...hero

In the Wake of Scandal

(manga spoilers)

At 3:05 am, Izuku did something he hadn’t done in the last four years.

He logged out of his HeroForum account.

It was a forum he’d stumbled upon back in middle school, on the recommendation of a friend-of-a-friend, and he’d lost four straight nights of sleep that first week digging in deeper and farther to what it offered. He dug until he was commenting on All Might Quirk Theory threads that were three-years-dead, until he made a name for himself almost overnight as an overwhelming bastion of hero trivia.

The forum had only grown in the meantime. It blew up at every skirmish. It tracked hero movements moment by moment, pinning locations and encouraging other members in the area to flock if they could. One time, it was shut down for an entire week when a thirteen year old boy stumbled into villain cross-fire while trying to follow the forum’s pin on the hero Momentum.

The HeroForum was Izuku’s everything for keeping tabs on the world he loved. Even after meeting All Might, even after his acceptance to UA, “MightyBoy64”s presence didn’t falter. In fact, Izuku fantasized about the day that he, as a pro hero, revealed himself to be in charge of the MightBoy64 alias. He fantasized about how loyal fans and avid readers would burst to learn one of the forum’s biggest names had gone pro through UA.

Izuku now tucked those fantasies away in the back of his mind. Embarrassed, or ashamed, or maybe just disgusted.

At 3:05 am, MightyBoy64 logged out. And he would not come back.

Instead Izuku put his phone in his pocket. And he rose from the couch in the Class 1-A dorm living room. He navigated to Shouto Todoroki’s room, and he knocked.  At 3:07 am, Shouto answered.

“Can I come in?” Izuku asked. All the room’s lights were on, a soft glow against the tatami mat flooring.

“Yeah,” Shouto answered. He didn’t ask why.

Izuku walked in, aimless at first, before choosing the wall across from Shouto’s desk and sitting cross-legged on the floor, back leaning against it for support. His phone burned in his pocket.

“I was studying for the English test Monday, but I can’t practice dialogue out loud on my own,” Izuku said. He uncrossed his legs and recrossed them more comfortably. “Are you busy? Want to practice with me?”

Shouto sat down again at his desk. He considered it. “Okay.”

Izuku’s fingers twitched, itched, possessed with the subconscious desire to take his phone back out and consume the HeroForum posts like a starved dog digging into fresh meat. He couldn’t help it. It was in his nature.

Especially as the hero scandal of the decade was unfolding.

Whole forums had crashed under the weight of debate. And HeroForum had swelled to near bursting in the last 12 hours as more and more fans flocked to gossip and argue and pry and wring forth every last drop of information they could about the chaos unfolding in the hero world.

Affairs struck the hero world on occasion. Fights between heroes and reporters, displays of public drunkenness, petit theft, public indecency. Silly yarns of gossip that got hero fans through the day were the norm.

This was the first time a hero had been arrested under the accusation of rampant, violent child-abuse.

This was the first time a scandal had struck a hero whose name was known to every breathing person in Japan.

And this was the second time a #1 ranked hero had fallen. All Might only months prior in a battle that obliterated the last of his power.

And Endeavor now, shackled and jailed under allegations of child abuse, felled by an accusation which had been filed by his own up-and-coming hero son, who stated in his only public address that he just hadn’t ever felt heroic enough before to do what needed to be done.

And the name Shouto Todoroki exploded across every forum site imaginable. Izuku had seen it all. Izuku felt sick to his stomach.

Clips of the televised UA Sports Festival were passed around with fervor, every frame inspected for the sake of passing judgement on Endeavor’s son. Every quirk of Shouto’s eyebrow, every shift of his eyes, every tilt of the head—was it the body language of an abused child? Of a liar? Of an attention-seeker?  Of someone looking to destroy his father and take his place in the public eye?

Fiery callous rants tore away at the character of Shouto Todoroki; others dissected Enji Todoroki, and explained how from the very start the man should have been pegged a monster. Threads hit their post limit. Servers crashed. Fan sites of Endeavor came under storm.

“Midnight’s-Man-X” called it petty for Shouto to accuse the father that he no longer lived with. “AllSuperFan100” lauded it as brave. “HeroMight12” wrote a rant, 13,500 words in length, about how the state of the world could not afford to lose another #1 hero so quickly, given how unstable the environment had only just become, how many more lives may be at risk now, and that it was ultimately selfish for Shouto to rob Japan of its #1 hero so soon after All Might’s fall.

MightyBoy64 tried once, just once, to explain why Shouto had done the right thing. Why letting his father cement his role as the #1 hero would be wrong. Why Enji Todoroki deserved to face justice for what he did, in the face of the overwhelming of evidence against him in the form of Enji’s own meticulously-documented “training plan” which he had put Shouto through.

And Izuku had been too horrified by the replies to try to argue any further. Because all of them, whether agreeing or not, did something vicious to Shouto Todoroki. They reduced him to a character, a prop, a toy to be tossed about and chewed over and twisted in favor their own political view. Shouto Todoroki wasn’t real to these people.

And maybe, if Izuku had never come to UA, Shouto Todoroki wouldn’t have been real to him either.

So he’d logged out, and forced the forums from his mind, and sat now on the smooth ridged tatami matting, his fingers trailing along its bumps. Izuku watched Shouto’s face, his scar thin and stretched at the edges, his cheeks round and soft under the lamplight. His bangs were loose and messy, as though Shouto had been running his fingers through his hair too often lately, and his eyes were lined in a bruising purple, as though he were a real person wrung through the stress of being reduced to a prop at the hands of millions of people.

“…Present Mic said we just need to hold a conversation with him using 20 vocab words from this unit. I’ll start,” Izuku said. He pushed himself higher against the wall, and he breathed in deep, thinking about the English sounds he struggled most to pronounce. “Are you alright, Todoroki-kun?”

Shouto looked at him, silent a moment. Then answered in Japanese, “Isn’t this unit on vacation activities?”

“I’m getting there.” Izuku leaned forward, more heart in his words. “How are you feeling, Todoroki-kun? Aren’t you tired?”

Shouto still hesitated, though not as long this time.

“No. I’m not tired. Are you?”

“No, I’m not. I will stay here with you, and practice English, so we will do well on the test. What is your favorite ice cream flavor?”

Shouto looked down at his desk briefly. Izuku caught a glimpse of papers that looked far too official for UA class notes. His eyes flickered to the laptop open next to them, displaying a blank new tab, though the row of tabs along the top suggested an endless cascade of news articles open on Shouto’s laptop.

Shouto eased the laptop shut, pushed his chair away from his desk, and he stood. He moved to Izuku and lowered himself to the floor, leaning against the wall, until the pent up tension in his shoulders eased, and the back of his head touched the wall, and he breathed deep. His whole body became something smaller, and more child-like, and more relaxed. The exhaustion in his eyes became something just a bit less tense.

“I like chocolate ice cream best, Midoriya-kun. How about you?”