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Usyagi

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Class 3-A peers curiously at their teacher in the front of the classroom, not paying attention at all to the board or what’s on it. Even the good kids, Iida and Yaoyorozu and Midoriya and Bakugo, are completely distracted.

They all heard what happened of course: the whole school knows. But they haven’t seen it in person up until now, and it’s stranger than any of them ever imagined.

Aizawa originally had the bunny settled behind his desk in a makeshift bed, made up of the lid from a cardboard case of printer paper and a bunch of soft fleece blankets piled inside. But the rabbit wasn’t quiet or content with that for long. A few minutes later he was kicking up a fuss and trying to roam out into the rest of the classroom. So Aizawa, sighing, scooped him up and cradled him in one arm. He calmed down after that, happy to huddle against the teacher’s side and watch the classroom with sharp eyes and a twitching nose. The students silently vied for the bunny’s attention when their teacher wasn’t watching.

But now Aizawa seems to be struggling with a rabbit in one arm and trying to lecture with the other. He’s been substitute teaching for Midnight for the past week, and her Hero Art History lesson plans often include a lot of diagrams on the board, so he gives a bad-tempered grumble and deposits the little ball of fluff into the folds of his capture weapon. The bunny instantly nestles down against his chest with a soft, happy churr, eyes sliding closed and head tucking under the man’s chin as he settles in to doze.

After a pause the students realize with a start that their teacher has asked them a question. He glances around, sees that they’re all just staring curiously at the rabbit in his scarf, and gives a tired sigh.

“… He’s very clingy,” he says, by way of explanation. Slowly, hesitantly, a hand raises.

“Yes, Midoriya?”

“Um… c-can he hear us? Like, can he understand us or is he just… well, thinking bunny thoughts?”

“Honestly? I have no idea,” the exhausted teacher sighs. “It seems to vary, there’s a lot of factors at work. Sometimes he seems to understand and sometimes he’s just reacting to the sound of a voice, I think.”

“Will he remember any of this?!” Iida wonders, brow wrinkled in concern. All Aizawa has to offer is a shrug.

“Not a clue. Probably not, if I had to guess? But don’t quote me on that.”

Koda is the next one to speak. “Er, sensei…” he whispers, barely audible, “wouldn’t he be more comfortable at home in a rabbit pen or something? Why is he here in the classroom instead?”

A sensible question from a sensible boy. Aizawa shrugs again. “He’s been okay so far. We’re trying to keep his stress levels low until we get this all figured out, and since he seems to be suffering some sort of separation anxiety, I have to keep him close for now.”

“Aw, that’s so cute!!” Ashido squeals, staring at the bunny in Aizawa’s scarf with an enamoured look on her face. The teacher almost blushes, but manages to override it by shooting a glowing red glare out at the class. Ashido especially. She quails at the irritated look on his face.

“I understand that he is a very cute bunny,” he growls, “but you should not be letting that distract you. Now focus up!”

The kids jolt upright in their chairs, dragging their gazes back to their teacher and muttering a collective ‘yes sir’. Aizawa goes back to his lecture, thinking all the time that he really doesn’t get paid enough for this shit.

It all started with the disappearances. The police were investigating a series of missing persons cases in a neighborhood not far from UA High. All young men and women, gone with no note and no ransom call. One day the lead detective on the case didn’t show up to work. Then, the next morning, a parrot was found on her desk, clawing up her papers and cawing loudly. Thankfully, the detective made a very intelligent parrot, and eventually she managed to get the message across to her partners.

Someone is turning people into pets, and making off with them.

When Aizawa was building his own case file he compiled a summary of all available information on the case, both inferred and gathered from existing files. It read as follows.

The villain– a middle-aged male, they think– originally seemed to be targeting young women and men. But ever since the police launched the manhunt for this villain, who the press has dubbed the ‘Pet-Snatcher’, he’s started to use his Quirk as an offensive technique. Anyone who got too close to catching him was in danger of being his next victim. 

They think he might favor pets because he’s collecting his victims. The police profiler suspected that he has an obsession with it. The detectives are combing the local databases for middle-aged men with animal-related Quirks and a criminal record, but the profiler got turned into a gecko before he could dive much deeper into the Pet-Snatcher’s psyche.

The villain doesn’t kidnap or keep the police and heroes he catches, and he doesn’t seem to want to hurt any of the people-turned-animals, since most of the victims that they find are intact. While it’s certainly a relief to have them alive and safe, it presents its own unique set of problems. The police have their hands full just trying to take care of their coworkers-turned pets, let alone hunt down the perpetrator. And the victims have yet to show any sign of turning back.

The police did their best trying to contain it for three weeks, but the bastard somehow outsmarted them at every turn. Out of their depth and now horribly understaffed, they reached out to the hero agencies. UA took a special interest in it, since it was happening close enough to count as a security threat. So Nezu put his best people on the case.

Snipe was the first to take on the assignment, two weeks ago. He got close, even snatching a couple glimpses of the villain before he got zapped into a bearded dragon. His notes have a vague physical description, mostly just an estimated height and weight and a hint of what he was wearing at the time. It was enough to propel the investigation forward, at least.

Midnight and Present Mic tried next, going off of Snipe’s notes. The pair hunted every night for several days straight, but in the end they stumbled across the villain last week by unlucky chance. They managed to injure him before they were turned into a big black python and a cockatiel, respectively. At least now the police know to look for a man who’s deaf in one ear and has a snake-bite in one of his limbs. Thirteen, who already had Snipe under their care, very kindly offered to take both of the out-of-commission heroes, since their mom used to keep birds and they have a friend who breeds reptiles. So at least the heroes are comfortable, albeit unhappy.

With options limited and UA running out of substitute teachers, Aizawa volunteered to take up the case next. As an underground hero he was best-equipped to hunt this slippery, elusive villain without being stalked and caught himself. So for the past week, he’s been dancing a delicate dance with this unseen evil, determined to find this twisted son of a bitch and put things right. The villain’s original victims, the young men and women, are still missing and now Aizawa’s two best friends are trapped as animals. He won’t let it stand.

And that brings him to here and now, running on three hours of sleep on a Monday morning with a bunny napping under his chin and a migraine looming on his horizon.

On Saturday night he and Yagi had made plans to grade schoolwork and organize the week’s lesson plans together. With three teachers out of commission, the pair each had to take on extra work. Since Yagi is retired from field work and has more free hours than his part-time-hero coworkers, he volunteered to cover both Present Mic’s and Snipe’s responsibilities. He was actually doing well as an English instructor, given his fluency in the language and how he’s improved as a teacher in the past two years, but the toll of the extra work was showing. Aizawa would’ve been worried about the man, if he wasn’t so exhausted himself from pulling double teaching duty and working the case at night. They both needed a little help. A Saturday of working together, both on lesson plans and on the case, seemed like the perfect solution. Aizawa was eager to show what he had so far to Yagi, with his brilliant tactical mind. A fresh pair of eyes might’ve been just what he needed to crack it.

Aizawa was running late that night, since he had to wait in line at the takeout place to get their dinner. He’d texted Yagi and told him to let himself in with the spare key. They’ve been neighbors for two years now, after all. They know each other well enough that he wouldn’t mind if Yagi invited himself into his dorm apartment and made himself comfortable. And Yagi didn’t hesitate to do so anymore, with most of his initial shyness forgotten.

Aizawa expected, therefore, to come home to an apartment with the lights on and the tea kettle boiling, with his friend already getting to work at the kotatsu where they usually sit when they grade together.

Instead he walked into a dark room and the sound of his cat, Himawari– a formerly feral stray who rarely makes any noise at all– yowling loud enough to wake the whole campus.

Instantly he dumped the takeout bags and stalked into the apartment with his capture weapon at the ready, Quirk buzzing hotly in his eyes as he scanned for the threat. The window was hanging wide open, the breeze stirring the curtains. Yagi’s bag lay by the door– he hadn’t even gotten as far as the kotatsu– and his clothes were sitting in a rumpled pile in the middle of the floor, like the man inside them had disappeared. Not a good sign.

Aizawa cleared the living room and kitchen, then followed the sound of the meowing into his bedroom. He found Himawari pacing back and forth at the foot of his futon, screaming her head off. And there, huddled in the corner of the bedding, was a rabbit.

Aizawa glanced around to make sure the villain wasn’t still here. Then he sighed, letting his Quirk drop and closing his eyes for a moment so he could rub at them tiredly.

“No… not you too, Yagi.”

Slowly, he approached the futon and crouched by the foot of it, running a quick hand over Himawari’s head to calm her down. She was shaking faintly, but her yowling quieted when she felt and saw him here. He realized that she was probably meowing in an attempt to get someone’s attention, to get help for Yagi, and his heart hurt. He made a mental note to give her lots of pets and treats later, when this was all over.

Yagi, meanwhile, was crouched in the blankets staring at him through glazed eyes. Even as a bunny, his appearance was striking. His fur was a buttery dun color that Aizawa had never seen on a rabbit before. His eyes were their signature blue, but the irises were nearly swallowed in the black of his dilated pupils. He had long soft ears, currently pressed back against his head while he panted. Clearly terrified. His breathing rasped unhealthily. He looked delicate, and so, so small.

Aizawa reached out one hand palm-upward, making a soothing noise in his throat. Rabbit-Yagi squeaked and froze in place, every muscle locked and staring at him like he wanted to run but wasn’t sure where to run to.

“It’s okay, Yagi. Look, it’s just me,” he murmured quietly. “There’s no one else but me and Hima here. I don’t know if you can understand me, but I promise I’m not gonna hurt you.”

Slowly, hesitantly, the bunny stretched his nose out and sniffed the tips of Aizawa’s outstretched fingers. The man carefully stroked his head, eyes widening when he felt how soft that pale yellow fur was. After a few gentle caresses, Yagi seemed to relax into the touch. He made a soft, growly little whimpering noise, and though his ears un-flattened from his head as he calmed down, Aizawa was pretty sure bunnies weren’t supposed to breathe like that. Every exhale was strained and wheezy. Now that Yagi’s every muscle wasn’t tensed in fight-or-flight, his whole body started to tremble.

Anyone who knows Aizawa to any degree knows that he has just three soft spots: kids (he never fights fiercer than he does when a child’s safety is in danger), his friends (he has so few, it makes sense for him to want to protect the ones he does have), and cuddly animals (look, there’s a reason he likes cats so much. Animals are innocents by definition.) And since Yagi now checked off not one but two of those categories, Aizawa couldn’t help himself. All of his protective instincts surged to the forefront. He had to carefully pick Yagi up, avoiding the left side where he knew the injury was; he had to cradle the man-turned-bunny against his chest, thumb stroking gently over the top of his soft head; he had to wrap him in a warm, clean bath towel and then carry him back over out into the living room, murmuring quiet comforts all the way. His body wouldn’t let him do anything else.

He sat on the couch and flicked the light on. “We’ll take you to Recovery Girl and Nezu soon, and get this all sorted out. Okay?” he said, unsure if Yagi knew what he was saying but figuring that the quiet tone of his voice would be soothing either way. “I promise it’s gonna be fine. I just need to make sure you’re not hurt first.”

 He paused when he felt Himawari rub up on his leg, mewling softly. She jumped up on the couch and he stroked her briefly with his free hand. “You did good, Hima,” he told her, flashing her the hint of a smile. Then he turned his attention to the huddled ball of fluff in his arms.

Yagi twitched in alarm, back legs kicking out, when Aizawa set him down on his lap and flicked the towel back to examine him in the light. “Sorry, sorry, I know…” he sighed, petting the bunny’s head again. “I don’t have a choice. Just let me look, please?”

To his surprise, Yagi actually relaxed again. Like he heard. That glimmer of understanding gave Aizawa a little bit of hope.

The bunny allowed himself to be manhandled, turning over on his back to expose his underbelly and legs. Aizawa sucked in a breath when he saw the gnarled mat of scar tissue clinging to his ribcage, under all the fur. He’d glimpsed the real thing on the man before, knew a little about his condition… the thought of a rabbit with no stomach and one lung was one that made his gut twist uncomfortably. The villain’s other victims were all relatively healthy animals, and they were doing well, but what if Yagi’s illness as a human translated into something deadly for a rabbit?

Still, there was no blood anywhere, which was a good sign. Aizawa pawed over the bunny carefully to make sure. Yagi as a rabbit was long, with a giant wedge of a head and big paws. If he wasn’t so underweight he probably would’ve been one of those giant, chunky rabbits that weighs as much as a cat. But as it was, his body was mostly fluff. He was skinny and fragile underneath, and he was still shaking.

Satisfied that Yagi wasn’t going to expire this minute, Aizawa wrapped him back up in the towel and stood. He slammed the window closed, wondering how the hell the villain managed to get in and out of his apartment without tripping security, and then turned to the kotatsu to grab his case file before he left.

When he grabbed the folder he stopped short at the feeling of its weight in his hand. It was far too light, too empty... his stomach sank as opened it and found all of the papers, notes, and documents gone . All gone. And in their place was a single note, in an unfamiliar handwriting. Aizawa went stiff with fury as he read, eyes frozen and staring.

I dropped by to say hello, Eraserhead, but I found your sweetheart here instead. I was going to make you into a black cat, since that’s the obvious choice, but I thought All Might would make a wonderful bunny rabbit. I was right! He’s very cute, don’t you think? I’m almost tempted to take him with me to keep the others company, but your darling kitty cat wants to keep him so badly! So I let him stay. Take good care of them both– I’ll definitely be seeing them again.

Hope you don’t mind me borrowing your case file. Let me know when you’re ready to talk, and we can discuss turning him back.

-XOXO, the Pet-Snatcher.

Aizawa could’ve screamed, he could’ve punched through a wall he was so angry, but the rabbit cradled against his chest was still delicate and scared. So instead he snatched up the file, stuffed it into his bag, and then slung the strap over his shoulder on the way out the door. He told Himawari to be good, then slammed his apartment shut and strode away with Yagi in his arms. He walked fast, boots stabbing the ground with every stride.

That note was the last straw; he was on the warpath now.

The takeout dinner they were going to share sat forgotten in its plastic bags in the foyer, going cold next to Yagi’s empty shoes.

Recovery Girl’s office was where he went first, texting both her and Nezu the emergency code on the way so she’d be ready when he got there. It was a chilly night and Yagi was still shuddering, so he paused at one point to tuck the towel around him tighter, hold him a little closer. Thankfully it was only a couple of minutes before he found himself at her door.

He strode in without knocking, still fuming mad. She stopped mid-question, her look grim and quiet, when he carefully deposited the bunny on her examination table. There was no explanation needed as to who this was. She just stared silently for a moment, and Yagi stared right back, nose twitching.

“How did this happen?”

Aizawa explained the open window, the security breach, and finding Yagi on his futon with his frantic cat yowling for help. By the time he finished he was shaking almost as hard as the bunny, but from rage instead. He yanked the case file out to show Recovery Girl the note. Her wrinkled lips pressed into a thin line as she read it. Then, with a tired sigh, she turned to Yagi.

“Can you understand me, Toshinori?” she wondered, keeping her voice quiet so not to startle him. He just blinked at her while Aizawa took deep, measured breaths in an attempt to keep his anger under control.

“He sort-of seemed to hear me at one point, but other than that he’s been basically catatonic… I don’t know if it’s just because he’s in shock, or because he’s got a rabbit brain,” he supplies.

“Hm. Well, Hizashi seemed pretty intelligent even after he was turned, though that could be because birds are smart in general. I’d say Snipe shows uncommonly good language comprehension for an lizard. And that detective who got turned into a parrot even managed to give a statement, even if it was a bit muddled. It probably depends on a combination of factors, but until further notice I would assume Yagi here is smarter than your average bunny.”

After that Recovery Girl turned her attention to the patient. She spoke to Yagi in a low voice, eventually getting him to turn over so she could examine him like Aizawa did. Her papery old hands parted his fur to see the scar while Aizawa looked on, frowning worriedly.

Nezu arrived mid-examination, and the teacher filled him in on what happened. The principal studied the Pet-Snatcher’s note carefully. He was silent for a few moments, bringing the paper close to his snout so he could scrutinize the handwriting.

“And you say he took the rest of your case file?” the white-furred principal wondered, his beady black eyes flicking from Yagi to the note and back. Aizawa nodded.

“Yeah. It’s not a huge problem– most of the records he stole are just printed versions of digital ones anyway– but he did take the only copies of Snipe, Nemuri, and Hizashi’s notes. I remember most of the important points from them, but it could be an issue in the future if there’s a detail I need to review.”

“Hm. Problematic indeed. You were going to show them to Yagi, yes?”

“I was hoping a fresh set of eyes might help. He’s caught things I missed in cases before, and I really need a breakthrough.”

“Hm. Alas, his brilliant tactical mind is now locked away in the head of an adorable bunny rabbit,” the principal sighed mournfully. But then he brightened. “Well, you still have me, and while I don’t have All Might’s natural intuition for these things, I’m more than his equal in intellect! I shall peruse the records and print a new file for you. I’ll also send this note to a handwriting analyst as soon as possible. In the meantime, Miss Chiyo: what of our friend All Might here? Is he well?”

The nurse sighed and shook her head.

“Honestly? I don’t know,” she admitted. “My Quirk doesn’t work on animals. I haven’t really needed it anyway, since all the others were perfectly healthy. But his breathing is more labored than I’d like, and I worry about how he’ll eat if it turns out that he doesn’t have a stomach in this form either… I think it’s time to call in Dr. Inaba.”

Dr. Inaba was the veterinarian they’d been consulting with on this case so far, and a friend of Chiyo’s. Aizawa nodded.

“Right, then. If you call ahead I can go grab her from downtown–”

The moment he turned as if to leave the room, a frightened squeak startled the three staff members. Chiyo had to gently pin Yagi down against the examination table, since he was kicking and writhing for all he was worth. Aizawa’s heart leapt into his mouth and he was back at the tableside in an instant, one hand reaching out to pet the rabbit’s golden head. Yagi immediately calmed down again, laying there curled in on himself and panting from the exertion. He was shaking again, staring up at Aizawa with wide, terrified eyes.

The two people and one pseudo-animal principal all looked at each other in the pause that followed.

“Maybe you should stay–”

“–Yeah, I’ll uh… I’ll stay here for now. If you wouldn’t mind–”

“–Of course, I’ll place the call and send a car around. You two keep an eye on All Might.”

“Of course, sir.”

Nezu tucked the Pet-Snatcher’s note into his pocket with a nod and then turned to go, humming under his breath. The door closed behind him and the two people were left in the quiet of an empty sickbay, listening to Yagi’s rasping breath.

Chiyo didn’t have to hold him still anymore, since he had stopped struggling and was behaving himself, but Aizawa still lingered by the table. One thumb stroked over the top of the rabbit’s head and his long ears, petting absentmindedly while he stared into space, thinking. The shaking soon calmed under the man’s gentle touch. Yagi was on the edge of dozing off right there, though he occasionally roused himself so he could butt into Aizawa’s hand for more head-scratches. The teacher wordlessly obliged.

The old woman couldn’t help but smile while watching the two of them, even in this grim situation. She’s had to watch Yagi and Aizawa dance around each other for two years now, but it was moments of hidden tenderness like these when you could almost taste their implicit ‘something’ in the air. It was unconscious on both sides, this quiet thing between them, and unspoken as of yet. But even unspoken, even as a bud waiting to blossom, it was good for them both. She hoped, prayed to a god she didn’t believe in anymore, that they’d both survive this so that, one day, they could let that flower bloom and be happy together. They had earned a little happiness in their lives, at this point.

Still, she was content to let it happen at its own pace. After all, you can’t rush the springtime flowers, can you?

It was getting late, and all three of them were keyed up and exhausted, when Nezu finally returned with Dr. Inaba in tow. Aizawa greeted her with a nod, which she returned. She apologized for the delay, but the teacher was just glad she was here. The sight of her face was a relief in and of itself. She was a plain-looking woman in her middle age, but under that simple demeanor there was an incredible empathy and a strength which he had thanked the universe for time and time again over the past two weeks.

She’s been with this case since the beginning, having been called to help interpret the parrot-detective’s testimony. Much like Koda, she has an animal communication Quirk. But she chose veterinary over heroism because her Quirk is subtly different. Koda can talk to and command animals. But Dr. Inaba can read them, and empathize with them on a level he can’t. Koda is limited by the intelligence of the animals he communes with, not all of which can form thoughts coherent enough to interpret as speech. Animals that think in smells or pictures or touch rather than sound are almost incomprehensible to him, though they are still subject to his control. Dr. Inaba, on the other hand, can dip right into an animal’s head to sense their emotions and states of mind. If they think in pictures or smells or touch, then she can see or smell or feel those thoughts. She can’t command animals like Koda can, but no matter how simple their thought processes are, she can understand them. It’s invaluable for her profession, and has made life so much easier for the Pet-Snatcher’s victims.

Plus, she is an adult and a licensed practitioner, while Koda is seventeen and still a student under Aizawa’s protection. As useful as Koda could be in a case like this, it’s been dangerous so far (as the four pro-heroes-turned-pets perfectly exemplify) and Aizawa would rather keep him out of it, at least until he graduates. That’s where Dr. Inaba comes in.

The humans and the principal had a brief conference over the examination table, all of them hyper-aware of Yagi’s eyes flicking back and forth from one face to another. The veterinarian had been through all this rigamarole before, but never with a victim in as delicate health as Yagi. Eventually the principal reluctantly gave consent for Chiyo to disclose Yagi’s medical information on his behalf. They all disliked how invasive it was, to have his mind read by a stranger and his history bared without his agreement. They would never have subjected him to this if he were still in the form of a man, but these were extenuating circumstances. In the end, they agreed that his well-being came first. They could apologize to him when he was human again.

Aizawa had a vague idea of Yagi’s condition re: lung and stomach, but had never been privy to details. He offered to leave the room to preserve what little privacy Yagi had. But the moment the suggestion came up, the bunny’s ears twitched upright and the doctor flinched simultaneously.

“Ah, I think you’d better stay, Aizawa,” she said, looking a little pained. “It feels like Yagi really really doesn’t want you to go.”

“It would only be a minute, I’d just step outside the door while–”

“–Let me rephrase that. He’s already stressed, and the idea of you leaving his sight scares him terribly.”

Aizawa blinked once, slowly, before stammering: “I… is it okay? He’s taken me in confidence from time to time, but he never gave formal consent of disclosure.”

The doctor reached out and laid a gentle hand on the rabbit’s back, since sometimes touching a patient helps her get a better sense of an animal’s feelings. She thought about it for a moment, then nodded.

“It’s fine. He trusts you.”

So Aizawa sat off to the side, listening in grim silence as Recovery Girl listed the extent of Yagi’s condition in his human form. The veterinarian took notes, nodding every once in awhile and showing little sign of the shock she must have been feeling as the truth of Yagi’s illness was revealed. God knows Aizawa was sick to his stomach, listening to all this. The list went on and on: hemorrhaging ulcers in his remaining lung and what’s left of his digestive tract; internal scar tissue; pinched intestines; missing spleen and damaged kidney; compromised immune system; burned esophagus from the chronic vomiting fits; osteoarthritis from decades of sustained high-impact hero work; chronic, debilitating nerve pain; and more besides, medical jargon and micro-symptoms and conditions whose ramifications Aizawa couldn’t begin to understand..

None of this surprised Aizawa, but that didn’t make it hurt any less. His gaze kept pulling back to the miserable bunny crouched on the examination table, imagining the real Yagi his place, and silently aching on behalf of the man he’d come to call his friend.

He deserves better, was his one, bitter thought.

When Dr. Inaba was finally up to date on human-Yagi, she laid gentle hands on the rabbit to do her own kind of examination, for bunny-Yagi this time. After a moment of reading him, she asked,

“Aizawa, would you put your hand on the table just by his head? Yes, there, like that. Thank you.”

The hero watched in mild confusion as the bunny shuffled up and shoved his snout under Aizawa’s fingers, like he was hiding. He closed his blue eyes and nuzzled into the man’s palm, soft nose and whiskers tickling his skin. The teacher let it happen, but cocked one eyebrow and started to ask,

“Why–”

“I’m a stranger to him,” the vet cut him off as she felt down the rabbit’s sides for the scar. “He understands the necessity, but it’s still stressful for me to be handling him like this. I figured a friendly touch might help keep him calm, and it looks like I was right.”

Aizawa just nodded once, still nonplussed. But he kept his peace after that.

The veterinarian asked the bunny questions aloud, and she seemed to be getting some sort of silent response, because she always nodded to show she’d heard. Most of them were just about his pain levels, and how he felt. She even asked him to perform a few simple motions for her– stretch your hind leg this way, twitch your tail, turn your head, flick your ears for me, blink, take a deep breath– and, miraculously, the rabbit obliged.

She then pulled a comically small stethoscope form her bag and listened to Yagi’s breathing. Finally, after a couple minutes of careful examination, she put it away with a nod.

“The good news,” she said, “is that he appears to have all of his organs in this form.”

At this, Aizawa let out a silent, relieved sigh. He listened to her explain the rest.

“The transformation process seems to have placed an approximation of the scar tissue on his body, which is causing him discomfort and putting an unhealthy amount of pressure on his chest and ribs,” she described, pointing out the scar in question. “But both of his lungs and his stomach are present and functioning. He should be able to eat regular rabbit food, and as long as he doesn’t get worked up like this again, he should be fine.”

“And the bad news?” Nezu prompted. Aizawa’s throat tightened again when he saw the mournful look on the doctor’s face.

“He’s terribly underweight, exhausted, and hurting badly,” she supplied quietly, stroking a hand down his back where you could see the knobby juts of his spine if you smoothed the fur down. “I don’t know how old he is as a human… as a rabbit he appears to be middle-aged. Four and a half, maybe five years old. But I usually see these kinds of conditions in rabbits twice his age, eight or nine years. He’s suffering a lot of joint pain, and possibly nerve pain from the scar. He might have both lungs, but their function is impeded by the scar tissue and the severity of his malnourishment. I worry for his heart function. He cannot be upset like this again, or the stress threatens to do him serious damage.”

“Does he need any special care, like this?” Recovery Girl asked. Thankfully, the only thing Dr. Inaba had to say was,

“As long as you keep him comfortable and calm, he should be fine for awhile. I’ll get you a supply of painkillers just to make it easier on him. If he’s still like this a week from now, I’ll come back to check up. Other than that, he can do all the normal rabbit things. Above all, just make sure he’s safe and with someone he trusts.”

Aizawa wasn’t surprised when everyone in the room turned to look at him, but that didn’t make it any less inconvenient. He gave vent to an exhausted sigh.

“I know what you’re gonna say,” he grunted, “and I know you’re all gonna override me, but at least let me make my complaints first.”

“Permission to complain is granted, Aizawa,” Nezu chirped cheerily. Aizawa just scowled at him.

“Well for one thing I’m teaching two classes–”

“–Three, actually,” Nezu interrupted, “since I’m going to have to ask you to cover Advanced Combat Training in Yagi’s place now.”

“Ugh! Great! Even better!” the teacher declared, throwing up his free hand in defeat (although he kept petting Yagi’s ears with the other). “So I’m teaching three classes, which means that babysitting a rabbit will be highly inconvenient during the day, and then every other free minute I have is devoted to tracking down the bastard who did this. If ‘safe’ and ‘calm’ is the goal for Yagi, then ‘with me’ is not the place for him to be. I’m clearly the Pet-Snatcher’s next target. He’ll only be in more danger if he stays with me.”

Nezu and Recovery Girl exchanged a look. Then Nezu launched into an enthusiastic lecture directly after, listing his responses on his paws.

“Teaching three classes with Yagi is not a problem,” he began. “I’m sure he’ll be perfectly happy tagging along with you, and since he seems to be a very smart bunny, I don’t think he’ll make any trouble. Plus, I think it will be good for the students to see that their teachers are still alive and well, even if they’re stuck as animals. The kids have been worried and distracted lately, so this is something I want for them. In addition, this gives the students the ability to watch over Yagi during the evenings while you pursue this villain. I’m sure Koda will make an excellent caretaker in your absence, since he has his own pet bunny. You can also let him stay with Midoriya in a pinch, since I’m sure he trusts that boy as much as you, if not more. Class 3-A won’t let any harm come to him while you’re working.”

Aizawa’s scowl deepened as he realized that Nezu was making a lot of sense. Not that the principle didn’t always make a lot of sense. It just irked him. But the final thing the principle had to say was just insult to injury.

“And lastly, as for the target on your back: we’ll be removing that soon. I’m placing guard bots outside your apartment’s windows and doors to make sure this break-in doesn’t happen again. In addition, I called in a few favors. Best Jeanist and his team have agreed to take on the case in conjunction with you. Some sidekicks from Endeavor’s agency have also agreed to join the taskforce on loan, and they have useful Quirks that will greatly aid the hunt. You will be leading that taskforce.”

Aizawa stared blankly for a moment, his brain cataloguing all the ways in which that will be a headache for him. He doesn’t do teams well, let alone leadership, but by that time Nezu had pretty much sealed his fate. The conclusion he came to produced a frustrated growl. He dragged a hand down his face, shooting the principal a glare. Nezu just smiled right back.

“Fine,” he growled, giving in with a defeated grumble. Dr. Inaba just patted his shoulder sympathetically. He never stood a chance.

That was how he found himself, an hour later, lugging a giant box of borrowed pet supplies into his apartment and cradling a half-asleep bunny against his shoulder. Dr. Inaba had downloaded ‘A Beginner’s Guide to Caring for Your Pet Bunny’ pdf on his phone for reference, then gone back to her practice and put together all the basic supplies he would need. He’d taken it all, grumbling about it the whole way, but there was no denying the fact that this was probably for the best. Yagi clearly needed a safe place to adjust, and right now his rabbit-brain seemed to have equated ‘safe’ with ‘Aizawa’.

The teacher was reluctant to unpack that particular thought right now, so he shoved it into a corner for later and instead told himself that Yagi must have just temporarily imprinted on him or something. Yes, that was it. Aizawa had been the one who found him like this, after all, so it made logical sense for the bunny to latch onto him.

Right?

He unpacked all the bunny supplies, examining each item while Yagi carefully hopped around the living room, exploring his not-so-new surroundings from his very new perspective. Himawari trailed behind him, occasionally letting out an inquisitive little mrrp? noise as if trying to communicate with him. She wasn’t acting predatory, thankfully. Probably because he was almost as big as her and could conceivably kick the shit out of her if she tried to attack him. Who knew, maybe she even recognized who he was. At least that was one headache Aizawa wouldn’t have to deal with.

The care package Dr. Inaba had put together contained a food bowl, a water drip-bottle with a stand, a twine bundle for hay, a litter box and substrate to fill it with, a litter mat to keep the mess contained, a box of food pellets, a grooming brush, some nail trimmers, a couple of toys, and pet carrier padded with soft blankets and towels for him to sleep in (or hide in, if he wanted to). There was also pain medication, to be fed to Yagi twice daily, preferably after he’d eaten to prevent stomach discomfort. It was in liquid form with a blunt plastic syringe for dosing.

Aizawa was originally going to put the litter box in the corner of the kitchen next to Himawari’s, but the idea of making the bunny do his business out in the open was somehow uncomfortable. So he moved it into the bathroom, in the corner next to the toilet. Then he picked a corner of the living room to place all the rest of the supplies and the carrier, since the care-guide recommended having a ‘home base’ for a house-rabbit to go back to. But it looked so… strange, all just sitting there on a plastic mat, like Yagi really was a pet bunny. Which, he was, but he wasn’t. He was a bunny, yes, but he was not a pet. He was a man trapped in a rabbit’s body. It felt wrong to treat him like an animal, especially when he was already so scared and confused and in pain…

It hit Aizawa all at once, standing there in his apartment staring at the pet supplies and at a bunny who was supposed to be his very human friend.

The Pet-Snatcher, who wasn’t even supposed to be aware of Aizawa pursuing him, somehow knew who he was and where to find him.

The villain must have been stalking him for days, and he– the ever-vigilant, borderline paranoid underground hero Eraserhead– never even noticed.

The villain had found his home. Had somehow slipped security, both in and out. He had been waiting for him in his own apartment tonight, poised to make him the next victim.

And Yagi… Kind, humble, self-sacrificing, too-good-for-this-awful-world Yagi; Yagi who was supposed to be retired, who was finally getting his chance to rest, to be his own person and have the peace and happiness he’d been denied his whole life; Yagi was the one who was attacked instead. Yagi was the one suffering in his place.

Aizawa sat down heavily at the kotatsu, his throat so choked he could barely breathe. He buried his face in his hands, fighting to process all of this and fighting panicked tears at the same time. If he weren’t so exhausted he would have been in a better place to handle it, but as it was, he felt wrung-out: stretched so thin he could break. Yagi’s clothes were still piled on the floor in the middle of the foyer, the takeout had gone cold and stale, it was now eleven at night and he was exhausted, he still hadn’t eaten yet, he had so much goddamn prep work to do for class, even more paperwork to do for the case now since he’d have to file an incident report and give a statement, and all he wanted to do was sleep or maybe punch a wall, but he was responsible for a very fragile and very precious life now and he couldn’t afford to break down. Not now when all of his friends were trapped and suffering, especially Yagi, who didn’t deserve this. God, why him? Why victimize him after everything he’s been through? He was supposed to be safe, it wasn’t fucking fair–

A soft nudge against his thigh, and a tug on the leg of his jumpsuit, cut through the screaming static in Aizawa’s head. He turned his red-rimmed gaze downward and found Yagi sitting there, blinking his big, shining blue eyes at him. The rabbit nipped at his jumpsuit a second time and then butted against him for attention. Or perhaps to snap him out of his spiral. Something sentimental in Aizawa liked to think it was the latter. He reached down to stroke that soft yellow fluff, sighing heavily.

“We’re okay,” he said, more for his own benefit than Yagi’s. He willed himself to believe it.