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*

They’re fifteen when Hizashi meets the most important person he’s ever going to know, and of all the things to be their first words, Hizashi has to go for these ones.

“Hey, you look like a goth fucked a garbage bag, what’s your deal?”

It's a dumb gut reaction, hot off the press from the all-hours wordmill mouth of the hero who’s gonna be known as Present Mic one day. But the dour little raincloud by the name of Aizawa who'll sit at the desk next to Hizashi’s for the next three years doesn’t laugh, just peers incredulously at Hizashi past straggly locks of hair and says it all with his silence.

*

Hizashi only realises his desk-mate has become his friend when someone else says it under less than glowing circumstances. Aizawa’s quirk, along with his propensity for taking egos down a notch or ten, has made him less than popular among their peers. So when the class want something from him it apparently falls to Hizashi to make him do it.

“Go on, Yamada, he’s your friend, he won't say no if you ask him.”

He bloody will, but more importantly, Hizashi didn’t realise they were actually friends rather than amusingly bickering desk-neighbours. Are they friends? He thinks about it right up until he realises he's eating lunch with Aizawa on one side and Shirakumo on the other later that same day. Although Aizawa doesn’t say a word, he’s listening to everything that comes out of Hizashi’s mouth too fast and not always in the right order. A frenetic rush of parallel thoughts and tangents upon tangents that Hizashi has been told is near-incomprehensible when he’s not paring back his quirk enough, though Aizawa seems to take it all in his stride.

“Hey, are we friends?” Hizashi blurts at the end of a spiel with a sudden need to know, and Aizawa gives him another of those scathing stares, followed by an underwhelming shrug.

“I guess so.”

*

He realises they’re best friends at the funeral of the only other person who could have contested Hizashi for that title. So not for any good reason, but because he’s the only one left by Aizawa’s side after everyone else has gone, staring silently at the hole in the ground together, suffocated by the loss.

*

Aizawa finally calls Hizashi his best friend the very first time he’s drunk, which is Hizashi’s fault for giving him the beer in the first place. Drunk Aizawa wants very much to go for a run around the UA woods in the middle of the fucking night, and Hizashi isn’t getting busted for his lightweight two-beer-wasted ass.

“Some best fren’ you are,” Aizawa slurs resentfully, cheek squashed to the floor as Hizashi sits on his back to keep him from trying to crawl out the dorm room door, though this only results in Aizawa dragging them both along like a really weird kind of tortoise.

“Oh?” Hizashi spouts eagerly, bending over to meet Aizawa’s hazy eyes upside-down to right-way-up. “I’m your best friend am I?”

“Shuddup,” Aizawa drawls, and Hizashi can’t possibly do anything except smile at how hysterically funny this is, still being scooted slowly across the floor by Aizawa while their classmates fall around laughing.

*

They don’t go into business together as heroes once they graduate, since that plan is missing too important a part, and they never talked about it again after the funeral. Hizashi takes a sidekick gig for the Pro Hero Beatmaster and Aizawa disappears for days at a time, usually turning up on the doorstep of Hizashi’s shitty apartment bleeding from one or several orifices.

They’re best friends, so Hizashi takes him in, feeds and washes him like any responsible pet owner, and gives up his couch for the next twelve hours while Aizawa sleeps like the dead. 

Hizashi's girlfriend, another sidekick at the agency, hates Aizawa on sight and doesn’t stop complaining about how rude it is of him to just turn up and take advantage of Hizashi’s hospitality the way he does. Hizashi would see his best friend a lot less if he didn’t, though, so he doesn’t mind. He tells his girlfriend – I don’t mind, baby, I don’t mind, I seriously don’t mind – over and over, until she finally gets fed up of him ‘making excuses’ and they break up one afternoon while Aizawa’s snoring blissfully on the sofa.

*

Hizashi’s got a slightly better apartment, and a much better girlfriend, the first time Aizawa lets a comment slip about someone by the name of Cricket. They’re smoking cheeky cigarettes out the window of Hizashi’s bathroom with the shower running, since his new girlfriend hates the smell, but he's not just gonna stand there and watch Aizawa smoke without him. 

“Cricket?” Hizashi repeats over the sweet sweet taste of nicotine on his tongue. “Who the fuck goes by a name like Cricket?”

“It’s not his real name, obviously,” Aizawa replies with one of his classic withering looks, puffing on his cigarette with a roll of his eyes. “He just… helps me with cases sometimes.”

Aizawa’s cases, as he refers to them, seem to almost exclusively involve dead people these days. Hizashi could claim he doesn’t know where his best friend went down such a dark path of heroism, but he does know, and they just don’t talk about it. Aizawa’s dreams of being the kind of hero who saves the living died with the ones who couldn’t be saved. One in particular.

“How does he help?” Hizashi says scathingly. “The people you work for are already dead, aren’t they?” 

“He knows things,” Aizawa snaps defensively, and Hizashi’s pretty sure Aizawa didn’t mean to bring this person up at all, just said it by mistake when he was taking his usual shots at the Pro Ranking system – Cricket says it’s all bullshit too, or something stupid like that. “And I don’t work for dead people, I work for the people they leave behind.”

“I know, I know.” They’ve gone through all this before, Hizashi just likes the stupid wrinkle in Aizawa’s brow when he’s getting mildly annoyed about something. “So Cricket is his hero name?”

Aizawa scoffs so hard he knocks the ash off the end of his cigarette, pinched in the corner of his mouth as he drags a rogue lock of hair out of his eyes. “Not fucking likely,” he says in a way that’s instantly grating to Hizashi. “Forget I mentioned him, he’s nobody.”

In the four years they’ve been friends Hizashi hasn’t known Aizawa to ever drop the name of anyone who’s a nobody, so he doesn’t buy it for a second, but when a tapping on the bathroom door starts up with a disapproving, “Hizashi? Are you smoking in there again?” he lets it go for now.

*

“Uh, why do you smell like weed?” Hizashi demands one afternoon when Aizawa rolls into his apartment sleep-deprived as usual and wafting a particular kind of funk.

Hizashi let Aizawa have a spare key to his place since it spares him the need to get out of bed if Aizawa wants to rock in at dumb-o-clock in the morning and crash on his couch – or faceplant in his bed, if Hizashi’s still out and about himself. Aizawa has an allergy to going back to his own shitty apartment, but it's really shitty, so Hizashi would much rather see him here anyway. Even the rats have rats there. But it's cheap, which is still probably more than Aizawa can afford, given how little he gets from the friends and family of the deceased he provides his oh-so-specialist services to. He refuses to even apply for a subsidy from the government, much less take the pittance they would give him for the harrowing work he takes upon himself day-in, day-out.

“Oh, you can smell that?” Aizawa says with a perfect deadpan. 

“You can’t?” Hizashi shoots back, enjoying a rare afternoon off because he's playing a gig later that evening with the band he’s managed to club together from friends of friends and vague acquaintances who don’t suck at carrying a tune. It’s for shits and giggles, mostly, since he’ll go nuts if he doesn’t have something to distract him from the soulless grind of being someone else’s sidekick day in day out, paying his dues like good freshly graduated heroes are supposed to do. 

When Aizawa pulls a joint the length of a ballpoint pen out of his pocket like it’s the most ordinary thing in the world, Hizashi’s jaw falls open. “Where the fuck did you get that?”

After a moment’s hesitation Aizawa tells him, “Cricket gave it to me."

There’s that name again, but the more important question Hizashi has for him is, "Why?" 

"Said it'd loosen me up, and maybe I'd stop being such a deadass humourless motherfucker," Aizawa appears to repeat verbatim, and Hizashi bursts out laughing. 

"Well he's got that right," Hizashi chuckles. "What are you waiting for? Spark it."

They don't even smoke half of the thing before being way too high to function, but it's worth it, just to witness Aizawa having a full on hysterical giggling fit at cats misjudging jumps on some gag-reel clipshow playing on Hizashi’s TV. 

Hizashi’s not sure he's ever seen him so happy, which should've been more of a warning sign than it was at the time.

*

Hizashi’s band-for-fun takes off the summer just over a year after he graduates UA, when a DJ spins one of the songs from their EP on a late-night up-and-comers show and calls them the next big thing. Within a week they’ve suddenly booked enough gigs to actually be a tour, and riding on the high of this fifteen minutes of fame, Hizashi hurriedly records his first full album, simply titled: Present Mic Presents!

Sidekicks don't get extended holidays to play music with their bands, so with absolute relish Hizashi quits his job at the agency, registers as an independent Pro Hero, and then breaks up with his girlfriend on the mutual agreement that being long-distance while he’s touring for the first time is a disaster waiting to happen.

Aizawa doesn’t congratulate Hizashi for his band’s breakthrough, which he's always treated with a huge degree of scepticism – and that’s fine, Hizashi’s bandmates are convinced Aizawa is some kind of goblin by their own admission anyway – but Aizawa does say well done for quitting the sidekick gig. And he reminds Hizashi not to forget the responsibilities of being an Indie Hero as well as a so-called ‘Musician’ when his fifteen minutes of fame give out. 

The way he chooses to phrase this, right when Hizashi’s leaving his apartment in Aizawa’s care and hitting the road for the very first time, is nothing special, and at the same time exactly what he needs to hear.

“Don’t forget who you are, Yamada.”

*

Unsurprisingly for the hero-come-frontman of a hot new band touring the country, Hizashi gets laid more in three months than he’s ever been in his life, and gets his life doing it.

So much for putting in hard work as a sidekick and climbing up the greasy pole of success the hard way. He becomes famous overnight for staggering out of after-parties with a girl or boy on each arm, fresh from playing a gig, then tripping over criminals on the way back to the hotel. He's the only one in the band who's a hero, and people seem to eat that shit up for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

He gets around. Doors that he didn’t know existed start flying open, lucrative offers are made, and once he sucks a few executive cocks the favours start rolling in.

In no time Hizashi starts making real money instead of chump change, gets his first tattoo, then the next five – two of which he only learns about after waking up the morning after being blackout drunk yet again after a gig. It’s one morning on a hangover, his ass burning from bad decisions and a tattoo gun, that he realises it’s been weeks, maybe even months since he’s heard from Aizawa. Guy could be dead for all Hizashi knows – but, no, that wouldn’t happen. Kayama would definitely tell Hizashi if anything happened to his best friend while he was out of town. Unless she doesn't know. No. Don’t think about that. Aizawa has to be okay because he just does.

Hizashi picks up his phone and fires off a text to Aizawa, asking how he’s doing, but has fallen asleep and woken up again before he gets a one-word reply that just reads: fine.

Hizashi could take it as offish, but he wouldn’t be friends with Aizawa if that initial layer of reticence and frost bothered him, so responds with a cheeky: Trashed my apartment yet?

Aizawa replies quicker this time: yes.

Hizashi laughs out loud to himself in the hotel room, and absolutely believes it. He sends Aizawa a picture he apparently took last night of himself posing with a wad of cash in the club and the boast: never mind, I can afford a new one.

Aizawa totals three words for the whole conversation with his returning shot: sellout.

Hizashi just grins and types out: u know it bitch.

*

Aizawa wasn’t kidding about trashing Hizashi’s apartment, not that he sees the carnage himself, but the email with the bill from the landlord contains several expletives that promise whatever Aizawa did to it was pretty bad. Hizashi pays it off with his biggest hero paycheck yet from the government and considers it the least they owe Aizawa for all the hours he’s put in without getting a single yen from their asses in return. Not that Aizawa would accept it, which is what Hizashi is for.

Next order of business: Hizashi lines himself up a homecoming party to end all parties. He asks Aizawa to come, not expecting him to, so is totally shocked when his vaguely estranged best friend turns up around three a.m. looking almost exactly the same as the day Hizashi left; like, as if he hasn’t even changed his fucking clothes, though he's maybe a little thinner in the face. Same dishrag unwashed hair, same jumpsuit torn and patched up with duct tape and the occasional staple, same unimpressed look, but the same mouth that lifts just a little at the corners when he catches Hizashi’s eye across the crowded club. Hizashi’s pretty popular, turns out. This place is packed to the rafters.

The last words Aizawa said to Hizashi in person, before he left to become the hero now well-known as Present Mic were, don’t forget who you are, Yamada.

Hizashi doesn’t need to remember, when he’s got Aizawa to remind him.

Hizashi’s so thrilled Aizawa shows up that he gets away with a full running-jump hug at him across the dimly-lit dancefloor – and Aizawa actually catches him, but only just.

“Well that was unnecessary,” Aizawa comments when Hizashi has peeled back off him in front of an audience of so many eyes who can’t figure out what Present Mic is doing embracing some raggedy-ass hobo-looking guy.

It’s only later into the night that Hizashi decides something is a bit different with Aizawa, slightly off in some way he can’t quite place. He’s here, for one, and doesn’t even seem bothered by the crowds or noise or people spilling their drinks all over the place, but it's also like he’s… altered, or something. Hizashi’s not exactly the same as when he left either, ten-plus tattoos to testify to that, but for some stupid reason he feels like Aizawa doesn’t change, except when he does.

They’re smoking out the back of the venue when it clicks, just the two of them with the music thumping in the background, which is a much more familiar environment for them. No crowds, just Hizashi blabbermouthing and Aizawa letting it wash over him, when Hizashi notices how Aizawa’s jaw is clenching over and over, how wide his pupils are even under the harsh floodlights, and puts two and two together.

“You’re on something,” Hizashi finds himself announcing like he’s been possessed, grasping for the set-up to this where Aizawa arrives at a party already buzzed, and is he really that guy now?

“So?” Aizawa replies without a flicker of doubt, without even blinking.

“And you aren’t gonna share?!” Hizashi bursts in over-feigned outrage. “I just got back into town and you started partying without me?”

“I don’t party,” Aizawa insists sourly, taking a hungry drag on his cigarette. “And I don’t have any left.”

“Oh that’s considerate of you, after I let you trash my apartment and everything,” Hizashi goads, but it’s playful because he’s honestly thrilled to see Aizawa again. Something about his deadpan humourless ass is just funny to Hizashi, and he missed all these stupid little exchanges with someone who doesn’t hold back with him, who’s always been wholly and unashamedly himself. Aizawa shrugs with utter indifference, and Hizashi scoffs even more dramatically. “Get more then! Who’s dealing?”

Aizawa gives Hizashi a funny look, like a thought materialises in his head and then evaporates just as quickly, until Hizashi knows the answer the second he hears it. “It’s Cricket’s stuff,” Aizawa says simply, and Hizashi had forgotten about that mysteriously guarded name that pops up in Aizawa’s mouth like cold sores. “But I can’t ask for more,” Aizawa tells him plainly.

“Why not? I’ll pay,” Hizashi insists brightly, because it’s not like he wasn’t offered all sorts of things on his ride around the nation’s top spots for an all-nighter, so he could use a pick-me-up as well as a put-me-back-down. “C’mon! Just get your dealer boyfriend to hook me up already!”

“He’s not my–!” Aizawa snaps so hard, so fast, that Hizashi knows at exactly that moment. Hizashi’s never had to be told Aizawa's gay because he's just never been straight. Hizashi wasn't sure he was anything, to be honest. 

“Okay, okay,” Hizashi settles, though he doesn’t buy it, and Aizawa better know he doesn’t. “Can he get it, though?”

“Fine,” Aizawa grunts, dodging Hizashi’s delighted ratted-you-out stare as he stubs out his cigarette. “But he doesn’t do phones, so it’ll be whenever it’s gonna be.” Then with another resentful stare, like he wouldn’t do this for anyone except Hizashi, but what are best friends for? “And the money’s upfront.”

Hizashi pulls a wad of cash out of his jacket and hands it over with a grin. “You tell him I said hi.”

Aizawa rolls his blown-out eyes, and lights another cigarette.

*

“Holy fucking shit, Aizawa,” Hizashi spews at the goodie-bag of who-knows-what Aizawa tosses down on the coffee table in his new and improved apartment. A large plastic bag full of smaller bags with pills, powders, poppers and some shit Hizashi’s never even seen before. “Did you buy all the drugs?”

Aizawa snorts, like if Hizashi thinks this is impressive he’s seen nothing yet. Hizashi had thought he'd amped it up when he turned into a sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll type of musician-come-hero right after hitting twenty, but apparently Aizawa’s on another level. “Hardly.”

He’s already walking away when Hizashi calls out, “Hey wait, aren’t you gonna stay and do any with me?”

“Gotta work,” Aizawa replies without even turning around, and it’s only once he’s gone Hizashi realises he was probably wired from the moment he walked in.

Oh well, Hizashi writes off with a gleeful grin. More for him.

*

Hizashi parties his ass off, gets a bunch more tattoos, and records his second album in a drug-fuelled haze that no one likes as much as the first album from before they were famous and anyone gave a shit whether they were ‘good’ or not. Hizashi likes it, so fuck what anyone else thinks, naming the record HUSTLE as a tribute to everything he did to get to this place. He starts dating a TV personality and model who also, unsurprisingly, hates Aizawa on sight.

But that’s okay, because Hizashi doesn’t see Aizawa that much anyway at this point. They move in different circles, getting more different by the second, but stay friends because they always have been so they always will be. Even if they don’t see each other as much anymore.

Aizawa doesn’t have a key to Hizashi’s new apartment, after what he supposedly did to the last one, but Hizashi still gets up at any time of night to let in Aizawa when he turns up like a stray looking for someone’s legs to wrap around. Still feeds him leftovers or takes him as a plus-one to stupid catered industry events with snotty venue management to make sure he eats –  still buys from Aizawa’s druggie boyfriend that’s he’s getting suspicious about having never met.

*

As soon as Hizashi meets the guy he regrets it. Not that it happens on purpose, but he goes round to Aizawa’s latest in a long line of really shitty apartments – as much as Hizashi’s living situation has gotten better, Aizawa’s has gotten equally worse – to pick up some pills for a party later and catches a lanky straight-up homeless guy stepping out of Aizawa’s doorway just as Hizashi’s walking up.

He’s uncommonly tall, hair that might be red if it wasn’t so filthy, and has a net of thin scars stretching across his face that leave Hizashi staring slack-jawed at the person he hears saying goodbye to Aizawa within.

“And fuck you too,” Aizawa is saying from inside, out of sight of Hizashi, which also means that Aizawa doesn’t yet know Hizashi is there, so this interaction has to be all-natural.

“Only when you ask nicely, Eraser,” replies the ladder of a man with a sick grin. He’s wearing a coat more filthy than Aizawa’s worst days all put together, and his smile is like a keyboard that’s had a fight with a hammer. The mystery dirtbag backs away from the doorframe and turns to stride past Hizashi.

Hizashi’s staring, of course. How could he not? But all this stranger does is lock eyes with him fearlessly and raise his hand in a rude gesture as they pass one another.

Aizawa’s closing the door when Hizashi gets close enough to jam his arm in the gap. “Hey,” he lurches as Aizawa lets the door back open, and somehow it’s even more alarming that Aizawa’s only wearing boxers, and they’ve seen better days too. “Who the fuck was that?” Hizashi’s got some questions as he storms into Aizawa’s hovel, forcing Aizawa to back up accordingly.

With one of his groggy what the fuck do you mean stares dawning on his face, Aizawa tips his head slightly off-kilter and says, “Cricket, duh.”

Hizashi shouldn’t be so shocked, because who else would touch Aizawa with a ten foot pole? But somehow he can’t believe it. Won’t believe it?

“Fucking hell, Aizawa,” is the only thing Hizashi can think to say.

“What?” Aizawa doesn’t seem indifferent to this the way he normally does. No, this is defensive. Aizawa turns his back and walks away from Hizashi further into the one-room ‘apartment’ that’s more of a one-window cell, and Hizashi follows him every step of the way.

Somehow, the only appropriate reaction once Hizashi gets in to take full stock of the place is another, “Fucking hell, Aizawa.”

If what Aizawa did to Hizashi’s place is anything like what he’s done to this one, it involves a lot of things that aren’t ashtrays being used as overstuffed ashtrays, lots of empty baggies and – oh fuck, it’s kind of a good thing, but also, ugh – condom wrappers. But maybe the worst part of it is the burned spoon next to the bit of rubber tubing and very-much-used syringe just laying out in the open. Hizashi sure as shit hopes that’s not Aizawa’s, though cursory peeks at his arms show no needle marks on that pale, lightless skin. He’s not exactly sober, though, and with a sudden jolt Hizashi realises he doesn’t remember the last time Aizawa was in his company. Before Hizashi went away on tour, maybe?

It sounds stupid, but Hizashi starts to realise that Aizawa’s convenient ability to acquire any kind or amount of drugs might be an indication he’s a fucking addict.

Hizashi just stares at Aizawa for a moment, and though he looks much like he’s always looked, what if he’s always looked kinda like he’s on drugs and now he just is always kinda on drugs?

What Hizashi says is, “Are you fucking a hobo?”

Aizawa scowls. “What kind of a question is that?”

“The kind someone asks when they see a fucking hobo leaving your place in the morning,” Hizashi snaps this time, but he’s panicking. This was all just meant to be fun, but someone leaving their shit for shooting up in Aizawa’s apartment that looks like a goddamn crack den isn’t fun, and Hizashi’s angry at someone, maybe himself, for not seeing it sooner.

“Stop saying that.” Aizawa’s mad, Hizashi can just about tell by the way his jaw clenches, but he’s still got that addled, not-sure-if-coming-up-or-down look about him. Hizashi suddenly realises he’s losing his friend in some much more definable way than vague drifting apart, and now he really panics.

“Okay, okay, look… I’m sorry, alright?” Hizashi doesn’t know what he’s even apologising for, but he’s well aware that he will get thrown out on his ass if he keeps backing Aizawa into a corner. He’s stubborn like that, and always has been. “I just… didn’t expect Cricket to be like that.”

“Like what?” Aizawa shoots resentfully. “He’s just a person, Yamada. Being homeless doesn’t make him into some kind of monster.”

“No, but what about that stuff?” Hizashi asks with a roll of his eyes at the corner of the table with the syringe.

“Cricket’s… different,” Aizawa says with so much reservation that Hizashi knows he’s hiding something, but if he’s not telling, he’s not telling. Hizashi never even got Aizawa to talk about Shirakumo for fuck’s sake, what chance does he stand with this? “Besides, he got your shit for you, just like you asked.”

Aizawa leans down to open a tin on the table, and when his hair falls forward in almost one solid piece Hizashi sees the rosette of purple marks on his neck, and it takes every nerve Hizashi has not to shudder at the thought of the mouth that made them.

Hizashi almost misses the baggie Aizawa tosses aggressively at him, so focused is he on not thinking about his best friend and that… person he just saw leaving here. “So you can go, now you’ve got what you wanted.”

“No,” Hizashi says so fast he practically trips over himself, though he pockets the baggie all the same. “I mean, thanks, but I don’t just come here to pick up drugs, do I?”

Aizawa shrugs, closed up tighter than an oyster who knows it’s shucking time, and Hizashi has never been quite so desperate to affirm their friendship than in this fraught, frightening moment.

“Look, let me… let me buy you breakfast, okay?” Hizashi just needs a reason, some kind of incentive to spend more time with Aizawa, not because he wants or needs to find out more about this godawful Cricket situation, but just to… to remember who he is. Who they both are. Aizawa said it to him last year, before he went away on tour, but it’s only just occurred to Hizashi that Aizawa could need him for the same reason.

“Fine.” Aizawa might be pissed off, but not so much that he’ll turn down free food, especially when Hizashi’s paying. He turns away and picks his tattered jumpsuit up from an unsavory pile in the floor, dressed and ready to go in seconds.

He seems a little more docile as he locks the apartment after they leave. It’s always uncomfortable when they fight, so Hizashi can hope he’s feeling that too, maybe even a little guilt over the way he snapped, even if Hizashi was pushing harder than Aizawa likes to be pushed about his private life. Hizashi’s meant to be his best friend, and even he barely knows what Aizawa gets up to most of the time.

But if he doesn’t try, they’re never going to get anywhere. So Hizashi tries.

“You know, it’s enough to make me mad that people think I’m the crazy slut between us,” he comments with forced humour as they descend the stairs down to ground level.

“Says the guy with the name of people he’s fucked tattooed on his ass,” Aizawa fires back after a moment’s pause, but it sparks such a deep relief in Hizashi that he could gasp for air. That they’re still okay, if they can bicker like this and it feels like it always does.

“I’m a crazy slut in a relationship,” Hizashi points out wryly, and with a narrow, testing glance sideways adds, “Better than fucking homeless guys for drugs.”

“I don’t do it for drugs,” Aizawa returns utterly nonplussed by any such statement, and Hizashi’s sort of relieved by that too. Is he? Right up until Aizawa continues, “I do it for case leads.”

“What?!” Hizashi shoots too loud, because Aizawa uses his quirk a second later and forcefully shuts him up with a single irate glare. While denied the chance to speak, Hizashi returns to the memory of Aizawa saying Cricket ‘helps’ him on cases what seems like a long time ago, how he ‘knows things’ that must relate to the murky world of chasing down murderers that Aizawa’s made his business.

“It’s a barter system,” Aizawa says blankly, as if it’s not fucking bonkers – then again, what would Aizawa know about sanity? “Cricket knows things no one else does, and if I… do him a favour, he’ll do one for me in return.”

“That’s all I need to know about how much he does you, thanks,” Hizashi zips back with that manufactured air of joking, but it comes a little easier than before, and Aizawa gives the smallest snort of amusement that promises it’s gonna be alright. Because whoever or whatever Cricket is to Aizawa, it’s not worth losing their friendship over. Nothing is. “Anyway, least you’re getting laid.” Hizashi offers a consolation prize in the form of his open-faced palm, “Gimmie five, you big hobofucker.”

Aizawa gives Hizashi a borderline hateful stare, but he still high-fives back. 

*

Hizashi quickly comes to hate Cricket, which is fine, since Cricket hates him too. Not to mention, Hizashi’s girlfriends all hate Aizawa, so really it’s a wonder they even stay friends, but they do, somehow.  It only comes through in flashes, but Hizashi’s sure they both cling to it for the same reason – every new tattoo, or scar gained from fighting off the murderer of some poor girl they can’t even bear to show on the news, takes them a little bit further away from each other, and who they used to be. The kids who sat at desks next to each other and learned to be heroes for three years together.

When Hizashi’s doing a press conference about some raid he pulled off half-pissed as if he’s planned a single thing in his goddam life, or when Aizawa’s doing… whatever it is he does for Cricket to get ahead in his sordid underworld activities, it can be hard to remember what they got into this gig for.

Sometimes, Hizashi’s sure they need each other more now than they ever have.

*

“Ah, Yamada? We’re sorry to call out of the blue like this.” Aizawa’s parents sound worried, and it’s been years since Hizashi last met them, but they’ve still got each other’s numbers saved, and the moment he sees who’s calling Hizashi realises what this is about. He’d been thinking of it himself, wondering if, what he should do about the friend he’s watching slowly spiral down a drain of his own making.

“It’s no problem, Mr. and Mrs. Aizawa,” he replies with as much warmth and comfort as he can muster. “Do you still live above the shop? Should I come over?”

“That’d be… great, if you don’t mind.” Hizashi can tell they’re on speaker together, crowded over the old handset in the cramped little two-bed apartment above the store that Hizashi only went to with Aizawa a handful of times when he was young, and then not for very long. “We don’t want to impose, it’s just…”

“Don’t worry about it. I should have talked to you sooner, really.” Hizashi’s feeling the guilt, but where the fuck to start?

It’d been about six months, Hizashi thinks, since Aizawa’s rental contract expired, or he simply stopped paying it, and he got kicked out of the shittiest apartment yet – the one with Cricket’s needles in it, which Hizashi’s sure the landlord was absolutely crazy about. It took Hizashi a month or two to realise, given he only sees Aizawa about that much, that the last shitty place hadn’t been replaced with another one. With anything.

Aizawa still shows up at Hizashi’s place at weird hours of the night or day, which his girlfriend absolutely hates, but it’s only when Aizawa actually asks to use his shower one time, since he ‘doesn’t have one now’ that the pieces finally clicked.

Not having a shower, of course, makes sense when you don’t have an apartment to put it in.

Since Hizashi’s managed to harness enough of a following to stay an independent hero and float somewhere around C-list celebrity, he gets to make his own hours. That means he can give himself the afternoon off and head straight over to Aizawa’s family home without the faintest idea of whether Aizawa’s going to be there, or if he even knows this is happening.

His mother looks like she’s been crying, and for such normal, hard-working people Hizashi’s sure they don’t know where they went wrong. They’re old enough to think about retiring but haven't yet, still running their odds-and-ends convenience store just far enough out of the good neighbourhoods to be cheap and cheerfully affordable. They worked hard to put Aizawa through UA, Hizashi knows, and those long years show in their kind, weathered faces.

“How did you find out?” Hizashi has to ask them, guilt-ridden that it didn’t come from him, from someone who knows their son well enough to try and explain how this could have happened, why there’s nothing they could have done.

“A friend of ours. They… saw him sleeping on the street,” Aizawa’s mother says with her eyes turned shamefully away. Shorter than her husband by a head or more, with neat quaffed hair that falls in waves, Hizashi knows she’s the one who rules the household. “I told her that he does that sometimes when he’s working, but she said he’d been there every night that week. That he’s… friends with the other homeless people.”

More than friends with at least one, Hizashi has the displeasure to know.

“It’s not your fault,” Hizashi feels compelled to tell them, and it looks like his mother’s gonna start crying all over again. “He’s still doing hero work, all he does is work. I think that’s the problem.” That and the drugs, but Hizashi’s pretty sure it’s not an either-or thing for Aizawa anymore. Hizashi would probably want to be high all the time if he was sleeping on the streets and working himself into an early grave too. It’s hard not to hate himself; to think he could’ve, should’ve done more.

Aizawa’s parents are hardworking like him, instilled that discipline into their son from a young age. Too bad Aizawa applies that ruthless work ethic to a dismal corner of being a hero, and forgets he has to save some fucks to give for himself too. Instead he trades them with Cricket for case leads. But Aizawa’s parents probably don't know about that. 

“We asked him to come over,” Aizawa’s father says nervously, twisting a cleaning cloth in his large, leathery hands. “He doesn’t know why, or that you’re here. We just thought…”

“I’ll talk to him,” Hizashi assures them, suddenly craving a cigarette, which are helpfully sold behind the shop counter. “Hey, can I get a pack of Lucky Strike?”

*

Hizashi is outside with his Lucky Strike, leaning against a lamp post smoking out his last nerves, when Aizawa shows up. Aizawa never really looks different, but he feels different sometimes, especially the suspicion with which he recognises Hizashi propped up outside his parents’ shop for no reason in particular.

“What’re you doing here?” he asks with unspoken accusation, and Hizashi just offers him the box of cigarettes. Aizawa takes two, one for between his lips, sliding the other behind his ear.

“They called me.” Hizashi’s telling the truth, because he knows Aizawa needs the truth, can take it even when he doesn’t like it. “Apparently you’re going to have a little brother or sister soon.”

It takes Aizawa a second before he scoffs, pulling out a lighter and lighting up with a deep drag, like he breathes smoke instead of air. He doesn’t look off, but at this point, Hizashi thinks that Aizawa would only seem off when he’s not on something, it’s that integrated into his everyday life. Lot of Cricket to blame for that, Hizashi tells himself, but also a lot of Aizawa too; for letting it get to this. For using whatever the fuck he uses as an alternative for having to deal with whatever the fuck he doesn’t deal with.

“Nice try,” Aizawa says gruffly, flicking the first bit of ash off his cigarette, eyes lingering on the door of his parents’ shop. “They worry about me too much.”

“I dunno, I think they worry just the right amount,” Hizashi muses, flicking his own ash and wishing there was an easier way of doing this. “Just… answer me one thing, okay?” Hizashi finds the question bubbling up in his throat, the fear he’s never put into words because he’s afraid of the answer, and the reaction Aizawa might have if he’s forced to admit it.

“What?” Aizawa doesn’t seem so bothered by any of this, but perhaps he’s not realising the gravity of the matter just yet.

“When was the last time you were like, completely sober?” 

Aizawa pulls a face. Not a pleased one.

“When’s the last time you were?”

“I’m sober right now, Aizawa,” Hizashi tells him, because to Hizashi, it’s a way to have fun. It’s an add-on to something already awesome to make it more awesome. But Aizawa doesn’t seem like he’s having fun, and that’s the fucking problem. “Are you?”

Aizawa’s silent, like he’s trying to decide on an answer, but that says enough.

“I work better–”

“You think you work better,” Hizashi interjects, and knows he’s supposed to wait til they go inside, to let Aizawa’s parents tell him they know he’s sleeping rough and ask him what the fuck’s going on, but Hizashi knows what’s going on, and he can’t be blamed for wanting to give the poor couple a head start at cracking a nut this tough.

“It’s just a little bit.”

“Maybe to you,” Hizashi retorts, but he’s seen what Aizawa thinks is ‘a little’ joint these days, or just a ‘little’ bump of speed to keep him up those extra six hours to push through to the end of a case. Hizashi uses it to party all night. Aizawa tweaks to not sleep for three fucking days while he’s hunting down more dangerious people than anyone should wish to meet in their lives. “Do you not think there’s a point where it’s gonna be too much?”

“I have to,” Aizawa rationalises like every junkie has done ever. “I can’t keep up otherwise.”

“Keep up with what?” Hizashi asks.

“With…” Aizawa struggles for the words, stopping to puff on his cigarette again. But Hizashi knows the answer, even if Aizawa doesn’t: to keep up with himself, and with the completely unrealistic expectations and pressure he puts on himself to do what he does all the time. Except when he can’t anymore, and then he just gets fucked up on even more drugs and does things Hizashi would rather not think about with Cricket.

“It’s like a treadmill,” Hizashi says as he tips off a little more ash, almost at the end of his smoke. “You keep running, and it keeps getting faster, so you run faster, so it goes faster. We just think you…”

“We?” Aizawa echoes like acid, because they’re his parents, waiting for him inside, hoping against the odds that their stubborn son is going to listen to them. Hizashi doesn’t get a claim to them.

“Alright, I think,” Hizashi corrects curtly. “They’ll tell you what they think in a minute.” That gets through to Aizawa, a momentary look like the fifteen year-old Hizashi used to know, fearful of being grounded for staying up all night yet again. “I think you’ve forgotten how to stop running, Aizawa. And if you don’t, sooner or later you’re just gonna collapse.”

“You decided all of this now?” Aizawa suggests acerbically, like this is awfully convenient timing for Hizashi to grow a conscience about what his best friend has gotten himself into.

“No. I’ve thought about it for a while, I just…” Hizashi sighs impatiently looking away down the ordinary street that Aizawa grew up to be such an extraordinary person from. “I knew you’d do this.”

“Do what?”

“Insist you can handle it.” Hizashi knows Aizawa, maybe even better than Aizawa knows himself, sometimes. “You act like if you burn out then it’s because you just weren’t good enough, so it’s somehow what you deserve. You’d think after spending so much time around the friends and family of dead people, you’d see what you’re gonna do to your own if you let this… thing kill you.”

“I know my limits,” Aizawa dismisses, just like Hizashi was sure he would.

“Do you, though?” Hizashi forces, finishing his cigarette and stubbing it out on the lampost, chucking it in the bin. “Just listen to them, okay? They found out their son is sleeping on the fucking streets, it’s not exactly a parent’s dream, is it?”

Aizawa furrows his brow, another accusation in his voice, “How did they–”

“People notice,” Hizashi shoots. “I didn’t say anything, if that’s what you’re about to suggest. They called me because they clearly knew you wouldn’t listen to them alone, so I’m telling you now: just give them something. Tell them my address if it helps, anything.”

“Your address?” Aizawa repeats back at him. “What does that do?”

“It lets them think you have a roof over your fucking head, Aizawa,” Hizashi snaps. “Weirdly enough, most folks seem to want that for their kids.” But it’s not just that, telling’s no good if there’s no follow through, so he launches into a painfully genuine, “You know you can always stay with me, right?”

“Not what your girlfriend thinks,” Aizawa points out, smoking lazily, but he’s not as hard as he was before. Hizashi’s trying to do more than just point out problems, he has to have some solutions too.

“It doesn’t matter what she thinks, it’s my place,” Hizashi insists. “You’re my best friend, and I…” he hesitates saying it, but he’s thought it, so fuck it, Aizawa can handle the truth. “I don’t wanna lose you and feel like there’s something I could’ve done.”

“I’m fine,” Aizawa growls in exasperation, but guess what? Hizashi’s fed up too.

“Alright, then get clean for a week, just to prove to me you can.”

Aizawa rolls his eyes as he stubs his cigarette out and pockets the stub – which, gross – and heads over to his parents’ shop to repeat this conversation all over again for their benefit, though probably with less curse words and drug references. “Sure, if it’ll get you off my back.”

*

Aizawa accepts he might have more of a substance dependency than he thought when he detoxes hard on Hizashi’s sofa for the next week straight. Hizashi’s latest musician-actress girlfriend, who obviously hates Aizawa, refuses to come round, but the stupid thing is that it’s the most time they’ve spent together since school. Watching daytime TV together while Aizawa sweats through another blanket, eating handfuls of cereal out of the box. It fills Hizashi with nostalgia, even though it’s not like he hasn’t seen Aizawa at all. Just not like this.

Hizashi agrees to help Aizawa with what he’s working on in the evenings as compensation for forcing him to go through withdrawal just to prove a point. Though the point is clearly that Aizawa was a lot more fucking hooked than he thought he was, and Hizashi just made him notice.

The case is brutal. Aizawa always says case like such an unassuming thing, drops the ‘cold’ off the front because he doesn’t really do the other kind of cases. They have enough heroes for that, he says. Hizashi would know: he’s one. 

Because heroes who don’t save people aren’t known as great heroes, so when the victims are already dead the pool of anyone willing to help dwindles, even moreso when those deceased people aren't always society’s best beloved. That's where Aizawa comes in, looking like hell and smelling much worse. 

This is how Hizashi gets dragged through his paces by a still-detoxing-hard Aizawa, who would rather die than admit he’s letting this thing beat him physically. He’s got the shakes, shivers, and barfs in several trashcans in the space of a few short days. And the people they associate with are dire. No wonder Aizawa’s fucking a homeless guy. They deal with drug addicts who ought to be a horrifying reminder to Aizawa of what can happen if he doesn't get a handle on his shit, pimps and hookers and cutthroat dealers who make Cricket look almost passable as a human being. Worse yet, they all seem to know Aizawa, think he’s just one of the other users, and he is, technically. Deep cover so deep even Aizawa seems to have been taken in by it.

Hizashi sees more blood in that week than he ever wants to for the rest of his life, but they get the fucker right at the very top, and take the whole goddamn crime ring down while they’re at it. Because Hizashi is a named, ranking-registered hero with enough weight as a standalone celebrity to pull headlines, it gets lauded as a huge bust, and they put his picture in the paper with a sweaty, chain-smoking Aizawa in the background. Hizashi’s not sure if it’s the best or worst week of his life, but he gets a bump in his hero stats because of it all the same.

“Alright,” Aizawa says to him on the very last day out of fucking blue-sky nowhere, back on the sofa drinking a couple of beers to ring the close of the case in. Hizashi understands why Aizawa sleeps for what seems like days straight now, in the gutter or otherwise. “I get it.”

“Get what?” Hizashi asks, though he’s got a thought, and a hope.

“I let it build up too much,” Aizawa murmurs without looking around, eyes still trained listlessly on the TV. “The drugs. I let it get on top of me.”

“You let everything get on top of you,” Hizashi replies surely. “You let Cricket get on top of you.”

Aizawa doesn’t laugh unless he’s stoned, not properly, but he does do scoffs of amused derision, and Hizashi’s treated to one now. He did tell his parents to treat Hizashi’s address as his own in the end, which seemed to give them some comfort. It gives Hizashi some too.

“I’m just saying, point taken,” Aizawa murmurs without making it out to be as much of a deal as it probably is. "I'd started to…” he takes another slug of beer, choosing his words carefully, like he always does, “forget who I was."

"Hey, don’t worry ‘bout it," Hizashi returns, soft-spoken for a rare moment because most of the time he and Aizawa couldn't be more different, but at others they hit exactly the same wavelength and it's just there, the foundation of their friendship that's endured through the years. "What are best friends for?" 

*