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They say Yagi Toshinori of the Earth Kingdom was the most powerful Avatar since the cycle began. The affectionate nickname “All Might” wouldn’t be found in any scholarly Avatar texts, but it could be found in the mouths of the general populace. Nonetheless, this physical strength and bending prowess did not stop him from dying relatively young before he even reached 100 years old. Sickness of the blood and the bone can overtake anyone.

The Avatar is told that they are the Avatar on their sixteenth birthday. This is not how Midoriya Izuku found out, because it was fairly certain that he was not a bender at all.

Fairly certain.

It was a sweltering late spring afternoon edging towards sunset when Izuku found out. He sat on a grassy hill overlooking the clearing, close enough to watch the Agni Kai but far enough away that Bakugo wouldn’t single him out for hanging around. He wished he could get a better view so that he could sketch Bakugo’s firebending form—he’d never seen him in a proper duel—but he was running low on ink anyway, so it didn’t matter.

Izuku was nervous to watch. Bakugo was brash and prone to fistfighting, but he took his firebending more seriously than anyone. It would take more than a simple slight against his strength or character to get Bakugo to demand an Agni Kai, and he would only laugh in the face of someone who tried to challenge him. Bakugo had been a firebending master since he was ten years old, the youngest in history that their prefecture had ever seen. A duel with him would not last long.

It began abruptly. Bakugo attacked first, a swift and unrelenting stream of fire delivered low and white hot. His opponent staggered and rolled away, swinging wide and sending an untamed arc of fire roaring for Bakugo’s face. Bakugo skipped backwards, unexpectedly graceful, and ducked low to rush him, massive plumes of fire engulfing both fists.

Izuku fumbled for his schoolbag and pulled out his sketchbook, ink, and brushes. He was low on ink but he didn’t care—he had to paint something of Bakugo’s maneuvers. He looked like an airbender in his footwork, and surged back into a firebender’s body when he attacked—it was incredible. Izuku worked quickly with fine-brushed strokes, dizzying himself from looking so quickly back and forth between the Agni Kai and his parchment. Bakugo was merciless, overwhelming his opponent with a barrage of fire that he couldn’t predict from above and below, before and behind, darting in circles around him with uncharacteristic lightfootedness.

It was over quickly. Bakugo was behind the other boy and took his feet out from underneath him; he sent him sprawling forward with a fireball to the center of his back. Izuku’s hand shook, sprinkling ink on his sketches, as both boys’ cries carried up the hill to reach him. His pulse thundered between his ears as he watched a few onlookers ease into the clearing to tend to the loser, while Bakugo rolled his shoulders and sauntered backwards. He swiped up his tunic from the ground and slipped it on, then shouldered his schoolbag. Izuku heard his voice, harsh and unhappy, carry faintly on the wind: “Get his sorry ass to a healer.”

Kacchan. Izuku chewed thoughtfully on his thumbnail as he watched him. Bakugo’s back was tense, even though the duel hadn’t been difficult and had finished quickly. He was a strange thing—he meant to win, and gave it his all, but he didn’t especially relish in hurting anyone.

Well. Hardly anyone. Izuku startled when Bakugo’s head snapped in his direction. He was the only one on the hill, so he knew Bakugo could see him. He jumped to his feet and gathered his things, shoving his notebook into his bag and slinging it over his shoulder. Time to go home, before Bakugo decided he needed a more enjoyable punching bag.

He headed towards the village, walking the way that took him along the cliffs that circled the lake. It was a lovely view at this time of day, although the mosquitoes making a feast of him in the heat ruined it a little. The sun was a boiling orange ball sinking heavily in the west, and the lake reflected it in a rippling stripe, bright and flame-like. Izuku thought back to Bakugo’s firebending, and the hurried sketches he’d made despite his dwindling ink supply. He could have sworn he’d seen some airbending footwork in Bakugo’s performance, and he considered the heavy library book weighing down his bag—the latest reprint of Avatar Yagi’s posthumous biography, with detailed illustrations of his famous bending forms. Izuku had been on the school library’s waiting list for six months to check it out, and he wouldn’t have been surprised if Bakugo had also scrambled to get his hands on it.

All Might...his bending had always been a beautiful blend of the elements and their forms. He bent earth like water, bent fire like air, and did it so naturally, with an ease previous Avatars had never grasped. Izuku itched to get home and sit down to properly draw out Bakugo’s form during the Agni Kai and compare it to Avatar Yagi’s form, and others in different firebending scrolls he collected. Maybe someday things between Bakugo and himself would mellow out, and Bakugo would let him sit in on a formal demonstration, like maybe with the Fire Sages—

“Hey Deku.”

—shit. Reluctantly Izuku turned, shoulders hunched. Bakugo had come up behind him with a loping, swaggering gait that made dread pool in Izuku’s stomach. Bakugo was all loose-limbed and easy, but Izuku knew it meant he was pissed off and wanted to take it out on him specifically.

“Hey Kacchan,” Izuku said cautiously.

“Saw you watching my Agni Kai up there,” Bakugo drawled. “Didn’t elbow your way to the front of the crowd, huh, nerd? You’re supposed to be obsessed with firebending masters or some shit, aren’t you?”

“I, uh, didn’t want to bother you,” Izuku hedged.

“I could hear you muttering from half a mile away,” Bakugo snapped, “so mission un-fucking-accomplished.”

Izuku tried not to wince visibly. He moved to hitch his schoolbag up higher over his shoulder and saw Bakugo’s eyes zero in on it. “Don’t—”

But Bakugo had already snatched Izuku’s bag off his person (He’s so fast, an embarrassingly stupid corner of Izuku’s brain commented, impressed) and dumped its contents onto the dirt. A few sheets of homework fluttered off the cliff and over the lake, to Izuku’s irritation. He’d have to rewrite that part of his essay.

“Saw you scribbling in your stupid little amateur Avatar scholar diary,” Bakugo observed casually, nudging Izuku’s notebook around with the pointed toe of his boot. Izuku stooped to grab it, then reached for the library book, but Bakugo was quicker; he swiped it right out from under his fingertips. The scrap of parchment on which Izuku had been sketching Bakugo’s form was longer than the pages of the book, and he’d hastily used it as a bookmark. He saw Bakugo notice it.

“You got ink on the pages, idiot,” Bakugo said sharply, opening the book to where Izuku had marked it. He pulled out the scrap of parchment and squinted at it suspiciously. The forms Izuku had sketched were smeared a little from when he’d shut them in the book before the ink had dried, but they were recognizable as Bakugo. Izuku could feel himself reddening as Bakugo took the forms in.

“Kacchan, come on—”

“Holy shit, Deku,” Bakugo laughed suddenly, harsh and mocking. “This is a whole new level of pathetic. Are you back on that wannabe Fire Sage bullshit again?

“No, I—” Izuku stuttered, embarrassed, but before he could finish, Bakugo set fire to the parchment with a spark and a hiss. “Hey!

Izuku reached for the smoldering parchment, uselessly. Bakugo held it out of reach, snorting, and let the wind take it from his fingers and over the cliffside. Tears stung the corners of Izuku’s eyes; the actual sketchings didn’t matter, this was just outrageously mean of Bakugo. Bakugo slung an arm around Izuku’s shoulders and pulled him close to his side.

“You can't just be an Avatar fanboy to be a Fire Sage, Deku,” he sneered, squeezing him hard. “You gotta be a firebender. Grow the fuck up.”

Izuku ducked his head to the side and scrubbed at his eyes with a fist, and with a surge of courage that he instantly regretted, he dug an elbow into Bakugo’s ribs and pushed him away. Bakugo rocked, surprised, and then shot out an arm to grab Izuku’s collar.

“So now you wanna fight, huh?” Bakugo demanded.

“No,” Izuku gasped, standing on his toes so that Bakugo wouldn’t lift him completely off his feet by the front of his tunic.

“It seems like you do,” Bakugo said, shaking him once, hard. “Still hoping to be a Fire Sage, and now you think you can fight me? What’s up, Deku? You a firebender like your deserter piece of shit dad after all?” He let him go all at once, and Izuku stumbled backwards, off-balance. He eyed the cliff’s edge warily from his peripheral.

“Go ahead and show me what you got, asshole,” Bakugo said, pushing him in the chest and stalking after him when he staggered, “if you think you’re such hot shit now. C’mon, you wanna be a Fire Sage, don’t you? Show me some flames!”

“I’m not a firebender, Kacchan, come on,” Izuku said, managing to sound both afraid and impatient. He just wanted to go home, and more immediately wanted to get a little further away from the cliff. He knew that Bakugo, angry as he was, would never push him off a cliff or anything on purpose, but Bakugo was reckless, and it would be easy to lose one’s footing in a very bad way up here. Even if his footing was sure, this section of earth that jutted over the lake was dry and easily eroded. Rocks crumbled away and cascaded 200 feet to hit the dark water.

“No shit you’re not a firebender,” Bakugo sneered. “And even if you were, no way the Fire Sages would take you. Me, on the other hand?” He laughed, and Izuku swallowed the lump in his throat that came from knowing he was right—Bakugo was incredible, and just as focused on the same goal, but in the end, Izuku wasn’t a bender at all.

Izuku wiped his eyes again and crouched to gather his things from the ground. He threw them into his bag, dirt and all, but paused to brush the dirt from his library book. He felt bad about getting ink on the pages—Yamada was going to yell at him for it, probably, even though he was the librarian and enforced the quiet rules.

“I was invited to the Capital Temple last weekend,” Bakugo said suddenly, his voice making Izuku jump. “I got to meet the Fire Sages.”

Izuku didn’t want to respond, but his head snapped up and he blurted, “Really?” before he could stop himself.

“Only the best can train me,” Bakugo said with a grin so tight and vicious it made Izuku’s teeth ache. Neither of them mentioned Todoroki Enji, the world’s greatest firebender, who regularly rebuked the Fire Sages, so deeply held was his personal hatred for Avatar Yagi.

“You’ve trained with the Fire Sages?” Izuku said, amazed. “At the Capital Temple?

“Just once,” said Bakugo, with a confidence to his voice where anyone else would’ve had modesty or a shrug. He gazed down at his hands, where he lit bright flames, like he was amazed at what he could do with them. He cut his eyes over to Izuku and smirked, clenching his fists and extinguishing the fires in them. “You’ll never guess what I can already do.”

Izuku stood, sliding his bag back onto his shoulder, and Bakugo suddenly widened his stance. He extended two fingers on both hands and brought his arms in close to his torso, his movements fluid and smooth like waterbending. Izuku watched, wary, unease tightening in his belly when Bakugo’s eyes locked into his; Bakugo’s smile was feral in its animosity. The air felt heavy and wet on him, his hair standing on end, and he raised his hands nervously in surrender when Bakugo angled his body fully towards him.

“Watch what a real master can do, Deku,” Bakugo said, and with a crackle, he thrust two fingers out and up. A bolt of lightning flew fast and bright from his fingertips and sizzled past Izuku’s head, missing him by inches. It seared a jagged imprint in Izuku’s vision, and the thunderclap was so loud and deafening that it hurt his stomach and jolted him down to the soles of his feet. He fell backwards with his hands over his ears, shaken off balance, and felt the earth beneath him shudder from the force of Bakugo’s lightning. He stared up at him, awestruck.

“Lightning?” he choked out, his ears ringing too loud to hear his own voice.

“Damn right,” Bakugo said, breathless and cruelly bright-eyed. He shifted again, pulling his arms back in to generate more electricity, even as the dusty ground continued to tremble as Izuku climbed to his feet.

Fear buzzed through him suddenly as he felt the shifting of the earth beneath him. He was too close to the edge, and Bakugo was going to aim at him again.

“Hey, don’t,” Izuku said frantically.

“Scared, huh?” Bakugo said, his teeth and eyes gleaming. His body was crackling, his spiky hair standing even taller. “Stay still and I won’t hit you.”

“Ka—”

Bakugo’s arm punched forward, fingers aiming just shy of Izuku’s head again. Izuku covered his ears uselessly against the thunderclap that tore through the air and shook the ground. The cliff gave way.

“—CHAN!

He took a step forward, but the earth under his feet was already tilted too steep. He saw Bakugo’s eyes go wide.

“Wait! Shit!” Bakugo darted towards him, but Izuku was already 20 feet down.

The chunk of earth Izuku stood on scraped against the sheer cliffside and shattered to a rain of dirt; he reached out, palms scraping bloodily against rock and dead roots. He bounced painfully off a jutting rock and spun out away from the cliff; the glittering water of the lake rushed to greet him, hard as stone. He squeezed his eyes shut.

If he hit the water, he couldn’t feel it. He was too busy shrinking inside his own brain, his consciousness expanding outward past the confines of his skull. He felt shunted to the side in his own head, white light rendering him blind except to an endless line of people that stretched as far as he could see to either side of him. Distantly, he could feel his body moving, but when he looked down at his own hands, he saw himself kneeling on whiteness, braced against a floor he couldn’t see. He looked up at the person closest to him on his left, an astoundingly tall man with recognizably wild hair moving in tandem with the countless others alongside him. They were all waterbending, Izuku could tell, although there was no water around them.

Avatars.

They vanished, and awareness and sensation shrank back into Izuku’s skull, sending him crash landing back into reality. He was damp and lying on his back. Grass tickled and itched on his arms and the nape of his neck. Bakugo’s face swam into view above him, shaky and pale. His fingers were fisted in Izuku’s collar again.

“Fuck!” His hands were trembling, rattling in Izuku’s tunic, knuckles touching the skin of Izuku’s throat. Izuku remembered lightning too close to him, and then falling. “Fuck. You fell and—and it’s you. You’re the Avatar. Fuck!”

Izuku struggled to focus on Bakugo’s face, and when he did, he couldn’t stand the expression on it. Bakugo really was something else, to have the audacity to look so shaken up after he nearly—

“G-get off me,” Izuku rasped, eyes widening. Disorientation, anger, and disbelief swirled strangely together within him. When Bakugo didn’t move, Izuku brought his hands to the ones clutching his collar and prized them away, then shoved Bakugo hard in the chest. “Get—off!

Izuku rolled out from underneath him and climbed unsteadily to his feet, his clothes clinging wetly to his skin. He was a decent distance from the cliff now, but he could see where the ground had given way where he had been standing.

“What the—Deku—”

“What’s the matter with you?!” Izuku shouted, whirling to face him. “You nearly killed me!”

“I didn’t mean—” Bakugo cut himself off and ground his teeth together, leaping to his feet. “Who gives a shit? You’re the Avatar!”

Izuku ignored him and pressed his raw palms to his eyes until he saw stars. He couldn’t focus. Bakugo wasn’t making any sense. He dropped his hands and went closer to the cliffside but kept a safe distance away from the new edge. He could see his schoolbag dangling by its strap from a root halfway down the face of the cliff. He would have to retrieve that eventually—it had homework and a library book in it. He was too tired to try and fetch it now. His eyes were drawn to a foamy, recently disturbed section of water on the lake below it.

Izuku absently wrung out the hem of his tunic as he peered at the water. His head hurt. “How did I get out of the water? Did I climb…?”

“Did you—what the fuck, Deku!” Bakugo yelled. “I saw you! You were waterbending!”

Izuku closed his eyes, his temples throbbing. It felt like his brain was too big for his skull. “That doesn’t make any sense.”

“I know what I saw.” Bakugo’s voice came closer. Izuku opened his eyes and saw him stalking closer, still pale-faced but scowling again. He was wiping his eyes, rimmed with red. Izuku would have found this interesting if he wasn’t angry with him. “You fell, but you brought yourself back up with a fuckin’ waterspout. Your eyes were glowing. You’re the Avatar, you fucking—”

Bakugo grabbed his arm hard, but Izuku didn’t flinch. He yanked himself free.

“Don’t touch me. I’m going home. Leave me alone, Kacchan.”

For once, Bakugo let him be. He said nothing as Izuku walked away, unsteady on his feet, dripping on the grass.

His headache subsided by the time he reached the village. His mother wasn’t home, so he didn’t have to explain why he was soaked or why he didn’t have his school things, although he would have liked to see her. He went to his room, opened the window, and began to think hard.

Falling from 200 feet into water should have killed him, or at least badly injured him. Other than a brief headache, he felt fine physically. What Bakugo said he saw rang in Izuku’s mind. It was too outlandish to be true, but waterbending could have broken his fall. He also couldn’t stop thinking about those people he saw after he fell. He recognized them. He recognized Avatar Yagi most of all.

But if he was the Avatar, why couldn’t he bend anything? Avatar Yagi had been born into the Earth Kingdom, so the next Avatar would have been reborn as a firebender, but Izuku had never shown signs of being one. His father was a firebender, but his mom wasn’t, and Izuku took after her mostly. He remembered trying to firebend as a young child, especially when Bakugo had started firebending. He wanted to be one, but firebending came so easily to Bakugo and not to Izuku, and Bakugo’s teasing had made him insecure, especially when the teasing escalated to something worse. Sitting on the floor now in front of his open window, worrying his lower lip, Izuku supposed he never gave it a proper effort outside of childhood pretending and wishes.

He needed to clear his head. If there was one thing Izuku had always been better at than Bakugo, it was calming down and meditating.

He lit some candles (he tried for a few minutes, self-consciously, to light them with firebending, but gave up and used spark rocks) and sat back down in front of the window. The warm evening breeze felt good on his skin, so he kept it open. He closed his eyes and breathed in deep, banishing his anxieties and willing all thoughts to be purged.

He couldn’t help but visualize the endless line of Avatars in that vast white space, but he didn’t focus on it. He felt himself relaxing more with each breath, not lingering on their seated silhouettes that suddenly matched his. Time slipped from him, and he didn’t notice when he stopped hearing the screams of the cicadas just outside his home. The Avatar in front of him opened his eyes, and Izuku was lost in whiteness.

“Young Midoriya.” Avatar Yagi sat across from him, cross-legged on the ground beneath a willow tree, and smiled.

Izuku did his very best not to shriek, stifling it instead to an unimpressive squeak. “All Might?”

Yagi tilted his head. “Excuse me?”

“I mean—Yagi!” Izuku yelped. “Avatar Yagi, sorry! What—what is this?”

Yagi looked up at the branchlets that swayed in the wind above their heads, then gestured happily to the environment around them. Izuku didn’t recognize it. “This is the Spirit World. You’re in the Avatar State.”

“The Avatar State,” Izuku breathed. He stared open-mouthed at Yagi. “No way. There’s no way I’m the Avatar. This has to be a mistake.”

Avatar Yagi steepled his fingers in front of his face, elbows on his knees. His eyes looked strangely sunken as he peered at Izuku. He looked like he was trying not to laugh at him. “I don’t think someone who is not the Avatar can enter the Avatar State by mistake, my boy.”

“No, it’s just that—” Izuku stuttered, feeling stupid, trying to gather his thoughts. “I’m not a firebender. I can’t bend anything at all.”

Yagi’s face softened a bit. It was odd to look at him; he looked just like he did in paintings, but there was something unusually shadowed and hollow in his cheeks. His appearance seemed to shift and change subtly in ways that Izuku couldn’t place, like the gradual setting of the sun.

“I will admit,” Yagi began carefully, “that you’re an unusually late bloomer. But then again, I was an unusually early one. It was uncanny how easily all the elements came to me. It’s not so strange that the polar opposite might be true for someone else.”

Izuku’s head felt like it was spinning. “But...what do I do, then?”

Yagi grinned again, and his face seemed to fill back out. He clapped his hands together. “You must master all four elements, young Midoriya! As all Avatars must!”

“What, just like that?” Izuku said, bewildered.

“It will take months,” Yagi laughed. “Years, perhaps. It will be difficult to learn from the ground up, my boy. But there are masters awaiting you! You have to search for them and choose who you think is right for you. The Fire Sages will probably contact you soon.”

Izuku tensed, anxious. “The Fire Sages know I’m the Avatar?”

“You’ve had a witness,” Yagi said. “Sometimes Avatars slip through the cracks, but they’re found before too long. I imagine your…” Here he paused, uncertain, then continued hesitantly, “...friend will speak to them if you don’t.”

Izuku swallowed, trying not to tremble. “This is...really weird, All Might.”

“‘All Might,’” Yagi repeated. “What is that?”

“Oh!” Izuku flushed. “It’s, uh, a nickname. I guess people started calling you that after you died. You were so...powerful, you know? Almighty.”

Avatar Yagi blinked rapidly, and then smiled brightly, pleased and pink-cheeked. “Wow! I don’t even know what to say to that!”

A sudden wave of fondness surged through Izuku and made him tear up. He bowed his head so that All Might wouldn’t see.

“Don’t look so glum, my boy,” Yagi said, misinterpreting his posture as sadness. “Now is as good a time as any to get a feel for the art of bending! There’s no rush! Not to toot my own horn, but the efforts of my lifetime have left the world calm and well-balanced.”

“I guess,” Izuku said, sighing shakily. “But now that you say it...those are some pretty big shoes to fill.” He jumped slightly when a large hand fell on his head. Avatar Yagi was ruffling his hair.

“You don’t have to worry,” Yagi said warmly. “It’s your destiny to do great things. I know this for certain."

Izuku almost laughed. That was such an Avatar thing to say. He looked up at Yagi with a smile he hoped wasn’t too watery. “How do you know that?”

All Might’s teeth were blinding even in the strange, muted sunlight of the Spirit World when he smiled back at him. He gave Izuku a cheery thumbs-up. “Because I’m a part of you, young Midoriya. And I have always been here.”

Izuku was grateful, then, when bright white light overtook him, because he wouldn’t have been able to hide it when his eyes welled up and spilled over. His head didn’t pound this time when he felt himself sink back into his physical body, and when the light faded from his vision he was looking out of his bedroom window again. His mother was there, standing just outside his window and staring in at him. Her eyes were huge, her mouth agape. The reins of the ostrich-horse beside her were slack in her hand.

A few yards behind her, Bakugo stood stiffly at the foot of the walkway to the house. Angrily, he tossed something to the ground and stalked away. It was Izuku’s schoolbag.

“Izuku?” his mother whispered, stunned.

“Mom—”

Inko clutched him through the window and began to cry.