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Catalyze

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Shouto was washed up by age 22. He’d done the hero thing, crashed and burned, and was back living with his parents. His career was already a distant memory, over after barely beginning. His only solace was what a crushing disappointment he was to his father.

That thought was what got him out of bed most days. That and the excruciating pain of his meds wearing off. The only way he was getting more was dragging himself to breakfast.

With a groan, Shouto rolled off his futon. His clothes were laid out for him, as they always were by one of the housekeepers his parents employed. He never saw the staff come and go, but their nearly invisible presence invaded every aspect of his life. Shouto squirmed into the clothes, then with a sigh dragged himself to the wall.

Getting up is the hardest part, he reminded himself.

His forearm crutches leaned against the low table in the corner. If he pulled himself on top of the table, it was easier to get the crutches underneath him. It was an everyday inconvenience that made him miss the western-style bed he had back in his old apartment. If he was still there, he could just swing out of bed. Instead, he was left pushing himself up the wall with one leg, trying not to put any pressure on the other.

Once that was done, he awkwardly shoved open the sliding door and headed out, not bothering to close it behind him. Someone else would do that. That’s what they paid people for.

In the dining room, his mother sat at the chabudai , staring into the courtyard. Her food sat untouched in front of her. She turned to look at Shouto, and he hated the expression on her face. Like every time she looked at him it caused her physical pain.

“Do you need help sitting down?” she asked.

“No.”

It came out sounding more aggravated than he meant. Speaking to his mother always felt like walking across a frozen lake in the dark. He wasn’t sure where was safe, how to navigate, so mostly he avoided it.

Shouto lowered himself to the table, suppressing the pain he felt in his right leg. Life wouldn’t be so hard if his family didn’t insist on traditional furniture and flooring. But they did, and he’d learned from a young age that you twisted yourself to fit the household, not the other way around.

As he began to pick at his rice, his mother rediscovered her own food. She sighed and started to eat.

Four years. After fighting so hard, that’s all the time I got away from this place, he thought to himself.

“How are you feeling?”

“Fine.”

She asked him that several times a day, sometimes multiple times in one sitting. Shouto wanted to really answer her sometimes, tell her he hurt and he was angry and this place wasn’t making him better. He never did.

After deciding he’d eaten an adequate amount, she rose to get his medicine. The doctors had suggested that maybe, given recent events, Shouto should have someone monitor his painkiller usage. So he had to take his medication from his mother like a child.

“I’m going to meet Fuyumi for lunch today. Do you want to come with me?” she asked, placing the pills in front of him on the table.

“No.”

His mother let out a small sigh, and the look on her face said she wasn’t surprised at his answer but still disappointed anyways. Cramming the pills in his mouth, Shouto washed them down with the remainder of his tea. He forced himself up from the table, leaving as quickly as he could.

Endeavor had already left for work. His duties as Number One Hero meant he was often gone early and back after dark. Age was catching up with the old man, and he was working longer days than ever in order to keep up his high capture rate and maintain his position.

If nothing else, at least being here means I get to watch his fall from the top firsthand.

Shoving open the door to the training room with one crutch, Shouto breathed in the familiar smell of fresh tatami and lingering smoke. The mats had a soft give that squished under his crutches, making his footing unsteady. Keeping close to the wall, he made his way around the edge of the room.

This place had been his personal hell when he was younger. Hours every day in pain, worked to the brink of exhaustion. However, he’d been using this place to burn off energy, and for that he was grateful for its existence.

After Shouto had left and his father lost his only sparring partner, the man had started acquiring more weightlifting equipment. Shouto had never focused that much on weightlifting, since hand-to-hand combat was a more efficient training method and he had no shortage of eager combatants at the agency. Back when he was employed. Now he was in the same position as his father, lifting weights for lack of another outlet.

His doctor would disapprove. He was supposed to be recuperating, getting his strength back. His shoulder still ached from the impact, and exercising definitely made it worse, but he was used to a little pain. Pain from working out, using his body, that felt natural. That was something he knew how to deal with.

Besides, if he sat around and waited for the doctor’s approval, he’d atrophy. That thought scared him more than he was willing to admit. If he let himself waste away, then it would be admitting that it was all real. That his life as a hero was over.

He was being delusional. It didn’t matter how much he trained, he wasn’t getting back what he’d lost.

Shivering, Shouto realized his right half was starting to ice over. He’d frozen himself to the bench.

That’s what you get for letting your mind wander.

Gritting his teeth, he shook himself free from the thin layer of frost cementing him down. At least it had been ice this time, and not fire. His parents had taken the necessary precaution of putting fire extinguishers in every room, and they had definitely seen use.

“Shouto?” Rei called, pushing him out of his thoughts.

With a sigh, he reached for his crutches. It wasn’t that his training was a secret so much as getting caught in the act meant he had to endure more pained looks from his mother. She never actually said anything against it, which somehow made it worse.

He was halfway to the door when it slid open, and his mother peeked in. Her trademark look of worry greeted him.

“Shouto, a friend is here to see you.”

“Friend?” he asked, confused.

“I didn’t catch the name, but he says he’s from your agency.”

Not a friend, then. A work associate. That made more sense. They were probably here to drop off more severance information or maybe a gift basket. Shouto braced himself for another awkward social encounter and followed his mother to the courtyard. There, a young man was observing the koi pond with intense curiosity. His hair was a wild mess, curling around a lightly freckled face. Shouto didn’t recognize him, but then, he’d never been good with faces. Or names. Or anything to do with people.

The man was muttering under his breath, staring at the fish so intensely he didn’t notice Shouto approach. Shouto cleared his throat, but that failed to get his attention. Biting back his annoyance, Shouto spoke up.

“You’re here to see me?”

The man jumped and let out a tiny squeal. He whirled to face Shouto, almost tripping over himself in the process.

“Yes, that’s why I’m here! Nice to meet you! Except I guess we’ve already met before, huh?” he said, words coming out in a nervous clutter. “I wouldn’t be surprised if you didn’t remember me at all though, since we only met a few times and it wasn’t like I was anyone important.”

The man laughed nervously, fidgeting with the files he held.

After a short pause, Shouto realized the man was waiting to see if he remembered him or not.

“What was your name again?” Shouto asked. It didn’t matter. He was going to forget as soon as the stranger left.

“I’m Izuku Midoriya,” he said, holding out his hand. It was only then that he noticed the crutches, and he turned red faster than anyone Shouto had ever seen.

Shaking hands actually wasn’t that hard with these crutches. The arm cuffs meant he could remove his hands from the handle without them immediately falling over. However, he wasn’t feeling very charitable towards this Izuku Midoriya, so he let the boy (it was getting harder to think of him as a man) withdraw his offered hand, burning with mortification.

“What did you come here to tell me?” Shouto asked. He could see the boy wilt under his gaze.

“Well, I, uh, I don’t mean to be presumptuous, but as you may be aware, I was doing an internship at your agency to help gather data for my thesis-”

Shouto wasn’t aware of any of that. Possibly someone had told him at one point, but the information had been superfluous and he had long since forgotten it. Again the boy paused, looking for some glimmer of recognition. When Shouto had none to give, he sighed and continued.

“I heard about the circumstances of your injury, and was wondering if you had considered Quirk Therapy,” he said, gaze dropping.

“The agency didn’t send you here?” Shouto asked, although it was mostly for clarification. It’s true he didn’t remember this individual intern, but he’d seen plenty of them come through the office. He worked (had worked) for a large agency, and they always had a flock of interns. They were disposable. Forgettable. No one would trust them with anything important.

“Uh, no, I actually came here...on my own.”

Shouto should have told him to get out right there. However, it wasn’t like he had anything better to do. So with a sigh, he pushed past the intern to lower himself onto the stone bench next to the pond. Izuku Midoriya shifted uncomfortably on his feet, obviously not sure if he should sit down beside him or not. Shouto provided no indication.

“Well, anyways,” Midoriya continued, still standing, “I guess I should explain from the beginning. I’m currently studying to be a Developmental Biologist, with an emphasis on Quirk manifestation. Basically, we’re studying the way the Quirk Factor interacts with a person’s body and trying to isolate the different genes that determine what a person’s Quirk is.”

“Eugenics,” Shouto said, eyes narrowing. “You’re studying eugenics.”

“No no!” Midoriya defended, waving his hands furiously and looking flustered. “I mean I’m sure there are people in this field with that in mind and I’d be lying if I said that we’ve never received funding proposals from groups with unsavory goals but I’m pretty sure we usually turn them down I mean that’s not my department I’m just a grad student but I assure you my lab has-”

He trailed off, voice shrinking to nothing under Shouto’s unblinking gaze. Finally, he summoned enough courage to continue, even though his voice was still small.

“I actually...got into this field to help people, you know? People who have Quirks they can’t control, that hurt their body or the people around them. When I heard about your accident, I figured…”

“Can you fix it?” Shouto asked. He kept his voice even, trying to sound as disinterested as always. Trying not to show how desperate he was for hope. “Can you make it so I can control my Quirk again?”

Midoriya hesitated, biting his lip. Finally, softly, he said, “I don’t have a cure on hand. And, um, it doesn’t look like one is going to be around for a while.”

Even though he kept perfectly still, the disappointment must have shown on Shouto’s face, because he could see the pity reflected in Midoriya. It made him sick. Who was this skinny, disheveled nerd to feel pity for him? Even powerless, even with one leg unuseable, Shouto was still pretty sure he could kick his ass.

“So what is it you want from me?” Shouto asked.

“I...I want you to be a research subject!” Midoriya said, stooping into a deep bow.

“Research subject?”

Shouto didn’t bother to hide the distaste in his voice. His intonation was obviously too subtle for this boy, who just raised his head to look at him with a puppy-like eagerness in his eyes.

“That’s right! There’s a surprising number of cases like yours, where something happens to trigger a destabilization of the Quirk Factor, causing an ability to deteriorate. If...if we can isolate what causes the deterioration...I don’t want to make any false promises, but...it could put us one step closer to learning how to fix it.”

“What are the odds?”

“What?” Midoriya blurted, looking lost.

“What are the odds,” Shouto said slowly and deliberately, “of this research finding a way to restore my control over my Quirk?”

“Oh, um, very low,” the other boy confessed. “We aren’t a medical lab, you see. We focus on understanding the technical side of how the cells interact with each other, and then that information can be used down the line for other labs-”

“You said low,” Shouto interrupted, “but you didn’t say zero.”

Midoriya let out a little giggle, replying, “I don’t want to give you any false expectations. Science can be...frustratingly slow. I mean, think of how long we’ve been studying certain diseases and we still don’t have a cure for them.”

“But this could be like smallpox or polio or something where you do find a cure.”

“Um, well, those were both viruses, and this is probably something more akin to an autoimmune disease, but-”

“But it’s not zero.”

“No,” Midoriya reassured, giving him a smile, “the chances of this research leading to a cure is not zero.”

“I’m in.”

The look on Midoriya’s face was positively euphoric. It was an emotion Shouto had never felt himself, but he’d seen it on his classmates back when he attended U.A.

“Oh thank you so much!” Midoriya gasped, bowing again. He pulled out the file nestled in the cleft of his armpit, extending it towards Shouto. “This has all the information you need. There’s several consent forms you’ll need to sign, and a general outline of the procedure we’d like you to participate in.”

Shouto took the file, feeling the heft of it in his hands. There was a good 20 pages in here. Midoriya was chattering away, talking about setting up an initial consultation and timeframes and thanking him several more times. Shouto didn’t hear any of it. His eyes were glued to the folder. While it was an unassuming manilla color, to him it looked like a golden ticket.

A hand entered his field of vision. He followed the extended arm to see a beaming face that radiated energy. This time, Shouto took the offered hand, giving it a shake.

“I’m so excited to be working with you!”

“Yeah,” Shouto replied, and was surprised to find it was true.

He didn’t think he’d forget the name Izuku Midoriya again.