At the age of eight, a very nice lady had come to his elementary school, pulled him from his classroom and very calmly told him that his parents were dead; the office block they’d worked in had collapsed thanks to a bust up between Pro Heroes and a villain gang who’d robbed a bank two streets away…
At the age of nine, he’d been placed with three different families; none had worked out…
He’d also been approached by a very nice man from a Government program had visited him at his care-centre; the man had been passed the assessment of his quirk from the Principal of his school and wanted to sponsor him into some kind of scheme that would make him into a hero.
The man left.
Life went on.
At the age of thirteen, when a group of older boys had learned about his circumstances, they’d decided that he would make an ideal sparring partner (read punching-bag) and the hell that was his life became worse.
He already knew that no one was coming to save him.
He already understood that no one would care at all.
So, what could he do when his care-centre’s manager was usually too busy sleeping off the better part of a sake set most evenings and the other kids forced to suffer the same living conditions were younger than him and predominantly quirkless?
Well, what else could he do but fight back?
Sure, it took a while and, with no money of his own (using the “free-school-meal” vouchers he had the embarrassment of showing in the school canteen as currency wasn’t going to cut it), Shouta found himself squirreled away in the library more often than not.
The books he found on self-defence were insightful.
The video tutorials on the internet were proficient.
Having no one really care where he was or what time he came home (so long as it was before the evening curfew when Itsu-san was forced to do a head-count; there were only five of them at the centre and he was doing most of the leg work in terms of washing clothes, making meals and helping the others to study) was similarly beneficial.
Therefore, every morning (as much as he loved to sleep; nothing really hurt when you were out cold), he got up at 05:30 and went for a run. Then, at 06:30, he got the other boys up, supervised them washing and helped the four-year-old (a boy with distorted features but a huge heart and winning smile; most adults were too shallow to see that) into his school uniform and fed them breakfast. By 07:30, they were out of the care-centre’s doors (the manager still snoring in her room), their hair brushed, teeth-cleaned and homework completed to meet his exacting standards and on their way to their schools.
When they’d moaned, groaned and whined at him about being so well dressed and careful in their learning, he’d always told them that their only ticket to a better life was a good education.
It was something that he believed and something he aimed to get for himself.
Then, after school (sometimes limping), he’d collect them, tell them not to worry and they’d go home; once they were fed, settled with the TV or a good book (he took them to the local library every weekend and the park, too), he’d practise his katas, build his muscles, research fighting styles that would suit him and work on first-aid techniques.
The other kids were always scraping their knees, getting into scuffles (that’s what a traumatic childhood, cruel classmates and no real parental figures would do to you, he guessed) and coming to him in tears so it was only rational for him to know how to help.
God knew that Itsu-san wouldn’t bother.
Then, after testing out his strength on some dummies in the school gym (away from prying eyes; the teachers didn’t mind him using the equipment at lunch time: he was quiet, hard-working and never caused a fuss, so why would they?) for a few weeks, he felt ready.
Which meant, after two months’ worth of sparring with the older boys (he’d learned how to hide the bruises and they hadn’t succeeded in making his cry; they weren’t worth it), just before the winter holidays, he unleashed every bit of his wrath upon them when they’d dragged him behind the utility-shed after the final bell of term rang.
The look on their faces (despite his bloody nose) had been priceless.
The feeling he had as he stood over them, his red irises gleaming, his long hair waving eerily in the frigid air, had made him wonder if he’d been wrong to turn down the offer to join a hero course.
However, as he told them under no uncertain terms that, should they ever approach him or the kids he looked after again they’d be dearly sorry, he realised that that wasn’t the kind of attitude a hero should have.
He maybe shouldn’t have stamped on the three teeth he’d punched out of the oldest teen’s terrified face, either.
That’s when students had started to whisper about him being a villain.
Tch, if he was a villain for protecting himself and stopping a bunch of bullies from harassing him them yes, he’d been right about the whole hero thing.
He hadn’t chosen to fight those bastards…
He hadn’t asked to be targeted…
He’d only refused to be a victim, that’s all…
He’d told the Principle as much; the old, bald, ferret featured man had tutted at him, asked him why he hadn’t approached the faculty, asked him why he didn’t care that he’d broken Aki’s fingers or snapped Roku’s ankle.
He’d simply replied that none of the three older boys had cared about the pain and suffering they’d inflicted on him and had simply been following his senpais’ example.
That, for the most part, had been the end of it because he was A+ student who was the head of the Home Economics Club (because cooking and baking was logical; followed recipes led to predictable results and he had four little mouths to feed) and the Gymnastics Club (he’d found out he was ridiculously flexible and figured such a move-set would be useful). His teachers (and some of his classmates who he never let in close, he didn’t need the distractions and people you cared about ultimately left, so why bother becoming attached in the first place?) had vouched for him and life went on.
He continued to train…
He started to work with Moto-sensei (who was a martial arts nut and had called him a prodigy) and got an after-school job at the fierce teacher’s dojo (because making and saving money was vital; he’d have a home at the care-centre until he was eighteen but that was only five years away)…
Then, at sixteen, he’d started to think more seriously about the future; he’d secured a full scholarship to one of the better high-schools in Tokyo (one where he could board at the University campus just across the road from it) and, as (admittedly) heart breaking as it was, the other boys at the centre had told him to go.
He’d contacted Social Services and the Police about Itsu-san by then.
He’d always been able to meet her apathy, lack of engagement and drunken ranting (he’d protected the others from it as much as he could) and knew, because no one from the Government ever visited to check up on them (their quirks weren’t useful enough to be noticed), that no one would have taken him seriously before then.
For Itsu, regardless of her drinking, was clever; she was an older, widowed woman who’d tried her best to raise five, terrible boys with so little funding and support: the brat was clearly lying to make her life more miserable…
Those were all arguments she’d thrown at him at one time or another…
That, and weren’t the children always clean, well behaved, well fed and doing well in school?
That was thanks to her, of course; tch, he’d learned then that the kindnesses he’d tried to give could be used against him. It wouldn’t stop him from being kind, though…
It just helped to keep him wary of people who were supposed to protect others, that’s all…
That was why, when he had such good grades and such glowing reports from his teachers (who were respected in society and had proven that they’d speak well of him), he’d felt empowered enough to make sure that the other orphans would be looked after when he left them.
“Aizawa-kun, these living conditions are deplorable… why didn’t you come forward sooner?” the person responsible for investigating his claims had asked; “I was sworn to silence, sir… I was worried what would happen to them if I acted before now”.
The scandal had been kept out of the local news, thank goodness, the younger children were rehoused (they’d been kept together, the couple running their new centre seemed nice and they wrote to each other every week) and he’d been free to learn.
But… for what purpose?
He knew that being a hero wouldn’t do the real-good he was so desperate to see and being a villain (regardless of the dark whispers that’d haunted him some nights of how easy it would be to just not give a damn) was not an option.
For, regardless of how the media portrayed them, skewed their stories and demonised people (he’d felt that some of the people arrested and sentenced to Tartarus may have been pushed to such actions and crimes just to survive) he knew, fundamentally, that being a villain was wrong.
Villains had helped to kill his parents…
But they also started off, in some cases, as bullies…
As people who were unloved, unwanted and uneducated…
As people who had no where to go, nothing better to do with their lives…
Maybe he could do something about that?
Not nationally, of course, that was an illogical goal, however…
He had to do something, but what?
At first, as he’d settled into his new high school and taken the career-aptitude test, he’d considered becoming a teacher; that would enable him to reach young minds and help to shape them for the better but, that only tackled some of the problems he saw.
Then, during a lunch time where he’d had to sit amongst his peers, the food he’d made that morning in the school’s kitchen-styled classroom (his Food Tech teacher had been thrilled that someone was finally taking an interest because ‘young people’ didn’t seem to care about cooking these days), inspiration had struck…
Inspiration in the form of nosy students clocking the cake-boxes he’d stashed in a separate bag (it was Friday and he’d intended to take the extra food he’d made to the other orphans when he visited them that evening) and had asked (demanded, their eyes sparkling with interest) to try some.
It would have been irrational to refuse them since, for better or worse, he’d be stuck with them for the next two years…
“Wow~ Aizawa-kun~ these cakes are delicious~!”
“Did you bake this bread? It’s amazing~!”
“Aww~! Bento-cat art~! What are you, an Instagram influencer or something?”
“Are you going to be a chef when you’re older? Maa~ That’s so cool~!”
A chef was one thing but, again, making food that people enjoyed wouldn’t exactly be a huge help to society, would it?
“Tch, are you guys kidding? Aizawa-kun’s got a real head for numbers and he’s got the best grades in Business Studies so he’s clearly going to own his own bakery or something, right?”
“Oh~! I’d totally buy what you bake Aizawa-kun~! Ahh~! You’ll have a café section in there, too, won’t you~?!”
And, just like that, everything he wanted to do came together at once.
He’d saved up a modest sum of yen (and he could get another job, maybe in a café to learn the trade, couldn’t he?) and, if he made a sound, rational business plan he could get a loan…
With that loan, he could buy a café, no the old, boarded up café he and his fellow orphans used to pass to and from school every day; that part of Musutafu was exactly the kind of place he wanted to help, exactly the kind of place where heroes never trod and villains in the making had no options…
If he could go there and create a business that would give kids and adults alike a safe place to go, a place where they could eat, talk and be educated, then…
Then maybe he could make a real, actual difference.
It was worth a shot, wasn’t it?
At the age of twenty-one, Aizawa Shouta stood before the boarded-up café beside the former owner’s bewildered daughter; she was an older woman with a good heart: she’d tried her best to persuade him not to buy it and warned that the local hooligans had driven her father into an early retirement and near poverty.
He tried to waylay her fears and, after they’d sat down and talked (without the Estate Agents; vultures every one of them) she’d watched, her magenta eyes widening in disbelief, as he laid out his plans before her.
She’d thought he was crazy, of course; however, when they were done talking (they’d originally met at the property a week prior; she’d wanted to meet the person crazy enough to actually buy the place that’d ruined her family’s peace and shown him around with self-deprecating tones that’d made the Agent sweat bullets) she’d blinked.
Even after all of her warnings, even when she’d shushed the Agent so desperately trying to keep her mouth-shut (because a sale was a sale and commission was there to be had) that day, she’d not been able to understand his goal.
Not until that quiet hour they’d spent in a café not unlike what he envisioned…
Not until he told her his story and pointed out the closed down care-centre on a map…
Not until he’d smiled at her and told her he’d be willing to go above asking price (by a rational margin, mind you) that she’d relented.
She’d gone so far as to half the already reasonable price; “you’ll need every yen in your pocket to make this work, you wonderful lunatic” she’d said.
Heh, he’d been called worse things.
“My father” she breathed next to him as they stood there now, the warm May sunshine glimmering against the cracked windows peeking out between graffitied boards; “he… he would have been really proud to know that you’re here, trying to do this” she murmured gently, her hands clasped together over her conservatively covered chest. “He used to love this part of Musutafu, you know? He grew up here but… as urbanisations grew bigger and quirks became more common, well, people started moving away, property prices went down and, well” she gestured at the gloomy high-rises, closed stores and greyness all around them.
“I… just promise me that you won’t let them harm or dishearten you” she said whilst turning to him, her rounded figure radiating an almost motherly energy; “that you’ll see sense and try your luck elsewhere if…”
“Yoshida-san” he smiled, the breeze playing with his bun; “you have my word that I’ll do everything I can to breathe life back into your father’s café” he stated: “and who knows, maybe our dreams aren’t as irrational as you think” he chuckled. “Only time will tell, won’t it?” he shrugged; “so… would you like to come inside? The electricity should be on by now…”
“Ahh… no, no thank you” the woman chuckled nervously, her eyes sneaking back to her parked car. The small, boxy four-wheeler was sat only ten feet away from them on the quiet, pot-hole spattered road; “I… I really ought to be on my way” she furthered as he walked her towards it across the wider than average sidewalk.
This was one of the things that he’d liked most about this place as the wide slab of concrete that separated it from the main street actually belonged to the property and he had permission to put tables, chairs and raised-vegetable beds on it. Heh, he’d need to buy an awning that’d pull from the café’s (soon to be glass-fronted) main wall to shade it, though… most people didn’t like sitting out in the sun and it’d offer rain-protection in the winter-months, too.
“T-thank you for walking me, Aizawa-kun.”
Blinking out of his thoughts when they reached the vehicle, the raven-haired man regarded the woman, her worried eyes focused elsewhere; heh, there was a group of teenagers loitering around a lamppost a few feet away. She probably thought they wanted to steal her vehicle.
And for all he knew, she was right.
“Thank you for your time and your generosity” he said when she quickly looked back at him; “you’re always welcome here, please don’t forget that.”
“You’re a dear boy” she complimented as they bowed at each other; “please take care of yourself” she finished before, her goat’s tail flailing nervously behind her, she quickly unlocked the car, got inside and relocked it again.
Waving her off, Shouta then looked to the keys in his hand and walked back towards the (still serviceable and reinforced; it’d only need sanding and a lick of pain) café’s door, undid the two deadbolts and pushed it open; the little old bell that chimed was cute and (to his surprise) cat-shaped.
He’d be sure to clean it and reinstate it after a good polish.
Then, he turned his attention back to the dust-encrusted area which was a good 500 square feet of potential with a relatively large kitchen partitioned off behind a wall that had a wide, service window; not that he’d be using it. No, he’d make his wares in the morning then display some in the glass-fronted display case and keep others in the fridges beneath the service-bar.
There were a number of old tables and chairs (that he could easily up-cycle since they were wooden), a couple of booths lined the two long, mostly window-fronted walls and speakers (that, by some miracle, still worked) were nestled in the four corners of the ceiling.
The flooring was a tired, grotty linoleum (that’d have to go) and tacky every actual wall needed a good coat of paint.
However, there was no damp and no thieves or vandals had gotten into the café itself or the two bedroomed apartment (it was small but serviceable even if there wasn’t an actual shower in the bathroom; that was luxury he couldn’t do without… which meant a change to his budgeting figures; wonderful), so that was a plus.
He certainly had his work cut out for him but, as he looked around in the near darkness (a flip of a nearby switch pinging on cheap, mostly working fluorescent tubes which clinked annoyingly (he’d have to change those) soon added much needed light), he couldn’t help his smile.
This was the first step, he reminded himself.
He’d allotted his saved and loaned money wisely and now, thanks to Yoshida-san’s kindness, he had a little more wriggle room to play with.
There were certain things, of course, that he’d need to pay for; a professional electrician would have to ensure he met the Council’s health and safety expectations, a plumber for the gas-cookers, ovens and boiler (a central heating system was a must) and glass-fitters (with premium, quirk-protected windows) were necessary, too.
However, most other things he could do himself.
He had a selection of power tools (and knew how to use them; he’d attended a few online courses and those run by smaller, community colleges), paint and, thanks to his old high school teacher and his previous café jobs, he had lots of useful connections when it came to equipment and supplies.
That, and he’d already applied for his licenses (the jargon of the Council’s wording had been easy given his business qualifications), had several qualifications in food-standards, preparation and practises and, thanks to his strict adherence to logical purchasing, he’d been able to kit out the apartment above the café to his liking, too.
All within budget, all practically approached, all necessary…
‘Okay’ he thought to himself; ‘the refuse company are coming by at 13:00 which means I have six hours to get everything I don’t want piled outside for them to take’ he mentally added with a nod, his gloved hands (they were thick, sturdy and glass-resistant; a smart purchase if an expensive one) rolling up his sleeves.
‘Let’s get to work…’