A/N: Turns out multiple back-to-back 60+ hour weeks aren't particularly conducive to writing! However, my crunch period is over, and it's NaNoWriMo, so I'm going to be doing my best and trying to move this story along at a faster clip to make up for the drought! Anyone not reading this fic on Spacebattles should stop by the forum; I've commissioned a bunch of official art for the story from the excellent Ozlyk! (Check the Media threadmarks starting with OFFICIAL ART.)
And now, on with the chapter.
Hospitals were surprisingly noisy places. The incessant beeping of monitoring devices, footsteps constantly walking back and forth past your room, nurses coming in and out to check your vitals, conversations and cries of pain and arguments echoing up and down the hallway; the noises of the hospital were a far cry from my sound-insulated bedroom door. If I hadn't been completely and utterly exhausted from the sheer agony of my shredded hands, I don't know that I would have slept at all. Instead I slept fitfully; terror-filled dreams where I was too slow or too paralyzed to avoid death at the hands of Stain competed with the noise pollution of the hospital to see which could wake me up in the middle of the night most frequently.
As an actual shouting match started taking place in the hallway, I almost resorted to folding the thin, unsatisfying hospital pillow around my ears to block out the sound. But my curiosity got the better of me once I heard my name. "Hachiman is fifteen. Fifteen! My son is a fifteen year old boy, and you let him fight the Hero Killer?!" For all that my parents weren't perfect, neither fighting with each other nor yelling at me and Komachi were among their particular flaws. I'd probably heard my mother's voice raised in anger only a few handfuls of times, and almost never like this, so spitting mad that she was practically hissing her words through clenched jaws.
"Hikigaya-san -" In comparison, Cyberpunch's voice sounded regretful and solemn, but most of all it sounded exhausted. She'd stayed with me in the emergency room, helping distract me from the pain and doing her best to keep me comfortable while we waited for the dozens of people with even more serious injuries than mine to be treated. I hadn't realized that she'd waited outside in the hallway for me while I slept as well. The realization made my gut clench with gratitude and guilt. "Believe it or not, but I did my best to get your son to safety," my mentor said. "Him fighting Stain was not my intention in the slightest."
"Then your best wasn't good enough," my mother snarled. I almost spoke up right then to defend Cyberpunch, but my mother's anger and the sheer awkwardness of the situation made me bite my tongue. "Do you know this is the second life-threatening injury Hachiman has gotten in the last two months? And I'm not counting the time he came home from a field trip so traumatized he was shaking like a leaf, or any of the other damage he's done to himself in the name of," she paused to take a breath. When my mother finished her sentence, it was with a level of sarcasm and vitriol that even I found impressive. "'Heroism'", she spat.
Even from my hospital room, I could hear Cyberpunch's heavy sigh. "If not for your son, at least three people would have died. Possibly more," she said matter-of-factly. "I'm not going to comment on what's happened at UA; I can't. But from what I've heard, Hachiman had the chance to keep his head down and avoid getting involved tonight. He could have stayed safe, or kept running for help. Instead, he made the choice to risk himself, and saved the lives of not only Pro Hero Campestris and two of his classmates, but possibly myself and several dozen civilians as well."
I didn't know how to feel about that statement, or about my mother's accusation that had prompted it. It didn't feel like I could have possibly made that big of a difference. Surely even if I hadn't arrived on the scene, backup would have gotten to the studio eventually. And Todoroki and Yukinoshita were strong; they probably would have found a way to protect Haruno even without me. Yet at the same time, all of the danger that my mother was decrying, all of the injuries I'd received so far - hearing Cyberpunch praise my efforts made them seem worth it, even as painful and as scary as they had been at the time.
It seemed like my mother didn't know how to respond to that either, because there was a few seconds of silence. Finally, my mother said in a plaintive voice, "He's not ready. Not for that level of danger, not for that much responsibility, not for any of it. He's only been in school for two months, Cyberpunch-san. He shouldn't be having to deal with things like this! I know that he wants to be a hero, and he's trying his hardest, and I'm trying so hard to be supportive of him, but -" her voice broke. "It's too much. What you're asking of him, what that school is asking of him, it's too much."
"He's a student, Cyberpunch-san. I can barely even tolerate the idea of him going into danger in a few years, after he's actually had training, and only then because it's something he so clearly wants for himself. But until then, he shouldn't be fighting villains, or working until he collapses every day, or, or starving himself, or -" My mother choked back a sob. I felt deeply, intensely, uncomfortable at having heard it. It felt private, like the sort of thing I wasn't supposed to hear. Like the piercing of a veil over the fact that my parents had their own worries and fears, that they, too, could be as scared and lost and helpless as I sometimes felt. On the other hand, maybe it was something I had needed to hear, because it was all my fault.
"Listen," Cyberpunch's voice said, much more softly and gently than before. I had to strain to hear it, although at this point I wished I couldn't. "The world is a dangerous place, and being a hero in it is even more so. I can't promise you that Hachiman isn't going to be placed in danger again, even while he's still a student, though I dearly wish I could. I have a feeling that this stuff with the League of Villains is going to get worse before it gets better, and they're not the only threat out there. Even if he dropped out of the Hero Course tomorrow, there would still be a chance that Chiba will be the League's next target after Hosu." Left unsaid, the implication that I would be in just as much danger but less equipped to handle it was clear. "All I can do is give you my word that whether it's while he's my intern or just a resident of Chiba, hero student or non-hero student, I will always do my very best to protect him."
It was the sort of corny shit that heroes said all the time. A generic declaration that they would try to protect everyone, as meaningless as a statement that 'the government has your best interests at heart.' I'd sneered at dozens of similar statements when I heard them being spoken by heroes being interviewed on television. Yet somehow I could tell that Cyberpunch, at least, was completely and totally sincere. My mother seemed to as well, because rather than continuing to shout she just let out a faint sniffle. "He's all right, right?" She said eventually.
Cyberpunch let out a rueful chuckle. "Your son's fine, Hikigaya-san," she said. "He fixed himself right back up with his quirk. By the time we made it back to the hospital, he'd healed enough that we got stuck in triage for hours because he was out of danger." Damn, I knew I should have left well enough alone! Where was the justice in that? If I hadn't made myself suffer through the whole ambulance ride, I could have gotten painkillers sooner? Tell me these things earlier, damn it! On the other hand, the fact that I had gritted my teeth through the pain had meant that people in actual mortal danger could be seen faster, so maybe I'd actually done something heroic after all. The moral of the story was, Heroism sucked.
"Can I see him?" Mom asked.
There was a brief pause. "It's not exactly visiting hours, but I'm not going to stop you," Cyberpunch said. Hurriedly, I closed my eyes and laid back down, doing my best to pretend like I had been asleep the entire time. Was it cowardly of me? Maybe, especially for someone who'd just stared down Stain. But serial killers had nothing on family awkwardness.
The door opened. Footsteps echoed against the tile floor, coming closer. They stopped, next to my bed. "Hachiman?" Mom said softly, resting her hand gently against my shoulder.
"Mom?" I croaked. I immediately regretted it. Not just because I had stopped feigning sleep - not that it would have worked on Mom, she always seemed to be able to tell - but because my throat felt like it had been scraped raw. I opened my eyes, then immediately turned my head away and blinked at the bright light coming in from the corridor outside my hospital room through the door Mom had left open. I tried to bring a hand up to my face to shield my eyes, but jerked to a stop as I felt an uncomfortable pinch on the inside of my elbow where an I.V. had been placed.
A blobby silhouette stepped to the side to give my eyes time to adjust. "Oh, thank goodness," she said. Looking at her, it looked like Mom hadn't slept; she had deep bags under her eyes, and was still wearing a badly wrinkled blouse - probably from the day before. "How are you feeling, sweetie?" She asked me.
I had a pounding headache, and I could really stand to go back to sleep for another few hours. But on the other hand, neither my ear nor my hands felt like they had been set on fire, so I was ready to call that a win. "Better," I said, doing my best to smile. "I'm okay, mom, really." Before I knew it, I was being enveloped in a hug. It wasn't mom's usual style, to be honest; out of everyone in the house, Komachi was usually the hugger. I didn't say anything about it, though. I couldn't. I could feel the hot tears soaking through the thin hospital gown as mom pressed her face into my chest. I awkwardly did my best to return the hug without jostling the I.V. in my arm. "Sorry for worrying you," I murmured.
We didn't discuss anything of importance that night. Not Stain, not my injuries, not anything. Some conversations - once had - couldn't be taken back, and for now the siren call of the status quo was too strong for me to risk rocking the boat. But my mother had driven for hours in the middle of the night into a practical warzone to see me and to make sure that I was okay… and that was enough.
In the end, Cyberpunch managed to convince Mom to head home to get some sleep. The hospital had things well in hand, I was in no danger, and the Hero wing of the Hospital didn't permit relatives of patients to stay overnight because of the security risk - she'd barely managed to get in in the first place, while Dad had to stay home with Komachi due to the one family member limit. But even in the secure wing, as far as I could tell Cyberpunch stayed dozing in the chair by the door to my hospital room until dawn broke the next morning and the day shift took over. Not out of safety concerns or precautions; just to make sure that if I woke up in the middle of the night and needed something, a friendly face would be there for me.
Cyberpunch was the real deal. But even the best heroes needed to take breaks occasionally, so when I woke up the next morning and started waiting patiently for the doctors to figure out I could stop being a patient, there was nobody there to distract me when I started checking the news. STUDENTS STOP STAIN, Shoowaysha News proudly proclaimed. Morbid curiosity compelled me to open the article. I had been expecting a brief blurb with my & my classmates' names, maybe some pictures from the sports festival; what I got instead was an article with an embedded video. Framed by a gap between two shipping containers, three teenage would-be heroes stood defiantly against a predator with a wicked blade, placing themselves defensively between a murderer in a ragged scarf and a bloody Pro Hero. Perhaps owing to the fact that it was a film set, the styrofoam headstones and the red emergency lighting made for an artistic, dynamic, tableau. And through the tinny microphone of the cell phone, you could just barely make out what Stain was saying. "Endeavor is next!" He shouted.
My heart leapt into my throat. I bit my lip as he continued, remembering just what Stain had actually said at that point in time - and the idiocy I had spouted in response to it. Thankfully, whoever it was that had been recording appeared to fumble their phone as Stain pronounced that "Only when a true hero like All Might attempts to stop me, will my crusade end!" At which point the video cut off. I let out a sigh of relief. The last thing I needed - or the Symbol of Peace needed, or Midoriya needed for that matter - was for news of his illegitimate son to be broadcast all over the internet. Sure, I could have played it off as a lie to get Stain riled up, but all things considered I was happy not to have to deal with the hassle.
The rest of the article was fairly tame in comparison; Yukinoshita, Todoroki, and I all had our names listed as 'the interns in the video' and 'reports from the scene indicate that although Campestris fought and weakened Stain, she was badly injured in the process, so the actual capture was completed by the three interns.' Two months into my hero training, and I'd made front page news - even if it was in the kind of newspaper that had a bunch of editorials to the tune of 'INTERNS IN DANGER - HERO COMMISSION'S FAILURE?' It was a heady feeling. I could have done without the violent injury that had accompanied it, but receiving my five minutes of fame for being in the right place at the right time didn't seem all that bad.
My narcissistic musings were interrupted by a knock on the door. "Hey, kid. You up yet?" My mentor's muffled voice said.
"Uh, yeah, come in," I answered.
The smell of coffee, egg, bacon, and fried potatoes entered the room before Cyberpunch did; my eyes snapped to the brown paper bag she was holding before I remembered my manners and made myself look at her actual face. She was in full Hero uniform, including the sunglasses, so it was hard to tell if she had gotten any sleep or if the mirrorshades were hiding bags under her eyes. At some point at least, she'd managed to find a spare costume that was slightly less battle-damaged and tattered from fighting Nomu. Some part of my sudden hopefulness must have shown in my expression, because Cyberpunch chuckled at me before gently tossing me the bag. "Don't say I never did nothing for you."
I opened the bag and took a deep whiff of the aromas of salt and fat, my stomach rumbling agreeably. Looking up from it, I said, "Thanks. You didn't have to get it just for me, though."
Cyberpunch scoffed. "Hospital food sucks," she said, "and I'm supposed to be keeping your weight up anyway, right?"
I winced at the inevitable earful I was going to be getting from Recovery Girl. In my defense, being stabbed by the Hero Killer was an extenuating circumstance if I had ever heard of one. "Still," I mumbled through a mouthful of bacon egg and cheese biscuit, "you don't have to be this nice to me. I know my mom guilt-tripped you super hard last night, but you should get some actual sleep at some point."
She let out an exhausted sigh. "Your mom has nothing to do with it, Hikigaya," Cyberpunch said, dropping her mirrorshades to meet my gaze with her own. Her eyes were red and puffy from lack of sleep, but didn't waver. "Take it from someone who's spent a few shitty nights in emergency rooms over her career, being alone in the hospital is terrible and I wasn't going to let it happen to you if I could avoid it." She yawned. "Anyway, you're not wrong about my needing sleep. I just wanted to go over a few things with you before I headed home."
I reached out for the styrofoam cup of coffee that Cyberpunch brought me and took a hasty swig to wash the biscuit crumbs out of my mouth. It was sweet and strong, with just enough cream to add a hint of richness to the drink without cutting too much of the bitterness. I blinked in surprise. I supposed you didn't get to be a famous detective without being able to do simple things like noticing how someone took their coffee, but I was still impressed at how accurately she'd chosen for me. "Yeah, sure, of course," I said.
"Okay, first off. The police are going to want to speak with you about everything that happened last night," Cyberpunch said. My heart skipped a beat, and I had to fight to keep from spitting out the mouthful of coffee I had just sipped. "You're not in any trouble for using your quirk without a license or throwing acid in Stain's eyes or anything, I already checked," she swiftly added.
I glared at her anyway. "Say that first," I grumbled.
She rolled her eyes unsympathetically. "Just be honest and you'll be fine," she said. "It was a clear case of self defense, and you successfully caught a serial killer that's been on the prowl for months. They're mostly looking for your witness statement and to hear if Stain said anything about the League of Villains they can use." She paused and raised an eyebrow. "Speaking of which, did he?"
I had to think about that one for a second. "He did a lot of ranting, but he didn't really mention the League or the Nomu much at all. He was too obsessed with himself to bother, I think."
Cyberpunch snorted. "Figures," she said. "Anyway, that's one thing. The other thing I wanted to tell you was, speaking of people who want to talk to you, don't talk to the media. They're starting to relax security restrictions, which means your family will be able to visit, but also means other people might be able to visit as well. Reporters technically aren't allowed onto this floor, but occasionally someone tries something sketchy so if one does manage to make it up here or corners you after you leave the the hospital, I want you to answer with a 'no comment,' and then call security as fast as you possibly can." She dropped her sunglasses slightly, staring at me with bloodshot eyes as if to impress upon me the seriousness of her request.
"Uh… sure?" I said awkwardly. "That's probably what I would have done anyway, so I don't really mind…" I paused, then looked up from my hash browns in alarm. "Wait, there's reporters that want to talk to me?" I said in trepidation.
"So, you know how Haruno was getting all of those 'love letters' in her dressing room?" Cyberpunch asked rhetorically. "Apparently some journalist managed to get a hold of Campestris' publicist, who accused Stain of having been the one to send them." She yawned, taking a sip of her own coffee to hide it. "Between that and the video, the media is going absolutely apeshit."
My mind boggled. I tried to picture the ranting, long-tongued serial killer calling Campestris his 'bloody angel' or his 'valkyrie and valentine' and… I mean, who knows, maybe he had a multiple personality disorder on top of everything else that was wrong with him, but I just couldn't see it. "It's not like I particularly care about Stain or his reputation," I said, humor coloring my voice even as a smirk crossed my lips, "but that seems a little … premature to me."
Cyberpunch snorted. "No kidding," she said. "But now that the world is blaming Stain for those love letters, unless the culprit has a serious screw loose they're probably going to lay low. Plus, the set was damaged - who knows if they're even going to be able to keep filming?"
So Stain might have spared the world from crimes against cinema? It didn't make up for all of the other harm he'd caused, but I supposed there were silver linings to even the darkest storm clouds. "So, does that mean you're still going to get paid for catching the culprit?" I asked curiously. "I mean, since technically you didn't get involved fighting Stain at all, and also maybe the movie isn't going to go forward now."
She rolled her eyes at the question. "Director Konoe already paid me in full, with extra for saving his life and the lives of everyone in the film crew," she said nonchalantly. "If production does resume, I'll probably show back up pro bono just to make sure nobody has any harmful intentions, but in the meantime I'm sure the Director doesn't want me offhandedly mentioning that the movie never paid me during an interview, for instance." Maybe it was just me, but I was starting to find it uncomfortable just how much the Hero Industry apparently seemed to run on implicit blackmail. "But even if he had stiffed me, the Hero Commission's rewards for saving a bunch of civilians in a major terror attack would keep the lights on, no sweat." Her face twisted up in a slightly goofy grin. "As a matter of fact, between the two, this is gonna be a good month for the old pocketbook, ha ha ha…" As if sensing the fact that I was looking at her strangely, Cyberpunch looked down on me with a mocking expression. "Oh, sorry," she said. "Part of the rules of UA's internships, but I actually can't pay you - it's to prevent unscrupulous pros from bribing students. So don't blame me," she gloated.
All of the good impressions I'd accumulated because of Cyberpunch staying with me at the hospital and bringing me breakfast evaporated like snow under the noonday sun. Damn it, what was with that rule? Did UA really think I was shallow and materialistic enough to be susceptible to monetary bribery? I mean, I definitely was, but putting a rule in place to prevent it from happening was incredibly rude! "You should go and get some rest," I said sourly. "Thanks for stopping by."
Cyberpunch smirked. "Yeah, I'll do that," she said. "You should get some more sleep yourself," she suggested, although since it was after she just brought me enough coffee to wake the dead it seemed a little insincere. Well, I supposed it was the thought that counted. "The police probably won't be by until at least the afternoon; you're pretty low on their priority list all things considered."
"I bet," I said wryly, glancing out the window at the smoldering city. The thought of the Nomu gave me pause. "Um… do you think they'd want me to, uh, try to analyze any of the Nomu they captured?"
Cyberpunch paused for a second, her face going blank behind her reflective sunglasses. "I can let the Hero Commission know you'd be willing," she said after a few seconds' pause, "but you're not the only hero in the world with an information-gathering quirk, and you aren't technically licensed yet, so I wouldn't count on it."
I shrugged uncomfortably. "It was just a thought." A selfish, ghoulish one that came from my willingness to desecrate the bodies of All For One's victims in search of ever more power, so it was no surprise that she was turning me down, but it was too late to un-ask the question regardless.
My mentor stared at me, her lips pursing slightly, before she scratched her head and sighed. "I'll see what I can do," she said. "Get some rest, Hachiman."
Yeah, sure. Like I was going to be able to sleep now.
"I'm going to murder you when you get back to school! You're dead, you hear me? You're fucking dead!"
I smirked, and attached a screenshot of one of the tabloids proclaiming me as one of the students who stopped Stain. "Cool story bro," I replied, my fingers almost dancing over the keyboard with glee. "Hey, you know who else made a bunch of death threats to me recently? Stain. Right before I took him down," I exaggerated just a little.
"DIE DIE DIE DIE DIE DIE DIE DIE," he replied.
I attached another picture, one that I'd recently gotten from Yuigahama. "What are you gonna kill me with, that haircut?" I was glad I had a private room, because if someone walked in right now they would have seen me dementedly grinning as I hunched over my phone, laughing creepily to myself as my phone buzzed like a beehive. Bakugo wasn't the only one exploding my phone, of course; now that I'd gotten yet another good burn that I definitely wouldn't be paying for later in any way shape or form in on him, I decided to ignore him in favor of all of the other messages that had piled up while I was searching for the perfect response pic.
"Idiot! Moron! Stop fighting villains and getting hurt, already! Mom and Dad are bringing me to the Hospital this afternoon, you want me to grab anything for you?"
"Believe me, I'm trying!" I wrote back to Komachi, a little guiltily. "And yeah, could you maybe grab my Vita X? Hospitals are super boring."
"noooo hikkiiiii you weren't supposed to show that to bakubaku now he knows I gave it to you!"
"Whoops," I replied without any guilt at all. Sharing the aggro is necessary to my survival, Yuigahama, your sacrifice is appreciated!
"I saw the news, are you okay?"
I definitely didn't blush or reflexively check to make sure my hair was okay before responding to Kawasaki! "Yup, in the hospital but it's mostly a formality at this point," I said, not smiling goofily in the slightest. And if I had done any of those things, nobody was there to see it, therefore it never happened. "Turns out Recovery Girl is actually super impressive? I'm not taking her for granted anytime soon, regular doctors are slow." To be fair; they probably would have been faster if there wasn't, you know, an aftermath of a massive terrorist attack for them to deal with. But it seemed that quirks like Recovery Girl's, which could heal bodily trauma in a matter of seconds, were unfortunately pretty rare. Which isn't to say that the quirks of the doctors at Hosu General were useless; even at 1% power, the UV Sterilization quirk I copied was probably at least good enough to save money on hand sanitizer, and while there was no chance that the Numbing Touch quirk I'd copied would be anywhere near as effective of a painkiller as the original user's, being able to poke an injury to make it sting less on the way to Recovery Girl's office sounded like a winning combination to me, to say nothing of how useful it might be once my weight recovered enough to start using Regeneration again.
"The Hospital?! You got hurt?!" Kawasaki replied. "Are you okay?"
...Should I? Why not? I forwarded her the picture I had sent to Bakugo, the one where my bandaged-up hands were making a victory pose with Stain in the background. "Looks worse than it is," I said, then promptly arranged a copy of the same pose, my hands now showing clean and unbroken skin.
Naturally, of course, the moment when I tried to take a stupid-looking selfie was when someone else walked into my hospital room. I spluttered a bit in surprise as I heard the sound of the door opening, adrenaline suddenly racing through my veins as I fumbled to try to put my phone away. I was prepared for a police interview; but instead I found myself looking up to see an attractive woman wearing dark sunglasses - I suppose that made her the second of the day. Unlike Cyberpunch, however, she was wearing a sundress and a wide-brimmed straw hat with a blue ribbon on it, and rather than breakfast takeout she was holding a basket full of flowers. "Um… hello?" I asked questioningly.
The pretty young woman beamed and took down her sunglasses to reveal a vaguely familiar face. "Myriad-kun! Um, or do you prefer Hikigaya-kun? It took me forever to find you, all of the security guards were like, super paranoid! I had to go through a metal detector before they would even let me up here!"
"...Manaka-san?" I eventually asked, having eventually recognized her voice after hearing her talk. I didn't think of myself as someone prejudiced by heteromorphic traits, but with the hat covering her hamster-like ears it was harder than I expected to identify her. "What are you doing here?" I asked, confused.
"Oh! Well, I mean, I told the security guards that I was here to give you some flowers as a thank-you for saving my life last night, and I got Todo-kun to vouch for me so they would let me in, and I mean like all of that is totally true but also I had something important to talk about with you?" She bubbled, placing the flowers on the table next to me. Out of paranoia, I reached out and brushed my hand against her side as 'accidentally' as I could manage; I didn't wind up copying her quirk yesterday, but the impression I got from her quirk was more or less the same as the one I remembered, so at least I could be relatively sure that she was in fact herself and not an impostor. "But, I mean, if you're too hurt to talk about things right now I can leave and come back later! It's totally up to you!"
"I can talk," I said amiably. Even though Cyberpunch had given up on the request to identify the culprit behind the 'love letters' that had been sent to Haruno, I sort of felt bad about not having been able to solve the first mystery of my professional career. And what else would Manaka be discussing with me if not for something related to the case?
"Um, so…" Manaka said, looking down at the floor and blushing fetchingly as she demurely crossed one leg behind the other. "The truth is…" Aha, a confession! I basked in the joy of having solved an important case without having to do anything outside of what I'd already done, and nodded encouragingly at Manaka to continue. "The truth is, I'm the one…" I knew it, nobody could be that adorably innocent without ulterior motives! It was all just acting! "I'm the one who took the video of you fighting Stain and sold it to the newspapers! I'm very sorry!" She blurted out.
Wait, what? "The, uh. The video?" I asked.
She nodded, turning the screen of her phone to show me a familiar scene, one that I'd seen earlier today; unlike the video in the newspaper, however, the video on Manaka's phone continued past Stain's insane declaration and into the part where I proudly proclaimed that All Might's love child was in my homeroom class. I felt the blood drain out of my face. "Um, that was, that was just a ruse to keep Stain off-balance," I stammered awkwardly. "I was just trying to think of things to say that would keep him mad at me instead of Campestris," I lied.
"Oh, I was sure that was it," Manaka said with a beaming, trusting smile. "That's why before I sent the video to my reporter friend I made sure to cut it off and only send the first part," she said. "I know I maybe shouldn't have sent it at all without asking you if it was okay, but having people in the media who owe you is super important if you're trying to get started in the industry and I heard popularity was really important for Heroes too so I thought it would be okay if I sold the parts of the videos that weren't too controversial… Are you mad at me?" She asked, her light brown eyes watering pitifully.
I bit back my instinctive response, which was to say 'of course not.' As flattering as it was to have a cute girl batting her eyelashes at me, there was something almost… Komachi-like about Manaka's attitude. I had to ask myself what was more likely; that a professional actress was star-struck and penitent towards a random high school student she'd met yesterday… or that she wanted something from me? With that said, looking into her pleading brown eyes, I didn't exactly have it in me to start yelling at her either. Instead I brought my fist to my mouth and faked a cough. "Now that you've sent the video, would you mind deleting it?" I asked, avoiding the question.
Manaka's round, fur-covered ears perked up and she smiled in happiness. "I can do that!" She said energetically. "I mean I obviously don't want to do anything that would cause you problems or anything and like I said I thought it'd be good for you too, like, have you seen the news this morning? You're, like, super popular all of a sudden!"
"I try not to pay too much attention to that sort of thing," I lied blatantly. I wasn't about to admit I'd spent long enough reading headlines about myself already today that I'd had to charge my phone battery with Denki's quirk.
Rather than being impressed by my nonchalance, however, Manaka's ears drooped in disappointment. "Is that so, huh…" she said, her voice troubled. "I guess you probably don't want to come with me to a charity event this weekend, then," she said softly, then flushed as she realized she'd spoken out loud. "I mean, um, sorry, it's just - you know, this movie was going to be my big break, and now nobody knows if it's even going to continue production, and so my agent is yelling at me about - well, it doesn't matter, but anyway he got me two tickets for this charity gala and told me to find someone to go with that the media would pay attention to from the movie, so, um." She fidgeted, turning redder by the second. "I had this whole big speech how it would be even better for your media exposure and put your face in the papers again and build your name recognition and stuff but if you don't really care that much about that sort of thing then, um… Sorry, this was stupid, I'm just-"
"Wait," I said reflexively, holding out my hand to stop Manaka as she started to turn away. "You came here to… invite me to a charity ball?" I said curiously.
She flinched. "I wanted to thank you for last night too!" She said defensively in a way that definitely wouldn't cause any misinterpretations from people walking by in the hallway just then. "But, um… sorta?"
I couldn't help but frown as I stared at her. Maybe I was reading too much into this… but was I being blackmailed? I mean, it definitely could be a coincidence that Manaka mentioned that she had incriminating videos of the sort that would be harmful to me but helpful to her career, right before she asked me to do her a tedious favor, but… someone on the Tragic Marker set had written Haruno a bunch of threatening 'love letters', and I sincerely doubted it was Stain. If Manaka was that someone, an 'innocent' and 'friendly' request might turn into nothing of the sort. Or, maybe she was exactly as she seemed; a mercenary fame-seeker just like more than a few of my classmates, trying to jump on an opportunity to get ahead.
Either way, I didn't want her deciding that she could get more out of burning her relationship with me and sending that video to a news outlet than she could out of staying on good terms with me, so I sighed lightly and forced a smile. "When is it?" I asked.
"Oh, it's this Saturday night," Manaka said, sudden hope springing to her eyes, before suddenly looking at me with concern. "Do you think you'll be alright by then? I wouldn't want you to push yourself."
I flexed my fingers a few times, showing off the painless range of motion. "I should be okay to go," I said, doing my best to conceal the fact that I would rather gouge my eyes out with a rusty spoon than go to some fancy black tie event. "I'm not sure if I'd be able to stay late, though, healing can take a lot out of you," I warned her, already planning for an early escape.
Her face lit up. "That's totally okay!" She said excitedly. "Okay, um, I'll send you the details and the ticket and stuff over the phone?" She asked, holding out her phone towards mine so we could exchange contact information.
A few months ago, I probably would have been super lame and asked her for her phone number like some kind of Luddite, but when we all exchanged numbers after our visit to the arcade my classmates had shown me how to swap contacts wirelessly. So, I held my phone out towards hers and waved it in the air for a few seconds until our phones both beeped simultaneously. "Got it," I said laconically.
Manaka blushed, holding her phone up to her face as if to shield herself from view slightly. "Okay! Okay, um. I should probably let you rest? But, um, I'll see you then, then? And, I'll text you later, so we can coordinate?"
"Right." I said, starting to feel a little awkward myself. This was either a business arrangement or blackmail! Stop blushing like you just asked me out on a date, idiot! "See you later," I added, then reached out a hand as she turned towards the door. "Hey, um… don't forget to delete that video," I said as she turned back towards me.
She blinked as if she really had forgotten, but gave me a sharp nod and a smile. "Don't worry," she said, "you can count on me!"
... Oh, I really hoped that was true.
Soon after Manaka's visit, my family showed up in full; Dad and Komachi looked relieved to see that I was doing okay, while Mom was much calmer and more put together than she had been the night before. It was a welcome distraction from dwelling on the potential fallout that could happen if Manaka released the video of me admitting Midoriya was All Might's son. Their visit was cut short by a knock on the door from one of the nurses, who informed me that my bed was being moved to another ward where the police would be interviewing me and the other UA students who had fought Stain, and I said goodbye with only a moderate amount of dread in the pit of my stomach.
Any happiness I felt at seeing Yukinoshita and Todoroki healed of their injuries was smothered under the atmosphere of trepidation and anxiety as I waited for the moment of judgement. Even though Cyberpunch had already warned me that I wasn't going to be in any trouble, part of me still felt unreasonably guilt-stricken, paranoid that they would suddenly discover a reason to throw the book at me.
An hour or so later, I stared after the departing police detectives, nonplussed. "Wait, was that it?" I asked, my eyes flicking over to my less confused-looking classmates.
"Were you expecting something different?" Todoroki asked, looking at me curiously. Like me and Yukinoshita, he was dressed in a greenish short-sleeve hospital gown; his arm was heavily bandaged where he had been stabbed by Stain's thrown dagger, but other than that he seemed to be in relatively good shape.
"I mean… kinda?" I said, slowly feeling my heart-rate drop back to levels more appropriate for having lied in bed all day. "Cyberpunch already told me it would be nothing big, but it was like they barely even cared what we had to say and were just talking to us because they had to."
Luckily, Yukinoshita was there to clarify matters. "Mari-san - ah, that's nee-san's publicist - talked to us this morning and already told us not to worry," she said. Now that my nerves were a little more settled, I couldn't help but grin at all of the fly-away strands of her unbrushed hair. It was kind of cute seeing her be less than immaculately put together. "According to her, because we already made the news as the people responsible for Stain's defeat, charging us for improper quirk use would be political suicide, especially in an election year."
"You know, I believe it," I said. "That's a much more reasonable explanation for what's going on than 'we did a good job and the police are letting us off easy'," I said sarcastically. "Note to self: be more cynical."
Yukinoshita let out a sigh of exasperation. "Please don't," she said with an air of suffering. "Your constant pessimism is barely tolerable as it is. The last thing I need is for you to start taking lessons from my sister or her staff."
I rolled my eyes at the insult. By Yukinoshita's standards, it was positively mild. "Speaking of which, how's she doing?" I asked. "She was a lot more badly hurt than the rest of us."
"The doctors are saying she should make a full recovery," Yukinoshita said with a look of gratitude that made me squirm uncomfortably. "She lost a lot of blood and had a lot of soft tissue damage, so she's going to need a lot of rest to heal, but she'll be okay, thanks to you."
I didn't know how to handle statements like that, so I just shrugged awkwardly. "I was just in the right place at the right time," I said diffidently. "It was no big deal."
Yukinoshita sighed again, more heavily, and sat up straight in her hospital bed. "Oh, for- seriously, Hikigaya?" She said in an aggrieved enough tone of voice that I couldn't help but flinch back. "You're going to have to learn how to accept people thanking you for helping them at some point, you know," she said, looking at me with an almost disappointed expression on her face. "It's going to keep happening if you keep being a Hero, you know."
I turned away, not meeting her eyes, as I felt my face get hot. Coughing to clear my throat, I forced myself to look at Yukinoshita Yukino's earnest face directly. "In that case," I mumbled, but took another breath and managed to smear a fatuous grin over my face. "You're right, I'm actually pretty awesome. Praise me more, good citizen," I finished pompously.
"Oh?" Yukinoshita said archly, a wicked gleam entering her eyes. "I suppose I could do that," she said. "Let's see… you're… hmm…" she paused, tapping a finger against her chin thoughtfully. "Adequately hygienic?"
"Oi," I protested faintly, then immediately regretted it as Yukinoshita's devilish smirk grew.
The she-witch started sticking out her fingers, enumerating the faint praises she was damning me with one by one. "You're not completely stupid, you're talented at insulting people if nothing else, the fact that you're physically fit makes up for your lack of fashion sense when it comes to being photogenic…"
"Is this bullying?" I asked rhetorically, feeling like I'd been stabbed in the gut after every so-called compliment. "This feels like bullying."
"Getting over discomfort with positive attention is an important part of being a hero, according to our curriculum," Todoroki oh-so-helpfully offered.
"What part of this looks like positive attention to you?" I said peevishly.
"Hikigaya!" Yukinoshita mock-protested. "These are honest compliments!"
I rolled my eyes at her. "If this is what it takes for you to give out 'honest compliments', then I'm fine with not hearing any," I said. "All things considered, I'd prefer to avoid having to rescue your sister from a serial killer again anytime soon."
The teasing grin dropped off of Yukinoshita's face, and she nodded solemnly. "As would I," she said. Haltingly, she added "maybe… maybe I could stand to relax my standards when it comes to you. Just a little."
"Just what every guy wants to hear," I joked, then laughed as Yukinoshita's face contorted into an expression of distaste.
Before she could start bickering at me again, however, Todoroki's voice broke into our conversation. "I need to thank you as well, Hikigaya," he said softly. "Not just because Haruno-nee is my cousin. But... for what you said during the fight also. And... I need to apologize to you."
An awkward silence fell. It was easy to fall back into familiar patterns with Yukinoshita, but even after months in the same classroom, I still had no idea how to talk to her cousin. As if sensing my discomfort, Yukinoshita cleared her throat. "Speaking of nee-san," she said, "I'm going to go check on her. She was still pretty sedated when I talked to her this morning." With that she sat up and twisted so that she was sitting on the edge of the bed, revealing that her leg was as heavily bandaged as Todoroki's arm. She reached out and pressed a button on the side of her bedframe; a minute or two later a nurse arrived with a wheelchair and escorted her out.
I don't know why I stayed silent for the whole time we were waiting for the nurse to arrive. Maybe it was the expression on Todoroki's face; he looked genuinely troubled. His eyebrows were deeply furrowed, and he didn't seem able or willing to meet my eyes. As the door clicked shut behind Yukinoshita, I let out a sigh. "You really don't have to," I began.
Before I could finish, though, Todoroki shook his head. "No, I do. Stain was right. Bakugo was right. My father," he said with pained reluctance in his voice, "was right. Holding back on using my fire was stupid."
Seeing Todoroki so repentant, it felt like I should be acknowledging his sincere self-reflection or something like that. Instead I snorted. "Yeah, no shit," I said. "But, you wouldn't be the first person to do stupid shit for what seemed like a good reason at the time," I said awkwardly as Todoroki slumped. "Besides, you used it when it counted, right?"
"If a real hero and a fake hero both save a real victim, what's the difference?" Todoroki paraphrased me softly. Again, I felt my face heat up. "I always thought… my father was a hypocrite. Someone who only cared about saving people because it got him closer to being the number one hero. I guess I thought that… by being a hero without the quirk he was so proud of, it would somehow show him how stupid that pride was. And then when you said that I realized, I was being just as proud as he was."
"I mean, I was kind of just saying things to keep Stain talking," I said, waving my hands in front of me palm-out, as if to push away his thanks. "Really, I was just kind of saying random crap. If you came to a realization because of that, it was because of you, not because there was anything special about what I was saying." Honestly, I couldn't remember half of the shit I'd said that night, not the way my blood had been pounding in my ears too hard to hear myself speak, but I highly doubted it had been anything profound.
Todoroki looked down for a second, then looked back up at me. "So, when you mentioned Midoriya," he paused significantly for a second rather than saying anything where someone might overhear, "was that just to keep Stain occupied too?"
This was it. All I had to do was lie, and maybe I could stuff the genie back in the bottle, or at least have plausible deniability. Instead, what slipped out of my mouth were the heartfelt words, "God, I wish."
Todoroki fidgeted uncomfortably. "If it's any consolation, I don't think you and I are the only ones in class who know. They're really not very good at hiding it."
I sighed heavily, placing my face in my recently healed hands. "Augh, this is so awkward," I mumbled. "Why did I get the quirk that can accidentally paternity test people?"
"What actually is his quirk?" Todoroki asked. "I've always wondered."
"Midoriya…" I said significantly, just in case anybody was eavesdropping at the door, "can store up strength for bursts of power. That's probably why he keeps hurting himself when he uses it," I hypothesized, "he has fifteen years' worth of backlog saved up."
"I see," Todoroki said thoughtfully, staring downwards at nothing in particular. Suddenly, his head snapped back up and he stared directly at me. "Is his quirk what lets you 'overdrive' your copied quirks?" Todoroki asked.
I jolted in place. "What makes you ask that?" I said cautiously.
"You always glow a little bit orange when you use them," Todoroki said matter-of-factly. "Just like when you use super-strength. It would make sense if it was all because of the same quirk."
Slowly, I nodded. "Midoriya's quirk lets me charge up other quirks if I use them at the same time," I said. "I've been telling people that I 'overdrive' quirks instead of using them up, mostly because…" I sighed, staring down at my hands. "I dunno. Because I copied it without permission, I guess."
There was a long silence. "I think he would understand," Todoroki said reassuringly.
"Yeah, well." I muttered. "You got all bent out of shape about me copying you," I said resentfully. "It didn't seem like letting him know about it was worth the risk."
"I'm sorry," Todoroki said. He took the time to actually bend forwards toward me in a seated bow, because this whole situation wasn't awkward enough. "I should have let you copy my quirk from the beginning," he said sincerely.
So of course I blew it off. "Yeah, well, whatever," I said, looking away. "It's not like it was a big deal. I have a copy of your dad's quirk if I want to light cigarettes, and I can use Yukinoshita's if I want ice in my drink. It's not like I missed out on much."
Todoroki tilted his head at me quizzically. "You smoke?" He asked, surprise and disapproval in his voice.
"What! No," I said. "It was just a metaphor."
Again, the room descended into awkward silence. "...Why didn't you?" I asked, hating how vulnerable it sounded even as I said it.
If the silence had been bad before, now it was practically deafening. The seconds stretched on, punctuated only by the soft beeping of the heart rate monitors next to my hospital bed. Finally, Todoroki reached up and touched the dense scar tissue surrounding his left eye. "My father…" he began. "All he cares about is proving that his quirk is 'the strongest,'" he said. "Because of him and his obsession, my mother is in a mental hospital, and my brother is dead." The stunning declaration shocked me speechless. "I just didn't want to see anyone using his quirk. It had nothing to do with you."
In the absence of my ability to reply intelligently, whatever imp of the perverse took over the speech center of my brain during stressful situations had free reign. "Yeah, I'll be honest with you," I found myself saying, "he kind of seemed like an asshole when I met him after the Sports Festival. I don't blame you for not wanting to have to deal with him."
Todoroki laughed mirthlessly. "He is," he said.
"So, don't take this the wrong way," I said to Todoroki, "But… you avoided using half your quirk, what, for months? Years? Just to avoid being like your dad, right?"
"Years," Todoroki confirmed, sounding morose. "But it wasn't just to avoid being like him. I mean, that was part of it, but it was also, just." He sighed. "Spite. Making him see that all the times he forced me to train instead of being with my family, all the times he only valued me for my ability to 'inherit his fire', they were all pointless."
Again, Todoroki dropped revelations on me that I couldn't just unpack right away. There was a whole saga of family trauma there that I was not willing or able in the slightest to handle. But even if I didn't have any actual advice worth mentioning, I could at least offer him a comfortable lie. "Nobody joins UA's hero course out of nothing but spite," I said, blithely ignoring that I had done just that. "If you really wanted to piss off your dad, you could have gone to cooking school, or started writing angsty poetry, or gone into, into, fashion design or something," I said. Almost immediately, visions of Todoroki's hero costume crossed my mind's eye. "Okay, probably not fashion design. The point is… you wouldn't have used your fire last night if pissing off your dad was more important to you than actually being a hero," I said reassuringly.
"I… maybe not," Todoroki agreed reluctantly. The room once more went silent as he considered the thought, but somehow it seemed less awkward and oppressive than before. "I'm still not looking forward to seeing him again," he eventually said. "He's going to be just so self-satisfied that I finally used 'his fire' again… I can't stand it."
Again, I didn't have much in the way of useful consolation to offer, so I tried to lighten the mood instead. "Hey, just because you can't piss him off by not using your fire doesn't mean you have to give up entirely," I said jokingly. "Be an All Might fanboy, listen to loud music he hates, there's all kinds of shit you can do."
Todoroki smirked at the thought. "I suppose there is," he said. "... I'll consider it. Thanks, Hikigaya." All of a sudden, he twisted and stood up from his hospital bed, grabbing the IV stand with his bandaged hand to pull it along with him. "I think I'm going to go check in on Haruno-nee-chan with Yukino-chan," he said. Rather than head straight to the door, however, he walked over towards me and extended his uninjured left arm towards me. "Thank you," he repeated solemnly. "For saving Haruno-nee… and for listening."
For once in my life, I managed to shut up, and shook it. And if I copied his quirk in that moment, or if I'd copied it the night before when he'd picked me up after I fainted… well, that didn't really matter anymore, did it?
The remainder of my week was significantly more sedate than the beginning of it had been. Even though I was totally feeling well enough to do office work, and could have made more progress on the Nomu case if UA had let me, apparently 'an intern suffering major injury after a supervillain attack' was enough of a demerit that UA pulled Cyberpunch's mentorship privileges temporarily until a hearing could be convened on the subject. Which was bullshit. Luckily for me, Cyberpunch's martial arts training classes were open to the public, so there was nothing actually stopping me from just showing up for lessons like any other paying customer.
And there were a lot of paying customers. As notable as my, Yukinoshita's, and Todoroki's takedown of Stain had been, Cyberpunch was getting almost as much attention in the media, not just for mentoring one-third of the Stain-defeating trio, but also for her heroic - and more importantly, professionally filmed - defense of innocent civilians. How bad was the media hype? Let's just say that when I showed up to 'sign up for lessons', I spent my entire time in line waiting behind a guy with a lizard heteromorph quirk and a major hero-crush, so much so that he had shown up in a white trenchcoat and with dozens of silver spray-painted belts wrapped around his right arm.
Unfortunately, Cyberpunch didn't even let me spar with the chuuni fanboys to chase them off; I couldn't really blame her, given the censure she'd already received from the Hero Association in letting me get hurt, and my weight had dipped back low enough after the Hosu incident that I was once again on doctor's orders to avoid heavy physical exertion. But even though I couldn't participate in the classes, observing was still valuable, and anyway I wasn't about to let the Hero Association ruin my internship just because I'd accidentally run into a serial killer on the job.
What was even more frustrating was that the Hero Association's canceling of my internship extended to my ability to be a 'civilian consultant' on the Nomu case. Which meant no trawling the quirk registration database for possible victim identities, no visiting potential family members to try to find quirk matches, and no access to the Nomu who had been captured during the Hosu incident.
It was frustrating. Even though according to the media I had saved the day and captured Stain, it felt like the Hero Association was punishing me for the temerity of having stepped in. In retrospect, that was probably why I… didn't exactly pay close attention to the doctor's advice to rest properly with the remainder of my internship week. I ate plentifully of course, trying to get my weight back up, but between watching watching martial arts lessons, filling out the inevitable paperwork that UA gave me for having been involved in a Villain incident, and meditating to restore the quirks I'd used during the fight with Stain, it seemed like several days passed in a flash. Every time I heard Bakugo and Yuigahama talking about their internship with Best Jeanist over LINE, or read news articles like the one where Tsuyu helped take down smugglers with Selkie, or saw Miura and a girl from 1-B in a shampoo commercial, it felt like I was somehow falling behind.
Maybe that was why despite having multiple days to think about it, I didn't realize that I had a problem lurking, waiting in the wings to destroy me, until the day of the charity gala that Manaka had invited me to.
"Shit," I said out loud, staring into the barren depths of my closet.
"What the hell am I supposed to wear?"