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Thirty is the Time to Enjoy Your Freedom

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“Happy Thirty-First Birthday, Shouta!” Yamada raised his glass.

With a sigh, Aizawa clinked glasses and took a sip. “A year older. I know I’ve gotten old because there’s only one candle on the cake now.” He gestured at the large chocolate cupcake sitting on the bar counter between them. The candle had the number “31” in melting blue wax.

Yamada laughed. “You can do what Midnight does and tell everyone that you’re still twenty-eight.”

Aizawa snorted. “It won’t be believable with the bags I have under my eyes.”

“Are you fishing for compliments, handsome?” Yamada’s hand went up to tuck a lock of hair behind Aizawa’s ear. His teeth gleamed in a wide smile.

Aizawa had always loved that smile. It had kept him going even during the worst days of his life. Before he could stop himself, words slipped out: “You’re the handsome one.” It was all the more painful for its sincerity, sounding like something a teenage boy would say.

Yamada leaned closer. Their lips brushed.

Aizawa jolted backward. “Oboro,” he gasped. The dream broke and reality came rushing back to him. His face flushed. He stood up so quickly that he knocked his drink over, soaking the poor cupcake. “I have to go.” He fled for the door without even trying to mop his mess up.

Yamada ran after him. “Wait!” he called, grabbing the bar door before it could close. “Shouta, please! This isn’t healthy. Oboro wouldn’t want you to be alone for the rest of your life. It doesn’t have to be me, not if the memories of the three of us together are too painful for you to get past. But you have to stop blaming yourself for Oboro’s death.”

Aizawa walked even faster. Yamada had no idea what he was talking about. Aizawa was one hundred percent responsible for Oboro Shirakumo’s death, and he could never, ever forget it.

The cold fall air nipped at him. A gust of wind blew wet leaves at his legs. Aizawa sprinted up the stairs. He rubbed his hands to work feeling back into them before finding his key and opening the door to his studio apartment.

All for One stood in front of his dining room table, lighting the candles on a three-tiered chocolate cake.

Aizawa froze. His key dropped from his hand with a clatter that sounded sharp against the silence.

With another puff of fire breath, All for One lit the last candle. Then he looked up and smiled. “Happy Birthday, Sho-chan.”

Oh my god, I almost brought Hizashi home with me. Aizawa’s mind with white with fear. If Hizashi Yamada had been here…or, worse, if Aizawa had gone home with him and failed to show up for his villainous father’s surprise birthday party…the consequences didn’t bear thinking about. His moment of weakness had brought him so very close to disaster. Just the thought made him tremble.

“Aw, you look cold,” All for One cooed. He grabbed Aizawa’s limp hand and dragged him inside, then draped a blanket over him. Aizawa didn’t recognize the plaid wool.

Items he didn’t recognize tended to pop up around his home whenever his father visited him, and sometimes even when he didn’t. Another reason Aizawa didn’t allow guests. Many times, he’d come home to find his father had left him money on the counter—All for One called it an allowance. But he’d never quite gotten used to the sense of violation. He never felt safe, not even in his own home.

When All for One tried to push him into the chair, Aizawa finally remembered himself. “Get out, All for One,” he growled.

All for One pouted. “That’s not a very respectful way to refer to your father, Sho-chan.”

Aizawa had spent years (painful years) figuring out exactly what he could get away with. He snorted. “Invading my home doesn’t show much respect either.” His bitterness was genuine. After weeks without a visit, he’d almost started to relax, but he should have known a birthday would drag his father out of the woodwork. And now there was no getting rid of him for the rest of the night. All for One wasn’t afraid of him in the slightest—they’d long ago established who would win in a fight.

“But you’re my son. Sit down and enjoy your cake.”

All for One’s usual excuse for everything. He didn’t believe that boundaries existed between relatives. He didn’t believe in boundaries, period. Aizawa remained standing.

Something flashed in All for One’s eyes. “That loud-mouthed friend of yours takes great pride in his radio show, doesn’t he? I own the station’s largest sponsor.”

It wasn’t a direct threat against Yamada, so it didn’t violate their agreement, but Aizawa knew how devastated his oldest friend would be to lose his radio host job. Teeth clenched, he sat down.

“Good boy,” All for One said, as if he had no idea how patronizing that sounded. “Now, blow out the candles.”

Aizawa got the ritual over with using one breath. There were thirty-one candles. Just like his father, to not think one was enough no matter how many years his son obtained. “I wished you would leave,” he said spitefully.

All for One laughed. “Haven’t you heard your wish doesn’t come true if you say it out loud?”

It wasn’t going to come true either way.

All for One said. “I got you a present. Let me get it.”

That sounded ominous. Hopefully it wouldn’t be as bad as last year. Surely not. Last year had been a milestone birthday.

All for One went to the kitchen counter while Aizawa ruminated. He opened the fridge, then removed all the beer and poured it into the sink.

Aizawa’s teeth ground. Thirty-one years old, and his father still treated him like a wayward teenager.

Next, All for One poured cat kibble into a pet bowl (where had that come from?) and set it down.

A pure black cat emerged from behind the sofa and ran over to the bowl. Aizawa stared. He’d longed for a cat for years, but he’d never gotten one—not after what his father had done to his childhood cat. Hopefully All for One wouldn’t hurt a gift to his son. Aizawa had to believe that. He had no choice about keeping the cat.

“How about a ‘thank you,’ hmm?” All for One bent over and stroked the cat. It purred. Animals were supposed to be able to recognize evil, but All for One had always been able to charm them as easily as he charmed people.

Aizawa’s fingers twitched. He remembered the time his father had laid down poison for stray cats across the city to lure him out. But the kibble wouldn’t be poisoned this time—this was a birthday party and All for One was pretending to be a somewhat normal parent. He couldn’t lose his head. He took deep breaths.

“Are you not feeling well?” All for One leaned over him, touching his forehead. “Open up.”

Because it was a command he’d heard many times during childhood, Aizawa’s mouth opened on reflex. All for One inspected his teeth. “It looks like you’ve been brushing.” His other hand stroked Aizawa’s hair. “A little greasy. I’ll buy you a new shampoo.”

Aizawa’s mouth clamped shut. All for One narrowly withdrew his fingers before they got bitten. The villain chuckled. “Still as stubborn as always. If you don’t like your gift, I can take it back and get you a new one.”

Aizawa glanced at the cat, still eating. He did not like to think about what would happen to the pet if his father took it away. “Thank you,” he growled.

All for One removed the candles, then cut two slices of cake. Aizawa barely paid attention. He was watching the cat.

Although Aizawa knew better than to touch an animal while it was eating, the second the cat finished, Aizawa leapt forward and scooped it up into his lap. The cat gave a small yelp, but Aizawa scratched behind the ears in the right spot to appease its dignity.

All for One sighed. “I’m not going to hack your birthday present into bits in front of you, Sho-chan. Must you always be like this, even after so many years? I know you’re still very upset that I killed your friend, but I brought him back.”

A hysterical giggle slipped from Aizawa’s lips. “That thing isn’t Oboro!”

All for One pouted. “If you aren’t satisfied with Kurogiri, do you want me to dispose of him?”

Aizawa flinched. Even if Kurogiri wasn’t the same as Oboro, hadn’t he become his own person at this point? “No!”

All for One huffed out a sigh. “You can’t have it both ways, Sho-chan. Either it doesn’t matter if I kill the Nomu, or you have to accept my apology present and forgive me.”

Gripping the table, Aizawa forced himself to calm down and think. Kurogiri was far too useful for All for One to kill him on a whim. This was a bluff. “And lose your only warper? I doubt it.”

All for One smiled like he had when Aizawa had won a board game as a child. “You’ve always been a smart one, Sho-chan. Time to eat.”

Aizawa desperately wanted to get this over with, so he dug in quickly.

All for One took a bite. “Delicious. I had Kurogiri fetch this from a famous French bakery. I even paid for it, since I knew it would upset you if I didn’t.”

As Aizawa ate, he let the chattering wash off him. He kept an ear peeled just in case his father said something useful about his illicit business. Otherwise, he only nodded.

“Are you tired?” his father asked, deceptively mild, and Aizawa realized he’d better start paying attention before the overgrown, overpowered toddler threw a tantrum.

“Yes, I’m sorry.” Aizawa rubbed his eyes. “I stayed out late last night.”

All for One clucked his tongue. “You take your hero games too seriously. Don’t work so hard. You should look after yourself better.”

“It’s all your fault that I—” Aizawa shut his mouth. He knew better than to try to explain to his father how much guilt he felt about being All for One’s son. Even this cake had been purchased with blood money. He had to save people, or he’d never be able to make up for it. But no matter how many late nights he worked keeping the streets safe, Aizawa knew that he could never make up for Oboro, much less everyone else his father had ever harmed.

“Yes, yes.” All for One stroked his hair as if he believed this was soothing, as if he had the faintest idea what Aizawa felt.

When he only had a couple bites of cake left, Aizawa felt a wave of tiredness wash over him. He slumped backward in his chair. His eyelids felt heavy. He forced them open. “You…did you drug…?” His words slurred.

All for One smiled. “You have to go to bed on time, Sho-chan. You have bags under your eyes. You’ve been staying up too late playing.”

As Aizawa toppled sideways, his father caught him.


Shouta Aizawa had something approaching a normal childhood. Admittedly, bodyguards followed him around whenever he left the house and his uncle’s corpse had been carefully preserved inside a glass case in the guest bedroom. But when he’d been a child, Aizawa hadn’t realized how abnormal that had been.

For most of his childhood, Aizawa and his father had believed him to be quirkless. At the first sign of bullying, his father had used it as an excuse to withdraw him from public school and homeschool him. At the time, Aizawa had been grateful. He’d adored his father, who always brought him presents and played games with him. As a child, All for One had been easy to adore, charismatic and effusively affectionate and larger-than-life.

Aizawa never knew his mother. He’d asked his father many times, and received a different lie every time. His mother had been a foreign spy who’d returned to her home country, she’d been a Japanese princess who denied his existence to avoid scandal, she’d been a time-traveler from the future who hadn’t yet been born in this era, or even she’d been an alien. The stories had gotten increasingly ridiculous, while Aizawa had gotten increasingly frustrated with the evasion as he grew older. But his father had always treated his anger like a game.

As an adult, Aizawa held a fearful conviction that his father had done something terrible to his mother. All for One always brought forth his most effusive and pretty lies to cover up his worst wrongdoings. Aizawa prayed he wasn’t right, but knew better deep down. He would never know the truth. His investigations had come up empty-handed, not a single clue.

The first time Aizawa had activated Erasure, he’d been screaming at his father to stop lying to him about his mother. All for One had tried to use a sleeping quirk on him, his usual method of silencing unruly sons, and Aizawa had canceled it out.

They’d both been shocked, then All for One had been delighted. Even though this had been before he’d known about the villainy, Aizawa had been frightened by the gleam of avarice in his father’s eyes.

All for One had started out trying to bribe his son. He’d suggested that Erasure was a weak quirk, with very little combat ability, and offered to trade for a stronger power. Even as a child, Aizawa hadn’t fallen for that one. Besides, his quirk was a part of him. He’d stubbornly refused all offers.

Then All for One had tried to steal his son’s quirk. But every time, Aizawa had used Erasure to stop him first. All for One treated it like a game, sneaking up on his son and trying to snatch Erasure. Aizawa had used his ability until his eyes bled. He’d forced himself to stay awake for days for fear he would lose his quirk if he slept. That had been the start of his lifelong struggle with insomnia.

Eventually, All for One had given up, tousling Aizawa’s hair and telling him he’d won their little game with a laugh and a smile.

After that, Aizawa never completely trusted his father again.

Still, they’d managed to mostly return to their normal relationship, until Aizawa had been kidnapped by a group of rival villains.

When he’d protested that he’d never even heard of All for One, his kidnappers had laughed at him. Then they’d shown him videos of his father’s crimes. The life went out of Aizawa with each bloody murder he witnessed. He’d gone comatose by the time his father showed up to rescue him.

Everything had changed after that.

When he woke up in the underground hospital, Aizawa wouldn’t let his father touch him. He couldn’t even stand to look at his face. He felt like he didn’t deserve to exist. He’d conceived of the notion that he needed to become a hero in order to make up for his father’s crimes.

All for One had not taken that well. The first time Aizawa had run away, he’d been dragged back. The second time, All for One had killed his pet cat. His red eyes had gleamed mockingly as he’d told Aizawa that if he wanted to save lives, then he’d stay home like a good boy. Aizawa had spent a very long time inside a bank vault in the basement before he’d convinced his father of his obedience.

Aizawa’s third attempt as a teenager had been far more calculated. He’d enrolled in hero school secretly. His father had started leaving home more frequently, distracted by All Might’s attacks on his business, so he’d gotten away with it for quite a while.

Then All for One had found out, and next Oboro’s life had been the price.

Aizawa had thought about killing himself quite often after that. He’d tried once. His father’s reaction had finally made Aizawa realize the only leverage he had: his own life. He’d threatened to commit suicide unless All for One let him go, and it had worked.

It was a dangerous, delicate line that Aizawa walked. All for One knew that Yamada was Aizawa’s best friend, and had threatened that if Aizawa died then Yamada would die, too. Aizawa couldn’t afford to let anyone else become his friend, or they’d be turned into hostages against him. He had even pushed Midnight away. Yamada was the only one he couldn’t bear to completely let go of, because even after their fragile three-way love had died with Oboro, Yamada still remained his most important person.

But Aizawa could only afford one attachment at a time. All for One knew that if he killed Yamada, then Aizawa would kill himself in retaliation. That kept Yamada safe. But if Aizawa ever came to care about more than one person, then All for One would be able to kill one of them, because Aizawa couldn’t make a credible threat of suicide as long as he still had another person left to protect.

Shouta Aizawa didn’t do love or any other type of attachments. He couldn’t afford them.


Aizawa woke up in his bed. His new cat scratched at the bedpost, meowing for breakfast.

Oh, god, he’d been drugged yet again. His father had changed him into his pajamas. He felt sick. He staggered to the bathroom and vomited up that fancy French cake.

Then Aizawa fed his new cat. Afterward, he took off the cat’s collar and broke the tag. As expected, he found a camera inside. Later, he’d have to sweep his apartment for more cameras. Right now, a different need itched under his skin: to go out on patrol.

Aizawa had a desperate need to save people, because he couldn’t save himself.

That morning, Aizawa saved a woman from a mugger and stopped a purse-snatcher. He added two counts to his tally. Heroism had never been fun for Aizawa. It was about assuaging his guilt and justifying his continued freedom. Aizawa knew that he put innocent lives at risk by refusing to go home to his father. He lived with that burden every single day. Only by saving people could he deserve to stay free.

He couldn’t go back. He couldn’t. He remembered that metal box his father had stuffed him into after the second escape attempt and shuddered. His breathing came more rapidly and he clutched at his chest. A roaring noise came from inside his ears. He’d rather die than go back.

Aizawa returned to his senses standing at the gates of U.A. He slapped his cheeks, then headed inside to teach. A shame that Class 1-A was so full of talented young heroes, because expelling a few students would have made him feel better.

He’d never dared tell any of his colleagues about the constrained, threatened life he lived. He knew they’d want to help him, but none of them were strong enough to take on All for One. Aizawa couldn’t risk another person dying for him. Not ever again.

Perhaps he had a selfish reason, too. He couldn’t imagine telling Yamada about Kurogiri. Just the thought made him feel ill.

As always, a day with his students blew away his bad mood. He’d taught many classes, but this year’s 1-A was special. They were all going to be top heroes. He knew it in his bones.

After heading home, he planned to eat and then shower. He’d felt too sick to eat breakfast or lunch, but now his stomach growled.

A rumbling noise came from the bathroom. Someone had started a load of laundry. All for One had been inside his home again. Aizawa felt so nauseous that his hunger stopped.

Several bills lay on the counter with a note: “Good job this morning. But don’t skip breakfast! It’s the most important meal of the day.” Plastic wrap covered a plate with an omelet.

Aizawa stared at the money, wanting to throw it out the window, but knowing it wasn’t worth the fight. He’d donate it to charity as he always did. Aizawa didn’t have much money—his father used his influence to prevent him from ever getting media attention and endorsements no matter how hard he worked as a hero. But he’d still never accept his so-called allowance.

The fragile sense of control he’d regained from his patrol completely vanished. Then the phone rang.

Aizawa had to pick it up. Every time he didn’t answer one of his father’s calls, a stray cat died.

He growled, “What?”

All for One said cheerfully, “Just look at you, defeating muggers! I’m so proud! Make sure you eat your late breakfast.”

“I was going to before you called,” Aizawa lied. He had no choice now. Arguing with this father was how cats went missing. He glanced at the black cat napping in the windowsill. He’d yet to name it because he feared getting attached. Aizawa loved cats, but he couldn’t let any of them become special to him.

Sitting down, Aizawa took a bite of the omelet. He tried not to feel afraid. After drugging his food last time, his father almost certainly wouldn’t do it again right away. Especially not if he wasn’t there to look after his son. All for One couldn’t still be here, right? Aizawa looked around.

“Relax, I already left,” All for One said from the phone.

Definitely a new camera. Aizawa resolved to find it before he went to bed, or else he’d be unable to sleep again.

All for One continued, “I packed you a lunch for tomorrow, since you forgot to bring yours today. It’s in the fridge. Next time you forget, make sure that you eat at the cafeteria.”

“You can’t have cameras at U.A., how could you possibly know that I didn’t buy lunch?” Aizawa stopped before he showed weakness. He must never show weakness.

“I have people everywhere, Sho-chan. It might be one of your new students. It might be the new teacher. It might even be your blond friend!”

Aizawa clenched his jaw. He knew his father was trying to make him distrust everyone at U.A. He couldn’t let it work. Even though he suspected his father wasn’t lying about the spy.

All for One asked, “Which of your students do you think you’ll expel first this year? My money is on the green-haired one. Can’t use his quirk properly, more a danger to himself than any villain.”

Aizawa growled, “Izuku Midoriya is a fine student. I think he’ll become a top hero someday.”

“Ah, do you think so, too? I quite agree! I’ve been very interesting in him lately.” All for One sounded so delighted that Aizawa believed he’d been baited into praising Izuku. But he couldn’t figure out why.

How could his problem child have attracted the attention of the number one villain? No matter the reason, it was bad news. Aizawa was desperate to distract his father. “He’s far from the only talented student. When I think of the progress the others have been making—” He rattled off a list of Class 1-A’s latest achievements, careful not to say too much about any of their quirks.

All for One chuckled. “How rare for you to get so involved with your students!” His tone turned gleeful. “You sound attached, Sho-chan.”

Aizawa’s blood ran cold with fear.


OMAKE TIME!

Omake: The Crack Version of How Oboro Died

All for One: Hi, I’m here to discuss your intentions toward my son—wait, am I talking to a corpse? Because he looks suspiciously like a corpse. His face is smashed and he’s bleeding all over my new shoes.

Dr. Garaki: (Points at Oboro’s dead body) Yes, master, I killed the hero student as you requested.

All for One: You fool! When I said I was going to murder my son’s boyfriend, I meant it figurately! I was going to verbally eviscerate him! I was going to give him The Talk! How am I supposed to give him The Talk when he’s dead?

Dr. Garaki: Oops. Sorry, master.

All for One: Get him on a slab and resurrect him. I spent hours preparing my intimidating father spiel. I even brought along a real shovel and a shotgun. My epic monologue will not go to waste!

#

Omake: The Grand Reveal

Aizawa: Can you help me fasten my tie before the press conference?

Toshinori: Sure, no problem! Whoa, how did you manage to tangle it so badly? I haven’t seen someone fasten a tie this badly since All for One.

Aizawa: …

Toshinori: Why are you not laughing? Why are you making that face?

#

Omake: Finding Research Funding is Hard for a Mad Scientist

All for One: Can you build me some new cameras? Small ones, that I can hide in buttons and lighting fixtures.

Dr. Garaki: Again? Why do you need so many?

All for One: My son has mostly given up on sweeping his apartment for surveillance devices. But every couple months, he goes on a massive hunt, clears them all out, then breaks them with a baseball bat. Then it’s my turn to add new ones. It’s this fun father-son bonding ritual we have.

Dr. Garaki: Master, your family is dysfunctional even by my standards, but you’re paying me too much for me to care.

#

Omake: Still a Better Love Story than Twilight

Aizawa: Hey Dad, I brought my boyfriend over for a family dinner.

All for One: Sho-chan! He’s far too old for you! And you can’t possibly find those hair tufts attractive!

Aizawa: The more you hate him, the more attractive he gets.

Toshinori: Uh, we’re not actually together—is that All for One?

Aizawa: Shut up. I need to piss off my father, and you’re perfect. Especially because he can’t possibly want you more dead.

Toshinori: Judging from the look on his face, I think he can.