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You Want it Darker

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The day starts well enough, having ended well enough the night before. A second almost-full night of sleep, at home, in bed (with Hizashi). In a row.

“You know, if you keep coming home all the time I’ll start to get concerned.” Hizashi is swigging some kind of green drink from a protein shaker that almost matches the lime green leggings he's wearing, paired with a vest top so skinny it’s a wonder why he’s wearing it at all – it sure doesn’t cover much of his ridiculously over-sculpted chest. Not even his barbell-pierced nipples.

It’s only relatively recently that Hizashi decided tattoos weren’t enough and piercings started to feature on his living landscape of a body. First was the one in his navel – a tiny microphone charm, obviously – and isn’t visible in this top… just. The nips came about six months after that. Hizashi’s just got those three adornments to set off airport metal detectors, for now. He keeps ‘joking’ that he’ll get his junk pierced for Aizawa’s birthday this year, though Aizawa likes to question how would it be a gift to him if Hizashi’s cock is out of action from having an unnecessary piece of metal put in it. Works just fine how it is.

Aizawa assumes Hizashi’s been for a run in this day-glow tats-out look; so help any civilians, or worse yet paparazzi, who caught that early morning spectacle sprinting around the neighbourhood. A run would also explain why Hizashi was so sweaty when he woke Aizawa up bellowing some pop song at the top of his lungs this morning.

Naturally, when Aizawa didn’t leap to wide-awake attention in a second, this was followed by a slow pulling-up of the covers while Hizashi climbed onto the mattress to wrestle Aizawa out of the fetal position. Aizawa’s way of conveying “I'm awake” was to flip on Hizashi at the last minute, using that extra mass and the element of surprise to pin Hizashi to the mattress before he could even say “good morning” back. At least, not with words.

This inevitably resulted in Hizashi getting even more sweaty in bed right after. But he put this ridiculous running gear back on afterwards, which means he's surely about to disappear off to the shower for fuck-knows how long. Aizawa can nap on the couch with his coffee until the resident six-foot-one bird is finished preening. It’ll be glorious.

“Oh, I guess I’ll move out then.” Aizawa boredly rifles through the pile of paperwork and mail he dumped on the counter last night and sips the coffee Hizashi always puts on for him when he's here. And Hizashi dares to wonder why Aizawa’s been coming home all the time.

“Hey! That’d be great!” Hizashi zings with a million-yen grin. “I was getting sick of you cluttering up the place anyway.” The contradiction in these words is that Hizashi says them while literally draping over Aizawa like a clothes rack to dry himself on. Soon he’s reaching over Aizawa’s broad shoulders, the reach of long arms easily enough to filter through Aizawa’s unopened mail.

“Hm,” Aizawa murmurs as if giving it proper consideration. “Five years wasn’t a bad run.”

“Five? We’ve been together longer than that.” Hizashi’s indignant, and as if out of spite grabs the envelope – which looks a lot like police stationary – right out of Aizawa’s fingers. He turns it over a few times, but by all appearances it’s just a plain envelope that happens to be sent from the police station. There's no official marking beyond the stamp that sent it there. Snail mail is a little outdated, but also an awful lot less traceable, even if it is on police stationery.

“Are you sure?” Aizawa knocks back a little bit like he’s just rallying the ball rather than trying to win a point. Keeping Hizashi going to see where he lands.

Hizashi cranes over Aizawa’s shoulder to catch the corner of his gaze. Like he’s talking to a kid in class, but even more patronisingly than that, he asks, “How old are you, Shota?”

Aizawa snatches the envelope back off Hizashi. “Younger than you.”

That he’s not looking at Hizashi anymore in no way means Aizawa’s not aware of his smile, because the can’t-believe-it grin of false outrage is positively radiating against his cheek. “By four months.”

“And a day.”

Hizashi wraps his long hands around Aizawa’s head and shakes it in mock-frustration. “It was five years, like, two years ago.” Aizawa’s kind of impressed – has it been that long already? It feels like barely a couple of years ago that he was living alone in an apartment full of dead plants, sleeping on the sofa at Hizashi and his (then) girlfriend’s place more nights than he ever spent with the plant-corpses. Loads more time with real corpses too.

So it has to be even less time than that since Hizashi had a complete freakout after the night they took out a notorious motorcycle gang together. Aizawa had gotten a belly full of glass and said some stuff (he actually doesn’t remember) over short-wave radio to or about Hizashi as he bled out on-air. Naturally, once the glass had been taken out of all his organs and his internal bleeding stopped, the first night out of the hospital was when Hizashi started tearing his hair out and decided they had to find out “once and for all” if they were attracted to one another. They have the answer to that one now.

Aizawa replies a touch inattentively, “If you say so,” and starts trying to open the letter, minding the slice on his palm with a hiss.

Hizashi reaches past Aizawa's arms to filch the police envelope back. “This looks important.” He scores it open with a guitar-plucking fingernail and slides out the contents. “Oh, are these photos?” They are. A moment later Hizashi works out what they're photos of. “UGH-GROSS!” He throws the instant polaroids down abhorrently, and they fan across the mail-pile as Hizashi peels himself off Aizawa and backs away.

Aizawa laughs and picks them up. “You’re a Pro Hero. How can you be so squeamish?”

“I don’t mind it when they’re alive,” Hizashi clucks, going back to finish chugging the rest of his green-drink. “Only you would get so excited about getting pictures of dead people in the mail.”

“Just the right ones.” Aizawa starts straightening out the pictures: Kuwabara’s pulled it off again.

The first picture is an attempted reassembly of the sliced wrists of the first victim; the put-together puzzle resembles a series of strokes too damaged to be recognisable as words, but it’s better than the first time they looked. In the second picture, the man who jumped in front of the train, two kanji are shown in complete clarity, but it’s only two: 世子.

The third picture is also familiar: a hand again, like the second victim, but with a new skintone, size and extra kanji in the string of three that run across the wrist of the man who smashed his own head open on the pavement. Not Seiko or another reading, but Shiyoko: 死世子.

The final picture is new, and probably the one Hizashi was getting upset about – along with the slit-wrists. It’s an attempted reconstruction of the back of the man’s fractured skull, but it’s another kanji: 又. There’s one more kanji that would have completed the name written on the back of his head, before he cracked it open past repair on the ground, but it's illegible.

The overall picture is unmistakable: a killer who writes her name on her victims, compelling them to take their own lives.

Aside from the last kanji of her name, one question remains a mystery: how long before Shiyoko strikes again?

As it turns out, not long at all.

Aizawa specialises as much as anyone can in teaching Heroics, but at a faculty dominated by Pro Heroes, UA teachers have to be able to teach at least one classroom subject in addition to their specialism (unsurprisingly, in Heroics). For this reason, Aizawa occasionally passes as the least enthusiastic Japanese teacher in the world. During a Hero Ed. class he wouldn’t notice his phone ringing until after lesson’s end, but during this early morning Nezu-must’ve-timetabled-it-just-to-spite-him session, Aizawa will at least check a caller ID when his phone is going ballistic on vibrate for about the final third of the class.

Tamakawa picks up immediately when Aizawa returns his call, which Aizawa thinks he already knows what it has to be about. “Another one, huh?”

“You've seen the videos then?”

“Videos? How did it happen?” Aizawa grabs his things under one arm and leaves the classroom without any further interaction with the class, who – let’s face it – are about as awake as he is at this time of the morning.

“Self-immolation. Fella set fire to himself in the middle of a busy intersection.”

Aizawa’s a man of reasonable limits, but even his response is gruesome. “Holy shit.” He heads back to his own classroom, which will be empty for the next period while 1A are outdoors for P.E., while Tamakawa unfolds the rest of what they know so far about the latest incident – single male, no connection to previous victims, didn’t seem like a suicide risk, but decided to take a lighter fluid shower and play with matches in the middle of a crossing surrounded by rush-hour traffic. Worse yet, it's been filmed in all its glory by some horrified bystanders, so is now rapidly circulating the internet. As Aizawa turns the last corner and ambles into his classroom, there’s a distant noise that sounds an awful lot like someone running towards him as fast as they can.

News travels fast, and as regular surfers of social media, Aizawa’s students often know about current events faster than the sources that inform the teachers do.

That’s why it’s surprising but not that surprising for Shinsou to sprint into the doorway and skid to a stop once he's over the threshold, breathing hard. Like he’s literally crossed the campus to get here as fast as possible in the break between classes.

Aizawa leans back against the edge of his desk, wondering just how many people might have seen Shinsou legging it across campus to get here. Somehow he doubts what anyone thinks is going on to be even close to the grisly truth. “I assume you’re here about the incident this morning.”

“Yeah.” There’s no need for further explanation; never know who might be listening. But Shinsou wouldn’t hotfoot it over here for nothing. Aizawa notices Shinsou’s phone clenched tight in his hand, knuckles white around it as he says, “I saw something.”

Aizawa can’t quite figure that one out, a confused wince as Shinsou comes further into the classroom and lets the door shut behind him. “Where?”

“In one of the videos,” Shinsou blurts more than anything, coming over to the desk next to Aizawa with his phone screen held out. The lock-screen appears to be of a very large black cat, but Aizawa only catches a glimpse before Shinsou pulls up what must be a screenshot taken from one of the videos that’s already made it online, easy for a prodigious student to find. Aizawa hasn’t had a chance to look. Supposedly being in class, Shinsou ought not have had a chance either. Instead, he’s been going over the footage so closely he’s picking out a single frame to show Aizawa.

The person in the picture is seated with his legs crossed, unmoving even as he literally burns to death. How long does the grip of the killer’s quirk last, Aizawa wonders? How awake and aware was her latest victim as he burned? The victim who jumped from the roof screamed on the way down, but control on this man seemed to hold all the way until the moment he slumped over backwards, dead. Did he watch himself strike the flame as a prisoner in his own mind? Feel the flames engulf him, eating up his flesh as their fuel? What vile purpose could such an end be made necessary for this man? If he did anything to deserve it at all, but no one deserves that. Maybe he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

“Right here.” Shinsou taps on the screen to zoom. “The resolution isn’t great, but it’s there on his chest.”

Shinsou is right. The exact kanji aren’t legible, but knowing what most of them are already, Aizawa can fit the detail to the remnants left on flesh engulfed by flames, just visible for a moment as his shirt burns off his body.

Aizawa’s not the kind of teacher that goes in for a lot of praise, because being right is its own reward. Recognition of good work is different, though, so when he simply says, “Let me see,” and takes Shinsou’s phone off him, the undercurrent is one of achievement.

“This is more elaborate than before, just like D... Doc said.” A lingering tic, but a sure tell that all is not as well with Shinsou as his focused attitude makes out. A hidden struggle, one that Aizawa must try and track.

“I’ve seen this kind of thing before,” Aizawa mutters, and even he can tell it sounds ominous. “She won’t stop now, not until someone catches her.”

“So when are we getting the hell out of here to do something about it?” Shinsou asks urgently, and Aizawa can’t stop a sigh.

“So eager.” Aizawa lowers the phone but keeps hold of it. “I just spoke with Tamakawa. There isn’t much we can do for now.”

“That can’t be true!” Shinsou insists. “There has to be something-”

“Heroism isn’t about rushing into every foolish dogfight just to feel useful,” Aizawa cuts in. “In spite of the example All Might sets doing it.” Unfortunately, crowding a scene where more people aren’t necessary just slows the work down: Aizawa would know. “All this means is we’re trying to beat the clock on whoever’s next.”

Shinsou bursts like an overblown balloon, “By doing nothing?!”

“By weighing up the situation carefully.” Aizawa settles Shinsou like a strong hand on a tiller through choppy waters. Aizawa’s pooled into his chair behind his desk, while Shinsou cranes over him, and if he were so inclined – the impulse exists, even if it’s not pursued – Aizawa would be able to easily reach for Shinsou’s shoulder to physically steady him on this reckless course. Instead Aizawa just contemplates the negative space in-between them. “The police are also working on this, so thinking it over until the end of the school day is a perfectly rational choice.”

Shinsou struggles, but he’s not so blinded by his feelings that he can’t see the sense in what Aizawa’s saying. “Fine. What can we do then?”

“Nothing… yet,” Aizawa steadies. “It takes balance to do this thing well. We have to figure out how to get one step ahead of her.”

“How do we do that?”

“By thinking about it, not rushing out guns blazing,” Aizawa instructs like the swipe of sandpaper over a rough surface. “Now, don't you have a class to get to?”

“Yeah, fine, but what about later?” Shinsou demands with a big shot of that youthful determination that's so natural to young bucks. He’s still tucked close to Aizawa’s side, and Aizawa feels a gentle nudge against his shoulder. “I don't want you to leave me out.” Ah, the shadow cast by arrogance in all its forms: insecurity.

Aizawa was considering it already – meeting at a convenience store at an imprecise time isn’t the most reliable arrangement. So he might as well. It breaks the rules he sets down to try and keep the two distinct halves of his life separate from one another, but Shinsou has already made himself a bridge between those dimensions. The least Aizawa can do is make it easier to hop between them.

“Fine.” He brings up Shinsou’s phone again and takes it back to the main page. The background is a sunset shot of the city, probably taken from a bedroom window in an apartment block. There’s a cat sprawled against a window in the distance, though that’s surely not the reason he took it. Maybe. “Don’t share this information with anyone.” Aizawa starts keying a number into the phone. “Don’t show it to anyone, don’t even mention that you have it. Understand?”

“What is it?” Shinsou asks as Aizawa hits call, and a moment later his phone starts to vibrate on the desk.

“My phone number.” Aizawa hands Shinsou’s phone back to him and picks up his own, dropping the call but saving the number. “Call only if it’s urgent. Messages for everything else.”

“One question.” Shinsou’s face is an enigma as he looks at his phone. What might this gesture from Aizawa might mean to him? Being brought in closer, instead of pushed away. His gaze lifts to Aizawa, one eyebrow arched a little higher than the other, and for a second there’s a flash of what he could be – glimpses of the man he’ll become, from the kid he still is. “Do I get a personal ringtone?”

“No.” Aizawa lays that one to rest like burying roadkill in a shallow grave. “I’ll contact you after school, let you know where we’re headed.” Subtle cues, but enough to reassure Shinsou: I’ll tell you where we are going – don’t worry, I’m not going to leave you out. It works.

“Okay.” Shinsou pockets his phone, and the air shifts a little, one tiny step into being awkward. They’re not supposed to be together in school like this, the division between day and night classes blurring more and more every passing day. “I better get going.” Shinsou only pauses at the door for a moment, turning back to lift one of those magician’s hands in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it illusion of a wave. “Catch you later, teach.”

Catch the killer, more like.

“Detective Pot!” Tsukauchi sounds about as jubilant as someone who’s received dinner guests they weren't expecting. “The Chief mentioned I should expect a shadow partner on this case. Figures it’d be you.”

“Hey.” Aizawa walks straight past Tsukauchi into the office he shares with another detective that Aizawa struggles to remember, who's out at the moment anyway. “Weren't you the pot?”

“No, no, I was the kettle,” Tsukauchi insists as his gaze turns onto Shinsou standing at Aizawa’s side. “Who's the little spoon?”

“Little?” Shinsou echoes scathingly.

“This is Mind Jack,” Aizawa introduces impatiently, waiting for the day he stops having to explain Shinsou to people. “He’s helping me with the case.”

“Isn’t that what I’m doing?” Tsukauchi suggests with a dry chuckle as returns to his desk and drops into his chair. “Make yourselves comfortable.” He gestures at the empty chairs of his colleagues, and while Aizawa remains standing, Shinsou crosses over and slumps into one.

There’s a slight squeak from the chair as Shinsou puts his weight back into it, his heels sliding across the carpet tiles as long legs extend under the absent detective’s desk. Aizawa takes a mental snapshot of the picture Shinsou makes: a what-if image of the future, the who-and-what’s of what the boy could be. Being a Hero, even a professional one, but especially an underground one, doesn’t always pay the bills. Aizawa can just imagine him with a wad of papers jammed in a every pocket, a cup of shitty office coffee permanently clutched in one hand, and a nub of a pencil jutting out from his mop of purple hair. With his analytical skills and unique quirk, Shinsou would make an incredibly effective detective – with or without the oversight of the police.

“So are we actually gonna talk about this or what?” Shinsou folds his arms across his stomach, making himself look utterly at home with a distinctly feline authority.

“Then I’d invite you to start talking,” Tsukauchi returns as he starts flipping through the pages of a notebook. Other cases, different sets of scales where human lives hang in the balance.

Shinsou catches Aizawa’s eye and rolls his own. Aizawa just returns a flat stare: this is the reality of the work, growing pains and all. Learning how to deal with the everyday obstacles is often the larger part of this job. “Four dead as of this morning. The killer is literally writing her name on them. We-” Shinsou stops and then fires a long, hard look at Tsukauchi. “Well. You know where she works and presumably lives, so what we’re doing sitting here on our asses is beyond me.”

Aizawa remembers how much he actually likes this kid. “You also said she was using a fake name at work.” A modest contribution to the conversation, but Aizawa’s not one to do work that can be competently done by someone else who could use the experience. Shinsou’s already behind the pack who made it into the Hero Course, so he needs all the experience he can get.

“Tamakawa sounded like he had it narrowed down all the same,” Shinsou comes back, gaze touching Aizawa for just a moment before turning back to Tsukauchi. “Aren’t the police supposed to be able to you know, investigate these kinda things?”

To his credit, Tsukauchi takes the tsunami of Shinsou’s attitude head on without letting the pleasant smile fall from his face. “Surprisingly, it’s not our policy to communicate the police force’s every activity to anyone who hangs around the station asking what we’re up to.” Now Tsukauchi turns to Aizawa, like he thinks Shinsou’s just the puppet on the end of the strings – wrong, but Aizawa can see why he’d think it. Aizawa and Shinsou are cut from remarkably similar cloth. “I know you probably think nothing has been done on this, and we’re terribly slow and laborious in picking it up, but I do have to point out that it’s only been three days.”

“Four now, so that’s a death a day,” Shinsou comes back even before Aizawa can. With a little more practice, Aizawa wouldn’t even need to be here – he’d like to farm out this part of the work, he thinks, before realising the implications of the scenario he’s spinning for himself. One where Shinsou is a more permanent fixture in his line of work, not just a one-off case. “So shall we wait until tomorrow, when someone else is gonna die, or get out there and actually try to do something?” Shinsou puts forth with an uncanny air of his (not) dear old dad.

Tsukauchi glances at Aizawa briefly. “I see why Eraserhead picked you.”

“Yeah, I get that a lot,” Shinsou brushes off with outright nonchalance now. Aizawa reckons he’s going to have a problem on his hands in no time with this one. “You want me to carry on, or is it time for you to tell us something we don’t already know?”

Aizawa would intervene and stop Shinsou roasting a police detective alive, but it’d be pretty hypocritical; if it weren’t Shinsou, Aizawa’s got no doubt he’d be manning the barbeque instead. If anything, this makes Aizawa seem more rational – the reverse good-cop bad-cop.

Tsukauchi finishes writing in his notebook and flips the cover shut, folding his hands over each other on top of it. “Alright. We have a suspect profiled, and your assumptions about a false name are correct. There’s a Hakazaki Seiko who worked at the company of the first victim who fits the security footage Tamakawa obtained from the train station.”

So they have done something, Aizawa realises with a warm surge of reassurance. “Hakazaki Seiko?” Aizawa pounces on. “Written how?” He takes a step closer to Tsukauchi, waiting as he opens the notebook back up.

Shinsou even sits up as Tsukauchi finds the page and turns it out. “Like this.” As clearly as Tsukauchi’s skewed handwriting permits, it reads 墓世子.

Aizawa and Shinsou’s eyes meet a moment after leaving the page, the final piece falling into place. “That’s not her name,” Shinsou announces while Aizawa reaches past Tsukauchi for the book, pulling it around to face him and picking up a pen from the desk.

Tsukauchi is no fool, but he’s been on this case less time than Shinsou and Aizawa, so it’s understandable he’s a little behind in the game. He takes it pretty well, but there’s an edge of warning in his voice when he says, “So what is her name?”

Aizawa’s just finished writing it. Simple, really, to drop a few kanji like pushing books off a shelf. All the pieces in place: 墓又 死世子.

Tsukauchi reads with growing surety, “Hakamata Shiyoko.”

“So we’ve got her name.” Shinsou’s voice is full of gravitas, and rightly so: they’re one step closer to catching this woman. “What are we gonna do about it?”

“That’s for the detective to answer.” Aizawa’s pointed look pierces right between Tsukauchi’s eyes.

“If it’s the same woman, we can pay her a visit, but we won’t get inside without a search warrant.”

“If there’s even anything to find,” Shinsou points out. “She’s supposed to be good at hiding. There’s hardly going to be hard evidence just laying out in the open.” Unless it’s something the killer wants them to find.

Thinking out loud, Aizawa sounds out, “We could try to predict her next victim, but that’s a field with a lot of room for error.”

“Have you talked with Dr. Iwaya?” Tsukauchi suggests. “That is what we have her for.”

“I have, but I suppose we could stop by again,” Aizawa sighs, and maybe that’s what tells Shinsou enough to fill in the gaps.

“Let me guess: the Psych?” Shinsou suggests, and Tsukauchi nods. “Then you better leave me out of it.”

“You don’t get to pick and choose what you do,” Aizawa retorts with a stern look. “You’re coming.”

“If you want to catch her, you ought to go soon,” Tsukauchi urges. “Dr. Iwaya will be finishing for the day about now.”

“What about Hakamata Shiyoko?” Or Hakazaki Seiko, whoever: the killer.

“I’ll look into getting a warrant, but I can’t do any more on it this evening,” Tsukauchi says not quite as remorsefully as Aizawa would find tolerable. In fact, he almost sounds like he’s hurrying them.

Aizawa knows – having just lectured Shinsou on this very point – that sometimes there isn’t something useful that can be done right away, but that doesn’t stop him feeling frustrated and that it’s pointless to just do nothing and wait for the bodies to pile up.

“What, you got better plans or something?” Shinsou’s baiting Tsukauchi, which Aizawa should really stop… but doesn’t.

“If I do, it’s no-” With perfect awkward timing, there’s a knock on the door. This is apparently just a warning before the door starts to open as the knocker invites himself in.

Aizawa hears and recognises the voice before he ever sees who comes pacing into the room on gangly spider-legs. “Tsukauchi? Are you ready to-oh.” All Might stops halfway through the door, surveying the scene inside with his jaw hanging open.

“We’ll just be going then,” Aizawa fires into the silence like a warning shot. “Sh-... Jack. With me.”

Shinsou doesn’t need telling twice, bolt upright on his feet with saucer-eyes fixed on All Might as he follows Aizawa silently out of the room. All Might steps aside to make way for them, but Aizawa pointedly doesn’t meet his eye, even as he senses the beam of Toshinori’s gaze cast like a searchlight in his direction. Aizawa’s not explaining Shinsou again today, and definitely not to Toshinori.

Maybe it’ll come to nothing, Aizawa considers like a glimmering ray of hope. He doubts it, nosey busybody that Toshi is. But he can hope all the same.

As they’re walking down the hallway on the way to Dr. Iwaya’s office, Shinsou asks, “Is it me, or was that super awkward?”

Aizawa knows what he’s referring to: the look on All Might’s face as they accidentally ran into each other in a place and with company they didn’t exactly expect. Aizawa knows Tsukauchi and Toshinori are friends, but Shinsou certainly doesn’t. He probably wouldn’t have recognised the Symbol of Peace crashing this little shake-down at the police station in his boiled-down form, which is a small mercy. “It wasn’t you.”

“Thought so.” Shinsou is quiet without being sullen, hands in his pockets and keeping up with Aizawa’s quickstep up to Dr. Iwaya’s office. “Am I gonna be in trouble?” Even if students don’t realise the scrawny ‘assistant’ of All Might actually is him, Shinsou’s smart enough to recognise Toshinori from UA, someone who might recognise him and wonder what a General Studies student is doing in a detective’s office after hours with one of the Hero Course teachers.

“You? No,” Aizawa reassures as they head into the stairwell and start to climb. If anyone's due a lecture, it's Aizawa. “Don't worry about it.”

Shinsou doesn’t quite scoff, but it’s close. “Oh, we've got worse shit than that to worry about.”

Aizawa gives a vaguely affirmative grunt as he pushes on the door out of the stairwell. Iwaya’s office is only a floor above Tsukauchi’s; not worth taking the lift for, even if Aizawa would prefer to walk rather than let himself be trapped in a small metal box with other people and social norms.

When Aizawa comes out of the stairwell, he spots a willowy figure standing by the lifts. “Ah, Dr. Iwaya. Do you have a minute?” Iwaya turns to face him with a smile polished like the face of a mirror… that cracks when her gaze widens to take in Shinsou stepping out the stairwell behind Aizawa.

It’s remarkable in a way, the sheet of terror that pulls over her transfixed expression. Eyes wide and darting, checking the lights on the ascending lift to take her away. “No, I can’t… I-” The lift emits a quiet bing and the doors slide open. “I have to go.”

Aizawa goes after her, but only gets as far as “Wait-” before the doors shut again. Iwaya slips out of their net like a fish.

Shinsou’s tone is full of ‘I told you so’ gloom. “I did say to leave me out of it.” But Aizawa is a determined fisherman if nothing else.

“C’mon.” He doubles back and goes through the door they just came from, pulling a strip of his capture weapon from the reel around his neck and securing it on the edge of a railing in the wraparound staircase that runs the height of the building. “We’ll catch her at the bottom.”

“You can’t be seriou-” By this point, Aizawa’s already jumped the railing and shoots down the stairwell like a one-man lift, using a loop of his capture weapon around his forearm as a brake on his speed. A few seconds later his boots hit the floor. Aizawa steps back and looks up, watching the lithe figure Shinsou cuts coasting down after him, landing with all the grace of a newborn giraffe.

With a deft flick up the length of his capture weapon, Aizawa releases the end from the distant railing five floors up. It drops into a coil that Aizawa coaxes over his arm, which he then throws back over his neck and heads for the door.

They make it to the lifts just in time for the doors to open. Dr. Iwaya looks about as pleased as expected to see the pair of them standing there across the doorway like a police roadblock. “Nice try, Doc, but no dice.” Only after he’s said it does Aizawa realise the possible insensitivity of calling her Doc, but he’s about to have much worse to worry about.

“Relax, you look like you’ve seen a ghost,” Shinsou adds a little more ominously than could be considered fully constructive to the conversation. It can’t be missed that Iwaya’s gaze is fixed wholly and entirely on him. She’s pressed to the back of the lift like a cat at the end of a catbox, as if Aizawa will need to reach in and grab her by the scruff to get her out onto the vet’s table.

But Iwaya is a professional, not a pet, so she peels herself off the back wall and in a voice that doesn’t shake that much says, “I suppose I shouldn’t have expected to get away so easily.” She takes a few steps out of the lift, into the space Aizawa and Shinsou make by backing away from each other.

“Yeah, you shouldn’t,” Aizawa affirms. “So those five minutes of your time.”

“Alright,” Iwaya cuts him off, a sigh that’s more impatient, more human than the paralysed fear she was dominated by initially. “We shouldn’t talk here. I know a place nearby we can go.” Her gaze is still lingering on Shinsou, who’s clearly starting to feel uncomfortable about it. This discomfort intensifies with the ominous note of interrogation in Iwaya’s voice as she adds, “As it happens, I have a few questions of my own.”

In the cosy trappings of a cafe with adequately private rooms, Dr. Iwaya opens the play, her pose stiff and precise as origami. “I am forced to come to the conclusion that you’ve been keeping secrets from me, Eraserhead.”

“Can you blame me?” Aizawa answers plainly, stirring sugar into his coffee with an unflinching deadpan. Shinsou’s quiet and still at his side, making it easy to tell when Iwaya’s attention circles warily back onto him like blood down a drain. “This is-”

“I know who he is.” It’s a brisk, wrist-slapping interjection. “I would recognise a Shinsou anywhere.”

“Shinsou Hitoshi,” Shinsou offers with all the enthusiasm of a reluctant hangman. “Crappy to meet you too.” He pauses to sip soda through a straw for a moment, eyes remaining fixed on Iwaya across the table. “Gotta say, though, the psychs usually run towards me rather than away.” He stops to sip again, practically chewing on the straw like a child with a teething toy – Aizawa almost wants to slap it away from his mouth, tell him to drink like an adult. But that’s a bit rich coming from a man who lives on juice pouches if he’s allowed to. Plus, Aizawa doesn’t want to be domestic with Shinsou in public. Sends the wrong signal, even if Iwaya knows who Shinsou’s father is better than any of them.

Dr. Iwaya is an ice carving, a winter-witch who watches Shinsou with glassy eyes and says calmly, “I wasn’t running away.”

“Coulda fooled me,” Shinsou replies as he brings the straw away from his mouth. “So what did my father do to you?” There’s a quick cast of Shinsou’s gaze up and down Iwaya; the controlled, chiseled expression, the neatly styled hair and painted face of makeup. “You’re still alive, so it can’t be that bad.”

“You have no idea what you’re saying!” The ice melts, and from within the frozen palace Iwaya’s temper emerges ferociously. “Some of us have spent years trying to forget what he did! Who are you to-”

“That’s enough,” Aizawa states very carefully, his address directed at Shinsou. “Dr. Iwaya is on our side.”

“You sure about that?” Shinsou brings the bottle and chewed-end straw back up to his mouth, but it never reaches his lips because quick as a flash, Aizawa snatches the candy-striped plastic and throws it down on the table.

“Let’s keep this professional.” It’s a scold, and comes across as such if the lowering of Shinsou’s head is any indication. Baggage from the past has no business getting in the way of a Hero’s work. Granted, this is a particularly large luggage set for an extremely specific piece of work, but if Shinsou can master it here and now, he’ll be set for life. Something being difficult only makes it worth doing more, as far as Aizawa is concerned. “We’re looking for a woman. A killer,” he adds like a correction on a sheet of hastily done homework.

“She was one of my father’s research subjects back in the day.” Shinsou’s settled, but it doesn’t quite take all the edge out of his tone. Even more so than when Aizawa and Iwaya first met, Shinsou and Iwaya are guarded – almost to the point of being set against each other. “A mind control quirk that works by writing her name on someone. Ring any bells?”

Going by the return of the terrified, deer-in-the-headlights look on Iwaya’s face, it does more than ring a few bells; it burns down the entire church. “Unfortunately,” Iwaya begins solemnly, and Aizawa wonders if they’re in for a drop – or worse yet, a lie. But they’re not. “I know exactly who you mean.”

“Is that a bad thing?” Aizawa puts simply.

“I don’t know anything else about her, other than her quirk,” Iwaya explains. “But he… Dr. Shinsou was obsessed with her.”

Aizawa echoes with all due suspicion, “Obsessed?

“The strength of her quirk, the totality of control she gained over people. That was what he sought more than anything else. I was his assistant at the time, but he never let me… he didn’t want me around him when they were together, so I just helped with his notes and the experiments. I never met the girl.” Iwaya’s looking down, long eyelashes fanning her brown eyes. “I never even knew her name.”

“We can help you there,” Shinsou pipes up. “Her name is Hakamata Shiyoko. She’s been making men kill themselves.” He pauses for a soft beat, like a drum with a muffler on it. “No wonder my dad was obsessed with her.”