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License to Kill

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When Izuku is six, he stands up to his best friend and says, “I will never forgive you.” When Izuku is six, he realizes something: the winner of a fight doesn’t determine who’s the hero and who’s the villain. That day his best friend punches and kicks him and singes his clothes, and Izuku sobs his defeat, a babbling mess of apologies. But the truth is, that day, Izuku is the hero. He’s the one who saves the weak and defends justice. And his best friend—who is already a shoo-in for UA and a pro hero career, who has never, ever lost a fight—is the villain.

When he gets home, Izuku tells his mom that he tripped, and throws mud on his shirt to hide the burn marks. He doesn’t know what to do. In every video of All Might that he owns, the “villain” has been a tsunami, a fire, a grotesque giant or a dark shadow; faceless monsters to be defeated and never seen again. So how can his best friend, this amazing person, this essential part of his life, be both a hero and a villain?

When Izuku is six, his best friend disappears: kidnapped by villains who are interested in his flashy quirk. The police never manage to find him. A splinter of pain buries deep into Izuku’s heart, and it stays there, festering. The splinter stings when the bullies at school taunt him for being useless; it throbs when he sees a stranger caught by the Sludge Villain and rushes to save her; it burns when All Might says, “You can be a hero.” And it waits for the day when Izuku will meet the villain Bakugou Katsuki, when it will be pulled, bleeding, back into the open.

Chapter Text

There are 75 villains crammed in one room, and the fearsome villain Explodokill is going to blow a damn fuse because he can’t see a thing over everyone’s fucking heads.

“Would you shut up!” he hollers at the adults squished next to him. “I can’t hear what the fuck Creepy Hands is saying!”

“You shut up, you damned kid!” one of them hollers back. “What the fuck is a six-year-old doing here!”

“I’m 15, I’ll kill you!” he spits back, but his voice is lost in the din of all the villains squabbling for space, occasionally coming to blows. He finds a wooden box nearby and manages to wedge himself up there. Finally, he can breathe. He scans the room. In the far end of the abandoned warehouse, standing on a couple crates, is a scrawny little asshole with hands stuck all over him for no apparent reason. Next to him is an indigo mist dressed in a suit like a total loser. He can’t tell if either of them are speaking, because neither of their faces are showing.

Explodokill considers just blasting out of the place. Normally he wouldn’t even be here—he hates getting involved with big gatherings of villains, even if there are rumors that All Might is weakening. But yesterday morning, right before someone busted a hole in UA’s wall, there was a special report on All Might’s new teaching position at the academy. All Might himself never showed up. The reporter had just interviewed random students and teachers, like anyone was supposed to care about them, and then slapped All Might’s picture on the thumbnail as clickbait. Explodokill nearly shut his phone off in disgust. But then—

“What kinds of lessons does All Might teach?”

“Eh!? Uh, I’m sorry, I have to go to the nurse’s office…”

The kid stammered out a second apology and ducked his head. Wild green hair. Smattering of freckles. Big, nervous eyes.

Explodokill isn’t one for could-haves or might-have-beens. He’d stopped thinking about his old home pretty much the moment he knew he wasn’t going back, and instead put all his efforts into becoming the world’s top villain.

But it was like seeing a ghost, that face. Like part of a dead world had returned to haunt him. Like—there was this kid he used to play with, right, a quirkless little nerd, and he couldn’t quite remember his name, but he remembered that kid was really annoying. Explodokill was better than him in every way. Obviously it wasn’t the same person as the kid on Explodokill’s phone screen, who must have had a flashy quirk to qualify for the academy. But looking at this undeserving green-haired shit, who got to study under the greatest hero in the world, who had cameras pointed at him and praise heaped upon him, Explodokill found himself thinking: That could have been me. In another life, that might have been me.

Which was just hilarious. Really. Explodokill is perfectly happy with where he is. He doesn’t need shiny classrooms or fancy names to know what he’s capable of. He’s a badass villain, through and through. Who knows how stupid hero school would’ve screwed with his potential.

Last night, when he got an invitation to join a massive attack on UA, he accepted.

But now he’s stuck trying to keep the squid-faced villain next to him from elbowing him in the nose. Accepting the invitation was a mistake. All the villains around him seem to be the back-street-alley variety, only good at petty crime and being a nuisance. And if they’re so poorly organized, they’ll probably just get crushed by the first hero they meet. He turns to leave.

Suddenly, the lights go out, and there’s the screeching sound of bad feedback from speakers all around the warehouse.

“Settle down, if you please,” a voice says smoothly.

As one, the crowd falls still.

“Thank you. Now that we are all here, we may begin.”

A projector blinks on, showing the title page of a PowerPoint. “THE SYMBOL OF PEACE MUST DIE,” it says in gothic black text on a dramatic blue background, illuminating the far wall and wrapping around the two villains standing on the crates. The indigo mist is holding a microphone and a presenter clicker. There are a few confused chuckles.

“I am Kurogiri,” says Mist-in-a-Suit. “Beside me is our leader, Shigaraki Tomura. Welcome to the League of Villains. We are gathered here today for one purpose: to kill All Might.”

Creepy Hands mutters something to himself, scratching his neck with a finger. The PowerPoint clicks to the next slide, a cartoon rendition of All Might getting kicked in the face.

“I am sure all of you would agree that it is a worthy goal. But though many villains have attempted to defeat All Might in the past, none have succeeded. This time will be different.  We have received intelligence that All Might is weakening. We cannot reveal the source, but it is trustworthy, because the same person created this.”

Over the crates, black mist swirls into existence. A dark blue foot emerges. Explodokill tenses—a warping quirk? or a storage quirk?—and then the rest of the body steps out. A murmur rises among the villains.

“This is Noumu.” The PowerPoint makes a POW! sound, and changes to show charts of Noumu from several angles. He looks like a monster, beyond what any quirk would do, scarred and with an exposed brain. “He is a creature engineered for the sole purpose of killing All Might. He has abilities you’ve never even dreamed of: mutant strength, shock absorption, super regeneration, and more.”

“Seriously?” the squid-faced villain whispers, hushed with awe.

Creepy Hands suddenly grabs onto Noumu’s arm. It disintegrates into a bloody mess. The crowd gasps. That must be his quirk, Explodokill thinks with a thrill, absolute destruction. And Noumu just let him.

Creepy Hands plucks the microphone from Mist-in-a-Suit. Like an excited kid doing show-and-tell, he rasps, “Look, just look, are you watching? Look closely.”

Within seconds, Noumu’s bloody stump balloons outward, and muscle, bone, and fat ripple out. It looks unreal. He can almost hear the squelching of the tissue settling into place before a new layer of skin wraps around it. And then Noumu is flexing a fist, as good as new.

“Regeneration,” Creepy Hands says, sounding very smug. Mist-in-a-Suit reaches for the microphone, but Creepy Hands dances away. “What next, what next…ooh, I know. Noumu…smash a hole in the floor.”

The monster lumbers off the crate, raises a foot, and slams it down. There’s a sharp crack! and a crunch, and the force of the blow knocks a few rows of villains to their asses. The concrete floor has caved in a few feet around Noumu.

“Mutant strength,” Creepy Hands crows.

Explodokill feels his heart speed up with excitement. There’ve been rumors for years now, people being snatched off the streets, strange quirk experiments being done. What the fuck is he looking at right now? Quirk engineering? How is that even possible? Well, whatever—if the displays just now aren’t some kind of trick, then whoever created Noumu has some serious credibility. All Might really could be reaching the end of his days. From the sound of the crowd whispering heatedly, everyone agrees.

“Aahhhh I’m so happy,” Creepy Hands sighs, “we can go straight to the boss fight. Will we beat it on the first try? I can’t wait. The League of Villains is so strong, so strong. Well, who wants to join my campaign?”

More murmuring among the villains—they’re impressed, but still processing the new information, not quite ready to agree.

Mist-in-a-Suit takes back the microphone to explain his own Warp Gate quirk. Then he shows All Might’s teacher schedule that he got from the break-in to UA yesterday, and starts to lay out the plan for attacking the USJ. It’s well thought-out. Explodokill sees the pattern quickly. Him and all these backstreet villains are supposed to be cannon fodder, to take out the UA freshmen and clear the way for the key players. The only important ones must be Creepy Hands, Mist-in-a-Suit, Noumu, and whoever made Noumu—he’ll bet that the latter is the one who planned everything.

Maybe they really will kill All Might, maybe not. Just attacking the USJ is a huge blow to the heroes’ confidence. If they can’t beat All Might, Mist-in-a-Suit can just take all the key players and escape using his quirk, most likely leaving all the other villains to be captured.

“’League of Villains?’ You’re looking down on me,” he growls under his breath. “I’m no sacrificial pawn.”

“Shut it,” the squid-faced villain hisses, eyes locked on the PowerPoint.

Explodokill rolls his eyes and says a little louder, “They’re just using you, stupid. You really think you stand a chance against All Might?”

More than one person turns around and hisses for him to shut up.

“Fuck you,” Squid Face snaps. “Maybe I’ll just get caught, but I still want to be a part of something big. For once in my life, I’m going to do something important.”

“Hear, hear!” someone else says. This sets off a cascade of agreements that swell into an overwhelming atmosphere of support:

“This is the real deal! We’ll be witnessing history, damn it!”

“That fucking All Might, what’s he ever done for us? Noumu’s going to knock him down a peg!”

“These guys get where we’re coming from! Count me in!”

“The League of Villains will change the world!”

Creepy Hands grabs Mist-in-a-Suit and leans into the microphone, a crooked black scarecrow. He croons: “There’s no justice in the world of heroes, it’s all just talk, talk, talk, which of you felt safer because of these strangers walking around with a license to kill? Ahh, don’t you want to just crush them? Turn them into fine soft dust? Dust never hurt anyone, betrayed anyone. I’m going to turn All Might into dust, and then everyone will see it, a new beautiful world, yes…do you want to see?”

The crowd roars its assent. Explodokill bares his teeth and resolves to prove to everyone in this room that he’s different. He’s not just any two-bit villain. He isn’t getting caught up in their game. He’s fucking dangerous, and he’ll steal the show from the three freaks—this is going to be his grand entrance into the wider world.

When the villains divvy up their places in the USJ, he signs up for the Ruins Zone. He won’t risk getting so close to All Might that he can’t defend himself, but he’s damned well going to be close enough to get involved. He barely even considers the freshmen who will fall into the Ruins Zone. He’s taken down hardened criminals twice his age, he can’t be threatened by some wannabe heroes who’ve never been in a real fight.

Maybe he’ll even get to set that green-haired kid on fire.

 


 

The USJ is fucking massive. It pisses Explodokill off just being in here. How much money does the hero industry sink into these fake disaster zones just so that a couple teenagers can feel good about themselves? He stands in a crumbling, hollowed-out apartment, grinding his teeth. Nine other villains squat around him, staring nervously out the shattered windows.

It’s quiet outside. Dead silent. It’s been about two minutes, but there’s still no smoke, no sign of a catastrophic battle. Is Creepy Hands wasting his time monologuing? Is All Might even here? The fight couldn’t be over already, could it?

“C’mon, hurry it up,” one of them mutters, checking and rechecking her knife. Waiting.

Then they see it. A flicker of mist. Explodokill crouches into a battle stance, palms at the ready.

A warp gate opens in the roof, and a kid drops down. He’s alone. He lands hard, and Explodokill half expects him to be knocked out like that—but then he gets to his feet, and when a villain pounces at him, immediately punches her in the face with a mean right hook. Explodokill narrows his eyes.

“Whoa,” the freshman says, “did I just get warped all the way to one of the zones? Not cool!”

He has spiky red hair and freaky shark teeth, and his simple costume leaves his chest mostly exposed. Either he’s stupid, or his quirk is somehow related to his skin. Bad idea to make direct contact before figuring it out.

Explodokill raises one palm, curling his other hand around the wrist. “Hey weaklings, out of my way!” he calls out.

“What the fuck did you call me?” a villain snaps, but the woman next to him hisses, “Holy shit, don’t you know? That’s Blasty Boy!” and pushes them both out of the line of fire.

“That’s not my fucking name!” he screams at them.

“So you’re the leader, Blasty Boy?” Shitty Hair says. He plants himself in front of the door and raises his hands, which morph into jagged edges. “I’ll take you down!”

“Fucking hell, my name is Explodokill! Die!”

He launches an explosion at Shitty Hair, big enough to knock back all the other villains. Thick smoke clouds the air, and the acrid sting in his nose is familiar, makes his heart beat stronger.

“That’s Blasty the freak genius for you,” a villain says, nudging her friend with an elbow.

“I don’t need your damned commentary!” he howls, spinning toward them. “If you’ve got time to gawk, go help Creepy Hands in the central plaza! And for the last time, my name’s—”

“RAAAHHHHH!”

A jagged hand sweeps away the smoke, and the freshman dashes toward Explodokill, not a shitty hair misplaced. He takes a swing, and Explodokill just barely dodges, grazed on his cheek. But the attack leaves him wide open. Explodokill slaps a blast straight into his ribs.

Shitty Hair doesn’t even flinch. “Your quirk doesn’t work on me!” he bellows proudly. “I’m unshakeable!”

Explodokill breaks away and puts some distance between them, reassessing. Shitty Hair’s entire body looks like it was pieced together from stone, and he withstood both explosions without a scratch. A hardening quirk—and from the stinging he feels on his cheek and his palm, it also cuts like a knife. It’s not just the quirk, either. The freshman is professionally trained, and it shows in the steadiness of his stance. He knows exactly how to use his body in hand-to-hand combat. All of the villains are self-taught, sloppy and wild in their movements, and even Explodokill has to fall back on sheer viciousness when it comes down to it. Shitty Hair’s calm surety is in a completely different class.

“Fucking UA,” he mutters. He raises his voice. “All you weaklings, scram! The freshman is mine!”

The villains are smart enough to scramble for the door.

“I won’t let you get away!” Shitty Hair shouts, but Explodokill darts forward and locks him into a defensive position with one, two, eight blasts in rapid succession. Shitty Hair breaks through, and they exchange a few blows. Then Explodokill backs away again.

The last villain is just darting out the door, looking like he’s about to piss his pants. Shitty Hair curses. He’s breathing hard, even if it’s difficult to tell with his ghastly mug and enormous teeth. A few chips in his armor have appeared.

Explodokill feels a delighted smile tug at his mouth. He’s wearing him down. Impulsively, he says: “I’ve got a question for you. Green hair like a shrub, stupid freckles, big crybaby eyes. Looks like a pushover. Is he in your class?”

Shitty Hair gives a little gasp, and recognition is written all his face. “No he’s not! Definitely not! Uh, I don’t even know who you’re talking about! What do you want with him!?”

Shit, he is in this class. Explodokill didn’t think this far ahead. “I don’t want anything from him!” he says defensively. “Just…tell me his name!”

Shitty Hair grits his horrifying teeth and raises his fists. “If you don’t tell me why, then I’m sorry, but I can’t let you touch my friend!”

And just like that, Explodokill has had enough. What gives Shitty Hair the right to act all high and mighty? He’s just some nobody freshman, All Might’s probably fighting a stone’s throw away, Explodokill doesn’t have time for this shit. Heroes are so fucking full of themselves.

If they want a disaster zone, he’ll give them a disaster zone.

He unclips one of his homemade hand grenades from his belt. “Then die!” he snarls, tosses the grenade at Shitty Hair’s face, and launches himself out the windows as fast as he can.

The grenade detonates. Hundred-degree heat rolls through the room faster than the speed of sound. It melts the building support, flares out the windows, shakes the earth with the pressure being released. Explodokill is knocked forward, and just manages to correct himself with a few blasts to land on his feet on the roof of a nearby building. He gathers his breath, and then he watches.

On the bottom floors, villains scream and run out of the building, covering their heads. One of them is on fire. They all clear out, and a couple more seconds later, the building buckles in on itself. It was never structurally sound to begin with, and it doesn’t take much for it to pancake straight to the ground, unable to hold its own weight. With a deafening roar like all the demons of the deep groaning at once, the building collapses into a molten pile of debris and dust.

Explodokill watches the dust settle down.

Shit, that felt good.

The villain is still on fire. He’s rolling around on the ground, and all the other villains are frantically throwing rubble on him. Eh, he’ll be fine. Explodokill smirks, satisfaction and anticipation zimming through his bloodstream, and blasts off for the central plaza. He’s got bigger fish to fry.

 


 

Explodokill is about to breach the edge of the Ruins Zone when the door to the USJ slams open.

He instinctively dives into the dirt.

HAVE NO FEAR,” All Might booms, face exactly as thunderous as it appears in the videos, in the movies, in the comic books, in his imagination his whole fucking life. “FOR I HAVE COME!

He doesn’t hear what All Might says next, because holy fucking shit, he signed up to fight All Might. He came here knowing full well that All Might has every right to beat the shit out of him, and here All Might is, in the flesh, beefy as a fucking American hamburger. He finally meets the greatest hero on planet earth, and he’s hiding in the dirt because he doesn’t want to die.

With sheer willpower, he forces down his residual hero worship. Whatever, fuck, he’s here. This is what he came here for, he can deal with this. His goal is to wait for an opening in the fight between Noumu and Creepy Hands and All Might, then impress these assholes with his incredible skillset, and finally make sure Mist-in-a-Suit doesn’t leave him behind when they escape. He will not die. Like hell he’s going to die! He won’t even get caught.

Creepy Hands and Noumu are by the Flood Zone, crouched around something he can’t see from this angle. A mass of people lie on the ground by the entrance, only a few still standing. Carefully, Explodokill creeps forward to get a better vantage point.

All Might teleports. No, he runs. He just runs at speeds impossible to follow. In the span of a blink, all the villains are down, except for Creepy Hands, Noumu, and Mist-in-a-Suit, while All Might crouches in front of some freshmen and an injured man. He’s telling them to escape.

One of the freshmen has green hair and freckles.

All Might punches Noumu, and Explodokill yanks his attention back to the fight. He’s not here for Freckles. He’s not. All Might fights loud, flashy, confident; the unease Explodokill had been feeling because of the relative silence in USJ finally lifts.

Okay, fuck being careful. Everyone’s too preoccupied by the grand fight to pay attention to him. He runs toward the central plaza, tracking everything going on around him. Mist-in-a-Suit opens a warp gate in the middle of All Might’s suplex, and Noumu digs his fingers into All Might’s side, pinning him. Freckles was on his way to the safety of the USJ entrance, but when he sees All Might in danger, he leaves the injured man with the other freshmen, turns around, and starts running back to the Noumu.

“All Might!” he screams as he runs, tears in his eyes.

The hopeless gesture comes with a pang of déjà vu. This useless kid, throwing himself into danger looking scared out of his mind. His familiar fucking face.

Explodokill falters. Somehow, without him noticing, he changed directions mid-run. He’s been heading toward Freckles instead of All Might. Panic at his own loss of control curdles into rage, and he goes for Freckles with full intent.

They collide just as a warp gate appears in front of Freckles. Explodokill sends up a blast before Freckles can turn to see him. The force of the blow sends Freckles skidding several feet across the floor.

“Midoriya!” says a voice, and “Izuku!” a few more cry out from further away.

It’s like the ground drops away from under his feet. He’s staring into the fucking void now. How had he forgotten? He knows that name like he knows his own. It’s him, yes, it’s him, of course it would be him, the sorry piece of shit.

Ice shoots over the ground, and Explodokill blasts himself out of the way. But Noumu is trapped, and half his limbs are frozen. The loosened grip allows All Might to escape.

“What are you doing, impudent boy?” Mist-in-a-Suit snaps.

“Helping you,” Explodokill replies tightly.

“Midoriya, are you alright? I’ll take the newcomer,” says the freshman who made the ice. This one has half a head of white hair and half of red, and bits of frost gather on his right side.

THANK YOU, MY STUDENTS!” All Might booms. “PLEASE RETREAT NOW!

Creepy Hands is still just fucking standing there. “Man, I have to hand it to the kids these days…at this rate the League of Villains will be a laughing-stock…Noumu.”

Noumu obediently breaks off his own arm and leg to get out of the warp gate. His limbs immediately grow back. As everyone else freaks out over Noumu’s healing quirk, Explodokill watches the green-haired freshman. Midoriya Izuku empties his stomach on the ground, then slowly, painfully, gets back on his feet. He wipes his mouth and meets Explodokill’s eyes.

He’s taller than Explodokill expected. They’re the same height. For a dizzying moment, he’s confused that the boy isn’t on the ground, cowering, dumber and weaker and so much smaller—but that was just the image in his mind. They’ve both grown up.

That look on his face is exactly the same, though.

Hate, a scorching hate floods into him, disgust far beyond anger. When he speaks, the sound of his own voice surprises him. He feels six years old again, in all the worst possible ways.

“What’re you doing here? You quirkless shit, you useless nerd, you don’t belong in this place. What lies did you tell to get here?”

Those big eyes stare at him, clouded with confusion and fear. “What? H-how did you…”

He tears off his domino mask. “What’re you doing here, huh!? Deku!?”

Deku’s eyes widen. His face pales. He covers his mouth with his hand.

A wall of ice charges toward Explodokill, but he blasts a hole through it with the force of both his palms. A momentous slugfest between All Might and Noumu begins just next to him, and he tracks the positions of Half ‘n Half, Creepy Hands, the other freshmen further off.

But it all feels remote, unreal. The distance between him and Deku seems to consume the entire world, nine years collapsing under the weight of those nine feet of space.

“Kacchan,” Deku whispers, and his eyes are wet. He’s crying for him.

The hatred surges up, even more powerful than before. He can barely breathe, he can’t fucking think past the urge to burn, break, hurt, kill, stop, stop it, shut up, he’s going to be fucking sick. All Might uses his Plus Ultra super move to send Noumu flying out the roof, and “A HERO IS SOMEONE WHO SMASHES THROUGH EVERY OBSTACLE!” even that voice sounds like the static from the TV he and Deku used to watch together late at night, hiding from their parents, comparing notes about which episode of the All Might anime they liked best, I’m going to be a hero one day, and Kacchan is losing control, he has to beat this, he lifts his hand up to sweep it all away with fire, blast Deku to the ground, destroy him so that he’ll never stand up to challenge him again—

Something hard and sharp slams into his back. He hits the ground and rolls to get his feet back under him.

“Midoriya, be careful!” Shitty Hair gasps, his skin a patchwork of burns and blood. “This guy was looking for you!”

Explodokill gapes. “How are you still alive!?”

All Might spreads his feet, wreathed in smoke from the force of his punch. “Now then, villains. None of us want to drag this on for too long, do we?

“Fucking hell,” Explodokill spits, returning to his own skin. It finally hits him that their key player, Noumu, just got crushed. Even if All Might is weakening, he’s still much stronger than the League of Villains expected. It’s time for Mist-in-a-Suit to start warping them to safety.

Explodokill shuts off the part of him that’s screaming to fight Deku and blasts toward the warp gate. “Don’t you dare leave me behind,” he hisses.

Mist-in-a-Suit seems surprised. He takes a moment to weigh something in his mind, then says, “Very well.”

In the meantime, Creepy Hands is throwing a hissy fit. “You cheated!” he yowls. “You’re not weaker…how dare you touch my Noumu! You cheated, cheater, hacker, you…! There’s no way you’re any weaker…did he…lie to me?”

What’s the matter? What happened to your bravado? Weren’t you going to ‘clear the game’? JUST TRY IT! COME ON!

All Might doesn’t take a single step, but the villains shrink back anyways, cowed.

“If only the Noumus were here, if he were here!” Creepy Hands spits, scratching his neck hard enough to bleed.

“Shigaraki Tomura, please calm yourself,” Mist-in-a-Suit says. “Observe: the noumu did not leave All Might unscathed. Reinforcements may arrive at any moment, it is true, but I believe that you and I, and this young villain, might still succeed in our goal.”

Creepy Hands stares at All Might with glittering, hungry red eyes. “You’re right…yeah…how could we leave without beating the final boss? And he hurt my Noumu…I’ll kill him!”

“You’re fucking crazy if you think that’s going to work,” Explodokill says.

“You requested that we not leave you behind,” Mist-in-a-Suit replies. Explodokill glares at him.

“Whatever, fuck you, I know. What’re you planning?”

“Stay close, if you please.”

The warp gate stretches out, picking up both Creepy Hands and Explodokill, and black mist rushes forward at All Might. Explodokill reaches out to launch a blast, covering Creepy Hands with even more smoke and two additional palms to confuse the enemy. All Might stands his ground, smiling like a grimace.

The next few moments seem to happen in slow motion.

Out of nowhere, Deku appears. He jumps, with inhuman speed, to put himself between the warp gate and All Might. He raises a fist like he plans to punch the black mist away.

Creepy Hands slips a hand through the warp gate, a split second away from crumbling Deku’s face.

A bullet slices through the hand, and Creepy Hands pulls back. The hero reinforcements have come. The villains begin to retreat in earnest.

Hands latch onto Explodokill’s wrist. He looks up to see Deku, face determined, pulling him out of the warp gate.

“No—” He opens his palm to blast Deku away, but two bullets land in his arms, cutting off his quirk. “No! Deku, let go!”

The warp gate is closing, and his upper body is outside, still being pulled by Deku.

“It’s okay, Kacchan,” he says. “I’ve got you now.”

“Stop it, stop—!”

Kacchan tumbles into Deku’s arms. The warp gate seals shut amidst a hail of bullets. The villains left him behind, and now he’s stuck in the USJ. He’s fucked.

“I’ve got you,” Deku says. He’s crying again. “I’ve got you.”

The ground ripples under him, and a wall of cement bludgeons him in the head. His vision swims.

The last thing he sees before he loses consciousness is All Might. Or—it should have been All Might. But something’s wrong. He’s deflating, like a sad, sad balloon. Just smoke and hot air, until all that’s left of the greatest hero in the world is an exhausted, desiccated husk.

Chapter Text

Izuku wakes up to white ceiling, white sheets, warm sunshine. He drifts. For a time, he can’t string together a coherent thought, until a confusing memory of Kacchan’s face swims into his mind. He gropes for a trash can by his bed, leans over, and throws up.

“Welcome back, Midoriya,” says Recovery Girl.

He’s in the UA nurse’s office. All Might is dozing in the bed beside him, but he wakes up at the sound of Izuku retching and asks worriedly after his health. Izuku feels okay, just nauseous, and his legs are a bit sore. Recovery Girl doesn’t even scold them. That more than anything makes him realize the weight of what just happened.

“All Might, I’m sorry,” he says, blinking hard at his unscathed hands. “You were almost killed, and I was useless, like always.”

Nonsense, my boy!” All Might barks, spitting out blood. “If not for you, I would have been turned to dust! You saved me once again.”

Izuku looks up at All Might’s piercing blue eyes, and his chest swells with gratitude and pride. “I’m so glad you’re alright,” he chokes out.

As am I for you.” He adds, “Midoriya, who was that young man you pulled out of the warp gate?

Izuku swallows. Desperately, he searches for words. “I…he was…”

A tall man wearing a trench coat slides open the infirmary door. “Excuse me,” he says politely. “All Might, long time no see.”

All Might jolts upright. “Tsukauchi! You came!”

It’s the detective All Might is friends with, he explains. Izuku sits up, nervously trying to give a good first impression.

“Sorry for coming so suddenly,” Detective Tsukauchi says, “but I need to take down your statement about the attack.”

Wait, before that. Can you tell me how the students are? And the instructors, Aiza—Eraserhead and Thirteen?”

“Well, besides Kirishima Eijirou, none of the students sustained serious injuries. Kirishima and the instructors are stable for now.”

Izuku leans forward. “What happened to Kirishima?”

“He was caught in an explosion in the Ruins Zone,” Detective Tsukauchi says, a tinge of regret in his voice.

“But he’s doing just fine now, my dear,” Recovery Girl adds, patting Izuku’s hand. “He fought very well against the villains, and his quirk—unlike yours—actually protects him. You can ask him all about it when he wakes up.”

Izuku swallows, trying to piece together his frantic memories from when Kirishima appeared. He was covered in burns, and he tried to protect Izuku from Kacchan, like he understood. “It was Kacchan who—who hurt him. Wasn’t it?” he whispers.

All Might frowns. The detective examines Izuku with an inscrutable look. “You call Bakugou Katsuki ‘Kacchan,’ don’t you? How do you know him?”

It’s not a direct answer, but it’s confirmation enough. Izuku squeezes his eyes shut, grief cutting into his heart, before taking a deep breath and looking at the detective again. “We were, um…I guess we were childhood friends. He was kidnapped when we were six and I—I’ve been looking for him ever since. I thought he was maybe dead,” he trails off weakly.

Detective Tsukauchi scratches something in his notepad. “Thank you for answering,” he says. A faint smile passes briefly over his face. “These are regrettable circumstances, but still, congratulations on finding him, Midoriya Izuku. I’ll need to question you more about him later. For now—”

“Is he okay?” Izuku blurts out.

“He sustained some injuries, but Recovery Girl has already treated them,” Detective Tsukauchi says without missing a beat. “As far as I know, he is awake and well. We have him at the police station and have contacted his parents. In light of his circumstances, we won’t charge him with the full sentence for his crimes, but due to the sensitive situation and his unwillingness to cooperate, we are keeping him under close watch. I must warn you that he has been highly active in the criminal world. His self-proclaimed villain name is Explodokill, but a few of the other villains we’ve apprehended know him as Blast Boy, or Blasty. It’s a record we cannot simply ignore.”

Kacchan has a real villain name. Kacchan hurt Kirishima badly enough to send him to the hospital. Izuku ducks his head. “I know.” He takes a breath, steels himself, and looks up. “Can I see him right now?”

My boy,” All Might exclaims, “you are still injured! You must rest.

“Then tomorrow,” he says firmly. “Can I see him tomorrow?”

Detective Tsukauchi shakes his head. “I understand how important this is to you,” he says, “but I don’t think it would be wise. Bakugou Katsuki has spent nine years living among villains. It’s a world very different from the childhood you both experienced. You saw what villains are like—if not for how valiantly your instructors defended you, the rest of your classmates might have been as injured as Kirishima Eijirou.”

“Let me stop you right there, Tsukauchi,” All Might interrupts. “The instructors may have protected them, but the students fought bravely as well! They experienced true battle at such a young age, and they survived! Tell me, do you know any other high school freshmen who have faced down the terrors of the world of adults? The class of 1-A will make fine heroes! If anyone can reach out to that young man, it is them!”

For emphasis, he gives them both a thumbs-up.

“Please,” Izuku says.

Detective Tsukauchi sighs. “What a speech,” he murmurs, and lifts a finger to his head, as if in acknowledgment. “Alright. Since All Might himself is vouching for you, I’ll see what I can do to let you see your old friend. Definitely not today, though. These things take time.”

Izuku curls his fists into his blanket. “Thank you,” he says fervently. It’s hard, but he forces himself to try to relax. He’s waited nine years for this moment. He tells himself that another day won’t make a difference, that the police wouldn’t let Kacchan vanish again. He’ll still be there tomorrow, he chants in his head.

It doesn’t really work.

 


 

His mom picks him up from school rather than letting him take the subway home, even though Izuku insists that he’s completely fine. When she’s stressed, she always prefers to keep Izuku in her line of sight. The second she sees him step out the school gates, she pulls him into a fierce hug.

“I was so worried,” she says into his ear.

“I’m sorry, Mom.”

“It’s okay. Just…let’s just go home, and then we’ll talk, how’s that sound?”

In the car, she adds, “Mitsuki and Masaru came over today.”

Izuku feels his eyes sting. “Are they…?”

“Oh, honey.” She sniffs. Izuku inherited her propensity for crying—they both reach for the tissue box always well-stocked in the car. “We got our Katsuki back. It’s like a dream, or a miracle. It reminds me of when you suddenly got your quirk.”

“I kind of feel like I got the quirk in order to save him,” he admits. “I know it’s dumb. But—mom, he was being taken away again, and because of my quirk I could reach out and pull him back. That alone makes everything worth it.”

When they get home, they find Kacchan’s parents in the living room. Mr. Bakugou greets them warmly, while Mrs. Bakugou is yelling into the phone and pacing in front of the TV. The screen is on mute, and keeps switching between footage of the villains warping into the USJ, All Might punching Noumu, and the smoking hole left over in the roof. Izuku stares at the loop: villains, All Might, smoke. Villains, All Might, smoke. Then he shakes himself and looks away.

Kacchan’s parents had always been close with Izuku’s mom, what with the many playdates their children had together, but after Kacchan disappeared they started visiting the Midoriyas more often. Mr. Bakugou brought gifts for Izuku sometimes, and Izuku’s mom often went with Mrs. Bakugou to volunteer at children’s homeless shelters.

“Izuku, I heard you were injured,” Mr. Bakugou says softly. “Are you alright?”

Izuku stares at his feet. “I’m fine,” he mumbles. “Um, did you—did you see Kacchan yet?”

Mr. Bakugou looks pained, just as his wife throws the phone into the sofa and screams, “Fucking bureaucrats! Useless fucking police don’t find my son for nine goddamned years and now they don’t even let me talk to him!? Screw this motherfucking government! What the hell do I pay taxes for, huh!?”

“Sweetie, please calm down, we don’t want to disturb Inko’s neighbors…”

She opens her mouth to yell something back, but then her eyes light upon Izuku. He flinches.

“You were there, weren’t you, Izuku?” she says. “Any of the villains hurt you? Are you alright?”

“I’m fine, ma’am,” he squeaks.

“If you’re lying to me, I’ll beat the shit out of you!”

His mom rubs his shoulder reassuringly and leads them to the sofa. “That would be rather counterproductive, wouldn’t it?” She uses her quirk to pick up the phone and hands it back to Mrs. Bakugou. “He broke both legs because of his quirk,” she sighs. “I don’t like it, but the school healed him immediately, and I’m trying to just be grateful that he’s back home in one piece.”

“Oh dear,” says Mr. Bakugou.

“Both legs!?” cries Mrs. Bakugou. “Jesus, get ahold of that quirk of yours, you useless little shit! It’s no good becoming a hero if you’re just killing yourself in the process!”

Izuku cringes. “I-I’m sorry…”

Mrs. Bakugou fumes around the living room for a while longer, until her husband finally coaxes her onto the sofa. “Listen, Izuku,” she says. “Thank you for finding him. We really, really can’t thank you enough. You didn’t have to, but you never gave up hope that he was still out there, and that helped us keep looking. I don’t know if we would even be here without your encouragement.”

His vision blurs, and he rubs the tears furiously out of his eyes. How many times has it been today? He makes a noise of assent.

“We have our son back,” Mr. Bakugou says, and he pauses, as if savoring the words in his mouth. “It will be a long road before he can come home, but for now, this is enough.”

“Ain’t that the fucking truth.” Mrs. Bakugou sighs. “Izuku. If you don’t mind, can you tell us everything that happened at the USJ? Start from the beginning.”

 


 

They don’t let him see Kacchan the next day. Or the day after that. School starts again, and it feels surreal to go about his daily life again, as if the USJ attack didn’t even happen.

Izuku arrives early to first period, hands nervously tucked under his backpack straps. As soon as he sees Kirishima walking down the hall, Izuku pounces.

“Hi good morning Kirishima I’m glad you’re alright I’m sorry but can I talk to you in private for a sec?” he says in one breath.

“Whoa!” Kirishima says, and laughs. The only sign that he was hospitalized is a bandage wrapped around his right hand. “Good morning, Midoriya! Of course we can talk!”

In an empty classroom, Izuku bows down and shouts, “I’m so sorry!”

“Huh!? What for?”

“When I saw Kacchan, all I could think was that I had to keep him there with me, where I could see him. I didn’t realize until Detective Tsukauchi told me you were injured that you—I didn’t think about how you might, definitely—”

“Bro, you gotta breathe,” Kirishima says, and gently nudges his shoulder. Izuku sucks in a breath, holds it, then lets it out. Frowning, Kirishima asks, “What’s this about a Kacchan?”

Izuku’s hands tremble, but he forces himself to say, “The boy with an explosion quirk. You tried to protect me from him, even though he hurt you. I didn’t even acknowledge it at the time.”

His eyes widen. “Oh, that guy! Don’t worry about it, man, I got your back. Dude was insane! Why was he even looking for you?”

“We, um, knew each other when we were kids. The police have him now, which is good. But I need to apologize, Kirishima—he hurt you so badly, and yet I still want to save him, and do everything to help him. He’s my friend. Even though you’re my friend, too, and it’s all so messed up, and…I understand if you’re angry with me.”

“What!? No way!” Kirishima says, shaking his head earnestly. “I’d never be mad about you caring for someone, Midoriya! None of this is your fault! Besides,” he adds with a chuckle, “I’m mostly just embarrassed.”

Izuku whips his head up in surprise. “Why would you be embarrassed?”

“I’m the only one who got hurt in the Zones!” He waves his injured hand. “If it were someone like Ashido or Todoroki on their own, they probably would’ve been fine. But your friend got me good. I couldn’t do a thing! You were amazing to pull him out of the warp gate!”

Izuku is about to protest that Kirishima did an amazing job fighting against Kacchan, but the warning bell rings, and they both jump.

“Bro, c’mon, we gotta run!” Kirishima says. “Iida will have our hides!”

They endure a scolding from Iida as they slide into their seats, two minutes before class begins, and the rhythm of school life returns. It’s a relief to see everyone in Class 1-A. Even Aizawa-sensei is back, although he looks like a mummy. He announces that the school is going ahead with preparations for the UA Sports Festival, and just like that, they’re a roomful of 15-year-olds again, with nothing more important on their minds than their studies and their dreams.

When lunch break starts, Uraraka taps him on the shoulder.

“I’m really fired up about the Sports Festival,” she says, a scarily intense look on her face.

“Um, okay,” Izuku squeaks.

“Whoa, Uraraka, what’s up with you?” says Ashido.

“I’m gonna crush that festival! But first, Izuku, I gotta ask. Who was that villain you captured from the warp gate?”

Todoroki makes a noise of vague interest.

“I was wondering about that too,” Tsuyu says. “You called him Kacchan. He called you Deku. Seems like you knew each other.”

“I guess we do,” Izuku says nervously. “He was my…childhood friend, kind of.”

Mineta gapes. “Seriously? He was so scary, though!”

“He punched you,” Shouji says angrily.

“I’m sorry, who punched Midoriya?” Yaoyorozu asks, a current of disgust in her voice, and the rest of the class crowds around to join the conversation.

“Here, hold on.” Uraraka pulls up a picture of him on her phone and shows it to the people who’d been stuck in the zones. “There was this crazy villain who could make explosions with his hands. He was our age, but he faced off against All Might, and he almost got away with those other two villains! He jumped at Izuku while All Might was fighting Noumu, and they started, um, talking to each other?”

“The villain was screaming bloody murder,” Tsuyu says flatly. “Izuku was crying.”

Kaminari whistles. “Wow. That sounds traumatizing.”

Jirou jabs him for being insensitive, but Izuku says, “No, it’s okay. When we were six, he was—he disappeared, and the police couldn’t find him. This is the first time I’ve seen him since then. I know he’s a villain and he tried to hurt All Might, but…is it bad if I’m just, really happy he’s okay?”

Iida lays a hand on Izuku’s shoulder and looks at him sternly. “Your compassion for your friend, even when he is in the dark clutches of evil, demonstrates the purity and heroism of your heart,” he says. “It’s okay to feel conflicted! I applaud your ability to handle this complicated situation with a clear mind!”

Oh, no, Izuku is starting to cry again. “Thank you, Iida.”

Kirishima sends a smile his way, then leaps onto a desk. “You’re a really good friend, Midoriya! Like, that was so manly of you, I’m getting all inspired! We’ll deal with all the rest later—congrats on finding your friend again!”

Everyone cheers. Izuku starts crying harder.

“Can I call you Deku, too?” Uraraka asks. “I kind of like it. Has that, ‘You can do it!’ feel to it, you know? It fits.”

At this point, Izuku is so emotional, he doesn’t even care that Deku used to be an insult and Kacchan probably still hates him. In Uraraka’s voice, any name would sound beautiful. “Okay,” he says. She smiles and touches his wrist, and for an instant, Izuku thinks she’s used her quirk on him. He feels light as air.

“Alright, now let’s get pumped for the Sports Festival!”

 


 

Izuku couldn’t see Kacchan that day, but Mr. and Mrs. Bakugou could. They don’t come over, only give Izuku’s mom a call, sounding shaky and exhausted. Izuku feels a deep sense of dread settle over his shoulders, weighing down his footsteps. Another day passes. He can’t shake off the anxiety that, with each moment, Kacchan is somehow getting further away. On Friday, four days after the USJ attack, Shinsou pulls Izuku aside during lunch break.

Shinsou used to be in the Gen Ed track, but after Aizawa-sensei kicked out one of the Class 1-A students on the first day of school, Shinsou was able to transfer to the Hero track. In direct combat, he’s one of the weaker students, but there’s no denying his quirk is powerful. During the attack on USJ, he’d been thrown into the Conflagration Zone, and Ojiro claims that he took out all the villains with barely any help. Lately his training has been focused on finding devious and terrifying ways to trick people into answering his questions during battle.

“How are you, Midoriya?” he asks.

“I’m well! How are you?” Izuku says automatically. It occurs to him that he would be absolutely horrible at resisting Shinsou’s quirk.

“Good,” Shinsou replies, with a smirk like he knows what Izuku is thinking. “I’m sorry to bring this up so suddenly, but…it’s about your friend Bakugou Katsuki.”

Izuku’s breath hitches.

“He’s fine, you don’t need to look so worried. I was asked to go down to the station yesterday and talk to him.”

“You saw Kacchan?” he gasps. “Why? How—how is he?”

“Hm.” Shinsou shrugs. “He seems okay, considering. He’s stubborn. He won’t give a straight answer to the police, and he keeps trying to escape. I think they decided that my quirk is the easiest way to get answers quickly, without hurting him.

“My quirk can act like a sort of truth serum—people under my control will give very basic responses to any questions that I ask. Nothing fancy. What’s her name, do you remember this, that kind of thing. I worked with the police on a case back in middle school, so they know they can consult me.”

“That’s amazing,” Izuku says. “You’re already working with professionals?”

Shinsou smiles. “Don’t spread it around, you hear? My quirk works best when nobody knows what it is.”

“Right, of course! I promise not to tell!”

“Appreciate it. Anyways, I just wanted to let you know that I met him. Can’t share the details of the case, but…your friend’s been through a lot and come out stronger for it. He’s a survivor. No matter what happens, I’m sure he’ll make it out on top—he’s that kind of guy.”

“I…thank you, Shinsou, for telling me.”

Shinsou rubs the back of his neck. “Wouldn’t feel right to keep it from you. Just…if you still plan on seeing him, be careful, alright? He’s mixed up in some pretty serious shit, and he’s not a nice person by any definition of the word. In the long run, talking to him might hurt you more than it helps him.”

Izuku swallows. “Okay. I’ll be careful.” He feels a bit bad for sort of lying. But just a little. “Careful” can mean all sorts of things, after all.

He keeps this in mind when, the next day, Detective Tsukauchi calls him up and finally invites him down to the station. He’d been planning on going out with Uraraka and Iida that weekend, but he calls them to cancels their plans, apologizing profusely.

“Do you want us to come with you?” Uraraka says. “We can walk to the station with you and wait outside. For emotional support!”

Something aches in his heart. “I…thank you, Uraraka. But I think I’d rather just go with my mom, today.”

“Of course, I understand. Remember, I’m rooting for you, Deku, no matter what! I hope it goes well.”

Iida makes the same offer, and Izuku gently refuses him too, curling a fist over his chest. How did he manage to get friends like these, after he failed Kacchan that day in the park?

They’re supposed to meet Detective Tsukauchi in the station at 3pm. His mom hastily bakes a batch of cookies and frets over the Tupperware, while he picks a novel to put in his bag and reviews the list of things he wants to say. He’s been writing down the list in a new notebook, glossy black and red, purchased five days ago. The first page is just a sketch of Kacchan’s villain outfit, and notes about his battle capabilities. The next forty pages are bullet points of questions, encouragements, speculations, and apologies, running into each other and squeezed into margins. His hands are shaking. He practices a breathing exercise, but it doesn’t help much.

He’ll talk to Kacchan. And he’ll make sure to be very, very careful about it.

 


 

Excerpt from transcript of interrogation, 4-07-2035, 19:03. Parties: Bakugou “Explodokill” Katsuki (BK), Shinsou Hitoshi (SH), Tsukauchi Naomasa (TN).

SH: What is your legal name?

BK: Bakugou Katsuki.

SH: Do you remember what happened on February 3rd, 2027?

BK: Yes.

SH: Where were you that afternoon?

BK: At the park. By the blue horses.

SH: Was it Amatsu Park?

BK: I don’t remember.

SH: What happened that evening?

BK: …Someone took me.

SH: Who took you?

BK: I don’t remember.

SH: Was it against your will? Did they use force?

BK: Yes.

SH: Why did they take you?

BK: To sell me. I would make them a fortune.

SH: Okay. How long did they hold you for?

BK: I don’t know. A week. Two weeks.

SH: What happened in this time period?

BK: I don’t remember.

SH: Who did they sell you to?

BK: Weapons manufacturer. Guns. Bombs.

SH: An illegal villain weapons factory? Were they using your quirk to make explosives?

BK: Yes.

SH: Who owned this factory?

BK: Slick Hair.

SH: …Is that their real name?

BK: I don’t remember.

SH: Heh, alright. Were you the only person being forced to make weapons at this factory?

BK: No.

SH: How many other forced laborers were with you?

BK: I don’t remember.

SH: How long did you work there?

BK: …Four years.

SH: So you worked there from six to ten years old. Why did you leave?

BK: I blew them up.

SH: …You blew up the factory? Did you use your quirk, or the weapons you were making?

BK: Yes. Both.

SH: As far as you know, were there any casualties?

BK: Yes.

SH: How many?

BK: I was the only survivor. I checked.

TN: Shinsou, please ask for premeditation and malicious intent.

SH: He was ten. What would it even mean for…

SH: Right. Okay. Did you plan the explosion beforehand, with the intention of killing everyone inside?

BK: Yes.

SH: But you were ten. (unintelligible)

TN: Shinsou, would you like to take a break?

SH: No. It’s fine, I’m fine.

SH: So you destroyed the weapons factory and escaped. Bakugou, what happened next?

Chapter Text

Explodokill is going to rip someone’s head off, and he’ll use his goddamned teeth if he has to. It’s been a hellish day and a half since he woke up in the hospital. He instantly tried to make a run for it, but he hadn’t made it five feet before some guy with freakishly tall blonde hair and an earsplittingly loud voice screamed at him to “SIT DOWN, YOU DELINQUENT BRAT,” knocking him out again. Hours later he woke up in the district holding pens, with metal handcuffs sealing off his palms. And he’s been stewing here in his combustive juices ever since. At least his bullet wounds have vanished.

“Are you ready to talk yet?” asks the detective, black eyes steadily boring into him.

“Fuck off and die!” Explodokill growls. He rattles his handcuffs.

“Should we count that as threatening a government official?” the other policeman asks brightly.

“Let’s just focus on the bigger things for now, Sansa,” the detective sighs.

What’s this guy’s deal? He looks so normal and unassuming, it has to be a trick. Or could he be a quirkless shithead, like Deku?

Except Deku isn’t quirkless, not anymore. He jumped ten feet during the fight with All Might, faster than Explodokill could blink. Maybe another person’s quirk launched him, or it was just some trick of the light. But that wouldn’t explain how he got into UA, into this hero class being personally taught by All Might. There’s no such thing as a quirkless hero. It’s an unspoken, unbreakable law of the universe. Deku, the little crybaby, must have somehow gotten a quirk.

Noumu with multiple abilities. Rumors of quirk experiments. Deku gaining super speed. That vision of All Might, rotting before his eyes. And the clincher: while villains are usually piled into one cell block, rotated out for questioning, Explodokill got his own sweet little space, and one-on-one time with the head detective himself.

He’s seen something he wasn’t supposed to, and now the police and heroes are trying to cover their asses. They’re afraid of him, and trying not to show it. Explodokill has the upper hand.

“Your parents are coming to see you today,” the detective says.

Explodokill sneers and refuses to be played. “Like I give a fuck. You think that’ll make me want to talk?”

The detective smiles faintly. “Not at all. However, they’re very eager to be reunited with their son. They’ve offered to pay for your bail.”

“I don’t need anyone’s fucking bail.”

“We’re just trying to help you, Bakugou.”

They drag him to a room painted soothing green and yellow, which just pisses him off even more, and shove him into a cushioned folding chair. Then a middle-aged couple walks in, holding hands. They sit across from him at the table.

His first thought is that the woman kind of looks like himself.

Oh, he realizes belatedly. This is my mom.

“Katsuki,” says the man. He takes a handkerchief from his pocket and wipes his hands.

Maybe it’s the name, or the voice. Maybe it’s that simple gesture, and how he knows it’s because the man has oxidizing sweat, so he has to use a special handkerchief to keep from accidentally making an explosion when he’s nervous. There’s no particular memory attached. It doesn’t hit him like a hammer, like it did with Deku. It just washes over him, something long lost sliding easily back into place. Like hearing an old song on the radio, and before you know it you’re singing all the lyrics. A familiarity that’s become second nature.

His dad looks so much older. There are tired lines in his face that he doesn’t remember at all.

For lack of anything better to say, Katsuki answers, “What?”

His mom goes from zero to fucking a hundred. She explodes. “What? What!? That’s all you have to say to your father!? Katsuki, you piece-of-shit son, why’d it take you this long to come back to us, huh!? Nine years! Nine fucking years! You running around playing villain!”

This is familiar, too, and without hesitation Katsuki snaps back, “You think I was playing around, you old hag!? What do you know!? If it was up to me I’d never see you again, so you can just shut your fucking mouth!”

“Don’t make me come over there and smack some sense into you! I’m your mother, I wiped your ass before you learned to walk, you show me some respect! We’re getting you out of here, alright!? So stop causing trouble and behave yourself!”

He surges to his feet, knocking back his chair, and a guard bursts through the door and yells at him to settle down. His mom stands up too, eyes blazing, while his dad urges them both to keep calm.

“I don’t need your help!” he shouts over everyone. “I can get out on my own! Stay out of my fucking life!”

“We’ve done that for nine years and look where that’s got you! In goddamned jail! You bet your ass we’re staying in your life!”

“Well then where were you nine years ago, huh!?” The guard grabs ahold of him and starts to pull him away, and he screams over his shoulder, “Where were you every day until now!? You’re just a couple sad old strangers, you have no right to call yourselves my parents!”

He has the satisfaction of seeing his mom’s face, shocked and empty, before the door slams closed.

The detective clicks his tongue and shakes his head. “That could’ve gone better,” he says.

“Fuck you!”

“If you can’t control yourself in front of your parents, we’re going to have to keep cutting these meetings short.”

“I don’t care!”

They throw some kind of therapist at him, but he curses her out for the entire 2-hour session so he won’t have to hear her talk. He tries to escape again that night, blasts a hole through his holding cell. He makes it to the fire escape, but there the cat head police officer knocks him flat. They start keeping the cuffs on him almost 24/7.

From a particularly chatty guard, he learns that all 73 villains captured from the USJ have one public defender assigned to them, and the woman is too exhausted to do more than process their paperwork and encourage them to plead guilty. Explodokill knows someone who knows the contact for a lawyer who might be able to help, but their asking price is ridiculous, and he refuses to call them unless he has no other choice.

On day three his parents come to see him again, and it goes about as well as it did the first time. The detective interrogates him again, too, and Explodokill spends the whole time thinking up creative new ways to kill him with fire.

“I didn’t want to do this,” the detective says, after an hour of questions answered only with expletives. “But this is a matter of national security, and we’re rather pressed for time. Let the record state that I accept sole responsibility for what is about to happen, and that I will not use this information in court, but merely to further the investigation into the League of Villains and the kidnapping of Bakugou Katsuki.”

“What the fuck?” Explodokill hisses, tensing.

The door opens quietly. Someone wearing a modified black and purple motorcycle suit walks in, the helmet covering his whole head except for a clear space around his eyes.

“Are you the baby villain throwing a tantrum?” he drawls, looking right at Explodokill.

He slams his cuffs against the table menacingly. “The fuck did you just say!?”

The world goes hazy for a while.

The next thing he knows, the guy in the motorcycle suit is gone, and there’s an empty cup of tea in front of Explodokill.

“Are you alright, Bakugou?” the detective asks calmly. “You lost a bit of time. About an hour, actually.”

He bares his teeth to hide his unease, and growls, “What the fuck did you just do?”

Was it a mind trick? A quirk? His throat is a little hoarse, but otherwise he doesn’t feel different.

“You must be tired. We’ll wrap up for now,” the detective says. “I’ll see you tomorrow. Sleep well.”

Explodokill spends the night wide awake, racking his brains and fiddling with his cuffs. He’s never heard of a quirk that forces people to confess, but there are stranger and stranger quirks out there every day. He’ll have to assume the worst. If he told the detective everything, he loses the earlier advantage he’d had, and he’ll stop getting any special treatment. They’ll shunt him through the system to rot in prison like everyone else. He needs to get out before that happens.

With a bit of flexibility, he finds a way to squeeze nitroglycerin from his trapped palms down his arms out of the cuffs, and drips about a milliliter onto the floor. He aims the hinge of the cuffs at it, braces himself, and slams his arms down.

He nearly loses a finger, but it blasts open the cuffs, so it’s totally worth it. Of course, the second the cell detects an explosion, the guards come charging in. They don’t even give him a chance to punch someone. They fucking sleep gas him.

He wakes up in a fresh set of cuffs, and is forced to sit through another hour with the therapist telling him that blowing up his cuffs again will just piss off the guards even more, so he might as well wait to go to trial, and maybe all he wants is attention and someone to talk about his feelings with? Fuck her.

When he gets back, he spends ten minutes cursing the cell blue, kicking and pounding at the stupid jail door. Then he collapses back on the stiff folding bed, exhausted. It’s been four days, and he’s getting fucking sick of this. He goes back to sleep, and sleeps through most of the next day.

The detective interrogates him again, but it’s a short session, mostly for show.

“How are you holding up?” he asks.

Explodokill responds with surly silence. When his parents come, he just glares at them with his mouth clenched shut.

“Detective Tsukauchi was so kind as to let you out on house arrest until you go on trial next month,” his mom is saying. “On Sunday you’re coming home with us. It’s Friday, by the way. So you should act grateful and think about what you want to do!”

“Is there anything you want us to prepare for your room?” his dad adds.

Their voices irritate his ears. Going home? What the fuck does that mean? He glares at the new metal cuffs around his wrists and doesn’t even bother to yell. There isn’t any point. He has to conserve his energy. Their presence drifts over him, and he sits there for half an hour and lets their words smear into nonsensical chaos.

They throw the therapist at him again, which he resolutely ignores, and then he’s left alone. He skips dinner in favor of sleeping early, and wakes up even more tired than before. Five days, fuck. His thoughts are starting to fray at the ends, his muscles twitchy, his quirk threatening to go off in the metal cuffs and blow off his hands, despite the warning. He’s losing his window for an easy escape. Now it’ll just get harder the more time passes, and it pushes to the surface a memory of an earlier prison, playing the waiting game for months and months, years and years. Staying quiet until the chance came to blow the whole place sky high.

He wonders if they’d let him call Gap-tooth to get in touch with his lawyer friend. He wonders if Gap-tooth would even agree to help him.

“You have new visitors today,” the detective says. “Do you remember Midoriya Inko? She’s the mother of your childhood friend.”

He hears it like his ears are underwater. The meaning doesn’t register. They bring him to the green and yellow room again, and he stares blearily at the door, unable to muster up an emotion other than vague annoyance.

A plump, cheerful looking woman enters the room. Deku trails behind her.

It’s like getting slapped awake. He feels a rush of hatred, blazing into his lungs and clearing his mind, and he has an overwhelming urge to launch forward and—hit Deku with his cuffs, or something, he doesn’t care. He gets halfway out of his seat.

“Katsuki, honey!” the woman says. “It’s so good to see you again! Oh, look at how you’ve grown!”

He freezes.

The woman clutches her chest, eyes wet, and turns to Deku. “He’s so big now! Just like you, he’s becoming a grown man!” She bustles to the table and opens a container of cookies. The smell wafts over him: chocolate and chili powder. He recognizes it instantly. “I brought your favorite, Katsuki, I hope you still like them. I’m afraid they might be a little chewy, it’s been so long since I’ve made these!”

Slowly, Katsuki lowers himself back into his seat. “What…?” His voice is rough from a day without use. He clears his throat.

“Go on, take one!” Mrs. Midoriya insists. She pats the seat next to her. “You too, Izuku, come over and sit! My, we have so much to catch up on. I hope they’re feeding you properly in this place, you’re a growing boy.”

Deku slinks over and lays his backpack on the table as he sits. Katsuki glares at him.

“I’m not eating your f…fine cookies,” he says, and pauses, aghast. Did he just stop himself from cursing? With a compliment?

“No need to be so modest, Kacchan,” Deku says with a tremulous smile. “Nobody else in the family can stand spicy food. They’re all yours.”

“I’m not being modest!”

Mrs. Midoriya beams at him. “It’s alright, you can eat them later if you’re not hungry. I heard they’re going to release you tomorrow! Are you excited?”

“They’re not releasing me. They’re putting me under house arrest.”

“Well, it’s a very near thing—you’ll get to come home with your parents, and I’ve talked to the detective, so you can also come visit our home whenever you’d like! I’m very, very happy for you, Katsuki.”

That’s not a near thing at all, and why the fuck are you happy about this, he almost replies. “Whatever,” he grumbles instead.

“How do you feel, Kacchan?” Deku asks, his eyes big and concerned.

“Oh, just perfect, since someone got me landed in f…freaking jail!”

Deku winces. “S-sorry about that. I didn’t have a lot of options there, I kind of panicked.”

“What are you talking about!? You dragged me out of the warp gate with your own two hands! This is completely your fault! If you’d just let go, everything would’ve been fine!”

“Leaving you was not an option,” Deku says with surprising fierceness.

Mrs. Midoriya adds, quietly stern, “I agree. It wasn’t an option. I’m sorry you have to suffer here, Katsuki, but when you come home, you’ll see. Your parents love you very much. You belong with them.”

He barks out a laugh. “You don’t even know me! How do you know where I belong or not!?”

“A good parent always knows when their children are unhappy,” Mrs. Midoriya says, and that shuts him up. “I’ve known you your whole childhood, Katsuki, and I’ve known your parents longer. I know it’s difficult to trust us right now. But even though this must be a big and confusing change for you, I really think this will turn out for the better. Give us a chance? Please. Just for the month before the trial.”

Katsuki feels intensely uncomfortable under her steady gaze—so similar to Deku’s, but worldly-wise and infinitely stronger. He decides it’s not worth a fight right now, and huffs and looks away. “Do whatever you want, woman.”

She nods, and sits back, satisfied.

“Um, Kacchan, I brought you a book,” says Deku. He pulls a well-worn paperback out of his bag and sets it on the table, next to the cookies. “I thought you might get bored, so…it’s about a boy who can talk to dragons.”

“What, it’s not a book about heroes?” Katsuki sneers. He keeps his cuffed hands firmly under the table, but examines the cover: a fiery red dragon trashing a medieval town. “Of course, your other favorite, fantasy adventure. The hero’s probably a useless nobody who gains magical powers and saves the world. I’ll bet you know all the stupid fake language names and places on the fake map, too, huh? You’re such a nerd.”

Deku blinks at him, eyes full of wonder. “See, you say that we don’t know you, but then you call me a nerd.”

His hackles rise. “Well you are a nerd! What’s the big deal!?”

“Earlier today, I didn’t know what to expect.” Deku looks straight at him even as his hands shake over the table. “I don’t know what you’ve been through, and I was worried that you may have turned into a totally different person. You’re a villain, and you hurt my friend. But now I know that, despite it all, you’re also the same person I used to play with as a kid, the same Kacchan who called me a nerd and liked weird spicy cookies. So I’m relieved.”

“Why the f…why would you be relieved!?”

“Because it means I can still help you.”

Katsuki bares his teeth and growls. “How would you help me? Break me out of jail? Erase my criminal record?”

“I’ll make you remember who you really are,” Deku says firmly. And then falters. “Um—I mean, not that you aren’t who you are right now! But, as you are, uh, um—”

“God, shut up, Deku! You’re not making any fucking sense!”

“Katsuki,” Mrs. Midoriya says sharply.

Katsuki bites back a curse. “If you’re trying to make me forgive you, Deku, it’s not going to work. This is all your fault. I’ll play along with the sad old couple if it’ll get me out of this cement box, but then I’m coming for you. All the easier if I know where you live.”

It was meant to be a threat, but the two of them just give him matching warm smiles. It’s extremely disturbing.

“I’ll be waiting!” says Deku, and that’s just fucked up.

After they leave, the guards takes off his metal cuffs. The detective raises an eyebrow, challenging him to try something, but he just glares at the man and retreats to the relative privacy of his own cell (relative, since everything in here is recorded by security). He feels much better now that he can move, and his skin can breathe. He opens the container of cookies and takes a careful bite.

Chocolate, chili powder, cinnamon, all melting in his mouth. The center is gooey, but the edges are satisfyingly crunchy. It’s fucking delicious. More than delicious—it’s, like, comfort food level. He didn’t even know he had a comfort food. It pisses him off, but what the hell, he isn’t going to waste a good batch of cookies. Slowly working through the rest of the container, he opens up Deku’s book and begins to read.

The exhaustion and low-thrumming panic don’t touch him again the rest of his stay in the holding cell.

 


 

He’s required to wear trackers around his wrists when he leaves. They’re sleek and lightweight, inconspicuous. But they cannot be removed, are nearly indestructible, and will instantly sound an ear-piercing alarm if he uses his quirk or deviates too far from his authorized route. His parents and the police can also look up his GPS location at any point with a secure phone app. They aren’t tracking visual or sound, though. So at least he can look forward to a little more privacy.

“We kept your old room,” his dad says, sounding a strange mixture of sheepish and proud. “Of course, you can stay in a different room if you’d like, and change any of the decorations or furniture, but, ah, well, we weren’t sure what you wanted to replace them with. There wasn’t much time to prepare.”

“Your father cleaned a fucking cubic meter of dust out of this room,” his mom grouses. “Vacuumed the carpet and got you a new bed, too! I had to give him a massage for his back! So you’d better make sure to thank him properly!”

Explodokill steps into the room and looks around clinically. It’s small, but sunlight streams through the open windows, making it feel more open. There’s a squat little desk to one side, with a dinosaur desk lamp and a cheerful red pencil holder. Next to it is a bookshelf full of children’s fiction and educational material, and some ambitious middle school level chemistry books. The top shelf is stuffed with hero paraphernalia, action figures and handheld games and comic books, featuring All Might, Crimson Riot, and several others. There are posters of All Might on the walls, too, faded and gray from exposure to the sun. The ceiling over the bed is littered with glow-in-the-dark explosion stickers.

There isn’t a speck of dust in the room, but Katsuki still feels like he can’t breathe. Every little object is a relic from an ancient past, heavy with age. He feels like a time traveler who’s forgotten the way home. The only thing in the room that isn’t incredibly useless and depressing is the bed: twin size, with plain black and gray sheets. Simple. Conservative. Anonymous.

“You got a storage box somewhere?” he asks.

His parents’ faces do something complicated, and then his mom says, “Yeah, got a few right over here.”

He shoos them both out of the room, and for the next hour he tears through the little space like a whirlwind—taking down the posters, dumping out the books, unsticking every goddamned glow-in-the-dark sticker. He does it carefully, of course, and stores it all in the boxes so they won’t get damaged, he’s not a complete idiot. But he moves at the feverish pace of someone possessed. There’s a fury brewing in his blood, and if he doesn’t keep moving, he’ll burn down the fucking house. He doesn’t belong here. Who was Mrs. Midoriya kidding? Nothing about him fits in this room. He’s too big for the desk, he’s too old for the books, he’s too far removed to feel anything about the All Might posters but black humor and spite.

The only thing in the room he leaves untouched is the bed. Thankfully the walls and carpet are an unassuming beige. He drags all the boxes into the closet, and turns around to inspect what’s left. Sunny windows, discolored patches on the wall from the posters, and a bed.

He can breathe now, at least.

He meets his parents for lunch downstairs, and they don’t comment on the prodigious banging and yelling he made while cleaning his room. His mom tells him to thank her for the noodles, and he tells her to fuck off. His dad asks if he wants more things to decorate his room with, and he rejects the offer. He digs into his food, and is angry all over again that it tastes somehow comfortable, even though, objectively, it’s not even that great. Weirdly sweet, and the noodles are undercooked. What the hell is wrong with his taste buds?

“I was going to tell you some amazing news about what you’ll be doing this coming week,” his mom says. “But some idiot son of mine decided to be rude.”

He glares at her. “Your cooking sucks!”

“What, you think you can do better than me!?”

He shoves a bundle of noodles into his mouth, chews, and swallows. “I’ll cook dinner tonight, so tell me what you know.”

His parents stare at him. “You can cook!?”

“Of course I can cook! I wasn’t ordering takeout for nine years, damn it!”

“I didn’t ask for a whole meal!” says his mom. “Just thank me, you shitty son, it’s not that hard!”

“I’m not gonna thank you for a shit lunch! Tonight I’ll cook better than you ever have, old hag. So tell me the news already!”

His mom throws her hands in the air and says, “Fine! You’ve got some messed up notions of gratitude and manners, but I don’t back down from a challenge. We’ll have a cooking battle tonight!”

His dad wipes his hands on his handkerchief.

“Anyways, Katsuki,” his mom says. “I just got a call from Deku’s homeroom teacher, Aizawa-sensei, and he had an interesting proposition. His class has invited you to sit in on some of their lessons.”

“…Hah!?”

“Apparently the students all called the principal at the same time this morning and petitioned to let you visit their class. You must know some of them,” she says wryly. “UA class 1-A. Aizawa-sensei assures me that none of them holds a grudge.”

He’s going to fucking kill Deku.

“Why the hell should I sit there and watch a bunch of wannabe heroes go to school?” he hisses.

“For the learning experience! Kids out there would kill to see the inside of UA, are you kidding me!?” She grins at him. “Besides, Aizawa-sensei cleared it with Detective Tsukauchi. Going to UA will give a good impression on the judge, and might count toward community service hours in your sentence. Obviously, you’re free to choose what you want to do. I would be perfectly happy if you decide to stay in this house, 24/7, every day of the next month. I will extend my vacation from my job and be right here with you, every second of it.”

He grits his teeth. “I know what you’re fucking doing, old hag!”

She just looks smug. His dad pipes up, “You don’t have to answer right away. But think about it, please. You may not remember this, but I know how much you wanted to go to UA when you were a child; even now, I’m sure, there’s something you can learn from the students there.”

He clenches his fist around his chopsticks and has to concentrate on not blowing something up, or dumping the bowl of noodles over his dad’s head. No point wasting food. “I don’t need to fucking learn from them. They’re no better than me. I beat one of the freshmen in a fight already.”

His dad looks at him sadly. “That’s not what I meant, Katsuki.”

After lunch, he picks up the Tupperware and book and makes the short trek to Deku’s apartment, part of his pre-approved route. His feet carry him to the right address without having to think—the scenery is almost the same, with just a few small changes. The park has a new sign, and a new swing set. There are no blue horses. The place where the plastic horses used to be, creaking and juddering on their springs, there is now only empty mulch. He moves past the park quickly, unsettled.

At Deku’s place, he picks up a small rock and chucks it at a window he instinctively knows is the right one, and then waits for a few seconds. He picks up another rock.

The window slides open. “Kacch—ack!” He ducks the rock flying for his face, then pops back up. “Kacchan! You’re here!”

“What the fuck did you do, Deku!?” he screams.

“Sshh, hold on, I’ll be right down!”

The window closes. He taps his foot impatiently, and throws another rock, just to be mean. In two minutes, Deku comes flying out the building.

“Kacchan!”

He grabs Deku’s collar and slams him against the building wall. “You told them to let me into UA!”

“I—” Deku blinks rapidly. “Um, I, yes, I did, but—”

“Why!? So you all can laugh at me!? Take your revenge!? ‘Look at Explodokill, some villain he is. Got into UA cuz a loser took pity on him. He can’t even use his quirk because he’s wearing this stupid tracker, like a dog!’ Fuck you, Deku!”

“No!” Deku yelps. In a surprising twist, he wrenches himself out of Katsuki’s grip and hops a few feet away. “That isn’t what I meant at all, Kacchan! I’m trying to help you, I swear!”

“How is this helping!?” he roars. “How is any of this helping!? This is all your fault, it’s always your fucking fault!”

Deku rubs at his cheeks and hair, tears brimming in his eyes. “I just thought you might like it, okay!? You always liked this kind of stuff. Testing yourself, and fighting with amazing quirks, and learning how to be better!” He sniffs, and looks at his shoes. “But if—if you’re scared we’ll make fun of you, then I guess I made a mistake.”

Kacchan freezes. “You did not just say that,” he growls dangerously.

“I mean,” Deku continues, staring contritely at his stupid red shoes, “it’s a really scary situation. Anyone would rather just stay at home. Anyone would take a couple days to make a decision, and be worried about what everyone else is going to think of them, and not really care about the chance to see real quirks being developed for battle—”

An empty Tupperware container hits Deku in the nose, and he squawks.

“I fucking get it already!” Katsuki yells. “Holy fuck! You guys are not subtle!”

“Uh-um, I wasn’t trying to—”

“You’re a shitty liar, Deku, don’t even try with me!” He kicks at the dust around him, sending up a flurry of light brown indignation. “I’ll go to UA, fuck! I’ll go fucking tomorrow! And I’ll do it just to beat the crap out of you lily-livered nerds, without using my quirk! You think you’ve got me figured out, huh!? I’ll turn around and blow you out of the goddamned water! Fuck! So don’t you dare get comfortable!” He stomps out of the dust cloud and thrusts the paperback into Deku’s hands. “And give me the damned sequel to this!”

Deku’s jaw drops. “You…”

“I’m not going to repeat myself, Deku!” He shakes the book. “Red Rhino is way too unrealistically nice and Crackersnap does not deserve her, they’d better fix this shit in the sequel!”

“R-right! Do you, um, want to come up?”

If Katsuki is completely honest with himself, he isn’t ready to face Mrs. Midoriya a second time. “I’m waiting down here, dumbass! Now move it!”

Deku scrambles to do as he asks. Katsuki fumes around the entrance of the building. In another ten minutes, Deku dashes back out, not one but two books in hand.

“You can keep them, if you want,” he says breathlessly. He holds out the original novel and its sequel. “I’ve already read them, like, five times.”

Katsuki scowls at him. “I don’t need anything from you,” he says, but snatches them both anyways. He’s got plenty of space in his room.

“Next time you want another book, you can just give me a text and I’ll meet you wherever.”

“Haven’t got a fucking phone,” he grumbles.

“Oh! Really? Um, okay, well, whenever you do get a phone, this is my number.” He pulls a pen out of his pants pocket—does the nerd seriously just keep those there?—and scribbles his number in the back of the first book. “Anything else?”

“Don’t take that fucking tone with me,” he snaps. “No! I’m leaving now!”

“Okay,” Deku says. He’s smiling, because he’s slightly not right in the head. “Hey, Kacchan.”

“What!?”

“I’m really happy you’re here again.”

Katsuki nearly punches him, because what the fuck does that mean? Katsuki, for one, is not happy to be here again, in this situation, with these very limited shitty choices. But Deku is already retreating back into the building. “I’ll see you tomorrow!” he says.

 


 

Back in his room, Katsuki picks a corner of the room and arranges his two (2) books in a neat pile on the floor. He picks up the first one and frowns at the number written in the back.

Something falls over behind him. Thump.

He spins around.

On the other side of the room, a black object lies on the ground. Cautiously, Katsuki approaches. It’s a black burner phone, and attached is an index card with blue ink written on it.

welcome home, kacchan!

His throat feels suddenly dry. He picks up the phone delicately and flips it open. There’s only one number saved. He selects it.   

 

Who the hell is this

In a few seconds, there’s a response.  

 

why kacchan, you already forgot?

i thought we were friends.

i promised not to leave you behind, didnt i?

Don’t call me that name

aahhhh, that’s right

only that little All Might fanboy can call you kacchan, hm

what was his name

doku? denku?

The fuck do you want

the same thing that you want, my dear precious friend

freedom

we just need a little cooperation from you, thats all

The battle thrill that he’d been craving, cooped up on all sides, finally returns to him. He licks his lips, and types out:  

 

I’m listening

Chapter Text

“Let’s play hero!” said Kacchan. His faithful followers, Deku and two boys whose names he no longer remembers, agreed. They spent whole days gallivanting around the nearby mountains, terrorizing the lizards and splattering their clothes with mud. Kacchan tolerated Deku, because they were still at that age when any companionship, even with a quirkless nerd, was preferable to being alone.

Their favorite game was playing hero. Deku, by popular vote, was always the villain. Kacchan and the two boys would fan out over the mountain, seeking Deku out, and when they found him would scream a special war cry and drag him into the dirt.

“Am I doing okay as the villain?” Deku asked, scrapes on his elbows and dust in his hair.

“You’re doing great,” Kacchan replied cheerfully. “You’re such a loser, it’s perfect!”

It was fun to pick on Deku, to push him until he cried and then watch him cling to his tormentors like a kicked puppy. But the game always ended the same way, and eventually Kacchan grew bored.

“I’ll be the villain this time,” he said, just to mix it up.

He didn’t run and hide like Deku. He stalked the three heroes down, eager and powerful, and ground them into the dust, one by one. It was terribly easy.

“Is that all?” he cackled. The two boys cowered in front of him, pleading for him to stop, he was scaring them. “Boooring!”

Deku tackled him from behind.

“Smash!” he yelled, in his weak, girly voice. “Run, you guys!”

It surprised him so much that he flipped Deku over his shoulder, without thinking, and threw him onto the ground. Deku broke an arm. The sound of bone cracking, and the boys’ screams, and Deku too shocked to cry—it spooked him badly. Playtime ended with a panicky phone call to Mrs. Midoriya, and when his mom found out, she grounded him for a week.

“You can’t be a hero if you don’t follow the rules!” she yelled. “If I catch you hurting anyone else like that, you’re dead to me, you hear!? UA will never admit someone who doesn’t respect society!”

Play by the rules. Kacchan heard the message, loud and clear. There were some lines that a hero simply never crossed. People who broke kids’ arms, who disobeyed their mothers and made trouble for trouble’s sake, those people were cheaters, were losers. Those people were villains.

Kacchan told himself that he would never be the villain again.

 


 

On Monday morning 7 am, his mom wakes him up by banging on his bedroom door until he yells at her that he’s coming, damn it. He has no idea if this is a normal family thing, but it irritates him that he has to regulate his life according to his parents’ schedules. He washes up and dresses in the new clothes his parents got him, a red T-shirt and black baggy pants. They’re both a size too large.

His parents haven’t stepped foot in his room since he arrived, but just to be safe, he’d found a pair of children’s scissors in the closet and cut open a little hole in the mattress, where he’d hidden the burner phone, the scissors, and a charger (which had dropped into the room a little after, like Creepy Hands had just remembered). It’s enough to make him feel a little better about the trackers around his wrists.

When he comes to breakfast, Deku is sitting at the table, munching happily on a blueberry muffin.

“G’morning, Kacchan!” Deku says.

“What the fuck!” he yells, his heart racing like he’s seen a ghost.

“Don’t yell so early in the morning,” his mom grumbles, and yawns, shuffling through the kitchen. “He came to take you to UA, remember?”

Oh, he remembers, alright.

Over breakfast, Katsuki learns that he isn’t allowed to go beyond his and the Midoriyas’ houses without supervision, so Deku will serve as his escort to and from UA. He’ll be sitting with Class 1-A through morning lectures, and will observe from the sidelines their afternoon foundational hero courses.

“Have you been to school since—uh, when we were kids?” Deku asks.

“School’s a fucking drag,” he replies. “I learned everything I need to on my own, obviously.”

This makes Deku look nervous, but he’s a pathetic ball of anxiety on a good day, so Katsuki ignores him.

He's forced to change into a uniform that Deku brought, which is only barely tolerable once he ditches the damned tie. Then they're off to school, like a pair of actual fucking nerd kids. UA is enormous. Deku slides open the huge 1-A classroom door, and the noisy chatter coming from the class abruptly dies out.

A straight-laced guy with glasses jumps forward and nearly whacks him in the face with a rigid palm. “Greetings, Bakugou Katsuki! My name is Iida Tenya. We, the students of Class 1-A, welcome you to this wonderful institute!”

A girl with a round face and disgustingly pleasant smile joins him. “Hello, Bakugou! It’s nice to properly meet you. My name is—“

“Don’t care,” he snaps, cutting her off. She takes a step back, frowning. He shoves past them and stands at the front of the classroom. The students are all staring at him now, and he glares back at them. It’s unsettling to see so many people his age sitting docile in one place. They come in all shapes and sizes, but they wear the same uniform, and the way they turn slightly toward each other and stare fixedly at him, bright-eyed and fresh-faced, seems to form a unified front against him, the intruder.

They definitely seem like the types of nerds who’d get along well with Deku.

“Let me make something clear,” he says. “I don’t give a fuck why you spoiled brats thought it’d be a bright idea to drag me here. I’m not doing this to hold hands in a circle and sing kumbaya. I’m only here for one reason: to learn how to kill every last one of you.”

He wants to shake them out of their comfortable seats, and especially wants to rattle Deku. But only one asshole with purple lumps on his head looks visibly frightened, and Deku simply shrugs at him apologetically. One student—he recognizes him as the ice quirk kid, Half ’n Half—says, in a flat voice, “If you really wanted to scout us, don’t you think telling us your intentions is counterproductive? Now none of us will show you our full battle capabilities.”

Oh, he’s going to enjoy pummeling that scarred face into the ground. He opens his mouth to say so, when the classroom door slides open again.

“Morning, kids,” a sleepy voice drones.

In two seconds flat, the students leap into their places and sit up attentively. Deku tries to pull him toward the back of the classroom, but Katsuki twists his arm out of his grasp, and Deku abandons him with a panicky look.

A man with full-body bandages and a mop of black hair walks up to him.

“I don’t have the patience for a new problem child,” he grunts.

Katsuki bristles. “Which fucking graveyard did you crawl out from?”

“If you disrupt class, this little social experiment is over,” Mr. Mummy replies, unfazed. “My students’ education comes first, and on top of that, they’re busy preparing for the UA Sports Festival. It will not take much to persuade me to send you back home. Take a seat.” His eyes appear as two narrow, bloodshot slits.

Back when Explodokill was eleven years old and fresh on the streets, he learned pretty fast that certain hierarchies were not to be messed with. Kids who jumped at seasoned adults, or new villains who were overeager to gain a reputation, were just as soon crushed under the heel of the universe. Explodokill’s instincts have always helped him pick his battles well.

Mr. Mummy, he can see from the eyes, is not to be messed with. Explodokill warily retreats to the empty seat in the back, next to Deku.

The next several hours are some of the weirdest in his life. He wasn’t lying to Deku, earlier; one of the first things he’d done when he’d gotten his own computer was get himself an education. Nobody would call him stupid, or try to shortchange him because his reading comprehension or math was lacking. He had a lot to catch up on, but by his estimation, he’d started doing work beyond his grade level by the time he turned 14.

Turns out, he was at least half wrong. So maybe he can ace online courses for high school science and math. But what the fuck are these kids reading? A house cat narrating his owner’s life? Who the hell is Beethoven? Why are they learning about all these dead Japanese people from a thousand years ago? Also, the way they teach English in a classroom is totally different from one person sitting in front of a screen—the kids get into groups, have conversations, call out answers and correct each other’s sentences. Katsuki’s pronunciation, he’s horrified to discover, makes him sound like a troll with a speech disorder. Even the science and math, when they require a little more creativity in application, make his head swim.

Plus, he recognizes the English teacher as the pro hero who knocked him out in the hospital, and the Modern Literature teacher as the one who knocked him out in the USJ. He’s studied the other teachers’ profiles before, too, in case he ever had to face a pro hero in battle, but it’s a whole different thing to see them gush praise at students, clap their hands for attention, and ramble excitedly about the structure of the Japanese army in WWII. They can legally kill him if he steps too far out of line, and it turns out that they’re all just fucking nerds. It’s demeaning as fuck.

Deku sends him little glances throughout class, and at one point says aloud, “Are you doing okay, Kacchan?”

Katsuki flips him off.

School, he decides, is unnatural and oppressive and makes his skin fucking crawl. He’s going to catch up to Deku in every damned subject and beat that patronizing look of concern off his face.

Deku leads him to lunch, awkwardly trying to include him in conversation with Round Face and Glasses. Katsuki eyes the exits and contemplates stabbing someone with a fork. As they walk into the cafeteria, a voice calls out: “Hey Blasty Boy!” He looks up sharply at the name.

It’s Shitty Hair, the kid with the hardening quirk who was too stupid to die. He looks perfectly unscathed, not even a band-aid or a scar. Explodokill narrows his eyes. “Don’t call me that.”

“Okay, Bakugou it is. I’m Kirishima Eijirou! Can I join you for lunch?”

“Fuck off,” he replies, at the same time as Deku says, with some relief, “Of course! I mean—if that’s what you want, Kirishima.”

He ends up wedged between Deku and Shitty Hair, with Glasses and Round Face sitting across from him, like they’re packing him in so he won’t explode all over the cafeteria. It’s a distinct possibility. He’s practically vibrating as he eats the food Deku bought for him, which for all its richness tastes like ash in his mouth. His back feels sore from sitting in a chair all day.

“So, wow, we got off on the wrong foot,” Shitty Hair says, “but I get that you were just doing what villains do. I don’t take it personally.”

That is a blatant lie. “I, personally, wish the building crushed your bones to dust,” Katsuki growls, trying to read the guy’s intent. Logically, he’d be seeking revenge, maybe a chance to pull him away from Deku’s mother-henning and fuck him up while he can’t use his quirk. Katsuki feels acutely the sharpness of him—the teeth, the hair, the eyes. The only thing that doesn’t fit the picture is the warmth of his smile.

“Nah, it takes more than a building to stop me,” Shitty Hair says lightly. “Anyways, I’m super curious about you! Could you actually follow Cementoss’s lecture on Natsume Soseki today?” Before Katsuki can say something scathing, he adds, “I was totally lost the whole time!”

“Oh, it’s okay once you understand the core concept,” Deku says.

“It’s about a fucking cat,” Katsuki spits out.

Round Face bursts into laughter, as Glasses says, affronted, “It’s a satirical commentary on a watershed moment in Japan’s cultural history!”

“Hey, Kirishima! Hey, Kacchan! Mind if we join?” A student with pink skin and horns and a student with electric yellow hair sit at the table.

“Don’t fucking call me that,” Katsuki says.

Pikachu shrugs and carries on like he isn’t afraid at all. “You talking about Natsume? I low-key love that guy.”

The pink girl rolls her black-filled eyes. “Kaminari, I will never understand how you can quote all of Romeo and Juliet but can’t solve a linear equation for your life.”

“We all have our strengths and weaknesses.”

“So Bakugou,” says Round Face, “have you been to school before? What did you think of class?”

“I don’t need school to know how to murder your ass,” he growls, and tears a piece of meat apart with his teeth. “Class was fucking boring. Can’t believe you spend hours every day just sitting there.”

“Well, can you solve linear equations?” Pinky asks.

“Yes, I can solve fucking linear equations.”

“Wait, really?” says Deku.

“Why the hell do you sound so surprised!?”

“Ahh, I’m sorry…”

“How about quadratic functions? Stoichiometry?” Shitty Hair asks eagerly.

“Piece of fucking cake.” Which is the truth.

Shitty Hair beams, a full row of shark teeth on display. “Bro, that’s awesome! You must be, like, super smart or something. Do you want to study with me later? You’re not a student so you don’t have to do any of the work, but you’re aiming for an A in the class, anyways, aren’t you?”

Katsuki pauses his chewing. He examines Shitty Hair closely. He thought, at first, that the guy must be either stupid or extremely devious, but maybe he’s been gearing up to ally with Katsuki the whole time. It takes an admirable will to get over nearly dying in order to most efficiently utilize resources, and to work with a potential enemy towards a common goal. Maybe, just maybe, he should start seeing Shitty Hair in a new light.

“Can’t help you much with literature, but I’m a total history buff,” the guy continues. “If we put our brains together, I’m sure we’ll come out way smarter! And either way, I’ll feel better about tomorrow’s assigned readings if we can suffer together.”

Deku’s face pales. “Um—well, that might—Kacchan’s parents, you see, and the situation—” he stammers.

“Why the fuck not?” Katsuki says, and takes vicious satisfaction watching Deku’s jaw drop. “Call my mom and tell her, Deku.”

His mom agrees, and Shitty Hair pumps his fists in the air. Katsuki finds it a little easier to swallow his food.

After lunch, the students change into their gym clothes and follow Mr. Mummy to the field for basic training. Despite what Half ’n Half said, everyone seems to be openly using their quirks as they run around the obstacle course, do tactical training, or spar.

Everyone except Deku. He’s doing the obstacle course, and he’s as slow as a normal high school teenager. Nothing like that burst of speed back in the USJ. Stuck at Mr. Mummy’s side, Katsuki strains to get a closer look. Does Deku think he can hide it? What’s he playing at?

“You look angry about something,” says a tall guy with wicked purple hair, ambling up to him. “Is it hard being the token villain? Or maybe you’re just bored.”

Something about his voice feels familiar. Same for the eyes, which are tinted purple and have deep bags under them. Katsuki can’t place the memory, though. Did he see him at the USJ?

“You ever consider becoming a hero? The pension is much better.”

“Fuck off,” Katsuki snaps. Eye Bags is blocking his line of sight, and he tries to push past to keep watching Deku.

Eye Bags steps in front of him and gives a tiny smirk. “Come on, I just want an honest answer. Why be a villain?”

Katsuki grinds his teeth. “So I can beat up people like you, asshole!”

“Hm. But if you’re a hero, you could just beat up villains, couldn’t you?”

He reaches up to slam a palm into the guy’s solar plexus, but the guy ducks back, falling easily into a fighting stance.

“So all you are is a quick-tempered simpleton. I’m disappointed.”

“Shut up!”

“Shinsou,” Mr. Mummy says, but he and Eye Bags exchange a look, and he sighs deeply. “Fine, you can spar. But don’t make me intervene, I’m injured, damn it.”

“Yes sir,” Eye Bags says lazily, and whirls a kick at Explodokill.

“Shit!” He blocks the kick and swipes at Eye Bags. It’s been years since he’s had to fight completely without his quirk. His palms feel naked and cold. He shakes his apprehension off—quirk or not, nobody messes with Explodokill. He’ll make this guy regret the day he was born.

“Don’t worry,” says Eye Bags, still smirking, the fucker. “I won’t use my quirk, to keep things fair.”

“I’ll break your fucking neck!”

Eye Bags tries to swipe Explodokill’s feet out from under him, and Explodokill hops away. He feels like he’s moving in slow motion without his blasts. Eye Bags has the advantage of height, and he moves with fluid grace, clearly taught by a pro.

“I usually hate people like you,” he says as he weaves around Explodokill, something dark crossing over his face. “You have an amazing quirk. It’s perfect for a hero, yet here you are, using it for evil. It’s a waste.”

“Are you making fun of me!? I don’t need my quirk to kill you!”

Explodokill feints a right hook and tries to jab him in the stomach, but it just glances off his ribs. Eye Bags grabs hold of Explodokill and nearly wrestles him to the ground, but Explodokill slams an elbow into his throat and breaks the hold.

They break apart and size each other up, fists raised. Explodokill is just getting warmed up, but Eye Bags, to his delight, is already breathing hard.

“What I’m saying is, maybe you didn’t want to be a villain,” Eye Bags hisses between breaths. His eyes are fixed on Explodokill. “Maybe that’s just how the chips fell, just what someone else turned you into after years and years. So now—now, this is the first time you have a choice. You can choose to be—”

Explodokill sees red. He knows how that sentence ends, and he damn well won’t let it pass through the kid’s lips. He rushes forward, twisting at the last minute to duck out of his opponent’s line of sight and coming back with a vicious uppercut. Eye Bags's jaw snaps shut—he hopes it bites his tongue off—and he teeters in place, stunned. Explodokill drags him to the ground and pins him face down.

“I’m not your fucking bad-boy-turned-good poster child,” he growls. His blood is singing, and he feels a smile slash across his face. He does so love winning a fight. “I chose this path a long time ago! You can talk shit until you die of old age, but I will never change my mind!”

Eye Bags makes a choked-off sound and tries to buck him off. Explodokill wrenches his arm back to stop him squirming.

“I’m going to claw my way over every damned hero in my path,” he roars. “And then I’m going to kill All Might!”

He twists Eye Bags's arm, and Eye Bags cries out in pain—

Round Face bitch-slaps him. Out of nowhere, a loud slap! against his cheek.

“Fuck!” He whirls around to attack her, but suddenly his feet aren’t connected to the ground anymore. His swing misses her by a mile. He’s floating up, like a balloon. Panic shoots through him, and he flails, completely unable to control his body, helpless as a drowning insect. “You—fuck! What the fuck!”

“Don’t use your quirk!” Deku yells, rushing over from the obstacle course. “Remember the trackers! Just stay calm, Kacchan, it’s okay!”

“What! The! Fuck!”

“You okay, Shinsou?” Round Face asks as she crouches over the guy. “Can you move your arm?”

“Yeah,” Eye Bags croaks, sitting up and flexing his fingers. He clears his throat, winces at the growing bruise on his chin. “Thanks, Uraraka.”

“Not a problem!” She stands up and regards Katsuki sternly. “I’m not letting you go until you’ve thought about what you’ve done.”

“I’ll fucking kill you!”

“You’re worse than a six-year-old, honestly. Who tries to hurt their sparring partner like that?”

“Kacchan,” say Deku, “that wasn’t right! You should apologize to Shinsou!”

Katsuki curses them all from ten feet overhead, scrambling vainly to get a purchase on thin air. Mr. Mummy looks on at the proceedings and sighs deeply.

“I nearly had to step in,” he grumbles. “You can’t treat the enemy like any high school playmate, Shinsou. Don’t recklessly goad them on.”

“Yes sir.” He rubs his neck. “I misjudged the situation. Sorry for the trouble.”

“Uraraka, quick thinking. Good job. Let him down, now, I’ll handle the rest. Get back to training, everyone.”

The small crowd of students who’d gathered around the fight now reluctantly disperses. Round Face presses the pads of her fingers together and lets him fall, and he might seriously have broken a leg if Mr. Mummy hadn’t caught him with his magic ribbon thing.

“You fought well, up till you decided to play dirty,” he says, voice muffled by his bandages. “You’re not winning any respect for that stunt.”

Katsuki tears out of the ribbons. “Don’t lecture me! I’m not your fucking student,” he snarls.

“No, you’re not,” he agrees. “But I’m the responsible adult here, which means that I’m supposed to stop you from doing anything stupid. Breaking a kid’s arm because he acted presumptuous? That’s stupid. These kids won’t be intimated by that, they’ll just be pissed off.”

Katsuki seethes in silence.

“Still,” says Mr. Mummy, “they could stand to learn from an actual, experienced villain.”

“They should learn to leave me the fuck alone!”

He scoffs. “Unless you hide under a rock, that’s not going to happen. You have conviction, kid, though I can’t agree with where you’ve put it. People will draw inspiration from you, even these hero tadpoles.” He meets Katsuki’s eyes, and Katsuki doesn’t feel the usual blood-rush that accompanies danger. He just feels—seen. Like the man understands something about Katsuki, but instead of using it against him, he offers it back, opens the door and waits patiently for Katsuki to pass through. “More and more, people are going to approach you, to befriend you or to use you or to take you down. You’ll have to decide who to trust. Whether you like it or not, those people will define you.”

Katsuki clenches his jaw. “Giving advice to the enemy? You’re full of bullshit, Mr. Mummy.” He looks away and glares at the students running around the field. “Nobody defines me but myself.”

 


   

https://www.unrankedsmurfs.com/images/upload/blog/2017/02/superman.jpg

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Holy fuck would you shut up

Did you get what I asked

yes we collected all the items kacchan

like you said

to the exact milliliter

very handy anarchists cookbook youve got here

youll have to do smth about the smell on my clothes

Deal with it

i dont like you when youre like this kacchan

my team needs to be polite and appreciative

you should be more like kurogiri

hes nice to me

Fuck you how long until you’re ready

two weeks

no timeskip cheats, i never pay for those

ill be waiting to collect your end of the deal

anyways look at this funny meme i think it accurately reflects how rotten society has become

 


 

He meets All Might on a Thursday.

GOOD AFTERNOON, STUDENTS! I AM HERE!” All Might announces, prancing into class 1-A.

Explodokill’s desk makes an ear-piercing screeching sound as he flinches backward. The entire class turns to look at him. But he’s busy staring at the Symbol of Peace and trying really fucking hard not to do something stupid, like run out of the building, or go up to the man and punch him. All Might smiles at him, and it’s difficult not to interpret it as a smug, shit-eating grin. His face is probably stuck like that after featuring in one too many TV specials.

(There's no trace of his deflated form. Did Explodokill see what he thinks he saw—was that brief second in the USJ just a trick of the light?)

Welcome to UA, Bakugou, my boy! Now, is everyone else ready for foundational training?

The class cheers, deafening for such a small number of voices.

EXCELLENT! Please change into your hero suits and meet me in Ground Beta. I will escort our special guest there!

“Kacchan?” Deku’s quiet voice buzzes in his ear, rattling down his spine. Nails on chalkboard.

All Might is just as big a deal among villains as among heroes. But while most villains see him as an obstacle, or blame him for everything from unemployment to moldy bread, Explodokill has always been different. He’s not content to be another pebble on the road, suffocated by All Might’s shadow. Ever since he renounced a lawful life, he’s been striving to face All Might and take him down in a one-on-one fight, thereby becoming the undisputed greatest supervillain of all time. Everything else was incidental, at most just a stepping-block.

Until Deku came along.

Deku should’ve been nothing but a childhood memory, a cautionary tale of what might have happened to Explodokill’s illustrious villain career if he’d been born quirkless. Instead, Deku is right in Katsuki’s face, every day, a star of the UA heroics department, tied up somehow in All Might’s story. Katsuki isn’t stupid—the only reason he’s even seeing All Might right now is because Deku made it happen. Deku, with his miraculous quirk he never uses. Deku, who was there, too, when Katsuki (maybe) saw All Might shrivel.

Deku makes no sense, he inhabits a world that makes no sense and he pulled Katsuki straight into it. He feels like he’s spent his whole life preparing for a game that has suddenly changed all its rules. Katsuki should’ve been All Might’s mortal enemy. Instead All Might is weakening, and Katsuki is—what? A charity case. An accessory to Deku’s own heroic story. Not a student hero, and not a villain either, in this place. A something with nothing to stand on.

All Might lays a hand on his shoulder.

Are you alright, son?” he asks.

The classroom is empty. Everyone already left to change into their fancy hero costumes. It’s just him sitting in his borrowed seat, and All Might standing over him. His enormous hand is so gentle, it practically hovers over the fabric of his shirt. It’s making his skin itch.

Katsuki stands up. All Might instantly lets go and takes a step back.

“You’re not going to save me,” he says through gritted teeth. “Deku isn’t going to save me, either.”

Save you…? Um. Well—

“I’m so fucking sick of you heroes trying to save someone.” All Might’s eyes burn will-o’-the-wisp blue, remote and unreal. Maybe, if he stares at them hard enough, it’ll feel like he’s talking to an actual person. “I’m not a hero and I’m definitely not a victim. Do you hear me, All Might? Do you get it? I’m the one who’s going to end you.”

All Might just smiles his famous smile. “It's never a sign of weakness to seek help!” he says, which makes the least sense of all.

Well, whatever. It was stupid to think that All Might would give him advice on how to be a villain. Screw that Mr. Mummy. Katsuki knows what he is. It doesn’t matter who he associates with or whether he makes friends. It doesn’t matter what rules he breaks, what lies he tells, what bridges he burns. Everything he does leads to the same place: the top.

And if he has to play nice and attend UA like any other student, so be it. He’s almost used to dealing with Deku, and his parents, and all the rest.

 


 

The next week is the UA Sports Festival, which even Katsuki watches every year. For “security reasons” or whatever bullshit, he’s not allowed to be in the audience. Instead, his parents and Mrs. Midoriya set up a viewing party at the Bakugous’ apartment, and prepare extra handkerchiefs for his dad, a jumbo pack of tissue boxes for Mrs. Midoriya, and a pile of cushions for his mom to punch. Each of them also brings snack food and beer (the beer Katsuki is expressly forbidden to touch).

As they prepare, he swings by his room for a second. The place has acquired a puppy-themed calendar on the wall (from Round Face), assorted stationary (from Glasses), and a digital alarm clock with muscle arms protruding from it that can either make a normal ringing sound, play the radio, or shout motivational exercise tips with the enthusiasm of a drill sergeant (from Shitty Hair, who else?). He has a laptop and a smartphone from his parents, too. Pinky, Pikachu, and the plain-faced tape guy pitched together to get him an Ikea desk and chair so his parents wouldn’t have to, and came over on Saturday to spend another three hours assembling the damn things. They claimed it was to destress from preparing for the sports festival. Hero types are all fucking insane.

The pile of books in the corner has grown to six strong, and he’s just started a new series.

He picks up the smartphone and returns to the living room. The adults have crowded onto the same couch across from the TV. They leave a spot open for him, but Katsuki pulls up a chair for himself with a fresh batch of Mrs. Midoriya’s spicy cinnamon cookies in hand. The focus of this year’s media coverage is on Class 1-A—punch a couple useless thugs and suddenly they’re all wunderkinds, what the fuck—and it’s weird to actually recognize them. He’s been gauging what he can of their quirks, and between Deku and Kirishima, he’s been forced into socializing with pretty much everyone. They look so full of themselves on the little screen. He hopes Deku gets crushed in the first round.

“Izuku! Izuku!” the adults cheer when he appears. Like he can hear them through the screen, or something.

“Oh, it’s starting! Ohhh, my heart, I don’t know if I can take this,” Mrs. Midoriya says.

Half ‘n Half eliminates three fourths of the competition in the first two seconds, and his mom cackles. “That’s what I’m talking about! Is that one in your class, Katsuki?”

“I thought you were rooting for Deku!” he snaps. “This guy has no goddamned personality. Good with ice, though,” he admits grudgingly. Very good with ice. It takes more than mastery of a quirk to know how to use it well—as shown by that dumb electricity guy. Quick thinking, creativity, and a hell of a lot of real world experience; Half ‘n Half has it all.

“Katsuki, it’s the boy who came to visit you!” says his dad, pointing at the red-haired figure exploding out of the felled robot. “Kirishima, isn’t it? He’s doing quite well!”

“Yeah, well,” he huffs. “He never stays down. Plus he has good initiative, and his hand-to-hand is solid. But he only knows how to rush dead on at a problem, because he’s a fucking idiot.”

“That’s no way to talk about your friend!” says his mom, swatting at him.

“He’s not my friend!”

Mrs. Midoriya gasps. “Oh, that girl can fly! What a lovely quirk.”

He scowls at Round Face. “What part of her is lovely? She’s a damned menace.”

They keep up a back-and-forth commentary through the first two rounds of the festival, a race and a cavalry battle. Deku, by some fucking fluke, wins first place in the race without even using a quirk, an inch in front of Half ‘n Half. The two face off in the cavalry battle, too, and Deku would’ve been eliminated if bird edgelord hadn’t saved him, securing him fourth place. Half ‘n Half pulls up first. Eye Bags, somehow, steals second from the annoying copy-quirk guy—the cameras hadn’t caught the action, to his frustration. Some steel kid from Class 1-B takes third.

In the intermission between the second round and the final tournament round, the doorbell rings.

“I’ve got it,” his mom says. She tosses a pillow at his dad and gets up. “Must be my package. Who the hell delivers in the middle of the sports festival?”

Katsuki sets his phone on the table and eats another cookie. From the door, his mom’s loud voice carries into the room: “Who’re you?”

Another voice answers, too soft to hear.

“No, he’s not. Excuse me.”

A pause.

“I’m going to have to ask you to leave. Right now.”

Katsuki’s palms prickle. Blood rushes into his ears. “Katsuki?” his dad says, but he’s already leaping out of the chair and barreling toward the front door.

His mom grabs the door and tries to push it closed. Blocking her, a scarecrow of a man stands, his face shadowed by a gray hoodie. He leans a shoulder against the door and holds up his other hand in a little wave, five bare fingers splayed.

“Back off!” Katsuki yells.

His mom whirls around. “Katsuki, go back to your father!”

He skids to a stop behind his mom. The man smiles, and in that pale face, it’s a skeletal, desiccated, childishly cruel grin.

“Kacchan!” Creepy Hands rasps. “It’s so good to see my dear friend again.”

Katuki’s palms are sore from keeping his quirk restrained. “The fuck are you doing here!?”

“A bit of a schedule change,” he says, with a slight pout. “Sensei wants to see you.”

His mom shoves herself between them, glaring at Creepy Hands. “I don’t give a fuck if you know each other. You’re bothering my son in my own house, and I don’t appreciate it. Get out.”

Behind him, he can hear his dad on the phone, calling the police. Something tugs at his clothes. He turns around and sees Mrs. Midoriya holding out her hands, straining for him with her quirk. “Katsuki, come here, please.”

The three adults converge around Katsuki and stare down at Creepy Hands, who looks suddenly frail, standing there alone.

“Ahhhh, you’re so dramatic,” he sighs. “I’ll have to cut this visit short, then. Oh well.”

An explosion rocks the floor, knocking his parents off their feet. The familiar, acrid scent of smoke fills the air.

“Unless you’re having second thoughts?” Creepy Hands says to him. “You didn’t really think you could switch teams so late in the game, did you?”

“Fuck you! You said two weeks!” The explosion came from his room, probably from a bomb he’d taught Creepy Hands how to make. Those weren’t supposed to be used here.

His mom seizes Katsuki around his shoulders and drags him away from the door. “You’re not taking my son again! He’s mine now, he’s here to stay!”

“Don’t—fucking touch me!” Katsuki yells, ripping himself away from her. She looks at him, something wild in her eyes.

Creepy Hands tisks. “He’s not a thing, he can go where he wants.” He holds out his hands, palms-up, to Katsuki. “My poor friend. These people don’t really care about you. They’ve just locked you up so long that you’re getting complacent. Is it Stockholm syndrome, I wonder?” He grins again. “But that’s all over now. Soon enough you’ll be free. We did make a promise, after all.”

Heat licks across the wooden floor as the fire spreads into the living room. Mrs. Midoriya is on the floor, coughing. His dad speaks rapidly on the phone, his voice the loudest he’s ever heard it. His mom bares her teeth at Creepy Hands like she’s honest to God going to rip out his jugular.

It would be stupidly easy for the villains to kill them all, he knows. They’re only still alive because Creepy Hands wants to toy with them.

Katsuki pushes his mom aside and sets his wrists into the man’s palms.

“Let’s get out of here,” he says. Adrenaline is pulsing through his veins, but he feels exhausted, scooped hollow. Creepy Hands chuckles, and a black mist portal swirls open outside the door.

“Katsuki!”

He looks behind him, and it’s a mistake. It’s a fucking mistake. The look on his parents’ faces turns his bones to salt.

“Stay away,” he tells them. The man steps into the darkness, and Katsuki follows. The trackers crumble away from his skin. Cold, dry fingers replace them, circling around his wrists, light as a feather. Locking him in place.

Chapter Text

Excerpt from transcript of interrogation, 4-07-2035, 19:27. Parties: Bakugou “Explodokill” Katsuki (BK), Shinsou Hitoshi (SH), Tsukauchi Naomasa (TN).

SH: After you escaped the weapons factory, did you attempt to contact the authorities?

BK: …No.

SH: Why didn’t you?

SH: Did you try to return to your home? You were freed from the villains, weren’t you?

BK: I didn’t go home.

SH: Why didn’t you?

SH: Bakugou, tell me what stopped you from trying to go home.

TN: He’s not responding. Is the question too complex?

SH: Maybe. It could also be too closely tied to his emotions. My quirk only functions on the simple command level, I can’t ask people how they feel.

TN: I see. Very useful to keep the testimony unbiased, but it does leave gaps. Traumatic memories from childhood can be difficult to articulate, as well…

SH: I’m sorry.

TN: Please, don’t be. You’ve been an enormous help to this case, and the Department of Justice is grateful. Let’s move on to—

BK: Don’t run home crying now.

SH: What?

BK: He said don’t run home crying, nobody’s going to clean up the mess you’ve made, you’ll always be a villain now.

SH: Who said that?

BK: The Bombardier. He said you fucked up, you’ve made a mess, he said, now look at you.

TN: Bombardier…That’s the alias of Joki Kabuto, the Boiling Hero. He disappeared last year under mysterious circumstances. If he was connected to Bakugou Katsuki’s kidnapping, this could complicate things…

SH: A hero said that to you? He said you were always going to be a villain?

BK: Yes.

SH: Dammit, that’s not right.

TN: Shinsou.

SH: I know you won’t remember this, but he took the choice away from you, and that’s not right.

TN: Shinsou, this is a recorded interrogation. I must remind you to maintain a professional distance from the facts of the case, difficult as it may be.

SH: I know. Just…I know.

SH: Bakugou, why were you talking to the Bombardier?

BK: He came to the factory sometimes.

SH: You knew the Bombardier from the illegal weapons factory? What was he doing there?

BK: He talked to Slick Hair. Sold things. Bought things.

SH: A corrupt hero? Shit…

SH: Were you still in contact with the Bombardier after escaping the factory?

BK: No. Sort of.

SH: Do you know how he disappeared? What happened to him?

BK: I blew him up.

SH: (laughter)

 


 

Izuku stumbles back into the sports festival stadium, aching and exhausted and defeated (but justified, because his words had reached Todoroki and maybe begun the process of healing, and All Might still believes in him, failures and new scars and all). He blinks into the sudden sunshine.

Kirishima soars through the air, up past where Class 1-A is sitting in the stands, and going higher, higher.

“AAAAAAND URARAKA SENDS HIM FLYIIIINNGGGGG!” Present Mic screams in delight.

The crowd roars. The big screens show an instant replay of the last few seconds of the fight: Kirishima rushes forward in an attempt to knock Uraraka out before she can take advantage of her quirk, but Uraraka—rather than recklessly slapping her five fingers on Kirishima—twists out of his line of sight and slams her palm up into his chin. As he tries to recover, she grabs his arm and flips him straight up, and up, and up.

The move looks familiar.

“Ah, isn’t that the move Bakugou used on Shinsou?” says Iida, coming up behind Izuku.

“It is!” Izuku replies. “That was incredible! Both Kirishima’s and Uraraka’s quirks rely on physical contact, so it was really about how well each of them could predict their opponent’s actions and use hand-to-hand skills to counter and…” He catches himself before he can fall into an in-depth analysis. “I mean, more importantly, Iida, I missed your fight with Shiozaki! And I missed Tokoyami versus Awase, too…How did you deal with those thorns?”

Iida catches him up on the tournament, as Uraraka releases Kirishima out of bounds and is declared the winner. “I’m glad your surgery went well,” Iida adds. “Was Bakugou watching the fight?”

The question makes Izuku drop his head and groan. “I don’t want to think about it…He saw me use my quirk so stupidly and get totally crushed, he’s going to heckle me about it for days.” And Izuku never got to explain how he suddenly acquired a quirk.

“It was an impressive fight,” Iida says with a frown. “My brother is busy with work right now, but knowing that he’ll be home, waiting to hear how I did, fills me with the spirit to win—but even if I lost, he would never criticize me for trying my best. Bakugou doesn’t support you enough.”

“Oh, no, it's okay,” Izuku rushes to say. “This is all a big change for him; it only makes sense that he’s angry about it. It’s okay if he takes that out on me. He just needs time to adjust and feel at home again, you know?”

“I don't think I understand,” Iida says. “He's cruel to you, and crass and offensive to everyone else. He has no respect for the rules and society, like any proper citizen would have. How long are you willing to wait for him to 'adjust'?”

Izuku winces. Iida only agreed to accommodate Kacchan for his sake, and his childhood friend’s presence is a sore subject for them both. But neither one of them can stop worrying at it, like picking at a scab.

Kirishima and Uraraka bow to each other to complete their match. Kirishima shouts, loud enough to be heard from the stands, “That was a fine match, Uraraka! Ugh…it sucks that I lost, but I salute your manliness! Best wishes for the rest of the tournament!”

Izuku shakes his head. “What are we talking about? None of that is important right now. Good luck in your next match, Iida.”

Iida smiles. “Of course. Thank you, Midoriya. I’ll do my best to surpass you, too.” He turns away, quick strides in a perfectly straight line.

Izuku lingers by the rail as Present Mic names the four finalists. Iida versus Todoroki is the next matchup, and Izuku nervously fidgets with the new cast around his arm. He may have broken a barrier in Todoroki’s mind—but does that mean he’ll be ready to use his fire consistently? Izuku understands better than most that such a huge change would take time. And whether Todoroki uses fire or not, Iida will face a difficult battle evading Todoroki’s ice.

As Iida and Todoroki enter the arena, his phone rings. With a bit of awkward fumbling, he manages to pick up with his left hand. “Hello?”

“Midoriya Izuku?”

He knows that voice. That constant sense of foreboding in the back of his mind, which had faded over the past week, suddenly returns. “Detective Tsukauchi?”

“Yes. I apologize for contacting you during the festival,” the detective says briskly. “There's been an incident at the Bakugous' apartment. Your mother and Mr. and Mrs. Bakugou are safe and mostly unharmed, but Bakugou...”

The worst part is that he isn’t even surprised. This is what he’s been holding his breath for, hoping that it wouldn’t come to pass but knowing, deep down, that it was inevitable. This is the other shoe dropping.

Time seems to slow. His tongue feels thick and rubbery as he says, “Where is he?”

“We are currently unsure of Bakugou Katsuki’s whereabouts, but it is highly likely he is with Shigaraki Tomura and the rest of the League of Villains.”

“They took him.”

Detective Tsukauchi says something else, but Izuku can’t hear. He can’t hear the phone, or the crowd, or Present Mic announcing the fight. He can’t see Todoroki’s ice, or the smoke from Iida’s engine. His world is nothing but the sound of his own shallow breath, and the hand closing around his heart and squeezing in a tight, agonizing fist.

“They took him,” he gasps. “Oh God, they took him, they took him again, he’s gone. Fuck. Fuck!”

He isn’t sure what happens next. Somehow, he must have gathered his things in the locker room, and asked Aizawa-sensei if he could be excused. Somehow, he must have gotten on the subway, or flagged a taxi, and made it to the police station. He doesn’t remember any of it. When he’s aware of himself again, he’s in the station’s lobby, and his mom is holding him close. Her warmth tethers him to the ground.

“I’m sorry,” she says, and the way her voice breaks is just like that day when they’d learned he was quirkless; it only breaks when she thinks she’s failed him. “We couldn’t stop him. I’m sorry, Izuku, my baby, my poor baby.”

He’s still wearing his gym clothes, and she’s careful around his bandages, like one more heartbreak on top of it all would be too much to face. He wraps his only good arm around her and wishes, with all the fierceness of his life, that he could have been just a little bit more—that, at the very least, he could have had both hands to hug his mother back.

On the TV, in the quiet, fluorescent-lit waiting room, the sports festival is being broadcasted. It’s already time for the awards ceremony. He missed so many fights. All Might leaps down from the sky and presents the medals: Tokoyami won first, Todoroki second. Uraraka is alone on third, even though Iida should have been there, as well. All Might’s smile wavers in Izuku’s eyes like a dream.

As soon as the ceremony finishes, the news anchor cuts in with a breaking news report.

“The popular hero Ingenium was hospitalized earlier today in an ambush by the Hero Killer Stain. We will cover that later in our broadcast, but first, this just coming in:

“Black smoke and flames are rising from the Fukushima prison complex, where hundreds of dangerous villains are held—including members of the League of Villains from the UA invasion earlier this month. Police and fire trucks are on the scene. At this time, it’s still a developing situation, and we have no claims of responsibility, no confirmations of any casualties. NHK’s Mokugeki Ana is joining us from the ground. What are you seeing, Mokugeki?”

“Well, Miyagi, it’s absolute chaos out here, as dozens of villains attempt to escape while police and heroes desperately try to maintain order. The prison facility’s south wing is completely consumed by fire, the air is choked with smoke. Firefighters struggle to contain the conflagration. Was this fire caused by an accident? Or is this an orchestrated jailbreak? In context of the UA invasion two weeks ago—wait, what’s that? Do you see that? Over there! Get that on camera!”

The screen shudders and jogs forward, following the reporter as she shoves herself bodily past a hasty police blockade. The camera zooms in on a lone figure standing on the top of the ruined prison. His dark silhouette shimmers in the heat of the flames. Wind buffets the microphone, and for a moment all Izuku can hear is rough scuffing noises and sirens. Then the figure starts to shout.

Deku!”

Kacchan stomps forward, and the camera’s focus snaps onto his face. He isn’t smiling. He’s still wearing his tank top and sweats from that morning, but the fury in his face gives him as much confidence as if he’s wearing full-body armor.

“It’s a child!? As you can see, there appears to be a young man standing on the roof of the building! He looks so angry his face barely seems human! What is he doing up there!?”

Izuku thinks: He’s telling the world, ‘I am here!’

“Oh, my God,” his mom breathes beside him. She clutches his good hand in hers.

“I’ll kill you all!” Kacchan hollers, his voice breaking through the background sounds of fire and wind. His whole body strains into the shout: feet planted wide, palms face-out, neck bulging. “Deku! All Might! All those UA fuckers! You’re listening, aren’t you!?” He spots the reporter and the cameraman, and he glares straight into the camera. “You thought you could chain me up, control me, keep me fucking down! But you can’t stop me! You can play your sports games and go to your little hero school, think your rules and your privilege make you better than me! But I’ve clawed up from fucking nothing, Deku, and I’ll be the one to drag you down! Me! I’ll be the one!

“You and the whole Class 1-A, you hear me!? I’m going to kill you! I’ll stand over your burning fucking corpses and I’ll be at the top! I’m going to kill you, Deku!”

His face twists. For a second, the rage almost looks like pain. Like a kid backed into a corner and lashing wildly out.

“I’m a villain, damn it! My name is Explodokill! Get it through your fucking skull!”

The camera is suddenly knocked to the side, and the firefighter hero Backdraft fills the screen. “Ma’am, this area is dangerous! Please evacuate to safety!”

“Wait—just a little more!” the reporter says, trying to squeeze past the hero. “Japan needs to see this, we need to know who that boy is! And who is Deku!?”

The camera shakes again, and then turns to the surrounding scene. Villains of all stripes are swarming out of the building, some of them on fire, some carrying pieces of flaming rubble to throw at police and heroes. Most are being quickly pinned down and recaptured, but a few manage to slip past the battling authorities and escape into the open streets.

“Shocking developments on the ground here,” the reporter gasps. “I’m being escorted away by a hero now, but we’ll be bringing you up to date as the situation unfolds and we learn more about what on earth is happening at the Fukushima prison complex. Back to you, Miyagi.”

The TV screen cuts back to the news anchor. Gravely, Miyagi continues to report on the night’s news and the context of the USJ invasion. Izuku tunes out the sound and looks to his mom.

“Was that Katsuki?” she asks him, eyes wide. “Was that really our Katsuki?”

For a moment, he’s not sure how to respond.

Izuku never really understood Kacchan. Even when they were kids, Kacchan was slightly removed from him, the cool kid he tagged behind and aspired to be like. When Kacchan began to show signs of becoming a bully, loved and adored by everyone but the select few kids he targeted as weak, Izuku didn’t understand. He didn’t fight back when Kacchan teased him mercilessly—it was true, after all. Izuku was useless without a quirk. He thought that maybe teasing was just what friends did, and tried to laugh along even when Kacchan’s words stung.

But then, one day, he did fight back. Kacchan was being mean, just because another kid had beat him to the swings. Kacchan had pushed him off—and then pushed him to the ground again when he tried to stand up, and then pushed him down again, over and over, laughing as the kid started to cry. Izuku still wanted to be Kacchan’s friend, but this wasn’t right. This was mean.

It was the first and only time Izuku put his feeble foot down and said, "I won't forgive you." The first and only time Kacchan hurt him on purpose (but careful, still, not to leave lasting marks). He was never able to resolve it in his mind. He never had the time. The very next day, Kacchan disappeared.

The question, “How can the most heroic person I know be so mean?” got mixed up with the question, “How can the most heroic person I know just…disappear?” Was it Izuku’s fault? If they hadn’t been fighting, maybe Kacchan wouldn’t have gone to the playground alone, maybe he’d still be here. Was Kacchan scared? Was he hurting? Surely he’d be fighting back. Surely he’d come home soon. He was so strong, he’d never lost a fight—he was going to be a hero! Surely, tomorrow Izuku would open the door and Kacchan would be there, elbows scuffed, nose bleeding, but laughing like he always did.

But tomorrow came and tomorrow came and tomorrow came.

Each day chipped away at something essential about Izuku’s faith in heroes. There was no other way to put it: Kacchan was lost. He lost. Regardless of whether a hero is kind or cruel, heroes always win—but apparently sometimes they lose, too, and Izuku couldn’t do anything to fix it.

He had two reasons to become a hero, after that. One was to become like All Might and save people with a smile. The other was that if Kacchan couldn’t go to UA, Izuku would have to do it for him. He would become a hero, and he would bring Kacchan home, and the world would finally be right again.

Then Kacchan was home. And everything still felt broken.

Is the boy screaming on the TV really the Kacchan he knows? Has he lost his friend all over again? Or did he lose him earlier, permanently, that day the villains took him? Or was it even earlier—did he lose Kacchan when he said, “I won’t forgive you,” and Kacchan had just smiled like he’d never mattered and said, “You pretending to be a hero, Deku? Take a hint. You’re a useless loser and always will be.”

The TV replays the clip of Kacchan stepping out of the fire, on mute as commentators discuss it. Kacchan’s jaw works silently. His palms tense. His eyes lock onto the camera, desperate and in pain.

“I don’t know,” Izuku blurts out. He rubs the tears out of his eyes and looks at his mom. “I don’t know if he’s still my friend, but I have to save him, don’t I? I have to do something. He looks like he’s asking for help! And it—it hurts!” He clutches his chest. The old wound in his heart is bleeding again. “Mom, I have to save him! I have to!”

“Sweetie, I know.” She squeezes him tight. “We’re going to find a way. I promise.”

 


 

It’s confirmed, by the end of the night, that the fire in the prison was caused by a handful of well-placed chemical bombs. 23 police officers and heroes and at least 70 villains were injured in the blast, fire, and ensuing brawl. 37 villains managed to escape, although most of them are recaptured within a couple hours. Miraculously, there were no fatalities. Izuku decides not to question it.

The news also identifies Kacchan as one of the villains in the USJ invasion, and speculates that the League of Villains is trying to break out their captured allies. Rumors swirl about who this newest, youngest, flashiest villain is, and where he was between the invasion and the jailbreak. Shouldn’t he have been in prison? It makes sense for him to have a personal grudge against Class 1-A, but who is this mysterious Deku?

“I’ll be frank. I don’t think you should stay in your apartment,” Detective Tsukauchi says to Izuku’s mom. The sun has long set, and they’re all still at the station, eating takeout curry that Officer Tamakawa bought. Izuku is taking a painfully long time using his chopsticks with his trembling left hand, while his mom watches like she wants to simply spoon-feed him. Mr. Bakugou thanked the officer and is eating listlessly, but Mrs. Bakugou only stares at her food, chopsticks clenched in her fist, and remains deathly silent.

The Bakugous’ apartment had been badly damaged, Kacchan’s room reduced to a pit of ash and rubble. Kacchan’s undercover guards, posted nearby, had managed to evacuate everyone in the building and put out the fire, so nobody was seriously hurt. But the Bakugous have lost their home and their son in one blow. Izuku’s loss feels small in comparison.

“We don’t know how the League of Villains found Bakugou Katsuki,” the detective continues. “Only the police, the people in this room, and select UA students and staff should have known he was living with his parents and attending UA. Yet, to the great shame of the police department, they did find him. It’s best to assume that the League of Villains also knows where Midoriya Izuku lives. Since Izuku is a particularly vulnerable potential target, I recommend that you relocate as soon as possible, for a few weeks at least.”

“But—” Izuku starts, at the same time as Mr. Bakugou says, “How do we know that will make him any safer?” He hunches his shoulders to his ears, and muffled crackling noises come from his arms. “You’ve given me no reason to trust that your word means anything at all. You couldn’t find my son, you couldn’t protect him from being taken a second time.”

Detective Tsukauchi says gravely, “I apologize for the failings of the police. We are—”

“Stop. I don’t want to hear it. Please, just…I know you don’t believe Katsuki will come home. But he will. I’m telling you, he will. And if he comes back to Inko’s apartment and it’s empty, he’ll know that we abandoned him because we were afraid, and then…”

“Masaru,” Izuku’s mom says gently, “I understand how you feel. But right now, I have no choice but to trust the detective.” She looks at Izuku. “I have to consider the family who’s right in front of me. I won’t stay in our home if it means putting Izuku at risk.”

“But Mom,” he tries to say, because Kacchan’s dad has a point.

“I’m sorry, but this is not up for discussion,” his mom says. Her eyes are fierce. “I’m your mother, it’s my job to worry about you. We can figure out how to help Katsuki after we make sure you’re safe.”

“Of course,” Mr. Bakugou hastens to say. “I overstepped my bounds. I meant to say, I was thinking…” He threads his fingers through his wife’s hand, and she emerges from her stillness a bit, turning to look at him. “We could stay in your house instead, Inko. We’ll keep the house tidy while you and Izuku find somewhere…hopefully safer to live for a few weeks. And we’ll watch for Katsuki.” He looks to the detective. “That could work, right? It’s a compromise.”

Detective Tsukauchi lifts his hand in acknowledgement. “That sounds like the beginnings of an excellent compromise, Mr. Bakugou.”

The adults hash out the details for the next hour, and Izuku’s mom sends him to take a break in the waiting room. The fluorescent lights feel needle-sharp against his nerves. He curls up in a tiny plastic seat and checks his phone.

After the USJ invasion, Class 1-A had all exchanged numbers, and his phone is full of worried messages from his friends. In his text, Kirishima explains that everyone feels somewhat responsible for Kacchan, after trying so hard to include him and get to know him for a week. Izuku responds to all of them and calls Uraraka to reassure her (Iida, he can’t help but notice, hasn’t sent him a message yet), and then he notices a missed call from Todoroki.

It’s unusual, because Todoroki has never contacted him before. Izuku sends him a text, the same “I’m fine, the police don’t have any leads yet but are doing their best” text he sent to everyone else.

Half a minute later, his phone buzzes in his hand. He drops it in surprise, and it rings four more times as he struggles to pick it back up.

He slaps the phone to his ear and breathes, “Hello?”

“Midoriya,” Todoroki greets. He pauses, a little bit longer than is comfortable. “Is this a good time to talk? I’m sorry, I should have texted first.”

“No, no, you’re great,” Izuku rushes to say. “Did you want to talk about something?”

“I wanted to ask what the situation was. Can I help you with anything?”

Izuku assures him that everything’s fine for now, and updates him with what he knows about Kacchan.

“Is it a good idea for you to stay in your apartment?” Todoroki asks. “I don’t know the exact circumstance, but from my perspective, you’ve just been issued a death threat by a dangerous villain who knows where you live.”

Izuku huffs an aborted laugh. “I know the League of Villains is dangerous, but Kacchan yelled at us all the time in UA. Isn’t it too much to call it a—that kind of threat?”

“In UA, he was at a disadvantageous position.” The subtle inflections in his voice are swallowed up by the tinny speaker, rendering his words cold and harsh. “Outside the rules of society, it’s unclear what his limits are, or if he has any. It would be best to take him seriously.”

“But…Kacchan wouldn’t.”

“You don’t know him as a villain, Midoriya. People can be very different when nobody’s there to stop them.”

Izuku remembers the No. 2 Hero and the cruelty he hides, and shudders. Kacchan isn’t like Endeavor, right? But maybe… “I—you’re right. My mom is already looking for somewhere to stay, actually. It’s just…I don’t know. It’s a lot. And I don’t want to have to be followed everywhere by the police, and have them guard a hotel or something…I just don’t want my mom to have to worry about our own home.”

Quiet on the other end of the phone for a while. Then: “Your family could stay at my house, if you want.”

Izuku nearly drops his phone again. “What?” he squeaks.

“You and your mother could stay at my house, at least for a few weeks,” Todoroki says calmly. “It makes sense. There’s plenty of room here, my father isn’t home very often, and our security is excellent. A lot of villains want to target Endeavor’s children, anyways, so it wouldn’t be much trouble to extend our protection to you. The police wouldn’t have to do anything.”

“But, no no, Todoroki, I couldn’t impose! You’re busy with your own training, and I’m sure you don’t want my mom and me underfoot—!”

“Midoriya, you’re not imposing,” he says. Somehow, the warmth of his voice makes it through the phone this time. “You could wreck my whole house and I wouldn’t mind. You made me remember who I am. This is the least I could do as thanks.”

Oh God, Izuku is blushing. “I—uh—um,” he says, eloquently.

“And like I said, there are a lot of empty rooms in this house. Most of my older siblings have moved out,” he adds, and the quiet sadness in those words is what convinces Izuku.

When he tells her, his mom agrees immediately. “You have such good friends, Izuku,” she gushes, tearing up a little. “This is that handsome boy who fought you in the sports festival, isn’t it? You two were so amazing. And his father is the No. 2 Hero! If a family like that is watching over you, I can rest easy!”

Detective Tsukauchi actually looks a little relieved. “I’ll have to talk to Endeavor, just in case, but this sounds like the best of our available options.”

The Midoriyas and the Bakugous stay the night at Izuku’s apartment, and the Midoriyas move out the next morning. They bring their bare essentials and a double batch of cookies as a gift for the Todorokis, and Izuku’s mom tries to give the Bakugous an envelope of money. But Mrs. Bakugou refuses. “Don’t pity us,” she says, her strident voice reduced to an irritated rasp. “You’ll wish you were me when he comes back and you’re not there to see the dramatic reunion.” Mr. Bakugou smiles and waves a tearful goodbye.

Todoroki’s house is huge, gorgeous, traditional Japanese style, and probably some kind of cultural landmark. It has real paper sliding doors and tatami floors and everything. Todoroki’s older sister greets them, and she and his mom immediately hit it off. Endeavor takes a half-day off from work to help them move in; he seems to like Izuku, for some reason? He keeps praising how he did in the sports festival in the fight against Todoroki? On the one hand it’s incredibly flattering, because this is the No. 2 Hero, wearing a white t-shirt and carrying Izuku’s desk down the hall barefoot. On the other hand, it’s disturbing how civil he can be knowing what he’s done to his family.

After his dad leaves for hero business, Todoroki goes to see his mom in the hospital. Izuku is so grateful that this, at least, he was able to help with.

The day after that, school starts again, and Izuku and Todoroki head off in the rain. People on the subway point and congratulate them—one girl even asks for Todoroki’s autograph. They run into Iida in front of the school, charging ahead in a poncho. Once they’ve made it into the building within Iida’s acceptable time frame, he pauses briefly to speak to Izuku.

“I only heard the news about Bakugou this morning. I’m sorry I didn’t check in with you.”

“It’s fine! The police are doing their best,” Izuku says, and then finds himself at a loss for words. Iida has always been so forthcoming with things that trouble him, Izuku isn’t sure how to broach the topic. “Iida, um—”

Iida apparently reads his mind. “If it’s about my brother, there is no need to worry.” He gives Izuku a firm smile. “I apologize for concerning you. You should focus on your own situation.”

He heads to class. Izuku and Todoroki exchange a glance.

“I can’t tell if he’s okay or not,” Izuku admits. “I understand if he doesn’t want to talk about it, but…”

“It’s family,” Todoroki replies, and doesn’t say more.

Aizawa-sensei, out of his bandages now, tells the class that it’s time to pick code names to prepare for their internships. “When you give yourself a name,” he says, “you get a more concrete image of what you want to be like in the future, and you can get closer to it.” Izuku chews his lip and thinks of All Might. And then, with a sickening drop in his belly, he thinks of Explodokill. Do villains feel the same way about their names? Most are given names by the media, but a few announce themselves, like Kacchan did. In a way, Izuku envies that confidence. Kacchan probably made himself Explodokill without caring what anyone else would think. It’s not exactly a bright and glowing persona, but it’s certainly true to character.

One by one his classmates go up, presenting visions of their future scribbled onto small whiteboards. Shinsou dubs himself “The Hypnosis Hero: Trance.” Iida just goes by his first name. And then it’s Izuku’s turn.

His fingers, still weak from the sports festival, tremble as they write.

He stands in front of Midnight and the class, and says, “Izuku. Just Izuku is fine.”

In the back of the room, Uraraka frowns. Midnight asks, “Are you sure?”

“Yes,” he says. “I thought I was doing things right, but recently something happened to make me feel…useless. As useless as I was before I met—before I came to UA. I don’t want that to be my future. There’s someone I need to save, so I can stop feeling like this, and until then—I need to figure things out. I can’t give myself a hero name yet.”

Midnight evaluates him with her sharp blue eyes. “I like your spirit, kid! Alright. But don’t beat yourself up forever over the one thing, hm?”

Izuku gathers his thoughts, of Todoroki letting him in, and Iida shutting him out, and Kacchan going off to who knows where. He nods. He can’t let this go on forever, he has to save Kacchan as soon as possible.

But how? he thinks. But how, but how, but how?

Chapter Text

Katsuki drops out of the warp gate in the empty bar and twists, cat-like, to land on his feet. A cloud of smoke and soot follows him down like black rain. Misty’s glowing yellow eyes materialize above him.

“That’s enough, Explodokill,” Misty says.

He turns around and lunges for the warp gate, snarling. “The fuck are you doing!? Send me back!”

“Please calm yourself. We have already accomplished the objective, to stay would be—”

“I’m not finished yet! That building’s still standing! I need to wreck it! I need to make them see!”

Creepy Hands steps out of another warp gate, wearing black clothes and one severed hand over his face. He’s giggling, a high-pitched wheeze. “Kacchan, you’re my perfect demolitions expert, I had so much fun, did you see them running all over the place as the prison burned down?”

“Fuck off!” Katsuki yells. “What’re you laughing about!? Go die!”

Creepy Hands keeps laughing, his bony shoulders shaking with it. “It feels so good to win. Security was so lame since all the heroes were at the wrong event. Forget about the stupid sports festival, everyone’s talking about the League of Villains tonight!” He slumps into a stool at the bar. Misty materializes behind the counter and starts pouring him a drink. “Sit down, Kacchan, let’s celebrate.”

“I’m not! Fucking! Done yet!” Katsuki shrieks.

Creepy Hands rolls his eyes. “Oy, Kurogiri. What’s the kid’s problem? Was he always this crazy?”

“He’s been rather upset ever since he saw the livestream of the sports festival.”

The sports festival. The UA sports festival, and Deku fighting in the tournament. It always comes back to fucking Deku.

After the League of Villains broke him out of the trackers a few hours ago, they brought him to this same back-alley bar. They told him the plan for the jailbreak and showed him a room on the second floor—an abandoned karaoke joint, with fucking video screens still on the wall. This was the impromptu bomb factory Creepy Hands had been assembling, under Katsuki’s directions. Creepy Hands (or Misty, more likely) had already finished a couple explosives, but without Katsuki’s quirk, they were all pieces of shit. He had to put in his own sweat to bring the quality up to his standards.

While he worked on the bombs, he’d bullied Misty into setting up a livestream of the UA tournament for him. He watched the thing every year to scout his competition, he wasn’t going to stop just because he had villainy to do. Plus, he was still trying to figure out Deku’s quirk.

He was just about wrapping up his work when he saw Deku fight Half ‘n Half.

Deku nearly blew Half ‘n Half out of the ring with a finger flick. A fucking finger flick. That annoyingly strong ice bastard was having trouble against puny little Deku, whose miraculous quirk was activated by a finger flick. The camera zoomed in on his stupid freckled face as he broke his hands and tried not to cry and still struggled on, with the look in his eyes that Katsuki hated most.

The quirk was useless and self-destructive, but its power had a shadow of All Might in it, which Katsuki recognized from the fight in the USJ. It was like giving a grenade launcher to a baby, it was so stupid. Is this what the next generation of heroes is going to be? Wasted power, and total idiots throwing themselves into fights they can’t win?

And yet, why did he get the feeling that Deku won, anyways? That fucking mess was the only person who made Half ‘n Half use fire, and everyone watching the sports festival would have to acknowledge that. If nothing else, people would remember him. For a solid minute Deku was in the center of the universe, while Katsuki sweated over his work in an empty karaoke room. Nothing about that picture was right. He was so angry and distracted, watching the fight, that he nearly dropped a beaker and blew a hole in the wall. And he never messes up making bombs.

“I’m going to kill Deku,” he growls.

“Ahhh…you hate that kid’s guts, don’t you?” Creepy Hands says. “You want to crush that stupid face into little itty bits, don’t you?”

“Shut the fuck up!” It’s true enough, but Katsuki hates everything that comes out of the creep’s mouth on principle.

“Well, you can’t do it yet, not yet.” Creepy Hands dances his fingers on the stool to his left. “Come on, Kacchan, you want to be with the big boys, don’t you? Mommy isn’t waiting to tuck you in when it’s your bedtime, Kacchan.”

He runs up and slams his palms into the bar top. “Stop fucking calling me that!”

Creepy Hands just grins at him and takes a sip of his drink, pinky finger lifted delicately in the air. He keeps the severed hand on his face, so he has to tilt his head all the way back and angle the hand up to get anything into his mouth.

“Okay, what the hell is that thing on your face?”

“Oh, this? It’s Daddy. Say hi to Daddy.” He strokes a finger down the severed hand’s knuckles. “He’s handsome and strong and the nicest to me. Also he’s the best conversationalist.”

Katsuki regrets asking.

“We’re learning so much about each other! It’s so much fun to be friends. Kurogiri, get him the Fireball. Let’s have a proper heart-to-heart!”

“I’m not drinking!” Katsuki snaps. Alcohol is a pointless waste of money and makes people stupid. Also, he’s underage. He remembers reading somewhere that it’s bad for his brain, or something. He eyes the bar exit. “This is such a waste of time.”

“Kacchan, Kacchan, we’ve got nothing but time.” Creepy Hands laughs. “Sensei wants to talk to you. He’s on his way right now.”

That Sensei again. Misty pours a drink and slides the shot glass over. Slowly, bristling with every nerve, Katsuki sits down two stools away from Creepy Hands.

“So,” Creepy Hands says, taking another sip. “Give me all the juicy gossip. What was it like being childhood friends with freckle-face?”

Does everyone know about that now? “Why the fuck should I tell you?”

“You declared war against him on national TV, Kaaacchan. We’re famous now, but so is ‘Deku.’ Nobody knows who he is, so everyone’s talking about him. My online friends are already making conspiracy theories.” A bloodshot eye fixes on Katsuki from between the severed hand’s fingers. “You didn’t even mention the name of the League of Villains once, you know? I could be mad about that.”

A chill runs down his spine. Katsuki bares his teeth and glares back.

Creepy Hands grins. “I like you, though. You’re just like me, a little mini-me, a spiky blonde baby-go-boom me. I’m not mad, no, I want to crush all those pro-hero hypocrites too, I want to help you kill Deku. I’m going to make you into a big-time villain. But first you’ve got to tell me more about him.”

Katsuki blinks. Images flash behind his eyelids: Deku no longer quirkless, All Might shriveling, Deku’s moves against Half ‘n Half, quirk engineering with Noumu. If he looks too closely, Katsuki is worried he’ll realize something he can’t go back from. It would be best not to jump to conclusions. “There’s nothing to tell. He’s a useless shit, and he always was.”

“Is that all? Lame.”

You’re lame,” Katsuki grumbles, and is mad at himself for sounding lame. “Look, he couldn’t even beat that half ice half fire guy in the tournament. Barely even beat that damned purple-haired Eye Bags guy. What even is his quirk? Half ‘n Half has the only quirk that makes any fucking sense, and it’s just some stupid OP elemental bullshit. Fuck them, fuck that whole Class 1-A.”

“I’ll make printouts of them,” Creepy Hands says cheerfully. “Look at you, getting to kill your friends and family, I’m almost jealous.”

“Hah?”

“What was it like living with your fake parents?” Creepy Hands rolls his eyes to the ceiling and sighs, “I wish I could see my mommy one more time. Were you happy? Were you sad?”

He straightens in his stool. “Hell no. I didn’t care. The fuck are you on?”

“I would’ve killed them, if I were you. I wanted to see you set one of them on fire, that would’ve been like poetic justice. Maybe we can go back and do it later.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” he hisses. “My parents are my own fucking business. You stay out of it.”

“Aww, you do care. You miss them? Wanna go home?”

“No, fuck! Shut up!”

Misty clears his throat. “Perhaps it would be wise not to provoke him,” he says.

“I’m not provoking him, I’m bonding with him. We’re bonding, see? We have so much in common.” He smiles indulgently at Katsuki. “Your parents didn’t come for you. Nobody came for you. They’re all just fakes. ‘Save me, save me,’ you said, but in this rotten society where the fake heroes lord over everyone else, not a single one of them was ever there for you.”

“What’s your fucking point?” Katsuki growls, his knuckles white around the bar top.

“But wait, I forgot someone, didn’t I? Ahhh, who was it…nice man, always willing to help, a popular hero with the kids. His name went something like ‘boom,’ yes? Help me out, Kurogiri.”

Misty says quietly, “This is a very bad idea, Shigaraki.”

“Ah, I remember now.” He snaps his fingers, and his eyes grin at Katsuki like two cruel sickles. “The Bombardier.”

A flash of static floods through his head. His heart pounds in his ears. With a furious yell, he swipes their drinks off the bar top and lunges for Shigaraki.

His arms plunge through a curtain of black mist. He bursts through the warp gate on the opposite side of the room.

The glass shatters onto the floor.

“How the fuck do you know that name!?” Katsuki screams.

“Both of you, cease this at once,” Misty says sternly.

“You’re such a wet blanket, Kurogiri, I’m just teasing him.”

“Answer me! How do you know about him!?” He blasts himself toward the bar. A warp gate opens in his path, but he swerves at the last second and dives into Misty.

They go crashing into the bottles on the wall, Misty too surprised to dodge. Formless mist squirms in his palms. He gropes blindly through darkness until his hands hit on the metal brace that forms Misty’s body, and then he shoves him as hard as he can into the floorboards. The warp gates vanish.

“My weakness…! How did you know?” Misty gasps.

“I have eyes, you idiot!” He twists to glare at Creepy Hands. “Tell me right now, or I’ll blow a hole in your servant’s backside!”

“Oh, you’re delightfully clever,” Creepy Hands snickers. He hasn’t moved from his seat. “Such fun to rile up. But we’re all on same team, Kacchan, you’re my friend now, remember to play nice.”

“I’m not your fucking friend!” Just thinking it makes him want to puke. “You have no fucking friends! I have no friends, and even if I did I wouldn’t choose to be with you!”

Creepy Hands pauses, then hops over the bar top to stand in front of him. He scratches his neck. “Of course you’re my friend. You joined the League of Villains and blew up a prison for me, didn’t you?”

“Not for you! We had a deal, that’s all! You’re just convenient to my villain career! If you think you can just—toy with me, I’ll kill you, too! How the hell do you know about that bastard!?”

He scratches his neck harder. “Hey, hey, you can’t go around saying you’ll kill your senpai.”

“I can do whatever I want!” he snarls. His palm sparks, and Misty makes a sound of distress. “Just fucking try me!”

Shigaraki stops scratching his neck, stares at Katsuki, and takes a step forward.

A wave of pressure slams into him, freezing his limbs, locking his eyes onto Shigaraki. This is terror, what anything living feels as death reaches out a bony hand to close around their throat. The scarecrow man spreads his five long fingers and leans forward.

Katsuki yanks himself into motion. He’s felt this pressure before. He knows how to deal with it: fight fire by fire, killing force by killing force. He reaches back, grabs a bottle of liquor, and prepares to blast it at Shigaraki’s face in a hail of fire and glass shards.

Stop.

Shigaraki freezes. Katsuki freezes too, the bottle raised over his head, eyes darting around the room in search of the new threat. Misty is still pinned under his fist, it can’t be him. But he doesn’t see anybody else.

Thank you,” says the voice, deep and authoritative. It’s coming from the TV against the wall. SOUND ONLY, it says on the screen.

Shigaraki steps back and sighs. “I wasn’t really going to kill him, Sensei,” he whines. “He’s just being annoying.”

Of course. Congratulations on a successful day, Tomura.

“Who the fuck are you!?” Katsuki yells. The liquid trembles in the bottle, his arm tensed to throw. “Why don’t you show your ugly face!?”

What foolish questions. I am Sensei,” says the disembodied voice. “Tomura, I would like a word with the child, if you please. Go ahead with Kurogiri.

“Aww. Do I have to?” Creepy Hands grumbles.

Katsuki clenches his fist tighter around Misty. “I haven’t finished with you yet! Don’t ignore me!”

Bakugou, my boy,” the voice says in a parody of compassion. “It’s a shame you had such a falling-out with the Bombardier.

He sucks a breath in through his teeth. “So you were listening in the whole time, you sick fuck. How do you know about him!? I killed him months ago!”

No-Face chuckles. “Oh, you think he’s dead?

Katsuki’s heart stutters. His grip slackens for a moment, and Misty seizes the chance to wriggle away and warp to safety.

“Fuck!”

“And we’re leaving,” Misty says hastily, gathering Creepy Hands to him, “we’re gone, thank you Sensei, have a good evening, talk to you soon!”

“Hey, but I still want to—”

A warp gate cuts off Creepy Hands’ sentence, and they’re gone before Katsuki can get close to them.

“Fucking—fuck!” He hurls the bottle of liquor at the TV monitor, shattering it in midair with his quirk. The alcohol catches on fire and explodes into the TV, while glass shards shoot all over the room and stab the display. The TV goes up in a ball of flames, smoke, and sparking wires.

For a while, the room is filled with nothing but the blissful sound of burning and the sweet smell of melting plastic.

Then the voice resumes speaking, low-volume and tinny, coming from a corner of the ceiling. “That’s a fine quirk,” it says. The greedy undertone makes Katsuki shudder. 

There must be an extra camera and mic hidden behind the paneling. He’s tempted to just blow up this entire building and be done with it. “What the fuck are you talking about?” he spits at the ceiling. “You distracted me, you were bluffing. I killed that bastard dead!”

Of course you did,” No-Face replies, voice dripping condescension. “Well, that whole sordid tale is trivial in the long run.

Katsuki bristles. “If it’s so fucking trivial then why do you know about it!?”

I know everything about you, Bakugou Katsuki. Tomura has taken an unusual liking to you, after all, and I am a very good Sensei.” Unbidden, Katsuki thinks of the homeroom teacher wrapped in head-to-toe bandages, and he scowls. He doubts No-Face has dealt with a classroom of teenagers, ever. “You are an acceptable ally, but I’d prefer if you avoided outbursts like just now.

“What, are you afraid I’ll kill your precious little student?”

You were about to badly injure him, yes. You’re quite a dangerous child. I would hate to have to take away his newest playmate, it’s so rare for him to make friends.

He sneers. “Big talk from someone who’s too scared to show me his face. Where even are you!? Sitting in the dark, talking at a computer, making evil plans like the cheesy villain in a Golden Age movie? Real villains don’t fucking do that anymore!”

Hm, I suppose the years have not been kind to me. My body reached its peak in the Golden Age.” Katsuki narrows his eyes. Is he saying what he thinks he’s saying…? How old is this fucker? “But I have my ways.

“You’re the one who made the Noumu,” Katsuki guesses. “The quirk experiments. Thugs gone missing.” Something occurs to him, and he smirks. “It can’t be just the one, can it? What else have you got up your sleeve?”

Well, well, you are a clever boy,” No-Face says, sounding satisfied. “So you should already know I am fully capable of snuffing out your flame with the pinch of my fingers.

He could be bluffing. No-Face clearly depends on Misty’s quirk to move things around, and it sounds like he’s physically weak. He’s probably some kind of spineless wimp specializing in information gathering, who tricked Creepy Hands and Misty into doing everything for him. But the dots aren’t quite connecting. There are these quirk experiments, for one—how did he engineer a human being like that? Why haven’t any other scientists been able to do it before? Besides, even Katsuki would be in danger if he had to fight a Noumu-like creation.

“What the fuck do you want from me?” he snaps.

Well, let’s see. As a member of his team, you’re useful for inciting people to action. But what kind of action? You make villains into greater villains, heroes into greater heroes. Yours is a black-and-white mindset. For Tomura to grow properly, he needs someone more mature, less impatient. Someone with a sophisticated worldview, who can disrupt the boundary between heroes and villains itself.

“Stop spouting bullshit,” he says. “What’re you saying, are you calling me stupid? Get to the fucking point!”

Do you know the Hero Killer Stain?

“Hah? I’ve heard the name, everyone has. What does he have to do with anything?”

I want you to find him and bring him here. I’d like Tomura to recruit him to the League of Villains.

He grimaces. The rumors about Stain have all described him as freakishly obsessed, a lone wolf and a bona fide asshole. “Why should I? I’m not a fucking gopher. Do it yourself.”

Stain is proving difficult to find through my…usual methods. Kurogiri will assist you, of course. It’s all for your own goals. To help the League grow is to grow as an individual villain, wouldn’t you agree?

“And you don’t have anyone else who could do it? Shit, is the League literally just the four of us and Noumu?”

Hence the recruitment efforts,” No-Face says, amused.

Fuck, what does it take to become the top villain around here? There’s no easy ranking system like there is for heroes. There’s no Mr. Mummy lecturing him on finding trustworthy people. He has no choice but to grab what he can and run with it.

He’s a free person, though. No wrist trackers, no school grades. He can ditch the League whenever he wants.

Katsuki grinds his teeth. “Hey. You really think you can take down All Might?”

I do,” the voice says.

“Why?”

The Symbol of Peace is an illusion. All Might is weakening.” He adds, “You saw it yourself, didn’t you?

For some reason, the confirmation makes something in his chest squeeze. Back in the USJ—it wasn’t a trick of the light. It was real. “How do you know that?”

I have eyes, everywhere. Watching. You and I both saw his true form: a thin, frail, useless old man.

“He’s not—” useless. He presses his mouth shut. It doesn’t matter. “Fine. Is that how you found out about the Bombardier? How long have you been watching me?”

The voice only chuckles. “Perhaps if you bring Stain to me, I’ll tell you.”

Katsuki glares at the empty room, trying to wrestle his life into something that makes sense in his head. He’d almost forgotten how much of villain life is standing on a constantly shifting minefield full of two-faced psychopaths. And for the first time in a long time, these psychopaths know his name.

The Bombardier is dead. He knows this.

Fuck, he hates working in villain groups. He hates it so much.

“Give me a week,” he grunts. “And no fucking surprises this time! If you ask for me a day early, I’m not fucking answering.”

“That’s no way to build a villain career, I’m afraid,” No-Face says. “Life is full of surprises.

Chapter Text

He wasn’t alone.

He crouched behind a pile of trash bags in the alley, gasping for breath. It was late evening, the dead of summer, and the darkening sky was choked with black smoke from the fires on the other side of town. His ears were ringing, his throat and eyes stung—because of the explosions, he told himself. He wasn’t going to cry. He would not cry.

He had done it; fucking Slick Hair was dead, and all the rest of the scum trying to drag him down. He’d beat them for good. He’d won. He was a badass villain now, he could handle this.

He squeezed his eyes shut and tried to think. Who was coming after him now? If it was the police or a hero, he needed to run. If it was the Bombardier…

He stepped out into the alleyway. It wasn’t the police, he could tell right away. The alley was dark, but the person moving toward him was even darker, a slow, inhuman shadow. He held out his hands, ready to push, to hurt, to burn, anything to keep them away. Nobody would ever touch him.

“Oh…you’re not a cat……”

The person rolled to a stop. An arm jiggled out of their body, dripping green ooze. It held a flashlight.

He winced as bright white light stabbed into his eyes. Half blind, he squinted from the corner of his eye and saw something like a big, dark green slime-person.

“Stay back!” he yelled. “Or I’ll—I’ll kill you!”

“How rude…is my appearance so hateful to you…..?” The slime-person squished closer and circled around him. An awful smell of sewers and trash wafted over him. “Maybe I’ll eat you….children do taste so tender…haven’t had one in a while…..”

“Leave me alone!” He blasted his quirk, and in the flash of light saw a terrifying row of teeth smiling at him. The slime-person retreated a few steps. “I’ll kill you, I really will! I just killed a bunch of people! And I blew up a building!”

The slime-person was silent. Then: “A bit like a cat…maybe….”

This was a crazy person, clearly. “Go away!” he hissed.

“Yes, you’ll do….” The flashlight pointed away, out of the alley. He blinked into the darkness. “Child, come with me...I want to keep you….my no-good son left last month…be a dear and keep this old woman company….”

“No way! I’m not stupid!”

“Where else would you go? I have a good roof…an extra bed….it’s better than wherever you’re running from, I should think…”

“You just want to eat me! You’re a—you’re a witch!”

“Well, that may be true…I might change my mind about you….you’ll just have to run away again if that happens……I guess…….”

The slime-person began to move away. He watched her go, a trail of black sludge left on the ground behind her, like a snail.

He was cold. Tired. Hungry. He had no idea where he was. And once the Bombardier saw what he’d done, he was coming after him, for sure. Distant sirens wailed in the air, getting louder, closer.

He followed the slime-person.

She turned toward him, and he saw another flash of those horrible, grinning teeth. “What shall I call you, child….?”

“I don’t care.” He'd learned to keep his real name tucked close to his chest. Slick Hair and the other assholes had just called him Kid, or other names he didn’t care to remember.

“It’s like you fell out of the sky…for me….born, fully fledged, in that explosion….I’ll call you Blast Boy.”

“I’m not your pet! You can’t just name me!”

“You didn’t name yourself, so….I have the right…..come along, Blasty…let’s go home.”

 


 

Katsuki steps out of the warp gate and into the darkening street. Misty swirls gloomily into a human shape behind him. No-Face had called him back after Katsuki agreed to fetch Stain, and Misty reluctantly gave him a lift.

“Yeah, this is it,” Katsuki says.

“Not even a thank you?” Misty asks.

Katsuki smirks. “You’re a literal fucking doormat. Like hell I’ll give you anything. Come here bright and early tomorrow, Misty, and we’ll go kill that Stain guy!”

“Recruit!” Misty yips. “Recruit Stain. Good lord. Sensei, is this really alright?” he grumbles to himself as he warps away.

Katsuki rolls his eyes. He digs his hands into his pockets and strolls two blocks away, a safe distance from where Misty warped him to, and stops in front of a heavily graffitied apartment building. It’s late evening, so she’s probably inside watching some shitty soap opera on the TV—she’s old-fashioned like that.

He walks up the fire escape to her apartment window. It’s dark inside. Maybe she went out? Whatever, the window’s never fully closed. He slides his fingers in the crack under the panes, pulls up, and slips inside.

His foot lands in a disgusting pile of goo. He slips, curses, and just barely stops himself from banging his head on the linoleum floor.

The goo makes a gurgling sound. “Thief,” she groans. “Thief…go away…!”

She lifts an enormous arm made of slime, preparing to smack him.

“Smiley!” he yells. He lets off a small blast so she can see his face. “It’s me, holy shit! You want me to blow a hole in your goddamned kitchen!?”

The slime sways over him for a moment, dripping, then retreats back into her main body. Now that he’s inside, he can see her, a dark blob lying flat on the kitchen floor. She glubs morosely: “Oh…it’s you…..I thought you were dead………..”

“Why would I be fucking dead!? I’m fucking immortal!”

Their neighbor bangs on the thin wall between them and yells, “Shut up!”

“Fuck you, I do what I want!” he yells back. He turns to Smiley. “Goddamn, turn on some fucking lights, would you? It’s fucking rank in here!”

He hops over her body and slaps the light switch. The single bulb overhead sputters weakly. Shit, the place is a mess—a week’s worth of plates are piled in the sink, and the trash is unsorted and overflowing. Empty beer cans are littered everywhere. He opens the window all the way to let the breeze in, and starts bulldozing through the mess, shoving things with his feet into gross piles.

“Damn it, look at this place, I’m not going to sleep in a pigsty! Scrape your ass off the floor and pick up your trash! I’m not your shitty maid!”

Smiley sighs deeply, and a putrid vapor hisses out from between her perpetually grinning teeth. But she scrapes her ass off the floor and picks up her trash. “I haven’t seen you in months…and then you’re on TV….and everyone’s saying you joined the League of Villains….and the heroes were all around you…they didn’t kill you…?”

“Would I be fucking standing here if they did!? They couldn’t touch me, obviously!”

“Blasty…who’s Deku….?”

He kicks a beer can across the room in fury at the name. “None of your fucking business!”

“You’re always getting into trouble….just like my son,” Smiley sighs, light green bubbles frothing at the corner of her mouth. “When he left….he didn’t even say goodbye….you’re just like him…”

“Get a fucking cat already, you’re pathetic!”

“I did, but…it died…so I ate it….”

“Then get another one, I don’t care!”

He checks the fridge. Nothing but beer. He checks the cabinets. Two packets of instant ramen and four tubes of sriracha, one of which is empty and probably growing mold. He throws that one out, and resigns himself to a horrible, unhealthy dinner of carbs and sodium. He’s too tired to try ordering takeout.

He cleans a pan, fills it with water, and sets it over the stove. A blue ring of fire flares into life,

—and he has the weirdest trip. Like a flashback or some shit. The smell of frying pork, the thop-thop-thop of fresh green onions under his knife, his mom’s melodious, too-loud voice instructing him to watch as she measures out the dashi, soy sauce, sake, sugar, mirin. She pours in way too much sugar, and he yells at her, their hands dancing around the donburi pan, careful not to touch, not to spill something. His dad watches from the table. He laughs, and the corners of his eyes wrinkle, he has laugh lines there, and his mom laughs, and Katsuki bares his teeth but the corners of his mouth maybe turn up a little. He learned how to cook mostly from online recipes and trial-and-error, he’s never made a meal to eat with other people before. When he takes his first bite, the taste of the katsudon melts in his mouth. “Alright, I concede,” his mom says gruffly. “You win! You knew you were going to win, you little brat, but I’ll let it slide this time because I love you and I’m glad you’re back.” And he fucking spits the food out and goes to his room and slams the door behind him because what the fuck is that even supposed to mean—

“It’s boiling…” Smiley mutters.

“Shit.” He rips open a ramen pack with his teeth, fishes out the sauce packs, and dumps the ramen into the water. He goes rooting for a pair of chopsticks. The hell is wrong with him? The adrenaline from bombing the prison is fading, leaving him strung-out, jittery, all twisted wrong. He feels tight in his jaw, aching in his shoulders. There’s a pit of unease in his stomach that won’t go away, and he has the sudden urge to sit down somewhere and read that last book Deku gave him. He’d only been halfway through it, fuck. It’s probably just ashes now.

Katsuki!

Stay away.

He needs to sleep. He outlines the plan in his head: eat, then shower, then sleep. Focus on that. He’ll be fine.

“Blasty…”

“My name’s Explodokill,” he snaps, and shoots her a glare. She’s migrated from the floor to a chair. A beer can floats through her body. In all the time he’s known her, he’s never actually seen her use her teeth to eat. She just sort of absorbs things with her slime.

“Oh….I thought Blasty was..nice…but you’re growing up, I guess….so………….”

“So, what?” He sneers. “Finally going to eat me now that you can’t keep me under your thumb anymore?”

The blob jiggles in what might, with a charitable imagination, be a laugh. “You..you never listen to what I say anyways….but listen now….Explodokill.”

Despite himself, he stirs the ramen quietly to indicate that he’s listening.

“We villains, we don’t fit…..just look at me…I was doomed from birth….my son said, on the day he left, that he wanted to be a real man….not a villain…..but he’s too much like me…like his father….”

She forms a hand and stares sadly at the goop dripping from it to the kitchen table.

“People are not born equal….and yet society holds us all to the same standards…stifles our desires all the same…..we want too much, we want the wrong things, or we just don’t look the part….and so society rejects us, and we become villains…”

“You eat people,” he says flatly. “You don’t have to, but you do. You brought this on yourself. What’re you fucking complaining about it to me for?”

“Because you’re different,” Smiley sighs. “You don’t fit….but you also fit….”

“Hah!?”

“Don’t you see…? Blasty, when you were standing up there…on the burning building, telling everyone who you were…there was something heroic about you.”

Did he hear that right? He stares at her in disbelief, and she stares back. Yeah, he heard that right.

He turns off the stove, marches over, and sets off a blast right in her face. Boom! She cringes from the sound. The neighbor bangs the wall again and shouts, “That Blasty kid back? Fuck, I did not miss you!”

“There is nothing heroic about me,” he growls at Smiley. “It made sense coming from the Class 1-A idiots, but you!? I’m a villain! I want to be a villain! I’m not a fucking child, why won’t people stop questioning my choices!?”

Smiley squishes off the chair, whatever point she was trying to make completely abandoned. “Too noisy….you’re such a pain…I give up…..” she groans.

“Good! Because you’re wrong! I don’t need your fucking advice!”

“Whatever….I don’t care…just leave me alone……” She rolls away to the living room. He hears the TV turn on. He glances around the room; she picked up the trash, but didn’t take it out, so he’s going to have to do it after he eats. And wash the dishes. And mop the floor.

No wonder her son left her. Woman is a disaster, on her own or around other human beings. She needs a fucking cat, and one that can survive damned near anything. Definitely not a kitten.

He catches himself thinking about it, scowls, and scoops out his ramen.

It’s fucking soggy.

Damnit, Smiley.

 


 

Katsuki wakes up in the middle of the night, clawing out of dreams he can’t remember but which fill him with a tension he can’t shake. For a wretched moment, he doesn’t know where he is, because the bed is too low and the door is in the wrong place and the alarm clock and calendar are missing. But then his brain kicks in, and he remembers that the apartment got bombed. All that stuff was probably destroyed.

He’s sleeping in Smiley’s son’s old room, like he’s done on and off ever since he got out of the factory. It’s got nothing in it but a sagging futon and a haphazard pile of stupid DVDs and magazines, which Smiley won’t let him torch. No clock. No windows. What time is it? He closes his eyes, opens them, gets up.

He takes a piss in the bathroom. As he washes his hands, he checks his reflection. His eyes are bloodshot, a little jumpy, like a fucking drug addict or something. He lifts his dripping hands and presses his palms against his eyes until he sees spots.

With his parents, and Deku, and UA, he’d had the most consistent routine in his life. He can’t remember the last time he slept in one bed for over a week. His body is just—adjusting to the change, or something. He’ll get over it. It’s fine. He’ll be fine.

There’s too much energy in him to go back to sleep. He goes hunting for materials to make mini pipe bombs.

 


 

He wasn’t alone.

He could tell from the prickling in the back of his neck—someone was watching him. Even though he told the little shits he didn’t want to deal with anyone today. This condemned indoor lot was his, and his alone, to practice his quirk in and try out new kinds of bombs. He’d kill anyone who tried to bother him.

He paused the music on his phone and pulled out his earbuds.

“You’ve got three seconds to shove off!” he shouted into the air. “You don’t want to fucking mess with me!”

“Don’t write me off so quick, kiddo.” A man with little round glasses and a sleazy, gap-toothed smile stepped out of the staircase and into the lot. “Heard you’re looking for an opportunity for career advancement. Well, I’m the man you want to see—Broker Giran. I’m sure you’ve heard the name.”

He narrowed his eyes. “I fucking haven’t,” he replied. He turned away and stuck his earphones back in.

Gap-tooth sputtered for a moment, but recovered admirably quickly. “Look, I’m the most well-connected son-of-a-gun the villain world has got. I think you’ve got potential, and I am uniquely positioned to make that potential a reality. You’ve caught someone’s eye, kiddo. Does my name ring a bell yet?”

He glared at Gap-tooth, and slowly, menacingly, took one earbud out.

Gap-tooth grinned. “That’s what I figured. Anyways. There’s a villain by the name of Magne—lovely lady, stuffed up to here with pent-up murderous rage—she saw your handiwork with the shit gone down in Hosu. Dogface was abusing some of the kids in your little gang, yeah? You lit him up like New Year’s fireworks. Beautiful to see. She’s interested in doing some business with you.

“Nobody seen bombs like yours for three years, kiddo, ever since the accident at the Shibuya weapons ring. Totally stable, can’t be traced by the police, and packing the destructive punch of an M67. Magne is willing to pay top dollar for an exclusive contract with you. In my expert opinion, it’s a match made in heaven. Symbiotic relationship. Opportunity of a lifetime.”

“Bullshit,” he said flatly. “My answer is no.”

He turned away again, his body language radiating disdain. He wouldn’t make bombs for other people, not ever again. His quirk was his. Nobody would touch it.

He turned the music back up and blasted himself into the air. He was in the middle of practicing how long he could stay airborne with his quirk; but to intimidate Gap-tooth, he added twists and whirls, shooting off attacks between each increasingly complicated trick. The walls and pillars of the abandoned lot were scorched entirely black.

He touched down again ten minutes later. A new record. He huffed for breath, chugged some water, and wiped his sizzling sweat with a towel.

Gap-tooth whistled.

He twitched in irritation that was quickly turning into rage. He’d thought the sleazy motherfucker had left.

“That’s a powerful quirk there,” Gap-tooth said. “You must’ve had a crowd of sick bastards all scrambling for a piece of you.” He raised a hand and laid it across his heart, arranging his face into the picture of solemnity. “On my honor, I’m sorry about that. Swear it on me mum’s grave.”

A sly smile crept over the broker’s lips, exposing his yellow, uneven teeth. “But I got this far because I’m not like the other bastards. So I’ll cut you a deal. Anything you want, so long as it’s within my power, I’ll get it to you, I’ll see it done. In exchange, you’ll know that I am a trustworthy son-of-a-gun, and consider the business deal I have proposed. Just consider it.” He raised his arms to the ceiling, glasses shining opaque, as reverent as if he were holding up a river of gold. “Everyone wants something. What do you want? One thing, more than anything?”

He opened his mouth to tell Gap-tooth to fuck off. But then he paused. He’d been going at this villain thing for years now, and had nothing to show for it but a bit of backstreet infamy because of the Dogface thing. When he wasn’t training on his own, he was beating up other people for their money, or defending his territory, or wasting time at the arcade with his gang. He knew what he wanted, but the how was much harder to figure out.

It was time for a change. He still wasn’t going to make bombs for other people, but maybe something could be arranged. He could deliver and set off all the bombs himself, keeping everything in his control. Magne wouldn’t need to touch them. He twisted the towel around his fingers slowly, and pinned Gap-tooth with his worst glare.

“I want to kill the Bombardier,” he said.

Gap-tooth beamed. “That can absolutely be arranged, Blasty Boy.”

“Don’t call me that.” That name was fucking stupid, and he was tired of everyone calling him that. He’d been thinking about his villain name for a while now—he wanted something cool, something powerful, something about how he could totally kill people with explosions. Just last night, he’d come up with something that was damned near perfect. It was time for a change. Killing the Bombardier would open a new chapter in his life; this was the best moment to put little Blasty Boy to rest.

“My name is Explodokill.”

 


 

Misty shows up at their meeting place promptly at 8am, wearing a suit with creases so sharp they could cut stone. Katsuki is already there, bouncing his leg, dressed in a black skull-emblazoned hoodie and baggy jeans he’s found in the closet, and sunglasses he’d stolen from a window display.

“First thing,” Katsuki says, without preamble. “You’re buying me breakfast.”

Misty warps him to a hole-in-the-wall diner. Katsuki scarfs down his natto and fried egg on rice and washes it down with miso soup. Misty picks at his buttered toast and sausage, until Katsuki yanks the plate to himself and eats that too.

“Where’s Creepy Hands?”

Misty’s yellow eyes do a funny swirly thing. “Do you…do you mean Shigaraki Tomura?”

“Yeah, whatever, that asshole. Where is he?”

Misty hesitates, then says stiffly, “He is at home, recuperating from his injuries from the USJ.” Read: sulking.

Katsuki doesn’t give a fuck about Creepy Hands’ feelings. “He won’t need you anytime today? Pack his lunch, do his laundry?”

He’s being sarcastic, but Misty is serious when he says, “I have arranged everything. I am prepared to assist you as long as you need me.”

Okay then.

“I need cash. A lot of cash. And I need to speak to the broker Giran.”

No-Face provides the cash, dropping it through a warp gate (Katsuki decides not to think too hard about the bloodstain on some of the bills). Katsuki uses No-Face’s phone to call up Gap-tooth, and an hour later, the three of them are sitting on a bench in the park while Gap-tooth smirks at Katsuki like the cat that ate the canary.

“Who’s Deku?” Gap-tooth asks, waggling his eyebrows. “Friend of yours?”

The idea is so repulsive that he chokes on his own spit. “No! You’re a damned information broker, figure it out on your own!”

“That’s what I’m trying to do,” Gap-tooth says. “You’re not making this easy for me, kiddo.”

Misty looks like he wants to spill the beans about who Deku is, but before he can, Katsuki snaps at Gap-tooth: “Did you know the USJ attack was a fucking suicide mission?”

Gap-tooth shrugs. “I’m just in it for the money. I know what I need to know.”

It’s as close to a yes as the sleazeball ever gets. “And you gave me an invitation anyways.”

“Your choice to take it up or not.” Gap-tooth takes a drag from his cigarette. “You’ve gone far in the year I’ve known you, Explodokill. I saw the invite and figured, eh, kid deserves a shot! Anyways, Magne wasn’t complaining.”

Magne was in on it. Of fucking course. He thought something was fishy when the broker shared the location of the League of Villains gathering with him, out of the blue.

“You done pretty well for yourself with that ‘suicide mission’ though, I’d say.” Gap-tooth makes air quotes with his fingers around “suicide mission,” and Katsuki grinds his teeth. “Big shot in the League of Villains. I’m getting your fanmail already.”

“The fuck does that mean!?”

“Look yourself up on the internet. You make a damn pretty picture in the flames. Got two people asking after you last night, and you’ll bet there’ll be more coming to me this week. Want me to make introductions?”

“Fuck no, I don’t care!” Katsuki says.

“Absolutely, please do,” Misty says at the same time.

Gap-tooth snorts. “I’ll send them along, then, and take my tips out of your paycheck.”

“What!? No—that’s not what I fucking came here for, Gap-tooth!”

Gap-tooth raises an eyebrow. “So what did you come here for?”

“A villain suit, obviously! My old one got trashed by the fucking heroes. I’m stuck in this shitty getup because apparently I’m a fucking overnight celebrity, but I want something I can fight in ASAP!” He may not care about Hero Killer Stain, but he still isn’t going to meet him with damned sunglasses on.

Gap-tooth grins. “So you want a new suit! Should’ve mentioned earlier.” He sticks the cigarette between his teeth and pulls a notebook and pen out of his shirt pocket. “The folks at Underground Support will want to take your measurements, make sure everything still fits. Any changes you want done to the design?”

He nods. “More intimidating,” he says. “Everyone needs to know I’m a villain, and I’m not going to be anything else. The heroes need to shit their pants when they see me! Get it done in under a week!”

“Not a problem.” He scribbles something in the notebook and puts it away. “Rush orders like that don’t come cheap, though.”

Katsuki jerks a thumb at Misty. “It’s on him. Raise the price as much as you want!”

They finish negotiations, and then Katsuki directs Misty to a place called North & South. The name is written on a neon sign shaped like a horseshoe magnet. A rainbow flag flutters over the glass door. Misty pauses for a second, but Katsuki just walks up and rings the intercom.

After a few seconds, someone picks up.

“I’m going to fucking blow your head off, Lipstick,” he says into the speaker.

There’s a heavy sound of static, like she smacked her hand into the speaker and laughed. “Sweetie pie, honey bunch,” Magne says over the intercom, “you had such an adventure while you were away! Who’s Deku? How’d you meet him? Is he cute? I’m so jealous!”

“Don’t you fucking dare go down that path,” he hisses. “Deku” and “cute” in the same sentence is giving him hives. “I’m going to kill you! You sold me off to the fucking League of Villains!”

Magne shushes him. “Okay, Sora is coming down to get you, so be nice to her, please? We can talk inside. Who’s your friend?” she adds.

“I am Kurogiri, of the League of Villains.”

She gasps. “A famous person,” she stage-whispers. “Mamma mia, you brought me a famous person! This is so exciting!”

“I’m famous too, fuck you!”

The door opens, and Pigtails beckons them both in. “Good to see you again, Explodokill,” she says, dipping her head. “And nice to meet you, Kurogiri.”

“The pleasure is all mine,” Misty replies, sounding relieved to have found someone who shares his appreciation of good manners.

“You’re not fooling anyone,” Katsuki growls at her. “You’re in on everything too, go to hell!”

The first two floors of the building are dedicated to North & South, the gay dance club Magne and her “platonic life partner” run—completely above board, except under fake names. The third floor is where they live. Pigtails takes them up the rickety elevator and lets them into the swanky flat, which is tasteful and subdued, distinctly Western-style, soft furniture and modern paintings on the walls. The giant magnet is propped up under the coat rack.

Magne is waiting in the living room, pouring two cups of iced tea.

“Why don’t you settle in with Ken?” Pigtails says softly. “I’ll go and make lunch. Take your time!” She scampers out of the room.

“Go join her, Misty,” Katsuki says.

When Misty hesitates, Magne adds, “Could you please help Sora with the food? Thanks so much!”

Misty bows slightly, knowing he’s been kicked out. “Very well.” He follows Pigtails into the kitchen.

Katsuki takes off his sunglasses and throws back his hood. He raises a palm and warms up his quirk with a few warning sparks. Magne just smiles, and pushes a cup of tea across the table at him.

“Explodokill, don’t be angry with me, okay? You were always talking about becoming famous as the top villain. I heard the League was recruiting, and I thought, This is perfect for Explodokill! So I had Giran pass it on to you. Think of it like being chosen for an internship!”

“I was arrested,” he snarls. “I was in jail!”

“Occupational hazard,” says Magne with a shrug. “But you learned about the heroes. And more importantly—you’re famous!” She does jazz hands. “You did it! You should be, like, thanking me for the opportunity!”

“You never do things out of the fucking goodness of your heart,” he spits. “You were trying to get something out of it! Name recognition, connections, something! You used me!”

She lifts a finger and presses it to her bottom lip. “That I can’t deny,” she says. “But you owe me a favor, so it’s my right to use you however I want.”

He curls his lip. “Don’t fucking push it! I agreed to run your ‘deliveries,’ not whatever shit you want from me now! If I don’t like something, I’ll just turn around and kill you, too!” She doesn’t look too concerned. Unease twists in his stomach. “Besides, you fucking leaked something! The League knows about the Bombardier.”

That gets her to pause. She takes off her sunglasses and regards him with cold eyes. “I didn’t tell anyone.”

“You think I give a fuck who tattled? Cat’s out of the bag! They said…” He sets his jaw. “They implied that the Bombardier might still be alive.”

“They’re just trying to get under your skin,” she says immediately. “You told me you checked the body.”

“I did!” He scrubs a hand through his hair, frustrated. “Obviously I did! Who do you think I am!? I just…fuck, why am I even telling you this!?”

“Easy there, tiger,” Magne croons. She waves a hand at the couch in front of her. “Sit down. Have a drink.”

She sips her iced tea. He scowls at her for a while, but finally sits down and picks up his drink. The ice clinks in the glass, cool against his burning palm.

“I wanted an in with the League of Villains,” Magne says. “I always liked the idea of organized crime. A bunch of underdogs doing whatever they want, a life free from the arbitrary rules of society. But with All Might keeping all the villains down, everyone’s too scared to come out and organize. Even the yakuza are basically extinct. Sure, there’s a black market and brokers like Giran, but there’s no sense of solidarity, you know what I mean?

“The League of Villains sounded real promising. Massive cooperation among villains in order to take down All Might! Giran thought so too. I wanted to have an in if they succeeded—and I knew that with you around, the chances of them succeeding shot way up. So don’t, like, blame me for trying to break out of society’s oppression, okay?

That being said,” she adds, before Katsuki can throw his glass of iced tea into her face, because that was the stupidest speech he’s ever heard. “You’re like a little brother to me. I still remember the day Giran brought you to me, when I promised to help you kill the Bombardier. You were so cute, a little ball of anger and issues. I was genuinely happy when the bastard died. If it turns out he’s still alive—if, somehow, the League is involved and is trying to mess with you—well, I keep my promises. You and I will tear apart anyone standing in our way and burn the remains to ash.” She smiles encouragingly. “Okay, sugar bunch?”

He narrows his eyes at her. “Why should I trust you?”

“Did I ever lead you wrong? Did I ever try to use the product of your quirk without your consent?”

He crosses his arms and glares at her for a moment. She’s definitely respected his boundaries better than Creepy Hands.

“The League is looking for Hero Killer Stain,” he grunts, as a peace offering. “They want to recruit him.”

She gives an exaggerated gasp. “How exciting! Stain is a famous one! He’s so elusive that even Giran would have trouble finding him.”

“I’m not asking Giran for help,” he snaps. “It’d give him too much power, he’s already running a job for me. Just let me know if you hear anything about where Stain is. You want your ‘in,’ right?”

“You got it, sweetcakes! He’s probably in Hosu, stalking a new hero victim.” She winks. “I’ll do some digging, just for you! As payment for the good info!”

“Whatever.” Hosu, huh? He chugs the iced tea down and gets up. “I’m going to take my stuff back. You’d better not have screwed with my phone.”

“Of course not! Your belongings are in the closet, right where you left them.”

He usually leaves his phone and wallet and shit with Magne when he goes out villaining, just because there’s no way Magne would steal anything. In the past year, the place has also been sort of his home base, since it’s quiet during the day when the dance club is closed, and it has a laundry machine and kitchen and everything. He’s got his laptop, his toothbrush, and a couple changes of clothes here. He used to hang up his villain suit in the closet, too. He picks up his sling backpack and drops the bare essentials in.

He takes advantage of Magne’s wifi to google himself. There are a lot of pictures and videos of him on the prison roof. Someone made a compilation of all the times he’s been caught on camera: the roof, a brief shot in the USJ, and grainy footage from a fight he got into a couple months ago while delivering a bomb for Magne. One article tries to investigate his connection with UA and gets dangerously close to figuring out that he was sitting in on classes. A few make wild guesses about his real name, and map out all the most recent fires and explosions that have happened in the area—nobody, he notices, has connected the explosion at his parents’ apartment with him.

Many, many articles pick apart his speech, try to identify Deku, and call on All Might to address the issue of a teenager trying (and succeeding!) to wage war against heroes. UA has released a statement: We deeply regret the incident, we are working hard to assist the police with their investigation, blah blah blah. Nobody’s satisfied. Public trust in UA is crumbling. And judging from the comments, everyone wants to know who Deku is, what the fuck?

The four of them eat lunch, and Misty and Pigtails seem to get on swimmingly. After they finish, he pulls up a map on his phone and jabs a finger at the next place on the agenda.

Hosu, #1 Royal Street. A shitty motel next to a shitty car wash and a shitty hair salon, urban sprawl at its shittiest.

When they get there, he turns to Misty and says, “Go shopping.”

“…Excuse me?”

He scribbles a list of items in a notebook: groceries, toiletries, a baseball cap, a pack of Gatorade, the book from Deku he’d been in the middle of reading. He rips the page out and shoves it at Misty.

“Go shopping. Everything on the list. I don’t care where you go, but I want all organic produce, none of that convenience store bullshit. Meet me back here at 6pm.”

Misty puffs himself up. “We are searching for Stain, not—not grocery shopping! Sensei will not tolerate this!”

I am searching for Stain.” He gives Misty a slasher smile. “You are my gopher. If you doubt me again I’ll blow a hole in you for real. Now shut up and do as I say!”

Misty shudders. “For the good of the League. I must endure for the good of the League…” he grumbles at the pavement, and warps away.

Katsuki shoves his hands in his pockets, shoots a glance down the street, and strolls down the block to the arcade.

As he passes through the entrance, he feels something tug, light as a feather, against his backpack.

Without even looking, he shoots his hand out and seizes the pickpocket’s fingers.

“That’s my fucking wallet, Sticky,” he says, and grins.

Sticky gapes up at him. He’s a mousy 12-year-old boy, shorter than most 8-year-olds, but he has six fingers on each hand that can stretch out and stick to things like licorice whips. “Blas—I mean, Explodokill!” he says in awe. “You were on TV! And now you’re wearing sunglasses! I didn’t even recognize you! You’re like, even more of a villain than before, this is so cool!”

“Watch your fucking mouth, you want to get me caught!?”

Sticky slaps a hand over his mouth, bug-eyed, and vigorously shakes his head.

They go deeper into the arcade. Katsuki drops some coins into the Castlevania game and steps up to the controls. “Here’s what’s going down, you little shit,” he says, keeping his voice low so the other people at the arcade won’t notice. “I’m looking for a freaky fucking serial killer called Stain. I heard he’s in Hosu.”

“Hero Killer Stain!” says Sticky. “Yeah, he was on the news! Right after you were on the news, I mean. Why’re you looking for him? I thought he was supposed to be a real asshole.”

“Don’t ask me stupid questions, Sticky! Listen. You and the other little shits are going to comb through this city and report back to me with places he’s likely to be. Don’t let him see you; I’m the only one who’s going to approach him. I need to talk to him before the end of the week. Again: do not let him see you. Is that clear?”

“Yeah, crystal!” Sticky chirps. “Fucking crystal! But you aren’t even gonna tell me what it’s for?”

“Why should I? I don’t owe you a damned thing.”

Sticky drapes himself over the Castlevania machine with a groan. He pouts at Katsuki for a while, but then his face lights up. “Hey! What’s it like with the League of Villains?”

“Them? They’re fucking assholes.” He jostles the game controls violently. “The leader is some kind of videogame nerd who needs a butler to get anything done, and the real leader is some old geezer who talks through a TV monitor. Won’t show me his face, fucker!”

“Wow, really? How old is he?”

“Who fucking knows! He says he peaked in the Golden Age.”

“Ooh, ooh, Explodokill!” Sticky springs upright. “You think he might be All for One?”

The name is familiar, since Sticky has taken it upon himself to tell Katsuki all the latest gossip even when Katsuki very clearly does not give a fuck. He’s ended up absorbing most of the knowledge despite himself. “Hah?”

“You know, All for One! The Symbol of Chaos! He’s the oldest and evilest villain around. Grandpa used to say All Might killed him, but maybe he’s been alive, plotting his revenge this whole time! Wouldn’t that be cool?”

“Sticky, All for One is an urban legend. He’s like, Santa Claus or some shit. All we’ve got is the League of Villains, and they’re fucking lame.” He grins. “I’m more than cool enough for everyone. I’ll kill All Might and become the Symbol of Chaos myself! And I’m real.”

Sticky sticks his fingers into his mouth and blows his cheeks out, too delighted for words.

“Fucking—that’s gross, Sticky!”

“Shaw’y,” says Sticky, and pops his fingers out of his mouth. “You’re so cool.”

“Yeah, whatever. Go wash your hands.” Sticky wipes his hands on his pants. Katsuki shoots him a look. Sticky twists his fingers together and stares at him, wide-eyed.

“Now what is it? Don’t look at me like that,” he snaps.

“Rattail hurt Lisa yesterday,” Sticky mumbles, barely audible.

He narrows his eyes. “Rattail knows what happens if he messes with me.”

“Yeah, but…you haven’t been here for a while…and since you’re with the League of Villains, he thought you weren’t ever coming back.” Sticky’s fingers are one giant twisted knot. “I thought so too. I can’t believe you’re back.”

Katsuki throws down the controls to the game irritably. “What the hell, you little shits are useless without me! Can’t you do a damned thing on your own!?” He picks up the controls again to pass them to Sticky. “Fucking Rattail. I’ll make him regret the day he was born. You hold down the fort here, got it!?”

Sticky beams. “Okay!” he says.

He picks up the control and promptly gets murdered by a monster. They both stare at the GAME OVER screen.

“Useless fucking shit,” Katsuki fumes, and pays for another round for Sticky.

It’s not that he cares about the kids running around the streets of Hosu, Ginza, Odaiba, wherever. He was never just “one of the kids,” even when he’d first met Smiley and barely knew how to put one foot in front of the other. He didn’t just want to survive or have fun. He was going places. But being head of a gang of children—orphans in some way or another, all of them—could be damned useful in times like these. It was the most logical way for him to accrue power. Even now he keeps up his relationship with them and maintains his territory, a chore he does automatically, like making his bed.

But he isn’t thinking of the kids when he hunts down Rattail and blows both his kneecaps out in a spray of fire, cartilage, and blood. He does it for fun. People like Rattail are human garbage for thinking that children will just lie there and let adults do whatever they want, and Explodokill enjoys the shit out of proving them wrong.

 


 

He wasn’t alone.

He stuffed the sleeve of his shirt in his mouth and glared at the polished gold shoes gleaming under the edge of the tablecloth. Maybe, if he kept perfectly still, the man would go away. And then he could finish his escape, and find the police or a hero, and finally get to go home. He was so close. He’d been dodging the other factory workers for half an hour. The door was right there.

“What’s this? Has a little boy escaped?” the strange man said. Cheerfully, sweetly, like someone in a kid’s TV show. “Where could he be? Come out, come out, wherever you are…”

The golden shoes spun around and clicked, slowly, out of his sight. Several seconds passed. The only sound was the rapid, suffocating beating of his heart.

A corner of the tablecloth lifted.

A man poked his head under the table, smiling radiantly. His face and hair were white as chalk, but gold powder dusted his eyelids and lips, softening the hard angle of his cheekbones. He was beautiful. He pressed a thin white finger to his cupid-bow lips. “Shhh…” he said. “I’m a hero. I’m here to help you.”

The tablecloth dropped back into place.

A hero? The thundering of his heart, which had seemed to fill the whole world, now began to subside. He started to breathe again. He listened closely to the clicking of the golden shoes.

“That fucking kid. Where is he!” Slick Hair screamed in the hall. The door opened with a bang. Hiding under the table, the boy flinched. “Ah, the Bombardier! I’m so sorry for the trouble, mate, one of the new boys ran off today, you know how it is. I’ll skin the useless brat alive! I swear we’ll get your order to you soon as I get my hands on him. You haven’t seen him, have you?”

The Bombardier laughed. “Yes, I know how kids can get. I haven’t seen him. I’ll just wait here, you go on!”

Slick Hair stomped back out, cursing up a storm. His voice disappeared deeper into the building.

Cautiously, the boy crawled out from under the table and looked up at the Bombardier.

“Hello there!” the Bombardier said, and smiled. “You’re quite a little troublemaker, aren’t you?”

“You’re a hero,” the boy said. His throat was raw from breathing chemicals all day, and it hurt to talk. “Did you come to fight the factory people?”

The Bombardier’s smile widened. “Now, why would I do that?”

“Because—” It was so obvious that he stalled out on an answer. “Because they’re the bad guys.”

“Oh, of course!” said the Bombardier. He smacked his forehead, eyes comically wide. “I’d better go find the bad guys, so I can punish them for doing evil! But what’s this?”

He pulled a tiny canister out of his pocket. The boy knew that canister intimately. He’d made dozens of them since coming here.

“Bombs! How horrible! How villainous! These are magnificent bombs, powerful bombs. Buildings have been destroyed, people have died because of these very bombs! What evil person could have created these?”

The boy felt the Bombardier’s disapproval like a physical blow, burning his cheeks with shame. “I’m not evil!” he said fiercely. “I didn’t want to. I was trying to stop!” He held out his palms, moist with sweat. The Bombardier peered at them with interest. “I’m running away so they can’t use my quirk anymore. I’m going to be a hero someday, see? I can still do the right thing!”

The Bombardier laughed and took the boy’s hands.

He wrenched the boy around and pinned his arms painfully behind his back.

“Your hands are your weapons,” the Bombardier said. “You pointed those weapons at a hero. How terrible! I have to arrest you now.”

The boy thought his arms were going to break. His bones creaked in pain. “Stop!" he choked out. “Stop stop it stop! I didn’t mean it! I didn’t mean it! It was a mistake!”

Just a mistake? Are you sure? Your quirk gave the villains a powerful weapon. Your quirk has killed people. I’m sorry to tell you this, but you'll never become a hero now. Did you know that a quirk license can only be given to someone with a clean record?”

The inviting tone of his voice dropped away, and in its wake was a terrifying, cold disgust.

"There’s only one way to say this: you fucked up. You’ve made a mess. Your name is tainted forever, and once you go home the police will chain you up and you’ll rot the rest of your life away like a quirkless nobody.”

The Bombardier released his hands. The boy bolted to the other side of the room, his chest convulsing as he fought down tears. The skin around his palms burned and prickled, rash-red.

“But I can still help you,” said the Bombardier, his voice friendly again. “I’m a hero! I help little boys like you. Besides, I like this factory, and I don’t want to see it gone. All I need is for you to stay nice and quiet, and every now and then—”

I don’t need your help!” the boy screamed, suddenly vicious.

The Bombardier froze. The boy scrubbed the tears out of his eyes and glared up at the man.

“If I can’t go home and you won’t fight the factory people, then I’ll just kill them myself!”

The Bombardier cocked his head. He smiled, but it was a little stiff. “Don’t be silly. You’re just a weak little boy, you'll get yourself hurt. And we don't want that!”

“Then I’ll stay here and get stronger! My hands are my weapons. I’ll use them for myself instead of for Slick Hair!”

“No, no, you don’t understand.” The smile was getting strained. “If you just wait patiently and do what I ask, you can still be free. You won’t be a hero, but you’ll still be a civilian. If you use your quirk against another person like this, you’ll be a villain—you’ll always be a villain, and I’ll have to come and arrest you.”

“Then I’ll be a villain,” he said. “I don’t care! Nobody is going to stop me or tell me what to do! I’ll be the best villain there is! I’m going to fight all the factory people who push me around! If you get in my way, I’ll fight you too!” The boy held up his hands. He felt a rush of pleasure at having some kind of power, of throwing this man off balance. He gave a tiny, hungry, manic grin. “You said my quirk could kill people, right!?”

The Bombardier stared at him, a look of supreme displeasure on his face. His lips moved silently for a moment, like he’d lost the script and couldn’t improvise the next scene.

“What’s your name?” he finally said. “I’ll remember you, little boy.”

The boy's eyes flashed.

“My name is Bakugou Katsuki!”

 


 

Six days after No-Face gave the order, Bakugou Katsuki finds Hero Killer Stain.

In those six days, Magne explains that Hero Killer Stain is a paranoid, antisocial fuck. He doesn’t own a phone and shuns modern technology as much as possible. Presumably he researches his targets using newspaper clippings. The black market keeps its lips sealed about Stain’s knives and villain suit; they’re homemade, for all anyone knows. Pigtails builds an algorithm to calculate which heroes are most likely to be next on Stain’s hit list, and ends up with 11 names.

The little shits scatter through Hosu, tracking each of those 11 names. They comb through alleys, check people’s wallets for suspicious IDs, scope out the best high ground. 

The new villain suit arrives the day before they find Stain. Giran delivers it through Misty, along with contacts for 20 people Katsuki has absolutely zero interest in meeting. He blocks their numbers on his phone and focuses on the suit. It’s the same core design, but the grenade bracers around his arms are sleeker, shaped more like missiles, and it has wicked-looking shoulder pads to minimize recoil damage. He has a small grenade launcher attached to his belt in addition to the double row of explosive canisters. The color scheme is different too: the army green has been thrown entirely out. It’s just black, red, and metallic silver.

Before he goes to meet Stain, he puts the suit on and takes a moment to test out how it feels, moves, weighs. Yeah, this’ll do.

“I’m glad you look excited about this, at least,” says Misty.

Katsuki schools his face into a scowl. He can’t let anyone know he likes the suit this much. “Whatever. Let’s get a fucking move on!”

They warp to the kid in Katsuki’s gang at dusk. She’d snuck into a stranger’s apartment and set up shop by the window; now she points to the rooftop opposite her. Katsuki sees a flicker of movement in the distance, against the brightly colored sunset. He goes up to the window and squints: tattered ribbons, red and gray. Stain crouching over the city.

“Congratulations, Explodokill,” Misty says. He sounds surprised, which is fucking insulting. “Now follow my lead, if you please.”

“Oh, hell no,” says Katsuki. He leaps out the window and blasts straight onto the roof.

Stain is a wiry man with an unrealistic number of knives on his person, and who looks like he hasn’t washed his hair in years. Seriously, there’s dried blood somewhere in there. He takes out a pair of his knives and watches Katsuki land.

“Yo, Stabby!” says Katsuki. “Welcome to the League of Villains, what the fuck ever, we’re a bunch of assholes and Creepy Hands wants to meet you. Get over here!”

“Dear Lord in Heaven,” Misty says toward the skies. His mist twists in agitated patterns. “Explodokill, please.”

Stain measures them like a real fighter would; keeps his distance and doesn’t rise to the bait. He licks his lips and turns toward Katsuki.

“You’re the child who declared war against All Might, aren’t you?” he says.

“I’m not a fucking child!” Katsuki snaps.

Stain narrows his eyes. It might be in displeasure, it’s hard to tell. “What is your goal?”

“The hell!?" He doesn't deign to answer. The whole fucking world knows what his goal is, he shouted it from a burning rooftop last week. "I haven’t got all day, Stabby! Are you coming or not!?”

Stain shakes his head. “I hate people like you the most,” he growls. “You’re like a wild beast, or a child throwing a tantrum.”

"For the last time, I'm not a fucking child!"

“No, Explodokill!” Misty says.

Katsuki ignores him. He lifts his arm, just to rattle the bastard, and also because he really, really wants to try out the new bracer. He's spoiling for a good fight. He grins, and prepares to disengage the safety.

Stain hurls two knives at his face.

Shit, he can't get ready in time. He ducks, one knife taking a few hairs off his head, and rolls toward Misty.

“Please, we come in peace!” Misty says.

“Just warp him to the bottom of the sea!” Katsuki shouts.

Stain advances, but the air is absent of the pressure he’d felt from Creepy Hands. Stain doesn’t intend to kill him. It’s why the first two knives didn’t even draw blood—he’s holding back. Katsuki’s irritation ratchets up to indignation. If Stain doesn’t take him seriously, he’ll beat the shit out of him.

Stain gets behind Misty, too fast for Katsuki’s eye to follow. A flash of a knife, blood hits the rooftop, and suddenly Misty freezes. Stain licks his lips. “I can’t move—” Misty says.

Katsuki curls one hand and sends a focused blast, inches from burning Misty. Stain hops away. It’s dangerous to drag the fight on and obscure his field of vision with his quirk’s smoke, with those flying knives everywhere. He cups his palms together.

Stain darts forward, twin knives raised at Katsuki.

“Stun grenade!”

Blinding light flashes over the roof. While the enemy should still be stunned, Katsuki presses in close and slams his right palm toward Stain.

It never connects. Stain—blind and half-deaf—reads his moves and dodges to the left. He raises a knife to counter. The serrated blade catches on Katsuki’s right arm and tears a long gash through his new suit.

Sharp pain flashes, cold as ice, across his upper arm. Stain darts out his tongue.

With his left hand, Katsuki blasts his own arm before Stain can touch him. Pain like nothing else rages through his arm, and then numbness. The heat has cauterized the wound, sealing off the blood.

Stain leaps to the other side of the roof. He spits, the right side of his face and tongue slightly burned.

“How did you guess my quirk?” he hisses across the open space.

“I know someone who had a hunch,” Katsuki growls. “And I’ve got a pair of eyes, you bastard!” He tests his right arm—still mobile, if a little stiff. No missile launching from that side today. “You were going easy on me! I told you, I’m not a fucking child! I’m aiming for top villain, the indisputable, undeniable top! If you treat this like some fucking game or test, I’ll kill you dead! Every last fight that I’ve fought was with my life on the line! I don’t stand for wishy-washy pity, you hear!?”

Stain stands still for a moment, regarding Katsuki. Then he slides the knives back into his belt.

“So that’s who you are,” he says, and a satisfied smile spreads over his face. It makes Katsuki want to punch something. “It seems I misjudged you. You do have ‘desire’—it’s simple, but the strongest desires often are. It might be worth it to wait and see how you mature before I dispose of you.”

“Oh, fuck you!” Katsuki yells. “I just landed a fucking hit on you! Don’t act so high and mighty!” So what if he wants to win? He knows he’s going to win. He’ll climb to the top, where he belongs. And all of this will finally be over. Nobody will touch him again. At long last, he’ll be left the fuck alone.

“I’ll meet with the League of Villains,” Stain continues, like Katsuki hadn’t said a word. Fucking narcissist. “But afterwards, I have business to finish in Hosu. Blood remains to be shed.”

He licks his lips.

Chapter Text

For once, Katsuki and Creepy Hands agree on something. Hero Killer Stain is a total fucking ass.

“He gets on my nerves,” Creepy Hands rasps, a new cut on his shoulder and his neck scratched raw. “I don’t like him. I can just crush the things I don’t like, right, Sensei?”

Stain has already left the bar, stepping through Misty’s warp gate. He didn’t give Creepy Hands a second glance. The feeling is clearly mutual. Katsuki isn’t surprised—nobody likes Creepy Hands.

Katsuki finishes applying ointment to his burns and wraps a bandage around his arm, something he’s gotten pretty good at over the years. “If you want something done, then do it yourself! Don’t run crying to your damned Sensei.”

Creepy Hands ignores him. He’s giving him the “silent treatment,” apparently, after their fight last week.

Creepy Hands gets three Noumus from No-Face, like other kids get snack money. He runs off to Hosu and whines some more about Stain, and then he watches the Noumus wreak havoc over the city through his binoculars, cackling. Katsuki half expects Misty to show up with popcorn.

It’s fucking boring. Katsuki ditches the pair, ignoring Misty when he yells at him to be careful, and goes after Stain.

“You! Stabby! You were looking down on me!” he shouts.

Stain moves fast—even with his quirk Katsuki can barely keep him in sight, the red scarf whipping through the night. He glances at Katsuki over his shoulder.

“Are you interested in my mission?”

“No! I don’t give a shit, you’re just more interesting to be around than damned Creepy Hands!”

“Good. You are an acceptable pupil,” Stain says, and straight-up starts preaching at him. “The commercialization of ‘heroes’ has corrupted society. The man I’m hunting now calls himself ‘Native’ and wears fake fur and a feather in his headband. Does he even realize the history of colonialism and genocide he’s invoking by appropriating native culture? No! He just wants to have an appealing persona. He takes a vacation in Hawaii every summer and posts photos of his debauchery online. He is unworthy of the title of ‘hero.’ He must be purged!”

“What the fuck,” Katsuki says.

Stain rants on, not even short of breath. “My first target in Hosu was Ingenium. He was just as much of a fake. He only became a hero because he inherited his parents’ agency, but being a hero is not a family business. A hero must have conviction! A hero must accomplish magnificent feats! Ingenium had no talent, he was practically a bureaucrat, he contributed less than his own sidekicks. He was weak, a mere product of a corrupt system. The last thing he said before I cut him down was: ‘I can’t let down my family.’ He was a disgrace to the title of ‘hero.’ He deserved to be purged!”

“Stabby, I really don’t fucking care!”

As Stain passes a busy street, he shoots an arm out, quick as a flash, and grabs onto a man wearing fake fur and a feather in his headband. This must be Stain’s target hero. Stain pulls him into the alley and stabs him, spraying blood all over the walls, then drags the immobilized hero deeper into the darkness. Red smears over the ground.

Katsuki lands in the alley, keeping his distance. Stabbings have always been gross—who knows how many germs are on those knives, or how many different people’s blood are mingling together in the wounds. Fire, at least, burns clean.

“Is that it? Some lame-ass ‘purge.’”

“You call yourself a villain,” Stain says. “You should learn how to change society, by any means necessary.”

The target is screaming and blubbering, the typical “I can’t die yet, you bastard! I’ll kill you!” stuff that Katsuki’s heard a dozen times before. Stain slams the target into the wall.

“Pro hero Native,” he says in a low voice. “Choose your last words carefully.”

He stabs the target again. Blood spurts into the air, staining his yellow suit. The target moans, muffled under Stain’s palm.

“Fucking nasty,” Katsuki grumbles. “Get it over with already. He’s just a weak asshole who lost! What’s the point of your stupid tests or purges or whatever!?”

Stain looks at Katsuki like he’s being a giant idiot. “There are more important things in the world than who wins or loses a fight.”

That’s just something losers tell themselves to feel better!”

Stain narrows his eyes. For a second, Katsuki thinks he’s hit a nerve and Stain’s going to attack him. But then he hears a faint, high-pitched whistling noise, and feels a warm wind blast against his side.

He ducks away, just as a metal suit zooms right past him and barrels into Stain. A knight in white armor aims a vicious kick at Stain’s head. The harsh clang of metal on metal rings through the air. The knight’s head—no, his helmet—goes flying through the air, along with a glint of glass.

Stain lowers his sword. With a loud clank, the knight lands on the ground next to Katsuki.

“Another child,” Stain mutters. “Who are you?”

The knight’s eyes burn blue, fixed on Stain like he can’t see anything else in the world—like he wants to tear the man apart with his bare hands—like he’ll die if he looks away. Katsuki recognizes that look. He can’t count the number of times he’s worn that exact same expression.

It isn’t until the knight gets to one knee and starts to speak that Katsuki notices the exhaust pipes coming from his calves, and suddenly realizes that he knows this kid. It’s the student from Class 1-A—that speedy, annoying glasses guy who always hung out with Deku and kept giving Katsuki judgmental stares.

“You!” Katsuki barks, interrupting the knight’s speech. “The fuck are you doing here!?”

Why isn’t he in UA? He’s still training to be a pro hero, isn’t he? It feels wrong to see him here, in this dirty alley in Hosu, wearing his hero suit. It feels wrong to see him without glasses, and with that murderous expression. It’s like the rules of reality are shifting again. Fucking UA keeps messing up his life! What the shit!

“Bakugou?” The knight turns to him, and every glare he had leveled at Katsuki in UA pales in comparison to the look on his face. The hatred that had been directed at Stain now spills over to Katsuki. “No—Explodokill! I knew you would never change your ways. Did you know what would happen to my brother!?”

Katsuki didn’t even know he had a brother. “Who the fuck cares about that asshole?” he snaps.

The knight totally overreacts. “How dare you!” he shouts, his voice breaking. “He was an excellent elder brother and an excellent hero. Stain paralyzed him from the waist down! I have come to stop you in my brother’s place. Remember my name for as long as you live: Ingenium! The name of the hero who will defeat you!”

He whirls at Katsuki with a furious yell. Katsuki lifts a palm, but Stain gets in the way, stabbing the knight in the shoulder with a spiked boot toe. With his other boot, he stomps the knight face-first into the dirt.

“I had him!” Katsuki protests.

Stain ignores him. “First save those who are in need,” he says to the knight. He points at the target, still paralyzed and slumped against the wall, slowly bleeding out. “If you were a true hero, you would have evaluated the situation and tried to save the injured. But instead you chose to use your powers for selfish revenge. You are weak. Just like your brother.”

He raises his sword and skewers the knight’s left arm into the ground. The knight cries out. Blood spatters over Stain’s feet.

“Shut up,” the boy sobs. “Shut up, shut up! My brother can’t be a hero anymore! You took the name of Ingenium away from him! So what’s left? Tell me, what’s left to us now!? You criminals, you villains! I won’t forgive you! I’ll kill you!”

Again, Katsuki feels unsettled. His hands tingle with a phantom rash. Those are Katsuki’s thoughts, from years ago, coming out of the mouth of a UA student lying on the chopping block. What’s left to a kid whose dreams have been crushed, what’s left to someone who’s had “hero” snatched away from them? Rage, obviously. Vengeance. Blind hunger. But what would the damned straight-laced glasses guy, of all people, know about this?

“Hatred is the villain’s prerogative,” says Stain. He removes his sword and laps up the dripping blood. The knight freezes. “That’s why you’ll die.”

And then Stain turns to Katsuki.

“Child villain,” he says. “Come here. If you want this world to change, you can no longer throw your powers around however you please.” He holds the sword handle out to Katsuki. “Judge him. And if he proves weak, purge him.”

Katsuki stares at the sword. “Are you fucking serious?” he hisses. “Is this another stupid fucking test!? He already lost! I don’t care about your batshit crazy fucking crusade, I just want you to take me seriously!”

“Right now, you are weak,” Stain says, with brutal arrogance. “If you don’t fight for something bigger than yourself, all your victories will be empty. You’ll burn like a brief flame and then disappear from history.”

He pins Katsuki with a glare, and suddenly Katsuki feels frozen, like his quirk had gotten him after all.

“In this corrupt world, someone must make things right. Someone must be dyed in blood! That’s how you’ll make the world remember you! Explodokill, purge this child, and take on what it means to be a villain!”

A suffocating pressure hauls Katsuki under, sick and hateful, overwhelming even Shigaraki’s killing intent. It’s impossible to go against this man’s will. Everything captured by those bloodshot eyes exists only to feed into Stain’s worldview, pulled like a magnet into his desires.

It would be easy for him to kill the knight. He’s been over this before, he doesn’t need this shit, he said he’d kill everyone in Class 1-A and he meant it. He knows that the weak die and the strong keep fighting and that’s all the world has ever amounted to. But Stain keeps calling them child, children, and it’s making him think of every other fucking adult who’s tried to tell him what to do, every other asshole who’s stood over a child like it’s their right to take advantage. His hands burn with remembered injuries, as blood pools around the boy’s fallen body, a red so dark it’s almost black in the night. He feels like two halves of his insides are smashing up against each other, mixing the wrong chemicals, steaming in a pressure cooker. Preparing to explode.

The sword’s battered edge glints in the moonlight. Beneath them, the boy howls. Katsuki doesn’t know what to do.

A green blur streaks out of the darkness.

Deku slams his fist into Stain’s face. “Smash!” he yells, and with one word shatters the tension in the air. Stain goes flying down the alleyway. The knight blinks up at Deku, jaw slack.

“Mi…Midoriya?” he says.

Deku stands between the knight and the villains, fists raised. His lip are trembling, but his eyes—those fucking eyes!—they don’t waver a moment. They glance at Stain down the alley, and then they shift to Katsuki and steadfastly match his gaze.

“I’ve come to save you!” he says, and it’s impossible to tell who he’s speaking to, the knight or Katsuki.

Suddenly, the solution is obvious.

Good clean rage sweeps away everything else in the world, staining his vision a bright, pulsing red. The pressure building inside him erupts, focusing all his frustration into a single point. Everything is Deku’s fault, after all. From the League of Villains to his parents to All Might to Stain, Deku’s stupid face and Deku sticking his nose where it isn’t meant to be and Deku acting like he’s better than him.

It always comes back to fucking Deku. The lying little useless quirkless shit.

“I’m going to kill you,” Explodokill breathes. His palms burst into white hot fire. “Deku! I’m going to rip your fucking heart out!”


Izuku’s heart trips over itself, elation and fear and relief and anger and pain, and he struggles to breathe and think through the torrent of emotion. Thank God he came looking for Iida. Thank God he’s such a meddlesome worrying fool.

Behind his back, he slips his phone out of his pouch. The line to Todoroki is still open.

He and Todoroki had kept each other apprised of their internships while living with each other, and he knew Todoroki was in Hosu. The moment he realized Iida had gone missing, he’d called Todoroki to help search for him, and had kept up communications while rushing through the city.

“Midoriya,” comes Todoroki’s voice now, tinny and faint. “What’s your situation? Midoriya!”

“Iida is injured,” he hisses into the phone, trying to be discrete about it. “Kacchan is here with Hero Killer Stain. I need backup!”

Quickly, he recites his location address while simultaneously evaluating the situation. Iida is down, as well as another pro hero in the alley. Stab wounds, probably Stain; and if the theorists are right, that means they’re both immobilized by Stain’s quirk. Kacchan is here, and that combined with the Noumus in Hosu confirms that Stain is working with the League of Villains. Kacchan has a bandage around his upper arm, is he okay? There are no burn marks in the alley, so Kacchan hadn’t been fighting, although he’s coming at Izuku now and he looks absolutely hellbent on murdering him oh fuck—

Izuku barely has time to activate Full Cowling, grab Iida, and dive out of the way. Heat explodes in the narrow alley, flashing like a brand across his skin.

“Come on, Deku,” Kacchan growls, waving aside the smoke. “Don’t dodge.”

There’s a gleam to his eyes, emphasized by the black domino mask, a bloodthirst which Izuku only remembers seeing when they first met at the USJ. It’s stronger now than it was before. Todoroki was right—he’s different when he has no limits. Izuku has to treat Kacchan like he’s a villain, or he really could die.

He pockets his phone. Help is coming soon. Until then, he just has to protect two injured and immobilized people from two infamous villains, and also try not to die.

Right, okay.

“Just run, Midoriya,” Iida says, desperate, even as his head lolls against Izuku’s arm. “This has nothing to do with you! Stay away!”

“If you say that, then heroes can’t do anything!” Izuku snaps back. He stands and puts up his fists. He doesn’t have time to ask questions or offer encouragements, even though he wants to. He can only fall back on an All Might quote and hope that it’s enough. “‘Meddling when you don’t need to is the essence of being a hero!’”

“Shut up!” Kacchan roars. He throws a blast with his right palm, and Izuku dodges again, frantically analyzing his movements for a weakness. “That’s what I hate the most about you damned heroes, always getting in my fucking way! You’re useless! I don’t need you! Go die already!”

He charges forward, but stops when a knife zips past an inch in front of his nose.

“This one is worth letting live,” says Hero Killer Stain, stepping forward. He’s smiling at Izuku, ghoulish eyes and ghastly teeth. Izuku shivers. “He’s different from the others. Kill the other boy, child villain.”

What? He wants Kacchan to kill Iida? Izuku grips Iida’s armor, but now Stain is moving toward the pro hero, who’s isolated and vulnerable. Izuku doesn’t have time to juggle all this.

“Like hell!” Kacchan yells, and uses his quirk to blast forward.

Kacchan isn’t cooperating with Stain. Izuku’s mind races. He drops Iida and runs, making it obvious which direction he’s moving in. Kacchan ignores Iida entirely and follows.

Yes! He can use this. Kacchan is fixating on him, he isn’t paying attention to anyone else. Izuku takes a gamble and rushes straight at Stain.

“Smash!” he yells, raising his fist. Stain turns to defend. Izuku slows down enough for Kacchan to catch up, and just before he’s in Stain’s range, he dives to the side. Kacchan can’t change his trajectory quick enough; he crashes into Stain with twin bursts of fire.

Izuku rolls over the ground and springs up in front of the pro hero, fists trembling. He can do this, he can do this. He’ll play the two villains off of each other until backup arrives. He grabs the pro hero and runs back to where he left Iida, trying to gain some distance.

“Deku! Since when did you change your moves, huh!?”

Kacchan untangles himself from Stain and blasts off the ground again. When he gets close enough, Izuku drops the pro hero and leaps toward the alley wall, trying to lure him away.

Stain’s blade slashes out of the dark. Stinging pain slices through Izuku’s leg. He stumbles, kicking off the wall awkwardly, and then feels his body freeze midair. He slams into the ground.

Stupid, naïve! He underestimated them! Stain immediately saw through his strategy and used it against him.

His face scrapes hard against the pavement. Dirt puffs around his mouth with each panting breath. From the corner of his eye he sees Stain approach Iida and the pro hero, before Kacchan’s black and red boots fill his vision.

“You should’ve stayed home where you belonged,” he growls.

“Kacchan,” Izuku says, and as his last form of defense, squeezes his eyes shut.

Fire washes over him. Heat curls his hair, crackles over him like a blanket. Strangely, it’s painless.


A stream of fire blasts in Explodokill’s way, blocking Deku from view. Explodokill leaps back and looks down the alley.

“I was already on my way when you called, Midoriya,” Half ‘n Half says, both sides of his quirk fully active. “But the rest of the pro heroes are coming.”

“Todoroki!” Deku almost sobs.

Half ‘n Half slaps his right hand onto the ground, and a pillar of ice surges out of the ground and reaches toward the sky, chasing the villains out of the narrow alley. Frostbite stings over Explodokill’s feet. He blasts into the air, all the way up the alley walls, and lands on the roof.

“Another child hero, one after another,” Stain says, hopping up next to him. “Must be internship season.”

“I’ll kill them all!” Explodokill screeches. Fucking UA, interfering where they don’t belong! Is the rest of Class 1-A going to show up, too!?

“So that’s the Deku you called out for in the news,” Stain says. “He’ll be a true hero one day. Good! My work hasn’t been in vain; society is beginning to reform. And it seems you’re in the middle of it.”

“Fuck you! Fuck society! Fuck heroes! Fuck Deku!”

“You’re too self-centered,” Stain lectures, but Explodokill is already pouncing back into the ice. He uses a grenade to blast a hole into the barrier, then drops through. The second he spots Half ‘n Half, standing protectively over Deku and the two other bloody shits, he blasts toward him.

“Die!” he hollers.

Half ‘n Half sweeps his left hand across. Fire rushes into Explodokill’s face, and pain sears over his skin. He retreats.

“Bakugou,” Half ‘n Half says, barely changing expression. “I see that you’ve been doing well.”

Blisters are forming over the side of Explodokill’s face. “You used fire on me!” he says, and laughs with genuine delight.

Half ‘n Half looks vaguely surprised.

“Just admit it—I’m better than Deku! You’re feeling the heat, aren’t you!?” He lifts his left arm.

“Stop!” Stain commands from somewhere above. Half ‘n Half’s eyes widen, and he throws his right hand out with a torrent of ice.

But Explodokill has been waiting for this moment. He slides the safety off his quirk-filled bracer and yanks the pin.

His fire is nothing like Half ‘n Half’s. It roars down the alley in an uncontrollable explosion, expanding so quickly that it makes a sonic boom. The surrounding buildings blow apart from the combined pressure and heat. The ice barrier shatters. All the pathetic wannabe heroes fly in different directions, disappearing somewhere in the 5-meter-radius scorching tunnel of destruction heading straight from the alley to the main street.

Explodokill’s feet skid back. His shoulder aches from the recoil. He can barely breathe through the acrid smoke.

“Fuck yeah!” he shouts, and leaps into the rubble with a wild laugh.


Izuku lands badly, helpless to move, stiff as a corpse. His left arm twists against the sharp, burning hot stones. He hears a pop. A bright line of pain zaps through his arm, and then nothing.

Smoke and debris clog the air, stinging his eyes. He can’t hear much, like there’s cotton in his ears. He wants to call out for Iida, Todoroki, and the others, but with his ears shot, it would just draw attention to himself. He spits out ash and blood from when he’d bit his tongue, and tries to move something. Just a finger. Anything.

His right hand shifts.

All at once, he’s released from Stain’s quirk. No time to question why or how—he surges to his feet, stumbles, drops back to his knees. Gasps for breath in the thick bitter-smelling haze. Takes stock. Left arm not moving, definitely broken. Left leg cut badly, but he can push through it. Ribs probably broken, hurts to breathe, have to be careful not to pierce a lung. He looks up.

It’s like the whole world is muffled. The night is almost completely black with smoke. He can barely hear his own heartbeat. He can’t tell where anything is…but neither can the villains. Kacchan isolated Izuku, but he ruined his own visibility, and he’s separated from Stain. He’s fighting recklessly.

Izuku can use this.

A heavy weight slams into the back of his head. He goes down, black spots fading in and out of his vision.

“Still awake, Deku?” Kacchan taunts. His voice sounds like a tape recording played on the lowest volume.

Izuku instinctively rolls to the side. A boot stomps down where his head had been. Kacchan is seriously trying to kill him. Oh, fuck, fuck. What should he do? He activates Full Cowling, scrambles to his feet, and dashes into the smoke-filled maze of the surrounding buildings.

He pulls out his phone.


“Come back here!” Explodokill shouts, and follows Deku into the rubble. “You think you can hide from me!? You useless fucking coward!”

Sirens wail through the night. Fires glow in the haze around them, confusing his sense of direction. He listens for Deku’s footsteps, but hears only his own pounding heart.

He grins. So that’s how they’re going to play it, huh? With all the joy of a child romping through the mountains, he begins the hunt.

“Deku, where are you, Deku,” he growls, peering down one dark alley, two, three. He blasts a hole through a suspicious wall. Nope. He rips aside a piece of rubble. Nothing. He plows on, getting more and more worked up as the minutes tick past, giddy with the anticipation of violence.

“Come on, Deku. Come on, little nerd. Didn’t you want to ‘help’ me? Didn’t you want to ‘make me remember who I really am?’ Well con-fucking-gratulations! This is me! This is who I am! I was always going to crush you under my heel, Deku! No villain, no hero could ever change me, and definitely not you. Crybaby Deku, useless Deku. You’ll never be able to save anyone!”

He rounds a corner—and there he is, the little shit, standing there like he was waiting for him.

“I’m going to be a hero,” Deku says. His left arm dangles limp, but his right fist is raised, and his eyes—those damned superior eyes! Why won’t they fucking die already!? “In UA I met people who believe in me, and they changed me! My Deku doesn’t mean ‘useless’ anymore! Kacchan, my Deku means ‘you can do it!’ That’s why I’m going to save you!”

Explodokill roars, and charges forward.


Izuku predicted this. He catches Kacchan’s arm and flips him, one-handed, over his shoulder. Kacchan slams into the ground.

Izuku’s hearing and vision are still spotty, but in the twisting alleyways, it hardly matters. He’s just buying time and keeping Kacchan distracted. The phone line stays open in his pouch.

“Bastard, did you just read me!?” Kacchan yells. “Fuck you! Fuck you!”

He blasts toward Izuku again. There’s no time to dodge; Izuku raises a fist to counter. Heat and smoke blast into his face.

Suddenly, Kacchan is gone. Izuku’s punch sails through empty air. The next thing he knows, an explosion sears over his back and sends him stumbling forward. He barely has time to lift his right arm before the next hit comes, a blast that throws him onto the ground.

The smell of burnt meat fills the air. He realizes it’s coming from his own arm, and nearly throws up.

“You could never touch me,” Kacchan spits, stalking forward. “You’ve been like this since we were little. You always looked down on me! You damn nerd!”


Deku writhes on the ground, gagging, but still, still his eyes aren’t dead. Explodokill needs to crush him completely, he needs a permanent and absolute win. He raises his palm.

“You’re wrong,” Deku chokes out. He struggles to his feet. He looks Explodokill in the eye, and suddenly, he’s screaming: “You’re wrong! You were my hero, Kacchan! Why can’t you see that!? I wanted to be like you! You’re an amazing person, you’ve always been an amazing person, you were my hero! I want you back so you can be a hero again, like you always wanted, you fucking idiot!”

Explodokill can’t move, he can’t speak with rage.

Then Deku clenches his right fist and screams, “Todoroki! Iida!” and of course the only way Explodokill can respond is to throw himself forward with his palm raised, thinking What the fuck, what the ever-loving fuck, what the—


Todoroki breaks through the alley wall with a burst of flame, and Iida follows soon after. In the five minutes that Izuku led Kacchan around, the other two fought and defeated Stain. They’d decided on this plan over the phone together while Stain was being secured. Izuku will hold onto Kacchan while Todoroki encases him in ice, and the three of them will keep him here until the pro heroes arrive. Izuku lunges forward with Full Cowling, right arm raised, a mirror image to Kacchan.

He’s going to bring his oldest friend home.

All he needs is his own hand.


—hell is he even saying, this isn’t how it’s supposed to go, this is wrong, this is wrong, he led me straight into a trap, he was fucking with me the whole time, I’ll kill him, he’s wrong wrong wrong

And then Deku stumbles.


He reaches out his hand, but it falls short. 


Deku falls. Just keels over on his feet, right there.

What?

“Midoriya!” Ice shoots over the ground, but Katsuki, jarred out of his battle fury, manages to blast out of the way in time. Half ‘n Half and the knight rush to where Deku’s collapsed—his other injuries must have suddenly caught up with him.

Did Katsuki win?

A yellow shape zooms down the alleyway and cracks into Katsuki’s jaw.

“That’s enough, you damned kid!” says a little old man wearing a yellow cape.

Katsuki tries to blast him, but the old man kicks him again, sending him flying out into the open street. “Shit,” he growls, and rolls to his feet. He hears shouts and gasps around him.

A crowd of shitty pro heroes runs toward him, quirks fully activated. “It’s the Explodokill kid!” one of them says. On the ground is an unconscious Stain. Further down the street, he sees the fucking Number 2 Hero himself stomp toward him, hellfire burning around his smug little grin.

“It’s over, child villain!” Endeavor barks. “Thanks to Shouto and his friends, all the pro heroes had enough time to come capture you. The Noumus are finished. Stain is defeated. If you struggle now, you’ll only get hurt—so turn yourself in peacefully!”

Katsuki snarls and lifts his palm, but the old man shoots out of the alley and stomps him face-first into the ground. He traps his arms behind his back and sits on him.

“Make the smart choice, kid,” says the old man.

“Fuck!” With his face pressed to the ground, he looks at the crowd of adults closing in on him. He runs through increasingly desperate scenarios in his head, but none of them end with him escaping. He can’t get out of this. He’s stuck here, he’s fucked. Again. He…he lost. Because of Deku.

He lost to Deku.

He lost to Deku.

“Endeavor,” a voice rasps like a demon from hell, and suddenly Stain is awake again. He whips out a hidden knife and stabs Endeavor.

All the heroes start freaking out. Stain goes on another rant. But Katsuki is still eating the dirt because this fucking old man refuses to get off him, and he’s too busy having a mental breakdown because he lost to Deku to pay attention to what’s going on.

It’s impossible. It doesn’t make sense. Deku fainted like a fucking pansy, he was weaker, he should have lost; so why is Katsuki the one paying the price!?

Unacceptable. He won’t allow it.

“The only one who can kill me is All Might!” Stain says, blah blah, he doesn’t care.

Katsuki bucks, as hard as he can. The old man loses his grip and topples over from sheer surprise.

“Shut up,” Katsuki growls. He grips his hair. His head is spinning so much he thinks he’s going to puke. “Shut up! Heroes? Society? What does it fucking matter!? Take responsibility for your own shit, you fucking hypocrite! All that matters is what you do!”

His eyes are burning. It’s difficult to breathe. He conjures up his memories of All Might and looks up to face his enemies.

“I’m going to be the best!” he says, but realizes the instant after he says it that he doesn’t know what he means by that, at all.

In the night sky, a winged beast carves a shadow into the moon.

“Look out!” says the old man.

The Noumu dives down and grabs Katsuki with its talons, too fast for him to dodge, or for any of the heroes to jump in. The ground drops away. Katsuki twists viciously, slapping his palms in hot bursts against the Noumu's legs. Then Stain leaps up in a nearly inhuman burst of strength, wraps his arms around the Noumu’s neck, and growls, "Hold on."

Katsuki stops struggling. He hooks his arms and legs around the Noumu's talons and grits his teeth. The three of them fly higher, higher, until the dismayed shouts of the heroes below fade into the howling wind.

Chapter Text

The beast flies over the city of Hosu. A few people see it—like a black cloud passing quickly, or a fleck of dust in the eye. Blink and it’s gone. Other people are too busy watching the fires to notice. The whole city, that night, can see a burnt-orange glow hovering like miasma over the streets. Sirens wail through the early hours of the morning. Shadows rise in the smoke, twisting and batlike, which vanish as soon as anyone gets close.

But most people are sleeping peacefully, late at night in the city of Hosu. They won’t realize what’s happened until morning. They won’t know that chaos, like a stone rolling down a hill, has already gained enough momentum to crush everything in its way. They’ll sleep, blissfully ignorant, until they wake up to a world permanently changed.

The beast flies for what feels like hours but is only minutes. It strains its wings and groans and pants. It’s fighting against the weight of two people swinging from its neck, fleeing without a clear direction—just away, quick, far, away! Half blind from smoke, it doesn’t see the water tower until it’s too late.

The three villains smack straight into the water tower with a deafening CLANG! They slide ungracefully down to the roof. Katsuki lands on top of the noumu, bruised and disoriented. The noumu croaks weakly, and cradles him to its chest like it’s trying to protect him. Its skin feels like rough leather, and smells like sweat and antiseptic.

Beside them, Stain manages to brace his fall. He hobbles to his feet, his only remaining knife held loosely in his hand—the kind of loose that signals danger, that’s ready to strike at any moment. He surveys the building for a moment, then flicks his eyes to Katsuki.

“That’s a failing grade for you,” Stain says.

Katsuki claws his way out of the noumu’s grip and crouches on the roof, shivering. The freezing wind isn’t tearing at his face anymore, but his eyes are still watering, the tips of his fingers are numb from cold. He can’t feel his quirk.

“You interrupted me,” Stain says. “I had Endeavor in my grasp. I tasted his blood! But you called for a noumu and interrupted me. You made me lose him!” He stomps one menacing boot forward. “And you have the gall to call me a hypocrite.”

“Shut up,” Katsuki growls. He rubs his trembling hands together, trying to warm them up. “I didn’t—I never asked for—”

“I should have killed you when we first met. It would have saved me this trouble. Now I have to go back and finish Native at a better time, and get rid of this noumu, and—where is the rest of the League?”

“Fuck you,” Katsuki spits. He glares up at Stain. “Just fuck you!”

“They abandoned you? Unsurprising. I’ll clean them up later,” Stain says, his lip curdling in distaste. “For now, I will deal with you. I thought you had potential, but you’re only a coward and a selfish brute. You fight for nothing. How disappointing. Since you cannot learn how to be a true villain, I’m going to have to purge you.”

The world is spinning—it hasn’t stopped spinning since the noumu grabbed Katsuki. What is Stain even saying? He can’t focus on the words. He kneads his hands carefully, feeling his forearms burn like a thousand nibbling ants. He’s overused his quirk. Cold sweat drips slowly into his palms. It’s something, but it’s not enough, not nearly enough. He needs to—he needs to beat this, he needs to turn this situation around, there’s still time—

Stain takes another step forward. The noumu jolts into action. It screams, a terrible, bloodcurdling scream, and lunges at Stain.

Stain dodges the noumu’s claws. He jumps, spins, and carves his knife into its eye. It screams again, thrashing its wings so hard it nearly knocks Katsuki over. Then, like a stone gargoyle, it freezes in a contorted posture of pain. Stain licks his lips.

“If you had any sense, you would never rely on beasts like this,” Stain says, always ready to lecture. “They’ll only drag you down.” He raises his knife over the noumu’s brain. “This is all for the sake of a better society.”

Katsuki lurches to his feet, clenching his fists. “And what the fuck would you know?”

Stain’s knife pauses.

Katsuki’s quirk still isn’t ready, and he doesn’t know what the fuck is wrong with him. But he refuses to let this arrogant bastard win. He needs to beat this.

“You think you’re all that. But you’re just another pawn for the League!”

“Don’t test my patience, child,” Stain says. “I was using the League for my ideals—”

“Nobody gives a shit about your ideals!” Katsuki bursts out. “They just want to see a villain fuck things up! You hear? Nobody gives a shit. You’re just some maniac serial killer that the League wants to use!”

Stain licks his lips again. He shoves past the Noumu and hauls Katsuki in by the collar of his shirt. He thrusts his disfigured face an inch away from Katsuki’s nose. Patches of his skin are burned or torn or bruised from injuries old and new, and his tongue lolls between his chapped lips like a red fleshy tentacle. His breath smells thick with blood and rot.

“Don’t presume to know more than me, child. I know what the League is.”

Katsuki clutches at Stain’s wrist. He tries to explode Stain’s hand off, but all he manages is a feeble spark. He takes a shaky breath, and hisses between his teeth: “Yeah? You know who their leader is? You know where the noumu come from? Get your head out of your ass!”

He’s slammed backwards, onto the ground. Stain presses the knife to his throat.

“If I think it necessary to know, I will find out. Don’t forget that I’ve been a villain much longer than you. Learn your place.”

“Learn my place? Hah! Well fuck you!” He pushes back against Stain, letting the knife cut his throat. He doesn’t feel the sting. “You don’t know anything! You don’t even know what society is like these days! You don’t get to be a villain and call it justice, you don’t get to do that! You don’t! Go purge yourself, you bastard! I’m going to beat this! I’m going to fucking murder you!”

Stain’s bloodshot eyes narrow. The pressure of his killing intent ratchets up to a nauseating level.

And then it vanishes, and he steps back, wiping his knife calmly against his pants.

“You are strangely difficult to judge,” he says, with a deep frown. “You’re the furthest thing from heroic, and yet, under certain lights…” He twitches his head, like a horse flicking away a fly. “Fine. I’ll wait a little longer. I’ll watch you and decide if you deserve to live or die—and then I’ll come for you. Try not to fail the test again.”

He walks to the edge of the roof, steps off, and disappears.

The absence of his killing intent gives Katsuki something like vertigo. The void leaves him reeling. He stumbles to the spot where Stain stepped off the roof and glares into the shadows, half expecting Stain to leap back out and stab him, like it was all just a trick. But the alleyway is empty.

The rest of the world bleeds back into his awareness: the smell of smoke, the blotted moon. Fail the test? The fuck is that guy on? There was no test, and even if there was, Katsuki didn’t fail. Not him, not against Deku. The fearsome villain Explodokill does not do failure.

He hears an approaching siren, and ice shoots through his veins. Instinctively, he jumps off the roof and holds out his palms, ready to fly.

And then he remembers that his quirk isn’t working properly. For half a second, he falls like a stone, sirens shrieking outside and inside his head. He scrambles at the air. A few feet above the ground, his quirk finally, finally, warms up enough to make a real explosion. He blasts off into a wild zigzag motion and ends up crashing upside-down in a pile of trash bags.

The siren fades back into the distance. It’s not headed for Katsuki. All that, for a damned false alarm.

He rolls off the trash bags, onto his hands and knees. He—that was so stupid—he couldn’t even—he—he’s fine. He’s fucking fine. He climbs to his feet. He just needs to beat this, needs to get back in control, and then he’ll—

The smell of garbage wafts over him. He gags. His entire body contracts from the inside out, trying to purge an imagined poison.

“Blasty?”

Shit. Fuck.

Sticky rounds the corner at a jog and stops when he sees Katsuki vomiting over a pile of garbage. The last fucking person Katsuki wants to see.

“Blasty, is that you!? Blasty!”

The whole gang is here. Katsuki can see them poking their heads into the alleyway, flitting nervously in the shadows. Sticky runs up to him, his fingers stretched as long as they’ll go.

“Please be okay, please be okay, please please please…”

Cool fingers touch his shoulder, and he wrenches violently away. “Don’t touch me!” he spits.

“But you—you’re hurt!” Sticky says. Is he crying? He sounds like he’s crying. Katsuki’s vision is getting blurry, he can’t tell. “Please, Blasty. We have to go! The police are coming! We have your stuff, let’s go to the abandoned parking lot. You’ll be safe there!”

Sticky reaches for him again. He smacks those stupid fingers away. “I said don’t touch me! I don’t need your help! How did you find me!?”

“It was Lisa, she—she saw where the noumu was going. She’s got really good eyes, remember? She sent a message to everyone, and we came to help you. Please, we have to go! Hurry!”

Sticky runs a few steps down the alleyway and turns around to face Katsuki, beckoning him forward. Katsuki bristles with indignation at having to trail after someone like an injured animal. But he doesn’t have the breath to argue anymore. He spits and wipes his mouth, and grudgingly follows Sticky.

Sticky walks backward, watching him with big, worried, tear-filled eyes. His fingers are twisted into an impossibly complicated knot. The rest of the gang follows over rooftops and around corners, too tense to speak, too frightened by the injuries to come any closer to Katsuki. They move slowly—the adrenaline is leaching out of Katsuki’s body, and each step gets harder and harder, his limbs heavy as lead. His face feels half numb, half burning up. The bruises and blisters have swollen so much he can’t see out of his left eye.

The ground sways under his feet. The ground is rude as shit. He slaps his hands on the wall to keep from falling over, and stumbles on.

He needs to beat this. He needs to beat this.

Suddenly, the sound of a motor engine tears through the night. Before Katsuki even realizes what’s happening, the gang scatters, and Sticky launches full-body into Katsuki and presses them both flat against the wall.

A motorcycle bursts into the alleyway. It roars past Sticky and Katsuki, nearly knocking them down in a gust of warm wind and exhaust. At the end of the alleyway, the bike screeches to a halt at a hard right angle, leaving skid marks on the concrete. The rider shoots his foot out to steady himself. He glares at Katsuki, purple windblown hair sticking up wildly over his head. Behind him, arms clenched tight around his waist, is a kid around Sticky’s age wearing an oversized purple motorcycle helmet.

Two separate memories clash in Katsuki’s brain, sending off sparks behind his eyes.

“There he is,” says the kid wearing the helmet, and points to Katsuki.

“Asu!?” Sticky yelps. He turns to Katsuki and flaps his hands frantically. “I think that might be Asu? Hey, Asu, it’s me! What’s going on!?”

Katsuki isn’t listening. He clenches his fingers hard against the wall and battles against another bout of nausea. Seriously, fuck UA. Fuck that school to hell.

The rider swings off the bike, glancing around the alleyway. The bags under his eyes have gotten so bad they seem carved into his face, his eyes sunk deep into shadow. “Looks like Stain has split off,” he mutters. “Shit.” His eyes move to Katsuki, and then hold there. “Guess that makes things easier for me.”

He turns to the kid, unlatches his purple helmet, and hangs it on the motorcycle handlebar. “Thank you for showing me the way, Asu. You can go home now,” he says.

Asu hops off the bike and begins to walk out of the alley. Then he blinks. A look of total confusion passes over his face, and he spins in a circle. “Huh? Where am I? What happened?”

That’s got to be a quirk—a quirk that makes people lose time, that forces answers out of people without them being aware. And that bastard’s caginess about his quirk. His smug voice. His damn familiar eyes.

“You…it was you,” Katsuki rasps. He slaps a palm against the wall in fury. “Motherfucker!

Shinsou Hitoshi meets his eyes and smiles bitterly. “Yeah. The interrogation, right? Yeah, that was me,” he says. He sounds exhausted, and tight with barely restrained emotion. “Guess I oughta apologize. But I’m really not in the mood.”

He pulls a short staff from the back of the motorcycle. It’s about three feet long and painted with bright purple and green stripes, like a fucked-up candy cane. He spins it a few times, and it makes a weird humming sound as air passes through a hole in its tip. The godawful stripe pattern hurts Katsuki’s eyes. He rests the staff on his shoulder and advances toward Katsuki.

“Bakugou Katsuki, I want a rematch. One on one. Quirks allowed.”

Katsuki steps away from the wall. His muscles scream in protest, but he needs to beat this. He’ll fucking show UA. “Sticky, take Asu and run,” he bites out. “This guy’s mine.”

“But…”

Get the fuck out of my sight, Sticky!” he bellows.

Sticky whimpers and scrambles to do as he says. Eye Bags twists his mouth as he watches Sticky go.

“I thought you were better than this,” he says.

Katsuki crouches into a battle stance, palms sparking. “You shut up. Just shut up.”

“I mean, I know you aren’t a good person, I know all the things you’ve done. But this is a new low. You teamed up with a hero-killing monster to attack your own classmates. You—you just tried to kill Midoriya. He’s your childhood friend, Bakugou! We gave you a chance, and this is what you chose!?”

“Shut up!”

He runs forward. Eye Bags crouches low and faces Katsuki’s charge head-on. Katsuki hurls a blast—but out of nowhere, the staff pops out and knocks his wrist up, sending the explosion harmlessly into the sky. The redirected blast throws Katsuki off balance. Eye Bags spins and lunges the staff forward, and Katsuki barely manages to dodge by blasting himself sideways. The staff clips his ribs hard.

“Fuck you!” Katsuki gasps. Momentum slams him into the wall. He stays there for a second, trying to hide how badly his hands are shaking. Every explosion leaves behind a crippling ache in his arms, like pressing down on a bruise. “I’ll kill you, Eye Bags! Back then—what did you do to me!? What the hell is your quirk!?”

“My name is Trance, the Hypnosis Hero,” Eye Bags says drily. “Take a wild guess.”

He spins the staff in front of him. The humming sound gets louder, tickling Katsuki’s eardrums. The staff’s striped pattern makes the illusion of a never-ending purple and green spiral.

Katsuki snarls and launches off the wall. His palm connects with the staff, a stinging shock. He tries to blast it out of Eye Bags’s hands. Eye Bags stumbles backwards from the force of the explosion, but he keeps his grip.

“Don’t give me your damned party tricks,” Katsuki growls. “You didn’t need them in prison! Why don’t you hypnotize me already!?”

Eye Bags whirls the staff at Katsuki’s elbow. Katsuki jumps back, and the staff crashes into the wall instead, so hard it leaves a small crater in the concrete.

“I’m not done with you yet! You…” Eye Bags wrenches the staff out of the wall and holds it loosely at his side. His mouth twists again. “Listen, I don’t care what you think of me. But you owe Class 1-A more than this. What about everyone who tried so hard to make a place for you? Hell, what about Kirishima?”

The name is so unexpected it hits him like a physical blow. Kirishima? “What about Kirishima?” he says, trying to cover up his confusion. “He has nothing to do with this! I said I’d kill Deku and All Might and I’m going to fucking do it! Get out of my way!”

Something must show on his face, though. Eye Bags narrows his eyes, scenting blood in the water. “Kirishima has everything to do with this. He really thought of you as a friend, Bakugou. When you ran away last week, he—”

“Shut up shut up shut up!”

Katsuki raises one palm, pretending to use his quirk. Then he spins and whacks his gauntlet against Eye Bags's skull. Eye Bags’s knees buckle.

“I’m going to win!” Katsuki yells. “Nothing else matters! I’m going to kill you, I’m going to beat this—!”

Out of nowhere, the staff shoots out and slams hard into his solar plexus. He crumples over.

“No, you’re not,” Eye Bags snarls. He kneels on the ground with his staff outstretched, glaring at Katsuki. “You’re not going to win. You’re a mess, Bakugou. Look at yourself.”

“I’m…fine,” Katsuki wheezes. He feels like an elephant is sitting on his lungs. Pain tramples over his body.

“No, you’re really not.” Eye Bags’s face hardens. “Midoriya isn’t alone. You attack one of us, you attack all of us. You lost the moment you made UA your enemy.”

“Sh…shut up.” Katsuki claws at his chest, fighting for air. Each word squeezes out painfully, like bits of shrapnel. “I need…to beat this! I can’t…can’t…I can’t let Deku win!

Eye Bags gets to his feet. “He already beat you. It’s over. You couldn’t kill Midoriya, and now you won’t get away from the police.” Something like pity crosses his eyes. “You lost, Bakugou.”

SHUT UP!” Katsuki howls, and reaches for a grenade—

The world goes hazy for a while.

—And then it stutters back into focus. Like a record scratch, a hic-

cup in the universe. He blinks, and he’s handing his gauntlets and grenades to Eye Bags, his breathing calmer and easier now, and

Sticky is barreling into his side.

“Blasty!” Sticky sobs. “Stop it, please!” They both crash to the ground in front of Eye Bags.

“Shit,” Eye Bags says. He raises his staff again and aims it at Sticky. “Who are you!?”

Before Sticky can respond, Katsuki slaps a hand over his mouth. “Don’t talk to him, Sticky,” he hisses in the kid’s ear. Speech—the mind control must be triggered by speech. Despite the chaos swirling in his head, he manages to hold onto this essential fact. Both times that Katsuki fell for the quirk, he was replying to something Eye Bags said. The stupid hypnosis staff is a decoy. He’s still not sure of its exact limitations, but better safe than sorry.

Eye Bags clenches his teeth. “Not that it matters,” he mutters. He looms over the two of them, flexing his fingers on his staff. “The police are practically here already. Hands behind your heads!”

Katsuki realizes he can hear sirens, dozens of them, converging on their location. He grinds his teeth and prepares to fight. Like hell he’ll just—roll over and accept defeat, he can still beat this, he can still…

On the ground next to him, Sticky obediently crosses his hands behind his head.

And then shoot his fingers out and wraps them around Eye Bags’s legs. He yanks his hands in the air, hard.

“Blasty, run!” Sticky yells, as Eye Bags topples to the ground, barking a curse. “I’ll hold them off! You have to run!”

“What the fuck, Sticky!?”

Sticky looks at him. He’s crying, ugly tears streaming down his face. Sticky hates direct confrontation. He’s a trickster and a thief who’s probably never punched someone in his life. Now, he looks terrified. “Run!”

Sticky doesn’t think Explodokill can win.

He doesn’t—he really doesn’t think Explodokill can win. He’s lost all confidence in him. That’s the face of a boy in despair. He doesn’t believe Explodokill will turn this situation around, or get back into control, doesn’t believe he can get them out of this with a clever maneuver or a big explosion. He expects—he wants—Explodokill to run away from the police with his tail between his legs and disappear into some dark corner of the world, because that’s the best Explodokill could hope for.

He’s trading away his freedom because he knows, deep down, that Explodokill has completely and utterly lost.

Katsuki’s mind…goes blank.

“Blasty, do something!” Asu screams from the other end of the alleyway. Eye Bags wrestles Sticky to the ground. “Don’t move, Bakugou!” Eye Bags yells. The first police car pulls up, splashing red and blue lights over the walls.

Katsuki hesitates.

Run!” Sticky screams.

Katsuki runs.

He turns around and runs away. He picks up Asu and blasts a couple blocks south. There he finds the remaining members of the gang, waiting for him with his backpack. He lands, lets Asu off, and snatches up his backpack.

“Get the fuck out of here,” he says to the gang. “Don’t get caught.” They just stare at him, silent, bug-eyed. Maybe they’re waiting for some kind of explanation. He has none. “Move it!” he barks, and they jump and scatter.

Hastily, he changes out of his villain costume into civilian clothes and patches up his face with a first-aid kit. He runs a few blocks further, pulls out his phone, and calls Magne.

“It’s me,” he says once she picks up. His voice comes out flat and subdued, a stranger's voice. “Explodokill,” he clarifies, but that feels wrong, too, like he’s wearing a cheap mask. “You know,” he finally mutters. “I need a ride from Hosu. How soon can you get here?”

Silence on the other end for several long seconds.

“I’m sorry,” she says—and that’s Pigtails’ voice. It isn’t Magne.

He blinks. “What?”

“They—the police raided the apartment yesterday, and they took Ken away. She’s not here anymore.”

“…What do you mean they took—”

“I can’t help you,” she says briefly. Her voice is wavering. “Please don’t call again.”

She hangs up.

He stands there and listens to the dial tone, staring at the wall. For the first time that night, he realizes that he’s completely alone. The drone of the dial tone and the smoky darkness settle over his shoulders like a heavy quilt, thick and suffocating. His mind is perfectly empty.

He doesn’t know how long he stands there—a second? an hour?—before something crashes behind him. He looks over his shoulder automatically.

The noumu is back. He’d completely forgotten about it. The beast must’ve been released from Stain’s quirk a while ago and come looking for him. It misjudged the distance, now that it’s suddenly blind in one eye, and crashed into the wall. Awkwardly, it flails onto its feet, hobbles toward him, and stops five feet away. Then it just…stands there. They stare at each other, neither of them making a move.

Something about this feels vaguely familiar. Why is the noumu so attached to him? Is it even aware of what it’s doing? Maybe No-Face is just trying to fuck with him. Maybe No-Face remotely controls all the noumu with a video game console. Maybe the noumu is totally conscious inside, but has no say over its body’s movements. Maybe it’s just silently screaming all the time.

The thought doesn’t inspire any particular feelings in him.

Katsuki turns away. If the noumu can find him, so can the police.

Eye Bags had said he knew everything he’d done, and his quirk could have cracked open Katsuki’s life like an egg. Every villain connection he had before the USJ invasion is now compromised. It’s no coincidence that Magne was taken—the police have been trying to corner him, even before he found Stain. But something, or someone, might have slipped through.

He calls Giran. The number isn’t available anymore. He tries Misty, but nobody picks up. He calls Smiley.

At the last ring, Smiley answers.

“Hhknfdkkkgggrrrmnnn…?” she grunts into the phone.

Katsuki squeezes his eyes closed and leans his forehead against the wall. “…Yo, Smiley. Wake the fuck up.”

“Mnmrrkkkkh……Blasty…?”

“Two things. I need a place to crash, and you need to get out of that apartment. So move it.”

There’s the sound of Smiley sleepily grumbling and squelching out of bed. “Wha’rrrr…what’re you…talking about…….?”

“Do you know another place to stay?”

“Well….yes, but……”

“Where?”

She tells him the address. It’s an acquaintance’s apartment, but they’re out of town at the moment, and if they’re mad about Smiley breaking in and sleeping in their bedroom, she can always just eat them. But what is this for again?

“Pack an overnight bag and meet me there,” Katsuki replies. After a moment’s consideration, he adds, “I’m bringing company.”

“Oh…..did you make a friend—”

He hangs up. He turns to the noumu again. It hasn’t moved an inch. Above the gas mask, its remaining eye is disturbingly human. He can see its individual ribs, rising and falling like bellows. Does it still count as a person? Is there anything still in there? Should he call it a ‘he’? Pretty sure the noumu is a ‘he.’ Not like he can ask the thing, though.

He enters the address into his phone’s GPS and goes up to the noumu. “Take me this way,” he says, and points to the correct direction.

The noumu doesn’t react.

“Figures,” he mutters. It was a long shot, anyways. He looks down and starts pulling up train schedules on his phone. There’s a risk they’ll be recognized, but he can probably sneak the two of them on board, somehow.

Two leathery arms fold him into an embrace.

Katsuki tenses up, but after taking a deep breath, manages not to blast the noumu’s face away. His arms prickle uncomfortably. He clutches at his backpack and phone. The noumu secures his grip on him, then flaps his wings and kicks off into the air.

They fly close to an hour, Katsuki directing the noumu using his GPS. The sky is already transitioning to dawn when they touch down at Smiley’s new apartment. It’s just a few blocks away from her old place. It has that same run-down look, the same rusted stairs and graffitied walls. The whole neighborhood looks like this, actually. It might help them stay concealed.

Smiley is staring nervously out the window, waiting for them. She opens the door before Katsuki has time to knock. She’s already made herself at home in the place. The actual owner seems to be a neat and organized person, with a clean kitchen and properly folded laundry. But now a trail of slime leads over the floor, the walls, and occasionally the ceiling, and empty beer cans and partially eaten takeout make a semicircle around the couch.

“What………is that………………….?” she moans, and clacks her teeth fearfully at the noumu.

Katsuki doesn’t respond. While she circles around the noumu, cooing and poking at him, and the noumu dumbly submits to her attention, Katsuki drags himself to a sofa. He can’t sleep yet—he needs to plan what to do about No Face, and Eye Bags, and—he’s just going to sit down for a second. He’s going to think about his plan. He’s not going to think about Deku.

He’s not going to think about the crackling energy with which Deku moved tonight, as he grows and starts to adapt that All Might-like power to himself. He’s not thinking about Deku leaping past him, surrounded by friends, guided by UA, fulfilling his dreams to become a hero. He’s not thinking about Deku getting everything that should have been his, not thinking about things which are lost to him forever. He’s not thinking about losing. He’s not wondering if he’s wrong. He’s not—he’s not—he’s not wrong. Even if he did lose. (He really lost, didn’t he?) His ambition isn’t wrong, it can’t be wrong. Because if it is—if he made the wrong choice, way back when—then who is he? What is he? What’s left to him, if you take away his anger and pride, his vengeance and blind hunger? Is there anything left at all?

He sinks back into the sofa. The buzzing in his head abruptly shuts down, and he falls into a black, empty nothingness.

Chapter Text

Izuku jerks upright, his hand reaching into the blackness. He’s so close, he just needs to grab and hold on, hold on

Somebody shouts. Light burst into his eyes. He expects there to be fire, the thick smell of smoke; but instead, there's nothing. His head spins.

“Shh, it’s okay,” someone says. They lower him to his back and murmur reassurances in his ear. “It’s over, you’re safe now, it’s all over.”

“Midoriya, can you hear me?” a second voice asks.

He squeezes his eyes shut and focuses on breathing. In, out, in, out. He counts down from ten. Gradually, his head stops spinning, and the memories fall into place. Multiple noumus. The dark alleyway. Stain holding his sword over Iida. And Kacchan—Kacchan!

Izuku’s eyes snap open. Todoroki’s face looms in front of him, openly concerned. A bit further back, Iida sits with a big white cast wrapped around his arm. His posture, normally perfect, sags in an uncertain and exhausted slump. Izuku’s heart twinges.

“Are—are you okay?” Izuku croaks.

“Midoriya!” Iida exclaims, straightening. “I should be asking you that! How do you feel?”

“I—uh.” Everything hurts. “’M fine,” he mumbles.

“You fainted when your rib punctured your lung,” Iida continues. “The doctor had to perform surgery on you. They brought Recovery Girl in. We were so worried! You’ve been sleeping for over 24 hours!”

Izuku blinks at him. A whole day?

Todoroki smiles, a softness in his gray-and-blue eyes. “I’m glad you’re awake.”

Izuku struggles to orient himself. They’re in a hospital, which means they’re not in the alley anymore, so—so they’re safe. They actually made it out. He was able to save Iida from Stain. Relief crashes over him so strongly that it’s a physical sensation. But immediately after, a heavy dread tows him back under. They haven’t mentioned Kacchan yet. And there’s just one more thing he needs to know…

“Did I reach him?” he whispers.

Todoroki, either kindly or cruelly, doesn’t hesitate.

“No.”

Izuku’s heart stops.

Todoroki fusses with Izuku’s pillow. “The good news is that nobody was killed, and the heroes captured two noumus. But we failed to capture Bakugou. Stain and the third noumu got away too.” He looks straight into Izuku’s eyes. “I’m sorry.”

Iida joins in with a speech he has clearly practiced several times beforehand. “Midoriya, I need to apologize! I was blinded by my anger, and didn’t think of how my actions would affect other people. I tried to push you away. But you saved me anyways, and now I see everything clearly. You helped me remember who I want to be.” He dips his head sharply. “I take responsibility for what happened. Losing Bakugou was not your fault. So please…please don’t blame yourself!”

In an abstract sort of way, Izuku understands that his friends want to reassure him. He sees the morning sunlight filtering in through the window, sees two mounds of bandages lying at his sides on the bed, totally limp. But it all seems distant, meaningless. He tries to move a finger, but nothing happens. Those two thick mounds of bandages—are those really his arms? How is that possible? He can’t wrap his head around it. He can’t understand what’s happening. He tries to smile at his friends, but all he feels is a white, empty nothingness.

“Midoriya?”

Is he in shock? That would make sense. He feels numb all over. Vaguely, he suspects that something catastrophic has just happened to him, but if he stays in this shell of numbness he won’t have to deal with it all. He can just stay floating in limbo, refusing to be reached.

“Please, Midoriya…”

Here, locked up in his head, he’s safe. Why would he ever leave?


Over the course of the day, Recovery Girl pays a visit to make sure Izuku and Iida are healing smoothly. She’d been making rounds in the hospital all night, and only has time for a tired kiss on each boy’s forehead before she has to return to UA.

“Both of you will scar. And so young,” she half grumbles, half sighs.

Their huge casts are replaced by thin bandages, and all three of them change into clean uniforms. Todoroki, the only one with steady hands, peels a few tangerines for them to share. He and Iida keep trying to talk to Izuku, but it’s like watching a movie, like there’s a thick gray shroud weighing over his body. Izuku sees his friends, but doesn’t feel them. He has no urge to say anything back.

Towards late morning, a stream of visitors fills up the room, some of their faces more familiar than others. Their conversation fades into and out of Izuku’s awareness.

“—can’t believe you ran off, after I just told you not to!” Gran Torino says, glaring up at Izuku. “Hey, are you even listening? Eyes on me!”

Izuku turns toward him and tries on a polite smile.

“Crikey, don’t make that face.” He shakes his head and sighs. “Nevermind. A certain somebody’s on his way to visit you, so chin up, buckaroo!”

Manual clearly feels awkward yelling at Iida, who’s injured and apologetic, and he leaves it at a light smack and a warning. Shinsou sulks into the room.

“Shinsou! I didn’t know you were in Hosu,” Iida exclaims.

A hero Izuku has never met before, but recognizes as Lock Rock, follows behind. “Really? You didn’t even tell your friends?” he says to Shinsou, exasperated.

Shinsou ignores them both, his face a thunderstorm.

The chief of police steps forward and introduces himself. Did he just enter the room, or has he been here all this time? Izuku has no idea. “I understand Explodokill has a bone to pick with you UA students,” he says.

Izuku twitches. Todoroki notices and passes him another orange wedge.

“You could say that, sir,” Todoroki says.

The chief of police nods. His beagle-head quirk makes it hard to parse his expression, but he looks uneasy. “I am here to give you a warning.”

He explains that both Stain and Explodokill are still at large, and probably hold a grudge against them. They’ll need to take extra measures to stay safe. He also formally reprimands the heroes for negligence and the interns for illegal quirk usage. He says something about their place in UA.

Todoroki raises his voice, and Izuku twitches again. He’s never heard Todoroki sound this outraged.

“We’re learning how to be heroes. This is what heroes do! We reach out our hands and save people! And now you’re punishing us for it!?”

Shinsou cuts in, voice low: “The system’s in place for a reason. If you think the ends justify the means, you’re no better than the villains.”

“I think I know villainy when I see it!” Todoroki snaps. “They’re trying to suspend us, Shinsou!”

The chief of police clears his throat. “You are under review for suspension,” he corrects. “It isn’t decided yet. Yelling at me will not help your case.”

Todoroki’s eyes flash with heat, but then his face transforms, like he’s folding into himself. He seals his lips and falls still and cold and expressionless.

The chief of police clears his throat again. “Yes, well. I do hope this will not hurt your hero careers. I am very grateful that you helped to save Native. But you put yourselves in great danger and interfered with official efforts to stop the League of Villains. If they attack again, the authorities are not sure we can trust you to use your quirk wisely.” He woofs softly. “For now, think on your actions, and talk to your supervisors and teachers about it. I will let you know once the decision has been made.”

A few more words are exchanged, and then the adults bustle out of the room, giving the four students of Class 1-A a moment to breathe. Todoroki’s expression opens up again, and he returns to glaring at Shinsou.

Shinsou drags a hand over his face. Instead of talking to Todoroki, he sits on an empty bed, facing Izuku. There’s a gauze on his forehead, and a purpling bruise on his cheek.

“Are you going to ask?” he says.

Izuku, who usually has a million questions, comes up with nothing. He stays silent. Shinsou’s expression sours, and he looks away.

“Actually, I’ve been wanting to ask from the start!” Iida bursts out. “Why are you here, Shinsou? You weren’t there when we fought Stain and Bakugou, so why are you being punished with us? Could it be, you…?”

Shinsou gives a wry smile. “Yup.” He pops the p. “I’m here because I ditched my supervisor to go fight Bakugou. This was in the middle of his escape.”

Iida gapes. “You actually caught up with him!?”

“Then you agree with me,” Todoroki says, confused. “We did the right thing.”

“No,” says Shinsou, “I think I did exactly the wrong thing. I don’t know how it was for you, but—I shouldn’t have tried to stop him.”

“Because you lost him,” Todoroki guesses.

Shinsou lowers his head and crosses his fingers behind his neck. “How bout I start from the beginning.”

Shinsou is interning with Lock Rock, who specializes in assisting police investigations and arrests, and who’s best known for planning, stealth, and quick villain captures; just the kind of hero Shinsou wants to become. Lock Rock is currently working on a child kidnapping case. The number of kidnappings had stayed mostly constant under All Might, but last year they suddenly dropped, and then a month later they spiked dramatically to an all-time high. Children with powerful quirks are especially at risk.

It’s a trend that points toward the worst kind of organized crime: a child quirk trafficking ring. The drop and spike hints at a major transition of power. Something big has just happened in the villain world; someone new and dangerous is on the scene.

Three days ago Lock Rock had brought in a criminal suspect who might know more about this. But she wasn’t talking. Shinsou could easily have gotten what they needed, but Lock Rock wouldn’t let him use his quirk; in fact, he refused to let Shinsou use his quirk at all, under any circumstances.

“It’s too easy to misuse a power like that,” he said. “You’re not ready.”

Shinsou understood that, he did. But every time he opened his mouth around a suspect or witness, Lock Rock was watching him like a hawk. He wouldn’t listen to any of Shinsou’s suggestions. He didn’t trust Shinsou with anything. He treated Shinsou like he was an overgrown child.

Then the attacks in Hosu began. Lock Rock was suspicious about the sudden noumu quadruplets, so he and Shinsou joined the efforts in Hosu. By the time they got there, however, the main fight was already over. Stain and Bakugou had escaped, and two noumus were being restrained.

As Lock Rock consulted the police, Shinsou saw his friends being carted into an ambulance. There was a sickening amount of blood and smoke. Midoriya looked especially bad, and in that moment, Shinsou knew exactly what Bakugou had done.

He decided that enough was enough.

“I can track Explodokill,” he said to Lock Rock. “Just let me use my quirk and we’ll catch him.”

“What? No,” Lock Rock replied. “The Hosu team is already in pursuit; our job is to secure the noumus. And how many times do I have to tell you not to use your quirk?”

So Shinsou slipped away and started asking around on his own.

“You used your quirk,” Todoroki says, cutting into the story.

Shinsou groans. “Yeah, I did. I was trying to get ahead of Bakugou—I already had an idea of his Hosu contacts, I knew who to ask. But the ones helping him to escape were kids, orphans barely older than eight. I was using my quirk on kids. And when I did find him, I got too full of myself. I thought I could beat him. I thought I could get through to him when nobody else could, because of my quirk, and I was so angry. I waited to call the police, because I wanted to talk to him myself.

“It was a stupid idea. In the end, he got away from me. I’m lucky Stain wasn’t with him, I’d probably be dead otherwise. The way the chips fell, I just ended up…hurting him more. You didn’t see his face. And there was this kid, his only crime was being Bakugou’s friend. I freaked him out so much he couldn’t stop crying.” He shakes his head. “Lock Rock was right, I’m not ready for this. My quirk is a monster.”

“The quirk is never the problem,” Todoroki says.

Shinsou scowls. “Fine, then I’m the problem! What difference does it make? We’re not heroes, okay? We’re not ready to be heroes, we are so far from ready!”

“What do you think a ‘hero’ is? Someone who does nothing but follow the rules?” Todoroki argues. “If we’re not ready to do something, then we’ll never be ready. That’s the whole point!”

“No, listen, Todoroki! I fucked up, I made a mess, and now I might get kicked out of UA or worse! We can’t just save people like you seem to think—especially me. It’s too easy for me to hurt people.” He suddenly barks a bitter laugh. “Shit, they were right about me. I’m one bad day away from becoming a villain.”

“Don’t say that!” Iida cries, his voice loud in the little room.

The others fall silent.

Iida sits ramrod straight and makes a chopping motion with his arm. He seems to have forgotten the pain of his injuries. “Please do not compare yourself to a villain, Shinsou. If you are one, then I’m a much worse villain.”

“Shit—Iida, come on,” Shinsou says. “You know that’s ridiculous.”

Iida stubbornly shakes his head. “If Stain hadn’t been stronger than me, I truly believe I would have killed him. I was absolutely prepared to do something so wrong and unforgivable.” He takes a deep breath. “I would have committed murder. And I’ll never be able to forget that.”

“Iida, I’m sorry,” Shinsou says, stricken.

Iida continues firmly: “Stain would have killed me for my wrongs. He thinks he has a license to judge whether someone should live or die, just because of his definition of hero and villain. But he’s wrong, he has to be wrong. It’s never so simple. I was rescued from the brink, and now I know never to make the same mistake again. I understand, Shinsou. You were angry and frustrated. When you’re hurt, the world narrows down to a pinprick. You can make terrible mistakes in the throes of grief. But people deserve a second chance, a way to make things better. People like you and me—maybe even people like Bakugou.”

Izuku bites down on his lip.

Iida sits beside Shinsou and lays a hand on his shoulder. “This idea that everything is black or white, hero or villain—it has to end. You’re not perfect. You’re not a monster, either. You’re just human.”

Shinsou stares at Iida, and for a second, he looks raw and vulnerable. Then he turns away, blinking rapidly, and huffs a short laugh.

“There’s our class rep for you,” he says roughly. “Shit. It’s good to have you back.”

“I’m sorry I ever left,” Iida says seriously. “As class rep, I’ll speak to Principal Nezu about our case. I’ll make sure we all come back to UA, one way or another. You can rely on me, I promise!”

Todoroki, apologetically, peels them both a tangerine.

Izuku stays quiet, unwilling to ruin his friends' reconciliation. But inside him, a thought is growing. Like a poisonous weed it stretches around Izuku’s protective numbness, pricking him with its thorns, and he shies away from it. There’s a bitter taste in the back of his throat.

Shinsou heads out in the afternoon. Iida’s family picks him up from the hospital an hour later, and then Endeavor comes for Todoroki. Other than a bandage around his neck, Endeavor seems to be in perfect health. Todoroki explains that Stain stabbed him before escaping, but he managed to dodge so the knife didn’t hit anything vital. Todoroki looks almost disappointed about that.

Endeavor’s voice, loud and deep, dominates the space as he launches into a rant. He says something about a video and tries to show it to Izuku, but Todoroki cuts him off.

“Midoriya’s mother will be back soon, right?”

“Don’t interrupt me when I’m talking,” Endeavor snaps. “Yes, she’s on her way from meeting the police.”

Todoroki picks up his bag. “Then we should go ahead and let Midoriya rest.”

As they're walking out the door, Todoroki stops and turns to Izuku. “I’ll see you when I get home,” he says. He hesitates for a moment. “I’ll support you if you need anything. You know that, right?”

Izuku presses his lips together and nods tightly. It’s a nice gesture. Pointless, but nice. He doesn’t try to smile again.

The room feels gapingly large when he’s alone. He nearly follows Todoroki’s suggestion and goes to sleep—but from the corner of his eye he notices something tucked beside his bed, like his friends didn’t quite want him to find it. He reaches down and pulls it up.

It’s his hero suit, washed and folded. The smell of smoke still lingers—proof that what happened last night was not a dream, that every panic-filled breath and slice of pain was real. He feels suddenly nauseous. With trembling fingers, he fishes his phone out the suit pouch, and has to pause to clean dirt and soot off the glass.

The phone buzzes:

THIRD LEAGUE OF VILLAINS ATTACK LAST NIGHT IN HOSU, STAIN SEEN WITH EXPLODOKILL

It hits him like the stab of a knife. He presses his phone into his forehead, curls up, and squeezes his eyes shut. He counts his breaths, over and over, until he’s calm enough to lift his head again.

He clicks open his phone and goes straight to checking his voicemail.

His mother was contacted by the hospital, she’s coming as soon as she can. Uraraka saw the news, she knows he’s in Hosu, is he okay? Not trusting his voice, he gives each of them a text. His phone buzzes before he’s done typing, assaulting him with another headline.

‘ABSOLUTE EVIL,’ MAYOR OSHUMA DECLARES; WORST VILLAIN ATTACK IN HOSU IN FIVE YEARS

He swipes it off screen quickly, then makes himself hyperfocus on poking one finger on each individual text key, so he’s sure there won’t be a typo. I-a-m-o-k-a-y. He hits send. He tries to find the phone’s sleep/wake button, but it’s hard to get leverage with one finger, and then the phone buzzes again.

‘WHERE ARE THE HEROES?’ - CIVILIANS DEMAND RESPONSE TO VILLAIN SPEECH

…Speech?

Before he can stop himself, his finger is tapping on the news.

There’s a video. He doesn’t understand what he’s seeing at first, but then he realizes this must have happened after he lost consciousness, when Stain broke free and escaped with Kacchan. And then it’s too late to look away. In all Izuku’s years of obsessive consumption of hero media, he has never seen anything like this.

Stain is giving a speech—if you can call a rage-filled, inflammatory rant a speech. His voice crashes out of the box in Izuku’s aching fingers as furious as a tidal wave. At the sound, Izuku remembers the bite of cold steel, and how he shuddered with revulsion when those red eyes smiled at him.

And yet.

There’s something hypnotic about the force of it, the absolute conviction of his beliefs. After all, heroes should be like All Might. Why should selfish people like Endeavor be dragging real heroes down? On screen, the pro heroes have no reply, silent and trembling. Izuku feels a chill runs down his spine. Just now, was he actually sympathizing with Stain? No, that can’t be. Stain is wrong, he’s wrong in every way. But still. Izuku knows how badly the hero profession can fail. Izuku knows what Endeavor has done. And Izuku—

Shut up!

—Izuku is watching a boy stand up to Stain where every single hero failed to.

Take responsibility for your own shit, you fucking hypocrite!” Kacchan says, and “I’m going to be the best!

A startled, pained sound slips out of Izuku’s teeth. This…this is the Kacchan he knows, who he remembers. Stain’s entire philosophy is built on disgust, but Kacchan’s anger isn’t based on some twisted concept of social cleansing. He’s the same as he always was. He fights just to be master of his own future. And, god, who doesn’t want that?

Stain and Kacchan face off against each other. They’re about to fight—the way the camera pushes in on their snarling faces, it feels like this will be the clash of the decade. And then, straight out of a grim fairytale, a flying noumu swoops out of the sky and snatches the villains away.

“What,” Izuku says out loud.

The video ends.

The unresolved tension, cut short so abruptly, is maddening. He hits replay immediately, but his phone freezes, and then goes black. He attacks the home button. Useless—it’s out of battery.

Izuku swallows, his throat dry. The phone shakes in his unsteady fingers. This video is going to change everything, he knows this as fact. The League of Villains is growing in power and size, and they seem to be the only ones with anything worth saying. All Might, weakening day by day, has been losing presence in the public eye, even as the hero establishment becomes more commercialized and disillusioned. And then here come Kacchan and Stain, two charismatic leaders. They produce concrete results where the police have been floundering. They speak directly to people’s discontent while the government has been skirting the edges. And most importantly, they’re entertaining. Even if their differences cause infighting in the League of Villains, people might follow them just to see who would win. They’re charging full-speed from different angles, but they’re both on a collision course for a new age of violence.

And the whole time this was happening, Izuku was unconscious somewhere off screen, pathetically oblivious.

He has never felt more useless in his life.

If only he’d been a bit stronger, faster, smarter. If only he’d reached Kacchan in time. Could he have stopped Stain’s speech then?

No, Izuku realizes with a dull pang of finality. He couldn’t have done anything. Poor little Izuku, trying to make a difference—but he couldn’t even help the person he claims as his oldest friend. Kacchan said it during their fight, didn’t he? Kacchan, of all people, would never let anyone change him. This is who he was from the start. He’ll just win, and win, and keep winning, far beyond Izuku’s reach.

And Izuku had the gall to think he’d save him.

Someone knocks on the hospital door. Izuku jolts out of his downward spiral, fumbling with his phone. He calls in an unsteady voice: “Come in!”

A gaunt, hollow-cheeked man pokes his head in. His body language is tentative, almost apologetic, but his eyes land on Izuku with unerring intensity.

Oh, my boy,” All Might sighs. Locking the door behind him, he comes to Izuku with impossible grace and rests a gentle hand on his shoulder. “Forgive me, Midoriya. I am here now.”

The black shadows around All Might’s eyes look even more pronounced than usual, and a formal suit hangs limp over his skeletal arms. He looks exhausted. Izuku meets his eyes and feels shamefully, childishly, overwhelmingly safe.

“All Might,” he says, and feels his throat constrict with a hundred warring emotions.

All Might pulls up a chair and sits down facing Izuku. “Are you alright? Can I get you anything?

Izuku swallows and shakes his head. He doesn’t need anything, he’s okay.

Are you sure? I heard what happened with Stain—you’ve had a rough time. I’m glad everyone made it out alright. How do you feel? Not too tired?

Izuku nods. He feels fine. All Might doesn’t need to worry.

Yes? Good. I’m glad.” After a moment, All Might bows his head and threads his fingers below his head, as if in penance. A shadow falls over his face. Time seems to slow, and the room becomes a sealed dimension where the only noise is his voice, low and somber. “Then…then there is something I need to tell you. Something I should have told you from the start.”

He begins a tale from long ago: the monster under the bed, the voice in the dark. The evil which he sacrificed so much to defeat, but which has now come back from the dead.

One for All is the power passed down through generations to defeat that great evil,” he says. “I had hoped it would not come to this; but All for One survives, and I fear he has already made contact with young Bakugou. Someday, you too might have to confront him in a final showdown—

“No.”

All Might stops. Izuku looks out the window, trying desperately not to cry.

Is it too much?” All Might asks gently.

Izuku takes a shuddering breath. His ribs ache. “You made a mistake. I’m sorry. I’m not—not the one you want.”

“…I could not have asked for a better successor—

“How can you say that!?” Izuku hisses. He covers his face with his right hand, ashamed at the outburst, and retreats into a whisper. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry. But you’re wrong. Please understand.”

I’m not sure I follow…

The thoughts that have been building up in him finally burst into the daylight, ugly and sharp.

“I’m quitting UA,” says Izuku. He hunches over, hand still covering his face. “Save you the trouble of suspending me. I want to quit.”

For several seconds, All Might doesn’t seem to breathe. Then he says, so quietly: “May I ask why?

“Isn’t it obvious?” Izuku says, hearing the bitterness in his voice and hating it. Despite his best efforts, the tears start to brim in his eyes. Crybaby Deku, a voice in his head taunts. “I lost. One person, I just wanted to save one person. And I lost him.”

Heroes are not perfect. I, too, have failed to save people.

“That’s different!” he cries, whipping his head up. He feels frantic to make himself understood, and at the same time, he feels—angry. It’s like a demon has seized possession of his lungs and poured bitter gasoline through his veins. The words start to all tumble out, spiteful and unruly. “There is no comparison between you and me, can’t you see!? You are good. You were meant to be a hero. I’m just a fraud. I’ve spent my entire life trying to get Kacchan back, but he wasn’t even my friend!”

It’s like ripping off a bandage. Admitting it burns, and then he feels a rush of freedom. He’s hurtling toward a cliff in a car without brakes. And in an awful, reckless way, he’s loving every second of it. All Might watches him, motionless.

“I never told anyone. I mean, what was I supposed to say? Yes, Kacchan is the person I admired most, even though to him I’m just a quirkless loser and he would rather drown in a river than take my hand—I’m worth nothing to him! But fake it till you make it, right? Tell people he’s your friend, he’s not around to bully you anyways. Get into UA, it’s not like anyone else knows you’re supposed to be quirkless. Let All Might think you’re worth something, and maybe by the time you fight a villain it’ll have come true!” Wildly, he punches a fist into the mattress under him. Pain flares through his arm. “But I just can’t anymore! I reach out my hand, again and again, but no matter how hard I try I can’t reach far enough! What is wrong with me!? What kind of idiot would keep doing that!?

“Becoming a hero—it should have been him. I don’t belong here. At first, I thought that if I could just save him, if I could just get him back, then maybe I’d deserve to be a hero too. But then—”

He breaks off.

“I was wrong,” he chokes out. “My dream was wrong from the start. He doesn’t need saving. He doesn’t need anyone’s help. I was useless when he was first taken, and now I—I haven’t changed at all.” He heaves a breath, ribs creaking. He feels dizzy. “Heroes are supposed to be winners, but all I do is lose. So—so you should just. Find someone else to fight your wars. I quit.” He squeezes his eyes shut, and before he can stop himself, whispers: “I’m so sorry.”

The room is silent. Izuku hangs there, suspended between the end of the world and whatever comes after. He expects the earth to swallow him up at any second.

It doesn’t happen.

Instead, All Might’s long, bony arms curl around Izuku’s body and pull him into a warm embrace.

No, I’m sorry,” All Might says, his voice full of compassion. “You’ve had to bear such a terrible burden, alone, for so long.”

Izuku’s heart breaks. Just like that.

The shards bury into his ribs, scrape across his throat. His body, cut loose, collapses against the ruined concavity of All Might’s chest. All Might holds him steady.

What happened when you were a child wasn’t your fault. Do you understand, Midoriya? None of this is your fault.”

Izuku stutters, “But, I, I.” He can’t seem to control his breathing. His shoulders are trembling.

You’ve been looking for your friend for such a long time that you’ve lost sight of yourself.” He squeezes Izuku’s shoulder. “Separate your fate from his, Midoriya. You are not a hero because of what you can do for Bakugou. You are a hero because of who you are.”

“I, I don’t, understand.”

I will never regret choosing you as my successor. I know, without a doubt, that you can be a hero.”

Why,” Izuku gasps.

Because being a hero doesn’t mean winning all your battles, or capturing all your enemies.” All Might pulls back to look him in the eye, his face full of gravity. “You are just as good as me, Midoriya, and I believe you will one day be better. You give me hope.” He rests his chin over Izuku’s head, so careful with his touch. “You give all of us hope. That’s why it had to be you.”

For a long while, they stay like that. Izuku’s body gradually stops shaking, and the frantic confusion in his head settles down. He feels wrung dry, leached of something poisonous. He rests against All Might’s chest as he catches his breath, listening to All Might’s impossibly slow heartbeat.

There’s a knock at the door. Detective Tsukauchi’s voice calls: “Five-minute warning, All Might. I’ll have company, so be alert.”

All Might sighs. He squeezes Izuku’s shoulder again, then eases him back so they’re sitting straight. “That’s what I believe, my boy. But the decision is ultimately yours; I know I’m asking a lot from you. It’s not too late to quit UA.

Izuku shakes his head. He flexes the fingers of his right hand, slowly settling back into his body, allowing himself to feel and process everything that’s happened, bit by bit. “No, I...if you’ll be by my side, I feel like I could do anything. I really feel that way.”

A strange expression flits across All Might’s face, but in the next moment it’s gone. “Spend some time thinking about it,” he says.

Izuku gains the presence of mind to look down at himself, and is suddenly embarrassed. He finds a tissue box next to the hospital bed and wipes his puffy eyes, then blows his nose. “Thank you for listening to me. I’m so sorry I had a—a meltdown in front of you, I promise this doesn’t usually happen.”

It’s perfectly alright,” All Might assures him. “Really, I should have talked to you sooner about Bakugou and the truth of One for All. You’re handling things remarkably well.”

Izuku snorts ungracefully. He’s a mess. But for once, he sort of feels okay about being a mess. All the fears that had overwhelmed him ten minutes ago now seem…manageable. “What happens if I get suspended?” he asks.

I will continue training you, regardless.”

“Okay.” It really is that easy. He blows his nose again. “Um, do you need to go somewhere?”

All Might stress-coughs a glob of blood. “Well, yes, there is a press conference, but—would you like me to stay?” he asks, looking harried. “I haven’t been supporting you enough as it is.

“No, no, you’re fine,” Izuku hurries to say. “I feel much better now, really. You can go.”

All Might nods, hovering indecisively over his seat. “I am glad I could help. I—I would like to stay, but I really must attend this conference. We’ll continue this conversation as soon as possible, yes? Very good. Please rest well.”

He hastens to the door. Between one step and the next, his muscles expand to the size of American footballs. He opens the door in his public All Might form.

Detective Tsukauchi stands on the other side of the door, an eyebrow quirked up. Next to him is Izuku’s mother.

“Izuku!” she gasps, and bolts across the room to be with him. He hugs her as tight as he can, as she frets over his injuries and asks after his friends.

“I’m so glad I’m seeing you again,” Izuku mumbles into her shoulder.

His mother backs away slightly. She wipes her tears and looks away. “Izuku, we need to talk about—about you going to UA,” she whispers, trying not to let anyone else hear. “I don’t know if my heart can take another…”

She trails off, unable to meet his eyes.

“Mom?”

“Later, honey,” she says. She smooths a hand over his forehead and presses a kiss to his hair. “Just—I love you. Your mother loves you so much.”

She turns to Detective Tsukauchi. “Thank you for all the police’s hard work.” She turns to All Might. “Thank you for watching over my son.”

All Might bows deeply, looking flustered. “I am only sorry that I didn’t do more.”

Detective Tsukauchi takes a step past All Might. “Before we go, just one more thing. As I was telling Mrs. Midoriya, the police recently arrested one of Bakugou Katsuki’s associates.” He pauses a moment to gauge Izuku’s reaction. When no emotional breakdowns seem imminent, he continues. “We found something that apparently belonged to Bakugou Katsuki, if you’d like to keep it, or pass it on to his parents. Or throw it into the trash, if you prefer. I wouldn’t blame you.”

He pulls a book out of his coat. It’s the same book Kacchan had been in the middle of reading when he’d been taken by the villains—or rather, when he’d escaped from the police. He must have bought a new copy, wherever he’s staying these days. Do villains have a lot of time to read?

Izuku thought he’d start to panic again at the prospect of Kacchan’s belongings, but he actually feels quite calm. The worst has already passed; even the possibility of meeting Kacchan again doesn’t seem like a big deal, in comparison. Detective Tsukauchi sets the book down at the foot of Izuku’s bed, and Izuku simply blinks at it curiously.

"Izuku?" his mother asks.

"I want to keep it," he says without thinking, and realizes it's true once he's said it. He reaches out and feels its weight in his palm.

The detective smiles. “Good. Now, we really do have to leave. But from the bottom of my heart, I am grateful that you’re recovering.” He turns and shares a look with All Might. “Ready for the great Hosu Address?” he mutters.

The black shadows around All Might’s eyes seem to darken. “Ready as I’ll ever be,” he replies, like he’s preparing to enter a warzone.

Wait. Wait, wait. What on earth is Izuku doing!? He nearly leaps off the bed, forgetting the pain of his ribs.

“Izuku!” his mother yelps.

“All Might—hold on! Could I come with you to the press conference? Just to observe,” Izuku says, so quickly that the sentences run into each other. Without waiting for an answer, he starts shoving Kacchan’s book and all his things into his backpack. He can’t miss personally being at an event as huge as this! He needs to take notes. “This is the biggest appearance you’ve made since the Sports Festival, and it’ll be the first time you’ll be talking about the League of Villains in public, something people have been requesting for months; whatever you say will set the tone for people’s reactions to Stain and Kacchan, and now that I think about it, how the public receives you probably will influence whether my classmates and I will be suspended, and in broader strokes you could very well be making history—”

“No pressure,” Detective Tsukauchi says drily. Izuku snaps his mouth shut, flushing bright red.

But All Might just laughs, and coughs once into the back of his hand. “Of course, young Midoriya,” he says, blue eyes dancing. “I would love for you to come. That is, if it’s alright with your mother?

Izuku looks at her pleadingly. She looks worried, but after a moment, says: “Alright, we can go. But don’t leave my sight, and if you feel tired we’re coming straight back. Be considerate to your poor mother’s heart? Please?”

“I will, I promise!”

An hour later, the press room is tense as a Spanish bull fight, and Izuku is having the time of his life. Behind a sea of reporters, he stands up on tip-toes, his mother helping him to keep his balance.

“It’s not enough. It’s not enough!” he hisses. He’s dictating into the auto-transcriber on his mother’s phone, since his fingers are still weak and his phone is dead. He listens hard to what the panel of heroes and police are saying, and whispers at the same time: “They’re focusing on Stain’s actions, not his words, and painting Kacchan as a victim of manipulation. They don’t want to directly address what the villains said, because that would be legitimizing their opinions.”

His mother, used to his geeky ways, whispers back: “But what else can they do, Izuku?”

“I don’t know. An alternative. The villains’ methods are wrong, but their ideas are sound. The heroes need to give everyone a way to address those ideas with a better method. But they can’t make it sound like they’re making a concession to the villains! I don’t—oh, someone’s asking All Might a question.”

“This teenage villain, Explodokill,” the reporter says, a slight sarcastic edge in his voice. “There is evidence that he is personally connected to a student in UA. And according to our research, Stain was a UA dropout.” All Might smiles resolutely on, but a low murmur rises among the crowd. Izuku’s mother shifts her feet nervously. Izuku barely dares to breathe—he didn’t know that about Stain. “Last night, four UA student interns became involved in the Hosu attacks and used their quirks without supervision. Two of them were badly injured. Indeed, we’ve seen UA in the news quite a lot these past few months, and not always in a good way. The famous hero academy’s so-called justice and excellence have now been behind several horrific crimes. In some people’s eyes, the line between hero and villain is blurring.”

The reporter’s eyes narrow, and he launches his attack—the question designed to throw All Might off balance.

“As an instructor at UA, you are responsible for young students with some of the most powerful quirks in the country. How can you be sure that, by training them to use their quirks, you aren’t training them to become villains, or inciting other villains to attack? Can you really say that your students have a future?”

All Might grins confidently at the reporter. “I believe my students have a very bright future. The UA students I know,” he glances briefly in Izuku’s direction, “will not be shaken by acts of terror. They are strong pillars of the future; they will continue to fight against chaos and cruelty.” He laughs his trademark laugh. “TRUE JUSTICE WILL PREVAIL!

Another panel speaker tries to add onto All Might’s answer, but the reporter, dissatisfied, interrupts.

“Those are very fine words, Mr. Number One Hero. But where is the evidence? Take this—‘Deku,’ for example. Why have you not come forward to identify them?”

Izuku freezes, and feels his mother tense next to him.

The other panel speaker, a police officer, leans into her microphone angrily. “We are trying to protect a teenager’s privacy. ‘Deku’ and their relationship with Explodokill is a personal matter.”

“On the contrary, I believe it became a public matter when Explodokill set a prison on fire while shouting their name.” The reporter holds his pen over his notebook, eyes gleaming like a hound that’s scented its prey. “Can we trust that a known associate of a villain can have a strong moral compass? Is their ‘true justice’ going to end up like Stain’s?”

That’s not fair. Izuku clutches the phone, outraged. Nobody should be guilty by association, and anyways, All Might has no reason to know about Deku. This isn’t even a real question, this is just trying to attack All Might! Can’t people understand what’s happening!?

Izuku’s mother suddenly grips his shoulder. “Izuku…”

He blinks. The people around him are openly staring, and the panel has fallen silent. All Might stares at him, his smile terribly strained.

Oh. His whispered voice recordings…they weren’t whispered, were they.

“Uh,” he says.

The reporter who’d been grilling All Might turns to Izuku. His eyes widen. “You’re one of the UA interns—I recognize you from the Sports Festival. I'm glad you’re well enough to make this conference.” He crosses his arms. “So. Enlighten me. What’s happening?”

The panel speakers hastily try to reclaim the conversation, distracting the reporters. Izuku’s mom pulls him close.

“Honey, should we leave?” she whispers.

Izuku licks his lips. He takes a mental step back and considers what he knows.

In the aftermath of Hosu, the heroes and villains are essentially waging an image war for public opinion. The worst thing that could happen for the heroes is to lose public trust. The heroes can win the war if they stay open and transparent, and if they keep up a good public conversation. But not even All Might can help there—he can’t afford to be open, with all his terrible secrets. It needs to be someone else.

Izuku looks at his mom.

She looks back. After a moment, she takes a deep breath.

“Are you sure this is what you want?” his mother asks, meeting his eyes fiercely. “This, and UA, even if it means fighting things that are worse than Stain?”

The truth flows easily out. “I’ve never been surer of anything in my life.”

She gazes at him, searching for any hesitance, and then nods. “Go. I’ll be right here.”

The police officer on the panel is trying valiantly to keep the press conference going, describing a new patrol system that would make it harder to isolate and ambush heroes. She cuts off in the middle of a sentence, and just stares.

A short, big-eyed, battered teenager hobbles toward the stage. Both his arms are wrapped in a layer of bandages. But when security reaches out to stop him, he zips past with alarming speed, and then stops right in front of All Might. The reporters hiss in disbelief.

Quietly, the boy says to All Might: “I’ll do it. I’ll finish your fight, with you by my side.”

All Might smiles, the first honest smile that afternoon, yet somehow pained.

“Excuse me,” the police officer says, wondering at the absurdity of it all. “This is an official press conference. I don’t believe you were even invited. If you would please step off the stage…”

Actually, I invited him,” All Might says. And—well, there’s no argument against that.

The boy turns around and smiles at the cameras, a bit shaky on the edges, but with firm eyes. The cameras flash, and then a hush falls over the crowd. The boy swallows, takes a deep breath, and begins.

“Hello. I—I’m a student at UA. Um.” His voice wavers, and then he takes another deep breath. “I fought Stain, last night, because nobody else was there to help. I fought Explodokill last night for the same reason. The heroes—they couldn’t reach everyone in time. But I knew that I could do something to help. So that’s what I did. Something to help.

“Last night, I saved someone. I protected the innocent from unjust cruelty. I saw a need, and I filled it in with a smile. That’s what being a hero means to me. That’s what I’m dedicating my life to. It’s not about being stronger or faster, about winning or losing. None of us are here to be perfect, or to become the next All Might. We’re just doing our best to carry on the work.

“Explodokill, if you’re listening—that day you called me useless, when we were just kids and didn’t know any better. That day, I was the hero, not you. And I’m still a hero.”

The reporters are in an uproar by now, texting their editors madly about this newest scoop. But the boy looks straight at the camera. His hands, which used to tremble so often, are now steady.

“My name is Deku, the Deku who never gives up. That’s the vision of my future. So, your move, Kacchan. Who are you?”


Katsuki startles awake, and for a second he’s absolutely sure he’s gone blind. He jerks his limbs out in the darkness, and falls off something soft to land on something hard. A hundred aches and sore muscles flare across his body.

Couch. Floor. He—he fell asleep. On a couch?

“Bakugou Katsuki,” Misty’s voice says. “Please come with me.”

He punches blindly in front of him, then spins around until he sees—he sees!—Misty’s glowing yellow eyes.

“What the fuck!” he barks. His voice claps into dead silence, and then gets swallowed up unnaturally, like he’s trapped in a muffling box. It makes his ears feel wrong. “What the fuck. Why are you here? Where’s Smiley?”

“Bakugou Katsuki,” Misty repeats without inflection. “Please come with me.”

“Why do you say ‘please’ when you’re not giving me a choice? And how the hell did you know where I was? Is there a tracker in the noumu?”

Misty remains silent. Katsuki suddenly realizes he’s dreaming. But, no, that doesn’t make sense. He doesn’t dream. Or he doesn’t remember them. Can he still dream without remembering dreaming? No—doesn’t matter. He’s just confusing himself.

He clambers to his feet. His body is slow, clumsy, like he’s still half-asleep. But the adrenaline makes his mind paranoid as fuck. He stumbles forward, still trying to remember how to walk. He searches for Misty’s eyes.

But they’re gone. He’s in the dark again. Then he realizes his combat boots are making a different sound—the floor isn’t wood anymore. It’s concrete.

Bakugou, my boy,” a voice purrs. All Might? No, he can see it now, the pale blue light of several computer screens, and the silhouette of a man in an armchair. He’s hooked up to at least a dozen medical-looking bags. Another shadow stands behind him—must be a henchman. It fits with the whole creepy aesthetic.

“Fuck you, No-Face,” Katsuki replies. It’s a dream, so he can say whatever he wants. Not that he does differently when he’s awake. “Where am I?”

No-Face ignores the question. “I’ve been observing your actions in Hosu. Perhaps regrettably, I find that we are at a crossroads.” No-Face steeples his fingers. Classic villain pose. The computer light flickers around him, but his face is as anonymous and blurred as ever; Katsuki’s imagination didn’t even bother to give him eyes. “Your performance was…shall we say, disappointing. Two noumus lost in one night. No significant hero casualties. And Stain, vanished into the ether. Would you care to explain?

“Fuck you,” Katsuki growls again. “I worked my ass off to find Stain and bring him to your little pet project. It’s not my fault the League is too damned pathetic to recruit him properly.”

No-Face hums. “Interesting. You speak as if you were not one of the League. Do you consider yourself one of us?

Katsuki opens his mouth.

Think carefully before you answer.”

Katsuki grits his teeth. “Or what? Are you interrogating me? I don’t even know who you are or how the hell you know so much about me, why should I tell you anything?”

No-Face smiles. His face comes into sudden focus: teeth, scarred flesh, and no eyes. This dream is fucked up. “Oh, you’ll find out soon enough. But you see, Bakugou, something has been bothering me. Even before Stain, I had my doubts about you. Do you know why the police are so desperate to get you back?

Katsuki scoffs. “Because I’m a badass motherfucker and they’re scared of me. Cut the crap,” he spits. “What do you want?”

“Yes, that’s right, it’s because they’re scared of you,” he croons. “Not because of Midoriya Izuku, not out of anything like compassion or guilt. Out of fear. Why?

“Because you saw All Might’s true form. You, a young villain willing to do anything to move up in the world, held in your hands the most valuable piece of information in all of hero society. All Might is vulnerable. You could have revealed his vulnerability at any moment. You could have sold the information, traded it for favors. You could have leaked it to the newspapers. I even confirmed it for you, almost two weeks ago. And what did you do?

“Nothing. Absolutely nothing. You sat upon that golden egg and let it rot. I must say, your recent behavior has been nearly…heroic.”

Katsuki shudders. He feels like he’s going to be sick again. “Shut up! What the fuck do you know about being heroic!? That’s—I’m not—this isn’t—!”

“So I ask you again, Bakugou Katsuki. Are you with the League of Villains?”

“Just shut up—”

ARE YOU WITH US?” No-Face suddenly thunders, his voice two octaves darker and almost physically forceful. “OR ARE YOU NOT?

Katsuki’s heart is racing; he feels lightheaded. He does not want to be here. He wants this dream to be over. This isn’t real, none of this is really happening.

He snaps.

“If that’s how it’s gonna be, then FINE! I’m NOT one of you! I QUIT!” He slaps a hand downward with a hot white flare and a BOOM. His overused quirk screams at him. “I’M SICK OF THIS! SICK OF THIS WHOLE FUCKING MESS! I’VE HAD ENOUGH!”

You would turn against us?” No-Face says. Katsuki barely hears him over the thundering of his own pulse.

“I DON’T CARE! You’re—you’re wrong, this is all WRONG! I don’t fucking need this! I don’t need ANYONE! I’m not going to be someone else’s henchman ever again! Run your own errands, you dried up piece of SHIT!”

Katsuki stops, panting. As his heart starts to quiet, he realizes he can hear someone laughing; a crazy, cartoonish laugh. He can’t tell where it’s coming from.

No-Face just lounges back in his evil armchair, smug as fuck. “Well, well. What a shame.” He tilts his head, and Katsuki is suddenly reminded of a kid watching ants catch fire under a magnifying glass. “Then I'll have to offer you some incentive.

The shadowy figure behind No-Face steps into the light.

He looks like some kind of performer. Mask, gloves, heavy overcoat. One of his sleeves is pinned against his side—a one-armed magician. His shoes click slowly against the concrete floor as he walks toward Katsuki.

As the man gets closer, Katsuki sees that his shoes are golden.

But—that’s—no. His mind doesn’t do that. He doesn’t do this to himself. He doesn’t retrace bad memories or revive the dead, he’s never let any ghosts take root in his head.

The world distorts. The figure gets larger, until Katsuki has to look up at him, and he thinks for a second that he might be waking up after all because he feels a sickening drop, that knee-jerk sensation of falling out of a dream, where everything slides toward a weird gray haze and there’s nothing but static between his ears, but then the figure chuckles and lifts the mask of his face with two delicate fingers and Katsuki realizes two things instantaneously: one, that this is reality, and two, that this is a nightmare.

“Boo,” says the Bombardier.