Hawks wasn’t supposed to be here. He wasn’t supposed to be wasting time like this. Wasn’t supposed to be around alcohol because even though he was legally old enough, the Hero Commission made it clear drinking wasn’t an acceptable past-time for a hero. Alcohol lead to impaired judgement which lead to poor choices that reflected badly on the Commission. Not to mention wasted time that he could be using to save people or-
The soft, concerned voice jolted Hawks from his internal monologue. Fuck, Okay. Throwing on a bright smile, Hawks rubbed the back of his head. Picture-perfect embarrassment.
“Sorry, got kinda lost in thought there! Anyways, this has been fun Rumi, but I’m supposed to be on patrol tonight-”
His attempt to escape was cut off by the same asshole of a best friend who’d tricked him into coming here in the first place.
“You absolutely fucking aren’t. I called yer damn office and I made sure you didn’t have patrol tonight. Sorry bird-brain, but you are spendin’ one goddamn night hangin’ out, no excuses.”
Rumi didn’t let him say anything else, shoving a glass into his hand for the third time that evening.
“Nope, not hearing it. For fuck’s sake Hawks, drink somethin’ ‘n chill the fuck out.”
She wasn’t usually this aggressive, but Rumi was by far the drunkest of their group tonight. Even holding the alcohol put Hawks on edge, made him feel like he was doing something wrong and wrong lead to punishment. Opening his mouth to refuse (again), Hawks found himself beat to it by the only other person in the room who wasn’t drinking.
“Usagiyama, if Hawks doesn’t want to drink then he’s under no obligation to. Not everyone is comfortable with alcohol and its effects, and you ought to be more respectful of his choice to abstain.”
Best Jeanist, who always insisted that Hawks could call him Hakamata or Tsunagu, had that same concerned note to his voice that he always did. While almost all the older pro-heroes looked down on Hawks because he was younger, Jeanist was the absolute worst. Any time Hawks was around him it was all ‘are you sure you’ll be alright taking on that big of a patrol area?’ or ‘when was the last time you slept and ate a full meal?’ or god forbid ‘if you need any help, my door is always open’. Worse, this guy actually had the gall to go over his head and bitch at the goddamn Hero Commission at how much work they were giving Hawks not once but on four separate occasions . Two of those times he’d pressured the Commission into actually cutting back Hawk’s workload, something the Commission was decidedly unhappy about.
Luckily, the Commission warned Hawks about Jeanist ages ago. The older pro-hero always thought he knew better than everyone else. Apparently, the Commission had been clashing with him since he started as a pro-hero, and while Jeanist had never given them grounds to revoke his hero license, he liked to tread the line. Hawks knew to stay well away from him, answer his condescending faux concern with curt replies and work with the other pro-hero as little as possible.
It was just one more reason Hawks didn’t want to be at Rumi’s office, sitting in a circle of pro-heroes each at a different stage of drunkenness. He didn’t even know most of the group. Rumi told him and Jeanist (for some god forsaken reason) this was an official meeting. Her ruse had been that she needed help with some villain who’d been giving her the slip, and since she never asked for help ever of course Hawks had agreed to come in. What sort of best friend would he be if he didn’t? Only when he arrived, he discovered that the entire thing had been a trap to get them to take the evening off. Rumi had invited a friend of hers, Midnight, who’d dragged along three other teachers from UA. All Hawk’s attempts to leave had been thwarted by Rumi, and although Jeanist had originally planned to leave as well, he’d ended up staying ‘to keep an eye on the rest of them’ like the asshole he was. And of course he’d taken up a seat right next to Hawks, and of course he’d spent the whole night trying to fight Hawks’ battles for him.
If asked later, what he did next was a result of overwhelming spite towards the other hero which had been building since he arrived.
Without pausing, Hawks downed the entire glass of whatever in his hands. The taste on his tongue was revolting and nearly made him gag, but he managed to choke it down through sheer force of will. Once it was in his throat it turned to liquid fire pouring through him, the burning sensation comfortingly familiar in a way that made his chest tight with guilt.
“Jeez, take it easy there Hawks.”
Snipe got a middle finger for his half-joking half-serious tone, which only made the fucker laugh. Present Mic, who was sitting next to him joined in, getting a groan from his husband who was stuck between Mic and Midnight. Aizawa was probably the second drunkest of the group, and the only one Hawks knew out of the four UA teachers. Or kinda ‘knew’ through Toyokami. Speaking of the kid, Hawks needed to scope out-
Only then did he realize there was a hand on his back that had been rubbing circles while he’d coughed and spluttered. He flinched back from the touch, and Jeanist let the hand fall away, but he was still looking at Hawks with pity and concern as if Hawks wasn’t a fucking adult who could handle his own shit. Hawks meant to say something to play the whole thing off, meant to open his mouth and smile brightly and make everything okay because that was what he was supposed to do. The drink had already started to settle in his stomach though. He’d always been a lightweight (in more ways than one) and he may’ve forgotten to eat today (there’d been so much to get done!) so he just swayed in place.
“I think that might’ve been a little much for you all at once, hun. Here, Hizashi, pass the snacks.”
There was a bowl shoved in his face from across the circle, and for the sake of not passing out, he grabbed a handful to stuff in his mouth. After a few seconds he was able to sit up straight without feeling like he was going to throw up. Shaking off the warm tingle in his veins, he glared down his so-called friend who was giving him a lazy smirk from her seat beside Midnight.
“I drank your stupid alcohol, I ate whatever, can I go now? I’ve got like a million other things I need to be getting done tonight. I don’t care what my office says, I do actually have a patrol tonight, not to mention paperwork from yesterday, and I’ve gott-”
“Oh yeah right, you just wanna go run off with yer stupid flame villain boyfriend. Dabi, or whatever he’s callin’ himself now.”
Rumi’s words were slurred, but everyone in the room heard her loud and clear. For a few seconds, Hawks had to wonder if he’d imagined them, but the drawn out silence said otherwise. He didn’t know what to do, his body was frozen, his mind refused to process anything. He couldn’t think. Couldn’t breathe. Somehow, Rumi was the one to break the tension in the room, eyes narrowing as she glared down the glass in her hands.
“Shit, I said that out loud, didn’t I?”
People started shouting, the peace of the evening completely shattered. Hawks flinched back from something. He was pretty sure Aizawa lunged at him, given the other’s crackling red gaze and the fact he was now barely restrained by his husband. Snipe and Midnight were both torn between helping Mic and helping Aizawa. What anyone else was doing Hawks didn’t have a fucking clue because while he’d kinda expected this to come up at some point but he hadn’t been thought it’d be like this, and he certainly hadn’t been fucking ready for it. Fuck, he should deny it, should make up an excuse or say something, anything to make himself seem less guilty. The alcohol was hitting him hard though, and all he could manage was a single strangled word.
Huffing a sigh and looking somewhat guilty, Rumi downed another two shots before she answered.
“I’m yer best friend Hawks, ‘course I’m gonna notice when you show up with a hickey ‘n the same place twice actin’ all weirdly happy and dodging questions ‘bout where you were. You never bed the same guy twice ‘n a row, let alone let ‘em leave marks. I figured somethin’ had ta be goin’ on. I followed ya for a bit ‘n saw you with ‘im. Wasn’t really sure what ta do ‘bout it, but you’d been so damn happy lately that I kept my mouth shut. ‘Till now I guess.”
This was a nightmare.This was a nightmare. This couldn’t be real. Aizawa was going to break free of Mic’s hold any second now and kill him, at this point, Hawks didn’t feel like stopping him. He deserved it, and if anyone had a right to kill him, it was Aizawa. The League of Villains had attacked and nearly killed his students; was still an active danger to them. He shut his eyes tight, praying it would be over quickly.
A hand tentatively touched his shoulder, careful to avoid his wings. It was a soft, steadying touch. Not restraining, not hurting, not punishing. Against his better judgement he let that touch ground him, getting his breathing under control until he could process the world around him again.
“... Hawks? Can you hear me?”
Of course it was Jeanist. Of course. He had every right to be pissed at Hawks too. After all, he’d almost died rescuing that explosion kid from the League. But instead of getting angry, or strangling him, or doing something, the motherfucker was holding his shoulder softly and talking in that stupid kind voice. Hawks gave a jerky nod, unsure what else to do.
“So, from your reaction, I think we can safely say what Usagiyama said is true. Which is… certainly something. However, I also know that you are an upstanding young hero who cares very deeply about other people, and I’m going to assume this wouldn’t happen without a reason?”
“It wasn’t- it wasn’t supposed to be real .”
The words were out of his mouth before he could stop himself. He’d meant to say that it wasn’t real. That it was all fake, at least on his end, for the mission. Wasn’t that the lie he’d been repeating under his breath for the past few months? Despite his best efforts, the alcohol drew the truth from his lips even as he curled in on himself, legs and wings folding in like he was a fucking child again.
Everyone went silent again, and god he hated the silence more than anything. He wanted them to hurt him, to punish him for stepping out of line and be done with it. They weren’t supposed to pause, weren’t supposed to listen to his explanations. All that mattered was he’d disobeyed, he’d been bad, and so he deserved to hurt for it. So why was nobody hurting him?
Jeanist spoke again, voice still fucking soft and concerned.
“What do you mean by that?”
His mission was a secret, he wasn’t supposed to tell anyone else about it. Drunk Hawks apparently didn’t care about that though, because everything came spilling out.
“It- The Hero Commission gave me a mission. I- I, was supposed to infiltrate the League. Dabi was my contact, and they’d told me to do whatever it takes to get his trust.”
Sharp intakes of breath all around him, anger and shock. It was the first time he’d gotten a response like that from Jeanist, and somehow that made it worse. Made him feel even dirtier than he already did. All he could do was keep talking, hoping there was something in his words that might redeem him.
“At first it wasn’t- it wasn’t like that at all. I was- I dunno, I guess I was flirty but I was just trying to get him to like me. It wasn’t supposed to be like that. Dabi wasn’t- he didn’t want me like that when the whole thing started. At first it was just - it was just business. Then something changed after about two months. He started- fuck if I know- lingering? Spending more time with me than he had to?”
That hand was still on his shoulder, though it had shifted to rub softly as he spoke. Calming and comforting in a way that made Hawks sick to his stomach because he didn’t deserve any kindness.
“I should’ve known where it was going, but I missed the signs I guess, and then he-” He didn’t want to say it, didn’t want to admit to it, but what choice did he have? “Dabi was in a weird mood, and we were sort of half-discussing plans and half-relaxing and then he leaned over and- and kissed me. I didn’t- The Hero Commission had said to do whatever I needed to do, and it was just- just sex. You know? I’ve had sex before, it’s fine. But, that night I just wasn’t really in the mood, and I was kinda freaked out in general because I didn’t see it coming, but I still let him kiss me because if I said no I thought he’d get mad.”
The mood in the room had changed, and Hawks could almost feel the murderous anger pouring from the other pro-heroes in the room. He had to squeeze his eyes shut, trying to stop his tears from falling. Crying made it worse. Crying always made it worse.
Nope, he couldn’t stop now. Couldn’t stop the words even if he wanted to.
“I tried to just- tried to play along. And it worked for a little bit, but then his hands went under my shirt and I guess I flinched or something, because he paused. And then-”
This was the worst part, but he’d committed to digging his own grave.
“He- Dabi stopped. Pulled back and gave me a look, and I tried to fix it but he- he- he said I could say no. That it was okay if I didn’t want to. I tried to say it was fine, but he said there was a difference between fine and yes and he said he wasn’t going to push me into something if didn’t want it. That the whole point was that we were both into it. I should’ve just said I was and gotten it over with, but I was tired and not thinking straight so I told him I wasn’t ready yet. And I thought he’d get upset with me, but he didn’t. He didn’t- didn’t yell at me for wasting his time or tell me to suck it up, or say I was being selfish. Dabi just, stopped. Said that was fine, and then said he should’ve asked me about it before he made a move at all. Kept asking me questions about what I wanted and how I felt, and I didn’t really know how to respond so I just ended up telling him I wasn’t sure, but I wanted to see where it went, and he said we could go slow. That night all he did was kiss me a few times after I said yes to it, and he was just fine with that.”
Hawks didn’t know how to explain the feelings that had bloomed in his chest that night. The relief of not being guilted into anything, the nervousness that the other shoe would drop soon, the weirdness of saying no and having someone actually listen. He hadn’t meant to get any real feelings for Dabi, but the villain had been the first one to ask him what he wanted and mean it.
“I kept waiting for him to get impatient and want more, or forget about the entire thing. After the first time I got my shit together and I knew I could fake it next time, but he kept being… nice. He didn't push at all. Didn’t make a big deal of it. He’d go slow and ask me if something was okay every time, and if said no, he listened. I’ve never- I’ve never been allowed to say no before, without it being a big deal. But if I said no to him, it was just fine, and he’d listen, and we’d do something else instead. He never got mad at me for it.”
Stopping to breathe, Hawks tried to find the words for emotions he didn’t fully understand himself.
“I didn’t mean- I didn’t mean for it to be real at all. It was supposed to just be a way to get his trust, to get the information I’d been told to get, but somewhere something went wrong. The Commission, they kept sending more missions and adding more patrols, and I couldn’t say no because if I say no to them people end up dead, and my handler will come by and be mad at me, and I’m trying so hard to get it all done but it’s never enough .”
His words were picking up speed, panic flooding him as he remembered all the stuff he still had to get done, things that were already overdue and things that would be before he could get to them.
“And I wasn’t supposed to actually like him, but Dabi’s just nice. He let’s me say no, and he listens to me rant without saying I’m being selfish, and when I’m with him it feels like everything’s okay for a little bit. Like I can actually stop and breathe. The Commission never yells at me for spending time with him because it’s for the mission and they want me to be gaining his trust, so it’s allowed, but lately I’ve started having thoughts. Sometimes- Sometimes the Commission makes me do missions and they tell me it’s for the greater good, but I’m not so sure. And I don’t think - I don’t think the league is right exactly. Not with killing people, or attacking UA or any of that, but sometimes I’ll listen to Dabi talk about corruption, and government sanctioned violence, and censorship, and quirk discrimination, and I’m not sure he’s wrong either. I know I’m not supposed to be having those thoughts, but I can’t make them stop. I can’t make anything stop.”
At the point he had no idea if anyone could understand what he was saying, but he couldn’t stop talking. Everything that had been bottled up inside over the past several months (years?), was forcing its way out of him.
“I can’t say no, and I can’t stop, but I’m- I’m so fucking tired and everything h-hurts so much, so I end up going back to h-him. I shouldn’t- I know I shouldn’t- but he makes everything feel better. And then the Commission is talking about me getting plastic surgery for my feet because they’re wrong and I’m only supposed to have pretty wings, not sharp talons that scare people, and I’m supposed to be okay with it. I’m supposed to shut up and do what they tell me, that’s what my handler says. Then Dabi says there’s nothing wrong with my talons, and I don’t need to change them to make other people happy, and I’m not supposed to listen to him, but I want to. I want to keep my talons but I’m not supposed to think that. I can’t stop thinking it though- I can’t get the bad thoughts out of my head- I can’t-”
There was a hand digging into his scalp, yanking at his hair. It took Hawks too long to realize it was his own. Another hand smoothed over it, coaxing him into releasing his grip and guiding his hand down to clutch fabric instead. His face was wet with tears he can’t remember crying, and then that same hand started stroking through his hair, and an arm wrapped around his shoulder. The last person who hugged Hawks was Dabi, and before him it was years and years since he’d felt touch that wasn’t clinical or painful.
“Breathe Hawks, just breathe for a minute. It’ll be okay. I promise, it’ll be okay.”
This was wrong. Nobody was supposed to pet his hair or hug him when he did something bad. They were supposed to hurt him, supposed to punish him. The lack of pain set him on edge, but at the same time he found himself melting into the firm hold around him. Comfort was so foreign to him that even when he knew it was a trap, he couldn’t help but reveal in the soft touches. Slowly, he managed to get his breathing under control again. His mind was still hazy from panic and alcohol, but he was able to regain himself enough to process the world around him.
Blinking, the first thing he registered was blue fabric. He almost flinched back again, words ringing in his ears about how Jeanist was to be avoided, warnings about how Jeanist was bad. Wasn’t Hawks bad now too though? Doesn’t that make it a moot point? Maybe it did, maybe it didn’t. Either way, Jeanist’s touch was gentle, caring, and Hawks had found solace in far worse arms recently.
Somewhere beyond the blue he could see Rumi leaning over him, pained worry evident on her face. Just past her were the other pro-heroes, looking a mix between horrified and angry. Aizawa was the first one to break the silence.
“ What the fuck. ” Flinching back was dumb because he deserved this, and trying to run from punishment only made it worse. Firm hands tightened their grip ever so slightly, and Hawks found himself shifted into a protective hold. “You’re 22, there’s no chance in hell you’ve had proper infiltration training, what the fuck were they thinking sending you on a mission like that? And what the fuck do you mean handler? That’s not a thing, the Hero Commission isn’t supposed to have any say over specific heroes’ appearances or-”
“Shouta, calm down. I know you’re upset, we all are, but you’re scaring him.”
Mic was holding his husband now, rubbing his shoulders. He took a moment to calm the other before look over to give Hawks a smile as best he could.
“It’s okay, he’s not upset with you. We’ve had… issues with the Hero Commission before. They’ve been against the idea of having a deaf pro-hero for a long time, the only reason I got away with it was they didn’t realize I was deaf until after I’d been a pro-hero for two years. I thought that was the worst of it, I never imagined that they’d be doing- Well, all of that.”
Midnight was the next one to speak up, voice somber.
“I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve filed a sexual harassment complaint with them only to have it go no where. Some female pros I know got driven out of the business because they wouldn’t do shit to help protect us. All you get asked is why you didn’t fight back at the time.”
“Of course, if you fight back, then all the sudden they care and it’s a big fucking deal. All the Commission cares about is keeping heroes quiet and compliant so they can pretend nothing’s wrong.” Rumi added, then her voice dropped an octave. “Shit Hawks, I mean, I knew the Commission was overworking you. I never liked how they kept their eye on you, but I didn’t have a fucking clue it was this bad. Fuck, only reason I stayed quiet about you seeing Dabi in the first place was you were so fuckin’ glowy whenever you’d been with him. No fucking wonder, if this is what you’ve been dealing with.”
“It’s not-” Hawks started, only to stop when he realized he didn’t know what to say. Because he’d been saying for years that it wasn’t so bad, that he could handle it, that he was capable. Only that clearly wasn’t true. He’d been so exhausted, so desperate for any kindness, so desperate for anyone to listen to him, that he fell for a fucking villain.
“Kid, I’ll be honest, I ain’t got a lick of experience with the Commission. They rubbed me the wrong way enough that I stayed clear. But I know wrong when I hear it, and that shit they doing ta’ yah is wrong. You’ve got no place on an undercover mission without proper training, ‘n a good team to keep you sane. Undercover work can fuck with you something big, even when yer in tha best a’ mindsets. When you’re already unstable, bein’ pushed way past yer limits, with no support ‘n what sounds like a pretty fucked up situation, ‘s only natural you’d end up findin’ comfort where ya can.”
Tears were forming at Hawks’ eyes again, though he couldn’t tell if they were from shock, disbelief, or relief. The hand in his hair was still stroking softly, the arm around his shoulders ground him firmly to the real world. Silence engulfed the room for a few long seconds before Jeanist spoke, his voice deep and serious.
“I’m sure it’s no secret to you that I’ve never gotten along with the Hero Commission. Between several ongoing conflicts on how they chose to train young heroes, the basis of the ranking system as it stands, and how it actively sexualizes young female heroes, I’ve had any number of disagreements with them over the years. I don’t believe the hero system as it stands focuses enough on enacting actual change.”
Jeanist paused for a moment to think his words through. It took a lot for Hawks to not speak up, not interject that he was wrong because these were all Bad Thoughts Hawks had had before. Bad Thoughts that nobody was supposed to have or say.
“While fighting villains is all well and fine, most heroes are able to do far more good by inciting social changes that lead to less villains in the first place. I have the lowest arrest rates of any pro-hero in the top 10, quite possibly the top 20, because I’ve supported policies that reduced overall crime rates in my sectors. The reduction of crime through non-violent means reduces the power of the Hero Commission, so they’ve never agreed with my methods. However, I’ve always been very careful to operate within the bounds of the law, so they’ve never had grounds to stop me.”
This felt wrong, like a dirty secret being shared with him. Even though that didn’t feel right either, why would reducing crime be wrong? That was a good thing right? Wasn’t that the whole point of the Hero Commission? Wasn’t it? Why was he unsure of the answer to that question?
“I have always worried about you. You’re young, enthusiastic, and self-sacrificing, and that is a dangerous combination. Particularly with how closely the Hero Commission seemed to monitor you. Despite my concern and my attempts to reach out, I had no idea how deeply the Commission had sunk it’s control into you. If I had, I would’ve taken much stronger action far sooner.”
Suddenly, a million moments were cast in a new light. Every time Jeanist had filed a complaint with the Commission. Every time he’d offered advice or his agency’s support. Every time he’d offered to take some of Hawk’s workload. Hawks had been told it was mockery, it was meant to reduce him, to show he couldn’t handle what the Commission believed he should. He’d never considered that maybe it was genuine kindness or worry for him that drove those actions. Even now he wasn’t sure, a voice in the back of his mind whispered that this was a trap. But he wanted to believe it was real.
“I can’t say I know what to do about your relationship with Dabi. As Snipe said, it’s completely understandable that you ended up forming an attachment under such stressful circumstances. The Hero Commission practically set you up for it. However, he is still a dangerous villain. The League does still need to be brought down, and having you suddenly withdraw from your cover could put you in more danger. But you are not alone in this. I promise, no matter how difficult it gets; I will be here to help you. I will not let the Hero Commission continue to treat you like this, and I will ensure you make it through this.”
Rumi spoke up next, sounding sobered by the conversation.
“Same here. I dunno what the fuck they’ve been doin’ to you to get you to go along with all of this, but it’s goin’ to fuckin’ stop. I’m not lettin’ my best friend get treated like this, I don’t care who the fuckin’ Commission thinks they are. We can figure out the shit with your boyfriend once we’ve got ‘em taken care of.”
There was a murmur of agreement from the other pro-heros in the room. Hawks didn’t know what to do. This went against everything he’d been taught, everything that had been beaten into him again and again. Part of him wanted to resist, apologizes, say he’d been wrong. He shouldn’t have said anything at all. But… the same part of him that had drawn him back to Dabi’s side, the same part that had taken comfort in scarred arms, that had loved being able to say no; that part of him wanted nothing more than to accept their help. Wanted Jeanist to keep holding him. Wanted Rumi to stay by his side, even though he’d fucked up and didn’t deserve her loyalty. Wanted to let some of the weight off of his shoulders. Because fuck it, Hawks didn’t want to burn. He didn’t want to be the Hero Commission’s Icarus, driven closer and closer to the sun by their desire until there was nothing left of him but ashes.
Midnight spoke next, voice firm as she thought through their options.
“UA has a lot of independence from the Hero Commission’s choices, they can’t risk pissing off an entire generation of heroes after all. We can move you into a teaching assistant role or something similar, anything that will get you some freedom from them. Regardless, you won’t face this alone. Okay?”
Maybe it was the liquid fire in his gut, or maybe it was the fire that’d wormed its way into his heart. Either way, his head moved on it’s own, dipping in a nod. A single word leaving his lips as fresh tears trailed down his face.