Chapter 1: And Deep, Were the Fetters
Don’t go near the Reaches. The Noumu lurk.
Izuku huffed and gripped at his notebook tighter, staying to the walls as he quietly walked. This part of town was deserted thanks to its proximity, buildings and homes abandoned, and it meant his walk was silent except for his own steps.
He glanced at the grey sky and back over his shoulder, squinting at the lights of Musutafu proper. He was far out now. Not much longer until he reached the edges.
Musutafu was large. There were over a hundred thousand residents, all with varied Quirks, and a diversity that wasn’t seen in the outer reaches of the land. They had just enough greenhouses and surrounding area to support the metropolis located in the middle of the abandoned districts, and were purported to be the most advanced city in the region.
Purported, because any contact with the outside world had been lost over half a decade ago.
A howl went out through the ruins, and Izuku froze, head darting this way and that as he waited to see if whatever it was would jump out at him. Nothing. He continued on his way. He only had a few more hours before someone noticed he was gone, and it wouldn’t be much long after that before they raised the alarm. He had to hurry.
He walked. And walked, and walked, until the road began to widen, and sink, and finally, the ground started to slope before abruptly dropping, buildings and rubble cascading down into a shadowy ravine. Izuku walked to the edge of the asphalt, peering down into the blackness. He could see shapes moving in the darkness, barely visible. Some of them were the size of his fingernail. Others, his hand. He shivered at what that implied.
Then, he looked for a safe way down.
The Outer Reaches were taboo to speak about. Taboo to discuss, taboo to mention, taboo to think about . No one wanted to bring up the reason for the city’s slow death. No one wanted to destroy the image of hope they had.
Izuku had long given up on hope. He just wanted to survive.
He huffed as he dropped from a particularly large rock, grimacing as the impact shook his legs. The bottom of the ravine was shadowy, a constant haze obscuring your vision and dimming the colours of the surroundings. No matter. He came prepared. Izuku fumbled with his bag and pulled out the goggles Hatsume had given him, flicking them on. They came to life with a whir, and suddenly everything was bright as midday, his vision washed in whites and greys.
He had seen a particularly large cluster of Noumu off to the west while he was still climbing, so he went in that direction, keeping his steps light and looking around constantly. It was as silent here as it had been on the surface, the only noises those of far off beasts. He wanted to make a noise to break the oppressiveness of it, but. Not a good idea.
He hoped Aizawa-sensei wouldn’t be mad, if he- oh who was he kidding, Aizawa was going to find out the instant he didn’t come back to the dorms on time, and he was going to have the shit beat out of him and be put on house arrest. Again. The Watcher still hadn’t relaxed from what had happened to Tsuyu and Katsuki, and this was just going to make it infinitely worse. Izuku shivered at the memories, images of a many-handed thing reaching towards him flicking through his mind before he forcefully pushed them away. No, he wasn’t going to focus on that. He had a mission.
There was a scratching, and Izuku froze, ducking into one of the more untouched buildings as he held his breath. The noise paused, before there was the sound of clicking, going higher and higher... It eventually faded out, and he sighed out slowly. His hands were shaking, he dimly noted. How much adrenaline was he going to pump through his poor heart before the end of this?
Izuku eventually found the group he had been searching for. They were twisted things, like everything else down here, masks welded to their faces through some gruesome process and unnatural limbs sprouting from them. One of them had a mouth that stretched from nose to neck, lips stretching back to where its jaw ended. Another had vines for hair, wrapped round its mouth and keeping it from speaking. There was one whose arms seemed more like tumours, bulging and bone jutting from its knuckles.
The seeming ringleader was more humanoid than the rest, for all that it still had a beak and flaky, blackened skin. But… no. He narrowed his eyes, peering at thing’s back and holding back the urge to gag. Whenever it’d been taken, it had been with a child. And it hadn’t let go. The poor waif was haphazardly fused to him, jutting from his back like a hump. Izuku could just make out where the child must have grabbed on, arms wrapped around a neck, and hurriedly looked away. As long- as long as he didn’t focus on what it was, he could take notes. He could do this.
He couldn’t hear what they were saying, if it was anything comprehensible in the first place, but it was enough to sketch them, noting any possible weaknesses in their anatomy and any abilities they may have. He glanced up when one of them hissed, watching as the group looked off into the distance. There was a murmur among them, and the leader jerked his head, lurching to his feet. Thankfully, they didn’t head in his direction, lurching north instead. But, if they were worried about something… He should get going too.
Izuku shoved his notebook into his bag, beginning to loop back the way he came. A far-off roar sounded in the distance, and he shivered, sighing as he walked under an old, decrepit bridge. It really was creepy down here, but it made him wonder. What had this all looked like when it was still uncorrupt-?
The ground shook, and he had a split second to jump back as a manhole in front of him exploded outward, black, fluorescent sludge rocketing out. God, no no no noono no he stumbled backwards, fighting not to trip, turning to run because he had to get away from whatever this was-
“ Gyehehe, you think running’s going to help you, boy?” Sludge shot out and wrapped around his ankle, yanking and sending him slamming into the pavement, crawling up his legs and closer to his face no no no , “ I’ve got to thank you, really. That freak’s been tailing me for days, and you’re the perfect disguise. So why don’t you just make it easier for us both and let me ride you outta here?” Sludge in his mouth, he gagged, scrabbled, but it slipped through his fingers, choking, taking , and he made a mistake coming here, fuck, he couldn’t hit the SOS, he was going to die here with no one knowing where he was, a Noumu cackling as it rode him and attacked everyone he loved-
There was an almighty hiss, and a flash of blinding light in the goggles, the Noumu screeching and releasing him abruptly. Izuku fell to the ground coughing, clutching at his throat and thanking every god that he’d thought abandoned them, squinting through the tears in his eyes as the light faded. There was a hulking form, writhing and glowing as it stood over what remained of the Noumu. Izuku stared at it, caught a glimpse of what could have been horns and glowing eyes, before it took notice of his attention and flinched, turning and bounding away. He ripped off the goggles just in time to catch a hint of yellow and pink before it disappeared completely.
Izuku slowly calmed his breathing and thought of nothing for a long while.
He got back ten minutes before curfew. Aizawa-sensei stared at him long and hard when he stumbled into the common room, but Izuku had made sure to bring a spare set of clothes and clean himself up before he came in, so the only sign anything was wrong was his own pallor. Finally, the Watcher tsked, shuffling him inside with the others.
The commons was rowdy, Kirishima yelling about something he’d taken down with Toyomitsu-sensei and Amajiki-san while Yuuga and Kyouka cooked and tried to shove the others out of the kitchen. Ochako and Todoroki waved from the couches when they caught sight of him. He smiled weakly back, and ignored their frowns as he hurried to his room.
They were outside his door not a few minutes later, because of course they were. They knew him well enough to tell when something was deeply wrong. He let them in, closing the door as Ochako claimed his bed and Todoroki settled against the window.
“What did you do?”
Izuku glanced at Todoroki, grimacing. “What makes you think I did something?” The heterochromatic man gave him a flat look.
“The last time you had that look on your face, Tenya lost an arm and we were nearly killed fighting Stain.” Ah. Yeah. Izuku hesitated, shuffling a few blueprints on his desk.
“I need you not to yell.” Their faces pulled down with dread. “Please don’t look like that.”
“Deku, what did you do?”
“I- everyone’s going on about how it’s getting harder to predict them, and how the Watchers are needing to do more and more patrols- they’re letting us come along on them, for god’s sake- and I thought, maybe, maybe if we could observe before they attack-” Their faces went slack. Izuku winced. “Uh.”
“ You went into the Outer Reaches!? ”
“Shh!” He slapped a hand over Ochako’s mouth, glancing back at the door. No pause in the noise downstairs; good. “Don’t say it out loud- do you want Aizawa-sensei to kill me?”
“I don’t see why it matters to you, considering you don’t seem to care whether you live or die.” He sent a wounded look to Todoroki, who ignored it. “You’re lucky you weren’t discovered, by the professors or the Noumu.” He hesitated for a moment too long, and Todoroki closed his eyes. “You were discovered, weren’t you.”
“On- on my way back. There was a liquid-based one that, that tried to uhm. Use me as a vessel.” There was a heavy pause at that.
“Deku, how are you-?”
“I don’t know. Something else- something killed it, and didn’t attack me. But- but even if that happened, I was able to get information , there was a whole group of them and I was able to analyse them, didn’t have to wait until we were protecting civilians and infrastructure-” He pulled out his notebook, opening it and passing it over to them. “ Look , look at how much I was able to write!”
They looked. The hesitation and revulsion was clear on their faces, but the sketches and notes couldn’t be refuted; this sort of information wouldn’t have been gathered until after a battle normally, until it was too late to prepare for it.
“Midoriya… You know how much you’re risking doing this, right? It’s forbidden to go to the Reaches for a reason. If my father or Hakamata, or Aizawa, find out, you’re going to be put under suspicion of corruption immediately.” Izuku gave Todoroki a steady stare.
“Then I’ll just have to make sure they don’t.”
The information was sent to Nighteye later that night. The Watcher had been the only one he’d consulted in this, sure that he’d support it. Nighteye had grimly signed off on it all. He knew the dangers and advantages just as well as his apprentice.
He promised to forward it to the Watchers and leave out his source. They’d assume it was one of his drones, most likely, and that suited Izuku just fine.
The outskirts of town were as deserted as the first time. He walked more sure than he had before, going quick and silent down the road.
He was approaching from a different direction this time; before, he had gone north, to the edges of the residential district. This time, he had left through the financial district, slipping between the streets while Mirio created a distraction.
He had more in his backpack, this time; mace and a stun baton, for all that they wouldn’t do much. It was still more protection than the kevlar jumpsuit he had hidden beneath his clothes, and something he could use at more of a distance than the steel-lined shoes and gloves he wore. The goggles and notebooks from before were still with him, along with a rope he hadn’t thought to use the first time. Izuku was prepared.
There was no bridge to mark the beginning of the Reaches, here; instead, trees started to dot the landscape, cutting into concrete and taking over the urban sprawl. They were diseased things, blackened wood and creeping branches releasing a fog that couldn’t be explained. Maybe they had mutated, as the people here had? It was something to contemplate later.
He stopped at the edge of the woods, hesitating. This was different from the cityscape, he thought. It’d be significantly harder to find his way back. But, that was why he had the tracker and panic button sewn into his collar, wasn’t it?
Izuku sighed and slipped his goggles on, venturing slowly into the woods. Looking around, it was like a horror movie, the stark, inked outlines of the trees broken up by lighter greys. He could hear the occasional call or hiss deeper in, and kept the stun baton at the ready.
He walked and walked, keeping an eye out for anything. There were bones littering the ground, and the occasional scrap of clothing or other debris. He wondered, unnerved, how many people had tried to escape this way when they were first caged in. How many people had seen the forest that rose out of nowhere and decided to brave it instead of the ruins of the bridge?
It was a depressing thought.
A crack echoed through the woods and he froze, poised to the run. There was a scraping, the sound of something sharp digging into the earth, and he threw himself to the ground just as something lunged for him.
“You shouldn’t be here again. It’s dangerous. ” The voice was deep, a vibrating hiss that shook his body. He spun, foot shooting out, but the Noumu jumped away, climbing a tree faster than he could spot it. By the time he found it again, the only thing visible despite the goggles were multiple, glowing white dots. “ Leave .”
It wasn’t attacking. Why wasn’t it attacking? Here again. Again? Why again? He backed away, but the dots- pupils? - shrunk, the Noumu shifting forward as if ready to jump, and he froze again. What to do, what to do- distract?
“I need to collect data.” He carefully reached to his neck, rubbing it as if nervous. It was easy to press the button to activate his SOS signal. “Your kind keep attacking the city. We need to know how to stop you.” The Noumu made a noise, low and keening.
“I am not- not, no, no-no-no-no- ” There was a thud, and Izuku jumped, stun baton humming in his hand. But there was no movement, only a low groan, and something shifting in the dirt. “ I’m not one of them , I’m still me, I am-”
“Okay, okay, you’re not a Noumu, I’m sorry,” He hastened to say. The moaning tapered off, until they were left in the silence. He wished Mirio would hurry up. “You…” He squinted, pulled off the goggles, looking into the darkness and trying to catch sight of them on the ground and only seeing a lump. “...Are you the one from last week? The one who saved me from that sludge Noumu?”
They shifted, and- stood? Sat up? Glowing dots of blue swivelling and focusing on him. He shivered at the chill that ran down his back.
“Yes. You should not have been in the disaster zone. It is dangerous for civilians.” Izuku blinked. That wording was…
“I’m not a civilian.” Six of the dots high up on the figure- three pairs, the main eyes, likely- disappeared for a moment.
“You have no Quirk.”
“You don’t need a Quirk to be a Watcher.” They made a noise that almost sounded confused, and he had a feeling they were about to ask another question before there was yelling in the distance. They both perked up, Izuku because of the fact he could recognise it as Mirio and the being because of the noise.
“Do not come here again. For your own safety.”
“Wh-” There was the sound of something shifting, and suddenly pounding feet, and then he was alone again. Mirio yelled out again and he sighed, calling out, “Over here!”
As he waited for his colleague to find him, he tried to calm his shaking, and contemplated the strange encounter.
The being had claimed they weren’t a Noumu. There were two options- no, three. One, they were telling the truth, and weren’t a Noumu, but still not human, which was an unknown and dangerous factor. Two, they were human, and their Quirk was simply so monstrous they’d been forced out to the Reaches- something that had happened in the past when tensions ran high, as ashamed as he was to think about it.
Or three: They were a Noumu who had retained their sanity and personality, and the only known case of that in seven years.
No matter which it was, he was going to investigate further.
Chapter 2: Digging into Pale Skin
Don’t approach a Noumu. The corruption spreads.
Mirio was panicked out of his mind when he finally found Izuku. He’s burst into the area with his Quirk raring, leg phasing through a tree as he grabbed Izuku and looked him over, doing a one-two-three check of his head, torso, and legs.
“Are you okay? Did you- were you attacked again? Izuku, I swear-”
“I’m fine, I’m fine. Before we talk, we need to get out of here.” He pointedly looked around them, black trees foreboding and shadows creeping. Mirio froze before nodding, and they hurried back the way they came, slipping into the market crowds quietly. They headed for Nighteye’s quickly, weaving through crowded streets.
Nighteye’s headquarters was in the center of the city, a tall building that towered over others as it monitored every tiny piece of information they received. Crop updates, patrol reports, grades and performances of the Watchers in training, any possible sightings of Noumu- they all fed into the tower and then out to various places.
The man didn’t look up when they entered, busy with the monitors as he was. The main room was crowded, computers, paper, and desks taking up the majority of the space. Civilians were never allowed into the room, confidential as things were, so there was no need to worry over appearances. Awata-san waved at them from where she was sorting through files, smiling, before pausing and frowning in worry.
“Did something happen to you two? You seem tense.” Nighteye’s head snapped up at that, and he took them in; Mirio’s pallor, Izuku’s long-suffering expression, and the SOS button that was still blinking on his collar. He swivelled over to a monitor, clicking through a few windows, before sighing.
“Midoriya. What did you do?”
“A Noumu attacked him!”
“They didn’t attack , senpai, they made it clear they weren’t doing that-”
“What else would a Noumu do besides attack-”
“ Quiet. ” They both fell silent, Mirio snapping to attention. “Midoriya, explain. Mirio, don’t interrupt.”
“I was in the eastern sector like we planned, sir, heading through the woods, when something approached me and told me to leave. They said it was too dangerous for a civilian- somehow, they could tell I was Quirkless and assumed that meant I was a non-combatant.” He hesitated, remembering the odd phrasing and desperate denials. “They said they weren’t a Noumu, sir. And, I think, going by what they said, they may have been the one to, to assist me last week.”
Nighteye made an thoughtful noise. “Were you able to get a good look at it?”
Izuku shook his head. “They hid in the canopy the majority of the time; the only thing I can say for sure is that they were significantly larger than a baseline human, and had multiple eyes. At least six.” Nighteye was silent, contemplating the information.
“...I want you to keep an eye out for it. Don’t approach if you see it, but don’t evade if it approaches you. This raises a vital issue, however- what would you have done if Mirio hadn’t been so close? What if the enemy was significantly less passive?” An old argument. Izuku grit his teeth. “I want you to contact the Support Wing for something more substantial. Have them make you a weapon with more lethal capabilities.”
“That’ll attract attention, though.” Nighteye gave him a flat look.
“No more attention than you do normally, Midoriya. Just do it.”
He headed to the Support Wing as soon as Nighteye released them, shivering in the cold now that he didn’t have the added layer of his kevlar. The wind was biting at his skin, and the sky was quickly darkening. He looked up and hoped this winter would end soon. The greenhouses were struggling more than usual.
The Wing was filled with the sound of grinding and running machinery when he entered, students and workers alike toiling away. He could see Maishima-sensei overseeing them from the rafters, working on his own project; it looked like a cross between an owl and a spotlight. Izuku decided he’d rather not know, and sought out Hatsume.
She was in the corner, like usual. The floor around her was surrounded in gadgets, ranging from Quirk modifiers and enhancers to armor modifications. He stepped over something that might have been a boot or a gun and cleared his throat, smiling when her head shot up.
“Midoriya! It’s been weeks, I thought you’d abandoned me!”
“A-ah, no, I’ve just been busy, I promise-”
“Calm down, Midoriya! I’m just joking. What do you need?”
He hesitated, pulling out his notebook and fiddling with the spine. “I uh, need some weapons with more offensive capabilities, and was wondering if you would be willing to manufacture them?” She made grabby hands, and he opened the notebook to the correct page, wordlessly handing it over. Her eyebrows skyrocketed at the designs.
“Wow, when you said offensive, you weren’t kidding. What are you doing that needs this sort of firepower? Don’t you work with Nighteye?” He shrugged uncomfortably. “Well, it doesn’t really matter, I suppose. I’ll have these finished for you in a day or so. I won’t need your notebook- here.” Izuku took it gratefully, stuffing it in his bag turning back to Hatsume.
She was already neck-deep into her project again. He sighed fondly and left her to it.
The new equipment is delivered to the common room completely conspicuously, which means Aizawa-sensei sees it. As the others marveled over the new steel-clawed gloves and shock-capable grenades and the totally-not-deadly paralytic darts, the Watcher caught his eye from across the room and jerked his head towards the door. The expression on his face isn’t a good one.
“You’re going to explain in-depth just what you’re getting yourself into, Midoriya.” The older man leaned into his space once they were outside, the shadow of the dormitory throwing his face into darkness. Izuku stood his ground.
“It doesn’t concern you, Aizawa-sensei. Kuga-sensei is in charge of it.”
“Bull shit it doesn’t concern me, you’re my student, for all that you spend four days of the week at Kuga’s headquarters. I’m still the one who makes sure you and your classmates take care of yourselves and don’t end up as cannon fodder.” The man’s eyes are blazing, Quirk flaring for all that it won’t work on Izuku. He leaned in dangerously close, menace leaking from every pore. “So I’ll repeat myself: What. Are. You. Doing. ”
Izuku breathed out shakily. “...I brought up the idea of scouting. Kuga-sensei approved it, so long as I have proper defense.”
Half an hour later, they’re in Nedzu’s office, Izuku sitting in a chair as Aizawa-sensei argues with Nedzu and Nighteye. Nedzu was calm despite having one of his best ready to tear out his throat, and Nighteye only looked mildly annoyed to be there, which Izuku supposed bode well for the next few days of his work. An unhappy Nighteye was a hellish Nighteye.
“It’s completely legal for Midoriya-kun to be doing this, Shouta.”
“ It’s sending a lamb out to the slaughter! There’s a reason no one goes to the Outer Reaches, and that’s because everyone who did before fucking died! Am I the only one in this room that remembers what happened to the scouting group from the first year?” Izuku flinched. The photographs of the bodies had circulated through the news for days before someone had the good sense to pull them. Unfortunately, the damage had already been done. He doesn’t think he’ll ever forget the images.
“Would you rather we sit in our boltholes and slowly wither away? Because that’s what is happening, Eraserhead.” The man flinched at his old hero name, glaring at Nighteye. The tall man only stared back. “You know as well as I do that we can’t sit here and wait for it to blow over anymore, for some All Might to appear again. We need to find a sure method to dealing with the Noumu, and a way out.”
“So your solution is to send out inexperienced kids-”
“I’m not a kid, Aizawa-sensei.” The adults jumped, turning to him. Izuku only blinked slowly, not bothering to straighten up from his hunch. “I haven’t been a kid in a long time. And I know- I know you’re worried, that you don’t want to lose any more of us, but that’s why I’m doing this. Because we’re going to die if we don’t figure out how to stop the Noumu.” He glanced down at his hands, scars racing up from all his reckless mistakes. “I don’t want to bury another one of my friends. And this is me, making sure I don’t have to.”
Aizawa’s face was painful.
The third foray into the Outer Reaches, Izuku went into the forest again; his last expedition was cut short, and now that Aizawa knows, he isn’t obligated to spend an hour running back the Nighteye’s office and scrubbing off any signs of his activities.
The forest is just as silent as last time, and the goggles don’t reveal anything particularly strange. Debris, bone, bone, stone that looks like it may have been part of a building. Past the old streets that the forest had encroached on, it truly is like your run-of-the-mill woods, which means there isn’t much anomalous about it. Beyond its existence and the fact it looks and acts like it came out of a horror movie.
It’s strange just how… empty it is, though. The city ruins to the north are always swarming with Noumu, leading to high barriers and constant patrols on the border. To the west and south was much of the same, ruins interspersed with trenches and briars that made passing impossible. Here, there was… nothing. Not a noise, only the crunching of his feet to be heard and the sounds of far-off roars, battles too distant to make out.
No. There was one more thing.
He tilted his head, hearing the scratching of claws once more. Something was following him. It had been following him since he entered the forest, the scratch of wood echoing as he walked. He had texted Mirio the moment he picked up on it, sending updates as he went deeper and deeper into the forest. The older man was in near-hysterics, but let him continue. It wasn’t like he was defenseless, after all; he had managed to land a hit on the Big Three when no one else had without any equipment or Quirk, and now he was armed with literal knives on his hands. He’d be fine.
A growl sounded out. Okay, he’d be less than fine. He spun in the direction of the noise, looking frantically into the darkness for any sign of movement. Dots appeared in the leaves, and he stiffened as they focused on him, glaring .
“ Are you slow, young man? I thought I told you to stay away . ” Izuku relaxed infinitesimally. So it was the mystery being.
“And I told you I can’t. It’s my duty as a Watcher to figure out how to keep the public safe.” They didn’t need to know he was still in training- a Watcher is a Watcher is a Watcher, after all. A few years experience doesn’t change what he is now. They stared at him silently, and he had the feeling they were cocking their head.
“ What is a Watcher? ”
“A- you don’t know what a Watcher is? I would have thought-” He cut himself off before he could mention the Noumu. The last reaction hadn’t been pleasant, and he wanted to keep the conversation going.
“Watchers are… protectors, guides, everything and anything, I guess. They took over managing the criminal element in the city and protecting the civilians from the Outer Reaches and whatever comes from them. They coordinate with the police to make sure that the city’s running as best as it can. They innovate whatever they can manage to smooth out any new problems. You name something, and they likely have a hand in it, nowadays.” For good reason; the city government had collapsed after they found the mayor dead and communication with Japan cut off completely. It had been up to them to pick up the slack.
The being made a noise, shifting and making the leaves rustle. “ You mean heroes! ”
Izuku blinked. More odd wording. “I… guess? They haven’t been called that in years, not since the first year.” There was more scratching, something moving among the branches, before a great crack sounded, and something went plummeting to the ground.
There was a long pause.
“Are you alright?” The body- and it really was, holy shit, a mostly human-looking body with strange proportions and markings- flinched, and they curled in on themself, turned away from him. He stepped forward hesitantly and they convulsed, scooting away hurriedly while making small noises.
Oh, he realised, they don’t want me to see them. He carefully turned around, taking off the goggles as an extra measure. “You can get back in the tree now, if you want. I promise I’m not looking.”
Another pause, before the sound of something shifting and claws digging into wood. “ Thank you, young man. You can turn now. ” He did. The goggles were still in his hands, and so he could see the colour of the pupils staring back at him, neon blue stark in the darkness. “ Why are they called Watchers? Why were you allowed to be one? ”
“You’re uh, welcome. And, I guess, it’s because heroes sort of… lost the distinction? From what I remember, lines and laws sort of blurred once everyone started focusing on survival, and trying to keep up with who was a ‘hero’ and who wasn’t when working just… didn’t matter.” He frowned, thinking back to those first few years of middle school. The teachers had made a concerted effort to pretend everything was normal while they simultaneously taught survival skills and canvassed students for valuable Quirks, and his own mother had spent many a night quietly talking with Aunty over the phone.
Kacchan had been very quiet, in the beginning.
“And as for why they let me be one… Quirks don’t mean much, when they don’t stop a Noumu from taking you. I have Support equipment and tactics, and that’s enough for me. It works for Kuga-sensei, after all.” The being made a sharp noise, claws digging into wood, and Izuku tensed. His phone was vibrating in his pocket.
“ ...What is your name, boy? ”
“M-Midoriya Izuku.” He stood up straighter, looking the middle set of eyes headon. “What’s yours?”
There was a raspy chuckle, more like wheezing.
“ Call me Shi. ”
Mirio broke out his hidden stash of sake when Izuku told him about the conversation.
Class, Izuku mused, really was pointless at this point. What was the use in pretending everything was fine, that they’d need to know these maths and English in the future? At best, they’d be servicing the city and putting their lives on the line for the next however long. At worst, well… they’d be doing that, but for a significantly shorter time.
Routine was the best method for keeping the calm, he supposed.
He glanced up at Yamada-sensei, who was reviewing slang at the moment. He could still remember pictures of the man with cockatoo hair and spikes, an upbeat voice welcoming listeners every morning. The standard armor seemed out of place, on him.
“ Midoriya! Are you paying attention? ” He sat up straight, smiling weakly at Yamada-sensei’s unimpressed look.
“ Yes, sir. ”
“ Why don’t you prove it? How would you- ” Before the blond could finish the sentence, the klaxon rang out, interrupting him and making them all flinch. There was a moment of exhausted stillness before they pulled out their phones, checking the alert system.
There were multiple dots in the new section of the residential sector. Izuku sighed and closed his eyes tiredly. They were still reinforcing the protections, having had to break the line of walls that had been set up thanks to the renovations.
It was too far away to respond.
The klaxon finally shut off, and Yamada-sensei slumped, tapping the board with the chalk. “Well. That was… that. Why don’t we… get back to the lesson. Midoriya-kun, use this term in a sentence would you?”
No one relaxed for the next hour. When they checked for an update, the report said that Todoroki had successfully handled it with his subordinates. The sighs of relief were strained.
The briars stung at his fingers, and Izuku hissed as drops of blood welled up. He’d have to keep more durable gloves on himself, it seemed. More careful, he turned the vine this way and that, carefully observing the plant. The hedge was wild and untamed, stretching at least three metres high and growing farther than he could see with his bare eye. This stretch of it went nearly to the border of the western trench, if he remembered correctly.
He sketched them in his notebook, before taking out his gloves, carefully maneuvering the claws around one of the vines. It came away easily once he dug in, and he held the cutting as he watched the severed ends shiver, quickly growing back together again.
The cutting went into a bag, and he shuffled away, turning to the trenches. The Noumu here were less in numbers than the ravines or trenches, likely thanks to the sunlight, and he was able to walk relatively safely down the street, so long as he kept an ear out. The few that he had seen along his way didn’t catch sight of him, and he was able to record them quickly.
The trenches were shallower than the ravine at the old bridge. From here, the drop was only a story or so, compared to the multiple that the other proved to be. He carefully peered down, making sure to choose a covered spot to watch from. The ground below was craggy, and the walls sharp with broken stone and debris, but it didn’t matter to its inhabitants. He watched one Noumu slam into the side without stopping and shivered. The ones without a skull always unnerved him more than Victims, somehow. They were more… mindless.
“ You’re very persistent .” Izuku jerked, shoulder slamming into the wall next to him. He glanced around frantically, finally spotting the shadow lying on the broken ceiling. Shi peered down at him from his vantage point. “ It reminds me of someone. ”
“How did you find me again?” The being snorted, something flickering as they shifted.
“ You are the only non-mutated being in the disaster zone. It is not hard to find you. ” True. “ Are your parents alright with you doing this? Do they know their child is risking their life to watch monsters? ”
He bristled at the words, pointedly turning back to the trench to observe another Noumu. “I imagine my mother would be worried out of her mind, but would understand why I’m doing it. My father wasn’t in the city before the Disaster hit. I don’t know where he is, if he’s even still alive.”
Shi made a low noise, claws scraping against stone. “ I apologise. I hadn’t thought… ”
“It’s okay,” Izuku interrupted tiredly, “You didn’t know. And it’s not like you aren’t right; I know I’m risking my life every time I come out here. I’m lucky I’ve only been attacked once so far. But we need the data I’m collecting more than we need my safety.”
“ Is it truly that bad? ” Izuku huffed, thinking back to all the attacks from the past two years, the shrinking stores and growing paranoia.
“People are giving up.”
There was a heavy pause, the silence stretching, before a loud slap against the stone made Izuku yelp. “ That settles it, then! If you’re going to be out here risking your neck, I’ll just have to look after you. ”
“ Well, you need better protection than those little claws of yours, and I’m in the business of taking out those monsters myself. Why not? ” Izuku considered that. He still didn’t know who or what they were, but… They hadn’t seemed hostile at all throughout this. And he still had his panic button.
“...Alright. I look forward to working with you, Shi-san.”
Blue dots squinted down at him, the barely-there gleam of white underneath them. “ I look forward to working with you, Midoriya-kun .”
Kirishima visits Nighteye’s office with Toyomitsu-sensei due to an upsurge in Trigger use.
Kirishima realises Mirio and Izuku are nowhere to be found, and manages to stumble across the recent notes they’ve reviewed.
Izuku regrets his decisions in life.
“YOU’RE GOING TO THE REACHES, MAN? WHAT THE HELL! ” He leaned away from Kirishima, holding his plate like a shield.
“How are you not dead? ”
“Have you grown anything? Do you have new arms or something that you’re hiding?”
“Is it as scary as everyone says? Are there Noumu everywhere?”
“Is that why Aizawa looked ready to murder someone last month?”
“HE CAN’T TALK IF YOU ALL RUN RIGHT OVER HIM!” The clamour stopped, and they all turned to Ochako, who sent them pointed glares. She turned to Izuku, smiling even as he sunk further into the couch cushions. “Okay, go ahead.”
Izuku squeaked. “Well. Uh. Yes? I’m careful and don’t go near them. No. And uh, yes, I guess.”
Mina waved a hand, frowning. “What do you even do?? Do you just like, watch them or something?” He hesitated, before reaching over the couch and grabbing his bag. The others peered at his notebook, eyes widening at the sketches and pages of notes.
“Midoriya, you did all this?”
“A-ah, yeah.” He scratched at his neck sheepishly. “It’s scary going out there, but… the results speak for themselves.”
“You’re the reason Todoroki and his subordinates were able to take care of those Noumu.” Sato gaped at him. “Dude, my dad was there when the attack happened. Holy shit. ”
Izuku squirmed uncomfortably. “It’s- it’s good my data was useful, then? I was sort of worried that it wouldn’t, uh, be.” The class stared at him some more, and he resisted the urge to bolt out of his seat. Finally, Kirishima clapped him on the shoulder, face serious.
“You’re manly as shit, Midoriya. Thanks for your sacrifices.”
Izuku flushed and squeaked that they should get back to dinner. It didn’t stop the others from hugging him and slapping him on the back throughout the night.
“Shi-san?” The being made a humming noise from their spot on the roof next to him. Izuku glanced up before turning back to the ravine, counting out how many bodies he could see. “You said you kill the Noumu when you can.”
“ Nasty things. Don’t deserve to suffer anymore, ” They agreed. Izuku cocked his head, frowning.
“I know some of them are people who have been mutated, but aren’t some of them just… monsters?”
“ All were people. All are victims. ” Izuku swallowed heavily. Marked that down in his notebook. There was a hulking shape down below, a figure with a pointed face sticking out of the top of the mass of limbs. As it deconstructed and separated into multiple figures, he swallowed again and updated some of his first profiles. Able to integrate other lifeforms. Good to know.
“ Midoriya-kun? ”
“You said you aren’t a Noumu. What are you, then?”
They didn’t answer.
He got up from his spot, carefully making his way down to the bottom. This time, he made sure to roll when he dropped, reducing the impact. He sighed, digging his goggles out of his bag and slipping them on. Today, he was to attempt to find the end of the ravine; curfew had been removed for him tonight for this express purpose, as long as he sent quarter-hourly updates.
“ I was supposed to be a weapon. ” The voice came from behind him suddenly, and Izuku had to force himself not to spin around. “ But he didn’t realise that my Quirk would fight against the corruption. ”
Izuku shivered as he began to trek forward, claws skittering behind him. Bipedal, quadrupedal, he couldn’t tell. “He?”
“ The one who started all this. ” All for One . A shiver ran down his back.
They walked for some time, Izuku ducking between houses and buildings and keeping out of sight while Shi followed close behind. The farther he went, the worse the destruction was, buildings going from abandoned and nearly-whole to looking as though a bomb had dropped on them. He stopped in one, what must have been in a bar at some point going by the counter and taps, to chart his progress.
“ I’m still here, Midoriya-kun. ” He shifted towards the voice. “ What is it? ”
“...Why are you out here, if you’re not a Noumu? Why are you hiding?”
“ Why does Musutafu send out citizens with Quirks deemed abominable enough? ” Izuku flinched and looked at his hands. Why, indeed. He could still remember a story from the end of middle school, a mother and son being forced out thanks to their Quirks allowing them to control people’s actions. People had seen them as too dangerous, too much of a liability in a time where they could kill hundreds with one sentence. The boy had been his age.
“...I’m sorry.” His companion shifted, making a questioning noise. “I- it’s not fair, it’s criminal that we do that, that people like you are forced to hide or live like this. We’re all fighting for survival. We shouldn’t be allowed to decide who makes the cut.”
Shi chuckled, a raspy, unpleasant noise that sounded painful. “ It’s a good sign you believe that, Midoriya-kun. It’s nice to see young heroes keep to their morals despite these trying times. ” Izuku smiled despite himself. Being called a hero- it struck a chord inside him that still held onto those childish hopes. He stretched and stood, turning back to the path he had been taking.
Cover became sparse the further he went, and the shadows longer. Even with the goggles on, the landscape grew darker and darker.
“Have you ever gone this far, Shi-san?”
“ Once. It didn’t end well. ” That wasn’t ominous at all . His companion seemed to realise what they said and coughed, hurrying to add, “ It was mainly due to extenuating circumstances. Having an eldritch abomination in your chest doesn’t bode well for travel. ”
“It’s. Not still there, is it.”
“ ... ”
Izuku quickened his pace.
Around an hour in, Izuku slammed into nothing.
He meant that literally. He had been walking, eyeing the ground and trying to calculate how far out the trench went from the old city limit when he abruptly slammed into an invisible wall, a startled noise jumping out of him. Clawed hands caught him before he could fall to the ground, and they both froze.
“ ...Thought you knew. There’s a barrier preventing anyone from leaving. ” Shi’s hands left his shoulders, and Izuku straightened, noting absently that he had felt them standing behind him for a split moment. Bipedal then, and tall. Very tall.
“We haven’t checked if it was still present since All Might disappeared,” He mumbled, feeling along the wall. Shi made a noise behind him as he frowned, slipping off his glove and pressing. It was… soft, as though it was formed out of cloth. He pressed harder, and made a startled noise.
His hand had sunk in.
“What-?” He tried to pull away, but his hand wouldn’t detach from the barrier. “I- no-” He tugged again, and this time it tugged back, sucking in more of his arm. “No, no-no- no-no- ”
Spindly arms wrapped around his middle, an uneven chest against his back as a voice growled in his ear and he was yanked back, arm jerkily pulling out of the barrier. The two of them fell back into a heap.
Izuku breathed heavily, shuddering, leaning back into the bony chest behind him. He stared down at the hand that had been trapped. His nails were sickly yellow, and the skin looked dry and cracked. It was eerily familiar, and he whined at the images that flashed through his mind.
“Let’s- let’s go back, Shi-san. I, I, I think this is enough for today.”
Shi didn’t comment as he jumped up, skittering for the glove he had dropped in the chaos. It took him three tries to put it on, and he cut himself at one point on one of the claws, cursing.
They didn’t talk as they walked back. At one point, a Noumu lumbered nearby, and the two hid tense in an old home, Izuku’s eyes roaming over the remnants of a life as the groans outside faded. When they approached the new city’s limits, Izuku paused, hesitating in front of the tall wall.
“Thank- thank you for. Saving. Me.” He tilted his head in the direction of his companion. “I, I know I wouldn’t have gotten out, probably, without your help.” There was a rumbling, before something tentatively reached out and rubbed through his hair. A hand, he realised.
“ Of course, Midoriya-kun. I said I would look out for you, didn’t I? ” The hand slid down to his back, pushing him forward slightly. “ Go report to Nighteye. I’m sure he’s anxious after your updates. ”
It didn’t occur to Izuku until he had scaled the wall and was halfway there that he had never told Shi about Nighteye.
Nighteye starts pulling up records of banished citizens. Izuku doesn’t know how to tell him that he doesn’t think Shi has ever been on that list. Some days, he doubts they’ve ever been in the city, as mired in old terminology as they are.
Asui screaming noise cut off as cracked and decaying hands grab her hold her tight turn her to dust Izuku screaming Mineta screaming Aizawa-sensei lying on the ground
Izuku snapped awake, gasping. He stared listlessly at his pillow as his breathing calmed, his heart following.
He hauled himself up slowly, staring at the wall before dragging himself to the door. He didn’t bother picking up the pillows or blanket from where they’d fallen. The hallway was dark and chilly while he walked, and the elevator more like a blackened cupboard. He leaned against the wall as it went down to the common room.
The television was playing silently, old reruns of some retro series splaying colour across the couches. Mezo and Shouto watched as he blinked tiredly, heading for the kitchen. There was already a kettle of tea waiting, and he poured a cup, sighing at the warmth that seeped through the ceramic.
He joined the other two on the sofa, and they sat there until dawn, staring blankly at the television as images flickered. Momo was the first to come across them in the morning, and she quietly called their supervisors, saying they wouldn’t be able to come in that day due to extenuating circumstances.
Later, Izuku will thank the others for navigating around them, slowly pulling them out of the malaise and not pushing the issue. He’ll be thankful that they’re the only ones to end up downstairs that night, that Denki and Hanta came home sometime during it all, that they’re there and cooking breakfast, arguing over who gets the last of the blueberries and whose job it is to sweep the floor.
Right now, he was tired.
He didn’t go out to the Reaches for a week after that. Besides Nighteye forbidding him until the effects faded, the thought of going back brought back memories of the barrier and left him shivering, needing to do something to distract himself. He kept himself busy by organising the files from the past few weeks, clearing the glut that Awata-san and Moashi-san hadn’t been able to clear just yet. The files would go into different piles as he sorted by subject and urgency, and then they would be filed away into records so they could access them anytime they needed them. It was busywork, plain and simple, and helped him smooth out the edges to his mind.
When he suited up the next Friday, it was with a calm demeanor even as Nighteye looked him over with a critical eye.
“Keep in mind you can pull out of this venture at any time, Midoriya. This is completely voluntary; I won’t force you to keep going out there.”
Izuku only shook his head. “We need this, sir. You know as well as I do we can’t afford to stop it.”
He set out, slinging his bag over his shoulder. He wanted to explore the forest, again; it was so large, stretching the length of the eastern sector and to the presumed edge of the barrier on that side. They’d only mapped some of it, marking clearings and notable debris, of which there wasn’t much.
He slipped through the crowds and over the wall when he reached it, huffing as he dropped to the ground. The walk was short, and he hurried along as the trees came closer and closer. He had just reached the treeline when there was a crackling, and a delighted hum from the eaves.
“ Midoriya-kun! It’s been a while. ”
“A week,” Izuku replied. He swallowed around the guilt in his throat- who else would the being have to talk to around here? “I had to recuperate after last time; Nighteye didn’t want me going into the field too soon.”
“ That sounds like him. He always was very cautious. ” Another indicator that they knew the Watcher. From before the Disaster, maybe? The voice drifted as Shi crossed trees, keeping close to him as he walked. “ What are you doing today? ”
“Charting the forest some more, and seeing if I can’t find any Noumu nests. They have to be somewhere, and this seems like the safest bet.”
“ Ah. ” Shi sounded awkward, making a rattling noise. “ You won’t find any of those, in here. I’ve long run off any Noumu that squat here. ” Izuku squinted in their direction.
“You have the forest all to yourself?”
“ It makes for safer resting if I have a defined territory in place of a temporary resting spot. ”
“The forest stretches nearly a kilometre across at its thickest point.”
“ I’m very intimidating? ” Izuku snorted. Well then. He supposed he’d be looking for mainly debris instead of nests, then.
They talked as he walked and mapped, meandering from subject to subject. Izuku was curious as to how they survived out in the Outer Reaches without any of the resources of Inner Musutafu, and Shi was curious on to how the city functioned, isolated as it was. On both accounts, scavenging and utilization of limited resources proved very useful; the abandoned houses were treasure troves of preserved food, and the Quirks within Musutafu were indispensable tools.
“It’s not easy, of course. People will get worn out doing too much- you wouldn’t believe how many cases there are of workers damaging their Quirks because they didn’t stop when they needed to.” Izuku pursed his lips, thinking of an exhausted Kaminari and Sero spending the whole night out maintaining the city. “It’s difficult.”
“ I’m sure. It’s a show of human ingenuity that Musutafu has survived this long. I’m relieved to see it. ” Shi chirped, jumping and nearly falling from a tree. “ Up here is the barrier. Do you want to go to it? ”
“No. Let’s go west.”
Izuku shifted the bento in his hands. Mirio stared at it. Nighteye sighed from his desk and muttered something about teenagers.
“You don’t see it as the tiniest bit weird.”
“They’re helping me, it’s the least I can do. It’s got to be better than decade-old canned food, anyways.” Mirio made a strangled noise, hand dragging across his face.
“You’re so weird , Izuku. C’mon, let’s go so you can give your pet monster a homemade lunch.” Izuku punched the older man as they left. Asshole.
The streets were more crowded than usual, and Izuku glanced at the faces as they walked down the street, keeping an eye out for anyone that seemed shifty. While the outbreak of Trigger had been mostly handled, there was no telling if that had been the end of the recent upsurge of crime. One could never know, in a tense environment like this.
The wall was the same as usual, and they slipped into an alley, Izuku scaling the adjacent apartment and perching on the top.
“I’ll see you at eight like usual. Tell Amajiki-senpai and Hado-senpai I said hello.” The blond waved as he dropped, grunting and rolling across the concrete. Compared to the square behind him, this road was dark, deserted and littered with old remnants of life. He weaved between buildings, noting what could still be scrapped as he passed. Maishima-sensei would be overjoyed if they could find more metals, that’s for sure.
He paused as he reached the beginning of the treeline, placing a hand against a sapling. It was… vibrating? No- his head snapped up as he looked south. It wasn’t vibrating; the ground was.
Izuku barely had time to jump out of the way as a towering shape burst out of the forest, sending branches and trunks careening as it shot out of the growth. It was a Noumu, body melting and reforming in grotesque waves of muscle as it roared. He stared at it in horror, pressing his panic button and judging the distance to the wall, how long it would take a team to respond, how much he’d be able to delay it-
A pale shape shot out from the trees after it, latching onto what served as the Noumu’s neck. Steam poured off it as the Noumu screeched, and a light around it brightened and brightened, forcing Izuku to look away at the last second, a loud thud resonating and shaking the ground. He forced his eyes open when it died down, claws primed, needing to know what happened, what attacked, what he was facing now.
A figure stood in the settling dust, over a rapidly shrinking figure. Blond, shaggy hair obscured the face, but not the multiple eyes staring at him from a bony back, black tendrils and veins pulsing around them. Clawed hands twitched and bent, rubbing at torn shorts as they leaned down, pressing one large palm to a cooling body. There was a sigh, before they stood and turned. Six black-blue eyes stared at him as fangs distorted a grimace.
“ Hello, Midoriya-kun. ”
Chapter 3: That Stretched from Limb to Stone
Don't hide the Corruption. It endangers all.
Shi was both everything and nothing like he had predicted. From the way they had acted, he had assumed they were a monstrosity, distorted beyond belief and disturbing to the eyes. He had speculated at night that they had possibly grown new limbs, or tumours, maybe. Not… this.
To him, they looked starved, and as though someone had crossed them with a many-eyed lizard, but… He saw more abnormal things in his own spars with friends. Hell, Shouji was constantly breaking off arms and reforming them whenever things got too rough. The only unnerving aspect of them was the thick spiderwebbing black coming from their side, pulsing in time with their breaths and slowly writhing.
“Are you alright? I was not able to stop it from breaking the treeline in time. ” Izuku jolted back to the present and shook his head, taking the hand hesitantly offered to him. Shi hauled him up, eyes glancing at his face and then darting away. “ I… apologise, for this. I know my appearance is. Unsettling.”
“It’s- it’s fine. You aren’t that scary.” Izuku grimaced, eyes roving over pale skin. “Are- are you okay? That didn’t look pleasant.”
“Don’t worry about me! I’m tough enough to take care of a ruffian like that. ” Shi’s chest puffed out and Izuku snorted, finally smiling weakly. The being grinned at him, fangs shining as their lips stretched. “ They were the only one, anyways. But now that that’s done, what’s the plan for today?”
The change of subject was abrupt, but Izuku let it slide without complaint. “Well, I was just planning to go through some of the ruins to see what can be salvaged for now, but before that-” He dug into his bag, emerging victorious with the bento in hand. “Here. I thought you might like it.”
Shi stared at the bento like it was an alien. Carefully, Izuku took one of their hands and dropped the box into it, fingers curling around it automatically. Their head tilted.
“You… made me a bento.”
“You mentioned you scavenge from the houses out here, and I know that can’t be the greatest thing ever, so…” He shrugged bashfully. “I thought you might enjoy some fresh food?”
Shi carefully tugged at the cloth, picking at it until the knot came apart and revealed the tiny slices of egg and chicken Izuku had spent forever hoarding from the others. They poked at one, spearing it on their talon and holding it up.
“...Thank you, Midoriya-kun. Why don’t we walk while I eat this?” He grinned. They set off in a random direction while Shi munched on the lunch two steps behind him.
“...Y-you can just call me Izuku, you know. No need to be so formal.” Shi hummed, smoothly dropping as they ducked under a crumbling bridge. “We’re uh. Working together, after all.”
“Do you call Nighteye Osamu-san, then?” Izuku blanched at the thought of being so familiar with the supervisor.
“I’m pretty sure only Mirio would get away with that? Kuga-sensei is too… intimidating.” They snorted, muttering something about posters and fans that Izuku didn’t quite get.
“Why don’t you tell me how it is to work under him, Izuku-kun? I’ve never had the chance to, after all.”
Izuku regaled them with tales of Awata-san being strapped to a rack and younger Watchers being terrified out of their minds. At one point, Shi was laughing so hard the eyes across their back squinted, and they had given up on staying behind him, bumping his shoulder as they trotted beside him. Izuku felt triumphant, for some reason.
Nighteye sat up straight when Izuku said he had finally gotten a good look at their mysterious helper.
“Describe them in detail. Leave nothing out.”
“Ah- uhm, they were tall, possibly higher than two metres, and severely underweight. They looked like they were only taking in enough calories to sustain themself and what little muscle they had. Multiple eyes on the back and upper arms, with three sets positioned centrally on the face, sharp teeth and extended mouth, talons on the hands and feet…” He trailed off, pursing his lips. “I’m pretty sure they’re semi-quadrupedal? Their arms were longer than baseline. And they, they have a uh, black mass stretching from their left side. They called it an infection caused by the Corruption.”
“Any other identifying features? Something that identifies them that isn’t related to the Corruption?” Nighteye asked impatiently. Izuku shrugged helplessly.
“I don’t know what is and isn’t. For all I know, the eyes were normal, but the limbs and teeth weren’t, or vice versa.” He paused, shrugging again. “They seemed more masculine than feminine, I guess? And they had blond hair down to their chest. The eyes were all blue, too, even though they also… glowed… So.” Nighteye had gone exceedingly still, and was staring at him with an unreadable expression. “Kuga-sensei?”
The man’s head tilted like an owl’s, and he leaned forward over the desk, chin propped on his hands. “Izuku. May I use my Quirk on you?” Izuku blinked at the non-sequitur and use of his name. Nighteye must have his suspicions. Why not share them, then? What was he hiding?
Nevertheless. He trusted the man. So he nodded, leaning in and waiting as the man pulled off his glasses, eyes flashing with black and white crosshairs. The Watcher’s face went slack as whatever it was scrolled past his eyes, and he stared even as his eyes faded back to yellow. Izuku waited a moment before prompting, “Sir?”
The man leaned back slightly, silent, blinking. “Midoriya, you…” He shook his head once. “Thank you. I’m sorry.”
“It’s nothing.” The Watcher cleared his throat and slid his glasses back on, turning to one of the many screens around his desk. “Go speak to Aizawa. He wished to discuss something, I believe. He bothered me enough today for me to get that impression, at least.”
Izuku went, bewildered. Hopefully it wouldn’t be another session of the Watcher criticizing every little thing he does when outside the walls.
(He doesn’t see Nighteye put his head in his hands, or the heaving sobs that shake his frame.)
Aizawa-sensei, it turned out, wanted him because Nedzu wanted him. Izuku tried not to run the moment Aizawa mentioned his name, and the other man seemed to know what he was thinking of, going by the hand on his collar. They trudged to the center of the school, passing by staff and students who watched them curiously. They finally reached the office, where outside the door an apprehensive Mirio was waiting with Kusano-sensei, the homeroom teacher for the third years. The two blonds smiled nervously at them before Kusano cleared his throat, jerking his head at the door.
“Shall we, then?”
Nedzu, when they walked in, had already set places for them, the tea he always inexplicably had steaming in four cups. The two students were boxed in, and Izuku fiddled with his cup, letting the teachers chat over him for a minute or two.
“...Now, I’m sure you four know why we’re here, yes?” Izuku glanced up, caught sight of an unreadable grin and scars decorating a ruined snout, and quickly glanced back down.
“The uh, expeditions. Right?”
“The expeditions, yes.” Nedzu hummed, something scraping against the wood of the desk. “How many people know about them, Midoriya-kun? Toogata-kun?”
The two shared a glance. As far as he knew, Mirio had only told the two in his triad and his father, since he knew he wouldn’t be able to hide it from them. And Izuku…
“I may have, uh. Kirishima-kun figured it out and blurted it out in front of the whole class.” Izuku winced at Aizawa’s long, drawn-out groan. “It’s not like I meant for it to happen, before that it was only Todoroki and Ochako, and even then only because they hounded me.”
“It’s a difficult thing to hide, Midoriya-kun, it’s understandable,” Nedzu said. The mammal shifted, turning his monitor around. “However, the fact remains that others are becoming suspicious. Osamu-kun, Tsunagu-san, and I have all been receiving messages since the breach three weeks ago.”
Izuku read the screen, slowly filling with dread. Multiple Watchers- mainly first responders, those that actually went after the Noumu- were asking after the information, wanting to know where it had come from. He could see some insisting that the drones wouldn’t be able to infer that much, any footage from them too distorted to eke usable information from. They were right, of course, but that information wasn’t supposed to be known beyond the inner circle of the city’s main coordinators.
“What are we going to do?” Nedzu turned the monitor back, sighing.
“Well, from this vantage point, there are three options: We can stay silent about the operation, and let the others make their own assumptions, reveal the truth and what you two are doing under Nighteye’s watch, or give them another false answer.”
If they stayed silent, then the group will grow impatient and may start becoming belligerent, but they would face significantly less than they would if they revealed the operation. Doing so would spark a debate and end up spreading to the civilian population, causing panic and terror; lying would do no better, since they would eventually be caught in it. He glanced up at the principal, who smiled knowingly.
“A tricky situation, yes?”
“Well, why not do both?” The four turned to Kusano-sensei, who quailed before straightening, clearing his throat. “If- if you spread rumours along with the truth, no one will know, and the idea won’t be a surprise.”
“It’d be obvious something was up if the ideas all came from the same place, though,” Aizawa pointed out skeptically, “Yuuei is large, but not large enough for such a dispersion to go unnoticed, especially when they’re all related to the Noumu.”
“Then they don’t,” Izuku said, idea growing in his mind. “We spread the ideas among civilians, mention them while talking to other Watchers. Not many are going to be able to pick out people who’s connected to who at that point.” He glanced at Aizawa, smiling. “A little logical ruse, ne?”
Some of the tension in the room broke as the tired man snorted, running a hand over his face. “You little shit. I’ll tell Hizashi to start gossiping around the information center, then. God knows all the idiots in there listen to him like gospel.”
“It’s settled then!” Nedzu clapped his paws together, beaming. “I expect the best effort from you four! I’ll be doing the same!”
Izuku left with the vague sense that he was going to be spending the next three hours trying to goad the class into using subtlety for once in their lives. He watched Kusano-sensei hurry off with his husband and tried to start planning through the nerves.
Kaminari’s first idea was to bring it up with their yearmates and senpai in the middle of conversation. Izuku blessed every god in the sky when Ashido hit him upside the head and told him she would make sure that they kept it on the down low.
Ochako suggested bringing it up to Tenya, which sparked a furious debate between them and Todoroki. It ended with Todoroki shoving his hand in Izuku’s face while he called the loud man from his cell, saying they’d like to visit soon.
Tenya said they could come over that Friday. Todoroki was smug as Izuku threatened to put him out the window.
“Shi-san, could I ask you an… awkward question?”
“What is it, my boy?” Izuku huffed, rubbing at his scruff as they sat on the ledge. Down below, the Noumu were wandering, per usual.
“I didn’t want to assume, so I’ve been referring to you as ‘they’ the whole time, but…” Shi snorted, shaking their head.
“I am a man, Izuku-kun, for all I don’t look it.”
Ah. Well, that was one thing cleared up. Izuku turned back to the sights, hurriedly returning to his sketch of a Noumu with a black cloak over it, face covered by a mask. It had been approaching others for a time now, getting close before splitting into two and swallowing them whole. Not disturbing at all .
“You are as well, aren’t you?” Izuku glanced at him, bemused, before rewinding the conversation in his mind.
“O-oh! Yes. You aren’t uh, making any mistakes there.” Shi hummed, and Izuku tensed then relaxed as an arm hesitantly wrapped around his shoulders, jostling him.
“That’s a relief.”
The Iida household was miniscule compared to what they had owned in Hosu. His friend had described it sometimes when he was still attending Yuuei, describing a large open space always bustling with activity, his brother sharing a building with his mother and father’s offices with their home on the very top floors. In Musutafu, they had been caught during the Disaster and had been shoved into relief housing, situated with the other Watchers in the area. Instead of large, open spaces, Tenya and his brother shared a room, and their living space was comparable to an LDK.
Tenya said he didn’t resent the loss, but it didn’t change the wistfulness that took his expression whenever he talked about his childhood.
Aya-san greeted them with a tired smile when she answered the door, ushering the three in and leading them to the table, laden with tea and small pieces of fruit, a delicacy he was appreciative of. Izuku popped a piece of melon into his mouth and listened to the woman make pleasantries, discussing how their training had been and how Todoroki’s father was. He could hear Tenya with his brother in the other room, arguing about something as the blue-haired man banged around. Finally, he wandered out, expression brightening as he caught sight of them.
“Izuku! Ochako-chan! It has been too long!” He caught them in a hug, arm squeezing tight. “How have you been?”
“Ah, it’s been alright, just the same old work,” Izuku said, nervously laughing. He could hear Todoroki sighing as Tenya pulled back, frowning.
“Midoriya. What did you do?”
Ochako facepalmed. Izuku glanced nervously at the room where Aya-san was now berating Tensei and back at Tenya. His friend, picking up on it, called out that they would be heading to the market district and hustled them out the door, easily guiding them to a more deserted section of the city. They sat under a deserted copse of trees, carefully avoiding the plant beds that lined the ground.
“We’re alone now. Izuku, what did you do? ” Izuku smiled nervously, grunting when Ochako hit him in the arm.
“You can’t yell. Actually, Todoroki, could you-” The man obligingly covered his partner’s mouth, gesturing for Izuku to continue while Iida gave them an unimpressed stare. “So, I may or may not be going out the to Reaches for research.”
The ensuing scream was muffled by Todoroki’s hand. Barely.
“Nighteye, Nedzu, and Aizawa have all signed off on it, even if it’s unwilling on Aizawa’s part,” He hurried to say, “And I’m careful and bring equipment and it’s already helped a lot, I promise, I’m not endangering myself for no good reason.” Tenya finally ripped Todoroki’s hand away, glaring.
“You can never be careful in the Outer Reaches, they are a death sentence- ” He cut himself off, eyes widening, “This is where all the new information has come from, isn’t it? You’ve been funneling it to Nighteye, and he distributed it to the Watchers at large.”
Izuku nodded sheepishly. Tenya put his head in his hand, breathing deliberately slow.
“Is there- is there a reason you are only telling me this now? Or telling me at all? I know there must be a risk of- outcry, others finding out about this.”
“That’s the thing,” Izuku said, “Watchers are asking how we got our information, but Nedzu doesn’t want to outright tell them that we’re going into the Reaches for the first time in years. We all agreed it’d cause too much panic.”
“Tell them outright- so what are you planning? To let it slip as some rumour?” Tenya froze at his wry smile. “Ah.”
“Let it slip to one or two people, and then spread about twenty other theories at the same time. But they can’t all come from Yuuei, or else it would seem suspicious.”
“So you want me to help you spread them, since my family is no longer associated with the school,” Tenya concluded. Izuku nodded again, and the taller man bowed his head, thinking. “I do not approve of this at all.”
“And I wish you didn’t feel the need to do this.”
“I know, I’m sorry.”
“But I do not wish for you to be in more danger than you already are.” Tenya lifted his head, and his eyes were weary. “You would be crucified for going through with this if the civilian populace found out.”
Izuku smiled wearily, remembering the months of careful maneuvering that had followed Stain. “So you’ll help?”
Tenya pursed his lips, but nodded. A small victory.
Izuku cocked his head, watching his companion rummage through a living room. He was carefully pulling out drawers and cabinets, looking for anything of use while Izuku sorted through the odds and ends they had already found.
“Shi-san? You said you had a Quirk, right?” The man’s head went up, and he blinked at Izuku, middle set first then the top and bottom.
“Is it related to your claws, or the eyes? It’s just, there’s er, so much to you that I haven’t been able to figure it out.” He scratched at his cheek sheepishly, smiling. “It’s actually one of my specialties, figuring out someone’s Quirk from their appearance. Most often, you can tell what it is thanks to how they’ve developed beyond a baseline human.”
Shi chuckled, looking down at his hands. “Ah, no, none of this is related to my Quirk. It’s all from the Corruption, what little got to me. No, mine is more of a… large mishmash of things. ” They paused, eyeing Izuku contemplatively. “ Tell me, Izuku, have you ever seen Quirks that can affect other Quirks?”
Izuku blinked, putting down the pill bottle he had been holding. “I suppose? There’s Aizawa-sensei’s Quirk, of course, and there’s always been rumours that All for One can take others’ Quirks. Ones that can disable others or enhance them are pretty well-known, too.”
“Hm. I’m surprised they know about All for One- Nighteye must have shared that tidbit. ” Shi was silent for a moment. “ My Quirk wasn’t originally mine. It has the ability to be passed down, and my predecessors did just that until it reached me. In each case, their original Quirk was passed along with it.”
“How- how many successors were there?” Shi hummed, tossing a can of plums at him.
“Seven before me?”
“That’s- that’s seven Quirks.” Izuku sat down hard, staring. Just getting seven Quirks like that, on top of his own… “What- what does each do?”
“Well, there’s the strength stockpiling one, augmented jumping capabilities, immunity to outside toxins, ability to disperse stored energy… ” He trailed off, catching Izuku’s dumbfounded expression and smiling sheepishly. “ Most of it boils down to making me very strong and very hardy, I suppose.”
“That. Explains some things, I suppose,” He said dazedly. Shi chuckled and continued his rummaging while Izuku watched. “I. Were you a hero, with all those abilities?”
“Hmm. Once upon a time. Now, the word isn’t even used, from what you’ve told me. But that doesn’t matter. I think we’ve cleared out everything useful in this house.”
Izuku let him nudge him out the door, bottles and cans shoved into his bag, as he wondered exactly who he had been.
Awata-san was amiable, if bemused when he asked to see the list of the former heroes and Watchers. It was constantly updated thanks to the city’s need for workers, so she handed him the latest version, pointing out which marker meant what.
He ignored the most recent names in favour of flipping to the last pages, where the original responders and former heroes were. Sir Nighteye was listed, along with the former Best Jeanist and Endeavor, and All Might. He was the only one with a grey square next to his name, denoting his MIA status. Izuku noted him, even if it was unlikely that… well.
There were twenty other MIA former heroes that had disappeared before the Watcher system was put into place. He noted them as well, and then went over to one of the computers, logging into the database. Of those twenty-one, thirteen were noted as having masculine builds or presentations, five had blue eyes, while three were blond.
None had Quirks remotely close to Shi’s.
“Did you hear? Mako-chan told me they’re using clairvoyants to spy on the Noumu!”
“I heard they were sending scouting teams out to gather information.”
“Maa, you both think those are possible? Obviously they’re just using drones.”
“But how would they get close enough in the first place with those?”
Izuku ducked his head into his collar and smiled in relief, hurrying to pay for his items. Good. It looks like the plan was working.
Somewhere along the way, Izuku forgot there was a target on his back. That he been singled out, declared interesting by abominations who disintegrated his comrades and stole his friends.
It was a mistake.
He and Mirio were hurrying, dangerously close to curfew and running a joint mission to search some of the old hero offices together, see if they couldn’t salvage equipment and armor. The idea had come to him suddenly, and he hadn’t had time to broach it to Shi or Nighteye, only grabbing Mirio and hurrying to the one nearest to the wall that afternoon. They turned a corner, trying to reach the border as quickly as possible, when a high giggle rent the air.
“ De-ku~ ”
Izuku froze. He could admit that wholeheartedly; he froze, memories of that terrifying night in the dormitories playing out in his mind, 1-B choking and Katsuki trying to fight off a faceless phantom as it captured him. Of that voice giggling as it tore at the skin on Ochako’s leg, lapping up the blood that followed with a dripping tongue.
Mirio tackled him just as a pale shape darted forward, great teeth snapping in the space where he had been. The Noumu pouted at them from where it was crouched, ignoring the flesh that dripped from its chin.
“ Aw~ Why’d you have to move? Don’t you want to have fun~? ” They ignored its taunting as they ran, Mirio hugging him to his chest. Izuku himself shakily dug through his bag, one hand pressing repeatedly at his panic button while he searched searched searched for the gun, pulling it out with shaking hands and leaning over his senpai’s shoulder.
The Noumu was metres behind them, grinning maniacally as it chased them. He shivered as he held up the gun, took aim, shot. It dodged.
“ Jin! Get them before they es-cape~! ” A lumpy shape broke off from the shadows ahead, silhouette unsteady as limbs formed and broke away, dropping to the ground. It darted forward, something glinting in a hand as it raced towards them. He shot again at the first, waited for it to dodge before quickly shooting another and catching it in the chest. It hissed, expression distorting, arms shooting out and dripping dripping-
Mirio sucked in a harsh breath as nails scored along his back and Izuku screamed, eyes snapping shut as pain erupted along his forehead. He hadn’t pulled back in time. Mirio tensed and glanced at him, jerked him forward and away. “Get ready.”
Izuku’s breath whooshed out of him as an arm phased through his back before abruptly solidifying, sending him catapulting through the air. There was a ringing in his ears, everything falling silent as he watched below Mirio dash forward, phasing through the Noumu following, running running running until he reached the wall and dashed up, jumping just in time to catch Izuku and fall onto the pavement below.
The screams of the Noumu echoed as the protections activated, electricity crackling and a barrier shooting up into the air. It wouldn’t deactivate for hours, long enough for them to grow bored or be handled.
Everyone in the city would know there had been a breach within the hour.
Shuzenji-san was silently resigned as she kissed them. Izuku sighed as his skin knitted back together and he was abruptly tired, fighting the urge to fall over and sleep.
“There was no warning, sir,” Mirio’s telling Nighteye, leaning heavily against the headboard of the bed, “They were just there . We had no time to react.”
Nighteye’s face was drawn, tired. “This is the third attack since we’ve begun this venture. You two are lucky you were so close to the perimeter.” He shifted, just barely turning towards Izuku. “Midoriya-”
“You want us to stop?” Izuku interrupted heavily. Nighteye shook his head, even as Shuzenji-san tsked and left the room.
“I want you to keep Shi with you at all times whenever you’re outside the walls.” Izuku blinked slowly at him. “He’s been protecting you so far, and these attacks have only escalated without him there. Considering what you told me of him taking down a Noumu within minutes, he’s too valuable to keep at arm’s length.”
“Sir, what could possibly be convincing you that that’s a good idea? What have you Seen that makes us nearly dying alright?” Mirio gestured angrily at the lines now decorating Izuku’s face. “Those aren’t going to disappear, the ones on my back aren’t. It’s going to be hard enough explaining them away, and you want to continue ?”
Nighteye looked away, quiet. “...What have I Seen?” His eyes strayed to Izuku, and there was something dark to his face before it was shunted underneath the customary mask. “This venture is what eventually breaks the barrier.”
The two assistants shot up, eyes wide. “You- you’re serious, Kuga-sensei?”
“Yes. But , it is only possible if you remain alive and safe , Midoriya.” The man glared at him. “So stick close to the ones protecting you, and pay attention, for gods’ sake.”
“I- yes, sir!”
Nighteye left soon after, leaving them to recover before heading back to their respective dormitories. Izuku was silent, contemplative.
“...Do you think he was serious? That this really- really breaks us all out?”
Mirio looked at him. “Would he lie about something like this?”
No. But hope was a scary thing, nowadays.
It occurred to Izuku as his classmates carefully navigated around him that he was lucky his mother wasn’t here to see him right now. The updates he sent her every day didn’t include pictures, and his work didn’t allow for frequent visits.
He doesn’t know anymore if she would stop him for doing this.
Shi freezes when he sees the new scars on Izuku’s face.
“What happened?” Claws skittered carefully across skin, tracing the marks. “Were you attacked? Why did they get into the city?”
Izuku bit his lip. “They didn’t.” He cringed away from the suddenly-thunderous expression on Shi’s face, hurrying. “I- we got the idea to search the old hero offices, and there wasn’t any time to try and find you. We’d thought it would be safe since we were relatively near the walls.”
“Stupid boy. You’ll never be truly safe in the disaster zone. ” Shi pressed down with the pad of his thumb on one of the scars, making a distressed noise. “ This is the only injury?”
“Mirio has some too, but yeah,” Izuku admitted. “We hightailed it the moment the Noumu appeared, so they didn’t have much of a chance to attack.”
“Toshinori. ” Izuku blinked. “ My full name is Toshinori. I think at this point there is no harm in you knowing.”
“...T-Toshinori. We- I,” He faltered, licking his lips. “Nighteye says this was too large a mistake, that we can’t risk going unprotected just because I didn’t have time to find you. So-” He dug into his pocket, pulling out the mobile they had managed to scrounge up. “Please keep this on yourself?”
The huge man took it gingerly, squinting at the small screen. “I won’t be able to press any of these buttons.”
“I’d only use it to message you,” Izuku reassured, “No need for you to text back.”
Toshinori glanced at him once more before nodding and slipping it into the pocket of his ragged shorts. Izuku eyed the blue and red rags and wondered if he shouldn’t be bringing a new set of clothes along next time as well.
( Blue and red. Who else had worn that-? )
“Thank you, my boy. Knowing you’ll have a way to contact me is mightily reassuring.” Izuku huffed as a hand ruffled his hair, ignoring the heat in his face as he ducked away.
Todoroki Enji stormed into Nighteye’s office just as Izuku was getting ready to leave, having messaged Toshinori and stepped into his gear. The elemental was furious, anger sending the flames on his face skyrocketing to the ceiling.
“ Kuga, do you want to fucking explain why you have your brats going into the disaster zone? ”
Chapter 4: And Bit, Turning White to Red
Don’t endanger others. It endangers you.
There was a tense moment where Izuku considered jumping through the window and sprinting away. Then that instinct faded, and he stood straight, watching Nighteye glare down the bulkier man. Awata-san and Moashi-san shifted uncomfortably, and he could see Mirio using his phone out of the corner of his eye.
“Have there been any issues from it so far?” Todoroki made an inarticulate noise, gesturing expansively to a window.
“Issues? Issues? Are so isolated in this fucking den that you didn’t hear the breach siren a week ago? Or see the spike in activity in the trenches?” Nighteye leaned back, glancing at one of his monitors.
“The spike is something we’ve always seen around this time of year, and hasn’t lead to any attacks on the barrier. Further, the breach was handled immediately.”
“That doesn’t-” Todoroki cut himself off, gritting his teeth and visibly reeling himself in. He jerked his head towards Izuku, glaring fiercely as he barked. “You! You’re the one he’s sending out, aren’t you? What makes you think you aren’t endangering each and every last person doing this shit?”
“It- it’s helped so far. My analyses on the Noumu-”
“Only cut down the time it takes to subdue them, and made it so we had to reinforce the barrier more often, since we didn’t know it was your little ‘trips’ causing breaks in the defense. What makes you think that you aren’t a walking target everytime you go out, that you aren’t walking to your death?” He stepped closer, eyes narrowing and intensity ramping as Izuku leaned back. “You’re Midoriya Izuku, aren’t you? You were involved in the training accident a year ago. You saw what the Noumu do to people who are unprepared, and you don’t even have a Quirk to qualify as that . You’re a fucking tactics agent. Why do you think you aren’t doing anything but setting yourself up for a slow death? Or do you want to be taken, like your little friend was?”
Izuku stiffened at the mention of Katsuki, blood turning to ice. “No.”
Todoroki cocked his head, mouth stretching in a snarl, but Izuku cut him off before he could continue.
“I don’t want to be taken like him. That’s the whole point , you- if we do this, we can cut back on who’s taken since we’ll know how to defend, and on the deaths that happen just from being unprepared and people not knowing what they’re up against. And if we study the Outer Reaches enough, we’ll figure out a way to finally break through them. If it means endangering myself, I’m fine with that. If it means I end up dying, I’m fine with that too, if we can finally break the barrier.”
Mirio made a protesting noise and Nighteye twitched in his seat, but Izuku ignored them in favour of staring down Todoroki. The man sneered at him.
“Fucking Quirkless. Always the same. You’re fine with endangering others, too? Risking the city’s populace for your little vigilantism? You thought everything would be okay, going off on your little trips without telling anyone else? The world doesn’t work like that, kid. You’re going to end up dead, with a lot more following you.”
“That’s not what Sir Saw happening.” Their heads jerked to Mirio, who grimaced at the added attention, but didn’t back down. “His foresight told us this would be the mission to break the barrier.”
Todoroki’s eyes went to Nighteye. “You Saw and didn’t see fit to tell us?”
“The conditions required for it to occur meant keeping it as quiet as possible. As it is, the inner council finding out just barely avoids making this all collapse.” He cocked his head, giving the other Watcher a blandly curious look. “Do you want us to be stuck in here for another decade?”
That… did something to Todoroki’s expression, his anger soaring until it seemed to implode in on itself, cooling to something harder. He tilted his head in Izuku’s direction without breaking eye contact with Nighteye. “There’s going to be a detail on him whenever he enters and leaves the walls. The moment he becomes a liability or there’s a chance of a breach, regardless of whether he’s inside or not, we’re shutting down the operation.”
Nighteye inclined his head. “Acceptable.”
“And you’re telling Hakamata. I don’t want to deal with his perfectionist bullshit.” Nighteye grimaced, but nodded again.
Izuku watched him leave and sighed at the thought of the next few weeks.
“ Todoroki ? Now that’s a name I haven’t thought of in a while… ” Toshinori hummed as he hefted Izuku up absentmindedly, ignoring the squeak as he set the smaller man on a high ledge and climbed up himself. “ And you said he helps run the city ? Who thought that would end well? ”
“W-well, he’s only in charge of Watchers. Directs patrols, makes teams, that sort of thing.” Izuku shrugged, scrambling over debris and trying to keep his bag from falling over his head. He barely succeeded. “I don’t think anyone’s stupid enough to actually put him in charge of civilians. He’s too volatile.”
“ Hm. Sensible. From what I remember, he’d blow up at the smallest provocation. I couldn’t even talk to him without him almost setting the room on fire. ” Izuku eyed his companion.
“Did you work with him often?” Toshinori hummed vaguely, absentmindedly brushing Izuku’s shoulder as they walked.
“ Sometimes. It was necessary, thanks to our differing skill sets. ” He filed that tiny fact away with the others he had gleaned of Toshinori. Important enough to work with Endeavor, but not as a sidekick, going by how he spoke. Who, who?
( Not him. Someone else. Had to be. )
They finally reached their destination a short time later, perched on top of a ruined apartment building. It was at the very edge of the Reaches, half of it lost to inky blackness and the roof metres from the curve of the dome. Izuku stared up at it.
“Why would it be so low?” He murmured to himself. Sighing, he pulled out a rod, letting it extend. It was a bulky, stainless steel thing, made to record information of its surroundings- temperature, electric wavelength, chemical concentrations and what have you. Good for his experiments.
Taking a deep breath, Izuku jabbed the rod forward in one abrupt movement, making a small noise as it hit resistance then punched through. It creaked, shaking in his hands, but held. He stood there for a moment before slowly letting go and stepping back.
“ Well. ” Toshinori stared dubiously at it, stuck in the barrier. “ That’s… something. ” Izuku snorted and pat his arm, moving forward to press a button at the end of the rod. It hummed for a moment, before a ring popped out along its length. Izuku took note of its position before retracting it, sliding the pole forward until it was flush with the barrier. He pressed the button and the ring popped out again, stretching the barrier as it expanded and giving him a split second view of vivid blue and green-
And then the pole exploded, sending him reeling back and nearly falling off the edge of the building. Toshinori caught him in time before he could go into freefall, tugging him against his side hastily as the rod was quickly destroyed by the barrier. Rust overtook the metal against all odds, and within a minute it was a useless hunk of corroded trash.
...At least the data was sent in real-time, he guessed.
“...Now we know we can’t use containers or vehicles to pass through, I guess.”
Toshinori blinked down at him incredulously, furrowed brow narrowing his eyes. “ Did they not know that before? ”
“Confirmation. It’s been seven years.” He shifted, clearing his throat sheepishly. “Could you, could you put me down now?”
“ Are you going to make something else blow up? ” Izuku looked away and pointedly didn’t think of the other supplies in his bag.
Toshinori slung him over his back and lectured him on self-preservation the whole way down the apartment complex. Izuku clung to bony shoulders and clamped his eyes shut the whole time.
“Why would he let us get that far, though? Why let us be able to stick hands and objects in?”
“ False hope, I’d imagine. He loves to trick you into thinking you’ve won before cutting the heart out of your chest. ”
Hatsume wasn’t disheartened by the destruction of her gadget, and only grinned wider when he asked if she could make him something to tunnel into concrete.
Izuku stared at Yaoyorozu from his spot by the doors. She… Hm. She’d be an easy way, wouldn’t she? It would be easier than having to go through the system and explain why he needed clothes he would drown in. Mind set, he trudged forward, weaving in between barrels and boxes waiting to be transported.
“Yaoyorozu-chan!” The woman turned to him, pausing in her Creation. There were vats of material in front of her, common components needed for city upkeep. “Would you be able to make something for me, when you have time? I can provide food.”
“Is it something small? If so, I can just do it now. My shift is nearly done, anyhow.” She stepped back from the vats, wrapping her shirt back around her middle. “What exactly did you need, Midoriya?”
“Well, I uh. Need a set of clothes? A cloak and trousers would be fine, with these measurements…” He pulled out his notebook, flipping to the correct page. “They don’t need to be extravagant. Just something that’ll last.”
She took his notebook, reading with a frown. “Midoriya… Who do you know that needs clothes? At this height as well? And the material...” She glanced at his expression and blinked slowly, frown deepening. “Do I… want to know?”
“It’s. Not anyone dangerous, but, they’re not really supposed to eh, be talked about?” He laughed nervously, rubbing at his head. “Kuga-sensei wanted to keep it quiet, you know how he is.”
She nodded, expression lightening, and he thanked every star in the sky that Nighteye was known to be a secretive bastard when it came to most everything and everyone. “Alright then, I won’t push. I should have these done by tomorrow, but… Maybe give me an idea of some colours? I don’t want to just give them dull things- it’d feel too careless.”
He gave her a sunny smile as he rattled off some colours. Toshinori would be ecstatic to have something substantial to wear, he was sure. And he knew he’d feel better as well, seeing the blond in some protection, slight as it was.
Hakamta-san was intimidating, for all that half his face was covered with a mask and his hair looked like an old pop idol’s. He had called in their team once Nighteye finally told him of the excursions, and now he and Mirio were sat in his office, sweating under the bright lights. He scrolled through pages of information idly as they waited in the silence.
“Midoriya.” Izuku jumped to attention, eyes focusing from where they had been drifting along the wall. “You encountered on your first excursion a Noumu that you say has Uncorrupted levels of intelligence?”
“He insists he isn’t, and going by what I’ve observed, it’s likely he really isn’t a Noumu. Not in the conventional sense, that is.” He paused, fidgeting in his seat. “The way he speaks and behaves, it’s… It’s as if he hasn’t been inside the city since the disaster. I’ve considered the possibility that he may be a former hero who was listed as MIA, but it’s been slow-going thanks to incomplete records.” And Toshinori’s own vagueness, but. Well. That wasn’t really something he could push; he’d rather not lose his best protector.
Hakamata and Nighteye shared a look over his head, the blond’s expression unreadable. “Have you any theories as to who he may be?”
Izuku hesitated. No, no he didn’t, because the only possibilities he could see sounded more like ramblings of a conspiracy nut than anything else, and he valued what little respect he had from his superiors.
“But you trust him anyways. This unknown factor.”
“He’s helped me immensely, sir. I see no reason not to.”
“Hm.” The blond turned back to the reports. “And these rumours you’ve spread. You’re the reason for the sudden uptick in interest in the Noumu?”
“Yes, sir. Kuga-sensei and Nedzu-sensei thought it would be the best course of action to minimize future outcry.” Hakamata nodded, humming. His quiet gaze shifted to Mirio, who blinked.
“What about you, Toogata? What are your thoughts on all this?”
Mirio sent a glance over to Izuku, grimaced and shook his head. “To be honest with you, I’m probably as against it as Todoroki-sensei, sir. It’s been dangerous, and there’s been too many close calls-”
“The scars you two now have.”
“That’s, that’s one of the incidents, yes sir. It’s been a bit too risky for my comfort over the past three months. But there’s results, so…” He shrugged helplessly. “I can’t act like it’s a total mistake.”
“I see.” Hakamata leaned back, steepling his fingers. “You realise what will happen when this breaks to the public.”
Izuku winced. “Complete chaos?”
“Panic, and calls for your banishment,” Hakamata corrected, “The city at large will likely view you as a liability, and a magnet for Noumu thanks to your previous activities and you being one of the only ones to go outside the wall in years. You’ll be crucified for your actions. Are you prepared for that?”
Izuku felt a shiver run down his back.
They were both subdued, when he saw Toshinori again. Izuku was tired, worn from the running around and justifications he’d had to give to older Watchers over the past weeks, while Toshinori looked as though he had been put through the wringer. The mutated man smiled at him weakly, and Izuku noticed that the majority of his eyes were shut tight, and that he was favouring his right side. Just what he needed, for his friend to be injured on top of the pressure.
“Are you alright? Did a Noumu attack you while I was gone?” He worriedly circled the man, but Toshinori only huffed half-heartedly, shooing him back.
“ I’m fine, Izuku. Simply Under the weather. Sometimes this damaged body gets to me. ” The green-haired man paused, glancing at Toshinori’s side. The black tendrils still pulsed, slowly sinking in and out of skin. It looked like diseased waves flowing and ebbing with his breaths.
“You… said before that the thing in your chest was responsible for all this, right?” He cocked his head, frowning. “Have you ever tried to get rid of it?”
Toshinori chuckled humorlessly. “ Countless times. Fire, acid, claws, teeth… nothing destroys it. It’s an exercise in futility. ” He straightened abruptly, grin sliding onto his face. “ But that’s not important! It’s fine for now, because I’m still here and fighting! ”
Izuku stared. Cocked his head, and almost dismissed it as him getting caught in his crack theory, but that sort of thinking lead to nightmares and funerals.
The other man continued on, oblivious to his sudden mood. “ What’s more important is what we’ve planned for today. Do you want to scavenge again, or are we going to investigate the barrier more? ”
“...Something like that. I wanted to give you these, first.” He pulled out the cloak and trousers Yaoyorozu had made for him, silently thanking her for politely insisting on some touch of personality to the clothes. He had gone with a whim and suggested arrows in a mix of subdued reds, blues, and white. The result had an uncanny resemblance to All Might’s costume, likely because of his own subconscious musings.
Watching Toshinori baulk before quickly covering his reaction at the items, Izuku felt his heart sink into his stomach.
He could barely look Nighteye in the eye when he reported in that evening. The man looked painfully understanding, but also as though he was still braced for the next blow.
Izuku was no longer eager for what he had Seen to come.
The others noticed his preoccupation. It was obvious in class, when Kaminari of all people managed to flip him, bad enough that Aizawa took him aside after and asked if anything had happened besides the council debriefing, if something was wrong.
Izuku stared at him, and wondered dazedly how much he could say, wanted to say. Would he have to hide anything, considering Aizawa shouldn’t even know about Toshinori? For all he knew, Izuku could be distracted by some civilian, a coworker, a classmate he didn’t want to name...
“...Do you. Ever realise you didn’t know who someone really was? That they’ve been lying to you the whole time?” He breathed out, just barely avoiding it turning into a hysterical giggle. “Everything just- stops making sense?”
Aizawa’s gaze settled into something more concrete, and he nodded once, pulling out his phone and typing something quickly. There was a reply already before he put it away, but he ignored it in favour of grabbing Izuku by the arm and tugging him along. Izuku went without complaint, if some confusion, and watched other students pass as Aizawa dragged them all the way to his office, eventually shutting the door behind them. He peered around the small space as the man collapsed in his chair, sighing.
“I- It’s not that big a deal, sir, I’m just-”
Aizawa gave him a deadpan stare that shut him up. The man idly rolled a pen on the desk for a moment, quiet.
“Midoriya-” He paused, inclining his head. “Izuku. I’ve only seen you this off-balance twice, and both of them involved S-class attacks. Not even apparently nearly dying yourself -” He sent Izuku’s forehead a pointed glare, making him smooth his bangs over the scars, “-phased you this much. So something is deeply wrong.” He rolled his shoulders, leaning forward and crossing his arms. “You told me you weren’t a child. This is me, treating you like a colleague and ensuring you’re stable.”
“Would you rather I send you to Yamada or Kayama to talk out your problems and have them baby you out of misplaced concern? Or let your classmates badger you for hours on end?”
Izuku sat down.
“I… Don’t really know where to start.” He smiled humorlessly, tracing the scar on his thumb. “I just. I’ve been working with him for so long, I trust him with my life and, and, he’s hiding so much from me. I don’t understand why he wouldn’t just tell me.” He leaned down and rested his cheek against the wood, closing his eyes as the chill seeped into his skin. “I thought he trusted me.”
“Sometimes it isn’t about trust.” Aizawa shifted, voice going distant. “Sometimes it’s pride, or shame, or fear. Is it something he’d be ashamed to admit?”
Izuku breathed out slowly. All those little moments he had written off as dysphoria, because of course that’d be there, with a twisted body. It made sense for Toshinori to not want to be seen, to shy away from touch at first, to do his best to shrink into nothing when they weren’t working.
But as the former Number One…
“Yes,” He whispered. “Yes, I think he’s ashamed. God, he must be- castigating himself, thinking....” Thinking he’s as bad as the Noumu killing those he’s trying to protect. Izuku swallowed harshly.
Aizawa made a noise, something thudding against wood. “There’s your answer, then. What do you plan to do with it?”
“I.” He stopped. “I think that I don’t want to think about it for a long while.”
There was a pause, and something clunked right next to his head. He lifted it just enough to see an amber bottle in front of his face, foul-smelling with two full glasses next to it. He squinted at Aizawa, who raised a brow. He nudged a glass closer to him, and Izuku sat up, taking it and weighing it in his hand.
It tasted as bad as it smelled when he knocked it back.
“Shouta, oh my god. ”
“Henlo, Hizishi. You here fer s’methin?”
“That’s- that’s not even a name? Jesus Christ, he’s not even eighteen yet-”
“‘ve got two months-”
“Midoriya, shut up while I- fuck you’re like a ton of bricks, what are we feeding you- Sekijiro! Come help me!”
“Holy shit man, when he asked someone to cover his last homeroom period, I didn’t expect this. Is that the moonshine from the faculty kitchens? Is he going to be good for patrol? I don’t think I’ve seen him smile like that before.”
“Shouta’s a functional drunk, believe me, we just need to dump him in some water. For now, help me with this one.”
Izuku woke up five hours later on the dorm couch with a splitting headache and Kirishima frowning heavily down at him. The rough man handed him a mug of coffee before saying that if something was wrong, he’d prefer if he came to one of them to talk instead of getting dead drunk with Aizawa-sensei, yeah?
Izuku blindly pat his knee and valiantly suppressed the urge to vomit. At least he couldn’t think past the headache.
Izuku didn’t get the chance to talk, the next time they met. He’d texted the man, mentioning their designated meeting place and that he’d be there by three, but Toshinori was nowhere to be found once he reached it. He frowned, looking around, but there were no signs of movement, or of him being nearby. He didn’t call out, knowing it was a gamble; instead, he rummaged around and pulled out his goggles, fiddling with them. There was a switch he hadn’t bothered with so far, no need for it; now, he shifted through the different settings before reaching the one he wanted. When he put them on and held his hand in front of his face, it was lit up in a rainbow of colours against a black and blue background.
He glanced around, twisting his head this way and that for any flicker of colour. There, off in the distance, towards the briars; there was a quick-moving shape, wavering this way and that and distorting as he watched. It wasn’t humanoid, not from this distance, but he moved towards it anyway, intrigued.
The closer he got, the more he realised it wasn’t one shape, but two, and the clearer the sounds of a struggle became. There was hissing, almighty growls that vibrated his chest as the two forms slammed into buildings and each other, the keening lows of a baseless animal.
He was about to round the corner of an office when a shape went hurtling past him, crashing into concrete and obliterating a wall. Steam and heat was rolling off it, obscuring his vision, and he hurriedly changed settings, sucking in a harsh breath when everything was thrown into sharp grey and white contrast.
Toshinori didn’t have time to notice him as he heaved himself out of the ruins of the building, Noumu charging towards him. Muscles bulged and his mane whipped round as he held the thing by the neck, jerking upwards as he held its torso down, and Izuku shuddered and sank further into the shadows when he finally noticed its appearance. Brain exposed, calcified lips pulled back from jagged teeth, with scars decorating its mutated body.
He recognised this Noumu. It haunted him.
The Noumu wasn’t deterred by the force attempting to rip its head off its shoulders, and reached upwards, grasping at Toshinori’s arms and digging in with huge fingers, leaving furrows that bled bright white. It gripped harder and hauled, dragging Toshinori over its shoulder and slamming into the ground, blowing the air out of his chest. Izuku watched, bated, wondering if he should step in, if it was too dangerous-
The Noumu looked up, straight at him.
It screamed, loud, piercing, and he staggered back, hitting the concrete behind him and scrabbling at his bag, failing once twice three times to open the latch and grab for a grenade and it lunged, picking up speed and nonononon o no it can’t happen again, god no please
A figure jumped, snarl roiling out, and the two went crashing into the wall metres away from him, debris spraying everywhere and forcing him to shield himself. Izuku was shaking and fighting the urge to sink to the ground, keeping the grenade ready as he peeked around the edge of the hole.
Toshinori towered over the beast, laid out on its stomach, and his back curved harshly as his jaw stretched open wide, light building. Izuku shielded his eyes from the supernova of light he knew was coming.
There was a wet tearing noise, and an almighty scream, before quiet, only the noise of heavy breathing to be heard.
“ Shit. Fucking- ” Izuku didn’t open his eyes. Didn’t want to see- that. “ Izuku? Izuku , my boy, what are you doing here, are you alright, come - ” He cut himself off, and there was a great bursting noise, as though something large had deflated, accompanied by an explosion of heat. “ Izuku. ”
“T-Toshinori.” Something cracked and clattered against the pavement, and he wobbly sat down, adrenaline finally leaving him. There was silence for a long moment, before Toshinori sat down carefully in front of him, a palm patting the ground near his boot.
“ I. Don’t know what to say. ”
Izuku giggled once, a little hysterically. “I, I figured it out the last time I saw you. You almost said your old catch phrase word for word, and, and well, there aren’t many old heroes that went missing that had blond eyes and blue hair, are there?”
Toshinori huffed back at him. “ No, I suppose not. ”
“Kuga-sensei already knows, I think,” Izuku continued, “And, and the others, maybe. Hakamata-sensei went strange when I mentioned you.”
No one spoke for a long moment, only their slowing breathing to be heard.
“ What now? ” Toshinori sighed heavily, shifting. “ Is this when you abandon me? Turn me in? Report to the masses that All Might’s been hiding like a rat for the past few years? ”
Izuku’s eyes finally flew open, and he stared at Toshinori’s bloody face in disbelief and some anger, if he was being honest. “No! Why the hell would I do that?” He forcibly reeled himself in when the man curled inward, reminding himself of the talk he’d had with Aizawa. “No- I, I won’t do that, Toshinori. I promise. That’s- it’d be cruel, and there would be no point to it.”
“ No point? Wouldn’t it be better for the public to know where one of their protectors is? Where the deserter is? ”
Izuku shrugged uncomfortably. “You- it’s not like you left for no reason, is it? You’d be slaughtered with that appearance, people wouldn’t view you as, as A-All Might. They’d view as a walking time bomb.” Toshinori looked away, one hand flexing.
“ I suppose now they would. You forget that the Noumu didn’t appear for half a year more past my flight, though. ”
Izuku made a noise in frustration, scrubbing through his hair. “Look, why- why do you keep trying to turn yourself into a villain? I’m not going to condemn you.”
Toshinori visibly wilted, looking guilty and resentful and regretful all in one. “ Aren’t I? I fled, I haven’t helped in the effort to escape. I’ve just been wallowing in my own malaise for years. I could have passed on my Quirk years ago. ”
Oh, no. They weren’t doing this. Izuku grabbed Toshinori’s hands, mindful of the talons as he squeezed them and grabbed his attention. “Toshinori. You told me when I asked that your Quirk was the only thing fighting the Corruption. Why would I berate you for hating what’s happened to you and wanting to live? That’s the same as all of us.”
Toshinori stared at him helplessly. Izuku bit his lip, before tugging the man down, wrapping his arms carefully around bony shoulders. Toshinori was stiff in his arms as he pulled him close.
“You’re my friend first, Toshinori, and I’m not going to endanger you on the slim chance something good may come out of it. We’ll keep doing as we have been, and I’m sure we’ll figure something out.”
There was hesitation, a shuddering breath, before arms wrapped tight around him in return.
They didn’t manage to get to work, that day.
Mirio asked how things had gone, when he came back with splatters on his clothes and shoulders more relaxed than they had been when he’d left. Izuku shrugged and said they’d talked about ethics.
Mirio slapped him on the back and said that was damn weird, but eh, whatever buttered his muffin.
There was something watching them. They both noticed, paranoid as they were, and it had Izuku jumping at every tiny noise while Toshinori kept scanning the surroundings.
“ There, ” He murmured, “ On that skyscraper. There are two, heavily Corrupted. ”
Izuku peered upward, sinking into the shadows as he activated the zoom on his goggles. In the magnification, he could see a black cloud hovering, with a many-limbed figure dangling next to it on the side of the building.
“We need to run.”
“ Izuku? ” He shook, the hand on his shoulder barely holding on.
“We need to run, we need to run, Toshinori, we can’t- they’ll, they’ll kill us, kill you, take me, I can’t-” Toshinori pulled him flush against his chest, shushing him as they ducked further into the shadows. They slid into the hospital behind them easily, ducking through halls before they stopped in an old break room. Toshinori set him down, climbing on a table and making himself comfortable with a concerned expression.
“ Okay. Explain. ”
“They- there was-” He made a noise of pure frustration, sinking to his knees and curling inward. “Last year, it was our, our first year and no one thought it would matter? That we would matter? We were just- we didn’t go on the front lines, didn’t do patrols yet, didn’t do anything but train and run supply lines to different groups, we weren’t supposed to be anything and they weren’t supposed to be intelligent .”
“ ...Intelligent. ”
“They still, we don’t know- they were planning, thinking on a higher level than any other Noumu we’d seen before that. It was obvious, with how they weakened our defenses systematically, fucking spoke and taunted us, remembered us when they came back a second time -” His voice broke, and Izuku abruptly realised he was crying, that tears were flowing down his cheeks like syrup.
Toshinori moved closer, slowly reaching out and rubbing a cheek. His fingers were hot against his face. “ ...Izuku. Who did you lose? ”
“My best friend,” He whispered. “And one of my classmates. She was so kind, she just wanted to help, and Kacchan was- he was rough, but he wanted out like any of us. He put all of himself into the fight.” He swallowed heavily around the rock in his throat. “They didn’t- they didn’t deserve what happened to them.”
“ None of you do, Izuku. ” Toshinori sounded remorseful when he said that, guilty. He was the one to tug them together this time, letting Izuku’s head rest against his collarbone. “ In an ideal world, the battle seven years ago would have gone differently, and you never would have had to deal with that. ”
Izuku made a confused noise, and Toshinori sighed into his hair, running a hand down his back.
“ Have I told you the whole story of All for One and One for All, my boy? ”
The Noumu are gone when they leave the hospital again. Curfew is long past, but Izuku doesn’t care.
He wondered if it was any better, that Toshinori’s war with All for One hadn’t ended in death like it had for his predecessors. He can’t say it seemed much better.
He woke up in July and came to the lukewarm realisation that he was eighteen now. It wasn’t an amazing revelation, or anything to celebrate. They were still stuck here. His friend was still wasting away in the Outer Reaches, and their research was still slow going.
He heaved himself up wearily, going through the motions as he headed down to the common room and pulled on his combat uniform. As he stepped into the living room, it exploded into noise, and he blinked blearily at the crowd of his peers grinning at him.
“HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MIDORIYA!” Kirishima shoved a bowl at him, grinning widely. He ogled the melon and pear cubes inside.
“I- are you guys serious?”
“Of course we are! We celebrated everyone else’s birthdays, why wouldn’t we celebrate yours?” Ashido pouted at him, cheeks puffing out. “Besides, we deserve to have some fun, don’t we? It can’t be doom and gloom all the time.”
He looked her doubtfully before gazing back down at the bowl of fruit. Well. He wasn’t about to turn down delicacies.
He found out when he went into the office that day that Nighteye had given him the day off. “Relax for once,” He said, not looking him in the eye, “It won’t do you good to run yourself ragged.”
He left with a small wave at Mirio. He still dreaded knowing.
With nothing left to do and his classes for the day excused, he hovered at a crossroads, at a loss of what to do. He glanced to the east, mind drifting to dried up beaches and black trees before shifting to a warm kitchen and the smell of tea and lemon.
That was an idea.
He blended into midday traffic, walking among civilians at a sedate pace. The further he went to the edges, the more the crowd thinned, until he was passing only two or three people at a time. Finally, he stopped in front of a towering apartment building, climbing the stairs to the second floor.
There was an indistinct shout when he rang the doorbell, and the door swung open to reveal Mitsuki-san, scowling and glaring. Her expression abruptly softened when she caught sight of him.
“Izuku-kun? What are you doing home?”
“Izuku’s here?” His mother hurried to the door, expression bright and relieved as she threw her arms around him. “Sweetie!”
“Happy birthday, sweetie! Did they give you permission to visit because of the date?” He scratched at his neck, smiling vaguely.
“Something like that. Could I come in?”
The house was a messy mixture, his mother’s and the Bakugous’ styles meshing together into a confusing mishmash. Pictures of him and Katsuki dotted the walls while old action figures and books shared the same shelves. He gazed around as his mother set a cup of tea in front of him, talking a mile a minute.
“-And Kaoru-san’s been so helpful, you know, I don’t we would have thought of scrapping those old fans for water filtration. But that’s not important! How is training going? Have you been doing well? You haven’t gone on any patrols, have you?”
Izuku blinked placidly at his mother. “Good. Yes. No. Kuga-sensei is very demanding, but the work is rewarding, so I can’t complain.” She beamed in obvious pleasure. He wondered how quickly it would sour if she learned why he didn’t go on patrols. He glanced over at Mitsuku-san, quiet as she had been, and saw her watching him intensely.
“Something else has happened, yeah? You’ve got that look Inko got when she was ready to go on a binging spree.” His mother flushed, but Izuku only grimaced, scratching at the cup’s porcelain.
“I… Met someone, I suppose?” He didn’t notice the two going stiff in shock, focused on his tea as he was. “He’s- a little strange, I guess, but he has his reasons, and it doesn’t stop him from being kind.” He paused thoughtfully. “I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have made it this far without him, so I’m pretty thankful that he’s there. I don’t know what I would have done without him.”
“Izuku, that’s… that’s wonderful , I’m so happy for you. What’s his name? When did you meet him?” He smiled bemusedly at his mother’s enthusiasm, shrugging.
“I think I met him about… half a year ago? He helped me out on an, uh, assignment, and introduced himself as Toshinori a while later.”
His mother asked more questions about Toshinori, what they did together, if he was a Watcher, which Izuku answered with no small amount of bewilderment as to why she cared so much.
(Mitsuki begged for the gods to save her from oblivious Midoriyas and promised herself to tell Masaru about this fiasco later.)
“ You know, I think I’ve realised something about you, my boy. ” Izuku squinted up at Toshinori from his position on the ground, lifting the drill and letting it putter down.
“What do you mean?” Toshinori hummed, watching him with a deceptively absentminded stare.
“ I think if we hadn’t been trapped here, and had met under better circumstances, I would have made you my successor. ” His eyes drifted away, watching the ruins. “ I’m getting on in my years, after all. Even my mentor passed it on by her fifties. ”
“I- but-” Izuku squirmed, face hot. “I’m just me? I- I’m not anything special, why would you pass it on to me?”
“ That attitude, for one. You aren’t a sanctimonious little shit, which is different than some of the newer faces I’d seen in the business. But your mind is a treasure as well; the analyses you make are leagues above what I could do at your age. ” Toshinori grinned suddenly. “ The smile doesn’t hurt, either. The public prefer attractive heroes over simply competent ones. ”
Izuku sputtered again, opening his mouth to try and, and respond to that , but there was a distant noise that made him pause. High and whining, he looked south in dread.
The breach siren was going off.
Chapter 5: Until
Don’t take risks. They’ll kill you.
Toshinori grabbed him the moment the noise registered, slinging him over his back and bounding through the ruins on all fours. The wind whipped at Izuku's face as he held on for dear life, rummaging through his bag with one hand to grab a grenade, ready his gun, anything. The siren didn't stop the whole sprint to Musutafu proper, and each metre closer tightened the knot in his chest. Toshinori stopped abruptly before they broke the line of buildings, crouching down so he could scramble off. He couldn’t be seen, they knew. It was one thing to be venturing out, and another to be cavorting with what looked like a Noumu.
" Stay safe ," Toshinori whispered, glancing grimly at the walls, listening to the wail, " Don't take on anything you can't handle. ”
Izuku made no promises, but tugged him in for a tight hug one last time before dashing off.
The city was in chaos, when he entered. Beyond the defenses not stopping him when he entered without clearance, Izuku could hear the sound of screams and destruction now. It was off to the west, in the residential district. He strangled the blind terror before it could rise, pushing away images of still bodies and destroyed walls, a black mist chuckling before it ran off with its bounty. It wouldn't happen again. Not if he had any say.
Izuku encountered no one while he ran to the site. if protocols held and there were no obstacles, the citizen population would be holed up in Yuuei and the training grounds, protected by fortified walls and the experiments Support hadn't cleared for daily use. Only Watchers should be in the streets, now.
He finally came upon someone at the center of town, a block or so from Nighteye’s tower; Amajiki was panting, hovering over a pile of allies and bodies with his arms and legs turned into unrecognisable meshes of bird and lizard. Izuku hurried to check for pulses, keeping a wary eye on the three bodies prone beside them.
“They came out of nowhere,” Amajiki muttered, “No warning at all. Just- one second they weren’t there, the next they were.”
“Teleporting?” Izuku glanced at Takagi and flinched away, hurriedly averting his eyes. No need to check for a pulse- there wasn’t much neck left to. Someone would have to tell his wife and son.
“Probably.” Amajiki coughed, and the noise was wet. “I need… to sit down…” Izuku’s head snapped up just in time to see the raven collapse.
“No! Shit!” He ran his hands over the man, pausing when he felt a dip in his shoulder. He peeled the fabric of Amajiki’s cloak back, hissing at the sight revealed. It was obvious the man hadn’t been able to come out of the attack unscathed; a large chunk of flesh was taken out of his shoulder, teeth marks lining its edges.
“Fuck,” He whispered. “I need- where-” He scrabbled, reached for the shirt of one of the Watchers, tore a long strip from it. “This is going to hurt. I’m sorry, senpai.” Amajiki hissed as he tied the rag tight round the wound, cutting off bloodflow. That done, he hauled the older man over his shoulder, dragging him into a nearby building and setting him against the wall.
“I need to go to the epicenter, but I’ll be back, alright? Hang in there, Amajiki.” When he ran out into the street again, he paused, staring at the bodies of the Noumu. One of them had a mouth that stretched from ear to ear, grotesque and hanging.
He remembered seeing it on his first expedition.
I need to hurry .
Before he left the intersection, he dragged his claws across the necks of each Noumu there. They couldn’t risk it.
Ground zero was a scene of pure destruction.
Rubble was strewn everywhere, viscera and bodies splattered indiscriminately. Izuku gagged at the sight of what must have been an arm, before it had been pulverized into bone shards and pulp. In a pit that’s edges stretched in deep cracks, a monstrosity stood as it was attacked on all sides by Watchers, snarling at any who came close and deflecting the hits directed towards it with rake-thin stone arms. In the mouth of the main body, Izuku could just barely make out a torso with blackened skin, white hump towering over it.
The ringleader .
As he stood there, Izuku watched Toyomitsu-sensei rocket forward, already thin and getting thinner as his body ate away at itself for energy. The hit made little impact as an arm was pulverized only to grow back, the lost limb disintegrating as it hit the main body. His eyes narrowed when he saw that, and he glanced back and forth between the arms and the ground.
“It’s forming them out of the materials around it… deconstruction and reconstruction,” He muttered. But how to battle against that?
No matter. They could always take care of it after it had been subdued. Izuku scaled a building, grabbing handholds as the battle raged on and he had to hurry, shit, there went Nighteye , and what was he doing here, he was Support , shit, shit, no-
He huffed as he pulled himself onto the roof, glancing down. From this vantage point, he had a perfect view of the mouth of the main body. He tugged his gun out of his bag, clicking a button on its side. The bulky weapon quickly unfolded, groaning as it stretched out into a rifle. A scope was substituted with his goggles, magnification letting him easily see the detail on its beak, the cruel slant of eyes. He took aim. A high whistle, piercing the air, and every Watcher close jumped back, reflex second nature.
Three darts in succession, followed by two on the main body just in case his hunch was wrong. The Noumu twitched when they dug in, swerving to find what had pierced it. It roared, beak stretching wide, and he breathed out sharply when limbs lurched out of the pit, slamming into concrete and gaining speed, a scream gaining sound, clawed hands digging into concrete as it reached for the nearest human.
But it had taken its eyes off the others, and couldn’t defend this time against the bullets that pierced flesh or the fire that engulfed it. Dual screams went up in the air, and Izuku saw many flinch at the sound of the higher, childish one. He only held his breath until it ended, abruptly petering out.
The deeper, more masculine one, held on for minutes longer.
The damage, all in all, was massive. Thirty Watchers injured and seven decommissioned, with five dead, and almost a hundred civilian casualties. A section of the barrier bordering the forests had been destroyed, and there were countless buildings that would need repair thanks to the mass panic and attacks.
Todoroki blamed it on his expeditions. Izuku was banned from leaving the campus until his superior and the others talked down the fiery man. Lying on the couch, he let the others talk over him as he texted a simple, It was handled. to Toshinori. Telling the man of the destruction would only bring guilt and worry.
The issue was how they got in. Eleven Noumu, some too large to have made it through the city unnoticed, much less approach the wall. The few that had been the first to encounter them insisted they appeared seemingly out of nowhere, with only a black fog to precede their attacks. The detail of black fog had people contemplating the attacks from the past year, and, well.
No one wanted to contemplate the idea that the group from before would attack again, had orchestrated this. But they had to, even if it raised more questions. Simply put, why?
“Why now? If they had the ability to teleport indiscriminately, why not attack earlier?” Izuku bit at his nail, notes spread out across the table in front of him. “Why play with us?”
False hope, I’d imagine. He loves to trick you into thinking you’ve won before cutting the heart out of your chest.
Izuku shivered. Now that was a connection he didn’t want to consider.
“ I don't want to hear it! These fucking attacks didn’t start until your little upstart assistant started doing this shit! ” Todoroki slammed a hand on the table, burning the wood. Hakamata sighed longsufferingly, adjusting his facemask.
“Please don’t do that. You know better than I do how long it takes to buffer those out.”
“Hakamata, I swear to god… ”
“Look, Todoroki. You’re being reactionary,” Nighteye cut in, crossing his arm over his chest before dropping it. He was worn down from the past few days, having just gotten out of surgery and sallow from the painkillers, and Izuku had doubted the usefulness of him even being in this meeting, with how soon it was. “All the evidence we’ve gathered points to this being an isolated incident from the expeditions, from virtually everything but the attacks last year.”
“You keep defending them, when you won’t even tell us why! ” Todoroki exploded again, this time digging his fingers into the chair arms until they tore. “Why the hell should we trust you so much, Kuga? What did you see, besides our oh-so vague fucking salvation? ”
Nighteye only blinked slowly, eyes drifting around the group. His hand drifted to his left side almost absentmindedly, caressing the bandages, and when he opened his mouth, he spoke with a quiet voice.
“Izuku. Please leave.”
Izuku straightened in his seat, blinking. “Sir-?”
“Please leave. Go speak with Shuzenji, or Aizawa. I’m sure there are things you can discuss.” Izuku blinked again, ready to protest, but stopped. He didn’t want to press his superior. Not when he had that look in his eye. So he stood, silently gathering his things as the others in the circle watched. The door closed silently behind him, and he stood there for a moment at a loss, wondering where to go at this point.
He turned south for the hospital, with nothing else to do. There were questions he had, after all.
“Ah, Midoriya-kun. You here about those hands?”
Izuku sheepishly held them out to Shuzenji-san, letting her examine the new blisters.
"Hm. nothing too severe. Next time, I would advise not free-running up a building, if possible."
"I can't make any promises," He said, "but I'll try,"
"That's the best i can hope for with you, I think," She muttered. Shuzenji-san sighed, looking up at him. "Was there anything else you needed, Midoriya?"
He hesitated, looking down at his hands and flexing them. He doubted he would have this opportunity again soon. "When the Noumu attacks first started, and people were taken and Corrupted, did anyone ever attempt to... cure them? The ones we subdued?"
Shuzenji-san shook her head, face painfully sympathetic. "Midoriya, if this is about Bakugou-kun, I wouldn't hold out hope. It'll only harm you in the end."
Izuku hurriedly shook his head, even if it halfway was-yet-wasn't. "No, it's-" he cut himself off, sighing. "I- you know my expeditions, right?"
"Ah! This is about your mystery bodyguard, then. I don’t think you’ve done more than mention them, that one time you came in about your arm."
He shivered. "Yeah. They're- he's corrupted. but he's aware of it, and he can't stand it, and I just..." He shrugged helplessly, grimacing at the memory of Toshinori taking to the cloak with almost desperate gratefulness. "I want to help him, but I don't know if I can."
"Hm..." Shuzenji-san pursed her lips in thought. "It depends on the effects, I suppose. Things like talons and horns can be easily filed down, and it’s possible to permanently recolour eyes and hair, but something like the loss of the eyes or additional limbs would take significant and invasive surgeries to fix. Something like what we saw this week, that poor girl and the older man, would be impossible to improve. Keep in mind, Midoriya, once something has been changed, it cannot be reversed. We learned that the hard way.”
He… could see that as a wall, he supposed. But he wouldn’t, since the possibilities were still there. They wouldn’t be able to take care of the eyes painlessly, or reshape the elongated feet, nor the rake-thin size if it was because of the Corruption and not just lack of food. But they could cut down the talons, and smooth down the rises of bone that covered his ears. His teeth could be filed down, and the stretch of his mouth stitched, if needed.
He left with the thoughts circling in his head, planning for what they could do in the far-off future.
Kirishima and Toyomitsu-sensei’s room was in the intensive care section of the hospital, thanks to the extent of their injuries; Kirishima had lacerations to the point where stitches weren’t possible in some places, and Toyomitsu-sensei was facing severe malnutrition and degeneration of his muscles. But they were alive, which was more than could be said for some.
Toyomitsu-sensei grinned wearily at him when he peeked his head into the room, waving one large hand. “Ah, Midoriya-kun. Come in, come in. What’re you doing here?”
“I wanted to check in on you two. You pushed yourself pretty far during the attack, Toyomitsu-sensei.” The huge man scoffed, laying back against his pillow.
“Suppose so. Can’t say it matters, considerin’ how much damage there was.”
“We still managed to take down the Noumu,” Izuku pointed out, even as he grimaced in agreement. “That has to count for something.” Toyomitsu-sensei squinted at him for a moment, glancing between Kirishima sleeping beside him and the door.
“Hmm. You mind if I tell you something, Midoriya? I think you’re trustworthy enough, bein’ Osamu’s kid. Go and close that door, we don’t want anyone else listening in.” Once the door was shut, Toyomitsu-sensei leaned in, raising a bony fist. “We fought this one Noumu yesterday, arms like fridges with bone coming out of them every other joint. It wasn’t that out of the ordinary, normal for its type. But the one following it around, that was the scary one. Looked almost completely Uncorrupted, ‘cept for the beak melted to its face and the lack of eyes.”
“Did it not attack you?” Izuku asked. Toyomitsu-sensei tilted his hand, piano grin sliding into a grimace.
“Didn’t have the capability, I don’t think. Its main ability seemed to be creating barriers, with how many times it stopped us. But that isn’t the most important part. The most important part would be it talking .”
Toyomitsu nodded. “Yeah, same reaction; almost got blown into a wall when it first did it. Garbled like crazy, but we got the gist of it.”
“What- what was it saying?”
Toyomitsu’s grimace went even more stilted, and he leaned back, shuddering. “Mostly? It was talking about they’d finally found ‘him’, and how they’d be getting out soon.”
Izuku shuddered, mind going back to the memory of fog and an abomination watching them. Toshinori.
Hakamata-sensei and Todoroki-sensei wouldn’t look at him, now. Todoroki was still protesting the expeditions, although now his reason was because of their “making everything more complicated than it needed to be”.
Nedzu still calmly offered him tea and discussed strategy whenever he saw the mammal. He was thankful for the spot of normalcy.
Still shoulders, body that wouldn’t move no matter how much Izuku shook, a voice cackling as hands ripped him away, disintegrating-
Izuku jerked awake silently, blinking rapidly at the wall across him and trying to calm his breath. He couldn’t, mind going in circles until he was shaking, hands gripping the blanket until his knuckles turned white. His mind was chaos, and he needed to move , or else he was going to explode with it all.
He hurried to slip into his combat armour, throwing his bag over his shoulder as he sent out a hurried message. He, he'd be fine, nothing was after him, he wasn't the one, the one possibly in danger, or in the hospital, or sitting without a fucking arm because he couldn't resist jumping in, god damn it-
He froze on the landing to the common room, Hanta staring at him blearily from where he was nursing a cup of moonshine.
"...Izuku? Man, where the hell are you goin'? It's two in the morning."
He hesitated, wanting to bolt, go, but he couldn't run off without a word, suspicious and alarming as it was. "...I need to check," He finally settled on saying, "Make sure everything's-" He waved a hand nebulously. Hanta seemed to understand, expression easing out of concern and edging into resigned understanding.
"...Alright. Make sure you don't get caught, man. They've been cracking down on curfew like crazy since the breach."
Izuku swallowed. "I know. You won't say anything?"
Hanta scoffed. "Do I look like a snitch? Go, dude."
The streets were dead at this time of night, only patrols making any sound as they diligently made rounds. Izuku ducked behind a building as one passed, recognising Aizawa-sensei's voice calling out orders. Now that was an encounter he would avoid at all costs, lest he make his own grave.
Sneaking through the streets, he finally reached the section he had been looking for, wincing at the signs of destruction. This section of wall and buildings had been obliterated thanks to the fight Toyomitsu-sensei was involved in, and the marks of it were still there, despite the concrete having been seamlessly repaired by Ishiyama-sensei. One of the largest signs of the battle was the destruction of the sensors, which still hadn't been reconstructed thanks to the intricacy involved. Patrols had been upped in the area until they were fixed, but such a thing didn't account for his knowledge of the schedule, nor his ability to sneak past people easily. So he vaulted the wall without trouble, falling from ledge to ledge until he hit the ground on the other side.
From there, he hurried to the meeting point.
Toshinori looked worried when he came upon the man, letting Izuku run into him without complaint when he got close. They fell in a heap in the shadows, Izuku perched in his lap as they talked.
" What happened? Are you alright, what about curfew? There's been an insane amount of activity in the disaster zone since you left. " Toshinori skated his hands down Izuku’s sides, peering close as if to find any wounds he was hiding.
"Noumu got in, almost a dozen. From what we've figured out, it seems like the group from last year are involved." His voice shook as he looked over Toshinori, patting down his cloak and pushing back hair to peer at his face. Toshinori allowed it for a few moments before pulling back, squirming.
" Izuku, what happened? You aren't telling me something. " Izuku hesitated, pulled back as he stared into Toshinori's central pair of eyes.
"Toshinori, are you able to get past the barrier?"
Toshinori baulked. " I- what? "
Izuku took a deep breath. "There- one of the Noumu was still able to talk, and it hinted that they had found, found someone who they'd been looking for, who could break down the barrier or get them outside of it. And, and the first thing to come to my mind was those two watching us, weeks ago. I, I don’t know who else they could have meant, considering they can’t normally get into the city to find anyone else .”
His companion was silent for a moment, head turned away. " It... is possible, " he said slowly, " Thanks to the combination of abilities that makes One for All. But I've never attempted it, never even thought on that large a scale. The amount of energy it would require... Well, it would likely kill me, in this state. "
"But that doesn't mean much if they don't care about keeping you alive," Izuku concluded grimly. He leaned against his friend heavily. Well, he thought faux-cheerfully, at least he didn't need to worry about Toshinori hiding this, since he hadn't even considered it beforehand.
He was beginning to think Toshinori didn’t think many things out beforehand, what with this and the constant clues to his identity.
"...One thing i don't get. Why wouldn't they have been able to find you before now? You've been taking out Noumu for years."
Toshinori snorted, the noise vibrating in Izuku's chest. " One of the abilities of One for All. I'm able to adjust the awareness of my presence- was damn useful back in the day when I averted attention from hostages. It was my mentor's Quirk originally; she was able to erase herself from people's awareness for a time. When it was passed to me, it mutated. "
Izuku considered that. "What's changed, then?"
Toshinori snorted again, resting his chin carefully against Izuku's hair. " I don't know if you realise this, my boy, but you prove to be a very captivating distraction. It's hard to keep the mentality of a silent hunter when I suddenly have someone to speak to again. " He paused, humming. “ It’s hard to keep many habits I made these past years, with you around. I can’t say I mind much. ”
Izuku huffed, ignoring the heat in his face. “You- you keep saying things like that. You did it last time we were together, too.”
“ ...Does it make you uncomfortable? I know, hearing such things while I look like this- ”
“I didn’t say that! I’m just- not used to it.” He resisted the urge to slap his cheeks, glaring at one of the eyes squinting at him from Toshinori’s collarbone. “I- I don’t mind.”
“ Hm. Then I’ll just have to continue until you are, I suppose. ”
“But why? ”
Toshinori huffed out a laugh. “ Why not? There’s no point to skirting around these things, I think. You said it yourself. If something makes us happy, why not pursue it? ”
Izuku didn’t answer. It wasn’t like he was wrong, after all.
They stayed like that for some time more, before he had to hurry back so no one would be the wiser to his little venture. When he crossed the wall again, he ducked out of sight of an incoming patrol, hurrying fast as he could before dawn. Around the center of the city, he came across Mirio, withdrawn as he exited the headquarters. They stared at each other, before silently falling into step and heading back to the dorms.
He made it back in time to slip into his bed and stare up at the ceiling for another hour before Yaoyorozu was knocking on his door and telling him to get up.
“ You’re very good at drawing, my boy! ”
“ That shade of green is quite striking. Did you get it from your mother or father? ”
“ Aa, this would look good on you. If only such a nice material was still practical. ”
“ I must say, I wouldn’t have thought to bring such gadgets. Very clever, Izuku! ”
Izuku screamed quietly into his bag and slapped Toshinori’s arm. Toshinori only chinned him and continued to climb, marvelling at the flashbangs Hatsume had given him.
Izuku eyed himself in the mirror. There were scars running up and down his arms, leaving his skin rough, and the ones on his forehead were still a shiny red.
He was short, stocky. Took forever to build muscle and had issues with excess fat. Was reckless, withdrawn, awkward… He didn’t quite understand what Toshinori saw that made him think “Ah, this man could have been my successor”, much less attractive .
Then again, he looked at Toshinori and could still see him underneath the black and rot . Maybe it was a matter of bias.
“Todoroki is a fool. Wear this, Izuku.” Izuku took the small, plastic square, pinning it to his collar dubiously. It sat with the tracker, still there after all this time.
“Won’t he find out, sir?” Nighteye scoffed, leaning back and rubbing his temple.
“The man forgets that Nedzu and I are the ones in charge of surveillance and power to the walls. He won’t find anything out unless you get caught by a patrol, but you’ve already proved that’s not a worry.” Izuku winced.
“Don’t. I’m well acquainted with needing reassurance. Just make sure you keep that level of subterfuge up the next time you go.”
Izuku nodded weakly, and hurried out the office. It was beginning to feel more like a tomb than anything else these days, even with the new roof access Nighteye had added in. Izuku still couldn’t understand the thought process behind it, but whatever kept the man occupied was fine with him.
“Th… The cloak fits you. Makes you look like uh, one of those old mysterious characters from manga.”
Toshinori blinked from where he had been shoving pencils into the barrier, before grinning at him. His fangs glowed white in the darkness.
“ That’s kind of you to say, Izuku. Thank you! ”
They had finally repaired the wall. Izuku squinted at it, before shrugging and texting Mirio. In ten minutes, the sensors flickered, and he vaulted over as if they had never been on in the first place.
Toshinori was tense and ready to snap, glancing this way and that as he stood outside a dilapidated storefront. Izuku was immediately on edge.
“Is something wrong?” The blond man shook his head, grimacing as he crouched in the shadow of a tree.
“ I think… No, I know. All for One is in the city. ”
Izuku froze. “How, how do you know?” Toshinori shuddered, and reached for his cloak, hesitantly pulling it up. The black cobweb in his side had swallowed over half his chest, writhed and squeezed as it drained him, and Izuku took a step back in horror. Toshinori dropped his cloak.
“ Exactly. ” He breathed out shakily, running a hand through his mane of hair. “ I- I have no idea what to do, with this. I can’t go into the city proper to find him, and I haven’t found him in what little I’ve searched of the disaster zone. ”
“What does he look like? Maybe I can, uh, help some.” Toshinori reared up, shaking his head fiercely.
“ No! I- even going near him could be a death sentence. Izuku, if you notice anyone suspicious, do not approach. ” He grimaced, body wracked with shivers. “ Instead, would mind terribly if, if you stayed with me, today? I don’t think I’ll be able to manage any scouting. ”
Izuku eyed the man’s chest, remembering the mess of tendrils he had seen. No, he couldn’t imagine that being in any way pleasant. Toshinori sagged with relief when he nodded, and they ducked into a nearby building, taking residence in an old apartment. The bed was mouldy and ragged, but Toshinori curled up on it without complaint, tucking his chin against his chest. Izuku sat carefully next to him, laying a hand carefully on his flank. Toshinori let out a small sigh, and Izuku saw a crease appear between his eyebrows, skin beginning to warm and a glow starting underneath it. He watched as the former hero’s body gained mass, slowly bulking up until he looked like he did before the Disaster. Izuku exhaled quietly, moving his hand along a hot side.
“Does this… always happen, when you use One for All now?” Toshinori didn’t answer, a hitch in his breathing the only indication he’d heard, but Izuku didn’t press, since it was obvious this was taking most his concentration. Instead, he pulled out his notebook and leaned back, warmth seeping in as he outlined what little he knew about All for One.
They stayed like that for hours.
Izuku pursed his lips, glaring at the label in his hands. Was there any difference between the toothpastes? Was there even a need to do this, considering there was only one damn manufacturer in the city? Sighing, he shoved a handful of boxes into his basket, heading for the cleaning supplies next. Kaminari and Jirou had managed to completely cover the kitchen in food thanks to their experiments, so they needed more for their stock. When he walked into the aisle, there was a man already there, bemusedly looking between the products.
“Is there really a need for all this variety?” He asked, when he noticed Izuku standing there. “Half these products do the exact same thing.”
“I have no idea either, believe me.” Izuku picked up a bottle of disinfectant, squinting at it. “Probably because of reactions, now that I think about it. There’s no telling what sort of allergies someone may have, nowadays.”
The man hummed. He was still looking at Izuku. “You’re that boy from last year, aren’t you? The one who managed to take down that Noumu with all the, hm, char?”
Izuku winced, fiddling with the bottle. “I, I suppose that’s one way to put it, sir.”
The stranger smiled, reaching over and clapping him on the shoulder. “It’s nice to finally meet you, young man. I expect much from you.” With that he left the aisle, leaving Izuku to frown and rub at his shoulder.
Izuku was halfway back to the dorm before he recalled the man’s hair had been slicked tame, and he wore a suit made of obviously high quality material. Hair gel had been discontinued the moment existing supplies ran out thanks to lack of necessity, and no one sane wore clothes that couldn’t handle wear and tear nowadays.
“So, like, if his Quirk can get us out, why doesn’t he just pass it on so someone else can use it if he’s too weak to?” Izuku made a noise from where he was sprawled across the floor. Mirio nudged him with his foot. “Hey. Answer. You don’t get to poach if you don’t share.”
“Mmmnuuugh, well, it’d kill him, fr’m what he says? B’cause of th’ shit in his chest…” Izuku sat up, rubbing his face. Mirio passed him the sake bottle, and he took a long swig. “An’ I’m not about to argue, after seein’ it. ‘S nightmare stuff, senpai…”
Mirio rubbed his chin contemplatively. “The way I see it, why doesn’t he pass it onto someone else and have them purify him , then get us out?”
Izuku stared at him. Raised a finger, before taking another swig. “See- sure, I’d be willin’ t’ sugges’ that, but th’ only times ‘ve seen him purify stuff, they all freakin’ die at th’ same time.”
“He also tears out their necks, from what you’ve said.” Izuku nodded solemnly.
“Lots of blood. Was realllly- real scary, at first.”
“So it’s probably because he tore out their throats, not because he purified them.” Izuku considered that, before nodding again.
“Good poin’.” Mirio shook his head, snorting and leaning back.
“I swear, Izuku, you’re a hot mess sometimes.” He sighed, staring at the ceiling. “Shit… All for One… All Might… How do you get wrapped up in these sorts of things? You used to just be my cute little kouhai who dragged around his angry friend.”
Izuku shrugged, barely avoiding banging into the dresser. “Luck?”
“Shit luck, then, buddy.” Mirio was silent for a moment. “Can’t even try to soften the blow for Sir, since he probably already Saw.”
“Definitely Saw,” Izuku corrected. Mirio sighed again.
“Shit. Shit luck.”
The day after his encounter with All for One, there was a breach. Two days after that, another one. And another, and another, and another.
Izuku knew a siege when he saw one, knew a trap. All for One knew Toshinori, knew All Might, that the man hated to see others suffer, would risk his own life and limb to make sure others were safe. Eventually, the attacks would capture his attention, along with Izuku's abrupt lack of visits. He would come to the city, risk being seen, and be caught, and used. And then tossed away like trash.
Lucky for them, lucky lucky, Izuku still had his phone, and Toshinori his. Lucky for them that one of the most important tasks during attacks was keeping communications up, and that Nighteye had ensured it would take damn near a nuke to destroy them. He had messaged the man the morning after his panic-induced bender, laid out his suspicions, and with each attack, kept the man in the loop.
The day there were two attacks in a row, morning and night, and talks of going underground began, Izuku gathered his things and snuck out of the city proper. Toshinori was waiting for him at the forest line, and they hugged tight, glad to see each other relatively unscathed.
"I have a plan. But you're not going to like it." Toshinori only looked at him tiredly. He had a red gash down the side of his cheek, crossing his mouth, and bruises all over. The Reaches were no better than the city, right now. Izuku breathed out slowly. "Mirio was the one to- well. What if you pass One for All to me, and I purify you, then the city? Take out his forces and the root of the problem all at once."
" Izuku. You have no idea how to use it. " Toshinori leaned back against a tree, grimacing. " For all we know, I may be overtaken before you can do anything. You may be too weak to withstand it- in fact, you likely will be. It's primarily a strength stockpile, and that power is no small thing to try and handle. "
"Is me being, what, injured, any worse than the thousands in the city being slowly slaughtered? Any better than you being turned against them?" Toshinori flinched, and Izuku could feel his nails digging into his palms. "I don't want to have to see that, Toshinori. I don't want to have to, to put you down , like some dog."
Toshinori was silent for a long, long time. The air was humid, and Izuku shook as they stood there, fighting to keep his eyes dry and stance solid.
“ I don’t want to do this. ” Izuku smiled grimly at him. Neither did he. “ But I’m not a fool. You’re right. ” Toshinori sighed, rubbing at his head. There was silence, before he spoke again.
It might be prudent to… explain how it feels, to use it. It may help some. ” He looked down at his hands, frowning thoughtfully. “ Using One for All to purify… it’s as if you’re letting the heat in you reach outwards, like a… furnace, I suppose. You let it build and build, then release it in one stroke. Directing it… I always used my teeth. I suppose you could simply touch me, when you… ” He trailed off, clearing his throat. “ Anyways. There is the matter of… passing it on. ”
“How do we do that?” Izuku asked. Toshinori chuckled slightly, pushing some hair behind a horn.
“ Well. My mentor had a bit of fun, when she passed it on to me. It’s done through DNA, you see- any willingly given will pass it on. She had me eat some of her hair, of all things- tasted like soda mixed with coffee grounds. Absolutely disgusting. But with you… What do you say would be a good idea? ”
Well. They may all die within the next few days. Why the hell not?
Izuku slowly reached out and dragged him down, Toshinori sinking to his knees without complaint. Izuku smiled when a tongue peeked out in nervousness, running over sharp teeth. Then, he leaned in.
There were a thousand things to think of at once, notice, but Izuku was mostly preoccupied with the warmth. Warm lips, warm tongue, warm hands running over and over his wrists. It almost felt like it was funneling into him, spreading slowly like water.
Finally, he leaned away, blinking his eyes open. Everything was… brighter, colours where they hadn’t been before. He glanced at Toshinori, curious as to what this was, and felt all the breath in him leave in a rush.
Toshinori was a beacon, gold shining brighter than the sun used to and nearly blinding him. And like the sun, rarely, he was quickly being eclipsed by an engulfing black.
“Toshinori, gods above…” The man tried to withdraw but Izuku kept a grip on his hands, holding him close. As he watched, the black ate away at the gold, gaining speed quickly. “ Shit. ”
Like a furnace, he had said, but that was so vague , damnit Toshi, and Izuku panicked as Toshinori doubled over, shaking and whining with teeth bared as his torso distorted the leech feeding and Corrupting, and Izuku panted steam as he tried to figure out how to work this, what to do-
Steam. Steam? Steam, what did that bring to mind….
Ah, an old memory. Hisashi entertaining Izuku during his bath by making the water steam, explaining his Quirk to a tiny, curious mind.
“The thing about it is I always have the capability to breathe fire. The spark is always there. Lighting it though, that takes effort. I breathe, and breathe, and breathe, until I feel something to hook onto, and then I sort of KICK it out!” A grinning Hisashi breathes out a gut of fire, making the water bubble and leaving them red in the sudden heat and steam as Izuku giggles.
Something to hook onto. He breathed in and out, forcing himself to stay calm even as Toshinori curled inward, talons biting into Izuku’s wrists, drawing blood. In, out, in, out, until, there . A bubble in his chest, waiting to be guided.
He hauled Toshinori up as it filled his throat, warming his skin until it steamed. This time, when their lips met, Toshinori was ice cold, gasping against his lips as the heat burned him from the inside out. Izuku held on even as it felt like his throat was being scalded, even with talons digging furrows into his skin.
Toshinori sobbed into his mouth. Izuku’s knees gave out, and they both fell in a heap to the ground. He shuddered. He wasn’t sure he’d be able to talk, after that.
“I-Izuku…” The young man forced his eyes open. Where was the reverb? He looked up into blue-on-white. His eyes watered. “ Jesus. Izuku-”
Toshinori’s head snapped back. Izuku’s eyes widened, and there was a clank and crack as a heavy, metal ring locked round his neck, dragging him backwards. Toshinori scrabbled at it, talons scratching at it uselessly, and he shook his head fervently when Izuku tried to stand, eyes begging before they lost focus, darting this way and that.
“ Ara, is the shitty Symbol of Peace talking to himself? I guess you’re more far along than we thought. Good . ”
Izuku held his voice and breath, steaming still steaming, as a hand buried itself in Toshinori’s hair, yanking his head even further back while a cracked and bloody mouth grinned by his ear. The many-limbed abomination sneered at Toshinori, thumb milimetres from skin. “ No more running for you. You’re coming with us, and being a good little Noumu once and for all .”
Then they were gone. And the breach siren rang in his ears once more.
Chapter 6: They Rusted in the Morning Sun
Don’t hold hope. It’ll break you.
The siren rang, and rang. His throat burned.
Izuku’s mind was blank as he sat there, staring ahead. Fragments of thoughts swirled in his head, sensations, but they amounted to nothing, lead to nothing. He was frozen.
His phone went off and Izuku flinched violently, hands scrabbling in the dirt. It didn’t stop after ten seconds of shaking, flinching, and he finally dug it out of his bag, barely keeping a grip on it. The caller-ID read Nighteye.
Nighteye. The man would, would know what to do. He shakily answered, bringing the phone up to his ear.
“ Izuku!? Where in the fuck are you, there’s a whole group of Noumu attacking! ” Mirio. His heart stopped. “The ones from last year, but they’ve got this human leading them- is that All for One? HE LOOKS LIKE A GODDAMN SALARYMAN- ” There was an almighty boom, and the sound of cackling. Mirio swore, the noise of rustling clothes audible over the line. “ Just get here , alright? Quick as you can. Sir says to use the roof access, whatever the fuck that means. I’ll see you when this is all over, okay? ”
The line went dead.
He stood wobbly, turning back to the city proper, stared and stared and stared. The siren went on. The terror roared. He went off in a dead sprint, making the concrete crack and his legs scream as he ran for the city.
Pain was nothing in the face of desperate adrenaline.
The wall’s defenses were completely disabled when he jumped over it, torn in some places and fried in others, but Izuku couldn’t stop to try and figure out the cause, didn’t have the time, couldn’t wait, needed to reach him-
Something dropped in front of him, sizzling and smoking. The Noumu was one he hadn’t seen before, skin charred and cracked, shifting like floes of lava as it crouched in front of him, a diseased cloud of black and red hovering round it. It growled, low, guttural, hands popping as they clenched, and Izuku’s breath left him when crimson eyes bore into his, begging, pleading .
He roared. Izuku took a step back, calves protesting. No. Gods, no.
He lunged, arms exploding into sparks. Izuku ducked away, jumping to the side as the wall he had been standing in front of groaned, blowing outward with the force of the explosion. He followed, dogged even as Izuku jumped, skidded further away, breath coming fast because he couldn’t do this, no, he didn’t want to have to put him down-
Except he didn’t need to now, did he, no, no. That thought had him stop for a split second before bursting into motion, circling round Katsuki until he roared again, swiping out with a burst of sound and heat.
Izuku sucked in a deep breath, fanning the heat that was still there as he flinched away from the explosion. He would have to coordinate this carefully, couldn’t hit a spot that would hurt either of them too much, needed to do it quickly, needed to save him-
He glanced down as he vaulted off a building, sailing over with arms stretched. His skin was glowing as he had seen Toshinori’s many times before, and his hands looked like small lanterns in the darkness. An idea solidified in his head as he landed, turned, letting, letting Katsuki focus on him, lurch into movement once more, and wasn’t that strange, him being so stilted when there didn’t seem to be anything impreding him? Gritting his teeth, each step shaking him, maybe he was fighting it? Gods allow, be fighting, Katsuki.
When the other came close, close enough to touch, Izuku breathed in sharply again, heat reaching a crescendo, and let it out sharply as he drove his fist home. He grit his teeth against a scream as his hand exploded, splintered, melt e d in the heat, and Katsuki made no effort to gag his, howling as he flew backwards, crashing into a building.
Izuku watched transfixed as skin trembled, shivering like a living creature as it bled colour like a wound, cooling cooling cooling to a pale white, stitching back together to leave patchwork scars. The aura hovering round him seized and lost the diseased tint to it, shades of red taking over the Corruption.
Katsuki sobbed. Izuku staggered.
“K’tsuki?” He didn’t answer, curled onto his side, and Izuku approached him warily, hand clutched to his chest. When he reached out to touch, Katsuki flinched. Izuku drew back, glanced around, grabbed a nearby construction tarp.
Katsuki whined as he wrapped him in it, tried to snap, but he was too weak. Izuku hefted him over one shoulder and continued on. He could hear screaming in the distance, and roars. He hurried his pace against the pain.
He needed to take out the source, to solve this all quickly- it wouldn’t be efficient, safe, smart to go after each Noumu, in the hope one of them would know where Toshinori was, but did that mean hitting the barrier or All for One? Could he even make a dent on the man, considering his age, power? Could he make a dent on the barrier, untrained as he was? How would he do it?
He glanced up at the barrier, stifling, oppressive, the dark shell they had lived in all these years. His eyes drifted down, and landed on the top of Nighteye’s building, towering over everything else. It nearly reached the curve of the barrier, built so as to appear to pierce their cage.
Roof. What could he do, that close to the barrier? He supposed it was a good starting point, center of the city and its highest point. He would have to figure it out when he got there.
“...’lose…” Izuku jerked, nearly running into a streetlight. The voice was raspy, noticeably deeper and cracked, but familiar all the same. He squeezed one of the ankles hanging over his shoulder, encouraging, hoping. “...’ku… ‘re close …”
He didn’t understand what Katsuki meant until a figure lurched around the corner, metal rods protruding from its spine like spikes. It glanced around, humming low enough to vibrate the streets, while a figure hung off its back, tumorous and familiar. Katsuki shuddered on his shoulder and Izuku ducked into shadow, letting them pass him without a sound. His companion made a tiny noise of confusion, more like a sharp gasp, and Izuku pat his calf comfortingly.
“...’ey're looking for something?” He rasped, watching them turn down a street. His eyes widened in realisation. “Need Toshi for his Quirk , which he doesn’… h’ve, anymore…”
Fuck. He’d have to be careful, with Katsuki depending on him as well. He frowned, staring at the tower. He wouldn’t be able to make it there quickly if he had to be careful. Glancing frantically around, his eyes landed on one of the Watcher’s stations, meant to be a place to relay information to all patrols and distribute emergency supplies when needed. There was no one there when he ducked inside, kicking the door shut behind him as he set Katsuki down. He hissed when it jostled his injured hand, clutching the swollen limb to his chest again. The blond blinked blearily as he searched through the first aid supplies, setting aside a pack of splints and bandages. The sedative was easy enough to find, and he apologised quietly as he took the other’s arm, running a thumb over patchwork skin until he found a vein. The other didn’t seem to mind the injection, slipping into unconsciousness between breaths.
That done, Izuku hid him as best he could, hoping it would be enough. He wrapped his hand carefully after, hissing at each minute movement. It was a patch job, rushed, but would work for now. As an added measure, he slipped on his gloves, the material stiff and hardy. Hopefully, it would prevent his hands’ bones from shifting much, if they… Shattered? Broke?
Before he left, he paused, debating, before taking a picture and mass texting the location. One of the others would find him, when this was all over.
He hurried on to the tower, pushing back the desire to stay.
The closer he got to the center, the louder the noises were, and as he turned a corner, he felt a wave of deja vu as he took in the battle in front of him.
He couldn’t identify all the Watchers, but could make out Aizawa, Todoroki, Hakamata, fighting against the monstrosities, abominations that had reduced Katsuki to a tool, taken Toshinori who was to the side, he could see him, under the foot of a man shadowed in grey, webs clinging to him and stretching out in all directions, choking the air as he tortured his companion with an entertained smile Toshinori choking scrabbling at his neck and Izuku was infu r i a t e d
He slammed a door shut on the heat climbing up his throat. This wasn’t the time. It quieted to a simmer, barely there, as he skirted around them all, making his way around the edges of the plaza and ducking away from any attacks that reach him. He wanted to jump in, help Hakamata who was covered in lacerations, Aizawa who had another pit to match the one on his elbow, Todoroki who was setting anything close to him ablaze, but his own mission was too important. They wouldn’t need help if he succeeded.
He made sure not to pass by Toshinori and All for One, tamping down further and further on the heat with every glance to them. He knew he wouldn’t be able to control himself if he went near.
As he slipped into the office, he didn’t notice the eyes following him, or Toshinori’s desperate scrabble for purchase, ended by a heel crushing against his spine.
The building was dark and cold when he entered, lights dead as the backup generators kept only the bare bones running. He navigated by memory to the stairwell, carefully climbing up. Belatedly, he wondered where the others were, if Mirio had jumped into the fight, if Nighteye was safe. He bit his lip. Hopefully the man wasn’t jumping foolishly in, again.
As he climbed up, he let the heat balloon once more, cycling through breaths to fan it. It was easier now that he had done it twice, a matter now of compacting the energy tighter and tighter instead of releasing it in a small burst. Like a furnace, Toshinori had said. Glancing at the glow that flowed and ebbed against the wall, he supposed it was an apt analogy. He pulled the energy tighter until that glow was completely gone.
On the landing to the office proper, he paused, alert, ears straining. He could have sworn for one second that he heard a scuffling. Glancing back, he couldn’t see anything on the stairwell. He pursed his lips, dug his phone out. Another message, pinning his location. No one would see it, not if they were doing their job, but it still meant they knew where he was. With that done, he stepped inside.
It truly was like a tomb now, bright monitors casting light like ghosts in the darkness with images of the city and battles. He stopped at one, peering at the crowds shuffling among themselves in the warehouses, following a tall figure’s directions. He sighed soundlessly, switching the monitor off. He went to each of them, shutting them off, leaving himself in darkness. And when he turned, the rectangle of light leading to the roof just barely discernible, he caught sight of a stunning golden glow that burned his eyes, hunched behind slate grey in the doorway.
Izuku’s heart leapt into his throat. He fought to keep his expression even, to keep the energy steady, heat flashing for one split second before he tamped it down. He couldn’t. Fuck, he couldn’t, he didn’t know what to do , he, he-
He calmly turned and headed for the trapdoor. Now that he paid attention, there was a barely-there noise, the scuffle he had heard before, almost like a piece of cloth brushing against the floor. Dampening Quirk, muffling, nullifying, what what what?
He reached the ladder, light shining down through the door’s window, dusky and almost the same shade as the void around him. As he reached for the first rung, a step rang out in the room. He tensed-
A hand clamped around his neck, and everything went muffled, his body shutting down. He could feel someone gently grab him before he could fall to the ground, cradling him in their arms. They moved, shifted, his body yelling in pain while he could do nothing about it, until they stopped, and he was set down upon the ground.
Suddenly everything came rushing back, and he wheezed as sound and sight slammed into him, eyes adjusting while he covered his ears. Below, far far down, the roars of battle went on as he curled in on himself. A voice above him chuckled, a hand pet his hair.
“That Quirk always packs quite a punch, when it’s deactivated. But it’s oh so useful for moving unimpeded.” The hand drifted from his hair to his face, tracing the scar absentmindedly. “Tell me, Midoriya-kun. How many bones are broken, right now? Three? Four? How many injuries do you already have, using that Quirk?”
Izuku didn’t answer. His eyes slit open, and he could just make out the form of All for One, standing over him like a benign horror. Dimly, he could register the sound of banging, now, something pounding nearby. He glanced towards the noise. It was the trapdoor.
All for One noticed his gaze and chuckled.
“He’s a troublesome one, even after all these years. Truthfully, I’m surprised you managed to purge him, although I cannot say it’s done much. He’s still weak .” The man hummed, hand digging into Izuku’s collar and pulling him up easily. Izuku choked and coughed, finally upright, and glared at the man, who only cocked his head at him.
“Tell me, why are you so aggressive? We have the same end goal in mind.”
He coughed, rasping, throat aching. “You’re th’ one th’ caused all this.” The villain inclined his head in agreement.
“Yes, a mistake on my part. It was an experiment that ran out of control. Does that matter when I am attempting to correct it, now?” Izuku narrowed his eyes. All for One sighed, spreading his arms wide. “I simply wish for you to use that Quirk to open the barrier. It’s beneficial to all, is it not? The city will be free, and any… monsters, will be quickly taken care of by you and outside assistance that will no doubt appear.”
Right. In all likelihood, the Noumu would disappear into the countryside, lost until they reappeared and went on more rampages.
“The Quirk I used isn’t capable of it, my boy.” He shuddered at the pet name, souring Toshinori’s affectionate moniker. “Only that one can dispel it effectively.”
Izuku stared and stared at him, looking for the lie, and found it right in front of his face. The man’s… aura? Presence? Stretched in all directions, branching to far down below as well as up into the sky, seemingly disappearing into the barrier. The cobwebs reached everywhere the man’s Corrupted clutches had tainted, a bond formed from the rot. All for One was the focal point, the locus to which everything was tied. Take out the barrier, and the Corruption wouldn’t be removed. Take out the Noumu, and the barrier would stand.
Take out him, and everything would implode.
Izuku sighed explosively, passing a shaky palm over his hair while he pushed heat up his throat. This was going to be unpleasant, messy, but his hands were covered, obstructed, useless. “I- h’w can I trus’ you? You’re a villain, you hurt Toshi-”
“I’m a person, just like you, Midoriya-kun. All I’m asking from you is your help, this once.” All for One extended his hand out to Izuku, and he pretended to hesitate for one more moment, terrified and hating but hopeful for a new future, before he reached out and took it, careful of his claws.
All for One hauled him up as a supernova scalded his throat, and he lunged for the man’s throat as spikes pierced his gut. There was a split-second of pain, pure agony, his teeth clamping down and the blades digging in and the siren still g o i n g , a klaxon in his brain, before All for One screamed , Izuku howling in concert.
He shoved, tried to gain distance, but Izuku wouldn’t let go, and they both went tumbling backwards, feet slipping over the edge. Izuku looked up into a blue sky and closed his eyes as they soared in freefall.
“What is that, what the fuck is happening? I swear to god, if one of these chickenshit things is hallucinogenic-”
“Oh god, it’s melting, what- what’s that in the sky?”
“HAKAMATA, CATCH THEM!”
“ I’M NOT A FUCKING NOUMU, NOW MOVE! GET CHIYO, NEDZU, ANYONE MORE COMPETENT THAN YOUR USELESS FUCKING SELVES! ”
“He’s coding, get the paddles!”
“But sensei, what about-”
“We are doctors , young man, and before you run off to all and sundry, we need to make sure the man responsible for that option stays alive !”
Izuku squinted against the bright light, numb and dizzy. There were loud voices and an annoying beeping, and the occasional lurch that sent him reeling each time. He let his head loll, eyes following the motion. His mother was sitting next to him, stony-faced with her hands in her lap. He frowned muzzily, because she shouldn’t have that expression, him and Auntie and Uncle tried their hardest to make sure, and stretched out a hand, taking her smaller one in his.
He fell back under before he noticed her head snapping up, heard her shout his name.
“Please, Izanami, do not take my son. After all this suffering, give us this one boon.”
He breathed in slowly, the scent of antiseptic flooding his nostrils. Everything was numb, and it felt like something was locking him in place, holding down his head and limbs with lead. A raspy voice was muttering by him, a hand running through his hair, and he focused on that instead of the aches, letting the soothing sensations pull him under once more.
A blink. A head coloured straw lying on the bed next to his hand. He nestled his fingers in it shakily before slipping.
An intake of breath. Four voices, talking quietly over him.
A snuffle. The smell of fur and peaches, overlaid with the smell of rotgut.
Izuku pried his eyes open. The ceiling above him was orange, pastel, and he thought that was the natural colour before he shifted, raised his head and caught sight of the window by the bed. It looked out on a cityscape, floors above ground level; the sun was just sinking, casting everything in hues of orange and pink.
He stared for a long, long while. He’d… forgotten, in the past few years. That the sky could be that colour. Izuku watched until the sun sunk below the horizon and everything faded to blues and blacks, night lights coming on, until a small snuffle drew his attention to the room at large.
It was a hospital room. He hadn’t noticed before, enraptured as he was, the steady beeping of the heart monitor in the wall, or the IV dripping into his arm. His was the only bed in the room; was it private?
There were two chairs by his bed. One held a man with salt and pepper hair, head dipping against his chest as he snored softly. The bags under his eyes looked faded, as though he were just getting over a long bout of little sleep, and freckles stood out stark against pale skin.
He reached out a hand shakily, frowned and tried to still it, but couldn’t get them to stop. Izuku frowned at his hand in bewilderment. It was… The skin looked more like crinkled paper, and there were multiple dips and edges that shouldn’t be there. He glanced at his other hand. Shaky, but normal looking. He reached out with that one and hesitantly touched shaggy curls.
The man fidgeted slightly, blinking open orange eyes to stare at his lap blankly. He yawned, mumbling about needing to call before the others worried too much, and glanced over casually, as if to check that Izuku was still there.
Hisashi froze when he saw Izuku looking back.
They stayed like that for moments, monitor beeping in the silence, before Izuku reached out again, feeling the leather coat the other wore. It was old, crackly, imprinted in his memories as a shield against the cold when they went to the park during the winter. He’d missed it those first few years, the winters bitterly cold as they adjusted to the new world they inhabited.
He tried to talk. His throat wouldn’t work.
“Izuku.” He glanced up. Everything was blurry, when did that happen? Hisashi was watery through his eyes, shaking, and Izuku didn’t resist when his father grabbed him by the shoulders, leaning against his chest. “Izuku, thank the heavens. Seven years, and when I finally see you- it was like a nightmare come to life, getting the call. But you’re here, you’re awake.” Hisashi sat up suddenly, eyes wide. “Oh, oh, I’ve got to call the others, they’ll- they’ll be ecstatic, your mother and Toshi-chan have been down here nearly every day, hold on-”
Izuku watched him rush out of the room bemusedly, wiping at his eyes. He jumped when Hisashi returned a second later, hair flying everywhere as he frowned.
“Shit, I’ve got to tell the doctors first!”
It was December.
He’d been asleep four months.
After he had been left to calm down for a while so he didn’t accidentally blow up the room, the doctor in charge of his case pulled out the full fucking novel that was his medical records, now.
Extensive bone damage in his legs and hand, along with a cracked skull thanks to Hakamta not catching him quickly enough to slow his descent. Massive damage to his jaw, with some teeth needing to be removed and regrown thanks to their fusing together.
Extensive nerve damage in his legs, his arm, even his face to an extent, where One for All's use had scalded to the muscle.
Permanent scarring to three limbs, thanks to how long it took to treat his injuries.
Damage to his vocal cords and esophagus, with only the latter successfully repaired.
Stab wounds that had almost ruptured his liver, because that had happened.
Brain damage , thanks to the fact shoving a Quirk into someone and then instantly using it without adjusting was dangerous, bordering on suicidal .
He had coded twice before they were able to reach a hospital outside what had apparently been named the Musutafu Quarantine. After that, the four month coma.
The doctor said it was a miracle he was alive, aware, relatively able-bodied. It could have been worse, with how much power he shouldered, they said.
Looking down at his legs, he wondered if that was supposed to make him feel better.
“ Izukkun! ” Inko ran forward, barely avoiding sending him flying off the bed as she enveloped him in her arms. Izuku hugged back just as tightly, huffing when Auntie and Uncle joined in. Hisashi off in the corner stood by Katsuki, who was standing on his own feet, scowling , hale. “Sweetie, I’m so- never do that again, you-”
“What were thinking, going into the fucking Reaches!? ” Mitsuki whacked him upside the head, eliciting a wheeze as she scowled. “A fucking year , and you don’t say anything, don’t so much as hint at going on suicide missions - not to mention we had to find out from the man himself that your little beau was goddamn ALL MIGHT! ”
Izuku winced. Ye-eah, he had expected this sort of reaction. He opened his mouth to speak before belatedly remembering and shutting it, shrugging instead. The parents’ expressions softened, and Mitsuki sighed, glancing off to where the other two stood.
“I guess we can’t say it was completely stupid. We’re all here, after all, instead of in that hellhole.” She abruptly pinned him with a glare, tugging on an ear. “Never pull this shit again, though, you hear? It was bad enough when only Katsuki was a reckless brat.”
“Your mother has a point, Katsuki.” Masaru coughed into a hand, backing off. “Anyway, why don’t we go and talk to the doctors, see how long it is until they can release you? We can try to get you something decent to eat, as well- everyone’s said the food here isn’t even worth using as fertilizer.”
He ushered the others out of the room, Inko muttering about finding Madaraki-sensei while Hisashi asked just what the threshold for food was. As they left, he saw Masaru send a pointed look to Katsuki, and a lightbulb went off in his head. Ah, he wanted to give us privacy.
Katsuki didn’t look up when they were finally alone. He had a phone in hand, practically swallowed by the sleeve of his sweater, and was scrolling through something Izuku couldn’t see from his spot on the bed. He wanted to speak, say something, the images of their last meeting flashing through his head, but.
“Toogata was the one to find me.” Izuku jumped, eyes focusing back on Katsuki. His voice was still raspy, low, a smoker’s whisper. The other man didn’t look up. “He’d been trying to find you and Yagi. Said Kuga was missing and he didn’t know what else to do. When he got your message, he ran over immediately.” He was quiet for a moment, hands still. “Took me to the hospital, the moment he saw me. They had to regrow most my skin, because it was too scarred to function properly. Also found out my Quirk is fucking unusable, now, because it just turns me into-” He cut himself off.
Katsuki finally looked at him. “Do you know how much I wanted to kill them? Every day, in and out, being treated like a show dog, torn apart and pieced together until I was the freak they wanted. I wanted them to suffer .” His hand tightened around the phone, and Izuku could his skin redden, cracks appearing. “They deserved to fucking suffer.” His eyes dropped again.
“But you got to them first. Quirkless Deku, the loser only good for thinking.”
Izuku flinched. He’d forgotten that nickname, pushed aside as it had been in the face of more important things. He’d forgotten a lot, trapped in that bubble.
An arm wrapped around his shoulders, tugging him close as he sucked in a breath. The chin resting on his head was sharp, digging into his curls, and he slumped into the long-missed body warmth, holding back tears.
“Thanks, you shitty nerd.”
The adults sighed when they came back to Izuku asleep on Katsuki’s shoulder, Mitsuki muttering that they would need pictures. Masaru chuckled and said they reminded him of Hisashi and Mitsuki, curled up like that.
Katsuki ignored them all and kept texting Toogata. The asshole wouldn’t be back in the city for a month, thanks to the press conference, and it’d be fun to torture him a little.
Izuku hated rehabilitation with every fiber of his being. Every wobble with the walker, minute in the wheelchair, ineligible hiragana, it ate at him. The price for freedom was a high one.
The regret had yet to sit in. He only wished he had been more prepared.
Izuku eyed the mound of gifts sitting on his blanket dubiously. He glanced at Ochako and Tenya, who only stared back.
Isn’t this a bit much? I wasn’t the only one to do something, I don’t need strangers sending me things. He typed. Ochako took his tablet and replaced it with something sparkly and heavy.
“For one, these are only from people at Yuuei. For two, you just got out of what they were starting to call a vegetative state- let us celebrate! Be happy we can buy things like this again and accept them, Izuku!”
Izuku stared at the package in his hands. Well. If it was from someone he knew, wasn’t some misplaced thanks… He hesitantly took off the wrapping, cursing as he fumbled with the tape. Finally it was open, and he pulled out small bottles and palettes.
He turned them over, reading the labels. Temporary hair dye, concealer, and was that red case really coloured contact lenses ? He looked to the duo for answers. Ochako grimaced as she picked up one of the bottles.
“Aoyama was saying, um. You’d probably have trouble, going out in the public. Your face is sort of everywhere, online.” Oh. He looked at the contents in a new light, thankful for his classmate. Setting it aside carefully, he reached for the next package.
Notebooks and pencils. Scarves. A blanket he was pretty sure was made of wool . Vermillion gloves that went to his elbow, and had something electronic inlaid; when he put them on, they stiffened, and suddenly his hands were still. He kept them on. A bottle of sake he was half-sure was from Ashido or Sero, considering the abundance of kaomojis on the note included. A cane capable of acting as a stun baton, dear gods, Hatsume no . A camera from Ochako, and a phone from Tenya and Todoroki with everyone already saved under contacts.
He paused at a package that had been hidden under everything else, carefully sliding it out. It was thick, lid bulging with whatever was inside, but there was nothing to hint at what was in it or who it was from. Ochako made an “oh!” noise when he hefted it up.
“Aizawa-sensei handed that to me! He said to give it to you, although he wouldn’t say what was in it…” Izuku carefully opened it, and blinked.
It was his gloves. One of them was rusted, the claws covered with dried red. He ran his finger along one of the index blades, feeling the metal.
Izuku rewrapped them and set them aside.
Izuku had been aware for two weeks. Auntie and Uncle had been popping in and out with Katsuki, entertaining him when they were free with tales of readjusting to society while Katsuki brooded. Inko came by between work on the case that was what to do with Musutafu and its citizens, and would talk to him about this or that thing that stunned outsiders and amused her. Hisashi would stay whole days at a time, and ask after what it was like for the five of them inside, if Izuku and his mother had gotten by well enough, if Auntie and Uncle had been alright after Katsuki’s kidnapping. He didn’t like most answers, but quickly wiped away Izuku’s worry, saying he was glad they were here now, safe and happy. Better to come home to a full home than hope for the empty one to fill, after all.
His friends texted him at all hours, Aoyama praising the gods for shampoo while Kaminari gushed over his now-grown sister, Todoroki relearning his siblings’ names while Yaoyorozu bonded with her mother. Some of the older Watchers even appeared, Aizawa popping in to seemingly make sure he was still breathing and lecture him while Toyomitsu snuck in with enough food to feed a family.
He didn’t see Toshinori, Mirio, or Nighteye once.
Izuku jolted awake, memories of freefall and slag mixed with a still body echoing in his mind. He shivered, waving away the nurse who had been shaking him awake. She puttered around him a few moments more, making sure it was only a nightmare, before wishing him a better night and disappearing from the room.
Shakily, clumsily, he slid back under the blankets, staring at nothing. It was cold, freezing, and he shivered, rubbing his arms. Hesitantly, he closed his eyes, and began to breathe.
Izuku fell asleep to the ebb and flow of warmth. He didn’t dream.
Katsuki and their parents had found a house in Kamino, the prefecture where most of Musutafu ended up planting roots in. Uncle had been the one to choose it, while his mother worked out the legalities and Auntie and his father gathered what little they wanted from the Quarantine. They had moved in a few weeks ago, had set aside a room for him if he wanted it. Said he didn't need to accept, but they would feel better if he was there.
Katsuki said Toshinori was staying with them as well, until he "got back on his feet". They both knew he wouldn't, that no one who had been touched by the Noumu would, not really.
Izuku agreed to stay.
“Well, you should be cleared to leave in a few days, Midoriya-san.” Izuku smiled tiredly at the doctor. She smiled back and extended one of many hands for him to shake. He fought down a shudder as he took it. “You were a wonderful patient. Hopefully, things will keep up for you, ne?”
“It’s like every time I tell you to be careful, you take it as me giving you the go ahead to do your absolute best to destroy yourself.” Izuku jumped, wheezing and sending his tablet flying across the room. He stared at it blankly before turning towards the door, muting the television still playing. Mirio smiled wryly at him, pulling the scarf down from his face. He was dressed in plainclothes, a windbreaker thrown over sweater and jeans, and had a coat slung over one arm. When he stepped close he tugged Izuku in for a hug, crushing him to his chest. “How did you manage to screw yourself up this bad?”
Izuku glanced pointedly at his tablet. Mirio went and got it, handing it to the younger man. Punched Kacchan to purge him, then ran all the way to the tower using OFA. Then I sort of bit All for One to break everything?
Mirio stared at him. “You what.”
It worked for Toshi and my hands were covered in knives okay. Mirio put his head in his hands, breathing carefully. Izuku pat him on the back. He nudged the man once a moment had passed, tapping out another note. Why are you here?
Mirio gave him a hurt look. “I can’t check up on you after four months in a coma without a reason?”
Izuku tugged on the coat still hung over his arm. Mirio looked down at it. “Oh, yeah, sorry. I’m breaking you out of here.”
Ten minutes later, Izuku was sitting in a car with tinted windows, bemusedly watching the streets pass by. So many people… He was glad for the insulation the car provided from the noise. He turned towards Mirio on the other side of the car, grabbing his attention with a tap on the shoulder. When the man looked at him, he gestured with one hand, expression questioning.
“Where are we going?” Izuku shook his head, although he sort of did want to know that. He pointed at Mirio. “...How am I doing?” Izuku nodded. Mirio looked out the window, pursing his lips.
“...I’m alright, I guess. My dad moved into an apartment in Hosu, and Nejire, Tamaki, and I found a house on the outskirts of Tokyo we’re thinking of renting. It’s…” He trailed off. “There’s choices. There’s space , waste, luxuries. ”
And it’s mind-boggling. Izuku understood. He was still reeling from throwing trash away, not recycling and recycling until the components fell apart. Their driver, a short, stocky man, snorted, muttering something under his breath. Mirio leaned forward, frowning.
“Something you want to say, Kenichi?” They came to a stoplight, and the man turned around, eyeing the two of them.
“You kids sound like damn soldiers gettin’ used to normal livin’ again. Makes me wish that sonuva bitch got worse than his throat torn out.” The light turned green, and he turned back around without another word. The two stayed silent in the backseat.
They finally stopped at a hole in the wall restaurant, sandwiched between an apartment building and a bookstore. Kenichi parked the car in front, hopping out and waiting while they set up Izuku’s wheelchair. When they finally went over to the entrance, he paused, glancing at Izuku.
“The name’s Falco Kenichi. Don’t bother with any formality, jus’ call me Kenichi. ‘S good to finally meet you, kid, ‘specially if you’re the one who managed to get through to that idiot.” Izuku blinked, wanted to respond to that, but they entered the diner before he could pull out his notebook again, and he doubted the man knew sign.
The restaurant was nearly empty save for the employees, talking quietly by the kitchens. He glanced around as they went deeper inside. It was… cozy, he supposed, traditional paintings hung alongside photos of various people with the workers. Looking closer at one, he swore he could recognise the five in the picture, blue hair so striking, but something else caught his attention before he could puzzle it out.
The lime hair barely peeked out from where it was seated at a table, booth obscuring it, but it was recognisable all the same. Izuku sped up, pushing past Mirio and ignoring the man’s complaints, watching that head turn and a small smile grace healthy features.
Kuga pulled him close when he stopped by the man, holding him tight while he sobbed. “Well done, Izuku,” He murmured. “I’m sorry.”
Izuku wiped at his eyes once more, wicking away any lingering dampness. He fumbled his tablet out of his bag, writing shakily with a pencil as the waitress asked if they knew what they wanted to drink. When she left, he pushed it towards Kuga.
Why didn’t you stop it?
The man sighed heavily. “My Sight has a near-perfect prediction rate. As far as I knew, Izuku, I couldn’t. It was set in stone, and anything I did to try and change it would only cause chaos until the timeline corrected itself to the path it had been travelling. And besides that-” He cut himself off, sitting in silence. The waitress returned with drinks, taking their orders before hurrying off once more.
“Besides that, seein’ the walkin’ horror that Toshinori turned into and what happened to you is a big blow, kid,” Kenichi finished for him. Kuga nodded absently, picking at his napkin until it tore.
“All I saw was Toshinori over and over, in that form, and then Mirio and you being injured. Multiple attacks, the city slowly becoming paranoid, the council trusting us less and less. Then pure pandemonium, where you destroyed yourself, until-” A large piece of the napkin ripped off, sitting in front of him. “Everything went dark.” He looked at Izuku, eyes dull. “I thought you and him died, minutes away from our freedom.”
The food came out. Izuku stared at his oyakodon and swallowed heavily. Mirio leaned into him and sighed, running a hand over his face.
“We need to stop having so many depressing conversations today. Let’s be happy! Izuku’s out of the hospital, we’re done with that crappy press conference bonanza, and soon we can all relax and figure out what the hell to do with the rest of our existences! Why don’t we talk about something nice? Can we do that? Sir, weren’t you going to see if they could measure you for a prosthetic next week?”
Kuga smiled slightly, expression softening. “Yes. They’re thinking of using a new prototype, that grafts to the nerves…”
The conversation flowed easier, but Izuku only picked at his food. Besides the… grim reminder of just how much was risked, Kuga had only brought questions back to the forefront of his mind, stinging at his thoughts.
Here was Kuga, here was Mirio, happy if not hale. Where was the last?
“C’mon, just a small party. It won’t be so bad, Izuku!” He shook his head, fighting the urge to tug on his hair. Kuga sighed deeply in the front seat, massaging his nose.
“Is the point of a surprise party not for it to be a surprise? ” Kenichi cackled. Izuku debated diving from the car before they reached the house. In what universe could a party planned by his acquaintances be small?
They pulled into the driveway where a small convertible was already sitting, and Izuku stared up at the house as they all climbed out. It was large, at least two stories, and from here he could tell there were at least two rooms upstairs, windows facing the road. One of them was covered with blackout curtains. Was Katsuki into that sort of thing, now?
He let Mirio steer him up to the house, man still chatting in his ear as they unlocked the door, opening it, and he braced himself for an explosion of noise, dreading-
Only for him to be greeted by his family cheering, welcoming him home. He blinked.
Katsuki was off by what must have been the kitchen, shoving a piece of bread in his mouth, while Uncle and his father let go of a banner they had been obviously still hanging up. His mother was smiling fondly on the couch, and Auntie was out of sight, puttering around and muttering. Scattered around the space were photos from the old apartment, the sofa they had painstakingly taken care of since he was a child, old antiques that had only been spared from salvage because of how little use they had, while, while-
While in the corner, curled up in a huge armchair, was Toshinori, in a baggy sweater and sweats with his hair pulled in a tail and bangs flying loose. Something in Izuku gave out, and he had to clutch the arm of the wheelchair to stay upright. Good. Good.
He was okay.
The others didn’t notice or didn’t call attention to his reaction, Mirio pushing him in while Kuga shut the door, Kenichi drifting into the kitchen and yelling about burning the food.
His father slung an arm around his shoulders and solemnly asked if he had caught up on movies yet. He shook his head no, because the past month and a half had consisted solely of him absorbing as many news articles and packets on sign language as humanly possible, instead of anything actually entertaining.
Hisashi went flying off to gather DVDs, Masaru following to make sure he didn’t break something. Izuku glanced over to Toshinori again, glanced away when he saw him staring. His hand tightened around a wheel involuntarily.
“Mirio-kun, do you think you could help me with some things? We still need to set up the guest room for tonight, and none of us can find the box with the linens.” Izuku startled, looking at his mother. She was smiling sheepishly, gesturing into the hallway where a mountain of boxes sat by the back door. Mirio jumped into action, practically skipping in his rush to help as they disappeared further into the house. The four of them were left for a moment, before Kuga pat him on the shoulder, giving him a significant look as he drifted into the kitchen, dragging Katsuki along by the elbow.
Then, it was only him and Toshinori.
He didn’t look up from his hands for a long pause, scared, worried, didn’t want to see whatever look would be on Toshinori’s face. But he also wanted to see the man, squeeze him, make sure he was real and not still under some megalomaniac’s boot, and that meant taking that leap, so he sucked in a breath, fanning the heat for one short second. So he scooted forward, guiding his chair closer and closer, until his wheel was bumping into the armchair, and a knee draped in grey was visible, curled toes just barely peeking out.
A hand reached out, tidy, nails clipped, and took one of his, rubbing a thumb over the mesh of the glove. “Izuku…” He glanced up through his bangs, baulked at the sheer devastation on his companion’s face. “I did this…”
Izuku licked his lips, hesitated. Raised his hands to shakily sign, movements jerky. I could have sworn it A-F-O that pushed me to this point, not you. We both knew the dangers. Toshinori shook his head, fingers drifting away, to the arm of the chair.
“It would have been better if I had done it myself, instead of foisting the responsibility on you.” Izuku’s face scrunched, and he grabbed the arm lying in reach, lacing their fingers together. Toshinori made a startled noise as he leaned out of the chair, clambering forward and tumbling into the other man’s lap with a huff. He knocked a hand against the other’s chest, scowling up into six blue-white eyes.
The message was clear. It wouldn’t have been better to me.
Toshinori chuckled wetly, and it turned into something of a sob as he pressed his nose into green curls, breathing in. “Hakamata was the one to catch you, but I leapt off that damn building trying. You were so still, and he was still moving, trying to, to do anything I think, to work himself out of the situation. You terrified me.” He grinned down at Izuku wobbily, dull teeth gleaming. “You impressed me, when that blue sky peeked through. Please, don’t ever do it again.”
Izuku wheezed out a laugh, patting the lean chest in front of them. They hovered in that moment, staring, until he leaned in, pulling a head down. Toshinori was warm, still warm, and wrapped his arms around Izuku’s waist, pulling him flush against the man.
They separated at the sound of Hisashi tromping down the hallway, Toshinori shifting him to rest against his side as the man burst into the living room with a large box. They watched him flutter round the television, rambling about what to watch first, and Izuku smiled when Masaru suggested just picking at random, sending him into a tizzy over series and watchability.
He breathed in and out, warmth circulating in his chest, and quietly let go of the fear that held him for years, of everything falling apart. He had made it. Damaged and cracked, but there all the same. Glancing up at Toshinori, watching the scene with small snickers, he snuggled closer, shutting his eyes.
They had both made it.