A/N: I originally posted this fic on its own on , but since this fic is a part of a series on ao3, i decided to complie them all in one single work. so if youre a reader who's read this before—yes, this is a repost.

WARNING: this work contains potentially triggering content such as depiction of anxiety, animal abuse, implied child abuse, violence, etc.


Shouto can't do it. He can't.

He's shaking, he realizes, as he stumbles from the elevator to a nearby seat—his legs feel like jelly. Ha. He tries to breathe.

He can't do it. He can't. Shit. He—

Shouto tries to blink the tears out of his eyes. He doesn't know how long he sits there, the outside world a dull thrum in his ears. He is distantly aware of the children laughing in the playground a few feet across of him, the low hush of the ladies talking to each other on the seat behind him. The news anchor in the TV hung at the corner of the room. People walking by, carts and chairs being wheeled. People. Just people. Lives, all around him.

He is here. He is here. He is here. Reality is intoxicating and true, and it's started to trickle back to him. He's okay, he—he just … he's just here.

And that's fine. He'll get up. He'll go home. He'll try again next week. And the next. And the next.

His hands hurt, Shouto realizes. They've been gripping his pants so tight. He hopes it hasn't been smoking or something—how messed up it'd be if he accidentally triggers a fire alarm? In a hospital? The thought makes him wince—

Someone sits beside him, heavy, with a thump and a clatter. Shouto starts.

"Oof—sorry," the person apologizes, seemingly short of breath. "I was in a hurry—woke up late—the train got delayed for some reason—darn—"

Shouto stares, more because of surprise than anything else. The person, he sees, is a guy who can't be much older than Shouto. Maybe even younger. His hair is a mess, dark—glints green under the fluorescent light, he notices—and his face is red with exhaustion and scattered with freckles. He is sweating, slumped on the hospital chair. Scrawny underneath the plain hoodie he sports. The heaviness when he sat down must've been from…

"Can you," the person swallows, takes a deep breath, and gestures to the huge, huge duffel bag he's got with him. "Watch this for a moment, please? I gotta—um, I gotta use the—" more wild gestures. It looks like he is panting too much and can't be bothered to put effort in vocalization.

Shouto realizes he is still staring. "Okay," Shouto replies, more out of reflex than anything.

"Okay," the person, now breathing more normally, nods. "Cool," and then he stands up. "Thanks."

Shouto notes that alongside the humongous duffel bag, he's got a tote-bag that he slings over his shoulder. On the tote-bag is an illustration of an old anime, a magical long-pigtailed girl with big sparkling eyes and a sailor uniform … Sailor Sun? Sailor Star? Something along that line.

The person—now that Shouto has a better look, does he not seem … somewhat … familiar?—acknowledges Shouto one last time with a look and an awkward gesture that's between a nod and a finger-gun, and goes away to the direction of the bathroom.

Shouto realizes he is still staring. He averts his eyes to the huge duffel bag, and then to his own hands. His knuckles aren't so white anymore; his fingers are still splayed over his knees, however more relaxed. He takes a breather. His breathing is fine.

The sterile scent of the hospital doesn't register too obnoxiously anymore, either. It's fine. He glances at his watch—two thirty. So he's spent around an hour standing around, gathering courage, and failing to gather said courage, before deciding that he couldn't do it. Okay. It's better than two weeks ago, at least, where he'd chicken-tailed on the train, before he even stepped inside the hospital.

He is not proud of that one. Nevertheless, his own persistence astounds him. Maybe Aizawa-sensei is right. He is stubborn.

And it's not always a bad thing. He thinks. Is that even a bad thing?

Someone sits heavily beside him again. This time, he doesn't start, but when he looks, he can't help the slight surprise that comes to him.

"Hello again," the boy from earlier says, "thanks for the assist," and it would be normal, except that now he's wearing—wearing a—

It's not a costume, per se. Perhaps it functions as one. It's a three-piece-suit, and a rather frayed, old-looking one, at that. The dress shirt is dull white and Shouto spots a yellow-ish, suspiciously curry-looking stain right before it disappears underneath a dark green waistcoat, who is missing a button. The pitch black dress-jacket would look fine, if one misses the fact that it is at least two sizes too big on him.

Shouto blinks at the get-up, and then blinks at the boy's face.

"I tried a top-hat," the boy says, unprompted, as if it's a way of explanation. "Trying for the, like, old-fashioned western look, you know? But it just made me look like an asshole," he pauses. "I mean, I still kinda look like an asshole now, but I gotta commit, am I right?"

Shouto blinks.

The boy blinks.

"Alright, good talk," the apparently-asshole-looking waistcoat-wearing boy says, and that's when Shouto notices this guy is even wearing a pair of gloves. He slings his big duffel bag (it's at least half this boy's height, Shouto notes with faint wonder) and his sailor-something tote-bag, and stands up—and that's when Shouto notices that underneath the three-piece, this guy is wearing a ripped jeans. Not a styled, bought ripped jeans, it's just a pair of scruffy jeans that's ripped in a few places. Naturally ripped, like.

With a pair of old looking, local brand red shoes.

The boy alone, with his wild green hair, was normal looking. Maybe a bit plain, even. Now, with the amalgamation of—of fashion statements, he just looks … well, not exactly like an asshole, and Shouto is hardly a fashion expert, but. Even Shouto recognizes a mess when he sees one.

The boy looks at Shouto, and looks down at himself, and then says again unprompted, "I'm trying for business casual." And then he turns back and leaves.

He disappears around the hallway, after making light talk with the receptionist. The receptionist laughs, the boy finger-guns—the same move he attempted on Shouto earlier—and then there he goes.

Shouto thinks, okay. And then he goes home, and he forgets about the whole thing.


He tries again the next week.

He refuses to do otherwise. He will try, again, and again, until he succeeds. He doesn't even know what triggered him. Maybe he's just gotten sick of shit. Maybe because, who knows, he lost the Sports Festival and his dad—Endeavor—

Whatever.

Maybe because he's hitting sixteen soon and it's time for him to face this. Either way, he is facing it. Today will be the day.

All he has to do, he knows, is just to enter the building, walk up to the receptionist. Hi, he would say, looking the receptionist straight in the eye and he would try not to notice how the receptionist's gaze would, inadvertently, focus on his scarred left eye, May I query about the visiting hours of the patient [insert a name that he hasn't succeeded in saying for years]?

Of course, the receptionist would say. May I ask for your name, Sir, and for your [insert identification method]?

Yes, of course, he would say, and then the receptionist would tell him [insert room number and floor level] and he would thank them politely and be on his merry way. He has simulated this scenario in his head dozens of times. Hundreds. Thousands, really.

Shouto enters the building. Good. Step one. He walks up to the receptionist. His hands are sweating, but they've been doing that since he got on the train, so whatever. Step two.

He walks. Five metres to the receptionist. Four. Three.

He never made it this far, before. Inside, he feels a little proud of himself, even if it's pathetic. Two metres. One.

He is facing the receptionist. Step three.

Holy shit, he thinks. Holy fucking shit. "Hello," he says instead.

"Hello," the receptionist says, and god, fuck, fucking shit, fuck. The receptionist says something, then, and Shouto says, "sorry?" because he couldn't hear it over the fire alarm ringing in his stupid fucking head.

"What can I help you with?"

Right. "Right," Shouto says. He has simulated this thousands of times. Millions of times. "Right, yes."

He would enter the building, right? And then he would walk up? To the receptionist? Right? And then he would—he would—

"Yes," Shouto says, he has a plan. He has planned this. Shouto prides himself in his meticulousness, if anything. Strategy is one of his good points. Shouto would never walk into battle unprepared. He has read Sun Tzu's The Art of War five times, one of which via the audiobook on Spotify. So he takes a deep breath.

"Yes, may I have a candy?" says Shouto.

God fucking damn it all fucking shit shit fuck fucking shit.

The receptionist stares at him. He stares at anywhere but the receptionist. The receptionist slides the tiny crystal bowl that holds a bunch of fucking candies over the table. Shouto takes one. He thanks the receptionist. And then he goes to sit on one of the benches.

He'll try again next week, he thinks. Holy shit.

He is a failure. He is an abomination. Shouto eats his candy, and for the first time in his life—and Shouto has hit many, many low points in his life, but for absolutely the first time in his life—Shouto thinks that he does not deserve this candy. Or any candy at all for that matter.

That's alright, he thinks, wiping his palms on his jeans. One sweaty-hot, one cold-numb. That's alright. Next week will be it. He knows it. Next week will be it, he can feel it. It's fine. His left shoe is tapping quick and arrhythmic on the sterile, squeaky clean tile.

Who the hell is he kidding? He can't fucking do this.

Shouto tries to ignore the ringing in his ears, and that fucking whistle—that high pitch whistle that he knows too well, the heat and the shake of the boiling kettle. He can't do this. He is trying, he swears, he is trying so hard—and that's his specialty in life. Shouto is good at trying hard. Shouto is good at working hard. It's just never good enough, is the problem.

Just like everything else that he does—the sports festival comes to mind, huh?—it just never seems like he'll ever be able to give his all.

Like his Quirk.

Here it goes, Shouto thinks, and it begins: The Monologue.

THE MONOLOGUE

What is this? A self-pity fest? You think you're so sad, so fucking tragic, huh?

Shouto closes his eyes.

Wants to dwell on your heart-breaking, tear-jerking backstory, again? So what, you have a childhood trauma? Everybodyhas a childhood trauma you self-serving, egocentric, full-of-yourself, stupid, fu

Objection. Nasty self-deprecating thoughts do nobody good. It's essentially non-productive, arguably counter-productive. Now, the right thing to do is—

—cking hell, you are not even that different from him, you know? All you think about is yourself.

That's not true.

That is true. Why did you want to come here in the first place?

To—repair relationships. To console. To reach some sort of closure. Somehow. Anyhow.

That's right. To feel better about yourself, right?

You just want to feel better about yourself, right?

I want to feel better about myself.

That's enough.

With distant alarm, Shouto realizes that the part of the bench where he's been clenching his right hand around is frosted all over. That's enough. The disinfectant smell of the hospital has started to suffocate him, at some point. The stench of failure.

He looks at his watch. The monologue lasted for a full ten minutes. Essentially non-productive, and yes, arguably counter-productive.

Shouto yanks his hand free, with effort. The ice has made his fingers stick to the metal surface. The ice flakes crumble and clang to the floor like spare changes. An old woman from three rows over looked at him weirdly before looking away.

He should leave, Shouto concludes.

Or.

Shouto glances, surreptitiously, to the side. To the receptionist counter.

Or I can try again, he thinks, and then he tries to stand, but his legs just won't fucking move.

He stares at his knees, hard, and then he tries to stand and fails the second time. His knees, he realizes upon inspection, are shaking way too hard to be able to support his body.

Shouto wonders why nothing in his life is ever easy.

Why is he here, anyway? What really triggered him? What, the sports festival, really—because what, he lost to Bakugou Katsuki? Or is it because lately, his Quirk—his ice—is so cold, so unbearably cold, that he yearns something—anything, warmth, anything

Was it because his father—

Shouto knows that he's afraid. That he's so, so very afraid. It runs in the flesh. Bites to the bone. He's afraid of what might come, of what might happen. They haven't met in so long. Would she even recognize him, he thinks, suddenly hollow with heart-shot fear. Would she—does she even miss him?

He feels his finger bones creak as he curls them into hard fists. He can try again, if he isn't such a coward. That's the truth as plain as can be. If only he isn't so—if only.

Shouto stands up. His knees are shaking. Come on, try. Try again. All he has to do—is just walk up to the counter, says hello, and then. And then.

Hating himself, and half-way to a mental breakdown, Shouto walks to the exit. And then he pauses, throwing an unsure, over the shoulder look at the counter. He sighs, and starts walking out for real.

And then someone crashed into him at high velocity.

"Oh my god, I am so sorry," Shouto hears a person say, when his head stops pounding. He blinks stars out of his eyes. The ceiling is slightly spinning, and he sees a couple of heads hovering above him—which he realizes later, is actually just one head. He just almost got a concussion, is all.

"It's fine," Shouto says, and a tiny part of him feels embarrassed. Student of U.A, ranked second in the most prestigious sports festival in the whole country, son of a shithead that's nevertheless the number two Hero—lying on a hospital floor, having the lights nearly knocked out of him.

"It's not fine—aw, man—"

And then a second voice barks, "Deku-kun, how many times have I told you to—"

Shouto tunes out that voice, because he is not 'Deku-kun', and the room is still spinning a bit, and he can't believe that just happened. A further proof of his incompetence.

"Are you fine?" the second person asks him, and someone helps him to stand. Shouto doesn't like being touched by strangers—or anyone—so he shrugs off the hands on his shoulders as politely as he can.

"Had worse," he replies. Way worse.

"Deku-kun!" the second person is a lady—no, a nurse, middle-aged—and she jabs a scaly finger down to the presumably 'Deku-kun'. "If I find you running around, again, you do know what would—"

Shouto tunes it out once more, trying to regain his balance. He tunes in when he's sure his brain is not damaged.

"—do you understand? Please pay attention, too, to your—" she gestures, her hands shaping something in the air, an abstract shape, or whatever "—that!"

"Yes, yes, I understand, I am very sorry—"

"And apologize to this young man!"

With one last concerned look-over at Shouto—apparently, she is head nurse, but he's fine, really—and another scolding to 'Deku-kun', she huffs and leaves.

Shouto watches her leave, and then turns—to find the perpetrator bows his head deeply in a perfect ninety-degree angle.

"Again, I am very sorry!"

"Uh," Shouto says. He's starting to feel this whole idea—this whole visiting idea—is a mistake. Well, he did know, but the backlash so far has been mental distress, not a physical one. To be fair, though, he thinks, 'perpetrator' might be a bit much. "It was also my fault. I wasn't looking."

The guy—boy, he realizes, this boy is shorter than him—straightens himself up, and, ah.

"It's you," Shouto says in genuine surprise, his words coming out unfiltered.

The boy blinks, his face momentarily blank. His eyes are huge, and now that he's up-close, Shouto sees that they are matching green with his hair. Shouto looks down. He must've hit his head pretty hard, because he says, "you're not wearing the weird get-up."

The blankness disappears, replaced by a devastated look in those eyes, clear and fervent. "Weird get-up?" he echoes, weakly, like he's hurt. For a moment, Shouto is reminded by his—as described by many of his classmates—bluntness. But it's true. "Yes," Shouto says.

They stare at each other for a few moments, and Shouto thinks, maybe this is what people call 'awkward', so he says, "well, goodbye," and then the guy says, "wait!"

At this point, he is annoyed. He is tired, his head hurts, his life sucks, and he wants to hate himself in his room in peace. "What?"

"Do you like curry?"

Shouto blinks. "Huh?"

"Soba, then?"

Shouto doesn't reply.

"This hospital's cafeteria makes mean soba," the boy says. He gestures a lot when he speaks. Shouto's eyes flick to the cartoonish All Might printed on his faded hoodie. Underneath the illustration is an english phrase, tacky and grammatically wrong: do with all you might!

"Sorry?" Shouto says, when he realizes he just missed whatever it is that this guy just said to him.

"Will you let me treat you?"

He definitely hit his head too hard. Shouto doesn't know what made him say yes.


"My name's Midoriya, by the way," a bowl of cold soba is placed in front of him, "but people around here call me Deku. You can call me that."

Midoriya—Deku—whatever, gives him his chopsticks and sits across from him, in front of his own steaming bowl of katsudon. He sits, and then looks at Shouto expectantly.

It takes a second for it to click, and another second for Shouto to get over his hesitance. "I'm Todoroki," he says.

Like the hero? It's an inadvertent reply, happens countless times to the point that he's sick of it. But Deku—or Midoriya, whatever—just smiles and says, "nice to meet you, Todoroki-kun—sorry about the crash, though." And they dig in.

It is good, he thinks. Even better than school's cafeteria. He looks at the familiar duffel bag sitting in the third chair between the two of them. The true perpetrator of the crash, it must be. He wonders what the hell is in them, because he's sure something sharp stabs his hipbone earlier. Several somethings.

He puts down his chopsticks. The boy—Midoriya—looks up, through that unruly mess of bangs, surprised, and a little concerned. "What is it?" He says, "is it not good?"

Shouto wonders, for a second. No one has ever really approached him before. He knows he looks too intimidating. And he sure as hell never let people approach him. "It's good," he says.

Midoriya stares at him, like in consideration. "I feel like even if it's bad, you would say it in the exact same tone and expression.."

Shouto doesn't understand. "What?"

"Nothing. I'm glad it's good. Hey, Karasuma-san! Psst!"

There is a window to the kitchen near the counter. A face pops out, a guy in his late twenties. "What, Deku?"

"He says it's good!" Midoriya says, two thumbs up.

The guy scoffs, but not unkindly. "Of course it is!" is smugly said, and then the head disappears.

Shouto watches the interaction comes and passes with unblinking eyes. Unsure of how to react, and also mostly bewildered in a curious sort of way.

"He likes getting complimented," Midoriya explains, completely unprompted. Shouto is starting to understand that Midoriya just tends to speak, prompted or not. "And sometimes he gives me free leftovers, so, gotta keep the guy happy. You should try the katsudon sometime. Not as good as my mom's—but damn, it's close."

Not as good as my mom's. Shouto looks at his soba. He picks up his chopsticks and starts to eat again. "Do you live here?" He says. Now that he's entered U.A, he's found out that—as Uraraka Ochako puts it—he is rather, 'straight-forward'. Whatever that means. This is probably what she means.

It doesn't seem to deter Midoriya, though. He just laughs, quite, a bit reserved. "Oh, no. I just volunteer here, twice a week or so."

"Volunteer?" Shouto deadpans. "Wearing the weird get-up?"

This is definitely what she means. Midoriya chokes on a piece of katsu. Before Shouto can decide whether he should perform the heimlich, Midoriya gulps down a glass of water and says, "urgh. Is it really that bad?"

Shouto shrugs. He doesn't want to trigger another choking frenzy, though, so he says, "hm."

"I'm just trying to look the part," Midoriya sighs. "Well, it makes the kids laugh, though, so as long as that works."

Look the part? "What part?" Shouto frowns. "A con salesman?"

Midoriya chokes again, and downs another gulp of water. "Okay," he says, when he's done choking. "I'm starting to feel offended for real, but that is kind of funny.."

Shouto wasn't actually joking, but he decided not to say that. He stares at Midoriya.

"Not whatever you're thinking," Midoriya sighs, almost sulkily. "I'm a—well, I'm a magician."

Shouto stares.

Midoriya stares back. And then, out of nowhere, his tone full of surprise, "wow look, Todoroki-kun, what is that?" he moves to take something from Todoroki's soba with his chopsticks.

Slightly alarmed, Todoroki looks down, and—between Midoriya's chopstick, hovering above Todoroki's soba, is a coin. Precisely, a one hundred yen coin—solid and conspicuous, and its existence entirely inexplicable.

Midoriya puts the coin down on the space between their bowls. It drops to the metal surface of the table with a soft cling. "Tadah," he says, with blithe fanfare. "Don't worry, your soba is perfectly clean. It didn't come from—you know. I just made it look like it. Because it's magic. I'm a magician. So. I'm not going to use these chopsticks anymore though.."

"Was that your Quirk?" Shouto says, after a long pause.

Midoriya is in the middle of exchanging a pair of new chopsticks. He laughs, light and easy. Quiet, reserved. "If it's a Quirk, then I'm not a magician, am I? Wow, look, Todoroki-kun!"

He points at the 100 yen on the table, and with his pointer finger, he carefully slides the coin to the side. And somehow, underneath it, is another 100 yen coin.

Shouto stares at the now multiplied 100 yen coins. And then he stares at Midoriya. Somehow, he feels—

Impressed? Almost … maybe. Maybe not. Slightly annoyed, definitely. The kind of annoyance that mingles with curiosity. Like when he learns a new martial art move and he doesn't quite get it right. Or when he tries to solve one especially technical physics problem.

"It's, you know," Midoriya gestures, smiling amiably, humble. "Sleight of hand, misdirection. A lot of practice. A lot of coins."

Magicians. An old concept, from one, two centuries ago. "I thought magicians don't exist anymore."

"They don't," Midoriya nods, jabbing lightly on a piece of katsu with his now-clean chopsticks. "Ran out of business when, well, when Quirk happened. It's just a niche hobby, I guess. I volunteer, um, to help the kids. Here, I mean. I don't know if you know, but this hospital also functions as the children's cancer centre in the prefecture—" Shouto does not "—and a lot of the kids don't get lots of chances to go out and stuff, you know? So I just entertain them, I guess. And 'magic'," he air-quotes, with a note of humor, like he doesn't take it seriously, "still works on kids. Quirk or no Quirk."

Not a Quirk. Interesting. It makes sense. Public Quirk use, especially in a space such as hospitals, usually require complicated licensing. Shouto stares at the coins again. It's a bit stupid, and definitely childish, but. "How did you do it," he finally says.

Midoriya looks at himin surprise, like he didn't expect him to ask, or to care. His eyes, Shouto notes, are very big. Almost too big on his face, like a child's. The smile on Midoriya's face morphs into a playful grin. "Why," he says, almost teasingly, "a magician never tells."

His freckles crinkle when he smiles, dimpled. Shouto frowns. "Have we met before?" Shouto says, seriously, a non-sequitur.

Midoriya—Deku glances at him. A beat passes where his face is suddenly carefully bereft—and then his face breaks into a brilliant grin once more. "That's one unoriginal pick-up line, Todoroki-kun," says Deku. "Yeah, when I asked you to watch my duffel bag, remember?" And then seemingly remembering the previous fiasco, his tone takes into concern, "wait, did you get a concussion when—"

"Nevermind."


"Hello," Shouto says.

"Hello," the receptionist says. To Shouto's relief, it's a different one from last week. They won't recognize him, then. One less reminder of his incompetence.

Here he goes. "I would like to visit Todoroki Rei my name is Todoroki Shouto here is my student card may I know where her room is."

Shouto realizes he didn't breathe the whole sentence. He takes a breath to oxygenate his stupid brain.

The receptionist stares at him. "Sorry," they say, slowly, "could you repeat that?"

God damn it. "Of course," Shouto says, and what do you know? He repeats it.

"Level six, Calla Lily, three-oh-six."

"Thank you," Shouto says, and turns to leave.

"Sir? You left your student card—"

Level six, Calla Lily, three-oh-six. Level six. Calla Lily. Three-oh-six. Level six. Level six.

Step three, talks to receptionist. Acquire location. Step four—

Shouto enters the lift. An old lady and a couple enters with him.

"Could you please press four for me, dear?"

Shouto presses four. And then he presses six.

Someone gets in on level two. Shouto doesn't really pay attention. Level three. Level four. Level five.

Level six.

The elevator opens. The couple beside him walks out. Shouto is alone in the elevator.

Level six.

His legs won't fucking move. The elevator closes after a while. His legs won't fucking—

Shouto steps back, his legs wobbly. His back hits the back of the elevator space. The metal is cool against his head. What the hell is he doing?

Level six.

Shouto looks at the buttons. Level six, it reads, psychiatry and psychology unit. Level five, children's cancer centre, etc, level four, neurology, etc, level three...

He can't bring himself to press the button.

The elevator dings, and goes down automatically to ground floor. The door opens. A few people and a bunch of kids get in. Shouto tries to breathe.

He needs to get out of here. Leave. Try again.

He's gone this far. Then go further. Plus ultra, et cetera. He can't.

Coward.

The elevator dings. The bunch of kids go out, giggling. He's alone again. He needs to go.

He walks out. The elevator closes behind him.

Shouto walks, unsure and unsteady, to the seats nearby, underneath the windows. He feels lost, confused, loathsome, fucked up.

He's gone this far.

Is this the farthest you can go?

He closes his eyes. Tries to breathe. He doesn't know how long he does it, trying to regulate his breathing, trying to act like a normal fucking person. Trying to hold himself from freaking out, from setting a fire or a blizzard in a hospital or both. Where the hell is he even—

He looks up, and his eyes find a sign. Level five, it reads. Children's cancer centre.

He looks down, to his shoes. His left foot is still tapping, he almost isn't aware of the constant, anxious motion. He opens his fists, closes them again. Open, close. Breathe in, out. He needs to go. Leave. Try again next week.

After what feels like an hour, or maybe just five minutes, he stands up. His legs don't feel like jelly anymore, but his heart is still pumping, more anxiety than anything. It won't go away for a while. Breathe in, out.

Well. It's not like he has anything better to do. Shouto glances at the sign again. Nothing better to do at all.

He looks left, to the hall. He doesn't know why he didn't notice it the first time. The ceiling, the wall and the floor, are full of paintings. Hand prints. Flowers. Giraffes. He spots one funnily-drawn All Might—oh, there are two. Or five All Mights. Distantly, he thinks he hears children laughing, or maybe it's just his imagination.

It's not like it's illegal, is it? Shouto takes a step, but he's still unsure. It should be open to the public though. Maybe he just can't enter the rooms. Even when he's still doubting, his legs already move.

He hadn't imagined the children's laughter, it seems.

Down the hallway, It looks to be some sort of—recreation area. Playground. There is a closed room, by the corner; a library, judging from the shelves and the seats. Like the hallway, they are colorful, yellows and blues and pinks. Illustrations adorn wherever the eye can see.

Shouto's childhood wasn't exactly colorful. Or cute. He could never imagine having a room that looks like this. He doesn't even remember ever being in a space like this, in his younger days. But compared to the plain, sterile white of the other levels—Shouto thinks, surprising even himself, he thinks that he rather prefers this.

It just looks alive is all. Less depressing.

"You look weird!"

Shouto looks down.

The kid looks up. She is very small. And then she says, again, with utter conviction: "wow, you look even weirder up close!"

Perhaps, this is what Uraraka would call 'blunt'. Inexplicably, Shouto feels a sort of kinship to this little girl. He crouches down, so he can look into the girl's yellow, cat-like eyes. Seriously, he says, "you also look weird."

She looks at him for a moment. She is wearing a onesie that looks like a reference to some hero. And then, wordlessly, she hands him a paper and marker.

He takes them. The paper isn't blank. There is a drawing of what looks like either a vengeful ghost, or an imitation of salvador dali's artwork, or perhaps a cow. It's hard to tell.

"What do you want me to do."

"Draw legs. I can't draw legs." So this girl is commanding him, now. He looks at her. "Legs?" He repeats, deadpan.

"Duh," she says, like he is stupid. He can't really argue the sentiment at the moment. "It's me in my hero costume," she explains, pointing at a shape that is perhaps a head, or the Tokyo Tower. Who knows. "Draw my legs."

Shouto attempts to. She stands on her tiptoes to peer over it. How old is this kid? Five? Six? She looks at the drawing, nods several times, and then looks up at him. "Awful," she declares. And then she snatches the paper from Shouto's hands and leaves.

Shouto stares after her. That was positively uncalled for. He respects it.

He glances around the room. The space is big, wide; the wall by the side is lined with windows, pouring sunlight into the room. There are children, less than twenty … no, lesser than that. But more than the'd thought would be. In the wide room, though, they are sparse; huddling in patches here and there, messing with toys and what not. Most of the floor space is covered in carpets, the ones that look like puzzles with hiragana and english alphabet, the kind that won't hurt if you fall on it. He believes that 'child-proof' is the term for it.

Surprisingly, most of the adults don't even spare him a glance. They are nurses, and civilians—parents. He sees the kids that came into the elevator, earlier, at some corner of the room, laughing and messing around. Visiting a friend or a relative, perhaps.

The stench is still there—the distinctly sterile, disinfectant scent. Hospital smell. The waiting room where he usually comes isn't quiet, per se, but something about this space—in spite of what it is—is distinctly livelier. More cheerful. And Shouto isn't even crazy about kids. He never really interacted with kids before.

He stares at his shoes. What is he doing? He should leave.

"Excuse me, sir, may I see your visitor pass?"

Shouto starts. So much for spatial awareness. "Ah."

The nurse stares at him, unimpressed, but not exactly unkindly. "You need a visitor pass in this space, or I'm afraid you must leave."

"Ah," says Shouto flatly. "I see. I—"

"He's my assistant!"

It's him. "It's you," Shouto says, surprised.

"Yes, it's me, your boss. Sorry about that, Fukuda-san, he's new."

Fukuda-san raises an eyebrow, rather skeptically, and cursors him up and down. Shouto has never been exactly shy, but at this moment, he squirms in his place under the scrutiny. "You never brought an assistant before, Deku."

Deku grins. "First time for everything, you know?"

The nurse shrugs. "Now that I think of it, they used to parade pretty girls around, huh?"

Deku laughs. Shouto doesn't, but that's because he doesn't get it. "Well, then," Deku says pleasantly, "anything I should take note of? Any new kids this week?"

"No, not really. Haru-chan still has an issue assimilating, though, and—"

Again, Shouto tunes it out, consciously stepping back allowing the two to converse. Deku is wearing the three piece suit again. His jeans, this time, aren't ripped. He still does look like a salesman, but not so much a con salesman. An underage salesman. The big duffel bag is slung on his back.

"—try not to make a mess, this time."

"Come on, the kids love it."

"You know who else loves it?" The nurse deadpans. "Kubo-san."

Deku cringes immediately. He opens his mouth to retort when a ball-like creature in high speed bumps and sticks into his legs.

Deku looks down and his face breaks into a brilliant grin. "Hello, Tocchan!"

The creature is a kid. A very small kid, who is hugging Deku's legs. "Deku!" The kid says.

"Deku! It's Deku!"

"Deku's here! Deku's here!"

Suddenly, they are surrounded by kids, all barely taller than Shouto's hip bones. Shouto had thought that there weren't many kids around, but he is now realizing that he was wrong. He is surrounded in a circle of kids. A swarm.

Among the chorus of Deku! Deku! Some of them look at him curiously, whispering and pointing to each other. Shouto has a distinct feeling of being trapped.

"Well, I'll leave you to it, then," Fukuda sighs, half exasperated and half fond. "Break a leg, new guy." It takes Shouto a second to realize that she meant him.

It takes another second for Shouto to realize what that means.

"Wait," Shouto says, awkwardly. He has never been in this sort of situation, or anything remotely close to it. He has never even seen this many kids in real life before. His plea goes unheard, however.

"Everyone, this guy right here is gonna help me out today! Say hello!"

"Hel-lo."

"Hewwo!"

"He looks weird!"

"Weird hair! Weird hair!"

"Hello hello hello hello—"

There is a jab to his sides. Shouto looks to Midoriya, a bit at a loss. "Aren't you going to introduce yourself?" Midoriya grins, like it's an inside joke.

Shouto looks at the sea of kids, and they look back at him. And then Shouto looks at Midoriya, who is also looking at him. He has never seen eyes so big on faces so small before. He relents, supposing the best strategy at the moment is to surrender.

Shouto bows deeply and formally. "My name is Todoroki Shouto, please take care of me."

A pause. Beside him, he hears Midoriya snort.

"Boo!"

"So booooring."

"Shou-to?"

"Todo—todo—"

"Who's him?"

"Todoroki might be a mouthful, Todoroki-kun," Deku says, still with that same grin, only now it has even more mirth in it. "Let them call you something easier. What do you want to be called?"

It takes Shouto a moment. "You can call me Shouto," he tells them all, solemnly. It's his hero name, after all.

Deku claps his hands. "You heard him! Be nice to him, 'kay? He's—" he glances sideways, humor in the twinkle of his eyes. "New."

Why, Shouto thinks, distantly bewildered with a dash of helplessness, am I in this situation?

"Come on, make way, make way," the kids part messily, providing a path. "Hey, Assistant-kun!"

Shouto looks up to have a duffel bag thrown at him. He catches it, with some effort. It's big. Deku throws a smile at him. "Catch up, will you?" And then he walks to the end of the room, with a bunch of kids running after him noisily.

He stares after them. What choice does he have? It's not like he has anything better to do. Not anything that he's capable of, anyway.

Shouto sighs. Heaving the bag, he follows.

"Come sit! Come on, nicely. In order. You know the rules!"

Shouto never knows kids can be so noisy. He doesn't remember ever being noisy as a child. But these kids, they stumble with each other just to sit down, giggling and screaming. Their legs are very tiny Shouto isn't sure how they could possibly support their bodies. The physics of it feel a little wrong.

Is this, Shouto ponders, what people call 'cute'?

"No pushing! No pushing or I won't start. Miya, I see what you're doing."

It takes a few minutes before they are all more or less silent, watching Deku expectantly with those big eyes. "Whoah, that's quick," Deku says, with exaggerated surprise. "Did you miss me that much?"

The kids giggle. Shouto never attended pre-school. He also never went to a—what do they call it? Children's care, or something. Shouto never attended school before U.A, really, as he was homeschooled until this year. But he reckons, pre-school would look something like this.

"Let's see, I usually ask for volunteers, right?" Deku taps a finger on his chin, pretending to be thinking about it. "Mm, since I got myself an assistant, though, I guess I don't need volunteers anymore?"

Gasps. Horrified, scandalized, revolted. In an instant, Shouto finds diverse, various pairs of eyes glaring at him, vicious and full of vengeance. Shouto blinks. And then he steps back. He finds that he has to fight an urge to raise his hands in surrender—which is a novelty. He has never felt that before in his entire life.

"But he don't got any stickers!"

"Yeah!"

"Show us stickers!"

Once again, Shouto is at a loss. He looks to Midoriya, as if for help, and the guy is laughing so hard he throws his head to the back. "Are you sure," Midoriya says, still choking with laughter, "that he doesn't have any stickers?"

Hush falls over the room. The kids discuss with each other, though they start to look unsure. Shouto realizes that some of the adults have started to walk in their direction. He tries to ignore the slight self-consciousness that arises with it.

"Prove it," one of the kids—the girl from earlier, Shouto realizes, the one that asked him to draw her legs—commands, haughtily.

"Yeah! Show us the stickers!"

"What stickers," says Shouto.

"Why, the ones in your pocket, of course," says Deku. He sounds a little too amused.

He doesn't know why he's playing along. Shouto checks his left pocket. "The other one," Deku says, helpfully. "Um, no, still the other one."

There is something, Shouto realizes, in his left back pocket, and it's not just his wallet. He pulls out a—

A ribbon. It's bright and colorful, pink, yellow and green. A single, long, ribbon. Shouto starts, somewhat alarmed by its existence. He pulls.

And pulls.

And pulls.

The ribbon is now at least a metre long. Shouto keeps pulling.

The kids has started giggling half a minute ago. By the time he's done—the ribbon is at least five metres long—the kids are laughing, curling to their bellies. Shouto pulls until the last of the ribbon falls to the floor, and looks at it, more at a loss than before. "How," he says, as flat as ever, and the room explodes in more snickerings.

Deku shakes his head, as if he's disappointed, but the corner of his mouth looks like it's struggling not to twitch. "Your other, other pocket."

Shouto checks his other pocket. He pulls out a paper with a bunch of golden star stickers on it.

Shouto stares at it for a moment. And then he shows it to the audience like it's a medal.

The laughter dies down to whispers. The haughty girl looks over and nods in solemn acknowledgement. "Is the mass satisfied?" Deku queries.

The kids nod. Deku nods, and Shouto almost flinches when he puts a hand on Shouto's shoulder. "You have been approved," Deku says, in all seriousness. Deku's hand leaves his shoulder almost immediately, and Shouto feels the tension in his body uncoils a little.

Shouto doesn't know what to say, so he says, "Thank you," because it seems proper.

"Okay, let's go do some magic now, yeah?" they cheer in response. Shouto realizes that the room is way fuller now, and not just with kids—teenagers, in hospital gowns. Patients. Even several elderlies. They must've entered when Shouto was busy emptying his pockets.

"Hm, has anyone seen my wand, though? You know, my magic wand?" heads shake. Deku frowns, tapping one shoe and putting one hand on his hip. "Hmm. That's weird. I'm sure I put it around here somewhere."

The kids start looking for the wand, chattering to each other. They stand up, checking their seats, underneath the carpets, the chairs. The wand is nowhere to be found.

"Hey, Tocchan, did you take my wand?"

Tocchan—couldn't be older than five, or six—giggles, "no!"

Deku raises an eyebrow, obviously skeptic. And then his grin turns mischievous as he lunges and carries Tocchan up high.

The boy's body is small, a little too-thin even for his age; but the boy laughs uncontrollably as he is raised up, up to the ceiling. "Tocchan, you took my wand, didn't you? You took it?" Deku teases, while he shakes the boy gently, as if the wand would fall out of the boy's pockets.

"No, no!" the boy laughs delightedly, while his friends holler on—and suddenly, with a clang! A stick falls into the floor.

The audience cheers. Deku takes his wand, and pretends to inspect it. And with Shouto's surprise—he doesn't know why he's still surprised, at this point—Deku plucks a magnifying glass out of thin air to inspect it. Several gasps are heard in the audience, but Deku looks like he is too focused to notice, concentrating entirely on his 'magic wand'.

It's a stick, really, maybe twenty centimetres long, black with a hint of shininess. He seems to nod to himself, as if satisfied. "Okay, it's in tip-top shape. Shouto," Shouto's head whips—startled by the use of his first name. His hero name. Midoriya looks at him, with that same inside-joke sort of smile. "Give Tocchan a sticker, will you?"

Shouto looks down. Tocchan is looking up to him expectantly, so small, he barely reaches Shouto's thigh. His smile is big, and Shouto can see several teeth missing at the back. His head is bald. Something twists in Shouto's chest, an unexpected pang of pain, and Shouto takes a deep breath as he tries to ignore it.

Shouto takes the stickers that had mysteriously shown up in his pocket, and share one with him. "Thank you for the good work," Shouto says and bows formally. It is only proper.

Tocchan sits back down, chest puffed, showing off the sticker stuck on his shirt with pride to his friends.

As it turns out, the kids who have stickers are the one who's got a bigger chance to 'volunteer'. The stickers are some sort of reward for good behavior, is Shouto's guess. The rest of the 'show' evolves this way, with Deku taking up one kid after another, performing one inexplicable thing after another, and Shouto's job—as the assistant—is to give them their stickers.

Even if Shouto wants to leave, he thinks, as he gives a sticker to the haughty girl—Miya, apparently—and she shoves one fist to the air, All-Might style—he isn't sure he can.

And—and he finds this especially perplexing—he isn't even sure if he wants to leave.

"Oof," Deku waves his gloved hand to his face, as if he's sweating in exhaustion, "I'm beat. These magic tricks are making me tired," and then he wearily sits down. Except that there is no chair and he is sitting down on empty air.

More laughter. Shouto doesn't realize his own lips curl until Deku looks at him, and winks, and says, "say, Shouto. You are my apprentice. Why don't you do my job for me?"

Shouto pauses. He looks to the expecting audience. And then he looks to his hands. Shouto is nothing if not a responsible person. "I'm afraid," Shouto says, with all the seriousness of someone on a deathbed, "that I cannot do magic."

"That's not true!" Suddenly Deku stands up, dramatically. He looks fired up all of a sudden. "Takeshi!" he points abruptly, to a teenager in a wheelchair. He can't be any older than Shouto. Said teenager rolls his eyes, but there is an unmistakable smile on his face. "Takeshi-kun, please tell the class why it's not true."

"Because everyone can do magic," Takeshi drawls, his voice dripping with sarcasm. The smile is still there though.

"That is right. Do you want a sticker?"

"No."

"Anyway," Deku ignores the blatant rejection, "everyone can do magic. Come, my apprentice, it appears that you still have much to learn."

Deku is beckoning him with a hand. The rest of the audience is, to Shouto's abject, still staring at Shouto expectantly. He is only surrounded by kids, but he might as well be threatened by a gun. Miserably, Shouto walks to his—apparently—magic sensei.

"Shouto-kun, we have known each other for a long time," Deku announces, dignifiedly.

"Hm," Shouto says.

"A very long time. Three hundred years, in fact.."

He hears several sniggerings to the side. Shouto says, "hm."

"I believe that it's time for us to take our relationship to the next level, Shouto-kun. So please let me ask you a question that I've been dying to ask for over two hundred years."

"Three hundred," Shouto corrects him.

Deku acts like he didn't hear it. "What is your favorite color?" he asks instead.

Shouto pauses. "White."

"I see. May I please have your hand?"

Not really. But he can feel dozens of eyes on him, and the baited breath of the kids waiting for what the next trick would be. So he reluctantly puts up his right hand.

"Put it into a fist, please, and channel all your concentration into it."

"This is ridiculous," Shouto deadpans, but he does it anyway. To his—slight relief, Deku doesn't touch his hand like he expected. Deku himself is closing his eyes in mock focus, both of his gloved hands several inches above Shouto's.

"I'm going to give you all my energy now," Deku says, eyes still shut, and the room is in total silence for five seconds before those eyes open again, sharp and piercing staring right into Shouto's own.

The sudden sharpness in Deku's eyes surprises him, for some reason. Shouto blinks.

"The magic has transferred," Deku announces, with all the seriousness of someone on a death row. "Please open your fist, my dear apprentice."

Shouto sighs, unimpressed. He literally feels nothing. Somewhat unsure, Shouto opens his palm.

A tiny white butterfly flies into the air.

Someone gasps. The room is silent with shock before it erupts.

Shouto stares at the butterfly, now flying around the room, into the crowd. Some of the kids are standing up, trying to catch it, laughing in absolute joy. Shouto then stares at his own right hand, and realizing that his mouth is still open rather dumbly, he shuts it up.

He looks up to Deku, who is still staring at him with something unreadable, something intent in his eyes. "Congratulations, Todoroki-kun," Deku says, and his grin isn't so sharp anymore, somehow. Less bright edges, and more soft curves. "You just did magic."

Shouto huffs, somewhere between a laugh, or a scoff; it just comes out of him in his disbelief. "How did you do it?"

Deku's brows rise, eyes big and glinting. "You tell me."

Shouto huffs again, that same confused, disbelieving sound. Before he can say anything though, the kids are already crowding them.

"That. Was. Awesome!"

"How d'you do it? How!"

"I want to do it! I want to do it too!"

"Okay, settle down, settle down," Deku says, though he looks like he is terribly pleased with himself. "Come on, give Shouto some space."

"I want to do it! Please please please—"

"No, me, me, me!"

"You had your turn, Rin, Tsu," Deku chastises. "Come on, sit down, sit down."

After a few moments, the commotion dies down, though they are still chattering at high speed about the trick. A nurse opens the window and they watch as the butterfly flies away, cheering and clapping.

"Alright, it's getting pretty late, huh?" Deku says, and immediately the crowd roars in protest.

"Aww, so soon?"

"More! More!"

Someone starts clapping, and the crowd does so in tandem, chanting more, more, more. Deku shakes his head, his mess of hair bounces as he does so. "Geez, fine, fine, fine. Don't be so loud! The head nurse is going to roast me alive.

"Alright, so who wants to volunteer?"

Hands are raised. Some of the kids stand up in order for their hands to place higher.

Deku shakes his head again, but he is smiling. "One last time, okay? I don't have the strength to do magic all day, you know." He walks around, looking over the tiny heads. "Hmm," he taps a finger to his chin. "Oh, I don't know. Shouto, why don't you pick?"

He doesn't know why he's surprised. Shouto sighs.

He is taller than Deku, by ten centimetres or so. So when Shouto walks closer to the crowd, his eyes catch this one especially tiny little girl.

She is thin, like most of them. Her hand is raised, apparently as high as can be, but it is still drowned among her peers. Shouto hesitates, for a while. How does he do this?

You want to be a Pro Hero and you can't even do something like this?

He pauses. And then he says, in what he hopes a gentle voice, "hello. What is your name?"

The girl looks up, hopeful. Their eyes meet—hers are green, big and watery. "Me?" she says, softly, after a pause.

Shouto tries to smile. It feels awkward on his face, and probably ugly. "Yes," Shouto says. "My name is Shouto."

The girl blinks. "Haru," she says, her voice is as tiny as her body.

"Okay, Haru-san," how does he do this? "Could you come with me, please?"

"Um," Haru says, "okay."

Shouto gives her his hand. She takes it. Her hand is small, so small in Shouto's grip, soft like a flower petal. For a second, Shouto is afraid that he could crush it. But the girl, instead, grips his hand tighter, and stands up to come with him.

The rest of the kids part and shift, forming a path for the tiny girl. Some of her peers shout some encouragement. Haru ducks her head, seemingly to hide under Shouto, her pale cheeks shining red.

"Hello, Haru-chan," Deku says, crouching down. He does that to most of the kids. But Haru is so small, even when he's on one knee, her head still doesn't reach the top of Deku's fluff of a hair. "How are you?"

"M'okay," Haru mumbles, her cheeks grow even redder. Her right hand is still gripping Shouto's tightly. Shouto awkwardly shifts a little to the side so he doesn't block the audience's view.

"That's great. Now, Haru-chan, can you lend me your hand? You can still hold on to Shouto," and then Deku puts a hand over the side of his face as he mock-whispers, "he's going to help you make stronger magic."

Haru is obviously shy. She nods, face still aflame, and her tiny hand reaches out.

But it shakes, Shouto notices. It shakes, and then it stops mid-air.

"I can't do it," she whispers, suddenly.

Shouto tenses. He tries to swallow around his suddenly dry throat. But Deku looks nonplussed, if somewhat curious. "Why not?" he asks.

"Because," she swallows. For an alarming moment, Shouto thinks she's going to cry. "Because I don't have ... I don't have.." she stops.

Shouto isn't the most sensitive person—he knows himself to be dense and ego-centric sometimes—but somehow, he knows.

(A statistic announces itself at the back of his mind. Quirkless people make up twenty per-cent of the world. In Japan, the statistic is—one in every—)

Something about the Deku changes, then. His smile. It doesn't falter, exactly, but it shifts; previously a bright, stage-lit grin, now just … a smile. A soft, gentle curve of his mouth. He bends lower, both knees now on the pristine floor, so he can look at the little girl in the eye. Green eyes meeting green eyes. And then he says, with a dead serious, secretive tone, "everyone has magic."

The little girl doesn't look convinced. "Really?" she says, slow—but Shouto recognizes a slight hint of hopefulness in her voice.

"Really," the magician—Deku—nods, like it's the surest thing in the world. "Really. Do you believe me?"

A pause. But then, ever so slightly, Haru nods.

The smile on the magician's face grows wider. "Good," he says. "Because I believe in you," he offers his gloved hand, and she takes it. He curls her fingers, gently, so her open palm turns into a fist; and then he clasps it with both of his hands. "You should believe in you, too."

He lets go. She looks at her closed fist, and then at Deku. Deku nods, still with that gentle smile on his face. Shouto feels her other hand, the one in Shouto's hold, clenches stronger, so slightly, so softly.

"What's your favorite color, Haru-chan?"

She hesitates. "Pink."

When she opens her palm, a group of small, fluttering butterflies fly—soft pink like cherry blossoms, blooming into the air.

The room erupts once more, but Shouto doesn't care for it—he only has eyes for Haru, who is now smiling so big it splits her face.

It takes Shouto too long to realize that he, too, is also smiling.