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βe Thou For the People

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The meeting that changed Izuku’s life did not happen in a tunnel or on a roof. It did not involve a professional hero or the emaciated skeleton of a man with half a respiratory system and no stomach.

It happened in a library, when he was just barely six years old.

Sitting in the lonesome alchemy section, which existed more out of obligation than because it saw much use, Izuku pawed through a dictionary laying open on the ground. Next to it sat an introductory guide to alchemy, open to somewhere in its middle pages.

At this point, Bakugou wasn’t the only kid in the class who knew how to read, but he was one of the more skilled readers. Still, even his vocabulary would’ve failed him if he’d tried to read this guide — not that he ever would, though. ( He had a great quirk and held unlimited potential in his hands. He’d never need to resort to alchemy. ) Izuku, on the other hand, had trouble getting through even one sentence without referring back to the dictionary several times.

It was tiresome work, jotting down notes in his notebook with a stubby pencil in the simpler words he can understand, but if it paid off, then it would be worth it.

In the middle of Izuku’s attempt at trying to figure out how “comprehension” was supposed to tie in with “equivalency” and what any of this meant in terms of a “matrix”, a shadow fell across him, blocking out the ceiling’s light. Surprised, Izuku looked up; he’d never seen anyone besides himself come to the alchemy section. The newcomer paused too, maybe thinking the same thing.

Izuku blinked up at the stranger’s oddly golden eyes and hair ( kind of like All Might’s hair color, but styled very differently ) and stammered, “Um… S-sorry, I didn’t mean to…” Trailing off, he started pulling his materials to the side to let the stranger pass, except the stranger actually leaned closer to peer at the books, eyes narrowed slightly.

“You’re looking up alchemy?” the stranger asked. His words sounded a little accented, but Izuku couldn’t tell exactly what kind of accent it was. “That’s a bit advanced for a reading report in your grade level, kid.”

With something of a grimace, Izuku averted his gaze to the floor. “It’s not for a… reading report. I want to — I want to learn it.” Even without looking up, he could tell that the stranger was staring at him. Feeling embarrassed and nervous, he hunched over, awaiting the judgement he knew was coming. Everyone judged alchemy. Everyone judged it to be a bad consolation prize in comparison to quirks.

“I thought you guys couldn’t perform alchemy because you all have a quirk instead of a — oh.” A pause, as the stranger seemed to realized that Izuku was quirkless. Izuku braced himself for the other foot to fall, for the condescending or the teasing to start. “Huh. And you’re serious about learning alchemy? Most people struggle to understand it even as adults, you know.”

That… was not the level of ridicule Izuku was expecting. He glanced at the stranger again, hesitated, and then nodded meekly. “I know it’s hard, b-but I want to be a hero and save people, and… I thought alchemy might help.”

The stranger considered him for a moment with an odd expression. “You’re the first person I’ve met here who actually thinks that,” he said, and then barked out a laugh. “It’s kind of refreshing, actually. Hey, kid, what’s your name? I think I might be able to lend you a hand here.”

Izuku’s eyes widened, and he brightened significantly. “I’m Midoriya Izuku! Do you know alchemy, mister?”

The stranger smiled a grin full of teeth. “You bet I do. I might be a little rusty at it, but I’m still good enough to help you out — and call me Ed, I’m not that old.”

“Really? Thank you, Ed!” It was all Izuku could do to keep from actually vibrating in place, so just hopped to his feet instead and kept bouncing on the balls of his feet, holding his fists to his chest in excitement.

Someone a couple shelves over hissed a shushing noise, and Izuku quickly clapped his hands over his mouth, mortified. In his excitement, he’d nearly started shouting… Ed seemed more amused at the situation than anything, although he did roll his eyes in the direction of the shushing before picking up the introductory guide to flip through. “I guess this is a decent enough place to start,” he mused, trailing a finger over a page before shutting it. “Got a few holes, though. We should go outside for this, but — hey, how much time do you have before you gotta leave?”

“My mom’s coming by in an hour,” Izuku informed. He knew that he probably shouldn’t have accepted such an offer from someone he didn’t really know, but he was just too excited and his mom would be back to pick him up within an hour’s time anyway, so it wasn’t as though he’d really be in danger or anywhere risky for very long and it was just so rare to run into someone who had an interest in alchemy, never mind someone who was already well-versed in it. So he agreed vigorously to Ed’s proposal and cleaned up, checking out the introductory guide before tottering excitedly after Ed.

Ed, however, seemed to have a sudden thought. He eyed Izuku with a contemplative gaze that almost made the boy doubt his decision about whether or not going with the stranger was a good idea.

“By the way, Izuku, do you do any sports or other physical activity?”

“No, I don’t really.” Running away from Bakugou and his buddies didn’t count. “Why?”

Having a live person to actually talk to did seem to make studying alchemy a bit easier, since all of Izuku’s questions were be answered on the spot instead of left lingering in the abyss, and there was no need to waste time consulting the dictionary, too.

On the other hand, Izuku had to deal with the new experience of trying to listen while attacking. Ed said that he needed to learn how to fight because training the mind required training the body, and his teacher taught him this way, and Izuku declared that never wanted to meet Ed’s teacher ever.

Ed just laughed and patted him on the head and told him that he was overreacting, she wasn’t that scary.

It wasn’t too bad, though. Somehow, Ed always managed to deflect all of his clumsy attacks without harming him at all, which was all that needed to be said about Izuku’s inexperience. After a brief half-hour of strange multitasking, Izuku was tuckered out and sore but otherwise untouched, his exhaustion coming solely from physical exertion.

“You have this habit of flinching way too easily,” Ed remarked at the end, reaching out to poke Izuku’s forehead. Izuku reflexively pulled back slightly before grimacing, realizing he’d just proved the other’s point. “What’re you so afraid of?”

The image of Bakugou’s smoking hand flashed across his mind, but all Izuku could offer was a vague shrug. Ed raised a brow but let it go, ruffling the younger boy’s hair.

“Was the fighting really necessary?” Izuku asked, half-heartedly pushing his newfound teacher’s hand away from his hair. It was messy enough as is. “I could’ve learned more if we just talked.”

“To train the mind, you must train the body,” Ed recited. The way he said it, with such familiarity and fluidity, made it sound like one word all on its own, somehow.  “That, and you want to save people, right? You can’t just rely on alchemy all the time. That just makes you really vulnerable, and it’s good practice to try recalling and retaining knowledge while in the middle of action. Nobody, especially the rescuers, wants to freeze up during an emergency.”

Izuku nodded hesitantly. “I see…” It did make sense. Alchemy relied on transmutation circles, which could be pretty easily ruined, all things considered. Getting stronger would be kind of like taking All Might’s route, in a much weaker way, and All Might was evidence enough that strength was effective at subduing villains.

“I think you’ve got the basic shapes down pretty well,” Ed added, half to himself. “Keep practicing those circles, though. I saw some of your sketches, and they kind of look a little bit wobbly, and that’ll only get worse if you feel rushed in an urgent situation.”

“And that might screw up the matrix,” Izuku said, happily delving into his newly acquired knowledge. “And that might cause a… rebound?”

Something somber leaked into Ed’s gaze before it quickly vanished. “That’s right. Do you remember what that is?”

“Um… when what goes into the transmutation isn’t enough to create what comes out, it’ll go out of control to make things equal again, and that can hurt the alchemist or anyone too close to it.” Izuku lowered his gaze, somewhat sobered by the unpleasant concept. “That’s why alchemy can be really dangerous, right?”

“Yeah. Another reason to avoid completely relying on it. People can get desperate when they think they’re out of choices, and that leads to irrationality,” Ed said. “But if you use it right, it can definitely help a lot of people.”

Actually, now that Izuku had a moment to think on it… “Is that why you didn’t use alchemy at all against me?” he inquired. He was pretty sure that the fight would’ve been even more one-sided if Ed had used alchemy, so he wasn’t really unhappy about it. Curiosity, on the other hand, definitely took over. And he did want to see a demonstration, too.

Ed paused, and then snorted. “Like I’d need alchemy to defend against your silly little attacks,” he boasted confidently, to which Izuku couldn’t help but giggle. “I just decided that I didn’t need it.”

“You’re really strong, Ed. Can you show me a transmutation?”

“Have you ever seen one before?” Ed asked, and Izuku shook his head ( he’d only seen a couple of clips on the internet, which he didn’t count ). At that, Ed smirked. “Then no.”

“No?” Izuku tried not to wilt, and likely failed. “Why?”

“Because,” Ed said, “you’ll probably get a better grasp of what it’s like if the first transmutation you experience is by your own hand. Don’t look at me like that, kid, I promise it’ll be much better if you do it on your own than if I show it to you. Is your mom here yet?”

Reluctantly accepting that Ed wouldn’t perform a transmutation for him, Izuku pouted before glancing around. “I don’t see her, so maybe the hour’s not up yet.”

Ed hummed thoughtfully in response. “Well, I don’t have anywhere to be, so I’ll wait with you. Do you want to meet up here tomorrow, too?”

“Yeah, but can we start an hour earlier than today?”

“Sure, don’t see why not. But in exchange, I have just one piece of homework for you.”

“Homework?” Izuku blinked. “What kind of homework?”

“It’s a question. Remember this: all is one, and one is all — what does that mean? If you can figure out the answer to this question, then I’ll help you with alchemy for as long as you want.”

Just one riddle, then. Izuku could probably do that. “R-really?”

“Really.”

Inko did fret over her son’s slightly ruffled look when she picked him up, but seeing as he was unscathed, she bought into his excuse that he’d been running around with his new friend. She even approved of Ed, who had kept an eye on Izuku when she was slightly late in picking him up because of a few closed sidewalks.

It had been some arbitrary villain attack, nothing too dangerous. Just annoying.

The moment Izuku got home and settled into his room, he practiced his circles like Ed recommended, and even remembered to bring some of his drawings to their meeting the next day.

“These are getting better,” Ed said approvingly when he looked them over, and Izuku’s heart soared. “That’s a lot of improvement for just one day’s work, actually. You almost remind me of me…” He shook his head. “Anyway, since we have more time today, I think we should move to the park. The back of the library isn’t really the ideal place to practice.”

In the second day’s session of studying and sparring, Izuku learned that Ed had definitely been holding back and intentionally refrained from inflicting any harm on him the day before. With the lusher grass of the park to cushion falls and more time to work with, Ed began counterattacking instead of just defending and deflecting.

Izuku lunged directly at him and was dodged by an easy pivot on one foot — when he tried it again, Ed repeated his actions again too, letting Izuku’s own momentum trip him up and propel him past his target. ( This “just jump straight at them” kind of tactic was somewhat inspired by Bakugou’s way of doing things, but of course it didn’t work for Izuku, who didn’t have an explosion quirk that expanded his range beyond just his fingertips. )

“Equivalent exchange is key and cannot be violated if you want to be able to perform alchemy without harm,” Ed said, casually straightening. He clearly wasn’t even winded. “The law of equivalency is supported by the laws of conservation of mass and natural providence, which — hey, what’s the holdup? C’mon, Izuku, try again. You can’t be tired already.”

Truthfully, he was tired already, but he wouldn’t let that stop him. Izuku chewed on his lip for a moment, trying to think, and then lurched forward again, clenching his fist as though aiming for another direct swing. Just as Ed began to pivot away from the predictable move, though, Izuku stuck out his leg, catching his foot on Ed’s shin and using that as a grounding point for his own pivot, grabbing a fistful of Ed’s shirt to help him whirl around and wrap his arms around Ed’s sides—

But just as quickly as the plan started, it stopped, and Izuku hesitated, unsure of what to do next. Ed promptly took advantage of the pause and wrenched himself free, dropping the younger boy into the soft grass.

In doing so, however, his pant leg rode up several centimeters, and Izuku’s position on the ground gave him a better vantage point to glimpse the metallic flash of steel instead of flesh. Izuku froze, eyes wide.

( What was that? Was Ed a robot? )

“What?” Ed asked, following Izuku’s gaze to his leg but seeing nothing out of the ordinary, since his pant leg had fallen back down.

Izuku glanced up at Ed’s face, and then back to Ed’s pant leg, his mouth opening and closing without words. He didn’t even know where to begin, so he was a little stuck there, laying speechless on the ground.

Thankfully, Ed seemed to catch on. “Oh,” he said, and hiked up his pants so Izuku could see the metal gleaming on his left leg and the skin of his right leg. “You noticed this thing? Yeah, I lost my left leg in an… accident. It’s automail now.”

“What’s automail? I didn’t even notice it wasn’t real!” Izuku burst out, and then slapped his hands over his mouth in horror at his own lack of tact. “Sorry! I didn’t mean it that way.”

Ed only snickered, though. “From what I’ve seen, automail’s a lot more advanced than any other prosthetics you have around here. It’s mechanical and hooks directly to the nerves, so it’s a lot more mobile than you’d expect.”

“That’s so cool,” Izuku gushed, pushing himself up into a sitting position. “I’ve never heard of automail before.”

“It’s really obscure here, but it’s actually pretty common where I come from.”

“Where are you from?”

An awkward pause hung between them, and then Ed said, “Uh, a place called Amestris — it’s a foreign land, very far away. I doubt you’ve heard of it.”

Indeed, Izuku had never heard of such a place. “Where is it on a globe? And why’d you leave?”

“Maybe I’ll tell you another day,” was Ed’s evasive reply, his expression taking on a slightly awkward smile before it settled into a more neutral expression. “We’ve still got some work to do. You had a good idea with your most reason attack, you just didn’t follow through very well.”

At the reminder of his failure, Izuku made a pitiful whining noise and tugged at a blade of grass. “I thought it’d work…” It had been based off a professional hero’s move, in theory. But then again, such things did depend having on a quirk.

Foiled by his quirklessness yet once more. Izuku drooped.

“It worked better than your previous attempts,” Ed pointed out. “Don’t worry about it. I was pretty awful at your age, too. You’re still clever, deciding to change up your style of attack like that.”

“I was trying to copy a pro hero,” Izuku confessed, getting back to his feet. “I just couldn’t because I’m… quirkless.”

Ed’s expression shifted, and if Izuku didn’t know any better he’d almost call it confusion. “Quirkless?” he echoed, features drawn in a slight scowl. “That’s the official term? Wow, sure sounds stupid. Forget that. You’re an alchemist, or one in training, anyway. Just because you have a Gate doesn’t make you any ‘less’ than anyone else.”

“A-a Gate? What’s that?”

“That’s another something to be explained later.” Ed frowned for a moment, seemingly distracted by his thoughts, before visibly shaking himself out of it. “Anyway, let’s keep going. I haven’t told you about arrays yet, and you haven’t landed an actual hit yet. Let’s try to fix that.”

After moving from the library to the park, scarcely a week passed when Ed moved their meetings to the polluted beach where other people’s trash stacked up high and excessive.

“Learning to maneuver in difficult terrain will help, and it’s like a more compact obstacle course,” Ed said to Izuku, who gaped at the mountain of junk. “And there’s a bunch of different kinds of material here, too, so it’ll eventually be good for different types of transmutations.”

“Isn’t it dangerous?” Izuku timidly approached the trash, poking at the old refrigerator at the base of the pile.

“Not if you’re careful,” Ed replied, which Izuku hoped meant that he’d be helping him out a little. “You’re not going to roll in it or anything, you’re going to use this as a way to train.”

“Um. How?”

Ed kicked at the sand and raised a brow when he uncovered a plate of metal. The trash had been piling up on the sand for a long time. “By cleaning up this beach. You know, getting all the trash in the dump where it belongs, instead of letting it just… get washed out there. It’d be nice to actually see the ocean clearly for once, instead of having this stuff in the way.”

“So… I’m gonna have to clean up all of it?” Izuku asked, staring pointedly at the trash that extended across the horizon.

“‘Course. Why do anything half-as… halfway?” Ed grinned. “It doesn’t have to be all at once, obviously. The heavier stuff can be saved for when you’re older. But for now it gives you something to do while you think about your homework.”

Izuku scrunched up his nose in confusion. “But I do my homework at home, and there’s no desk here.”

“Not homework from school, kid, my homework.”

“Oh, right.” All is one and one is all. Izuku had been thinking about the phrase ever since it was introduced to him, but he hadn’t been able to pick out an answer. The most he could come up with was something like the idea of a dozen eggs being a thing but also being so many separate eggs. Ed had only really snickered at that one, and Izuku wasn’t sure if he was even making sense to himself with that idea.

Seeming to detect Izuku’s line of thought, Ed chuckled. “Keep thinking, kid. I’m looking for one big answer, and you’ve still got a while to figure it out! But in the meantime, let’s start moving. We still have to clean up this beach.”

Despite what he said, though, the two of them still spent an inordinate amount of time running after each other in the maze of trash, carefree, instead of actually picking up trash. It took a while for Izuku to adjust to the unsteady ground that often fell apart whenever he shifted his weight, but he adapted pretty quickly.

Izuku wouldn’t have been surprised if that had been Ed’s plan to begin with.

Izuku had barely managed to clean up a few square meters of trash in the following day, which frustrated him somewhat. He had to skip over the heavier items, which tended to be the things that took up the most space, too.

This kind of work held a bit of risk simply by virtue of what it was, but Ed was a diligent overseer and made sure Izuku didn’t accidentally step on glass or grab dangerous handholds or the like. He taught him to be more observant in doing so, too, pushing him to pay attention to details and make quick decisions.

The next day, Izuku made a little more progress. He became more efficient with every day that passed, steadily clearing out more and more of the junk.

On the other hand, he wasn’t really making much process in terms of the riddle.

“It’s got very little to do with plural and singular words,” Ed said wryly, shooting down yet another one of Izuku’s guesses.

Izuku pouted but continued to slowly roll the tire away from the waterline. He noticed that Ed seemed to like standing closer to the water, and when he wasn’t overseeing Izuku’s work with a hawk’s eye, he had his gaze turned wistfully to the distance, half awed and half sorrowful.

Later, when Izuku plopped down on a discarded plastic chair for a break, he asked, “Have you ever been to a beach before?”

“Amestris was landlocked,” Ed said, leaning over to dip his hands below the lapping shallows. “We didn’t really have any big bodies of water. I’ve seen the shore every now and then since arriving here, but I haven’t actually stayed at a beach for an extended time. And this one doesn’t really look like all those tourist photos.” He gestured at the mountainous piles of garbage to demonstrate his point.

“Is that why you want me to clean all this up?” Izuku asked, hopping off of his chair to stomp around in the shallowest part of the shoreline. He would’ve gone deeper, but he didn’t want to get his shoes too wet, and he couldn’t take off his shoes when the sand still might conceal sharp shards of something dangerous.

Ed, who seemed to care much less about his shoes and continued to amble further into the water, snorted. “Community service is important. It lets you be a hero without anyone being in danger.”

Which wasn’t a no, technically. Izuku giggled. “You shouldn’t go too far out, though! Mom says that the currents and stuff get really strong, and you gotta be a really strong swimmer to get out of them.”

“That so?” Ed cast a considering look towards the waves. After a moment, he shrugged. “I shouldn’t be out here so much, anyway. Winry might never forgive me.”

“Winry?” Izuku echoed, confused.

Ed paused for a moment, and then smiled. “My mechanic. She knows everything there is to know about automail.”

“Did she make your leg, then?” Izuku’s eyes widened with wonder.

“Yup. She also made my a— the older versions of my leg, too.” He laughed. “She’d probably kill me if she knew I was dunking this thing in saltwater.”

“Because salt makes metal rust more, right?”

“That’s right.”

“Why not just transmute it back to normal afterwards?”

Ed made a face. “She hated it when I transmuted her automail, said I never really got it right when I turned it back. And it’s true, there are a lot of little pieces that I don’t enough about, and I might mess one of them up accidentally. ‘Sides, I’ve told you before, haven’t I?”

“No relying on alchemy,” Izuku recited confidently. “Even though it’s really cool. Even if your friend accidentally gets dragged out to sea and is about to get attacked by a shark?”

A grin cracked Ed’s expression. “From what I’ve read, a shark attack isn’t likely, and even if it did happen, you probably wouldn’t be able to get the circle done in time to help,” he said.

Even when Izuku went back to hauling trash off the beach, his mind lingered on the thought. What Ed did get caught in one of those currents, and what if a shark or some other underwater predator did get to Ed? Maybe if he was lucky, it’d bite his automail leg and decide he wasn’t something to eat. But if it bit the wrong leg, or one of his arms, then that’d be much worse.

Izuku carefully used a box to scoop up some sand that was littered with glimmering glass shards, careful not to actually touch any of them himself. “And then he’d be eaten,” he mumbled under his breath as he hefted the box and began to walk towards the dump, unaware of Ed’s raised brow at his words. “And then it’d maybe choke on his leg and die, and maybe something else would eat that.”

Huh. The ocean was big enough that maybe things would just keep eating each other. If any of them ever stopped eating, then they’d die and maybe ruin the line. If one part of the line vanished, then that’d definitely ruin the line, and then the whole thing would fall apart. So they had to be there, even if the only thing they did was eat and be eaten.

It was like — the individual was important even though the individual was also too tiny to make a direct impact on its own. As part of a bigger thing, though, like a whole, then it was really vital.

Just one was still a part of the… all.

Oh.

Izuku threw the box into the proper disposal area and then ran back, shouting, “Ed, I figured it out! ‘One’ is just one person like you or me, but ‘all’ is the whole world!”

Chapter Text

The first time Izuku constructed his own transmutation circle with the intention of activating it, Ed checked his work carefully. He did this odd little thing where he put his hands together before touching the circle to examine it, which Izuku didn’t have the time to question; he was too terrified about the idea of activating the transmutation, even after Ed gave him the go-ahead. What if he couldn’t do alchemy after all and all of this was for nothing? What if something went wrong and it rebounded?

“You’re constructing a mud figure, stop worrying,” Ed said, cutting off Izuku’s subconscious worried muttering with a flick to the forehead. “Hey, even if it does rebound, which it won’t because you have plenty of mud and the circle is balanced, I’ll step in to intervene and nothing bad will happen, alright?”

Izuku stared at him with wide eyes. “Promise?”

“Yeah, yeah, I promise. Now hurry up, we don’t have all day!”

With a deep breath, Izuku readied himself and reached for the circle in the dirt, pressing his fingers lightly against the edge.

A moment passed in silence, and then the circle hums and lights up a pale blue, energy crackling over the lines, flickers of lightning-like power illuminating Izuku’s face. Mud shuddered apart, disassembled by the transmutation and painstakingly pieced back together bit by bit, coalescing into a lump that proceeded to mold itself into the vague shape of a person, and then the circle’s light hushed and the mud stilled.

Izuku’s mouth hung partly open, eyes wide and bright with excitement. “I did it!” He lurched to the side to hug Ed, and then broke away to bounce around his mud figure. “I did it, look!”

“I’m looking,” Ed said, wry. He was smirking, though, clearly pleased. “You did. Not exactly the most solid of constructions, but you did.” He reached over as though to poke the mud figure, and Izuku dove at him to stop it.

“Wait no don’t touch it yet! I want to take a photo first, before it falls over.”

“A photo?”

“Yeah! To always remember my first ever transmutation!”

And so he did, with his excited face in one corner and Ed’s pretend-exasperated face in another and the mud figure slowly leaning over in the middle.

About another month passed, throughout which Ed and Izuku settled into a rhythm of meeting after school every other day for several hours at a time, before Ed and Inko actually sat down to talk to each other for an extended time. Ed had walked Izuku home and Inko had invited him in for dinner in return. Technically, Izuku was supposed to be washing his hands, but he couldn’t help but pause around the corner to listen in on the conversation.

“—emy, but you’re teaching him to fight, too?” his mom asked.

“Training the mind comes hand in hand with training the body,” Ed replied. “I am teaching him alchemy, first and foremost, but that means nothing if he can’t control the energy he puts into it. Physical training helps with that regulation. And, either way, Izuku needs to know self-defense for the future. You know what he wants to become, right?”

“A hero, yes… but he’s quirkless, Edward.” Inko’s voice lowered, barely loud enough for Izuku to hear. He understood well enough, though, and his gaze dropped to his socked feet, tears in his eyes as his mother continued in a hushed but still discernable voice, “No hero’s ever been quirkless. It’s dangerous.”

But Ed didn’t waver. “He’s not quirkless, he’s an alchemist. And if he has to be the first heroic alchemist in this Truth-forsaken world, then so be it.”

Then so be it.

Izuku abandoned his hiding spot and rushed to the bathroom, barely managing to stifle his sobs before the door clicked shut. There, he crouched down and buried his face in his hands and cried.

He wasn’t  sad — no, he was happy, he was just so, so happy.

Ed thought he could do it. Ed said he could become a hero, even without a quirk.

Nobody else ever had.

Izuku had always been the quiet meekness in contrast to Bakugou’s explosive assertion, but one day when they were both nine years old and Izuku’s steps echoed his slowly growing conviction, something shifted in their dynamic.

Bakugou snapped at Izuku over something small as always, and Izuku ducked his head as always, averting his gaze and stepping back, knowing that he couldn’t fight back against Kacchan of all people.

Except then Bakugou spouted something about the uselessness of alchemy and of all those who would dedicate their lives to the art, and in Izuku’s mind he saw Ed’s smirk and the warm hand that had guided his own for years, encouraging him when no one else bothered. And as Izuku flattened his hand against his desk to stop himself from clenching them into frustrated fists, a finger pressed against a circle he’d mindlessly sketched onto his notes, and the paper thrummed to life at the touch.

Something charged the air and Bakugou reflexively pulled back just in time to avoid the paper spear suddenly erupting from the pages. Its tip is blunt and it’s no stronger than any other piece of origami, but it’s still retaliation.

It’s still too much.

“What the fuck,” Bakugou said ( he was the only one who dared to swear at age nine, and the only one who got away with it, too ). Sparks erupted in his hands to set the paper aflame.

Abruptly terrified, Izuku cringed, pulling in on himself. His accidental attack withered, turning to ash in seconds. The fire alarm didn’t even go off. He quickly grabbed his notebook, not bothering to brush the soot off of it before stuffing it in his bag, his mouth opening before he knew it and babbling something about how he had to go now, bye, no time to stick around—

Bakugou grabbed him by the arm, and Izuku squeaked in terror despite himself. He could feel the smoldering heat of his once-friend’s quirk seeping into his skin, almost hot enough to hurt. “K-Kacchan…”

“What was that?” Bakugou snarled, shaking him. “Huh, Deku? What was that?”

“I-it’s ju — it’s just alchemy, it was an accident, Kacchan, let go, p-please,” Izuku whimpered, trying to tug himself free with no avail.

One of Bakugou’s underlings made an unimpressed noise. “Of course it’s alchemy, did you see how weak it was?” he mumbled, and Bakugou twitched.

“Hardly useful for anything,” another one agreed, and Izuku felt something like hope die a little in his chest.

Bakugou gritted his teeth and shoved Izuku away, causing him to stumble to his knees not even a meter a way, before yelling something that Izuku entirely missed over the ringing of his ears. ( Something about how useless he was and to never try that again, he assumed. ) Panic rose in his ears with a staticky haze, so he squeezed his eyes shut in an attempt to block it all out.

A few minutes passed before Izuku mustered the will to come out of his shell, at which point it became clear that Bakugou and his underlings had cleared out of the area. He didn’t know if he should be relieved or disappointed in himself, in that he had not truly fought back but also had managed to get out of the situation with minimal abrasions. In the end, the only thing he could do was tug a little harder on his backpack’s straps and hurry home, wiping away tears into his sleeves.

His mother hovered worriedly over the red mark on his arm, but he stammered out a vague excuse that didn’t involve Bakugou, and she accepted it as truth. Izuku bit his lips and hoped his guilt didn’t show on his face. By the time he met up with Ed the next day, it had healed enough to be unnoticeable, so Ed didn’t comment and didn’t lighten up during training, either.

( He did, however, ruffle Izuku’s hair more than usual, so maybe he had noticed that something was off after all. )

When Izuku went to class, though, it became clear that he had not been forgiven. A teacher pulled him aside to lecture him about the dangers of alchemy, and reiterated that he was forbidden from using it in class. They would let him off the hook this time, because it was an accident, but next time he would be punished the next time it happened.

( Quirks weren’t supposed to be used in class either, but that had never stopped anyone before. That had never been enough reason for teachers to actually stop them. )

Perhaps the worst of it is that Bakugou cut him off. He’d once tolerated Izuku tagging along in his adventures even after Izuku was clearly quirkless, maybe because it was so easy to wrestle him into doing whatever he and his other friends wanted.

Now, however, any attempt to follow them was met with brandished quirks and Bakugou’s shout of, “Go somewhere else, Deku, the Bakugou Hero Agency works with heroes, not quirkless people like you!”

It hurt him. It hurt more than any other barb that’d been thrown his way.

Izuku ran back home with tears staining his cheeks.

“In a few years, I’m going to apply to U.A. High,” Izuku said, eleven years old and nearing twelve.

Ed chuffed out a snort laugh. “That’s the super selective school that spits out all those top heroes, right? Hell yeah. And you’ll definitely get in — there’s no way they could possibly reject you.”

They were laying on their backs in the grass, the summer heat rolling thick and honeyed over them as they caught their breaths. All around them, the dirt had been torn up and scuffled, but they looked as peaceful as could be.

Izuku smiled towards the sky, closing his eyes against the glare of the sun. Ed’s encouragement burned warm in his chest, kindling his excitement.

“I could fail the writing portion just to spite you,” he offered casually, and then proceeded to roll away from Ed and the arm he’d swept towards him in a lazy attack. Coming to a stop a meter or so away, he whined, “Hey! Ed!”

“Don’t spite me, I’ve been very helpful,” Ed said indignantly, sitting up a little. His golden eyes hardened for a moment, something sharp lurking in his gaze. “Spite everyone who thinks they have something you don’t. Let them laugh at you, and then laugh back as you kick their asses.”

“Mom says that’s a bad word and that you shouldn’t say it,” Izuku reminded chirpily, because as careful as Ed used to be in his first few encounters with the Midoriya family, it was impossible to hide his compulsive urge to swear for very long.

Ed’s stare softened with humor, and he muttered something under his breath about Izuku sounding like Al, and Izuku’s grin faltered just a little.

In his years of knowing Ed — who had somehow failed to be affected by the passing of time — Izuku came to the realization that Ed had lived a very different history from the rest of the world. He referenced events that never happened, and seemed momentarily puzzled at events that had. The places he talked about were never marked on any map.

Sometimes he talked about his brother, or his mechanic, but always wistfully. As though they were out of reach. Like it was a distance that couldn’t be bridged by plane or boat or car.

( Like that was one piece of the puzzle, and the others were Ed’s leg and his reluctance to actually use alchemy. )

Izuku had never known what to do with this revelation.

Ed’s voice broke him out of his reverie. “What’s up, kid? You’re suspiciously quiet over there.”

Biting the side of his cheek, Izuku replied with an innocent, “Nothing!” He did have a finger in the dirt, though, pushing aside grass to trace out the beginnings of a circle.

“You liar,” Ed said as alchemical light flashes under Izuku’s hand. He jumped to his feet as a row of miniature earth spikes rise up to attack him, dodging with ease.

Izuku scrambled to his feet just in time to dive out of the way of Ed’s retaliating tackle. “You missed!”

What ensued next was not one of Ed’s many lecture-spars but something that strayed much closer to a game of tag, with Izuku laughing as he took off across the field, sprinting away from his teacher, veering at abrupt angles whenever Ed seemed to come too close.

It didn’t last too long, as Ed was way too good at this game and managed to catch the back of Izuku’s shirt in the middle of a turn, jerking him off balance so that he’d fall back against Ed and cause them both to tumble down.

“Gotcha,” he said, even though Izuku was technically the one laying on him and thus pinning him down.

“Gotcha,” Izuku mocked, making half an effort to get up before letting himself plop again.

His teacher wheezed at the impact, and then shoved his shoulder good-naturedly. “You’re getting too big for a harmless body slam, kid. Get off!”

Izuku sat there for a moment more, pretending to deliberate, but when Ed tensed as though to spring, Izuku quickly scooted off. He’d experienced being dislodged from Ed by a sudden lurch before, and it hadn’t been fun.

This time, Ed visibly relaxed once Izuku’s off of him. “You’re such a chicken,” he teased, to which Izuku puffed up his cheeks in indignation.

“Am not!”

“Are too.”

“Ed! No I’m not!”

“Alright, alright, you used to be,” Ed amended, standing and brushing some stray dirt from his clothes. “And look at you now, talking back to me like a brat.”

“You’re a meanie,” Izuku said, but exchanged a smile with his teacher nonetheless. “A big meanie.”

“Got that right.” Stuffing a hand into his pocket, Ed stilled for a moment. “Hey, for that entrance exam, do you know if you’re allowed to bring in anything?”

Izuku blinked, surprised by the question. He did know the answer, though; he’d researched U.A. and its exams quite thoroughly. “You are allowed to bring equipment for the practical portion, but you’ve gotta get them cleared first. They’re pretty strict, but I think I’ll try to get a few markers through to make circles with.”

“Try to draw the matrices on your hand before it even starts, if you have the chance,” Ed said, withdrawing his hand from his pocket and putting a hand to his chin in thought. “That way you won’t have to worry about it. Most alchemists tattoo their circles on themselves.”

And that was another discrepancy between what Izuku knew and what Ed remembered. Izuku was aware that most alchemists were rather quiet about their line of work, preferring to go unnoticed rather than endure public ridicule, so they definitely wouldn’t have had circles tattooed on them visibly. And they wouldn’t need alchemy often enough to want them tattooed anywhere else, either.

“Oh,” was all Izuku said. He looked at his hands. “I think I’ll stick with marker, so it’s easy to wash off and use a different circle later. You don’t have any transmutation tattoos, do you?”

Ed shrugged. Izuku knew that Ed did have a symbol on his shoulder, one that depicts a snake curling over a cross with detached wings and a crown, but that’s it. “Nah. Never needed one.”

“Did… you use a permanent marker instead?” Izuku asked, puzzled.

“Nope.”

Izuku waited for an explanation. Ed rolled his eyes and elbowed him lightly, and in the end Izuku never did get a response, because they winded up chasing each other and sparring all over again.

When the teacher announced that Izuku planned on applying to U.A. just like Bakugou, he didn’t flinch at the stares and belittlement turned his way.

He did jump out of his seat when Bakugou slammed an explosion against the surface of his desk, though, and only when Izuku found his back to the wall just minutes after class had ended, with the teacher and most students out of the classroom, did he lower his head.

That wasn’t enough for Bakugou, though. “How dare you,” he spat, smoke curling off his palms menacingly. “Hey, Deku, do you know what the best heroes have in common about their background?”

Izuku glanced up at Bakugou and before averting his gaze again. His fingers itched, but he kept them loosely curled against the wall.

“For all of them — they were the only student to get into U.A. from their school,” Bakugou said. “I won’t have you ruining that for me, Deku. Don’t apply, you damn nerd. Go somewhere else. You hear me? You wouldn’t get in anyway!”

“Okay,” Izuku said. He was tired of trying to muster the courage to argue back. He’d never win on that front. That didn’t mean he’d just do as he was told, though.

Bakugou’s eyes narrowed. He clearly didn’t buy the easy acquiescence, he was too smart for that. “Useless,” he sneered. “The only way you’d get into U.A. is if you threw yourself off the roof and scored yourself a decent quirk in your next life.”

Izuku bit his tongue so hard he could taste blood, anger and frustration roiling up his throat in the face of his friend’s unfriendly suggestion. It must’ve shown on his expression, because Bakugou smirked at him and raised a hand, explosions crackling and popping around his fingers.

“Well, Deku?”

Breathe. Izuku steadied himself, leaning against the wall in an attempt to physically ground himself to the present. He didn’t dare let himself speak, in fear that his emotions would eat him alive and a tongue too sharp would land him in trouble. He didn’t want to deal with burns today, he had to meet up with Ed in thirty minutes.

Wordlessly, Izuku shoved his notebooks into his bag with force that might’ve been just a little unnecessary, and slung it over his back.

Bakugou was unsatisfied. “Are you ignoring me?”

“No,” Izuku said, eyeing the exit. “I heard you and I understand, Kacchan, but I have to go.” How long would it take for him to sprint out, and how long would it take for Bakugou and his underlings to reach it? He was probably faster than them… unless they used their quirks.

His alchemy notes made his bag so much heavier than it needed to be. He was glad that they were safely tucked away there instead of being exposed to Bakugou’s destructive temper, though.

“Don’t get self-important now, bastard,” Bakugou jeered, and gave a final display of his quirk by flashily exploding his hands before stomping off.

Izuku waited several minutes before he headed out of the classroom as well, just to ensure that they wouldn’t run into each other in the hallways. He didn’t want to deal with another encounter. One a day was enough for him.

He didn’t head directly home, but walked towards the park instead. He had a study session with Ed to tend to.

( And that was why he was neither ambushed in a tunnel nor lectured on the rooftop. Unfortunately, without a victim to focus on, the villain moved on more quickly… and located another. )

Ed seemed distracted, though. They’d just barely started sparring when Ed’s lecturing trailed to a halt, his focus clearly elsewhere — in the end, he ended up letting Izuku go much earlier than normal.

“Sorry,” Ed said. “I need to check on something.”

“The thing you’ve been researching?” Izuku asked, because he’d known that Ed was working on some kind of project for a long time. He didn’t know what it was about, only that it was difficult enough to span the entirety of his time knowing Ed.

“Yeah, that. I might’ve found something that would help me… Practice on your own today, I need to work out the kinks in this theory.”

So, thankfully, Izuku was free to wander. He skimmed his alchemy notes a few times as he walked around, but soon took his nose out of the book when he caught wind of a villain attack.

“A middle schooler was taken hostage,” someone said in passing, and Izuku immediately perked up, checking his phone as he adjusted his route. Attacks were often reported much more quickly on social media than on official news channels, so it was easy to find the location.

He did still keep track of hero activity, even if he didn’t have a quirk like they did. It was still inspiring, although he didn’t always have time to see fights in person, so being able to stick his nose in this one would was a treat.

Izuku arrived within minutes. Once he squeezed his way to the front of the crowd, however, his excited enthusiasm plummeted — because it was clear that the pros did not have this situation under control. Buildings were burning down and some sort of disgusting sludge creature was swamped around an oddly familiar flash of ash blond. The immediate area looked ravaged, and the onlookers were a good distance away.

Shocked, Izuku looked around. He could see some pros nearby, but they weren’t advancing. Why?

“It looks like it’s getting bad,” one of the bystanders said, and Izuku bit his lip as he looked towards the familiar figure — the familiar face, halfway covered by sludge and consumed by a foreign expression.

“The situation hasn’t changed in a while,” another murmured.

( Fear. The expression was fear. )

Why weren’t the pros doing anything? There was a middle schooler there, but none of them were stepping in.

Another explosion crackled through the air and a building caved under its force, groaning. Izuku couldn’t tear his eyes away from the ghastly sight.

The familiar face turned in his direction, brows high and eyes wide and the villain’s mouth fell open in a victorious scream as the student was sucked deeper into the sludge, straining, it was Bakugou and he was terrified and in trouble and he needed help!

Izuku dropped his bag and tore it open, grabbing a marker and biting the cap off, spitting it to the side as he got to his feet and ran, pressing the marker’s tip against his other hand’s palm as he shouted, “Hey, villain!”

Beady eyes turned his way and the heroes cried out, suddenly surging into action to stop him ( why didn’t they move sooner? ) but they were too far and Izuku didn’t need their belated help anyway.

He dropped his marker and clapped his hands together for luck before slamming his marked hand against the ground, the rushed circle of ink shrieking to life, and the road surged up, spikes impaling the villain’s slimey hands to dissipate them.

Izuku hadn’t wanted to actually hit the biggest lump of sludge directly, in fear of striking Bakugou, but despite the impressive start it was clear that he wasn’t actually hurting the villain.

The splattered remains of the villain’s arms simply seeped back to the main body and reformed into arms again and goddammit why did this guy have to be amorphous?

At least the shock managed to free Bakugou’s mouth, and from the way he was hacking and sputtering, that was a good thing. He probably hadn’t been able to breathe while trapped like that. Izuku barely heard the hoarse wheeze of “Deku?” as he quickly rolled out of the way of a punch from those newly reformed hands. “What… why’re you here?”

“Because — because you needed help!” Izuku yelled, finishing his roll, and that would’ve been fine as a dodge, except when the villain’s fist hit the ground, it exploded. The force sent Izuku flying back, and clearly that had not been one of his best ideas, he was going to die here like a complete idiot—

His back hit something warm that curved around him and suddenly he was on the ground again, his feet planted solidly on the earth, and the warmth was retreating.

A voice boomed above him, and Izuku jerked his head up to stare as the voice he’d only ever heard on the other side of the screen called out, “It’s alright now. Why? Because I am here!”

And all of Izuku’s excited enthusiasm rushed back to him in a wave of relief, and he laughed and laughed and had to sit down as All Might — the All Might — rushed into battle. The number one hero demolished the sludge villain with a single punch, a strike so powerful that it tore open the skies caused it to weep, raindrops splattering against the city.

“Hey, kid,” a hero called, approaching. Izuku recognized him as Kamui Woods. He had a blanket, and was draping it over Izuku’s shoulders. “You alright?”

He was probably worried about Izuku’s outburst of laughter, which had since died down, thankfully. Izuku was still breathing quite heavily, though, and the remnants of mirth burned in his throat. “I’m fine,” he reassured, taking a deep breath before shaking himself. “Just a little…”

“Awed?” Death Arms prompted, and Izuku allowed himself a nod. “All Might inspires that in a lot of people. But you, kid, that was something else.”

“It was very brave of you to step in,” Kamui Woods said, and while Death Arms seemed to reluctantly agree, Izuku was still a little too stunned to properly accept the compliment. “What kind of quirk was that? Earth manipulation? It was really something else.”

“Oh,” Izuku said, suddenly snapped back to reality, “I’m… I don’t have a — I mean, it wasn’t.” He made a vague gesture, the words bubbling up automatically and tripping over each other. “I-it was alchemy.”

Immediately, he realized he’d made a mistake. The mood twisted, and the heroes seemed to lurch back as though stung. The smiles he saw promptly dropped into frowns and pursed lips.

“You’re quirkless?” Death Arms said, and Izuku flinched as the hero grabbed his hand, turning it to reveal the transmutation circle scrawled there. “You shouldn’t have run out like that, then!”

“I-I know, I’m—”

“That was dangerous! You could’ve gotten yourself and others hurt!”

“I’m sorry.”

( Izuku wished he could have told them it was a quirk. )

( He never noticed the grateful and contemplative glances All Might cast his way. )

Chapter Text

Izuku didn’t wanted to disturb Ed’s research, since he knew it was important to him, but he ended up calling him after dinner anyway. Thankfully, Ed picked up and wasn’t too occupied.

Apparently the theory he’d canceled their study session for was a bust, but then he quickly switched topics and asked him what was wrong.

After explaining the incident with the sludge villain and its aftermath, Izuku said, “The pros thought it was a quirk.” Upset colored his tone despite his attempts to conceal it, and his hand tightened around the pencil in his hand. “Even though my attack didn’t really work, the pro heroes still praised me afterward… but then…”

“But then they saw the transmutation circle,” Ed said, his voice level.

“I told them, actually,” Izuku confessed.

“And once they realized it wasn’t the work of a ‘quirk’ but instead an alchemical reaction, they scolded you.”

“They said I was foolish and rash and should’ve left it to the pros to handle.” Izuku squeezed his eyes shut. “But they weren’t doing anything about it, Ed! They were just standing there, and Kacchan, he… he looked afraid. I’d never seen him look afraid. I had to help.”

There was silence on the other end of the line, and then a burst of static as Ed exhaled. “Jeez.” He sounded faintly amused and revolted all at once. “Imagine that, someone actually trying to stop an alchemist from helping out… You know you did the right thing, Izuku.”

“Doesn’t feel like it.”

“That’s how it is in the beginning. You just have to prove all of them wrong by becoming the best damn hero to ever exist, got it? ‘Alchemist, be thou for the people.’ You did what was right.” A pause. “Sorry I wasn’t there with you.”

“No, it’s okay. I understand,” Izuku reassured. “I just… if. If it wouldn’t be too much trouble, do you think we could meet up every day instead of every other day?”

“Every day? Maybe. Why?”

“I need to get better.” Izuku clenched his fist. “I need to get stronger to be that best hero. I’m… not moving quickly enough right now.”

“Heh. Of course you’d feel that way — sure, let’s step it up. How about six days a week, with a Friday rest day? I still need to do my own research, you know.”

Something in Izuku’s chest felt lighter, like a piece of paper smoothed out after it’d been crumpled up and stepped on. “That sounds great! Thanks, Ed.”

“No problem, kiddo.”

Nobody really thought much of the kid who’d been called out for muttering under his breath. His existence was met with little more than snickers stifled behind hands, and then he was promptly forgotten in favor of the exam at hand.

The other students really should not have brushed him off so easily.

Izuku smiled grimly, the circles on his shoes sparking to life. Something like excitement clashed against fear as a robot turned the corner and glared at him with a red lens eye, but even when he hesitated, uncertain of his ability to take the machine down on his own, he had no need to move.

Light flashed and the asphalt road caved to his will, surging up to obey his bidding, mounting an attack of spikes on the robot. The one-pointer shattered with a screech, joints creaking as the spikes tore it apart.

“Nice,” Izuku murmured, half under his breath, and looked up. The participants hadn’t been told how many robots there were or where they would be, so the best place to obtain that information would be from a higher vantage point. Like a roof.

He hurried to the side of the nearest building and slapped his hands against it, the ink on his palms flashing blue before a ladder carved itself out of the wall. Izuku scaled it quickly and surveyed the surrounding area; it was easy to pick out where the action was taking place, as the areas were marked with smoke clouds and the sound of muffled explosions.

Picking out the closest concentration of yelling and crashing noises, Izuku focused on the circles engraved into his shoes and the way they met the roof. The material rippled at the blaze of alchemical light that erupted from the contact before seeming to melt away a little, forming a long slope towards the commotion.

Izuku took action before the transmutation was even complete, jumping on and sliding down the construction. It wobbled a little under his weight, having nothing beneath the decline of concrete to help hold it up, but it still remained in one piece for long enough to drop him off at a safe height.

He landed at the barest fringe of the fighting. When he geared up to run, however, a three-pointer robot suddenly barreled past with crippling force, toppling over with smoke rising from its body, and Izuku couldn’t help but freeze.

Within that brief moment, another participant appeared and chased down the wounded robot, destroying it quickly.

Izuku quickly shook himself out of his hesitation. In his mind’s eye, the time limit continued to tick down, each second slipping by too quickly to grasp. He gritted his teeth and ground his right foot into the road, the circle on his shoe searing against the concrete. A chain of spikes burst out and impaled the nearest robot — only another one-pointer — which stopped someone else in their tracks.

Having no time to process the incredulity of others, Izuku ran a little closer to the middle of the fighting, pausing every now and then to take out a few robots with the earthen spikes. His point count slowly grew; from two to five to six to eight to eleven, just a few at a time.

As he crushed another robot in a massive fist of transmuted concrete, exhaustion beginning to wear at his bones, he just hoped it would be enough.

Time was running short. There were only a few minutes left, now, and Izuku’s points hung in the balance at nineteen. From what he could hear of the others’ scores, that wasn’t anything to be proud of.

Izuku dodged a robot’s lunge and stomped his foot, which was kind of stupid because it jolted his leg rather harshly, but it did feel nice to trap the two-pointer in a pit before crushing it into oblivion.

And then he stumbled, feet dragging. Izuku grimaced as his vision swam, realizing that he might’ve gone a little overboard; it looked like he was starting to suffer from what Ed called an alchemical burnout — the sheer amount of transmutations he was doing was overloading his body with the energy tax. He’d been warned not to rely on alchemy, but how was he supposed to punch down a robot? If he kept going at the same pace, he might accidentally trigger a rebound.

But he didn’t know if twenty-one points were enough.

Izuku backed out of the way of another participant’s fight and tried to catch his breath. Maybe if he waited until the end, he’d have enough stamina for one more transmutation, and if he managed to round up a bunch of robots to get them all at once, then…

The battlefield shuddered, and the sun was blotted out.

Izuku jerked his head up at the sound of screams and crumbling buildings, and then had to look even higher up to see the head of the monstrous construction looming overhead, its many red lights blinking like beady eyes on its face.

“The zero-pointer,” Izuku whispered in realization, eyes wide. “That’s — that’s a little too big, isn’t it?”

Nobody answered him as the robot began moving towards them, mostly because they were too busy shoving past each other and running screaming in the opposite direction.

Izuku winced and forced himself to move, listing a little to the side but managing to stay on his feet. Their only choice was to run, really. As though being too massive to effectively deal with wasn’t enough, it didn’t even yield any points, either. And if Izuku couldn’t get to a decent amount of robots within a minute, he probably wouldn’t have time to boost his score, either.

Frustrated and feeling like a failure, Izuku turned around and.

And.

And heard someone’s should of alarm behind him, causing him to whirl around once more, scanning the ground for the source of the sound and quickly locating the blur of color among under a pile of broken grey stone, brown hair and pink cheeks and the robot’s wheels grinding asphalt to dust just a few meters away, closing in.

Fear yanked the breath from his lungs and before he knew what he was doing he was running close, crouching, palms skimming ground as though to wake the sleeping earth. The ground howled up at his touch; two massive hands peeled away from the road and crashed up against the massive zero-pointer, grasping at the robot’s shoulders and shoving it back, stopping its advance.

And still Izuku ran, his vision fizzling in and out of focus, but at least he could throw himself at the participant and slam his hands against the debris to remold it, alchemically shifting it until it no longer pinned the stranger down.

“Hold on,” he said, quickly helping the other stand. The transmuted arms would not last much longer — and neither would Izuku, his steps weak and his vision spotty.

He needed to transmute. He needed to propel himself with the other in tow and get out before the robot broke the lifeless stone arms.

He closed his eyes and activated the circles on his shoes.

Something felt. Wrong. The circles were off. Were they damaged?

Blue hissed over his feet, and Izuku flinched. The lightning flashed in and out of view, flickering, but for the first time in his experience it actually stung.

He’d already pushed it too far, but all he needed was this one last transmutation. The question was if he’d be able to pull off a strong enough effect, what with his inability to focus and the extra weight he was holding on to.

And then a strange tingle, foreign and unwilling, trickled through him and suddenly he weighed nothing and held what felt like nothing. He didn’t have time to process the feeling before the earth heeded the call of alchemy and snapped up, launching Izuku and his passenger into the air, propelling them across the street.

The last thing Izuku saw was the wall looming up in front of him before he blacked out.

He never even heard the call that time was up.

Izuku opened his eyes to a disorienting flurry of color. It took a moment for him to blink and resolve his vision until he could identify the loose circle of vaguely concerned-looking people around him. Groaning, he pushed himself up — the asphalt bit into his elbow, so he was still on the practical exam grounds.

It didn’t look like too long had passed since his passing out; a few minutes, at most.

There was an old lady staring at him, short but recognizable. Recovery Girl, Izuku realized. She was probably here to take of anyone’s injuries. Izuku wasn’t hurt, though, was he? He checked himself over for a bit, and while he felt sore and had various shallow scratches from the fighting, he wasn’t really wounded at all.

Ed’s sparring sessions must’ve paid off, even if he hadn’t actually punched out any robots.

“You’re unhurt, for the most part,” Recovery Girl said, which Izuku already knew. “I’d like to heal you up anyway just to make sure, but it looks like your biggest issue is that you’re out of energy, boy.”

Izuku shakily got to his feet and grimaced. His feel practically burned when he put weight on them, right where the circles were on the shoe soles. He’d definitely overdone it, and Ed was going to kill him once he learned what happened. “I know,” he said to the heroine. “I’ll be fine, really.”

She huffed at him but let him go after giving him a few gummies. He shrugged and popped the sweets into his mouth before looking around. Most of the other participants were milling about, having dispersed once it was clear that he’d woken up without drama.

One person remained close, though. It was the person he’d rescued. “Um, hi, I’m Uraraka Ochako. Are you okay?” she asked.

Izuku pinked a little at the question and ducked his head slightly. “A-ah, my name’s Midoriya Izuku. And yeah, I think I’m fine. What about you?”

She nodded. “Recovery Girl already cleared me, I don’t have a scratch! Thanks for saving me back there.”

“It was nothing,” Izuku quickly reassured. He soon frowned, though, and rubbed at his brow. “For some reason, I don’t really remember how we got out of there? I think I overshot, somehow.”

“Oh! That was because of my quirk,” she said. “I noticed you looked a little unsteady, so I made the both of us weightless to try and lighten your load. Sorry, I didn’t have time to warn you since your quirk activated so quickly—”

Izuku bit down on his tongue to stop himself from reflexively correcting her.

“—but it worked out! We kind of almost smashed into a building, and I think you passed out then, but I let go of my quirk just in time for us to crash into a crowd of people instead.” She laughed nervously. “They were pretty surprised, but they caught us, so it was better than crashing into a building, right? That would’ve been a pretty awful way to end the exam. Omens of bad luck, you know?”

“… Yeah.” Taking a moment to stretch, Izuku swallowed back a yawn. He was exhausted. Once he got home, he was going to sleep for an eternity. “Are we allowed to leave yet?”

“I think you just need to check out,” Uraraka replied.

She ended up accompanying him to the exit, likely because he looked like he was going to fall over at any moment. Izuku was sort of grateful but mostly embarrassed and flustered.

He managed to make it home on his own, though, and shed the dirty outermost layer of clothing before falling into bed face-first, pressing his face into his pillow.

( Only twenty-one points. )

He rolled to the side, sighed, and closed his eyes.

Unfortunately, Izuku wasn’t allowed to sleep for an eternity. He just slept until dinner, got up to eat, and then went back to sleep until his mom shook him awake for a late breakfast and ushered him out the door for his regular meeting with Ed.

Which Izuku had not been looking forward to and was right to dread. He’d barely gotten one sentence out before his teacher decided to attack him in retaliation.

With a frantic yelp, Izuku dove out of Ed’s reach and quickly rolled back to his feet, avoiding yet another kick directed his way. “Wait, Ed! I can explain!”

“You burned yourself out, what else is there to explain?” Ed lunged with another punch, forcing Izuku to remain on the defensive. “I told you not to rely on alchemy, didn’t I? Your transmutation could have rebounded!”

“I wasn’t planning on using it so much,” Izuku said, hurriedly blocking the punch and backing away. “They had robots, I can’t punch those!”

Ed didn’t relent, and in fact seemed to grow even more vicious with every avoided strike. “So you couldn’t have made yourself a weapon to help you with that, you idiot?”

“Giant robots, Ed, I’m serious.” Izuku wanted to continue, but then Ed struck his legs to knock him off-balance before pinning him to the ground, glaring above him.

“So am I. Don’t ever overdo it again, alright?”

Izuku coughed and half-heartedly shoved at Ed. “I promise, I won’t. I just panicked.”

Snorting, Ed released him and sat down in the grass, watching as Izuku collected himself and did the same. “I’m the most frightening damn thing here, and you don’t panic when I confront you.”

A huff. “The robot was larger than a building, Ed. It was much bigger than you, and much scarier,” Izuku informed.

Ed’s eyes narrowed. “Are you calling me short, kid?”

“I didn’t say that!” Izuku waved his hands in what he hoped was a convincing and disarming fashion; he’d learned the first time he brought up his teacher’s height that it was something of a sore spot. ( All he’d said back then was that it didn’t look like Ed had gotten any taller in the years they’d known each other… ) “It’s just that there were some really scary robots.”

“You’ve got nothing to fear from robots,” Ed drawled. “It’s actual people that you need to be careful with.”

“Actual people? Why?”

Ed shrugged. “You just have to be careful of more things. You can’t just destroy them like you would robots, for obvious reasons, so it’s harder to keep them out of the action. And people are generally much more cunning. I doubt those robots knew how to plan ambushes.”

So, basically, they were nothing like real villains. Izuku felt a little intimidated by the re-established enormity of his goal.

A light slap on the shoulder brought his focus back to Ed, who then proceeded to ruffle his hair. “Hey, there’s no reason to look so down. It’s not a one-step process, so you gotta take your time.”

“I screwed up, though,” Izuku pointed out, hunching his shoulders a little. “I don’t think I got enough points to pass, either. I’m pretty sure I did fine on the written portion, but that practical exam was terrible. Besides, fainting probably didn’t leave a good impression on the proctors.”

“Why should the proctors care? It’s not like they’re the ones giving you points, you’re the one going out and getting them.”

Izuku rubbed at his cheek with a thumb. “I don’t know, it’s just… The waiting is really making me doubt myself.”

“It’s just a week, you’ll be fine.” Ed rolled his eyes good-naturedly. “I can already tell you that you did fine. If you’re not accepted, it’s not because of your lack of ability.”

“That doesn’t make me feel any better,” Izuku protested. He didn’t want to contemplate the thought that they might reject him on the sole basis of him being an alchemist, no matter how well or how poorly he performed in the entrance exam.

Ed made a disbelieving noise and stuffed a hand into his pocket. As he withdrew his hand a moment later, fingers clenched around something with a trailing chain, he said, “Here, hold onto this for me.”

Puzzled, Izuku held out a hand. Ed set the item in the middle of his palm, and when he pulled his hand back, Izuku could see that it was some kind of metallic circular object with a symbol standing out from its surface. He touched it with his free hand, brows furrowed. “Is this a… pocket watch?”

“Yeah. And don’t try to open it, by the way, I sealed it,” Ed added, watching Izuku test the seam.

It really was sealed. Izuku looked back at Ed. “Why?”

“I want you to hold onto it as a reminder,” his teacher said. “So long as you’re on the way to becoming a hero, keep that watch with you. Stop letting other people distract you from what you’re entirely capable of doing.”

Izuku blinked, and then looked back at the watch heavy in his hand. A closer look revealed the design to be of some sort of lion or other beast entangled in lines, with leaves wreathing the bottom. It seemed somewhat worn, as though Ed had carried it for a long, long time.

Furling his fingers around the watch, Izuku nodded.

“I will,” he said, and Ed smiled with all his teeth.

A week came and went and the wait neared its end when Inko anxiously shoved a letter from U.A. into Izuku’s hands.

Izuku freaked out just a little bit, trembling as he hurried to his room and tore the envelope open at his desk with a little more force than strictly necessary.

What fell out was a slip of folded paper and an odd, disc-like device that beeped softly before lighting up. Izuku leaned back in his seat in shock as a projection flickered to life on his wall, starring the face of none other than the number one hero he’d only glimpsed at so long ago: All Might.

“What?” Izuku said, right over All Might’s staticky introduction of the projection. “What? Wait, isn’t this supposed to be a message from U.A.?” As far as he knew, All Might had nothing to do with the faculty of U.A., never mind the acceptance process. He was alumni, of course, as most top heroes were, but he’d never involved himself with the school after graduation.

Thankfully, his questions were soon laid to rest as the recording continued — which he barely processed, actually, because he was also mentally screaming in excitement at the prospect of All Might actually being a teacher — suddenly his want to get into U.A. redoubled, as did his nervousness, because if after all of this he hadn’t made it in after all…

“You, young boy,” said the recording, All Might’s voice reverberating throughout the room, “passed the writing exam quite well! Your mediocre score in terms of those points you got from busting the robots has pulled you down, however.”

Izuku cringed, his heart fluttering weakly in his throat. He clutched at the silver pocket watch, eyes watery.

“But, but! Stay tuned, young Midoriya, because villain points were not the only way we scored the practical!” All Might swept his arms wide in a grand gesture, his grin impeccable. “What kind of hero course would punish someone for acting to save another? Behold, the other half of the exam’s point system! Rescue points!”

“Rescue what?” Izuku’s fingers fell slack against the watch, eyes wide, rising out of his seat to put himself closer to the projection, as though to dispel any illusions.

“These points are given by a panel of judges behind the scenes! They watched you during the exam and have awarded your performance with forty-seven rescue points!”

An incredulous laugh bubbled up in Izuku’s throat as All Might announced his acceptance into U.A. High School. Once he calmed down and the projection shut itself off, Izuku grabbed the piece of paper and unfolded it.

There it was. The official letter of acceptance.

Izuku might have sobbed in relief.

“Mom! Mom, I made it! I did it! I’m going to U.A.!”

Chapter Text

Once the door opened, Izuku barrelled into the apartment in a frenzy. “The results of the entrance exam came in,” he burst out, and Ed blinked.

“About time,” he said, closing the door after Izuku before letting go of the handle. Then, flashing his pupil a grin, Ed prodded, “Well? What’s the result? ”

Mutely, Izuku simply handed over the acceptance letter in response.

Ed took the paper and scanned it for a moment, and then smirked widely at the news. A bit smugly, he said, “See? What’d I tell you?”

Izuku made an excited kind of noise and started pacing back and forth. “I still can’t believe it! It’s my dream school, and I-I can actually go!” He gesticulated wildly as he babbled. Meanwhile, Ed leaned leisurely against the wall a couple paces away, still looking quite proud of… Well. It was impossible to tell whether he was proud of himself or of Izuku. Maybe it was both. “I mean, I knew there wasn’t really anything standing in the way but I’d be the first alchemist and — and now I am the first alchemist to go to U.A.”

“Just like I told you.” Ed grinned. “And now you know not to doubt me.”

Izuku emerged from his fanboying state to pout at Ed. “I have many other reasons to doubt you,” he said, and got a notebook hurled at his face for the trouble. “Hey!”

Pushing himself off the wall, Ed handed the letter back to Izuku. “But don’t think that this means you’re off the hook for overdoing. We’re going to focus more on your physical skill from now until you actually attend that school.”

“Until then?” Izuku blinked. He knew physical stamina was directly linked to alchemical power, but… “Why not after?”

“I’m not saying we’ll actually stop working on self-defense, but it’s not like they can coach you in alchemical skill.” Ed barked out a laugh before crossing the room to a cluttered table. He pushed a few papers to the side before picking up a small bound book and tucking it into a pocket. “The only thing they can do is teach you how to fight, so they’d better do damn good job of it. Gives me less material to juggle.”

“More free time for you, then?” Izuku asked, knowing full well that Ed didn’t really take breaks. He just spent all of his extra time on whatever his longstanding research project was. In fact, the entirety his apartment, where they stood now, was absolutely covered in loose paper and books.

Izuku had tried reading some of them before, but they were all either incomplete or encrypted or scrawled in what looked to be a different language. Even the sketched matrices were too complex for Izuku to quickly understand.

“Your next school year will be my three-season break,” Ed said with a roll of his eyes. “Alright, let’s head out.”

Of course Bakugou had gotten into U.A. — Izuku was the surprise, but he let the school faculty pretend that it wasn’t hurtful to imply that. Both of them were congratulated for beating the odds after school. While Izuku found himself hating the conversation altogether because of how grating it felt to be treated as though alchemy was somehow a hinderance in his application process, he still would’ve preferred it over being left alone with Bakugou afterwards.

Once the talk was over, Izuku fled from the classroom as quickly as possible without seeming rude, but the other student remained hot on his tail. Despite his best attempts to hurry away, Bakugou caught him outside and shoved him against the wall, lips twisted in a snarl.

“You ruined it!” he roared, his fist smoking against the front of Izuku’s shirt. “I was supposed to be the first and only to reach U.A. from this middle school and you fucking ruined it! What kind of damn cheat did you use to get in, huh?”

Stiff with tension, Izuku only really half-heard Bakugou’s words. The rest of it was drowned out by the familiar hiss of panic, and no amount of it’s okay it’s okay it’s okay would shut it off. He was caught between the habit to check himself around Bakugou and the quiet voice reminding him that he had the means to defend himself.

That he could not bow his head forever, if he wanted to be at the top.

The silver pocket watch sat heavy in his pocket.

“Did you hear me, Deku?” Bakugou demanded, as Izuku wondered if the faded ink on his palm was intact enough to trigger a transmutation.

Better not to test it.

Better not to try transmuting against him again.

Izuku took a steadying breath, or as much as he could take one when Bakugou’s fist clenched at his shirt, and then bared his teeth in a smile. “I was accepted to U.A. on my own merit,” he said, barely managing to conquer the quaver in his throat. “After working long and hard for years, I earned my place there. Kacchan, I fought tooth and nail to get to where I am.” His voice rose in pitch and volume, but he didn’t care. “I heard you, but I don’t c-care anymore — I’m going to U.A no matter what, no matter whether or not you approve. I’m an alchemist. I’m going to become a hero.”

And when Bakugou’s clenched hand pressed harder, Izuku’s balance tipped and he retaliated, grabbing the hand and yanking himself away, stumbling but quickly re-establishing his balance.

He ran away before his once-friend could process what had just happened.

He ran, terrified of the words he’d let spill out from his heart.

Walking into classroom 1-A felt a little like walking into a dream.

Or, rather, a nightmare, considering the fact that he’d somehow ended up in the same class as Bakugou. And Iida, that one person from the entrance exam who’d called him out in the exam for muttering under his breath, but Izuku was frankly more terrified of his old friend than of this stranger. At least Iida seemed to respect him a little.

… It occurred to Izuku that maybe the respect was because he didn’t know that Izuku was an alchemist. His transmutation circles weren’t exactly the most obvious indicators, considering they were always hidden between his palm and the ground, and not everyone knew what alchemical light looked like. The chances of any classmate even being able to identify transmutation marks were close to nothing, if he was considering the situation realistically.

So until Bakugou inevitably opened his mouth about it, people would probably treat him normally, under the impression that his skills came from a quirk just like them.

That thought just made it worse, actually. Izuku shook his head to clear it away. It was fine. If they didn’t think he could pull anything off with alchemy, then he just had to take after Ed’s way of doing things and prove that he could.

And, of course, this determination was shortly followed by the appearance of class 1-A’s homeroom teacher, a pro hero named Aizawa that even Izuku didn’t immediately recognize. The teacher swiftly distributed everyone’s gym clothes and herded them all outside to the open grounds with the announcement that they were going to be testing their quirks.

Izuku was lucky he always had a marker within reach. He simply grabbed one from his bag’s outer pockets before everyone filed out of the classroom, clipped it to his pants, and hoped nobody would notice.

( Aizawa looked like he noticed, but he didn’t say anything, so Izuku counted that as a win for now. )

Aizawa provided a short explanation and example — by way of having Bakugou explode a baseball into the distance — before cutting off everyone’s enthusiasm with a grim declaration: the one to place last overall in this fitness test was to be expelled.

Wonderful.

Izuku watched as people lined up for the fifty-meter dash, and carefully allowed himself to slip towards the back of the pack, angling his body so as to surreptitiously take the marker and scrawl a circle onto his palm.

Hiding his alchemy in such a way burned at him, but… Maybe it was a little selfish of him, but he didn’t want to be ostracized so early in the school year. It was only day one.

Besides, he might not even be around for much longer if he didn’t do well on this exam.

Quickly finishing a matrix on each hand, both for soil-based transmutations, Izuku capped the marker and clipped it back onto his pants. A glance around ensured that he hadn’t attracted any unwanted attention, so he let himself breathe easy.

The dash was easy enough; all he did was press his hands to the ground and let the earth pretty much shoot him across the finish line. It didn’t end in the smoothest of landings, but he did land a score of just over five seconds, which was better than his previous score of almost seven seconds.

Slowly, Izuku realized that he could do this. He really could. As long as he was careful not to overexert himself like he did in the entrance exam, alchemy was giving him a bigger boost than he’d expected.

It was with a slightly more relaxed smile that Izuku proceeded with the exam. His grip strength wasn’t great, simply because he hadn’t wanted to draw another circle for plastic, but for the standing long jump… That event was easy to excel in once he markered another pair of circles onto his shoe soles.

Izuku grinned as he activated the matrices and felt the soil rise up under his feet in response, as quickly as izuku could manage. It helped propel him into the air at an angle — with so much force, in fact, that it was almost fun to fall for those two or three seconds it took for Izuku to hit the ground again.

He stuck the landing, to the protest of his legs, but his grin remained.

Most of his scores in the rest of the events were less impressive, unfortunately. Izuku decided against trying to propel himself with alchemy in the side-steps, even though it would’ve technically been possible to boost his score there, in fear of overdoing it. The endurance run took place afterwards, after all.

( He did score fairly well on the run, thanks to having the earth carry him for a while when his legs got tired. )

In the end, Izuku landed himself in fourteenth place. He practically collapsed into a sob of relief, even though he’d known that the few events he stood out in would’ve kept him from being dead last. He hadn’t performed badly enough to warrant that.

Still felt like ducking a bullet, though, as Aizawa stood by his word and promptly expelled the student in last place.

Izuku felt somewhat bad for the kid. After beating the odds of actually being accepted, only to be expelled within the very first day… He watched the grape-haired boy drag his feet on the way out.

“Remember,” Aizawa said coldly into the wake of silence following the expulsion, “this is the hero course. If you think this is just fun and games, if you think these three years will come and go without trouble, then you’re at the wrong school with your eyes on the wrong career. U.A. will put you through the ringer and challenge you to come out on top. That’s what we mean when we say plus ultra.”

And so the first class of the first day concluded. Everyone went back inside, sobered by the realization that even their status as a student of U.A. could still be taken away.

Izuku counted the first day as a success, though.

Even if Uraraka called him Deku as he was about to start heading home — she hadn’t known that it was a derogatory nickname, and she was quick to backtrack, so he didn’t take it terribly.

“Sorry!” she said, rubbing the back of her head sheepishly. Iida, who’d been with Izuku, seemed interested. “I didn’t know it carried that kind of meaning. It sounded more like… ‘I can do it!’ to me, you know? I kinda like it.”

I can do it.

You can do it.

“Th-that’s.” An angle he’d never considered. “Deku’s fine, then!” he said, a little louder than he probably should’ve been. Cheeks pinking in embarrassment, he reiterated, a little more contained, “You can call me Deku, then, really. I won’t mind.”

Iida balked at his response. “Midoriya! That was a bit too quick of a decision for something so insulting.”

“No, no, really,” Izuku said, even as he buried his face in his hands. He could feel his cheeks heating up, and he wasn’t exactly eager to have everyone see his fluster. “It’s — it’s good. Really.”

Like turning people’s expectations against them. Like how if alchemy was looked down upon, then that’s just all the more reason to wipe the floor with them with it. Like what Ed kept encouraging him to do.

“It’s good,” he repeated, and as Uraraka giggled and Iida sighed, he pulled his face out of his hands to smile at them. He walked away from the school with more company than he had walking in.

Yeah, he was counting day one as a success.

( And it wasn’t until he got home and flipped through his old hero notebook that he realized that Aizawa was Eraserhead. He spent a few minutes mentally screaming at that. )

All Might was just as loud and as boisterous as Izuku remembered him being during that one encounter on the streets, when he’d tried to attack that sludge monster.

“I am here! Like a normal person!” the hero proclaimed as he marched in through the door merrily. Izuku couldn’t help the grin that widened across his expression, empathizing wholeheartedly with the reverent whispers that scampered between students. “And I will be teaching you all basic hero training! Specifically, we’ll be doing battle training today!”

Izuku sat up a little straighter. This was the kind of thing that Ed wanted him to focus on.

He changed into his costume quickly with the others — it looked a little less impressive compared to the rest of his classmates, being little more than a simple jumpsuit with pockets ( and countless markers jammed into those pockets ), but his mom had given it to him with love, so he was going to wear it with pride.

It failed to save his mood from plummeting once he realized that he was going up against Bakugou, though. Being paired up with Uraraka was fine. A little nerve-wracking, but fine. Being up against Bakugou was not fine.

Izuku bit his lip worriedly as he stared at a blueprint of the building.

“Are you alright?” Uraraka asked. “There’s no threat of expulsion like with Aizawa… but you look worse now than back then.”

“I’m fine,” Izuku replied, lying through his teeth. He managed to draw up a smile, though. “It’s just that we’re up against Bakugou and Iida, and Bakugou is. Terrifying.”

Uraraka paused. “He’s the one who bullies you, right?”

“Mm. I used to admire him a lot, actually. He’s powerful and confident and just better than I am, frankly. But then I met my teacher.” Izuku stared at his hand, brows furrowed. “I guess… I guess I saw that you can be better in all these different ways without pushing around everyone else. And now I want to stop losing to him.”

There was a brief pause, and then Izuku dug out a marker from his costume pocket. He uncapped it and began drawing a circle on his glove. Uraraka watched him in silence, at first confused, and then with dawning realization.

“Wait — Deku, isn’t that…?”

“Alchemy.” Finishing that circle, Izuku switched hands and began drawing a second circle on his other hand. “I’m an alchemist. That’s what I needed to talk to you about, actually.”

“But what about all the things you pulled off in the exam?” Uraraka asked, and then her eyes widened. “All of that was alchemy? I didn’t know alchemy could do that. I thought you had an earth-manipulating quirk or something.”

“Most don’t know that alchemy is capable of this.” Satisfied with those two circles, Izuku put the pen away. “That’s why I wanted to talk to you — just to make sure you knew. I-I thought you would’ve figured it out in the exam, but I guess you didn’t.” He took a deep breath. “I don’t want you to be surprised if Kacchan calls me ‘quirkless’ during this.”

“I see.” Uraraka seemed a little unsettled, and Izuku’s gut twisted.

He knew that he was risking their fragile friendship by telling her, but he didn’t want her to find out from Bakugou of all people. It was better to come forward with it himself.

In the end, though, Uraraka smiled and nodded, seemingly taking the information in stride. “I understand, Deku! I won’t let myself get distracted in this exercise!”

Izuku smiled back, relieved. “Then let’s get ‘em. To begin with, we don’t have to infiltrate from the ground up…”

The plan had worked at first. Izuku transmuted a ladder out of the side of the building and they climbed straight to the middle stories of the building. From there, they split up to cover more ground, but remained on the same floor.

And then Bakugou whirled around a corner to hurl an explosion towards Izuku’s head, only for the latter to dive out of the way just in time. As he rolled back to his feet, he touched the comms unit in his ear. “Got him. Go!” he said, right over Bakugou’s sneering approval of his dodge.

“Are you ignoring me?” Bakugou snarled, and lunged at him again. “I’ll mess you up just short of disqualification—”

Izuku saw the right hook coming from a mile away ( or years away, rather, with every attack that echoed from the past ) and acted accordingly, grabbing the arm while Bakugou was off-balance and promptly flipping him onto his back.

Bakugou gasped, the breath knocked out of him, and Izuku took the moment to slam his hands against the ground. Alchemical energy crackled to life and the floor rose up to trap Bakugou in a concrete box.

“That’s what you get for never changing your opening attack in years against the same target,” Izuku said, and fled around a corner before Bakugou could gather himself enough to explode his way out — which he did, approximately three seconds later.

“Get the hell back here, Deku!” Bakugou roared from the smoke.

“Are you out of here yet?” Izuku whispered.

“Already a floor up!” came Uraraka’s reply from his earpiece. “I’m looking for Iida.”

“Good.” Taking a deep breath, Izuku steeled himself before sprinting out of his hiding spot. His left hand trailed against the wall, sending sparks into the air as the transmutation spiraled into action. “Hey, Kacchan! Guess what?”

Bakugou whirled on him, explosions roaring from his palms to destroy the concrete stripes streaking towards him. “Fuck off!” He dove at Izuku, teeth bared.

Izuku flinched from the attack for the barest instant, more out of habit than out of fear, and then dug his heels in and side-hopped, the capture tape unwinding in his fingers. “I’m not always going to be the ‘useless’ Deku you can shove around, Kacchan!” he shouted, the tape furling around Bakugou’s arm. “I’m the Deku who knows that I can do it!”

“You damned nerd,” Bakugou retorted, grabbing the tape with his other hand and burning it up. Izuku immediately dropped the burning, now-useless tool and yelped when Bakugou caught his arm. Another explosion ripped through his jumpsuit and tore apart his glove, killing the circle. “You aren’t shit!”

“Yeah,” Izuku said, deliberately throwing his weight to the ground and startling Bakugou enough to reach the floor, “I’m not. I’m an alchemist.” His other hand met the floor and the second circle hummed.

Blunted cylinders rose from the ground, shoving Bakugou away for a split instant before an explosion tore the transmutation apart — but it was enough time for Izuku to get out of sight, turning the nearest corner and running as quickly as he could.

Uraraka’s voice crackled over the comms. “Deku! Sorry, I found Iida, but he found me too.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Izuku said, panting, listening to Bakugou rant in the distance about his cowardice.

“So you just let me beat you without a fight all those other times? Come back here and face me with your full strength, Deku! I’ll pummel you to the ground!”

Izuku’s plan had been to face Iida on a two-on-one fight with Uraraka, but that wouldn’t work if he couldn’t take down Bakugou first. While he had the element of surprise to begin with, now that Bakugou knew he was capable of more than squeezing his eyes shut and taking the damage… he no longer had that advantage.

In fact, he probably just made Bakugou angrier. Which would normally be good, since anger clouded thought, but Bakugou was an expert at fighting while angry.

“Where are you?” Izuku murmured, carefully edging around another corner. He pulled out a marker, intending to replace his torn glove by drawing a new circle on his hand.

“Middle of the floor above you.”

Directly above him, then. Huh. Maybe he could use that.

Izuku stared at the half-finished circle on his hand and then at the ground. He took a breath, ideas coalescing in his mind, and then crouched, beginning to draw a much larger circle on the floor. “Alright, Uraraka, this is what we’re going to do—”

“Oi, Deku!” Bakugou stalked towards him.

Freezing up at the call, Izuku hesitantly backed away. There hadn’t been enough time; the outer ring of the circle was barely half-done, and he was forced to abandon it.

“What’re you avoiding me for? You know how to fight, don’t you?” Bakugou clenched his jaw, and then smirked wide and predatorial. “If you won’t fight me at full power willingly, then I’ll force you to.”

And then Izuku learned, first-hand, exactly what Bakugou’s flashy grenade gauntlets were capable of.

Once Bakugou pulled the pin, the explosion rocked through the building; the blast consumed the hall and Izuku was unable to dodge as the force of the explosion wrenched him off-balance, throwing him against the wall with enough force to scorch and shatter it.

Izuku felt his exposed skin sting at the heat, but couldn’t move to hide. The intensity of the blast kept him pinned to floor, debris pelting past him.

By the time the explosion died down, Izuku was coughing into dust clouds. His remaining glove was ruined, so he couldn’t transmute with the circle on that one, either. He ripped off its shredded remnants and discarded it. “Why would anyone give you that kind of weapon?” he hacked out, fumbling in his pockets for a pen.

If he was caught without a circle, that could very well spell doom for him.

“What was that? We even felt it up here! Deku, are you okay?”

He grimaced, getting to his feet as he finished a circle on his skin. “I’m fine, it didn’t hit me directly.” Something that was planned, he was certain. A glance back revealed that the blast had bored straight through the walls and actually punched a hole right out into the open air. “Yikes.”

Bakugou’s sheer firepower was stunning in its brute strength, and he had no way of countering it.

Bakugou stepped closer, his expression twisted into something indecipherable. Ravenous, perhaps. “Draw all the shitty circles you’d like, Deku. I’ll crush you whether or not you’ve got any.”

Izuku hesitated. He looked between his pen and Bakugou, and when the latter opened his mouth again impatiently, Izuku abruptly lobbed the marker at his face.

It spun towards Bakugou in perfect form, only to get blown up, of course — and Izuku darted to the side, trying to get away from the weakened side of the building, for once in his life ignoring All Might’s voice, which boomed from hidden intercoms ( how were they still working? ) and said something about forbidding Bakugou from using that move again.

Bakugou reacted nearly immediately, though, lunging towards him. In a panic, Izuku dropped down and slapped his right hand against the ground, causing the concrete to surge against Bakugou like a wave, except Bakugou used his explosions to propel himself over it, over Izuku, and even though Izuku turned around quickly to shield himself with his arms, he still couldn’t avoid a direct hit.

Pain tore at Izuku’s forearms but he bit down on a yelp, even as Bakugou immediately followed up with a devastating right swing that nailed him right on his already burned skin.

The agony distracted him for long enough that he was unable to react as Bakugou used his explosions to propel himself into the perfect position to flip Izuku against the ground, the same move that Izuku had pulled on him earlier.

Izuku gasped when his back hit the cracked floor, the wind knocked out of him, but Ed had trained with him for long enough that he reflexively knew to roll away, avoiding the second blow that would’ve come down on his gut, and got to his feet with only a little unsteadiness.

Despite his physical discomfort, though, this was… a better situation, than in middle school. This was. This was something he could fight back in.

( Ed had taken forever to train him out of flinching first, and he’d been angry that Izuku still bowed his head when others bared their teeth at him, but he’d accepted it. )

Izuku clapped his hands together for luck before slamming his right against remnants of the wall, which immediately poured into action like a living beast of cement, charging at Bakugou.

( He’d be proud of him now. )

As expected, Bakugou exploded the attack, but that blast only hit the front of the transmutation; the rest of the material parted around him and struck from both sides, hardening with a crackle almost immediately, encasing him as though to turn him into a statue from the shoulders down.

Izuku gritted his teeth and set his right palm against the ground, sending more cement to solidify Bakugou’s restraints. Ignoring the other student’s swearing and the ominous snapping explosions gouging away at the prison, Izuku shouted, “Hold onto something and get off the floor, Uraraka!”

Time was running out, so he might as well go for the most extreme plan he could think of.

“Bastard!” Bakugou howled, breaking free and sending shards everywhere, but Izuku ignored him, clasping his hands for the briefest of moments as he ran to an intact section of the wall and set his right hand against it.

“C’mon, c’mon, work!” Izuku begged, and alchemical light flared from under his touch, sparking against the wall before darting upward to the floor above like lightning through a conductor, and even when Bakugou reached him, an explosion razing his shoulder, tearing him away from the wall, Izuku kicked back blindly to buy just one more moment—

The ceiling moaned as alchemy surged through it, creaking. With only a palm-sized circle as guidance, the effect branched too far and lost control, beginning to fray wildly, forcing Izuku to cut it short or risk rebounding.

Hopefully that had been enough. Unable to help out in that regard any longer, Izuku instead turned his attention to other concerns.

Namely the hand digging into his right shoulder. Izuku spun, a harried laugh at the tip of his tongue as he said, “Thanks for giving me this, Kacchan,” and grasped the bulky gauntlet with his left hand, channeling every inch of power he had left.

And then alchemy tore it apart.

Deconstruction without reconstruction. Less controlled, but it took less energy, too.

“Retrieved!” chimed Uraraka’s voice in Izuku’s ear, even as he backpedaled from Bakugou’s fury, his fingers tingling from too much power.

Almost immediately afterward, All Might’s voice crackled over the loudspeakers. “The hero team wins!”

Izuku burst into giggles as Bakugou froze, the pieces of his gauntlet clattering to the ground. His laughter surprised everyone, even himself, but he couldn’t help it.

He beat Bakugou.

He did it.

Chapter Text

Despite Izuku’s victory, though, he was still sent to Recovery Girl. All Might insisted that his injuries were serious enough to warrant immediate attention ( thanks, Bakugou ) and Izuku reluctantly allowed himself to be carried off.

He made Uraraka promise to give him a recount of the rest of the class later.

When Recovery Girl looked him over, she tsked. “On one hand, none of this will leave any permanent damage whatsoever. You are very lucky, Midoriya. But you do have a lot of abrasions, so to reduce the chance of infection, it is good that you came here. Now, hold still.”

Izuku held still.

Later, he would’ve regretted not paying as much attention to Recovery Girl’s quirk as he should’ve, because her quirk used the patient’s own energy to propel the healing process and Izuku didn’t exactly have much of that left, after transmuting a large section of the floor on the other side of the ceiling.

So he passed out the moment she smooched his cheek.

Recovery Girl was nice enough to let Izuku sleep off the edge of it, and apologized for it once he woke up, but he still woke up too soon. Dragging his feet back to class was a nightmare. Spotless but exhausted, Izuku yawned into a hand as he trudged towards the classroom, fully expecting to get verbally skinned alive by Aizawa.

Instead, he was met with the excited face of one of his classmates — or, uh. Many of his classmates, actually.

“Oh, hey, Midoriya!” Kirishima grinned. “Good to see you back! We were just talking about the battle training, and your fight was wild, man.”

Izuku blinked in surprise, and then sheepishly rubbed the back of his neck. “Sorry I missed all of yours.”

“Don’t sweat it!” Kirishima said with a laugh, smacking Izuku’s shoulder lightly.

“Yeah, it really pumped us up afterwards,” Satou added. “You did so well!”

“Ah, thanks?” Izuku offered a weak smile as the rest of the class seemed to gather closer, with one notably missing student… but this wasn’t the time to worry about Bakugou’s whereabouts.

“You were amazing! I can’t believe you managed to pull all that off with alchemy,” Kirishima enthused, and.

And Izuku’s heart dropped to his feet.

Right. He hadn’t exactly been subtle during the training, what with his stopping to draw circles and all. He’d forgotten about that until just now, actually.

With a lot more effort than it should’ve taken, Izuku kept his small smile plastered across his expression. Kirishima barrelled on for a little longer about he hadn’t known that alchemy could be used to affect a floor above and temporarily liquify the uppermost layers of it so that someone’s feet ( namely Iida’s ) would get stuck in the floor once the reaction stopped, but seeing as Izuku was the one who activated the transmutation, he didn’t really need to hear about it.

Instead, he paid attention to the facial expressions of his classmates, trying to gauge their reactions. Most of them looked like they shared Kirishima’s admiration, but… there was no real way to be certain.

Well, unless he brought it up, he supposed. “And… you’re all okay with it?” Izuku asked, wary. “With having an alchemist as a classmate?”

Iida pushed his glasses up. “Of course!” he said. “Quirkless or not, you clearly know what you’re doing. You managed to best Bakugou and I, after all.”

“Yeah,” Ashido cut in. “That was so cool, you must be some kind of quirkless prodigy!”

Despite the old sting of being called quirkless, Izuku quickly waved his arms about as though to physically dispel the thought. “N-no way! I just learned from my alchemy tutor, and he says I’ve barely got a handle on the finer points of transmutations.”

“Your tutor must be amazing then, kero.” Asui — Tsuyu, rather, tilted her head. “I wonder if any adult alchemists can do what you demonstrated today.”

“Especially when you exploded Bakugou’s arm things!” Ashido added.

“Ah, I just deconstructed them…” Izuku laughed nervously, hoping he didn’t sound too uneasy. It was just strange, to be greeted with praise rather than ridicule. “That was actually the easiest thing I did, since I didn’t have to worry about trying to put it back together in a certain way.”

“But how did you know what they were made of?” Iida asked. “I believe alchemy begins with ‘understanding’. You had to ‘understand the chemical makeup, didn’t you?”

“Not when I made this circle to target specific elements that were guaranteed to be there,” Izuku replied, glancing at the now-faded circle on his hand. “I just targeted any carbon, iron, hydrogen, or oxygen present and deconstructed them from the surrounding material, which made the whole thing fall apart.”

“Clever,” Iida mused, and before anyone else could fire off another question, Uraraka wandered into the room.

“Deku!” she exclaimed, quickly joining the loose ring of people around him. “Are you alright?”

“I’m just a little tired,” Izuku replied. “Everything’s healed up just fine, though.”

“That’s good to hear. Hey, since most of us are here right now, we can recount everyone’s trial for you together, if you want.” Uraraka turned towards the other students. “I bet you all know more about what you did than me, anyway.”

Immediately perking up at the idea, Izuku nodded vigorously. It’d turn the focus of the class away from him and give him an idea of what everyone was capable of. “That’d be really nice. Who went after us?”

Later on, after Izuku was elected class president for a horrifying moment and Iida was eventually selected as replacement, Izuku hesitantly settled into the classroom setting with more comfort than before.

Even on the bus ride to the rescue training class, when everyone had the leeway to poke fun at each other, nothing felt particularly barbed when thrown his way. It was a refreshing change from his middle school experience, and Izuku allowed himself to relax a little, breathing a quiet sigh of relief.

( It was nice to be accepted, for once. )

“We’re here,” Aizawa said, and even though he didn’t raise his voice, everyone fell silent. The bus rolled to a stop and Aizawa led everyone inside the massive building that was to be their classroom for the day.

There, they met Thirteen, who introduced them to USJ and its many areas. Izuku was starstruck by the variety and by the fact that he was face to face with Thirteen.

The Space Hero quietly spoke with Aizawa to the side for a moment, mentioning that All Might would not be present today, and then stood before the class with cordial confidence. “Before we begin,” they said, “I have a few points I want to make. Two, three… perhaps more… But to begin with, I’m sure all of you are aware of how dangerous my quirk, Black Hole, can be. It can suck up anything and turn it to dust.”

“It really helps out during disasters, since you can suck up debris, right?” Izuku piped up — he’s seen several videos of Thirteen in action, and had been inspired by all of them.

Thirteen inclined their head. “Indeed, but it is also a power that can easily kill. I have no doubt that some of you here have similar abilities.”

Quite abruptly, Izuku flashed back to lessons that Ed had drilled into his head, his haunted murmur of this is what a human is made of and it is so, so fragile, do not transmute this, do not, do not, do not. Izuku bit his cheek; in a quirk-filled society, the only attention alchemy got was condescending.

Nobody thought about how it was easy to search up the chemical composition of a human person, nowadays.

You must promise me, Izuku, to never break the one taboo of human transmutation.

“In this class,” Thirteen was saying, “you will learn to use your powers to save others. They are not meant to inflict harm. I hope you leave here today with the understanding that you’re meant to help people.” Then, the hero bowed. “That’s all, thank you for listening.”

A ripple of awed murmuring rushed through the students, each one of them excited to get started. Iida was the loudest with his applause and loud proclamation of “Bravo!”

Aizawa sighed. “Right, then let’s begin with—”

Suddenly, he stiffened and whirled around. Confused, the students followed his gaze, peering towards the nearest section, a plaza-like area with a fountain in the center. There was some sort of dark, thick smoke congealing there, widening… with a hand reaching out.

“Stay together!” Aizawa barked out, startling the students. “Don’t move! Thirteen, protect the students.”

Izuku’s eyes widened as he watched wispy material widen and reveal several frighteningly imposing figures, each one stepping purposefully from the shadowy curtain.

Kirishima made a confused sound, trying to squint and get a better look. “Are those robots?”

Some sort of dread began to build up in the pit of Izuku’s stomach, but he took a step forward anyway — only to get immediately rebuked with a harsh “Stop!” from Aizawa. Izuku watched as his teacher pulled up the goggles hidden under his scarf-like capture weapon. “Those are villains.”

At this, Izuku gulped; these villains seemed more threatening than the sludge villain he remembered trying to fight, if only because there were so many of them.

The shadowy gate gradually pulled back into itself, until it formed a flickering figure of darkness. “Thirteen,” the villain said, his voice reverberating clearly across the distance, “and Eraserhead, I see. But where is All Might? According to the staff schedule I received the other day, he should be here.”

Izuku’s brows furrowed. Why would villains plan to attack a class that All Might was supposed to be at?

“So that security incident the other day was the doing of these scumbags after all,” Aizawa said, a deeper frown slipping across his features.

Another voice spoke up, raspy and shallow. “Where is he? We came all this way… and he’s not even here?” A shift of movement, from the figure with what looked like detached hands plastered all over his head and shoulders, and then, in a darker tone, “I wonder if he’ll come if we kill a few kids?”

The students seemed to flinch collectively, while Aizawa grabbed his scarf. Momo looked to the two teachers, eyes wide. “Don’t we have trespasser sensors?” she asked, clearly trying to stay calm.

“They must have disabled them somehow,” was Thirteen’s response.

Todoroki narrowed his eyes. “Did they strike any other parts of the campus, or just here…? Either way, it must be one of their quirks that’s stopping the sensors from working. This place is far from the main buildings and not always occupied by classes, so the fact that they’ve appeared here and now means… This was carefully planned and coordinated. They must have some sort of objective.”

Aizawa leaned forward. “Thirteen, begin the evacuation and call for help! If a villain is jamming the sensors, then there’s a good chance that an electric-type quirk is causing interference. Kaminari!”

The student jolted. “Yessir!”

“See if your quirk will let you get a signal through.”

“Got it!”

Izuku saw the way Aizawa was poised and broke out of his hesitation, worry cascading through his thoughts. “Sensei, wait — you can’t fight them alone! There are too many quirks to erase, a-and Eraserhead’s style centers around erasure followed by quick capture.” The information poured out, knowledge he’d memorized from so long ago. “A frontal assault isn’t…”

The goggles made it impossible to tell where the teacher was looking, but Izuku could’ve sworn he felt Aizawa’s gaze on him for a moment. “No good hero has only one trick up their sleeve. Thirteen, I’m leaving them to you.”

And then Aizawa lurched into action, his capture weapon spiraling around him like a living snake as he rushed the villains.

Thirteen began herding the students towards the door, and from what Izuku glimpsed of the battle before he turned to hurry with the rest of the class, Aizawa was holding his own…

Without warning, darkness erupted between the class and the door, wide and splayed open like a gruesome flower. “I don’t think so,” the villain said. As Thirteen took a half step back, an arm extended to keep the students from advancing, the villain continued, “Greetings. We are the League of Villains. Forgive our audacity, but we’ve invited ourselves in to U.A. High School, the home of heroes, to have All Might — the Symbol of Peace — take his last breath today.”

Izuku blinked. To kill All Might… it was a foreign concept, frankly, and Izuku quickly found himself hating the way the villain spoke with such collected confidence.

“We were under the impression that he would be here today. Has there been some kind of change, I wonder?” The gleaming yellow eyes were dispassionate as he spoke. “Well, no matter. My role remains unchanged.”

And then Bakugou and Kirishima leapt into action, startling Thirteen ( who shouted at them ineffectual ), but their attacks were did absolutely nothing; the villain made an uncaring remark about ooh, so close, these students certainly are skilled, before his misty body flared out and enveloped them all, too quickly to react to.

Izuku had a pen but was unable to draw a circle in time. The last he heard before he fell through the shadows was the villain’s cold command.

“Begone, and suffer in your deaths.”

Izuku’s life had flashed before his eyes when the villain attacked him in the water, but thank the heavens for Tsuyu, who intervened and got him out of there.

“Alright,” Izuku muttered, backing away from the edge of the boat, “considering the villains in the water, they definitely planned this out with USJ’s layout in mind. Todooki’s right, this was very carefully planned. But to kill All Might…”

“They must have devised some way,” Tsuyu said. “They wouldn’t have planned so much if they planned on failing, kero.”

Izuku bit his cheek for a moment. “What could they possibly…? Well, whatever their plan is, it’s best to assume the worst. They have a plan to kill All Might. Nobody’s guaranteeing that we’ll stay alive by the time he actually gets here, and there’s no guarantee that he will stay alive, either.”

What a foreign concept. Aiming to kill All Might? Most villains had to be exceedingly powerful and cunning just to get away from him, and never for long.

“I can’t imagine why they’d target All Might, except maybe for his status as the Symbol of Peace, which is practically a deterrent all on its own,” Izuku mused.

“That’s not something we’ll figure out now, though,” Tsuyu pointed out.

“You’re right. We just have to stop them.” Izuku narrowed his eyes, and then pulled out his markers from his pockets. A few of the markers were ruined by the water, so Izuku simply let them clatter onto the deck. No use hanging onto those. A good few were still working, though. “What do we know?”

“Well, it looks like all the villains here excel in the water,” Tsuyu said, peering warily over the edge of the boat. “That’s probably why they’re stationed here, kero. It would not be smart to fight them in their element.”

“And they’re smart enough not to follow us out. It’s odd, though.” Izuku hesitated, and then began drawing a circle on his hand — one for freezing water — as he thought. “Tsuyu, you mentioned on the way here that your quirk is good in water too, isn’t it?”

She nodded. “I can do everything that a frog can, and frogs are great in the water. So if they put me here instead of the fiery area, for instance…”

“Then they don’t know us,” Izuku concluded. “That’s why they split us up, and that’s probably why they’re so careful, too. They’ve got numbers and experience on their side, so we need to exploit this.”

One palm-sized circle wouldn’t be enough to pull off anything big, though.

Maybe…

The boat shuddered and heaved under their feet, and Izuku was thrown against the rail with a yelp. He watched with horror as the ship began to sink, split cleanly in half, the villains circling eagerly below.  

Shoving himself away from the rail, Izuku hurriedly scrawled a circle on his undrawn hand and pressed it to the deck. “Tsuyu! Get up high, and then prepare to keep all these villains in the water!” he said, the transmutation dying down to reveal a large, round sheet of processed wood separate from the rest of the the deck.

“Kero!” The other student leapt towards the bow, which was lifting up.

Izuku looked at his blank slate and exhaled sharply before getting down to business, dragging the pen across the surface. “I hope this works,” he muttered, carefully writing in runes and symbols between triangles and lines. Freezing water on its own was easy enough, but to do it on the scale that Izuku wanted ( needed ), he needed the most efficient path in terms of both time and energy.

He drew another circle on the ship itself, too, even though time was running out. By the time he was finished, the ship had sank to the point where they were nearly within reach of the villains, but that was fine.

As All Might had once said, the moment the enemy became certain of their victory was the best moment to strike.

There was a distinct splash of someone emerging from the water; Izuku ignored Tsuyu’s panicked ribbit and slammed his hand down on his latest circle, causing the deck to erupt in countless wooden spikes, each facing outward. The attacker yelped and just barely avoided being impaled on one of them.

The frantic transmutation was easily destroyed by some villain’s watery strike, but it had bought Izuku the few precious seconds he’d needed.

With the deck demolished, Izuku had nothing to stand on and fell to the inner parts of the ship — which were already submerged.

Izuku brought his hands together in a clap. “Please work!” he shouted, and then planted his hands on the circle he’d drawn on the round sheet of detached wood.

The matrix flared to life immediately, alchemical light crackling playfully over his fingers before zipping off through the water. Frost hung suspended for a split instant before a pulse of ice consumed it, surging from Izuku’s transmutation like an explosive blast radius.

Safely above the sudden cold was Tsuyu on the bow. She used her tongue to knock down any of the villains that tried to breach the surface before the ice fully took hold, ensuring that all of them were caught in the effects.

In the epicenter of it all was Izuku, with eyes squeezed shut and breaths harsh, shoving as much power into the circle as he could possibly offer while the transmutation kept churning, flash-freezing water to solid ice in the span of a breath. His fingers burned and ached with the force of the continuous reactions, tremors wracking through his arms, and he was pretty sure that he’d frozen himself into the water as well in his desperation, but he knew he couldn’t stop. Not yet.

The wooden sheet the circle was inscribed on groaned, the ink searing itself into the material relentlessly. Izuku cracked open an eye to peer at the matrix. It looked like it was holding steady, wreathed by lively white-blue lightning, but he was very quickly running low on energy.

Once he ran out, he’d be useless… He had to cut it off before then, but not too early. The ice needed to be thoroughly solid in order to keep the villains out of commission.

The transmutation hissed, the lightning beginning to waver, and only then did Izuku put a stop to the reaction. It almost hurt to cut off the connection so suddenly — like trying to put a cap on a hose running at full power — but it was better than being drained completely dry.

Gasping, Izuku slumped on the wooden sheet with a grimace. It cracked upon contact, but since it was resting on a layer of ice a solid meter thick, that didn’t really matter. He shivered, his breath coming out in visible puffs.

“Midoriya!” Tsuyu hopped down, looking none too comfortable herself.

Rather abruptly, Izuku remembered that frogs didn’t always take too well to the cold. “Ah, sorry about all the ice…”

“It’s nothing I can’t deal with, kero. Are you stuck?”

“Maybe… maybe a little bit. Hold on.” Izuku braced himself on the ice and yanked himself free, his shirt crackling oddly and clearly suffering from some damage as a result. Since he’d known what was about to happen, he’d managed to position himself horizontally instead of vertically like most of the villains had been, and thus was locked into a much less amount of ice than they were.

He was definitely cold, though. As he got to his feet, he shuddered, rubbing at his arms. At least he wouldn’t be as badly off as the villains, who were kicking up a racket as they struggled to free themselves.

Power over water was not always the same as power over ice, after all.

A glance to the distance revealed that the sudden glacier took up a decently sized chunk of the flood zone, but still technically left them stranded floating in the middle.

Shaking himself out of his thoughts, Izuku sneezed. He was not in the mood or the shape for a swim. “I couldn’t reach all the way to shore with that transmutation. Tsuyu, could you…?”

“Of course.” She helped him up a bit, seeing as he was wobbling dangerously on his own, and slung one of his arms over her shoulders. Then, she leapt into the air with shocking force — quickly enough that the air whipping past them felt cold and sharp. “That’s the first hurdle cleared. That was amazing, Midoriya.”

Izuku kept shivering.

He tried not to worry about the fact that he couldn’t feel his fingers anymore.

Tsuyu basically had to carry Izuku as she swam all the way to shore after that first leap, to his chagrin, but she didn’t seem to mind and he was too tired to speak up.

“Now, should we try to escape and call for help?” Tsuyu asked softly, carefully letting Izuku down.

Izuku grabbed the shore’s ledge with both hands and managed to stay floating upright, although he didn’t look too stable. It took a moment for him to speak, as he had to quell the quiet chattering of his teeth first. “Y-yeah. Let’s avoid the plaza, too. I-it wouldn’t be good to distract Aizawa, and I don’t think we’d be able to help, anyway.” Especially when he had barely enough juice for another transmutation.

Still, his eyes lingered on his teacher’s fight for a moment longer. Logically, he knew that Aizawa was at a disadvantage that just two students would not be able to bridge, but…

Izuku glanced at his hand and the simple freezing transmutation still inked there.

Following his gaze, Tsuyu ribbitted worriedly. “Midoriya, you can’t be thinking that we should join the fight. You just said we wouldn’t be able to help, and you can barely stand.”

“Aizawa’s heavily outnumbered,” Izuku countered. His brows furrowed. “He jumped in to protect us, but he won’t be able to hold out. And we don’t have to actually go and fight — if there was just some way to help lighten his load a little…”

But they never got the chance.

It all happened too quickly. The two students stared in horror as Aizawa confronted a villain who got in too close, landing a hit, but his elbow was crumbling apart in the villain’s grip, his sleeve reduced to nothing and his skin falling apart like broken pottery, leaving flesh open and vulnerable. The teacher broke away with a punch and immediately avoided consecutive attacks from other villains and — Izuku’s breath caught in his throat — the hulking mass of dark hide and muscle was there, grabbing Aizawa’s injured arm, and.

Izuku flinched hard at the horrible crunch of concrete and bones breaking each other, and found himself too horrified to look away when the monster clenched its massive claws around Aizawa’s arm, grinding bones to dust.

The other villain, the one with the disintegration quirk, called the monster Noumu and mocked Aizawa’s powerlessness. “Erasure is cool, but nothing special,” he said, and Izuku felt the icy fear in his gut twist, indignance and building anger rising up but still kept at bay by the overwhelming display of strength.

Noumu squealed, and then lifted Aizawa’s head only to smash his face into the ground again.

“No,” Izuku whispered, staring at his teacher’s trapped form. He couldn’t tell, at this distance, whether or not he was breathing.

( And that, above all, horrified him to no end. )

Izuku’s grip on the ledge was white-knuckled and tight but he felt like he was drowning, helpless and overpowered, needing to save his teacher but being unable to do a thing.

A swirl of darkness oozed into existence beside the villain. “Shigaraki Tomura,” the warping villain said.

“Kurogiri,” was Shigaraki’s response, drawn-out and lazy. “Is Thirteen dead yet?”

“I’ve incapacitated them, but they’re not dead, no,” Kurogiri replied reluctantly. “Also, one of the students that I was unable to warp away… He escaped.”

Izuku was too nervous to feel relief.

An eerie stillness tentatively settled in the air before the sound of Shigaraki’s nails dragging down the side of his neck shattered it. He scratched and scratched and kept scratching, working up a frenzy that Izuku felt uneasy to witness.

Maybe it was a good thing he was already shivering, or he would’ve startled himself with a full-body shudder when Shigaraki rasped low and terrible, “Kurogiri. I’d have turned you to dust — if you weren’t our way out of here.” And then his hands pulled away from his neck, leaving a crosshatch of angry red marks. “We don’t stand a chance against dozens of pros. It’s game over. Game over… for now. Let’s go.”

Izuku stilled. Were they really leaving? That… seemed rather off. All of this planning with the lofty goal of All Might’s life, and they were going to leave just like that?

“This doesn’t feel right, Midoriya,” Tsuyu said, and Izuku couldn’t help but agree. He wanted them to leave, certainly, because Aizawa was still on the ground like a broken ragdoll and he needed to be treated, but.

Izuku nodded. “There’s no way that they’ll give up this much work without more of a fight.” He kept his guard up as he watched the villains—

“—Actually, before that, how about we injure the pride of the Symbol of Peace by killing a few kids?” Shigaraki said, turning and lunging in the same movement, covering the distance nearly immediately with an unexpected surge in speed, a hand reaching out.

The same hand that crumbled Aizawa’s elbow.

The hand reached out towards Tsuyu’s head and touched her, fingers pressing almost gently around her frozen expression. Izuku’s breath hitched, his heart battering fearfully at its ribcage — but nothing happened.

A moment passed without movement, and then Shigaraki made a tch sound. “You really are pretty cool,” he said, looking over his shoulder, “Eraserhead.”

It was Aizawa, his head lifted, his face smeared with blood and disfigured with broken bones, but his eyes were open and gleaming a sharp crimson. He was staring directly at Shigaraki.

With scarcely a grunt, the Noumu glanced down and slammed Aizawa back into the ground, causing blood to splatter, cutting off his quirk, and no, no no no NO NO—

Izuku screamed. He let go of the ledge to plunge one hand into the water, the circle howling to life with bright blue light. “Don’t touch her! Let go—!”

Spears of ice erupted from the water with a shrill whistle, slamming into their target with enough force to shatter, only to be immediately replaced with several new ones.

Unable to keep the reaction going for long, Izuku broke it off with a strangled gasp, clutching at his hand. He was visibly shaking now, his teeth chattering, and his balance was beginning to suffer, too; having let go of the ledge completely, he was listing to the side and making no move to keep himself up.

Except then the remaining ice exploded and Noumu ( when did that get here?! It must have taken the blow for Shigaraki — it must be strong, oh no ) grabbed his arm and began to pull him towards it.

Izuku panicked, terror drowning everything out, and he set his other palm against the monster’s skin and let the transmutation run wild, ignoring the numbness creeping up his arm and the painful spasms coming from the point of contact, the blue light flickering weakly.

He didn’t see Tsuyu’s tongue reaching for him or Shigaraki’s hands reaching for them both.

All he saw was the bird-like maw lined with shark’s teeth, the bulging eyes and the completely exposed brain.

The freezing transmutation ran rampant in his fear and froze Noumu’s arm before suddenly buckling, and Izuku nearly sobbed as he felt the transmutation yank itself free from his control, draining his energy until he had nothing left, and then there was not enough going into the equation and the matrix collapsed into the beginnings of a rebound — stop, stop, stop, Izuku needed to shut it off now but he couldn’t, if he did then everything would fall apart and if he didn’t then everything would fall apart and he was terrified and exhausted and staring into Noumu’s blank eyes as the rest of his vision began to sway—

The transmutation bit into his hand and Noumu’s arm and Izuku felt nothing.

A resounding BANG! startled him, suddenly, and the transmutation died with a whimper as Izuku was torn out of his all-consuming desperation.

“Fear not!” boomed All Might’s voice from somewhere in the distance, and Izuku shuddered, the cold clawing at his chest like a starved beast, dragging him under. The last he heard was, “For I am—”

—the world, laughed a grinning silhouette, or the universe, or God, or truth, or all, or one, or maybe even—

It felt like an eternity had passed before Izuku was jarred enough to snap back to awareness, a gasp at his lips.

He recognized the warm arm around him, setting him down — just like so long ago, against the sludge villain. “All Might,” he wheezed, Tsuyu helping him stay upright as he struggled to find his balance.

Oh. His hand was bleeding. Or was it? Maybe it was just… No. No, that’s definitely blood. In fact, it looked like he’d tried to high-five a porcupine’s bristling back and succeeded a little too well. When had that happened?

Catching a glimpse of Aizawa at his feet, worry surged through Izuku with nearly enough force to knock him over; as it was, he pulled himself away from Tsuyu and dropped to his knees beside his injured teacher. He tried to keep his teeth from chattering too much. “We… we need to move him.”

“I can carry him, kero,” she responded steadily. “But I can’t help you too if I do.”

“Do it.” Izuku’s shoulders dropped, and he cradled his head in his good hand, hoping to clear his headache by doing so. “I’ll be fine. Get Aizawa to safety first.”

Tsuyu moved away reluctantly, leaving Izuku to dizzily sit back, brows furrowed as he tried to make sense of what was happening in regards to the battle. There was some kind of explosion — a shockwave that nearly knocked his back flat on the floor. It took a few moments for Izuku’s eyes to clear up after that, a grimace etched into his features as he rubbed at his eyes with trembling, numb fingers.

His slow movements belied his sense of urgency. He knew he needed to get out of the area, if only to avoid being caught in the crossfire, but every part of him ached and he wasn’t sure he could actually…

Actually… That was not All Might suplexing Noumu into the ground.

That was Noumu halfway through a portal, reaching up with its claws digging into the hero’s sides, causing blood to bloom across the otherwise spotless white shirt.

Izuku’s eyes widened. Shiragaki was speaking — but it didn’t matter, the point was that this hero was trapped and bleeding and the villains had thought of a way to kill him and Izuku shoved himself to his feet again.

Alchemist, be thou for the people.

Heroes were people, too.

Izuku stumbled, and then began to run, knowing he could not transmute a millimeter of water even if he tried, but he knew how to fight even without alchemy. So he ran, and when the villains turned their heads his way he only drew back a fist.

A gate opened up in front of him but Izuku was quick to veer to the side — just in time, too, as another explosion promptly threw him off his feet. But this kind of blast was more familiar in its heat and intensity, and Izuku flinched as the all too familiar voice shouted, “Outta the way, Deku!”

Bakugou pinned down Kurogiri as Izuku struggled to sit upright again, his head spinning. All of this falling down was not helping his headache, and his vision had lost enough grip to start spinning all over again.

The burst of warmth from the explosion faded all too quickly, and Izuku was again reminded of how cold he was. He tried to rub his hands together for warmth, but it felt like he was tearing something and he was getting blood everywhere, so maybe that wasn’t such a good idea.

Thankfully, the numbness in his hands was starting to fade, although it did make the tingling hurt more than before. Maybe it was hurting the whole time, and Izuku just hadn’t been able to feel it.

He looked up in time to see that Todoroki had arrived with a wave of ice to free All Might, and Kirishima was headed towards him, having missed his strike against Shigaraki.

“Midoriya! You okay?” Kirishima asked, reaching towards Izuku. “Dude, your hand, it’s bleeding!”

“I think I overdid it,” Izuku said, very careful not to let his tiredness slur his words. He made a beckoning motion with his not mutilated hand, and Kirishima began to help him up. Vertigo slammed into him, forcing him to lean on his classmate.

“I think you did,” Kirishima said. “Here, let’s get you—”

Noumu’s figure blurred. Another shockwave rushed through the area, and Izuku would’ve tumbled right back down again if Kirishima hadn’t tightened his grip and held him upright.

It didn’t last too long, and while Izuku blinked stars out of his vision, he heard Kirishima exclaim, “Bakugou, you dodged?”

“I — shut up, no, I didn’t,” Bakugou responded roughly. “It was All Might.”

Izuku’s vision cleared up just in time to see Shigaraki pointing in his direction. “That kid,” the villain said, apparently in the middle of a monologue that Izuku had definitely not been paying attention to, “didn’t hold back against me just like Noumu didn’t hold back against you. All to save a comrade, right? That’s supposed to be admirable. What’s so different between his act of violence and Noumu’s, when they both do it in the name of saving others?” A pause, and then, “That’s what pisses me off, All Might.”

“Someone shut him up,” Izuku said, quietly talking right over the rest of Shigaraki’s speech about how villains and heroes both thrived off of violence. Nobody could hear Izuku anyway, except maybe Kirishima. “He’s making my ears hurt.”

All Might proved himself to be the true hero here by calling Shigaraki out on his bull. “You’re just enjoying yourself, you big liar,” he said, and that was why All Might was Izuku’s favorite pro hero, right there.

Todoroki, having circled closer to the other students, narrowed his eyes. “It’s three on three, and we know the warp guy’s weakness.”

“Four,” Izuku corrected, carefully stepping slightly away from Kirishima, to the latter’s worried protest. “I can get to the others on my own,” Izuku insisted. “You can help out here.”

“No,” All Might interrupted, holding out a hand to keep them all back. “All of you should get out of here, boys.”

“You’d have been in trouble earlier if I hadn’t stepped in,” Todoroki said, looking no less deterred.

“And I thank you for that,” All Might said, “but fear not! I have it handled. Just watch as a pro gives it everything he’s got.”

For some reason, Izuku’s gaze lingered on All Might’s bloodied side. It was true that he’d long thought the number one hero to be utterly invincible, and yet — there he stood, bleeding. He’d kept holding a hand around the injury, although he’d removed it to give the students a thumbs up.

( Once, Ed had told him about mythical beings that seemed immortal but weren’t. If it bleeds, he’d said, then it can be beaten. Don’t let them trick you. There is always a way. )

Shigaraki sighed. “Noumu, Kurogiri, get him. I’ll take care of the kids.” And then he lunged, but before he could even halve the distance, All Might had leapt against Noumu and was matching the monster’s blow, knuckles slamming into each other in precisely matched punches.

The force from the two powerhouses clashing forced Izuku to crouch down, hands on the ground, or risk falling down again. He almost regretted letting go of Kirishima just moments earlier, but it was clear that his classmates were having trouble standing up, too.

Eyes wide, he watched as All Might traded consecutive blows with Noumu, so quickly that Izuku couldn’t pick out the individual punches.

“Made to fight me, you say?” All Might’s voice roared over the howling winds he whipped up with his attacks. “Made to withstand me at a hundred percent? Then I’ll just force you to surrender from beyond that!”

A part of Izuku wanted to laugh, because All Might’s strength was insane, but he didn’t have the breath for it. Hell, he could barely make out the rush of color that was the hero pummelling Noumu to the ground.

Even from a distance, the hero’s voice rang out loud and clear. “Hey, villain — have you ever heard these words?”

Noumu parted its maw to roar, but it made no sound, and suddenly it seemed so insignificant compared to the blaze of All Might’s resolution.

“Go beyond!” He drew a fist back, and punched the monster’s gut with explosive force, sending it hurtling out of USJ with all the speed of a bullet train. “Plus Ultra!”

Everyone was left gaping. All Might looked scuffed and bloodied but victorious and confident at the same time, and a part of Izuku wanted to squeal in joy because this was the top of the world of heroes, this was what he wanted to be and what he wanted to do, but another part of him focused on the hero’s blood.

If it bleeds, then it can be beaten.

And All Might said, with a hoarse laugh, “I really have gotten weaker. In my prime, five hits would’ve been enough — but it took over three hundred punches just now.”

All Might, weakening? Izuku mindlessly traced a few numbers in the dirt, staining it red as his injured hand continued to bleed; assuming that five wasn’t an exaggeration, that would mean he was working off only a sixtieth of what he used to have. What kind of decay rate was that?

Why was All Might’s power decaying that much at all?

Izuku watched All Might taunt Shigaraki, intimidating the villain into taking several steps back. Kirishima called out to him, the other students backing off, but.

Another transmutation, especially at this range, would probably kill him and take a chunk out of everyone around him while it’s at it. He couldn’t speak out, or risk backing All Might into a corner by having himself taken hostage.

Kurogiri seemed to be having a hushed conversation and Izuku could see Shigaraki’s resolve hardening again, which was not good. They already had enough fights today, and the villains needed to stop trying and go away. Closer to the plaza, the less dangerous goons that All Might had knocked out initially were beginning to wake up again. Kirishima and Bakugou braced themselves to face them, but Izuku was still watching the Symbol of Peace stare down those two villains.

Without thinking, his hand reached to the side, and fingers wrapped around a piece of debris, just before Shigaraki launched into a run. “Stop!” Izuku couldn’t tell if the villains acknowledged him at all, but before he knew it the stone had already left his hand was was pelting towards Shigaraki, only to be caught and crumbled to dust in a split instant—

A gunshot blasted through the air, and Shigaraki’s hand spasmed, letting go of the rock’s remains, dust and blood flying into the air.

It took a moment for Izuku to process what that meant, during which several more shots were fired, and then he turned towards the source to see several shapes silhouetted against the outside light.

“Sorry we’re late, everyone!” the one of them said. “I gathered all who were immediately available.”

Izuku felt his desperation coalesce, and then vanish, as Iida’s voice pierced the air, short of breath but strong enough to reverberate. “I, Iida Tenya, class 1-A representative, have now returned!”

Chapter Text

At some point, Izuku must have passed out — probably just after Shigaraki escaped with Kurogiri’s warping powers. He wasn’t sure, but once the villains were gone, he had no reason to hold on, and he’d been so sleepy.

When he drifted back to consciousness, it was to the pale ceiling of the nurse’s office. His hand was throbbing and his chest felt tight and warm orange light was streaming through the window.

It took a long moment for him to process everything, but when he did, he groaned. “Ed’s gonna kill me and mom’s gonna cry over my corpse.”

“That’s quite dramatic,” Recovery Girl said, walking into his peripheral vision. He turned his head to look at her as she continued, “Your worst injuries are limited to your hands, aside for the fact that you’ve completely depleted yourself and almost became hypothermic. Here, eat this.” A bowl of oatmeal was nudged at him.

Hauling himself up was quite a bit of work, but Izuku managed and set the bowl on his lap before tentatively tucking in. His stomach wasn’t too happy, but he ate anyway. After the first few mouthfuls, he asked, “Is everyone okay?”

“Thirteen and Eraserhead will need time to recover, but they will live. None of the other students suffered much damage, and have been sent home,” Recovery Girl said, straightening out the bed beside Izuku.

Izuku sighed in relief, but then paused. “What about All Might?”

“What about him?”

“He’s alright too, isn’t he?”

Recovery Girl stopped, and then seemed to stare at him with surprising acuteness. “He’s fine,” she said, eventually. “Of course he is.”

Of course. Izuku wasn’t sure why he was worried. Of course the Symbol of Peace would be fine; no villain could possibly take him down like that.

If it bleeds, then it can be beaten.

“Midoriya,” Recovery Girl said, snapping him out of his thoughts. “About your skills, I must stress that you stop pushing yourself so far. I understand that the situation demanded it, but your injuries are not ones I can heal.”

Because that took energy, and the point was that Izuku didn’t have any of that left. “Right,” he said. “I’m sorry. Ed always warns me to be careful…”

It struck him that he wasn’t entirely sure that the side effects of the rebound were. Izuku startled, gazing at his heavily bandaged hand, and thought back to that one moment, the sickening feeling when the circle had fully slipped his control, its equations falling apart and tearing into anything near it as payment.

“What happened to my hand?” Izuku asked. “I mean, what exactly is wrong with it?”

Recovery Girl eyed him. “The biggest wound looks like you impaled your hand on several icicles and let it freeze there. There are smaller gashes that seem as though parts of your hand were somehow vaporized, but they are not deep enough to affect your in the long term. They’ll hurt for a while and scar over for sure, though.”

Izuku bit his lip. The ice damage was probably from losing control. But the other… “Ed is really going to kill me.”

“He won’t be able to if you starve to death first,” Recovery Girl said flippantly. “Hurry up and finish that bowl. Once you get home, eat as much as you can. You’re going to need all the energy you can get.”

He did, though by the time he reached the bottom of the bowl, he realized there must’ve been someone in the bed beside him, otherwise Recovery Girl wouldn’t have been neatening it. Idly, Izuku wondered who it could’ve been.

“You did what? Didn’t you learn anything from the entrance exam?” Livid, Ed stomped around the couch that Izuku was sprawled across. He was clearly upset at the news, and since he couldn’t work it off by sparring, he was left just pacing in angry circles around Izuku.

“I did, I just didn’t want to die.” Izuku popped another chip into his mouth. “My friend was in trouble, and then I was in trouble.”

Ed made an impatient sound in the back of his throat. “You’re in trouble now, too, you know. You can’t just panic and go overboard every time something life-threatening happens, Izuku — heroes have to face up to threats all the time, and I doubt they’ll let you have days off to recover from your own decisions.”

“I know. Sorry, but I’ll do better next time.” Izuku sat up and snagged Ed’s sleeve with his unhurt hand the next time he came around to the front. “Are you going to ban me from alchemy?” he asked, only half joking.

“What? No, but now I’m tempted to.” Ed stopped, and then plopped down next to Izuku with a heaving sigh. Izuku counted that as a good sign, an indication that the ranting had run out of steam. “Give me your hand, let me see.”

Before Izuku could do so, though, Ed pulled him closer for a brief moment, oddly quiet. Izuku had expected the chewing out and the ranting that Ed flew into upon hearing the news of the USJ attack and the mild alchemical rebound, but he was not too surprised by the way his tutor practically enveloped him in a hug when the lecture faltered to a halt, either.

“The hell kind of hero school lets villains crash into the classes?” Ed grumbled, letting go before reaching over for Izuku’s hand. He checked to make sure that the rebound’s seemingly minor effects actually were minor. It was a good thing U.A. took a day off, or Izuku would’ve had to be extra careful with what he bumped his hand into during training. As it was, he could just not go anywhere for a day and thus not have to worry about it.

“It’s not U.A.’s fault,” Izuku replied. “There was a villain that could warp, and one that jammed the sensors. Ow — don’t poke it!”

Ed made an annoyed sound, letting go of Izuku’s hand. “Quirks,” he said distastefully. “This is why alchemy is better. It’s simpler, with less rule-breaking. And when you do break the rules, the Gate kicks your ass.”

“Quirks don’t have overarching rules that can be broken.” Rubbing gently at the gauze wrapped around his healing hand, Izuku frowned. The mention of the Gate reminded him of something… An impression of emptiness, or something.

He couldn’t remember exactly what, but it probably wasn’t anything important, anyway.

A faintly contemplative look slipped over Ed’s expression for a moment before he visibly shook it off. “I should be flipping you into the ground for going overboard again,” he reminded. “Don’t push yourself like that, or one day the Gate will take something vital from you and that’ll be the end of it.”

And that was Izuku’s cue to switch the topic before Ed decided that one wounded hand shouldn’t be enough to stop a training session from happening. The older alchemist tended to be quicker to attack when he was all worked up. “One good thing did come out because of the attack,” Izuku said, to Ed’s skeptically raised brow. “Now I know for sure that at least one more of my classmates doesn’t secretly hate alchemy.”

“I thought you said they all knew by the time that first battle training session was finished,” Ed said. “And even if they do secretly hate alchemy, it’s not like they can complain if you leave them in the dust anyway.”

“I’m not good enough to just ‘leave them in the dust’, they’d catch up immediately!”

“Then get better. Which you can start doing by not overexerting yourself all the time. You’re going to end up cutting your own lifespan short, you know.”

Izuku had no idea whether or not Ed meant that literally, but he nodded anyway. “I promise to avoid rebounds in the future,” he said. His eyes flickered back to his hand, and his mind to that terrible numbness that cold held him in as the collapsing matrix ate away at skin and flesh. “One time was enough for me.”

Ed sighed heavily. “Good. Try to keep yourself healthy, kid, or the time you spend recovering is going to start coming out of the time you normally spend on improving yourself, and that’s when you’re doomed for sure.”

“It’s not like I’ll let myself get worse at this, you know.”

“Yeah, but who’s to say that others won’t get better more quickly than you do? Don’t just try to stay at the level you’ve gotten to, keep trying to improve and stay ahead of the curve.” Ed ruffled Izuku’s hair with an exasperated kind of look. “Like with the villains. Your current skill can’t catch those guys.”

That was true. Izuku bit at his lip contemplatively. “They really did outclass us.”

Ed shook his head. “Don’t grade yourself too harshly, that’s not what I meant. You held your ground well enough and with a little training you probably could’ve pushed them back, too, but it’s not going to be the same type of enemy over and over again.”

“So…” Izuku paused. “So what you’re saying is that I need to prepare for a variety of different situations and enemies.”

“Yeah, that’s what you’re school’s supposed to be teaching you. I mean, it’s not like I’m allowed to just haul you out to a real skirmish and tell you to stop it, right? Just keep working steady and stop pushing yourself so hard and you’ll be fine.”

Aizawa looked more mummy than human, but at least he was alive. Izuku was certain that he wasn’t the only one to sag with relief at the sight of his teacher up and about. Sure, he was injured and still had a while to recover, but he was going to be okay.

That little glimpse of relief wasn’t enough to offset the pressure that the sports festival brought upon them, though.

“Heroes all across the nation will be watching,” Yaoyorozu mused, which did nothing to assuage Izuku’s worry. “It gives us a chance to show off, certainly, but… Sensei, is it truly wise to hold the sports festival without regard for the attack?”

“They say it’ll prove that our crisis management is rock solid,” Aizawa said, sounding remarkably indifferent to the whole thing. “There will be more guards and heroes on duty, as well. However, you are right in that pro heroes will be watching this very closely, and this is your chance to show them your potential. If you join one of the more famous hero agencies after certification, you’ll get more experience and popularity… You only get three chances at the sports festival, one a year, so this is an event you can’t miss out on.”

Izuku could hardly focus throughout the rest of the classes following that announcement. It was true that showing off to a big hero agency was important and exciting, but once again he was slapped in the face with his disadvantaged position.

What big name hero agency would even think about recruiting an alchemist?

Uraraka was all hyped up, though. “Everyone, I’m gonna do my best!” she shouted, punching the air with a surprising amount of ferocity.

She was so into it that Izuku couldn’t help but ask her, as they made their way to the cafeteria, why she wanted to be a hero — but that didn’t mean he was expecting the answer.

“Money?” he echoed, surprised.

Rubbing the back of her neck sheepishly, Uraraka nodded. “Put simply, yes…” Her cheeks pinked with shame. “Sorry it’s such an unwholesome reason! It’s embarrassing, especially since you two have such noble motivations.”

“How isn’t that noble?” Iida karate-chopped the air enthusiastically as he continued, “There’s nothing wrong with seeking out a way to stabilize your lifestyle! I would say that your foresight is admirable, even.”

“Yeah,” Izuku agreed. “You’re thinking practically, and that’s really good!”

Uraraka still seemed somewhat uncertain, confessing her family’s financial situation and her desire to give her parents an easy life, but that just solidified Izuku’s perception. Iida’s as well, if his enthusiastic clapping and shouted “Bravo! Bravo!” were any indication.

“You can do it,” Izuku told her. They were small words, but had meant so much to him when he’d been younger and less certain of himself, and he hoped they’d offer Uraraka the same kind of comfort now.

Hesitantly, she nodded, a slight smile peeking through her flushed expression.

The relatively lighthearted mood quickly withered at the face of countless students crowding the doorway, though, stopping class 1-A from actually leaving the classroom. There was a bit of anxious muttering, but Bakugou only scoffed, shouldered his bag, and sauntered confidently to the door.

“They’re here to scout out the competition,” he drawled, “since we’re the kids who survived a villain attack. A pointless maneuver, though. Move aside, cannon fodder.”

Izuku flinched at Bakugou’s tone of voice, while Iida loudly berated his classmate for his poor choice of address.

Someone pushed their way to the front of the crowd, purple-haired and sleepy-eyed. “So this is the amazing class A,” he said, eyeing the other students critically. “How… modest,” he added, clearly mocking. “Are all hero course students like this?”

Unable to stop himself, Izuku backed away a step as Bakugou’s neutrality abruptly soured, his heart pounding. He’d gotten a little more used to the rest of his class lovingly picking on their most easily aggravated classmate, but this wasn’t anyone they knew, and had those words come out of Izuku’s mouth, he’d probably be blasted to kingdom come.

As it was, Bakugou just sneered without words, even as the stranger pushed on. “I’m a little disillusioned,” he said, running a hand through his hair and staring Bakugou down without fear. “You know, there a lot of people who got stuck in the other courses because they couldn’t make it into the hero course. The school has given those of us a chance, though. Depending on how we do in the sports festival… they might transfer us into the hero course.”

That was news to Izuku. He couldn’t tell whether or not his friends had known this beforehand, but he could visibly pick out the annoyance stiffening Bakugou’s shoulders.

The unfamiliar student smirked. “I hear you have an empty seat, anyway. But even if you didn’t, it seems that they’re willing to transfer kids out of the hero course as well.” He narrowed his eyes. “Scouting out the competition, you say? I, at least, came here to remind you not to get too comfortable, or I’ll sweep your feet out from under you. Consider this a declaration of war, class 1-A.”

How bold — but Izuku was more concerned with the odd silence emanating from Bakugou. Normally, he would’ve exploded ( literally ) by now, but the fact that he seemed perfectly content to simply glare back at the other student was odd.

And… slightly alarming, too.

Bakugou was an expert at fighting angry, but when he was calm… Well, Izuku had never seen him calm enough to make an accurate judgement, but the prospect was frightening enough.

The one to break the tension was a student from class 1-B with silvery hair who announced his interest in the USJ attack and pretty much reiterated what the prior student had said, except louder and more concisely. Bakugou, who visibly had enough of it all, ignored him and walked away, parting the people before him with sheer force of composure.

“Wait, Bakugou,” Kirishima protested. “What’re you gonna do about this? Now everyone’s hating on us because of you.”

Bakugou paused, and then cast a look over his shoulder. “It doesn’t matter.”

“Huh?”

“As long as you rise to the top, it doesn’t matter,” he reiterated, his gaze shifting out to the mass of students before them, and then he walked off.

Kirishima looked like he was about to tear up as he clenched his fist. “That’s so simple and manly…”

Izuku pondered the benefits of telling Kirishima not to look up to Bakugou too much, because Kirishima was so bright and kind and the other definitely wasn’t, but held his tongue as a burble of agreement rippled throughout the room.

As though a spell had been broken by Bakugou’s departure, the rest of the students dispersed from the front of the classroom as well.

Izuku looked to his bandaged hand, and thought of Uraraka’s resolve, of Iida’s aspirations — and of Ed’s encouragement, his casual but wholehearted belief.

You can do it.

Two weeks passed swiftly, feeling both too short and too long. Izuku picked up his sparring sessions with Ed as much as possible once his hand healed up ( with a bit of Recovery Girl’s help to speed it along, once he regained enough energy to allow her to do so without risking his health ).

Izuku spent equal time anticipating the arrival of the sports festival and absolutely dreading it, but by the time it finally came around, he was practically vibrating in place with nervous energy.

Marching out into the stage was thrilling. Izuku made sure to keep his head high, knowing that his mother and Ed would be watching the events at home, on the television, even though the sheer amount of people in the stadium was rather intimidating.

He kept a faltering smile plastered across his expression as he looked around. “It’s packed,” he said, mostly to himself. “People are usually more attentive to the third-years…”

To be fair, though, the third-years weren’t the ones who’d recently endured a real villain attack.

Beside Izuku, Iida looked around. “Whether or not we will be able to do our best while being watched by so many people… This is also an important part of the training required to become a hero,” he mused, and while Izuku found that reasoning to be truthful enough, he couldn’t help but worry all the same.

He had the added concern of how well or how badly the audience would might to his abilities, too. While he’d certainly been blessed with open-minded, understanding classmates, many others in the audience would already have their minds set on the inferiority of alchemy.

They halted in the middle of the field with the rest of the first-year classes, and Midnight welcomed Bakugou up to the microphone for the player pledge.

Izuku knew that wouldn’t turn out well… and he was proven right, as Bakugou leaned towards the mic and said, “I pledge — that I’ll be number one.”

From the sudden and somewhat muted groans all around him, Izuku knew he wasn’t the only one in his class to realize how terrible of an idea it was to have Bakugou of all people recite the player pledge. It was doubtful that the student had even considered just going with cordiality for once in his life.

There was something wrong here, though.

Izuku watched as Bakugou completely brushed off Iida’s unhappy rant and everyone else’s rioting, stepping away from the microphone with scarcely a blink.

He wasn’t stomping, or laughing, or even blasting his fingers for a show of power. Izuku heard more than one person complain about Bakugou’s overconfidence, but that wasn’t it. If he was confidence, then he’d show it.

This calm was eerie and unfamiliar and Izuku realized that Bakugou was trying to drive himself into a corner, careless of whether or not his classmates caught up in the move.

Izuku glanced back at the chief umpire, Midnight, who seemed faintly surprised and amused, but not about to stop Bakugou and force him to cooperate. That meant that the festival was about to fully kick into gear, and Izuku felt no better than he did before walking in.

But he’d have to endure.

Chapter Text

Fortunately, Ed had reminded Izuku to get a set of markers passed as “equipment” so he would always have something to draw with. Unfortunately, he didn’t have a chance to get any circles down before the obstacle race started and everyone crammed themselves into the too-narrow tunnel at the beginning of the track.

Izuku grimaced, but was quick to grab onto the shoulders of the people in front of him and push himself up. Out of sheer luck, his feet lifted from the ground just in time to avoid being caught in the sheet of ice that abruptly formed and trapped anyone whose feet were on the ground.

With a quick apology to the two students, Izuku used his impromptu handholds to propel himself up a little higher until he could brace his feet on their shoulders, using the other students as literal stepping stones. It was a dirty tactic compared to Bakugou’s explosions or Aoyama’s laser or Yaoyorozu’s creations, but it got the job done; Izuku was one of the first to clear the tunnel, although he was left slipping and sliding on the remaining ice without a proper foothold afterwards.

There were many reasons why Izuku didn’t want to draw an ice-based transmutation circle on himself at the moment, ranging from apprehension to practicality, so he managed by shuffling along like the rest of the people behind him. As long as he slid forward faster than they did…

Robots abruptly whirred into view, the same ones from the entrance exam. Izuku knew how to handle those, even the big ones, and he was about to pull out his maker when Todoroki ahead of him knelt, ice spiking up around him before rushing out in a spiral and crashing into the foremost robots with enough force to shove all of them back in addition to freezing them over.

And Todoroki didn’t even look winded.

( Quirks were so unfair. )

Izuku saw the way the robots were frozen and decided not to risk getting trapped under their falling bodies. Instead, he waited for them to collapse first, and then forged his way into the dust cloud that rose up as a result.

From the practical exam, he knew that the robot’s eyes weren’t equipped with infrared or anything like it, so by using the dust cloud as a cover and edging his way around the debris — although he did pause at the sound of banging until it became clear that Kirishima was more than capable of handling himself — Izuku was able to get pretty far into the line of robots.

His move inspired others, but the dust cloud was quick to thin out and they didn’t get as far before being located by the robots. As for Izuku, without any circles drawn he wasn’t sure what he could do. Punching them was out of the question.

Using alchemy for each battle felt wrong, though, like he hadn’t learned anything from his prior encounter with such an obstacle. Izuku dodged as a robot swung its arm at him, but then had an idea. He backed off, allowing other students to distract the robots for him as he hurried over to the pile of broken parts.

Marker uncapped and ready, Izuku drew a quick and simple circle onto the metal before activating it, letting the alchemical light wash over the matrix with a hum before he pulled his arm back, drawing a serrated-edged sword from the metal.

While Izuku hadn’t exactly trained himself in sword-wielding, he knew which end to hold and which to point at his target, and Ed had shown him a basic way to wield it, which would have to be good enough for him.

With a yell, he ran at the robot blocking his way; when it turned to track him and built up momentum to charge at him, Izuku sidestepped the blow and swung his newly made sword, which cleaved through the weaker joint binding the robot’s arm to its body and effectively disabled it.

Nice. Reinvigorated, and not nearly as tired as he might’ve been otherwise, Izuku pressed onward, using variations of the same trick to get rid of any robots that tried to stop him.

Normally, he’d go for a variety of tricks, but these robots weren’t hivemind and didn’t exactly learn from their opponents, so the same set of actions continued to work with surprising effectiveness. Of course, they didn’t work so well on the massive zero-pointers, but those were easy enough to avoid because they were huge and worried more about the massive swarm of students than about one kid quietly ducking out of its line of sight.

They were soon felled anyway, though, taken down by Yaoyorozu’s cannons. Izuku was impressed, but also knew he had to pick up his pace, since many others were beginning to get past the robot obstacle as well.

As the pitfall obstacle came into view, Izuku glanced at his sword uncertainly. Should he leave it, since it’d be too awkward to carry? He probably couldn’t use it as a balancing aid, since it wasn’t horizontally symmetrical, and… No, there would probably be a use for it later.

Izuku hurried out onto the rope, opting to crawl across on all fours. Trying to get across while upright wasn’t a choice when he was also hauling along a sword. He’d be an easy target.

Instead, he crawled across the rope as quickly as he could, ignoring the sting of his scarred hand as he steadily crawled along. He was near the front of the huge mass of students chasing after Todoroki, but only just barely, and people were using their quirks to propel themselves through this obstacle.

There was one thing he could do to slow some of them down, though. Upon reaching a platform, Izuku whirled around and sliced at the rope with his sword.

Several people shrieked in alarm upon seeing his actions, and even though he couldn’t spare the time to fully cut through the rope, he frayed it enough that it would continue to weaken under the weight of all the students on it. Izuku spared a moment to wave cheekily at the now-panicking competitors before turning towards the next rope and moving on.

By the time Izuku reached the end of the pitfall obstacle, he’d fallen back somewhat, but not too much. He kept pace and ran to the third obstacle.

Which, of course, just had to be a minefield. It was like this school didn’t know how to do anything low key.

“Oh, c’mon,” he muttered, about to begin making his way over. Before he did, though, he glanced up and saw how far off Todoroki ( and Bakugou, actually, he’d almost forgotten that the other student had blasted himself into the air in pursuit ) was and knew he wouldn’t be able to get to them in time if he took the conventional route.

In that case, he’d need something new. Izuku looked around frantically for something to help him, and then his eyes settled on the lumps where the mines were hidden, and an idea began to form.

Maybe Bakugou had the right idea, blasting himself all over the place.

Since Izuku needed different equipment for this, though, he scratched a circle in the dirt with his sword — ignoring the dirty looks others shot his way, and thank goodness they were too preoccupied in their own endeavors to try and ruin his attempt — before dropping the sword in the middle and pressing his fingers to the matrix.

It lit up with blue lightning and the sword melted into the earth before rising back up, in the shape of a sled-like sheet.

Izuku used it to dig up some of the mines. Luckily, they only reacted to pressure, not vibrations or movement in general, so he managed to build himself a decently-sized pile of the stuff without any trouble.

“This is the worst idea I’ve ever had,” he announced to nobody in particular, and then readied himself with his sled in front of him and leapt directly onto the mound of explosives.

They exploded all at once and launched Izuku into the air with a bit more force than anticipated, and boy was he glad that he thought to use some of the soil’s minerals to strengthen his sled. He hurtled forward and actually passed his two classmates skirmishing in the lead, although they were quick to abandon the fight and run after him.

Izuku watched the ground come up in front of him and knew that if he let himself be blasted back he’d never catch up to these two again so he shifted, setting his feet against his sled, and stomped it down.

It hit the ground and triggered another explosion, a couple mines going off at once. The blast wasn’t big but it was enough to give Izuku a leg up so he didn’t fall onto a patch of mines, he fell onto open ground with the leisure to fall into a roll and rise to his feet immediately.

Thrill rushed through his limbs as he glanced over his shoulder to see his classmates recover quickly and run after him — but not quickly enough.

Izuku sprinted through the home stretch and seized first place with aching lungs and a soaring heart.

( He may have cried a little, as the confetti flitted down around him. )

Why ten million points. Why.

“Clearly I should’ve just taken second place instead,” Izuku muttered, but he didn’t really mean it. This was better, actually; he definitely didn’t want the ten million points ( again, why ) to start out in the hands of Todoroki or Bakugou, since that would’ve been terrifying. And probably lead to a bloodbath.

Still, being completely isolated was a little tiring. It reminded him of how everyone avoided him in previous school years, and yet not quite.

Being looked up to was weird and Izuku had no idea how to deal with the subtle glares sent his way.

Uraraka was happy to join up with him, though. “It’s better to team up with people you get along with!” she chirped, and Izuku felt himself tear up in relief.

Iida, on the other hand… When Izuku opened his mouth to begin trying to explain a makeshift plan he’d come up with, Iida cut him off with a shake of his head. “I have to refuse,” he said. “Ever since the entrance exam, I just keep losing to you. You’re a wonderful friend, Midoriya, but if I just keep following you, I’ll never grow.” He paused, and then began to turn away. “Bakugou and Todoroki aren’t the only ones who see you as a rival.”

Izuku didn’t know how to feel about that, either. He felt a little hurt, but he was also a little awed at Iida’s resolve.

While he pondered that, someone else approached him. “I’m Hatsume Mei from the support course,” she said cheerfully, and Izuku blinked. “I don’t know you, but let me use your position! If I join up with you, I’ll inevitably be a part of the one team that that people will be watching the most, and if that happens, then my super cute babies will inevitably be seen by those big companies!”

A little overwhelmed, Izuku took a half-step back and chuckled awkwardly. “Your what now?”

“My babies!” Hatsume set down a chest and opened it up to reveal several different sets of equipment, which was much more reassuring than what Izuku had been expecting. “I have a ton of babies, so I’m sure you’ll be able to find one that you like!”

Sure sounded promising enough. Izuku leaned over to get a closer look at the equipment. He didn’t recognize any of them and could deduce what a few of them did, but not all. “Do you have anything that can improve mobility?” he asked, glancing back up at Hatsume. “Maybe speed, too.”

“Well, I do have this!” She pulled up a — jetpack? “I made this based on a certain hero’s backpack and added my own original twists to it.”

Izuku brightened. “Oh, could you be talking about the Buster Hero, Air Jet?” he asked, slipping a little into fanboy mode. “I admire him a lot!”

“You do?”

“Yeah! His agency’s close by, so I’ve toured it before. It was really cool!” Izuku grinned, and then took a moment to shake himself out with a slight laugh. “A-anyway… We still need a powerhouse to round us off, so…”

He looked around. Most people had clearly picked their own teams already, but — there!

Tokoyami was standing a little aside from the rest, looking collected but probably feeling a little uncomfortable. Izuku gently tapped his teammate on the shoulder, and flashed him a grin. “Wanna join up with us?”

Izuku couldn’t be the rider. Without being able to touch the ground, he was essentially powerless. Sure, there was water vapor in the air that he could probably pull together and freeze, but he was pretty sure Todoroki’s ice worked on a similar concept and he did not want to fight him for that.

Also, ice was on his list of Things To Not Transmute right now. His scarred hand throbbed at the mere thought.

Instead, Izuku was actually the left wing. Tokoyami was the frontal force, while Hatsume was positioned on the right. Uraraka was on top, so it’d be easy for her to touch everyone again in case her quirk had to be canceled for one reason or another.

Hatsume allowed Izuku to draw matrices on her hoverboot “babies”, although she seemed slightly off-put by it at first, brows furrowed as she realized that Izuku was an alchemist. She got over it pretty quickly, though, focusing instead on the fact that her work would definitely be seen. Priorities and all.

The cavalry battle began with everyone charging at Izuku’s team, and their initial plan to run was shot down when someone’s quirk turned the ground to quicksand.

That was easily dealt with, though. The quicksand shuddered, and then abruptly deconstructed in a flash of light that rebuilt a platform beneath them and lifted them up. “Now, Uraraka!” Izuku shouted.

“Roger that!” She clicked a button and her jetpack promptly fired off, lifting them into the air. A few teams tried to launch attacks at them anyway, but Tokoyami’s Dark Shadow kept them at bay with ease.

They landed on the sparser side of the field, at which point Hatsume proudly babbled a little more about her babies, but they were quickly converged upon again and forced into the air once more.

Bakugou was undeterred, however. He launched himself towards them with a series of explosions, roaring, “Don’t get carried away, damn you!”

Uraraka squeaked and shielded her forehead with an arm. “Uh, Tokoyami—”

Dark Shadow intercepted the explosive attack, forcing Bakugou to back off, and then resumed keeping an eye out for any other such attacks. Izuku scarcely allowed himself a sigh of relief, but then they started to descend much earlier than expected, and the hoverboots seemed to be having a harder time supporting them.

Izuku narrowed his eyes. That was odd; Uraraka’s Zero Gravity should’ve taken the weight off of everything except everyone’s clothes, Hatsume’s equipment, and Uraraka herself.

Uraraka seemed to notice, too. “Hatsume, are these running out of battery or something?”

“They shouldn’t be,” was the response.

“Hold on,” Izuku shouted. Some teams were distracted as the scoreboard went up, but Izuku took the moment to transmute another pillar for them to stand on, tall and steep enough that other teams wouldn’t be able to climb up.

Some screaming and ranting from Bakugou informed Izuku that class 1-B had planned to make their big move in this event, but he filed that information away for later. Right now, as his team stood precariously safe on their elevated platform, they had more important matters to puzzle out.

“Let me try something. Release,” Uraraka said, bringing her fingertips together. Then, she tapped everyone again; Izuku felt the foreign power rush through him, erasing his weight.

… Come to think of it, he hadn’t felt the sudden return-to-earth feeling he should’ve felt when Uraraka released them.

“Heads up!” Tokoyami said, and Uraraka quickly activated the jetpack again. Izuku squawked as he felt ice suddenly catch onto his hoverboots, but managed to tear free. One of them broke, though, and the other was disabled by some ice that stuck to it. He was pretty sure only one circle was working now.

So Todoroki had just sent ice screaming up the pillar, then. Clearly that wouldn’t work again.

They couldn’t lift off again, either — not with how difficult it was to control their landing with one malfunctioning boot and the other completely offline. “Sorry, guys,” Izuku said as they hit the ground running. “It’s down for the count.”

“Don’t worry about it, Deku,” Uraraka began, but then Tokoyami suddenly skidded to a stop, cutting her off as Dark Shadow braced itself in front of him. She looked ahead and steadied herself; Izuku found himself doing the same, once he caught sight of who it was that’d stopped them.

Todoroki advanced, but Uraraka swung to his left, trying to stay out of range. Other teams were converging as well, but Izuku spotted the odd shape emerging from Yaoyorozu’s arm and the sparks flickering around Kaminari.

“Stop!” he called, and his team halted just in time for him to activate the intact circle. With a flash, Izuku alchemically constructed and raised a cylindrical mesh of aluminum, so when Kaminari unleashed his lightning, it was conducted harmlessly around them.

A Faraday cage. Good thing the soil had enough aluminum in it for Izuku to actually construct such a thing — it’d been a bit of a risk, but it was better than having Dark Shadow bear the brunt of the attack. Kaminari’s shocks gave off light, which could hurt it and gut its capacity to attack and defend.

On the other hand, it wasn’t like they could hide behind the cage forever. Izuku kicked it down as soon as the lightning stopped, and they backed away as Todoroki’s team advanced, freezing everyone behind them almost as an afterthought.

Iida was too fast to run away from, though, and when Dark Shadow attempted to mount an attack, Yaoyorozu’s Creation of a shield swiftly deflected it.

And just like that, they were trapped. Tall walls of ice surrounded them, locking them into a roughly circular fraction of the field with Todoroki’s team for company. Izuku was pretty sure he could propel them all out of there if he needed to, but for now it was better to conserve energy. This way, at least, they only needed to worry about one team.

“Uraraka?” Izuku asked, leaving the ultimate decision up to her. “As long as we keep shifting to the right, we should be able to deal with that ice.”

She pursed her lips, and then nodded. “Let’s do that. Tokoyami?”

“We’ve got Kaminari’s lightning covered,” he said. “Izuku, don’t use the cage, it’ll limit our movements.”

Honestly, Izuku wasn’t sure if the ground even had enough aluminum for another Faraday cage, so he only nodded.

With Uraraka’s guidance as to when to move, they managed to hold onto their points for five of the remaining six minutes. As the clock began to tick down on the minute that remained, however—

They never saw Iida coming.

Iida blasted by in a whirlwind of speed and Uraraka’s headband was gone and there was less than a minute left. They had to get it back.

“I told you, didn’t I, Midoriya?” Iida said, a grin creeping across his expression. “That I’d challenge you.”

There was no time.

“Don’t move!” Izuku stomped his foot and the circle blazed to life against the earth, alchemy howling through the soil.

Tokoyami glanced back and protested, “We’re at a disadvantage on the offensive because of Kaminari, wouldn’t it be safer to try for other points right now?”

“Safer? What do we have to lose?” Izuku shot back. “We don’t know how the other points are distributed, either! This is the only way!”

The earth heaved at Izuku’s will, and suddenly the place where Todoroki’s team stood was hollowed out, the ground moving away from beneath their feet and piling up around them, trapping them in a sudden hole. Some noises of surprise rang out from the pit and Izuku pushed forward, urging the team to move; they wouldn’t have long before Todoroku broke out with his ice.

Uraraka steeled herself, and leaned forward in anticipation. “Deku’s right, we’ll get it back! Let’s go!” Izuku flashed her a smile.

Just as Todoroki emerged from the hole, lifting his team up with ice as predicted, Dark Shadow lashed out and managed to just barely snag the outermost headband and retrieve it before Kaminari launched electricity at it — and then the earth groaned and swallowed up the feet of Todoroki’s team members with jagged teeth, trapping them in place.

It was the wrong headband. Seventy points wouldn’t get them anywhere.

Fifteen seconds and counting.

Dark Shadow shuddered as Kaminari’s lightning faltered ( it looked like he’d crossed his wattage limit ) and then dove forward again, its shadowy maw snapping.

“Yaoyorozu!” Todoroki grabbed a staff from her and coated it with ice before swinging it around to deflect Dark Shadow’s relentless attacks. Now that it didn’t have to fear Kaminari, it struck blow after blow, forcing Todoroki on the uncertain defensive. Yaoyorozu created a shield to help out, but Dark Shadow battered at it anyway—

A hand reached out from behind them and grabbed the headband around Todoroki’s forehead just as the timer rang shrilly, signalling the end of the round.

Uraraka held up her fist triumphantly, brandishing the headband she’d seized at the last second. “I did it, I got one! Thank you, Dark Shadow!”

“Good going, Uraraka!” Izuku practically glowed; sure, they’d cut it rather close, being the fourth of the four teams who’d proceed to the next round, but they’d all made it. As they let Uraraka down from her “horse”, he added, “You too, Tokoyami, Dark Shadow — good job keeping Todoroki occupied. And Hatsume, your equipment is stellar!”

“We couldn’t have done it without you holding them in place,” Tokoyami said. Dark Shadow gave a thumbs up before turning towards Uraraka, who pet its beak gratefully.

Hatsume, who was examining her backpack for damage, simply smiled.

During the lunch break, Izuku chatted happily with his friends about everyone’s experience so far. In the midst of the meal, however, Izuku’s phone vibrated. A glance at the screen revealed that it was a text from Ed.

“Huh,” he said, and unlocked his phone to check it out. There were two image files that was taking a while to load, one timed much earlier than the other, but underneath the latter image was a caption that read, Guess where I’m at.

Uraraka, who was sitting beside him, perked up curiously. “Who’s that?” she asked. “Your dad?”

Everyone suddenly looked very interested as Izuku choked on his water — and spent the next several seconds coughing and laughing at the same time. “No, no,” he said, waving his hands around, “my dad hasn’t… been around in a long time, this is Ed, he’s my alchemy tutor.”

The first picture loaded. Izuku’s features softened at the image of his mom sobbing a tissue while a whole stack of tissues and empty boxes were piled up beside her, and at her other side was a slightly exasperated-looking Ed, who was clearly the one holding the camera.

Noticing his friends’ curiosity, Izuku tilted the screen so that they could see.

“Is the blond one your tutor?” Iida asked, and Izuku nodded. “And the other?”

“My mom. I think Ed decided to drop by to give her moral support… she worries a lot about me, and all of these events in the sports festival probably looked kind of dangerous.” Izuku rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly.

The second, more recent photo loaded, and Izuku tapped on it.

Ed’s overly smug expression filled the screen from… what was clearly inside the grounds, among the rest of the audience. Izuku almost dropped his phone, but then he quickly recovered and began typing furiously, sending off a message.

HERE? wait where are you now?? I thought you said you weren’t interested in attending in person!

“He’s here?” Uraraka exclaimed.

“He’s not supposed to be,” Izuku said, watched as his message switched to “read” and a typing bubble popped up in the messenger. It didn’t take too long for the reply to come.

My research was frustrating me, so I took a breather. Found a spot in the stands, but don’t bother looking, I’ll find you after you win first place.

This time, Izuku really did drop his phone on the table and groan, scrubbing at his face. “Way to turn on the pressure,” he said, to his friends’ laughter. “I mean, I was aiming for that anyway, but still!”

“Don’t think I’ll let you beat me so easily,” Iida remarked, and Uraraka nodded vigorously in agreement. “You’re going to have to fight hard for that first place, Midoriya.”

Izuku offered a smile, relieved that their friendship proved to be intact despite the cavalry battle. “I’m counting on it.”

if you yell at me in the middle of a match I’ll throw you into the ocean after the festival! don’t interfere please

Have a little faith, kid.

As brackets were about to be drawn for the final round, though, there was an unexpected development.

Namely, Ojiro’s withdrawal from the final round. “I barely remember anything from the cavalry battle until almost the end,” he confessed, eyes pinned to the ground. Lower, just barely loud enough for Izuku to hear, Ojiro added, “I think it was that guy’s quirk.”

Surprised, Izuku scanned the grounds. It was easy to pick out the purple-haired student who’d been the rider for the team Ojiro had been on, but what did that mean?

“I know that this is a great chance and that it’s foolish to waste it,” Ojiro continued, and his voice grew louder and more resolved as he continued, “but everyone here gave it their all in the competition! I can’t be up there with everyone else without knowing what I even did.”

Izuku watched, brows furrowed, as Hagakure and Ashido both tried and failed to reassure Ojiro.

They couldn’t change his mind, though. His voice quavering, he insisted, “I’m talking about my pride here, I can’t…”

Another student stepped forward. “For the same reason, I also want to withdraw,” he said. “If those who didn’t do anything moved on to the final round, wouldn’t that go against the spirit of the sports festival?”

( Izuku thought he heard Kirishima sobbing about manliness in the background. )

In the end, Midnight was happy to allow them to withdraw, and after a quick discussion, Tetsutetsu and Shiozaki were moved up into the final round instead to take their places.

“And so, here is the bracket based on the results of the drawing!” Midnight announced, gesturing at the expansive screens located all around the stadium. The audience roared with excitement, and Izuku was practically on his toes as he hurriedly scanned the listings for his name.

“My first match is against… Shinsou?” he murmured. “And then… Todoroki or Sero afterwards, if I win.” But if memory served, Shinsou was the one that Ojiro had been with.

From Izuku’s side, a low voice said, “It’s you, isn’t it? Midoriya Izuku.”

Startled at the sudden proximity, Izuku whirled around backed a couple steps away. He immediately recognized him as the one who’d declared war on class 1-A — a student from the general studies course.

After a moment, Shinsou tilted his head slightly, and then smiled. “Looking forward to the first match.”

Izuku opened his mouth to respond, only to found himself abruptly muffled by Ojiro’s tail. The tuft of fur at its tip tickled his cheek and all Izuku could think of was how thankful he was that the fur wasn’t the part covering his mouth, but Ojiro sounded solemn as he said, “Midoriya.”

Shinsou’s smile sharpened into a grin, and Izuku felt more confused than ever.

Chapter Text

The fact that Cementoss was the one constructing the final round’s battlefield made things much, much easier for Izuku. He knew exactly what material he had to work with, and drew his transmutation circles accordingly.

Cement was composed of belite, alite, tricalcium aluminate, and brownmillerite. That meant he had to base his understanding around the elements of calcium, oxygen, silicon, aluminum, iron, sulfur, and hydrogen in order to properly deconstruct and reconstruct them.

Izuku steadied himself with a careful breath, closing his eyes for a moment. He had to be careful. Even though he did have this knowledge, Ojiro had also told him what he knew about Shinsou’s quirk: it was essentially brainwashing, triggered by responding to Shinsou, and could only really be broken out of by an outside force.

In other words, if Izuku opened his mouth, he’d lose.

He seriously pondered the merits of gagging himself for the entirety of the match, but eventually dismissed the thought as impractical. All he had to do was keep biting his tongue. How hard could that be?

Shinsou had his hands in his pockets, slouched leisurely, but his face was twisted into a sneer. “That monkey was going on about his pride, but you can’t worry about appearances if you know what you want for your future. Don’t you think that only a dumbass kid would away his chance for such a stupid reason?”

Fury exploded in Izuku’s mind at a dizzying intensity and something in the back of his mind noted how Shinsou definitely knew exactly which button to press to set him off but the rest of his thoughts vanished in a haze of anger and Izuku advanced with a retort at the tip of his tongue—

Wrath is deadly, a memory whispered.

—and stopped. No. He couldn’t fight angry, that would be fighting stupidly.

Shinsou was certainly capable of provoking people into responding, but Izuku bit his tongue so hard he drew blood ( and fuck what he said earlier, this was going to be hard ) to stop himself from speaking.

Alright, the first thing to do was to calm. Down. Only when the haze lifted did Izuku trust himself to move — and he ignored Present Mic’s voice resonating above about how boring this start to the final round was, tuning out the commentary. All he needed to focus on was breathing.

Izuku’s mind cleared. He breathed in, and then lunged, running towards an unsettled-looking Shinsou.

“Say something,” Shinsou said, and Izuku tasted blood. “Hey, you in there?” He ducked from Izuku’s first punch but staggered back at his second, coughing. “I saw what you did in the cavalry battle, must be nice to have such a great quirk, huh? What was it, earth manipulation?”

No, it wasn’t. Izuku kicked, landed the hit on his opponent’s leg, and was rewarded with Shinsou’s losing his balance.

“Thanks to my quirk, I’ve been behind from the start,” Shinsou spat, and finally began to retaliate with a punch — but his physical combat couldn’t hope to match up against Izuku’s, and Izuku dodged fluidly. “Someone who’s been blessed like you can’t understand, can you? I’ve been viewed as a villain from the start! I have my own dreams but because of my quirk they’ve always been out of reach. How can you understand?”

Izuku’s chest panged and the lingering embers of anger faded, empathy pooling in instead, and he choked out, “I know—”

And was silenced.

A foreign power locked his limbs and he couldn’t see or hear or feel anything, and no matter how hard he tried to move, his body would not listen. Izuku struggled to make sense of the absence of everything, utterly confused.

Shinsou’s voice cut in through the nothingness with a tense chuckle. And then, “Turn around and walk out of bounds.”

Izuku could feel himself moving, now, and he had to assume that his body was doing as commanded. That was bad, how was he supposed to snap himself out of it now? He strained against the power that held him under, but was unable to shake it off. This was not how he wanted the fight to go, not after Ojiro had even taken the time to warn him…! He was about to lose ( he couldn’t even see how close we was to walking off the field ) and it would be all his fault—

No, no, he just had to — if he couldn’t move, then maybe — Izuku desperately tried to tap into the circles on his shoes, shoving energy at them. They didn’t react, but…

But Izuku’s vision returned, staticky and blurred but there all the same. Everything around him was white like a washed-out canvas, but color slowly bled back and he was four steps from losing and Izuku shoved as much power as he dared into the circles at his feet, come on, work!

Three steps.

Light seemed to be coming from the soles of his feet. His sight sharpened, the blurriness vanishing.

Two steps.

Alchemical energy crackled around his legs as the static in his vision faded as well.

One step.

The circle howled to life and the floor yanked up in front of Izuku, forming a wall between him and the boundary line. He walked right into it, and jolted free of Shinsou’s quirk with a startled gasp.

All around him, the audience roared, but Izuku took a moment to rub at his temples, ignoring them. His head throbbed, but not at an unbearable level. He lifted his head and narrowed his eyes at Shinsou, who stepped back.

“Hey, now,” Shinsou said, but Izuku paid no heed as he charged. As he got in close, Shinsou’s expression darkened and he was the first to punch this time, although the attack was easily deflected. “You wouldn’t understand!” he shouted, and this time Izuku said nothing. “Someone like you, who was born with the ideal quirk, who can reach your goal!”

It was impossible to block Shinsou out but at the very least izuku could keep his responses ( I know, I know! I understand! ) mental, his jaw clenched tightly. He sidestepped his opponent’s desperate punch and grabbed his wrist, using Shinsou’s momentum to redirect him around until he was stumbling closer to the white line marking the boundary.

Shinsou stopped himself and turned back towards Izuku but by that point Izuku had one hand slamming into his face and the other to his shoulder. One solid shove later, punctuated by a boxing of the ears to throw him off balance and a final punch, and the other student toppled over the boundary line.

Midnight lifted her hand as Shinsou landed in the dirt with a grunt. “Shinsou is out of bounds! Midoriya advances to the next round!”

Panting, Izuku relaxed slightly. While countless voices rose in excitement all around him, he kept his eyes on Shinsou.

The other student had his fists clenched as he pushed himself up, meeting Izuku’s gaze. After a moment, Izuku held out a hand — and another passed before Shinsou took it.

“I see,” Shinsou said, and clasped Izuku’s hand with both of his, before tilting Izuku’s hand slightly and shifting his own to reveal the solemn transmutation circle marking Izuku’s skin. Izuku stilled as Shinsou continued, “I thought I saw something when you touched my face.”

“I wanted to tell you,” Izuku said softly, “that I know what it’s like, having an unheroic power. Wanting to be something so badly, only to be shot down because of what I have.” What he didn’t have. What he was.

“You can’t help the things you long for,” Shinsou murmured.

Izuku’s gaze flickered over Shinsou, and then out to the stands, where the audience continued to cheer. He thought he could see a familiar flash of gold, somewhere in there. “Yeah. At least, that was what I thought before… before I realized that I could. I could do it. I could save people.”

They walked to the center of the battlefield in silence, faced each other, and bowed. Shinsou walked away first, his head low.

Izuku watched him go, and that was the only reason he saw a student in the stands call down to Shinsou and turn his attention to the heroes sitting further in the back. While Izuku wasn’t close enough to hear, he could tell that the general atmosphere was of approval for Shinsou, and he couldn’t help but smile.

( Maybe, one day, alchemy would win approval as well. )

Shinsou straightened. Pitching his voice so that Izuku could hear, he said, “Don’t forget that they’ll consider transferring students into the hero course, depending on the results. Even if I didn’t win this time, I won’t give up. I’ll get into the hero course, get certified, and become a better hero than you could ever dream to be.”

“Looking forward to it,” was Izuku’s prompt response, and then — the clutches of Shinsou’s quirk locked into his limbs again. This time, though, he still remained aware of his surroundings. But the match is over? Why?

Shoulders jerking in muted laughter, Shinsou cast a glance at Izuku over his shoulder. “People are usually more careful when they talk to me,” he said. “Someone’s gonna trip you up in no time if you keep this up, Midoriya.”

Izuku would’ve loved to make an affronted face at him, but he couldn’t move.

( Or could he? )

Just as Shinsou’s quirk began to slip, it was lifted completely. “Don’t lose in an unseemingly way.”

Well, no harm in replying this time, either. “I won’t,” Izuku promised, and was promptly caught in Shinsou’s quirk again. Somehow, he retained enough control, or was allowed enough control, to grin.

After replying to Ed’s half-annoyed half-exasperated text about how he couldn’t believe that Izuku let himself be goaded into talking when it was clear he knew what his opponent could do beforehand, Izuku paused, and then hesitantly tapped out another message.

I thought I was doomed until I tried to use my alchemy… do you know why that seemed to help me?

Alchemists aren’t resistant to quirks by nature, if that’s what you’re asking.

then how did I break out?

It took several minutes for a reply to arrive.

I have a theory. If I’m right, then you’ve completely forgotten to tell me about something very, very important. We’ll discuss this later, just focus on your tournament for now.

Puzzled, Izuku simply sent off an okay before putting his phone away and settling down in his seat. He felt a tap on his shoulder, though, and turned around to see Ojiro lifting a fist in triumph. Izuku smiled and returned the gesture before focusing on the battlefield below.

He’d have to fight whoever won this match. Objectively speaking, he was pretty sure he knew who’d come out on top, but maybe he could get a bit of an insight as to how to do better.

Or, Izuku realized, staring at the huge glacier that sprang out of nowhere with enough force to rock the entire stadium, large enough that half of the audience members had to lean back to avoid touching it, it’d be over in two seconds and he wouldn’t have anything useful to go off of at all. Wonderful.

Uraraka reached over and patted Izuku’s hand sympathetically as he let out a nervous laugh. He looked up, and although he was unable to see where the glacier actually ended, he could hear the snapping and popping of the ice struggling to hold up its own weight. Looking down, Izuku could just barely make out Sero’s head above the ice.

“Don’t… Don’t you think that this is a bit much?” Sero asked, his voice clearly audible over the dead silence of the stunned audience.

“Can you move, Sero?” Midnight said, halfway coated in ice and shivering.

“Of course not,” was Sero’s slightly strangled response, and so he was declared immobilized and Todoroki was declared the winner.

The silence clung on for an uncomfortable second, and then the stands picked up a chant of “Don’t mind, don’t mind!” as Todoroki walked back over to Sero. Izuku watched, brows furrowed, as Todoroki held a hand to Sero’s chest and began to melt the ice away with his left hand, steam hissing out into the air.

All Izuku could think of was how sad — burdened, almost — Todoroki looked, despite winning with such ease.

( Why was it that Izuku only ever saw his classmate use ice offensively? )

As all the ice was melted, Izuku turned to Iida. It looked like there’d be a bit of a break between this match and the next, in order to let the meltwater dry up a bit, so he figured there wouldn’t be any harm in chatting for a bit.

“Iida, since you teamed up with Todoroki for the cavalry battle, do you know why Todoroki only ever uses his ice?” he asked. He quickly added, “It’s okay if you don’t want to tell me because I’m up against him next or if it violates his privacy, but…” How should he put it? How should he describe Todoroki’s sadness, if at all?

While Izuku wrestled with trying to get his words out, Iida blinked and held up a hand. “Sorry, Midoriya. I don’t know why, he only said that he’d never use his left side in battle.”

Izuku’s brows furrowed. But why? Holding back his left side limited so many of his options. More than half, really — there were countless possibilities that came with the mastery of temperature.

So what was wrong with fire?

Although Izuku learned rather little from Todoroki and Sero’s fight, he pulled himself out of his thoughts for long enough to watch the following battles. He felt a little bad for both Kaminari and Iida, for different reasons. Actually, he’d wanted to give Iida a heads-up on what Hatsume was like, but Iida steadfastly had not wanted to know, and Izuku respected that.

Iida progressed just fine anyway, if a little wounded in terms of pride.

“Hatsume would do anything just to reach her goal, huh?” Izuku murmured, jotting a few notes down in his travel notebook. Catching sight of Uraraka shifting beside him, he glanced up at her. “Uraraka?”

She paused, and then shot him a smile before moving again. “I’m going to get ready.”

Izuku glanced at the field. Ashido and Aoyama were up next, but… he could spare a bit of information to help out his friend. “I need to tell you something,” he said, and rose out of his seat as well. Uraraka seemed slightly puzzled, but allowed him to follow her out of the stands and into the hall.

Once there, Uraraka tilted her head at him. “What did you want to talk about?”

“About your upcoming fight with Kacchan,” Izuku said. “He won’t hold back, that’s just how he is — and nobody would hold back at this stage, really. Everyone wants to be first, and that’s why I wanted to give you a hand.”

“A hand?” she echoed.

“A-a plan, really, and it’s not much, but it might help you get an upper hand.” Izuku showed her his travel journal and its worn pages.

Uraraka stared at the little book for a moment, and then shook her head. “Thank you, Deku,” she said, “but it’s fine. I can do it.” The familiar words startled Izuku into silence as she continued, “You’re amazing, really. But during that cavalry battle, I think… when I said that it’d be easier to team up with friends, I might’ve just been relying on you. So when Iida said that he was challenging you, I was actually a little embarrassed.”

“Oh,” Izuku said, letting his hands fall back to his sides. “So you want to conquer this trial on your own.”

“Yeah. Everyone’s heading towards their futures with all they’ve got, and I’m no different.” She lifted her head. “That means we’re all rivals, right?”

“Right.” Izuku’s gaze softened. “Rivals. That means we can’t lose until we face each other, you know.”

She gave him a thumbs up, but when Izuku clenched his hand into a fist and bumped his knuckles against hers, she laughed a little. “Let’s meet in the finals, Deku.”

They couldn’t.

Uraraka lost. While her desperate plan had forced Bakugou’s hand to create an explosion bigger than anything Izuku had ever seen from him, sans the time with the gauntlet, he’d still been raring to go.

Honestly, Bakugou was a monster in terms of sheer combat ability. Izuku bit his lip as he headed towards the waiting room, trying to turn his focus to his upcoming match with Todoroki, but he couldn’t help but feel for Uraraka. Losing in such a way couldn’t have been easy.

And because Izuku’s luck was absolutely terrible, he ran into Bakugou on the way.

Despite the win, Bakugou apparently wasn’t in the best of spirits. He swore at Izuku three times and told him to die in two different ways all in the span of five seconds, which would’ve been impressive if it’d come from anyone else.

Izuku bit down on a squeak. “I-I’m next,” he said, his voice a little more high-pitched than he’d like. He forced his limbs to keep moving, to carry him slowly but steadily out of this situation. “I’m just gonna get ready in the waiting room. Er, congrats on your victory, I’ll be going now…”

“That damned idea was yours, wasn’t it? That desperate plan,” Bakugou said before he could leave. Izuku stopped. “Dammit, you just had to be annoying and fuck it up—”

“No.” Izuku shot a firm stare over his shoulder. “It wasn’t mine, it was hers. Uraraka came up with it all on her own, so if you thought that it was an annoying plan, then that’s just because she was leading you around by the nose the whole time.”

Bakugou’s scowl only deepened, but Izuku dug his heels in and refused to back down. Not now.

Tension seemed to thicken the air — and the Bakugou snarled soundlessly and stomped away. Izuku watched him go, and then let his shoulders drop with relief.

Crisis averted. Barely.

The rest of his trek to the waiting room was uneventful, although he was surprised to see Uraraka still there.

“Man, I lost!” she said the moment the door opened, much more brightly than Izuku expected. “I got carried away at the end, thinking I could actually beat him… Dang it.”

For a moment, he was at a loss for words. “Uh, are you okay?”

“Mhm! Recovery Girl healed me a bit, but she didn’t want to drain my stamina, so I’ve still got some little scratches.” She pointed at her bandaged cheek, and then dropped her hand. “Oh, but that Bakugou! He was really strong, he totally got me! I need to work a lot harder.”

When she faltered to a stop, the silence between them hung heavily. Izuku could tell that she wasn’t as carefree about her loss as she was pretending to be, but what could he say?

Bakugou’s words came back to mind. You just had to be annoying and fuck it up…

“You know, Uraraka, I think… I think you actually managed to shake him a bit. You might’ve lost the battle, but I think you can still do it for the war.” Izuku offered half of a smile, but before he could try to elaborate, he heard Mic’s commentary suddenly pick up volume, and a dull roar rumbled through the walls. “They’re done already?” Izuku waved. “Later, Uraraka.”

“Ah, sorry! You didn’t get a chance to prepare, since I was here.”

“Don’t worry about it,” he reassured, and they exchanged insincere smiles. “I’ll be fine.”

“Good luck, Deku,” she called as he closed the door.

Izuku wasn’t sure whether or not he was successful at assuaging Uraraka’s frustration, but he’d have to save those thoughts for later. The battle came first.

Or second, actually. Izuku took a step back as the intimidating Flame Hero stepped into view from around the corner, blocking his path. “E-Endeavor?”

“Oh, there you are,” the hero said with no little contempt in his tone, which only served to confuse Izuku even more, even as he recoiled another step.

“W-what are you doing here?” Izuku managed to say. Was this about the fact that he was facing Todoroki next?

“I watched your battle. Heroes need to be observant, and I hope you don’t think that your little tricks have gone unnoticed by all.” Endeavor’s flames flickered, and his expression remained stormy. “What has U.A. fallen to, accepting a quirkless student into the hero course?”

Izuku froze. A familiar pain rose up in the back of his throat, but he swallowed it down with a carefully blank expression. “I must go,” he said.

As he edged past Endeavor, the hero spoke. “I was hoping that my Shouto would have more substantial opponents. He was created to surpass All Might, and he doesn’t have time to waste on someone like you. At least try not to disgrace him.”

Before he realized it, Izuku had stopped. His mind tripped over one concept ( created? ) after another ( someone like you ) and he’d known that this kind of conversation was a long time coming, but it still hurt. He focused on the first point of confusion instead. “Created?”

“He’s going through a rebellious phase, pettily refusing to use his fire,” Endeavor said, half to himself, “but I’ll make him succeed me before long. He was created for this, and he will fulfill it. Anyway, that was all I wanted to say. Move along, brat.”

Apparently making it to round two of the final round wasn’t enough to prove himself capable.

Izuku steadied himself with a breath, and walked on.

Fine. He’d just have to beat Todoroki thoroughly enough to… Hold on. Rebellious stage? In Izuku’s eye, Todoroki had looked more sad than anything else, tired and burdened. And if Todoroki’s aversion to his left side was because of Endeavor, then Endeavor clearly had been unable to push him into using it. So if Izuku could do what Endeavor couldn’t—

No. No, not out of spite. Todoroki clearly had enough on his plate, it wasn’t fair for Izuku to involve him. His goal wasn’t to get back at people, it was to help people. To be a hero.

“Dammit,” he whispered.

Chapter Text

While cement would be Izuku’s weapon of choice, Todoroki’s was ice, so Izuku scrawled a circle on the back of his unscarred hand and hoped that it wouldn’t yield the same results as the last time he used a ice-based transmutation. This circle wasn’t exclusively for freezing , though.

In any case, he didn’t feel nearly prepared enough to step onto the field, but time was up and it wasn’t as though he had any other stellar ideas, either.

Present Mic’s voice rang out above them. Izuku stared at Todoroki, tense and ready to move, knowing that the instant the fight began, he had to expect the worse and dodge a direct attack from the ice—

“Start!”

Immediately, ice sprouted from the ground and rushed at Izuku from Todoroki’s foot, but Izuku activated his shoes’ circles and countered with a rise of earthen spikes that shattered the ice and continued to shatter it, working towards Todoroki along the same line that his ice had taken.

Little frozen shards and crystals flew everywhere, and Izuku felt the cold sting at him, but he kept focused. Todoroki dodged Izuku’s counterattack and fired off more ice from the side — only for it to be immediately broken when Izuku’s alchemized spikes turned and shot to the side, breaking through the ice and rupturing the attack.

Gritting his teeth, Izuku released the ongoing transmutation and re-readied it. It didn’t look like Todoroki had any openings, but he couldn’t touch Izuku with ice from a distance… which was why he was running at him now, ice rushing forward in another strike as he ran along the top.

While the ice was easily dealt with, it also meant that Izuku could not move his feet until he was done with the transmutation. That made him seem vulnerable when he was transmuting, but…  

Todoroki leapt off from his ruined ice and made as though to punch Izuku, and Izuku grinned grimly as he called upon the ground, alchemy rushing through the concrete until it rose up to catch Todoroki in mid-air, encasing him from shoulders down, trapping him there for a few seconds before Todoroki tore it apart with his ice. His momentum gone, Todoroki was much slower in his approach, and his attempt at another punch met only the bare ground.

Izuku was still close, though, close enough that the ice surging out of the punch could reach him — but it didn’t, crashing instead into a rising column of concrete as Izuku lifted himself up high with a pillar. The ice was quick to change directions, charging up the pillar, but then Izuku leapt off and hit the ground with a roll.

And then he realized that he was in trouble, because the ground was coated in a sheet of ice almost half a meter thick and Izuku could not reach the concrete through that.

Izuku looked up at Todoroki and bared his teeth in a grin. “Clever,” he said, even as Todoroki sent another wave of ice at him, forcing him to dive out of the way. But he’d expected this, so he pressed his right hand to the ground and activated the circle he’d drawn on the back, and when Todoroki’s ice came upon him again it was met with equal force from another source of ice.

Namely the half-meter sheet of icy material that Todoroki had so generously provided. In addition to deflecting Todoroki’s latest attack, using the ice already present also allowed Izuku to remove it from under his feet, resulting in him standing about half a meter lower than he’d been before, and with a blaze of light all of the ice around him was abruptly torn away as the ground erupted into spikes, piercing through the ice.

When the transmutation died down, the sound of cracking and snapping finally coming to a halt, Izuku was left panting. Todoroki noticed and said, “What, are you that tired already from just defending and running away?”

Izuku straightened, narrowing his eyes. It was hard to clearly make out, and he was starting to get tired, but… was Todoroki shivering? If he was that cold, then it’d be a simple matter of warming himself up again with his—

His. Oh.

Oh, now that was just insulting.

“Sorry,” Todoroki said, “but thanks, Midoriya. That guy’s face is clouded over now because of you.”

It didn’t take much to realize who ‘that guy’ was. Izuku was silent, in fear that if he opened his mouth, the only that would come out would be a snarl.

“I’ll deny him completely by rising to the top without his power,” Todoroki said, his eyes turned to the stands. “You’re out of energy, aren’t you? You can’t fight like that. Let’s finish this.” Another rush of ice burst into existence and lashed out at Izuku, who watched the attack draw closer.

Izuku snapped. “Where the fuck do you think you’re looking?” he ground out, and stomped his foot. The floor howled to life, tearing the ice apart within a heartbeat as Todoroki looked on with wide eyes. “Finish this? You haven’t even scratched me yet! Even if I’m feeling a little tired now, you’re the one who’s actually shaking.” Izuku lifted his head. “If you’re that afraid of me, if you’re that afraid of using your left side, then exactly what are you trying to accomplish?”

Alchemical light flashed again, and suddenly the battlefield gained several indents, some straight, some curved… Most of it was hidden under rubble and glass, but there was enough visible that it could be identified. An audible gasp rippled through the crowd as people realized what he’d carved into the floor.

A transmutation circle.

( He was not supposed to create a circle via transmutation because of energy contamination and the risk of flawed runes, but while this circle was big, it was also so very simple. It only had one purpose. )

“Everyone’s fighting at their absolute best to win and get closer to their dreams,” Izuku said, his voice rising with every word. “And you’re telling me that you want to win with less than half of your strength? You think you can climb over us and get first place just like that, while we’re digging our teeth in just to get a shot? I think you should stop screwing around and come at me with everything you’ve got!”

Todoroki’s expression twisted into something hateful. “What are you planning? Everything I’ve got? Did my damn old man buy you off or something?”

“This might be a new concept to you, Todoroki, but did you know that not everything revolves around your father? Maybe I’m just mad at you!” Izuku shouted, and when Todoroki charged at him, he stood firm until the very last second. Then, he lunged, landing a solid punch on Todoroki’s solar plexus to deter him before shifting fluidly out of the way — ice just barely nicked his left arm, but Izuku had been careful to keep his limbs out of range.

Todoroki wheezed, grimacing as he struggled to regain his breath — but quickly retaliated with another wave of ice that Izuku didn’t even need alchemy to avoid; he just dodged out of the way. It was much slower and smaller than Todoroki’s initial attacks.

Again Todoroki advanced, and again Izuku carefully avoided the ice, light on his feet and always moving. He lured Todoroki with a feint before lashing out with another punch, and in the one occasion that Todoroki was close enough to freeze over Izuku’s left hand — cold blank-eyes no-eyes an open maw a wide grin, no, not again, not again — Izuku set his other hand on the ice and melted it immediately despite the aching protest in his chest, the boiling water dripping onto the ground.

He definitely starting to push it, now.

Maybe in the beginning the two of them would’ve traded equal blows, but with Todoroki slowed by the frost clinging to his skin, Izuku had the upper hand. He ducked a punch and kicked out Todoroki’s right leg, causing him to stumble.

“What do you want, Todoroki?” Izuku deflected Todoroki’s arm with his own, and easily melted the ice that gathered there using the circle on his right hand without care for the way his energy was plummeting. “Everyone’s trying their best to be a hero, and what are you trying to do?”

Todoroki hesitated, and Izuku took the moment to slam his head against Todoroki’s, knocking him back.

“I don’t know your circumstances or your resolve, but I don’t think I care right now!” Izuku yelled at him. “If you’re not gonna go all out, then I’ll just surpass you and win! How’s that, huh? Getting beaten by an alchemist because you want to keep holding yourself back like that!”

“Shut up,” Todoroki growled, but clearly his attention was elsewhere. “I… I’ll reject my old man’s power.”

This piece of— Izuku punched him again and watched him stumble back, frustrated and tired and just about done with this confrontation. “It’s your Truth-damned power, isn’t it?”

Silence.

And then the fire erupted into existence like a volcano, like a phoenix from its nest. It melted all of the remaining ice and pushed Izuku back several steps, even though his arm was raised to shield himself from the heat. Slowly, the flames died down slightly, clinging to Todoroki’s form as though it were a wing furled close.

It was beautiful and probably damning but Izuku couldn’t have cared less.

“To help your enemy…” Todoroki met Izuku’s eyes. “Exactly which one of us is screwing around now?” He exhaled steam, his eyes wide and determined. “I want to be a hero too!”

Izuku grinned and Torodoki matched his expression, and then Endeavor shouted something from the stands and Izuku’s grin melted right off his face. “Do you think he’d kill me if I threw a rock at him right now?” Izuku asked his opponent, who stared at him in shock. “I’m serious,” Izuku added, pointedly talking right over Endeavor’s words, effectively blocking him out. “I can tell that you want to, too.”

“I thought the world didn’t revolve around my old man,” Todoroki shot back, and Izuku’s grin returned in an instant.

“You’re learning!” he said with some kind of giddy happiness. “Cool, let’s just continue with this, then.”

“Why are you so happy?” Todoroki asked. “You’re practically out of energy, and in this situation… You’re crazy.”

“I try.” Izuku crouched, and brought his hands in front of himself for a clap, a sharp sound that resonated clearly throughout the stadium.

Todoroki eyed him, and then visibly braced himself. “Don’t blame me for what happens next.” Ice crystals shot up from his right foot, and the cold began to take over again, ice building up all around him before suddenly rushing forward in a wave of ice much bigger than anything he’d pulled off in the fight so far.

Izuku simply touched the ground and the huge transmutation circle he’d carved in earlier abruptly lit up, sparking to life with everything Izuku had left pushed into it. The entire battlefield groaned and shifted, rising up to intercept the ice and force it to the side before abruptly turning towards Todoroki like a concrete tsunami about to swallow him up, but Todoroki lifted his left arm and the fire howled higher and hotter.

When Todoroki raised his hand, Izuku thought he could see the words Thank you on his lips — right before Todoroki pushed and the flames snapped forward, sparking and detonating an explosion that tore the concrete wave apart and Izuku found himself struggling not to laugh even as he was thrown clear out of the battlefield, his back slamming into the wall with enough force to knock the breath out of him.

The dust was still in the air when the last of Izuku’s strength left him, dropping him into unconsciousness.

Izuku woke up still feeling tired, but once his memories slowly slotted back into place, he couldn’t help but feel slightly fulfilled.

“Stop that smiling,” Ed’s voice said from beside him, and Izuku would’ve jumped if he had the energy. “I can’t believe you. If you’d waited any less before using that circle, it would’ve completely failed. And you lost.”

“Did I?” Izuku tried for a smile, and Ed only shook his head with a wry expression. Before either of them could continue, the door suddenly slammed open, and Ed whirled around in surprise — only to see a bunch of kids poke their heads in.

“Midoriya!” they called, and Izuku weakly lifted a hand to wave at them. Iida, Uraraka, Tsuyu, and Tokoyami were all there. They came closer, and when Ed shifted, Uraraka’s eyes widened.

“Ah, you must be Ed!” she said cheerfully.

Ed’s gaze flickered over to… Tokoyami? And then back to her, something of a smile on his lips. “Yeah, that’s me. And I guess you’re all friends of this idiot?”

“Ed,” Izuku whined. “Hey, guys, aren’t you going to watch the next matches?”

Iida shook his head. “They’re taking a break to fix the field, since it was ruined so badly.”

“You did pretty much uproot the whole thing in that last transmutation of yours,” Ed said. “Also, Izuku, take a moment to call your mom once you’re coherent, alright? She’s called me frantically for updates.”

“You are okay, right?” Tsuyu asked, and Izuku nodded to her. “The audience was really shaken by how close you were to beating Todoroki, but from what I heard, they don’t get why you provoked him into using his fire.”

Ed and Izuku exchanged knowing glances. Ed must’ve known. Izuku looked back at Tsuyu and said, “I guess I wanted to be a hero more than I wanted to be a winner.”

“Idiots, the lot of them,” Ed said, and then snorted. “I mean, half of them didn’t even catch — what was it, your fight against the exploding boy?” He jerked his head towards Uraraka. “What kind of professionals would miss literal rocks hanging over their heads?”

“Uraraka’s just that good,” Izuku interjected before Ed could rag on the pro heroes some more. He hesitated, then. “I… Sorry, Ed. I guess I kind of let them think that alchemy is subpar…”

Ed raised a brow as all of Izuku’s friends immediately began to protest, but Ed stopped them when he said, “Kid, if they don’t recognize the magnitude of what you just did for your opponent, they’re too dense to ever win over with subtlety. Besides, this is just a pit stop on the way to the top; you’re nowhere near where you want to be just yet, are you.”

It wasn’t a question, but Izuku inclined his head anyway.

Ed ruffled Izuku’s hair, and then stood to leave. “We’ll talk later, after this whole festival concludes.”

As soon as the door closed behind Ed, Uraraka beamed at Izuku. “He seems nice.”

“Indeed,” Tokoyami said. “He’s your alchemy tutor, you said?”

“Yeah. Apparently, I’m nowhere near his level yet,” Izuku said, rubbing the back of his head.

“He must be the most accomplished alchemist of the century, then,” Iida said. “Midoriya, your mastery of alchemy is more substantial than anything I’ve seen from any other alchemist. If Ed is even more powerful…”

But Izuku shook his head. “He spends all his time researching and says he doesn’t want to be widely known,” he said. “I don’t really know much about his research project, but it’s really important to him… Ed doesn’t like to rely on alchemy, anyway. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him transmute.”

His friends looked surprised. “How long have you known him?” Iida asked.

“Ever since I was six,” Izuku said, and then, realizing how sketchy that was, he added, “Ed’s really against being dependent on alchemy and he knows more circles than all the books in the library, so it’s not that he’s unqualified! I think something might’ve happened to him before I met him, but he doesn’t like to talk about it.”

Izuku suspected that Ed made a terrible mistake a while back and swore off actually using alchemy since then, but there was no way to confirm that, since Ed always avoided the question.

Tsuyu put her finger to her chin in thought. “He looked really young to have been teaching you for so long, kero.”

And that was the other issue. Izuku simply shrugged. “He just ages really well, I guess.” No need to bring up how Ed sometimes seemed to be stuck in time, or Izuku’s suspicions about his origins.

“It is good that you have such a figure in your life,” Tokoyami said.

Well, Izuku would very readily agree to that. “I know.”

Eventually, Recovery Girl chased all of the visitors out, insisting that Izuku needed rest. He wasn’t too happy with that, as he was pretty sure he’d miss the rest of the final round now, but Recovery Girl told him that if he was quiet and took it easy, she’d release him in time for the finals. Knowing that was the best he’d get, Izuku reluctantly agreed.

The final round came down to Todoroki and Bakugou, and Izuku knew exactly who he was cheering for. He was on the edge of his seat as he watched Todoroki move — more clumsily than he expected, but maybe that was Izuku’s fault for shaking him up so much. Still.

When Todoroki hesitated even against Bakugou’s bellowed challenge, Izuku couldn’t stop himself and jumped out of his seat, shouting, “Todoroki, don’t lose! Do your best!”

The flames bloomed over his classmate’s skin again and Izuku watched hopefully as Todoroki visibly readied himself to retaliate fire with fire, and then — and then let the flames go out, his arm falling just as Bakugou’s attack detonated.

Izuku bit his lip as he watched Bakugou scramble over to Todoroki’s fallen form in a fit, only to be knocked out by Midnight’s quirk. He should’ve expected that just one fight wouldn’t have been enough to shake Todoroki out of it completely.

Still, he supposed it counted as progress that Todoroki was willing to even consider using his flames at all.

In the end, the awards ceremony went about as expected. Bakugou yelled and ranted a lot, complaining about the fact that he was trapped up to his shins in cement — no doubt to keep him from running off in a tantrum — but the fact that Iida wasn’t there gnawed at Izuku.

Iida had told him and Uraraka of the pressing situation concerning his brother, Ingenium, but all they could do afterwards was wait.

In the days off school that followed, Izuku alternated his time between reassuring his mother that he was fine and pacing around, wondering if he’d made the right decision in his fight against Todoroki. It wasn’t as though he’d consciously decided to break his classmate free of whatever burden it was that bogged him down, but it had been a strong feeling nonetheless, too strong to completely ignore.

When he confided his worry to Ed, about whether or not he overstepped some sort of boundary or made the wrong choice because the sooner he could be recognized as a hero, the more quickly he’d be able to save people, his tutor only patted his shoulder.

“Is that what’s eating you up?” Ed said. “Messing where you’re not supposed to is the best way to save people, because others will just overlook it and claim that it wasn’t their business. You reach more people when you poke your nose in.”

“But if this puts me in a worse position in terms of becoming a hero—”

“I really doubt your choice to save your classmate is really going to affect your future career that much,” Ed said. “Besides, it takes the pressure off for later sports festivals, right? You’ve got two more before you graduate, and because of what you did here, you don’t have to worry about all of that later.”

Izuku huffed, but eventually acquiesced. There was no point in obsessing over what’s already done, anyway; he just had to keep an eye out for the repercussions.

Days off school meant days on training with Ed. Using alchemy was forbidden, because Izuku’s reserves had only just built back up again, but Ed still had Izuku doing plenty of physical activity in addition to both of them poring over alchemical notes together. Apparently — according to Ed, anyway — other books weren’t as helpful as they should be, so Ed usually just sat down with a blank sheet of paper and started rambling to Izuku about whichever topic came to mind.

Before they got into it, though, Ed squinted at Izuku as though trying to stare into his soul. “You’re not missing any internal organs that you haven’t told me about, are you?” Ed asked, and Izuku choked.

“What? No!” How would something like that even happen?

Ed nodded to himself. “Alright, then. It’s time I told you more about the Gate and Truth.”

That certainly caught Izuku’s attention. Ed was rather cryptic about those subjects, and all Izuku knew was that the Gate was what allowed alchemy to happen and Truth was something like an omniscient deity while also being everything and everyone at once. Or something. Neither of them really ever appeared except when punishing alchemists for the ultimate taboo of human transmutation.

“Okay,” Izuku said. “What about them?”

“Have you ever seen them?”

Izuku’s brows furrowed. “I’ve never done human transmutation, though.”

“Yeah, I know.” Ed prodded Izuku’s forehead. “Keep it that way. But I think you must’ve seen them at some point, or else it wouldn’t make sense that you shook off that brainwashing quirk so easily.”

Puzzled, Izuku tried to think. “I really don’t remember seeing them… What do they look like?”

“Double doors of carved stone with some kind of design on them,” Ed answered promptly. “Truth just kind of looks like you, except it’s completely white and has a kind of blacklight around it. Also, it grins a lot. Everything else is white.”

It probably wouldn’t be a good idea to press why Ed had such exact descriptions for things that supposedly never showed themselves except to alchemists performing human transmutation, but before that idea could even process, Izuku suddenly remembered the flash of blankness when he’d rebounded in that transmutation with Noumu, back at USJ.

“The Truth doesn’t have eyes, does it?” Izuku asked weakly, and Ed straightened.

“So you have seen it?”

“Um — maybe, just for a second. It was during the League of Villains’ attack on USJ, and I’m not even sure whether or not it actually happened.”

A smirk worked its way across Ed’s expression. “That’s normal. Truth’s a bit of a bastard. But it does explain a few things. See, whether or not Truth takes anything from you, the fact that you reached that… state, per se, makes Truth and the Gate a little more closely tied to you than they’d be for other alchemists.”

That made sense, Izuku supposed. “But what does that have to do with quirks?”

“Truth’s all about literal equivalent exchange, even if it’s not actually fair,” Ed said. “And if I’m right in how strict it is, Truth really wouldn’t like quirks intruding on its territory — namely, you.” He narrowed his eyes thoughtfully. “A closed circuit is balanced until outside forces start messing with it. Think of an… economy. If there’s a certain amount of gold being cycled through a market, then its price will be steady, but if someone suddenly brings in a shitton of gold from somewhere else…”

“Then the price would drop,” Izuku said. He understood the concept of inflation well enough.

“And Truth would hate that because suddenly everything’s out of balance,” Ed concluded. “Or that’s my theory, anyway. Alternatively, it could just be that using quirks on people makes Truth mad the same way doing human transmutation does, except it can’t actually punish quirky people, so it just repels it instead. Oil and water. And it can only do that if it’s got a better connection to the alchemist than the norm.”

“So… I resist quirks now?”

Ed snorted. “I wouldn’t go that far. You have the potential to dislodge quirks that affect you directly, but that doesn’t mean you should be throwing yourself into the line of fire all the time.”

Alright, that sounded fair enough. “Okay, but I still don’t get why I saw Truth at all. Unless freezing someone’s arm counts as human transmutation?”

“It shouldn’t.” Ed hummed. “Was this person normal or did they have anything weird about them?”

Izuku grimaced. “I mean… Noumu barely looked human. Had kind of like a beak with teeth and, uh, an exposed brain.”

Ed froze. “A what.”

“A fully exposed brain. Like, just bulging out of its head.” Izuku chuckled, somewhat sheepishly. “I’ve seen some pretty weird appearance quirks, but that was the weirdest yet, I’ll admit.”

With a disgusted noise, Ed threw his hands into the air. “Quirks. Ugh. In that case, we might never know. It might be some stupidly specific power that grants direct connection to Truth or something. What the hell.”

Izuku couldn’t help but snicker at his tutor’s exasperation.

“I’m just glad I won’t have to deal with that for much longer,” Ed grumbled, and that made Izuku stop.

“Wait, what do you mean by that?” he asked worriedly.

Ed eyed him, and then said neutrally, “I might have a breakthrough in my research soon, and if it plays out well, I might be heading home right afterwards.”

That was not what Izuku expected. “You’re going home? I thought you were stuck…”

“I was, but if this works, I may have found a way around it.” Ed sighed wistfully. “I hope everyone’s okay.”

Honestly? Izuku wasn’t sure how he felt. He was happy for Ed, sure, but also — shaken. He knew from Ed’s lack of success with communicating with his friends that it was impossible to contact Amestris from here, too.

Ed seemed to pick up on his mood, and reached over to ruffle Izuku’s hair. “You’ll be fine,” Ed promised. “I’ll leave you my notes and everything, and you’re already well on your way to the top of these heroes anyway. You don’t need me to hold your hand every step of the way.”

Izuku managed a smile. He didn’t know if it was convincing, but it was there. “Yeah. Good luck, Ed!”

In other words, his time with Ed now had a tangible limit. The knowledge weighed on Izuku’s mind for a long time, even after they moved on to different topics.

The rest of the break went smoothly. Izuku did get an unexpected text from Todoroki on the second day of break, however, which politely requested that they meet up so as to clear some air between them. Izuku was happy to oblige, and picked out a quiet section of the park for them to meet at.

“Sorry for yelling at you so much,” was how Izuku began to conversation once they both sat down on a bench. “It was just really hard to watch you hobble yourself like that.”

Todoroki blinked, surprised. “How did you know — that my old man was…” He clearly tried to say a jerk without actually saying a jerk, and Izuku shrugged.

“He came over and insulted me just before our match,” he replied lightly.

“Oh. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be, it’s not like you can control him.” And Izuku had always known that he’d be insulted for what he was. “But enough about him, are you okay?” Izuku’s tone turned to one of concern. “I really didn’t know if you were carrying trauma related to your fire or something, I just kind of pushed you to it anyway.”

“I’m fine,” Todoroki said, and then paused. “I… I talked to my mom for the first time since — since she gave me this, when I was young.” His left hand rose to the scar tissue around his eye, and Izuku tried not to look too horrified. “She’d snapped under the pressure, but… she’s gotten better in the hospital. I think it helps that she doesn’t have to see my old man all the time. I didn’t want to move on from everything without her, so I finally spoke with her.”

Izuku exhaled heavily. “So…”

Looking back up at him, Todoroki hesitated a moment longer. “I think it’s time to begin again,” he said, slowly. “She was happy to see me, and happier still that I was still on the path to becoming a hero.” And then, more uncomfortably, “She also wanted to thank you.”

Oh, so that was why this meeting was happening at all. “You’re not the only one trying to become a hero,” Izuku reminded him.

In the end, the break days passed more quickly than Izuku expected. Sure, he was happy to see the rest of his classmates again, especially Iida, but at the same time he’d kind of missed the simplicity of Ed’s teaching style.

Now, he kind of missed not having to deal with being known. On his way to school, Izuku could feel several people stare at him on the metro, with whispers hissing all around him, so he resorted to scrolling mindlessly through news articles he’d already read to try and look too occupied to confront.

Nobody had said anything to him by the time he was getting off, and while Izuku could say he was relieved to escape without having to engage in awkward conversation, that wouldn’t have been the whole truth.

He supposed it would take more than one loss to really drive home alchemy’s worth.

At class, Izuku was delighted to see that Aizawa had recovered enough to not need the mummy-like bandages anymore, although he did have a rather nasty scar under his right eye. He announced that they’d be having a special hero informatics class. “You’ll be coming up with code names,” he said.

The class erupted into cheers — “We’re doing something exciting today!” — which were quickly stifled when Aizawa’s quirk suddenly flared.

“The pro hero draft picks normally gain intensity in the second and third years because those students have more experience,” Aizawa continued as though there’d been no interruption. “Since they’re extending offers to you first-years, they’re showing interest in your future potential. Keep in mind that these offers may be canceled if interest dies out by graduation.” He raised a remote. “And here are the totals for those with offers.”

Todoroki and Bakugou clearly had many more options to choose from, but only ten students actually had offers at all — and Izuku was at the very bottom with just one.

“In other years, the results were more evenly distributed, but all eyes were on these two this year,” Aizawa said, gesturing to Todoroki and Bakugou’s names at the very top.

The students began murmuring to each other. Frankly, Izuku was surprised that he had gotten an offer at all, and Uraraka practically squealed with joy as she shook Iida’s shoulder in excitement. Aizawa explained that they’d be participating in field training with pros, and then passed the class to Midnight for the actual name selection.

Honestly, Izuku spent most of the time staring blankly at his whiteboard. He was pretty sure he didn’t want one of the old hero names he came up with as a child, which were inspired by All Might.

He’d probably get yelled at for trying to imitate the best hero without a quirk, anyway… but that was fine, he’d just have to forge his own path. Maybe even take a name he’d already been given, albeit unwillingly.

Huh. “I can do it” really did have a nice ring to it, after all.

He settled on “Deku”, and couldn’t help but feel a little stronger for it. Besides, Bakugou’s face twisted in annoyance, which made it all the better.

Aizawa took over the class again once all the names were decided on. “Field training will last one week,” he said. “As for where you’ll have them, those who had offers from pros will be given their own lists, and those who didn’t will choose from among forty agencies around the country that will be accepting our interns.”

As Aizawa continued, Izuku could only feel anxiety sit heavy in his gut. He knew he didn’t want to pick from one of those forty, if only because depending on their attitude towards alchemists they might not really teach him anything at all. But he didn’t really recognize the one he was given, either.

What even was the Fullmetal Hero Agency?

Chapter Text

Izuku worried over Iida. Ever since the news that his brother had been critically injured by the Hero Killer, Stain, he’d seemed distracted. Since Izuku didn’t know how to approach his friend about the recent tragedy, he opted to give him a polite distance, but still hopefully close enough to be called upon if Iida ever needed the help.

But Iida barely acknowledged his surroundings. For someone who’d looked up to his brother and wanted to be like him, he certainly hadn’t put any thought into coming up with a particular hero name.

Or he’d just been unable to bring himself to.

Izuku tried to catch Iida after school, but his friend seemed to vanish the moment the bell rung.

“Maybe he’s already decided on which hero he wants to intern with,” Izuku said to a pensive Uraraka, and the hope tasted bitter and false on his tongue. “Maybe he’s just dropping off his submission. He likes to be on top of this kind of stuff.”

That didn’t excuse the fact that Iida hadn’t waited for them before leaving, though.

Uraraka tugged at her shirt. “Well, his family could be busy from all the media backlash and he went to help them out,” she mumbled, which was reasonable but held that same note of false hope.

“I’ll text him later,” Izuku said.

Unable to do anything else, the two of them parted ways to return home.

Once Izuku got home, the first thing he did after greeting his mom was look up the so-called Fullmetal Hero Agency on various directories he’d bookmarked on his browser. He couldn’t find it. Scouring the recent news brought nothing up either, so he plugged the name into a generic search engine and came up with just one result.

Izuku clicked on the site and noted that most of the widgets and settings were still on default, as though it had only just been set up from a template.

Curious and more than a little confused, Izuku clicked on the link to a members list — and stared at the first profile on the list. He immediately grabbed his phone and hit speed dial, and the moment the other side of the call picked up, Izuku demanded, “Since when did you run a hero agency, Ed?”

Ed’s laughter came across with a strong dose of static. “Oh, so you found out. Since yesterday, actually,” was his smug response. “I had to yank on your principal’s ear a little, but he was pretty understanding once I told him about the situation and helped me out. U.A. really is a helpful resource.”

Izuku made a disbelieving noise and jabbed at his screen with a finger, even though Ed wouldn’t have been able to see him. “This says that your quirk is having a metal leg. Didn’t you lose that in an accident?”

“Automail is so far beyond the prosthetics you have now, it’s perfectly conceivable to be a quirk,” Ed said. “Besides, I don’t want to be listed as an alchemist hero when you’re gonna be the first.”

In any other situation, Izuku would’ve been flattered. As it was, however, he was a little busy scrolling through this lie of a hero agency. “Is this whole thing faked?” he asked. There were supposed to be pictures along with each profile, but most of them were blank — some of them had crayon drawings as replacement, though. “Since when was there a ‘Mustang’ as the Flame Hero? That’s Endeavor’s title!”

“Is it? Well, too bad, he’ll have to share it with General Bastard.” Ed snickered. “Technically speaking, it’s fake, but legally it all checks out. I’ve even got a temporary license thing.”

“Who even are these people in your legal-but-fake agency?” Izuku asked, reaching the bottom of the admittedly short list — the last member of which was a picture of a dog. The Black Hayate Hero, the profile said. Izuku decided against questioning it.

“Friends of mine who will probably never exist here,” Ed answered brightly. “General Bastard would probably try to court-martial me for putting him under me, but I’m not a State Alchemist anymore so he can’t do jack shit anyway.”

Izuku let his head drop against his desk with a muted thud. “Why.”

“Why what? You’re going to need all the alchemical training you can get, and like hell some random quirky hero’s gonna lay down the groundwork for a few more different fields of alchemy for you, especially since your latest impression on them is of your sacrifice to help your friend. It was noble, sure, but only to those who actually know what’s going on.”

Even though Ed said nothing about how their time together was going to be limited, Izuku could hear it in his upbeat excitement anyway. “This sounds too good to be true,” Izuku told him.

“It’s the least they could do,” Ed corrected. “This would be a one-time exception, obviously, and when you graduate you’ll have to put ‘anonymous’ on your resume or something, but at least you’ll be a more competent alchemist. Your principal did add the condition that we send him daily reports and photos, just so he knows what’s going on.”

Izuku was quiet for a moment. Clearly, this was something of an excuse to cram before Ed left… He couldn’t let himself be down about it, though.

( Ed had been trying to go home for years. And now that it was a possibility — Izuku didn’t want to dissuade him or slow him down. )

“Sounds great, Ed! Where are we meeting up?”

At the metro station, before Aizawa sent everyone off, the class spent a few minutes coordinating a group chat just for the field trainings. It would be the first time they’d be participating in a school activity completely independently of each other in completely different places, and everyone wanted to be able to hear about the experiences they hadn’t been a part of.

( And maybe, just maybe, the USJ incident had given them a pretty big scare. From the way Aizawa let them chatter about it without comment, he might’ve thought the same thing. )

Eventually, the class did break up to leave, but Izuku nodded to Uraraka and the two of them caught Iida before he could vanish.

“Listen, Iida,” Izuku said as Iida turned to look at them, “if you ever feel  hopeless, or overwhelmed… Please tell us.” Beside him, Uraraka nodded vigorously. “We’re friends, aren’t we? So if you need anything — anything at all — just say something.”

The silence hung between them like a spider on its thread, waiting. Waiting.

And then Iida smiled, his eyes steely and determined. “Yeah,” he said.

Izuku and Uraraka watched him go. After their friend had left earshot, Uraraka said quietly, “That didn’t feel very reassuring.”

“I know.” Izuku sighed, wishing he could’ve done more. “But… he’ll be okay. He’s going to be with Manual, right? I hear that Manual is very kind and attentive, so he’ll know how to help Iida in ways we can’t.”

Uraraka clasped her fingers. “I hope so. Well, I’m off. Good luck at that Fullmetal agency of yours!”

“Same to you at Gunhead’s agency,” he said as she stepped away, waving. He hadn’t shared the details of his chosen agency, figuring that it’d be better to keep it hushed. “Have fun!”

Ed’s apartment wasn’t too far away from Izuku’s house, but Izuku hurried all the way there. He was admittedly excited and a little impatient to work with Ed. Just as he reached the door and let himself in with the spare key, though, he heard a loud clatter from the study and a vicious swear.

Alarmed, Izuku quickly toed off his shoes. “Ed?”

“I’m fine!” came the response, but he sounded remarkably frustrated and annoyed. That wasn’t exactly a decent explanation, so Izuku crept into the study uncertainly, expecting a mess.

He did see a mess, if only because Ed had never developed a completely coherent organizational system, but it was still surprising to see the upended bucket on the ground and the water dripping down the chalkboard, smearing all of the calculations and circles written there.

Izuku panicked a little, admittedly, rapidly memorizing the biggest mostly-intact circle before it was washed away. “Your work!” he exclaimed.

“Don’t worry about it,” Ed told him, watching dispassionately as the water ruined his notes. There was something old and weary in his stare, underneath the anger clouding his expression. “It was a failure, anyway. I screwed up.”

“It — you did?” From what Izuku could mentally redraw of the complex matrix, it had looked pretty sturdily built. “How?”

“The price,” Ed answered absently. “It’s too high. I can’t pay something like that. I should’ve figured that there wasn’t a way to get around it, but… Figures, it’s not the physical result that matters, it’s the fact that the price is always more than…” He bit the side of his thumb, visibly upset. “Dammit.”

Izuku hesitated. In his mind’s eye, the circle burned crystal clear with odd runes that denoted things like dimension and Gate and path and coordinates. “Ed? Was… was that your research project?”

Was that your way of getting home?

The frustrated noise in Ed’s throat answered his question rather well. “Fuck,” Ed said, his voice tight, and as he tipped his head back to stare at the ceiling, Izuku saw his arms tremble, fists clenched. A moment passed in terse silence, and then Ed lashed out with an abrupt punch, cracking the blackboard.

Izuku jumped when it snapped against his teacher’s fingers, but remained silent. He wanted to tell Ed that he was sorry, that there must be a different way. That he would get himself home soon.

The lies sat rotted and oily on his tongue and he could not bring himself to breathe life into them in the face of Ed’s grief.

Ed let his fist fall and seemed to shudder. Izuku was patient, letting his tutor compose himself. When Ed seemed to regain his composure, he dropped his fist away from the blackboard — which now had a long crack splitting across its surface — and exhaled heavily.

“Sorry,” Ed said, his voice thick. His lips twitched upwards in a dry smile. “That wasn’t what I intended your first day to begin.”

Izuku stepped forward and wrapped his arms around his tutor in a hug, eyes squeezed shut. Guilt gnawed at him, as though he was somehow karmically responsible for Ed being unable to go home. He’d wanted Ed to keep teaching him, and now — he didn’t want this, though. “I’m sorry.”

Ed huffed, pressing his hand to Izuku’s head. “Guess we didn’t have to rush after all, huh? I’ve got all the time in the world to teach you.”

Izuku bit his lip and looked down. He thought about Ed’s blackboard and the circle that once had been drawn there, the one he’d memorized. And he filed the memory away for later as he asked, “So… are we going to stay in town the whole week?”

“Ha. ‘Course not, but I need to get a few concepts into your head before we go out looking for trouble.” Ed pried himself out of the hug, and glanced at his paper-covered desk before shaking his head and heading out of the study. “While I grab a paper and pen, start thinking about fire, alright? Specifically in terms of sparks and flammable gases.”

Izuku looked at Ed’s methodical movements and tired eyes. “Sure,” he said, and when Ed turned the corner, Izuku pulled out his little notebook, flipped to an open page, and wrote down everything he remembered of the circle.

“I’m suddenly less sure about this, actually,” Izuku said, staring at the lighter in his hand. He clicked it, but all that came out was a spark; it was well and truly out of lighter fluid. “I’m going to burn down your apartment.”

“Unlikely,” Ed retorted. “You did fine with a flame that was already going, making it bigger and smaller at will. This is just some directional manipulation and making the spark yourself instead of working with what’s already there. It’s not going to explode or anything, your array here only deals with small amounts of oxygen.”

Izuku eyed the piece of paper the circle was drawn on. It was laying innocently on the counter. He was supposed to make a spark from his lighter travel all the way to the little candle floating in a sink filled with water, which was simple enough in theory, but Ed had taken his sweet time to wax poetic about the terrible destructiveness of flame alchemy (which apparently was a specialty of General Bastard) and Izuku was just a little bit terrified, okay. It was a reasonable amount of terror. He could burn everything down.

“You will not burn everything down,” Ed drawled, so apparently Izuku had muttered that last part aloud. “I’ll step in if it looks like it’s headed that way, okay?”

Which was what Ed always said whenever Izuku was hesitant about a transmutation, and he’d never actually needed to step in, but this time it wasn’t exactly reassuring. “Didn’t you say that flame alchemy is nearly instantaneous? How would you stop it?” Izuku asked, anxiety clipping his voice. This was a horrible idea. They were all going to die.

“I have my ways,” Ed said. “Seriously, you’ll be fine. I’ve sparred with General Bastard and his flames a million times and I’m usually the one who comes out on top.”

“Usually?” Izuku echoed.

Ed shot him a look. “Point is, I know how to handle things if they go bad. I even figured out how the whole thing worked just by watching the General do his snappy thing so many times. C’mon. Deep breaths, but not so deep that you mess up your transmutation.”

Izuku was pretty sure he was about to ruin everything but he took a deep breath anyway, heaving air in and out before steadying himself. Once he was ready, he pressed his hand against the innocent little circle, causing it to light up in bright blue. He constructed a simple line of tempting gases from his lighter to the candle, and — now or never — clicked the lighter.

A tiny orange-ish spark flared to life and zipped towards the candle. The wick caught the tiny spark and began to blacken a little, but then Ed pinched it out with his fingers.

“Don’t just singe it, light it,” he said, and Izuku pouted at him for ruining all his hard work.

He’d erred on the side of caution, but apparently by too much. Izuku shook himself out; after nothing was destroyed on his first try, he felt just a little bit better about his attempts. He activated the circle again, with a bit more oxygen this time, and flicked the lighter with a little less hesitation than before.

The spark hit the candle’s wick but failed to catch, again.

“Stop, hold on,” Ed said before Izuku could try again. “You can’t just increase the potency of the whole line, or you’ll end up with a detonation before you want it.”

Izuku stiffened, and immediately went back to eyeing the transmutation suspiciously. “That’s exactly what I’m trying to avoid.”

“Of course it is.” Ed almost smiled. It was more of a smirk. “So how would you avoid that while still lighting the candle?”

Although Izuku was tempted to say something about getting a working lighter and walking over to the candle, he ultimately decided against it. He knew that Ed wouldn’t let him go until he figured it out. But if he couldn’t just make the spark bigger along the way, then… Maybe at the very end?

But wouldn’t that lend itself to a sudden explosion rather than a steady flame? If it was too sudden, maybe. So he just had to figure out how gradually he wanted to enlarge the spark on the way to the candle. The reaction always happened so quickly, so he’d have to be on his toes to keep an eye on it and make sure he didn’t screw up too badly.

Fire was so stressful. Izuku felt himself empathizing with Todoroki, even though he knew that his classmate’s aversion to flames stemmed from something completely different.

Several tries and a scorched faucet later, Izuku finally managed to set the candle’s wick and only the candle’s wick on fire. He practically threw the lighter at Ed in triumph. “Never again!” he declared, but Ed laughed slightly, tossing the lighter back.

“We’ll see about that,” he said. “Don’t practice it on your own, but keep that with you anyway. I don’t need it anymore. Do you know how to transmute flint?”

“Uh. No? Wouldn’t that be unwise to use in flame alchemy anyway?”

“Then that’s our next task. And no, the alchemical energy that makes the flint has very little to do with the spark coming out of it, so you won’t run into cross-contamination trouble there. Here’s the circle…”

The first two days came and went in a blur of alchemical knowledge and sparring, although not all of the prior was about practicable fields of alchemy like flame alchemy.

Ed introduced Izuku to the concept of chimeras ( which he warned Izuku away from, since quirks already seemed to blur the line between animal and person, and Izuku swore against ever making one ) in addition to a circle that he refused to explain, saying only to use it if Izuku ever came across an oddly powerful alchemist with red alchemical lightning. He made Izuku swear not to investigate what the circle was meant to counteract, too.

“You don’t want to know,” was Ed’s grim response when Izuku asked why, and then he moved on to medical alchemy.

By the end of those two days, Izuku had to get a new travel journal to keep his notes straight. He was also sporting a good few bruises from the occasional times Ed decided to up the ante a little in their training. Although Ed never transmuted, he was still a terribly good fighter and Izuku struggled to keep up.

On the third day, however, Ed decided to go for something a little different. “Good news,” he announced. “I’m clear to throw you at some common criminals and have you resolve the situation on your own!”

“Against real villains?” Izuku thought back to USJ and became understandably nervous. “On my own?”

“Yeah. You can’t rely on me all the time” — Ed’s expression darkened for a split instant, breaking the facade that everything was completely back to normal — “and you’ve probably gotten too used to my style in particular. Gotta be prepared for different situations, right? Besides, that’s what you’re supposed to experience in this field training.”

Izuku looked worried. “The last time I went up against a real villain, I almost died.”

“Your average street criminal isn’t going to be that awful,” Ed replied wryly, flicking Izuku’s forehead. “Besides, I’ll be there to keep an eye on things.”

“Where exactly are we going to find such criminals, though?” Izuku asked.

“Just head into any decently populated city with a crime rate and keep an ear out for trouble,” Ed said. “This area probably isn’t the best, since it’s residential and I cleaned out a lot of the trouble a while back.”

Wait, what? If the Fullmetal Hero Agency was barely a few days old, then — but vigilantism was illegal. “You did what now?”

Ed paused, and then said, “Nothing. Nothing at all,” which was the most suspicious thing Izuku had ever heard.

“What did you do?”

“I didn’t use a quirk on anyone to take them down, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“You don’t have a quirk!”

“Exactly. That makes me exempt from a lot of rules.” Ed smirked. “Don’t do this with your quirk or that with your quirk — I did them without a quirk at all.” In response, Izuku buried his head in his hands. “No need for such dramatics, kid.”

Izuku shot him a faintly annoyed look. “Are you sure I shouldn’t be prepared for heroes suddenly banging on your door and demanding for your arrest?”

“Have some faith. I’d never get caught.” Ed’s smirk widened even as Izuku huffed at him. “Anyway, we’re getting off-track. The point is that we’ll be heading to a bigger city tonight to hunt down some villains, and I’ll let you pick which one. During the day, though, I want you to get used to your hero costume. You said it’s new, right?”

Izuku nodded. “They made some changes to the material and design.” It wasn’t that Izuku wasn’t… thankful, but he hadn’t exactly wanted those changes.

“Right, so put that on and let’s see how well you can move in that. Do you know which city you want to go to?”

Hesitating, Izuku thought of the group chat and how Iida had never responded. Iida could take care of himself, but the silence was worrying. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to drop by and see how he was doing. “Um. Hosu, maybe?”

If Ed noticed anything Izuku’s decision, he didn’t say anything about it. “That's fine by me.”

Chapter Text

Izuku slept most of the way to Hosu. He’d be fighting pretty late, if all went well, so it would be better to get rest while he could. Besides, he was rather tired from trying to land clean hits on Ed regularly, and sleep was a fantastic way to recharge his energy.

When they arrived, the first thing they did was get something to eat. It was still a while before night fell, and dinnertime wasn’t too far off. Izuku hadn’t been too keen on sitting around in his hero outfit ( and Ed with his ‘hero’ outfit, which was just an aggressively red cloak over his normal clothes ), but Ed had insisted that it’d be good to get used to it.

“Besides,” he said, “when people can recognize you, it sometimes simplifies your job as a hero.”

“If you say so,” Izuku replied, skeptical even as he picked at the ice cream he’d ordered for dessert.

Only after the meal did they begin walking through the streets, giving themselves time to digest and warm up a little.

“You won’t always get a chance to familiarize yourself with what’s around you, but it’s an advantage that can easily tip the scales if your opponent has that over you, so be prepared for it,” Ed said, glancing at Izuku, who was trying his best not to be too obvious about the fact that he was looking around for his classmate. “You listening, kid?”

Izuku grinned at him, shoving back his disappointment at being unable to find any trace of Iida. “Situational awareness,” he said. “Got it.”

“Especially since it can give you more choices to work with,” Ed added. He looked to the horizon, where the sunset was slowly slipping away. “I’ll let you take the lead from here. Let’s see if we can outpace the local heroes.”

Taking a steadying breath, Izuku nodded. In preparation, he drew a circle for concrete on his right hand and another for brick on his left. This would be the closest experience he’d have of real hero work so far, and excitement churned in his gut — but so did a bit of apprehension, even as he strode with more purpose in his step than before. He didn’t know why he had the looming feeling that something was wrong, but it nagged at him for the better half of an hour.

And then, as screams began to echo into the streets and Izuku sprinted towards its source, he realized exactly why he was feeling so apprehensive.

Noumu.

Izuku skidded to a stop, eyes wide, at the sight of two hulking monsters and the sound of a third wreaking havoc just out of sight. They looked just like Noumu, with their brains bulging exposed from their heads, and Izuku felt a chill work its way up his arm.

If any of these were as strong as the one at USJ, then the city and everyone in it would be…

Ed was already surging into action. “Get out of here!” he shouted to the stupefied bystanders standing on the sidewalks, and when one of the creatures ( eyeless, almost headless except for its brain and lower jaw ) began to chase after the fleeing people, Ed leapt up and nailed a solid kick on its thick neck with his left leg.

The Noumu wailed and tried to swat Ed to the ground, but he’d already jumped away. Izuku glanced at the other Noumu, the one with wings, suddenly caught between helping his tutor or occupying the other Noumu. An unfamiliar nausea gave him pause and he didn’t want to leave Ed to entertain one on his own but also the other was starting to fly off and no, he couldn’t allow that, the civilians were shrieking for help and—

Izuku gritted his teeth and pressed his right hand to the ground. The circle hummed and the street exploded into spikes that reached up high and clipped the flying Noumu’s wing, disrupting its flight.

It tumbled through the air and squawked as more spikes came up towards it, driving it away from the fleeing masses. With one of its wings injured, the Noumu was forced lower, and Izuku quickly took advantage of that by transmuting himself a spear and hurling it at the monster once it was within range.

The spear pierced the injured wing clean through and stuck there despite the Noumu’s desperate flaps, the injury quickly driving it into the ground. Izuku drew a sword from the concrete and advanced on its fallen form, but the Noumu looked at him with its blank eyes and screeched, heaving itself back to its feet and messily tearing the spear out of its wing, throwing it aside.

Nausea tugged at Izuku again at the Noumu’s tortured voice ( something about it was so very wrong wrong wrong ) but he swallowed it down and charged, yelling to boost his own courage.

In response, the Noumu screeched and flexed its wings before rushing at him, its human fingers poised like claws. Izuku kept going, running towards the monster until the very last moment — when it tried to swipe at him he sprang up and swung his sword at its face, the sharp edge slicing into its exposed brain and argh that was disgusting.

Izuku almost dropped his sword when the blood ran down the handle to his hand, horror trickling into his thoughts and suddenly he was terrified that maybe he’d actually killed the Noumu with that blow to the brain.

It was a monster but it must’ve been human at one point and Izuku felt sick to his stomach as he landed behind the Noumu, which squealed in pain and turned towards him, lifting a bird-clawed foot to grab him with. So the cut wasn’t deep enough to be fatal; Izuku was almost relieved. He rolled away and activated his circle again, causing the street to open up beneath the Noumu and drop it in a hole so deep that only its bleeding head was exposed, and then he tightened the pit so it had no chance of escape.

Hopefully, that would hold. This Noumu didn’t seem to have regeneration or superpower, so with its wings clipped and its body stopped maybe it’d just be a good monster and stay there.

He ended up dropping his bloodied sword anyway, and scrubbed his hand furiously at his costume to get the blood off while turning back towards where Ed was fighting.

The battle was still going on but it was clear that Ed was uninjured and seemed to have everything under control… aside for the fact that a few cars had been flipped and were now fully ablaze. And the fact that the Noumu looked uninjured as well.

“It’s just like Sloth,” Izuku heard Ed say, right before Ed dodged a punch that caused a crater two meters wide in the street. Before Izuku could do anything to intervene, though, Ed picked up the discarded spear that the winged Noumu had torn out and set the blood on its tip aflame by passing it through one of the burning car wrecks. Then, he lunged at the eyeless Noumu and when it lurched towards him he jumped and stabbed the spear through its brain.

The Noumu reeled back with a howl and clawed at its head, its blunt fingers catching on the spear and breaking the shaft. That didn’t help the portion of the spear stuck through its head, though.

Izuku’s nausea rose again. Ed went to his side, glancing at him even as he kept an eye on the Noumu. “You alright?”

“Hey!” called an unfamiliar voice, and both of them whirled around to see a few pro heroes running to the scene. “Get the kid out of there, it’s too dangerous!” They were kept at bay, though, when the eyeless Noumu howled again, pounding its fists against the ground. The concrete crumpled like paper.

“High-speed regeneration,” Ed remarked grimly. “The spear will only hold it off for a short while, before its system gets rid of it — watch out!”

Izuku looked over his shoulder just in time to see the winged Noumu rushing at him, the eyeless Noumu’s battering of the road must’ve freed it, it had a foot raised and talons reaching towards Izuku and—

Ed slammed his fist into its face and it veered off-course with a hoarse scream.

Flinching, Izuku crouched. He opened his mouth to apologize, but he froze at the voice of a hero shouting, “Tenya! Tenya! Where are you?”

Izuku spotted the speaker, a figure he easily recognized as Manual, the Normal Hero. That was the hero that Iida was supposed to be interning with, so… Wait, but if he was looking for Iida, then something had gone wrong. Why wasn’t Iida with him?

Manual immediately began to put out the fire from the car wrecks, but as he did so, he shouted, “Why did he choose a time like this to go running off on his own? Tenya!”

“Look alive, Deku,” Ed said darkly, pulling Izuku’s focus back. Both Noumu were ready to fight again, and while the winged one was being distracted by other heroes, the eyeless one had stopped bleeding and the remnants of the spear had disappeared.

“Sorry, E— er, Fullmetal,” and by Truth was that weird to call Ed by, if oddly fitting. Ed inclined his head briefly and then ran back into the action, diving to grab an injured hero and roll out of the way, just barely saving him from a thrown car.

But Izuku was still, hesitating, his mind fixating on the fact that Iida wasn’t here. If Iida wasn’t here, then something must’ve happened, because Iida was serious and diligent and hardworking and wouldn’t ever abandon a situation as dire as this, that was far too strange, so something was going on elsewhere and what was it? What was…

Hosu. Iida and Hosu. Iida and the city in which Ingenium had been — in which his brother had—

—the Hero Killer.

“I need to go,” Izuku burst out, and spun around and sprinted away, not daring to look back and slow himself down. No footsteps echoed his own, so he hadn’t been followed by any of the other heroes.

If Iida really did go after the Hero Killer then he’d need the backup but there was no time to persuade the other heroes and Izuku didn’t want to pull them away from the Noumu problem either, so he just kept going. He knew the alleys thanks to the walks earlier that evening and thanks to Manual’s relatively swift reaction time Izuku knew that he couldn’t have lost Iida too far back, probably somewhere close to Manual’s agency.

All he had to do was run and run and pray that he wouldn’t be too late.

It was a close call. Izuku found Stain standing over Iida’s fallen form with a blade pointing downward and he’d quickly lunged for the wall, pressing his left hand’s circle to the brick and activating the circle. Immediately, a series of horizontal poles erupted from the wall in a straight line from Izuku to Stain; they were high enough off the ground that Iida was unaffected, but Stain was forced to jump back or be struck.

“Don’t touch him!” Izuku shouted, his heart in his throat, and with another flare of alchemical energy, the poles writhed together formed a blunt column that lashed out, driving Stain back even further.

That done, Izuku let go of the wall and ran over to Iida, crouching protectively in front of his friend. Iida looked surprised, glancing up at him. “Midoriya, why are you here?”

“I came to save you,” Izuku said simply. “Can you move? We need to get to a bigger street and find some pros to help us.” Since someone who managed to kill so many pro heroes was not someone Izuku felt confident in beating, they’d be better off avoiding battle with Stain as much as possible. At least in a bigger street they’d be more easily noticed…

But Iida grimaced. “I can’t — I can’t move my body. Ever since he cut me, I’ve been paralyzed. It might be his quirk.”

Of fucking course. Izuku looked back at Stain, who was eyeing him, and then caught sight of someone else. Another hero, slumped against a wall. A pro, by the looks of it. Izuku wouldn’t be able to carry the both of them without leaving himself open to attack, but…

“Midoriya,” Iida said, “don’t get involved! This has nothing to do with you.”

Izuku shot him an impatient look and pressed his right hand against the ground. The circle flashed and the ground rose up around the wounded pro and carried him over to drop him next to Iida before Stain could interfere. “What are you talking about?” Izuku asked Iida tersely.

Stain straightened. “Your friend comes and says that he’s here to save you… A great line, isn’t it?” he said to Iida. “But I have a duty to kill you.” Then, he turned his attention to Izuku. “If the two of us clash, the weaker will be culled.”

Terror crept up Izuku’s spine and shook him to the core, but it wasn’t the disgusting feeling of being close to the Noumu. It wasn’t even the same as the other villains from USJ.

No doubt he was outclassed here. He’d never survive long enough on his own, so — with a hand behind his back, he unlocked his phone and sent his location to the messenger app that was already open. It would be sent to all his classmates, since the group chat was the last one he’d opened, earlier.

From Iida’s sudden gasp and hissed Midoriya! from behind, he supposed he’d succeeded. Hoping that would be good enough, Izuku tucked the phone away.

Now, he needed to stall for time and protect the two paralyzed people from Stain.

“Stop it!” Iida shouted. “Run away! Didn’t I tell you that this has nothing to do with you?”

“Are you trying to tell me that my friend’s looming death is none of my business?” Izuku glared at Iida, fists clenched. “Do you really think I’ll just let the both of you die here? Heroes intervene even when it isn’t their business because that’s how they help the people who need it the most!”

Stain inexplicably grinned, and when Izuku ran at him with a hand sparking against the wall, he swung his sword.

Jaw clenched, Izuku closed the distance between them — the sword had a longer reach so he had to get in close — he saw the twitch of movement that was Stain grabbing another blade from his stash of weapons and ducked and miraculously avoided the blow by slipping under through Stain’s wide stance, and then he jumped because Stain would be quick to slash at where he’d been.

He was proven right a second later when Stain slashed at nothing. Taking advantage of Stain’s momentary confusion, Izuku switched the item he’d transmuted to his right hand and pulled back for a punch.

Stain looked up just in time to see a fist coming at him and slam against the crown of his head, knocking him down with an audible crack. Izuku didn’t waste any time once he hit the ground, dropping the rudimentary fist load weapon and activating his right hand’s circle again.

The floor shuddered and formed tines that began binding Stain to the ground, but his swords flashed and the attempts shattered. He quickly got back to his feet and hopped away from the faltering transmutation, back towards where Iida and the pro hero lay helpless.

“No!” Izuku shouted, but when he stood and moved to attack Stain, his limbs suddenly locked up and he was sent careening into the ground instead, paralyzed. He must’ve been grazed — every part of him was tingling so it was hard to tell exactly where, but it couldn’t have been much more than a papercut.

Something so small could freeze him so completely like this? Izuku strained against the invisible bonds that held him there as he watched Stain stride almost leisurely to his initial victims, lowering his blade from his face. Izuku saw the glint of blood on steel and realized that it wasn’t just cutting, it was the blood of a person that was the key to Stain’s quirk. If Izuku had to guess, he’d say that Stain licked someone’s blood to paralyze them.

“Clever, but not strong enough. You lack power,” Stain told Izuku without facing him. He flicked his sword, still advancing towards Iida and the hero as Izuku felt horror and frustration well up within him. “You left my field of vision rather than trying to read my movements exactly, and stunned me enough to try restraining me…” Stain stopped in front of the two who were still paralyzed.

Izuku glanced at his hands. Both had their palms to the ground, so he began trying to kickstart his right one — but it was slow going, like his energy just wouldn’t move.

“People who are all talk are a dime a dozen,” Stain sneered, lifting his sword, “but you, who acted to bring me down without hesitation, are worth letting live. You’re different from these fakes.”

“Stop it!” Izuku yelled, and his right hand began to tingle with a soft glow. It was getting there, but not enough. Not quickly enough. “Who are you to decide who’s fake and who’s real and what divides them?” he continued, desperately stalling as the circle built up power, as Stain positioned his sword at Iida’s neck. “How do you know if your views aren’t biased?”

Stain didn’t take the bait. He ignored Izuku and lifted his sword as though to stab it back down and—

Izuku felt tears prick at his eyes. “Stop!” His circle crackled and then roared to life, the concrete ground lifting and curling around Iida’s neck like a shield and Izuku knew it wouldn’t be enough to stop Stain for more than a second but—

Flames suddenly rushed down the alley and Stain leapt away from the fire, startled. Izuku couldn’t spare the time to marvel at the attack and pushed at his circle again, transmuting spikes that jabbed at Stain’s feet. It was ineffectual, for the most part, as Stain’s shoes must’ve been reinforced with some kind of metal, but at least it drove him back some more.

Only then did Izuku turn his eyes to the entrance to the alley and the flames singing there, blazing from exactly half of a student’s figure.

Todoroki. With fire.

Stain tsked, readying his stance. “Another? There are a lot of people getting in my way today.”

He was ignored, and Todoroki lifted up his phone. “Midoriya,” he said, “you need to give more details in times like this. It took a few seconds to figure out what you meant, so you almost made me late.”

An inane laugh bubbled up Izuku’s throat and spilled over his lips before he could stop it. “S-sure,” he managed to say between snickers. “I’ll be sure to tell future villains to wait until after I send a proper call for help to attack me.”

Iida was less amused. “Todoroki, you too? Why are you here?”

“Why?” Todoroki glanced at Stain, and then back to Iida. His flames vanished, and ice shot out from his right foot, lifting Izuku up and sliding him back towards the other two paralyzed people as he stepped in front of them protectively. “That’s my line.”

Abruptly, Izuku felt panic course through him anew. He didn’t want his classmate to fight Stain alone. “Todoroki, don’t let him draw your blood!” he warned. “I think he can paralyze people by ingesting it. And we need to get the pros—”

“They’ll be here soon, in a few minutes,” Todoroki reassured. He stepped forward with fire curling around his arm again before sending a blast towards Stain, who dodged — but Todoroki remained on guard, eyes narrowed. “I’ll have to keep my distance, then… but I won’t let you kill these guys, Hero Killer.”

Stain’s response was a silver flash of a knife that zipped by Todoroki’s cheek, and Izuku quickly shoved his energy into the circle again. While he couldn’t turn his head to see where the knife had fallen, he managed to estimate the position and cover it with concrete.

“You have good friends, Ingenium!” Stain shouted, and for a moment Izuku was confused because wasn’t Ingenium Iida’s brother? Unless he took on the name. For… For revenge, what else?

Izuku’s frustration reached a boiling point and he felt the power binding him begin to fray at the edges. Todoroki was blocking Stain’s blades with ice but it wouldn’t last forever and Izuku re-activated his transmutation — it seemed that alchemy sped up the process — and just as he shattered the bonds he looked up to see Todoroki being yanked towards Stain, who had his tongue out to try and lick the oozing cut on his cheek.

“No!” Izuku shouted, and when Todoroki set himself aflame to chase Stain off, several earthen spikes rose up between them, forcing Stain to backpedal even further away.

Izuku pushed himself to his feet and shuddered as he felt the remnants of the quirk fade. Todoroki glanced back at him, surprised, as he stepped beside him. “Midoriya? How did you…”

“There’s some kind of limit,” Izuku said. “I don’t know what, but — I also have special circumstances that sped it up a little. I can move normally now.”

Todoroki looked thoughtful, and when Stain jumped over Izuku’s spikes, Todoroki warded him off with icy spikes of his own. “Maybe a time limit?”

“Can’t be, I was the last to be paralyzed. Might be less effective with more people, or… maybe it depends on the blood ingested. Or maybe even the individual person. Blood type? DNA?” Izuku shook his head. “Either way…”

Iida glared at them from the ground. “Why are you two — why… Just stop! This isn’t your fight. I’ve inherited my brother’s name, I have to do this. He’s mine to—”

Frustration ( fear, terror, the knowledge that Iida had almost died ) dug its claws deep and Izuku slammed his hand against the floor. The concrete shield around Iida’s neck shuddered, and then retracted into the ground. “There!” he snapped. “Now you’re free to jump in whenever you feel like it! But until you do, you’re nothing but a sitting duck, alright? A corpse waiting to happen! And who would that help?”

Iida’s eyes widened, as though he’d flinch if he had control over his own movements. Izuku tried to feel apologetic about his stinging remark, but couldn’t. Not now. Not yet.

“You inherited his name, you say?” Todoroki’s fire was blazing, keeping Stain out of range, and then he abruptly shut it off, only to shoot off a massive wall of ice. “That’s strange. The Ingenium I knew never had that kind of look on his face.” His flames flickered, warming him back up again — and the ice splintered under Stain’s attacks.

“Blocking your own view against an opponent faster than you is foolish,” Stain growled, and two gleaming slivers of metal shot towards Todoroki.

Izuku’s circle flashed and a wall came up just in time to stop the knives from impaling Todoroki’s arm, and then the wall returned to the ground, burying the knives with it.

“We’ll see about that,” Todoroki muttered, nodding a thanks to Izuku. Their attention was quickly redirected when Stain came hurtling down from above, blade poised to strike the disabled hero, in the midst of something about Todoroki’s worthiness — but Todoroki was quick to push him away from his target with a wave of ice. “He reacts so quickly,” the student said. “I wanted to carry those two out of here, but…”

“That would leave us open to being struck down,” Izuku agreed. He rubbed his wrist wearily; it had taken quite a bit of energy to transmute under the duress of Stain’s quirk ( which was rather different from Shinsou’s relatively simple brainwashing and was harder to break free of ), so it’d be unwise to rely on alchemy much more. He doubted he could match Stain’s swordplay in a direct confrontation, so he didn’t bother transmuting weapons.

“Our best bet is to hold on and avoid close combat until the pros get here.” Todoroki glanced at Izuku. “Your wound is less open than mine.”

Meaning it wasn’t as easily available for licking. True, Izuku’s sleeve easily bunched up around the tiny cut to obscure it from view. “I can’t do much at long range anymore, either,” Izuku agreed, flexing his fingers. “I’ll distract him while you support me from behind, then?”

Todoroki braced himself, frost curling onto the ground as steam rose from his arm. “Yeah. It’s a little too risky to be a good plan, but it’ll have to work. The two of us will protect them.”

“Two against one, then,” Stain said, and brandished his sword.

Izuku knew that Stain was faster, but as long as Izuku was smarter, he’d be able to hold his own, so when Stain ran at them, Izuku zigzagged unpredictably to throw off Stain’s aim, pushing off the walls to propel himself. When he passed by close enough, he clouted Stain’s shoulder but was quick to get out of Stain’s sight and range right after.

Stain hissed and went directly after Izuku, blade gleaming, only to be cut off by ice. And when Stain turned towards Todoroki, Izuku quickly stepped in with another strike, a glancing blow, before retreating again, positioning himself between Stain and his targets. Todoroki threw fire in a continuous stream, sweeping it from one side of the alley to the other in an attempt to catch Stain in the blaze, but the villain simply leapt over it.

Somehow, Stain seemed to be getting faster, his actions more decisive — Izuku just barely avoided another slash but was forced to hop onto one of the taller remnants of Todoroki’s ice to get away. Todoroki warded Stain away with fire, but only for a moment. Stain kept trying to get over or around it, forcing Todoroki to keep attentive and moving.

“For Truth’s sake,” Izuku muttered, and took half a second to catch his breath before he jumped back to the ground, landing closer to Todoroki than Stain, but well out of Todoroki’s way. Stain was becoming more adept at dodging the flamethrowers and Izuku had to transmute several spikes out of the ground to deter him. Todoroki cut off his fire and sent ice over as well, piggybacking on Izuku’s spikes to reach higher, managing to snag Stain’s foot in mid-air.

Izuku grimaced as exhaustion began tugging at his bones, but Stain freed himself in an instant and retaliated with several throwing knives — most of them missed, but then Izuku realized that those were on purpose to hide the fact that a few of them were angled so as to strike the two still-paralyzed people and Izuku moved before he could think, knocking one away and yelping when another dug into his upper arm.

Pain flared through his limb and he gritted his teeth as he ripped the knife out and threw it far behind him, out of the alley. His sleeve was quickly soaked in blood, though, meaning he couldn’t risk being too close anymore—

Without warning, Stain had already closed in, hand grasping at the bloodied cloth, tongue outstretched. Izuku panicked and punched at him, knocking his face away — and Todoroki’s fire drove him further back, but it was too late, Stain’s fingers were tinged with red and he brought them up to his mouth and licked and Izuku crumpled on the spot.

Shit. Izuku immediately began trying to free himself. He couldn’t transmute, not if he wanted to have any energy left.

“Please, stop,” Iida’s voice flitted over from behind them. If Izuku had the ability to move, he would’ve deliberately not looked back; as it was, he couldn’t move anyway. “I’ve can’t… I’ve already…”

Izuku opened his mouth but Todoroki beat him to it: “If you want to stop this, then stand up!” Izuku saw ice surge up from the ground, followed by flames unfurling from Todoroki’s side like a wing as he continued, “The only thing I can say to you is — never forget who you want to become!”

Iida fell silent.

Izuku strained against his invisible bonds again, trying to force it apart sooner. It was starting to falter, but not quickly enough, and he watched with wide eyes as Todoroki struggled to fend off Stain alone.

Fire leapt from place to place, keeping Stain on his toes. Todoroki even fired off two tall ice ridges to trap Stain in a narrow space before blasting the gap with flame, but Stain still managed to avoid it by leaping from one ice wall to the other until he was atop them both.

Stain advanced, easily dodging each blow and darting ever closer. “Has no one ever told you?” the villain said, sword flashing in hand. “You’re too focused on your quirk. You’re being careless!”

“Todoroki!” Izuku shouted, and Stain’s quirk bent and shattered, releasing him at last — but it was too late and Izuku couldn’t scramble up quickly enough, eyes fixated on Stain’s rush, Todoroki’s fire glowing red against his blade, the sword positioned as though to slice his left arm off.

A thousand thoughts rushed through Izuku’s head in that moment, guilt and despair and get up get up pushing him to his feet even though he knew he wouldn’t be able to interfere in time. He wasn’t fast enough.

But Iida was.

Iida was there and kicking Stain’s sword with so much force the blade snapped, and he followed up with another kick, one that sent Stain sprawling backwards.

Seizing the chance, Izuku sprang at Stain before he could regain his balance and landed an open-palm strike at his face, knocking him down, before retreating back to his friends’ side.

A part of Izuku sobbed in relief, but he squashed the feeling for later contemplation. It was good that Iida could move, of course, but then he said, “Midoriya, Todoroki — for wrapping you two up in something that has nothing to do with you, I truly apologize.”

Something venomous and born of hurt and fear seeped into Izuku’s tone as he spat, “You’re at that again?”

“That’s why,” Iida barrelled on, “I can’t allow you two to spill any more blood!”

Oh. Izuku’s ire subsided, his gaze softening.

Stain, however, scoffed. “It’s no use trying to look reformed for appearance’s sake. A person’s true character does not change so easily.”

Izuku barked out a harsh laugh, falling into a ready stance. “How would you know?” he snapped. “Far as I can tell, you’re just killing people without letting ‘em have the chance to even begin reforming.”

“They never learn!” Stain retorted. “This boy, too, will never be anything more than a fake who prioritizes his own selfish desires, a cancer of society that warps the true meaning of a hero. Someone needs to correct that.”

“That’s fundamentalist and anachronistic,” Todoroki said. “Don’t listen to him, Iida.”

Iida’s fists clenched. “No, he’s right. It’s like he said, I have no right to call myself a hero. Even so… I cannot give in. If I give in, then Ingenium will die.”

“Out of the question,” Stain said, and then hurtled towards them.

Todoroki reacted immediately, shoving Iida back and unleashing a powerful rush of fire. The Hero Killer dodged, though, leaping up and bracing himself on the wall for a moment before lunging at them.

“I need him to shut up before his lack of logic infects me,” Izuku grumbled, clapping his hands together and slamming them onto the ground. A transmutation sparked from his right hand’s circle and the concrete rose up in a spike that didn’t manage to impale Stain but did halt his attack.

At this point, Izuku’s energy ran alarmingly low, his vision beginning to sway. He had maybe one transmutation left in him, and then he’d be done for.

The still-paralyzed hero ( really? poor guy ) yelled at them, “You idiots, the Hero Killer’s only after me and the kid in the white armor, right? Don’t fight back, just run!”

“Do you see him giving us any openings to do so, sir?” Todoroki returned, firing off his ice at Stain, who dodged and slashed his way out of being hit. “His mood clearly changed just now. He’s starting to get flustered, and he’s relentless!”

Izuku kept his eyes on Stain, observing the same thing. There was no way he’d be able to keep up the offensive at this point, but with Stain’s quirk wearing off maybe the pro hero would recover soon and then they could all hightail it out of the alley and call in backup.

“Todoroki!” Iida’s voice cut through his thoughts. “Can you regulate temperature?”

The said student was busy keeping his flames alive and chasing after Stain, but he spared enough presence of mind to reply, “I’m not used to it with my left yet, why?”

“Cool down my leg!” Iida said. “But don’t plug up my exhaust pipes!”

Stain leapt over the flames. “You’re in the way!” he shouted, hurling a knife at Todoroki — only for Iida to intercept it, taking the blade in his arm.

“Iida!” Izuku lunged and kicked away Stain’s second blade before it could land a strike, only for a third to clip his leg and a fourth to slip past his guard. Iida took that one for Todoroki as well, the blade biting deep into his right arm.

“Hurry!” Iida said to Todoroki, and once the student obliged, he began ripping the blades out with his teeth.

Izuku stumbled but stayed on his feet, and as Todoroki sent flames up at a Stain descending from above, Izuku jumped for the nearest wall and clapped his hands ( please don’t knock me out ) before pressing his left to the brick, and alchemical lightning flickered the building.

If he could just — the brick surged up like a huge fist, aiming directly for Stain’s head.

He hadn’t even seen Iida move but he was up there too, crashing his leg into Stain’s side as Izuku’s transmuted fist did the same to his head. Stain wasn’t out yet, though, and although he took another swipe at Iida, Iida managed to dodge it. He looked like he even got a second kick in before Todoroki sent him up in flames, but Izuku couldn’t tell.

Thankfully, he didn’t pass out, but he was having trouble piecing together what he was seeing. He heard Todoroki say something about Stain still being awake, and alarm jolted everything into focus momentarily — but all he saw was Stain laying still atop a slope of ice.

Izuku stomped on the urge to rub his eyes. “Is he knocked out?”

Todoroki exhaled a wisping breath, and nodded. “Let’s find something to restrain him, then… If I use ice his body might crack the instant he comes to.”

Limping over, Izuku agreed. “Let’s remove all his weapons too, just in case.”

He was so tired.

He wondered how Ed was faring.

( There was no way of knowing that Ed had managed to keep the two Noumu corralled, being quick and clever enough to keep them occupied with a bit of help from the heroes, but Izuku wouldn’t be too surprised to hear of it later… )

By the time they scavenged some cord out of the trash heap, the pro hero — Native, now that Izuku had a calm moment to remember him — helped disarm Stain before also helping Izuku steady himself.

“I’m just tired,” Izuku reassured, and he would’ve waved his arms except he remembered that he had transmutation circles on his palms, so he offered a meek grin instead. Native insisted, though, since he hadn’t been able to help during the actual fight, and Izuku eventually acquiesced.

As they walked out into the street, though, they spotted an old man in a costume hurrying towards them. “Hey, what’re you guys doing?” he shouted.

“Who’s he?” Todoroki wondered aloud, but it was Native who took over the conversation.

“We were facing off against the Hero Killer,” the hero said, gesturing to the tied-up Stain who Todoroki was dragging along. “Wait, why are you here? I heard several explosions going on elsewhere.”

“I was told to come here without detail, only that my help was needed,” the old man responded. “Looks like you’ve all got it handled, though.”

Immediately afterwards, a familiar voice sounded from around the corner. “It’s around here!” someone said, and Izuku perked up at the sound.

“Fullmetal!” he said, and Ed ( and several other heroes that Izuku recognized from the spat against those two Noumu ) skidded into view, his golden eyes wide.

Ed looked relieved to see Izuku alive. “For Truth’s sake, kid, don’t go running off like that again!” he scolded, striding close enough to gently chop Izuku’s head as a rebuke. “You look like you went a few rounds with Teacher, jeez. What happened?”

His words weren’t enough to distract Izuku from the fact that Ed’s strides weren’t as smooth as they should’ve been, though, and Izuku hesitated on his response.

Todoroki and Iida looked a bit confused on the sides, probably puzzling over the fact that Izuku was interning with his tutor.

Another of the newly arrived heroes explained that Endeavor had sent them there for assistance, and as they fretted over the students’ injuries, Native brought their attention to the captured Hero Killer, which understandably made everyone reel back in shock. Ed in particular seemed to be wary, eyeing the unconscious Stain with clear dislike.

The old man seemed annoyed all of the sudden, and promptly planted his foot in one of the heroes’ faces — actually, one who looked rather young, come to think of it. An interning student, perhaps? He did seem rather sheepish as the old man lectured him. A large number was emblazoned on the front of his costume… one million, or one hundred thousand, or something. Izuku didn’t bother to count the zeroes, but it was a lot.

Izuku tore his gaze away when Iida stepped up to Izuku and Todoroki and bowed, tears in his eyes. “Both of you… you were injured because of me. I am truly sorry. I couldn’t… I couldn’t see anything through my anger.”

“I… I’m sorry for not noticing how cornered you felt,” Izuku said, downcast. “And — listen, Iida. I was terrified.” His voice grew quieter with every word. “Please, let us help you next time. We’re friends, aren’t we?”

Todoroki averted his gaze. “Pull yourself together. You’re the class rep,” he said, but his tone was gentler than before.

Unfortunately, that was exactly when a Noumu dove out of the sky — leapt from a building, it looked like — and from its winged silhouette Izuku knew exactly which one it was.

Petrified, he stared as its talons stretched out towards him, bloody but cruelly hooked, but before he or anyone else could move, Ed had already shoved him out of the way, causing the Noumu to crash awkwardly on the ground. “Its wing’s broken, it can only glide,” he said as it pulled itself up, shaking its head.

Oddly enough, the Noumu only seemed to be interested in trying to grab Izuku, and desperation made it faster and fiercer than before. Its broken wing was splayed but its intact one flapped and both kept sweeping the other heroes back, and before Izuku knew it he was caught in its claws. The Noumu leapt, flapping its unbroken wing, and managed to get enough acceleration to cling to the side of the building. It growled scrabbled at the wall, trying to scale it.

Several heroes immediately prepared to jump up, and no doubt it would’ve taken only a moment to free Izuku from its clutches, but instead of them it was a blur of red and black — it was Stain with yet another throwing knife in his hands, leaping up to the Noumu, clambering onto its back and lifting the blade.

Blood splattered against the wall and even as the Noumu began to fall Izuku felt a couple drops mark his cheek. Stain caught him before he hit the ground, landing on his feet atop the monster’s carcass.

Izuku grimaced, nausea returning with vengeance, and especially when Stain abruptly dropped him. On a limp, leathery wing. Gross.

“—should all be purged,” Stain snarled, pressing a hand on Izuku’s back to keep him pinned and prevent him from running back to the heroes. “This is all to create a more just society.”

Almost missing Endeavor’s arrival, Izuku glanced up at the glow of flame in night and made a face at the latest pro, which was probably obscured by shadows. Stain noticed him too, and straightened, letting go of Izuku — but before Izuku could scramble to his feet and get out of there, he. He couldn’t.

Taking a step towards Endeavor, Stain ground out, “You fake… I must make things right. Someone must be stain himself in blood.” Some kind of pressure seemed to unfold from Stain’s form and thicken the air and Izuku was flattened, trembling, without even being touched. The others were frozen, too. “I must take back… what it means to be a hero! Come! Just try and get me, you fakes.”

He stamped his foot against the ground, and everyone flinched back.

“The only one I’ll let kill me is the true hero, All Might!”

Izuku felt the circle on his hand burn against the concrete but he wasn’t able to activate it. He couldn’t. He could barely breathe.

And then the knife clinked against the ground and the pressure lifted and Stain passed out on his feet.

At the hospital, the students’ wounds were treated. The doctors decided that all three needed to stay overnight, though they were kept in the same room and allowed to converse.

Ed seemed particularly troubled, when he was there. He of course only had minor grazes — or so he said, avoiding all attempts to prove otherwise. There was something distant in his gaze, though, sadder than Izuku had ever seen him, but he never got a chance to inquire.

Izuku slept fitfully that night, countless thoughts boiling over in his head. His classmates weren’t too well off, either, and in the morning they were still tired but restless.

“Thinking about it now,” Izuku said, “it’s a miracle that we’re alive. Kind of amazing, but…” They’d been very, very lucky. He looked down at where the transmutation circles used to be; they’d been washed off cleanly, but he thought he could still feel his hands tingle. “He could’ve killed us, if he’d wanted to.”

Todoroki glanced at his own wounds. “Yeah. There’s no doubt that we were left alive on purpose,” he agreed. “IIda, it’s amazing how you stood up to face him again even after all that murderous intent directed your way.”

“No,” Iida said. “No, I…” He trailed off, falling silent as the door opened to reveal his mentoring hero. “Manual?”

“You kids are awake already?” Manual said in mild surprise. “Well, that’s good. You’ve got a visitor.” He stepped into the room, leaving the doorway open for a tall dog-headed man to step through.

Izuku’s eyes widened as Manual introduced the stranger as Hosu’s chief of police, Tsuragamae Kenji. He shifted to stand just as Iida and Todoroki were, but the chief said to him, “You can stay seated.”

Slightly sheepishly, Izuku did so.

“Regarding the Hero Killer you brought down and we arrested,” the chief said, “he had fairly serious injuries — burns and broken bones. He’s receiving treatment under strict guard.” He went on to remind them that the police had always upheld the view that leadership and protocol were highly important, in order to ensure that Quirks were not used as weapons.

Izuku’s heard this history lesson many, many times, but he listened attentively as the chief rebuked them for causing injury with their quirks without certification or permission from their supervisors.

Here, Izuku raised his hand tentatively. He could feel Todoroki’s and Iida’s glances his way, anyway. “Um,” he said, “I don’t know if this has been made clear, but I’m an alchemist, actually. I didn’t use a quirk. I don’t, uh, have one.”

The chief opened his mouth, and then closed it, looking caught off-guard. Manual didn’t look much better. “Wait, you’re quirkless?” Manual said.

“Midoriya is a fantastic student in the hero course!” Iida immediately asserted, jumping to his friend’s defense. His expression had hardened, as though he was daring the hero and chief to disagree. “He is capable and certainly one of the most promising of our class!”

“I-Iida,” Izuku said, but trailed off in a fluster when Todoroki agreed with Iida. “I — I just thought this should be made clear, since…” Since this was so official and all. Misinformation wouldn’t be helpful.

The chief looked thoughtful, but then moved on, thankfully. “Then I suppose you and your mentor — Fullmetal, was it? — are exempt, but I ask that you continue to listen regardless. The rest of you, including Manual and Endeavor, must receive strict punishment.”

At that, however, Todoroki’s expression darkened. “Hold on. If Iida hadn’t interfered, Native would’ve been killed. No one realized that the Hero Killer had appeared — are you saying that we should’ve followed the rules and watched them die?”

“Are you saying that the end justifies the means?” the chief replied evenly.

Izuku reached over and caught Todoroki’s wrist before he could stomp over to the chief, but couldn’t stop him from saying, “Saving people is what heroes do! It’s their job.”

The chief eyed him for a moment. “This is why you are not a fully fledged hero,” he said, and Izuku could feel the heat rise in Todoroki’s arm.

“Todoroki,” Izuku began, and then faltered.

“H-hold on,” Manual quickly cut in, clearly sensing the tension. “Hear him out.”

“What I said just now was the official opinion of the police,” the chief said, overlooking Todoroki’s ire. “As for the rest of what I have to say… Well, the punishment and trouble I mentioned would only happen upon official disclosure, woof. If this were made public, the people would likely applaud you, but you would have to be punished. However, if we keep the matter away from the public, the Hero Killer’s burns would indicate that Endeavor was the hero who saved the day.”

Shocked by this proposal, the students exchanged glances.

“Fortunately, the number of witnesses were limited, so this is a viable choice. What I’m saying is that we can bury your violation like a bone in the yard.” The chief didn’t react to his pun, although Izuku jolted slightly. “This would mean that no one would know about your good judgement and amazing feats, however. Which do you prefer? Personally, I don’t want to punish such promising pups for a glorious misstep.”

Izuku mouthed pups to himself incredulously.

Then, the chief looked to Izuku. “You, pup, technically aren’t restricted and can speak as you wish either way. I would advise against it, however. You would not be able to speak of your friends’ contributions.”

“I know,” Izuku said seriously. “But with all due respect, sir, fame is the last thing on my mind. I’m happy enough just knowing that nobody died.”

The chief inclined his head, and Manual sighed. “At any rate, we pros still need to take responsibility for being negligent supervisors.”

“Wait, Ed too?” Izuku grimaced. He hadn’t meant to cause his tutor such trouble.

Iida apologized deeply to Manual, who simply told him never to do it again. Then, Iida and Todoroki opted to keep the situation hushed, and Izuku did the same, albeit unofficially. They thanked the chief for his generosity.

In turn, the chief bowed. “You will not receive the praise you would have gotten, but at least I, as someone who also protects the peace, give you my sincere thanks.”

When he and Manual left, Izuku turned and stared at his friends. “Like a bone in the yard,” he whispered, and snorted. “He called us pups, do you think he’d call Tokoyami a pup too, even though he’s a bird? ”

“Midoriya,” Iida said wearily, “I think you need some more rest.

As it turned out, Iida’s arm was damaged — and it would remain damaged, as Iida resolved, until he could prove himself to be a true hero. Izuku expressed his support, glad that Iida seemed to have bounced back.

Unfortunately, Iida wasn’t the only one with lasting damage.

And Ed wasn’t taking it nearly as well.

“Your leg?” Izuku echoed in horror, staring at the exposed automail limb. Parts of the outer cover had been taken off, and while Izuku couldn’t make any sense of the wires and other pieces there, Ed’s expression was enough to tell him that it was bad. It explained why his gait had been so odd since the Hosu attack… “How’re you gonna get it fixed?”

“Can’t,” Ed replied dully. “Not like there’s any automail mechanics here, and Winry would kill me anyway. I figured this would happen eventually… I’ve been careful throughout the years, but it was bound to happen. That Truth-damned monster had really tough skin.”

“So you can’t walk on it anymore?” Izuku fretted.

“It would be a bad idea. It could stop working at any time, or even short-circuit the port, and then I’d really be in trouble” Ed said. After a moment, he exhaled heavily and reached into his pocket, bringing out his travelogue. “That doesn’t mean I can’t walk at all, though. I can use a simple prosthetic replacement until… well.”

Ed opened his small book to a particular page and held it out at Izuku, who took it. There was what looked like the schematics and blueprints of a typical prosthetic, with an odd mechanism on the end that would attach to a leg. It was painfully simple. “This thing?”

“Yeah.” Ed was quiet for a moment, and then, “You’re going to need to transmute it exactly to those specifications.”

Izuku startled, and then looked to Ed. “But—”

“Nobody makes it with the parts needed to attach to an automail port,” Ed said. Something wry flickered across his face before he bared his teeth in a false grin. “I haven’t been able to transmute anything in decades, anyway.”

That was the first time Ed explicitly said as much to Izuku, who was stunned speechless at the unexpected confirmation.

The silence lingered awkwardly between them until Ed let the grin fall away and tilted his head at Izuku. “How much did you figure out, kid?”

“You… aren’t just from a foreign country, are you?” Izuku said quietly.

“Unless your world has somehow overlooked a couple continents, no.” Ed propped his elbows up on the table and rest his chin on his hands. “I was a State Alchemist of Amestris until I gave up my Gate to save my brother. Didn’t mean I was helpless, though, and General Bastard — guess he was Colonel at the time — needed a hand every now and then, so I helped out where I could.

“Couple years later, we ran into this crazy-ass alchemist who wanted to… I don’t even remember. Become an overlord of a new world? Get rid of Mustang?” Ed shrugged. “Point is, I was looking into him, and shit happened. I ended up in a circle that the other guy activated. He thought I’d pay the toll for the passage, but he was the one who activated it, so he probably died and I woke up hearing Truth laugh at me in your world of quirks.”

Izuku was quiet as he considered the information. “But didn’t you make a circle to get yourself home?”

“Yeah, but I couldn’t use it, and like hell I’d ask someone else to risk life and limb for my mistakes.” Ed dragged a hand down his face. “The toll’s too high and the transmutation itself is complex. Few people here would understand it.”

Thinking back to his own journal and the circle he’d copied down, Izuku hesitated. He certainly understood it… But he still didn’t completely understand. “Why are you telling me this now?”

“… Good question.”

( Ed’s expression said, because I’ve already lost everything else. )

Chapter Text

Back in their normal classroom at U.A., all of the students buzzed excitedly about their field training experiences.

Bakugou had a new hairstyle and was pissed about it — his hair exploded back to normal within a few moments of Kirishima and Sero teasing him, though. Tsuyu and Jirou shared their villain-fighting experiences, while Momo sulked over the very minimal patrolling she’d done. Uraraka was pumped up and full of moxie, and Kaminari regarded her with quite a bit of fear. Todoroki and Kouda quietly swapped stories in the back, too.

Of course, they’d all kept each other updated in the group chat, but it was nice to ramble about it in person, too. As promised, Izuku, Iida, and Todoroki kept their mouths shut about their encounter with Stain, although all the classmates knew that the three of them had been the undisclosed “high school students” that the news reports mentioned.

Izuku had sent them his location, after all, and they knew that Endeavor and Manual had been on the scene as well.

“I heard Endeavor saved you,” Satou said, and other students quickly perked up in excited admiration.

Why couldn’t the credit have gone to Manual instead? Izuku silently bemoaned the fact as he side-eyed Todoroki. It wasn’t like he could see any new injuries on his friend or anything, but ever since the sports festival Izuku hadn’t exactly Endeavor’s greatest fan, and he was worried. Todoroki had alluded to his father’s anger…

Catching his gaze, Todoroki blinked slowly, as though to convey that he was fine, and then turned a steady gaze to his classmates. “Yeah, he saved us. We’d have been in a lot of trouble otherwise.”

Izuku cracked a smile. “Yup. ”

“That must’ve been scary. The news said that the Hero Killer was connected to the League of Villains,” Ojiro mused.

“Yeah, because of those Noumu things, right?” Izuku said, pouncing on the chance to turn the conversation away from Endeavor. “Those creatures were horrible. The ones at Hosu weren’t as strong as the one that the League of Villains brought to USJ, but they were still scary.” He paused. “Actually, I don’t think they’re on the same side as Stain.”

Ojiro blinked. “You don’t?”

“Stain killed one of the Noumu when it tried to abduct me,” Izuku said. “Noumu had to be doing it on orders from the League of Villains, right?” Not that he could think of any reason why. “So if Stain stopped that, then maybe they’re not together.”

“That’s a good point…” Ojiro’s tail flicked nervously. “They would’ve brought him to the USJ attack if they could. Or maybe he’s a very new recruit?”

“Pretty awful new recruit, then, if he’s killing your resources,” Izuku said.

“He was pretty awful all around,” Todoroki pointed out lowly.

“But he still really stood out! Have you seen the video about him?” Kaminari cut in. “It showed how single-minded he was, and his tenacity — he almost looked kinda cool, you know?”

“I’ve seen it,” Izuku said, having wanted to keep up to date on Stain’s aftermath. He couldn’t really agree that Stain was cool, since he’d hurt Iida so much. Besides, Ed’s face had twisted when Izuku mentioned it to him in passing; apparently, Ed had seen it too, and his mood had not improved as a result. “Stain went from trying to talk to people on the streets right to outright murder, it sounds like. It was kinda extreme.” And a complete failure of a justification for serial murder.

“That kind of drastic action does show conviction, though,” Iida allowed, to Izuku’s half-surprise. “I understand how people might find him cool for that…”

“But he goes around killing people he doesn’t like,” Izuku protested. “You’re just a student, he should’ve at least given you a second chance before deciding that you’d never become one of his ideal heroes.”

Unshaken, Iida nodded solemnly. “You’re right, and that is definitely wrong no matter what.”

Kaminari seemed to realize that he’d tread on a sore topic, if his sudden regretful expression was anything to go by, but Iida didn’t seem too upset. In fact, Iida seemed more determined than ever as he declared his resolve to become a true hero on his own terms — before immediately ushering everyone to take their seats, as class was about to start.

When the bell rang, Aizawa walked in — but he wasn’t alone.

“Shinsou!” Izuku exclaimed before he could catch himself, and the other student blinked at him in surprise but said nothing, instead standing a little awkwardly at the front of the class.

“Right,” Aizawa said. “Welcome back, you all. Anyway, taking Shinsou’s achievements at the sports festival into account, he was offered a spot in the hero course, and he accepted. Normally we would wait for the end of the term to move him in, but the principal has decided to accelerate things from now on to ensure that the transfer students don’t fall behind. While you guys had your field training, we finalized his transfer and had him catch up with a few private classes, but that’s beside the point.”

And so Shinsou re-introduced himself to the class, most of whom didn’t seem like they knew what to do with this development. Izuku beamed at him unabashedly, though.

“There’s an empty seat behind Midoriya,” Aizawa said, and Shinsou walked over with head high.

As he passed Izuku, Shinsou murmured, “Told you I’d get into the hero course.”

“Never doubted it,” Izuku whispered back, and immediately fell under Shinsou’s control, which caused the newest addition to 1-A to stifle a snort.

“Pay attention in class,” Shinsou said under his breath, but he released Izuku from his quirk before the command could actually do anything, mumbling something about hero course students who never learned.

The rescue training race with All Might was fun ( Izuku had considered using flame alchemy to propel himself like Bakugou, but eventually decided against it ), but Izuku was much more interested in the lunch break.

With Iida and Uraraka tagging along, Izuku wandered around for a few moments before he located Shinsou, who looked slightly isolated.

Izuku didn’t want to leave him completely alone, so he sat down next to his new classmate. “How’ve you been, Shinsou?”

Shinsou hummed thoughtfully, casting a glance to Iida and Uraraka as they greeted him. He nodded to them in return, and then replied to Izuku, “Well, I’ve managed to get to the path I want to be on, so… not too bad, actually. I heard you had a more eventful week.”

“Yeah, field training was really nice,” Izuku said, and then drooped. “Too bad you had catch-up lessons, though.”

“But all of our normal classes shouldn’t have been too different from the gen ed course,” Uraraka said, puzzled.

Shinsou poked at his food. “A lot of it was hero training, not typical study,” he explained. “I did a lot of battle and rescue training, mostly with Aizawa, since he’s my new homeroom teacher.”

“No wonder you performed so well in the race today,” Iida said. “Aizawa is an exemplary teacher.”

Izuku grinned at Iida and Uraraka — the fact that the two of them spoke so easily with Shinsou was a relief, but not quite an unexpected one, since they did decide to be friends with an alchemist. Someone with an odd quirk was nothing to be wary of in comparison.

“Oh, Shinsou, Uraraka trained with Gunhead and learned some self-defense from him,” Izuku said. “Maybe you two should spar sometime and see how it’s like when the styles clash!”

Uraraka brightened at the idea, and glanced at Shinsou. “Only if you’re okay with it,” she added. “It would be a good way to practice.”

“That’s true,” Shinsou admitted hesitantly. “Maybe sometime, then.”

“I suppose it would have to happen during class time, maybe in another battle training exercise,” Iida mused. “We’re not really allowed to train on our own, since there are many ways that can go wrong.”

Izuku grinned. “That’s only for sparring that involves quirks! Technically, the rules about sparring that only involves hand to hand combat is more lenient. So long as we let someone know and don’t hurt each other, it’s allowed.” It bent a couple of rules, but didn’t really break any of them. Not outright.

The wonders of being the student of a once-alchemist who liked to toe the law every now and then never ceased.

Iida seemed skeptical, likely picking up on the fact that Izuku was pushing it a bit, but didn’t protest.

“You make it sound like you’ve used this rule before,” Shinsou told Izuku, who laughed sheepishly and shoveled a mouthful of rice into his mouth to buy himself a couple seconds.

“Oh, did you pick a fight with someone?” Uraraka added, clearly amused.

Izuku swallowed his food and sputtered, “N-no! Not yet, anyway — don’t look at me like that, Iida, I’m not planning on attacking people or anything!”

And because Izuku had the worst luck, Todoroki happened to be passing by at that point, and he stopped upon hearing him, raising a brow. “Sounds like something that someone planning on attacking people would say,” he murmured, and then went on his merry way as Izuku stared after him in complete betrayal.

Uraraka had slapped both of her hands over her mouth to stifle her surprised and entertained giggles. “He’s right, you know.”

While Izuku would mutter something about burying Todoroki in rocks, that would kind of prove his point, so Izuku just huffed. His friends were horrible. “Ed just mentioned it to me once a while back, okay? In case I wanted to spar.”

“Ed?” Shinsou asked.

Uraraka perked up. “Oh, that’s his alchemy tutor,” she explained.

“Also the hero he did his field training with,” Iida said, which caused Uraraka to whip around in surprise.

“He didn’t say anything about that! Ed’s in that Fullmetal Hero Agency?”

Shinsou seemed puzzled as well. “If he’s an alchemy tutor, how’s he a hero? There aren’t any quirkless pro heroes, at least not yet.”

“I didn’t say anything because it’s supposed to be secret,” Izuku yelped, waving his arms about to hush them all. “Principal Nedzu pulled a few strings to give him more time to teach me before he left, but…” He faltered. “I guess we didn’t really need it, in the end.”

“What do you mean?” Iida asked.

“He… Um, there’s some issues with him getting home.” Izuku let his shoulders fall. “It’s been kinda rough.”

His friends seemed to realize that he wouldn’t be divulging any more detail about the topic, and decided against pressing the private matter, which Izuku was grateful for. There was no way he could ( or even should ) explain to them about where Ed came from and how he’d intended to get home. And there was his busted leg to worry about, too — Ed pretended that the replacement Izuku made was okay, but they hadn’t sparred since, and Ed limped everywhere.

Izuku stared sadly at the remains of his lunch. What Ed needed was a mechanic from Amestris. But they couldn’t get to Amestris without severe consequences. If there was someone good enough here… Someone who was good with working on technology that might be conventionally different… Power Loader, maybe? ( But he would probably be very busy as a teacher, and Izuku didn’t really want to draw a pro’s attention anyway. ) Or maybe.

Or maybe Hatsume Mei.

Izuku’s eyes widened. Recalling her fantastic inventions that had saved his hide in the cavalry battle, he quickly shoveled down the rest of his food and scrambled to his feet.

“I need to find someone, meet you back at class,” he told the other three, and quickly began scouring the hall. He didn’t have a lot of time left in the lunch break, but maybe if he was lucky he’d be able to locate her.

He hoped she was around.

In the end, Izuku didn’t find Hatsume before the lunch break concluded, but a bit of asking around after school allowed him to locate her in the hallways fairly easily. Apparently she’d made something of an impression during the sports festival, just as she’d intended to.

Izuku was just glad it made her easier to find.

“Hatsume!” he called out upon spotting her, and she turned around.

“Oh, it’s you!” she said, visibly curious. “The quirkless hero course student. I haven’t seen you since the festival, come to think of it. What’s up?”

Izuku tried not to flinch at the term, but he wasn’t sure how successful he was at hiding his distaste. If Hatsume noticed, she didn’t say anything. “Alchemist, please. And actually I need your help with something.” He hesitated, struggling to decide how much to tell her. “How good are you with, er, prosthetics? Enhanced metal prosthetics in particular?”

“Prosthetics?” Tilting her head, Hatsume considered the question. “Well, I focus on equipables, and I guess that could fall under that kind of category, depending on the type of prosthetic. Why, do you need one?” She pointedly glanced at his fully intact limbs, and he shook his head with a laugh.

“It’s not for me, it’s for my tutor. He’s got a prosthetic leg and it broke in a recent villain attack,” he explained. “He’s, um, kinda far from home and his normal mechanic isn’t here. And he doesn’t really want others looking at it because it could get the wrong sort of attention, you know? But I was wondering if maybe you could take a look at it? Just, unofficially. And quietly. I’d kind of like for it to be a quiet kind of thing.”

Hatsume blinked. “So no flaunting it, you mean? I can handle that. And, well, it could be good practice for the future,” she admitted. “Heroes like Ectoplasm would probably appreciate augmented prosthetics that can aid their attempts at capture, so it’s a viable equipment field. Sure! Why not?”

Izuku tried not to make his sigh of relief too obvious. “You’re a lifesaver, Hatsume.”

“Now that you’ve piqued my interest, though, you have to follow through,” she chirped brightly. “Do you have the actual leg around for me to examine or what?”

Haha, no. Ed would definitely notice that. “I have some blueprints, though,” Izuku said. He’d sketched some the last time he’d been over at Ed’s; his tutor hadn’t protested, although Izuku was pretty sure Ed knew what he was planning anyway.

After a moment of rifling through his backpack, Izuku pulled out the rolled-up paper and held it out to Hatsume, who unfurled it. Her eyes widened. “Oh, that’s a marvel,” she said, practically bouncing in place with excitement. “What’s with that connecting end of the leg? It almost looks like…” She gestured vaguely, at a loss for a specific word.

“It’s a port,” Izuku filled in. “He said it’s hooked up to his nerves or something. The port was surgically bolted to his bones.” Which didn’t sound pleasant, admittedly.

“That’s way different from the kinds of prosthetics normally used today, you know,” Hatsume said, lifting her gaze from the paper to eye Izuku with an indescribable expression. “There are plenty of other ways to get a mobile prosthetic that doesn’t need that kind of invasive surgery. But his control’s probably unmatched. Huh.”

Hope leaked into Izuku’s voice as he asked, “So can you fix it?”

“What’s wrong with it?”

Izuku paused. “Um. I was hoping maybe you’d be able to figure that out, actually.” From nothing but sketch — a detailed sketch, but a sketch all the same — of a supposedly dysfunctional prosthetic.

That might’ve been asking for a bit much.

“We think it’s because he kicked a few villains around too much,” he offered, hoping that the information would help somewhat. “Maybe something was shaken loose?”

“Or worn down.” Hatsume folded up the blueprint neatly. “When was the last time he got it tuned up?”

Izuku’s dead silence was pretty much answer enough. He didn’t really want to explain that it had been years since a professional had taken a look at Ed’s leg, and the only reason it had lasted so long was because of dutiful self-maintenance.

“Long time ago, then,” Hatsume surmised, sounding amused. “Gotcha. Well, my own babies do take priority, but I don’t see why I couldn’t spare a bit of time here and there to help you out, Midoriya. It might be a bit out of my comfort zone, but I’ll see what I can do! Maybe I can even add some special features to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

That actually maybe wasn’t the best of ideas, considering how Ed spoke of the way his mechanic hated it when his automail was messed with. Izuku quickly protested, “No, no, I couldn’t ask that much of you, Hatsume! Just looking it over and seeing if you know how to fix it would be really helpful, no need to add special features or anything!”

Hatsume pouted. “You sure?”

“Y-yeah.” Izuku sheepishly glanced away, and then back to her. “I could let you know in the future if Ed ever wants any, uh, upgrades, though.”

“Alright, but my services won’t be out of goodwill next time, though!” she said pointedly.

Honestly, Izuku was pretty sure she’d fit perfectly well in the business course, if not for her clear devotion to creating equipment. “Got it. Thanks so much, Hatsume.” If this worked, then maybe Ed wouldn’t seem as listless as he’s been these past few days.

Hatsume put the blueprint away and nodded. “I’ll get back to you once I get a chance to look this over.”

That night, Izuku dropped by Ed’s place — and found his tutor splayed over his couch, eyes closed, breaths even. So he was fast asleep, then.

Somehow, Izuku didn’t really want to know for how long.

He wanted to avoid waking Ed up, since he knew nightmares made Ed restless from time to time, so he left him alone on the couch. He did tiptoe to Ed’s dining table and drop off a lunch bag’s worth of food there, though. Inko had made some extra, and both members of the Midoriya family had been unsettled by the fact that Ed hadn’t come by. Usually he visited fairly often, once a week at least.

Izuku had just assured his mother that Ed was busy, but he was pretty sure she knew as much as he did that his words were little more than white lies.

“He’s probably overworked himself through a meal, then,” Inko had said uncertainly. “Poor soul. I’ll set a portion aside for him, and you can take it to him later, okay, Izuku?”

So here he was. Izuku glanced around, noting with some sadness that most of the books and papers normally strewn across every available surface had been put away. A quick look into the study revealed that it was cleaner and more orderly than he’d ever seen it, with most of the books tucked away on shelves. The ones that weren’t were stacked neatly on tables and the floor.

A lot of the stray papers were nowhere to be seen, but there was a suspicious amount of damp ash lingering in the kitchen sink, so Izuku was fairly sure he knew where those had gone.

Izuku opened the fridge and found it mostly empty. He glanced back to where Ed was sleeping — it looked like his tutor had turned a little in his sleep, but hadn’t woken up — and sighed a little before stowing the food he’d brought into the fridge. A written note ensured that Ed would be able to find the food later.

That done, Izuku quietly headed towards the door again, but stopped before he opened it.

“I promise,” he said, very softly, “I’ll help you get back home. I don’t know how, yet, but…” Izuku thought about the circle he’d copied down. Maybe he did. “I will. I’ll get you home.”

And then he shoved his shoes on and left.

He was too busy pulling out his little journal and flipping through the pages until he found the matrix that Ed had called a failure. He never noticed the golden eyes that watched the door close, and he never noticed the sound of the couch creaking as its occupant stood and began to pace worriedly, either.

He had his mind set.

The announcement of the summer break camping trip had Izuku in high spirits. Sure, he had to pass the final exam ( which was only a couple weeks away ), but he was reasonably confident of his ability to pass the written portion, at least. The practical would be a little trickier, but so long as Izuku kept himself fit, he figured that he’d probably do alright. Maybe. Hopefully.

His classmates were less confident — particularly Shinsou, who hadn’t quite learned the same kind of material or taken the same kind of midterm exam — but Izuku was quick to encourage them.

As was Iida, more loudly. Yaoyorozu was more help in that she actually offered to help her struggling classmates with some material. Soon enough, she found herself with several prospective students, and seemed overjoyed.

Izuku noticed that she was much less enthused about the practical portion, and spoke up. “Oh, Yaoyorozu, maybe we could work together to prepare for the practical, i-if you’re up for it!” He offered a nervous smile. “Your abilities require chemical knowledge, right? So do mine. We could help each other out.”

Any of his hesitation melted right off when Yaoyorozu brightened hopefully, and he immediately understood why all of Yaoyorozu’s prospective students had that stupidly happy look on their faces a couple seconds ago. “You think so?”

“A-ah, yeah!”

Uraraka looked up. “Oh, Deku, are you planning on sparring? We could set a time to meet up and keep ourselves sharp by training against each other. You too, Iida, Shinsou!”

Although she had only mocked a fight with Shinsou a couple of times since the suggestion during lunch a while back, under Iida’s careful supervision and Izuku’s encouragement, they’d both agreed that the experience was beneficial. Shinsou had practice with being unable to use his quirk, and Uraraka maintained the skills she got from Gunhead, too.

“Todoroki, how about you?” Izuku asked, spotting Todoroki, who seemed startled at being addressed. “Come and spar with us sometime? Just some hand-to-hand.”

Izuku was thinking of Stain’s one remark about how focusing too much on a quirk’s power hampered the user’s ability for precision, but he was reluctant to say it out loud the same way he was reluctant to mention Stain in any way out loud.

Maybe Todoroki was thinking something similar, because he hesitated instead of denying outright. “Fighting against more people gives you more experience,” Izuku offered, and his classmate eventually caved.

“Alright,” he said with a nod. “When and where?”

“Deku has a bunch of good places to practice at,” Uraraka said, and bless her for taking Todoroki’s involvement in stride. She didn’t seem affected by the sudden decision at all. “He’s got great ideas, too, like using the beach to practice footing and stuff.”

With a slight laugh, Izuku shook his head. “Ed was the one to show them to me.”

“Wait,” Iida said, “would this cut into your time with your tutor, then? Maybe it’d be better to keep your schedule in mind, since you do have someone else to work with, too.”

Izuku hesitated. “N-no, it’ll be fine,” he said. “Ed’s… taking a break, kind of. And he did say it’s bad to fight against only him, so keeping spending some time with all of you would be fine. He’d even approve!”

Recognizing the logic behind such a claim, Iida nodded. “We can make a side chat to discuss the details,” he said. “But first, let’s get to lunch.”

Chapter Text

Thanks to Kendou’s kindness — and no thanks to Monoma’s attitude, why did he hate them so much — class 1-A learned that the practical would be much like the entrance exam’s practical, with robots. That cheered Izuku ( and the rest of the class, once lunch ended and the news spread ) up significantly, since he’d know for sure how to handle that.

“They’d probably be more advanced than the four types we had back then, though,” Izuku mused. “We already showed that we could take them on easily enough during the sports festival.” He shot a pointed glance to Todoroki, who shrugged.

“Robots again?” Shinsou made an unhappy noise. “I can’t control those.”

Uraraka’s brows furrowed. “If they do get new types of robots… if any of them are much bigger than the zero-pointer, I’m not sure if I can float them,” she said uncertainly.

On the other end of the spectrum, Mina seemed utterly thrilled. “Yes! I don’t have to worry about melting someone!”

“And I can go crazy with electricity!” Kaminari agreed.

Izuku watched them with a hum. “It does give a huge advantage to physically powerful abilities,” he said. In the background, Bakugou snapped something at Mina and Kaminari, about just controlling their fucking quirks. Izuku flinched at the sound before hesitantly continuing, “I-if I had to guess, I’d say that they’d balance it out by upping the programming. Can you teach a robot to think and adapt to situations? And ambush people?”

Nodding, Iida looked thoughtful. “If anyone could employ such technology for an exam, it would be U.A.”

“Maybe they’ll be smaller, but smarter and faster,” Uraraka said. “More human-sized, you know?”

“A lot of villains have abilities that change their shape, though,” Izuku pointed out. “It would still be best to introduce a variety of different robots, so we have experience with all sizes. But if they’re all manufactured by the same person or company, we might have an advantage.”

“They probably are,” Shinsou said. “I overheard some support course students talking about it, something about wanting to work there.”

“What kind of advantage would that give us?” Uraraka asked.

“They probably have the same weak spots. Think about it,” Izuku said. “If the style of creation is the same, then chinks in the robots’ armor are probably similar to each other. Once you figure out how to take down one, you could probably do the same to the others.”

Iida put a hand to his chin. “That is true. That could be the key to doing well, actually! Even without a combat-based quirk, a precise strike at a weak point could be enough to give you a leg up on the robots.”

“Oi, Deku!”

The slight smile that had been creeping over Izuku’s expression promptly dropped off his face. He turned to see Bakugou glaring at him. He fought the urge to step back. “K-Kacchan.”

Thankfully, Bakugou didn’t stomp any closer, but his voice was full of fire as he spat, “Don’t you dare half-ass the finals like you did at the sports festival — you too, Todoroki!” He glared at the other student, who looked utterly unimpressed. “We get individually scored in these tests, so I’ll show you exactly who’s the indisputable best this time! I’ll kill you!”

He slammed the door on the way out, and Izuku finally allowed himself to breathe.

“Jeez,” Kirishima said, breaking the silence following Bakugou’s exit. “I haven’t seen him that intense in a while.”

Conversation levels warily burbled back up to where it had been before Bakugou had yelled across the classroom, but Izuku only made a pained sound and put his face in his hands.

“You know,” Shinsou said, dragging his gaze away from the door, “I never did catch why he’s so… aggressive.”

The especially at you went unspoken but implied. Izuku peeked at Shinsou from between his fingers. “He’s just like that,” he said weakly. “You get used to it.”

“That was rather uncalled for, though,” Iida said. “Against Todoroki, I’d understand — I mean no offense, Todoroki — but…”

Todoroki had come closer, looking remarkably unshaken in contrast to Izuku. “It’s fine,” he said. “I get it, he was clearly upset about the result of our fight in the sports festival.” He narrowed his eyes slightly. “He won’t have anything to complain about this time.”

“He didn’t even fight Izuku, though,” Shinsou said.

Uraraka huffed. “He didn’t say anything to me, and I did fight him! And I’d do it again!”

“It’s just habit,” Izuku said. He spoke quietly. “We’ve known each other for a really long time and he’s always picked on me. Alchemy and all. It’s really nothing to worry about.”

Shinsou raised a brow. “Heroes need to be able to work with others. I think it’s going to become a worry rather soon, if not already.”

Before Izuku went home, Hatsume pulled him aside. He waved off his friends before focusing on her hopefully. “Did you manage to fix it?”

He didn’t want to expect too much, but if this worked…

“It was a tall order, Midoriya Izuku,” Hatsume said with some kind of glimmer in her eyes, evidently trying to sound serious for dramatics and not quite managing to reach it. She was just too excited. “No blueprint of what it’s supposed to be like, only a vague impression of how it even works, and no physical example of the before or the after. A truly stunning specimen in theory that I can’t even get my hands on.” She then bounced in place, already barrelling on before Izuku could be disheartened by her words. “Oh ho, but no order is too tall for Hatsume Mei!”

“So you managed it?” Izuku clarified, hardly daring to hope.

“Hypothetically!” Hatsume whipped out a rolled-up sheet of paper. “I made a few models to see exactly what went wrong with your friend’s leg, and it looks like it was just completely worn down. Padding is down to nothing, joints have made grooves and dents in various places… A bit of stress in a weak point, and boom! Something broke.”

Okay, Izuku could understand that. He could even fix it, with a bit of scrap metal and a proper circle and a method of safely taking apart and putting together the leg. “So I just need to replace everything.”

“Replace everything without knowing what any of it really does,” Hatsume said happily. “You could just as easily permanently break it as you could fix it!” She shoved the paper into Izuku’s arms. “I wrote everything that I noticed there, so take a look and do whatever. And if you can ever let me get a look at the actual prosthetic…”

“I’ll ask,” Izuku lied, because he already knew what Ed would say. He unrolled the paper — it looked like a slightly cleaner copy of the blueprint he’d given her, except with several notes scrawled over every inch of blank space and a shit ton of sticky notes for when she’d obviously run out of space.

It was more than he could have ever imagined.

“Thank you so much,” Izuku said, nearly tearing up. He just barely refrained from hugging Hatsume ( he had a feeling she wouldn’t appreciate that… or maybe she would? He just didn’t know ) and instead squeezed her shoulders to convey just how much this meant to him.

With this, maybe he could get rid of that sour turn in Ed’s countenance. Izuku was glad that he’d sent his friends on ahead, or he’d have been terribly impatient in walking with them, being unable to think about anything except the paper he’d been given.

Izuku shoved on his shoes and thanked Hatsume profusely yet again before charging out of the school, nearly tripping over himself several times in his eagerness.

On the plus side, he got home in record time. Inko looked rather surprised to see her son so clearly worked up over something. “Did something happen?” she asked, treading after Izuku as he hurried to his room.

“Something good,” he promised in reassurance, dropping his bag and throwing himself into his chair. “I got a friend’s help and now I might be able to help fix Ed’s leg! It might just snap him out of his…” He waved his arm vaguely.

Inko visibly brightened at the news, easily getting what he meant by the arm wave. Although Ed was Izuku’s teacher, she’d still come to appreciate Ed and had been concerned for a while when Ed stopped dropping by. “That’s wonderful, Izuku!” she said. “How soon do you think you’ll be able to get it done?”

“Maybe in a couple days,” Izuku said. “I probably need to get new materials and stuff, but I can probably find most of it in a large enough garbage heap.” The benefits of alchemy and all.

“Just remember to be careful.” Inko smiled, and Izuku paused to return the expression.

“There’s nothing dangerous involved, mom. I’ll be fine.”

Creating a whole new automail leg was a bit more difficult than Izuku first imagined, especially considering the fact that he had to prepare for his finals as well, but he was determined to succeed.

A group chat allowed the students to better coordinate their schedules, and soon they’d planned out their first sparring session. It would be on the beach — the one that Ed had driven Izuku to clean up, so long ago. It was still spotless now, if only because Izuku came by to keep it clean every so often. Todoroki, Shinsou, and Yaoyorozu agreed to come. Uraraka messaged that he’d be just a minute or so late, and Iida had other things to do, unfortunately.

Izuku had a practice round against Shinsou first, and while it was clear that the newest addition to class 1-A had visibly improved since the sports festival, it still wasn’t quite enough. Izuku ended up flipping him into the ground, sending up a small puff of sand from the impact, at which point Shinsou wheezed and yielded.

“You move so quickly,” Shinsou said afterwards, pushing himself up and rubbing at his back. The beach was soft, but it had still been a fairly hard impact.

With a slight laugh, Izuku helped Shinsou up. “I have an unfair advantage,” he confessed. “I used to train at this beach a lot, so I’m more used to the way sand feels when you move on it.” Namely, it tended to make everything slower.

He was just better at adapting to it after spending months running and dragging things along the sand.

Izuku dropped onto the ground alongside Shinsou outside of their makeshift battlefield as Yaoyorozu and Todoroki walked in. They’d drawn a large rectangle in the sand as a boundary line, in order to keep the sparring somewhat contained.

“Wouldn’t it be better to move to a different place when you’re fighting at a disadvantageous location?” Shinsou said, gesturing at the way that the other two were testing the waters with some lighter moves.

“Of course, but that’s not always possible.” Izuku kept an eye on his classmates’ moves, trying to learn from their actions. The spar began picking up speed as Todoroki adjusted to his footing and began bearing down offensively. “It’s better to have a grasp of fighting on unfavorable terrain beforehand. Plus, that way you can get a leg up on your opponent!”

Yaoyorozu stumbled, slipping in the sand — Izuku made a mental note to ask her about the point of high heels in her hero outfit, because that would’ve been fatal in this situation, although none of them were wearing shoes at the moment — and Todoroki quickly took advantage of her imbalance to nudge her past the boundary line.

“Good try, Yaoyorozu,” Izuku called when she drooped unhappily. “We’re here to improve, so don’t worry about this loss!”

Todoroki seemed to agree as he helped her up. “You seem to hesitate before every action,” he told her. “A bit of experience will go a long way to help that.”

The winners were up next, so after a moment to let Todoroki catch his breath again, Izuku walked into the field and readied himself. “Don’t think this will go the way the tournament did,” he taunted, and Todoroki shot him a look.

“Don’t be so certain,” he said, and then lunged forward, sending up a spray of sand.

Izuku waited, eyes narrowed, until Todoroki was almost upon him. At the last moment, he sidestepped and spun away, lashing out with a clout to the back as he kept his distance, causing the other to careen forward slightly. “You were saying?” Izuku chirped innocently before darting in to jab at Todoroki’s sides.

Unfortunately, Todoroki slipped away from his attack like water, crouching and aiming a kick at Izuku’s legs. Izuku took a tumble that turned into a smoother roll, escaping a punch that would’ve pinned him down.

That was one thing he’d learned. It was easier for someone to break Izuku’s form when he was on a less grippy surface, so the best thing to do was just move with force instead of against it.

As Izuku got to his feet, he dug his hand into the sand and lobbed a handful at Todoroki, who reflexively backed away, unwilling to lose his vision — but Izuku was much less fearful and barrelled straight through the dusty cloud he’d created and threw himself at his classmate, knocking him down.

They rolled around in the sand for a bit, each trying to escape or pin the other, but in the end Izuku managed to get his feet under Todoroki and kick him off. By sheer luck, he launched Todoroki towards the boundary line and Todoroki’s hand ended up on the other side.

It was so minor that neither of them noticed. Thankfully, someone else did.

“Todoroki’s out of bounds, you two!” Shinsou shouted from the sidelines before Todoroki and Izuku could resume their fight.

Both of them paused, realized that Shinsou was right, and then relaxed. Izuku snickered slightly. “That’s revenge for the tournament,” he said to Todoroki, breathing harshly.

“We won’t be even for long,” Todoroki replied, although his voice wasn’t as cold-edged as it used to be.

Yaoyorozu and Shinsou headed into their sparring grounds as the other two headed off. Shinsou shook his head at the mess within the box. “Look, you guys, there are lumps and dips everywhere,” he said to Izuku and Todoroki.

Izuku shrugged. “Makes things more fun for you,” he said.

As the next spar began, Izuku stretched for a bit and inhaled the salty air happily. His momentary peace was interrupted when a familiar voice echoed over to them. “Deku!”

Izuku perked up and turned around — thus missing Shinsou’s slight pause and Yaoyorozu managing to knock his legs out from under him as a result, although he turned back to see Yaoyorozu caught between laughing and apologizing.

“Don’t apologize, go after that weak spot,” Izuku encouraged, and then faced the approaching figure again. “Uraraka, hi! You made it!”

Uraraka hurried towards them with a wave, and came to a stop next to Izuku. “Yeah! Did I miss much?”

“Not really. We just had a few rounds.” Izuku glanced back at the current spar, where Shinsou and Yaoyorozu seemed to be… slowly getting more fervent. Yaoyorozu’s movements were decidedly slower, though, and in the end Shinsou managed to trip her up enough to get her past the boundary, only to lose balance and promptly follow suit. “No self-destructing, Shinsou!” Izuku called.

“You have no right to say that,” Uraraka informed him, to which all of them laughed, and then she grabbed Todoroki’s arm and hauled him into the ring. “I haven’t fought you yet!” she said by way of explanation, and Todoroki didn’t seem to have any qualms.

Yaoyorozu sat down next to Izuku and watched her classmates with a furrowed brow. “I… am really behind, aren’t I?”

“I wouldn’t say that,” Shinsou said before Izuku could respond. “What that Todoroki said was right. You do seem to hesitate before you move, and that’s what gets you.”

It didn’t quite make sense to Izuku, because he’d heard of how effectively she’d handled the USJ battle from Jirou and Kaminari a couple of times, but… Yaoyorozu didn’t disagree with Shinsou’s statement. “I guess I’m always split between what to do. Any one wrong action could spell doom.”

Izuku frowned slightly. “But Yaoyorozu, any action is better than letting a hit land because you’re too busy deciding how to dodge. If you take a wrong move, you can learn — and if you take the right one, well, you know you’re on the right track.”

“I suppose.” Yaoyorozu bit her lip, uncertain. For the first time, Izuku wondered if maybe her biggest hindrance stemmed from something more psychological than physical.

“You’ll improve,” Izuku promised. He paused, trying to reach for a better topic. “Actually, I was meaning to ask you something.”

“Yeah?”

“You wouldn’t happen to know of any particular that are lightweight, capable of insulating internal electrical systems, and… resistant to weather changes, would you?” Izuku smiled sheepishly when she shot him a confused glance. “There’s one alloy I was thinking of that’s got, um, carbon fiber. But is there anything that might be even better than that?”

“Well… Maybe. I can think of a couple alloys that might be of interest.” Yaoyorozu looked contemplative, and soon the conversation turned into one about the various properties of metals.

Shinsou watched them with a raised brow, and then shook his head and turned back to the sparring.

Of course, Izuku wasn’t actually going to completely change the alloy that Ed’s automail leg was based off of, but the discussion helped him get a better understanding of it, at least.

“Okay,” he murmured to himself, examining Hatsume’s notes closely. “So some rubber and plastic, mostly a lot of carbon, iron would help too, she said… Got all of those.”

He’d visited a garbage dump and transmuted enough pure material to satisfy his needs, so after double-checking his checklist, he got down to making a more precise circle and, well. Actually reinforcing all the material.

He only really had one chance, and if he screwed it up, the leg might end up broken forever.

“I’m heading out,” Izuku said to his mom, who wished him luck. He made his way over to Ed’s place relatively quickly, ushering through the route that had long since been ingrained into habit.

To his surprise, the apartment was empty. That just made his task much easier, though; Izuku quickly located the stored automail leg and pulled it out, and quickly went about removing the outermost cover to reveal the inner workings.

Taking out the various materials he’d brought along, Izuku carefully unfurled one of several sheets of paper with transmutation circles inscribed on them. The first thing he wanted to do was reinforce the outer shell, before he messed with the more delicate wires. Hatsume had highlighted dents and scratches that didn’t seem right, so Izuku meant to fix those, too.

Putting the leg and its cover on the circle along with a decent chunk of the base material Izuku had brought along, he took a careful breath and pulled a gleaming silver watch from his pocket. It was the sealed one that Ed had entrusted to him, so long ago.

“Please let this work,” Izuku whispered to the watch, and then set it aside. He narrowed his eyes, bringing his hands together for luck before pressing his fingers almost delicately at the edge of the circle.

Slowly, he pressed his power into the circle, which powered up with a low hum. Light crackled and snapped, tugging at the automail, wanting to take it apart — no. Izuku inhaled, reining himself in, and focused on the chunks of carbon and other metals he’d brought. All he needed to do was provide a bit of reinforcement, a little bit of patchwork here and there… Alchemical energy hissed, nipping chunks out of the purer material to carefully weave into the automail’s outermost shell.

A long minute passed before Izuku deemed his work finished and let the circle die out. He was sweating — precision work was always more difficult, and he grimaced before reaching for the automail, trembling with uncertainty.

It didn’t look like he’d messed anything up, but it was hard to tell. Closer examination revealed that there were transmutation marks left in the metal, but otherwise it looked fine.

Izuku let out a sigh of relief and pulled out another circle.

Next, Izuku needed to — replace the wires, essentially. And reinforce their coverings.

This was going to take a while.

When Ed limped back to his apartment, it was to the sight of Izuku practically jumping off the walls in anticipation.

“You’re finally back!” he burst out, nearly making Ed drop his keys.

“Kid, it’s past midnight, what coffee are you on?” the older alchemist asked, sounding much more tired than he had ever seemed. Izuku’s response was to jump closer and latch onto his arm, hauling him deeper inside. “Izuku?”

“I know you said not to mess with it but you looked miserable and kind of like you just wanted to do and I wanted to help and so I fixed your automail for you,” Izuku said all at once, somewhat hoping that the speed of his words would cause Ed to overlook their meaning. “I promise I didn’t mess with any of the actual layout, I just kind of replaced the parts — without actually replacing the parts, I just kind of — refreshed the material a little—”

Ed blinked, but followed along, and maybe that should’ve been Izuku’s hint that this wasn’t going to work the way he wanted it to, but he desperately wanted his mentor to be happy again so he ignored that little feeling of oh no in his chest.

He did pause once they reached the kitchen, where the automail was sitting on the table, though. “You’re not mad?” Izuku asked softly, letting go of Ed and wringing his wrists. “I…”

“I’m not,” Ed assured, and maybe if he’d really been back to normal, he would’ve said, Winry would be, though!

He didn’t.

“Oh,” Izuku said, “I was just worried, because, you know.” He hesitated awkwardly. “Do you want to try it?”

Ed exhaled heavily, and then reached over and ruffled Izuku’s hair. The action lacked the roughness and movement it once held, like it was more out of habit than out of intent. “Not tonight, it’s too late for this. Sleep deprivation makes people sloppy. I appreciate the effort, though.”

And that was that.

Izuku headed back to his own home wondering what he’d did wrong. Or what he hadn’t done right enough.

When he dropped by Ed’s the next day, in hopes that his mentor would be in a better mood when it wasn’t so late, the automail leg was still on the table and Ed was nowhere to be seen.

Chapter Text

Izuku was noticeably distracted during the next training session at the edge of a park. It got to the point that Iida actually made him sit out several rounds, seeing as he just kept losing and losing — his body instinctively dodged, but he wasn’t putting in the brainpower to actually retaliate, so he kept stepping back until he stepped out of bounds.

By the time Iida made him stop, he’d lost every spar so far — Todoroki, Uraraka, Iida, and Todoroki again.

“You can’t be this preoccupied during the finals, Midoriya!” Iida rebuked, and Izuku sheepishly scratched at his cheek in response. “What’s dragging you down so much?”

“Nothing, really.” Izuku managed something of a smile. “I guess it’s just an off day for me…”

“And if you have an off day on the day of the exam?” Todoroki asked pointedly.

Gods, Izuku hoped it wouldn’t last that long. “It won’t,” he said, praying that Ed would’ve returned by then — and honestly he wasn’t really treating the sparring session with enough seriousness, but he just couldn’t turn his mind away from his missing tutor. If Izuku didn’t know any better, he would’ve thought that Ed was actively trying to avoid him.

He wouldn’t do that. Right? Ed wasn’t the type of person to avoid a problem; he usually took it head on.

Izuku dropped into the grass, crossing his legs. He tried to pay attention to how Uraraka was managing to press Iida into a corner, but his heart wasn’t into it. In the end, he just dug out the silver pocket watch from his pocket and stared at it.

He’d started carrying it around more, though he couldn’t say why. His movements caught Yaoyorozu’s attention, however, and she tilted her head curiously.

“What’s that?” she asked.

Izuku furled his fingers around its worn edges. “My alchemy tutor gave this to me a while back,” he told her. “It’s a watch that was really important to him.”

“Can I take a closer look?” Unable to see a reason why not, Izuku handed it over to her and watched as she touched the engravings and tried to open it. “Is… is it supposed to be stuck?”

“Yeah, he sealed it up. Couldn’t tell you why, though. I haven’t opened it.” Although he was rather tempted to, at this point.

Yaoyorozu hummed. “Sounds like a mysterious guy, your tutor.”

If only she knew. Izuku grinned, thinking of Ed’s faraway home and his proficiency in alchemic theory despite not being an alchemist himself and his occasional references to things that hadn’t happened and places that didn’t exist and people that had never lived. “Sometimes. He’s a good teacher, though. He’s seen a lot.”

“I’d say so.” Yaoyorozu handed the watch back thoughtfully. “That metal is really scratched up and worn down in certain places, and it looks like the chain’s been replaced several times — either that’s an old heirloom, or he must be pretty old, huh?”

Izuku opened his mouth to respond, but couldn’t find the words. He was pretty sure the watch was something that Ed was the first owner of — but it was true that it was a very old watch. It gleamed and glittered where light caught against its hairline cracks, and it seemed like much of its smoothness came from being touched so many times.

And, of course, there was the fact that Ed seemed to resist aging. So it was impossible to really tell how old Ed was, or how long he’d been stuck wandering over a foreign world that scorned the art he’d clearly invested so much into.

“Guess so,” Izuku said eventually. It was a weak response, but better than nothing. He bit his lip and opted for a change in subject. “Speaking of tutors, how are your cram sessions with Kaminari and everyone else going?”

Thankfully, Yaoyarozu didn’t probe, although she did pink slightly at the topic. “I’d like to think that it’s going relatively well. There’s a lot of material to cover, but it’s a good way to help out classmates and review everything for myself as well.”

“Nobody’s giving you any trouble?”

“Not particularly. A couple topics might be giving them some trouble, though.” She brought her hand to her mouth in a half-hearted attempt at stifling a smile.

Izuku, on the other hand, made no such attempt. “Either way, if you ever need an extra hand for them, I’d be glad to help.”

“Thank you, Midoriya, but I think I can handle this.” Shaking her head good-naturedly, Yaoyorozu added, “I think Ashido’s even turned it into a competition, which is good for motivation, I suppose. I hear her complaining that Kirishima keeps beating her in something.”

“Kirishima?” Izuku paused, rifling through his memory. “He’s not one of your students, is he?”

It seemed like calling them ‘her’ students made Yaoyorozu relatively happy, if her widening smile was any indication. “W-well, no, apparently he’s being tutored by Bakugou.”

That was almost a surprise. Almost a surprise on Kirishima’s part, anyway, since Izuku had noticed that Kirishima was more easygoing with Bakugou’s attitude than literally anyone else ( and Bakuguo did have the grades to prove that he knew the material well enough ), though it was definitely a surprise that Bakugou had actually agreed to it.

“More power to Kirishima, then,” was all Izuku had to say on the matter. His expression must’ve been something to behold, though, because Yaoyorozu burst into laughter.

The thing was, Izuku couldn’t avoid the thought that something was deeply troubling Ed forever, so he turned to the only other person who could even begin to be as familiar with him as he was: his mom.

“Did your sparring practice with your friends go well?” Inko asked mildly when Izuku finished his shower. She was on the verge of finishing making dinner, it seemed, and Izuku’s stomach growled appreciatively at the smell of katsudon.

Thinking back to Iida’s rebuke, though, Izuku grimaced. “Ah, maybe not as well as it could’ve gone,” he confessed, moving to set the table.

Inko paused at the response, brows furrowed. “Oh, what happened?”

“I couldn’t focus, mostly. I just kept thinking back to Ed — like, what should I have done differently? It feels like he’s avoiding me on purpose and, I don’t know, I just want to know why. Or maybe I’m just overthinking it and he went to get a breath of fresh air and some distance. But he hasn’t been responding to texts or calls.” Izuku finished setting the table as he rambled, and started pacing around instead. “Did I do something wrong? Maybe I just reminded him of home?”

Placing a couple of steaming bowls onto the table, Inko ushered her son into his seat to stop him from wearing a dent into he floor. “And this would be referring to the home that he no longer has the means to go back to, right?” she said.

“Yeah.” Izuku wilted a little. “I just wanted to help him, but I think I might have emphasized the fact that he’s… never going to be able to go back. That he’s stuck here forever. And he’s just about given up, but — mom, I don’t want him to give up so easily. He’s not happy here, where people prize quirks.”

And even then, society as it stood wouldn’t have welcomed Ed anyway. No quirk, no alchemy, and while he was skilled enough to beat those who had either anyway…

Izuku cut off his own mumbling line of thought by tucking into his dinner, trying not to implode from the countlss thoughts running through his mind.

With a worried look, Inko picked up her chopsticks. “You want to help him, then, but there’s no way to do so, especially since he’s vanished on us now,” she surmised, and Izuku nodded. “It almost sounds like something you’d call a pro hero for, but they wouldn’t be able to help either.”

“Unless someone has an interdimensional quirk,” Izuku said. “But that’s not just rare, it’s completely theoretical.” The League of Villains had a warping quirk, and that was the closest he could imagine. He doubted it’d be able to warp across dimensions, though.

“Maybe you should take a closer look at how he got here,” Inko said. “There should be a way to reverse the process, shouldn’t there?”

There was. The circle that Ed had dismissed as requiring too high of a toll, it looked solid and Ed hadn’t said that the equation was a failure, only that the cost of using it would be too much.

But wasn’t that what alchemists did? Be thou for the people. They were supposed to use their power to help others.

“Maybe,” Izuku said aloud. “I’ll… I’ll ask him again, after I find him. Sorry for burdening you with this.”

“It’s a good place to start,” Inko murmured. “And don’t be sorry, Izuku, I understand.”

Izuku stared at his food for a moment, an idea slowly coming together in his mind’s eye. With any luck, it’d be a good place to end, too.

In the end, locating Ed was as simple as following a subtle trail of terrified criminals and mild destruction. All Izuku had to do was ask around a bit for a gold-eyed and gold-haired man and carefully pick his way through the alleys as he followed the directions.

That said, the amount of danger he was in by going through all those alleys was negligible at best, honestly, mostly because he knew how to defend himself, but partly because if Ed had been through recently, then the chance of crime was faintly lowered. No mugger would want to lurk in a place where some stranger had gone up to them and knocked them on their asses, after all.

Of course, Izuku actually found Ed in the middle of a brawl.

Catching the sound of swears and the clattering of what was probably trash being knocked over, Izuku turned a corner just in time to see Ed kick his prosthetic leg into some poor sucker’s gut, knocking them against a wall.

“Vigilantism is illegal,” Izuku said loudly from where he stood, causing Ed to jolt upright and shoot him an annoyed ( and somewhat surprised, somewhat resigned ) look.

“What are you doing here?” Ed watched his target scramble to his feet and flee along with another couple of downed criminals, whimpering, before turning his attention to Izuku with a frown. “Don’t you have school to get to?”

“It’s Sunday, Ed.”

Ed clearly had to think back and count the days to realize that Izuku was right, which meant that Ed hadn’t been keeping track of time, which meant he probably wasn’t taking care of himself. “Huh. So it is.” He shoved his hands into his long coat’s pockets, eyes stormy. “What d’you want, kid?”

“An explanation would be nice,” Izuku suggested dryly. “For why you decided to up and disappear on us, that is. Mom’s been worried sick.”

“I needed some space to figure some things out.” A conveniently vague answer.

Izuku scrutinized his tutor, trying to get a feel for what Ed was thinking. The other’s face was shadowed, so it was hard to tell for sure, but overall… “It looks more like you’re trying to avoid figuring some things out,” he said quietly.

A mockery of a smile flickered over Ed’s features like a dying candle. “Could be both.”

“Could I ask you to not? Or at least just to take a break from all this not-thinking you’re doing.” Izuku waved at the alley in general. “Go home for a while and sleep. You look terrible.”

“Thanks,” Ed drawled.

“I’m serious, Ed. Please?” Izuku needed this, and his desperation leaked into his gaze — this was key to his plan.

An uncomfortable wait stretched between them, and then Ed snapped it with a sharp exhale. “Fine,” he said, and Izuku struggled to keep his relief from showing too much.

That was the first step cleared.

“You moved all my stuff,” Ed observed when he returned to his apartment. He sounded almost amused, but mostly accepting, which somehow rubbed Izuku the wrong way. “I had a system, you know… Why are so many of these papers just strewn over the floor?”

“I can put everything back the way it was,” Izuku said. “I was looking for something.”

A lie, but not one big enough that Ed could pick up on it. His tutor shrugged, watched as Izuku hurried into the study before him, and then trailed along more slowly. “What in the world were you looking for?”

“A personal project.” Izuku was standing on the other side of the room, his back to a shelf, smiling slightly. There were still papers and books littering the floor in odd places, to which Ed raised a brow at but carefully stepped around. Once Ed stepped into the middle of the room, however, he froze.

Izuku clapped his hands together. For luck.

Something sharper edged into Ed’s stare as he fixed his gaze on Izuku. His entire body was taut with tension. “What did you do?” he asked, his voice tight.

“Something I won’t regret,” Izuku replied calmly, and he crouched and pressed his hands against the floor and a transmutation circle blazed to life, its power blasting aside the papers and books that had been concealing its presence.

Ed rushed forward to escape but couldn’t manage it in time, the transmutation locking him in with sparking energy that stopped him from leaving the circle’s boundary, a power that clung to him as though to tear him apart.

And it was already too late to try breaking the circle; Izuku had etched it into the floor. With every pulse of energy he fed into it, it scorched itself deeper.

He could see the exact moment when Ed recognized the circle’s complex runes and shapes, because the horror flooding his expression in that second was unmistakable. For the first time in weeks, Ed’s eyes were bright and alive again, the golden irises flashing under the alchemical light. The languid blue lightning began darkening into an oddly deep purple, the circle beginning to grey out. “Izuku! Izuku, stop it — this isn’t worth your life!”

Izuku’s emotions came to a boil and he straightened as much as he could while still keeping contact with the edge of the circle, his voice leaping off his tongue with all the eagerness of a desperate shout. “Did you ever notice how miserable you looked?” he cried. “I’m going to be a hero, Ed! I’m going to save people, and I’m going to start by saving you!”

His tutor faltered — at his feet, the circle shuddered and opened a massive grey eye — and then shook himself. “This is taboo,” Ed said roughly. “This is human transmutation, Izuku, turn off this circle right now! Think! There’s a reason why I erased this and ditched it, and it’s because the cost is too high for someone to pay!”

“Too high for you to ask someone else to pay, you mean!” Izuku’s words were harsh but he dared not allow himself to be talked out of it. The transmutation was already underway, after all, with darkness seeping into the air in long strips. “Too much to ask of a stranger. But I’m not a stranger and you don’t have to ask anyone for help. It’s time I paid you back for everything you’ve done for me. Heroes are always risking their lives to help others anyway!”

Ed parted his lips as though to berate him again, but he vanished before he could, breaking apart into infinitesimal little tiles of material that were quickly sucked into the circle’s eye, which then seemed to turn its stare towards Izuku despite never moving at all.

I promise to avoid rebounds in the future.

“I’m sorry,” Izuku said, tears running hot against his cheek. If all went according to plan — Ed’s horror-stricken and terrified face was the last he’d ever see of him. “I can’t keep that promise.”

The strands of darkness quivered, and then furled towards the alchemist like arms, little hands with fingers outstretched. Izuku watched in horrified fascination as it reached towards him, and then touched—

Flesh snapped apart like a jigsaw puzzle, blood splattering in a vicious arc over the ground, and Izuku screamed as fire roared through his limbs and sent him crumpling against the bloodied floor, gasping for breath as he tried to figure out what was wrong, what was happening, those little black hands ripping him apart molecule by molecule as he struggled to keep his head up.

He saw the circle shining in its intact beauty, empty in the center and echoed in blood around the outside, and then he felt himself dragged under.

Izuku blinked against the blank white backdrop that burned itself into his eyes. What was he doing again? He didn’t recognize this place. Why was he here?

Hello, little alchemist, said a figure silhouetted in black.

Izuku stared, wide-eyed, as the figure grinned at him. “Who… who are you?”

Oh? Has your tutor not told you? Surely he’s warned you about me.

Izuku jolted at the reminder — Ed, that was… sending Ed home. That was what he’d been doing. He had no idea how he’d wound up here, though… Wait.

Ha! Well, no matter. I’m glad you asked; I am what you might call the world, or the universe, or God, or truth, or all, or one, or maybe even you.

This was the Gate. Izuku whirled around to see the massive stone doors grinding open, the looming eye in its depths staring at him as though it could pick apart his every experience. Instinctively, Izuku flinched, taking a step away from its menacing stare and the shadowy arms reaching out towards him.

I am here to welcome you, you who would play God. The silhouetted figure stood, perfectly at eye level to Izuku, had the being any eyes to begin with. You have knocked on the door, little al-che-mist. And now it has opened.

The arms came for Izuku and he could not escape them, no matter how desperately he yanked his limbs away; they lifted him up and pulled him in, choking the panic in the back of his throat.

Izuku fell back into the abyss and he felt it stare through him — and suddenly his life flashed before him in long, winding strips, colors so vibrant but blurry at the speed through which they rushed by ( glimpses of All Might, Inko, heroes, circles, books, Ed, Noumu ) — his head pounded, his skull pulled apart at the seams and something foreign shoved in, knowledge pouring in and identity slipping out. He knew so many things, of the world and every soul that breathed and the laughter of a sky filled with stars, but in the torrent of it all, who was he?

The abyss spat him out into the emptiness and he fell to his knees with shattered breaths, trying to pick up the pieces of himself again. His name was Izuku. He was an alchemist. He was a… student, a hero hopeful.

Well? said Truth from behind him.

His head pounding, Izuku got to his feet. He knew what to expect; Ed had mentioned it to him, so long ago. ( Was it really so long ago? ) “I have to pay a price,” Izuku said.

Yes, you do.

“Take it,” Izuku said, knowing it was pointless to bargain. “Take what is equal.”

Not what is fair?

“No. Take whatever is equal, so long as you send him home,” Izuku said. That was what he did this for, after all.

Truth’s grin could split the world in two. Izuku wondered if it already had, once upon a time. Very well, then. It reached for him and he screamed, his body aflame with agony. A body for a body, little al-che-mist. A soul for a soul.

Chapter Text

Everything hurt. Someone was screaming. Him, maybe?

Teeth bared in a grin. Most of you alchemists—

A sense of coughing, of someone getting to their feet above. “Iz—”

—do need a reminder, from time to time. Laughter, bouncing off stone doors.

He should get up. Why couldn’t he get up. Get up. Get up.

Arms reached towards him. The figure sang, You belong to the Gate now. This is equivalency.

“—uku? Izuku!” Tap-clunk, tap-clunk, like uneven steps. A door flung open, and stumbling in the daylight.

Arms paused, just inches away from the mortified alchemist. Well. Maybe the Gate will have you do something for it, in your world of arrogance and disregard.

Wood slammed aside. “Young Midoriya!”

Oh, but you must still pay the price. A grey eye came to a decision. You wish to save people, to reach them when no one else can?

“The kid actually did it. He actually—” Tears dripped down.

With what arms? it said.

He heard the horrified gasp, felt himself move, and released a breathy whimper. Stop. Everything hurt.

It giggled. You wish to reassure them?

“Hey, you! This place is off-limits to civilians… Chief? Chief, is that y—”

With what smile? it said.

He tasted blood.

Awareness came slowly, like a frightened creature picking its way down a once-familiar path. The steady beeping of a heart monitor wasn’t so much acknowledged as it was allowed to fade in as a part of the background, right alongside the cool prickle of cloth at his neck and the brush of air over his nose.

As Izuku returned to himself, he didn’t have the energy for anything much more than just laying there for a while, faintly aware of the dull thumping of his heart and the pain like thorns in his jaw and barbed wire in his shoulders.

Some time passed before his mind finally came around to the thought that maybe it would be a good idea to try tuning in more to his surroundings, starting with his sight. Izuku twitched, cracking open an eye hesitantly. The light rebounding off the white sheets seemed to sear his retinas, and he let his eye close again. At least it wasn’t as bad as the glaring emptiness of Truth’s domain…

Huh. Izuku didn’t remember being in such a bright room before the transmutation.

Once he figured he gave his eyes enough rest, he opened them both. This time, the light didn’t seem as harsh, and he let himself blink away the blurriness. His eyes seemed to have forgotten how to focus and were scrambling to remember, and it took several moments for Izuku to pick out the fact that he was in a hospital room.

A hospital, then. That explained why he was still alive. But how did he get here?

Puzzled, Izuku stared at the blank wall for an extra second before shifting his eyes away, scanning his surroundings with deliberate slowness. An eerie calm clung to him like plastic wrap and he wasn’t particularly eager to rip it off — not yet.

Maybe he’d go and do that once he figured out exactly why he had a voice in the back of his head telling him that panicking would be a great idea very soon. Panicking was never a good idea. Izuku knew that much.

The hospital room looked fairly typical. Izuku finished sweeping his eyes over everything he could see, cataloguing the simple table and flower vase and IV drip without actually moving, and his brows furrowed. Maybe he should work on moving, next.

Actually, as Izuku discovered when he tensed and braced himself, that was a bad idea. A horrible idea. The pain lingering at the edge of his senses surged when he tried to push himself up a bit, knocking the breath out of him in a pained little gasp. He clearly hadn’t been drugged to oblivion, or if he had been, the painkillers had worn off by now. It was hard to tell if that was unfortunate or not, because it hurt to move but it also promised that he was relatively clear of mind. Probably.

The heart monitor began beeping a little more insistently. Izuku waited for it ( or his heart, rather ) to slow down and return to the prior calm steadiness, absently flicking his gaze over the room again. He caught a glimpse of something white on the lower half of his face, wrapping warmly around to his cheeks. When he swallowed, he noticed that his mouth felt oddly dry and cottony, and in absently licking his lips his tongue brushed over rough cloth instead when he tried to feel for his lower lip..

That was abnormal. It felt almost like gauze, actually. Maybe he’d knocked his jaw on something when he fell? That would explain why it hurt so much. The rest of his mouth was numb, making it impossible to pinpoint exactly what was going on.

Craning his neck, Izuku tried to get a better look at the gauze, but seeing as it was on his face, he couldn’t really see much more than that vague glimpse of something white peeking into the bottom periphery. So he tried to touch it instead, shifting and ow!

What in Truth’s name was that? His upper arms burned and he hadn’t even been able to move them and Izuku turned his head a little to glare at it and. And he couldn’t figure out what he was seeing—

The hospital gown’s sleeve was just limp. The sleeve was empty?

Oh, Gate, that sleeve was empty. It was empty. Where was his arm.

… The Gate.

Prior calm melting away instantly, Izuku’s eyes widened. The beeping started to get faster. He tried to seize the sleeve with his other arm but nothing happened and the beeping sped up more, matching the hammering of his heart step for step, as he stared horrified because he didn’t have an arm, he didn’t have any arms because they’d been taken and oh, so that’s why panicking would be a great idea—

He couldn’t breathe, his gasps came too shallow and his lungs trembled, pulsing with the too-quick skittering of the heart monitor as it stuttered out beep after beep after beep. He shrunk away from the sound despite the pain that lashed at him for moving and tried to open his mouth but fire promptly ripped his thoughts to shreds, pain consuming half his mouth and sending the rest of his jaw into a throbbing mess. He couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t speak.

A short squeak that might’ve come from him bounced off the walls for a moment. Tears gathered in his eyes and he choked on the sudden surge of panic as the machine sang beep-eep-eep-eep-eep.

Although he never heard the footsteps, a figure came eclipsing the ceiling light, leaning over. None of their features could be made out. “Remember to breathe, kid. You’re fine. You’re fine.”

The voice was unfamiliar and mostly ignored, right along with the rest of the figure’s words. Izuku’s vision grayed out and he did try his best to suck in some air, but it felt like he was in a vacuum. Nothing reached his lungs. The grey darkened steadily over several painful gasping moments, crumbling the edges away until he couldn’t see anything.

Wonderful, Izuku thought. I made it out only to die again.

And then everything slipped away.

Words came muffled, as though spoken underwater, and everything looked as though someone had sketched the scene and then dumped buckets of watercolor over it all, vivid pigments spilling outside borders and mixing with others, blurring where one thing began and another ended.

But he could make out the familiar gold hair and the feel of an inanimate leg. Ed. He had his arms around someone who almost looked like him.

“Brother,” the other said, voice cracking and echoing and burbling — or so heard the waiting earth. “Welcome home.”

Much to Izuku’s surprise, he did wake up again, to the sound of murmuring voices. This time, an oddly warm numbness weighed down his limbs and tipped him off that he probably wasn’t feeling the fullest extent of his injuries at the moment.

His eyes didn’t feel as glued together as they’d been earlier, so he hadn’t been out for too long, probably.

Unable to make out any of the words from the speakers at the moment, he turned his head a little towards the source, tired and feeling quite like he was forgetting something. A dream, maybe, but it didn’t seem important. While Izuku still couldn’t see the speakers clearly, he could spot a smattering of green that fell silent and quickly stepped more clearly into his line of sight.

He realized it was his mom, with tissues clutched tightly in one hand. “Izuku!” she sobbed, reaching out towards him but hesitantly, as though she feared that a mere brushing touch would break him.

Izuku tried to respond but his mouth wouldn’t move like he wanted it to. It was still so numb… Instead, he deliberately blinked once at her, hoping to convey reassurance.

She promptly burst into a fresh wave of tears and Izuku internally wanted to bang his head on a wall, realizing his mistake. He should’ve known his actions would only make things worse, seeing as he was pretty much highlighting his current inability to speak. Since he couldn’t get up to reach a wall, he’d settle for just burying his head in his hands for such a mistake, except. Arms. Missing. He didn’t really have the physical capability to do that anymore.

He grimaced at the reminder, almost expecting to hear the heart monitor pick up again before it occurred to him that he hadn’t been hearing it beep at all. A glance to the side revealed that he was still hooked up to it, and it was still on, but it wasn’t audibly beeping, which he supposed was a good thing. It had made his spiraling panic worse, earlier.

“Izuku, listen to me,” Inko said, catching her son’s attention. “Y-you’ve probably noticed by now, but you just lost both arms in a… an alchemy accident. Do you understand?”

Yeah, he’d lost both of his arms — although he was trying not to think too hard about it, as it wasn’t immediately life-threatening and he could process that life change later — but he’d lost them to the Gate, rather than to an accident. Unfortunately, he couldn’t make his mouth obey him properly, so he couldn’t clear that up. Instead, he bobbed his head in a tiny nod.

Inko dabbed at watery eyes with her tissues. “Okay. Do you know what happened?”

Mostly. It wasn’t like he remembered every moment in crystal clear detail, but Izuku knew he’d sent Ed back home and he’d been forced to give up parts of himself to the Gate as payment. That counted as knowing what happened, right? He wobbled his head a little from side to side to indicate an uncertain ‘generally’, and then nodded.

“Do…” Her voice cracked, and she had to clear her throat to be heard. “Do you know what’s wrong with your mouth?”

Izuku’s brows furrowed. There was something wrong with his mouth? So he hadn’t just banged it something on the way down, like he’d thought? He glanced at the anxiously waiting Inko and, after a moment, carefully shook his head.

He kind of regretted it when Inko began crying, and due to the unfortunate circumstance of being unable to feel his mouth, he couldn’t ask her what was wrong or try to make her stop, either. At a loss for what to do, he just stared wide-eyed for a few seconds, awkwardly unable to react beyond that.

Eventually, someone else came into view and gently patted Inko on the shoulder. Izuku scrutinized the stranger warily, although he didn’t look like much more than the average doctor.

“Whatever you did, kid, I hope you know not to do it ever again,” the doctor said sternly, sounding much like the figure Izuku had seen just before he’d passed out. “Somehow, in addition to your other injuries, you’ve also managed to completely tear out half of your teeth and a good chunk of your gums. You’ll have to chew on the right side for your mouth only, for a while.”

Oh.

( With what smile? it said. )

Izuku knew it was probably a bad idea, but he couldn’t help poking his tongue at the left side of his mouth where those teeth should’ve been. Sure enough, he found nothing but puffy tissue that still carried a faint taste of blood.

“Don’t touch it,” the doctor said, a little too late. “We just took off the swabs that ensured you wouldn’t start choking on your own blood again. Especially after a specialist had to come and heal your wounds so you wouldn’t bleed out to begin with. Normally, we’d have you heal on your own, but All Might was adamant that you’d already lost too much blood.”

All Might? Izuku vaguely recalled hearing something like the hero’s voice in the haze of the transmutation’s final stages, but what did he have to do with anything?

“Oddly enough, the specialist’s quirk didn’t work so well on you, and it took quite a few tries. Frankly, it’s a wonder you’re alive, but nobody’s complaining.” The doctor peered at Izuku as if trying to siphon some kind of reaction out of him. Izuku remained fairly impassive. He’d been prepared for this kind of outcome, after all. And for even worse outcomes.

Or so he told himself, but he was clinging onto that calm and refused to let go.

Eventually, the doctor sighed. “Well, you’ll have to be fitted with an artificial set of teeth, seeing as you’ve somehow been completely unaffected by our attempts to restore them.”

Izuku nodded. He figured that their inability to restore them could be attributed to Truth, to prevent body parts from being… cheapened. Which was a weird way to think about it, but made sense in terms of equivalent exchange, kind of.

The rest of the doctor’s speech was fairly unimportant — only relating to his recovery — up until the end, where the doctor declared that Izuku was required to remain in the hospital for at least ten more days to ensure no complications arose and to slowly progress his healing at a pace his body could handle, and then he’d need at least another two more weeks of physical therapy and such.

“You aren’t to do any alchemy or strenuous activity,” the doctor said matter-of-factly. “That includes school. I hope you have some friends who can take notes for you. Even then, you’d need more time to be fitted with prosthetics if you—”

School. Oh no. Making a sudden sound in the back of his throat to cut the doctor off, Izuku shook his head, much more vigorously than before.

“The prosthetics?”

Another shake of the head, as clear as he could make it. No, not that. He didn’t have anything against prosthetics, but he needed to be in school. The finals were only two weeks away!

The doctor visibly tried to backtrack his thoughts. “Taking notes… school?”

Finally. A nod.

Izuku watched as the doctor turned to Inko. “Your son is enrolled in U.A., isn’t he?”

“Yes, in the hero course.” Inko wrung her wrists. “Is there something wrong with that?”

“That school’s hero course in particular is the most strenuous of them all, you know. There’s no way he should continue going to classes in his current state.” He sent Izuku an impassive look, and Izuku tried not to bristle at being brushed aside so easily. Izuku might’ve gritted his remaining teeth, but it was hard to tell through the numbness.

In the end, nothing really changed. He still had to remain in the hospital for a while, which was horribly boring to the point of being nerve-wracking. He felt like he should be doing something. Training. Studying. Getting ready for the finals. Which he might not even be able to take on time, at this rate.

He just didn’t want to fall behind, or have it seem like he needed special accommodations. In all honesty, he couldn’t afford it, being an alchemist in heroics.

For Truth’s sake. Why was this so aggravating? He knew it was supposed to be a punishment, but still.

On a slightly more positive side, Izuku regained the ability to move his mouth properly the next day, and could even move the rest of his body with less pain a couple days later, although he was to speak slowly and to be wary of the fact that some words sounded different when he only had teeth on one side of his mouth. He just had to be careful not to bite down so hard that he screwed up his healing gums on that empty side, too.

He also got an unexpected visitor, consisting of an oddly skeletal stranger with blond hair that kind of reminded Izuku of Ed, but much scruffier. And overall thinner to the point that Izuku was a little worried.

“Hi, who’re you?” Izuku said, relishing in the fact that he could speak. Early in the morning, he’d already had an argument with a nurse who’d implied that he should stop being an alchemist and stop trying to be a hero, so by now he was definitely wide awake and running fairly high on energy. Sure, he’d been a bit ferocious in defending himself, but wasn’t like he could expend that energy in any other way.

“I’m All Might’s secretary, Yagi Toshinori,” the emaciated man said. “I — er, he sent me to check up on you…”

Izuku brightened. That’s right, apparently All Might had been the one to find him and deliver him to the hospital like a flying ambulance. “It’s an honor to meet you, Yagi-san! Actually, I was wondering about a few things. Did All Might just happen to be in the area, or was there something else going on? What did he see? What did he tell everyone else?”

Yagi coughed out something that sounded like a laugh, except there was a bit of blood involved, and Izuku promptly jolted slightly more upright in alarm.

“Are you okay?”

“I’m fine, young Midoriya. There’s nothing to worry about!” Yagi waved it off. Izuku was somewhat distracted by the thought that Yagi seemed to have picked up All Might’s speech patterns, which was both jarring and fitting all at once. “It’s simply good to see you so… actively curious! To answer your questions, All Might was merely passing by the area when he heard you screaming, and quickly came to your aid upon recognizing your voice. I believe he saw a transmutation circle carved into the floor, and you. Bleeding out. I don’t think he noticed much more than that.”

Which meant that All Might came across him freshly relieved of his arms and probably with pouring blood out of his mouth, Izuku figured with a grimace. He’d call it a traumatizing experience for the hero, except it was All Might and the number one hero had probably seen worse. “I guess I’ll send him an apology and thank-you during class.” Verbally.

“That’s not necessary, really,” Yagi said. “Hearing that you will recover is enough for m— for him. He was very concerned over your wellbeing.”

Pinking slightly, Izuku briefly turned his gaze away and wished he could hide his face. It was touching to hear that All Might cared so much about just a student. “I’ll do it anyway,” he mumbled.

Yagi coughed again, but this time more lightly. No blood appeared. “The medics were told that you seemed to have been on the wrong end of an alchemic accident, and there wasn’t much else to tell. I alerted the U.A. faculty as well.”

“Did they say anything?”

“Not yet, although I am under the impression that they’re not exactly overjoyed by the news.”

Wonderful. Izuku hoped he wouldn’t be expelled. He shouldn’t be, right? He didn’t break any laws, seeing as there weren’t any regarding the use of alchemy. Although Aizawa probably wouldn’t be happy.

For a moment, Izuku considered asking for his phone so he could contact his friends, only to recall that he’d be unable to use it on his own, without the help of someone else pushing the buttons. A wave of sullenness passed through Izuku sluggishly, but he tried his best to ignore it and move onto a different topic.

“Thanks, Yagi-san,” Izuku said. “Can you tell All Might that I really am fine?” And hopefully the news would get to his classmates eventually, too. “I can probably even take the finals on time with everyone else.” Assuming he ignored the doctor’s orders, of course, which he was wholeheartedly planning on doing. There was no need to stay so long.

This time, Yagi really did spit up some more blood, which was no less worrying than it had been the first time. “Young Midoriya, that’s far too soon! You need much more time than that to recover.”

“I’m fine,” Izuku insisted, hard enough that the wounded half of his mouth began to sting. Once everything healed, which wouldn’t take long because he was scheduled to meet with the healing specialist again later that day, he really would be perfectly fine. Maybe he’d have to take a verbal version of the written portion of the final exam, but he couldn’t afford to fall behind more than that. “It’s just one set of finals.”

“U.A. policy,” Yagi began, but trailed off as Izuku shook his head.

“I know U.A. policy.” He’d studied the school intensively before even considering applying to it, in part because All Might was alumni. “The recovering student may take a separate version of the test later, but exceptions can be made. So I’ll just take it on time.”

Yagi grimaced. “I’m pretty sure they meant dropping the test completely when they mentioned ‘exceptions’, young Midoriya.”

Having no verbal response to the point, Izuku made a vague approximation of a shrug, wary of aggravating his wounds. Was he really asking so much? This situation was his punishment, he knew that. He wanted to just accept it and move on.

( Or was he taking the situation too lightly? )

Inko looked worn and sleep-deprived, even as she gently brushed some hair out of Izuku’s face. He regretted putting her through something so emotionally stressful, but that was his one and only regret.

“What really happened, Izuku?” she asked, now that she was the only one with him.

Guilt rose in the back of his throat, and Izuku just barely managed to keep his voice level as he replied, “I sent Ed back to his world with a transmutation circle. I…” A keening sadness swelled in his chest. “I just wanted to help him,” Izuku said, barely loud enough to be heard.

He couldn’t really say he was trying to be a hero if he couldn’t even help the people he cared about.

But then again, as Inko cried, he wondered what kind of hero would willingly distress their loved ones in such a way. Izuku hadn’t intended to hurt her, but…

She looked at him through tears and said, “Did you know that the transmutation would turn out like this?”

Izuku didn’t have the heart to tell her that he’d expected it to be worse. Not when he knew that he should have thought his plan out more before enacting it, because if he died then his mother would be all alone and. No. He’d never leave her on her own, except he almost had, all because he didn’t think it through enough. Because he couldn’t ignore the suffering right in front of him. “I didn’t predict this turnout exactly,” he admitted, hoping that the vagueness would soften the blow somewhat.

Clearly, if her renewed sobs were any indication, it didn’t. Izuku instinctively moved to grab her hands before he remembered that he couldn’t. Frustration dug into his chest, but he forced himself to past it, turning his mind away.

It could’ve been worse. While Izuku wasn’t completely free from the Gate — he only been allowed a continued existence to benefit it somehow, if he recalled Truth’s inflection properly, although he couldn’t fathom how — at least nothing vital for life or work was missing. At least he’d succeeded.

“I knew I’d have to give up something, because of equivalency,” Izuku said, tentative. “I, um. Yeah. It just really didn’t go as I expected it to, though — mom?” He trailed off as Inko wrapped her arms around him and hugged him gently. His own eyes prickled with tears and he tried to reciprocate the hug as much as he could, leaning into the touch. “Mom, I… I’m sorry. I’m really sorry.”

“Listen, Izuku. You can be a hero. I know you can,” Inko said tearfully, stroking his hair. Her voice trembled, as though barely a step away from cracking. “You are more than capable. But you don’t need to put yourself in so much danger to do it. Okay? I’m proud of you, but—” she squeezed him “—please.”

“Okay.” Izuku closed his eyes, tears trickling down his cheeks, thinking of the mess he’d almost left behind, had the Gate not been so whimsical. A promise lingered on the tip of his tongue, but he’d lied to himself and others before. A verbal promise suddenly seemed too little. It just wasn’t enough as an assurance.

He wondered if anything ever would be.

In the end, he said the only thing that would not be changed or broken: “Love you, mom.”

“Love you too, Izuku.”

Chapter Text

While Izuku wasn’t explicitly rude to any of the staff members, he wasn’t exactly the most manageable patient, either. Once everything healed over, Izuku was nearly impossible to keep in the hospital, never mind confined to a bed. Izuku had pointed out that his legs were perfectly fine, so there was no reason he shouldn’t be allowed to take a walk, but the doctor had dryly reminded him that walks normally didn’t last several hours at a time and cause a patient to miss his very important physical therapy session.

Basically, many people found themselves happier when the last day of Izuku’s stay finally rolled around.

“Again,” the doctor said, “the dentures you have now will need to be adjusted, and your physical therapy will continue until you’re deemed fit for a set of basic prosthetics, so this isn’t the last time we’ll be seeing you, Midoriya-kun.”

Izuku nodded, hoping he didn’t look too eager to get the hell out of there. He’d been itching for actual activity — it was the kind of itch that couldn’t be scratched by rambling about heroes and homework to anyone who remained in the room for more than ten seconds. “I know.”

“We’ll be in contact with U.A.’s medical staff as well.”

That could be either good or bad. Izuku squinted at him. “Please don’t tell them to keep me from class.”

“You’re not to attend school at all for at least two weeks, kid. That hasn’t changed.” The doctor looked very aware of the fact that he sounded like a broken record; he’d repeated those phrases at least twice a day to Izuku throughout the week. “After that, it’s up to Recovery Girl’s discretion.”

“Right. Of course.” Izuku reminded himself to maybe buy sweets to bribe the said hero with. Or maybe fruits. She’d appreciate some healthy fruits, probably.

The doctor eyed him like he could read his mind, but then turned to leave. “Alright. You’re free to go, then. Remember, absolutely no alchemy.”

Izuku managed to withhold his pained noise of barely suppressed frustration until the door clicked shut behind the doctor, leaving Inko as the only other person in the room.

“You do have to listen, Izuku,” Inko said, gentle but firm as she pulled a set of clothes out of her large purse. She looked only slightly less emotionally drained than she’d looked on the first day. “When you risk yourself like this, you have to give yourself time to recover.”

“Equivalent exchange,” Izuku mumbled, reluctantly. He was the one who jumped in head first, so he had to deal with the consequences. The concept was simple enough to grasp, but he couldn’t say he was happy to apply it to this particular situation. Izuku sat patiently as Inko helped him change into proper clothes, stamping out the growing sting of frustration at the fact that he couldn’t change himself.

Just when Izuku was figuring out how to shove his feet into his shoes without his hands while Inko looked on, someone knocked on the door.

“Oh, that must be Yagi-san,” Inko said, which was not what Izuku expected to hear. Sure, Yagi had been Izuku’s only other regular visitor, and apparently he’d been discussing Izuku’s situation with Inko, but Izuku hadn’t heard anything about him planning to drop by at the last minute.

“Hi, Yagi-san!” Izuku chirped cheerfully as the now-familiar figure poked his head in. “I’m finally being released!” Just in time to cram, he didn’t say out loud.

“That’s great news, young Midoriya.” Yagi smiled. “I just came by to make sure there weren’t any delays. As you asked, Aizawa will be telling your classmates a bit more of your situation, so you might find yourself swamped by tomorrow. I believe young Iida and Yaoyorozu took notes for you.”

Apparently, the severity of Izuku’s situation had been kept from his classmates to avoid distracting them and to give him the privacy to recover in peace. He’d been away visiting family, as far as they knew.

Bakugou probably hadn’t bought it, but Izuku really doubted that he cared enough to make a fuss about it.

Since Izuku didn’t need that privacy or extra time to recover ( he was fine, he was fine ), and he knew that his absence would likely distract his friends more, he’d asked for them to be told the truth. “Thanks, Yagi-san. I’m sorry about pulling you away from your work so much…”

Yagi wheezed a laugh, hacking up a bit of blood. “Don’t worry about it! I reconnected with an old friend recently, and he’s been helping me handle some of the paperwork, along with the rest of the staff. I’m not alone.”

Izuku would hope not, considering how much work All Might did for heroics. One blood-spewing secretary was scarcely enough to manage all those reports. “That’s good,” he said.

Walking back over to Izuku with a coat in hand, Inko smiled at Yagi. “Really, thank you for visiting so often during my son’s stay here,” she said, draping the coat over Izuku’s shoulders and zipping up the front.

“No need for thanks,” Yagi replied easily. “I only wish I could’ve done more to help.”

“You’ve kept him company, and that’s already plenty,” Inko said with a slight laugh.

Izuku hopped off the bed, nodding his agreement. While his mom exchanged a few more words with the emaciated man they’d come to know, Izuku frowned slightly to himself, eyeing his empty sleeves with a bit of annoyance. It felt weird to have them hang limply at his sides.

He hoped to be cleared for those prosthetics soon, if only to have them mimic the weight that used to be there.

Somehow, Inko had ended up inviting Yagi over for tea as a sort of minuscule celebration for Izuku’s release, or something like that. Maybe it was because Yagi always looked so worryingly thin. Izuku hadn’t really paid attention during the explanation, with his focus inexplicably wandering back to Ed’s now-unoccupied apartment.

He snapped back to the present when they arrived home, though. Inko shooed both of them to the living room as she heated some water, but Izuku was too restless to sit after being forced to lay down for so long, so he just paced the floor.

“What are you so worried about?” Yagi asked. “You look like you’re planning on carving a trench into the ground.”

“I’m not worried,” was Izuku’s prompt correction. He followed it up with a vague, incoherent sound in the back of his throat — frustration flashed over his expression as he instinctively tried to make a broad gesture with hands that weren’t there anymore, which in turn only increased his frustration.

Yagi’s expression fell a little. “Is this about your upcoming finals, young Midoriya?”

No. Yes. “Maybe,” Izuku said, and then, “I don’t want to fall behind. I feel like I should be doing something.” He’d thought that getting out of the hospital would’ve helped with that, but apparently not.

“You’re recovering,” Yagi said.

“That’s not enough.”

“Young Midoriya, I can tell you for certain that principal Nezu has no intention of forcing you to take the exam at all, never mind having you do so on time.” Yagi reached over and caught Izuku’s shirt when he next came by, halting him in his tracks. “If you’re worried about your grades, they are planning to simply exclude those scores from the calculation.”

Izuku shook his head. “It’s not just that. I don’t want any special treatment—”

“You just lost both your arms,” Yagi cut in. He looked pained. “I think that provides the grounds for some accomodation. You should give yourself that, at least.”

But that wasn’t it. Tugging himself free of the other’s grasp, Izuku struggled to find more a more accurate explanation. “I need to… to focus on something. I can’t just sit around and wait for things to get better, I know they won’t, this is my punishment and I have to live with it.”

Yagi’s gaze sharpened slightly, which almost made the stick-thin man look halfway dangerous. “Your punishment for what? From who?”

“Human transmutation,” Izuku began, and at the tip of his tongue was the Gate and the Truth and the knowledge poured into his head from his toll. Too much knowledge; things he shouldn’t or couldn’t say. It pressed at the seams of his mind, prying, but he closed closed his mouth with a click, the bulky dentures pressing awkwardly at his tongue.

“Young Midoriya?”

“Nothing. Never mind.” Izuku let his shoulders rise and fall in a shrug, trying to soothe his own ruffled feathers and largely failing. “Sorry.”

Yagi stared at him for a moment more, and then sighed, resigned. “I understand that you may want to keep yourself busy to stop yourself from thinking too hard about what’s happened,” he said, “but your body needs rest.”

While Izuku would’ve liked to say that he’d already rested enough, that only reason he hadn’t just lost months he couldn’t afford to lose was because of healing quirks. ( A foreign disdain rose at the thought, like lips curled in a snarl, but they weren’t his — whose were they? ) In a way, he supposed he was lucky. ( In another way, it just seemed wrong. )

For more obvious reasons, Izuku failed to rub his temples when he thoughtlessly tried to. At least his attempt wasn’t too obvious; it was hard for others to tell if he tried to do something with his missing arms, as his stumps were minimal.

It certainly didn’t help his nerves, however.

“Okay,” Izuku said, after a moment to forcibly organize his tangled thoughts, “but studying shouldn’t be considered strenuous, right? Especially if it’s just reading.” Although studying never entailed just reading, Izuku could pretend. For the sake of his restlessness.

Still, Yagi looked uncertain. “I think that falls under ‘stressful’ and should still be avoided.”

That was a no. Izuku felt the frustration compound until it didn’t quite feel like frustration anymore, his heart quickening as he felt himself slip into something terribly close to panic.

Izuku blinked because his eyes were not getting watery, not now, not when he was trying to convince someone that he could handle the workload, so with a cordial smile he politely excused himself. “Be right back,” he said lightly, and hoped that the minuscule tremor betraying his discomfort wouldn’t be noticed.

He turned and strode purposefully out of the living room and into the hall, the smooth motions belying his rapidly increasing panic, dread lacing his veins because he knew what he needed and he wasn’t allowed to do. An unwelcome ache spread over his shoulders, and by the time Izuku got to the door to his room he was struggling to keep his breaths even as his heart raced away in his chest, frantic and inconsolable.

Hoping the familiarity of his room would ground him, Izuku leaned forward and reached for the doorknob—

Nothing happened.

Izuku’s breath caught, panic leaping into his throat. He couldn’t open the door. The hall seemed to twist around him, cornering him, pressing down on all sides, and Izuku knocked his shoulder against the door in desperation.

Pain shot through the stump at the impact but Izuku gritted his teeth against it, eyes squeezed shut. “Open up,” he whispered hoarsely, shaking. “Please.”

The door remained shut.

A whine of static built up in his ears and Izuku collapsed against the wood, instinctively reaching to open it again ( he never learned, did he? ) and sobbing when his shoulder only twitched in response. He couldn’t even open a door.

Who was he fooling? He couldn’t take a test or become a hero, not like this. And if he failed in that — if he — he couldn’t remember, but everything he knew from the Gate shuddered in distress at the prospect, clogging up his throat with terror. There was something lurking just out of sight, an intangible danger that struck every alarm Izuku had.

He couldn’t fall behind. He couldn’t. There was something that hinged on it if and he failed the whole thing would fall apart and he couldn’t afford that, not after all he’d already paid—

“Young Midoriya?”

All Might’s voice echoed those words and Izuku sucked in a sharp breath, remembering the time he’d heard that over the whine of a fading transmutation, the seeping blood and the scream in his throat and dissolving and coming back.

A hand touched Izuku’s shoulder and he jolted, blinking past tears he didn’t realize he’d shed. Yagi’s concerned eyes met his. “What’s wrong?”

Izuku shook his head. Somehow, he’d ended up with his knees drawn to his chest, seated with his back to the door.

“There’s no rush.” Yagi sat down in front of him, hand still on his shoulder. “You are still worried about school, aren’t you?”

More than worried. Izuku averted his eyes soundlessly, trying to focus on stopping his shaking.

“Even pro heroes have their limits, young Midoriya. Understanding them is the first step to working past them — but denial won’t get you anywhere.” Yagi’s tone softened. “Give yourself some time.”

“Don’t have time,” Izuku whispered.

“Why?”

Izuku was silent.

“You are very clever, young Midoriya,” Yagi said. “Your work with alchemy is simply amazing. I have no doubt you will be a fine hero, but you must let yourself heal. You can’t help anyone running yourself ragged.”

Izuku had no response, but the choking fear abated slightly. His tears only came stronger, but this time when he cried, he mourned the weeks he’d lose and the arms he’d lost and, somehow, felt a growing sense of relief underneath it all. He cried and cried but there was no strangling panic, letting him hiccup through sobs, letting him breathe even as he let go of that overwhelming and confusing sense of urgency.

Inko found them like that, with Yagi quietly reassuring her son, and promptly burst into tears as well. She enveloped Izuku in a warm hug, reassuring and comforting.

Maybe they were right.

Maybe.

That night, Izuku went to bed with a lighter heart.

Gold flicked into view like the glimpse of a fishing line, and the familiarity had him latching onto the sight immediately. He let it pull him through the Gate until he settled in someone else’s eyes, watching as they focused on Ed.

Oh. It looked like Ed got a new automail leg, to replace the backup prosthetic he’d been using. Overall, he looked more… at ease, somehow. Like an unseen burden had been lifted.

“At least they wouldn’t have to worry about homunculi,” someone was saying, and Ed snorted.

“Or they’d be in even more danger,” Ed said. “They have no idea what alchemy’s really capable of, and all it takes is one eccentric idiot to stir up trouble. Although they’d probably see a homunculus as a villain with a quirk, rather than an alchemical creation.”

“Best hope that nobody in that world ever comes up with the idea, then.” A sense of a head shaking. He had the sneaking suspicion that it was his head, or at least the head of the person he was observing from.

Ed crossed his arms. “Well, I did tell Izuku the counter-circle for the philosopher’s stone. And I left notes.”

“I was under the impression that your notes were impossible to decode, Fullmetal.” Exasperation, and a flicker of pride.

“Shut up, General Bastard.” Despite the his words, Ed’s tone was light and his expression was a mere imitation of a sneer, nowhere near seriously upset. “Some of them are impossible to read unless you’re me, but I switched codes a few years back. It would still be impossible for anyone in that world, with one exception.”

“The poor kid you somehow tricked into becoming your student, you mean.”

Visibly affronted, Ed huffed, “I didn’t trick him.”

A smug smile turned the corners of his lips upward. “And exactly when did you tell him that you aren’t an alchemist at all?”

“He’d pretty much figured that out on his own. The point, bastard, is that he’s the only one who would have even the slightest idea of where to begin.”

Taking advantage of your status, I see, came Truth’s voice in amusement, and the colors all bled away. But you really must focus, mister alchemist. The exchange is not yet complete.

He found himself slipping from one perspective to the next until at last he settled in an oddly familiar void. Izuku blinked, and tried to squint through the darkness. There was no silhouetted figure for him to see.  “What?” he asked, his voice soft and weak as it left his lips, as though the sound never quite became real before it decayed to nothing.

Truth’s laughter rebounded around him, and a large purple eye split the void apart. Izuku’s protests died.

You belong to the Gate, Truth said with Izuku’s voice and Izuku’s body and Izuku’s mind. He looked down to see his own hands, trembling. They weren’t his anymore. I suppose you were indistinguishable, for a brief while. Sometimes you drift back to where you belong, like you are now. But the Gate needs you in your world. You understand, don’t you?

The lawless nature of quirks… But Yaoyorozu. Conservation of matter.

One good apple does not save a rotten tree, mister alchemist. And even that hint of obedience is too easily twisted. You understand. You know.

And the most horrible thing was that Izuku did know. Memories flooded forward, recollections of the Gate’s lingering touch and its all-consuming arms until he was nothing more than a part of the whole, watching through its worldly eye for an instant before it looked toward his world and raged at the emptiness there.

Because the Gate was knowledge and what it did not regulate it did not understand and—

Izuku had been the easiest way to—

The Gate had seen fate unfurl and heard galaxies sing and touched history in motion—

Izuku was allowed a snippet and thrown back out without—

Mister alchemist, losing two arms is hardly anything to stop over! You know I have taken worse. Izuku watched his arms vanish into a swirl of dust, and biting pain tore at his shoulders and his mouth. The emptiness clawed at him, despair sinking talons into his chest as he tried to sob in a body that wasn’t his anymore. He remembered, now, why he couldn’t bear to sit by and let the world turn on. He needed to complete the exchange.

If he didn’t… the exchange would fail. Everything would be revoked, and…

Truth’s voice was impassive. Merciless.

Stop wasting time, little alchemist. Complete the exchange. GO.

( Izuku was still screaming when he woke up. )