The sky beyond the windows of UA is a bright and painfully vivid blue. Without a single cloud in the sky, all the colors of the day are on full display in a beautifully unreal way. The scene feels picturesque, but to the point of appearing photoshopped.
The world of reflected doors and hallways within the windows lacks the same vibrant intensity. Within just a fraction of these dulled reflections stands Shouta, hunched and haggard. While the view outside is what first stopped him, it’s his own reflection in the glass that he’s staring at now. His eyes are focused with an intense scrutiny on his face and all the wounds that have come to define its composition. Most scars are right where he’s used to seeing them: the old nick on his chin, the freshly-healing scab beneath his ear, the long scar hiding in his hairline. But one -one is decidedly missing.
The fingers of his left hand come up and lightly trace over the skin below his right eye, skin that is missing an angry, crescent-shaped scar. He traces over the area again and again, almost as though if he rubs at the area enough he’ll be able to wipe away some well-blended concealer and uncover what he knows to belong there: a permanent reminder of one of his grandest near-failures.
Scars don’t just disappear, and especially not scars that haunt him so deeply. If he focuses hard enough, he can conjure up the phantom pains below his eye that have become a part of his daily life, but forcing himself to feel pain? Does that make it real, or just prove he’s going insane?
His fingers finally pause as his focus drifts from his reflection down to his left elbow. Without much thought, his right hand lifts to rub at it, expecting a raw pain to shoot straight to his brain. The scar beneath his eye is one thing, but the injury on his elbow? Could that all really be gone, too?
Before Shouta’s hand can connect with his elbow, another hand reaches out and grabs the back of his arm. His eyes snap up to the window, and there he sees Hizashi’s reflection looking back at him. Despite being fully dressed-up as Present Mic, the smile in Hizashi’s reflection isn’t the large and flashing grin it should be. It’s soft and small, and the longer Shouta looks, the sadder it seems.
Shouta turns back to face Hizashi properly, but when he does, the sad expression is nowhere to be seen. Hizashi’s smile is as big and loud as always when he’s on the clock.
“What are you doing staring at the sky all day? You’re going to be late to class,” Hizashi teases.
Class. Right. He has to get to his class. He’s late.
“Thanks,” he mutters back as he steps out of Hizashi’s hold.
Hizashi laughs and gives a little wave. “Just looking out for my number-one daydreaming listener!”
Shouta leaves Hizashi and the windows and walks with a rush in his step that hadn’t been there at the beginning of the school year. Before the villains and threats against his students, he had made no excuses if he was a minute or two late to 1-A. Now, however, he can hardly be away from them for a minute without his heart sounding the alarm in his ears.
But this is never something he lets his students see. When he reaches the classroom door, he takes a deep breath, sets his face into its usual stern-eyed expression, and then enters.
Desks are shuffled and conversations are cut short as Shouta plods up to the teaching podium. Standing at the front of the room, his eyes scan over and account for every student as they settle into place. His dry eyes have learned the difference between children who have faced the horrors of real life-or-death battles and those who haven’t.
The twenty children sitting before him don’t hold those telltale shadows on their faces yet, and if they don’t have those, that would have to mean…
Shouta’s mind tilts. In this world, it’s like the ambush at USJ never happened. His students have never seen him get twisted and smashed into the ground, and they never feared getting dissolved into dust in his absence. He’s never taken them into the woods -woods where they were supposed to be safe, but they got attacked again instead. They’ve never seen their heroes fall or the peace of society collapse. They’re all still just... kids.
Relief briefly rushes through Shouta’s chest before dismay crushes it all. This world -this perfect, promising world- it’s not his. It’s impossible.
As his mind rights itself, he immediately starts trying to piece together what must actually be going on. He remembers Hizashi and that strange expression he had seen in his reflection. If there’s anyone he would trust to start with, it’s Hizashi. He wants to see him, wants to ask him questions about what he seems to know.
And then, just like that, Hizashi is there.
Gone is his classroom and students, replaced instead by the rooftop etched into his memories from when he himself was a student at UA. Shouta half-expects to see Hizashi at fifteen, sitting and waiting for him with an eager grin, but instead he’s his current thirty as he leans on the railing and faces out. Shouta joins him warily in leaning on the railing, and together they stare off into the still too-blue sky.
“This place…” Shouta starts. It feels wrong to speak and break the strange silence between them. Hizashi doesn’t stop him, though, so, “It isn’t real, is it?”
“Nope,” Hizashi confirms, “It’s not.”
Shouta’s not sure how to feel about that answer. It’s nice to be right, but what he’s right about is far from good.
He takes his eyes from the sky and looks over at Hizashi. “Are… you real,” he asks.
Hizashi catches his eyes from behind his orange shades and smiles. “I’m not actually Hizashi the way you’re actually Shouta, no. I’m based on how you see him, how you remember him.”
Shouta sighs, frustrated, and looks away. “That’s a really long way of saying that you’re just a figment of my imagination.”
He hears Hizashi laugh, and it’s a sound straight out of a memory, a memory of Hizashi covering up the awkwardness Shouta had caused at a charity dinner once when he bluntly spoke his mind instead of playing nice. So it’s just as “Hizashi” says: he’s an image made up of fifteen years’ worth of memories.
But what about the rest of this world that surrounds them?
“So… what exactly is this place,” Shouta asks. “A dream? A quirk illusion? What?”
Hizashi shrugs. “I don’t have any information that you don’t. I’m just ‘a figment of your imagination,’ remember?”
Shouta holds in a groan. Already this line of questioning is getting him nowhere.
“Well, whatever this place is,” he starts as pushes off the railing and turns for the exit. “I have to find a way out.”
Hizashi doesn’t reach out and physically grab Shouta, but his words and their matter-of-fact tone stop him mid-step. “What?”
Shouta turns to face him, and the scene changes. Seated across from each other at a small table in the back of a dimly-lit izakaya, Shouta sees Hizashi fully. He’s not Present Mic anymore, just Hizashi. Of course, Hizashi is the man Shouta fell in love with, and seeing him dressed down in a red t-shirt and light jacket makes his heart warm. Actually, a lot of him feels warm, and he can guess that feeling is thanks to the half-devoured plates of karage and empty glasses of beer that sit between them.
This isn’t something they get to do much anymore: going out, just the two of them. They either don’t have the time or the energy -or both. But it’s nice sitting here, enjoying each other’s company, not worrying about everything else. The other patrons behind them are loud enough that as Shouta settles back into his seat he almost loses himself in just the din and Hizashi’s half-lidded eyes.
“Sorry, what were you saying,” Shouta asks because he genuinely can’t remember what they were talking about before this point.
Hizashi smiles and reaches across the table to lace their fingers together. “I said, do you really have to find a way out of here.”
The conversation comes back to Shouta like a slap. His eyes widen and his hand snaps away from Hizashi’s. Hizashi doesn’t fight it. In fact, he doesn’t even look that upset. Shouta, on the other hand, feels like he can’t catch his breath.
“You…” He searches Hizashi’s face for maliciousness, for answers, for anything. His smile reveals nothing. “You’re suggesting that I just stay here? Just stay in a place that I know isn’t real?”
“If you like it here, why not?”
Shouta’s eyes narrow. He holds his hand close to his chest as though it’s been burned. “You’re beginning to sound a lot less like a figment of my imagination and a lot more like a quirk trick.”
“So what if I was?”
The scene changes again. The izakaya was already fairly dim, but the room they’re in now is completely dark save for the streetlights filtering in through the curtained windows. They’re lying in bed together, naked yet still warm. Hizashi is wrapped up safely in his arms, and Shouta could fall asleep just like this.
But Hizashi starts to fidget, so Shouta relaxes his hold just enough for Hizashi to be able to roll on top of him and gaze directly into his eyes.
“Whether I’m the manifestation of some quirk or your comatose mind, so what? You’re the only one here. You’d be the only one who knew you figured it out.”
Shouta’s eyebrows come together in confusion. “You’re saying that even if this is a trick I should just, what, let myself fall for it?”
The sad look Shouta had seen in Hizashi’s reflection (earlier that day? earlier that week?) returns to his face as his eyes trace down to Shouta’s chest. There, his fingers delicately spread across Shouta’s skin, worshipping every inch.
“You have been through so much,” Hizashi says, and even in the quiet of their room Shouta strains to hear him. “You have suffered and suffered and suffered. Your body is just a collection of aches, and your mind a collection of scars. You’ve earned the right to say ‘I’m done’ and stay somewhere nice like this, somewhere where you’re not in pain.”
“I can’t,” Shouta replies, and the words are reflexive. “I have too many responsibilities. My students, my-”
“Don’t think about all of that right now,” Hizashi inists. “Just this once, think about you and what you want.”
“But… but I can’t.”
Hizashi frowns. “Why not? What’s holding you back?”
He asks that as if they both don’t know the answer is staring him right in the face.
There are other capable teachers who can take care of his students, and the same could be said for just about every one of his other responsibilities, except for loving Hizashi. When they had exchanged their vows, they had made a promise to always be there for one another, to walk side-by-side until the end. With the ring he wears on a chain sitting heavily on his chest, he wonders, could he ever really choose to leave Hizashi behind after everything they had been through together?
“Look at me, Sho.” Hizashi holds his face in his hands and gives him the same warm smile he had given him when Shouta, in a moment of exhaustion and doubt, had asked him if he really loved him. “You deserve peace. I’ll be okay. You can let go. ”
He can let go. He can let go of all of his pain and no one would ever know it was a choice he made. No one can see what he's doing, what he's contemplating. He can let go and fall into an easy rhythm here teaching, taking down minor villains, spending time with Hizashi and their friends until he completely forgets that this peaceful world isn’t real.
He closes his eyes and sighs into Hizashi’s touch. When he opens them again, he and Hizashi are back on the roof of the school. Hizashi is back to being dressed casually, and the sky has turned to a gradient of purples and pinks.
“Well,” Hizashi prompts, his silhouette melting into the sunset.
Shouta walks towards him and takes his hands. It’s hard to tell if the pink on Hizashi’s cheeks is a trick of the light behind him or a happy blush. Either way, it’s beautiful. Somehow, it makes what he’s about to say both easier and so much harder.
“Hearing that from you was the only thing that could have gotten me to stay,” Shouta says.
Hizashi doesn't frown, but his smile does get smaller. “But?”
“But a world of pain is worth living if it means I get to live with the real you," Shouta answers while squeezing Hizashi's hands.
Hizashi's eyes fall to their interlinked hands because while his smile stays, his eyes reveal his true disappointment. “I’m not so sure the real me would agree.”
Shouta leans in and kisses Hizashi’s forehead, murmuring there, “I’m sure he wouldn’t.”
The door to exit the roof opens to his right. The both of them look over to it and then back to each other.
“Looks like you’ve made your decision, then,” Hizashi says. He steps back, pulls out of Shouta’s grip. “I won’t stop you. All I want-”
“Is my happiness," Shouta finishes. "I know. Thank you.”
Shouta goes for the door. In contrast to the overexposed colors of the world that surrounds them, the other side of the doorway is pitch black. No light gets in to reveal what’s waiting for him on the other side, but he goes to walk into the uncertainty anyway.
It's what Hizashi always says before Shouta goes out on patrol. He's said it so many times, and every time it sounds exactly like this; not a scolding, not an order, but a prayer.
Shouta pauses just before crossing the threshold.
“I’ll see you soon,” he says, and walks through.