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Before Midnight

Chapter Text

 


 

Monday. 10:05 PM.

 


The leather cushions reek of cigarette smoke and desperation.

Izuku pulls up the zipper to his sweater, bracing himself as cold winds break through the rising windshields of the train.

He steps onto the locomotive, releases a long, heavy breath, and sinks his hands into his pockets, clutching one stress-relieving ball in his left hand.

He mutters apologies and smiles too brightly for this kind of an evening to strangers: fellow workers and hard-pressed citizens who thrived off of copious amounts of coffee and whispered half-conscious promises into the bitter winter air once they were out of earshot. Izuku brings himself to smile when he can, especially to the mothers and children he comes across, earning either baffled expressions in return or a sheepish wave or two.

His back tight, he gradually takes his seat exactly six rows in the back, where not a single soul waits.

Night seeps through the frosted glass, stars glistening like trapped fireflies in an otherwise black-as-soot sky.

Izuku sets aside his backpack and removes a thick wad of old newspaper clippings, some outlined with the Daily Inkling’s traditional emblem. Pictures of a slender, tall man with wooden skin and elongated, intertwining limbs studded in leaves are slapped onto each article, accompanied only occasionally by a curvaceous woman who stood at a miraculous fifty feet in height.

The announcement of yet another heroic intervention from only two of many retired professional heroes sparks something longing and yet, awe-inspired within Izuku; it had been years since it was considered for Quirks to be used domestically and without the confines of heroic agencies, and to be able to glance over these photographs and timely articles as if they happened yesterday was enthralling.

They boasted strength that he would never know or experience outside of his dreams, but even so, he can’t suppress the elated smile that stretches out his lips when he can finally read these new issues and enjoy them on his lonesome after work and school.

They’re old articles, smothered in cobwebs and stashed in the back of old boxes on the sidewalk that he bothers rifling through when he has the chance. He still has commemorative posters of his favorite childhood heroes strung up in his room, some more recognizable than others, and he was one of few people he knew who refused to sell his old merchandise online after the incredibly quick decline of Quirks being used in professions.

It took only a few years for the government to instill those beliefs in the general public. Heroes were quickly subdued to remaining with their Quirks in casual professions in the office, stowed away from the public and committed to ideas that were more trivial and stress-inducing than what was commonly believed. Izuku struggled believing in this concept or even finding reason with the government’s decision to enact those practices, and the retirement of All-Might, in particular, had forced him to reconsider his dreams.

They’re still amazing, he thinks, grinning even wider as he pieces together certain clippings, even if we only have a few hidden reminders once in a while.

He hums, glancing over the papers.

“Maybe I should put these together for the school paper… Iida would be fine with that, wouldn’t he? He likes the superhero column. I could turn it into a more appreciative section… maybe that would work better? But then again I’ve already written a lot of articles about Quirks and stuff. Oh, I could put more photos in that one section that we haven’t paid attention to in a while. But then again Uraraka might not like it and she has the final say… but maybe Momo could help me out and it could be fine after that…?”

He grumbles under his breath, and brightens with an idea.

He pulls out his notebook and signature pen—one speckled with too many tooth marks on its red, wooden surface and bitten to just a few inches above the eraser—and scribbles into the pages with reckless abandon. He taps his chin and draws a faint outline of the hero in the paper with the wooden skin—Kamui Woods, he remembers fondly, from years ago in middle school when he could happily announce his total admiration for local heroes and their impact on society.

At sixteen years old, he wonders just how many times he’s been told he dreams too much.

He rubs his eyes, groaning at the weight seeped into his eyelids. He pulls out his phone, unlocks the touchscreen and sends a brief text message to his mother, letting her know he’ll be home around eleven o’clock, which was usually the hour he returned to their tiny apartment just two districts away.

He knows he looks and smells awful—working after-hours with reports and the school paper was already draining enough, and waking up extremely early and going to bed even later was starting to take an entirely new toll on his system.

But he loved it.

Loved it for the distraction, for the chance to be excited about something that drove his passions to new heights, that encouraged his nonsensical mutterings and allowed him to be more like himself in the presence of his few but genuine friends.

Uraraka’s radiant sunniness was enough reason to go into the late printing room and go over local photographs with her, and even though she had an excellent Quirk that made cleaning the office space so much easier, she seemed to understand his frustrations at being Quirkless more than anyone else he knew. Even having Iida there from time to time frantically reminding them which article needed to be approved before printing.

The train stops, rails screeching into a sharp halt. Izuku blinks at this; he’s never usually joined on this particular hour. Sometimes a grouchy late-night engineer or plumber or even a babysitter would hop on the train for the closest fast food joint around the block, but normally Izuku happened to be alone in this strange hour to board the train from his high school to his district.

The doors slide open. A tall, languid figure slumps through with hands burrowed into loose-hanging pockets, and Izuku is unable, for some reason, to look away from this entirely new stranger.

I’ve never seen him before...

The boy looks around his age, probably sixteen, and Izuku's skin already feels warm.

He’s not aware of how long he’s staring at the currently distracted teenager, who quickly takes a seat across from the width of the train, one leg bopped up on the other.

Izuku’s pen twitches in his hands, nervous tremors running through his body—part of him wants to smother his face into his sketchbook and notebook and pretend that he’s still the only one on the train like he normally is, but another part of his mind screams for him to just keep staring.

This newcomer's face is carved in all angular lines, a sharp scowl etched onto his lips and his skin a fair, almost ghostly complexion. He pulls back his hood and cards one hand through a wild mop of ash-blond hair, spiky and unruly as if he’d just rolled out of bed. His brow is creased as he pulls out his phone, one hand contained in a fingerless glove while the other boasts thick white lines—scars, Izuku notes—his enormous headphones booming electric, heavy music through a protective encasing around his ears. His sneakers are torn and ragged, but his eyes are what grab Izuku’s attention the most.

While focused and oozing contempt and a lack of normalcy, they brim like twin scarlet oceans, brooding and powerful.

Izuku wonders, faintly, if they’re contact lenses of some sort, but he can’t bring himself to actually wander over to this stranger and ask him such an absurd question. On top of looking as if the world decided to throw wool over him and destroy his day in every way possible, Izuku can think of at least a dozen or so reasons why he shouldn’t interact with this person.

I wonder what high school he goes to. I would’ve seen him at Yuuei, I’m pretty sure. At least I think so. He doesn’t look like he wouldn’t go to school, at least. He’s not a delinquent, I think. Well, I guess that part doesn’t matter much. Wait, what am I even thinking?

Izuku rolls his eyes.

The train shifts to a final halt in the station where Izuku normally gets off. To his surprise, the stranger removes himself from his seat as well, even bothering to put his headphones in his large backpack without a single acknowledgement of his surroundings.

Izuku’s feet remain planted on the ground, sweat gathering in his palms as he watches the stranger exit the door before he’s able to collect his thoughts and do the same.

The night breeze boggles his senses for a few seconds, and the train drifts by him in an oddly silent hum. Beneath the starry sky, he watches the stranger leave without even turning around once or even giving any indication that he noticed Izuku was there.

Izuku doesn’t know why it feels oddly disappointing to find that the other boy is heading in the opposite direction of his apartment.


 

 


“Izuku? Hey, earth to Izuku!”

Izuku snaps out of his trance and leans back in his chair. He sheepishly laughs as his friend of three years, Uraraka Ochako, stares at him as if he’d sprouted another head. She tilts her head to the side, large, soft brown eyes twinkling like molten chocolate. She places her hands on her hips and looks over his notes.

“Are you sure you’re okay? Iida and I can take over from here so you don’t have to tonight. I know that you get home around midnight, so…” she trails off, but Izuku sighs and holds back a sputtering mess of apologies for being so distracted.

The lights flicker above them, casting a faint ray over the numerous scattered notes, clippings and photographs tacked onto bulletin boards and splayed out along wooden tables. Past issues from over the last few months are gathered in neat piles, drawn together in binding string and appearing even more prominent each time someone from the newspaper club walks into the printing office with a broad smile and new idea.

“Sorry, Uraraka,” mutters Izuku, “I’ve just been distracted lately. Hah, I guess that’s not out of the norm, though.” He grins awkwardly, rubbing the back of his neck.

Uraraka frowns. “Izuku, you don’t have to stay here, you know.” She smiles, attempting to appease him, but Izuku would rather take over all of their duties at once than allow Uraraka to sacrifice her time.

“I can handle it!” He grins broadly and gives her a thumbs-up. “We’ve all been working hard. It’s not like I’m pulling my weight more than other people.”

Uraraka groans at this and rubs her forehead. “But you are pulling more weight.” 

Izuku turns back to his miniature project, groaning a the headache seeping into his temples.

He wants to rub these painful sensations away and take his mind off of the stranger he saw on the train the previous night.

Grimacing, Izuku just now realizes how awful he looks, even for late-night-journalist standards. His collared uniform shirt sleeves are rolled up to his elbows, calloused fingers—nails stress-bitten to the cuticle—going back and forth between typing and scribbling notes into the rough draft of the next article he needs to put out with Uraraka for The Yuuei Herald before next week.

He wants to cover the importance of superheroes and their symbolic impact on society, despite the governmental shift in having them resort to remaining outside of the spotlight.

“You know, Kaminari and Kirishima mentioned something about going to the movies this weekend with some of the others in our class. I was wondering if you wanted to come? We could finish his work early and—maybe go together?” Uraraka’s sudden question pops up and the last few words pull Izuku out of his jumbled thoughts.

“Huh?” He blinks. “Where are we going?”

She bites her lip.

“The movies. I think you need a break, Izuku. You don’t look like you’ve slept at all.”

She leans against the table and scrunches her nose like a rabbit. As endearing as it is, it contrasts with the stranger's sharp scowl from the other night.

“… Izuku?”

“Huh—wha?” Izuku blushes hotly as Uraraka giggles. 

“Okay, I’m just going to take that as a yet. Gosh, Izuku, you’ve been so out of it today. Even Aizawa seemed a little weirded out with how you were acting.”

Izuku snorts at this. “Don’t think Mr. Aizawa cares all that much.” He checks his watch, and immediately he bolts out of his chair and snatches his backpack. “I have to go, Uraraka! I didn’t even realize it was this close to ten!” He turns to his friend, wildly glancing between the school paper drafts and his friend’s shocked expression. “I’ll make it up to you, okay?”

She only manages to weakly wave her hand before he’s out the door.


 

Tuesday. 10:30 PM.

 


This time, Izuku waits in silence.

He wonders if he’ll be joined by the other boy again, even while he pours over his notes and occasionally sends a text to Uraraka to stop her from being his mother hen for a few minutes. Sometimes she worried over him like an extra parent, and with the amount of coddling and affection his mother granted, this wasn’t entirely necessary.

He couldn't begin to explain the strained way he felt throughout the day, the odd moments when he became too mesmerized by the window and the illustrations in his textbooks.

The doors to the train open.

Izuku’s eyes widen as the same stranger strolls onboard, his hands, once again, shoved deep into his cargo trousers.

He tosses his backpack to the other end of the seat line, and without the extra sweatshirt layer Izuku takes in just how slender and built this teenager is.

The stark white polo is snug to his chest, bare arms rippling with cords of muscle. Both of his hands are gloveless, revealing longer traces of those intricately patterned scars, how they twist from his knuckles to around his wrists and stretching towards his elbows. Without even glancing up, the stranger takes out his headphones and places them over his ears. In that moment, he leans back with one leg crossed over the other, his brow furrowing as he closes his eyes and tilts his chin towards the ceiling.

Even in this relaxed position he seems so stiff and tense, like a cat ready to strike on first touch.

Izuku's head tilts to the side.

I wonder if he has a Quirk. 

And if this teen did have a Quirk, what would it be? What kind of identity would he have as a superhero without the government turning against them? What was this person even like in casual conversation? Did he ever stop frowning as if the world was placed on his shoulders and every acidic word he wanted to scream at the top of his lungs were permanently stored in his chest?

“I have too many questions,” Izuku mutters.

He raises an eyebrow at the teen and wonders just how someone could be able to sleep through such loud music; he can almost hear exact lyrics just by sitting across from him on the train. The distinct rumble of the locomotive sliding on railings is not enough to distract him from the current setup.

It’s only thirty minutes, but it blasts by as if no longer than sixty seconds, and Izuku is hardly able to suppress the coil of disappointment in his chest as not being able to smile at all or grab the stranger’s attention.

The blond ducks out of the train with smooth calculation, exuding an essence of swagger and intimidation that Izuku has not seen attached to anyone else before.

He’s embarrassed at how easily he stresses over the matter while restlessly tossing and turning in his bed.


  

Wednesday. 9:55 PM.

 


“Izuku, are you sure you’re okay? You almost set the printer on fire from staring outside the window for too long…”

“Y-Yeah, sorry about that. Just didn’t want to miss the train. Have you been sleeping okay? I know that this has been a really late-night week for all of us. Oh, and sorry about just throwing all of those papers on your desk. I wasn’t trying to just edit them all at once…” Izuku groans and buries his face into his hands.

He’s already placed himself in a terrible position with the fact that his homework and school paper projects are splayed out next to him on the train seats with little organizational quality. He wants to tear out his hair for being so stupid and putting off his work and using some strange excuse as “daydreaming too much” to his teachers earlier that day. It’s almost shameful, really. But he can’t help being distracted all the time when that’s truthfully all that’s been wrong with him.

“I’ve been fine, Izuku. Iida and I are just worried about you. He said he texted you and you didn’t answer and… look, I know that we’re all stressed out and that college fair is coming up soon and I know you’re dying to be prepared for that, but this school paper thing is supposed to be fun! You’re—you’re still having fun with it, right, Izuku?”

Izuku smiles and nods, as if Uraraka was sitting beside him.

“Of course, Uraraka! I love working on the paper with you!” He hears a pause on the other line, and a slight, faint giggle, but some of it seems to be a trick of the mind since it’s firmly reduced to a mere clearing of the throat when he hears the muffling noises retract. “Are you still there? Did I say something weird—”

“N-No, Izuku! It’s totally fine. I’m just glad you’re okay. We were worried about you.”

Izuku frowns. “Worried?” He ponders. “I’m sorry…”

He doesn’t know what else to say.

He’d been so engrossed in his own projects he had no idea that he was affecting anyone else. He never gave any thought to how Uraraka would be acting to him being suddenly so distracted. 

“Oh—Izuku, you don’t have to be sorry! Sheesh! You’re acting like this is so serious. It’s really not. I just wanted to check on you! See how you were doing. And it’s been a while since we’ve all hung out so you better be coming to the movies with the rest of us on Saturday!”

Izuku grins, his heart jumping in relief. He was incredibly blessed to have her friendship, even when she was unaware of the impact she’d made on his life on his first day of transferring into their high school with a speech impediment issue and misplaced ambitions.

She’d smiled, offered her hand to guide him through the school, and on that very first day he simply knew.

“Thanks, Uraraka,” he says, grinning softly.

“Yeah, yeah, thank me after you get some sleep, you crazy workaholic. Honestly Izuku, sometimes I think your ability to live on fumes is your secret Quirk!” Izuku laughs, and can almost feel Uraraka’s wink on the other side of the phone line.

He opens his mouth to respond when the train stops, and the doors open to allow the same person he’d come to expect show up around the same time walk through the entrance and take his usual spot across from him.

This time, the stranger snaps his head towards Izuku, and glares.

Izuku’s tongue turns dry. “I-I’ll call you back, Uraraka.”

“Huh? Izuku are you—”

"Yep! Totally fine!”

He hangs up, and immediately pulls out his book to conceal his furiously blushing face.

He didn’t know why he was acting his way, especially towards a person he’d never been bothered talking to, but the fact that the other boy actually acknowledged his presence with that sharp, piercing red stare sent strange shivers up and down his spine. He wasn’t sure how to process it.

“Would you stop with that fucking muttering, idiot?”

Izuku blinks owlishly and lowers his notebook. He turns to his left, then to his right, and then finally, lets his confused gaze rest on the stranger, who was now standing and grappling the iron support beam next to his usual spot. His backpack was set down, and today he was wearing an unzipped sweatshirt, his hair slick with sweat from what Izuku could only assume to be the local gym from a few blocks down, and wearing a black muscle tank that clung to the faint outline of chiseled abdominal muscles that clearly dwarfed Izuku’s own.

But the glare that this stranger is sending him and the crooked sneer marring his features is the indicator that Izuku was, apparently, the target of his irritation.

“Um.” Izuku closes his mouth.

Should he apologize? He’s used to muttering on his own and being called out on the action, but the fact that this stranger was bothering to take his frustrations out on him—someone who’d never even engaged in conversation with, ever—and even daring to call him an “idiot” of all things, cancels out out the need for an apology.

“God, what the fuck is wrong with you? Do you have an off-switch, midget? How hard is it to just sit tight and shut the fuck up? You’re not the only one on this fucking train. Jesus.”

Izuku’s cheeks burn. 

The other teen raises an eyebrow, his teeth visible beneath his curled upper lip. For a moment, he reminds Izuku of an angry wolf.

Still, his own slight annoyance builds in his chest, and he decides that the best he can do is ignore it. Maybe this person is having an incredibly terrible day (maybe even more so than the others since he’s always scowling, at least on this particular train)

“Well I was going to apologize until you decided to insult me.” Izuku shrugs. “Guess we’re both in a bad place.”

He grins slightly to try and dispel the tension, but the other teenager simply scoffs, rolls his eyes, and glares to the opposite side of the train. His shoe thumps against the floor, his visible left fist clenching and unclenching. Izuku thinks to the stress exercise ball he has in his pocket, and briefly wonders if this teen has the same problem.

“Stress issues?”

“Don’t fucking talk to me,” growls the other teen.

Izuku hates how he actually likes listening to how his voice sounds. It’s lilted in some accent he’s not entirely familiar with, but it matches his appearance. It’s almost foreign-sounding. Russian, maybe? He doesn’t look like he’s American, then again, given Izuku’s half-Japanese parentage and only knowing two languages fluently, he can detect a myriad of possible bilingual nature in just listening to how the other speaks.

“I’m, um, Izuku.”

“Fuck off.”

Izuku closes his notebook and suppresses the urge to roll his eyes.

Ah, okay. Not a talking type.

Despite this, however...

There was something very intriguing about this teenager that struck him the moment he saw him. Other than his striking face and the slightly powerful way he walked, an air of mystery hugged his strong aura with open arms.

He wonders just how many secrets lie within those scars, or even where this stranger comes from and where he’s heading to each and every night.

“You don’t have your headphones today,” Izuku blurts out.

This, apparently, actually grabs the other teen’s attention. Snarling like an angry coyote, the stranger sharply turns his head and stares unblinkingly towards Izuku.

There’s a slight tilt to his expression. A chill dashes through Izuku’s bones and sets his heart into overdrive, whether out of anxiety or plain nervousness, he’s not sure.

“You a fucking stalker, you scrawny little shit-faced nerd?”

Izuku remains completely still while the other teenager takes a few menacing steps forward. Izuku holds back an embarrassing squeak when the other boy snatches the collar of his shirt and pulls him close.

His notebook is tightly clenched in his left hand, and in this instant he can see so many ferocious details in this teen's dark eyes. They glisten with anger, with tumultuous, brittle fervency, as if he has a million targets and is frustrated that he can only take out his emotions on one of them.

“N-No! I’ve just—you’ve been on this train the last couple of days and I’ve never seen you before!"

The boy huffs and drops him, stepping back and refusing to break his glare. The scowl remains, but now his teeth are hidden in his mouth once more, and a little relief settles in Izuku at avoiding being punched.

“Whatever. Fuck. I have better things to do.”

But, to Izuku’s slight surprise, the teen remains by his side, and even has the audacity to lean and grasp the support beam next to Izuku’s seat.

He’s hovering over him, a stable and intimidating force.

“Stop fucking looking at me.”

“I wasn’t—”

“I’m going to wreck your face if you keep talking.”

“Okay, seriously, I have a stress ball in my pocket if you need one.”

Izuku holds up his hands in a slight surrender, incredibly tempted to frantically wave them back and forth to ward off the animalistic person invading his personal space. However, despite his helpful suggestion, the aggressive blond’s eyebrows shoot to his hairline and his lips curl back in the most menacing sneer Izuku has ever seen.

Well that was the wrong thing to say.

“You saying I have fucking issues? You don’t fucking know me, you piece of shit. Keep your fucking weird-ass stress toys to your fucking self you greasy-haired asshole.”

Izuku’s jaw drops. 

Before he can think of a response, he realizes the stranger seems disinterested in whatever he has to say, since he finally rears his head back and moves from the support beam, stomping huffily to the other side of the train without another word.

Izuku turns to gather his homework and paper drafts into his backpack and move to another part of the train, when he spots something on the other person’s back.

The more the blond moves, the more Izuku realizes there’s a definite, menacing swollen bruise marring arm, just briefly noticeable when he lurched forward and snatched his collar. Once the image passes through his mind, he can’t help but stand up and ignore the panicked alarms sounding off in his mind.

“I-I have bandages. In my bag. If… if you need one.”

The boy pauses in grabbing his backpack.

There’s a definite twitch to his body, as if he’s operating on static movement. Slowly, he turns on his heel, yet his glare has definitely simmered. His nostrils are flaring, his fists balling and becoming undone in a stuttered few seconds. A vein pops on his forehead, and Izuku would have found the image incredibly amusing if not for the fact that he could very well be twisted into a pretzel in the next few seconds.

“I mean,” begins Izuku, groaning at his own insistence on stepping into this stranger’s personal matters, “in case you needed help—”

“Don’t. Fucking talk to me. I don’t need your fucking help.”

Then, he grabs his nose and huffs, his eyes closed as he breathes slowly.

In. Out.

Izuku wonders, for a brief, consolable moment, if this teenager is actually taking the time to count off sheep in his head to calm himself down. Apparently, Izuku’s assumptions were correct, given the much clearer stare the blond sends him a mere second later.

Izuku realizes that they’re both standing from their seats, half-moving towards the door as the train moves to a stop.

“Um… we both get off this stop…”

The blond snorts. “Why’s that my problem?”

A few hesitant seconds pass, the breeze slipping in from outside and whipping past Izuku’s nose.

He swallows, knowing the tense predicament he’s found himself in. He watches as the blond slowly begins to grin rather crookedly—maniacally, even—a sudden aura of mischief shrouding him. Izuku blanches at the implication and tries to rush to the door before the other can, but the blond straddles the door and pushes Izuku back several paces. He stares towards the bond with clenched fists, holding his tongue to stop from spouting off because he knows that, despite his own strength, this blond could probably break him in half if he wanted to.

“Yeah you can fucking get off the next stop, asshole,” says the blond, laughing at Izuku’s distraught expression.

But the blond is caught off-guard when Izuku launches forward and rams into him, knocking them both off the train and onto the hard, solid sidewalk. The train bustles by and rolls in humming unison, and Izuku holds back a squeak of surprise in realizing what he’s just done, and the strange, tangled position he’s found himself in with the stranger. The blond is groaning in pain beneath him, his head having hit the pavement from Izuku’s tackle.

“Oh—Oh God, oh no—I’m so sorry!”

Izuku squeaks and tries to sit up, but the other boy snatches his collar and pulls him down, his glare absolutely murderous, but his smirk catches Izuku off-guard.

“Fuck, you’re feistier than you look.”

And then he slumps back, unconscious.

Izuku desperately ignores the heated flush rising to his cheeks, pulls out his phone, and dials the ambulance.

“Y-Yes, please, there’s an unconscious man on the sidewalk and he needs help! I’m at the train station…” He groans in misery and would face-plant into some solid surface if he weren’t outside in the freezing cold with a man he’d accidentally assaulted.

Way to go, Izuku, he mutters, his skin still hot with underlying fire long before the ambulance arrives.