Eri had only been a part of his daily life for, what, a week now? A few days? Things kept blurring past him that he honestly struggled to remember how long it had been. It all turned into one giant blob of time. But in that time, he'd grown to care about Eri a lot.
A Hero was supposed to help people, care about the people that surrounded them, and be willing to save them at the risk of their own life if the situation came to it. It wasn't like he wouldn't go out of his way to save anyone who needed his help, to fight for then, and risk life and limb for them - He'd already risked his limbs plenty of times in the past - But that was…. Impersonal sometimes.
Like it was just a job.
A very unique feeling of alienation that Izuku hadn't thought about before made itself known whenever he found himself protecting innocent bystanders. It wasn't that he didn't care about them or want to help them - He did. That was why he became a Hero in the first place - But there was a degree of separation from them when he became a Hero-in-training, and when he had had forced onto him the responsibilities that came with Heroism. He didn't know anything about them. Who they were. What their stories were. In an abstract sense, they were just a part of his job.
But these were people he was supposed to save.
And Eri was a person to him. He felt that connection that reminded him she was a person.
A person who had suffered. A person he wanted to help. And a person he'd come to care about without realizing it until he really considered things.
In some ways, Izuku could relate to Eri when he thought about it.
Not in the downright specifics. He couldn't relate to whatever she had had to suffer when it came to this Chisaki character. He couldn't understand that…. Partly because he didn't fully understand what had happened, Eri hadn't said. It had only ever been implied.
The implications weren't in any way pleasant.
He didn't think he'd be able to relate fully to her anyway though, at least not on those lines. He had a feeling that she had gone through something he would only ever be able to describe as brutal. Even if he had been through anything remotely along the lines that he was thinking, something told him he wouldn't be able to understand either way. He would be able to sympathize, but he wouldn't be able to fully understand the extent of what she had been through.
Empathy was all he could offer in that regard.
But he could relate to how she had to be feeling at least.
Scared. Afraid. Unsure. Confused. Alone.
Maybe even angry.
When sitting in a room in total darkness, so you didn't have to even see anything, was preferable to seeing something - Anything - Else. When the feelings of being afraid of what was going to happen, and hating with a passion everything that had got you to this point until it became all mixed together.
There had been times Izuku had felt like that. So many times he'd felt like that when he was Eri's age.
It either manifested itself as fury or as terror.
And it seemed Eri had fallen into the category of terror. Just like he had when he found out he was Quirkless. The circumstances were different but he felt he could at least…. Relate to that.
At least, he hoped he could.
But not being able to relate on a point-by-point level, or even understand what exactly had happened to her in the past… It made it hard to figure out what to say to her.
What reassurances he could offer.
If there were any to offer.
Since both Izuku and Mina entered the room, Eri hadn't said a word. She had acknowledged that the two of them were there, but she almost seemed afraid to look at them, perhaps thinking that they had returned with a police officer to take her away. Both of them had to walk around the bed and in front of her to prove they were alone, that no one was here to take her away. A part of Izuku regretted leaving her on her own for any length of time now.
Crouching down in front of her with Mina, Izuku tried to find the words to get across that feeling. To offer that support and empathy. Eri was looking at him, but there wasn't even a look of expectation in her eyes. Like she had come to accept the bad news that didn't even exist. Like that was the norm for her and she had dulled herself to it. Or tried to dull herself to it.
There were little tells Izuku noticed.
Eyebrows twitching, her lip being tugged slightly inward by what he assumed was her teeth chewing on the interior of her mouth, and the fact she tried to not look them in the eye, but look past him. He noticed them because they were tells he himself had, if his mother were to be believed.
If there were words that would make all that go away, Izuku would have said them in that moment. Didn't matter what they were, how heinous they might have been, or how embarrassing they might have been to say. He would have said them without question. But he didn't know if there were. Or if he could figure out what they were.
If they even existed.
He took a moment to glance towards Mina, who it turned out was looking at him too, waiting for him to say something. She didn't know what to say any more than he did, and he was better with words than she was, she had apparently decided. When it came to topics like this at least.
There was something about her when he looked at her though. Something that put things into place for him.
It was her.
There had been times he had thought about giving up. Everyone did, he imagined. Even after getting into Yuuei. Even after every reassurance in the world. They were often quiet thoughts, but they were thoughts nevertheless that were there. Self doubt, crippling anxiety, uncertainty in his own worthiness to carry the torch that was One For all. The same doubts he'd had ever since he received One For All, and no matter how many times he felt he overcame them, they always came back. No matter how firmly he told himself that it was all gone, it was always there, niggling at the back of his mind. He wondered if it was always going to be there.
Yet it was always Mina who brought him back down to Earth.
Because he knew she was there.
Having her there felt like a safety net. Like he had someone he could rely on to help him when he needed it. After everything, he knew he could rely on her.
And he knew Eri had never had that. And that was what she needed right now.
So he looked at her, he articulated what he was going to say in his head, and then he spoke.
"...We're not going to let anyone take you away." Unknowingly, his own hands balled up into fists as he spoke with conviction. "I promise."
Eri looked at him after a couple of seconds. For a moment, Izuku was wondering if she was searching for some sort of sign he was lying. Like she'd heard that hundreds of times, and she'd found out how to tell when someone was lying. He remembered hearing once that kids often didn't know how to trick themselves into ignoring warning signs from bad people, and that was why their intuition on who was trustworthy was often really accurate.
But she looked at him like she believed him.
"I promise." He repeated. Not just to her, but to himself.
Because he meant it. He wouldn't let anything happen to her.
Whatever reservations that Eri might have had, whatever fears that she held onto that Izuku and Mina were going to be just like the people in her past, whatever that past may be, they seemed to be gone. Like for the first time, she realized that she was in the hands of people that weren't going to treat her like she was an object. Like she believed what they were saying to her.
It all ended up being more than her tiny body could take.
Before Izuku realized what was happening, Eri had already thrown her arms around him, and had thrown herself into a hug against him. A few seconds later, she was crying. Openly weeping, like it was the first time she'd ever been able to really cry. If it was out of joy at realizing that there were people who would look out for her, or just the release of all the horrors she'd kept pent up inside, Izuku didn't know.
All he could do was hug her back, and let her cry as she needed.
As he did, he glanced behind Eri's head, so he could see Mina.
The look she was giving him was so warm, and so soft, with such a wonderfully kind smile that even now, it made him feel like he was at peace.
Like she was saying with only her expression and her eyes that she knew he'd chosen the right words for this situation.
And he liked to think - Or hope - That she understood the role she had played in it.
And if she didn't, he would tell her.
When he had the chance, that was.
That night, Izuku and Mina found themselves staying with Eri.
When she had managed to stop her crying, she had worn herself out, both from the physical act of crying, and the emotional exhaustion that had come from it. Today had been a stressful day on top of that. It wasn't all that surprising that someone as young as Eri had quickly managed to tire herself out.
She hadn't wanted Izuku or Mina to leave her though. She didn't want them to leave. She'd asked them to stay.
Neither of them could turn her down after that.
The absurdity of the situation didn't really occur to Izuku until a few hours later. Here he and Mina were, still fully dressed in their Hero costumes, with a child who didn't seem to be on any databases and had a connection to some sort of crime syndicate resting between them, while trying to fall asleep in a Hero office after spending all day dealing with Heroes and Police Officers. There was something absolutely absurd about it all.
He hadn't been able to get any sleep at all - He wasn't even remotely tired - But he didn't mind. The hour or two - However long it had been - Had been relaxing. Peaceful. Two things he hadn't felt in a while. Not since they'd first found Eri. Maybe because things felt like they were going their way, for once.
In the back of his mind, he wondered what would have happened if he did take on the assignment with Mirio and Nighteye. Would he have still run into Eri? Would he have been able to learn more about whoever it was that had made her like she was? Would they have managed to get her away?
Would this time have ever happened?
He didn't know. But he didn't swell on it too much. That hadn't happened. This was what had happened, and he didn't plan on letting anything happen to Eri.
For things to be so… Still, was surreal to him. He remembered nights where he stared at the ceiling of his room in silence, back before he got One For All. How those nights made him feel often varied. Sometimes, he would imagine his future, sidekick to All Might after developing his Quirk somehow, living the life that he wanted and becoming the Hero that he always dreamed about. Other times, the existential dread of being Quirkless seeped in the overwhelming weight of reality tried to smother him, make him realize that in this world, he wouldn't be able to accomplish any of his dreams. The variation was sometimes overwhelming when he didn't know if he would find himself enraptured in fantasy, or crippled by the fear of his reality. Maybe that played a part in his anxiety. Or maybe it was because of his anxiety. He didn't know.
And after he got One For All, to just be still felt like he was wasting time. Like there was something else he could be doing - That he had a moral obligation to be doing so he never let All Might down.
Part of him knew it was bad to think like that - People needed to be able to had to be in good mental states. They needed to be able to allow their bodies to adjust to whatever changes their workouts and adjustments their Quirks needed. It was something he was aware of, but he found himself struggling to accept. When he didn't train, he would study. It was his workaround that issue. Good for letting the body relax… Less so for the mind.
A part of him missed it all - For all the stress it caused, he did enjoy the work that he did in his training and his studies. It felt like everything he got right was him chipping away at the massive god-sized mountain that was his path to the future.
One of the only times he ever let himself stop was when he was with Mina.
Maybe this was an adjustment he needed to make. Because right now, he felt good.
Maybe in the long run it would be better. After he started to date Mina, the overall additional work and self-training he did went down, but his overall skills felt like they had gone up. Shockingly, having a good balance of personal fulfilment and commitment to one's work gave that person a better feeling of contentment overall.
Yuuei had been pushing them harder and harder lately… Maybe everything had gotten more stressful while they hadn't realized it?
He wondered if Mina felt the same way.
...Was Mina asleep? He was curious. His brain decided to play a game with him in his own mind - Was she asleep or was she awake?
"Mina?" He whispered and turned his head, not wanting to wake Eri.
"Yo." A whisper came back. So she was still awake. That side of his little internal argument won then. The sound of hair brushing against the pillow her head was rested on told Izuku she was turning to look in his direction.
"Can't sleep?" He asked, although it was pretty obvious. He just wanted to hear her talk.
"Nope. I haven't gone to sleep this early since I was like… Ten."
"What time is it anyway?"
"Like… Eight-thirty I think?"
Izuku blinked. That was much earlier than he thought. "How long have we been here?"
"Two hours, maybe."
"...We kind of… Wasted today, didn't we?"
"A little." Mina nodded - Izuku assumed. The room was dark, and Mina was more shadow than defined feature. She could have just been moving to get more comfortable, but for some reason, he was confident in his assumption that it was a nod. "Not completely our fault though. Police and Nighteye and everything. And Eri." She paused for a moment. "We could always get up, you know. Do something. Train I guess. Pretty sure I saw the Pussycats have a gym or something on the second floor."
"...Do you want to?"
"Me neither." Izuku admitted. "I… I feel relaxed right now. If we were at Yuuei I feel like I'd be shouting at myself for not doing something more productive."
"..Yeah." Mina said, nodding again. "I get what you mean. It's weird, but I just feel… Really chill right now. Doesn't make a whole lot of sense. It's not like a whole lot is different about today."
So she did feel like he did. Izuku blinked. Yuuei had been driving them harder than he had thought.
"There's Eri I guess." He suggested, nodding towards the sleeping child head, which was roughly located at the shoulder level of both Izuku and Mina.
The pink girl looked down at Eri, and then looked back up to Izuku with her eyes, not moving her head at all. "You know the parents thing was a joke, right?" Mina smirked. "Don't start thinking that we've literally adopted her and that you're becoming the 'Relaxed Dad' trope. I got enough of that at home, thanks."
A blush made its way across Izuku's cheeks, but he couldn't stop himself from smiling and letting out a muffled laugh. "I didn't mean it like that."
"Shame. I had a few more jokes planned for that if you did."
This was why he had wanted to see if Mina was awake. Because she could always make him smile no matter what the conversation ended up being on. He was glad she was awake.
It was dark in the room, but he could see the outlines of her face well enough now that he was focusing and making his eyes adapt to the dark. Maybe it was because he had gotten used to seeing her face to the point he could transpose the memory of what she looked like onto the darkness. Or maybe his eyesight in the dark was better than he thought, but he could make out the soft smile she had on her face, like the one earlier in the day. He could tell she was relaxed. There was no real energy to what she was doing. Just a kind of lazy banter, but it wasn't a bad sort of lazy. It was relaxed.
And Izuku felt... Content.
"You meant what you told her, right?" Mina suddenly asked. Her expression had changed ever so slightly, to a more worried expression.
"About not letting anything happen to her."
"Of course I did."
"Sorry, I guess I should be more clear." Mina said, shaking her head again. "Obviously we're not gonna let any Villains take her. I'm with you on that. I just…" She paused, hesitant for a moment. "...What're we going to do if the police decide that no, actually, they do want to take her for some reason?"
"Like… They think that they might be able to get more out of her and that she isn't safe here or… Something like that."
That... Was a reasonable worry, Izuku thought to himself. Of course it was easy to say that they wouldn't let anyone take Eri when they were talking about Villains - That went for anybody. They were Heroes in training, it was their job to fight like hell to make sure that Villains never got their hands on anyone.
To commit to that statement though, to really commit to not letting anyone take her - That would mean people like the police too. And other Heroes. Izuku got the impression that Sir Nighteye didn't think too highly of him, and would much rather the police take Eri into custody rather than trust him and Mina with her.
And a part of that was understandable. They were still in training after all. The police were trained.
Mirio was trained.
They weren't. Not fully.
And yet, it was them Eri trusted. Not the police. Not Mirio. Not Nighteye. Them.
Eri trusted them.
...But it was more than that to him. And the more that he thought about it, the more he found himself facing off against people who wanted to… Take her away, or make her uncomfortable - However minor it was - The more he realized that this went deeper.
She didn't know what was going on. She was afraid. She was weak.
She was like him when he was her age.
And that sparked that feeling in him that he wanted to make sure that she was okay. That she wouldn't be harmed by anyone. That he could protect her from what he had been forced to go through.
Did that make any sense? If he explained it to Mina, would she get that?
There was no question in his mind she could empathize and would support him and his logic… But could she fully understand the sheerness of how it felt to be so… Weak and helpless?
He thought back to the hospital after he was rescued. He remembered how she had broken down in front of him. He remembered how she had cried and how she'd tripped over herself to say something - Anything - To make him understand how sorry she was back then.
She would understand. But there were too many words to say it now.
"...I meant it." Izuku repeated, this time understanding what Mina meant, and understanding that she would understand herself. "I'm serious. If we have to go with her, that's what we'll do, but I'm going to do everything I can to make sure no one takes her."
"...This really matters to you, doesn't it?" Mina observed. There was no moral statement within her words. It was just a statement. But he could still imagine her smile.
He gave himself a few seconds before he answered. "I… I guess I…. See something of myself in her."
"...You're the best kind of dork, you know that?"
Izuku blinked. "Why do you say that?"
"Because it's true." Mina said, like it was a fact. "And because I know you. You're not telling me everything."
An eyebrow raised itself on Izuku's face. "...If you know that, why do you say I'm 'The best kind of dork'?"
"Because I know you'll tell me when we're not on either side of a sleeping child."
Now a smile made itself known to Izuku's lips. He was right - She did understand. "Tomorrow." He said, almost certain that the smile was present in his voice. "I'll tell you tomorrow."
"I'll remind you."
No sooner had the word left his lips that a sudden yawn forced his mouth to open wide and let it escape him. He felt his jaw click a couple of times as his mouth forced itself open, but there wasn't any pain from it. The escape of his yawn overwrote any other feeling in his jaw, and now he found himself sleepy.
Contagious as yawns were, Mina found herself yawning too. The moment she was done, she spoke. "Tired?"
"You ever notice we get tired after talks like this?"
"Yeah." Izuku had noticed actually. Being open about emotions and thoughts was exhausting. No wonder philosophers always seemed tired, he thought to himself.
"I'm gonna get some actual sleep now." Mina told him. "You gonna?"
"Yeah." He nodded. An early night sounded good right now.
"Hold my hand?"
Looking over at the silhouette that was Mina, Izuku could see a blog that was raised above the bed that turned into the shape of a hand when he looked a bit closer. It was her right hand - She was laying on her back so that was the only one that made sense.
For the last while, the two of them had fallen asleep together more and more often. Mina was used to having Izuku to hug as she fell asleep. That was slightly impossible now. Holding onto his hand would be a small comfort.
One Izuku shared.
"Okay." He said, reaching out with his left hand, and interwinding his fingers with hers.
Their hands found themselves resting gently at Eri's stomach. They fell asleep like that, relaxed and content for the first time in a while.
But dedicated all the same.
Over the next few days, Eri became more and more comfortable around Izuku and Mina, in a fairly obvious way.
It started off small, with her more willing to be out of her room without seeming to feel the need to cling to Izuku. At first, it was Mina that she would hide behind, indicating that Mina had gotten her trust now - Or at least enough that she would rely on the pink girl to protect her from threats. It made Mina chuckle, and she had knelt down the first time Eri did this, and told her that she was part of the 'Horn gang' now, and that she'd be safe with her.
Given the fear and trauma that was evident to the young girls history, it wasn't like she was going to open up immediately after the police left, chatting and talking like the average kid her age would do. Trauma didn't work that way. It took time. Bit by bit.
And for someone so young, Eri took those steps quite quickly.
Soon, she was willing to walk alongside them without feeling the need to cling behind one of them at all. All she would need was a hand to hold - A normal thing for a child to need before feeling comfortable. Then it turned into her being more willing to talk. She was still awkward, and fumbled over her words, and always seemed to be careful with what she was saying, like she was afraid of saying the wrong words, but it was such an improvement over the first few days where she barely said a word to anyone about anything, the fact she was willing to talk more at all was a step forward.
They were minor things, and they came about very slowly. They were only small changes, and it was obvious that Eri was still struggling with everything - she was still incredibly anxious around people, and was silent more than she wasn't. Alarmingly well behaved - any kid her age should have had at least some kind of rebellious spirit for… Anything, really.
Minor though those changes were though, they were obvious to the people around her, who noticed even the smallest change in how she acted. Sometimes a step felt more like a leap.
Izuku and Mina didn't leave the Pussycats office for those few days, wordlessly deciding between them that they were going to fully dedicate themselves to this. Neither of them wanted to risk Eri going back into her shell because they weren't there.
So they stayed there, making sure that Eri was looked after, that she felt at ease. With the threat of this Chisaki Villain hanging overhead, they decided the risk of doing the normal patrols that came with an internship were too risky, at least for the time being, so they focused on other such matters, from making sure that Eri was comfortable, to making sure that they kept up with whatever work was sent to them by Aizawa via their phones.
It was in this gap of time that Eri and Kota were able to meet officially. It was…. Difficult, to say the least, to figure out what they made of one another. Certainly, neither of them were whatever a 'Regular' kid was supposed to be. And that seemed to reflect in their interactions somewhat.
Kota looking at Eri like she was weird. Eri looking at Kota like he was dangerous.
And yet, that didn't seem to stop them from seemingly getting along? At least a little?
Since the Summer Camp, Kota had seemed to have calmed down. It was impossible to know how he still felt about Heroes but it was clear that he had at least learned to calm it down a bit with people. He was more patient with Eri than Izuku had expected him to be if he were being completely honest.
To think Kota had managed to change this much in a short amount of time himself….
Kids, Izuku had learned, were confusing.
Each night, they slept like they had done before - Eri between the two of them, and the two of them holding one another's hands. It seemed to be something that Eri had grown to find comforting too - Like a reminder that she wasn't alone. Like someone was protecting her. Mina mentioned that it reminded her of when she had nightmares as a kid, and thought that a blanket would protect her from whatever she thought was coming to get her.
A certain comfort came from the routine. A difficult to explain comfort. They had been made to stay inside for days, and yet, none of them felt the least bit restless. It was the opposite in fact. It was relaxing.
How many times had Izuku found himself worrying intensely about how he needed to be constantly doing something, pushing himself that little bit further, forcing himself to do that little bit better? When was the last time that he had really just stopped and let himself go with whatever came at him?
Usually his dates with Mina, he thought.
Maybe that was why he liked them so much. In between all of the stress he put himself through, there was comfort in just taking each day as it came, and not worrying himself about things like his position in class, or whatever else events surrounded Yuuei.
Those were still on his mind, of course, but they were subsided somewhat. It was hard to explain. But there was something about it that relaxed him.
He couldn't fully explain it.
But that didn't bother him.
BEEN A BLOODY WHILE HASN'T IT LAD AND LASSES AND NB-ESES.
Sorry about that - I have been overwhelmingly busy and stressed out because of COVID, Uni reapplications, other projects and everything in between - BUT I've finally managed to buckle down and get something written! I read some really good She-Ra fics and got myself motivated SO here we are : D
While short, I want this chapter to act as a jumping off point to the next chapter. I care about the long-term story structure of my work so here we are.
I'm really sorry for how long it's taken me to get a new chapter out, and I'll try to make sure the next one isn't like, a decade away next time, but like I've said, that seems to vary nowadays depending on what's killing me or has my interest these days - Though I'm now in a discord server which makes me very competitive with AE since it has a literal ranking system SO, who the hell knows : D
I wanna thank ya'll for waiting for this update, and for the continuous support that I've been getting with it even though it's been a long time. It's grand to see. Thank you all so much ^_^
I have both a Twitter and a Tumblr under QuirkQuartz, which I'd suggest following me at to keep up to date with me - I also now do Youtube Politics stuff, also under QuirkQuartz - One of my videos being my political perspective on MHA, so, if you're interested in that, that's something to look up so you can see the angle I come at with MHA's society. (I wish FF. Net let you add links)
Oh, and Black Lives Matter, ACAB, and Defund the Police. Wish I'd updated sooner to say that but yeah, that's where I'm at on that subject, since Heroes are sorta like cops. Just so we're all clear.
Alright - I'll see you all next time - See ya!