It starts, as many of Izuku’s bad days do, with a nightmare.
Horrible visions of twisted metal wrecks and loud screeching sirens and bones crumbling to dust keep him trapped in their clutches so long that by the time Izuku manages to wrench free, gasping and sweating and trembling into consciousness, his alarm has been going off for twenty minutes. He stumbles out of bed, muttering frantically, mind trying to rearrange his morning routine so he won’t be late to work, but when Izuku trips over his own feet and goes crashing face first into the floor, he can tell the effort will be a lost cause.
Still, he tries, because that’s all he can do. His shower lasts three minutes and he skips drying his hair properly, bracing himself for the tangled mess of green curls that will result from the heavy August humidity. He shoves an apple into his mouth for breakfast and a granola bar into his backpack for lunch before dashing out the door, hoping against hope to catch his bus in time only to watch in dismay as it pulls out into the street seconds before he reaches the stop.
A creeping dread begins to simmer in Izuku’s stomach. He shoots a text off to his supervisor letting him know he’ll be late before heading into a nearby Starbucks for a consolation iced tea while he waits for the next bus, only to realize after placing his order that he left his wallet on the kitchen table. The barista behind the counter kindly tries to tell him it happens all the time, but Izuku still leaves red-faced and embarrassed, on the verge of tears like he always seems to be. By the time he makes it into work nearly an hour late, Izuku wants nothing more in the world than to return home, burrow under his covers, and never leave his bed again because nothing bad can happen if he doesn’t do anything at all.
But instead he puts a smile on his face and cheerfully greets everyone he passes, because more than he wants to go home and crawl back into bed, Izuku wants to feel like he’s accomplished something today, however small.
“I’m sorry I’m late!” Izuku exclaims as he opens the door to the IT office. “I missed the bus and then I thought about walking but it’s so humid outside I couldn’t see myself not working up a sweat and I didn’t want to subject you to the smell all day so I just waited for the next one but then there was construction so we got delayed and—”
“And now you’re here, which is really all I care about,” Shinsou cuts him off, not looking up from his screen. “I know all this; you texted me. And before you continue your apology rant—yes, it really is fine, no, I really don’t care, yes, I know you’re really sorry and no, of course Sigmund isn’t going to find out about this, because I still don’t believe in throwing people under the bus for being late.” He turns his head, leveling Izuku with a look that makes anything Izuku intends to add shrivel and die in his throat. “Does that cover everything?”
Izuku flushes. “I think so,” he mumbles. “Thanks.”
“No problem.” Shinsou turns back to his screen. “But to make up for being late, you do have to help Yoon get another trojan virus off his computer.”
Izuku blinks. “What?” he says. “But we just cleared his computer of viruses last week.”
“Well, he’s got more. And I helped him last time, so now it’s your turn.”
The day does not improve. Yoon's computer is corrupted nearly beyond repair; Izuku spends most of his morning attempting to coax the machine into cooperation, Yoon breathing down his neck the entire time. The granola bar he brought for lunch turns out to be so old and stale Izuku can’t even bite into it, so he has to settle for an overripe banana and a handful of pretzels from the breakroom. If Izuku ever held a shred of hope that the afternoon might go better, it’s dashed when the office’s email server crashes, leaving him and Shinsou scrambling to fix it.
“I don’t understand,” Izuku sighs as they fail yet again to restore service. “This is what we did last time and it worked just fine, why isn’t it helping now?”
“Technology can sense fear and panic,” Shinsou deadpans. “It knows we’re afraid.” He curses loudly as his monitor flashes an error message. “I’m going to try resetting it again. Maybe the fifth time’s the charm.”
“Maybe,” Izuku echoes. He sighs again. “But at this rate it’s probably going to take the rest of the day to fix.”
“Probably,” Shinsou agrees. “Speaking of which…” He glances at the clock on the far wall of their office. “Don’t you have a doctor’s appointment you need to get to? I remember you sending an email about it last week.”
“Doctor’s… Oh! Oh, shit!” Izuku grabs his phone, frantically pulling up his calendar to see that he does indeed have a doctor’s appointment in thirty-seven minutes, which means even if he leaves right now, he’s going to be late. “Oh my God, I completely forgot, I need to leave—Oh, but the server still isn’t back up! I’ll—I’ll just call them and reschedule—”
“And get charged for a late cancel? No way.” Shinsou nods his head towards the door. “You should go. I’ll take care of this.”
Izuku hesitates. “But don’t you need my help?” he asks.
Shinsou shrugs. “Two of us working on it obviously isn’t helping.” He shoots the still flashing error message on his monitor a dirty look. “Just get going. Your doctor’s appointments are more important than this crap.”
“Go.” Shinsou jabs a finger towards the door. “Or as your supervisor, I’ll make you go.”
Izuku opens his mouth to protest, but Shinsou’s dead-eyed glare has any arguments dying in his throat, and after a moment, he only sighs. “Okay,” he mumbles as he stands. “But text me if you think I can help, okay?”
“Sure thing,” Shinsou says, which means he almost certainly won’t. Izuku wants to protest that too, but Shinsou’s still glaring at him and being pinned under his gaze makes it extraordinarily difficult for Izuku to do anything besides obey his wishes. He grabs his backpack out from under his desk and shuffles to the door, only to pause.
“Are you sure—”
“Out,” Shinsou commands, and Izuku’s halfway down the hall before he can even register moving.
Izuku arrives to his appointment seventeen minutes late, panting and sweaty and red faced from his frantic sprint to the office, apologies tumbling out of his mouth so fast they’re incoherent. He doesn’t like what it says about him that the receptionist’s response to his babbling is only, “It’s fine, Mr. Midoriya. We expected you to be a little late. Please have a seat.”
A nurse calls him for him soon after. She’s friendly, has seen him here enough to know a few things about him, asks about his job and his cat while taking down all necessary particulars before informing him with a smile that Dr. Shuzenji will be with him shortly. Izuku breathes a heavy sigh when she leaves; his checkups have been routine for years now, but doctor’s offices still make Izuku nervous. Anxiety curls tightly in his gut, bracing himself for the worst even though he knows that logically, nothing can possibly go wrong because nothing’s happened since the last time he was in. He repeats this to himself, over and over and over again, but it doesn’t help much. By the time Dr. Shuzenji enters the exam room, Izuku’s already sort of a nervous wreck.
“Hello, Izuku,” Dr. Shuzenji greets, the lines of her old face crinkling as she smiles. “Please take a deep breath.”
Izuku does, letting it all out in a shuddering exhale. “Sorry,” he mutters.
“No need to be sorry,” Dr. Shuzenji assures him, taking a seat at the computer. “Coming in here still makes you anxious, doesn’t it?” Her eyes are kind, understanding. A lump wells up in Izuku’s throat, so he only nods. “I suppose that’s to be expected, after everything you’ve been through,” she says, typing out a few quick keystrokes. “But let’s try and put that aside for now and just focus on today, shall we?”
Izuku nods again. Dr. Shuzenji adds a few more things to his chart before asking him to have a seat on the exam table. She spends a cursory minute checking the mobility of his arms and wrists; they’ve recovered nicely, and she tells him so with another kind smile. Then she takes his hands. They shake with a slight tremor as she holds them, knobby joints and faded scar tissue all the more obvious in the stark light of the exam room. The ball of anxiety coiled tightly in Izuku’s gut cracks opens, and something hot and noxious bubbles over, flows all the way to the tips of his fingers and toes, sinks down deep into the very fibers of his being. Even as Dr. Shuzenji holds them, the tremor in his hands grows.
“Do they still do this often?” she asks.
“Some—sometimes,” Izuku stutters. “When I’m stressed, usually. Or… Or if they get tired. It… It happens a few times a week, still.”
“Hmm.” Her frown sinks deep into the wrinkles of her face. “I suppose that’s to be expected. Let’s see how your mobility has held up, shall we?”
She starts with his right hand, the better one. It continues to shake as she pushes and pulls, this way and that, has him bend his fingers and try to make a fist, as best he can. He can close it, but if he clenches too tightly an ache slowly starts creeping up into his arm. Izuku tells her so, and Dr. Shuzenji nods, still frowning.
The left hand is worse. Izuku still can’t fully curl his ring finger, and his pinky doesn’t bend at all anymore. His other fingers and his thumb move with protest when he tries to close a fist, skin tight where old scar tissue won’t give. Dr. Shuzenji asks if this hand hurts more often than the other one; it does.
“Well, they’re still holding steady,” Dr. Shuzenji declares as she steps away from the exam table. “That’s a very good sign, considering where you started from. I assume you’ve been keeping on top of your physical therapy?”
“Every day,” Izuku affirms, which reminds him that he missed doing his stretches during his chaotic morning.
“Excellent. You’ve always been very good about that.” Dr. Shuzenji starts typing notes onto his chart. “There’s not much else I can say; just keep doing what you have been and that should keep any regression at bay. And if you do notice any change, let me know as soon as possible, alright?”
Izuku looks down at his still trembling hands, wincing a little as he tries to close them into fists. “Alright,” he repeats, voice quiet.
The sound of typing stops, and he hears Dr. Shuzenji sigh. “What’s wrong,” she says, more statement than question.
Izuku looks up. “Nothing,” he answers automatically.
Dr. Shuzenji levels him with a look. “Izuku, please don’t lie to me.”
“My dear, I’ve been with you through every step of your recovery over the last four years; I know when something’s wrong.” She turns to face him, hands folding neatly in her lap. “You might as well tell me what’s on your mind.”
Izuku opens his mouth to protest, to tell her everything’s fine and she doesn’t need to worry, but Dr. Shuzenji levels him with a critical look and the truth comes spilling out before he can stop it. “It’s just… I mean, it really isn’t anything big I just…” He sighs, hands slowly closing again as he tries to coax movement out of them that no longer exists.
“Sometimes I feel like I haven’t made any progress at all,” he confesses in a small voice. “And—and I know that’s not true,” he hurriedly adds before Dr. Shuzenji can start lecturing him, “but… but that’s what it feels like, some days.” Like today, a bad day, where all his silly thoughts and worries and fears feed and feed and feed off each other until Izuku’s little more than a human-shaped shell of nerves, slowly ripping apart at the seams.
He glances up; Dr. Shuzenji looks back at him, empathy and concern etched into the deep lines of her face. She says nothing, so Izuku keeps talking. “It’s just… it’s been years and nothing’s changed and I know that’s good because it means I haven’t gotten any worse but I also haven’t gotten any better and I know that technically this is as good as I’m ever going to be again but I just… I don’t know.” He swallows thickly, blinking back tears, a crumbling dam barely holding against a sudden flood. “I just… I just wish there was more I could do besides not get worse.”
Dr. Shuzenji hums thoughtfully. “I understand,” she says. “Recoveries like yours are long and arduous processes. The stagnation is bound to be frustrating.”
“Very frustrating,” Izuku echoes, sniffling a little.
“And that’s to be expected; I doubt anyone could go through what you did and not be. And while I will once again remind you that you’ve done incredibly well considering your circumstances…” She smiles kindly at him. “I know it's not always so simple.”
Izuku nods slowly. “So what do you think I should do?” he asks.
Dr. Shuzenji stays quiet for a few moments, considering. “Using chopsticks was your previous barometer of recovery, correct? And that’s still going well?”
“Yeah. I’m not as precise anymore but… But I can use them fine most days. Unless the tremors get really bad.”
“Then I would say you should find something similar to use as a new gauge. Perhaps a hobby that uses your hands and requires some dexterity.”
“Oh, there’s lots of options,” Dr. Shuzenji says with a smile. “Origami, knitting, crochet—” There’s a sudden glint in her eye, leaving Izuku no time to brace himself as she says, “—playing an instrument—”
He inhales sharply as the world goes fuzzy, hands clenching tight as they’re able. In the back of his mind he hears music, and the sound stabs viciously at his heart, blood pouring hot and aching from the wound. It leaks into his veins and muscles and bones, spreading until the hurt fills his entire body and for a moment, all Izuku knows is the sad old sound of pain and loss and fear.
Then he hears his name and comes crashing back to himself, a comet burning up as it hits the atmosphere. “No instruments,” he says, cutting off Dr. Shuzenji.
She frowns at him. “You have the resources,” she presses. “If you’re still living in Toshinori’s old apartment I know he has at least a few—”
“No instruments,” Izuku repeats, wincing at the slightly hysterical edge to his voice. “I—I—I know you and Dr. Aizawa think I should but—but I can’t. Not yet, I’m not—I’m not ready.” Izuku’s not certain he’ll ever be ready, but he doesn’t say this, just looks at Dr. Shuzenji with pleading eyes and silently begs her to drop it.
Her frown deepens, cutting sharply into the wrinkles of her face, but after a few moments, she relents. “Alright. No instruments.” Her tone makes her displeasure clear, but Izuku can’t bring himself to care, not with the old ache settling deep into his bones, pain bursting from his heart to claw at his ribcage, the sound of loss still ringing loudly in his ears.
Izuku leaves Dr. Shuzenji’s office downtrodden and exhausted. He’s fighting back tears all the way to the Metra station, knows by the funny looks people shoot him on the streets that he doesn’t quite succeed. He pulls his battered old headphones out of his backpack and shoves them over his ears, pulls up the latest episode of Sawbones on his phone and tries to drown out his emotions by listening to the history of erectile dysfunction. It only sort of works.
He gets a text from Ochako halfway through his ride asking if he wants to join her and Tenya for dinner; he has to decline, because the co-pay for his appointment chewed up most of the disposable income he might have had for the month. He’s already adjusting his bills in his head, not looking forward to the inevitable slew of rice and instant noodle heavy meals that await him until September. Maybe, if he’s lucky, Bauj from the office will bring in another basket of produce from her garden, and he can snag some things to bring home.
Humid summer air assaults Izuku the moment he steps outside the Metra station. By the time he makes it back to his apartment, the green curls closest to his hairline are damp with sweat, and parts of his dress shirt have begun sticking to his skin. The climb upstairs seems especially grueling, and the second Izuku kicks his red boots off and shuts his door, he slumps against it, sliding to the floor with a long, pained noise.
Home now, with nobody here to see him, Izuku finally lets himself cry. Big, fat tears well up at the corners of his eyes and before long he’s sobbing quietly into his knees, pulled up close so Izuku can wrap his arms around them and rock slowly back and forth. He tries to keep his breathing steady, but it gets caught in his throat and he ends up giving himself the hiccups, which seems a fitting end to an all around terrible day.
He’s not sure how long he sits there, but at some point a soft meowing draws his attention, and Izuku finds himself with a face full of fur as his cat wiggles expertly into the tight space between his knees and chest. “Onigiri, off,” he hiccups, but Onigiri only meows loudly in response and stretches, butting the bottom of his chin with her head. “Oni—Oni, stop—” She meows again and presses harder, demanding pets, and Izuku lets out a noise that’s half sob, but half laughter too. “Dumb cat,” he mumbles, all affection, and scratches the underside of her chin. She purrs happily, snuggling into his arms, and some of his tension bleeds away.
“Silly bean,” he mutters, running a still trembling hand over her black and white fur. “How come you always gotta butt in whenever I want to have a good cry?” She meows softly, and Izuku manages a watery smile. “Yeah, I guess that is what I got you for, isn’t it? Come on, off.”
He pushes her aside with some effort, and she stares reproachfully at him as he stands, wiping away the last of his tears. “Sorry,” he says, patting her head fondly. “We’ll snuggle later, okay?”
He hangs up his backpack, grimacing at the way his clothes cling to his skin. The windows are open, but hot air rises and he’s all the way up on the third floor. Izuku picks up the mail he grabbed on his way in, leafing through it briefly. It’s all junk except for a page of coupons from a pizza place he likes, and a notice from the hospital to remind him his monthly payment is due soon. Izuku’s not sure how he could ever forgot—the days his bills are due have been seared permanently into his brain—but the notices are still sent every month, and every time Izuku’s reminded of how he’s been making payments for years now and still seems no closer to paying off his debt than when he started.
Blinking rapidly against the sudden onset of fresh tears, Izuku reaches down to pat Onigiri’s head once more before moving to the kitchen. “It could be worse,” he says to Onigiri while he pulls leftovers out of the fridge. “Imagine if Mr. Yagi hadn’t let me rent out his old apartment. Then I’d be having to commute in all the way from Arlington Heights. How awful would that be?”
Onigiri meows at him, and Izuku sighs. “Yeah, you’re right,” he says. “It does sound a lot better when you forget about the lifelong injuries and crushing mountain of debt.”
After the day he’s had, Izuku can barely muster up his appetite for even a small dinner of seasoned rice and miso soup. He puts off eating by bringing out his tablet and scrolling through Netflix for something to watch, debating between a documentary or a comedy special when a notification from the Airbnb app flashes at the top of his screen.
Momo Yaoyorozu has requested to book with you!
Izuku blinks a few times at the screen before his brain catches up. Mr. Yagi lets him rent out the apartment’s spare bedroom on Airbnb for extra cash, but he’s only had two this whole summer. It seems nobody wants to visit Chicago in the sticky summer heat; or at least, nobody wants to visit and stay at Izuku’s place. Izuku’s not sure he can really blame them. Not expecting anything until at least September, Izuku reads Momo Yaoyorozu’s booking dates, and promptly chokes.
The screen tells him Ms. Yaoyorozu’s request starts August sixth and extends for an entire month, but that can’t possibly be correct. August sixth is this coming Saturday, and Izuku’s room has never been booked for longer than a week; his meager offerings aren’t really suited for anything more extensive. Izuku restarts the app, but the dates of the request remain the same. Izuku stares dumbly at the screen, trying to figure out why on earth someone would want to book his small, third floor bedroom with minimal amenities for a whole month.
Something soft brushes against his leg, snapping Izuku out of his daze. He reaches down absently to pet Onigiri’s head before pulling up the accompanying message from Ms. Yaoyorozu, hoping for some enlightenment.
Hello Mr. Midoriya!
Apologies if the sudden nature of my booking caught you off guard. I’m in a bit a situation and needed a room quickly; yours seems to fit what I’m looking for! But before you confirm with me, I do have a special request I’m hoping you’ll be able to accomodate, if you’re willing to hear me out. If not, please feel free to decline my booking, and thank you for your time anyway!
[Aug 2 via Airbnb SMS]
A special request; that doesn’t give him much to go on, but Izuku supposes that in conjunction with the long stay period, it makes sense. He hits reply, shaky fingers slow to type out a response.
Hello Ms. Yaoyorozu!
I’d be happy to hear your special request, though I should warn you if it’s an accessibility issue, my building is old and sadly doesn’t have an elevator. How can I help? I’m sure it won’t be any trouble at all to accommodate you!
[Aug 2 via Airbnb SMS]
(That’s sort of a lie; Izuku has no idea how hard it will be to accommodate Ms. Yaoyorozu’s request, but a whole month’s worth of extra income is too enticing to pass up.)
Thank you very much for your graciousness. It isn’t an accessibility issue. I was actually wondering if I might be able to book your room for someone else, i.e. have someone besides myself stay there. I understand it’s an odd request, and of course you are under no obligation to accept it, but should you say yes, please know you would be helping me greatly!
[Aug. 2 via Airbnb SMS]
Izuku has to read the message over a few times before it fully sinks in. It is an odd request, but he supposes it’s not entirely unmanageable.
I’d be happy to help you out! If it’s a language barrier I do speak Japanese, some Spanish, and basic Korean, though my Spanish accent has been called atrocious :) Can you tell me about the person who’d be staying in your stead?
[Aug 2 via Airbnb SMS]
Her reply comes a few minutes later, by which time Izuku’s all but shoveling rice into his mouth, appetite having returned with a vengeance.
It’s not a language barrier, though coincidentally, he also speaks Japanese. His name is Shouto; he’s sort of in between jobs right now and needs a place to stay that will allow him to move around freely if needed. Airbnb rooms are usually cheaper than hotel rooms, and a lot more comfy! I can’t say much else other than that he’s in his mid-twenties, and he’s very polite if a bit standoffish. You’ll get used to it once you spend some time with him, I promise.
[Aug. 2 via Airbnb SMS]
Not a language barrier, and young enough that technology shouldn’t be an issue. And accessibility isn’t a problem. Izuku frowns at the message on his screen; the request seems more strange now, and it leaves something uneasy curling in his gut.
Could he make his own Airbnb profile and just book with me directly? It’s really easy, as I’m sure you know!
[Aug 2 via Airbnb SMS]
He hasn’t even grabbed his chopsticks again when her response comes through.
No, he can’t. Let’s just say there are some extenuating circumstances.
[Aug. 2 via Airbnb SMS]
That doesn’t make Izuku feel better at all. He’s lifting his fingers to type a response when another message pops up.
I understand completely if you can’t accommodate my request, but please do know you would be helping both myself and Shouto out greatly if you agree. I’m sorry I can’t say more than that; it’s just a very tricky situation for both of us.
[Aug. 2 via Airbnb SMS]
Izuku frowns at the screen, worrying at his bottom lip. Logic tells him he ought to say no, that this situation is too strange to warrant whatever money he’ll gain from it. But there’s also a rapidly growing part of him that wants to say yes, to extend freely a helping hand to what seems to be at least one person in need. It’s a part of him Izuku’s not always proud of, that often gets him into more trouble than he can handle, but it’s also a part of him Izuku knows he can never be rid of, that he could never want to be rid of.
His mother once told him he was, above all things, someone who wants to help people, no matter the cost, and he’s always been hard-pressed to disagree. Izuku’s battered and bruised and more than a little broken in some places, but he likes to believe that no matter how much he might be falling apart at the seams some days, he’ll always be able to help, somehow.
Izuku closes his eyes for the time it takes to breathe one full inhale and exhale, then types his response before he can think better of it.
I understand. I’m no stranger to tricky situations myself, so if I can help you guys out, I’d be happy to do so :) Please tell Mr. Shouto he’s welcome to stay under your name.
[Aug 2 via Airbnb SMS]