Actions

Work Header

Charge!

Chapter Text

There are barbs coursing through Hitoshi’s veins. Vicious, cold, surgical barbs race through his blood, sinking their precise teeth into everything, tearing him apart. His vision swarms red with anger; red pounds in his ears, keeping time with his feet on the pavement, hard and fast.

It burns.

A blazing trail follows in his wake. The letter torn to pieces, shoelaces neglected to be tied, the door slammed shut. Hitoshi races through the night in a futile attempt to outrun the poison shredding his insides to ribbons.

‘Thank you for your interest in the Hero Department at U.A…’

When he was younger, the dream was a gift. It was his north star, a beacon to follow, perpetually burning bright. Forever on the horizon, he guarded it, poured his all into it and let it fuel his everything, only for it to be crushed by the very hands that gifted it to him.

‘...We are pleased to offer you admittance to the General Education Department…’

Nothing but a burning rage remains, red hot cinders crackle just beneath his skin. Sparks and smoke cloud his head as he runs through the city he dreamed of one day protecting. One foot in front of the other, his footfalls echo into an empty future.

Until a shoelace catches abruptly and sends Hitoshi careening off the path, tumbling down the steep slope to the side. All sense of direction is lost, only tracking the ground through his knee, shoulder, elbow, knee sparking out in pain as he falls uncontrollably. Twiggy bushes lining a chain link fence halt his descent with shallow cuts, a parade of leaves, and tears unbidden that threaten to spill over because  he's such a fucking idiot why did he think he could do anything-

“Get the hell outta there or you’ll regret my intervention.”

Hitoshi, flat on the ground under the bush, whips his head toward the gritty voice, a reply on the tip of his tongue when another beats him to it, “No need, no need. The guy with the hands said once I deliver, I'm out. It’s fine.”

Through the branches and fence, across the alley, Hitoshi can make out two silhouettes backlit by a yellow streetlamp. His breath involuntarily catches at the back of his throat.

The first one speaks again, unaware of the eavesdropper, “The boss won’t agree to that. We both know it. So I’ll do you a favour and  help  clear up any  confusion  you might have.”

Not able to see what the silhouettes are doing, Hitoshi’s confusion isn't cleared up at all, but the first must have done something because her accomplice doesn’t move, says nothing. A terse, immobile second passes.

It isn’t until the gun in her hand catches the light for a fraction that he understands. This scene before him is the universe rubbing it in his face. Someone is in danger, someone needs help right in front of him but he is powerless to do anything about it, and now, he always will be.

The lady takes a menacing step toward the other. “We can’t sit around waiting for it. We have to charge in and take what’s rightfully ours.”

Hitoshi gives pause. Now there’s a thought. But charging in with his quirk here would truly make it a villain's quirk, and he hesitates to bottle up his hero heart and validate everyone that’s carved  villain  into his skin over the years. Then again, doesn't having a hero's heart mean helping those in need no matter the cost?

A distorted yell cuts through Hitoshi's thoughts as a blur lands on one of the silhouettes. An almost auto tuned voice yells out, “Don’t shoot!”

Hitoshi shuffles on the ground to get a better angle. There’s three of them now, fighting for control over the situation.

“Hey! Catch the kid!” the lady yells.

The blur dodges and twists, landing several hits before ducking out again, the twin horns of his green mask streaming behind every maneuver.

Hitoshi can barely make out the contours of the kid’s mouth guard. It filters his voice to digital singsong as he gracefully dances around the others, “Deku! It’s Deku! I know you know my name. Use it!” Deku punctuates his last statement with a kick, knocking the gun out of the lady’s hand and catching it with ease. He hops away from the other two, gun gripped tight in both hands. “Now’s a good time for you to surrender,” he suggests, hinting at the danger he poses.

The shocked pause doesn't last long. “Oh relax,” the lady waves to her accomplice. “Little faux hero won’t shoot.”

Deku sets the safety on the gun. “Yeah, that’s true, but- oh? What’s this I have here in my pocket?” He pulls something out and points it at the accomplice. “Please go inside now so I don’t have to help you do it.”

Without a word, one of the silhouettes shuffles to a door and disappears with the click of a lock.

“And you, Conjuror,” Deku rounds on the remaining villain, mock lecturing her with a hand on his hip, “Go home already! Your daughter’s been waiting-”

Conjuror roars, “Don’t you bring her into this!” and rushes him.

Hitoshi lays there in the dirt, absolutely perplexed. Where did this kid come from? There’s no way he’s a licensed hero, yet here he is, stepping in when no one else did, living the dream Hitoshi has been severed from.

A plastic  crack  sounds through the night when the villain gets a hit in and sends Deku's weapon flying across the road and over the fence, landing just behind Hitoshi. Unable to contain his curiosity, he crawls over and paws through the leaves. It's a stun gun. At the press of a button, nothing happens, just the definite click of it being depressed all the way through. The batteries have no charge. Turning it over in his hands, he realizes there's more to it than just plain black casing and protruding bits of metal. There's power that comes with the threat of injury, and this Deku character used it to bluff his way to a peaceful resolution.

Hitoshi stares at the solid weight in his palm.

Anyone could use it.

When Hitoshi looks back beyond the fence, Conjuror is nowhere to be seen. Deku stands alone, haloed by the golden streetlight, catching his breath, holding his wrist. Hitoshi is transfixed. The wildfire that brought him raging here has smoked out to quiet embers. Kneeling among the dirt and leaves, the faux hero’s weapon held gingerly in his hands, Hitoshi is overcome by longing.

The villain’s words echo back at him,  Charge in. Take what’s yours.

Deku startles at the loud complaining of the chain link fence as Hitoshi negotiates himself over it, and he bolts without a glance.

“Wait!” Hitoshi calls, hoping words will bring the hero back, but by the time his feet hit the other side of the fence, Deku is but a shadow disappearing around a far corner.

He gives chase, but skids to a stop when turning the corner leaves him with nothing but a dead end, a stun gun in his hand, and the path before him as clear as day.

 

~

 

“Excuse me, sorry, do you mind if I sit here?” The soft question floats like a bubble to Hitoshi, unobtrusive to the rest of the library, bursting his concentration with a pop in his ear. He’s irked to find one of his classmates smiling nervously at him from across the table.

“Yes,” Hitoshi answers bluntly and brings his book up to his face to put some distance between them, trying to recollect his thoughts. He has no time for any distractions.

“Ah, thanks! All the other tables are taken,” the boy says, pulls out a chair, and sits his ass down with cheerful ignorance.

Irritation sharpens Hitoshi’s face. The quality of these general education kids…

It’s okay. It’s fine, as long as the kid stays quiet.

“Shinsou Hitoshi, right? I’m Midoriya! Uh, Izuku. Midoriya Izuku.”

Hitoshi slowly lowers his book to glare at him as he continues to talk unprompted, “I was curious, um, what are you doing your essay on? I was thinking, probably the one on pro heroes, because you, uh, applied to the hero course originally, didn’t you? I mean, you must have. You come across as someone who applied to the hero course.”

Applied and failed,  the unspoken implication comes through loud and clear, that being the circumstances of their meeting. He cannot believe the audacity of this soggy bandaid of a person. Hitoshi sets his jaw, biting back the desire to retort,  Yeah, and now I’m stuck in this second rate department with people like you, who don't even understand the core principles of rejection.

Instead he settles for the driest tone he can muster, and grates out, “Oh. Really.”

Midoriya takes it at face value, “Yeah! You answered that bonus question about the development of quirk laws, and that wasn’t in the textbook, so you seem pretty, uh, knowledgeable. There were some other things too…Like, uh,” Midoriya taps a finger against a freckled cheek, “Oh! When Agoyamato, you know, the guy who sits in front of me? He was talking about Backdraft’s quirk and you scoffed.”

“I sit on the other side of the room.”

Midoriya’s eyes shoot wide open and dart away to look anywhere but at him. “Uh, well yeah! It was loud enough! Anyway! You- you noticed he got it wrong, right? It’s not just water creation it’s-”

“-hydrokinesis,” they finish the sentence together.

Hitoshi leans back in his chair and folds his arms across his chest. Clearly the nerd is leading up to something. The sooner he gets it out, the sooner he'll leave him alone. Hitoshi prompts, “What do you want?”

Midoriya looks to him bright with hope, “Well...we’re the same.”

Hitoshi narrows his eyes.

“I tried to get in too,” Midoriya explains, “but here I am. Same as you.”

The same as this ignorant, rambling, tactless,  general education-  Absolutely not.

The same? Hitoshi would rather be compared to a thief in the night. If Midoriya knew what his quirk was -  villainous, invasive, good for nothing  - then he wouldn’t be so quick to relate the two of them.

Hitoshi states, low and steady, “We are nothing alike,” and shuts his book with a snap. Midoriya flinches. “And I’m not interested in being held back.”

With that, Hitoshi grabs his bag, turns his back to Midoriya, and leaves.


The long walk home could easily be subverted by hopping on the train but Hitoshi doesn't particularly want to be anywhere at the moment. Frustration crawls along his skin like pins and needles, invisible threads tugging at him in every direction. He lets his feet meander vaguely toward home, trying to distract himself by walking along the edges of the long shadows cast by the sun as it disappears below the cityline, orange and pink giving way to indigo and the black of night, but his mind always wanders back to that conversation with Midoriya.

The same.  As if.

Hitoshi punts a rock down the street.

First and foremost, there's no way Hitoshi is settling with his general education sentence so easily. That displaced, unsettling feeling has his ribcage gripped in its gnarled claws so tight he can't take a breath without the pressure reminding him to get out, do better, be better. Something Midoriya doesn't seem to understand, or he'd think twice before digging up Hitoshi's greatest shame from the grave he dumped it in. No mourning, no funeral, just buried deep down never to be acknowledged again. Their common failure isn’t something to  bond  over. He doesn’t need a friendship forged through inadequacy to drag him down.

Hitoshi is going his own way, his feet padding along on the streets he's always dreamed of protecting, when he hears the call. It's a distant plea, a soft cry for help. Not a second of hesitation, he detours from the street to find a hunched, hulking figure, prowling among the trees of a park, nose to the ground, clearly searching for someone. Someone in need of help. In need of a hero.

Some heroes are born great. Some grow to carve out their place in the ranks. And then there are others, a very select few who, after witnessing certain illegal heroes partake in questionably legal activities, carry a mask in their bag, just in case the need arises, because you never know.

Hitoshi's never put it on before.

The last of the sunset fades from the sky as Hitoshi darts out of sight behind a tree and retrieves it from his schoolbag. It's light in his hands, the smooth plastic only interrupted by the angled eye holes, metallic lavender markings, and elastic straps. It's a plain, black festival mask he got years ago, the exact details of the when and where long since forgotten.

Hitoshi hesitates still, peering around the tree trunk to find the threatening silhouette still searching. He glances among the trees and scans the road, but finds no one. Surely he wasn't the only one who heard. Someone will come. Hitoshi holds the mask to his chest.

A moment passes.

Then another.

He searches again for somebody, anybody, to come and take the choice from him, when he catches the dawning moonlight glint against something in a tree. Hitoshi meets the young, terrified eyes of the one who called for aid.

Only one option remains.

Charge in, take what’s yours.

He slips on the mask and heads determined into the dark.

 

~

 

Hitoshi finds himself patrolling the streets night after night, not by choice but out of necessity.

He doesn’t look back.

 

~

 

A month later.


The man in black inclines his head toward Hitoshi. “You start them that young?” he asks the other, steady eyes trained on her, watching for so much as a twitch. Hitoshi can barely hear over his heart pounding in his chest like a captive beast. He doesn't dare move even an inch, reluctantly admitting it's  possible  he may have made a  slight  error in his assessment of the situation.

The woman just behind him scowls, his hood the only thing shielding him from the raw proximity of her gritty voice, “He’s not one of ours.”

All he wanted was to help. Moonlighting around the city saving people has always been a walk in the park. Only now, in the face a mistake that he never considered he could be capable of making, does it occur to him that playing hero comes with consequences.

It was supposed to be straightforward. You see someone backing away from an unseen threat, you charge in to save them. Simple as that. Except when the “someone” is a villain and the “threat” is a hero. He thought he was doing the right thing, but Hitoshi really isn’t a hero at all, just a fool for ever thinking he’d approximate one. What a mistake.

The villain has Hitoshi in a tight headlock, shoulder pushing his hood too far forward and sharp angle of an arm skewing his mask too much to the side, threatening to obscure his vision entirely. He can only see the hero with one eye, mere meters stretched out to miles of quiet suburban backstreet away, held at bay by the threat of retaliation. Hitoshi doesn’t recognize the hero, but he has a definite aura about him, long black hair, yellow goggles, and a pale ribbon dancing around him like a snake ready to strike. He can only watch, keeping the villain and Hitoshi pinned against the wall with steely, unforgiving eyes.

“One of those kids, then,” the hero concludes, his voice no warmer than his gaze. “Deku? Charge?”

If being identified is supposed to make Hitoshi feel better about being a hostage, it fails to hit the mark by a long shot. The question is left unanswered, any words he might have get caught where the villain's arm braces his dry throat, fearful of what she might do if he reciprocates the verbal connection offered by the hero. Any movement might trigger a reaction from her.

Frantically searching for the spark of some kind of plan, he’s met merely by the high concrete walls that surround them. The only clear way out of the tiny back street is forward, past the immobile hero, or to the right, back over the fence he had oh so valiantly and obliviously jumped over, falling head first into this mess. There's no convenient makeshift weapon or pitfall or anything or anyone around he can use to gain advantage, not even the hero. He can only rely on himself.

Hitoshi has illegally negotiated villain’s victories from them before, but only when all witnesses present would have to condemn themselves for their crimes before they could report Hitoshi for unlicensed heroism. Here, with a pro hero watching him, he’ll have a hard time selling self defence when he’s charged straight into the situation like a dumbass. If he uses it, he and his quirk will officially be marked a villain.

But it’s not like he’s a hero either, nor will he ever really be one.

The hero attempts, “You’re cornered, Conjuror. Give up now and we’ll go easy on you."

She responds by gripping tighter, leaving Hitoshi gasping for air, “For me, this one’s disposable. But you? You’re the one who’s cornered.”

Hitoshi instinctively gripes at her arm to negotiate even just a little more room to breathe but she’s a locked vise. No amount of struggling makes a difference. The cold shock realization that he actually might not make it out of this intact hits him.

He plays his last card, wheezing out, “Let- let me join you. I can- can help.”

The silence that follows expands to infinity as he waits, frozen with the fear that she might not break it.

But then finally, blessedly, she replies, “Oh, relax-”

Hitoshi moves to take her under as his charge, scrambling for that gut feeling that just  clicks  when a response comes through, but it’s not there.

“- you’re not making it out of here with me,” she finishes her sentence, a sharp whisper in his ear.

Panic rises up from his stomach, claws his lungs, and knots his throat. That was it, that was all he had. His final attempt at escape stolen from him by some unknown, sickening force. The one thing he could always rely on, failed. Nothing is going to save him now.

Scarlet eyes command his frantic, scattered attention and they pierce him like an arrow through the heart. Hitoshi is struck by the raw desperation not evident in the hero’s facial expression or body language, and he's sure the hero receives his pure panic in turn. In this moment, more than anything, Hitoshi doesn't want to be a hero or a villain or anyone at all, just a kid who dreamed too big. Someone worth saving. Someone capable of being saved.

A cry sounds out from the sky and everything happens at once. The hero blinks. Hitoshi loses his footing as Conjuror pivots, swapping their positions. He flails as he falls, but is caught by her arm around his neck, propping him up at an awkward angle. Red sneakers drop in from out of nowhere, chancing a kick at the villain’s head. It misses Hitoshi’s mask by a hair’s breadth before deftly landing. At the same time, the hero dashes in at an angle, striking with his weapon.

Hitoshi tips further, still struggling against the villain’s grip as she leans out of the kick’s reach and jumps over the hero’s attack. She negotiates their positions once more and Hitoshi just manages to get his feet under him when she releases him. He barely has time to take a rattling breath before she knocks it back out of him, her boot striking him hard in the back. He stumbles toward the hero, who's prepared to catch him, when a bright flash and deafening boom bursts from out of nowhere right next to him, the force of a wrecking ball launching him sideways. The hero lunges to grab him but he’s out of reach, and he hits the concrete hard. A solid ringing fills his ears. With no time to reorient himself, someone’s pulling him up by the arm and shoving him toward the fence. Freedom in sight, all pain is forgotten and confusion irrelevant as he scrambles over it. Deku lands next to him and then they’re running. It’s a thoughtless, adrenaline high escape. One foot in front of the other, just stay upright, remember to breathe, keep running, all at once, over and over and over, until Deku stops.

“We should be far enough,” Deku says after looking around.

Hitoshi responds by dropping to the ground and resting his head on the pavement, heart throttling his ribcage, taking difficult, raspy breaths.

That was close, that was way too close. A wanted villain! And a pro hero! That was, without a doubt, the worst thing he’s ever gotten himself into. She blew them up! He could have died. He almost got caught. He was face to face with a pro hero and he tried to use his quirk in front of him but it didn’t work, why didn’t it work-

“Are you okay?” Worried eyes, completely at odds with his smile-reminiscent mask, peer down at him.

“I’m fine,” he croaks out on autopilot, contrary to the panic induced words spiralling in his head.

“Okay, that’s good. I’m glad you’re okay but also you’re injured and it’s kind of all over the place. Unless you have a healing quirk and bleeding everywhere is part of the process. Seems, uh, unlikely but it's possible.”

Hitoshi taps at his crooked mask until it's aligned with his eyes. Deku is standing over him, miraculously without a scratch, condescendingly fretful like Hitoshi is a little baby bird fallen from his nest.

Sitting up sets off several alarms in his head. His throat is raw, he’s got bruises on his everywhere, and his left arm and leg are, in fact, covered in blood, soaking through his equally trashed black outfit. Deku is already crouching next to him with a spray bottle of who knows what and some wipes. Hitoshi’s brain gets its shit together enough to organize some priorities. “Don’t touch me,” he hisses through gritted teeth.

Thankfully, Deku has enough sense to hesitate then stop. Regardless of whether he's just trying to help or not, being held hostage was way too much unwanted physical contact for a lifetime and Hitoshi doesn’t have enough words to explain himself to the guy that basically saved his life.

“Oh, uh, yeah, sure.” Deku falls back to sit cross legged next to him. “You will use these though, right? You probably want to clean that up. It looks, mm, uncomfortable at the very least.”

Uncomfortable is an understatement. Hitoshi peels back his tattered sleeve and lets him hand him his first aid equipment.

Deku talks while he cleans himself up. “Wild encounter back there, huh? Caught between Eraser and Conjuror. Have you met her before? I’ve been tracking her group for a while. They make and sell explosives on the black market. Ones like, you know, the one that just blew up in our faces. I’m not quite sure how it works yet but her quirk lets her materialize small objects in her hands. I was trying to intercept her tonight but if Eraserhead is on it then she’s almost certainly done for. Less work for me!”

This kid asks a lot of questions without waiting for any answer. It works for him, not at all in the mood for conversation. Maybe it's his choice of words, or his digital melody of a voice, or how his hands dance in parallel to his speech, but there's something about the way he talks that calms Hitoshi from his previous panic. It's easy to shut his brain off and lean into the vibrant energy Deku radiates while he methodically patches himself up.

“We got lucky! If his priority wasn’t capturing villains then we’d be caught for sure.” Deku laughs at the idea. “Shockwave, that’s Conjuror’s group, recently had some suspicious contact with The League. You know who they are right? When I first heard of them, I thought they were  so cool  with their anti-hero ideals and desire to dismantle the system. Then of course, it turns out their actual plans are evil and their name is actually the League  of Villains . My dream of joining them died pretty quick.” His laughter rings at the memory.

By now, Hitoshi’s mopped up most of the blood from his arm and what he could reach of his leg. The wounds that haven’t scabbed over are covered in gauze. He passes Deku’s stuff back, grunting a small, “Thanks,” and is met with a smile so bright it shines through his mask.

“Of course! Anytime! I’m glad I ran into you, you know. I was tracking Conjuror, right? And then there you were! Except, in danger, and I was like oh shit, that’s no good, better help out there-”

“Why?” Hitoshi cuts him off, asking what he hasn't been able to make sense of.

“Wh- we’re heroes, aren’t we? We help no matter the cost.”

He’s wrong. Hitoshi is no hero. And some people aren’t worth it.

“Also, also, you’re the other me!” Deku continues in his cheery tone. “As soon as I heard- I mean, I miiight have been listening in on the scanners just a little. Tsukauchi was all like ‘ahh it’s that juvenile vigilante, Charge!’ and I was like, ‘woah, who is that?’ and I knew I had to meet you.”

Vigilante…?

“I’m Deku, by the way. The one and only other juvenile vigilante. At least, that’s what they’re calling us. I prefer to think of myself as a keeper of peace where the symbol cannot reach.” Deku tilts his head and asks, “So why are you here?”

Is that what he is?

Deku reliably continues past his question, “I mean like, I started because my older brother, uh,” his eyes drop to his fingers twisting in on each other in his lap. “He went missing when I was young. They never found him, but I knew,  I know , he’s out there, so I went looking. It’s funny, when you’re out looking for something, you end up finding all kinds of things you weren’t looking for. I thought, wow, all these people are like me, except, I can actually help them. And here I am! So, yeah, how about you?” The kid leans forward expectantly, actually leaving him space to answer a question.

With a hidden hand, Hitoshi grips the stun gun he keeps in his pocket. “Does it really matter? I’m-” Not a runaway villain. Not a dismissed hero. Not a hapless kid. “- a vigilante. That’s all there is to it.”

 

~

 

“I’m boycotting it,” Midoriya declares with unnecessary volume, which is any volume at all. It’s not that he’s being particularly loud, it’s just difficult to take a pre-class nap when Hitoshi can hear every single word from across the room. Giving up, Hitoshi picks his head up off his desk to shoot a glare at the offender, who’s got a little crowd around him soaking up every word. Hitoshi is so tired.

“At the end of the day it comes down to two things,” Midoriya explains from his desk. “Publicity for UA and scouting for the students. It sounds great! A bonus for the school, a bonus for our careers, but! And this is what they hope you don’t notice. The thing is, when they say it benefits the students, they really mean the hero students, and only the hero students. So why bother asking the entire student body to participate?”

It’s a rhetorical question but the girl perched on Midoriya’s desk - she has a rain quirk, Hitoshi forgets her name - asks, “What about the management students? They put out a lot of analytics.”

Having clearly already considered this, the show off immediately counters, “Sure, but it’s not promoted. They could display their reports on screen or distribute them after but they don’t! The biz class gets no publicity for their work and they can go anywhere to find subjects to analyze. They don’t even participate in the events, no one will know who they are.”

The student across the aisle from Midoriya - minor shapeshifting quirk, their name also forgotten - tries, “Okay, but what about support? They get to show off their gear.”

Again, Midoriya has a response ready. “Sure, it’s a bit better for them, but the exposure their work gets depends on their camera time, and if their inventions aren't visual then that’s not gonna promote them at all. There’s no showcase of features and function. Not to mention there’s a huge risk of damage!”

Midoriya pauses, but no further objections come from his audience. He continues on, because why not keep disturbing the peace right up until the bell, “And then there’s us, and what’s it got going for us? The truth is, we’re just there to make the hero students look good. All of us. It’s a lot more of a show when a small handful of hero students emerge as the best from two hundred. They’ve been training specifically for these kind of combat situations and critical scenarios, and we haven’t been taught anything! Are we even supposed to stand a chance? It’s just gonna be another entrance exam, not made for people like us. So I’m boycotting the sports festival.”

Hitoshi crosses his arms over his desk and rests his head on the makeshift pillow. It’s convincing. The ideals are solid. It make sense. He follows the logic, but. Just. Downright atrocious execution.

“I could participate and rank poorly.” Apparently Midoriya talks forever if no one stops him. Unfortunately, people are interested in what he’s saying. “Or I can make a scene and refuse. Give them a reason to stop and think about what they’re asking of us, who they want to showcase as their best students.”

Hitoshi gets it, he really does. It’s just...it's a bad idea. Midoriya can’t honestly believe an absence is going to accomplish anything. The festival will continue on and he’ll get a mark in his attendance. The only way to stand out here is to do well despite the odds.

Actually, yeah, what better opportunity to show he should have been accepted than coming out of nowhere as some random general education student and out performing their precious hero students? Show them they were wrong to pass over him. No one will be able to look away.

“- to certain types of quirks. Like Shinsou, for example. He also tried for the hero department but didn’t get in.” Several pairs of eyes turn to look at Hitoshi.

Did Midoriya really just say that.

To the whole class.

This fucker.

Hitoshi stands at his desk, seething. “You’re wrong about everything.”

Okay, it's a bit of a hyperbole but it succeeds in shocking Midoriya silent and he turns to gape at him. Did he just expect Hitoshi to agree? This kid doesn’t know anything about him.

“But- but what about what we-” Midoriya stops short at some wide eyed realization, “- oh.”

He falls uncharacteristically quiet. Some complex, sad and confused expression paints his face but he doesn’t care to figure it out.

Hitoshi announces, “I’m competing in the sports festival and I’m going to win.”

All eyes turn to him. Apparently his declaration caught some attention. After a beat of total silence, the whole class bursts into excited chatter. Hitoshi sits down, his face a perfect mask. Luckily, their homeroom teacher walks in a moment later and he doesn’t have to deal with the aftermath of his outburst.

 

Or so he thought. Somehow Hitoshi finds himself just outside the door of one of the hero classrooms, goaded into declaring war against them by his own class, who has escorted him here and are pushing up from behind him to get a look at UA’s star students. Even Midoriya “boycotting the sports festival is a good idea” Izuku has tagged along.

He has no intention of humouring them and garnering the attention of all the hero students. His quirk works best when it's unexpected and he's not interested in painting a target on his back. With the anonymity from the crowd around him, it's the perfect chance to size up his opponents.

Somehow the gathering around 1-A’s door has grown much larger than the initial parade from class 1-D. Curious bystanders flock around the door, stalling the hall's traffic. There's a sea of heads surrounding Hitoshi, making it difficult to pinpoint who's speaking when a voice carries out distinctly over the crowd, “Well, well. If it isn’t the infamous class 1-A at the center of trouble again. 1-B would never deign to cause such a disruption. What have you done this time?”

A reply comes from the one trying to shove his way into the hall. “I’ll blow all your goddamn heads off if you don’t get out of my way!”

With his slight height advantage, Hitoshi purveys the ensuing chaos as everyone shoves in opposite directions to get away or get through or get closer. Nobody gets anywhere.  

“Such a violent reaction for someone who’s supposed to be from the better hero class.” Hitoshi pinpoints the 1-B student now, some blonde guy looking with condescension upon the poor 1-A students just trying to leave.

Soft muttering floats through the air like clouds, “Monoma Neito, copy quirk. A battle against him would fall to hand to hand skills and ability to strategize.”

Hitoshi isn't sure if Midoriya is talking to him or to himself. The loud hero student from before is yelling something else now, but Hitoshi tunes him out in an attempt to pick out every murmur streaming from beside him.

“Bakugou Katsuki, explosion quirk. Probably not enough finesse to navigate out of this crowd by air. He’d need a larger area to launch from, though once he gets up, there’s enough overhead that he could send himself a fair distance along-”

“Midoriya,” Hitoshi nudges him.

The flow of words stop as he startles from his thoughts. “Sorry! Bad habit,” he waves his hands nervously in front of him, as if it would clear the air of his voice.

Hitoshi tilts his head toward the kid he avoids whenever he can and asks in a hushed tone, “Do you know all the quirks of the hero course students?”

“Um.” Midoriya avoids meeting his eyes. Something he's embarrassed to admit to him? Time to get over it, this could be exactly what he needs.

Eventually he answers, “I wouldn't say  all  of them…”

As if sharing a secret, Hitoshi leans further into the other boy's space. The surrounding crowd leaves Midoriya no room to take a step back. Just loud enough for him to hear, Hitoshi says, “You know what this means right? We have a real chance against them. You come at them from behind with your boycotting and I'll take the front in the sports festival, and together we'll show them what the likes of us can do.”

“T-together?” he says with disbelief.

Hitoshi offers, “We can help each other.”

Not quite convinced, he looks to him with cautious hope, “You'd really help me boycott…?”

If Midoriya's intel can land him first place then he'll do whatever it takes. “Yeah, sure. I'll help you prep.“

Midoriya glances back to the hero students, the condescending one from 1-B now in an argument with a tall, blue haired, bespectacled boy, the rest of the class filing out of the room and dispersing through the thinning crowd.

“Yeah, okay. Yeah. Let's turn some heads, Shinsou.”

 

~

 

A sharp intake of breath isn't enough to convince him he's no longer drowning in a black, empty ocean. Hitoshi forces his eyes open and takes deep steady breaths, still feeling like there's miles of water around him pushing him down, helplessly sinking deeper and deeper with no end in sight. He can still hear the sirens faintly crying as they fade into the night, so they must be real. The blaring wormed into his dreams and chained him to reality, howling at the shackles of sleep until he awoke.

Another deep breath to be sure there's no ocean to choke him and he sits upright, letting his blanket fall off his chest. His empty room is familiar, the desk in the corner, bag on the floor. Nothing is out of place.

Once he's awake it's a rare chance he'll fall asleep again, so he slips out of bed, bare feet on cool laminate, and gingerly pads across his moonlit room to peer past his curtains. Beyond the balcony, the city lies peacefully asleep. Everything is as it should be, yet he can't put aside the feeling of unease.

Just as he’s about to pull the curtains shut, another siren goes wailing by. Curious, Hitoshi slides the door open and leans out over the balcony. There’s no red and blue illuminating the whereabouts of the emergency vehicle. It must be on the other side. With practiced ease, Hitoshi steps barefoot up onto the balcony railing. Graceful as a cat, he leaps a vertical two feet and hangs off the edge of the roof by his hands, then hoists himself up one limb at a time. From the center of the roof, the cause for alarm is unmistakable. In the distance, a great plume of thick smoke churns upward, sickly grey and underlit dirty yellow and orange by the fire raging beneath it.

The third siren of the night passes by only after Hitoshi’s already out and changed into his vigilante outfit. His black boots, pants, and jacket keep him hidden in the shadows, his hood concealing tied back hair and his mask protecting his face. Keeping the bright stain smeared across the dark sky in front of him, he darts down suburban sidestreets that lead to back alleys between shops that lead to narrow roads between warehouses. The smokestack looms larger and larger as he approaches.

Several blocks ahead, a perimeter blocks his route, and he nears the patrolled blockades with caution. As he considers how to get past, a glint of light catches his eye and he instinctively ducks behind a corner, just narrowly missing the spotlight of a cop's flashlight. The radio pinned to their vest crackles as other units report, “...site of the explosion… pro heroes on the scene… perpetrators still at large…”

Sounds like a terrible night to get caught. Hitoshi continues down the sidestreet he hid in, away from the cop. He's barely a quarter of the way when he hears a small, “Fuck.”

Hitoshi spots him immediately, the twin horns of his mask just visible over a weathered cardboard box. Two more steps reveal Deku curled up on the ground, sandwiched between a dumpster and the box. The shaking mess of a boy holds up a gloved hand and says in a broken, watery voice, “W-wait, don- don't come here.”

Hearing his unfiltered voice catches him off guard, the world displaced two degrees off its axis. He's never caught Deku without his mask on, his voice small and mucousy and  wrong .

He stands slowly, faux smile now masking his face. It more resembles a grimace without his usual cheerful eyes, which are now downcast, puffy, and red. Hitoshi’s mental image of the one who sparked his vigilante journey and then saved his life does not line up at all with the kid in front of him. This is what they mean when they say don't meet your heroes. Hitoshi doesn’t want this. Deku is better as a symbol, a memory of his origins, a glorified idol to aspire to. He is not this folded over, snivelling boy overflowing with  emotions.

“Charge,” Deku's mask grinds words into gravel through the voice changer, dull, dusty, and grey. He's really not okay. “I'm okay, j-just give me a... Let me just…”

He holds a weak finger up and presses a hand to his eyes as if he can push back the verge of tears.

For a brief second, Hitoshi catches a flash at the other end of the road. Someone's coming. With three long strides he closes the distance between him and Deku, plants a hand on the top of his head, and forces him down into a crouch. Caught off guard (the real Deku would  never ), he falls to his ass instead, knees at eyebrow level. With the dumpster not very good at being large, not enough time to think, and not enough space to have much of a choice, Hitoshi wedges a knee between Deku and the dumpster, shoulders the corner it makes with the wall, and shepherds Deku's red shoes in tighter with his other foot. Still visible over the lid of the dumpster, he pulls Deku in closer by his shoulder and leans forward to rest his sternum on Deku's head, tucking his own head in around him, black covering green. Hitoshi whispers sternly, “Don’t move.”

Barely three seconds since Hitoshi first saw it, light floods the alley and the two boys are blanketed in shadow cast by the dumpster. Hitoshi strains to hear the footsteps that slowly make their way toward them. He counts each one, visualizing their location, the remaining distance from getting caught. Beneath him, Deku is stock still and Hitoshi holds him minutely tighter, as if a millimeter might save them. At thirteen steps, an estimated four meters from the dumpster, they stop when a radio cuts in and demands all units regroup at section nine. Hitoshi almost breathes a sigh of relief.

The steps start up again at a jogging pace, not away from them, but toward them. Deku clutches his sleeve. The beam of light gets stronger as the source draws nearer, the shadow shrinking fast. One step, two, then three, the shadow line blinks out of existence when the light is too close to cast it anymore. Four step, five, then six, the cop steps into view and Hitoshi tenses with nothing but the thought to shield Deku, but the cop continues on past them, keeping pace.

Dizzy with adrenaline, they remain statues until the threat is out of sight and then some. Hitoshi slowly leans back and checks the coast is clear on both ends. Judging it safe, he tries to stand up but Deku is still clinging to his sleeve, eyes shut tight. He's muttering something to himself but it’s not loud enough for his mask to pick up and it goes unheard.

“Hey.” Hitoshi pulls his arm away and hisses, “We can’t stay here,” but it garners no response, so he hooks a hand under his arm, hoists him to his feet, and hauls him away.

They stop a safer distance away at a park in a residential area, not back toward the school but not too far from it either. At the foot of a grassy hill, he drops Deku’s wrist and turns to face him, but is met with a blank expression staring at the ground.

Hitoshi groans inside, halfheartedly chasing wisps of plans that will save him the trouble of having to deal with this. Reluctantly, he lets the bare minimum question out, “Are you okay?”

The words break Deku’s reverie and he blinks at Hitoshi, then lowers himself to the ground and sits with an elbow on each knee, hands clasped in the middle.

How long does he have to wait until he can say that he tried, that it's not his fault Deku isn't saying anything, and he has to go because there's school the next day (the same day, technically), and his education is of utmost importance and respecting the class by arriving on time and well rested is -

A weighty breath, and then, “He… was there.”

“Who was where?” Hitoshi prompts, but when Deku doesn’t immediately respond, he tries another. “Were you at the explosion?”

He nods almost imperceptibly.

This is weirding him out. Sure, whenever they run into each other, he tries to ditch Deku as soon as possible, but he knows him well enough to say that when something goes wrong, it only fans the flames and he comes back brighter than ever. His Deku thrives brilliantly in the face of adversity. This deadface Deku is a Deku stuffed to the marrow with  feelings  and has something he  cares  about enough to get hurt over it. Hitoshi is one thousand percent sure he does not want to stay and hear about it.

The window to excuse himself closes when Deku starts talking. “The League,” he whispers, barely audible. Resigned to the situation, he sits on the grass to hear better. If he has to do this he may as well be comfortable. Deku continues, starting with a whisper then finding his voice, telling the story in fragments, “I wanted to join them at first, do you remember? Can you imagine if I joined? He- he was there. It was a warehouse. They tried to- to lure in All Might so they could- I mean they tried to! They blew it up. He…” he draws in a shaky breath, “was the one who lit the fuse. My brother. He was there.” Deku pulls his knees up to his chest and drops his forehead against them, curled up against the world.

It pains Hitoshi to be right all the time. People and their emotions. His first mistake was giving Deku a chance to talk. He should have left after they stopped running because now that he knows what's got Deku so shaken, there's nothing he can make up that would justify leaving.

Unfortunately, what's done is done. The remaining problem being he has no idea how to respond to something like that.

Deku speaks up from his personal hiding place, soft and warbly and so lost. “I don’t know what to do. Can you imagine if I joined? I would have- he'd be… They said he was dead! But he’s not… He’s been here this whole time. And I… I can’t even tell our mom.”

How would that conversation even go?  Hey, mom, I found my long lost brother. Good news! He's alive! But also! He's a villain. You know that explosion attempt on All Might's life? The one that set an entire city block on fire? Yeah, that was him. How do I know? Funny story actually…

He definitely can't tell his mom. Or anybody, for that matter. So really, Hitoshi is doing him a huge favor by staying and listening.

There's more colour to his voice when he looks up and says, “I don't know what to do! He's done some bad things but it's not his fault, right? He was kidnapped! He had no choice! They made him be a villain, they must have. He's a good brother…” He swallows, “I don't want him to- I don't want- He's a good person-” Deku’s voice catches and he shoves the heels of his hands at his eyes, fragile frame shuddering as he fights for control over his breathing.

Hitoshi is supposed to approximate some kind of a hero but he’s entirely useless. There’s nothing he can say that will change anything. It’s not  okay  and he’s not going to take responsibility in ensuring  everything is going to be alright . There's no point to empty platitudes.

If it was him - he doesn’t even have any siblings, he’s never lost anyone he wanted to bring back, but that’s beside the point, focus - if it was him then he’d want something practical. Something concrete to act on. Real hope to latch on to. The first helpful thing all night occurs to Hitoshi, “They make deals with villains all the time. Maybe they’ll let him off easier if you can get him to confess.”

Deku looks up with an expression that might move a man to pity if it wasn’t ass o’clock in the morning and he bothered with those kinds of feelings. Waterlogged eyes shining with hope, he mutters, “That’s… that’s true. He might stand a chance if- I just need to talk to him! I can convince him, I just need to… to…” he curls in on himself again, crestfallen, “b-break into their… heavily guarded headquarters or… or catch him when he’s out on a- a dangerous mission…”

He looks to Hitoshi, utterly defeated. Then like lightning, his demeanor sparks with a realization and, rolling onto his knees, he grabs Hitoshi by the shoulders, bringing him face to face with electric hope in the shape a boy. Hitoshi has nowhere to hide when he asks, “Alone, it’s a lot, but! Charge, will you help me? If we work together I really think we can do it. We can reach my brother.”

Having a hero’s heart means helping those in need no matter the cost.

“No.” Too bad he’s only a vigilante. He's not about to risk messing with The League when he still has a chance with the sports festival.

Deku jerks his hands off him with the severity of static shock and falls back, defeated. “Oh. Well. I’ll just… I’ll figure something out.”

 

~

 

Hitoshi nearly has a heart attack the first time he sees Eraserhead at school. He never connected the infamous Aizawa with his underground hero identity, but there he is, just chilling on the other side of the cafeteria in his hero suit. What the hell. Do teachers normally wear their hero suits when teaching? The general education ones certainly don’t. Is he Eraserhead or Aizawa-sensei in this context? What if he’s here on duty?

Hitoshi freezes when he realizes he’s just been standing there, staring at the pro hero, who’s now weaving his way between tables and students toward him. Shit shit shit.

He hasn't even been out patrolling since the explosion, but no adjustment to caution will retroactively fix how very much he fucked up when he met Eraserhead. His wounds are fully healed now but what if they found a clue, or some footage to analyze? They could match his height, his posturing, and Aizawa could see his eyes through his mask,  his purple eyes, oh fuck, he’s caught, he’s going to get arrested in front of everyone-

“Oh, Shinsou. You never eat in the cafeteria.”

Hitoshi finches at the voice behind him, yanking him from his thoughts. Normally, he'd find a way to remove himself from the vicinity as soon as humanly possible, but this time Hitoshi is so glad for the distraction. He turns to face his classmate, drapes an arm around his shoulder, and steers them both out of the cafeteria.

“Midoriya. What can I do for you?”

The kid’s shoulders are tense and his usual easy smile has been ironed to a thin line. But it’s not Hitoshi’s fault so it’s not his problem. Probably. Regardless, Midoriya is serving his purpose as a shield well enough and that’s all Hitoshi needs right now.

Aizawa passes by and pays them no attention. Crisis averted.

Under his arm, a red-faced Midoriya stammers out, “Buh- um. I- uh, did you, um, get a chance to look over the... the thing?”

The thing? Oh right. The thing. For Midoriya’s grand boycotting scheme. He forgot. And also didn’t want to do it. Hitoshi answers, “I haven’t had the chance to yet. I’ll do it soon.”

Ever patient, ever understanding, Midoriya nods. “Very soon, if you could? The sports festival is coming up. It’s this Friday.”

In less than a week their collaboration will be over and Midoriya won’t have an excuse to bug him anymore. The hero course is within reach and then he’ll never have to see him again.

“Yeah, sure,” Hitoshi reassures him and lets him out from under his arm. “Hey, did you find out about the shy guy?”

Midoriya pulls at his lower lip in thought. “Hm? Oh right, yeah. He does talk, it’s required for his quirk actually. You’d just need to choose your question carefully. I heard he likes animals, if that helps. I mean, it's his quirk, he can talk to animals.”

“Sure.” Should be easy enough.

“That was the last thing you wanted to know, so… um, are you...” Midoriya hovers awkwardly, pulling at the hem of his sleeve. Hitoshi waits. Midoriya has been helpful enough that just this once he'll afford him some patience, since they're talking anyway. Of course, as it goes, his good graces are wasted.

“Nevermind!” Midoriya flashes him a nervous smile. “See you in class.”

 

~

 

Pacing, pacing, pacing his room like a caged animal, Hitoshi rubs at the back of his neck and curses under his breath.

There’s some quote about shooting for the moon. Some fools say if you miss, you land among the stars. Other, more practical people, know the reality is you just die horribly in space.

Hitoshi is suffocating.

The universe doesn’t care how much he wanted it. Trying his best doesn’t make him good enough. It doesn’t matter how far he made it; he failed to reach the top. In this world, if you’re different in the wrong way you have to shine brighter than the sun or they won’t see you. He knows this all too well.

Hitoshi failed to take first place in the sports festival. His last chance at becoming a hero, truly dead this time. Now he’s stuck a regular student.

General education.

Pacing useless circles in his room does nothing to douse the fire under his skin. He can't bear to stay still. There are barbs in his veins, shredding his insides to ribbons. He needs to go. He needs to do something. Anything.

The mask on his desk stops him in his tracks. There's only one thing left for him. Hitoshi scoops it up and shoves it down his jacket, checking his pocket for the ever present, ever dead, stun gun.

No point in holding back anymore.

 

~

 

If there's a lesson to be learned here, it's that stakeouts are incredibly boring. Hitoshi’s not even doing any staking out. There’s only one pair of binoculars, which Deku is using to spy on another building several blocks away. He let Hitoshi try, but they’re miserable to use with his vigilante mask, especially since he upgraded it with mesh to hide his eyes. So he gets to watch Deku lying at the edge of the roof while he sits against a vent with a bag of chips. Because apparently, according to Deku, it’s not a real stakeout without snacks. Nevermind the fact they both wear masks to hide their identities from everyone, including each other. So the bag is unopened and will remain that way. Heartbreaking.

Deku had been over the moon when Hitoshi approached him with an offer to help with any just-fuck-me-up missions. When he showed up today, Deku confessed they’re just doing reconnaissance.

“What do you mean you’re not entirely sure it’s him?”

Deku shrugs, “Charge, it’s been years. I was four! That’s like a decade ago!”

“Are you kidding me? You were so worked up when you saw him and now you’re saying the villain might not even be him?”

Deku holds a reassuring hand up. “Listen, okay? I know it’s him, I can feel it. My dad, he had a fire quirk. The villain that set off the explosion? Fire quirk. I know it’s not much but I just… If I can get a good look then I’ll know. He’ll look like my dad, I think. Black hair, kinda tall. I’ll know! I’ll know. Don’t worry. I just need you here to make sure I don’t get stabbed or something while I’m scoping.”

They’ve been here for nearly an hour, waiting for The League to show up for some mission Deku claims they have lined up. This is not what he had in mind when he set out to burn some adrenaline in an attempt to forget he doesn't have a future anymore. Maybe if he’d been born with a different quirk, he wouldn’t be on this roof drowning in ennui.

It’s a truly desperate time when Hitoshi, unprompted, starts a conversation. To his single remaining source of entertainment, he asks the question that's been haunting him, “Hey, do you think unheroic quirks have a shot at being a hero?”

“You think about that too?” Deku lets out a short chuckle from behind his binoculars. “Someone I once looked up to told me no, you can’t. But I mean, we already are, aren’t we?”

There’s a rare slip of information that distracts Hitoshi from his question. He’s been trying to guess Deku’s quirk since they met, and the first clue presents itself: his quirk is unheroic. It’s highly subjective but he can probably eliminate the theory that he might have his father’s fire quirk. Though it’s possible it's too destructive to help in any capacity, or so weak it's only good for keeping him warm, and Deku  is  pretty warm. Not that he's been paying attention.

Hitoshi shakes his head, abandoning the thought to answer, “I mean a pro hero. With a license. Because the world revolves around certain quirks. There's no place in the system for people like us.” Okay, maybe he's quoting Midoriya, but Deku doesn't know who that is. And maybe, in hindsight, Midoriya's cynical view was… right. Not that he'll ever admit it to his face.

Deku holds his binoculars aloft to look over his shoulder with the biggest, starry eyed smile. It’s disarmingly out of place for the conversation but Hitoshi gave up trying to figure out half the things this kid does long ago. Deku replies enthusiastically, “That's exactly what I- yeah, you get it! It definitely needs a major overhaul. Like what The League's proposing, but, you know, less murder.” He tilts his head. “Why? Do you wanna be a pro hero?”

Ugh, what a personal question. There's a line between ‘strangers doing dangerous shit next to each other’ and ‘acquaintances doing dangerous shit together’ and it is not to be crossed. A snarky non-answer is already forming but... what the hell. It's not like they're doing any actual dangerous shit to keep him occupied anyway. “I did once, but now, I don’t know.”

“So what then? Just gonna be a vigilante all your life?”

Hitoshi scoffs, “Like fuck if I know. You're here too, you can't tell me you have it all figured out.”

Back to scoping through the binoculars, he replies, “Mm, yeah, I dunno... What do you think of management? Can you see me as a businessman?”

A mental image of this short, cheery kid working in a grey, boxy office among serious adults pops up and he barks out a laugh. “You, in a suit and tie? Sitting at a desk doing paperwork? It doesn't suit you at all. You wouldn’t be able to handle the safety of it. No combat, no dismantling hostile situations. What a waste of skills. It's a terrible idea.”

Deku stares at him incredulously, eyes narrow, one eyebrow cocked. “Did you just…”

Hitoshi crosses his arms, mildly annoyed. He shouldn't ask for his opinion if he can't take it.

“Was that a compliment? Did you just say something nice to me?” Deku asks.

If Hitoshi wasn't wearing his mask, the pink blooming on his face would be bare for all to see. This is why he doesn’t start conversations. One small saving grace, his voice doesn’t betray him when he defends himself, “No. I was stating facts.”

Sitting up to face him, Deku points an accusatory finger, “You think I'm talented!”

“No, I said you were skilled,” Hitoshi corrects him, then immediately regrets it.

Deku's fingers splay over his mouth, his entire demeanor dazzling with satisfaction, and Hitoshi knows he lost. Lightning strikes the tower that houses his reputation and it comes crumbling down in Deku's eyes. He doesn't like this at all. In a different life with a different quirk, he could rewind time and take his words back.

When he fails to comment, Hitoshi challenges the look he's giving him with a sharp, “What.”

Deku leans back to posture innocently, tone light as a breeze, “Oh, nothing. Just the fact that… I was right.”

Hitoshi frowns, “About what?”

“If I tell you I'm sure I won't live much longer!”

“So you’re saying I'd beat you in a fight.”

“Ha! No, I could absolutely trash you any time,” Deku waves him off with the confidence of a cat fishing from an aquarium.

Drawing himself up to full sitting height and leaning forward, Hitoshi lets a bit of hostility seep into his tone, “Are you challenging me?”

Waving a stop hand at him, Deku backpedals, “What? No! You’re supposed to be covering for me, not attacking me.”

“Then now's a good time for you to back down.”

Of all the unexpected, beautiful things that could happen, it's Deku laughter spilling over that melts away the edges and hard lines he didn't even realize he's tensing up with. It's infectious and he finds himself smiling before he catches himself. Deku calms down enough to say, “Sorry, I just- You know, we’re not so different, you and I.”

It doesn’t even occur to Hitoshi to deny it.

 

~

 

Quiet steps ghost along the floor, casting shadows against the silver moonlight on the linoleum floor. The end of the long hall presents them with a closed door, and Deku motions to the handle. Without a word, Hitoshi kneels next to him and fiddles long metal wires into the lock. A younger, more naive version of himself would have thought twice about such an act, but getting caught is the least of his concerns with Deku covering his back, eyes trained down the hall for any sign of trouble. With a sure click, the door unlocks, and he opens it just a crack to listen. Not a sound echoes from the stairwell. Perfectly in sync, vigilante follows vigilante through, slowly releasing the handle only after closing the door. It makes no sound.

Hitoshi shadows Deku down one floor, relying on him to navigate the basement of the old office building. It doesn't take long before Deku stops at a door and gives the signal.

This is it.

Hitoshi presses his back to the wall on the other side of the frame as Deku crouches at the handle, looking to Hitoshi for a final confirmation. Beyond the apprehension of seeing his brother for the first time in years is an unswaying resolve to see it through.

Hitoshi nods, and Deku counts down with his fingers. Three, two, one, he swings the door open and barges in.

Hitoshi darts in after, scanning the room for potential ambush while Deku takes on their target. Except… Hitoshi drops his arms. The room is empty.

Hitoshi didn’t think to ask where they were going, so he doesn’t really know where they are. He knows this is the place, as they slipped past League members on the previous floor, and according to Deku, this is the room. The white walls are bare, the smooth concrete floor sporting just enough furniture to suggest this is an office, or was an office, however bare. An empty paper cup lies on the floor. There's a single pen abandoned on the desk but no papers in sight. A monitor sits beside it, but no tower, just wires hanging lifelessly where one might have once been plugged in. In the middle of it all, Deku is on his knees in the room his brother was supposed to be guarding. “He’s not here,” Deku whispers to himself.

Hitoshi scans it again for some kind of clue, but all he can really tell is whoever was here took everything of importance and left who knows how long ago.

“He was supposed to be here!” Deku cries, loud enough Hitoshi can hear his actual voice behind the voice changer’s rendition of his plans gone sour.

Hitoshi plants a hand on his shoulder, “Hey, keep it quiet. He’s probably here, just… relocated. We can still find him-”

Loud as thunder, the whole building shakes and Hitoshi is prepared to tackle Deku under the desk, convinced the ceiling is going to cave in, but it stops as quickly as it starts. Instead, the lights cut out and they're plunged into darkness, unable to see for the sudden change. The two vigilantes immediately position themselves back to back, both harboring the same concern. Have they been found out?

Precious, still seconds tick by. Hitoshi can hear Deku's controlled breathing in the dark, shoulder brushing shoulder blade, elbow against arm. Suddenly, dim, yellow lights start flickering in a struggle to wake up. An old, electronic hum fills the silence when they finally manage to stay on. Emergency backup lights. Someone cut the power and it wasn't the villains.

Deku leans back into him and loudly whispers, "What do we do? What do we do? If he was here! If he was here we'd be done. We could have left -  we should leave  before we're found by whoever  that  was." Deku turns to face him, and Hitoshi moves in parallel, catching the pained expression in the shorter boy’s face. "Why isn't he here? I was  so sure … I’m sorry, Charge. I fucked up! I dunno where else he could be."

Hitoshi rubs at the back of his neck. “We can try and find him anyway.”

“Mm, no, I don't think so. We should bail. I know how careful you are about getting caught. I don't know where he is.”

A year ago, a month ago, staying would be incomprehensible. Coming on a high-stakes infiltration mission in the first place never would have crossed his mind, let alone tagging along behind someone, risking his freedom for no personal gain. But a lot has happened since UA tossed him aside, and Hitoshi has come to peace with it all. This hero life he found for himself…hiding in the basement of a building swarming with villains and who knows who else, putting his life on the line for the sake of Deku's future, the power to change the life of the person who cares about him most in his hands… He's happy.

“I came here with you,” Hitoshi states. “I’m gonna stick it through.”

Deku considers him, masked face plastered with some unknown expression, and Hitoshi meets his gaze unwaveringly. The space between them doesn't seem so far anymore. Deku shifts on his feet the way he does when he’s about to say something but another thundercrash shakes the building.

Whatever Deku was going to say gets usurped by, “We’re short on time. Charge, if we're doing this, I want you to remember, the most important thing is-”

“You get to talk to him,” Hitoshi cuts him off along with his tendency to ramble. “Propose the secret informant idea.”

“No, I was gonna say...the most important thing is that we both get out. I want us to prioritize each other over the mission.”

Ah. That’s not... There's nothing he can say to that. Prioritize Hitoshi? Over his brother? His face flushes hot and his eyes sting behind his mask.

He says nothing.

Deku sticks his head out into the hall, checking either side, then looks back over his shoulder and asks, “Meet back here in fifteen?”

All Hitoshi trusts himself to do is nod. They slip out into the empty hall and head in different directions.

Vigilantism was never a part of any plans Hitoshi made for himself, it was something that just happened to him. Even after everything he’s been through, in retrospect, he has no regrets. There are so many people he’s helped who wouldn’t have received it otherwise. Who else would save Deku’s brother? Who else would save Deku? From down here, heroism seems like a shallow show of power for fame. Do heroes ever  really  help or is it all for the fans, the rankings, the media? The cycle is perpetuated before those subjected to it have a chance to question it. UA continues to harbour its prejudice toward the physical and flashy. The hero students he faced in the sports festival are focusing on their own careers. Why should they bother with gatekeeping politics when they’re already in?

Who among them would rally for Deku? Deku, who's been out on the streets, night after night, chasing after redemption for his villain in the wake of being told he's not meant to be a hero with his quirk.

And Hitoshi, who's failed time and time again to join their ranks, fights for himself now.

Even the villains are caught in it-

Hitoshi rounds a corner but stops short when he hears faint voices from a room down the hall. A chirping voice pleads, “Let’s go now!”

“No,” replies a cool, steady voice.

Hitoshi’s heart stops.

“But there are so many new friends to play with, Dabi!”

It can’t be this easy.

“We wait for Mustard to get back,” says Dabi. Deku’s brother.

Where Deku, he’s been told, looks so much like his mother, Dabi takes after his father. An unfortunate inherited combination, Dabi's quirk yields him powerful flames but draws their heat back toward its user, resulting in severe burns after prolonged usage. It leaves much to be speculated about Deku’s own, supposedly unheroic, quirk. When Dabi steps through the door, he isn't prepared to see the prolific patches of scars covering his body.

Hitoshi zips back around the corner, hand to his heart thumping wildly in his ribcage. He’s here. He’s really here. After missing for ten years, he’s within reach.

As fast as he dares, Hitoshi hurries back, treading lightly at first then picking up speed, trying his best to receive the floor with each footstep to minimize the noise. After turning the last corner, arriving at the hall with the room he’s supposed to meet Deku in, he spots a villain stationed on the far side with his back toward Hitoshi. Dressed in a school uniform, the villain looks like a kid around his age.

Hitoshi shudders internally. That could easily be him, a victim of his circumstances, adopted by The League of Villains, aiming to bring down hero society, plotting an ambush for Deku. Fuck.

The villain shifts, holding his arms out to the side, hidden from anyone approaching from the other direction. Smoke leaks out from his cuffs and collar. Instincts nag at him to hide, to turn the other way and leave before he gets caught.

A distant pattering of footsteps carry down the hall. Deku.

Throwing aside self preservation, Hitoshi marches forward. He has a priority he needs to save. Brandishing the only weapon he has that can reach the villain, he calls out with authority, “What are you doing here?”

The villain turns and his face, his entire head, is completely covered by a gas mask. Shit. Even if he replied, there’s no way Hitoshi would hear. If he had a different quirk… well, at least it distracts the villain from his ambush. The kid stalks toward him, smoke steaming off his fists and - wait. Smoke quirk? Gas mask? This can’t be good.

The villain rolls something down the hall toward Hitoshi. The small, unobtrusive object rolls past his feet and pops open, leaking the same haze, cutting off any notion of retreat. Not that he would have anyway.

Hitoshi closes the distance between them quickly, feinting to the left then ducking to the right, hoping to get an elbow in under his ribcage, but he dekes out of the way. The kid pulls out a gun and aims it straight at him, smoke steaming off his hands around it. Hitoshi hesitates -  why does this child have a gun -  but it’s a crucial moment wasted and the kid takes advantage, sweeping Hitoshi’s legs out from under him. The floor catches him unceremoniously, the villain’s quirk swirling thick through the air. Hitoshi scrambles to get back up again, but his arms are unresponsive, his legs give up on him. The villain hovers over him, his head too foggy to make out what he’s doing.

No! He can’t lose here! His brother. He needs to tell Deku. He needs to save Deku.

Hitoshi only sees the flash of a pale ribbon strike like a snake before he loses consciousness.

Chapter Text

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.

Chapter Text

"Midoriya," Hitoshi rubs at the back of his neck, feeling absurd. He doesn't know why the act is so comforting. Maybe because it makes him stoop down a little. Taking a deep breath, he continues, "I've had some big realizations. I've been thinking a lot about what a hero, a real hero is, and how far I am from achieving that. In the past I know I failed to…" He clears his throat.

"I've been an ass. I want to acknowledge my mistakes and- and turn a new leaf, and if you want a part of this new me, I'd like for us to start again," Hitoshi says to his mirror, then sighs. There’s only so much he can practice for something like this.

Straightening his tie, he nods to his reflection then grabs his bag on the way out of his dorm room, ready for class. 

Today. He's going to do it today.

Hitoshi takes a step into the hall, stopping abruptly when he spots Midoriya on his phone, leaning against the wall a couple doors down. Two steps in reverse returns him to his room and he shuts the door softly behind him. Today. It's still going to happen today, but not right this very moment . It's way too soon. 

Coward! How is he supposed to be a hero if he can't do this? Hitoshi drags his hands down his face. It has to get done eventually, no sense putting it off. Peeking back outside, whoever Midoriya was waiting for has joined him and they're heading down the stairs together.

That's fine. He has plenty of time. 

Somehow Hitoshi gets to his desk before Midoriya even enters the classroom, but that gives him time to plan. When he gets here, he'll take him out into the hall and tell him. 

When Midoriya finally walks in there's only three minutes to the bell and that's really not enough time. 

When lunch rolls around, Hitoshi stops lying to himself and admits he's been stalling. It really shouldn't be this hard! He chews angrily, frustrated at his inability. Get over it! Avoiding it won't get it done. He grants himself until the end of his afternoon classes to work up the courage. After school, charged up and ready to go, he'll do it for sure.

When the final bell rings, Midoriya starts packing his bag, smiling at something his desk neighbor said. It's too soon, Hitoshi rationalizes. Out in the hall will be better. Midoriya weaves his way between the desks to the door. Hitoshi sweeps everything on his desk into his bag and hurries over, just managing to slip out the door behind his target.

Don't think about the right words, just say something. Deal with the hard part when it comes. Okay, okay, okay. 

"Midoriya."

Hitoshi’s heart leaps to his throat as the green mop before him turns around. For the briefest of moments, Midoriya's smile falters before he forces it out again. Don't dwell on that. Just keep talking.

The two boys stand facing each other in the hall, students bustling past them in a steady current. 

"Yeah?" Midoriya responds, fidgeting with the hem of his uniform sleeve. 

Fuck. Uh. "Can I talk to you?" 

"You are," Midoriya replies. He's never been so curt, and it frays Hitoshi’s nerves. 

Ridiculous. He has no reason to be nervous. 

"Let's go outside."

Midoriya follows him to the courtyard, where they end up standing to the side, bearing an anxious smile that wants nothing more than to leave. That's Hitoshi’s fault. Midoriya has every right to be mad after how he treated him. Hitoshi is determined to make it right.

"How did your boycott go?" Hitoshi says the wrong words. 

Midoriya gives him a quizzical look. "That's what you…? I mean, okay, it was a while ago, but, uh, it went well. It didn't really accomplish what I wanted though." Despite his reluctance to speak with Hitoshi, no force will stop Midoriya from answering in so many words, "I mean, it didn't accomplish what I wanted at all! I uh- got an offer to transfer to the management department." It takes all Hitoshi’s self control not to splutter out laughing in his face. Midoriya wears a self-conscious smile. "Apparently they were impressed by my organization and analysis, and then the whole thing got derailed toward that and it lost all traction for what I originally intended."

Hitoshi struggles to keep a straight face. This poor kid’s misfortune. Hitoshi basically commits crimes and gets into the hero department but Midoriya gets an offer to be a business student for trying to start a movement. It's hilarious. 

"If… if that's all you wanted to ask, uh, the others are waiting for me so…" Midoriya turns away, gesturing toward the door, looking so uncomfortable. 

Hitoshi nods. 

"See you in class."

"See you."

Coward! Absolute soggy napkin. He was right there! It was perfect. Except for Midoriya's sad, sad story. Hitoshi shouldn't laugh, he's supposed to be turning a new leaf. An opportunity like that won’t happen again. Hitoshi takes a couple steps back and sinks to the concrete ground, back against the wall, and sighs.

“That’s why you ride size appropriate horses,” a voice sounds from the wall. Of course, of course, Monoma’s there, leaning out the first floor window next to him, oozing cocky confidence. “Because when it’s time to come off your high horse, you might find it’s a long way down.”

Hitoshi grumbles at the ground, “I don’t want to hear that from you.”

With a small hup , shoes land beside him, and Monoma takes a seat next to him with that expression that invites anyone who sees it to punch it.

“I don’t even know what you were doing. You just have this constipated look on your face I can’t help but pity. So come on then, let your shit out.”

Hitoshi closes his eyes and leans his head against the building. “What do you want, Monoma.”

He can hear a tiny snicker. “It straight up looked like you confessed and got rejected. I wanna know the details.”

Cracking an eye open, it’s clear Monoma is absolutely serious. The fucking gossip. If it comes back to Midoriya that Hitoshi’s intention was a confession, he's gonna murder him. “It was not.”

“I'm just putting it how it is. You don’t bring another student out to a secluded area just to ask how their boycott went.”

Hitoshi is too tired for this. “Just shut up, please. If you really have to know, I was going to apologize to him.”

Monoma blinks, eyebrows angled in a way that almost makes him look serious. “But…?”

“It’s hard, okay?” Change is hard. Admitting he’s wrong is hard. He doesn’t expect Monoma to understand or sympathize.

“That was the thing you were talking about yesterday, huh? Pro tip from a pro, part of being a hero means setting a good example.” Monoma shifts forward, angling toward him so he can see his face. “So, I’m sorry for using your quirk on you. All I did was disengage and ask what your quirk was. Nothing more.” 

Hitoshi frowns at the unexpected, uncharacteristic apology. He tactfully refrains from reminding him that those under the influence of his brainwashing quirk remember what happens while under. 

“See? It’s not that hard,” Monoma smiles proudly, ruining the moment. Nothing is sacred with this one. It’s just a never ending show of one upping each other. 

Hitoshi responds, irate, "Out of all the things, that's what you're apologizing for?" 

Holding a finger up, Monoma reprimands him, "If you want me to apologize for being myself, you're out of luck. It's a precious thing and I'm not going to give it up because you wilt in the presence of brilliance." He pauses, then adds on with an open hand, "See, I know you're new to the concept of apologies but when someone extends one, the appropriate response is to accept it."

What does that matter. It was a fake apology. Hitoshi sideeyes Monoma's expectant demeanor. Unless what he did to Hitoshi has actually been bothering him. Monoma doesn't seem like the type to regret. Is he actually worried Hitoshi is holding that against him, of all things?

With the dwindling number of people he has in his corner, he'd rather not risk losing another. Erring on the side of understanding, Hitoshi answers, "Sure."

From the subtle, sagging relief and slight nod Monoma gives, Hitoshi knows he assumed correctly. 

Standing suddenly, Monoma dusts off his pants. "There you go. It's not that hard at all. I don't want to see you until you apologize to Midoriya."

"Perfect. I won't do it then."

Monoma scoffs, offended. "Don't ask me why I try to help you." Then, pointing with a rolling hand, he declares, "I will see you tomorrow." 

He then proceeds to climb back in through the window, followed by a chorus of admonishment from his classmates. 

The next day, there is no convenient Midoriya waiting outside his dorm room. There isn't even a Midoriya seated in class three minutes before the bell. Typical. The one day Hitoshi needs him, he's late. 

First period starts without him and at lunch the class rep doesn't know where he is. The final bell marks the end of the school day along with Midoriya's first ever absence. It's entirely uncharacteristic and therefore highly suspicious. 

Maybe he's sick. It's absolutely miserable being cooped up in the dorms feeling worse for wear. The kitchen feels like miles away and Recovery Girl's office is an impossible trek. 

Hitoshi hates being checked up on, but Midoriya doesn't seem like the type to mind, so instead of returning to his dorm room after school, he continues up a floor further than usual. Just outside Midoriya's room, he takes a deep breath and knocks. 

Every little grievance Midoriya could have with him rears its head, collectively bearing down on him as he waits for the confrontation. From looking down on Midoriya for daring to make friends the first time they met, to taking advantage of his analytical skills those few weeks before the sports festival, to pushing him away when he no longer needed him, Hitoshi’s acted selfishly with every encounter. Lies masked his intentions and the worst was assumed of the poor kid, just because they were a bit too alike. Optimistic in the face of adversity, Midoriya kept on going when Hitoshi failed to properly deal with his own failure, moving forward while Hitoshi struggled to admit his inadequacy. Midoriya knew how to roll with the punches and saw the good in everything, even people like Hitoshi. 

Until he finally had too much.

The door doesn't open. Hitoshi tries knocking again, and after waiting for what feels like forever, he opens the door just a crack. The first thing he notices is the bed, tidily made and clearly unoccupied. Opening the door wider, he sticks his head in and tries, "Midoriya…?"

No one responds. 

Hitoshi steps into the room, with mixed feelings ranging from fuck I'm probably gonna find a ransom note written in blood on the walls to god damn it he's ruining my attempt to be a better person . His desk is littered with notebooks, with an open newspaper sitting on top of them all. Hitoshi steps up to it, and a familiar name catches his eye. 

The headline reads, Local vigilante Deku turned villain with League of Villains

Hitoshi snatches the newspaper, holding it closer to his face to make sure he read it correctly. 

Deku. A villain. 

He stumbles a couple steps back until the bed catches him, and he lets himself fall to a sit. That can't be right. He skims the article, which claims he's been chummy with members of the League, acting in cooperation with them at the very least. It can't be true. 

His Deku, a villain. 

No, Hitoshi corrects himself. Not his anymore. Hitoshi had so many chances, and failed at every step. If he agreed to help when Deku asked, if he never got caught in the first place, if he never stopped being a vigilante, if Deku had him by his side, this never would have happened.

Instead he left to be a hero, and the person who needed help, the person only he could help, fell to the side. What's the point of training to be a hero if shit like this happens? Attending class won't make him a good person, getting a license won't save his friend. It's happening right now and Hitoshi is powerless to do anything about it because of shitty hero rules and his overbearing vigilante house arrest.

Local vigilante Deku turned villain with League of Villains . This is all his fault.

Looking at it once more, Hitoshi notices a time and address written in the margins of the article. It must be Midoriya's habit of chasing villain fights. Did he discover an impending encounter? Is Deku going to be there?

Hitoshi checks the time. He still has a couple hours before his vigilante curfew, which aligns with the regular student curfew. At the very least, he can find Midoriya and say what he's been meaning to say for the past two days.

With the adrenaline of sneaking out for a mission, Hitoshi feels naked without his full vigilante gear. But it's not a mission, it's not allowed to be. He leaves the school grounds properly, in civilian clothes and through the front gate, forcing the feeling down.

There's a bus stop across the street from the recorded address, his final destination, and Hitoshi takes a seat, utterly disappointed. It turns out to be some run down, tacky café. Midoriya is there, but he's not hunting fights like Hitoshi thought. No, he's sitting at one of the tables across from some sunglasses with black hair and a cough mask, his hood halfway on. If Midoirya's not laughing at something the other guy says, he's looking up at him with starstruck eyes. When the guy leans over the table to ruffle his hair, Midoriya practically melts. 

The only conclusion he can draw is that Midoriya skipped class to rendezvous with this guy and now Hitoshi is watching like a creep. 

What was he thinking? The world doesn't revolve around him and his problems. An opportunity to absolve himself with Midoriya and confirm Deku isn't really a villain all at once is too convenient. He was too eager to cleanly wrap up all his mistakes and never have to deal with them again. 

Midoriya follows his partner to the back of the café, who nods to the cashier as they head through to what is probably the kitchen. Hitoshi sighs. He should have just waited for Midoriya to come back to the dorms. Hitoshi gets up to leave but movement next to the café catches his eye. He has trouble coming to terms with what he sees. 

Two figures emerge from behind the café. 

There's no way. 

Scaling pipes, decorational ledges, and windowsills, the first, clad in a green jumpsuit and red shoes, and the other, with unmistakable burn marks, wearing a long black jacket, make it to the roof and disappear over it. 

How could he have been so stupid? This explains so much.

Deku, his personal hero who his world revolved around (until he betrayed him and drove him to villainy), is his classmate Midoriya. 

Midoriya, the little nerd whose mere act of breathing in his general vicinity pissed him off (until Hitoshi realized the error of his ways but still hasn't made it right), is none other than his old partner in crime, Deku.

The two people he failed most spectacularly are actually the same person. Suddenly a simple apology doesn't seem like enough.

On top of that, like a fool, he was hoping the article he found in Midoriya's room was an inflated story, stretching the truth just to have something to print, but there's no mistaking it now. That was Midoriya and his brother, Deku and Dabi, leaping over rooftops together as villains. 

Hitoshi knows he should start heading back if he wants to make his curfew in time, but there’s someone out there who's lost without him, and Hitoshi can’t leave it alone. Being a hero means helping no matter the consequences. It’s not too late. He can bring Deku back from villainy, make sure Midoriya returns to the dorms safely. He knows what kind of hero he wants to be, and he's not going to wait for permission. 

Hitoshi flips his jacket hood up and gives chase.

Having navigated these streets through the dark countless times, Hitoshi has no trouble keeping up with the two traveling by rooftop just enough to maintain a sense of the direction they’re heading. It helps that Deku has always liked to stick to the same convenient paths. With every back alley, every corner, every street lamp he passes, he steels his resolve. He's going to save his best friend, Deku, Midoriya, he's going to bring him back. 

He feels like such an idiot for not making the connection sooner. I knew from the beginning , the memory of Deku taunts him. Of course Midoriya, with his brilliant, analytical mind, figured out Hitoshi was Charge. It certainly explains Midoriya’s weird behaviour around him, acting with way too much familiarity in the beginning, though he wouldn't put it past Midoriya to just be like that. Why didn’t he say something? Hitoshi remembers with burning embarrassment all the times he’s spouted Midoriya’s own words back to him as Deku after having scorned those same words when he heard them from Midoriya. Deku would beam at him every time. It’s no wonder Midoriya’s been so skittish around him after his friendship-ending fight with Deku. With how avoidant he’s been, it’s amazing he tolerated Hitoshi enough to even tell him about his boycott. What a nightmare.

Shaking his head as if to clear away his thoughts, Hitoshi slows to a stop in the narrow alley he’s been running down. With the pace they’ve been keeping up, he expected to see Deku and Dabi hop over the gap between the buildings just above him. Did he lose them?

Maybe it’ll be clearer with a different perspective. He continues down toward a wider street when someone grabs the shoulder of his jacket and spins him around.

Deku’s eyes are burning with an intensity Hitoshi has never seen on him before. In the face of unfiltered fury, Hitoshi can’t help but flinch.

His Deku, (yes, his Deku because he is going to get him back), hisses at him through his voice changing mask, “What the fuck are you doing here, Shinsou?”

Shinsou, not Charge. A civilian, not his vigilante partner. The subtle difference rakes at him like a horde of tiny claws, trying to pull him down.

But Hitoshi isn’t Charge anymore. The name and all that goes with it has been retired. He’s turned a new leaf, rebranded with a new name, serving as a reminder for what kind of hero he wants to be, quirk and all. 

He pulls his hood off to face Deku plainly, who is pacing in a small loop in the alley, ranting at him. “You’re lucky Dabi didn’t see you! You shouldn’t be here. We’re going to- it’s not saf- You need to get out of here. I have something I need to do and you’re going to give me away.” He plants a foot down to face Hitoshi, anger focused on him once more. “I thought you couldn’t play anymore, so fuck off, hero student.”

Hitoshi squares his shoulders and says, “I came here to bring you back. You don’t have to do this. The Deku I know would never sink so low.”

Deku tilts his head to the side, then after a beat, bursts out in unkind laughter, leaving Hitoshi vulnerable and confused. “I can’t believe you! Did you really think- After everything, did you really think…? If anyone knows what I’m really doing here it should be you!”

Opening his mouth then closing it again, the gaping error dawns on Hitoshi. He was too quick to assume, too self-important, too eager to paint himself a hero. It’s just icing on the cake of all the unbelievable fuckups he’s accumulating.

Deku lowers his voice, mask digitally filtering to match his volume, “I’m just trying to get my brother back. Obviously I’m not a villain. Hey, you know, fuck you for even thinking that. Did you seriously come all this way to rescue my sorry little villain ass? Well, sorry to disappoint, but! Surprise, you’re wrong! And I have things to do so go away!”

Deku turns abruptly and heads the other way, leaving Hitoshi reeling. Did he really think himself so important that his absence would drive Deku, of all people, to a criminal life? Deku was his inspiration for a reason. Of course the steadfast vigilante would never betray his ideals and actually join the villains. The kind of hero Hitoshi wants to be doesn’t doubt people like that. The distance between who he is and who he’s trying to become is so vast, but closing that gap, even just a little, is what he came out here to do. Earning his new hero name isn’t just suddenly metamorphosing into some perfect being, it’s a gradual but thorough realization of himself, owning up to his mistakes and learning from them. In fact, it’s already begun.

“Wait,” Hitoshi calls to Deku’s retreating back, feeling like he’s armed only with a slingshot to siege a castle wall. “I have something to say.”

Deku, just about to turn the corner, stops to reply over his shoulder, “No, I don’t have time. It’s going to start soon. You need to get-”

Hitoshi takes a step toward him, palms up in a pleading gesture, “I just want to -”

Deku goes wide eyed at something down the other street and mutters, “Too late.”

“- say I’m sorry.”

Deku’s head snaps back to him. “You- what?”

And then Hitoshi’s world explodes.



By the time the dust settles, the ringing in his ears is the first thing he’s consciously aware of. Struggling to retain awareness, he clings to the intangible, disorienting tone. The air is thick. He chokes and coughs it out in little clouds. His arms cushion his head, the one below pulsing dully, pain almost negligible in comparison with the warm, sharp pain of the one on top, dripping, dripping, dripping onto his face. Everything hurts, the pain from his shoulder, his hip, his knee, everything, meld into one harrowing sensation.

When he manages to open his eyes, he learns that the building he was next to has been reduced to a single six foot wall, the rest of it dispersed around him.

Deku is nowhere in sight. He was there a second ago, he was standing just there , a step beyond the building, so maybe… No. There are no maybes. He’s definitely okay. Hitoshi is going to bring him back. He still needs to apologize. Deku has to be okay. He’s going to see to it that Deku is okay.

Attempting to get his legs up under him sends a shooting pain from his shin right up to his skull, drowning everything else out in comparison. Blinking through the pain, he can see a chunk of wall burying his foot. He’s stuck.

A groan sounds from somewhere beyond Hitoshi’s head. Further up along where the road should be, a blurry shock of green stirs.

Deku gets up seemingly intact and Hitoshi chokes on dust trying to call out to him. In the shadows of the rubble cast by a fading evening sky, Hitoshi lays partially hidden in his black jacket and grey pants. It’s unsurprising when Deku lurches away, leaving him undiscovered. Tears leak from Hitoshi’s eyes. If someone doesn’t want to be saved, is there any helping them? Maybe, after all he’s done to him, after all the harsh words, lies, doubt, and betrayal, the best thing Hitoshi can do is leave him alone. He’s been selfishly chasing after him with a self-serving apology that he might not even want to hear, let alone accept. Hitoshi closes his eyes. At least Deku is okay.

The shifting of rocks and soft falling footsteps broadcast someone’s approach. Hitoshi hopes with all he has that it’s a hero and not a villain. Repeating his experience as a hostage isn’t something he’s interested in, even if it means he’s caught out past curfew, not that it really matters at this point. He’s not meant to be a hero. He can’t even do this one thing.

The negative thought is identified for what it is and Hitoshi crushes it before it can fester. Thinking like that isn’t going to get him out of this and it isn’t going to get Deku back. The hero he’s going to be doesn’t have time for self-deprecation.

“Shinsou?”

Never did Hitoshi imagine he’d hear that characteristically condescending voice sound so fragile. A few more careful steps places Phantom Thief crouching in front of him, pretentious tuxedo at odds with the raw concern dripping from his face.

Hitoshi props himself up on an elbow so he can catch his eye and coughs out, “No, it’s Volition.”

Monoma frowns, asking in what Hitoshi is beginning to recognize as his nursing voice, “Did you hit your head? How many fingers am I holding up?”

“No, I’m fine,” Hitoshi croaks, covered in blood and bruises, partially buried. He coughs up more dust, prompting Monoma to offer him a small tin water bottle, which he drinks from gratefully. “It’s my new me. Volition. I figured it out. You know, the villain hero thing you told me.”

“Yeah, that’s great,” Monoma says, entirely unconvinced. “How many fingers am I holding up?’

“Three. I already told you, I’m fine. My name is Shinsou Hitoshi,” he starts, but when he forgets the questions typically asked when checking for a concussion, he makes up his own answers, “and you’re Monoma Neito, Phantom Thief, certified insufferable asshole and overall terrible human being. Happy?”

Monoma’s face screws up in a grimace, the byproduct of relief and distaste competing to make themselves known. “It’s a start.”

He rolls forward onto his knees, hands hovering like he wants to help but isn’t sure where to start. “How hurt are you? Can you get up?”

Trying once more, gritting his teeth against his leg’s violent protesting, he fails to find an angle where his leg eases out from under the propped up block of wall. “My leg is trapped but I can kind of move it so I don’t think it’s crushed.” 

Hitoshi relaxes back down as Monoma gets up to inspect the offending chunk of cement. Their awkward, unexpected friendship is unconventional, but he finds himself genuinely glad to have Monoma around, and not just because he’d be a fish in a barrel without him.

Monoma points to the right of where Hitoshi’s leg disappears. “If I lift it here, do you think you can pull yourself out?”

After successfully testing if he can support his weight with his banged up arms, Hitoshi responds, “Yeah, but can you even lift that? It’s a pretty hefty piece.” It occurs to him how lucky he is not to have been completely crushed by it, another brick by his foot taking the brunt of the weight. Wiggling his toes confirms they’re still there and functional.

That trademark condescending smirk returns to Monoma’s face before he turns and does...something. The change is subtle but evident when Phantom Thief lifts the block with delicate ease, allowing Hitoshi to scoot backwards. When he’s far enough, he sets the block back down, turning to hover over Hitoshi’s leg, fingers ghosting over the skin, surprisingly delicate for how boldly he does everything else.

“I don’t think it’s broken, but it’s probably fractured.”

That’s not ideal. He has a runaway vigilante he still needs to chase after.

“Hey, you’re on the clock right now,” Hitoshi realizes. “Do you… have… her quirk?”

Monoma makes no effort to hide his disbelief. “Are you serious? You never want it.”

“This is different. Just,” Hitoshi holds his fist out to him, looking away as though he were getting a shot or stitches. “It’ll make this easier.”

“As long as you’re okay with it.”

“Do it.”

Monoma activates Recovery Girl’s quirk and places the tiniest peck on Hitoshi’s knuckles. From that point of contact, strange but not unpleasant wave after wave surges through his body, coalescing on major and minor injuries alike. The open wound on his arm scabs over and the swelling over his fracture dies down. He rolls up his sleeve to poke at the fading wound. With each wave, pain is displaced by fatigue and he struggles to remain upright.

It doesn’t happen instantaneously and Monoma leaves his side to search for other casualties while his body knits itself back together. If this were done by the book, he’d have been assigned a cot or mat in a recovery area and told to lie back down and rest, but instead he’s on a rubble-strewn cement road, his caretaker too busy to supervise. The effect of the quirk finishing is marked by the release of that deep fatigue, which is good enough for Hitoshi. When Monoma's back is turned, Hitoshi tests his newly healed leg and hobbles away as stealthily as he can, only stopping momentarily to rest once he’s out of sight. He’s already going to be in trouble, so it can’t be that much worse to up and disappear. He still has a goal he needs to accomplish, his first mission as Volition, his first step in becoming the hero he wants to be.

It doesn’t take long to find Deku. Hiding behind some store’s planter box blocking the alley he came up, Hitoshi finds Deku in a standoff against Eraserhead in the middle of the street. If it were any other hero, he’d rush out to steal Deku away, but there’s no way his teacher won’t recognize him. 

“Holy hell, you are the absolute worst patient. You should be lying down right now. Do you actually want to break your leg?” Monoma berates him as he walks up from behind Hitoshi, then quiets to a whisper when he notices the pro hero and vigilante, crouching beside Hitoshi behind the planter. “Woah, what’s happening there?”

The two seem to be at some kind of stalemate, either in between blows or waiting for a question to be answered. Deku stands tall, solid, but obviously injured from the explosion, and this definitely isn’t Aizawa’s first fight of the night. Hitoshi knows his teacher and his old partner well enough to know their tells. When Deku bends his knees ever so slightly and Aizawa shifts his weight the tiniest bit back, Hitoshi instinctively braces his hand against the planter to hop over it, fully prepared to jump in between them, only to be yanked back by a firm grip on his other arm.

It’s definitely for the better. From out of nowhere, a giant fireball consumes the street, where Hitoshi would have been if he did jump out. Hitoshi glances wide eyed at Monoma, his silent gratitude met with a smug smile. Dabi lands on the street between Deku and Eraserhead, sending scorching fireball after fireball, strategically timed to block Eraserhead’s line of vision.

Deku stands awestruck behind Dabi, who’s purposefully keeping himself directly between him and Eraserhead, keeping his quirk up nonstop all the while. Hitoshi knows Deku’s plan is to get close to his brother to convince him to make a deal with the police, but from the pure admiration emanating from the kid, he isn’t sure Dabi isn’t the one turning Deku to villainy. With Deku doing nothing as a vigilante in this fight between hero and villain, it almost looks like Dabi has been successful.

Without warning the tide of the fight turns. Eraserhead steals away Dabi’s quirk and charges in fast. Striking with his capture weapon, he engages Dabi in close combat, who seems entirely unprepared to be without his quirk.

“Where’s the green one?” Monoma whispers beside him. He's right. Deku disappeared. “Ran off? Maybe he could tell the fire guy has a better chance if he’s not protecting him. Or that it’s a losing battle.”

“He wouldn’t.” Hitoshi knows Deku. He’d never run from a fight, especially if it means leaving his brother to be captured without hope of redemption. Every single time Deku’s rescued Hitoshi, he’s come in the same way. Sure enough, Hitoshi spots Deku slinking along the rooftops, ready to drop from the sky.

No longer being held back by Monoma, Hitoshi jumps over the planter with the warning, “Look out!”

Eraserhead has his hands full tangling Dabi in his capture weapon. Dashing forward, Hitoshi gets a step up off a parked car and leaps to tackle Deku midair.

Hitoshi’s shoulder rams Deku in the back, sending him off course. Deku lands with a roll, popping back up on his feet, but Hitoshi hits the ground hard and feels his previously injured leg crack as he rolls to a stop face down on the road. He has no way to take on Deku, who is assuming a fighting stance, fuming at Hitoshi's interruption. The best he can do is roll onto his back and prop himself up. 

“I wouldn’t take another step if I were you,” Phantom Thief threatens, coming up from out of nowhere to stand between Deku and Hitoshi.

Deku flashes a wicked sneer, “I’m not going to-”

That dead-eye vacant expression Hitoshi knows intimately snaps into place on Deku’s face. When did Monoma borrow his quirk? Suddenly he understands the phantom bit of his hero name.

Monoma turns around to check on him, but his eyes flicker up and he freezes, staring beyond Hitoshi.

The source of Monoma’s hesitation is Aizawa like Hitoshi’s never seen before, immediately filling him with dread. They’re all royally fucked. This must have been what he looked like right before he expelled his entire class the previous year.

Dabi, a member of the infamous League of Villains, unsurprisingly draws his ire, just like any villain would. Then there’s Deku, the well known juvenile vigilante that Aizawa has been chasing for a long time, caught consorting with villains, which has to wound Aizawa’s pride. On top of that, Monoma is here, and Hitoshi is willing to bet that as Recovery Girl’s intern, he’s not supposed to be anywhere near the front lines. Aizawa firmly believes that rules are in place to keep students safe, and even if Monoma isn’t his student he can’t be happy about him putting himself in danger, let alone stealing his long outstanding capture. Maybe, on a good day, all of that would be within reason, but Hitoshi’s presence is the cherry on top of reasons Aizawa has to murder them all. He’s way out past curfew, engaging in fights, and consorting with his old vigilante partner, just to name a few stipulations he’s breaking.

No one is going to make it out of this alive.



Hitoshi stares at the ceiling of the little medical tent they’re keeping him in for now. Monoma had initially healed his leg enough to limp on but definitely not enough to leap through the air, tackle someone, and then land again. This time, it’s fully broken but he has to wait to build up strength before Recovery Girl will agree to use her quirk on him a second time. Instead they patched him up manually, leg wrapped up in a cast and left crutches by his cot.

The fates of Dabi and Deku are unknown. He doesn’t even know where Monoma is, and Aizawa hasn’t stopped by to see him either. Somehow, he’s not dreading the confrontation like he expected he would. For the first time, the guilt that always plagues him when he steps up as a hero is absent. At the end of a night of vigilante work, after the adrenaline rush had faded, the weight of his actions, illegal and selfish, would always bear down on his shoulders. This time, even though he got caught, Hitoshi has no doubt that he did what he had to do. This time, he's committed to helping no matter the consequences, taking a step closer to the hero he wants to be as Volition, and if that's wrong, there's no point to any of this.

The flap to the medical tent opens and Aizawa walks through, reminding Hitoshi of when he first detained him for vigilantism in the hospital. He takes a seat in Recovery Girl’s little chair, the air between them heavy and silent. This is it. No matter how resolved he is to his actions, nothing will change the fact that Hitoshi crossed a line. He’s going to get expelled.

The silence is unbearable. He has to break it before it breaks him. “Sensei, I-”

Aizawa cuts him off, “Do you know why I took you in?”

Hitoshi creases and smoothes out the cot sheet over and over. “Because you thought I had potential?”

Aizawa’s eyebrows draw down, cutting deep ridges on his face. “So you understand how disappointed I am that you’re here. Not only are you out past curfew but you jumped into the middle of an encounter when I specifically told you not to fight. I advocated for you because I saw what you could become and this is what you choose to do with your freedom?”

It would be so much easier to lie in an attempt to smooth it over than to be judged for the truth, but the hero he wants to be has nothing to hide. “I was lost.”

“You were lost.”

Hitoshi admits in a small voice, “I was trying to find… myself. I was on a mission to… to apologize to someone I had wronged. I wasn’t looking for trouble, but then that building exploded and then you needed help. I don’t want to be a hero that can turn away from those in need. I know I’m supposed to leave it to the pros but there wasn’t any time and I didn’t use my quirk and I wasn’t really fighting and it was Deku. I know him. He’s my… friend.”

Aizawa sits there in silence, ruminating, judging. Not wanting to have to sit through the suspense, Hitoshi keeps talking, "I asked you before why you helped me. You told me before it was because I needed help. Heroism should be that simple. It just felt right, Aizawa-sensei. Volition, one who helps unconditionally, no matter the consequences. That's the kind of hero I want to be."

His teacher lets out a small huff, and Hitoshi has no idea if it's out of amusement or exasperation.

"You are not a hero yet. There are rules in place for a reason, Shinsou. If this happens again, I won't be able to justify defending you. Before you can call yourself an unconditional hero, you need to learn your limits. I won't tolerate another injury due to reckless behaviour. Do I make myself clear?"

"So very clear." Hitoshi is so confused. Is he not getting expelled? Normally, he's not shy to ask questions but if he's in the clear, he doesn't want to push it.

Aizawa gives him a curt nod, then gets up to go. He pauses at the door, and almost as an afterthought, says, "Thanks to your and Monoma's interference, we have Dabi and Deku in custody. Keep in mind that just because it worked out this time doesn't mean you can continue to break the law. I expect nothing less than the best from my students. Oh, and you have detention for a week. Come see me tomorrow after class."

He leaves before Hitoshi has a chance to protest.

He lets out a sigh of relief. He's still in. It wasn't a waste.

The flap door to the tent shifts and Hitoshi catches Monoma's wide grin through the canvas. The thief looks from side to side, checking if anyone's paying attention, then slips into the tent, securing the door behind him.

Monoma regards him with a smirk. "Good to see you didn't die, Volition."

"Likewise. Didn't get into too much trouble?" 

"Nah, I have my license, it's fine. Anyway, we don't have a lot of time." Monoma picks up his crutches and waves for Hitoshi to start getting up.

"What? Why?" Hitoshi scoots to the edge of the cot.

"Hurry up," Monoma hooks an arm under his and hauls him up, shoving crutches under his arms, then hurries off to peek outside the tent. Hitoshi adjusts his crutches and follows after, a clunky noise with every step.

"Yikes, that's loud. Whatever, not much we can do about it. Come on." Waving behind him with a beckoning hand, Monoma slips out of the medical tent. Hitoshi does his best to move as stealthily as he can, peeking out before following. The world outside his little tent is bustling, heroes, police officers, and media staff too busy to notice two students make their way among the tents and vehicles.

"Where are we going?" Hitoshi hisses after Monoma, doing his best to remain inconspicuous despite his unfamiliar crutches.

Stopping outside a tent similar to Hitoshi's, Monoma plants a hand on his shoulder and leans in close, whispering, "I found him. The heroes are meeting right now so I volunteered for guard duty. This might be the only chance you get."

With a hand on his back, he steers him toward the entrance, ready to shove him through.

"Wait, Monoma," Hitoshi grabs Monoma's arm, turning to come face to face with him, but it's too much. Instead, he looks down to the side and says, "Thank you."

For everything. That extra bit of sincerity is more than Hitoshi can handle verbalizing, but it is how he feels. This unlikely source of encouragement caught him at his lowest and helped him find his way again.

The face Monoma makes in response makes laying his heart bare worth it. It's somewhere between being way too cool for this, blanching with embarrassment, and being absolutely delighted. He quickly trains his face to the too cool scoff, like he's embarrassed on Hitoshi's behalf for having said such a thing, and says, "Obviously. Don't doubt for a second that I am a hero. And your friend. Anyway, hurry up and get in there. I'll signal when you're out of time."

Monoma shoves him through the door before he can say anything else sentimental.

Hitoshi stands just inside the tent, very similar to the one they were keeping him in except there isn't a chair for the medical examiner and  instead of sandbags, the walls are sealed to the pavement by somebody's quirk, the cot secured in a similar way. Handcuffed to the cot is Deku in his green vigilante jumpsuit, but his hood has been pulled down and his mask removed, staring at him with neutral, unreadable eyes. Hitoshi wasn't cuffed when he first got caught, but he was also in a brick and mortar hospital. Still, he can't help but wonder if Deku already tried to escape.

"Hey," Deku breaks the silence.

"Hey," Hitoshi parrots back, unsure of what to say. He has no idea where he stands. Midoriya is Deku, Deku is Midoriya, and he hurt both of them. Any doubts he may have harboured are gone, the vigilante before him seen unmasked for the first time.

"You may as well sit with that leg of yours," Deku offers, so Hitoshi makes his way over, perching on the very end of the cot.

"Did you get hurt?" Hitoshi asks the first thing that comes to mind.

"Hm? Oh, yeah. Recovery Girl healed it. Broke my arm in several places in the explosion." 

Hitoshi winces from secondhand pain. He tackled Deku with a broken arm and somehow the kid was still prepared to fight him. He can't help but feel admiration for his tenacity. Deku continues with a fond impression of Recovery Girl, " I don't care what he's been doing, he's injured and he's one of mine so I'm going to heal him. That's what she told them. Mm, but, anyway, what are you even doing here?"

There isn't a hint of anger in his tone, deceptively calm for the situation. Wasn't he just cussing him out for even showing up?

Hitoshi rubs at the back of his neck, crutches leaning against the cot beside him. "I was… looking for you? You weren't in class."

With a small smile, Deku says, "You finally figured it out, huh? I guess it was gonna happen eventually. At least, if you didn't know before," he gestures to his unmasked face, "you definitely know now. But from your lack of reaction, I'm gonna guess you had it figured it out." It's Deku's attitude carried out through Midoriya's unfiltered voice, no mask to disguise it. It's weird, Midoriya tends to deliver his words in a skittish, overeager manner, and Deku tends to speak with confidence bordering on cheeky. Right now, he's at some kind of middle ground, delivering his words at face value.

Hitoshi could embellish the truth as he so often used to, but he's determined not to be that person anymore. No more lies, no matter how small.

"Not really, I didn't figure out who you were until I saw you earlier this evening. I was there looking for you, well, you as Midoriya, before I knew."

Deku tilts his head in thought and Hitoshi recognizes the gesture as one of Deku's, who usually emotes physically with his mask and twin tailed hood hiding his expression. With his face in plain sight, he can see Midoriya's thinking face paired with it. Hitoshi is still trying to reconcile the two people he regarded so differently. They really are one and the same.

"What? Why would you? The only reason I didn't tell you I knew your identity was because I didn't want to tell you who I was. You liked Deku so much more than Midoriya. I didn't want to ruin that. What would you even want  student-me for?"

Hitoshi doesn't blame him.

"No, I…" The truth. "That's… A lot has happened recently. There was thing whole thing with Monoma? I got in a fight-"

With excitement characteristic to both his personas, Deku cuts him off, eyes wide, "You fought him? Did you win?"

"Yes. Well, no." Hitoshi's hand finds the back of his neck. "We didn't really finish it. We became friends?"

"You made a friend?" Deku says incredulously, leaning forward, the corners of his eyes crinkling as a teasing smile plays on his face.

"Stop that! I'm trying to-" Hitoshi cuts himself off, huffing in frustration. Staring at his hands, he rushes to let out, "I've been trying to tell you I'm sorry. For… everything. For the fight we had, for treating you like shit." He lets out a deep breath, then continues, "I'm sorry. I fucked up and… I consider you my best friend so… I guess I just want to know if it's okay if I keep doing that."

Hitoshi's hands look the same as they always have, yet he can't bring himself to look away. No response comes. He was so intent on getting to deliver the apology that he failed to consider what should happen after, but he never suspected that chatterbox Deku, never-shuts-up Midoriya, would say nothing. Hitoshi finds the courage to meet his gaze.

"Are you crying?"

Deku, with no mask to hide his quivering lips or to catch his tears, whispers, "I missed you."

A sharp tapping on the canvas tent have Hitoshi and Deku jolting with alarm. Deku scrubs at his face with his uncuffed arm as Hitoshi grabs his crutches, drops to the floor, and rolls under Deku's cot, hugging his crutches close to his chest. He disappears as black shoes step in, not able to see much more than that.

"Midoriya," says Aizawa's unmistakable voice. Turned up to eleven, Deku replies with his full vigilante attitude, pulling it off even without his digital mask to hide behind. "Hey, Dad. What's up?"

It takes all of Hitoshi's self control not to sputter in disbelief. That is not how you talk to Aizawa, holy shit .

"Good to see you're still here," Aizawa replies.

Obviously he's still going to be here, handcuffed to the cot which is essentially welded to the ground, Hitoshi initially thinks. But Aizawa had to have been the one who handcuffed him. Was...that a joke? Not only did Aizawa not murder him for the nickname but now he's telling jokes?

Metal clinks against metal and an open cuff falls to dangle off the side of the bed, right next to Hitoshi. While they were talking, he didn't catch Deku picking the lock, but there it is. It's like Hitoshi doesn't even know him.

"Mm, yeah, I thought I'd stick around to see what you came back with. You might want to get those checked out, though. I'm terribly sorry to break it to you, Eraserhead, but shackles are supposed to, uh, shackle?" Deku stage whispers the next part, as if in an attempt to spare the handcuffs' feelings, "These ones didn't do such a great job."

Hitoshi barely catches Aizawa mutter, "Problem child."

Hitoshi thought he had a tenuous grasp on what's going on, but the only thing he knows is he's in dangerous, uncharted waters. Why the fuck does his teacher have a nickname for Deku? What kind of relationship do they have? The only way they have this kind of rapport is if Deku's been detained before, but as long as he's known Deku, he's been free to run around as he pleases and Aizawa would never just let him go. The only conclusion he can think of is that he's some kind of master escape artist, given the handcuffs and the nickname. How has he never seen them interact before?

Aizawa starts, only to immediately get cut off, "I have an of-"

"Offer? Sure, I'm in."

Hitoshi holds his breath, not daring to move in the silence that follows.

Aizawa tries again, "You don't know what you're ag-"

"Agreeing to? Gosh, I dunno. I think I have a pretty good handle on what you want to say. Must be that paternal bond. You want to propose the same thing you offered Shinsou, right? Hero course, clean slate, hang up the ol' vigilante hat. Tell me I'm wrong. Just can't wait to finally have me under your wing, huh? So yeah, I'll do it. On one condition."

He pauses for dramatic effect. Or maybe he was hoping Aizawa would humour him and ask. Needless to say, he doesn't.

Deku continues, "I want you to make Dabi a deal too. A more lenient punishment, offer to work as a double agent, released back into the wild without charges, rope him into the hero course, whatever you want, as long as you don't go too hard on him. If you come up with some kind of something I will make him accept it, so don't worry about that part."

Hitoshi wishes he could see their faces right now. He imagines Deku's face set with determination, stubborn smirk and narrowed eyes that usually accompany that demanding tone. Aizawa's face he doesn't need to guess at. It's probably that same impenetrable wall of steel that rarely betrays his emotions. Unless tired is an emotion.

Finally, Aizawa says, "I'll run it by Tsukauchi."

"Thanks, Dad, you're the best. Uhhh, I mean, thank you very much! Mister Eraserhead, Sir! You have my sincerest gratitude from the bottom of my heart."

"Don't push it," are Aizawa's last words before he walks out.

Hitoshi takes a moment to compose himself after witnessing that wild encounter before shimmying out from under the cot as Deku peeks over the side.

Still lying on the ground, Hitoshi asks, "What the fuck was that?"

Deku shrugs, "I'unno. Keeps it fresh."

" Dad ?" Hitoshi makes sure his tone conveys how hard he's judging him.

It doesn't break Deku's stride. "Eh, it's just a thing that happened that keeps happening. I think he gets a kick out of it. Compensating for his lack of kids, or for my lack of father figures or older brother figures or something. How deep into this do you want to go right now?" Deku challenges him in retaliation for bringing it up.

Hitoshi doesn't bother answering, scooting out from under the cot, sitting up with his casted leg out in front of him, crutches on the pavement beside him. "Do you think they'll do it? Make a deal with your brother?"

Deku flashes a grin at him, "Honestly, I dunno, but it was your idea to begin with so it better work. Now get out of here before you get caught."

Hitoshi tries his very best to get back on his one foot with his crutches in the proper position and that's all that matters, despite the amused look Deku has on his face all the while.

Just before leaving, he turns back to catch Deku with an untroubled smile he's never seen on him before. When he catches Hitoshi stopping, it grows even bigger, and he gives a short wave, "See you in class."

Hitoshi returns it with a small smile and replies, "See you."