[BigBoss] Bad news, crew. I couldn’t find the book we were looking for in the library. Which means if we want to track this particular book down, we’re gonna have to go a little off road with our digging.
[Houston] That’s fine. I’m meeting up with Deku today. I’ll give him the...book summary? And then see if he can track anything down.
[FrostedFlames] Yeah! I know a ton of villain junkies online who can help.
[THISISACLEVERNAME] It sure is great. That you have friends. With knowledge relevant to the current book we are reading. For our bookclub.
[RatedG] I respect your commitment to the bit, but Jesus Christ Al, lighten up once in a while.
[THISISACLEVERNAME] What bit? We are all just friends who looooove to read.
[BeKindRewind] No but seriously, your paranoia is pretty extreme, and coming from me that’s saying something.
[Cave_Johnson] Come on guys. Don’t make fun of Al just because he’s an enormous nerd.
[THISISACLEVERNAME] Hammer I trusted you to have my back.
[Cave_Johnson] I do have your back. I’m just going to make fun of you while I do it.
[SkitterCritter] I still think you’re cool Al
[BeKindRewind] Sweetie your standards are too low.
[THISISACLEVERNAME] @BigBoss everyone is being mean to me!
[BigBoss] You deserve it.
Shouto decided he’d had enough of the groupchat for the time being, so he tucked his phone away. It was disappointing that they didn’t have an immediate hit on their suspect. Not only did that mean more leg work, it also meant that whoever they were chasing wasn’t already linked to several crimes. If this figure was associated with some sort of shadowy underground villain cult, they would have to prove crimes before turning them over to the police.
Most likely this person is just some sort of middleman. A nobody messenger.
Shouto pulled out the sketch to look it over again. Shinsou had taken a picture of it so he could run it against the police database, but it wasn’t surprising nothing had turned up. It wasn’t exactly the most photorealistic rendition in the world.
He was on his way to the university for another testing session with Izuku. As excited as he was to see his friend, he was also dreading today’s experiment. According to the mad scientist himself, today they were hooking him up to some sort of brainwave-reading machine and seeing what happened when he used his Quirk. More specifically, Izuku wanted to see how his emotions affected his control. That was not something Shouto was especially enthusiastic about pursuing: being emotional. In front of Izuku. On command.
“These helmets are pretty expensive,” Izuku explained as they set up the experiment, handing him the heavy half-sphere, “so we won’t be testing the fire half of your Quirk. Like really, try not to break these, because we had to borrow them from another lab, and they will not be happy if we return them broken.”
Shouto turned the object over in his hands. It looked like the torture device of the future. On the outside it was mostly featureless, but the inside contained several sensors that were supposed to press directly against his skin.
“This thing isn’t going to shock me, is it?” he asked.
“No,” Izuku reassured him. “It’s for receiving input, not giving output. It just monitors your brain and tells me what parts are active when.”
Grimacing, Shouto held it up to eye level. He didn’t like the idea of anyone getting a look inside his head. They might not like what they saw. He didn’t like what he saw, most of the time.
“I promise it won’t hurt.”
He looked at Izuku’s sincere, kind face. Physical pain wasn’t what Shouto was really worried about, but he couldn’t accurately express just why this device put him on edge.
Time to stop being such a baby and bite the bullet, he said to himself.
With a reluctant sigh, he slipped the helmet on. Izuku had one to match, and he put his on as well. His hair puffed out from the bottom like fur trim on a fancy jacket. He looked more than a little ridiculous. Also adorable. Always adorable.
“The helmets will transmit the data back to my computer,” Izuku explained. “It’s actually a lot of raw figures to work with, so I’ll have to go through and decipher what everything means later. For now, we’ll just worry about giving me something interesting to look at. I’ll be the control, and we’ll compare my results against yours.”
“Great,” Shouto muttered, “you get a chance to show me up.”
He knew he was being pissy, but it was like he was watching himself in third person. He was merely an observer to his own infantile insecurities.
Rather than be taken aback, Izuku just placed a reassuring hand on his arm.
“Hey, we’re here to find a way to make you better, okay? I promise I won’t let it go to my head if I happen to be able to use my Quirk better than you when you are literally suffering from a debilitating case of Quirk Degeneration,” he said, giving Shouto a reassuring squeeze. “Especially since it’s the only time I’d even stand a chance.”
“I’m not entirely convinced that’s true,” Shouto replied, forcing a smile. “You’ve improved your Quirk so much lately, you could probably give me a decent fight.”
He wasn’t a reassuring person by nature, but it felt right to build Izuku up rather than tear him down.
“Okay, I’ll go first,” Izuku volunteered, “since I’m less likely to destroy the room than you.”
Shouto rolled his eyes at the jab, and Izuku shot him a grin. Standing in the middle of the room, the man went through the paces of his usual warm-ups. They had developed a makeshift kata for him to run through, basic punches and kicks accompanied by ice. Watching Izuku move was hypnotic. He’d shed his hesitance, motions now fluid and powerful. The effect was only mildly ruined by the ugly testing jumpsuit they were both wearing.
“Your turn!” he chirped when he was done, clearing away the built up ice with a wave of his left hand. Even his fire half he had so much control over now. Maybe it was because he had started learning as an adult, but he was learning so much faster than Shouto had back when he first began training. At age five. Yeah, being an adult probably gave him significant advantage.
With a sigh, Shouto positioned himself in the middle of the room.
“This time, use your power normally,” Izuku instructed from the sidelines. “Then we’ll do another take and compare how emotions impact your control.”
“Great,” Shouto replied.
Like Izuku had done before him, he started with several deep breaths to focus. He could feel the cold gather, especially in his right knee where the joint ached with the sudden temperature change. Raising his hand, he let the power flow out. And out. And out. As always, once it was on it was like trying to redirect and avalanche with a paper fan. All he could do was stop feeding it and wait for it to peter out.
“Hey, that only took 21 seconds to turn off,” Izuku said when the final flakes of frost fell from his fingertips. “That’s actually really good!”
It’s pathetic, but thanks for pretending otherwise.
“Okay, we’re gonna do it again, but this time, I want you to think about something that evokes an emotional response before you start using your Quirk.”
They had discussed this beforehand, but now that it came time to do it, Shouto was at a loss for what exactly he should think of. Izuku had told him not to think of anything too upsetting, just something that would get his heart beating a little faster. A five on a ten point scale. Did his emotions have gradients like that? For him, it was a lot like his Quirk. They were either gone completely or all there and uncontrollable.
Think of something older. Not recent. Emotions have expiration dates.
The idea was to think of something traumatic that had happened a while ago, so it wasn’t as fresh.
Shouto thought of the day he got the eviction notice in the mail. Of when he had come face-to-face with the fact that he no longer had the funds or the means to continue living on his own. Of the realization that he either had to move back in with his parents, or be homeless, or create a third option.
The emotions came fast. Time had done nothing to dull that sense of panic, of helplessness. His Quirk responded, but once again the reigns were wrested from his hands. He felt the temperature in his body shift, going from cold to hot in an instant.
No, not that one, he thought to himself violently. Don’t do this.
But it wasn’t up to him anymore. His body was determined to lash out, and he was just a spectator.
Rather than risk melting his crutch, he released the handhold as flames ignited on his fingertips.
“Shouto?” he heard Izuku ask behind him, concern in his voice.
As he fell to his knees, Shouto balled his left hand into a fist, trying to smother the fire. It wasn’t just his hand, though. He felt fire licking along his body, sprouting like weeds.
Izuku yanked the cord on the emergency shower above, and frigid water poured out and doused him. It was less like getting caught in a romantic rain and more like getting assaulted with a firehose. He felt a sting along his body as his flames met water and burst into steam.
As quickly as it began, it was over. The shower was off, his fire was extinguished, and he was a drenched, half-shirtless, shaking mess on the floor. He just wanted to stay that way, melt into a puddle and lay there until everything was gone. But of course Izuku was already hovering over him, assessing the damage and being so damn supportive.
“Oh gosh, it looks like you have burns from the steam. They don’t look bad, but we should probably put burn cream on them. Are you okay? Can you stand?”
“Is this helmet waterproof?” Shouto asked instead, because he currently couldn’t deal with his friend’s concern. “If not, then so much for returning it intact.”
“Uh, I mean there aren’t any sensors on the outside, so it’s a matter of how wet the inside got,” Izuku replied, gently taking the helmet from him and setting it aside. “That’s not really important right now. Let’s get you up and I’ll find you some burn cream while you change into dry clothes, okay?”
Shouto allowed himself to be helped up. He really didn’t feel like moving around, since he was still shivering from the water, but he forced himself to cooperate. When Izuku scampered off to grab a first aid kit, he peeled off the soggy jumpsuit and slipped back into his street clothes. He assumed after this they were done with testing for the day.
By the time Izuku came back, he was in dry clothing and had stopped shaking.
“I’m not that worried about the burns,” he insisted as his friend inspected the red streak along his arm. “It isn’t even blistering.”
I guess I’m more resistant to boiling water now than when I was a kid.
“Well I think I’m ready to make my next hypothesis about your Quirk Degeneration,” Izuku said, applying the cream regardless. “I predict there is a fair chance that the problem stems from your brain’s ability to turn your power on and off. There’s not a lot of solid data on how exactly the human brain interacts with and influences Quirks, but the fact that your emotions appear to strongly affect your ability to control them suggests something in the amygdala, which is weird because motor skills are in the cortex and most people assume Quirk control is located there, but-”
He was in science mode now, rambling away. Shouto let him, since he didn’t have anything to add to the conversation. After Izuku had taken care of his injuries and continued to speculate about what exactly was wrong with his brain, Shouto fished through his backpack until he found the drawing of the villain.
“Here,” he interjected, forcing it into Izuku’s hands. “This is the guy we are looking for. Ring any bells?”
Chewing his lip, Izuku looked over the picture for a solid minute.
“I can’t think of anything off the top of my head. At least, nothing exact. But I’ll ask around.”
“Good,” Shouto replied, reaching for his crutches. “If there’s anyone I trust to find an obscure villain on the internet, it’s you.”
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve had enough failure for one day.
He knew it was stupid to be so self-conscious about one slip-up in front of Izuku. However, his friend’s opinion had come to mean a lot to him. He wasn’t used to caring about what someone else thought about him, and that made the pain of embarrassment all the more acute. So while the other boy was already wrapped up in theories and muttering under his breath, Shouto slipped out to go home and nurse his wounded pride.