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Midoriya bounced slightly as he tried to keep up with Hitoshi’s longer stride down the hallway. Hitoshi wanted to go home; he really didn’t have the patience to deal with this right now, but unfortunately Midoriya didn’t seem like he was going to stop talking any time soon.

“Does your quirk only work with questions, or is it anytime someone responds to something you said? And what if you don’t understand the language? What if they don’t understand your language? Would your quirk work with signed languages? Did you ever try? It would be really cool to know, and probably really helpful for hero work! I think –”

“God Midoriya, can’t you be honest with me for once? It’s been weeks.”

Midoriya stopped in his tracks. “What?”

“I don’t get what this weird defense mechanism is, but you don’t have to lie, ok? I’m not going to brainwash you again. Just… just stop pretending.”

Midoriya looked like Hitoshi had slapped him. “You think I’m lying about thinking your quirk is cool?”

“Look, hero boy, let me explain something to you.” He turned to face the smaller boy, his face set in hard lines, a shield against what was coming. “I’ve heard it all before, ok? There’s no angle you could take that I haven’t seen. I mean, you’re nicer about it than most people, I’ll give you that, but you don’t need to pretend. Just tell me what you want.”

“I want to know about your quirk! I really do think it’s cool!” Midoriya had the gall to act confused, continuing the act.

“What, so you can beat me? You already did that at the Sports Festival.”

“No! I really do like quirks! Look.” Midoriya heaved his backpack off his shoulders and dropped it on the floor with a clunk before diving in and pulling out a worn notebook titled “Hero Analysis for the Future, Volume 15.”

He shoved it towards Hitoshi. “See? I really do just think quirks are interesting.”

Hitoshi took the book slowly before flipping it open to page upon page of neat notes on heroes and their quirks. Or maybe it was quirks and their heroes. Some of the entries seemed to be about UA students as well.

“Your Hero Course homework doesn’t prove anything.” Hitoshi snapped the notebook closed and pushed it back towards Midoriya, turning to go.

“It’s not homework!”

“Bite me, Midoriya!” Hitoshi was done. This kid could be straight with him or get lost.

“Brainwash me!”

It was Hitoshi’s turn to look like he’d been slapped. He took a sharp breath in and tried to ignore the pang in his chest.

“What the Hell, Midoriya? I don’t know what you’re after, but I’m not giving it to you! And I won’t ruin any chance of getting into the Hero Course by becoming your scapegoat either!”

“That’s not what I meant! I just… couldn’t you ask me if I was being honest if you brainwashed me? Would that work?”

No! It wouldn’t!" Hitoshi ground out. "My quirk doesn't - Is that what you're worried about? I can't make you go around and spill whatever dirty little secrets you're hiding. I wouldn't, even if I could."

"S-secrets? What secrets?"

And there, finally, a chip in Midoriya's too fucking bright mask. Hitoshi could see the wariness now, the wide worried eyes of someone caught in the act. He'd expected it. Dug for it, even. But Hitoshi still couldn't help the coil of disappointment that wound through his ribcage.

Better now, though, than after he'd gotten attached.

“It doesn’t matter. Just leave me alone, would you?”

With a scoff, Hitoshi turned on his heel and strode away, drowning out anything else Midoriya tried to say. He had more important things to do than play along with whatever game this was.

The next day was blessedly Midoriya-free. Hitoshi still saw him occasionally, in the halls or in the cafeteria, but in the rare moments they met eyes, Midoriya quickly looked away, shoulders hunched. It was… Not nice, that wasn’t the right term for it, but it was a return to the status quo, and there was a sort of comfort in that.

And if the rest of class 1-A shot him more looks than they used to, that was the status quo too.

And if he made faces back at them? Well, that was their own fault. They didn't have to be looking at him, after all.

(He ignored the way his ear immediately picked up Midoriya's voice in a crowd, accustomed to the sound of it and expecting more. Ignored the way his heart squeezed in its absence. He'd get used to it. He had to. It was better this way…

Wasn't it?)

For a whole week, Hitoshi was left to his own devices. Slowly, he fell back into his old routine and pushed whatever Midoriya had been up to to the back of his mind. It was over and done with, like a seasonal flu, and Hitoshi could get back to focusing his all on getting into the Hero Course.

So, of course, that was when Midoriya decided to show up to upend his plans. Again.

"Shinsou!" A familiar voice called, and Hitoshi felt himself speedrun through the five stages of grief before he turned.

He watched Midoriya approach, green eyes ablaze with determination. Three other hero students - Uraraka, Iida, and Todoroki, if he remembered right - followed behind him like a row of protective ducklings.

"Midoriya. I thought I asked you to leave me alone, not to come back with an entourage."

Midoriya had the decency to look abashed, at least.

"W-well, yes. You did, but I couldn't let such a big misunderstanding go!"

"There was no misunderstanding. You don't trust my quirk, I get it. So stop talking to me, and it won't be a problem!"

Midoriya groaned into his hands, and Hitoshi bristled. Why was Midoriya acting like he was the one that wasn't getting it?

"That's what I mean! I don't have a problem with your quirk, Hitoshi. I wasn't lying when I said I thought it was cool! I spent all week trying to think of ways to convince you I was being honest, but - ah - um..."

Uraraka broke in with a chuckle, slinging an arm around Izuku's shoulders.

"Deku here started overthinking, so we volunteered to help out!"

Uraraka, for all her cheer, wasn't nearly as good at hiding her intentions as Midoriya was. Hitoshi saw the way her smile was a little too stiff, her eyes a little too narrow, and his scowl deepened.

"How virtuous of you."

"Anyways!" Midoriya broke in before Uraraka could reply, "For a start, I - we were wondering if you'd - if you'd like to come with us? To that new little cafe nearby?"

Hitoshi startled at that question. He wasn’t serious was he? There was no way he could be serious.

“The cat cafe…?”

Midoriya beamed. “Yes! That’s it!”

...Apparently he was serious. For whatever reason he had never figured Midoriya for the cat cafe type. It didn’t really fit his perfect hero boy persona, but whatever. Maybe if he went along with this he’d leave him alone afterwards.

“Fine, I’ll go, but just this... one time.”

He would swear the boy in front of him practically vibrated with happiness. What was with this kid?

“Alright we are ready to go now,” Midoriya said, “are you ready? I – we are so excited you are coming with us. We’ve been wanting to check it out for ages.”

Hitoshi couldn’t miss the small stumble that happened for a second time in a few short minutes. He was quite suspicious that the others had just gotten dragged along and weren’t actually excited to be there.

When he paid attention to the expressions of the others though, only Uraraka gave any indication of any sort. Iida looked pleased, but he was looking at Midoriya, while Todoroki just looked blank and unreadable… icy almost.

“I am ready to go now,” he said, his tone flat and reserved. He was really not sure how he expected this cat cafe experience to go, but he did really want to go to it and this was as good of an excuse anyways.

He fell in step with Midoriya and silently listened to him chatter on the way. It surprised him how much he had actually missed the other boy. He had let himself get attached, which would really explain why he had such a hard time with separating from him.

There was that little hope that maybe someday he could meet someone that was different. And with every effort the other boy made it was harder and harder to deny that hope. What if he was actually being honest when he said he didn’t care about his quirk?

The walk to the cafe got over surprisingly quick. By this point the others were relaxing a fraction, visible expression even existing on Todoroki’s face. It amazed him.

But the scene when he walked into the cat cafe was even more amazing… He was enthralled.

A slight smile graced his expression as he glanced around , before his gaze landed on Midoriya. The boy beamed up at him, eyes dancing with delight.

They all settled at a table quickly, a large fluffy black cat settling onto Hitoshi almost as soon as he had sat. In fact it had been in motion before he’d even sat all the way down.

He pet the cat contentedly, expression soft. Cats were one of the best parts of the world…

“Oh! I’m sorry, we should’ve asked if you liked cats first!” Uraraka exclaimed, a flush to her cheeks.

“It’s fine. I like them,” Hitoshi replied, eyes fixed on the purring feline. Soot, read her collar tag.

“I sure hope so, considering they’re all running for you.” Todoroki replied blandly. A grey tabby butted against his left hand, and the half-and-half boy looked vaguely pleased.

“I, personally, am a dog person, however I do enjoy cats’ company!” Iida reached over to pet the cat winding itself around his ankles. He let out a small gasp as it batted at his engines.

“I think cats are cool,” Midoriya added, reaching a hand up to steady the white cat draping itself on his shoulders like a scarf.

“Yeah! I’ve always wanted a cat! I think they’re so adorable!” Uraraka grinned victoriously as a fat ginger climbed into her lap. “Going to cat cafes was the closest I could get to actually having one. I know about everyone else here, but do you go to cat cafes, Shinsou?”

And so on the conversation went, with the hero course students asking question after question. What’s your favourite colour? Have you ever been to disney? What’s your favourite Ghibli film? They seemed to genuinely enjoy listening to him, and they made an effort to include Hitoshi in conversations. He could feel himself relaxing as they debated Hogwarts houses.

“Deku is obviously a Hufflepuff!” Uraraka cried. “Look at how much he cares about people!”

Todoroki countered, “he’s a Gryffindor, because they’re brave. Action first, for them.”

The conversation wound down, until the five teens were sitting in comfortable silence, only broken by purring cats.

Iida waved his hands eagerly. “Ah, now that we’ve gotten to know you, I think you deserve the chance to familiarize yourself with us! Go ahead, ask us about ourselves!”

“You’re saying I should ask you guys questions about you.” Hitoshi said incredulously. God, he’d been hoping he could’ve had a good thing happen in his life for once (he’d been a fool).

“You must think I’m so stupid, to fall for your tricks like that. News flash: I’ve been through shit, so I know when someone’s trying something,” Hitoshi sneered. “Get the kid to use his quirk on you, go running to the teachers crying for help. Get him kicked out, and get applauded for discovering the bad egg, huh?

“Shinsou…” Iida’s normally steady voice quavered. “No one should be treated like that!”

“That wasn’t our intention,” Todoroki looked at him with a piercing gaze. “It’s ridiculous to reduce someone down to just their quirk.”

Midoriya glanced at Todoroki, emotions dancing in his eyes. “He’s right.” The green-eyed boy stated firmly. “We just want to be friends. We won’t judge you.”

Yeah! I’ll beat up anyone who tries to!” Uraraka cried.

Hitoshi felt his irritation spike. Of course they would not state their intentions outright. They were hero course students, they had to pretend to be heroic. But he had met enough hero hopefuls in his life to know better than to fall for their tricks.

“I can’t believe I was stupid enough to come here,” he snarls, more to himself than to the rest of the group as he gropes blindly through his pockets.

“Shinsou, wait, what– ” Midoriya says as Hitoshi pulled out a few of the bills he kept on his person at all times and threw them on the table.

“Stop trying to trip me up and get me in trouble, it won’t work and I have more self control than you’re obviously giving me credit for.” He shoots the table the nastiest look he could muster as he stood up, “And leave me the hell alone. I mean it.”

The last thing Hitoshi saw as he walked away was Midoriya scrambling to climb over his friends, no doubt in an attempt to chase him. The rest of the table wore looks of surprise or hurt, probably upset that he had discovered their plot and nipped it in the bud before it could take.

As soon as he was out the door, Hitoshi moved quickly. He had learned very quickly as a child how to blend into a crowd so that he disappeared in plain sight. No one could catch you and hurt you if they could not find you after all. And as he moved away from the cat cafe he pulled out all his old tricks.

Hitoshi rambled on his way back to U.A., taking as much time as he can as he meandered through the streets. He wants no possibility of running into Midoriya or any of his friends.

As he walked, Hitoshi speculates on what the outing could have been if he had a different quirk, a more heroic quirk. Maybe he would have been in the heroics course already and he would have gone to the cafe with a whole group of them to study for some heroics exam. Maybe there would have been inside jokes and gentle ribbing. Inclusion in the group rather than forced to watch from the outside. Friendships created in the crucible of the heroics department. Or maybe he would still be in the General Education department, still working his way into the Heroics course. Maybe they would have offered to help him earn his spot.

It takes him hours to get back to U.A., but when he does Uraraka is standing just inside the gate, her arms crossed over her chest. As soon as she caught sight of Hitoshi she uncrossed her arms and stomped over to him. Hitoshi tensed automatically and wondered if this is when the true colors of the heroics classes will start to show their true colors.

He braced for a hit that never came. Instead she jammed her finger into his chest.

“You’re a real jerk, you know that?” she snapped at him.

Hitoshi opened his mouth to drawl a response that should get her to leave him alone, but before he could even think about it, she jabbed her finger into his chest again, hard.

“No, shut up. Deku was really upset when you told him to leave you alone, he started backsliding on a bunch of stuff. He started withdrawing and cutting himself off and talking about how irritating he must be. Do you know how long it took Iida and I to help him out of that type of thinking at the beginning of the year?”

Hitoshi opened his mouth, whether to try and give her an answer or from shock he is not sure, but it didn’t matter. She steamrolled right over him anyways.

“Of course you don’t, because you weren’t there! And then he absolutely refused to talk to you because he didn’t want to annoy you even though we could all see how upset he was! So we convinced him that a group outing would be best so we could help if things went sideways and as soon as he starts to relax and have fun you ruin everything by accusing us of being bullies! Deku started crying when you left!”

The only thing Hitoshi could think to say was, “Midoriya cries at everything.”

It was the wrong thing to say. Uraraka’s eyes narrowed even more. If looks could kill, Hitoshi would’ve dropped dead right then and there. The hero student took a step forward so they stood nose to nose, looking up to compensate for their height difference.

“He cries when he’s really happy, or overwhelmed. There’s a difference between someone crying because they’re happy and not used to attention and someone crying because they’re upset!

“You know, you say you’re trying to get into the Hero Course, but you’re certainly not acting very heroic! Heroes aren’t supposed to be mean enough to make people cry, especially when they’re people like Deku! Heroes are supposed to be better than that!” Uraraka shouted the last few words, the flush in her cheeks becoming more pronounced.

Hitoshi stared at her. “Maybe heroes are supposed to be that way, but none of the hero hopefuls I’ve ever met seemed to care about that too much,” he said. Uraraka rolled her eyes.

“What do you call Deku desperately trying to welcome you into the Hero course then? What do you call him inviting you out to the cafe?” she said.

“Don’t act like that’s all you were doing. I get it, okay? No one’s ever wanted to just hang out with me, especially kids with perfect, heroic quirks.” Hitoshi’s nails dug into his palm, grounding him. “I don’t really know why Midoriya keeps pretending, or why you all are going along with it, but you can stop, ok? I’m not going to fall for any of your tricks, and I’m not going to give up on getting into the hero course.”

Uraraka took a step back. Hitoshi wanted to run away from the look in her eyes – he couldn’t bear it. This time when she spoke, it was much quieter.

“When I was ten my family’s washing machine broke. We couldn’t afford a new one, and the closest laundromat was really far away, so we didn’t go there often. No matter how hard I tried, my clothes started to smell. Everyone called me stinky san for the rest of elementary school, even after we got a new washing machine.”

Hitoshi couldn’t figure out what the hell was going on. The train of this conversation had jumped the tracks, and he felt tied to them, unable to move. What would happen when the train finally hit?

“W-What?” Hitoshi stammered out, but didn’t get any further before Uraraka continued talking.

“In middle school when my teacher found out I wanted to be a hero, he recommended that my family hire a private tutor to help with my training, and maybe a personal trainer too. I mean, we could barely afford my uniform!” She snorted. “I told him later that I ‘forgot’ to mention it to my parents, and he said that if I wasn’t going to take school seriously that there was no point in even applying to UA.” She rolled her eyes again.

“I have a million stories like that. I’m sure I’ll get more later. And you know what? It fucking sucked.”

He was honestly surprised that the bubbly girl would actually swear, but it seemed like she had well and truly reached her breaking point.

“I - I’m really sorry but what does this have to do - why would - is there - agh.” Hitoshi growled and ran his hands through his hair. “Your story doesn’t seem like it has anything to do with uh, all this? That’s a lot of really personal information.”

“The point is, is that once I got to UA I was really nervous the whole time that the other students, especially the rich ones, would figure out that I wasn’t like them, that I didn’t belong, that I didn’t have a personal trainer or even clean clothes that fit or whatever else they had in their childhoods. But it still didn’t give me the excuse to be mean to them when they were nothing but nice to me.”

“That’s not the – ”

“I know it’s not the same as whatever happened to you,” Uraraka interrupted, “I know. But I do know what it’s like to expect the worst from people sometimes. You know that Todoroki, Iida, and Yaoyorozu come from some of the wealthiest families in the industry? I made a lot of assumptions about them before we even met,” she gave a wry smile. “Maybe even some of them were even true. Rich kids can be wild. But I gave them a chance, and now I have some really awesome friends I wouldn’t trade for the world.”

“Everyone at the cafe today could tell you stories about themselves that would completely change how you think about them. They’re not mine to share, so I won’t. But it shouldn’t take a sob story for you to not be mean. And today? You were really mean.”

Hitoshi wanted to say something smart, but the speeding train from earlier had finally hit, and he found himself at a loss for words.

“Okay,” he whispered. He looked down at his ragged sneakers and tried to ignore the anvil in his stomach. He jumped when Uraraka grabbed his wrist.

“Now come on. You need to apologize to Deku. And you need to mean it.”

Hitoshi’s eyes snapped up. “What? I thought you and the rest of his friends wouldn’t let me within 10 meters of Midoriya ever again.”

“Please. Todoroki sent Deku into surgery when he was trying to make friends with him. He broke every bone in his hands! This is tame in comparison.” For a moment, it looked like the usual cheerful version of Uraraka was back to stay. Then, she whirled and grabbed his collar with her free hand.

“But if you ever make Deku cry again from anything other than happiness, I’ll send you into the Sun.” Uraraka smiled like she hadn’t just threatened to murder him. She tugged Hitoshi towards the gate by the wrist, and he stumbled after her willingly.

After all, he had an apology to make.