For all his life, Shouta’s heard that he’s lazy, that he’ll put anything off for just a couple minutes of sleep. He’d never been fond of that, of the laughs he frequently got when he curled up with a sleeping bag in the corner of classrooms in high school. He’d never liked being called lazy. The truth was—and still was, fifteen years later—that Shouta overworked himself, to the point where he often didn’t sleep at night and to the point where those few minutes of sleep he got at school was typically all he slept.
Shouta was used to overworking himself, to working and working and always having more things to do, to think about. It was just the way he operated. Shouta didn’t exactly know what he’d do with himself if he truly had nothing to do, because it’d never came up. There was always more grading, more lesson plans, more villains, and even if there was none of that, then there was always someone around for Shouta to at least occupy himself with.
Shouta stared up at the ceiling of the house, wracking his brain. There had to be something to do, but right now, he felt like a bored child, with nothing to entertain himself with and practically dying of boredom.
He’d been teaching for five years. At twenty-nine, Shouta was used to his life. He liked it. He’d found something that worked for him, even if everyone who actually knew him told him constantly how unhealthy and terrible his workaholic lifestyle was. But now, in the break between school term… there was nothing, and Shouta could barely believe it. There couldn’t be nothing, but every time Shouta wracked his brain and tried to come up with something to work on, he came up blank.
There was no grading to do because the school term was over. His paperwork was all done and the grades were already published. He’d finished all his lesson plans last night. The crime rates in the districts he usually worked in had plummeted and there was nothing new or unsolved. Nowhere else needed his help. Hizashi was out of the country, visiting relatives, leaving Shouta alone in the house with the cats, who’d all already been fed and worn out from Shouta playing with them for hours in an attempt to cure his boredom. Nemuri was vacationing, Kan was at some weeklong dog training camp, Thirteen was teaching elementary kids in some space workshop, and every one of the pussycats were on some big, high-profile mission. Shouta had nothing to work on, nothing to do, nothing to solve, and no one to hang out with.
With the way it was pouring rain outside, he was bored out of his mind, and he hated every second of it.
Which was how he ended up here, laying on his back on the bed he and Hizashi usually shared, his head hanging off the edge, with absolutely nothing of use to do. Even the cats didn’t want to play with them anymore and were all deeply asleep. Shouta, on the other hand, was more caught up on sleep than he had been in his entire adult life, and it didn’t feel nearly as good as it should’ve.
With a groan of exasperation, Shouta sat up on the bed, immediately checking his phone and finding nothing new. His last text was from Hizashi, over an hour ago. Given how far apart they were, it was the middle of the night where Hizashi was, while evening was just falling for Shouta. Part of him wished that he’d taken up Hizashi’s offer on going with him, but it was too late now, with Hizashi halfway across the world and Shouta here, bored to death in his own house.
There couldn’t be nothing to do. There had to be something. Anything.
Aizawa Shouta was a pro hero. Sure, his usual workplace was free of villains and nefarious criminals, but the world was rife with crime. If there was nothing in his usual districts, then he’d have to find something outside them. There was always something, somewhere, some place where people would need help and he could provide that help. There was nothing else to do, so Shouta was going to search for something.
With that, he got up off of the bed, went into the living room, and sat at his laptop at the kotatsu with a cup of tea, determined to find some case to work on, solve, and act on in the next week before Hizashi came back from his trip.
That was how Shouta discovered the website.
Searching for hero work without an agency or a police precinct to direct him had never been easy. This wasn’t the first time Shouta had done it and it wouldn’ t be the last, either. It was slow going and hardly produced any leads and by the time Shouta had researched reports of some criminal activity in a district very close to where he’d grown up, night had long fallen and it was nearing midnight.
It was something, though. Something for Shouta to focus on. Something for him to do. Something that could potentially keep him occupied for the rest of the week. Admittedly, though, while he had a lead, he had next to no information. Right now, with it being past midnight, it wasn’t like Shouta could call the local precinct for information, so he was left to scour the internet, which, coincidentally, led him to a forum.
It was one in the morning when Shouta found the forum and at first, he had no idea what it was actually about.
MindJack, yesterday 11:23 PM: Did you all hear about that BloodWing guy?
RedEyes92, yesterday 11:32 PM: Sorry, no. Doesn’t sound familiar.
BunFan3, yesterday 11:33 PM: I think I might’ve saw him on the news… You live in that district, right @MindJack ?
MindJack, yesterday 11:35 PM: Yeah, that’s where I’m staying atm. Kinda thinking about taking a look.
BunFan3, yesterday, 11:37 PM: Uh, that doesn’t really sound like a good idea.
BlackCatx, yesterday 11:38 PM: You’ll get arrested. Isn’t your quirk brain puppeting or something?
MindJack, yesterday 11:40 PM: Mind control. Don’t be like that. It’s not like this town even gives enough of a fuck to call in an underground hero. They’d sooner let us all be attacked by this asshole than getting help.
At the mention of underground heroes, Shouta stopped.
Heroes in their world fell into two categories, but most people were unaware of the underground heroes. Underground heroes didn’t get seen by the media by choice, whether it was because their work relied on their quirk not being known or, like Shouta, they just didn’t like the attention and cameras. Most of them were content to just work in the shadows, but for Shouta, over the decade he’d been on active duty, he’d been inevitably caught by cameras once or twice. Still, the general public didn’t know about him or even underground heroes and most people wouldn’t even know that term. Most people would just assume that a hero they didn’t know was a rookie, someone who hadn’t gotten their name out there yet but wanted to—not that there was a small group of heroes who actively avoided their names being known.
It was jarring, seeing that term being so casually thrown around on a forum, and it made Shouta stop. There were other replies in the thread, but he didn’t read them, not immediately. Instead, he scrolled back to the top, squinting at the banner he’d ignored earlier.
Shouta just stared.
Somewhere, he knew that places like this existed.
This world was obsessed with heroes. Everyone was. There was a hero for everyone, it seemed, and Shouta knew that even the most obscure heroes could still have fans. It wasn’t like a fan letter had never found its way to him, not like he’d never had someone run up to him and recognize him—but those things were few and far in between. It made sense that there’d be fans of the underground heroes in the world. It was logical. But for some reason, all Shouta could do was sit in shock as he automatically navigated to the homepage, only to be met with something that made his eyes grow wide and made him forget all about the criminal he’d set out to chase down.
The forum was definitely dedicated to underground heroes. There was a homepage, describing what they were about, a member count, and right in the middle of the page was a graphic—and Shouta found his own face staring right back at him.
He’d always wondered how Hizashi could stand to see his own face on advertisements, merchandise, television, and magazines. Now, it was even more of a mystery to him, because Shouta honestly sort of wanted to shut his laptop and push it under the couch with the lost collection of cat toys so that he’d never have to face the reality that he had a fan club ever again.
Shouta stared, his face burning hot. Someone not only had hunted down an actually decent photo of him—when had that even been taken, anyways? It looked like it might’ve been from a recent mission where Shouta hadn’t avoided media well—but they’d also taken the time to edit it, and Shouta could barely handle it. Somehow, in his search for an ametuer, obscure villain, he’d stumbled across a page for underground heroes—a page that focused a lot on himself.
To make matters worse, when Shouta was finally able to take his eyes off of the graphic staring him in the face, his gaze drifted to the left, and he fixated with horror on the fact that there was an entire subforum dedicated to his hero persona.
Now he really wanted to throw his laptop under the couch. How did Hizashi deal with this? How did anyone deal with this?
Still, he stayed on the site, partially out of morbid curiosity and partially because this was the only lead he had.
‘Bloodwing’ was a new villain, but be was a new villain who’d been terrorizing a district close to Shouta’s childhood home. Given everything, it wasn’t a place Shouta was attached to, but Shouta knew those districts well. They were full of kids, of kids who were innocent and vulnerable, and of people that the rest of society had forgotten about—or just didn’t care about. Most of them were poor. Most of the kids had absent parents. Most of them didn’t live in very good conditions. The district was streets away from the dirty apartment he’d lived in—the place his remaining family still lived in—and the poster earlier had been right. Police didn’t care about those areas. No one cared enough to hire a hero to help out.
Districts like those were both full of kids and breeding grounds for villainy. They were the perfect places for criminals to get started and gather and form plans, and the people—the kids—there had to just live in terror of whatever new criminal had made their block their hideout.
Bloodwing—real name currently unknown, though Shouta intended to find out—was reportedly a young adult with rusted, creaking metal wings, sharpened with talons at the ends. According to the little information Shouta had, there were instances of him ripping into the skin of others for pure amusement. It was horrifying, especially given that most of his victims so far had been children, and Shouta had read an online report claiming that the guy haunted the streets at night with a wide crows’ mask covering his face and concealing his features.
Shouta had every intention to take him down. Not only was it something to do, but it hit close to home. If no one else cared enough, then he’d take this guy down. The problem was, because no one cared, there wasn’t a lot of information—a few measly news articles, two police reports, and one mention of it in the hero database. It was past midnight and too late to visit or call the precinct, so Shouta was hanging onto every little lead he got.
And he’d just stumbled on something valuable.
That Mindjack person apparently both lived in the district and had heard of Bloodwing, and Shouta needed to talk to them.
That was enough for Shouta to force himself to ignore that this was an entire community of people who heard about him and talked about him. No one knew who he was online. The forum was set up like any other—with pages, content, threads, and of course, a chat room, and Shouta wasn’t technologically illiterate. He knew how to get around.
It took him less than five minutes to find Mindjack’s profile again, and immediately, he saw that whoever this was, they were the head moderator of the forum and by far, the most active. Which made Shouta regret the decision to talk to him a little, especially when he saw that they were incredibly active in the Eraserhead subforum.
Maybe there was a way to use it to his advantage, though.
Shouta hesitated, his hands frozen on his keyboard, his gaze drifting to the phone he’d set on the kotatsu. Hizashi would still be asleep, but Shouta wanted to talk to him, wanted to tell him what he’d found. Hizashi was the person out of the two of them that knew how to talk to people. He’d know what to do in this situation. It’d be easy enough—Hizashi always kept his phone on vibrate when away from him, so he’d wake up to the vibrations of it. He probably wouldn’t be too annoyed with a middle-of-the-night call with Shouta drilling him about what to do in this situation.
He shook the thought from his head. Hizashi had called him to say goodnight, had told Shouta how tired he was and about how his family was dragging him to another even early in the morning. He wouldn’t do that to him. He could handle this alone. He was almost thirty years old and while he was shocked at the fact that there was a fan website centered around underground heroes and him, he could do this—especially if he could conceal who he was. As long as no one knew, it wouldn’t be a big deal.
Mindjack was online and from what Shouta could tell, was one of the only members in the chatroom. Not letting himself hesitate, Shouta found the page to sign up for the forum, but immediately got stuck. He needed a username.
He’d never been good at thinking up names.
CatLover was taken. So was CatLover01. SleepingPrinceofRelaxation was too long. Energysaverchan sounded too feminine and also like he was trying to come off as a teenager, which was the last thing he wanted. Eraserhead was completely out of the question… and also taken.
(So was Eraserhead01.)
Shouta sat, thinking, trying out names and discarding them, for close to ten minutes, before he finally gave up and entered the obvious, nearly praying that it wasn’t taken if only for the sake of keeping his actual identity a secret to whatever fans he apparently had.
To his relief, it wasn’t taken, and Shouta breathed a sigh, relaxing a little at the notion that no one had figured out his civilian name yet. That alone was reassuring, and the rest of the signup process was easier. Shouta used a throwaway, inconspicuous email, put his real age, made his profile picture a photo of his three cats, and wrote a half-true about section for his profile—all of which was ten times easier than coming up with an actual username.
The entire process took less than an hour and with every word he wrote or thing he clicked, it started to feel more and more like going undercover to investigate a criminal. Except he was going undercover as himself in a chatroom on the internet. He tried not to think about the fact that part of this forum was dedicated to him and with that, Shouta finally decided that it was time and decided to enter the chatroom, immediately finding that Mindjack was the only active person on, the recent logs showing that the last person had gone idle about five minutes prior. It was perfect, meaning that Shouta didn’t have to deal with anyone else he didn’t want to talk to.
Before he could even say anything, though, a message popped up on his screen. Apparently the other person was actively watching the chat, rather than doing other things and having it in the background, as Shouta had assumed.
MindJack: Woah, you JUST joined, didn’t you?!
MindJack: No one really ever comes into the chat that fast.
Shouta wasn’t entirely sure how to respond. This person didn’t have a lot of information available, their profile having been set to only people who had him added as a friend. All Shouta had been able to see was their moderator status, if they were online, and their profile picture. Which had also been of a cat.
AizawaShouta: I was curious.
It was all he could think of. The response was almost immediate.
MindJack: You’re kinda old, aren’t you?
AizawaShouta: ...I’m sorry?
MindJack: Yeah, you’re like 30. Most people on here are pretty young.
AizawaShouta: I’m not 30. It says on my profile that I’m 29.
MindJack: I said LIKE 30.
MindJack: That’s really old. Like middle-aged.
MindJack: Do they let people on the internet in your nursing homes?
Shouta couldn’t decide if this was some unruly teenager or some pompous young adult. He wasn’t even that old. It was Hizashi who was having the crisis over turning thirty soon. Shouta honestly couldn’t care less.
AizawaShouta: How old are you that you think 30 is middle-aged?
MindJack: Woah, I’m not gonna give out my age to some creepy old dude on the internet. No way.
Definitely a teenager.
Shouta had half a response written out when a few more messages from the kid popped up.
MindJack: I’m just messing with you. I’m 14. Most people on this site are around my age or a little older. It’s pretty odd to see someone older.
MindJack: I guess I should welcome you to the site or something? Obviously you already found your way around and welcome messages are lame.
MindJack: Who’s your favorite hero???
It somehow felt like both a loaded question and an innocent one. A fourteen year-old asking someone’s favorite hero wasn’t uncommon. Heroes seemed to be a common conversation topic, especially with teenagers—though most of Shouta’s experience with teenagers came from teaching a heroics course in a hero school, so he might’ve been wrong. Besides, this was a forum for heroes—underground heroes. Shouta knew a lot of other underground heroes, but he didn’t want to give himself away by saying too much and revealing too much about himself. He didn’t know how many other underground heroes they knew about and saying himself just felt… wrong.
AizawaShouta: Present Mic.
The silence from the other end was excruciating.
MindJack: Are you serious.
Shouta felt himself smirking at that, even letting out a small laugh. He’d have to tell Hizashi about this, tell him about how some kid on an underground heroes forum found it unbelievable that Present Mic was the favorite hero of a ‘middle aged’ man.
AizawaShouta: He seems nice. His music is catchy. I listen to his radio show.
MindJack: Everyone does. That guy’s a huge dork.
MindJack: Wanna know who my favorite is???
MindJack: Do you know Eraserhead????
Part of this forum was dedicated to him, and it seemed like an at least partially obscure, unknown place. He had to think of a logical response. Clearly, he was the most discussed underground hero here, so it was reasonable to say that yes, he knew of Eraserhead. Which… wasn’t exactly a lie.
AizawaShouta: Sure. That’s what brought me here.
MindJack: Yeah, that’s what brings most people here.
MindJack: He’s so cool.
MindJack: He’s my favorite. That’s why I started this site.
MindJack: Other underground heroes are cool and all but you know… he’s the best.
AizawaShouta: He’s ok.
MindJack: No, he’s the best. Like All Might, except actually cool and better.
Shouta wasn’t entirely sure what to say to that. He wasn’t a big fan of All Might and never had been. He’d also never been compared to him, given that the two of them were opposite ends of the spectrum. Shouta did everything to avoid cameras and attention, and All Might wanted all of it. Shouta had a nonphysical quirk and All Might… well, no one actually knew what his quirk was, but there was no doubt that it was physical.
His face was beet red again. He was only minimally happy that Hizashi wasn’t here to see it. He missed him too much to actually be happy that he wasn’t here, though. He took a breath, knowing that the entire purpose of being undercover was to blend in, and he was already doing an awful job of it.
AizawaShouta: He’s cool.
MindJack: I know!
MindJack: Hey, did you know his quirk is completely nonphysical. It’s just erasure and whatever he does with those bands. I don’t even think that’s part of his quirk. He must’ve trained really hard to get that strong.
MindJack: What’s your quick? Most people here make their usernames related to their quirks… is yours seriously just your name? You really are old.
AizawaShouta: It’s just my name.
AizawaShouta: I’m quirkless.
He really could’ve said anything, but quirkless was what he settled on. Essentially, he was. The only time erasure was of any use was when someone else was using their quirk. Other than that, he was just like any quirkless person, and all erasure did was bring someone down to his level. Though… it was a little scary how much this kid seemed to know about his quirk.
MindJack: Really? That’s cool. I used to live with a bunch of quirkless kids. A lot of them get put into foster care.
AizawaShouta: Your quirk is mind control?
MindJack: Technically, it’s brainwash.
AizawaShouta: That’s pretty rare.
AizawaShouta: You said something about it on the post about that villain.
Aizawa Shouta: Bloodwing.
He’d come here for a purpose, he had to remember. Not to get called old by some fourteen year-old with too much time on their hands. This kid had information about a criminal Shouta wanted and with the knowledge that this kid was in danger of being attacked by this criminal, Shouta just wanted to catch them even more.
MindJack: Right. That guy.
MindJack: He’s annoying.
AizawaShouta: You’re not scared of him?
MindJack: Not really. I heard he’s just some lame asshole who got mad about the people here kicking him out.
MindJack: One of the kids I live with said he was just some antisocial nerd until he got kicked out of a foster home. Not mine, though.
MindJack: Oops. Well now you know that I live in foster care. Whatever.
Shouta squinted at the screen. So far, he knew this kid’s age, quirk, where he lived, and the fact that he was in foster care. He’d been under the impression that most kids were told to not share much about themselves on the internet, especially to strangers. Shouta hadn’t really said anything that would make him come off as anything out of the ordinary.
Maybe this forum was made up of close-knit people. That was sort of the impression he was getting—that most people on here were at least well acquainted with each other, if not actual friends. Even scrolling up, he could browse through some of the past messages in the chatroom, could see that Mindjack had been joking around and talking to another forum member earlier in the night, sounding like they knew the other person well. There was a good chance that he’d just walked into a community of people who were close and shared things with each other.
Either that, or this kid was just too eager to share information about themself in the presence of anyone who would talk to them.
AizawaShouta: Did you know him?
MindJack: Nope. He aged out before I ever came to this district.
MindJack: I don’t really know why he doesn’t go scare people somewhere else. This place is a shithole.
AizawaShouta: I’ve been around there. It’s a breeding place for crime.
MindJack: You seem to know a lot about this.
MindJack: How do you even know about that Bloodwing guy in the first place? He hasn’t even really been on the news.
Shouta’s blood ran cold. This kid wasn’t the only one oversharing. He’d apparently given too much information out and made them suspicious and Shouta was stuck, trying to think of an excuse for why he would know of some obscure criminal.
AizawaShouta: I just looked him up after I read that post. I thought it was interesting.
MindJack: I’m just joking. Everyone here likes to keep up with reports of villains, even if the police don’t do shit about them.
MindJack: Sometimes there’s a chance that underground heroes will show up and take down criminals. I mean, that’s pretty much our only chances in cases like this, lol.
AizawaShouta: The police don’t care about your district? It’s a breeding place for crime, but you think they’d at least try to do something.
He knew the answer to that. He’d lived close to there. He knew what it was like. That was the entire reason this villain had caught his eye. If he didn’t do anything, no one would, and Bloodwing would continue terrorizing the district and the kids and the only hope for a way out would be Bloodwing getting bored of terrorizing his home district and moving elsewhere.
MindJack: That’s funny.
MindJack: Yeah, they don’t care at all.
MindJack: I even tried giving them his real name. They couldn’t give less of a shit. The police here are useless.
AizawaShouta: His real name?
MindJack: Civilian name. Wanna hear it? It’s so lame.
This was way easier than Shouta had ever even imagined. As embarrassing as it was being on this site and having to talk about himself, he was easily getting the information he needed.
MindJack: Tsubasa Kinzoku.
AizawaShouta: ...That is pretty lame.
MindJack: Right? So literal.
MindJack: I can’t really talk, though. My name is like that, too. Except… a little more insulting.
Shouta was tempted to ask the kid what their name actually was, but there was no real reason for it. He couldn’t logically think of a reason why he’d need to know this kid’s name, other than just being curious, which wasn’t enough. He couldn’t shake the curiosity, though, and Shouta gave in a little.
AizawaShouta: What? Your name isn’t actually MindJack?
MindJack: It’s Hitoshi.
MindJack: Like this—人使
AizawaShouta: ‘Person use’
AizawaShouta: You weren’t kidding.
MindJack: Nope. Guess my real parents had a good idea of what my quirk was when I was born.
MindJack: Or maybe they just had a weird sense of humor?
MindJack: Oops. I have to go to bed.
MindJack: You seem cool. Let’s talk more tomorrow.
With that, suddenly, Mindjack—Hitoshi—had signed off, but not without a notification that came up on Shouta’s screen, alerting him that the kid had friend requested him. It was a sudden leave, but Shouta shook it off, glancing at the time and finding that it was close to two in the morning and that he’d spent the last two hours signing up for an underground hero forum and chatting with a fourteen year-old kid. He was starting to get tired, as well. With Hizashi’s habit of forgetting about their time difference and immediately waking Shouta up whenever he got up with a phone call, he could expect to get about two hours of sleep before then, and Shouta was more than eager to go to bed.
He wrote down the new information he had—that Bloodwing had been in foster care and then had aged out and been kicked out. That gave him a motive to hurt kids, especially if foster care was common around there. He wrote down the guy’s real name in big characters, circling it to remind himself to look for it more in the morning and bring it to the precinct he planned on visiting.
He had every intention in the world of going to bed, but Shouta hesitated.
Mindjack had had their profile locked so that only friends could see their information and now that Shouta was friends with them, he could easily see more about them. There was no real reason to, but curiosity killed the cat, and only satisfaction brought it back.
Hitoshi, M, 14, Head Moderator
The profile had his name, gender, age, and ranking marked down. He could also see some photos, glancing through a gallery that consisted mostly of cat photos, blurry pictures of Shouta’s hero persona, and a single small photo of a pale kid with wild violet hair, looking away from the camera, the photo buried in the kid’s gallery.
It was interesting. Shouta had never thought that he had fans like this. Even forgetting about Bloodwing and all the embarrassment of finding this place—it was a little endearing. Shouta had never wanted to be a public hero, had never wanted cameras around him or merchandise made of him. He just wanted to keep to himself and do his own thing.
The fact of the matter, though, was that there weren’t really a lot of heroes like him. Hitoshi had been right earlier—all of his fighting techniques were from training. His quirk granted him no real advantage. All it did was make his opponent as quirkless as he was. Everything else was all training, technique, and experience. Shouta had grown up in a bad place without heroes like himself to look up to. All the heroes he’d seen had had physical quirks, flashy things that people liked, things that granted them strength and advantage. To everyone around him, he’d been as good as quirkless, and Shouta had had to work twice as hard at becoming a hero as anyone else.
And to a kid with a brainwashing quirk…
Shouta wasn’t stupid. He knew what society was like. He’d been a victim of it, too. People didn’t like quirkless people and the only thing they put on a lower tier than those who were quirkless was those with quirks that took away someone’s control. People hadn’t liked Shouta having the ability to take away the one thing that made them special. And he knew without asking that kid that people especially didn’t like the possibility of being completely mind controlled.
Shouta had never had heroes like him. There’d been no one to look up to, and even if he hated media attention, he thought that maybe—maybe that kid had found someone to look up to in him.
With that, Shouta closed his laptop, found a cat to take to bed, and climbed under the covers, making sure his phone was nearby his head so that Hizashi’s call would wake him up. He fell asleep quickly, thinking about his plans for the next day, his thoughts still partly focused on the kid he’d met.