Shouta eyes his beer and finishes it off, grimacing around the mouth of the bottle and forcing the yeasty, thick taste down his throat. He’s just a little past tipsy, enough that the world is smeared into primary colors and slow, melodic humming. Click, click, click. His date grins at him, wide and sharp like the edge of a kitchen knife, and Shouta allows himself to smile back. He’s done his research right - he’s so very careful - and he can see the crocodile scales of black fanning around his forearms, right where they meet the socket of his elbow, his eyes lingering there just for a second. He breathes in through his nose and the copper-iron smell hits his tongue. His vision swims, not because of the beer.
“I think I’d better call it a night,” he says quietly, and his date looks disappointed until he raises his eyes and continues, alcohol-slow and low, “you should walk me home.”
Two accounts of robbery, Shouta repeats to himself as they walk the three blocks back to his apartment, hands in his pockets so he doesn’t have to see the way they shake with nervous anticipation, manslaughter, assault and battery, illegal quirk usage.
Shouta recognizes the look of shameless unrepentance, the quality of light that hits the varicose black of a quirk itching to be used, the deep, self-satisfied grin of someone who wants to do it again. He knows the exact pitch and tone of his dear old dad’s you can’t use this on innocent people, Shou, and the way it still sets his nerve endings on fire.
His date pauses at the doorstep, expecting to be invited inside, but Shouta only shoots him a smile as he slips by and locks the door behind him. He leans his head back against it, waits for the fuck you, sake-slurred, and then the footsteps back toward the stairwell.
Shouta crosses to his living room and pulls his capture weapon from the coat stand and wraps it tight across his neck, settling his goggles just under his chin. He pulls the patio door open soundlessly and drops into the alleyway between his building and the next. He pulls his goggles up and over his eyes. He’s infra-red - undetectable, slow, steady - as he waits just at the lip of the street lamp’s shadow for his date to pass by.
Click, click, click.
Shouta tangles him with his capture weapon between one breath and the next, the strangled noise he makes cut off at the mouth as he twists his wrist and pulls the binds tight across his teeth, spiderweb silk made from carbon fiber.
Their chests bump together as Shouta drags him in, the sharp tea-kettle hiss of a quirk being activated drawing his eyes down toward his date’s forearms. The blades errupting from the delicate skin of the inner elbows are crimson, shiny like steel and sharp like the rough edges of cracked bone. Shouta puts a hand across his throat to keep him from thrashing and watches the slick oily black where the vein meets his skin, all the way up to the wrist, feels that queasy little twisting of his stomach as he presses his lips down into the hard line of his bicep.
His date chokes off a noise like a wounded animal and Shouta bites down, teeth filled with black filigree as his quirk releases and comes flooding up into his mouth, bubbling like hot oil. The two hundred pounds of weight pressed against him suddenly jerks, listing into him, but he forces himself to keep them both upright and chase the panicked beetle-wing iridescence with his tongue. His quirk is ice-cold metal, and it coats the inside of his mouth before he can swallow it down, thick and viscous and tangy with every awful thought he’s put into using his power. Blood would be so easily hidden on those dark red blades, he thinks, before the man fully collapses and brings him down with him onto the hard concrete of the alley.
Shouta drains him, pulling every last thread of snakeskin black from him, before he sits back on his heels and wipes his mouth. The puncture marks on his arm are clean, unbloodied, but there’s bruising on the insides of his forearms beginning to blush and grow as his body adjusts to losing the weapons once held underneath that are no longer there.
Shouta flexes one arm, then the other, feeling the phantom sense-memory of his date’s quirk, and rises. His capture weapon recoils itself around his shoulders and he drags the man further into the alley, where the larger trash cans sit until collection day, checking to make sure his thready pulse is still there before he jumps up and catches the very last rung on the fire escape. Either he’ll go to the police when he wakes up or he won’t - it’s not really Shouta’s concern, not when he’s certain he hadn’t seen his face, and when he’s already got his quirk swirling around his stomach. The feeling clears the last of the alcohol from his vision.
You can’t use this on innocent people, Shou, he hums to himself as he locks the patio door behind him.
Shouta leans up against the cupboards and watches his father flip pancakes. The lines under his eyes from the night shift make him look older, more drawn, but Shouta’s busy with trying to get the syrup bottle down from the counter so he can finish setting the table.
It doesn’t bother him that he’s not hungry - he has a job to do, stacking forks and knives next to the two placemats on the kotatsu - and he carries his duties across his shoulders with the solmenity of any six year old told to do a very important job by their father.
Shouta sits in front of his empty plate and fidgets with the stuffed animal in his arms - the cat with little black bead eyes and white-tipped tail is frayed from years of being carried around by the paw.
“You should eat, Shouta,” his father says. The living room is quiet, except for the insectoid clicking of his quirk, Steady Hands. Shouta watches his wrists flex and bend and resists the tight feeling in his stomach. It makes him feel like he might throw up, just like the smell of the pancakes drafting through the kitchen and into the living room does.
“Not hungry,” Shouta mumbles, and shrugs. Thin little ribbons stretch beneath the skin of his father’s knuckles as he sighs and collects their plates, varicose and metallic like a beetle’s wings. Shouta clings to his cat a little harder.
“I’ll think of something tonight,” his father says as they pull into the parking lot of Shouta’s elementary school, his hands tight on the steering wheel and click click click ing in a way that makes his gums itch, queasy.
“For dinner,” he clarifies. He adjusts the strap on his backpack with fingers that never falter, and for a moment the heat off his wrist is enough to make tears prick in his eyes. His father notices and withdraws his hand, recoiling like he’s been burned, and Shouta frowns.
“Do you think you’ll be able to do that, Shou?” His father asks, gentle, so very careful, “Wait for me to come home from work? Then you can eat.”
Shouta nods, and his father places a hand in his hair. His wrists are braceleted with those shiny, oilslick ribbons, braided like wire.
He can wait.
When Shouta is five, he’s carted through three different prefectures and sung the same song by six different pediatricians. His mouth is cotton-dry and rough, coarse like sandpaper behind his teeth.
“According to your files, your wife’s quirk was studied for a few years by the Shield corporation,” the doctor from Fukuoka says, and his father nods and knits his fingers together. Shouta, in his lap, watches the gesture with fascination. Click click.
“We’d hoped Shouta would inherit mine, or a combination of ours, but his presentation -”
The doctor nods in a sympathetic way, and Shouta notices the threads of centipede legs curling out from his shoulders, right where they meet his clavicle, swaying gently like blades of grass in a breeze. He swallows.
“There’s no way to know until he uses it, but it’s likely that this is a mutation of his mother’s quirk.”
His father’s arms tighten around him, and Shouta leans back against his chest, eyes still glued to the way those black threads wave to him, coaxing, humming. Tick, tick, tick.
“Is that bad?” Shouta asks after doctor number six, licking a popsicle in the backseat, “That I have mom’s quirk?”
The rain outside is summer-storm warm, and his father bites down on his lip as he watches the stoplights turn yellow and red, fingers beating against the steering wheel. His knuckles are covered in a fine layer of black scales, moving, crawling up toward his nail beds. Shouta bites a chunk out of his popsicle, the red ice crushed between his teeth and stuck to the corner of his mouth.
“No, Shou,” his father says after a while.
The entrance exam is robots. Shouta fails spectacularly.
“I don’t know what you expected, Shouta,” his father says with a care-worn voice, shrugging off his jacket and bundling his scrubs in one hand. Shouta looks up at him from over the top of the futon and watches the interlocking black chainmail of his hands, the silvery residue on his scrubs - he worked the ICU tonight.
“Your quirk’s not exactly cut out for hero work.”
Shouta examines his teeth in the bathroom mirror before bed, pulling his upper lip aside to study his gums, looking for the compound-eye glitter beneath the skin, the pulsing center of his quirk, but finds nothing. He brushes his teeth until they bleed instead.
The file down at town hall lists his quirk as Erasure. Shouta figures out quickly that that’s a kind way of explaining his power. Oita prefecture’s small in comparison to some of the cities in Honshu, but with its smallness comes a primordial need to protect itself. Shouta’s in third grade when it happens.
His father mistimes how long he can go between, and things have gotten lean between one shift in the ICU and another, and one day during school Shouta is so feverish and hunger-delirious that he latches onto the first thing he sees, black and sparkling like diamond dust, his stomach churning and aching and his mouth dry.
You can’t use this on innocent people, Shou, his father tells him that night, after the call to the principal’s office and the gut-wrenching talk with the teacher’s association, the questioning with the police over his unliscenced quirk use, the words dangerous and isolate him and what kind of monster’s quirk pinning him like a butterfly to a corkboard. His father, care-worn and a little frayed at the edges from a lack of sleep, finally standing up and snarling “Say that about my son again” with hands that never once shook. Shouta watches them, the shifting black lace across his palms, and thinks about the slimy, oyster-like quality of the quirk he’d pulled into his mouth, behind the trap of his teeth. One of his classmates, a fundamental part of herself coiled away in his stomach.
They move to Tokyo - larger, rougher, the hospital busier with DOAs and John Does and their quirks, the stagnant black growing like mold over their skin. Shouta’s enrolled in another school with a smaller class and barricaded from that slick writhing part of his quirk.
By the time he applies to UA, it’s the only time he’s ever lost control of it.
Hizashi swings by his apartment a few days into winter break and sets up in his kitchen without Shouta saying a single word.
“So, how did date night go?” He asks, a knowing little smile in his voice, and Shouta rolls his eyes. The underside of his tongue still tastes like the vestiges of his date’s quirk, lake water and copper.
“Boring,” he decides. After all, the guy was a serial killer - there’s nothing less interesting than someone who wants to murder people for fun. “If you’re making dinner then you’re doing the dishes.”
Hizashi waves him off when he steps into the kitchen, pulling a face and mouthing the words you’re doing the dishes in a poor mimicry of Shouta. He huffs and pulls down a pair of mugs for coffee.
“Remedial classes?” He asks, pointedly looking away from where the black chalk lines etch themselves against Hizashi’s throat, curled tight around his Adam’s apple.
“Kaminari tried setting off the sprinklers with an electrical fire so they’d all be let go early,” Hizashi says, and it manages to drag an amused little snort out of Shouta.
“I swear to god if I weren’t around you’d probably starve to death,” Hizashi mutters as he sets a pot to boil, and Shouta freezes.
“Probably,” he says slowly. He spoons sugar into one of the mugs, stirring it into the black coffee and trying not to feel the scrape of his teeth against his tongue, watch the lacework pattern of Hizashi’s quirk fan against his jaw. No one’s power looks as pretty as Hizashi’s does, and Shouta wonders at that - it isn’t like his quirk is in any way elegant, and the rest of him is a barely pulled-together trainwreck, but even the thought of running his teeth against those thin black threads makes him shiver uncomfortably.
They eat curry on Shouta’s futon while Hizashi picks an old b-grade American movie to watch, each of them curled up and carefully positioned like book ends. Shouta aches, a constant dull throb at the base of his head, to reach over and take his hand, lean against his side, pull him across his lap and put his fingers in his hair.
Click, click, click.
Hizashi falls asleep with his head resting over the top of the futon, the skin of his throat white-blue from the television’s glare. Shouta collects their bowls quietly, rinses them out in the sink, squeezing his eyes shut tight as his stomach twists and rolls. He drapes one of the throw blankets - embroidered with little purple-red cats - over his chest and closes his bedroom door behind him.
“Not a hero’s quirk,” he mutters to himself as he changes, peeling his binder off and shrugging on a loose v-neck, flexing the sleep out of his fingers. He has grading to do, essays for 1A on rescue procedure, but for some reason the words don’t settle into the right order, peeling and flaking off the page, and that insistent tick tick tick from the living room hammers against his ears, insectoid, nails tapping against cartilage.
Shouta sighs and curls in tight under the sheets, tongue pinned between his teeth and trying desperately to stop imagining the stale iron taste of his best friend’s quirk in his mouth.
It takes him three years to perfect, sitting quietly at the back of class 1C, counting each tooth with his tongue to the beat of the beehive hum of his classmates’ quirks. If he focuses on one, drawing its crystalline architecture into the back of his throat, he can read another person’s power. Akiyama’s quirk, the thready pulse of a rabbit’s heartbeat, generates soft phosphorus light. Nakajima’s beside her is the drip of a broken faucet and breaks his body down into thick, permeable liquid. At the front, Okada’s sounds like metal shearing under torsion and calcifies organic material with his touch. Shouta scrapes his nails across the graphite in his pencil and studies the black underlay where it meets the sensitive bed of his fingers.
Akiyama uses hers as a nightlight because she’s afraid of the dark, and it would taste like coffee grounds. Nakajima uses his to slip under the gap in his father’s locked office door and read his emails to his secretary, and it would taste like billiard chalk. Okada once sent someone to the hospital after grabbing onto their throat with one hand, all five fingers making bruising contact and closing off their trachea, and his quirk would taste like raw shellfish and rust.
Shouta’s always careful not to use his power on them, on anyone whose quirk doesn’t sing to him in slow black waves that lap at his throat and make his stomach feel freefall-light. He waits for drug-runners, domestic abusers, yakuzas with dripping-red criminal records, the bottom dregs trawled up through the silt.
By the time his father dies, two years out of UA, Shouta’s earned his hero license and his stomach is full.
Shouta meets All Might the same year Midoriya Izuku is enrolled into class 1A.
He stands at the back of the teacher’s lounge, watching his coffee percolate, and Yagi Toshinori enters with a plate of taiyaki in one hand and a nervous, shy smile. It looks out of place on someone a full foot taller than Shouta. He studies the almost avian bones of the number one hero, his wrists and throat barely more than cartilage taped together with skin, eyes sunken into his skull like a grinning death-mask. Power too big for his body.
Shouta frowns, and listens.
Yagi places the plate down on the conference table toward the front and rubs at the back of his neck as Hizashi and Thirteen swoop in to thank him, like he’s not an ocean current of bone-breaking strength threatening to drag them all into his undertow. Thirteen’s quirk is swirling, void-black, painting the collar of their suit with the space between stars. Hizashi’s is wire coiled tight around his throat, shiny spider legs that fan out under the curve of his ear. But Shouta can’t see Yagi’s quirk - that doesn’t happen, that’s never happened, not unless the symbol of peace is fucking quirkless.
It doesn’t really register until he meets his class and notices he can’t see anything from Midoriya, no scrape of reptilian scales click ing against the shell of his ears, no lacework black etched into the kinetic power snapping between the bones of his hands. Todoroki’s crackles , the sound of eons-old glaciers coming unmoored. Bakugou’s snaps, hard and sharp, the metallic tang of gunpowder. Uraraka’s is sleep-soft and vast, the wide stretch of a cat nestled black and shifting over the pads of her fingers. Iida’s engines thrum with slick black smoke. Shouta feels his mouth tilt into an ironic little smile as he watches Tokoyami’s quirk, alive and writhing with static, black as the oil-slick painting his chest in complex geometric shapes.
“You’re sure you’re gonna be okay with this group?” Nemuri asks him lowly during their lunch period, and Shouta huffs over the lip of his coffee mug.
“Why wouldn’t I be?” He asks, genuinely curious. It isn’t as if he’s going to suddenly snap and erase someone’s quirk, except for maybe that Mineta kid, he muses.
“Because you’re teaching Endeavor’s kid and All Might’s new pet project,” she says. Her nails are blood red and perfectly oval against the ceramic of her mug, and they tink gently as she lifts it up to her lips. Her quirk is glass butterfly wings spread out across her shoulders and hips, curling in delicate shiny green-black over her upper arms and thighs and down toward her wrists and ankles. Somnambulist, Shouta knows it would taste like melatonin and the bottom of a bottle of wine.
Nemuri places two perfectly manicured nails over the back of his hand, pressing down into the tendon there until Shouta can feel the ridges of her fingerprint between his bones. His stomach shifts and twists.
“ And I want to know if I should keep an eye on you.”
“I can keep an eye on myself, Kayama,” he says stiffly, chewed between his teeth, and Nemuri blinks her diamond-cut eyes at him. How anyone finds her anything less than terrifying is beyond him, but then again, he can hear the hum of her quirk below her skin and the way it sings to him about that time at the bar - lights low, her arms exposed through her top, the way the panic had slid corpse-cold and thick down her throat and the way he’d fallen to the floor, comatose before he ever made impact, as though the life was simply drained from him. Shouta bites down on his lip to keep from telling her that her quirk hurt Masato Akiba far worse than his ever could and simply takes his coffee back to the classroom.
He keeps an eye on Midoriya anyway, the quirk he can’t taste in his throat but that sometimes twines in pure green ribbons across his wrists, ozone in the back of his mouth.
The underground hero Eraser is twenty-six when he’s approached by UA’s new principal.
“ Erasure is such a strange way to describe your quirk,” Nedzu says as he pours them each a cup of tea, and Shouta freezes in his seat.
Nedzu’s eyes are animal-bright and glittering, black to match the shifting crown of thread that wraps around the back of his head like a wreath of laurels, just under his ears.
“It’s a mutation of my mother’s,” Shouta says after a while, tasting the words before he says them, studying the creature in front of him the way a deer might look into the flat shiny surface of deceptively deep water.
“I’m aware,” Nedzu replies, “I’ve done some of my own, ah, research on you over the past few months. You graduated from UA, yes? From the general studies course.”
“With all due respect, sir, I’m not sure why - “ Shouta begins, but Nedzu flashes him a grin that speaks to something predatory, tiny sharp teeth made from carnivorous genes, and he bites down hard on his tongue.
“You earned your license at nineteen, correct?” Nedzu continues, his tea clasped between two tiny declawed paws, “But you decided not to join an agency. Curious. I’ve pulled the files for Eraser, you know - thirty-five separate police reports possibly linked to you, a few dozen here and there describing various states of post-traumatic shock. High profile criminals, all of them with at least two violent convictions.”
Nedzu stares at him, cataloguing the way he’s no longer breathing, the sharp slant of his scowl, the white-knuckle grip on the armrests of his chair.
“Why did you ask me to come?” Shouta hisses, feeling the hair on the back of his neck stand up, your quirk’s not exactly cut out for hero work beating a vicious tattoo against the inside lining of his skull.
“I want to offer you a job,” Nedzu chirps.
Shouta meets Hizashi in their second year of UA.
They’re in separate course tracks, and Shouta thinks that’s probably for the best, because he wants to sink his teeth into him. Not even to pull the quirk, salt-slicked like blood, from him, but just to get him to shut up for a few minutes. He shoots Nemuri a desperate glance over the lunch table, and she smiles at him benevolently, eyes glinting as her quirk tick tick tick s in laughter.
All Hizashi talks about is being a pro hero - getting his license, opening an agency somewhere in Tokyo or Osaka, maybe taking a few sidekicks if they’re any compliment to his quirk. Shouta just keeps his eyes on his tray and pointedly refuses to eat any of his onigiri.
He knows he’ll go into vigilante work if he can’t get licensed, if he’s not allowed. He thinks of all the unused quirks sitting coiled at the bottom of his stomach, cadaver powers that hum a dozen separate songs - metallokinesis, dripping with bent spoons on the playground and bent handguns in the field; premonition, used just a split-second too late to save herself from the car crash; summons, still strung-out with the exertion of pulling his loved ones close as the roof collapsed. Shouta watches Hizashi’s throat flex and the tendons below his skin flex, the way he talks about using his quirk to save people even as it makes their ear drums pop and snap, the blooming flowers of black ink that he can almost taste right at the tender flesh behind his uvula.
“What d’you wanna do, anyway, Aizawa?” Hizashi asks him, and Shouta blinks.
Your quirk’s not exactly cut out for hero work.
“I want to be a hero,” Shouta replies, calm and easy and implacable.
Hizashi smiles at him, megawatt-bright and brilliant. For a second, Shouta forgets the black petal-tips framing his jaw, forgets the battery acid taste on the flat of his tongue, and just watches.
Shouta meets Shinsou Hitoshi three days after the sports festival.
The boy from 1C’s quirk is mercury shifting over his throat in a way so similar to Hizashi’s that it makes him ache deep in his ribs. The black eyeshine closes around his jaw and sits there just below the roots of his teeth.
“If this is about my match with Midoriya - “ he begins as soon as he enters the teacher’s lounge, but Shouta cuts him off with a raised hand.
Shinsou swallows and takes a seat when Shouta gestures for him to. He recognizes a certain kind of suspicion in his eyes, a harsh kind of light that makes his throat tighten instinctively. They’re not animal-keen like Nedzu’s or wide and wondering like Midoriya’s, flat and baleful like Todoroki’s, they’re Shouta’s own eyes looking back at him.
Whatever he’s prepared to ask, to say, dies immediately against the frame of his teeth.
“You have potential,” he says instead, and the varicose lacework of Shinsou’s quirk leaps up to cover his lips, drawn ear-to-ear in a horrible mimicry of a grin, a black ribbon hannya mask. Brainwashing. It would taste like still water and strong alcohol. He wonders how many permutations of you can’t use this on innocent people, Shou, he’s heard in his life, how each and every time it must have sounded like another closed door, how often he’s thought of his own quirk as any word besides heroic.
“If you want to get into the hero course, then I can help train you.”
“You’re soft on that kid from general studies,” Hizashi accuses one night. Shouta’s not a good cook - too little practice - and he supervises from the door into the kitchen, hip tucked up against the jam and his jacket off. Shouta ignores the way it exposes his neck, but he’s not doing a good job of that either. Too little practice.
“He wants to be in the hero course. I thought it was a teacher’s job to help their students?”
“Uh-huh. And the fact that he looks like a carbon copy of you at sixteen has nothing to do with it.”
Shouta cuts him a withering look. Hizashi doesn’t understand, because he couldn’t - his quirk is beautiful and powerful and glittering, and everything Shouta’s ever lacked.
“No,” he says icily, “it doesn’t.”
Hizashi shrugs, clearly not believing him, but resolves to let it go.
“Y’know,” he says instead, pathologically incapable of shutting the fuck up, “I never thought I’d be the one coming to you for dating advice, but this is your - what - fifth date this month? Who’s the hot new catch?”
“None of your business,” Shouta replies. The words feel tacky, coagulated between his teeth. He doesn’t say anything about the fact that the other four men were violent criminals, ledgers heavy and wet with blood, a history of serial assault between them all. Their quirks are locked safely away in the curve of his stomach, snake oil black and churning. Shouta bites down on his bottom tongue against the memory of his lips pushing against their pulse points, sucking their power from the marrow of their bones, the molecules of their DNA, stripping them clean like rust off iron. He tastes blood as he realizes he’s bitten down too hard, and suddenly the taste is Hizashi’s quirk, a bright firework of cinnamon and alkali.
“Shouta,” Hizashi sighs, and brushes the back of his neck with his fingers. Shouta tracks the motion, the impatient frown slanting across his mouth, and he tabs the days since he last ate in his head to keep himself from doing stupid.
“What do you want, exactly?”
Shouta swallows and sets a lid over one of the pots. The steam collects against the glass.
Click, click, click, goes Hizashi’s quirk, just below his pulse point, the sound of honeybees brushing against the wax of their hive with their wings.
Shouta steps back from the stove and soundlessly, carefully, moves toward Hizashi.
You can’t use this on innocent people, Shou, he sings to himself as he crowds Hizashi up against the doorframe, resting a heavy palm against his chest, watching the way his eyes skitter away, birdlike, the thready beat of his quirk playing a melody Shouta can’t find the tune of. He wonders when he stopped hearing those words in his father’s voice and when he started hearing them in Hizashi’s, what that means.
“Shou,” Hizashi says, and Shouta closes his eyes. He dips his head and rests his mouth gently, carefully, along the line of tendon, imagines the way it would snap between his teeth. Less than a pound of pressure to break skin.
Something presses at the back of his throat, and he swallows it down with difficulty. Hizashi’s quirk murmurs - the dozens of villain arrests, the sports festival matches at UA, the USJ incident, every song on the radio hummed with a little extra bass in it. Shouta sighs and feels his breath collect along the vinyl black lace along his windpipe. He’s vaguely aware of the fact that Hizashi isn’t breathing, holding himself perfectly still, and he wonders if it’s out of anticipation or fear. Shouta presses his lips to his jaw, not quite a kiss, enough to taste the power held coiled and pulsing there, warm rain water in the middle of summer. Hizashi tilts his head to the side to catch his mouth, and he stops wondering.
“Shouta,” he says, and Shouta almost flinches at the fond little smile pulling at the corners of his mouth, Voice painting them beetle-shell black and almost opalescent in the light. He carefully recenters his weight and untangles himself, wincing as he feels Hizashi’s fingers pull through the ends of his hair.
“Dinner’s going to burn,” he mutters, and Hizashi laughs at him, still half-propped against the doorframe and smiling through the ink spill of his quirk. His stomach twists and itches, but Shouta forces himself to ignore it as Hizashi steals another kiss from him and throws himself across the futon to pick out a movie for them to watch.