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The H.E.R.O. Project

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The scent of spring was in the air, even in the middle of Cenere City. Fluffy clouds populated a sky of infinite depth, moving slowly with the first warm winds of the year. The sun floated over the city with a radiant benevolence, not yet in its cruel summer mood. It was a perfect day for eating outside.

However, ice cream wouldn’t have been Izuku’s first choice. It wasn’t quite hot enough for him to crave it, but because he knew Ochaco didn’t get out much, he had happily accompanied her to the local ice cream parlor. She’d chosen a table among Over the Moon Ice Cream’s outdoor seating, under its red-and-white-striped awning, where they’d been sitting and chatting for the past thirty minutes.

Ochaco waved her hands about excitedly, her cone piled with soft serve wobbling dangerously. “It’s about this family, set in pre-World War III America, where the son has this girlfriend, right?”

Izuku nodded, trying to keep up with Ochaco’s re-telling of all the new TV sitcoms she’d been watching in her free time. He took the pause in the conversation to remind her that her ice cream was melting.

“Oh, you’re right!” She hurriedly licked it, accidentally leaving a pale pink dot of strawberry ice cream on the tip of her nose. Unaware, she simply continued talking after she’d finished, practically bouncing in her chair with excitement. Izuku wasn’t sure how to tell her without embarrassing her, or himself for that matter, but if he waited any longer, it might melt and drip onto her new t-shirt, which was white with a cute little cat on the chest. He knew she’d be a little sad if she ruined it.

“Ochaco…”

“Huh?”

“T-there’s a little ice cream on your nose…” Izuku could feel his own face heat up when she blushed, even though he wasn’t really sure why.

“Oh, gosh, really?” Ochaco grabbed a napkin out of the dispenser and wiped it away, grinning even though her cheeks were still pink. “Thanks, Izuku. I never would’ve noticed!”

“N-no problem!” They’d known each other since childhood, but Izuku couldn’t remember when or why she’d begun to make him feel so nervous. He preoccupied himself by biting into his cone, having already finished the ice cream.

Ochaco paused to finish off her melting ice cream, so Izuku took the moment to take a deep breath and reassess his surroundings. He knew it was silly, to be so obsessed with training reserved for future heroes like Ochaco, but he couldn’t help himself.

Carefully, Izuku took note of the small cafes and shops around them, mostly selling food or souvenirs for tourists. To his left was the parlor window, which he couldn’t see through, but he could see the reflection of the sidewalk, carefully spaced trees, and the road. Izuku turned as a black car drove by, comfortably under the speed limit. A spherical security drone hovered above, taking in a 360 degree picture of the street with full sound. About twenty feet away, another camera drone floated. During his studies, he’d learned that the drones were also capable of collecting meteorological data, remotely reading I.D. cards, performing thermal scans of individual people, and other useful functions. Together, the system of drones throughout the world could construct a detailed picture of the movements of any of the globe’s 10 billion citizens, until they entered private property, at least. At that point, they relied on the subjects of the H.E.R.O. Project to fill in the holes.

“Izuku?” Ochaco was looking at him curiously.

“Oh, sorry! I, uh, got distracted.” Izuku looked away just as a silvery mobile security drone across the street turned and aimed its camera at him. He swallowed awkwardly. He knew he wasn’t doing anything wrong, but when they looked right at him like that, it put him on edge anyway.

Ochaco sighed contentedly. “It’s such a beautiful day outside...Oo, let’s go somewhere special!”

“S-special?”

“Yeah!” Ochaco looked at him with a mischievous twinkle in her eye, which probably meant she wanted to do something expensive. “I was thinking—” She was interrupted by a beep from her phone. She puffed out her cheeks in annoyance when she read the notification. “Aw, they want me back at the Lab.”

“That’s okay,” Izuku said quickly. He knew his dad was planning something exciting for her, after all, even if he hadn’t been told too much. “We can go wherever you want after you finish.” Only after he’d said it did he truly realize what he’d said, his cheeks heating again.

Ochaco just giggled in excitement, oblivious. “You’re the best, Izuku!”

Izuku nearly sighed in relief. Even though her words had made him blush even more, he still had his dignity if she hadn’t noticed.

Together, the two of them walked back towards the H.E.R.O. Lab. Izuku scanned their surroundings some more as they walked, not willing to let go of the old habit. The street was lined on both sides with quaint shops, but at the intersection ahead, there were a few mega-stores and a supermarket, and further beyond those were towering office buildings, the Lab among them. A drone glided nearly soundlessly behind them, scanning them before beeping its approval and leaving to scan anyone else that moved locations.

“I wonder what they want,” Ochaco mused, finishing off her cone with a crunch and sucking the residue off her thumb. “Nothing too crazy, I hope.”

Izuku felt a twinge of guilt at that, since he always enjoyed watching the crazy stuff from the observation deck. The scientists let him up there sometimes, especially if Dad was already there anyway.

“Probably not,” Izuku assured her. “My dad was dropping hints and it sounds like something you’ll like.”

Ochaco sighed, tossing her napkin into a garbage can as they walked by it. She slapped her cheeks a few times to psych herself up before breaking out into a smile. “Alright! If you think so, I’m looking forward to it!”

After they arrived at the building, Izuku’s phone made a few duck sounds.

“Your dad?” Ochaco asked, tilting her head.

“Yeah.” Izuku took it out, reading the message.

bring ochaco to rm 115-9 pls?

One of the meeting rooms? He’d expected his dad would want her in one of the training rooms. Frowning, he typed back,

15-9?

no 115-9

“Okay, then…” Izuku muttered.

“What’s up?”

“Well…”

The two of them walked through the pristine lobby and towards the elevators, stepping into one as it automatically opened in response to Ochaco’s I.D. card.

“Dad actually wants you in one of the meeting rooms right now.”

Ochaco let out a little squeak, fiddling with the hem of her t-shirt. “Oh, no! They said I would be debuting soon, but I didn’t think it’d be in front of a bunch of business guys, first!” She sighed. “Maybe I should have put on a little makeup or something…”

“You look nice,” Izuku assured her feebly, the content of his words compromising the delivery. His face went red again.

Naturally, it didn’t seem to soothe her. “Thanks…”

The pair stepped out on one of the upper floors, potted plants at the sides of the elevator door. It was one of the areas that business partners and government officials actually got to see, so it was less sterile and more office-like, with art on the walls and sculptures on pedestals. Ochaco looked around, astonished.

After a short walk down a carpeted hallway, Izuku opened the door to Room 115-9, Ochaco’s breath catching in her throat in anticipation. A whiteboard hung on the wall opposite the door, a large mahogany table filling most of the floorspace. Five black leather swivel chairs waited around the table, an additional chair occupied by Dad.

“Izuku!” He waved. “Good! You brought Ochaco.”

“Um...Dr. Midoriya?” she asked. “What’s going on, exactly?”

“I’ll explain once everyone’s here, but don’t worry, it’s nothing stressful.” Dad smiled at her reassuringly before turning to Izuku. “We need Tenya, Momo, Katsuki, and Shoto. All of them are in the training halls except Shoto. He’s in Dr. Shuzenji’s office. Can you get them for me?”

“Yeah, of course.”

Ochaco shot Izuku a questioning look, as she didn’t recognize any of the names, but Izuku just returned a smile before leaving her in the room with his dad. He could hardly believe what was happening. Despite the overwhelming emotion rising in his chest, he tried to keep his focus.

To the training rooms.

Without Ochaco with him, Izuku had to actually press a button in the elevator to go down to the basement. As the elevator began moving, Izuku couldn’t help but feel his heart leap a little. Having grown up around the subjects but never being able to talk to one about any of the others had been difficult, and sometimes a little saddening. Now, however, it seemed all of his friends would finally be meeting each other.

The first training room belonged to Katsuki. Izuku opened the first door, which led to a small mudroom with two other doors– one to the observation deck, and one to the actual training room. In the observation deck, several scientists were taking notes on Katsuki’s abilities. Izuku tried to resist the urge to watch his old friend when he walked in, but it was hard when he was so amazing, jumping and flipping and making droids explode with a gigantic grin on his face, like it was no big deal at all. Though Katsuki had stopped being nice to him over the years, Izuku had to admit that he’d never quite gotten rid of his childish admiration for the other boy.

“Dad needs Katsuki right now,” Izuku reported to one of the scientists, who simply nodded and spoke over the P.A., telling Katsuki to come out and meet Izuku in the hallway.

A minute later, they were walking down the hall to fetch the others.

“What does your dad want on a damn Monday?” Katsuki growled, wiping sweat from his brow with a towel. He was always in a foul mood these days, but Izuku figured he was probably more irritated than usual because his favorite training day had been interrupted.

“Sorry.” Izuku managed a small grin, even though Katsuki was still glowering at him. “I’m not sure what he wants exactly–”

“Geez, he doesn’t even tell you anything?”

His harsh tone made Izuku stop in his tracks. He frowned, shifting from foot to foot. “Well, they wouldn’t want it to leak...In fact, I probably already know a little too much for my own good, anyway…”

“Whatever.” Katsuki stomped out ahead before realizing he didn’t know where he was going. “Which way?”

“Uh, here...” Izuku scurried in front of him and led the way to the other rooms. On second thought, maybe he should have gotten one of the others first, since they tended to be more civil than Katsuki. Then again, it was unlikely any of them would be truly intimidated by his rough exterior, except perhaps for Ochaco, who was already upstairs.

Once again, Izuku felt a buoyant sensation of excitement, like there was a balloon expanding in his chest. He felt himself walking faster now, his feet lighter; he was sure he was floating. His hands tingled, and he couldn’t have stopped the smile spreading across his face even if he’d wanted to.

Finally!

Chapter Text

A bead of sweat rolled down the left side of Shoto’s face. The beeping of a dozen different machines filled his ears, but weren’t quite loud enough to drown out his footfalls on the treadmill and the steady pounding of his heart.

“Don’t you think he could go a little faster?” Endeavor’s gruff voice broke through Shoto’s focus. Stubbornly, he continued staring straight ahead at the white wall of the Test Room, even though he knew his internal reaction had probably shown up on at least one of the scanners. He barely noticed all the wires and patches they hooked up to him anymore when it came to these routine check-ups, but he was always more self-conscious of them when Endeavor was watching. He always felt more like a specimen.

“This is fine for now,” the scientist replied, almost sounding scolding. “While we are collecting plenty of other data, this is ultimately just to make sure his body can still self-regulate a healthy temperature without conscious effort.”

“Why would that change?” Endeavor grumbled.

“It probably won’t, based on our current data.” Dr. Shuzenji leaned closer to the monitor, probably squinting, and scribbled something on her electronic pad. “But we want to be as sure as possible, don’t we?”

Endeavor sighed as Dr. Shuzenji turned the treadmill off and disconnected all the machinery. Shoto didn’t bother to ask about the data, which would be reported to him later anyway, simply walking to the examining table across the room and lying on it. He made a point of ignoring his father, but it was difficult when Endeavor was looming behind Dr. Shuzenji, glaring down at Shoto.

After the usual poking and prodding, the old woman spoke, still in her slightly scolding voice. Shoto always got the vague sense he was in trouble when she talked. “So, how have you been feeling, lately, dear?”

“Fine.”

“Anything new since last week?”

“No.”

She sighed at his usual single-word answers, scribbling more notes on her pad before pointing at something at the base of his ribcage and asking accusingly, “And what’s this?” Sitting up to see what the scientist was pointing at, he saw that it was a bruise.

Nothing, he wanted to say, but he didn’t particularly feel like being told off. “That’s from sparring.”

“And this, too, I presume?” She asked flatly, gesturing vaguely at a red mark around Shoto’s forearm, almost like a sunburn.

“Yeah.” A quick glance at Endeavor revealed nothing.

“Alrighty, then. You can go, now.” She turned to Endeavor. “But be more careful, Enji? He’s still just a boy.”

Shoto tugged his shirt and pants back on, hopping down from the high cushioned table. The adults continued to talk as though he wasn’t there.

“He can take it,” Endeavor insisted. “Besides, Dr. Nezu allowed me to oversee his training.”

“Hmph.”

Shoto scoffed quietly, putting a hand on the doorknob. Endeavor always played that card.

When he opened the door, Izuku was waiting for him across the hall, smiling cheerily. Finally, someone Shoto actually wanted to see.

“How’d it go?” Izuku asked as they walked together down the tiled hallway, towards Shoto’s apartment.

“Fine.”

“That’s good. Dad sent me to come and get you.”

“Okay.” It was Monday, so it was Shoto’s “check-up” day. It wasn’t typical to see Dr. Midoriya every week, but he saw him at least twice a month. Probably, Dr. Midoriya wanted to test the temperature of his fire again, or how much ice he could make, or maybe he would simply take another blood sample. Shoto couldn’t imagine why Dr. Midoriya would send Izuku to fetch him, though, since he’d already been going through this routine for ten years at this point.

Izuku hesitated a moment as they stepped into an elevator, which began moving after sensing Shoto’s I.D. card. “Um, just a warning, though...It’s something completely new.”

Shoto must have looked surprised, because Izuku quickly added, “It’s not dangerous or anything! It’s just...different than the usually Monday stuff…”

“Are you allowed to give me details?”

“I don’t know them,” Izuku admitted, rubbing the back of his neck as they stepped out of the elevator and continued walking. “All I really know is that it has something to do with the other subjects and...socializing.”

Shoto frowned. He knew there were other subjects, but hadn’t expected to be meeting them any time soon, if at all; information was kept very tight around the Lab. The only other subjects he’d met personally were his own parents. He’d heard of others, even studied them, but only in the news after they’d already debuted as heroes.

“Shoto?” Izuku gestured for him to follow down a hallway he’d never been down before. He took in the sudden transition from tile to carpet, decorative paintings on the off-white walls, and concrete pedestals with ornate vases.

“What’s down this way?”

“Some of the meeting rooms.”

Before he could ask for more, Izuku opened one of the doors. Automatically, Shoto did a basic sweep of the room: five people– four strangers and Dr. Midoriya– seated in black leather swivel chairs around a thick mahogany table, blank whiteboard on the back wall with two green dry erase markers, four LED light fixtures in the high ceiling, a lamp in the back corner and a large potted cactus in the other.

Dr. Midoriya smiled cheerfully, reminding Shoto of Izuku, who went and stood behind his father. “Ah, good! Shoto’s the last one, so we can talk, now! Sit down.”

Shoto eyed the other teenagers as he sat in the remaining chair, taking note of their appearances and demeanors. Doubtless, they were doing the same.

After a slightly more detailed look, however, Shoto realized he’d seen them before in passing in the hallways of the Lab. They’d never spoken, as subjects pretty much always had somewhere to be, but he recognized them, at least.

Dr. Midoriya passed out a thin packet to each of them. “These are information packets on each other, just so we can skip introductions.”

Shoto leafed through the packet as Dr. Midoriya continued talking. Each of them had been summarized into about a page of information, mostly detailing their powers and other abilities. Luckily, their privacy of history was maintained. Shoto skimmed the information, simultaneously listening to Dr. Midoriya.

“You’ve all been told you’ll soon be debuting as heroes. The five of you have been assigned to a team, actually.” Dr. Midoriya was bouncing in his seat slightly, both legs shaking up and down. “We wanted to try something new, instead of having five solo heroes, especially considering how young you are. Of course, you may dissolve the team later after you’ve gained more experience, but as of right now, our founder has determined this the best course of action.”

Izuku was grinning from ear to ear, giving them two thumbs up from behind Dr. Midoriya. It seemed to calm the brunette– Ochaco, or something like that– and the others returned smiles, except for the blonde boy, who scowled. Then Izuku was familiar with the other subjects, maybe even friends with them. Probably, he had never mentioned them to Shoto because he wasn’t allowed to.

“For the next few months, you’ll be training together to get in sync,” Dr. Midoriya continued, talking faster and faster as he became more excited. “Today, though, we’ll just let you all socialize a bit, get to know each other. The only thing you have to do is stay in the Lab. We wouldn’t want private matters leaking in a public area.”

With this, Dr. Midoriya stood up, beginning to mutter to himself as he walked toward the door. “Naturally, I would have liked to stay, but I’ve been told the presence of an adult might stifle teenage conversation. Of course, that idea is questionable in itself since it implies that this quality is inherent to adolescence, as none of you have been extensively socialized—”

The door closed behind him, blocking out his words.

Immediately, the boy with glasses turned to Izuku, his movements precise and confident. Shoto glanced at the packet in front of him for the boy’s name– Tenya. A quick skim of his abilities revealed that he’d apparently been modified to have rocket boosters in his legs.

“So, Izuku, I suppose you’ve already met all of us? Perhaps you could help break the ice?”

“Ah!” Izuku smiled weakly, sitting down in Dr. Midoriya’s chair. “Well—”

“What are you doing here, anyway, Deku?” The blonde boy– Katsuki– interrupted. “You don’t have any modifications, so far as I’m concerned you can get the hell out, too!”

“Katsuki!” Tenya exclaimed, scolding. He gestured at Katsuki with all his fingers straight, perhaps in indignation. “You shouldn’t speak to Izuku that way! It is quite rude!”

“And who the heck do you think you are, Four-Eyes?!”

As Tenya opened his mouth again, the girl with the ponytail cleared her throat delicately. “This conversation is counter-productive. We should focus on getting to know each other before training begins. Tomorrow, presumably.”

“Always in a rush around here…” Ochaco sighed.

Shoto looked back down at the packet to read more details as Izuku spoke.

“Momo’s right. We can talk about anything we want; this is basically leisure time, so we should use it, right?”

Momo spoke again, her voice smooth and calm, almost detached. “Yes. I’d like to discuss everyone’s abilities in more detail. It’s best to get a head start on whatever tasks we’ll have to perform tomorrow.”

It didn’t end up like a normal teenage conversation, much to Izuku’s dismay. Apparently, Shoto was told afterwards, Izuku was supposed to facilitate such a conversation but couldn’t get them to talk about whatever it was that average teenagers were into these days.

Nevertheless, Shoto was grateful that was how it went as he lay in bed that night. That type of talking was much more comfortable for him, more familiar. He didn’t know how to talk about music or movies or celebrities, or even politics. He didn’t have much of an opinion when it came to those things anyway.

“Shoto.” Endeavor’s voice cut through his thoughts.

“What?” Shoto rolled on his side, turning his back to the man filling up the doorframe.

Endeavor huffed. “They’re putting you on a team, but don’t forget your goal.”

‘“I know.” His fist clenched on its own.

“You’re currently the strongest young subject they have. Don’t let that change.”

It seemed Endeavor didn’t know when to stop. “I know.

There was a tense silence before Endeavor finally walked away, turning the light out in the hall of their Lab apartment, leaving Shoto in the dark.

Chapter Text

Izuku Midoriya C06
05 April 2042
Operation #749
S. Todoroki C01, T. Iida C02, M. Yaoyorozu C03, K. Bakugo C04, O. Uraraka C05

Status:

Izuku touched the top of the pen to his chin before continuing to write, blue ink on off-white lined paper, wide-ruled.

Status: Failure

Notes:
Todoroki, C01: Quiet
Iida, C02: Took charge
Yaoyorozu, C03: Took charge
Bakugo, C04: Abrasive
Uraraka, C05: Nervous

Izuku paused a moment, examining his work. The first page of a mission reports was to be as concise as possible, conveying only vital information in simple, broad strokes. Elaboration was reserved for the following pages. It seemed he was ready to move on.

He flipped the page, a small frown settling on his face as dust settles to the bottom of a glass of water, listless. Normally, the writer of a mission report didn’t take notes on himself, but Izuku would have written “nervous” for himself as well, or maybe “awkward,” or maybe just “failure.” The scientists had put him there because they’d thought a familiar face would make everyone more comfortable, and therefore friendlier, but it hadn’t seemed to help at all. Instead of having a casual conversation, it felt more like a business conference. What would the others write about him?

Stop it. Izuku scolded himself. The others wouldn’t write anything about him. Izuku closed his notebook, sighing to himself slightly. He traced a finger slowly along the pencil lines of an old drawing of All Might that graced the front cover. He hadn’t told any of his friends about his vast store of fake mission reports. He had some pride.

His phone buzzed on the table next to him with a text.

im training now if u wanna watch

Izuku smiled at Katsuki’s text, even though he knew the other boy mostly just invited him to mock him.

sure

Down in the basement, Izuku stepped into the observation deck of Katsuki’s training room. Izuku had been fascinated by its design when he’d first learned about it. The room had specially fortified metal walls to contain the most massive explosion Katsuki could theoretically make, and soundproofing so that the noise wouldn’t transfer to the neighboring rooms.

The window covering of the observation deck was open so that the scientists could see through the thick glass, though it had an automatic closing feature in case Katsuki’s training got especially rowdy, which consisted of reinforced metal paneling covering the window if it sensed projectiles incoming. When the window was closed, the scientists could watch through cameras throughout the room.

“Hi, Dr. Aizawa,” Izuku greeted the shaggy-looking scientist who was overseeing Katsuki’s training at the moment. There were a few other junior scientists standing at the various monitors and panels of buttons, but Izuku didn’t know their names.

“Izuku,” Dr. Aizawa nodded, his voice sleepy. “Here to watch?”

“Yeah. Katsuki invited me.” Izuku stood next to him at the observation window. Katsuki was standing on the ground fifteen feet below in a ready stance. “What’s he doing today?”

“Miss Hatsume has designed some new droids for him. They’re both very excited about it.”

Izuku looked around the room for her thick pink locks and perpetually rumpled lab coat, but the prodigious young lab assistant was nowhere in sight. “Where is she?”

“Working on something else for Shoto in her lab,” Dr. Aizawa said. “She’s planning to watch the footage later.”

“Oh.” He wished he could see the footage sometimes. Then he could experience watching his friends over and over again.

He could hear Katsuki’s voice in his head. Pathetic!

Izuku turned back to watch the training, trying to drown out the imagined sound.

With a smooth hiss, metal doors in the walls opened, and small, round robots rolled out from the openings. Izuku wondered what Mei had in store for today; her “babies” always had unique designs. Katsuki grinned wildly, small explosions going off in his hands with anticipation. With a battle cry, he ran at the little round bots, sending explosions their way.

Izuku’s heart began to pound with excitement, finding himself astounded by Katsuki once again. With his explosions, the robots were sent flying. To Izuku’s surprise, they just flew right back at Katsuki, who extended his hands for more explosions, only to have the robots return to him.

“They...bounce…?” Izuku muttered to himself. “But to survive the blasts, they must have some kind of shock absorption technology, plus be made of a sturdy material...but what material can weather Katsuki’s explosions while still absorbing the energy and having the capacity to bounce like that—?”

“Ask Miss Hatsume about it later,” Dr. Aizawa interrupted, cutting Izuku’s muttering short.

“Right, sorry,” Izuku replied, sheepish. He turned back to Katsuki just in time to see him jump out of the way of a speeding robot. For a moment, Katsuki simply watched the droids bounce about, a scowl on his face. To anyone else, it might have seemed that Katsuki was out of ideas, but Izuku could tell he was trying to predict the robot’s movements to hit them again. A robot smashed against the wall across from him and came back his way, but he only stepped to the side by about a foot. When it returned, he trapped it against the wall next to him with rapid-fire explosions until it fell apart, smoking fragments of metal falling to the ground.

So fast…

Izuku felt familiar admiration swelling in his chest as the other boy fired off more explosions. Katsuki really was amazing.

It wasn’t much of a contest after that. Once he’d figured out how to beat the robots, he just had to keep out of the paths of the ones he’d already set in motion and destroy them, one by one. Twenty minutes later, the exercise was over.

Katsuki smiled at the observation window, even though it was one-way glass and he wouldn’t be able to see them on the other side. His grin was jagged, like the smile of a jack-o-lantern.

“How’s that?” He shouted.

Unbelievable, Izuku thought. Immediately, he was hit with it again— the desire to be like Katsuki. To fit in with his friends. Though he didn’t want to admit it, a part of him had been afraid that they were all meeting each other, because if they found out they all related to each other better than they related to him...well, maybe they would grow apart from him. But more than that, Izuku wanted to be a hero at that moment, so much that his body ached, deep in his core. If only he could stand by his friends...

Dr. Aizawa sighed before pressing the button that would allow the microphone to pick up his speech and project it into Katsuki’s training room. “That was good, Katsuki. You can take a break, now.”

Katsuki scoffed, loudly so that they would be able to hear him. “Get something harder for me, next time!”

Dr. Aizawa didn’t respond, simply gesturing that Izuku leave the room before scribbling some notes onto his electronic pad.

Izuku managed a smile, shaking his silly wishes away, sending them to the back of his mind. With a small skip in his step, Izuku stepped out of the observation room, meeting Katsuki in the mudroom outside the training area. Katsuki took a swig from a bottle of water and dried some of his sweat with a towel that had been waiting for him on a plastic chair.

“Hey, Katsuki, that was awesome!” Izuku said earnestly.

“That was nothing,” Katsuki countered. “You’re just so damn pathetic you can’t tell the difference.” He cackled at his joke.

Izuku frowned, even though he’d known Katsuki would only use his honest compliments to belittle him. That’s what he always seemed to do these days.

Katsuki started walking down the hall towards one of the exercise rooms, and Izuku followed on his heels. They were silent for a bit before Katsuki suddenly spoke.

“So what’s the deal with that Half-and-half guy?” His tone was demanding.

“What?” It took Izuku a moment to figure out who he meant. “Oh, you mean Shoto?”

“The fire and ice guy, whatever his name is.”

“Yeah, that’s Shoto…” Izuku tried to catch up to walk next to Katsuki, but the other boy walked faster so that he was still ahead. “What about him?”

Katsuki was quiet for a moment. When he spoke, his voice was unreadable. “Is he strong?”

Instantly, Izuku thought of the detailed notes he secretly kept of each of the subjects he knew. If he had to guess, he’d say that Shoto was the only subject who was technically more powerful than Katsuki. But as a result, Shoto lacked the creativity Katsuki had when it came to using his powers. Izuku shivered slightly, thinking of what would happen if the two of them were to fight, running a few scenarios through his head. It could have gone either way, but if it came down to it, he would expect Shoto to win.

“Yes…” Izuku replied, deciding not to share his analysis. “He’s powerful. Why?”

Katsuki scoffed, brushing Izuku’s answer aside even though he’d asked for it. “I read your dad’s dumb packet. He was the only one that seemed interesting.”

Izuku frowned. Shoto was the most powerful, but the others had merits of their own that made up for whatever they might have lacked in raw power. “Their powers don’t account for everything they can do, you know.”

“Shut up, Deku.” Katsuki waved a hand at him. “I know that, already. Do you think I’m stupid?”

“N-no, it’s just…” Izuku looked at his toes. His worn red sneakers were beginning to fray around the seams.

“Hey!”

Izuku turned, recognizing the voice. Instantly, a feeling of elation ballooned in his chest. “All Might!”

The large man walked over to them with a booming laugh. “Izuku, Katsuki! It’s been a while!” Three months, to be more precise. Seeing All Might was special; Izuku never forgot when it happened. He took in the man’s giant form, the bold colors of his costume, his fearless stance. And, of course, it was impossible to ignore All Might’s kind heart. “How have you been?”

“Good!” Izuku replied, his voice coming out a high chirp. It was slightly embarrassing, but he couldn’t help it when he was face-to-face with his favorite hero.

“Fine,” Katsuki growled, shooting Izuku a condescending look.

But when All Might was in front of him, Izuku didn’t care what Katsuki thought.

“Why don’t you two join me in the lounge for some iced coffee?” All Might inquired, his signature grin still on his face.

“Sure!” Izuku agreed, not needing to think it over at all. Unlike Katsuki, All Might allowed Izuku to walk in step with him. The three walked together towards the elevator. As always, Izuku felt his heart begin to race with excitement when he saw his idol, his chest inflating and springs in his feet. There was something so solid about All Might, something that made it seem like everything was going to be okay, that everyone was going to be safe, that he could do anything for anyone.

That nothing would ever change that.

Chapter Text

Miss Hatsume’s voice boomed through the training room with too much enthusiasm for the situation at hand. Shoto didn’t have anything against the lab assistant, necessarily. It was just that she was always hyper during training sessions and always got too close to the microphone when speaking from the observation deck.

To be completely honest, she gave Shoto a headache sometimes.

“SO, HOW DO YOU LIKE MY BABIES?! THEY’RE CUTE, RIGHT?!”

“HELL, YEAH!” Katsuki shouted, blowing one to pieces. From the wicked grin on his face, it seemed that the other boy was actually having fun with this. Shoto turned away, slightly disturbed, only for a piece of metal from the explosion to hit him in the back of the head. Luckily, it wasn’t sharp.

“SUPER CUTE!” Katsuki whooped as he blew more robots to bits.

Shoto didn’t think they were cute at all, but he never argued with Miss Hatsume about it since it seemed so important to her that they were “cute,” whatever that meant. She’d created a new type of robot for today, it seemed, designed after him– one side of the droid could shoot fire, and the other could shoot ice. Rockets allowed it to dodge quickly, and if his attack was too fast for it, it could pivot on some kind of internal axis to match whatever he threw at it— the fire side always met his ice attacks, and the ice side always met his fire. He guessed its legs were made of some sort of temperature-resistant metal. Most likely, it had been designed specifically for him. But, while his attacks had little to no impact on it, its attacks also had little to no impact on him. Miss Hatsume would have to revise the design.

Using his right, Shoto created a wall of ice next to it, trapping it against one of the metal walls of the training room before spraying fire at it. It promptly spun to receive it with its ice side. It took a few minutes, but eventually the heat was too much and the robot fell apart, completely blackened. He lowered his hand, slightly surprised that brute force had actually worked. His fire wasn’t as hot as Endeavor’s, but it was apparently hot enough for this.

“DID YOU LIKE IT, SHOTO?! WHAT DID YOU THINK?!”

Shoto winced at Miss Hatsume’s eager voice over the loudspeakers again. He just shot a glance at where he knew the observation deck was and shrugged in reply before turning back to see how his new teammates were doing against the variety of “enemies.”

There were the standard humanoid robots of varying sizes and abilities, a few giant stationary robots, a few smaller fliers, and even a bunch strange spherical droids Shoto had never seen before. It was hard to tell how many there were from the way they bounced.

Katsuki tracked them with his eyes, but didn’t make a move, yet. Shoto decided to help him, timing his ice to freeze some of the bouncing droids in their tracks. For some reason, Katsuki shot him a dirty look before turning away to find different targets. Perhaps he’d thought that Shoto was claiming the spherical droids as his own targets, but that hadn’t been his intent. Shoto supposed he’d have to talk to the other boy later.

“Watch out!” Tenya shouted from behind.

He turned around, expecting to see a robot coming his way, but instead Tenya himself was speeding towards him, out-of-control for no apparent reason. Shoto barely had time to process Tenya hurtling towards him before they collided, sending both of them to the ground.

Shoto blinked, having expected it to hurt more when he noticed the pillow in front of him. Somehow, it had appeared between them, somewhat softening the blow.

Tenya sat up, his glasses askew, and turned to Momo a few yards away from them. He gave her a thumbs up. “Thanks, Momo!”

Shoto also nodded his appreciation.

She pulled a handgun out of her forearm and shot a nearby robot until it collapsed. “Of course! But please be more careful, you two!” Then she ran off to help Ochaco with some of the stationary robots, pulling what seemed to be a small missile launcher out of her stomach.

“What happened?” Shoto asked Tenya as they both stood up, slightly annoyed.

“Ah, I was running at full speed when I slipped on a patch of ice,” Tenya admitted, straightening his glasses.

“...Oh. Sorry.” Shoto supposed he’d either have to be more careful about where he put his ice or about cleaning up after himself. He wasn’t sure which would be more efficient, but he figured they would go over it after the exercise was over.

“Don’t worry about it.” Tenya brushed himself off a bit. “I’m sure we’ll discuss it more–”

“QUIT TALKING, YOU IDIOTS!” Katsuki shouted from across the room while charging at some robots. “YOU’RE GONNA GET– AGH! DAMMIT, HALF-AND-HALF!

It appeared he’d also slipped on some ice. And wouldn’t stop calling him “Half-and-Half” even when “Shoto” was shorter anyway.

Shoto ignored him, torching a few more robots before time was called.

With robots smoking all around them, the five subjects exited the training room to go to the review room and study their efforts, grabbing water bottles and towels on their way out. Izuku tagged along behind them as they left, having just exited the observation deck. Through the open door, Shoto caught a glimpse of Miss Hatsume bouncing on the balls of her feet as she talked to Dr. Aizawa, who seemed to be only half-listening to her.

Once they’d all sat around the table in the review room, Dr. Aizawa joined them inside. Izuku stood in the corner, beaming. Shoto had never really understood why, but Izuku was always excited by watching a training session, even when they were young. He would get a big, almost goofy smile on his face, and his eyes seemed to shine. Shoto had confronted him about it once, but Izuku had just gotten flustered about it, so he’d dropped it.

“So...overall, you completed the goal of destroying a certain number of robots.” Dr. Aizawa began, speaking in his usual slow drawl. “But there were a few problems...Anyone want to elaborate?”

Instantly, Momo raised her hand. Her voice was authoritative. “We weren’t accustomed to each other’s abilities, so we were getting in each other’s way. We all slipped on Shoto’s ice at least once. We were watching out for Katsuki’s explosions and the shrapnel, but he didn’t watch for us. Overall, we were all just fighting our own battles rather than fighting a single battle together.”

“But you picked up much of our slack,” Tenya added, nodding at Momo. “I have great respect for your capabilities!”

“Thank you,” Momo replied, confident yet sincere.

By now, Shoto had already picked up on the fact that Momo was extremely intelligent, but he was impressed by her nerve, too. Without hesitation, she’d called out the two most powerful subjects while they were in the room— not something a lot of people were willing to do. Though he hadn’t interacted with many people before, Shoto could recall being feared by his own older siblings, back when they were still around. Endeavor had often told him that people should be afraid. And from the irritated look Katsuki shot her when she pointed out his carelessness, it seemed he also thought so. Shoto expected her to back down, or at least react to Katsuki’s glare, but Momo was not intimidated.

“Anything else?” Dr. Aizawa asked.

Momo nodded. “Additionally, we failed to take advantage of the variation in our abilities. Miss Hatsume designs robots specifically for each of us, but hasn’t made any yet that are capable of withstanding a combination of our powers. In fact, if we had merely switched opponents rather than sticking to the robots designed for us, we could have completed the exercise more efficiently.”

Dr. Aizawa nodded. “Good. Any suggestions for training to improve?”

“Something more laid-back, perhaps,” Tenya mused, rubbing his chin. “It would be useful to develop ways to combine our skills in a more relaxed environment.”
Dr. Aizawa grunted his approval. “Yes, and Dr. Midoriya suggests you all get to know each other a little better, too. Apparently, your conversation on Monday was a bit sterile.”

Ochaco laughed nervously at that, though Shoto didn’t think the “sterile” conversation was her fault. She seemed a little jumpy around the others so far, but she also seemed to be the most approachable.

“You can take a break now or go to one of the gyms,” Dr. Aizawa continued. “Your choice.”

After he’d left, everyone agreed to go to the gym on the floor above the training rooms, and Izuku tagged along as well. On the way, Shoto stepped up to Katsuki, who was walking quickly in front, his gait an angry, stomping swagger.

“Hey, Katsuki.”

“What?” he snapped, without looking at Shoto.

“You seemed upset when I froze those robots you were fighting, so I wanted to clarify that I was just trying to help. That’s all.”

“Yeah? Well, you should stay the hell out of my way!” Katsuki snarled. “I don’t need your help.”

Shoto wasn’t sure how to respond to the other boy’s rudeness, so he paused for a moment before replying. “Alright.”

For some reason, that seemed to irritate Katsuki more, so Shoto kept quiet and fell back, now in step with Momo.

“He’s not the most delicate conversationalist, is he?” she mused, clasping her hands behind her back.

“I don’t think so,” Shoto replied flatly.

“He’ll warm up to us, I’m sure. Izuku says he’s alright after a while.”

Shoto supposed he shouldn’t judge Katsuki too quickly, especially if Izuku thought he was kind. “If he says so.”

Momo hesitated a moment before continuing. “Izuku told me a bit about you, too. He said you’re amazing.”

Shoto raised an eyebrow. “He did?”

“Well, I can’t disagree.” Momo brushed a piece of hair that had come loose behind her ear, breaking eye contact for a moment. “After seeing what you can do firsthand, and to know that’s not the full extent of your powers…”

“Um, thanks.” In his opinion, Momo’s powers were a bit more versatile than his even if she lacked raw power, especially considering her intellect.

“I wanted to ask,” Momo continued, looking away slightly as though she felt awkward. Maybe the conversation was awkward. Shoto wasn’t completely sure when it came to those things. “Were you born with your powers?”

That caught Shoto off-guard. He’d been told he was a subject of particular interest because he’d inherited his powers from his parents, while others were modified to be given powers. But he wasn’t necessarily interested in talking about that.

After a pause, Shoto finally spoke, working to keep his voice impassive. “Why do you ask?”

“Well, your powers are very similar to those of some of the first generation of subjects, namely Endeavor and Blizzard. Their marriage was highly publicized, but I’ve never heard of any children they had.” Momo spoke carefully, as though she sensed Shoto stiffening at the mention of their shaky marriage. Though their union had been plastered all over the news when it had happened twenty-three years before, everything that had followed had been kept completely under wraps by the H.E.R.O. Project.

Momo continued with delicate politeness. “However, you somewhat resemble them both, and I can’t imagine why they would modify your appearance to match your powers if you didn’t already look the way you do. I thought perhaps...you were their child? Or some other type of genetic experiment, different from the others?”

Shoto let out a small sigh. She was too smart. “Yeah, you’re right. They’re my parents.”

Instantly, she smiled. “Ah! That’s good to know! My parents were subjects as well, but not quite as famous as yours. I inherited a perfectly photographic memory from my father, who’s now working as a scientist here, and my creation ability from my mother, who went by the codename ‘Genesis.’”

“Genesis…” Shoto muttered. He’d heard of her before, but he hadn’t made the connection between her and Momo. And if he was remembering correctly, Genesis had been killed off years ago. “She’s not…”

“Well, she was called ‘Genesis’ before she fell in the line of duty, that is.” Momo managed a small smile.

Shoto looked at his feet, something tugging at his heart. “I’m sorry.”

“No, it’s alright. It was a long time ago.” She laughed a little. “I simply meant to say that we’re alike. We’re starting from the same place, I suppose.”

He remembered his ‘beginning,’ the brutal starting point Endeavor had decided for him all those years ago, with an end destination already determined, and a ruthless plan to force him into a mold. The familiar anger boiled in his gut for a split second before Shoto shook the memory away with vehemence, wondering if Momo’s words were really true. Did anyone truly start from the same place, or were some born with blessings where others had curses?

“Yeah...I guess so.”


Chapter Text

The building had to be collapsing. Mountains had to be falling. A meteor had to have struck the earth. Someone must have punched a hole through his chest.

One of those explanations, any other explanation at all had to make more sense than what Izuku had just heard. He felt like the room was moving, turning on its side, sending its occupants tumbling helplessly through the air. Water was filling his lungs, filling his body to the bursting, pouring out of his eyes.

“But...that’s…”

All Might sighed, his huge body hunched over as he rested his elbows on his knees and folded his hands.

He wasn’t smiling.

“I’m sorry, Izuku. But these things happen.”

They didn’t happen anymore. They weren’t supposed to. Almost every major disease had been eradicated or cured. There were accidents, of course, but survival rates were higher than they’d ever been in history. Technology was supposed to prevent things like this from happening.

Not cause them.

“Quit crying, Deku,” Katsuki growled. He was still sitting on the couch, his arms crossed. With a start, Izuku realized he was standing up. “There’s nothing you can do, anyway.”

For some reason, those words stung more than anything Katsuki had ever said to him. They were like a smattering of acid, burning holes through his skin until his insides were exposed to the open air, convulsing, vulnerable. Slowly, he sat back down next to Katsuki, not bothering to wipe the acrid tears off his face.

“It’s not all bad, you two,” All Might continued, though his voice lacked its usual confident flair. People, Izuku especially, regarded All Might’s voice as the voice of a god. But today, it was just the voice of a man. “I’ll need to retire soon anyway. I’m just...getting old. Think of it that way.”

But that’s not how it is at all, Izuku thought bitterly.

Something had gone wrong with the first generation of experiments; after all, it was still relatively new and risky research back then. After a few decades of cellular stability, they’d thought they’d completely succeeded; more subjects were created, and a few were encouraged to reproduce. But if they’d thought it was safe, then the processes wouldn’t have changed too much, which meant…

Izuku thought of his friends, doomed to a fate of decaying, cell by cell. If there could possibly be anything worse than All Might’s cellular degeneration, then that was it.

The door to the lounge opened, Izuku vaguely heard Dr. Aizawa’s voice. “Toshinori? Let’s go.”

“Ah, Shota.” All Might stood up. He still towered over everyone, but somehow, he seemed smaller, now. “Good to see you.”

Katsuki stood up, too. “Come on, Deku, stop being a wuss. Let’s get out of here.”

They walked down the hallway together in silence, in the opposite direction of Dr. Aizawa and All Might. Something was roaring in Izuku’s ears, the sound of a rushing river. He wiped the tears out of his eyes hastily.

“K-Katsuki…”

He was uncharacteristically slow in his reply. “What?” The word came out softer than usual.

“What if…?” Izuku didn’t even know what he was going to say. What if All Might can’t be a hero anymore? What if All Might dies? What if it’s painful?

What if it happens to you?

“It doesn’t matter,” Katsuki said matter-of-factly. It was a moment before the usual angry edge returned to his voice. “This doesn’t change anything, got it?”

He was wrong, but Izuku could hear in his voice the subtle signs of how desperately he wanted to be right. It would be cruel of Izuku to scare him any more than he already was.

“...Yeah.”

“Izuku?” His mom’s voice interrupted his thoughts. “What’s wrong, dear? I made pork cutlet bowls, your favorite, right?”

“Oh, uh, yeah, Mom!” He picked up the fork he’d left in the bowl. “Sorry, I was just thinking about something, that’s all.”

“Oh, alright.” Mom replied cheerily. “Let me know how it tastes, okay?” She turned to her husband. “Hisashi, you’re distracted, too. Is it work again?”

“Mm, sorry, Honey.” Dad also picked up his fork, which he hadn’t even touched, yet. “I was just thinking about the team, that’s all. We’ve been planning it for so long, and it’s finally happening! There was a board meeting this morning about choosing a leader...I recommended Momo, but they preferred Tenya because they think he has a more heroic image, so they have her as second-in-command instead. We’re all a little concerned about Ochaco falling behind; she doesn’t have the same drive as the others, and–”

“Dear, you’re doing it again,” Mom interrupted.

“Ah, sorry!” Dad ran a hand through his curly black locks. “You know how I ramble sometimes!” He barked out a laugh. “Let’s talk about something else! What’s going on with you, Inko?”

“Well, let’s see, I found a new bakery down the street!”

Izuku tuned out as his parents chatted. He didn’t mean to ignore Mom, but he just couldn’t stop thinking about All Might and what would happen next.

After all, there was really no describing what All Might meant to people. Dubbed the “Symbol of Peace” after he’d single-handedly solved the all-out nuclear war and helped create the Unified Nations, he was the one who kept the world together. If word got out that he was suffering some consequences of the genetic experiments that had been done on him...if word got out that he was dying...it was possible the world would be thrown right back into the chaos it had been in thirty years before.

Izuku clenched a fist under the table, biting his lip. He remembered the stories his parents had told him about their childhoods during the war, and he didn’t want anyone to go through that horror.

There’s nothing you can do, anyway.

He’d give anything to be able to do something about it. Anything.

“Izuku…?” Mom was looking at him, concern furrowing her brow. “Something’s bothering you, isn’t it?”

Through the tears in his eyes, Izuku managed a smile. There was a hollow in his chest, but he desperately wanted to hide it. “No, it’s fine...It’s just...I heard about All Might…”

“Oh, Izuku…”

He couldn’t take it anymore, the tears beginning to trail down his cheeks again. Mom stood up and went to him, hugging his head to her chest like he was a kid again, murmuring soothing words.

Dad rubbed his chin. “It is a problem, but we’re working on it, Izuku. Don’t worry! We’re going to find a way to save him.”

But All Might had already been so resigned to it, as though it was inevitable. Izuku wasn’t sure if he believed his dad, who simply continued as though there was no reason not to have faith. Maybe Dad was telling the truth.

“They’ve already approved a Successor Study, though, to give someone else the same powers when he gets too old for hero work anyway...The only concern is that Toshinori might not last until a new subject can grow up…”

Izuku rubbed at his eyes, still in Mom’s warm embrace. He’d been thinking about it in almost every moment since All Might had told him the news, and even though everyone would probably laugh at him, scorn him, look down on him...if there was anything he could do… “W-well...what if the subject’s already grown up?”

“Huh…” Dad’s eyes lit up. “That’s a thought! And why not? I mean, sure, subjects are usually only four when they start so that they still have plenty of developing to do, but maybe an older subject would actually yield more stable results? That would be an interesting hypothesis to test...Of course, we’d have to be very careful about finding a subject, though...Older people have questions younger ones may not, which may lead to some problems—”

“But...but what if the subject already knows everything about the H.E.R.O. Project?”

“Where are we going to find—?” Dad stared at Izuku curiously, as though he wasn’t sure if Izuku was serious. But Izuku had never meant anything more sincerely in his entire life, meeting Dad’s eyes with determination. If he was given the chance, Izuku would make sure no one would laugh. Dad’s voice was small, and for once, he seemed at a loss for words. “...Oh.”

“B-but Izuku!” Mom grasped his shoulders. “You can’t do that! It could be dangerous!”

“It’ll be okay, if I have training—”

“No!” Mom had tears in her eyes. Something about the look on her face broke Izuku’s heart. “Izuku...you’re my precious baby...There’s a reason I refused eleven years ago when they asked for you...I can’t let you do something like this now…”

“Inko,” Dad said gently. “It’s not decided, yet. I’m not even sure if the Board would agree to something like that—”

“Don’t bring it to the Board!” Mom was usually a calm person. Izuku had never seen her like this. “This is a terrible idea!”

“Okay,” Dad agreed, putting his hands up to placate her. “You’re right. We’ll find someone else.” He stood and wrapped his arms around both of them.

Suddenly, with both of his parents embracing him, Izuku wasn’t sure if it was a good idea, after all. How could someone like him become All Might’s Successor? Then again, one of the things that amazed him about Dad’s work was that it could turn an ordinary person into someone extraordinary.

Izuku looked up at Dad, who seemed to be staring off into space as they hugged. Izuku could practically see the gears turning in his head. So he hadn’t given up the idea, even if he’d claimed he had.

However, a glance at Mom’s teary face forced any more thoughts of it out of his head. He didn’t want to hurt her.

It wasn’t until bedtime that he thought of it again, lying there wide awake, staring at the poster of All Might he’d taped to his ceiling. Dad sat on his bed next to him, putting a hand on his leg through the hand-sewn quilt.

“Izuku…” he began carefully. “What do you really think of becoming a subject? You know that life is...difficult at best. You’ve seen your friends go through it.”

“I know…” Izuku sighed. But seeing his friends go through the tests, the appointments, the grueling training, all the while believing that they were alone...it just made him want to join them even more and show them that they weren’t. He hated thinking about his friends living so many lonely hours.

Still, the old voice of doubt was still there. Watching them had taught him that it would be hard, especially in the beginning. He wasn’t sure if he could handle it, and Mom had only reinforced the idea. “She...doesn’t think I can do it, does she?”

“No, Izuku…that’s not it.” Dad managed a small smile, but something unreadable shone in his eyes, then, almost as though he was afraid, too. “She’s terrified because you can.”


Chapter Text

Shoto eased into a fighting stance. He’d lost count of how many matches they’d gone through at this point, Endeavor winning all of them. As expected, he never took Dr. Shuzenji’s advice about holding back any more than he already was.

They exchanged a few blows before Endeavor grabbed his arm and flipped Shoto onto the ground. Endeavor crashed down on him, back-first, knocking the wind out of him and pulling his right arm into an agonizing angle.

Normally, his first attempt to throw a heavy old man off of him would be fire, but obviously fire would have no effect. Instead, he tried ice, planning to make a pillar to lift Endeavor up.

“Haven’t you learned that won’t work, Shoto?” Endeavor boomed, heating up his skin until the ice evaporated right after it formed, leaving behind a hot steam. Shoto’s skin was beginning to protest the heat. He squirmed under Endeavor’s weight, but it was too much for him to wriggle free.

Endeavor pulled harder on the arm he had in his judo hold, relentless. Something popped in his elbow.

Shoto yelped. Tears sprang into his eyes, but he wouldn’t let them enter his voice. “I’m stuck, okay?! That would work on anyone but you!”

Finally, Endeavor let go, sitting up. Shoto gasped in some of the sparring room’s now-humid air, clutching his arm to his body instinctively before assessing the damage. It still hurt like crazy, but nothing permanent. The same went for his seared skin. He’d get a sunburn-like rash at the worst. He allowed some frost to form on his skin to soothe it.

“You never know what your enemies will have up their sleeve.” Endeavor’s voice was as harsh and detached as always. “Especially now that rebels are popping up with powers of their own. It’s only a matter of time before they figure out how to duplicate my powers—”

Shoto knew what was coming next.

“—and All Might’s. Society will be in danger when that happens. That is why you must surpass us both.”

Like that’s really what this is about. But Shoto could never say that out loud. Instead, he just silently stood up for the next round.

Endeavor looked him up and down, probably noticing for the first time what a mess Shoto was. His clothes were soaked in sweat where it hadn’t evaporated, his hair was greasy, and practically all of his exposed skin was red with irritation from Endeavor’s heat or scraping against the mats too fast.

Finally, he spoke. “It’s dinnertime, Shoto. I expect you at the table in thirty minutes.”

Shoto tried to hide his relief, looking away. “Fine.”

Thirty-five minutes and a cold shower later, Shoto sat down at the table in front of a plate of steaming food, prepared by someone in the Lab kitchen.

“You’re late,” Endeavor stated.

“Sorry,” Shoto said flatly.

Endeavor glared at him from across the small round table, but Shoto purposefully ignored him, taking a bite of the bland food. The tension was almost palpable.

“Shoto, I don’t understand why you think you have to be like this.” Endeavor’s voice was hard, full of barely restrained anger. “Don’t you think this little war of ours has gone on too long?”

Shoto didn’t answer, chewing his food more roughly. He knew if he replied, he would say something he would regret.

“I don’t have to tolerate this,” Endeavor continued, growing more irritated. “I could beat you into submission if I wanted to, and don’t think I wouldn’t if I thought it was the only option left. At this rate, you’re going to leave me no choice.”

They were old threats. Shoto ignored them, his grip tightening on his fork. Delicate snowflakes began to form down its handle. He didn’t think Endeavor could see it, but his hands had begun to tremble slightly with anger.

“This is for your own good, Shoto. You know Blizzard would agree with me.”

That did it. Shoto threw the fork down and stood up, his chair clattering to the floor behind him. Blizzard would have agreed out of fear, and Shoto refused to be controlled, too. He had to resist the urge to flip the table into Endeavor’s face, struggling to keep his voice level. “I’m going to bed.”

“No!” Endeavor stood, too, yelling now. “You’re not!”

Shoto didn’t know how long they stood there, but it felt like an eternity. His heart pounded in his ears, faster with every second, his stomach turning. There were cameras in their Lab apartment and Endeavor hadn’t acted up in several months at this point, but no one had ever intervened when things got violent before. On one hand, Shoto was tired of fighting with Endeavor, but on the other...he was suddenly feeling reckless.

Endeavor took a deep breath, and spoke quietly through clenched teeth. He stood with the fortitude of a building. “Sit. Down.”

Shoto didn’t move for a moment. When he spoke, he was quiet, too. “No.

A split second later, there was an explosion in his skull and he was lying on the hard tile of their kitchen floor. His face felt like it was swelling, going numb, his head fuzzy. All sounds were warbled, as though his ears were full of water. His vision was blurry, the lights shining down from the ceiling hurting his eyes.

Somehow, in his stupor, Shoto was resigned to it. Here I am again…

He wasn’t sure how long he’d lain there, but by the time he’d gathered enough strength to sit up, Endeavor had apparently gone to bed himself, if not to sleep then to avoid Shoto. Their dinner lay uneaten on the table, both chairs still lying on the floor. There were slight scorch marks on the floor where Endeavor had trodden.

Cursing to himself, Shoto raised his right hand to his freshly bruised face, using it as a cold compress as he stumbled to his bedroom. If subjects hadn’t also been modified to have higher physical durability, he was sure he would have been knocked unconscious. Still, he expected to have at least a black eye in the morning, if there wasn’t any other bruising.

Sure enough, the next day, half his face was a shade of dark purple— the unscarred half. Using his ice had decreased the swelling that would have been there, but his skin was still slightly puffy.

He waited until he heard Endeavor leave for the day before he came out of his room. Everything was exactly the same way it had been left the night before. Hopefully hero work would keep Endeavor out late tonight.

Jogging to avoid being late, Shoto met up with the rest of the subjects for training in one of the gyms. Ochaco was the first to greet him, but her smile instantly disappeared when she saw the bruising around his right eye, her hands going to cover her mouth.

“Oh my gosh, what happened?”

“Training,” Shoto said calmly. Momo shot him a concerned look.

Katsuki scoffed, somehow loudly enough to be heard from the treadmill across the room. “You look like a freakin’ prune, Half-and-Half. Fall on your face or something?”

“Sure.” Shoto replied dryly. Though Izuku had claimed Katsuki was actually an okay guy, Shoto had yet to see evidence of that. He was starting to think that perhaps Izuku was just too kind to admit Katsuki was simply a jerk.

“Shoto!” Tenya jumped over a bench-pressing machine and landed in front of him, practically shouting even though they were now right in front of each other. “You should apply a cold compress to that, for about fifteen to twenty minutes every hour!”

Shoto was slightly surprised by his caring when they’d only known each other about two weeks. “Um, yeah, I did that—”

“And have you asked Dr. Shuzenji to examine it?” Tenya waved his arms around wildly.

“N—”

“Be more careful during training! Injuries like that are easily avoidable if you take simple safety precautions, such as—!”

“Yeah, thanks!” Shoto interrupted, loudly. Apparently he needed a little volume to get Tenya’s attention. “I got it. It’s fine. My appointment’s later today.”

That seemed to placate them, and they were able to go back to their training. In truth, Shoto wasn’t sure when his appointment would be, or if he would have one at all. He knew the scientists had seen what happened, and that they would call him in if it looked bad enough that he needed an examination. It was pointless to seek them out himself.

Shoto began stretches in an unoccupied corner of the mat, trying to think despite the soreness in his body. For the thousandth time, he wondered what would have happened if he’d reported Endeavor to...someone. If the H.E.R.O. Project didn’t care, maybe he could call Child Protective Services, or the government’s police force. After all, what Endeavor did was a crime…

But he couldn’t. Shoto tried to keep his muscles from tensing up, but his fists clenched on their own, his shoulders tightening. If word got out that the second most powerful hero was what he was, the repercussions throughout society would be catastrophic. The carefully constructed image of heroes as peace keepers, of people like All Might as the Symbol of Peace, would be shattered. It would be selfish to say anything, especially when Shoto had egged Endeavor on in the first place. Probably he just needed to lay lower.

Though, he also wondered sometimes why the scientists didn’t simply remove him, as they did his mother.

The hero with the warmest heart, Blizzard. She’d been known for her soft touch, specializing in rescue and retreat, removing civilians from harm’s way while Endeavor focused on combat. She’d had compassion even for the evil, despite holding a power that could kill in the blink of an eye. She was determined to save everyone, even those who didn’t want to be saved.

Too bad no one could save her.

Blizzard had quit hero work ten years before, apparently due to the stresses of her job and a desire for a peaceful retirement. Shoto still remembered watching the retirement parades for her through a monitor in the infirmary. She’d stood on the heavily decorated float, hand-in-hand with Endeavor, both of them waving at cheering crowds. She’d been trembling the entire time, eyes wet, but the people had most likely assumed it was with happiness. Though she’d smiled through all the festivities, even then Shoto had known the truth— too many years of tears held back had frozen her from the inside out. The only time her true feelings had shown through were behind the locked bathroom door, where she would go to hide from Endeavor’s searing heat after she’d gotten too close, close enough that her facade began to melt. Shoto remembered that day; tears had soaked through the thick layers of bandages around his left eye.

“Shoto?”

He looked up to see Momo standing over him, a concerned look in her eyes. “Are you alright?”

Shoto blinked the tears that were forming in his eyes away, though he wasn’t sure if she could still see them or not. “Yeah. Just a little sore from training yesterday.”

Momo seemed reluctant. “Alright...Well, let me know if you need anything.”

Shoto nodded and continued stretching, hoping she would go away. If he wasn’t careful, Momo just might deduce the truth, a truth too painful to face. Sometimes, Shoto thought, it was better to live a lie.


Chapter Text

I can.

Izuku wasn’t so sure.

He stared into the computer screen, fascinated once again with footage of All Might. On the H.E.R.O. Project website, they had archived video files of All Might’s greatest feats. On his laptop, Izuku had also downloaded— with Dr. Nezu’s permission, of course— all the video files of All Might ever taken. Though there were over ten thousand of them, he knew every detail of each one.

This one was from the War, back when camera quality wasn’t as great as it was now, and human reporters actually took the footage. All Might charged at an entire army— squadrons of armed soldiers, primitive weaponized drones, even armored tanks— alone, with a smile on his face. Flags Izuku recognized only from history books waved majestically over the military forces, but they were all blown away with a single punch from All Might.

Izuku couldn’t even imagine himself standing there, much less standing there in All Might’s place. He’d never really tried to imagine it in the past, but now that becoming a hero had become a distant possibility, he was trying to truly examine whether he could do it or not.

Finally, he scoffed at himself. It really was a stupid dream, wasn’t it?

“Izuku, dear?” Mom poked her head into his room. “Could you help me make dinner?”

“Yeah, of course.” Izuku paused the video, All Might’s infallible smile filling up his screen before he closed his laptop, following Mom to their kitchen.

As he cut vegetables, Mom sprinkled seasoning on some sizzling shaved beef.

They were quiet for a bit before she spoke, her voice tired. “Izuku…”

“Yes, Mom?”

She hesitated a moment, but Izuku pretended not to notice, simply continuing to slice the cucumber. He had a feeling he knew where this was going, but he didn’t really want to talk about it.

“I’m...sorry.”

Now Izuku stopped chopping, but he didn’t look. There was a strange tingling sensation in his gut, part excitement, part fear. “For what?”

“I didn’t realize…” She took a deep breath. “I didn’t realize how much All Might’s condition must be getting to you.”

For some reason, Izuku felt a vague cloud of disappointment settle in his stomach. He resumed cutting the vegetables, now coring a red bell pepper. “Oh.”

“As your mother, I should have noticed, but I wasn’t thinking about how you were feeling, and I just panicked at the thought of you doing anything dangerous…” She managed a small laugh, but Izuku could hear the tears behind it. “Can you forgive me?”

There was a knot in his chest and a small lump forming in his throat, but he replied anyway. “Of course. It’s okay, Mom.”

She hugged him from behind, burying her face in his shoulder. He hoped she couldn’t hear the way his breath was shaking.

“I was just so scared, you know?” She turned him to face her, smoothing his hair lovingly, as though he was a little kid again. It suddenly struck him how much taller he was than her, now. Something about it felt strange. “You always talked about being a hero when you were younger, and I thought...I thought you’d given up on that by now. Hearing you suggest it just brought everything back, and…” she sighed. “But that doesn’t matter, now, does it?”

Guilt was crawling up his throat, choking him. It squeezed his heart in a merciless fist when he smiled at Mom. He knew she was thinking of her war-ridden childhood, the nuclear weapons and their fallout, her loved ones dying, the danger All Might faced every day of that war. He’d seen it himself, after all, back on his computer screen. “No. I’m happy here.”

“I’m glad!” Mom smiled back. She didn’t move until the meat in the frying pan began to sizzle louder, signalling that it was about to burn. “Oh, no!” She scurried back over to the stove and flipped the meat as Izuku turned back to the vegetables.

Why couldn’t he be happy here? He just had to have stupid, impossible dreams…but now that they were in reach...how could he be happy if he didn’t try?

His grip tightened around the knife in his hand.

Why couldn’t he just let it go?

After a pleasant dinner with his parents, Izuku returned to his room, closing the door behind him. Sitting at his desk, he slowly scanned the room. It was a rather plain bedroom, a neatly made twin-sized bed in one corner, a dresser in another. His desk was under the window, covered with neatly piled notebooks and schoolwork.

Over the years, however, he’d amassed a vast collection of All Might merchandise. The walls were covered in posters of All Might, figurines of the hero decorating every shelf. He could explain the model of each action figure and year it was made. All Might’s autograph was framed on his wall, even though he’d seen the man many times before. He’d always thought nothing could ruin the magic.

He pulled out his latest notebook of fake mission reports, and another journal filled with notes on all the heroes he’d seen in action as well as all the subjects he knew.

It filled him with a burning sadness, as though he was drinking molten lead, but he managed to scoff at himself. This was kid stuff. It really was. It was time Izuku figured out something useful to do with his life, instead of aspiring to something he could never be. Even as acidic tears filled his eyes, Izuku scolded himself.

Stop acting like a child.

Robotically, Izuku slid the garbage can out from under his desk and opened one of the notebooks over its mouth, grasping its two covers in one shaking hand and the pages in the other. Steeling himself, he prepared to tear out his hours and hours of painstaking observation, meticulous notes, earnest efforts…

Slowly, he let go of the pages, tears tracing down his cheeks, the lead hardening in his stomach, a heavy, irremovable weight. Even though he knew the truth...he couldn’t just throw away all the beautiful, beautiful lies.

Izuku jumped at the sound of his phone buzzing. In a daze, he wiped his face with his sleeve and reached for his phone, reading the message.

Meet me in the lounge?

It was from All Might.

Without hesitation, Izuku left the room, put his shoes on, and left their apartment. It wasn’t until he was outside the door to the lounge two floors down that he realized what he’d done. There he was, daydreaming again.

It won’t hurt to dream a little longer, Izuku decided, taking a deep breath and opening the door, suddenly nervous. He didn’t know what All Might wanted to talk about.

All Might looked up from a magazine he was reading, putting it on the coffee table across from the leather couch he was sitting on. It was the monthly issue of Unified Nations Today, which contained economic and political updates each month. Izuku sometimes read the articles, but they were usually pretty difficult to understand, even for a good student like him.

“Izuku!” All Might sounded cheerful, raising a hand in greeting. “Good to see you! Come and sit; I wanted to talk to you about something.”

“O-okay…” Izuku sat on the edge of the white leather chair across from All Might. They hadn’t seen each other since All Might had told him the news of his declining health, but he still appeared his usual strong, unshakable self.

“So…” All Might folded his hands in front of him. “Hisashi told me about what you suggested about my Successor.”

Immediately, all the heat in Izuku’s body rose to his face, his heart pounding and his hands going clammy with embarrassment. “N-no! I-it’s not like that—! It’s just—! W-well, I realized how stupid it was to think I could—”

“It’s not stupid, Izuku.”

He froze, his heart skipping a beat. “Wh—…? What?”

All Might sighed, a kindly, closed-lipped smile spreading across his face. “You’ve wanted to be a hero for as long as I’ve known you, and that was back when you could barely even walk. You deserve a chance, don’t you think?”

“But...All Might…” A tear fell into Izuku’s lap as he looked to the floor. His chest felt hollow, aching with the knowledge that he wasn’t good enough. “Just wanting to be a hero isn’t enough...I don’t think I have the...the qualities that I need to be a hero.”

All Might laughed. It wasn’t the booming laugh they always caught on the news, but a softer, gruffer laugh. “You’ve got a heart of gold, Izuku. You really do. And in my book, that’s all you need to be a hero.”

He couldn’t hold it in anymore. Something tightened in his chest and his fists clenched, trembling where they rested on his knees. He bowed his head and squeezed his eyes shut, but the tears found their way out anyway. All the doubts he’d had seemed inconsequential, now, reduced to obstacles he merely had to overcome. All the impossibilities he’d imagined for all his life were suddenly in reach. His heart hurt, as though it was trying to fly out of his chest, but it was a welcome pain.

“Izuku,” All Might reached over and placed his hands on Izuku’s shaking shoulders. “I want you to be my Successor. Will you consider it?”

Izuku could only nod.

Chapter Text

Shoto stirred his strawberry smoothie with a straw, watching the thick drink swirl in the plastic cup. Katsuki and Ochaco were sitting around him, finally chatting about “normal” things, now that they were in public.

Ochaco had been the one to suggest the outing, explaining that she and Izuku came to this smoothie shop a lot. Shoto wondered if Izuku had taken the others out frequently. Of course, Izuku often offered Shoto trips into public areas, but he’d almost always turned them down, preferring not to waste his time sitting around.

Besides, as he’d foreseen, he had no idea how to act in this kind of setting.

Katsuki scoffed, cupping a hand around his smoothie. “Of course freakin’ Deku likes this cheap shop.”

Ochaco frowned. “It beats Lab food. Besides, it’s really good quality for the price.”

“Whatever.” Katsuki looked away.

She turned to Shoto, smiling again. “Well, what do you think, Shoto?”

He shrugged. It had been a while since his last smoothie, so he didn’t exactly have a point of reference. “It’s nice.”

The three of them sat in silence for a minute, sipping their drinks. Tenya and Momo had gone off together to work on something in the Lab library, and it turned out their conversation was dry without those two. A security drone roved near them and gave them a scan, probably because they’d suddenly gone silent, and its body language reader had probably gotten strange reads off them even before they stopped talking. Shoto knew he also appeared strangely on thermal scans, but his Lab I.D. card should have exempted him from any suspicion. Sure enough, the drone left them after collecting some data.

“Well,” Ochaco began, trying again. Now that she’d gotten used to the others a little, she wasn’t as timid as she was when they’d first met. It seemed to Shoto that she was actually very friendly. “What do you guys like to do in your free time? I collect stuffed animals.”

Stuffed animals?” Katsuki spat, a derisive grin on his face. “That’s ridiculous.”

Ochaco sounded hurt, pouting slightly at his reaction. “I think they’re cute…”

Katsuki ignored her, turning to Shoto. “So, Half-and-half, when are you gonna tell us what the hell happened to your face?”

Shoto frowned. The black eye had faded to nothing more than a bit of discoloration at this point. Had Katsuki caught on somehow? “I already did. It was a training incident.”

“Not that, you idiot.” Katsuki pointed to his left side. Oh. “That big ol’ scar. What kind of wonky experiment were they trying to do there? ‘Cause they screwed up bad.”

Shoto was glad Katsuki had already provided him with an excuse by assuming that the Lab scientists had done it to him. He shrugged. “I don’t know.”

“You don’t ask?”

“I was young. They probably explained it, but I didn’t understand.” It wasn’t a total lie.

“Not too proactive, are you?” Katsuki looked at him sideways. “‘Cause if they messed me up like that, even if it was a long time ago, I’d at least do a little digging to try and figure it out.”

Shoto shrugged again. “It doesn’t matter to me.”

The other boy rolled his eyes. “Fine.”

“Anyway,” Ochaco continued, too brightly, as though she was trying to change the subject. She touched her fingertips together. “Let’s talk about something else! Do you guys have a favorite hero?”

“All Might,” Katsuki answered immediately, smiling almost as widely as the man himself. “There’s no one better than him.”

“I agree.” Shoto added, feeling a vague sense of satisfaction knowing how angry it would have made Endeavor to hear it. Of course, it wasn’t false, either. Shoto had always wondered about meeting All Might, but he was sure Endeavor wouldn’t allow it, even if it were possible for subjects to meet him.

“Though…” Katsuki stared into his drink pensively, his voice unusually quiet. His grin had vanished.

“What’s wrong?” Ochaco asked, her brow furrowing.

Suddenly, Katsuki was back to his old self, the snarl returning to his face. “What made you think something was wrong, huh, Round Face?”

She sat back in her chair, puffing out her cheeks in annoyance. “My name is Ochaco. It’s not that hard.”

“Whatever.” Katsuki threw his head back and downed the rest of his smoothie, ignoring the straw. “Anyway, I gotta get back to the Lab soon.”

“Why?” Ochaco asked, raising an eyebrow. Their schedules had been synchronized so that they all had the same day off.

“None of your business, Round Face.” Katsuki stood, throwing out his plastic smoothie cup and shoving his hands in his pockets. A security drone scanned him as he walked away, another scanning Shoto and Ochaco in their seats.

She smirked at Katsuki’s back, even though he’d ignored her complaint about the rude nickname. “I’ll bet his parents are coming to see him today.”

“His parents?” Shoto had assumed they all lived with their parents in Lab apartments. “They don’t live with him?”

Ochaco tilted her head at him curiously, as though it was a strange question. “No...why, do you live with your parents?”

“My dad,” Shoto replied, slightly perplexed.

“Wow, that must be nice,” Ochaco sighed. She took a sip from her smoothie. “I wish my parents, or even one of them, could come and live with me! It gets pretty lonely in my apartment all alone…” She laughed, even though nothing about that was funny. “But I understand, of course. They have work, after all!”

“Oh.” Shoto wasn’t sure how to feel. “What do they do?”

“They provide construction materials for the government,” Ochaco replied. “It’s a busy job, but they come to see me at least twice a month.”

“That’s nice of them.” Shoto wondered why they had given her up if they wanted to see her so badly. He knew that modified subjects were chosen at a very young age, usually requested by the H.E.R.O. Project for their high IQs, as was doubtless the case for subjects like Momo. By her own admission, however, Ochaco didn’t have the brightest mind. The other way subjects were chosen was if they volunteered, presumably because of the promise of annual monetary supplements. Shoto wondered if that was the case for Ochaco, but figured it would be rude of him to ask.

“I guess so,” Ochaco stirred her smoothie absent-mindedly.

With another lull in their conversation, the security drone came and scanned them again. As it ran its tests with a low whir, Shoto glanced at his watch, which read 3:15.

“Should we go back?”

Ochaco leaned over to read his watch, apparently lacking one of her own. “Probably.” she sighed, stretching as she stood up and threw out her empty cup. “There’s just not much to do back there.”

Shoto raised an eyebrow, tossing his cup in the garbage too, even though it was still half-full. “What about training?”

“I mean, I guess…But don’t you get tired of it sometimes?”

Shoto didn’t answer for a moment. He had no idea how he would spend his time if not training. “Not really.”

Ochaco sighed. “You guys really are ideal subjects, huh? They picked you all out for your IQs, right? I’m the only one who did it for the money.”

He averted his eyes, aiming to dodge her question. “There’s nothing wrong with that.”

She sighed. “I guess not.”

Sure enough, when they returned, there was a couple at the front desk. From their appearances, it was obvious they were Katsuki’s parents. Tucked under his father’s arm was a box wrapped in gift wrap, which he placed in the scanning machine when directed to. Katsuki’s mother also put her purse in the machine. Droids flew in from openings in the ceiling and scanned their persons for anything unwanted in the Lab.

“Called it,” Ochaco whispered as they passed.

A few minutes later, Shoto and Ochaco separated, supposedly going off to their apartments, but Shoto was avoiding going home at all costs at the moment, so he instead went to the Lab library. He was curious what Tenya and Momo had been up to.

The doors opened automatically for him when they sensed his I.D. card, and Shoto stepped inside. The air always smelled cool and clean, almost sterile, in the library; then again, most rooms in the Lab smelled that way. Floor-to-ceiling shelves of physical files filled the front of the room. Towards the back, Shoto knew there was an array of computers, in addition to a single supercomputer that stored all the information they were allowed to access, even though he couldn’t see them over the shelves. His footsteps echoed slightly as he walked deeper in, searching for the pair.

He discovered them sitting together, looking at a single computer. Momo sat in front of it, and Tenya sat next to her, one hand on the back of her chair and the other resting next to the keyboard. Both had their eyes focused intensely on the screen in front of them and didn’t notice his approach.

“Hi.”

They both jumped a little, turning to see him.

“Oh, Shoto! Come to join us?” Tenya inquired, gesturing to the chair on Momo’s other side. “Have a seat!”

Shoto sat next to her, looking at the screen, which was covered in tiny text. “What are you guys doing?”

“I asked Momo to help me with a research project I’ve been working on!” Tenya explained. He moved his hands a lot when he talked, but it seemed he always had them straightened out for some reason.

“It’s on cellular degeneration following the rejection of machinery introduced into the body.” Momo scrolled down a bit on the article she was reading. With that topic, it was probably a secret file belonging to the H.E.R.O. Project.

“Why are you researching that?” Shoto asked. He was slightly concerned it had something to do with the machinery that had been introduced into Tenya’s legs, but Tenya assured him that wasn’t the case. Apparently, it was for another subject he knew, though he didn’t specify who.

After a few more hours of researching, Tenya and Momo left to do some schoolwork in Tenya’s apartment. From what Shoto could tell, they were both a lot smarter than he was, so they were probably on a similar curriculum. Of course, he was ahead of a civilian student his age, but he doubted he was even in the same “grade” as Tenya and Momo, so he simply went to a training room after they left, exercising a bit before dinner.

He still hoped Endeavor would be out late tonight. If he wasn’t, Shoto planned to take his dinner to the bathroom and lock the door. He remembered Ochaco’s words earlier that day about living with a relative— that must be nice. Put simply, it wasn’t.

Shoto sighed. Maybe it should have been. But Shoto knew, should could be an elusive word.

Chapter Text

A week later, the board passed All Might’s recommendation. Izuku still wasn’t sure if it was real or not. It was beyond what he’d ever dared to dream; just thinking about it made his heart soar, his body full of nearly uncontrollable joy. He wanted to jump, shout, run, and yet…

There was still one detail he couldn’t forget.

Mom was in tears when Dad told her the news. Izuku sat on the floor of his room, in front of his closed door. If he went any deeper into his room, he wouldn’t have been able to make out what they were saying anymore, but somehow...as much as he wanted to, he couldn’t bring himself to move.

“How could All Might do that? We trusted him!” He could hear Mom sobbing, muffled by the door.

Dad said comforting words, but didn’t seem to be truly upset by the idea that Izuku would become a subject. “It’s not the end of the world, Inko. In fact, this is an honor! You should be thrilled!”

“What mother could be thrilled by something like this?” she cried. “I want him to fulfill his dreams, of course, but…” Mom sniffled. “Why does it have to be something so dangerous?”

Now Izuku tore himself away from the door, having heard the information he needed. So it wasn’t that fulfilling his dreams was wrong. It was the nature of his dream that tormented Mom.

As happy as it made him...why couldn’t something else make him as happy? Why couldn’t he change for her?

Izuku lay on his bed, looking up at the All Might poster on his ceiling. The colors were bold primaries, standing out against the plain white paint. He had a big smile on his face, as he always did in public, and he was giving a thumbs-up. The words “You Can Do It!” were written in chunky bubble letters across the bottom.

All Might had really said those words to him. He’d gone back to Leogan City, where he did most of his hero work, but he’d left Izuku a handwritten note leaving his congratulations, advice, workout routine, and encouragement.

Izuku shuffled to his desk, ran his finger along All Might’s signature at the bottom of his note. What had he gotten himself into?

“Izuku!” Dad’s voice rang out from the kitchen. “I’m taking your mom out for dinner, alright?”

“Alright! Have fun!” Izuku shouted back, trying to sound as though nothing was wrong. He heard the door close, and then the apartment was silent. With his parents gone, though, it was safe to cross their apartment and leave. He texted Ochaco and Tenya to see if they wanted to join him at the Lab’s indoor track. He’d memorized all of their schedules at this point, so he knew they were free and that none of the others would be there.

Ten minutes later, the three of them were standing at the start of the track, stretching and warming up before they ran a few laps. They were mostly quiet, but his friends seemed content with the silence. Izuku wanted to tell them the news and see what they thought, but...he needed their honest opinions, first.

“Hey…”

They both stopped moving at the serious tone of his voice, giving him their attention.

“I wanted to ask…” He stared at his shoelaces, re-tying them slowly as he spoke. “Do you think it’s possible to be wrong for having a certain dream?”

In his peripheral vision, Izuku could see them exchange a glance. Ochaco spoke first.

“What do you mean?”

“Well...I guess I’m just wondering if it’s okay to want something that others don’t want for you.”

Tenya’s voice was as stern as always, but Izuku could hear the tenderness behind it. “It depends what this desire is, of course, but from a general standpoint, I wouldn’t say it’s wrong. There’s nothing wrong with wanting something.”

Izuku nodded, slightly dazed. He fiddled with his shoelace some more. “Right...but what if it hurts others when you reach it?”

His friends were silent for a moment.

“Izuku…” Tenya pushed his glasses further up the bridge of his nose. “We’re going to need more details to judge what you’re talking about.”

He managed a smile, tightening his shoelace and standing. “Yeah, sorry...I just...well, you know how I’ve always kind of wanted to be a hero…”

Ochaco tilted her head. “You said years ago that you didn’t want that anymore.”

Izuku laughed nervously. “Yeah, but...I was just saying that. I wanted to stop wanting it, so I told you that. Sorry…”

Ochaco’s look of pity made Izuku want to take his words back, but Tenya pushed him to continue.

“Don’t worry about it.” Tenya said curtly, putting his hands on his hips. “But what are you getting at here?”

“Ah...well…” Izuku rubbed the back of his neck, unsure how to word it. “I’m saying that the Board just approved me to become the Successor for a study they’ve been working on for a long time…”

Ochaco clapped her hands, a huge smile breaking out across her face. “Izuku, that’s great! You’ll be one of us!”

“He was already one of us,” Tenya argued, waving a hand at her reproachfully.

“Thanks, guys,” Izuku laughed. “But the problem is, my mom’s not too happy about it…”

Tenya sighed, looking at the ground in thought. “Of course she’s not. But the reality is, being a second subject is much safer than being the first for any given ability. Additionally, we’re unlikely to be handling anything hugely problematic in the beginning. Maybe try telling her that?”

“Besides, Izuku, no one has a bigger heart than you,” Ochaco added, making Izuku blush once again. Luckily, she didn’t seem to notice. “You’ll be the best hero ever!”

His heart swelled at the compliment, his vision blurring with tears. If someone as kind-hearted as Ochaco really thought that...

Tenya looked pensively off to the side, as though trying to decide whether he should speak or not. “What ability are they testing, if I may ask?”

“Um...All Might’s, actually…”

They both gasped. “All Might’s?!” Ochaco exclaimed.

“Why?” Tenya demanded.

“They need someone to take over when All Might retires,” Izuku felt bad about omitting a portion of the story, but he wasn’t sure if it was classified information or not, and if it was, if Tenya and Ochaco qualified to be in the loop. For all he knew, they could have been informed before he’d been and were pretending not to know because they thought he wasn’t in the loop. But just in case, he’d learned to be careful about giving out information. “A young subject would take too long to grow up, apparently.”

“Interesting…” Tenya mused, seeming concerned. Izuku didn’t have time to ponder why before he continued talking, breaking out into a smile. “Well, congratulations, Izuku! I’m glad you’ll be joining us.”

Izuku smiled back. “Me, too.”

“Did you tell the others, yet?” Ochaco asked, as the two of them started jogging around the track. Tenya kept pace with them, even though he could obviously run a lot faster.

“No, I wanted to tell you guys, first,” Izuku admitted.

“Aw! That’s sweet!” Ochaco gave his arm a playful slap, smiling to herself. “But I’m sure they’ll be super excited, too!”

“Yeah…” Izuku laughed nervously. He wasn’t so sure.

Tenya seemed to agree. “Well, Katsuki doesn’t seem to be very pleasant; he speaks poorly of you when you’re not around. Of course, you’ve known him a lot longer than I have, so if that’s simply the nature of your relationship, then I suppose it’s just that I don’t understand.”

“No…” Izuku watched his red sneakers hit the floor rhythmically, in step with Ochaco’s pink ones and Tenya’s white ones. “He’s...well, I don’t really know what went wrong, to be honest, but I guess we just grew apart over the years. I still think he’s really cool, of course, but…I don’t know how he’s going to take this.”

“Well, I’d be surprised if Katsuki had a lot of other friends,” Ochaco said innocently, seemingly oblivious to the rudeness of her words.

“Ochaco!” Tenya scolded. “Mind your manners!”

“Huh? I just meant that if he can’t be friends with Izuku, who could he be friends with?”

Did she really not realize how much she made him blush? Izuku hoped not.

“Plus, Izuku’s basically the only person my age I’d ever talked to before I met all of you,” Ochaco continued. “I mean, the doctors took me to the park and stuff, and they let my parents take me out once in a while, but if Katsuki doesn’t want to be friends, then who does he even hang out with?”

Izuku shrugged. It was possible there were other subjects that Katsuki talked to that Izuku didn’t know about. Maybe he’d made friends with them.

“Well, we should make every effort to befriend him if we’re to be on a team together,” Tenya reasoned. He waved a hand back and forth, lamenting. “Our teamwork is suffering even now because of our attitudes towards each other, and we haven’t even started, yet!”

“Don’t worry, Tenya!” Ochaco said. “We’ll be fine!”

They continued to bicker for a bit before falling into a comfortable silence, the three of them jogging around the track, together.

Chapter Text

Malus City.

Shoto was in the library, using his usual school hours to research the location of their eventual debut. Now that they’d been doing more training together, they’d been given more information about what they’d be doing as a team. Apparently, Tenya would be the leader, while Momo would be second-in-command. They would all be living together in a large apartment under Dr. Aizawa’s supervision, in another H.E.R.O. Lab located in Malus City. It sounded fine to Shoto.

He studied photos and maps of the city, trying to get a feel for what the metropolis would be like. He’d already researched its basic history— before WWIII and the formation of the Unified Nations, it had been one of the most popular tourist destinations of the United States of America, taking up an entire island off the country’s east coast. It had been completely destroyed in the war— one of the first targets hit.

Now, it was once again a bustling city, an economic and intellectual center of the north-western hemisphere, if not the world. Crime rates were low, as they were almost everywhere nowadays, but apparently Malus City was under suspicion for being a hub for rebels. Shoto wondered if they would be expected to deal with the movement that referred to itself as “The Revolution,” aiming to spread the seeds of chaos throughout society. It seemed like an important task, probably best left to more experienced heroes.

But, if the H.E.R.O. Project asked the group of teenagers to do it, Shoto didn’t doubt that they’d at least give it a shot.

Shoto looked away from the screen, back at the packet Dr. Midoriya had given them containing information about the team, including the codenames that had been chosen for them. Personally, he would have preferred to simply use his name, but instead they’d chosen for him “Janus.” Shoto didn’t know what it meant at first, but after some research he’d discovered that Janus was an ancient Roman god, apparently the god of transitions— beginnings and endings. It still didn’t make sense until he realized that the god had two faces, looking in opposite directions, also a deity of duality. He’d considered protesting to someone about it, as he’d found it vaguely insulting, but he’d decided against it because he couldn’t quite put his finger on why it bothered him.

The others had more straightforward names— Creati, Zero, Grenade, and Ingenium— with Tenya taking the name of a retired hero who had a similar power to him. Probably, there were secrets behind his retirement, too; if Shoto recalled correctly, the former Ingenium had been quite young at the time of his retirement last year. However, it wasn’t Shoto’s place to ask if Tenya knew any more about it.

At the meeting, Dr. Midoriya had had other news for them: Izuku would be joining them after a few months of undergoing experimentation to become All Might’s Successor, under the codename “Scion.”

To be honest, Shoto was pleased at the news, though he wasn’t a big fan of Successor Studies. Izuku was the only other kid he’d talked to in his youth, having been mostly locked up in the Lab with Endeavor, his siblings having fled long ago. Izuku was the only one Shoto would really call a friend. Hopefully, the experiments would go smoothly and Izuku wouldn’t have to go through much pain to get his powers.

“Shoto?”

He looked up at the voice. “Momo.”

“Or, I suppose I should call you ‘Janus,’ now.” She sat primly at the computer next to him, placing a pile of heavy schoolbooks next to the keyboard.

“I prefer ‘Shoto.’”

She smiled. “Alright, then. What are you doing?”

“I don’t know much about Malus City,” Shoto admitted, his eyes flicking automatically towards the screen. “I wanted to do some research.”

Momo nodded. “A wise decision.”

He turned back to the maps in front of him as she booted up her computer. “What are you doing here?”

“I had some spare time, so I was looking to learn some more chemical formulas.” She typed some compound names Shoto didn’t recognize into a search bar, and several files popped up. “Learning the date of our debut makes me want to train even harder, you know?”

Shoto hadn’t had a similar urge, but he nodded anyway.

“I’m quite nervous, to be completely honest,” Momo went on. She looked at the computer screen, but Shoto had the impression she wasn’t really reading any of the text.

“Why?” In his opinion, she was more than ready. In truth, he’d been surprised at first that they’d chosen Tenya as the leader rather than Momo. From what he’d seen so far, she was intelligent, resourceful, and calm under pressure. She had no reason to be nervous.

“Well, we’ve been training for almost our entire lives. I suppose...” She folded her hands, twiddling her thumbs in her lap. She didn’t make eye contact, but she managed a small smile. “I suppose it feels like the moment of truth is finally upon us.”

“I see,” he lied.

It was strange, how intelligent Momo was and yet how naive she could be about the nature of heroism. Truth had nothing to do with it.

“And…” she hesitated a moment. He glanced her up and down. Her posture was perfect, as always, but her hands were clasped tightly, her thumbs pressed together. She bit her lower lip, as though trying to decide whether to speak or not. “It’s more than that, for me.” She looked him in the eye, now. “I want to know that my mother would be proud.”

Shoto didn’t know what to say, but he couldn’t speak anyway, a strange discomfort settling in his chest.

Momo laughed awkwardly and looked away, seeming to take his silence as a rejection of her conversation. “But, I don’t know why I’m telling you this...I’m sorry, you must think it’s silly. I’m sure someone as strong as you would have no such concerns.”

He scanned the screen with his eyes, but like Momo, wasn’t really reading anything on it. He supposed she was right; he had no one he wanted to impress. If Endeavor was disappointed in his Successor, Shoto would almost be happy. And Blizzard...he doubted she would even want to look at him anyway, wherever she was right now.

“What they think isn’t a big deal, is it?” he asked, hoping he was right. Perhaps it would take more pressure off of her to believe she didn’t have to please anyone.

“Ah…” Momo blinked, looking carefully away from him. “I-I don’t suppose so…”

It seemed she was uncomfortable with him, now, fidgeting slightly in her seat, so he politely said goodbye to her and left. He must have said something wrong.

That night, Shoto tried to take his dinner and lock himself in the bathroom, as he’d done ever since the night Endeavor had punched him. Endeavor wasn’t home, yet, but Shoto wanted to be in the bathroom before he arrived.

Just as he was about to close the door, the front door slammed open, smashing against the wall behind it like a gunshot. Shoto’s heart jumped into his throat and his body jolted. He dropped his plate onto the tile. It shattered.

“E-Endeavor?” he called out, unable to keep the stutter out of his voice.

A roar and a rumbling crash shook their apartment. Shoto backed away, fear rising inside him and filling his throat, choking him. The cracking of splintering wood and smashing glass attacked his eardrums, and Endeavor was screaming wordlessly. Shoto could hear his heartbeat pounding in his ears with ferocity, the fear rising higher and building pressure behind his eyes. All he wanted to do was hide. Suddenly, he heard Endeavor’s voice in his head.

Failure.

In a trance, Shoto bolted towards the front door, shoving all his emotions to the back of his mind. The kitchen and living room were connected, but both were in shambles when he arrived, the front door wide open. Pieces of furniture littered the ground among shards of broken dishes. The cabinets had been ripped off the walls, the kitchen table cracked in two, the appliances burning. The living room carpet was on fire. Smoke alarms began to blare.

“Endeavor!” Shoto screamed, trying to be heard over the noise. He’d half-expected Endeavor to be struggling with someone when he arrived, but instead Endeavor was alone, destroying his own home. “ENDEAVOR!” Shoto ran forward, grabbing his flaming arm before he could smash it into the couch and make the fire worse, but Endeavor threw him back with a feral snarl.

“GET OFF ME, SHOTO!”

Shoto stumbled back, falling onto the flaming carpet. Luckily, he hadn’t landed on any of the broken furniture or shattered glass, but the fire still licked at his skin hungrily. Endeavor smashed the couch, setting it ablaze. The air seemed to hum with the greedy orange glow of fire, embers floating through the air. An aura of impenetrable heat surrounded Endeavor. Shoto’s tears were evaporating before they had a chance to form, the fear from before returning, swallowing him, drowning him. If this didn’t stop soon, he would lose control…

Failure.

STOP!” Ice exploded from the ground, piercing the ceiling. It grew, covering the apartment in a thick layer. The smoke alarms stopped, leaving them in sudden silence. It was cold enough to see their breath.

It was only a few seconds before Endeavor melted through the ice, but it seemed he was done fighting. He simply sat on a block of ice, panting and letting the flames on his body sputter out.

Shoto stood up, his hands shaking, tears frozen in his eyes. He melted them away with his left, still trembling. He kept away from Endeavor. “Why...were you destroying the house?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Endeavor said, his voice uncharacteristically quiet. His eyes were trained on the ground, now covered in reflective ice. Without the fire lighting up his face, his reflection was blurry, barely distinguishable. “None of it matters, anymore…”

A chill tingled down Shoto’s spine, as though a cold finger was tracing down his back. “What are you talking about?”

“Nothing.” Endeavor stood up, composing himself. He started walking towards his room. The authoritarian tone of his voice didn’t match the defeated hang of his head. “Leave me be, understand?”

He didn’t wait for an answer before slowly closing his bedroom door behind him.

Shoto looked around, the adrenaline rush slowly leaving his body. He was half-expecting to be surrounded by destruction, but instead was faced with a cold but pristine world of crystalline ice. Something about it was comforting, but he also felt a sense of foreboding. Such a world could easily melt, vanish without a trace.

He probably should have called someone, or started to clean up the mess, but instead, he shuffled to his own bedroom, closing the door as silently as he could. Slowly, he sank down to the floor, sitting in the darkness with his back against the door.

It was true that he’d always felt to a degree like he was walking on eggshells living with Endeavor, but what had set him off so suddenly? And to think that Shoto wasn’t the target of his violence was perplexing. Usually, when Endeavor was frustrated, he resorted to driving Shoto harder during training, or yelling for no valid reason. But he’d never been so uncontrolled before.

Shoto could feel it, a horrible hollow sensation in his bones— something was wrong. But the scarier thing was, he had absolutely no idea what.

Chapter Text

“Izuku?”

He looked up from his math work and met eyes with Mom, who was standing in his doorway, one hand on the doorknob, the other held hesitantly near her chest. Quickly, Izuku looked away, not sure if he was in trouble or not. “Uh, yeah?”

She came in and closed the door behind her. “I just...wanted to talk to you about this. I know everything starts up tomorrow with the experiments...and I...I…” Tears began to form in her eyes.

“Mom…” Izuku stood, wanting to help, but also feeling guilty for being the one who caused her pain. Gently, he took her hand and led her to his bed, sitting next to her on it. “I know it’s not what you wanted, and I’m really sorry everyone went about it without your permission, but...I’m going to be okay.”

She pulled him into a hug, speaking into his shoulder. “I wanted to apologize again…” she hiccuped. “I don’t want to get in the way of your dreams; I really don’t. I want to support you in whatever you want to run towards…”

“Thanks, Mom.” He hugged her tighter, a warm feeling tingling in his chest, expanding in his throat. A tear ran down his cheek. He hadn’t realized he was crying.

Mom continued, grasping onto him as though he could slip through her fingers. “I’m just afraid that...that you don’t truly understand what could happen to you. I watched All Might’s first missions back in the War firsthand, and...the violence was...unspeakable.” She shuddered. “You know all four of your grandparents were killed back then, among billions of others...The cameras only focused on those who could be saved, not those who couldn’t. If you promise me that you know...you know how much suffering and pain you might have to endure...then I’ll be able to get behind you and cheer you on.”

Izuku hesitated. Of course, he believed he understood. With the discovery of All Might’s sickness, he’d learned a hard lesson— one day, even the greatest heroes will have to step down, and even the greatest heroes sometimes have to lie. But, Izuku had realized, that was what heroes did— whatever it took to save people, whatever it took to keep peace in the Unified Nations. And he was ready to be a part of that. He wasn’t the naive child he once was.

“I promise.”

“Count to ten, Dear.” Dr. Shuzenji’s voice brought him back to the present. She fitted a mask over Izuku’s face. His heart pounded faster, but now wasn’t the time to be afraid.

“One, two, three…”

When he opened his eyes, he was in a soft infirmary bed. Dad was sitting next to him, dozing a bit with a magazine in his lap. Izuku closed his eyes, focusing on the sensations in his body. He’d expected something to feel different, but nothing did except for a fuzziness in his head and a weak feeling in his muscles.

Gradually, his head cleared enough for him to think about the procedure he’d undergone. He’d been told he wouldn’t feel any different, and would have to train his body before he felt a difference in strength. His power wouldn’t kick in unless his body could handle it, first. They’d told him he was in for the toughest few months of his life.

“Yo, Deku.”

Izuku opened his eyes. “Katsuki? Hi…”

The other boy had his hands in his pockets, standing at the foot of Izuku’s bed. Izuku glanced at where Dad had been sitting, but he was gone, now. Izuku must have fallen asleep for a bit.

“Another Successor Study, huh?” Katsuki’s voice was gruff, unreadable.

“Um, yeah…” Izuku wasn’t sure what Katsuki was here for.

“We’re leaving tomorrow for Malus City,” Katsuki explained, as though reading his uncertainty. “Your dad said you were gonna join us in a few months.” He barked out a cocky laugh. “I still can’t believe it’s true. I thought I was finally getting rid of you!”

Izuku frowned, but didn’t answer, moving his sluggish arms to sit up.

“It’s Ochaco’s appointment day, so she couldn’t come, but she asked me to give you this.” Katsuki tossed a small, gift-wrapped package onto Izuku’s lap. It was soft, probably a piece of clothing. He scoffed, a scowl on his face. “I already pegged her as the sentimental one, but we’re gonna see you soon. It’s overkill even for her.”

“Well...thanks…” Izuku said awkwardly.

“Whatever.” Katsuki rolled his eyes, but he didn’t move to leave. He glanced Izuku up and down, an unreadable scowl on his face. “Seriously, though, do you really think this is a good idea?”

“W-what do you mean?”

“I mean, we just found out this modification might end up killing you slowly and painfully in a few decades.” Katsuki crossed his arms, scowling down at Izuku. “Doesn’t sound like you made a smart move to me.”

Izuku knew there was a possibility it would happen to him, too, of course, but… “Someone has to do it.”

Katsuki scoffed again mockingly. “You honestly buy that crap, don’t you?”

“It’s not crap, Katsuki,” Izuku retorted, unable to keep a hurt tone out of his voice.

“Yeah, it is, Deku. You realize All Might’s a freakin’ liar, don’t you? He’s pretending in public that everything’s fine and dandy when it’s obviously not!” His voice was rising. “And if even All Might would lie, how can we trust anyone?”

Izuku’s fists clenched in his lap when Katsuki attacked All Might. “He’s just doing what he has to so that he can maintain peace! There’s nothing wrong with that! In fact, it’s just another reason why All Might is the greatest hero we’ll ever have!”

“It’s pathetic!” Katsuki spat the word at Izuku, his voice venomous. Tears began to sting Izuku’s eyes.

He opened his mouth to reply, but the door opened just then and Dr. Shuzenji poked her head in. “Katsuki!” she scolded. “You’re bothering Izuku! He needs to rest! Get out here, young man!”

Katsuki took one more glance at Izuku, but Izuku couldn’t tell what he was thinking through the mask of his scowl. Katsuki looked away, staring at his feet. “See ya’,” he mumbled, obeying Dr. Shuzenji. The door closed behind him.

“Yeah…” Izuku tried to put Katsuki’s words out of his mind, turning his attention to the package Katsuki had delivered. A gift from Ochaco would definitely distract him, his face flushing just thinking that she’d even consider giving him something. She’d scribbled a note on the rainbow gift wrap, so he unwrapped it carefully so that he wouldn’t mess it up.

Dear Izuku,

I hope your procedures went well! I’m sorry I couldn’t come by myself, but I can’t wait to see you again! Hopefully this gift will keep you company until then!

Love, Ochaco

She’d drawn a little heart next to her name. Izuku blushed even pinker, even though he was alone. Really, his crush on Ochaco was starting to get out of hand. Maybe it would be good for him not to see her for a bit, just to get his head straight, even though he would miss his friends.

He turned his attention to the gift— a hand-sewn teddy bear. The fabric was soft and fuzzy, and somehow matched the color of her hair perfectly. The eyes were embroidered with black thread, but the nose was a heart-shaped button sewn. The seams stretched slightly with the amount of stuffing she’d put in.

So cute…

He would have to name it after her. He held Ochaco Jr. on his lap for a bit, wondering if Ochaco would be okay in Malus City. Of course, he didn’t doubt her skills, but he’d heard about the trouble brewing in that city in particular. It was strange to him that they’d send inexperienced subjects to the rumored “Capital of Rebels.” According to reports from heroes like All Might and Endeavor, they were now encountering rebels with powers— nothing rivaling their own strength, yet, but the day could come, theoretically.

To be honest, it had always puzzled Izuku that there were even rebels in the first place. Why would anyone wish for chaos? The only explanation could be that they wanted the government’s power for themselves, and hunger for power could only lead to another war. Thinking about them made him grit his teeth, but he knew his friends would keep the rebels back. If they needed any help, there were always the more experienced heroes out there looking out for them.

Izuku hoped he could join them, soon.

He laid back down again, sleepiness creeping over him like a fog. Carefully, he tucked Ochaco Jr. in the crook of his arm and allowed himself to be lost in the encroaching mist.

It sounded like a child. The voice was faint, dispersed with distance. It was warbled, as though traveling through water. Even so, the cry was unmistakable in Scion’s ears.

“Help!”

He ran through the rubble of the city, jumping over mangled steel beams and chunks of concrete, dodging shattered glass. The smoky air twisted into his hair and crawled in and out of his lungs in a ragged rhythm.

“I’m coming!” He tried to shout, but his voice died in his throat. That was fine, he decided, because he could hear her voice becoming clearer. He was close.

“Help!” Her voice was crystal, now. Scion looked around, trying to locate the child among the debris.

“IT’S ALRIGHT!” shouted a sudden voice, deep and low, shaking the ground. “FOR I AM HERE!”

Scion looked to the sky to see All Might falling towards him.

“Scion!” he bellowed. “Take the girl and get her to safety!”

“Yes, sir!” Suddenly, the little girl was right in front of him, wiping tears from her eyes. Scion picked her up, cradling her in his arms. “It’s alright; I’ve got you!”

“There!”

Scion recognized the voices of the rebels who had caused all this carnage. “All Migh-!” he turned back towards the sky, but All Might was nowhere in sight. He hadn’t heard a landing, and sure enough, All Might was nowhere on the ground, either.

He was gone.

Scion’s heart jumped into his throat, choking him with each beat. He could feel the sweat dripping down his back, his limbs suddenly tired and tingly with anxiety.

The little girl tugged on Scion’s arm. “Scion! Let’s go!” He couldn’t move. Desperation wheedled its way into her voice, making it wobble. “Please!”

Scion ran again, away from the rebels, though they were in hot pursuit, weapons slung over their shoulders, prepared to fire at him.

The sound of missile launcher going off. It made impact with his back. It exploded around them, enveloping them in a cloud of white smoke. He curled around the girl to protect her.

The rebels were gone.

He tried to smile at the child. “It’s alright!”

The smoke cleared, and it was his mother he held in his arms. His heart stopped.

“Izuku!” Her skin began to melt, liquefying, dripping away. She screamed, her voice piercing his eardrums and filling his consciousness.

“Mom!” Horrified tears pouring out his eyes, he tried to gather all of her together, but she just slipped between his fingers, splashing to the ground, soaking into it until there was nothing left. His heart pounded so fast it was still in his chest, his stomach convulsing, his body beginning to shake. He clawed at the earth with hopeless desperation, but it was too hard-packed for him to even make a dent.

He could still hear her screaming.

“Izuku?”

“Mom?” There was sweat on his brow, his limbs heavy. He raised his voice, hoping she would hear him from underground. “Mom?!”

“I’m here, Izuku!” Someone grasped his clammy hand. The voice was frantic. “What’s wrong?”

His eyes shot open, blinding light consuming his vision. He could hear someone panting, but it was a few seconds before he realized it was him. Where was he?

He squeezed her hand, afraid she would once again slip through his fingers. “Mom?!”

“I’m here, I’m here…” her voice wobbled.

Tears filled his eyes at her words, his voice a hoarse whisper. “All Might…”

He was gone.

Chapter Text

They were sitting in a H.E.R.O. Lab jet, speeding over miles of green farmland. Shoto hadn’t been in a jet since parachute training years ago, but he remembered enough to know that this one was much more comfortable. It was more spacious than a passenger plane, allowing each row of seats a table in front of it, and it had several large TV screens. The seats themselves were soft, upholstered with a carpet-like material. Shoto had chosen a seat alone in a row, next to a window.

He’d dozed most of the trip, but now that they were in their final leg of the journey, he decided to watch the ground beneath them through the window. Everything looked so small, so insignificant from that high. It was almost comforting, to know he was nothing more than a speck on the face of a humongous Earth.

Shoto sighed to himself, thinking of what he’d left behind. He hadn’t said a proper farewell to Endeavor, but that was fine with him. He didn’t want to hear all the old crap about Successors and society and heroism from the man who didn’t truly care about anyone but himself.

“We’re about to land,” Dr. Aizawa called from the front row of seats. “Pilot wants your seatbelts on.”

They all obliged, fastening their safety belts with a few quiet clicks. Two hours later, they were settling into their new home at the Malus City Lab. Unfortunately, it turned out their rooms would be next to each other, all in the same hallway, and they shared two bathrooms. The Malus City Lab was considerably smaller, as they were actually shown the entire facility that day, which included several training rooms, gyms, and examination rooms, similar to the Lab back in Cenere City. Apparently, Dr. Aizawa would be living with them on site to monitor them, and Dr. Midoriya and Dr. Shuzenji would visit occasionally to make sure their health was still stable.

Their presence in Malus City would be announced on the news the following day, and Tenya and Momo would be interviewed by the local media. For now, they were sitting around the table in the dining area, eating dinner before going out on their first patrol.

Shoto had been surprised at the lack of protocol. Of course, he’d already known how patrols worked for experienced heroes, but he had expected more limitations for rookies. However, their guidelines were the same— they could arrest anyone suspicious and bring them to the local police station, they could enter any property for inspection, they could search any vehicle or person, and they could kill anyone who confronted them violently first.

“Let’s get out there, already!” Katsuki tore into a piece of bread, chewing with his mouth open. Though they’d only been eating about five minutes, Katsuki was already nearly finished with his food.

Tenya glanced at Katsuki with distaste and waved a stiff hand at him. “I admire your zeal, but please close your mouth when you chew!”

“I wanna bust some heads!” he continued, paying Tenya no mind. The grin on his face was almost scary. Shoto supposed it was expected that a rookie hero would be excited about this, but he himself didn’t feel any enthusiasm.

“Sounds dangerous…” Ochaco muttered, spooning some soup into her mouth.

“It is.” Momo frowned at Katsuki, who scowled in return, probably sensing a reprimand coming. “You shouldn’t wish for violence. Remember that this isn’t an exercise anymore. This is serious business.”

Katsuki opened his mouth to retort, but Tenya spoke before he could. “For that reason, Momo and I have devised a plan to cover the City more efficiently.” He pushed his dishes aside and placed a map on the table, but there was still barely any room for it. Shoto moved his bowl as well, but it still didn’t do much for the massive map.

Momo pointed to several colored dots they’d drawn on the map, which was divided into sectors with thick black marker. “Each dot corresponds to one of us. Tenya, Katsuki, and Ochaco will patrol the north side of the city, and Shoto, you and I will patrol the south.”

Shoto nodded. It made sense to him.

“They’ll get in my way,” Katsuki grumbled, a sudden scowl on his face.

Ochaco puffed out her cheeks in annoyance, not even surprised anymore by his comments.

Tenya, on the other hand, wasn’t having it. “Excuse me?” He pushed his glasses into place, his posture stiff. “I find that rather insulting.”

“Yeah, Four-eyes?” Katsuki stood up, his hands turned outward as a sign of aggression. “What’re you going to do about it?”

Tenya stared at him for a moment before replying firmly. “I’m just saying that Ochaco and I have been working just as hard for this as you have. You shouldn’t just assume we’ll get in the way.”

“I’m not assuming, you idiot.” Katsuki leaned into Tenya’s face, but Tenya didn’t flinch. “I’m saying that based on all the training we’ve been doing.”

“That’s no way to talk to our leader,” Momo interjected, rolling up the map. “We’re going to rotate the groups and zones anyway to avoid becoming predictable, but to start, this is the best combination. You should be flattered, Katsuki, since we considered you one of our heavy hitters when we devised this plan.”

Which meant they’d probably considered Shoto their other ‘heavy hitter.’

“Hmph.” Katsuki sat back down, crossing his arms. He still glowered at them, but didn’t protest any more.

Twenty minutes later, Shoto and Momo were walking the streets. It wasn’t that different from Cenere City in terms of appearance. The buildings had similar architecture, angular and efficient, with lots of tinted windows. The sidewalks were scrubbed clean, with immature trees dotting the walkway every so often. Cars drove down the freshly paved roads. The drone formation was exactly as it was in Cenere City— the lowest row floated just above the cars on the road and the highest were level with the top floors of the buildings. Though human eyes couldn’t see through the tinted windows, the drones could, and would report to the nearest hero if anything was amiss.

Of course, that didn’t negate their own responsibility to look around with their eyes. The streets were perfectly engineered so that the sidewalks were comfortably populated but not crowded. Shoto carefully examined each pedestrian for suspicious activity.

But other than staring for a bit too long at Momo, they didn’t do anything odd. But, then again, maybe staring too long at Momo wasn’t all that strange. She was objectively attractive, with a pretty face and a neat appearance. It was her costume, however, that really grabbed attention. Shoto had been expecting something that didn’t cover too much skin for easy usage of her power, probably something based on Genesis’ costume, but it had still been more revealing than he’d expected, especially down the front.

They walked side-by-side, in silence. The spikes on the bottom of his boots made small clinking noises, and he could hear her heels clacking against the concrete, too. At first, Shoto assumed the silence was because they were focusing, but Momo seemed agitated, fidgeting with her thick belt.

“Are you nervous?” he asked.

“What? Oh…” she looked pointedly away from his gaze. He looked away, too, to keep an eye on their surroundings. “It’s not that, it’s just...I guess I’ve been thinking about what you said to me back at the Library in Cenere City...about what our parents think of our feats.”

“Oh?” Shoto hoped he hadn’t offended her somehow.

“At first, I was a little hurt by your words, to be honest.” She created a small, oblong object, tossing it between her hands. It appeared to be a doll of some kind.

“I’m sorry—”

“No, no, don’t be! It’s just that I was thinking about it more, and I wanted to thank you.” She brushed a stray hair behind her ear. “It was your way of telling me to focus on my duty, not how others evaluate it. I appreciate that.” She laughed, but something about it was stilted. “Your laser focus is certainly an asset to this team.”

“Oh…” He didn’t know what to say. What she said about his intention wasn’t entirely true, but if that was how she’d read it, he didn’t want to correct her. “Thanks.”

After a few more minutes, Momo let out a small chuckle. “How do you do it, though?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, your parents hold such high esteem in society, after all! Your father is second only to All Might himself, and I remember what extravagant festivities were held to celebrate your mother’s retirement. They are greatly loved.” She paused, as though evaluating her next words. “I realized that I probably can’t even imagine the pressure you’re under, as a Successor Study to them both.”

Shoto shrugged, turning slightly away from her. He pretended to be examining the road next to him, but in reality he was afraid. She wasn’t completely right, but she was too close...The thought that she would see right through him— as though he was made fragile of glass— made his heart palpitate, his stomach turn. “I guess...I just think the way I have to. It’d be easy to just crack if I didn’t.” Once again, it wasn’t a complete lie.

Momo stiffened suddenly. For a moment, Shoto thought he’d said something wrong again, but then he saw what she was looking at: a surveillance drone was drifting towards them, a small light in the front blinking red, then green, then yellow. The combination for a suspicious person.

“Let’s follow it.” Momo prompted.

The drone led them to a parked car before flashing the combination again and hovering a few feet away to record the incident. A man sat inside of it, writing something on an electronic pad. Shoto examined him as well as he could through the window— small build, but tall, crazy blond hair that stood nearly straight up, lots of leather, sunglasses, and a small mustache. Definitely an odd-looking person, but Shoto didn’t know exactly what he’d done that the drone had marked him as suspicious. But if he really was a criminal, the sunglasses would hide his eyes, and the leather would serve some protection in a fight.

Momo knocked on the window politely.

The man rolled it down, raising an eyebrow at her. “Evening, ma’am! What can I do for you?” His words were polite, but his speech pattern was a jarring staccato.

“May we see your I.D., please?”

“Oh, of course!” He dug around in his pockets, turning them inside out; most of them were empty. Shoto eyed his hands carefully to make sure he didn’t pull out some kind of weapon. “I’ve never seen you two around here before! New heroes?”

“Yes,” Momo replied, though her posture told Shoto she was still on-guard. “Creati and Janus.”

“Interesting!” He turned the last of his pockets inside-out. “Ah...I seem to have left my I.D. at home. Sorry about that, Creati.”

“Not a problem,” she said, even though it was illegal to walk around without your I.D. card. “Please procure vehicle registration, and then step out of your car.”

“Right, right!” He handed a packet of papers to her and undid his seatbelt, opening the door.

Momo gave the papers to Shoto while she inspected the man’s car. He leafed through them. Apparently, the car belonged to someone named Nemuri Kayama— a woman’s name, if Shoto wasn’t mistaken.

“What’s your name?” Shoto tried to mimic Momo’s polite tone, but his voice came out more demanding than hers. He’d have to work on it.
“Hizashi Yamada, professional singer. The car belongs to my girlfriend.”

“I see.” Shoto closed the packet, preparing for an arrest. He doubted Yamada would cause a fuss, since he’d been only cooperative up to this point. They would just need to take him to the Police Station.

Momo was going through his tablet, now. “You have some locked files on here, Mr. Yamada. Would you mind opening them?”

“Ah, that’s my girlfriend’s tablet, too. She hasn’t told me the password, but I’m pretty sure it’s just tax information.”

“Where is your girlfriend?” Shoto inquired.

“Back at her apartment.”

Shoto and Momo exchanged a glance. He seemed like a nice enough person. Probably, the drone had only picked him out because he didn’t have an I.D. on him.

“Alright, Mr. Yamada.” Momo put his tablet back in the car and closed the door. “You’ll have to come down to the Police Station until they can verify your identity. It’s protocol for walking around without your I.D. card, that’s all.”

“Of course!” Yamada laughed. “Sorry about all this hassle, heroes. I’m just a mess sometimes! This is the fourth time I’ve forgotten my I.D. card this year, you know! And I must say, the fines are outrageous!”

Momo smiled. “Don’t worry about it, Mr. Yamada.”

They walked him to the Station without incident and turned him over to the chief, a man named Tsukauchi.

The chief laughed when he saw them. “Again, Hizashi?”

Yamada shrugged, grinning. “What can I say? I’m a scatterbrain!”

Shoto and Momo continued down the street.

“Our first arrest,” Momo mused. “That went smoother than I’d expected. They always prepared us for the worst, but I had a suspicion that the majority of citizens would be quite cooperative. Mr. Yamada seems in-line with my hypothesis.”

Shoto nodded, but he still wanted to stay on alert. It seemed common crimes like Yamada’s wouldn’t be a hassle, but Malus City was still called ‘The Capital of Rebels.’ He hated to think Endeavor might have been right about the severity of the situation with the Revolution, but if it turned out he was...Shoto was determined to be ready. Malus City would be safe with them.

Chapter Text

Izuku exhaled, lifting the barbell until his arms were nearly straight, then lowering it back down until it was just over his chest. Sweat dripped from his hair onto the bench he was lying on and onto the floor.

Just ten more…

But his thoughts were drifting again. How were his friends doing in Malus City? Of course, he’d had conversations with them through the wall screen, but they were busy. He’d watched the interview and all the news reports that had come out on them so far, adding to his notebook carefully as he watched each clip repeatedly. After a month, they hadn’t run into any rebels, yet, so it was possible the presence of five new heroes— even teenage ones— had deterred them from stirring up trouble. His friends had, however, stopped several armed assaults, a few street fights, and busted a lonewolf drug dealer. Izuku was fascinated by the opportunity to finally see them use their powers in a real scenario. As he’d expected, they were all amazing.

With his limited training and his rapidly approaching debut date...Izuku wasn’t sure he could measure up.

The smell of Mom’s cooking in the kitchen made his stomach rumble as he placed the barbell in its holder and awkwardly maneuvered out from under it. Mom had had some of the exercise equipment moved to their apartment so that Izuku wouldn’t have to go far. She was still against the idea of him facing violence, but she’d kept her promise to support him.

As he walked to the bathroom to shower before dinner, watched her for a moment as she stirred something on the stove, humming to herself. He couldn’t help but smile, a warm feeling filling his chest. He couldn’t have imagined a better mom.

Twenty minutes later, Izuku was helping her set the table when the front door opened.

“Hi, Dad!” Izuku called out.

“Izuku!” Dad replied. “I brought someone!” He walked into the kitchen, All Might behind him, filling the doorway with his bulk. The hero raised a hand in greeting, smiling cheerfully.

“Hello!”

“All Might!” Izuku couldn’t stop the grin from spreading across his face. Immediately, he started putting another place setting at the table.

After they’d all sat around the table and began eating, All Might spoke. “So, how’s it been, Izuku?”

“Um…” Izuku scratched at his ear sheepishly. He wished he could improve faster, but all things considered... “I think it’s been going well. I’ve been following all your instructions.”

“Religiously,” Mom remarked with a proud smile, patting Izuku on the back. He laughed nervously, blushing slightly.

“Good.” All Might took a bite of chicken noodle soup Mom had prepared, chewing a piece of meat thoughtfully.

Izuku looked him over, searching for signs of his decline that perhaps the news cameras hadn’t been able to pick up. He still looked the same, for the most part, his muscles bulging through his t-shirt and his thick hair sticking up at a crazy angle while the rest was slicked back. His skin still had a healthy glow, his posture still sturdy even in this relaxed setting. Izuku never would have guessed he was dying.

The thought brought tightness back to his chest, pressure building behind his eyes. But he couldn’t cry, not now, with All Might right in front of him. As difficult as it was, he had to remember that All Might was human, too. It would be wrong of him to put his burdens on the man instead of carrying them himself. Besides, All Might’s fate was certainly more of a burden to him than it was to Izuku.

He spooned some soup into his mouth, praying he wouldn’t choke on it.

“Thank you, Mrs. Midoriya; that was wonderful.” All Might set his spoon in his empty bowl.

“Of course!” she hummed, trying to smile at All Might, even though Izuku was sure she still resented him a little for recommending that he become a Successor.

“So, Izuku,” Dad pointed his spoon at him. “All Might wants to talk to you for a bit, but afterwards you and I will watch the news together, alright?” He winked, referencing their nightly bonding time.

Izuku smiled. “Yeah, Dad.”

After he finished off his soup and took his dishes to the sink, Izuku led All Might into their living room. They sat next to each other on the couch. From the way the cushions sunk in around All Might’s massive weight, Izuku had to take care not to slide towards him.

“So...what’s this about?” Izuku asked, trying not to sound as nervous as he was.

“Well…” All Might sighed. “You need to become a hero soon. To be honest, my stamina is greatly decreasing already, and though the media has been working around it, my strength and speed are also declining. I can’t hide it from the public forever.”

Izuku nodded numbly.

“Originally, the plan was for you to debut with your friends in Malus City and take over my symbolic role more organically, but this degeneration is progressing more quickly than they thought it would.”

Izuku couldn’t keep quiet at that, a sense of panic rising in his chest. “But they said they were working on a way to stop it!”

“They are.” All Might shrugged. The gesture didn’t exactly instill confidence. “But we have to operate on the assumption that they won’t be able to, just in case. We can’t let society fall back into the chaos of thirty years ago, or uncountable lives will be lost.” All Might grasped Izuku’s shoulder. “So, instead of having you join your friends, I want you to come to Leogan City with me and work as my sidekick until my retirement. At that point, you’ll rejoin your friends.”

The words stuck in his throat. He wasn’t sure he’d heard right, his entire body going rigid with disbelief at the proposition. “Y—...your sidekick?”

“Yes. Of course, you’d have to complete at least one more month of training, but...what do you think?” All Might raised his eyebrows and grinned.

“O-of course! I-I would love to!” He could barely speak, his heart racing and rising to fill his throat. Tears filled his eyes as the stiffness in his body melted away. Suddenly, he felt soft and flimsy, like an overcooked noodle. This had to be a dream.

All Might laughed, his booming laugh that he used for the news. Nothing was more comforting than hearing it, feeling it fill his body with reverberation. “Great! I can’t wait to work with you, Scion!”

“T-th-th-th-thank you!”

He laughed again. “Hisashi, Mrs. Midoriya, I thank you again for having me for dinner! It was truly an honor! Next time, I’ll have to treat you!”

Dad waved a hand at him. “Don’t worry about it, Toshinori! Take care, okay?”

“I will, thank you!”

With that, All Might was gone.

“Izuku?” Mom asked, sounding as though she was trying not to laugh. “Are you alright, sweetie?”

With a trembling finger, Izuku pointed at the door. His mind was buzzing, practically vibrating. He hadn’t even thought he was worthy to be a subject, and yet, All Might had offered to train him personally…Izuku’s chest was about to explode, his throat dry with excitement. “A-a-a-a-all Might…!”

Mom giggled now, pulling him into a hug. “Oh, Izuku, you’re so silly!” She ruffled his hair, sighing to herself contentedly. She wiped a tear from the corner of her eye. “I’m silly, too; I feel so much better, now.”

Izuku wiped a tear from her other eye with his thumb, simultaneously trying to swallow and get some moisture back in his mouth. He knew he had a goofy grin on his face, but he couldn’t stop it. “What do you mean, Mom?”

She laughed a little. “Oh, just that...if you’re working with All Might, I know you’ll be safe.”

Suddenly, Izuku’s smile faltered a moment as his month-old dream come back to him again. It had recurred several times in the past four weeks, but Dr. Shuzenji had said that nightmares were common after the body undergoes stress, so he’d tried to brush it off. Unfortunately, it kept cropping back up.

“Time for the news!” Dad chimed, plopping down next to Izuku on the couch.

“Hold on, I have to get my notebook!”

A moment later, Dad and Izuku were sitting on the couch. Mom could be heard in the kitchen, humming to herself again as she did the dishes.

“News!” Dad ordered the apartment.

The screen on the wall lit up, sound coming from the speakers in the ceiling. “Thanks to Grenade and Zero!” The camera showed images of a mangled car, probably blown up by Katsuki, as the voiceover continued.

“Rewind to the beginning of the newscast!” Dad requested.

They watched the footage that surveillance drones had sent in, showing Katsuki and Ochaco fighting a boy about their age from all different angles. He had spiky red hair, medium build, and was wearing a black hockey mask. From the looks of it, he was talented in hand-to-hand combat, but not nearly as talented as Katsuki, who was easily keeping pace with his strikes, a big grin on his face. Ochaco filled in the gaps with hand-to-hand skills of her own. Izuku took notes furiously, but he knew he would rewatch it later, anyway, so he didn’t worry too much about getting everything down.

The man had no I.D. card on him and attacked when the two young heroes confronted him and identified himself as a rebel. Naturally, they were prepared for his assault and met his crimes with a counterattack. Unfortunately, there was no arrest, the boy escaping with a proclamation of the strength of the rebel spirit. Ingenium had this to say about it.

Footage of Tenya filled the screen. It was impossible to see his face through his helmet, but Izuku could see how his eyes shone with determination. His voice was confident, calm. “You do not need to fear, citizens. We will subdue the rebels here as quickly as possible, and show them the virtue of peace!

Izuku felt his heart swell with pride. His friends were upholding their values well. The familiar words played in his head.

Hope. Excellence. Restoration. Order.

Chapter Text

“I heard you screaming again.”

Shoto looked up from the tablet in his hand, meeting eyes with Katsuki, who was standing behind the couch, hands jammed in the pockets of his pajamas. The room was dark except for the light of the tablet and the subtle glow of the streetlamps through the blinds. Shoto still hadn’t quite gotten used to having so many windows even after a month.

“What?”

“What the hell were you dreaming about?” Katsuki came around the other side and plopped down onto the sofa, keeping some distance between himself and Shoto. “I couldn’t freakin’ sleep because of you.”

“Sorry.” He turned back to the article he was reading, assuming that was all Katsuki had wanted. Their rooms were next to each other, and their beds shared a wall. Apparently, the wall was too thin.

Usually, Katsuki would just scoff and leave at this point in the conversation, but he stayed, eyeing Shoto with an unreadable expression. Shoto pretended not to notice, checking the time instead: 2:55 a.m. He’d been there for about thirty minutes already, which meant Katsuki had probably been unable to fall back asleep after Shoto had woken him.

Finally, Katsuki broke the silence, his voice strangely flat. “You’re a calm person. What makes you cry like that?”

Shoto wasn’t interested in sharing his nightmares with his least understanding teammate. He kept staring into the screen of his tablet, hoping Katsuki would leave. “...Does it matter?”

“Don’t avoid the question, Half-and-half.” Katsuki leaned forward, his elbows on his knees. “If this was a one-time thing, I would have left you to deal with your damn problems by yourself, but it’s at least three times a week.” Shoto opened his mouth, but Katsuki interrupted, scowling. “And don’t deny it; I counted. It’s starting to cut into my sleep time.”

“I’ll move my bed.” Shoto stood up, turning his tablet off. He’d wanted to leave his bedroom and spend some time in the common area, but if Katsuki was just going to interrogate him, he’d rather try to go back to bed.

He was already halfway back to his room when he heard Katsuki’s voice again.

“Hey.”

He stopped, turning around.

“You’re right; I don’t really want to talk about whatever your issues are...but try talking to Ochaco.” Katsuki looked away, as though embarrassed to be offering him advice. “She’s...nice about it.”

“I’ll keep that in mind, thanks.”

When Shoto returned to his room, he pushed his bed to the other side of the room. He had the last room in the hall, so there was no one on the other side.

Hopefully, he wouldn’t have any dreams if he went back to sleep. He laid in his bed, staring at the ceiling, trying to clear his mind. Still, it was hard to ignore the images of violence bathed in a jarring red, the sensation of drowning in black water, heat searing uncontrollably through his consciousness...

Shoto woke to the sound of his own screaming once again. It took a terrifying moment for him to realize where he was, his heart pounding and his breathing ragged and fast. He sat up, rubbing his wet eyes with shaking hands.

You’re in the Malus City Lab, he reminded himself. Endeavor is in Cenere City. Blizzard is not with him.

Words he had to repeat to himself a few times before they sounded true. Trudging to the bathroom, he washed up quickly before joining his teammates in the dining area, where they’d already started on breakfast. Actually, Momo and Tenya had already finished and had another map spread out on the table.

Ochaco waved to him cheerily. “Morning, Shoto!”

At seeing her, Shoto was reminded of what Katsuki had said to him earlier that morning, but he dismissed it quickly even though he didn’t really know why. He breathed deeply, trying to calm his body. “Morning.” He sat at the table next to her.

Katsuki was staring at him, somehow scowling even as he tore into his bagel.

Shoto ignored him, sighing inwardly. Living with so many other people was...difficult, to say the least. He’d never really experienced it, since it had been just him and Endeavor for years at this point, and Endeavor was a heavy sleeper. On the other hand, he was starting to enjoy being in the company of other people who were, for the most part, pleasant. He wasn’t sure if he would be able to get really close to them or anything, but he didn’t mind their presence.

“Shoto!” Tenya called, his tone scolding. Shoto looked up from his toast. “You’re part of today’s morning patrol! I hope you didn’t forget! Please be more timely in the future!”

Shoto glanced at the clock, which read 7:30. His timing seemed reasonable to him, since today’s patrol started around 8:00, but since it was true that it had slipped his mind, he apologized anyway and promised to be more punctual.

“Janus and I will patrol the whole city for the morning,” Tenya went on. For some reason, he insisted on using their codenames when discussing business. “Creati, Grenade, and Zero will patrol starting in the afternoon after we finish.”

Katsuki grunted his approval.

Twenty minutes later, the two set off to begin patrols. Momo had mapped out a complicated route for them, which apparently put them at the most common locations for crimes at the most common time for crimes to be committed there. Shoto could barely wrap his head around the concept’s possibility, much less how she’d managed to do it, but he simply followed Tenya, trailing a few steps behind.

It was thirty minutes before Tenya spoke. “Janus, are you alright?”

“Fine. Why?”

“You seemed a little off this morning. Did you have another nightmare?” It was hard to read his voice, and with his face covered by his helmet, it didn’t matter that he looked at Shoto when he spoke. He hoped he wasn’t keeping Tenya up at night, too.

Shoto shrugged despite the palpitation of his heart at the question. He tried to keep his voice even, unreadable. “They’re just dreams.”

“Ah…” Tenya turned back to face forward, continuing to lead the way. “Alright.”

A drone beeped from behind them. Turning, they were faced with another suspicious person code, this time there were two of them, apparently.

Good. Shoto needed a distraction.

Jogging, they followed the drone to an alleyway, where it flashed the signal and prepared to record the confrontation. Likely, an alleyway meant more serious criminal activity than forgetting an I.D. Card or being too loud. Tenya signaled to Shoto that they move in, and Shoto nodded, his heart beginning to pound faster at the possibility of a fight. His mind couldn’t have been farther from last night.

“Put your hands in the air!” The moment Tenya stepped into the opening of the alley, a deafening boom threw him back, sending him tumbling through the air and crashing into a lampost across the street. Shoto didn’t even have time to shout before the attack reached him, too. He braced himself against the solid sound, covering his ears and widening his stance. He had to squint from the sudden gust of wind, his heart jumping into his throat. Perhaps he’d been wrong to wish for violence.
For a second, the sound stopped, the air suddenly full of the screaming of fleeing civilians. Shoto whirled around to see if Tenya was alright, a tingling sensation of anxiety in his hands. “Ingen—!”

And then it sounded again. The windows of the buildings around them shattered, showering glass down into the alleyway and into the street. The sound pounded twice with a strong beat and a weak one, paused, and sounded again, almost like a heartbeat. There wasn’t time to check on Tenya, and as for the few civilians that had yet to leave the area, the best thing for them was to subdue the attacker.

Covering his ringing ears, Shoto waited for the tiny window before the next beat, and then he jumped into the alley and blindly froze the entire ground. He caught a glimpse of two figures caught in his ice, dressed in black, before the next beat shattered the ice. Shoto identified the smaller figure, probably a girl, as the one causing the sonic blasts.

“I’ll get Ingenium!” shouted a male voice, the larger figure. His partner didn’t answer, but he ran towards Shoto, trying to run past him to get to Tenya. Quickly, Shoto sized him up— medium build, medium height, red spiky hair, probably the same rebel Katsuki and Ochaco had run into the other day. But as long as Shoto kept him in the alley between himself and the other rebel, it was likely that she wouldn’t risk using her sonic attacks and get her partner caught in the crossfire.

Shoto sprayed a column of fire in front of the boy as he was about to pass, so close to him that the front of his clothes caught fire.

“Not bad, Janus!” he threw his flaming mask and jacket off, smiling to reveal pointed teeth. Something about the grin irritated Shoto, but he pushed it to the back of his mind. The rebel’s arms appeared to be roughly sculpted. From the way that they stiffened suddenly, Shoto guessed it was some kind of special power. “But I’ve got a few of my own tricks up my sleeve!”

He tried to charge in, but Shoto wasn’t about to let him get close. From the confident way he jumped towards him, Shoto guessed close combat was a specialty of his. In the blink of an eye, the boy was trapped in an outcropping of ice, unable to move any of his limbs. He struggled, but couldn’t move more than a few inches. Shoto turned his attention to the other rebel, who appeared to have cables on either side of her connecting a chunky headset to her boots. He sent ice towards her, too, but even as it encased her, the ground vibrated with a frequency Shoto couldn’t hear, and the ice shattered again.

“Janus!” Tenya ran into the alley, joining him against the two rebels, his legs spewing smoke. “Don’t kill them!”

“I know!” They’d already agreed that if they ran into any rebels, they would capture and question. If they hadn’t, he would have killed them already.

The boy backed up, regrouping with the girl. They were cornered in the alley.

“Hey…” The boy’s breath was visible in the now-cold air, his red eyes flicking back and forth between Tenya and Shoto. “Maybe we should get out of here, huh?”

“You’re cornered!” Tenya shouted. “It would be in your best interest to cooperate with us!”

“You have three seconds,” Shoto added, preparing to shoot more ice at them. He would use it to sever the cables going from her headphones to her boots, and see if that stopped the blasts. She didn’t appear to need to move to activate her power, but if she did it again in the next three seconds, he would counter with a wave of ice. It wouldn’t protect them completely, but it would shield them from most of the force.

The rebels exchanged a glance before raising their hands in the air, but Shoto was still wary, his heart still loud in his ears, a pricking sensation in his fingers, warning him that something wasn’t quite right. He’d heard from Endeavor that rebels were willing to resort to any kind of trick to avoid giving up information. But what would their most logical course of action be—?

An ear-splitting screech rang through the street, bringing Shoto to his knees. His vision went red, his surroundings disappearing, until all that was left was the tortured scream. He clamped his hands over his ears, but even the echoes against the walls of the alleyway pounded back into his head with the force of a hammer, matching up with the quickening beating of his heart. He had to think, had to move, but his body was rigid, his mind stalling.

It seemed like forever until it stopped. Shoto looked up, his vision blurry. He couldn’t hear anything, blood dripping from his ears, but he just managed to catch a glimpse of the rebels running down the sidewalk, following a man in black with his blond hair in an unmistakable style.

Yamada…?

Chapter Text

“Hey, Ochaco!” Izuku waved at her through the wall’s screen. It had been too long since he’d given her a call. The sight of her face made him smile like a maniac.

“Izuku!” He could tell from the awkward camera angle that she was using her phone’s camera instead of the wallscreen. Behind her, he could glimpse a poster of the hero Thirteen, and next to that was a poster of a bunch of puppies. “How’ve you been?”

Izuku rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly, embarrassed by how close she got to the screen, as though she could see him better if she got closer. “Ah, well—”

She gasped. “Wait! Oh my gosh!”

“What?!” Izuku yelped.

She had her hands over her mouth. “Your arm!”

He glanced at it, but nothing seemed asmiss. “What about it?”

“It’s so buff!”

His blush felt like fire, heat suddenly rushing up and filling his head. He lowered his arm quickly, stuttering out some gibberish before running off the screen and pulling on a sweatshirt.

“Aw, it’s a good thing, Izuku!” she laughed, which only made him want to faint. “You’ve been working hard!”

He managed a smile, even though his face was still burning. It had spread to his neck now. “Yeah, I guess so...All Might wants me to be his sidekick starting next month, actually.”

She clapped her hands. “Izuku, that’s amazing! Never in your wildest dreams, huh?”

“Never!” he agreed, feeling more at ease again. “But tell me about you! I’ve watched every newscast so far!”

“No, don’t! The surveillance drones get bad angles of me!” Ochaco moaned. “My costume’s too tight; the cameras get everything!”

He wanted to tell her she looked good, even great, but the heat clogged up his throat and a strange babbling of syllables came out of his mouth instead.

“But there’s going to be a bad newscast tonight,” Ochaco sighed, luckily not noticing his awkward stammer. “Tenya and Shoto ran into a few more rebels, but they got away. One of them sounded like the same one Katsuki and I ran into.”

“Oh gosh, are they okay?” Izuku furrowed his brow, his heart skipping a beat, a fog of foreboding settling in his gut. Even though he believed they could handle themselves, he couldn’t help but worry.

Ochaco put her chin in her hand. “For the most part, yeah. They got banged up a little, but Dr. Aizawa’s looking at them, now. Doesn’t seem like anything too serious. They’ll probably be ready for an interview in thirty minutes.”

“That’s a relief,” Izuku sighed.

“Mm-hm…” Ochaco looked to the side for a moment, as though checking if anyone else was around, even though she was alone in her bedroom. Her voice lowered. “The windows on two buildings got all blown out during the fight, though. I think they’re going to tell the press it was some sort of sonic weapon, but they said the rebels might have had powers.”

Izuku gulped, the fog in his stomach growing thicker. “Powers…?”

“Yeah…” Her voice lowered even more. “And...to be honest…”

Izuku waited, a tickle of nervousness flickering in his chest, but she just laughed at herself, chiding, but it was a stilted laugh. “No, never mind. It was nothing.”

“You can tell me,” Izuku urged. If it was important, then he wanted to know.

“Well…” She twirled a lock of hair around her finger, keeping her eyelids low, her eyes focused anywhere but the screen. “I don’t really want to admit it, but…” She glanced downward and bit her lip, a tear escaping from her eye before she hastily wiped it away. “I’m really scared.”

“Ochaco…” His chest ached, seeing her thinking she was alone yet again.

“I know, I know, I’m supposed to be a hero!” She pumped a fist feebly at the word. “And everyone else is so calm, like they’re totally ready for this, and I…” she sighed, wiping another tear from her eye, laughing at herself again even though her voice wobbled, ready to collapse.

Izuku frowned, remembering his last conversation with Katsuki a month before, how Katsuki had called All Might a liar, how he’d called Izuku naive...But it was Katsuki who didn’t understand. “Well, I think that sometimes...what makes a hero is that they can do things even when they’re scared, all the while pretending they’re not. It assures the public and it intimidates the villains all at once. But it doesn’t mean they were never scared at all.”

Ochaco nodded, sniffling a little. “Thanks, Izuku...You always know what to say, huh?” She giggled a little, filling Izuku with a warm feeling. He was glad he could comfort her. “I wish you’d come here faster, but...if All Might wants to train you personally, you just can’t turn it down! Go there with everything you’ve got!”

“I will,” Izuku promised, giving her a vigorous nod.

Someone called for her in the background, and Ochaco puffed out her cheeks. “Coming! Sorry, Izuku, I gotta go patrol, now! Keep me posted, okay?”

“Mm-hm!” Izuku nodded. “Bye!”

“Bye!” She cut the connection.

Izuku sighed to himself slightly after she was gone. If he was a hero, now, too, he supposed it was his job to comfort even his fellow heroes. He wished they could have talked a little longer, but they both had places to be.

With a glance at the clock, he’d confirmed that it was about time for his appointment with Dr. Shuzenji. He’d known her for as long as he could remember, but being her patient was something else entirely. She was pretty strict with him about his exercise regimen, and she was somehow able to tell even when he went only slightly over what he’d been told to do. Of course, he knew it all came from her kindness, but it was a little intimidating all the same.

Pulling on his shoes, he walked briskly to the elevator. Even after a month, it still surprised him a little when it started moving on its own because of his subject I.D. card. He pulled his hand back, since he’d automatically started reaching for the buttons.

A few minutes later, he was outside Dr. Shuzenji’s office. He was just about to open the door when it opened on its own, a massive figure taking up the doorframe.

“O-oh! Hi, Endeavor!”

Izuku didn’t talk to him much, but Endeavor looked down on him with an unfriendly scowl anyway. He was used to Endeavor simply giving him a gruff greeting and then walking away, but today, he didn’t move.

“You’re All Might’s Successor now,” he stated. Though it was a secret to the public that Endeavor hated All Might, Shoto had told Izuku about Endeavor’s grudge towards the other hero. They hadn’t talked about it much because Shoto always seemed uncomfortable talking about his father, but he’d said enough that Izuku became slightly nervous at Endeavor’s statement.

Izuku shifted from foot to foot, avoiding the man’s icy gaze. What did Endeavor want? “Ah, yes, sir…”

“I see…” Endeavor still didn’t move.

Izuku chanced a glance upwards and was shocked to discover that Endeavor’s cold stare was gone, replaced with a fiery determination. Izuku got chills down his spine when the man bared his teeth in a joyless grin.

“Excellent.” Endeavor placed heavy hands on Izuku’s shoulders. He wasn’t able to hold in his yelp. “Do your best, young man.”

“Uh, yeah…! I will!” Izuku gulped, staring at Endeavor’s retreating back. Something didn’t sit right in his chest, as though there was a fist clenching inside of him, but he tried to push it out of his mind. Shoto’s father could be difficult for Izuku to understand sometimes, but at the end of the day, he was a hero; there was no reason to fear him.

He stepped into Dr. Shuzenji’s office. “Hi, Dr. Shuzenji.”

“Ah, Izuku! Good!”

He’d already started taking off his outer garments when she spoke again. “Hop on the scale for me, Dear?”

“Mm-hm.” He knew the number would appear automatically on her electronic pad, but he wasn’t able to see it unless he asked. “What does it say?”

She chuckled at his curiosity. “Only you and Katsuki ask for your numbers, you know. The others just wait for the complete report.”

Izuku blushed a little, but she still humored his request, pulling up a wall screen that matched the screen of her pad. After a thirty minute check-up, he returned to his apartment to watch the evening news, which would contain news from that afternoon. As Ochaco had said, the first report was on the Malus City rebels.

In Malus City there has been another report of rebel activity.

Footage from the battle played, and Izuku jotted some notes down, specifically noting Shoto’s quick reactions.

Ingenium and Janus confronted them before they escaped using a sonic weapon of unknown origin. Ingenium speculates that it is from the black market. Here are additional comments he had on the matter.

Once again, Tenya appeared on the screen, his helmet covering his face. Izuku was pleased to note that there wasn’t even a scuff mark on it. He knew they’d made Tenya the leader because he was easy to put your trust in, the type of person you immediately felt you could depend on, like a loyal friend. Tenya spoke a few words of encouragement and reassurance; he had always had a way to make words direct and earnest, perfect for a hero. Izuku cheered him on silently as the newscaster continued.

There was a rebel protest in Dien City this morning regarding the H.E.R.O. Project and its heroes. The rebels claimed that there is an ethical problem with human enhancement.

He’d read in history books that people had once argued against human experimentation because it wasn’t safe. While there was some truth to that, Izuku believed that the H.E.R.O. Project was going about it the right way— only those who agreed to it were experimented on. Besides, it was obvious that the world needed heroes like All Might, like Endeavor, like Izuku’s friends. Without them, the world would be in complete chaos.

The newscast, however, didn’t go into personal opinions in an effort to be as objective as possible. “The founder of the H.E.R.O. Project, Dr. Nezu, had this to say about it.

A sound clip of Dr. Nezu’s voice played, but he never showed his face in public. To be honest, Izuku had no idea what he looked like; even Dad had never seen him in person before. It made sense, since Dr. Nezu would be the target of any ruffians like the rebels who had started the protest.

Dr. Nezu spoke simply and elegantly, his voice always calm. “At the H.E.R.O. Project, we believe in peace. Heroes are the ones who can keep the peace, as evidenced by the past thirty years without war anywhere in the entire world. That has never happened at any other time in recorded history. While we recognize that there may be ethical concerns regarding human experimentation, you have our word that we do not modify anyone without permission, and we always do the necessary research to ensure the utmost safety of our subjects. We are dedicated to hope, excellence, restoration, and order. We cannot uphold these morals without meticulous consideration and caring. We exist for the sake of humanity, and that includes our heroes.

A clip of All Might played next. Izuku automatically straightened, hanging on his every word. Doubtless, if All Might denounced the rebels, no one in their right mind would think they had a point. “These rebels are a threat to the peace, but do not worry, citizens of the Unified Nations! My comrades and I are working diligently to put down the rebel movements.” He gave the camera a thumbs-up and a winning smile. “We will protect you.

That is all for this afternoon’s newscast. Tune in again for the evening news.

The wall screen went dark.

Izuku stood up, stretching a bit before starting his evening exercises. Soon, he would join All Might. The fanboyish excitement returned, as it always did when he thought about it, but as the date grew closer, Izuku had also discovered within himself a passionate drive. His heart swelled with determination, filling his chest.

I will protect you, too.

Chapter Text

“You don’t want to join me for the interview?” Tenya raised an eyebrow at Shoto.

“I’d rather not. I’m not good with words.”

“Very well, then…” Tenya straightened his spine even more than it already was. “I’ll be sure to emphasize your importance to make up for your lack of presence!”

“That’s not—”

He was gone before Shoto could finish. He sighed inwardly, going back to his bedroom. It was about the same size as his room back in Cenere City had been, with a bed, a desk, and a chair. He hadn’t bothered to decorate it much other than bringing his checkered carpet in, adding blinds on the window, and buying a small pot of grass for the windowsill.

Sitting down at his desk, he booted up the computer they’d provided for him and opened Malus City’s Citizen Records, searching for a name: Yamada, Hizashi.

He was there, but other than a few I.D. card mishaps like the one from a month ago, he didn’t have anything in there. Perhaps Shoto’s eyes had deceived him, since he’d barely been able to see at all after that strange screech. Then again, there were always ways to further investigate Yamada’s innocence, but first…

He typed in a new name, hoping he was remembering it correctly. He could always wait for Momo, since she definitely remembered it, but he tried anyway.

Kayama, Nemuri.

Clean record.

Next, Shoto accessed the security drone footage from the confrontation. As a hero, he had complete access to the cameras. He cursed under his breath as the screen went dark just after the screech began. It seemed it had been powerful enough to mess with the drones, too...

“Shoto?”

He jumped slightly at the voice. Tenya stood in the doorway in his regular clothes, apparently done already with the press. “Am I interrupting?”

“No.” Shoto turned his computer off, even though something wasn’t sitting right in his gut. “How did the interview go?”

“Well, I believe.” Tenya gestured that Shoto follow him, leading him towards the kitchen. He filled a glass with orange juice. “They didn’t question anything I said, even though I’m still just a rookie. They really hold heroes in high esteem, don’t they?”

“I guess.” With acrid scorn in his heart, Shoto wondered sometimes if they really deserved it.

Tenya sighed, putting his glass on the counter. He smiled wryly. “You did well, today.”

“Thanks,” Shoto poured himself some juice, too, mimicking Tenya in the effort of acting casual.

“Of course, that was to be expected. You were excellent in all the training exercises.”

Shoto wasn’t sure what he was getting at, an uneasy feeling in his chest. He knew he was strong, but he didn’t necessarily think of himself as anything special even though his teammates seemed to think so. If they wanted more subjects as strong as him, or stronger, the H.E.R.O. Project could probably make them without much issue. For all he knew, they already existed.

Plus, the rebels had gotten away, anyway.

“Momo told me you’re a Successor, too.” Tenya went on, breaking Shoto out of his thoughts. “I still have a long ways to go before I can make my brother proud. I’m not sure I feel worthy of the name ‘Ingenium,’ yet.” Tenya looked down at his feet for a moment before meeting Shoto’s eyes. “I look up to you in that regard.”

Shoto looked away, a pang of guilt pricking his chest, a needle sticking in his heart. He shouldn’t have been called a Successor if all he wanted to do was reject his predecessors, when people like Tenya and Momo were so earnest about living up to the names of their family.

“You shouldn’t look up to me,” Shoto replied, still looking away. “You’re our leader.”

Tenya chuckled a little. “I suppose you’re right.” He finished off his juice and offered to put Shoto’s cup in the sink, too.

A few minutes later, they sat on the couch together, gazing out a large window. It seemed Shoto wasn’t the only one who still wasn’t entirely used to having many windows. They were high enough that birds flew level with the window. With the quiet, Shoto’s thoughts drifted to the rebels again.

“Tenya, did you see anything strange when the rebels ran away?” Shoto asked, still watching the pigeons fly by. It was probably a clumsy way to start the conversation, but it didn’t matter if they were discussing work.

“Mm, to be honest it was difficult to see after that strange sound,” Tenya admitted. “But I do think I saw a third person with a yellow cone on his head, or something. Why, did you see him, too?”

“Yeah...I think Momo and I ran into him about a month ago for walking around without his I.D. card. Then again, it could be someone else.”

Tenya rubbed his chin. “Have you tried the cameras, or looking him up in the Malus City Citizen Database?”

“Yeah, both. Nothing of note, though.”

“Perhaps Momo will remember something else about him, or if she ran into him again after that. She does remember everything, after all.”

“Right.”

That night, the two of them brought it up to Momo, who frowned upon hearing the news. She suggested that she and Shoto go look into it the next morning while Tenya stayed behind. He had protests, but since he had to lead the morning patrol with Ochaco and Katsuki, he finally agreed to the arrangement.

After Tenya retired to bed, Momo invited Shoto to her room to collect information on Yamada. “I checked the nearby drones and the Malus City Citizen Database already,” Shoto supplied as they walked to her room. “There wasn’t anything there except for the I.D. mishaps he mentioned when we were with him. I also looked up Nemuri Kayama, but her record is clean.”

“I see…” As expected, Momo didn’t need to ask who that was. “Well, we’ll get their addresses to search their homes tomorrow, and their vehicle registrations…We can also check the security drone system to track their movements and see if Yamada was near the scene...”

Shoto followed her into her room, which had identical furniture to his, but somehow felt more inviting. She’d decorated with small sculptures he assumed she’d made herself, and she’d added a fluffy bedspread and a bulging bookshelf. He tried not to look around too much, but it was the first time he’d been in her room.

“It’s possible neither was involved…” Momo went on. “But just to be on the safe side, we should check both, right?”

“Makes sense.” Shoto agreed.

Momo sat on her bed, putting her laptop in her lap. He stood awkwardly off to her side until she patted the bed next to her, indicating that he sit.

“I’m pulling up their addresses, now…” Momo said as he sat next to her, careful to stay on the edge of her bed as he looked at the screen. “Here! They live in the same apartment complex, different floors.”

“Convenient.” Shoto supposed it wasn’t odd that a man and his girlfriend would live in the same apartment complex, but it was also an ideal cover if they were working together on anything shady.

She nodded, typing in the site for the Malus City Vehicle Registry. After another hour or so of fruitless research, Shoto left to go to bed, hoping for a peaceful night for his and his teammates’ sakes. Momo’s room was across from his, but in the past month she’d never mentioned him making any noise, so hopefully Katsuki was the only one who heard him when he had nightmares.

Shoto pulled the covers up to his chin, a familiar sense of resignation creeping over him despite his earlier wish for a dreamless sleep. He didn’t know why he was feeling it, but he didn’t want to give it attention, either, simply sighing and closing his eyes.

There was a long day ahead of him tomorrow.

Chapter Text

“IZUKUUUUUU!” Mei’s voice boomed over the loudspeakers, echoing against the metal walls of the training room.

He winced at the noise, trying not to take his eyes off the army of droids in front of him. He’d never realized how loud she was on the other side of the microphone. “Yeah?” he said, raising his voice a bit so she could hear him.

“DO YOU LIKE THEM? WHAT DO YOU THINK?!”

They were a variant of Katsuki’s droids, bouncy and round, but mounted in some kind of rotating axle that kept reinforced metal plating between them and Izuku at all times. Izuku knew that a mere flick of All Might’s wrist, and droids like these would practically disintegrate, but he wasn’t nearly as strong, yet.

“They’re...cute!” he managed, throwing a punch their way when they started getting too close. The force from his blow caused a huge gust of wind, blowing all the droids back, but they simply rolled with it and hit the wall, bouncing back towards him with blinding speed. He barely had time to shield his face with his arms before they smashed into him. He tried to absorb the force, but it knocked him to the ground. The droids bounced away unharmed. Izuku rolled out of their trajectory to think for a second.

“Be careful with those strikes,” Dr. Aizawa’s voice was much quieter than Mei’s when he spoke into the mic. “You don’t want to pull another muscle.”

He had a point. In trying to use his power, he’d pulled two muscles in yesterday’s session, but Dr. Shuzenji’s special exercises had reduced most of the effect. However, he didn’t want to form bad habits.

Izuku tried to think about how All Might fought. He’d been studying it for years, after all, but he wasn’t able to replicate his moves even though he understood how they worked in theory.

“THEY’RE JUST ADORABLE, AREN’T THEY?!” Mei’s exuberant voice broke through his thoughts. “HIT THEM AGAIN! I WANNA SEE!”

“I think that’s enough, Miss Hatsume,” Dr. Aizawa cut in. “Come on out, Izuku. Let’s review.”

He sighed slightly, but tried to look on the bright side, taking a deep breath and puffing out his chest. Watching footage of himself usually made him cringe because of how many mistakes— big and small— he made, how inadequate he was. Nevertheless, he knew it was important that he watch himself carefully, take notes on himself. He was a subject, now, and he needed to treat himself like one no matter how unworthy he felt.

An hour later, he was alone in the observation deck, re-watching the footage once again. He had his notebook in front of him, his pencil scratching furiously against the paper.

He was too slow, too clumsy, his form was bad, and his strength was only passable. Perhaps his strikes would do fine against an amateur petty criminal, but once he faced super-powered rebels with his friends in Malus City, he couldn’t allow himself to be carried by the others.

It was possible that his problems could only be cured with practice, but perhaps his slow reaction was inherent to the way he was trying to move. If he couldn’t take the force of the hits the way All Might could, he would have to dodge…

And if there was anyone good at dodging, it was Katsuki. Izuku flipped to his extensive notes on the other boy, re-reading the text and studying the diagrams he’d made. Obviously, he had no explosions to propel himself, but if he could use his super-strength to create the push, perhaps he could become more agile by copying Katsuki.

Learning from the others! Izuku should have thought of it sooner. Ochaco had good form for hand-to-hand, so he would have to study her footage, too. No one could rival Tenya’s kicks. By copying those three, he could improve his physical skills.

“Izuku?” Mei poked her head in. “You still in here?”

“Oh, hi, Mei.” He twisted in his chair to see her. “What’s up?”

Her eyes sparkled as she held up a notebook. “Dr. Aizawa told me that you were interested in how I design all my babies?”

He smiled, matching her enthusiasm. Who was better at innovation than Mei? He would have to learn from her, too. “Yeah!”

After a few hours of discussing robots, Mei seemed to remember something, suddenly slamming her hand on the table. Izuku jumped.

“AH! I almost forgot!” she pulled a piece of notebook paper from a pocket of her lab coat. “Your costume design!”

“M-my costume?” Izuku stammered, his heart beginning to hammer in his chest. He hadn’t been expecting to get a costume so soon, a month before he was even scheduled to debut as All Might’s sidekick.

“Yes! Your mom put in a design suggestion!”

His heart skipped a beat, now. “She did?”

“Mm-hm! She said she found it in one of your notebooks while she was cleaning your room, but that’s not the point!”

Izuku blushed, but he wasn’t sure if it was because Mom had seen one of his notebooks, and one of his most embarrassing ones at that, or because she’d told Mei where she found it. Probably both.

“Gotta admit,” Mei continued excitedly. “I’m a fan of the bunny ears! And this funny mask looks like a smile! Kinda weird, but kinda quirky. It’s cute!” She laughed, a huge, bubbly laugh that assaulted his eardrums. “But I was thinking, it’s going to look kind of awkward when you put it on, especially because it’s so plain, so here’s my revised design! I kept the basic design, but I just added a few things! Well, maybe a little more than ‘a few,’ but don’t worry, I can explain all of them to you!”

She handed him a piece of paper, continuing to talk about the new attributes she was adding to his costume. He’d always found the speed she could talk amazing, but he could barely keep up, now, much less examine the diagram at the same time.

“Mei!” he interrupted, his hands beginning to shake with nerves. “Hold on a second…”

She laughed again. “Sorry! I’ll let you look!” She bit her lip to keep from talking, rocking back and forth in her chair with excitement.

It was a cool-looking costume, much better than the funny one he’d designed for himself a year ago. But that was the least important part, after all. Mei had labeled lots of different parts of the costume, indicating material, breathability, support capacity, and other important factors. She’d even noted colors she wanted, mostly green. Something swelled in his chest at the sight of a design for his very own hero costume, his heart leaping, his fingers tingling with excitement.

Finally, he looked up at her, tears welling in his eyes. “Thank you, Mei.”

“Aw, Izuku!” She laughed, giving him a playful punch in the arm. “I was too young to have a lot of say in the others’ costumes when they were being designed, so this is a dream come true for me! To design a suit that can withstand everything All Might can, that provides support along with flexibility and comfort...” She squealed. “It’s the best!” She plucked the page from his hand. “Now, gotta go work on some more details! These are just the broad strokes, after all!” She waved to him as she left the room. “See ya’ soon!”

“Yeah!” A grin had crept onto his face, and he couldn’t stop it, but he didn’t mind.

This… He turned back to his notes, replaying the footage of himself again. This is really happening.

I’ll make it happen.

Chapter Text

They hadn’t found anything. As he had last time, Yamada had been very cooperative, even offering to get them some snacks as they searched his kitchen. His car had been clean. They’d searched Kayama’s belongings, too, but she hadn’t been home. They’d tried to leave everything the way it had been when they found it out of courtesy.

Momo sighed, making some notes on her tablet before putting it with the book she carried on the back of her belt. “So, I guess our lead hasn’t come to anything...You saw the redhead’s face, so we could go through some facial databases to try and find him, but...that could take quite a while.”

Shoto nodded listlessly, following Momo down the sidewalk. After another sleepless night, the last thing he’d wanted to do was go out early in the morning to conduct some searches, but he’d tried to follow Momo’s instructions carefully, standing next to Yamada so that he didn’t try anything fishy while Momo searched his property. Yamada, for some reason, reminded him vaguely of Miss Hatsume. Probably, it was because they both talked too loudly. He used to think that Miss Hatsume talked too much, but after meeting Yamada, Miss Hatsume didn’t seem like much of a chatterbox.

A chorus of mewing distracted him from walking. When he glanced at the window on Momo’s other side, he saw it was a pet shop with a window full of cats. He briefly wished he could go inside before pushing the silly thought away.

“Janus?” Momo looked at him worriedly before turning to see what he was looking at. Her voice softened. “Oh, you like cats?”

“Yeah.”

She managed a smile. He couldn’t tell if she was laughing at him or not. “Well, would you like to stop in? We have quite some time before evening patrols.”

Shoto shrugged, following her into the store. It was full of colorful toys and big bags of food, along with fuzzy pet furniture. He couldn’t see any other animals from where he was, but there were probably more behind the shelves.

The clerk looked up from the register. “Oh, heroes! To what do I owe this honor?”

“Ah, well, we saw your cats in the window and we were quite intrigued.” Momo replied.

She chatted a little more with the clerk while Shoto turned to the cats, bending down to their cages. Some of them came right up to the bars to be petted, others ignored him, and some stared suspiciously. He’d always had a soft spot for cats, since he remembered his elder sister having a kitten when they were young. Even though he hadn’t been allowed to spend time with his siblings, Endeavor hadn’t really noticed Fuyumi’s pet. She’d taken the cat with her when she moved out.

“Would you like to buy one, Janus?” The clerk walked over. “I’ll give you a discount.”

Shoto hesitated a moment, but he wasn’t sure if Dr. Aizawa would be okay with a cat in the Lab. “Oh, no, that’s—”

“I think it’d be nice to have a pet around the apartment,” Momo interrupted. She knelt beside him. “Unfortunately, my knowledge of cats is quite limited. Perhaps you could help me choose one?” She raised her eyebrows at him.

He looked away. As he’d feared, she could read him too well. “You don’t have to go that far.”

Momo’s voice was commanding, but something about it was almost playful. “Then just pick one.”

It was embarrassing to have her intercede like that on his behalf, but he supposed she meant well. Examining the cats, though, he didn’t know which to choose.

He turned to the clerk. “Which has been here the longest?”

The clerk seemed surprised. “Oh, that one in the back, there. She scratches and bites, that’s why.” He gestured to a thin brown cat with a white face, already fully grown.

“I’d like her, then.”

“Alright.” The clerk returned with a crate. After paying for the cat, who was indeed quite hostile, as well as various supplies for her, Shoto and Momo continued on their way back to the Lab. He carried the crate in his arms to minimize the swinging that would result from holding it by the handle while Momo carried the shopping bag of supplies.

Shoto waited until they were a block away from the store to ask. “Why did you do that?” It came out more cross than he’d meant it to.

“Hm?” Momo was looking into the crate, through the bars. He had the feeling she was trying not to look at him, but she didn’t pretend not to know what he meant. “Oh, well...It’s just that I realized back there that I’ve never seen you smile before today.”

That couldn’t be right. He’d been told he had a serious face, but… “Are you sure…?” he asked lamely. He hadn’t even noticed he was smiling.

“I’m sure.” She tapped her temple, reminding him of her memory.

He glanced down at the crate in his arms. “Well...thanks.”

“Don’t mention it,” she replied cheerfully. “What are you going to name her?”

He frowned, unsure. “I don’t know.”

She laughed. “Don’t take it so seriously, Shoto!” She’d forgotten to call him by his codename in public, but he didn’t want to correct her. “When you look at her, what do you think of?”

Self-consciously, he glanced at the crate again. “Um...cats.”

“Well…” Momo raised a hand to her mouth, as though hiding a smile. “You could go with something classic, like ‘Fluffy’ or ‘Mochi’ or something like that. Or you could name her after someone you know, someone you admire.”

Shoto thought for a moment. He admired certain things about everyone he knew, even Endeavor, but there was no one he admired completely. “You can pick a name for her. You’re the one who convinced me to buy her.”

She raised her eyebrows. “Really? Alright…” Momo looked aside pensively. “The one I admire the most is my mother, Genesis. So, how about ‘Genny’?”

“Sure.”

When they arrived back at the Lab, Dr. Aizawa was sitting at the kitchen table. He raised his eyelids a little higher when he saw the crate and shopping bags, but he still looked half-asleep.

“Is that an animal?”

“We bought a cat,” Momo explained. “I hope that’s alright.”

Dr. Aizawa looked them up and down before sighing. “That’s fine. What’s the cat’s name?”

“Genny,” Shoto supplied.

“Genny.” Dr. Aizawa nodded, as though he liked the name. “Just make sure Genny isn’t relieving herself everywhere and you can keep her.” With that, Dr. Aizawa picked up his things and left the room. Though he was supposed to be supervising them, he didn’t spend much time with them. Of course, there were cameras all throughout the Lab, so Shoto supposed that was how he kept an eye on them.

Momo turned to Shoto. “She can stay in your room.”

“Alright.”

A few minutes later, they’d spread some blankets on the floor for her and opened her crate, but it seemed she preferred to stay in it, hissing when Shoto tried to put his hand inside.

Momo stood over his shoulder. “She’s rather frightened, isn’t she?”

Shoto nodded, feeling sorry for the cat. He wondered what had made her so aggressive. Instead of trying to touch her again, he just put out some food and water, right next to her crate so she could reach it while still staying inside if she wanted to. He didn’t want to rush her.

When he turned around, Momo was smiling at him for some reason. “What?”

She coughed delicately. “O-oh, nothing! Let’s get back to work, shall we?”

“Yeah.” He left the door open so Genny could leave the room if she wanted to and followed Momo into her room, where they sat on her bed again.

“If we look through the footage the security drones caught, we might be able to get a good enough shot to enter the image into the Unified Nations facial recognition database,” Momo said, pulling up the security drone footage.

“But if he’s been underground for a while, they may not have an updated photo of him,” Shoto pointed out.

“Right…” Momo paused the footage at a point where the redhead’s face was clearly visible, though the angle was a bit awkward. “How old would you place him?”

“It was hard to tell with the hair, but I would say he was a little shorter than me. His voice sounded mature. Probably between fourteen and sixteen.”

“Alright, let’s start with that.” Momo entered the age range and a screenshot of his face. A little over three thousand results popped up. “Ah...we’ll put in Malus City as a location and work our way out.”

Theoretically, the rebel could have been from anywhere, but Shoto supposed it was a logical starting point. When she typed it in, the search results narrowed to about fifteen people with possible facial matches, but none had red hair. Then again, it was possible it was dyed.

“Search dental records,” he suggested. “He had pointed teeth.”

“Good idea,” Momo searched dental records for all fifteen, but none had sharp teeth. “Hm. Either it’s a recent modification, or he’s not on this list. Maybe look more closely at them? Do you recognize any of them?”

Shoto squinted at the screen. He didn’t have Momo’s memory, and he hadn’t gotten an extremely detailed look at the rebel’s face either. Not to mention that the facial recognition technology had chosen very similar faces anyway. “I’m not sure. I don’t remember.”

“Well, I suppose there are only fifteen of them. We could search all of their properties.” Momo started a new document, typing instructions for the others. “I’ll give this to Tenya when they get back from patrol. You can go spend time with Genny, now.”

She didn’t look at him when she said that, and Shoto still couldn’t tell if she was teasing him or not. Normally, he wouldn’t particularly care about such comments, but something stirred in his chest when she said that, even though he didn’t know exactly what. With a start, he realized he’d begun to think of Momo as a friend, that he’d started to care what she thought. Shoto wasn’t sure if it was good or bad.

Keeping his thoughts to himself, he stood. “Okay. Thanks.”

“Mm-hm,” she hummed pleasantly, continuing to type.

He closed the door behind him.

Chapter Text

“Remember, Scion,” All Might patted him on the back. “Smile!”

Izuku nodded vigorously, even though he was quite nervous for his first interview, his thumbs twiddling on their own, his palms perspiring. He’d taken notes on especially well-spoken heroes in order to prepare, but his studies only made him more self-conscious of his relative lack of eloquence.

“Where do you anticipate this partnership going, All Might?” A newscaster asked, simultaneously adjusting one of the lights. It was too bright, hurting Izuku’s eyes, but All Might didn’t seem to mind.

He laughed, and the orderly group of government newscasters straightened, eagerly awaiting his answers. “Well, good citizen, at the H.E.R.O. Project we are working to raise another generation of heroes, and they asked me to help! Naturally, I wanted to choose the most heroic youth I knew to mold into a powerful force for the good of society!”

At this, Izuku couldn’t help but glance at All Might, a flash flood of emotion filling his chest. Could that possibly be true, that All Might had thought he was the most heroic youth? When he knew people like Katsuki, he still considered Izuku his best option? Tears filled his eyes before he reprimanded himself. More realistically, All Might was only saying that to comfort the media and gently introduce the idea of his retirement.

“That is why I am training young Scion to become my Successor! One day, I know he will surpass even me!” All Might put a hand on Izuku’s shoulder and firmly squeezed it. Izuku tried to hold his tears back. Even if the words weren’t true, just hearing them made him want to cry.

“And Scion, what are your thoughts on this?”

“O-oh! Well, um, I— um...” He could feel his face heating up. He hoped the newscast experts would edit the footage to make him look less nervous when they aired it. “Th-this is an honor, of course! I’ve looked up to All Might m-my whole life, s-so I’ll make sure to make the absolute most of this o-opportunity!” He squeezed his eyes shut for a moment, wishing he was as good at this as Tenya, but when he spoke again, he was able to put confidence in his words. “There’s nothing I want more than to live up to All Might’s expectations!”

“Perfect!” The head newscaster said. “That’s a wrap, everyone!”

Izuku couldn’t help but breathe a sigh of relief. The cameras added an element of pressure he hadn’t been expecting, despite his habit of scrutinizing news footage himself.

Within minutes, the newscasters cleaned up their green screen, cameras, and other equipment and left the back room of Leogan City Town Hall.

“That...wasn’t what I expected,” Izuku admitted, once they were gone.

All Might poured himself a cup of coffee from the machine in the corner. “Yes, the news can appear quite different than the footage they actually record. It’s pretty heavily edited, most of the time.”

“Right…” Izuku rubbed the back of his neck. “Are they going to keep all my stuttering in? It was kind of embarrassing…”

“Probably just the last bit that you said, to be honest,” All Might said. “They usually don’t include everything we say in the effort to make us seem more put-together. Coffee?”

“Oh, no thanks…” Izuku replied. Something about that didn’t sit right with him, but he couldn’t put his finger on it. Was it really him in that newscast, then?

Suddenly, he remembered what Katsuki had said two months ago— You realize All Might’s a freakin’ liar, don’t you?

Izuku’s jaw clenched. Katsuki may have been right to some degree, but there was nothing wrong with lying if it kept the peace as well as All Might did. Besides, most of what All Might said was honest, right?

“All Might…” Izuku hesitated, his chest tightening.

“Yes?”

His thumbs twiddled on their own, his eyes avoiding All Might’s. “Was...was what you said about me to the newscasters…really true?”

“Every word.” All Might sat next to him on the sagging couch. “Scion, one of the greatest hurdles you’re going to overcome is your self-doubt. Once you’re able to see yourself clearly, no one will be able to stop you.”

Izuku blushed at the compliments, looking at his feet. “But...there are a lot of people more talented than me. I would say any of my friends would have been a better choice.”

All Might laughed softly. “This is what I’m talking about, Izuku. They’ve been training since the age of four, and some of them even younger. It’s true that you’re not as strong as them, yet, but you’ve nearly caught up to them in the space of two months. Don’t you think that’s crazy?”

“Well, I don’t know if I would say I’ve almost caught up…”

All Might stood suddenly. “Then, I guess the only way to convince you is to go out and show you!” He turned and looked at Izuku, a strange glint in his eye as his voice took on a more serious tone. “Ready?”

It took Izuku a moment to process what he’d just said. “W-wait, what?! Now?!” He waved his arms wildly in protest. “B-but, I just got here two hours ago, a-and—!”

“Heroes sometimes have to work within a tight schedule! This is good practice for you!” All Might gave him a thumbs-up. “You can do it!”

Izuku stopped moving, looking down at his hands. His heart was pounding faster now, but he tried to think it through. He’d been training almost non-stop for two months. He’d studied relentlessly. He hadn’t slacked off once. He supposed the moment of truth was upon him.

I can do it, he told himself, repeating it over and over.

After all, All Might had said so.

He clenched his fists, feeling the strength in his grip as he met All Might’s eyes. “I’m ready!”

All Might laughed. “Good!” He pulled his phone out and showed Izuku the notification. “Because I just got notified of some trouble down by the docks!”

Less than a minute later, they were outside, jumping there. Apparently, All Might didn’t use a car.

“Keep up, Scion!” All Might’s voice was already getting lost with distance.

Izuku had to shield his eyes from the wind from All Might’s jump, hurrying to jump himself. He couldn’t quite reach the same heights or speeds, but he just had to keep All Might in his sights, above and ahead.

Izuku bit his lip to keep from screaming in excitement, All Might’s body a black blip against the sun. This was the type of footage that they put in films and documentaries about All Might, older newscasts that focused on catching more of the action than modern ones.

“HALT, VILLAINS!”

Izuku was still a hundred yards behind All Might, but his voice carried so far he could hear it as though they were only feet apart; it was the kind of voice that drew good people closer and struck fear into the hearts of the evil. It was no wonder people called it the voice of a god.

Two seconds later, Izuku had caught up, standing next to All Might in a ready stance. He’d never been to the docks before, so he quickly took in his surroundings. It was exactly like all the pictures and video footage of Leogan City he’d studied in the past month— a metal dock covered in huge metal cargo containers. An unnamed cargo ship waited in the glittering water.

Izuku also eyed the two figures standing in front of them carefully, his blood pressure rising with fear and excitement. One was a small, scrawny man dressed in black, with what appeared to be a severed hand stuck to his face. The fingers made space for his two bloodshot eyes. The other was tall and well-dressed, and appeared to be made of a strange purple mist that seemed to suck the light from the space around him. Both were holding boxes of material and loading it onto the cargo ship.

“All Might…” Rasped the smaller man. Izuku gasped as the box he was holding disintegrated, turning to gray ash and crumbling before his eyes. The handguns inside clattered to the ground. If they had powers, they were probably rebels. Izuku’s heart began beating faster, sweat gathering on his hands.

“Black market merchants?” All Might asked, his voice full of confidence. “For the rebellion?”

At this, the thin man started laughing. “Oh, no! I’m not with them! Not at all!” Once he ran out of breath, he suddenly turned serious, sending a chill down Izuku’s spine. “What makes you say that…Hero?” He spat the title at them, as though it was the worst insult he could think of.

“If not for the rebels, what do you need all those guns for?” All Might demanded, his smile still on his face.

“Well,” the man laughed, a feeble, breathless giggle. “You had the black market part right! But those rebels...why, I probably hate them as much as you do!”

That was strange. Most black market weapons were bought by the rebellion, statistically speaking. But, then again, it was unlikely these men were in any position of authority within the network of black market merchants if they were doing grunt work like lifting boxes. Likely, they couldn’t choose their customers. But why did he hate the rebels, if he was also an enemy of peace? Izuku supposed it was possible he just wanted more money. But if he wasn’t a rebel, where did he get his powers?

The taller man leaned down to speak to the smaller one. “Shigaraki, we can’t take All Might. We need to go.”

“You’re not going anywhere!” All Might shouted triumphantly. “Except for the Leogan City Police Station!” He pulled a fist back, preparing his signature move.

“SMASH!”

The ground shook, and all the air was sucked out of Izuku’s lungs. He had to brace himself and use his new super-strength to keep from moving. Loaded metal crates flew away as though made of paper, and a jagged hole appeared in the side of the cargo ship, which was pushed so far out to sea Izuku could barely see it anymore. The only sound was the deafening boom of All Might’s fist splitting the air.

Izuku dropped to his knees, his teeth clenching with shock. He’d never seen the Smash in person, before. It was utterly terrifying.

“Sorry, Scion!” All Might said, pulling him to his feet. “Are you alright?”

“Y-yeah!” Izuku stuttered, trying to regain his bearings. He couldn’t imagine being on the receiving end of that attack. He looked back for the criminals, but they were nowhere in sight. Had they been blown away, too?

Izuku nearly jumped when he heard the sickly voice behind them. He whirled around, but he didn’t see the villain until he looked down. He nearly screamed when he realized Shigaraki was halfway submerged in the metal, sticking out of a whirlpool of darkness. Izuku stumbled back, but All Might hadn’t seen Shigaraki yet. Izuku’s throat closed with panic.

“Nice try…” Shigaraki sounded on the verge of laughter as he grabbed All Might’s boot. “All Might!”

All Might grunted as his boot began to disintegrate, but yanked his leg away from the villain with blinding speed. Izuku managed to catch a glimpse of his foot, but it appeared only his boot had been harmed. All Might was just about to attack again when the man disappeared into the darkness and the whirlpool vanished. Izuku stepped forward, but All Might put his arm out.

“Hold on, Scion...It seems like the foggy one has some kind of portal ability; they could be anywhere…”

Izuku’s heart was hammering in his ears as though he was sprinting, his hands trembling with fright. He lowered his voice to a hoarse whisper. “A-All Might, is your leg alright?”

“Yes, don’t worry about that!” All Might said, still with a smile. “He didn’t reach my skin.”

Izuku nodded carefully, taking deep breaths to try and calm his racing pulse. He looked around to see if Shigaraki and his sidekick would pop out from anywhere, but everything seemed quiet.

“Keep an eye out, Scion.” All Might glanced around one more time before pulling out his phone. Izuku supposed he was tapping into the surveillance drones in the area. A few minutes later, All Might sighed, putting it away. “Nothing in the area. We’ll clean up around here, then go back to Town Hall and wait for another alert.”

“Oh…okay.” It was rare that any villains got away from All Might. Izuku wondered if he’d had to hold back because Izuku was there.

All Might didn’t give him time to think it over more. “Try and keep up this time!” All Might gave him a smile and an encouraging thumbs up before he leapt away, leaving behind another huge gust of wind.

“Right!” Izuku jumped to follow him, trying to smile, too.

Chapter Text

“It’s a new system they’ve set up,” Dr. Aizawa pointed at the map of the city, networks of streets highlighted in different colors. He was standing in front of the wall screen in the living room while they all sat on the couch, watching the presentation carefully. “Instead of patrols, you will be alerted when there is a crisis.”

Ochaco tilted her head. “Why didn’t we just do it like this in the first place?”

“This is how it is for most cities with heroes,” Momo explained, primly as ever. Somehow, she managed to sit on the couch without slouching at all. “I suppose they needed time to set up the infrastructure.”

“Two months?” Katsuki scoffed. He, on the other hand, he wasn’t sitting on the couch so much as lying down on it, his arms crossed over his chest with his legs splayed out in front of him. “Pretty inefficient.”

Dr. Aizawa cleared his throat in annoyance. “It’s quite a complicated system, Katsuki. They had to introduce new programming into the surveillance drones and include the latest updates. Anyway, I’ll let you come up with plans on how you want to zone the city, but expect a lot more confrontation from this point forward. Before, you were dealing with issues only when security drones could locate you within a certain radius. Now, your diameter is the whole city.”

Shoto had seen this coming from observing Endeavor’s work and thought it more convenient than doing patrols, but Ochaco swallowed hard.

Dr. Aizawa seemed to notice her discomfort. “Don’t worry, Ochaco. You’ve been doing well so far.” With that, he slunk out of the room, dragging his slippered feet against the floor tiredly. Shoto wouldn’t have been surprised if the man was still wearing his pajamas under his lab coat.

“Alright…” Tenya looked at the map with one hand on his chin. “Well, I suppose this also means we’ll be on call twenty-four hours a day. So, we should have two rotating twelve-hour shifts.”

Momo nodded. “Of course...the mechanics of coming up with a plan like that will be...difficult, since we need to change the groups periodically and also the timing so that we can’t be predicted…”

Thinking about it made Shoto’s head hurt, but Momo pulled out her tablet and immediately started drawing diagrams. He would leave that to her and Tenya, who scooted closer to her so that he could see the screen, too.

Wandering away, Shoto wondered where his cat was. He’d found that any time he couldn’t find Genny for a while, he started to miss her. He supposed it was a stupid attachment, but no one had to know about it.

“Genny?” he called softly, walking into the kitchen. She liked to sit on top of the refrigerator sometimes, and she wouldn’t let anyone open it except for Shoto. Sure enough, she was perched on top when he came in.

“Yo, Half-and-half,” Katsuki called, joining him in the kitchen. “Get me a soda? Your dumb cat bit me last night when I tried to open the fridge myself.”

“Don’t call her dumb,” Shoto said, grabbing a grape soda and tossing it to Katsuki, who caught it and cracked it open in a single, fluid motion. As far as Shoto was concerned, if Katsuki was going to say that just because he was bitten, he deserved to be bitten.

“Or what?” Katsuki bared his teeth before taking a swig of the soda.

Shoto narrowed his eyes at the other boy. “Just...don’t.”

“Hmph.” Katsuki tilted the can back again.

Shoto rubbed Genny’s ears affectionately and offered her a treat. Promptly, she hopped down and let him pick her up like a baby, purring as he rubbed her belly. It had taken a lot of coaxing to get her to that point, but Shoto had spent almost all of his free time the past month with Genny, and later on even some of his work time, since she would sit on his lap during briefings and meetings. Dr. Aizawa had given him some pointers on how to soothe her, apparently a cat person himself. Genny still seemed to hate everyone else other than Dr. Aizawa and Momo, but that was fine with Shoto.

Suddenly, the cat scrambled out of his grasp. He didn’t think much of it at first, since she did do that sometimes when she’d had enough of his admittedly excessive cuddling, but she bolted to his room immediately.

“Shoto!”

Instantly, he recognized the voice. He grit his teeth. They hadn’t spoken since the strange night Endeavor had wrecked their apartment, and it had been a very peaceful two months for Shoto. Truthfully, he’d tried to forget about the incident. “Endeavor…”

Katsuki sputtered, choking on his soda. “E-Endeavor?!”

Endeavor ignored Katsuki, marching closer to Shoto until he cast a shadow on him. Shoto could feel the heat of his flames, could see the familiar fire of ambition blazing in Endeavor’s eyes again. “So...I’ve been watching the newscasts of you.”

Shoto didn’t answer, oil boiling in his gut. He didn’t want Endeavor to get the impression that Shoto cared what he thought.

“And I trust that you’ve heard about the debut of All Might’s Successor?”

Shoto glanced at Katsuki, who was still staring at Endeavor with wide eyes. Was Endeavor really going to talk about this here, where anyone could hear them?

“His name is Scion,” Shoto corrected, struggling to keep his voice calm.

“Yes…” Endeavor’s eyes glittered. “A fitting name for a Successor, as is yours.”

“Why do you care?” Shoto demanded, even though he knew exactly where Endeavor was going with this.

“You must surpass him.” Endeavor grasped his shoulders, too tightly. The expression on his face could almost be called a smile. “You will surpass them both!”

Normally, he would protest, but he didn’t want to get into a big fight in front of his teammates. Shoto yanked himself out of Endeavor’s grip, speaking coldly despite the heat in the pit of his stomach. “Noted.”

Endeavor’s grin widened. Apparently, he was ignoring Shoto’s insubordinate attitude today. “Good.” He turned away. Shoto couldn’t help but feel relieved. “I’ll just be staying for a day, maybe two, so don’t worry about that. But keep in mind, Janus, I will never stop watching.” He disappeared down the hallway, towards Dr. Aizawa’s quarters.

“What the hell was that?” Katsuki demanded as soon as he was out of earshot.

Shoto ignored him in favor of keep himself from screaming.

Katsuki slammed his soda down on the counter, grumbling. “I don’t like him ignoring me like that! Don’t you start doing it, too…” After a pause, Katsuki continued. “Deku doesn’t matter! Don’t you forget where the real competition is, got it?!” He pointed a thumb at himself.

Shoto glanced after Endeavor. “Yeah.”

Katsuki was still eyeing him suspiciously, but Shoto just turned around and went to his room, closing the door behind him. Instantly, Genny peeked out from under the bed. When she saw it was him, she came out and jumped onto his bed. He sat next to her, petting her absent-mindedly. Somehow, stroking her made him feel better.

Just then, there was a knock on his door. “Janus!” It was Tenya. “There’s a problem downtown! We’re going with Zero to take care of it!”

Good. Shoto needed the distraction.

Giving Genny one last stroke, Shoto opened the door and followed Tenya to the door, where Ochaco was already waiting for them, her helmet on.

“So what’s the issue?” Shoto asked.

“Robbery at a technology store,” Tenya answered, leading them to one of the H.E.R.O. Project cars. Once they all climbed into the black van, Tenya punched in their destination and it began to drive, far over the speed limit. All the other cars in the streets would sense theirs coming and stop for them.

“Rebels?” Ochaco asked nervously, fidgeting in her seat. They’d already had a string of robberies by rebels carrying I.D. cards that seemingly didn’t belong to them, and they somehow got away each time.

“I’m not sure, but we should assume the worst,” Tenya replied.

Sure enough, when they arrived at the scene, the spiky-haired redhead was already running away from the scene, some sort of electronic tucked under his arm.

“Rebels,” Shoto confirmed, stepping out of the van. Instantly, he froze the redhead up to his waist. After a quick glance around, he’d determined that most of the civilians had fled the scene already. “Can we destroy the electronics?”

Tenya stepped out next to him, followed by Ochaco. “Try to avoid it, if possible.”

“AH! Riot! You stuck?” Another rebel stepped out of the store, also hiding his face with a hockey mask, but his blond hair stuck out from behind it. Shoto would put him at a slightly smaller build than the first rebel, Riot, maybe slightly shorter. Probably around the same age, though. He sent ice towards this new rebel, too.

“Look out!” Riot shouted.

“Yikes!” The blonde jumped back into the store.

Shoto scoffed in annoyance, stopping his ice before it hit the store to avoid property damage.

The blonde laughed. “Whoa, you almost got me there! But now it’s my turn!” He pointed a strange device at them.

“Get back!” Tenya yelled.

Instantly, Shoto and Ochaco jumped to the sides, Tenya jumping in the same direction as Ochaco.

A crackling bolt of electricity passed between them. Shoto could feel his heart rate beginning to pick up.

“Hey…” The blonde whined. “Alright! Let’s try again!”

He didn’t have time to finish pointing the device at Shoto before Tenya kicked him square in the back of his head, moving so fast he was practically a blur.

“Reciprio Burst!”

The rebel crumpled like a ragdoll, but a strange pink rope wrapped around Tenya’s waist before he managed to land. It flung him into the side of a building. Meanwhile, Riot had dropped his loot and broke through Shoto’s ice with his arms, which he’d apparently hardened.

However, getting Tenya down safely took priority over attacking Riot. “Ingenium!” Shoto yelled out a warning before creating a slide of ice for him to use.

“Thanks! Help Zero!”

Shoto turned away to see where the rope was now, and it was wrapped around Ochaco, lifting her into the air, but it didn’t seem she needed any help. After she touched it, she was able to land on the ground again and gave it a good yank.

“Ribbit!” A girl came flying towards Ochaco, the rope coming from her mouth. Shoto felt a shiver of revulsion tingle down his spine. Was that...her tongue?

Ochaco let out a battle cry as she punched the frog-girl in the face, sending her flying back in the other direction. Her tongue unraveled from Ochaco’s waist.

“Don’t look away, Janus!”

Shoto’s heart jumped into his throat at Riot’s voice. He blocked Riot’s blow with his flaming forearm, but it felt like he was hitting a solid rock. Shoto grunted, something cracking in his arm, but he pushed the pain to the back of his mind and jumped back, trying to create distance between himself and Riot. The fire seemed to have no effect on the rebel. His heart was loud in his ears as Riot charged in again, but all Shoto needed was a split second, and ice shot from the ground, trapping the rebel.

Both Tenya and Ochaco were fighting against the frog-girl, now, who was on the defensive. It was clear she had superior agility, but she couldn’t grab Ochaco because of her zero gravity ability, and Tenya was difficult to catch when he saw you coming.

Shoto turned his attention to the blond rebel, who had begun to groan and was standing up, swaying on his feet. Shoto wasn’t going to give him a chance to get his bearings. He screamed as ice encased him up to his neck.

“Cold, cold, cold! Come on, man!”

Did that rebel think this was a game? Shoto scoffed, turning his attention to the frog-girl and his teammates. But something else caught his eye, then, a flash of yellow hiding in an alley.

Shoto ran to it, covering his ears in anticipation. He saw all his ice shattering in the corner of his eye, probably from a frequency he couldn’t hear, and sure enough, the familiar scream filled the air a second later, just as Shoto stepped into the alleyway. As he fell to his knees, his vision blackening, he sent fire shooting up from the floor in the direction of the screamer. The screech ended in a strangled yelp.

Got you!

His vision was still blurry, but Shoto sent ice along the ground next, freezing the man completely from the feet up to the head.

When his double vision faded, Shoto walked cautiously up to the ice, using his left hand to melt the cloudy surface away so he could see inside.

“Yamada…” he muttered, wiping the tears from his eyes and ignoring the blood dripping from his ears. There seemed to be some sort of speaker around Yamada’s throat, pointing forward. Perhaps these types of devices were what the rebels wanted stolen technology for.

He couldn’t leave Yamada inside and let him suffocate, so Shoto melted the ice around his speaker device and stabbed a hole in it with a small spire of ice. He then stuck his finger in the hole and froze the entire inside of the device. Hopefully, that would stop it from working while still leaving it so that Dr. Aizawa and Momo could have a look at it.

He supposed he had a few minutes before Yamada died, so he decided to quickly check on his teammates.

“Janus!”

Apparently, they were already looking for him. They jogged over.

“They got away, with that scream again!” Tenya fumed.

Ochaco still looked a little dizzy, swaying slightly on her feet. “That was way louder than I thought…Wait, is that…?” She pointed at Yamada, still frozen in Shoto’s ice.

Shoto looked at him, too, frozen with his mouth wide open. He wiped a bit of sweat off his brow, his heart rate beginning to slow. “Yeah.”

Chapter Text

“Well...I guess I’m just a little disappointed in myself…” Izuku admitted, rubbing the back of his neck. He tried to smile, but he still couldn’t stop replaying the scene from the docks in his head— how there wasn’t even a real confrontation, and yet he’d been so frozen he couldn’t even shout.

He was chatting with Shoto and Momo over his phone, and from the plain background they were in, Izuku guessed they were in Shoto’s room.

“Don’t worry, Izuku.” Momo offered him a sympathetic smile. “It’s always hard to act in your first real fight.”

“And this Shigaraki person has a pretty scary power,” Shoto added, even though his expression was still as flat as usual. Though Izuku was familiar with Shoto’s reserved nature, he still wondered if Shoto really thought Izuku had done okay or if his friend was only saying that to make him feel better.

Momo’s voice snapped him out of his thoughts. “Especially since you’d also just found out he wasn’t a rebel. I know I would have been trying to calculate the possibilities in my mind. It has some...frightening implications that someone other than the rebels could be giving people powers. I’m sure it was difficult to focus.”

“Yeah…” Izuku recalled how he hadn’t been able to warn All Might about Shigaraki back at the docks. Luckily, All Might had noticed on his own before Shigaraki managed to dissolve through his boot. It would be one thing if Izuku’s hesitance was because of a physical incapability, but replaying the event in his head, he had to admit his lack of action was out of pure fear. Izuku hadn’t been able to disperse the cloud of shame in his gut since then, but maybe his friends would be able to help.

“What do you guys do when you get scared in battle?”

They were both silent for a moment, thinking it over. Izuku sighed inwardly. If they both needed to think so hard, it must have meant that battle really did come naturally to them. He tried to remember All Might’s point that they’d been training since early childhood for this. Of course they were more mentally prepared than he was. But even so...

“Well…when I think about it, I suppose I have...a ‘switch.’” Momo brushed a stray hair behind her ear. The gesture was casual, but the tension in her shoulders suggested she wasn’t completely comfortable with giving advice. “When I flip it on, I only think about business. I push all my fear to the back of my mind, save it for later when I have time to work through it.”

“Alright…” Izuku supposed it made sense, but nevertheless a sense of helplessness began to creep up on him. He’d never been good at suppressing his emotions. He figured it would take practice; he’d have to have a lot more experiences like the one at the docks in order to put her advice to use. “What about you, Shoto?”

The cat mewed in Shoto’s lap, and his eyes immediately flicked downwards to look at her. Izuku couldn’t see Genny in the frame, but he could tell from the way Shoto’s arm was moving that he was petting her. “I don’t know. I don’t really have anything helpful for you. Battle just...doesn’t scare me all that much, I guess.”

“Don’t you feel even a little nervous?” Momo asked with a small frown.

He thought for a moment. “If you mean an adrenaline rush, then yes, I get that. But I wouldn’t say I’m genuinely afraid.” He shrugged. “Maybe a different opponent could change that, but so far…”

Momo sighed, but managed a smile. “You’re really too amazing, Shoto.”

He avoided her gaze. “It’s not anything special.”

She glanced him up and down before turning back towards the screen. Izuku had noticed that Shoto and Momo had grown closer over the past few months. He usually chatted with his friends individually, but sometimes they just happened to be together when he called, and like today, sometimes they were even together in one of their bedrooms. While he was glad their friendship had grown so strong, he did feel a little left out, having only talked to his friends via video-chat for over two months.

Momo met his eyes with a sympathetic smile, as though she sensed Izuku’s thoughts. “Well, tell us more about working with All Might! It must be remarkable!”

Izuku nodded vigorously, admiration rising in his chest as it always did when he thought of All Might. “Definitely! To be honest, I didn’t think it was possible, but he’s even more impressive in person!”

“Well, what advice did he have for you?” Shoto asked. “He must know something about acting under pressure.”

It had seemed to fade over the years, but Izuku recalled that Shoto had once admired All Might a lot, too. It made Izuku slightly uncomfortable to wonder what had changed, especially as memories of Katsuki’s disillusionment came back to his mind. He hadn’t spoken to Katsuki since then; after awhile of having his calls ignored, Izuku had simply stopped trying to contact him.

He shook the thoughts away. “Oh, well...he tells me to smile.”

“Oh!” Momo’s eyes lit up. “It’s because studies show that even a fake smile can decrease stress hormones in your brain and stimulate the release of endorphins, which will make you feel calmer, right?”

“Um...I guess so,” Izuku rubbed the back of his neck. He supposed it made sense, even though her use of the word ‘fake’ made him feel fidgety. He’d told Ochaco a month before that All Might smiled in order to intimidate villains and to calm the public, but he’d never given a thought to what the smile meant to All Might himself.

Izuku pushed the thoughts away, putting on his own grin. “Well, enough about work! What’s going on over there?”

“Nothing much…” Momo smiled wryly. “Outside of work, we don’t really do much.”

“Watch out for Endeavor,” Shoto said suddenly. Momo glanced at him in surprise. Izuku was a little surprised, too, but he supposed Shoto had never been one for smooth conversation.

“Uh...why, is something wrong?” Izuku remembered his strange encounter with the Hellflame Hero back at the Cenere City Lab, but he decided not to mention it because he didn’t want Shoto to get upset about it.

“He’s just got an eye on you, and it’s...annoying.” Shoto’s voice was brimming with barely restrained distaste.

“Oh...alright…” Of course, Izuku understood that parents could sometimes be pretty difficult to deal with, but he got the impression that Shoto and Endeavor didn’t get along very well at all. He hoped he wasn’t somehow getting in the way of their relationship. Then again, Izuku remembered that Endeavor had always seemed very strict, even when they were young. He could recall Endeavor refusing very harshly when Izuku had once asked to watch him and Shoto train. He shuddered slightly at the memory; he’d never asked again after that.

“You mean he wants to train Izuku?” Momo asked, raising an eyebrow.

“No…” A strange look burned in Shoto’s eyes then, but he looked away from both the screen and Momo so that they wouldn’t be able to see it anymore. “I just mean that if he sees you, he’s going to be a jerk to you, so be prepared.”

Izuku nodded, promising that he was okay with that. Momo still looked at Shoto worriedly, as though it was the first time she’d heard him speak poorly of Endeavor.

“Did...did you two have a fight or something?” she asked Shoto.

Shoto looked pointedly at his cat, calmly but deliberately stroking her fur. “No.”

“Alright…” Hesitantly, Momo turned back towards the screen.

Just then, Izuku heard footsteps coming down the hall of the apartment he shared with All Might.

“Izuku?” he knocked on the open door. “I hope I’m not interrupting?”

“Oh, I’m just talking to my friends a bit!” Izuku pointed his phone in All Might’s direction so that Shoto and Momo could see him.

“Hello, All Might, sir!” Momo said, always respectful. “It’s an honor to meet you!”

“Ah, Creati, right?” All Might waved to the camera pleasantly. Momo squeaked at being recognized. “And Janus?” All Might laughed, probably maxing out the microphone on Izuku’s phone, and gave them a thumbs-up. “I’ve seen your work in Malus City! Keep it up!”

“Y-yes, sir!” Momo replied, her voice full of awe. Izuku could feel pride swelling in his own chest that All Might had acknowledged the hard work of his friends. “We’ll leave you and Scion to your business, now!” The chat window closed automatically when she cut the connection.

All Might spoke more quietly, now, almost pensive. “You have some fine friends, don’t you, Izuku?”

He smiled at his phone. “Yeah…”

“Well, I have a little something for your training,” All Might prompted, gesturing for Izuku to follow him. There wasn’t a complete H.E.R.O. Lab in Leogan City because of how close by Cenere City was, but there was a satellite facility with training rooms and an examination room for All Might’s use. Now, they were for Izuku’s use, too.

“What is it?” Izuku tried to contain the balloon expanding in his chest, but his voice still came out a little squeakier than normal. His could feel his pulse picking up.

“It’s an old robot designed by my mentor back in the day…” All Might explained. “It really helped me get the hang of my power, so I had them fix it up for you. And of course, Dr. Aizawa and your father had a few upgrades added.”

Once they reached the training room, Izuku peered inside to see the robot. It was short and humanoid, with a funny tuft of gray hair on its head. “What does it—…?”

When Izuku turned around, he realized All Might was shaking, a hand over his mouth.

“A-All Might!” he asked frantically. “Are you okay? Is something wrong?”

“O-oh, yes, Izuku…” All Might trembled. “It’s just that...seeing it brings back a lot of memories…” He managed a feeble laugh. “The Doctor used to call it ‘Gran Torino.’”

“The Doctor?” Izuku wondered if that was All Might’s mentor.

“Yes...he’s retired, now, but…” All Might shuddered before laughing again, too loudly and breathlessly to instill confidence. “It’s, uh, quite a solid design!”

“Gran Torino…” Izuku murmured. If it had helped All Might, then Izuku wanted to use it, too, no matter how scary it was. “I’m ready to try it!”

All Might cleared his throat. “That’s the spirit!” His laugh still didn’t sound quite right, but he went up to the observation deck while Izuku left to quickly change into his costume. Izuku tried to put the strange sense of foreboding out of his mind as he pulled his costume on. Even if All Might was nervous about it, it was just a training session, right?

When he returned, the robot was moving around, mocking a stretching motion. “Pathetic!” It cried in a warbled voice, even though Izuku hadn’t done anything, yet.

“Uh…” Izuku glanced uncertainly at the observation deck.

“Ah, sorry, Izuku!” All Might’s voice was shaky over the microphone. Izuku was beginning to doubt; was it this little robot that scared All Might so badly, or the memory of the man behind its design, whoever he was? “The Doctor programed it with his voice to encourage me.”

“Oh…” Izuku turned back to the robot, who had light-up eyes. He wondered if the tuft of hair served a purpose or was similarly for ‘encouragement.’

“Ready?” The robot asked.

“Y-yes!” Izuku replied, starting to get into a ready stance.

Before he could blink, he was spread-eagle on the ground, his face tingling with the sensation of being sucker-punched— the nerves too shocked for pain to even settle in. He thought he heard All Might squeak before hastily turning off the microphone. He hadn’t known All Might was capable of making that noise.

“Pathetic!” The robot scolded again.

“S-sorry!” Izuku scrambled to his feet. He wasn’t sure why he felt the need to apologize to the rude robot, but something about it demanded respect. Perhaps going into this training so eagerly without asking more questions had been a mistake…

“Ready?”

“Yes!”

This time, Izuku got ready to block his face, activating his super strength, but the robot went for his gut instead, sending him tumbling across the room like a ragdoll. The walls of the room seemed to fly around him in a confusing jumble. Finally, his back slammed against the wall and he slid to the floor with a painful thud.

“Pathetic!”

Izuku didn’t answer this time, wincing as he stood up. At least this time he had seen the robot move, relying on rocket thrusters in its feet. He was very curious about the balancing mechanisms that allowed the robot to move that way, but he tried to put it out of his mind so he could focus. Katsuki would have called him a nerd.

“Ready?”

Izuku got into a stance, preparing to jump. The robot was so fast, he guessed that it probably had a hard time turning. Therefore, the best way to avoid it was to side-step it after it had already started moving, just like Katsuki had done with Miss Hatsume’s bouncing droids.

“Yes!”

It was easier said than done. It took a few tries before he managed to do it, and when he did, the robot simply came right back and head-butted him from behind.

“Ow!” He lay on the floor for a moment, trying to think over the sound of his heart racing in his ears. How had it managed to turn so fast? It was possible it had other rockets in its body, or perhaps it bounced like Miss Hatsume’s robots. It was even possible that it was able to move using only the rockets in its feet, and simply had a reaction time fast enough that it could change direction before Izuku could even look.

“Ready?”

Izuku sat up and rubbed his spine, which was still sore. “Hold on a—”

“NO!”

“Huh—?”

The robot punched him in the face so hard he blacked out for a moment. When his vision cleared, All Might was standing over him, still trembling a bit.

“Izuku, are you alright?”

He groaned, sitting up and putting a hand to his face. His jaw hurt, but he didn’t think it was anything serious. He’d get a bruise at the worst. “I didn’t say ‘yes’ that time…”

“That was an unpleasant surprise for me the first time, too…” All Might admitted, casting a suspicious glance at the robot. Izuku could understand why All Might was afraid of the thing.

“At least it doesn’t constantly charge, I guess…”

“Oh, it does that if you put it on the ‘Normal’ setting,” All Might supplied.

Izuku stared at him for a second. “Wait, this is the ‘Easy’ setting?”

All Might smiled sheepishly. “Well, they were trying to train me to take down armies, after all.” He laughed weakly.

Izuku didn’t even want to ask what the ‘Hard’ setting entailed. Still, he had to master fighting this robot if it meant he would be closer to helping All Might and fulfilling his duty as a Successor. He stood up, balling his fists. He felt the power surge through his muscles, determination like crackling electricity coursing through his body.

“Okay...Let’s go again!”

Chapter Text

“I can’t do this, anymore, Mom!”

“Y-Yukio, please! Endeavor is just...he’s just upset!” She followed Yukio into the kitchen.

Shoto sat on the rug in the living room, doing his schoolwork, pretending not to listen. But he hung on every word. Suddenly, he couldn’t move his pencil anymore, something in his chest tightening, paralyzing him.

“I’ll visit, okay?” Yukio sighed. “Aunt Akemi promised we’ll visit.”

Blizzard’s voice was about to break, delicate ice crystals falling down toward asphalt. “Y-you’re really leaving over something like this?”

His voice cracked. “He broke my wrist!”

So that was what had happened to his brother’s arm. Shoto had heard him crying a few nights before, but when he’d asked what was wrong, he’d told Shoto to go away, because he was too young to understand.

“I-it’s not permanent—”

“Mom!” His voice was angry, but he managed to control it, simply sighing again. He ran his good hand through his newly dyed hair. “I’ll tell everyone I was just tired of living in a Lab when I’m not even an experiment, and that’s only if anyone even figures out I’m your son. I’ll write you.”

Blizzard let out a sob, a loud, lonely cry that clawed its way up her throat, burst out of her mouth like the yelp of a wounded animal. “Please...Don’t leave me, Yukio...Everyone’s leaving me...Soon, all I’ll have left is…” She started crying in earnest, now. Shoto could hear her frozen tears shattering on the ground.

He wondered what she’d been about to say. But he knew one thing— even if everyone else abandoned her, Shoto never would.

Yukio simply walked out of the kitchen, stone-cold. Blizzard stumbled to the doorway, crying hysterically. “I’m really sorry, Mom, but...I just can’t do this, anymore…” He put his hand on the doorknob before letting it drop. He turned towards Shoto and tried to give him a hug, but he pushed his brother away roughly.

He understood just fine.

Yukio managed a small, sad smile before standing again, taking his bag with him and leaving the apartment.

Shoto watched Blizzard as she sunk down to the floor, screaming for Yukio to come back. Something hurt in his chest to see her like that, like his lungs were filling with water, swelling until they were ready to burst. He felt like crying, too, but he tried to be strong for her.

“Mommy?” He approached cautiously, not sure if his words would matter to her. “Don’t worry. Endeavor can bring him back.”

“No, Shoto…” Blizzard buried her face in her hands. “Yukio is gone…”

Shoto looked at the door again, suddenly very angry that Yukio would just leave Blizzard like that. How could he? Tears filled Shoto’s eyes, but he heated his skin so that they would dry instead of falling.

“I’ll stay with you.” His voice choked with grief, but Blizzard didn’t even look at him. He just watched helplessly as she cried until shimmering droplets of ice covered the ground.

When Endeavor returned that night, the apartment was covered in glittering frost.

Shoto gasped and bolted up, waking from another nap. He rubbed his eyes. The new schedule was not helping his sleep, or his dreams.

Genny jumped onto his bed next to him and made eye contact questioningly.

“I’m okay…” he muttered, scratching her behind the ears. Even though it was stupid, he found it calming to talk to his cat aloud. “Though...getting out of this room might help. Do you want a snack?”

She followed when he stood, so he took it as an agreement, leading her into the kitchen and feeding her some fish treats.

“Shoto, are you up?” Momo called from the living room.

“Yeah.” He gave Genny one last scratch before she slinked off back to his room, probably to take another nap.

“Katsuki and I are watching Izuku’s newscast. Would you like to join us?” It had aired a few days before, but they hadn’t had a chance to watch it in full, yet.

“Sure.”

They were sitting on the couch, Katsuki with his feet on the coffee table, next to his grenade-shaped gauntlets. Momo was sitting next to him, dressed in her costume but with her wet hair loose. Technically, it wasn’t their shift at the moment, but since Tenya and Ochaco were already out dealing with an identity theft case, they would have to go if something else came up.

Shoto took a seat next to Momo. She looked nice with her hair down.

The newscast played an interview first of All Might and Izuku, talking about their partnership. Shoto felt a strange sense of pride seeing his friend standing there, saying brave words, and hearing All Might complimenting him. He’d thought Izuku was being too hard on himself considering how little training he’d had, so while it was possible that All Might only complimented him so much to put on a face for the public, Shoto didn’t doubt All Might’s words.

Next, they played footage of All Might and Izuku at what appeared to be a dock, facing off against a small, sickly man and a taller man shrouded in a strange purple fog. The voiceover talked as All Might let loose a ‘Smash,’ destroying the villains’ cargo ship.

This morning, All Might and Scion confronted two black market merchants. The smaller man pictured here is called ‘Shigaraki.’ If anyone sees him, please report him to your local police station. Now, All Might’s words on the matter.

All Might appeared on the screen, smiling as usual. Katsuki scoffed, almost disdainful. “Unfortunately, Shigaraki was able to escape using mysterious technology. However, we will catch him very soon!” All Might gave a thumbs-up to the camera. “You have no need to fear, citizens! No evil will last long against me and my new partner!

Katsuki stood up suddenly, putting his hands behind his head and turning from the screen.

“Katsuki?” Momo called, concerned.

He let his hands drop and balled his fists. He practically spat his words at them. “I can’t listen to this crap anymore, alright?”

Momo paused the video, raising an eyebrow. “What do you mean?”

“You know what I mean! All Might’s—…” He stopped, staring at them incredulously, and they stared right back. “You guys really don’t know, do you?”

A chill went down Shoto’s spine, but he didn’t know why.

Momo gave him a puzzled look. “Know...what?”

Katsuki scoffed again. “Of course they’d want to keep it a secret! Screw them!” He plopped back on the couch again. Shoto wondered if this secret had something to do with Izuku and his part in All Might’s Successor Study. After all, it had struck him as strange that they didn’t start the experiment until Izuku was already a teenager, not to mention that they’d gotten him started in the field so quickly...

“What are you talking about, Katsuki?” Momo asked, her voice growing stern and rigid— the voice she used for work.

He sighed angrily, crossing his arms. “Doesn’t it bother you sometimes, how little they tell us? For all we know, this Shigaraki guy could be really deadly and they wouldn’t say anything!”

It was true that they hadn’t mentioned anywhere in the newscast what Izuku had told them regarding Shigaraki and the other man’s abilities, but Shoto supposed they didn’t want to cause mass panic, since the criminals were apparently not even rebels. The Malus City newscasts did the same thing about the super-powered rebels running around. In fact, to avoid tipping the rebels off, the newscasts hadn’t even covered Yamada’s capture. The man was in a holding cell somewhere in the Lab, under Dr. Aizawa’s study. For the newscasts, Tenya had simply made a vague promise that they were making strides in the fight against the rebels.

“It’s only for the good of society that they keep secrets,” Momo pointed out matter-of-factly. “The H.E.R.O. Project does it, too, not just the media.”

“It’s a freakin’ sham!” Katsuki crossed his arms. “Everyone’s got their dirty, little secrets, so why do we pretend guys like All Might don’t have a few, too? Isn’t that more dangerous to society than the secret itself?”

“We have to trust the government and the H.E.R.O. Project officials to decide that.” Momo said sternly. “It’s not our place to speculate about it.”

“Above our pay grade, huh, Ponytail?” Katsuki grumbled. He turned to Shoto. “What about Endeavor?”

Shoto tried not to react, but he felt his body stiffen anyway.

Katsuki continued, leaning forward with menace. “He seems like a clean-cut guy on the newscasts, but he’s got a few things he’s hiding, too, right? After seeing him in person, it’s obvious there’s something off about that guy.”

Shoto grit his teeth, trying to maintain a neutral face despite the growing panic in his gut. “...That’s not my business.”

“You’re his son!”

Shoto opened his mouth. No, I’m not. He’d almost said it. He swallowed, finding his composure and starting again. “Fine. He’s not perfect. But if a hero like him or All Might had anything scandalous to hide and people found out about it...”

“The people would have no one to put their faith in,” Momo continued. “Without hope, there’s no order in society. Didn’t we learn that early, Katsuki?”

He stared back and forth between Momo and Shoto for a moment, his eyes narrowed and his mouth twisted into a scowl. For a moment, no one spoke.

“Never mind. Forget I said anything.” He retreated into sullen silence.

Momo looked at Katsuki with concern, but she continued playing the newscast anyway.

Still, Shoto wasn’t really watching, anymore. He wondered what All Might was hiding that made Katsuki react that way. Of course, Shoto had always known that even the heroes hailed as the greatest could be just like anyone else behind closed doors. They could be monsters. They could be weak. They could be nothing more than human.

But society needed to be protected from the truth. Endeavor had taught him many things over the years, but that had been his first bitter lesson. Perhaps Katsuki was only just discovering it.

A beeping sound interrupted his thoughts. All their phones were being notified at once, which meant there was something going on that they needed to take care of.

“Katsuki, do you want to come?” Momo asked, tying her hair up.

He didn’t answer, simply changing the channel on the wall screen to a sitcom. Pre-recorded laughter rang from the speakers.

Momo sighed. “Alright. Let’s go, Shoto.”

He glanced one more time at Katsuki before following her out. “Right.”

A few minutes later, they were chasing the frog-girl down the street. Shoto’s heart was racing, a bead of sweat dripping down the back of his neck, but only from exertion. The rebel was fast; he’d give her that.

It seemed they’d arrived on the scene before she’d managed to steal anything from the technology store, but she was jumping away anyway, turning into an alley.

“Be careful!” Momo was running by his side.

Shoto nodded. He’d noticed their tendency to use alleyways as hiding spots for backup, so the first thing he did when they turned into the alley was freeze the ground.

“Ribbit!” The frog-girl jumped and stuck to the wall.

Momo pulled a gun from her thigh, probably full of either rubber bullets or stun darts. She aimed it at the frog-girl, who stretched her tongue out towards the gun. Shoto sent some fire towards her tongue just as Momo fired, but the frog-girl jumped out of the way of both of their attacks. The stun dart clattered to the concrete.

Momo fired again, and the dart sunk into the frog-girl’s tongue. Shoto thought that was the end of it until she flicked her tongue outward, and the dart went flying back towards Momo.

Crap!

He wasn’t sure if it still had the stun chemicals in it, but he blasted it away with ice anyway, mere inches from her face. Momo yelped. Had the girl somehow wrapped her tongue around the dart without getting pricked with it?

“Ribbit!” The frog-girl jumped towards them, probably hoping to take advantage of the shock. A mistake. The second the girl’s feet left the wall, ice shot up from the ground and encased her in mid-air, up to her neck.

“Thanks…” Momo breathed.

“Don’t worry about it,” Shoto replied curtly.

“Guess I was no match for you two, ribbit…” The girl sighed, almost smiling.

Shoto cast a glance in Momo’s direction. “Creati? Do we take her to the Police Station?”

“Yes.” Momo replied. “But I want to ask her a few questions, first.” She turned to the girl. “And don’t think about using your tongue on us. It should be fairly obvious why you shouldn’t touch Janus, but I can inject you with any material the moment you make contact with me, so I would be careful if I were you.”

“I’m aware of the situation, ribbit. Ask away, Hero.”

Shoto didn’t know what Momo wanted to know, but he simply kept quiet. Doubtless, she knew what she was doing.

“What’s your name?”

“They call me Froppy.”

“Your real name,” Momo insisted.

“That was it, ribbit.”

“Fine.” Momo’s voice was steady, intimidating. “Where did you get your powers?”

“The rebels gave them to me.” She tilted her head. “Didn’t you already know that?”

Momo pursed her lips. “Do you take in experimentees for money? Or some other reward?”

The girl seemed to think it over. “No, I don’t think so, ribbit. What makes you ask that?”

“I’m asking the questions,” Momo said calmly.

The girl ignored her. “Does it maybe have something to do with the appearance of Shigaraki and his black market gang?”

No one was supposed to know Shigaraki and his partner had powers. Momo raised an eyebrow. “How did you—?”

“But if so,” the girl continued. “Isn’t it arrogant to assume that no one other than the rebels could replicate your H.E.R.O. Project’s experiments? Ribbit!”

Momo stared at her for a second, but her expression was unreadable. “Then do you rebels meet with someone to conduct the experiments for you? Who is this third party?”

“We do them ourselves, as far as I know, ribbit.” Something about the girl’s large, wide eyes was disturbing, as though she could see right through the faces they were putting on. “But I’ve been thinking on these super-powered non-rebels myself, and you seem like a good person to share my thoughts with, ribbit. So, did you ever think that, maybe, this Shigaraki could be one of your own?”

Shoto spoke without meaning to. Something about the question bothered him, an uncomfortable sensation in the pit of his stomach. “What are you talking about?”

The girl tilted her head again, moving her disconcerting stare to Shoto. “Do you really believe that every H.E.R.O. Project experiment is a success? Tell me, Hero, what do you think they do with the failures?”

“Nothing.” Shoto answered firmly, a chill running down his spine. His siblings had been among the failures, and they lived normal lives. As far as he knew.

“That’s enough, Janus.” Momo cut in. Shoto tried to relax his shoulders as Momo turned back to the girl. “Don’t make claims you can’t support. Now—”

“No one said I can’t support it, ribbit,” she interrupted. “The man you captured, Hizashi Yamada, was one such failure. Because his voice cannot be properly directed without the boombox he wears around his neck, they considered him a failure, ribbit. You’ve seen what he’s up to, now.”

For a split second, Momo’s facade cracked. Her brow furrowed, and her hands clasped hesitantly in front of her, as though lost and searching for each other. She almost squirmed.

“N-never mind.” Momo turned to Shoto, the mask returning. He tried to hide his relief. “I don’t think she knows anything useful. She’s just trying to confuse us.”

“Police Station, then?” Shoto asked, eyeing the frog-girl carefully. She stared right back, her expression disturbingly blank.

“Yes.”

After dropping her off with Captain Tsukauchi, they climbed back into the van they’d used to get there. They were silent for most of the ride back to the Lab. It was Momo who finally broke the silence.

“She was trying to manipulate us, push our buttons. We can’t let them win.” Her words were confident, but her voice held the faintest tremor.

Shoto nodded numbly. “Right.”


Chapter Text

“Ready?”

“Yes!”

Gran Torino was still blindingly fast, but Izuku watched the trajectory of the blur carefully, now used to the routine. After he jumped out of the way, he knew where it would be coming from. There were a few possible combinations when the robot charged towards the wall at that angle, but there was an area the robot couldn’t reach, simply because of the limited flexibility of its ankles. Izuku flipped into that area, mimicking Katsuki’s signature movements to dodge and turn around in a single motion.

The robot sped by, aiming to charge at Izuku again after hitting the opposite wall, but Izuku was ready this time. He prepared his arm for the impact, timing his strike.

His fist only grazed the robot, though, which aimed its thrusters to dodge at the last second. It flew to one of the corners, pausing a moment to yell, “Pathetic!” before taking off again, towards Izuku.

He’d noticed that the robot seemed to have some sort of reader that could predict Izuku’s movements if he prepared for too long, so he had to be fast. He pictured Tenya’s ‘Reciprio Burst’ in his mind, keeping his muscles relaxed until Gran Torino was a second away from the contact point.

“SMASH!”

Yes!

His sneaker crunched against the robot’s back, sending it hurtling into the wall.

“Not bad,” it admitted.

“Thank you!” Izuku cried, a strange mixture of pride and relief swelling in his chest. Honestly, he was near tears. That was the closest thing he’d gotten to a compliment from the thing so far. Most of the time, it only gave him insults and lots of bruises.

“I think you’re ready for the ‘Hard’ setting!” All Might laughed from the observation deck.

Even though there was sweat dripping from his face, soaking through his shirt, and his muscles were aching, Izuku beamed.

“But first, dinner!”

Twenty minutes later, they were sitting at the kitchen table in their apartment. All Might brought out a pre-made mixture of greens and a bucket of pre-made macaroni salad. Apparently, he wasn’t much of a cook, but Izuku didn’t mind; sometimes, when he had time, Izuku even cooked them some of Mom’s recipes.

“You’ve been improving even faster than I could have imagined!” All Might said, crunching on some lettuce. His laugh practically shook the table.

Izuku blushed at the compliment, feeling his chest swelling again. He could tell he was improving, but more often than not, he felt he needed to step it up. “T-thanks!”

“Really, Izuku! I don’t lie about those kinds of things!” All Might said, stabbing some macaroni with his fork.

About those kinds of things. Izuku stiffened at the thought, immediately pushing it out of his mind, almost as though he was afraid. He knew he’d always allowed Katsuki to get into his head too much, but he also knew the reason why. As harsh as he was, Katsuki was usually right.

But not about this. Izuku stuffed some macaroni in his mouth stubbornly. Katsuki didn’t know everything, after all.

“I don’t know what else to teach you,” All Might laughed. “Gran Torino works well, doesn’t it?”

Izuku nodded vigorously. While the robot was a little rude, it was extremely useful for improving his technique.

“Of course, you don’t exactly have a unique fighting style, yet…” All Might mused. “But, that will come with experience. At this point, that’s what you’re lacking.”

A unique fighting style? Izuku chewed slowly, a tingle of excitement tickling down his spine at the idea. It was true that Izuku had mostly been borrowing moves from others, whether it was All Might himself or one of his friends, but he hadn’t given any thought to developing his own style. He supposed his current way was a strange mash-up of other people’s moves.

All Might chuckled. “Goodness, Izuku, I can see the gears turning in your head. You’re just like your father. Relax and eat dinner, alright?”

Izuku smiled sheepishly. “Alright.”

Just then, both of their phones went off— an indication that there was something they needed to take care of.

All Might picked up his phone. “Ah, trouble at the storage warehouses. I guess dinner will have to wait, then.”

Izuku didn’t mind. His heart rate picked up at the prospect of another assignment. He remembered his conversation with Momo and Shoto— the ‘switch’ Momo had talked about, and tried to flip it on. It didn’t work, his heart still pounding furiously and his hands perspiring, but he supposed it was as All Might said— he just needed more experience.

Besides, Izuku could tell All Might’s advice of simply smiling was beginning to work, beginning to dissolve the fear in his heart. He supposed it took a lot of nerve for him to think this way, but...he hoped he could look as comforting to people as All Might did one day.

A moment later, they were leaping through the crisp evening air, on their way to the storage warehouses where the trouble was. Once they arrived, Izuku analyzed their surroundings— there were many warehouses in the area, lined up neatly in two rows, all facing inwards towards a cement pathway. They were made of sheet metal instead of concrete for easy disassemblement. Each one had an angled rooftop, which was rare for most buildings these days, but were similar to many houses in history books. Equipment moved on its own, transporting crates of different products to and from the storage warehouses and into self-driving trucks, which took off once they were full. Izuku didn’t know what was in the crates, but he guessed it was probably foodstuffs or clothes, some sort of consumer products.

All Might...” The voice was deep, with strange vibrations in the throat. It spoke in a snarl, almost like an animal.

All Might stiffened and looked around, but the smile was still firmly on his face. Izuku tried to mimic him, but the voice sent chills down his spine. It seemed many villains in Leogan City simply had a personal vendetta against All Might, rather than aiming for money or jewels like most other criminals. But Izuku knew that meant they were direct opponents of peace, even worse than a common thug. Was this strange voice another one?

“I must say,” the voice continued. “It is quite strange to see you in the flesh…”

Finally, the criminal showed himself. Izuku nearly choked, fear closing his throat. The man was huge, bigger than All Might, muscles bulging with swollen veins. His skin was purple, bloated, torn in some places, revealing the angry red tissue of the muscle beneath. The worst part, however, was his head, with a pointed chin, razor-sharp teeth, and beady, bloodshot eyes embedded directly in his exposed brain, a clear bubble protecting his open skull.

Izuku felt nauseous just looking at him, his gut churning painfully, acid rising up his throat. He knew modifications that changed the shape of the body were the most painful, so Izuku couldn’t imagine what this man had gone through to become the monster that he had.

“Who are you?” All Might asked. Even though his voice echoed off the sheet metal, it didn’t sound hollow. It comforted Izuku slightly to see that he was still smiling.

“I don’t know, anymore, really…” The man replied, a strange gurgling coming from his throat as he spoke. “I let myself get consumed...all because I wanted to kill you...I guess that’s all I have left, now…” He shifted his gaze between them, and his eyes alone seemed to pierce holes in Izuku’s chest. “That, and the name they gave me— Nomu.”

All Might didn’t falter, as though he’d heard the words before. Izuku heartbeat quickened at the possibility that he had.

All Might’s voice boomed. “What do you mean?”

“I was designed to destroy you...Super-strength, super-speed, shock absorption, super-regeneration…” Nomu’s face didn’t seem capable of emoting, but he tilted his head, now. “As we go all out, trying to destroy each other...Who will be killed in the crossfire of this fight?”

“What are you talking about?” Izuku spoke without meaning to, even though it made perfect sense when he thought about it. Such things were never covered in the newscasts, but Izuku had seen the power of All Might’s ‘Smash’ first hand. To assume there had never been collateral damage had been...foolish. Still, the H.E.R.O. Project always preached that a few casualties, though undeniably tragic, were worth peace in society.

Nomu licked his lips, revealing a long, pointed tongue. “I was just five years old when the Symbol of Peace killed my parents in front of me…They were soldiers in the war, you see...”

Izuku glanced uncertainly at All Might. Logically, of course, All Might had killed many people in World War III, but they were enemies of peace. If they refused to surrender, All Might had been left with no choice but to fight them.

“In other words…” Nomu continued. “They were just following orders of higher-ups...They were innocents…”

All Might’s smile didn’t waver, but Izuku could see his fists trembling slightly at his sides. The sight sent a jolt through his body, a shock of visceral fear freezing his muscles.

All Might’s voice was carefully controlled, designed to mask the emotions behind it. “And what do you think I was doing, Nomu?”

Izuku sucked his breath in slightly at that, feeling dizzy. He’d always thought of All Might’s actions as completely justified— pure heroism in the face of otherwise uncontrollable chaos. History books attributed them to the man himself rather than any authorities who had told him what to do. He’d never imagined All Might could have regrets about bringing peace...

“With power like ours…” Nomu spread his hands. “Why should we let others decide what is right and wrong?”

Izuku didn’t have time to register that All Might had moved before he was thrown back by the impact. There was a deafening screech as all the warehouses around them crumpled. Izuku flew clean through one of them, the sheet metal crinkling and tearing with the impact. He tumbled on the pavement on the other side, struggling to stop his movement. It wasn’t until his back slammed into a concrete building a block away that he managed to stop.

His heart pounded in his ears, his breath coming fast with panic. He wasn’t seriously hurt thanks to his increased physical durability, but his body was still stinging, and his costume had ripped in a few places.

“Sm-smile…” Izuku muttered to himself, bringing a shaking hand to his mouth. His face seemed frozen in terror. He couldn’t even gather the courage to get up. Would he even be able to help All Might against this villain? Izuku hadn’t even been hit, but he’d been thrown an entire block away. What was he supposed to do against Nomu?

Another strike shook the ground. Izuku flinched, covering his head automatically, but he fought the instinct, daring to look into the sky. There he saw a figure in the distance tumbling through the air, dressed in red, blue, and yellow.

“All Might!” Without thinking, Izuku stood and jumped.

There’s no time for fear.

A second later, Izuku was in the air, above Nomu. “SMASH!”

His fist connected with the top of Nomu’s head, cracking the protective bubble around his brain. A gust of wind shot from the impact, further destroying the warehouses and sending equipment flying. But Nomu didn’t budge.

The breath caught in Izuku’s throat.

Nomu grabbed Izuku’s arm, holding him up off the ground. “Hm…”

Izuku couldn’t help the terrified whimper that escaped his throat, tears forming in the corners of his eyes. He took a swing at Nomu with his foot, but the man simply held him further away so that he couldn’t reach.

“A child…?” Nomu peered at him with bloodshot eyes, his gaze piercing. “They really don’t have any morals, do they…?”

Izuku grabbed at Nomu’s hand with his free arm, wrapping his legs around Nomu’s forearm to try and dislodge his arm.

Nomu tilted his head, as though examining a struggling bug. “Tell me, young one, what are you fighting for?”

“I could ask you the same thing! Is a personal grudge worth all this?!” Izuku cried, hoping to stall until All Might could come back from wherever he’d been thrown.

“A valid point…” Nomu admitted. “But you’re young. You don’t understand the realities of this world...What people resort to when a grudge is all they have left…”

“RELEASE YOUNG SCION!” All Might landed fifteen feet in front of them, making a crater in the ground. His hair was crooked and blood dripped from his mouth, but he swiped it away with his sleeve. The smile was gone from the hero’s face. “If you don’t, you will regret it.”

Nomu paused for a moment before throwing Izuku into a pile of collapsed sheet metal. Before Izuku even had time to cry out, All Might and Nomu had charged each other again. He rolled to the ground to try to protect himself from the force of their clash.

Super-strength, super-speed, shock absorption, super-regeneration…

Izuku wracked his brain, trying to put all the terror out of his mind even though his body was shaking, sweating. He felt like he was going to be sick, his stomach writhing and climbing up his throat. Nomu seemed practically unbeatable. If it had just been shock absorption, they would need to restrain him and injure him slowly, but that wouldn’t work because of his other abilities. They needed someone else, someone with different powers to help. Endeavor, or one of the more faraway heroes, Best Jeanist or Thirteen. Izuku pulled out his phone to call for backup from Cenere City, but found it completely destroyed, the metal twisted and bits of broken glass in his pocket.

Backup wasn’t an option unless Izuku leapt all the way to Cenere City, and that assumed Endeavor was available and willing to help. Shoto had told Izuku that Endeavor was a jerk, but surely he would be willing to help in a life-or-death situation. Still, it would also take Endeavor a while to get to Leogan City, unless Izuku were to carry him on his back, but he wasn’t sure if Endeavor was equipped for such high-speed travel…

But Nomu’s ability was shock absorption, so theoretically if they were able to introduce enough force, it would harm him. And his brain...if he protected it with that clear bubble, perhaps the exposed organ was a weak spot.

Izuku tried to stand, but he could barely brace against the wind. He pulled his mask on to help him breathe more easily, squinting to see what was happening. His heart felt like it was trying to punch through his chest, but he tried to ignore the sensation and trudged through the powerful gusts, towards the two fighters.

Suddenly, the wind stopped. Izuku’s heart stopped with it, desperation forcing its way up his throat.

“A-ALL MIGHT!

Nomu stood over the bleeding hero, aiming his fist at All Might’s head. He laughed, gloating. “Say goodbye...Symbol of Peace…”

Visualize, and—! Izuku imagined Tenya’s kick, jumping and slamming his foot into Nomu’s head with all his strength. Something in his leg cracked. “SMASH!

Instantly, the shield vaporized and half the brain exploded, disintegrating into a bloody mist.

Nomu paused, raising a hand to his damaged brain as though confused. Likely, his body control and reflexes would be slowed if not completely destroyed by losing his brain.

Tears streaming down his face, Izuku landed with both feet on Nomu’s shoulders. Gathering strength in his arm, he jammed it into what was left of Nomu’s brain, squeezing it mercilessly until it turned to a mush of blood and tissue in his fingers, his super regeneration apparently not enough for this trauma.

Good.

Izuku could feel Nomu begin to sway, but the fury burning in his chest made his vision go red. A fire consumed his body, raged inside until it found an outlet in his fists. Izuku could barely breathe. He dug his hand down into the man’s skull, searching for the brainstem that controlled the heart and lungs. Wrapping a hand around the organ, he yanked with all his might, and it came out in his hands with a sickening snap, a slimy, bloody slip of tissue.

A cooling sense of satisfaction spread from his fingertips and quenched the flames in his chest, iced it over, his breath coming fast and shallow. It seemed no one had bothered to reinforce Nomu’s insides.

A wet cough broke Izuku from his trance. He jumped down from Nomu’s shoulders as his body collapsed, the heat returning. “All Might!”

The hero was unconscious, blood streaming from his mouth. Only another cough revealed he was alive, but more blood spilled out with it.

Hiccuping and struggling to swallow back his tears, Izuku lifted All Might onto his back and jumped. He had to make it back to the Cenere City Lab where Dr. Shuzenji was. His leg was throbbing, but it hardly mattered. Only All Might mattered right now.

Please, please…You can’t die…!

Smiling was the furthest thing from his mind.

Chapter Text

The hair on the back of Shoto’s neck was standing up, a strange pricking sensation in his skin. He glanced around the apartment automatically, but everything appeared to be in order, their shoes neatly lined up by the door, the kitchen and living room empty of people, pristine. Still...something was off.

“Momo…”

“Hm?”

Shoto knelt down to the floor. Something glittered there, almost like pink dust. “There’s something weird on the floor…”

Momo bent down to look at it, too, drawing the dart gun she’d made earlier from her belt. “Proceed with caution. We’ll go to my room and check the cameras from my laptop.”

Shoto nodded, covering her back as she led the way to her room, tip-toeing. It was eerie to be sneaking around in their own home, a sense of dread sinking in Shoto’s gut like a fog. Hopefully, the others weren’t harmed, and whoever had been there had also left his cat alone.

When they turned the corner to the hall with all their bedrooms, Momo sucked in her breath. Shoto glanced over his shoulder and saw Katsuki lying face-down on the floor.

Momo ran over to him and checked his vitals, Shoto standing guard. “He seems fine; it’s almost like he’s asleep…”

At this, Katsuki groaned, opening his eyes slowly. “What…?” His eyes widened, and he scrambled away when he realized Momo was so close him. “G-get off me, Ponytail! What’s going on?”

“We think someone’s broken in,” Momo whispered. “What happened?”

“I don’t know,” Katsuki grumbled. “I was just going back to my room, and...I felt really sleepy all of a sudden, and then...you showed up.”

Momo’s brow furrowed. “So you fell asleep. Perhaps it has something to do with this pink dust…” She created a plastic evidence bag and tweezers from her forearm and put some of the dust inside of it. “Let’s check the cameras.”

The boys followed her into her room and waited while she typed furiously on her laptop. After a minute or two, she announced that there was no intruder left in the building, but that a woman had entered the Lab and freed Yamada. Dr. Aizawa and Katsuki had inexplicably fallen asleep around the same time. Worse, the stranger had somehow gotten in without incident, apparently already knowing all the entry codes.

Just then, they heard the door open. “Hey!” Ochaco called out. “Me and Tenya are back!”

“Hello!” Momo called, going out to meet them. “I’m glad you’re back.” Her voice went grave. “We’ve got a bit of a mystery on our hands.”

A few minutes later, it was decided that Momo and Tenya would talk with Dr. Aizawa about it, and the others could simply relax. But Froppy’s words were a bit hard to forget. Shoto knew she’d probably only talked so much to delay their return to the apartment because she’d known it was being broken into, but especially following right after the argument with Katsuki over secrets...Shoto wondered what else was being hidden.

He sighed, going into his room and closing the door. Did he even want to know?

Genny mewed in greeting, crawling out from under his bed. She waited for him to pull off his boots before jumping onto the bed with him and settling in his lap. He closed his eyes...

He stood with his back against the wall, listening to his sister pack through her open bedroom door. He knew he wasn’t supposed to talk to her, but his feet moved on their own, moving him into the doorway. He put one hand on the doorframe, his voice full of hesitance. Endeavor would have hit him for it. “Fuyumi…”

She looked up from the suitcase she was packing, full of her clothes, books, and some stuffed animals. Her expression was neutral. “What is it?”

He bit his lip, unable to speak. Someone was squeezing his chest, as though hoping his heart would pop. A part of him hoped so, too.

“Oh, Shoto…” Fuyumi stood, pulling him into a hug. Her sweater was soft and smelled of flowers. “I promised I would visit, didn’t I?”

Yukio and Tadaaki had both said that, too, but it had turned out to be a lie. “...Yeah,” he managed, trying to blink away the tears. “But…”

The thought of being left alone with Endeavor made his heart ice over. Fuyumi never intervened when he trained Shoto, having learned the results of that from Blizzard, but she’d been there afterwards to dress his wounds and sing him lullabies. It made all the pain bearable to have her there.

But Shoto knew it was selfish to ask her to stay. She’d always been very bright, and she’d gotten a scholarship to one of the Unified Nations’ most prestigious universities. It was selfish of him to even express a desire that she stay, and yet…

“Are you sure you won’t be too mad to visit?”

“Well...I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to forgive Endeavor...but I’ll come just for you.” She squeezed him tight.

“Okay…” He let go of her, then, trying not to be too clingy. He heated the tears away, as he usually did. He wouldn’t be able to bear it if she began to hate him, too.

But even as he waved good-bye to her, there was only one thought on his mind.

Please, please don’t lie.

He hadn’t seen her in five years.

Perhaps what Froppy had said disturbed him so much because he had no idea where any of his siblings were. He didn’t even know where Blizzard was. Of course, he’d checked the Unified Nations Citizen Database for his siblings in the past, but he’d never actually gone to see them, to verify the information. And Blizzard wasn’t even on record.

Genny rubbed her head against his hand, breaking him out of the memory. “Oh, thanks, Genny...I got distracted…” He stroked her fur, noticing that she’d grown fatter over the past few weeks. She’d been too thin when he bought her, but perhaps he’d have to start cutting down on the treats, now, even though it was admittedly quite hard for him to resist.

A glance at the clock surprised him. It was already time for him to sleep so he would be ready for his shift. How long had he been sitting there, lost in the past?

His stiff body gave him some indication. He decided to go look out the windows in the living room for a bit, just to clear his head a little. First, however, he pulled on a sweater. The Lab was kept fairly cold especially in the summer months, but it didn’t typically bother Shoto much. For some odd reason, he was feeling it more than usual tonight.

Genny followed him into the other room, jumping up onto his lap when he sat on the couch. Shoto wasn’t sure how long he just sat there in the dark, stroking Genny and trying not to think about anything. But, naturally, when he tried to think of nothing, thoughts of his family kept floating back to the surface.

“Shoto? Are you awake?”

“Momo…”

She came around the other side of the couch, holding a steaming mug. “Would you like some tea?”

“No, thanks.” He took note of her leggings and oversized sweater. So it wasn’t just him that was a little cold.

“Couldn’t sleep?” She offered him a sympathetic smile, sitting next to him and placing her mug on the table. It was still dark, but there was enough light from the evening sky that he could just make out her expression. The light added a gentle white sheen to her hair and illuminated her dark eyes.

Shoto looked away, surprised how distracted he’d been by her appearance. “Not really.”

She sighed. “I guess that makes two of us.” She hesitated a moment, her shoulders going rigid. “I wanted to ask...what do you think of what Katsuki and Froppy said today? About all the secrets, I mean.”

He focused his gaze on Genny, who was snoring softly in his lap. “I don’t know.”

Momo was frowning, now. “It...it just seems to me that you know something I don’t. Katsuki said All Might has some sort of big secret, and…” She looked away for a moment before turning back towards him. “...and the way you react every time someone brings up Endeavor…”

She paused as he habitually stiffened, once again. He’d hoped it wasn’t noticeable.

“And what you told Izuku about him...I don’t need to know all the details about what’s going on between you, or about what’s already happened, but I need you to take this next question very seriously.” She stared at him and he struggled to meet her gaze, certain she could see the chaos behind his eyes. His heart was hammering in his chest, too fast, too hard, like it was going to burst. He’d let his guard down, let someone get too close, and he could sense he would soon get burned.

“I’m asking you not to lie.” She took his hand earnestly. A bead of sweat rolled down the side of his face. He was certain she could feel his racing pulse. “Because you always say you are, but...are you really okay?”

The dam behind his eyes was ready to break. His throat was so tight he thought it would rip open, releasing everything he’d been holding back for years.

She seemed to take his silence as an answer, squeezing his hand tighter, interlocking their fingers. Shoto didn’t have the strength to resist the gesture. “It’s fine if you’re not ready,” Momo whispered, a sad smile on her face. “Thank you for not lying.”

He didn’t reply, allowing a single tear to trace down his cheek.

Hours later, he awoke to the sound of Ochaco’s bubbly laughter. The world was still out-of-focus with grogginess, but the warm mass next to him suddenly jerking away was enough to make it clear.

“You two are so cute!” Ochaco squealed. Genny jolted at Ochaco’s loudness and took off, running for Shoto’s room, but Ochaco didn’t care. “I took a picture to show Izuku later!”

“Please, don’t!” Momo protested, her face red as a tomato. “It was an accident!”

The ‘accident,’ as far as Shoto could tell from the leftover sensations in his body, was that they had fallen asleep on the couch, Momo leaning her head on his shoulder, and Shoto leaning his head on her head. From the way his hand tingled, he could tell they’d been clasping hands the entire time. A blush crept its way onto his face, but he tried to keep a neutral expression. It didn’t mean anything, since it was an accident.

“Aw, but Momo! This is just too cute not to show him!” Ochaco insisted. “He won’t make fun of you, I promise! He’ll be thrilled!”

Momo groaned, burying her face in her hands. “Oh, dear…You make it sound like we’re already dating…”

Ochaco tilted her head curiously. “You’re not?”

“Not at all!”

“Hey, Lovebirds,” Katsuki grumbled from behind them, already opening the front door. “You missed the notification. We’ve gotta go, now.”

Shoto didn’t think they deserved that nickname from one incident, but he supposed they didn’t have time to argue. Even so, Momo’s face was still completely red as they went to change into their costumes, and even after they emerged.

But now it was time for work, so he pushed it to the back of his mind. It was more difficult than it usually was, a testament to the danger of allowing Momo to get close. As they climbed into the van, Katsuki spoke.

“Don’t let that get in the way, got it? This looks pretty damn serious.”

Momo’s blush returned. “W-what?”

“I meant the mission, Ponytail,” Katsuki rolled his eyes. “Get it together.”

“R-right!” She looked at her feet. Shoto wondered if he should apologize, but he didn’t know what for.

“And Half-and-half?”

When they met eyes, Shoto felt his entire body freeze up. He wasn’t afraid of Katsuki normally, but today...he recognized the look in the other boy’s eyes— the raging inferno of ambition, and the dark depths of hatred for someone stronger.

Stay out of my way.”

Shoto looked away, clenching his fists to prevent them from trembling. They hadn’t gone on many assignments together because they were usually split up to even out the groups, but on the few that they had, Katsuki always wanted Shoto to stay out of it as much as possible. In training sessions, Katsuki always lost his temper when Shoto tried to help him. Shoto hadn’t understood Katsuki’s hostility until now. Now, he saw it clearly.

“I won’t help you unless you need it,” he said finally. If Katsuki really did think this looked serious, this was no time to allow his ego to get in the way of his work.

“I won’t!” Katsuki snarled as the van came to a stop. He slammed the backdoors open and jumped out.

“Don’t let him get to you…” Momo said, even though she still seemed distracted. “He’s upset about being taken down in his own house yesterday, that’s all. I’m sure he’s fine.”

Shoto had never doubted her analyses before, but he knew that look in Katsuki’s eyes too well, and when added to the unresolved fight they’d had the day before...He pushed it to the back of his mind, too. Now was the time to think of duty, and duty alone.

“Alright.”

An explosion down the street shook the ground. It seemed Katsuki had gotten started without them.

Momo created a Bo staff from her thigh. “Let’s go!”

Chapter Text

Izuku was sitting in a plastic chair outside the infirmary, his head in his hands. Dr. Shuzenji had gone directly into surgery, not asking any questions. He didn’t know how long it had been, but his body felt too heavy to move, as though he’d been filled with lead. His face felt dry and stiff, the dried tears tightening his skin. The reflection of the fluorescent ceiling lights was painfully bright against the clean white tile of the floor, marred by bloody footprints. All he could do was replay the red-washed scene over and over— All Might being beaten, Nomu dropping dead, rushing All Might to Cenere City...

“Izuku!”

He didn’t look up, but someone tackled him in a hug.

Slowly, he blinked, looking up to see Mom’s tearful face. Somehow, seeing her was the final straw. His eyes watered again as Dad ran up behind her, wrapping his arms around both of them. It felt familiar, yet so different.

“Are you alright?!” Mom touched his face frantically. “Are you hurt?”

Izuku shook his head, but his throat was too tight for him to speak. A small, pathetic whimper escaped his throat, quickly escalating into wailing. He buried his face in Mom’s shoulder, screaming uncontrollably. There was a pain in his chest was as though his heart was tearing in two, slowly being pulled apart by forces he couldn’t comprehend.

He’d thought he understood. He really had.

Mom whispered comforting words, but her voice was hitched, trembling. “You’re safe, now...it’s okay…”

For some reason, all Izuku could think of now was the dream he’d had, the sensation of her body melting, slipping through his fingers...and how All Might had vanished. He hugged her tighter, to make sure she was still there. “M-Mom…”

“Izuku…” Dad was trying to sound calm, but his voice shook. “Whose blood is this…?”

Pulling away slightly, Izuku looked down at his costume. It was covered in blood, especially on his gloves. He knew it was All Might’s...and Nomu’s.

Suddenly, Izuku felt like vomiting. He clutched his stomach as it twisted into a knot, covering his mouth.

“Izuku?!” Mom squeezed his arm in a death grip, her face pale.

Dad dragged a garbage can over from across the hall, and Mom rubbed his back as he emptied his stomach. Most of it was acid.

“Here, drink some,” Dad handed him a water bottle, and Izuku took small sips, his hands shaking.

When Dad took the water bottle back, Izuku gripped his sleeve, hanging on to Mom with his other hand. Vaguely, he realized he was getting blood on them, but if he let go, he felt as though he would disappear . “I…”

They both straightened, straining closer to hear what he was going to say. The fear was enveloping him, like falling into a dark pit, the shadows shifting to receive him with cold, unforgiving hands. He never wanted to face an enemy like Nomu again, but strangely, he was more afraid of something else. He knew he’d done what he’d had to, but...what would his parents think of him? They’d always talked about how sweet and kind-hearted he was, and for a long time Izuku had thought it was all he had going for him. Would they be disgusted by someone who…?

His stomach lurched painfully again. He had to tell them. “I...I killed someone, tonight...” He squeezed his eyes shut, overtaken by the sensation of Nomu’s brain coming apart in his hands. What he’d done was brutal, merciless, violent...not what a hero should do.

“Oh, Izuku…” Mom whimpered, beginning to cry. Izuku cried, too.

“I’m sorry…I’m sorry...” he whispered. He remembered how he’d done it purposefully; he’d planned it. Who could forgive a monster like that? His whispers turned to screams. “I’m sorry!

Dad gripped his shoulder. “Don’t be, Izuku. You did what you had to.”

“No!” Izuku sobbed. “I did it on purpose! What kind of hero—?!”

“Izuku!” Dad grabbed the sides of his head, forcing him to make eye contact. Izuku hiccuped, trying not to choke on his tears. “Listen to me. Sometimes heroes have to do things they don’t want to do. But they do it for the good of the people. You did it for us. Don’t forget what it is that makes you a hero.”

“But I don’t know if it was the right choice...” Another tear slid down his cheek. “Was it...?”

Dad opened his mouth to reply, but Dr. Shuzenji’s voice interrupted before he could. “Izuku? May I speak with you a moment?”

Time to put a brave face back on, even though Dr. Shuzenji’s reappearance plunged him into another fear. He swallowed hard and stood, pulling off his glove to wipe his eyes, even though it turned out Nomu’s blood had soaked through, staining his skin.

“Izuku…” Mom took his hand, ignoring the blood. The trails of her tears shone under the harsh lighting. “Don’t forget, I love you no matter what...okay?”

“I love you, too,” Izuku whispered, wiping away fresh tears.

“Come on, Honey,” Dad led Mom away, probably back to the apartment. Izuku didn’t know how they’d known he was back in Cenere City, but he supposed Dad had probably seen him in the cameras and rushed down.

Izuku followed Dr. Shuzenji into the infirmary. His throat was painfully dry, his heart pounding. She led him to All Might’s bed, where he was lying with his eyes closed, his face pale. There were all kinds of machines hooked up to his body, emitting beeps and the sounds of rushing air. A white blanket covered his body, but there was still some blood on his face that Dr. Shuzenji hadn’t had time to clean up, yet.

“I-is…?” His throat closed with the effort of holding back the grief weighing down his chest.

“He’ll survive,” Dr. Shuzenji said gravely, sitting down in a swivel chair. Izuku wished she would offer him a chair, too. His legs felt weak. “However...I don’t know what this will mean for his career. What happened?”

“W-well...there was a-a man, I guess—”

“You guess?” Dr. Shuzenji raised an eyebrow.

“He...he didn’t look human,” Izuku gripped the rail on the end of All Might’s bed to support himself, suddenly dizzy.

Dr. Shuzenji offered him a matching swivel chair, which he sat in gratefully.

“He had multiple abilities, too many of them...super strength, super speed, shock absorption, super regeneration…” Izuku tried to swallow, even though there was no moisture in his mouth. “And I guess they had to change his body completely to give him all of those powers...He said he wanted them so that he could destroy All Might.” Izuku glanced at All Might, remembering what Nomu had said about All Might killing his parents. For a split second, he thought of sharing it, but he felt like there was a rock lodged in his throat.

“That’s rather troubling.” Dr. Shuzenji sighed heavily, folding her hands. “I suppose it’s to be expected. The rebels would target All Might as soon as they had the means. How did you get away?”

“I…I found a weak spot in their design.” Izuku felt his hands begin to shake again. “I-I don’t know if I…”

Dr. Shuzenji patted his knee sympathetically, as though she knew exactly what he’d been through tonight. What he’d done.

“We don’t have to talk about it. You defeated him and saved All Might’s life; that’s what counts.” She smiled. “Well done, Hero.”

Another tear dripped into his lap, but he almost felt numb, now. In a situation like this, what was he supposed to feel?

Izuku went back to his parents’ apartment for the night. His bed had been moved to All Might’s place, but Mom insisted that he sleep in her bed with her. Even though he was really too old for that, he didn’t argue, simply nodding and going to take a hot shower.

He watched the blood drip off his body and swirl down the drain, disappearing into the piping. Suddenly frantic, he took a pump of soap and scrubbed at the bloodstains on his skin, but he couldn’t seem to get the scarlet off his hands. It had stained the folds in his palms, the grooves of his fingerprints.

Izuku let the soap wash away, a gaping hole in his chest. It was hopeless.

Desperate for distraction, he allowed his thoughts to drift. What would the media have to say about the clash? Would they even cover it? And All Might would have to take a break from hero work due to his injuries. What would they tell everyone about his absence? They couldn’t very well let everyone know that someone had created a villain strong enough to nearly kill All Might…

There was a knock on the door. “Izuku?” Dad called. “Are you alright in there?”

“Y-yeah…” His voice came out a feeble whisper. Izuku paused a moment, trying to swallow the dry lump in his throat before replying again.

“Alright…!” Dad didn’t sound too sure. “You have a towel, right?”

Izuku turned the water off and slid the glass door back. “Yeah.”

“Okay! Your mom made us some snacks, so come to the kitchen, okay?”

“Mm-hm.”

A few minutes later, Izuku plopped into a kitchen chair, his usual seat next to Mom and across from Dad. A plate of crackers and cheese was on the table, along with some fruit, carefully sliced and peeled. It was true that Izuku hadn’t had much dinner and had lost what little he had eaten, but somehow, he still wasn’t hungry. But he tried to push some food into his mouth anyway, just so that he wouldn’t worry Mom.

“Izuku…” Dad started. “I want you to understand that you really did the right thing back there. If you hadn’t acted, All Might would have been killed.”

Izuku sipped a little of the juice Mom had poured for him, his hand clenching around the cup. The drink didn’t seem to have a flavor. “I know, but…”

“If he was that strong,” Dad continued, his voice determined, matter-of-fact. “It would have been too high-risk to simply disable him. You had no other choice.”

Izuku’s grip tightened around the cup until the ceramic shattered, cutting into his hand. The juice splashed across the table, dotted with drops of blood. Somehow, it felt good to know the blood on his hands was his.

Mom gasped, snapping him out of his stupor.

“S-sorry—!” Izuku stood up.

But Mom grabbed his arm, examining his hand. There were tears in her eyes, but he could tell she was trying to blink them away. “I’ll go get the bandages!” She scurried to the bathroom.

“I’m sorry…”

“It’s alright, Izuku,” Dad replied, wiping up the juice and picking up the pieces of the cup. “Do you want to hit the sack, maybe?”

“Yeah…” Izuku pushed his chair back, letting his injured hand drop to his side as he walked to his parents’ room. Mom was already in there, digging through a First Aid kid.

“Ah! Here!” She’d found some ointment and bandages. After washing his hand for him, she carefully applied some of the antibacterial ointment and gently wrapped up the cuts.

“Thanks, Mom…” Izuku said, his voice listless. He hadn’t meant for it to come out that way, but Mom didn’t give it pause.

She patted his bandaged hand. “Be more careful, okay, Dear?”

Izuku nodded.

Mom hesitated a moment before sitting next to him, cradling his hand. “You know...your dad meant well…”

“I know...that wasn’t it…” Izuku admitted. “I...I’m sorry, Mom.” His eyes were still swollen from before, but he could feel the pressure building behind them again. He felt like someone was carving a hollow in his chest. “I promised you I understood all the pains of being a hero and then...it turns out I didn’t. I had no idea...”

Mom whimpered slightly, her voice trembling. “No, Izuku…” She hugged him, pulling his face into her shoulder. He noticed she’d changed her sweater, probably because he’d smudged blood on it earlier. “I shouldn’t have made you promise that...It was so selfish of me…I’m sorry…”

He couldn’t speak, the tears soaking into her sweater again. He wanted to tell her she was right to warn him, that she didn’t have to be sorry, that he almost wished she had stopped him.

Mom managed a teary laugh. “Your dad always says you’re not a kid anymore...But it’s hard for me to remember. So don’t worry about that promise anymore, okay?”

Izuku nodded, a whimper escaping his throat as he squeezed Mom tighter.

They stayed like that until Izuku fell asleep.

Chapter Text

DIE!

By the time Shoto and Momo had caught up to Katsuki, he was already in the heat of battle with several rebels, right in the middle of the street. There were office buildings on either side, neat concrete with large tinted windows, no alleyways to hide in. Lampposts and trees dotted the sides at even intervals, but several of them were already damaged from the fight.

Shoto had seen some of the rebels before— Riot, the electric boy, and the girl with sonic attacks— but a few new ones had entered the mix. A girl with pink skin, a black-haired boy with knobby elbows, and a muscular boy with thick lips.

Shoto’s first move with such a complex battlefield would normally be to freeze everything, but with Katsuki in the midst of it, he would have to re-think. He preferred to stay away from close combat, but Katsuki had already chosen it as the mode of battle, at least for now. However, it seemed he was having trouble taking on all six opponents at once. Every time they struck him, he growled louder, made larger explosions, but they’d learned his pattern.

“Grenade!” Momo shouted. “Fall back!

“Don’t tell me what to do!” A few of the rebels screamed as he blew them back with an explosion.

Momo sighed in frustration. “We can’t do anything large-scale unless he listens…Is he really that mad about that argument we had?”

Shoto shrugged. He couldn’t blame Katsuki for being mad. After all, it was hard to accept that their lives had been carefully built on a series of lies, one on top of the other. On the other hand, reacting like a child in a serious situation was completely unprofessional.

“If we do something non-lethal, it doesn’t matter that he’s in the fray,” Shoto pointed out.

“We don’t know the abilities of some of the rebels,” Momo protested. “It could put him in more danger if we capture them all at once. If he’s not going to listen, we’ll have to follow his lead.”

“Fine.”

Shoto charged in first, going for the girl with the sonic attacks. If he took her out, she wouldn’t be able to shatter his ice. He zeroed in on the cables connecting her headset to her boots, where she seemed to have speakers.

He sent ice in her direction as a distraction, and as expected, it shattered a few moments later with a frequency he couldn’t hear. Meanwhile, he heated his left, planning to melt the cables until they didn’t work anymore.

She backed away when he approached, but it seemed close combat wasn’t her specialty. With a well-placed kick, she collapsed to her knees, and Shoto grabbed one of the cables in his left hand. She screamed in pain, the smell of burning flesh filling the air.

Were the cables…part of her?

“Don’t you touch her, you freak!”

Shoto gasped as electricity coursed through his body, making his muscles go rigid, and he hit the concrete, his heart pounding frantically in his ears. He’d gotten distracted.

“Forte?” Through pain-distorted vision, Shoto could see the electric boy trying to comfort her in the middle of the battlefield.

“B-Bolt?”

Shoto still couldn’t move, but he sent ice towards the girl— Forte. It slammed into her and she flew through a window, shattering the glass.

“KYOUKA!” Electricity crackled in Bolt’s hands, concentrating into the device on his wrist. “Oh, now you’re gonna get it!”

Shoto froze himself as the electricity made contact. Ice was a poor conductor, so it insulated him from the shock. He could feel that he’d regained control of his muscles, jumping up as soon as Bolt was done, covered in a suit of ice. His vision was still wobbling, but he could feel the strength returning to his body.

The boy’s eyes widened; he apparently lacked an understanding of basic physics. “What the—?!”

BOOM.

An explosion sent them both flying into a concrete wall. The ice around Shoto’s body protected him from the worst of the impact so that all he would receive was minor bruising, but Bolt seemed to be out cold. The ice had cracked from the blow and crumbled off when he stood.

“Grenade!” Shoto snapped.

“SHUT UP!” He loosed another explosion so powerful that Shoto had to protect himself with a thick wall of ice, his ears ringing. A split second later, the muscular rebel was thrown against the ice so hard that it cracked. He didn’t seem fazed, however, simply running back into the fray. A bead of sweat rolled down the side of Shoto’s face, a scoff escaping his lips. What was Katsuki thinking? Shoto had half a mind to freeze his own teammate.

Grenade!” Momo shouted from across the street, where she was keeping pace with the pink-skinned girl, who had some sort of mucus-like liquid dripping from her palms. “Be more careful!”

Katsuki ignored her, focusing his attention on Riot, the muscular boy, and the boy with knobby elbows. He was regressing to how he’d been when they’d first met, not watching out for his teammates...

“Oo...you’re angrier than usual today…” Riot mused, grinning at his opponent. His clothes were ripped and he was bleeding from a cut on his forehead, but he didn’t seem to care.

“He gets angrier?” The knobby-elbowed boy’s jaw dropped.

“DON’T MOCK ME!” Katsuki growled.

Shoto glanced one last time at Bolt to make sure he was down before running to help Katsuki.

“DIDN’T I TELL YOU TO STAY OUT OF MY WAY?!”

Shoto refused to meet his glare. “You’re acting like a child—!”

“I DON’T NEED A DAMN LIAR!”

Shoto’s heart skipped a beat. He hesitated at Katsuki’s words, his eyes flicking towards Katsuki for a split second. That was all the rebels needed. Someone’s fist connected with Shoto’s gut, knocking all the air out of him and blackening his vision. He set himself on fire as a last-minute defense, but a fist grabbed his hair and threw him anyway, up at least two stories.

Ice!

He extended his right hand and made a slide for himself, even though the best landing he could accomplish was a tumble. He rolled onto his hands and knees and coughed, trying to get the air back into his lungs.

“You burn...Sugar’s hand…” A deep voice growled.

He looked up and met eyes with the muscular rebel, who had somehow become even more muscular over the course of the battle. Then again, perhaps it was Shoto’s imagination.

The rebel clenched his burned fist. “Sugar…mad…”

Shoto made more ice as a shield and jumped back, trying to ignore the cramping in his stomach. A second later, the ice exploded into a shimmering cloud of shrapnel. Sugar charged through the mist, screaming at the top of his lungs with his fists raised above his head.

Shoto jumped out of the way at the last minute, but a jolt of surprise shook his body when he saw that Sugar’s blow had actually broken up the asphalt. He tried freezing the strongman, but Sugar simply broke through the ice, yelling incoherently. Fire might fare better. They were trying not to kill any rebels, but it didn’t seem Sugar would have much information. Whatever experiments he’d had done had ruined his mind.

Sugar smashed more ice, but seemed confused by all the dust and water droplets filling the air. Shoto took the opportunity to burn him alive.

He didn’t stay until he charred the other boy, though, simply setting his clothes on fire and then running to help the others. It was possible Sugar would be able to put the fire out on his own, especially considering the moisture that was now in the air, but he probably wouldn’t be able to rejoin the fight.

Quickly, Shoto reassessed the battlefield. On his left, Momo had taken care of the pink girl, but was now fighting Forte, blood streaming from her ears. She seemed to have a few burns on her arms and legs, but nothing serious. On his right, Katsuki had three opponents again— Riot, Bolt, and the knobby-elbowed boy. His nose was bleeding, and he had small cuts and scratches all over his body, his clothes ripped. He needed help even if he refused to admit it. This time, Shoto would just have to do a better job of ignoring him.

Katsuki saw him step forward and shouted. “STAY THE HELL AWAY, JANUS!”

Shoto’s mouth tightened, but he forced all his emotions away, sending ice speeding towards the rebels anyway. Not even a second had passed before it exploded, reduced to dust by Katsuki’s hand.

For a moment, no one moved, the world reduced to two heroes, facing each other in a cloud of icy mist. Shoto’s heart was pounding furiously in his ears, his eyes wide, but Katsuki simply glared, no trace of regret on his face.

The rebels were the first to take advantage of the shock. The knobby-elbowed boy slung some sticky tape around Katsuki, swinging him into a nearby building. Riot jumped towards Shoto, but he didn’t notice until Riot was already on him. Riot had hardened his hands to the sharpness of a knife, cutting Shoto across the chest. He set himself on fire as defense.

“Sorry, Janus! Fire doesn’t work on me!”

Failure.

Shoto gasped at the sound of Endeavor’s voice in his head. Of course Endeavor had been right about the fire, all those weeks ago, but why was it coming up, now of all times—?

Something pierced through Shoto’s leg, Riot’s hand. He grunted as his leg gave out, in sync with another scream across the battlefield.

Riot turned. “Cellophane?! I’m coming!”

Distracted, again… Shoto reprimanded himself and froze the wound in his leg, struggling to his feet to check on his teammates again. He’d have to work harder to keep his battles long-distance. Momo was still fighting Forte, and appeared to be at a stalemate. Katsuki was growing increasingly sloppy, out-of-breath, taking too many hits, bleeding...He was outnumbered again by Riot, Cellophane, and Bolt, practically about to collapse.

But what would happen if Shoto tried to help again?

Katsuki raised an arm, aiming his gauntlet at the rebels, who all got into a ready stance. He hadn’t used the gauntlet in public, yet, because of the property damage it would cause, so the rebels didn’t know what it would do, but Shoto did.

Momo was twenty feet behind the rebels, still engaged with Forte, in no position to dodge such a huge explosion. Shoto’s eyes widened. “KATSUKI!

His finger tightened around the pin.

Shoto ran. Katsuki grunted as Shoto tackled him. They hit the ground.

The only thought in Shoto’s mind: Ice.

A scorching light. A blast so loud it was silent.

Shoto blinked smoke out of his eyes. He couldn’t remember where he was, or why. He couldn’t hear anything. Chunks of concrete and broken glass were raining down around him, the smell of ash in the air. He sat up groggily, touching his head. His hand came back bloody, but for some reason it didn’t alarm him.

He saw Katsuki on the floor twenty feet away, the gauntlet on his left side gone. Suddenly, he remembered, panic gripping his heart with an icy hand.

“Mo— C-Creati!” Shoto stumbled to his feet, looking around wildly. The rebels were gone, somehow, and Momo was nowhere in sight. “Creati!”

Numbly, he took out his phone with trembling hands. The screen had cracked so it was barely readable, but it still worked well enough to use. His finger was shaking so badly he could hardly dial the number.

“Hello?” Tenya’s voice seemed far away. “Shoto? What is it? Is everything alright? Shoto? Shoto?

“Yeah,” he replied, realizing with a start he’d been silent. “I mean, no…”

Instantly, Tenya’s tone changed, urgent. “Do you need backup?”

“I don’t know…”

He tried to assess the situation, as he’d done countless times before, but he couldn’t clear his mind, his heart racing in his ears, his vision blurring. A drop of blood dripped from his forehead and hit the ground, forming a small circle of gore.

“Zero and I are on the way. Please hold on!” The connection cut.

Slowly, Shoto put his phone away. Eventually, he brought himself to look around at his surroundings. Almost all of the lampposts were broken, trees on fire or splintered in half. The buildings on either side had had their windows blown out for many floors up, probably from Katsuki’s grenade. Some of the concrete from the outer facades of the buildings had chipped off. Based on the direction of the damage, it seemed Shoto had managed to move the trajectory of Katsuki’s explosion when he tackled him, pointing it upwards instead of at the rebels.

But where was Momo? Shoto’s head was foggy, but he managed to form one thought.

Last night, I didn’t have a dream…

Chapter Text

“I-I’m sorry...can you turn off the cameras for a minute?”

The head newscaster popped the gum in his mouth nonchalantly. “Sure.” He gestured to the cameramen, who flipped switches on all their cameras. “The green screen needs adjustment, anyway.” He turned to his crew. “Remember guys, we’re putting All Might on his left, not his right!”

“Got it, sir.” Several of his assistants stepped up and adjusted the cloth behind Izuku as he wiped tears out of his eyes, slightly embarrassed. Apparently, they could edit the footage so that it didn’t look like he was crying.

“Ready, Scion?”

“Y-yes, sir.” Izuku focused on the government newscaster badge on his shirt instead of his indifferent face.

“Alright.” The cameramen flipped their cameras back on. “Remember, Scion, he’s saying something inspiring, now, so look alive! Action!”

The awkward silence seemed to fill the room, but Izuku tried to stand straighter and smile, as though All Might really was right next to him, announcing that he was going to go on an undercover mission. The script said that All Might was leaving the city in Izuku’s hands for a little while, and that Izuku was more than qualified for the job. However, the script also promised that Endeavor would be covering crimes in Leogan City as well as Cenere City. So he wasn’t really qualified.

“Okay, Scion, that was good,” the newscaster said, snapping his gum again. “Now you say something.”

“Uh…” Izuku didn’t know what to say. The urge to fidget was strong, but he tried to stay still.

“Ah, right, you’re still new at this…” The newscaster stroked his well-groomed goatee. “Say something about how you promise to keep the city safe.”

“Oh...okay…” Izuku cleared his throat, trying to remember and mimic some of the things that All Might and Tenya said in newscasts. “Um, I’ll try my best to make sure Leogan City is just as safe as it was with All Might here—”

“No, no,” the newscaster interrupted. “Something more positive.”

Izuku couldn’t help but shift from foot to foot, now, uncomfortable. “Ah...um...Leogan City will be safe under my protection.” He felt like a fraud, smiling into the camera. “There is no reason to fear, because Endeavor and I will always keep you safe.”

“Hm...fine.” The newscaster said. “That’s a wrap!”

At the snap of his fingers, the crew started packing up the equipment.

“Uh...sir?” Izuku approached the newscaster carefully. He wasn’t sure why, but he found the man a little scary. “I was just wondering...are you going to cover yesterday’s fight at the storage warehouses?”

The newscaster scoffed. “Of course not. That area’s run entirely by machines, so no one will see the damage. We’ve got a few people posted there, too, just in case. Don’t mention that fight in public, got it?”

“Y-yes, sir…” Izuku backed away sheepishly and sat on the couch, staying out of the way as they left with all their equipment.

“They told me I was bad with the media.”

Izuku looked up. “Endeavor…”

Shoto’s father was standing in the doorway, his beefy arms at his sides. He wasn’t flaming inside the building, but Izuku still found him intimidating. Though Endeavor was physically smaller than All Might, something about his demeanor was unsettling. Perhaps it was how he always seemed so guarded, almost as though he was constantly restraining his temper, just barely. He always carried himself as though he had better things to do than to be talking to Izuku, or anyone for that matter.

“I never thought I’d work with All Might’s Successor,” Endeavor admitted, walking into the room. “And yet, here we are.”

Izuku nodded warily. “It’s an honor to work with you.”

Endeavor scoffed. “Save it. Just meet me in the training room when you’re ready.” He turned to leave. “I’ll see what All Might has taught you.”

Izuku swallowed, remembering what Shoto had said about Endeavor being rude to him. He hoped he would meet the man’s expectations and followed him to the basement.

“I assume all you know is close combat?” Endeavor asked.

“Uh...yes…” Even if it could be used at a distance to some degree, his power wasn’t technically a ranged ability like Endeavor’s, especially at his current strength. However, he knew that their abilities were similar in some ways— both decreased in power and accuracy the farther away the target was, both could cause a lot of collateral damage if handled carelessly.

“Then we’ll spar,” Endeavor decided.

“Right.”

Immediately, Endeavor charged at him. Izuku tried to block the kick aimed at his head, but it turned out to be a feint. Instead, Endeavor switched feet at the last second, smashing his other foot into Izuku’s side, knocking the wind out of him. Less than a second later, Endeavor’s fist stopped short an inch from Izuku’s face.

“What was that supposed to be?”

Izuku panted, trying to get his breath back. “Well...uh…” It seemed training only with the Gran Torino robot hadn’t prepared him for a human opponent. Gran Torino, as advanced a robot as it was, only had a specific set of moves, and it was easy to predict. Endeavor, on the other hand…

Endeavor scoffed. “I shouldn’t have expected All Might to know how to teach. Come again!”

Izuku charged first this time, aiming a punch at Endeavor, but he swatted Izuku’s arm away effortlessly before grabbing him and flipping him onto the floor, pain shooting up into his shoulder.

“Again!”

This time, Endeavor threw him into one of the walls, as though Izuku was nothing more than a ragdoll. “You’re just like him; no technique! Again!”

Three more miserable failures later, Izuku was beginning to wonder how much of a learning curve it would take to fight Endeavor. He’d expected that Endeavor would at least give him some idea of what to improve on, but it seemed the man had no intention of giving Izuku advice. Perhaps Izuku was wrong to be so eager to train with the second strongest hero...

“Again!” Endeavor seemed to grow more cross with each try.

“A-again…?” Izuku replied weakly, still lying on his back, his body stinging in various places. Likely, Endeavor wasn’t hitting him as hard as he could, but it was still painful. Perhaps this harsh training was why Shoto and his father didn’t get along too well.

Just then, his phone started ringing with the custom ringtone he’d set up for Dr. Shuzenji.

“Uh, can I take this? It’s Dr. Shuzenji—”

“Fine.” Endeavor turned away, heading for the door. “We’ll continue this later.”

Izuku nodded, even though he wasn’t looking forward to it, and answered his phone. “Hello?”

“Izuku,” Dr. Shuzenji sounded pleased to hear him. “All Might is awake. He wants to see you.”

Izuku’s heart jumped into his throat. “He is? I’ll be right there!”

A few minutes later, Izuku was inside the Cenere City Lab, running to the infirmary. His leg was still aching, but he ignored it.

He took a deep breath before opening the door, trying to do it quietly in case he disturbed All Might. The door opened with a quiet, mechanical hiss.

“All Might?”

“Izuku,” All Might raised a hand weakly in greeting, a small smile on his face. “Good to see you’re alright.”

Tears filled his eyes, but he tried not to cry out of courtesy to All Might. There were still countless machines hooked up to his body, scanning and pumping and dripping and beeping.

All Might smiled at Izuku sadly, his voice soft. “It’s alright...you can cry.”

Stubbornly, Izuku wiped away a tear that had escaped, sitting in a plastic chair next to his bed. “I’m just...happy you’re okay…”

“Me, too,” All Might chuckled. “Thank you, Scion. I’m sorry I couldn’t protect you.”

Izuku wanted to tell him it didn’t matter, that he was still Izuku’s hero...but the words stuck in his throat, almost as though he wasn’t positive they were true.

“Dr. Shuzenji doesn’t think I can go back into the field like this…”

“S-she doesn’t?” Izuku scanned All Might’s body. He was still big, muscular, seemingly healthy, aside from the injuries he’d received the day before and all the machinery attached to him.

All Might seemed to notice his gaze and pulled the blanket down a bit so Izuku could see his stomach. Izuku gasped at the strange scar on his side— a pinkish, star-shaped injury. It spread across his midsection like a spider’s web, carving into the musculature in deep, dark purple lines.

“W—…” Izuku couldn’t breathe, his chest tight with horror. “What is that…?”

“The cellular degeneration,” All Might explained matter-of-factly. “It’s been progressing. That’s why I lost that fight yesterday.”

“But…what are we going to tell people?”

“I’m just retiring a little earlier than we thought.” All Might sighed. “I’m afraid this ‘undercover mission’ will be my last. They’re going to try some new experimental treatments on me.”

Izuku’s hands shook as he tried to absorb the information. “Y-you’re okay with that…?”

All Might managed a small laugh. “To tell you the truth, Izuku...it’s not as though I have any other options.”

Izuku bit down on his lower lip to keep it from trembling, swallowing in hopes of steadying his voice. “Nomu...he had a super regeneration ability. I was thinking...maybe they could study it to help with the degeneration. Of course...it might cause cancer or something even worse to happen, but…”

All Might laughed more genuinely, now. “Oh, Izuku, you’re too kind of a soul.”

“No, I’m not…” Izuku swiped a hand across his eyes, forcing the words out even though his voice wavered. “I...I killed Nomu. The more I think about, the more I think I could have just disabled him and ran away with you, but I killed him. I-I ripped his brain right out of his skull!” He bit down on one of his knuckles to keep from whimpering. His voice came out a strained whisper. “Just because I was angry.”

“Dr. Shuzenji...didn’t tell me that part…” All Might admitted.

“I didn’t tell her.” And apparently, the newscasts weren’t going to cover it, so she may never have found out if he hadn’t confessed.

“But...Izuku...of course you were angry. He was going to kill me.” All Might gestured to himself. “As much as we want to, the truth is that heroes can’t be strong all the time. We have to forgive ourselves for our moments of weakness if we want to advance.”

But what about you? Izuku thought. All Might wasn’t going anywhere, would never be able to advance. Was this the noble end that the H.E.R.O. Project promised its subjects? Was this where every single one of them would end up one day?

“You told me to smile…” Izuku said quietly. But how could he, when he’d looked fate in the eyes?

“You’ll learn, in time.”

For the first time, Izuku wasn’t sure he wanted to.

It was as though the floor beneath his feet was crumbling, cracking all the way down to the cement foundation, abandoning him to dizzying freefall. There was an uncomfortable sensation in his stomach, a fist clenching in his chest, just behind his solar plexus. Who was this man lying in front of him?

Suddenly, I’m not sure I know him.

Chapter Text

Dr. Aizawa shined the flashlight into Shoto’s eyes. “Hm…” He sounded as calm as ever. “I’d say a mild concussion at the worst.”

Shoto sighed inwardly, somewhat relieved. Even though he still had a headache and a little nausea, it could have been a lot worse, considering what had happened. Shoto had tried to freeze Katsuki’s nitroglycerin that he’d stored in the gauntlet so that he wouldn’t be able to ignite it, but he’d only managed to freeze the liquid partially before the rest of it exploded. The gauntlets had a lot of rebound to begin with, but freezing the inside had increased the backlash on them.

“It’s his own damn fault,” Katsuki grumbled from the adjacent bed, where Ochaco had just finished bandaging his injured arm. At his words, however, she gave it an indignant slap.

“OW, freakin’—!”

“You’re the one who used your gauntlet in a bad situation!” She sounded near tears, her hands trembling slightly. “You both could have gotten really hurt, and Momo…”

Katsuki scowled at her for a moment before looking down into his lap. Shoto could feel something heating up in his gut, but he didn’t know what.

Tenya knocked on the door, walking in with his tablet out. His voice was grave. “I’ve finished changing the security coding for all the entrances and exits, now.” After the mysterious woman had broken into the Lab, it was necessary to do so. “However…” Tenya paused a moment, glancing hesitantly down at his tablet. He adjusted his glasses, the lights above creating a glare in the lenses, obscuring his eyes. “I found the security footage from the battle. Momo was taken by the rebels.”

Shoto’s blood turned to ice, his head beginning to pound. He leaned back against the pillow to counteract the sudden dizziness, but it didn’t help the uncomfortable tightness in his chest. He’d suspected that was the case once he’d realized they’d arrived back at the Lab without her, but hearing it out loud was much more terrifying.

“How do we rescue her?” Ochaco stood up from her perch on Katsuki’s bed, clenching her fists in determination.

“About that…” Tenya tapped a few more buttons on his pad. “Somehow, the drones don’t have any footage of where they went...their memory cards go blank. Either the rebels interfered somehow, or the drones were thrown off or simply destroyed by the explosion.”

Katsuki scoffed, looking away.

The other boy’s reaction ignited a fire in Shoto’s chest, charring his insides, the anger boiling in his gut. His voice was a low growl. “Why didn’t you just listen to us?”

“Hey, don’t blame this on me!” Katsuki snarled back, standing up despite Ochaco’s protests. “You’re the ones who don’t understand a thing!”

“You acted like a kid throwing a tantrum!” Shoto’s voice was rising, the smoke in his chest rising up, nearly choking him, tying his throat in angry knots. He refused to let the furious tears building behind his eyes escape. “Get a little self-control, then tell me what it is I don’t understand—!”

“Boys,” Dr. Aizawa cut in. “That’s enough. We need to focus on saving Momo right now. Tenya and I will investigate. The two of you rest so that you can go when we find something.”

Dr. Aizawa left the room, Tenya following. Ochaco stayed, sitting at the foot of Katsuki’s bed with a furrowed brow, her hands folded in her lap. Shoto glanced at Katsuki, who had sat back down and was scowling, staring at his sheets.

Perhaps he’d been too harsh. Likely, Katsuki did feel bad about Momo’s capture, but didn’t have the humility to admit it. Shoto took a deep breath, slowly calming the fire inside. He spoke softly, staring down at his sheets, too. “What don’t you think I understand, Katsuki?”

“It’s what I told you,” he grumbled. He looked up, meeting Shoto’s gaze. The red of his eyes reminded Shoto of stagnant blood. “The secrets, the flat-out lies...Aren’t heroes supposed to tell the truth?”

Shoto paused a moment, thinking of Blizzard and the harsh truth she lived, lies as her only comfort. “I’m sure you grew up watching All Might on the newscasts, right?”

Katsuki scoffed at the name. “Of course. Didn’t we all?”

“Well, what made you think you actually knew anything about him?” Shoto asked, now thinking of Endeavor and the stranger he portrayed on the newscasts. “Why did you think All Might and Toshinori Yagi were the same person in the first place?”

“What are you talking about?” Ochaco cut in, her voice trembling. She stood, clenching her fists. “H-he does interviews all the time, talks about himself when they ask him questions...why would he pretend to be someone he’s not?”

Katsuki glanced at her, but his eyes quickly locked back onto Shoto’s. His voice went low, angry. “He pretended he was perfect. Are you saying there’s nothing wrong with that?”

“Heroes are supposed to lie. That’s our job.” He paused a moment as Katsuki growled in frustration, wordlessly. Shoto knew it was hard to accept at first, but by now his heart was hardened, frozen solid. “Besides, it’s a fact that no one is perfect. Are you saying it isn’t your fault for believing him in the first place?”

“You’re saying it’s dumb to fall for a trick like that, but what the hell are we supposed to believe in, then?” Katsuki yelled, standing up. “If we can’t even trust heroes who protect us, then who are we supposed to put our faith in?!”

Shoto looked away. He thought of his siblings, so disillusioned with Endeavor that they’d abandoned their family, abandoned him. It was clear to him early that his life had only one purpose. “The ‘O’ in ‘H.E.R.O.’ stands for ‘order.’ That’s what we’ve sacrificed everything for, and that’s why we have to lie.”

Because to face the truth meant that one purpose would vanish.

“But...but it’s supposed to be noble!” Ochaco cried, a tear tracing down her cheek. Her fists trembled at her sides. “It’s not supposed to be like— like this!”

Just then, the door opened. All three of them jumped.

“Ah, sorry,” Dr. Aizawa walked in, carrying Genny in his arms. His voice was as tired as always, but his nonchalant manner was jarring now, dissipating the heavy air of their conversation. “I just thought Shoto might want his cat.”

“Thanks,” he mumbled, taking her in his arms. She seemed to sense his bad mood, opting to curl up next to him instead of in his lap.

“Is something the matter?” Dr. Aizawa asked, a strange inflection in his voice, as though he already knew the answer.

Slowly, Katsuki and Ochaco relaxed their posture, avoiding eye contact with anyone else in the room.

“No,” Katsuki lied. “Nothing’s wrong.”

Dr. Aizawa eyed them suspiciously, but he didn’t say anything. “Well...I’m here if you need to talk.” The door closed behind him with a hiss.

Katsuki shoved his hands in his pockets roughly. “I’m going back to my room. I can’t stay here anymore.”

“But you need to rest—” Ochaco protested, reaching out to stop him.

Katsuki shot her an irritated look before snapping out a retort. “And I’ve got a damn bed upstairs, right?”

Ochaco blinked, lowering her arms. Her voice was hurt. “I...guess…”

For a moment, they just stared at each other in silence. Shoto wondered what they were thinking, what they were communicating to each other through their eyes. After all, he’d just given them a bitter pill to swallow.

Finally, Katsuki looked at his feet. “Sorry.”

He followed Dr. Aizawa out, and the door closed behind him with a hiss.

Ochaco started to leave, too, but stopped for a moment in front of Shoto’s bed. “Shoto...When I think about, I know what you and Katsuki mean about putting on airs; I do it all the time. But...that doesn’t mean everything's a lie. It doesn’t mean we don’t truly want to help people.”

“I don’t doubt that about you,” Shoto replied quietly, leaving the rest unsaid.

But that doesn’t mean everyone’s like you, either.

She seemed to understand, simply bidding him good night and going up to her room.

Shoto turned the light off and sat on his bed in the darkness of the infirmary. Multicolored lights from different machinery glowed in the darkness, almost like eyes. The air was cool, sterile, the only sound coming from the vents, which kept the air circulating in measured currents.

Maybe he’d been too harsh, once again. But Katsuki’s inability to accept the lies as a peace-keeping tool— the only viable peace-keeping tool— was what had gotten Momo kidnapped.

Momo.

Shoto hoped she was okay, so much it ached. He shuddered to think what the rebels were doing to her, easily imagining haunting images of torture, the bone-chilling way that screams could tear through silence. Probably, they would do anything to get information out of her. It was possible she would be able to escape on her own, but he couldn’t count on that.

Shoto slipped his legs under the covers and lay on his side, curling around Genny. He recognized the unbearably empty sensation of loneliness in his chest, was used to it, but it hadn’t settled down so strongly in a long time. In the past, it had usually been diluted with anger, a guilt-ridden fury towards his family for judging him unworthy of companionship, one by one until he was left alone. But tonight...it felt like his chest was caving in.

She’d asked him not to lie.

“I’m sorry…” he whispered. He didn’t think it was possible. Surely, she would leave him, too, and he would deserve it. Endeavor’s voice filled his head as his eyes closed.

Forget about her, Shoto.

“What did you do with Mommy?” his voice was shrill, tears running down his right cheek.

“I said, forget about her.” Endeavor commanded. “Now, get in the training room!”

Shoto balled his fists. “Tell me what you did with Mommy!”

“Blizzard doesn’t matter, anymore.” Endeavor grabbed Shoto’s arm and thrust him roughly through the doorway, ignoring his yelp of pain. The door slammed behind them as Endeavor threw him to the mats. “Besides, she said she doesn’t want to see you.”

“Y-you’re lying!” He sobbed, curling into a ball. “You made her say it!”

“No one forced her to say it.” Endeavor’s voice was as stern as always, burning steadily as a flame. “Why do you think she burned you?”

Shoto put a hand to the bandages that were still wrapped around his face, his chest clenching painfully. “She did it because of you!”

“That’s ridi—”

With a strangled cry, Shoto extended his right hand and sent ice in Endeavor’s direction. As he attacked the man with the intent to hurt, perhaps even kill...something inside him froze, too. Perhaps Endeavor told the truth. A child who would lash out at his own family like that was surely a monster. Disgusting. Unsightly.

It was a moment before Endeavor emerged from the ice, filling the room with steam. His grin was like a ghoul’s. “That was the most ice you’ve ever made…! Do it again!”

“N-no!” Shoto said, even though he cowered, backing away from Endeavor’s advance. His eye focused on Endeavor’s clenched fists.

“I said, do it again!”

He could feel the moisture on the inside of the bandages, dampening his damaged skin. A whimper escaped his throat, a warning that he would soon lose control of his emotions.

Suddenly, his head smacked against the mats. His vision blurred with tears and pain, but he could see red peppering the ground in front of him, blood dripping from his nose. Endeavor had slapped him, punishment for nearly losing it.

“I said, AGAIN!”

“You’re doing it again, Shoto! Shoto!”

His eyes shot open. Dr. Aizawa was shaking him awake. Wildly, he looked around, but he was still in the infirmary.

“Were you having a dream?” Dr. Aizawa leaned down and picked up Genny, who’d apparently fled Shoto’s bed. He placed her back on the mattress.

“Y-yeah…” His hands were shaking again, but he hid them under the covers as he sat up. The wall screen was on, and the time read 8:34 a.m.

Dr. Aizawa saw him hide his hands, but spared him the embarrassment of pointing it out. “Are you alright?”

Shoto avoided his eyes. “Yeah...Just a bad dream.”

“You have a lot of nightmares, don’t you?” Dr. Aizawa mused, running his hand along Genny’s back. She leaned into his touch. “What are they about, if I may ask?

Shoto didn’t answer for a moment. “That’s not...important, is it?”

“I’ll be honest with you,” Dr. Aizawa said. “I’m a little worried.”

For a second, Shoto felt a spark of anger. A H.E.R.O. Project scientist claiming they were worried about his well-being, yet they left him with Endeavor for all these years...but he knew Dr. Aizawa had probably had no say in the matter. Decisions like that were left to higher management.

“You don’t have to worry.” Shoto swung his legs over the side of the bed and clenched his fists to stop them from trembling.

Dr. Aizawa shrugged, his voice still monotone. “You can’t always help it, can you? Often, we find ourselves caring about people we didn’t mean to care about. It’s human nature.”

Shoto shifted uncomfortably. “A-any information on Momo’s location?”

“Not yet,” Dr. Aizawa admitted. “They’re working on it upstairs. You can join them, if you’d like.”

Shoto nodded. The elevator was right outside the door to the infirmary, but Shoto opted to take the stairs. A little movement might clear his head, and he needed to think if he wanted to be of any use today. He couldn’t let her slip through his fingers.

I’ll save you, no matter what.

Chapter Text

Izuku sat at his desk, staring. He’d brought his three most recent notebooks of observations with him when he moved in with All Might, but all the others were still piled in the corner, neatly stacked next to an All Might figurine. It was a limited edition action figure, made twenty-five years before to commemorate the five-year anniversary of peace. The statuette stood proudly, a fist thrust up into the air, a huge smile on its face.

Izuku had never given thought to the blood on its hands.

Then again, when he thought of all the thousands of videos he’d seen of All Might, he realized he’d never seen All Might kill anyone up close. His heart pounding faster, he opened his laptop and pulled up the most destructive video he could think of— the one where All Might destroyed an entire army all on his own. His finger shaking, he pressed the ‘play’ button.

Majestic music played, the old reporter spouting words of patriotic encouragement as All Might landed on the scene, making a crater in the ground. The music didn’t match the dark background of the cloudy, smoke-choked skies, the charred and dusty dirt, overrun by too many tanks, trucks, and combat boots. The enemy army’s camouflage outfits only added to the dreary atmosphere. All Might’s costume was a pop of bright color, out-of-place in the warzone. As he swung his fist at the army, the camera did a close-up on All Might, and then a wide shot of the army getting blown away. The shot was far enough that Izuku could vaguely see the dark dots of bodies flying through the air and the armored tanks flipping over and tumbling like discarded toys. Doubtless, everyone was dead. But the camera didn’t focus on them.

Instead, it zoomed in close, right on All Might’s triumphant smile.

Izuku closed his laptop, feeling slightly ill. He sighed, swiping a hand through his hair. He knew he had to pull himself together, forget about all that. Endeavor had grudgingly allowed him some time to stay in Cenere City, but requested that he return to Leogan City as soon as possible.

And yet...Izuku couldn’t stop thinking of how he’d murdered another human being...and how many others he would have to kill in the name of peace. As important as peace was...could he ever do that with a smile?

On top of that, what he’d done to Nomu wasn’t in the name of peace. Of course, he’d been prepared for the possibility of killing people, but he’d never thought it would be an act of passion— if a hero killed based on his own personal feelings, it was not a necessary tragedy for the sake of peace, but a crime.

A crime he would never be prosecuted for.

If he wanted to continue working towards his goal of becoming a hero...he would have to make sure he never allowed his anger to control him again, and he had to remember that peace trumps all.

Izuku set his jaw, standing up and turning away from his desk. He clenched his fists in front of him.

This is my new promise.

Just then, he got a call on his phone. He pulled it out of his pocket, slightly surprised to see an unfamiliar device; he’d had to get his old one replaced after the fight.

Nevertheless, he recognized the number as Ochaco’s. He took a deep breath before answering the call. He sat at his desk again and put his phone down, aiming the camera at himself.

Seeing her face instantly made him feel better, a genuine smile spreading across his lips. “Hey, Ochaco!”

She, on the other hand, seemed upset. His smile faded. “Izuku...Did you see the newscast?”

His blood went cold. He’d been too depressed to watch the newscasts the past few days, especially if it meant watching himself talk with a fake All Might beside him. “N-no...why?”

“Well…” She bit her lip. “Momo got kidnapped by the rebels.”

His voice came out a whisper, his heart stopping. “What?

“She went out with Shoto and Katsuki to go stop a group of them, but...they messed up, I guess. They won’t say what went wrong exactly, but Tenya and I watched the footage.” She hesitated for a moment, looking over her shoulder as though making sure they weren’t there. “They had some kind of argument, and they ended up clashing during the battle…”

Izuku sucked in his breath sharply, an uncomfortable clenching in his gut. He’d noticed the two didn’t exactly get along, but neither tended to forget what their goals were. He wouldn’t have expected some kind of squabble between them getting in the way of their work.

“It must have been something serious…”

Ochaco nodded, but she fidgeted in her seat and avoided his eyes, as though she knew something she wasn’t telling him. “I’m going to talk to Katsuki later, but I wanted to ask you if you could talk to Shoto. Tenya’s willing to try, but...we don’t really understand what’s going on in his head. I think...I think he might like Momo.”

“Yeah, of course I can,” Izuku assured her, even though he didn’t really know what went on in Shoto’s head, either. Still, for some reason, Izuku’s mind fixated on Ochaco’s first statement— that she would be talking to Katsuki. Had she figured out how to interact productively with the aggressive boy? If so, how?

“Thanks, Izuku.” She managed to smile. “Oh, and I saw the newscast of you and All Might. I didn’t know All Might did undercover work anymore.”

He doesn’t. Izuku opened his mouth, but he closed it before he made a sound, thinking over his next words. His stomach clenched at the thought of lying to Ochaco, and his chest ached with the urge to share his troubles with her, but he couldn’t tell anyone about what had happened with All Might.

“Me neither,” he said. The pause between her statement and his response was too long, but he just continued talking, hoping to cover it up. “But I’ll be working with Endeavor for a bit, now, so that should be a good experience.”

She nodded, but something flashed in her eyes for a moment before she looked away, like she could tell he was hiding something, too.

Suddenly, Izuku sensed an invisible barrier between them, a wall of bulletproof glass separating them. Something clenched in his chest. Ochaco had always been the one he’d felt the most comfortable opening up to, and in turn he had trusted her to confide in him when there was something wrong. When had they started being so secretive with each other?

“Yo, Round Face!” Katsuki’s voice rang out from the background.

Ochaco turned to face him. “Oh, hey, Katsuki. Any luck?”

Izuku couldn’t see him because of the angle of Ochaco’s phone, but his voice was as loud and brash as always.

“No.” Katsuki let out a growl. “I can’t stand hanging around Four Eyes and Half-and-half anymore. Wanna go get some food or something?”

Izuku’s heart skipped a beat. It was true that he hadn’t talked to Katsuki in months, but he was surprised that he and Ochaco had gotten close enough that he wanted to hang out with her.

“I’m talking to Izuku right now,” Ochaco said, giving Izuku a strange sense of satisfaction. He tried to push it to the back of his mind. It was stupid to be thinking about stuff like that when there were serious matters to attend to. Ochaco lifted the phone so that they could see each other.

Katsuki scowled. “Deku.”

“H-hey, Katsuki,” Izuku replied, trying to smile. “How have you been—?”

“Like you care,” Katsuki snapped. He turned to Ochaco. “You haven’t been telling him anything weird about me, have you? Idiot doesn’t know how to mind his own damn business.”

Ochaco puffed out her cheeks in annoyance, raising an eyebrow. “No. Give it a rest, will you?”

Katsuki ignored her, sitting next to her on the couch as she put the phone down, presumably on a table in front of the couch. “Tell me, Deku, what’s really going on with All Might?”

His heart began to pound. He could feel his hands beginning to sweat. “W-what?”

“You heard me.”

Izuku looked away, something eating away at him from the inside. He knew he should have denied that anything was happening at all, but...

“I…I wish I could say, but...I can’t.”

“I knew it,” Katsuki sneered. “You’re in on it and you’re not going to do a damn thing about it!”

Instantly, Izuku had tears in his eyes. He wanted to share what had happened, of course, but it would be selfish to do something like that. The role of a hero was to bear the weight of burdens so that others wouldn’t have to. And after what he’d done to Nomu, Izuku was determined to do his job right, even if it caused conflict with his friends.

“Don’t yell at him, Katsuki!” Ochaco jumped to Izuku’s defense. “If he’s keeping a secret, it’s because he’s trying to protect us!”

“Oh, so you’re agreeing with freakin’ Half-and-half, now?!”

“He’s not even here!” Ochaco shot back, the anger rising in her voice. There were angry tears in the corners of her eyes. Izuku wanted to stop them, but he didn’t know how. “Not everything’s about you and your stupid complex!”

Katsuki’s eyes widened. “You wanna say that again, you—?!”

“Hey…!” Izuku’s voice sounded odd, foreign, as though it didn’t even belong to him. It shook, but was strangely detached. He felt like he was floating away. “Please don’t fight.”

Katsuki stormed out without another word.

“Sorry, Izuku…” Ochaco wiped a tear from her eye. “We’re all a little on edge after yesterday…”

Izuku nodded. “Don’t worry.” He tried to smile, but he could only get the corners of his mouth to twitch before tears started to take over. “I-I’ll talk to you later?”

“Y-yeah…” After offering him a shaky smile, Ochaco cut the connection.

Izuku took a deep breath, trying to dispel the discomfort in his chest.

“Izuku!” Dad called, too brightly. “Want to watch the newscast today?”

Izuku could tell he was trying to help, and he felt guilty for turning Dad down the last few days, so he agreed, trying to walk a little more cheerfully into the living room.

“Hey, um, did you see anything about Momo on the news yesterday?” Izuku asked, sitting down next to dad.

“No, why?” Dad’s voice was casual, but from the way he avoided Izuku’s eyes, Izuku could tell Dad knew what had happened. Probably, he was trying not to upset Izuku, but…

“Do you think she’ll be okay?” he asked quietly.

Dad sighed. “They told you, huh?” He managed a smile. “They’ll get her back; don’t worry. In fact, they’re not even telling the newscasters to cover anything about— that’s how fast they’re expecting to get it done.”

That wasn’t what Ochaco had made it sound like when she’d called, but Izuku let it drop, letting Dad believe that he’d been comforted.

Izuku blinked the tears away, the hollow expanding in his chest, squeezing his heart. His lip trembled and his throat tightened, but sitting right next to Dad he couldn’t make a sound.

Instead, he tried to smile.

Chapter Text

This is taking too long.

Was Momo was even still alive? He knew she would never willingly betray any information about the H.E.R.O. Project to the rebels, but if she was being tortured, perhaps they had a way to make even Momo crack...and if they couldn’t, they might just kill her anyway.

He tried to shake the thoughts away. Once worry started getting in the way of action instead of driving it, it wasn’t useful anymore. But instead of obediently going to the back of his mind as it usually did, the feeling stayed, mingling with the guilt and fear gnawing through his chest.

Shoto frowned. He hadn’t realized those other emotions were there. Forcibly, he pushed all of them away and glanced at Tenya next to him, looking for some distraction.

Tenya took his glasses off, rubbing his eyes. Shoto guessed they were probably irritated from staring at the monitors for so long. Tenya’s hair was disheveled and greasy, and when he put his glasses back on, Shoto could see that his eyes were slightly bloodshot.

“Hey, maybe you should rest,” Shoto suggested. It seemed their leader hadn’t slept at all since Momo had been captured. “It’s not productive to work while you’re tired.”

“You’re right,” Tenya sighed. “Dr. Aizawa already suggested it, too, but to be honest...it’s hard for me to sleep knowing the rebels have one of our teammates in their hands…”

Shoto looked away, the guilt clawing its way back to the forefront of his mind. If only he’d been strong enough, if only he’d been able to ignore Katsuki and his stupid ideals...

Tenya managed a small, almost bitter smile. “I wonder what someone else would do in my place.”

“What do you mean?” Shoto asked carefully. Tenya was always too self-critical.

“Well…” Tenya looked at the screen absently, his voice pensive. Robotically, he scrolled down the page of surveillance data. “Don’t you ever wonder what Endeavor would have done in your place? It’s like that.”

Shoto usually took special care not to wonder about that, but he pushed it out of his mind. “You’re talking about the first Ingenium?”

“I’m sure he would have known what to do,” Tenya said, his eyes still fixed on the screen, almost desperate. “Tensei always knows what to do…”

So then Tenya looked at Tensei the way Izuku looked at All Might, the way Momo looked at Genesis, as though they were somehow more than human, more than ordinary people trying hopelessly to fill the shoes of a god. Shoto couldn’t remember if it had been nice to hold someone in that high regard.

“Maybe I should call him?” Something sparked in Tenya’s eyes, as though he’d seen the way out, but it quickly died. “No...I shouldn’t trouble him with my responsibilities…”

Shoto turned back to his monitor, where he was watching surveillance drone footage for any sign of Momo. It wasn’t Tenya’s fault she had been captured; he hadn’t even been there. Shoto and Katsuki were the ones who had messed up.

A beep from Tenya’s computer distracted him from his thoughts. Instantly, Tenya sat up straighter. “This could be something…”

Shoto’s heart skipped a beat, but he quickly clamped down on his excitement, trying to focus. Nevertheless, he leaned over to look at Tenya’s monitor, his head beginning to pound in time with his heartbeat. “What is it?”

“The signal stopped yesterday, but it looks like Creati made some kind of tracking device…” Tenya typed furiously on the keyboard. Shoto’s pulse was hammering in his temples, now. “Yes! She sent us coordinates! She might not be there anymore, but we have to check it out! We’ll at least find a clue!”

Tenya latched his helmet into place and ran down the hall, Shoto hurrying behind him. Despite the emotion struggling to be freed, Shoto knew he had to focus, so he forced a few deep breaths as he followed Tenya. They were unable to find Katsuki, since he’d apparently left, but Ochaco joined them in one of the Lab vans, which drove them to the coordinates, far above the speed limit.

Shoto could feel the perspiration on his hands, an uneasy hyperactivity overtaking one knee, which bounced repetitively. He could feel his heartbeat in his hands, pounding in his ears.

Please, be okay…

He was surprised when the van stopped in front of an office building, right in the middle of the business district.

Tenya also looked unsure, climbing out of the van with a handheld tracer in hand. “The signal came from underneath the building, a few feet below sea level, perhaps in a basement or something of that nature.”

Ochaco set her jaw. “Okay! Let’s go in, then!”

Tenya nodded, leading the way into the lobby. It appeared fairly average— a clean floor of black tile, rows of fluorescent lighting, a marble front desk, a potted plant on either side of the automatic glass door. If Shoto squinted, he could see the holes in the opposite wall used for discreet surveillance. The robot behind the desk beeped pleasantly as they walked in, playing a short jingle.

“Hello, heroes,” it said in a pleasant, feminine voice. “Please make yourselves at home.”

“Thank you,” Tenya replied. “We request a floorplan of the building, a staff and customer list, and access to your security footage.”

“Of course,” the robot obliged, pulling everything they wanted up onto a wallscreen.

After seeing the floor plan, however, Shoto froze. “Where’s the basement?” he asked the robot.

“I’m sorry,” it replied. “This building has no basement.”

The three of them exchanged a glance.

“Send the data to the Malus City H.E.R.O. Lab, access to Shota Aizawa,” Tenya commanded.

“Of course.”

Tenya turned to Shoto and Ochaco next. “We’ll have to search manually to see if the rebels have dug out some kind of illegal hole. If they were entering the building without I.D. cards, they would have been reported.”

As they walked out of the building, Ochaco spoke up, her voice shrill with suppressed excitement. “But if they were just walking down the street and using a basement, why wouldn’t the droids trace them back here? After all, I don’t think any of us have fought a rebel anywhere near here...”

Tenya was quiet for a moment. “Yes...we’ll talk about it more after we get back to the Lab. I have some ideas, but I don’t know if any are viable, yet.”

“Alright…”

Tenya led them around the perimeter of the building, scanning for any abnormalities. He tapped on the side of his helmet, which supposedly activated different types of scanners built into the headpiece. Ochaco also pressed a button on the side of her helmet for a similar feature.

It wasn’t long before they spotted something, on the side of the building facing away from the street. The back alley wasn’t very spacious, but it was very long, running almost the entire street before being cut off from the road by a cement wall on both ends, probably because the street reached an intersection. The alley itself was enclosed by the backs of buildings and a chain link fence, easy to scale if necessary.

“Fingerprints,” Tenya knelt next to the smooth concrete wall of the building and pointed at a small, sleek metal panel. There were no buttons, but apparently his helmet allowed Tenya to see it. “It looks like activating this panel opens up some sort of compartment below…Perhaps that’s where the rebels are hiding.”

Shoto dug his fingernails into his palm, cursing his racing heart. Focus.

“Do you think anyone’s in there right now?” Ochaco asked, her voice a high-pitched squeak.

“I’m not sure…” Tenya said.

After all, if Momo had been able to send out a signal but couldn’t continue to send it, it was likely that they had discovered the tracking device and destroyed it, in which case they would have abandoned the site, possibly even setting a trap.

“But we have to check it out,” Shoto urged, struggling to control his voice. “If Momo’s in there…”

Tenya nodded. “Now, how to open it…?”

Shoto knelt down next to him, examining the panel. It was perfectly flush with the wall, no screws. “I can freeze or melt the panel, but I don’t know what it’ll do to the circuitry inside.”

Tenya stood. “We don’t want to risk sealing it off. Zero, you scan the rest of the area for other entrances. Janus, you stay here and guard this one. I’m going to get some tools and come back.”

They both agreed to the arrangement, and Tenya took off, smoke shooting from his legs. Shoto couldn’t stop his foot from tapping impatiently. This was taking too long. If Momo had been there, she could have just made the tools…

Stop it. Focus.

Twenty minutes later, Tenya returned with the tools. Ochaco hadn’t found anything else, so Tenya got to work on the panel. After a bit of fiddling, a slab of sidewalk began to slide back, soundlessly disappearing under the building, revealing a dark staircase.

Ochaco tapped each of them on the back to make their footsteps lighter before they descended, Tenya first, then Ochaco, then Shoto.

Shoto was usually in the back any time they had to go single file for anything, just because his attacks were long-range and he could attack without moving at all. But now, he wasn’t sure if he would be of any use. He heated his left hand and cooled his right in preparation for any fight, but they were both shaking. As hard as he was trying to keep Momo out of his head, he could easily imagine walking in on her corpse, or a bloody scene of torture. He felt sick to his stomach and light-headed, almost dizzy, his heart drumming against his eardrums frantically. Even when he forced the thoughts out of his mind, the sensations remained. He recognized the feeling, but he’d never gotten it this badly in the field, before...

Tenya peeked into the underground room a few steps from the bottom before giving them the ‘clear’ signal. Instantly, they hurried into the room and fanned out, making sure it was clear. There were several open doors leading into other rooms, but for now they just closed all the doors so that they could regroup and examine the room in more detail. If anyone was about to come and attack them, they would have to open the door first; the sound would give Shoto more than enough warning to freeze them.

But whatever might have been in the room seemed to have been removed or destroyed. There were broken bits of glass and mangled metal, probably from some kind of computer or piece of furniture. Shoto scanned the debris, walls, and ceiling for any kind of camera, but there didn’t appear to be any. Then again, it was possible the real information would be found deeper inside the underground complex.

“Are we close?” Shoto asked. He made sure to speak vaguely in case the room was being watched or bugged in a way he hadn’t been able to detect.

“Yes…” Tenya replied, pulling out the handheld device, returning his vagueness. “There’s no way to tell the layout of this hideout, but…”

They followed Tenya down one of the hallways in the same order they’d descended the stairs. Some of the lights above had been shattered, flickering ominously. The glass on the ground didn’t crunch because of how light Ochaco had made them, but sometimes kicking the shards made a jingling sound as they walked. The hallway was narrow with about a seven-foot ceiling, no doors along the sides— not ideal for long-ranged combat. If there was any confrontation, it would be close-range.

Suddenly, a red light shined off the side of Tenya’s helmet, catching Shoto in the eye.

“Ingen—!”

A gunshot, and a bullet clanked against his helmet. Shoto’s breath caught in his throat. Ochaco screamed.

Instantly, Shoto froze the wall where it had come from, grabbed Tenya’s arm and pushed Ochaco towards the exit. They started running, Shoto dragging Tenya along easily, since he was lighter because of Ochaco. He gave Tenya to her.

“Take him up!”

She put Tenya’s arm around her shoulders, his head drooping. “What about you—?”

“Go!” Shoto ran back towards the hall. His heart was pounding fast, but it was easy to focus now with the confirmation of danger in front of him.

There was no one visible in the hall, and Shoto didn’t hear anyone, either. Normally, he might have tried to smoke them out, but with a building full of workers above, he couldn’t risk starting a fire.

They hadn’t been near the end of the hall, though, which meant the bullet had probably come from a hole in the wall. And now that Shoto had more time to think about it, the bullet had been fired the instant Tenya had ran into the red light. It hadn’t killed him because of his bulletproof helmet, but had it been Shoto or Ochaco walking in the front...

He shook the thought away, turning his attention back to reality.

It was almost as though the bullet had been fired automatically. On a hunch, Shoto stepped towards the hall with his right, sending stalagmites of ice shooting up from the ground, in a line all the way down the hall. Sure enough, the move was followed by innumerable gunshots, the more shots the further the ice went.

Traps.

He coated the entire hallway— walls, ceiling and floor— in ice. Instantly, more gunshots rang out. The holes and marks on the ice would show them where the traps had been aimed.

Shoto walked back towards the entrance. “Zero?”

“Yeah!” She jumped down the staircase, landing softly at the bottom before releasing her power. She had the handheld tracking device attached to her belt. “Ingenium’s alright; I left him in the van.”

“Okay. I think I’ve found a way to bypass the hallway.”

All the bullet holes were located within six feet from the ground, which left them about a foot of space to float above the traps.

“Can you make us float?”

“Got it.” She tapped him on the shoulder before joining him on the ceiling. Carefully, they floated above all the traps, Shoto using his left to make handholds in the ice to pull himself along, and Ochaco using small rockets installed in her boots.

At the end of the hall was a 90 degree turn leading down another hallway. Shoto froze everything as he’d done before, but there didn’t seem to be any traps. Still, Ochaco kept them afloat in case something was pressure-sensitive.

Once they reached the end of the hall, they were in yet another medium-sized room with several doors leading to other rooms. There was a cheap wooden table in the center with several chairs around it, some of them knocked to the floor. The lights above had been smashed like the ones in the long hallway. This confirmed it— there had either been a fight in here, or the rebels had purposely destroyed their hideout.

Ochaco took the tracker from her belt and pointed at one of the doors. “The signal came from in there.”

Ochaco let them down, and they flanked the closed door, Ochaco on the side with the hinges, and Shoto on the side with the doorknob.

He nodded at Ochaco as he gripped the doorknob and flung the door open, jumping into the room, but it was empty, too, no people or furniture to be seen. The lights in this room were also smashed, and there was a lamp in the corner that had been knocked over. There was a mound of melded metal in the corner; upon closer examination, it seemed to be a row of melted CPUs. Nothing retrievable in there, most likely, but Shoto tried to pry the memory cards from the inside anyway, just in case. He put them in his pocket. He looked around for evidence of a monitor, but there didn’t appear to be any.

“The signal came from this room?”

“Yeah…” Ochaco looked down at the device. “This exact spot. But...what were they even doing in here? It’s not like they could ever leave Mo— Creati by herself or she would escape without an issue, right?”

“Right…” Shoto looked around the room again, looking for some sort of clue. Why would they want Momo in this room?

Carefully, Shoto examined the wall next to the CPU.

“Janus?” Ochaco asked.

“Hold on…” He backed up a bit, extending his right hand. The ice made impact with the wall, shattering it. Glass fell to the floor, exposing circuitry behind it.

“A wallscreen?” Ochaco said timidly. These days, they were usually built so that they blended in with the wall when they weren’t turned on. “For what?”

Suddenly, Shoto remembered the conversation he and Momo had had with Froppy, that split second of doubt on Momo’s face…It had been bothering him that they’d grabbed only Momo, when he and Katsuki had also been vulnerable. Dr. Aizawa had suggested that perhaps she was lighter and easier to carry, or that they didn’t have enough uninjured people to carry the others away, or that they didn’t want to enter the cloud of smoke and debris that Katsuki’s gauntlet had created, but perhaps there was more to it than practicality.

Brainwashing…?

Shoto swallowed, trying to ignore the ominous feeling stirring in his gut. “I don’t know.”

Chapter Text

“Stop!” Izuku chased the girl down the street, his heart pounding in his ears. After he and Endeavor had caught her selling black market weapons, she’d started running and grabbed a child from a passing pedestrian. Unfortunately, it seemed Endeavor wanted Izuku to deal with this on his own, simply hanging back and watching.

The girl giggled and gave him a sadist’s smile, the limp child under her arm. “Only if you catch me, Cutie!”

“What the…?” Izuku muttered, using his power to jump in front of her. He realized with a closer look that she probably wasn’t any older than he was, dressed in a cute skirt and sweater, her blond hair tied in two messy buns atop her head.

She didn’t stop running when he jumped in front of her, however, immediately swinging a pocket knife at his face with a wild grin on her face. He jerked back, narrowly avoiding the blade, his heart jumping into his throat.

“Let the kid go!” Izuku demanded, trying to keep his voice from shaking. He tried to keep his eyes on his enemy, but they flicked involuntarily towards Endeavor, who was observing the confrontation from behind her, a stony look on his face.

She laughed again. “Ah, so you care more about this brat than catching me?” She held the point of the knife above the child’s neck. “Maybe you’ll pay more attention to me if I spill some blood!”

Izuku grit his teeth. He wasn’t sure if he was fast enough to strike her without hurting the child. He knew Endeavor would have spouted some threats by now, and All Might would have taken care of it already.

The tip of the knife touched the child’s skin, now.

“Don’t!” His voice came out more pleading than commanding.

“But I wanna see some blood so bad...” she said, the corners of her eyes crinkling with her smile. “Unless you’ll show me some of yours!”

Izuku clenched his fists. He didn’t want to start an unnecessary fight, but the child’s safety took priority. “Fight me and find out!”

Her grip loosened ever so slightly on the child.

There.

Izuku ran toward her, feinting a strike at her face, but instead, he caught the child before he hit the ground, landing next to Endeavor and handing the child to him gently.

“Take him to safety!”

Endeavor raised an eyebrow at Izuku’s cheekiness, but didn’t have time to protest before Izuku jumped again, going for an attack from above.

“SMASH!”

His roundhouse kick connected with the girl’s gut, and a split second later her back cracked against the concrete wall of a nearby building. She stayed down, out cold. Carefully, Izuku approached her, but she didn’t stir. He took a deep breath, trying to slow his racing heart, a nervous laugh bubbling up in his chest. So he’d managed to save the child and take her out, too...

Endeavor walked over, having returned the child to his mother already. “I must admit, Scion, that I didn’t expect you to speak to me that way.”

“S-sorry, sir...It was the heat of the moment—”

“And she did manage to nick you there.”

Instinctively, Izuku looked down at himself to see what Endeavor was talking about, but it wasn’t until a moment later that he felt the pain. He raised a hand to the cut on his face.

“Sloppy. You need to train more.”

“R-right!” Izuku nodded. Though he’d learned in the past week of working with the man that Endeavor didn’t dole out compliments easily, if at all, he was determined to prove himself. After all, Endeavor was second only to All Might himself.

Twenty minutes later, they were eating lunch back at the apartment. Izuku had placed a bandage on his face. He tried to think about the mission and how he’d done, but with the adrenaline rush now gone...his thoughts were drifting.

“Didn’t your mother teach you not to play with your food?” Endeavor’s voice was harsh as always.

“S-sorry, sir…” Izuku sat up straighter, shoving some fish into his mouth.

Endeavor sighed heavily, full of annoyance. “Thinking about All Might isn’t going to heal him. I’m told you know about his cellular degeneration?”

Izuku nodded numbly, shocked that Endeavor would bring it up so insensitively, especially when he’d known that was what Izuku had been thinking about.

Endeavor scoffed. “They’re thinking it could happen to all of us, you know. Me, you, your friends in Malus City...even those born with their powers like Shoto could be in danger.”

Izuku swallowed. “It’s...occurred to me.”

“Hmph. Makes you reconsider what you’re doing with your life, to know it could end that way, doesn’t it?” Endeavor laughed, but it was a harsh, joyless chuckle. “Then again, you chose to do this knowing it could happen to you. A real go-getter, aren’t you?”

Izuku shrugged with one shoulder, not quite sure what Endeavor meant by that. If he was completely honest with himself, he’d seen an opportunity to be like the people he’d spent his entire life looking up to, and he’d jumped on it. “I...suppose so, sir.”

“Shoto could learn a thing or two from you,” Endeavor went on. He had both elbows on the table, now, his empty plate sitting in front of him. “Even though you’re still not strong enough to stand a chance against him, his attitude could use an adjustment.”

Izuku fidgeted in his seat. It wasn’t right for Endeavor to be talking about his son like that when he wasn’t there, and it was especially uncomfortable that he was making comparisons. “C-can I ask you something, Endeavor?”

It was hard to read his face, but his hard blue eyes bored into Izuku’s with disturbing intensity. “What is it?”

Izuku swallowed, pushing his nerves away. “What do you love most about being a hero?”

“‘Love,’ you say?” Endeavor chuckled again, humorlessly, as though the notion of love amused him. “You know I’ve always had a bit of a rivalry with All Might. Simply put, I want to surpass him. That’s it.”

“But...he’s done with hero work, now, as far as we can tell with the treatments he’s getting,” Izuku went on carefully, watching Endeavor for a reaction. None came. “So why are you continuing?”

Endeavor studied him for a moment, as though carefully weighing his next words. “If you must know, I created Shoto to be a child powerful enough to surpass All Might. Even with All Might out of the picture, however...there’s still you.”

Izuku remembered then the conversation they’d had almost three months ago, how Endeavor had grinned at him. It sent chills down his spine.

Endeavor stood, cleaning up his plate. “Of course, it’s stupid to compare me and you. But you and Shoto can vie to be number one. And the victor of that war will determine whether I or All Might triumphs in the end.”

Izuku gulped as Endeavor turned away, putting his plate in a slot in the wall, which would automatically wash the dishes and return them to their cabinets. Over the past week, Izuku couldn’t help but be struck by how different Endeavor was from All Might. Everyone agreed that Endeavor was the second strongest hero, but that didn’t mean he was anywhere close to All Might in strength or spirit. While All Might was only slightly toned down from who he was in newscasts, Endeavor was...quite different from the serious, noble man he seemed on TV. In reality, he was much harsher, almost brutal.

And what did Shoto think of the rivalry that was supposed to have sprung up between him and Izuku? Shoto hadn’t changed the way he acted around Izuku, and had seemed pleased by the news that he would be a hero, too. He hadn’t mentioned anything about Endeavor except to watch out for his lack of manners.

Izuku finished off his fish, also cleaning his plate. He went to his room and sat on his bed, taking his phone out. Speaking of Shoto, he’d promised Ochaco that he would talk to him, but...he hadn’t called, yet. Izuku wanted to make sure he could hold himself together before calling to try and comfort his friend.

But before he had a chance to press the ‘call’ button, he heard Endeavor’s voice.

“Scion!”

“C-coming!” Izuku put his phone in his pocket and rushed to the living room, where Endeavor had pulled up a wallscreen, apparently video chatting with Dad, Dr. Aizawa, and Dr. Shuzenji. Everyone looked serious.

Immediately, Izuku’s heart jumped into his throat. Had something happened to All Might?

Dr. Shuzenji tsked at him. “Izuku, you’re like an open book, really. All Might is stable.”

Izuku exhaled, not realizing he’d been holding his breath. “Oh, th-that’s good.” Upon closer examination, their expressions had perhaps been more irritated than serious. What had they been talking to Endeavor about before he’d arrived?

Dr. Aizawa looked straight at Izuku, now. “We’re calling because we wanted to talk to you about a proposition.”

Izuku swallowed, trying to dislodge the nervous knot in his throat. “Alright…”

Dad waved a hand. “Oh, don’t worry, Izuku! You’ll like it! We’ve just been thinking of moving up the timetable on getting you to Malus City.”

Of course, Izuku wanted to, but he could only think of a few reasons they would do that, the main reason being that his friends’ morale had doubtlessly dropped since they still hadn’t managed to find Momo. The newscasts claimed she was also on an undercover mission, but...they could only keep up the illusion that a rookie hero was undercover for so long.

Especially if she never returned.

“We’ve just noticed you’ve been down lately,” Dad went on brightly. “I thought being with your friends might raise your spirits.”

Izuku fidgeted slightly. “Is that really the only reason?” he asked quietly.

Dad hesitated, but Dr. Shuzenji saved him from having to answer.

“That, and Hisashi doesn’t want to leave you with Enji too long.”

Endeavor huffed at that, crossing his arms, but Dr. Shuzenji continued, her voice slightly more disapproving than usual. “We all agree he’s not great with kids.”

“How many times do I have to tell you people?” Endeavor asked testily. “The way I train those put under my tutelage is not your concern.”

Dr. Shuzenji narrowed her eyes at him, pausing a moment. Izuku had the feeling there was something he wasn’t understanding about Endeavor, but he supposed he shouldn’t have been surprised by it. After all, Katsuki had been right— every hero needed to lie to some extent.

But after learning more about why Endeavor was a hero, Izuku supposed it was a matter of why they lied that differentiated a real hero from a simple liar. Someone like All Might, who lied for the good of society, was a real hero. But Endeavor, who was in hero work mostly for personal reasons…

Then again, Izuku wasn’t sure he had a right to judge. Though he’d idolized any hero in the past simply for their profession...he’d come to realize that he couldn’t assume they all shared the same good intentions. However, just because Endeavor lacked them, Izuku shouldn’t assume All Might had been the only one with those intentions, either.

“I’m sure none of us want to discuss this in front of Izuku,” Dr. Shuzenji said finally, confirming Izuku’s suspicions that Endeavor had a secret, too. “So let’s just cut to the chase, here. We’ve already sent paperwork through to Dr. Nezu, and he’s approved the motion. How soon do you want to leave?”

Izuku glanced at Endeavor for a second, but his face was unreadable. On one hand, staying would allow him more time to train with Endeavor, but on the other, he wanted to be there for his friends. That was what a hero should do, after all.

Izuku clenched his fists, strengthening his resolve. “As soon as possible, please.”

Dad grinned. “That’s my boy!” Izuku felt pride swelling in his chest, a real smile spreading across his face for the first time in too long.

“I’ll tell them,” Dr. Aizawa said lazily. Nevertheless, he had a slight smile on his face, too. “I’m glad you’ll be joining us, Izuku.” With that, Dr. Aizawa signed off the chat.

Dad spoke up next. “Well, if business is over, I hope you won’t mind if I talk to Izuku for a bit?”

“No, of course not, Dears,” Dr. Shuzenji said, reaching for a button close to her screen. She met eyes with Izuku one more time. “We’ll move all your stuff for you tomorrow. Good afternoon.”

Dad raised his eyebrows excitedly. “So, Izuku, I saw footage of you on all the newscasts this week! Pretty awesome!”

Izuku blushed. “Thanks, Dad.”

“We were watching some screenings at one of our Board meetings just to check up on all the subjects— you know how it is— and when you came on, I was just like, ‘that’s my son, that’s my son’!” He laughed. “Even though everyone on the board knew that already, I couldn’t help myself! They even told me to quiet down because I kept cheering!”

“I-I’m not really that cool...” Izuku protested, suddenly feeling bashful.

“Don’t be silly, Izuku!” Dad winked. “I couldn’t be prouder!”

Izuku couldn’t wipe the smile off his face if he tried, tears forming in his eyes. His heart was trying to leap out of his chest with joy. Even Dad, who knew about his horrid failure with Nomu...

“He still has a lot to learn,” Endeavor interrupted, his voice harsh. “If you were watching that footage more objectively, Hisashi, you would have noticed all the flaws in his technique. He’s slow, soft—”

“I’m aware he’s not quite All Might, yet, if that’s what you’re trying to say,” Dad frowned at Endeavor. “But he’s fifteen with three months of training. What he’s accomplished is insane.”

Endeavor was unmoved. “Fair, but—”

“Besides, Enji,” Dad’s voice still kept his bright overtone, but somehow there was a cooler undertone, almost calculating. A chill tingled down Izuku’s spine. He’d never heard Dad’s voice that way before.“You’re supposed to be mentoring him, but you’re just beating on him and leaving him to fend for himself in the field. I don’t know if you should be criticizing him like that, if that’s how you treat a student.”

Endeavor stared at the screen for a second before turning around. “I’m merely trying to say that he shouldn’t let the little progress he’s made get to his head.”

Dad smiled plastically. “Noted.”

Endeavor grunted, stalking out of the room.

“Don’t worry about him, Izuku,” Dad’s real smile returned. “He’s a little bit of a sourpuss, if you haven’t noticed.”

“I wonder why…” Izuku glanced after him. What had given him such a sense of ambition, rivalry, pride? Back when Endeavor had become a subject, the H.E.R.O. Project was only taking volunteers. Why had he chosen to become a hero?

“Who knows?” Dad shrugged it off, and Izuku tried to as well, talking with Dad about how he’d been feeling lately, what missions were like, and other everyday things.

But in the back of his mind, Izuku was still thinking.

Why?

Chapter Text

Again.

The chains holding up the punching bag rattled as Shoto struck it with another barrage of punches and kicks.

Too slow… Shoto didn’t bother to wipe the sweat off his brow, letting it drip down his face. If he didn’t think about it, they almost felt like tears.

Again.

“Hey, Shoto!” The voice was bright, jarring.

Shoto finished the combination before steadying the swaying bag, turning around to face Izuku, dressed in his green hero costume. “Izuku…”

He’d heard that Izuku would be joining them the day before. He’d been glad his friend was coming, but...after they hadn’t been able to find Momo for a full week...he wasn’t sure he was ready to act normal. Not only had he lost a friend, but when he thought of the way Genesis had been killed in the field, and now her daughter had most likely joined her...It made him feel sick.

Izuku smiled happily. “How have you been?”

Shoto avoided eye contact. “Fine. You?”

“Alright…!”

They stared at each other for a moment, silent. There was nothing between them but air, but suddenly it felt very thick, as though they wouldn’t be able to touch even if they reached out, as though they would try only to discover the other was a hologram. Shoto supposed he and Izuku were just like every other hero, now.

“I hope Endeavor wasn’t too rude to you,” Shoto said finally. “I saw on the newscasts that he was basically leaving you on your own.” He scoffed softly, involuntarily. “I know it’s supposed to be training, but three months is too soon to do something like that.”

“Well, it was helpful,” Izuku said, smiling too wide. “He’s definitely...harsh, but he helped me become stronger, so I’m grateful for that.”

“Right…” Shoto wondered if that was the attitude he should have had, too. Maybe then he wouldn’t feel so angry whenever he thought of Endeavor.

Izuku sat down on one of the benches in the training room. “I wanted to talk to you, actually...I’m sorry, I really should have called, but…” He bit his lip, looking at his feet.

“It’s fine. You were busy,” Shoto tried to comfort him, but Izuku only bit his lip harder at that. Maybe it was better to speed along the conversation. “What is it?”

“Well…I wanted to ask if you were okay.”

Shoto stiffened, remembering how Momo had asked him the same thing too many nights ago. Instantly, it was harder to talk, a lump forming in his throat. “I—…” He tried to swallow, but he couldn’t get his throat to make the movement. He coughed. “Yeah. I’m fine. Why?”

“It’s just...I know you and Momo were— are— close.” Izuku met his eyes. “I was worried you were having a hard time, that’s all.”

“You don’t have to worry about me,” Shoto looked away, running a hand along the leather of the punching bag. He forced memories of nightmares out of his head, but he was still left with the overwhelming feeling of hollowness in his chest, as though something was rotting, eating away at him from the inside. Maybe this was his punishment for getting close enough to call Momo his friend. He supposed he should keep Izuku at arm’s length, too.

Suddenly, the door hissed open.

“Janus, Scion!” Tenya had already put his helmet on. “We have a lead on Creati’s location! Hurry!”

Without hesitation, they both ran to follow Tenya to one of the vans. Less than a minute later, all five of them were sitting in the back of the van, speeding through the streets. Shoto’s heart was pounding in his ears, expanding in his chest until he could barely breathe. He told himself to calm down, not to get his hopes up, but his body wouldn’t obey. His hands had begun to tremble, but he clenched them into fists. If this lead went anywhere, he couldn’t afford to lose focus for even a second.

“Where did you get this lead?” Shoto demanded. They hadn’t found anything in a week, and Dr. Aizawa had advised that they focus more on other jobs, so they’d really been looking for Momo only in their free time.

“It was a tip sent to Dr. Aizawa by Kamui Woods,” Tenya supplied. “He thinks he might have seen her entering a rebel headquarters, but…”

Shoto had to resist the urge to stand at Tenya’s silence. “But what?”

Tenya met eyes with him then. “It might not be her. We should approach this calmly and rationally.”

Only then did Shoto realize he was leaning forward, too close to Tenya. He sat back, lowering his voice until he could barely hear it over the incessant pounding of his heart in his ears. “R-right.”

“Wait, did you say ‘headquarters’?” Ochaco asked, her eyebrows knit with worry.

“Yes, but it’s more like a regional headquarters,” Tenya explained. “It’s unknown where the Revolution’s headquarters is, or if they even have one, but this is a hotspot right outside Malus City.”

“So we’re storming a headquarters just because Creati might be in there?” Katsuki crossed his arms. “Sounds like a dumb idea.”

Shoto tried to clamp down on the anger rising in his stomach. He was getting too emotional. With effort, he forced his feelings to the back of his mind, allowing ice to overtake his insides. “We can do reconnaissance, first,” he suggested, carefully controlling his voice. “Just to evaluate the threat, though. Even if Momo isn’t there, we should still attack before they abandon it like they did with that other place we found.”

“Yes,” Tenya agreed. “But reconnaissance may not be necessary. Kamui Woods provided us with a little information. Firstly, it seems that the rebels known as ‘Riot’ and ‘Bolt’ will be there at the very least. Secondly, there are at least two entrances— one on the east side and one on the north, which are the side and front, respectively. Thirdly, it’s an above-ground structure; it seems they’re using a bar as a front.”

“That’s it?” Katsuki demanded.

“Unfortunately, yes.”

“I have a question,” Izuku raised a hand timidly.

“Of course, go ahead,” Tenya prompted.

“Which rebels are Riot and Bolt? I’m sure I saw them on the newscasts, but they never named any of them.”

“Riot has red spiky hair,” Ochaco supplied, gesturing above her head. “And Bolt has electric powers.”

“Got it,” Izuku said, putting a hand on his chin. His brow furrowed, his eyes focusing on his feet, immediately retreating into his thoughts.

“What are you doing, Deku?” Katsuki asked, rolling his eyes.

“We don’t know the environment, yet, so I don’t know if Katsuki or I could safely use our powers indoors,” Izuku muttered. “But Riot has rock-hard skin and Bolt has electric powers. So Janus can take care of Bolt quickly and easily using his ice. The one who has the best chance against Riot is Zero.”

Ochaco squeaked. “Me?”

“His specialty is close combat, so one of us will distract him so you can sneak up on him and make him float. He has no mid-range or long-range attacks that we know of, so that should be the best way to disable him.”

For a moment, everyone was quiet. Shoto had known Izuku was smart, but he hadn’t realized how closely his friend had been watching everything.

Izuku looked up, blushing. “U-uh, I mean, if someone else has a different idea, we should go with that! I didn’t mean to—!”

“No, no!” Tenya interrupted, thumping Izuku on the back. Shoto couldn’t see his face through his helmet, but from the sound of his voice it was obvious he was smiling. “It’s just that you’re really good at this already! I admire your diligence!”

Izuku smiled sheepishly at the compliment, but Katsuki huffed, speaking in a growl.

“Okay, but which entrance are we using? And are we making a perimeter around the building or something? You can’t just assume we’ll all be together and that there won’t be anyone else around.”

“Y-yeah, but that was more of a best-case scenario strategy,” Izuku said weakly. “Like Tenya said, we don’t know—”

“You can’t just plan for the best-case scenario,” Katsuki snapped.

“Grenade,” Tenya cut in sternly. “We have to work together this time. Remember that your behavior is what helped get Creati captured in the first place.”

“Hmph.”

“On the other hand, we should think of a few more possibilities. Anything else, Scion?”

Izuku touched a hand to his chin again. “W-well...Grenade has a point that we shouldn’t put all our eggs in one basket...So Janus, you make walls of ice around the building, then go inside with Grenade and Zero through the side entrance, since the front is less likely to lead to their hideout. Ingenium and I should stay outside in case they try to escape.”

“That’s what we’ll do, then,” Tenya patted him on the back again before opening the backdoor to the van, just before it came to a halt. “Let’s go!”

Quickly, Shoto analyzed the area, trying to swallow despite the dryness in his throat. The bar was small, beige, concrete, rectangular. Three floors. Alleyways on both sides. A red neon sign on the front read “Happy Hour” in script. Single glass door, two windows on either side. Well-kept. The floors above appeared to be small residential apartments with six smaller windows per floor. Still, they were big enough to jump through. The buildings in general were smaller here, just outside the city. The surrounding buildings also appeared to be entertainment-oriented establishments— restaurants, dance clubs, and a bowling alley.

Take a deep breath. Calm down.

In a split second, Shoto sent ice erupting from the ground, clogging up the alleys and sealing off the front. He ran towards the east side of the building, Katsuki and Ochaco on his heels. The other two entered the east side door while he made a wall behind the building, and then he followed them inside.

The hair on the back of his neck was standing up, his palms sweaty. His eyes were straining for any signs of traps, but the halls seemed clear as they ran. The floor was white tile, kept clean in accordance with health standards for food vendors. The lights were bright.

“What are we looking for?” Ochaco asked as they ran.

“Rebels!” Katsuki replied.

Ochaco huffed slightly, but followed Katsuki, who had run ahead and was leading them who knew where. Shoto, on the other hand, tried to think. If anything suspicious was going on, it was likely that it would either be on the upper floors or a possible basement. They could split up— one for the second floor, one for the third, and one for the basement. However, they hadn’t gathered much data on the building before invading it. They had no information on who lived upstairs, whether or not they would be home, much less the layout of the building. In the interest of moving fast to possibly help Momo, they’d ignored detail work.

But there was no time to gripe about that.

“Open all the doors on this floor,” Shoto said, careful to keep his voice firm and even. “We check for a basement, and if we can’t find one, we go upstairs.”

“Who put you in charge?” Katsuki growled. Shoto ignored him, since he’d stopped to open a door nevertheless.

In five minutes, they’d swept the floor, any locked doors opening for them because of their H.E.R.O. I.D. cards, but there didn’t seem to be a basement. If there was and the rebels snuck out while they were on the upper floors, then they’d have to leave them to Izuku and Tenya outside.

“Upstairs, then!” Ochaco prompted, leading them up a stairwell.

The door to the second floor didn’t open for them.

“Out of the way!” Katsuki grinned.

It was better to go about it quietly if there were really rebels. Shoto extended a hand towards him, stiffening. “Wai—!”

With an unnecessary shout, Katsuki blasted the door open and charged through.

Ochaco puffed out her cheeks with a small huff, but she followed him through and Shoto followed her. He tried to put his annoyance to the back of his mind, too, ignoring the nagging voice that it was getting a little crowded in there.

“CREATI!”

Katsuki’s call sent a jolt down Shoto’s spine, his chest suddenly hollow where his heart had stopped. She was there!

Once he and Ochaco had caught up to Katsuki, Shoto scanned the room for her. It was a living room with a TV, couch, and coffee table. Covering most of the table was a large map of Malus City marked in red dots, a copy of Unified Nations Today tossed aside in one corner. The magazine had scribbles across the cover. Behind the couch was a large window, closed and locked.

Momo was sitting on the couch in her hero costume, looking at them with wide eyes and a slight frown, as though she was surprised to see them there, a red marker in her hand. She didn’t seem hurt. Sitting next to her was Forte. It was the first time Shoto had seen her without her mask, and she looked as young as they were, and just as shocked to see them as Momo.

For a moment, no one spoke.

Momo’s eyes flicked back and forth between Forte and her teammates. It seemed she had the situation under control; perhaps they shouldn’t have interfered. But if that was the case, why hadn’t she contacted them?

“Momo,” Shoto stepped forward.

She stood up. “Shoto, I can explain—!”

Forte stood, too, putting an arm in front of Momo. “Don’t bother, Momo!”

The sound of a rebel using Momo’s name almost made Shoto lose it, frost gathering on his right hand and smoke coming from his left, but he didn’t make a move, still aware that he didn’t completely understand the situation.

Forte narrowed her eyes at them. “You said they couldn’t be converted.”

“I—...”

The room seemed to tilt. For a moment, Shoto almost believed Forte’s implication that Momo had betrayed them, but then he remembered that Momo had probably only pretended to convert to gain more information. He didn’t know how long she needed to continue the charade.

Don’t do anything rash.

Again, he pushed his feelings down and sent ice in their direction.

Forte shattered it as she usually did, but it gave Katsuki cover to jump through the cloud and make an explosion in her face. She screamed and fell.

“Kyoka!” Momo cried. “Wait, Katsuki, please—!”

“I’m not waiting for a traitor!” He swung at her, too, but she’d made a shield and blocked the explosion. Shoto wasn’t sure if Katsuki had come to the same conclusion, but either way he had to trust Momo to defend herself.

“Kyoka? Momo?”

Shoto turned, recognizing Riot’s voice. Behind him was Bolt. Without giving them time to analyze the situation, Shoto froze Bolt up to his neck.

“Whoa!” Riot managed to jump out of the way, but Ochaco was already on him. He flailed as he floated to the ceiling, but it did nothing to help him.

“Run, Momo!” he yelled.

Automatically, Shoto lifted a hand towards Momo, ready to freeze her. Katsuki was on the ground, so he had to do it. But for a moment, their eyes met. Her face was worried, her eyebrows drawn together and her mouth in a frown, but something Shoto couldn’t recognize shone in her eyes, then, something that cut him straight to the core, like lightning splitting a tree.

He hesitated.

Momo took the opportunity, smacking Katsuki across the face with a metal bar as he tried to rise, taking a dazed Forte by the hand, and jumping towards the window. Ice raced behind her, sprouting from the ground, but she was a split second ahead.

The glass shattered, and she was gone.

Chapter Text

The glass blew out on a west side window. Izuku’s heart jumped into his throat.

“Go!”

Instantly, Izuku obeyed Tenya’s command, jumping towards the people falling from the window. He caught them and rolled, tumbling safely down the curve of Shoto’s ice wall.

After shaking the daze off a bit, Izuku got a better look at the two rebels he’d caught, who were pinned under his body.

“M-Momo?”

“Izuku?” She seemed surprised to see him, but she stood after he got off of her. She was holding a large metal shield, which she’d probably planned to use to slide on the ice.

Quickly, Izuku tried to get ahold of himself, grabbing her arm and pulling her towards Tenya, trying to leave the rebel behind. “We’re here to rescue you, come on—!”

“Get away from her, Deku!” Katsuki’s voice rang out from above before he was pulled back inside. More of the windows blew out a second later with his explosions.

“Wha—?” Izuku cried out in pain as something lashed around his legs and pulled them out from under him.

“Sorry, Izuku!” Momo said, pulling the other end of the rope taut. She produced a loaded syringe from her arm.

“What are you doing?” His voice came out a squeak.

She didn’t reply, simply plunging the needle into his arm, through his sleeve. With a shaky hand, he struck the syringe with his palm before she managed to put all of the substance into his body, shattering it. He yanked the needle out of his arm and threw it to the ground.

His heart raced, his mind trying desperately to analyze the situation. He could think of only two possible situations here— either Momo was pretending to defect to the rebels in order to gain their trust, or she had truly betrayed them— but he quickly put the latter out of his mind. Though the former would have been an unapproved mission as far as Izuku knew, it was possible that she had been given secret clearance for it, or that she had made the decision on her own and was in contact with the H.E.R.O. Project.

So then his task became to make the fight look real, and let her get away.

Suddenly, his vision blurred, his stomach lurching. His heartbeat was louder, punching his eardrums in a slowing rhythm. Was that the effect of the drug?

Izuku blinked, and he was on the ground, watching two pairs of feet dance around each other— Momo and Tenya clashing, perhaps? No, there was only one person, now. No, there was no one.

The world dissolved into darkness.

Izuku was straddling Nomu’s neck, ripping the bloody brain from his skull again, squeezing it, shredding it to scraps of ragged tissue. He threw them aside as garbage. Slowly, he dug his fingers into the man’s sternum until he broke skin, and he pried Nomu’s chest open with the wet sound of flesh tearing. The organs were wet and soft, pulsating. Waiting.

Izuku reached inside for his intestines first, punching through the thick muscle tissue supporting his lungs and threading the slimy tubes through the hole, letting them hang out of Nomu’s body. Next, he smashed the liver to a brown pulp, snapping the nerves and bulging arteries inside of it. He ruptured the stomach with his fingers, spilling its contents to mix with the pool of blood on the ground. Taking a lung in a death grip, Izuku yanked it out of Nomu’s chest, crushed it until the blood inside oozed out, and threw it aside, doing the same with the other. Izuku wrapped a hand around Nomu’s spine, allowing it to break with a satisfying crunch.

Finally, Izuku went for Nomu’s still-beating heart. It was an ugly thing, veiny and dark red, lopsided and misshapen. He cupped it in both his hands for a second, feeling its rapid pulse before squeezing it, pulling it, waiting with wide eyes for the moment that it stopped.

When it finally stopped twitching in his grip, he dropped it back into the corpse. He looked at his hands, spotless and clean.

“Scion!” It was All Might’s booming, victorious voice, but when Izuku turned around, there was only a skeleton, daring to stand wearing All Might’s smile.

No, it is All Might, Izuku realized as Nomu’s ruined organs flew to occupy the skeleton’s empty ribcage, the skin peeling from Nomu’s body with a chorus of snapping connective tissue, the uncovered muscle wrapping around the skeletal man’s bones. The skin followed and wrapped around the muscle, sewing itself together with crooked seams. Standing there was All Might, made of parts Izuku had destroyed, parts that were bleeding inside, ready to die, but All Might smiled.

Blood ran between his teeth.

All Might put a hand on Izuku’s shoulder. “Good work!”

The corners of Izuku’s mouth twitched upwards.

Izuku woke with a gasp. “NO!”

“Izuku?”

“Are you alright?”

It took him a moment to recognize the voices of his friends. Ochaco and Tenya were sitting next to him with worried faces, while he was lying down, apparently in a bed. With a second more to gather his senses, Izuku realized he was in the infirmary.

He tried to swallow, but his throat was too dry. Ochaco handed him a glass of water as Tenya helped him sit up.

“Thanks…” Izuku managed, trying to shake off the dream. If he thought about it too much, he knew he would break down.

It was nothing. It was nothing. It was nothing.

“Momo knocked you out with a gentle chemical,” Tenya informed him. “It was only in effect for about an hour.”

“Oh…” Izuku said, still slightly dazed. “Why…?”

“I don’t get why she had to do something that drastic…” Ochaco said quietly, tugging at a loose thread on her costume.

“She had to make it look legitimate,” Tenya reminded them. “She’s probably trying to gather information for us from the rebels. It seems she’s somehow earned their trust.”

“Yeah,” said a voice, low and angry as always. Izuku jumped slightly at realizing Katsuki was on the other side of the infirmary, sitting in a plastic chair with his gauntlets on the floor next to it. There was an inflamed purple bruise across his face. Katsuki stood and walked closer to them, shoving his hands in his pockets. “But she did that in public. People definitely saw it, so they’re going to have to cover it in the newscasts. Isn’t it a little suspicious that they would trust her even though the newscasts already said she was on an undercover mission?”

“They only said that after she was kidnapped,” Tenya pointed out. “Besides, what we all did today should allay any remaining suspicions they had towards her. At this point, we just wait for her to make contact.”

“Perfect, isn’t it?” Katsuki scoffed, looking up at the ceiling.

Tenya frowned at him. “Yes, it is. But that’s just a testament to her skill as a hero.”

“Well, we still haven’t figured out how the rebels get around the surveillance drones,” Katsuki grumbled. “If she’s undercover, she’d better have the sense to tell us that, first.”

“But undercover missions are pretty dangerous…” Ochaco said, worry furrowing her brow. “Do you think Momo will be okay?”

“Of course—” Tenya’s phone began to ring. “Oh, excuse me. It’s my mother.” He turned sharply and left the infirmary, answering and speaking to her in a hushed tone, his shoulders slightly hunched.

Izuku frowned. Was something wrong?

“Well, Deku…” Katsuki said scornfully, even though he didn’t grin as he usually did when he put Izuku down. “That was your first mission with us. How’d you like it? You were the only one who got taken down.”

Instantly, Izuku felt the guilt sag in his gut. Katsuki was right; even though he’d worked so hard for the past few months, he’d been taken out quickly and easily. He’d have to work even harder if he wanted to catch up to his friends.

“Katsuki!” Ochaco scolded, slapping his shoulder. “That’s mean. Don’t say that!”

“Why?” he sneered. “‘Cause it’s true?”

Ochaco balled her fists, standing up and facing him. “No, because you have no right to insult someone who’s trying their best!”

“And why not, if their best isn’t good enough?” Katsuki shot back.

Something about seeing them fight made his chest hurt, reminding him of the fight Ochaco and Katsuki had had the week before. He wondered if they’d made up, or if he should get involved. His friends had all formed relationships with each other outside of his influence by now. If he was honest with himself...it was almost as though Izuku was the outsider, now.

“Would you like anyone to say that to you?” Ochaco demanded, tears in the corners of her eyes.

Katsuki let out a strangled scream of frustration. “I shouldn’t have told you anything!” He was leaning too close to her face, now. “You’re just as bad as the rest of them!”

She didn’t back down. “I don’t care! I’m not going to stand by and let my friends hurt each other!”

For a moment, Katsuki backed off, biting his lip. If Izuku didn’t know any better, he would have thought he’d seen tears in the other boy’s eyes before Katsuki turned around with a scoff. “Fine! Defend Deku, since he can’t do it for himself!”

The door closed behind him.

Ochaco wiped her eyes a bit. “I’m sorry he said that, Izuku…”

“N-no, it’s not your fault,” he reassured her. After all, Katsuki had always said things like that. “Thanks for standing up for me.”

She sighed slightly, casting a glance at the closed door before looking at her feet. “Of course.” She looked at him with a smile, but there was an unsteady look in her eyes. “I’m going to go wash up, if you’re okay, now.”

“Yeah!” Izuku nodded, pasting a smile of his own onto his face. “Go ahead!”

When she left, Izuku relaxed the muscles in his face. All Might had been right.

Smiling did get easier the more he did it.

He climbed out of bed and waited a bit to give Ochaco time to disappear before he went outside. He nearly tripped over Tenya.

“T-Ten...ya…!” Izuku froze.

The other boy was crouched on the floor, one hand clamped over his mouth, and the other shaking as he held his phone to his ear.

“Tenya! Are you alright?” Izuku crouched next to him, his heart beating faster with worry.

He nodded, but a tear slid down his cheek. Tenya swallowed, his voice coming out in a whisper. “Yes, Mother. Goodbye.”

Tenya hung up the phone, simply placing it on the floor next to him. His lips were pressed together so tightly they turned white. He pulled his glasses off and hid his face in his arm.

“Tenya…” Izuku felt a tug in his chest, tears filling his own eyes at seeing his friend like this. He felt so helpless, having no idea what this was about or how to help. Minutes passed before Tenya finally spoke, his voice tight.

“M-my apologies, Izuku…” He put his glasses on, even though his eyes were still red and teary. “I didn’t mean to break down like that in front of you…”

“No, no, don’t worry about that,” Izuku assured him, helping him up. “Are you okay? We can talk about it, if you want.”

“No, it’s just...it’s nothing.” He sniffled, offering Izuku a half-smile. “Don’t trouble yourself with it.”

“Ah…” Izuku couldn’t help but feel they would have talked about it if they’d been back at the Cenere City H.E.R.O. Lab, before they’d become official heroes, before they’d had to bear the burdens of society on their own shoulders. And Tenya had accepted one of the heaviest burdens of all, as their leader.

Tenya walked down the hallway, his fists clenched at his sides, his head hanging.

Izuku almost called out to him, but...perhaps it would have been hypocritical of him. He’d resolved to carry his own burdens, not to share them with his friends, his teammates. Tenya was probably trying to do the same thing. Izuku had no right to make it any harder.

Izuku turned around, walking upstairs with slow, listless movements. Though being a hero was indeed a noble job...he hadn’t realized that being a hero meant being alone.