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Nonary

Chapter Text

“None of this makes any sense.”

He whispered, sitting on the stairs, looking at the two numbered doors ahead of them, and the people around him, just as confused as he was feeling.

“How did you get here?”

Izuku Midoriya was sitting next to him, pulling his knees up, looking at him instead of the doors. Maybe he didn’t want to think about what was behind them just yet.

They would have to go soon, but not yet.

“Probably similarly as you or the others. I went home for the weekend from the dorms. I went into my room, and suddenly there was some kind of gas, and I saw a figure in a gas mask. I have no idea how did they get in there. Even though my father wasn’t home, we still have a very good security system.”

“I suppose you’d have to be” Midoriya nodded seriously. “Being the family of the Number Two hero, after all…”

“Yeah. And then I woke up, on this ship… on the deck below us.”

“And water was pouring in…”

“And then there was the voice…”

-

“Say. Do you know about digital roots?”

This wasn’t the first thing the boy expected to hear after waking up. He also didn’t expect to have water pouring into his cabin… cabin? This wasn’t supposed to happen.

Where was he? Nothing made sense.

“Digital roots are simple. And those are how you can open the door before it floods.”

The water was rising steadily, and the boy staggered towards the door, with a huge number 5 on it. Next to it, was a mirror.

He looked normal. He didn’t look changed - mismatched eyes, two-coloured hair, burn mark. Everything seemed to be in order.

He didn’t feel harmed either. Which would quickly change, if he didn’t get out.

He raised his hand, and the water froze - but the water pressure coming from the outside was too big, and if this was a ship… a sinking ship… he couldn’t freeze an entire huge body of water. He had to find another way out.

And there was the matter of the heavily modified voice talking through the speakers.

“Shouto Todoroki. I’ll tell you a bit about digital roots, alright? To make this easier, otherwise you won’t even make past your own door. Best to explain it through an example, alright? Let’s say you have to find the digital root of 3, 4 and 5. First, you have to add them up. 3+4+5=12. Now you have a two-digit number, you have to sum the digits. 1+2=3. Therefore, the digital sum of 3, 4 and 5 is 3. Understand?”

The water was now ankle-high in the cabin. It was a ship cabin, and Shouto was not really feeling like taking math questions, needless to say.

“What does that have to do with anything?! Let me out!”

“I hope you understood digital roots, Shouto. Because you will have to find numbered keykards to open the door - see the number 5 on your door and your wrist? You have to use at least three numbered keycards. The digital root of the numbers of the keycards has to be 5. Good luck. You probably just have a few minutes until the water will get too high on this deck.”

-

“But you got out!”

“Yeah. I had to find the keycards first, and on our way as we run upstairs, I met with everyone.”

“Nine of us… Just like our numbers.”

Ah, yes.

It wasn’t only Shouto’s door that was numbered.

On his left wrist there was a bracelet, which looked like a wristwatch, with the number 5 on it. Midoriya had the same, with a number 6 written up. There were two tiny buttons on both sides of the bracelet, but upon being pressed, they did nothing.

“I think most of us have different numbers. I mean Kacchan has the number 3 bracelet…”

“Stop fucking calling me Kacchan, for fuck’s sake!”

Oh right. Katsuki Bakugo was also there. If possible, even more pissed off than usual, his bracelet clamping over his bare wrist, and he was scowling.

“We all thought it would have been a good idea to use codenames, but…” A jovial, slightly older man with greying hair spoke, spreading his arms. “After all, we have no idea how we got here…”

“But fucking Deku had to mouth off.”

A lazy voice piped up next.

“And you are also using names, don’t you?”

“Nobody asked you, Mindfreak!”

“We could use first names!” Midoriya stood up, raising his hands, trying to get everyone to calm down. “That way… some anonymity is preserved…”

The purple-haired guy with the lazy voice slowly tilted his head.

“Does that mean you’ll call me Hitoshi, then?”

A blush spread on Izuku’s face.

“I mean… it’s a good idea is it not?”

“Izuku, huh…” Shouto tried the way it rolled off his tongue, and Izuku blushed even more.

“Why the fuck are you blushing, fucking idiot?” Katsuki’s mood didn’t seem like it would improve any time soon.

“Nothing Kac… I mean Katsuki. This is gonna be weird isn’t it?”

But before anyone could have answered, or the rest of the players could have spoken up, the loudspeakers came to life.

“Welcome. I am your host for the evening. You shall all call me Zero. You may as well say that I am the captain of this ship as well. You had been chosen to participate in a Nonary Game. I will now explain the rules.”

-

There were nine people in front of the staircase, and Shouto didn’t know most of them. There were Izuku, Katsuki he did know, and there was Hitoshi from the General Course - there was another young girl with silver hair who was from class 1B, there were two pro heroes, one a woman with snake hair, and a burly man in his fourties with short-cropped dark hair. There was a jovial, older man, and a fidgety skinny man.

Nine of them, all of them wet from running up from the watery deck.

Nine of them, all of them having bracelets.

And a voice talking through the speakers.

 

“The rules are very simple. As you had no doubt noticed, you are on a ship, which has begun to sink. In total, it will take it about nine hours to completely sink, and you will drown.. The only way out is if you find a door labelled with the number 9. In order to find it, you will have to pass through other numbered doors, each of them labelled with numbers through 1 to 9.”

“What if I just fucking blow up a door, huh?” Katsuki hissed, sparks flying from his hand. The mechanical voice continued.

“Forcing a numbered door would lead to penalty. There are tiny needles hidden in your bracelets - if you break a rule, the needles will enter your wrists, injecting you with poison. So I would not use brute force to open numbered doors, or to take off your bracelets, if I were you.”

“So… how will we open the numbered doors, then?” Snake Woman asked.

“Every numbered door has a device next to them. Those are called REDs. you have to put your hands against the RED, to input your bracelet number into the device. At least three, or at most five numbers can be entered - and if we add up the bracelet numbers, the digital root of that sum has to correspond to the number on the numbered door. After that, you have nine seconds to enter the door. Everyone whose number had been added has to go in, if you choose to pass through. Not more, not less. On the other side, there is another device, called the DEAD, where you have 81 seconds to also enter your numbers. If you don’t, there will be a penalty for everyone who is on the other side of the door. If you are wondering how to take the bracelet off: there are two ways. One, you win the Nonary Game. Two, you die. You try to force it off, and be it with Quirks or otherwise, and it will result in a penalty.”

Silence.

Zero spoke again.

“Understood the rules?”

“So… if say, I want to go through door 4…” Izuku mused, muttering, staring at that door ahead of him. “I could go through with Katsuki, and… uh, who has number 4?”

“I do” Silver Girl raised her hand. “And uh… why?”

“Because I have 6, Katsuki has 3, you have 4. 6+3+4=13, and 1+3=4. See? The digital root of our numbers is 4.”

“I could also enter that room with her” Shouto said, musing. “I’d just need uh… Katsuki, and uh… the number 1 bracelet. Because I have 5, it would mean 1+3+4+5=13, and again, the digital root is 4 again. There are a lot of combinations.”

Before they could devolve into counting even more, Zero spoke again.

“Remember. You won’t have to go through all numbered doors. You just have to find a door labelled with 9, to get out. Good luck. You have nine hours.”

Zero’s voice was gone, and all that remained, was silence.

And nine people were standing in front of two numbered doors - one with a 4, and one with a 5 on it.

-

“So. I think it’s better if we introduce ourselves first. Otherwise, this will never work.” Jovial Man slapped his hands together. “I think it’s better if I start, I have bracelet number 1, after all. You shall call me Daiichi, then, if we go with first names.”

“I guess I’m next, then” Hitoshi scratched the back of his neck. “I am Hitoshi. I have bracelet 2.”

“Katsuki. Bracelet 3” Katsuki shrugged, glaring daggers at door 5.

“I have bracelet 4” Silver Girl spoke up, fidgeting with her dress. “I am Reiko.”

“My name is Shouto. I have bracelet 5.”

“I’m Izuku. Bracelet 6.”

“I have bracelet 7, and… well, you probably know me, so I think my pro hero name would work. I am Malichor” Burly Man shrugged.

“Then I shall go with my hero name as well. I am Uwabami. Bracelet number 8” Snake Woman smiled.

There was silence. Everyone turned to look at the fidgety Ninth Man.

“So uh… what about you?” Shouto was the one who asked.

“What about me?”

“Aren’t you going to… tell us your name?”

“There is no point” The Ninth Man sneered at all of them. “I have no plan on working together with you imbeciles. I am getting out of here.”

With that, he grabbed Reiko, and dragged her towards door 5.

And his hand formed spikes around her throat.

“Do not even dream about using your Quirk, because my fucking spikes are faster, got it?! I’m getting the hell out of here. Put your hand on the DEAD.”

Reiko just raised her hand, putting her head over the device.

Beep.

The Ninth Man put his hand over it as well.

Beep.

“You… One… you get over here and put your hand over the device too.”

Before Daiichi could have moved, Katsuki raised a hand.

“What the fuck?! What if we fucking don’t work together?”

The Ninth Man smiled, a dark smile.

“I think you know.”

Shouto glanced at Hitoshi, who stood a bit behind - and Hitoshi looked completely stunned, for some reason.

Nothing made sense, but…

Beep.

Daiichi put his hand over the device.

The Ninth Man pushed Reiko away, and he just grinned, and pulled the lever, opening the door.

“So long, fuckers. Have fun with Zero and his fucking games. Hah.”

The door closed.

And on the other side of it, Shouto knew, he just knew that everyone was thinking about the same thing.

“The penalty…” Uwabami whispered. “He forgot the penalty.”

It only took about twenty seconds that the screaming started, the Ninth Man begging them to open the door.

“He lied to me, please let me out, let me out, the beeping won’t stop, it won’t accept it, please let me out!”

“Did I not mention?” Zero’s voice came through the speaker again. “Once a group passed the numbered door, it can’t be opened again until the room is completed.”

“You bastard! Let me out!”

There was no more response through the speakers.

Zero went silent.

And after a little more than a minute, the screaming stopped too.

There were eight people standing in complete, shocked silence in front of two numbered doors, and a clock behind them was counting the time mercilessly.

And they had less than eight hours left.

Chapter Text

“We need to move on.”

Uwabami was the one who spoke up.

“Move o--- someone just died! Probably. I mean. That’s what Zero said, right? Penalty. He’s dead” Izuku was shaking a bit, still staring at the number 5 door. “And… some people will have to go through that door, right? Someone will have to… check on him too…”

“What do you mean?” Malichor asked.

“Well… think about it. There are eight of us, but at most five people can enter a door” Izuku pointed from one door to another. “Therefore we either split up in teams of four, or split up like… three people in one group, and five in the other. I don’t think anyone should stay behind… we don’t know if we can come back here or not.”

“I see… I guess I will go through door 5 then” Malichor nodded. “If there is some chance I can help him, that’s my duty as a hero, after all.”

“I will go with you” Hitoshi said, looking down on his feet.”

“Hitoshi?” Izuku gasped.

“What? Someone has to. You said it so yourself.”

Shouto did a quick headcount, and sighed.

“Then I will go with you.”

“Now, now…” Daiichi raised his hands. “You kids don’t have to…”

“That’s the way the least people have to deal with that door” Shouto shook his head. “Malichor has 7, Hitoshi has 2, I have 5. The digital root is 5. We can go through the door.”

“Which leaves Daiichi, Katsuki, Izuku, Uwabami and me for door 4” Reiko mused, looking down. “1, 3, 6, 8, 4. It works. The digital root is 4.”

And that was it.

-

They decided to let the group of three to go through earlier, so they all stood around the number 5 door, when something else happened.

Izuku wavered, looking like he was falling over, and in a split second, Katsuki was by his side, propping him up.

“What the shit, Deku, what the fuck are y--” His words died in his throat, as his hand found himself to Izuku’s face.

Izuku got very flushed, his eyes, a bit glazing over, before collecting himself.

“It’s… fine, I’m fine…”

“Bullshit, you are burning up! What the fuck?”

“I may have been in water in my own cabin for too long, maybe I caught a cold, haha… seriously, I am better now.”

Shouto walked over, worry making his chest feel thighter - they were in this situation, one of them was probably already dead, and the last thing they needed is for one of them to be sick.

He raised his right hand, putting it over Izuku’s face, gently cooling his own hand down - Katsuki was right, Izuku’s skin was obviously burning with fever.

“There. It probably won’t help on the long run, but it at least help your fever a bit. We need to find the way out quick, and get you to a doctor.”

“Malichor, don’t you have some kind of a healing Quirk?” Uwabami turned towards the other pro, but he just shook his head.

“I can only heal things that were caused by outside influences, like injuries. A fever is a body’s own defense mechanism, I can’t heal him from a sickness.”

Izuku smiled a little, putting a hand over Shouto’s hand - a honest, grateful smile.

“I’m fine T--- Shouto. Right. Shouto. This is still a bit weird. Um… you two can let go now, I feel a bit better already.”

Katsuki and Shouto were both crowded over Izuku after all - Katsuki propping him up, and Shouto’s hand on his face - and he almost didn’t want to pull his hand back and step away, but he did so in the end, and Katsuki also let him go, frowning.

“Stupid nerd, why the fuck did you need to get sick?”

“We could switch teams so Shouto could be there to keep his fever under control” Daiichi spoke up. “If he switches with Reiko and me, we could still work with the teams.”

“I don’t think that means fucking much” Katsuki shook his head. “If Mr IcyHot uses his ice too much on him, that probably wouldn’t be good either.”

So in the end, they didn’t switch up teams.

-

Beep.

Beep.

Beep.

“Are you ready?” Shouto asked, his hand on the lever. “We will have to be quick.”

“Ready when you are” Hitoshi said, while Malichor nodded, and Shouto just pulled the lever with a deep breath.

The door opened.

Run.

-

Shouto ran, trying to not look around, still knowing what was on the other side of the room. The bracelet on his hand started ticking, as the door closed behind him.

Tick. Tick. Tick.

“Here! Here it is!”

A similar device to the one outside was on the wall, and Hitoshi slammed his hand on it.

Beep.

“Come on, quickly!”

Beep.

Beep.

Malichor, the last one who put his hand on it, yanked the lever.

The ticking stopped.

“Hey, are you alright inside?” Daiichi’s voice rang from the other side of the door. They obviously had to shout to hear each other.

“Yeah. Yeah, we are” Shouto said trying to catch his breath. “There is… another device looking like the RED out there. That’s what you’ll have to look for.”

“Got it! We are going then as well. Good luck!”

“Wait!” Reiko’s voice piped up. “What about… the Ninth Man? Is he…”

Oh. Right. The Ninth Man.

For a few moments, in the rush of adrenaline and the ticking on their wrists, they forgot.

The Ninth Man was crumpled on the floor, his head turning away, close to the numbered door. Malichor raised his hand, signaling the two of them to stop as he went closer.

“I will check on him now.”

“Alright…” Shouto muttered. There was a coldness settling into his heart - then again, it made sense, he supposed. He was in an enclosed place with a dead body.

Shouto wondered, if he just imagined the way Malichor’s stap wavered as he walked closer to the body of the Ninth Man. Probably. Why would a Pro waver like that?

Then again - dead body.

Malichor walked closer, putting his hand to the Ninth Man’s neck, and waited.

Then shook his head.

“He’s… dead. I’m sorry. I think Zero didn’t lie about the poison.”

-

It was time to look for what the hell did they had to do.

It was a puzzle room - it looked like a fancier cabin of the ship, with many different things hidden around, locks, keys, puzzles they had to solve, and Shouto really had to think, putting the different parts together.

But there was another puzzle he couldn’t figure out...

Well. That was a lie. There were many puzzles Shouto couldn’t figure out, including the reason for this entire game, but there was one which was now pressing on his mind

But for that, he waited until Malichor went out to another room, and he glanced at Hitoshi’s back - it was weird, seeing Hitoshi in casual clothes, a long, grey coat with jeans and a white shirt.

“Hey… Hitoshi…

“I tried. Before you ask, I tried.”

Hitoshi interrupted him, before he could ask the question, and he looked back at Shouto, his eyes surprisingly empty.

“...huh?”

“You wanted to ask… hey, Hitoshi, how come you didn’t use your Quirk to stop the Ninth Man isn’t that right? The answer is - I tried. As soon as he grabbed Reiko and he spoke, I kept trying to activate my Quirk. It didn’t work.”

“Are you serious?”

There was a wry smile on Hitoshi’s lips that didn’t reach his eyes.

“I just tried to use it on you too. Nothing happens, at all.”

Shouto’s mind was racing.

“But… I can use my Quirk. So could the Ninth Man, and Katsuki showed it too.”

“Which means… it’s just me, probably. Somehow.”

“Maybe Zero is afraid that your Quirk could break his games?”

Hitoshi nodded slowly.

“Maybe. In which case I got to keep trying, right? Maybe whatever he used to block my Quirk will wear off.”

“Yeah… yeah, keep doing that.”

“You don’t sound hopeful.”

Shouto looked up from the drawers he was looking through.

“It’s just… Zero kidnapped all of us, put us in here, with these bracelets, and puzzles and poison… I would be surprised if your Quirk would return before the nine hours are up, that’s what I’m saying.”

“Oh, well…” Hitoshi shrugged. “It wouldn’t hurt to keep trying, would it?”

-

“I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but I was right in the next room, so… I don’t think it’s just your Quirk that Zero messed with.”

Malichor said that, after they finally solved the puzzle in the room, opening it, and walking into the next one, with even more puzzles. Joy. But hey, at least it was a casino this time, not a suite.

“We were too loud? Sorry. Next time we will keep it down” Hitoshi was smirking, and Shouto tried to not look at him.

What was Hitoshi even thinking? Definitely not the time to drop double entendres, so Shouto just decided to ignore it.

“Was your Quirk messed with as well?”

“Not my Quirk” Malichor shook his head. “My… memories.”

Heavy silence filled the room.

“What do you mean…?”

“I… think I worked on a case like this before. Something is very familiar about all of this… about a decade ago, maybe a bit less… kids, I think. Kids went missing, and… I don’t know. I don’t know why this situation makes me remember those kids, or what happened. Everything is blurry.”

Shouto exchanged a look with Hitoshi, while Malichor continued.

“I think… it was a kidnapping case… children disappearing… I think most of them were recovered, and most of them were unhurt as well.”

It was like something heavy dropped down in Shouto’s stomach, and there was some heavy feeling, something like a bad omen floating above their heads.

“What do you mean… most of them?”

Malichor looked up, eyes unfocused.

“...I don’t know. It’s just a feeling. I don’t know… don’t you remember something in the news that…”

“Don’t be absurd” Hitoshi interrupted him, shaking his head. “Ten years ago? A bit before? Please, we were like what then? Six? Seven? I have no idea what case you might even refer to.”

“My father often talked about cases, I remember him thinking about a mass children disappearance when I was young…” Shouto mused. “But he wasn’t involved, so I don’t know details. And I think it was even solved before he could have started pursuing the case as well. I don’t think it lasted very long, and it didn’t really hold his interest afterwards.”

“Oh excuse me” Hitoshi raised his hands. “I forgot we have some people with a bit more insight here.”

“Not like it actually helped me…”

“I know, I know…” Hitoshi patted him in the back. “I’m just pulling your leg. Let’s get out of this room, shall we?”

-

There was a safe with a numerical lock which wouldn’t leave Shouto alone, so he turned back for it.

“What are you doing?” Hitoshi peered over his shoulder.

“Don’t you think it’s weird?” Shouto said, randomly pressing in a few numbers. Wrong, obviously. Not like he expected it to work either way. “In the previous room, we had to use every piece, everything to get out… now we opened the door, but we didn’t find anything to open this safe. We have no idea about the combination.”

“Maybe it’s an oversight by Zero? Maybe he just… left it here, and we are not supposed to do anything about it?”

At Malichor’s question, Hitoshi and Shouto shared a look.

“I think Shouto was right earlier when he talked about how calculated and methodical this whole thing is” Hitoshi said, eyes fixed on the safe. “I doubt he would place a locked safe here with no reason.”

“Well, there are no clues here to open it…” Malichor scratched the back of his head.

“And the doors might close if we leave. What if we’d have to solve all the puzzles again? It would be a waste of time…” Shouto muttered. “And the safe can’t be moved, so we can’t even take it with us.”

“I have an idea” Malichor snapped his fingers.

-

“Guys! Guys we are here!”

It wasn’t until they all got out that they ran into the other team - there was relief written all over everyone’s faces - Izuku seemed like he was feeling better, at the very least, and seeing his face definitely made Shouto feel a bit better.

They quickly exchanged information - they found some keys, which they could use to unlock doors leading back to the main hallway.

“So I guess… we could go through back there? What for?” Reiko mused.

“Simple” Daiichi nodded. “This entire ship is an enclosed place, so to speak. Therefore the more doors we… well, clear, so to speak, the more freely we can actually move around.”

“I propped up the door leading out from our door, so we can… go back, if we need something. Especially as there was a safe we couldn’t open.”

“We did that too, but…” Izuku tilted his head a little. “There was nothing we couldn’t open back there. Just you know. In case we need to go back to the kitchen or those cabins we looked through.”

Shouto nodded, and Katsuki growled, turning towards the next set of numbered doors.

“Whatever, let’s not fucking think about what if we need to go backwards , because right now we can’t even move forward , idiots.”

They were some kind of a hospital room with dozens of beds lined up.

On the other side of the room, there were three numbered doors.

3, 7 and 8.

But the REDs next to them were not functioning.

They were trapped.

-

“So. I guess there are some parts missing from the REDs. Which means, we have to find the parts for them… maybe it is another puzzle?” - Reiko said, after examining the REDs.

“Well, I certainly hope it isn’t in the safe that IcyHot and the others failed to fucking open.”

“You are welcome to go back and try, Katsuki” Shouto sniped back.

“It isn’t the time to argue” Daiichi raised his hands. “On our way here there was a long corridor full of cabins. I say we go there and search, that seems like a likely place to start.”

There were forty cabins, which means everyone could go through five of them. Hitoshi and Shouto walked the furthest, Hitoshi having the last five, and Shouto having the five before them.

Shouto looked at the way Hitoshi’s coat moved behind him.

“Hey… Hitoshi?”

It was getting less and less weird, calling each other by first names. Or maybe it was just this whole life-or-death situation, and puzzle-solving that helped.

Hitoshi glanced back behind his shoulder.

“Yes?”

“...I hope you are… not blaming yourself. For the Ninth Man. It was Zero’s fault, not yours.”

Hitoshi looked at him dumbfounded for a few moments, then laughed.

“You are seriously a nice guy, aren’t you? One person looks at you stoic behaviour, and thinks you are an aloof asshole. But here you are, worrying about me.”

“...I can’t decide whether this is a compliment or not…”

“...nevermind. We gotta hurry up, don’t we? Doors to open, puzzles to solve. But you know, something bothers me.”

“...what?”

Hitoshi stopped, looking behind Shouto, and waited until everyone entered a cabin to check over.

“What happens if we find door number 9?”

“...what do you mean?”

“Well… there is eight of us. And while sure, if you add all of our numbers up, the digital root of that is nine, but…”

“...but five people can enter a numbered door at most.”

Shouto felt like the world spun around him, and Hitoshi nodded grimly.

“So like… because you are a nice guy and everything… just keep an eye out, okay? You can never know who you can trust, and who will backstab you. I have a feeling, you know. That the Ninth Man wasn’t the only one willing to throw others under the bus… and maybe Zero isn’t the only one we have to be afraid of.”

He couldn’t move, as Hitoshi turned around, and walked towards one of the cabins, and Shouto just watched as his coat moved behind him, as he disappeared behind a door.

He had no idea how much this image would come back to haunt him later, the sight of Hitoshi disappearing from his view.

-

Shouto found nothing in his assigned five cabins, so he went back to the others, all of them looking varying degrees of annoyance and disappointment on their faces.

Well… almost all of them.

“Guys…” Reiko looked around, worry on her face. “...where is Hitoshi?”

It was Izuku who ran to the end of the corridor, and came back, worry spreading over his face as well.

Shouto went back to the cabins they examined, thinking maybe Hitoshi had found a clue to the safe, but he wasn’t there either.

All they found, was a cracked, and bloody mirror in one of the bathrooms.

Other than that, Hitoshi was gone.

“I hate to rain on everyone’s parade, but we have another problem.”

Uwabami pointed towards the numbered doors.

The RED next to them was now active.

The clock in the ship’s main hall rang.

The seven of them looked at the three doors ahead of them.

They had about six hours left.

Chapter Text

“Fuck, fuck, fuck! There’s no way, okay? We calculated every-fucking-combination, and there is no way, okay? There is no fucking way everyone can go through a numbered door! No way! Absolutely nothing!”

Katsuki was positively looking more and more like losing his damn mind, looking at the combination of numbers they tried to furiously count out.

“Shouldn’t we focus on finding Hitoshi?” Reiko looked more and more nervous, looking around, as if waiting for Hitoshi to materialise from thin air.

“Look, Reiko” Uwabami shook her head. “If you have a crush on him that’s…”

“I don’t! But we can’t just leave one of us behind! Besides I… he is from the same school as I am, you know, and I grew up on the same street, and… but I already told you this behind door 4!”

Childhood friends, huh… Shouto wondered, eyes drifting to the other pair of childhood friends. Katsuki was still furiously scribbling down on the paper, and Izuku was sitting on a bed, his face a bit flushed, and Shouto walked over, putting his hand on his forehead, making Izuku jump a little.

“Sorry. You just looked very feverish again.”

Izuku smiled a little as Shouto did his best to cool him down again.

“Ah… I barely even noticed. Thank you. Sorry for… you know. Being an inconvenience.”

The others were arguing, trying to make sense of their situation, and Shouto sighed.

“How did we even end up here…”

Daiichi yanked the paper out from Katsuki’s hand, which prompted him to go into expletives again, and Izuku sighed as well.

“This is… so surreal isn’t it? I half-expect Present Mic to jump out from behind one of the beds to tell us it was just a test we all failed, or something.”

“Do you think Present Mic is Zero?”

Now that made Izuku chuckle a little, and actually seeing him be amused felt like a weight had been lifted from Shouto’s heart a little.

“That would be quite a plot twist, wouldn’t it?”

“I do wonder, though… what is the connection?”

“Huh?” Izuku looked up at Shouto, confused.

“I mean… this can’t be a coincidence. Katsuki, you and me, all from the same class. Reiko also from the hero course, from the same school, from the same year, just from class B. Hitoshi also studying at the same school, same age as us.”

“I get what you are saying but… that’s five of us. I have no idea who the others are… I mean I had seen Malichor and Uwabami on the news, but I have no idea about Daiichi or the Ninth Man…”

“Five is still more than half of us, though.”

Izuku hummed, and Shouto finally, slowly pulled back his hand from Izuku’s face.

“Your fever does worry me, though.”

“Yeah… not the best time to be sick, is it? But I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about.”

“Alright I got it” Daiichi straightened, looking up. “If I stay behind, this can work out.”

Everyone grew suddenly quiet.

“If I stay back, you six can form two three-member groups, and can go through rooms 7 and 8.”

Complete silence.

“What.”

Katsuki’s deadpan voice echoed probably everyone’s thoughts.

“It’s simple, really” Daiichi explained. “There are two main possibilities. Malichor, Izuku and Katsuki go through door 7, and Uwabami, Reiko and Shouto go through door 8. Other possibility is that Malichor, Reiko and Shouto go through door 7, and Uwabami, Izuku and Katsuki go through door 8. That’s the best way to make sure the least people stay behind, and the most rooms can be explored.”

“But… we can’t leave you behind!” Malichor shook his head. “We can’t just… sacrifice you!”

“I don’t think it is a sacrifice” Daiichi said simply. “Think about this - after doors 4 and 5, we could all regroup, and even go back to the main hall. Remember, we need to have as many numbers as possible to open all the doors. I believe you will all come back for me.”

“You can’t bank all of this on Zero’s fucking goodwill!”

“Fine” Shouto interrupted Katsuki, stepping towards the numbered doors.

“What the--”

“We have no time to argue, we already wasted a lot of time calculating” Shouto interrupted him again, looking back at him, their eyes meeting. “We will just have to come back for Daiichi. So this means Uwabami and Malichor have to go through doors 8 and 7 respectively. Are you two fine with it?”

“There might be other combinations that work…” Izuku started. “Like… if Katsuki, Shouto and Malichor go through door 8, and…”

“I’m fine with it” Malichor said simply, interrupting him.

“Let’s just get a move on” Uwabami agreed.

“Fine. Reiko, the two of us have to go together, then. Do you have any preferences?”

Reiko slowly shook her head.

“No. I’m fine with whatever you go with.”

Shouto looked at the doors, then turned back.

“Then I’ll go in door 8. Izuku, Katsuki, any objections?”

“I object to your fucking face , IcyHot.”

Izuku sighed.

“We are fine. Let’s go. You are right… we have wasted enough time as it is.”

-

Beep.

Beep.

Beep.

Shouto tried to ignore the way his hand was sweating, as he put it over the lever of the RED.

“Ready?”

Uwabami and Reiko nodded.

Shouto took a deep breath, and then pulled the lever.

The door opened.

Run .

-

Adrenaline bursting through their veins, as they rushed through the door, and the ticking noise started from their bracelets.

“Come on, come on, come on!”

“Here it is!”

Beep.

Beep.

Beep.

Shouto yanked the lever down.

The beeping stopped.

They lived through it again.

-

“Okay. I think we can definitely know this is probably Zero’s plan for this puzzle.”

“That was not very reassuring, Uwabami.”

“It’s fine, Reiko. We will get you out of there.”

There were in a laboratory, and as soon as Reiko walked over a certain point, a caged door locked, separating her from the other two.

Reiko sat down next to the bars, sighing, and while Uwabami looked around, Shouto crouched down next to her.

“Hey… are you all right?”

It was kind of a stupid question, Shouto knew it as soon as he said it but what else was there to say? And Reiko just looked at him tiredly.

“What do you think?”

Of course. They were in this death game. Even though there were some schoolmates of Reiko here, she didn’t know either of them.

Aside from…

“Hey. We will find Hitoshi, okay?” Reiko looked at him, her expression unreadable. “So… you guys are childhood friends?”

“Something like that” Reiko sighed, pulling up her knees, hugging them. “When I was a kid, I could barely control my Quirk. Other kids would often tease me that I really am just Quirkless, and possibly just haunted by a ghost. Hitoshi often protected me from them when we were kids. I guess we sort of… drifted apart after… well, the accident.”

“...the accident?”

Reiko shook her head.

“Long story. Case in point, he… well, lost his arm.”

“...what?”

“You didn’t even notice did you? Well, it’s not your fault. His aunt works for a very good Support company, who could make him a very lifelike, very mobile prothestetic arm. It’s not quite like sci-fi yet, like he can’t feel with it or anything, but apart from that, and the fact that he has to have newer ones every now and then, you couldn’t even tell it’s a fake arm just from the outside.”

Shouto thought of Hitoshi, looking for any sign he might have seen of him having a fake arm, from the Sports Festival, or from the Nonary Game… and there was nothing at all.

It had to be a really convincing fake arm, then.

“So I guess you are quite attached to him, aren’t you?”

“Don’t get me wrong, I really… don’t have a crush on him or anything” Reiko glared daggers at the back of Uwabami’s head - or at her snakes, more accurately. “It’s just… I owe him so much from when we were kids. I always feel like I could never repay him. He may have even resented me, that I got into Hero Course and he didn’t.”

“Would he even resent you for it?”

“Of course he would. After all he did… well, nevermind. Probably I would be resentful too.”

“Do you really feel this indebted to him just because of those childhood things?”

Reiko didn’t answer, and he avoided Shouto’s eyes, and Shouto continued.

“Don’t get me wrong… I mean standing up to protect you is very great and admirable, but… you look like you owe him your life or something.”

Reiko looked back up at Shouto, eyes widened, then slowly opened her mouth…

“Hey! Will you two stop gossiping and help me solve these puzzles or do I have to do everything myself here?”

Right. Uwabami was right. Shouto stood up, and so did Reiko.

Talking can wait, they had to get out of the laboratory.

-

“I wonder how the others are doing.” Shouto sighed, trying to figure out the way to turn on the computer. “And how is Daiichi faring with being left alone.”

“You were quite quick to accept his offer, though” Uwabami pointed it out, the snakes in her hair peeking into high-stacked boxes.

“...it doesn’t mean I don’t feel bad about it. We just didn’t have much time to spare.”

Uwabami hummed, still looking through the boxes.

“Times like this, I wish there would have been something in that theory I heard once. The morphogenetic field theory.”

“The… what?” Shouto raised his head, frowning.

“It’s just a theory, which has some scientific basis, mostly in cell evolution, it is very complicated… but the bigger, wider, more atrocious theory says that every human is connected with an invisible field. And that under specific circumstances, certain humans can access this field, and send information through it to each other without speaking, or anything. Kind of like uploading information to the internet, and someone else downloading it. No matter how far in space… or even time, the even wider theorists state. Some people say it may even be possible to share Quirks like that.”

“Share… Quirks?”

“Think about it” Uwabami turned to look at Shouto. “You are in a pinch, where your Quirk is not useful, but you would really use to be fast. So you access the morphogenetic field, and effectively download a speed-related Quirk from someone else. And another person, who might be freezing cold, can take your fire Quirk to save themselves. Or maybe… Quirkless people accessing this field, being able to fit in with our society.”

“What… what does this have to do with anything?”

“Not much, really. It’s mostly pseudoscience in the very purest form, based on a lot of random coincidences. But imagine if this were true - we could just connect to the morphogenetic field, to check on Izuku, Katsuki and Malichor to see how they are doing. Ask Daiichi if he is okay. We could even find Hitoshi. It would be really neat, would it be not? Sure telepathic Quirks exist, but this is some whole different level.”

“That… kind of sounds like a very farfetched theory.”

“As I said, there is some basis for it, but it would take too long to talk about it” Uwabami shook her head. “Then maybe your girlfriend could check on her friend.”

“Wait what? My… what?”

Uwabami laughed a little.

“So you are not flirting with Reiko either, I guess. Izuku is your type then? All that hand-resting on his face…”

“...seriously, cut it out, this isn’t the time or the place for this. Why are you even focusing on things like this?”

Shouto realised the way Reiko peeked out from behind the bars, with an unreadable expression - but as soon as their eyes met, she disappeared on her side of the laboratory.

Yeah.

Something was definitely up.

But Shouto said it himself - they couldn’t waste time on this now.

-

After finally solving the room’s puzzles, and opening the room, they again, propped the door open, just in case they had to come back.

Opening some new doors, Shouto was almost not even surprised, that they got back to the main hall.

Four hours and fifteen minutes left.

Well, that wasn’t good.

“Quick. We have to go back to where we left Daiichi. I’m sure that’s where we can regroup.”

Reiko and Shouto just followed Uwabami, and…

She suddenly stopped, and Shouto quickly saw why.

On the end of the corridor, there was a cloaked figure disappearing. Shouto couldn’t be sure, but that cloak… that one… and the person’s face was covered with something that seemed like a gas mask...

“...Zero?”

Uwabami moved quickly, and the two of them didn’t say far behind either.

By the time they turned the corner, though, the cloaked figure was nowhere to be seen.

Just many doors, on the corridor, all of them closed.

-

“Fucking creepy operating room, that’s what it was” Katsuki shook his head.

“Our laboratory wasn’t much better either” Shouto agreed.

“Still no news about Hitoshi?”

At Izuku’s question, Daiichi shook his head grimly.

“No… I didn’t even move from here, in case he would come back, but…”

“And did you see anyone else?” Reiko asked quietly.

Daiichi just shook his head again, and Shouto exchanged looks with the other two who were on his team.

“...what are you all looking together for?” Katsuki’s eyes jumped from one to another.

“We… saw someone” Uwabami said. “Someone in a cloak. We couldn’t see much of the guy, but we are pretty sure he was wearing a gas mask.”

“Zero? You saw Zero?” Malichor gaped.

“That’s what we think at least” Shouto said, an unease settling in his chest, and he had no idea why. “He also disappeared as we could have caught up to him. We think he went into one of the doors only he has the keys to.”

“That’s… actually good news! See, Kacc… I mean Katsuki?”

“Why is this good news?”

“Katsuki thought there is a chance Zero is one of us. But if you had seen Zero… everything is alright. Is it not?”

Shouto really hoped that was the case, but he really, really couldn’t forget Hitoshi’s last words to him.

And where the hell was Hitoshi either way?

-

“I think some of us should check door 3, to be sure” Daiichi said. “I volunteer to going through it as I missed the other two. The others… can look around the opened areas. Try to find the next set of doors, alright?”

“If you go through, there aren’t many options for you to go through with” Katsuki said, looking at his paper where he did his calculations before. “You can go with Reiko and Malichor, or Shouto and Deku, or Uwabami and me, if we want to do that room with the least people possible.”

“Honestly, you are making a big deal of me calling you Kacchan today, while you keep calling me Deku…”

“Shut the fuck up, Izuku.”

“Now there you have it. It wasn’t that hard, was it?”

“Shut your mouth!”

“I will go” Reiko said, interrupting their bickering. “Izuku is sick either way, better if he doesn’t solve puzzles as possible, and Katsuki looks like he will explode if he has to leave him alone either way.”

“Seriously, my fever is not a big deal…”

“What the fuck did you say about me you little bitch, why the fuck would I care about him?”

“It’s decided, then” Malichor sighed. “Let’s just go. You all… try to find numbered doors until we make through number 3.”

That was a plan at least, and Shouto watched as the three of them entered their numbers, and just ran through the door.

Alright.

Time to explore.

-

“What the fuck is going on in your mind, IcyHot? You are always silent but you have this fucking look in your face.”

“...it’s just my face, Katsuki.”

“Like hell it is. Something is fucking bugging you.”

“You must spend a lot of time looking at my face to realise that, then.”

“What the fuck is that supposed to mean?!”

Izuku sighed, obviously getting tired of the other two bickering, while they were looking around for doors.

“Is there really something on your mind, Shouto?”

“My mind just… keeps reeling. Trying to make sense of this entire situation… things that Hitoshi talked about, that Reiko mentioned… More than half of the nine players are from the same school, the same year, two sets of childhood friends… two seemingly random pro heroes, and two completely random people? Nothing makes sense of this. What is Zero’s goal?”

“Maybe Zero is just a sick bastard, have you thought of that?”

“I don’t… think it’s really that simple.”

The two of them stopped, and Shouto also stopped, turning back to face them.

Every one of them were wearing casual clothes, which was weird, he was so used to seeing the two of them especially in their different uniforms and costumes.

“It’s just… everything is so… methodical. Planned out. I don’t think Zero would go this far without a reason…”

“Maybe we are just lab rats” Katsuki shrugged.

“Lab rats for what? Is this an experiment? If yes, what is the reason?”

“Maybe he wants to see our reactions in a high-stress environment? Or see how well we perform under pressure of life and death? There are lots of things… maybe a lot we can’t even think about” Izuku muttered, looking down at his feet. “I mean… Zero did kill the Ninth Man, didn’t he? And we still don’t know where Hitoshi is. That is… pretty damn twisted, don’t you think?”

“I’m not saying this is normal or a good thing by any means” Shouto shook his head. “I’m just saying I don’t get what he is aiming for. This is like… trying to solve a puzzle without having all the pieces yet.”

Like that safe back in the cabins behind door 5.

“Do you think if you find all the pieces, you could forgive Zero?”

“...huh?”

Katsuki’s face was uncharacteristically serious, and in his red eyes there was a burning fire that made Shouto unable to look away.

“Do you think if you have all the pieces, if you have a concrete picture… do you think there is something that justifies all of this? The Ninth Man… if something happened to Hitoshi… all of us kidnapped… is there anything that justifies all of this?”

Shouto didn’t have an answer.

-

Eventually the three of them split up too - and the four people responsible for searching the routes found their way back to the hospital room.

“So. Let’s get our facts together. We found three doors, again, scattered across the ship” Uwabami said.

“Right” Izuku nodded. “So next up we have… 1, 2 and 6. There are a bunch of combinations we could go through them…”

“And if we do it, the next one should be the number 9 door” Katsuki finished.

That would definitely make sense, and Shouto couldn’t shake off the feeling from Hitoshi’s words.

Who will go through the number 9 door, then?

In this moment, the door to the hospital room opened, and what happened made Shouto’s world spin around again.

Reiko ran inside - her face hidden behind her hair, her expression unreadable. Malichor and Daiichi followed with grim expression on their faces.

Shouto felt his stomach drop.

“We found Hitoshi” Malichor said solemnly. “He is dead.”

Shouto wished for the nightmare to end, but he just heard the clock from the main hall.

They had three hours left.

Three doors ahead of them.

And there were only seven of them left.

When… when will this nightmare end?

Chapter Text

“There was this… dead body in the shower room behind the number 3 door” Daiichi was the one explaining it. “Reiko… only took a peek of it and screamed, and turned away… can’t blame her. It really seems like someone… beaten him up. With something heavy. If not for his clothes and his hair, I wouldn’t have noticed it was him.”

“There was also a trail of blood leading from the door to towards where he died, around the DEAD… He was probably somehow made to open the door, and pushed through the other side, so his fate was the same as the Ninth Man’s. I suppose it was the poison that killed him in the end, not his wounds” Malichor finished it.

Shouto felt like he was hearing the words from behind a waterfall. He heard them, he understood them, but they didn’t feel real.

How could Hitoshi be… dead? How could have anyone… who could have done that?

“It’s weird” Izuku said suddenly.

Shouto looked at him, and Izuku was looking at the number 3 door, frowning.

“If someone had beaten him up and thrown him inside… if there was really that much blood… where aren’t there any blood out here?”

“What do you--” Daiichi started, but Katsuki interrupted him.

“No, he’s fucking right. Where was he beaten up? All we found was the broken mirror, that was all the blood. And the culprit should be full of blood as well. Blood splatters and everything. And none of us has any blood on ourselves, do we?”

Silence. All of them were quietly looking at each other.

“Then… who killed Hitoshi?”

“Isn’t that obvious?” Daiichi spread his arms. “Zero did it.”

“You are forgetting other options” Reiko spoke up suddenly, raising her head, with an intense look in her eyes. “All those rooms down the corridor? When we split up to look for clues? Those were full of clothes. All the culprit had to do, to change clothes, go there, beat up Hitoshi, then take him to the number 3 door. Force him to open it, and push him inside.”

“Two people are not enough to open the door” Katsuki pointed it out.

“Then someone helped him. More culprits than one” Reiko’s eyes now were obviously full of malice as he glared at all of them. “More culprits explain how they could take him away quickly, without dropping any blood. And trust me… I intend to find out who did it. I owe Hitoshi that much.”

-

But that had to be put aside for now. As nightmarish the situation was, if they wouldn’t move forward, all of them would join Hitoshi, without ever finding out what happened.

Needless to say, this entire situation was grating on everyone’s nerves, Reiko glaring daggers at everyone, the three adults trying to diffuse the situation, and Katsuki swearing even more.

It took longer than it should have.

“We should have just… voted. Instead of arguing. Or something” Shouto sighed. “I’ll take door number 6. Who wants to come with me?”

“I will!” Izuku piped up. “That’s my bracelet number so… that oddly feels right does it not?”

“So… 5+6 is 11, the digital root is 2. So either Reiko comes with us, or Daiichi and Katsuki do.”

Reiko was tight-lipped still, and Daiichi sighed.

“Very well then. I will go with you to door 6. Katsuki, are you fine with this arrangement?”

“Whatever.”

“Which means, Reiko, Malichor and Uwabami will explore door 1. Is that okay?”

Reiko still didn’t say a word, and the other two had no complaints.

They had to move on.

-

Beep.

Beep.

Beep.

Beep.

Shouto’s hand was on the lever, as he looked back to his three companions.

“Ready?”

“Ready when you are” Izuku answered, and the other two nodded.

Shouto figured he would never get used to this.

Still, he pulled the lever.

The door opened.

Run.

-

No, Shouto figured he would never get used to this.

Fighting villains was one thing, whether it was a training exercise or the real deal. There, he always felt like he could do anything.

Here? Playing the game Zero set up for them, running, frantically searching, while the bracelet on his arm kept ticking?

He felt like he had no control.

He was just doing what Zero wanted him to do.

And Shouto hated it.

Tick. Tick.

“There, I found it!”

Beep.

Beep.

Beep.

Beep.

Lever pulled again.

The ticking stopped.

-

It was a giant engine room, mostly taken up by a huge steam engine, and the four of them spread around, looking for clues.

“Hey, IcyHot. Do you think you could fire this engine up with your power?”

“Can’t you?” Daiichi interrupted him, before Shouto could have answered. “I saw you make sparkles before.”

“I make explosions. Quick, strong energy, not nearly enough to actually set something in fire. Besides, what a great fucking idea, exploding into an engine. Jackass.”

“Is he always this delightful?” Daiichi turned to Shouto.

“Always.”

“Fuck you both. Actually, fuck you too, Deku.”

“Why? I didn’t say anything this time… but either way, I don’t think we should use Shouto’s fire to jump over a puzzle like that, we probably have to figure out another way to get the engine going. What if Shouto would be penalized?”

“Well, Zero only said we can’t force numbered doors open with Quirks. Making a puzzle easier is technically not against the rules.”

“I still don’t think we should risk it, I agree with Izuku” Daiichi spoke up. “We shouldn’t put Shouto’s life on the line like this.”

Crash.

Izuku was walking down from the catwalk, when his leg slipped on the stairs, making him fall down on the last few steps. In a split second, Katsuki was by his side, Shouto not far behind.

He put his hand over Izuku’s forehead while Katsuki helped him up - and it was like Izuku was almost on fire.

“I’m… fine. I’m sorry, I’m just…”

“Shut the fuck up” Katsuki said, but there was no anger in his voice now. “Just sit the fuck down. Hey Shouto--”

“Got it.”

It barely even registered in him that Katsuki called him his first name now, as he let the cool air from his right hand spread over Izuku.

“I am getting worried. This fever can’t be normal.”

“It’s okay, I just… I’m gonna help, just a bit…”

“No you aren’t” Katsuki and Shouto said the same time.

“Listen to the two of them” Daiichi spoke up again, with a gentle voice. “There is three of us. You just rest a bit. We will solve this.”

-

“You are very protective over him. You don’t usually act like this.”

“We are not usually in a fucking life or death situation, IcyHot.”

“This is still not our first time risking our lives, though.”

“And you know this is different than our usual villains and shit. And you know it perfectly, so why the fuck are we talking about this?”

Shouto looked at Katsuki from the corner of his eye, and just saw the explosive boy looking towards Izuku who was sitting there, still trying to help Daiichi out as much as he could.

“That little fuck can take care of himself, okay? You had seen him fight, hell you fought him yourself. Besides, he is smart. No fucking way a little fever will bring him down.”

“Of course not… but you look more worried about him than usually are.”

“It’s all because of this fucking situation. I know he can take care of himself, and if not for this freaky fever, I wouldn’t give a shit. He would probably drag us out of here himself. So fucking what? I had known him ever since I could fucking remember. Ever since my earliest memories, that stupid fuck is there. And now two of us are already fucking dead, and Zero isn’t fucking around, and there might be one or more murderers between us. So what if I am kind of fucking worried? Sue me.”

Shouto reached out a hand, putting it on Katsuki’s shoulder - the other boy seemed like he was easing up a bit first, like a little tension disappeared from his body… before shaking him off.

“Get the fuck back to work, IcyHot.”

-

“Your class has to be very eventful, if you three are classmates.”

They had gotten out of the engine room - just to run into a cargo hold. Isn’t that just amazing? So even more puzzles! This time though, this time Izuku seemed a bit better, moving around, working on opening a giant box.

“Yeah. We have a lot of colourful characters in our class… the whole school, really.”

It all seemed distant now, all their classmates, the other classes. He didn’t want to think about Hitoshi, how he would never go back there, and if this continues like this, who knows if…

Daiichi put a hand on Shouto’s shoulder.

“We will find a way out. Alright?”

Daiichi seemed to be the oldest out of them, all the participants, and while he didn’t seem to be a pro hero like the other two surviving adults, his jovial, helpful tone was some kind of a steady support for everyone around.

For a few moments, Shouto almost believed that everything is going to be okay.

“Guys, I opened the box! ...oh. Oh, wow. Guuuuys, you gotta check this out.”

At Izuku’s voice, all of them gathered around the box.

In that, there was a key - the exit key, probably.

And a gun.

“Uh… should we… do something about that?”

“...no way.” Katsuki shook his head.

“I agree. Let’s just. Leave it there, closed in.”

So that’s what they did.

And then, they were out.

They stopped on their tracks, when they saw a cloaked figure disappear behind a corner again, like he was just there, taunting them.

They rushed after him of course, but then he was gone, as before.

Shouto couldn’t help but wonder - what hellish thing was Zero taunting them with this time?

-

Soon, they would find out.

But before that, they found a road… a road to a big chapel, full of candles, a large coffin, and… two doors.

“...are you fucking kidding me.”

This time, Shouto really couldn’t disagree with Katsuki. It was almost comical, really.

There were two doors.

Both of them labelled with a 9 on them.

“Two 9 doors… what the fuck…”

“Well, Zero never said there is only one 9 door, did he?” Shouto whispered. “We just… assumed.”

Hitoshi was wrong, with his last words to Shouto.

Everyone could have gotten out.

Shouto thought things couldn’t get worse after this, but of course this game, this Nonary Game had proven him wrong yet again.

Because the nightmare just didn’t seem to end, as soon as they ran into Uwabami and Malichor, their faces being a telltale sign that something was off.

“We can’t find Reiko.”

-

Time was marching on, and it was time to frantically search around again, and Shouto turned his back towards one of the corridors, going straightforward.

“Wait! Shouto!” Izuku caught up to him, jogging after him. “What are you… planning to do?”

“I want to check in the shower room behind door 3.”

“But that’s where…”

“I know” Shouto nodded. “That’s why I want to… Hitoshi was her childhood friend after all. Maybe she wanted to… spend some time with him?”

“And that’s why she beaten the room without telling the others in her group, and just disappeared?”

Izuku sounded dubious, and Shouto couldn’t blame him.

But still… he went in the shower room through the back doors, that Malichor propped open, just like he did with the rooms with the safe.

It was a mess, indeed, just as the others said. The dead body was beaten beyond recognition, but really, apart from his face and arms, there was all in all less blood than Shouto anticipated. It was still gruesome though, both of his arms broken in a way, twisted… and there was the coldness in his mind again, the same when he found the Ninth Man, as if his mind was numbing itself from the shock of dead bodies.

“...huh…?”

He reached forward, trying to get his nausea under control, touching both of the body’s arms.

Bones. Twisted, broken bones in both of the body’s arms.

Shouto felt his heart speed up, as he suddenly straightened, backing away.

What… what did this mean?

“...Shouto…?”

“...this is not Hitoshi.”

“...what?”

“This is not Hitoshi! This dead body… it can’t be Hitoshi.”

Two broken arms. One of them had a bracelet rolling off, but he didn’t pay attention to it.

Two.

Hitoshi’s left arm, according to Reiko…

“...are you sure?”

“Positive.”

“But… But if this is not Hitoshi then who is it, and… and then where is Hitoshi?”

And wasn’t that just the biggest question?

They had an hour and a half left.

And Shouto had no idea how many of them were left.

What… was even going on, anymore?

Chapter Text

“Maybe Hitoshi is Zero.”

“That… I can’t believe that about him!”

“Think about it, Izuku” they were out from the shower room, wanting to continue their search, but Shouto stopped, grabbing Izuku’s shoulders. “He disappears, and after that, we see Zero walk around. There is a dead body wearing his clothes. What else am I supposed to think?”

Shouto didn’t want to believe it either.

He kept thinking about Hitoshi disappearing at the end of the corridor, and his last warning.

Would he even warn him like this if he was Zero? Then again, they still had no ideas about Zero’s plans, at all.

And Izuku just looked back into Shouto’s eyes, with the same defiant look, he knew all too well, the same look he had in his eyes whenever he was faced with a seemingly impossible challenge.

“I… refuse to jump to conclusions. Without Hitoshi even being here to defend himself.”

That made sense… right? Maybe he was overthinking things.

Or maybe both Izuku and him were naive, and wouldn’t believe what was going on in front of their eyes.

And then, there was Malichor, and his face made Shouto realise that this spiral of despair and confusion only led further and further down.

“We found Reiko. But she’s… she’s dead.”

-

She was in the same cabin where they found the safe they could not open - but in the bathroom. She was lying on the floor, in a pool of blood, and this time… this time there was no fake out. There was no miracle that would have clued Shouto off about it. Her bracelet had been missing - the killer must have taken it off her wrist after she died. There was no coldness either - was he getting used to death now?

He didn’t want to get used to seeing dead bodies. At least not this early in his career.

“I’m sorry Reiko…”

He wasn’t sure why he was apologising, but he reached down, and… there was something he saw in Reiko’s pocket.

A dress with pockets - Shouto weirdly remembered his sister talking about it being every girl’s dream, but then he shook the memory off.

Shouto felt wrong, weird, but he reached in, and found two things.

One. A bracelet with a cracked front - impossible to tell what number was it anymore.

Two. A small piece of paper.

He quickly pocketed them before coming out.

“How… could have this happened?”

Malichor looked at him, while the others were also standing around, silent.

“I think… she didn’t suffer. She likely didn’t even see who killed her. From the wound… I think she was stabbed in the back. Probably with a knife…”

“There were plenty knives in the kitchen” Uwabami said simply. “Anyone could have gone back that way. We propped the door open. Not to mention Zero probably goes wherever he wants…”

“Malichor… did you see her bracelet?”

Malichor’s eyes grew dark.

“You noticed too, didn’t you? The killer must have taken it.”

-

“But I don’t think the killer had a lot of time… otherwise they would have noticed this.”

He didn’t take out the bracelet he found. He did take out the note, though, when he was alone with his classmates.

 

Truth had gone, truth had gone, and truth had gone.

Ah, now truth is asleep in the darkness of the sinister hand.

 

“A clue? Well, that is amazing. What for?” Katsuki peeked into the note.

“I don’t think Reiko was sure. But… she must have kept it because wherever she found it, she didn’t know what to do with it yet… it’s just a hunch, but… we couldn’t open that safe yet. Maybe if we crack it…”

“Sinister hand… that’s the left hand isn’t it?” Izuku mused.

The adults were conversing in the next room now, as if trying to figure out what to do, and the three of them tried to solve the riddle.

“Left hand…” Shouto looked at the bracelet on his hand.

There were two tiny buttons on the two sides of the bracelet, but they did nothing upon being pressed.

“Truth had gone, truth had gone… so if the sinister hand meant the left hand, maybe truth and gone mean something else too?” Katsuki tilted his head.

“Gone… left…” Izuku muttered.

“...well, if something is true, it means something is… right, isn’t it? Aren’t we reaching?”

“Maybe” Shouto muttered, but put his hands over the buttons. “But it’s worth a try right? Right, left, right, left, right, left. That should be it, correct?”

So he pressed the buttons in this order.

In that moment, his bracelet started flashing a lot of different numbers in a sequence, before settling back on it’s usual 5.

“...the fuck was that?” Katsuki sounded just as baffled as Shouto felt.

“Do it again!” Izuku patted Shouto in the back excitedly.

-

The numbers opened the safe, which contained… a few papers. And upon reading through them, Shouto frowned, and put them away into the inner pocket of the jacket.

“...the fuck?”

“Please don’t tell them yet, but I think… if I am right… I can figure out who the killer is.”

“You mean… who Zero is?” Katsuki frowned, and Shouto shook his head.

“No. I think… no I’m sure that the killer is not Zero. Please tell the others to meet me in the hospital room in ten minutes. I have to… check on something. Two things, in fact.”

-

First he went out to the corpse of the Ninth Man - and his bracelet was gone. That… definitely was suspicious.

In the corridor with the numerous cabins, where they split up… where Shouto last saw Hitoshi, where he left his last warning…

And that’s where he found what he was looking for - he grabbed it as he walked back, throwing it down.

“...what.”

“Before that, I… want to test out something. Malichor, Izuku, Katsuki. Help me open door 3, please?”

“We can just… go the other way around, you know that, right?” Uwabami frowned.

“I don’t want to go in. I just want to open it. To test an idea.”

As long as they don’t go through the door, the countdown won’t start.

Beep. Beep. Beep. And when it was his turn, Shouto didn’t put his hand on the RED, just waved his bracelet in front of it.

Beep.

Just as he thought.

“So” Shouto started, as the door was closing. “The doors don’t need a hand to open them - just the bracelet.”

“Is that significant?” Daiichi asked.

“Extremely significant. Because the Ninth Man’s bracelet is missing. Remember when we talked about who could have killed Hitoshi? This way… with his bracelet… one person, the killer… could have opened the door himself.”

“You said himself ” Izuku pointed it out and Shouto smiled wryly. In a few moments, Izuku’s eyes widened. “...oh.”

“So you got it.”

“...yeah.”

“What? I’m lost” Malichor looked from one to another.

“There’s only one combination that works” Izuku whispered. “Hitoshi’s 2 bracelet. The Ninth Man’s 9. 2+9 is 11, the digital root is 2. In order to open door number 3, the killer had to have… Bracelet number 1.”

Everyone turned to look at Daiichi, who looked taken aback.

“Come on that is… we don’t even know that’s what happened.”

“That’s not all that I have, though. I have two more reasons to believe it was you.”

This time, Shouto pointed at what he had brought in - a bunch of bloody clothes, and a blanket, also bloody.

“In the cabins where we split up, where we last saw Hitoshi… there were changes of clothes lined up in the closets, right? And we were wondering how come nobody was bloody, after beating Hitoshi up like that, right? This is how. It was a planned murder - the murderer changed their clothes into one of these, went over, beaten up Hitoshi, probably wrapped him into a blanket, took him to the hospital room, and closed him inside. And guess what? They were in one of the rooms closest to the hospital room. Which were coincidentally the same ones where you were looking for the missing RED parts.”

“That is absolutely… Hitoshi was in the end of the corridor!”

“True…” Shouto nodded. “You took quite a big risk. Anything could have gone wrong. But for some reason, you still went through it. Either you carried him out while we were all searching… or maybe you hid him, maybe under one of the beds, where we couldn’t have found him while we were searching frantically. Or you made sure you were the one who pretended to look for him where you actually hid him, and you might have thrown him through the number 3 door after we all moved on. Of course, as I said, anything could have gone wrong. Anyone could have seen or heard you, he could have woken up before… But you still did it. Slamming his head first into the mirror, didn’t you?”

Silence, and Daiichi looked around incredulously, as if looking for support, and others looked quite dubious too.

Alright then.

“You said you had three reasons” Katsuki repeated.

“Yeah. And we can thank Reiko for the last one… because when Daiichi killed her, he had enough time to take her bracelet, just in case, but couldn’t go through her pockets, could you? That’s how we could open the safe. And found these.”

With that, he took out the files he they found, and read the text out loud.

-

Here is the truth, then, as promised.

Nine years ago, another Nonary Game was held.

Four people planned it all out. All from Lamarck Corporation, specializing in Quirk research.

You can see the four people all on the picture on the other side of this paper.

They had avoided justice.

That will not happen again.

--------Zero

-

“Want to see the other side, Daiichi? Or you already know what’s on it?”

Shouto still raised the picture, and everyone looked at it.

Two of the men on the picture were completely unknown. One skinny, with wild hair, and one overweight one, with a mustache.

The third was a nervous-looking man with glasses - the Ninth Man, even if he was younger.

And the fourth…

Still younger, but…

“Well.. that is definitely you, Daiichi. Do you deny that it is you?”

“What the-- are you going to trust a clue that Zero left here for us?”

“You didn’t kill Hitoshi.”

And there was the bombshell which made everyone, but especially Daiichi recoil.

“W---what?”

“My guess is that someone… probably Zero dressed someone else up as Hitoshi. Based on body type, it definitely could be the thin guy on the picture, right? That would make sense, seeing as both you and the Ninth Man were here. Maybe even dyed his hair. You had to be quick, or your plan would have failed, so you went in, and slammed a purple-haired guy’s face into the mirror over and over again, didn’t you? And broke his arms. After that, it would have been hard to tell it was not Hitoshi, especially when he passed out.”

“That... that is the most…”

“Hitoshi had a fake arm, Daiichi” Shouto interrupted him again, this time feeling the rage bubbling up inside him more and more. “Reiko told me. An accident that happened when they were kids, and he lost his arm. One of his arms was a very-well made fake arm provided by a Support company. And the dead body on the other side of the door… he definitely has two, broken, real arms.”

Complete silence. Daiichi looked down for a few moments, as if he was defeated, before he talked again.

“Accident… that’s one way to say it. So he was that brat, wasn’t he, in the end? The one who lost his arm in our first Nonary Game.”

It was like Daiichi’s demeanor took a complete 180, and when he looked up, there was a coldness in his eyes.

“That Nonary Game the note mentioned? Yeah. We ran it. The four of us planned it, funded it, made it. That was only just the first one - after we almost got caught with that one, we decided to do other games overseas just to continue our research. So after watching brats do basically the same tasks over and over again, they just all blur together. I wasn’t sure which game did that purple brat play in - he just dropped a hint to me that he knew who I was, before we split up.”

“So you decided he had to die” Uwabami now glared at him just as coldly.

“No shit. Of course he had to go.”

“What about Reiko?” Izuku asked, shaking.

“After hearing they were childhood friends, I just couldn’t risk it. We usually used pairs of either siblings, or close friends. She was probably at a different location than Hitoshi, and I was only present on Hitoshi’s location based on the fact that he remembered me, but I couldn’t risk him potentially telling her my identity.”

Daiichi’s cold and calculating voice… it sent chills down Shouto’s spine.

Was this… really the same man who was the steady support through all this madness?

Was he… really this great of an actor?

-

“So… shall we move on?”

“...what?” Uwabami took a step back. Daiichi shrugged.

“We have more doors to open, don’t we?”

“You can’t really expect us to move on together with you!” Malichor snapped.

“Why? Because I killed that little brat? Because I was the one who tricked the Ninth Man into going through a numbered door alone? Because I killed someone you didn’t even know? None of this matters. Or, if you wish, you can stay here and rot.”

The Ninth Man…

He lied to me… that was what the Ninth Man was screaming not long before the poison killed him.

“You… made him go through the door.. why? How?” Shouto stammered.

“I had four reasons” Daiichi shrugged. “One - he had the number 9 bracelet. If you add 9 to any combinations, it doesn’t change the digital root, therefore someone having that bracelet can go through any door they wishes. Also making it possible to open a door with just two people. I didn’t want to let him have that power. Two - I wanted to have that power, naturally. Three - he knew who I was, obviously, and I didn’t want him to risk telling it to you. And four… I wanted to see if Zero’s game was real. So I told him that I realised the rules had changed compared to the games we used to run, that so the DEADs were modified. That’s why he ended up going through the door. And I got exactly what I wanted, obviously.”

“You son of a bitch!”

Uwabami lunged forward, and things happened extremely quickly after that.

She punched Daiichi in the face, the snakes in her hair also lounging forward, but Daiichi was quick, much quicker than anyone could have expected.

And in the next moment, Uwabami got yanked forward, a gun to her temple.

“Which is faster, snakey?” He hissed into her ear. “Your snakes or my bullet? You know, leaving a gun behind was kind of stupid, wouldn’t you agree, stupid brats? That goes for your fucking Quirks as well, by the way, don’t even think about trying to get it out of my hand. So… her and I are leaving, got it? See you assholes, oh… never.”

And then he was gone, dragging Uwabami along.

And Izuku Midoriya once again crashed to the floor behind them.

-

Again, like before, Katsuki and Shouto were both there, supporting him, and Izuku felt like hotter than ever before, he had trouble breathing, and leaned into Shouto’s cold touch, trying to rearrange his breathing.

“No, no, fuck, fuck Daiichi, fuck this, do you fucking hear me Deku, don’t you dare!”

“It… It’s okay Kacchan” Izuku’s eyes were starting to lose focus. “Remember? I just only had to… rest a bit before too. Go… go after him… help Uwabami. Daiichi only needs her to… open the 9 door… if he does… you gotta help her…”

Shouto didn’t want to move.

He remembered Hitoshi disappearing in the cabin, and they still didn’t know what happened with him, and now, in front of Izuku, holding his face between his hands, he felt like Izuku was fading away right in front of him.

Then there was a hand over his hand, and he looked up, straight into Katsuki’s eyes.

Katsuki’s eyes, that looked like he was looking straight into his soul.

“Go and kick his ass. We will go after you after he gets his shit together.”

-

By the time Malichor and Shouto got to the chapel, one of the 9 doors was already occupied.

“Well, we can assume that both of them lead towards the same destination, but… we can’t open the other one with two people… unless we go up and bring down Izuku, then… 5+7+6, that would open it.”

“We can’t drag Izuku down in the state he is in” Shouto shook his head. “Besides no way Katsuki would let us drag him into danger without him also being there, and if we add his 3, it wouldn’t open.”

And that’s when they heard the thumping sound from the coffin.

Both of them just stared at it for a few moments.

“...please Shouto tell me you heard that too, and I didn’t just imagine things.”

“...yeah, I heard it too.”

“Now that’s even more terrifying.”

There was a keypad on the side of the coffin.

“Numbers, huh?”

“Why don’t you try the same numbers you got to open the safe back in the cabin?”

Shouto looked up at him blankly.

“We never had to use the same codes twice.”

“Well… the hint for the code wasn’t in the room either, but Reiko probably found it somewhere else. So maybe that one code doesn’t play like the usual codes. What can it hurt to try?”

Nothing. They were running out of options.

So he tried.

And the coffin opened.

“Ow, ow, about time. I was getting seriously cramped in here.”

Shouto hadn’t thought he could ever be this happy to see Hitoshi’s tired-looking face.

-

“Daiichi huh? He tried to kill me? How rude of him. Then again, I couldn’t exactly keep my mouth shut, after recognizing him, so I guess I sort of had it coming. But nah, I don’t remember much” Hitoshi shook his head, after getting a quick, cliff notes version of the story. “I went in to the cabins to look over them, and basically immediately afterwards, I got knocked out, as if someone was waiting for me there. And I woke up here not long ago. And now I’m dressed like this.”

True enough, he was dressed in hospital clothes - same kind that they found in the cabins.

“Alright, so. What is the plan, how are we going after them? The three of us still can’t open a 9 door.”

“We also have this, though… Reiko found this somewhere behind door 1…”

They didn’t mention Reiko’s fate to Hitoshi yet.

They let him assume that she also stayed behind to help Izuku.

Shouto… simply couldn’t bring himself to, especially after seeing how Reiko reacted to the news of Hitoshi’s death… he didn’t want to see how would Hitoshi react.

Not yet.

Instead he took out the cracked bracelet.

“We don’t know what number it is, huh… Well, there is chance it will help us” Hitoshi raised his fingers. “If it is a 4, then all of us can go through the 9 door. If it is a 6, then you two can go through with it. If it is another 2, then Shouto and I can go through it. Or if say… it is a 0, then Malichor and I can go through. It is a 2 in 5 chance. Not that bad. But any other combination, and we are stuck, unless Izuku gets better and the others catch up to us - in which case, still not everyone can go through.”

“Man, I still don’t like those odds” Malichor mumbled, and Hitoshi grinned.

“Didn’t Shouto say it already? Zero planned this all out methodically. I would be very surprised, if one of these options would not work. Let’s try to open the door, shall we?”

-

It opened on the third try, when they tried the combination of Malichor, Shouto, and the bracelet.

They just watched as the door closed back in.

“So… it’s a 6. Izuku’s number.”

“Not that surprising, really” Hitoshi shrugged. “Didn’t you say the dead body in my clothes also had to have a 2 bracelet in order for the murder to work? Not the first duplicate number in this game.”

“But... “

Hitoshi grinned.

“Oh, don’t worry. You two open the door. I do not intend to stay behind. Besides, we only have like half an hour left, don’t we?”

“But…”

“I’m ready when you are, Shouto. Get on with it, tick-tock. Time is ticking isn’t it?”

-

“You son of a bitch, you took off your arm!”

“Only my wrist, and only so I can force the bracelet off, don’t be overdramatic, Malichor. See, I put it back. Good that my arm has lots of parts, huh?”

“You could have done that? Any time?”

“Naturally” Hitoshi said in a dry tone. “I suppose the bracelet checks on pulse, that’s why they come off when somebody dies. I don’t have a pulse in a fake arm. But if I had revealed that beforehand, you might have thought I was Zero, as effectively, I was in no way under harm’s way because of the bracelet. So I was just. Cautious.”

Shouto felt guilt rising in his throat, remembering how… he also thought… he also suspected…

Nevermind all that now.

They reached their next location - an incinerator.

-

“Fuck! Fuck! Why don’t you just… this is not right!”

Daiichi was screaming, kicking the metal door on the other side of the incinerator room, but aimed his gun at Uwabami still.

“Something wrong, Daiichi?”

Daiichi whirled around, glaring, aiming his gun even more at Uwabami, and slowly grinned.

“Look at that. Little brat is indeed alive, huh?”

“Surprised?”

“Nah. Halfling over there had already caught me up. Must have been a shock to find out that your little friend is dead, though.”

Shouto felt his heart drop, as Hitoshi took a step backwards, clearly not expecting this.

“...what?”

“Oh? They didn’t tell you?” Daiichi’s grin turned vicious. “I killed the little silver girl.”

“...that’s not true. Right?!”

Hitoshi’s head whipped around, he looked at Shouto.

“Hito---”

“Tell me the truth!”

It was like a coldness settled in his brain, like a switch had been flipped, and Shouto’s mouth moved without him meaning to.

“Reiko is dead.”

Then the feeling was gone, and Hitoshi was shaking. Through all this hell, everything that happened, this was the first time Shouto had actually seen him react like that.

It took a few moments for Shouto to actually realise what this meant.

“Your… Quirk…”

It… was back? Hitoshi’s Quirk…

Daiichi shouted out loud, as Uwabami’s snakes wrapped around his arm, and squeezed, until Daiichi’s arm broke with a sickening crunch, making him let go of her, while he was distracted.

“You--”

“Fucking--”

“Wait---”

“What--”

Everyone was talking the same time.

And then…

“Nobody move!”

All of them - Daiichi, Malichor, Uwabami, Shouto, all of them stopped dead on their tracks, and coldness settled on Shouto’s mind again.

The only person still moving was Hitoshi, standing in the middle of the incinerator, breathing heavily, looking down, and an automatic-sounded voice filled the air.

Incinerator lockdown in one minute.

“Uwabami. Stand up and get out the other door where you came in.”

And she did.

And Shouto for some reason could move - did his control slip?

“Hitoshi what…”

Hitoshi didn’t look at him.

“I will make sure this… this… that he burns. That would be very fitting.”

“Hito---”

He couldn’t finish, because Hitoshi whipped around, yanking him close, pressing their lips together.

It could barely even be called a kiss, it was forceful, and desperate, and when Hitoshi let go…

“Hi--”

This time he couldn’t finish it, because there was the cold feeling again.

And Hitoshi smiled.

“Walk out of the incinerator. Malichor, you too.”

Incinerator lockdown in thirty seconds.

Shouto didn’t want to. Every part of him was screaming against it, but he turned around, and walked outside.

Incinerator is locking down in three… two… one… zero.

As soon as the doors closed down, Hitoshi’s control faded, and Shouto let out a scream, lounging at the door.

“Hitoshi!”

Inside, he saw that some kind of a device rose in the middle - a puzzle, maybe?

Incinerator activates in… five minutes.

He saw Daiichi raise his gun, and empty all the bullets into the device.

The only way to get out from there… and then Daiichi screamed as well, no doubt when Hitoshi stopped controlling him.

“No, no no, no, you little shit, how dare you…!”

Incinerator activates in four minutes.

“There is no point” Hitoshi said simply, unmoving. “It’s all a moot point by now. So I might as well drag you to hell with me, at least.”

“You… idiot!” Shouto shouted, hitting his fist on the window where he looked at the inside of the incinerator. “You could have… if you really wanted to… you could have made him stop in there, and walked out, why… why…”

Incinerator activates in three minutes.

Two minutes had already gone by?

“It would take too long to explain. Sorry” Hitoshi shook his head, while Daiichi was screaming like a cornered animal, trying to make the puzzle to work again, to no avail. “But if… we are here, and… Reiko is dead… then it’s over. It’s all over. So… I couldn’t risk it. The puzzle doesn’t come up until the incinerator locks down, and I didn’t want to risk him getting out of my control, solving it and getting out. If it is over, if it doesn’t even matter anymore, he doesn’t deserve to live.”

“What do you mean? It’s not over, Hitoshi, please…”

Hitoshi smiled, a small, sad smile.

Incinerator activates in two minutes.

“I think… yeah. I think one day, you will figure out what happened. I just want you to know it wasn’t your fault, okay, Shouto?”

“What… I don’t understand.”

“I know. If you would, then we wouldn’t be here.”

Incinerator activates in one minute.

“You… brat!”

Daiichi lounged at Hitoshi, tackling him to the ground, wrapping his non-broken hand around his throat.

“I do not fucking… deserve this! Fuck you, fuck you fuck you!”

Incinerator activates in thirty seconds.

Hitoshi was grinning, despite there being a hand around his throat.

“See you in hell, asshole.”

Incinerator activates in… ten seconds. Nine… eight… seven…

Malichor and Uwabami kept struggling with the door, but there was no way to open it.

“Get out of the way!”

Six… five… four…

He tried. Shouto tried to freeze the door, to try to crack it open. No avail.

Zero really thought of everything.

Three… two… one… zero.

Incinerator activating.

-

It looked like hell.

It smelled like hell.

It sounded like hell.

It felt like hell.

And it was only partially because of the flames that engulfed the two people in the middle of the incinerator.

-

He couldn’t remember how could he carry himself forward, back another staircase, which led him back to the chapel. He couldn’t recall why didn’t Malichor and Uwabami follow him.

All he could think about, was fire.

And in the middle of the chapel, there was another figure, lying on the floor.

“....! Izuku!”

He ran over, pulling the other boy into his arms, and he felt like he was burning up, like he himself had been there in the hellscape which Shouto just witnessed.

“Hey… hey, Izuku…”

He tried to cool him down, and Izuku gasped for breath, eyelids fluttering open.

“Oh… Shouto… hi.”

“Hey, hang in there, okay? Where is Katsuki?”

“Tried to… go after… you, to get… help” Izuku answered, smiling, and putting his hand over Shouto’s hand. “You had been… so nice. I’m really glad that I… met you, Shouto. That you had been here… with me.”

“Hey… now there, don’t talk like this is something final, okay? We will get out of here, okay?”

As if, on clue, the speakers had came to life.

“This is Zero speaking. The Nonary Game had ended. Thank you for your participation.”

“What…”

Shouto gently laid Izuku back down to the ground, just so he could turn around and glare at the speakers.

“The game isn’t over!”

“Yes it is” Zero had answered, the distortion not allowing anything to be read from his voice. “The loser had been decided. This was inevitable, though. You chose this path, and this is where it lead to.”

“No it hadn’t” Shouto hissed. “We did not lose. I refuse to lose.”

“You misunderstood” Zero said, his voice monotone as ever. “You did not lose. I… had lost.”

And with that, the speakers stopped working, leaving Shouto there confused.

“What… do you… what…?”

He turned around and this game, this twisted Nonary Game had proven to him once again, that it can always, always get worse.

Izuku was gone.

“....Izuku? Izuku!”

No answer.

A side door closed at the end of the chapel - it was definitely closed before, and Shouto ran that way, ripped it open, just in time to see a cloaked, gasmasked figure disappear behind another door.

“Zero!”

He lounged at the door, pounding on it, but it was closed now, and no matter what he did, it wouldn’t open.

“Zero! Come back!”

No answer.

Shouto Todoroki screamed, pounding on the door, as he slowly spiralled down to despair.

Chapter Text

Eight people.

Less than eight hours left.

Two doors.

Door 4, and Door 5 - the latter of which hid the body of the Ninth Man, but apart from that, it was all a mystery.

Deciding who goes through which door was kind of a chore - there was definitely the discomfort of going past a probably-dead body, so Malichor, Hitoshi and Shouto volunteered to do so.

And it was at this moment that Izuku wavered, looking like he was falling over, and in a split second, Katsuki was by his side, propping him up.

“What the shit, Deku, what the fuck are y--” His words died in his throat, as his hand found himself to Izuku’s face.

Izuku got very flushed, his eyes, a bit glazing over, before collecting himself.

“It’s… fine, I’m fine…”

“Bullshit, you are burning up! What the fuck?”

“I may have been in water in my own cabin for too long, maybe I caught a cold, haha… seriously, I am better now.”

Shouto moved instinctively, putting a hand on Izuku’s face, gently cooling his own hand down - Katsuki was right, Izuku’s skin was obviously burning with fever.

“There. It probably won’t help on the long run, but it at least help your fever a bit. We need to find the way out quick, and get you to a doctor.”

“Malichor, don’t you have some kind of a healing Quirk?” Uwabami turned towards the other pro, but he just shook his head.

“I can only heal things that were caused by outside influences, like injuries. A fever is a body’s own defense mechanism, I can’t heal him from a sickness.”

Izuku smiled a little, putting a hand over Shouto’s hand - a honest, grateful smile.

“I’m fine T--- Shouto. Right. Shouto. This is still a bit weird. Um… you two can let go now, I feel a bit better already.”

So both of them let go of him

“Stupid nerd, why the fuck did you need to get sick?”

“We could switch teams so Shouto could be there to keep his fever under control” Daiichi spoke up. “If he switches with Reiko and me, we could still work with the teams.”

“I don’t think that means fucking much” Katsuki shook his head. “If Mr IcyHot uses his ice too much on him, that probably wouldn’t be good either.”

“No, Daiichi is right.” Shouto shook his head. “It’s better if I stick around a bit. Hey, Reiko, are you fine with switching rooms? I mean you’d have to go where the Ninth Man’s body is.”

“I will be fine” Reiko said firmly.

So this is what they decided to do, in the end.

-

At first, the other four ran through the door, and the four of them stood there, waiting.

“Hey, are you guys okay?” Izuku was the one who shouted in, because of course he was.

“Yeah... yeah we are. It deactivated as soon as we found the DEAD - it’s a similar looking device to the RED” Daiichi spoke out. “And oh… oh god.”

“How is the Ninth Man? Is he really...” Uwabami asked.

“Yes… he’s dead. I’m sorry. I think Zero didn’t lie about the poison” Malichor shouted out.

-

Beep.

Beep.

Beep.

Beep.

“Are you ready?” Shouto glanced back, hand on the lever.

“Ready when you are” Katsuki shrugged, and Uwabami and Izuku nodded.

Shouto took a deep breath, and pulled the lever.

The door opened.

Run.

-

Tick. Tick.

Running into the corridor, searching frantically.

He had ran a lot - during training, real fights.

This time, he was racing time itself.

“Here! Here it is! Quick!”

Beep.

Beep.

Beep.

Beep.

Katsuki was the one who yanked down the lever.

The ticking stopped.

They did it.

Now it was time to actually look around, and find out what the hell were they supposed to do.

-

“I can’t believe you actually came with me. You worry about me so much… Kacch… Katsuki and you both.”

“It’s weird for you to call him that, isn’t it?”

Izuku chuckled.

“Yeah… yeah it is. I pretty much always called him that, you know.”

“You two are childhood friends. I guess it makes sense he is that worried for you… he doesn’t usually act like this, though.”

“We aren’t usually thrown into a death game, though.”

“True. But we had been in life and death situations enough times already, and he never really… acted like that.”

Izuku shrugged a little, and then looked at Shouto, with a small smirk on his face.

“You pay a lot of attention to us, huh? And you rushed after me to help me. Are you gonna be my prince charming?”

Shouto felt warmth spread into his face.

“That’s not… I mean… I just… Uh…”

You are my friend, he wanted to say, but the words didn’t come to his lips.

The door slammed open though, and there was a glaring Katsuki Bakugo.

“Stop fucking flirting and get to work!”

“I can multitask!” Izuku said cheerfully, and sure enough, he opened a closed drawer. “I can also flirt with you, Kacchan.”

“Stop fucking calling me that!” But Shouto didn’t miss the way Katsuki’s face also got a bit flushed, and then he reached out, grabbing Shouto’s wrist. “That’s it, I’m taking IcyHot with me. Uwabami, you go in there helping Deku out!”

-

“Do you really think he got a cold in his cabin? From all the water pouring in? That’s why he had a fever?”

Katsuki pursed his lips, and turned away.

“How am I supposed to know? I’m not a fucking doctor.”

There was some heavy feeling in his chest - Shouto felt like there was some kind of weight pulling him down.

He wasn’t feeling sick, not really.

More like… sadness.

There is a dead person behind door 4. Maybe that’s why.

But that was… wrong. This wasn’t just a shock. It was some kind of deeper numbness, and he had no idea where it came from.

Like something was…

“Hey! IcyHot!”

Suddenly Katsuki was there, grabbing both of his shoulders, glaring at him.

“Do not fucking get lost in the clouds for me. You gotta have to get your fucking shit together, if we want to get out from here.”

“...you’re right. I’m sorry, I… don’t know where that came from…” Shouto frowned suddenly. “There is something I don’t get, though. Hitoshi didn’t even try to use his power to stop the Ninth Man.”

Katsuki looked at him, before pulling back, letting Shouto go.

“Maybe he couldn’t.”

“...huh?”

“Think about it” Katsuki shrugged. “What do you think, who is Zero?”

“Well, if I’d know, I would have said so already.”

“Better question, then: where is Zero? Hiding on the ship, looking at us all time? But… what if he is keeping a very close eye on us?”

A shiver ran down on Shouto’s spine.

“...you think Zero might be one of us.”

“Don’t tell me it didn’t cross your mind.”

Shouto didn’t say anything, and Katsuki continued.

“So. Hitoshi’s power is very troublesome for Zero isn’t it? We had heard about Quirk-negating drugs. All Hitoshi would have to do is to use his Quirk on us one by one to find Zero. Who would risk that? Of course there is the other option, that Hitoshi is faking it, and he is actually Zero.”

“...what?”

Katsuki shrugged.

“I’m just saying. That’s a possibility.”

“I really don’t think so” Shouto shook his head. “I don’t think one sixteen year old high schooler could organise something like this. No way.”

“Yeah, it does sound unrealistic” Katsuki seemed to agree. “Then… there is the option that Zero had to get rid of his Quirk. At least temporarily.”

Yeah.

That did make sense, didn’t it?

But then why didn’t the heavy feeling in Shouto’s chest go away?

-

“You know, this makes me wish that there would be something in the morphogenetic field theory.”

“The what with a what now?”

Katsuki stared at Izuku, while they passed the cabins they were looking for, right into a kitchen, and Izuku waved.

“Oh, it’s nothing. Sorry. Thinking out loud.”

“I think I heard about that…” Shouto muttered, looking over the counter. “Something with telepathy, isn’t it?”

“Where the hell did you sixteen year old kids heard of the morphogenetic field theory?” Uwabami looked bewildered.

“Because they are fucking nerds, that’s how. Deku has like fifteen thousand stupid theories floating around in that brain of his.”

“That… that is an overstatement…” Izuku muttered. “But yeah sometimes I just… read theories to pass the time. This is one of those I had read.”

And… Uwabami’s question was right.

Where did Shouto hear about it?

“...Shouto? Are you okay?”

“Yeah, sure I just… I wasn’t sure where have I heard about that theory before… it’s that… telepathy-like thing too, right? Or like… a giant mental harddrive, where you can upload information, and download them from… maybe even Quirks… that’s the theory anyway, isn’t it?”

“In a nutshell, yup” Izuku nodded eagerly. “Imagine if… this kind of thing wouldn’t just work through physical place, but time as well!”

“...time?”

“Yes! Imagine if… you could access memories of someone who was long since since dead, but went through something similar as you. You could just… go to the morphogenetic field, and download the relevant information to help you out! Or maybe you could even reach out and pull in knowledge through the future! The possibilities would be endless, wouldn’t it? Not to mention imagine what new Quirks would resurface in new generations! You could just reach in, and get a Quirk that doesn’t even exist yet to help you out! Or in our case, we could reach into the field, to find help for solving the puzzles. That’s what made me think about it.”

“That’s getting more and more bullshit” Katsuki snapped. “If we are talking about fucking knowledge, that could be one thing, but Quirks are physical attributes! How the fuck could we share those via fucking SoundCloud? Not to mention the whole time-bullshit.”

“It is a very atrocious theory… but hey, Shouto you do know a lot about it” Uwabami looked at him.

Shouto looked down, avoiding everyone’s eyes.

“I don’t… I don’t know. I just… know.”

“Hey don’t sweat it…” He felt Izuku’s hand on his shoulder. “You probably just read about it somewhere and it got stored away in your mind. It happens.”

“Or maybe you downloaded the knowledge from the morphogenetic field”

“Very funny, Katsuki.”

“I’m just saying you are pretty fucking overpowered even without tapping into humanity’s giant knowledge-harddrive.”

-

Everything was such a blur after that, and Shouto had to force himself to pay attention.

Running into the others in a giant hospital room.

Three more doors.

3, 7, 8.

Deactivated REDs.

A long corridor, full of rooms.

The way Hitoshi’s coat moved behind him as he walked to the end.

“...hey, Hitoshi?”

“Hm?” Hitoshi glanced back at him.

“Can you use your Quirk?”

Hitoshi stopped, and turned, facing Shouto.

“You want to ask why didn’t I stop the Ninth Man, don’t you?”

“We talked about it. Katsuki and me, I mean. That is… the one thing we could think of.”

Hitoshi chuckled.

“Is that really the only thing you guys considered?”

Shouto’s stomach dropped, and Hitoshi outright laughed at him.

“Man, you should see your face. Can’t blame you for considering that, though. But you are correct. I just tried to grab hold of you, and nope. Nothing. I’m pretty much Quirkless now. That is, if I’m saying the truth, don’t I?”

“I’m not… I’m not saying…”

“But you should” Hitoshi interrupted him, stepping closer to Shouto, his eyes growing uncharacteristically serious. “Look, think about it. What happens if we reach the number 9 door? Only five people can go through one. You can never know who will throw you under the bus. So… be careful. I’d hate to have to see your dead body next, you know. You are definitely not the worst of this bunch.”

And with that, Hitoshi turned away, and Shouto just watched how his coat moved behind him, as he disappeared behind a cabin.

For a few moments, he felt like he should have went after him.

He didn’t.

-

“Guys… where is Hitoshi?”

Seven people.

Three doors.

Six hours.

And Shouto felt like he was just going with the flow.

Chapter Text

Hitoshi was nowhere to be found, which didn’t help the group’s morale, at all. Neither did the bloody, cracked glass in one of the cabins.

Not to mention, there were no combinations, that could get them through all the doors - not without Hitoshi and the Ninth Man.

So, Daiichi volunteered to stay behind, and explained his reasoning, talking about who goes through which door.

“Fine” Shouto interrupted Katsuki, when he kept arguing, as usual.

“What the--”

“We have no time to argue, we already wasted a lot of time calculating” Shouto interrupted him again, looking back at him, their eyes meeting. “We will just have to come back for Daiichi. So this means Uwabami and Malichor have to go through doors 8 and 7 respectively. Are you two fine with it?”

“There is one other combination that works…” Izuku started, standing in front of the doors, frowning, and it seemed like his earlier fever was gone. That was at least good news inbetween all this mess. “Because... if Katsuki, Shouto and Malichor go through door 8, and…”

“I’m fine with it” Malichor said simply, interrupting him.

“Let’s just get a move on” Uwabami agreed.

“Fine. Reiko, the two of us have to go together, then. Do you have any preferences?”

Reiko slowly shook her head, not even looking up at Shouto.

“No. I’m fine with whatever you go with.”

Shouto looked at the doors, then turned back.

“Then I’ll go in door 7. Izuku, Katsuki, any objections? Aside from objecting to my face, Katsuki.”

Katsuki only grunted as a response, and Izuku shook his head.

“Let’s just go.”

-

Beep.

Beep.

Beep.

“Are you guys ready?”

Shouto glanced back, and Reiko and Malichor both nodded, so he just took a deep breath, and pulled the lever.

The door opened.

Run.

-

Running, once again, feeling adrenaline rush through their veins, eyes frantically searching the walls, until…

Until they found what they were looking for.

Tick. Tick.

“Here! Come on!”

Beep.

Beep.

Beep.

The ticking noise stopped, so they were doing their best, to even out their breathing.

But of course, the puzzles were still ahead of them.

Shouto was only doing his second numbered door, but he already felt like he would have rather fought the Hero Killer again instead of this nightmare.

-

“This is just what this place needed to be creepier. Mannequins.”

It was some kind of an operating room - why did a ship need an operating room? What kind of ship this was?

Shouto figured he should just stop asking these questions, while Malichor complained, switching out different mannequin body parts for the puzzle.

Shouto also noticed Malichor was glancing at Reiko a lot, frowning, while she was looking down, also working on the mannequins.

“...something wrong?”

“It’s just… I’m sure I had seen you before.”

“I’m a UA student” Reiko said in a blank tone, not looking up. “I may not have made a memorable performance, but I did participate in the Sports Festival.”

“No, I don’t think that’s it… ah… I don’t know. I can’t recall.”

“Memory issues…” Shouto muttered under his breath.

“...I guess you could call it that.”

“Maybe she is connected to whatever you can’t remember?”

“I don’t know. Hey, Reiko, have you ever been kidnapped?”

“That is not a normal question to ask” Reiko said in a dry tone.

“Kidnapping case?” Shouto asked instead.

“Yeah, I… I don’t…” Malichor looked down, frowning. “I… I think kids were kidnapped. less then twenty, but not by much… I… I don’t know, but.”

“Hey, don’t push yourself…”

“But I… you know that feeling when you have something on the tip of your tongue, but you can’t find the word? That’s what this feels like. I feel like I am so close, at arm’s length to the… wait… arm…”

“...arm?”

“I think… I think one of the kids lost his arm. I think… I think he was…” Malichor suddenly perked up. “I think… in context… the kids were forced to play a similar game as us.”

“What… do you mean?”

“Let me explain” Malichor pointed at Shouto with the fake arm in his hand. “I think the kids were split up into two groups. I managed to find one group of them, later the rest recovered, but… gah, all of it is muddy. I can’t recall the kids’ faces at all” Malichor shook his head, annoyed. “But… one of them… a boy, I think lost his arm. He pushed his arm under a door that closed from top to the bottom.”

“Were they also wearing bracelets?” Shouto leaned forward. “Maybe… maybe he was trying to get rid of it…?”

“...it’s possible, I don’t know. But… but… there is something else…” Malichor frowned, trying to force himself to remember.

“Look, Malichor, your memories are slowly coming back, maybe…”

“No, I… I think one kid… one kid died.”

Shouto felt like the wind was knocked out of his lungs.

“...what?”

“I think… I think the kid burnt. Or… or didn’t he? She? I’m not even sure, I don’t… Maybe he… she... was just in danger of burning…? I don’t know it’s all… Aaaargh….”

Malichor doubled over himself, clutching his head.

“Malichor!”

“I’m sorry I… I don’t remember.”

“It’s okay, don’t… don’t push yourself.”

Fire.

Burning.

Shouto’s stomach was turning, and he couldn’t put on finger on why.

You just heard a child cutting his own arm off to survive, and another probably burning to death. He thought to himself. It’s normal to feel sick.

That was all it was.

Wasn’t it?

Also, he couldn’t help but notice, how quiet Reiko was through all of this.

-

Even when they saw a cloaked, gasmasked figure disappear on a side corridor, Reiko said nothing.

“So… Zero is keeping a close eye on us, huh.”

-

After getting out of the operating room, they split up again, with Daiichi, Malichor and Reiko going through door 3 to potentially look for clues or Hitoshi, while the others went around looking for more numbered doors.

“Do you think if you have all the pieces, if you have a concrete picture… do you think there is something that justifies all of this? The Ninth Man… if something happened to Hitoshi… all of us kidnapped… is there anything that justifies all of this?”

Katsuki asked this, before they split up, and Shouto stopped.

“I can’t imagine Zero’s reasons for this. At all. Right now I don’t even care. I just want to get through this, and found out as many answers as I can.”

“But do you think there is an answer that would satisfy you? That would make you say that yes, it’s fair that you dragged us through this death trap?”

“...well I’d have to hear what Zero has to say, to decide. Right now… no. Right now, I definitely can’t imagine anything that would make Zero do this, besides his own amusement. And that… that would be something that I would never forgive.”

“So I guess we can call Zero a villain, in short” Izuku said softly.

“I don’t know what else could I call him.”

-

Shouto found the number 2 door, and stood in front of it, frowning.

If he would want to go through this, he could… do it with Malichor and Uwabami, right? Or if they find him, with Hitoshi and Reiko… but just in case, he could not think that far ahead, and just think about Malichor and Uwabami…

There was a sharp pain in his mind, and for a few moments, he felt like he could not breathe…

He felt like there was water all around him, entering his mouth, his lung, his stomach, and there was pain, pain in his back, and he was sinking, sinking, sinking, could not move…

He gasped, backing away from the door, staring at the number 2 with wide eyes.

Shouto really didn’t want to go through this door.

-

“We found Hitoshi… he is… dead.”

Shouto felt numb.

He didn’t feel sick. He didn’t feel set. He wasn’t upset.

He was… numb.

“I… would like to see him.”

“What for?” Reiko’s voice was snappish. “He is fucking dead.”

“I just…”

“Easy” Uwabami said in a gentle voice. “Let him look at Hitoshi, if it gives him a peace of his mind.”

So he went into the shower room, the other way around, thanks to the propped-open door.

And there it was.

He felt a coldness rush through him, and he was almost welcoming it, something out of his numbness, as he knelt down in front of the body, the horribly beaten up, unrecognizable body, and looked at the body’s arms.

Two mangled, broken arms.

Why am I not freaking out? This is Hitoshi’s dead body. Why am I… not upset?

What is… happening with me?

-

There were seven of them left.

They had doors number 1, 2 and 6 in front of them.

And time was ticking.

Next to all of it, Shouto almost didn’t even want to think about this weird feeling settling over him, but he couldn’t not.

He just…

Couldn’t.

Something else was going on.

And somehow, Shouto Todoroki swore he will figure out what.

He just had no idea how will he do that.

He had three hours to figure it out.

And he knew exactly where to start the questions.

Chapter Text

Hitoshi was dead - why wasn’t Shouto freaking out? Why wasn’t he like the others, deep in shock? Why wasn’t he like Reiko, dead-set on figuring out what happened?

Why was he so numb?

And then they started arguing about who wanted to go through which door, which was… such a waste of time.

And they didn’t have much of that.

And Shouto still had questions.

“Let’s just move on” Shouto spoke up suddenly “I’ll take door number 1. Who wants to come with me?”

Door 2, he wanted to avoid - no real reason, and he knew it was anything but sensible, but he couldn’t bring himself to.

And then he did a quick headcount.

“Well… it is my bracelet number, so might as well, right?” Daiichi asked.

“That’s 5+1, which means our digital root is 6. In order to have 1… Reiko, what do you say? Coming with us?”

“Whatever” Reiko turned away.

“It works” Izuku spoke up. “If you three go that way, then we will be 3+6+7+8, which means we will have 6 as a digital root, and we will be able to go through door 6. Can we agree on this?”

Nobody argued.

Maybe everyone realised it was time to stop arguing.

-

Beep.

Beep.

Beep.

“Everyone ready?”

“Just pull the damn lever, Shouto” Reiko said, preparing herself to run.

So Shouto took a deep breath, and pulled the lever.

The door opened.

Run.

-

He never wanted to get used to this.

Adrenaline was one thing, running for your life was one thing.

This helpless rush through numbered doors, though, he felt more and more like they were Zero’s lab rats, going through all the pre-planned motions helplessly.

Tick. Tick.

“Here it is!”

Beep.

Beep.

Beep.

Daiichi pulled the lever.

The ticking stopped.

Shouto took a deep breath.

“Let’s see what did Zero plan for us this time.”

-

“Reiko. Can I ask you a question?”

“You’re gonna ask it either way, so why aren’t you getting on with it?”

Reiko’s voice was apathetic as the two of them went through a room full of nautical charts, and Daiichi worked in the next room.

“Were you one of the kids kidnapped nine years ago?”

Reiko looked at him, face carefully blank.

“Yes. Any more questions?”

“...what happened?”

“Why should I tell you?”

Shouto looked away, back to the charts.

“Because… because I think the two cases are connected. That kidnapping… and this case.”

“Why?”

“Because you are here. Because Malichor is here, who also worked on it. And you were forced to play a game similar to this…”

“Not similar.”

“...huh?”

“Not similar. Exactly the same.”

Shouto turned around, looking at Reiko, but she wasn’t looking at him now.”

“...what?”

“Exactly the same. Same ship. Or an exact replica of this, rather, as that one sank as well obviously. Well, not all of us. The other half of the kids were in a building that was built to be a replica of the ship.”

“Wait, hold on…”

“It was simple, really. They kidnapped the kids in pairs. Siblings or close friends - and one of them was Quirkless. Well, that was the plan” Reiko smiled darkly. “They made mistakes, they thought I was Quirkless. They put us, so-called-Quirkless kids into a sinking ship. Told our friends, siblings in the other building, that they had to solve the puzzles, and transmit the answers through us through a…”

“...morphogenetic field?”

Raiko finally turned around, looking at him.

“Heard about it?”

“Yeah… I discussed it with Uwabami and Izuku before… sorry, go on.”

“Right. They had to transmit their solutions, and we had to receive them… and try to tap into their Quirks. Try to share it, in a way.”

“...did it work?”

“Well, a lot of us received information” Reiko sounded unsure now. “It… is hard to explain. Almost a sense of déja vu. Something suddenly popping into your head, like you had seen that before.”

Or maybe as if knowing something you shouldn’t?

He mentally shook himself.

“And Quirks?”

“Nah. No Quirk sharing” Reiko shook his head. “That one didn’t work.”

Silence for a few moments.

“You… I mean Malichor…”

“I think he was the one who found the kids in the building” Reiko shook her head. “I never met him personally, but he sent out more pros to help us out, and got us off the ship.”

There was silence for a few moments, before the door opened, and Daiichi poked his head in.

“Are you kids okay?”

“Why wouldn’t we be?” Shouto looked at him.

“Just figured I’d check on you…”

“Now you’ve done so” Shouto’s voice was sharp. “You can go back looking, then.”

Daiichi looked a bit surprised, but pulled his head out, closing the door again.

Why… did Shouto snap at him?

There was absolutely no reason to speak to Daiichi that way.

Probably just the stress… right?

Then Shouto took a deep breath and turned back to Reiko.

“And he said that… someone lost his hand?”

“Yup. Hitoshi. He was my partner… submitting data to me through the field.”

Shouto moved quickly, grabbing Reiko’s shoulders.

“Are you serious?”

“Of course I am” Reiko glared at him, the things shaking in the room as a result of her Quirk, and her anger. “He has… had a fake arm. His left arm.”

“Reiko… Reiko listen to me… the body behind door 3  Did you take a good look at him?”

“I had no intention of seeing my childhood frie--”

“Reiko, the body had two broken arms.”

Reiko’s eyes widened.

“...are you serious? You… you are not lying are you? I swear, Shouto Todoroki if you are lying…”

“I’m not. That body… it can’t be Hitoshi then.”

She trembled, and sat down on one of the chairs, taking a deep, deep breath, as if a great burden had fallen off her shoulders.

“But… you said you had psychic connection…”

“Had. Past tense. That one time” Reiko shook her head. “I managed to talk with some other kids later, after we all got back to our normal lives… it worked for none of them later. I think at least for now, the research into the morphogenetic field is so new, and so unsure, this could only work, if similar scenarios happened to people who were emotionally connected… That’s why they kidnapped siblings or friends, and had them go through the exact same thing. Hadn’t managed to use it since.”

“Kind of a useless skill…”

“It is… now that I’m thinking about the connections… Malichor saving the ones in the building, Hitoshi and me both in the game… I think Uwabami might have been one of the pros helping us out. It was kind of chaotic, though. Too many pros went out, it got too crowded, so most of them had to go another place before saving could be finished..”

“That is just three people, maybe four, if it was really Uwabami. What about the rest of us?”

“Good question. I’m sure I had seen none of you on the ship, and I think the masterminds didn’t want to risk being on an actually sinking ship so I never saw them either. I don’t know Shouto. Were you in the building perhaps?”

“I most definitely wasn’t.”

It was at this point that Daiichi opened the door again, this time with a grave expression.

“Kids… I managed to open the door, and… you should see what’s in the captain’s quarters.”

-

A dead body. That’s what was there.

A dead body in a captain’s clothes, with lots of surveillance monitors. Shouto looked at the body, cold feeling rushing over his mind… but then he turned to the monitors, and pressed a button, so the letters Z E R O flashed on screens.

“Kind of an overkill isn’t it?”

“You don’t think it’s Zero either do you?” Reiko asked, kneeling next to the body.

“Obviously not. It’s almost like Zero is taunting us - he called himself the captain of the ship, now here’s this guy… the monitor… all that’s missing is a bracelet with the number 0.”

“Well, this might have been a zero” Reiko raised a shattered bracelet. “I think he had to be wearing this.”

“Well, I’m pretty sure Zero doesn’t bother with bracelets” Shouto shook his head. “Come on. Let’s get out of the room, and get back to the others.”

As they started to get to work, Shouto once again looked back at the mustached dead man.

Where… have I seen this man before?

-

There were two 9 doors.

At this point, Shouto figured that there was no reason to keep being surprised by whatever Zero had thrown at them.

While the others were counting, he looked at Uwabami from the corner of his eyes.

“So… if I say a kidnapping case nine years ago, what do you associate to?”

“Don’t you start as well” Uwabami sighed, annoyed. “Malichor was bugging me with that through the entire way through Door 6. Yes, I was one of the heroes sent out to wait for a bunch of kids who were kept captive on a ship. No, I don’t know details, because a big research facility got on fire and I was sent there to rescue people from immediate danger. So I never actually met any of the kids there, or knew many details about the case.”

That made four people, all connected to the same incident.

This was starting to shape up to be not an coincidence anymore.

-

“There’s no way we can all go through them. The only way is if I stay behind” Malichor looked at the others. “Daiichi, Katsuki and Shouto go through one of the 9 doors, and Reiko, Izuku and Uwabami go through the other. Go.”

“No way we’ll leave you here” Izuku shook his head. “Even if we get out, the ship is going to sink, and no way we would be able to come back in time to help you. We don’t know how Zero plans to take us off the ship. That would be… leaving you to die.”

“It’s fine” Malichor smiled. “I’m a pro, kid. I am prepared to sacrifice myself for others. So… go back, continue your studies. You all are Hero Course students aren’t you? You get it.”

Izuku grew quiet, and looked down.

Shouto and Reiko exchanged a glance.

They both knew that with Hitoshi being alive, they would be able to all get out, but… there were three problems.

One. Someone did seemingly try to kill Hitoshi.

Two. They had no idea who tried to kill him.

Three. They still had no idea where Hitoshi himself was.

So they stayed quiet.

“Alright, enough with a melodrama, because that ain’t fucking happening” Katsuki suddenly spoke up. “I will tell you what’s happening - not one person will stay behind, but three.”

“Th--- what are you talking about, Katsuki?”

“Easy. Watch me, IcyHot.”

Shouto knew how fast Katsuki could be, but this time, it seemed like he moved without anyone even noticing, and then he was over Daiichi… one of his hands slammed down on Daiichi’s back of his neck, pressing him forward, and in the other…

There was a gun.

Also aimed at his head.

“So maybe my Quirk isn’t deadly enough to kill your ass, but you bet my gun is. So. How about nobody moves?”

“Kacchan!”

Izuku gasped, and moved forward, but stopped, as Katsuki’s finger tensed on the trigger.

“Do not fucking test me Deku. How about you go over, and validate your bracelet over one of the doors?”

“...what?”

“You heard me. yank your ass over there.”

Izuku looked at Shouto, and Shouto looked back at Katsuki.

Katsuki Bakugo was not a villain, nor a killer. Shouto knew that.

But at that point… when he looked at him… for some reason…

Shouto knew that Katsuki would have pulled the trigger.

“Go, Izuku. We will… figure something right.”

“I bet you fucking will, IcyHot. Are you moving yet, Deku, or not?”

And he did, Izuku walked over, and put his hand on one of the REDs.

Beep.

“Uwabami, you too.”

Beep.

“Come on, Daiichi. Get your ass moving.”

Beep.

Beep.

“Pull the lever.”

And then the four of them were gone.

-

“Shouto, what the hell is up with your classmate? And damn, I should have known not to leave that gun in that box! I should have kept it for safekeeping...”

There was no answer, so there was just silence in the chapel they were all stuck in now.

No answer whatsoever.

What was there to say?

Katsuki… what has gotten into you?

Why do you… hate Daiichi so much?

There was hatred in Katsuki’s eyes, and not his usual anger either. It wasn’t the kind of anger that happened when he was losing, when he was competitive. It wasn’t his usual bitter anger, when he was doing his best to pushing himself towards.

This was pure hatred, with the complete willingness to kill, if needed.

What is going on, in this game? Why are we here?

And then there was a knocking coming from the coffin.

-

“There is no code on how to open it!” Reiko sounded frustrated. “Nothing! Come on, this can’t be the end…”

No… it couldn’t be.

There was a phrase, a phrase, a little poem coming up from the back of his mind.

 

Truth had gone, truth had gone, and truth had gone.

Ah, now truth is asleep in the darkness of the sinister hand.

 

“What…”

“What are you mumbling?”

Shouto didn’t answer the question, just looked at his own bracelet.

Sinister hand…

Right. Left. Right. Left. Right. Left.

A series of numbers, that he leaned forward to enter into the coffin’s side.

And the coffin opened.

“Ow, ow, about time. I was getting seriously cramped in here.”

-

“Wow. You know, for all his asshattery and anger issues, I didn’t imagine Katsuki would be the one to snap like that.”

Hitoshi scratched the back of his neck, and then pushed himself aways from the side of the coffin.

“So. We can assume both doors lead the same way, right?”

They do.

“They have to” Malichor replied. “That always had been the case.”

“Then, let’s try to catch them. Bracelets 2 and 4 and 5 and 7. It works perfectly.”

So they lined up in front of the other, non-occupied door.

How… do I know things I shouldn’t, though?

The code… the morphogenetic field… the kidnapping…

How do I…

He took a deep breath.

Not the time now.

They had to catch up to Katsuki.

-

Beep.

Beep.

Beep.

Beep.

Hitoshi’s hand rested on the lever, as he looked back.

“Ready?”

“Ready when you are” Shouto replied.

So Hitoshi pulled the lever.

The door opened.

Run.

Chapter Text

Running, running, looking for the other device.

Ticking.

This wasn’t the first time, but Shouto really, really wished it would be the last one.

So he slammed his hand on it.

Beep.

Beep.

Beep.

Beep.

Reiko was the last one who yanked the lever down.

The ticking stopped.

And now they were in a library.

-

They didn’t talk much during their work in the library, solving different puzzles - but during it, they had to close themselves into a smaller, more cluttered room.

A study, probably.

“So. While we are working can we talk about the elephant in the room?“

Shouto spoke up, looking at the other three in the same room.

“You two had solved most of these puzzles before. Nine years ago” He pointed at Hitoshi and Reiko. “And you had a hand in freeing them.” Pointed at Malichor. “Something is certainly amiss here.”

“What?!”

Malichor’s eyes jumped between the three of them. Reiko looked down. Hitoshi just waved a bit.

“Kind of hurtful you don’t remember me. You were the one who grabbed me after my arm was cut off, and gave me first aid with your power.”

“...it was you? What the hell, why did you two stay quiet about it?”

“Would you have said something?” Hitoshi said in a dry voice. “Nine years of getting over what happened, and suddenly thrown back into it. With even less explanation than before, other than the try to activate telepathy and transmit your Quirk to your friend or your sibling or they might die. Oh, but have your own damn Quirk negated with some sort of drug, so you are apparently playing in hard mode. Yeah, no. Can’t blame me for being quiet… mostly.”

“Mostly?” Shouto asked, but Malichor raised his hand.

“Wait. Tell me more about the experiment, because I understood every one of those words separately, but…”

So Reiko and Hitoshi caught Malichor up on morphogenetic fields.

Because apparently this was very relevant to their lives now.

-

“So… let me get this straight…” Malichor said, while Shouto kept solving puzzles. Time was ticking, after all. “Siblings, or close friends were kidnapped, where one of them was Quirkless, or… assumed to be Quirkless, in Reiko’s case. The Quirkless ones were put on a ship which was then made to sink… and the other team, in a simulated building, had to solve puzzles, and basically transmit the solutions and information to their Quirkless friends and siblings on the ship to save them, and the others had to try to access it. Along with their Quirks. That was the gist of it, right?”

“Right” Hitoshi nodded. “Also, we were told, that if our friends or families fail on the ship, they will also blow us up. To make it fair, they said.”

“That’s absolutely horrible.”

“No shit.”

Click.

Shouto managed to open a wardrobe, and in there, was a picture…

“But I still don’t get why didn’t you say anything!”

“I get it” Shouto said suddenly, taking out the photo. “I get exactly why did you not say anything.”

The picture had writing on its back.

 

Praying for the success of the Nonary Project

 

On the picture were, four men.

“So. We could say they were the masterminds behind your previous game, weren’t they?”

Hitoshi smiled darkly, as Reiko and Malichor gasped.

“Yeah. They were.”

“That’s… that’s Daiichi” Reiko whispered. “And the Ninth Man…”

“And that is the guy we found dressed as a captain” Shouto finished, and just pointed at the fourth, skinny figure. “And I’d bet anything, that the fourth man is the one we found dressed in Hitoshi’s clothes.”

Shouto felt nothing.

He should have felt shocked - Daiichi, a jovial, nice, selfless man, being responsible for the original project?

But he felt nothing. Absolutely no surprise whatsoever.

“This wasn’t just a random Nonary Game” Malichor whispered. “This is… a revenge game. Hitoshi…”

“Don’t look at me” Hitoshi shook his head lazily. “Reiko and I aren’t the only ones here, who participated in a Nonary Game previously, you know.”

“What…?”

A shiver now ran down on on Shouto’s spine.

Someone… someone who hated Daiichi.

Because Daiichi had forced them into playing a game like this before.

Someone who had probably every reason to hate Daiichi and his other conspirators.

There was one person whom Shouto had already seen burning with such hatred towards Daiichi.

“Don’t tell me… Katsuki?!”

-

Katsuki Bakugo.

Shouto couldn’t forget the burning hatred in his eyes when he pressed a gun to Daiichi’s head, as if it took every bit of his self-control to not pull the trigger.

“Yeah” Hitoshi nodded. “He was with me. In the building. He was one of the participants too.”

There was a question.

A question Shouto wanted to ask, more than anything.

But at this point, a door clicked, as Reiko turned a key in the lock.

“Let’s go. We have to catch up to Zero.”

“...what?”

“Isn’t it obvious?” Reiko turned back, eyes unreadable. “Katsuki went through a Nonary Game, and he wanted to take revenge. So he organized the next one.”

“W---wait! Hitoshi, wait, did… did someone die during your game in the building? Did someone… burn?”

That’s what Malichor wasn’t sure about, right?

Hitoshi turned around, and started to walk outside.

“I wonder.”

“That is not an answer!”

“No, really, I wonder. One would think you would have perfect memories about it, right? But I have two versions in my head. One, where a kid burns. Two, where the same kid gets out just before the incinerator would activate” Hitoshi looked back from the door. “I wonder which one is the truth? Well, I guess we’ll find out soon, won’t we? As soon as we reach Zero.”

Zero…

Could it… really be Katsuki?

-

After running through the corridor, they reached an incinerator.

Just looking at it, made Shouto’s stomach burn.

“Oh great, noooot great memories” Hitoshi groaned.

“What?”

“This is where I lost my arm” Hitoshi shook his head. “Well, in an incinerator room just like this one. Going in is easy. Getting out… well, it was a complicated one. At first, we could leave via a numbered door, but we didn’t have good numbers… I was about to stay behind as I was the extra one, but I slid out under the door, and made the door… get rid of the bracelet. But when a bit later Daiichi dragged a kid back, and threw him back in, he couldn’t get out unless he solved a puzzle. So I guess there are multiple settings.”

“...did the kid solve the puzzle?”

“Didn’t you listen to me? I have no idea. But let’s get in, shall we?”

Inside, there was total chaos.

-

Katsuki’s arm was bleeding, and for some reason, Daiichi seemed to have the gun, and it was hard to tell that between Uwabami, Daiichi and Katsuki, who was fighting whom.

Most likely everyone was fighting everyone.

And Izuku was leaning to the side of the incinerator, face flushed, shivering, breathing heavily - he was obviously trying to push himself away from the wall, to join in - and some dents in the ground showed that Izuku probably participated in the struggle before, but now, he appeared too weak to do so.

Did his fever come back…?

Shouto moved instinctively towards him, but Hitoshi yanked him back.

“I’ll check on him you do something about that mess” He said, pointing at the commotion.

So he did - stepping forward, letting a surge of ice towards the fighting parties.

Katsuki realised first what was going on, and he jumped back. Daiichi’s foot got stuck on the floor, making him stumble and lose his gun.

Shouto stopped the ice before it reached Uwabami, and Reiko used her own Quirk to push the gun further away.

“What the---” Daiichi looked around. “Shouto wha-- Hitoshi?!”

“Surprised, you asshole?” Hitoshi’s mile was dark, as he was stepping away from Izuku. “You were probably quite sure you killed me.”

“What, what the…”

“And not just him. You killed the Ninth Man. As far as I can tell, for four reasons” Shouto stepped forward. “One - he had the number 9 bracelet. If you add 9 to any combinations, it doesn’t change the digital root, therefore someone having that bracelet can go through any door they wishes. Also making it possible to open a door with just two people. You didn’t want to let him have that power. Two - You wanted to have that power, naturally. Three - he knew who you were, obviously, and you didn’t want him to risk telling it to us. And four… You wanted to see if Zero’s game was real. So you probably told him that you realised the rules had changed compared to the games you used to run, that so the DEADs were modified. That’s why he ended up going through the door. And you got exactly what you wanted, didn’t you?”

Daiichi’s eyes were wide.

“How---”

“How many games?” Shouto hissed, leaning forward. “How many games did you guys run, all over the globe? How many children have you kidnapped? How many of them got traumatized, permanently injured, or even died? Can you even keep count?”

Daiichi was spluttering, completely unable to find words.

And where did Shouto’s own words came from?

How did… he know these things?

How did he know these this for sure?

But he couldn’t stop.

“The other two who died… the one who you killed on accident instead of Hitoshi because you were in such a hurry… and the guy in a captain’s clothes, obviously also killed by you, probably to cover your identity… the four of you. You were the ones responsible for the games which started nine years ago. And that… is why we are all here. Isn’t that right, Katsuki? Or should I call you Zero?”

-

Malichor seemed to have healed Katsuki’s arm - after all, it didn’t hinder much about how dangerous he was otherwise, and Katsuki’s eyes bore into his soul, as he looked at Shouto.

“Zero?” Uwabami whispered.

Shouto didn’t look away from Katsuki.

“You were there during the same game that Hitoshi and Reiko participated in” Shouto said softly. “You were there in the same group that Hitoshi was in. You probably organized this to take revenge on the ones who put you through those games. That’s how we ended up here. That’s why you became Zero. Isn’t that right?”

Katsuki scoffed, folding his arms in front of his chest.

“Partially.”

“What am I wrong about?”

“It’s not that you are wrong , IcyHot, but it’s not the whole truth” Katsuki’s voice was almost level, but his eyes had a determined fire in them. “I am Zero, and the purpose of this game was...well, I like to call it justice, rather than revenge, but the basics are the same. Both of these statements are true, but not the whole truth.”

“Then tell me. What else.”

“First of all, I am not the only Zero.”

“...what?”

“Never considered that, did you?” Katsuki slowly grinned. “But yup, that is right. I am one Zero, but not the only one. The multiples of zero are still zero, jackass. I wasn’t the main planner, I was more like… a second-in-command, so to speak. A right-hand man.”

“It’s hard to imagine you willingly taking second place to someone…” Shouto said, and Katsuki shrugged.

“Context and shit. Whatever. And like, justice was only one reason. If it just would have been justice, I never would have dragged innocents through this shit. Not to mention ones who went through this already once. No way. I would have became a hero and brought them all down somehow then. But no, there was another reason - to save someone.”

“How could this save someone?” Reiko asked, spreading her arms, but Katsuki didn’t even look at her, his eyes were fixed on Shouto.

“There are two questions here which can help you figure out. One. Every child had a partner when they were kidnapped. A sibling, or a friend. I have no siblings, and I never had many friends growing up. So - can you guess who was my partner?”

There was really only one candidate.

Shouto’s eyes darted towards where he had last seen Izuku, behind Hitoshi - and now he was gone.

“Wha… Izuku?”

“Did he go outside?”

A boy burnt…

Or didn’t burn…

Izuku Midoriya…

Shouto moved, grabbing Katsuki’s shoulders, yanking him close.

“Tell me. Did someone die during your games? Did someone burn?”

“There were many messups during that experiment” Katsuki said, unflinching. “Obviously there were kids, like Reiko, who were taken as Quirkless, despite not being one. Also, for some reason, Deku and I ended up in the same group, when we were supposed to be separated. It wasn’t a very well-coordinated one. I guess the first Nonary Game was a colossal fuckup, wasn’t it, Daiichi? But either way it didn’t matter to you did it? After all, the first one was a learning experience, a trial run, so you could say that we barely even counted, did we?”

Katsuki didn’t even look at him, but his words were dripping venom - and despite all of it, Daiichi didn’t answer, but really, none of them paid attention to him right now, as he was frozen in ice.

“That wasn’t an answer.”

“Tell me an answer to this, IcyHot” Katsuki leaned forward, their faces almost touching. “...how did you know how to open the coffin Hitoshi was in?”

Shouto let go of Katsuki, taking a step back.

“What…”

“Were you surprised when you found out about Daiichi’s role in the Nonary Games?” Katsuki pressed on. “How did you know about the morphogenetic field theory? How did you know that what made Daiichi kill the Ninth Man?”

Shouto was slowly backing away, shaking his head.

“How?” Katsuki didn’t stop. “How did you know these things you shouldn’t have known?”

-

Shouto had no answer to these questions.

How did he know these things?

But the answer is easy.

He knew because I knew.

Chapter Text

How did he know these things?

But the answer is easy.

He knew because I knew.

And who am I?

Well…

I don’t have a number.

Or better yet… my number right now didn’t matter.

But through Shouto’s eyes, I was watching, I was watching everything that was reflected in his eyes.

I was listening. Every sound that vibrated his eardrums, I listened.

When this started, I had known nothing about him.

I didn’t even know he existed.

But now? Now I felt like I knew everything about him.

Because right now, I know what he was thinking, what he was feeling, what he was sensing.

My mind, my consciousness… no, it wasn’t inside of him, that is not an accurate description. But my mind resonated towards him, into him, around him.

Through the morphic field, him and I, we were resonating together.

It didn’t matter that there were nine years separating us.

It was like my life, my experiences rippled through the field, even through time. Or maybe his experiences rippled through the field to me.

It was hard to tell which way did the connection open up, but it definitely did.

-

Numbers… numbers on my wrist, and around everyone’s wrists.

Kacchan there, he was always there, and it was something that was a constant like always, something comforting, and so many other kids, nine of us, as always. Just like it would be, nine years later.

I wasn’t supposed to be there, but I was happy that I could be with Kacchan, as mean as he could get.

But right now, where I was, sitting alone in the incinerator, it didn’t matter.

I was alone.

We got out before, we opened the door, and there was blood, so many blood and screaming, because Hitoshi… because his hand…

I had never seen that much blood before.

There was a spiral staircase. The pro that came to help us (I would later learn that his name was Malichor), he was carrying Hitoshi, and Kacchan ran up first - he was the strongest of all of us. Other kids felt safer, him leading us.

I stayed last, helping the younger ones get started too.

And I…

I made a mistake.

I stopped. I got distracted, I looked back, because I saw that pool of blood, Hitoshi’s blood, and I felt sick, I felt the urge to throw up, so I doubled over, and let it all out.

It was as if all the hours of stress finally came out, and by the time I straightened up, he… he was there.

In nine years, I would call him Daiichi.

Back then, I just screamed, as he grabbed me, and threw me back into the incinerator.

Solve the puzzle.

He grinned, a vicious grin, through the window to the door.

Solve the puzzle, and get out. Tap into the morphogenetic field. Or… you burn. Your choice.

-

I can hear Kacchan shouting, him kicking the door, Malichor trying to pry it open, but I can’t solve this… I just can’t.

I had never seen something this complicated before, and the time is…

Incinerator activates in… five minutes.

It’s… hard to explain what is happening to me in these moments.

-

As soon as the games started, as I woke up, terrified in the first cabin…

Have you ever tried watching two shows through the same tv? Looking at two films running on the same screen… it was something like that.

In the mirror, I saw myself… and a teenager with mismatched eyes, hair, and a burn mark on his face.

And I saw things happen through the eyes of a teenager I had never met before.

I had no idea who he was, and why did his mind attracted mine. At first I thought it could have been someone on the ship, but…

But through his eyes, I had seen…

Myself. Myself and Kacchan, and Hitoshi, older. Nine years older. And...

This means I can get out, right? I just… have to wait for Shouto to get there.

Shouto. That was his name.

He has to become someone important for me, so that my mind could connect to him, right?

It wasn’t going through this the whole time, though. Sometimes the connection faded, sometimes I saw more of what was happening.

And here… while I am sitting here, in the incinerator…

Have you ever played video games with multiple choices? Some of them have a flowchart included, so you can easily backtrack, see where you branched away.

Time is something like that.

With one huge difference, though.

Usually you have no idea where would your decisions lead, what would happen. There is also no way you could reload to an earlier save. Time doesn’t work that way.

But now, I… I see them all. Through the morphogenetic field, I see all the choices, and all the decisions that can play out.

I saw Hitoshi burn with Daiichi. I saw another option where Daiichi stabbed all of us. Another where someone else became convinced we were all to blame for this, and killed us all. Many, many others.

I had seen them all.

And I helped.

I couldn’t decide in Shouto’s case, I couldn’t make his choices for him, this is not that kind of connection. But I could send him information… information I obtained by observing other timelines, other possibilities and I sent them over to Shouto’s mind.

I knew it, so I let him know it too.

-

That’s not all I know, though.

Right now, I have no number that counts.

I am Zero.

Or rather… I am less than zero. Zero is what I will be.

In nine years… I will be Zero.

One of them, at least. Right, Kacchan? Always on my side, even if you tried to push me away, huh? At least… I’m happy it’s you.

But now, he couldn’t help me. And he can’t help me in nine years either. Not any longer.

Right now, the only one that can help me…

Because I...

I also remember burning.

I remember dying.

I remember it, and I don’t think I could ever forget it.

And the only one… the only one who can make sure this doesn’t happen…

Because I…

This is…

This is the end of the road for me otherwise.

My fate… my life…

It’s all in Shouto’s hand now.

Chapter Text

It was hard to breathe, and Shouto tried to back away, but Katsuki lounged forward, taking Shouto’s face between his hands, and forced him to look into his eyes.

“You asked me - did someone burn? Well, IcyHot, I’m going to answer you” Katsuki hissed. “It’s all up to you. Because I remember, IcyHot. I remember him burning. I remember him screaming and burning. I remember the screaming stopping, I remember how the incinerator was smelling after it stopped. I remember stumbling inside, and there being almost no trace of him anymore, apart from a horrid smell. I remember it all. But I also remember him opening the door the last minute, running out, tears streaming down his face, and clinging into me like the little clingy bastard he can get. Which one is the real one, Shouto Todoroki? It’s all up to you.”

Incinerator lockdown in one minute.

Once again, Katsuki was quick, and he had the gun again, and then pressed his hand to the ice at Daiichi’s legs.

Just a little explosion, and then he grabbed Daiichi, yanking him to his feet.

“Move. Everyone else stays.”

Incinerator lockdown in thirty seconds.

And Daiichi moved, as if he had… lost all will to fight.

Incinerator is locking down in three… two… one… zero.

The incinerator doors locked down, Shouto took a shaking breath.

“That’s it, time out. What is going on?” Uwabami looked completely lost now.

So did Malichor.

Hitoshi and Reiko… they were probably starting to get it.

Or already got it.

The puzzle rose up in the middle of the room.

-

-

Incinerator starting in… five minutes.

I can’t solve this. I can’t solve this. I can’t solve this.

I know I can’t, I barely even recognize what am I supposed to do.

But beyond all of it, beyond my own panic - I could feel Shouto’s presence, as he also moved over to the puzzle, looking at it.

My connection to him had been on and off through the whole game, I don’t even know if he noticed me helping him. I hope he did.

Because now, for the first and last time, I… I need him to help me .

...help me.

-

-

“Izuku, are you here?”

He was speaking out loud, and realised Malichor and Uwabami exchanged confused looks.

“Uh… he isn’t. He probably had the most brains out of all of us and left while we were in chaos. We should get out, before Katsuki ends up hurting him too.”

“He wouldn’t” Shouto snapped. “Well… not like what you are thinking he would. And especially not here. Not now.”

It was crazy.

It was completely insane.

Shouto could not make sense of it, at all.

But still, he put his hand on the monitor.

“Izuku, please, can you hear me?”

Incinerator starting in four minutes.

-

-

“Shouto?”

I gasped out, audibly, putting my hand on the monitor.

“Is that… is that you? Are you…”

-

-

Shouto could hear him. He could hear Izuku’s voice, it was more like a memory, or an echo in his mind.

Or he was totally losing his mind.

But if he wasn’t…

“Listen, Izuku, do you see what am I doing?”

-

-

“Y---yeah. Yeah, I do. I do see it.”

And I did - I saw it through his eyes, and I saw his own face, his own, determined face reflecting in the monitor.

“Shouto, I… I don’t know how to do this.”

-

-

Incinerator starting in three minutes.

“It’s okay. It’s okay, I do. Just… do what I am doing, okay?”

Really… who gives a seven year old child a puzzle about advanced genetics?

Honestly… if it weren’t for his father’s obsession with genetics…

Heh. It seemed like Shouto will have to thank his father for this. That would be a first.

So Shouto raised his hand, and…

-

-

And I raised my hand, following Shouto’s movements.

And we started to work.

-

-

Incinerator starting in two minutes...

Shouto understood.

It still made no sense, but he pieced it together.

Nine years ago, Izuku Midoriya got forced into a Nonary Game - and he saw Shouto’s own game happening through the morphogenetic field.

Nine years ago, Izuku Midoriya got trapped in this incinerator. Or one just like this.

Nine years ago, Izuku Midoriya burnt to death.

Nine years ago, Izuku Midoriya could reach out to Shouto Todoroki’s timeline, nine years later, saving his own life.

Midoriya…

Izuku...

Zero.

This wasn’t just a game for justice.

This was a game of survival for Izuku.

And Shouto was the only one who could help him.

-

-

Incinerator starting in one minute...

Click.

Incinerator stopping. Door is opening.

I didn’t notice when did I start crying, but I jumped to my feet, and started to run towards the exit, and there was Kacchan, basically falling right into the incinerator.

This time, basically for the first time ever, he didn’t push me away, when I hugged him.

-

-

“Shouto!”

There were hands under his arms, as Hitoshi and Reiko yanked him to his feet.

“You did great” Shouto basically felt Hitoshi’s breath on his skin as he whispered to him, pulling him out the door. “But now, we have to leave. We have to go.”

So Shouto started to move towards the exit.

-

-

I ran, and Kacchan pulled me by the hand.

He told me he just didn’t want me to get lost again, with words that would have probably made his mom snap at him. With even cruder words.

I felt my connection fading to Shouto, as we ran upwards, and I just smiled a little.

“...thank you. I can’t wait to meet you.”

Because I will.

Isn’t that right?

-

-

“...yeah. We will.”

Shouto wasn’t sure if Izuku, the young, little Izuku could hear him anymore, but they still ran.

The spiral stairs seemed like they would never end, but they were running, running like hell, none of them wanting to slow down.

There were no questions, not now. Shouto was sure that once they were out, Malichor and Uwabami especially will bomb him with questions about what was going on, but for now, the five of them ran up, and up and up.

Until they were up, and opening the last door didn’t even take a RED.

As soon as they opened it, and stepped over the threshold, the bracelets gave out with a small, almost sad beep, and they fell down to the floor.

None of them caught them.

The Nonary Game was over.

“Are you kidding me?! This… this is…”

Reiko actually burst out laughing.

They weren’t on a ship.

“This is the same damn building” Hitoshi shook his head, bewildered. “I was actually in the same damn building I was in nine years ago.”

This wasn’t the last bit of surprise too, as they climbed down some ladders, they saw a small minivan, with tire tracks leaving away next to it.

“Don’t tell me two high schoolers just drove off…” Uwabami looked at the tire tracks, frowning.

“Well, they might have made Daiichi drive…”

But Hitoshi walked over the van, opened it up… and now it was his turn to laugh, so the others went there, and their jaws dropped.

In the minivan, there was Daiichi, tied up.

With three other, also tied up figures.

And none of them were dead, at all.

“Zero left us with one last surprise, huh” Malichor shook his head, looking at the unconscious men. “And this time, look at this. It isn’t even a bad surprise it is?”

It most definitely wasn’t but…

How was this… even possible?

Chapter Text

“...I still think this is a bad idea Kat… Kacchan.”

“Oh great, all that fucking bullshit is over, so you are switching back.”

“Yup! It felt… wrong. And at least I tried! Unlike you.”

“Whatever.”

“But really, Kacchan, you driving is like the worst idea ever. What if we get pulled over?”

“That’s what you are worried about? That?! After the past day, that’s what you are freaking out over? I think if we get into legal trouble after today, the least of our concerns will be my underage driving without a license, fucking Deku.”

“...it’s not like we killed anyone… or caused anyone’s deaths… not really.”

“Kidnapping, hello? Keeping them there against their will? Endangering the fuck out of them? Yeaaah, that would be a long list of crimes on our records.”

Not like Izuku didn’t know that.

He sighed, leaned back, and wished he could pull up his legs to wrap his arms around them, but that would have been even more unsafe, so just wrapped his arm around his own body.

For the past nine years, as much as Izuku Midoriya knew, he was a singular, unique existence.

A Schrödinger’s cat, if you will.

He was a living paradox.

Just like with Schrödinger’s cat, you can’t know for sure the cat is alive or dead, unless you open the box. Similarly, you couldn’t know whether Izuku Midoriya was alive or dead, until the time came for another Nonary Game for them to participate in.

It wasn’t… an easy existence, knowing what he knew, and what had to be done.

Izuku Midoriya got saved by Shouto Todoroki, from nine years in the future. But Shouto Todoroki could only save him, if Izuku Midoriya was alive to befriend him, and to organize this Nonary Game.

Izuku Midoriya could only exist, if he eventually became Zero, and organized a death game.

A death game, and he knew exactly that it had a lot of other possible outcomes.

It wasn’t easy.

Honestly, he couldn’t have done that, without his anchors.

-

One of his anchors was obviously Shouto Todoroki. The one his mind found when he was seven, through a bond that he didn’t even know it was going to exist one day.

“That suggests some fucking hardcore connection” Kacchan said back then when they were discussing it, frowning. “Is he gonna be your boyfriend, or something?”

All these years, and Izuku still didn’t know why exactly was this that happened.

Why Shouto Todoroki, of all people.

Then again, maybe one could say that they were doomed to have a strong bond, because Izuku himself knew that they were going to have a strong bond.

Which… caused some issues.

“I feel like I am tricking him” Izuku said in a soft voice, one day, and that day, his fever was there, not terribly strong, but he was shivering, despite the warm weather. “That I’m just a fake friend, only getting close to him because I know that’s the only way I’m going to live.”

“Bullshit” Kacchan was always there when he wavered, quick to the point, frowning. “This fucking field does not accept fucking fakes, okay? Connections are a two-way street. If only he would be attached, it wouldn’t work. Period.”

“What if I’m only attached to the fact that he is the biggest thing anchoring me to my life?”

“Oh for crying out loud… as if you could be that cold and calculating.”

-

His second anchor… well, it wasn’t that hard to figure that out, right?

The one who never left his side during either Nonary Games - especially because of what happened during that time when he did leave his side during their first game.

One who also put on the name of Zero, along with him.

He almost never actually talked about what went down, about his memories and emotions, and Izuku never pressed him. When there were other people around them, he kept pushing him away, kept talking him down, as if nothing happened.

But sometimes…

One time he almost literally kicked down his door.

“Fucking idiot, my memories about you fucking burning is getting stronger and stronger, what the shit are you doing?!”

Sometimes, it wasn’t easy to keep going on, and that day too, he was lying on his back, breathing heavily, his fever spiking up.

And Kacchan was there, shaking him.

“Don’t you fucking dare give up. Hear me?”

“I don’t think that I… that I…” It was hard to breathe, his lips were dry. “...I don’t think I should put people through all of that… all of that… just so I could live. I can’t be that selfish.”

“Like hell you fucking can’t! Are you gonna let those bastards win, and get away with it too? If you can’t keep thinking about your own fucking fate, then at least think about bringing down justice on them, you fucking idiot!”

At these times, when Izuku would lapse, when he would waver, Katsuki would grab him, pull him close. Not quite a hug, but he kept him close, until his resolve strengthened enough that his fever went back down.

-

Most people didn’t have these double memories. Katsuki and Hitoshi had them, and probably the other kids from the building too, being so close to the event. The kids especially, most of them also managing to reach the morphogenetic field, but Malichor was the same, even without a connection, and to a lesser extent. And because of conflicting memories, conflicting accounts went out, of course.

Most people in Izuku’s life didn’t notice things being weird, but Izuku did.

Sometimes, they would forget that they talked about meeting, only to turn out later, freaking out, not understanding how could they forget.

Sometimes, All Might had a look of confusion on his face, before looking at Izuku, and his face softening again.

Sometimes, Izuku’s mother would be sad, only to not remember what she was sad over.

He was a living paradox, and it rippled over to his everyday life, obviously.

Which made him wonder…

“You know, sometimes I thought you would fucking snap, and screw up” Kacchan spoke up, before Izuku could ask his question. “You had to stay passive for most of this, to not cause issues. It’s not like you at all.”

“Yeah… yeah, It wasn’t easy.” Izuku bit his lip before finally speaking up about what really did bug him. “Kacchan… what do you think what happened in other timelines, when we failed?”

The one where Hitoshi burned with Daiichi. (Katsuki let the others go.) (Of course he did.) (Izuku didn’t think Katsuki ever contacted them again, though.)

The one where Shouto got stabbed and pushed into water. (A lot of others dead too.) (Daiichi had a knife, and a tenacity for wanting to get out.) (Izuku couldn’t be sure, but he didn’t think he did.) (When replicating the project, they made sure people can get out only when certain conditions are met.)

The one where Reiko decided to take revenge. (An axe dripping in blood.) (Izuku himself was one of the first who got in her way.) (Shouto was one of the last.) (Again, he didn’t think anyone got out there either.) (He wondered whether Reiko had found Hitoshi in the coffin, though.)

The one where Izuku couldn’t help himself, and snapped, trying to stop the entire plan, because it got way, way too out of control, but because of this, he ceased to exist, without even being able to let the others free… (Katsuki didn’t react well.) (People did get out in this one, as well because Katsuki let the surviving ones go.) (Obviously.)

The one where…

Many, many options, and possibilities that he had seen through the morphogenetic field.

Many, many deaths

“What do you mean?”

“You know what I mean… I mean… in those timelines I ceased to exist… does the time rearrange itself there like people in my everyday life would remember me being always dead? Also so many people died there… did I kill them there? Did I…”

“Oh my god shut the fuck up” Katsuki groaned, hands tightening on the steering wheel. “One: I, personally, don’t give a fuck about what if-s, thank you. Two: even if that would be the case that wouldn’t be you who killed them. And three: all of this is based on the assumption that the things you saw are really things that happened in alternate timelines. That alternate timelines exist. Maybe it was more like… I don’t know, a precognition if some sort. You saw possibilities, got information out of them, sent them to IcyHot. That’s it.”

It was silent inside the car for a few moments.

“I see… kind of like reading a walkthrough in a video game.”

“Huh?”

“Like if I was reading a walkthrough about all possible routes to pick the best one. Isn’t that sort of cheating though, like learning knowledge I’m not supposed to know? I guess this entire thing was basically cheating either way… and like it’s not really the best metaphor because most games have flags that you can’t use a knowledge you don’t know yet, and then again, it’s not like I was actually controlling him, so it really falls apart so--”

“Oh my god would you stop muttering, or do I have to kiss you to shut you up?”

“Please don’t do that while you are driving, Kacchan…”

-

And for the third anchor that kept Izuku Midoriya grounded…

Well...

Chapter Text

“So is this the part where you tell us a sob story about how you wanted to do this because you are Quirkless or something?”

“I’m not Quirkless” Daiichi said on a blank voice. “I have a Quirk, even if it’s not flashy or anything, and not even useful. I literally only can control the length of my hair.”

“And yet, you have that haircut. Either way, then why did you do that?”

“There were some rich clients, who wanted their Quirkless kids to have Quirks. They felt it was a shame on their families, you know. They wanted us to ‘cure’ them.”

“So you kept running Nonary Games.”

“Yeah. But aside from life threatening danger, they could not activate bonds. Not even if we made some of them go through it over and over again, they only worked during the games. It seems like humanity is not yet ready to embrace using the morphogenetic field regularly. Maybe in a few generations.”

“Ugh. You are disgusting.”

-

Shouto was sitting in the back of the minivan, while Malichor was driving, and Uwabami and Reiko were talking with Daiichi. The other three had woken up - the Ninth Man, and the other two responsible for all of it, very confused as well, so there was a lot of arguing.

And him and Hitoshi were sitting in the back, and Shouto glanced at him.

“You know, there are a few things I still don’t get.”

“Like how could have Izuku been existing if he probably died?”

“I don’t… even want to process that part yet.”

Izuku died, yet didn’t.

“You know Schrödinger’s cat, right? You seal a cat in the box, and there is 50% chance you let in a poison that kills it. But you can’t know if you did or didn’t, unless you open it, and until then, Schrödinger’s cat is simultaneously dead and alive. He was essentially a living paradox.”

“That’s what he was, I guess” Shouto muttered. “He was dead and alive, and we couldn’t know, until I managed to save him. But… unlike the cat, he was definitely there. He was existing, talked with us, I… he helped me so much. He was alive .”

Hitoshi nodded slowly.

“And yet, we, who had been there, still remembered him burning as well. But if you want less headache, think about this as a stable time loop. You saved him, because of course you did! He was here, as a living proof, that you’d succeed. Which meant that obviously, Izuku and Katsuki had to become Zero, otherwise the loop would not happen. The paradox that was Izuku Midoriya’s own existence had to resolve itself.”

“Didn’t you miss someone from that lineup?”

Hitoshi looked at him, silently.

Shouto continued.

“Other things I don’t get: how come we thought the three of Daiichi’s partners had died? We checked on all the bodies. Sure, the guy who we first thought was you and the captain guy are both a bit banged up, but not as horribly as we had seen. While the Ninth Man and the one behind door 3 died behind closed doors, but Daiichi was sure he killed the guy in the captain’s clothes. Also, at some points, we had seen Zero walk around the ship, gas mask and all. It couldn’t have been Izuku or Katsuki, they were always with someone else - but we only saw Zero inbetween the time when you supposedly died, and before we found you. So… how good is your brainwashing power again?”

Hitoshi looked at him, and smirked, slowly.

“Pretty damn good.”

“You can basically use it in more hypnotism-like ways. Even after you relinquish control, some orders stay around. Isn’t that right?”

“I spent the last year or so practicing and training myself to be able to do that, yes. I also don’t need people to talk to me directly anymore, although I have to concentrate more in that case. Good thing nobody really hung around for horribly long around dead bodies. That time when Reiko, Daiichi and Malichor were in the shower room solving the puzzle, that really made my nose bleed to make sure they don’t notice that not only the dead body isn’t dead, but isn’t me either.”

“So you just faked your Quirk being negated this time around.”

“Naturally. During my first game though, I genuinely did not have my Quirk available to me.”

“Which means, you could probably sneak around, and whenever someone saw you, you could just order us to forget you, and tell us what to remember instead, right? You literally messed with our perception of the bodies. You made Daiichi think he killed the captain-guy.”

“Mostly” Hitoshi admitted. “They were still injected with strong anaesthetic through their bracelets. Couldn’t have them wake up early.”

“And you were the one who walked around in the gas mask.”

“Only during the game” Hitoshi pointed it out. “The one doing the kidnappings was Katsuki. Even you were taken by him, obviously. He is the fastest, so he could kidnap even the pros. Izuku and I were also around, making sure the kidnappings go smoothly, but Katsuki did all the hard work there.”

“...you are also Zero.”

By now, Hitoshi was grinning.

“Multiples of zero are still zero, as Katsuki said. Doesn’t matter if two or three. Izuku, the one who planned it all out, including how to get our hands on the building… Katsuki, who was the enforcer, so to speak, and me, managing the game itself, so it would go as smoothly as possible. What are you gonna do now? Tell the others?”

Shouto glanced back at the others, who were still arguing, and heard nothing of their discussion.

“...you were in it the whole time?”

“As I mentioned, only for the past year or so” Hitoshi shook his head. “I spent eight years not being able to sort out my memories, getting used to this new arm… and then imagine my surprise when I went to the UA entrance exam, and there I had seen Izuku Midoriya, the biggest cause of all my confusion, alive and well. So I followed him, and he gave me a time and a place. I went there, and this time Katsuki and Izuku were both there and I confronted them, and they told me everything. Since then, I was in. Izuku at least probably knew I’d have to be involved, so I guess he was waiting for us to meet again.”

“You made sure about Malichor’s memories being more unsure, right?”

“Obviously. I really couldn’t have him recognize us too soon. That would have caused a lot of problems. I will probably let him remember soon, though.”

“What about the coffin?”

“I got in there during… well, you were in the chapel, actually. I just made you all ignore me, as usual. I climbed in, closed myself in, and waited to be let out. I really wasn’t in there for all that long. But really, the plan was for me to get in after you guys got through the third set of doors, either way, whether you are in the chapel when I get in or not.”

“Did you have another way out?”

“No. That was part of the game. If you can’t figure out the combination, I’m stuck. All of us were putting our lives on the line here, you know. Just as much as the rest of you were.”

“...what was your reason? Why would you go this far?”

“Do I need a reason to save a seven year old kid? And I also wanted them to face justice, because it wasn’t fair that they got away with it, it wasn’t fair that Izuku had died. And we still don’t know how many other games they ran, I suppose the investigation will turn up more details, so those kids and their families can have some closure and justice as well.”

Shouto looked at the roof of the minivan, deep in thought.

“Katsuki and Izuku asked me if I thought that there could be something that would justify what Zero is doing” He started suddenly. “If I thought of Zero as a villain. I didn’t have much of an answer, but I told them I couldn’t think of anything else to call Zero.”

“And what do you think now?”

“I’m… still mostly confused” Shouto admitted. “Maybe in a few months, I will be angry about this whole ordeal. But now… now I’m just relieved. And I just want to… catch up to them.”

“I don’t think you have to worry about that last part.”

He looked at Hitoshi, who was still smirking, and he just realised how close they were sitting to each other, despite them having enough space.

He didn’t pull away.

“What do you mean?”

“I’m pretty sure Uwabami and Malichor will do their best to take the heat off them” Hitoshi shrugged. “They got it. This whole thing getting out… well. It wouldn’t be nice, so I’m sure there will be some covering up going on.”

That made sense - Shouto remembered the Hero Killer incident… either way, that was not the point, and Hitoshi continued.

“Besides, we all gonna be heroes won’t we?”

Shouto felt his heart speed up, as he leaned forward, and he barely even noticed how he instinctively grabbed Hitoshi’s hand.

“There is no way they would just come back to UA like nothing happened… is there?”

“I don’t know” Hitoshi said almost cheerfully, as he squeezed Shouto’s hand back. “They are your classmates, after all. You know them best.”