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License to Kill

Chapter Text

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 in one room, and the fearsome villain Explodokill is going to blow a fuse because he can’t see a fucking thing over everyone’s 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 in front of a dude with a squid face quirk. 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 damned 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 the news came of the break-in, there was a special report on All Might’s teaching position at UA. The reporter had interviewed random students and teachers at the academy; boring stuff, really. Explodokill was watching it on his phone, and when it became clear that nobody could get ahold of All Might, he nearly shut it off. 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 nostalgia or introspection. But it was like seeing a ghost, that face. And at UA? A student of All Might? It couldn’t be that nerd he used to know, of course, because this one had to have a quirk to get into UA. But it nagged at him the rest of the day. Whoever he was, that kid had the privilege of studying under the strongest people in the world. He was on track to becoming someone great, just by being where he was. Whereas Explodokill has to slave day in, day out to get a fraction of the recognition he deserves, and will probably never get a word of instruction from a hero, or even another villain.

He knows that the world isn’t fair. Unlike everyone he hangs out with, he isn’t complaining. He’ll take what he wants with his skill alone. But that face on screen nags at him all the same.

Last night, when he got an invitation to join an attack on All Might, he accepted.

And now he’s trying to keep Squid Face 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 All Might. 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—for 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 four quirks: energy hyper-efficiency, mutant strength, shock absorption, and super regeneration.”

“Seriously?” Squid Face whispers, hushed with awe.

As if in answer, Creepy Hands 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 and rasps, “Watch closely now.”

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 murmurs. “Ahh, what next…Noumu, could you…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 says.

Explodokill feels his heart speed up with excitement. That’s another rumor falling into place, that people are being taken for quirk experimentation. It shouldn’t be possible for someone to have more than one quirk, but if the displays just now aren’t some kind of trick, then whoever is behind the rumors 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. Are we high level enough? 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,” Squid Face 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 leans into the microphone, a crooked black scarecrow, and 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. Creepy Hands is playing everyone like a flute. Explodokill grins, teeth bared, 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 blast that green-haired kid.

 


 

Ten of them wait in a hollowed-out apartment in the Ruins Zone. Some squat on the floor like in an old gangster movie, some hop nervously in front of the shattered windows. Explodokill stands in the middle of the room, grinding his teeth.

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, crouched in a corner of the room. Waiting.

Then they see it. A flicker of mist. 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!”

Suddenly, Explodokill is pissed. Really, really pissed. Like, what the fuck is with this freshman? And that little snot-faced Freckles? What gives them the right to act so righteous and noble and protective when they’re just weaklings on their own? Why should Shitty Hair be standing here, defying him, in this stupid broken city? Also, what the hell is this city, this dome? How much fucking money does the hero industry sink into these fake disaster zones just so that a couple teenagers can feel good about themselves?

He’s so angry, he steps outside of himself for a moment, and he can see his furious stance, the smoke in the air, the freshman’s fearlessness, All Might possibly fighting just a stone’s throw away. He 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.

“Die!” he snarls, and unclips one of his homemade hand grenades from his belt. He tosses it at Shitty Hair’s face, launches himself out the windows as fast as he can, and 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 should 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, and he hopes it hurts. The force of the blow sends the boy skidding several feet across the floor.

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

He feels a second wrenching sense-memory. 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 emerges from the warp gate, breaking off an arm and leg. They 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 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…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 him, 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 & 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 feels sick with it, close to throwing up. He can barely breathe past the urge to burn, break, hurt, kill, stop, stop it, shut up. All Might overpowers Noumu’s shock resistance and sends him flying out the roof, and “A HERO IS SOMEONE WHO SMASHES THROUGH EVERY OBSTACLE LIFE PUTS IN THEIR WAY!” 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, and Kacchan is losing control, he has to stop this, he lifts his hand up to sweep it all away with fire, blast Deku to the ground, smash 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!”

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

All Might spreads his feet, wreathed in smoke from the force of his Plus Ultra punch. “Now then, villains. Neither 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 blasts away from Deku and Shitty Hair in favor of getting closer to the warp gate. “Don’t you dare fucking leave me behind,” he hisses.

Mist-in-a-Suit seems surprised, and takes a moment to weigh something in his mind. “Very well,” he finally agrees.

In the meantime, Creepy Hands is throwing a hissy fit. “You cheated!” he rasps, scratching his neck hard enough to bleed. “You’re not weaker…how dare you touch my Noumu! You used cheats! 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! Why isn’t he here…he’d stand up to him without feeling an ounce of pressure…cheater! Liar!”

“Shigaraki Tomura, please calm yourself. If you look closely, you may observe the damage Noumu inflicted on All Might. It’s true that reinforcements may arrive at any moment, but I propose that you and I, and this young villain, may still have ample opportunity to murder him.”

“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,” Explodokill says, staying clear of Creepy Hands’ line of sight.

“You requested that we not leave you behind,” Mist-in-a-Suit replies, almost amused.

“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 confused 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, Deku, no!”

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. Midoriya,” he adds, “who was that young man you pulled out of the warp gate?”

“Oh. Oh, no, Kacchan! Is he…?”

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?”

“I’m sorry, I’m not at liberty to share the details, since it’s part of the criminal investigation.”

“Patient-doctor confidentiality, my dear,” Recovery Girl adds apologetically. “Once he wakes up, you can ask him. But he fought very well against the villains, and his quirk—unlike yours—actually protects him. He’s doing just fine.”

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.

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.

“I see,” Detective Tsukauchi says mildly. “I’ll have to question you further about that.”

“Is he okay?” he blurts out.

Detective Tsukauchi is unfazed. “Bakugou Katsuki sustained some injuries, but is recovering nicely. 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 you must understand that he has been highly active in the underworld. His self-proclaimed villain name is Explodokill, although a few of the other villains we’ve apprehended know him as Blast Boy, or Blasty. It’s a record that 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 says, “you are still injured! You must rest.”

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

Detective Tsukauchi smiles faintly. “I understand how important this is to you, but I would leave this to the adults. 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 this morning—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, and lifts a finger to his head, as if in acknowledgment. “What a speech. 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 cast 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 Mr. Aizawa 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 Mr. Aizawa kicked out one of the Class 1-A students on the first day of school, Shinsou was able to transfer to the Hero track. Physically 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, 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 what happened with Kacchan?

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, 3-12-2035, 19:03. Parties: Bakugou “Explodokill” Katsuki (BK), Shinsou Hitoshi (SH), Tsukauchi Naomasa (TM).

SH: What is your legal name?

BK: Bakugou Katsuki.

SH: Do you remember what happened on February 3rd, 2026?

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.

TM: 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.

TM: 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.

“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. Small-time villains disappearing, rumors that they were being used for 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.”

“It’s not up to you.”

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!”

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 the detective is drinking a cup of tea.

“Are you alright there, Bakugou?” he asks calmly. “You spaced out for a bit, there.”

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

Was it a mind trick? Did he lose time? How long was he out? 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, with a Post-it note on his forearm saying that blowing up his cuffs again will tear his hands straight off, so he might as well wait to go to trial.

He spends ten minutes cursing the air-conditioned room 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 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.

Then he’s left alone again. 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.”

Kacchan 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 detective 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 give him an electric shock and alert the police 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 house and get fucking electrocuted by the trackers. He doesn’t belong here. Who was Mrs. Midoriya kidding? Nothing about him fucking 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 to do online shopping for 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, Mr. Aizawa, 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. Mr. Aizawa 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, Mr. Aizawa 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, careful to stay in the pre-approved route. 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 yet,” 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 retreating back into the building, and as a last parting shot, he says, “I’ll see you tomorrow!”

 


 

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 galivanting 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 muscle 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, like a stoned panda. 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. Purple Panda is blocking his line of sight, and he tries to push past to keep watching Deku.

Purple Panda 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 Purple Panda exchange a look, and he sighs deeply. “Fine, you can spar. But don’t make me intervene, I’m injured, damn it.”

“Yes sir,” Purple Panda says lazily, and whirls a kick at Explodokill.

“Shit!” He blocks the kick and swipes at Purple Panda. 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 Purple, still smirking, the fucker. “I won’t use my quirk, to keep things fair.”

“I’ll break your fucking neck!”

Purple Panda 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. Purple has the advantage of height, and he moves with fluid grace, clearly taught by a pro.

“I usually hate people like you,” the guy 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. Purple 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 Purple Panda, to his delight, is already breathing hard.

“What I’m saying is, maybe you didn’t want to be a villain,” Purple 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. Purple’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!”

Purple 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 Purple’s arm, and the kid 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. “The trackers will hurt you! 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,” Purple Panda 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. Maybe his face is just stuck like that after featuring in one too many TV specials.

 “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 an above-ground life when he was 10, 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 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’d 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. All Might’s eyes burn a will-o’-the-wisp blue, and he stares straight at them. “Deku isn’t going to save me, either.”

Um, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to suggest…

“You heroes are always trying to save somebody.” Fuck this shit. He lost sight of his goal only once before, years ago. That was the same moment when he discovered in himself a foundation, a belief, strong enough to carry him through anything, upon which he built his identity back up from scratch. He knows what he’s made of. “I’m not a hero and I’m definitely not a victim. I’m the one who’s going to surpass you. That’s all.”

Ah…okay…” All Might says.

As they silently head to the training grounds, he remembers Mr. Mummy’s lecture from a few days ago. Then he shoves it into a far corner of his mind. 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 retreats briefly to his room. 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. 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. Purple Panda, 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 and the third, 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?”

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. “Fuck you! You said two weeks!”

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, 3-12-2035, 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. “First of all, your mother and Mr. and Mrs. Bakugou are safe and mostly unharmed.”

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 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 8-Ball in GTA III, I had so much fun, did you see them running all over the place?”

“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, you were so right. Make me a drink, Kurogiri, I wanna celebrate.” He slumps into a stool at the bar. “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.”

Misty warps to the bar and starts inspecting the glass bottles all along the wall. “Of course, Shigaraki Tomura. What’ll it be?”

“You’re just going to drink now!?” Katsuki shrieks. “Is that what you do when you’re not trying to kill people!? You drink like a pair of fucking losers!?”

“Hey, hey,” Creepy Hands says, wagging a finger back and forth. “Alcohol is amazing.” He turns to Misty. “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 snickers. “You want to crush that stupid face into little itty bits, don’t you?”

“Shut the fuck up! What the hell?” It’s true enough, but coming out of that guy’s mouth it just sounds wrong.

Misty scoops ice out of the freezer, shakes something with something-or-other, and pours a glimmering auburn liquid into a glass. He sets it in front of Creepy Hands. “Ooh, orange bitters,” Creepy Hands rasps. “Get something for Kacchan, too, my precious friend needs to relax.”

“Of course. What would you like, Explodokill?”

“I’m perfectly relaxed, fuck you!” He stalks toward the door. “This is a waste of time, I’m getting out of here.”

“Nuh-uh, Sensei still wants to talk to you.” 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 smiles. He points to one of the bottles. “Hey, Kurogiri, get him the Fireball.”

“I’m not drinking!” 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.

“You’ll like this one, trust me.”

“Nothing about you is trustworthy!”

“Then let’s change that, hm?” Misty sets the bottle in front of Creepy Hands, and he hooks three fingers around the neck and pours two inches into a shot glass. “Let’s talk about ourselves. I want to get to know you, you’re such an interesting boy. What was it like being childhood friends with little freckle-face?”

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

“Kacchan, Kacchan, you declared war against him on national TV. 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.” He slides the shot glass over, and a bloodshot eye fixes on Katsuki from between the 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.

“How cute…”

“What!?”

Creepy Hands grins and sits back. “I like you, though, so I’m not mad. I want to crush all those pro-hero hypocrites too. I’m going to help you kill Deku, I’ll make you into a big-time villain. But first you’ve got to tell me more about him.”

He used to be quirkless but now he’s strong enough to fight Half ‘n Half and I think it has to do with All Might weakening. “There’s nothing to tell. He’s a useless shit, and he always was.”

“Is that all? Lame.”

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

You’re lame,” Katsuki snaps back. “What’s that thing on your face anyway?”

“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.

“So, did you learn anything interesting snooping around UA?”

“Nothing a half-wit couldn’t figure out from the sports festival.” He picks up the shot glass and swirls it moodily. “I hate that fucking purple-haired guy. And that bubbly floaty girl.”

“Ahhh, purple hair boy, that’s a strange one. What was his quirk again?”

He tries to remember—but the guy hadn’t ever shown his quirk, even in the sports festival. Except for whatever made Deku almost walk out of the ring. He pictures those tired, smug, vaguely familiar purple eyes, and he scowls. “Who the fuck knows. It’s not related to physical combat.”

“A mystery,” Creepy Hands sings softly. He rests his chin on his palm. “And your fake parents?”

“Hah?”

“What was it like living with them? I’m so jealous,” Creepy Hands sighs, “I wish I could see my mommy one more time. Were you happy? Were you sad? Did you want to kill them?”

He sets down the shot glass. “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 annoyingly clever,” Creepy Hands mutters. He hasn’t moved from his seat. “That’s my friend you’re sitting on, Kacchan, play nice now. You’re on the team, you’re my friend too, lighten up a little.”

“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 fear, animal fear. The terror anything living feels as death reaches out a bony hand to close around its 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: cut off the fearful part of himself like cancerous tissue, step out of his body and move by instinct. 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. A hungry smile spreads over his face.

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 boy, if you please. Go ahead with Kurogiri.

“Ugh, fine,” Creepy Hands grumbles.

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

Bakugou Katsuki, my child,” 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. Not quite suited to Tomura, however.

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 put more than one quirk into a body? 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. He hears Mr. Mummy’s unwelcome voice in his head: 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 grinds his teeth. “Hey. You really think you can take down All Might?”

I do,” the voice says.

“How do you know?”

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. What did I see?”

His true form: a thin, frail, useless old man.

“He’s not—” useless. He presses his mouth shut. It doesn’t matter. He’s still the one who’s going to take All Might down, fuck Creepy Hands and No-Face. “Fine. Just tell me this: how did you find out about the Bombardier?”

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. For whatever reason, he thinks of Mr. Mummy again, the calm and clear way he laid out his expectations, the simple task of trying to surpass them. 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 a month…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 Giran, and an hour later, the three of them are sitting on a bench in the park while Giran smirks at Katsuki like the cat that ate the canary.

“Who’s Deku?” Giran 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,” Giran 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 Giran: “Did you know the USJ attack was a fucking suicide mission?”

Giran 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.” Giran 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.” Giran 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.

Giran 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!”

Giran 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.

Giran 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, like you’ve got any fucking say if my ‘desire’ is worthy or not!” 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!”

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.