s mouth from infancy. As such, fewer children pursued careers as police officers or social worker, directly contributing to the shortage of human resources in those departments.” He huffs, clearly frustrated. “Did you know that hero licenses are highly regulated? Because the government is responsible for the salary pool of the entire industry, there are a limited number of provisional license-holders allowed to pass every year. The larger the pool of candidates, the higher the number of failures. Some of whom became some so embittered by the system that they turned to villainy themselves.”

Benjiro’s head spins. He was pretty sure he asked a question at the start of all this, but for the life of him, he can’t understand how it’s connected.

Kurosu-san sighs again. “The only reason Japan’s social infrastructure didn’t collapse on itself was because of All-Might. His emergence as the Pillar of Peace was simultaneously both the best and worst thing that could have happened to Japan.”

“He’s a great hero,” Benjiro automatically defends, unsure of why he feels the need to do so. All-Might has been the number one hero for fifty years. That has to mean something.

“He is,” Kurosu-san agrees. “And that’s the problem. There is literally no one else in the world who could have done what he did. He single-handedly inspired an entire nation to put their faith in the heroic system - even when the system did nothing to deserve it.”

“He was a stopgap. A bandage. He didn’t even recognize that there was a problem with the system. Instead he dealt with the symptoms, defeating and incarcerating all of those villains trapped by social expectations. He smiled for the camera and locked them away and nothing changed. Every issue, every problem, it continued to fester, but because it did so out of public view, no one cared.”

“I don’t.” Kurosu-san closes his eyes. He takes a deep breath before opening them. “I don’t blame All-Might for that, not really. It’s the nature of the job - heroes defeat villains - so I honestly believe it was impossible for any hero to recognize the root of those problems. Even if they had, they wouldn’t have been able to fix it.”

“In fact, it took the downfall of a hero really get the ball rolling. You were pretty young at the time, so you might not remember Endeavor. He was the number two hero, and he was trash. He failed as both a father and human being, and until he was put on trial, society failed to notice. That was also the beginning of the end for the Hero Public Safety Commission, because their part in covering for his crimes came to light. The Board of Heroics was formed to fill the void, and their commitment to transparency is what continues to keep them in power.”

“There was no way to fix just one problem. The entire system had to go. It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t clean. It was - it was chopping off a gangrenous leg to save a life. And once the rot was cut away, it was a long, careful road to recovery, and it was earned.”

“Anyway, I’m pretty sure you weren’t expecting a history lesson, especially not one quite so long-winded or lowkey political, but... it’s important. Societies failures, how close we came to complete destruction. It’s important. That someone doesn’t look at another person and judge them solely on the merits of their quirk. That no one turns to villainy because that’s what society has dictated them to be. That we honor the responsibility we have to each other... and that we don’t waver, when it comes to the responsibility we have to ourselves.”

Benjiro mulls it over as he makes his way back to his room. It’s a lot to take in, and it’s... interesting, that history, and the personal connection that Kurosu-san seems to have with it.

Later, laying in his bed, staring at the ceiling, Benjiro realizes that he forgot to ask what the short answer was.

***

It’s Sunday afternoon, a few days after Kurosu-san’s impromptu history lesson. Benjiro hasn’t had any luck finding an apartment, but he’s got enough set aside for both the deposit and key money. Someone’s going to give him a chance regardless of whether or not they like his face, he vows, because they’re going to like his fucking wallet.

Tonight is the family dinner. His stomach twists and knots the more he thinks about it: how many people will attend, and will they be afraid of his teeth, and even if they don’t fear him, there is no guarantee that they will like him.

Benjiro pushes these thoughts to the back of his mind, and takes comfort in the fact that Seiyaku-hime will be there. She calls him Togatta-kun and steals bites from his lunch, surely she must like him well enough? And Kurosu-san will be there, of course, and Kurogiri-san had been the one to formally invite Benjiro in the first place, and maybe it won’t be completely terrible.

I can be charming, he thinks, and he mentally glowers at these nameless, faceless family members. He glances in the mirror, notes the angry hooks of his eyebrows and the flat line of his lips and thinks, heartfelt, fuck.

He pokes through his closet, fretting over his clothing, when he hears the quiet knock on his door. It’s Kurosu-san, who smiles with real charm, an expression that reminds Benjiro of sunshine on a white, snowy day, and asks politely, “May I come in?”

Benjiro moves back, allowing the man in the suit to enter. He’s carrying a medium sized cardboard container. A slim, manila folder sits on top of the box.

“I know you’ve had some trouble getting on your feet,” Kurosu-san says without preamble. “Prejudice is an unfortunate reality, and for as much as things have improved over the last decade, it’s still an uphill battle.”

He sets the box carefully on the bed, then picks up manila folder and hands it to Benjiro. Benjiro takes it, flips it open. He stares at the paperwork inside, not quite sure what he’s reading. He recognizes his old address, but -

“I’ve spoken to your former landlord. Your old apartment is actually still available. There’s a list of three guarantors there, all of whom have already agreed to sign with you, so you can pick whichever one you’d like, and the landlord said you can move in anytime next week.”

This is the paperwork to his grandmother’s dinky little apartment. His home of ten years.

Kurosu-san sounds abashed, almost nervous. “I know it’s a bit presumptuous of me, but I thought - ”

“ - thank you - thank you so fucking much - ” Benjiro chokes.

He stares at the documents and fights down crybaby tears. His dreamy haze shatters abruptly as he remembers, you hear me you little shit, DEAD, and he panics and says, “What about - if I go back there, won’t my old boss - ”

“They won’t bother you,” Kurosu-san replies easily, like it’s irrefutable fact. The earth is round. The ocean is blue. There is no problem with the yakuza.

Benjiro believes him.

“Unfortunately, the landlord had to sell a few pieces of furniture to pay for the damages to the apartment, but she seems quite fond of you. She took it upon herself to pack everything else into storage, paid for it out of her own pocket.”

That’s. Benjiro doesn’t know what to do with that. The woman had been friends with his grandmother, but he never thought she would - there were things in that apartment, family photo albums and his father’s cufflinks, momentos that he’d figured were just gone. He’s not going to cry. Fuck, he’s not, he’s not.

“The address of the facility and the lock combination are both in your paperwork,” Kurosu-san continues. “You can sort through it before you move, but I wanted to make sure you had these as soon as possible,” and he carefully taps the top of the cardboard container.

Benjiro steels himself. He takes a step forward, then another, until he’s standing in front of the box and opening the lid. Nestled inside are two ihai tablets and two portraits. Benjiro stares at his father’s unsmiling face until the tears drip down his chin and splash on the glass of the frame.

“My mother died young.” The quiet compassion in Kurosu-san’s voice is the kindest, cruelest thing Benjiro has ever heard. “I wasn’t able to honor her the way she deserved for the longest time. It’s an awful feeling.”

Benjiro clutches the edge of the box with numb fingers. His tongue feels thick and stupid against his teeth, his vision so badly blurred that Kurosu-san is nothing more than a smear of black hair and gray suit and pale skin.

Fuck, he thinks. Holy fucking fuck. He is barely twenty years, and he would die for this man.

Kurosu-san places a hand on Benjiro’s shoulder, squeezes once, then steps away. He says, “If you need anything else, just let me know. I’ll see you at dinner tonight?”

Without waiting for a response, his savior turns to leave. Before he can make it through the door, Benjiro blurts, “Why’d you save me?”

There are two answers, Kurosu-san said, one long, one short. The long answer was a history lesson, a subtle warning to learn from the mistakes of the past, to honor the hard-won evolution of society by exemplifying the responsibility each of them has to their fellow man.

But the short answer? Benjiro stares at the treasures in front of him, his father and his grandmother and his grandmother’s apartment, the only places he has ever felt safe, the ones he thought were lost to him forever. Why has Kurosu-san gone this far? Why has he done any of this?

The man glances back. His mouth is smiling, a rueful little twist of his lips. His voice is honest, his reply simple: “Because you looked like you needed help.”

***

Later that night, the doorbell rings. Kurosu-san is the one to answer, as Kurogiri-san bustles around the kitchen, working his usual delicious sorcery.

Benjiro has already set seven places at the dining room table, and is washing the dishes in the sink when an unfamiliar voice calls out, “Papa!”

Papa? Benjiro thinks, puzzled, just before Kurogiri-san replies fondly, “Welcome home, Eri-chan.”

***