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Charge!

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The room is blindingly white. 

Deku. 

He needs to- he has to find- 

Dabi is here. 

He has to tell him. 

Hitoshi grapples with the white sheet pinning him to the bed, contrasting violently with his black vigilante outfit. Everything in the room almost glows painfully white save for his mask, a terrible stain on the bedside table, marring the canvas of perfection.

Hitoshi picks it up, the purple stripes catching the fluorescent light, shining against matte black. 

Holding it to his face, it's difficult to distinguish anything in the room through the perforated eye holes, white on white on white. His head hurts. He needs to find Deku.

The door to the room opens and Hitoshi jumps to his feet, brandishing his mask like a knife, crouching on the bed with only socks between him and the mattress. Where are his shoes? The only thing he finds on the floor is another standing there, dressed in black. 

"Eraserhead," Hitoshi chokes out, an ugly, grating sound. The aftertaste of the gas lingers stale in his mouth. He was attacked. They were being attacked. 

"Charge." Eraserhead holds his hands up in a non-aggressive gesture.

Hitoshi stalls in confusion, not realizing he's still holding the aggressive posture. Obviously the pro isn't going to hurt him. It was that kid, that villain with the gas quirk… Where did the villain go? 

"Relax. Sit down, please," Eraserhead says as he takes a seat in a chair opposite to Hitoshi, who lets himself fall back against the white pillows, mask in hand. Not that he could have gone very far with an IV in his bare arm. Wait, where is his jacket? It has all his equipment in it and Deku's broken stun gun, not to mention it's half his disguise. Purple hair and eyes are exposed before the pro hero. Hitoshi’s vision drifts and loses focus, mirroring the swirling fog that fills his head.

“We’ve been looking for you for quite a while, Charge.”

Reality snaps back to Hitoshi all at once. Panicked alarm comes crashing in like a wave, washing away any remaining addled thought. 

"To think you were a student of UA this whole time, Shinsou Hitoshi."

His name hits him like shattering glass. Eraserhead knows who he is. It's over.

Eraserhead asks, "How are you feeling?" 

Hitoshi opens his mouth to answer then thinks better of it. This false interest is just a lead in. It’s better to be difficult. He presses his mouth in a tight line.

His defiance gets misinterpreted and Aizawa gestures to the other bedside table, where Hitoshi finds a paper cup near filled to the brim with water. His throat feels like someone lit it on fire and rubbed the smoke and ashes into the burns. The water is gone in three large gulps.

Eraserhead remains eerily quiet, black hair falling in waves around his pensive face. Hoping to force Eraserhead's hand, Hitoshi prepares for the worst and asks, "Why are you here?"

If Eraserhead is taken aback by the bluntness, he doesn't show it. Foolish enough to think he can tell anything about him, he’d say Eraserhead almost looks glad to have an excuse to get straight to the point. He has Hitoshi cornered.

There has to be some way out.

"I've been assigned to your case for almost a week now, and while you're here you are under my watch. Don't give me any reason to cuff you and it will go well for both of us."

Maybe the window? The room isn’t that high up. He could run, dye his hair, change his name.

"Alternatively, I have an offer for you. I’ve been granted permission to neatly wrap up and close your file at the station if you get into UA's hero course and give up unlicensed heroism indefinitely."

Hitoshi blinks. 

"Will you take it?" 

Rage boils up inside him, burning through his face to the tips of his ears. It’s been a lifetime since his dream was shattered and he lost himself, wielding the remains like a broken bottle. Hitoshi barks out an incredulous laugh and spits out venom, "It's a bit late for that, Eraserhead. I can't just change who I am for you. Where were you months ago? Where were you when I beat the majority of your precious hero students in that dog show of a sports festival? Where were you when your elitist entrance exam spat me back out for having the wrong quirk?" Where were you when I needed you most? He hides behind a steely glare. "You can't just let me in now."

Eraserhead replies unfazed, “Your performance in the sports festival is one of the biggest factors that went into the decision to make you this offer.” 

"I don't want it."

Scarlet eyes pierce him, sharp, judging, calculating. Fuck that. 

Dreams, crushed at the hands of heroes. Struggling alone against villains, failed by society, desperately grasping at what limited options were left. Shouldering the responsibility of the pros when none would come. A hero is an action not a title, Hitoshi decides. The pro before him will never have any idea what he’s been through, trying to do right by the world in the only way he can. The infrastructure upholding professional heroism is only meant to lift those it serves. The pros have no real reason to care about the dirt beneath their boots. They stomp and kick about as they please then pat themselves on the back, ignorant to the reality of others. There’s no way Eraserhead’s offer is sincere.

"There was a lot of talk about what to do with you. In reviewing your… history, we found most of it to be technically compliant with the law if your actions are considered civilian, but from the witnesses and captured villains that testified, there have been some reports of you instigating fights. That’s physical assault, not self defence." Hitoshi winces internally at the accusation. There's nothing he can do to deny it. His captor speaks the truth. "Even rarer, but magnitudes worse, are the reports of you allegedly using your quirk. Now that we have your civilian identity tied to your vigilante one, we have Charge’s quirk confirmed and can start investigating those claims. I have personally witnessed you attempting to instigate a response from Conjuror. Yes, the villain that took you hostage. Do you remember? You made an offer to help her. Either you were considering a villain career or you were attempting to use your quirk.”

This is everything wrong with the world. His cursed quirk, vilified for real. Condemned for using it to help people.

Eraserhead continues, “Because I had your quirk cancelled at the time, it’s an ambiguous case and could be argued either way.”

Is he trying to blackmail him into-

“I’m obligated to report incidents like those, but in your case, I supported it as a null claim. Aside from that, from what I remember, we currently have no solid accounts of you forcing someone to action. As it stands, illegal use of your quirk is not one of your chargeable offenses.”

Wait, what? Eraserhead didn't indict him?

Eraserhead sighs and leans back in his chair. “The alternative to accepting this isn’t something you want to consider, Shinsou. I understand your anger, but it’s not worth throwing away your future for.”

No. This pro hero doesn’t understand. Hitoshi’s the one who’s had to live through his own shit, and no one’s stuck with him long enough to see him go through it. No one else could understand.

Hitoshi postures inward, closed off, daring the hero to break through. He meets his eyes unwaveringly and says nothing. 

After a moment, Eraserhead stands. “Think about it. I’ll be back before you’re discharged.” He leaves, closing the door behind him.

Hitoshi sits and stews.

He rakes his jacket toward him, which has been sitting neatly folded at the foot of his bed this whole time, and checks the pockets. No one searched it, he figures, because all his equipment is still there. Hitoshi sighs and places it along with his mask on the table beside him, and lays back down.

He doesn’t really have a choice here, does he? Eraserhead didn’t say what they’d do with him if he declines, but he can’t imagine it being any good. None of this makes sense! Hitoshi, spiteful villainous vigilante Hitoshi, gets a chance at becoming a heroics student? After how many times he’s tried. After all he’s done. After all he never should have done. And they’d just wipe it all clean?

Every part of him rebels against the idea. If he takes it, he’d be leaving behind the ideals he's built up, the cornerstone of his identity. He can’t advocate antiheroism as a hero. Everything he’s been fighting for with Deku…

Deku. They were supposed to leave together. Did he wait? Did he bail? Did he get caught? He has no way of finding out. Their only method of contact was to run into each other in the night. Somehow Deku always seemed to find him. Maybe that's his quirk. 

Most likely, if Hitoshi takes this offer, he won't be able to see him again. Deku's civilian identity has always been a mystery, so that’s not even an option. He won't be allowed to go out as Charge, and Deku doesn't know who the civilian Shinsou Hitoshi is. Either way, if he were seen with his vigilante partner, especially if he wore his vigilante outfit, Hitoshi would be breaking one of the stipulations of Aizawa’s deal.

Never again will he be able to contact his best friend. Not if he is to become a hero.

Hitoshi has always been on his own. He’s always been fine on his own. But Deku, he was the first person he’d ever consider his friend. Deku cares about him.

Hitoshi squeezes his eyes shut tight.

For a time… for a brief, blessed time, he wasn’t fighting the world alone. But now the heroes want to take that from him. It can't be worth it. He can’t accept.

The door swings open with unnecessary grandeur, presenting some tuxedo wearing kid, arms spread wide in an overconfident, cocky pose, a smirk plastered on his face. "Fear not, I am here to assist!" 

Hitoshi recognizes him and a frown instinctively sours his face. What the fuck is he doing here? He draws a blank on his name. This guy has a copy quirk. That's all he can remember. 

The asshole steps into the room, door closing behind him, and announces, "I am here to give you a kiss."

What. the. fuck. "No." 

In a cruel joke orchestrated by the universe, more bullshit is unceremoniously dumped at his feet. Brooding in peace is just too much to ask for. 

Copy Quirk splays a hand against his chest in mock offense. "You refuse? Even though I, out of the goodness of my heart, spend my free hours to help reach more of the likes of you with this exemplary quirk? Everyone else has been falling over themselves to sing my praises as I return them to health, but you refuse me?" He closes his eyes and presses his fingertips to his forehead, wrist bent at ninety degrees. So fucking dramatic. "In the end it's entirely your choice, of course. You get my healing grace or you get nothing."

Hitoshi refuses to dignify anything he says with a response, glowering silently instead. 

The blonde digs the knife in deeper, "It's up to you. Good luck getting into the hero course feeling as sour as you must at the moment."

Despite sounding like he was leading up to an exit, the asshole’s feet remain planted firmly where he stands. Hitoshi does not have the capacity for this right now. 

Copy Quirk boldly continues on, "How do I know about the offer, you ask?" 

"I don't." Not even admittance to a hospital will keep people from hounding him. Apparently a moment to himself is too much to ask. He's tempted to throw out Eraserhead's effort in maintaining his quirk's clean record and just coercing the pest out of the room. A layer of his patience is shaved off with every word that falls out of this shit mouth. 

"Then allow me to give you some advice. Considering the similarities between the two of us-"

"I am nothing like you," Hitoshi snaps, once again jumping to his feet on the bed, taut knuckles turning white at his sides, IV swinging from his arm.

The asshole just laughs. "Of course you're nothing like me! You might have potential, but in terms of practical experience, I'm afraid helping old ladies cross the street or whatever it is you did while playing hero doesn't compare with the training I've already got on you."

Attempting and failing to rein in his anger, Hitoshi seethes through grit teeth, "You clearly have no idea what I've been doing. No amount of training can prepare you for what I've faced."

One wrong move, one misstep, and Hitoshi’s going to wipe the smirk off that smug face himself. That creepy smile never falters, clawing at him with those condescending eyes. 

"You're thinking in the wrong direction. I can't imagine you've had much of a chance to train your quirk." The asshole tilts his head and shoots him a dangerous, daring look. "Or have you?" 

This fucker. Either Hitoshi admits he broke the law or admits he’s inferior. Damn it. He refuses to let him win. "I am not a villain."

This asshole doesn't know the fire he's playing with. Hitoshi's been called a villain all his life when all he wanted… the dream he's had for as far back as he can remember… 

He lets his fists fall, arms limp at his sides. All he wanted was to be a hero. When did he lose sight? 

"Don't be silly,” Copy Quirk chides him, “Of course you aren't. Good villainy requires a certain level of charisma and forethought.” He holds his chin with a finger and thumb, elbow propped by his other hand. “Granted, those are also qualities of a great hero. It all depends on how you apply yourself really, but there's no achieving either if you're lacking."

Lacking qualities of a hero? The asshole doesn't think he can do it. Hitoshi's frustration boils over and he takes a threatening step forward, biting back with words sharp as a knife, "I-" 

But he's cut off as the door to his room swings open once again. With all his indignation and longing fueled by the dream he buried deep down but never let die, Hitoshi blurts out, "I'll do it!" Because fuck those who try to tell him otherwise. "I accept your offer."

Aizawa looks between Hitoshi, standing on the hospital bed more aggravated than he's been in his life, and Copy Quirk, standing poised with his arms held aloft and that undying wretched smile plastered on his face. Aizawa looks drained, faith in humanity lost. After a beat, Hitoshi opts to get off his feet and sit cross legged, and Copy Quirk plants his hands on his hips as if that were any better. 

"Phantom Thief," Ah, right. That's what his hero name is. "Did you administer first aid to Shinsou?" 

"No, sadly my service was refused," Phantom Thief answers heartbroken, as if they hadn't just been at each other’s throats moments earlier. 

"As is within his right. You are supposed to move on when a patient declines." Hitoshi relishes in him being told off, the thief's confidence visibly faltering ever so slightly for having failed. 

"I was just leaving behind some select words of advice for my fellow student." What a stretch of the truth. 

"Go finish your duties," Aizawa instructs. 

And just like that, Phantom Thief is gone. 

Aizawa lets out a very put upon sigh. "Please stop getting up when you're supposed to be resting."

Hitoshi nods sheepishly, drained from the encounter. 

"The offer I made you," Aizawa explains, "is not an offer of admittance, it's an offer to test in. You'll be assessed under fair conditions."

Fair…? For his quirk?

"Additionally, you will be under a house arrest of sorts, which will be strictly enforced. No masks, no unauthorized use of your quirk, no sneaking out past curfew, no weapons outside of lessons, no acting in the place of a hero. If you see something, call for help and let the professionals handle it. Use your common sense. Understood?"

Another chance, with the stage set to accommodate him. It’s all he ever really wanted. "Yes, understood." 

 

~

 

A heavy weight blankets Hitoshi's shoulders, his arms, his legs. The ghost of his body doesn't quite keep up with his feet on the track, mindlessly running the loop through the forest behind the school that always brings him back to where he started. He does his lap alone. Not many of his classmates care to keep pace with him, and the one who usually does is nowhere to be seen. 

Actually, Midoriya hasn't been around all week, not since Hitoshi got back from the hospital. There's been a distinct lack of hovering, despite attending the same classes. The pestering has blessedly dropped to zero. Midoriya, with all his mistakes and empty talk, probably heard about the offer extended to Hitoshi and is avoiding him out of jealousy. 

Finally, peace and quiet, and yet a hissing pressure builds inside him like a kettle, waiting to scream.

Never again.  

His head is killing him. 

You left him.

One, two, one, two. His feet pound against the track.

Your only friend.

He runs, refusing to acknowledge the nagging that has somehow persisted through the dull headache that he denies he's had all day. 

Instead he thinks about training. PE is his last class today, after which he'll meet with Aizawa instead of preparing for a nightly escapade like he used to. He won't even need to change because he's already in his tracksuit. It's great. Everything is fine. Everything is perfect. 

He's only been training with Aizawa for a couple days and if he's learned anything, it's that whatever expectations he has for the lesson are going to be incorrect. So it's not entirely surprising when, instead of starting the lesson, Aizawa just stands there staring at the dazed Hitoshi who just walked into the training room. He doesn't quite have the capacity to question it so he stays put, zoning out waiting for whatever logical ruse his teacher has planned. 

After who knows how long, Hitoshi’s grasp on time is practically nonexistent at the moment, Aizawa breaks the silence, "How are you feeling?" 

"Fine," Hitoshi lies. He's been anticipating this all day. If he doesn't get to train, what was the point?

You abandoned him.  

Aizawa closes the distance between them with a stern look on his face. Disappointment, maybe? Concern? That can't be right. He doesn't have anything he needs to worry about here. Aizawa pulls back his sleeve and reaches for him. Hitoshi doesn’t flinch, not even when his teacher's bare arm meets his forehead.

“You’re running warm,” he states, tugging his sleeve back down. “There won’t be any training today. Come on.”

As Aizawa shepherds him out the door, Hitoshi argues, “It’s because I just had gym class. I’m fine.”

He’s ignored as Aizawa calls down the hall instead, “Ah, Recovery Girl’s intern. I have a mission for you.”

Hitoshi scowls as Monoma’s face lights up. Please no.

“See to his fever and return him to his dorm.”

Monoma responds with too much mirth, “Absolutely, Aizawa-sensei. It’ll be my pleasure.” He gestures back down the way he came with a grand sweep, “Right this way.”

With his teacher looming behind him, Hitoshi doesn’t have a choice. The entire trip to Recovery Girl’s office, he stays quiet as Monoma prattles on about something. 

A fever. He’s better than that. He can’t afford to get sick.

The office is unfortunately empty. He was hoping Recovery Girl would be here so he could ditch her intern.

“I still have her quirk if you’d like. You just caught me at the end of my shift,” Monoma offers, lips Hitoshi absolutely does not want anywhere near him pressed together in a crooked smile. His answer hasn’t changed since the first time. He responds with the driest expression he can muster, not bothering to put how he feels into words.

“Alright. Doing this the hard way then. Sit down,” Monoma gestures, then starts rifling through some desk drawers. Hitoshi obliges and takes a seat at the foot of one of the cots. Off his feet for the first time in over an hour, he’s tempted to close his eyes and not think for a while.

A thermometer is held out toward him with the instructions, “Put this under your tongue.”

Hitoshi takes it but protests halfheartedly, “I can do all this myself.”

Monoma plants his hands on his hips with a dead eye stare. “Literally this is my job. You are the worst kind of patient. Just be good and let me work.”

“Are you actually qualified to do this?”

Monoma scoffs, offended. “Do you doubt me?”

Hitoshi doesn’t answer. He has no reason to trust him.

“Do you think Aizawa would hand you off to me otherwise? I had to take an extra course for this. I got a certificate and everything.”

Hitoshi deadpans, "Oh, hm, you're right. There it is hanging on the wall. This certificate is awarded to Monoma for displaying exemplary skill in being insufferable and an overall terrible human being."

Monoma turns, finger pointed at him, mouth hanging open like he's about to say something but at that exact moment, Hitoshi pops the thermometer in his mouth with innocent eyes and shrugs, to which Monoma narrows his eyes. Apparently that was appeasing enough, as Monoma huffs and starts filling out some kind of paperwork at the desk.

Hitoshi zones out until the thermometer beeps, and Monoma takes it from his mouth before Hitoshi can protest.

“You have a fever,” Monoma reports.

“Shocking,” Hitoshi says dryly. Despite his attitude, some part of him didn’t actually think he was that sick. There's so much to do before he's caught up to the hero students. He can’t waste any time.

“Yeah, well, if you don’t want my help don’t get sick,” Monoma retorts, handing him a glass of water and a pill. Maybe he should question what it is but he doesn't have the energy. He just wants to get this over with, swallowing it while Monoma finishes his report, and then he’s escorting Hitoshi back to the general education dorms. Hitoshi trails behind him somewhat delirious. He entertains a tiny fraction of hope that maybe he’ll make it there in peace, but it’s too big of a dream. Monoma looks over his shoulder and asks, “Have you been drinking enough water?”

Through the brain fog and fatigue weighing down every part of his body, Hitoshi rolls his eyes behind his back and answers, “Yes.”

“Dressing warm enough? It’s been colder lately.”

“Yes.”

“Getting enough sleep?”

“...Yes.”

“Are you stressed out?”

“Y- wh- no.” Stress is an absolute stranger to him. His life is perfect. No rampant emotions here.

He's gone. Never again.

He’ll be dead before anyone can accuse him of anything as frivolous as caring.

“It’s okay to be stressed,” says Monoma. “You can always come see Recovery Girl if training for your heroics assessment is too much for you. It is a lot of pressure trying to surpass those who are so much more than you.” Monoma pats a mocking hand on Hitoshi’s shoulder, who wastes no time in batting it off. 

“I’m. Fine.”

“Sure, that’s why you aren’t sick.”

One day Hitoshi’s gonna snap and nail him right between those condescending eyes if he keeps being forced to deal with this shit. They’re close enough to his dorm that Monoma doesn’t try to follow when Hitoshi announces, “We’re here,” and shoulders past him, stalking off in long strides to the doors.

He really is fine. Why do people have to bother him about it. It costs zero amount of effort to just leave him alone. 

Letting the front door close behind him, he drifts across the common room. Midoriya is sitting on one of the couches, surrounded by a good number of their classmates, watching Hitoshi over the shoulder of the kid next to him. It must be weeks since they last spoke. Any excuse for interaction fell apart when the sports festival ended, and their encounters dwindled significantly. Hitoshi made no effort to hide how unnecessary he felt those interactions were, now that they have no reason to work together. When Hitoshi shoots a look back at him to signal he's been caught staring, Midoriya quickly tucks his head down, hiding behind his phone. Whatever. It’s not his problem. No stress, no cares. Everything is fine.

When he finally gets his dorm room door shut behind him, he closes his eyes for a moment, taking a deep breath, then heads to the washroom. The face reflected in the mirror looks pale and clammy, dark smudges under his eyes. He can’t be sick. He can't afford the time. If he doesn’t believe it, it’s not really true. That’s how that works, right? Mind over matter. He splashes cold water on his face. He’s been through worse.

Hitoshi sits on his bed and once again, the feeling of finally getting off his feet rushes up to greet him like an old friend. The urge to close his eyes invites him like a sunbeam calls a cat, and this time he indulges. He lays down, not because he’s tired but… he’ll just… take a break for a second...

 

Hitoshi calls out to the shadows but no sound leaves his lips. A shadow passes by in a blur and Hitoshi spins, trying to track the twin tailed mask fluttering in the dark. He wants to tell him to stop, to wait, but the shadow blips by in a blur down the street. Hitoshi gives chase. With every corner he turns, the shadow disappears behind another, precisely a moment too late every time. Hitoshi runs after him through a maze of back alley streets, cold cement walls, and dim streetlamps. Desperate. Frustrated. Determined. 

Pushing harder, running faster, he gains a bit more ground with every turn. Just when he's about to reach him, he turns another corner and a figure in a tuxedo, faceless, blocks his path with his arms held wide to stop him. Hitoshi tries to duck past him but somehow the thief stays gliding in front of him, legs straight, feet just off the ground. Hitoshi turns abruptly to get away, but a wall rises out of the ground before him in a great cloud of dust, followed by three more, closing him in. 

The walls whisper, "Traitor. Inadequate. Villain." 

 

The third time Hitoshi shows up for training and is dismissed (despite forcing himself through class as if that'll prove he isn't really sick), he goes for a walk. He has too much energy buzzing just beneath his skin that needs to be discharged somehow, so he throws on his jacket and heads out past the gates of UA.

He wanders aimlessly, completely at ease in the streets he spent countless nights patrolling. It's comforting in a forlorn, nostalgic way. His feet take him where they please, and he lets himself get lost in the memories he has of these streets, when he was free to help those in need, those who wouldn't have received help otherwise. 

When the sun first starts to tint the sky orange, he turns back, not wanting to find out what happens if he stays out past curfew. 

"Hey," a voice greets him from behind. 

Hitoshi freezes.

You left him without a word.  

He knows that voice. 

At such a crucial moment.  

It's impossible. 

A terrible friend.  

They were just two kids, lost in the big wide world, but fighting together, they could take on anything. He left that precious thing behind without saying goodbye.

Hitoshi turns around. There stands Deku with his smile-reminiscent mouth guard, his twin horned mask pulled down past his eyes, green jumpsuit, and red shoes. As he's always been, like nothing's changed.

"How did you find me?" Hitoshi says, breathy, unbelieving. 

Deku laughs, melodic and beautiful. 

I missed you. I miss you.  

"I knew who you were from the beginning. You're so obvious. Why do you think I told you to use a voice changer? And your eyes are fucking purple, Charge. How many people do you know with purple eyes?"

Hitoshi flounders, overwhelmed. He's lost. He's so lost. "I covered them eventually…"

"Yeah, eventually!" Hitoshi knows that a smile with crinkles at the corners of Deku's eyes means he's teasing. That all too familiar smile is before him now and it's too real, like they're just about to start off on the next dangerous mission together but… Grief floods Hitoshi, leaving him hollow, blinking back tears that threaten to well up.

Never again.  

"That's why you got caught and I didn't," Deku says playfully. 

It's too much. He was prepared to never see him again, having saved Eraserhead from the villain's ambush instead of Deku like he thought, but here stands Deku, right in front of him. His face flushes with embarrassment, confronted with the unexpected reminder that he failed to keep them together. Flustered, his response doesn't come out as composed as he'd like, "The only reason I was there in the first place was for you! I got caught because of you!"

Deku laughs like it's a joke, like they can just roll through this and it'll be okay. Then he cocks his head to one side, and with a seriousness to his tone, voice filtered to a digital melody by his mask like always, he says, "Yeah, wait. What happened there? I've been waiting for you to come out in suit again but you never did. So, uh, well, here we are anyway! I wanted to tell you, I found another chance to talk to him and I could use your help."

This is a cruel, cruel world. It'd be so easy to step into his old life and hide in the comfort of familiarity, shielded from the chaos that is his life right now. The opportunity to return to a solid sense of identity waltzes in on a silver platter, and he wants nothing more than to take it and fill the void he's been missing. Hitoshi doesn't meet his friend's eyes. "I can't help you."

Deku blinks in surprise. "What? But… I thought we…" For once, Deku can't find the right words, grasping at air with hovering hands.

Hitoshi does no better, fighting to bring himself to externalize what's been haunting him, to be up front about how he betrayed his former vigilante partner. It's the least he can do for the one who gave him everything. He crosses his arms and says to the ground, "They offered me a chance at UA's hero course and I accepted. So I can't run around playing vigilante anymore." 

"Playing vigilante?" Here it comes, the backlash he deserves. Deku raises his voice, "This whole time, did our ideals mean nothing to you? You hate heroes and their system. Don't you believe in what we're doing? In what I'm doing?" The pained tone, the terse posture, the worried lines that cut down Deku’s smile, those are all Hitoshi’s fault.

Attempting to justify his decision, Hitoshi says, "Of course I believe. It's not like they gave me a choice. What else was I supposed to do? Tell them no thanks, I'd rather get arrested? Vigilantism is illegal."

Deku, his Deku, with angry tears glossing his eyes, argues back, "You always have a choice."

Hitoshi stands his ground. "I have a chance to do it the right way, to be a real hero. I can't give that up." Surely he can understand that. 

Distraught, watery, green eyes stab him in the heart. "So you're giving up on me instead?"

Hitoshi chokes. He doesn't have the strength to deny it. That's basically what he did, isn't it? Knowingly trade the closest friend he's ever had for his lifelong dream.

Deku stands before him, tears falling from a face set with determination, shattered but not broken. For once in his selfish, uncaring life, Hitoshi’s struck by the anxiety that if he doesn't do something , he'll lose someone precious to him. Instead of just letting Deku consequently fall to the side like he did when accepting Aizawa's offer, he'll be actively shoving him away. If he loses Deku here, he has no one to blame but himself. There has to be a way he can save this. He takes a step forward. "No, listen. I'm not- If you had the same opportunity you would have taken it too." Hitoshi takes another step forward. If he could just reach him, make him see. "I could get them to-" 

"They won't!" Deku squeezes his eyes shut against the tears and turns away.

Hitoshi moves one more step closer. "They did for me. There's no reason they won't for you."

Deku turns to face Hitoshi, damp stains on his mask, "They won't want me! After all the times you've pushed me away for being different or not understanding, you're the one who doesn't understand! When you're given an opportunity for heroics, you actually stand a chance. Even if you somehow managed to get me an offer to enroll, they still wouldn't take me because I'm quirkless!"

Quirkless.

The word rings heavy in the silence between them. 

This whole time. 

Deku turns his head away, frustration and shame rolling off him in waves, all tense lines. 

Quirkless. 

He's been so amazing.

Deku rubs at his eyes and faces him again, "And unlike some people, I actually believe in what I'm doing! So don't bother! I don't need saving." He falls quiet all at once, steepling his gloved hands against the bridge of his nose. He's slipping away. He's going to lose him. Deku takes a deep breath, and in a small voice says, "I'm gonna ask one more time. Will you help me talk to my brother?" He searches him, betrayed, but holding on to a sliver of hope that he'll get the answer he wants to hear. 

Being a hero means helping no matter the consequences. "I can't." But Hitoshi's never been a real hero. There's nothing he can do. It all falls apart in his hands, reduced to dust and scattering to the wind. 

"Fine! So this is it. Enjoy your righteous hero life. Not that you're suited to it."

The words hit Hitoshi like a tonne of bricks. "Excuse me?" 

The voice that once brought the feeling of home turns cold and steely against him. "You heard me. I'm talking about your shitty attitude."

"What?” Hitoshi clenches his jaw. After all he's done for him. “Just because I don't go with you-" 

Deku cuts him off, "I'm not talking about this, I'm talking about your general perpetual brooding tortured pessimism." With each accusation he takes a step forward until he's close enough to jab a finger in Hitoshi's chest. " Don't try to relate to me, I'm better and more hurt than you are! I don't need friends, I love wallowing by myself! I'm talking to you to further my own agenda, not because I care about you as a person! Don't talk to me about feelings because I don't have any! "

Hitoshi doesn't back away from the threat, who is now close enough to spit in his eyes.

Deku continues ranting in his face, "I just wanted to connect! You made it feel like hanging around me was a chore but you kept showing up anyway! I didn’t know what to think. But I guess everything we’ve been through together means nothing to you.”

His friend. His only friend. 

Fine. This is how it’s going to be. If they have to say goodbye, Hitoshi would rather rip it off like a bandaid, even if the scab goes with it.

Hitoshi looks down at the kid before him with tired eyes, reigns in all emotion, and cuts it off. With a dead calm, he says, “Sure. Think whatever you want to make yourself feel better. Why don’t you take this back while we’re at it.” He shoves his last tie to vigilantism against Deku’s chest and lets it go. It’s been in his pocket, it’s always been in his pocket. Before it can fall to the ground, Deku catches the stun gun Hitoshi picked up the day it all began. Deku has nothing to say, just staring at the thing he lost so long ago in his hands.

Hitoshi turns his back to the vigilante and walks away without a word.

 

~

 

The world spins on with or without him, and Hitoshi drifts unfeeling, uncaring, unthinking through the next couple days. Or were they weeks? Hours?

His fever disappates but time can't heal all wounds. It might try to fill the cracks with glue but he doesn’t feel any more together.

The hero assessment, the one that determines Hitoshi’s fate forever, the one that decides if he's a promising hero or condemned vigilante, comes and goes without notice. He probably tries his best but what does that matter. 

Somehow he finds himself in the teacher’s office, and on paper, his empty life is flawless. Aizawa is sitting across from him. Someone has placed a cup of tea in Hitoshi’s hands. He's been watching the steam rise, wisps dancing up into the air until they fade to nothing. 

“You passed.”

Oh.

“We reviewed your performance and... you have potential, Shinsou. Your record as a vigilante will be reset and you’ll join the hero class next semester.”

His life is perfect. He feels nothing. The steam from his cup wafts to oblivion.

“Something’s on your mind,” Aizawa prompts after a distinct lack of enthusiasm on Hitoshi’s part, or any kind of response at all. His teacher couldn’t be more wrong. His mind is empty.

Enjoy your hero life. Not that you’re suited to it.

The question falls out of Hitoshi’s mouth, “Why did you help me?”

“Because you needed help,” Aizawa states, as if that’s all there is to it.

Hitoshi’s eyebrows draw down, struggling to make sense of the answer. There’s nothing redeemable about him. All he can do is hurt and get hurt. His quirk marks him a villain. He’s in over his head, cursed by the perpetual brooding tortured pessimism that even now he can’t shake off. “But why me?”

Aizawa considers him long and hard with those scarlet eyes. Here’s the man who wasted his efforts vouching for him, taking him under his wing and providing him with all the tools he needs to become a hero, the man who all but carried him across the finish line himself. Wasted on a person like Hitoshi.

“Because you remind me of someone I used to be.” 

Hitoshi doesn’t have the energy to try to deny it, as much as he wants to. Don't try to relate to me , Deku's voice rings through his head, criticizing his reaction to Aizawa's words.

“Someone helped me get out. It's important to uphold diversity in any field, and I believe that if you have the means to, you should do what you can to perpetuate that. It's better for everyone, bringing in quirks that aren't typical to heroism. Someone helped me when my quirk failed to be recognized, and I hoped for the same with you. What you do with it is up to you.”

Whatever that means.

“Shinsou, when you have problems you should talk to someone about it. I might not be training you anymore but I am here to support you. But it doesn’t have to be me.” Aizawa holds his attention with a commanding, unnerving stare. “Talk to someone.”

Hitoshi wanders out of the office and makes his way outside, his teacher’s words tumbling over in his mind. What good would that do? He can’t exactly tell anyone about his fight with Deku. They weren’t supposed to interact at all. If he were caught with his old vigilante partner, it'd be so easy for someone to accuse him of practicing vigilantism, and he'd have to say goodbye to the heroics course. He can't see Deku, can't talk about Deku, and he certainly doesn't want to think about Deku, ever again. 

On his way back to the dorms he stops when he spots Monoma across the courtyard, antagonizing some kids from the other hero class by the looks of it. 

Talk to someone.  

No, not him, not for anything. Even if the nosy gossip already knows his history somehow, something about him, correction, everything about him rubs him the wrong way. How did he even find out about the offer, back at the hospital? There's no saying how deep into Hitoshi’s past his knowledge extends. Best to leave that can of worms undisturbed lest it spill out for all to see. 

A girl with orange hair stomps over to Monoma, and with a swift strike, has him doubling over. After a few stern words, she escorts the other kids away. 

Monoma is left alone. Slowly, he lowers himself to the ground, and just kind of sits on the pavement where he is. 

How many times has that been Hitoshi? The topic of a controversy, an unwanted intervention, and then abandoned, the offenders patting themselves on the back for a job well done.

Before he knows it, he’s there looking down, Monoma at his feet. There’s a wistful vulnerability to him, and Hitoshi wonders if maybe he's wrong about him, until Monoma notices him standing there and the illusion is shattered. 

The words are out before Hitoshi has time to reconsider, "Why do you do that?" 

Monoma sneers at him, and Hitoshi can see it for what it is, a guard, a mask. "I don't know what you're talking about. You're going to have to be -"

"You're doing it right now," Hitoshi cuts off his nonsense before it goes too far. "Being an antagonistic little shit." 

Monoma huffs out a little laugh. "You wouldn't understand, hero-to-be in training." 

"Actually," Hitoshi pauses, savoring the sweet moment of knowing something Monoma doesn't, "It's just hero-to-be now. You don't have anything on me anymore."

Monoma stands up, subtly craning his neck, trying to stare him down. Hitoshi lets an easy smile slip on his face. His adversary's threatening posture loses its potency in the shadow of Hitoshi's height. 

"I'm certainly doing better than the one who's alone whenever I see him," Monoma derides him with a smile. 

I don't need friends, I love wallowing by myself! The memory of Deku's words reflect Monoma's, and they strike him in unison, shot and ricochet, a hot poker to raw wounds. 

Hitoshi didn't wander over meaning to start a fight but nothing's gonna stop him from finishing one. "At least I'm alone by choice, unlike… what did I just witness? You were talking to three and your own classmate came to intervene and they all left without you? I can't imagine being that irrelevant of a side character."

Something flashes in Monoma's eyes and Hitoshi knows he's crossed a line. Good.

"It's better than, in the face of rejection, having a reactionary response of resorting to crimes like a villain." 

Seizing two fistfuls of his front collar, with Monoma instinctively grabbing his wrists to keep balance, Hitoshi brings their faces inches apart. "Say that again," he dares him, dangerous and low. 

Monoma smiles deviously, and with just enough volume to fill the space between them, taunts, "Don't like being called a villain, do you?" 

Hitoshi’s threadbare patience snaps, the last of it giving way to anger. "Fu-" 

Hitoshi is under water.

An endless, empty ocean stretches all around him, as far as he can see into the inky darkness. He’s holding his breath.

Above him, light refracts through the black ocean’s surface, waves tossing over themselves. Hitoshi kicks toward it, reaching out with a hand to break the surface, but as he does, another hand reaches toward him from above the water, mirroring his move.

He looks up.

Shinsou Hitoshi stares down at him through the water’s surface, tape crossed over his mouth in an X. He looks so tired. Tired and sad and alone.

The need to inhale shudders through Hitoshi and he swims hard to break the surface, but Shinsou Hitoshi thrusts his hand into the ocean, forcing his head to remain beneath the waves. No amount of shoving or pulling or maneuvering gets him around it. This Shinsou Hitoshi doesn’t let up. He’s looking at him expectantly.

Somehow he knows he has to tell him something.

“Let me out,” the words bubble out of his mouth. Illogically, he’s still able to hold his breath, breaking the pretense of reality, but at the same time something tells him with certainty that he’s going to drown if he can't get air. His air bubbles break at the surface, not reaching this Shinsou Hitoshi .

“Are you going to drown me? You’re a hero now, you can’t-”

Shinsou Hitoshi ’s eyes flash white and his senses are flooded with a rapid flurry of memories. Someone yelling at this other him .

‘Why did it have to be you?’

‘I can’t get in like this.’

‘In another life, with another quirk...’

‘Villainous.’

‘Invasive.’

‘Good for nothing.’

Hitoshi’s mouth involuntarily forms around each word the memory procures, forcing him to reenact the memories.

Shinsou Hitoshi looks down at him blankly.

“No, I-” With every word, he’s disproportionately shorter on air. “You’re not a villain. You’re a hero now.”

Light headed, panic constricts him, asserting that he really is going to drown. Desperation pushes him to reach him , “You’re better than this.”

Shinsou Hitoshi continues to stare at him impassively.

“You have to be better,” Hitoshi struggles to find the right words, to find any words. His lungs are nearly empty. He fights to surface again but Shinsou Hitoshi keeps him under.

Dark eyes are staring back at him. What does he want to hear?

This reflection of him, warped by the waves, remains emotionless, unspeaking. The words from the induced memories are familiar, but not because he’s ever said them out loud. It’s how he’s felt all his life, internalizing how others treated him, leaving him behind, broken and jaded.

This Shinsou Hitoshi isn’t him, exactly. He ’s not a mirror copy, Hitoshi realizes with horror, he ’s a scapegoat, burdened with every bad experience and every lie he's put himself down with.

This closed off, taped up Shinsou Hitoshi is a product of his own shortcomings, the bitter reaction to his failures twisted inward, hating on an easy victim. Suddenly it makes sense, where he is and who he’s talking to. The right words come to him.

“You are better.”

The words bubble to the surface and burst in spots of brilliant light.

“You are good enough. You’ve always been enough,” Hitoshi tells his quirk with his last breath. The bubbles reach the surface and break to envelope them both in dazzling lights, pushing back the darkness of the ocean. A genuine smile breaks through the tape covering Shinsou Hitoshi ’s mouth, which cracks and peels away, lighting up his whole face. With wide, dazzling eyes, he reaches out for Hitoshi and their hands meet. Shinsou Hitoshi surges toward the water’s surface and Hitoshi finds himself mirroring his movement. They’re going to collide. Hitoshi closes his eyes and braces for impact, but instead he breaks the surface of the endless ocean, gasping for air. The world behind his eyelids is bright.

When he opens his eyes, Monoma is there, standing a couple feet away, staring at him with wide eyes. Hitoshi frowns, looking down at and around himself. Somehow, he knows what Monoma made him do, as if he’d been watching all along.

“That’s your quirk?” Monoma asks, bewildered.

“Shouldn’t you know this?” Hitoshi quips back, feeling off balance after the weightlessness of the ocean. He made it to the finals of the sports festival. What self-respecting hero student doesn’t know his quirk by now?

Monoma ignores him entirely. “It’s brilliant.”

Hold on. What?

“Don’t get me wrong, I knew what it was. But holding it, it’s different. It’s overwhelming, it’s powerful, it’s terrible, yet brilliant. You steal autonomy. I steal quirks. We’re-”

“The same,” Hitoshi cuts him off with a dry tone, unimpressed. “Great. I’ve heard that already. It’s not true. We’ve done this act before.” He turns to leave. “Now, would you kindly fuck off? I’m going through this big thing and your presence is ruining the moment.”

An endless black ocean, swallowing him whole. He’s had that dream countless times, but he’s never found the surface before. By rote from parents and teachers, he knows his quirk is his and he should be proud to have it and make the best with what he’s got. He just never believed it, their words fading to nothing under the weight of a reality they didn’t have to live.

“Woah, woah, hold on. You're not the only one,” Monoma steps around him to block his exit. “Our quirks, they mark us, right? You can’t honestly say you don’t see the overlap between us. No, no, wait, I’m not done. Listen, carrying your quirk, I can see it clear as day. This bitterness, you need to own it. How can I explain this… It’s why I named myself a thief. Then it becomes synonymous with hero when they talk about me.”

Why? It’s a long story really. Well, okay, actually it’s not much of a story! It was a childhood nickname of mine. Not very nice, I know! Useless Deku. And then when I realized I couldn’t become a hero that’s how I felt. Useless Deku. So I just...kinda went with it, and now it’s a point of pride. It’s like, “I’m not hero material? Look how much I can accomplish as a useless vigilante!” If you can turn your weaknesses into strengths, you’re unstoppable. That’s what I think anyway.

Hitoshi takes a step back, chest aching at the memory.

“Have you thought up a hero name? This is an opportunity to rebrand yourself,” Monoma, still blocking his way, suggests with a real smile, his oddly sincere face alight with the possibilities.

Hitoshi takes another step back. There’s too much going on all at once. He’s spent the last while in a daze, barely scraping by just going through the motions, and now reality is rushing back to him wave after crashing wave. Any stray thoughts related to Deku he pushes down and away, out of sight. Aizawa, after everything, has allowed him to be a hero student, but that doesn’t make his quirk any more heroic. It doesn’t even make him a hero. No quirk induced vision is going to change how unsuited for heroics he is. And now Monoma is in his space, genuinely demanding his attention, but he doesn't understand the scope of what Hitoshi’s dealing with. There’s too much to think about. He’s everywhere all at once.

Two immediate options present themselves. The first one is to book it, hightail it out of there, run from his problems and hide from everyone until it all blows over. The other option comes to him in Aizawa’s voice, but the last time someone trusted him, Hitoshi stabbed him in the back, driven by his own selfishness. The way Monoma is looking at him in earnest, devoid of his usual condescension, makes Hitoshi think it might be okay to take advantage of the situation. At least if this crashes and burns all he loses is Monoma. Running won’t solve anything. Take it one step at a time. Hitoshi starts by answering Monoma's question with another, "What's wrong with Charge?"

Monoma taps his fingers against his arm, "It's alright. A bit too heroic. But it represents you as a vigilante, am I wrong? Starting today, you're a budding hero."

Charge in. Take what’s yours. Those words uttered by a villain the day he was rejected from UA's hero course stuck with him and he ended up building his identity off of it. Not to mention all the ways “charge” can be attributed with his quirk, albeit as shitty puns. But most importantly, despite its origins, it doesn't sound like a villain name. He could pretend he really was a hero.

Hitoshi frowns. "So… my vigilante name is too heroic for a hero and you want me to pick a more villainous hero name."

"Exactly," Monoma nods, satisfied to be understood.

He is not understood. "That makes no sense."

Monoma stares at him intently. "Who are you, Shinsou? Who do you want to be seen as?"

When he was a young hopeful, he imagined himself a proper hero. A good person doing good, praised by everyone, quirk and all. Getting into the hero course doesn't make him a better person, or even a decent one. Hitoshi rubs at the back of his neck, not used to speaking so plainly, "I… want to be worthy of this. I want to be a hero not just in name, but by action too." He's a long way away from that. "Maybe it's time for me… to…” Hitoshi trails off, not wanting to finish his train of thought out loud. 

“You’ve been a horrible, terrible, no good person and you want to do better,” Monoma suggests.

Hitoshi narrows his eyes. “...Yes,” he reluctantly admits.

His whole life, he’s blamed every poor outcome on fate. No choosing his quirk, no choosing whether he gets into the hero course, no choice but to be a vigilante, no choice but to take Aizawa’s offer. But this, his choices, his attitude, is within his control. He has to own up to something.

Hitoshi comes to the realization that that’s what Monoma means by rebranding. A new exterior to reflect his intention to be different, a personal reminder to be better.

“No time like the present! Let’s hear it," Monoma holds out a hand.

Hitoshi raises an eyebrow.

Monoma explains, “Your apology. To me. You haven’t been the nicest.”

An apology. Hitoshi was only thinking of changing for the future, but acknowledging his past mistakes might not be a bad place to start. “I’m sorry your reprehensible personality clashes so terribly with everyone you meet.”

Monoma's face screws up in a resigned, pitying smile. “Self improvement is a difficult art,” he says knowingly, punching Hitoshi lightly on the shoulder, void of hostile intent.

It's off putting, how quickly Monoma turned face and accepted him as one of his own. It would be suspicious, but he wore his disdain on his sleeve so clearly before. Ingenuity doesn't seem like his style.

“So? What are we taking on next?” Monoma asks.

“What are you talking about?”

Monoma explains, “For your Get Well Soon plan. In this scenario, you’re ill with social ineptitude, and I’m nursing you back to health.”

“There is no we in this. And no one’s next. I don’t need to…” Hitoshi trails off, remembering a cheerful voice, an analytic eye, and incessant optimism, only to have put that down and pushed that all away. “Oh fuck, actually I need to- I need to fix that...”

Hitoshi takes a few determined steps away to do just that, lost in thought, then remembers he was having a conversation with someone. He turns back to Monoma, who wears an amused expression, and Hitoshi gives him a half wave.

“Pro tip from a pro, it’s polite to say goodbye before you leave,” Monoma says.

Hitoshi shrugs, walking backwards. “Sure, whatever. I’m going now. See you later I guess.”

Not that he intends to seek out Monoma in the future. He just has a feeling he doesn’t have a choice in the matter. He stalks toward the general education dorms with purpose. There’s someone he needs to look out for.