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You Want it Darker

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Aizawa’s floundering through another of those hate-myself (or Nezu hates him) first-period Japanese lessons when his phone vibrates nonstop for over five minutes. He checks the ID and confirms his hunch: Tsukauchi. Unable to answer the phone, Aizawa’s mind is already spinning, making plans for what to do if the thing that’s happened is what he thinks it is.

Then with no warning at all, the classroom door shunts open as if cast by psychic hands. A weary Aizawa and a wearier-still class snap their attention all at once to the empty doorway. A moment passes, and then All Might levers himself into the opening with a characteristic, “I’m here!” like he’s a traffic signal rather than a person that actually exists.

Aizawa’s mid-lesson, mid-sentence even, but that makes no difference when All Might shows up in any given classroom on campus. The students rises up with an instant injection of enthusiasm, while Aizawa breaks into a dead inside-and-out stare at Toshinori.

“Aizawa!” Toshi’s puffed up to his usual shape in front of the children, but the usually booming sound of his voice shakes a little – closer to his actual tired drawl. “It’s… can you step out for a second? There’s an issue of slight,” he hesitates, picking words like letters out of a Scrabble bag, “importance needing your attention.”

Aizawa casts a calculating eye over his class, revived from their near-catatonic state by All Might’s sudden appearance, and considers their loss over not fully understanding the passage of text they’re crawling through like a guy who’s been kneecapped down a hallway. There'll be more lost evidence from letting a fresh crime scene go cold than these students will gain in Aizawa’s classroom. Because there’s now, and there’s don’t bother going at all. The stakes are real, and being hot on a lead matters just a bit more than literature that’s existed for hundreds of years already.

When Aizawa turns and leaves the room without a word, he’s sure he can hear the students’ sigh of relief chasing him on the way out. “What?” Aizawa prompts after he steps into the empty hallway, now facing Toshi, who stands in his scarecrow form. Maybe he only inflated himself from the waist up, just to peer around the door and summon Aizawa with some semblance of authority. It’s annoying as usual – Aizawa’s never been one for a costume – but that’s not the point right now.

“It’s Naomasa—I mean, Detective Tsukauchi.” Toshinori splutters, though it’s more likely due to his shapeshifting than a sense of embarrassment. Or a little of both. “He’s been trying to get in touch with you, but realised you must have been in class so he asked if I would uh—” So Tsukauchi sent his man on the inside; Aizawa doesn’t have time for these pointless explanations.

“It must be important,” Aizawa interjects as an invitation for Toshinori to actually get on with it than dither in the rhetoric.

“Oh—yes,” Toshinori hops to it, probably not fully aware of the stakes and ambling through this more than he needs to. He almost seems nervous, though over what Aizawa can’t imagine. “Tsukauchi needs you to meet him right away. He also said ‘bring the kid’ and promised you'd know what it means.”

Aizawa does, but that's half the trouble. After Hitoshi's playful testing of the boundaries between Aizawa’s two professional lives, the moment of truth has come along much sooner than he expected. Underground Hero and teacher: it's not exactly a marriage made in heaven. And while clashes have occurred between his jobs before, it’s never involved a sketchily legal intern who should be in his own classes in General Studies like he's supposed to be.

Before Aizawa can agonise a moment further over this thought, his phone rings again – only it's not Tsukauchi this time. Maybe a personalised ringtone would be useful after all, is Aizawa’s fleeting thought as he checks the ID and answers with an indignant, “Shouldn't you be in class?”

“Shouldn't you?” comes the response. “ Hurry up, we're at the gates.”


“Yamaguichi and your Favourite Feline,” Hitoshi answers impatiently. “Why are you still talking and not running?” This next part isn’t addressed to Aizawa: “Yankumi, start the engine.”

Aizawa hears the engine as he’s hanging up, which is his cue to shove his phone into his pocket and give Toshinori a quick, “Hey, think you could finish teaching my class?” before he breaks into a run, dashes to the end of the hallway, and then leaps out the nearest open window.

Abseiling to the ground on a piece of his capture weapon, Aizawa considers that he’s going to have hell to pay from Nezu for this. But if Hitoshi’s already ditched class, then at least Aizawa can make sure he gets back to it as quickly as possible. After they check out the crime scene that Tsukauchi’s presumably got on ice for them.

Aizawa sprints toward the campus wall and heads straight up it, scaling the sheer face with a well placed run-up-and-grab before vaulting clean over the supposedly absolute barrier. Landing streetside, Aizawa stands up and spots the police car rolling past on its slow trundle away from the gates. Whether that's planned or an accident is anyone's guess. Either way, Aizawa breaks into a fresh sprint. He gets closer, and without the car actually stopping, the back door facing the pavement swings open. Hitoshi’s visible in the opening, an absolutely maleficent grin that invites Aizawa to take a leap of faith. Like Aizawa hasn’t been jumping for days.

This is how Aizawa comes to launch himself into the backseat of a moving car and accidentally lands on top of his intern.

Hitoshi’s not completely under Aizawa at the moment of impact, but he's shuffled far enough across the backseat to get the door open on Aizawa’s side. This means Hitoshi occupies more of the space Aizawa leaps into than originally anticipated. Hitoshi is also at least eighty percent arms and legs alone, so the original tangle of limbs soon turns into a furious knot, though Aizawa manages to get the door slammed shut behind him so Tamakawa can actually put his foot down while he and Hitoshi keep tussling on the backseat.

“Watch it!” Hitoshi growls as Aizawa bundles the almost-six-foot bag of coathangers back onto the other side of the backseat. “ Ugh, you’re heavier than you look.” Hizashi has said the same thing, claiming that Aizawa’s so dense it’s a miracle he floats in water.

Aizawa feels like snapping that the only creatures that could possibly need this much leg are flamingos but decides that a domestic probably isn’t the best look to go for right now. He settles for shoving the trainer-clad foot Hitoshi’s managed to get all the way up to armpit level back where it’s supposed to be – on the floor on Hitoshi’s side of the car. Aizawa finally manages to separate himself from his student with some shred of dignity, though Yamaguichi is tittering away in the front passenger seat.

“You know, we could have stopped,” Tama points out from behind the wheel. He puts on the siren and keeps steadily accelerating. “Hi, by the way.”

“Where’s the fun in that?” Hitoshi replies unenthusiastically, even though it was his ill-advised stunt in the first place. Aizawa’s fault for jumping, really.

“So what are we dealing with?” Aizawa buckles in, making a finger-wagging gesture for Hitoshi to do the same, suffixed with a quick follow up directly to Hitoshi, “And how did you hear about it first?”

“Yankumi texted me,” Hitoshi answers smugly. Turns out their swapping information is working out after all. “As for the what, I’ve no idea.”

“Tsukauchi hasn't given us any details, just to pick you two up as soon as possible.” Tama’s behind the wheel for this one and it shows; Yamaguichi is still a rookie cop, not as experienced as her partner when it comes to driving like a maniac, cutting every intersection crossing by a whisker. Hizashi and Tama would probably have a ball drag racing each other, they're both terrifying drivers in their own right.

“I've got a pretty good guess,” Hitoshi declares with what's probably best described as morbid delight. Which is sort of a good sign?

“Yeah,” Aizawa grunts with that two-ways split of electric anticipation, knowing they're probably about to see something very nasty indeed. “So do I.”

Tamakawa parks outside a courthouse, and for a building that would normally be bustling on a Tuesday morning, it's silent as the grave. Layer after layer of police tape cordoning the whole street off might be part of that, and even Tama and Yamaguichi only come with them as far as the door.

“Our orders are to remain on guard outside. Tsukauchi is waiting for you in there,” Tama says stiffly, which Aizawa understands. Frustrating as it is, they all have to know their place from time to time – even if it means dropping everything else and deserting a second job to tend to the first and original job: being a goddamn Hero.

With a deep breath and momentary glance at Hitoshi, Aizawa prepares to duck the police tape. Hitoshi returns his ‘are you as ready for this as I am’ grimace. Answer: there’s no such thing as ready to see the things they’re about to see. They do it anyway.

After a quick nod from Hitoshi, they’re both stooping under the tape and moving forward on the other side. Aizawa puts a hand to the door and pushes. It rolls open smoothly, silent on its bearings, and opens into a festival hall-like lobby, complete with a balcony that stretches like a theatre circle across the upper level, presiding over a large ground floor laid with huge slabs of black and white marble.

The first thing is the blood. Lots of blood. This would be because of the body hung like a wet towel from the open gallery, which is the source of the sizable pool that’s spread across the cold, polished floor.

But that’s not all. It’s impossible to miss what’s been written next to the perfectly circular disc of blood, drained from the body like sap from a tree. Neat columns of text aligned just in front of the place this poor sucker finished bleeding out like a butchered animal. The message is unnervingly fitting.


“Fucking hell,” Hitoshi murmurs quietly as they take the gruesome picture in. Aizawa couldn’t agree more.

“You both managed to make it. Good.” Tsukauchi tumbles out of the shadows, and it’s easy for a living person to be overshadowed by the spectacle of death—especially death like this. “What a mess, huh?”

“Who is he?” Aizawa looks up and takes in key facts in quick succession: dressed in a good quality suit and tie, hung brokenly by the neck from the balcony rail up above on a sturdy, properly knotted noose. Oh, and the body is missing its nose. Puts the pig thing into an even more unsavory context.

“A lawyer,” Tsukauchi answers like he’s wearing lemon dentures. “Relatively well-known.”

“What for?” Hitoshi asks, snatching the question right off Aizawa’s tongue.

“Mostly… assault and rape cases.” Tsukauchi’s tone conveys his distaste.

“Let me guess,” Aizawa slips back into the conversation. “It wasn’t for the prosecution.”

“Got it in one.” Tsukauchi’s face never suits frowning, like right and left shoes on the wrong feet, but that casts the grim air the subject deserves. “The deceased was famously employed by a number of influential businessmen accused of… misconduct with their female employees.” That’s an overly pretty way to put it. Not the words Aizawa would choose, but probably the more tasteful ones.

That’s what they call it?” Aizawa comments like he’s swinging a scythe across swathes of courtesy. Things should be seen for exactly as horrible as they are, and sometimes bad things do happen to bad people. Doesn’t make it right, but does make it a touch more bearable.

“According to the judges who ruled in his favour,” Hitosh sticks on the end. He’s eyeing the corpse without any signs of strain, at least not to Aizawa’s covert gaze, sneaking peeks of Hitoshi investigating one of the nastier crime scenes Aizawa’s had the displeasure of attending the arrival party for. A lot of people would find a scene like this intolerable, like being boiled alive in the worst of humanity. But Hitoshi’s eyes just narrow like he’s sliding into a hot spring and needs a minute to adjust. “Guess he was a pig after all.”

Aizawa hisses at Hitoshi rather than call him by any of the names he wears that don’t fit in this context. A short staticky sound that’s meant to scold Hitoshi for pushing his usual dark humour and teenage-angst don’t give a shit attitude in a place like this. Even if he’s right. Especially then, in fact. You can think it, but don’t be dumb enough to open your mouth and actually say it.

Hitoshi just glances over at Aizawa and lifts an eyebrow, like he knew Aizawa would do that and did what he wants to anyway. “How long has he been dead?”

“A couple of hours,” Tsukauchi replies, also looking up at the corpse. “The guard over there just came in to open up and found all this, called it in.”

Aizawa goes next, giving the champion of sex offenders another long look. The once-white of the victim’s shirt has taken on an incredible plume of crimson, spreading across his chest from the waterfall of blood that’s come from the now-removed nose. What would it feel like to be trapped in your own body, conscious but powerless as the cartilage and all was sliced away? Aizawa tries to think about something else. Anything else. “Security footage?”

“Working on it.” Tsukauchi looks like he wants a cigarette about now. Maybe Tama would spare one for him, in exchange for a few morsels of information, no doubt. Maybe Aizawa should take that deal himself. “Seems like they arrived together early in the morning, and went straight up to the gallery.”

Aizawa looks up past the disjointed, wide-open dead eyes in the mutilated face of a man who deserved a lot but definitely didn’t deserve this. His gaze climbs the blood-spattered rope hanging from up to the balcony railing. It’s a fairly long drop, and at least from this angle the victim's neck looks like it could be broken. If there’s any mercy in the world, he died on impact. But the world isn’t always merciful. “Can we get up there?”

“Yes.” Tsukauchi nods across the room, and a security guard doing his best not to look nods back, jangling some keys as Aizawa, Tsukauchi and Hitoshi walk over to the signposted stairwell.

Aizawa catches Hitoshi looking around, stalling at the back of the group even as they start to climb the stairs. So he starts to linger too, falling enough behind to be naturally almost elbow-to-elbow with Hitoshi. Only when he’s sure it’ll go no further than the few inches of space between them does Aizawa quietly ask, “What are you looking for?”

Hitoshi’s answer is a knowing stare and then a quick motion of his hand, raising with a finger outstretched until his fingertip touches lightly against his nose. It’s almost a mirror of the move Hitoshi made Aizawa do this morning for shits and gigs, but as usual, the meaning here is radically different. There wasn’t a nose anywhere in sight on the ground floor, so there’s only a few more places it might logically be before the most obvious location defaults to ‘in Shiyoko’s freezer’ – or somewhere else in her possession, at least.

There’s a locked door at the top of the stairs. The security guard jangles his keys nervously, finding the right one for it. He’s the person who found the crime scene, and it shows. “Was this door locked when you arrived?” Aizawa tries to be gentle, waiting until the guy’s got the key in the lock and steadied his shaking hands.

“No sir,” he replies with a voice that’s as delicate as a very thin layer of ice atop a lake. “I just came up here and locked it because—I thought it’d be, you know—”

“It’s alright.” Tsukauchi lays a hand very gently on the man’s shoulder and gives his best beaming smile – must be something he gets from Toshinori. Aizawa can never be sure which of them is rubbing off on the other, and usually tries to avoid thinking about them rubbing on each other at all. “Thanks for your help.”

“Yes well I, uh… I didn’t know him or anything.” The security guard is of middle-to-late age, thinning hair and lines upon lines in his face. This alone’s probably aged him another twenty years.

“Did you know him by reputation?” Hitoshi probes with the ease of a serpent sliding on its belly across warm sand. Only now does the guard seem to realise that Hitoshi’s clearly not an adult like the rest of them. Or as sombre. Hell, he’s acting like a kid skipping school to do something awesome. Which is somewhat true.

Hitoshi’s… everything, makes the guard a lot less certain of answering his questions, and this is without knowing a thing about his quirk. The double-deadeye stares of Aizawa and Tsukauchi seem to shove the nervous guy over the line on this occasion, but it’s only to stammer, “I… I wouldn’t want to speak ill of the dead.”

Aizawa considers what they could pick from the minds of people like this man; those who want to help, but can’t quite seem to get the words out. People who could give consent, and be calmed enough to give controlled answers to clear questions. What Hitoshi and his quirk could accomplish if he was empowered to do so.

But then, Hitoshi’s doesn’t need his quirk when he can wrangle his way by other means. “That’s enough of an answer,” he remarks coyly, and then does his stalk of grass waving in the wind bit where he manages to slip around Aizawa, Tsukauchi and the guard to get through the door first without any of them having to move a muscle.

In the cavernous space of the courthouse lobby above their heads, Hitoshi’s voice echoes like he’s talking to them from inside some morbid cathedral. “Well, lookie here.” It occurs to Aizawa that with a quirk like Hitoshi’s, the ability to disguise the origin of his voice could be terribly useful on occasion. He reminds himself to go with Hitoshi to the Support Department sometime. There’s a breadbasket first-year in there who would almost certainly sell them gadgets without worrying about which Course the customer is in. Aizawa sees way too many students shooting around with jetpacks during lunch break for those rules to be strongly enforced.

Aizawa steps through the doorway next, catching up to get a look at what Hitoshi’s already studying. Another pool of blood, smaller and tackier where it’s dried on the worn carpet. The other end of the rope is tied firmly around a rail that’s bolted to the short wall separating the gallery from the drop below.

“Looks like the site of our budget plastic surgery,” Hitoshi comments, as if Tsukauchi and Aizawa can’t see that just by looking. Then Hitoshi turns his face up to the adults in the room and smiles. Not a good smile—one of those uncanny Shinsou smiles that feels like a plaster being torn off. Aizawa feels his pre-emptive senses lurching into action, too slow to stop the ridiculous brat from continuing, “Who nose where it’s gone.”

Aizawa drops decorum and whacks Hitoshi on the shoulder, a catlike swipe of reprimand. Tsukauchi looks like he just inhaled a bug. Maybe Hitoshi is a little too much of a natural at spooking people – but then, how the things he went through at a tender age have affected him is a floating question-mark that’ll probably never have a definite answer. Is it easier to confront the dark side of humanity and mentalist quirks after being forced to be a part of it?

Probably, but Aizawa can’t imagine anyone likes to think about it. Except Hitoshi, who embraces the darkness. Turns it into a sick joke that he uses to make sure he’s always the person in the room freaking out least —at least on the outside.

Getting closer to the bloodstain, Aizawa drops down into a crouch and looks carefully for the signs he’s expecting to see. The escalation. “Here.” He points to faint but discernible scuffs on the floor, a slight disturbance in the fibres of the rug, not far from where Hitoshi’s stopped, knowing to keep his distance rather than rush right in and walk all over the evidence. Even evidence he doesn’t know is there. “Signs of a struggle.”

“What?” Hitoshi’s expression crumples, not understanding the divergence from what he came in here to be proven right about. He drops down next to Aizawa to look closer and sees the long scrape, indicative of something like a heel sliding rapidly forward. Say, from someone being pushed, a rope already around their neck and nose cut off out of spite. “But that means–”

“She released her quirk,” Aizawa finishes, squatting in conference with Hitoshi while Tsukauchi looms above them both. “Maybe even on purpose.”

“Interesting chat, boys?”

Aizawa looks up disparagingly but feels the impact might be lost on Tsukauchi. “The killer is evolving,” he recites in a dry monotone. “She was here while he died.”

“Well duh,” Hitoshi comments, and Aizawa would cuff him round the head if he didn't want Tsukauchi to get the wrong idea about the dynamics of their relationship. Aizawa tries to remember if it was always so physical and seems to recall it was, more or less. Kids, especially teens – and doubly so ones like Hitoshi – need human contact. Everyone does. Aizawa has no qualms about granting that to others. “Someone had to do all the bloody fingerpainting down below.”

The observation lights a shadow in Aizawa’s mind, a corner he hadn't looked in yet, but would have probably made the same conclusion once he reached the point. It's obvious, but no one's minds work exactly the same. It’s a relay race, not a dead heat. “Of course,” Aizawa murmurs thoughtfully, and Hitoshi looks absolutely chuffed.

“So you're saying she didn't make him kill himself?” Tsukauchi derives with a slight ‘you two’ impatience.

“We're saying she pushed him,” Hitoshi retorts. “But if he put the noose around his neck and cut off a popular appendage first, then what difference does it make?”

“You think she made him do that?” Aizawa questions Hitoshi; not because he disagrees, of course, just to assess where the kid’s head is at.

“I think it'd defeat the point if she didn't,” Hitoshi shoots back, and then after mulling over a thought like mouthing a hard candy decides to announce, “My dad’d just love this,” in what could probably be described as the worst possible tone.

Maybe he and Aizawa need a talk about the risks Private Detectives run of ending up being accused of the crimes they're trying to solve. Detectives like Aizawa do at least; his fourth job that's sort of part of his Hero job, but not exactly, because there's not too many Pros that do their own casework in parallel to the police. Even if it's the only way Aizawa can be sure the police are doing a good enough job.

“Would you care to explain what that’s supposed to mean?” Tsukauchi has been setting little number markers against the clues as Aizawa and Hitoshi point them out, but Hitoshi draws him away from the tedious rank-and-file stuff that Tsukauchi seems to not hate doing with every fiber of his being like Aizawa does.

“You really want me to say it?” Hitoshi actually pauses, giving Tsukauchi the chance to back out of this. Aizawa almost recommends that Tsukauchi does. But this is surely something they have to hear. “Fine. The reason they do this is power. They–”

“Who’s they–”

“Don’t interrupt,” Hitoshi butts in like firing a round to Tsukauchi’s head. But if he were really annoyed, Hitoshi could’ve used his quirk to shut the Detective up – and gotten them in trouble – so really, he’s still being pretty well-behaved by Aizawa’s ever-looser standards. “The reason people like my father and Shiyoko do this is to demonstrate power. The power of this —” Hitoshi brings a finger to his temple, and then slowly moves it like the sweep of a clock-hand over to the balcony railing and corpse that dangles therewith. “—over that.

Hitoshi pauses for effect, and Aizawa wonders if this kid’s sense of dramatic timing will ever take a break – though if Hizashi’s any judge, it’s not something natural-born drama queens just grow out of. Grow into, more like. “Using their quirk to make victims torture themselves is proof of being better than everyone else, bending people they see as lesser to their will.”

It makes sense, Aizawa has to agree. But it can make a little more. “What about the end?” Aizawa dares to ask. “Why did she kill him?” Rather than make him kill himself, that is.

Hitoshi doesn’t look glad that Aizawa swings things this way, but he’s going to have to answer anyway. “Releasing control and pushing him over the edge is… purer. It makes dying the last thing this guy did with a clear mind.”

“Death is freedom,” Aizawa utters without even meaning to, and now Hitoshi’s giving him the ‘cut that shit out’ looks. A Dr. Shinsou fanatic isn’t something any of them need.

Tsukauchi’s not buying it. Good for him, he can’t be twisted totally out of shape just yet. “What’s so pure about killing herself instead of with her quirk?”

“The ninety percent mind is what the Doc thinks mentalist quirks can accomplish given the right training,” Aizawa offers up now he’s occupying the uncomfortable corner as the resident expert on Dr. Shinsou’s body of work. Hitoshi once told Aizawa to read the Doc’s book if he was so curious. Well: Aizawa’s read it, and he’s just as curious as before – but about different things. “The remaining ten percent is supposedly the same for everyone, but you can’t master a hundred percent without using both parts.” That’s where it came from – the Ninety-Nine massacre. By using ‘logic’ and ‘persuasion’ to groom his victims into answering the final question from their beloved Professor Shinsou, before his quirk brought about their intoxicated deaths, the Doc claimed in his article to have made use of ‘ninety-nine, if not a hundred percent’ of his mental faculty to sway his ‘volunteers’ into embracing death.

“Gold star for you,” Hitoshi purrs in a way that makes Aizawa want to slide out of his own skin. As if it’s a syllable-for-syllable mimic for Dr. Shinsou’s old endorsements, back in the day when gold stars might have been incentive for a young child undergoing a traumatising series of tests. Maybe it’s not accurate at all, but the worryingly plausible image is unnerving enough in Aizawa’s mind.

“She’s proving she has what it takes to be a killer worthy of his approval.” Hitoshi casts a look up at Tsukauchi that could burn through solid steel. “Does that about cover it, or do you want me to go into the more grisly details?”

“That’s fine.” Tsukauchi doesn’t sound like he believes it for a moment. None of this is fine; they wouldn’t be here otherwise. But the Detective recognises someone in his element, and Hitoshi’s so fluid right now you could tip him over the balcony, and he’d pour like water right onto the bloodstain. “What else do you need to see?”

“I’m guessing you can’t cut him down just yet,” Hitoshi murmurs like he’s thinking out loud, still squatting on his haunches. “This guy used to be somebody. She must have done her homework to track him down.”

“She’s getting more complex,” Aizawa agrees. “If only we knew where she was hiding.”

“That’d be giving the game away, wouldn’t it?” Hitoshi’s gaze locks onto Aizawa’s, the shadow of his father hanging particularly dark over his expression at this exact moment. “Whatever happened to the thrill of the chase?” Hitoshi wants to be a Hero, but that doesn’t mean there’s not a few screws loose here and there. Look at how Aizawa chooses to live his purportedly functioning adult life.

But like all things, there’s a time and a place. “I prefer my thrills with less bloodshed,” Aizawa replies calmly, trying to wrestle the situation under control like a horse in a rodeo.

“Tch,” Hitoshi scoffs like he can’t believe how vanilla Aizawa is. He wouldn’t think that if he’d ever been on a night out with Aizawa, but being that Hitoshi is sixteen and Aizawa is meant to be a responsible role model the chances of that happening are slim to not-a-chance. “What about her place?”

“The apartment we visited?” Tsukauchi barely puzzles before concluding with a simple, “Abandoned.”

“Are you sure?” Hitoshi keeps pressing. “We know she’s got a talent for hiding in plain sight.” It’s possible Shiyoko might be using that talent to slip into her old home from time to time, Aizawa supposes. He makes note of it in his mental logbook on how to get close to this psychopathic killer—and not just through her victims. Who’s to say Shiyoko hasn’t been in and out of her compromised apartment, paid her tributes at the Professor’s shrine?

“Why?” Tsukauchi follows up, and at least now they can give him straightforward answers.

Dad told me so.” Hitoshi draws out the term of address, like he can pull it thin as a wire and garotte Dr. Shinsou with it.

“Has the building been watched since we went there?” Aizawa questions before Tsukauchi can dwell too long on Hitoshi’s creepier touches on this fine morning crime scene.

Tsukauchi shakes his head. “We… didn’t think it was necessary.” Hitoshi starts to click his tongue as if in scolding, and Aizawa nudges him with the end of his boot. He’s had better behaved preschool classes.

Even if it is an oversight on the police’s behalf, Tsukauchi said we and not I, and that leaves open a possibility he’d asked for something and been denied. No one can be everywhere at once, especially not a police force that loses all its shine (and funding) in comparison to the glitz and glam of being a Hero. Tsukauchi won’t admit it, smiling poster boy that he is, but there’s a good chance the police don’t have the resource to watch one abandoned apartment for three days, just to check no one’s been sneaking back in to leave more ‘presents’ in the freezer. Not with the rest of everyday crime alive and well in a city where society is slowly peeling apart as Heroes do an increasingly poorer job of keeping the forces of Villainy at bay.

“Now I’m not familiar with all this policework stuff, but that sounds like a good opportunity for a stakeout to me.” Hitoshi finally stands up, and his height seems to creep up all at once until Aizawa remembers there’s only a couple of inches between them – if Hitoshi doesn’t stop growing he’ll shoot past Aizawa in no time and be even more insufferable. What a prospect.

Tsukauchi gives Aizawa a look that seems to say, “And you just let him be like this all the time?” Which Aizawa responds to with a simple shrug.

“If you’re volunteering,” the detective begins cautiously, before a buzz in his pocket draws his attention, phone slipping out a moment later to check emails or messages that are the mere tip of an iceberg that’s all the Detective’s other cases within the overstretched safety net. It’s easy to let holes wear thin here and there in an operation that’s pretty much always running at shoestring level, so although the boys in blue are lagging and that’s not good, Aizawa’s practiced at forgiving them for not being perfect. He does try to steer clear of hypocrisy.

“Whaddya think, teach?” Hitoshi asks with a blanket of cool thrown over hope that’s hard to hide. Wanting his idea to be right, following those good instincts and being relevant – the kind of Hero he wants to become.

“It’s a good idea.” As usual, praise catches Hitoshi out far more than any reprimand, a smile dashing across his face that’s almost bashful before he stomps it out for the same teenage armour of being nonplussed about anything. “But you,” Aizawa reaches out with a finger outstretched, prodding Hitoshi in the shoulder, “are going back to school.” Fun’s over: it’s teacher time.

Hitoshi doesn’t fight this accusation so much as revel in it, a grin of far-less-sincere quality sneaking onto his lips as he meets Aizawa’s gaze and sends a hot-cold chill running up the length of Aizawa’s arm. “Not without you.”

Aizawa lets his arm fall and gives Tsukauchi another resigned “What can I do with him?” shrug. There’s can’t and won’t, the differences between them worthy of much philosophising. But rather than dwell on the finer details, Aizawa just remarks, “Can’t argue with that.”

Yamaguichi drives them back to school, and Tama smokes out the window while Aizawa spills exactly the amount of information he thinks it’s practical for them to know. So the interruption of Aizawa’s phone’s tackiest love-ballad ringtone is obviously a bit of a clash with the mood. Hitoshi – Aizawa’s pretty sure – is just browsing the internet on his phone.

Aizawa’s got his own phone to his ear and doesn’t even have time to speak before Hizashi cuts in with a brutal, “Nezu is not happy with you.”

“He should be,” Aizawa replies more caustically than he’d have started out if Hizashi had allowed him to get a word in first. “I’m bringing the truant back now.”

Aizawa hears background murmuring and then gets an earful of, “Toshinori says you’ve been gone nearly two hours.” The irony is that’s not too bad, given they’ve raced halfway across the city to poke around the freshest gory murder in the spree of a serial killer who’s surely not going to remain low-profile anymore. “Where have you been?”

“I can’t tell you,” Aizawa says, and it’s the bare, honest truth. Tsukauchi would have his ass over coals for disclosing information like that so carelessly.

“Shota.” Shit, Aizawa thinks in a back-reach of his mind. Hizashi only names him like that, the buzzcut version of Shota that’s an uncomfortably close shave, when he’s legitimately annoyed. And in front of other people, even their colleagues, means double trouble.

“I’ll explain over lunch,” Aizawa negotiates, and if Hitoshi’s noticed that his mentor’s life has the structural stability of cooked noodles, he’s looking pretty fucking smug about it across from Aizawa in the backseat.

“Yeah, you will.” For someone who almost never really shuts up, it’s always disquieting when Hizashi’s like this. Short words, no enthusiasm or emotion; those gifts of his company are spent on people who deserve them. “You’re buying.”

“Sure. See you soon.” Aizawa hangs up and tries not to allow his sigh to inflate the ‘relationship strife’ balloon right above his head. But then, Hitoshi just scoured a crime scene with far more subtle clues and picked up as many details as Aizawa.

“Are we in trouble or just you?” Hitoshi asks as Tamakawa puts on the siren for Yamaguichi so they can cut through some traffic at a junction. She’s probably a little too righteous to do it on her own initiative, but this is sort of an emergency. A domestic one. And a professional one too, depending on how pissed off Nezu is.

Aizawa feels himself starting to sweat a bit. “Me,” he conveys as happily as he feels about it.

Hitoshi ought to be relieved, but he’s mulling it over with one cheek cupped in a hand he’s still got to finish growing into. “It shouldn’t be you who gets the blame. I left first, and I wouldn’t have let you stop me.” Aizawa just chased – but if Aizawa had been a teacher first and a Hero second then he would’ve brought Hitoshi back right away, and he didn’t.

“I’m the adult.” Aizawa might as well be standing in front of a mirror lecturing himself at this point. “I have to take responsibility for you.” Including and almost exclusively when the decisions Hitoshi makes (and Aizawa endorses) are reckless, bad ones. Only problem being they’re the decisions Aizawa would make for himself. The similarities between himself and Hitoshi are wonderful in many ways, but it does mean some of their more troublesome traits align and allow shit like this to happen.

Aizawa can barely take responsibility for feeding, washing and resting himself half of the time. After he’s scraped through that and then added on the huge demanding mass that is his teaching job and those twenty little terrors (twenty-one including Hitoshi), Aizawa’s flat out of mature, sensible decisions to make on behalf of Hitoshi. Decisions like whether Hitoshi needs to be in school all the time when he could be snooping around horrific murders or maximum security prisons. Aizawa’s position was surely clear from the moment he put his foot to the floor and whizzed past the good-sense checkpoint in his head in the first place.

Stewing himself in much-deserved criticism, which is no less true for being directed at himself, Aizawa’s completely zoned out until Hitoshi says, “If it helps, I’m glad you didn’t.”

Aizawa falls off his thoughts like a new skier from a chairlift. “What?”

“Take responsibility,” Hitoshi reiterates. “You didn’t do the mature thing.” What Aizawa did, when it comes down to it, is make a decision that considered Hitoshi as more of an adult than a child. Children get sent back to school, but a genuine asset to the case – a Hero in training, interning for a Pro – gets pulled from class because he can make classes up. But there’s no replacing a fresh crime scene.

Legal or not, Hitoshi’s an asset to this (or any) case. Even when he’s being a tasteless, wise-cracking boor with as little respect for authority as the dead. It drives Aizawa up the wall that he’s apparently the first Hero to step the fuck up to a legacy like Shinsou Hitoshi.

Hitoshi’s found a means of resting in the car backseat that allows him to have one leg bent up and his foot propped on some crevice on the inside of the car door, putting his knee up to the level of his arm, which wraps around it and folds back as a rest for his face. He switches his gaze from out the window to focused right on Aizawa. With a rare moment of no-sarcasm or fake-bravado sincerity, Hitoshi simply tells him, “This is the coolest thing anyone’s ever done for me.”

If Aizawa’s heart could be launched from his chest hard enough to punch a hole through the boot of the car, he’d be ass to the tarmac right about now. He wants to throw an arm around the kid’s shoulders with one arm and snap Dr. Shinsou’s neck with the other. He wants to expel a student at random and tell Nezu he quits unless Hitoshi gets a transfer. Aizawa would rather irrationally tear the world to pieces for Hitoshi than let it continue to cheat him as badly as it’s cheated him his whole life.

Alarm bells are ringing in Aizawa’s head (and on top of the car), but instead of saying any of that, Aizawa just diverts his eyes from the wind tunnel of Hitoshi’s gaze and says to the curved glass window, “It shouldn’t be.”

Hitoshi makes an amused kind of noise, a few further sounds making it out like he’s fidgeting from his oh-so-surprisingly not-that-comfortable position. It’s that or the heightened air of emotion in the air, the sudden burst of sincerity like a too-tight hug. “Thanks anyway.”