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You Want it Darker

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The piercing ring of Aizawa’s phone jars him out of groggy wish-I-was-drugged sleep. If Aizawa were drugged then there’d be a chance of the effects wearing off, but sleep debt is a high that he rarely comes down from.

“Hello?” he croaks into the speaker as he presses the handset to his ear from inside the sleeping bag.

“Eraserhead? Officer Tamakawa speaking. Are you able to talk?”

“Just about.” Aizawa muffles a dry cough and rolls onto his back, no longer crushing the phone against his cheek hard enough to leave an indentation. He fumbles for a bottle of eyedrops that’ve been digging into his hip all night and dribbles some into each eye with his free hand, feeling the excess streak down the sides of his face as he heavy-blinks into fully conscious being.

“We’ve… there’s been an incident.” There’s a dark sadness to Tamakawa’s tone, such that Aizawa doesn’t have to think too hard about what it might be. “Do you think you could check it out?”

“Send me the address.” Aizawa coughs again. “I’ll be there after school lets out.”

“Thanks, Eraser.”

“Bye.” Aizawa hangs up the call and remains where he is, feeling gravity pulling him into the floor. One morning he’s going to be discovered having just melted overnight, transformed into a soaking wet sleeping bag. At least this one is watertight enough that they would probably be able to drag it into a freezer and let him set without losing any liquid.

Aizawa leaves the phone by his face and starts drifting off again, meaning it scares the barely-clinging-on life out of him by ringing again a few minutes (or so it feels) later. It belts the most obnoxious personalised ringtone in Aizawa’s phone – the only, in fact. The song is awful. If Aizawa could have changed it himself, he would have, but the secrets to doing that lie behind a wall of settings he is unwilling to learn. “Yes?”

Shotaaaaa,” comes the morning-hoarse yet undeniably for-radio voice of Yamada Hizashi. “Where are you?”

With his eyes closed, Aizawa can picture him: barely awake fumbling with his phone before he’s even put his glasses on, bare inked shoulders pressing into the mattress and a long train of golden hair getting everywhere. “At school.”

Why.” It’s an accusation more than a question. Aizawa asks himself the same thing at these times, but knows the answer.

“I got caught up-”

“With work, yeah, yeah. Play the other record, love,” Hizashi lilts, making some sounds like he’s surely rolling around all over that king-size bed. In spite of its size, Hizashi makes it feel like the bare minimum amount of space he personally requires to thrash. “So anyway,” Hizashi’s voice smooths even more, like going from brushing velvet the wrong way to gliding the right one. “What are you wearing?”

Aizawa hangs up and goes back to sleep. It’s about to be another long day.

There’s a Police officer in an unmarked cop car waiting for Aizawa at 4:15 sharp, parked outside the UA side-gate he prefers to frequent. Not a face Aizawa recognises, but he knows the license plate, so it’s with utter confidence he opens the passenger-side door and climbs in.

Aizawa has no sooner sat down than the newbie begins, “It’s… uh, an honour to meet you, Mr. Eraserhead. I’m Officer Yamaguichi.” With a sideways glance Aizawa compiles a quick list: young enough to be straight from the Academy, female which means she must be determined in this line of work, and so fresh-faced her mother could have wiped her cheeks with a flannel and packed her a bento on her first day of school. If this were anything like school, which it isn’t.

“You must be new.” Aizawa finds the seat adjustment lever and yanks it up, pushing the chair back until he’s gazing at the roof of the car.

“First week, sir.” Yamaguichi starts the car and they pull away. “Is it that obvious?”



“None of this mister, sir crap,” Aizawa knocks out good and early. People calling him Eraserhead is bad enough, though it’s helpful to keep his name distanced from the other part of his life. The half that’s shaded in twilight, like the dark side of the moon.

“Oh… yes, Eraserhead. Sorry about that.”

“Don’t be.” Aizawa adjusts the seat again, rolling his shoulders and letting his eyes drift shut. “Save being sorry for the crime scene.”

“He was discovered at six a.m., when a neighbour finally convinced the building supervisor to open the door and switch off the TV,” Officer Tamakawa begins the second Aizawa steps under the police tape, as if their conversation at god-knows-when this morning has been continued without a break. “It’d been playing at max volume all night, but the manager only comes in at six. He’s got the master key.”

Officer Yamaguichi keeps shifting from one foot to the other without walking anywhere. Hell of a case to land in the first week. She’s on edge, not timid but a little unsure as she suggests, “Maybe he wanted to be found.”

“Someone did.” Aizawa paces through the compact apartment, putting his head through to the bathroom with a shudder. Yamaguichi follows him, looking around with a furtive nervousness. When she peers around the open bathroom door, Aizawa hears the stifled sound of horror without looking around.

“That’s a… lot of blood.” Yamaguichi sounds shaky, and Aizawa bites back a sigh. He takes care of children all day; does he really have to do it in his other job too?

With a relentless rhythm, Aizawa pushes the conversation back onto the case. “Where’s the body?”

“They already came to take it.” Tamakawa finally comes up, stepping into the space behind Aizawa that Yamaguichi has decided to quickly vacate. “In the water, you know. Time’s a factor.” Aizawa probably shouldn’t (technically) be here, he scribbles on a piece of scrap paper in the back of his mind.

“I’ll stop by the morgue later,” Aizawa announces. That’s what he gets for teaching class all day rather than dropping everything to dash to a B-movie crime scene: more work. “What was the situation when you arrived?”

“Male, middle-aged. Unremarkable guy, at least according to the neighbours.” Tamakawa’s whiskers twitch on the edge of certain words, but now the tip of his ear gives a butterfly-wing flick. “He came home, ran a bath, then cracked open a plastic razor. The rest is as you find it.”

The half-full bath looks like it’s entirely blood, more than one human could ever contain. Aizawa knows it’s just the dilution effect in the water; but that underpinning logic doesn’t make the scene any less grim. It’s not stayed just in the tub either, run in long tendrils across the tiled floor. Bloodbath hardly covers it.

“What makes you suspicious?” Aizawa questions; Tamakawa has good instincts, might even make detective if he’s fleet of foot about it, but there has to be something in it beside good feline intuition.

“Here.” Tamakawa walks back into the main room and gestures at a couple of bags sitting on the kitchen counter. There’s an off-colour liquid congealed across the worktop, but it’s nothing sinister. Except to the lactose intolerant. “He didn’t even put the ice-cream away.” Tamakawa points out with growing insistence, “Who buys several days worth of groceries and then commits suicide?”

“Stranger things have happened.” Aizawa says this more to be a contrarian than fault Tamakawa’s point – he’s spot on, after all. Teacher habit: to draw the work out of someone rather than do it for them. “What else have you got?”

“I was just getting to that.” Tamakawa walks up to the fridge and extends a clawlike finger to a piece of paper on the fridge, no fear of the challenge Aizawa puts to him. “He was promoted this week.”

That’s enough to pause on. Aizawa’s eyebrows lift minimally, but there’s no way Tamakawa would see that under the oily drapes of his fringe. “Promoted?”

“This is the confirmation letter.” Tamakawa watches Aizawa with glassy cornfield eyes. “I’m sure it happens, but it’s usually getting passed over for a job that drives people to suicide, not getting it.”

Someone was passed over,” Aizawa considers. “Find out who.” It occurs to him a moment later that Tamakawa is only a Police officer, so he technically needs to ask, “Which detective’s working this case?”

“None right now.” Tamakawa sounds a little more bashful this time. “Because of the circumstances, it isn’t being treated as suspicious. That’s why I thought you might be able to, ah…”

“Not a problem,” Aizawa reassures, dragging out his phone and pulling up the contact for Tsukauchi, N. and dialling. He beckons Tamakawa over as it starts to ring, a few cycles in when the caller picks up.

“Eraser, to what do I owe the pleasure?”

“Your boys have found something.” Boy and a girl, technically – Yamaguichi’s a fresh-faced, spectacle-wearing young lady with her hair in a neat ponytail down her back, even if she is skulking by the door looking to get out of this grim slaughterhouse. “Looks like suicide, but only if you’re not paying attention. You should have a detective come take a look.”

“I wasn’t aware of your promotion to police chief, congratulations.” The slight wryness to Tsukauchi’s tone is just about friendly, but still means ‘don’t tell me how to do my job, hero.’

“Alright then, don’t call it in. Let me make your department look like fools,” Aizawa points out the alternative. “Again.” He catches the breathy laugh-sigh from the other side of the line.

“Very well, acting police-chief,” Tsukauchi jabs, but they’re only warm-up punches. “Tell Toshi I said hi if you see him.”

“Will do.” Aizawa has a moment of consideration, like trying to remember the last thing he wrote on the shopping list that he left at home and only realised after getting to the store. “Thanks.”

“Just doing my job, Eraser.” Tsukauchi ends the call. Aizawa swipes away several messages from Hizashi and puts his phone in his pocket. Knowing Hizashi, they are not going to be the kind of thing anyone should be viewing at an active crime scene. “Can you drop me back at the station?” He still needs to stop in at the morgue.

“Affirmative, Mr. Eraserhead!” Yamaguichi zips to a stiff salute, and Aizawa rolls his eyes. This day isn’t letting up any time soon. “On behalf of the police force…” Yamaguichi notices Tamakawa giving her a particularly emotive stare – a proverbial 'what are you doing, newbie' of a cat-eyed glare – and trails off.

“Thanks, Eraser.” Tamakawa pats Aizawa on the back with an even more pawlike hand than usual in thick gloves. “Can we pick you up something to eat on the way?”

Aizawa has a paranoid moment where he wonders if Hizashi has been texting Tamakawa again. He should probably check those messages. Aizawa’s stomach lets out an underwhelming gurgle, like it’s not quite convinced it knows what meal should be next. Aizawa isn’t sure either, after looking at that bathroom.

The tub looms into Aizawa’s mind and his appetite ceases to have an opinion about anything. Definitely not soup. However, the thought lingers that eating dinner (solid food, not intended for babies) would make Hizashi happy. “I suppose so.”

The morgue is Aizawa’s kind of place, and not just because the dead bodies. He doesn’t mind them – corpses are corpses, though the failures they represent are more sobering. Corpses hold all kinds of information. Plus, they don’t talk. Unlike the mortician.

“Eraserhead, you’re looking very… you, as always,” the mortician riffs the moment Aizawa sets foot in her cold, chemically pungent arena. “Come in for a checkup? Kidding, lighten up already.”

“Spirited as ever, Kuwabara,” Aizawa sighs. This job attracts odd people, that’s a given, but this cheery redhead is weirder than most. The kind of woman you’d expect yelling orders across a crowded family restaurant instead of wheeling around cadavers, toting a sense of humour so dark it’d need infrared goggles to be spotted in a dimly lit room. “I’m here to see the suicide they brought in earlier.”

“Eesh, I wouldn’t if I were you.” Kuwabara’s a tough lady, absolutely no denying that. Aizawa’s watched her shunting around literal dead weights like shopping carts at the supermarket. She's been doing this job almost ten years without being any less sane than when she showed up – which is still slightly nutty, but clearly stable. So her revulsion at the mere mention of this case isn't a good sign. “I’ll pull him out, but you might wanna finish that first.” Kuwabara points at the half-eaten box of yakisoba in Aizawa’s hands.

“Not really.” Aizawa reaches out to drop it in the trash, and feels the buzz of his phone in his pocket. He’d checked Hizashi’s last string of messages in the car on the way over; two selfies, three questions about dinner, and one short clip of Nezu eating corn on the cob that defies explanation. Aizawa can’t wait to find out what the latest bit of nonsense will be, but this isn't really the time or place.

“Right through here, Eraser.” Kuwabara leads the way. “I hate the ones that’ve been in water. Gross city.” Not for the first time, Aizawa wonders why Kuwabara even got into this line of work, and how on earth she got a job doing it for the police. Then again, some stones are best left unturned.

The body is about as bad as everyone amped Aizawa up to expect. It’s the bloating that’s the worst. This guy only had hours to soak before being found, but warm water certainly doesn’t help the way his sliced flesh has peeled away from the body. Each wrist almost shredded into ribbon-like petals from some bloody blossom. The guy’s a mess, to put it lightly.

“Slitting your wrists ain’t something you can practice much, but this guy could have used a test run,” Kuwabara makes a blunt observation, hands on her broad hips and a grim expression at the body on the drawer.

“These cuts look… forced,” Aizawa murmurs as he cranes his head to get a better look, then reluctantly reaches out to twist a stiff wrist and turn it further. It seems clear that this man was the one enacting his gorey demise – the clumsy slices all over his fingers from the badly-wielded razor blade confirm that. The apartment so securely locked from the inside that they had to wait until morning to get in only cements it. But just because they were his hands doesn’t mean this man was acting under his own free will.

“Yeah, no ‘cut along the dotted line’ for this one, huh?” Kuwabara huffs, and Aizawa’s struck with the thought that she’s a woman who talks like she’s seen all manner of mess, and maybe that’s why she can stomach this job without cracking. “Damn shame.”

Aizawa notices something between a couple of the deeper cuts, on either side of the badly ruptured skin. “What do you think this is?”

“Hm?” Kuwabara walks over and leans in good and close. “Maybe he drew some guidelines after all, looks like ink to me.”


“Yeah, like a marker pen or something,” Kuwabara specifies, lest Aizawa start thinking this guy had an octopus in the bath with him. “It’s mostly gone now, but that’s my best guess. Along there too.” Kuwabara’s finger follows the pale, engorged flesh through a messy railway map of slices. This man didn’t stop when it would’ve been enough, just went over and over until he passed out, presumably. Aizawa’s jaw clenches, everything about this setup screaming something horribly wrong. With a mental process like the workings of an intricate cuckoo clock, Aizawa returns to the thought that Tamakawa was right to call him. “Maybe some chick gave him her number.” It’s a slightly outdated notion, but it sparks something in Aizawa's mind.

After the razor and the bloodbath, there's only the barest marks left, like day-old notes written on the back of a hand. Aizawa studies them, tries to recreate the full characters from the spliced aftermath. No good.

“Let me know if you find anything else, Kuwabara,” Aizawa lets out a sigh. It’s been a long day, but it’ll be an even longer night at this rate. “I’m heading upstairs.”

“Say hi to the living for me.”

Aizawa sighs like he's Charon himself, wearily punting a boat across the river styx. “Will do.”

Aizawa’s phone rings in the elevator, and it’s that ringtone again. The romance ballad so corny that people almost always turn around to see who’d answer such an audacious calling card, then quickly turn back once they see who it is.

Aizawa picks it up. “Yes?”

“Where are you?”

“I just left the morgue.”

“Why am I always competing with dead people for your attention?”

“They don't talk as much.”

“As much ? Are you going all sixth sense on me?”

“I wish,” Aizawa replies. This line of work would be a lot easier if the victims could tell the living what or who was responsible for their death. “I'll be home later.”

“Bullshit.” Aizawa holds for the crumble. “How much later?”

“Can't say.”

“Double bullshit.”

Hizashi waits for Aizawa to crumble this time, which he does. “Two hours.”

“So I’ll see you in four?”

“Probably.” Aizawa doesn't disguise his resignation. A pre-broken promise is a softer blow somehow, and Aizawa does his best, but crime doesn’t take the night off because Hizashi’s feeling lonely. If only.

“Love you.”

Aizawa tries to keep the tone of his voice level, as if that’ll help delay the inevitable point where he has to say more than, “You too.”

“COWARD!” Hizashi bellows with enough gusto that Aizawa feels his eye twitch. Delay the inevitable, even just to affirm that it’s pointless to resist. “Let those strangers know you're capable of emotion!”

“I love you too, idiot,” Aizawa mumbles into the phone, ducking those glances again from his elevator companions.

“Call that an admission of love?! DOUBLE COWARD! Don't bother coming home, we're done, finished! Kaput! Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn! I've cried too long over you-” Aizawa hangs up and gives the only person in the elevator still looking at him a ‘you don't wanna know’ look as the doors open.

“Excuse me,” Aizawa fully deadpans as he weaves his way out; this isn't his floor, but it's close, so he'll take the stairs up the rest of the way.

He could use a breather.

“I thought you quit smoking?”

“For as long as you quit being a busybody,” Aizawa returns over his guilt-cigarette as he stands in the police station stairwell with his back to the wall. If he could be bothered, he’d go all the way into the side-alley outside the building that the other cops use, but if he bumps into anyone he might be expected to make conversation.

Instead, Aizawa’s bending the rules in this airy semi-open space, where the stairs coil like a snake around a long column of light that shines down from the glass-panelled roof far up above his head. Late afternoon sun casts golden beams that breathe a little life into the tired concrete, clouded with blue where the smoke Aizawa exhales hits them.

“Ah, Mr. Pot, I presume,” Tsukauchi introduces as he makes a sarcastic gesture towards Aizawa, before turning the accusatory hand on himself. “Detective Kettle, and it's kind of my prerogative.” Aizawa rolls his eyes and takes another drag. “Yamada wants to know if you've eaten, but I don't think cigarettes count.”

“Dinner is in the morgue trash.”

“Have you been snacking on the bodies again? I told Kuwabara to stop letting you do that.”

Aizawa takes another deliberately long pull on the cigarette while making eye contact with Tsukauchi, before tapping the ash into his open hand. The things he’s touched today, ash is the least of Aizawa’s problems.

Apropos of nothing, Aizawa asks on a plume of exhaled smoke, “What do you know about mind control quirks?”

This catches Tsukauchi off-guard, but not for long. “Less than I should, but more than I'd like,” he answers with a look of conflicted resignation. “Your ‘suicide’ case?” He makes the air-quotes gestures, which Aizawa supposes is a good sign.

“Aren't the ‘detectives’ supposed to be working those?” Aizawa bats back with a matching gesture of his cigarette-clamping fingers. He gets along with Tsukauchi just fine, but anyone close to Toshinori is destined to have some friction with the heroic antithesis of All Might.

That Aizawa’s also one of those annoying underground Heroes who doesn’t always participate in police procedure can’t help their rickety ropebridge of a relationship. Aizawa has been known to take an ‘opt-out’ approach to the law if he’s chasing down a villain and sees the Police as being a hindrance to that. Big organisations move slow, so it's just part and parcel of being an underground Hero that means he can move that much faster.

So there’s always been a friendly antagonism between Aizawa and Tsukauchi, but in the sense of two apex predators in a space that has to be carefully negotiated but can be shared. They’re both on the same side, after all.

“You could talk to our psych, I suppose,” Tsukauchi suggests, still peering at Aizawa halfway down the stairs from him. “Or you know, wait for the detectives to do their jobs.” He doesn’t make the gesture, but sarcasm suits just fine.

“If you're not racing me to solve the case, where’s the incentive?” Aizawa taunts as he sucks the last dregs out of the cigarette and then stubs it out on the wall, sticking the butt in his pocket as he climbs the rest of the staircase. The honest truth is Aizawa and the police complement more than compete, so at least as long as they keep their noses in the right direction they’ll get along fine. They can always follow Aizawa if in doubt; as he’ll be one step ahead of them – solving it first. “You got a psych?” he asks climbing the stairs up to Tsukauchi as he opens the door.

“About time too. I'll walk you to her office,” Tsukauchi offers with a more amiable air as Aizawa traipses through the door.

They walk side by side down a generic piece of hallway, and Aizawa doesn’t do small talk, but he does do small details. “How long has she been here?”

“A few months now, but they sure go fast,” Tsukauchi says as they walk down the corridor. “The higher-ups finally decided it was worthwhile having one in-house.” Finally, they stop at a door with a card bearing the name Dr. Iwaya slotted into a holder on the front of it. Tsukauchi knocks with a brisk series of raps, and a faint “Enter,” comes from within.

“New patient for you, Doc,” Tsukauchi announces with an air of joking that seems a little tired. Aizawa would know, tired draws to him like iron filings to a magnet.

“I don’t do walk-ins, but somehow I suspect that’s not your purpose.” The Psych – the true definition for the title has been forever lost somewhere between psychiatrist and psychic-quirkist – is a woman of cold, marbled beauty. She takes Aizawa in like he’s a bull strolling around a china shop. “You don’t look like a police detective.” Dr. Iwaya’s gaze has an intensity Aizawa dislikes immediately.

“Oh good, I was starting to worry.” Aizawa steps further into the room. “Thank you, Detective Kettle.” It doesn’t mean ‘thank you’, naturally. What Aizawa’s really saying is goodbye and get the hell out, but luckily Tsukauchi seems to concur.

“Later, Mr. Pot,” Tsukauchi says with a quick glance at Dr. Iwaya before he goes.

The door clicks shut behind them, leaving Aizawa in a neatly organised office that feels like one of the walls ought to be glass – a windowed box in order to study the inhabitants. The Psych is finishing writing something in neat, careful handwriting into a notepad, which she flips shut moments later before looking back up to Aizawa. “And you are?”

He itches for another cigarette already. “I go by Eraserhead.”

The smallest smile comes onto the woman’s – Iwaya, going by the door – face, before settling again like the flutter of a wing. “Is that so?”

“I’m not here for psychoanalysis.” Aizawa takes several long steps across the office and is right at the desk.

“Then what are you here for?” she asks politely, but Aizawa recognises the clean, hard edges of her tone as weaponry. Two people with their guards most wholly and thoroughly up against one another.

“To talk about mind control quirks.”

There’s no real reaction in Iwaya’s face, but that doesn’t mean there’s no significance to the silence that follows for a moment.

Although every new generation has wilder and more powerful quirks than the ones before, a taboo remains around those who exert such a frightening power over others. Quirks that people don’t like to talk about, or would rather pretend to be quirkless than be labelled the wielder of such a cursed power. The human mind is the final frontier, the last defence of free will, so for those holding the keys to the fort, it’s only natural for people to fear what they can do.

For all this, Iwaya’s only remark is, “An interesting topic.”

Much like the victim, Aizawa cuts straight to it. “How many cases do you know where a mind control quirk was strong enough to commit murder-suicide?”

Iwaya’s face doesn’t stir any more than the carved hair of a statue would blow in the wind. “By which you mean…?”

“Using a brainwashing quirk to force their victim to kill themselves,” Aizawa spells out with an impatient snap. “Have they just had you back here filling out wellness evaluations or something?”

“Just making sure we’re on the same page.” Iwaya makes a calm gesture to the chair in front of her desk. “Why don’t you sit down?” It’s the last thing Aizawa wants to do, just by merit of her asking.

“Why don’t you answer my question?”

The Psych checks herself, eyes widening and a subtle discomfort that Aizawa only notices because he’s watching very carefully. “Force of habit,” Iwaya answers with her shield slightly lowered, that little bit more open. Aziawa has landed himself more of a lead than he was expecting, perhaps. “Please sit, you look tired and we may be a while.”

Aizawa begrudgingly sinks into the chair and takes a load off, kicking his legs out straight and trying to stretch a particularly tight muscle in one of his shoulders. “What’s so troubling I have to be sat down for?”

Iwaya’s presentation doesn’t falter, because she sounds like she could be reading the last rights at a funeral when she asks, “Have you heard of a scholar named Dr. Shinsou Masaru?”

Something cold and calculating falls into place in the elaborate machinework of Aizawa’s head. He knows that name. Shinsou. It takes a moment, but the memory gets called from the archive. The General Studies student from the Sports festival – the one who almost took down Midoriya in the first round. Maybe it’s just coincidence.

“No,” Aizawa plays safe. Namely: ignorant.

“You’ve heard of the Ninety-Nine Massacre.”

Another piece of the deadly machine slots into place. “Yes.”

“So then you know that a mind control quirk can drive others to take their lives,”

“That was poisoning,” Aizawa explains hesitantly. “This case is more… violent.”

“Oh, but those victims knew it was poison when they drank,” Iwaya relates with a matter-of-fact sadness.

“How do you know that?” Aizawa’s suspicion rises like the hair on the back of a cat trying to look big. This all feels terribly close and convenient.

Iwaya’s gaze is unflinching. “Because Professor Shinsou told us so.” Perhaps reading the intense mistrust in Aizawa’s face, Iwaya gives a sigh and turns around, reaching for a book on the shelf that she sets flat on the desk before Aizawa. ‘Dr. Shinsou Masaru, The 90% Mind’ the title reads. When Aizawa lifts the cover he sees a portrait picture of a man with ghostly sallow skin, purple-matched eyes to his slicked-back hair and immediately closes it again.

“He was the leading authority on mentalist quirks, widely respected in the field and… my teacher, at one point,” Iwaya tacks on at the end, while Aizawa’s teeth clench in discomfort.

“Where is he now?”

Iwaya has a soulful look, some internal tragedy Aizawa can guess at. A reason to be where she is, doing what she does. “Prison, of course.”

“And what’s your professional opinion of this so-called expert?”

“Why, he’s criminally insane.” Iwaya smiles, which is fucking unnerving, to put it bluntly. “But if you’re looking for an expert on the murderous limits of mentalist quirks, no one else would know more on the subject.”

Aizawa crosses his arms, a resolutely unimpressed look that covers for his lingering discomfort. This is dark stuff, no simple thug holding up a convenience store for a fast buck. What Aizawa wouldn’t do for a simple solve like that.

“Why don’t we start with what you know, Doctor Iwaya, and we’ll get onto the great Doc Shinsou from there?”

An hour later Aizawa has more questions than he arrived with, and a more exacting list of the reasons he mistrusts psychs. First of all, doctors and therefore meddlers; secondly, mind doctors which is inherently suspicious; thirdly, obsessed with mentalist quirks and so undeniably creepy. And this is Aizawa's standard for creepy, so that's pretty damn weird.

Given how prominent this Dr. Shinsou had been in the field before his ‘mental breakdown’ as Dr. Iwaya had so coldly put it, it’s apparently not that unusual for any psych of a certain age to have been taught by the great professor of psychiatric quirks. This is before he lost it, and murdered a bunch of his students to prove the hitherto untested theories of his research.

As terribly convenient as Dr. Iwaya’s connection to this lunatic is, a cursory search of the Internet would have also turned up Dr. Shinsou Masaru as the leading basket-case in this field. Then Aizawa wouldn’t have had to endure the mental obstacle course of talking to Iwaya. After spending an hour with her, he sort of wishes he'd taken the e-detective route. That could have been done from bed with Hizashi snoring in his ear, if he’d bothered to go home instead of chasing leads all evening.

The doctor’s sad smile and melancholy aura haunt Aizawa worse than the bodies in the morgue, and for that reason he’s reluctant to go straight home, even though it’s already late. Not with all this dark energy still soaked into Aizawa like he’s a man-sized sponge. He doesn’t want to bring that poison back into his safe space, where the daily terror of existence can’t reach. So Aizawa is tired, but not going home in a hurry.

Right on time his phone rings. That ringtone.

Aizawa picks it up and is immediately greeted with, “Shotaaaaaaa.”

“I just left the police station,” Aizawa pre-empts the inevitable question. “I’ll be back… soon.” Once he's walked the darkness off.

“No stops on the way.”

“You know I can’t promise that,” Aizawa replies as he starts walking away from the station. Luckily work hasn’t taken him so far away from home tonight that it’s not worth going back at all, but Aizawa hates the train and that fresh-faced Yamaguichi was nowhere to be found for a lift. He’d rather walk and get his thoughts in order. Not that having Hizashi on the line will help at all.

“Just get a fucking train, babe.” Hizashi actually sounds annoyed, knowing Aizawa’s ways better than he does himself: if Aizawa gets the train back, his exposure to petty crime is going to be rather different than walking most of the backalleys all the way back, and at a certain point he’s inviting the distraction. But someone has to do it.

Aizawa cuts down an alleyway that the faint of heart would never brave, and considers that he hasn’t been home in… a while. It’s never been the deal that he’s expected to be or has to be, but that’s no discredit to Hizashi’s attempts to draw Aizawa into some form of domestic routine. If it weren’t for Hizashi, Aizawa wouldn’t go back at all. He can take the backalleys to the station, so Aizawa supposes it wouldn’t be impossible to get the train and actually be home in the two-to-four hours he promised.

“Alright,” Aizawa sighs. “But I’m going straight to bed when I get in.” To sleep that always means when Aizawa says it; Hizashi’s definition is a little different.

“You always say that,” Hizashi replies sordidly, a lift in his voice that makes a dull throb in Aizawa’s chest a little more noticable. Hizashi is pleased, not least because it’s only been three hours since Aizawa said he’d be two. And he's coming home at all. There’s a short pause. “Seriously, no stops.”

Aizawa sighs again, catching some shadows from the corner of his eye that look rather like foolish punks that ought to know better than to stalk strangers within ten-minutes walking distance of the police station. “Tell it to the criminals, love.” Cheap trick, but effective. Aizawa can imagine the conflicted pout on Hizashi’s face. On the one hand, he loves any term of endearment Aizawa lets slip. On the other, Hizashi knows full well Aizawa uses that to manipulate him. Or at least pacify.

“Alright, have it your way,” Hizashi relents, though his determination to keep having this negotiation with Aizawa is, if anything, an admirable dedication to the cause of trying to convince Aizawa to spend just a little less time taking care of criminals and a little more taking care of himself. So far the criminals have Aizawa at an advantage on that front. “But don’t you come crawling into bed covered in blood again.”

Aizawa sighs for a third time, and not just because the stalking shadows have shaped up into real what-are-they-thinking thugs who think Aizawa’s got a bullseye painted on him for their benefit alone. “I told you before, none of that was mine-”

Before finishing the sentence, Aizawa ducks the swing of a metal crowbar that comes whizzing towards his head from behind. At the same time, he kicks the man behind him in the stomach. Aizawa’s assailant is so profoundly unsuspecting that he flies across the dingy alleyway Aizawa was cutting through and lands in a pile of trash. The others seem shocked by this, but haven’t run off straight away.

“Oof- what the fuck?!” the assaulted assailant groans.

“How does trouble always find you?” Hizashi accuses down the line as he recognises the sure sounds of a fight breaking loose. “I'd ask if it's your shampoo or something, but that'd imply you ever wash-”

Aizawa interjects a swift, “I’ll call you back,” and hangs up.

No blood, Hizashi said, and for a moment the bathtub flashes into Aizawa’s head. One of the would-be muggers tries to charge Aizawa, so he stares him and his quirk down. Only when Aizawa’s hair lifts, quirk erased, do a couple of the thugs finally realise who they’re messing with.

“Shit, my quirk’s gone!” The sound of manic footsteps speeding away – not the direction Aizawa’s meant to be heading in, but the way he’s going to go all the same. The next person these two-bit criminals try to jump isn’t likely to be so well-equipped, so leaving them on the streets is a crime in the third degree as far as Aizawa is concerned.

Aizawa sighs a fourth and final time as he flings a handful of his capture weapon to start locking down these hapless fools. It's going to be a long night.

Chapter Text

Aizawa never calls Hizashi back. But he does roll into the apartment he pays half the rent for and spends a quarter of the time in, and it’s only been four hours since his initial broken promise.

In accordance with his next broken promise, the first place Aizawa goes isn’t the bedroom, but the shower. The one promise he isn’t going to break is tumbling into bed covered in blood (again). And there was an… incident at the police station.

A scuffle broke out when Aizawa was checking in the muggers and resulted in a broken nose – not Aizawa’s of course. But his arm might have been in the way… doing the breaking, as it happened. Aizawa had only noticed the blood when the carriage wall he’d been pressed against on the crowded evening-commuter train came away redder than it should have. Another reason he doesn’t take the train: the other passengers had not been wild about that.

Hizashi also happens to keep very nice, very clean, very expensive sheets on the small island that passes for a bed in their airy penthouse apartment. Hizashi picked this place out a few years ago, only telling Aizawa about it when he was needed to sign the papers. Which was the earliest Aizawa would have wanted to know about it anyway; Hizashi’s always been better at all that day-to-day living stuff, so Aizawa just leaves him to it.

It’s late enough that the early-rising Hizashi is already bundled up on the cushion-strewn plinth in the middle of the master bedroom with the lights out. However, he’s not so clocked-out as not to stir when Aizawa comes in with only a towel – which he’s using to dry his hair. He’s otherwise unencumbered, throwing back the covers and face-planting on the bed with a soft flap of air as his weight hits the mattress.

Hizashi’s got hands like ferrets, and this occasion is no exception. Aizawa’s hardly been sedentary a few seconds when slim fingers slide as smoothly as a snake across Aizawa’s stomach then stop.

Hizashi says with a mouthful of pillow, “You’re wet.”

“Water,” Aizawa informs him. “I showered.”

“Prove it.”

Aizawa lifts a fatigue-clumsy arm up and waits, allowing Hizashi to roll over to him and give a checking whiff of his armpit. Aizawa must pass, because Hizashi’s hand resumes an excursion that heads promptly south. His head lifts from whatever assortment of pillows Hizashi’s used to assemble the fort, and he elaborates in a bedroom voice like crushed velvet, “You’re naked.”

“It’s conventional when showering,” Aizawa deadpans, but then his breath hitches in his throat over Hizashi’s newest ministrations. He's always the same when Aizawa comes in like this: it’s one of the main reasons he comes home. When Aizawa lowers his boneless arm, Hizashi shuffles to rest under it, wrapping around Aizawa like a limpet.

“Hey.” Hizashi’s interactive action under the sheets pauses, and he gives a few over-the-top sniffs of Aizawa like a dog meeting a new person. “Did you use my jasmine shampoo on your whole body?”

“Soap is soap,” Aizawa replies gruffly. “Using different types for your hair and body is absurd.” How Hizashi manages to have so many different products for every square inch of him will be an everlasting wonder in Aizawa’s eyes.

“You washed your ass with my ten-thousand-yen shampoo?”

“You paid ten-thousand yen for… never mind,” Aizawa gives a comfortable sigh, the feeling of Hizashi grinding his hip somewhat distracting. “And who says I washed there?”

“I sure fucking hope so,” Hizashi laughs a little too loud and Aizawa flinches away, which just opens up the side of his face for Hizashi to lunge right in like a lizard going for crickets. “Mmmm-” Hizashi hums overzealously in Aizawa’s ear. “You smell like a fancy salon.”

“I’d think that’s preferable to the morgue,” Aizawa replies, adjusting the hand he's wrapped around Hizashi’s shoulders to sink lower down his back. “I touched a dead body today.”

“Gross,” Hizashi decrees around a mouthful of Aizawa’s earlobe. “Anyone we know?”

“No.” Aizawa reaches far enough to grab Hizashi’s ass and feels him squirm. “This hand.”

“Grosser,” Hizashi groans. “Stop killing the mood.”

“Wasn’t aware there was one.”

“Well that does it.” Hizashi lifts himself up to manoeuvre directly over Aizawa, demanding attention with the subtlety of lighting a giant-lettered neon sign. “Shut up and kiss me, Shota.”

Aizawa’s glad to be home.

Aizawa’s phone rings in the middle of the night.

He’s so programmed to respond that he’s awake before the end of the first ring cycle. Reaching blindly for the handset on the nightstand, Aizawa tries to work out which limbs are Hizashi’s and which are his gone slightly-dead from sleeping in a pretzel formation. This results in him squeezing a knee that turns out to be Hizashi’s.

“I hate you,” Hizashi groans from the tangle of bony arms and legs that constitutes his attempts at cuddling. Luckily, Aizawa’s such a dead-to-the-world sleeper that Hizashi can do just about anything to him and he’ll be comfortable enough to sleep; in fact, there's a high-gloss coffee table book of photographic evidence to that end.

But Hizashi’s in no such good mood now, hands and feet digging determinedly into Aizawa’s side. Shoving Aizawa out of bed like a flamingo trying to shift a large crocodile. “Get out.”

Aizawa gets the phone to his ear around the time he’s bodily shoved out of bed, crawling into the hallway with his eyes still basically closed. “Yes?”

“Mr. Eraser… I mean, Eraserhead sir-... I mean-”

“Yamaguichi,” Aizawa nails in one, shutting the bedroom door after him and sliding up the wall onto his feet. “What?” He finds the lights, wincing in the blinding glare of the hallway after reality switches back on.

“Another incident, sir– I mean, Officer Tamakawa wonders if you’d-”

“Still no detectives?” Aizawa has to admit, he was pretty comfortable with his situation as it was. What if the police did their jobs and Aizawa got an uninterrupted night with Hizashi for once? Fat chance of that happening, but he can dream.

“No one’s been assigned yet, but we only just got called out to the scene so it’s uh–” There’s a slight gulping sound, and Aizawa has a bolt of sympathy for any rookie with a first week turning out like this. “Pretty fresh.”

“Is Tamakawa there?”

“Interviewing some of the witnesses. It was… we’re at the train station, you see. Someone jumped in front of the last train home.”

Aizawa shudders instinctively, massaging his eyes with his thumb and forefinger. Only when he strolls into the living room past the floor-to-ceiling windows does Aizawa remember he’s naked. His bloodied onesie is hanging up in the shower stall – Hizashi is probably going to freak out in the morning, but Aizawa washed most of the blood out so it’ll be an overreaction he can tolerate. That’s if Aizawa does come back…

Catching himself in the act of letting his spotlight focus only on what’s right in front of him, bleaching out all else, Aizawa consciously stops and considers the fuller spread of his actions. “I’m going to text you an address, ring me again when you’re outside the building,” Aizawa instructs.

“Thanks, Eraserhead.” Yamaguichi sounds relieved Aizawa’s coming: he’d be too, if he were in her position. “See you soon.”

“Later.” Aizawa hangs up and stands in the fully lit living room buttass naked, contemplating his life. Then he zombie-shuffles back to the bedroom and tentatively opens the door.

“Let me guess,” comes a muffled accusation from the hump in the bed lit by only a beam of light from the open door. “You’re leaving?”

“I’ll be back.” Aizawa heads for the bump first, setting hands on either side of the soft mound and looking for the yellow-brick-road of hair leading to the origin of Hizashi’s head under the covers. He’s a natural-born bundler, perpetually in struggle with Aizawa to claim most of the extra-large covers for himself.

“Bullshit,” the duvet says.

“I promise.” Aizawa scoops a handful of covers and pulls them down, exposing a soft cheek and resentful-but-appreciative emerald eye of glaring; Hizashi hates for his beauty sleep to be disturbed, but so help Aizawa if he leaves without saying goodbye. Hizashi hates that a lot more, and he’ll still be beautiful in the morning.

“Love you.” The statement is so melodic when it’s coming from Hizashi; not like Aizawa’s rusty croaks in return.

That Hizashi’s hand darts out from the covers and swipes for Aizawa’s free-hanging cock moments later is a weird direction for the mood to take. But that’s perfect really, because Aizawa is not a man disposed to large outpourings of emotion, and it is Hizashi’s wont to swing at low-hanging fruit from time to time.

“Love you too.” Aizawa dodges Hizashi’s playful attempts to grab his junk and kisses him square on the mouth. “See you later.”

“Mhmmmm,” Hizashi hums like a disapproving vacuum before burrowing back into the covers, tuning out as Aizawa crosses the room toward the small cupboard meant for appliances that he keeps his spare jumpsuits in. All three of them. Aizawa used to keep them in the main closet, but kept getting annoyed at losing them among all of Hizashi’s things.

Aizawa dresses in the dark, sure by the pattern of breathing that Hizashi is already asleep when he finally heads back out into the rest of the apartment. He restocks on juice and energy bars before heading out – the building Yamaguichi is driving to is a few blocks away. Aizawa never lets people come to his real home. Not a chance.

He has too much to lose.

If Aizawa thought he looked rough after a long day, Tamakawa is the cat who got the double-suicide shift instead of cream. He's sitting on a bench at the abandoned train station platform, staring straight over the tracks when Aizawa walks up and takes the space beside him.

“What’s the situation?”

“Jumper,” Tamakawa answers, and then, “have you got a cigarette?”

“That bad, huh?” Aizawa responds, patting himself down and realising his pack must have still been in the jumpsuit he hosed off in the shower. “I'm out.” There were three dogeared cigarettes still in there. But they'll dry out fine.

“Ah shit, guess I can send Yamaguichi for some…” Tamakawa mutters, but doesn't do anything about it.

“So what happened?” Aizawa prompts with a little more finesse than he usually uses. It's partly the quiet, tragic air of the abandoned station; the bloodspatters towards the end of the platform tell the end of the story. Aizawa is here to learn about the start.

“It’s all on the security footage,” Tamakawa begins solemnly. “Normal guy from the looks of it. Got off the second-to-last train and waited on the edge for the next one. Someone should have noticed him, but you know what it’s like on those late trains, everyone focused on getting home.”

“So why’d you call me?” Aizawa gets to the point: if this were a normal case, he wouldn’t have been dragged out of bed in the middle of the night.

“A lady got off the train after him, and she… she must have said something to him.” Tamakawa’s voice holds an even keel, but Aizawa can read it for the signs of stress well enough. This is a lot for anyone to handle all in one day. “He waited on the platform after that, and… it was like he was hypnotised or something.”

Shit, now Aizawa wants a cigarette too.

“Or something is right,” he mutters, hearing how hoarse his voice sounds in the cold, echoing amphitheatre of the deserted train station. Aizawa reaches for the only thing that has any significance against all the meaningless waste of life: the thread of truth to unravel the crime. “I need to see that footage.”

“I shouldn’t really let you, you know,” Tamakawa relates with a quiet sigh. Aizawa drums his fingers against his arms instead of letting them itch for a phantom smoke.

“I wouldn’t need to if there were a detective here,” Aizawa replies and it isn’t strictly true. Because even if there were a detective on the scene, Aizawa would be right alongside them, making sure the dial of justice stays pointing true. “How about you show the evidence to whoever’s on the scene, and we’ll take it from there?”

“Now you mention it, that is what I recall doing,” Tamakawa phrases distantly, like he’s rehearsing the line before it goes into his report.

“Or you know.” Aizawa moves to get up, but in raising up his arms sets his hand on Tamakawa’s shoulder: more of a firm clasp. “If you were a detective, we’d be cutting out the middleman.” Or middle cat, perhaps.

“Yeah…” Tamakawa’s tone holds a little stronger this time, like a note being tuned. He stands after Aizawa. “Right this way, Detective Eraser.”

This is the last place Aizawa wants to be: a railway embankment at three in the morning, looking for little bits of dead body.

The security footage in the train station could have been a lot more helpful than it was. It’s not often Aizawa can watch a murder taking place and still have no fucking idea what’s going on.

Aizawa paces in long methodical steps up and down the railway embankment, a beam of light sweeping the ground ahead of him in time with the sway of his body. Rolling waves of illumination, as Yamaguichi and Tamakawa do the same further along the bank.

The black-and-white video from the security office screens projects on a blank sheet in Aizawa’s mind; the victim gets off the train, pursued by a woman who grabs him right outside the train and pulls him back. There’s a rush of people that covers anything that happens below shoulder level, the angle of the cameras not helping either, but she’s talking to him intensely, and after appearing initially panicked the man becomes calmer. Then at some point during the interaction he goes under.

The woman leaves, but the man stays there, shuffling through the crowds to reach the edge of the platform and waiting. Unreactive, staring dead ahead – right until the train comes storming through. The man leaps without hesitation or signs of distress, and the train windscreen cracks and dents in such a way that several parts of the victims body are cut away on the jagged edges of his impact, slicing through the corpse like meat through a mincer.

“S-s… Eraserhead, Tamakawa,” Yamaguichi’s voice pitches up and quivers. “I think I found something.” Aizawa swings his light and the beam cuts across the dark, deserted traintracks.

The rough ground crunches underfoot and Aizawa is next to the small-statured woman. Yamaguichi is little but sturdy, Aizawa has no doubt of her mettle – this is just a lot for anyone to take in. “It’s a… hand?”

“Part of one.” Aizawa drops to a crouch next to it. About a third of a hand, to be exact; they’re definitely fingers, and a part of the palm. What became of the rest is anyone’s guess, they’re still trying to trace the middle section of the victims arm, marking off and photographing before time pushes on and they have to clear the lines. Far be it from an active crime scene to cause a delay to commuters when services start back up in the morning.

Aizawa takes a picture and waits for Tamakawa to do the same, and then – he shouldn’t do this, but he does – reaches out a single finger and flips it like a most unappetising pancake. With no detectives, forensic experts and this whole scene due to be hurriedly cleaned up before the Police Chief even sits down at his desk and has his first slurp of coffee in the morning, time is a factor that can’t wait.

“There.” Aizawa gestures; it’s incomplete due to the rest of the hand still being AWOL, but the markings are unmistakable.

“Is that… pen?” Tamakawa queries, also dropped into a low squat to pore over the partial-hand. Whatever sharp edge severed it was clean, a neat cut that took off three fingers and part of the palm at an angle. The pen is on the back of the hand, just a corner visible with the rest cut off – literally. What they can see looks like 世子. “Successor?” Tamaka reads curiously. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I think the suspect writes on people,” Aizawa reveals hoarsely. “That’s how they…” He doesn’t finish: Tamakawa can guess what happens after.

“Too bad we don’t have the rest of the body,” Tamakawa observes. “Not many murderers go around signing autographs on their victims.”

Yamaguichi has peeled away, not squatting like the rest of them but full-on sitting on the ground. Aizawa hears the alarm bells as loud as if they were ringing at school for the end of lunch break.

“Hey, Yamaguichi,” Aizawa calls out. “Can you go buy me a pack of cigarettes?”

Yamaguichi’s head moves up fast, and then she turns over her shoulder to look at Aizawa with a despondency that tells of a person on the edge, but hanging on. “Yes s-... Eraserhead. What kind?”

“Doesn’t matter.” Aizawa stands and walks over to the crumpled Police officer, offering a hand to pull her back onto her feet. If Yamaguichi were a student Aizawa might not do it like this; he has to teach the kids to be strong before allowing them to be weak, but an under-five-foot lady doesn't make it into the police force because she's not strong enough to stand on her own two feet. Aizawa also wouldn't send students to buy cigarettes. Probably. “Keep your senses about you on the way, many murderers return to the scene of their crimes, so we'll be relying on you.”

“Yes,” Yamaguichi sounds like she's coming back from a long way down a tunnel. “I understand, Mr. Eraser.”

Aizawa lets her off the mister this time.

After Yamaguichi slopes away Aizawa and Tamakawa to resume the search for the rest of this poor unfortunate soul’s hand. They find an arm, but it ends at the wrist, and another hour of searching turns up nothing.

When they finally return to the platform, it's to find Yamaguichi corralling a cleanup crew eager to remove any trace of this crime from the scene. Destroy the evidence so the civilians won't know anything was wrong, Aizawa thinks with a bitter taste in his mouth. As if no one died here, where some other numb-minded salaryman will stand on the edge and wait to go to work, come back home to eat, sleep and repeat it again. Another form of death; at least to Aizawa. Dead to the truth, at least.

“I didn't know what to get, so I hope this is alright.” Yamaguichi holds out a pack of cigarettes to Aizawa when she gets a moment, and her hands are still a little shaky.

“Thanks, what do I owe you?”

“No, no, it's fine,” Yamaguichi insists. “After all your help, it's the least I could do.”

“Speaking of help,” Aizawa segues. “Have you been able to ID the victim?”

“Not yet, there was no wallet with the body,” Tamakawa explains. That’s suspicious.

“Could you run their fingerprints?” Aizawa questions.

Tamakawa answers a little less surely, “I suppose so, but that’d be…”

“Have you got an evidence bag, Yamaguichi?” Aizawa asks instead, and after fumbling with her satchel for a moment Yamaguichi produces one for Aizawa, which he takes and hops back off the platform edge to pace alongside the tracks.

“Eraser, are you sure-” Tamakawa asks as he pursues Aizawa.

“The cleanup crew will move everything, and the body already has pieces missing,” Aizawa says surely, honing in on the hand and stooping over to scoop it up in the bag. “One more piece won’t hurt.”  Aizawa stands back up with the hand-corner in his bag like a really dodgy prize from an arcade. “We have three fingers, so that’s three fingerprints that could give us a potential ID. Shall we leave that evidence to go cold or act on it?” Another teacher trick: to ask loaded questions and wait for the answers, making the capable but unsure walk themselves through the process rather than drag them by the heels.

Tamakawa comes around fast, just like Aizawa has come to expect. “You’re right.” But he’s still just a Police officer, so far, and it’s the plain truth that a pro hero of some repute can nudge doors that might open more slowly within the established hierarchy of the force. It’s surely with this in mind that Tamakawa suggests, “Will you come back to the station with us?”

Aizawa thinks about it, then looks down at the clear bag with a corner of someone’s hand in it; Hizashi will be asleep at home, none the worse for Aizawa not being there. No one to punch and kick in his dreams. Hizashi will keep overnight – this trail might not. “I’ll come.”

One thing to be said about fingerprinting a dismembered hand is that it’s a lot more cooperative than suspects are. Aizawa literally does it in his lap on the car ride over to the police station, then gives the night-shift clerk an eyeroll when asked why there’s only three fingerprints on the card.

“He was a couple short. Run it anyway,” Aizawa instructs dryly, and leaves Yamaguichi waiting on the results as he takes Tamakawa by the shoulder and makes a smoking gesture with his other hand.

It’s only sensible for an underground Hero and a Police officer who’s not a detective to pop out back of the station, skulking in the alleyway lighting a couple of cigarettes. They can't smoke inside, after all. If it just so happens they talk about a case that hasn't made it to the detectives’ desks yet, that’s just pure coincidence.

“So what do you think’s going on?” Tamakawa asks as he lifts the cigarette away from his whiskery mouth with delicate, claw-like nails.

“What do you think it is?” Aizawa turns back on him: teachering again.

“The victims don’t seem connected at first glance, but the MO is similar,” Tamakawa lays out. “Strange behaviour followed by suicide. If it’s something to do with that woman…” He pauses, taking a drag on the cigarette followed by a cough: unused to smoking, which probably makes Aizawa a bad influence. “Could she be making them do it?”

“I think it’s entirely plausible,” Aizawa replies, puffing contently on a fresh cigarette compared to the stale ones he’s been nursing. Yamaguichi bought the good stuff too.

Tamakawa’s ears lift. “Really?”

“Of course,” Aizawa affirms. It’s always nice when someone coaxed into stepping up proves capable, and Aizawa has long suspected Tamakawa's far more competent than his station does justice. Maybe Tamakawa likes being a cop, or perhaps he and the Police Chief get along like… well, cats and dogs. Aizawa prefers working with him compared to Tsukauchi, that’s for sure.

“So that means… she might have one of those quirks.” Tamakawa gives another pensive drag on his cigarette, resting his free arm over his smoking one and giving himself an instinctive shake. “Gives me the creeps.”

A name floats back into Aizawa’s head: Shinsou. He pulls on his own smoke, blowing the cloud into the crowded alley like their very own noire fog-generator. Aizawa checks his phone for the time: no messages from Hizashi of course, he’s asleep. Like Aizawa should be. But Hizashi wakes up early, and Aizawa would like to be there when he does.

“Do you think Yamaguichi could take me somewhere?” Aizawa takes a final few drags on his smoke before stubbing it out on the wall, tossing it into a box of rubbish piled up in the alley.

“Sure thing, we’re almost at the end of our shift. After tonight I don’t mind her leaving a little early.” Tamakawa puffs on and then bins his own cigarette. “I’m a little worried, to tell you the truth. This is a bad lot for a newbie fresh out of the academy on their first week.”

“Yeah.” Aizawa has been at this ten years, and even he doesn’t feel prepared for it. He steps forward to head for the door, pausing to give Tamakawa a couple of pats on the shoulder, and his ears flick and readjust. “Hell of a night.”

“You can say that again,” Tamakawa purrs.

Aizawa forgets to ask about the results of the fingerprinting, but it turns out not to matter, because he gets them in the car with Yamaguichi.

What Aizawa also gets is an utter meltdown.

It starts simply; the straight-faced Yamaguichi stood to attention at the desk, stiffly nodding at Tamakawa when he asks her to drop Aizawa back where she found him, like some kind of displaced wild animal that needs returning to his natural habitat.

They get into the car and start driving, Aizawa starting to feel drowsy again as the night eats into early morning. Then Aizawa remembers what he forgot and innocently asks, “By the way, did you get a match on those prints?” and Yamaguichi just bursts like a broken tap.

“Buuuhuhuhuhuhuhuh-” Yamaguichi starts outright sobbing over the steering wheel, and Aizawa takes a long, meditative breath. Doesn’t say anything, because he assumes she’s going to get it out with eventually. He’s right. “The prints… they…” Aizawa wonders what could be so distressing that a fully grown Police officer would burst into tears, but has every faith he’s about to find out.

“They were a match,” Aizawa supplies. That much is evident; no one is this upset over not getting a new lead.

Yuh… yeah,” Yamaguichi sniffs, then rubs her cheeks and nose on her shirt sleeve. “He… he’s got a record a mile long, Eraserhead. S-” she hiccups, maybe swallowing the sir that was trying to slip out. Or maybe not. “S-sexual assault.”

“Oh.” Aizawa crosses his arms, replaying that footage from the station with a new filter. “On the train?” The woman chasing the man off the carriage, the panicked way he reacted when she grabbed him, before falling still and awaiting his kamikaze descent into the train’s windshield – practically a fitting end, spits a bitter part of Aizawa’s conscience.

“M-mostly, yeah.” Yamaguichi sniffs again. “It’s so awful, but I thought… when I first saw the report… I wasn’t sad that a person like that was dead.” She turns to look at Aizawa with utter hopelessness; this kind of thing happens sometimes, especially after having to hunt for dismembered body parts along the railway lines at stupid o’clock in the morning. “Does that make me a bad Police officer?”

“No.” Aizawa doesn’t do coddling, and it's not his job to tell people they’re meant to have absolute faith in the justice systems. Pretending to believe that not even the worst criminals deserve a violent death. “Scum like that deserve what’s coming to them, but you didn’t hear it from me.” After the day she’s had, Yamaguichi doesn’t need to be lied to on top of everything else. It seems to have a calming effect; just to feel like she’s not wrong for feeling the way she does. Police officer or not, Yamaguichi is also a woman. Aizawa can only guess at the difference that could make.

“Sorry for breaking down like this.” Yamaguichi takes a deep breath, blinking heavily behind her glasses and keeping her eyes on the road.

“Don’t be,” Aizawa replies surely. “The only time you should be worried is if you ever stop feeling this way.” He pauses, pondering if his teacher habits are ever going to take a night off. “Then you'll know your morals have gone numb.”

Yamaguichi stops at a useless traffic light on the empty roads and rubs the edge of her sleeve under her eyes. “I suppose you’re right.” The light turns green, and it’s with a little more hope that she adds, “Thanks, Eraser.”

Aizawa has never known what to do when people thank him, but it happens quite a lot, so he just fumbles his way through. “No problem,” he mumbles through a yawn. They’re getting closer to the drop-off spot, and Aizawa thinks about walking the two blocks down back alleys alone, wallowing in this shitstorm of a day followed by a clusterfuck of a night.

“Actually, could you take me a little further this time?” Aizawa asks with a warmer, slightly dare-he-say-it-personal air. “There’s a stop I’d like to make on the way.” It’s getting light already, and there’s a bakery he knows will be open just another block from here.

“Yes sir, I mean- Eraser,” Yamaguichi says and then corrects herself; a good sign, Aizawa thinks. “Anything to help.”

Aizawa’s grateful for all the help he can get.

Sailing through the quiet, 5:00 a.m. liminal space of their apartment like a ghost, Aizawa slides the plastic-bagged package he brings back with him into the fridge and heads straight for bed. He pushes his capture weapon off in a heap somewhere down the hallway, already undoing his belt and the long zipper on the front of his jumpsuit, stepping out of them as he crosses the threshold into the bedroom.

Bluish dawn light chases Aizawa into the room, picking out the edge of the bed for a moment before he shuts the door behind him and finds his way in the dark. He reaches the bed and drops down, climbing under the body-warmed covers with deep, soothing relief.

Hizashi’s engine runs so hot he’d melt a hole through the bed in an ice hotel. It’s also a fact that Aizawa has always slept better in his best friend’s second-hand warmth than he ever managed by himself, even before they were ‘together’ in a conventional sense – within their already fairly unconventional setup. It’s going on fifteen years that Aizawa’s been sleeping in Hizashi’s bed, more than half of it never – okay, mostly never – having a sexual component. Which is only weird if you think about it too hard. But if there had ever been a spark at certain, don’t-talk-about-it times, nothing ever came of it. At least not for the first seven years.

After testing a couple of false-bundles that turn out to be pillows, Aizawa finally finds Hizashi and shuffles closer to him. Asleep but nominally responsive, Hizashi shifts enough to allow Aizawa to slip an arm around him from behind, wrapping across Hizashi’s stomach and squeezing. They got there in the end.

When Aizawa’s mouth presses unconsciously to the back of Hizashi’s shoulder under a sheet of silky hair, Hizashi stirs a little more; just enough to wriggle to fit himself more snugly into Aizawa like stacking cups. A moment later Hizashi’s hand moves over Aizawa’s wrist and locks like a set of handcuffs, making sure there’s no getting away from him without Hizashi knowing about it.

Aizawa thinks he’s still mostly asleep, but a few moments later there’s a sonous murmur of, “You realise I’m getting up in an hour.” How Hizashi knows what time it is beggars belief, but he hardly even needs an alarm clock to wake up at six every morning. Aizawa has long since accepted that Hizashi is a man governed by his own rules just as much as Aizawa is.

Aizawa kisses Hizashi’s back again, and huffs a breathy laugh-sigh that’s neither one nor the other. “That’s what you think.”

Chapter Text

“Hey, what’s this box in the fridge?”

“Don’t touch that,” Aizawa instructs. “It’s police evidence.”

Hizashi pops out from behind the fridge door to glare daggers at Aizawa behind the breakfast bar – Aizawa never fought Hizashi about the decoration of this place, but he does like to question breakfast bar as needing to be its own meal-serving structure. If they must have a bar, why not for drinks? Well, Hizashi had one of those put in too – out of spite, largely – after the first time Aizawa brought it up. When he is here, Aizawa admittedly spends more time behind the breakfast equivalent, perched on one of the artsy over-designed high stools drinking coffee so bitter it’s strong enough to revive Hades himself at this time of the morning.

It’s commonly understood in this household that the hours between 3:00 and 5:00 a.m. are Aizawa’s domain, but from the moment Hizashi’s obnoxious alarm (who has an alarm of their own voice?) goes off at six, he reigns supreme over the morning. Ever since they were in their teens, Hizashi has been tasked by parents, fellow students and teachers alike with the job of stirring Aizawa from his corpse-like slumber: though his methods have changed over the years.

Back when they were younger – or in the present day, if he’s (rarely) not in the mood – Hizashi merely positioned his mouth two inches over Aizawa’s moplike head and belted unbearable morning platitudes until Aizawa’s fist connected with his chin or his quirk was erased. Usually both.

More recently, and providing Hizashi is in the mood – this morning being a perfect example – his techniques are a little subtler. If “riling Aizawa up with a morning handjob before announcing that if he’d like to continue Hizashi will be found in the shower” could be called subtle. Aizawa doesn’t, but he tends not to call it much of anything when he’s being led around by the cock. It works, he won’t deny that. Aizawa has always been a man of simple needs: shower sex is one of them.

Hizashi, by contrast, is a bird of paradise walking. Even when he’s wandering around in his home glasses with his wet hair istill twisted into a tight bun on top of his head. He’s pre-blowdry, in that windtunnel of a machine he uses to get it sticking up like a cockatoo’s crest. But if the lack of canary-yellow exclamation mark over Hizashi’s head lowers his profile, the tattoos shove it way back up.

It’s not possible to see when he’s dressed in all-black leather, but in a simple white vest there’s a solid third-or-more or so of Hizashi’s ink on show, the rest spanning his back all the way down past his ass. Tough times for all when that particular stretch of his masterpiece was being filled in. For someone who’s watched it grow, inch by agonising you-can’t-really-be-getting-more-done inch, Aizawa’s still knocked out by the (temporarily) finished product.

The themes of Hizashi’s tattoos vary, but fall into three rough groups: music, Heroics, and the people he loves. Aizawa’s got a few corners in there, but Hizashi’s a popular man. He’s got designs sent in by fans, inked signatures from his rock idols, the logo of the first Hero he side-kicked for. Hizashi’s whole life has been painted out on the living canvas of his skin, from the age of just-before-eighteen until the most recent time he had ‘just one more piece’ to add to the ever-growing mural. Which was two months ago, and then six before that, and so on… Aizawa’s sure that Hizashi will be covered head-to-toe by the time they’re sixty, but he’ll pull it off because he’s Present Mic: loud and proud. Emphasis on the loud.

“What’s in the fridge, Shota?” Hizashi asks with a dangerous air, his smirk emphasised all the more by the freshly-trimmed fringe of his moustache framing his curling upper lip.

Aizawa casts a look at Hizashi like dice in a game of craps. “Promise you won’t freak out?”

Shotaaa.” Hizashi’s hand comes down to rest on the other side of the counter Aizawa is perched behind and the fingers drum an incessant patter. He could just check the box in the fridge rather than abandoning it for a squabble, but where’s the fun in that?

“Better keep it cool,” Aizawa explains glibly. “You don’t wanna see what happens if conditions get too warm.”

“I thought we agreed you were going to stop bringing body parts home from work,” Hizashi lectures.

“Technically,” Aizawa replies crisply, raising his hand as if to indicate only a few of the fingers, “it’s only a third of one.”

“You’re so gross!” Hizashi bursts, holding Aizawa’s gaze for a moment. It’s rare Aizawa stares at anyone this long without using his quirk, and the result is that he ends up fixated on Hizashi’s dazzling green eyes. A long moment passes before Aizawa can’t prevent it any longer, and he smiles. Hizashi cracks when he does. “You’re fucking with me.”

Usually hidden behind the musty drapes of his hair, so no one can ever see, Aizawa has a particularly expressive talent with his eyebrows. Freshly washed, his hair has been scraped back from his head, and puts on show the razor-sharp slice of the right lifting while the left remains a dead flatline. “Wasn’t that what happened in the shower?”

Hizashi ripples with laughter, flashing his pearly white I-paid-for-them-so-they’re-mine teeth, and then turns around to go back to the fridge, pulling it back open and taking out the unmarked white box for closer inspection.

Hizashi studies the box and finds the logo with a million-buck smile. “I picked up breakfast,” Aizawa explains.

Finally, Hizashi gets the lid open. “This is a cake.” He flips it shut again and gives Aizawa a dead stare. “You call that breakfast?”

“If I eat it in the morning, anything’s breakfast,” Aizawa rationalises as he takes another sip of coffee and dodges Hizashi’s lascivious look. Maybe this makes it his second breakfast, if they’re counting what went on in the shower.

“You’re a strange guy, you know that?” Hizashi plates the layered cream-cake Aizawa bought and presents it to him with a fork; Aizawa will eat, and Hizashi steals bites. Some things don’t change, and Hizashi’s always been a filch with an eye for the grass on the other side.

“Hadn’t come to my attention,” Aizawa returns in a deadpan, scooping up a bite of the cake and muffling through his mouthful, “You love me anyway.”

Hizashi laughs like a parrot and comes over to pilfer his bite – straight off Aizawa’s fork, as it happens. He straightens up with a palm resting across the top of Aizawa’s head, fingers scrunching Aizawa’s wet hair while it’s actually clean for once. “Only because you’re the one person who can’t break up with me for spending too much time with you."

It’d admittedly taken a while for Hizashi and Aizawa to mutually recognise they might be as good in a romantic relationship as they’ve always been in a platonic one. The string of people who dumped Hizashi while insisting one or the other of them had been secretly pining for each other was a bit of a pointer in that direction – even though they hadn’t, at least not at the time. They’ve tried to explain, though people rarely believe it, but Aizawa and Hizashi honestly hadn’t seen each other that way – at least, not until the point was repeatedly hammered home. Things worked out fine once the sparks finally kindled, but it was a fire that took a little while to start.

“Love by default,” Aizawa sums up, staring at his breakfast-cake like he’s trying to remember what to do with it. “Sounds about right.”

“Ooh, that could be the name of my next album.” It’s right for him and Hizashi, in any case.

“Good morning, Aizawa!” Nezu beams with inextinguishable cheer, fresh and glossy in a way Aizawa hasn’t been since the last press conference he got roped into. Which has been a while, thankfully. “Mind if I catch a lift?”

“I was meaning to have a word with you, hop aboard.” Aizawa bends down and offers his arm as the stairwell for Nezu to climb with skilled ease, clambering over his collar to duck into the roomy layers of Aizawa’s capture weapon, then about-facing to pop out right next to Aizawa’s ear.

“So, what did you want to talk about?” Nezu is so close that when Aizawa straightens up and starts walking, no one below the level of Aizawa’s shoulder would even know the Principal was there at all, much less having a confidential discussion. Works like a charm.

“That student in the General Studies Course, the one with a brainwashing quirk,” Aizawa begins with a carefully muted tone, like he’d cup his hand if he didn’t have a mountain of his capture weapon piled up to do the same thing, which arouses must less suspicion anyway. “Does he have a somewhat… famous father?” Nezu doesn’t reply, but Aizawa feels his tail twitch deep in the mass of wraps that make up Aizawa’s ‘daywear comfort blankie’ as Hizashi likes to tease.

“I would think that’s infamous,” Nezu replies with a surety that’s all but outright confirmation. “Dr. Shinsou has been incarcerated for many years now, but I understand our own Shinsou Hitoshi and his mother broke ties with him long before that fall from grace.”

“From grace?” Aizawa echoes suspiciously.

“Back in the day, the work of Professor Shinsou revolutionised our understanding of mentalist quirks. Never before had so much light been cast on such a controversial subject,” Nezu relates with the same cheery optimism he always uses, disguising anything sinister in the dark undercurrents he knows all too well. “The Field of Pyschiatric Quirk Research will never be the same for the loss of him, I’m afraid.”

Aizawa feels the weight of Nezu against his shoulder, Nezu’s big paws folded over his belly, and remembers that once humans had experimented on the Principal for the sake of quirk research. “Just what the hell was so special about this guy?”

“The variety and detail with which Dr. Shinsou documented mentalist quirks is astonishing,” Nezu continues thoughtfully. “The things he learned from studying them, and the number of people who came to congregate around a charismatic ambassador for their plight. Based on his body of work alone, the man is, quite simply, a genius.” And this is the Principal, a genius himself admitting it.

Aizawa feels a dark sinking sensation, like taking a dip in the ocean with lead-lined shoes. “A mad genius.”

“Oh, a complete lunatic,” Nezu affirms. “Sometimes a person goes so far into the darkness that they cannot find the light again. I fear he was one such case.”

“Then years later, his son applies here to be in the Hero Course,” Aizawa reins back in on the topic, weaving between students as he escorts Nezu to the teacher’s room. “But he doesn’t make the cut.”

“That young man applied to both Hero and General Studies,” Nezu recites as if he pre-recorded the response. “It seems even he understood that there was a natural disadvantage regarding his quirk that we could not accommodate.”

We couldn’t accommodate?” Aizawa repeats back.

“No thanks to the work of Dr. Shinsou, the difficulties of handling students with mentalist quirks are substantial,” Nezu continues, and now Aizawa steps into an alcove and hovers out of the main flow of the crowd. “Even moreso in the Hero Course, where they would be actively using their quirks on classmates or out in the field under a provisional license. Prodigal as he may be, it would be unwise for us to make an exception to the entrance exam requirements for young Shinsou.”

Aizawa knows Nezu wouldn’t have taken a choice like this lightly. “So you stuck him into General. Why?"

“The boy shows promise, doesn’t he?” Nezu catches the corner of Aizawa’s eye and tilts his head in an especially bestial fashion, answering the question that’s really being asked. “And isn’t UA just the kind of environment where an industrious young boy could be exposed to the kind of Heroes who could help him?”

“Or exploit him,” Aizawa points out.

“Well in your capacity as a teacher at this school, I naturally can’t condone anything that could put a student at risk,” Nezu says surely. “But of course, if an underground Hero were to reach out to the boy, in connection with a private investigation that has no association with UA whatsoever, that would be a different matter.”

Students arrange their own work experience, and that’s no coincidence when it comes to liability of taking untested would-be Heroes into the field. It’s a primary reason Aizawa tries to have nothing to do with interns: he’s got enough kids to babysit every day of his life. “It would, huh?” Aizawa murmurs, mulling over the quiet inevitability of what Nezu is proposing.

“Yes, why then I wouldn’t know anything about it,” Nezu ruminates contently, and Aizawa steps back out of the alcove to continue walking. “And as long as I continue to know nothing about it, nothing could possibly be the matter with such an arrangement.”

“So I guess it’s true then.” As Aizawa’s speaking, Nezu readjusts inside the sling of the capture weapon, and sticks a clunky shoe rather clumsily in Aizawa’s collarbone. “Ignorance really is bliss.”

“You could call me a creature of such comforts,” Nezu replies cannily, either not knowing or caring about the fact that he’s kicking Aizawa by accident – at least, Aizawa hopes. “But if anyone can help that child, I think it’d be a Hero like Eraserhead.”

Aizawa nods in mute agreement, tongue-tied with the magnitude of the choice he’s going to make.

Aizawa sticks his head around the door during the final minutes of one of Hizashi’s English classes – he knows how to pick a window of opportunity – and simply says, “Shinsou Hitoshi.”

Shinsou Hitoshi lifts his head from his hands like he'd been dozing in them, befuddled enough to need a couple of moments before noticing how the collective gaze of his classmates encircles him. Then he looks straight at Aizawa, and a chill scuttles down the back of Aizawa's neck. He remembers the portrait from the book: the same face that stares out from behind a screen when Aizawa searches for Shinsou’s mass-murderer father on his phone out of sick curiosity. He’s found online lectures and talkshow footage, along with a video of the self-titled Dr. Shinsou using his quirk to make the host lift up her shirt on an episode of a ten-year-old gameshow. There's a family resemblance, that's for sure, but how deep it runs remains to be seen.

Above all else, Shinsou sounds bored when he answers, “Yeah?”

That isn't a great start, but he's also a little suspicious, which Aizawa understands more. “I need you to come with me.” Aizawa redirects his gaze to Hizashi. “Mic, you don't mind me taking one of your students, do you?”

“No, no, take him away,” Hizashi replies brightly, and though Aizawa can't see his eyes through his mirrored lenses, he can easily imagine the ‘we'll be catching up about this later’ look behind them.

“Jeez, alright then.” Shinsou stands with more of a petulant groan than anything, and a small illuminated sign in Aizawa's head with the words ‘attitude problem’ lights up like a fasten-your-seatbelt light on a plane.

Aizawa starts walking before Shinsou is at the door and expects him to keep up. He doesn't, trailing behind Aizawa like a sullen baby duck.

The rest of classes have let out by the time they're almost back to Aizawa’s classroom. Shinsou and Midoriya clock each other’s presence in the hallway as they pass on the way. Not for the first time, Aizawa considers what would have happened had Shinsou succeeded at walking Midoriya out of the arena like a puppet during the sports festival.

Only when Shinsou and Aizawa are both in the classroom with the door shut does either speak. Shinsou has his hands stuffed in his pockets, shoulders up like a cat with its hackles raised. “So what's this all about?”

“It's to do with your father.” Aizawa cuts straight to it; this is a real case with serious stakes, and that means no pussyfooting around personal sensitivities.

Shinsou doesn't react right away, staring at Aizawa through dark-ringed eyes. It occurs to Aizawa – new thought, never-before-had – that there's actually a chance this interaction goes nowhere. That Shinsou could refuse any involvement, not for any price. The stakes suddenly get a little higher, at least in Aizawa's mind.

But Shinsou just sighs and says, “Why don't you read his book, if you're such a fan?”

“Not a fan,” Aizawa replies coldly. “But I need access to him.”

That gets through to the kid. Suddenly this stops looking like such a terrible drag, and the shadows under his eyes seem to become more sinister than weary. “You don't wanna do that.”

“I do,” Aizawa reiterates surely. “Trust me, if there was an alternative, I'd have taken it.”

“So look harder,” Shinsou snaps defensively. “The school already knew about my… about him when I was accepted, so if they're changing their minds-”

“This isn't school business,” Aizawa corrects. “In fact, I need you to keep this conversation and anything that does or doesn't happen after it a secret from your classmates and the other teachers.”

“That seems kinda questionable,” Shinsou suggests with an even-more-questionable undercurrent. “What's in it for me?” Aizawa has definitely got the kid’s interest now.

Aizawa crosses his arms and leans back on the edge of his desk. He's skipping a perfectly good nap for this, so this tall drink of attitude isn't the only one who has better things they could be doing right now. “You want to be a Hero, don't you?”

Aizawa's got him there, can see the tortured scream of frustration in the teen’s eyes. Aizawa knows about fighting to be recognised in spite of his quirk, about being at a disadvantage to his peers with a quirk that does something invasive and intimidating to others. But even Aizawa's quirk isn't so feared as Shinsou’s, and Aizawa wouldn't dare to claim it.

“You don't have to decide right away.” Aizawa wishes Shinsou would, but that's not how to catch a fly. He goes to his desk and scribbles the address of a nearby convenience store he buys cigarettes from on a superfluous appendix to Midoriya’s homework, which he offers out to Shinsou. “Meet me here after school to find out more, but if you show up be prepared to do what you're told, when you're told. Even if it's…” Aizawa thinks of the bathtub, the severed hand, and the face of Dr. Shinsou Masaru: all in order of the revulsion each bring out in him. “Unpleasant.”

Shinsou takes the paper without breaking his gaze from dead on Aizawa’s. “Sounds like a nightmare for child services,” he comments in a tone so dry it'd crunch if Aizawa stood on it; he might still. “Should I be concerned for my innocence?”

“Probably,” Aizawa replies curtly, which catches Shinsou on the wrong foot. He's trying to provoke, to push Aizawa's buttons so he's not in control. And if that doesn't work there's always-

Aizawa activates his quirk on Shinsou the very moment before he feels the boy tries to do the same to him. Aizawa’s quirk smothers Shinsou’s like setting a cup over a lit candle.  Already staring dead at Shinsou, Aizawa catches the frustration and anger of a very rough diamond hitting a surface it's unable to scratch. Aizawa knows all about diamonds in the rough.

“If you ever try that on me again, this offer is immediately void,” Aizawa says sternly, feeling his hair drop back down after he releases his quirk.

“Offer?” Shinsou echoes caustically. “I thought you needed my help?”

“And you need someone to give you a shot.” Aizawa doesn’t do any kind of love but tough. “You want to be a Hero, kid? Prove to me you have what it takes.”

He crosses his arms and watches Shinsou, thinking about the monumental pain in his ass this kid would be if he were one of Aizawa’s students. Aizawa would run out of eyedrops in a week. “Now get out of my classroom.”

“Alright, no need to get your panties in a twist,” Shinsou grumbles. Maybe Nezu was right to keep Shinsou out of the Heroics course: he’s sure as shit not ready for it… yet.

“So what was poaching tall, dark and gloomy from my class all about?” Hizashi asks Aizawa over lunch – namely, Hizashi eating lunch sitting on the floor while Aizawa lays behind his desk in his sleeping bag. Hizashi feeding him bites like some kind of Very Hungry Caterpillar.

“It’s better if you don’t know,” Aizawa replies, pouting as Hizashi’s chopsticks prod his cheeks before opening his mouth to accept the bite of sticky rice, mumbling through the mouthful, “You neef-” he finishes chewing, “plausible deniability.”

“Ooooh,” Hizashi coos like a bird whistling for fun. “Anything I should be worried about?”

“Probably,” Aizawa responds dourly. He’s worried about the boy, that’s for sure. “What’s he like to teach?”


“Shinsou.” Aizawa lets Hizashi’s next helping of rice spill on his cheek as the landing doors do not open for the airplane. “He doesn’t have any classes with me.” Yet, a quiet thought reiterates from the strangely shaped cave in Aizawa’s mind, where hidden tunnels and crevices mean that footsteps sound as if they’re coming from all around.

“Oh well he’s… quiet, to the point of napping,” Hizashi reels off easily. “Jumps about five feet into the air when I wake him up with a Good Morning special.”

“So do I,” Aizawa replies, finally getting so sick of Hizashi’s nagging prods at his mouth that he opens up and takes the feed like an animal at a petting zoo. In truth, he’s pretty sure Hizashi does this for the fun of it as much as the practicality. Aizawa would be fine without lunch, but if anything can be made into a task that vaguely annoys Aizawa, Hizashi will be first in line to do it. Aizawa’s nourishment in the process is just a bonus. “Does he use his quirk?”


“In class, have you ever caught him using his quirk?”

“General Studies students aren’t allowed to do that.”

“Would you know if he did?”

“I…” Hizashi draws a visible blank, and a scary thought creeps up on Aizawa like a creature that lives in shadows. “Dunno.”

“Has he ever used it on you?”

“What?! Of course not, I’m a teacher!”

“He tried it on me.”

Hizashi’s chopsticks fall, spilling rice down his front in transit to his own mouth. “Seriously?”

“Yeah.” Aizawa wriggles over a little closer, so his face is almost next to Hizashi’s thigh. “If he’s stupid enough to try it once, who says he hasn’t done it to other members of staff?” Especially ones who don’t have a quirk that would erase Shinsou’s attempts to gain control of their minds, could perhaps even make them forget it’d even happened.

“I’m guessing he wasn’t successful with you.”

“Of course not.” Aizawa’s almost insulted, and lets it show in his tone. Hizashi prods his cheek with another wad of rice, but Aizawa’s lips stay narrow, pulling together to deny access. “I made it clear what would happen if he ever tried it again.”

“Again? Just what are you doing with this kid, Shota?” Hizashi actually sounds concerned this time. Not suspicious, like he has to question the morals of what Aizawa’s doing – those are fine, the trust is there and absolute – but wanting to be sure Aizawa knows the line between things he can’t talk about and things he has to say when he needs to. Like help me.

“Like I said.” Aizawa flips himself up to rest on Hizashi’s knee where his legs are crossed, then opens his mouth like a baby bird waiting to have pre-chewed food spat into it. “It’s better if you don’t know.” Until Hizashi does need to know, and then he’ll be the reliable foundation he’s always been to Aizawa’s fragile perpetual-motion balancing act.

“Sounds like a nightmare for child services.” Hizashi feeds him the bite, then picks a few grains of rice off his cheek and feeds him them too – why let good food go to waste?

“Hm.” Aizawa chuckles breathily, and Hizashi quirks his head at him. “That’s what he said.”

“Smart kid, I guess.” Hizashi would know, if anyone’s supposed to, but Aizawa gets the feeling Shinsou’s still largely below the radar, and probably with good reason.

Aizawa’s about to find out what lies beneath. “I sure hope so.”

Aizawa’s sitting on the edge of the parapet that encircles the flat roof of the convenience store, gazing listlessly over the wastelands of rooftop suburbia with a stress-cigarette when Shinsou finally scrambles up over the fire escape. Finally. Aizawa was so tense waiting – thinking it was possible he’d been wrong, and Shinsou wasn’t going to show – he smoked two in a row, which he usually only does when he’s been drinking.

“So you’re not totally hopeless,” Aizawa opens as the lanky teen clambers onto the roof with the grace of a deer taking its first steps, if those steps happened to be up a narrow metal ladder. Covered in grease.

“Did you have to make it on top of this place?” Shinsou gripes, looking at his own scuffed hands like he can’t believe he had to dirty them so.

“Yes,” Aizawa answers bluntly.

Shinsou watches Aizawa warily. “Smoking’s a bad habit.”

“So is talking back,” Aizawa returns, taking another long pull and blowing the smoke upwards. He pauses for a moment, waiting for Shinsou to prompt him to speak, but the boy doesn’t, just slumps back against the wall, the tips of his violet hair in contrast to the dreary grey of the skies above them. “I’m investigating a couple of staged suicides,” Aizawa finally begins to unwind. It occurs to him that this is the first time he’s spelled it out to anyone in his own words.

“Staged?” Shinsou echoes with such scathing Aizawa could be fooled for mistaking who’s testing who in this situation.

“I think someone with a brainwashing quirk is making people kill themselves,” Aizawa rephrases without room for doubt. He sees the infuriated twist in Shinsou’s expression, like a drawstring pulling all the tension in his face tight. “I’ve spoken to a criminal expert in this field, who directed me to the work of Dr. Shinsou Masaru.”

“Was it a psych?” Shinsou offers cautiously, and Aizawa nods. “Fucking creeps,” Shinsou mutters in a way that rings true for Aizawa’s own feelings about his time with Dr. Iwaya.

“So that’s one thing we agree on,” Aizawa offers up, and there’s a glint of something brighter in Shinsou’s gaze on him. Aizawa takes another drag on his cigarette and stubs it out next to him. “Apparently, your father destroyed all his records before…” Aizawa hesitates for just a moment, but it’s enough to cede control. Of the conversation, that is.

“Before he killed all his students,” Shinsou finishes for him with sterile detachment. “You don’t have to tread so lightly around me, I’m pretty familiar with what my dad did to the people who idolised him.” There’s a pause, before a more malicious air takes over. “I’m not gonna snap or anything.”

“You’d better not,” Aizawa remarks. “The things you might see in connection with this case are distressing, even to people with years of experience.”

“You mean, everyone shits their pants when it comes to quirks like mine,” Shinsou puts without pretence. “Are we going to reach a point where you stop telling me things I already know anytime soon?”

“I think the killer’s quirk requires her to write on people to gain control of them,” Aizawa spits like a tack. “Have you ever heard of someone with a quirk like that?”

“Me? No,” Shinsou answers sullenly. “My… that man was already half-looney when I came along, and I never wanted to be part of his research.” The ugly silence holds for a few moments, and under the prickly heat of Aizawa’s gaze, Shinsou relents to reveal a little more. “But if there was anyone with a quirk like that… at least before he was locked up, my old man would know about them.” Shinsou scuffs one of his shoes on the rooftop – trainers that wouldn’t be that clean if he exercised in them enough. From head to toe, the boy looks one thing: untested. “He must have had every kid with a mentalist quirk in the country through his clinic at some point. They flew in from all over the world, just to be assessed by him.”

“That’s as I thought,” Aizawa muses. “Unfortunately.”

“Why’s it suck for you?” Shinsou replies curtly. “I’m the one related to him.”

“It means we do have to meet him,” Aizawa tries not to sigh, but it’s a hard temptation to resist.

“Isn’t that what you wanted all along?” Shinsou catches out with that prime fifteen-year-old obnoxiousness, and Aizawa’s already annoyed with this kid.

“I never want to visit an insane criminal mastermind to play hunt-the-lead,” Aizawa snaps even more bluntly than he’d be in a classroom, which is already pretty fucking blunt. “I don’t imagine you’re keen on it either.” By the grimace on Shinsou’s face, so far the primary observation from this conversation is that they are well-disposed for pushing each other’s buttons. Which isn’t a great start.

“Oh yeah, I’m just falling over myself to see dear old dad again,” Shinsou snarks. “How’s it going, Pa? Get any more prison guards to swallow their tongues lately?”

“That’s… not possible,” Aizawa says dangerously, not wanting to believe it more than he thinks Shinsou would make something like that up.

“Tell that to the family of the guard who suffocated to death,” Shinsou retorts viciously; even if it is true, Aizawa doesn’t want to know. “If you’re serious about meeting him, you sure as hell better go in prepared.”

Aizawa says, “Then tell me what I need to know.”

“Not so fast,” Shinsou puts up like tossing trashcans in front of Aizawa as he’s pursued down an alleyway. “What do I get in return?”

“We’ve been over this,” Aizawa says dryly.

“Not in enough detail.” Shinsou actually gets up now, walking across to Aizawa. Still being seated, Shinsou towers over Aizawa. He might even be as tall as Aizawa – at least including the hair. “Use me to get access to that nutjob by all means, but I want something out of it too.”

“You work the case with me,” Aizawa deals out like bullets to slot into a game of russian roulette. “You get to see an underground Hero in action.”

Shinsou thinks on it. “So I’m your intern.”

“You’re not even close to licensed, so no,” Aizawa puts to rest swiftly. “But you could call it a… work placement.” Aizawa gets cagey; this isn’t the sort of thing he does, professionally speaking. As much as he tries and fails, his teaching life isn’t meant to run into his pro Hero life like crayon colouring over the lines. “Strictly off the record.”

“Of course,” Shinsou murmurs sourly. “Wouldn’t want the scary brainwashing kid to be seen actually doing anything too Heroic, right?”

“If you only want to be a Hero for the acclaim, drop out now,” Aizawa cuts coarsely, like taking the rough edges off a cutout before he goes over with a fine scalpel later. “When an underground Hero does their job well, no one knows they’ve done anything at all. You’ll get no praise for what you do right, and all the blame for what goes wrong. If that’s a problem-”

“That’s fine,” Shinsou rushes like he’s feeling a little foolish – good, that was the point. “I just want to do something good.” He pauses, kicking the rooftop like its done anything to deserve it. “For once.”

“Then help me stop more people from dying,” Aizawa puts to him sternly.

“Alright.” Shinsou slides his hands out of his pockets, and for a moment Aizawa thinks he’s going to hold out his hand to shake, but he doesn’t. Just stands there, arms lax by his sides and a look too haggard for any fifteen year old to rightfully be. “I’m in.”

Chapter Text

“So now what?” Shinsou asks, and that’s the question Aizawa’s been figuring out all day. Next steps: including this brat.

“Call the prison,” Aizawa lays out as if he’s just coming up with the plan, and wasn’t already set on his course of action before Shinsou ever showed up. This is plan A, which doesn’t mean Aizawa’s got no B, C and D. “Set up a meeting.”

“That might take a while,” Shinsou replies warily. “It’s not exactly a ‘call and waltz in’ kind of lockup.”

“You get it done, or more people die,” Aizawa explains simply. There’s no way Shinsou would be able to know if Aizawa's plan is premeditated; then again, Aizawa has no true measure of what this kid’s quirk could do if he gets in through the door to his mind. Aizawa’s guard remains firmly up.

Shinsou demands, “What makes you so sure this person’s going to strike again?”

“Call it experience,” Aizawa says morosely as he stands. “Or hey, wait to find out if you’re wrong. It’s just someone’s life.”

“Alright, alright,” Shinsou grinds like he’s polishing stone with high pressured jets of water.  “I’ll see what I can do.” Aizawa is pleased to be making inroads with the boy – how to get under his skin, in any case.

“Use my phone.” Aizawa pulls it out of his pocket and holds it out to Shinsou. Not only is his number untraceable, but everything said and received through it gets uploaded to remote storage in neatly portioned audio files he can pick up on the computer. There’s no harm in being careful. He’s even got the Warden’s number ready to call, leaked by a pal in the Police station basement.

“Right now?” Shinsou reacts like Aizawa is doing this as some kind of show for his benefit – a dry run before they actually start going to work. But they don’t have time for a tutorial level.

“No, make me wait for it,” Aizawa digs sarcastically. When he shakes the phone as an indicative gesture, Shinsou finally snatches it from his hand.

“Fine.” When he checks the screen, another question crosses Shinsou’s face in the worried lines of his frown, surmised in the words, “What number is this?”

“The Warden’s office at the prison,” Aizawa replies coolly. “I took the liberty of finding it.” It wasn’t too hard to get this number thankfully – Kuwabara wasn’t always a Police mortician, and has met some interesting people in her long and esteemed career riddled with infamy.

“Tch, you really had this whole thing all worked out,” Shinsou murmurs as he stares at the screen and stalls, while Aizawa’s sense of urgency starts to itch. Keep pushing forwards or risk breaking down. That’s the rule he’s always lived by.

“If you didn’t show up I’d call him myself, so it wouldn’t have mattered either way. But yes,” Aizawa rails off disinterestedly, waiting for this conversation to just be over. “I’ve already anticipated what you’re going to do, before you even do. Get used to that.”

There’s a moment when Aizawa suddenly wants to stare Shinsou down preventatively, in case the boy’s even thinking of using his quirk – simply because Aizawa has made himself vulnerable to it. But he told Shinsou that if he did it again this… whatever it is, would end. Aizawa has to trust that Shinsou’s taking this seriously, and would never do anything that dumb.

A beat later, Shinsou presses dial and puts the phone to his ear. Not so dumb after all. “What’s his name?”

“Who?” Aizawa asks, then realises as soon as he says it – in time with Shinsou’s impetuous eyeroll – what the answer is. “Mr. Tanaka.”

“Ah, hello? Mr. Tanaka?” Shinsou picks up seamlessly, and Aizawa falls mute as his easy ticket in goes up for play. “My name’s Shinsou Hitoshi. I’d like to meet with my father.” Dead silence for a moment. “Yes, that father.” Shinsou’s eyes narrow to letterboxes over dark panda-eyes that Aizawa can’t help but recognise: takes an insomniac to know one. Aizawa can’t deny that there’s a hell of a lot about Shinsou that reminds him of himself when he was younger.

Though it’s not an exact match; Shinsou’s got an air for melodrama that Aizawa’s sorely lacking, going by the exasperated face he makes as he listens to the Warden talk. “Well, the weekend would be great, but could you make it a little sooner? I…” Hesitation, followed by a narrow glance sideways at Aizawa before Shinsou finishes, “miss him.” Silence again. “Yes, a boy does only get one father, doesn’t he?” Aizawa gestures at himself indicatively, and without a moment of doubt Shinsou adds an easy, “Oh, and I’ll be bringing someone with me, a security detail of sorts. That’s alright with you, isn’t it?”

It’s the way Shinsou draws his questions like cards out of a deck that gives Aizawa a thought about whether his quirk would work over the phone. Followed by another thought about how Shinsou could easily be having a conversation that seems like free will from this side in order to seem like…

Too complex, Aizawa decides before setting the thought aside. He has the recordings if he really wants to check whether Tanaka is responding normally, and there’s no way Shinsou could hold someone under his quirk – remotely – for long enough to allow a high-security prison visit. What’s more alarming is that Aizawa has the thought at all, purely because of Shinsou’s quirk. “Read his book,” Aizawa hears in Shinsou’s most jaded voice, followed by Nezu’s “revolutionised understanding.” Perhaps even Aizawa’s own bias needs checking; that inherent fear of someone with a key to the backdoor of his mind. Shinsou’s just a kid. One who wants to be a Hero, no less.

“Tomorrow would be great. Thank you, Mr. Tanaka.” Shinsou rolls his eyes again. “Oh yes, I’ll be there on the dot. I understand. Goodbye.” Hanging up the phone, Shinsou offers it back to Aizawa and says, “Five p.m.” Then without missing a beat Shinsou follows up, “So now that’s out of the way, there’s a couple of things I’d like us to do.”

Aizawa’s about to respond, and then… doesn’t.

Shinsou loses patience. “I’m not gonna use my quirk on you.”

“I’m waiting for you to tell me what,” Aizawa replies like a parent knocking away a child’s jam-covered hands from their good suit. “I haven’t got all day.”

It’s a simple request. Logical. Yet it surprises Aizawa. Somehow, this is the one thing he didn’t see coming. “I want you to train me.”

It doesn’t take a genius to work out what Shinsou is asking for; what anyone who wants to be a Hero would ask for, especially after being pushed into General Studies to watch and envy the easy-choice quirks get the first pick. It also can’t be denied that Shinsou’s come through UA’s doors at a bad time. When Aizawa was young, quirks on the whole were less common, meaning less competition for a place on UA’s conveyor belt to greatness. And the entrance exam had been different – less unfair, Aizawa would call it.

When Aizawa had applied to UA, he’d been able to battle people posing as villains rather than robots, giving him the chance to prove his right to be on the Hero Course in a way Shinsou never had. And even though the deck was stacked against Shinsou from the start, he's still trying, head not completely pushed down yet. His initiative is alive and kicking, by the way he handled that phone call.

“Alright, but you can’t tell anyone about this,” Aizawa grants with a sense of this already being several steps more complicated than he likes any arrangement to be. But he has to keep digging, even if it turns out to be his own grave. “Not even the Principal.”

“Seriously?” Shinsou says scathingly. “Are we gonna get in trouble?”

“Not if you keep quiet,” Aizawa issues clearly. “It’s easier this way, trust me.”

“I’ll trust you when you start trusting me,” Shinsou turns back on Aizawa as quickly as if he were flipping a switchblade.

Shinsou’s got him there.

“You'll be trusted when you earn it,” Aizawa says sternly, and then steps up onto the edge of the short wall bordering the convenience store roof. “In the meantime, try to keep up.”

Aizawa runs along the ledge and jumps, comfortably making the distance between buildings and landing without losing momentum, already on the other side of that building when he stops to watch Shinsou follow: he makes the jump, but lands like shit. Aizawa doesn't wait any longer and turns back around to launch himself into the next jump, speeding across the flat rooftop before treading lightly over a tiled one.

Next, Aizawa hits a wall and scales it like water pouring upwards. It's a little high, but not so high that Shinsou shouldn't be able to make it, though Aizawa doesn't wait to find out. When he reaches the end of the block, Aizawa throws a piece of his capture weapon around a railing and jumps off the edge, letting the material coast through his roughened hands to part-abseil, part-throws himself down to the ground, breaking his fall with practiced ease and leaving the wrap there as he waits for Shinsou’s first attempt to keep up.

Shinsou hesitates at the top, which is the first mistake, fucks around too much deciding what he’s going to do to get down, and climbs down the capture weapon like a rope for a very awkward couple of metres before realising its friction is such that he can loop it around himself and coast. By the end he makes it look vaguely on-purpose, but for the most part Shinsou descends the building with the grace of a drunk spider.

Aizawa’s got his work cut out.

Shinsou is so distracted by the sound of Aizawa’s phone going off that he trips over an air vent and goes down like a felled tree. Once he hits the rooftop he stays there, half-bracing himself on his hands but mostly staring at Aizawa in utter astonishment. It’s not always like that, but this is a special caller.

“Yeah?” Aizawa picks it up as quickly as he can, which is the only way to stop both the hideous ringtone and Hizashi from calling back, should he deign not to answer.

“Where are you?” Aizawa looks around. Shinsou’s ‘training’ has primarily taken the form of keep-up-parkour, which is an easy way to manage patrols while giving the kid something to sweat over. While Shinsou’s not completely useless, he still wouldn’t keep up with even the slowest kids in Aizawa’s class. That has to change.

By finding his way across rooftops, running slackline bridges of his capture weapon between buildings when the jumps are too large for Shinsou, Aizawa pursued a route that gave the most challenging terrain without being completely beyond the kid's ability. Still beyond it, but Aizawa is a deep-end, sink-or-swim kind of teacher – always has been.

What he isn’t, though, is entirely sure of his surroundings. In fact, Aizawa was so tuned out on scouting the streets, picking an obstacle course out of the rooftop-playground, mulling over the case and upcoming visit with the infamous Dr. Shinsou all at the same time, that it could be said he has no fucking clue where he is. He’s got an approximate idea, but ‘half an hour’s freerun from school’ makes for quite a big circle of possibilities. “I don’t know.”

“Typical. I’m going for drinks with Kayama at that barbecue place we like. Come have dinner with us.”

“Not right now,” Aizawa replies, knowing exactly which place and remembering that he does, in fact, have some semblance of a social life that he’s consistently avoiding. “I’m…” Shinsou gets up, brushing his uniform down with jaded stiffness, “busy.”

“Still working, huh?”

Aizawa doesn’t – can’t, really – lie to Hizashi. It’s been proven not to work. But he can twist the truth a little, and the only reason Aizawa is training Shinsou is for work; at least, that’s the reasoning he’s used to convince himself. There is something else, which Aizawa’s really trying not to dwell on because he doesn’t like complicated and playing favourites – much less a kid not in his class, not even in his course.

“Sorta,” Aizawa turns his head away as he replies. “I’ll tell you later.”

“Kayama says don’t be a basic bitch and come get drunk with us.”

“She would.” Aizawa sees Shinsou pretending he’s at a bus stop and not eavesdropping on Aizawa’s conversation, but there’s nothing he can do about it really. “Later, okay?” Aizawa tries a flicking, go-away of a hand gesture to shoo Shinsou like a pigeon, but Shinsou just lifts an eyebrow. He’s almost as good at it as Aizawa is.

“Okay, okay, later baby.”

“Bye.” Aizawa hangs up and avoids the stare Shinsou is shining like a spotlight in his direction.

“Your old lady giving you trouble?” Shinsou suggests in a way he clearly thinks is wry – as if he’s oh so grown up to talk the way he does. But it just makes him seem even younger.

“Something like that,” Aizawa replies with true wryness to put Shinsou’s to shame. “I didn’t say you could stop.”

“You said to follow you, and you stopped.”

Aizawa stops himself right before breaking into an argument with a literal teenager, and looks around at his surroundings again. “Do you know where we are?”

Shinsou looks shocked. More accurately, he looks like Aizawa’s just unzipped his jumpsuit and stepped out wearing a shimmering skin-tight leisure suit underneath and declared his secret-secret identity as a diva. Shinsou looks like his whole world realigned with the discovery that Aizawa could not know something as basic as their location.

Except Aizawa’s still completely attuned to everything around him, every potential threat and hazard, from the old lady crossing the road to the family of three being watched by a couple of sketchy-looking teenagers loitering around a convenience store on the street below them. He’s aware of everything he needs to know off the top of his head in order to do his job, which is being a Hero. Where he is, exactly, at all times – or even what time of day it is – isn’t always necessary. So until there’s somewhere he needs to go, where Aizawa is geographically speaking often comes down more to chance than foresight.

“I thought you knew where we were going,” Shinsou protests like it’s an affront Aizawa could have led him around for no other reason than to make him run, even though he asked to be trained in the first place.

“Wasn’t important,” Aizawa dismisses, and movement in his peripheral vision draws his attention. The teens outside the convenience store give a nod that’s not for one another’s benefit and skulk away, while the alleyway alongside them echoes with heavy footsteps.

That sense Aizawa’s developed like the flex of a phantom limb twitches; a just-before-ness that hits him like it comes straight from the spinal cord. He moves to the edge of the rooftop and peers down the alleyway. Big men in bandanas, aggressive quirks by the looks of the spikes on one of them, heading right for the convenience store. “Wait here.” Aizawa flings his capture weapon around the end of the vent Shinsou tripped over and breaks into a dash, leaping off the edge of the building and freefalling before the tether picks up his weight and he swings down into the alleyway.

The would-be robbers don't see Aizawa coming until he's right behind them, almost between their large shoulders – each of them is about twice as wide across as he is, and a solid head taller. The spiked man has points easily sharp enough to take someone's eye out.

“If you're planning a robbery, having your weapons out before you're even in the store is a particularly idiotic move.” Aizawa announces his presence to the couple, who jump around raising a nail-studded baseball bat that could easily have someone's other eye out.

They aren’t actually robbing the store yet, so Aizawa waits for an aggressive reaction that will prove guilt – and gets one. The baseball bat swinging for his head.

Aizawa ducks and kicks one assailant in the knee while he loops a strip of his capture weapon around the other’s foot and pulls, sweeping the opponent’s leg out from under him so he falls on his ass. Suddenly, from behind Aizawa comes a question that throws them all off.

“So was it your mother I fucked last night?” Shinsou announces from the end of the alleyway Aizawa and the crooks are in, shifting his gaze from one of them to the other. “Or yours?” For a brat without any hair on his chin – like he's fucked anyone – Shinsou sure knows how to smack talk as if he has some experience. There's a momentary, stunned pause before he continues. “She told me her son was homely, but let's face it. You both clearly fell from the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down.”

Shock turns to indignation, particularly in the eyes of the robber with the spikes on his shoulders; how anyone thinks Shinsou can tell if they're ugly under the bandanas covering their faces is beyond comprehension, but these two clearly aren't smart enough to pick up on that. “Why you-” is how far the fool gets into responding before he blanks out, like a file that's been corrupted and just ceases to run.

“That's better,” Shinsou remarks calmly, and then around the time the robber Aizawa tripped gets back up he simply says, “Now go ahead and knock your buddy there out for me.”

Several things happen after that: spiky-robber punches baseball-bat-robber in the face and he drops like a ton of bricks from the top of Tokyo Tower; Aizawa uses his quirk with his gaze fixed wholly on Shinsou, meaning Spikes wakes up; and then a moment after that Aizawa punches the remaining criminal with an upward blow to the chin and he goes down like a second ton of bricks.

“I told you to wait.” Aizawa’s cold with anger. “What you just did was illegal.”

“Did I do anything?” Shinsou poses coyly. “Maybe I'm just very persuasive.”

“I'm serious.” Aizawa takes a step closer. “I had the situation under control.”

“So did I,” Shinsou replies, and that rational voice in Aizawa's head tells him ‘don't argue with teenagers’ one more time, lest he let the mantra slip.

“If you were in my class, I'd expel you on the spot for that,” Aizawa tells him and means it.

“Then it's a good thing I'm not, huh?” Shinsou replies nonchalantly, and Aizawa takes another step towards him, so they're standing almost toe-to-toe.

“That was your second chance, Shinsou,” he says quietly. “One more and you're out.”

“Then who gets you into prison tomorrow?” Shinsou contests smugly, like he thinks he has leverage worth shit. If Aizawa had been a model of composure before, now he's actually annoyed. But Aizawa was already annoyed before, so now he’s pissed.

A handful of cloth flies from a minimal move of Aizawa’s wrist and wraps around Shinsou, binding his arms to his side and closing that final short space between them, so Aizawa’s face is right at the level of Shinsou’s eyes and purple geyser of hair. Aizawa lifts him off the ground in a cocoon he could crush instead of leaving to turn into a butterfly. “If you think I won’t take you to the police and report you for illegal use of your brainwashing quirk, think again, kid.” Shinsou’s looking a bit more like he’s rapidly reconsidering his attitude. “Do I make myself clear?”

“Yeah.” Shinsou has the decency to look abashed at least, though he could be a lot more so as far as Aizawa’s concerned.

“Yeah what?” Aizawa, as a rule, isn’t about formalities or showing respect for authority. Especially if the authority is misguided with his personal ideals. But he appreciates there’s a point to it, and for a stupid kid incapable of knowing exactly how stupid they are, it can be useful to crack that particular whip sometimes.

Shinsou knows it too, though he looks terribly uncomfortable, even after Aizawa releases the teen and the mummy-wraps binding him. “Yeah… sir.”

Aizawa coils his capture weapon around his shoulders with practiced ease and glances at the unconscious thugs on the ground. For how ineffective Shinsou’s quirk is in simulations designed to prepare young Heroes to fight crime in the field, it’s frighteningly well-suited to the realities of combat. Despite all his misplaced ego, Shinsou’s got greater potential than he knows. Aizawa can see it through his world-wearied eyes: the situations that could be controlled, chains of events that could be diverted, people who could be saved if their free will to do harm was stripped away from them with a simple question-and-answer takeover.

Anyone who thinks Shinsou’s quirk is only suited to villainy is stupid and wrong.

But he’s not ready to hear that yet, so Aizawa just crosses his arms. “Don’t you forget it.”

Shinsou’s not much good for heavy lifting, and even Aizawa struggles with two unconscious men who, combined, must make up at least three times his own weight. Not to mention one of them has sharp bits that dig a hole through his jumpsuit – and skin – the first time he tries lifting them both at the same time.

What Shinsou does contribute is to ‘borrow’ a shopping trolley from a nearby store – he insists he didn’t use his quirk, so probably nicked it. But it’s useful, so Aizawa dumps the men in there one after the other like a buy-one-get-one-free deal on lowlifes.

That’s how he comes to wheel them into the nearest police station with Shinsou three paces behind him. It looks like a pretty weird shopping trip overall, not helped by his phone ringing again – and that ringtone, obviously – while he’s filling out details for the police report on the would-be armed robbers.

“Shotaaaaaa,” Hizashi drawls, and Aizawa can pinpoint almost exactly how many beers in he is by how long he drags out the last vowel. “Come for a drink.”

“You’ve had enough for the both of us,” Aizawa replies wearily, and hears a background scuffle down the line that can only be Kayama trying to grab the phone off him.

He doesn’t catch the start of what she’s trying to yell into the phone in the meantime, but the end definitely goes something like “lameass no-fun trashman who doesn’t deserve Yamada!” This is followed by a distinct, “Kampai!”

“I’m at the police station,” Aizawa explains. “When I’ve wrapped things up here I’ll-”

“Shitty loser excuse!” Kayama succeeds in getting the phone off Hizashi. “Get your tight lil’ ass over here!”

“I’m working.”

“Then work faster, bitch!” Kayama hits a pitch so shrill Aizawa pulls the phone away from his ear with a flinch; the police officer at the desk and Shinsou give him matching sceptical looks.

“Yeah, yeah, I’ll be there…” Aizawa defers, then after a heaving breath that’s a sigh without energy for exasperation adds, “eventually.”

“Don’t lie to us you basic-ass motherfucker!” Kayama belts like snapping one of her (many) whips. Aizawa rolls his eyes, not that anyone on the phone can see it. “If you’re not here in an hour I’m having sex with Yamada in the bathroom. Don’t think I won’t do it!” It’s a classic Kayama threat, one she’ll never act on, probably – even if she did, it’s never had much traction with Aizawa. He hasn’t got a jealous bone in his body, though Kayama insists she’ll find it one day.

“Later, Kayama.” She’s still cussing him out when he hangs up.

“Your missus is kinda clingy, huh?” Shinsou teases like he thinks he’s smart.

Aizawa rolls his eyes another time. “You have no idea.”

They’re about to leave the police station when all hell breaks loose. Police officers start rushing frantically out the station doors like red blood cells shooting through arteries. Aizawa manages to snag one that’s dragging their feet and asks, “What’s going on?”

“Someone took a dive off a nearby building,” the officer relates frantically. “A big crowd gathered trying to talk the guy down, but it was no good. Everyone’s freaking out, apparently he changed his mind on the way down.” The officer looks panicked, running like a lemming for cliffs. There's a common misconception about lemmings: they never went intentionally, but were driven over the edge on purpose. “Who does that?”

Aizawa looks at Shinsou, who’s staring dead back at him in a way that shows his age all at once. Maybe the reality is beginning to sink in a little. Real lives, real deaths. You try to stop the next victim, and sometimes the clock runs out anyway.

Turning to Shinsou with a small movement of his head, Aizawa murmurs, “Let’s check it out.”

If this is Shinsou’s first exposure to a dead body, it’s a hell of a way to start.

“Stick to the back of the crowd and keep your eyes open,” Aizawa tells Shinsou, who just nods. Not keen on getting close to the still-warm corpse in a slowly-spreading pool of blood on the curb, just visible through the slats of patrolling Police officers. The poor bastard hit the curb head-first and cracked like an egg. No walking this one off.

With almost an entire police station crowding the scene, cordoning the area off and directing the horrified onlookers away, it’s just a matter of time before the familiar faces show.

“Looks like you beat us to this one, Eraser,” Tamakawa announces as he approaches almost silently and sets a pawlike hand in padded gloves on Aizawa’s shoulder, making him jump very slightly – though enough for Shinsou to notice, going by the way his eyebrow hoists up his face with a ‘now that’s interesting’ observation. “Who’s this?” Tamakawa clocks Shinsou right away: kids at active crime scenes stick out a little like that. At least Shinsou has the sense not to be wearing his uniform. Black hoodie, unmarked. It’s subtle, but smart. The kid isn’t all dumb nativity – just mostly.

“Work experience,” Aizawa butts in before Shinsou can get a word in edgeways. “Can you get us close to the body?”

“Do you really want to?” Tamakawa suggests sceptically, but then shakes his head in a serious answer to the question. “Not in a crowd like this, I’m afraid. Even if it were our precinct.”

“He needs to be checked for markings,” Aizawa states plainly.

Tamakawa suggests morbidly, “Other than the mark the ground left on his skull?” Aizawa crosses his arms and meets a long, cat-eyed stare until his own start to itch. “I’ll see what I can do,” Tamakawa relents as Aizawa fumbles some eyedrops out of his pocket.

“Is there anyone who was on the scene before he jumped that we could talk to?” is Aizawa’s next question, head tipped back to drip a couple drops in each eye before he blinks it out.

“I’ll ask around, give me a few minutes,” Tamakawa replies, and then with another paddy-pawed pat of Aizawa’s shoulder is off weaving through the crowds, leaving Aizawa chief babysitter of Shinsou – and now Yamaguichi.

“How are you holding up, Eraserhead?” Yamaguichi asks, but it’s not him she should be concerned about.

“Better than that guy,” Aizawa replies grimly, and notices Yamaguichi and Shinsou eyeing each other with great curiosity met with suspicion; too many newbies in this mix for anyone’s good. “How did you get out here so fast?”

“We were on patrol in the car when we heard it coming in,” Yamaguichi explains awkwardly. “Based on the… Tamakawa thought we should check it out.”

“So did we,” Aizawa affirms. “They’re dropping like flies.” Only after he says it does Aizawa notice how ill-placed such a comment is for the context, but no helping that now. “What do you know about this building?”

“Uh… well I… um.” Yamaguichi clearly knows nothing, based on the start of her awkward rambling. Why she started replying might be chalked up to nerves – Shinsou is definitely staring her out the way a crocodile examines one of the birds that picks in between its teeth.

“You don’t know? It’s a famous hostess club,” a nearby civilian offers up. “Imagine getting shot down that badly in a place where the girls are paid to like you.”

“Hm,” is all Aizawa has to offer on the subject thus far, then turns to the stranger. A man of indiscriminate middle age with a truly self-deceiving comb-over that’s not fooling anyone, and not looking quite as remorseful as decency permits in such a setting. The kind of guy who would know exactly what kind of place this building is by merit of frequenting it before the police had the whole place evacuated. “Were you here when he jumped?”

“Sure was,” he almost gloats. “People were shouting all kinds of things, but he never even looked down. Like he was-” he trails off, losing the words.

“Hypnotised?” Aizawa suggests cautiously.

“Yeah!” the man bolts with recognition. “He didn’t seem scared to be standing on the edge, but then as soon as he stepped off screams blue murder. I DON’T WANNA DIEEEE!” the stranger recreates so brashly people all around them flinch. It could be suspicious, but Aizawa’s nose for that stuff isn’t picking anything up. This guy just seems like a cunt. “Bit late for second thoughts, huh?”

“Yeah.” Aizawa reflects on the fact that a lot of people are dirt. There’s not enough beer in all Tokyo to wash this bitterness out of his mouth. He could try, at least. That’s assuming he even makes it to the bar with Hizashi and Kayama in time.

“You shouldn’t speak that way of the dead!” Yamaguichi bursts, and the man seems affronted by the challenge.

“What does it matter now? The guy already smashed his brains in. Dead is dead.” This rubbernecker doesn’t even have the gall to look sorry. That’s the trouble with messy, public crime scenes like this. They attract the wrong sorts. “If you can’t handle that, maybe sensitive little ladies should stay out of the police force.” Yamaguichi goes red and seems paralysed by the shocked indignation, paused with her mouth half-open like she can’t believe what she’s hearing, much less process it fast enough to respond.

Aizawa feels his pulse throbbing in his neck, but before even he can react Shinsou comes in with a smooth, “Don’t you feel sorry for him?” The man looks a little disturbed to realise he’s in the company of a teenager, doubly-so one asking him demanding, borderline-accusatory questions.

“Why should I-” That’s how far the man gets before going all wiped-clean blackboard, and Aizawa feels his teeth clench together.

“Piss off,” Shinsou’s voice is quiet and controlled. “Go find a dumpster to lay in with the rest of the trash.”

Without saying another word – for reasons obvious to Aizawa and no one else – the man turns and walks away, ploughing through the crowd so obliviously they part for him like the red sea.

Yamaguichi looks utterly astonished. Shinsou’s watching Aizawa, and this is a tightrope moment for him if there ever was one. One more chance, Aizawa had said, but…

Watching the nasty man head straight for the nearest alleyway, before climbing into a heap of garbage piled up in it and laying down as if to take a nap, Aizawa’s kind of… glad. If he were going to hand Shinsou in, they’re literally in front of a police officer. So this is the moment, and they both know it. Except Shinsou didn’t do any harm, and if anyone deserves to awaken lying in garbage wondering what happened, it’s a piece of work like that.

So what Shinsou just did is totally against the law, but some rules have an inherent flex to them – at least when it comes to Aizawa’s interpretation. No one except licensed Heroes are meant to use their quirks in public, but it happens every day and the prisons don’t get filled with minor offenders. Speaking of prison, Shinsou has a point about how Aizawa would get into a maximum security one tomorrow without him.

“He actually… did it?” Yamaguchi says with dazed disbelief.

“Yeah.” Aizawa grabs Shinsou by the shoulder and grips hard; you’re cutting it close, but I’ll let it go this time, he conveys with the firmness he pulls the teen closer to him with. “The kid here can be very persuasive.” Shinsou glances sideways at Aizawa just as he’s doing the same thing, and their guilt will be compounded by such symmetry as their eyes meet. “It doesn’t look like there’s much for us to do here. Tell Tamakawa to give me a ring when he’s got some info.” Yamaguichi is a bit wet behind the ears still, but she’s not an idiot. They’d be smart to get out of here quickish.

“Ah… yes, I’ll tell him,” Yamaguchi replies in a slight fluster, then turns to Shinsou in even more of one. “I, uh… thanks, kid.”

Shinsou looks utterly shocked to be thanked for something he’s pretending not to have done, but what’s inalienable is that whether he (illegally) used his quirk or not, he still stuck up for her. It counts, and going by the way Shinsou’s face changes through a spectrum of emotions: confusion through to fear, but morphing into relief. Perhaps it hasn’t happened to him very often.

Aizawa knows he made the right call when Shinsou smiles and simply says, “You’re welcome.”

Chapter Text

“So now what?” Shinsou walks next to Aizawa for once, rather than several sullen feet behind him.

“I hope you understand what a fine line you walk with your quirk.” Aizawa knows this doesn’t have anything to do with the question Shinsou asked, and senses him bristle as they stride in no particular direction almost shoulder-to-shoulder. However, there’s no off-the-cuff denial like Aizawa initially feared. This is a talk they have to have, whether Shinsou likes it or not.

“You didn’t bust me earlier, so I musta done something right this time,” Shinsou mutters, his hands slipping into the pockets of the thick hoodie he has on in lieu of the too-easily-identified UA blazer.

“This time,” Aizawa concedes with an important air of reservation – use those chances wisely, lest they not be granted again. “So why did you do it?” If something was done well, they should understand why and turn that into a rule in their own words and thought; not just because an authority figure said so. It has no sticking power otherwise, and with a quirk like Shinsou’s that’s more important than ever.

Shinsou pieces it out reluctantly, like a handful of change across a convenience store counter. “I… it felt like the right thing to do.” Aizawa’s not trying to judge or penalise him for his choices – not when the chance to do so was back at the crime scene in front of Officer Yamaguichi. Instead Aizawa covered for him; this is the debrief, not the trial. “And that jackass deserved it.”

“He did,” Aizawa agrees. “But it won't always be that simple.”

“Shocking as it sounds, this isn’t the first time someone’s tried to lecture me on the moralities of my quirk.” Shinsou’s defensive, but then his guard has barely dropped anyway. He’s not relaxed or secure enough to be open yet. Aizawa understands that plenty well.

Aizawa sets Shinsou up to do what he wanted in the first place: to hear the rules as they sit in his own mind. “Then you tell me what the difference is.” Only then will he know where or how they need tweaking.

Shinsou proceeds like a cart needing a push to get over a starting-bump at the beginning of a downhill roll. “In the alleyway… I made one guy hit the other, and… intervened in a crime without a license. But that dickhead just dumped himself in the trash,” Shinsou pauses for a moment, “which is where he belonged anyway.” He shrugs and sighs in such synchronicity that it’s as if the weight of his shoulders pushes the breath out of his chest like a bellows. “Making a bastard lay in garbage isn’t a real crime, and doesn’t do him any lasting harm like those criminals could’ve done to each other using my quirk.” Or claiming to be under it, because how would a judge ever know whether Shinsou did or didn’t use his quirk? For all its power, Shinsou’s quirk makes him vulnerable too. An easy scapegoat that gets even easier with a villain for a father.

“It's all still coercion, so don't get too comfortable,” Aizawa points out. What Shinsou did is illegal, but he just gives Aizawa an ‘I know that’ sideways-eyeroll.

“I never asked for this quirk,” Shinsou grumbles, which makes it Aizawa's turn to eyeroll. “What else am I supposed to do?”

“No one gets to choose.” Aizawa had to work too, harder than he’s seen Shinsou work so far, to get where he is with (or without) his quirk. “We make the best of what comes to us by chance.”

“Jeez, teach. You're a regular prophet.” Shinsou makes out like some kind of spear-fisherman, as if he’s waded into the shallows, waiting to catch a glimpse of the soft spots in Aizawa's belly. He knows there’s a layer of intimacy-blocking distance between them, and wants to bridge it any way he can. “You could make a side-career writing fortune cookies with lines like that.”

“I've got enough jobs already,” Aizawa replies solidly. Current count: his day-teaching job, his underground Hero job, and now this night-teaching gig that's even further underground than his Hero work. And he's not even being paid for this.

“Yeah well, some of us start out with more than others,” Shinsou breaks into further grumbling. “We can't all be like Midoriya.”

“And a good thing too,” Aizawa insists. One of Midoriya is already plenty of migraine material. “The way you see others is rarely how they perceive themselves.”

“Another one for the cookies,” Shinsou baits. “Got any more for me?”

It occurs to Aizawa how constantly vulnerable he is to Shinsou’s quirk. He could use his own quirk to stop it, but if he pre-empts it too much he’s hammering home that air of mistrust. And would it be quite so terrible? He’d do better under the influence of Shinsou’s quirk than the guy who leapt from the rooftop did under the killer’s. “A lot of people would envy your quirk much the same as you envy others for theirs.”

“Villains, you mean,” Shinsou suggests in a tone that feels like it’d need scraping out the bottom of a barrel and even then wouldn’t be salvageable. “Or my dad’s fangirls.”

“No, I don't,” Aizawa contradicts like swinging a sledgehammer into drywall. “I shouldn't have to tell you the positive uses for your quirk, because aside from demonstrating them already today, twice, you wouldn't be so determined to be a Hero if you weren't aware of your potential. But like I said,” Aizawa tacks on with a faux-casual air. “You don't need me to tell you.”

Shinsou is tight-lipped, but even that doesn’t quite hide the smile pulling the corners of his mouth. “Guess not.”

“It’s even more reason to be careful,” Aizawa schools like he said it anyway, which he basically did. “You can't let people drag you down to their level.” Aizawa knows plenty about that, not that any of the stones naysayers tried to shove in his pockets were heavy enough to drown him.

“So you admit it?” Shinsou sounds out like he’s cracking the case, but they should be so lucky.


“That people hate me on principle.”

“They fear you,” Aizawa corrects. “It’s not the same.”

“One thing leads to the other.”

“You think you’re unique in that respect,” Aizawa observes neutrally: standard teen. “You’re not.” Aizawa’s also been targeted for no other reason than the power his quirk holds over others. Not in quite the same way as Shinsou, but enough for it to make his school life miserable enough to occasionally wonder why he bothered from time to time; maybe that’s where this sudden burst of validation is coming from. “The best way to defy those who are afraid of what you can do is to succeed where they think you’ll fail.” Aizawa feels himself hesitate as a roster of no-good bullies and haters flash through his mind from the flicker-book of his own history. The ones he proved wrong. “Even if they never know it, being a Hero – a real Hero – is enough.”

“You think I can be a Hero?” It’s only when Shinsou asks that Aizawa realises it’s never been affirmed; at least, not as explicitly as in this conversation. Shinsou’s vulnerability when he does ask, the furtive glances at Aizawa that he doesn’t want to be noticed, are proof enough of why it’s only come up now. One by one, and without any true intention of doing so – just playing the hand through as it needs to be played – they’re each revealing their cards to one another. Wanting approval; wanting to give it.

A muffled voice of warning in the back of his mind tells Aizawa he’s being soft, letting his feelings of affinity and justice make him more sympathetic and less strict than he could and probably should be. But he’s not this kid’s real teacher, and no one is going to know if he has a favourite in his night-class of one.

To hell with it, Aizawa thinks. He’s said enough already – and what harm does the truth, does his frank and honest opinion do? Someone has to stick a hand out for the boy. To be believed in is a powerful thing.

“Yeah,” Aizawa admits like it’s more criminal than anything Shinsou’s done with his quirk, eyes to the ground and hands in his own pockets; they probably make quite an ominous pair strolling the dark streets like this. “I do.”

Aizawa asks where Shinsou lives and gets an approximate answer, ignores several increasingly suggestive selfies from Hizashi and Kayama, and is heading in the vague direction of Shinsou’s neighbourhood, rather than the bar, when his phone rings with a tone that's not criminally embarrassing.

Not that Aizawa cares enough to do anything about the ringtone thing. Hizashi’s just got a ten-year knack for finding ways to get to Aizawa, and this little ‘prank’ has been a long-running fixture of their relationship – romantic or otherwise. Aizawa stops on the corner of the wall bordering a pedestrian overpass he's made Shinsou scale with him rather than walk over, checks the ID on his phone and answers with a single, “Yeah?” Hello is overrated.

“I pulled some strings and got them to send the stiff from earlier to our morgue,” Tamakawa explains, sounding awfully tired. Aizawa can sympathise.

“Thanks, Tama,” slips out of Aizawa like the water from heavy rains pouring down a drain; he's far too soft this evening. “Good work.”

“You're… welcome. ” Tamakawa’s practically bashful, though Aizawa has expressed gratitude to him before. “I expect Kuwabara’s home for the night already, so you'd be best to wait til the morning to check it out. Could you come after school again?”

“Negative,” Aizawa answers. They've got a date with a cultish mass-murderer. “But I have a free period in the middle of the day, I'll stop by then.”

“Let me know when and I'll send Yamaguichi to pick you up,” Tamakawa offers, and then with a softer touch, “Whatever you and the kid did to lift her spirits, keep it up.”

“Just our jobs,” Aizawa replies firmly, even while shooting Shinsou a cautionary don't get any lofty ideas glare. Especially if he thinks he’s going to skip class to come with Aizawa, which he is not. That would be in clear violation of the Principal’s ‘do what you want with Shinsou, just keep it out of conflict with school’ recommendation.

Aizawa’s finally accepted he’s going to train this kid, drag him by the heels through knowing what he needs to know in order to make it as a Hero, which Shinsou sure as shit isn’t going to get in General Studies. But that doesn’t mean to the neglect of his general studies. Shinsou can make up what he misses in the Hero Course in night school; however, even Hero Course students spend most of the day in normal lessons. From among the chosen ones who made it onto the Hero Course in the first place, even they won’t all make it to be pros. They still need an education and a backup plan. Not that Aizawa ever had one.

“If only everyone was as dedicated to their work as you.” Tamakawa means to praise, but it just reminds Aizawa of the less severe workaholics who have been sending him taunting pictures of the fun they’re having without him.

“Nice thought, but I’m not sure it’d work,” Aizawa replies. Society would collapse in about eight days – which is how long it takes Aizawa to burn out when he lacks moderation from an outside party with stronger preservation instincts than he has. Namely: Hizashi. Speaking of which. “G’nite, Tama. See you tomorrow.”

“Try to get some rest, Eraser.”

“I’ll bear that in mind.” Aizawa hangs up and turns his attention back to Shinsou. “You should go home.” Shinsou shrugs, which isn’t a great start. “You’ll worry your mother.” This is a distinctly un-Aizawa like thing to say, but he’s trying to shift the kid on, and he’s still got one parent who isn’t completely loopy. Aizawa hopes.

“She’s still at work, won’t even know I’m gone.” Shinsou drops off the thin wall he was standing on and starts to climb the stairs normally. Aizawa follows, but only on the assumption this is the way towards his home. He doesn’t need to make sure Shinsou goes home, but with attitude like that Aizawa’s concern isn’t safety so much as being sure the brat does actually go – rather than skulking around getting himself into trouble now he has a taste for the way Aizawa works.

“Then go do your homework or something,” Aizawa nags, which is an inherent teacher prerogative. Though this isn’t exactly a conventional arrangement.

“Give me some, then,” Shinsou suggests, and that’s not what Aizawa meant. But if that’s the way Shinsou wants to play it, Aizawa will gladly indulge.

“Fifty pushups and a 5k run,” he answers without missing a beat. “Tomorrow morning, before school.”

“What? That’s not-” Shinsou’s belligerent moan dies so fast, if it were a bird it’d drop out of the sky midair. That might be because of Aizawa’s sternest “don’t test me” glare aimed straight between his eyes. “Yessir,” he drawls reluctantly instead.

Aizawa knew it from the start, but Shinsou’s over-reliance on his quirk not needing to be physical has caused him to neglect his fitness and strength. He’s not outright bad per se, but he’s got a long way to go if he’ll expect to pass a provisional license exam…

Aizawa feels the thought catch him like a fish hook through the lip, how far ahead his own thoughts have rushed in a single afternoon. How easy it is to project the path, to see himself helping this smart-mouthed brat achieve his goals where UA has failed him as an institution. It boils Aizawa’s blood just to think about it, much less if he allows himself to dwell on why the system must be wrong if a bright boy with more potential than half Aizawa’s actual students falls through the cracks so easily.

More than ever, Aizawa senses himself drifting into a dangerous situation: too close for objectivity. Compromised is what he calls it in his own mind. Getting fond of the kid is a simpler way to put it – not that he’d ever admit it.

In fact, the more Aizawa likes Shinsou, the harder he’s going to have to be on him.

So the boy better be ready.

Aizawa’s on the last stretch of his accidental escort mission to get Shinsou no-trouble-along-the-way back to his neighbourhood, if not actually seeing him to his front door. It’s been several hours since Hizashi and Kayama went out for dinner and drinks, so they might not even be at the same place anymore. Aizawa also hasn’t mortified any of the general public with that personalised ringtone in a suspiciously long amount of time.

So Aizawa does something that doesn’t happen all that often, and pulls out his phone to call Hizashi first.

In an even rarer turn of events, Hizashi isn't the one who answers.

“It's about time, fuckface.”

“Hi,” Aizawa greets Kayama in a careful monotone, conscious of Shinsou no doubt hanging on every word, eager for any scrap of Aizawa’s personal life that he can glean. “How is he?” If she's answering the phone, there's only a few things it could be; white-girl-wasted Hizashi is one of them. Loud, blonde, and probably squeezed into clothing a size too small for him.

“Oh, Yamanda’s just fine,” Kayama purrs in her best people-pay-me-for-this tone. “He's just a little tied up and can't come to the phone right now.” She pauses and gives a flirty laugh that makes the hair on the back of Aizawa's next stand on end. “Or at all.”

“So it's like that, huh?” Maybe it’s not the blackout drunk Hizashi scenario after all. Aizawa feels a lump in his throat that makes his voice hoarser, and can only imagine – not that it helps the rush of blood crashing south like floodwaters – what kind of artistry Kayama has worked on Hizashi this time. For someone who is very good at finding ways to tie up criminals for capture, even Aizawa bows to the mastery of ropework that Kayama uses for business and pleasure. She even indulges her friends with a demonstration from time to time – she’s a pal like that.

“Yeah. So get your ass home before you miss all the good stuff.”

Aizawa pauses for just a moment before answering, “Yes ma’am.” It's only slightly sarcastic, and Kayama’s delighted cackle promises the best kind of retribution.

“You know I hate being called that.”

Aizawa tries not to sound smug and fails. “That would be why I said it.”

“I'm going to make you pay for it when you get here.”

“Good,” he answers. “I'm leaving right now.” After Shinsou-sitting wraps up without any more drama.

“Better hurry, Yamada’s not a patient man.” Some background moaning is highly indicative of this well-known truth about the person Aizawa’s committed to spending the rest of his life with. However long that lasts.

Aizawa’s tone shifts like someone crossing their legs to cover-up a spontaneous erection. Which isn’t far from the truth. “Isn't that what you're there for?”

“Good point. But even I'm not waiting forever.”

“I know. Later.” Aizawa hangs up and has to hope Shinsou hasn’t noticed anything he shouldn’t. It doesn’t seem that way, going by the relatively uninterested look on his face.

Turns out, Aizawa doesn’t need to use his imagination. Kayama sends a picture so fast after the end of the call that his phone isn’t even in his pocket – though a second later that’s exactly where Aizawa hurriedly shoves it.

A lattice of ropes sits like the lead between panes of a stained-glass window, spread across the vibrant landscape of Hizashi’s back – and beyond. Not something that bears accidental-or-otherwise peeking at. Especially not by minors, and extra-especially not when it’s a picture of aforementioned minor’s English teacher. Not that a student would be able to recognise Hizashi from that particular angle anyway… Aizawa hazards a quick-and-guilty glance at Shinsou before announcing, “I have to go.”

“Right now?” Shinsou suggests with a touch of well-warranted suspicion.

“Exactly.” Aizawa just stops walking, knowing it’s the wrong way from where he needs to go in order to get home as fast as possible. Places to be, people to do.

“Are you in trouble at home or something?” Shinsou thinks he’s taunting, which makes the situation ironic enough that Aizawa smirks.

“Let’s go with that.” Aizawa never specifies what kind: such as the type he’s going to thoroughly enjoy. “See ya.” He gives a lax wave that’s meant to compensate for the thrum of excitement coursing through his veins.

“Wait,” Shinsou calls a little too urgently after as Aizawa starts walking in the other direction, and he very nearly openly scowls. “Where should I meet you tomorrow?”

Aizawa answers after a moment’s consideration, “Outside the same store we met at today.” His brain isn’t entirely dedicated to tomorrow-things right now, not with all the tonight-things he’s about to get stuck into.

“Okay.” Shinsou looks like he was enjoying the company more than he wanted to let on, his disappointment showing now this precious time with Aizawa is about to end. “See ya, teach.”

Aizawa resists the urge to sigh. How does he keep getting himself into these situations? “Bye.”

Aizawa makes it home in record time. Hizashi’s literally hanging on his return, so it’s the least he can do. Hizashi and Kayama did manage to wait – just – but the former’s state when Aizawa steps through the door is that of a drunk tightrope walker who’s been doing cartwheels along the wire all night, then been tied up with it. Or to put it another way: Hizashi has been edged to the point of insanity and back again, but in a really good way. Aizawa certainly isn’t going to make him wait much longer, nor does he fancy hanging around too long himself.

“Hands,” is Kayama’s only greeting-come-instruction when Aizawa steps through the door. Really it should be Midnight when she’s in her full garb and with boss-bitch mode on. Aizawa’s only taken one more step after that when Kayama kicks it shut with a stiletto heel and adds a follow up. “Strip first.”

For Aizawa, that only takes as long as undoing a long zip and belt, hurrying out of his boots and taking a third step as he lifts his hands, wrists almost together.

“No, behind your back tonight, I think,” Kayama lilts in a sing-song, like she’s reading off (dirty) nursery rhymes. Aizawa takes a fourth step and obliges. He’d argue, but he’s not in the mood; not with a view of Hizashi folded on the couch like an ornate piece of origami – if origami used rope instead of paper-folds.

There’s a vague mumble-moaning sound that’s presumably Hizashi, but as it happens his mouth doesn’t appear to be free enough to make anything more coherent than that.

It’d been a joke, at first: Kayama offering her ‘services’ to Aizawa and Hizashi. “A freebie” she’d insisted, half-drunk one evening and apparently in the mood to truss someone up just for the hell of it. “You might even like it. How’d you know if you’ve never tried?’

That was years ago. Hizashi will try anything once as a matter of principle, so he’d been the critical second instigator. But after getting a sample, he’d wanted the whole scoop, again and again – so had Aizawa, as it happens. Not all the time, but hell if it doesn’t brighten up a dreary school night from time to time.

Turns out there’s no substitute for a good dominatrix – someone who knows exactly what they’re doing and loves doing it for its own sake. No sex required, at least not for her. Kayama tends to bemoan the overemphasis on “dick in vag” as a means to sexual pleasure, claiming there’s far purer pursuits of such ecstasy: and she'd know. By her own account after exactly two alcoholic beverages, not having a lot of sensation down there isn't and shouldn't be a barrier to great sex – which isn't all about coming, or so Kayama will rant at length given the opportunity. Aizawa wouldn’t really know, and consequently doesn’t worry about it; sex with Kayama isn’t really how their arrangement works.

How it does work is that she's the boss, Mistress technically, and doing what she says is not an opt-in situation. But that's never been a problem for Aizawa: giving up control is an intense relief for anyone who has to be so switched on all the time. Having to be responsible not just for himself and his inner circle, but all those well-intended baby ducklings in his classes every day. Sometimes the best way to relax is not being in control, not having to think at all. Following orders, knowing it will lead to exhausted, gratified relief. That's Aizawa's reasoning, at least; Hizashi’s just kinky as shit.

Aizawa's breath actually starts to even out, the excitement from his high-paced sprint home in anticipation turning into a slowing-down of submission. Long, controlled breaths that fall in time with the rhythmic tugs of the finely-spun hemp rope that Kayama can produce just about anywhere, anytime. Each exhale lets her pull the binding just a little bit tighter each time, working knots with practiced artistry up the length of Aizawa’s arms, drawing them together as the stretch pulls him into position like smoothing out a wrinkled sheet. Hell, this couldn’t have come at a better time.

“Yamada’s been very good and waited for you, Aizawa,” Kayama purrs devilishly from behind him as she knots him up like a boat by a dock. “Aren’t you going to say anything?”

“Thanks,” Aizawa answers in a raspy tone, followed by a much more desperate, “I need this.”

Kayama finishes the section of bindings on Aizawa’s arms. “Mmm, I can tell,” she purrs as she leads into a connection that places careful, perfectly aligned layers of rope tantalisingly across Aizawa’s neck. The harder he pulls on his arms bound together behind his back, the tighter it’ll sit across his throat. But Kayama knows how much is just-before-too -much, so Aizawa can trust that he’s in safe hands. Just switch off, for a while. Submit.

When the binding is finally complete, there’s a pause before something leathery-feeling lightly brushes the back of Aizawa’s thighs. A flock of invisible moths funnel up the negative space that’s been created within his arms and the arch of his back. Kayama remarks with a girlish tone chock full of sadistic fun, “Let’s get started, shall we?”

Aizawa takes a deep breath, and feels a heavy pulse in his crotch. He’s ready.

For the first time in far too long, Aizawa sleeps for over eight gloriously uninterrupted hours. He wakes in the morning doubling up as Hizashi’s mattress, a rhythmic snore chugging in his ear that’s more effective than any alarm clock. Hizashi’s the taller of them – something he’ll never stop holding over Aizawa, often literally – but Aizawa’s got more mass. Which of those two things comes out at an advantage usually depends on what the contest is about; as much as anyone can ‘win’ at being better to lie on top of.

Aizawa shoves Hizashi off him and he flips like a pancake onto his back, mouth falling open to start snoring so loud their belongings vibrate on the nightstand. Pushing up on an elbow, Aizawa activates his quirk so Hizashi’s quirk-enhanced roar is no longer at risk of making the neighbours go bonkers – again. Then Aizawa closes his palm over Hizashi’s mouth, muffling the rest of the chainsaw-snore that’s almost as famous as his radio show.

It’s rare that Aizawa’s up first, but once he’s hit the saturation point of a good night’s sleep, the agony of waking is lighter and he’s wide-awake as soon as he stirs. Taking full advantage of the occasion, Aizawa’s content to simply watch Hizashi join him in the land of the waking.

This close, Aizawa can make out the fair tips of Hizashi’s eyelashes as they fan across his under-eye. He tints them, which Aizawa loves to tease him over but would never want Hizashi to stop. A Hizashi who’s not high-maintenance like a fancy poodle is no fun at all, and Aizawa is enough of a slob for both of them.

Eventually the clamp of Aizawa’s hands over Hizashi’s mouth like a jar lid becomes notable enough to rouse him from his beauty sleep. His eyelids lift like store shutters the owner only puts half-up before opening. Hizashi will be able to see Aizawa well enough at this distance, but he’s probably still a little blurry. Not that it matters.

Aizawa feels Hizashi’s mouth pull into a smile under his palm, and his eyes open far enough for him to make out their verdant colour in the morning light of the apartment.

“Mymoure mupp mmformme,” Hizashi mumbles past Aizawa’s hand, and he lifts it – but only to dip down and kiss Hizashi like a bobbing-bird desk toy. Hizashi puts one arm around Aizawa’s neck and starts to awkwardly flail the other in the direction of his nightstand. Ending the kiss the way one wraps up a leisurely countryside walk, Aizawa stretches over Hizashi to grab his glasses, setting them into Hizashi’s hand and falling back to rest on his side, head propped on his folded arm.

Aizawa yawns, but in a sense of shaking off the last vestiges of sleep like morning dew. “Last night was fun.”

“Says the guy who missed the prelude.” Hizashi yawns even wider as he slips his glasses on, and a flashback from Kayama’s orchestrated playtime dashes through Aizawa’s mind like a streaker. Hizashi’s mouth is so rarely closed, it makes sense he’s good at keeping it open wide for a truly pro-level face-fucking.

Perhaps the lascivious nature of Aizawa’s gaze is a giveaway, because when Hizashi pounces a moment later the kiss he delivers is a toaster in the bathtub of the morning-wood-mood. Aizawa lets it escalate, knowing that they have time and feeling the good kind of ache all over. “I wanna fuck you,” Hizashi mumbles while more or less chewing on Aizawa's neck. Somehow he can make saying it every time sound like it's the first, as if that’s not what Hizashi always wants and almost-always gets.

Even last night, at the end of a long and worthwhile journey to exhausted satisfaction; making Aizawa stretch himself out on a toy while Hizashi choked on his cock. Kayama took pity on them, Aizawa suspects – she’s softer than she lets on, even when she’s being tough.

Aizawa half-wrestles Hizashi off him, but purely for the struggle. They’ve fought each other in any-and-every-other capacity since they were teens; sparring remains a much-favoured pastime. So it’s with an only-slightly sarcastic croak that Aizawa replies, “And what’s new?”

Aizawa tells Hizashi a little more about the case on the drive in to work – the parts he needs to know, at least.

“... There’s something else,” Aizawa tacks on with an afterthought that almost feels guilty, tipped back in the passenger seat of the car Hizashi bought himself as his own 30th birthday present: Aizawa hates the train, and Hizashi hates being recognised when he’s just trying to get into work. So they don’t always drive in, but if they’re both going in together it’s the far more pleasant option.

“Let me guess,” Hizashi interjects as he corners a little aggressively for Aizawa’s preference; but if he doesn’t like Hizashi’s driving, he can get his own license and do it himself, so the familiar argument runs. “It’s about the kid in General you pinched from my class?”

“Shinsou,” Aizawa confirms, not that Hizashi needs the name, but it serves just as well as ‘yeah’. After a long pause of consideration, Aizawa shares an observation that’s periodically troubled him since the last sports festival. “When we were young, someone like that would have made it onto the Hero Course easily.”

Hizashi doesn’t answer right away, drumming his fingers against the steering wheel in the fingerless gloves he hides the ink on the back of his hands with; matching mouths of classic comedy and tragedy masks, positioned for him to hold over his jaw as if the smile or frown were his own. “So?” No denial, that’s good. Aizawa’s relieved not to have to argue this one with Hizashi, but that’s why they’re so great together.

“I just… feel for him.” Hizashi’s presence is like a touchstone that Aizawa cannot lie around; more than that – it draws the truth out of him like divining shapes from swirling smoke.

Hizashi’s questions have an eagle eyesight accuracy that his actual shortsightedness doesn't do justice to. “What’s that got to do with your case?”

“Well there’s an… arrangement,” Aizawa answers cagily. “Sort of like a work placement.” For Eraserhead, it has to go without saying.

Hizashi's humming a tune as if to make up for the lack of radio, then pauses to ask, “Does Nezu know?”

“As much as he needs to, which is nothing, professionally speaking." Aizawa shouldn’t feel so nervous – or not nervous, just on-edge – but he does. The Principal’s ignorance is by his own design, of course, and Hizashi’s sure to guess that. “It’s risky, but he’s smart.”

“He’s a hyper-intelligent little whatever-he-is.”

“No, Shinsou,” Aizawa clarifies, then afterwards decides – the shit-eating grin on his face is a dead giveaway – that Hizashi probably deliberately made the ‘mistake’ to make him admit it.

“So what’re you worried about?” That Hizashi’s reaction isn’t you-can’t-do-that outrage is an unsung, tacit approval that Aizawa needs more than he’s comfortable to admit. He doesn’t trust his own judgement on this as much as he would otherwise. He's never had an intern… work placement, whatever Shinsou is. So perhaps it feels stranger to him for the unfamiliarity rather than being inherently wrong.

Explaining things to Hizashi has also always been easier than doing so for anyone else, including Aizawa himself. So it feels natural to say, “It’s too complicated,” and only realise afterwards that it’s the simplest and best label for the simmering anxiety the situation’s been giving him. Working with other pros, police officers, and even Hero Course students are all a level of known experience Aizawa’s been able to frame in a way that doesn’t leave him feeling overextended. And in a way he’s not entirely able to place just yet, Shinsou makes Aizawa feel… exposed.

There’s too many blurry boundaries, all these conflicting opinions and personal hangups that stop the case being cut and dry: the way Aizawa tries and rarely succeeds at keeping his pro Hero work. But just the act of putting it into words – to Hizashi – helps to define the creeping monster, even if by the shape of its shadow. And with the real monster he’s going to meet soon enough, Aizawa needs to have his head in order. This helps.

“That’s life,” Hizashi replies lightly, then without missing a beat breaks into song, “That’s what all the people saaaaay~” He’s right of course: these things can’t be changed, they just have to be dealt with as best they can. “You're riding high in April… shot down in May!”

Aizawa’s going to have plenty to deal with soon enough, so for now he just tucks a hand behind his head and lets his human radio play.

Chapter Text

Going by the cheerful, “Good-day, Mr. Eraser!” that Yamaguichi belts when Aizawa opens the door and gets into her police car at the start of his first free class of the day, she's definitely in better spirits overall. It’s Aizawa's free period right before lunch, usually a time-honoured nap, but with how damn well-rested he is today there's no need. He's got plenty of time to make it to the morgue and back before his next class, checking out the latest murder-suicide rather like someone pops out for a dentist appointment. “But where’s your intern?”

“Work placement,” Aizawa corrects – it’s a pedantic difference, but interns ought to hold or at least be planning to get provisional licenses, especially if (and when) they’re in the field actually using their quirks. The correction is Aizawa’s nerves speaking more than anything, but really this whole setup is questionable at best and illegal at worst. It puts Aizawa as much at risk as it does Shinsou, letting him ride on a pro’s coattails into situations he’s not been trained for. If it were anyone else, or any thing else, Aizawa wouldn’t have allowed it.

Then again, a classroom isn’t the only place to learn.

“He’s… busy today.” Busy being a first-year General Studies student with fuck-all qualifications. Aizawa doesn’t use Shinsou’s name to be safe, but has a thought that he's given away more than enough just by admitting their connection at all.

Yamaguichi pulls away more smoothly than Hizashi’s ever driven with Aizawa in the passenger seat. Sometimes he thinks Hizashi drives like that on purpose, just to make sure Aizawa doesn’t fall asleep and has to keep talking to him.

“You know, I’ve been thinking about what happened yesterday,” Yamaguichi announces a little way into the drive, and Aizawa’s gut ties itself in a double-bow.

“What about it?”

Yamaguichi doesn’t seem too worried, which ought to be a good sign, but Aizawa still can’t settle. “Is it really okay for someone that age to be involved in a case like this?” What age that means to Yamaguichi could be anything within a fairly significant range at this point, but Aizawa’s not letting on more than he needs to.

“Ah.” Aizawa couldn’t agree more, but he can’t explain that he actually needs Shinsou to go talk to his famous mass-murderer father. “He’s a… special case. Don’t worry about it.”

“If you’re sure,” Yamaguichi sighs. “It’s just been bothering me. I became a Police officer to look out for kids like him, not the other way around.” She’s half a kid herself, but Aizawa doesn’t begrudge her such a noble thought.

Aizawa’s thought resurfaces again, this time more coherent. “There is something you could do to help us.” It slips out again, the us of him-and-Shinsou thought that’s already attached itself to Aizawa like a tick. “Will you be on duty at five p.m.?”

“No, I’ll have finished for the day,” Yamaguichi answers with concern written in volumes across her face. “Why?”

“Good.” Aizawa muses, “It’s probably better that way.” The worry in Yamaguichi’s face comes out with a new edition; this is another risk, another complication that Aizawa tries to avoid. Yet here he is, asking anyway. “I need someone to drop us off at prison.”

The morgue remains as lively as a place full of dead people could ever be.

Kuwabara is… Kuwabara as always, greeting Aizawa with a proverbial machine-gun round of upbeat questions and what looks to be a biro sticking out of the front of her over-styled quaff of copper hair. “Aizawa! You have to stop lurking around here or I'll stick you in a drawer! Are ya here to meet another friend? Is it true you made them run prints on three severed fingers upstairs?”

“The fingers were still attached to each other,” Aizawa explains dourly, “just not the rest of the hand.”

Kuwabara’s laugh comes out more like a dog’s bark than a human. “Heh! You’re a peach! I had to put all those iddy-biddy pieces back together, but there was a part missing. You haven’t been pinching keepsakes have you?”

“Not me.” But someone might have, Aizawa considers carefully, pushing the thought like a pin into the notice board of his mind. “What part was missing?”

“The resta’tha hand, like you said,” Kuwabara explains as she scratches her scalp with another pen. When she turns, Aizawa sees that the messy bun her hair is packed into at the back is held together with what looks like a single disposable chopstick—with a bit of what looks like dried sauce still stuck to the end. “But you’re here to see the rooftop-jumper, aren’t you? Tamakawa called in a buncha favours to get him sent here. Are the two of you against me taking a vacation or something?”

“I’ll look at both,” Aizawa answers blankly.

Kuwabara shoves the second pen into her hair and heaves a sigh heavy as a full kitbag over her shoulder. She heads over to one of the cold steel doors, checks the info on the front and then draws it back like a stack of shopping carts, a grunt of exertion as the chilled drawer rolls out to reveal the broken-toy body laid out inside. A corpse is always harrowing, and Aizawa reminds himself this man was a serial sex offender, but it somehow just deepens the horror.

“I’ve seen trains take people apart pretty badly before, but this was something else.” Kuwabara crosses thick arms over her broad chest. “Most people just clip the carriage, but he hit the windscreen head-on, musta really gone for it when he jumped.”

The corpse is in three to five really big chunks, but has been diced up a lot more around the edges. Aizawa recognises the severed hand, and the more-important gap where a piece is still missing. On cold, longer-dead skin the marking in pen is clearer: an unmistakable 世子. He asks, “How far could a piece of the corpse be thrown from this kind of collision?”

“Far enough for someone to pick it up if they wanted to,” Kuwabara answers distastefully. “People’re fucked up like that.” Following Aizawa’s gaze like a piece of string, Kuwabara rounds the table and focuses on Aizawa’s focus: the hand and kanji written on it. “More doodles, huh? Does that say successor? Not much for this poor bastard to inherit now.”

“I don’t think that’s it,” Aizawa muses, fixated on the missing piece. If only Aizawa had the rest. But then, this is only one body. “Show me the other.”

Kuwabara heads over for the newest addition and slides the drawer back. This jumper is all in one piece as far as the ears. Beyond that, his head is caved like an eggshell: being bald doesn’t help the appearance.

“You could read it as a name,” Kuwabara offers up, still musing on the train-jumper’s hand-writing. “Seko, Seiko, somethin’ like that.”

Aizawa’s moved on, busy pulling up the sleeves of the baldy’s shirt. “Not that,” he interjects as another piece falls into place. “There’s a kanji missing.”

Kuwabara’s head tilts, and she follows around the table again to see what Aizawa’s revealed. She would have found this when she processed the body herself, but everything has been left as is – another favour for Tamakawa, no doubt. “ Missing? What was it?”

“Shi.” There it reads, in precisely formed strokes on the pale skin of the roof-jumper’s inner wrist: 死世子.

Kuwabara reads with a furrow in her brow so deep it could be used for planting crops. “Shiyoko? Creepy. S’at his girlfriend or something?”

It’s not much, but it’s slightly more than nothing and Aizawa takes what he can get, “Not quite.”

Aizawa doesn't like it, but he pays Dr. Iwaya a visit before leaving the police station. Knocking before he dares open the door, the same soft, “Enter,” rings out like a bell used for Pavlovian training.

“Eraserhead.” Iwaya seems to make it as much of an accusation as a greeting. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”

Aizawa paces straight over and drops into the mise en scene specifically placed chair in front of her desk. “Cut the bullshit. I'm here to talk about Dr. Shinsou.”

Even though she remains calm and even smiles, Aizawa swears there's panic in Iwaya’s eyes. “And what would you like to know?”

“Tell me about his quirk.” Aizawa leaves a careful pause before suffixing, “And his family.”

That really seems to put the fear into Iwaya. But Aizawa is beginning to think it's not a fear of anything current, but the echo of a long-held trauma. Iwaya was once taught by the renowned Dr. Shinsou, and what happened – what he did to others, and perhaps even tried to do to her – is not trauma that just fades away.

“His family?”

“He had a wife and child, didn't he?” Aizawa puts out in spite of knowing damn well that both exist.

“I was just his student. Professor Shinsou kept his… private life away from us,” Iwaya answers nervously.

“Students gossip.” Aizawa would know. Three non-sequential generations of students have found out that a couple of their teachers are cohabitating, but luckily students leave school whereas the teachers stay. Each class has to stumble upon that information in their own way, if at all.

As uncanny as it might seem, a touch of colour creeps into the cold marble of Iwaya’s face. “Well… I know that his wife used to be his research assistant.”

“No one ever met her?”

“Professor Shinsou got a new assistant every year,” Iwaya explains. “They, uh…”

When she hesitates, Aizawa goes for the jugular. “Were you one?”

The colour in Iwaya’s cheeks deepens, and it occurs to Aizawa that to most people she would be considered a very attractive woman. It’s a fact he registers as more of a case note than anything he thinks upon, but it’s important all the same. “Not for long.”

“Why not?”

With careful arrangement of her fingers, folding them together like arranging patient history notes, Iwaya regains her composure. “Professor Shinsou… took issue with my quirk.”

“Which is what, exactly?” Aizawa says with his gaze carefully fixed on the pristine woman sat opposite to him.

Iwaya smiles softly, and answers, “I can read the mind of anyone I touch.”

“I can see why that’d be an issue for him,” Aizawa relates coldly; the murderous Doctor Shinsou and many other men – if not Aizawa, for more than one reason. It must help her profession hugely. “What about his quirk?”

“The Professor’s?” Iwaya is so still and unblinking that even Aizawa is impressed, like her eyes are glass and eyelids weighted such that as long as she sits up she’ll never blink. “Surely you’re aware.”

Aizawa tries to get more comfortable in his chair and fails at it. “Tell me anyway.”

“He can take over the mind of anyone who responds to a question he asks,” Iwaya explains with a cold, necessary detachment.

“Only questions?”

“Yes.” Iwaya’s head tilts curiously, like she reads the hidden implication in his checking. Shinsou Hitoshi just needs some verbal response, and Aizawa thinks of how quirks seem to be getting stronger and stronger each generation. Shinsou’s still young too, untrained to the fullest limits of what his quirk could do.

“Did he ever use it on you?”

“He used it on everyone.” Iwaya’s stillness is like that of a prey creature in sight of a predator, frozen for hope of not being noticed as something alive. “It was a classic trick in his classes. If you answered something out of turn, you’d come to standing on your desk doing an impression of a chicken.”

“A chicken?”

A small, fleeting smile that’s not entirely fear crosses Iwaya’s face for just a moment. “If he was in a good mood.”

“And if he wasn’t?”

Iwaya shakes her head, drawing a line with chalk or salt to ward away evil spirits. “Worse.”

“One last thing,” Aizawa adds as he starts to lift himself from the chair. He’s had almost as much of this as he can handle, but the thing that he came in here for hasn’t yet been addressed. His eyes fix on the book behind Iwaya’s head on the shelf, a dark cover with thin white lettering down the spine. “Can I borrow that?” He could buy a copy himself, but Aizawa doesn’t want to put his money into anything so distasteful.

Dr. Iwaya gets up and turns around, her hair a polished onyx cascade down her back as she slides the book off the shelf and holds it out to him. “Of course.”

Having seen it once before, Aizawa knows the title: The 90% Mind, Dr. Shinsou Masaru. Shinsou Hitoshi’s scathing words float back into Aizawa’s head, “Read his book, if you’re such a fan.”

Aizawa’s no fan, but he’ll read it anyway. This is no battle to go into unprepared.

Shinsou’s shock of violet hair is especially gravity-defying today. It could even rival Aizawa’s own with his quirk activated. Spotting him a mile off for this reason, Shinsou strolls up to the convenience store where Aizawa is waiting with a false air of coincidence. He's dressed in black head-to-toe, which makes two of them, and stops, rolling his neck in his palm. “‘ Sup , teach.”

If Shinsou is nervous about what they’re about to do, he certainly isn’t letting it show. Bluffing is an important skill anyway, especially for someone like him.

“Ready?” Aizawa asks more to get a read on Shinsou than anything.

“Not really,” he answers in surprising honesty; but then, who could be ready for what they're about to do? Aizawa certainly isn't. He's tried to prepare as best he can, but they've really no idea what awaits them.

Aizawa throws a bone of solidarity. “Me neither.” Shinsou ruffles and resettles, seeming reassured by the notion that even Aizawa doesn’t know what they’re going into. Empathy is important like that.

With perfect timing – she's been down the street watching them, no doubt – Yamaguichi rolls up in a car that must be hers and opens the window, beaming at them from the driver's side with strangely well-placed cheer, like a candle in a dark room. “You fellas need a lift?”

Shinsou casts a wary look at Aizawa, but he nods and Shinsou relaxes, shoulders dropping and the very tips of his hair brushing the top of the car door as he gets into the backseat. Aizawa rounds the car to get in at the front.

The drive starts quietly, but doesn't remain so for long. “Say, kid. I never got your name,” Yamaguichi remarks brightly a few minutes into the drive.

Aizawa keeps quiet, waiting and wondering what Shinsou will do – it's another test of sorts, gauging his judgement and handling of a situation.

But Shinsou doesn't disappoint. “Mind Jack,” he says with a tone so even it could be used as a spirit level, the bubble of air placed exactly between the lines within which he should operate: as a Hero, not himself.

“Oooh,” Yamaguichi hums, giving Aizawa a sideways look that seems to say ‘what a cute kid.’ That's not exactly what Aizawa would call it, but he's relieved Shinsou understands enough to have withheld his real name – and to have even had a Hero name tucked into his pocket like that. “Can I call you Jack?”

Shinsou’s gazing listlessly out the window, but there’s an essence of warmth when he replies, “You can call me anything you want.”

Yamaguichi titters behind the steering wheel, and it occurs to Aizawa that the age gap between Yamaguichi and Shinsou may be less than the gap between her and himself. “Well then, Jack. How did you get set up with a Hero like Eraserhead?”

Aizawa swears he can feel Shinsou’s stare on the back of his head. “He came looking for me.”

“Ohohoho, I see,” Yamaguichi chortles, even though she probably doesn't. It's convenient enough to see it that way, though, so Aizawa won't interfere. It's true enough. “I'm Officer Yamaguichi Kumiko, it's nice to meet you.”

“I know,” Shinsou replies with a sure deadpan; Aizawa isn’t watching, but he does glean the tone, and is better positioned to catch the surprise on Yamaguichi’s face.

“Uh, you do?”

“I read your badge when we met yesterday,” Shinsou explains while breaking into a yawn. Aizawa wonders if he got up early for that ‘homework’ Aizawa set. He better have.

Yamaguichi seems a little bashful, almost. “Oh, of course.”

“It's nice t’meet you too,” Shinsou hangs carefully, and Aizawa won't deny it: he has a certain way with people. “Can I call you Yankumi?”

“What?” This one catches Yamaguichi a little off-guard. “Like a nickname?” It’s a shorthand of the kanji in her name, endearingly done – at least for a brat like Shinsou, mashing names together as the youth are wont to do.

“If you’re gonna call me Jack.”

“Sure! I mean, alright then.” If Aizawa’s not mistaken, Yamaguichi’s a little flush of face. “Yankumi it is.”

Shinsou just murmurs contently, and the rest of the ride is quiet. Aizawa finds himself reflecting on the passages in the elder Shinsou's book that he managed to scan in the teacher's room just before he left for the day. It was barely more than the introduction, plus a few important passages on the detail of Dr. Shinsou’s quirk, but already Aizawa can tell from his writing that this is a man of considerable intellect. To explain things of such complexity in such eloquent form: laying out the labyrinth pathways of the human mind pre-quirk, and then unleashing the minotaur of mentalist quirks into that maze.

Aizawa knows enough to be sure of this – nothing will prepare him for the terror of meeting Dr. Shinsou in the flesh.

Warden Tanaka is waiting at the prison gates to meet them.

He’s a man of unimposing stature, well dressed with perfectly circular spectacles that glint in the afternoon light, as if they contain a kind of advanced technology that flashes up information on the two figures who get out of the car. They'll have to hope not.

Shinsou probably doesn’t need much introduction anyway. Anyone familiar with his father would see the resemblance easily; Aizawa certainly does, based only on pictures of the infamous Professor.

“Good afternoon,” the Warden begins stiffly. “I hope you understand my wanting to meet you out here.” It isn’t long before his gaze casts over to Aizawa. “So you are?”

“Eraserhead,” Aizawa answers just as unyieldingly. “A Hero. I erase quirks.” Any intelligent man could understand the purpose of a skill like that in this context. Another beat rests and then he adds, “I’m here to supervise.”

“I believe we can see to the security ourselves,” the Warden replies like it’s an affront.

“He’s my teacher,” Shinsou butts in, which is both true and untrue. “I want him here.” That’s a little clearer cut.

“It’s been several years since your father’s incarceration,” the Warden relates. “Might I inquire as to the purpose of this visit?”

“Information,” Aizawa answers before Shinsou can. “If you intended to interrogate us on our intentions, why agree in first place?”

“I thought it would be wiser to meet you in person, rather than discuss such sensitive matters on the phone.” Smart man. The Warden is looking at Shinsou. “I’d simply like to know what this is all about.”

“A boy can’t have a friendly chat with his own father?” Shinsou suggests with an edge so fine Aizawa could use it for his once-monthly shave. “Like Eraser said, you’re either gonna let us in or not. Just pick which it is already.”

“It is my job to see to order in the prison, which means I need to understand any potential threat to that balance,” Tanaka explains patiently. “I merely want to ascertain your intentions, and evaluate any risks to either yourself or my prisoner.”

Shinsou scoffs at the latter suggestion. “Like we wouldn’t be doing the world a favour if something happened to that bastard.”

The Warden’s glasses glint again, as he moves his head just a little to change the angle of his gaze. “I have a responsibility to my position to uphold.”

“Ah,” Shinsou murmurs provocatively. “So that’s what it’s about for you? Reputation.” His tone conveys the opinion he holds of the Warden’s motivations, which is lower than a ditch at the bottom of a grave.

“Easy, kid,” Aizawa intercedes more gently than he would with someone else, someplace else. They still need this man’s favour to get in, but hell if he can’t understand if the boy’s nerves are being grated on a little. After all, Aizawa is the one who wanted this. Shinsou has just come along by default, through the basic fact of this being the next, necessary step to closing in on their killer.

The Warden’s gaze flicks back to Aizawa, and he looks a little more appreciative for his presence now. “I’ll take you into the compound now, but we’ll need to go over some security protocol prior to visiting Dr. Shinsou’s holding cell.”

“Does he know I’m coming?” Shinsou pipes up again, and the flash-in-the-pan flare of temper has abated, thankfully, but there's still an ocean of concern in his tone. Aizawa can't imagine what he must be feeling.

“Oh yes,” the Warden answers with a chill that Aizawa swears he feels blow right through him. “He says he’s been expecting you.”

The security protocols to access Dr. Shinsou’s maximum security ward within the prison are exhausting. It’s understandable, but the safety-training video they have to watch and the stack of waivers to sign seems excessive; especially when the person they’re planning to meet will remain inside his cell while in the company of a Hero who can literally erase quirks. The younger Shinsou looks utterly bored by the whole experience. Aizawa empathises, and might have given up halfway through too, were this all not at his impetus.

Aizawa’s hunch is that this must be what they have to go through with the guards and other staff who work around the infamous Professor. The people they encounter as they move from the main prison area to the carefully-separated high-security wing do seem to get more morose and inhuman as they proceed. Frightened eyes of people who have been on edge for too long.

Shinsou’s quiet as they get closer, hands in his pockets and his eyes cast down as he walks almost attached to Aizawa’s side. If he’d really needed to, Aizawa could have tried to take another route to meet Dr. Shinsou, gotten a legal pathway or simply appealed to the Warden by himself. It was quicker and easier to go through the familial connection his son offers. Aizawa feels a pang of guilt about the unspoken exploitation; although, Shinsou could have refused if he was truly opposed.

But that doesn’t feel very guilt-assuaging, so Aizawa resolves to be sure to find a way to make it up to the kid. This is a big favour – to catch a killer, sure, but there’s no mistaking the intention of the fact that Shinsou has never taken it upon himself to visit his father before now. No sane person could blame him for that – maybe it makes Aizawa slightly insane.

The penultimate door opens up and they step into a small containment area with a guard. The wall is covered in hooks, each with a set of noise-cancelling headphones on them. The guard waits stiffly, and the video has covered this: Wear headphones at all times when engaging Dr. Shinsou. Do not remove them for any reason. Necessary communication with Dr. Shinsou must take place via the installed writing boards. The intercom is for emergency use only by authorised personnel. This is for your safety.

Aizawa’s Shinsou, as he's accidentally found himself thinking of the younger, catches his gaze as they're reaching for identical headphones and then rolls his eyes. A smile tugs on the corner of Aizawa's mouth like a meek toddler looking for attention. They put the headphones on – for now – and follow the guard though the final door into a white corridor.

The hallway doesn't go on for very long, stopping in a dead end no more than the length of Aizawa's classroom. One wall is solid all the way through, but the other ends with thick glass, in front of which there's a single chair and a freestanding dry-wipe board. The adjacent wall contains a button-operated intercom, shielded under a perspex box. They walk down the corridor after the guard, Aizawa on the left of Shinsou, almost shoulder-to-shoulder but for the few inches of height that separate them. Aizawa hears Shinsou taking a deep breath as they come into view of the thick glass pane that separates them.

Dr. Shinsou stands still as a statue in the middle of the floor.

There is a matching dry-wipe board in his cell, but Dr. Shinsou has taken to writing on the thick glass that separates them instead; he had to have written backwards for it to be legible to them on this side, so the precise formation of the kanji is a subtle but present testament to the Doc’s attention to detail.

In long script, so it looks more like an overlay of information or subtitle to the austere figure of the murderous doctor, it reads. “Welcome, son. I’ve been waiting for you.”

No one moves for a long moment, years of seconds that weather the passage of time like a stone endures the seasons one after the other. Then Aizawa reaches up and removes his headphones. He strides over and lifts the barrier over the intercom without fear. Pushing down the single button so a light illuminates, Aizawa announces, “Dr. Shinsou, I presume?”

The professor of mentalist quirks is a taller man than Aizawa, of lean build and his violet hair a slightly darker shade than his son’s, slicked back from a hairline that recedes into a deep widow's peak. A corresponding light comes on in a matching speaker on the wall of Dr. Shinsou’s cell, indicating that Aizawa's question must be heard within his soundproof box. Not that the Professor of Mentalism responds in any discernible way.

The cell seems rather comfortable for a man responsible for two dozen deaths. It was amazing he escaped the death penalty at all, but for the fact that his lawyers made a pervasive feast of the argument that the induced suicides of his victims wanted to die. Enough that they had to mistrial and recruit new judges. That and the fact that they were too afraid to attempt enacting the death penalty on such a dangerous a man.

There is a single bed, a desk and a shelf full of books. The wall behind the desk contains sheet upon sheet of meticulously handwritten text, affixed like wallpaper tiles across one side of the cell.

Aizawa’s finger remains on the button, but all the Professor does is incline his head very slightly to the side, followed by a gesture of his eyes that draws Aizawa's own momentarily to the intercom at his hand. There's a small, very missable switch underneath the button with a small label: Enable response. For EMERGENCY USE only.

Aizawa slides the switch across and a jarring siren lets out a short wail. They're really sparing no precaution here.

“And who might I ask,” Dr. Shinsou’s voice is like smooth butter. He doesn't move from his position, unrestrained hands tucked behind his back, “are you?”

Aizawa looks the maniac dead in the eyes and activates his quirk. “You can call me Eraserhead. I have a few questions for you.” Like a snake slithering over glass, Aizawa feels the weight of Dr. Shinsou’s quirk pressing on his mind. It's a sizable force, but not enough to crack the glass. “Your tricks won't work on me.”

The doctor smiles, and Aizawa thinks of poison darts used by communities from deep in the rainforest: unstable, unknown toxins that are almost impossible to detect and incurable by the time the symptoms have set in. If the doctor was able to use his quirk on Aizawa, how aware would Aizawa even be? “For how long, I wonder?”

“Long enough to answer our questions,” Shinsou finally adds, taking off his own headphones and dropping them on the ground as he steps closer to the intercom and Aizawa.

Aizawa’s quirk is still active and remains trained on the Doctor, protecting Shinsou from the answer he gives to his father’s question. The guard seems distressed by this deviation from the rules, but not so much so that he'd take off his own headphones and put himself at risk. They signed the damn waivers for something, after all. Aizawa has the situation under control – so far.

“How’ve you been, Dad? Prison suits you.” There's no warmth or fondness in this statement, and it strikes Aizawa that the use of intercoms and caution around them means the Shinsous’ quirks must work just as well over electronic transmission as direct – meaning Shinsou could use it on people over the phone if he were so inclined.

There's a sick pride mixed into Dr. Shinsou's tone. “You've grown so much, Hitoshi.”

The capture window for Dr. Shinsou’s quirk closes by the furthering of the conversation beyond his first questions, so Aizawa lets his quirk drop and allows himself to blink. Dr. Shinsou notices this, but there isn't much that he can do about it. Aizawa read the important parts of the Doctor’s book, and knows from the self-study contained within that only by answering one of Dr. Shinsou's questions can a victim's mind be ensnared.

The upshot is that when Dr. Shinsou speaks without an open query, it changes the alignment of brainwaves his – their – quirks rely on. So they’re safe again, temporarily. Unlike his son, the elder Shinsou requires direct question-and-answer to take control, though the power he gains thereafter is absolute. “Send my love to your mother.”

In a flash, Shinsou bangs on the glass like he’s going to crack it. “Shut up! You never loved her!”

The smile returns to Dr. Shinsou’s face, like a viper sliding back into view across hot sand. “On the contrary. I loved her most intensely.”

“You’re a psychopath,” Shinsou accuses. “You don’t even know what love is.”

Shinsou’s father tilts his head again, and Aizawa wishes he would move more like a man than a strange ethereal creature. Like the Doctor could slip through the glass if he wanted to, but simply finds it more interesting to remain where he is for the time being. “Perhaps it is you who cannot recognise love?”

Shinsou spits “You’re wrong,” and “I’ve had enough of this,” almost concurrently, and that sense of Aizawa’s goes off again; the before- ness of something about to happen. Nothing changes, but one of the features of Aizawa’s quirk is a sixth sense that flutters in the presence of others being used. So when Shinsou turns to Aizawa and tells him, “Ask your questions, he’s going to answer,” then it’s without doubt for what’s taken place.

“Shinsou,” Aizawa murmurs warily. Answers under duress may not hold the information they seek. If Shinsou can even hold his father under the power of his quirk.

“Aren’t you, Dad?” Shinsou turns back to his father with cold anger. “Nod your head and show him.”

Dr. Shinsou’s head bobs just once, but then things start to get more troubling. Shinsou is visibly tense, like there’s a struggle taking place that results in his complete yet intense inertia. Then the Professor says, “Sit down, son, you’re straining yourself.”

When Shinsou starts to do it, so much at war with himself he’s not even breathing, Aizawa doesn’t hesitate to activate his quirk. He fixes his erasing glare first on Shinsou, breaking the hold he has on Dr. Shinsou, then casts his gaze quickly at the professor. Shinsou lets out a gasp and grabs the back of the chair for support as he drops out of the stiff mental grip, but there’s no similar reaction in the Professor’s composure.

“That’s a useful quirk you have, I must admit,” Dr. Shinsou remarks calmly, the way an entomologist speaks of a butterfly they’d like to gas in a chamber and pin to the wall. “I would very much like to study it.”

“No studying, and no more brainwashing.” Aizawa lays down the law with another quick glance between Shinsou and his father before finally letting his own quirk drop and blinking, fumbling in his pocket for a bottle of eyedrops. “That’s both of you.”

“Very well, Eraserhead .” Dr. Shinsou emphasises this in such a way, it sounds more meaningful than any title Hizashi spouted on an arthouse-movie whim. “I’ll hear your questions.”

He never specifies that he’ll answer them.

Chapter Text

“I’m looking for a woman with a mind control quirk,” Aizawa launches into his piece with the assumption that he has precious time left before the Warden comes barging in here raving about safety violations and dangerous use of quirks both on prisoners and visitors. “Engaged via writing on her victims. Possibly her name… which might be Shiyoko.” It’s a lot of guesswork, but if it were obvious they wouldn’t have to be here. “Have you ever encountered someone with that name or kind of quirk in your research?”

Dr. Shinsou’s thin smile snakes across his face once more. “My my, quite a predicament you have there. So tell me, Eraser, what’s little Shiyoko been up to out in the real world? They keep me quite separate from it.”

Aizawa activates his quirk, eyes gleaming an angry red as his hair lifts of its own accord. “She’s been doing something you’d know plenty about, Doctor.” Murder dressed as suicide.

Shinsou – Aizawa’s Shinsou – is quiet and sullen, avoiding the piercing gaze of his father as best he can. The guard has since skulked away from the viewing panel of Dr. Shinsou’s cell, and waits in his noise-cancelling earphones awfully close to the door. “Ah, I wonder what her trigger must have been.” As the threat of mind control abates like a wave rolling out, Aizawa lets his quirk fall.

“Trigger?” Aizawa dares to ask.

“There’s always a trigger, poor lost boys,” Dr. Shinsou relates in a harmonious, lilting voice. “I wonder what yours will be?” He targets Shinsou with another weighted tilt of his head like the swinging of a clock pendulum.

“Not gonna happen,” Shinsou mutters, and Aizawa activates his quirk just to be safe, staring this maniacal piece of shit down, half-regretting ever coming here – at least with Shinsou.

“She was passed over for a promotion,” Aizawa butts in before Shinsou can get dragged any further by the riptide of his father’s conversation. Maybe the promotion thing is true, maybe it isn’t, but it’s a way to start.

“Poor little girl, that would certainly be enough to do it,” Dr. Shinsou muses. Aizawa blinks, rubs his eyes and then looks back up without his quirk activated, hair dropping limply around his face.

Poor little. Why do you keep saying that?” Aizawa pins as his eyes itch.

The Professor answers, “She was when I met her.”

In a short window of time, Aizawa takes his finger off the intercom button and puts his head back to drip eyedrops into each eye. It’s exposure of his vulnerability, his limits, but what can Dr. Shinsou accomplish from behind a pane of reinforced security glass?

Shinsou reaches past Aizawa for the button this time. “So you knew her, she was part of your research?"

“Humour me, Eraser.” Every time he says it, Dr. Shinsou makes Aizawa’s title sound a little more like something nonexistent. Not eraser, but erased. “What’s your relationship to my son?”

“Not your concern.” Refreshed, Aizawa opens wide and activates his quirk yet again. “Who’s Shiyoko?”

The Professor’s statuesque form breaks into motion, and he begins to pace along the length of his glass-walled cell like a tiger in a cage. Maybe they’re starting to get to him after all. “Quid pro quo,” the Professor replies craftily as he passes directly past Aizawa and Shinsou next to the intercom, though his voice remains at the same volume coming from the speaker in the wall. “Give me answers and I’ll give them to you in return.”

“Only you use answers to brainwash people,” Shinsou points out crossly, still holding down the button to the intercom with an expression like he wished it did more than allow them to communicate with the prisoner. Fill the goldfish tank of his cell slowly with water, perhaps.

“Isn’t that what your escort is here to prevent?” Shinsou’s father suggests glibly, stopping his oscillation up and down the length of his cell to eye Aizawa like a carcass he’s waiting to butcher. Aizawa doesn’t let his quirk fall. “There’s something else though… you had to come across one another somehow. School, perhaps?”

“He’s teaching me to be a Hero.” Shinsou’s declaration causes a reactionary lurch in Aizawa’s gut. This is what he gets for bringing messy family ties into the mix. Pieces of information that were best left under the table, not thrown down on a hand that they might have to fold on.

Oh.” Dr. Shinsou mulls this over like a treat of unparalleled magnitude. “What a noble thought.” He pauses long enough to let the pity well up in his voice like waters in a fresh spring. “But that’s not for you, son.”

“You’re wrong.” Shinsou isn’t conflicted or compromised about this declaration. “I’ll be a Hero that stops people like you.” Aizawa wonders if Shinsou would be so sure if they hadn’t had some of the conversations they have in the past day. If Shinsou weren’t here with Aizawa, doing work that feels like being a real Hero…’s intern, or something like that.

Dr. Shinsou looks back at Aizawa as he drops his quirk to blink, and it's a tiny flicker but he feels the brush of something against the back of his mind, the push to be ensnared by a quirk that hits an internal wall. The greatest despair the Professor has with his quirk, by his own admission, is that he cannot surpass its limitations – something his son has proven capable of already. They all have limits. Even Aizawa has to blink, but he picks his moments to be vulnerable very carefully. So too will the Professor.

“Tsk tsk.” Aizawa can't be sure, but he thinks this is annoying Dr. Shinsou. “Getting the boy's hopes up like that.”

“I didn't set the bar for his hopes,” Aizawa counters, and this is a twisty way to get around to talking about a murder suspect. He doesn’t like it one bit. “I just gave him my view on whether he could achieve them.”

“And your professional opinion, Mr. Eraser?” Dr. Shinsou says it like that to mock, he must.

Aizawa knows this is no place to hold back the things he's told Shinsou in confidence. Even things he's thought beyond that and hasn't even said yet. If there's anywhere the boy needs to hear it, then it's in front of this demon of a father. And there's no reason Aizawa can't be obnoxious about it. Quirk flaring, he answers, “He'll be a better Hero than you ever were a villain.”

That micro-flicker of annoyance twitches in the corner of the doctor’s eye again, and Aizawa allows his mouth a slightly smug twist, crossing his arms as if nonchalant and not finding something to do with them that doesn’t betray his frustration. “Quid pro quo, Doctor. Tell us about Shiyoko.”

“What do you expect me to know?” Dr. Shinsou poses as if they’re at the height of presumptuous. “I encountered many mentalist quirk users through my research, why should I know this one?”

“Cut the bullshit, dad.” Shinsou leads this brigade knowingly. “You don’t forget anyone.”

Another sly smile works its way across Dr. Shinsou’s face. As if he likes to be known, and the reiteration of their familial connection still has currency in his sick mind. “Then what am I to tell you of one little girl who once sat in my office over ten years ago?”

“Her full name would be a start,” Aizawa suggests, but senses the wall has been hit again. His eyes itch and he feels the urge to blink, but he’s held on far longer than this before. It was a mistake not wearing his goggles – one he’s not likely to make again. If this happens again. Aizawa’s used to putting the goggles on for combat, he simply hadn’t realised he was about to walk into an all-out fight – not in the physical world, but mental. Stupid of him.

“Another question first,” the Professor reverts cannily. “How many?”

“How many what?” Aizawa replies with a tense jaw, eyes burning.

“Has little Shiyoko killed? You said victims.” After a short pause, Dr. Shinsou adds, “You may blink, Eraser. I shalln’t use my quirk on you.”

This is a cunning double-trick, because without ending in a question it is possible for Aizawa to blink. So he does, but not because Dr. Shinsou said so. Even if that’s what it looks like. “You can’t use it on me,” Aizawa mutters as he brings his fingers to his eyes, “it’s different.”

“As far as you know,” Dr. Shinsou reports slyly. “I haven’t been entirely idle during my incarceration.”

“I can see that,” Aizawa observes, letting his tired gaze swing over the papers tiling the walls. “Let me guess. Your next book?”

That deadly smile returns again. It occurs to Aizawa that things would be so much easier if the Doctor were a simple, murderous villain with no charisma. This is entirely different; the mental equivalent of sitting with his hand on the table while someone bangs an ice pick between his fingers. “Very good. So you aren’t completely without observational skills.”

“The next victim was a sexual molester who attacked her on a train,” Aizawa throws like a baseball he wants to pitch through this thick glass straight into the back of Dr. Shinsou’s skull. “Presumably.”

“Presumption leaves margin for error,” Dr. Shinsou points out aloofly, and leans forward very slightly as he poses his next threat – in the form of a question, of course. “Are you sure he attacked her?”

Aizawa doesn’t activate his quirk. Doesn’t need to. He’s not answering the doctor’s question. “The pattern is still developing, but the victims are men who have experienced or exploited a privilege against her as a woman. Except for the most recent, who seems to have been sought out at a hostess bar. She doesn’t appear to have known him.”

“One is so rarely enough, once you get a taste for killing,” Dr. Shinsou remarks in a voice of poisoned honey. “So her pattern is becoming less consistent?”

Now Aizawa reactivates his quirk. “If you give me her full name, we’ll catch her faster and I’ll let you know,” he replies caustically.

Dr. Shinsou tsks again. “Then I would be taking the thrill of the hunt away from you. Wouldn’t want that, would we?” Aizawa can hardly move for all these baited hooks. So he just stares through the unflagging wall of his quirk, and it makes the point well enough. “Even as a child, Shiyoko was acutely aware of the injustices that would beset her as a consequence of her quirk. One can only imagine what her experience as a woman would add to that.”

“If we know her given name and quirk, can’t we just check the registry?” Shinsou suggests to Aizawa, then scowls when his father tsks again.

“Oh no, Hitoshi. She wasn’t registered.”

“But you studied her,” Shinsou accuses.

“My research was anonymised,” Dr. Shinsou answers smugly. “If they chose to remain registered quirkless for fear of prejudice, that was merely incidental information, of little consequence to my work.”

“Right, far be it from you to do the right thing.” Shinsou's loathing pours our of him like water overflowing a drain.

“My decision not to report unregistered quirks to the authorities was also part of my oath to uphold doctor-patient confidentiality,” his father replies. “So don’t be so quick to think you know the whole world just yet, my dear boy.”

Shinsou’s hunching more and more over the intercom, finger pressed over the button until his knuckle blanches. Aizawa senses tension in those violin strings his father tunes to play. “Shinsou.” Without thinking of it, Aizawa reaches to set a hand on his shoulder. It’s easier than trying to fight his hand on the controls of the intercom, but enough to draw him out of another downward spiral.

In a flash Shinsou turns over his shoulder to glance up at Aizawa, a slightly darker ring of violet around the outside of his irises, which are almost lavender in the centre. Darkness and light blended together. His finger comes off the button, and he takes a visible breath. Without the intercom engaged, and with the guard still staring stoically into space with his headphones on, it’s just the two of them who hear Aizawa say, “It’s alright,” about nothing in particular and everything that matters.

This might be the most aggravating thing of all to the Professor, who when Aizawa looks warily back over isn’t smiling anymore. No, this is a definite scowl.

“Tell me,” Dr. Shinsou’s voice creaks like the lowest notes of a stringed instrument being bowed – badly. “Why the sudden interest in my son?”

Aizawa’s quirk rises up like a cobra and strikes, hair lifting and eyes a glaring red as he fixes on the Professor. He slips his hand off Shinsou’s shoulder to reach for the button to the intercom. “Because he helped me get access to you? Is that what you’d like me to say?” It’s better to admit these things up front than pretend it’s not the case, and this direct barrage seems to keep Dr. Shinsou on the back foot. “That part of it is true, but I wouldn’t have agreed to train your son if I didn’t see his potential. He’s been failed,” Aizawa injects like venom from a fanged bite: – an unconscious action, built into his very physiology, “by the school, by society, and by you.”

There’s no real order of importance there, but each makes up a distinct part of why it’s so unacceptable to Aizawa that Shinsou’s dreams are left to perish for being ‘too challenging’ or because his quirk seems more ‘naturally’ suited to villainy. Anyone who believes that is merely reflecting their own internal darkness. Otherwise they’d see the huge potential that Aizawa does. “So if I help him, it’s not out of pity or leverage or access to you, but because that’s the least he deserves.”

Aizawa wants to blink but can’t, feeling an intense weight on his mind as Dr. Shinsou tries to cave his mental state in like banging a sledgehammer against Aizawa’s skull. Just because it won’t break doesn’t mean there’s no strain.

“Bit late for you to bring back the overprotective father shit, ” Shinsou butts in rudely enough to draw Dr. Shinsou’s focus; Aizawa feels the weight of cancelling out the Doctor’s brainwashing quirk lighten. He's relieved that he didn’t come here without backup. “Quid pro quo, Dad: tell us about the girl.”

For all his calculating genius, Dr. Shinsou is still a creature of human emotions, albeit they’re fucking twisted ones. This appeal to whatever he perceives of a biological link between himself and his son is a good enough chum to draw the shark near.

“Little Shiyoko was always running away, because she knew what would become of her when she was found,” Dr. Shinsou narrates like a nursery rhyme, and breaking into such lyricism allows Aizawa to drop his quirk. “You won’t get anywhere by looking for miss hide-and-go-seek in the places she’s meant to be. Clever girl knows how to stay hidden, even in plain sight.”

“Drop the fucking riddles,” Shinsou bites. “People are dying.”

His father has regained composure, taking a deep breath that lifts and resettles his narrow shoulders. It’s with a peculiar curiosity that he remarks, “And that bothers you.”

Shinsou begins to rant, “Of course! Even if you don’t care about them, if you gave a shit about me like you pretend to do then you’d want to help.”

“On the contrary, my boy,” Dr. Shinsou interjects. “It is because I care for you that I offer no more help than that which I’ve already given.”

“Bullshit,” Shinsou spits in a tone that would flash-freeze Hell.

His father tuts and the clicking sounds carry over the audio system like a kind of morse code. “You have to learn how do to things for yourself, Hitoshi. But never fear, I believe this will be a…” He pauses like a hangman finishing the final knot on a noose before stringing it up, and shifts his gaze from Shinsou over to Aizawa, “bonding experience for you both.” Like the flight of a bird, one pale hand shoots out from behind his back and the fingers flutter. “Ta-ta, do be sure to visit again.”

‘We’re finished when I say we’re finished,’ Aizawa wants to growl – Shinsou too, by the looks of it – but they can’t compel the mad doctor to cooperate without being just as bad as him. And as loath as he is to admit it, this has been helpful – in the way a root canal is. Something beneficial doesn’t mean it’s not agonising, or to be dreaded if it must be repeated.

“Fine,” Aizawa declares stiffly, taking his finger off the button and sliding the intercom switch back across. He glances sideways at Shinsou with dry, itching eyes that he’ll irrigate like dry fields when they’re out of this room. “Let’s get the fuck out of here.”

Yamaguichi isn’t waiting for them outside the prison, but that’s fine and wasn’t part of the arrangement he made with her: poor woman deserves an evening off. Aizawa prefers to walk anyway, falling into step alongside Shinsou after they sit through an unbearably tedious lecture from the Warden about violating the safety protocols put in place to prevent accidents involving Dr. Shinsou. Turns out the only reason no one interrupted them is because they’re all too fucking afraid of going in there when the intercom is on – there’s an accident history behind such caution that Aizawa can only guess at the messy outcomes of.

Shinsou announces with an air of cheerful vitriol, “Well. That was fucking terrible.”

Aizawa almost wants to police him on his language, but then they’re not in a classroom where that shit matters, and Aizawa’s been just as bad today. Shinsou is only reading the cues.

“Unfortunately, I think it went quite well,” Aizawa counters morosely, fiddling with a bottle of eyedrops in his pocket, turning it over and over even though he’s rinsed his eyes out enough. Recentering habits die hard.

“I guess you’re right,” Shinsou admits begrudgingly, and then tacks on. “Thanks.” There’s a heaviness to his tone that wrenches Aizawa’s gut. He almost asks, “What for?” until Shinsou expands into the pensive silence, “You didn’t have to say what you did, and I’m not dumb enough I’d think you’d say anything you don’t mean, but… thanks anyway.”

“It deserved to be said.” If and when Aizawa has ever been seen as harsh, it’s only because his bleeding heart has a wicked saw-edge that turns his protective instincts into a powerful weapon. The strongest, most intense urges Aizawa experiences – some of them – are to protect others. He would and almost has died for it. Repeatedly.

With a whole class of students, it takes a little time to get to know them, and longer still for the handful each year that become really special. By contrast, Aizawa’s only spent about a day with Shinsou, one-on-one pearl diving in the belly of the beast. But he’s already imprinted like a broody hen that’ll sit on anything helpless enough to let him. Not that Shinsou is helpless, but he still needs help; Aizawa wants to give it to him. He can’t even pretend to deny it anymore.

With all the signs of a great Hero-in-the-making, Shinsou simply pushes on. “So now what?”

Aizawa itches for a cigarette, but resists the urge – normally, he never goes through them at this rate. It’s not a good habit to indulge in front of Shinsou, not least because the boy will probably smartmouth him about it. Aizawa understands that smoking is bad for him, just like sleeping too little, eating irregularly and putting himself between homicidal villains and their innocent would-be victims is dangerous. And he does all of those things with great regularity. So he'll just have to find another reckless habit to indulge.

Catching sight of a mostly-abandoned building that has all the signs of a hideout for gangs running contraband operations in and out of the conveniently-located prison. Aizawa settles on his vice. “We keep working.” He jerks his head at the building, now shaded in twilight as the evening falls.

The darker shadows of Shinsou’s face lighten as he tips his head back a little and casts his gaze at the rundown building. Boarded-up windows are mixed in with intact panes that have just been painted over from the inside. Not that well, going by the hints of light visible from within here and there.

Shinsou takes Aizawa’s inference effortlessly. “Guess we better check it out.” It can’t always be this easy having an intern, not that Aizawa would know from experience. Maybe just the right one. Aizawa can work well with certain people; even so, he prefers working alone when and where he can. It’s less complicated that way.

But even for being complicated (in his own way), Shinsou makes it awfully easy sometimes.

There’s an old fire escape on the outside of the building, which Shinsou starts to scale while Aizawa throws a roll of his weapon up to the top and free-climbs it, using the structure in a way that it’s surely not intended. But it gets him up there much quicker than Shinsou manages.

When the boy finally catches up with him at the top of the warehouse, Aizawa thoughtlessly remarks, “You should think about some support gear.”

“General Studies don’t get support gear,” Shinsou replies with a sharp edge that’s not really directed at Aizawa. After all, it’s not like he did anything to stop Shinsou getting into the Hero Course.

“Think about it anyway,” Aizawa says defiantly. “All you need to do is approach the right individual in Support and see what they’d have to offer.”

“Won’t I get in trouble?” Shinsou clearly isn’t a boy terribly preoccupied with sticking exactly to the rules, but he obviously doesn’t want to risk getting expelled.

“No.” That is, as far as Aizawa’s concerned, the end of the discussion. He wouldn’t allow it.

“You sure about that?” Shinsou doesn’t sound sure, but Aizawa is.

Perhaps he’s just a simple faculty member, but Aizawa likes to think he has enough sway to make sure no repercussions would fall on Shinsou for testing out support gear to use in his extra-curricular activities. “I’ll take responsibility,” he says firmly. “If it ever comes to that.”

Shinsou is bolstered by this sentiment, but still not entirely sold. It’s understandable he might still feel a little rattled after the prison. “Will it?”

“Probably not.” Aizawa lets his voice hush even more as he paces across the roof to a dirtied skylight that hasn’t been painted out and drops to a crouch, beckoning Shinsou after him.

It’s unusual he’d have to talk through something like this, but Aizawa made a deal with himself to do something useful for Shinsou after how much of a help the kid was engaging his monster of a father. o it’s with cautious, raspy tones that Aizawa quietly lays out the basis of his operations. “Watch, listen, and stay out of sight until you’ve confirmed criminal activity and determined the best way to engage.”

The inside of the warehouse is split over a few levels visible from the rooftop-view, and at first glance there isn’t anything immediately culpable out in open view – but there never is. One of the panes in the pitched-roof skylight has broken and been replaced with a board, presenting as good an opportunity as ever to get in. Aizawa digs a multi-tool out of his belt and starts prying up the nails holding it down.

Shinsou notices this apparent break between Aizawa’s actions and words. “We’re going in? What happened to watch and listen?”

“Sometimes you have to get a little closer.” Aizawa pulls out the last nail and then throws it over his shoulder, lifting the board up carefully and setting it down without making too much noise. “As long as you see them before they see you.” He reaches to his neck and lifts a coil of his capture weapon free, then flings it at a bit of exposed pipework nearby that seems sturdy enough to hold his weight, testing with a few firm tugs and then deciding it’ll do, even with Shinsou in tow. On which note, Aizawa glances over to deliver his instructions to Shinsou with full eye contact and all the ‘I mean it’ foreboding he can muster. “Stay close to me, stay alert, and don’t use your quirk.”

There’s a slight sigh from Shinsou at this last order – of exasperation, or maybe resignation. “Understood.” This isn’t a game, and when Aizawa sets such rules down (or reiterates them) it’s not because he wants to ruin Shinsou’s fun, but for his safety and the legality of what they’re doing.

The boy can help, just not by using his extremely potent quirk extra-judicially. Even if Aizawa wouldn’t turn him in at this point, that doesn’t mean Shinsou couldn’t be caught, and a blot like that on his record would only make the path to being a Hero even harder than it already is. More than anyone else, especially in competition with kids who have been given all the chances Shinsou hasn’t, he needs to do things the right way.

Dropping the rest of his capture weapon down into the darkness, Aizawa glances over at Shinsou one last time before putting his goggles on. He looks calm, but Aizawa knows still waters are often the product of opposing currents crashing against one another. Peace on the surface is no indicator of the struggle that could be taking place underneath.

Yet speculation is lost to the flow of real-time, so all Aizawa does is pull up his goggles, securing them against his face and then taking a firm handful of the means to their descent. There are more ways to learn than being talked at in a classroom. And Shinsou is proving to be a receptive student. “After me.”

This, Aizawa thinks as the two-by-four breaks across his back, is not at all how he intended for things to play out.

It’d started well enough.

Surveillance and stealth are Aizawa’s bread and butter… usually. Because in spite of being the rookie, Shinsou isn’t the cause of this situation derailing. At least, not directly. It was supposed to be a quiet, covert operation to establish if this place is indeed a contraband trafficking base of operations, followed by a swift lockdown of any complicit criminals. That’s what the plan was. And when creeping quietly around the warehouse, much to Aizawa’s (pleasant) surprise, Shinsou’s as quiet as a mouse. A natural, dare-Aizawa-say-it, which he doesn’t. Not out loud.

So the manic escalation that takes place a short while after is all on Aizawa. In the first instance, his instincts are right and there are a few men to-and-froing across the main warehouse space packing boxes with smaller packages made up to look like food. After creeping along badly lit walkways and getting up close to the shipping container-esque building-within-a-building, through the dirty, not-blacked out windows Aizawa spots a couple more guys filling the packages with everything from cigarettes to drugs. That’s enough proof to justify action.

Shinsou does as he’s been told and stays out of it, while Aizawa uses handfuls of his capture weapon as he springs from the blind spots of the two packers crossing the warehouse floor. Binding their arms and mouths, Aizawa drags them into the shadows and knocks each out with a careful thump to the head. Next he sets to the guys inside the prefab building, using his multi-tool to pry open one of the windows while Shinsou bangs on the single door to the room as a lure. Aizawa has to admit: it’s quite useful having him here – at least initially.

Aizawa gets the window open and sneaks in while the criminals react to the diversion, then sees to them in much the same way as the first – snatching each with a strip of his capture weapon and pulling them backwards crash into the table, knocking themselves out on it without a single one ever seeing Eraserhead coming.

And that’s when Aizawa makes his first mistake.

He lets his guard down for a critical moment, when Shinsou opens the door and strolls into the interior of the building with his eyes on the two newly unconscious criminals on the floor. “Well,” he says with a funny balance of admiration and frustration – after all, he’s been on the sidelines spectating, which isn’t quite what Heroes or their not-quite-interns sign up for. “That was eas–”

Why Aizawa doesn’t sense it coming is the biggest failing. His gut feeling of just-beforeness doesn’t kick in, maybe too drawn into the words Shinsou doesn’t finish. Because that’s the point at which a knife flies through the air and cuts Shinsou’s arm. He lurches out of the way, but not fast enough to escape the blade in its entirety. One of them still has some semblance of wits about them: it’s just not Aizawa.

Instinct kicks in a moment later. “Get down!” Aizawa barks, vaulting over the table. The flying dagger that cut Shinsou comes back around, carving through the air with a billowing strip of something like fabric wrapped around the handle controlling it. Aizawa flings one of his own wraps to snatch the blade out of the air before it slashes for Shinsou again. There’s obviously more opponents here than he’d thought, and Aizawa can’t help considering that if he’d been alone, or even if Shinsou had been closer rather than forced to the sidelines, this might not have happened.

Shinsou drops into a crouch, one hand clamped tightly around his upper arm and the dark fabric of his hoodie concealing any blood as he puts his back to the wall and crab-walks into cover. It’s never more evident than at a moment like this that they’re playing for keeps. The danger is wholly and undeniably real. That means if Aizawa says get down, Shinsou fucking gets down and stays there.

Aizawa leaps through the open door, pulling hard on his capture weapon to reel in the assailant. It’s a woman who stumbles on the end of his fishing line, two long tendrils coming from each of her hands that whip through the air like scarves with exceptional control. The daggers give her dangerous range, coiled as they are at the end of each quirk-sponsored extension to her body. It’s when he’s facing in her direction – confronting a very real threat – that Aizawa gets hit by the two-by-four from behind. Aizawa’s second mistake: fixating on the person who attacked Shinsou, overlooking whether there could be more still.

Stumbling forward from the force of the timber smashing across the back of his shoulders, Aizawa catches sight of a new dagger shooting straight for his belly. He grabs the knife just before it plunges into his gut and feels the edges bite into his palm. Activating his quirk as he stares at the woman who wields the blades, the controlling tentacles – if that’s what they are – fall limp and Aizawa is able to rip one dagger away and throw it down. He takes two fresh handfuls of his capture weapon and throws one forwards as he stomps on the dropped tendril and the woman lets out a shriek. The other handful he casts behind him, spreading like a net to catch whoever was stupid enough to get this close to Aizawa and break their own weapon on him. Because Aizawa can take a beating like a pro, and now the idiot’s unarmed.

Both captures land, and with a strong tug in either direction, Aizawa drags each immobilised attacker off their feet. He knocks out the one behind him on the sole of his boot, lifting it as a surface for the man to unwillingly headbutt as he falls to the ground. The woman he gets coiled up like a caterpillar and knocks down with an elbow to the chin.

This is when the third, fourth and fifth criminals come charging out of the back room they were all playing cards in or something, and Aizawa finally comes to the conclusion that he might have bitten off more than he was wise to try and chew on this occasion.

Aizawa will freely admit that it took many long years – and still happens semi-regularly – of getting his ass kicked to become proficient at multi-person fights. This isn’t one of those times, thankfully. However, the three who rush him are enough of a handful to keep him too busy to have an eye on Shinsou in the interim.

One of the criminals has a speed-enhancing quirk, so Aizawa needs to keep him the focus of his gaze if he’s to keep up with his movement. The other keeps bending when Aizawa punches him and needs to be stared at for any strikes to land in an incapacitating fashion, and the last just hits like a fucking truck, even when Aizawa’s using his quirk. Even he has limitations, but being able to take three experienced fighters in hand-to-hand and come out on top is as essential a part of Aizawa’s ability as a hero as his quirk is. It’s over about as quickly as it starts, but not without a battering in the meantime.

After Aizawa’s taken care of the three he looks urgently back at the doorway where Shinsou first ducked into cover, spotting the outline of a large figure moving past the windows of the building-within-a-building; his gut drops accordingly. A few running paces and Aizawa’s leaping through the door after the last (hopefully) of the criminals, only to almost charge into the guy’s back as he stands dead still in the middle of the floor.

Shinsou is still bunched up against the wall as he was when Aizawa left, but there’s a new streak of blood that runs from his forehead up through the peaks of his hair, another smear that looks to wrap around the back of his neck. Must have forgot his hand was bloodied and reverted to nervous habits, most likely. Shinsou looks a little pale, but still in control as his gaze draws to Aizawa with caged worry.

The attacker is a huge man, a head-and-a-half above Aizawa at least, and the crowbar on the floor by his feet suggests he came in armed and ready to cause serious damage. Now he simply stands like a statue, eyes vacantly staring forward with just a hint of conscious panic in them as Aizawa paces around to the front.

With a single strike from his own bloodied fist, Aizawa throws an uppercut at the man’s chin and knocks him out, dropping like a sack of bricks tied to an anvil. From behind him, Aizawa hears a simple statement. Not justification, but the facts as they are. “It was self-defence.”

Aizawa pulls a couple of first aid packs from his belt and throws one at Shinsou; no more than dressing pads with adhesive straps, but they’ll do in the short term. It’s all anyone does – what they can, or need to, in the heat of the moment. Aizawa can’t deny or penalise someone for that. Especially not Shinsou.

So it’s with clear understanding, even compassion, that Aizawa replies, “I know.”

Chapter Text

Officer Tamakawa looks as if he’s lived through several of his nine lives in the past week. Aizawa feels for him. “I swear, Eraser. Do you get into things like this just to get collected by the police?”

“No, but good idea,” Aizawa replies from his position slowly melting onto the hood of Tamakawa’s car. Ostensibly leaning back against the bonnet as he talks to Tamakawa, Aizawa can feel himself tilting back ever so slightly more and more each moment, but does nothing to stop it. “You are gonna take us to the station, aren’t you?” Shinsou is getting checked out by a medic nearby. Luckily, it seems like the cut to his arm was pretty superficial. In all likelihood he’s probably going to reflect on this moment as his first bloodshed in the line of being a Hero. Something to be proud of – and why shouldn’t he?

When Tamakawa sighs, his ears drop a little, one of them twitching like a nervous tic brought about by fatigue. Aizawa’s not one to talk, but still wonders if Tama’s been getting enough sleep. Wonders why he’s here at all. Yamaguichi was off-duty when she took them to the prison a few hours ago. “Are you working a double shift?”

“Yeah.” Tamakawa gives another tired huff, whiskers flexing, and Aizawa feels a resonant pang of empathy-meets-concern. Tamakawa’s golden eyes fix on Aizawa, then close a little from each side in a truly feline narrow gaze. “Don’t look at me like that.” It’s always odd for Aizawa to be on the other side of this feeling – but he’s always had higher standards of acceptable living for other people than for himself.

“Wasn’t looking at you like anything,” Aizawa denies expertly. Tamakawa is no detective, but as a police officer with a truly feline sense of curiosity, there's no telling what he's dug up in the time Aizawa and Shinsou have been occupied with the mad doctor. “Work keeping you busy?” Aizawa probes innocently, and assumes Tamakawa can guess the rest from context.

“Always does.” Aizawa definitely feels that. “We should catch up.” Tamakawa turns over his shoulder to throw a quick glance at Shinsou standing with the medic nearby. “Grab your…” It's clear he hesitates for a moment, but it's only a moment, “–kid and let’s go.”

Aizawa scrapes himself off the hood of Tamakawa’s car like a wind-splattered insect and has already beckoned Shinsou over when he wonders if he ought to clarify that Shinsou isn't actually his son. Nonsense, he writes off before considering it any further. There’s no way anyone would think that… right?

Aizawa gets into the passenger seat, and a few moments later Shinsou slips wordlessly into the back. After a once-over, Aizawa updates his mental records on Shinsou and concludes that the boy looks tired too. It’s with a weird clarity Aizawa realises that he might be the most well-rested person in this car right now. Which is saying a lot. He’s a little roughed up from the fight in the warehouse, but nothing he isn’t used to. The bleeding on his palm has mostly stopped, if only because he’s taped it to all buggery.

Keeping himself alert behind the wheel, it’s not a minute before Tamakawa starts unwinding to Aizawa like a tightly wrapped spool of wire. “So I’ve been looking into the first victim’s workplace, and they won’t tell me who else they interviewed for his promotion, but I’ve been able to get the names of everyone who would’ve been eligible at that level of the company. Narrows it down to about thirty.”

“How many women in that group?” Aizawa asks to slice the numbers more in their favour.

“Hm… five or six?” Tamakawa recalls with a little effort. The gender imbalance is striking as usual, but certainly useful for narrowing down suspects on this occasion. As well as being the trigger Dr. Shinsou spoke of, it dawns on Aizawa. To be at a constant disadvantage, passed over by people in positions of power with no basis in merit or what’s good and fair. Aizawa can’t help but feel this killer gets angrier with every new victim. To miss a promotion, literally take out the competition, and still get nothing; except sexually assaulted on the train home.

Aizawa narrows it down a little further. “Anyone the given name Shiyoko?”

Shinsou interrupts before Tamakawa can even answer. “That won’t work.”

“Why not?” Aizawa prompts automatically, slipping into teacher-mode like a pair of worn boots.

“Didn’t you hear what the Doc said?” Shinsou states like it’s obvious. “If she’s hiding in plain sight, it probably means she’s not using her real name.”

That’s what he meant?” Aizawa hadn’t mulled Dr. Shinsou’s words over that closely yet, but it makes sense his son would be better at digesting this breadbasket than Aizawa is. With every passing moment, Aizawa comes to terms with how legitimately useful Shinsou is to have around on this case. Even when he gets caught in the crossfire and has to use his quirk with utter illegality but startling competence. Especially then.

“Jeez, old man, you could at least try to keep up,” Shinsou riffs, paying no mind to who hears the way they go on. Though this is a little more audacious than usual.

“Alright, smartass. Nobody likes a brat,” Aizawa delivers like a verbal cuff around the ear. “If her quirk isn’t registered and she’s using a fake name, what does that leave us with?”

Shinsou’s not the only one in this car Aizawa feels himself pruning like a bush that needs cutting to grow to its fullest potential. Because Tamakawa answers this one. “I checked the addresses of the women against the train station of the second death, and only one of them had any reason to be on that train at that time.”

“Sounds like we should pay her a visit,” Aizawa suggests, testing out Tamakawa’s flexibility like a plastic school ruler.

“Not without a warrant,” Tamakawa lays down the law. Like, literally. “That’s police information, I can’t just leak it to you.” Even if he already has with earlier evidence, Aizawa supposes he can’t begrudge a police officer for drawing the line somewhere.

So Aizawa teases more than he actually complains,  “I suppose that means we ought to speak with a Detective.” Too bad Tama isn’t one, he thinks not for the first time.

“Oh, Chief Tsuragamae wants to talk to you, did I forget to mention that?” Tamakawa surely knows he didn’t bring it up, and has been deliberate in waiting until now, when he’s got Aizawa trapped in a confined space, to spring it on him.

Aizawa resists the urge to talk about throwing the dog a bone and just sighs as he finds the lever on his chair and tilts himself back several degrees. Might as well enjoy this moment of peace while it lasts. “Of course he does.”

“Looks to me like you two have had a rather ruff day,” Police Chief Tsuragame must be trying to throw them off, Aizawa thinks as he sweats a little more than usual in his jumpsuit. This has to be a trap of some kind.

It's not that Aizawa is personally worried, but should the Police Chief decide to want to talk about why an unlicensed schoolkid who isn't even in the Hero Course has been using his brainwashing quirk on criminals, all the way up to the level of his mass-murderer father in maximum security prison they were just at – while also in the presence of a pro Hero who technically should have reported all of this – is something for Aizawa to get a little clammy over.

But maybe that's not it, so Aizawa keeps his poker face stiff and answers, “Not too bad, Chief. How are you?” It's a cheeky fliparound to deflect attention, and might not work, but there's no harm in trying.

Tsuragame answers, “Well, I'm tired of chasing Tamakawa around the station trying to divine what on earth he's working on.” The literal image scarpers through Aizawa's mind and he feels a twitch under one of his eyes from trying to hold his amusement below the surface. “So I believe it's high time to bring this out of the shadows: I hear you think you’re onto a serial killer.”

“Maybe not fully fledged, but potentially… yes,” Aizawa hesitantly confirms. “I already told Tsukauchi it was worth a detective looking into.”

“Tsukauchi is just one detective; I am the Chief of Police.”

Aizawa doesn't stir from his oil-spill slump over his chair. It'll take more than this to ruffle his feathers, and as long as they’re not talking about Shinsou’s involvement, this is a dance Aizawa’s done plenty of times before – the Translegal Tango. “I assumed he would pass on the message.” Evidently, Tsukauchi did pass it up the ranks, it just took a while to reach the right level – the top, in this case.

“When you're using police resources so liberally I should like to be aware of what you're doing with my men.” And women, Aizawa adds thinking of Yamaguichi, even Kuwabara and Dr. Iwaya. All that police resource that’s just been there, ready for Aizawa to make use of. Of course he helps himself when it’s a literal serve-yourself buffet.

Besides, if the police were more responsive to Aizawa’s cues, then he wouldn’t need to sit here explaining it after the fact; the persistent thought sits at the forefront of his mind. But process can’t or simply won’t be rushed. Unfortunately. “So assign the case to a detective, and I'll tell them everything.” Aizawa does dare to sigh. “Again.”

“Micromanaging one of my detectives isn't a solution to this problem, Eraser.” Chief Tsuragame is especially dogged in his approach today. Aizawa does not micromanage. “Let's start with you telling me what you know so far.”

“Three people have died in as many days.” Shinsou busts into the conversation full of impatience and a lack of respect for authority; Aizawa's almost proud of him, if only his timing were a little better. “All staged to look like suicide, but it's actually someone with a brainwashing quirk taking them out.”

Chief Tsuragame glances at Shinsou then across to Aizawa like he means to say, “Is this yours?” What he does say is, “And you are who exactly?”

“This is… Jack,” Aizawa puts in before Shinsou comes around to answering. “He’s helping me with my work.”

“You’ve actually accepted help?” Tsuragame remarks. “I’m impressed.” Aizawa resists the urge to fidget in his seat. “I assume he’s licensed.” The Chief makes it sound like he doesn’t assume this at all. First landmine, Aizawa thinks with a cagey sidewards glance at Shinsou.

“Not… yet,” Aizawa finds himself offering. It could be true, which makes it not a lie, technically. “I’m taking full responsibility for his actions in the field.”

“Never thought I’d see the day you take on an intern, Eraserhead.” There’s no denying that Tsuragame is an exceptional Police Chief, it’s just that Aizawa would rather avoid these kinds of grillings around his Hero work. For a teacher who is constantly assessing the ability of others, Aizawa’s always been utterly atrocious at allowing others to monitor what he’s doing.

“They say there’s a first time for everything.” This comes from Shinsou, who Aizawa suspects gets bolder and bolder the more he learns how unique his position with Aizawa really is. Boy better not get an ego – more of an ego – about it. “So unless you have any more questions, Police Chief, might we get back to the serial killer on the loose?”

There’s a chill in the way Shinsou says it that’s uncannily like… his father, Aizawa realises with a peculiar pang of recognition. Something not necessarily good or bad, but unstable enough to go either way and then be back again in time for breakfast.

The moment of stunned silence lands like a butterfly, holding itself still for a moment before taking off into the air again. This could go one of two ways, but thankfully it goes the one where Chief Tsuragame breaks into a woofy chuckle. “I see why Eraser’s taken you on, young man.” He folds his fingers together and leans over the desk. “So tell me about this killer of yours.”

Aizawa has resisted the urge as long as he can, but right after they come out of the Chief’s office, Tamakawa catches his eye across a hallway and mimes two fingers in a smoking motion in front of his mouth. With a single gesture, Aizawa’s willpower dissolves like alkaline in acid.

Managing to slip away from Shinsou without an overt reason behind the need for his temporary absence, Aizawa heads out the front door of the police station, then makes a beeline around the building for the alley. By the side-door he finds Tamakawa, a cigarette already lit in his mouth as he holds a half-empty pack out to Aizawa.

“So what did the Chief say?” Tamakawa wastes no time in pouncing, but Aizawa takes a lighter out of his belt and lights the cigarette he sets between his lips. Takes a nice long drag first, tipping his head back to blow the plume of smoke upwards before coming around to answer.

“Tsukauchi is going to ‘look into it’.” Aizawa attempts not to let this sound as dour as he feels about this result, but it’s not very successful. It’s natural that a whole organisation is slower than a single individual, and all the detectives have multiple cases to juggle. But if it isn’t frustrating to be paces ahead of them trying to hurry the horse-and-cart along before anyone else dies.

“That’s something.” Tamakawa hardly sounds thrilled either, and Aizawa wonders how things would differ if Tama made detective. In theory, Aizawa never consciously plays favourites, but in practice he tends to discover his attachments to individuals long after the bond has already formed. Hizashi, for one. Aizawa was bleeding out and full of broken glass in a gang hideout before he realised quite how important his best friend was to him. The person he wanted one last word with before he died. Still does.

Aizawa drags on his cigarette again and lets the nicotine rush push back his residual frustration with how slowly things are moving. He’s doing everything he can, which is all he can do, and that has to be enough. Even if it doesn’t feel like it. “Just about.”

“Cheer up, Eraser. We’ve been trying to break that smuggling ring you stumbled onto for months.” Tama’s trying to be uplifting, but he’s faking it and looks like he’s due several consecutive catnaps. “If you were an officer, you’d probably get a commendation.”

Aizawa shrugs and pulls again. Accolades don’t mean anything to him and never have. He just wants criminals stopped in their tracks. Let everyone else have the credit, and he’ll take the satisfaction of a job well done.

At the end of a silent-but-comfortable pause in their smoke break, Tamakawa starts more conversationally than most people would give him credit for. “So about your kid.”

Aizawa is about to jump in with “he's not my actual kid” when the side-door opens and the brat in question steps out with a smug mile-wide grin. As if he's the teacher who just caught his students smoking behind the gym. “I knew it.”

Aizawa takes a vindictive pull on his cigarette and says, “Yeah yeah, you got us,” on the exhale. “What?”

Shinsou looks a little assaulted by this inquiry. “Nothing. I just didn’t want to wait for you alone in a police station,” Hitoshi explains sheepishly as as he slips out the fire-escape door, letting it swing almost-shut and bounce off a well-worn wedge behind him. Aizawa feels a little guiltier, if not quite guilty enough to actually put out his cigarette.

“Say, kid, I was about to ask,” Tamakawa picks up after his latest puff on his own machine-rolled health hazard; Aizawa’s not a wholly positive influence, he accepts that. But nobody’s perfect, and vices that are good for you aren’t really vices. “What’s your quirk?”

For a moment, Aizawa could swear he hears pure white noise. An insane deafening blare that makes no sound and literally pauses his ability to think for a moment. It seems to be centred around Shinsou, but when Aizawa’s actually able to try and think about what it was, the moment’s already passed. He’s stuck trying to remember something that wasn’t even there in the first place.

“Nothing,” Shinsou says with a voice that’s pure control. There’s no way Shinsou could have, or would have, used his quirk on Tamakawa. But even if he’s not using his quirk, a naturally commanding tone can be just as effective in some settings. “I’m quirkless.”

“Really? Then you must be pretty special for Eraser to take you on.” Pretty suspicious, Aizawa corrects icily in his head. Here’s something he didn’t expect having to deal with. After being ‘busted’ by Shinsou for sneaking off with Tamakawa, now he needs to sneak off with Shinsou. Perhaps that’s exactly what the too-smart brat wants.

“What can I say?” Shinsou has a vindictive little twist at the corner of his mouth when Aizawa meets his gaze. Like he knows exactly what he’s doing, and relishes doing it. “I’m a special guy.”

The conversation starts with the subtlety of a breezeblock swinging on the end of the chain. “So. Quirkless, huh?”

They’re at the school gates, dropped off out back of UA by a weary Tamakawa who’s simultaneously at the end of his shift and wits. Aizawa can finally broach the subject with Shinsou that’s been burning on his tongue like a cigarette almost burned to the stub.

“People talk,” is Shinsou’s weary answer. It’s late enough to be well past dinner, but Aizawa’s never been one for adhering to much of a routine. The boy should eat, though, and Lunch Rush has promised that he’ll always have a hot meal ready for Aizawa at any hour of the day or night. So in spite of it being quite clearly going-home time, it’s towards the canteen they both walk in stilted chunks of awkward conversation and stony silence.

“Tamakawa can be trusted.”

“By you.” Shinsou’s unwavering on this point. “Not me.” Aizawa remembers the shock of white-noise mental energy – that’s what he thinks it was, now – that Tamakawa’s question had generated. A defence mechanism maybe? If Shinsou’s even aware that he did it. If he did do it.

“Not yet,” Aizawa amends in his finest 'teacher does know best' tone of voice. Shinsou rolls his eyes and tries to move his arm then stops himself. The medic said the cut wasn’t deep, barely a quarter of an inch. He’ll just need to go easy on it in training.

“No matter who they are, people always talk about my quirk,” Shinsou clarifies with all the gravity the subject matter calls for. “I don’t want the police knowing about me.”

“Yeah.” Aizawa softly chuckles, more of an engine that tries to start and fails to get going. “That makes two of us.”

Shinsou fires Aizawa a doleful look, and they walk a little further in electric power-line tight tension, cruising quietly until the next break into conversation. “Back there, you said I wasn’t licensed yet,” Shinsou picks like a thread he’s had his eye on for a while.

“So you better pass the provisional license exam.”

The hope in Shinsou’s voice is like embers under a blanket of ash. Just a breath and they’ll light. “I’m allowed to take it?”

“If you’re there, and show them you have what it takes to be a hero, there’s no way they'd be able to refuse you,” Aizawa speaks from the more animated, fist-banging-on-the-table angrier section of his gut. “I’ll make sure you’re there. You have to do the rest.”

“With your help.” Shinsou doesn’t say this with insecurity, like he’s looking for validation. He says it like he knows damn well that Aizawa’s fully committed to helping him and just doesn’t want to admit it.

“Until you wear out my patience.” Aizawa lifts his arm and looks at the back of his wrist as if he’d have a watch on it. “Which will be any minute now, if you keep this gloating up.”

“Alright, teach,” Shinsou chuckles, but not sincerely. “I get it, you’re an ego-crusher.” They take a few more steps in the echoing arena of an empty school playground. “You know, I’m actually kinda glad you’re not my real teacher.”

“You couldn’t hack it,” Aizawa baits, inviting Shinsou in the best possible way: come and prove me wrong. Show me how much better you are.

“Maybe you couldn’t,” Shinsou suggests with a far too crafty air. Yet again, Aizawa visits the notion that he does not want this little mentalist provocateur in his damn classroom. Let Vlad have him.

“Maybe we’ll find out one day,” Aizawa concedes with a shrug. “Until then, you need to go easy on your injury, but that doesn’t mean you can drop physical training altogether. Especially not if you expect to take the provisional license exam next term. Keep up that 5k run every morning. Aim to get it under 30 minutes.”

“Eugghhh, you really don’t let up, do you?” Shinsou groans worse than when he’d had his arm cut open by a crazy trafficker earlier this day, worse than before meeting his mass-murderer father. It occurs to Aizawa that this teen could be quite accurately described as fucking lazy, at least with regards to physical training.

“Heroes don't let up,” Aizawa brings back around. “Amateurs quit when they're tired.”

“Guess that explains why you always look like that.”

Aizawa doesn't do this kind of thing often, but when he does it's always on impulse he's got no more say over than asking the wind not to blow. He reaches across the buffer of space between him and Shinsou, walking parallel to each other like a set of rails, and gives him a (friendly) shove. “You're one to talk, brat.”

Shinsou starts a laugh, but settles fast like gravel stirred up from a riverbed. “Aizawa… thank you.” He hesitates a moment before specifying. “For the opportunity. For taking a chance on me.”

“A chance?” Aizawa quotes back, and he's never been much good for mushy moments. “I can count three you made me take on you today.” Allowing Shinsou to lie to a police officer (1), not questioning his need to use his quirk in self-defence (2), and perhaps most notably, arranging to meet Dr. Shinsou and picking a mass-murderer’s mind for case details together (3).

Shinsou sniggers and it sticks this time. “Fine. For taking as many chances on me as you do.”

“Then don't let me down,” Aizawa replies. Shinsou hasn't yet, but that's no reason to let him get comfortable. They reach the cafeteria, and Aizawa knocks on the shutter. “Yo, Rush. Can I have two of those emergency bentos you promised?” Aizawa glances at Shinsou and thinks about where he’s going back to, what he knows about the kid so far. Not much, but some. “Make it three, and to go,” he adds as the shutter rolls up.

Lunch Rush bobs his head wearily, but still gives a thumbs up. Another workaholic: always in the kitchen coming up with some wild new dish, even after hours. Aizawa’s had more 4:00 a.m. breakfast-dinners with Lunch Rush than either of them would likely care to count. They sit in complete silence, which gives Rush the honour of being the faculty member Aizawa has spent the most time with and knows the least about – therefore his favourite. After Hizashi.

Shinsou ribs, “Did you miss lunch or something?” Aizawa tries to remember if he did, but draws a blank.

“For your mother. You said she works, right?” Aizawa returns, and Shinsou looks so mollified by it that he could even be said to have blushed a little. Trust a teenage son not to think of something like that.

“... Yeah. Thanks.”

“Thank Lunch Rush, not me.” Aizawa knocks his knuckles idly on the counter as he leans against it, eyeing the matching cuts where the double-edged dagger he grabbed sliced his palm in perfect symmetry. It’s going to be annoying for a few days; he could ask Recovery Girl to heal him, but the lecture he’ll have to endure might be more burdensome. Aizawa can repair himself the old-fashioned way.

“Thank you,” Shinsou repeats more politely to Lunch-Rush, who gives a completely identical thumbs up.

Aizawa's phone rings embarrassingly into another comfortable lapse back into silence. It's hard to tell, but Lunch Rush’s shoulders shake as if in silent laughter. The novelty seems to have worn off for Shinsou, who just looks like he might fall asleep standing up if he’s left unattended for too long. Aizawa answers.

“Shoooooootaaaaaa,” Hizashi drawls in the way he loves to maximise the use of. “Where are you?” After almost a decade calling each other Aizawa and Yamada, the transition into using given names had been like a duck to water – for Hizashi. For Aizawa, it was more like a just-hatched duckling wearing swim-fins and a snorkel set. Sometimes, he’ll still spit out a “ goddammit, Yamada!” when he's yelling, and Hizashi will get all upset and distracted from whatever they were fighting about. Works like a charm every time.

“I just got back to school.”

“I hate to break it to you, babe, but school doesn’t start for another eleven hours. Try coming home.”

“I have a lot of work to do.” Knock-on effect of spending all the time most teachers spend grading and planning lessons talking to deranged doctors and fighting crime: Aizawa spends time catching up on work while other teachers use that time to have lives.

“That ain’t my problem, honey.” Hizashi sounds like he’s on speakerphone, and is periodically bashing pots and pans together. Attempting to cook, most likely. Aizawa’s safer where he is.

In spite of it not having been all that long since Aizawa was home, he feels the roosting urge to return much stronger than usual. It's been a weird day, but rather than staying away from his sanctuary, Aizawa wants to crawl into it and curl up in the fetal position. Funny how that works. “I’ll be back later.”

“So, I should expect to find you asleep under your desk in the staff room tomorrow morning?”

“Usually, yes, but I mean it this time,” Aizawa insists.

“Why? What's different?”

A picture flashes into Aizawa's mind: Shinsou slamming his hand against the glass of his father's cell and yelling “you never loved her!” while Dr. Shinsou smiles like he's watching the boy's first steps. “Nothing,” Aizawa as good as lies, needing to appendix it with, “I'll tell you later.” Aizawa isn't good at telling people he needs them. But Hizashi understands that more than anyone else.

“Alright, Shota.” There's an important gravity in his tone that says ‘I get it’ far more than his casual, “See you later,” would suggest.


With impeccable timing, Lunch Rush sets a stack of three bentos on the counter, nods, and then gives Aizawa another emphatic thumbs up. A double-thumbs up.

Aizawa takes the first off the top and announces, “Alright, kid. You're on your own.”

“Just like that?” Shinsou sounds like he's been conned. “Not even a bye or goodnight?”

“Bye. Goodnight.” Aizawa only just remembers not to tuck the bento under his arm like a book and holds it flat, picking up a capped styrofoam cup of miso soup with it. “Try not to get in any trouble on the way.”

“Should be easy without you around,” Shinsou retorts, but the lively cynicism falls flat when he breaks into a yawn. Aizawa wonders how far from home the boy lives and if he’ll stay awake on the train home. Lunch Rush bags the couple of hot dinners for Shinsou and passes them over with a solemn nod that the boy returns.

When he turns his gaze back to Aizawa, Shinsou wears an expression that could be mistaken for a mirror. Aizawa could peer into those violet-bagged eyes and be eye-to-eye with himself, fifteen years in the past. Looking for Heroes in a world of villains.

Shinsou’s hand lifts and he waves gangly-long fingers before he turns away, a puppy with paws slightly too big for itself. “G’night, teach.”

With a smile on his face shielded behind the heaped coils of his capture weapon, Aizawa waves first and realises he’s done it later, as though the thought didn’t come from his own mind.

Eating bites of Lunch Rush’s bento in-between marking write-ups of his actual student’s exercises in Hero class, Aizawa has a running itch of a thought. Just how many leagues away are these exercises, designed to test the ability of twenty-odd kids in a fully artificial environment, from being cornered in a warehouse by more armed traffickers than Aizawa had originally anticipated?

As he reads through every page of analysis – or five in Midoriya’s case – Aizawa finds himself considering what each student would have been like in the situations he’s been through with Shinsou in the past couple of days. Who would have fared better, or (more likely) worse?

Aizawa could try to apply the same rules to Shinsou as he does to his day students’ homework, but reality is a simple pass/fail – with a little room for notes. There would be no point in grading or having Shinsou write up what they’ve been up to. Not when it can be broken apart in the quiet moments among all the other things happening. And besides, no one wants a paper trail.

Aizawa doesn’t have time for one-to-one pep-talks with every kid in his normal class, but the night-class of one has no contest on his attention – apart from the criminals they’re dealing with. Without meaning to think it, a kind of unconscious shuffle in Aizawa’s head sets Shinsou aside because he’s obviously different from all Aizawa’s other students. Just for a moment, Aizawa feels glad things are the way they are. Like everyone is in the place they’re meant to be.

Sort of, Aizawa amends with a glance around the wonderfully peaceful teacher’s lounge, emptied of the nuisances he calls colleagues.

Aizawa’s phone doesn’t ring. He doesn’t even get a message. Long enough passes that he’s conscious of the fact that it hasn’t gone off. If Hizashi isn’t pestering Aizawa, he’s either found a suitably engaging way to occupy himself or he’s asleep. In Aizawa’s experience, the odds are about 50-50 each way.

So it’s Aizawa’s lack of patience for reading any more laborious over-descriptions of the same damn exercise that gives out in the end. He leaves the homework but picks up a wad of school-something-related paperwork and unopened mail that he’s seriously got to go through, and just goes home like an almost-normal person.

Knowing that half an hour’s free run is about as far as Aizawa is willing to go before giving up and sleeping in his bag, Hizashi was sure to find them an apartment Aizawa can usually be bothered going back to. If he’s not up to the run or simply too far away to make it worthwhile, Aizawa still sleeps wherever he damn well pleases – and is almost never disturbed. Whereas at home, Hizashi is sure to disturb him almost endlessly, if in a good way.

There’s an inevitable amount of glorious time-wasting when he and Hizashi are together outside work. The slowing-down moments of just living their lives around each other, trying to keep some semblance of synchronicity; Aizawa tends to slip in and out of rhythm with Hizashi’s own, regular snare-drum tempo.

When Aizawa gets home the lights are on, but Hizashi isn’t around – at least, not in the main room or bedroom where Aizawa might expect to find him. Narrowing it down to one location – also the only place Hizashi wouldn’t hear Aizawa coming home – Aizawa makes his way across the apartment until he gets to the studio.

Now, it’s worth remembering that Hizashi spent an indefinite amount of time picking out and fitting-out this place before Aizawa ever got close to it. Which means Hizashi’s home-studio might as well be called the grown music-man toybox; Hizashi does his radio show from here, as well as endless tinkering with instruments that only occasionally results in an album. How Hizashi keeps up so many hobbies amazes Aizawa. So when he comes into the studio and catches Hizashi behind the mic, he doesn’t dare to interrupt.

Aizawa waits for the song Hizashi’s singing – English, and therefore incomprehensible to him – to finish. By which point, Hizashi’s wearing a grin bright as a chest full of diamonds behind the soundproof glass. Taking off his headphones, he pops straight out of the insulated sound booth, a custom-built cubicle Hizashi had built at one end of the expansive studio that Aizawa’s pretty sure takes up at least one-third of this apartment’s floorplan. Not that Aizawa needs the space for anything anyway. His possessions all fit in the broom cupboard – just about, if you prop the door shut. He did it once, to prove a point, and won’t hesitate to bring it up if Hizashi is sniffy about Aizawa's things being in the so-called “wrong place” again.

“You waited for me to finish,” Hizashi purrs like he’s impressed. “You never do that.”

“I do so.” Aizawa receives Hizashi in his arms simply by lifting them, holding himself out like a scarecrow to be hugged, waiting slightly impatiently for Hizashi to wriggle his way into the sweet spot of being fully entwined with Aizawa, before dropping his arms to complete the hug. Hizashi’s just the right height for Aizawa to try and hang himself from like a wet towel on a towel rack – blanket mode, Hizashi calls it.

But Aizawa’s only ever been like this around Hizashi, some soporific effect of Hizashi’s proximity that always sets Aizawa at ease. Actually being relaxed when he sleeps has been an almost Hizashi-exclusive experience for Aizawa, running many years longer than they’ve actually been together.

“Hard day at the office, dear?” Hizashi teases, then draws a sharp breath as Aizawa scrapes his bristles clumsily across Hizashi’s bare neck – uncovered when he’s at home. Hizashi’s tattooed all the way around his throat with the opening bars of his first single. He'd almost crushed Aizawa's hand having that bit of ink done.

More invested in forming himself around Hizashi like plaster taking a cast of a sculpture, Aizawa just murmurs, “You don’t know the half of it.”

Chapter Text

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.”

Chapter Text

Aizawa’s phone gets a few notes into its most absurd ringtone before he jumps down from the wall he’s running along and picks up a second before the chorus that makes it so damn recognisable kicks in. Hizashi’s choice of song is effective at getting Aizawa to answer quickly, if nothing else.

“Shotaaaaaaa, where did you go?”

“Work, idiot.” Aizawa makes the words much fonder than the title would otherwise indicate, slowing to a walk on the flat, gravelled rooftop across a long strip of offices. “Where are you?”

“... Work. But it’s boring.”

Aizawa feels himself smile, but there's no one around except Shinsou to see – if he can tell past the coils of Aizawa’s capture weapon and the bad lighting. “Why?”

“They just don’t make ‘em like they used to! I can hardly get a ‘Hey Ya’ out before the baddies’re dropping like cooked noodles.”

Aizawa suggests with a wry smile, “Maybe you’re getting stronger.” Hizashi is; he just doesn’t have the measure for it.

“Yeah, but I expect the forces of villainy to keep up.”

This is a little more solemn. “They will.” They are, if Aizawa’s work is any indication.

“Maybe I’ll come crash your party. You pick up trouble like a magnet.”

“Negative.” Aizawa glances at Shinsou next to him – two compartments of his bento-box life that aren’t ready to go together. “I’m with… someone.”

“The kid, right?” Hizashi has always known Aizawa too well to need much in the way of guesswork.


“I thought you told me you didn’t want a family.”

This is meant as a joke, but it catches Aizawa like an uppercut to the chin. “I don’t… that’s not-”

“I’m yanking your chain, baby! Chill.” Aizawa’s heartrate drops again, only to shoot back up when Hizashi adds, “You’re pretty sold on him, aren’t ‘cha?”

Shinsou’s right there but doesn’t necessarily know he’s the subject of discussion. Better if he doesn’t – no further ego boosts needed there. “Guilty.”

“Don’t feel bad about it! You’re doing a good thing.”

Aizawa glances at Shinsou again, who meets his gaze this time. A knowing lift to one of Shinsou’s eyebrows makes a suggestion that doesn’t need putting into words – so much for not knowing Aizawa was talking about him. “I hope so.”

“Hey! Hold it right there!” Hizashi’s shout charges through one of Aizawa’s ears and out the other like a freight train, and he knows instinctively it’s not for him. “Gotta go, babe! YEAAAAAAA–” The phone cuts out before Aizawa’s speaker explodes with the volume, and Aizawa clips it back onto his belt. He’s lost more phones than he can count after Hizashi blew the mic out with his ineffable loudness – he’s got a sponsorship deal that means he’ll always replace them with a top-of-the-line model. Aizawa’s half-convinced that’s why he does it; some contractual clause he has fulfils by frying as many of their competitors’ models each year as he can.

“Your missus getting jealous or something?” Shinsou’s teasing, or he damn-well better be.

“Not likely,” Aizawa replies, cards so close to his chest they’d show up on a scan of his lungs. He’s not in the business of correcting people on mistakes in their assumptions about his personal life. The more wrong assumptions the better, really – keeps them away from the truth.

Shinsou is learning hard and fast about the flex in his boundaries with Aizawa. Almost too well for his own good, because he changes the subject at just the right time. “So that psych lady was pretty spooked.”

“You had quite the impact on her.”

“I usually do,” Shinsou says with no love. “Everyone usually wants a piece of the grand lunatic’s legacy.”

“Except Iwaya.”

“Seems like she’s had enough of him already,” Shinsou comments. “Figures.”

Aizawa senses something under the surface, a serpent beneath the waves that Shinsou knows but doesn’t want to speak its name. “Why?”

With just a small prompt, a sign of progress if Aizawa’s ever seen one, Shinsou drags the monster into the light. “Dad always liked the cool beauties.” There’s neither joy nor anger in the way he says this; it’s just a statement of fact. An unpleasant note on Dr. Shinsou’s file. “Poor Dr. Iwaya’s right up his alley.”

It’s another step closer, but Aizawa decides to hazard it. “What about your mother?”

“What about her?” Shinsou acts like he doesn’t know, but Aizawa reckons he does. They just have to dance around a little first.

“Iwaya told me she also used to be his research assistant.” Thought not at the same time as Hitoshi’s mother was, one might assume.

“Oh, didn’t you know?” Shinsou’s words could be shards of broken glass he finds in his mouth, spitting each bloody piece on the floor with an exorcising satisfaction. “That was his MO, to borrow the lingo.”

“I didn’t know,” Aizawa admits freely. Making someone feel powerful through their possession of information is a sure way to get more of it. “He had a pattern?”

“Dear old dad never worried about abusing his authority when he picked his assistants,” Shinsou draws out like he’s pulling a length of barbed wire out from between his ribs, but he does tell. Aizawa knows he wouldn’t have gotten this much honesty before now. “He was such a big name in the field, you’d be crazy to turn him down.” Crazy to take it, too. But Aizawa doesn’t imagine Dr. Shinsou as a man who tolerated rejection. “Too bad he only offered the spot to beautiful girls who let him… anyway.” There’s always a limit, and Shinsou reads like a book that’s about to close. Shoulders high, neck craned down. He looks even more tired than usual. “That’s how I came along.”

“Your mother told you all this?”

“She never kept secrets from me,” he replies just as quickly. “If I asked about my dad she gave me an honest answer.” He’s a touch bitter when he adds, “Too honest, probably. I stopped asking.”

“So why your mother?” Aizawa probes, and Shinsou’s gaze goes out to him like a mayday signal. Aizawa wants to help – he just has to know how to do it. “What set her apart from the others, if they married and had—” You, Aizawa finishes in thought; something incredible, brought about by stormy circumstance.

“She got pregnant.” Shinsou shrugs. “He wanted an heir. A legitimate one.” Shinsou’s cheek moves, like he’s still swilling around that mouthful of broken glass, picking out the next piece to spit with the tip of his tongue. “Didn’t stop him taking on more assistants… not that it came to anything.”

“You mean no more children?” Legitimate or otherwise, by the sounds of it.

“If there were I wouldn’t know,” Shinsou admits morosely. “None like me, that’s for sure.”

“Because of your quirk.” Aizawa fits the next piece of the puzzle in.

“Right.” Like confessing the crime of the century, Shinsou remarks, “I was everything he ever wanted.” His gaze flicks sideways at Aizawa, a couple of violet marbles along a chute in a dark tunnel surrounded by neon lights, like they’re inside a grand-scale pinball machine. Shinsou pulls back the plunger and lets go, bouncing wildly from surface to surface as he shoots for the next high score. “There’s a paper all about it, you know.”

“About what?”

Shinsou scoffs. Not in a friendly way, but Aizawa isn’t the target of his vitriol, so he’ll take it without complaint. “Me.”

“You said you weren’t part of his research.”

“I said I never wanted to be part of it,” Shinsou corrects. “I didn’t get a choice at first." Aizawa and Shinsou are walking along an indiscriminate rooftop in the death-throes of dusk, but at this Aizawa skips a solid step, stalling for a moment as the implications of Shinsou’s revelation go down like a mouthful of poison. Just before Aizawa’s sick to his stomach, Shinsou book-ends, "But Ma realised something was wrong soon enough.”

Relieved in ways he can’t explain, Aizawa doesn’t quite sigh. “So she left him.”

“Too fucking right,” Shinsou affirms. “He was furious. She took her maiden name back, practically got a restraining order to keep him away from us. We almost left the country at one point.”

“Why didn’t you?”

“The massacre happened.” Shinsou’s distaste is obvious: a ‘keep up, old man’ if Aizawa ever heard one. “No need for a restraining order when he’s in prison for life, right?”

A sudden chill sweeps Aizawa. He’s no fan of the death penalty, at least not on principle, and it’s admittedly been convenient having the Doctor still… well, alive. But it’s impermanent, only as strong as the walls that hold him. Death is final, but confinement can come to an end.

Aizawa launches himself across a gap between the office block and the next building, which is a little farther and higher than he’s been making Shinsou jump. A soft rush of air followed by a scuffle as Aizawa lands, rolling and remaining crouched in wait for Shinsou to follow.

Without hesitation, Shinsou flies through the air, a shape cut out of darkness backlit by the hazy night sky. There’s more confidence in his pose than Aizawa saw even days ago. Shinsou sticks the landing, rolling forward over his shoulder and bouncing back up with the rubbery vigor of youth. Aizawa stands as Shinsou does and with all the sincerity in the world says, “We’ll have to hope so.”

An hour’s odd patrol and parkour-training later, they’re getting closer to Shinsou's neighbourhood, and Aizawa has a mind on the rest of his night. He likes this kid, but Aizawa has to have a life outside him.

Not that Shinsou’s happy about it. A sullen accusation takes the form of, “You’re going to keep working the case without me.”

Aizawa’s unimpressed. “I’m a Hero, not a babysitter.”

However, Shinsou’s got almost too good a handle on his off-the-books teacher because his next response is, “You still need to eat.”

Like he’s the contrary teenager between the two of them, Aizawa semi-sullenly responds, “So do you.”

“Exactly.” From their current strip of rooftop, Shinsou turns to watch a few people coming out of a nearby restaurant, then back to Aizawa with a look that needs no explanation. No prizes for guessing what the puppy at the table with begging eyes is after.

“… Fine.” Aizawa’s probed Shinsou on some of the more difficult parts of his past – and his father’s, more importantly – and the kid played ball. There’s no harm in a little return of favours. It’s a small gesture, easy to make, and means far more than the sum cost of the effort it takes. Plus, it’s true: Aizawa does (technically) need to eat. “Dinner, then home.” For Shinsou of course. Aizawa’s fully charged on two good nights’ sleep and is ready to go for miles.

“You’re the boss.” Shinsou sounds like he knows damn well it isn’t true.

They choose a streetside ramen place with no other customers; Aizawa pays for them both and sends another portion home with Shinsou for his mother. He talks a bit about the history of underground Heroes – a (no surprises there) little-known subject Aizawa never gets to teach as much as he’d like. The sole bastion of a noble profession that remains untainted by the catastrophic collision of celebrity and Heroism in the mainstream media. Less of a lesson, more of a rant.

“What are you gonna do now?” Shinsou asks just before they part ways at the end of what must be his street. It’s a dull suburb lined with apartment blocks, suitably anonymous for any family trying to keep a low profile. Unremarkable is a positive, where Shinsou's come from.

“Background research.” That’s what Aizawa calls it, at least. Night Goblining is Hizashi’s terminology. And the list of things that he seems to think Aizawa does at night grows ever longer and wilder. The last one was something like ‘watching arthouse films in reverse to check them for subliminal messages’. Aizawa tried to explain the film was supposed to be like that, but it’s a lost cause when Hizashi has something he wants to think.

“Well, good luck.” Shinsou bids as Aizawa lifts up his goggles. He likes this kid, but the dawn of a long, silent night going solo is a prospect to be relished. He’s always rested easier when the only life that depends on his actions is his own.

Aizawa has never been exceptional at being comfortable around other people. So as comfortable as he is with Shinsou personally, the eagle-eye that watches for danger can’t switch off if he’s around. “Heroes don’t need luck.”

“That was corny, teach,” Shinsou groans. “Even for you.”

Aizawa’s cutting retort (not) is simply, “Go home to your mother, brat.”

“Yeah yeah, I’m going.” He starts waking, waving with his back to Aizawa. “See ya tomorrow.”

Aizawa waves back, and then leads the motion into a grab for a piece of his capture weapon; so by the time Shinsou’s taken a few steps and stops to look over his shoulder, the shadowy figure of the Erasure Hero is gone.

The first order of business is that Aizawa finds a convenience store and buys five tins of cat food and a pack of cigarettes – he’s convinced Hizashi’s pinched his last pack – and then goes on a three-hour surveillance trek across the city. He uses three tins of the cat food. On cats, obviously. People are far less suspicious of a man they assume to be homeless feeding stray cats in suspicious places than they are of one who isn’t feeding cats. And the cats like it too.

Finding nothing unremarkable in the course of his journey, Aizawa ends up at his destination ahead of schedule: a library with an extensive catalogue of newspapers and online archives. He has to slip the security, who close the place up about half an hour after he arrives – to be expected – and spends an indeterminate amount of time combing every article in the past twenty years about Dr. Shinsou.

From the highs to the lows, Dr. Shinsou is a man with a career of wild extremes. Even before he compelled a class of his most devout students to commit mass suicide then self-published an academic paper about it the next morning. Hell of a confession to read out in court. “Primal impulse control in humans, or Freedom from Life” he titled the piece. Aizawa doesn’t read further than that. But he does read that they had to dismiss the first Judge as unfit, after he ruled not guilty for the majority of the murder charges – swayed by Dr. Shinsou’s philosophical ‘justification’ of his experiment, which argued the loss of life for the two-dozen people who drank a poison cocktail under his control was ‘voluntary’ and by answering the Doc’s fatal question they had merely committed an ‘elaborate form of suicide’, for which the Professor of Mentalism could not be held accountable.

However, the first five police officers who came to arrest Dr. Shinsou were all unwilling victims, so there was no arguing with how voluntary that was. Under the control of the Doc’s quirk, two were shot by their colleague, who turned then turned the gun on himself. The next slit his throat – with a scalpel handed to him by Dr. Shinsou, no doubt. The final one gutted himself and wrote on the walls of Dr. Shinsou’s study in his own blood – it doesn’t say what he wrote in any of the media. Though Aizawa supposes, with a revulsed chill, they could always ask the Doc, who apparently sat through the whole scene calmly ‘taking notes’. Eventually, they sent in a full SWAT team with noise-cancelling tech to take him out. There’s a full-page picture from the day they wheeled Dr. Shinsou into court and sentenced him to life in prison, a gag-mask covering the lower half of his face like something out of a well-known horror movie.

Pre-massacre news alternates between hailing Dr. Shinsou as a saviour to those with mentalist quirks, to a dangerous force whose research poses a threat to the very fabric of society. The answer’s surely both, but journalism makes even greater extremes out of it than reality. From Japan’s Hannibal to The Father of Modern Quirk Psychiatry, reports of Dr. Shinsou are a bizarre dimension Aizawa slips into between the hours of 11:00 p.m. and 2:00 a.m.

Aizawa also finds the article Shinsou spoke of – the one about himself. A description of a botched study, heavy with vindictive undertones about the research being insufficient to draw conclusions on how powerful Shinsou’s quirk really is. Enough to make Aizawa glad the Doc is in prison but sorry they didn’t execute the bastard. Dr. Shinsou had a strict methodology for assessing the strength of mentalist quirks: both the duration and intensity of control the wielders had over subjects. The things they could make a person do before the test-subject’s quirk – or the victim’s instincts for self-preservation – gave out. Shinsou Hitoshi comes up as an ‘exceptional specimen’, who at the age of five could make a man hold his breath until he passed out. Aizawa feels his teeth clenching as he realises the kind of ‘research’ Shinsou’s father made him party to. Too fucking right his mother left the Doc.

Unable to stomach anymore and practically gagging for a cigarette, Aizawa leaves through the roof and perches on one corner of the library, a lone beacon of smoke. He waits there for a while, crouched elbows-to-knees, keeping a watch on the area to make sure no one gets in through his way out. Does a bit of grading. Considers he should really send the library a note about their security… as soon as he doesn’t need the all-hours access.

From there, Aizawa heads home, which by foot is only a journey of about three hours. He breaks up a mugging on the way, and (separate occasion) uses the remaining tins of cat food. This means he gets back a little after five, making it half an hour’s cuddling and about an hour of sleep before Hizashi gets up in the morning. Aizawa lets him go, remaining in bed for another hour or so, until Hizashi’s practically got his keys in the ignition before dragging himself up.

“Why do you do this to yourself?” Hizashi‘s got a perma-on-the-brink-of-cracking-up grin, the top of his hair just brushing the roof of the car. Aizawa’s sure it’s calculated to the millimetre to fit without bending.

“Not enough hours in the day.” Aizawa cranks his seat back, slinging his hand across the gap to rest on Hizashi’s thigh in a loose grip, and shuts his eyes to the sound of Hizashi’s laughter. “Wake me up when we get there.”

“You asked for it.” Hizashi drops a hand from the wheel to rest over Aizawa’s for a moment, a comfortable grasp that has unconsciousness pulling him under like a riptide dragging a sinner to hell. Back into the soothing darkness.

Aizawa’s next aware of the dulcet tones of his life partner bellowing a showtune that just seems to go “I LOVE YOU BABY” repeatedly until Aizawa tries to punch him.

It’s another cup of coffee and a quick doze into his hand in the teacher’s lounge before homeroom. Unfortunately, with no class of his own to coddle like an overprotective hen, Toshinori has nothing better to do  than make a beeline straight for Aizawa before they all scatter for the day. “Aizawa… I was wondering if we might—”

“If it’s about what happened at the police station yesterday,” Aizawa cuts in before this can go any further, “I don’t want to talk about it.”

“That's fine,” Toshinori rushes out just as hurriedly, only to counterproductively keep talking. “I just wanted to, well, thank you, I suppose.”

Aizawa’s not expecting that, and his don’t-wanna-deal-with-this guard drops. “For what?”

“Whatever it is you're doing to help that young man. His name’s Shinsou, isn’t it?” If Toshinori knows about Shinsou Senior, his tone doesn’t show it. Toshi’s more caught up in his own pensive musing, worry deepening every harrowed line in his angular hard-worn face. “I must admit, I rooted for Midoriya at their match at the sports festival, but—”

“I didn't.” Aizawa interrupts just to throw Toshi for a loop, if he’s honest. “If Midoriya had lost that round, he never would have injured himself like he did when he fought Todoroki.” The scenario has played again through Aizawa’s head, more and more since he’s been trailing Shinsou around like a – okay, he admits it – an intern. His intern.

Because anyone who thinks that Shinsou’s quirk – applied to the pursuit of being a hero – is anything but one of the gamechangers of their generation must be out of their mind. So Aizawa takes it a little further, just for the hell of throwing it at Toshi like a handful of sand in a playground pit. “Shinsou would have won without hurting himself or his opponent.” Instead of hurting himself, breaking his own bones, in order to land a hit. If Shinsou had won, then the faculty would’ve suffered the humiliating defeat of declaring a General Studies student they rejected the victor, making mockery all their so-called would-be Heroes. They’d have had to transfer him then. Shinsou knew it then like Aizawa knows it now.

Toshinori always seems a little surprised by Aizawa’s standoffish attitude, like a big lanky dog that just can’t understand why not everyone wants him to jump up on them all the time. Or why Aizawa doesn’t want anyone talking to him in the mornings.

Too bad other people get the hint, while Toshinori takes long comfortable strides alongside Aizawa. “... You may be right,” he muses, while Aizawa just hopes he can shake this tagalong off before he gets to his classroom. “If Midoriya had lost, Young Shinsou would have been given a better chance to shine.” When he’s thoughtful, Toshi’s got a look about him like a large seabird resting its wings on a salty rock; it’s one of his more likable moods, enough so that Aizawa finds it hard to begrudge. “Perhaps he’d have even been victorious against Young Bakugo and Todoroki.”

“Are you kidding me?” Aizawa scoffs. “He’d wipe the floor with them.” Aizawa’s considered it before: Shinsou would’ve mashed those two’s buttons like a teen at an arcade game. There’s every chance he could have beaten them. The only factor would be protecting himself from the offensive nature of their quirks long enough to get his hooks in – but Aizawa’s got first-hand experience and plenty of faith: Shinsou’s a really top-notch provocateur.

Toshinori laughs, and it changes every line in his gaunt, angular face. Aizawa likes this appearance way more than the overinflated facade he puts on for the students. He’s still inexperienced as a teacher, but like everything Toshinori does, he has to take a simple thing to the most literal extreme – even the everyday experience of having a persona around his students.

“The boy does show great potential.” It’s a smart observation, and then much more slyly Toshinori adds, “Although, I'm sure I don't have to tell you about that.”

“You don’t.” Aizawa manages to make it sound more like, ‘You better not.’ Toshinori backs down fast enough, large head hanging from his long neck like a bucket over the end of a mop. So Aizawa has a little sympathy. “That doesn't mean he wouldn't enjoy hearing it… even from a tacky hero like you.”

It’s not that Aizawa doesn’t like Toshinori; in fact, the truth is he likes Toshi just fine. It’s just what Toshinori stands for that grates on his nerves. Aizawa understands why the Symbol of Peace exists, and why a world of all Eraserheads with no All Mights wouldn’t work, but that doesn’t mean he has to personally like All Might’s way of doing things. In fact, Aizawa loathes it, but that should be no slight on Toshinori. Aizawa hates a lot of things; and playing along with what it means to be a so-called ‘Top Hero’ in the public eye is just one of the ones he hates most. Even (and especially) because Aizawa also has to do it sometimes, and it makes his skin crawl while Toshi always makes it look so damn easy.

That All Might caters to the false truths the public want to eat up is understandable, in its own terms: a clever white lie to keep them all feeling safer. As if it really is that simple, even though if anyone thought about it for a minute they’d realise it can’t be. However, most people don’t think – don’t even want to – and the towering figure and false smile of the Symbol of Peace lets the sheep sleep easier at night. Aizawa would choose the bitter pill any day, but the choice isn’t up to him.

It’s taken a while, but Toshinori is starting to understand that Aizawa ribbing him is sometimes a sign of endearment rather than (or as well as) disdain. So he doesn’t always look entirely kicked-puppy when Aizawa takes potshots at him. It is still the morning, after all, and Aizawa’s rude to most people before noon.

So it’s with a tentative, I-don’t-think-you-meant-that smile that Toshi replies, “Then you must be sure to pass on my regards.”

“Pass them yourself,” Aizawa retorts. “You’ve always been better at the mushy stuff.” This tickles Toshinori enormously, such that Aizawa’s keen to take another dig as they turn a corner in the hallway, lest Toshi get too comfortable. “If you think this means I’m going any easier on you about Midoriya, think again.”

“Oh no, I wouldn’t ever… I still feel like I have so much to learn about being a teacher,” Toshinori confesses unprompted, and a love-in was not on Aizawa’s plans for the day. He needs more sleep, coffee or both to handle all this. “You’re far more experienced than I am, so really I should be learning from you.”

“I wouldn’t advise it,” Aizawa replies firmly, and that sets Toshinori for a loop. Aizawa already has twenty-one students (counting Shinsou), plus the rest of the classes he takes for odd sessions here and there. “Everyone has their own teaching style. You’re better off finding yours than imitating others.” Especially not Aizawa’s: he’s expelled more students than the rest of the faculty combined. Nezu makes a point of remarking at nearly every staff meeting that they don’t require two teachers of Aizawa’s “unique calibre”.

“Of course.” Toshinori’s taken so long to answer that Aizawa forgot what he said – something about teaching style. Aizawa’s total consciousness of what he’s saying slips in and out like a drinking-duck desk-toy on mornings like these, but whatever Toshinori’s saying finishes, “You’re quite right. Teaching, like everything, must come from the heart.”

“If you want it to have any impact,” Aizawa admonishes as much as he answers. Being underinvested emotionally isn’t quite Toshinori’s problem – the opposite, more usually – but reaching for a template to hide his vulnerability definitely is. Insincere teaching breeds insincere learning: there’s a lesson for Toshi to pick up on quickly.

“Well, I only hope to be as good a mentor to Young Midoriya as I am sure you are to Shinsou.” Okay, twenty-two students – including Toshinori.

“Keep it down,” Aizawa urges quickly as they pass some – thankfully, totally self-absorbed – second-years in the stairwell. So far, none of the students have cracked that the skinny fellow seen rushing around the school sometimes could have anything to do with All Might, but that’s no reason to go getting careless. “My… thing with him is off the books, technically. That’s why I don’t wanna talk about it.”

Toshinori looks a little like a dog that knows its owner isn’t going to be happy about the torn-up curtains in the next room and already feels guilty about it. “Ah, but I thought—”

“You assumed, which I wouldn’t,” Aizawa returns curtly. They’re getting close to his classroom now, which increases the likelihood of Toshi wanting to talk to Midoriya during homeroom. What Toshi hasn’t realised yet is this will cause a scene the moment he’s not there – Bakugo will go off at the slightest provocation with totally ‘unrelated’ anger, then Aizawa’s peaceful homeroom will go into a tailspin and wreck itself against the track wall. “I also don’t use up my students’ homeroom time with personal matters.”

It takes a good thirty seconds of sustained eye contact – which Aizawa almost never has to do without using his quirk – before Toshinori gets the point. “Oh. Yes, you’re right… again.”

“Don't turn into a suckup, Toshi. It doesn't suit you.” This is another lighter, intimacy-breaking dig into the hard ground of their personal-professional relationship, but it yields a little fresh earth.

“Wouldn't dream of it.” Actual sarcasm from Toshinori, albeit only mild. Aizawa must be making progress. “Well then, I'll leave you here.” Toshinori stops further up the hallway from 1-A’s classroom.

Aizawa keeps walking without him. “Later.” As he gets closer to his room, a sigh slips Aizawa's chest like someone hopping a gate; if the boy is there – which he is, along with most of the class. “Midoriya.” Aizawa beckons him with a finger. “A word.”

There's a few curious glances between students as Midoriya shoots out of his seat and zips across the room, a target laser-sighted on his back from Bakugo all the way – but thankfully no triggers are pulled.

Once they're outside the classroom and can't be overheard by anyone – except Jirou, who had her earphones in an ipod so they might be in the clear – Aizawa manages to say without a completely sour expression, “All Might was just looking for you.”

“Really?” Midoriya’s eyes light up at the mere mention of All Might, and Aizawa has a sudden urge for a cigarette. It’s too early for this.

Aizawa’s hand feels heavier than usual as he points down the hallway. All this puppetry is wearing him out. “He went that way.”

“Won’t I miss homeroom?” No points awarded for observation, Aizawa settles for an are-you-kidding-me glare at the ever-restless Midoriya.

“Just make it quick.”

The boy doesn’t need telling twice, bolting off down the corridor with a hasty, “Thanks!” Aizawa’s way too soft, he reflects as he strides into the classroom and launches into his pre-lesson rant.

“Alright, you lot,” Aizawa begins with the weight and momentum of a descending sledgehammer. “If I’d wanted to read five watered-down versions of Yaoyorozu’s homework I’d have used a photocopier.” Pulling out of his sleeve a wad of written exercises  that he finished marking on top of the library around 4:00 a.m., Aizawa starts with Ashido and blazes a path through the shortcut-brigade who thought they could get away with such a middle-school trick, slamming papers down on culpable desks as he goes.

“The point of a scenario exercise is to assess how you would react to the situation.” Free with each Yaoyorozu knock-off Aizawa gives back, there’s a stern, “Again” that he delivers student by student. This repeats per owner of a (badly) rehashed Yaoyorozu report to (ill) fit their own quirks in the written assignment. “Again. Again. Again.” Kaminari, Kirishima and Sero fall in turn.

Aizawa stops at Hagakure’s desk with the final knock-off. They were sincerely done and probably better than what the kids would’ve come up with themselves, but that’s useless to them as heroes so Aizawa can’t tolerate it. “Again, and a second write-up on why you shouldn’t have done it in the first place.”

“Awww, why me?!” Hagakure bursts.

“Ringleader.” Aizawa’s sure she constantly pulls faces at him, he swears he can hear it.

“But it was Kaminari’s idea!”

“Include that in your report,” Aizawa deadpans. He’s not joking, either. Talking to Toshi already wore out his patience to handle anyone with kid gloves today, starting with these dolts. “Heroes are who people look to for guidance. If you’re turning to someone else to tell you what to do, give up now.”

“Aw jeez, Mr. Aizawa.” Ashido huff-puffs over her paper like she can blow Aizawa’s erratic, wrote-it-against-his-leg scribbles into a better grade. “Can’t you give us a break?”

“You want a break, leave.” Aizawa points at the door. “Just don’t come back.” Somehow, the students don’t even have the gall to look scared. It might be because they’re almost at the end of the first term and thinking of their vacations – no excuse – or the fact that no one’s been expelled yet, so they don’t think he’s being serious.

Yeah, Aizawa resolves as he gives out the rest of the homeworks and finally slumps in behind his desk, just as Midoriya silently slips into the room and slides into his seat looking a cross between concerned and overjoyed. He’s definitely going soft.

Aizawa wakes up with one cheek against the desk and a paw pressing insistently into the other. He opens his eyes a crack, but his phone alarm isn’t ringing, so it can’t be the end of his naptime – sorry, free period – yet. “Can I help you?” Aizawa’s question is a little distorted by the fact that Nezu’s paw is still pushing firmly against his cheek, which he thankfully removes.

“Ah, wasn’t sure you were awake there, Aizawa.”

“I wasn’t.” He sits up rubbing his face, then feels in his pockets instinctively for eye drops. He hasn’t needed his quirk recently, but dead-stare reading half the night was almost as bad for drying out tired eyes. Hizashi claims he’s dependent on them now – the eye drops – but Aizawa just threatens to break the hairdryer and he shuts up about who’s dependent on what in their household. “What is it?”

“I thought you might like to join me for a cup of tea,” Nezu offers cheerily.

With his face still pressed to the desk, Aizawa’s eyes shut. His answer is a concise, “No.”

“Oh, I’m afraid it wasn’t a question,” Nezu replies with that same polished cheer, only now with the sharp edge turned out. “You see, when you asked about Young Shinsou’s father, I hadn’t assumed it was because you wanted to make his acquaintance.”

“Ah.” Aizawa sits up now, putting his hands to the desk and pushing the rest of himself up thereafter. His head takes a second to level out, like the bubble in a spirit level settling between the lines, and then he’s calm. Whatever this is, he can handle it. “Guess I’ll be having that tea after all.”

Chapter Text

Principal Nezu finishes pouring perfectly brewed tea into a couple of cups set on an ornate tray, and carefully sets down the teapot before turning his gaze up at Aizawa. “So then.”

A canny introduction, but Aizawa's not playing ball just yet. “I thought you didn't want to know about all that.”

“I don’t.” Nezu is perfectly still; not the way a hunted creature freezes, but the way the predator does when it’s caught sight of its prey. “However, I have certain liabilities to cover as the caretaker of this establishment.” If that doesn’t sound familiar.

Aizawa makes a disgruntled noise that’s not quite a word, then remembers he has to use actual words sometimes. “Meaning what exactly?”

Nezu lays out the matter at hand with a quiet magnitude. “Did you take Shinsou to visit his father in prison?”

The fact that Nezu clearly knows whether Aizawa did or not means this is a very specific dance they’re having to do – writing up the formal record, should anything come to questioning. Aizawa can’t deny something there’s a heap of easily available evidence to prove that he did, so he simply answers, “Yes.”

Nezu’s tail swishes from one side to the other behind him on the sofa, and Aizawa’s eyes follow it like a cat watches a mouse. When Aizawa’s gaze lifts back to the Principal’s face, his glassy stare remains as cool as ever. “So if an inquiry from outside this institution were made to me regarding the visit, your reason for going would be?”

“As a security detail for Shinsou Hitoshi,” Aizawa answers without as much as a twitch in his expression. “On account of my quirk.”

Nezu smiles, lifting one of the cups of tea between his paws. “Ah yes, that would certainly follow reason.” It’s supposed to, of course, but they don’t need to discuss the subtext behind this conversation. “And as for the purpose behind this reunion?”

Aizawa borrows a phrase from Shinsou himself – the younger. “A boy can’t visit his father?”

Nezu’s eyes are unflinching, but his tail gives a tiny flick. Smart as he might be, everyone has tells; this means Aizawa’s beginning to test his patience. “He surely can, but should a media firestorm be sparked from such a story, I'd like to be adequately prepared.” There's a steely intensity to Nezu’s critter eyes, black and shiny. Alert to every movement in his environment. “You should be too.”

“I know.” Aizawa doesn't like catering to the media, but he does have to accept it. “We just… talked to him.” That much is true; Aizawa has a surgeon's precision when it comes to cutting close to the truth.

Nezu leans over to reach for his cup, bringing the rim almost to his mouth before murmuring over the surface of the hot tea, “A dangerous pastime.”

“Not for me,” Aizawa insists, even though that part isn't true. He needed Shinsou there against the Doc just as much as Shinsou needed him. Still needs him.

“And what, should it inevitably be asked, did the three of you talk about?”

Finding the most logical path through the mire like wading waist-deep through a swamp, Aizawa offers up the truth. Part of it, at least. “We discussed Hitoshi’s future as a Hero.” In the heat of the moment, it's natural to differentiate the two Shinsous this way, but after the fact it feels… excessive. Even if it's just a name. The one Dr. Shinsou uses – and why wouldn't he? Parents call children by their given names.

The principal gives a tentative “Aizawa?” that helps him snap back to reality from the hazy edges of need-some-sleep thoughtspace.

Aizawa reaches to take his cup of tea by the brim, lifting it to cradle in his hands before he sits back on one of Nezu’s generous antique sofas. “Yeah?”

“Your prognosis of the boy’s future.” It’s not entirely clear if Nezu already asked and Aizawa was just zoned out, or if it was merely an implication Nezu would like Aizawa to elaborate on anyway. Aizawa hopes for the latter but fears the former. After all, it’s not like he’d notice if he stopped paying attention.

Aizawa forces his focus back onto Nezu, pretending he’s prepared for what he’s about to say and isn’t just flying by the well-worn seat of his pants. “I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that – I’m going to need him to be registered for the next provisional license exam.” If Shinsou does pass he’ll be able to use his quirk legally with Aizawa’s supervision – and won’t that be a happy day?

Nezu’s long nose is bowed low over his cup of tea when Aizawa finally lifts his own to his mouth. One hot sip soothes instantly, heat spreading through his chest like the ripples cast from a stone in a pond. Nezu brews exceptional tea – Hizashi swears it’s the teapot, which he claims must be hundreds of years old and imbued with magical brewing properties. Aizawa thinks he’s just being fantastical, but it’s certainly the more interesting story to believe.

When Nezu’s face finally rises up to gaze at Aizawa, his smile has a polished simplicity. “General Studies students don’t typically take that exam.”

“He’s not a typical student.” Aizawa’s reply hits like a clean strike from a baseball bat against a ball. “Or would you rather he be arrested?” Nezu knows that Aizawa wouldn’t actually endorse Shinsou using his quirk illegally (much), but accidents still happen. Emergencies can sometimes dictate a route around the most literal interpretation of “the law” as Aizawa has only occasionally said with the physical quotation marks gesture. And law enforcement certainly has little reason to look kindly on the son of the infamous cop-killer, who butchered every officer who came to try and arrest him one after the other.

But Nezu isn’t ready to give up the fight just yet. “Registration of students on the Hero course for the exam is automatic, it’s not a case of simply adding Shinsou to the list.” Bullshit, Aizawa thinks, but he’s got a more elegant solution to the problem.

“Then move him to the Hero Course.” Aizawa shrugs and takes a sip of tea. “I don’t care.” That’s not true. He definitely does care.

Nezu probably knows it too, because it’s with a you-don’t-fool-me cool that he remarks, “You know as well as I do that the Hero Course is full.”

“Then I’ll expel someone.” Aizawa’s not really joking. “I could name ten kids in my class whose place he deserves more than they do.” To hell with it: all twenty of them. If Nezu wasn’t sure Aizawa had a level head about this, he must be crystal clear by now: Aizawa’s wholly and unashamedly biased. No point denying it.

What Nezu makes of Aizawa dealing him this card isn’t a hand the Principal seems keen to play just yet. His tail just flicks up and resettles with a bolt of giveaway restlessness. “I shalln’t disagree with you, Aizawa. But you might see why from my perspective, Young Shinsou is receiving an education perfectly suited to his potential as a Hero.”

“You mean underground.” Aizawa isn’t asking because that would suggest he has any doubt over Nezu’s meaning, which is as clear as the bottom of Aizawa’s teacup through the green hue of his tea.

Aizawa wonders if Nezu saw this coming right from the start, from the very moment Aizawa first mentioned Shinsou’s name. There’s enough confidence in Nezu’s tone when he says, “I would even be so bold as to say that it’s your speciality, Eraser.” Given to him so long ago (but by Hizashi so it's still good) the name fits Aizawa through and through: do all the work, cleaning up mistakes, and never leave a trace.

Aizawa usually prefers to be in less of an antagonistic position to the ultimate mastermind, who, like it or not, is still Aizawa’s boss – at least during school hours. “Underground Heroes still get licensed.” Aizawa’s expression is ironed flat and dry enough to be folded like sheets. “Unless you’re suggesting we turn vigilante?” He would lose his license for letting Shinsou run loose and get arrested for illegally using his quirk, which isn’t in his plan for the boy’s development or his own career, but desperate times call for desperate measures. Aizawa can’t rule anything out at this point, if the obstacles against Shinsou are really this great.

“Most certainly not.” Nezu sets his cup down, gazing at Aizawa with his head slightly askew – his eyes aren’t positioned as close to the front of his head as all these humans, so he’s almost always giving you a sideways look of some sort. “I will look into an arrangement regarding the provisional license exam, but he remains in General Studies for now.”

“Fine.” That was all Aizawa planned to come out of here with anyway. Pushing for more was a way to make what he wanted seem like a concession, though Nezu would have most certainly known that too. It’s only wise to assume that most scenarios with Nezu end exactly the way the cunning critter wants. Aizawa finishes his tea and settles the cup on the tray. “Anything else?”

“Yes.” Nezu sits up, and his head shifts from being angled on one side to the other, like turning over a record to play the other side. “Are you taking care of yourself? Yamada says you’ve been receiving pictures of corpses in the post.” He pauses for just a moment before adding, “Again.”

“That’s work related,” Aizawa points out, assuming Nezu is still keen to remain woefully uninformed about his faculty’s lives outside this school.

“Ah yes. Work.” Nezu might be a mouse, or a bear, but perhaps there’s a little weasel in him too. “I wonder, Aizawa. If you were to theoretically do such a thing, would you be able to teach Shinsou in a classroom the same way you could outside of it?”

Aizawa imagines taking 1-A to any of the crime scenes he’s hung out at recently and almost shudders. Then he imagines Shinsou being in his class and actually shudders. But that’s no excuse. “I could do both.”

Like he can tell exactly how too-close Aizawa is to this already, Nezu remarks, “Could you?”

“Probably not.” Aizawa’s not going to bullshit Nezu about that one. After all, what if Shinsou does get transferred? “Better to put him in Vlad’s class.” Flopping back in his chair, Aizawa doesn’t disguise his sigh – he wishes he was asleep right now. Turns out two full nights’ sleep doesn’t equal one skipped one; he knew that, but it’s easily forgotten when the game is afoot. “My lot this year aren’t completely awful, but he’s got some real asswipes.”

“I think you’re trying to tell me you’d like to leave, Aizawa,” Nezu says with a politely muffled chuckle behind his paw. “Very well, then. I’ll let you get back to your nap.”

Aizawa stands feeling like a scale that’s been rebalanced – a little less weight on one side and a little more on the other, but adjusted in the middle to sit level all the same. “Good talk.” He doesn’t really mean that, but the next one he does. “Bye.”

“Farewell, Aizawa,” Nezu replies with the same cheery gloss he paints over all his veiled threats and insinuations. “Do be sure not to send Shinsou my regards.”

“Of course not,” Aizawa returns. “After all, that would imply this conversation ever happened.”

Nezu lets out another of those sinister-ish chortles as Aizawa walks away. And Shinsou worries about him getting in trouble. Trouble’s the name of Aizawa’s game.

The message – the first Aizawa ever receives from Shinsou – simply reads ‘where do we meet?’ and arrives minutes after the bell for the end of Saturday classes, earlier than the rest of the weekdays.

Aizawa was expecting… something. Maybe not this, but he hadn’t been so bold as to assume he’d lack Shinsou’s presence at his side for… whatever it is he’s going to do this afternoon. And a killer on the loose is certainly an issue requiring a lot of Aizawa’s free time, though there is something he could make time for right now.

‘Alleyway behind the convenience store. Come ready for a fight.’ With Aizawa being Aizawa and Shinsou being Shinsou, no confrontation between them is going to last that long. Stags ramming their horns together just for the sake of a tussle, shaking it off once it’s clear who’s bigger.

However, young bucks being as they are, Shinsou still postures like he’s got a fighting chance, sending the reply: ‘If that’s supposed to scare me you’re ridiculous.’

Says the kid Aizawa is about to stomp on, he thinks with particularly savory satisfaction all the way to the convenience store. He buys a jelly fruit juice and an energy drink, then asks his friend – the grandpa who sits behind the counter all day while his children run the shop – if he wouldn’t mind letting Aizawa out through the back. Which of course, the grandpa nods and waves Aizawa through.

This lets Aizawa out deep into the alleyway that Shinsou arrives at the entrance of about five minutes later. He’s heavily out of breath, which if he ran all the way from school means he’s still got a ways to go before he can keep up with Aizawa’s almost- leisurely pace on the regular parkour route to make it over here. Aizawa’s got a perfect run down to about twelve minutes, but could hit ten if he really went for it.

Aizawa doesn’t move from his position, clinging to his chosen patch of shadow like damp creeping up a wall, waiting. When Shinsou can’t get any closer before realising his wrong assumption –  that he got here first – Aizawa springs out of the dark with a handful of his capture weapon flying.

Shinsou actually manages to dodge, if only by dropping to the floor like he’s taken a bullet to the head. Faceplanting a grimy alleyway isn’t pretty, but it does work. Shinsou rolls to the side and scrambles back to his feet, launching into Aizawa’s close-quarters range before the missed tendrils of the capture weapon even touch the ground.

Imitation as a sure sign of flattery, Shinsou tries a sharp upward strike – the same style Aizawa has used to knock out much larger men in a single blow. He’s about ten years of practice off, but it’s the thought that counts.

Aizawa dodges Shinsou’s attack like stepping around a person holding a large umbrella and gets closer still, lifting a forearm to press horizontal across Shinsou’s throat and walking them across the short width of the alley until his back hits the wall. Just as Aizawa expects: a struggle for dominance between them doesn't last long. But the tenacity to keep trying, not to go in like the fight is lost – refusing to give up is more important than being able to win when it comes to being a hero. At least at this stage.

Shinsou seems like he's got every belief he could come out on top – given the right circumstances. “If you let me use my quirk, I'd have you,” he declares with absolute confidence. A springtime violet gaze trained on Aizawa over the chokehold of his arm across Shinsou’s whole neck.

“So use it,” he replies, not joking. Definitely not joking a second later when Shinsou activates his quirk a split-second after Aizawa does, an erasing stare cutting off the grab Shinsou makes for Aizawa’s mind. This exercise is going off the rails a little bit, but Aizawa’s not fooling. “You didn't think I was going to make it that easy for you, did you?”

“Worth a shot.” Shinsou keeps his cool, then with all his strength shoves Aizawa back and slips free. Aizawa lets him, but only the way a cat lets a mouse go for the sake of catching it again.

For a mouse, Shinsou moves pretty quick. At least when it comes to skittering away from Aizawa, snatching some distance between them. But only for as long as it takes Aizawa to throw his capture weapon again. So about five seconds.

“Admit it, you were never going to let me use my quirk.” Shinsou’s head is a tufty purple sprout growing atop a capture-wrapped body, and he still makes it look like he planned it this way. “You were just winding me up.” Aizawa blinks, his quirk and hair dropping, but doesn't bite on Shinsou’s baited hook. Yet the boy’s a persistent fisher. “You're afraid, just like everyone else.”

Aizawa’s quirk rises back up like fur on the back of an aggravated cat. “And you're trying to provoke me.”

Shinsou flashes a crafty grin. “Is it working?” His arms shift in their tight binding to his body, like he's testing the leeway. Maybe just getting comfortable.

Aizawa remains steadfast, laser-glare targeting Shinsou like the sight on a sniper rifle. “No.”

“Shame. That's kinda my deal, yanno.” Shinsou’s restricted movement makes the lift of his eyebrow more exaggerated. “You are scared, though.”

Shinsou’s said it before: he can be very persuasive.

It’d be a lie to say Aizawa hasn’t thought about it. Wondered, more like. There’s a conversation they had, just a few days ago, when things were very different to how they are now: I’ll trust you if you trust me. Fear and trust are incompatible – one erases the other. So what Shinsou’s really testing Aizawa for, even if they’re not quite at the stage of admitting it, is a vouch of trust.

A normal alleyway brawl would also turn out differently when the other party doesn’t know what happens if they answer Shinsou. In most situations that advantage will always be in his favour, as long as they respond to Shinsou’s crafty stream of answer-me provocations. But Aizawa does know, and wouldn’t be so foolish as to put himself up unintentionally.

Intentionally, though…

Aizawa's quirk drops with the rest of his guard. “Try me.”

The hold is immediate. Like velvet-gloved hands taking hold of Aizawa’s head, and then putting it in a vice. Everything is quieter, just the elevated beat of his heart thumping in his chest up to his ears. Shinsou is watching him carefully, no smug look of satisfaction on his face. “Release me.”

If he wanted to, Aizawa could struggle against the movement of his body beyond Shinsou’s iron will. He doesn’t, but he could – not that it would make much difference. His motions are fluid and natural, just as he’d act if he were doing this of his own volition. A quick flick of his wrist and the capture weapon uncoils from around Shinsou, dropping in a ring at his feet.

Shinsou rolls his shoulders and takes a deep breath, gaze fixed on Aizawa and no sign of strain in his countenance. “Turn around and face the wall.” Aizawa’s body is already following orders when Shinsou adds, “Hands behind your back.”

The throb of Aizawa’s pulse in his neck accelerates from a jog to a run. His face comes close to the wall as he turns towards it, a slight flex in his arms as he crosses his wrists behind his back. It’s just poor coincidence – perhaps more indicative of Aizawa’s own tendencies than he’d care to dwell on – that the last time he was in a pose like this was a few nights ago with Kayama. Very different circumstances. But just similar enough to make Aizawa sweat a little, heart rate increasing like he’d rather get this over with sooner rather than later – just not for the fact that it’s uncomfortable. Too comfortable, more like.

Aizawa feels the familiar touch of his own capture weapon wrapping around his neatly-presented wrists. There is a purpose to this little off-the-rails exercise, beyond the no man’s land currently under exploration. It’s to see how Shinsou would handle the particular scenario they’re playing, what he’d do if this were a real confrontation.

So far, it’s something this purple-tipped spring shoot has clearly given more thought than Aizawa expects. Tying someone up is one thing but it leaves plenty of chances for escape. To be really sure they aren’t getting back up, the lights should be out. That would have been the subject of Aizawa’s post-brainwashing lecture, until Shinsou says, “Now, hold your breath for me,” and Aizawa’s chest just stops.

This is the point where Aizawa tests against Shinsou’s quirk, pushes himself to keep breathing and finds he can’t. Shinsou could do this as a five-year-old, Aizawa knows, he just hadn’t expected Shinsou to do it now. It isn’t for long – just enough for Aizawa’s head to start spinning a little, exacerbated by the struggle of trying to fight the absolute control he handed over to this precocious-doesn’t-cover-it teenager. There’s no yield on Shinsou’s side, like trying to dig a hole in a concrete floor with your bare hands, but Aizawa wonders if Shinsou can feel the push the same way Aizawa does when he’s using his quirk to erase others.

Without any warning, the vice releases and the gloved hands clamping Aizawa’s chest disappear. He takes a deep, gasping breath of relief as his head spins to a stop, then tries to bring his hands around before remembering they’re bound, struggling against himself even after Shinsou’s quirk has released its hold over him, his cheek chafing against the wall he faceplanted at the boy’s command.

Before Shinsou can come to his aid, Aizawa’s taken care of it, slipping his bindings with easy familiarity and putting one hand to the wall, turning far enough to catch Shinsou in a sidelong glance. “Even just to prove a point, what you did is incredibly dangerous.”

“I know,” Shinsou answers calmly. “That’s why I didn’t let you actually pass out.”

“What if you get it wrong?” Aizawa challenges. What if someone dies, he means.

“I won’t.” There is an intimidating stillness to Shinsou right now; standing tall, unmoving with calculating eyes on the subject of his experiment. For as different as they are where it counts, there is a striking resemblance between the boy and his father. “I know exactly how long it takes.”

Aizawa knows why he knows – the fabled research Dr. Shinsou engaged his son in. “That was a long time ago.”

“Weirdly enough, it’s not something you forget easily,” Shinsou replies lightly, like it’ll brighten the darkness of why he knows what he does.

“Everyone has different thresholds,” Aizawa starts to lecture as they return to normality, turning the rest of the way around and leaning back against the wall. “You’d need to add another few minutes before I’d drop.”

“Bullshit,” Shinsou retorts. “You’d have been down in another thirty seconds.”

“Wrong, but if you say so,” Aizawa bats back, crossing his arms over his chest. “You should avoid restraining people with their own equipment too.”

“Gee, teach, never thought of that one.” Shinsou rolls his eyes. “Don’t we have something more important to do, like catching a serial killer?”

“Right.” Aizawa picks himself up the wall and starts to reel the erratically-strewn spools of his capture weapon back in. “Tsukauchi contacted me about this so-called ‘Hakazaki Seiko’ who worked in the same department as the first victim. They’ve got her address, and he’s going around with a warrant in a couple of hours.” The exchange of messages with Tsukauchi started up while Aizawa was waiting for Shinsou in the alley, so when he checks his phone again the address has finally come through.

“Sounds like we better get going,” Shinsou announces without resentment – almost like he’s getting used to the way Aizawa works and doesn’t need any further explanation. A couple of hours free-run across the city also doubles up as some all-important one-on-one training for Shinsou. Aizawa might even teach him how to throw a punch right if they have the time.

Aizawa admittedly doesn’t know much about it, but as far as interns go… he likes this one.

They get to the apartment block before the detective does, which means Aizawa has let Shinsou punch him in the jaw enough times for it to almost hurt by the time Tsukauchi actually shows up at the address he sent to Aizawa.

Emerging from an entrance to an underground car park shortly after his only vaguely-inconspicuous car rolls into it, Tsukauchi’s wrapped in his iconically overkill trench coat and hat. He strides up the ramp and over to Aizawa and Shinsou with all the unnecessary flaps of the coat beating in the wind, which tears between the channels created by the densely-packed high-rise apartment blocks.

Only after Tsukauchi has completed his high-drama wind tunnel walk, a grimace against the breeze that makes him look like something off a pulp novel cover, and come to a full stop in front of them does he break into a characteristic grin. “Ah, Detective Pot and the Little Spoon, right on time.”

“You've definitely become too invested in this scenario,” Aizawa replies with a tone like an EKG flatline. He and Shinsou are leaning on a railing out front of the building, matching hands-tucked-in-pockets poses and their backs to the howling wind – probably cutting quite the picture. It's totally unintentional, so making any effort to act differently feels like an acknowledgement that Aizawa isn't prepared to make about what this looks like. At least not right now.

Tsukauchi is, as ever, nonplussed. “You’d rather I refer to you as Eraser and Jack?”

Aizawa shrugs. “I don’t really give a shit either way, it’s just your grasp on reality I’m worried about.” Even as he says it, Aizawa’s thinking that it’s the kind of dig Shinsou would make if he were looking to get a rise out of Tsukauchi. Maybe if he knew the detective for as long as Aizawa has.

However, Shinsou’s in the early days of his acquaintance with Tsukauchi and sticks on-message as rookies often do. Someone’s got to be on the straight and narrow. “Let’s go already, I wanna see what this chick is about.”

“According to neighbours, she hasn’t been seen for a while.” Tsukauchi cracks open case details like a tin of biscuits as he begins a leisurely stroll towards the building entrance.

“I don’t imagine she wants to be seen,” Shinsou remarks, right on the dark edge of comedy as he and Aizawa fall into step behind Tsukauchi.

“Or she’s abandoned this place already,” Aizawa adds even more morosely as they get to the door, waiting to be let into the building. They’re met and escorted in by a shifty-looking maintenance man who seems very determined not to speak to any of them. An impish creature who leads their curious party through the soulless building and straight up to a door exactly like any other door in the long corridor.

Without even checking the warrant that Tsukauchi has to hand over, the handyman unlocks the apartment and pushes the door wide open, already turning around and stomping back off down the corridor before they’ve even set foot in the place. Maybe he knows it’s better not to have anything to do with the lady who lives in this apartment.

They’re left looking on a relatively normal – at least so far – apartment hallway that shows few signs of being inhabited.

“Don't touch anything,” Aizawa slips to Shinsou as he practically shimmies past Aizawa to overtake him and be the first in, an invasion of personal space that Aizawa doesn’t think is entirely necessary, but he lets the kid have some excitement as he bounds enthusiastically into a new formative experience.

Shinsou gets a couple of steps ahead down the hallway and stops, turning back to address Aizawa with a monstrously dry tone. “You mean, like it's a crime scene? But I was about to start spitting everywhere.”

Aizawa gives a tired huff and doesn't respond. His attention is on the environment, not Shinsou’s current channel of keep-talking-to-me sass. A habit of his Aizawa’s starting to figure out; no wonder all he wants to do is feel recognised, after being misunderstood and overlooked for so long.

The apartment is messy but in a way that points to being uninhabited rather than the cleaning habits of its occupant. An even dust covers most of the surfaces, ones that would be clear if they were in use. The lone pot-plants are dead, and there probably isn’t a scrap of edible food in the entire kitchen. The last part is a guess, but it reminds Aizawa of his own place, from the age of about twenty, until… until he moved in with Hizashi.

“This place looks like it’s been empty for a while,” Tsukauchi observes from a squat right at the threshold of the door, rifling carefully through a sizable pile of untended mail. Starting at the start: a true sign of a thorough detective, not that Aizawa will have the grace to mention it. Tsukauchi doesn’t need any telling he’s doing a good job, which suits Aizawa down to the ground – didn’t want to talk to him anyway.

Aizawa follows Shinsou to the middle of the room, standing in the center to get a feel for the space while the kid goes straight to a solitary window on the outside wall. Shinsou’s determined gaze  sweeps their surroundings and then finds what he’s clearly already looking for. “Someone came in through here.”

Aizawa moves across to check but stops dead when Shinsou’s palm lifts flat to face him. It’s a universal gesture, but for how suddenly Aizawa obeys the command, it could’ve been a lingering effect of the kid’s quirk. That’s not it, of course, but Aizawa’s thoughts wander that way as Shinsou beckons his approach from a different angle. The blurry overlap between persuasion and the total control of a brainwashing quirk.

Dr. Shinsou’s book, The 90% Mind, takes a walk right through that particular strip of no-man’s-land. Aizawa has learned from flicking through the chilling manifesto – usually in the bathroom, the only context befitting such a read – that the choice of title reflects the Doctor’s belief that most people have mentalist abilities, they’re simply unable to access them.

In his theories, those born with mentalist quirks merely have a stronger connection to the 90% mind, an oft-quoted but utterly false notion about humans only using 10% of their brains. According to the Doc’s – frankly, lunatic – body of work, studying children of developmental age with mentalist quirks contains the key to unlocking the secrets of the hidden 90% for everyone. He then postulates that if society had the ability to cultivate the power of mentalist quirks at will, those born with a naturally heightened dispensation for them wouldn’t be so stigmatised. They’d merely be geniuses at something everyone can achieve if they work toward it.

At least, that was the mad Professor’s theory. The newspapers’ take on it is that the Doc’s exploration of how far ‘persuasion’ could be taken before it became mind control reached its apex in his final experiment – the one where he persuaded his most devout admirers that they all wanted to die, little by little then all at once.

When Aizawa gets closer, slowly approaching the window from the new direction Shinsou indicates with a wave of his palm, he sees the signs of entry. There’s a footprint marked in the dust on the sill, just visible when the light catches it right. The shape indicates the direction the person was coming from. This kid could make a detective yet.

“Good find,” Aizawa says quietly, not really meaning to, but it slips out all the same. Even in Tsukauchi’s presence, who comes over a moment later to get a look for himself.

“She’s meant to be good at hiding, right?” Shinsou mutters to Aizawa, but it’s Tsukauchi who fixes on this question as he finally clears the doorway and steps into the room.

Directing a cursory look around the room before settling an intrigued one on Shinsou, Tsukauchi asks, “What makes you say that?”

Ah. The minor black hole in the case details Aizawa handed over to the detective: the part where he and Shinsou paid a visit to his famous mass-murderer father to fish for information on their suspect.

“Intuition,” lies Shinsou – ‘Jack’ as Tsukauchi knows him, or maybe something to do with spoons. “She’s making this place look more abandoned than it is.” Hiding in plain sight – or thereabouts.

Aizawa follows the notion all the way through, looking out through the window at the narrow – a little dicey, but not impossible – ledge that leads to the external fire escape. “I noticed a fire escape on the back of the building before you got here,” Aizawa turns around to address Tsukauchi face to face. “It wouldn’t be too hard for a person to get into this apartment from it.” Saves using the front door, and letting anyone know this place is still being used.

“As long as you knew the window was unlocked,” Tsukauchi points out, looking through the window

“It’s not locked now, is it?” Shinsou’s head quirks in a curiously personable manner, his gaze darting to the window fastening. True to form, the fitting has been taken off the window entirely, unscrewed and set aside on a nearby shelf. Aizawa caught most of this at first glance, but it’s more rewarding to let things play out this way, seeing what the people around him can figure out on their own.

“Smart boy you’ve got here, Eraser,” Tsukauchi remarks cheerfully as he takes a notebook out of his pocket, scribbling a couple of notes in it before he turns his gaze back around the room. Shinsou catches Aizawa’s eye and rolls his own, but that’s his only reaction to Tsukauchi’s charmless optimism. Such determined do-goodery is an instant explanation for why Toshi likes the detective, which naturally means Aizawa wants to treat him with a generous pinch of salt.

They break back into different directions again. Aizawa heads to the kitchen, confirming his theory about there being nothing sanitary to eat – always a good indicator of how long a place has been abandoned: how rancid the fridge is. The fridge here isn’t actually that bad, but when Aizawa checks the freezer he finds an unsavory treat that he’ll wait until Tsukauchi is back in the room to trade notes on. No sense in alarming anyone just yet.

Shinsou stays near the window initially and looks around as if he’s trying to map a path the person would take through the room, creeping in and out of the trappings of civilisation between the bloody jags of a murder spree. Watching Shinsou find and open the bathroom door, Aizawa has an unwelcome flashback of the bathtub in the home of the first victim – good thing Shinsou wasn’t around for that one, not that he hasn’t seen as bad or worse already.

This bathroom is thankfully far less distressing. In fact, not distressing at all, just a normal bathroom. Aizawa’s almost at the point of thinking they might not find anything troubling in this place. Aside from the missing hand in the freezer, obviously, but he’ll get back to that later.

Because from deeper into the apartment, Tsukauchi’s voice echoes loud and clear. “Can the both of you come in here?” There’s absolutely no good will in his tone at all, so whatever he’s found in the final room is nothing to take lightly.

Shinsou steps out from the bathroom and glances at Aizawa first, waiting until he shuts the freezer and leaves the kitchen, passing Shinsou to go first towards the open doorway.

The bedroom has thick blinds and tape over the windows to ensure no daylight from outside enters the stuffy, confining space. There’s a neon strip light that has been pulled down from the ceiling in a piece of manic electrical engineering, and it lies instead on the floor casting its glare up the wall instead of down.

A futon in the corner looks at least vaguely used, just like Aizawa’s old place – but the similarity ends when it comes to the bedroom wall. Because Aizawa certainly never had a larger-than-lifesize poster of Dr. Shinsou Masaru pinned to his wall, that’s for sure.

Aside from the absolutely massive square-on headshot of the infamous Doctor – the same portrait that stared at Aizawa on the toilet until he finally took the tacky hardcover sleeve off the damn book – there’s pages after pages stuck into the wall with tacks.

There’s a multitude of scribblings on the wall at the world’s creepiest idol shrine, in pen that’s simply been gone over in enough times to make chaotic, angry lines. In a central strip of space between the pages, a series of numbers have been carved out, violently scribbled over, and then rewritten again so it reads…

50% MIND

Aizawa is staring at the numbers, but Tsukauchi’s gaze is entirely on the poster. The face. Dr. Shinsou Masaru’s features are striking in a way that barely even convey on paper the terror they embody in the flesh. Even from behind a pane of glass. The charismatic, calculated cut of his expression, staring straight down the camera in this shot like he intends to bend the viewer’s mind to his will just from a picture alone.

Shinsou – Hitoshi, that is – watches Detective Tsukauchi. There are some things they didn’t count on being solved by this little visit to the suspect’s home. The resemblance between Shinsou Hitoshi and his father are inescapable. Anyone could tell they’re related, least of all an admittedly competent police detective.

A police detective who now takes his gaze from the photographic Shinsou on the wall to the mini-mirror of him in the room. Hitoshi’s face isn’t quite the same as his father’s: angles a little softer in places with that might-be-babyfat roundness that tells of youth not quite left behind.

“Jack, was it?” Tsukauchi has an unreadable quality to his tone that makes Aizawa’s sense of urgency itch. Like something could go very bad very fast if he doesn’t act soon.

But the kid beats him to it.

“My real name is Shinsou Hitoshi,” he says in a calm, you’re-not-going-to-panic-if-I-don’t- let you way, and Aizawa has a sudden thought about what he’d do if Shinsou used his quirk on a police detective. He’s probably not that dumb, but Aizawa can never be too sure – not when he’s announcing as plain a day but in a completely unnecessarily ominous way. “And yeah, that is my father.”

Chapter Text

Detective Tsukauchi’s smile might as well be a google image search for the word ‘fake smile’ printed off and taped to the front of his face. “Eraser, would you care to explain this?” Meaning the uncanny resemblance between Aizawa’s new intern and the mass-murderer whose face is printed on a giant poster inside the neon-list room. Aizawa doesn't really blame him for that.

“I thought that’s what I was doing,” Shinsou offers instead, holding up his hands to peer at them as if he’s perplexed. “Weird. Am I see-through or dead or something?”

That’d fit, Aizawa thinks with a wry grimace. The ghost of Dr. Shinsou, haunting them on a killer’s trail. “The Detective just wants to know why I brought you here.”

“Why you think you brought him here,” Tsukauchi cautions. Aizawa can’t tell if he’s serious or not, but either way it’s an insinuation that would make Aizawa’s blood boil if he thinks about it at all. Like, grab-a-detective-by-the-front-of-his-big-stupid-coat-and-yell-at-him boil. Which is to be… avoided.

So, the only rational option Aizawa has left is to shove the problem out of his lap as fast as it hops into it; Aizawa is just done at the outset. “I’m not even going to dignify that with an answer.”

“Why not?” Tsukauchi sounds almost as if he’s asking if Aizawa can.

Even if Aizawa was being controlled by Shinsou, he wouldn’t have the ability to respond to anyone else anyway. Not that Aizawa would let it happen, except in hush-hush backalley training exercises. Tsukauchi seems to be making some wild logical leaps, which is part and parcel of the territory. Consider every angle, Aizawa does it himself. But some things are too illogical to dwell on for more than a moment. Whatever Tsukauchi’s got in his head must be one of those utterly dismissible wildballs, if he suspects Shinsou of anything.

“Because it’s against the law to punch you,” Aizawa replies bluntly. He’ll definitely at least pretend-accidentally shoulder Tsukauchi if he gets a chance. Instead, Aizawa stays still and uses bigger words than he could actions. “Hitoshi isn’t like his father.” As soon as he says it, Aizawa wishes he’d gone the other way. Except that saying ‘Shinsou’ reiterates the connection Aizawa wants to disprove: why Shinsou is – Hitoshi is– different. Not like his biological father, he’s like–

Aizawa needs to get his head on straight. The piercing down-the-lens stare of Dr. Shinsou Masaru’s face plastered four-foot high on a poster isn’t helping one bit.

Tsukuachi remains unapologetic. Like some kind of professional. “You understand that as a Detective, it’s literally my job to consider every possibility?”

Done has become done-er. “You’ve considered it. Move on.” Aizawa doesn’t put it lightly, because he’s one shred of remaining rationality away from actually clocking Tsukauchi. He can’t, but that doesn’t affect the amount of wanting to. Even if Tsukauchi is just doing his job, and rationally Aizawa knows that. He just isn’t terribly rational about Shinsou anymore… seeing everyone think the worst of the kid before they dare to consider the best. Why should Aizawa be unbiased, when everyone else clearly isn’t?

Dislike it or hate it – those are the two options – Tsukauchi remains ever the skeptic. Which is supposed to be Aizawa’s job in the first place, being the biggest cynic in the room. “So I’m supposed to take this for a coincidence?” The Detective is standing with Dr. Shinsou’s face as his accidental backdrop, and it’s unnerving the shit out of Aizawa. Which in turn makes him more defiant.

“You’re supposed to take me at my word,” Aizawa snaps like the crack of one of Midnight’s whips. His quirk is dormant, but there is still an erasing aspect to Aizawa’s gaze as he finds Tsukauchi’s and locks it the hell down. “I’m responsible for him.” That means doubting Shinsou is calling Aizawa’s credibility as a hero into question, and he’s handed the police too many aces in too many holes to be challenged on that front.

Tsukauchi holds Aizawa’s stare for a moment, then turns it back to the wall, tiled in an irregular mosaic to the illustrious Dr. Shinsou, mass-murderer, PhD. Aizawa is asking for a little more than usual, and the detective makes this known. “So you keep saying.” Tsukauchi could use his quirk on Aizawa – the oh-so-pleasant (not) experience of being mentally probed by the human lie detector. The detective could try it, and Aizawa might actually let him, just to prove he’s being completely honest about Shinsou. It’s insulting, but Aizawa would do it for the kid.

“The connection between me and the Doc here is obvious.” Shinsou steps closer to the wall, peering close enough to read the text of the pages. Aizawa knows what they are already, but he won’t stop Shinsou drawing his own conclusions. “Isn’t the connection with the killer what we’re supposed to be interested in?” Turning back, Shinsu affixes an accusatory look on Tsukauchi. “Or maybe I’ve got this policework thing all wrong.”

“Then perhaps that’s something you can tell me about.” Tsukauchi drags his ‘are you seriously asking me to go with this?’ gaze away from Aizawa and drifts closer to Shinsou, moving to get a better look at the pages pinned across the wall.

Aizawa follows his hunch and asks – without thinking, like an idiot – from the back of the room, “Are they from his book?”

Shinsou’s head whips around, looking entirely spooky by the eerie floor-lighting in this unpleasant little karaoke booth of a room. “How did you know?”

“The writing on the wall,” Aizawa indicates before this can look any weirder than it has to.

Shinsou’s attention pulls over to the scrawling mess of numbers converging in the middle of the wall adjacent to the Doc’s neon-lit stare. Aizawa recognises the page layouts from across the room too, but that would imply he’s actually been reading Dr. Shinsou’s book more closely. Which would not help this delicate situation with Tsukauchi right now, so Aizawa keeps it under his hat, so to speak.

“What does that mean?” Tsukauchi presses on, the last uninformed party of the situation. Unfortunately, also the only party with actual legal jurisdiction.

“My father wrote a book called The 90% Mind,” Shinsou answers, just like Aizawa wants him to. Just because Shinsou has shown all – well, most – of his cards doesn’t mean Aizawa has to give the game up himself. Only one of them needs to look suspiciously well-informed on the subject of the Doctor's body of work right now.

“And what does that have to do with Hakamata Shiyoko?” Tuskauchi asks. “If that even is her name.”

“I can prove it is,” Aizawa interjects like a fool, getting straight to the point and directing the investigation like a class plan. “Check the freezer.”

Tuskauchi gives Aizawa a look he's gotten from Hizashi too many times to count. It’s the ‘you're about to gross me out’ face. “Why? ” Tsukauchi sounds unduly concerned. “What's in the freezer?”

“The missing piece of the puzzle,” Aizawa answers as he finally steps closer to check the individual pages torn from Dr. Shinsou’s book. They're fixed to the wall in a disjointed order, like someone tried to map out the Professor’s insane theories in real space. Hitoshi is right – it's the relationship between the Doc and Shiyoko they should be worried about. When Tsukauchi urgently passes Aizawa on his way out of the haunted bedroom, Aizawa allows his shoulder to bump the detective’s by merit of not giving way as he’s coming through. Like that small jostle of contact shakes it out of Aizawa, he flings a handful of vindictive, dared-to-doubt-me salt at Tsukauchi. “One of them.”

Tsukauchi’s got other priorities than letting Aizawa get a rise out of him, disappearing across the apartment like a bloodhound following a scent. There’s the plasticky thwump of the freezer opening and the cry, “Fucking hell, Eraser! You could've warned me!”

“Language,” Aizawa nags drearily as he plods through to the main room, where Tsukauchi’s glaring at him from in front of an open freezer containing a perfectly preserved chunk of man's hand.

“Would you care to explain this?!” Tsukauchi bursts like a blocked hosepipe after the water’s been turned on a few minutes.

“Settle down,” Aizawa sighs. “I know whose hand that is.”

“Why is that supposed to reassure me?” Tsukauchi tries to outdo Aizawa’s sigh by several hundred percent. Shinsou shuffles in after Aizawa and quickly becomes a victim to the demand, “Did you know about this?”

“About wh-eugh!” Shinsou reacts pretty authentically. Aizawa wouldn’t put it past him to overact for the drama of it. “I heard the police were shorthanded, but this is something else.” All hell breaks loose shortly after.

So the ‘missing piece’ Aizawa spoke of was a frozen two-thirds of a human hand. So what? There’s no reason for Tsukauchi to make such a fuss over it.

Even if Aizawa can appreciate that it could be construed to look a little… suspect. That's no reason for Tsukauchi to actually suspect them. So Shinsou is the son of a mass-murderer professor of mentalist quirks who their prime suspect is obsessed with? So Aizawa knew about the hand in the freezer (because he looked) and exactly whose it was, how long it'd been there, and why it proves the killer's real name?

It's typical: do some good detective work and end up looking like a serial killer. Or a serial killer’s accomplice(s). Some thanks Aizawa gets for doing the police’s job for them. Again. Sure, perhaps that wasn't the best line to drop – angrily – while trying to explain it all to Tsukauchi, but Aizawa only has so much patience. Or perhaps it should be not much.

Tsukauchi could always use his quirk on Aizawa, but the judges and lawyers have a lovely way of calling everything into question when a ‘suspicious’ quirk like Aizawa’s factors into the police report during a trial. They’d say there’s no way of knowing Aizawa didn’t erase Tsukauchi’s quirk, and only make it seem like he wasn’t lying, counteracting the Detective’s inbuilt ability to whiff a falsehood in someone’s brain like bad cheese at the back of the fridge. Because Tsukauchi can only do it when he’s sticking his head in there for a sniff, and Aizawa can deny him the second he feels it happen – which Aizawa can and will, if those meddlesome fingers start testing the locked handle to his mind. Aizawa would also be offended if Tsukauchi actually felt the need to test whether Aizawa's complicit in this clusterfuck, so they’ll have to settle this the old-fashioned way. With a quarrel.

It's obviously still in the middle of arguing and with Detective ‘I need reasonable doubt’ Tsukauchi that Aizawa's phone starts to sing its most attention-grabbing of ringtones. He ignores it the first time, but by the third pick-me-up cycle Aizawa finally breaks away from squabbling about how much police evidence he’s ‘allowed’ access to and answers it.

Aizawa tries not to snap, and surely fails at it. “What?”

“Sort your shit and get back here, bitch.” Ah, Hizashi’s classic no-fooling term of address. “We’re going out.”

“This isn’t the time.”

“You know as well as I do there’s no such thing as ‘the time’,” Hizashi counters fiercely. Aizawa wonders if he’s at home yet, or maybe still driving. Pulling faces at himself in a mirror either way, no doubt. “Saturday night means no excuses.”

Tsukauchi looks annoyed that Aizawa decided to answer the phone, which is already a good enough reason to have done it. “I have to finish up with an…” It's Tsukauchi he's looking at, not Shinsou. Never Shinsou. Well, sometimes. “Annoyance over here. I’ll text you when I’m on my way.”

“No, you won’t.”

“Okay, I won’t,” Aizawa repeats back to Hizashi: a firm tug to hoist him by his own petard. “Bye.”

“WAI—” Hizashi’s shout has barely gotten started when Aizawa hangs up.

Reverting to their heated topic of discussion, Tsukauchi adjusts his hat and declares, “Give me one good reason I shouldn't call the Chief and tell him you've been withholding evidence.”

“Because without me the evidence wouldn't even exist.” Aizawa has run this damn case so far and Tsukauchi knows it. He just needs the law to actually pick the damn thing up once he’s snatched it hot off the stove. Which means not pissing around wanting to know why Aizawa knows certain things, no bitchfits over his methodology, and no talk on whether or not the things he’s done could be considered unprofessional or ‘technically illegal’ or would hold up in court. Aizawa’s job is to catch the killer: the police’s is to prove they did it.

It’s lucky that Aizawa hasn't had to make mention of the ‘father-son visit to famous mass-murderer in high-security prison’ part of his and Shinsou’s recent casework thus far. There’s no need to get pulled into that murky world of suspicion. Neither Aizawa or Shinsou could be in any way responsible for these deaths, of course, but to someone who doesn’t think too hard about things it could be possible, and that’s enough to sensationalise.

“You gotta admit, arresting someone for doing your job wouldn’t look great to your boss.” Shinsou’s leaning against the kitchen counter as Aizawa and Tsukauchi argue around the open freezer. Tsukauchi has pocketed his hat and puts on a pair of latex gloves, then produces a large evidence bag from one of his seemingly endless coat pockets.

“I'll get to you later, kid,” Tsukauchi doesn't exactly snap, but Aizawa doesn't appreciate his tone one bit. “I can't believe I have to say this to you, Eraser, but if you find human body parts at a crime scene, I expect you to tell me about it.”

“I did.”

Right away.”

“Well that's just pedantry,” Aizawa counters stiffly.” I was going to tell you once we’d looked over the whole place.”

“Sure, right after we stopped off at the shrine to your intern’s father.”

“I wasn’t expecting that.”

“Then you could act a little more surprised.”

“How's this?” Aizawa's expression doesn't change, he just deadpan stares at Tsukauchi wondering how much longer they're going to have to do this.

“Crappy.” Shinsou isn't exactly helping, but he can't really make things much worse either. And Aizawa finds him amusing, so that counts for something. “What about this?” Shinsou points at his face, mimicking a kind of concerted surprise. “Oh no. We found a piece of critical evidence in the home of our prime suspect. How terrible for us.”

Tsukauchi looks as if he'd like to tell Aizawa to keep his intern under control but for the fact that this is Aizawa's intern. Expectations will have to be managed about what constitutes ‘under control’ in the first place. Aizawa’s not gonna stop Shinsou saying or doing things he'd probably do himself. In fact he'd probably be even worse if it was just Aizawa and the poor, frustrated detective – he is at least trying to set a reasonable example for Shinsou. So really Tsukauchi ought to be thanking Shinsou; he’s the reason Aizawa’s using the barest form of restraint and not actively encouraging the shit talk.

Thankfully, Aizawa can also just prove his innocence, and sometimes that works too. “The level of frost buildup should indicate how long the hand has been there. There’s no way I could have planted it recently.” A delicate icing has crept across the irregularly butchered piece of human wrist-and-hand that stands neatly preserved in the back of the freezer. It’ll be solid all the way through, no way Aizawa could have had it on him – even pre-frozen – and placed it in this freezer just to make the police look silly. Why on earth would he even want to ?

Reasonable doubt Aizawa’s ass.

But Tsukauchi remains unflapped. “Your kid pointed out this place has been accessed from the outside before. What if I'm asked why it couldn't have been you?”

One, I only got this address when you sent it,” Aizawa begins.

Two, the shoe has to fit,” Shinsou jumps in right after. “The footprint isn't big enough to be either of ours.”

Tsukauchi writes all of this down in his notebook and flips it shut. “Fine.” He takes a picture of the hand in the freezer and then reaches in to snap it out of its frosted mount.

The tension seems to hold like a roof of uncertain thickness, no one falling through the ceiling into a packed biker den. Maybe reasonable doubt can be reasonable, now and again. “Look for the writing,” Aizawa instructs when it seems like they’re out of the weeds – for now.

Tsukauchi finds it, exactly as Aizawa expected even before looking himself some time earlier: 墓又 死. “Hakamata Shi.”

“Shiyoko,” Aizawa finishes. “You'll find the rest on the body in your morgue.”

Tsukauchi frowns as he drops the hand into an evidence bag. “I sometimes wonder who Kuwabara thinks she works for.”

“Whoever’s on the case,” Aizawa interjects wearily. They've done this dance before. “Can we put the pissing contest on hold and finish up?”

“Why – you got a better invitation?” Shinsou teases.

“Than this?” Aizawa replies scathingly, but he’s looking right at Tsukauchi in comparison. “Would've thought that's obvious.”

“Unless you've hidden any more body parts around here that you’ve yet to tell me about, Eraser, I've seen everything I can stomach for the night.” Tsukauchi’s also got a handsicle in a bag that's no longer on ice, which is a frozen treat that no one wants melting in the back of their car. Hizashi wouldn’t drive Aizawa to school for weeks after they learned that invaluable lesson.

Aizawa clears out a list in his head scrawled on the mental equivalent of the back of a receipt. “Nothing springs to mind." Unlike the not-all-that-unfortunate molester who sprung to his death after launching himself from the platform, striking the train with so much impact the shattering windscreen sliced him literally to pieces. A piece that Shiyoko found and kept.

Aizawa feels a few blocks shift in his mind; the first death was the trigger, complete with motive and premeditation. But then, like Dr. Shinsou said, one is never enough. She didn’t get the job, or it stopped mattering. Shiyoko was assaulted on the train home and instead of accepting it, instead of going to an authority that would look this with unkind indifference, she grabbed her attacker and pulled him back – Aizawa remembers the tape from the station still. How startled the man was for Shiyoko to come after him, allowing her to write her name on the back of his hand while he fell into a brainwashed trance.

Shiyoko left, or went to hide, and waited while her victim stood on the platform waiting to die. Was he aware, in some level of his consciousness, as he stood there, staring blank ahead and not moving a muscle until the train came charging into the station? When he leapt with unnatural force to launch himself in front of the train, butchering his body like a kobe cow, with the finest cut set aside for Shiyoko. That’s why Aizawa believes the hand was left here, in the apartment she abandoned when the pattern truly began. A physical statement of intent, left for them to find on the cold part of her trail.

This is where – how – a single act of vengeance became a warped killing spree, each death more angry and brutal than the last. The real question, it inevitably follows, is how far will it go before she’s stopped?

The car ride back to the police station is quiet and prickly, like invisible barbed wire is strung through the back of the police car in all directions.

Not really wanting to be in the separated front of the police car, probably not even technically “allowed” to ride passenger – though he does it with Tama all the time – Aizawa sits in the back with Shinsou rather than with Tsukauchi up front.

“So this is what it feels like,” Shinsou murmurs as they first settle in. Being in the back of a police car, Aizawa assumes, though Shinsou has ridden in the back plenty of times while Yamaguichi’s driving. Maybe she’s different – at least to Shinsou.

“You get used to it.”

Shinsou looks around and narrows his eyes at Tsukauchi in the driver’s seat. “Dunno about that.”

“What are you two murmuring about back there?” Tsukauchi pipes up from the front. “It better not be the case.”

“Just planning our next murder,” Shinsou announces with completely deadpan defiance. Aizawa jabs him in the arm with his elbow. “Joking. Geez, you’re lame.”

“Horses are lame,” Aizawa counters, which Shinsou seems to find cringeworthy. “I’m sticking my neck out for you, try not to make me look like an asshole doing it.”

Shinsou’s expression turns sheepish. “Can’t believe it took you this long to work out my evil plan.” Ah yes, the ultimate strategy: make Aizawa look soft by taking so many liberties on a bratty shit-talker of a kid. Aizawa would be ashamed if he wasn’t so proud.

Aizawa gives Shinsou another shove, and then his phone starts to sing its impassioned love song once more. Aizawa would change it, but that takes effort and a mastery of phone settings he has absolutely no grasp on, the secrets of its operation kept like a dragon hoard. Hizashi has fried every single mobile phone Aizawa has ever owned, and always replaces them with some new and fancier model that Aizawa has only just figured out how to use when Hizashi blows it out again. Aizawa suspects he gets them for free from one of his ad deals.

“I'm definitely getting a personalised ringtone,” Shinsou seems to be muttering as Aizawa picks up.

Rolling his eyes at Shinsou, Aizawa answers, “Yeah?”

Hizashi is indignant. “Yeah!? Where the fuck are you!”

“Back of a police car. On my way to the station.”

“Oh, did you finally snap? Do I need to come bail you out at long last?”

Normally that'd be a funny joke. Right now it's a little awkward. “No.”

“Alright alright, chill baby. So you're on your way home.”

“That's overstating it.”

“Yes you are.” It's not a negotiation: it's a declaration of terms. “Saturday night means—”

“No excuses,” Aizawa answers quietly. “Except work.”

Fuck work.” Hizashi is right, of course. “You know I'm right.”

“I do.”

“Then stop screwing around and get back here.” Back at home is where the screwing around will happen surely, but Aizawa’s not going to dwell on that just yet.


“I'm going to pregame without you.” Hizashi sounds like he already has, going by the irregular volume of his voice and what sounds like music in the background.

“You always do.”

Shinsou is watching Aizawa out the corner of his eye, pretending he's not.

“Love you.” Hizashi is testing him, surely. Calls it free therapy, making Aizawa declare his love over the phone in a variety of public places – or get called a coward. In court was one of the weirder ones. This is baby tier in comparison.

Aizawa’s no coward. “Love you too.” Aizawa catches the subtle shift of recognition from Shinsou, desperate as ever for those morsels of teacher’s life outside school hours. Outside of the school hours that fall outside actual school hours, at least.

“Good.” Hizashi is content with this offering. “Now get your ass back here, slut.”

This time it's Hizashi who hangs up. Aizawa is left smiling, still holding the phone to his face.

“Looks like someone's getting laid tonight,” Shinsou doesn't really joke, but Aizawa lets him get away with it – it’s just a bit of banter. Teachers and students aren't really meant to joke about that kind of stuff; then again, they aren't really teacher and student.

That's why Aizawa replies – much to the ever-so-grownup delight of Shinsou – “I goddam hope so.”

Aizawa has no sooner crossed the threshold of his own door than a pair of flying jeans strike him clean across the face.

This isn't the work of Best Jeanist, but one Yamada Hizashi, who in spite of having hours ahead of Aizawa to prepare, seems to have drunk disproportionately more whiskey than he's actually gotten himself ready to go out a la Saturday Night. In fact, going by the music blaring and rocking movement of Hizashi’s body as Aizawa comes through the door, he’s gotten the party started already. Aizawa’s best guess is Hizashi was swinging the only pair of jeans Aizawa tolerates wearing around his head like a lasso before he walked in.

Hizashi takes a swig of his drink, and a solid sphere of ice clinks against the side of one of his fancy whiskey glasses – the ones Aizawa isn’t supposed to touch. Aizawa wonders if Hizashi washes them first, because Aizawa’s definitely stuck his balls in them – out of principle, obviously – more than once. Usually after Hizashi clucks at him for drinking coffee out of them when he can’t find the mugs. Serves Hizashi right for rearranging the fucking cupboards all the time.

The alcohol would probably kill off anything suspect in the glasses, Aizawa concludes as Hizashi takes another thirsty swig of whiskey. Like he’s got to load up his tongue and ready his quirk to spit actual fire at Aizawa. But all Hizashi offers is a smuggish, “Took your sweet fucking time.”

Aizawa looks the love of his life up and down and wonders – not for the first or last time – how on earth he ended up with such a creature. “You've got to be kidding me.”

“Hey!” Hizashi’s outraged, of course, but he knows exactly what Aizawa’s referring to. “These used to belong to Eddie Murphy, I'll have you know.”

Aizawa doesn't have the faintest idea who that is, but whoever that is, he clearly likes bright red leather pants. Going by the way Hizashi fills out the skin-tight layer wrapping around his thighs, this Eddie guy also liked his pants intimately tight.

Naturally, Hizashi’s got no shirt to speak of either. With a bare chest and his arms outstretched, Hizashi could be posing for one of his ridiculous album cover photoshoots, or god forbid advertisements he makes all this outrageous cash off. Being a teacher and pro hero are satisfying careers, sure; being a musician is another ‘side piece’, as the entrepreneurial all-rounder calls it. But Hizashi has to get the cash for his literal mansion of high-end living somewhere, and it’s no secret that adverts are great money.

Aizawa spots the familiar outline of his goggles – not the actual ones, but a cleverly depth-deceiving tattooed set – wrapped around Hizashi’s bicep. An addition that came shortly after they became an item, so to speak. The band sits nestled between the start of the keyboard that goes all the way down Hizashi's arm, and the matching sun and moon that wrap around each of his shoulders.

The rest of Hizashi’s shoulders and neck is hidden parts of the story for now, curtained by the loose tresses of his unstyled hair. This could mean two things. Aizawa’s about to find out which. “What if we don’t go out?”

“Oh no!” Hizashi’s hand shoots out with the whiskey glass at the end of it, a single finger outstretched to point at Aizawa. “Don’t you dare, Shota.”

“You’re barely ready.” After fifteen years beside Hizashi, Aizawa’s judgement for these things has been whittled down to a perfect needle point. He takes a few steps over to the lounge area Hizashi is set up in, if the bottle of whiskey on the table and pack of – Aizawa knew he’d pinched them – cigarettes is any indication. “Someone at work bought those for me,” Aizawa tells Hizashi as he gets close enough to be certain it’s the nice cigarettes Yamaguichi picked up.

“I haven’t had any,” Hizashi purrs, starting to shake and shift to the music again. “Yet.”

Then why steal them? Aizawa barely considers before returning back to the point they were vying away from. “What is there to do outside that we can’t do here?” Aizawa takes a step closer and then stops on the other side of the sofa. Not to mention, there are things they can do here that they can’t do outside – not without getting arrested for indecency.

“Saturday night means–”

“I know what it means,” Aizawa cuts him off, putting a hand down to vault across the sofa and rapidly close the distance between them. He only has to straighten up before Hizashi’s half-assed (but what an ass) dancing collides with the shock-absorbing punchbag of Aizawa’s body. He wraps an arm around Hizashi and looks straight at him. They’re just about the same height when Aizawa’s in boots and Hizashi's barefoot.

There aren’t many people Aizawa stares at like this without using his quirk. As always, Hizashi adores the eye of his beholder, stationary barely a moment before he sprawls backwards against the sure weight of Aizawa’s arm folded behind him. Hizashi has less raw power than Aizawa in his body – doesn’t need it with a voice like that – but makes up for it in limberness, spine flexing like a spring as he flicks rockstar hair behind his shoulders.

A mantle of inky lanterns hangs across Hizashi’s collarbone, stretching from shoulder-to-shoulder. The face of the largest lanterns are painted with the names of the people who mean the most to Hizashi: his parents, siblings, Aizawa again – though that stylised stencil of his name dates back to when they were just friends. ‘You’re my best friend, of course I want you up there,’ he’d scoffed at the time, totally blasé about having Aizawa’s name inked on him forever. Awkwardly, Hizashi’s then-girlfriend had gotten a spot too – a lantern that’s now been filled in with a solid green that sets off Hizashi’s eyes as he gazes lovingly back at Aizawa.

Below the string of lanterns, on the left of Hizashi’s chest, sits a styled heart, anatomical in design but bursting with musical notes instead of blood cells. His right pec is covered in a piece of manuscript, the notes mixed in with figures like kids’ toys playing heroes and villains. A musical comic strip of his life as a hero. He picked it from a fan design competition; Hizashi took Aizawa with him for dinner with the winner instead of his then (different) girlfriend. It’s always been sensible to keep girls who dated Hizashi away from his more intense fans, and Aizawa was the perfect nameless stand-in – who got free dinner and drinks all night at such events. At a time when Aizawa didn’t really ‘buy food’ for himself in a conventional sense, a three-course dinner and as much as he could drink was sometimes the most he’d have eaten in weeks.

Then again, there was the whole thing where the fans who looked feverishly at the publicity that came out about these things thought that Aizawa and Hizashi were… together. They weren’t at the time but had probably let the rumour run on longer than if they’d not been a little too comfy with people thinking they were a couple. They hadn’t been, but that was mostly because it’d never occured to Aizawa to think of Hizashi as attractive – he was just Hizashi, or Yamada back then. Aizawa hadn’t made a point of ogling the physical assets of his friends on a daily basis. Or ever. It wasn’t something he looked for at all, much less in friends he already had an important relationship with. What was the need to change something that already worked?

It’d taken direct confrontation for Aizawa to even consider whether Hizashi was attractive or not. More the fool Aizawa. Or he’d have realised what a stone-cold knockout he’s been best friends with his whole adult life.

Hizashi’s grinning at Aizawa like he sure knows it too. When Aizawa does fall: it’s hard. However, perhaps because of the notion that he’s already got Aizawa right where he wants him, when Aizawa leans in Hizashi tries to wriggle away. Just to be sure Aizawa will catch and reel him back.

Too damn right.

With just a squeeze of his arm around Hizashi’s back, Aizawa draws him into a whiskey-tasting kiss that escalates fast. Aizawa’s palm slides down the patterned skin of Hizashi’s back, until he hits tight leather, giving Hizashi’s ass a no-nonsense grope. It’s a well-known fact that Hizashi’s a flirt, but Aizawa is all hands. “Let’s stay in,” he poses devilishly in Hizashi’s ear; the voice of a lethargic do-nothing tempting him into bed.

Hizashi settles for the sofa, which he achieves by sitting his ass down on it with Aizawa’s hand still on it. Because Aizawa allows it to happen, this results in Hizashi’s asscheek planted square in Aizawa’s hand as he spreads himself out across the sofa, dragging the rest of Aizawa over him like pulling up a cover.

With the far more prolific and varied dating history (or lack thereof, in Aizawa’s case) between them, Hizashi is without a doubt the smoother operator between them. This means he knows exactly what he’s doing as Aizawa comes in to boldly straddle Hizashi’s lap, unfastening Aizawa’s belt and pulling down the zipper on his jumpsuit with a well-practiced fluidity. Right before grasping fingers snake into the hollow between Aizawa’s bare skin and the fabric. Hizashi’s got his hand around Aizawa’s cock so fast it’s amazing there isn’t a small breeze left in his wake, squeezing a grizzled noise of encouragement from Aizawa’s sandpaper throat.

Hizashi looks up at Aizawa with a billionaire’s smile and a hand deftly working inside Aizawa’s boxers. “We can go out after.”

Aizawa has a feeling he’s in for another long night; just in the best way possible.

It’s past ten before Aizawa and Hizashi have both taken all their clothes off – gotten very sidetracked – and then finally put different ones on, respectively getting ‘ready’ enough to go out for that Saturday night on the town Hizashi’s adamantly been calling for. In Hizashi’s case, this means an only marginally less outlandish outfit (Aizawa hid the red leather under the sofa), and in Aizawa’s case changing into his people clothes and a quick catnap on the sofa.

This makes it nearly eleven before they even arrive at the seedy bar that they finally agreed on going to halfway through the drive to another place, Hizashi paying the driver extra for changing the destination in his enthusiasm to go back to their old regular. The destination in question is a bar they’ve been avoiding for a while, on account of Aizawa getting stabbed the last time they were there. Just lightly, but it’s a powder keg they figured it’d be good to stay away from… at least for a bit.

It’s hard to stay away from a favourite, and this is the kind of dive where the cheapness of the drinks undercuts all classes and social strata. Everyone in here must have some reason for wanting to get fucked up on the cheap. For Aizawa and Hizashi, it’s a good place to cruise for illegal activity; hence why ‘Mic’ has his hair pulled into a simple ponytail and contacts instead of glasses.

Hizashi’s straight-up shirtless under one of his many leather jackets, putting a fair amount of his skin – and tattoos – on show on top of the black drainpipe jeans that make him look like some kind of stick figure caricature dashing around all excited once they get out of the taxi near the bar. Only people who are thinking really hard about it will equate this Yakuza-esque looking motherfucker with the popular voice Hero Present Mic. If anything, Aizawa’s the one they’re going to remember – the busybody they knifed for trying (and succeeding) to break up a drug trafficking ring running out of the men’s bathroom three weeks ago.

Aizawa is out of his usual garb as a gesture to date night being more than getting drunk on the job with Hizashi, even if that’s usually exactly what it is. There’s only one outfit that Aizawa has agreed to wear ‘out’ in years upon years of Hizashi pleading for Aizawa to let Hizashi dress him. It consists of one pair of jeans Hizashi brought back from a trip to America, the only pair he’s found that actually fit Aizawa and haven’t split open the first time he squats in them, and a generic black t-shirt that Aizawa is certain Hizashi buys for him a size too small on purpose. That’s his ‘going out’ outfit, and until it stops being Hizashi-approved for such purposes Aizawa won’t be getting another one.

After an only slightly awkward stare when they first stroll in, Aizawa and Hizashi mosey up to the bar for a couple of drinks – more whiskey for Hizashi, beer for Aizawa – and then settle in on a pair of high stools tucked in a corner around a table that’s extremely tacky both in style and texture.

“Alright, lover,” Hizashi breaks into a smile that’s like sun burning through cloudy skies. “How the fuck are you?”

Chapter Text

Hizashi skips formality, which he first passed with Aizawa about fifteen minutes after they met some fifteen years ago. This was by remarking, “Hey, you look like a goth fucked a garbage bag. What's your deal?” Aizawa probably said something disparaging about Hizashi’s hair in return, and they've never looked back.

So it’s without the need for the airs – two people who have never been anything except brutally honest with each other – that tonight Hizashi’s line of inquiry runs, “Do you wanna talk about the kid?”

Aizawa’s content to play dumb and will live to regret it. “Which kid?”

Your kid, duh.” Aizawa’s regret arrives a lot earlier than expected, and he has to grapple with the fact that this might be one of those Important Things he Talks About With Hizashi.

“You’ve taught Shinsou,” Aizawa starts carefully, drawing his thoughts out with precious caution. “Do you think he’s capable of murder?”

“Of what?!” Hizash’s voice leaps six feet into the air, but Aizawa’s terse glare brings it back down again. “What have you been doing with that poor boy?”

“Dealing with more accusations from the so-called police than I like,” Aizawa replies stiffly. “Because of his… background, everyone that meets him jumps to assuming the worst.”

“You once asked me if I thought he’d ever used his quirk in class.” Hizashi is thoughtful, raising the point with enough gravity that it’s not supposed to be an accusation, even though it kind of is. “He tried to use it on you, didn't he?” Lest Aizawa forget he once thought of what Shinsou does as creepy too – little did Hizashi know.

“Yeah.” Even Aizawa’s reminiscence of that early memory of Shinsou has turned fond, like the flip of a perfectly timed pancake. He breaks into a smile and mutters, “punk,” like someone scolds a pet they love too much to be really angry with.

Hizashi gets thoughtful over his Old Fashioned. “I didn’t think it at the time, but looking back there’s a couple of times I wonder if he didn’t…” trailing off, because Aizawa has a pretty good idea of what Shinsou probably did. Hizashi leans forward to emphasise, “But I don’t think he’d ever hurt someone.”

Thank you,” Aizawa heaves off a weight he didn’t know he’d been carrying, taking a triumphant swig of his beer and sitting back against the wall of the bar. “Why’s that so hard to see?”

“People don’t know him, I guess,” Hizashi replies. “You can’t deny he gives off a pretty shady impression.”

“Yeah, but he’s just a kid,” Aizawa sighs. “Just because his father is–”

Hizashi notices right away when Aizawa cuts himself off. “His father’s what?”

This is the moment, Aizawa supposes. He’s never been any good at lying to Hizashi – if he even wanted to, which he doesn’t.

So Aizawa just goes for it.

“A convicted murderer serving life imprisonment for using his brainwashing quirk to make a class of his most devoted students commit mass suicide.” This all fits in one breath, just about, but Aizawa’s deeper breath afterwards makes it seem like more of an exertion than it is to come clean. It’s not that Aizawa dislikes doing it, just that telling people the truth means they’ll inevitably react to things, which slows up his work.

Predictably, Hizashi takes this about as well as everyone seems to; Aizawa doesn’t blame them, but he’s getting a bit tired of the overreactions. “Fucking hell, Shota! You mighta mentioned that a little earlier.”

“It’s hard to explain.” At least in one breath.

“Is it really?” Hizashi rocks back and swills his drink in his glass. “Just because his dad’s a wackadoo doesn’t mean anything.”

Exactly.” Aizawa leans back in and remembers why he’s had Hizashi by his side half his life. “So what is it about him that sets everyone off?”

“His quirk doesn't help,” Hizashi picks up. “You gotta admit, it can be kinda creepy.” It’s always the same word, Aizawa realises – creepy. Some predisposition lodged in their collective memory, drawn from a media frenzy that rose up around Dr. Shinsou and then crashed like a wave, permanently changing the landscape forever.

“I used to think that way too, but I’ve changed my mind since.” It’s actually quite rare that Aizawa turns his analytical skills on himself. Now he has the first-hand experience of being under Shinsou’s quirk, it's far less intimidating than what lay in the fearsome unknown. Aizawa supposes – in some resentful corner of his mind – that Dr. Shinsou’s book has contributed in some small, twisted way too. Amidst all the madness, the Doctor did lay out a detailed study of mentalist quirks that makes Aizawa realise why Nezu so openly called him a genius. Even fractured, not even Aizawa can deny the Doc has a brilliant (of sorts) mind.

“Or it’s been changed for you, ooowoooohhh.” Hizashi does spooky-fingers across the tiny table at Aizawa, who makes an exasperated face.

“You’re joking,” he points out as he takes a swig of his beer, already starting to feel it unwind the screws in his joints slug by slug. “But most people aren’t.” Aizawa doesn’t make much of a habit of drinking, so compared to Hizashi’s any-excuse tolerance, a little goes a long way. Beer suits him just fine, while Hizashi’s favourite here is anything with a lot of whiskey in it.

Hizashi takes a sip, one of his legs jiggling in tight black denim to the beat of the music playing at drink-more volume in this bar. Also a great place to not be overheard, needing to be intimately close to even hear someone right next to you. “Then I guess he’s lucky to have you looking out for him.”

Aizawa airs a worry of unfamiliar shape, unable to place what’s making him so cagey more eloquently than, “Do you think it’s weird?”

Hizashi pulls a face. This is an unusual amount of self-doubt from Aizawa’s typical steadfast surety, so it can't be blamed that Hizashi’s confused. “Is what weird?”

“I don't know.” Aizawa doesn’t know, truly. He’s used to (mostly) having a handle on things, yet around Shinsou they fly off it all the time. “I haven't had an… intern before.”

Hizashi pulls no punches. “The impression I get, Shota, is that he's a little more than an intern.”

“Yeah.” It feels good to make this admission, like correctly aligning pieces of a puzzle that's only half-solved. “I worry about taking advantage of him.”

“If it's something you worry about, that's a pretty good sign that you won't,” Hizashi replies thoughtfully. “But are you sure he's ready for all this? You're dealing with murder, and not the pretty kind.” Hizashi long-laments the fact that Aizawa has to spend so much time chasing after corpses instead of focusing his efforts on the living – unsurprisingly, there’s far fewer heroes who go after such cases: where the people you’d usually be expecting to thank you are already dead. But someone’s got to do it. Aizawa’s been thanked by more grieving families than he likes to think about.

And really, there is no pretty kind of murder. So he just shrugs. “Is anyone ready for it?”

“I guess not,” Hizashi agrees with a squeamish shudder. “Still, he's just a kid.”

“A kid that's already been through so much,” Aizawa muses a little too morosely for his present company.

“Cheer up, Sunshine,” Hizashi goads accordingly, and takes a rousing swig of his drink. There's a band setting up for another set on a grotty stage on the far side of the bar, and Hizashi's eyes are all over it. “By the sounds of it, you probably can't fuck him up worse than his actual father did.”

It's sneaky, and slips in on a booze-loose tongue that always speaks more freely – and loudly – than it should, but Hizashi's carefree chatter touches to Aizawa's nerves like wiring a battery back around on itself. His actual father leaves a negative space on the other side for something else; some not-a-real dad that isn't trying to and doesn't want to be a replacement for a father (even a bad one), but Aizawa's taught enough kids with missing male role models to know the signs of a teenage-shaped emotional vacuum. It just isn't usually so reciprocal, the magnetic pull towards Shinsou as fast as Shinsou has stuck to him. He likes the brat, more than he can possibly try to explain.

Hizashi is watching the band again, the jiggling of his leg only increasing. Aizawa's held the love of his life for shop talk long enough. “Go on,” Aizawa announces, and Hizashi’s gaze snaps back to his. “I know you want to get up there.” Hizashi's grin could power the entire Tokyo electric grid for an entire night. That's how dazzling the light of his smile is.

Aizawa can’t keep him here all night, in a dark corner where no one’s supposed to be looking. Hizashi’s a bird that needs to be able to fly free – major sticking point for the many mostly-girlfriends who broke up with Hizashi, some of them also convinced he and Aizawa were in love with each other. Which… they kinda were, looking back on it.

Hizashi lurches over the table to plant a delighted kiss on the scratchy corner of Aizawa's mouth, spitting, “Love ya!” before he dashes off to fast-talk his way on stage. This takes all of two minutes, so by the time the first few phones have come out to start streaming this impromptu concert by an elusive rock star, the stage has gotten significantly more crowded. By the time Hizashi’s warmed up his voice, another dozen or so people have come into the bar. There’s a familiar crew of fans who will turn up soon enough, and Hizashi knows them all but Aizawa certainly doesn’t. Not being involved in that part of Hizashi’s life gives Aizawa the ability to just kick back and enjoy the show.

An hour and a half of watching Hizashi jam on-stage with the band that don’t quite seem to believe their luck – Present Mic has sold far more records than they have or probably will – is more than enough time for Aizawa to work up an appreciation for his partner that borders on the obscene.

Because Hizashi is a chameleon at heart, and although he can camouflage when he needs to, if left to his own devices he’s always front-and-centre, rainbow skin rippling and a golden whip of hair as he thrashes it out with the best of them.

It might have taken Aizawa seven years to realise he could be – and was, if he’d ever thought about it hard enough – attracted to Hizashi, but he’s done his damned best to catch up in the seven years since. The upshot of all that is Aizawa has plenty of motivation, especially after a couple more quickly drunk beers, for wanting to drag Hizashi from the throes of an excitable crowd into the grotty back-corridor of the bar to make out. And not just because it's also a good place to watch the men's room for evidence of that drugs operation he's been trying to shut down.

Hizashi, as ever, loves a spectacle, so is more than happy to oblige by necking like a couple of teenagers until someone starts a fight. Which is, truth be told, half the reason they even do this kind of thing. No finer way to find the biggest assholes in a bar than being two men in a happy, committed relationship daring to be affectionate in public. Straight couples make out (and worse) back here all the time and no one says boo.

Hizashi’s a rarely undone mess like this: all sweaty and out of breath from leaping around on stage, a guitar swinging from his hip and a voice to die for. Aizawa can taste the salt and whiskey on patterned skin, a pulse throbbing in Hizashi’s neck that’s hyperactive but not even close to being tired. Aizawa might be the regular night owl, but when Hizashi goes out, he means all night.

The current state of affairs is that Hizashi's not-so-subtly encouraging Aizawa to grind into his thigh with a firm handful of the back of his hair, while Aizawa tries playing a melody tattooed across Hizashi’s neck with a new kind of mouth-organ (his). Then the restroom door opens and shuts – it's a long time the guys Aizawa's watching have been in there – and a low voice grunts, “Hey, don't they have bars for that homo shit?”

In a second, Hizashi pulls Aizawa out of the sandwich he’s made of himself between Aizawa and the wall. This he achieves with a firm tug on the back of Aizawa’s head, like lifting a cat by the scruff. It’s a little too much in a way that’s not enough, and Aizawa wonders if the bigots had to come around exactly now, and couldn’t have left it another few minutes.

Hizashi turns to address the guy, and it's a big temptation on Aizawa's part not to lay a kiss on the tattooed mouth spitting a treble-clef behind Hizashi’s ear that this move reveals. Usually hidden under his headphones – as are all his tattoos by ingeniously artful design, the Rolling Stones-esque lips are plenty inviting – and sensitive, so used to being coddled behind thick protective earphones. Aizawa knows full well if he kissed Hizashi’s tattoo right now the messy blonde would leap sky-high, and though he resists the urge, it’s only just.

“Yeah well, we like the drinks here better.” Hizashi plays jovial at first, openly offering these guys their first chance to get out of here civilly – and without getting hurt.

A shifty look of recognition passes between the guy who just came out of the bathroom and the totally-unconnected (not) guy who just came out after him. Now, it’s anyone’s guess whether that’s recognition of the bombeshell who’s been onstage playing with the band half the night being a pretty well-known Hero (unlikely), or that the guy currently humping him into the wall is the same busybody who busted their last distributor and got knifed in the process (probably it). One thing’s for certain: when it rains, it fucking pours.

Aizawa swings into the ‘conversation’ with the grace of a teetering grand piano hung from a crane, the likes of which need lowering into an apartment because the absurd instrument wouldn’t fit in through the door of Hizashi’s damn studio. They didn’t drop the piano, but there were a couple of moments – usually when Hizashi was screaming about something (anything) – during the move-in that Aizawa had thought about cutting it loose out of pure spite. Even if it meant delaying their cohabitation by the number of years Hizashi would have needed to forgive Aizawa for dropping his piano off a building (a lot). But Aizawa would be a liar if he doesn’t think what if he’d actually done it from time to time?

He’d miss out on all this, for one. “Why?” Aizawa addresses the dealer who offered the comment, who doesn’t look like he was expecting to be so directly confronted for a bit of everyday homophobia. “You got a problem?”

This chump is also presumably in front of his new boss – if not new to Aizawa, who has seen this underdwelling fellow in here a handful of times before, but never actually having to dirty his hands with the exchange of narcotics. Until now. Not wanting to come off weak, the homophobe breaks into fiery aggression. “We shouldn’t have to look at that, you know!”

“Don't look, then,” Hizashi returns playfully. “Or maybe you can't look away? Are you so insecure in your sexuality that you're afraid of catching the gay just from watching?”

Amazingly, now the guy turns to address Aizawa like it's an appeal for rationality, even as a small blue glow starts to pulse in his knuckles. “Look here, you better keep your bitch under control.”

“Oh.” Aizawa registers the before-ness grab him by the jugular, then a slight rush of air as Hizashi draws in a long breath that’s not about gathering power, but paring it back. He doesn’t have his support gear on, which means the effects of his quirk can be devastating if emotion is allowed to run rampant. Aizawa looks the guy in the eye and sticks his fingers in his ears. “You shouldn’t have said that.”

The guy utters a caveman, “What the fu–”

“Oh HELL no!” With a punch packed like a knuckle sandwich in a cage-fighter’s lunchbox, Hizashi quirk-smacks the guy – and his boss – head on, both flying onto their asses. “You did NOT just say that.” This is back to Hizashi’s normal volume(ish), but the guys already look suitably assaulted.

Technically, that’s a pretty brazen first-blow from an off-duty hero, but Aizawa and Hizashi don’t come to this lawless concrete hole of a bar for nothing. If the men recognise the quirk of the Voice Hero, no signs of it show as they scramble back onto their feet. The more reckless one's fists start to glow again, while the other just pulls a knife.

“They're all yours, love,” Hizashi offers graciously, taking a step back as Aizawa takes one forward – right in the path of the incoming blue-lit fist heading straight for his jaw. Which is a little achey from letting Shinsou knock him around earlier (brat can throw a punch… just), so Aizawa's in no mood for another round.

Aizawa's hair stands on end, and the black-hole vortex of his quirk activates; the shiny-blue fist heading towards him goes back to being a regular one. He's got no desire to find out what the shiny stuff does, so just grabs the man's wrist and finishes the punch for him. Namely, by steering the guy’s fist into the wall, directing his own power against him. A crunch and a scream come from his knuckles and mouth respectively, while a knife with Aizawa's organs written all over it slashes for his gut.

“DROP it!” Hizashi scolds with another targeted blast, which in its uncollared nature sends Aizawa as well as his opponents flying back. Hizashi’s quirk still hits Aizawa like a truck struck by a train – but he’s endured his best-friend’s lack of an inside voice for fifteen long years now. So even if his hearing will probably be fucked when he’s older, Aizawa’s built up a pretty strong threshold for being drowned in the sounds of his lover. He'd have to, what with the noises Hizashi makes unless Aizawa uses his quirk on him while they're… getting back to the fight.

Hizashi’s shout succeeds in disarming the boss, who seems overall like he wandered into the wrong argument and is looking for the door. So much so that he actually goes for the door, breaking into a dash away from Aizawa and Hizashi that just screams ‘I'm carrying a shit ton of drugs and don't want to be caught with them.’

Aizawa finishes the lackey with a quick combo-punch to the gut and jaw, lets his quirk down and then sprints down the corridor after the boss, who disappears through a fire exit into an alley behind the bar that hosts one of the city's finest collections of used needles and condoms.

Rushing in with three-beer confidence, Aizawa lurches through the door and catches the swinging two-by-four at the last possible moment before it smashes into his face, breaking across his forearm instead as he manages to block the move that no-beers Aizawa would definitely have seen coming.

Right after the shattered piece of wood, the boss hurls a punch that tipsy-Aizawa is too busy mooning over his splinter-ridden forearm to catch, clocking him in the face right over his left eye. Aizawa staggers back and dodges the next punch, missing his capture weapon – or Shinsou, who would have had these two after the first ill-fated reply. Then Aizawa would've been spared the wooden acupuncture and what's sure to turn out a truly ravishing black eye.

Not that Shinsou is supposed to be in a place like this at his age, Aizawa remembers a little late in the game. But Shinsou does plenty of things he's not supposed to – almost makes a habit out of it, in fact – and it's yet to show much of an impact on him. Not like the impact of Aizawa's fist, retaliating against the battery he's suffered at the hands of this middle-management-looking fuck. Aizawa socks the dealer back double what he gave, then snatches him by the collar before he drops to the floor.

“Wanna take a trip down to the station?” Aizawa breathes with hot beer-breath as a little blood from his splintered arm trails down his wrist, staining the man’s jacket as it’s collared in Aizawa’s fist. That’s not great, but what’s a little DNA left at a crime scene?

“Not especially,” answers the mid-tier boss, who Aizawa has finally cut away enough ground-level dealers to draw out into a position like this; he’s vulnerable, but still within certain rights. Aizawa can’t help the thought of exactly how useful Shinsou would be in this situation. At the very least for his quirk, but also for how he would behave. A little overconfident sometimes, but attitude and intentions usually in the right place. Persuasive.

But when Hizashi comes up behind Aizawa and slaps his ass so hard he actually jumps, Aizawa thinks maybe it’s not such a bad thing Shinsou’s not here after all. “Friend of yours, baby?” Hizashi asks as he perches his arm conversationally on Aizawa’s shoulder, which Aizawa only tolerates because he wants to be sure this guy hasn’t found a way to drop whatever stash he’s hiding and can't focus on Hizashi right now. Bastard knows it too.

“Not especially,” Aizawa parrots, eyeing the guy carefully in case the police aren’t able to charge him. On which point. “Grab my phone and call Tama.”

“Who the fuck’s Tama?” Hizashi squawks in amusement but still fishes Aizawa’s phone out of his pocket – with a little extra pretend-looking-that’s-just-plain-groping thrown in for fun. “Your furry friend?”

“Yeah,” Aizawa scoffs in reply. Hizashi will feel stupid when he realises who it is, but that depends on whether Tama’s on shift tonight.

Hizashi knows Aizawa’s unlock code – he would, it being his own birthday and all – and hums as he pulls ‘Tama’ out from the contacts directory then puts the phone to his ear, an inflection in his tone that lifts when the call must be answered. “Hello? Oh, hey! What’s new, Pussycat?” Hizashi recognises Tama’s voice, going by the term of address –  English, but Aizawa’s had it sung at him enough times to recognise the phrase. “Hang on, I’ll put you on with him. Hold please,” Hizashi trills as he turns the handset around and puts it to Aizawa’s ear.

“Eraser? What the hell are you up to at this hour?”

“Bumped into someone you might like to meet,” Aizawa answers coyly. “I’ll text you the address.”

Tama only sounds a little exasperated when he says, “Do you ever stop working?”

Aizawa gives a stiff chuckle. “Do you?” Takes one to know one.

“Yeah, alright. I’ll be there soon as I can.”

“Bye.” Aizawa pulls his cheek away from the phone, and Hizashi withdraws the handset, holding it out with one hand as he offers the other to the guy kneeling on the floor. Who's looking pretty worse for wear and had only pulled a knife on them, rather than being outright homophobic. Which could be a lot worse, truthfully. This guy seems content to take what he’s offered, allowing Hizashi to tug him onto his feet without complaint. Game’s up, and some of them like to go quietly.

But even so, no sooner has the dealer stood up than Hizashi uses the hold on the man’s hand to fold his arm behind his back. Aizawa catches the other one and slips over it the loop of cable-tie that he fishes out of his pocket. “Tama’s gonna be a while,” he remarks as he finishes restraining the guy. Aizawa reaches up to take the phone from Hizashi, sending a GPS drop to Tamakawa before putting it back in his pocket. He looks at the guy, who is in all likelihood looking at a long stint in prison for this, and the reality is sinking in all at once. “You wanna drink?”

“Me or him?” Hizashi grins, sweeping a rogue hair back from his face as he gives the criminal a heavy slap on the back and leaves his hand there, arm draped across the man’s shoulders like they’re the oldest of friends. “Guess we have time for one more, huh?”

They have another drink each and the dealer gets the fifty-year aged whiskey he orders with a straw in it. The homophobe also gets cable-tied, but is left in the hallway until Officer Tamakawa shows up to do a ‘random inspection’ and books the men for brawling, then ‘discovers’ they’re in possession of Class A drugs during a routine search before putting the guys into the police car.

“Where’s Yamaguichi?” Aizawa asks from the backseat, shoulder-to-shoulder with the tight-lipped not-saying-anything-without-my-lawyer dealer and the woken-up-arrested-and-mad-about-it homophobe, while Hizashi luxuriates up front in the empty passenger seat. Just because Aizawa’s technically still bleeding he’s been relegated to the back, where he gets blood all over the seats only partly out of spite, and partly because the homophobe keeps elbowing Aizawa (and Aizawa elbows back).

“She clocked out already. We were just finishing up for the night when you rang, so I said she should go,” Tamakawa answers. His golden eyes meet Aizawa’s in the rearview mirror for a two-way you work too much accusatory look. “Looks to me like you’re supposed to be off duty.”

“I am,” Aizawa answers like he believes it.

“Guess that makes two of us,” Tama practically purrs.

“Ooooh, he’s gotcha there,” Hizashi teases from the passenger seat, and Aizawa just kicks the back of his chair.

But this isn’t work, it’s just date night.

Date night continues, with the addition of a stray, right after they finish up at the police station. Aizawa's sitting with an ice pack over one eye while Hizashi’s picking the iddy-biddy bits of wood out of his arm with tweezers – because of course he’s carrying tweezers (in the ridiculous moustache grooming travel-kit that Aizawa bought for him one birthday as a joke, but he kept the thing). Aizawa would almost kill (but not really) for a cigarette right now, hissing through his teeth every time Hizashi digs some new splinter out of his flesh.

“You look like you could use a drink,” Hizashi diagnoses after he finishes up, dousing Aizawa's arm in antiseptic. Aizawa grunts, mostly from his stinging arm, and Hizashi asks, “Is that a yes?”

“You're going back out after this?” Officer softpaw has managed to lurk in the background without drawing much attention to himself, until now.

“Yeah!” Hizashi always wants drinking buddies. Or music buddies… teaching buddies… all the buddies he can get. “Hey, you wanna come?”

“Fuck yes,” Tama purrs, and this is how they all end up at a local cop-bar with a fresh round of drinks in front of them. Aizawa still hasn't had his cigarette, but with Tama here it's only a matter of time before they’ll steal away for a smoke. Aizawa forgot the good cigs at home after getting sidetracked. With sex. (Sex-tracked, Hizashi calls it).

“Kinda surprised you don't have your kid with you,” Tamakawa remarks casually as he laps a bit of foam off the top of his beer, and makes it sound so normal Aizawa forgets it isn’t, for a moment.

“It's a bit late for him,” Aizawa answers stiffly. Shinsou talks a good game, but he's only… Aizawa realises he doesn't know how old Shinsou is. Fifteen or sixteen, surely, though Aizawa is fairly sure he could play older than that if he wanted to. Young enough Aizawa shouldn’t be thinking about taking him to bars. Even if he'd surely love it – playing grownups. But the drinking and partying kind, rather than the taxes and work-in-the-morning (hungover) kind.

“I thought you took him everywhere.” It's a tease more than a genuine accusation. Aizawa wonders if this is what he gets for attracting so many snarky upstarts, like moons around a planet.

“Not tonight,” Aizawa answers and by it means, “I’m done talking about this.”

Hizashi slides an arm around his shoulders. “He's got me,” Hizashi crows this as if he and Shinsou are in any way comparable. The main commonality between them is Aizawa and a flair for big hair. And drama.

But Tama surely knows all this, as it’s not the first time he’s worked or gotten drunk with Aizawa and Hizashi. There's much more familiarity than awkwardness around the table as they get roped into a new round of drinks by some over-attentive service staff. Hizashi gets on with most people, so anyone who can handle Aizawa is likely to find his partner a breath of fresh air. Or a hurricane of fresh air.

Tamakawa’s good company, but Hizashi also had another plan in inviting him: Tama will agree to things that Aizawa's against, making him a deciding vote on matters such as “let's go to a karaoke bar.” Before long – as in, after another round (or few) of drinks – Tamakawa and Hizashi are warbling joyously through songs while Aizawa drinks himself into a comfortable, I-won’t-ever-be-drunk-enough-for-this stupor.

Eventually – as in, several more rounds of drinks later – they make it home, still tagging along Tamakawa for a ‘nightcap’ before calling a cab to take him home. Because nothing can ever turn out well after a round of White Russians, Aizawa takes a short break to throw up – cocktails already disagree with him, so milk cocktails are a double-no. Hizashi brushes his teeth and puts him to bed after that, so it's anyone's guess how long Tama manages to keep up with Hizashi thereafter.

All Aizawa knows is that at some point in the night the bed stops spinning, and Hizashi shows up in it slightly after. The next thing after that is his phone ringing, and – oh, the bed’s started spinning again. Definitely still drunk, Aizawa fumbles blindly for the source of the noise. Beside him Hizashi becomes another source of noise by letting out a distinctive woe is me groan.

“What?” Aizawa croaks into the phone, mouth feeling like an ashtray someone threw up in – even though he’s sure he remembers Hizashi brushing his teeth for him last night.

“Well, you sound like shit.” It’s Shinsou, which isn’t what Aizawa’s expecting. He’s not in much of an expecting mood, to be fair.

“I told you to only ring me for emergencies.” Especially not first thing on Aizawa’s one day off.

“Then it sounds like you need to turn your TV onto the news,” Shinsou replies with complete confidence. Aizawa’s not stupid, so he drags himself out from a comfortable tangle with Hizashi and stomps blearily into the main room. As he locates the remote and turns on the TV, a few more details of what happened last night are jarred by the sight of Tamakawa fast asleep on the couch snoring like a tractor.

Wearing a white vest and his uniform trousers, no sign of his shirt or jacket, Tamakawa lays flat on his back, his awkwardly sprawled hands on either side of his head and holding an especially paw-like pose. His palms have slightly enlarged and fleshier pads than most hands, not totally feline or human but something subtly in-between. They look kinda… soft.

But then the tv comes on, and Aizawa turns it over to the 24-hour news channel. Greeted at first by a tired-looking newscaster, Aizawa’s soon treated to a sight he had not been expecting to see first thing on a Sunday morning.

Aizawa realises a few things all at once; he’s still on the phone to Shinsou, Tamakawa is stirring at the sound of the TV but has yet to actually wake up. And oh, he’s also totally stark naked. This is his home, after all. He shouldn’t have to wear clothes in it all the time.

But none of that really matters, because on the TV there’s a building – the front of some office block that didn’t mean anything when Aizawa searched for it online, the legal firm where Shiyoko didn’t get her promotion – and in front of it there’s a cluster of policemen and a body under a sheet. “Shit.”

“I assume that means you’ve seen it.” Shinsou’s not particularly sarcastic anymore. Not at all, in fact. He practically rushes into what he’s about to say like he’s been itching to spit it out to Aizawa since the moment he picked up. “This has something to do with my father.”

Aizawa gives a toneless, “What does?”

“Are you that hungover?” Shinsou spits impatiently. “The murder. The way she made them do it.”

“What makes you so sure it was her?” Aizawa finally starts slotting the triangle block in the right-shaped hole, and not just mentally banging it against the square one over and over.

“The message on the wall. It’s how Dad killed one of the policemen who tried to arrest him,” Shinsou steams with growing irritation, because there’s a piece of information Aizawa did technically know – but probably didn’t need to be reminded of it in that liminal space between still-drunk and hungover.

Aizawa crawls over the facts like a man dying of thirst through the desert. Message, okay – what message? Focusing on the TV, the police officers in the way of the camera finally move, and Aizawa catches a glimpse of it. Not long enough to read, but enough to recognise what it looks like when someone has written on a wall in blood. The scribe’s own, presumably – if the model is like Dr. Shinsou’s. “What does it say?” he asks without wanting to know but needing to all the same.

“Are you glad I called yet?” Shinsou taunts, probably knowing he’s ahead of the curve (this time) and only gets to hold it over for Aizawa for a moment. It’s early in the morning, and golden light streams through the wall of windows that takes up almost a whole side of apartment, basking the fish-tank room in a tranquil glow that’s sorely at odds with the grim reality Aizawa’s woken up to. There’s a balcony built into a nook of the roomy penthouse that fills up with pure sunshine, protected from the blustering winds that usually blast up this high. Funny how it can seem so still and safe inside – especially inside here – while all manner of storm rages outside.

“No,” Aizawa replies. “But it was the right thing to do.”

When Shinsou next speaks, there’s a moment when Aizawa thinks he’s talking about the TV, realising a second later that’s not it; because these are the words etched onto a smooth concrete wall with someone’s dying blood. Piercing the drunken haze like lightning in a storm, the message the killer wants to send suddenly makes sense to Aizawa.

With impeccable timing, the news channel finally zooms in fully on the writing. When Aizawa’s mental process makes it to the point like the man in the desert reaches an oasis, Shinsou’s voice is already narrating the words.


Chapter Text

“Wake up, Tama.” Aizawa shakes Tamakawa by the shoulder, his sprawled arms jiggling like an upturned beetle. “We have to go.” Tamakawa’s eyes snap open super fast, pupils dilating instantly to tiny slits in the harsh light of day.

“I feel like shit.” Tama shares this valuable information with great urgency, then zips to sit bolt upright, glancing around around like he’s trying to re-remember what happened last night. “... Did we end up at a karaoke bar?”

“Unfortunately,” Aizawa replies with both a demeanour and breath like death warmed up. After a cursory look around the place, he spots Tamakawa’s shirt and jacket hanging off the back of a chair in the kitchen, next to a box of – goddamit, empty cigarettes. That must be why Aizawa’s mouth tastes like an ashtray, even with the thorough brushing Hizashi gave Aizawa’s teeth for him last night. Probably the best clean they’ve had in weeks, even though Aizawa wasn’t super cooperative at the time, if hazy memory holds up.

“What happened?” Tamakawa’s not talking about last night – Aizawa’s certainly got no better an idea of that than he does – but the newsreel playing its sombre deathmarch on TV.

“Another murder.” Aizawa spares the details, and then more for scorn than to suggest Tama is actually in the position to do it, hazards, “Any chance you could drive?”

“Are you kidding?” Tamakawa scoffs, feeling around and eventually finding his phone. “I’ll call Yamaguichi.”

“On her day off?” Aizawa pads barefoot – and bare ass – into the kitchen and heads straight for the fridge.

“Day off?” Tamakawa’s eyes narrow like he doesn’t understand the question. “We’re back on in a few hours.”

Aizawa’s opinion of Tamakawa shifts and resettles like land after an earthquake. Here he thought Tama had his shit together slightly more than Aizawa does; no wonder they’re friends. “You’re insane.”

“Excuse me, I wasn’t the one who couldn’t hold my milk last night,” Tamakawa snaps back with I-hate-everything fatigue just as Aizawa's opening the fridge. Even the word milk brings back a lurch of nausea in his gut, staring into the cooler like he wants to just shut his head in it for a while. He feels entirely too hot, and that’s still fully nude – something Tamakawa has had the decency not to remark upon yet. Aizawa’s certainly not all that bothered about being seen naked – he wouldn’t walk around that way if he were.

Grabbing one of Hizashi’s weird smoothies from the fridge, Aizawa swigs straight from the bottle and then turns around to traipse back into the bedroom; he does need to be dressed to leave the house, obviously. Somehow Aizawa manages to get his shit together enough to head out, which only really leaves time to brush his teeth a couple more times and give himself a quick lobotomy – anything to relieve the screaming pressure in his head like a rock about to fissure.

Before jumping straight to open brain surgery, Aizawa turns to Hizashi’s bathroom cabinet full of wild and wonderful meds. Hizashi’s taken to labelling them with emoji stickers for Aizawa rather than trying to get him to remember all the names, much less read the labels to find out what they do or how much you’re supposed to take. Dosages are just guidelines anyway. Aizawa grabs a couple of ‘barf face’ pills and a packet of 'plaster in middle of forehead' dissolvable solution, and then picks out an extra round for Tamakawa. If the cop feels anywhere near as bad as Aizawa does, Tama’s going to need all the help he can get.

As it happens, Tamakawa’s asleep again when Aizawa comes back through to the kitchen. This time he’s sitting on a stool, slumped over the breakfast bar, almost seeming to purr instead of snore. When Aizawa gets closer, he notices the end of Tama’s tongue sticking just far enough out of his mouth to touch the counter. It's… kinda cute.

Aizawa slaps a hand on Tama’s back, and he startles like a spooked cat – which he is, in a sense. “Ask Yamaguichi to meet us at the bakery a block over from here. And drink this.” Aizawa holds out one of Hizashi’s fancy whiskey glasses with the hangover cure dissolved in it.

“Mm’kay.” Tamakawa reaches for the glass and knocks it back like a badly made White Russian. Although Tama didn’t throw up last night (as far as Aizawa knows), he might still yet. He’s certainly looking peaky right now, with his fur all ruffled in the wrong direction, a kitty equivalent of bedhead – not that Aizawa’s one to talk with his ‘didn’t brush it, wouldn’t let Hizashi brush it’ resistance of a drunk Aizawa who very much wanted to be allowed to go to sleep.

Tama groans into his hands and then gives a visceral shudder – one of those fuck-my-life moments that Aizawa really feels for. “I’ll see if she can pick us up some smokes and coffee on the way.”

Aizawa thinks it over, then hears Tamakawa actually gag when he requests, “No milk.”

Yamaguichi’s not yet in uniform, so when she collects Aizawa and Tama outside the bakery it’s strange to see her in everyday civilian clothes. She has the same spectacles and long well-kept ponytail, which swishes when she shakes her head as Aizawa and Tamakawa rock up looking like a couple of guys who slept in a trench. “What happened to you two?”

“Don’t ask.” Aizawa just climbs into the back of Yamaguichi’s car and lies down, stretching all the way across the backseat as Tamakawa gets in the front. The engine starts, rocking Aizawa like a colicky baby as they pull away, finding the disorientating movement of the car almost cancels out what feels like the sloshing around of his brain inside his head.

“Hey, Mr. Eraser,” Yamaguichi pipes up minutes in, and Aizawa wishes she wouldn’t. “Where’s Jack?”

Never mind. She’s actually being helpful, and a hangover is no excuse for negligence. “We should pick him up on the way,” Aizawa answers with his cheek pressed soothingly against the seat. He checks his messages and finds a string from Shinsou, time-stamped from before and after he called. When Aizawa sends a message back, Shinsou responds quickly enough he must be hanging on his phone pretty urgently – understandable. They agree a plan: pick him up and crash a crime scene no one invited them to. “He’ll meet us at the nearest train station to the crime scene,” Aizawa announces. Hitoshi's already on his way, in fact. Smart kid.

“Jack? Oh, your kid,” Tama fills in groggily as he finds a pair of sunglasses in the glove compartment of the car and puts them on, sliding back in the seat in a pose that’s truly Aizawa-esque in nature. As in he wishes that was him.

“He’s not my–” Aizawa’s just in the business of explaining more to the seat cushion than actually to Tama, but gives up on the attempt – save it for a time when he’s less hungover-drunk. Or has any idea how to explain what his relationship with Shinsou is: other than defying explanation.

This is never more evident when they pick up the rare purple bamboo scarecrow from a corner near the train station. Aizawa’s still laying down, so doesn’t see Shinsou until the door opens – or vice versa. After that, they have a pretty good view of each other along the car's backseat, though Aizawa is slightly blinded by the harsh light of day flooding in. He sees enough to make out Shinsou’s expression shifting from surprise to smug satisfaction at the sack of human garbage he finds.

“Wow, I can’t believe you actually managed to look worse than you sounded on the phone,” Shinsou just about cackles. Aizawa is basically curled up on the backseat cradling a hot cup of coffee, admittedly, but that's no reason to be a little shit about it. “What were you up to last night?”

“I wish I could tell you,” Tama groans over his own steaming cup of blessedly black coffee, which is the moment Shinsou realises he’s a mess too and that they – Tama and Aizawa – were presumably out doing grown-up things without him.

The mood settles like a thick curtain. Shinsou shoves Aizawa’s feet off the seat and sits down in a way that’s almost stroppy. “Fine, don't tell me.”

“Ohoh, was it a hard night on the tiles, boys?” Yamaguichi teases with a much lighter air, pretending to elbow Tamakawa as she drives. It's no skin off her nose if her partner was out getting wasted with an underground Hero last night. All the more ammunition to tease him with.

“Let's just say I hate myself and leave it at that,” Tamakawa declares like he’s closing a case file. Aizawa murmurs wordlessly in agreement from the backseat.

Yankumi chortles in delight. “You're lucky I was around, we're not supposed to start for a few more hours but I decided to run some errands in the area.”

“Shifts are overrated.” It’s all well and good for Tama to say this, but he needs the time to sober up more than anyone. “Crime is around the clock.”

“That's almost corny enough to be one of your lines,” Shinsou mocks, pushing his leg against Aizawa's foot. It is almost in his lap, so Aizawa can't blame Shinsou for resisting the invasion of his space, though he just grumbles non-verbally in reply.

Aizawa picks up his head to take a sip of his coffee and gets most of it in his mouth, while Tamakawa drops his seat back in a classic don’t-talk-to-me pose that Aizawa knows and loves. Laying an arm over his face, Tama lets out a long, creaking-timber sigh. “Wake me up when we get to the gates of hell.”

He couldn’t be more right.

Aizawa awakes to the sensation of Shinsou shoving Aizawa’s leg off his knees, which logically means that it must have been on them prior to that moment. Without addressing the thought a second longer, Aizawa pushes himself into the world of the re-awakening like a zombie extra crawls off a horror movie set. To mean, he drags his lifeless corpse out of the car and takes a steadying breath of fresh air as he adjusts to being both vertical and awake again.

Then Tama says, “Cigarette?” and Aizawa thinks fuck fresh air.

“Thought you’d never ask.” Aizawa reaches for the pack Tamakawa offers – Yamaguichi really came through for them – and pretends he doesn’t know (or care) that Shinsou is watching as he lights up. Dragging tired eyes across the the crime scene in the distance, Aizawa picks out Naomasa’s baggy profile by his distinctive coat and upside-down bucket hat; figures he’d be here already, though it’ll make as many things difficult as it does easy in the grand scheme.

“Shouldn’t we uh, go over there?” Shinsou prompts impatiently, but Aizawa just fishes out a lighter and sparks the cigarette, sitting back to rest on the still-warm hood of Yamaguichi’s car. He takes a bottom-of-the-gutter first inhale and then breaks into a distinctly wet morning-after-smoking-too-much cough that he spits into a nearby drain. Shinsou is looking a touch more grossed out than anything, which is probably a good thing. Hopefully it’ll stop Aizawa’s bad habits catching like the spread of a burning trash fire in the dry season.

“Not yet.” Aizawa attempts to blow the smoke away from Shinsou, like it’s going to make a difference when Tama’s already halfway through his own morning-after I-hate-myself cigarette. It’s in the air whether or not Aizawa’s personally contributing to the bad habit, not that it’s any excuse.

“Why not?” Shinsou accuses. “So you can finish feeling sorry for yourself?”

“Because that’s not our crime scene,” Aizawa snaps as much as he counters, but the point remains. “It doesn’t always pay to go barging in somewhere like you own the place.”

“Isn’t that what you usually do?” Shinsou baits without respect for Aizawa’s delicate condition this morning, which is only fair, he supposes. Aizawa doesn’t cut Shinsou (much) slack either, so he’s at rights not to treat Aizawa any different just because one of them made the inadvisable decision to get shitfaced last night.

“I’ve earned that right.” Aizawa takes a harrowed drag on his cigarette, watching Shinsou the way he’d watch a large fly buzzing around him, weighing up the moment he can actually be bothered to swat his hand at it. “Ever heard of ‘do as I say and not as I do?’

“It’s cool, I’m used to shitty role models,” Shinsou jokes, but there’s a thread of truth there – one he apparently wants to announce in front of Tamakawa and Yamaguichi. Shinsou can be pretty offish with Tama, but Yamaguichi manages to get on with most people.

Even if her earnestness can sometimes overspill, because Yamaguichi props her hands on her hips and looks outraged at Shinsou’s lacklustre dig at Aizawa. “You’re Mr. Eraser’s intern, Jack! The way you act with him is a reflection on you too.”

“I’m kidding, Yankumi.” Shinsou seems comfortable enough with Yamaguichi to actually be teasing her more than anything. It makes Aizawa wonder if they’d talked in the car while he and Tama were punched-out.

“Well, we are at a crime scene, you know,” Yamaguichi insists as a lone voice of reason. She’s kinda in the wrong company for normal reactions to the gory scene they’re observing at a distance. “Someone died here.”

“Yeah, I noticed that,” Shinsou returns the serve with a touch more sarcasm. “But apparently,” he turns to look most pointedly at Aizawa “we’ve got to stand around looking edgy a while longer before we can actually do something about it.”

“Patience, kid,” Aizawa nags unenthusiastically over his cigarette. Because just as Aizawa expects, and not least because they’re making kind of a ruckus, Tsukauchi notices them soon enough. He comes over a few ego-preserving minutes after that, hands shoved deep into the bucket-pockets of his overcoat.

He doesn’t look happy to see Aizawa, but this is the scene of a murder. “Figures I’d see you here when I turn around, Eraser.” Tsukauchi turns his gaze from Aizawa to the three-person lineup of Shinsou, Yamaguichi and Tamakawa at his side. “But did you have to bring the whole gang?” His gaze moves from a beaming Yamaguichi to finally settle on one smoking, sunglasses-wearing Tamakawa. “Aren’t you two meant to be working for us?”

“Only when we’re on-duty,” Tamakawa replies stiffly. It could be the hangover or tension (maybe both), but Tsukauchi certainly seems wary of Tama’s ambiguous answer. Aizawa must be rubbing off on him. Funny; it’s usually the other way around with him and cats.

Even if the rest of them are happy to start with a pissing contest, Shinsou’s not about the bullshit today, not when it comes to this case. “So you know why this relates to–” his freeflow cuts off like Shinsou’s pinched it with wire clippers, and then he resumes again with a more carefully phrased, “Another famous killer.” The kid’s instincts for keeping things to himself are alright, but he’s still fumbling, Aizawa evaluates like taking notes for an assignment review. Thinking before he starts to speak would be key to avoiding such mishap.

Thankfully, Tsukauchi picks up the baton before the awkward silence becomes outright suspicious. “You mean Dr. Shinsou?”

“Yeah,” Shinsou affirms without having to say the words himself. Like he’d give it away by just having to say his (own) name. “It was one of your guys he did like that, wasn’t it?”

“I didn’t know him, but there was an officer from our division, yes,” Tsukauchi answers frostily. Tamakawa’s ears pick up.

“Did like what?” he asks, flicking ash from the end of his cigarette.

“I thought you were off-duty, officer?” Tsukauchi reminds him tersely, and Aizawa thinks there might be a little more tension than hangover in there, at least on Tsukauchi’s part. Aizawa supposes he understands – it’s a hierarchy, and Tsukauchi’s worked to get where he is, not to be undercut by any drinking buddy of Aizawa's.

But Tsukauchi can’t do it alone. No one can.

“You.” Tsukauchi points at Aizawa, who’s letting a lazy plume of smoke pour out of his mouth like some kind of incense burner, and then shifts his finger onto Shinsou. “And you.” Shinsou doesn’t look surprised to be called on by Tsukauchi, but Tamakawa and Yamaguichi sure do. That’s as far as the detective goes before closing with a soft, “Come with me.”

The detective crooks the finger he just pointed at Aizawa and Shinsou and then turns round on his heels, strolling back in the direction of the police-taped crime scene. Naturally, they follow. A few steps in, Tsukauchi announces, “I’d like to think you and Tamakawa keep each other out of trouble, but I somehow feel that’s not the case.” They walk across the empty cordoned-off street and stop just next to the perimeter of the crime scene proper.

It’s still early, and the morning light is struggling to bring warmth to the breezy morning chill, which sweeps like a broom across the pavement outside Shiyoko’s former workplace, stirring just the tips of Tsukauchi’s gigantic coat as they walk over. Normally this place would be swarming with busy commuters by now, but is instead laid as dead as the body underneath the sheet in the distance. Guess everyone working here got to enjoy an unexpected day off – Shiyoko’s parting gift.

“We can’t be friends?” Aizawa proposes, getting an eye-rolly ‘that’s not what I meant’ look from Tsukauchi on one side and an ‘I’m not jealous you’re jealous’ glare from Shinsou on the other. He goes out for one night off work and everyone gets mad. Aizawa doesn’t take much time for himself, so it only makes sense he lets loose when he does, like screaming into the woods just for the feeling of release.

Tsukauchi signs a timesheet that’s handed to him by some kind of attendant, not looking up to Aizawa as he remarks, “Friends are meant to discourage each other from recklessness.”

“Maybe your friends,” Aizawa retorts. He can believe Toshinori needs reining in, but Aizawa can handle himself – as can Tamakawa. They’re just having fun.

Tsukauchi can try to draw lines, but all this picking-and-choosing really means is that Aizawa will wait until the detective isn’t there to tell Tamakawa everything he needs to know. Tama found the first victim, called Aizawa when he wasn’t listened to because of petty hierarchy; he deserves to be involved in this case. Aizawa will minimally tolerate following some separation according to authority, but that’s as far as it goes. They can’t just let anyone wander around an active crime scene – especially not if they want to avoid mistrials on police malpractice charges. He’ll catch up with Tama later.

Right at the bottom of the crime-scene ranking food chain, there’s a hustle of reporters in the distance struggling to get a good shot, which Aizawa had barely been able to make out on tv this morning. He gets a good look now.

The body is under a sheet, but the pool of coagulated blood under it slightly exceeds the area of the sheet itself. There’s… quite a lot of it. Not including the blood painted carefully down a smooth expanse of the wall. The strokes are careful and consistent all the way through the end, which Aizawa suspects to be because of the mental stronghold of the killer’s quirk, stopping the victim from reacting to the pain they were in.

The question hangs in simple strings of words across the wall, a few broken trails where the flow of man-made ink was too heavy and fell like raindrops down a window: ARE YOU WATCHING NOW?

They’re all quiet for a moment, the ominous silence that proximity to such a gruesome scene offers. Then Shinsou says, “So are you going to talk about the connection with the Doc or shall I?” Which, as dark as it sounds, is a promising reaction for the boy to show.

If Shinsou wants to be a Hero, especially one in the shadows, it means dealing with a lot more grisly shit than the pomp and honour Heroes ever get to report to the ever-eager masses. Underground work of Aizawa’s creed is rarely the kind to make it into the public sphere, and if it does, it’s almost always for the worst reasons. People are looking to be told things are alright and there’s nothing to be afraid of, not that there’s a powerful killer on the loose with a brainwashing quirk that can make people commit suicide. They’re underground for a reason.

But Shinsou has a deadpan so hard you could cut diamonds on it before you’d scratch the ‘I give a shit about this’ mask he’s wearing. That’s good too. If he can be stoic about this – even dealing with his own father – then he’s got the emotional durability to be a Hero. To do it for no thanks or recognition, but the satisfaction of righting a wrong.

“Why don’t you start?” Tsukauchi offers pleasantly.

“Well, it goes without saying that there’s a message in everything he does,” Shinsou launches into this with the enthusiasm of a very wet, cold fish. “Even with the people he made kill themselves, there’s always something D–” a very slight trip, but the sound is covered convincingly enough that only those with close familiarity would recognise the change of direction – and Aizawa’s certainly not telling. “Doc wants to tell us about the way he made them die.”

“Which is what?” Tsukauchi probes with what seems like genuine interest. After all, it’s not every day you get unprecedented access to interview the one-and-only son of Dr. Shinsou Masaru, the infamous mass-murderer who is currently being copycatted by someone he once studied. Aizawa knows firsthand what Shinsou learned from his father’s ‘research’ before his mother pulled him out of it, so he can only imagine what Shiyoko could have been exposed to under the influence of an 'obsessive' Dr. Shinsou by his former assistant's account.

Shinsou – Hitoshi – is standing with his arms crossed close over his chest, the tips of his hair moving softly in a morning breeze that nibbles more than it bites. Shinsou grips his arms, maybe for warmth, and Aizawa finds himself thinking that the boy could use a good functional bodysuit. Then almost as if he could read minds, Shinsou declares, “This is an affront.”

“To what?” Tsukauchi asks, because what Shinsou’s really talking about is the message scribed outside the old workplace of their chief suspect.

“To who?” Shinsou corrects Tsukauchi like he thinks nothing of it. He probably doesn’t.

“Anyone. It’s a cry for attention,” Aizawa adds simply.

“Or a declaration against someone,” Shinsou counters. “We were in her home yesterday, how do you know this isn’t directed at us?”

It’s a scary thought, but a valid one. “Would she know if we’d been there?” Aizawa runs through like scribbling a lesson plan on the back of a receipt while sitting in an alley late at night, pretending to be a bag of trash while he waits for a drop-off.

“We took her trophy, didn’t we?” Shinsou lays out like a practised card player, pleased to be playing anything other than solitaire, maybe. “Or, you know, she could always be trying to reach the Doc.”

“What?” Tsukauchi doesn’t like that implication, which might be exactly the reason Shinsou would say it.

“It’s the kind of stunt he’d respond to,” Shinsou’s remark tips the balance from fun to freak-out, and makes the whole thing seem more creepy than lighthearted. “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, she’s showing him she’s capable of the same things he was.” It’s an idea worth mulling over, Aizawa considers without offering up comment just yet. The pattern matches that of the last and most brutal of Dr. Shinsou’s murders, so it’s possible Shiyoko is starting where he stopped, as if she’s going to continue his legacy… and wants them all to watch. The Doc certainly is susceptible to having his ego massaged.

“Dr. Shinsou’s in a maximum security prison, there’s no way he would find out about this,” Tsukauchi talks like it’s something he needs to believe more than he wants to.

“You and I know that, but should we really take this lady for the mentally reasonable sort?” Shinsou replies nonchalantly. Aizawa’s grateful to have him here, picking up the slack while Aizawa just puffs on his cigarette and waits for the coffee to kick in. “People always talk.” Especially about these kinds of things, Shinsou leaves the unspoken implication as they lull into another eerie, looking-at-a-murder-scene silence.

“Or maybe she’s taunting the police, now they’re finally bothering to look for her,” Aizawa suggests a little coarsely, but it’s a coarse-feeling kind of morning.

“I know which I’d prefer,” Tsukauchi seems to offer quite freely, and Aizawa has a stab as to whether the detective is worried about a cop-killer or a cry to the Doc. “She can taunt the police all she likes, we’re going to catch her anyway.”

“Not without some help,” Shinsou’s quick to point out with a narrow look that seems to know exactly how much they seem to need him rather than the other way around. It’s important to have as accurate a measure of your value as possible, but at this rate the boy is going to end up with even more of an ego. “Obviously, the killer was a part of the Doc’s research when she was young, but I can’t help feeling that couldn’t have been the end of it.”

“I’m sorry,” Tsukauchi intercedes. “Obviously?”

“We got that intel from a reliable source,” Aizawa assures Tsukauchi.

Yet Tsukauchi remains unimpressed. “You always say that.”

“She works for your branch of the force, how’s that for trustworthy?” Aizawa retorts as he finally accepts his cigarette has gone out and shoves the butt in his pocket. It stinks up his jumpsuit even faster than usual, but he can’t be dropping litter around an active crime scene.

“Aside from the Psych thing – obviously.” Shinsou must be deliberately making fun of Tsukauchi with the ‘obviously’s by this point.

This clearly catches Tsukauchi by surprise. “You mean Dr. Iwaya?”

“You told me to go talk to her. Didn’t you bother to take your own advice?” Aizawa tries not to outright taunt, but it’s hard when Tsukauchi apparently doesn’t know enough to check under his nose for his own moustache. If he could grow one.

Tsukauchi seems more distraught by this discovery than would make sense if he’d never talked to Iwaya at all; or perhaps that he’s misjudged their relationship in some way. “I thought she would have told me.” The second, then.

“She’s not exactly falling over herself to talk about it,” Shinsou answers with an edge that almost feels defensive, though Aizawa would have said the same if he’d gotten the chance. “No one is, when it comes to that man.” There’s only a moment of silence before Shinsou asks, apropos of nothing, “Can we see the body?”

And people wonder if Aizawa is going to traumatise Shinsou with exposure to this stuff: he’s practically got to hold the damn kid back. This request seems to catch Tsukauchi further off guard; he’s already been unnerved – Hizashi is right, that's exactly what Shinsou is when he wants to be. Unnerving. The detective’s gaze finds Aizawa’s, because like it or not, Aizawa has a responsibility for Shinsou in this situation. If there’s anyone to check with, it’s going to be him.

Aizawa nods, and Tsukauchi turns to one of the people standing by. “Help me lift the sheet. We’re going to inspect the body.”

Looking like he won the worst jackpot of all time, the officer carefully takes one corner of the sheet while Tsukauchi holds the other. With a quick, quiet rustle it lifts and the sad, curled-up body underneath is revealed.

“Early investigations suggest he’s homeless,” Tsukauchi reveals as Aizawa and Shinsou move closer in almost equivalent steps. Aizawa steps around the body and then drops to a crouch, just at the edge of the shore between asphalt and blood. The man is old and dirty, coiled on one side with hands to a gut that has produced the ocean of blood, both for the wall and floor. He looks peaceful now but wouldn’t have been when he bled out like a slaughtered animal and scrawled someone else’s parting message with his viscera.

“Time of death?” Aizawa asks.

“Around six to ten hours, but it’ll hard to tell until we can get the security feed from outside the building.” Tsukauchi doesn’t sound like he’s got much in the way of good news on that – or any – front. “We got an ID, but there isn’t much to say about him. No job, no address, just a few minor crimes on his record.”

“Any history of sexual assault?” Aizawa asks sharply.

Tsukauchi frowns. Not because of the question itself, but rather because he doesn’t understand it. Aizawa’s not going to help him, so he better keep up. “... No.”

“Not that you know of, you mean,” Shinsou corrects. He’s right, too. Crime goes unreported – particularly crimes like that – every day. “What about the weapon?”

Tsukauchi doesn’t look entirely comfortable answering an inquiry of this kind from an actual teenager, but it’s something they all need to know, so he does it anyway. “A pen-knife, based on the incision.”

“You’re not sure?” Aizawa searches for the facts, cutting away any room for assumption that in turn creates doubt, like a surgeon removing dead tissue.

“Haven’t found it yet,” Tsukauchi replies.

“Maybe she took it,” Shinsou suggests, looking side-to-side like it might drop in his lap if he's lucky. “We did steal her last trophy.”

“That’s evidence,” Tsukauchi says with a little sigh.

“To you,” Shinsou points out absentmindedly, the rest of his attention focused on the scene. “To her, it’s proof.”

“Of what?” Aizawa asks – having his own ideas, but testing Shinsou for his.

“That her power, that all of this, is real,” is Shinsou’s best guess, and it’s a pretty good one at that. Who else could understand what a fractured mind wielding so much power over life and death is capable of? What it feels like to be forced by Dr. Shinsou to explore those limits as a child, learning how their unique quirks could be marshalled to cause the most harm. Shinsou turned out all right, but the same can’t be said for their killer – or her victims. “Have you found the mark?”

Tsukauchi echoes warily. “What mark?”

“Her name, obviously, ” Shinsou replies, and glances between the detective and Aizawa. He nods in Aizawa’s direction. “He’s hungover. What’s your excuse?” Aizawa’s busy looking for the killer’s mark now, executing a sort of ground-squat crab-step that he uses to make his way around the body at the dried edge of the blood pool.

Tsukauchi figuratively staggers and then recovers. He knows all this – well, most of it – and it'd be good for his reputation to at least keep up with the teenager on his first run out. “Not yet,” Tsukauchi is replying when Aizawa interrupts. They're not trying to make the Detective look slow, but if this murder were a snail race, he’d still be touching the start line.

“Found it.” Aizawa points, stopped square to the back of the man’s neck, where it reads in two precise formations of a normal ink pen on his skin: 墓又 死世子.

“There she is,” Shinsou’s voice pours like the smooth black coffee Aizawa finally feels hitting his system. He moves close to Aizawa to get a good look, and almost as if reading announces, “Hakamata Shiyoko. The Doc’s unlikely successor.”

What Shinsou means by ‘unlikely’ (Aizawa dares to speculate with a distant horror for the thought of how fucked the world would be if Shinsou wasn’t on the side of Heroes), is that this successor is not Shinsou himself.

Tsukauchi takes a phone call at some point and leaves Shinsou and Aizawa alone. Tamakawa and Yamaguichi didn't wait for them, taking the car and disappearing – in the direction of breakfast before they have to punch the clock, Aizawa guesses. With a quick nod, Aizawa and Shinsou stride over to a side-alley, somewhere they can talk out of the earshot of the rest of the people working the crime scene.

Trapped between soulless office blocks, the alleyway is reminiscent of a crevice in the most boring part of hell, cast in the kind of permanent dimness that screams of somewhere that never sees the sun. A large mound of empty computer boxes is piled up among some useful-looking debris that Aizawa would have rummaged through back in his ‘bringing home garbage’ phase that Hizashi worked hard to shut down in their more tender years.

Shinsou kicks one of the empty boxes as he passes the pile and it lets out a soft thunk. “You’re not going to like this,” he announces with his back to Aizawa, hands in his pockets.

“I hate everything this morning, so it’s not personal,” Aizawa remarks as he leans back against the wall and gives a weight-off-his-feet sigh.

Shinsou turns around and speaks with enough consideration that it feels like what he says has an inalienable weight to it. “I want to talk to him again.”


“You know who.”

Aizawa thinks about it for a second. He does. “Shit.”

“I said you weren’t gonna like it.”

“No, you’re right,” Aizawa admits, and thinks about ringing up the Warden, and how they’re going to have to play this. “... Fuck.”

“I’ll take care of it,” Shinsou tries to insist. “I convinced the Warden once, didn’t I?”

“It'll be harder now,” Aizawa forewarns, rubbing his eyes before remembering his eye drops. He freshens up with a round of bottled tears, and then as he sets a wary eye back on Shinsou warns, “No funny business.”

“And what’s that supposed to mean?” Shinsou provokes in a way that’s more fun than foul.

With a long look, Aizawa considers the trap that he senses just before him and decides to proceed anyway. “You know what it means.”

A velvet glove worn over an iron fist closes around Aizawa momentarily – Shinsou’s quirk working on him, until Aizawa’s own rises up and breaks over Shinsou like a wave. If Aizawa hadn’t been staring at him already it might not have worked. But the way the cards fall is Aizawa’s quirk smothering Shinsou’s like a bucket of water over hot coals.

Shinsou’s mouth cracks into a grin. “Almost had ya.”

Aizawa lets his quirk drop and rolls his eyes – to stretch his ocular muscles (obviously). Then he replies, “Obviously.”

Chapter Text

“Hello, this is Warden Tanaka speaking.”

“You're not going to like this.” Aizawa gives the Warden the nominal warning he’s due, catching a, “What? Who's calling? ” before he hands the phone over to Shinsou.

“Hello, Warden,” Shinsou delivers in his most velvet tone. “Remember me? Dr. Shinsou's… Yes. Well, I have another request for you.” There's a fairly long pause, and then Shinsou frowns. “But last time—” He stops again as if being talked over, and this is exactly what Aizawa thought would happen.

Aizawa holds his hand out for the phone again, fingers twitching impatiently. After a brief ‘I can do this’ resistance, Shinsou hands it back with an exasperated look of something not working out the way he thought it would.

“I did say you weren't going to like it,” Aizawa reiterates. This is a near-mirror of Shinsou's earlier exchange with Aizawa on this subject, so it’s only fair he pass the misery along.

“It was Eraserhead, wasn't it?” The Warden says all full of stuffing that Aizawa will rip out of him before long. “I told the boy already: you've caused enough of a disturbance in my prison.”

“What if I were to inform you the good Doctor has just become a person of interest in a homicide investigation?” Aizawa says with the cool of an arctic cucumber. “Would you prefer for me to talk to the police and come back with a warrant, or for us to make another nice, low-profile visitation on your terms?”

There's a promising pause. “So that's how you want to play it.”

“We just need access,” Aizawa says flatly. “The paperwork you attach to it is your own choice.”

“I suppose you want to see him right away again.”

“Oh, that'd be helpful,” Aizawa answers like it's an offer. “How would tomorrow work?”

“Excellent for you, I assume.” The Warden speaks with the resignation of a man who knows his best course of action is to cooperate with as much plausible deniability as possible. “Come, but cover that boy up for god’s sake. We don’t want to ignite a media firestorm.” That’s the same term Nezu used, Aizawa logs in some task-sheet in his mind. It’d make sense that the Principal’s sources are right at the top too.

Aizawa manages a little smile, which is impressive on a hangover like death’s ugly cousin. “You’ll hardly know we were there.”

“I certainly hope so, Eraser,” the Warden says forebodingly. “Goodbye.”

“Bye.” Aizawa hangs up and shrugs at Shinsou before slipping his phone back into his pocket. “We’re in.”

Shinsou’s eyes narrow as he suddenly works out the game Aizawa just made Shinsou a piece in. “You used me as a gambit.”

Aizawa’s quietly pleased at how Shinsou’s observational skills are coming along. There are some brainboxes in Aizawa’s class, but only the very best minds – so, Yaoyorozu and Iida – could turn over situations like these fast enough to remain ahead of the curve. Especially when it’s all happening in real time, no space to go back and repeat the assignment for better marks next go around. But while Yaoyorozu’s problem is doubting herself before she acts, Shinsou’s is being halfway through doing whatever popped into his head before he even thinks about it. Instinct is great, just in more controlled doses.

“You did well at it.” Aizawa congratulates Shinsou as a kind of appeasement tactic. Normally, he wouldn’t be so easygoing, but on a hangover, Aizawa would rather just not with everything, which actually makes for a more tolerant self than usual.

“Oh, that's alright then,” Shinsou proffers insincerely. “Glad to have been of service to you.”

Aizawa has a few – okay, a lot – of rough edges this morning, which also makes the barriers between what he thinks and says a lot more permeable.

It's only after he's muttered in his scratchiest old-record vinyl tone, “Do you really wanna fuck with me today?” that Aizawa wonders if it's exactly the wording to be bouncing around. Shinsou, for one, looks a touch stranded by such a question; like he knows the answer but doesn't think he should say it. He probably shouldn't.

What Shinsou does instead is leap back to business. “Now what?”

Aizawa knows what he wants. Aside from a quick and merciful death, obviously. “It's my day off,” he announces wearily. “I'm going home.”

Shinsou looks appalled, and Aizawa’s sorry the boy was probably looking forward to a full day of training with his hero, but this is Aizawa’s day off and that means even from Shinsou sometimes. “What about crime’s around the clock, Heroes never quit?”

“Everyone has a breaking point,” Aizawa lectures like a drunk man staggers to hang onto a bar – Aizawa to the bar in his own apartment, last night, after trying out far too many of the cocktail ‘inventions’ that Hizashi had insisted on plying Aizawa and Tama with until one of them barfed. At least Aizawa made it to the bathroom – this time. “Better to rest when you’re able than collapse when you can't afford to.”

“So which are you about to do?” Shinsou taunts back far more energetically than Aizawa’s got to spare after the pitiful hours of sleep he spent asleep on that rollercoaster in his bed, head spinning with the volatile mix of alcohols coursing around his system. Even now, if Aizawa stands still and stares too long his hangover makes the floor feel like it’s ever-so-subtly melting.

From just about anyone else, Aizawa would respond to such provocation with unrestrained vitriol – if it were Hizashi punches would’ve already been thrown – but by now Aizawa’s accepted that he's entirely too soft on Shinsou.

“Both.” When Aizawa isn’t leaning against something he sways on his feet, like he's standing on the deck of a boat. What to do with a drunken sailor, Lilts Hizashi’s voice in Aizawa’s head while he takes another slug of the 1lt water pouch doubling up as a bit of free body padding in his jumpsuit.

Then, as if he's the responsible adult between them, Shinsou lifts an eyebrow and says, “And whose fault is that?”

‘Hizashi’s’ Aizawa would claim if he were playing the blame game, or at least in a place to admit any such thing to the present company; Aizawa hadn't even wanted to go out in the first place, but Hizashi had convinced him. “No one likes a brat,” he admonishes instead, and Shinsou just seems to find that even more amusing. Maybe because it’s something Aizawa’s said before, and each time he repeats it it’s less true than before.

“You do,” he asserts so confidently that Aizawa couldn't possibly deny it. If Aizawa didn't already know what Shinsou’s quirk feels like, he could swear there’s something more than personal persuasion at work when Shinsou tips his head slightly off-kilter and asks, “How are you getting home?”

It’s an innocent question, so why do the hairs on the back of Aizawa’s neck lift? Has to be down to Shinsou being a wind-up merchant or Aizawa being far too hungover for this situation. Probably both.

Aizawa shrugs, and Shinsou’s pitying scoff puts a high-gloss finish on the bizarre role-reversal they’ve settled into this morning. Pulling his phone out of his pocket like it’s the most terrible chore in the world, Shinsou rolls his eyes even more unnecessarily at Aizawa as he pulls up a number and calls, huffing impatiently as it rings. “Hi, Ma–” Shinsou cuts himself off like he’s already being talked over. “No, I’m fine. I just need a lift.” His gaze jumps back to Aizawa. “There’s someone I wanna drop off on the way.” There’s a pause which must be a question, though what it could be isn’t made much clearer by the infinitely amused grin that appears on his mouth. “You could say that.” Another pause. “Yeah, I’ll send you the address. See you soon.”

Shinsou hangs up, which is when Aizawa fully digests the fact that he’s going to meet Hitoshi’s mother. Hungover.


Aizawa’s not in the mood for any alleyway scrapping, much less to be caught punching a kid when his mother rolls up, so Shinsou plays with his phone while Aizawa slumps slowly down the wall like a bucket of black paint, coagulating into a cross-legged pool on the floor. Trying to prepare himself for the reality of meeting Shinsou’s mother with a head like a box of broken glass, and mostly failing at it.

Blinking slower and slower each time like his eyelids are gathering rust, Aizawa certainly doesn’t intend to drift off, but is lured by the persuasive thought to rest his eyes for just a moment, drunk on the soporific mid-morning sun that has finally become warm enough to soak into Aizawa’s heat-swallowing mass of black hair and fabric.

So instead of preparing himself for a get-your-shit-together first meeting with Shinsou’s mother, Aizawa ends up taking an inadvertent sun nap on the street as they wait for their ride to arrive. Someone even throws some change in his lap at one point, and he stirs to the sound of Shinsou’s scornful laughter before slipping right back under. Tips are always appreciated.

Aizawa finally wakes up with Shinsou kicking him in the leg and hissing with a touch of urgency, “Get up.”

The car stopped in front of them would have been quite nice when it was bought, but that was clearly a long time ago, even if it’s been well-kept since then. The window rolls down, and a woman’s voice with just a hint of a rasp to it calls out, “Hitoshi?”

Aizawa’s still standing up as he drags his palm across the coarse scratch of his stubble and terribly dry lips, and only appears above the edge of the car window when Shinsou’s mother asks, “Where’s your frien–” The part of this that was meant to be a question drops off at the sight of Aizawa, which he doesn’t blame her for.

Shinsou’s mother is young for anyone with a teenage son, probably not that much older than Aizawa. A conventionally pretty lady who puts Shinsou’s ‘cool beauties’ comment about Dr. Iwaya in a far more logical context. Round eyes with the same purplish bags that Hitoshi has underneath them, and a kind of sadness that can’t be described. Her hair is fair lilac, practically silver, with just a hint of colour where the light catches it – whether that’s natural or aging, maybe even stress-induced is anyone’s guess. Although she has prominent cheekbones, a little plumpness to her jaw that softens her face more than the harsh angles of her estranged husband. What's plenty clear is that her expression is one of being sorely unimpressed at the adult she sees getting up from a nap on the pavement next to her son.

“Who are you?” Shinsou’s mother demands with the attitude of someone who is not in the mood for fucking around. Which is good: neither’s Aizawa.

“Aizawa Shota,” he answers clearly. “I’m a teacher at UA.”

“You said he was a friend,” she addresses Shinsou, who’s stopped looking at his phone and turns his attention back to the scene at hand. The what-the-fuck-do-you-call-this edge of his mother’s tone might be a factor, because right now the former Mrs. Shinsou is looking like Aizawa’s lucky she won’t run him over, much less give him a ride.

“I said you could call him that,” Shinsou echoes, sounding for once exactly like the teenager he is. Aizawa wonders if they can – he supposes, thinking about it in the logical components. He and Hitoshi have a formal relationship of sorts, but there’s a lot of banter and familiarity that utterly flies in the face of an even remotely strict arrangement. Most of the time, what he and Shinsou have isn’t anything close to formal. Basically a hot mess – much like Aizawa right now.

“I've taken on your son as an intern,” Aizawa offers before he comes off entirely too dodgy to still catch a ride. He’s gotta get home, after all.

“So you’re a Hero?” Shinsou’s mother deduces whip-quick.

Aizawa nods. “You won’t have heard of me.”

“I can believe that,” his mother replies with lips pursed so tightly together her mouth could be used as a paperclip. Even so, she gazes at her son for a long moment and then sighs. “You two better get in.”

“Thank you.” Aizawa remembers his manners and bobs his head, waiting for Shinsou to get into the passenger seat before he slinks into another backseat.

Aizawa and Shinsou’s decision to walk a block over from the crime scene to be collected seems a wise choice, given the already rocky grounds Aizawa has started on with his “intern’s” one responsible parent. Aizawa supposes there aren’t many people who have met Shinsou’s mother and father, then comes onto wondering if she knows about their soon-to-be visits to the Doc. How much Shinsou’s mother knows about anything, for starters.

However, that’s not a conversation Aizawa’s looking to start right now. After giving Shinsou’s mother the address of the bakery he uses as a close-to-home-but-not-home drop-off zone – also a good source of breakfast to bring back for the slumbering lion – Aizawa is spacing out in the backseat when that rusty-toned voice shakes him out of the stupor he was happily sinking into.

“So, Aizawa,” Shinsou's mother starts with the determination of someone swinging a hammer at a very large window. “You must be why my son’s obsessed with murder lately.”

Perhaps not the reason, Aizawa considers in his own mind. But certainly an enabler. “Hero work isn’t all saving kittens in trees and daring, last-minute rescues,” he replies instead, crisper than a perfect autumn leaf. But then, she’d probably know all about dark sides.

“I couldn’t agree more,” responds Mrs. Shinsou, if that’s a name she even uses anymore – Aizawa ought to find out what he can call her. “I realise it’s the prerogative of sons to worry their mothers, but I’d have liked if he found a way to do it slightly less.” Aizawa’s no help there, so he doesn’t say anything at all.

Shinsou's mother keeps up the pressure, which is easy on a captive audience. The air inside the car seems to tighten, like clothing that’s been washed too hot and clings to Aizawa’s body much more than when he first acquired it. Aizawa swears Hizashi does it on purpose. “How long have you been a Hero?”

Aizawa attempts an accurate count and quickly realises he’s far too hungover for that 'I’m how old' shit. Long enough. “Over ten years.”

“And I still haven't heard of you,” Shinsou’s mother replies frostily. “You must be unsuccessful or skilled at keeping a low profile.” That’s probably something this woman knows plenty about, keeping herself and her son out of her estranged husband’s clutches before he was finally put in prison.

Aizawa knows there’s a fairly sizable gap from the time when Shinsou and his mother left the Doc and the date of the 99 Massacre, a little over six years ago now (Shinsou would have been what, nine or ten years old?), but Aizawa’s yet to work out exactly how long it was. Shinsou might’ve been around five when they left, long enough for his quirk to have developed and commenced the Doc’s infamous ‘research’ that quickly drove their family apart. A story that Aizawa’s seen the results of far too often, time and again throughout his tenure at UA, watching the next generation of Heroes inspired by both the best and worst that this generation has to offer.

“Define success,” Aizawa replies trickily. Most of the people he saves are potential-future victims who never know his name, and don’t count towards any crime statistic or ridiculous popularity polling that apparently affects how good of a Hero you are these days. It might not be ‘successful’ in the ways the media or entire horse-and-pony industry circus cares about, but what Aizawa does makes a difference. Righting injustices for the already-dead might not invite much in the way of thanks, but Aizawa’s put a lot of bad people away before they could hurt anyone else, and brought plenty of bittersweet comfort to bereaved families.

“He's a pro, Ma,” Shinsou snaps in return to his mother’s niggling. “It's what I've always wanted to do.” Even if what Aizawa does specifically might not have been the thing mother or son would’ve imagined when he was growing up. But it’s the best Shinsou’s got on offer right now, so Aizawa’s doing his best. Shinsou sure seems to love it.

“I know,” Shinsou’s mother sighs like a woman against insurmountable odds – so a normal mother, basically. Her eyes have found Aizawa’s in the rear-view mirror when she remarks. “When Hitoshi was accepted into the General Course, I thought that might’ve been the end of my sleepless nights.” She doesn’t look like she believes it, so Aizawa’s not convinced either.

“And my dreams,” Shinsou bites like this is a familiar argument they’re about to tear into.

Before he can become party to a domestic, Aizawa announces as easily as a remark about the weather, “I disagree with the decision the school made about that.” While he’d been falling asleep on the street earlier, Aizawa’s wide awake now, more adrenaline coursing around his system than if he'd just taken a swan dive off a building; driven for some strange reason by an urgency, a desperate need to declare, “Your son deserves to be in the Hero Course.” In wondering whether he should add what’s on the tip of his tongue, Aizawa decides he surely should. “That’s why I agreed to take him on.”


Out of nowhere there’s a sensation of both ringing and deafening white noise, a blare in Aizawa’s head that isn’t spoken out loud so much as sounded like a foghorn stuffed inside his own mind. This jarring, all-wavelengths broadcast shakes Aizawa more rudely awake than an electric cattle prod (not to be recommended).

Aizawa jerks bolt upright at the sensation of having someone just burst into his mental living room and yell through a megaphone, and Hitoshi snaps, “Ma! I can hear you!”

“Leave a mother at least some of her prerogatives,” Shinsou’s mother bargains like giving people a psychological shakedown is on that list. Although it apparently kind of is. Aizawa reaches for one of his ears out of instinct, finding it a lot stickier than he thinks an earlobe should be. Best case: spilled cocktail. Worst case: vomit. Aizawa’s stumbling into thinking about whether Hizashi will drag him into the bath if he goes home, and how that might not be such a terrible thing when Shinsou’s mother offers an unexpected, “I’m sorry. I ought not have sprung my quirk on you like that.”

Aizawa makes a vaguely noncommittal murmur, half-tempted to use his own quirk just to prevent any more unwanted mental broadcasts like that terrifying scream inside Aizawa’s head. What a legacy for a kid to draw on, Aizawa finds himself reflecting as the mood in the car falls back to pensive silence. If any of what Dr. Shinsou believes about mentalist quirks is even remotely true, Shinsou could have access to a greater capacity of his ‘mentalist’ brain than both his parents combined.

Other people’s quirks – any that make it onto the damn Hero course for one – get assessed and benchmarked for their strength, but it’s never even occurred to Aizawa how anyone could quantify the strength of Shinsou’s quirk. Apart from the botched study when Shinsou was five years old, there’s never been a similar quirk on record – aside from Dr. Shinsou’s, and now Shiyoko’s to some degree, but that went unregistered and may not even work the same way as Shinsou’s. All Aizawa can tell from being under the Shinsou quirk’s influence is that it’s powerful. If Shiyoko could do what Shinsou can, there’s no telling how many more would have died by this point. Something they can all be glad for.

“It’s not that I’m against Hitoshi becoming a Hero,” Shinsou’s mother seems to feel obliged to say out loud, defending an accusation she brought solely on herself. “I just… worry.”

Aizawa makes a point of being sure she’s finished before he speaks again. “That’s only natural.” He’s trying not to fuck this thing up completely, but it’s hard to do when he’s already so independently fucked up.

“I should… thank you, I suppose.” Shinsou’s mother fails in the attempt to make this sound sincere. They’re still a little way away from Aizawa’s drop-off, and he has to fight himself not to check the time on his phone like it’ll have any bearing on how long it takes to get there, and this uncomfortable grilling can be over. “Hitoshi's wanted this for such a long time. Part of me was relieved when he didn’t get into the Hero course, but I… knew he wouldn’t give up.”

“Ma, you’re literally embarrassing me,” Shinsou bemoans, but he doesn’t seem too begrudging overall.

Aizawa settles his hand against the window, resting his face against the glass in such a way that it’s barely uncomfortable at all. Enough to tactically doze his way out of making his abominable first-impression any worse if he’s lucky, although not without trying to salvage something from the wreck.

“There’s no need for thanks.” Aizawa might be a mess at first glance, and have a handful of change in his pocket acquired from being mistaken as homeless, but he can at least try to communicate his appreciation for his (unofficial) intern’s support. However, because Aizawa’s been grated past the rind and pith by this hangover, all the way to tart, juicy fruit of his raw brain, what this comes out as is an utterly unfiltered, “I like having Hitoshi around.”

It feels natural in the moment to skip the Doc’s titular name, igniting reference to a figure so loathed by both mother and son. And it’s only when the swaying of the silent-swept car finally lulls Aizawa into a bleary half-conscious sleep that he realises he’s called Shinsou Hitoshi in front of both his parents.

They’re about to cross at an intersection when a fight breaks out.

What this means, practically speaking, is the scream of a car horn stirs Aizawa from groggy sleep to disorientated wide-awake in about two seconds. Another two seconds later, the car crossing the junction in front of them ploughs straight into the mammoth leg of a reptilian man-monster, who is charging through the intersection after another figure entirely engulfed in thick smoke.

Shinsou’s mother brakes hard, tyres squealing as she tries to avoid smashing into the car in front. Shaking off the last vestiges of waking up to a full-blown shit-on-the-fan scenario, Aizawa opens the car door he’s been snoozing against and climbs out while they’re still screeching to a halt just short of rear-ending the car that wraps around the creature’s leg. The transference of momentum becomes a springboard for Aizawa to leap off, casting out a handful of his capture weapon as he launches himself into the fray.

Aizawa activates his quirk on the cloud of smoke first, choking it out as two tendrils of his capture weapon sneak around the brawny man in the cloud’s centre. Pulling the weapon tight as he continues flying through the air, Aizawa throws another strand of his capture weapon over the top of a lamppost and swings off it, yanking the smoker out of the clutches of the lizard man-monster and hauling him in a neatly parceled bundle to dangle from the lamppost.

By this point, when Aizawa drops to the ground and turns back around in the direction of the accident, Shinsou is out of the car and facing down a reptilian man four-times-his-height and several more his width, who currently seems pretty pissed about the car bonnet clinging to his leg like one half of a really unusual pair of chaps.

However, when Aizawa fixes his quirk-erasing glare on the scaly back, it immediately starts to shrink. This is why it pays to be sure what kind of quirk they’re dealing with, because an assumed mutation quirk turns out to be transformation. In a matter of a seconds Shinsou ends up standing head-to-head with a meek salaryman-type character who looks rather ridiculous in his torn clothing, clutching his stretched-out underpants to stop them falling down round his scrawny ankles.

Aizawa’s only taken a couple of steps over when Shinsou punches the guy square in the jaw – just like he’s been taught – and the man drops to the asphalt like the sack of shit he is. By the time Aizawa’s gotten there, the more pressing issue is the driver of the wrecked car, unresponsive over the deflated airbag.

“We have to get her out of there.” Aizawa tries the handle, and finding it locked or broken, smashes the driver’s window with an elbow and reaches through to open the door from inside.

The noise and movement rouse the woman in the car, who starts making sounds that increase in urgency as Aizawa reaches over her to tear the mangled seatbelt out of its fixture and then lifts her out of the car.

Shinsou stays close as Aizawa backs out with the woman and sets her down on the ground; the cascade of fresh blood staining her slacks is hard to ignore. So is the whimper that upgrades to full hysterical wailing as Aizawa rips the leg of her pants off to expose the wound. A piece of shrapnel from the impact has cut deep into the woman’s thigh, perhaps even nicked the femoral, which means the situation is urgent and her panicked shrieking isn’t going to help.

“Calm her down.” Aizawa looks right at Shinsou, banking on the kid understanding his implication. Shock and panic increase the heart rate, which will reduce the time she’s got if they can’t control the bleeding. “Now.”

Shinsou nods and then drops to his knees, leaning close over the woman. “Can you hear me, ma’am? What’s your name?”

After a few hazy moments, the woman’s focus closes in on Shinsou. “I’m Yui–” That’s how far she gets into answering before he takes control. She stills. To any bystander, and there are a few, the change could just be chalked up to Shinsou’s soothing tone, that ‘help is here’ aura of having Heros on the scene. The woman’s face is no longer contorted into a panicked scream, mouth twitching into a transfixed mona lisa smile. But Aizawa is closer, so he can see her pupils dilate and then constrict, eyes becoming glassy as she’s pulled into the numbing mental embrace of Shinsou’s quirk.

“Good.” Shinsou sounds relieved – after all, if he couldn’t get a response they’d be in much more trouble. “Take a deep breath for me.” Aizawa hears the long intake of breath from the woman as he yanks a tightly rolled strip of dressing off his utility belt, shaking it out with one hand before he checks the wound for any fragments still inside. The cut seems clean, it’s just deep. “That’s perfect.” Shinsou keeps going while Aizawa spreads the wad of high-absorbency sticky-sided dressing against the wound and presses down. “And now out… great. Just like that.”

Either Shinsou has been taught (even self-taught) how to respond to a situation like this, or he’s a natural at it. Aizawa feels the woman’s pulse slowing from the frantic high before Shinsou took control. Not to mention, she’s not thrashing or screaming with the pain – and it surely has to hurt, but her panic won’t help anyone.

“Hold this down,” Aizawa instructs, and Shinsou’s hands slot between his quickly, their fingers overlapping as the task is handed over. “Use all your weight. Her life might depend on it.”

“I know,” Shinsou snaps, but it’s not at Aizawa or out of irritation. Just a natural shortness that the situation calls for. “I’ve got it. You can go.”

By the time Aizawa’s gotten back up, the smoking chandelier hanging from the lamppost has turned into empty loops of his capture weapon, so it’s another few minutes chasing the culprit back down – luckily, he leaves a pretty conspicuous trail.

Aizawa vaults a few cars and dives between some traffic before he finally gets a clean shot, lassoing the fleeing cloud by an ankle so that he faceplants on the road and knocks himself out on impact. By the time Aizawa’s dragged both fighters back to the scene of their crime on lengths of his capture weapon, an ambulance has arrived.

Shinsou is locked into concerned conversation with one of the paramedics while the woman is carried into the ambulance. Yet again, Shinsou’s managed to touch bloody hands to his face at some point, leaving an ugly red smear across one temple all the way down to his ear. When Aizawa approaches, he can just make out the tail end of the paramedic saying something about “don’t know what you did, but she’s very lucky,” before his presence derails the conversation.

“Are you the Hero?” the Paramedic asks immediately, and Aizawa nods. “This young man has given a statement already, so if you’d be willing to sign it then we’ll have the situation fully under control.”

“We don’t need to wait for the police?” Aizawa queries, and the peppy young paramedic shakes his head.

“If you're happy handing over custody to me, I can supervise the restrained criminals until the police arrive!” The paramedic seems utterly thrilled by this responsibility, or maybe he’s just jazzed to be interacting with a Hero. The ambulance shoots away with sirens blaring, while this first-responder waits near his car, acting as a kind of interim handler and nice stand-in for Aizawa, who doesn’t want too many people realising he or his unlicensed intern had any involvement with the situation. Even if it’s to save the frigging day.

“What do you think?” Shinsou turns to ask Aizawa, and doesn’t seem convinced.

Resisting the urge to rub the side of Shinsou’s head with a sleeve is a serious temptation, but Aizawa manages to remain on-topic and directs his gaze to the paramedic. “If you think you can handle it.”

“Yes, sir!” The paramedic shoots back in a way that reminds Aizawa instantly of Yamaguichi – she might have a brother, for all Aizawa knows. “If you help me secure them, then I’ll keep watch until the police arrive.”

Aizawa nods and then quickly goes over to give a practical lesson on the correct way to lock people up with cable ties – for Shinsou and the paramedic both. Finally, they dump the unconscious criminals by the paramedic’s car and return to Shinsou mother, who has parked by the roadside while the traffic is hurried on around the wrecked car stranded in the middle of the crossing.

The streak of blood Shinsou has inadvertently decorated himself with makes his mother’s frightened gasp understandable when they first approach. Given the rest of the blood drenching Shinsou’s hands, he figures out what she’s so shocked by quickly enough. “Don’t worry,” he assures his mother word-by-word with an excuse Aizawa’s given Hizashi many a time. “It’s not my blood.” She is slackjawed at the normal presentation of all this.

Aizawa notices Shinsou’s mother is smoking by following the fragrant wisp down to her hand. Without really thinking about the flow of conversation, he interrupts to ask, “Can I have a cigarette?”

“Oh? Yes, I suppose,” Shinsou’s mother replies a little disjointedly, fumbling in her purse for a crumpled pack that she offers to Aizawa. Tamakawa kept the pack Yamaguichi picked up earlier, and Aizawa can’t be expected to just stand there watching someone smoke without being able to partake.

“Thanks.” Aizawa leans in with the filter between his lips and waits until Shinsou’s mother produces a light, sparking the flame while Aizawa shields it from the wind with his hands. Although the sun is shining, a rousing breeze kicks off in swirls and eddies around them, shifting the lingering smell of smoke given off by broken car engines and apprehended criminals. Aizawa pulls on his cigarette as it lights and then stands back up, releasing the drag and slowly beginning to unwind from the recently passed madness. Sure as shit put enough adrenaline through his system to clear out some of that hangover. Some of it.

Aizawa turns to Shinsou and indicates the side of his face with an energy level that’s practically undead. “You have something here.”

Shinsou’s hand flies up to his face and immediately hits the dried blood he got up there. He rubs it unsuccessfully for a moment before giving up, and instead relates to Aizawa, “The paramedic said whatever we did to keep her calm, it probably saved her life.”

“You did it; I just told you to,” Aizawa replies coolly, sure to place credit where it's due without necessarily admitting to exactly what happened. It’s still illegal, after all. Shinsou's mother glances at her son before settling a questioning gaze on Aizawa, but it's best not to dwell on who ordered whom to use their quirk on a civilian without a licence. Even if it did potentially save a woman’s life.

“I think I… owe you an apology,” Shinsou's mother phrases very carefully indeed as she takes another pull on her cigarette with anxious hands. Not quite I’m sorry, but enough to admit that she must have judged Aizawa harshly, if there’s something to make up for. “I understand why Hitoshi wants to work with you now.”

But for all that's true, if Aizawa had been alone in this situation, things might have turned out very different. Shinsou's quirk and reliable pair of hands count for plenty, and Aizawa's not too proud to admit it.

That's why Aizawa finishes a no-nonsense drag on his cigarette and with his eyes on Shinsou simply remarks, “The feeling’s mutual.”

When Aizawa finally gets home bearing a box of fresh pastries and hot drinks – coffee for him, matcha latte for Hizashi – he discovers his best beloved is still in bed. Which is so unlike Hizashi, it can mean only one thing. Hearing Aizawa move around the bedroom, the sorry-for-itself mound in the middle of the bed lets out a groan and then with perfect clarity announces, “I'm so fucking hungover.”

You're hungover,” Aizawa growls. All Hizashi has done is sleep, Aizawa's been up since fuck ‘o clock checking out gory crime scenes and breaking up rush-hour punchups while he meets his intern’s mother – and he's hanging just as bad as Hizashi. Probably more.

Hizashi rolls over enough to emerge from underneath the mess of drunk-sweaty sheets. A pair of eyes fix on Aizawa, but not Hizashi’s own emerald pair. It's inked eyes that rest their unblinking gaze on Aizawa, belonging to a traditionally styled lion, golden mane and sharp teeth bared, which spans Hizashi’s entire upper back. So Yakuza that Hizashi has occasionally had to prove he's one of the good guys before he’s been allowed into certain bathhouses.

“I bought breakfast,” Aizawa offers as he sets down his delicate cargo and starts to unzip himself, airing out the inside of his jumpsuit with a feeling like a tropical greenhouse mixed with a tidal salt-cave.

The tattooed lion ripples as if roaring when Hizashi rolls his shoulders and stretches into the squishy ‘won’t say what it costs’ mattress. “I love you,” Hizashi gurgles like a drain and rolls again, lifting an arm. It remains aloft like the mast of a sinking ship until Aizawa crawls into bed, slotting into place before Hizashi curls it around him. “Eugh,” he grunts as Aizawa gets closer. “You smell like an ashtray full of garbage.”

“I had to work this morning.” Hizashi’s no spring flower himself, but Aizawa’s sure he wins at this particular fragrance contest. He buries his face against the patchwork hotplate of Hizashi’s skin, slotting around him so that his cheek rests on Hizashi’s chest, and it’s almost as if the heartbeat Aizawa hears comes from the tattoo and not the real deal inside his lover’s ribcage.

Aizawa draws a deep breath and lets it out, finally allowing himself to relax.

“How’s work?” Hizashi asks as his fingers play a chaotic rhythm along Aizawa’s arm.

Aizawa sighs again. “Nothing worth talking about.”

“Are you sure?” Hizashi doesn’t probe much, which means he has to be a little more than casually interested if he’s actually prying.

Aizawa tallies up the exertion of packing up everything that’s going on and parceling it out to Hizashi, and then compares it to pushing all that shit away and being at peace for a while – taking his own damn good advice to rest while he’s still got the chance.

“Yeah,” Aizawa answers, hearing his voice resonate in Hizashi’s chest, like the reassurance will have more traction that way. “Everything’s fine.”

“You only say that when it isn’t,” Hizashi points out with a touch of irritation, but he is ingloriously hungover, so he probably realises that this isn’t the time to get into it. “But alright, have it your way.” He shoves Aizawa off, if only to sit up and reach across the bed for his matcha latte, pressing a kiss to Aizawa’s forehead as he flops back down and takes a long slurp. “Thanks for breakfast.”

Aizawa tunes his ear back to Hizashi’s heartbeat and swears to himself he’ll get around to explaining all of this soon. Hizashi deserves it, even when Aizawa doesn’t always deserve Hizashi. “You’re welcome.”

Chapter Text

“Put this on.” Aizawa holds out the wool hat he’s had in a drawer of his desk for… actually, it might have been in there when he inherited the desk. A hat is a hat.

“Why?” Shinsou questions suspiciously, but he’s not far behind Aizawa's train of reasoning. This makes his next statement more of an accusation. “Are we actually gonna deny this is happening?”

Truth be told, the larger part of the day has whipped past Aizawa. It feels like he’s barely slept off his hangover and been dragged into the shower by Hizashi than the school day is over already. Shinsou met him at their usual spot after classes finished, and they made their way to the prison from there – a trip which did include at least some portion on the train for the sake of sensible travel-time, though they’ve taken a more scenic route to the prison from the nearest station.

“No, but it pays to be careful.” Aizawa takes a step closer and shoves the hat against Shinsou’s chest, who flexes a little from the force of Aizawa’s balled hand, but pushes back enough to remain standing firm. “Just wear it.”

“Yessir,” Shinsou issues sarcastically, taking the hat at long last and dragging a hand back through his hair to flatten it before he pulls the hat on over the top. Aizawa doesn’t know if Shinsou’s unruly mop is a deliberate act of defiance against the oily, slicked-back look of his father, but the family resemblance would certainly be even more uncanny if they cut the same profile.

Even under a hat, with just his basic features to pick out, it's clear how strongly Hitoshi takes after his father. But at times the angles of the younger Shinsou’s face are less harsh; partly youth. But now Aizawa’s seen her to compare, there are a few points in which he takes after his mother. Like the shape of his eyes: a little rounder than Dr. Shinsou’s, and sporting the same purplish tint underneath them as his well-wearied caretaker.

“Here we go again.” Shinsou heaves a sigh as they finish their rooftop run, scramble down, and begin a more solemn walk towards the gates.

“Try not to let him get to you,” Aizawa councils, perhaps a little inadvisedly.

“Gee, I never thought of that,” Shinsou rips mercilessly in return. “Don’t forget you’ve only met him once.” Whereas Shinsou’s had the entirety of his life to experience his father’s idea of parenting. Before the prison time, at least.

“And that one time I had to stop the two of you choking each other out,” Aizawa reminds with an unwavering flatline of a tone. They’re not here to play denial games or go around testing the nerves still running through this familial relationship. “We have a case to solve.”

“What makes you think he’s even going to help us?” Shinsou shoves hands into his pockets as he walks close by Aizawa’s side as they draw closer to the prison entrance, his shoulders hunching up like a tortoise retreating into its shell. The rows and rows of fences topped with barbed and electrical wire convey what this otherwise nondescript building holds at bay, which is a lot of very dangerous criminals, but for now it’s silent as the dead; as if not a living soul occupies the entire complex.

“That’s easy,” Aizawa remarks as they come to a stop at the first set of gates and wait for a guard from inside to open them. A sprig of Shinsou’s hair has escaped the front of the hat, standing upright in stark contrast to the black wool. Aizawa has the urge to tuck it back under with a finger, but resists, even though he's got a hunch Shinsou would let him do it. There’s even more casual contact between them now than when they started out, but it makes sense they’re both a little prickly right now. “Quid pro quo.”

Because Dr. Shinsou might have something they need, but Aizawa’s got something the Doc wants: a relationship with his son.

“You're looking well, Warden.” Shinsou clearly doesn't mean this, but Aizawa wouldn't mean it any more if he said it either. “Prison must be good for you after all.”

“It is Eraserhead, isn’t it?” the Warden directs at Aizawa. “If you could keep your ward under control.”

Aizawa shrugs like he doesn’t care: he doesn’t. “Thought I was.”

“So did I.” Shinsou reaches for his head and pulls the hat off, his hair springing back up with a quick ruffle through his fingers. “If you think this is out of control, you seriously don't want to see me acting out for real.”

“That's something we can both agree on,” the Warden replies stuffily. “So perhaps we can avoid it coming to that.”

“I'll behave if he does.” Shinsou is vitriolic, no doubt over what “he” is being referred to.

“As the Warden of this establishment, I can authoritatively say the last thing you should expect from Dr. Shinsou is for him to behave.” The Warden has taken them up to his office for this little chat, a finely decorated study of rich mahogany and leather-bound books. “To that end, we've taken some extra precautions, seeing as you made such light work of the last set.”

“Hitoshi is safe with me,” Aizawa states plainly and with only a hint of irritation about having to go through this rigmarole again.

“You and the boy aren't the only ones in danger,” the Warden returns sharply. “As it happens, you two are at the bottom of my priorities. These new precautions are to ensure the safety of my staff, assuming you intend to ignore all our protocol and converse directly with Dr. Shinsou again.”

“That's pretty much the plan, yeah.” Shinsou Hitoshi is going into full insolence mode, which Aizawa can understand even if he can't fully tolerate it. If the world were made exactly as Aizawa likes then Shinsou would be free to run wild as his rebel spirit yearns for, but sadly (and fortunately) they don’t live in such a misshapen universe.

“So what,” Aizawa interjects. “You're going to lock us in a soundproof room in the basement?”

“Actually, it is in the basement,” the Warden replies like the soft turn of a key in a lock, and then dares to smile at the way Aizawa’s expression drops. “We took the liberty of moving Dr. Shinsou to one of our older cells, in a less-used part of the facility.” Aizawa can guess any number of purpose the Warden might have for doing something like this, suffice to say – he’s got his reasons. Urgent ones at that, going by the way he stands up and wipes a sheen of sweat off the top of the bald spot that dominates his head. “If you’d come with me, this is a rather time sensitive issue.”

“So what you're saying,” Shinsou throws in, “is ‘the Doctor will see you now’?”

“Quite the comedian, aren't you?” the Warden asks like he couldn't care less for the answer, hurrying them out the door like a pair of hissing geese. “You must get it from your father.”

Shinsou sours at that – or maybe it should be Hitoshi. Aizawa rebrands him for the environment they’re about to enter. Aizawa doesn’t really do given names for his students.

But then, Hitoshi’s not his student.

The Warden leads them to a cellblock in a different building than the prison’s main unit, all the way on the other side of the yard. A much older structure, more rudimentary and crude in its design. It occurs to Aizawa as they walk across the open prison yard that Dr. Shinsou must have been transferred this way in some fashion or another. That he would have felt fresh air on his skin, and seen the sky as he was moved between different windowless cells.

Aizawa wonders if the Doc misses his freedom, and finds an obvious answer.

There is an abundance of surveillance, peppered with stony-faced guards like ancient statues at the outer reaches of the building the Warden leads Aizawa and Hitoshi to, but both peter out as they descend deeper into the bowels of the building.

“Anyone would think you’re trying to hide us,” Hitoshi remarks in an echoey stairwell where their footsteps cause a dissonant racket, almost reminiscent of the interior of an old submarine.

“As I said before.” The Warden stops at a heavy metal door with a small window in it and turns to face them. “These precautions are to guarantee the safety of my staff and the other prisoners.” Presumably, none of whom carried out a massacre. Anyone else who did what Dr. Shinsou did would’ve gotten the death penalty, but the Doc was able to negotiate to consecutive life sentences. Not least because they’re afraid to try and kill him.

The Warden withdraws a heavy ring of meticulously labelled keys, thumbing through them until he finds the one he’s looking for and unhooks it, holding it out to Aizawa. “This will let you through the door on the other side of this transfer zone.” The transfer area is visible through the window in this door – a room barely the size of a cupboard, similar to the one where they collected headphones in the usual cell. Anti-breakout measures to prevent anyone making a clean run through the facility.

“What about the key to this door?” asks Hitoshi – a slight adjustment, swapping from one name to the other, but Aizawa feels the better for it already.

“I keep that key,” the Warden replies. “I’ll lock the door after you.”

“And when we’re finished with the Doc?” Hitoshi’s basically leading the operation so far, which Aizawa likes. Shows initiative, as well as saving Aizawa the trouble of doing it himself.

“Once you’ve locked yourself back into the transfer area and demonstrated your… sanctity of mind,” the Warden chooses his words very carefully, “I will let you back out.”

“Are there cameras in there?” Aizawa asks, and the Warden’s bilious cheeks ripple.

“One. Recording to a secure harddrive in my office.” Seems like the Warden wants to be able to deny this ever happened if he needs to – Aizawa’s fine with that.

But Aizawa’s not fully content yet. “Off the facility network?” As if what they’re doing is less culpable when there’s no proof, but it’s just being careful, knowing where the data points are. The Warden just nods, and Aizawa relents. “Fine. Let us through.”

“I should probably warn you,” the Warden remarks as he fishes another key off the ring and unlocks the first door. “You’re not likely to find the Professor in a good mood.”

“Oh good,” Hitoshi replies jovially. “It’ll be just like the old days.”

Aizawa wonders if this is a good idea, then remembers it doesn’t matter, because it’s what a Hero would do anyway.

Moments after the sounds of the Warden locking them into the tiny breakout area have ended, before Aizawa has even slid the intricate key into the lock that will let them out of the other side of this room, he turns to Hitoshi and asks, “Are you ready?”

“No, but that’s hardly the point,” is the sincere reply. Aizawa slots the key into the lock but doesn’t turn it, moving instead to place his hand on Hitoshi’s shoulder. Aizawa looks right at Hitoshi and recalls several important facts about him: dealing with personal trauma the depths of which Aizawa can’t even dare to estimate, on his first trip out into the murky world of crime and killers, and still a fucking teenager who doesn’t have all the answers. So his listless, dead expression could indicate a lot of things, but not caring about this won’t be one of them.

Hitoshi takes a deep breath that lifts Aizawa’s hand as his frame adjusts to holding such a big sigh. “I’m glad you’re here.”

I know, Aizawa only thinks. Because it’s his fault Hitoshi’s here at all – for better or soon-to-be-proven worse. Aizawa should be here.

He withdraws his hand from Hitoshi's shoulder and picks up the goggles hanging loose around his neck. Last time Aizawa forgot to wear them and lived to regret it, but he won’t make the same mistake twice. “I won’t take my eyes off him.” Aizawa lifts the goggles over his eyes, pulling up the strap until the lenses are secure across his face.

“You better not.” Hitoshi lifts a hand and turns the key where it sticks out of the door, hauling the rarely-used mechanism into action. The bolt slides back with a tired groan, and the Warden meant it when he called this part of the facility old and less-used; abandoned would be the better word for it.

Aizawa pushes the door, and it swings open, heavy under its own weight. Hitoshi steps through first, and his steps echo through the sparse corridor, empty cells shrouded in darkness. Except one, where a dim pool of light spills out, a single shadow an island across it.

“Dad?” Hitoshi calls out, his voice dripping with sarcasm and seeming to come from everywhere at once in the unforgiving soundbox. “I’m back from school.”

“Welcome, son,” an eerie voice replies as Aizawa takes the key but doesn’t lock the door behind them. If the Warden’s already locked them in, it hardly makes a difference on their end. “Come closer and let me get a look at you.”

Aizawa moves step for step with Hitoshi, so much so that their strides are fully in sync when they get near enough to the cell to see the Professor of mentalist quirks.

Dr. Shinsou stands, as last time, ramrod straight with his hands folded behind his back. His face is a portrait of austere indifference, with just a drop of insincerity in the polite way he announces,  “Oh, and you brought home a friend.”

Not quite the mood (or phrasing) Aizawa’s looking for. “Not exactly.” Aizawa’s voice comes out a raspy threat. There’s been no open questions yet, so no need for his quirk. But his gaze remains fixed wholly on the lithe figure of Dr. Shinsou.

The Doctor’s surroundings are less becoming of the air he projects, more squalid and dingy. There’s no furniture in this room, none of the comforts a man of Dr. Shinsou’s influence has negotiated for himself in his usual accommodations. This captivity he permits himself to be kept in, like a bird that’ll sit in a cage as long as the door is shut. But that doesn’t mean the talons and beak won’t come out when something should happen to disturb that stalemate, as a few subtle signs on Dr. Shinsou’s face betray. He keeps his hands behind his back as if they’re cuffed – they might be, but the Doc can’t hide the slight swelling of his lower lip on one side, or a tiny scratch around one of his eyes. A struggle while he was being transferred, perhaps.

“Must you look at me with those things on? It’s so impersonal.” Dr. Shinsou’s charisma drips in such a way that Aizawa’s no difficulty believing that women like Dr. Iwaya and Hitoshi’s mother would fall for him – at least, for a while.

All Aizawa makes from it, aside from an observation about Hitoshi being a great inheritor of looks, charm and quirks from his parents, is a deadpan, “I must.”

The view through Aizawa’s goggles is such that thin bars bisect Dr. Shinsou’s face, as well as the physical wall of bars between them adding further stripes to obscure his expression. The snapshot of the Doc this presents is a single dead eye and segments of a square jaw, far harsher in its angles than Hitoshi’s. “What brings the two of you back for my council? I was made to suffer quite horribly because of your insistence.”

“Seems like you had fun to me,” Aizawa replies gruffly. Dr. Shinsou raises a single eyebrow, which is where Hitoshi must get that little characteristic too.

“So what’s the deal with you and Shiyoko?” Hitoshi says carelessly, tossing out a new piece of bait to lure the predator’s eye. “I know there’s more to it than your little research session way back when.”

The Doc looks privately amused. “Do you now?”

“Well, she nailed your book all over her bedroom wall, so I kinda got the impression she’s obsessed with you,” Hitoshi lays out like he hasn’t got a fuck to give about his father’s fangirls. It’s only been hints, but Aizawa’s pretty sure Hitoshi’s got plenty of experience with nutty fans of the Doc’s work – his famous dislike of Psychs has to come from somewhere, for one.

Dr. Shinsou’s eyes are narrower than Hitoshi’s, but they get narrower still at this remark. “Hardly the first,” he replies calmly, and unfortunately, Aizawa can believe it. The more he digs, the easier it is to see how the Professor’s cult of personality would have supported him all the way up to – and into – his final ‘experiments’ into the extent of human self-preservation against brainwashing quirks. The resounding answer: quirks win.

“You did something to her, I assume,” Hitoshi accuses tonelessly, and before it can turn into a question from the Doc, he adds, “You do something to everyone.”

Dr. Shinsou continues to smile faintly. “What did I ever do to you?”

“Aside from the fucked-up entirety of my childhood?” Hitoshi accuses. “Do weird experiments, brainwashing at the dinner table, and pulling me out of school for fake medical emergencies ring any bells?”

Dr. Shinsou’s expression shifts, like a beautiful landscape painting that’s slightly different each time you look back to it. Still a pleasant, idyllic scene, but some important detail subtly shifts every time you blink. But paintings are not supposed to move, and the overall effect is entirely sinister. “I was trying to help you.”

“Did you help Shiyoko too?” Aizawa reaches in to steer the conversation in a new direction, more able to shape it as an observer than he could as an active participant. The outsider looking in.

Dr. Shinsou moves slightly, and his full gaze settles back in on Aizawa eye to eye – not that he should be able to know it, but somehow, Aizawa thinks the Doc knows when he’s got his eye on someone. “I tried, but she wouldn’t let me.” The Doc shakes his head. “At least, not back then.”

“So you’re saying she came around in the end?” Hitoshi suggests. “Let me guess. You wanted to see if her quirk was strong enough to make someone kill themselves?” Hitoshi’s a smart boy, there’s no doubt of that – another thing he gets from his father.

“That’s very good,” Dr. Shinsou says in a congratulatory way. “Given your presence here, I’d say we’ve succeeded in finding an answer to that question.”

“The answer I want is what you did to make her so goddamn crazy, but we all have to make compromises,” Hitoshi says derisively. “I’ll settle for what contact you had with her after the end of your research.”

“And I would share that information because?” There’s a backhanded suggestion in there, which only shores up Hitoshi’s insistence of Shiyoko’s supposed further contact with Dr. Shinsou. No one sleeps in the same room as that poster of the Doc without having enough complexes to build a whole apartment block. If Aizawa can believe it then it’s worth looking into. Because if you cut the bullshit, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.

“Because you want to help your son prove the worth of his – of your – quirk.” Aizawa strides back into the conversation with his own quirk in full force, flaring from his eyeballs up to the tips of his hair. “Hitoshi is living proof of how powerful it can be in the hands of a Hero.” Quickly, Aizawa bounces his gaze over to Hitoshi to check how he’s faring. Aizawa could be wrong, but the tips of Hitoshi’s ears are definitely pinker than usual, the colour difference all the clearer against the violet backdrop of his hair. It’s a little ballsy, but Aizawa decides to push the cringe factor further. “It’s what a father would want for him.”

Dr. Shinsou’s face sours like a milk-and-lemon-juice mixer – aka one of Hizashi’s (in)famous cocktails. Better than one of the Doc’s infamous cocktails. No waking up with a hangover from one of those deadly tonics.

“That sounds rather like something you want,” Dr. Shinsou sneers, which is a great sign. Aizawa’s main purpose here is just to get under the Doc’s skin like he’s trying him on for a onesie. Rattle the cage a bit.

Aizawa blinks, and his quirk flickers and then carries on. “A good father would want to help Hitoshi achieve his dream,” Aizawa delivers in a dull monotone, as if specifying a particular spelling for some dry piece of literature he has to teach to an equally reluctant audience.

There go the signs of tension in Dr. Shinsou’s face again. “Is that what you fancy yourself?”

Then Hitoshi goes and throws it all to hell when he nudges Aizawa with a bony elbow and says, “Well, you did meet Ma yesterday.”

There’s a feeling in the room like an anchor hitting a lightless sea, the heavy throng of the metal churning through cold water and plummeting to the bottom of the ocean. Aizawa had wanted to provoke Dr. Shinsou… a little. Enough to loosen up his bolts. What he’s ended up with is the entire engine ripped apart.

“You met Akiko?”

That must be her name. Aizawa sticks on a post-it note in the back of his mind. There’s a cold terror in the Doc’s expression, a mist that clings to the surface of the water and creeps until the whole lake looks like a hole in the sky. Hitoshi doesn’t seem so sure of his gag anymore, but they’ve committed now so there’s no backing out.

“Nice lady.” Aizawa offers a concise report, his gaze still fixed wholly and immovably on the imposing figure of Doctor Shinsou. Fuck it, Aizawa thinks: stake the challenge. “You got a problem with that?” Aizawa has almost unlimited access to something the Doc doesn’t: actual quality time with Hitoshi. Teaching him, helping Hitoshi grow into the antithesis of what his biological father is (and wants for his son), but also just… getting to be a part of his life.

Perhaps the Professor has already taken measure of that intimacy, read the signs like runes to know just how much closer Aizawa and Hitoshi have become since their first meeting. A bonding experience is what the Doc said back then, and he’s been bitterly right so far.

“Has anyone wondered about you spending so much time with this boy you’ve no relation to?” Dr. Shinsou poses with a darting look between Aizawa and Shinsou like a lizard tracking a fly. His tone begs to be interpreted a certain way, but they’re not playing bite-the-hook on this one. A short silence passes before the Doc digs deeper. “People might talk.” People always talk, Aizawa hears in Hitoshi’s voice in his memory. Something he’s been told from an early age, perhaps. Us vs. Them, a classic tactic to try and retain control over his unruly progeny. Gaslighting that must have been carried out over years , while Hitoshi’s mother got herself and her son away from this monster.

“Not everyone’s into teaching the way you are, Dad,” Hitoshi warns like he knows exactly what a sordid, egotistical trip his father passes for being a mentor. “People call our quirk creepy, but it’s just you. You’re the creep.”

Dr. Shinsou looks to take this as a compliment. “Some would call it character.”

“Only people who’re as fucked up as you,” Hitoshi retorts angrily. “You realise I grew up with you, right? I know your pattern.”

This provokes a devilish smile, white teeth bared in Dr. Shinsou’s mouth like the fangs of a predator. “Enlighten me.”

“You pick someone vulnerable, screw with their head to rationalise your own twisted worldview, and then break them when they try to leave,” Hitoshi lays out like an autopsy report. Aizawa’s got no reason to doubt that’s exactly how it happens. “So which was it with Shiyoko?”

“Little Shiyoko wasn’t ready for what I had to teach her,” Dr. Shinsou finally starts to let slip. This is the trap they’ve sprung – a conversation with his son in exchange for information about the killer. Unstable bargain to strike, but one Hitoshi seems to be managing so far. Aizawa’s equal parts proud and worried for him. “Such a shame I can’t be there to see how she’s come along.”

“You wanted her to kill,” Aizawa says like it’s true, rather than a almost-confirmed hunch, but the Doc’s face is unreactive, so he keeps trying. “How did you get back in touch?”

Dr. Shinsou turns his carnivorous gaze back to Aizawa, and his expression shifts between the combined bars of his cell and Aizawa’s goggles. Both the Doc’s eyes – they’re violet, but in this light look practically black – find Aizawa’s through the shuttered view. Dr. Shinsou’s gaze burns like acid, and Aizawa is quite certain he can feel the Doc’s murderous intent as he asks, “Did you enjoy meeting my wife?”

“Can’t say I did,” Aizawa replies bluntly, activating his quirk as he feels the swooping talons come for his mind, only for them to glance off without finding purchase. Let the Doctor grab at air and come up with nothing. “But it wasn’t anything to do with her.”

“Yeah, you were pretty hungover,” Hitoshi jokes with Aizawa in a way that’s mostly gloss; there’s a part of this that’s just a “fuck you, dad” show of familiarity with his new (Aizawa bites the inside of his cheek a little at the term, but if the boot fits) father figure. They’re stuck somewhere between that, a big brother, and an irresponsible uncle. If there were only something that captured all three, in a not-actually-related package. Not that Aizawa really cares what the exact details of his relationship with Hitoshi are. It is what it is.

Dr. Shinsou does care, though, and that’s rather the point. “You’re setting such a fine example for my son.” The intention in the tone is naturally opposite to what the mere words convey. What the Doc is really trying to say is how dare you.

“Well, I haven’t killed anyone.” Aizawa lets his quirk down, and if Dr. Shinsou notices the connection in the movement of his hair, it’s a card he’s keeping in his hand for now. “So I’ve got that going for me.” Aizawa’s proud of that stat, actually. The only one that matters to him. Ten years, no manslaughter. Endeavour sure as shit can’t claim that. Neither can All Might, though the people he’s put in the ground certifiably deserved it.

“Or against you,” Dr. Shinsou contradicts.

Aside to Hitoshi, as if the simple bars that separate them from Dr. Shinsou are in some way soundproof, Aizawa suggests, “If Shiyoko’s obsessed, maybe she went to him.”

Hitoshi rocks his head back as if contemplating the scenario. “Yeah, that’d figure,” he replies with a diagnostic arrogance, staring his father down like he does presume to know how the Doc’s mind works. “I wonder how old she was? He likes them young, but not too young.”

“I don’t dabble with children, if that’s what you’re alluding to,” Dr. Shinsou snaps into the conversation with savage disgust, like he’ll commit murder but he’s clearly so far above anything as distasteful as that. Insane torture experiments with minors – yes, but nothing dirty about it, whatever sense that makes in this man’s minotaur-ridden labyrinth of a mind. Then the Doc’s attention moves slowly back over Aizawa, an uncomfortable prickle in its heat. “Do you?” This is played as a straight question, like asking which lunch menu to pick. “You said you were a schoolteacher, no?”

It’s just a trap, but Dr. Shinsou’s no less of a provocateur than his son – so up goes Aizawa’s quirk again, dumping the bucket of sand over the threatening embers of the Doc’s quirk. Not that he’s going to dignify such a rancid question with an answer anyway.

Little Shiyoko makes me think she wasn’t… your type, let’s say.” Hitoshi drags on the reins of the conversation, saving Aizawa the temptation of biting on the Doc’s newest hook.

“What is it you’re trying to work out?” Dr. Shinsou asks as if he’s getting bored of the conversation. “Why should it matter what contact I had with her in the past? She’s killing now. ” His distemperment returns to a snide smile. “You can’t blame me for that.”

“Oh, I can try,” Hitoshi retorts, and Aizawa’s quirk is still going strong, so they can speak freely – that’s got to be uncommon for this father and son. “It’s your method she’s copying, the fruits of the research you just had to pursue.”

“The mind is naturally averse to limitations.” Dr. Shinsou’s sound-bite could be snipped out of one of his famous lectures. Aizawa’s found them online, though he’s never been able to get all the way through one. This squalid cell is far from the plush, intellectual trappings of a lecture hall, though somehow the Doc still makes it work. “It is a human trait to seek out ways to overturn the laws of nature.”

“That’s a lot of glamourous words for forcing people to commit suicide,” Aizawa points out crudely.

The Doctor begins to wax lyrical. “Like it or not, my experiment was the final frontier of mentalist quirk research. Before then, we had no proof it was even possible.”

“Well now we’ve got proof coming out of our ears,” Hitoshi drawls. “The trick is how to make her stop.”

“That's where the Doc comes in,” Aizawa interjects as more of a bargaining chip than realistic expectation. If they could just get him to fucking cooperate. “You drew the roadmap for how she’s killing. If anyone knows how it’ll end—”

“You suggested Shiyoko has been paying homage to my work.” Dr. Shinsou turns to Hitoshi like Aizawa isn’t talking at all. “They don’t tell me these things, of course.”

Aizawa’s starting to lose his patience, whatever small shred of it he had to begin with. Time for a change in tactics. “Hitoshi, there’s a camera in the corner pointed at this cell,” Aizawa begins without taking his eyes off the Doc. “Cover it.”

After a moment of stunned silence, Hitoshi stirs. “What are you gonna do?”

Aizawa toughs it out, his gaze still fixed on Dr. Shinsou, who’s looking right back. “I won’t ask twice.” Without further delay, Hitoshi complies, taking a few steps down the abandoned corridor to reach up and stretch his palm over the camera’s lens.

Aizawa has a sudden moment of realisation: that it makes perfect sense if mentalist quirks are seen as extensions of humans’ own ability to persuade, a fact evidenced now by Hitoshi’s performance of an order from Aizawa. It’s just that the Shinsous can bypass the person’s option to choose not to do something, to resist or act differently according to their own judgement. Aizawa realises how the Shinsou quirk isn’t brainwashing, but the suppression of free will through some use of their mental faculty. In Dr. Shinsou’s words, from somewhere deep within the 90% mind .

The Doc is standing just out of arm’s reach from the bars of the cell, but Aizawa’s got a solution to that as well. As quickly as he can move, which is pretty fucking quick, Aizawa flings himself to the front of the cell and drives his arm between a gap in the bars, flicking out a short length of his capture weapon, which he threads down his arm like a string on a puppet.

The end of the capture weapon whips behind Dr. Shinsou’s slim form and flies into the reach of Aizawa’s other hand, diving through a gap in the bars a few spaces down to grab the other end of the loop before the Doc can slip away.

As easily as lifting a basket of shopping, Aizawa pulls the Doc into his grasp and takes two solid handfuls of his faded grey overalls. A second after that, he’s stepped back and pulls Dr. Shinsou firmly against the cell bars, lifting his feet from the floor. “If you think I won’t hurt you to get our answers, then you’re wrong.”

In spite of his discomfort, the Doc still manages to look barely unsettled at all, hands remaining tucked neatly behind his back. Maybe they are handcuffed after all. “How Heroic of you.”

Without thinking much about whether he’s saying anything on-topic to the line of questioning they’re trying to pursue – try not to let him get to you , Aizawa had counseled Hitoshi like a damn hypocrite – Aizawa spits defiantly, “A criminal’s treatment should befit their crime.”

Ohhh ,” the smooth vibrations of the Doctor’s murmur runs through Aizawa’s hands, clenched tightly in the coarse material of his prison-issue clothing. “Then you are familiar with my work.”

This is getting him nowhere, Aizawa relents with a final ‘worth a try’ huff of resignation. “Speaking of which.” Aizawa lets go and the Doc drops to his feet, the flash-in-the-pan of Aizawa’s bad cop act well and truly doused. Time for another change in tactics. “Forget Shiyoko. Let’s talk about your work, Professor.”

Dr. Shinsou gives Aizawa a long look of consideration and then carefully brings his hands up in front of him to smooth out the wrinkles left in his overalls. So his hands weren’t cuffed, meaning he kept them behind his back even while Aizawa dragged him to the front of his cell and off his feet. Thinking back on it, Aizawa’s not even sure he saw the Doc blink when he was grabbed. Maybe he was waiting, wanted Aizawa to do it all along. How would Aizawa know?

“What did you make him write?” Aizawa asks with a rusty hacksaw voice. “The policeman you commanded to gut himself when he came to arrest you.” If they’re going to have to play the game like this, indulging the megalomaniac’s vanity, the least they’ll do is put to rest some of Aizawa’s tormented late-night thoughts, missing pieces of the puzzle that is the evil Dr. Shinsou.

That’s what Shiyoko copied?” Dr. Shinsou deduces effortlessly, or so it looks from the surface. “How the little girl has grown.”

“Answer the question,” Aizawa asserts more firmly, and when the Doc doesn’t yield, he broadens the scope. “Why did you do it?”

“Simple,” the Doctor responds with a smile that’s almost pleasant, if it wasn’t a vial of pure poison poured in a shot glass. “To prove that I could.”

“But there’s more to it, isn’t there?” Shinsou butts in. “You’re making a statement about something.”

“Then tell me what it is,” Doc tests playfully – still messing with Hitoshi, Aizawa can practically see the strings of the father’s maniacal hands over his the marionette that is his son.

“Give me the message, and I will,” Hitoshi states fearlessly.

“Alright, Hitoshi,” Dr. Shinsou says spitefully, and an actual chill runs down Aizawa’s back when the Doc continues, “but only because I love you.” It’s an ugly thought, and most certainly true, in whatever form of reasoning his twisted mind permits. “Death is Freedom. That’s what I made him write.” Dr. Shinsou lifts a hand to hold one of the bars of his cell, putting his face to the gap as if to get a full view of Hitoshi without these meddlesome, necessary barriers between them. “So then, son. Tell me what it means.”

Chapter Text

“It means you think people want to die,” Aizawa answers for Hitoshi, who’s still reeling from the recent outpouring of fatherly affection and probably isn’t swinging at full speed right now. The dazed look on Hitoshi’s almost-mirror of Dr. Shinsou’s eerie visage suggests as much. But Aizawa’s quirk is still going strong, so he knows that Hitoshi’s just shocked, not brainwashed. “You believe you’re granting them the ability to act on a primal impulse to end their lives.”

“Now, now, that’s cheating, Eraser,” Dr. Shinsou polices like he’s had a sudden bout of morality. “You’ve clearly read my article, and I was talking to my boy.”

“I’m not your anything,” Hitoshi snarls, which is a key sign for Aizawa to remain involved before the situation goes into a full tailspin. Doubly so when Hitoshi turns on Aizawa and with a tone full of betrayal accuses, “You read his article?” Really it’s more of a confession, or perhaps a manifesto in the Doc’s eyes – the ‘academic paper’ that he self-published following the 99 Massacre, still easily available online for those who want a trip into the macabre mind of the mad Professor.

“It was research.” Aizawa shrugs. Best not mention how he’s been working his way through the book too – even if it was Hitoshi’s suggestion to read The 90% Mind in the first place. That was written long before the massacre, and though still tinged with the Doc’s unique egomania, is a great deal more sane than his “Freedom from Life” publication.

“What did you think of it?” Dr. Shinsou tracks back to Aizawa – like they're supposed to keep up with the quick-change of his whims over who’s the favoured subject of his attention. Whoever wants to talk about him, more or less.

“Cool paper. Still murder,” Aizawa deadpans. “That’s not important right now.” He’d steal a glance to check in on Hitoshi right now, except that Aizawa needs to keep his unblinking stare trained on Dr. Shinsou or he’s going to be taken over by a powerful brainwashing quirk. Aizawa feels it. The wolf at the door to his mind. It’s not as strong as Hitoshi, just entirely more desperate; but Aizawa would always fear the hungry beast more than one who's not a maneater.

“It means death is the only true escape from other people's control,” Hitoshi offers without further prompting. “Whether it's from a quirk, in a job or by society, we're always being manipulated in one way or another.”

“And people want to be free, don't they?” the Doctor poses craftily.

“Not the way you see it, but yes,” Hitoshi answers calmly, seemingly confident in the protection Aizawa’s quirk will afford him. But Aizawa feels the Doc’s claws scratching under the door Aizawa holds shut between the wolf and his pup. “I suppose this is all part of your sick plan to help people.”

“Of course I'm helping them,” Dr. Shinsou tuts. “That impulse belongs to us all. Well-” he diverts with suave confidence. “Most of us.”

“Sure, someone has to stick around and make sure people fulfil their innermost dreams to die in bloody agony,” Hitoshi scorns, then with an irony that hits just a little too close to home with Aizawa standing right there drips, “My Hero.”

Dr. Shinsou’s face still presses against the bars of the cell, close enough for Aizawa to see his mouth begin to move as if in reply and then stop as the exchange goes off textbook. “I–”

The Doc’s face is a wiped-down blackboard, wide-eyed and a mouth more sheer than the face of a cliff.

Hitoshi says, “Tell me how you got back in touch with Shiyoko.”

Lifeless, a picture-perfect example of control that has been taken from him, Dr Shinsou replies like a puppet worked from within, “She wrote to me.”

Aizawa shifts his gaze for a second to rest on Hitoshi, like a quick slap on the wrist to make a toddler drop something they just picked up off the ground. Whether it was Aizawa’s quirk or Hitoshi backing off, the Doc blinks, and the usual savagery returns to his expression. “I’ll pretend I didn’t see that,” Aizawa warns.

“You didn’t see anything,” Hitoshi contradicts.

“It’s really coming along, isn’t it?” Dr. Shinsou purrs. “Such a shame your mother wouldn’t allow me to study your quirk properly.”

“I hated your research and you know it,” Shinsou snaps, then like he’s ripping the knife straight out of his body to drive back into his father’s chest. “Ma was right to leave you, I’m only sorry she didn’t do it sooner–”

Dr. Shinsou’s hands leap to the bars of his cage, his fingers seizing the wrought iron in a grip so tight it aspires to twist the metal like pipe-cleaners, knuckles balancing as he snarls, “She had no right at all! It’s my quirk! My legacy you refused to–” Dr. Shinsou regains control of himself all at once, almost like he’s turned the stilling force of his quirk on himself. Aizawa permits himself to blink, and the moment he does, the Doc has turned back into an ice sculpture, hands folded neatly behind his back. “You continue to disappoint me, Hitoshi.”

“It’s my pleasure, dad,” Hitoshi replies vitriolically. “Literally nothing makes me happier than knowing what a fuckup I am in your eyes.”

“Shiyoko wrote to you,” Aizawa drags up with all the joy of pulling a body from the bottom of a river, “and then what?” But truly, he knows the moment’s gone.

“You know, I don't feel inclined to share that information anymore,” the Doc says coldly. Perhaps if Hitoshi hadn’t sprung his quirk the way he did, or if he hadn’t provoked the Doc the way only parents and children can needle each other. Aizawa senses the boat drifting away from the shore, closer to the waterfall’s current – the loss of Dr. Shinsou’s desire to have some kind of relationship with Hitoshi. Even the force of all his fatherly 'love' only overwhelms the Doc’s animosity toward anyone on the other side of the bars in passing spells. The Professor’s session concludes with a stiff, “I think you’ve learned quite enough for today.”

It’s irritating, but Aizawa has to accept it. Don’t tap a spring so hard it dries up, he’s learned that the hard way. “If you say so, Doc.”

“But we–” Hitoshi’s not ready to go, which is a pretty good sign they should get out of here. As the only level-headed member of this little party, Aizawa’s making the call to leave before this thing gets any uglier.

“I said we’re leaving.” Aizawa’s not negotiating. This might be the first thing he and Dr. Shinsou have agreed on, because there’s a shade to Dr. Shinsou’s numbing stare that’s not hostile...but rather approving. Aizawa suppresses a shudder of disgust.

“Yes, remove that failure from my sight.” The Doc dumps a generous handful of salt in the wound that runs head-to-toe through Hitoshi, and Aizawa sees him tensing, the clench in his jaw and defiance of his glare.

Spite for spite, Aizawa sets his hand on Hitoshi’s shoulder and gently tugs. It’s not a sure thing, but this time Hitoshi yields, letting Aizawa peel him back from his father like pulling an IV out of his arm.

The safety of Aizawa’s gaze moves away from the Doc, his and Hitoshi’s backs turning as they walk away. But then the voice that caused a massacre echoes around them, as if it’s coming from everywhere. “One more thing before you go, Eraser.” This isn’t a suggestion or even an invitation, just a naming of terms as the Professor of Mentalism sees fit. “What was the message Shiyoko wanted to send?”

Aizawa keeps his hand on Hitoshi’s shoulder, and they walk a step further, stopping only when he's about to lose peripheral vision of the Doc. Looking back over his shoulder, Aizawa’s able to lock one last quirk-erasing stare onto Dr. Shinsou, and goes for one more stab in the dark. “You know the drill, Doc. Quid pro quo: what happened after Shiyoko wrote to you?”

Dr. Shinsou’s mouth pulls thin across the cliffside angles of his face. Not a smile, something far more sinister. “You first.”

Aizawa feels Hitoshi trying to look back, to turn into a pillar of salt, but Aizawa holds him firmly by the shoulder and answers for them both. “She wants to be seen. To know that we’re watching her.” It’s a risk telling the Doc this with the hope of being reciprocated, but Aizawa hasn’t much to lose. “Your turn.”

“What else would one do upon receiving a letter?” Dr. Shinsou purrs condescendingly. “I wrote back.” Played, Aizawa thinks bitterly. All they have after this exchange is a tray of grit, and it’ll take a lot of panning to find the specs of gold among all the gravel. The Doc must know that too, because he sounds shit-eatingly amused when he says, “If you see my wife again, send her my love.”

Aizawa sees Hitoshi starting to turn, trying to regress and let himself be dragged back in on the riptide. Placing a palm square in the middle of Hitoshi’s back, Aizawa guides him gently forward. “Goodbye, Dr. Shinsou.”

The Doc doesn’t wave, but he gives a miniscule nod. “For now.”

The civilised negotiation had become a bare-knuckle boxing match; Aizawa’s not sure who won.

Aizawa walks Hitoshi into the transfer room, where the Warden can no longer be seen with his face pressed anxiously against the other side of the glass. With his free hand, Aizawa pulls the door shut and closes off the rest of the world. He can practically hear the strung-out internal scream coming from Hitoshi. Knowing more about his mother, and what could be possible with a quirk like the one Hitoshi’s inherited from both his parents, Aizawa wouldn’t put it past him. Something more knocking around in that dark matter 90% mind of Shinsou Hitoshi.

The first order of business is to ensure the door is locked behind them, so that maniac can’t get anywhere, which Aizawa attends to with greatest urgency. He checks and then double-checks that the door is definitely secure, enclosing the two of them in the smallish transfer room. Like the entire world has been put behind lock and key, Aizawa turns to face Hitoshi. Offering his foot to a landmine, he hazards, “You okay?”

“What the fuck do you think?” Hitoshi’s seething, like steam would shoot out of all his joints if he moved another muscle. The only reason Aizawa’s not going to talk about Hitoshi using his quirk back there is because the fact that he did means emotion has gotten the upper hand. If the kid had his head on straight, he wouldn’t have done what he did. Even if it was incredibly useful (and incredibly illegal).

However, Aizawa has handled his fair share of freakouts – he’s dating Hizashi – and knows what to do with a tightly wound coil. Hitoshi’s eye level isn’t far apart from Aizawa’s to begin with, so he only has to duck his head a little to be eye-to-eye and not looking down. At the same time, as if the lowering of his neck pushes up his arms like some kind of prehistoric bird, Aizawa lifts his hands to perch on each of Hitoshi’s shoulders.

Hitoshi’s eyes are downcast, even after Aizawa’s effort to get on his level. So he’ll need a little nudge. “Look at me.” That’s enough, and dark-ringed eyes lift up to Aizawa’s. As well as the purplish tint of the delicate under-eye skin, Hitoshi’s irises are ringed with a deeper violet band as if to match, flecks of the darker colour creeping from the outside in. Even Hitoshi’s eyelashes might be a very dark purple, rather than pure black of Aizawa’s… everything. Pitch black or grubby white: his two-hue colour scheme. Hizashi’s joked before that he knows Aizawa’s a relic because he’s printed in shitty monochrome, and even Aizawa can see it when he looks at himself in the mirror first thing in the morning.

With great care, Aizawa delivers the next instruction. “Breathe.” In that funny space where a followed order swims in the same vein as mind control, Hitoshi takes a deep breath at Aizawa’s command, and then slowly starts to deflate. Aizawa lets it sit a moment, just long enough to feel the soothing air of a moment to be present, allowing the chaos of the universe to hit true centre every now and again. “Better?”

Hitoshi gaze pinballs wildly around the cramped space of the transfer room like he’s going for a new high score. The epitome of teenage angst, he gives a low, “If this is better, I don’t wanna know what’s worse.”

It would be bad manners to laugh, so Aizawa goes for a sincere, “Me neither.” He gives Hitoshi one more solid pat on the shoulders, then turns his attention back to the locked door. It sits between them and Warden Tanaka, who can now be spotted sitting on a folding chair outside the door, doing a sudoku by the looks of it.

Aizawa knocks on the glass, and the Warden startles like Doc Shinsou’s popped out of the shadows to lay a hand on his shoulder – he hasn’t, thankfully. But Aizawa can’t help but feel these back-of-house cells are more isolated, and by merit of that bottleneck, easier to escape. It’s one long twisting corridor all the way from Doc Shinsou’s cell to the prison yard, which would be a powerful villain’s playground. Something that feels safer might not be safer, and stashing a monster in the most remote corner of a prison only means it’ll take that much longer to realise something has gone wrong.

The Warden gets up and comes close to the glass, looking suspiciously at Aizawa and Hitoshi. Like he could spot invisible puppet strings. Their ‘sanctity of mind’ was what the Warden wanted to ascertain, but in the moment of truth, how would he ever really know if Aizawa or Hitoshi (or both) were being controlled by Dr. Shinsou?

This makes it seem rather ridiculous when he raises a hand with two fingers outstretched. “How many fingers am I holding up?”

Aizawa rolls his eyes, like Hitoshi’s extravagant displays are rubbing off on him. “Is this for real?” He considers if this test is something they’ve actually developed with (or for) the Doc. It’d require risking someone being taken control of by him, which surely doesn’t bode well for anyone.

Because whether any of these defences against Dr. Shinsou would really work is not a fact you’d ever want to have to prove. The Warden’s face betrays a little of that fear, clinging to something he can do, even just to escape feeling totally resigned to his fate. “Answer the question, please.”

“Two,” Aizawa snaps. “Which is how many seconds you have to get us out of here before I lose my patience.”

The Warden complies after that, letting them out and re-locking the door before he leads Aizawa and Hitoshi away. “If you plan on coming back here again, it better be with a warrant,” the Warden grumbles on the way out across the deserted yard; the pastel sky above them is the only view of the free world Dr. Shinsou got today. Possibly for years.

Police involvement in this angle of their investigation seems much more likely when Aizawa and Shinsou get to the prison gates and find a cop car waiting outside them. Sitting against the bonnet of his undercover (but cop-if-you’re-looking-carefully) muscle-car, hands plunged into the cavernous pockets of his coat, Detective Tsukauchi looks all too interested in the pair he finds coming out of the prison gates on a Monday just as the sun is in the business of setting.

“Well, Eraserhead,” he practically whistles. “Fancy seeing you here.”

“I’ll tell you in the car,” Aizawa steamrolls over any attempt to banter; he’s not really in the mood for that fresh off the back of another sinister psychiatric session with Dr. Shinsou. “You can take us to the police station.”

“Why, is there something you’d like to confess to?” Tsukauchi keeps digging as he gets off his car bonnet and unlocks it without removing his hand from his pocket.

“Not me,” Aizawa murmurs ominously, opening up the back door of the car and waiting for Hitoshi to get in first. Without it ever being made clear that this would be what happened before it does happen, Hitoshi slides along the backseat to the other side and makes room for Aizawa to get in after him. It’s not just because sitting in the passenger seat will make Tsukauchi think he can chat to Aizawa more familiarly, and that’s a distance Aizawa would rather keep as large as possible; he can keep a better eye on Hitoshi back here too, rather than needing to crane around in the front of the car.

On which point, Hitoshi is sullen and withdrawn, but that’s so far so good. This kettle doesn’t give much warning before it’s about to start shrieking, but Aizawa doesn’t see any signs of it yet.

Hell, maybe Hitoshi’s up for just a little more. Aizawa leans forward and sticks his head between the seats in front, addressing Tsukauchi with the suggestion, “If you contacted Dr. Iwaya to ask if she’ll stay late to speak to us, it’d save her needing to come back to the station.”

“That urgent, huh?” Tsukauchi tuts, mucking around with his phone – hopefully sending that message Aizawa wants – before putting his key in the ignition. “Should I get the siren out?”

“Not necessary,” Aizawa replies as Tsukauchi starts the car and they pull away. Aizawa decides to preempt the inevitable by socking the issue in the face in round one and announces, “I’ve been accompanying Shinsou Hitoshi as a security detail while he visits his father in prison, and yes, we’ve spoken to him about the case.”

“I don’t need to ask why you’d do a thing like that,” Tsukauchi grouses as he accelerates to cruise at easily twice the speed he really needs to. The added sensation – of moving too quick to keep track of what’s coming next – has the adrenaline really pumping through Aizawa’s veins. “But I would like to know why you thought that wouldn’t be of interest to the police,” Tsukauchi continues, “especially after I just accused you of withholding evidence.” The detective’s no-bullshit smile is one of Aizawa’s least favourite things to look at, until with a particularly hard turn the car corners around a junction, throwing Aizawa into the backseat he belongs in with a meaty thump. Bearing cheer that sits wholly at odds with his aggressive driving, the Detective concludes, “That was yesterday, remember?”

“It’s not withholding evidence if I find it first and it takes you longer to catch up.” Aizawa tries to keep his cool, more interested in doing the work than the initial catfight. Tamakawa seriously can’t get promoted soon enough. “But since you asked nicely, we’ve confirmed that the killer had several periods of contact with Dr. Shinsou, and that he may have been grooming her to use her quirk to make people hurt themselves, even commit suicide.” Hitoshi is smirking next to Aizawa, which only makes Aizawa more glad for giving the detective the mouthful of brass tacks he deserves.

“Dr. Shinsou’s been in prison for nearly six years,” Tsukauchi cites like he could really spit pins. “If you’re suggesting he’s behind this, it’s a long time to wait.”

“An architect can claim to have built a house just as much as he could claim to have committed Shiyoko’s murders,” Hitoshi offers up like an unwilling witness under oath, glowering from the farthest corner of the police car that he’s managed to work his way into. If the door opened behind him, Hitoshi would tumble out into the road in seconds, rolling at high speeds, and just the thought alone makes Aizawa’s teeth clench. “The Doc’s hands didn’t create the final product, but they sketched out the blueprint.” Hitoshi’s got a way with words, that much is for sure, though it sometimes does him as many mischiefs as favours; he does sound awful creepy when he waxes morbid like an ancient poet – or a teenager.

“There’s no way he could have used his quirk on Shiyoko for that long.”

Hitoshi’s derisive scoff of laughter shows Tsukauchi’s ignorance.

“There’s more ways than quirks to get inside someone’s head.”

Tsukauchi’s speechless, so Aizawa decides to shift them on a bit with the announcement, “The Doc knows plenty about Shiyoko, but he’s not keen on sharing. Having his son there is the only way I can get him to talk.” Hitoshi scoffs at that too, and Aizawa resists growling that he didn’t mean for that to include Hitoshi using his quirk on his father – which is again, super illegal and the evidence would never hold up in court – because that would mean admitting it happened to the police. Which is the last thing Aizawa wants.

So in a way, it’s better Tsukauchi doesn’t know too much about all the technically illegal shit, given he’s supposed to build a case that stands on solid ground. Even if the detective is working to Aizawa’s design, painting by numbers after Aizawa casts the linework like the tip of a master’s inky paintbrush. After the way Tsukauchi has trotted after All Might with a paperwork mop and bucket all these years, he’s a self-professed expert at ‘handling’ Heroes (and their unorthodox ways… and egos).

“It kinda sounds like you don’t want me to pay a visit of my own,” Tsukauchi points out like that’s very suspicious, which is only (kinda) fair.

“I wouldn’t recommend it,” Aizawa mutters. “The Warden also wants a warrant before he's letting anyone back in there again.”

“Oh good, I wanted to do some more work anyway,” Tsukauchi replies with more false cheer; a ‘thanks for fucking it up, buddy’ if Aizawa’s ever heard one. “Are you at least any closer to catching the killer?”

“Get us to Dr. Iwaya and I’ll let you find out,” Aizawa replies.

“Better yet, why don’t I come see Dr. Iwaya with you, and we can cut out all this to and fro,” Tsukauchi suggests like a fussy waiter ‘recommends’ a particular wine. “Unless you’d like to refuse to cooperate with the police in this investigation.”

Aizawa gives the biggest, most upheaved sigh in the world – Hizashi would be proud of the drama. “I guess so.”

Dr. Iwaya is waiting for them in the lobby of the police station, perched on one of the waiting room benches and wrapped in a large felt coat with a collar that almost totally obscures her face. She stands when she sees Tsukauchi approaching, and Aizawa’s eyes are good enough to discern the slight change in her face when she recognises himself and Hitoshi strolling a few paces behind the Detective. More people than she was expecting, maybe.

This hunch is all but confirmed when the first thing Iwaya offers is a chilled, “When you asked if I wanted to meet you after work, this wasn’t what I had in mind.”

“Surprise,” Aizawa opens with a merciless deadpan. “Shall we use your office?”

Dr. Iwaya looks like she misjudged far more than she’s trying to let on, a twitch under one eye and a frown that’s pulled into a pained smile. She looks ridiculous, which is actually endearing on her. For once. “I suppose we shall.”

“Sorry, Doc, I’ll make it up to you,” Tsukauchi offers benignly, not knowing how wrong that term of address could sound to the wrong crowd.

Dr. Iwaya’s gaze lingers on Tsukauchi for a moment longer than Aizawa would call necessary, and then her doll-like eyes shut, thick eyelashes batting as she averts her gaze. “I should hope so.”

I wonder, Aizawa thinks of the moment, before casting it aside for something more relevant. “Don’t worry, Iwaya. This shouldn’t take long.”

“I’ll hope for that too,” Iwaya replies frostily, walking ahead of them with the large collar of her coat practically swallowing her whole head. Any overcoat enthusiast (like Tsukauchi) would surely be proud of the jacket’s enormousness in relation to her willowy build, and that’s when Aizawa has the solidified thought there could be a vested interest behind Tsukauchi’s desire to closely follow the contact they’re having with Iwaya. She’s a sad, beautiful woman, and a lot of men (Aizawa not included) seem to find that irresistible.

Iwaya removes the coat once they get back to her office, though Tsukauchi remains bundled up. Aizawa slumps into the single chair for guests, while Hitoshi makes straight for Dr. Iwaya’s comfortable office chair on the other side of the desk, settling himself in it like a cat who knows exactly which spot is most obnoxious to sit in.

Hitoshi is the first out the gate with a question, which he pitches while lolling back in Iwaya’s chair, looking suspiciously like he wants to put his feet up on something. “So how old was Shiyoko when you helped the Doc carry out his research on her?” Maybe Hitoshi’s got his head screwed back on after all — the wonders a nice, quiet ride back to the police station in a cop car can do for a person. Aizawa told Hitoshi he’d get used to it.

“Four or five years old, but I never met her. I told you that already.” Iwaya’s gaze shifts from Aizawa back to Tsukauchi by the time she leads into pregnant silence. Iwaya never told Tsukauchi about her history with Dr. Shinsou or the connection to the killer, in spite of it being a case he’s working. That gap in the detective’s knowledge was clear when Tsukauchi first heard about Iwaya’s history from Aizawa and Hitoshi, rather than from her.

“What else did you tell them?” Tsukauchi presses, and it’s hard not to detect a note of black-coffee bitterness in his tone. It’s probably hurt them both, this slight misjudgement of what they know about each other. Tsukauchi’s quirk might have prevented some of this, but it’d be a violation of trust if Tsukauchi ever used his quirk on Iwaya without her consent. If she’s lying to him (to anyone), it’s for a reason; for Tsukauchi to try and root those sneaky mistruths out like mice under the floorboards would only drive her further away from sharing the truth willingly.

“Dr. Iwaya used to work for my dad, way back when he was still a bigshot and hadn’t killed all those people,” Hitoshi jumps back in. Aizawa certainly can’t fault his tenacity. The teen makes a show of stopping, deliberately waits for Iwaya to look at him, and then offers, “Or did you want to tell them?”

“Please, go ahead,” Iwaya invites distantly, turning back to watch Tsukauchi on the other side of the room. “But you did say this wouldn’t take long.”

The detective loiters by the door, facing Aizawa and Hitoshi over toward the back, Iwaya between all of them like the true centre of this galaxy. At least when they’re in her turf; Dr. Iwaya’s office is all blue and grey tones, a higher ceiling than most of the detectives’ dingy offices on the lower floors, and everything about it feels as if it’s been put together to establish an air of a controlled safe space. For her and the patients, probably.

This comforting effect is somewhat ruined by Hitoshi spawled behind the Psych’s desk and Aizawa slumped in front of it. An image Hitoshi seems to be leaning into: “I assume that by the time Shiyoko got back in touch with Dr. Shinsou, you and him had long since fallen out.” Hitoshi lays this out like it’s barely even worth confirming, like he’s that certain no one would stay in touch with his father for long.

Aizawa’s conscious of how sketchy their timeline continues to be, in spite of all the Doc’s ‘helpful’ advice that he definitely didn’t give – like how old is the killer, and what age was Hitoshi when all this was happening? If Iwaya would answer Hitoshi’s questions, they might get to fill in a few of those blanks, but Aizawa wouldn’t bank on it.

“You could call it that,” Iwaya assents quietly. She takes a couple steps more, passing Aizawa like a cool breeze before coming to rest against the end of her desk, like she’s deliberately choosing to position herself between Aizawa and Hitoshi.

“What kind of things did you do with Dr. Shinsou?” Tsukauchi surges back into the fray, but the attention that Iwaya gives to his question comes off a little glarey. His phrasing could definitely have been better, because whatever happened between Iwaya and Dr. Shinsou is clearly hidden behind a fortified icecap littered with landmines.

What comes out of Dr. Iwaya, the former assistant of the murderous Dr. Shinsou, is an utterly methodical and sterile recitation, like she wrote these words a long time ago for an occasion such as this. “I performed setup for his experiments, writing up the notes, dealing with the cleanup. He wouldn’t allow me to be in the lab with the subjects, said it was more…” Iwaya pauses for a second, then hardens like steel in a fire, “intimate.”

Aizawa feels a terrible chill bite into his back and linger. But they do have a case to solve. “Do you still have those notes?” This is the question he came here to ask, the thing he’s banking on existing in some neatly filed notebook at the very back of Iwaya’s physical and mental closet. Skeletons indeed.

“Yes, but I–” Iwaya cuts herself off, lips pressed tight together. “My notes are confidential.”

“Dare I remind you that this is a police investigation.” There’s a touch more foreboding than sarcasm Tsukauchi allows to seep into his tone.

“I’ll talk to you about it, Detective.” Iwaya’s retort is a quick slap, and then her gaze whips across the room to land on Hitoshi, the insolent teen reveling in his literal invasion of her space. “I just don’t have to talk to him.”

“Touchy,” Hitoshi singsongs. “What did I ever do to you?” It might be after the fact that Hitoshi realises this is something his father said earlier, and the resulting scowl he breaks into is likely because of that let-him-in fumble. Iwaya really isn’t the woman to try out Dr. Shinsou impressions on.

“Nothing, I just don’t want to discuss this matter with a… child.” Hitoshi takes this well, all things considered. Meaning he doesn’t react by throwing a tantrum, which would be the childish thing to do.

“If what Shiyoko did for Doc’s ‘research’ is anything like what I had to do, I wouldn’t worry too much about my innocence,” Hitoshi puts forth in a way that draws those velvet-gloved fingers right up the back of Aizawa’s neck. The ‘I don’t have to use my quirk to get you to do what I want’ tone of voice. “But she probably got more of it than I did, so it’d be good to check the finer details.”

Iwaya doesn’t sound sorry at all as she says, “I'm sorry, I just don't feel comfortable with it. That work I did with the Professor falls within Doctor-patient confidentiality. Even if I did have the notes, I wouldn’t share them without a warrant and some form of…” She pauses again, that checking of herself before she reveals something from high up on that glacier of her true feelings. “Protection afforded to me.”

“Wow, are you that scared of him?” Hitoshi says with derisive glee.

“Of his quirk,” Iwaya accuses. “Which I think you know plenty about.”

Hitoshi looks a little taken aback by that, and Aizawa tries to remember if they’ve ever let on to Iwaya that Hitoshi inherited his father's quirk. Maybe Iwaya doesn't need to have it said out loud; she did say she'd recognise a Shinsou anywhere. Or maybe she only means that Hitoshi also knows what his father is capable of.

“Hey Eraser, why don't you and the kid take a walk?” Tsukauchi suggests like a hammer suggests a nail into the wall. It goes down about as well as can be expected.

“Why don’t you start, and we’ll follow on after?” Hitoshi comes right back at the Detective, and Aizawa knew it would only be a matter of time before Hitoshi also settled into a pattern of squabbling with Tsukauchi. Aizawa does kind of set the example, though, so it’s on him as much as the kid.

“How about this isn’t a joke, and I’m actually asking you to go.” Tsukauchi’s gone all Serious Detective on them. There doesn’t seem to be much of a way around Iwaya’s refusal to talk to Hitoshi. Unless Aizawa goes back to see Iwaya without Hitoshi, which still requires both of them leaving in the first place.

“C’mon, Hitoshi.” Aizawa lets out a grizzled grunt as he gets out of the chair he’d been happily melting into. “This would’ve been a drag anyway.”

Hitoshi doesn’t like it, but he does leave, getting up from Iwaya’s chair and skulking past her with a belligerent look. It lingers so long that Tsukauchi bristles when Aizawa and Hitoshi pass him on their way out. Tsukauchi withdraws a hand from one of those endless pockets and gives them a faux-cheery wave. “Don’t wait up now.”

When Aizawa and Hitoshi arrive in defeated commiseration at the police station break room, they find Yamaguichi pouring over a dogeared police training manual, seemingly alone. The station break room could be better considered a break-down room, as Aizawa has mostly only known people to spend time here when they’re desperate and have nowhere else to go.

Yamaguichi is here, but maybe that’s because she’s so new the soul-sucking aura hasn’t kicked in yet. Everything about this space is tired, from the grubby paint-job to the humming vending machine that cast artificial light where there might have once been windows, to the barely comfortable couch that holds the essence of a thousand asses. It’s dreary, drab and awful, but it’s at least a little brighter with Yamaguichi sat slap-bang in the centre of it.

“Hey, Mr. Eraser and Jack!” Yamaguichi seems as genuinely enthused to meet them – especially Hitoshi – as ever, and Aizawa has a funny thought about Hitoshi’s mixed results with women. The early forays of an inexperienced but occasionally smooth operator.

This all culminates in a grandiose show of teenage emotion, when Hitoshi’s deadpan drawl actually drops for once. He smiles at Yamaguichi and simply says, “Hey, Yankumi.”

Hitoshi’s already moving a chair from another table to join Yamaguichi when Aizawa asks, “Where’s Tamakawa?” He’s thinking that Tama might be outside smoking, and Aizawa would love to join him.

The answer he’s not expecting is a cheerful, “Oh, he’s asleep on top of the vending machines.”

This one, it has to be admitted, takes Aizawa a second to register. It does register, but there’s still enough to merit a follow-up. “Why?”

Yamaguichi elaborates with a cheery grin that’s obviously nothing to do with the chair Hitoshi’s pulled up to join her. “He says it’s real warm up there, and no one would ever think to look so he can actually get some sleep.” Yamaguichi shifts in her own chair to make room for Hitoshi. ‘Yankumi,’ as Hitoshi apparently calls her, is looking particularly like a fresh-faced rookie in her early twenties this morning. Understandably, she is perhaps of more illustrious status to a bushy-tailed teenager getting to experience the real world of Heroes for the first time.

If she’s fresh from the academy, only a week into the job when Aizawa met her last week, then it’s just as possible that Yamaguichi is also enthused with the newness of all this real-life experience like Hitoshi is. And all she really knows about Hitoshi is that he's Aizawa’s intern. The impression Hitoshi has given off so far around Yamaguichi is more of a mysterious, vaguely teenaged sidekick—someone who’s stood up for Yamaguichi, and then given her a cute nickname to boot. It’s a hell of an improvement on how he's been around Iwaya.

So rather than sit in on all that, Aizawa grabs a chair and uses it to climb up in front of the vending machines. There’s several machines in a row, so the overall space it creates is easily big enough for Aizawa to climb into. Not that he does right now, as toward the back of the narrow-ish space, but just about comfortingly close to the ceiling, Tamakawa is fast asleep with his face all smooshed up against one of his hands. Aizawa wonders whether Tama’s aware of the world of sleeping bags or if he actually enjoys snoozing like that.

Tama’s clearly not very fast asleep, as it doesn’t take more than a curious tap of Aizawa’s fingers against the top of the vending machines for Tamakawa’s eyes to shoot open, his pupils almost reflective for a moment as the light catches them from behind Aizawa. They dilate and then quickly contract into narrower slits. It occurs to Aizawa that Tama’s night vision is probably pretty good, and he should make use of that more often.

What Tama doesn’t look is super pleased about being disturbed from his nap, though he could surely be said to growl more than hiss, “What?”

Aizawa understands Tama’s irritation, though it doesn’t make Aizawa any more empathetic to be on the other end. He suffers from interrupted naps all the time—why shouldn’t Tama have to as well? Aizawa pretend-obliviously gazes around the cozy vending machine-nook. “This is a nice spot.” So nice he might steal it sometime.

With half his furry snout still smooshed against his hand, only one of Tama’s eyebrows visibly rises, but it’s more than expressive enough. “Unless you want to spoon, get your own damn spot.”

“Not now,” is Aizawa’s only half thought-out response to that particular inquiry, which just means that he doesn’t need to sleep urgently so whether it’d be practical or not to spoon isn’t an issue Aizawa has to deal with right now. He’s better off focusing on the decisions he does have to make, at least about how to get around this Iwaya-Hitoshi rut they’ve gotten into.

Tamakawa’s eye narrows, and he says, “Are you waiting for me to offer you a cigarette or something?”

“Let’s go for the cigarette,” Aizawa settles. Or something is far too big a pool to dive into head-first.

“Fine.” Tamakawa pulls his hand out from under his squashed whiskers and stretches.

But when Aizawa gets back down from the chair to let Tama out, Hitoshi’s no longer in the break room. This bemusement on his face must read, because Yamaguichi claps eyes on him and says, “Are you looking for Jack? We were chatting about Dr. Iwaya, and then he suddenly said he had to go.”

Without me? Aizawa almost says out loud in his shock. He turns around for a minute and the kid slips him so quick it’s practically insulting. Instead, his brows form deep furrows of worry. “What did you tell him about Dr. Iwaya?”

“Oh, just about how she helps us with counseling and stuff,” Yamaguichi gushes with a little colour in her cheeks, though that might also be factored into a lingering flush that’s fading post-Hitoshi’s departure. Aizawa wouldn’t know but doesn’t really care to anyway. “After the week I’ve had, it’s really great having her just upstairs to talk to whenever I want.” Maybe Yamaguich’s just glowing with the therapeutic qualities of Dr. Iwaya after all. At least someone finds her comforting to be around. “That quirk she has is really amazing.”

Shit. It hits Aizawa like a lightning rod. Hitoshi didn’t know about Iwaya’s quirk – it certainly hasn’t come up in the limited, tense contact he’s had with her. But if Yamaguichi let him onto it now… pieces fit into place in Aizawa’s head. Never mind the smoke break, he heads towards the break room door. “Which way did he go?”

Aizawa already knows the answer, but Yamaguichi confirms it. “Left, like he was going–” Aizawa is already out of the room, but he doesn’t need it to finish – back to Iwaya’s office.

Without wasting time explaining to Tamakawa, who probably just returned to his nap, Aizawa hits the stairs at about a sprint and just keeps running until he’s going vertical up the wall. From there, he jumps across the stairwell, leaping from side to side in the empty space down the centre of the column that runs through the whole building like a spine. With the aid of a few helping capture-wraps, Aizawa scales the few floors back up to Iwaya’s office in under thirty seconds.

This means that Aizawa gains some time on Hitoshi, but only enough that by the time he catches up, Hitoshi is already in front of Dr. Iwaya, stranded in front of her office in a pose like a poster for a noir film. Tsukauchi is off to the side looking kind of clueless, and as Aizawa gets closer he sees two things.

One: That Hitoshi’s hand is outstretched, palm turned upwards, and in it he clasps Iwaya’s slim fingers with great delicacy.

Two: That Iwaya is crying.

Chapter Text

“What did I miss?” Aizawa addresses Tsukauchi, whose eloquent offering in return is a puzzled shrug.

“He just… said he’d prove it to her,” Tsukauchi murmurs softly, like he’s in the audience at a theatre while Iwaya and Hitoshi are performing on the main stage, but the play’s in a language he doesn’t speak.

“I'm sorry.” Iwaya’s voice is breathy, tone shattered like an expensive plate dropped on the floor. Tears building up in her eyes streak down her cheeks when she blinks, taking her carefully applied makeup with them. Her hand is still sitting in Hitoshi’s like an afterthought, until she quickly withdraws it, turning in a rush for her office door. “There's something I have to give you.”

“Easy, Doctor I.” Hitoshi's voice is velvet and crushed silk. He says it Dr. Eye, which is apt given Iwaya’s ability to look into a person’s mind with the lightest touch. Aizawa wonders if there's anyone Hitoshi won't pin a nickname to like a badge of honour.

“Is everything alright?” Tsukauchi sounds rightly concerned as he follows them all back into Iwaya’s office, and Aizawa wonders if he's put the pieces together. Doesn't seem like he's got much of a clue, though the mystery of women remains beyond the abilities of many a man. Not Aizawa: it makes no difference to him. All people are equal parts easy to read and the rest defiantly, humanly unpredictable.

“It’s nothing, just–” Iwaya's still doing an impression of a leaky tap, stopping and starting again as her painted face cascades down her cheeks to reveal the human underneath.

Her gaze flies wildly around the office as she takes a few steps and stops in the middle of it, but she keeps coming back to Hitoshi, soon fixing on him inescapably as she blinks a fresh sheet of saltwater down the panes of her face. As if it’s the most important thing in the world, Iwaya reaches for Hitoshi’s hand again. She clasps it in a fairy-light touch that must relight the connection of her quirk to Hitoshi’s mind, evidenced by the powerful new wave of emotion in her voice as she tells him, “You're nothing like your father.”

Hitoshi's voice is soft, an actual walking cliche as he replies, “I know.” Their hands break again, but Hitoshi stays close to Iwaya, who drops into the empty guest chair in front of her desk while Hitoshi leans back against it, less than an arm away from her. “But I don't blame you for not being sure.”

“What has this got to do with the kid's whack-job father?” Tsukauchi asks jealously from the back of the pack, and Aizawa's certainly not filling him in at such a crucial juncture.

“If I were anything like that man, no one in their right mind would share information about his work with me,” Hitoshi explains calmly, glancing up at the detective for a moment before taking his purple mist gaze back to Iwaya. “We're on the same page now though, aren't we?”

Iwaya nods, eyes cast down. “I'm sorry to break down like this in front of you all,” Iwaya says into her lap. Then, in a remarkable show of confidence and intimacy, Hitoshi reaches over to gently blot the trails of tears down Iwaya’s cheeks with the back of his fingers. More surprising yet is that Iwaya actually lets him, even though – perhaps especially because – it gives her another dose of looking into Hitoshi’s mind when they make such a natural but unnecessary contact. Iwaya’s eyes even flutter shut for a moment, and it occurs to Aizawa that if he used his quirk on her right now it'd throw a bucket of water over this bushfire. He’s not going to, yet, but it remains an option.

Because, as a terminal boundary-pusher, Hitoshi just has to take it that little bit further. Hitoshi waits for Iwaya’s eyes to open and meet his before he says in a voice so smooth it could be spread on toast, “Cheer up, beautiful.” He turns away to pull a tissue from a box on the corner of Iwaya’s desk and holds it out to her. “No one's pretty when they cry.”

Tsukauchi looks gobsmacked, like he can't believe he's watching a kid half his age put the moves on the same woman he's got his eye on. It's a little audacious, Aizawa will give it that. But he's fully accepted the reality: for all his tender years, Hitoshi is a bit of a flirt.

Iwaya gives a strangled laugh-sob, which is hopefully Hitoshi’s intended effect, and takes the tissue like she can’t believe she’s being hit on by a(nother) Shinsou. Aizawa can acknowledge, if not appreciate, just what it is about Iwaya that makes her so irresistible. The lonely beauty who waits patiently for her one true companion to join her.

Aizawa’s of the opinion that anyone of Dr. Iwaya’s looks and position who is alone wants to be so – or certainly isn’t looking for anyone in a hurry. But try telling the scores of people who step into the ocean at a siren’s call.

It’s with a soft sigh that Iwaya pulls a compact mirror out of her bag, beginning the cleanup operation after stemming the downpour on her face. It’s into an almost comfortable never fully realised silence that Tsukuachi offers, “So would anyone care to fill me in on what just happened?” The Detective is caught somewhere between bitter and butthurt, which isn't the best of looks on him.

“The Doctor’s had a change of heart about sharing those notes with us,” Hitoshi answers with all the composure Tsukauchi is lacking right now. He tilts his head back to meet Iwaya’s gaze. “Isn't that right?”

“I’ll get them now,” Iwaya says with shaky breath that's just starting to settle, reaching for her bag to withdraw a bundle of keys to unlock her desk.

“Wh– you had them here this whole time?” Tsukauchi comes off a touch conflicted. Serves him right for thinking he could take a Psych at face value: one hard-learned lesson for the naive detective. “What about the warrant, the protection?”

“I trust him.” Iwaya is looking at Hitoshi first, but turns over her shoulder to tar Aizawa and Tsukauchi with the same brush. “All of you.” For perhaps the first time, Aizawa thinks he's looking at Iwaya's true face, tear-streaked and divested of the many walls she's built to keep herself safe all this time. “Please find a way to stop her, to stop all of this.”

“We will,” Hitoshi assures before anyone else can get a word in. “I give you my word.” That's equivalent to a contract in blood, the way his family go. Whether Heroic or Villainous, it’s sure enough that a Shinsou achieves what they set out to do, or gets sentenced to consecutive life sentences for trying. And if it is a blood pact, Hitoshi's got an incredible propensity for spreading the stuff all over himself, though Aizawa's solution is to wear black at all times, so he's not one to talk.

“Or you could leave it to the police, you know. Not put us out of a job and all.” It's hard to tell if Tsukauchi is joking or not, but the feeling Aizawa gets is he's probably not.

Iwaya composes herself and gets up, circling her desk and unlocking the drawers, from which she produces a locked file. From another drawer she takes out a combination-locked capsule, and from that produces an intricate key that unlocks the file. Anyone would think she’s paranoid about the security of her information. The drawer is neatly organised with dividers, which Iwaya walks her fingers along until finding the section she wants.

She withdraws a wedge of papers and holds them out to Hitoshi of all people. “These are just copies. The originals are in my safe at home, but I trust this will be sufficient for now.”

It’s like a bad joke: A Police Detective, a Licensed Pro Hero, and a Qualified Psych are in an office together – and the Psych hands her critical evidence to a first-year General Studies Student with a brainwashing quirk.

“You're awfully prepared for this,” Aizawa observes without trying to make it accusatory.

“Not for this, but I have prepared.” Iwaya is marbled and cold, but Aizawa has learned enough of her to know this is no reflection on the people she's with, just the subject she's handling. No one shuts down emotion without a reason, and with the shadow of Dr. Shinsou looming in the past, Iwaya’s got plenty to be afraid of.

“Prepared for what?” Tsukauchi asks, only to get a pitying look from everyone in the room.

“To give evidence against Professor Shinsou,” Iwaya answers solemnly. Aizawa catches a look on Tsukauchi’s face that seems to envy the very tissues that have touched her cheeks. She does cut a compelling picture, and Aizawa acknowledges how it might affect some people – not him of course. He's just interested in the evidence.

“You’ve been waiting a long time, huh?” Hitoshi puts to Iwaya, sliding a little further back to go from leaning on her desk to actually sitting on it. He starts to flick through the notes, but his face quickly falls, followed moments after by his hands as he lets them down. Not ready for what they contain, perhaps.

“I had thought it might not be necessary, after—” Iwaya trails off. They all know: he’s already in prison, the finite point in the Shinsou Family timeline, post-massacre.

“Doesn’t feel much safer knowing he’s behind bars, does it?” Hitoshi isn’t feeding Iwaya a question for a certain response – like some admission to prove she’s afraid. It’s a hand of empathy, Aizawa thinks, probing to see if she feels the same way he does. Iwaya shakes her head, an agreement in this context, and sniffs as the waterworks start up again. She reaches for another tissue that’s just beyond her grasp – they’re not usually meant for the person on her side of the desk.

Hitoshi pulls the tissue out and holds it out to her, another quick brush between their fingertips that Aizawa catches with sharp eyes. Tsukauchi might notice too, because he looks crossly bemused by the reality that he’s been ousted by a teenager—which, if anything, reflects Tsukauchi’s  underestimation of this particular teenager.

Aizawa crosses the room and stops about an arm’s reach away from Hitoshi, holding a hand out expectantly. He expects Hitoshi to know that he sure as shit doesn’t want to hold Hitoshi’s hand. Dr. Iwaya’s world might light up when she touches Hitoshi, suddenly positioned in the centre of all floodlit “hundred percent” of Hitoshi’s mind. But Aizawa's been a teacher long enough to have seen all manner of flourishing adolescent romance, and he’s much more interested in the notes than Hitoshi and Iwaya's newfound love of skinship.

“Extra homework for you,” Hitoshi remarks as he offers up the wad of papers, which Aizawa takes and quickly starts to flip through. Dr. Iwaya has neat handwriting, dated entries of a meticulous student getting a big chance to work for the most famous professor in the field. An opportunity that turned so sour she kept the tear-stained evidence against him for years in a triple-locked safe.

“And you,” Aizawa replies without looking up. The notes cover more children than just Shiyoko who underwent the Doc’s ‘assessment’, but with a careful eye it’s easy to pick out which numbered subject is Shiyoko. Named 44 by a cruel twist of fate, the number and nature of the different assessments dwarf any others in Iwaya’s notes, amended with frantic scribbling in the margins and less neatly kept than the earlier ones. There are more scanned coffee stains on these pages, copied and printed on office paper that’s become perfectly flat the way only long-settled sheets can get. This file could be anywhere from six to sixteen years old – however long it’s been since Iwaya assisted the Doc with his ‘research’, long before the man went to prison.

Aizawa scans a line or two, and the findings are as unsavory as he expects. It’s mostly requests of equipment from the Doc, along with instructions on how to set up the room and documents for recording the results. But the experiments sound… strange.

For example, 1 jar of cockroaches (live), chopsticks and soy sauce (optional); or the one requiring marker pens (3), scalpel (1) and first aid kit (1) to plot information in a table mapping length and depth of incision; and of course the classic time until quirk stoppage against minutes until unconsciousness, with an additional note on the margins of that one reads scale for time too short, and another one that reads 5+ mins = and then there’s a little skull and crossbones drawing, but it’s amazing how such a trivial detail can jar so much. Like biting into a ball-bearing in a mouthful of food.

Aizawa stops reading, and when he lifts his eyes from the page his gaze falls straight into Hitoshi’s; he’s looking right at Aizawa, waiting to be seen. Aizawa glances back down and sees hammers (1) and mice (live) written on one of the setup lists, and like a static shock, Aizawa reminds himself these are the same experiments Hitoshi was made to participate in too. There’s something in Hitoshi’s intense stare that knows it. A ‘look what he made me do’ call for… something. Not pity, but certainly understanding. Compassion, maybe. Why Hitoshi is the way he is. Even if he’s got nothing to be sorry for.

“Did you notice the date?” Hitoshi asks Aizawa carelessly, though it’s a cover and they both know it.

Aizawa glances again and sees nothing that clicks for him. “So?”

Then Shinsou says, “The first test is from about a month before I was born.”

It hits Aizawa like a fist to the gut, something he didn’t know before and had no need to think about until now. The next realisation that falls out of this information is that Hitoshi must have turned sixteen recently. Maybe even since he and Aizawa started… training. He didn’t say anything about it being his birthday, but then, Hitoshi wouldn’t.

Somehow, the first response from the jostling crowd of thoughts that makes it out of Aizawa's mouth is, “Guess I owe you a happy birthday.”

Hitoshi settles for a gobsmacked, “Thanks?”

Things get a little awkward after that, which Aizawa takes as a cue to return to examining the notes. Iwaya recomposes herself and then puts her secure file back in her locked desk, while Tsukauchi just loiters, waiting until he can get an explanation that makes some kind of sense to the poor detective.

They’re on their way out of the police station, Aizawa and Hitoshi at the front followed by Tsukauchi and Iwaya at the back – swaddled in her great big coat again – when Tamakawa finally catches up. Maybe he decided to finish that nap, or maybe he just couldn't find them fast enough. A few paces behind Tama comes Yamaguichi, bounding like a puppy and almost skidding into Tama’s back with how quickly she has to stop.

“What the hell, Eraser.” Tama’s voice is low, sort of growling but without an air of intimidation to back it up. It just comes out like a husky purr, “You drag a guy out of bed and just run off like that?”

Tsukauchi and Iwaya stop whatever conversation they were having in secretive murmurs and look over at Aizawa. A second into the questionable pause, Hitoshi and Yamaguichi both burst into laughter that defuses the moment entirely.

“C’mon.” Tama tugs on Aizawa’s arm, which isn’t going to budge him one bit, but that doesn’t mean the attempt isn’t appreciated. “Don’t I owe you a cigarette?”

“Sounds right to me,” Aizawa replies with a shrug, letting Tama move him, peeling away from Tsukauchi and Iwaya only to find Hitoshi stall in the middle. “You coming?” Aizawa asks simply, and Hitoshi’s glance leaps from the Detective and Iwaya back to Aizawa, before finally coming to a stop on Yamaguichi.

In profile to Aizawa’s line of sight, just one corner of Hitoshi’s mouth lifts, curling open as he tells Aizawa, “I’ll catch you later.”

“So.” Tamakawa takes the filter of the cigarette from his muzzle with long-nailed fingers and blows a puff of smoke up into the alleyway that just about constitutes Aizawa and Tama’s informal office. “You’ve been busy.”

Aizawa lets out a long sigh and drags on his cigarette. “Where do you want me to start?”

Tama’s a smart cat so doesn't disappoint Aizawa with the inquiry, “How does Dr. Iwaya factor into all this?”

“Have you ever heard of Dr. Shinsou Masaru?” is Aizawa’s response, which Tama can’t figure out as a logical counterpoint to his question, going by the disgruntled shake of his whiskers.

“It rings a bell, but I can’t remember why.” Tama takes another lazy pull and waits for Aizawa to carry on.

“He’s a famous Professor of mentalist quirks. Firstly for his groundbreaking research, and then for all the people he killed using his brainwashing quirk.”

Tama stops dead with his cigarette midway from his mouth. “Wait, that’s the cop-killer?”

“His original plan was just to kill his students,” Aizawa replies dryly. “But he also murdered the officers who tried to arrest him.” And an unpublished, closely guarded number of individuals since then, Aizawa reckons. The Warden doesn’t have the security controls he does for the Doc without a good reason.

Tama’s putting the pieces together, puffing thoughtfully, and it’s interesting to watch. “By making people kill themselves?”

“Exactly,” Aizawa congratulates. “Before he committed the massacre, Dr. Iwaya used to work for him.” After a quick break to drag on his cigarette, Aizawa adds, “It’s around that time he first met our killer.”

If Tama’s got the right instincts – which Aizawa thinks he does – the questions he asks will follow a chain of logic, narrowing down the options like whittling a stick into a fine point. “What for?”

“The Doc conducted research on children with mentalist quirks,” Aizawa replies. “The killer was one of his subjects.”

Tamakawa looks about as impressed with that as any sensible person should be. “And Dr. Iwaya was complicit?”

“Yes, although it happened long before he killed anyone,” Aizawa sets down carefully. Iwaya’s clearly been troubled by her experience with the Doc, if her incredible defences and crying jag are any indication, and there’s no need to go undermining a good lead with a poor telling of her backstory. “It means she’s a valuable contact to Dr. Shinsou and the killer.” And has the human equivalent of Caution: Fragile Goods stickers plastered all over her.

“For you, at least.” Tama gives a more spiteful puff. “I’m going to end up on report if the Chief finds out I’m still following this case.”

Aizawa doesn’t like that, so he just says what he’s been thinking this whole time at long last. “I’d prefer if you were a Detective on it.” Especially because Tama’s the one who found this damn case in the first place. Without Tama’s call to Aizawa slightly less than a week ago, Aizawa would still be none the wiser, and the police would be chasing their tails over this newly sprung killer.

“So would I, but that’s not really a surprise, is it?” Tama replies bitterly.

“Why hasn’t it happened?” Aizawa asks. He’s not great at sensitivity, but he can do direct and honest, which often counts for more.

“There’s no ‘openings’ for a detective, Chief says,” Tama replies tersely, flicking ash off the end of his cigarette.

“Ah, because there’s clearly not enough crime to go round,” Aizawa mutters. It’s hard not to let it grate on him – good people denied the advancement they deserve, unrecognised for their ability because of some petty canine-feline bias. He’s a real sucker for that.

“It’s fine,” Tamakawa says like it isn’t and he knows that. Aizawa would be wise to let it alone, and probably won’t. He can simmer a grudge like no one else – at least according to Hizashi. “So what’s so special about Dr. Iwaya that’s worth your kid bolting like that?” So Tama did have his feline ears pricked from on top of the vending machines.

“She’s kept notes from the experiments Dr. Shinsou conducted on the killer,” Aizawa replies without addressing the ‘your kid’ bit just now. Especially when it’s slightly more true every time Tama says it – which is when it first occurs to Aizawa that maybe Tamakawa had it right all along. If so, he’s too good a Detective to pass over: Chief Tsuragamae must be out of his doggone mind.

“That creepy mentalist shit?” Tama makes a face, clearly still put off by the whole mentalist angle. He’s a little too squeamish about that aspect to be as useful as he could be on this case, and the instant counter-thought that occurs to Aizawa is that Tama should experience Hitoshi’s quirk – because then he’d understand there’s nothing bad or creepy about it. Not when the person who holds your mind in his hands hands is worth calling a Hero.

And Hitoshi might not be a hundred percent there yet, but Aizawa will admit he’s respectably good for his age.

“The sort of thing that’d deeply traumatise a young child, sure,” Aizawa only confirms as much to Tama as he needs to know. Even if Hitoshi took Dr. Shinsou’s worst and still came up roses, not every plant grown from that particular training ground smells quite so sweet. “And we found out from another source that the Doc and Shiyoko started to correspond again at some point after that.”

“Correspond how?” Tama queries like Aizawa’s choice of words puzzles him. “You mean they wrote each other letters?”

“Seems that way,” Aizawa confirms.

“Huh, retro.” Tamakawa shrugs and finishes his cigarette, stubbing it against the wall and then binning it in the ashtray that’s been bolted to the wall sometime in the past week. Maintenance must have finally got the hint. “So what happens next?”

Tamakawa smokes faster than Aizawa, so Aizawa is still pulling the last gasps from his cigarette, the pungent cloud on his breath when he finally speaks again. It’s not to directly reply, because for now there’s nothing they can do, except keep looking for a lead hot enough to follow to the killer. Which inevitably means one thing.

“It's just a matter of time,” Aizawa says before he finally chokes out the cigarette, sucking it right to the filter and stubbing out with attentive purpose. “She could be murdering her next victim right now.”

It comes out a little morbid, but Aizawa’s point stands true. Fresh bodies give hot leads, while obscure experiments from sixteen years ago are colder than Dr. Iwaya herself. Nights and mornings are Shiyoko’s prime windows, too, though Aizawa knows – as much as he wants to – he can’t try to patrol the whole city for one girl with a murderous marker pen. Onwards goes the game of cat and mouse.

All they can really hope for, Aizawa thinks morosely, is that the next one will be the last.

Somehow he’s not convinced.

Their party reunites back at the entrance of the police station, where they first found Iwaya waiting for them. She's waiting again, but now so is Detective Tsukauchi, sitting patiently in the chair next to her. On the other side of the corridor, Yamaguichi and Hitoshi are huddled around a phone – Hitoshi’s, Aizawa thinks. He wonders if Hitoshi and Yamaguichi traded information. Hitoshi could surely get the digits, though what he’d use them for is beyond Aizawa.

“You all coupled off nicely, huh?” Tamakawa teases primarily to get a rise out of Yamaguichi – at least, she’s the one who reacts most. This is by going bright red almost immediately, while Hitoshi sniggers like he’s proud of it. He probably did get her info, Aizawa reckons. That… should be useful?

“You’re one to talk,” Hitoshi rips right back with an oh-so-amused scoff on his lips; he pushes himself onto his feet, swaying for a moment like a rod of bamboo in the wind. Strong but still flexible. His glance flits around the room with playful accusation, still good-humoured as he suggests, “So, who’s giving me a ride home?”

“I guess that’s… me.” Yamaguichi’s just going even redder in the face, even if there’s nothing strange about it – she’s been giving them lifts since the start, before Hitoshi was even involved in this case. It’s just the context that’s making her flustered, which Hitoshi (and Tamakawa) both seem to find delightful.

“You can drop me on the way then,” Aizawa offers like it’s a convenience. It isn’t really, but he’d like a ride too.

“Not so fast,” Tsukauchi intercedes, standing while Iwaya remains seated – her gaze lingering thoughtfully on Hitoshi. “We aren’t waiting for a bus, you know.”

“Does the nosey detective route not stop here anymore?” Aizawa returns dryly, but Tsukauchi ain’t fooled.

The detective holds his hand out, fingers curling in invitation. “Remember that talk we had about police evidence?” Aizawa releases a deep sigh and tugs the zip of his jumpsuit down a little, reaching inside to fumble with an interior pocket and pull out a wad of paper. He place it in Tsukauchi’s hand and a moment passes. “Eraser,” the Detective remarks politely. “This is a camping equipment catalogue.”

Aizawa takes a second look. “So it is.” He fumbles in the same pocket again, and this time withdraws Iwaya’s notes. But these Aizawa hangs onto, keeping them clasped in his fingers just out of reach of Tsukauchi’s. “I haven’t had a chance to read them yet.”

“Neither have I,” Tsukauchi points out. “You see our dilemma?” Iwaya’s looking a little impatient, and Aizawa has the sudden realisation that she’s waiting for Tsukauchi. Maybe he’s going to make it up to her sooner than expected.

Aizawa contemplates the situation a moment, settling on the only logical solution. He keeps hold of the notes and slumps into one of the deliberately uncomfortable waiting room chairs. “I’ll stay here and read, then,” he suggests. “I’ll leave them on your desk when I’m done.”

Tsukauchi’s face twists like there’s a joint hidden somewhere behind his ear that tightens every line of his expression. This technically doesn’t inconvenience him at all – police evidence stays in the police station, and the Detective clearly wasn’t about to dive into the notes anyway. Dive into Iwaya, perhaps, and who knows what information a clever detective might be able to drag up that way. Tsukauchi is better at his job than Aizawa usually gives him credit for – he doesn’t need it, guy knows his own value.

“Fine, fine,” Tsukauchi begrudges in the end. “Use my office if you like.” He waves the camping catalogue at Aizawa, who quickly snatches it back.

“Not necessary,” Aizawa says with a quick glance at Tamakawa. After a moment’s consideration, he offers the magazine to Tama. “I’ve got a spot sorted out.”

“Then I guess this is goodbye.” Tama takes the catalogue with a critical eye but sticks it in a pocket and pats Aizawa on the back fondly before he walks over to join Yamaguichi and Hitoshi. They’re probably back on duty soon, getting ready for the night shift as the afternoon ticks over into evening. “See ya later, Eraser.”

“Later, Tama,” Aizawa returns, swiveling around to hang his legs over the armrest and flopping flat on his back against the unforgiving row of plastic seats. He holds Iwaya’s notes up above his head and flips to where he left off – it’s about to be another long night.

“Guess I’ll catch you tomorrow too.” Hitoshi’s tone is a little more distant this time, even though he still wants a goodbye from Aizawa; maybe it’s being in front of all these people, disguising the intimacy he’s usually keen to flaunt. Maybe Hitoshi’s feeling a little exposed, knowing Aizawa’s about to scour the details of what Dr. Shinsou did to children just like him.

Hitoshi might be Aizawa’s intern, but that doesn’t mean they have to do everything together. The kid’s presumably still got homework to do. Aizawa gives a lax wave, tilting his head far enough to catch sight of Hitoshi, towering over Aizawa from this position. With a wry grin, Aizawa offers, “Try to stay out of trouble.”

Hitoshi manages a tentative smile back, passing as softly as an owl flaps between the trees. “You know me.”

“Yeah.” Aizawa puts his attention back to the pages over his head, a smile of his own that’s there for all to see. “That’s half the problem.”

Everyone else finally leaves, and Aizawa reads in the waiting area awhile before going  to check out Tama’s spot on top of the vending machines – he’s right, it’s pleasantly warm, and the low humming even lulls Aizawa into a short sleep for an indeterminate number of hours as the evening turns into night. Aizawa’s awoken by the impassioned ballad of his phone, and he sits up too fast in a startled state and knocks his head on the ceiling.

Rubbing his forehead as he flops back down and answers, Aizawa’s already sighing when Hizashi’s dulcet tones come bellowing down the line. “And where the fuck are you?”

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” Aizawa replies coarsely.

Hizashi gives a whinny like a horse that’s had enough of its tiresome day-job. “You sound like you just woke up.”

“Thanks to you.” Aizawa rubs his face; it is a good thing Hizashi woke him, really. He didn’t come here for a nap. “I’m working on something.”

“Napping doesn’t count as work,” Hizashi scolds. “We’ve been over this.”

Aizawa smiles, wondering what time it is and what point Hizashi’s reached in his evening routine. “Are you at home?”

“Not yet, but if you’re not gonna be there maybe I’ll sack off domestic bliss and go for a drink with Kayama after all.” After the weekend’s drinkathon, Aizawa’s got no desire to get back into that rotten stuff anytime soon. How Hizashi manages it is a feat to Aizawa – something about being a rockstar, Hizashi would surely claim.

“Have fun.” The coded implication behind this, a subtle language built up over fifteen years of friendship, is that Aizawa’s got no interest in joining Hizashi for this pursuit, and moreover wants to be left to whatever it is he’s doing. A shriekathon with Kayama and Hizashi is alright for people who like being stuck in a cage with two equally loud canaries for a few hours, but Aizawa’s got things to focus on, and he knows what those two do to his attention span.

“I’m always fun!” Hizashi caws; that’s mostly true. “Love you.”

“Love you too.” Aizawa hears a couple of people in the break room who aren’t visible from this top-tier napping spot. He wonders if they’re confused by the vending machines making random declarations of love, but Aizawa can’t tell so it effectively doesn’t matter. Hizashi’s still making kissy noises as Aizawa says “See you later,” and hangs up.

Much later.

In a bid to actually stay awake, Aizawa leaves the soothing mechanical womb of the vending machines – to a few weird stares from the night-shift workers, but no actual questions – and retreats to Tsukauchi’s office. The shared room is blessedly empty and far less comfortable in a way that allows Aizawa to actually concentrate on reading Iwaya’s notes. As well as a few of Tsukauchi’s that he’s left lying around.

There might be nothing in these notes, but if there’s just one thing that gets them closer to catching the killer then it’s worth the whole night. After a while Aizawa starts to build up a rhythm for reading the experiments, following Iwaya’s format and able to digest the purpose of the Doc’s ‘research’ with Shiyoko more easily. There’s a series of requests for chemicals in doses that have been scribbled out and written in larger quantities several times – they could be for anyone in the room with Dr. Shinsou. Hopefully not for him, though there’s more than enough uppers in there to hotwire a man of Dr. Shinsou’s stature, if he’d be so inclined. Aizawa can’t picture it, but that might just be because he really doesn’t want to.

Looking over the notes from other subjects mixed in at intervals, Aizawa can immediately see why the Doc would have become obsessed with Shiyoko. Most of the subjects, if they have a brainwashing quirk at all, don’t have the strength at that age to make someone hold their breath longer than ten to twenty seconds, much less hurt themselves – no dangerous tools on the equipment list for their ‘assessments’. But with #44 – Shiyoko – from start-to-finish Aizawa can determine the escalation, even the point when what the Doc wanted to do with her stopped being about careful measurements and devolved to pure violence. The experiment in which the Doc requested a box of live frogs and a large vat of acid is a wonderful highlight in that division. So are the ones with the knives, hammers, and in one case a set of pliers to be recorded against teeth.

There’s a well-worn page among the notes that has a phone number underlined several times, dogeared as if Iwaya referred back to it frequently. Scattered around it a bullet point list of questions that just say things like, Treating acid burns, cauterising wounds and on one occasion how much blood with the skull drawing again. Aizawa checks the number and finds the answering machine of a Private Doctor. He doesn’t leave a message but saves it in his phone as ‘The Doc’s Quack’ and keeps going.

The last experiment Aizawa can find in Dr. Iwaya’s notes for #44 is far milder than any of the previous, requesting simple children’s toys, coloured blocks and other mundane things that could be used to demonstrate a person’s faculty under the most basic form of mind control through a brainwashing quirk. Aizawa has the thought of it being a session the Doc wasn’t alone for – a spectator invading the intimacy that he clearly liked to preserve when he was making subjects torture animals and sometimes themselves.

When Aizawa’s finished, there’s no bolt of lightning, no illuminating strike in the darkness that makes all the pieces jump together. That’s not really how this work goes most of the time. It’s just grubbing around in the darkness looking for something that isn’t a handful of dirt. Aizawa’s crawled through a lot if it here, and maybe he hasn’t got any one thing that’s more important than all others.

But what Aizawa does have, like it or not, is a chillingly accurate picture of exactly what Dr. Shinsou and Shiyoko are capable of.

Chapter Text

Aizawa gets home a little after midnight, and Hizashi’s not back yet. This is good news in a way, as it means Aizawa has even more quiet time to process the glut of information he’s taken on tonight like a snake that’s swallowed a rat – and maybe add a few more mice, if he can bear to keep preying on the facts.

Because until they’ve got a fresh lead to follow, it’s all Aizawa can do to keep tearing up the past like robbing a grave. It won’t tell him what the killer is doing now, but it might tell him what she’ll do next.

He goes the e-detective route, late-night tumbling down the rabbit hole of articles and angry blog posts about Dr. Shinsou and the so-called ‘culmination of his research’. After rising to a terrific high of his career, the Professor of Mentalism started to prepare an experiment he claimed had never been performed under controlled conditions. That it would prove the superiority of mentalist quirks, and break new ground in society’s understanding of what people in possession of such quirks are capable of. How instead of being outcast, they should be revered – and feared, if necessary.

To prove the mastery of mind over matter, the subjects Dr. Shinsou used for this deadly experiment were even ‘volunteers’ – so he claimed. This was proven by the question they were given to answer, the one that put them under the Doc’s control and made them clink glasses before they drank a poison cocktail. Simply: “Who wants to die for me?”

This much Aizawa knows from reading the Doc’s article, published the morning after the massacre had taken place. The parameters are laid out in full: anyone who hadn’t wanted to die, hadn’t believed that this was the ultimate form of submission to a higher power, could have simply left the room – so the Doc lays out in precise, scientific steps.

The subjects answered Professor Shinsou’s question with fully informed consent, and not a person in the classroom had failed to answer, or to drink the poison that ended their lives thereafter. The final erasure of the already blurry line between persuasion and a mind control quirk: human survival instinct fatally eroded by the cultish ‘teachings’ of the charismatic Professor. Either way, the patients all perished. There are threads after threads of fanatics sharing information that’s slowly been leaked over the years – stories passed on from people who cleaned up after crime scenes, who worked at the University when it all happened, even colleagues who had known Dr. Shinsou in everyday life.

From these snippets, a few devoted individuals built niche corners of the internet in which to trawl cases of Dr. Shinsou’s variety (among many others), usually with that damn terrifying portrait photo of the Doc, giving the camera his endless evil stare.

The police officers who came after Dr. Shinsou were untrained for the situation, not realising how easy it’d be to fall under the Doc’s control. The first few simply pulled their guns and shot their partners and then themselves, but the Doc got creative on the last couple. The first cut his throat on a scalpel the Doc purportedly handed to him; the second slit his gut open and used his blood to scrawl “Death is Freedom” on the wall in the Doc’s study – where he presumably sat and watched. They didn’t publish those details in the news but Aizawa’s been close enough to the horse’s mouth to know things he wished he didn’t. Not even the message boards know about that little detail, though a few have speculated.

So, Aizawa reasons, if Dr. Shinsou made contact with Shiyoko, even met with her in person at a time in his life when he was building this body of ‘work’ to be put into practice, he easily could have been grooming her to do what he eventually did himself. Even if it didn’t work then, it’s definitely worked now: Shiyoko’s not a born killer, but a trained one.

In the deserted amphitheatre of being home alone, Aizawa lays out the photos Kuwabara sent him and takes the whole thing from the start.

First, a girl taught from a young age how to use her quirk to make people do dark, hurtful things. Frenetic activity, followed by a complete cut-off from the Professor and his star subject. Around this time, the Doc’s son is born. He will later grow up to undergo the same experiments as Shiyoko—but during the tender years when Shiyoko was happily making people play tunes on the mouse organ, Hitoshi violently rejects the programme of ‘research’ his father presents to him. He isn’t like his father, and he’s even less like Shiyoko. It’s not just the strength of the quirk that matters, but the heart of the individual behind it.

Dr. Shinsou’s estranged wife and child leave him soon after that, and the accomplished Professor pours himself into his work, laying the groundwork for his ‘final experiment’ that will prove his supremacy over the common man. He’s got a cult of personality, a string of devoted followers, all the usual tools to build himself up as a charismatic figure that eventually oozes into the media. Talkshow appearances, a series of online lectures, even one ill-fated appearance on a gameshow that even his most devout fans agree was a total disaster.

Somewhere along the line, the girl from all those years ago comes back into his life – the one who could be pushed to test the dark limits the Doc wants to explore, who was willing to submit herself to his ‘research’ for as long as they were able to get away with it. Though perhaps not quite as willing as the Professor would like, because the story ends with the Doc putting the theory into practice with his own hands – mind, technically.

One quickly escalating bloodbath later, the Professor goes to prison, and the girl – still a teenager, presumably – goes back to a normal life. Hiding in plain sight with her unregistered quirk, scrambling to get ahead at work – years pass, until she gets passed over for a promotion against a man. That’s the trigger for Shiyoko to return to the only guidance that was ever available to her in a world even more critical of quirks like hers for the fall of the mad Professor. She stages the suicide of her first victim with motive and a plan (of sorts). And if that had been the end, she probably would have gotten away with it, but as the Doc himself said – more than proved with his own bloody trail – one is never enough.

Someone assaults Shiyoko on a train soon after she kills her first victim, and she kills again on impulse, using this quirk she’s been taught to hide all her life to make another man who mistreated her end his miserable existence. Drawing on those experiments with the Doc back when she was only four or five years old, Shiyoko changes from prey to predator and quickly finds her next victim at a hostess bar; he throws himself off the roof the same night. Another man burns himself to death in traffic first thing in the morning – last seen the night before in the arms of a ‘cute girl’ he’d picked up at a bar, according to his friends in the news reports about the tragic loss that ‘no one could have seen coming’. Finally, Shiyoko returns to the Doc’s example with her most recent victim, slashed guts and death notes written in blood. A direct homage to the leadership of the deadly Professor Shinsou and perhaps even a direct call for his attention.

If the Doc is watching, the next murder, Aizawa concludes with almost inevitable certainty, it will be another escalation – after his fifth police officer, it took a fully equipped SWAT team to arrest Dr. Shinsou without fatalities. But if he hadn’t been captured, what would the next step have been?

It occurs in some background corner of Aizawa’s mind that it’s getting late and Hizashi still isn’t back – he must have talked Kayama into going to Karaoke, and will no-doubt be bursting with energy when he gets home at long last. As for the case, like the completion of a model he’s built painstakingly from toothpicks, Aizawa envisions the natural progression of the killer’s pattern. It’s surely for the owner of the brainwashing quirk to be more active in the division of life from death. The next stage, therefore, is not to use mind control to make a person kill themselves, but to allow themselves to be killed.

Shiyoko’s random selection of victims and changing methods for each ‘suicide’ have protected her somewhat, but if she does take the almost inevitable step from indirect murder to direct, there’s a chance of more evidence, greater proximity between the killer and her victim at their time of death. She might even make a mistake in the new realm of hands-on murder, and as long as Aizawa can be there to catch it, they’ll catch her.

But any prodigious student of Dr. Shinsou is going to be no walk in the park.

Aizawa smokes on the small apartment balcony and mulls the thing over like a bout of indigestion. This makes the disturbance when the door is just about kicked open and the made-for-radio-and-TV voice of Yamada Hizashi bellowing, “PAPA’S HOME!” through the entire apartment even more alarming than usual. Aizawa almost inhales his damn cigarette.

Unresponsive in any meaningful sense to the one-man band that bursts through the door, Aizawa keeps hanging over the balcony with his thinking cigarette, waiting until Hizashi hones in on his whereabouts and finally comes out through the sliding door.

“You out here thinking about jumping, babe?” Hizashi’s probably half-pissed by his own standards, three-quarters by Aizawa’s judge for it. It’s in the brash, boisterous tone of his voice, and his animated can’t-be-still fidgeting as he almost bounces on the spot.

Aizawa takes a sullen drag on his cigarette. “That’s not funny.” Not now, not ever, really. They just normalise it to take the fear factor away.

“Ohh, don’t be like that,” Hizashi teases, vibrating closer to Aizawa but without reaching out. For all the times they stick together like magnets, there’s still moments when the stark differences between them repel instead of attract. This might be one such time.

“I’m not being like anything,” Aizawa says grouchily. His train of thought has left the station, stranding him on the platform with Hizashi. Who’s clearly in the mood for fun, which is the last thing Aizawa feels like.

Then Hizashi’s hand finds the back of Aizawa’s shoulder. Firm grip, squeezing like he’s testing the ripeness of a melon. His high-paced radio yammer slows to an amble. “That bad, huh?” If there were a meter for reading Aizawa’s moods, Hizashi would’ve never needed it.

Aizawa takes a pull on his cigarette that turns into a sigh, while Hizashi melts over him like soft wax, an arm snaking around Aizawa’s shoulders until they’re basically side to side. Hizashi starts making a pinching gesture with his free fingers, and Aizawa passes the cigarette; the terminal filch is compelled to claim his puff on anything that’s Aizawa’s. Hizashi would even claim ice cream is sweeter when he’s stolen it from Aizawa. Maybe it is.

Hizashi leans on his hand with the smoking cigarette trapped between his fingers, elbow resting on the wall of the balcony as his other arm sits across Aizawa’s shoulders like a persistent cat. “You wanna talk about it?”

“No.” Aizawa has been living and breathing this case every moment he’s not in school – except when he’s with Hizashi. If he loses that, lets this venomous work creep into his home, his personal life, then he’ll have nowhere left to retreat. That’s not something he has to explain to Hizashi from experience, but there are moments when worry gets the better part of trust.

So when Hizashi takes a final drag his stolen cigarette and ducks his face close, lips pursed in a cartoonish pout, it’s a bid for reassurance. Aizawa turns enough to grant the suckerfish a kiss on the cheek, ignoring Hizashi’s exaggerated smacking sounds and kissy squealing noises he manages to make.

Hizashi knows this, of course, but he helps just by being here, casting the light he does over a world basked in shadows – Aizawa himself among them. So Aizawa turns his head further, aligning to press his mouth firmly over Hizashi’s and muffle the ridiculous noises he’s making. The arm slung across Aizawa’s back curls to hook around his neck, and soon they’re face-to-face, deep kissing that’s more needy on Aizawa’s part, but hell if Hizashi doesn’t enjoy taking advantage of a cry for affection.

They part but stay close, breaths mingling and every inhale-exhale cycle that fills Aizawa’s chest with the fragrant, sun’ll-come-out-tomorrow positivity that Hizashi emits like a six-foot star that just happens to walk the earth instead of sit in the sky.

“You’ve been drinking sake,” Aizawa observes as he diagnoses the taste on his tongue under all the cigarette smoke.

“How do you do that?” Hizashi scoffs, loosening the chokehold on Aizawa’s neck but adding another arm after he’s binned the finished cigarette butt. “All you taste of is ass.” A loving way of saying Aizawa needs to brush his teeth more and smoke less, which is surely true. He ought to cut back, the way the habit’s going, but it’s always the same with tough cases.

“That’s funny,” Aizawa murmurs. “I haven’t eaten any ass.”

Hizashi’s grin gets a little more wicked. “Yet.”

It’s already late, far later than teachers who have to be up in the morning should be, but that’s hardly stopped them before. “Alright then.” Aizawa moves and Hizashi allows himself to be taken along for the ride, walking backwards as Aizawa steps forward like some bizzare synchronized routine. Hizashi laughs at his own fooling and it passes to Aizawa like a super-contagion; but sometimes that’s exactly what he needs. He laughs and throws Hizashi off him like tossing a boomerang. “I’m feeling better already.”

One of Hizashi’s ferret-hands escapes the circle around Aizawa’s neck and heads south, darting through the new space between them to grope at his crotch. “I can tell.” There’s nothing there to grab (yet) but that’s beside the point of the stunt. Hizashi’s just being himself, and Aizawa wouldn’t have it any other way.

All these late-night shenanigans (and some more) are regrettable in the morning, when even Hizashi reacts to the pealing of his 6:00 a.m. alarm with a cranky, “Oh fuck off!” Hizashi flips himself in bed like a pancake and whips Aizawa in the face with his hair in the process.

When Aizawa’s alarm goes off another twenty minutes later, they surrender to the crush of the world. Hizashi gets up, taking all the sheets with him as he retreats into the bathroom like a textile-turtle, effectively freezing Aizawa awake with the ripping away of his duvet-cocoon.

Still technically asleep, or at least that’s what it feels like, Aizawa piles into the car with his sleeping bag under his arm and is this close to actually getting into it on the drive. The only reason he doesn't is because Hizashi keeps punching him in the arm on the drive to keep him awake; if Hizashi’s not allowed to nap on the way in – being the driver and all – then apparently Aizawa can’t either. The things he does for love.

It’s midway through the commute that Aizawa’s phone buzzes with a message that turns out to be from Hitoshi. All it says is, ‘I’ve got a surprise for you.’ Aizawa responds with a single question-mark, and he gets a picture in response. It’s a picture of all eight miles of Hitoshi’s legs resting on a box, but more importantly looks an awful lot like Aizawa’s classroom, taken from behind his desk no less.

If Hitoshi is in 1-A’s classroom, he’s playing a dangerous game, but probably knows full-well that he’s doing it. Aizawa supposes it was only a matter of time before Hitoshi’s transgressive nature would address the division between Aizawa’s life as a teacher and a hero, like he’s got to get the hands-on proof of which one matters more.

Both are of equal importance, or so Aizawa will insist if he’s made to answer, but that’s not what Hitoshi will think. Or what’s true when push comes to shove in the real world of Heroes and villains, rather than the trainee playground he makes for his ‘real’ students. But Aizawa’s not admitting that to anyone, not even Hitoshi. Especially not if he’s already tempting fate by camping out in Aizawa’s classroom when his class could show up at any point and wonder why the General Studies student who turned their classmates into zombies at the last Sports Festival is inexplicably cozy with their homeroom teacher all of a sudden. Hitoshi will also undoubtedly start causing arguments in Aizawa’s classroom unless he can get there first. Even then, he’ll probably just start them with Aizawa instead.

“Aren’t you coming to the teacher’s room?” Hizashi questions as Aizawa breaks away the moment they arrive on campus. Being punched all through the car ride woke him up somewhat, and he’s ramped up enough speed to not quite be running, so as not to raise any alarm, but still be moving fucking quick.

“I’ve got a…” button-pushing brat who wants attention, “work-thing to sort out,” Aizawa excuses weakly.

“Mhmm,” Hizashi hums like he doesn’t believe it, but lets Aizawa go without further questioning anyway. He can probably guess exactly what it means, and will pick Aizawa like a vulture tears up a carcass over it for lunch.

Luckily, Aizawa supposes, 1-A’s classroom is still empty when he arrives, bar the tall drink of grape juice who’s doing his best to turn Aizawa’s desk chair into a recliner, judging by how much he leans back in it. Hitoshi's looking bright-eyed and bushy-haired – at least as bright-eyed as his perpetually sleep-lacking look can be. As per his picture, Hitoshi has got his feet propped on a raggedy cardboard box that Aizawa doesn’t recognise, though he recognises some of the colourful language that graces the side of it in faded marker pen.

“G’mornin’ teach,” Hitoshi drawls, and it’s almost a snapshot of what things might be like if he was in the Hero Course, in Aizawa’s class. Namely: Trouble with a capital T. More than ever, Aizawa is certain that his being Hitoshi’s teacher in any formal capacity is a disaster waiting to happen.

“What are you doing here?” Aizawa questions with a good impression of a deadpan, pulling the door shut behind him and tossing his sleeping bag behind the desk.

“I finished my run early so thought I’d stop by.” Hitoshi drums his heels and doesn’t cease looking any less smug. “Got something for ya.”

“Which is?” Aizawa’s the un- side of impressed and his expression and tone probably convey as much, but that’s not much of a deterrent to Hitoshi in any case.

Hitoshi swings his feet off the box and sits upright, shifting from don’t-give-a-shit levity to full of foreboding in a heartbeat. “My dad’s fanmail.”

Aizawa doesn’t filter his thoughts into his reaction, meaning that his immediate response is an entirely natural, “Oh shit,” that leaves Hitoshi grinning.

“Yeah, I know.” Hitoshi remains in Aizawa’s seat, still managing to look like he owns the place in spite of his uniform. “Ma got all his stuff when he went to prison. She would’ve gotten rid of it, but you know.”

Aizawa does. It’s the same reason Iwaya held onto that neatly organised triple-locked file all this time. The women Dr. Shinsou’s hurt – smart women, who are defined by more than just their trauma at the hands of a cunning genius – know better than to destroy evidence against the Professor that might one day be needed. “You think Shiyoko’s letter might be in there?”

“I think if it’s anywhere, it’ll be here,” Hitoshi replies with careful detachment. There’s no mistake that he’s managing a certain level of stress right now, it’s just with a classic teenage veneer of not giving a shit. “Only, there’s quite a lot of the stuff.”

Aizawa doesn’t disguise his disgust. They don’t have long until 1-A’s students are likely to start pouring in, but it might be enough time. “Alright.” Aizawa stays cool, even moreso knowing he’s about to unpack some very unpleasant business. But it can’t be helped, and he’s really addressing the unspoken undercurrent: Hitoshi doesn’t want to do this alone. “Open it up, then.”

Pandora’s box never held so many horrors.


Dear Dr. Shinsou,

I loved your appearance on the TV last night, it was so cool how you made the whole audience ballrooom dance! I wish I had a quirk just like yours, so I could make the popular girls in my school do something stupid, like when you made the gameshow host lift up her shirt in front of the cameras. It was SO funny, haha. That’d show them!

I’ve been reading your book, but I don’t understand all of it. When you wrote that everyone has the power to use the 90% mind, but they just can’t access it, are you saying that even someone like me would be able to learn how to use a mentalist quirk? I’ve already got a quirk, but it just makes me really oily all the time. Sorry if some of it’s gotten on this page, I always make more when I’m excited.

If I could learn how to do any mentalist quirk, I’d want to learn yours, Professor Shinsou. I’ve watched all your online lectures and demonstrations! Do you know one of your students writes a blog about taking your class? She’s so cool! You should hire her as your next Research Assistant, her name’s Hatake Sakura. I want to study Psychology and then specialise in Mentalist quirks like her, so one day I’ll be taking your class. Then I’ll have to call you Professor Shinsou, tee hee. Could you write another book about how to use the 90% mind to teach yourself mentalist quirks, then I could start learning how to get one by the time I’m old enough to take your class!

I almost forgot to tell you my name, Dr. Shinsou. It feels like I know you, so it’s weird that you don’t know me. I’m Wantanabe Reiko. I’m sixteen years old (almost), and you have my address in case you want to write back. I heard you say on the tv that you prefer letters to emails. It does feel more intimate, just like you said.




Aizawa’s rolled his eyes so much in the past few minutes that he feels them beginning to strain. He’s used to a little eyestrain, sure, but this is taking the piss.

Whatever Hitoshi is scanning doesn’t seem much more pleasant, going by the thunderous pall cast over his expression. He quickly sets it down and murmurs, “What the fuck is wrong with some people?” as he fishes out another from the box.

There’s still another fifteen or so minutes until homeroom begins, and Aizawa has a very good idea that Hitoshi’s not going anywhere until Aizawa throws him out. Hitoshi didn’t even give up Aizawa’s chair for god’s sake—Aizawa’s got one of the kids’ and is sitting on it backwards, ousted from his own desks as he does naughty school-time detective work with his off-the-books-intern. He’s an underground Hero after all, there’s an inherently secretive nature in his line of work… just sometimes under the convenient cover of his other job.

Aizawa picks up a new letter and gets as far as ‘Dr. Shinsou, I just found all your videos online and I’m your biggest fan ever! I still need to read your book, I tried but it didn’t make sense. You’re so smart, Professor, I prefer when you explain things in your online lectures– before he writes it off and tosses onto the loosely kept pile they’ve rapidly been accruing in the middle of the desk. “Beats me.”

Aizawa grabs a whole handful of letters still in their envelopes and starts shuffling through them based on the names alone. They don’t need to read every single letter line for line, and really it’s just about finding Shiyoko’s rather than looking for anything other than a bad time from reading any of the others. He did look for that blog written by one of Doc’s students, but predictably, it’s been deleted. He still took down the name – a potential lead to follow up on if nothing better comes along.

That thought – if nothing better comes along – hits an inlet in the stream of Aizawa’s mind and stalls for a moment. Funny how something good for the case is something very bad for an unsuspecting person. Aizawa wonders who Shiyoko’s next victim will be – someone who deserved it, or just someone who was there for her to take out her endless rage on.

He’s stewing in this thought like a hot spring when the classroom door flies open and the towering whirlwind of diligence that’s Iida Tenya gets stranded at the threshold, looking like they somehow managed to open the door on him. This sight probably isn’t what Iida was expecting, but his poker face is still absolutely awful. “Oh! I… oh, uh—” Iida makes elaborating gestures with his hands in spite of not actually offering anything concrete.

“There’s still another ten minutes until homeroom starts,” Hitoshi remarks without lifting his eyes from the stack of letters and envelopes he tosses one after the other into the heap on Aizawa’s desk. “You must be desperately keen to learn.”

Only now does Hitoshi’s gaze lift, something Aizawa only notices because he’s watching the kid(s) out of one eye, dropping paper duds on the mound between them on the desk. They’re about halfway through the box, but it’s not looking likely they’ll get through everything by the time the bell rings.

“I… well, um—” Iida’s engine still hasn’t managed to get started, and Aizawa has that sudden pre-emptive sense to use his quirk on Hitoshi just as he’s sure the brat was about to make a grab for poor Iida’s mind. In that split-second where things can go either way, Aizawa senses his quirk landing over the embers of Hitoshi’s like sand over a campfire. Aizawa’s annoyed with Hitoshi for trying it, but probably not as much as he should be. He’s seen the example Hitoshi’s father sets for possessive behaviour, and even if they’re nothing alike, there are certain things that get passed on without the recipient realising.

Understanding this doesn’t excuse Hitoshi of anything, but it does deepen Aizawa’s bank of sympathy, even tolerance for the way Hitoshi acts out in front of him. After all, he probably doesn’t want to do anything with Iida’s mind, just to test if Aizawa was going to be quick enough to beat him to it. It’s attention-seeking at heart, but nothing that a kid like Hitoshi doesn’t deserve – to have someone paying attention to him at such an important time in his life. Even if that someone is… well, Aizawa.

That all said, swiping for the unconsenting minds of Aizawa’s students does not count as fair game. “Shinsou is just leaving,” Aizawa mutters, deliberation in his – while appropriate to the context, impactful in the subtext – choice of address for Hitoshi. Like Dr. Shinsou would pull shit like that, but Hitoshi should be above it. Or at least try to be.

Hitoshi has the decency to look slightly ashamed in response, but then he just says, “Am I?” with a new angle of vitriol in his tone. He’s literally been reading over fanmail written to the father he detests; if there’s anyone he has a right to take out some frustration on, it should be Aizawa.

“Yes,” Aizawa renews the fire of his quirk, training his gaze on Hitoshi and feeling the upsurge as Hitoshi’s quirk amasses against the barrier of Aizawa’s. The power is nothing like his father’s, the claws at the bottom of the door. Erasing Hitoshi’s quirk means standing as the floodwall against a tsunami.

Aizawa can almost sense Hitoshi’s frustration, like the baby-fists banging on the door of Aizawa’s mind are just audible in the physical world. Hitoshi’s scowl twists for a moment and there’s a sudden scream of that white-noise pitch in Aizawa’s head. Aizawa flinches, but keeps his eyes open, holding back the rising floodwaters by the skin of his teeth.

But it was almost enough that for a moment, Hitoshi might have had him. The realisation staggers Aizawa, and he backs away in wary recognition of that fact.

All at once Hitoshi’s quirk lifts, and Aizawa’s able to let his own down. “Are you okay?” Maybe Hitoshi doesn’t know he’s done it; maybe he does, and just doesn’t want Aizawa to know that he knows. What Iida makes of this is anyone’s guess.

So without letting on to anything just yet, Aizawa gives a noncommittal, “Yeah.” He finishes shuffling through one last stack of letters and gives up, throwing the final duds onto the pile and – not wanting to put them back in the box – making the quick decision to just sweep the mail straight off his desk onto the unrolled end of his sleeping bag, rolling it back up and actually fastening the ties this time so it doesn’t drop its volatile cargo all over the classroom floor; not something he’s keen on having to explain to the Principal, who might as well be skittering around in the vents here for all Aizawa can tell.

Iida has gone to his seat, none the wiser for the battle for his mind that just happened. He does look suitably concerned by the quick back and forth between Hitoshi and Aizawa anyway, but only in the same way he puzzles out other problems before being confident in its solution. If only there were a solution for Aizawa and Hitoshi’s dynamic, but there’s no known formula for figuring that one out.

“I'll keep looking,” Aizawa says quietly. Iida is the forerunner, but it's usually not long before the rest of the class pour in after him. “If I find it, I'll let you know.”

Hitoshi remains unamused. “Is that your way of saying I should go?”

“Yes,” Aizawa answers more quickly and freely than is good for him, because without his quirk active Hitoshi plucks Aizawa's mind like an apple from a tree. Fruit that Hitoshi takes in his soft gloved hands, cradling like he’s considering whether to take a hearty bite.

“Tell me if you mean it,” Hitoshi demands in a calm, controlled murmur. Iida seems no wiser for the fact that his teacher is under the thumb of a student he doesn't even teach – at least not here, like this.

“I do.” Hitoshi didn't need to use his quirk to get an honest answer from Aizawa, but Aizawa realises why he'd want to be sure. The rest, however…

“Touch your nose,” Hitoshi lilts, and Aizawa’s hand lifts like it really is on strings. Those velvet-clad hands wrought in iron; Aizawa can choose to resist and fight the feeling, or he can surrender to the control, knowing it’s a lost cause to fight the phantom hands bending his arm.

Then the classroom door goes again, and Hitoshi is startled, or maybe just realises he's pushed far enough and wants to save his own skin from the steamrolling Aizawa will give him later as payback in training. Hitoshi's quirk releases, and Aizawa is left with a finger hovering just in front of his nose.

The next entrant to the classroom is Shouji, so thankfully there's no gossip likely to come from that source. Aizawa finishes the gesture anyway, scratching his nose like that's what he'd been planning of his own free will from the start. Blurry lines getting blurrier every day. “Shouldn't you be going?” he reminds Hitoshi, who gives a small impatient sigh and stands up.

“Suppose I should.” Hitoshi doesn't sound annoyed but perhaps a little disappointed. This is where he wants to be, after all.

Aizawa finds himself stuck between competing thoughts of making sure Hitoshi gets what's coming to him for cheeky misuse of his quirk, under Aizawa's students’ noses no less, and making it up to Histoshi for his not being in this classroom in the first place.

Chapter Text

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.”

Chapter Text

Aizawa and Hitoshi get exactly ten paces inside the school grounds before one of Ectoplasm’s clones – or perhaps the man himself – looms out of a hidden spot so suddenly Aizawa stifles the urge to jump and throw a handful of his capture weapon at the unwelcome messenger. “The Principal wants to see you.”

“Uhuh,” Aizawa agrees in the broadest strokes possible. Whatever this situation is, it’s going to need handling head on. He lifts a hand and jabs at Hitoshi with his thumb. “What about him?”

Ectoplasm’s shiny-toothed maw moves slightly as the mathematics veteran takes an audible breath. Maybe this Ectoplasm is the real deal after all. Aizawa’s not punching him to find out. “Shinsou too.”

“Oh goody.” Hitoshi’s snarky demeanour drops off when Aizawa jabs his elbow into the kid’s upper arm. If Ectoplasm’s got an opinion about seeing an exchange like this, it’d be difficult to tell on his face anyway. A legendary poker face and countenance that’s generally frightening makes him a terrific envoy for the Principal, to say nothing of the thirty-odd clones he can use as errand runners if Nezu so desires it.

On the silent walk up to Nezu’s office, Aizawa tries to guess if Hitoshi’s ever met the Principal before. Surely not in close quarters, on the Principal’s home turf. And probably not when they're on such thin ice that Aizawa’s legitimately afraid of feeling the ground give way underneath them.

There’s a million ways that Hitoshi could misjudge an opponent of such immense intellectual power as Nezu and put himself into even more danger at UA. For that reason, Aizawa finds himself slipping a quick, “Don’t try anything stupid in there,” to Hitoshi as they’re climbing the stairs.

“You calling me a dumbass, teach?” Hitoshi mocks with a rock of his head askew, watching Aizawa almost like a cat tilts its head at a creature it doesn’t fully understand – but means to pounce on anyway – while still keeping a wary eye on the (maybe) Ecto-clone ahead of them.

“Just don’t underestimate the Principal,” Aizawa warns as they climb a set of stairs fast enough to call it free cardio. “It’s something people only do once, and they always regret it.”

But a look of amusement fresh as spring rain sweeps across Hitoshi’s face. “Oh, didn't you know?” he remarks with his most insincere charm. “He and I go way back.”

Aizawa senses several pieces of the mental machine he’s been building shift. The contraption still works, just perhaps in not quite the same way as he’d initially thought. Dawning on Aizawa like a broken rib only noticed the morning after, he realises there’s every chance Nezu has been keeping secrets of his own about the extent of his connection to Dr. Shinsou. That’s what people who’ve had contact with the Doc do: bury it so deep the corpse won’t see the light of day until the apocalypse is truly nigh.

Unfortunately, Aizawa’s got a real doomsday feeling about all this.

When they arrive at his office, Principal Nezu – as ever – has prepared a fresh pot of tea. It's brewing on the table between the sofas on which Nezu holds these ‘little chats’. A thin wisp of steam that smells fantastic escapes from the spout of the magical teapot. However, the glint in the dark, glassy depths of the Principal’s eye is not fantastic at all. Not that you would know it from the polished courtesy of his tone as he calls out, “Welcome, welcome!”

Luckily, Aizawa’s been getting a lot of experience dealing with super-intelligent animals lately. Not stopping at the doorway, Aizawa strides confidently into the room, Hitoshi almost entirely within his shadow. At least Nezu’s on the right side. Not that this affects the Principal’s ominous tone of authority in the slightest. “Please take a seat.”

Aizawa does as he's told, while Hitoshi makes a spectacle of it. Flopping onto one of the antique sofas that aren't made for slouching, Hitoshi throws his arms out along the back and positively lolls, his feet shades away from being put up on the coffee table. If he did Aizawa would break his feet off, but thankfully Hitoshi just heaps around like a sack of potatoes instead. It’s a terrible habit of his, though not quite as bad as some of his other manners.

“Gosh, it's been a while, hasn't it?” Hitoshi delivers to Nezu like he's catching up with old friends. As if no semblance of authority exists in the dimension he’s currently occupying. Aizawa feels some responsibility for that, having plucked Hitoshi so suddenly from one world to another that it might have – okay, has – gone to the boy’s head. A little. Okay, a lot. “What like, ten years?”

Nezu naturally appears to know what Hitoshi is talking about. Aizawa can't wait to be enlightened. “Not quite. Nine years and eight months, as I recall.”

“Since what, might I ask?” Aizawa invites like this is the weirdest parent-teacher meeting he's ever been at, where he's simultaneously both and technically neither.

“I see. I must have neglected to mention,” Nezu remarks with innocence that flies about as much as an Dodo. “I once joined the Shinsou family for dinner many years ago.”

Of course he did.

“You and my Dad were the best of buds back then,” Hitoshi says with a level of disdain that matches how he must feel, and Aizawa's blood boils. But he just told Hitoshi not to do anything stupid, which goes for them both. Allowing feelings to get in the way of what has to be done falls under that large umbrella. So even if Aizawa’s quietly furious about the fact that Nezu has kept this from him, Hitoshi’s going to do enough damage all by himself, and Aizawa better not make it any worse.

“I wouldn't go that far, but Dr. Shinsou and I were certainly peers for a time,” Nezu relates with a fearless chill to tone, relaying the facts simply as he sees them to exist. It's likely he’s offering this information specifically for Aizawa’s benefit, but far be it for a creature of such devious intelligence not to play with his prey a little first. “I attended one of Dr. Shinsou’s lectures on Mentalism, after which The Professor extended an invitation to join him in private discussion. Our acquaintance continued for a time after that.”

Of course, Aizawa thinks: Nezu’s quirk is in essence mentalist, and furthermore manifested in the brain of a… non-human animal. Of course the Doc was all over that.

“You never came back for dinner.” There’s a bitterness to Hitoshi’s voice, like the aftertaste of whiskey on Hizashi’s mouth. “Did we fall below your expectations?” We means Hitoshi and his mother, Aizawa can sense instinctively.

“Of course not,” Nezu replies with perfect decency. “I dined with Dr. Shinsou a number of times after that. But you and your mother had already left by that point.”

“Figures,” Hitoshi spits like a tack. “I'm sure he appreciated your support while he was getting busy with the Ninety-Nine massacre.”

“I tried to dissuade him from pursuing that body of work,” Nezu actually sighs, and so far this conversation is exactly 0% what Aizawa expected. Serves him right for thinking he has all the answers. “As you can imagine, we had a falling out as your father's position became more… radical.”

“So experimenting on kids is okay,” Hitoshi scoffs. “It's just the murder you couldn't hack.”

“I too know what that's like, Young Shinsou,” Nezu replies like there's a switchblade in his words that will pop out any second now. “I even permitted your father to conduct some of his assessments on myself, so interested was I in his approach.”

“Oh, well that's alright then.” Hitoshi manages to sit himself even further back on the sofa. “Who cares about consent? They’re only kids, right?”

“Hitoshi,” Aizawa delivers like a strong hand on the reins, pulling Hitoshi back from champing at the bit quite so recklessly. Attention turning back to the Principal, Aizawa begins his damage control. “We’re here to apologise. My actions today were rash and unprofessional.”

“Our actions, don't hog all the credit for yourself,” Hitoshi pipes up, and Aizawa appreciates the sentiment but would love if his kid could just shut up for a second.

“I’d like to say I expected more from you Aizawa, but alas, I know your work as a Hero takes precedence over your duties as a teacher,” Nezu pontificates like he’s been in casual dialogue with himself about this for hours. Aizawa wouldn’t put it past Nezu. “Unfortunately, what I must take issue with is your involvement of one of UA’s students in this matter.”

“Which was your idea, as I recall,” Aizawa finds himself pointing out like he’s turned into a teen just as angsty as Hitoshi. The genuine article looks shaken by the notion that Aizawa’s invitation to work with him could have originated with the Principal, so Hitoshi must make an amendment to his records for the history of their relationship. It’s good to get used to that feeling, as Nezu arranges most of the ongoings at UA like an experienced conductor commands an orchestra.

“My recommendation was that you kept any such arrangement from coming into conflict with your respective requirements to this school.” Nezu tilt his head sharply to one side. “Tell me: do you think that commitment has been upheld?”

“Well gee, Principal,” Hitoshi starts as he’ll mean to continue, while Aizawa bites the inside of his cheek in anticipation. “If you wouldn’t mind telling the serial killer butchering people like animals to only commit murder outside of school hours, that’d be just swell.” Hitoshi’s all doleful puppy-eyes as he delivers this with simpering sarcasm, and Aizawa’s hand moves on reflex to lightly thwack Hitoshi’s arm with the backs of his fingers. He’s got his own issues with authority, but if this brat thinks he’ll make it anywhere without an ounce of respect and no education, he’s got another thing coming.

Except the gesture turns out more play than punishment, which Hitoshi not only knows but fucking basks in. His arm is still stretched like an impossibly long cat along the back of the sofa, but after a quick movement of Hitoshi’s hand, Aizawa feels a characteristic tug on the back of his head. They’ve legitimately reached the stage of hair-pulling. If not the kind Aizawa’s more typically used to. What the hell is he gonna do with this kid?

Nezu is watching all of this through his volcanic glass eyes, and Aizawa feels like he might as well paint ‘emotionally compromisedon his chest and strip naked for how transparent he’s being right now. What happens when you put the two of them together? Fantastic detective work; atrocious school attendance.

“This killer that you are pursuing,” Nezu remarks calmly. “Is it a former patient of Dr. Shinsou’s?”

“Did you work that out all by yourself?” Hitoshi jibes. Aizawa’s not going to swipe at him anymore like a cat batting around its kitten, but he’ll grab this renegade by the scruff if he needs to. Which they're currently very close to.

It thankfully doesn’t become necessary, as Nezu remains gleefully unaffected by Hitoshi’s mountain of charm. Or, since they apparently have a history of which Aizawa was heretofore unaware, maybe Nezu’s just used to the kid behaving like a six-year-old. “So then. What am I going to do with you two?”

“It won’t happen again,” Aizawa tries to insist, but it’s an offer he’s sure to default on, and they all know it.

“Until it does, naturally.” Nezu’s nose twitches, and with an excitable wiggle of his tail leans forward to lift the teapot, maneuvering it with mastery to pour three identical cups of fragrant tea. “When an issue of such urgency arises again, then what?” Another killing, another bloodbath with a brainwasher’s quirk all over it. Aizawa knows what decision he makes every time. There’s just a caveat to it now: what to do with his kid.

“I go alone.” Aizawa gives the answer Nezu is waiting for. Even if it breaks his heart a little; the old leathery thing’s tough enough to withstand the strain.

“What?! You’re just giving in to him?” Hitoshi’s gone from toddler to screaming newborn. The cracks in Aizawa's chest cavity deepen, as if there’s a massive boot slowly stomping down on him. The thick sole of the system and what society does or doesn’t consider appropriate. Aizawa gives Hitoshi a my hands are tied’ look and hopes it translates.

“Don’t be too hard on him, Shinsou. Aizawa is acting in your best interests,” Nezu observes amenably. At least Hitoshi acting like a terror makes Aizawa seem more reasonable by comparison; bad cop and worse cop. “Now on this occasion I can overlook your absence as an undisclosed family emergency, but if you decide to be absent from classes again I ought to remind you that there are as many students coveting the place you hold in General Studies as ardently as you desire a spot on the Hero Course. It would be a terrible shame to have to expel you from this institution altogether.”

“You don’t have to do that,” Aizawa insists. He’ll take being stepped on, but hell if he’s giving in. “This was a…” He stops just to flick Hitoshi a cautionary glance, “moment of madness. I’ll make the right decision next time.”

Hitoshi seems kind of amazed by Aizawa dragging himself over the coals like this, but every word of it is true, and he means most of them. It was a moment of madness, letting the thrill of the chase – fuck, just like Hitoshi said – take over for long enough to think taking a sixteen-year-old skipping class to check out a gory crime scene is something Aizawa can get away with. Even if that teenager is Shinsou Hitoshi, and he’s all kinds of into that godawful shit. Give Shinsou ten years of doing this work, and he might be a little more hardened like Aizawa. But for now a world of possibilities is unfolding in front of Hitoshi, and he’s too excited to hold back of his own accord. Aizawa should have been the responsible adult, but it would’ve made him a bad detective and an even worse Hero. His priorities have always been the opposite direction – until now, he supposes.

“Yeah.” Hitoshi doesn’t sound quite so annoyed anymore, though Aizawa knows better than to think he’s going to get away from this clean. Today is basically due to be one long character assassination from here on out. Aizawa hasn’t even gotten started with Hizashi yet. “I promise, you won’t catch me cutting class again.”

Nezu leans forward to select one of the cups of tea, bringing it to rest first in his lap. “If you think you’re being clever, young man, I can assure you that you’re quite transparent.”

“Oh, I think we’re pretty clear.” Hitoshi waves a hand in front of his face with a smile he probably supposes is charming, and then follows suit after the Principal and picks up one of the cups of tea, lifting it as if to toast. “Shall we drink to it?”

“A toast, then,” Nezu agrees, his voice layered with a dormant control that hums underneath the conversation like a powerful machine running deep underground. The same kind of atmosphere Dr. Shinsou gives off. Maybe, Aizawa wonders, maybe even the mark of a powerful mentalist. “To Shinsou’s academic career at this school.” Namely the dropping of his underground Hero internship program with Aizawa. As if.

Hitoshi lifts his teacup delicately, the violet sunflare of his hair fanning around his head with that striking Shinsou face, and lilts with an assaulting, dry sarcasm, “Kampai.”

Aizawa’s next cycle through the dryer starts almost immediately after leaving the Principal’s office, while he and Hitoshi are walking shoulder-to-shoulder in almost-comfortable silence down the hallway. There’s nothing more to say between them than was already said in Nezu’s office. At least, not until Aizawa’s finished mulling over what the compromises they’ve made will actually mean in a practical context.

“Well LOOK who it is!”

The blast of sound comes from behind them, giving Aizawa just a enough time for one reaction before impact; he uses it to push Hitoshi out of the way. This mean it's only Aizawa – though with his support gear on, Hizashi was probably only targeting Aizawa anyway – who gets punched in the back with the uniquely dulcet tones of his best beloved in a bad mood.

Hizashi’s quirk hits like a rocket-powered hi-kick to the back, taking Aizawa off his feet and winding him as he hits the ground with a heavy thump followed by a grisly moan. “I deserved that.” He rises into a push-up and is back on his feet by the time Hizashi has closed the distance between them. Hitoshi stumbled a couple of steps but faces the two of them now, looking astonished.

“I had to cover your second period today. You owe me big time.” Hizashi comes close enough to throw his arm over Aizawa’s shoulders, but he shrugs it right off before Hizashi’s got a chance to settle. Hitoshi is too smart to miss any hints about Aizawa’s personal life, which Hizashi will surely give away in a heartbeat if he’s allowed to, especially when he's in a pissy mood.

“I’ll make it up to you,” Aizawa replies drolly, and then, settling a quick division of different compartments of his life turns to Hitoshi and says, “I’ll see you later.”

“Well, alright then.” Hitoshi dresses this brattishly enough to banish any wrong impressions of this being something he’s actually okay with. It’s pretty much guaranteed that Hitoshi will always want more of Aizawa’s time, but there are other people in his life. Ones who don’t need a quirk or lunatic father to hold a definitive sway over Aizawa; Hizashi fucks him, and that’s plenty of leverage.

“I’ll text you about our next move,” Aizawa offers for pure practicality, and if it’s a little appeasement, that’s just a convenient side-effect.

“Not if I text you first,” Hitoshi quips to Aizawa, but he’s eyeing Hizashi instead. “Mic,” he offers as a simple means of acknowledgement. Hizashi just offers his million-yen smile (as in, that’s what he actually paid for it) in return.

“Try and keep him out of trouble, won’t you?” Hizashi appeals to Hitoshi with a clever back-pocket implication that it’s Hitoshi who needs to keep Aizawa in line, which might be true, but doesn’t mean Hizashi should say it. Aizawa doesn’t love him just for his leather fetish and extremely dexterous hands; Hizashi’s got an amazing mind too. Keeping him and Hitoshi suitably distanced from each other isn't because they won’t get on. No, Aizawa just dreads to think of the force they'd make if they both teamed up against him.

“Let’s go, you.” Hizashi tugs on Aizawa’s sleeve, and he lets himself be moved, shoving his hands into his pockets and breaking into a stroll that matches Hizashi’s lanky-legged pace.

Because Hitoshi stands still and just watches them go, they’re away from him in no time, not that it has any bearing on the stormy air of tension. Opens up the plains for even more rain, in fact. However, rather than a hurricane, Hizashi’s no more than an exasperated breeze. A sigh pushes out of Hizashi’s incredible lungs like bellows. “So what is it about him?”

Aizawa wishes he were following enough to be able to answer, but frankly he’s lost. “About?”

“Shinsou.” Side-by-side, it’s possible to see Hizashi’s eyes behind his tinted glasses, and actually catch the point where he rolls them in defeat. “What is it about that kid that makes you so stupid?”

Aizawa takes the beating like he deserves, he supposes, but he’s always been a good punching bag. Especially for Hizashi. “I don’t know, I just… want to help him.”

“Do you see why people might have difficulty understanding that reasoning, based on the choices you’ve made for him?” Most teenagers wouldn’t exactly thrive on an intellectual diet of skipping class to pick over corpses that make a slaughterhouse look like daycare centres for farm animals. But then, Hitoshi’s not most teenagers.

“You don’t get it.” Aizawa knows he’s being defensive, but everything he’s done has been for a good cause. It’s just that sometimes the true path of justice cuts against the grain of society. It’s against the rules, but the rules are made in specifics; Hitoshi is unique.

“You haven’t exactly given me a chance to,” Hizashi points out, hooking his thumbs into his jacket pockets. “Where are we going for lunch? I fancy something–” outrageously overpriced, no doubt. Hizashi loves trying to extort extravagance from Aizawa, especially if Hizashi’s in a sour mood. It usually backfires on both of them anyway – they’ve been banned from several Michelin Starred restaurants across the city for having blowout arguments over overpriced food before. Better to avoid such fraught, emotionally hostile environments. Aizawa’s got a better idea.

“The usual.” Aizawa pulls out a fallback they’ve always used. A reliable family restaurant in the area: a long-patronised, historic establishment in his and Hizashi’s past and a suitable arena in which to hash things out. “The decisions I made were right for Hitoshi. The kid practically falls over himself thanking me, while everyone else loses their fucking heads.”

“That’s unfair.” Hizashi’s edict is harsh but deserved. “You’re always erratic, but I can tell when something’s different, Shota. I’m not an idiot.”

No, Hizashi is far, far too smart to be fooled for a second by all this. Aizawa starts trying to explain anyway. “The… it’s the whole chain of events.” They’re headed straight off-campus, as Aizawa had the decency to return to school just in time for lunch. “Everything's connected, the events in isolation seem irrational, but there’s something big coming.” It’s not easy to explain, and he doesn’t like it, but once he starts talking, Aizawa’s truth pours out as strong and hot as a pot of tea that’s been brewing for days.

“I’m telling you, Hizashi, I’m so close to something and he’s the key and I–” Aizawa stops unloading as soon as he consciously catches up with the fact that he’s doing it. Hizashi is the only person who ever gets to hear these moments of spewing back all the pressure Aizawa’s been accumulating like a boiler with the valves all closed. “I’ve… got a handle on this.” Aizawa considers if he’d believe this coming from him, and sacrifices, “mostly.”

“Oh yeah, you’ve got us all really convinced of that,” Hizashi replies in a way that reminds Aizawa of a certain brat.

“I do.” Aizawa rubs his face, tactile confirmation he still exists and holds form. “Hitoshi is just… hard to control sometimes.” As in, he does what he wants, which is usually what Aizawa also wants to do, so Aizawa lets him get away with it.

Hizashi veers close enough to Aizawa to bump their shoulders together as they walk down the street, sunlight casting stumpy shadows behind them and making the day seem nicer than it deserves to be out of pure spite. A beautiful day for some, if not Aizawa. “Seems to me more like he’s got you under this thumb.”

“He wishes,” Aizawa scoffs, lifting a hand to the back of his head and ruffling through his hair. He gets a sudden flash of Hitoshi tugging a lock of his hair back in Nezu’s office, like a child playing with a cat’s tail. It’s insane how many people seem determined to know what’s good for Hitoshi without spending a lick of time around the kid. If they did, they’d surely see he’s right where he wants to be.

Dragged in so many conflicting directions, Aizawa wonders if the world couldn’t stop trying to tear him apart anytime soon. But nothing changes without some agency, so Aizawa continues in his disheartened cleanup operation. “I’m sorry. I know I’ve been… distracted.” Aizawa would be lying if he claimed to have total control over his situation right now. But he can at least say he’s remained on his feet, managing to stay balanced against a myriad of demands, some of them tufty lavender mop-tops that require an exhaustive amount of attention. “I’ve just got a lot of competing priorities right now.”

“Sure, but you realise you’re setting an example for him, right? The way he looks at you, Shota.” There’s a moment of silence after Hizashi spouts this latest pearl of truth, and Aizawa knows what’s coming. He does. He just doesn't want to think about it. “You’re the centre of his whole universe.” Hizashi is only telling Aizawa the things he needs to hear. He has trust in that – the weight he assigns to his partner’s reprimand. Whatever Hizashi has to say, it’s important. (Unless it’s about TV. Then it’s utterly meaningless.)

Aizawa and Hizashi turn onto the quiet side-street that houses the restaurant they’ve been a fixture at for over a decade. Students into Heros into teachers; places they grew up in together. They’ll order the same thing each time, favourites that are too deeply embedded to change and talk it all(most) through.

“Believe me, it’s not like I wanted that to happen,” Aizawa offers in resignation. It wasn’t in the plan for Hitoshi to stick to Aizawa like an orphaned monkey clings to a soft-toy version of itself, but the desperation with which he holds on is too heartbreaking to resist. “But he’s such a bright kid, he’s got so much potential, and they just–” Aizawa’s getting ranty again, but if there’s anyone he can pour this out to, it’s always been Hizashi. “If they’d just let him prove it.”

“They will, babe.” Hizashi’s tone has changed to that soothing, an on-air aural velvet that settles Aizawa without fail. “Nezu told us he’s been put forward for the Provisional License Exam.”

Aizawa looks over, expression wiped blank. Little rat neglected to mention that during the Principal’s routine hiding of Aizawa’s rear end. “Really?”

“You didn’t know?” Hizashi’s about to go into storytelling mode, Aizawa can sense it like the moist rush of air before a heavy rain. “Well, Toshinori came to ask me to cover him covering for you on the class after the one you ran out in the middle of and I was like ‘Hey what?!’ so then we were both wondering what the hell was going on.” Against the backdrop of Hizashi’s steady yammering, Aizawa finally starts to relax.

But that doesn’t mean he’s letting Hizashi completely off the hook. “So you went straight to the Principal?”

“Are you kidding?” Hizashi squawks. “I saw him climb out of a kid’s backpack at the end of class, Shota. I swear it .”

“Wouldn’t put it past him.” Aizawa’s accommodated Nezu’s desire to nap in a huddled nest of his capture weapon too many times to argue with that little scenario. “Then what?” Aizawa doesn’t encourage Hizashi’s raconteur habits all that often, but after such a harrowing interruption to his morning, it’s reassuring to listen to the chatterbox natter away, like the wittering of a tropical bird.

“Well he got me and Toshinori together in his office and told us you’d left school and taken Shinsou without any warning, and I was like ‘UH OH’ and they asked me if I knew where you were.” Probably around the time Hizashi called him – Aizawa’s glad he didn’t let on any details. It might upset Hizashi from time to time, but it keeps Aizawa’s information secure. “Obviously, I didn’t know, but then Toshi goes off on one about how they should transfer ‘such a bright flame’ onto the Hero Course after the way he proved himself in his match with Midoriya at the sports festival. He was getting kinda into it – that’s when Nezu told us about the Provisional License thing, to shut him up I think.” Props to Toshinori, Aizawa notes like writing a mental message on the back of his hand. He's not always wrong.

“Can’t believe Nezu actually did it,” Aizawa murmurs, scratching behind one of his ears. Of course Nezu wouldn’t have told Hitoshi up front that he’s already entered for the exam. Of course Nezu would keep that secret for a time when it could be used for greater leverage. Or maybe he just knows Hizashi will spill to Aizawa anyway, and they’re all still running inside the Principal’s giant hamster wheel.

“I know you like the kid, Shota, but you gotta get some perspective, for fuck’s sake,” Hizashi turns more to nagging as they pass rows of houses set far back from their high front gates, then faded signs of shops that are technically open, but look as if they’ve been shut for ten years or more. The place they’re headed to was a hidden gem back when Hizashi discovered it over a decade ago, and the surroundings have only fallen further into obscurity in the many years since, making the whole area feel like a sleepy, quiet bubble away from the chaos of the rest of Aizawa’s world. But that’s the way it’s always been with Hizashi; the eye of Aizawa’s storm. “Not even the first-years on the actual Hero course are doing the shit you’re making that kid do.”

Something screeches to a stop in Aizawa’s head like a car careening off into traffic. “I’m not making him do anything.”

“That’s not what I meant,” Hizashi makes up quickly. Aizawa feels like a hen squawking on top of her nest, but if he were making Hitoshi do anything he didn’t want to that’d make Aizawa as bad as the Doc. And Aizawa’s nothing like that fucking lunatic – he hopes. “You just have a lot of influence over him. You’re meant to at least try and act like you’ve got your shit together.”

If that isn’t the godawful truth.

Aizawa lets out a defeated sigh as they stop outside their old favourite of a restaurant, carried on the flow of their subconscious. “Believe me,” he says as they step inside to a rush of hot air and orders being slung back and forth. “I’m trying.”

They take their usual seats and order without looking at a menu. Aizawa’s phone vibrates in his pocket. He takes a wild guess about who it is and is right. The itching fingers of youth too impatient to wait for inspiration, Hitoshi buzzes him with a one-word question: ‘Stakeout?’

Hizashi must guess who it is almost immediately, but he doesn’t let onto that fact just yet. No sense in disrupting the careful balance they’re trying to achieve; things aren’t great right now, but they’re supposed to be looking up, which requires a certain amount of faith. But that faith still requires navigating around the fact that Aizawa’s got an actual case to work and an over-eager intern to go with it like a matching set.

‘Go home after school and pack first. We’ll meet outside the closest train station to the address.’ No sense in raising suspicion by travelling together to do the questionably legal thing they’re about to do. Plus, Aizawa needs some time to set things up with Tsukauchi, whose approval for this operation – and implicit drain on precious police resource – is still tentative at best. But he’ll deal with that after settling things down with Hizashi.

“So I’m guessing you won’t be home tonight,” Hizashi remarks as he drums his fingertips against the tabletop in a distinctive beat. A song he likes, maybe – or one he’s trying to write.

“It’s only working on the case during school hours that I’ve gotten in trouble for,” Aizawa replies drearily as he feels the arrival of another message from Hitoshi that he doesn’t check right away. It's probably an ‘okay’ or ‘thanks’— the endless gratitude that Hitoshi bestows on Aizawa for making all these supposedly bad decisions regarding his education. “Working it outside of them is still fine.” Otherwise, Aizawa would get nothing done at all.

If it ever came down to the two halves of his professional life no longer being compatible, there’s no question about which side Aizawa would jettison. He never even applied to be a teacher in the first place; Kayama just put him up for it, and he said yes because it got him off the streets at a worthy cost. So teaching is important, but not more important than Aizawa’s true calling.

“You haven’t gotten in trouble, Shota,” Hizashi scolds idly. “We’re just concerned about you.”

“Be concerned about the people who are dying,” Aizawa bats back indifferently, slumping over the table as they wait for their orders to arrive.

“Someone has to care about you,” Hizashi snaps. “You won’t do it yourself.”

“I’m fine,” Aizawa returns, and this exchange is still more prickly than he’d like. That delicate balance keeps teetering back and forth. “I just need some…” Not trust – he has that already – or space, which Hizashi gives him in buckets. “... patience.”

“And whaddya call this?” Hizashi spits with an insolent wiggle of his moustache. “Chopped liver?” His voice doesn’t bear real anger, but it does carry a certain exasperation that makes Aizawa feel even guiltier than he does already. But he can’t do everything, and that means choosing being a Hero over a teacher (or Hitoshi over everyone else) sometimes. No matter what decision he makes, someone’s unhappy on the other side. Hizashi’s an adult; Hitoshi is a kid. Hakamata Shiyoko is a little bit of both, but also – rather importantly – a crazed serial killer.

There’s no escaping that Aizawa’s priorities are the way they are for a reason. So even as he endures the collateral damage he causes knowingly, he’s happy with his decisions. He wouldn’t change them.

“I don’t know what to tell you,” Aizawa says openly across the dinner table, one he’s sat at with Hizashi hundreds or even thousands of times before. Aizawa’s made his peace with sometimes not having all the answers. “I’m just trying to do what’s right.”

Hizashi emits a centering sigh, his eyes lingering shut as he blinks – only just visible through the tint of his glasses. “I know you are.” But his fingertips are going into a drum solo on the table. “Just make sure you tell me when–”

“I know.” Taking out two birds with one stone, Aizawa slides one of his hands forward to close over Hizashi’s, stilling the hyperactive fidget and sneaking a little physical affection – and in public, no less. Aizawa knows how to get through to Hizashi, and anything that’d grace the screen of the soap operas Hizashi watches with such delight is sure to hold some sway. “Everything’s under control.” For now.

But Hizashi knows Aizawa too well. “For now.”

“Yes, for now,” Aizawa admits with a ‘you got me’ groan that he keeps in the back of his mouth. Swallowing his frustration because he’s got every idea how bad it looks , but Aizawa’s in the middle of this, so if anyone knows if something’s not right then it’s going to be him. “And as soon as it isn’t, you’ll be the first to hear about it. I promise.”

“You better be right, hot stuff,” Hizashi’s saying as their food arrives, breaking apart his chopsticks with ravenous glee.

Aizawa continues his tightrope walk a little longer.

Chapter Text

Hitoshi’s easy to miss (exactly like he should be) when Aizawa meets him at the suburban train station nearest to Shiyoko’s apartment a little after eight in the evening. The kid is wearing a black hoodie and tracksuit bottoms with a kitbag that’s seen better days hanging over his shoulder. A couple stray wisps of violet hair sneak around the edges of his hood, like his true nature straining to get free. His face shows no signs of that struggle, the same deadpan panda-eyed stare.

“So, how are we going to do this?” Hitoshi sounds tired, which isn’t a great indicator for the night ahead of them. But maybe he’s just keeping a low, if churlishly teenage, profile.

“Quietly.” Aizawa’s not trying to be a buzzkill on purpose; well, maybe a little, but there's a point. Discussing covert operations in public is generally discouraged. He starts to walk, and Hitoshi follows. A worrisome thought occurs in one of the back-drawers of Aizawa’s brain, which by the time he fumbles around to pull it out, turns into the question, “Does your mother know you’re not coming home tonight?” It sounds even worse when he says it out loud. But he has to ask.

“Said I was staying with a friend,” Hitoshi replies with a grin so cunning it could wear fur and pass for a weasel. Aizawa must be showing his trepidation over such a casual lie too obviously, because it’s barely a second before Hitoshi teases, “Chill out, teach. It’ll be fine.”

“If something happens, I’ll have to explain why you lied,” Aizawa points out with an unspoken “don’t do that to me” plea in his tone. Not least because it will look awful for Aizawa. If it all went horribly wrong, he could lose his (teaching) job. They might even… stop Hitoshi seeing Aizawa anymore, as weirdly out of turn as the phrase sounds. Though the meaning holds true, and he’d hate for it to happen. So as much as Hitoshi’s a genuine help on this case, Aizawa’s also on good enough terms with himself to know he’d miss the kid too. More than he cares to think about.

“Nothing’s going to happen,” Hitoshi insists, then amends himself. “Well, I hope something does.” Just nothing bad to him, the delicate cargo of this more-delicate still operation. Aizawa tries to remember why he’s bringing the brat along on this. Oh yes: because it was Hitoshi’s idea in the first place, and getting his way could be the kid’s part-time job. At least where an indulgent sod like Aizawa is concerned.

Hitoshi may have had the idea first, but he pre-empted a thought Aizawa would have likely arrived at anyway; it makes sense to put a pair of eyes on Shiyoko’s old apartment if the Police haven't established whether the place is really abandoned or just looks abandoned – they saw some signs of the latter when the three of them inspected it a few days ago. But if the days haven’t moved fast enough to make that feel like weeks ago. However, after the murder of the lawyer this morning, if there’s ever going to be a time to make an offering to the Dr. Shinsou creepatorum, a victim with no goddamn nose is a reasonable place to start.

“So you better not fuck it up by trying anything stupid,” Aizawa grizzles like the stomach of a bear post-hibernation. “This is a surveillance operation.” Tsukauchi was a bit cagey about making the arrangements initially, but Aizawa had dropped the notion that if the detective wasn’t going to see to it then maybe Tama would be up for squandering a little police resource, and that soon turned the tides of phone call that went down short and bitter like a line of shots. It has to help that Aizawa and Hitoshi covering this means Tsukauchi can do other stuff too – not like he’s got a partner on the force to help him out. (Yet).

So although it’s just a stakeout, the stakes are still high, and Hitoshi’s never even done this before, which sets Aizawa on edge like he’s pretty sure of his footing along that slippery edge of a rooftop, but that doesn’t mean he – or Hitoshi, more importantly – won’t fall.

For all this concern, which stews into worry inside Aizawa like a slimy brew from a witch’s cauldron, Hitoshi gives a non-committal ‘if you say so’ shrug. “Unless she shows up.”

“Pedant.” Aizawa snipes, but Hitoshi’s too close to him to allow any such detail to slip his careful ear.

“I learned from the best.” This is meant as a joking retort, but Aizawa finds himself circling back around Hizashi’s warning earlier in the day like water down a drain. The centre of his universe. If Aizawa lives and breathes this case, so does Hitoshi. It’s surely not good for either of them. But then, a killer on the loose isn’t good for a lot of people. You don’t see Shiyoko handing herself into the authorities because of the inconvenience caused by her slaughtering all those not-quite innocent men.

Except Aizawa doesn’t believe in sheltering his students, allowing them to pass their school years in an idealistic bubble that’d leave them unprepared for the real world. There’s no point, not if they really want to be Heroes. Even the ones stuck in the wrong course. So Aizawa might not be the best, but he’s the best Hitoshi’s got.

Aizawa leads Hitoshi to the address he cleared with Tsukauchi, who was in there earlier today getting all the right permissions and setting up the surveillance equipment he managed to wrangle from the old dog. Bugged the room to high hell, probably. Hopefully the detective won’t want to show up and helicopter them half the night. That’d be a bummer. Aizawa would prefer it’s just him and Hitoshi, which has easily become a happy norm.

They arrive at the vacant apartment in a building opposite to Shiyoko’s block, with a view of the fire escape she’s been using to get back into the flat from the outside. It’s over ten floors up, which makes her fearless or desperate. They’re often the same thing. The lookout from across the street is through a badly foiled one-way window, a few strategic seemingly natural tears in the sun-reflecting film allowing enough space for a pair of night vision binoculars, which Aizawa had the foresight to dig out of his broom cupboard while he was at home before coming here.

In a special concerted effort, Aizawa actually had dinner with Hizashi, not talking about the case or school and definitely not Hitoshi. Putting in that little bit of maintenance a relationship needs to keep going; Aizawa’s learned the hard way. Plus, a little time to fool around on the sofa never hurts. It was actually kind of a hardship to drag himself away from a half-naked and getting-nakeder Hizashi, but duty called. It’s still calling, if in a ten-hour-long drone kind of way.

Hitoshi sits himself down on a rickety camp bed against one of the walls in the single-room apartment they’re going to be occupying for the foreseeable future. There’s a working bathroom thankfully, though Aizawa’s had to make do with far worse in the past. There’s only one of those horribly uncomfortable police-issue cots that Hitoshi’s slumped on, but Aizawa’s got his sleeping bag. Not that he’s planning on doing much sleeping.

“So this is it?” Hitoshi queries in a totally normal indoor voice, and Aizawa turns over his shoulder with a reprimanding finger to his lips. Stealth is of the essence here, and whether Hitoshi can actually shut up for long enough to sit something like this out will be a good test of his fidgety teenage nerves. “What, we're supposed to sit here in silence all night?” Hitoshi whispers with comical over-emphasis, but Aizawa just lifts his binoculars back to the glass and makes sure he's absolutely sure which window is Shiyoko's, and the route she'll potentially use to access it.

Aizawa hears Hitoshi moving, the sensation of someone close behind him without needing to look, and then a much closer whisper. “Can I at least take a look?” Aizawa backs away from the spot and basically into Hitoshi, who keeps enough feline liquidity to move around Aizawa rather than bumping into him.

Hitoshi settles into Aizawa’s place on the low stool in front of the window, raising a hand to Aizawa for the night-vision goggles, which he carefully hands over. It might be that famous ‘micromanaging’ Aizawa apparently does, which he simply calls being thorough, but Aizawa stays close. Almost stooped over Hitoshi, Aizawa’s mouth is close enough to Hitoshi's ear that he doesn’t need to do more than set his words adrift on the lightest breeze of a breath. “Eleven floors up, three across from the fire escape.” Hitoshi nods, his knees practically up under his armpits as he positions the binoculars to his eyes and stills. “See it?”

Hitoshi's answer isn't a word but a hum in his throat when he presumably finds his target. Aizawa stands up, which means he’s got a bird's eye view of the unkempt lavender bush of Hitoshi’s hair. He wonders if letting it grow so wild is a conscious or unconscious rebellion against the boy’s father, and then has a stranger thought. What would Hitoshi do if Aizawa were to ruffle his hair? Pretend he hated it and actually love it, most likely. It's not completely off-menu for the two of them, the way Hitoshi has tugged Aizawa’s hair like a child in the playground. Which is exactly what Hitoshi is, in a sense. They're just playing for keeps.

“So we just do this all night?” Interesting phrasing. Probably unintentional. Then Hitoshi pulls away from the binoculars to swing an expressive glance at Aizawa that makes him think – or maybe not.

Aizawa lets slip a breathy noise of amusement, more of a wheeze than anything. His voice comes out a soft rasp, like the meow of a cat as round as a barrel. “Basically.” Aizawa moves his hand to brush the highest mauve peaks of Hitoshi's incredible mop-top. Family resemblance or not: kid needs a haircut. Testing his fingers against it, Aizawa finds a surprising amount of body in the gravity-defying structure, which Hizashi would surely envy. Hitoshi doesn't stir with the contact, his eyes pressed indifferently back to the binoculars. Calm, at least on the surface.

Deciding to test the kid's attention, Aizawa turns aside and takes a couple of steps away to sit cross-legged on the floor by his bag, which is one of Hizashi’s previous generations of gym bag. He pulls a wad of homework out of it that’s been growing by the day and fishes a pen out of one of his pockets. He knew it was there on account of the ache it gave him from napping on it earlier today, catching up sleep where he can in preparation for tonight.

Hitoshi lasts about five minutes until he starts to fidget but pulls another ten after that before he finally loses the battle and shoots, “Is that schoolwork ?” venomously across the room, only to dart his eyes back to the binoculars when he catches Aizawa’s stern glare for abandoning his post. It's a ridiculous, petty reaction; like if casework isn't allowed during school then schoolwork can't be allowed when they're on the case.

But Aizawa has a job to keep, and twenty other children who also need guidance. Aizawa can't grant his learnings exclusively to Hitoshi just because he wants them all for himself. If it even worked like that, which it doesn’t. Hitoshi’s only been on the scene for a week and already caused enough havoc. If he were anyone else, Aizawa would have shut his shit down days ago. Instead he leaves a teenager from the General Studies Course watching his stakeout while he tries to unravel the fifteen concurrent trains of thought that constitute a paper from Midoriya Izuku.

“Don’t ignore me.” At least Hitoshi uses the true words for it. So much for Aizawa being able to get anything done.

Aizawa drags in and releases an enormously exasperated breath, drawing a quick line to connect two of Midoriya’s points scattered way across his winding narrative with a sharp arrow. The proposed reduction of his workload by taking on an intern has unfortunately added an unaccounted for amount of intern-entertainment.

I've got to do it sometime.” Aizawa’s not giving up on the paragraph he's trying to digest like a bad tonkatsu. He’s got a (second) job after all.

Hitoshi is quiet. For a moment. “It doesn’t have to be right now.”

Aizawa speaks normally, but softly, “And yet it’s still going to be.”

This time the silence stretching at Hitoshi’s behest is surely minutes long. Aizawa actually makes sense of Midoriya’s first page enough to translate his overenthusiastic stream of consciousness into a four bullet point list, leaving a note that just reads “ wordcount ” with two lines underneath it. Midoriya is smart and remains right in most of what he’s saying, but Aizawa deals with plenty of over-eloquence teaching classic literature to some very bored second-years. He’s not putting up with it from his Hero students too.

Then like a birdwatcher calling out the species he spots, Hitoshi remarks to the window, “Oh look, there she goes.”

Aizawa suddenly doesn’t care anymore what follow-up points on his points Midoriya’s about to make. He draws a line at an entirely reasonable length for the assignment and scribbles “I stopped here” in the margin then gives Midoriya a grade he should be happy with.

Aizawa’s on his feet, moving toward Hitoshi when the brat turns to look right at Aizawa for a sick moment before hissing, “Kidding,” and then turns back to the binoculars.

Aizawa’s already up now, clenching his hands into fists and racking his brains for how he’s going to deal with this wildcard that he’d let get away with murder. Not that Hitoshi would ever do it – except maybe his father. Which Aizawa would probably let him do, so the proverb holds true. “This isn’t a joke.” He tries to sound stern, but the strangled attempt to remain quiet without actually whispering comes out extremely… husky. Hizashi would probably laugh at him. But that’s Hizashi.

“I wanted to see what you would do,” Hitoshi gloats, at which point Aizawa hushes him back down with a satisfying shush. Wanting to prove something so absurdly true is a child’s pursuit, but Aizawa has wondered too much about Hitoshi’s interaction with his purported father when he was still fully a child: before the Doc took an important piece of that childhood away from him. Being more important than his father's ‘ work’, knowing he's a priority. Simple things, easy to grant.

So Aizawa isn’t going to play the game exactly how Hitoshi wants it, but he does step closer, dropping into a squat at Hitoshi’s side to explain in an over-hushed whisper, “If anyone enters the apartment, we wait.”

“For how long?” Hitoshi might be gunsure, but Aizawa’s hardly shy of it himself.

“A few minutes.” Long enough they might be starting to let down their guard. Maybe. Hitoshi probably has every idea what happens if (not when) someone – who might or might not be the killer – climbs into that apartment from the outside. It’s important to run through these things ahead of schedule, and Aizawa would go through the same paces with someone who’d done this a hundred times before as he does now with a rookie like Hitoshi. It never hurts to recap the basics, at any level of experience. “Then we go in.”

“Across the gap?” Hitoshi prompts. He’s spent plenty of time in the past week following Aizawa across slacklines made from his capture weapon, so the distance between this building and Shiyoko’s a trifle.

Aizawa just gives an affirmative murmur. It’s only been a week, but Hitoshi’s taken to it pretty naturally – young brains learn fast like that – and only fallen so badly he couldn’t catch himself once or twice. Which is Aizawa’s cue to yank him out of the air and try not to go into cardiac arrest. He ought to get the kid a safety line, but by the time he’d remember to pick it up Hitoshi will probably be turning out flips and laughing at Aizawa for daring to doubt him.

“Once we get in there… what if I can make them talk?” It’s an ominous question from Hitoshi’s lips.

Aizawa thinks it over before concluding, “We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.”

“Fine.” Hitoshi stays at his post, a sigh escaping him that bows Aizawa’s heartstrings like an out-of-tune cello. “Go on, then. Duty calls.”

Aizawa doesn't really want to go back to the stack of homework. But he must, so he does.

It occurs to him halfway into Ashido’s paper – and yet to make a point – that if Hitoshi were in the Hero Course his work could be among these. If he were in Aizawa's class, of course, which is still most certainly a bad idea. In either of the Hero Course classes, Hitoshi would be at a disadvantage to many of his peers, particularly in exercises using robots as stand-ins for people, but he could have an interesting impact on group exercises. Hitoshi isn’t really suited for a facsimile of being a Hero: all his ability is cut out for the real world.

But Hitoshi would make it work. Or get expelled almost immediately – both one after the other, probably. Expelled for the way in which he made something work outside all the ‘rules’ they set for how to achieve an outcome, winning at any cost. One of Aizawa's classics.

The point at which Aizawa gets bored of grading is about as long as Hitoshi can be expected to maintain concentration on watching the same blank face of a building. So about twenty minutes. Whenever Aizawa looks over Hitoshi is perfectly still, actually showing a lot of control for a task many of the kids Aizawa teaches would struggle with. Maybe he’s trying to impress, which is bound to bolster anyone’s motivation – but especially Hitoshi’s, at least for Aizawa.

Approaching him quietly, Aizawa taps Hitoshi on the shoulder and he backs away from the aged rubber of the binoculars, blinking a few times before turning to look up at Aizawa. Doesn’t move just yet.

“I’ll take over,” Aizawa says quietly. A bit of light conversation isn't too risky, and now Hitoshi has settled Aizawa finds himself easing off on the kid (as usual).

Starting with a roll of his head, Hitoshi grabs his neck in his hand and takes a deep breath, a flex rolling down his spine like a tiny wave on calm seas. “Is it always this exciting?”

“Usually.” Aizawa finds Hitoshi's visible disappointment so funny he allows himself to remark, “So much for the thrill of the chase.” He bumps Hitoshi in the back with his knee when the gangly fawn-legged teen still doesn't vacate the seat. “Shift.”

They swap positions almost exactly, meaning that Aizawa takes up post on the short stool, and Hitoshi goes to inspect the stack of homework. Aizawa locks in on the fire escape through the binoculars, orientating his gaze back on Shiyoko's window. Aizawa doesn't look away but hears the rustling of a meddler.

“Don't mix them up,” Aizawa requests more than he's capable of ordering. He'll get halfway through something he's already read and be re-grading it before he realises the mistake.

“This is Midoriya’s?” It's not a real question – if his name is on there and it's five times longer than it should be, it's Midoriya’s.

“If that's what it says.” Aizawa steals a glance and sees Hitoshi sitting cross-legged over the papers much like Aizawa was. He's actually reading, though.

“He's… smart.” This is begrudgingly admitted, like a bitter seed Hitoshi crushes between his teeth.

“He works hard.” Aizawa considers it further. “Harder than the rest of them.” Whatever the real story is with Midoriya – and Aizawa has a couple of theories – the kid’s imposter syndrome shines through in all his nervous over-performance. An interesting contrast to Hitoshi, who knows where he should be but has been denied it. No wonder he's resentful.

Hitoshi is quiet, and when Aizawa wants to steal another glance, he has a tangential thought about whether Hitoshi was peeking at him like this. Does it anyway. Hitoshi is just reading with his face in his hands. Aizawa has a thought, buries it, then exhumes it and asks anyway by the time he’s put his dryish-feeling eyes back to the binoculars. “Go on, then.”

There’s a light rustle of Hitoshi turning a page. “Hm?”

“How would you do it?” Aizawa doesn’t look away from the binoculars again, but there’s only them and there’s not so much space in this room that eye contact is necessary to maintain a conversation. The exercise he’s grading 1-A on is a hostage scenario: five armed attackers, fifteen hostages in a bank, Heroes and police on the outside trying to find a way in without startling the criminals, who will start killing hostages at the first sign of trouble.

“Are you testing me?” Hitoshi questions scathingly, like how dare Aizawa presume to assess him the same way he does his other students.

“Don’t answer, then,” Aizawa replies. Naturally, Hitoshi pulls the other way in response to his disinterest.

“Do I have radio contact?” Hitoshi’s first question, a detail that was explained in class but not incorporated into the notes on the homework. It’s important for him, though.

Everyone else got to run the scenario with the same advantage, so Aizawa throws Hitoshi that bone, though in a more challenging mood he’d surely take it away just to make it harder for him. “Yes.”

Hitoshi is quiet for a while, almost a minute, before he begins to carefully lay out his plan. “I make contact posing as a negotiator, say we’re going to grant all their demands.” Aizawa thinks he knows the way Hitoshi will go. Turns out he’s wrong. “But first they have to prove to me all the hostages are still alive. I make them put each one on the radio with me and tell me their name.”

“You’d brainwash the hostages?” Aizawa prompts with carefully managed concern.

“They’re safer that way,” Hitoshi insists without hesitation. Aizawa can’t – or won’t – argue with that, at least until the exercise is over. Brainwashed hostages means no sudden breakdowns, no dashing for the door or trying to be a Hero and risking everyone's lives. Leave that stuff to the real Heroes. It also means if something happens in there, he’s got the ability to call on a perfectly synergised army that’s just lying there in wait. A last-reserves backup plan, though it runs plenty of risks, to say nothing of the shady moral implications of turning a dozen unwilling people into soldiers.

So Aizawa’s only question is, “You could control that many?”

Hitoshi’s response is just a soft chuckle that sends a chill skipping down Aizawa’s spine. “Once I’ve got all the hostages, I take the captor on the radio with me.” Aizawa sneaks a peek, and Hitoshi’s looking right at him, a wicked grin on his face. Busted. Aizawa looks back to the surprisingly sharp picture of Shiyoko’s building in these dated night-vision goggles, while Hitoshi continues, “Where are the others?”

This is a more interactive version of the exercises Aizawa’s been mind-numbingly grading this evening but actually breathes some life into the tired routine. He plays along. “Two more guarding the hostages, one at the front of the room and the last one at the back.” Based on a real heist Aizawa broke up many years ago. Well, him and Hizashi.

“I ask whoever’s on the radio with me to put their boss on the line,” Hitoshi keeps going confidently. “He’s already brainwashed, so there’s no question he’ll do it.” The next part’s directed for Aizawa’s input again, the edge of play that makes this more interesting than reading tired words in frantic handwriting. “Who does he go to?”

Aizawa can picture the scene vividly, though his eyes still gaze on the greyish-green outline of Shiyoko’s apartment cloaked in darkness. “He takes it to the guy at the front.”

“I ask the boss if his demands are the same, then take control when he answers me,” Hitoshi explains as easily as if he’s thought this all out months beforehand and is only just getting the chance to share his work now. Maybe he has thought about it, if not within these exact parameters.

Hitoshi checks his workings. “That’s two of them.” He pauses again, clearly thinking his next steps out, which Aizawa doesn’t rush. If only it were this easy to work through a scenario with all his students. “I tell those two to unload their weapons without letting anyone else see. Then say I’m done dealing with him, and to put me on with someone I haven’t heard from yet.”

“He puts you on with one of the two guards by the hostages.” Aizawa feeds into the scenario easily, wondering how smoothly something like this would go in practice. Maybe time for a spanner in the works – not something the kids in the written exercises had to deal with, but Hitoshi will have to work twice as hard as them to get a fraction of the recognition. “But they don't respond to you. They're getting suspicious.”

“I tell the boss to gather everyone together.” Hitoshi overwrites his previous plan hurriedly.

“Why?” Aizawa asks, then eases off and amends, “Asks one of the two guarding the hostages.”

“I take him too,” Hitoshi answers with sly satisfaction, which only gets slyer, “and say I have something important to tell all of them.”

Aizawa feels himself grin, but Hitoshi probably can’t see it from where he’s sitting. Hizashi calls his smile ‘a living horror story’ anyway. “They gather.”

“I tell them the game is up.” The grin on Hitoshi's face is almost audible. “I make the three under my control disarm and hold down the two who aren't. Then I have the hostages stand and leave in an orderly fashion, waiting until the police can take over restraining the criminals before I let everyone go.”

There's a million different things that could go awry in such a scenario, but the only thing Aizawa questions is, “You’d be able to keep control of everyone for that long?”

It's a simple question that gets a chilling answer. “I could make them blow their heads off.” Point made. After a moment Hitoshi softens a little. “Not that I would.”

“I know,” Aizawa reassures him. Then a question. “What's the most people you could control?”

“The most?” Hitoshi puzzles. “I don't know.” Never been able to test it. Aizawa’s frustration burns like coals, coated in ash and seeming as if the fire has gone out most of the time. But if you tried to touch them, you'd most certainly get a nasty burn.

Aizawa’s lapsed into pensive silence, mulling over how someone would go about trying to train a quirk like Hitoshi’s, when out of the blue (it seems) Hitoshi asks, “So then?”

The binoculars stop Aizawa’s eyebrows from furrowing properly, and he has to resort to using words to express his confusion. “What?”

“How did I do?”

“Oh.” Aizawa forgot that grades might not be as arbitrary to him outside of a classroom as they are for other people. Hitoshi’s just a kid, one who wishes his homework was there amongst all the others’. “Good.”

Aizawa doesn’t check to see, but can imagine Hitoshi’s eyes narrowing, the heat of his gaze on Aizawa’s back like infra-red. “Just good?”

The corners of Aizawa’s mouth twitch again, a phantom smile of endearment that would spoil Hitoshi with praise if it wouldn't bloat his ego past salvation. “Don’t push your luck.”

“That’s funny,” Hitoshi remarks as he resumes wistfully rustling through the sheets of 1-A’s homework. “I don’t feel very lucky.”

It’s been a few hours, a liquid dinner, and a couple changes of shift before Hitoshi really starts getting the fidgets. Aizawa knows this because he’s been listening to the kid try to get comfortable and clearly fail in the attempt for the last fifteen minutes.

After Hitoshi's last in a long series of ‘I'm bored’ sighs, Aizawa offers, “I brought the letters,” apropos of nothing, and practically hears Hitoshi’s interest pick up.


“You know whose,” Aizawa responds. It’s been at least four hours, making it sometime between midnight and 1:00 a.m., which is about the time to start busting out the creepy fanmail.

“Oh good.” Hitoshi almost makes it sound sincere. Which almost makes it funny.

“You can watch the window if you want,” Aizawa suggests.

“I’ll look at the letters,” Hitoshi sighs. “Where are they?”

“In my bag.” Aizawa hears him get up and the rustle of him going into Aizawa’s unzipped stakeout bag, which probably still contains some of Hizashi’s ridiculous workout clothes. Hopefully the kid doesn’t find any of that.

“Wow, you mean you literally put the whole box right in here.” Hitoshi’s getting a little loud, and Aizawa gives him a hissy ‘quieten up’ sound to tone it down again.

“What else am I going to do with a box labelled ‘cunt’? ” Aizawa comments at a volume he wants Hitoshi to match. Not leave it at school, that's for certain.

Hitoshi scoffs, still a bit too loud. “That's Ma for you.” Aizawa hears him settle again, followed by the slow shuffle of papers starting to be sorted. With his gaze trained on the fixed scene across from them, the static fire-escape and window of Shiyoko's apartment, Aizawa’s hearing takes on the larger part of painting the scene he pictures. The minute sounds of letters being lifted, inspected and then tossed aside with as much love as anyone would expect Hitoshi to hold for his father.

It's a while again before Aizawa hears a timid, “Oh,” from Hitoshi that lifts the hair on his arms. There's a pause almost long enough for Aizawa to prompt him when Hitoshi continues, “I found it.”

Aizawa wants to look away but doesn't, getting distracted and missing something important will make this whole thing a bust. So he just asks, “You're sure?”

“Do I recognise the same name written on all those fucking bodies? Yeah,” Hitoshi shoots back sarcastically. Then less surely, “What should I do with it?”

“Read it out,” Aizawa suggests. Maybe that's a terrible idea, but it would mean Hitoshi isn't alone in unveiling the contents of such a dark omen.

“Okay.” Hitoshi pauses to take a breath, and then in a whisper like the hiss of a gas leak begins. “Do you remember me, Dr. Shinsou? It's,” Hitoshi pauses to add a dose of cringe-worthy sigh, “Shiyoko-chan. I remember you. I remember what we used to do together. It's been a long time, hasn't it? I've seen you on TV, but no one believes me when I say I know you. Everyone says I was too young to understand, but I remember everything.

“Back then, you said I was special. The most special little girl you'd ever met. We never got to finish what we started, did we? I always blamed my parents for getting in the way of that. But I'm older now and they can't control me anymore. If you still want to see me, Dr. Shinsou, please write back. Use the address on the envelope, it's not my home because I don't want them to find out I'm doing this. We can pick up right where we left off. My quirk is even stronger than it used to be, but no one understands. No one ever understood me like you do, Professor. I hope you do write back, otherwise I'll just have to find you. But I think you missed me too. We can go back to how it used to be. It'll be even better now that I'm older, I know it will. Lo–”  

Hitoshi cuts off, and Aizawa can figure the rest of the sign-off. Most of Doc’s fangirls signed with their love, it's just that much creepier coming from a former patient who was only five or six years old at the time of first meeting him. For as much as the Doctor’s charismatic poison drove his son away from him, it drew in others.

An eerie silence falls over the room, like the air at a funeral. “So there's that,” Hitoshi announces with an acidic tone.

Aizawa’s not really thinking straight – never has – and doesn't police his language like he would if he knew better. That's why his initial response is a what-the-shit-esque murmur that just goes: “Fuck me.”

It's only when Hitoshi jokily responds, “That a request?” that Aizawa remembers he's a fucking idiot.

“No.” Aizawa tries swallowing the lump in his throat and rehearsing the ‘no, officer, I'm just really really stupid’ bit he'll end up using with child services at this rate. Aizawa does his best, but still occasionally forgets that kids are, well… kids. Especially Hitoshi. “Is that the only one?”

“Only what?”

“Letter.” Aizawa doesn't know when the tension in this room climbed onto the ceiling, but he'd love for it to crawl back down anytime soon.

“I haven't finished looking, but there aren't many left,” Hitoshi answers, and if he's feeling awkward it's not detectable in his voice. Just Aizawa then.

“Finish them.” Aizawa catches a sound he suspects to be Hitoshi yawning. “Then try to get some rest.” He’s acutely aware of how this comes off, in spite of Aizawa’s best efforts not to sound like a parent sending their kid up to bed.

“Chill out, you're not my dad,” Hitoshi retorts like it’s all still a game, and with his cabin-fever brain Aizawa thinks ‘too fucking right’. Some dad he’d make. Some dad Hitoshi’s got.

With a tongue loose from the mind-numbing boredom of staring at the same static image for hours on end, Aizawa sums up his response with the words, “And a good thing too.”

Hitoshi does sleep, in the end. Maybe more from the boredom than anything else.

But it's while he's just in the process of drifting off, some thought that seeps through the gaps between 2:00 and 3:00 a.m. where emotions seem that little bit stronger, and everything feels that bit more dire and important, that Hitoshi asks Aizawa in a very sleepy murmur, “Hey, Aizawa?”

Aizawa gives a resonant “Mmmm ” of acknowledgement, echoing in the vacuum of silence in the room, and waits to see if Hitoshi is awake or already drifted off.

Aizawa’s wrong, because any pause must be Hitoshi packing all the weight his baggage allowance will permit into a few simple words, such that they weigh on Aizawa’s heart like a 100-ton anchor. “What'll happen when this is over?”

Aizawa stills his hummingbird heart and reminds himself he's only been training Hitoshi – though it feels like a lot more than that – for a week, and that there's no reason anything would happen to stop this… thing continuing for as long as they want it to. So why that air of desperation should seem so important is surely just the rule of this time of night, when the emotional prism of the early-hours transmutes everything into raw energy.

“It's not over yet,” Aizawa remarks cooly, though the underlying sentiment that seeps into his voice is a sure tell of his investment.

“Yeah, but…” Aizawa thinks Hitoshi’s drifted off again, but no such luck, “I'll keep being your intern, right?”

Like Hitoshi was ever really just an intern. Whatever they have is much more, and has been almost from the start. But labels help, and this might not be quite the right one to stick over the indescribable mix of teacher, good-and-bad role model and the simultaneous paradox of parent and not-parent, but it'll have to do.

“Yes, Hitoshi,” Aizawa says as softly as such a delicate worry calls for: a fragility that's been earned all the wrong ways.

The kid sighs and moves a little, the cot that’s supporting him letting out a mousy squeak. “Promise?”

Aizawa hears his heart thumping in his ears like the tiny guys in his head are playing a timpani solo on his eardrums. He’s just stakeout-crazy; everything with Hitoshi is going to turn out alright, there’s no terrible monster in the shadows that they can’t even see with night goggles. It’s all in his head. “I promise.”

Chapter Text

Aizawa wakes Hitoshi up by gently shaking him with one hand while his other presses over the kid’s mouth. It’s an old Hizashi precaution, but always good with unfamiliar sleepers in sensitive environments. Hitoshi’s eyes open, wild for a second before they focus in on Aizawa, then drop to half-mast before his eyebrows lift in expressive question of what the hell Aizawa thinks he’s doing.

Aizawa explains soon enough. “Someone just entered the apartment, we’re going in.”

It's a decision Aizawa had to think through while he watched the unidentified figure climb the fire escape and then take the ledge into the apartment with surprising authority. Whether to wake Hitoshi or leave him to sleep past the dicey stuff. The deciding factor isn’t so much whether it’d be easier or harder with Hitoshi in tow; and it isn’t even whether it would be  more or less useful for Hitoshi’s growth – but whether Hitoshi would ever forgive Aizawa for leaving him behind. Which is never, so Aizawa wakes him.

Hitoshi picks himself up quickly and does a remarkable job of not seeming like he was so deeply asleep that Aizawa’s been listening to him murmuring away in his dreams for the past hour or so. Nothing that made sense, but also nothing that seemed to distress him, which is good. Hell knows the kid has lived through plenty of nightmare material.

They head over to the door of a tiny balcony, more of a window with a railing in front of it, but it’ll do. When Aizawa slides the door back, a rush of cool night air floods in. The gap between this building and Shiyoko's is more than ten metres but fewer than twenty, probably slightly on the longer end of that scale after Aizawa throws a length of his capture weapon across the gap and locks onto the fire escape across from them. The thin width of fabric is their only bridge over the space below, which is more of a back alley than a proper road.

Aizawa secures the other end to the railing, tests it and is about to hop up when he suddenly thinks about Hitoshi. He pulls another length of the weapon out of the spool around his neck and wraps it tightly around the railing, spooling the rest out to entrust to his pupil. Using this material takes a special kind of person, and Hitoshi might not necessarily be one of them, but starting him on it little by little is a surefire way to find out.

“I’m not gonna fall,” the teen whispers defensively, sounding very much his age as he snatches the coil of highly classified material with poorly disguised pride.

“You better not.” Aizawa hops onto the railing, then takes a couple of testing steps out on the makeshift slackline of the wrap spanning the gap. Hitoshi will wait for him to get across then follow, but Aizawa bounces a few times in the middle to be absolutely sure there’s no give. He’s more paranoid than usual today, but then they’re not usually doing this ten fucking stories up in the middle of the night. There’s enough hazy streetlight below them to dimly light the scene, picking up the white strip of his capture weapon just enough so that he knows where to put each foot, one after the other.

Aizawa crosses quickly, then turns around as Hitoshi starts to follow, chewing on his heart for dessert after it rises up into Aizawa’s mouth just watching Hitoshi. Just like he’s been taught, Hitoshi stays low to the strap he walks along, only stopping a few times with a wobble to recenter his balance. He trails the makeshift safety line behind him and once or twice Aizawa sees him tug on it for an extra bit of support. The strip comes alive in his touch, but with such bare, instinctive movements nothing wild happens. The support-line simply jumps to attention and holds true. By the time Hitoshi's made it all the way to the fire escape, Aizawa has only prematurely aged by a few years. They’ve just got the perilous ledge to venture across next.

Aizawa goes first, climbing over the fire escape railing then dropping onto his hands and knees on the ledge just wide enough to crawl along, the pale shade of the painted concrete barely visible in the low lighting. It takes a couple minutes, and Aizawa goes a little slower than the figure scaling the building had gone a few minutes ago, but if he rushes and Hitoshi rushes after him it’ll be more trouble than it’s worth. Like, teenager-plummeting-ten-floors and Aizawa having to jump after him not worth it.

Unlike the closed and curtained windows they pass on the way – people who probably have no idea they live next door to a serial killer – Shiyoko’s window is still open. Aizawa sticks his head through the opening first, looking around to see… nothing. Safe enough to enter.

Climbing carefully inside, Aizawa steps to the side of the window and holds out an arm like a coat peg. Hitoshi takes it, hanging his weight on Aizawa for a moment as he swings himself cleanly inside. Not because Hitoshi needs the help, but because if Aizawa can grant it – and it does help – then there’s no reason not to. Hitoshi’s palms are cold from the concrete and just a little clammy – nerves, probably, but that’s normal. Even if nothing else about this is normal.

The room is shrouded in darkness, the only light a distant sickly glare coming from the shrine to Dr. Shinsou at the very end of the hallway of this boxy apartment. Rather than charging straight in, Aizawa stands still and Hitoshi does the same, just the mix of their breathing and no other sounds. But Aizawa saw a figure come in here, so unless it’s a phantom there has to be someone else in this apartment.

It’s too important to risk making a sound by talking, even whispering, so to keep Hitoshi close and informed on their movements, Aizawa resumes only-recently-broken contact and takes Hitoshi’s wrist in a firm grip. After the first step with a steering tug on Hitoshi’s arm, he starts to drift silently in Aizawa’s wake. From the fingers pressed into the vulnerable skin of the wrist, Aizawa can feel Hitoshi’s pulse racing. So is Aizawa’s, but that’s natural. They need their wits about them.

With dreadful inevitability, Aizawa moves along the corridor towards the illuminated doorway at the far side of the apartment. The light level increases enough that Aizawa lets go of Hitoshi part-way along, gesturing instead at the way the shadows shift slightly on the opposite wall to the doorway, confirming the soft-footed inhabitant within. They hear only a curious scratching sound, like the scrape of pens on desks during exams.

The shadows suddenly move and settle, painting the wall in elongated demonic shapes. The scratching stops and there’s the lightest creak of feet on the floor from within, before all becomes still again. When Aizawa’s almost at the edge of the doorway, he holds up one hand while the other reaches for the folds of his capture weapon. Three fingers unfurled on his free hand, Aizawa starts to curl them into his palm one by one, with his back pressed to the wall next to the doorway.

After he folds down the second finger, Aizawa steals the quickest glance at Hitoshi.

The harsh neon light pouring from the doorway catches off Hitoshi’s eyes, half his face bathed in a sickly glow. He looks just like his father for a second, then blinks – or perhaps Aizawa does – and turns back into a teenager looking very much out of his depth. This has all become real very, very suddenly. But Hitoshi doesn’t have to do anything, just be here, exposed to what it all actually means and soaking it in like their brains do at this age. If Hitoshi does need to act, Aizawa trusts that his gut will kick in and he’ll know exactly what to do. But maybe it won't come to that.

When the last of Aizawa’s three-finger count falls to zero, he springs around the door and lurches into the room. He’s no sooner past the threshold than a flash of silver dashes from the corner of his vision, and something cold bites into his arm.

Aizawa stops the knife, but that it’s with his forearm could be questioned for efficiency. To mean it hurts like a bitch, cutting deep enough that he feels a hot pulse of blood pushing against the invasion of his flesh. But instead of backing away, Aizawa thrusts his arm against the blade, probably doing himself even more damage as he buries the short kitchen knife almost up to the handle. He might even feel the point coming out on the other side of his, uh, arm.

The attacker’s not Shiyoko, but that was Aizawa’s suspicion all along. The proportions of the person he spied climbing in here were wrong. It’s a decrepit man of inestimable middle age, who clumsily wields the knife that Aizawa is trying to wrench off him using Aizawa’s own flesh as a trap. The brainwashing victim’s eyes are stretched wide, but more notable is the pattern that covers every exposed stretch of his skin, stencilled on him like an all-over print. Hakamata Shiyoko Hakamata Shiyoko Hakamata Shiyoko, the name has been written all over him, fifty, even a hundred times. Under the harsh neon strip that sits on the floor of this room, the man’s skin shines a sallow bluish colour in stark contrast to the black ink that marks his face, arms, the hand that Aizawa grabs with one of his own and twists until he feels it break. The handle of the knife releases from the mind zombie’s fingers. Not that it falls, still buried in – through – Aizawa’s arm.

The man doesn’t cry out when Aizawa crushes his hand and instead starts to claw at him wildly, broken bones and all, gouging a few scratches out of Aizawa’s face. The noises he does make are distorted and animal, like something permanent has been removed to void his claim on humanity.

Aizawa flips out a stretch of his capture weapon to bind one of the man’s arms and whip him off-balance, then delivers a sharp punch to the man’s temple that smacks the bare remains of consciousness out of him. He thuds back against the wall with a guttural grunt and slumps to the floor. Finally free, but still alive. Go fuck yourself, Dr. Shinsou, Aizawa thinks as he glances across the permeating stare of the supersized photo of the Doc that adorns the wall in here. Now with a few fetching additions to the poster, in what looks a lot like blood.

A normal person would assume the knife in Aizawa’s arm is the priority here, but even with the etch-a-sketch lunatic knocked out there’s still not quite a single functional person in the room between them. This is all the more clear when Hitoshi’s opening remark is, “Look at the wall, teach.”

Aizawa’s gaze goes over to Hitoshi like he's shot a signal flare, then casts back across the room. On second look, Dr. Shinsou’s augmented headshot reminds Aizawa of the times Hitoshi’s managed to give himself bloody facepaint; that inescapable resemblance. There’s also a human nose – Aizawa can guess whose – and maybe something else, freshly cut and bloody, set on a pile of torn pages clumped together by the wall.

But what Aizawa thinks Hitoshi is drawing his attention to first and foremost is the angry line of scribbled numbers that works between the pages of ‘The 90% Mind’ that are nailed all over the wall. The last time they were here, the only legible figure read 50% MIND, but that’s since been scribbled over and updated, perhaps even moments before they entered the room. Now the wall reads for the poster of Dr. Shinsou’s viewing pleasure…

70% MIND

There’s a powerful throb of white-hot pain from Aizawa’s arm, which is almost certainly due to the knife stuck clean through it at the moment. He’s probably got about ten minutes, half if he’s stupid enough to pull the thing out. That leaves enough room for a moment of reflection. “She’s getting more powerful.”

“Oh, you think?” Hitoshi replies sarcastically, and then directs his gaze to Aizawa’s arm with a worried sheen of sweat the neon light picks out across his brow. “Are you going to do something about that?”

“Soon.” Aizawa steps a little closer, using his free hand to clamp down around the blade piercing his flesh and staunch the blood from his injury. Trying, perhaps hopelessly, to stop it from contaminating the crime scene anymore than he already has.

“Soon? You’ve been stabbed.” Hitoshi’s starting to sound a little more urgent, while Aizawa bends at the knees a little to inspect the nose before he has to give this untapped crime scene – that he’s a part of – up to the police. Who are probably due in here any minute.

Right on time, Aizawa hears the front door of the apartment opening in the distance and turns to look at Hitoshi over his shoulder, the movement sending a twinge to the ordinary kitchen knife awkwardly sticking through his arm – it hurts a bit, he’ll give it that. The last words Aizawa gets out as the shape of Tsukauchi, defined by the distinctive profile of his overcoat, looms into the doorway behind Hitoshi is, “Only a little.”

“Well then, Eraser.” Tsukauchi’s pretty optimistic for someone who’s presumably also been up most of the night, waiting for something like this to happen. “You look a little cut for time, but why don’t you get me all caught up on your way to hospital?”

“Don’t worry about that,” Aizawa insists, standing up and walking back towards Hitoshi to address him with the quickly-formed plan Aizawa’s cobbling together. “Can you get my phone out of my pocket?” He offers his side in suggestion.

“Is this really the time?” Tsukauchi fields before Hitoshi can question Aizawa’s apparent diversion in a less polite and more “you’ve been stabbed, what the fuck are you doing?” kind of way.

“To call Recovery Girl,” Aizawa finishes bluntly. “You can drop us back at UA.” Tsukauchi considers it a moment, then nods. Aizawa steals a glance at Hitoshi and sees a little more coherence in the boy’s face. As if another adult in the room also not totally freaking out about Aizawa’s ‘knife in arm’ situation is enough to reassure him it might be okay after all. Maybe not okay, but… manageable.

Of course, Aizawa would definitely prefer not to have a piece of critical evidence skimming just between his bones and hopefully missing the arteries in his arm. The blood loss doesn’t feel squirty enough to be arterial, though there’s still quite a lot of it. Tsukauchi is rummaging around in his bucket-like pockets and comes out with a strap that looks to be usable as a tourniquet. Aizawa has something similar too, but his hands are a bit tied up at the moment.

“Phone,” Aizawa reiterates, and Hitoshi jumps to attention and hurriedly complies, diving his hand to fumble around in Aizawa’s pocket.

There’s only a moment of perilous incidental groping around, in which Hitoshi doesn’t find anything he shouldn’t (thankfully), before grabbing hold of Aizawa’s phone and whipping his hand back out of the pretty expansive pockets in Aizawa’s suit. Not the only pockets in there by a longshot but certainly the most accessible for things he uses all the time, like a phone. Less awkward for other people to get to: he’s needed Hizashi to get him half-naked to get something out of an interior back-pocket before, and if it was awkward with Hizashi it’s only going to be worse with anyone else. That was before they were together, admittedly, and of course they’d thought nothing of it at the time. Just professionals helping each other out. Aizawa recalls he’d been recently stabbed on that occasion too.

Aizawa remembers he’s losing blood when some of it drips onto the floor, and shoots, “C’mere and I’ll give you the code.” He beckons Hitoshi with a jerk of his chin, who’s lit by the illumination from the number pad of Aizawa’s lockscreen. Hitoshi leans in with his ear turned to Aizawa’s mouth. Tsukauchi rolls his eyes jovially, but Aizawa has rules about who he allows to have certain pieces of information about him. “0707,” he rattles off quickly, and Hitoshi’s thumb moves in the distinctive pattern.

“Birthday?” Hitoshi prompts slyly.

“Not mine,” Aizawa responds as the code is accepted. It's Hizashi's – helps him remember it – but giving that piece of critical information away would be telling. The blurring effect of the lockscreen disappears to reveal Aizawa’s phone background in perfect clarity.

What’s unfortunate about this, is that Aizawa’s background was obviously set by Hizashi, and in a bid to make it as embarrassing without being outright dead-giveaway as possible, the picture his beloved chose is a close-up of one of Hizashi’s (several) tattoos that represent his relationship with Aizawa. This being the one of a jacket pocket stitched in ink onto Hizashi’s front, in which sits a bulky black cat with a heap of bandages sitting around its neck as if a collar, paws hanging over the edge giving one of those indisputably grumpy half-mast glares. So he’s figuratively and literally got Aizawa in his pocket, or so Hizashi claimed when he insisted on getting it done after losing an ‘embarrassing tattoo’ bet with Aizawa that never specified who was supposed to be embarrassed by it. That sure taught him.

Hitoshi snorts but thankfully doesn’t dwell on the ‘whose tattoo is that? nature of Aizawa’s phone background, as there’s a few things a bit more urgent at hand. He quickly brings up the contacts directory and picks out Recovery Girl without needing to be asked. “Let me talk to her,” Aizawa instructs, not wanting to inflict the savagery of her 4:00 a.m. temper on anyone else – Aizawa deserves it, not to mention Recovery Girl will go ballistic when she finds out Hitoshi is with him. Aizawa knows she’s going to find out sooner or later, but it can still always be later.

Hitoshi puts the phone to Aizawa’s ear as it’s starting to ring, which goes on for awhile then with certainty Aizawa never doubted picks up with a fierce, “This better be good, asswipe.”

“Don’t try and fool me, Old Lady. I know you’d be getting up in an hour anyway,” Aizawa retorts fearlessly, and if he weren’t overall more concerned about his level of blood loss and whether he caught any diseases from that zombie’s filthy nails, he might have laughed at how shocked Hitoshi looks with this opening form of communication. “I’ll be hitting up your ward in an hour.”

“Oh, you want me to put a pot of coffee on? Cook you up some eggs and rice for breakfast?” Tsukauchi comes over to apply the tourniquet and Aizawa holds his arm out cooperatively, his conversation with Recovery Girl continuing in full view of an ever more-bemused looking Hitoshi.

“You don’t have to go to that much effort, coffee’s fine,” Aizawa retorts with the thought of a grin somewhere in his head, though it never makes it to his face. Instead it’s a grimace, gritting his teeth as Tsukauchi pulls the tourniquet tight around his arm. Not tight enough. “Put some muscle into it,” he scolds, then with a flick of his eyes across to Hitoshi adds, “Help him.”

“Who are you talking to? I swear if you bring half a police station in here again, Aizawa, I’ll-”

“This really isn’t the time,” Aizawa interrupts as he lifts his shoulder, clenching the phone between his ear and shoulder so Hitoshi can take his hand away. This frees them up to put basically all his gangly strength into helping Tsukauchi pull that little bit tighter on Aizawa’s Kobe-beef bicep, as Hizashi’s labelled them.

“You don’t say!” There’s bustling around noises that suggest the Old Lady's gotten up and is rattling around getting ready. There was never any doubt, really: Aizawa only calls these favours in rarely enough to get away with it. “It’s been ten years since you graduated and you haven’t changed a lick, still the same irresponsible punchbag you were as a teenager. You won’t make it past fifty if you don’t learn how to take care of yourself…”

With two of them on the task, Tsukauchi and Hitoshi’s combined efforts succeed in getting Aizawa’s tourniquet tight enough to be some use. He grunts a little as the strap shuts off his circulation, pulse thumping in protest against the constriction. “That’ll do it,” Aizawa mutters with a wince, and Tsukauchi pulls the fastening over so the tourniquet locks down fully. Aizawa keeps the pressure he's applying around the knife-and-wound, but there’s no sense wasting any more blood than he already has. Recovery Girl’s still going strong, something about, “And Yamada’s just as bad for enabling you, suppose you think because you’re not Toshinori that makes you better then him, well let me tell you–”

“Can we finish this later?” Aizawa interjects before Recovery Girl’s puckered lips pop all the way out of his phone to literally chew his ear off too.

“You bet we will, Mister.”

“Later, Grams.” Aizawa hangs up to her huffy exasperated tutting – she hates being addressed that way, making it the primary reason Aizawa does it when she’s delivering one of her world-famous lectures. Pre-empting another tiresome formality, Aizawa turns his attention to Tsukauchi. “We entered by the window a few minutes after the suspect,” Aizawa starts to deliver his mentally rehearsed statement. “We didn't hear or see anything until I was attacked, and he was clearly under Shiyoko's control.”

“You're sure?” Tsukauchi checks, like the all-over writing isn't enough of a giveaway.

“He's got a couple of bones in his hand that he didn't react to being broken,” Aizawa points out, and in case there's any doubt left. “So yeah, I'm sure.”

“Did he say anything?” Tsukauchi’s got a faithful notebook out. Meanwhile Hitoshi approaches the unconscious man like he's an armed mine, dropping to one knee and reaching out tentatively, like Shiyoko’s signature would burn to touch.

“I don't think he can,” Hitoshi offers as he takes hold of the man's jaw, dragging his mouth open to peer inside like he’s looking for treasure.

“Because of the brainwashing?” Tsukauchi suggests with his eyes on the notepad he scribbles notes onto like the faithful detective he is.

Hitoshi pauses long enough for Tsukauchi to look over. Maybe Hitoshi even waits on purpose; dramatic brat. It doesn’t help appearances that the strip-light behind them projects Hitoshi’s shadow in an exaggerated spectre on the wall he’s crouched by, entirely encompassing Tsukauchi in the dark cutout he casts. It also doesn’t help that Hitoshi’s grinning at Tsukauchi with sick, proven-right satisfaction as he replies, “Because he’s got no fucking tongue.”

Tsukauchi looks like he’s come home to discover the dogs he’s sitting for an annoying neighbour have left a series of messy accidents all over his apartment. Aizawa had the same suspicion about this puppet Shiyoko’s been pulling the strings of – those characteristic noises when he was trying to rip Aizawa’s eyes out. She’s too clever to leave such an obvious loose tie flapping in the wind. It’s good Hitoshi had the same thought in parallel, then took the steps to confirm what Aizawa couldn’t with this fucking knife in his arm. Recovery Girl is right: he really ought to be more careful – though he’s gotten away with it this time.

Tsukauchi makes another note, looks around the room and then flips his notepad closed with a papery thwip. “I’ve seen enough.”

Too fucking right, Aizawa thinks as the ache of steel in his arm turns to a nerves-shutting-down tingle. For once, he’s couldn’t be happier to get out of a crime scene good and early. Probably because he’s been made a part of it.

“Yeah,” Hitoshi agrees with a furtive glance at his dad’s poster accompanied by a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it shudder. “Let’s get the fuck out of here.”

Recovery Girl takes one look at Aizawa in her doorway and says, “I know you’re a terrible cook, Aizawa, but the knife is supposed to go in your hand.

“Is that what I’ve been doing wrong?” Aizawa replies. He’s not so much thinking clearly as drifting from the blood-loss. He tasked Hitoshi with keeping him conscious in the car ride back, which mostly involved sticking an earbud in one of Aizawa’s ears and blasting heavy metal, and then elbowing him once or twice if that didn't do the trick. Not in the arm with the knife sticking out of it, obviously. Which Aizawa would really love to be rid of anytime soon.

Thankfully, they're in just the right place to get something like that sorted out, so Aizawa slumps gratefully into the chair Recovery Girl points out for him. She's pulling on a pair of gloves, while Tsukauchi stands by with an evidence bag. Hitoshi is lingering by the door, though no doubt Recovery Girl's noticed his presence and will start being a pain about it as soon as she's finished with inflicting actual pain – necessary, sure, but that doesn't mean it's not about to hurt like a bitch.

“Ready?” Recovery Girl asks after she's done a quick inspection of Aizawa’s arm, which looks and feels pretty dead thanks to the tourniquet. Aizawa just stuffs a handful of his capture weapon in his mouth and nods, not taking his eyes off his forearm. Without any further notice Recovery Girl whips the knife out even faster than it got into Aizawa’s arm. That's not the bit that hurts – just feels super weird – but it isn't over yet.

Without the pesky knife in the way, which Recovery Girl drops into Tsukauchi’s open evidence bag and then quickly vanishes into one of his pockets, Aizawa’s sleeve can actually be pushed up enough to expose the wound, still managing to surge with fresh blood in spite of the tourniquet. Recovery Girl is already at arm height, so only has to move forward to lay a sucker of a kiss on the slice before Aizawa feels his flesh knitting back together.

Now Aizawa bites down on the wad of wraps in his mouth, which also muffle the strangled grunt as the signal fires of his nerves send notice that “hey idiot, we've been stabbed (again)” message to the control room even as they're fusing rapidly back together. Aizawa grips the arm of the chair in his other hand and writhes a little, while Hitoshi starts looking a little more doe-eyed worried as he lurks in the corner of the nurse's office. Aizawa’s worked out the dial for how ill at-ease Hitoshi is tends to fluctuate with information like whether Aizawa’s clearly in pain or not. Heroes are meant to be indestructible, so when they aren't it always scares people, even if that's just reality.

Thankfully, the worst of it is about to be over. Recovery Girl flips Aizawa’s arm over and gives him a quick peck on the other side. Aizawa reaches up to release the tourniquet with his horrendously bloody free hand, spitting out the capture weapon with a hiss as his remaining blood starts to rush urgently through newly repaired muscle tissue.

“That's gonna ache tomorrow,” Aizawa grumbles, which is when Recovery Girl slaps him literally on the wrist.

“That'll serve you right for using your arm as a knife rack, careless boy!” she scolds, and then without hesitating turns over to their scheduled browbeating lecture. “And since when did you start keeping students up all night?”

“He's my intern,” Aizawa tries, and gets another rapid series of slaps for his trouble as Recovery Girl beats him like a drumroll.

“He's a General Studies student without a provisional licence and a father in prison! You can’t pull your bullshit on me, Aizawa,” Recovery Girl machine-guns into him like this is a gang shooting. “Nezu’s told me all about you and the boy’s little racket.” It goes without saying that Nezu will hear all about this, though as long as Hitoshi makes it to class there's technically no issues to report. Whether he stays awake might be a factor, but Aizawa can only achieve so much.

“Worth a try.” Aizawa shrugs and gets another smack on the wrist for his trouble.

Hitoshi looks like he’s slipped back into the zone of being unafraid, but still slightly unclear on what dimension he’s currently occupying. He’s sunk into a chair a little way from Aizawa, looking an awful lot like a sixteen year-old who’s been up half the night. “We’re already famous, huh?” Hitoshi remarks in a sleepy drawl, eyelids hanging low like he needs staples to keep them open any longer.

“It’s not a good thing–” Recovery Girl is getting to scolding when Aizawa makes a zip it motion with his hand. Maybe the gesture itself is what causes the old girl to pause mid-spew, how uncharacteristic it is for Aizawa, leaping so urgently to a student’s – if not his, technically – defence. Aizawa’s usually so open to inviting a lashing on himself. But Hizashi and Kayama aren’t the only people with an understanding of the depths of Aizawa’s masochism. He’s a teacher, after all.

“Let him have this,” Aizawa urges under his breath, and Recovery Girl gives him a look that couldn’t scream “busted” anymore than if Aizawa were literally posing for a mugshot. After a moment of slightly awed staring, she slaps him on the wrist again and Aizawa finally snatches his arm up with a hiss of, “What was that for?”

“For dragging a growing boy out all night and setting a horrible example for him,” she schools fearlessly. “You just make sure if anyone has to get knifed it’s you.”

“Was that somehow not the impression I’ve given off?” Aizawa replies sarcastically, and gets another slap – on the knee, this time – for his trouble.

“I’m the one who has to deal with these broken children who never learn their limits because their teachers don’t either.” Recovery Girl gives a disparaging crow that cuts clearly through the room, but Hitoshi looks half-asleep in his seat anyway, so he might not be catching much of this.

Aizawa pulls a disgusted face. “Don’t compare me to Toshi.” He hates that. Even if Aizawa came in here a bit of a state. “We both know I’m nothing like that walking cold case waiting to happen.” Recovery Girl thwacks Aizawa one more time for being a smartass, and then finally seems to settle. After all, Aizawa’s more or less recovered now, at least once he replaces the blood he lost in the crime scene… in the lift in Shiyoko’s building… quite a bit in Tsukauchi’s car, too. Maybe Recovery Girl has a point after all.

As lovingly as any four-foot tall cranky old lady can deliver a little before five in the morning, Recovery Girl suggests, “Why don’t you pull up a bed and try to get some sleep for once, Aizawa? You look like a present my cat left on the doormat.” Aizawa’s met her cat – a delightful ginger tom that purrs like it fought with and then consumed a small motorbike.

Aizawa would argue with Recovery Girl, if he didn’t have faith that she’s totally and completely right. He’s fucking exhausted. “Thanks, Grams.”

Recovery Girl makes a fussy sound and trots past Aizawa, about to disappear into her back-of-house office where Aizawa knows for a fact she’s got a fully made-up futon rolled up in the cupboard, when she shoots quietly enough for him alone to catch it, “And put that kid of yours to bed, too.”

Feeling a yawn come on that he swallows, Aizawa settles for a sigh and pushes himself out of his chair on both arms. He crosses the room in a few paces to set a hand on Hitoshi’s shoulder, startling him awake until he locks tired eyes onto Aizawa’s and calms. Centre of his universe, back in orbit.

“C’mon, Sleepyhead,” Aizawa drawls wearily to Hitoshi as he guides him up out of the seat he’s been melting into. If he’s going to pass out, might as well do it in a bed.

“You’re one to talk, Stabby Mc… Stabs , ” Hitoshi grumbles back, rubbing one of his eyes on the back of his hand and looking super sixteen.

“You’ll be hearing from me tomorrow,” Tsukauchi reminds them both, and Aizawa’s too over it to even roll his eyes.

“Yeah, sure. Bye.” Aizawa sees Tsukauchi off with a limp wave as he steers Hitoshi by the shoulder to the curtained-off ward of Recovery Girl’s office. There’s no inpatients luckily, though if there were they would surely be sleeping too, so two spare beds aren’t hard to come by.

Hitoshi crawls onto an empty bed looking so pitiable Aizawa wants to laugh, but the tank of humour’s been drained along with the couple pints of blood he's really going to miss in the morning. This is the morning, but later in it. Hitoshi’s got his face squished to the mattress, a soft cheek for a pillow and the bags under his eyes even more pronounced than usual. “What a night, huh?”

Aizawa thinks about Recovery Girl’s scolding: students that never learn their limits because their mentors disregard them too. Bit hard to balance that with the UA motto: Plus Ultra, Go Beyond – but only if you can handle it. How do you find out where your limits are but for pushing past them?

Aizawa’s still close enough to Hitoshi’s bedside to allow himself to be overtaken with a wave of affection, meaning he reaches a newly functional arm for the wild lavender thicket of Hitoshi’s hair and ruffles it. “Yeah,” he murmurs softly, knowing that there’s no tucking kids into bed and checking for monsters at this age – there are monsters all right, they just don’t live under the bed anymore. “Try to get some rest.”

Hitoshi makes a pleased little noise with the contact, eyes drifting shut, and Aizawa hasn’t even finished saying it when he realises Hitoshi’s already drifted off, the deep, distinctive breathing pattern of desperately claimed sleep. Aizawa pauses there with his fingers buried in Hitoshi’s hair for a moment, before he slowly withdraws and makes his way over to the adjacent bed, rolling onto it and shutting his eyes for a few precious hours.

Chapter Text

Aizawa is awoken by his phone singing a love ballad. Without moving any more than is absolutely necessary, he digs it from his pocket and jams the handset between his face and the mattress, which he appears to have drooled a sizable damp patch on. Hopefully it’s just saliva, in comparison to the blood he's smeared all over the sheets. Probably should have washed his arm and hands before passing out, though Recovery Girl's dealt with much worse before.

As always, Aizawa’s wake-up call is a sonorous, “Shotaaaaaaaa.”

“M'at school,” Aizawa mumbles into the rumpled sheets as much as the phone, knowing that it can't be much later than 6:00 a.m. if Hizashi is ringing him from bed, which means he’s got a solid hour's sleep working in his favour.

“You have fun last night?” Even freshly woken up: hell, especially then, Hizashi's bubbling with the energy of a good night's sleep. Bastard. It makes Aizawa think he should go home at some point and be structured, or at least get caught up on the slippery slope he's heading down to full-blown hallucinations. Can't fight crime when the real villains are indistinguishable from sleep deprivation-induced visions. Aizawa terrified a class once by not being able to make that particular distinction early on in his job-juggling days. A lesson learned for all of them.

“Sorta,” Aizawa answers with a creaky groan, rolling over and seeing Hitoshi opposite him in the next bed, still blissfully unaware of the waking world. “I got stabbed.”

“Oh good, I was starting to worry you were becoming a responsible person,” Hizashi riffs sarkily. “Was it worth it?”

“Kinda,” Aizawa hears himself croak and gives a tired sigh. “Something big is coming.”

“Yeah baby, you know it,” Hizashi's voice pours like whiskey on the rocks, a distinctive string of pants undercutting his tone that tells Aizawa of exactly what he's up to first thing in the morning. “It's gonna come everywhere.”

Aizawa has had just enough sleep to have energy for a tired laugh. “See you at school.”

“Wait! I'm almost there–” Hizashi's wheedling when Aizawa hangs up. Nice as the sentiment is, Aizawa would rather not listen to his partner orgasm in the company of an unconscious teenager in the next bed over.

Aizawa fumbles for a bottle of eye drops, letting his eyelids droop for just a second (in theory), then goes completely lights-out until the next rude awakening. This takes the form of a spray bottle squirting in his face an indeterminate amount of time later.

The water is so refreshing that Aizawa lets it continue for a while on purpose, before finally opening his eyes to lock gaze to tired gaze with Recovery Girl. Only she’s tired of Aizawa’s crap, and he’s just regular tired.

“Made a mess of my sheets as usual, Aizawa.” Recovery Girl squirts him again and Aizawa keeps his eyes open, meaning he doesn’t even really need the eye drops he finds balled in his fist from before he fell asleep. “It looks like you slaughtered a pig in here.” Wrong phrasing, but she’s not to know that.

“You’re a nurse, you can't complain about a little blood.” The bottle makes a distinctive shhhht sound as Recovery Girl sprays him another couple of times in the face. Who needs showers at this rate?

“A little? I should’ve made you sleep outside with the rest of the animals.”

“That’s your mistake, Old Lady.”

Recovery Girl keeps drenching Aizawa in a light mist, and he brings a hand to his face, remembering a little too late that last night – well, a couple of hours ago – his hands were mostly covered in blood. Dried on, but newly rehydrated with the misting Recovery Girl is giving him with a bottle he thinks she uses on the plants. Aizawa has probably turned himself into a scene from a horror film by the time he sits up. The sheets are clearly ruined already, so he uses them to mop up the worst of the leftover blood over his hands, arm and now face before turning to the next bed.

Hitoshi’s still asleep, turned over on his side with his back to Aizawa. He feels bad about what he’s going to have to do, but the kid signed up for this when he wanted to join Aizawa on an all-night stakeout in the first place.

“Rise and shine,” Aizawa delivers like he absolutely does not mean it. He lays a hand, perhaps a little too heavily, on Hitoshi’s shoulder, because he jumps awake like he’s been wired with a thousand volts. Hitoshi stalls, reorienting himself with his surroundings – what it means if he’s being woken up – then lets out a long, gurgling groan of self-loathing that Aizawa recognises all too well. “I know.” Aizawa’s hand remains in an absent-minded perch on Hitoshi’s shoulder, shifting as Hitoshi turns and levers himself upright, coming up to sit on the bed with a look like death warmed up.

Still behind Hitoshi, Aizawa mostly gets stuck on how perfectly flat the newly lifted plane of Hitoshi’s bed-head is. Lolling to one side like a badly fitted mop head, Hitoshi revels in sharing his opening remark on the morning. “I feel like crap.”

“I can tell,” Aizawa replies, which is a bit softer than ‘you also look like crap’, but Hitoshi shakes Aizawa’s hand off his shoulder resentfully all the same.

“I think I need a coffee,” Hitoshi mumbles mostly into his hands as he brings them up to his face. Aizawa doesn't usually recommend kids on coffee in first year, but he usually recommends they get more than three hours sleep too. It's going to reflect badly on both of them if Hitoshi shows up to class but can't stay awake. Is that worse than giving a teen coffee? Hell if Aizawa knows.

“I'll get you one,” Aizawa bribes as much as he concedes, using the hand Hitoshi shook off his shoulder to pull Hitoshi's feet off the end of the bed. Kid didn't even take his trainers off before falling asleep last night: still in stakeout mode. Even Aizawa finds the transition from Hero work back to school bumpy sometimes, so Hitoshi might benefit from a sliver of separation between those two worlds on this occasion. Hell, so will Aizawa. “Come on, there's a place just outside the school that does a good breakfast.” Food isn’t exactly compensation for sleep, but it certainly helps, especially with a growing teen in tow.

“Have we got time?” Hitoshi isn't exactly going to question extra time with Aizawa, but if there's time for coffee and breakfast, there’s surely time for extra sleep. There is, some half-hour-ish closing window until they need to flip back over into being a student and teacher who have nothing to do with each other. But the fresh air and walk will be good for both of them – put on at least some appearance of being fully conscious by the time homeroom kicks in.

“If you move your ass, yeah,” Aizawa replies unceremoniously, and that gets Hitoshi moving a bit quicker. He trails furtively after Aizawa as they head out of Recovery Girl's office and bounce off-campus just as the early birds are starting to trickle in. No one seems to recognise them, but then again, Hitoshi's got his hood pulled up on an all-black tracksuit, looking more like a harrowed old man than a teenager. Aizawa recognises the look all too well – he’d find it on his own face if he ever bothered looking in a mirror.

Hitoshi’s edgy appearance shifts after they arrive at the little cafe where Aizawa’s had many an early breakfast following a sleepless night. Hitoshi heads to the bathroom moments after they’re shown to a tiny booth in the frantic breakfast joint, while Aizawa orders his usual for both of them, which has been hurriedly set out even before Hitoshi returns in his school uniform.

Hitoshi has to dodge various wait-staff and busy tradesmen on the way back, and if the circles under Hitoshi’s eyes had already looked like he was missing out on rest, now he’s got a matching set of hair, irises and and eyebags like purple is the new black. Hitoshi’s dead on his feet, bumping a few people coming down the narrow aisle towards the booth Aizawa’s sat at. The air is full of the shouts of kitchen staff and clatter of crockery together, warm and humid from endless kettles of tea and coffee, complimented somehow by huge bubbling saucepans of soup and broth. A place you get hungry just sitting in.

The school uniform of this haggard student of the General Course is extra-crumpled from being stuffed in Hitoshi’s bag throughout the stakeout that is not part of his curriculum, and hell if it isn’t a little apt. Hitoshi slumps into the seat opposite Aizawa looking like a sack full of tired schoolkid again, dragging his fingers through his hair to comb out his lop-sided bed head.

The first thing Hitoshi does to his promised cup of coffee is add sugar, but not so much that Aizawa judges him to have butchered it with sweetness. (Not like Hizashi does.)

While most of the customers of this establishment wouldn’t blink twice at a schoolkid with what probably looks like his super-grotty uncle, there’s still a chance of someone from school popping in. Probably not a big one, but enough that Hitoshi’s given it thought too.

That’s gotta be why Hitoshi takes a noisy slurp of his coffee, pulls a face and then not-so innocently announces, “I wonder what someone from school would think if they saw us here.”

“Doesn’t matter what they think,” Aizawa grunts as he takes a hearty slug of his own coffee, breaking apart his chopsticks and beginning to fuel up on his hearty breakfast. He’s got a lot of blood to replenish, and there’s still a killer on the loose who might want more.

“Maybe that we’re related.” Hitoshi makes the observation as naturally as it’d surely seem to the right spectator. Perhaps that’s what the businessmen in here would think if they ever paid attention enough to have such a thought.

“Might do,” Aizawa offers without too much thought, more invested in clearing his rice bowl and waving in a top-up with his chopsticks – along with a refill on his coffee. Hitoshi is mostly mooning over his food and letting the coffee go cold, but Aizawa’s not parent enough to maintain interest in nagging the boy to eat. Aizawa barely gets himself to eat; he’s not going further than putting food in front of Hitoshi. If Hitoshi just wants to stare it down then good luck to him.

Hitoshi’s mulling something over, which finally comes out with the prognosis, “Fuck knows, I could do a lot worse.”

Aizawa gives a chesty laugh as a server refills his coffee cup, taking a scalding hot swig to wash down a mouthful of greens (if he makes it home tonight maybe he'll raid Hizashi's medicine cabinet for lost nutrients). Hitoshi could certainly do much better than Aizawa, sitting here feeding a teenager coffee to keep him up through class after dragging him through another messy crime scene at fuck ‘o clock in the morning. But when the comparison is Dr. Shinsou, anyone looks good.

“Yeah,” Aizawa concedes between bites, then caveats with a more morose, “Says a lot if I'm the best you've got.” At least for some kinda male role model.

“I've got Ma,” Hitoshi fairly points out in turn; perhaps reconnecting with the concept of his mother’s worry, he finally starts taking an interest in his food. Slightly more into his coffee, but Aizawa can't begrudge him that.

There's probably a large part of Hitoshi's astonishing normality in the face of his extraordinary circumstances that's entirely down to his mother, who managed to raise a devilishly smart boy with the makings of a Hero while she is a single, working parent – and supporting the two of them while also fending off the maniacal claws of the pre-massacre Doc would have been no small task. Aizawa’s sure Hitoshi’s Ma is entitled to vastly more recognition than she's ever likely to receive.

“Being a parent is a tough job to do alone,” Aizawa observes somewhere over his third cup of coffee – Hitoshi sneaks in a refill too, but he's started eating so Aizawa’s not going to worry about over-caffeinating him just yet.

Hitoshi scoffs, “You can say that again,” as he resugars his coffee and takes a thirsty slurp. He still looks tired, but the colour's coming back to his cheeks – what little there is to begin with.

The conversation flows a little more naturally while they both eat, running like the turn of a stream widening out. “You help out much at home?” Aizawa asks as he takes a glug of soup.

Hitoshi looses a ‘how dare you’ scoff, like he can’t believe Aizawa’s audacity to ask such a ridiculous question. “Oh yeah, I’m a regular homemaker.”

Aizawa casts a look of some scepticism across the table at Hitoshi, his eyebrow lifting behind the curtain of his hair. “Really?”

“I cook, do laundry, I even iron,” Hitoshi rattles off like he’s a disenchanted housewife’s gadget – the helpful son – rather than a teenage boy. Not his own clothes, going by the creased shirt visible inside his even more crumpled blazer, but maybe his mother’s.

If the intended effect of this tirade is to make Aizawa laugh then it works, a rusty chuckle that slips out over his next slug of coffee. “That’s more than most kids your age.” The boys, at least.

Hitoshi returns as smoothly as a letter with return to sender stamped on it, “I think we’ve managed to establish I’m not like most kids my age.”

Aizawa makes a noncommittal noise over his cup before setting it back down, pointing at one of Hitoshi’s untouched bowls of greens. “You gonna eat that?”

Hitoshi lifts an eyebrow at him, figuring out if it’s a nag, probably. The issue settles when Aizawa reaches over the table to take it for himself. They don’t have much longer before they need to be back on-campus for the start of school. Aizawa needs the vitamins.

As if in acknowledgement of that looming fact, Aizawa’s phone buzzes in his pocket. He slips it out and is checking the message from Hizashi, which just reads ‘Breakfast?’ and to which he simply replies ‘Cafe’. If Hizashi’s already arrived at UA, then he might not be far out, though Aizawa has no certainty his best friend-lover will come to find him. But he might. Nothing wrong with an air of mystery to keep things fresh.

Barely a moment after Aizawa’s put his phone back down, Hitoshi pops the question, “Does your old lady mind you being out all night?” like he’s being clever, which he probably thinks he is. All his couldn’t-be-wrong assumptions that’ll come out sooner or later.

“Wouldn’t have lasted if that kind of stuff mattered,” Aizawa replies with careful concealment of anything slightly too informative, like gendered pronouns for a start. Not because he gives a flying fuck about what Hitoshi or anyone else thinks about same-sex relationships, but because it’s Aizawa’s relationship and he’s entitled to keep it private. Even if it’s just a matter of time with Hitoshi and there’s be a point where it’ll become inescapable, until that moment Aizawa’s keeping his cards good and close to his chest.

Hitoshi gives this some consideration as he puts more of a dent in his breakfast, then makes the ill-timed observation, “Not sure I can picture you with a girlfriend.” Hitoshi is trying to be scathing, but obviously has no idea how right he actually is.

Because right on time, in fulfilment of his hunch about Hizashi texting when he’s already on the way, Aizawa catches the canary-yellow plumage of a ridiculous bird strutting through the doorway of the cafe. With an amused smirk that Hizashi calls Aizawa’s ‘scaryface', Aizawa answers, “Me neither,” and watches Hitoshi's curious expression shift to outright puzzled. A piece of the story that’s not fitting – and how long until he realises what assumption he’s been making without questioning it?

“Hey!” Mic’s shout rips across the restaurant like a labrador whose owner has come home for the hundredth day in a row, in possession of all the information to know what’s coming, yet still reacting like it’s the surprise of the century. Hizashi gets a little closer and drops a few decibels before following up, “Well if it isn’t the Gruesome Twosome.”

Radiant in his freshly blow-dried morning glory, Hizashi raises a boot on the end a pipecleaner leg and plonks it square on Aizawa’s side, dropping into a lunge to shove him closer to the wall in the booth and make a sliver of space for Hizashi’s to wedge his ass into.

Hizashi’s no sooner got his butt on the seat than he’s in fully engaged scavenger mode, picking over the food Aizawa’s yet to finish like a vulture stripping a carcass. Unwraps his own set of chopsticks and just starts stealing Aizawa’s food as if it’s the most ordinary thing in the world.

Hitoshi looks… a little suspicious. Aizawa and Hizashi have always been friends and colleagues at UA. It’s just the estimation of how much further it goes that people tend to vary on. Hitoshi’s probably still trying to get a fix on it.

Hizashi’s naturally not bothered by anything; Aizawa would have more success trying to reason with a parrot not to eat birdseed than for Hizashi to behave any other way than whats comes naturally to him. It’s while munching on the rest of Aizawa’s veggies that Hizashi takes stock of Hitoshi’s half-empty cup after he puts it down from drinking, and voices an all-channels DJ Mic out-loud thought, “Should you be drinking coffee?” This turns into a follow-up that overrides Aizawa and Hitoshi’s mutual lack of enthusiasm for this line of questioning. “Should you be buying him coffee?”

“Go easy on Aizawa,” Hitoshi cuts into the fabric of the conversation like a pair of smooth-moving scissors. “He’s had a tough morning.”

“Oh I bet.” Hizashi directs this at Hitoshi, peering over the top of his mirrored shades with those piercing green eyes, eyebrows raised and his top lip lowered so he’s got a kind of over-groomed set of brackets framing his face. “But I thought I asked you to keep him out of trouble?”

“Don’t look at me,” Hitoshi replies pretty easily for a kid chatting case details with one of his teachers – part showcasing, and the rest parading his claim on Aizawa as he tries to get a grip on just how Hizashi factors into that equation. Hitoshi hasn’t quite got it yet – no telling what it’ll take to flip his current thinking into considering Aizawa and Hizashi as anything other than friends. It’d taken them seven years, so Aizawa’s not in a place to judge anyone. “Trouble just finds him.”

“Sure does,” Aizawa jumps back in before Hizashi’s got a word to get in edgeways. “You’re here.”

Hitoshi’s grinning with a pretty manic edge, but maybe that’s the scarce amount of sleep talking. “As I recall it, you came looking for me.” He takes a defiant sip of coffee, a glance he flicks at Hizashi like marbles in a playground before centering back on Aizawa. “That still makes you the trouble.”

Hizashi laughs like the crow of a rooster. It was Hizashi's class that Aizawa pulled Hitoshi from in the first place, so Aizawa’s got no deniability. “Kid’s got you there.” He elbows Aizawa and simultaneously goes for the rest of his soup, at which point Aizawa moves just fast enough get there before Hizashi. Aborting his swipe at the last moment, Hizashi takes a conciliatory pinch of Aizawa’s rice.

“How long do we have before school?” Aizawa has a clock on his phone, but when Hizashi’s a talking one, who needs the tech interaction?

Hizashi’s head gives a perplexed quirk. “Oh no, you’re both already like, ten minutes late.”

Aizawa starts to move first and hears Hizashi snort second. Hitoshi’s looking a little concerned, but hasn’t actually moved as of yet, making Aizawa the person who cares the most about being at school on time by default. Likely because he’s the one most likely to lose his job over it. And Hizashi is just winding him up.

Aizawa levels a narrow a glare at Hizashi, then sinks back into his seat with a low murmur that chugs like an engine, “You don’t mean that.” Hizashi’s been yanking Aizawa’s chain for fifteen years, he’s gotten pretty good at sniffing out his bullshit.

“Okay, it’s not for ten minutes, but that gotcha moving.” Aizawa shoves Hizashi, but it’s mostly to push him out of the booth and get up after him. They’re basically done here anyway.

“Mic said we’ve got time, what’re you in such a rush for?” Hitoshi cajoles from the seat he’s yet to vacate, hand still wrapped around his coffee cup like he wants to hang onto this moment just a little bit longer. But they’ll have lots of time.

“Students should get to the classroom before their teachers,” Aizawa drones as he plucks Hitoshi out of his seat like a fresh radish from the ground, depositing him on his feet with a tired friend helping a tired friend kind of resignation. “We’re making this sacrifice on your behalf.”

“Gee, thanks a lot.” Hitoshi reaches up to push Aizawa’s hand off his shoulder, but that act in itself merits a moment of contact. One that takes a moment of sitting before moving on, Hitoshi’s too-big-for-him teen hands tangling fingers with Aizawa’s to flick them off his shoulder. “You shouldn’t have.”

“Believe me, I really should,” Aizawa replies with all the authority he’s been slowly jettisoning with Hitoshi as they sail down this river. A still moment in the stream before it all turns back to white water.

Hitoshi finally breaks away just before the gates onto the UA campus. He might not have minded being seen walking around with Aizawa, but chumming up with Aizawa and Hizashi might be too suspicious a story for even Hitoshi to explain if he runs into any of his classmates. Keeping a low profile isn’t exactly compatible with being buddy-buddy with any of the teachers here. Especially the school’s most famous sports commentary double-act, or so Hizashi insists on referring to them at the staff meetings. It gets them paid by the TV companies in any case; Aizawa doesn’t mind that.

When they’re almost at the gates, Hitoshi delivers a record-breakingly low-energy “Bye,” and slumps off looking about as awake as most teens first thing in the morning – which is an achievement, given he was up most of the night.

Hitoshi is no sooner out of view than Aizawa hooks Hizashi by an elbow and yanks him close enough to press a scratchy, mostly-stubble kiss on the cheek. It’s a rare show of affection, but he misses Hizashi plenty when they’re apart, so he takes his opportunities when he can get them: any time where they’re truly alone, no intimacy-cancelling presence of someone they’re (but mostly Aizawa’s) unfamiliar with in that way. Like Hitoshi.

It takes Hizashi about three seconds to work the rest out thereafter.

“You can’t be serious!” Hizashi gasps excitedly as he links his arm around Aizawa’s neck and grins, hanging back for a second as their amble drags to a stop. “You’re keeping us a secret?

“Not a secret,” Aizawa replies aloofly. “He just hasn’t figured it out yet.”

Hizashi’s laugh is as bright as a rising sun, and he uses the arms he’s placed around Aizawa’s neck like a garland to swing them into changing places, pressing Aizawa’s back to UA’s exterior wall. Anyone could see them, but Aizawa doesn’t care about anyone.

“So we can’t be together in front of the kid?” Hizashi poses with a wiggle of his quaffed-poodle moustache. Aizawa once shaved half of it off for a laugh when Hizashi was passed. Hizashi was outraged and got him back by shaving off Aizawa’s eyebrows the next time Aizawa was the one passed out beyond reviving (later that week). The joke ended up being on Hizashi in the end, because far more people noticed he’d shaved off his beloved ‘stache than they noticed Aizawa’s having no eyebrows underneath the unruly mop of his hair.

“I never said that,” Aizawa replies carefully, still figuring out which way Hizashi’s going to fall on this particular discretion. His reactions are still a lottery Aizawa plays for fun, even knowing he won’t always win.

It doesn’t take long. Hizashi plants a kiss square on Aizawa’s mouth, grins with his full set of pearly whites and declares, “It’s just like a drama! I love it!”

Aizawa grins, straining around his and Hizashi’s respective neck-gear to steal another smooch. “Of course you do.” Finally, Aizawa pushes him away, backing the leather monstrosity off him. “Come on, idiot, I can’t afford to be late.”

Hizashi falls into step beside Aizawa obligingly but doesn’t let off too easy now that Hitoshi’s gone. Hizashi’s a certifiable lunatic most of the time, but he’s also an adult and can filter the things into an appropriate time and place.

“So this hard morning of yours,” Hizashi offers like an invitation to a party Aizawa doesn’t want to go to. “Anything you wanna tell me about?”

“We don’t have time for that.” Aizawa dodges like someone making the barest adjustment to not smack their head on a low doorway, just chipping the top of their scalp instead.

“Because you won’t make time for it,” Hizashi replies with a tighter-wound tension in his voice. “ Shota–”

“I know,” Aizawa interjects before Hizashi says the things he’s obviously going to say; they’ve been through all this before, too many times to count. He knows the drill, what he’s supposed to do, it’s just actually sticking to it that’s the problem. “I’m trying.”

Hizashi turns to one side to catch Aizawa in his mirrored ‘I see you but you don’t see me’ gaze. “Are you?”

Aizawa puts a hand to his face, realising as he brings it back down that his fingernails are particularly filthy – it’s the blood, always gets into those hard-to-budge crevices. “Trying isn’t synonymous with succeeding.” Fuck knows that’s a lesson he’s learned plenty of hard ways.

“It shouldn’t be that hard for you to talk to me.”

“It isn’t– just…” Aizawa sighs, knowing that Hizashi is being reasonable, and he’s the one sitting in his box unable to explain what it’s made of. So he tries a different approach. “What do you want to know?”

That’s easier – give the impetus to Hizashi, let him direct Aizawa to the things he wants to know. Even if Aizawa can anticipate those questions in his sleep, it’s easier responding to the external query than trying to grab each live snake by the head as they writhe around in the chaotic pit of his head right now.

Hizashi breaks Aizawa’s heart with a few simple words, but then, he’s gotten used to it being smashed of recent. “Are you in danger?”


“Yet you got stabbed last night,” Hizashi points out neutrally. “Where was that, by the way?”

“Here.” Aizawa thrusts out an arm, dragging the sleeve up. It was handled so professionally that there’s only the barest mark where the incision was healed back up by Recovery Girl, but Hizashi fingers it like he wants to be sure all the same. “I was just in the way of a lunatic with a knife, it wasn’t personal.”

“Just because they’re not out to kill you specifically doesn’t make it safe.” Hizashi drops Aizawa’s arm, pushing it away to swing back by his side. “What about the kid?”

Aizawa feels Hizashi’s razor intuition cut slightly closer to the bone. “What about him?”

“Don’t play dumb with me,” Hizashi scolds, tapping a finger on his cheek: the spot of Aizawa’s newest scar following the USJ incident. “We both know what you’re like.”

“I was supposed to watch a kid die instead?” Aizawa knows he’s being prickly, but if Hizashi’s about to get up his ass over the fact that Aizawa will risk his own life to save a child’s they’re only going to head into choppy waters.

“You’re supposed to keep them out of a situation where anyone has to die,” Hizashi comes back.

Aizawa’s head is certainly spinning. “I didn’t have a choice at USJ.”

“I’m not talking about USJ!” Hizashi snaps this time, and Aizawa stops in the almost-deserted schoolyard before they enter the main building. “I’m talking about you taking Shinsou into environments he’s not ready for and paying the price for it yourself.”

“It’s not like that.” Aizawa doesn’t rise to Hizashi’s flaring temper: a screaming match is a terrible way to start the day.

“I don’t know what it’s like if you won’t fucking talk to me about it.” Hizashi’s black-gloved hands flutter like agitated crows, so Aizawa snags the closest to him and gives it a squeeze.

“It’s… hard to talk about just one piece in isolation,” Aizawa tries to placate. “But having him around, if anything, it’s safer.”

This is harder for Hizashi to process, but oh, he’s still trying to get it. Still believes in Aizawa. “Why?” The snare is set very gently, but it’s there all the same. “He’s not allowed to use his quirk.”

When Aizawa caveats, “Except in emergencies,” Hizashi slips his grip to punch him lightly in the arm.

“I knew it,” Hizashi triumphs. “I knew you were getting mixed up in that–”

“Don’t call it creepy,” Aizawa jumps in urgently.

“Creepy?” Hizashi’s head quirks, fully cockatiel. “I was gonna say shady, but if you say so.”

“It’s not. Creepy, I mean,” Aizawa stutters like a train that keeps getting the power shut off before it can leave the station. “That’s just a perception brought about by his father. Hitoshi’s quirk is powerful, a lot more powerful than anyone’s realised, I think, but it’s not like that.”

“How would you know?” Hizashi skips any rigging and full-on throws the next bear trap. “I thought you weren’t gonna let him use it on you.”

The revelation – that Hizashi hasn’t even got this level of knowledge – makes Aizawa understand just how much he’s truly been keeping Hizashi in the dark. And how smart Hizashi really is, for being able to work out everything he has – all the nuances of how Aizawa feels about Hitoshi in ways he can’t even explain himself, based on the limited information Hizashi’s been given. Aizawa would fall for him all over again.

“I… changed my position,” Aizawa phrases carefully, conscious of what he’s saying in a place where rat-bear-mice could be running through the walls for all he knows. “Further exposure leads me to believe the experience someone has under a brainwashing quirk is a reflection of the user’s mentality.”

“What’s that supposed to mean, Professor?” Hizashi jests, but doesn’t realise what he’s dancing over. Or maybe he does, which is even worse.

“Don’t call me that,” Aizawa growls, but it’s more playful than real resistance. “It means being controlled aligns with the kind of person the brainwasher is.”

“So a creep feels creepy? Makes sense,” Hizashi remarks thoughtfully, and then with a much more canny air, practically bristling his moustache like he’s taken up detective work himself, “So, what does Hitoshi feel like?” The phrasing is super not good language to be said literally on school property, but Nezu can’t be everywhere all at once.

Hizashi packs neat layers of implication into his remark like a meticulously made bento. The suggestion that Aizawa has relaxed his ‘no brainwashing’ policy and has allowed Hitoshi to use his quirk on Aizawa – not to mention the echo of Aizawa using Hitoshi’s given name, instead of referring to the family curse. Being a Shinsou certainly didn’t do Hitoshi’s mother much good either.

But Aizawa is immune to any feelings of doubt or even guilt over his choices or opinions about them. He’s only done and said what he feels to be right, and there’s no shame in that.

It’s for this reason that he shifts his tired gaze a few degrees around to meet Hizashi’s, and without the slightest reservation, lays his cards flat on the table; Aizawa keeps a lot hidden from a lot of people, but not Hizashi. Never Hizashi. “A Hero.”

Chapter Text

In an improvement on yesterday, Aizawa has a relatively calm homeroom, where Iida and Bakugo are the only students who throw a fit – and it’s at each other, so that really only counts as one – and then gets through teaching his horribly bored second-years classic lit without falling asleep more than twice. In fact, Aizawa makes it all the way to the end of second period without departing from the normal no-case-eating-his-whole-life day before being disturbed by a knock on his classroom door. Which is an unfortunate disturbance of Aizawa’s nap, rather than a lesson.

It’s another of Ectoplasm’s clones, drawing the door open with a dead, toothy stare that makes Aizawa feel like a pounced-on deer looking up at a panther. “The Principal—” the clone starts.

“Wants to see me. Yeah.” Aizawa rubs his face and tries not to groan out loud. So much for thinking he was going to get a day out of the grinder. “Okay.”

On the way up, Aizawa hazards the question, “Do you know what this is about?” This must be one of Ectoplasm's clones, because it just nods and seems unable or unwilling to answer further. Unless– “Are you allowed to tell me?” The clone shakes its head this time. “Great,” Aizawa says out loud and sarcastically enough that the clone shakes its head once more at him, and more disapprovingly. But this is hardly what Aizawa needs after a long, restless night.

The smell of freshly brewed tea wafting from Nezu’s office is the only comfort to be found in what's sure to be another unpleasant experience. It's in world-weary recognition of this fact that Aizawa drones, “What now?” as he strides through the door in a way that almost makes it sound like, “kill and bury me in a shallow grave”.

“Aizawa, please come in and make yourself comfortable. Recovery Girl mentioned you had her up at unsociable hours removing a piece of kitchenware from your body this morning, so you must be tired.” It's small, but Aizawa catches a curious reactionary noise from the Ecto-clone.

“It's fine, just cut myself chopping some carrots,” Aizawa bullshits like a pro, more as an act of defiance than needing to keep secrets from Nezu – the man-mouse likely knows the full story already. Aizawa's just batting him around like a mouse between a cat's paws. Or vice-versa.

“A likely story.” Nezu’s sitting all the way back on his sofa with his clunky shoes bouncing merrily over the edge of the antique furniture with which he adorns this scholastically twee office-come-teahouse. “Now, can I presume you know what this meeting is about?”

“No.” Aizawa reaches the sofa opposite to Nezu and slumps into it, sliding all the way back and then – he wouldn't do it in front of Hitoshi, but Hitoshi's not here – props his legs up over the corner of the coffee table, so his boots hang off the end but he manages to lay almost flat. “Enlighten me.”

Nezu’s tail flicks. “Yesterday afternoon, a number of enquiries were made to the school regarding your and Shinsou's involvement in an investigation into the murder of a high-profile lawyer.”

“Did you answer them?” Aizawa asks boredly. Which would be because he’s bored.

“I felt there was little other choice.” Nezu puts his paws together and drums the soft beany pads on them against each other. “They also asked us to confirm that our Shinsou is indeed the son of the imprisoned Dr. Shinsou.”

Now Aizawa’s getting the picture. “Press?” he asks limply.

“Then I take it you haven't been privy to the morning news?”

“Clearly,” Aizawa replies unenthusiastically. “Do I wanna know?”

“I'm rather afraid you're about to have no choice in the matter,” Nezu says with his cheeriest “you're fucked” tone. The Principal lifts a folded paper at his side and unfurls it like a person trying to put out a beach towel on a particularly breezy day.

The front cover is a long-lens shot of the courthouse Aizawa and Hitoshi were ducking the police tape in front of yesterday – and oh, there they are in the corner of the shot. That's… fucking annoying.

“Do they know about the prison visits?” Aizawa questions with all the reluctance he feels bursting out of him over this topic.

“Thankfully, no,” Nezu answers. “However, it’s already quite a pickle, so I’d thank you not to make it any worse in the coming days.”

“I’ll call up the killer, let her know,” Aizawa returns frostily, and this is all a bit deja-vu from yesterday, sans Hitoshi lolling all over the sofa like Aizawa’s doing now. They’re so similar, even Aizawa can see it at moments like this.

“Speaking of making things worse,” Nezu introduces with another flicky-flick of his tail – he must be quite agitated. Aizawa hears footsteps outside the door before Nezu speaks again, and the premonition of what’s coming hits him like ocean spray in a fresh breeze.

Aizawa turns his head at a truly unnatural angle, neck pinching as he cranes over the back of the sofa and sees Hitoshi stomp into the doorway with another of Ectoplasm’s errand-clones behind him. Turns out the kid was missing from this scene after all.

When Aizawa last saw Hitoshi, he was half-asleep but still half-awake, and didn’t look more unhappy about it than most stroppy teens of his age and particular disposition. But now he’s got a face like rolling thunder, like lightning would spark from the friction of his gaze whipping around the room, releasing the tremendous buildup of energy he’s holding. He looks like fury had a child with indignation, and the baby kept them up all night screaming. He’s, for lack of a better word, pissed.

Without knowing exactly what’s happening around him, but understanding that it’s something big, Aizawa locks gazes with Hitoshi. “What did you do?”

Hitoshi snorts with more contempt than Aizawa likes, while his pre-emptive sense for when shit is about to hit the fan bangs pots and pans together in his head. “Why’s it have to be something I did?”

“Please sit down, Shinsou,” Nezu says with a gloss of etiquette over freshly sharpened steel. “I had hoped we wouldn’t have to meet like this again.”

“Me too,” Hitoshi grumbles as he throws shut the Principal’s door more heavily than he needs to, letting out a thunderclap bang as it hits the edge of the frame. Hitoshi skulks around the sofa Aizawa’s melting on and then flops into it with such a sigh it’s a wonder the teenage angst doesn’t waft out of him in a thick fog.

“Now then. Is there anything you would like to say to start us off?” Nezu invites of Hitoshi, who Aizawa thinks will start raining on the floor if his expression becomes any more stormy.

“Nope,” Hitoshi replies defiantly, and not even Aizawa wants to intervene and invite such a wrathful god’s temper.

Nezu’s tail thumps on the sofa cushions. “That’s a pity.”

Aizawa addresses Nezu, trying to keep the worry from his tone and probably failing as far as the Principal’s sensitive ears are concerned. “What happened?”

“Shinsou, would you care to tell Aizawa?” Nezu suggests to Hitoshi in a way that’s not a suggestion, but Hitoshi’s not much in the mood for being budged. Another trait he shares with Aizawa. Hitoshi just stares blankly at Nezu, the unspoken “make me” hanging in the air between them like a noose.

“They were asking for it,” Hitoshi spits in the end, and Nezu’s tail gives a swish back and forth, his nose beginning to twitch more noticeably.

“Who was?” Aizawa’s getting annoyed with this now, and he was already fed up when he got pulled in here for the second day in a row. “Can someone get to the damn point already?” It’s an understatement to say Hitoshi being in trouble for something Aizawa didn’t give him permission to do puts Aizawa on edge; he’d bite bullets if it’d stop his teeth grinding together.

“Shinsou brainwashed his classmates a short while ago,” Nezu reveals ominously, and it takes Aizawa a second to digest the coded terms.

“All I did was make them go back to their seats and shut up,” Hitoshi growls, and Aizawa wonders how much of his sour mood is due to the lack of sleep and perhaps ill-advised caffeine coursing through his system – the crash after the high. Brings them back to the looming question of whether this is on Aizawa as much as the kid: to which the answer is always yes. “Really, they should be thanking me for keeping order.”

“You used your quirk on your classmates?” Aizawa puts to Hitoshi directly, and gets a ‘not you too’ sideways glare, but Aizawa’s not accusing – he just wants to know what the fuck’s going on. “All of them?”

There’s a lift in the corner of Hitoshi’s mouth, more of a twitch, but the fact that Aizawa sounds (and is) impressed is a bone this puppy’s ready to catch.

“That this is your initial reaction only confirms my suspicions, Aizawa,” Nezu remarks politely, shuffling forward on the sofa to reach for the teapot. “The rate at which yours and Shinsou’s dynamic has… developed is far ahead of the schedule I anticipated.”

“You planned this?” Hitoshi accuses like he shouldn’t have worked that bit out already. Maybe he has, but just wants to be a little shit about it. To say the Principal hadn't calculated all of this before he even suggested that Aizawa teach Hitoshi about being a Hero outside of the classroom would be to say a bear doesn't shit in the woods; of course the fiend did.

“I made some predictions,” Nezu rephrases cannily as he pours their three identical cups of tea. “However, it seems I miscalculated the speed at which the two of you would,” Nezu pauses for just a second to pluck the word like a chocolate from a box, “bond. ” Aizawa has an unpleasant flashback to the first meeting with Dr. Shinsou, how he said this would be a bonding experience for Aizawa and Hitoshi. He continues to be infuriatingly right about it, too. “By my original calculations, you wouldn’t have reached this level of attachment for about six months.”

“Gee, teach. Sounds like we really hit it off.” Hitoshi fires a lacklustre elbow-jab at Aizawa. The comment is pitched as if an aside, except that Hitoshi’s staring right at Nezu like he’d snatch the Principal’s mind if he thought it wouldn’t get him expelled in a heartbeat. That’s if he’s not about to get expelled. Shit.

“What were your classmates doing?” Aizawa turns to Hitoshi with a level of calm and respect he hopes will curry him some favour. That and all the attachment between them, which has to be good for something aside from getting them both in trouble.

“They found out where I was yesterday, and about my dad,” Hitoshi answers morosely. Nezu is quiet, no doubt deliberately allowing Aizawa to draw this information out of Hitoshi. “I tried telling them I couldn’t talk about it, but they wouldn’t fucking shut up so I just—” Hitoshi takes a deep breath, blinking slowly, and shifts his gaze from Aizawa to Nezu and then back again. “I know I shouldn’t have done it, if that’s what you want me to admit.”

“I can safely assume you’re aware of that much,” Nezu remarks. “The question remains, therefore, of why you proceeded to do it anyway.”

Hitoshi shrugs. “I wanted them to stop.” And it goes without saying, the quiet undertone of all that Shinsou legacy, that Hitoshi could have found much worse ways to silence his classmates than compelling them to return peacefully to their desks. Hitoshi crossed a boundary – ninteen of them, presumably – when he took control of his classmates without their consent. But if truly every one of them was pestering him, maybe even all at once, how far had Hitoshi’s boundaries already been crossed when he finally snapped? Made them leave him alone, when they wouldn’t be asked, didn’t respect the boundary Hitoshi laid out in words before he backed it up with his quirk. If Hitoshi was wrong, his classmates were wrong first. Maybe that’s not the fair, teacher-ey view to take, but Aizawa’s not feeling too much like a teacher right now.

In fact, Aizawa almost wishes he’d seen it go down – a whole class moving together, strung up under Hitoshi’s quirk like the Puppetmaster General. And after Aizawa questioned whether he could control that many people in a theoretical exercise. Sure proved him wrong.

“Perhaps you also wanted to be relieved of your obligations to the classroom,” Nezu points out coyly, and Aizawa feels a cold sweat breaking out. Hitoshi promised not to be caught skipping class anymore, but if he’s not meant to be in class then…

“What, because being in General Studies is so fucking enriching for me?” Hitoshi puts exactly as bluntly as the feeling deserves to be felt – a rusty axe chopping up rotten wood. Aizawa would stand and applaud him if he weren’t bone-bastard tired and already standing on extremely thin ice with the Principal. “If you’re going to expel me then just do it. I’m sick of pretending to be something I’m not.”

Aizawa’s mouth is too full of his heart to say anything right away, because Hitoshi’s right, he’s so fucking right that Aizawa wishes he could punch a hole through the Hero Course just for Hitoshi to walk through. Like if they won’t open the door, Hitoshi will just have to kick it down, with Aizawa behind him every step of the way.

“You’re too young to understand what you are yet,” Nezu tries to lecture, and Aizawa has the strongest urge to stomp on the man-mouse’s stupid fidgety tail.

Aizawa’s talking before he realizes the voice belongs to himself: “But I’m not.” His heart thumps in a way that it usually reserves for Hero work, adrenaline pumping through his veins screaming fight or flight, but Aizawa’s not running away from shit today. “Hitoshi deserves to be in the Hero course, and you know it.” Chomping on the bullet he's had clenched between his teeth since yesterday, Aizawa accuses, “You wouldn’t have put him forward for the Provisional License exam otherwise.”

“What?” Hitoshi sounds devastated by this revelation, and for a moment, the only sound in the room is the bouncing of Nezu’s tail against the sofa.

After a pause like white noise between channels, Nezu merely takes a relaxed sip of his perfectly brewed tea. “Ah, yes. I realise some of my actions might seem at odds with each other in that respect.”

Nezu doesn’t deny it, which is all the confirmation they need. This meeting is even more of a parent-teacher conference than yesterday’s; it’s just now Aizawa’s the disgruntled parent giving the Principal a bollocking for failing his son. Except Hitoshi’s not his son, just… Hitoshi.

However, Aizawa’s worked alongside Nezu a long time and knows the Principal’s easy touch with the delicate cargo of frazzled parents. “As the Principal of this institution, I can assure you this isn't the best way to proceed with young Shinsou's Academic career.”

“Then what is?” Aizawa’s the one growling now, but he’s fucking frustrated, and it’s not even his own future that hangs on the Principal’s shiny gold scales here – just a kid he cares about too much. Aizawa could be fired today and still wake up a Hero tomorrow, but Hitoshi’s life would take a very different turn if Nezu actually expels him over this. Which is Aizawa’s damn fault for pulling him into in the first place.

“I don’t think that’s a conversation either of you are ready for just yet,” Nezu says stiffly, and Aizawa’s hands tighten into fists. “I fear your personal investment has clouded your judgement, Aizawa.” No shit. Because if Hitoshi’s expelled over this: he’ll quit.

“I’ve always been clear about my priorities,” Aizawa says very, very carefully, because he’s holding back a hurricane of fire and if he lets the lid off that, Hitoshi’s expulsion will be the least of their problems. “I’m a Hero first–” and a human being, who forms attachments and will throw in every scrap of teacherly impartiality if it means standing up for what Hitoshi deserves.

“And a teacher second. I remember. Please, have some tea,” Nezu invites like he’s dosed it full of valium. Hey, maybe that’s what makes it so good. Nezu drinks it too, so it’d explain why he’s always so fucking calm. But maybe it’s just good tea – or magic, a la Hizashi.

With a deep breath of control, Aizawa reaches for a cup, lifts it to his mouth and downs the whole drink like knocking back a shot. It burns down his throat and only stokes the heat in his belly until he's ready to spit magma.

“There. I’ve had my tea,” Aizawa replies fiercely. “Whatever you mean to do, Principal, I’m sure it’s already laid out in your mind quite magnificently, so if you wouldn’t mind telling us.” So Aizawa can tell him where to shove it, if that’s what it comes to. It might. Fuck, this one’s going to take some explaining to Hizashi.

“You have left me few other choices.” Nezu’s obsidian eyes glint, the animalistic movement of his head as he adjusts his gaze between Aizawa and Hitoshi like he’s trying to divine how he allowed this scheme to go so wildly out of control. Aizawa can give him that answer easily: by underestimating Aizawa’s compassion for the disadvantage that school and society as a whole have stacked up against Hitoshi so unfairly, for no fucking reason at all. “I have to suspend you, Shinsou. You know that using your quirk is prohibited.”

“Woop-dee-fucking-doo,” Hitoshi replies in time with an unenthusiastic waggle of his finger, but Aizawa’s not corralling him for language or disrespect anymore. Not when Aizawa feels like being just as rude: as long as one of them’s giving authority the boot up the ass it deserves.

But if one of them is the rebel without a cause, the other still has to have some grip on reality. And Hitoshi’s a fucking teenager, which means Aizawa’s got to be the one to get his feet back on solid ground somehow. “Suspended for how long?”

Nezu’s nose twitches, like there’s something in the air of that question he’s trying to sniff out from Aizawa. Well, maybe even this cunning genius won’t see this one coming. “Until the resolution of this issue with Dr. Shinsou, I expect.”

It’s interesting how Nezu frames it, confirming far more in Aizawa’s mind than has ever been really put on the table. Even though it’s Shiyoko out there killing people, Dr. Shinsou remains the spider in the centre of this sinister web. And it’s something that’ll only become more clear if the dark instincts of Aizawa’s gut are anywhere close to foretelling the future.

“Is there something you’d like to add, Aizawa?” Nezu gives his tea a sniff before cementing it with a sip. Hitoshi isn’t expelled, that’s something. Not exactly good, but it could be much worse. A little more rope before they reach the end of it, though hopefully not to hang themselves with. Because here it is, Aizawa thinks as he stands on the precipice. Being a Hero — but even more than that, being what he is to Hitoshi — is an all-or-nothing kind of deal. He’s got no time for half measures now.

“I need to take a leave of absence from my duties as a teacher at UA. Effective immediately.” There’s only a handful of times Aizawa has needed to do this and never in solidarity with a student. But he’s never had a student like Hitoshi. Who isn’t even his student, technically. More.

A wry smile is fighting to appear on Hitoshi’s face, like he’s got to bite his lip to stop it cracking into a grin long and thin like a crescent moon.

“I see.” Nezu doesn’t sound too taken aback just yet. “And your reason for this absence?”

Aizawa doesn’t hesitate. Hesitation would suggest he’s unsure. And he’s never been more sure. The only thing he does is snatch the quickest look at Hitoshi, then return his deadpan gaze to Nezu. “Family emergency.”

“Well, well.” Aizawa can’t be sure, but he thinks he’s accomplished something very rare indeed: he’s surprised Nezu. “In light of your record at this institution, I suppose you can consider that request granted.”

Aizawa lets out a deep breath that’s not a sigh of relief, but the decanting of a rage that doesn’t have to be unleashed today. As in, that sneaky critter got away with it this time.

But of course, Nezu probably knows that too, smiling politely with those cutthroat eyes as he sips from his teacup. “I’ll make arrangements to cover your classes until such a time as you’re able to return to your post.” Another threatening look, this one a steel garotte. “Do try to make sure it’s before the end of term.” That's right: Aizawa’s got to take his class to the fucking woods or something in the Summer Break. That’s going to be a problem if this case isn’t wrapped up in good time.

Aizawa wonders if Nezu had this stitched up from the moment he set foot in here. Even if the exact moves aren’t always as the Principal expects, the outcome is certain in his unreadable super-animal eyes. Aizawa stands like the pathway in front of him has been opened up by a bulldozer – with Nezu at the controls, as usual. No more school-life standing in the way of his real calling – their calling.

“Thank you, Principal,” Aizawa pays credit where it’s due to Nezu, but still comes with an ominous glare. “Come on, Hitoshi.” Hitoshi rises by his side as if commanded by powers beyond Aizawa’s mere request. “We’re done here.”

Whatever happens after the dust settles, they’ll find a way through it. Together.

In silence, they exit the Principal’s office, and it’s a bizarre testament to the helter-skelter dimension they’ve fallen into that it’s Hitoshi who asks Aizawa in the hallway, “You alright?”

“Yeah.” Aizawa doesn’t sound it, but he is. Alright, that is. This is simpler, no more split attention, vying back and forth between fundamentally incompatible responsibilities. Just a few loose ends to tie up. “I need a few minutes to pack up. Do you want to go home?”

“No. Ma won’t be there anyway,” Hitoshi replies easily. “I’ll wait for you.”

Aizawa doesn’t care anymore; not about who sees them together, what they think, or who he owes explanations to. Except for one person, who Aizawa knows will be teaching right now and can’t be pulled out of a lesson to deliver this kind of bombshell – and not in front of Hitoshi.

It’s going to get his ass busted, but Aizawa can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs. In this case, a message he sends to Hizashi and hopes for the best. It  simply reads, ‘Dropped out of school for a bit. Talk soon. Love you.’  

Tamakawa picks up before Aizawa’s first ring is even through, and as always he remains magnificently dedicated to the point. “Eraser. Need a lift?”

“Right as always,” Aizawa compliments. “Me and the kid. How long will you be?”

“To UA? About forty minutes. We’re just at the station.”

“Then we'll meet you halfway,” Aizawa replies. “I’ll drop a GPS pin.”

“Thanks. Catch you later.” Or sooner, but it’s the sentiment that counts.

Hanging up, Aizawa puts his phone away and then sets his weight back a bit before launching forward. Breaking into a high-powered sprint, Aizawa hits the wall, which is no more than a couple feet in front of him, running and scales it with the ease of a fly. Just before gravity kicks in, he pushes off the wall and leaps across the alleyway to grab onto an opposing balcony railing, then scales the next couple of floors in a few well-timed leaps.

When he gets close enough, Aizawa shoots a tendril of his capture weapon at the railing on top of the building where he’d started, swinging back across the alley and wall-walking the rest of the way up. Aizawa clambers over the balcony of the communal roof-terrace on top of the apartment block he’s just climbed, then turns around to sit on it, peering down to watch Hitoshi as he makes his own way up.

Hitoshi isn’t nearly as athletic as Aizawa, and he’s only got one coil of Aizawa’s capture weapon rather than the dozens Aizawa has, but he does nail the run-up and jump off the wall. In the air, Hitoshi twists his body and launches his single length of capture weapon at the first-floor balcony on the other side of the alley. The synthetic fabric latches onto the guardrail, and Hitoshi drops into a swing underneath it, like a purple spider at the end of a strand of web. He swings his feet forward to make contact with the wall and follows this maneuver with a scramble up to the first-floor balcony –the one that Aizawa reached in a single leap. Hitoshi’s less practiced at scaling the balconies Aizawa takes in mere seconds; at one point, he has to shift out of sight when a concerned housewife comes to peer out her window as he’s a little too clumsy in climbing past her second-floor balcony. Aizawa sniggers, and would probably light up a smoke if he had one. At least he’ll be able to leech off Tama soon enough.

Rather than leap across the alleyway several floors up, Hitoshi goes all the way up the building on one side, using his strip of the capture weapon to help him where his core body strength falls short. Aizawa’s pretty okay with that; he doesn’t want to have to jump from the top to catch Hitoshi if he doesn’t succeed at such a challenging leap. Hitoshi needs to have a good judgement of his own limits if he’s ever going to be able to keep up with his peers; he still needs to learn a huge amount to catch up with the growth all the kids in the Hero Course have experienced just by merit of being around each other. Allowed and encouraged to use their quirks on each other, rather than suspended for doing it. Aizawa’s blood begins to boil again, but he sets the pan to simmer on the back-burner and focuses on the path ahead.

When Hitoshi gets to the top of the building, Aizawa’s staring at him from the opposite rooftop. Instead of waiting (or worrying) about Hitoshi stringing a slackline between the two buildings, Aizawa sets it up himself. The line hangs at a slight incline from Hitoshi’s building, spanning the distance between the two structures. Aizawa perches on another guardrail, feet hooked around the middle bar to secure his balance as he watches and takes mental notes.

After performing these sorts of acrobatics in much more challenging settings, Hitoshi takes the line like he’s skipping down the beach boardwalk; fearless and controlled as he sets one foot confidently after the other, arms held slightly out for balance, legs moving smoothly as he treads his way up to Aizawa.

Because Aizawa’s sitting right next to this tightrope, it’s natural that Aizawa’s shoulder should happen to be the first hand-height support for Hitoshi once he reaches the end. Hitoshi’s hand is firm, pushing a decent amount of his weight into the sure anchor of Aizawa’s shoulder as he swings himself down to the ground. Aizawa doesn’t mind being used like a piece of human obstacle course.

Aizawa’s still facing out over Hitoshi’s tightrope when he hears, “So are we gonna talk about what happened back there, or is it all just taken as read?”

Hitoshi speaks with his back turned to Aizawa. Maybe that makes it a bit easier to say, given Aizawa’s hardly been forthcoming about going into what happened back in Nezu’s office. About what they’re doing.

Aizawa knows his class will barely miss his presence: hell, they’re probably overjoyed at the contact time with another Hero from the UA faculty. Whereas Hitoshi’s just been given a blank check with his personal Hero’s name on it, and it’s normal for that to take a minute sinking in. Physical exertion is a common trigger too – Aizawa’s seen plenty of teenage emotion unlocked by breaking a sweat.

So Aizawa makes it simpler. “Is there anything you want to say?”

“I know I keep thanking you, but–” Hitoshi puts a hand to his face, fingers groping across his forehead. “It’s just, no one’s ever–” Maybe Hitoshi’s realising they could have ended up here after his being expelled and Aizawa even being fired, but instead they’ve got a window of opportunity – a chance to prove once and for all where Hitoshi belongs. Where he’s going to get, if Aizawa’s got a goddamn thing to do about it.

“It’s okay.” Aizawa steps up behind Hitoshi’s sapling form and sets his hand on Hitoshi’s springy young shoulder. Not a gesture of practicality, but familiarity. “I just want what’s best for you.”

Hitoshi’s head hangs low as he takes a deep breath, which Aizawa takes to be the sign of someone reaching his saturation point: catching up with the rocket-speed of his own life, and needing a moment just to stop and fucking breathe.

Aizawa waits with him, until Hitoshi crushes the heel of his hand against a closed eye and mutters, “Guess I’m a lucky guy after all.”

Tama’s smoking against the hood of his police car when Aizawa and Hitoshi drop into the side-street in near-perfect sync on their respective abseiling capture-wraps. There’s no Yamaguichi riding shotgun or grinning merrily behind the wheel, which might be a disappointment for Hitoshi. Aizawa’s sure that, before they’re through at the station, Hitoshi will seek her out like a metal detector zeroes in on a needle in a haystack. Maybe even the other way around.

“I saw the guy Tsukauchi brought in this morning.” Tamakawa doesn’t quite growl with this statement, but he’s raspy with bitterness: thinking about places he could’ve been, if he were in the right shoes. Another bright spark Aizawa’s stuck fanning in the unforgiving dark. “That bitch sure went off the rails fast, huh?”

“I’ll be sure to mention to the Chief that it was you who called in her first victim,” Aizawa says with a warmth that tells him he’s missed Tama, even though he technically only saw his furry friend yesterday. Time stretches when sleep is only optional.

“Shame I won’t get the credit for catching her,” Tamakawa replies with a defeated shrug, turning around to open the door and climb back into the car. Hitoshi gets in the back, but Tama’s got cigarettes, and Aizawa’s had a hell of a fucking morning.

“Smoke?” Tamakawa offers right on cue as Aizawa settles into the passenger seat. There’s still half of a cigarette growing ash in the corner of Tama’s fuzzy mouth, but he's got an open pack in his hand, holding it temptingly out to Aizawa as Tama pulls the door shut and starts the car with the other.

“Thought you’d never ask.”

Aizawa’s lowering his window, but feels at least reasonably guilty about having Hitoshi in the backseat catching their fumes. However, Aizawa’s had to accept he’s not always good for Hitoshi, especially when he’s digging a lighter out of the deepest reaches of one of his inside pockets, igniting with an almost delirious sigh as the fresh nicotine rushes his system. And Hitoshi seems to like Aizawa’s influence whether it’s good or bad, still struggling just to find the words to thank Aizawa for the desperate gratitude he feels toward his benefactor and champion rolled into one.

It’s powerful to be believed in, even more so by someone you idolise, and Aizawa walking away from his job in solidarity with Hitoshi must seem like a big gesture to the kid. But Hero worship can be dangerous, Aizawa muses over his cigarette as Tamakawa zips through the daytime traffic on the way back to the station. Just as Midoriya turns himself into a sacrificial lamb in the vein of his own personal Hero, Aizawa’s more aware than ever of the ways his own vices will become the wrong kind of example for Hitoshi. But Aizawa’s not perfect; he just has to try and do the best he can.

The silence begins to drag, and Hitoshi leans into the gap of the two front seats to ask Tamakawa, “What do you know about the guy they brought in from our stakeout?” He does it on purpose, wanting to recognise his own contribution, but Hitoshi’s picking the wrong wound to rub salt in.

Tama finishes a final, sour pull on his cigarette and sticks it in a disposable, dashboard coffee cup that’s clearly been modified for such a purpose. “They’re calling him the zombie. Seems like he’s pretty messed up in the head.”

“Oh, you think?” Hitoshi replies sarcastically. “I don’t know much about how her quirk works, but if the effect is concentrated every time Shiyoko writes her name on him, I’d guess that guy’s brain is basically a milkshake.”

“The less you know about those kinds of quirks, the better,” Tama grouses with clear distaste, and Aizawa remembers this loose end they’ve left flapping. “Creepy as fuck.”

Aizawa leaves his smoking hand hanging out the window and chances a glance into the back, locking gazes with Hitoshi at once. A silent “do you wanna tell him or shall I?” conversation takes place between them. Hitoshi seems more amused by this fix than frustrated. It figures he’s desensitised to people reacting the way Tamakawa does.

“Oh, you’d be surprised by what I know,” is the only way Hitoshi chooses to reply in the end, a suave secret-keeping smugness held in the grin that Tama doesn’t notice, with his eyes rightly fixed on the road.

Aizawa does a little news-surfing on his phone and soon finds out why Hitoshi would have been pushed enough to use his quirk on his classmates. The media has broken out in fucking hysterics, drawing wild theories about the ‘Deathnote killer’ who’s ‘cleansing the city’ of men like the lawyer and the rapists he defended. Hitoshi’s picture is plastered over all the articles, identified as being ‘at the crimescenes’ then jumping straight to his relation to the infamous Dr. Shinsou and spiralling into unnecessary details of the 99 Massacre, in lieu of any information about the actual Killer on the loose.

No messages from Hizashi yet, which means he either hasn’t looked at his phone yet, or he’s waiting to chew Aizawa’s ear off the side of his head when he’s got adequate time for the task. Hizashi will understand (he’s lived with Aizawa this long), but Aizawa knows he’ll be worrying, and a worried Hizashi behaves much less rationally than a reassured one. That’s on Aizawa too – leaving his lover in the dark selfishly. Just because it comforts Aizawa to have Hizashi and his home life uncontaminated by all this mess.

“Have you kept up with the news coverage of this case?” Aizawa questions Tama carefully as he swipes over another article in which the zoomed-in shot of Aizawa and Hitoshi entering the courthouse – Tama and Yamaguichi stationary on each side – is followed by that same fucking headshot of Dr. Shinsou. Plus the journalistic spin-doctoring of how ‘suspicious’ it is that the Doc’s son should be spotted around this mess. It’s only suspicious if you half-chew the facts and spit them back out, but that’s journalism for you.

“I try not to,” Tama replies resentfully.

That’s on him, or he’d have realised who Hitoshi is by now. Tamakawa’s got all the makings of a good detective, and Aizawa feels for his frustration with the lack of opportunities given to him, but he’s got some work to do growing past the boundaries of his own bias. Being good at this work means leaving personal perceptions behind, interpreting the facts as a blank slate and reading only what’s there without tuning it to fit a palatable narrative. Of course, if anyone would tell Tama that, mentor him to reach his full potential…

“That’s a little short-sighted, don’t you think?” Never mind, Hitoshi’s got the base covered. “What if you miss some important piece of information, just because you had too much of a chip on your shoulder to look for it?”

“When you grow up watching people around you, people you’re just as good as, getting the chances you want, then you can talk to me about the chip on my shoulder, brat.” Tama doesn’t take his eyes off the road, but his enlarged hands are gripping the steering wheel tight, and when his golden gaze hits the rearview mirror for a moment, Aizawa suspects the glare Tama burns into it is all for Hitoshi.

“You don’t know what I’ve been through, furball,” Hitoshi retorts with rising antagonism.

“Easy, you two,” Aizawa intervenes as he stubs out his cigarette and drops it in the coffee cup. They’re almost back at the police station, thankfully. “The brat has a point, furball. That frustration should drive you forward, not back.”

“And who asked you?” Tama turns on Aizawa with the same all-purpose aggro, which is a shame, but not impossible to understand. People deal with things different ways.

“No one,” Aizawa replies patiently. “Just don’t be surprised if you find yourself blindsided by something you should have been more careful to look for.”

“I’ll skip the lecture, thanks,” Tama says with a tone caustic as paint thinner. They drive past a cluster of press people outside the police station (Aizawa makes a mental note) and into the protected police car-park.

They get out of the car and are heading toward the building when there’s a heavy thudding of someone running down the corridor from inside. The owner of the running feet bursts through the door before Aizawa’s even set a foot on the first step that leads up to the station’s side entrance. It proves to be Yamaguichi, flush-faced and explosive as she points an accusing figure at the youngest member of their party.

Then, with all the indignation that might have come from Tama if he’d taken the advice he was just so resistant to, furiously shouts, “Shinsou Hitoshi!”

There’s a moment of static silence, Tama staring in wide-eyed ‘did you fuckers plan this’ shock before Hitoshi raises both his hands on either side of himself as if in surrender. “You got me.” There’s an undeniably creepy lilt to his tone, a dose of that intoxicating Shinsou charisma as Hitoshi continues, “What can I do for you?”

Chapter Text

“So let me get this straight. You’re the son of that brainwashing cop-killer?” Tamakawa, all things considered, could be taking this a lot better. He glares at Aizawa with his sunflower gaze narrowed, ears twitching and just a flash of feline teeth in his mouth in the accusation, “And you knew about this?!”

“Of course,” Aizawa replies calmly.

They’d at least made it into an empty interrogation room before Yamaguichi started running around the police station hollering about the cop-killer son of Dr. Shinsou on the loose in the precinct. Aizawa always forgets the way cop-killer becomes something different within the police force, tinged with that dogmatic fervour of us versus them. Without a doubt, there’s plenty of people in here who’d consider the officers the Doc killed as an equivalent – even greater – tragedy than the students who still to some degree voluntarily entered into a death pact with the Professor. The cops he butchered were sent in unprepared for capturing a monster, and though their numbers were fewer, their deaths were certainly more brutal. Especially the one who came from this particular branch: the last of the Doc’s cop-killing spree, author of the Death is Freedom note written with his own entrails.

“So you just fucking failed to mention that fact to us?” Tamakawa can’t fit Aizawa and Hitoshi in the same angry stare, because Aizawa’s leaning against the wall on one side of the room next to the door while Hitoshi’s slumped over the table in the middle of it, looking kind of like he could use a nap after they’re through with this next round in the washing machine full of bricks that is today so far.

“I’ve inherited his brainwashing quirk too, seeing as we’re clearing things up,” Hitoshi offers with great disinterest. That and a little extra, Aizawa wants to add, but doesn’t. He can’t see it affecting this powder keg of a situation any way but explosively. No, they’ll tackle those nuances should they ever need to.

The amount of explaining they’ve already got to do is definitely enough, because Tama’s really losing his shit now. It’s actually kind of interesting to see him totally unhinged, a first for Aizawa. “You told me you were quirkless!”

Hitoshi’s unphased, the curl of a grin crouched in the corner of his mouth. “I lied.”

“Why would you lie to us? We’re the police, we’re supposed to be on the same side,” Yamaguichi appeals a little more rationally, though with a little more confused-hurt than angry. She’s closer to Hitoshi, after all.

“He thinks quirks like mine are creepy, fucked-up shit, right?” Hitoshi accuses with a corpse-cold look he casts over Tamakawa, who promptly looks away – like he’s afraid of making eye contact. “I didn’t want you to think I’m a bad person just because I have this quirk.”

“And because your father is an actual, locked-up villain,” Tamakawa delivers with a snarl.

Before Hitoshi can respond, Yamaguichi reaches a hand for Tama and grips his arm. “That’s not fair. He can’t help who his father is.”

Aizawa watches the light shine a bit brighter in Hitoshi’s eyes: the effervescent relief of someone not reacting the way… well, the way Tama is.

However, they're not quite out of the woods yet. After the dots connect in the almost-visible thought bubble above Yamaguichi's head, she says a very clever thing indeed. “Is that what happened the first time we met?” She looks at Hitoshi, whose face is an open book for her in return. “The guy you told to lay in garbage…” The cogs turn, and Hitoshi’s little indiscretion comes back into the spotlight. “You… used your quirk on him.”

“And you thanked me for it,” Hitoshi says with a control so perfect it reminds Aizawa all too uncannily of Dr. Shinsou. That tranquil, painted landscape stretched over a scene of total devastation. “Would you like to take it back?”

Aizawa has seen Yamaguichi have a moral meltdown before and remembers this is only her second week on the job – and to stumble into this. Aizawa can only hope Hitoshi gets through to her. “I… that's illegal, I'd have to…” Yamaguichi visibly starts to struggle, plumbing the hidden depths of Hitoshi’s actions. The risks he took for no other reason than he felt it was the right thing to do. “You didn't even know me.”

Aizawa remembers the night well. He'd sworn he would report Hitoshi himself, but in the moment had found every fibre of his gut telling him it would be wrong to let Hitoshi be punished for what he did. Standing up for someone he hardly knew, teaching a lesson to an everyday villain: what Heroes do.

“Please, Yankumi,” Hitoshi asks in plain terms. Before they cart Hitoshi off and arrest him for doing a good deed. Over Aizawa’s dead body. “I just want to talk.”

Yamaguichi may be stalled, but Tama's powered on rocket fuel and takes over the moment he realises his partner’s actually listening to them. “No way, this whole thing is fucked. If he’s been using his quirk on civilians, you can't expect us to–” Tama’s walking for the door, which is when Aizawa takes a tactical side-step and puts himself between the exit and Tamakawa.

“We’re just talking, Tama,” Aizawa echoes more calmly than he feels, watching Tamakawa’s denied grip hover just in front of Aizawa’s abdomen. Though his hands are relatively human, Tamakawa’s got more noticeable pads on his palms and the tips of his fingers. His pointed nails are well-kept, and would surely do a nasty bit of damage if he scratched anyone. Hopefully they’re not about to find out how much damage.

Tama’s saucer eyes meet Aizawa’s, and they’re a lot of things: betrayed, angry, afraid. They’re supposed to be friends, and secrets of this scale, such a harsh misjudgement of the lay of the land, hurts. It’s never easy seeing someone Aizawa cares about upset, but he juggles so many conflicting priorities these days it’s a wonder he hasn’t run off to the circus to become a clown.

Steadying himself with a single slow blink, Tama issues a stiff, “So talk.”

Aizawa takes a deep breath, and tries to figure the best way out of this mess.

Thankfully, Hitoshi steps up to the plate first. “I want to be a Hero. I’ve always wanted to be a Hero.”

“You’ve got a funny way of going about it.” Tama turns just enough to glare over his shoulder at Hitoshi, still sprawled on the table like a specimen for examination. That’s largely Aizawa’s fault; he’s got a funny way of going about being a Hero himself.

“I haven’t been given many chances,” Hitoshi replies simply. “Just by Eraserhead.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Tama chews on like cod liver oil tablets. This is hard for him, but it’s a language Tamakawa still understands: denied opportunity, being noticed by Aizawa at the back of the pack. Aizawa’s got an eye for dark horses – he used to be one himself.

So Aizawa decides to just dish up the truth once and for all, see who can stomach it. “He’s not in the Hero Course at UA.”

It’s a testament to the way Hitoshi’s worked things with Yamaguichi that her initial comment to this is a shocked, “You’re still in school?”

Slightly behind this, but still overlaid with it, comes Tama’s more reasonable shout, “He’s not in the Hero Course?!” Aizawa’s glad that he’s between Tamakawa and the door right now, though he doesn’t doubt Tama would try to claw a hole through his torso to open it up, were he determined enough.

“My quirk only works on people, so I couldn’t pass the entrance exam for the Hero Course,” Hitoshi explains like he’s as dead on the inside as he looks on the outside. “I got accepted onto General Studies, but I’m going to be a Hero.”

Tama’s staring back at Aizawa again. He’s a smart kitty, quickly putting the puzzle together now he’s finally got the full set of pieces. Aizawa gives him a moment to figure it out, sure he can see it happening in a slight dilation of Tama’s eyes as he focuses intently on Aizawa. “That’s where you come in.”

“I wanted access to Dr. Shinsou,” Aizawa states as plainly as the whole mess can be put down to a strict timeline. “I found out about Hitoshi’s connection to the Doc and promised to help him into the Hero Course if he helped me with this case.”

“Not quite the way you put it at the time, but close enough,” Hitoshi teases from his pose in the centre of the room. One foot up on the table, knee bent, while the other dangles loosely over the edge. Hands spread wide behind him, the epitome of me-me-me posturing that he probably never does consciously. That’s how it is with kids who’ve had to fight for attention – at least, the positive kind. Programmed to put themselves in your way, so you have to notice them front and centre, desperate for something that’s so easy to grant.

Hitoshi’s quirk might be brainwashing, but his secret weapon is how he makes helping him feel so good , like correcting a mistake in the world’s homework.

“Is he even your intern?” Tama searches desperately for a grain of truth, and this is exactly why Aizawa hates to play favourites: they get upset with each other when they work out they’re not unique in their special relationship with teacher. Or that teacher sometimes lies. A ‘logical ruse’ he’ll claim if and when his bluffs all turn to bluster.

“Our arrangement sits outside of UA’s jurisdiction,” Aizawa answers cagily, probably making it sound much worse than it is by merit of being overly conscious of it.

“What he means is I don’t have a provisional license, so I’m not technically allowed to be his intern.” Hitoshi pauses for a second and flashes Yamaguichi a look that seems to bring the flush back into her cheeks. “But I do all kinds of things I