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The Dark Below

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Season I: Descent

Chapters 1 to 12

'Cases of hidden quirks have, in the last forty year,s dropped by over sixty percent but this raises the question of why? By their very nature, these quirks require very specific triggers to activate and seventy-five percent of reported cases have been traumatic incidents. It should be noted that twenty-five percent would later go on to be villains as a result of these traumatic incidents. In most cases, it is unethical to test for these Quirks and the method of checking for the vestigial bone structure in the outermost toe is superficial at best. Theory indicates that half of these cases will have a hidden quirk, but that again brings the question of ethical testing...'

—Excerpt from 'The Beginner Scientist's Guide to Quirk Theory.'

Midoriya Izuku staggers down the road, every step almost the one that makes him collapse. His leg muscles quiver and he is certain the muscles in his abdomen have long given up on functioning because his back hurts. Or maybe it hurts because All Might made him discover muscles he hadn't known existed. 

Izuku grins. The very idea that All Might is teaching him is enough that he can plough through the pain one more time. How many can say that their hero believes in them? That their hero intends them to be their successor?

The answer is very few. 

Certainly, there are family-run agencies where the mantle of the lead hero is passed on to the eldest or, in rarer cases, the most powerful. And in some cases, a hero will groom a successor after years of vetting. But that isn't the same as this.

The sun sets but for Izuku its rays warm his soul and the side of the small hill. He looks over the water, a deep and vivid red from the light of the sun reflecting beautifully off that calm surface. There is nothing that can ruin this day.

"Well look who we fucking have?"

He hears it a moment before he is pulled aside, faster than his instinct to flee kicks in. Any other day he would have noticed. Today, however, he is exhausted physically and mentally. 

His heart hammers in his chest as Bakugou Katsuki's eyes sear him with their intensity.

"Kacchan," he whispers and flinches when Kacchan's free hand lights up with his quirk. The smell of nitro-glycerin is strong in the air, cloyingly sweet and triggering memories of pain. 

"What kind of shit is this, Deku?" he roars, shoving Izuku back. "I told you I would be the only one and you haven't fucking changed your exam destination. You're a fucking quirkless piece of shit."

He bites his lip. "Y-you don't need a quirk to—"

Kacchan shoves him again, the fire in his eyes rising to a violent crescendo.

"Of course you need a fucking Quirk to be a hero." The explosion startles him and Deku stumbles back, smelling smoke and Kacchan's anger. "Go be a fucking police officer and do some productive shit in your life instead of wasting my time."

He can't react to Kacchan grabbing him by the shirt but he feels the residual heat from the last explosion. "Get it in your fucking head," Kacchan whispers and that terrifies Izuku more than anything else. Kacchan is fire and flash, the loudest voice in a room and the brightest. "Stay out of my way."

Kacchan slams his hand against Izuku's chest. It hurts, he realises, as he rolls back. And keeps on rolling. No, no, no, he thinks a moment before his skull meets the metal pole at the bottom.

*****

Darkness has always been a part of human existence. It was the first enemy humanity faced. Predators could be fought and natural disasters fled. But it was the darkness that could never be defeated. There is something primal in a human's fear of the dark. It is not the fear of the monsters hidden in the dark but a fear of all that is unseen.

That fear is irrational. It is the same to fear the sharks in the ocean when you have lived your life without once seeing a coast. There are no monsters for humans to see, even in the dark. The monsters hide further in the dark. If the darkness you see is but the surface of the ocean, then the monsters lurk in the depths of the abyss. Do you understand, Midoriya Izuku? Fear not the darkness for the only monsters are those of your mind.

But the abyss is another matter entirely.

*****

Izuku wakes with a shout tearing its way past his teeth. His body trembles and his breath comes in short, quick bursts. His hands feel at his face, touching something dry and flaky. His hands shake as he looks upon the flakes of dried blood.  

Kacchan hurt me, he thinks numbly, a second before he rolls over and expells everything in his stomach. It hurts, and the bile burns his throat. But he doesn’t care. All that matters Is the idea that Kacchan had done that.

No, it's my fault. I shouldn't have made him angry. He wouldn't hurt me no matter what. Even if he's upset he knows what that black mark would do to his record. It was a mistake. My mistake.

He smiles at his All Might poster above his desk. Then freezes. A long tear runs across it and continues along the wall. Izuku turns slowly, taking in his room: the walls are all marked with dark substances, some sections torn up as though Mt. Lady's nails have gouged through them; his ceiling is clear save for a hole in the corner from which a dark substance pours out, the liquid travelling in shapes that make perfect right angles—it hurts to look at those; his desk is wrecked and his computer missing.

"Who-wha-whe..." He fails to articulate the thousand thoughts running through his mind. Because this is his room after a few years of neglect and disuse. His mother would never let that happen.

"Mum," he says and then louder, "where are you?"

He stumbles out of his bed. Avoids his lunch on the floor. Steps over the weird black substance.

Izuku opens his door.

There are moments of impossibility in this world, moments that once made will echo out forever even if no one is there to witness them. Every moment in history is but a cascading chain of coincidences that when looked back upon with the perspective of time will make sense. It is easier to believe a great man clawed his way out of obscurity and changed the world through sheer determination than it is to believe that socioeconomic factors had largely formed the man and that those around him those achievements possible.

This is one such moment for Midoriya Izuku. He smells seawater and the cloyingly sweet smell of decay, the scent of something long dead and left to rot under the scorching sun. He feels the stifling heat and air so thick that, for a single moment, he wonders if he can cut through it. Izuku sees a sky on fire, waging a war against itself and clouds of inky blackness.

It is the sound that terrifies him. True silence is impossible—the beating of the heart, the rustle of clothing, and the silent whisper of breath will always make themselves present in silence for those sounds travelled through blood and bone, not through the fickle medium of air. Silence would not be so bad.

The sound is barely above a whisper but louder than a comet crashing into the earth, its sonic boom travelling outwards for dozens of miles before the death and destruction that follows. It grates at his ears and tears at his soul because it is a song he knows down to the marrow in his bones. And he knows if he ever truly hears it, and not merely this echo, he will be torn asunder. It is a song older than life, but it is a song that can end it.

It is the song of finality, of the end of all life. Instinct tells him this. Every atom of his existence confirms this. The primitive and undeveloped lizard-brain tells him to run.

Izuku stumbles and retches bile on the sandy ground. No, no, no, he thinks as he clamps his hands over his ears. But the sound will not stop. I can't, I don't—just stop. Let me diebecauseanythingwasbetterthanhearingthedeathofallthings.

He scrambles back. Stones in the sand tear through his clothes but he hardly notices as he crosses the threshold of his room. He slams the door shut and sags against the comforting weight of it, a solid fortress wall despite the gouges and flaking paint. It grounds him. And not only because he can no longer hear the songthatharkenedtheendofman.

Just take me home, he pleads, screwing his eyes shut.

*****

Izuku wakes with a gasp. Cool, fresh air fills lungs that burn and strain as though he has held his breath.

He coughs and gasps. Opens his eyes. Sees blue skies. Cars speed down the street and children laugh loudly. His breath hitches and his throat constricts.

The tears, when they come, run down his face freely. Hiccups rack his chest but Izuku didn't care how he looks, not when the song is gone.

Izuku calms down after a few minutes. He wipes his face and pulls his hand back. His heart freezes. Dark red fluid covers his arm. Gently, he lifts his fingers to his forehead. It stings and when he pulls back he sees blood. 

How? He asked and looked around. There are chunks of metal and glass littered on the shattered ground. It takes him a moment to recognise the shape of a street light from the wires sticking out of the cracked earth. And then he sees the small pool of blood seeping into the deep cracks of the ground.

"There's a very real possibility I'm going mad," Izuku mumbles.

And that would be a lovely hypothesis. It would explain why All Might chose me instead of anyone else. Your personal hero solving your problems is the cheapest kind of fanservice. But It might be the safest option to go with. The other option means I genuinely heard a songthatwouldkillalllifeifitwasheard and One For All is more terrifying that All Might told me.

Or, a small part of Izuku's brain whispers, this is your quirk.

His thoughts grind to a halt.

Kacchan pushed me down and I hit something, hard. I woke up in a place that wasn't the world I know and I heard that terriblesongthatmustneverbesung. I wake up and a street lamp has been torn to shreds. There are no witnesses or suspects other than me. The simplest option assuming this is real is that I did this. And the only way any of that could have happened is from a quirk.

My quirk.

Which isn't possible. He had been tested after a Quirk didn't manifest. Izuku has a vestigial toe joint. The logic makes sense.

One For All is a gifted quirk, his traitorous mind whispers. Who says your quirk couldn't have been waiting until now?

But waiting for what?

For Kacchan to ki

His world goes white for a moment. Izuku blinks away the white world, breathing harshly all the while. There is something there that couldn't be thought.

If I did that, he thinks instead, then I have a quirk.

Izuku stands and retrieves the clean shirt he has in his pack. Slowly he wipes away the blood from his face and holds it there to the open cut. He saddles the bag and walks home slowly in a daze.

He doesn't remember entering his home or taking off his shoes. Izuku hardly hears his mothers worried words or notices walking up the stairs to the bathroom.

There is a face in the mirror, bloody and red-eyed from crying. Unruly green hair framed that face. It looks alien and foreign.

He opens the tap and splashes water on his face. The water runs crimson. Izuku scrubs at his face until only clear water runs. A line of red at his right temple is the only mark he has. The wound is jagged and unlike the straight thin cuts he's come to associate with head injuries. He hopes it doesnn't change the colour of his hair.

The door open with a bang. Izuku startles as his mother barged in, concern marking the lines of her face.

"Izuku," she whispers, "you weren't answering and there was so much blood."

"Sorry," he mumbles, "I had a bit of a fall."

She steps forward and pulls the hand touching the still tender wound. "Oh, Izuku, what will I do with you?" Her hand cups his chin and tilts his head, inspecting the injury. "This is going to scar badly."

I know.

His mother opens a cabinet and rummaged through it with practised efficiency. She pulls out a first-aid kit. "Sit down," she orders and Izuku hops onto the counter. She unzips the bag and removed a bottle alongside some cotton swabs and thick bandages.

She opens the bottle. It smells of the harsh antiseptic he hates.

"Kaa-san," he whines. "Can't we use the other one."

Her gaze quells anything further he had to say. "Good."

It burns when she disinfects the wound but he bears the pain quietly, letting her continue with the bandage. "Change the bandage every day until it's not exposed anymore."

He forces a smile. A weak one from how his mother frowns immediately in response.

"Sorry, my head still hurts a bit."

She nods once. "Eat first then sleep."

He obeys and eats the meal mechanically. Sleep comes easily that night. It isn't pleasant. There are dreams of creatures tearing apart the earth, their very presence driving his mother insane. He wakes twice before resigning himself to a night without sleep.

His alarm startles him awake. Surprised that he managed to fall asleep, Izuku rolls out of bed despite his tiredness. Takes a shower. Changes the bandage. Eats a meal of fruits and energy shakes.

It doesn't take long for him to reach the beach. All Might isn't there yet, and so he stretches thoroughly. He takes a sip of water when he is done and waits patiently.

"Young Midoriya," All Might croaks. Izuku startles, turning quickly to face his teacher, his form deflated and skinny. "Have you finished preparing?"

Izuku nods and smiles. "Already done."

"Good, now..." All Might stopped, staring at a spot on Izuku's head. "How did you get that?"

He swallows. What is he meant to tell All Might? I think I have a Quirk but I also think I might be going crazy. Also, I think Kacchan might have ki—His mind blanks out for a second.

"I fell and hit my head on a pole," he says, not lying. "I wasn't paying too much attention."

His teacher hums before nodding. "Be more careful, Young Midoriya. Injuries outside training can lead to much worse injuries here."

Izuku tilts his head. "That's why you're here, isn't it? I mean, most of these things look heavier than me."

"Perceptive as ever."

By midday, Izuku is almost dead on his feet. When All Might calls for an end to training, Izuku crumbles to the ground where he's standing. The sand is warm and he can ignore the uncomfortable feeling of sand clinging to places it is never meant to be. He hears feet approaching and opens his eyes to All Might who throws a bottle to him. Izuku opens it and drinks deeply without getting up.

"I suppose you've earned a rest," All Might says, lowering himself to the ground and sitting beside Izuku. "Well, you can ask me whatever you like before I have to go."

Izuku nods against the sand. He knew he would regret that when he cleaned up but right now he was too tired to care. "Are there quirks that move people different places?"

"That sounds like a form of warp quirk," All Might says. Izuku looks to the hero who continues, "warp quirks are probably the rarest type of quirk compared to mutations which are much more common. Have you heard of Master Railroad?"

Izuku frowns. "I think he was a New Age hero."

"And what do you know of the New Hero Age?"

It doesn't bother Izuku much to answer. He likes history and this is history being taught by his hero. "That was right after the first quirks started appearing and wars broke out across the world led by people with very powerful quirks like Stormwind and Titan. The New Heroes were a group of peacekeepers working with the UN that developed Quirks and were placed in a specialised combat unit to face the warlords. After they managed to defeat them, the disbanded and went to act as policing units against villains in their home countries, forming the model for future heroes."

"A decent summary," All Might replies. "Master Railroad was one of the original members of the New Heroes. Based on archived records, his warp quirk manifested as a train that took him—and anyone with him—to any place on earth. What makes his quirk truly unique is that anyone who travelled through it said they travelled through a void."

His mind stills. A void. Nothingness. The end of all things. It resonates with him because he knows, in the same way a mother always knows their child, that a void is the word he is missing. It is the absence of light and love and hope. It requires no context for it destroyed all context.

"But his quirk wasn't like the norm?" Izuku says quickly.

He feels more than saw All Might shift. "What exactly is the norm for a quirk, Young Midoriya? One For All is neither an emission nor a transformation quirk and whilst it can change my appearance by activating it, it is not a mutant quirk type. And I very much doubt that you will change appearance when you finally inherit One For All."

Izuku frowns. "Why would you think that?"

Predicting a quirk is nearly impossible, Izuku thinks, even if it’s a matter of quirks being passed down through familial lines. Usually, they express some variation even if they are similar. Kacchan quirk produces nitro-glycerine, a variation of his mother glycerine Quirk. And even then it could have been completely unrelated. Kaa-san's quirk is different from her parents. Predicting a new quirk would be impossible unless there was a precedent for it. Unless someone who had One For All before didn't express the quirk that way.

A pained cough startles him and he looked to All Might who's hand covers his mouth. Izuku can see the red flecks on that too thin hand with fingers almost too gaunt.

"You truly terrify me, Young Midoriya."

"Eh," he chokes out, confused.

"Guessing from one simple statement that my predecessor used One For All differently."

Izuku blinks. "I said that out loud, didn't I?" All Might nods. "Why can't I just shut my stupid mouth? It’s always getting me in trouble and Kacchan always tells me to stop mumbling so much—"

"Izuku." That stops him dead. All Might had never called him by his first name. "Calm yourself. The world will not end because you think out loud. Better to think and question out loud than to wallow in ignorance silently. Do not apologise for your intelligence."

He would have said something else but for a shrill ringing that distracts them both. All Might looks down to his right pocket and removes his phone. He smiles at Izuku, apologetic. "It seems I must return to my duties."

In a second the All Might that he has admired—but never known, not really, and he will never choose this hero over the man that spends time with him—as a youth appears in place of his emaciated teacher.

"Have faith, Young Midoriya."

Chapter Text

'The appearance of All Might as a symbol of justice ushered in a new era of peace amongst the citizenry. All Might is the fabled superman of this modern era, a man with uncompromising morals and the strength to uphold those ideals. We must be thankful that he is truly a man of honour who will not use his powers to enforce his personal ethics upon the citizenry as a benevolent overlord...'

-Excerpt from 'Questioning the Modern Age of Heroes,’ by Andile Sithole.  

Izuku spends the next day training at the beach. He doesn’t move anything. Instead, All Might has him swim partway through the inlet and back to the beach, then up the stairs and down again. He only stops once his limbs seize out in the water and All Might rescues him from drowning.

He coughs water out of his lungs, doing his best to ignore the burning sensation in his throat and nostrils.  A gaunt hand keeps him steady.

"Forgive me, my boy," All Might says. "It seems I will have to change all swimming courses to indoor pools."

Izuku agrees completely. The wind had been picking up steadily since the morning and the still water had soon become choppy with waves. A particularly violent series of waves had sent Izuku below the surface. It was only All Might diving in that has stopped him from dying.

Dying again, a part of his mind whispers.

His eyes water badly and he coughs again. Izuku collapses on the ground and breathes out harshly. And then inhales deeply. He repeats the exercise until he calms down enough to talk.

"Good. Keeping calm is always important for a hero."

Izuku looks to his hero.

"Ononoki Hinata disagreed," Izuku says, not snidely. "She argued that following the letter of the law was the most important trait for a hero to have and sublimating one's ego for the sake of following the people's laws."

All Might tilts his head to the side. "I haven't read her work in quite a while, but I do remember some of my arguments against her. Tell me, Young Midoriya, do you believe in her works?"

"I think her argument has validity. Without the law heroes enforce their own brand of morality, don't they? And whilst I do think I would trust you if you were held accountable only to yourself, I'm not certain I'd like to live in a world where Best Jeanist had total power."

"He's the number four hero."

"And he deserves to be there," Izuku says strongly, "but I don't think I could live up to his rigid standards of comportment. Have you seen my hair? There's no helping this."

All Might chuckles, ruffling his damp hair. "I suppose he can be a bit extreme in that regard."

"And that's how conformist states start. You must aspire to one ideal or else. It starts with the head of state decrying certain things and soon enough your neighbours are lynching you for being different. I would hope he would never do that, but can you say you've never had days where you wanted people to have the same moral character as you?"

All Might says nothing to that, instead staring at Izuku. It takes him a moment to realise why. He has just criticised All Might and taken a knife to his personal ethics. Izuku swallows.

"I didn't mean..." He trails off at All Might's hand, raised in the universal gesture of ‘stop’.

"You are right, Young Midoriya. Don't look so shocked. There are days where I find the system convoluted and unnecessary. Days where the rules and regulations allow monsters to walk free are the ones where I most want to tear down the system and build it again." All Might smiles and it looks so shallow on that thin form.

"But I don't because I have faith in people. My issue with Ononoki Hinata is that she completely disregards compassion and human decency barring her twilight work. Under her view, we would be nothing but drones enforcing the word of the law, and not its spirit. So many are imprisoned because their quirk manifested and they harmed another, but I disagree with this practice. It does nothing but breed resentment to the system and in turn create more villains."

"But you're arguing that we should do what we believe is right regardless of the consequences."

"In a way, my words could be taken like that," All Might says. "But I believe more that we should do what is right even should the consequences be dangerous to oneself. All it takes for injustice to occur is to stand aside and hope another will deal with it."

"But not everyone has the power to save others."

"And did you not try to save your friend when you had no powers yourself. Can you espouse Hinata's argument in the face of your own actions without being a hypocrite." Izuku looks away. "Hold your head high, Young Midoriya. It is good that you question your own actions. I wonder often if I would have left your friend to his fate if not for your intervention. What you did that day, you did out of compassion and selflessness. And whilst Kamui Woods reprimanded your actions, it was that same tenacity that made you worthy of being my successor."

All Might throws him the towel on his shoulder. "Continue to question, Young Midoriya. Ask me as much as you would. As your teacher, it is my duty to see you mature."

And that, is the end of that particular line of inquiry. His hero guides him through a series of stretches before his muscles cramp and reminds him to do them after waking and before sleeping each day no matter what. Izuku has no issue with that.

He spends the rest of the afternoon, long after All Might is gone, carrying smaller items to a pile near the road for when the truck comes tomorrow.  The pile he is dealing with is tall but there’s just enough mass there that it looks steady. Hopefully. He digs through and reaches for some loose pipes, grabbing at them. The first two come out easily and he throws them to the side. The last, though, requires him to prop his legs against what might have generously been called a car and pull with every ounce of strength his fledgling body has.

It came free with a metallic pop and Izuku stumbles onto the sand, falling flat on his back. He sighs and raises the metal pipe high to look at it.

And the fridge falling down the pile. "Fu—"

*****

Do the creatures whose skin you clothe yourself with understand their true nature? We have wondered this question often. They all harbour one form yet it is impossible to generalise the creatures. The abyss is constant, steady, and chaotic. It mirrors this plane that you choose to exist within, changing forms the closer to light that it comes.

Your humans are not steady and their powers are erratic at best, following neither rhyme nor reason. Human strengths rarely pass down by genetic lineage. I wonder then, what will become of this abyss now that you have returned.

Wake up, Izuku Midoriya, and come home to your people.

*****

His curse is loud and prolific when he wakes. Izuku gasps when he is done, looking around and finding himself in his room. No, not my room, he thinks, taking in the hole dripping black sludge from the ceiling and the dark smears across the walls.

"This again," he mumbles softly as he stands, avoiding the weird liquid travelling at strange angles. "I'm very likely not hallucinating this. There was no reason for me to have that hallucination the first time and no reason for it to repeat.

He swallows and takes a deep breath.

"Hypothesis one: This is a long-form nightmare. The only issue with that is there is no way of proving this is but a dream I'm experiencing. Ignore that one. Hypothesis two: I'm insane but I again can't prove that. Hypothesis three: I have some form of warp quirk that only activates when I've been injured severely."

Or die, a voice in his mind whispers but Izuku ignores it because why on earth would a quirk develop that brings you back from the dead? It makes no sense and there is no precedent for it. Regeneration, yes, but coming back from the dead is a complete reversal of causality.

But that makes him think of Regression who could return plant life to a state of health no matter how far gone it is. The study conducted on his powers by the Tokyo Institute of Technology and Harvard University had concluded it to be a form of limited reversal of causality. His power is the only reason South America still has healthy jungles, especially after Titan's conquest and defeat, and why wood products have seen a resurgence in popularity.

It is probably why Kamui Woods is so popular in Brazil. That and the four-year stint he had spent there working with their state-sanctioned hero team in the final years of the third war against drugs following the repeal on recreational drugs in Canada six years ago.

Izuku shakes his head and pulls away from those tangential thoughts. They aren't relevant at this moment. He walks to his window and pulls back the curtain.

And freezes.

Because as far as he can tell he is looking at clouds, thick and stormy and pregnant with acid rain. A long platform of darkness engulfs everything below that he can see. He rubs at his eyes and pokes his head out of the window. He can breathe normally—which considering the altitude is impossible and why did I think it was a good idea to stick my head out?—and looks down.

It takes him almost a moment to realise the darkness isn't uniform. It writhes and roils, almost like a snake pit but not because calling it that implied normality. Realism. Sanity even. And nothing that hurts so much to look at can be normal.

The ground lurches. Izuku grabs hold of the window sill as the room tilts slowly, almost as inevitable as a lava flow. He can't hear his ragged breathing over the blood rushing through his head as his room turns. He closes his eyes and curses every bad word he has ever heard Kacchan say because this is madness.

He loses his grip and falls to the ceiling, bracing for everything to hit him. Except nothing does. Hesitantly, he opens his eyes. Izuku’s crouched on the ceiling—ground now because gravity says this is down—but he is the only thing that has moved. His bed and desk are still in the same position and even the stream of dark liquid falls upwards.

Izuku has maybe a second to pay attention to this before the sensation of being watched consumes his senses. He turns, slowly, because a part of him knows, just knows that if he looks he will never be able to unsee what is coming.

He looks.

It is an eye in the same way describing lava as hot is accurate. It is true but it can't describe the absolute intensity. Lava isn't simply hot, it burns hot enough to melt through rock and metal. You can't compare a matchstick to a volcano anymore than you can compare a nuclear explosion to the sun. Nor can you compare the giant orb that deigns to pay attention to Izuku, to something so mundane as a simple eye.

It is green at the same time that it is yellow and blue and the more he looks the more colours he sees and some aren't natural, they aren't colours he is supposed to be able to see and there is ultra-violet streaking by and there is gamma radiation in starburst fractals and there are things that go past simple electromagnetism and into realms science has no words for and the more he looks the more he sees within the eye within the eye within the eye ad infinitum that shows him everything and a part of his mind is breaking under the strain and the lizard brain screams at him to run but the rest is staring at this moment of impossibility but the knee-jerk reaction that comes from his spine forces his arm to move and shut the curtains and

Izuku falls to the ground—ceiling, no, save all higher thought for later—and violently expels everything in his stomach, which falls down before falling up to the spot right above his head. 

He wipes away the stream of tears. Stares at his blood-soaked sleeve. Forces down the rising panic because bleeding from the eyes is nothing compared to that nightmare creature. In the back of his mind, he knows he is likely having a panic attack, but he doesn't care. What was a mere mortal panic attack to a thing that should

not

be.

He stumbles to his feet and lurches drunkenly to the door. Even if he is in the highest parts of the atmosphere, the fall to the ground—and is there a ground in this place? —is preferable to riding on what he assumes to be the back of a nightmare creature. Izuku shut his eyes tight and slams through the door.

And falls.

Maybe this wasn't the best idea, Izuku thinks a moment before landing.

It doesn't hurt. And feels oddly familiar. He opens his eyes to sand. Purple sand. He stares at it before raking his fingers along its surface. It feels like sand. He lets the sand in his hand trickle to the ground. It behaves like sand. But the more he looks the more he sees how it reflects the light, granting it an almost red glow.

He looks towards the source of light. It is a sun or whatever passes for a sun here. It is blood red and not bright enough to cast the world in anything brighter than the early hours of twilight. He blinks. Looks again. Sees the smaller suns orbiting the larger one as though they are electrons to the large sun's nucleus.

Izuku stands and brushes off the odd crystal sand from his clothes. He notices the pier extending deep across the ocean, far further than any pier has a right to. It looks familiar. No, he thinks as dread mounts in his very pores and he turns. There are piles of glowing shells and he knows the patterns those mounds form, has spent hours tracing the most efficient route to remove trash from the beach.

He runs through the piles of shells, avoiding the long translucent tendrils reach out to him. He scans every hidden place until he makes it to the other side. All Might isn't here. It calms him because this nightmare belongs to him alone.

And that thought almost brings him to his knees.

No one wants to truly be alone. No one wants to be a stranger in a truly strange land where nothing makes sense and he has to pay specific attention to forget—never ignore for that brings attention to—the songthatmustneverbesungforlifetocontinue. How barren did a life have to be to yearn for true isolation? And maybe that was why Izuku can stare at the beached whales—

Wait, what? Izuku thinks before truly focusing on the large mounds of rotting flesh on the beach. They are whales, he knows because he can tell what a humpback whale looked like in his sleep. Except these aren't the smooth-skinned creatures he knows. These things are bloated, their flesh torn to shreds in the places where the gases within them have forced their way out. The lack of stench from dozens of rotting whales worries him in a peripheral sort of way. There are other, more pertinent things to worry over.

Such as the contractions racking the whale closest to him. Its mass stretches and squeezes and—oh lord—that is a head poking out of the larger whale in a sick parody of birth. The calf is drenched in blood and the fluids of a rotting womb as it pushes out of its progenitor—because calling it a mother implies there is something natural about this—to flop helplessly on the ground beside it. It makes a crooning sound...

No, the progenitor makes that sound. The same progenitor that turns a massive head to stare at Izuku. There is nothing in that gaze he can read. It might be malice or empathy or maybe a feeling Izuku has no words for. It may be a creature saying 'I am and you are' but that is all conjecture running through the higher thought processes of a human brain whilst the more basic instincts have already sent Izuku running in blind panic anywhere away from those monstrosities.

He speeds up the stairs and past the cracked and ruined road. A glance upward reveals a forest he knows isn't supposed to be there. He doesn't particularly care. Dead creatures are not meant to give birth. So, he runs.

Izuku curses, skids to a halt because somewhere between running from the beach and entering the forest he has lost a portion of his life. He checks his watch. About an hour since All Might left. And it has hardly taken more than ten minutes to run from the beach.

It is dark, not pitch black, but there are gradations in the shadows that stand out starkly to his senses. And he doesn't want to know why he can instantly tell there are thirty-two shades of shadow in a or why some of the shadows are moving.

Izuku's thought processes slam to a halt. He is in a forest of trees not any larger than ones he had seen before. There are dark shapes—not shadows for they cast none and he shoves that thought down with the rest of the worrying ones—flitting in the tree branches. But why does it feel like something large is moving?

He focuses on the odd spot, seeing only a tree and its roots dragging against the ground.

Oh, he thought, that tree’s sinking. Actually, now that I have a moment to look and not scream my head off quite a few of the trees are moving. Is this what they call shock? Or am I too numb to feel any shock? Wait, no, that's panic and whilst I still have a moment of calm I should face that pocket of shadow that feels familiar.

His legs spring into motion. Izuku ducks beneath swiping claws and low branches jumps over roots that might have tripped him. There, that patch of shadow in an alcove is different, safe, and Izuku slides right through it and fell.

He lands on a bed. Izuku takes in his room, not daring to look at the window. Take me home, he pleads as he walked to the door. Take me home. Please, just take me back home.

Izuku opens the door.

*****

His throat is dry. The sun sears his eyelids. Sand clings to his limbs uncomfortably.

Izuku opens his eyes slowly and sees a blue sky. Looking further, he sees the sun setting, casting the world in vibrant and warm—but more importantly, natural—reds and oranges. Yellow sand coats one arm. He sighs, and stands, wiping down the gritty material off his body. The only thing wrong with the sun is that it hasn't set enough. A quick glance at his watch confirms that guess.

He pauses at the sight of a blood smear on the sand, vaguely the size of a human body and still damp. Izuku gulps, noticing the dryness in his throat all the more. Around that smear of blood are bits and pieces of rusted metal all torn to shreds and littered carelessly on the beach. Sticking out of the sand and standing erect is a stainless-steel handle. A fridge handle.

Izuku feels his gorge rise because he knows, just fucking knows exactly where that handle came from. He knows exactly what those pieces of rusted and flaking metal would have been were they still whole. There are things Izuku never wants to admit out loud. He never wants to admit his fear that All Might is stringing him along in some perverse joke or maybe that he will never be worthy of All Might's power.

But this, this is one thing he has to admit.

"I died," Izuku whispers, "and I came back. A fridge crushed me. And yesterday, and yesterday Kac—"

No! There are still things he can't admit. "Yesterday I cracked my skull on a pole."

The sound that escapes his lips can hardly be called human. In some ways, it is more horrifying than the creatures that he has seen because this was him, this is a sound simply from understanding a truth so perverse and fundamental that it encompasses his entire being. The keening wail of one mourning a death is similar to the sound Izuku made. Except, it can never match the despair that laces Izuku's heart and soul.

Because who can stand over the place they died and mourn.

It could have been hours or seconds before Izuku falls silent. In this barren place where the only company are silent pillars of discarded memories, uncaring of the grief of a mortal child, —and how accurate could that description be for one who has walked outside the mortal coil unscathed— time is an object with no meaning, a transitory illusion made manifest only by the acknowledgement of an observer. Without one to watch the sand trickle through the hourglass, one moment will always stretch out into infinity with neither regard nor interest for those trapped within its embrace.

Izuku shuts off the part of his mind that thinks too much, locking it tight with the long overdue panic attack and a thousand feelings of horror and revulsion. Calmly, he walks to his bag and retrieves a bottle of water and returns to the place he died—no, that required thought and thinking will only crush him. It is easy to pour it over the red patch. He watches the sand greedily suck the moisture. And some of the red.

Three trips to the sea and back are all it takes till the red has vanished beneath the mud. He smiles. Then pauses. No, hiding this sort of evidence was not something worth smiling about. Izuku shoulders his bag and makes the long trip home, carefully keeping his mind blank of the events of the last two days.

He greets his mother. Eats with her. Takes a shower. 

When he is certain his mother is asleep, Izuku switches on the light, boots up his PC for the illumination it will provide and flicks on a lamp. He collapses onto his bed and places a pillow over his mouth. Slowly, he unlocks the vault keeping all of his pent-up emotions, but the moment one escapes the rest followed suit with no regard for his feelings.

It is a long time before his screams pass into sobs. A longer time still before exhaustion took him.

Chapter Text

'For every lost battle, there is only one reason behind it: a lack of sufficient knowledge. Know your enemy. Know his strengths, be it tactical awareness or a powerful Quirk. Know his weaknesses, be it a fear of spiders or a lack of skill. The enemy you know is an enemy whose powers are easier to counter. Overwhelming strength overpowers skill in every engagement but overwhelming knowledge and appropriate use of that knowledge defeat even raw skill and strength.'

—Excerpt from the recovered 'Tenets of Combat' likely authored by an underground hero or vigilante

Izuku dreads every second of the next morning from the moment he awakes from his slumber, disturbed by nightmarish visions of creatures that defy mortal laws of biology. As he showers, he sees eyes that gazed past infinity, found the outer edges of existence pitiful, and returned to indifference. They follow him as he scrubs raw his skin long past the memory of gamma radiation streaking by in never-ending fractal patterns, their lines forming geodesic routes to the primordial origin of entropy where the arrow of time first formed and forced an incalculable point of mass-energy to expand outwardly in an inevitable death march of the final heat death of all that existed.

He changes and eats with the memory of corpses still moving, their bloated masses perverting the cycle of life and birth to bring forth a dead creature from a long-dead organism. Izuku doesn't want to think of how that calf could have survived—not live, never live—through such a creation. There would have been no nutrients to feed on. Unless it had fed on the rotting form of its progenitor as a carrion eater. But then, what sort of creature would come back from death to sing to its child likely long dead as well?

No, that makes it too sympathetic. It is a horror that should never under any circumstances be exposed to the world he lives in.

How different, am I? Izuku wonders. I died and returned. Does the fact that my body isn't rotting enough to make me any less a monster?

The thought stills him in the process of tying the last knot in his laces. Only monsters came back from the dead. He stands slowly and forced back the tears because anything would be better than this power.

I can't be a zombie, Izuku thinks, because I still have a heartbeat. Definitely not a vampire or anything like that. He removed his phone and typed a quick query. The first result is enough.

Revenant.

A ghost or corpse brought from the dead to haunt the living. How far removed is Izuku from that? Types of ghosts can be corporeal. And maybe his corpse came back perfectly but it didn't change that it had been a corpse twice in a single weekend. Once when the fridge had crushed him. The other when his head had cracked open.

Kacchan, he thinks suddenly, and wonders why. Not important right now.

Izuku sighs, trying to shake the thoughts away. It doesn't matter. So long as he didn't die again it could all be a hallucination brought on by overwork. There was no proof of it other than his memories of impossible creatures and the song thatwilldevourallmortalsoulsinworship, and those could be passed off as part of it.

You know it's real, a part of Izuku whispers. He ignores that voice.

His muscles are still strained. With time, he will be able to continue his exercises in the morning but until then All Might had encouraged he not wake up early to train.

Izuku takes the train to school. The repetitive clack-clack of the train tracks and the absolute mundanity of salarymen glued to their phones, delinquents with neon hair and more piercings than skin, and the occasional laughs from the two ladies across from him help lull him into a light sleep. It is simple, then, to let his mind numb even after he has disembarked from the train and joined his classmates.

He doesn't glance in Kacchan's direction, afraid that it would be the spark that sets off the wildfire. Even years after they fell out he can tell what mood Kacchan is in based on the type of anger in his voice as he shouts one of his lackeys into submission: the quick and intense explosion was usually amusement or mild irritation; that long drawn out inferno being genuine anger when someone spilt a glass of water on Kacchan's shoes. There, those bright embers are calm—or what passes for calm—thoughts or distraction by a relatively simple task the teacher had set: analysing the impact on poverty from the heroics industry.  The streak of passion like a comet in the night's sky is a genuine shock. But the agitated sea of viscous magma has Izuku rushing to pack his items in his bag.

Because the last time he saw that rage-hate-envy mix, he discovered his Quirk.

He ducks his head low and leaves with the flow of students, joining the sea of bodies in the hallway outside. He sticks closer to the groups of girls. Less chance of Kacchan starting something with that group.

Kacchan's anger is almost physical in its intensity. Izuku flinches every time he feels those molten pits land on his back. Only once he has left the school and is back on the train did he let his heart rate drop from pounding to merely erratic. 

At home, Izuku changes into his running gear and decides that, yes, he needed a new pair of running shoes. He eats an apple and mixes a protein shake before heading out.

All Might waits for him on the road overlooking the beach. Izuku focuses on his thin teacher, not letting his eyes roam to where he knows there should have been beached whales. He rakes his eyes over the scooter All Might leans against.

"Good afternoon, my boy," All Might greets and stands. He cracks his back in one fluid pop that left Izuku wincing. "How was school?"

It floors Izuku, as it always does, that All Might genuinely cares. Even his mother asked more out of perfunctory greeting than genuine interest more often than not. She cared when he came home bruised and bleeding, yes, but unless his life was in danger she wasn't too interested in how he spent his afternoons.

So Izuku opens up to the only adult who cares. "It was a bit boring for most of the day." A technical truth because Kacchan is always angry, and only sometimes furious. "But our history teacher had us discussing the impact of heroics on the cycle of poverty."

"Oh," All Might says, leaning forward slightly. "And did your teacher use Saruhiko Ando or Dylan Salvatore as resource material?"

Izuku knows on a purely rational level that All Might is smart. He had figured out the weakness of the Sludge Villain in seconds whilst Izuku had faltered. And yet he still found it difficult to reconcile the Symbol of Justice with this quiet, brilliant and frail man.

"Both, actually, though I'm not certain if I like Salvatore's stance. He just seems so dejected with the world? He expects perfection from heroes and argues their very presence invites challenges to their strength in the form of villains."

"Salvatore did commit suicide a few years later," All Might says as he mounted his scooter. "Now, time to get to work."

Izuku runs at the pace All Might sets, letting the repetition of step-breath-step distract him. It isn't a hard run by any stretch, not when All Might set the pace at one Izuku could follow easily. Eventually, though, the burning in his legs catches up to him.

"How do," Izuku says between breaths, "other heroes fight?"

It is a stupid question, Izuku knew, but he still needs to breathe. "What do you mean?" All Might asks, not slowing down.

"You and Endeavour have"—He pauses to take a deep breath and sprint up the incline—"combat Quirks. But what about heroes without them?"

All Might doesn't respond until they are at the bottom of the small hill and pulls over to the side. He motions to the grass. Izuku sighs but lowers himself and performs press-ups. All Might, he has learnt, might entertain his questions but not to the detriment of his training. 

"What you're doing now." Izuku cranes his neck up to see All Might. "Training. UA will teach you the fundamentals but the agency you join will help you specialise further."

"Still," Izuku says going down, "being able to summon snakes that extend twenty metres is great but guns are effective further."

"True, my boy, but no trained hero would let a gunman get a line of sight on them. We all go through simulations to deal with those scenarios. And even then, we train our abilities to discover applications we were unaware of."

"And you went through the same?"

All Might chuckles deeply. "I was not born skilled, Izuku. I studied for years as a boxer even after receiving One For All."

"Wouldn't it make sense for me to learn how to fight as well? If I know how to throw a punch now, won't it be better than trying to learn alongside figuring out One For All?"

"You," All Might trails off. "You make a valid point. Come, let us finish this run before you go home."

Izuku stands. Rolls his shoulders. Shakes out his legs and runs.

*****

He wakes up in the dark, blinking in confusion. Looking to the side, he sees that the alarm has yet to ring. Only by a few minutes, yes, but still odd. He shrugs. That just meant a few more minutes in the shower.

Making sure not to wake his mother, he walks to the bathroom and checks his wound. It is healing nicely though it will scar. He cleans it, wincing with every prod before taking a shower.

School is school, no more interesting than average but somehow more stressful. Kaachan doesn’t glance at Izuku but that disinterest is almost worse than his anger. Almost. It leaves him tense, nervous the same way a mouse would be under a hawk’s gaze. Because Kaachan isn’t ever quiet. So maybe Izuku does run out the moment the last bell rang but no one is watching to call him out on it.

He’s at the beach early as usual and It is not empty. It takes him a moment to notice the man crouched on a precarious stack of appliances and dozing from what he can tell. The man's dark hair is one step away from impossible and that black jacket open at the front is completely impractical but Izuku would be lying if he thought the tiger skin wrap around his waist is anything less than cool.

Izuku isn’t sure what to say to the man. He’s dozing if the loud snores are any indication, and Izuku doesn’t want to startle him and be responsible for the man falling.

So, he just stands there, awkwardly, nervously, until All Might comes looking like a hero and not a gaunt, sickly man. “Midoriya, my boy,” the man greeted and then looked up to the strange man. “I see you’ve met Jin Mo-Ri.”

The man yawns and stands, revealing his bare midriff and Izuku wonders if abs like that were possible for humans. “He’s just been staring at me for the last few minutes,” Jin Mo-Ri says. “Good instinct trying not to startle me.”

Jin Mo-Ri flips and lands gracefully. He’s not particularly tall, if anything you might consider him short. But his eyes are what truly set him apart because Izuku has never seen anyone with eyes that practically glow red or have a bright cross where the pupil should be. He doesn't bother wondering how the man deals with changes in light intensity because those eyes clearly work on the power of bullshit. 

“Hi,” Izuku says warily, looking to All Might for guidance. The man simply nods. “My name’s Izuku.”

The man considers Izuku for a moment and nods. “I will teach you to fight for Yagi cannot,” he says simply.

Izuku frowns. “Who’s Yagi?” he asks.

All Might splutters but the man simply stares at him in what might be shock or annoyance. “Ask your teacher later. For now, I want you to punch me. Don’t look shocked and just do it.”

Izuku glances to All Might once more. Sees his hero nod. Throws a punch.

His fist stops in the palm of Jin’s hand, not budging an inch. His wrist hurts from the sudden stop. “Other hand this time.” He does so.

“Again.” Punch. “Again.” Punch. “Again.” Punch. “Again.” Punch. “Again.” Punch.

The man falls silent and steps back, looking to All Might. “How long have you been training him?”

“Two weeks now.”

“And you’ve failed to teach him how to throw a straight punch,” he accuses harshly. All Might winces. “Your teaching skills haven’t improved.”

Izuku has never seen his hero wilt like that, not against villains or vicious journalists and he’s not certain which group is crueller.

Jin turns back to face Izuku. “You will kick now.” He does so nearly a dozen times before Jin is satisfied. Izuku breathes deeply, trying not to look weak before this man who All Might so obviously respects.

"Your form is atrocious in different ways. Good. It means you've never taught yourself bad habits. I will not teach you to box as I taught All Might. Instead, I shall teach you Renewal Taekwondo." He crouches and like this Izuku is looking down on him as he smiles. “I designed it specifically for people with strengthening Quirks or those whose quirks increase over time, like One For All.”

Izuku stills at how casually the man says Izuku’s greatest secret. He looks to All Might who says, “Later.”

Jin Mo-Ri snorts. “I see he’s told you nothing about me. No matter. I was once called Jaecheondaesong but I very much doubt that name will mean anything to you. Two days a week I teach you form and technique, and All Might shall make you strong. Now, prepare yourself.”

*****

The training is harsh, harsher than anything All Mighty had put him through. Jin Mo-Ri is not a complicated man and hardly expects perfection on Izuku’s first try or even his hundredth. He simply asks that Izuku try and he isn’t about to fail at that. He never truly knew how to throw a punch before so Jin Mo-Ri shows him a straight punch and forces him to practice until the muscles in his arms cramp. And then he shows him two basic stances and forces him to flow between each until his legs quiver and he simply wants to pass out and die.

He survives and lies on the ground, breathing harshly long after Jin Mo-Ri has said his goodbyes and left All Might a warning to put more effort into teaching and less in heroics.

All Might hands him a bottle of water and Izuku takes it gratefully. He very almost gives up halfway to his lips. 

“Yagi,” All Might says, “that’s me.” Izuku quirks a brow. “My name. Toshinori Yagi. I forget sometimes that All Might isn’t my name. I’m sorry for not telling you.”

Izuku shrugs. “It’s fine? I mean, I never asked so you can’t really be held responsible for that.”

“Giving one’s name is only polite.”

“And you gave me your secret. I think that counts for more.” Izuku sits up. “Who was that?”

“Jin Mo-Ri,” All Might says as if that’s all the answer needed. “He taught me and many other heroes throughout the decades.”

Izuku blinks. “He barely looks older than twenty and that’s a stretch,” he says quickly. “What quirk keeps you alive that long?”

“Not many,” All Might says sombrely, looking away for a moment. “Jaecheondaesong was one of the first heroes, young Midoriya, though he’s taken great pains to be forgotten in the modern age. He along with the Six freed Korea in what is known as the War Against Heaven.”

“I’ve never heard of that battle,” he says, “or the Six.”

All Might huffs. “They might as well be folktales now. Ultimately, none of this matters. Jin Mo-Ri will teach you and that is all you need to know.”

Izuku doesn’t like that answer. But he is also doesn’t press the issue any further.

He heads home and finds his mother almost done with dinner. Izuku greets her, smiling, and is up the stairs before she can reply. He sees tired eyes in the mirror as he cleans the wound. The shower helps to relieve some of the stress of the day and soothes the tiniest bit of pain.

Dinner is a quiet affair with Izuku too tired to initiate conversation. He knows his mother wants to say something, maybe a reminder to throw out the trash tomorrow. The plate is a few bites to being empty before she says anything.

“You always come home tired,” his mother says simply.

He considers how much of the truth to tell his mother. “I’m just training to get into UA,” he says because that isn’t a lie. Perhaps not the whole truth but more than enough.

She smiles sadly. “Izuku, you know I’m proud of you no matter what you do.”

“Except you don’t think I can get into UA.” Izuku stands and takes his plate. “Thanks for dinner, kaa-san.”

“I didn’t mean it like that,” his mother says as he’s placing the plat in the sink. “I just want to see you happy.”

Izuku’s smile is just as sad. “Then have a bit of faith in me.”

It might be cruel to leave it at that but Izuku is in his bedroom long before his mother replies. He leaves a single lamp on and crawls into bed, covering his face with a pillow. He refuses to cry, absolutely refuses to act like a child. So no, those aren’t tears staining his pillow.

He loses track of how long he's like that but eventually, his chest stops hurting and his eyes stop burning. It becomes easier to simply lose track of time and let his mind still. It is peaceful just to let his mind explore outward, expanding further and further. He passively follows the arcs of shadows and their gradients.

Izuku feels like he is sinking and that forces him awake. He sees something dark writhing on his bed and rolls off quickly, putting as much distance from what looks like tar boiling on his bed. Instinct makes him dash to the light switch and flick it on.

Brightness floods the room, batting away the shadows. They dissipate like mist and to Izuku it feels like they’re dying and screaming all the while. His heart beats like a jackhammer until those shadows are gone and only the regular ones remain. 

Izuku does not sleep well.

Chapter Text

‘To trust in one person to have our best interests is a fool’s gambit. To trust in individuals whose power can reshape landscapes or destroy the laws of physics is a losing battle. The law has been written by every organised society, and whilst some laws are reprehensible the people have changed them for the better. We must hold heroes to the highest standards. We must hold them to the letter of the law when they act out their duties as heroes.’

—Excerpt from ‘The Laws of Heroes’ by Hinata Ononoki.

He struggles to recreate the feeling of drowning and falling in shadows. That sensation of sinking to another place where monsters reside eludes Izuku. He’s terrified about what might be waiting for him on the other side, but this belongs to him. This is his quirk, no matter the possible pain that awaits. One For All will come in a few months once his body is strong enough to handle it, but right here and now this belongs to him.

But no matter how hard it is to reach that other place, one thing comes easily: Izuku can feel the shadows. It gets harder to focus in class. He can tell when, and sometimes how, people are moving by the way their shadows interact. There is his teacher awkwardly stretching his hand beneath his desk and there is a classmate pulling out their phone for it drives away the shadows in the area; behind a girl flips her hair, fine and thin shadows shifting quickly, and further back someone is putting the finishes touches to a paper crane; here his own shadow becoming larger and smaller as it falls in and out of the shade of his desk.

Those are the only vividly clear ones. Most are blurry blobs, only important as they become sharply larger or smaller. And past a certain point, they become too small to feel. At noon he walks outside and feels nearly blind. The sun is directly overhead, and every shadow is tiny and basically circular.

It’s evening and he is walking home that he learns there is a radius to what he can feel. One second, he might as well be on a deserted street and the next he feels Kaachan’s shadow—and it should be the same as any other but to Izuku it might as well be staring at the sun—moments before he turns on to the same street as Izuku.

He tenses because it’s Kaachan and his explosions are a reason to be afraid on any given day. Especially now when he’s angry in a way Izuku has never seen before. This isn’t the bright ember of disgruntled calm nor is it the blowtorch of very rare grief. It freezes him to the spot as Kaachan stalks towards him.

He’s had another growth spurt, Deku thinks dumbly as Kacchan stares at him, glancing only once to the budding scar at his temple.  

“Stay out of my fucking way,” Kaachan snarls, eventually, without the usual heat or venom. His hands are balled up into fists but there isn’t the slightest hint of an explosion. “Got it?”

Deku nods slowly and watches Kaachan stalk past him without another word. Izuku doesn’t look back but he does sense the almost hesitant way his shadow shifts. Hesitance Is not something you associate with Kaachan.

Was that an apology? Izuku shakes his head because that’s ridiculous. Kaachan’s never wrong. Besides, he has nothing to apologise for.

Maybe because he ki—

Izuku walks away and decides to forget that entire encounter even happened. He’s become good at it. Simple human interactions are infinitely easier to forget than nightmare creatures.

But feeling shadows isn’t enough. There’s more and it drives him to an almost feverish obsession with learning about it. He searches for quirks on shadows and darkness, learns about villains like Grue and Underside but their quirks are nothing like his. At least, not simply from the description given. He reads what he can about Master Railroad, little as there is on his Quirk. The man had been intensely private about his life and it shows from the absolute dearth of first-account descriptions. Even his teammates barely spoke of his Quirk. There’s a single account from a civilian the man rescued: ‘We travelled through the darkest abyss aboard a train to infinity’ and Izuku isn’t certain how much of that is accurate and how much is poetic license.

The research does give him the chance to skim over Hawkmoon’s first autobiography. He doesn’t have the time to read it fully, but he does appreciate the unrestrained optimism in her writing. There is something beautiful about words so bright they banished the dark.

Information is sparse, and it makes him search for progressively more obscure texts. His mother eyes him worriedly when he carries a rather controversial book published in the second Dark Age on the physiology of some of the first expressed Quirks. It was controversial mostly because the vivisections were conducted on kidnapped individuals, but Izuku has long reached a point where he must know. And he could have downloaded the online copy, and not deal with his mother’s disappointed gazes, but the library copy has the author’s handwritten commentary in the margins.

All he learns is that humans are fucked up and can justify anything in the name of their beliefs. A few weeks of futile research is enough for Izuku to admit defeat. He’s filled up two new notebooks with information and observations of his own Quirk though he does hide them as best he can. He doesn’t want to imagine what will happen if his mother or a villain finds it. Or, even worse, if Kaachan does.

He’s sitting in the lounge watching a documentary on mutant quirks one evening when the thought strikes him. It’s the narrator’s words on how people can develop secondary mutations under specific triggers that clues him in on what he’s been missing.

I died each time I went there. Logically I need to die again to get there.

He waits for the voice that’s always arguing with him to say something. It stays quiet this time, making Izuku quirk a brow in shock. Then he realises he’s expecting a voice in his head to argue with him. And accepts that it doesn’t matter in the face of the things he’s seen.

I don’t want to die.

Izuku considers the thought. Finds it to be honest. Accepts what must be and stops his research.    

Falling into a routine after that is easy for Izuku. He simply has no time to think of anything else. His social life, already non-existent, dies completely and Izuku misses every event he had considered attending—from the fifth reboot of Godzilla this decade or the book signing by Best Jeanist the next city over. It also doesn’t help that he can’t see his mother without regretting every word he said.

He loves that she doesn’t push him to say anything by confronting him. He suspects though that neither one of them really knows how to deal with the rift between them. Another week of awkward silences is more than Izuku is willing to handle.

“Kaa-san,” he says one evening. She looks up, startled. “I’m sorry.”

His mother smiles at him and ruffles his hair. Once, Izuku might have had the energy to protest. “I know. And I’m sorry you thought I didn’t believe in you.”

“You just don’t want me to get hurt if I fail.” He leans into her touch like a child. “I promise I…”

“What is it?” she asks warily.

 Izuku swallows because he doesn’t want to lie to his mother for the rest of his life, not when she’s been nothing but kind his entire life.

“What if I had a Quirk?” he asks uncertainly.

His mother steps back so she can meet his eyes. “You saw the scan.”

Vestigial toe joint, Izuku thinks without the usual bitterness. “And its wrong in half the cases for hidden quirks,” he whispers. “They need triggers to activate and can go unnoticed until late in life.”

Her gaze is kind and without pity. She’s thinking it over, Izuku sees, and mulling over the matter. 

“Izuku, at the risk of playing into a fantasy”—and doesn’t that just cut deep— “what trigger event?”

He swallows again. “T-this.” He points to the scar at his right temple. “I think It might have been a head injury.”

That’s not what happened, the voice says and Izuku locks that voice to the deepest recesses of his mind. He had wondered where it had run off to.

She stays silent for a long time. Maybe she doesn’t believe me.

His mother sits, finally. “Your father’s Quirk manifested when he was in his twenties.” Izuku perks up. “We were taking a walk and some thug—oh gosh, he was barely older than you and his hands were shaking so badly. Well, he pulls out a knife and your dad tried giving him our money, but I don’t know what happened and your dad was bleeding next thing I knew. It was terrifying seeing him in pain. And then he screamed. Except all that came out was fire.”

She looks both nostalgic and sad, ever so sad. “So yes, I think I can trust you’re not lying to yourself.”

Izuku hesitates, uncertain of how to respond to her words. There little he’s learnt of his father other than that man worked abroad since he was five and went missing a few years later. Izuku can’t even remember what the man looks like. And the few pictures his mother shows him might as well be those of a stranger. Sometimes he can see bits and pieces of the familial relation—the freckles he inherited from his father as well as the shape of his face and the dark undertones of his hair.

“I can feel shadows.” And I come back from the dead. “It’s weird. There’s more, I know there is. When I… hit my head, I went somewhere s-strange.”

She’s worried now. “Where?”

“It was somewhere dark, and I was terrified, Kaa-san.” He looks down and sees his hands are shaking, and his eyes burn with unshed tears. “There were things there with me.”

Warm arms circle around his shoulders and grip him tightly. “Izuku, honey, I’m here.” That reassurance grounds him. “We can go to a Quirk counsellor and help you l—”

“No,” he tries to say harshly but his voice breaks and he squeaks it out instead. “I can’t, I just can’t. They’ll take me away and lock me up and I don’t want to be some e-e-experiment.”

“No one’s going to do that.” She pulls away. Meets his eyes. Asks, “What aren’t you telling me?”

Tears stream down his face and he trembles. “I died, Kaa-san. A fridge fell on me and I died.” He looks away. “I saw the blood and I went to that place and there are monsters hiding there and I’m so fucking scared that I’m one and they’ll lock me up and dissect me if they ever find out and—”

He doesn’t feel the hands on his shoulders. Doesn’t feel her shake him. But he does hear her.

“Izuku, look at me.” He does. Her face is carefully blank. “Okay, no counsellors. No doctors. But you need to explain.”

Izuku takes a deep breath and tells her about the beach and the fridge falling on him. He keeps out all mention of All Might. He explains the distorted version of his room and stutters when he reaches the eye because humans weren’t meant to see those spectrums and his brain hurts remembering it. The whales give him pause for how do you describe the something which is dead but may never die?

Her calm façade cracks every so often. When he finishes, his mother pulls him into a comforting embrace. “And your head?”

Izuku stills. “I just fell and hit the pole. Nothing else happened.”

Except for Kaach—He cuts that thought off. Locks it in the same place where he forgets that song that must never be sung.

“Izuku, I need you to be honest with me."

He shakes his head. "Please, just please trust me and don't force me to say anything," Izuku pleads. “I don’t want to think about it. I c-can’t.”

His head hurts. Ignoring something and not remembering it are two different things. And you can’t really ignore certain memories as the very act makes them more vivid. So, the more he tries to ignore the first time he went to that place the clearer the siren call of the songthatwillnotpermitlifetocontinue becomes. Just this echo of a memory splits his head with pain.

“Izuku,” his mother says loudly.

It brings him back. He feels something wet on his lips and raises a hand there. His fingers come away red. His mother stands and grabs a paper towel from the counter. Izuku accepts it gratefully and presses it to his nose, letting it soak up the blood before he makes a mess everywhere.

“Thank you.” He winces because the headache is getting worse. But the pain makes it easier to forget—not ignore—the song. “Can I have a cup of tea?”

His mother makes an entire pot. Izuku has to get another paper towel because the first one is soaked. They drink in silence.

“I’m scared,” he admits, not meeting her eyes. “What if I’m one of those monsters?”

“You’re not,” his mother says fiercely.

“You can’t prove that. It's like going crazy. I can't tell you definitively that I'm conscious and not trapped in some nightmare."

“Izuku, look at me. I think I would know my own son. And if you were a monster, why would you tell me the truth?”

The question shakes him to the core. So simple and yet he has no response. “Kaa-san…”

“Go to sleep, Izuku. We’ll figure it out.”

*****

I don’t want to die, Izuku thinks once more. But I need to know.

He sits on the edge of the tub, watching it fill with warm water. It gives him time to consider his life up until this moment and whilst he doesn’t find it lacking, he does find it wanting. There hasn’t been a single blazing moment other than saving Kaachan. And the only person who considers it so is Izuku.

And All Might, you fool.

He hums. Accepts that yes, his hero’s acknowledgement is all he really needs. He smiles, terrified that this might be a mistake

When the tub is nearly full he picks up the needle. It’s a one-time use sort of needle. You press it to the flesh and the pneumatic piston does most of the work in depositing the contents in a person. Izuku presses it to his forearm, hissing when the needle pierces his flesh. The pain disappears in moments. Local anaesthetic has many uses. This might not be one of the recommended uses.

Izuku slides into the tub and waits a few minutes for his body to match the temperature of the water. He takes a deep breath to quell the rising panic. It doesn’t work. His hand trembles as he grabs the handle near him. There’s nothing special about it, just a simple material meant to mimic the look and feel of wood without any of the problems.

It is, though, attached to a very sharp knife. His mother is meticulous about many things, and the sharpness of her kitchen knives is one of them. He’s not sure what a blade that short is meant for other than maybe being a steak knife. Except he knows where those are and they’re nowhere near this sharp.

He takes another deep breath. And then another. It takes him a moment to realise he’s hyperventilating. And those are tears as well.

His hand shakes as he raises the blade. This is a stupid fucking idea, and nothing is worth knowing. His hand stills naturally. Oh fuck, I really want to know.

He brings the blade down and watches it plunge deep into his forearm. He feels nothing but horror. He pulls and flesh parts easily. Blood, vivid and red, almost seems to flood out. It stains the water and Izuku watches the water change colours. It's odd, watching the fluid keeping him alive leave like a leaky tap, drip-spurt-drip.  

There’s so much. At least I’ll know, he thinks and wishes he has the power to smile.

It takes a few seconds for his breathing to slow, wheezing and long gasps as his weak lungs fail to oxygenate his body.

A few more seconds for him to lose the strength to keep his head raised. With his last breaths, he inhales bloody water, too weak to even choke on it.  

No matter what, he thinks with the fading embers of consciousness, this will all be over.

Izuku

              closes

                            his

                                          eyes

                                                         and

                                                                        dies.

*****

Is this your choice, Izuku Midoriya? Is this the choice you make knowing full well the consequences? You can still refuse this future and pass on to the dark. You will die mourned by few, but this death will be final. I offer you this choice for you must know this can be an option, this time and no other. Anything is possible to you if only once.

Is that your choice, then? So be it. I accept this contract. You shall live by the grace of the abyss and by your sacrifice the abyss will live.

Death is inevitable. Entropy is the inevitable end of all things. Even gods and nightmares will die one day, long after the stars perhaps, but die they will. But you are beyond even them. Rise, Izuku Midoriya, and see your kingdom.

*****

Izuku breathes.

It takes him a moment to understand this irrefutable fact. There is oxygen in his lungs, oxygen that permeates the blood flowing through his body. Blood he watched leave.

Izuku breathes.

He opens his eyes, not focusing on anything in particular. He inspects his remaining senses. Touch tells him he’s dry and on something soft. Smell gives nothing but dust, blood, and maybe a hint of decay. Taste is blood in his mouth. Sound is the pounding of blood in his ears. Shadow tells him that the world will wait on him till he is ready.

Izuku breathes. He coughs but that turns into a chuckle that morphs into laughter tinged with hysteria.

“I’m here,” he says between breaths. “I’m fucking here.”

He wipes away the tears and sits up, looking around. He knows this room and will always know it. That poster of All Might will always be known to him, even if it has a rip through it. The broken PC and the marks on the wall are no more foreign to him than his room bathed in light and normality. It scares him that this is normal now even if it is strange.

He stands, avoiding that dark fluid that makes perfect geometric shapes in the corner of his vision. Izuku looks to his arm. There’s a scar there, pale and silvery and jagged. Which is infinitely better than an open wound. He traces it, feeling no pain. If anything, it's still numb. 

Fact: Wounds that cause death heal near instantly. He pauses and tilts his head. Assuming no time has passed.

The window is blacked out. It takes him a moment to notice it isn't painted or even the dark fluid making fourth-dimensional shapes in the corner of his vision. The darkness is not uniform. It shifts and twists this way and that but Izuku feels nothing concerning from it—an alien sort of contentment made up of amusement and something like inevitable/finally/acceptance. Izuku reaches out. His hand rests on the window latch as he considers the wisdom in this.

You just committed suicide, the voice he spends a lot of time ignoring says.

I had pretty reasonable odds of coming back, he retorts and shoves the voice down. There are more important things to worry about.

He flips the latch and slides the window open. The sudden rush of darkness doesn’t come. The suffocating weight he expected is missing. The darkness simply stays there as if the window sill is an impenetrable barrier.

Cautiously, he places his hand on the shadow. It sinks in slightly. He watches the shadows dance between his fingers and the back of his hand, joyous as a puppy with a new ball. The joy is alien and mixed with predator/master/enemy/protect and safe/home/alive? Izuku jerks his hand back at that last sensation.

The shadows don’t pull back, don’t impede him in the slightest. They simply go back to what they were doing, dancing and forming shapes. The more Izuku doesn't stare directly at it, the more he can feel the complex shape the shadows make. There's something both wondrous and horrifying lurking in those patterns and if he could see more, feel more, he knows it would break him with its complexity. 

He turns away, focuses his senses on the door instead. That feels safer in so much as he can feel nothing past it. He knows the range of his senses is about twenty metres and his room is nowhere near that large. And yet, his world is confined to the walls of his room and the patterns the shadows outside his window are making, patterns he’s forgetting easier with each passing moment.

A deep breath centres him slightly. Izuku opens the door.

He expects sand and a dozen suns and rotting whales. He gets none of that. Instead, he gets concrete if concrete was a dark shade of blue. There are cracks where darkness leaks out as though the world is rejecting something so mundane as concrete. Izuku kneels and runs a finger across the blue surface, finding the ground warm and surprisingly textured. The blue flakes off easily. He looks to his finger where the blue flakes decaying rapidly.

He frowns and lays his palm on the surface. It takes him a moment to feel the flow of shadows below the ground. There’s an order to the way it flows, almost like veins and yet Izuku gets the impression that the darkness could flow any direction and still be fine. 

Izuku looks up. There are buildings, dozens of them. It is unfamiliar for but a moment. And then he makes out the patterns hiding there—those crystal columns are the pillars of a downtown coffee shop he likes, and the snarling fractal pattern creatures are the cartoonish puppies on the pet store a few blocks from his home. There, in the distance, is a column of absolute black. floating in the air and sucking up every drop of light from the purple sun streaking across the sky like a bullet, and Izuku knows it to be the tallest building in his city. He looks at the street again and realises with dawning horror that this is the street next to the apartment he shares with his mother.

The ground lurches before he can get a good look at anything else. It undulates, causing Izuku to lose his balance and he has the sense that he’s standing on something alive in the truest sense. Everything vibrates for a moment, reminding Izuku of a person shivering from the cold. It stops, thankfully.

When he looks up again everything has changed. And still is changing.

Geometry he shouldn’t be able to comprehend rises up and is replaced by patterns extending past infinity and there’s a dying black hole fighting something that looks like a dragon so large it might as well be a universe unto itself and the creature that looked at him and forced Izuku to see everything flies past and pauses for a second that lasts forever to whisper a secret truth that makes Izuku’s ears bleed and the longer he looks at the world the longer he understands how vast it truly is and how insignificant the human race is because how can they matter when a crystal nightmare is killing light especially if all this madness is simply a microcosm in a realm where infinity has been measured and found lacking and quantum mechanics operate on a macro scale and

Izuku

                                                                                              Fucking

                                          Forgets

The world snaps back to a veneer of normality. He inhales, falling to the ground. His eyes burn, and it takes him a moment to understand they aren’t literally on fire but simply bleeding. And so are his ears from the secret the creature whispered, a secret that he wants to forget but can’t because it’s written in his bones now.

LIFE=NULL=ENTROPY=YOU

He claws at his ears, scratching the skin there badly. But Izuku doesn’t care because he isn’t that, can never be that. This is worse than the songwaitingtoendthecycleoflifeandrebirth. Izuku focuses on that instead even if his heart is about to explode the longer he thinks about the song. But the song isn’t about him. If anything, he’s just a casual bystander and not the subject matter.

The weight of the song makes him cough blood. It is killing him, and he knows it will kill him faster and faster the longer it goes on. But he need only die a little until he can hide the secret in the deepest recesses of his mind, down past where even his instincts reside. And once he’s certain his mind will unravel long before he finds the secret, Izuku locks it with the song that is killing him in the here and now.

He’s lying on the ground, breathing heavily. He wipes away the blood on his eyes. Spits out the dark, congealed wad of blood in his mouth, not caring that it grows legs and runs away moments later. He scrubs away the blood from his ears and neck, wincing when he irritates one of the scratches there.

No, no, no, the voice he tries to ignore screams in agony. You left me with them, you fuck. You left me.

Izuku shrugs and ignores the voice. He knows it’ll find a way back at some point, probably a lot saner than Izuku by then. For now, though, it means his mind is blessedly quiet. 

This might be a good time to go home. Izuku nods and stands on wobbly legs.

He hears a skittering like sound and looks behind him. Standing between him and the doorway that will take him home is a dark mass of creatures, multi-legged, fuzzy and with fangs that remind him of a spider. And right at their head is the same wad of blood that had run away, larger and meaner looking as though it had aged a few years and been forced to survive the nightmares of this place. Held in place by a twisted carapace is a glowing orb of red. Instinct tells Izuku that is the blood the creature was born from.

And it hates Izuku. He can feel it deep within his soul that this thing hates him and will always hate its progenitor. Izuku steps back cautiously. The creatures step forward as one, their sharp-clawed appendages tearing through the concrete which leaks shadow. Another step back and they mimic his action. 

The lead creature skitters forward and like a tidal wave the rest follow. Their very movements tear through the ground even as Izuku turns to run. They are fast despite their size, and the lead one is on him in moments.

Please work, he thinks, taking another step back. He can feel the shadows and whilst Izuku doesn’t know all the rules of this place, he does know one fact: the shadows belong to him. So, when he calls on them they rise like lances, thousands of thin lances that eviscerate the creatures.

Izuku trembles at the fangs an inch from his face, gleaming with fluid and large enough to tear through bone. A dark lance holds the blood-spider creature in place, pierced through what might been a head in a normal creature. The hate is still there in its dozen crystal eyes but deeper down Izuku can see despair and even betrayal. He watches the creature die, slowly and crooning in pain. And when the infernal engines powering the creature fail, it dissipates to ash, leaving behind only that glowing red orb. The orb floats by its own will, defiant of gravity or any other force.

His hand reaches out, unbidden, and grasps the orb. It leaves his hand numb and tingly all at once. There is a multitude of… he doesn't want to call them souls because he refuses to equate what he has to those creatures.

They died, Izuku thinks and looks at the legion of spider-like corpses. But they’re still dreaming.

It feels wrong to just throw the orb away. There are hundreds of lives begging to continue their dreams and Izuku doesn’t know how to deal with it. Throwing it away is simply leaving them to die a slower death.

He puts it in his pocket and decides to forget about it.

He’s become good at it.

He walks over spider corpses and puts them far from his mind. He flinches whenever a leg twitches with the hot wind carrying the scents of rotting fish and fresh blood. When one of them rises, body reconstructing as though time-reversed, and red light streaming from his pocket to it, Izuku crushes it with his foot. It makes a pitiful sound as Izuku stomps on it again and again and again and again until it goes back to its dreams.

He wipes away the blood from his mouth, wondering how it got there, and realises he’s already at the door. He ignores the lightness of his pocket and the crystal shards scratching his gums. Those spider creatures are a distant memory when he steps through the door.

*****

Water clings to him when he returns. He thrashes for a moment until he remembers where he is—submerged in a tub—and why—his forearm is still numb. He looks at the red water for a long time, thinking of nothing.

He pulls the plug and lets the water drain. Its odd seeing evidence of what he did disappear. He stands, dripping wet when the water’s ankle high. Something nicks him, and he yelps, jumping out the tub. There’s a tiny scratch on his ankle. He investigates the tub. Sees bits of shredded wood and metal at the drain. It reminds him of both the pole and the fridge.

Just another thing to note down.

It takes him nearly an hour to scrub every surface down. His fingers are raw and bloody by the time he’s done scrubbing the blood out of his clothes. Next time don’t wear clothes, he thinks. Pauses. Scrubs more vigorously at the idea that there will be a next time.

He’s only just managed to shower and disinfect the scratches near his ears when his mother returns.

“Izuku, I’m home,” she shouts from the doorway. She probably has groceries with her.

Izuku freezes. His mother comes back at six on weekdays. He looks at his watch. The time there reads eight o’clock.

What the fuck?

*****

The shadows feel acuter after that. There is a level of detail that is overwhelming and sometimes he must leave class and spend time in the bathroom, breathing and not at all having a panic attack. Sometimes a student must come find him a few moments from a full-blown panic attack and bring him back to class. And sometimes he’s bleeding too heavily from the nose to go back to class. He avoids questions from concerned teachers and even a trip to the school counsellor yields no answers.

When they call in his mother she simply stares them down, imperious and regal in a way only affronted parents manage, until they allow her to take him home. He cries when they get home and she hugs him tight as he tells her stories of the dreaming dead and old gods being born and abominations that keep him up at night. She simply holds him tight.

Her routines change around him. Not significantly—after the first night she checked up on him at night and found him beating off they both agreed that wouldn’t work—but enough that he loves her all the more for it. She speaks to him on matters that he enjoys and grounds him during the bad times.

One night where he’s too afraid to sleep from the voice screaming bloody murder in his head, she takes him out for ice-cream and a stroll through the park; and whilst the scents of grass and damp and life calm him, the spiders make him nervous and there isn’t enough contrast between dark and light for shadows to really exist leaving him feeling almost blind. One weekend, when he starts to remember everything he hides deep down and the weight of it all leaves him breathless and feverish and writing higher dimensional mathematics in a language humans can’t vocalise and in his own blood, she pulls him away gently and teaches him to play blackjack and how to count cards—and every technique from the simple Hi-Lo to the more complex Wong back-counting helps him forget the madness; and he doesn’t mind learning more of his mother between explanations of arbitrage and matched betting; of how she met his father by conning him at a friendly game and then dazzling him with a card trick, a trick she shows him even though his hands shake too much for him to really learn it.

He starts packing her lunches and making breakfast in the morning even if it means sleeping less. Cleaning the house is mind-numbing and boring and so blessedly peaceful that he cries the first time he does it. His mother doesn’t try to stop him except for days where he puts off doing homework because she won’t permit his grades to drop, not when he’s trying so hard to get to UA. It makes him guilty and forces him to work harder.

So, when he’s training he goes there tired. He steps back from a punch form Jin Mo-Ri but fails to notice the ledge behind him. Izuku falls to the ground, hitting his head hard. He winces and blinks away stars. When he can see properly, Jin Mo-Ri is squatting beside Izuku. It takes Izuku a moment to notice he’s staring at his exposed forearm. He pulls back and covers up the scar.

“I will not ask,” the man says without pity or kindness. “But I do not waste time. If you do not want to get to UA, tell me, and I will leave.”

His eyes widen. “Wait, no, I want to be a hero.”

The man with crosses in his eyes simply blinks lazily. “Not if you die first.”

I’ve died a lot, Izuku thinks bitterly. “I’m not trying to die,” he retorts, and it is true to an extent.

Jin huffs. “The heart is weak even if flesh is strong.”

Izuku squints at the man. “Coming from someone who goes around with his torso exposed.” The black coat the man wears has only a single button around his collar and with the way it is cut most of his torso is exposed at any given time.

“I,” he says, poking Izuku in the forearm, “have quirk the extents invulnerability to my clothes and makes them stronger than my flesh. You, little shadow, are weak and have no armour.”

But they say no more of it after that. Two days a week, as he promised, Jin Mo-Ri teaches him how to fight and the rest of the time All Might trains his body. He puts on muscle rapidly, but he never becomes bulky like his hero. Instead, all the fat disappears, and it seems some days that his muscles never run out of endurance. In gym classes, he might not be able to lift as much as the other students, but he can lift much longer.

In the few minutes he has that aren’t dedicated to school or training or learning about his quirk—and not going catatonic from the revelations—he takes the notebook with the sketches of his costume and modifies it. The white lines feel wrong and disingenuous to who—what—he is and he colours them black. The rabbit-like mask was something he built in homage to All Might but he wonders whether he is worthy of being the man’s successor when he has monsters in his closet. He replaces the grinning teeth with a metal mouth-guard and keeps a cowl with rabbit ears, an acceptable compromise. He’s not certain about the armoured vest but he remembers Jin Mo-Ri’s words and decides protection can never be a bad thing.

Izuku spends one Friday evening and does absolutely nothing. He ignores his quirk by keeping everything well lit and sets his homework aside. The couch is comfy. He switches on the TV and lets the inane robot show wash over him, focusing instead on his book. His mother finds him like that, not busy or frantic or half-mad, and sits next to him. She dozes off after a few minutes. Izuku grabs a blanket and throws it over her, tucking her in gently.

His life is busy and horrifying. But Izuku wouldn’t change it for a moment. It belongs to him and no one else, no matter the consequences.

Chapter Text

‘The age of heroics has brought about a technological stagnation. Even after the glories of the past were reclaimed in the Golden Age, we have hardly advanced one iota. The body of knowledge has decreased, and students care more for the flash of heroes than they do for sciences grounded in knowledge and economics based on historical patterns. I hold all who call themselves a hero accountable. We look to them as saviours and become complacent with our lot in life. By their very existence, they hold back advancement. There was a time when advancements were commonplace, new industries created often, and the people driven to make something with their own knowledge. That time has ended.’

—Excerpt from ‘The Effect of Heroics’ by Saruhiko Ando.

Izuku focuses as hard as he can, ignoring the budding headache because this might be the one. His shadow vibrates on the ground and Izuku’s hands shake with exertion as he does his best to pull the darkness out. He watches, mesmerised, as a single tendril of shadow rises in the real world.

“Yes,” he shouts, and the laughs hysterically. He has finally done it. This is proof that he wasn’t completely mad. This is his bedroom in the waking, and a thin tendril of shadow undulates in the air, indifferent to the impossibility of a shadow having volume.

He pokes at it. It makes a clear sound and Izuku pauses to wonder if it’s a normal sound or one that exists outside of sanity. He shrugs as he long ago lost any claim to sanity. He grabs it. Pulls. In his hand, he holds what might be considered an incredibly long needle. He nearly presses his finger to the sharp tip before deciding that might not be the best idea in the world.

Instead, he pokes his pillow and watches it sink deep without the slightest hint of resistance. He raises a brow, wondering how it would fare against something harder. He raises the needle. Aims at the wall. Throws it. Partway there, it unravels and wisps of darkness float through the air for a second. Izuku watches them fade away like ashes after a volcanic eruption.

“Fuck,” he curses. “It took me an hour to do that.” He takes a deep breath and calms himself.

Making another one is slightly easier. There is a pattern, an understanding of impossible physics that seems to imprint itself on his mind.

It only takes him an hour this time instead of the just over an hour. The tendril is thicker, less fine gossamer thread and more strand of hair. He decides not to pull it out of his shadow. Closing one eye, he holds the image of a circle in the back of his eyelid and watches it ponderously twist to the shape of his commanding, a single strand still connecting it to his shadow. It isn’t fast and there’s a resistance here that the other world doesn’t have.

He watches the circle revolve slowly. Imagines it sharpen and hears a hum of acknowledgement from it. And then, with a single command, he watches it fly across the room and stab halfway through his wall.

It makes him smile. It’s the first real progress he’s had in a while. 

Getting back to the dark below is difficult, and whilst he can sometimes feel himself sinking, he never gets all the way there. So, he does what he needs to and becomes very creative in the ways he dies. He finds the knife too time-consuming in terms of clean-up, and anyway he doesn't want to go to the effort of hiding new scars or explaining away why he needs a local anaesthetic. Drowning is a deeply terrifying experience and one he has no intention of trying again.

Death by hanging is the simplest, cleanest, and most efficient way of getting to the place.

He learns the flavours of death, becomes close as lovers inexorably twined till the end of time. The impossible scent you smell before you die reminds him of petrichor, the first rains of the season, but both sharper and subtler. He comes to know the feeling of his brain shutting down, the terror of forgetting the who what why why why that a person instinctively knows through the lives; learns the sensation of nerves firing one last time, raging in defiance against numbness as a war god does against his enemies.

Four notebooks he leaves in his room—three on his quirk and one completely blank just in case—before going to his new favourite place. He’s walked the path towards it so often that only the bravest creatures do anything but run immediately. And the brave ones are less courageous than they are mad and foolish as don’t survive more than a few seconds, sometimes impaled by a dark spear and sometimes crushed by a flood of shadows.

Izuku isn’t the biggest or most dangerous creature even cloaked in shadows that whip and strike his enemies. No, there are creatures that still make him shiver in terror. He can keep this realm relatively sane by anchoring a portion as large as he wants to see to his shadows and the space in his mind where he forgets many things. It creates a temporary world that obeys laws he understands. Sometimes his concentration falters and he sees the infernal nightmares just lurking in the background like the dragon mostly eaten by a black hole in the distance or the light-killer tower hovering over everything.

There are spots slightly better than others. Despite the revulsion he feels, the beached whales are quite peaceful, and their cries tell a story of a people long dead who have chosen to continue no matter their form. It takes him a long time to realise they’re just as scared of the real monsters hiding in the depths as he is, so they hide near the surface. They are pitiful, but never malicious. They speak freely of their memories of true life, not this eternal undeath they suffer through. Every word of planets burning and a people enacting a mad plan that went against all mortal and esoteric laws makes him love humans just the tiniest bit more. 

None of that interests him as much as the forest of floating trees. The trees are the largest he’s ever imagined, taller than the sky and wider than his neighbourhood. He can’t tell if they’re a single creature or a collective for they move in eerie synchronicity, sometimes going to depths Izuku hates following and sometimes being right outside the safe spot of his room. But something there is calling to him and he can’t ignore it.

There is little light in this place so Izuku always brings a headlamp and a powerful torch as a backup to create the contrast he needs to work his powers. It has the unfortunate side effect of alerting the denizens to his presence. 

He dodges a spear and raises a shadow shield before another can strike him through the face. He’s yet to die here and has no plans on finding out how permanent it is. So, he sends a fist of shadow to the creature trying to flank him. It is much larger than Izuku, made up entirely of very elastic purple-black threads that stretch and elongate easily. It makes fighting them hard because he can never be too sure which direction they’ll attack from.

It also makes fighting them fun.

His shield shatters. Izuku ducks low an instant before a claw takes his face, slipping a bit on the uneven root. He grimaces as the blow tears a line through his shoulder and sweeps the creature of its legs that are only sometimes there before backing away.

There’s one in the air. Izuku sends a series of shadow bullets at it and watches in satisfaction as it falls out the sky. The one he shoved aside earlier charges Izuku, one arm stretching and closing the distance rapidly.

He scrambles to the side. Fails to stick the landing. Hits his hurt shoulder on the massive tree root.

The three creatures regroup. He curses.

Why won’t they back down? Izuku wonders as he dodges another spear. And where the hell do they get all the spears?

After a week of fighting these creatures each time he enters the forest, Izuku still has no idea. But there’s something at the centre of the forest that beckons him, a heady pull he can never resist. And he really, really wants to know what it is that draws his attention so.

Have you tried talking to them, the voice says, distracting Izuku and making him take a blow to the chest from the flying creature. He lashes out with his elbow. Kicks it across its dark face. Slams it with a wave of shadow and watches it fall of the massive root.

Great, you’re back, Izuku thinks and forges another shield. It holds up against the spear-thrower and is too tall for even the other one to wriggle around even if it does extend its limbs. He has to watch his right flank because of his injured shoulder, but he has a selection of lances ready to fire given the slightest provocation.

“Of course, I did,” Izuku says, trying to calm his breathing. “I nearly lost an eye because of it.”

No, you didn’t you idi—Give me a moment. Everything is silent in his head for a moment. And then he hears screams and the voice raging at something. He can hear sounds of battle, the clang of immutable ideas clashing with entropic chaos. That makes Izuku pause.

“Great, now the voices in my head actually do stuff.”

When it returns, it brings with it static. The voice sighs in relief. You never tried talking to them. Izuku’s protests are cut off as the voice simply continues. How do you speak to your shadows?

Izuku frowns. He doesn’t, as far as he can tell. “Okay, either shut up or go away.”

Blessedly, the voice goes away.

A roar rends the air. Izuku leaps back instantly, not in the slightest shocked that his barrier breaks. Concentration has something to do with the strength of his constructs.

The large, bulky one elongates from the neck. Its head is like a bullet full of sharp teeth. Izuku ducks down, pulling his shoulder wound and decides this might be as good a time as any to get the hell out of dodge.

He bolts to the right. He nearly takes a spear to the neck before he reaches the edge of the giant root. He doesn’t hesitate to leap down.

There is water beneath him. He hates going deeper into the abyss when he can avoid it, but the doorway he senses one level down can take him two levels left and one up. He’s not sure exactly how space and geometry behave other than that they sometimes exist.

More often he has to force them to exist.

The creatures in the air ignore him, thankfully, though one that’s a cross between a seagull, a lizard and a gas cloud does inspect him for a long time. It hurts his brain a bit to see organs held suspended in a gaseous liquid fade and reappear with each beat of its wings.

With a grin, Izuku waves at it. It turns away and Izuku watches it dive down, its wings turning gaseous then back in sequence.

Izuku takes in a deep breath well before he hits the pink water. He has no intention of swallowing the intraocular fluid of a creature whose eye is probably larger than Russia. It is warm and sticky, disgustingly so. He pushes his revulsion away and swims to the bottom where he can sense the doorway.

Halfway there, he runs out of breath, vision going dark in spots. It makes him curse because he hates drowning. But he’s long ago accepted doing crazy things to get what he wants. There’s no air here and if he holds his breath long enough then the lack of oxygen will kill him. And that isn’t an option

So, he takes a deep breath and lets the thick, sticky fluid fill his mouth and lungs.

The dark spots disappear as he breathes the ocular fluid of the creature. Izuku swims until he reaches the bottom, as brightly lit as the surface which should bother Izuku but glowing eyes aren’t really anything special at this point.

He takes a knife from his pocket and stabs it through the surface. A dark fluid spurts out in long arcs like ink in water. Izuku doesn’t breathe it in. He works his knife quickly, forming a simple rectangle. Already, the horizon is darkening from the creature closing its eye. And when it closes fully, Izuku knows he’ll be completely fucked. Instinct has rarely failed him in the place. 

When he’s made the slices, Izuku grips the flaps and pulls with all his strength. It takes nearly half a minute before he can pull the flesh off completely and reveal the shimmering doorway. Izuku steps through before darkness overtakes him.

He falls out onto the surface of a dead star, wincing as he lands on his shoulder again. He checks the wound. Finds it already scarring instead of bleeding. He shrugs, wiping away the ocular fluid on his face.

Ocular fluid has healing properties, he thinks so he can jot it down along with the eye’s location in his notebook later.

The aren’t any landmarks on the flames forever frozen and dark so Izuku simply picks a direction and walks. His watch tells him its close to midnight. Good, lots of time to get back before his mother found whatever his body did when he died.

*****

The next few days are busy and frantic. Time’s running out and he starts feeling the pressure of everything. Tests and pop quizzes at school stop being a surprise and more of a daily occurrence. Despite their migraine-inducing difficulty, Izuku manages to keep on top of them. It might mean having to spend time in the abyss to take advantage of the weird temporal mechanics there for the deeper he goes, the slower time in the real-world passes—and he’s certain that if he goes deep enough there’s a place where an eternity will last shorter than the blink of an eye in the real, and perhaps even deeper there’s a place where the reverse is true.

It is Saturday when he receives a text from All Might that something has come up and he won’t make it for their training. Izuku shrugs. It is not the first time this has happened. After all, All Might is still a hero with duties and obligations. And whilst Izuku knows little of the man’s personal life aside from his name, he has no doubts that the training has stopped him from taking care of his personal life.

“Kaa-san,” he greets in the kitchen as he mixes a protein shake.

She smiles at him, the skin tight on her face. Not in a bad way, and it makes him pause because when had his mother lost weight? She looks healthier, and he wonders if its because he takes care of more of the cleaning giving her more personal time.

She ruffles his hair, hand lingering on the scar where the hair has grown in white. He chose not to dye it because every time he looked in the mirror it reminds him that death is always a mistake away. And death means his secret might be revealed

And regardless of how odd it might look or how it made him an easier target for the bullies at school, he will forever cherish how Kaachan told those assholes to fuck off. He’s not sure how to deal with Katsuki when he’s being so… nice is a stretch, but not intentionally violently antagonistic.

And maybe we can be friends, again, Izuku thinks and that brings a smile to his face.

He hears a snort in the back of his mind. Don’t forget what he did, the voice roars and then cackles madly. Izuku rolls his eyes and ignores it.

“You doing alright, honey?” she asks, smile strained just a bit.

He chuckles nervously, scratching the back of his head. He nearly knocks over the protein shake. "Just zoned out a bit." Then he notices how she's dressed up a bit. "Are you going anywhere? I can make dinner if you're coming back late."

Her smile turns towards fondness. “You’re too sweet.” Izuku ducks his head, flushing. “I wanted to show you something special but if you need to train we can do it later.”

Izuku looks up. Sees her kind expression. Puts the protein shake in the fridge. “Sure. I can take a run in the evening just as well.”

They’re in the car, shitty pop music blaring, and talking about nothing in particular. He shuffles a deck of cards, palming a card every now and then and trying a card trick his mother had shown him a few days ago. She laughs when he messes up and the card hits him straight across the face. She laughs harder when it sticks to his forehead.

He drops the entire deck when she stops abruptly, cursing at the pedestrian who decided jaywalking was perfectly acceptable in the middle of a busy road. He reaches down to pick up the cards. Then freezes. Some of them are sinking into his shadow.

Izuku swallows and reaches towards it. His hand sinks in slightly. He closes his hand and pulls back. Inside his clenched fist are the few cards that had sunk in.

“Izuku?” his mother questions, eyes flicking to him and then back to the road.

He shrugs. “New to me.” And quite frankly, it’s not particularly worrying compared to many of the things he’s seen. He tells her as much which only makes her frown.

“You’re sure you don’t want to go to a counsellor?”

Izuku rolls his eyes. This isn’t the first time she’s suggested it. “This isn’t anywhere near as bad as the maths on the wall thing.”

“That’s my point. You wrote that in your own blood. It hurt my head to look at it and you think that’s a normal thing.” She sighs. “Izuku, I can do the proof for a Gaussian integral in my head. I didn’t even know how to do basic calculus before then.”

He has nothing to say to that. “Sorry you’re smarter now?” he offers, only a little petulant.

She sighs, before pulling over and parking. “Just promise me you won’t keep things from me.”

“What if they’re not my secrets to tell?” he asks, stepping out the door. He looks up and reads the sign ‘Anteiku’ with a frown. He’s never heard of the place.

“If it doesn’t affect you, that’s fine.” She walks through the door and greets the old man behind the counter.

They’re led to a table and given a menu. “Sure,” he agrees. “So, why are we here again?” he asks then orders a cup of green tea even as his mother orders some coffee that sounds more complicated than a Gaussian proof.

“Because you need to rest and relax.”

“At a coffee store? Caffeine is not a relaxant, Kaa-san.”

“Maybe not for you.” She takes a sip of her coffee when it comes. It’s strong enough that he wonder’s if he can get caffeinated by the vapour alone. “Besides, this place is special.”

“Are we going to play the gues—” He pauses when he feels something brush against his leg. He tenses and looks down.

And sees a cat.

A bright orange cat that stares back at him disdainfully.

His mother laughs. Izuku looks up and sees her petting a grey patterned cat.

“Huh,” is all he says. A cat slinks along a window sill, tail raised imperiously and leaps to the seat next to Izuku. It has one eye and black fur. He reaches out cautiously and lets in sniff his finger. It bumps his has fingers with its nose and walks right onto his lap. It circles a few times and then curls in place.

“Huh,” he says again as the cat purrs contentedly, loud enough that he feels it in his bones.

“I told you it was special,” his mother says.

He raises his cup in acknowledgement and asks her what she’s been doing in her spare time. He lets her voice wash over him, absently stroking the cat. And after nearly half an hour, she reaches into her handbag and pulls out a book.

“Here,” she says and hands it to him. “I thought you might like it.”

The hardcover lacks the usual cover sleeve, but he can see the author’s name written in tiny gold handwriting. ‘Hawkmoon’ it reads and below that ‘My Eclipse’.  On the first page is writing in faded pen.

Izuku looks up in shock, jostling the cat who meows in frustration. “Kaa-san, this is a signed copy,” he says in shock. “These things cost a fortune.”

“Yes,” she says simply. “Read the signature.”

He frowns. Opens the page. “’To a young Hisashi whom I hope to see again, from Yui whom Hakwmoon eclipsed,’” he reads. Then freezes. “Is this…”

“It was your father’s. I forgot all about it. I guess I never wanted to look through the boxes of all the stuff he left.”

Izuku frowns. “He’s not dead.”

And somehow that makes her infinitely sadder. “No, he isn’t.” She forces a smile. “And I know he’d be happier with someone reading it than to let it gather dust.”

That’s the last they speak of it. When she’s ready to leave, Izuku asks if he can stay a little longer. She smiles and gives him some money before heading out. He reads the book, drinking another cup of tea, and savouring each word from one of the great heroes of history.

Sometimes he must check Wikipedia to check his facts. Geography isn’t in his arsenal of skill, so knowing she slew the indomitable Titan in Sao Luis means nothing until he googles the place and sees the monument to the battle.

He isn’t paying attention when he stands, the cat in his arm, and knocks into someone. Startled, he reaches out and grabs a hand before the person can fall. He looks up and meets purple eyes with dark bags beneath them.

“S-sorry,” Izuku says and let’s go hastily. “I wasn’t paying attention.”

The boy stares at Izuku. Then at the cat. “I’ve never seen you before. Mika doesn’t like newcomers.”

He frowns. Mika? He thinks, then looks at the cat that’s watching him with its single eye.

“This is my first time,” he says quickly, anxiously. “Deku. Midoriya, I mean, that’s my name, Izuku, and sorry for knocking you over, I should probably pay attention more.”

The boy frowns. “It’s fine.”

“You look tired. School tests?”

The boy tilts his head, almost cautious. “Yes?” he ventures.

Izuku smiles broadly, fearlessly. “Yeah. My ma brought me here cause apparently I’m too stressed or something but hey, whatever, it’s not like cats are a problem ever—”

“Midoriya,” the boy says sharply, cutting him off. “It’s fine. You’re stressing the cat.”

He looks down. Sees Mika’s hair raised on end. Takes a deep breath.

“Sorry.”

The boy rolls his eyes. “Stop apologising.”

“Sorr…” he trails off at the boy’s gaze. It isn't anywhere near as terrifying as some of the things he's seen but he's even less sure of humans than he is of nightmare creatures.

Izuku takes a seat and gestures to the opposite one. The boy sits, uncertain, and Izuku wonders if maybe something horrible is peaking through his grin.

“I never got your name.”

The boy paused. “Shinsou. Hitoshi Shinsou.”

“Hi, Shinsou,” Izuku says brightly. It is odd talking to someone his age who doesn’t automatically dislike him. “Which school are you applying to?”

Shinsou looks away and reaches for the cat next to him. It scrambles up his leg and jumps to his shoulder. He still as the cat gets comfortable on its new perch.

“UA,” he says once the cat isn’t about to tumble off.

He looks to Izuku expectantly. “Oh, right, that’s awesome. We might even be classmates.”

“You’re applying there as well?” Izuku nods. “What’s your quirk?”

Izuku freezes. He’s never really thought about how to answer that question. Its never really come up and he can’t just say One for All because that isn’t his quirk. At least, not yet.

“Sorry,” Shinsou says. “Didn’t mean to make you upset.”

“Didn’t you just tell me to stop apologising?”

“I only did it once.” His voice never rises above a monotone.

Izuku forces a smile. “I just got my quirk, so I never really gave it a name.” He points to the flare of white hair at his temple. “Hidden quirk. Traumatic incident. Tried to fight a pole with my face.”

That’s not what happened, the voice roars. Izuku’s smile becomes strained as the voice screams in a voice that isn't wholly human. 

“Are you okay?” Shinsou asks. “You’ve got a nosebleed.”

Izuku curses and reaches for a napkin in his pocket, placing it to his nose. “Sorry. I get those occasionally.”

Especially when some people are screaming in my head, he thinks angrily. Can you shut up already?

The voice cackles once more. Two plus two is four, minus infinity that’s death. Quick maths. Die, you bastard, die.

Izuku winces and does his best to ignore the voice. He sees Shinsou watching him worriedly. 

“I think I need to head home anyway,” Izuku says before his head gets any worse. “See you later?”

“I guess?”

He must look ridiculous with a cat in one hand and a bloody napkin in the other. He makes it work as he writes his phone number down on the back of a receipt and slides it over to Shinsou. That’s how people make friends from what he’s seen on TV. He hasn’t really had the opportunity to practice it in real life.

*****

Izuku continues to train ceaselessly. His body grows stronger even as his training regime gets progressively harder. All Might is relentless in making Izuku stronger. The sessions get bad enough that he feels like he'll pass out in his tracksuit even on a colder evening. He takes to wearing a long-sleeved compression shirt so All Might never sees the scar on his arm, and leggings beneath his shorts to avoid chaffing and irritating blisters.

Jin Mo-Ri is equally relentless, drilling the fundamentals in Izuku’s head until he dreams of stances and kicks, defence flowing to offence in fluid motions. He ruthlessly takes advantage of having more time in the abyss and puts everything in practice against the less terrifying denizens. It makes him think harder, but it also helps him rely on his instincts a bit more.

Nearly a week after going to the café, he gets a message from Shinsou. It’s short, concise and his response is just as awkward as he agrees to meet again next week. They send messages back and forth, not many since Izuku can tell Shinsou is just as busy as he is. And maybe just as lonely. So Izuku does put in the effort to reply as soon as he gets a message, even if his reply is stilted and awkward, and occasionally he gets a reprimand from his teachers to pay attention.

Trying to communicate with another human being is difficult, and very often his intent gets lost by the barrier of screen and text, but that struggle makes him understand what the voice was saying.

He drops down through a doorway and lands on a root. It takes only seconds before the stretchy creatures appear. There’s the usual spear-morph but there are additional flight-morphs. And this isn’t really a fight he can win.

Which is good because he doesn’t want to fight.

“I don’t want a fight,” he says, raising his empty hands. And then, he says it differently. It takes him a moment to concentrate on his shadow. Izuku tries his best to let his feelings resonate with his shadow.

The creatures pause and one even stumbles back. Good, that meant it worked. The spear-morph walks forward on its four legs that stretch and contract and looms over Izuku. He trembles because he won’t be able to dodge from this range if it attacks him.

//You speak now after attacking us//

He winces. It isn’t a voice so much as it is a scalpel writing those words in his skull.

“Sorry,” Izuku says, and sends the feelings through his shadow. “I never wanted a fight.”

//You took joy/pleasure/revelation in combat, thief//

“Why are you calling me that?” he asks, barely pausing to wonder how surreal the situation is. 

//Your nature// The creature tilts its head back and Izuku watches it elongate to one of the flighty-morphs. They seem to converse and Izuku waits nervously for its head to return. //Come, robber//

He frowns as the lumbering monster made of purple-black threads turns and walks away. The other creatures don’t seem to care as they disperse. The walk is long, and after a day of training with all Might, it is harder than he expected. The trees lighten from the darkest night to a pale purple, maybe lavender, and grow progressively thinner. He’s amazed the first time a root suddenly grows as they’re about to reach an edge but by the eighth time there isn’t anything too special about it.

His head whips back and forth as he tries to keep track of all the creatures living in this floating forest—some, the flight-morphs mainly, keep to the canopy and Izuku only glimpses them the one time they ascend; the spear-morphs seem content with their place in the roots; yet he can’t help but wonder how exactly the large, bulky ones are in the trees, literally in the trees.

He places a hand on one of the lightest trees and is slammed with a wave of knowledge. Not eldritch knowledge that must never be spoken for fear of ending the world. No, this was the knowledge of an elder watching thousands upon thousands of generations grow and live and die and live again.

He looks to the thread-creature leading him. “You become the trees when you die,” he whispers in awe.

The creature’s head twists around even as it continues walking forward. //All knowledge/wisdom/experience flows back to the source-heart//

They pass what might be a gate and walk into a circle of brilliantly white trees, so thin that they look like saplings. At the very centre is a cauldron and within it burns a fire of the infernal darkness, a fire that hurts to look at. It burns everything its flames reach, from the light to even gravity and time and the barriers between galaxies, and for a single instance, he sees a spark of red flames in another world.

//THIEF/BURGLAR/TRANSGRESSOR//the booming voice of eight trees, collectively older than his universe, knocks Izuku to the ground. //HAVE YOU COME TO REPENT//

Izuku spits out blood, having bitten through his tongue. “I’m not a thief.”

//Your skin morph shares a kinship with the first thief// one tree older than the stars intones.

“I honestly have no idea what you’re talking about.”

//THEN SEE//

Light bursts to life, bright and brilliant enough to boil his eyes. He screams as they force their way into his mind and make him see. The trees are the form the thread-creatures take once they die but that isn’t the last stage. No, these trees billions of years old will pass on and begin life anew, infinitely wiser and more powerful.

And yet, on the creation of the first elder, something broke through the tree canopy and stole it away. Thousands died under the shrill scream of the twisted bird abomination, and the elder trees could only watch as the oldest—now the youngest—had its essence ripped, its knowledge lost, and its soul bound to the abomination.

The images send Izuku reeling to the ground, screaming in pain. He can feel each and every single death, can feel the horror of watching a universe’s worth of knowledge destroyed in a single second. The terror and helplessness as the oldest and wisest of them was so violently taken. And the grief at all the young that died.

He screams taper to a stop. Taking a shuddering breath, Izuku checks his eyes. They don’t feel burnt, so he opens them. It takes time for him to adjust to the dimness after seeing that radiance. 

//Thief you are not though kin to the slave-king you are// a tree slightly younger than Earth says. //We ask your forgiveness, Shadowshield//

Izuku struggles to his feet, wiping away the blood leaking from his ears. He inhales, smelling the unique scent of ashen time. “Another name?” he questions.

//It is your name/nature/truth// the same tree says.

He rolls his ears, assuming they’re referring to the many shields he used fighting the thread-creatures. Regardless that he's being willfully ignorant, Izuku remembers the last truth he was told. And he doesn’t want to learn another.

“Fuck it, I don’t really care anymore. Okay, so you attacked me because I’m human—”

//Because the skin you wear is human// it says and Izuku knows there is truth to those words.

Do you understand now? The voice in his head asks. You’re just a monster wearing human skin. It cackles and laughs and rants and raves.

Izuku shuts it away deeper in the recesses of his mind.

“And now you gave me another name. Look, I just came here because that fire’s been calling me for the last few days and I’m tired of it.”

//THE ETERNAL FLAME IS NOT YOURS// the voices roar. The force of It knocks Izuku down again.

//We are guardians of the godflame// the youngest elder tree says once Izuku can think again. //Your skin-morph will not be allowed to possess it//

“I just want to see it,” Izuku says imploringly. He’s being honest, too. Something that powerful terrifies him. And he knows, just knows that it can destroy worlds without thought. 

//We will permit this//

Cautiously, Izuku walks forward, stepping around the spear-morph. The dark flames don’t give off any heat but anything that so casually destroys gravity is deserving of respect. He looks into the cauldron at the dark flames.

Fire consumes his mind, eternal and infernal. This isn’t simply a flame of impossible power. No, he knows its nature as burns the shackles of his mortal mind—and he takes pleasure in hearing the voice lurking in his head scream in true pain—and is amazed.

“Amaterasu,” he calls it though that will never describe its nature. It is only a name he can comprehend.

This is the first flame, the one that birthed his universe and set entropy in motion. But it is also the last flame, the one that will cleanse the world. All legends and gods of fire are just stories told of humans who once glimpsed this magnificence.

It is the beginning and end, and all that came between. By its birth embers, the formless void of creation came to know life. By its warmth entropy, and thus both life and death came to be. By its final blaze, everything will die.

And when he truly understands, it pulls away and leaves his mind unharmed. Warm and brighter than the sun, yes, but unharmed none the less. He understands that it wanted to take his measure and it found him… not wanting, but too different to interest it.

Find my heart, it commands, a plea that writes itself in his bones and blood and mind.

Izuku nods for what else can he do in the face of this god.

*****

He avoids the abyss for a few days after that. God flames aren’t something he wants to deal with right now. Instead, he puts it to the back of his mind. He doesn’t bury it for the knowledge won’t break him like the rest of the things in his mind. It has the added bonus of burning the voice whenever it chose to rise to the surface.

So, as he talks to Shinsou Hitoshi about the intricacies of pleasing their cat overlords, he does so with a voice screaming in agony at the back of his mind. Maybe he should care because the screams make his nose bleed and plague his dreams and stop him sleeping, and he tastes crystal on his tongue and smells burning flesh. But all of that sounds like a lot of work and Izuku is infinitely more interested in reading his books and training with All Might and making breakfast for his mother.

Those things are simple.

Safe.

Sane.

 

 

Chapter Text

‘All life is precious. Yes, this is an idea you have likely hear since you were a child but life itself is precious. No, because there is a higher purpose or intelligent design or god. We can be the greatest cosmic joke and I would still say the same. Life is precious because it is. I have taken many lives, and each is a greater burden to bear as I age. From the boys swayed by rousing speeches to the jaded old men struggling to keep their children fed, each life matters. Each life has value. That value is priceless.’

—Excerpt from ‘My Eclipse’ by Hawkmoon.

Time waits for no one. This fact, Izuku was most certainly aware of. It didn’t matter that he could spend more time in the deep darkness and gain a few more hours than most. Inevitably, the days would pass and each cross on the calendar brought him closer to the final day. The day of the exam. 

He stares at his reflection and sees tired eyes and a face devoid of baby fat. He sees a brilliant streak of white in his otherwise dark green hair and the outline of a scar on his shoulder. It is much worse on his back, but he is thankful that massive eye had healed him, and the wound didn’t interrupt his training. The scar on his left forearm is pale and silvery against his skin, extra care to hide it from everyone in his life.

Today is his last session with Jin Mo-Ri before the exam. He finds the man crouched on a pole driven deep in the ground, seemingly asleep in that impossible position. The man opens his star-like eyes and jumps down, landing easily. 

Izuku waves. “Hi,” he says and rolls his shoulders, wondering exactly what his teacher will make him go through today.

“Today we spar,” Jin says. “And we see your true skill level.”

Izuku sighs and removes his jacket, throwing it the wayside. Jin gives him time to stretch and warm up, even pointing out where Izuku could put more effort in.

When he is ready, he falls into a basic front stance, left foot forward and one shoulder-width apart from his right foot and arms held at the ready. It’s a simple, solid stance that has been beaten into him. When Jin moves, it isn’t anywhere near as fast as he’s seen the man move, but it is still nearly too much for Izuku.

He bats aside the first punch, kicks low and forward in retaliation. Jin jumps over the strike easily even as Izuku crouches and rolls with the momentum of his kick. He springs forward just before Jin lands.

And nearly takes an axe kick to his back for his troubles.

He blocks it, both arms raised in a guard even if it feels like his bones are creaking from the strength of the kick. Somehow, he feels Jin bring even more force down with his kick, and only when he sees his other knee rising does Izuku realises the man just used his block as a pivot point.

He takes the knee to the side and hits the sand hard.

His side hurts but Izuku forces himself up just quick enough to dodge the quick punch to his face. He pirouettes around his master’s outstretched hand and uses that momentum to slam a knee straight in his master’s unprotected side.

It pushes the man back, and Izuku twists and crouches like a flash, then follows through immediately with a rising back kick. He feels it strike home, but sees his teacher has caught the strike in his intertwined fingers. He almost seems to swing forward using Izuku’s extended foot as a handhold and kicks Izuku in the chest. He flies back, skimming the sand but forces himself to flip and land in a three-point crouch.

He barely has his guard up when his teacher comes at him with a fast punch. He raises his left arm to block it. Feels the way it pushes him back and all the force transmitted through his arm.

Oh, he thinks and instead of trying to take all the force or even stepping back, Izuku lets his body twist and flicks his elbow out against his teacher’s upper arm. All the force of the original blow seems to be transmitted to Jin’s arm, knocking it up and leaving the man defenceless.

He’s seen his teacher perform that same elbow strike before. He’s had to practice it a dozen times, but it never seems to compare to Jin’s. But this Is the first time he feels calling it Arang, the hungry wolf, and not a simple elbow strike is appropriate. 

Instinct guides his next strike. His left leg pivots on the spot and his right leg lashes out. He outstretches his right arm at the same time for balance and follows through with the strike that seems to move exponentially faster. The balls of his feet meet Jin’s face and the man rises in the air. Hwechook, he whispers in his mind.

And then his leg stops.

Izuku’s eyes widen as the man has his hand protecting his face, balancing perfectly on Izuku’s outstretched leg. He hadn’t even seen Jin move. 

Jin grins and seems to disappear. Izuku feels a hand on his shoulder and the next thing he knows he’s upright.

“Good job,” his teacher says and Izuku realises this is the first time he’s seen his teacher smile. “You learn important lesson. Not using this so much.” He pokes Izuku in the head. 

He frowns. “I thought I was supposed to think.”

“Not if you forget instincts.” He ruffles his hair. “There is balance. Thought and reaction two halves of same whole. Let your body move instead of thinking too long and wasting force to perform both Arang and Hwechook.”

Izuku tilts his head, confused. “Haven’t I been doing them before?”

Jin shakes his head. “Roundhouse kick, yes, Hwechook no. Elbow strike yes, Arang no. There is difference in execution. Nuance in intent. Your body understands a bit even if your brain is too stupid.”

“Okay…” he says uncertainly, stepping back a bit.

Jin ruffles his hair and it’s the most affectionate gesture he’s ever received from the man. He steps back, putting some distance between them. “The secrets of Renewal Taekwondo will reveal themselves to you. Practice. For now, I show you the secret of Hwechook.”

Something about his teacher changes. He’s seen the man serious in teaching him and even seen his wrath when All Might overexerted him and left him with a pulled muscle. His posture hasn’t shifted, and his smile is still as bright as ever.

And yet, something terrifying takes over the man. It is the simple knowledge that no matter what Izuku does, he can not win against him.

Run! Run! Run! The voice in his head screams and Izuku is inclined to agree, but he is rooted to the spot.

“This will not hurt,” his teacher says, the only reassurance Izuku has.

And then he’s right in front of Izuku, his leg raised in the Hwechook and barely an inch from Izuku’s face. He feels the displaced air from the blow.

The world shifts. He feels like time itself has stopped as another Jin Mo-Ri has appeared on his side, leg raised in the Hwechook as well. Izuku flinches back from the double vision. And then senses a third Jin behind him, leg raised in the Hwechook.

The force of the displaced wind hits him all at the same time and in opposing directions. It leaves him stunned and unable to do anything but collapse in shock. Strong arms catch him and Izuku looks to his teacher, unable to form words.

“That is third stance Hwechook,” he says softly. “Do you understand what I did?”

Izuku shakes his head. “Impossible. Y-y-you can’t-you were there and that’s not possible. No one can move that fast. There were three of you.”

Izuku knows what impossible looks like. Impossible is the dead giving birth to new life. Impossible is a songthatwilldevourallthatlives. Impossible is an eye larger than the world. Impossible is a flame that will burn away the universe and start it anew.

And yet, this mortal man makes Izuku understand a new type of impossibility.

“Anything is possible to Renewal Taekwondo if only once,” his teacher says firmly. “Do not let up your training. You might be able to win against high school bully now.”

*****

He messages Shinsou occasionally, but Izuku gets the sense that they’re both as stressed as each other, just in different ways. So, he doesn’t force himself to reply immediately when he’s in the middle of a practice test at home or on a five-mile run early in the morning. It is odd having a friend again. The last one had been Kaachan—

A death for a death, the voice yells suddenly

—and that had been years ago. He rubs away the blood leaking from his nose with a napkin, making sure to catch the small squishy mass that accompanies it. Throwing it away, he wonders if it’s a piece of his brain or just a bit of congealed blood. And decides it won’t matter.

They meet up one last time at Anteiku café. Mika sits in his lap as he talks quickly to Shinsou, filling in the silences the other boy is content to bask in. He wonders often if Shinsou is here because he likes Izuku or because he’s just as lonely. But sometimes, out of the corner of his eyes when Shinsou thinks he isn’t looking, he sees the boy stop frowning—it is a tiny thing, hardly noticeable, but it makes Izuku think that he’s still capable of doing good. 

That moment of joy follows him as he delves deeper into the abyss, deeper than he’s ever gone before. He walks across the unhallowed grave of a dead god, and when his concentration falters the massive corpse rises and he sees the final moments as it battled a dragon that breathed the godflame. He’s nearly incinerated in this moment of the past made present, but the shadows rise and he escapes by diving another level deeper. He’s seen what comes of dead gods fighting and the last time his mother found him on the floor bleeding from his eyes—and no words had been able to calm her, even when he stopped spouting a litany of the damned and could explain that he had no lasting damage.

He is captured by a group of what he calls Joro-Gumo, spider-like creatures with the head of a woman and oversized breasts, dripping putrid ichor instead of milk. They are absolutely disgusting and after the blood-spiders, Izuku has absolutely no sympathy for them, especially not after one cocoons him and nearly lays her eggs in his torso. He leaves her staked through the head and sets the nest on fire with a flare.

Anything even vaguely spider-like dies instantly the moment he senses them. He has no interest in playing games with such abominations.

He has a conversation with a primordial serpent, its head similar to a human's but not so similar he would ever mistake it for one. It, and a dozen others like it, watch over a world of darkness ruled by a shambling abomination of ashen embers and darkness. Izuku stays well away from that realm because he sees the ashen one fling lightning that shears off dragon scales, and though these are dragons of a different sort, he still respects their power.

The deeper he dives, the more time he has. He sleeps in relatively safe spots like the hollowed-out husk of a giant worm or on the back of a bird carrying a galaxy on each wing, each feather the history of a dead people. One day he reaches a depth so low that the song he always wants to forget is louder than his heartbeat. It makes him cough blood and he’s about to turn back when he is surrounded by dragons.

Their wings are blacker than the darkest night and they tower over him. He fights with the shadows to keep them smaller than a skyscraper and not the planet-sized monstrosities they really are. He waves at them and wonders just how fucked he is.

//Shadowshield, you will go no further. The [SINGERS/ENDBRINGERS/CALAMITY] must not be disturbed//

The voice isn’t anywhere as thunderous as he expects and maybe that’s because of the song making everything else seem less important. The idea that dragons which are worlds unto themselves, and breathe the infernal godflame, find the things hiding further in the abyss terrifying gives him cause not to ever go back there.

“Yeah, I got no plans to do so,” Izuku says and lets his earnestness be communicated through his shadow. “Wanna give me a ride home?”

//We are not toys, shadowking// one of them roars and the world is torn asunder. Izuku wreathes himself in shadow, anchors the reality he wills against the world exploding in agony.

You fucked up, the voice whispers, almost afraid to draw the attention of these leviathans.

“I never said you were,” Izuku counters once the world has been destroyed and all that is left is a barren moon. “I just asked politely. Let’s make a deal. If you give me a ride home, then I’ll let you kill me if I come anywhere near them.”

And that is how Izuku finds himself flying cradled in the surprisingly human hands of a dragon. Realms and worlds pass with each beat of its massive wings. Izuku doesn’t focus too much on the creatures lurking in the corners of space and the angles of time because those things might break his mind again. And he’s rather tired of that. He smiles uncertainly as another dragon, this one smaller than the one carrying him takes a seat beside him.

But he’s seen much, much worse than a baby dragon—baby only because it is as large as a building and not the universe of the one carrying them both—and pulls out a deck of cards from his pocket. The tricks he performs are simple and seem to entertain the hatchling for a moment that lasts an eternity before it flies away.

His life is madness incarnate. But there is a beauty to be found in odd places. There are flowers that shine with the first light of the universe, though the sight of them makes him build monuments in the night until his mother puts a stop to it and brings him back to the real. His eyes glow at night after that, almost like a cat. It isn’t the only change. His teeth are slightly sharper, not enough for anyone but his mother to notice, but sharp enough for him to bite through his lips—and sometimes there are crystals that spill out—more often. And his stomach seems to be endless. He’s thankful that though he can eat three or even four times as much, he does not need to.

It becomes easier to make shadow matter in the real world. It only takes him forty minutes to bring them forth until he has enough for a thin strand, but he can do it without spending too much concentration. He learns it is easier to let them pool in his shadow—and is thankful that they are as thinner than a Planck length unless he tells them otherwise—until he’s ready to use them. It lets him make thicker constructs by bidding his time. They aren't very useful, and their low density means they either shatter on impact or fade away on contact with the light. 

His mother listens politely as he explains all this. Then she asks if he isn’t simply procrastinating and that makes him flush. He goes upstairs and does the maths homework he’s been putting off for the last two days. When he starts seeing nightmares in the equations, he reaches into his shadow and pulls out a deck of cards. He plays a hand of blackjack against himself, so he can let the simplicity of card counting push back the encroaching nightmares.

He’s tired one day, dead on his feet and almost too lazy to get to his bedroom. He flicks on the dim hallway light, and the contrast makes all the shadows long. All he wants, with every fibre of his being, is to pass out and never wake up again. He sinks and yelps, wide awake as his shadow drags him down. He lands in the twisted reflection of his room and stares at it.

“Are you being serious?” he asks, looking at the torn All Might poster. “I just had to fucking want to get here. You idiot.”

Yes, you are, the voice snarls venomously.

“And you need to shut up,” Izuku says and strides to his door, opening it. He walks out onto the hard floor. Looking around, he finds himself in the corner the stairs make with the second floor where the shadows are deepest. He's too tired to give it any more thought until the next morning.

He only manages to get back to the abyss under his own power—and not through death—once more before it’s the morning of the exam.

They meet at the beach, All Might looking skinny in his baggy clothes eight sizes too big.

Izuku smiles shyly, waving. All Might smiles back, but it isn’t anywhere near as large as usual.

“Morning, Young Midoriya,” he says and sits in the sand.

He gestures for Izuku to do the same. It might be out of the norm but Izuku lowers himself, hoping that he won’t find sand chaffing his ass later tonight. Leggings are useful in that regard, but they aren’t infallible.

“You’ve progressed well,” All Might says, making Izuku smile brighter. “You have a long way to go before you will be able to fully utilise One For All but I believe the sheer force of it will not break all of your limbs. But there are a few things that I must address.”

Izuku frowns. Warily, he asks, “Like what?”

“Like the scar on your forearm.” Izuku looks down and sees it still hidden. “At first I believed you wore the long-sleeved shirt because of the sand until I saw it one day. I wouldn’t have pried if I could say with certainty that it had occurred before I met you. And whilst Jin Mo-Ri has said you are fine, he is not the one who might lose a successor.”

Izuku stares at All Might whose eyes shine brightly. His heart seems to want to escape his chest. His hands are shaking, he notices distantly because this was never supposed to happen. All Might was never supposed to know about any of this.

“I ask that you be honest with me,” his hero says, gently now.

He will not accept a monster, the voice in his head says and Izuku can’t help but agree.

That makes him wonder just how long until he’s locked in a lab deep underground and experimented on. There are nonsensical and ridiculous quirks which break every law of physics, yes, but none of them compares to resurrection. How long till they cut open his chest to see what makes him what he is: a monster only sometimes human. And if not some shady government organisation, then a villain somewhere with even fewer scruples. 

His eyes water as his world comes crashing down in neither a bang nor a whimper. Just the sudden realisation that he will never become a hero. Can never become one.

“Izuku, my boy,” his hero says kindly, “whatever it is, we can work through it.”

He lies. There can be no hope for little, broken things.

“How can you say that?” he snaps, maybe at his hero and maybe at the voice because he isn’t broken. “You don’t know. How can you know? You can’t just make this better with a few words. Nothing can.”

All Might only smiles brighter. “Depression can be treated, my boy, and I have faith in you.”

He pauses, staring at All Might in shock. Then he chuckles. “Is that what you think this is? I don’t have depression.”

“It isn’t anything—”

“I don’t have depression,” he snarls and maybe this is a mistake but Izuku is so tired of lying and keeping secrets that he summons a tendril of shadow to his hand. “I have a Quirk.”

All Might’s eyes are wide in shock and maybe a hint of betrayal. “But how?”

Izuku chuckles bitterly. “Trauma brings out hidden quirks.” He forms a thin rod with the shadow and taps it against the streak of white hair. “This.”

All Might swallows, uncertain for the first time Izuku has known the man. “Then why didn’t you tell me, my boy. I would not have cast you out for it.”

Izuku wipes away tears even as new ones fall. “How do you tell anyone?” He’s standing now, pacing off the nervous energy.

“Like you are now.”

“So, you expected me to just tell you I don’t die?” he asks, petulantly.

You fucking idiot.

That makes him realise what he’s just said.

“Young Midoriya, forgive me but I may have misheard you.”

Something tells Izuku that he didn’t. He laughs once more. And then he pulls up his left sleeve. “I s-slit my wrist five months ago. I bled out, alone and terrified. Maybe I was mad but… maybe an ending would have been better. He looks up to the rising sun. It is dawn when the shadows are long, and his powers feel strongest. “And I did because a fridge fell on me and crushed me. Right there. I died right there.”

He points at the spot and though the beach might be clear of trash he can never forget the place he died a second time. It hurts to see the horror in All Might’s eyes but somehow, he feels better. Maybe telling the truth is liberating or maybe Izuku is simply a horrible person taking pleasure in pain. 

“The first time it happened I… I-I cracked my skull on a pole. Yeah, that pole I told you about." He turns because it's getting harder to see his hero stare at him like that. “I’ve died a lot. More than anyone should.”

“Young Midoriya, do you expect me to believe you come back from the dead?”

Izuku takes a deep, shuddering breath. He still has the shadow rod in his hand. With a simple thought, it sharpens. "See for yourself."

There are four large arteries in the neck, two in the front that he can easily reach, and with the sharpness of the blade, he might reach those in the back. Either way, the damage will be great enough that he’ll bleed out quickly.

He thrusts with the needle and feels it prick his skin, sliding beneath the topmost layer of skin. And then it stops.

A large hand grips his wrist and Izuku sees All Might the hero, larger and grander than all the rest. He isn’t smiling any longer.

“That was reckless,” he says gravely.

Izuku sniffles. Half-blind from the tears. “Would you have believed me without proof?  He asks shakily.

“Yes,” his hero says and that makes Izuku stumble back. All Might lets him and he falls to the ground. “You are many things, Izuku, but a liar is not one of them. At least, you have never lied to me.”

“I’m a monster,” he whispers.

“Are you a monster for fearing rejection?” All Might asks simply. "Are you a monster because you want to be a hero? You hid the truth from me but there are many things I have yet to tell you. Perhaps I am at fault for never having given you a reason to trust me."

“N-n no, that’s not—”

“It is. You are young and fallible. Scared and rightfully so. Jin often accuses me of being a bad teacher. I see now he is right now.”

Izuku kneels, bringing his head to the sand. “I’m sorry. You’re the best teacher I could ask for,” he says and waits.

*****

Toshinori Yagi has seen much in his life, short as it might wind up being. He’s fought villains and reformed vigilantes. He watched his mentor fall in battle and has worried that he will never find a successor worthy of this mantle. Yes, Mirio Togata had all the makings of a great hero and his innate impermeability quirk would truly have made One for All invincible.

But this quiet boy prostate on the ground in forgiveness has something no one else possesses. Izuku Midoriya, who mumbled too much and questioned everything, who read the philosophies of many great heroes and who tried so hard to be worthy of Toshinori, is worthy for one aspect above all. It isn’t his kindness for many had that, nor is it his determination and hard work as Mirio outstripped Izuku in that regard, or even the bond they once shared by both being quirkless. No, what Yagi sees in Izuku is such unbridled optimism in humanity that even now he is stunned by it.

And now, to know that the boy he was training, has another quirk. One that brought him back from the dead, and that breaks Yagi’s heart because it meant that somewhere, somehow, he had faltered, and only by grace does he still have a successor. The gut-wrenching fear of seeing the boy make a shadow blade and nearly plunge it in his jugular vein has yet to fade, and only the steel nerves of facing death multiple times stop him from shaking. It is either madness or complete surety, and nothing Izuku had done made him think the boy could be mad—yes, some days his eyes were blank and terrified and pleading for help but a kind word from Yagi, or Jin Mo-Ri, always seemed to banish that darkness, and on days where Yagi wondered if his efforts truly made a difference, Izuku was there with a smile that seemed to burn as the sun.  

Toshinori believes the boy when he says he has a quirk that defied logic because he has come to trust Izuku, come to accept him as a confidant with each time he sees Izuku check the perimeter before he changes forms. One day, once Izuku is ready and his self-esteem is much greater, Yagi will tell him everything from Nana to All For One but he is not ready to place such a burden on the boy. He hopes that he can face the great enemy before Izuku must, and he will gladly fall in battle to ensure it if it comes to that, but if Izuku will be the one to face him then Yagi will see him ready.

And knowing that he can never truly die, that every subsequent holder of One For All will wield the same power, alleviates many of his worries. This will not be the first time another power has been added to; Nana’s quirk added a measure of durability, and the third-wielder added the enhanced perception that allows Yagi to see his blows even when they move faster than sound.

This boy who so feared Yagi’s disdain, and perhaps Izuku fears his indifference more, may very well be the greatest holder of One For All simply because he can never fall in battle. And if he can win against age, then there will always be a symbol of peace protecting the world.

With this power, the power to turn back the ultimate expression of human frailness, to wield shadows as a tool, Izuku might very well become one of the great heroes of history, and eclipse the likes of Hero and Hawkmoon whose shoes Yagi struggles to fill every day, and whose triumphs still shake the world.

Yagi kneels and lays hands on the shoulders of his successor. Forces the boy to meet his eyes. Grins at him.

“Rise, Young Midoriya,” he says and helps Izuku up even as the boy cries, “and hold your head up high. A hero must always be a shining light in the dark and you, my boy, shine brighter than any other. So, clench your buttocks and feel the determination in your chest, and scream with all your might.”

Izuku wipes his eyes dry, sniffling. “You mean…”

Yagi nods and lets One For All fill his body. “I could have no greater successor, Izuku Midoriya. Laugh for you are here and take my power and become a hero greater than any other.”

A shaky chuckle escapes the boy’s lips. It isn’t much compared to All Might but it is enough. “How?” he asks.

All Might plucks a strand of golden hair. “Eat this.”

Izuku’s expression shatters. “What!?”

*****

He stares at All Might, shaken and feeling whiplash from all the emotions. He holds a single strand of golden hair as though it holds all the answers in the world.

“Huh?” he asks because this isn’t meant to happen in the real world.

All Might almost flushes and scratches the back of his head. “It doesn’t matter what it is so long as you take in my DNA.”

Izuku blinks at the man. Decides he’s eaten things much worse in the darkness. Takes the hair. “Okay,” he says and swallows it.

“Good. It will take a few hours, but you should have just enough time before the exam. But your quirk needs a name.” Izuku frowns. “To keep All For One a secret, I originally had it called ‘Super Power’.”

He tilts his head. Then laughs at the absurdity of it. “That is a horrible name.”

“You think of something better?”

“I-I don’t have to.”

All Might sighs. “But it still needs a new name. Something you can own and say proudly.”

He frowns, never having given it any thought. He’s not calling it ‘the abyss’ because he has no intention of letting anyone know about that and anything relating to resurrection is a no go.

You are the Shadowshield, the voice whispers.

He blanks out for a second, static filling his mind. It vanishes, and he sees All Might grinning.

“Yes, that is a heroic name.” All Might nods. “Shadowshield. I believe it suits you.”

That is the last thing All Might says before leaving.

What did you do? He asks the voice. It doesn’t respond. Izuku sighs, looking at his watch. He has ninety minutes before he needs to leave for the train station. Not much time. At least, not in the real world.

It has become easier to navigate the Abyss. Something about his strength with shadows lets him set a reality that won’t tear his mind asunder. It has the benefit of distances becoming much shorter. He has seen entire worlds pass in the background during a short stroll. But there are places that are stable often. The beached whales, despite his general distaste—and he’s come to learn that he pities their history more than anything—of them have carved a bubble that lets them continue their half-life. The eye larger than continents is always there. But the safest place he’s come to trust is the forest of floating trees.

Their threadlike guardians watch him, occasionally some speak to him, but they are generally content to ignore his presence. Even when he is in the grove of ancient trees, so long as he doesn’t approach the godflame. He sits in kiza position, not and never seiza because Jin had shown him just how slow it was to get into a ready position from that. It had taken Izuku a few weeks to resting all his weight on the balls of his feet, but he can do it comfortably now.

The trees observe him momentarily before returning to their eternal vigil. He exhales deeply, unaware of how nervous he was. Then focuses on his body. One For All is somewhere in his body and here, where a large portion of his innate quirk is expressed outwardly, it should be easier to feel a foreign power.

Falling in a meditative trance is difficult as he can rarely do it in the real since it gave the nightmares hiding in the back of his mind a gateway to the forefront but doing so in the abyss gave them nowhere of interest to go. And the one time a parasite that followed him from a dying world sought to escape and use him as a conduit to his world, the tree guardians had torn it apart.

The hour's pass.

Izuku feels something like lightning slowly permeate his body. He lets it progress from his stomach and to his bloodstream, touching his muscles and lungs and bones. It tingles when it reaches his spine and seems to take forever at the base before it travels up his brain stem. Finally, it stops at his eyes.

Izuku opens them and finds his body glowing with power. Not much, but enough that he lets it go peacefully. His eyes snap to the sky as a streak of green lightning illuminates the world.

“What?” he asks as the world falls dark again.

He looks to the trees. Finds them deep in conversation. And yet, not even one cares for him. Or the lightning. He shrugs. It might just be a normal thing then.

*****

From the kingdom does the tribute and bounty flow to the monarch. That is the order. The weak will serve the strong. This law is primordial and immutable. All follow it, from the worm gods of the Fundament and the spires singing of the final dawn at the beginning of time to the slave king in hiding.

And yet, you subvert this law. You allow your power to become one with the dark below. What now will the future long past hold from your actions? Regardless, do as you please, young king. It is by your sacrifice that we live and by the tribute of your kingdom that you will outlive all. All actions are possible for you if only once. 

The abyss is your home, Izuku Midoriya. We have waited for eons in ignorance for you. We can wait years yet.

*****

He boards the train, headphones cranked to full to drown out the sounds of everything screaming in his mind. It only gives him a worse headache. Thankfully, he has come to learn how to function with them. Even if this one feels worse than usual. It might have something to do with how the shadows he feels become more acute or blurrier with neither rhyme nor reason. Or how he can feel much further or suddenly a few feet away or nothing at all.

The bright sunlight makes it worse. It might not be noon but when he can feel shadows they are weakened in the light. So, he doesn’t sense him before he speaks.

“Deku,” Kaachan shouts though that says little about his mood, and Izuku turns nervously. “Stay the fuck out of my way.”

Deku steps back, waving his hands erratically. “M-morning—”

“Shut the fuck up,” Kaachan snarls and reaches into his pocket. He throws something that Deku barely manages to catch. “And stop looking like a stupid fuck.”

Kaachan walks past him before he recovers. He stares bewildered at the pocket tissues now in his hand until a drop of blood lands on it. He frowns and takes a tissue out, placing it on his bleeding nose. He tilts his head back and watches Kaachan stalk away.

Why is he being so nice? He wonders because Kaachan’s hardly so much as laid eyes on him for the last few months.

A secret, the voice says, almost tiredly. And I won’t tell you because you’ll just lock me up again with the fire.

“Then stop being a nuisance,” he says and turns.

He stumbles over his own foot. Izuku curses and uses his rotational momentum to pirouette tightly on the spot, extending one leg and catching himself in a crouch. He winces, his ankle twinging painfully.

“Hey, are you okay?” a bright voice asks. “That was really cool the way you caught yourself.”

Izuku turns, thankful for his training with Jin because at least he has enough balance to catch himself if he falls. The girl who said it is rather plain looking but for the brown hair Izuku swears is more orange than brown, and the kindest expression he’s ever seen from another person.

“Um, okay?” he says, unsure of how to accept the compliment.

She smiles and Izuku wonders how there can be two suns in the real world. “It would have been bad luck to fall before the exam. Good luck.”

She’s off before Izuku can say anything else. He mumbles, “Good luck,” lamely at her as she skips—no, she’s just walking but Izuku didn’t know steps could be happy—away.

He shakes his head, still confused. First Kaachan and now this girl.

I like her, the voice says. She looks tasty.

Izuku rolls his eyes. "And you say you don't like fire." And just like that, the voice is screaming in agony as Izuku walks up the stairs.

He checks for Shinsou. Frowns when he can’t find him since they agreed to meet up. Then checks his phone. There’s a series of messages and he can’t help but smile.

 

[0903] Shinsou: Sorry, running late.

[0905] Shinsou: Sick cat puked on my uniform.

[0915] Shinsou: Missed my train. Gonna be late. Don’t wait up on me.

 

Izuku sends off a quick picture of him smiling at the entrance before putting his phone away. It takes him a moment to adjust to the darkness and a moment longer to realise they're grouped by school: there's a boy with shockingly red hair talking with a horned girl with purple skin, and the two seem to be laughing with the ease of old friends. 

Kaachan doesn’t look at Izuku, doesn't speak except when he's mumbling loud enough that it becomes a distraction. It is nowhere near as embarrassing as an immaculate boy chews him out and everyone stares at him. He sinks deeper into his seat as the spotlight lands on him.

“Fucking side characters,” Kaachan growls loud enough that the people around him turn away.

Deku glances at him as Present Mic resumes with his explanation. His once friend’s—I remember what he did—eyes smoulder. Deku looks away quickly and focuses on the various robot silhouettes on the screen.

He still has them on his mind when they’re assembled before a massive door. And Izuku’s coming to realise that UA has a flair for the dramatic even if it is tempered with modernity and pragmatism unlike the excesses of the past.

He dabs at the blood leaking from his nose as his headache gets worse. The brightness and the way his erratic senses play havoc with his concentration mean that he misses it when the exam starts and must play catch-up. Sometimes shadows appear in his senses and it costs him precious seconds each time to turn and find that no, that’s just the seventh building he’s been distracted by. 

And when he does find a robot he is too slow to even get ready before someone else destroys it. His hands shake as time runs out and he doesn't have a single point to his name. His frustration gets bad enough that he smiles at a blonde boy who fires lasers and from the way the boy flees Izuku probably let a bit of the madness shine through for a moment.

Izuku wants to run and hide. He’s become good at it over the last few months. He’s seen nightmares and monster and creatures a step away from being a god. And none of them compares to the shame of not being able to do anything.

His quirk, his real quirk, is useless here even if it wasn’t fighting him. It will take too long to draw a tendril of shadow in the best case and even then, it will very likely be too weak to pierce the robots. So, he runs even as the others rained down destruction; hsarp winds and lightning and explosions filling the world.

The world seems to rock and shake. A shadow of gargantuan proportions covers the street and the surrounding building before it appears. It towers over the buildings, menacing and utterly overwhelming. Those other robots that he had sought to flee from are nothing compared to this god of steel. 

He stumbles and falls face first, frozen in shock. Not because this is the largest creature he’s ever seen but because it’s the first time he’s seen something of such absolute physicality that doesn’t break his mind. Others run by him, shaking Izuku out of his reverie. He rises to his feet, ready to run when he hears someone grunt in pain. 

He looks to the side and sees a girl trapped beneath the rubble. His mind freezes. He can’t pull her out. He doesn’t have the strength to do so and the metal deity is approaching, ponderously slow. He knows that he lacks the strength to fight it. Even the others who fought so easily are fleeing. What can Izuku do in the face of a behemoth?

But he can’t leave her.

Izuku curses and stands. She meets his eyes and Izuku simply grins at her, brilliant and undoubtedly bloody from his nose.

“Hey, again," he says, walking towards this machine god. He stares at its descending arm, inevitable as a landslide. It could kill easily and cause so much destruction. And yet, Izuku finds it wanting.

Pathetic, the voice in his head says and Izuku agrees for once.

*****

Uraraka stares at the robot in horror and struggles to fight free of the rock trapping her leg. She hates this, hates being weak when she was doing well. Twenty-eight points probably weren't anywhere near as much as the guy leaving a good chunk of the exam area frozen, but it could have been enough. 

And now she’s trapped and helpless. She gasps when she twists something wrong, unshed tears burning her eyes. She raises her head and sees someone. It’s the boy with the streak of white hair, the boy who stopped himself falling with grace, the boy whom she hadn’t seen fight a single robot. He’s on the ground, looking as terrified as she felt.

And then he changes. It's not a mutation or a quirk at all, but something about him completely shifts. He stands, all the fear gone and bares his teeth in what might generously be called a smile—it’s too sharp and haunting and vicious and bloody. And yet, it calms her. 

“Hey, again," he says to her calmly. His fingers splay out and clench over and over again as he walks, no, as he stalks towards the zero-pointer. The awkward boy she remembers nearly tripping now has the gait of a predator hunting prey at night.

He looks up to it and sighs, disgusted. She wonders how he can have so much contempt for something even the tyrant Titan would have praised.

For a fraction of a second that seems to stretch forever, green sparks dance across his body, his body glowing and his shadow darkening. And then he moves. She can barely track his trajectory as he leaps from the ground and rises above the robot. He twists in the air and brings his leg down.

Uraraka might not be well versed in combat techniques but she recognises an axe kick when she sees it. She watches, amazed, as the force of his blow destroys the robot’s head as though it were nothing more than an irritant.

“Huh,” she says, dumbly. Because anyone with a quirk that strong should have been leading the pack. 

Explosions wrack the robot, chunks of its armour crumbling and some sent flying away. She looks on in horror as a piece of metal strikes the boy head on. His body goes limp in the air, and the power that seemed to surround him disappears. 

He’s far from her, knocked off course by that piece of metal. She grimaces, knowing what she has to do and hating it all the while. But she knows that the pain in the moment will be nothing compared to the pain of regret if she does nothing.

She moves quickly for she has little time. She taps the rubble, lightening it almost to nothing and shoves with all her strength. It goes flying and hits a building. She doesn’t care that the building groans ponderously or that it creaks threateningly. Instead, Ochaco uses her power internally.

Nausea comes immediately but she shoves it to the side. She wants to be a hero and not being able to save the boy—especially when she has the power to do so—would, in her opinion, make her just shy of a villain.

Her leg hurts, and something might be broken. Ochaco ignores it, crouches, and with one deep breath, she launches herself in the air. Nausea makes the world spins but despite, Ochaco sees she'll overshoot the boy. Fine. She cancels her power and gravity once again takes hold of her.  

She reaches out and grabs the boy’s arm, lightening him with hardly a thought. It takes all she has to focus on their fall. She uses her other arm and wraps both arms around him, twisting so that it is her back that will hit the ground first if she fucks up.

Her breathing comes quick and short as the ground comes closer and closer. At the last moment, she applies her quirk on herself. Instantly her momentum is arrested. Nausea comes back with a vengeance. Gently, she shoves the boy to one side and leans to the other. She doesn't fight it this time as her stomach rebels. She's only thankful she manages to aim the vomit away from her body.

“Times up!” Present Mic screams.

Ochaco sighs and looks to the unconscious boy. He legs are bent at odd angles. She winces, amazed that he remained awake through that and only an errant piece of metal took him out. For someone with such a strong quirk, she wonders how he could have been so skittish and afraid for all that the fear disappeared for a second. 

And she feels pity that no matter his strength, he hadn’t won any points.

“No,” she whispers because no one that brave deserved to be denied entrance to UA.

So, when the short old lady that heals the boy, and insults him for being so reckless, gives Ochaco the all clear she runs to Present Mic. It doesn’t matter that the man might not be dispensing points. She’s not going to let the boy fail. No matter the cost.

She argues herself hoarse with Present Mic, and then the principal—who almost terrifies her to silence until she remembers that bloody grin—who concedes defeat and calls All Might. The presence of the greatest hero of her time quells the fire and passion she has.

“I am here,” All Might says. “Young Uraraka I take it. I understand and sympathise with your conviction, but I give you my word that UA considers all factors when evaluating a student. This is a campus for heroics and heroic actions are not ignored.”

That is enough for her.

*****

Izuku sits in the lounge three days after the entrance exam, listless in a way he hasn’t felt in a long time. Even the voices in his head are silent. Nothing seems to matter now that he’s failed. He can’t contact All Might and Jin Mo-Ri seems to have vanished into the ether though he did send a curt ‘Busy’ this morning as a reply.

He reaches for the barbell on the floor.

“No more,” his mother says a moment before the barbell flies away. He looks back and sees the barbell land on the floor next to his mother.

“You are not going to waste away,” she says sternly.

Izuku sighs. “Kaa-san, I failed. It’s over.”

“You think a single arbitrary exam is the end of your life? It happened. Get over it.”

"I can't," he shouts and wipes away the tears.

She looks unimpressed. “Izuku, I’ve seen you break enough times over the last few months and helped you pick up the pieces. You’ve had a setback and it hurts, believe me I know. But are you telling me you can’t do any good if you don’t go to that school?”

He sniffles. “It was my dream.”

She smiles gently. “Your dream was to be a hero. UA was just one path. It isn’t the only one.”

He offers her a shaky smile, but it comes out more of a grimace. “It still hurts.”

“I never said it shouldn’t. And it will hurt for a long time. Didn’t Ando say, ‘so long as you have the will any place can be paradise.’”

He stares at her. Then laughs. “Hawkmoon said that. But you’re right.” He stands and walks to her, hugging her tightly. He lets go and nods at the barbell. “When did you get so strong?”

“When you needed me to be strong.” She pats his head. “You’re my son.”

And she does look strong. Enough of the fat is gone that she looks younger. There’s a strength to her that isn’t simply physical and Izuku wonders if its something all mothers share. She ruffles his hair and plucks out a white strand.

“You lived through that. You can live through this.”

It isn’t easy, but he does move on even if he only takes one step forward. He leaves the safety of his home and delves into the abyss, searching for secrets—no matter how far and wide he searches, he can find no indication of the flame’s heart—and more often running away from the creatures there. He doesn’t use One For All, too afraid of leaving his limbs twisted in this place. But even that seems like running, so he calls Shinsou and they meet at the café.

The boy looks tired and just as uncertain as Izuku.

“H-hey,” Izuku greets. “Haven’t seen you in a while.”

Shinsou sips his coffee. “Well, I needed time to think about… everything, I guess.”

Izuku nods. “I’m pretty sure I failed. I couldn’t get any points.”

“Me too,” Shinsou says bitterly. “Punching giant robots isn’t all there is to being a hero.”

“No, it isn’t. I guess it's not fair to people with quirks suited to rescue operations. Or even support roles." He strokes a cat that isn't Mika. It helps steel him to ask, finally, “What is your quirk?”

Shinsou frowns. He takes a deep breath and sighs. "You might as well know. It's called Brainwash. I can take control of people if they respond to me."

Izuku raises a brow. “That sounds like a super useful quirk,” he admits.

“What?” Shinsou asks, voice wavering.

“Yeah. You could probably deal with a lot of hostage situations like that.” He looks out the window. “A few months ago, there was this… sludge villain and he was really hard to fight. Kamui Woods and Mt. Lady were useless, and my friend nearly died. I think you could have dealt with that better even than All Might.”

Shinsou stays silent and Izuku watches cars drive past the window. He hears a sniffle and turns to see Shinsou crying.

“Whoa, what did I say?” he asks quickly. “I’m sorry-I didn’t mean to-I-I don’t even know—”

Shinsou raises a hand and wipes the tears from his face. He smiles for the first time since Izuku met him. “Thank you. Just thank you.”

Izuku smiles uncertainly. “I’m confused.”

“That’s because you’re an idiot.” There’s no malice in his voice. And even then, Shinsou is looking at him like Izuku hung the moon and stars for the boy.

It leaves him off balance long after they part. The warmth in his chest is odd but not unpleasant. It follows him and brightens with each message Shinsou sends. When he’s stuck in a patch of frozen time, the memory of that smile makes it easier for Izuku to power through that predicament. The trees don’t understand why his mood has changed so much and they ask if he needs healing—though the word is more like reverse entropy—which makes him grin all the more.

He’s almost at peace with his failure when the letter from UA comes. He opens it with his mother. She holds him tight as All Might explains the rescue points and shows him the video of the girl arguing so strongly for him. He cries as he sees all sixty-five points.

The points are enough to take him all the way to fifth place. And the girl, Uraraka, has her name in second.

He jumps and pumps his fist in the air. And laughs when his mother catches him with her quirk before he can bash his head against the floor. Izuku smiles long into the night. When Shinsou messages him that he passed, Izuku worries that his grin will break his face.

He sleeps undisturbed for the first time in a long while.

Chapter Text

‘Pain brings clarity. Clarity brings focus. Focus brings opportunity. Take every injury as a reminder that you are alive. So long as you live, victory is a possibility. Do not squander that opportunity.'

—Excerpt from the recovered 'Tenets of Combat' likely authored by an underground hero or vigilante.

Katsuki Bakugou is angry.

Everything he feels is one form of anger or another. Mild annoyance is his default but that flares up easily to rage at the slightest provocation. And he doesn’t care what his mother says about his attitude. The hypocrite. She was just as angry and violent as he was. He learnt how to take his first punch from her. 

But there are few things that make him want to burn the world to ash. He’s beaten the shit out of kids double his size any time they said he’d never be a hero and done the same to anyone who messed with his friend as a kid—not the spineless lackeys who trail along but that fucking asshole who wouldn’t stop trying to be better.

When he receives the letter from UA he’s not worried. He knows for a fact that he’s passed. It isn’t arrogance when he sees his name in first place but the way of the world. The useless side characters hadn’t done much to be of any use. He’s very much ready to see Deku’s name in last place.

Except it isn’t.

Fifth place, he thinks a second before his pleasant displeasure—something only he could feel—turned to absolute hate. He wanted to fight and to lash out at everything and everyone.

The rage follows him to school. They congratulate him, as is natural, and he takes his place as king. But they fucking have the audacity to so much as offer Deku a kind word and he very nearly breaks his desk in rage. But the explosion makes them shut up and Deku is too scared to look him in the face.

This will be the last day of middle school before they all travel their separate way. The side characters will go on to mediocre schools and live mediocre lives. But he's destined for glory.

Until the principal calls their ‘proud graduates to UA’ to his office at the end of the day. He wants to slam Deku in the wall just to see him cry. But not in the middle of the hallway where anyone could report it with impunity and fuck up his chances at the last moment.

He stands to Deku’s left, a smouldering pile of rage made manifest, as the principal drones on about how proud and delighted he is that two of their students will go to UA.

“I’m especially proud of you, Midoriya. Your success was a delightful”—Don’t destroy his desk, don’t destroy his desk—"surprise. I believe your determination will ennoble future students who believe their goal is out of reach.”

Bakugou takes a deep breath as Deku stammer, “T-t-thank you, sir.”

“And you, Bakugou. No one doubted your success, but first place truly is an achievement.” Bakugou rolls his eyes. “Now, should either of you require advice or even help, do not hesitate to contact me.”

Fucking worm, Bakugou thinks as they’re allowed to go. He keeps close to Deku, taking pleasure in the way he shakes. Good. He should remember who was the king and who was a fucking hallway servant.

The moment they’re out of sight he spins Deku around and slams him into the wall. Bakugou can see the tears in his eyes already. Pathetic.

“I fucking warned you to stay out of my way,” he roars and watches Deku flinch. “I should beat the shit out of you for ruining my dream.”

The bastard has the audacity to chuckle. “I-i-I thought your dream was to be a hero. You’re still going to UA.”

It takes all he has not to smash Deku’s head in the wall. “I was supposed to be the only one from this school.”

“Who c-cares? No one’s gonna remember where you came from.” Deku shakes his head. “I’m going to be a hero.”

The violent rage eases up slightly. Bakugou’s palms are sweaty, knees weak from restraining himself, and arms heavy from holding Deku up. He wants to blow the little shit up.

But he sees the streak of white hair.

He lets go of Deku, surprised when he stays standing. Deku’s shorter than him always has and always will be. Deku grins at him despite the tears. It looks like a grimace, too many teeth to be anything happy.

When did his teeth get so sharp? Bakugou wonders, stepping back because the longer he stares the more teeth he sees, and they seem never-ending and ready to consume everything.

“I’m going to be a hero,” Izuku says unwavering, changing completely yet not changing at all.

His eyes are shining, Kacchan thinks errantly. He meets those eyes and regrets it immediately. There’s something terrifying lurking in those eyes, something vaster than worlds and yet so finitely small. An echo of nightmares watches him through those eyes. And he knows his mind would break under the shear strange weight of seeing it in full.

“I know everything about you,” this thing that wears Izuku’s skin says. “And I know you can never be a hero. Do you remember what you did? I do.”

He takes another step back. Looks to the white hair again. Remembers being terrified of what he might have done that day months ago and running, dreading what might be, until Izuku returned to class terrified, almost broken, and scared, but most of all alive. Maybe that was why he had left Izuku alone and not because the boy had saved him from the sludge villain.

Izuku walks past Kaachan who stands there numb. He glances back, not surprised that Izuku’s back is tall or that the setting sun frames him. His shadow is long and somehow darker than night. For a moment where the world seems to waver, Izuku’s shadow reminds him of a monster with too many eyes and teeth that shreds through all that is warm in the world, arms of twisted crystal and infernal engines powering it.

The moment disappears and Kacchan falls to the ground, landing on his knees. He breathes deeply, trying to forget whatever he just saw. Because no matter how terrifying Izuku is, he only became so after that day—stop fucking thinking about it--and knowing that is more than Kacchan can deal with.

He picks himself up long after Izuku is gone. Dusts his clothes off. Walks home and chooses to forget.

Katsuki Bakugou is angry.

*****

Izuku is surprised that Katsuki doesn’t antagonise him after school. He remembers the anger his oldest friend had during the meeting and is completely shocked that he walks home without so much as an angry word.

Maybe he’s not mad at me? Izuku wonders.

The voice in his head giggles. Two can keep a secret if one is killed, it says then laughs again. Do you want the secret, little killer?

Izuku frowns. “I don’t have any secrets.”

The voice quiets. And then the laughter returns full force, loud and grating enough that he’s shocked his ears aren’t bleeding.

A lie is a lie is a lie, the voice whispers. An easy secret. Did you tell my mother about All Might?

Izuku frowns. “She’s my mother.” Then tries recalling their conversations. And he can’t remember a single mention of All Might. “Fine. I forgot.”

Another secret. The dark is generous and full of truth. Its love will set the stars alight. You are not the dark. You are the dark below.

Izuku winces, pain lancing through his skull, and grits his teeth. “Shut up,” he snarls. “Just shut up.”

A hard secret. The first time you died you were kill—

“Shut up,” Izuku roars, falling to his knees and clutching his head. “Shut up and don’t say another word.”

The voice somehow smiles sadly. I will keep the secrets that will break you. I will remember what you will not. It falls silent. Izuku feels its presence disappear.

There is blood in his mouth--he’s bitten through his tongue—and Izuku spits it out and watches carefully. When he is certain it won’t grow legs and lead an army of spiders to kill him, Izuku walks away.

He spends the next few days lazing about in the real world. He trains and meets All Might once more. His mentor explains why he was silent to which Izuku thanks him for not interfering. Knowing that he earned his place, and was not assisted through backroom deals, is worth all the pain of the last few months.

Shinsou messages him frequently. They both think the exam is unfair as despite his powerful quirk—Izuku doesn’t understand why Shinsou stares at him like he’s an angel—and exceptionally high grades, Shinsou just doesn’t have the abilities to destroy a robot. But he can become stronger and Izuku sincerely believes that.

“There’s no reason you should just stay in the background,” Izuku says one day whilst they’re walking to the train station after a day of shopping. He’s glad he wrote a list of everything they needed because Shinsou is hopeless at shopping and hates malls. It had taken the better part of the train ride there to convince not Shinsou to bolt immediately. And lunch had been fun as Shinsou at like a child, leaving a mess everywhere and getting covered in icing sugar from his crepe.

“Well not everyone has a combat quirk, Mr I kick robots to death.” The words are said in jest and it causes Izuku to flush.

“I broke both my legs.”

Shinsou rolls his perpetually tired eyes and finds a spot of icing sugar still clinging to his jacket. He rubs at it furiously, which Izuku knows will only make it worse.

“Do you seriously not know how to use your quirk? And what is your quirk, anyway. I thought it was an emitter type with all the shadows, but the kick doesn’t make sense.”

Izuku laughs nervously. “I’m still figuring everything out.” He points at his white hair, oddly used to it by now. “Hidden quirk.”

Shinsou stares at him for a long moment. “Fine. You’ll tell me when you’re ready.”

They walk in silence, taking in the city. Musutafu is a perfectly fine city but one that Izuku feels he’s explored to death searching out hero fights, stalking agencies for chances to talk to the pros, and just spending time with his mother. There isn’t anything that could shock him at this point.

They pass by a dojo. Izuku looks through the glass, seeing students in white keikogi taking up their stances before a teacher. He thinks he might recognise a student or two from the entrance exam, but he can’t be certain.

But he does recognise the man in the back and that stops him dead in his tracks.

“Midoriya,” Shinsou says. Izuku looks up. “You alright?”

He nods slowly. “Um, y-yeah. We just need to go in here right now.”

Shinsou frowns. Then shrugs. “Fine.”

He’s in the dojo quickly. There’s a counter which Izuku walks towards, hearing Shinsou huff as he trots to keep up.

Izuku smiles at the blonde teenager manning the counter. He wears the same white keikogi as the rest of the students, but he does have a black belt with one gold mark on one side and a blue notch next to it. None of that is anywhere near as interesting as the massive tail behind him.

“Hello,” the blonde boy says. “Are you looking to sign up?” He glances first at Izuku then at Shinsou as he comes to stands beside Izuku.

“I-i-I just wanted to meet-talk to that guy over there.” He points at Jin Mo-Ri who still hasn’t noticed him.

The boy frowns. “He’s busy at the moment.”

“Please. I just haven’t seen him in a while.”

“You know him?”

“I don’t think he’d be acting like this if he didn’t?” Shinsou says. “Even an idiot could have guessed that.”

“There’s no reason to be rude,” the blonde boy says.

“Just go—”

Izuku cuts Shinsou off by tugging at his wrist. He’s not certain why he was about to use his quirk, but he does appreciate it.

“Thanks,” he whispers and looks back to the blonde boy who’s watching them warily. “Look, he helped me out a lot and I wanted to thank him. I wouldn’t have gotten into UA without him.”

The boy’s eyes widen. “You’re the kid who destroyed the zero-pointer.”

Izuku ducks his head. “Ummm.”

“That was an axe kick you used,” the boy says. “It was Renewal Taekwondo, wasn’t it? Did Master Mo-Ri train you?”

“Yeah,” Izuku mumbles.

“Then why didn’t you say so?” Izuku looks up to see the boy… not smiling but his face is less harsh. “My name’s Mashirao Ojiro. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

Izuku sees his extended hand, unsure of what to do.

Shinsou sighs and bumps Izuku with his shoulder. “You’re supposed to shake it.”

Izuku blinks. “Oh. S-sorry.” He reaches out and shakes Ojiro’s hand.

“You children are loud,” a new voice says. Izuku startles and trips seeing Jin squatting on the counter. “What do you need? And who is this one? I do not want another student.”

“Hitoshi SHinsou,” his friend says first. “And I didn’t want to come here.”

Jin cocks his head. “Six months to find this place, Izuku. Slow.”

He stares incredulously at his teacher. “How was I supposed to find this place? You told me you were busy when I messaged you.”

“I was. You did not message again.” Jin leans forward, falls a bit, and lands on the floor. “You would find me when you had need. You have need and you have found me. It is good to see you passed. Ojiro, take Izuku to free mat in the back. Spar. Use quirks. Have fun. Don’t embarrass me.”

Ojiro sighs and looks to Izuku. “Come on,” he says.

Izuku looks to Jin. Sees him focused on Shinsou. Looks to Shinsou. Gets a nod in return.

He lets Ojiro lead him to the back absently, looking back and failing to hear the conversation Shinsou has with his former teacher. They reach the mat and Izuku takes off his tracksuit jacket.

“He can be overwhelming,” Ojiro says, apologetic. “Please don’t destroy the building with your quirk.”

Izuku laughs nervously as he stretches his legs. “I won’t. I’m still figuring everything out.”

Ojiro nods and falls into a ready stance. Izuku frowns. It looks like a karate stance.

“You aren’t using Renewal?”

Ojiro shakes his head solemnly. “That is reserved for strengthening quirks. Jin was not my primary teacher. He taught me to use my tail in combat but nothing more.”

Izuku nods and slides into a stance.

When Ojiro moves it is much faster than Jin ever did when they sparred. His eyes strain to keep up with the punch the blonde throws and his block is nearly too slow. Ojiro kicks him in the side before he can recover.

His breath leaves him in a big whoosh. Izuku rolls with the blow, scrambling to get back in a stance. Ojiro is on him just as he's come to his feet, moving quickly and recklessly. Izuku kicks out thinking Ojiro has left an opening in his aggression.

A strong tail breaks the blow and Izuku barely has a moment to realise his mistake before he’s punched in the face straight through his guard. He leans with the blow, arches his back, and contorts into a flip. His other foot hits Ojiro in the chin. 

It is different fighting someone using their quirk. Ojiro is fast on his own but that tail makes him harder to predict—it lets Ojiro commit more offensively as it guards against Izuku’s attacks easily, and when Izuku does get past Ojiro’s guard he has to worry about the tail tripping him up. To make it worse, Ojiro uses it to abruptly shift directions.

He’s scrambling back from another punch to the chest when he decides to use his quirk. He always produces shadow matter unconsciously now. With the bright lights of the dojo, it will be weak, and he’s already lost a lot just from his concentration slipping but it should be enough.

When Ojiro comes at him again, Izuku flings his arms out to deflect Ojiro’s punch. He steps back to dodge the tail strike and explodes forward, fist raised.

Ojiro is fast. He’s already leaping back. Which is exactly what Izuku wants. Dark tendrils lash out from the ground and wrap around the boy’s ankle, dragging him back. Ojiro’s eyes widen at Izuku’s incoming fist.

And then he twists rapidly, faster than Izuku can get a read on. His punch impacts something but in a moment, he feels a blow to his side. It disorientates him instants before a heavy weight brings him to the ground. He lands, hard, and isn’t certain how his arm is twisted painfully behind him and a knee digs into his lower back.

“Y-yield,” he yammers, tapping the mat.

Ojiro’s weight disappears in an instant. Izuku stays down, breathing deeply until a hand enters his vision. He takes it gratefully and is in no way jealous at how easily Ojiro lifts him with one arm. The boy claps him on the shoulder.

“Good fight,” he says, nodding to Izuku. “Two quirks?”

Izuku shakes his head, glad that his face is already flushed. “No. Same quirk. Different application.” And that’s the lie he’s going with. “You’re fast and that tail is a nightmare to fight.”

Ojiro smiles. "And you have a few tricks. You should learn to fight with your quirk as well, not just with your fists. You're not really skilled in Taekwondo."

“He is skilled enough,” Jin says beside them suddenly, “for only six months training. I do not remember you being considerably better.”

Ojiro bows at the waist. “Forgive me, Master Jin.”

“I hope you both learn something.” He claps them both on the shoulder. “Go get your friend. And come again. Now, head home. Shower. You stink.”

Izuku rolls his eyes and picks up his jacket on the floor, waving to Ojiro. He ties it around his waist instead of wearing it. Shinsou frowns uncertainly at him.

“He’s odd,” Shinsou says as they walk out the dojo.

“A tail isn’t that odd.”

Shinsou sighs. “Your teacher, Jin. He said he would train me.”

Izuku smiles. “He’s good at that.”

“I thought you were his student.”

“You know, I’m not sure exactly how it works. I think he’s shown me everything I need to know right now.” He tugs Shinsou’s wrist and points. “I hear they have some great pork cutlets.”

“But I don’t—” He’s cut off by Izuku’s sharp glare. “Have any problem whatsoever with that.”

Izuku laughs easily, surprised by just how much joy he takes in another person’s presence. It reminds him of when his father was still around and Kaachan was his friend. His smile dies down. He takes a breath and puts it out of mind.

*****

The night before school starts, Izuku double checks that everything is in his bag. Notebooks and stationary? Check. Gym clothes? Check. He knows everything is in there after the first three times, but it never hurt anyone to check things four times over. He sees his deck of cards on the nightstand and scrambles to shove them in before he can forget them. He’ll definitely need those if the monsters lurking in his mind act up again.

He eats dinner with his mother. She has an easy smile on her face.

“I’m proud of you,” she says for the nth time this week, so much so that it has become something of a ritual.

“I know. Do you remember that conversation we had about secrets?”

She huffs. “I take that back. Do I need medical supplies?”

“It isn’t that kind of secret. Do you remember how I was training before I found my Quirk?” She nods. “That’s because I found a teacher.”

“I know you found a teacher,” she says, startling Izuku. “You’re smart but you’ve never picked up any weights before. You would have had a lot more training injuries if you were doing it by yourself.”

“You never said anything.”

She shrugs. “And say what? That I’m upset you’re getting fitter? There are some things a mother shouldn’t interfere in, especially when it isn’t hurting you. I raised you to be a good kid.”

He flushes. “I never told you who was training me. And that was a lie. Honestly, I wasn’t ready to tell you until last week.”

“I forgive you. It’s not like you’re going to tell me it’s All Might training you,” she says with a laugh.

Izuku looks up, scarlet all the way through his face and mortified. “Ummm… I-it’s funny you m-mention that.”

His mother looks up, almost as if praying for strength. “Explain.”

And so, he does. He doesn’t tell her everything for some secrets are not his to say. Not once does he mention the name ‘Toshinori Yagi’ nor does he speak of his weakened form. He explains the nature of One For All—and it absolutely terrifies his mother of what might happen when his quirk and his hero’s strengthening quirk mix, and even whilst he brushes it off he has the same worries—and how strong he needed to be to wield it without his body breaking from its power.

“I can understand why you kept this from me,” she says after he falls silent. “But I am disappointed you waited until now to tell me.”

 He laughs nervously. “It kinda slipped my mind.” He winces at how weak the excuse sounds.

“All Might has many enemies, Izuku.”

“No one’s going to associate shadows with One For All.”

“But villains will recognise that strength. It doesn’t matter if they don’t know about One For All. Any hero who becomes that strong will have enemies.” She shakes her head. “I’m worried you didn’t know everything when you made that deal.”

“I did.”

Did you really? The voice asks.

“You’re still young, Izuku. You don't know how the real world works."

He rolls his eyes. “I’ve seen monsters, Kaa-san, and they don’t scare me.”

“They should. You’ve never seen humans acting monstrously.” That stops his reply. “You’ve read about statistics, but you’ve never seen people disregard basic human decency. You weren’t there for the anti-quirk riots twenty years ago. You’ve never seen neighbours turn on each other so quickly. You’ve never seen the police arrest the wrong people and brutalise them. You’ve never seen a riot turn violent.”

He feels small in his seat but not small enough. He’s never seen his mother this bitter in his entire life and the scathing heat is completely new to him.

“I remember watching Taiwan sink and everyone there drown. One person’s rage did that. The world isn’t as cut and dry as you think it is.” She smiles gently now. “You’re young and it’s good that despite what you’ve seen, you can still believe life can be separated into humans and monsters, heroes and villains. But the world isn’t like that. You’re my son, and I hope you’re ready when you learn.”

He goes to his bedroom, troubled. Was it really naïve to see the world like that? Good people chose to be heroes and whilst he knew they made mistakes and weren’t perfect, didn’t the fact that they tried make them good? And villains were evil. That’s all there was to it. Sure, theft wasn’t as bad as armed robbery which wasn’t as bad as murder but those were all simply different shades of evil.

But you’re a monster, the voice whispers. Aren’t all monsters villains?

“Shut up and don’t you dare say another word.”

Dread it. Run from it. Destiny arrives all the same.

His body trembles. He can make out monsters lurking in the dark, always on the edge of escaping the dark below. They watch him, ceaselessly. He can forget more often than not. Right now, he finds it difficult to do so.

“Just keep quiet. Please.”

Izuku reaches for the knife he keeps hidden away in his drawer.

You cursed me with knowledge. But I remember the secrets. Why is life, shadowshield?

“Don’t. Please don’t.”

There is no meaning but in death. And you are

He stabs the knife through his hand. The blade parts flesh easily and the pain makes him want to scream. He groans, gritting his teeth. He breathes faster and faster as he looks at the knife and the blood.

But the voice is gone.

He knows how to clean and bandage injuries. But there are methods to heal it that won't take nearly as long as waiting for it naturally. He looks to his shoulder where a long cut from one of the thread-creatures should have left him incapacitated for a few weeks. Instead, it had healed quickly.

Izuku delves into the abyss with ease. He lets his blood drip on the ground, uncaring of the monsters a scent as heady as fresh life carries. And whatever is foolish enough to attack him dies to shadows. The continental eye is almost a physical constant and stays in the same place. Izuku dives into it and lets the ocular fluid heal his wound rapidly. It scars but not everything heals perfectly.

He barely sleeps that night. When Shinsou sees him at the train, the boy is kind enough not to point out that his eyes are bloodshot. Nor does he bother Izuku when he falls asleep. He is kind enough to wake Izuku up just before their stop. They talk a bit as they walk the rest of the way to UA but Izuku just doesn’t have it in him.

“Will you be alright?” Shinsou asks before they split off.

The simple fact that Shinsou doesn’t ask what’s wrong or even assume he has a right to know makes Izuku smile. “Spent too long thinking last night.”

Shinsou nods tiredly, as always. He walks towards the general education building in the opposite direction of the Heroics building. Izuku clenches his fist at the division, wondering how many people who could be amazing heroes in their own right are being ignored simply because their quirk didn’t let them destroy robots.

“It’s not right.”

There’s something hot and burning in his chest and it feels like he’s choking beneath the weight of the emotion. It isn’t shame for he knows that flavour of heat. Nor is it even anger—he felt that much too often every birthday his father never came back, and he can never forget it. This is something more intense and all-consuming.

“Midoriya,” a solemn voice calls out.

Izuku turns and sees Ojiro. The boy freezes, looking at Izuku warily. It takes him a moment to realise he’s projecting his feelings at Ojiro. And that isn’t fair. He takes a breath and lets the feeling pass away.

“S-sorry,” he says and tries to smile. It comes out as a grimace and he decides to give up on it. “Just a bit cranky. Didn’t get enough sleep.”

“Nerves. I understand.”

No, you don’t, Izuku thinks but doesn’t say as Ojiro leads him to their class. Surprisingly, the boy has an excellent sense of direction—something Izuku never really bothered with. The doors to their class are as massive as everything else in UA is. It makes him wonder again if it is simply to make a statement or if its because they've had students and teachers that large before.

The class is mostly full already. He recognises Kaachan’s voice immediately even if Ojiro’s broad shoulders stop him from seeing much.  The other voice is familiar and when he catches a flash of blue hair he realises it’s the boy who called him out in front of the crowd during the exam.

“Too loud,” Ojiro says as he enters, somehow finding his seat immediately.

The eclectic mix of people bewilders him, though he pauses on the purple-skinned girl and the bird—crow, he thinks—person. Not because their mutations were particularly odd, but he’s read enough about quirk relations not to assume they would want to be called either ‘person’ or ‘mutant’. 

 “You,” a blue-haired boy says loudly, pointing at Izuku even as he stalks over.

Izuku steps back automatically as the boy approaches. “Hi,” he says meekly, trying his best to ignore all the eyes now watching him. “I-ida right?”

“Yes. I’m from S—”

He is stopped from continuing his explanation by another voice. “Hey, it’s the plain looking boy.”

Izuku spins and sees the girl who argued so strongly for him. He flushes as she says, “All Might said you’d pass.”

“W-w-what?”

“Who are—”

“Go somewhere else if you want to make friends,” a quiet voice says but somehow it seems louder than everyone else. “This is the Heroics course, not a play centre.”

Behind the girl, he can see a yellow caterpillar with the face of a homeless man. Izuku blinks as the rest of the class falls silent. That, at least, was confirmation that everyone else could see this as well. This is by no stretch the oddest thing Izuku’s seen and since it doesn’t seem malevolent he isn’t particularly afraid.

The caterpillar grows an arm and Izuku watches incredulous as it brings a drink to its mouth. “This is the heroics course,” it says before standing upright.

Izuku blinks again as it unzips its skin and a man-shaped creature in all black but for the pile of bandages on its shoulders steps out.

 “It took you seven seconds before you were silent,” it says, dropping its yellow shell. “Time is limited. You kids are not rational enough. I’m your homeroom teacher, Shouta Aizawa.”

Huh? The voice in his head says, almost sounding as confused as Izuku.

“I know this is sudden but put this on and meet me at the field.” He removes a UA gym uniform from somewhere. And drops it on the ground. “If you’re late I’m expelling you.”

“What!”

The teacher stares at the student, a red-haired boy with hair that looks like he spends three hours every morning on it. “This is UA,” Aizawa says as if that answers everything. "You have fifteen minutes."

He walks out, leaving the class in silence. They look at each other, confused. And then, “I don’t want to be expelled.”

Pack mentality takes over and they sprint out the door. The blue-haired boy leads the pack to the to the locker room. It is a bit of a mad scramble to change and be out on the field in the short time they have. Izuku nearly gets there last if not for Ojiro prodding him and helping him to find his other shoe which he lost beneath a bench.

Their homeroom teacher waits on the field for them. He says nothing until the last straggler joins the group.

“Thirteen minutes,” he says and picks a ball up from the floor. “Acceptable. We’ll cut it down to five minutes by the end of the term if you manage not to get expelled.”

He throws the ball to Kaachan who catches it easily. Though his rage spikes, he is smart enough not to say anything.

“UA gives its teachers freedom in how they operate,” he explains. “If I find you wanting I will expel you. I expelled the entirety of 1-A two years ago because they lacked any potential to be heroes. I will not hesitate to expel any of you.”

The group falls deathly still. “Good. You understand the stakes. Before you took national fitness tests without your quirks. Restricting you with such inane rules is illogical if you wish to be a hero. You. Throw that ball as far as you can. So long as you stay in the circle then I do not care what you do.”

Kacchan scoffs and walks up to the circle. The waft of smoke reaches Izuku and he knows Kacchan is excited. He winds his arm up and a moment before it leaves his hand he activates his quirk. The explosion is smaller and more tightly controlled than the ones he usually uses.

“Eight hundred meters flat,” Aizawa says once the ball has landed. “Know your limits first and then grow strong. That is the only way to advance as a hero. UA will beat every weakness out of you. If you don’t have the potential, then you’ll get booted out. This is no place to make friends if that was your hope. Oh, and whoever comes last gets expelled.”

*****

Izuku wonders exactly how close he is to expulsion. He probably isn’t last because his 50m dash sprint was sub-seven seconds and he thanks his luck that Jin Mo-Ri emphasised speed over strength when they were together. It was why he did hill sprints more than endurance running.

But very test outside of that had been an absolute disaster. His long jump had been pathetic, and his standing jump was only acceptable of there being students less fit than him with quirks that didn’t help them much. And he was not certain if performance mattered as much as ranking per test because the latter meant he might very well be in last place overall.

They’re inside now doing the grip strength test. He stands near Ojiro but much of his focus is on the boy with a bird's head. His quirk, from what Iuzku could tell, involved a creature connected to his body coloured black and purple. It almost looks like a multitude of threads giving it its elasticity. He watches it squeeze down on the grip metre.

It can’t be, he thinks but knows it is.

“Why don’t you use your tail?” he asks Ojiro before the bird-boy can catch him staring.

“Too large,” he says and shows Izuku how he can only barely fit the tip in the space. “Why don’t you use your strengthening quirk?”

“Because I don’t want to break my hand.”

“You have another quirk,” Ojiro reminds him.

Izuku opens his mouth to reply. Closes it. Realises he isn’t anywhere near as smart as he thinks he is. He calls the tendrils of shadow matter that he makes in the back of his mind during the day and lets them twine between his fingers and around the metre grip. Then he squeezes and bids them do the same. The metre chimes and reads a cool eighty-four kilograms.

He looks to Ojiro. “I have no idea if that’s good,” he says because the dark tendrils are already fading, and it’ll take him well after the tests are over to generate more.

“I had ninety, so I believe so.” Ojiro tilts his head. “How do your shadows work?”

“I c-can draw them, I guess, from my actual shadow.” He points to it. “Just has to have enough contrast with the environment or it stops working.”

“That seems like an arbitrary power limit.”

Izuku shrugs. “Who knows. Maybe there’s someone writing my story and they suck at being internally consistent with their rules.”

Ojiro chuckles. “A bad author indeed.”

The last test they have is the ball throw. He watches as others get ridiculous distances and the girl who argued for him even gets an infinity which he knows isn't true. He's seen infinity or at least interacted with creatures that found the concept wanting. That ball will disintegrate long before that.

He takes a deep breath, knowing he needs at least one amazing result to secure a spot. He tosses the ball to get a feel of its weight, ignoring whatever it is that Kaachan is saying with the rest of the students. Right now, all the matters is passing.

The power All Might gifted him feels different from his innate quirk. That feels like walking into a dark room with no assurance that the monsters weren’t after you. One For All is like a live wire carrying all of Japan’s electricity. It is terrifying to grasp because there is just so much power that his body can’t handle.

And yet he has no other real option if he wants to continue his education. He isn’t ready to explain to either his mother or All Might his failure.

He grasps the live wire with his mind and feels power absolute and uncontrollable fill his arm. He winds his hand back and throws with every ounce of power he has. Izuku watches it sail forward.

And land.

“Forty-six metres,” the machine shouts.

His shock lasts half a moment. Then it hits him at once. The shadows are gone. He can’t feel them anymore. He thinks he understands what its like to be blinded but somehow this feels so much worse. Something so fundamental to his very being has just been torn away and the lack of it is like a hot iron down his spine. And that has nothing to the pain at the base of his spine.

All of this he feels in a single moment. 

“I erased your quirk.”

He turns unsteadily to face his teacher. The man’s hair is up and the bandages floating wildly, revealing a pair of goggles. The man says something but the pain in Izuku’s head makes it almost impossible to focus on his words.

“Stop,” Izuku says weakly.

Aizawa scoffs. “You can’t even take the slightest hint of criticism. The exam should have weeded you out immediately.”

Izuku coughs as Aizawa continues. He sees blood on his hand and looks at it until a new spike of pain hits his head. “Your quirk,” he groans before he collapses to his knees.

His senses come rushing back and much of the pain disappears. The voice in his head returns with a roar and Izuku only now realises that it had completely disappeared.

He hears footsteps but more importantly, he feels the shadow of the person approaching. A hand on his shoulder shakes him.

“I’m fine,” he mumbles, not hearing what they’re saying. “Give me a moment.”

Sound returns slower. He looks up and sees Aizawa above him, looking almost concerned. “What just happened?” the man asks then glares at Ojiro who tries to approach.

Izuku wipes the blood from his nose. "I-I don't know," he says. "No one's ever done that to me."

Something like guilt flashes across Aizawa’s face. “Let’s get you to the nurse.” Aizawa looks around. “Tokoyami, take him to the nurse.”

“I can take him,” Ojiro says.

There is nothing like sympathy in Aizawa’s face. “Silence. You haven’t completed the test.” The stops his maybe-friend from approaching.

Izuku coughs, still in pain. “I haven’t finished my test.”

“And I’ll expel you if you try anything so stupid.”

“Pain brings clarity, Eraserhead." The man startles. "The goggles gave it away. If I can't do something as simple as throwing a ball, then I don't deserve to be a hero."

Izuku stands and wonders how crazy he looks glaring at his teacher. But he’s become used to it at this point.

“And what will you do? Break your arm the same way you did to your leg in the exam. You aren’t going to be able to save anyone like that. You barely know how to control your quirk.”

He forces a grin. “Maybe not but I still think I have a right to try.”

Aizawa scoffs. “If you break your arm don’t come back tomorrow. If you come last in this test, then clean out your locker.”

Izuku nods. He looks to Kacchan who seems to be more interested than anything else. And picks the ball up again.

Losing an entire sense had been horrible. But he still had five other senses to use. And that experience gave him an idea. One that might have been reckless. But he was already facing expulsion.

The live wire is there and waiting. He lets the power flow through his arm and concentrates in his finger. When he throws the ball, he takes extra care to let his finger be the last thing to touch the ball. And then he releases his power in one explosive burst.

His finger breaks instantly. But that pain means nothing as he watches the ball soar through the air.

“Deku!” he hears Kaachan roar, explosions already going off.

He turns back and sees his friend stalking forward, his rage apocalyptic. It terrifies him. And then ropes wrap around Kacchan. The bandages pull him closer to Aizawa who’s anger is frigid.

“Violence against a classmate will result in expulsion.” He looks to the bird-boy. “I told you to take him to the nurse.”

Oh, that’s Tokoyami.

Tokoyami watches him apathetically. Izuku waves to Ojiro and Uraraka as they walk past them. The moment they are out of sight, Izuku stumbles. Tokoyami catches him.

“Thanks,” he whispers and extracts himself from the boy’s grip.

“It would be remiss of me to let you obtain more injuries. Your condition has worsened.”

Izuku shakes his head. “No. I was just acting like I wasn’t in pain.”

Tokoyami looks at him as if he’s grown another head. “Behaviour like that is dangerous. To yourself and others.”

“I didn’t have much of a choice,” he says and follows behind Tokoyami. “I used up my shadows during the grip test.”

It is a risk to tell someone he’s never had a conversation with all of this. But the boy’s quirk is driving him almost insane. Because the boy’s quirk reminds him of the creatures from the floating forest. And he needs to know how that’s possible.

“Shadows?” Tokoyami asks, curiosity lacing his voice.

“Yeah. They don’t like the light so much, so I did what I could.”

“…I see. And you’ve always used shadows?”

Izuku smiles. Good. The boy was just as interested in him. “Well not all of us have easy to control quirks like yours.”

Tokoyami tenses and whatever rapport Izuku had built dies up instantly.

“You should not make light of what you know nothing of.” The words are harsh, scathing. “Do not think yourself the first to try and obtain information on my quirk.”

“I-I’m not—”

The boy whips around so he can glare at Izuku. The force of it freezes him in place. “Do not take me for a fool. Now, come. I’ve wasted enough of my time.”

I keep the secrets, the voice snarls. I tell the lies.

Izuku sighs and they walk in the tense silence. Tokoyami doesn’t so much as glance back when they reach the nurse’s office.

“I assume you capable of opening the door,” the boy says before leaving. His steps are even and measured but they somehow are louder than an earthquake.

*****

Shouta Aizawa worries about many things. Everyone sees his behaviour and assumes him indifferent. The media sees him rarely, so they make little mention of his hero alias. To the world, he is simply an unkempt man with little interest in being a teacher who might be a pro-hero. All these things are true. None of which is completely true. 

He spends time in his sleeping bag because he understands the importance of sleeping whenever possible. The nights are never long enough to mark work, plan out lessons, and act as a hero. He may not patrol and search for petty villains like Kamui Woods or Mt. Lady do as he has long since grown out of such simple habits. Instead, he investigates and gathers intelligence on the many gangs and crime rings who are the actual threats, not a sludge villain who takes up the media spotlight. His students don’t know, and he will forever be happy if they never know the threats he shields them from. Principal Nezu knows though very little is unknown to his superior and Hizashi knows because he refuses to allow Shouta to ever be alone. 

But that is secondary to his role as a teacher. The greatest offence against villains is to train the children under his care to be successful heroes. And part of that duty is protecting them from themselves. It was why he expelled the entirety of the class two years ago. It wasn’t that their quirks weren’t strong—the boy with the unravelling quirk could have become an amazing underground hero and the girl who controlled the wind itself could very well have become a top tier hero in a few years—but they lacked the necessary mentality to achieve greatness. They lacked the burning drive to become great. And the few who did toed the class line because of peer pressure.

It was why he argues, every year without fail, that the exam needed to be changed. He is thankful that the panel of judges consider more than just how easily you can break a robot but still disappointed that it is the primary factor. There is no test, or even an interview, to observe the thought process of a student.

Students like Katsuki Bakugou who’s quirk was unbelievably powerful, but his temperament would be a continual challenge for Shouta to deal with as the year progressed. He can’t decide if the boy has a greater or lower likelihood of his fellow middle school graduate, Izuku Midoriya.

That boy worries Shouta. His quirk, shadowshield as the records show, is versatile. He remembers watching the boy call shadows to aid him in the grip test. But he also remembers the state the boy was in after the entrance exam. Showing signs of both emitter and strengthening characteristics, the boy should have been a clear candidate for top student. But he is painfully shy and terrified, and the strengthening portion of the quirk left him incapacitated. Any hero like that would be a liability to their team.

It was why he erased the boy’s quirk. In hindsight, Shouta realises he should have understood why the boy asked him to stop. Instead, he continued to berate him, not realising Midoriya was injured. That guilt, alongside the fact that Midoriya recognised him for who he was, was the only reason he let him attempt the test—he doesn’t acknowledge the almost primal fear the boy’s bloody smile inspired.

And the results had been stunning.

But now he must deal with the consequences of that. And maybe piece together why Tokoyami had returned to class furious. He sighs when he reaches Recovery Girl’s office after he has rid himself of the children. These students were already proving to be a nightmare on the first day.

Chiyo sits behind a desk that lets her look over most of the beds in the office. He would know. She had caught him trying to escape more than once as a student.

She looks up. And does not smile. That is when he realises he may have made more than a little mistake.

“Less than two hours and you injure a student. You could very well have killed the boy.” Shouta refuses to wince. “I may respect you, Shouta, but your actions can be taken as harmful negligence at best.”

He blinks, the only sign of worry that he permits. Negligence, especially the harmful variety, wasn’t anything a hero ever wanted to have on their record and Nezu might very well fire him for it.

“There was no reason to assume erasing his quirk would cause that reaction.” And they both know that. “It has never happened before.”

Chiyo sighs and slides the file she was reading to him. It’s Midoriya’s quirk summary and he skims over it.

“Students aren’t required to officially register their quirk or submit to testing,” she says as he reads. “Shadowshield. A bit pretentious but not the worst. Claims to be a hidden quirk that appeared in the last year. Emitter properties from the shadows and strengthening properties that show no correlation. In essence, he’s got a grab-bag quirk. And I’m almost certain he has some form of temporary mutation tied to his quirk.”

He sets the file down. “Why?”

“Without going through a full assessment this is only conjecture, but he describes feeling blinded when his quirk was erased before the pain started.” Aizawa frowns, confused. “He can feel shadows in a certain radius in addition to his regular senses. Which will also have to be amended in his file. From what I can tell, that sense might be directly tied to his nerves.”

“Which explains the nosebleed.”

“But not the internal bleeding.” Shouta frowns. “Or the broken finger. Without a full quirk assessment, we can’t be certain of why he reacted the way he did.”

“Then we’ll request one. We have valid reasons to do so.” And more importantly, with one he would know exactly how far he could push his student. “We just need his parent’s consent.”

She looks at her screen. "Yes. His parents."

Shouta frown deepens, immediately worried. “What’s the issue with them.”

"Father isn't in the picture. Nothing special but it is his life with his mother that I'm worried about. She didn't send him to a quirk counsellor when his quirk manifested."

He sees where she’s going with this. “And hidden quirks invariably manifest under traumatic circumstances.”

“So, you think that she’s abusive?” It wouldn’t be the first time that something like this had happened. It wouldn’t be the last.

“I only have conjecture but look at this.” She turns the screen. “I took these when I was checking for other injuries. I’ll have to keep them off school servers since I didn’t technically get his consent. What stands out to you?”

It’s a picture of Midoriya shirtless. He has a few bruises on his torso like those from internal bleeding. It pisses him off that he hurt his student so easily without a single thought. His face has been cleaned up and is no longer bloody. Shouta sees a wide scar on the boy’s right shoulder. And then he sees the long scar on the boy’s left forearm.

“Fuck,” he says.

“My thoughts exactly. He was terrified and skittish around me. He flinched when I reached to check his pupillary response. And he very nearly bolted when I asked him to take off his shirt.”

Shouta closes his eyes. Takes a deep breath. Opens his eyes.

“If she is abusive then she’ll have no reason to sign the consent form. And if it’s bad enough that he resorted to suicide then we need to get him out of that household.”

“Legally there isn’t much we can do without him coming forward. That rarely happens as you well know. If he doesn’t feel there is safety with us we can do very little except encourage him in the time we have with him.” Chiyo opens a drawer and pulls out another form. "Give it to him. Hopefully, the mother isn't a problem and it had something to do with his old school.”

Shouta takes the form and nods to Chiyo. It isn’t even lunch time and these students are already giving him more trouble than most.

At the door he pauses. “Pain brings clarity.”

“Hm?”

“He said that to me. He was quoting the ‘Tenets of Combat.’”

“Oh, that little book you wrote. It was a bit pretentious for you to think you knew everything back then.”

“That’s not the point. The point is that he said that after I used my quirk on him. Any other student should have been crying in pain.  He just went on to break his finger.”

“And you let him?”

“He was determined to prove himself.” Shouta sighs. “That’s the kind of excuse I hate. I’m abdicating all responsibility for my actions, aren’t I?”

Chiyo huffs. “So long as you know you can improve. Now go, I have other things to do.”

He doesn’t ask what. Shouta knows that she has to deal with the health of every student on campus, and she has to approve very much of the training regiments and trips the school implements. She has to constantly monitor how the student’s quirks changed, improved, or degraded over time in addition to her role as a general counsellor.

Shouta did not envy her workload but he does respect it. He walks through the UA halls, greeting a few of the older students he taught. Going to the teacher’s lounge isn’t an option since he’ll have to either deal with All Might who irritates him on principle or Hizashi who will pry until he reveals everything. And while he will never admit how deeply he cherishes their friendship, the man is painfully unsubtle.

He turns a corner and sees Midoriya two second before they collide. Whilst he could dodge out of the way very easily, it lets him see how the boy reacts. Almost instinctively, and despite the book his eyes are glued to, Midoriya pivots and sidesteps looking startled all the while. His book, though, goes flying. Shouta catches it.

Midoriya looks up and flinches back at Shouta’s gaze. “A-aizawa-sensei,” he greets warily.

He looks at the cover of the book. “Tenets of Combat,” he reads out loud, feeling cold finger of dread run down his back, before extending it to Midoriya. The boy takes it cautiously, almost as if he’s stealing from a viper.

“Sorry,” the boy mutters, looking down.

“For what?”

Midoriya tenses. “Nearly bumping into you.”

“You didn’t so don’t waste your time apologising. Wasting energy over something trivial is illogical.”

“Yes, sensei.”

Almost certain he’s making things worse but with no other common connection, Aizawa asks, “What do you think of the book?”

Midoriya looks up and the first hints of excitement show. “The writer seems pretty experienced and knows what they’re talking about. I’m not sure why it isn’t a standard text.”

Shouta very nearly smiles. It’s a close thing. “UA doesn’t utilise texts without authors for first years. Quirk philosophy is a third-year elective and it sometimes covers that.”

Midoriya’s eyes widen. “Does it cover—”

“Ononoki and Ando and Salvatore and every other big name.”

The boy grins. When it isn’t bloody or determined, his smile seems to light up the whole world. “I’ve read them all. Well, not all of them or everything they’ve written since there’s no time, but I try to get through a few every other month except…”

Shouta lets the boy ramble. It’s surprising. He never expected a student to have more than a passing interest but Midoriya casually says things that belie a depth of knowledge on the subject.

“And my mother gave me,” he says, then blinks. The excitement vanishes. “Sorry, I was rambling.”

Aizawa wants to sigh and shake the boy until he spills every secret he has. Instead, he hands Izuku the form.

“What’s this?”

“Quirk assessment form.” The boy freezes. “We’ll need your mother’s consent.”

Midoriya swallows and looks away. “I-is this really necessary?”

“Yes. If you’re still learning to use your quirk then an assessment is a useful indicator of your limits.”

The boy’s smile dies. It doesn’t vanish but whatever warmth it had leaves, and the hallway feels colder for it.

“Yes, sensei,” he whispers. “Can I go now?”

Shouta lets him. Watching the hunched back of the boy, it makes him wonder just how bad his life at home is. Then he remembers that long and winding scar. The day hasn’t even ended, and he already feels like he has failed his students.

“This is going to be a long year.”

*****

Izuku walks to the train station with Iida, Uraraka and a red-haired boy he’s learnt is called Kirishima. Iida, he finds, is strict and formal in a way that is equal parts endearing as it is hilarious. And Uraraka is an eternal fount of optimism but her sense of humour is distinct as she encourages Iida, and snickers when he isn’t looking.

Kirishima is odd. And not just for the hair which Izuku can't decide if it's dyed or not. Then again, his hair is shades of green, so it is a bit hypocritical to judge the boy.

“I can’t believe how manly you were,” the boy says, grinning. He has sharp teeth and Izuku wonders how often he bites through his lips and tongue. “You just broke your finger like it was nothing.”

Izuku flushes. “It wasn’t manly.”

“No, it was reckless and foolhardy,” Iida says, though it comes off more like a shout. “Intentionally harming yourself is never the right answer.”

“Oh, come on, he had to pass,” Kirishima argues, “otherwise he would have been expelled. What’s a broken finger compared to being expelled on the first day? Uraraka, you agree with me, right?”

She smiles brightly. “I don’t know. I think Iida has a point.”

Her smile turns just the slightest bit gleeful as Iida points at Kirishima. “Your harmful mentality will not corrupt other students.”

He lets them argue and raises a brow at Uraraka. “Was that necessary?”

She cocks her head, confused. “Was what necessary?”

“You know exactly what I’m talking about.”

“Nope. I have no clue.”

He shakes his head and lets the conversation go on without him. Their voices are pleasant in a weird sort of way. And their casual acceptance of him is something that he is still unused to. He looks up when they fall silent. The three of them stare at him.

“What?”

Uraraka answers. “We were just wondering why you got so hurt during the assessment.”

Izuku smiles. It isn’t particularly honest. “Oh that, I just—hey, is that Shinsou? Shinsou!” He ignores them and trots over to his friend who looks just as bewildered as the group trailing behind him. “Shinsou were you avoiding me? Whatever. Anyway, say hi to everyone.”

He lets them make introductions, glad he doesn’t have to answer that question. Because even he isn’t too sure why exactly having his quirk erased hurt his body so much. Either way, he steers the conversation towards their classes and the heroes teaching them. He learns, to his surprise, that Shinsou is a fan of Present Mic. And Uraraka punches Kirishima in the arm when he claims Midnight as his favourite teacher so far.

Iida and Uraraka get off first, both needing to take another train in a different direction. And Kirishima leaves them whilst they’re downtown because he has some shopping he needs to do.

“You made friends,” Shinsou says. “Did you force them to take your number?”

Izuku flushes. “I don’t know if we’re friends. And no.”

“I’m surprised you introduced us.”

“Why? You’re a friend. They’re nice. I like them. No reason not to introduce you. Then we can all be friends.”

Shinsou laughs, suddenly. “Izuku, I think your definition of friend is a bit different from everyone else?”

He scratches the back of his head, confused. “People who talk and like each other? I’m a bit new at it. Really, you and Ojiro were the first friends I had in a while.”

“Midoriya, it’s almost like you find someone, smile at them and decide ‘Oh, I like you’ and keep them. That’s not how it works.”

“I don’t do that.” Friends will betray you. “And even if I do, it’s working.”

That makes Shinsou snicker once more. “Sure, whatever you say.”

Izuku stares at his friend, not sure of what exactly is so funny. But he accepts it with a shrug and has mostly forgotten about it by the time he gets home. His mother isn’t home yet so he gets started with making dinner. She takes over when she arrives and Izuku does his homework whilst he waits.

They sit in front of the TV, watching some drama or other that his mother enjoys. It may be childish, but he rests his head on her lap. Her fingers run through his hair. This isn’t the first time they have done this, and it usually follows a particularly bad encounter in the abyss.

Her movements change, becoming more coordinated. “Kass-san, are you braiding my hair?”

She hums. “Maybe.”

Izuku sighs. There are infinitely worse things she could be doing. “My teacher wants you to sign off on a quirk assessment.”

Her hands still for a moment before she resumes what she is doing. “I thought you didn’t want to have one.”

“I didn’t.”

“And you do, now. What changed?”

He closes his eyes. “One of my teachers can erase quirks. When he used it on me… well, let’s say it wasn’t the worst state I’ve been in.”

“You know I’ve wanted you to go for one since the first day. But I’m not sure if you should just because you feel forced to.”

He considers her words. “Okay.”

Chapter Text

‘Mutant Quirks are both the most common and many researchers have argued that they are more perplexing than warp quirks. Mutant quirks are very often inheritable and change the genetic structure of those who express them. It is very likely that in under five generations, homo sapiens as a species will die out, and all individuals will be some form of mutant. What is odd is that by the second generation they stop operating as a quirk i.e. they are the new genetic standard for future generations. Second and third generation mutant express Quirks of their own and this has raised the question…’

—Excerpt from 'The Beginner Scientist's Guide to Quirk Theory.

The water runs red. Izuku presses his thumb against one nostril and exhales sharply out the other, watching a wad of blood land in the water—It’s just normal blood, no legs. The water soothes his aching face. He sees his reflection in the mirror. Streak of white hair? Check. Braids on one side? Check. Bruise on half his face? Double check.

There are painkillers in the cabinet and he takes more than he probably should. But fuck if it didn’t hurt. He doesn’t have the time to dive for the eye this late in the morning. Maybe he should have been paying more attention during his run this morning. He might not have tripped and wiped out on the pavement.

It’s embarrassing, frankly, that he is still so clumsy on occasion. It looks like he’s taken a punch straight to the face. Which is true if you consider the pavement to be a fist. He doesn’t bother with gauze and bandages. The scrapes are light and long ago clotted. So long as no one punches him in the face then he’ll be fine.

He doesn’t meet Shinsou on the train. It doesn’t worry Izuku much. He probably slept in and considering that his friend always looks halfway to the grave, Izuku is glad. The class is only partially full. He doesn’t particularly know any of the students inside right now other than Tokoyami who’s glare is hot enough that Izuku flinches.

“Who’d you lose a fight to?” a boy who he thinks is called Sero asks.

To life, the voice says and with it comes an assault of voices no human could make, voices that sound like gamma radiation and speak of a time before light existed.

He swallows, shrugs, and takes his seat. There is enough time that he retrieves the deck of cards he always keeps in his bag. He shuffles them to calm his nerves and then practices a few basic tricks. The voices remain but he can ignore them better like this.

“Midoriya,” a steady voice calls. He looks up and sees Ojiro. The boy’s smile fades. “What happened?”

Izuku sighs. “C-can we skip this part?”

“I didn’t mean to—”

“Shit, Midoriya,” Kirishima says having just entered. “Who was the last person standing?”

Izuku blinks. “Me?”

“So manly.” Kirishima grabs a chair and sits across from Izuku. “Okay, what are we playing? Deal us in.” He looks at Ojiro until the boy gets the message and pulls a chair as well.

“I don’t know any games,” Ojiro admits.

“Blackjack?” he offers since that’s simple. “Don’t go over twenty-one. Numbered cards keep their value. Aces are eleven or one depending on which screws you over less.”

Ojiro shrugs as Izuku deals the cards. “I will try.”

“And maybe you should keep your inane prattling to yourself,” Tokoyami snarls, and though he speaks to Kirishima his gaze is reserved for Izuku.

Kirishima looks between the two of them. “Come on, class hasn't started. We aren't bothering anyone."

It takes a few minutes for Ojiro to understand the rules a bit better and they’ll have to work on his poker face. When Uraraka joins the class, Kirishima moves his chair to make space for her. It doesn’t escape Izuku’s notice that he’s blocking his line of sight of Tokoyami.

“You tripped?” Uraraka asks once she has her cards. “But you’ve got more balance than me and I was a gymnast.”

Izuku rolls his eyes and isn’t surprised when Kirishima goes over twenty-one. Counting cards is a useful skill to have.

“It happens.”

The class fills psteadily. Oddly, Iida still isn't here. Izuku expected him to be here earlier than anyone else. Somehow, before he can really notice it, someone slides a desk next to his. It’s a green-haired girl accompanied by the purple-skinned girl.

"Want to deal us in," the frog-like girl asks, her voice deeper than he expected. "Asui. This is Ashido.”

“Hi,” Ashido says, waving at the group. She has an accent that he can’t place. “How you doing, Kirishima?”

Izuku shrugs and deals out more cards. It would be more relaxing if he couldn’t feel Tokoyami's gaze even through Kirishima.

“I like your hair,” Asui says.

“Oh, yeah, I never said anything about it,” Uraraka says. “I didn’t know you were that kind of guy.”

He tilts his head. And then remembers his mother braided part of his hair. The streak of white seems to stand out more now that it's hanging on the side of his face.

“My mum did it,” he mumbles.

“Oh, that’s sweet,” Ashido says, looking at Kirishima for some reason. “A lot of guys change their looks out of the blue. Do you just let anyone braid it?”

He shrugs, guesses incorrectly that Kirishima has the ace—no, Ojiro has it. “S-she just did it. I was kinda too tired to care.”

“You’re a mama’s boy, aren’t you?” Uraraka teases.

“Hey, there’s nothing manlier than respecting your mother,” Kirishima says, too hot for it to be a casual remark.

“Midoriya, you’re looking fabulous today,” the blonde boy, Aoyoma, says, eyes twinkling. “But not as fabulous as me.”

The others ignore this, somehow.

“Let’s see if we can make it three for three. Ojiro, right?” His friend looks up in concern. “Are you a mama’s boy too?”

He’s spared from answering as Iida marches in. The boy scans the class and immediately fixates on the group. “What kind of immoral behaviour is this?” he shouts more than he asks. “We’re UA students and you’re gambling. And you, Midoriya, I expected better from you.”

Izuku wilts in his seat. “We’re n-not gambling,” he says weakly.

“Maybe you can get your degenerate friends to stop being disturbances,” Tokoyami says.

Izuku winces as Iida’s glare becomes more pronounced. “This behaviour is reprehensible.”

“Just chill out, man,” Kirishima says. “We’ve got three minutes until class. We’re good.”

“Still, gambling is an immoral pastime.”

Ashido snickers. “You’re so innocent. Fine, let’s pack up.”

Izuku wants to protest because it means Tokoyami won’t be out of sight any longer. But they only have a few minutes until classes start and he doesn’t want to annoy Eraserhead for no reason. Kirishima pats him on the shoulder whilst Ojiro smiles.

“Thanks,” Asui whispers. “It was fun. And you should get something for your face.”

He smiles. When Aizawa enters, the man is in his sleeping bag. His eyes are more bloodshot than usual.

“I was supposed to teach you something today.” He yawns. “But I don’t really care.”

“What!” more than one person screams.

“You children are too loud. Fine, read the first five chapters of your textbook.” He rolls his eyes at their blank expressions. “The one on battle tactics. Do the exercises as well.”

“This is bullshit,” Bakugou curses.

“Is reading a textbook much too hard for you? Did you think UA was simply about playing outside?” Bakugou scoffs, tiny explosions sparking on his palms. 

Aizawa stares at him for a long moment, eyes hard. “New rule: anyone who gets an infringement for using their quirk in public spaces gets expelled. I’m telling you this as a courtesy. Please don’t be as stupid as last year’s class.”

The man walks to the door, still in his sleeping bag. “Oh, and Midoriya, come here.”

Izuku startles and stands, following Aizawa out the door. The man looks him over once. “How did you get the injury?”

Izuku looks away. “I tripped.”

“You tripped?” Aizawa asks, and the disbelief is so evident in his voice that he might as well carry a neon sign.

“It happens.”

“Did you get the consent form signed?”

Izuku swallows. “We declined the offer, sensei. My mother doesn’t think it’s necessary.” Well, neither did I.

“Right. And did you trip before or after your mother declined the consent form.”

He frowns, unsure of what the has to do with anything. “After.”

Aizawa sighs. “Midoriya, I would like you to know that you can come to me if you have any concerns. About anything.”

He looks up and meets his teacher’s weary gaze. “Umm, sure?”

“Especially if you trip again.”

Izuku flushes, wondering if they will ever forget about that. “Yes, sensei.”

“Good. Go to the nurse’s office and get that bruise checked out. And don’t take too long or you’ll miss out on class.”

“I thought you weren’t teaching.”

“Think, Midoriya. What reason would I have for lying to your classmates?”

He cocks his head. “To see if they’d read the book without you watching over them,” he decides.

“And to talk to you. Asking about the consent form in class would have been a violation of your privacy. You should always attempt to achieve more than one objective at any given time.”

Recovery Girl is disappointed that he’s here a second time this week. She does heal him but asks him a few questions about the injury, delving into detail. It makes him wonder if she’s is worried he might pose a suicide risk. He’s very aware of how her gaze lingers on his left forearm but he can’t say ‘don’t worry, I come back from the dead’ because that’s just asking to be thrown into a mental institution. Or worse, an operating table in a bunker a mile underground where he’ll be assigned a number and never see the light of day again.

At lunch, he searches for Shinsou before he grabs his food. The boy is sitting alone in a corner and there is no world in which Izuku will allow that to happen.

“No,” he says before Shinsou can greet him. “You sitting alone is not happening. Come on.”

He pulls Shinsou by the wrist, and maybe he's getting a few odd stares but none of these stares has seen infinity, so they aren’t really worrying.

“You need to stop doing this,” Shinsou mutters but there is a certain warmth to it.

Izuku rolls his eyes and approaches the table his friends are sitting around. He plonks Shinsou right next to Ojiro. The tailed boy accepts this easily and moves down the table.

“Good. Now behave,” he says, pointing at Shinsou.

The boy rolls his eyes. “Yes, mother,” he says which makes Uraraka laugh.

Izuku snorts and sits in the centre of the group, between Kirishima and Iida.

“Not eating?” Iida asks.

Izuku shakes his head. “Not up to it.”

“Man, you’ll get skinnier if you don’t eat.” Kirishima pokes Izuku in the bicep a moment before his eyes widen and he grips Izuku’s bicep. “You’re literally made of muscle.”

Izuku bats the boy’s hand away, face red. “I’m not.”

“You kind of are,” Ojiro says. “Punching you is like punching a brick wall.”

“There’s a story there,” Asui says.

“Not much of one,” Shinsou answers. “They just go to the same dojo.”

“How’s about a game of poker,” Izuku suggests before they dig any deeper into it. He has no intention of everyone knowing how Ojiro ran circles around him.

Despite Iida’s protests, it becomes a thing. In the mornings they play simpler games which require little time or thought but lunch is reserved for poker. Uraraka absolutely terrifies him because her smile is the best poker face he’s ever seen. Though Kirishima comes a close second for all that the boy is obsessed with manliness, he certainly knows how to play cards.

Their presence helps soothe his mind. He thinks it mildly manipulative that he’s keeping them close for a reason, but it doesn’t hurt them—if anything, the fact that Uraraka and Shinsou become fast friends is a positive—and it only helps him.

Near the end of the week, he starts losing track of what is and isn’t. Eyes seem to watch him from the wall, judging and finding him wanting. Present Mic’s hair reminds him too much of tentacles all of a sudden and the English he tries to teach sounds like the language of a dead god. Tokoyami's baleful gaze is infinitely worse and he feels like a mouse in the jaws of a predator. When his nose bleeds, he asks permission to leave and very nearly bolts from the room, but not without pointing at the right answer.

He shivers in the bathroom, absolutely terrified of the things watching him in the mirrors. Creatures older than time seep out from the shadows. How much of it is real and how much is an imagination doesn't matter, not when an errant tooth cuts him on the wrist. The wound is thin, shallow, and he's thankful he can use the nosebleed as an excuse as to why his cuff is suddenly red. 

His hands shake too much to deal cards at the table. He excuses it as a headache from the nosebleed. And whilst Iida lectures him on the dangers of overexertion, Asui and Uraraka braid his hair. He lets them without complaint because at least he knows those fingers are human, warm, and not malevolent. Kirishima stares at him as if he’s grown another head.

“You do you. I’m in no place to judge.”

Ashido laughs. “You most definitely aren’t.”

Asui latches on to that and they learn the two went to middle school together. And that Kirishima looked very different.

“Hey, did you go to school with Bakugou?” Uraraka asks. “I’ve heard him call you Deku before.”

Izuku smiles. It feels brittle. “Yeah. Deku’s a nickname I got.”

“What’d you—”

“Ah, shit, my nose is acting up again.” It isn’t but they don’t need to know that even if he gets the sense Uraraka is being too polite to call him out on it. “See you in class.”

He avoids them after school and uses his quirk to hide. He sits in the distorted vision of his room, surrounded by shadows, and wonders just how long he can keep this up. The monsters always seem to lurk but never to this extent. At the very least, the voice is silent though it is ever-present in his mind, watching events play out alongside him.

His mother doesn’t question why he’s so late. He smiles at her, almost ready to cry. She hugs him and the tears spill. He tells her, between shaky breaths, that he sees the nightmares everywhere he looks. And his friends, despite how kind and generous and real they are, none of them can even begin to understand. She just hugs him tighter.

“We’ll get through this,” she whispers. “You’re my son. I’m never leaving you.”

He has a broad smile on the next day. The warmth in it is fake but Shinsou doesn't notice, and if he fails to recognise the lie, then no one else will. And though his back hurts, he lets none of the pain show.

I will, the voice says, and for once Izuku finds that reassuring.

He can always feel the shadows when there is enough contrast, except for odd times like the day of the exam. But he doesn’t necessarily recognise them perfectly. Except for Kacchan. He can always feel the boy so long as he is close enough. So, he knows Kaachan is approaching long before he enters the class.

In hindsight, he should have moved out of the way instead of having a conversation with Ojiro and Kirishima. But it was hard to move when they were both berating him for not sending a message to let them know he was staying a bit late at the school library—another lie for he barely even knows the school has a library let alone where it is.

“Get the fuck out of the way, Deku,” Kacchan roars.

Deku winces. The three of them are blocking the doorway a bit, even if Ojiro had already been moving out of the way.

“Yo, man—”

 “I wasn’t talking to a shitty side character,” Kacchan snarls, interrupting Kirishima. He reaches out to shove Deku aside. For a terrible moment, he remembers falling down a hill and cracking his skull open. 

But the hand never touches him. He sees Ojiro holding Kacchan's wrist in an unyielding grip. “Calm yourself.”

“Fuck off.” Kacchan pulls his arm out of the grip. Deku can already smell the sickly-sweet scent of nitro-glycerine. “And move.”

“Fine,” Kirishima says, tugging Izuku aside. “No need to be a dick about it.”

Only when Kacchan has stalked past does Deku realise that Kirishima’s body is between the two of them. He thinks it unnecessary. After all, he’s dealt with Kacchan in an infinitely worse mood. But he appreciates the gesture even if it makes him look weak.

“You shouldn’t let people treat you like that,” Ojiro says.

Izuku forces a smile, toothy and carefree. He clasps his hands behind his neck to hide how badly they are shaking. “I’m fine.”

“That smile is terrifying,” Kirishima says and pats him on the shoulder.

When All Might enters Izuku almost has his hands still. The magnificent smile All Might has is radiant and warmer than the sunlight. And it somehow seems brighter for Izuku. He returns it as best he can.

The battle simulation has them all excited, especially since they can wear their hero costumes for the first time.

In the locker room, Izuku takes the case with his costume in it, taking everything off except his underwear and compression shirt. Letting anyone else see the scar on his left hand is not an option. There will be one too many questions from that.

He doesn’t pay too much attention to the others—he does notice that Kirishima has abs that make him feel the slightest bit inadequate and the Iida is clearly a proponent of armour.

Inside the case he finds a light-green shirt and matching trousers, both of them hugging his body, and both covered in geometric black lines. The material feels think, well textured, and is exceedingly comfortable. The red belt fits easily and he very much appreciates how the pouches are designed to keep medical equipment—he’s been hurt enough times to know how useful a quick bandage can be.

There is a vest, dark as night and heavy, with clips on the shoulders, and angular green lines running down the sides. He shrugs the piece of armour on and zips it up tight. With it is his mask: the bright green cowl with rabbit ears comes on easily; next to it is the metal mouth guard formed of multiple metal plates connected by some sort of elastic material. The mouth guard is form fitting and seems to follow his facial movements. He grins and feels it stretch with him.

Shoes, gloves, and guards for his knees and elbow come one next. He frowns at the voluminous fabric at the bottom. He removes it and unfurls it.

Is that a cape? he thinks incredulously. The base material is black, and it has the same geometric lines as the rest of his costume except in light green. It has two clasps and he knows they will interlock with the ones on his armoured vest. He spots a white mark in a corner. On closer inspection, it reveals a Gaussian integral. 

Kaa-san, he thinks with a smile. He wonders if one day he’ll ever find the depths of her love and dismisses the idea as impossible.

The cape is weird at first. But as he walks out of the locker room, he understands why she gave it to him. Whenever it flares out, it increases the area of his shadow. It isn't as distracting as he thought it would be. In fact, when a gust of wind makes it flare out completely, he very easily draws shadowmatter from his now very large shadow.

“You look good,” Uraraka says. He looks up and sees he is the centre of attention for his group. He flushes and steps back. 

“It suits you,” Ojiro says.

“I wish I was manly enough to pull off a cape.”

The attention makes him want to turn right around and walk straight into the locker room. Iida, it seems, notices this.

“We can admire his costume later,” Iida says loudly, drawing back their attention to the front.

When All Might explains the concept of splitting into groups of heroes and villains, Izuku is happy. He loses his smile when his name is drawn alongside Tokoyami. The bird-boy glares at him. They’re going up against group B. He sees Ojiro is part of the group.

And then his heart plummets.

“Sir, I don’t think this is a good idea,” Kirishima says to All Might.

“Everything will be alright,” All Might says, then looks to Izuku. “I have faith in a young hero.”

Izuku can barely focus with how badly his hands are shaking behind his back, hidden by the cape.

“The fuck did you say,” Kacchan roars. “Oh no, this is going to be fun.”

Kachan's glare is pure magma and his grin a step away from being feral. “You better get ready, Deku. I’m coming for you.”

*****

Izuku wonders exactly which god he pissed off to be in this situation. Tokoyami looks infinitely more intimidating in his jet-black cloak that covers everything from the neck down. And yes, that cloak isn't just dark, but it actively absorbs the light. He wonders which derivative of graphene it uses to achieve the effect. Either way, it must have cost a fortune. 

“We need a plan,” Izuku ventures.

“Stay out of the way,” Tokoyami says harshly, “and don’t break anything. You’ll just be a liability in combat. After all, your quirk is so hard to control.”

Izuku looks away. “I didn’t mean—”

“What you say and do is more important than what you mean. You should understand what the shadows do to lies.” He scoffs then. “Unless you were lying about knowing the dark as well.”

I like him, the voice says.

“I know you’re angry at me,” Izuku mutters, “but we’ll need a plan if we want to win. I know how Kacchan—”

Tokoyami chuckles, darkly. “Your abusive ex-boyfriend?”

Deku opens his mouth. Tries to speak. Fails to find the words.

“Yes, what about him?” Tokoyami prods. “Unless you have nothing to say.”

“He’s not my b-boyfriend.” That, at least, seems like the most important thing to address first. “Are you going to take this seriously?”

Tokoyami sighs as if dealing with a particularly dull child. “You heard him. He’s coming for you. Your presence will draw him away and I will acquire the bomb. I hope you are adequate at running.”

“What, no, we fight him together or we lo—”

“Heroes,” All Might’s says through the earpiece. “Planning time is over. Time to infiltrate.”

“Keep up,” Tokoyami says and then rushes for the door.

Izuku stares at him numbly. When his partner looks over his shoulder, almost as if in challenge, Izuku forces himself to follow. They don’t speak as they search through the building though Izuku wants to protest the plan at every stage. The darkness is nearly uniform, not enough contrast for him to get a feel for the place except for the areas near the windows.

It is luck that they happen to be walking towards an outside wall when Kacchan attacks. Izuku pulls Tokoyami to the ground as Kacchan swings around the corner, explosions rocketing him past them.

“Deal with him,” Tokoyami roars, shoving Izuku off him. “Follow the plan.”

“W-what, no!”

But Tokoyami is already running the way Kacchan came, leaving him to deal with the only real threat in this entire building.

Kacchan cracks his neck, grinning madly. “I’m gonna enjoy this, you lying piece of shit. Quirkless my ass.”

“I w-wasn’t l-l-lying,” he stammers, raising his hands defensively.

“Shut up. You think you’re better than me. Fucking show it.”

He has barely a second to react before Kacchan is flying in his direction, hand extended and ready to set Deku alight. But he knows this move.

It’s how Kacchan always opens.

Deku steps forward, into the attack and not away like Kacchan thought. Overextended, and with his arm past Deku, Kacchan has no way to react to the elbow Deku plants in his gut. Shifting his weight, Deku grabs the arm and flips Kacchan over, slamming him hard into the ground.

Kacchan gasps in pain but rolls away, explosions taking him out of range of Izuku’s retaliatory kick.  

“How?” Kacchan roars. “You’re fucking terrified.”

And he’s right. His body trembles as he slides into a stance. “Y-you’ve always terrified me. But I know you. I know e-everything about you.”

Kacchan stills, watching him warily, a flicker of guilt crossing his features. “You know nothing, Deku,” he whispers.

Kacchan soars, at the last moment spinning into a kick. Deku ducks beneath it easily, not caring for the shattered concrete behind him, and rises, punching Kacchan's side. Kacchan groans and immediately retaliates with a right hook amplified by his explosions.

Just as he expected.

He bats aside the hand and it flies above him. He rises from his crouch and his knee slams into Kacchan. Deku rolls away. He feels a shadow shift and barely has time to see Kacchan rushing him without any explosion.

It takes him aback, for he’s never seen Kacchan fight without them. And it terrifies him.

His punch is wild, driven by fear.

Kacchan ducks beneath them. His arm lashes out and his palm smacks Deku’s side. He has a moment to realise how fucked he is.

The explosion rocks him and sends him flying. It feels like his organs have been jostled around. He slams into the wall, the breath leaving him. The armour took most of the blow but now he can see the shattered ceramic plates beneath the dark fabric.

Instinct makes him drop to the ground just as Kacchan’s foot slams into the wall right where Deku’s chest had been a moment ago. Deku pushes off the ground with his hands and flicks his leg out.

His shoe hits Katsuki in the chin, lifting him off the ground. He uses the momentum to flip onto the wall and pushes off, tackling Kacchan.

And somehow, despite being disorientated and not even looking at him, Kacchan grabs him first and flips him around. Momentum forces Deku into the wall.

There’s something cold and clinical to the way Kcchan moves.

Katsuki’s palm strike nearly hits clean if not for Deku’s quick cross guard lifting it above his head. Kacchan grins and the same hand he lets off an explosion. 

Deku shifts to the side before the blow can hit him. The elbow, more a pneumatic piston now, hits him in the shoulder instead.

The vest takes most of the blow and Deku is thankful because it would have otherwise dislocated his shoulder at best. At worst, it would have broken it.

What the fuck is going on? Deku wonders, backing away to put more distance between them. He knows how Kacchan fights, wild and untamed and driven by instinct. And he is fighting like that except his rage is frigid and calculating.

His blows are still wild haymakers and vicious kicks, but they only come when Deku is exposed. It takes every ounce of skill and ability he has to anticipate where Kacchan will be next. His eyes reflect his rage, a cold dagger through the chest instead of his usual inferno.

Deku takes another explosion to the chest and decides he can’t win, at least not like this.

“I thought you knew me, Deku,” Kacchan says, sounding murderous. “I’m going to break you. Use your fucking quirk. What happened to wanting to be a hero?”

I think we’re fucked, the voice says. Run?

Deku does. He slips through doorways, ducking and weaving. He has the advantage of knowing roughly where Kacchan is whenever his shadow passes through a lit area. Soon enough, he can’t feel Kacchan's shadow and takes the stairs.

He taps the earpiece. “Tokoyami, you need to help me,” he whispers.

“Dealing with the bomb,” his partner snarls. “Deal with your boyfriend.”

And then the communication cuts off. “Shit.” He runs because Kacchan's going to be coming up the stairs in moments.

“Deku!” he roars. “You can’t hide without cover.”

 What? Both he and the voice question.

The explosion that comes next is the largest Deku has ever felt. The floor shakes and the sound makes him think a bomb has gone off. He hears walls shatter and concrete break well before he feels the way the darkness vanish before the oncoming light.

He pivots on the spot and draws all the shadows he's gathered into a shield. The shockwave hits him. His shield lasts for a second before shattering but that is enough to divert most of the power.

“Tokoyami, please,” he begs before Kacchan is in front of him.

Deku pirouettes around his blow and punches him in the side. Kacchan grins and traps his arm. HIs headbutt takes Deku by surprise, his nose crunching from the impact. Blood streams from his broken nose. Kacchan lets go and Deku stumbles back. 

The palm strike to the gut winds him. The explosion after sends him flying back.

“You’re going to die if you don’t use your quirk,” Kacchan warns, his rage burning. “You saw what one gauntlet did. I’m going to fucking blow you away with the other.”

Terror grips Deku as Kacchan raises one hand in a fist. “W-what will it prove,” he stammers, crawling back in terror. “That you beat me. Everyone knows you’re stronger.”

“You just don’t get it. You think you can say the shit you say and run. Now fucking use your quirk!”

“Tokoyami,” he screams.

And then Kacchan moves.

Time seems to slow.

Okay, he always starts with a right hook, Izuku thinks, ready to dodge the other direction.

He’s fighting differently, the voice warns. 

Oh, Izuku realises, and finally understands. He’s planning around my moves. The right punch is a feint. It’s too telegraphed to be anything else.

He dodges into Kacchan’s right punch, already prepared to block the attack coming from the other side.

Except none comes.

His eyes widen, and he realises he’s made a mistake. Kacchan's eyes are wild and hot, not cold or calculating. And maybe, just the slightest bit terrified.

He feels the shockwave first. It slams into him like a freight train and sends him flying. And then he feels the heat, searing and excruciating. His face burns.

Izuku screams, his howl rending the air. He clutches at his metal mouth guard, fingers shaky and he fumbles badly. It feels fused to his skin and the hot metal burns his fingers. He rips it off, not caring that it pulls skin off. 

He roars in pain.

And then the darkness takes him.

*****

Fumikage Tokoyami is many things. He has spent so long battling the darkness within him that he is calm, collected. He must be strong every day of his life. His quirk is a danger, and everyone has always reminded him. His mother, overbearing and smothering, never let him go a day without a simple reminder of what he can do if he is anything but perfectly collected. And his father, coldly indifferent, is whom he seeks to emulate. That stoicism, that indifference to the world around you, is his final goal only so long as he directs it towards Dark Shadow’s influence.

Dark Shadow is his first and oldest companion—sometimes a friend in the light and always an enemy in the night. And, if he is being honest, his only friend. Losing control once meant he has been homeschooled. He doesn't know how to make friends, not really. And though he finds Shouji a perpetual fount of calm, and both Sero and Kaminari—Idiot Zapper—include him in their jokes, he isn’t sure if he can call them friends.

But he knows for a fact that Izuku Midoriya is not a friend. He still seethes at the boy’s idea that his quirk was easy to control. Controlling Dark Shadow is a constant battle, one he is always on the edge of losing.

The entity fed on his emotions; amplified the negative and ate the good. It is more docile in the day. But something about Midoriya’s presence makes it stronger. More spiteful. 

He listened to its warning that Midoriya wasn’t simply seeking kinship from another in the shadows. The boy wasn’t the first to try to learn more of his quirk. There have been doctors in the past who looked to learn exactly what Dark Shadow is, not to aid him, but to utilise it for their own ends. And if the boy really is connected to the shadows, then he could not be allowed to learn more, not when he is an antagonist. 

“Tokoyami, you need to help me,” Midoriya says through the earpiece. His voice is weak, breathless, and whisper-like. It grates at his senses.

Don’t listen to him, Dark Shadow warns. You saw what he did to the zero-pointer.

One boy in a green tracksuit. The robot that Fumikage fled from. A single glorious kick. The death of a colossus.

If he could face that then he could deal with a simple human. And if abused-half-of-relationship couldn’t win against his boyfriend, then he could at least distract Lord Explosion Murder. 

“Dealing with the bomb,” he says and lets Dark Shadow pull him away from Ojiro’s blow. “Deal with your boyfriend.”

The tailed boy is fast and agile, and his instincts are good enough that he keeps Fumikage from getting any closer to the bomb. Every time Fumikage tries to use Dark Shadow as a distraction, Evolutionary Failure is in his face with a punch. And after the first one that nearly knocked him out, he’s too wary to believe he can take another blow.

The ground shakes. He nearly trips if not for Dark Shadow pulling him off the ground and anchoring to the wall. Ojiro’s eyes are wide, his face pale.

“Bakugou, don’t,” he shouts in worry and looks to Fumikage. “We need to stop this now.”

Fumikage scoffs. “I’m not foolish enough to fall for that.”

“Then take the bomb,” Ojiro says and turns to the door.

And then, “Tokoyami!”

The shrill voice freezes him to the spot. It sounds like an animal howling, all anguish and despair. It is nothing like an animal brought to the slaughter that knows its fate—that is rage against injustice, a yearning to survive perhaps. But this is fear and terror.

It’s just a trick. Do not believe his lies.

He meets Ojiro’s gaze and realises he might have just underestimated the situation.

Another roar nearly deafens him. It is what he thinks an animal that just bit through its leg to escape a trap would sound like. A sense of victory, yes, to live another day. Heart-wrenching pain at the act of self-mutilation. And a sort of slow horror at the realisation of what it had just done. Living for a few more moments in exchange for being easy prey to any predator.

He’s out the door without a word to Ojiro. He knows where the stairs are and heads to them. “Dark Shadow, now,” he orders.

Except it does nothing. No. I will not let you help it.

“You vile serpent,” he hisses and takes the stair five at a time.

The floor below them is a picture of devastation. There is rubble from the collapsed walls blocking the way. Smoke wafts from fires still burning and the light from the gaping hole is blinding. He can make out Bakugou standing above the still form of Midoriya. He seems to be staring at his hands in a daze.

Ojiro dashes past him, his tail making it easier to get past the rubble. He shoves Bakugou aside and reaches Midoriya.

“Oh, fuck,” he curses, horrified. “No, no, no, no.”

Fumikage can understand. Through Ojiro’s hunched form as he checks the boy for a pulse, Fumikage can see what has become of Izuku’s face. The skin on the right side of his face is shrivelled away from heat, entire sections torn away to reveal the layers of fat and muscle beneath. Even in unconsciousness, Izuku’s faces is contorted in pain. Each small movement pulls at the burnt flesh. His stomach churns as an unconscious groan pulls a strand holding two bits of skin together, and he watches them flap eerily in the wind.

There is no bone revealed, thankfully, for Fumikage would not have been able to stay so composed. His costume has been burnt away and the force of the explosion has scattered the shards of ceramic from Izuku’s vest across the floor, and some into his torso. Ojiro places pressure on the largest shard, where Izuku bleeds badly, crying all the while. 

This is my fault.

He deserves—

Silence.

His hands tremble as he reaches his earpiece to call for All Might. Or someone, anyone who can fix this. He need not have bothered.

All Might appears in a gust of wind, his face grim and devoid of any smile. It is the first time he’s ever considered that the hero could be anything less than jolly. And it is terrifying to know this is the man villains face, a man of unbelievable strength and conviction.

The two robots he had been carrying are placed near Izuku and the hero pulls Ojiro back. One sprays something on Izuku’s face whilst the other plunges an anaesthetic in a part of his neck that isn’t blackened. He watches as they apply a foam that instantly hardens into his bleeding wounds and gently place him on the stretcher.

“Tokoyami,” All Might says flatly. “Aizawa will be here soon. I will stay with Midoriya.”

He nods shakily as All Might follows behind the robots, his posture tense. He looks like a man on the edge, ready to snap.

That leaves him with Ojiro, who’s white outfit is stained red, and Bakugou who stares at his hands.

Ojiro takes a heaving breath. “You did this,” he says quietly, staring at Bakugou. “You’re a fucking monster.” That is the first time Tokoyami has ever heard the boy say anything impolite.

Lord Explosion Murder looks up. “I didn’t—”

Ojiro moves, startling them all. He has Bakugou by the throat and looks murderous. “You meant to do it,” he snarls, shaking in rage. “You chose to do it. Don’t make excuses.”

Bakugou breaks Ojiro’s grip. “Don’t touch me.”

I need to stop this, Tokoyami thinks because Ojiro looks ready to kill. Dark Shadow, stop them.

Nah, I’m not your slave, his perpetual companion, currently his enemy, says as the two circle around each other.

Do it!

It obeys, thankfully. He feels his energy drain as Dark Shadow lashes out and grabs Bakugou by the waist, pulling him away from them. Fumikage wraps his arms Ojiro’s torso whilst the boy is distracted.

“Stop this,” he orders.

“Don’t touch me,” Bakugou roars, an explosion hitting Dark Shadow.

He feels the demon weaken. It wants to come back and get away from the light. Fumikage doesn’t permit that. He allows it to take energy from him though it makes him stagger.

The next explosion sets Ojiro off. He thrashes out of Tokoyami’s grips and charges Bakugou.

“Enough!”

Long bandages wrap around Ojiro and fling him to the side. It isn’t enough to hurt him or even make him fall, but it does place him further away from Bakugou.

Aizawa’s hair is high, his expression carefully blank. His bright red eyes focus on Bakugou. “Stand down, Bakugou,” he says, gently, almost as if speaking to a trapped animal. “Don’t make this any worse for yourself.”

The boy’s shaking becomes worse. It is then that he realises it isn’t rage but fear.

Let him fear, crow prince.

Silence, viper.

“I didn’t mean to.” Bakugou looks to his hands, seeing them for the first time. They clench and unclench. “He wasn—”

“I can’t help you if you don’t calm down. Take a deep breath.” Tokoyami watches astonished as Bakugou does exactly that. “And Ojiro, don’t you dare attack him. Go to the first floor right now.”

Tokoyami looks and sees Ojiro tensed and in a crouch. The boy has his teeth bared but he rises. Stiffly, he turns and walks to the stairs. It amazes Tokoyami that the boy still has the composure to listen.

Bakugou collapses to the ground. Aizawa sighs, his hair falling back into place. Tokoyami watches him kneel beside Bakugou and say something, his words getting Bakugou to stop shaking.

Midnight finds them like that. Aizawa looks to her. “Take him to the teacher’s lounge,” he says, helping Bakugou up. He isn’t looking at anything, eyes darting around everywhere.

“Cementoss has the rest,” she tells Aizawa and takes custody of Bakugou. “You good?”

“We’ll deal with this.” Aizawa frowns when she is gone. “Get to class, Tokoyami.”

He tilts his head in consideration. It is the reasonable option. “No,” he says finally and kneels. “I do not believe I will.”

“That was an order.”

He picks the dark cape off the floor. It is burnt in one corner and scuffed badly, but aside from that, it is relatively unharmed. The light green shapes have no meaning to him and yet, he finds himself captivated by them all the same.

“One which I will respectfully decline.” He stands, cape in hand. “And I will accept any punishment you deem necessary, but I failed in my duty as an ally. This is my fault.”

“No, it isn’t. You do not choose how other people react.”

Tokoyami nods his head. “It was my plan that Midoiya should distract Bakugou. I made it out of spite and pettiness, knowing full well that Midoriya would be the target of his rage. I abandoned him and ignored his pleas for help. I have a debt of honour I can never repay. That burden lies solely on my shoulders.”

“And when have you led before?” Aizawa asks. “What experience do you have leading a team, Tokoyami? Are you a brilliant tactician? You are meant to learn that here. And you could never have known what would happen.”

He looks away, his eyes burning. He refuses to cry. To do so is to grant Dark Shadow another weakness to latch onto.

“Please, sensei.”

He meets Aizawa’s stern gaze. The man will have to tie him up and drag him away if he expects Tokoyami to simply leave.

Eventually, he nods. “Fine.”

He’s never had to find the nurse’s office before. But he can simply follow the occasional droplets of blood. He raises a hand to knock on the door.  Before he can, fear grips him, irrational and false. He closes his eyes and slides to the ground, clutching Midoriya’s cape tight to his chest.

In this empty hallway, no one can see him cry. No one, except Dark Shadow.

Chapter Text

‘Peace, as a concept, is one we are all familiar with. Peace, as a reality, is one which we will never achieve. Humans fight and argue and look to assert their dominance. The heroes who protect will always be attacked by the villains that attack. Even in Japan, we have struggled to attain peace, even in this modern age. We know of the second Dark Age, the New Age, and the Golden Age of Heroics. We know the great heroes and villains. All Might's rise is emblematic of our inherent tendencies towards war. Despite this, attaining personal peace is a possibility and is achieved through one simple idea: to try and be better.’

-Excerpt from 'Questioning the Modern Age of Heroes,’ by Andile Sithole.  

Toshinori Yagi has failed many times in life. There have been occasions where he has been too slow or not smart enough. Knowing and acknowledging that not everyone can be saved does not negate the fact that each lost life is a burden and each mistake a weight he must carry.

He was too young and unskilled to aid Nana Shimura the day she fell. Each time he visits her grave, he asks if she is proud of him. And each time he receives no answer for the dead tell no tales.

He regrets not killing All For One the first opportunity he had. All Might had been victorious, and a single blow would have ended the greatest villain of this era. His inexperience had betrayed him then. The morals that he so valiantly fought for made him hesitate. And in that moment, All For One escaped. And each life the villain harmed afterwards was in part his responsibility for failing in his duty.

Today, though, is failure equal to those.

Izuku Midoriya is his successor and in the few months that Yagi has known the brilliant boy, he has failed him multiple times. The boy has died, before. Once because of Yagi’s negligence. Another out of grief. And, he suspects, more times out of a burning desire to seek knowledge. A desire he stokes every time he chooses not to confront his successor.

Today, though, he has failed spectacularly. His successor is hurt, and Yagi can only blame himself. His first instinct is to look at Katsuki Bakugou, strong and ferocious, and find fault in him. Yet, that is a disservice to both the boy learning to be a hero and the man who is the greatest hero.

“I should have listened,” he says aloud from his place in the nurse’s office.

Recovery Girl is busy, moving with a level of efficiency he can only admire as she fixes what she can of the boy’s face and wounds. The medical bots hand her instruments without a word, their synchronicity eerie. She accepts nanoweave grafts and applies them to Izuku’s face. He knows that she has taken skin from other parts of his body and bridged the missing flesh of his cheek and jawline.

Ejiro Kirishima had warned him against placing the two together. The threat Katsuki Bakugou had levelled immediately after the warning should have been the final clue.

He ignored it out of pride in his successor’s strength. What were the worries of a young man compares to the power of One For All and the inky blackness of Shadowshield? He cannot ignore his own arrogance in believing he knew better than classmates who so obviously cared.

“Yes,” Recovery Girl says. “Now shush.”

Even if not for the warning there were other signs. Ochaco Uraraka and Tenya Iida had both cautioned against the matchup in the observation room. When Izuku and his partner Tokoyami were planning, Tokoyami had called Katsuki Bakugou an abusive ex-boyfriend. It had been said cruelly and intended to hurt, but the fact that Izuku did not refute Bakugou being abusive should have been the reason he cancelled the match, favouritism be damned.

Instead, he had put aside his affection for the boy and donned the mask of the impartial teacher.

For much of the fight, he thought his actions validated by the showing of Izuku’s skills, matching Bakugou blow for blow without using his quirks. Izuku’s form was sloppy and inefficient but that was a result of experience, not competence. And he more than made up for it with his analytical mind.

That did not excuse permitting Bakugou to use his grenadier bracers to level the entire floor. But the guidelines for villains permitted structural damage. And the attack had not even been aimed in Izuku’s direction even if the shockwave was powerful enough that the boy had to use his quirk to block it.

But the inexcusable moment was not stopping Bakugou the moment he threatened to use the gauntlet on Izuku. Everything else before then could have been explained away. But that, was a failure only he is responsible for.

He remembers his successor plaintive scream to his partner before it happened.

He takes a shuddering breath. There is no smile on his face. Toshinori Yagi does not have to be strong every moment as All Might does. Toshinori can be weak where All Might must be perfect. And right now, he has no right to be the great hero.

Toshinori watches Recovery Girl kiss Izuku, his body glowing green for a moment. The boy’s upper body is covered in bandages. His chest rises and falls slowly, wires and drips connecting to beeping machines. He heartbeat is steady, slow. But it is there.

He can’t die. We could make use of his quirk, he thinks and feels immediately disgusted with himself. He does not know the reach or limitations of the boy’s quirk. And even then, there is no excuse for what would be murder, both in intent and action.

“I’ve been at the institution since it was founded,” Recovery Girl to outsiders, Chiyo to him, says without moving from her place near Izuku. “I have seen many mistakes and healed more injuries than you could count. But never so many inflicted on one boy in such a short time. This is the third time this week he has been in my office.”

She sighs and turns to face him. Looks him up and down. Shakes her head.

“This is your first time teaching, Yagi, so some leniency must be granted. But a failure of this magnitude is not one we can ignore. I don’t know what Nezu will have to say to you and undoubtedly Aizawa will be out for blood, but I will say that I am extremely disappointed in you.”

Toshinori closes his eyes. Takes another shuddering breath. Acknowledges his fault.

“You should be.”

“Go before I kick you out.”

He stands without another word. One For All infusing his body and strength fills him. All Might forces a smile and opens the door. He has no other choice. Not really.

Outside, Tokoyami sits on the floor in his costume, his head slumped in exhaustion. The boy doesn’t stir from his fitful slumber. Undoubtedly, he will be in pain when he awakens. He considers waking the boy.

There is a bundle of dark cloth in Tokoyami’s circled arm, light green lines in geometric patterns marking the cape of his successor. Toshinori decides he might not be the best person to tell anyone else how to behave. He remembers entrusting the boy to defuse, or at least maintain, the situation between Ojiro and Bakugou. The fact that he is here means that Aizawa gave him permission.

And if he doesn’t have permission, then they can deal with that later.

He walks the halls to the teacher’s lounge. School is over by now and most of the student body has left. Some of the older students linger, busy with a project or other, but he sees no sight of any first years. He ignores the hushed conversations as he passes, pays no heed to the stares. Rumours travel fast, and some distorted version of the truth will have by now made its way across the campus. The validity of the rumour does not matter, only its nature.

And right now, it paints All Might in a bad light.

He sees Aizawa before his fellow teacher does. The scruffy looking man stiffens when he sees All Might. He tilts his head towards a class and All Might dutifully follows. Aizawa closes the door behind them. 

“Do you know what the biggest responsibility a teacher has towards their students?” Aizawa asks, tone deathly flat. “To keep them safe. And you have just completely jeopardised that for Izuku.”

“I know,” All Might says.

“I very much doubt that.” His hair stands on end even though he isn’t looking at All Might. He has never seen Aizawa so frazzled. “Have you even once considered what this will do to Ojiro? He was very nearly ready to strangle Bakugou.”

His eyes widen. “What?” he splutters.

Aizawa cracks his neck in one swift motion. “You left Tokoyami to deal with that situation. And right now, he’s so guilty I’m going to have to spend the rest of the term making sure he doesn’t have a nervous breakdown. I have to make sure Ojiro doesn't kill someone. I had to spend the last hour calming all the students you abandoned because for some unfathomable reason, instead of checking everyone else you had a duty to, you wasted your time uselessly in Chiyo's office.

“That doesn’t even begin to deal with Bakugou. He’ll be lucky if the judge tries him as a juvenile.”

All Might chokes suddenly on his spit. “There’s no—”

“Izuku’s mother is fully in her right to press charges against both Bakugou and the school. The fact that you don’t know that proves every single reservation I had about you. You let a student who I specifically marked down as unruly and temperamental, possibly dangerous, battle someone he threatened to kill. You did this despite the protests of his fellow classmates. You did not intervene when deadly force was used. You are the reason he’s in that hospital room. And now I must deal with this. So, you stay out of the way before you make anything worse.”

Aizawa barges past All Might, his expression one of absolute hate. He pauses at the door to glance back over his shoulder.

“You are, undoubtedly, the single worst teacher to plague UA’s halls at this moment. And in your very first lesson, you undid everything I was working towards. You set us back so far in your arrogance."

*****

Aizawa feels more frazzled than the last time he fought a villain, one who was competent in close range and had a long-distance emitter quirk. He remembers his heart pounding, blood rushing in his ears, and the quiet tendril of dread that he might not walk away. He won by luck alone which bothers him more than he is willing to admit.

He wishes that just once, once and only once, that luck applied to something important. Perhaps one day he will be lucky, and UA will change the entrance exam. Maybe he will be lucky and Principal Nezu will listen to his objections on certain staff members.

If he can choose a person for that luck to apply to, it would be Izuku Midoriya.

Everything about the kid is a red flag. By now, he has watched the recording of the battle simulation a dozen times, and he can’t decide who to punch first. All Might for not listening to Kirishima or stopping the simulation when he had the chance. Tokoyami for leaving his ally and making the plan. Bakugou for being Bakugou. So many options, none of whom were acceptable targets: All Might because there is little point in punching a man who can take an artillery round to the face; Tokoyami because there was so much guilt in the few words they shared; Bakugou requires his help, and no matter Shouta’s reservations about the boy, so long as he is a student Shouta will do everything in his power to guide him.

He meets Katsuki’s mother when she arrives. The woman is as blonde as her son and looks younger than Aizawa. Which makes no sense unless she had Katsuki at fifteen—not unheard of, but contraceptive measures are ubiquitous—or if her quirk has something do with it.

“Mrs Bakugou,” he greets.

“Where is that little shit?”

That is, in no way, what Shouta expects. But he has heard worse. He leans against the chair so that he doesn’t loom over this woman. No reason to intimidate her, not when she’s clearly stressed.

“We need to talk first,” he says evenly. “You son—”

“Acted like a piece of shit. I’d like to have a conversation with him about why that kind of behaviour is unacceptable.”

He hums. “Then I suppose you’ll also explain how his behaviour will affect his future court hearing.”

She stiffens, a hint of fear gracing her features. “What?”

“What your son did would, at best, be considered petty quirk assault which, if he is lucky and the judge is lenient, will result in a fine, expulsion from this campus, and a permanent mark on his record.” He says this with the coldness of reason. “That is assuming the Midoriyas don’t personally press charges.”

Her eyes widen. “Inko wouldn’t… we’re friends, I can—”

“Talk to her? Certainly.” He inclines his head. “It might just be construed as forceful coercion of relevant parties to a court case. Would you like to listen to me before talking to Katsuki? Or do you want to take him home without the facts?”

She takes a seat on the desk opposite him, her hands shaking.

“I would like to help Katsuki,” he explains. “He is one of my students. But as it stands, the recording of events doesn’t paint him in any positive light. His threats towards Midoriya prior will likely see him charged for aggravated quirk assault, and that has a prison sentence of ten years for adults, three for minors if they have a clean record. 

“The fact that I had to caution him against public quirk usage makes me suspect his record isn’t clean. I don’t have access to it, but tell me Mrs Bakugou, do you believe Katsuki has a clean record?”

Her hands are clenched, arms shaking from the tension. “He’s been… he’s been cautioned for public quirk usage twice. Officially, that is. And he’s-oh fuck, he’s served community service before.”

He sighs because of course, he has. Some days, Aizawa hates how convoluted privacy laws can get. They can’t even look at criminal records of minors when considering prospective students. And something as light as community service would have actively been censored by the government.

“Right now, Midoriya is in critical condition. If not for Recover Girl’s quirk, he might very well have died from shock, and even then he’ll be permanently disfigured. The absolute best option, the one which I doubt the most, is that Katsuki will receive a sealed red order.”

“I’ve never heard of one.”

“I would be shocked if you did. They’re particular to crimes related to heroics, or students in hero courses. Each red order is unique, but they all come with restrictions. If he gets one, then he might avoid a prison sentence. But that will only occur if the Midoriyas are willing to accept one.”

He lets the woman take her son. She drags a frozen Katsuki, and from the way the boy winces, her grip is relentless. He hopes Katsuki is smart enough to stay home and not get involved in an altercation. Or worse yet, run away.

Whilst that leaves Katsuki’s situation… addressed, if not dealt with, there are still two other students to consider. He hates this part of being a teacher. Deciding which punishment is fair, and wich punishment extreme. Very much of Katsuki’s situation is out of his hands, and even in the unlikely event that the Midoriyas aren’t out for blood, his career as a hero is over.

Ojiro’s actions are simple enough and can be excused because of him being friends with Midoriya. That still doesn’t change the fact that he attacked Bakugou after the simulation ended. A short suspension without community service, maybe a day or two, will be acceptable.

He’ll have to speak with Ojiro later and explain that regardless of the situation, attacking another student outside of a supervised training session has punishments. And besides, it will give Ojiro some time to think things over and study for the history test Nemuri has planned as he knows the boy failed the quiz yesterday. And, it would remove him from the immediate reaction from his classmates and the other students. Shouta has seen how teenagers behave whenever a new piece of gossip is involved, and he doesn’t want to risk Ojiro reacting badly.

His door opens. Very few people—exactly two—have the permission to do so.

“Shouta,” Nemuri greets and takes a seat. “I talked to the stragglers. Kirishima thinks this is his fault somehow. Said he tried warning All Might.”

She is still clad in her costume. He has known her far too long and seen her in enough compromising situations that it isn’t a distraction. When she puts her legs on the table, he isn’t distracted by the way her costume hugs the contours of her flesh. They had tried once, and it simply hadn’t worked. His interest lay elsewhere, and she was too distracted by her internship at the time. 

“He did. All Might didn’t listen.” Before he can rant, he opens a drawer and removes one of the many packs of salty liquorice he has.

“Those things are the reason your eyes are bad.” Nemuri takes the pack and eats one. Shouta sighs and just removes another pack.

“This is a mess.”

“It is,” she agrees around a bit of liquorice. “What are you going to do about it?”

“What can I? Bakugou’s out of my control. Midoriya’s condition is critical. And I have no idea what to do about Tokoyami.”

“You never mentioned Ojiro.”

“Two-day suspension.”

She nods, and Shouta doesn’t doubt she understands why he made the decision. She always understood him, perhaps better than Hizashi.

“I’ll add in some history homework. Drown him in work and distract him.”

“Thanks,” he says.

“What’s the problem with Tokoyami?”

“How responsible is he for what happened? I can’t decide because of that.” She makes a sound for him to continue. “We’re supposed to teach them. I’ve had five days with him. A month from now I’d expel him instantly. But how I can I hold him to that standard when he hasn’t even had the chance to learn anything.”

“Then don’t.”

“And do what? Suspend him? For how long? If I suspend him longer than two weeks, then he’ll be unable to pass the term. And if that’s the case I might as well save his parents the tuition and make him come back next year.”

“None of that has anything to do with your problem. Is he responsible?”

Aizawa closes his eyes. “He made a plan to pit Bakugou against Midoriya and retrieve the bomb himself. And I can’t fault it. He knew Bakugou would disregard all else and leave him a clear path to the bomb. It was the logical option. And if he was just a bit better-trained none of this would have happened."

“And if Bakugou chose not to behave as he did, then we wouldn’t be having this conversation. You said it yourself, he made a good plan for someone with a week’s experience.”

He eats another piece of liquorice. Takes his time chewing it. Savours the dryness that comes with it.

“He made the plan out of cruelty. I have no idea why he was so angry with Midoriya, but he called Bakugou his abusive ex-boyfriend—”

“Is he?”

“Nemuri, why do you think I pay attention if my students are fucking each other.” He takes a deep breath. “I’ve reached a point where I have to wonder how many people are abusive in his life.”

“Shouta…”

He blinks and considers what he said. "I'll tell you later if I can. It's not my place."

“You know I’ve got your back.”

He snorts but can’t help the smile. “I do.” He slides a file to her. “The kid was homeschooled for the last four years because of something he did in the past.”

“Censored?”

“When isn’t it? I’ve noticed Tokoyami doesn't really interact with anyone in the class, and when he does he barely seems to know how to react. He's got no affiliations on record, so I don't even know if he understands peer interactions. Do I punish him because of how he was brought up?"

He reaches for another liquorice and finds that pack empty. He slams it on the desk, and the loud clap seems to echo in the tiny office.

“This class is a mess.” Nemuri just watches him and holds out a liquorice. He takes it. “Thank you.”

“Suspend him for a week,” Nemuri says after a beat of silence. “Throw in some community hours. I haven’t spent much time with him, but I don’t think he’s a bad kid. Maybe he made a bad decision, but how many have we made? Remember that fight against—”

“I remember you falling in a sinkhole—”

“Or how Nezu almost—”

“That was Hizashi’s fault and you know—”

“And the cat.”

Shouta sighs. “Fine. You win.”

*****

Darkness surrounds him, a haze consuming his senses. He knows unconsciousness and has had to deal with it before. He pushes past the haze, struggling for the light.

He opens his eyes slowly. The world is blurry. It takes a while for the white to resolve into the ceiling, for the weird droning to become the beeping of some machine, the sharp smell to reveal itself as antiseptic and illness.

Izuku shifts his body. Pain hits him, sharply in his torso and a dull throbbing from the neck up. His eyes sting with unshed tears. He tries to lift his arm but finds the energy too great and gives up with a huff.

“Good, you’re awake.” He flicks his eyes to the side and sees Recovery Girl. “How much of that do you remember?”

He frowns. The pain in his face flair up making him groan weakly. White spots fill his vision. Then a sensation like ice fills his veins. The pain dulls slowly.

“You’ve been hurt badly, Izuku. Using my quirk on you depleted your energy reserves. But not everything can be healed.”

“H-how… bad?” he croaks.

“It will scar. You will retain full functionality, but you’ll need to come in every day for a healing session.”

“You c-can treat it… yourself?”

“I’ve dealt with worse.”

He closes his eyes. Another scar to accompany the rest. “I-I… understand.”

His eyes feel heavy. Fighting it is useless for he has no energy to do so. The darkness takes him again and he falls into a dreamless slumber.

When he wakes again the room is the orange of the setting sun. Everything still hurts but he has the strength to sit up this time. His body is bandaged heavily, his neck and the right side of his face the worst, but there were some around his torso.

“Don’t touch those.” He looks up. Recovery Girl looks tired, weary, as though she has just come from a battle. “I had to stitch some of those cuts. If you poke too hard they might start bleeding again.”

“S-sorry,” he whispers, wincing at how it hurts his throat. Recovery Girl hands him a bottle of water and he sips gratefully, the cool liquid soothing his throat.

“You have nothing to apologise for.”

“I keep on coming here,” he says slowly. “I should have… careful. Should have been more careful.”

She shifts, her features softening. “You cannot control what others do. Do try to be more careful in the future. I would hate to see you again for tripping.”

Blood rushes to his face. “I’m c-clumsy sometimes.”

“Clumsy sometimes?” She huffs. “If you do get hurt like that again, don’t hesitate to come see me.”

He nods slowly, grimacing at the way the pain flares up. “Okay.”

“If everything seems bright, or you experience synaesthesia, it’s because you’re currently on a strong mix of stimulants and opiates.”

It takes him a long moment to parse through her words. “Aren’t those bad?”

She waves away his concern. “You’ll be fine. You might crash in approximately three hours and sleep for half a day, but you do need to be up.”

“What about Kaachan?” She raises a brow. “Bakugou.”

“Why,” she begins slowly, cautiously, “are you so worried about him?”

“Because I… I hurt him,” he explains before taking another sip of water. “He must have a few bruises.”

“Izuku, do you understand why exactly you’re in a hospital bed?”

He sees fire in his vision, red eyes set in rage and remembers unbearable pain. The fear, the complete terror of what would come assaults him. His hands tremble. He takes a deep breath and casts aside the memory of fear, locking it deep in his mind.

I will remember even if you forget.

He hears the beeping of the heart monitor, rapid and oppressive in its tempo. He takes another deep breath and watches it slow.

“It was an a-accident,” he says. “Accidents happen.”

It was no accident, the voice roars. He sought to kill you again.

There is static in his mind for a moment. It clears, and his head is blessedly quiet for a second that seems to stretch for infinity.

Then the voice screams in pain.

But that, he can ignore. Just like the monsters that hide in the deepest recesses, Izuku can forget the screams of the voice burning.

“And you consider that level of force an accident?” she asks, softly, gently.

“I can break his body if I used my quirk. He wasn’t aiming at me. I just dodged the wrong direction.” He shrugs. The motion pulls at his injuries and he winces.

“Did you try and break him? Did you once try to actively harm him?”

There is something in her question that he can’t figure out. Even with the stimulants forcing his mind to work actively, and the painkillers numbing the pain, there is still something in her question, a weight he finds incomprehensible.

“What does that have to do with it? I got hurt in an accident. Hurting him back doesn’t justify it. That only makes things worse.”

“And you find absolutely nothing wrong with this situation.”

“It’s not like I’ve never been hurt before.”

He thinks of all the injuries he’s received in the abyss. The worst, the deep and thick cut on his shoulder had healed in minutes thanks to an eye large as a continent. He thinks of his many deaths.

“And who’s hurt you before?”

He blinks. “No one,” he says quickly, not even caring that the lie is poor. “It doesn’t matter.”

“You know you can speak to us if you have any problems.”

“I do? Aizawa-sensei said the same thing.”

“Even problems you have outside of school.”

He looks to the side, away from her too kind gaze. “I don’t think y-you can help. Can I go now?”

“I can’t stop you, technically. And you have to go to the teacher’s lounge today.” She walks to a cabinet and opens it, removing a cane from it. He stares at it. “Trust me when I say you’ll need it for the next few days.”

Recovery Girl slowly disconnects the monitoring equipment, checking over him one last time in the process.

“What do the teacher’s want with me?”

She pauses just about to remove the IV needle. “They’ll want your account of the event.”

He nods. “Okay.”

When she is done he removes the blanket. Slowly, he turns and lets his legs dangle off the side of the bed. He takes the cane then. She helps him as he places his weight on his legs. They nearly give out until he puts most of the weight on the cane. A spot on his torso hurts, the same spot that’s been bandaged so heavily.

“What happened there?”

His legs tremble as she says, "Some of the ceramic plates in your vest shattered. A large piece stabbed you."

“I guess I’ll just have to fix that for the next revision.”

He takes a tentative step forward. It hurts, and he is thankful so much of his training revolved around using his legs because were they any weaker, he would fall. He takes a breath and takes another step forward.

“Now, you won’t be doing any exercise until I give you permission.”

That nearly makes him trip. “W-wait, what?”

“I’ll prescribe you a series of stretches to perform but if you deviate from what I mandate you’ll wind up in a hospital for the next few months.”

 “…Fine.” He walks slowly to the door, noticing Recovery Girl following him. “Are you—”

“Escorting you, yes. Would you have accepted a wheelchair?” He flushes at the very idea. “We don’t want to exacerbate your injuries any further if you get lost.”

He opens his mouth to argue. Decides that she makes a perfectly valid point. Opens the door instead.

The hallway is bathed in orange. All the shadows are long, deep, and full-bodied. Like this, he feels like the entire world is open to him. He notices Tokoyami immediately. The boy has his head bowed in sleep. Nothing about it looks peaceful.

“Tokoyami,” he says, more forceful than he expects.

The boy’s eyes open. He blinks rapidly, looking around wildly until he spots Izuku. He stands and Izuku gets to see exactly how badly ruffled his feathers are. There is dirt and dust specking them, and he still wears his costume. His eyes are bloodshot and they give the illusion that they are red throughout instead of merely his irises.

“Midoriya,” the boy says uncertainly. “You left this.” He holds something dark in his hands.

He takes his cape, burnt in places and battered, but still whole. The material is warm to the touch, he realises now, and wonders if it had a layer of thermal insulation. Good for anyone going through shock like a civilian he might be called upon to rescue.

“I’ll let you talk,” Recovery Girl says, startling Tokoyami, “if you make sure he gets to the teacher’s lounge.”

“I would have done so regardless.”

“Well, let me leave you to it.”

Izuku watches her walk away, leaving them alone. He swallows, unsure of himself. The hostility from Tokoyami is gone, and that is almost worse than feeling a burning gaze judging his every action and being found wanting.

“S-sorry,” he blurts out, “for whatever I said. I didn’t mean to make you so angry.”

“You have little to apologise for,” the boy says, calmly, though his appearance belies that.

“I made you upset. You should always apologise for that.” Tokoyami flinches, stepping back. “I’m sorry.”

Tokoyami shakes his head, seems to regain his bearing. “The fault is entirely mine. Had I not been spiteful and listened to your concerns, then you would not be in your current state.”

“Accidents happen.”

“That was not an accident,” he says sharply. “He wished you harm and sought to accomplish his goal. And… I aided him in doing so.”

“W-what, no, this isn’t your fault. We just had a bad matchup.”

Tokoyami closes his eyes. His fists clench. And then he starts vibrating.

“Midoriya,” he says, voice perfectly level and on the edge of pure rage. “You really don’t see any issue with this, do you? No, let me say this. Cruelty is unbecoming of a hero and acting upon it has repercussions, and rarely are they benevolent. Acting on any negative emotion does so. I’ve been taught this my entire life because my quirk has sentience of its own, and it can influence me. It hated you and your duplicity, and I allowed myself to believe its words. Even now, it is calling me a traitor.”

Izuku swallows, legs trembling at staying upright so long. “But I’ve never even met you before.”

“It is irrational,” he agrees, still angry but now Izuku knows very little is directed at him. “As is your casual disregard for your personal health and safety. I do not claim to understand people well, but tell me, do you have any concept of the worth of your life?”

He stares at Tokoyami, wary of the earnestness in that gaze. And he knows that Tokoyami can never know of the depths he plundered to know about his quirk, can never know about the scar on his arm.

“Of course, I do,” he says, voice cracking. It sounds like a lie to his ears.

A lie is a lie is a lie.

“I see…” Tokoyami exhales. Inhales deeply. Exhales again. His stance loosens just the slightest bit. “I will not ask you forgiveness for I very much doubt you can even recognise my fault. Instead, understand that so long as I live you will always have an ally in me.”

Izuku wants to smile but he fears the pain that will come from it. “Does that make us friends?”

Tokoyami laughs. It is a quiet sound, the tiniest bit true joy but mostly bitterness. “If you so wish.” He extends his hand. “Fumikage Tokoyami.”

“Izuku Midoriya.” He extends his hand. His legs betray him then and he stumbles forward. His eyes widen in anticipation of the pain.

Strong arms catch him. Tokoyami holds him gently, carefully, his gaze worried. Izuku flushes in embarrassment. And is forever thankful that the boy says nothing, instead, helping Izuku stand upright without a word.

He extends his elbow to Izuku, not looking at him. Izuku places his hand on it, grateful for the help. Because right now his legs are tired. He wonders how long he has until the pain starts as they walk, his cane an unwanted companion in this.

Step-step-tap. They walk at the pace Izuku sets, slow enough that he thinks Tokoyami secretly a saint for he never shows any irritation. Step-step-tap. They turn a corner.

“Can I ask you a question?”

Step-step-tap.

Tokoyami glances at him out of the corner of his eye. “You may.”

Step-step-tap.

“Did you even go back to class after the trial was done?”

Step-step-tap.

“No.”

Step-step-tap.

“So, you were out there for a few hours. Doesn’t your neck hurt?”

Step-step-tap.

Tokoyami sighs. "It is a minor irritation. Do not worry about it. More worrisome are your cumulative injuries.

Ste-step-tap.

He is growing to hate the sound of the cane. Each tap is a reminder of weakness. And weakness is not something he can abide any longer. He knows what lurks in the darkness, knows the cost of weakness in a place where drowned gods can come back to life.

But right now, here in this moment, he can be weak if only for a moment. 

Chapter Text

‘My arrogance made me see heroics as a simple matter. It is not. Both it and the law I argued must be upheld even at the expense of compassion are messy things. There is rarely any cut and dry answer.  Very few are willing to see themselves as anything but the hero of their own story. Circumstance turns many to crime. To simply brand them villains and sentence them to a life in prison solves nothing. I have spent the last five years speaking with many of these villains and their stories are nothing short of mournful.’

—Excerpt from ‘Reminiscing on the Final Hour’ by Hinata Ononoki. 

He is tired when Aizawa finds them, his torso hurting and his face throbbing faintly though whatever painkiller Recovery Girl gave him is still effective; he knows how painful burns and cuts are meant to be and this is a dull echo in comparison. In retrospect, Izuku realises that having someone who knows how to get to the teacher’s lounge would have been a benefit. As it was, both he and Tokoyami got lost. Or, perhaps his horrid sense of direction spreads more effectively than a genetic virus.

Aizawa’s eyes are redder than usual, not from crying as Izuku is well aware what that looks like, and not because of his powers either. His features are hard and with how little he knows the man, Izuku doesn’t know why he moves so stiffly. When he politely tells Tokoyami to change and go home, Izuku is surprised. He expects a lot more anger from Aizawa and much more resistance from Tokoyami.

Neither occurs.

“Are you in any pain?” Aizawa asks as they walk, one hand on Izuku’s shoulder to stabilise him.

“No,” he says because it is mostly true. At Aizawa’s gaze, he adds, "It's nothing I'm not used to."

The hand on his shoulder tightens, then loosens. “I see.”

They speak no more until they reach the rather large doors of the teacher’s lounge. He finds it funny that he and Tokoyami ignored this hallway twice as being too far out of the way to be the place. When Aizawa doesn’t open the door, Izuku looks to him and makes a sound of confusion. 

“Midoriya, this is a closed meeting to get your recounting of events. Katsuki Bakugou will not be here.”

“B-but don’t you need his as well.”

“That was taken care of already. We will have questions regarding the incident. But, if there’s anything else you want to tell us it will not leave that room.”

He shrugs with one shoulder, the other a starburst of agony. “…Okay?”

Aizawa inhales sharply and opens the door. The room is larger than he expects but much more utilitarian than opulent. The seating is functional and looks comfy, but it lacks the grandness the many doors of UA imply with their simple presence. The wall opposite is lined by windows allowing the last warm rays of light in, casting the three figures in orange light—the principal whose name Izuku forgets, and is too fearful to ask for the intelligent glint in his beady eyes remind him of knowledge mortals are never meant to acquire; All Might to whom heroism is as easy as breathing, now lacking his usual electrifying grin; and Recovery Girl who frowns at him from her seat away from the other two, almost as if she isn’t an active member of the proceedings.

“Midoriya, my boy,” All Might says, seemingly lost for words, and for some reason, Aizawa’s hand clenches tightly, not enough to hurt but enough to clue him in on the tension in the room. It is thicker than flesh and feels as though the wrong word will cut through it and splatter them all with the rainbow ichor of gods.

“Perhaps let the boy sit,” the principal says in a voice at odds with the intelligence in his eyes. It is too bright and too sincere, and a part of Izuku refuses to believe the principal can be that sane and well adjusted, not when he sees a reflection of the monsters lurking in his mind n the principal’s eyes.

Aizawa leads him to a chair near Recovery Girl, using his body to block Izuku’s view of All Might. He wonders what happened between the two of them.

It was your fault, the voice groans, almost as if in pain. Izuku finds he wouldn’t be shocked If it is true.

Recovery Girl is to his right and slightly beside him, Aizawa to his left and only All Might and the principal sit across from him. He feels at once both surrounded and not in any danger.

“Let me start by saying this is not a formal hearing of any sort,” the principal says. “We simply want your accounting of events.”

“And your mother will be here as soon as we can get a hold of her,” Aizawa adds.

He looks to his teacher. “She p-probably left her phone in the car. She… she does it often.”

“This has happened to you before?”

Izuku shrugs heedless of the pain for pain brings clarity. He needs to be sharp and clear as broken glass, and though he is unsure why, this certainty will not leave him.

“Just the few times I’ve been sick at school before. And don’t you have a recording of what happened?”

“We do,” the principal says, his pleasant voice grating against Izuku’s ears. “But a recording gives little personal context. We cannot know what you were thinking or why you made choices you did.”

“Not that we’re accusing you,” All Might adds, hastily.

“Okay? But, I mean why? It won’t change anything.”

He sees All Might look away, guilty, but for what Izuku does not know. There is nothing to be guilty of, no action or word this great hero says can ever be reproached. His words are true as the snow is cold and the moon a distant mistress surveying the world indifferently. For All Might to be guilty, then are not all people guilty?

“No, it will not,” the principal agrees. “But we still need it to punish Bakugou accordingly.”

He frowns, ignoring the way his face hurts from the action. Ignoring things is second nature by now.

“Why? It was an accident.”

All Might chokes, coughing. “What part exactly was an accident?” Aizawa glares but All Might continues, "And for that, I apologise. I was too… hesitant to stop the exercise. And I did not fully address Bakugou’s issues.”

“But what does that have to do with Kacchan getting punished?” he asks, still confused.

The principal hums. “I think I understand. I believe you read the code of conduct for this campus.” Izuku nods uncertainly. “Then you should know that deliberately harming a student is grounds for expulsion.”

He blinks, stunned. And looks at the teachers. All Might without his smile. Aizawa looking grim and angry and tired. Recovery Girl, still silent, watches him. And the principal whom he can’t read.

“Wh-what right,” he begins slowly, angry for the first time in months, “do you have to decide he needs to be expelled? I’m the one—me, not you--sitting here in pain and I consider what happened to be an accident. That’s just… that’s just abdicating whatever responsibility you have to Kacchan.”

“We have a responsibility to ensure our student’s safety,” All Might says and for some reason that makes Aizawa’s fists clench. “Our first priority is you.”

“And I very much suspect you see this as being your fault,” the principal says.

“I’m the one who d-dodged the wrong direction.”

The room falls silent and the silence is heavy. There is a weight to it that makes Izuku nervous. All Might looks to him in pure horror and Aizawa looks very ready to strangle his hero.

He blurts out, “Kacchan wasn’t even aiming at… me.”

That seems to make it worse as Aizawa turns his head, ever so slowly, to look at him. There isn't anything like horror. Instead, this is the pure realisation that the nightmare is true and walks beside you.

He knows that expression all too well.

“You very literally can’t see any issue with what happened,” Aizawa says. “You even think you’re at fault.”

“Aren’t I?”

All Might shifts. “Izuku, my boy, you’ve done absolutely nothing wrong.”

“We wouldn’t be here if that was the case.”

Aizawa blinks three times, his expression going through a gamut of emotions before he finally settles on blankness. “We’re here to ensure you’re safe and kept safe in the future. And… You’ve read Ononoki?” he asks suddenly.

“Once or twice,” Izuku answers.

“What does she have—”

“Do you think heroes are beholden to the law?” Aizawa asks, ignoring All Might completely. “Were I to commit a crime, should I be punished for it?”

“Of course.”

“So, if I were to, let’s say hurt Present Mic, should I be punished for it?”

“You wouldn’t,” Izuku says, wondering why Aizawa is giving such ridiculous hypotheticals. He plays along and says, “But Ononki says you should be punished in full accordance of the law.”

“Now, let’s extend this. What if one student willingly hurt another? Let’s say a student taking a gun to school and firing at another student.”

He swallows. “They should be puni…” He trails off. “I see what you’re doing here. But the circumstances are different. Kacchan’s training to be a hero. He didn’t want to hurt anyone.”

There is a beat of silence, pregnant with equal part horror and fear.

“He threatened you,” the principal says heedless of the weight of that silence.

“He d-does it all the time.” There is a flash of anger on Aizawa’s face and he realises he may have made things worse. “And he was playing… the role of a villain.”

“We cannot disregard prior behaviour,” the principal says. “Based on reports from your middle school, he showed aggressive behaviour. Specifically, towards you. And from his mother, we are aware he has served community hours for public quirk usage. That is behaviour unbecoming of a hero.”

“And you somehow think-no, you… you expect him to learn to be a hero if you just kick him out? So why did he let him come in the first place?”

“Your safety, and that of other students, is our priority,” All Might says.

He looks to his hero, feeling betrayed. “You know, you told me you dislike Ononoki because her views would see anyone who made a mistake go to jail. What did you say? That it breeds resentment. So how can you say that to me and then decide Kacchan should be expelled.”

“That was different.”

“How? You called me out on the same hypocrisy.” He looks to each of the people in this room, meeting their gazes even if he does flinch away from the principal.

“I know Kacchan better than anyone else,” he continues. “And I know that above all else he wants to be a hero. And by expelling him you’re failing him.”

Aizawa sighs. “There are consequences to every action.”

“Then you’re also failing me. If we can’t be kind and forgiving to others, then what’s the point of even trying?” He shakes his head, looking to the ground. “Kacchan sees the world as one fight after another. And maybe that's unhealthy but that can be helped. And seeing the world like that is why he has more drive than anyone else. He wants to be a hero and so he will. Everything and everyone else is just an obstacle to that goal."

“Drive and ambition are no excuse for his actions. If anything, they make things worse.”

He refuses to cry even though his eyes are burning. Why won’t they listen to him? Why can’t they see what he sees in Kacchan?

Why do you lie for him? The voice asks. Izuku ignores it.

Izuku looks up and meets the principal’s heavy gaze, a gaze filled with knowledge forbidden to mortals. “If in ten years he becomes a villain will you accept responsibility for that?”

The principal stays quiet, holding his gaze as if searching for something. He hums after a moment.

“Are we responsible for all the actions a person takes in their lives? That seems like something only a god could reasonably do.”

The gods are dead, and their corpses dream within you.

“We’re not,” he answers. “But we’re responsible for our own actions. If you know how to help someone, and you have the power to do so, then you’re responsible for what happens to them.”

“That is a heavy burden to carry,” All Might says, weary in a way Izuku has rarely seen.

“If we don’t carry it then who will?”

The door opens. Izuku looks and sees a woman he’s never seen before. And behind her is his mother. She walks regally, her face a mask of tightly controlled anger, and doesn’t even look to the teachers—he pays attention to the way she ignores them, as though they are not worth a moment of her time, in the event he needs to ignore something the same way. He offers her a smile, regardless of how much it hurts.

“Izuku,” she says flatly. He shifts warily because her anger is terrifying, even if not directed at him.

Aizawa’s fists clench in the corner of his vision.

“Hi, Kaa-san,” he says nervously, swallowing thickly.

Only now does she look at the others in the room. She pauses for a second too long on All Might, her lips curling in disgust, before settling on the principal.

“Principal Nezu,” she says icily, shocking him because he wasn’t certain she knew anything about UA. “I want an explanation and for the sake of your school, I sincerely hope it is satisfactory.

*****

Inko Midoriya is not a woman prone to anger or rage or hate. The outside world passes her by and she watches it occur indifferently. In her younger years, she was wild and fun and lucky to not have been arrested a few times over for milking casinos dry. But as years went on, her relationship with Hisashi evolved and she became calmer, more dignified and compassionate. The birth of her son made her change very much of who she was—no longer could she be so carefree. If nothing else, she would raise her son right. And in the deepest pits of her mind, where she hides the things that will hurt her, she knows the woman she once was could not have raised a boy to be anything more than a dreg of humanity, and if that boy did become someone worthy of society, it would be in spite of the person she once was, not because of that young woman without a care in the world for anything but money and a high that came only from conning someone; a high that at first seemed forever but is in truth transient and fleeting.

When Hisashi went abroad for business, her warm and brilliant son became her world. He was, and still is, the anchor to which she was grounded to this reality. For him, she will accept any pain. It is her duty as a mother, one she will perform gladly. The pain of watching a child grow and walk their own path is profound, for one day he would reach an age where her support will be unnecessary. But, no matter the heartache of her son leaving, knowing he is safe and strong, and above all, a person of strong moral character is worth every iota of pain.

And she will do anything to see him make it to that age. She accepted without question that Izuku spoke the truth of his quirk for when had he ever lied to her? He kept things but not out of malice. Forgetfulness, yes, and sometimes the secrets were not his to tell. Staying awake with him long into the night as the monster he ran from tormented him is easier than breathing, and the exhaustion that follows the next day is no burden. Nothing will ever be a burden when it came to Izuku.

For him, she will be strong. She was kind and gentle when he needed it. But more and more, over these last few months, was she starting to understand that she needed to be strong in a way only Hisashi could be. And the thought of her husband brings a profound sadness for he was always the strong one, the implacable man despite his mild disposition.

Age made her plump. It is hard falling into a routine of exercise once more. The bones are old and pained, the nerves slow and damaged. But she has to match Izuku more now. Once a week, when he is busy and out of the house, she calls up an old friend and dons her dusty boxing gloves. She isn’t stronger in any noticeable way, would not be winning any fights. But her quiet strength makes Izuku stand taller and that is enough.

It has to be.

She can never forget his shock when she showed him the strength of her quirk and holds that memory tight. There had never been a need to train it much. She had no desire to be a hero. Now, though, lifting weights with her quirk is trivial. She is only now learning how to use it offensively. It is a struggle to do more than tear a paper in half by directing her power in opposing direction. But she is patient, and she knows that strength will come in time. 

That patience is the only reason that she. Does not. Rage.

Her son who is the earth and moon and sun and stars all at once, her son who is terrified of the dark but perseveres regardless, her son whom even All Might acknowledges, her son to whom her love knows no depths, her son is injured.

And she hates how only now she receives the voicemail. She hates that she left her phone in her car and never got the call. She hates how she never once bothered putting her work contact on Izuku’s application form because when wouldn’t she have her phone on hand?

Above all, she hates that her son is alone and hurt and she isn’t there to do anything to comfort him.

She enters the hallowed grounds of UA, the first amongst equals in Japan, and internationally recognised as one of the greatest alongside Hero Memorial Academy in Zimbabwe and Toledo Research Institute in Spain, and all the other great halls of learning. She knows the rigorous difficulty of entering the academy, not least the written portion of the exams which tests a broad spectrum of knowledge across all disciplines—and even those who ranked lowest but were accepted still stood at the top one percent of the country—but also the physical exam that weeded out so, so many.

She is proud her son entered the school. But she always fears for him. Even if UA is nothing like the monsters she sees lurking in her son’s shadow, she has feared what would become of him. Now, her fears have rung true.

A lady in simple business attire greets her, polite, sympathetic and aggravating in equal measure. She offers no answers when Inko asks, deflecting the questions or using her position as a mere secretary to say silent. It is this that worries her more.

The school is quiet and near empty. There is a gaggle of students at the base of the stairs: a red-haired boy, a stern looking one, and one with a tail; and three girls, one whom she recognises as Uraraka immediately, a purple-skinned one, and one who looks similar to a frog. She would pay them no heed but for the red-haired boy who very suddenly breaks off from the group and walks to her nervously. She pauses and waits for him, softening her features.

“Ummm, Mrs Midoriya?” he asks nervously.

She offers him a smile, watching some of the tension bleed from his posture. “And you would be Kirishima?” She watches his eyes widen, and his friend’s look at her in shock. “My son has spoken of you often. Shouldn’t you be a home? All of you.”

She is still a mother through and through.

“Ma’am, we just… I-I just wanted to apologise.” He closes his eyes and takes a fortifying breath. “We tried to tell them not to pair them up. I couldn’t convince them.”

She raises a brow. “Who exactly?” she asks, not unkindly. But she needs this information.

The boy swallows. “All Might, ma’am. He was the one conducting the exam.”

“I see.” She does not let her anger shine through. “Kirishima. Ojiro. Uraraka. Forgive me if the rest of your names escape me at the moment, but none of you are responsible for what happened. I promise you that I’m not angry with any of you. And I know my son is not as well. So please, go home before you worry your parents.”

Her gaze hardens now, and she watches the children shift nervously. Good, they all knew exactly how worried their parents will be. She waits patiently as they walk past, some wanting to say something but her hard gaze stops them.

She sighs and allows the useless secretary to take her through the schools. The overly large doors give her pause only once before she decides they are ornamental rather than functionally designed to suit particularly large students. It sours her already dim view of UA.

At the teacher’s lounge, she walks past the secretary without waiting. The room is suitably large and the orange light strangely fitting. But none of the furniture matters so much as her son.

Her heart breaks for a second. There he is, bandaged heavily, particularly around one side of his face and neck. And from the bulges in his jacket, he is undoubtedly bandaged just as heavily. His visible features are bruised and lightly scratched. The grief she feels almost breaks her right then and there.

Then she hardens her heart. Kindness can come later when they are lone and in private, not now when her boy is surrounded by people far older and more experienced than him. She walks towards him, not once glancing at the others.

“Izuku,” she says, cold and sharp as a sword in ice.

She watches him shift warily. Good, he knows they would be having words later. “Hi, kaa-san.” Only now does she see the partly clouded expression in his gaze. Painkillers, the high-grade kind that didn’t leave someone confused and tired. But the fact that he could answer as calmly as he did is enough for her to trust he would heal, eventually.

Hopefully.

She looks around the room: a short old lady in fake hospital attire focused almost entirely on Izuku, likely Recovery Lady or whatever her name was; a scraggly looking man with thick fabric threads around his shoulders staring at her with well-hidden hostility, but the tension in his body gives him away; All Might who’s larger than life visage makes her lips curl in disgust for a moment, for how could this man who wishes to train her son, without so much as a word of explanation, as a successor fail him; and the rodent-like creature whose eyes are more intelligent than any she's ever seen, and who would intimidate her on any other day in any other situation.

“Principal Nezu,” she says coldly, and without a single hint of her usual compassion. “I want an explanation and for the sake of your school, I sincerely hope it is satisfactory.”

His smile is placating. Not for a moment does she believe it. This creature holds too much knowledge for her to consider him anything less than a worthy enemy. 

“Would you perhaps like a seat?” He stares pointedly at Izuku’s homeroom teacher.

The man stands and offers her the seat. Inko very nearly snarls because she knows this tactic and hates how well the rodent outmanoeuvres her. Saying no makes her look emotionally distraught and impolite. Both things you never wanted to be branded as a woman.

So, she accepts the seat, nodding once to the principal. She interlaces her fingers with Izuku. A united front is what they will show to these enemies. Her house is not divided, and they will not fall alone.

Together, perhaps, but never alone.

“I would like an explanation much more.”

All Might coughs, drawing their attention. “It was an exercise to simulate heroes infiltrating a villain’s hideout. Unfortunately, one of the students used excessive force.”

“And who, exactly, is this student?”

“Katsuki Bakugou.”

She grips Izuku’s hand tighter. “Katsuki Bakugou…”

“Kaa-san, it wasn’t his fault.”

There is so much pain in his voice. It quavers two octaves lower than usual, the beautiful harmonies that bring her joy discordant or outright missing. Perhaps to anyone else, he is calm and composed. She is not anyone else.

“Izuku, keep quiet,” she says without looking at him. “I want to know why you thought that pairing my son against Katsuki Bakugou was an acceptable decision.”

"We could not have predicted what happened," the principal says, "and whilst that does not absolve us of the blame for we could have done more, we did not plan this or wish for this outcome.”

“I very much think you were aware of the dangers.” She looks to All Might. “Did one of your students not warn you against this?”

All Might tenses. She expects him to lie or deflect for a moment. “Yes, he did. What happened was a result of negligence on my part. And I sincerely apologise.”

That, at least, lessens her hostility somewhat. “Thank you,” she says for she is not pettiness. “And what will happen to Bakugou?”

“Expulsion was our original intent,” the principal says. “But circumstances are making us realise we may not have that option available.”

She closes her eyes. Stills the building rage. Says, “You understand that I’m fully within my rights to sue both your institution and press charges against Bakugou.”

“Kaa-san,” Izuku protests, “You can’t do that.”

"Why not? You're a minor who's just been assaulted. And I'm your mother."

“He’s a good person.”

“Good people don’t do bad things. Like bullying someone for years.” It is a guess, nothing more. The openness between mother and son is a recent development, one brought on by Izuku’s quirk.

His hand clenches and the flare of pain reminds her just how strong her son is. But other than that, one indicator, his body and features are calm.

“He can be a better person. He made a mistake, but he doesn’t deserve to be punished for it.”

Principal Nezu clears his throat. “And this is part of the problem. Izuku absolutely believes that Bakugou did no wrong.”

She stares at her son, really stares at him. And she understands that he is not as sane as he once thought. Inko has seen him at his worst, gibbering in the language of dead gods—and now she can speak to birds and spiders and hear their oddly complex speech—and moments away from breaking under the strain of the knowledge he found in the murky black of madness. She knows it affects him from his very sudden fear of spiders to the way he finds death to be a trivial matter.

But now, she sees there is something fundamentally broken with her son. 

“The law says crimes must be punished,” she begins slowly, almost hesitant. “I know you believe full well in the law. Villains should be punished. Attacking another person with a quirk is a defining characteristic of a villain.”

“It was a training exercise. I d-dodged in the wrong direction.”

She inhales sharply. “Was Stormwind a villain?” she asks suddenly.

Izuku frowns, then winces in pain. “Of course. She killed people and… she made herself a dictator.”

Good. At least her son still has a sense of morality she can understand. “She did free Europe. Some call her a liberator and hero.”

“But she killed people.”

“Some would argue her good outweighed her bad. So, should she have been allowed to continue out of popular opinion.”

He shakes his head. “She needed to be stopped regardless of what people thought.”

“And shouldn’t Bakugou be stopped before he hurts someone else, regardless of what you think?”

His eyes widen. “W-what, no. That’s no—”

“It’s exactly the same,” she interjects, “in concept. One person performs good and evil deeds. Someone says their good outweigh their bad. The law which is above human opinion says they should be punished and thus we follow the law.”

She seems him pause and mull her words over. This is the type of argument she knows he responds to. It always has been. Though she does wonder why he doesn’t stutter as much. Perhaps the medication? Perhaps his love for everything to do with quirks?

“But the law should have compassion, right?” Izuku looks to All Might who sighs.

“And are you not worthy of having that same compassion extended unto you?”

Izuku blinks, confused. “But I’m here. I’m not the one who might be expelled.”

“No, you’re the one who was hurt and needs to protected,” his homeroom teacher says, speaking for the first time. “And I believe you need to be protected from yourself more than anyone else.”

There is a weight to his words that eludes her. A secret, maybe, and one that makes her angry at him for her looks to her near the end of his words, as if to say ‘except you’. And that bothers her more than anything else.

“Izuku, why are you arguing for him?” she asks.

“Because he’s worth it. If I can forgive him why can’t you?” The question is childish and even Izuku flushes with embarrassment.

“Because you would probably forgive someone who killed you,” she says sharply and watches him sink lower into his seat. “Right now, I don’t think you’re capable of making healthy decisions.”

“Young Midoriya,” All Might says. “You have a big heart, larger than anyone else. But you are deserving of the same help you argue young Bakugou should receive.”

“I-I’m f-fine.”

“No, you are not,” the Nezu says finally. “You have no concept of self-worth and that is not the kind of mentality UA wishes to foster. It is not the sort of behaviour we are willing to permit.”

She frowns, trying to see the subtext to his words. It is All Might’s soft gasp that makes it click.

“Are you threatening to kick my son out? After your complete failing.” She doesn’t care that Izuku whispers her name softly, pleadingly. “I should sue you on principle alone.”

“Suing the school,” the homeroom teacher says suddenly, almost threateningly, “would involve a lengthy investigation on both sides. Izuku would have to go through a full examination and a quirk evaluation. Hard questions would need to be answered about his life prior to this.”

That makes her clench Izuku’s hand tighter because she shares the same terror of what would happen should his quirk be discovered. “That sounds very much like a threat.”

“You’ll have to forgive Aizawa,” the principal says. “And perhaps I phrased my words wrongly. We would simply like Izuku to undergo counselling with the school to deal with his mentality.”

“There’s nothing wrong with me.”

She smiles falsely. “Izuku, stay silent.” She looks to the headmaster. “I take it this is mandatory if Izuku remains at this campus.”

“It would be.”

“I think we can survive a lawsuit.” He inclines her head, regal as a queen, and levels another threat. “Shiketsu would love to have him.”

“Kaa-san,” Izuku says, terrified if his strong grip is any indicator. "It's fine. It's just a regular counsellor, right? Not a quirk counsellor." He's looking at All Might, not her.

The man’s expression clears. “I believe that can be arranged if you would feel more comfortable.”

Izuku looks to her, still terrified but mildly less so. “Please. If there’s one thing you ever do for me, please let it be this.”

*****

Shouta Aizawa watches the proceedings clinically, but not detached from emotion. His anger rises at the coldness Inko Midoriya displays towards her son, and the displeasure she has seems less like concern for her son and more outrage that they had the audacity to call her here. The only positive is that she recognises her son needs help, even if she hadn’t wanted to allow him to go for counselling—and Izuku’s sheer terror at the idea only makes his personal anger worse.

At least Nezu had dissuaded the woman from suing the school. Somehow.

The matter of Bakugou would still have to be dealt with. Right now, at the very least, the boy would be suspended for the next few weeks.

His official record will forever have a sealed red order on it, one that will be severe and restrictive. It was the only way they could Inko Midoriya to agree. And whilst they will need a judge to process it, UA has a reputation that made doing this easily. Depending on the judge, if Bakugou infringes on the red order, then he could retroactively be charged with assault against Izuku.

Regardless of what happens, so long as Bakugou chooses to return, Aizawa has a responsibility to him. Sending him off to the counsellor twice a week wouldn’t be enough, not since Izuku unwittingly explained how the violent brat saw the world. Or threatened them with the possibility of Bakugou becoming a villain.

They aren’t even a chunk of the term in, and these brats are causing him more stress than he deserves. When the meeting is done, Aizawa offered to walk her to the car. Before they leave, Recovery Girl speaks for the first time.

“You’re going to be in a lot of pain come morning,” she says. “I’ve had your medical supplies sent to your home. Take the painkillers first thing when you wake each day.” She looks to Aizawa then and nods before leaving.   

They walk in silence, even Izuku though he looks more focused on not tripping. It bothers him that his mother doesn’t even offer him a hand to help him walk.

At the elevator she stops and says, “Izuku, why don’t you walk ahead.”

The boy wants to protest but his mother’s gaze is hard and unyielding, and he quails beneath it. “Okay.”

She waits until the boy is in the elevator and its gone down a floor before speaking again. “What, exactly, is your issue with me? Because where I stand, the only person who should have an issue is me.”

“I have an obligation to my students,” he says, tone level, “one which we failed in today. But I still have a duty to keep Izuku safe in the future. From any dangers.”

She looks startled, her cold mask slipping. “Good. We have—”

“That includes you,” he says bluntly, interrupting her.

It takes her a moment to register exactly what he said. And then she's red, whether, from shame or guilt or something else, Aizawa does not care.

“He’s come to school injured and terrified more than once. He even claims he tripped after we gave him a quirk assessment form.”

“He did.”

“Which is illogical in the face of Izuku’s combat skills. Accidents are a common excuse for people who intentionally hurt themselves.” He tilts his head. “And for people in abusive situations.”

That sets her off, her stance shifting as though ready to fight. Not that Aizawa is worried. They have cameras placed everywhere, even if they don’t record audio.

“Don’t you dare accuse me of that,” she snarls. “Not when my child is going to be scarred forever by what your school did.”

“And he’ll be scarred further with you.”

She blinks very slowly, and he watches the tension leave her frame. “I would ask that you keep baseless accusations to yourself.” She takes a deep breath. “And if you don’t then I’ll take you to trial, not least for slander. And no matter what you think, the media is absolutely going to love knowing such a prestigious institution threatens students with expulsion to keep them quiet.”

“We never—”

“The media and the people will not care. Especially not when a teacher is threatening me with silence through baseless accusations of abuse to keep me quiet. Me, a single mother who raised a child that entered UA against the odds.” She smiles cruelly. “I could care less what you think, Aizawa. But if you so much as fuck up with Izuku again, then I’ll see to it that UA is nothing more than a monument to failure.”

She turns and walks away, her footsteps thunderous. He watches her walk down the stairs and reach Izuku. They exchange a heated set of words before she’s grabbing Izuku by the arm and practically dragging the boy. His fist clench in anger as he watches the scene.

“That was reckless.” He looks over his shoulder and sees Chiyo looking more than a little disappointed. “And brash. Not logical in your words.”

“I needed confirmation,” he says, hating how hollow the words sound.

She huffs. “And you think you have it now?”

“She practically confessed to it.  And threatened us as well.”

“Only after you threatened her. Aizawa, there is a reason we follow rules and regulation. An unkempt man partly responsible for her son being harmed is now threatening her with charges of abuse. You are a hero and a teacher at UA. You’re in a position of power and trying to silence her. She reacted as anyone would under that circumstance, with the only weapon she had over us.”

He frowns. “So, you think we should have kept quiet.”

“I think you’re emotional and not looking at this logically.” She sighs. “Becoming attached to your students is a good thing but not right now. Because as it is, we can’t go to the authorities as we should have done without a media war we would lose.”

“We’re telling the truth. We need to help him.”

“Aizawa!” she snaps, silencing him. “You might be angry with All Might for undoing whatever we were working towards, but you’ve just put a mountain between us helping Izuku. Here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to explain this situation to Nezu. Then you’re going home to sleep, have a bottle of something, and so help me I will call Hizashi to drag you home if you don’t. And only then will we make a plan that is both legally and ethically sound. Do you understand me, Aizawa?”

He takes a breath and lets the angry haze fade slightly. “Fine.”

“I swear you’re still a child.”

Chapter Text

‘This age is not one of peace, but through the sacrifices of our predecessors, it is one of stability. Yet, we can never forget heroics is oftentimes violent and destructive. Regular laws sometimes cannot cover the bounds of heroics. It is why the sealed orders were created, as a method to both protect and regulate heroes. They allow crimes to be pardoned but in turn pose harsh restrictions, whose consequences very often exceed the possible punishment of the original crime. They are as follows: red to violent acts; yellow to property damage…’

—Excerpt from ‘Questioning the Modern Age of Heroics’ by Andile Sithole.

Pain rouses him from his slumber.  It starts deep in his bones and works its way through his system, lighting up every nerve on the right side of his body. His spine tingles, the base worst of all, before a sharp spike seems to drive its way through his head.

His eyes open wide. The world is blurry, hazy, and only his memory of the shadows in his room stop him from panicking completely. Everything hurts, and it triggers memories of fire—the bright light before the heat and pain and the pressure wave moves too slowly and too fast—and the absolute terror he’s felt more than once—why, why, why are you so angry Kaachan? don’t hurt me, please, I’m sorry, it’s my fault

Blindly, he reaches for his nightstand. He knocks something over in his haste and fumbles with the cylinder there. Hands trembling. He jabs it in the side of his neck not covered in bandages and depresses the contents. Icy cold trendily seems to surge through his body, and the pain subsides slowly.

He slumps over and that triggers another flare-up of pain. Izuku groans, and rolls onto his back, wiping away the tears. He focuses on breathing: in, hold it for ten seconds, ignore the way the pain flares up; out, hold for two seconds; don’t think on how painful it will be. He does this until he has some semblance of calm.

When he is ready, Izuku pushes himself upright, avoiding putting undue pressure on his right side. He looks down at the thick bandages around his torso. Finds a growing red spot. Curses because now his sheets are bloody.

His cane is on the ground and he takes it, grateful to have it as he shambles to the bathroom. The medical supplies are in the cabinet under the sink, stocked well enough that a doctor would be proud. At some point or another in the last six months, he's had to use most of the things in there. Snipping off the bloody bandages is easy. The wound is three lacerations, all partly healed thanks to Recovery Girl's quirk, but the largest cut's stitches have popped. The numbing spray stings for a moment. It doesn’t completely ease the pain as he redoes the stitches and bandages up his side again.

There is blood on the floor and sink and tub, bandages and plastic on the ground. It is a mess, one he is very disinclined to bother with right now because that would mean bending and struggling to get up. And both of those would hurt.

He does it anyway, not wanting his mother to find the mess.

The mirror shows someone strange. There is a freckled boy with green eyes and green hair, like his. But half his face is bandaged heavily, and a streak of white hair stands out starkly at his temple. His features are pallid and pinched, perspiration dripping from his forehead down his chin. His eyes are dark and behind them, there is fire and pain and just a hint of madness lurking in the back. 

The boy is not him and is him at the same time.

“Boo,” the reflection says. Izuku stares at it, watching it crack its neck. “You fucked up.”

“This isn’t real.”

The reflection laughs, high and bright and so so terribly mad. “Of course, it is. I’m as real as you are.”

“Go away.”

“Name me.”

“Fuck off already.”

The reflection tilts its head and it changes, morphs into something that terrifies him completely. It is Izuku as he once envisioned himself, warm and awesome in his green costume, a hero to the people, revered and worshipped in equal measure.

“I keep the secrets,” the reflection, the hero he once imagined, says. “I am the unmarked grave of your failings.”

The glass shatters. Izuku looks at his fist in shock, not knowing how it has embedded itself in the mirror. He pulls his hand back, wincing for the glass scratches him further. He shakes his hand gingerly, watching sharp shards of bloody glass fall to the sink. 

The door opens. His mother enters, worry writ plain on her features.

“Izuku,” she says and takes in the scene. “What did you do?”

“I punched the mirror.” He smiles, undoubtedly a rictus of pain. “My reflection wasn’t being polite.”

She takes a step forward. Reaches out tentatively. Cups his cheek.

“Izuku, honey, reflections don’t talk.”

“Mine do.” He chuckles. “Mine do. Of course, mine does. Why wouldn’t it?”

The absurdity of his life hits him right then. His chuckle devolves into choked sobs. Instantly, he is in his mother's strong and warm embrace, staining her clothes wet with his tears. Her hand is in his hair, stroking it, and it might be childish, but he wants nothing more than to hug his mother forever.

When he falls silent she pulls back to look at him and wipes away the tear tracks with a gentle thumb. She traces the edge of the bandages where it meets flesh. It tingles and Izuku knows it would be infinitely worse if he hadn’t used the anaesthetic earlier. A part of him hopes it doesn’t interfere with Recovery Girl’s painkiller. The rest of him knows he can die quick enough if they mix badly.

“You alright now?”

No. “I’ll be fine.”

“We’ve talked about honesty before.”

“What do you want me to say? You know I’m a nervous wreck and probably crazy.”

“You’re not crazy.”

He wants to roll his eyes but refrains. Barely. “Then everything that’s been happening is a result of my quirk and I might as well be crazy. There isn’t much of a difference.”

“I’ve seen you at your worst. Traumatised, yes, but not crazy.”

“Speaking alien languages is most definitely a sign of sanity. Right up there with coming back from the dead.”

She sighs. “Sarcasm doesn’t suit you.” He flushes. “But I’m glad you’re feeling… better. And I’m happy you’re going to see a counsellor.”

He sticks his tongue out. “You’re glad? After you threatened to sue the school how many times?”

“Don’t be petulant. One day you’ll get older and understand that you need to use whatever weapons you have to protect yourself.”

“No one was trying to hurt us.”

“Are you certain of that? You have no idea what your teacher said to me.”

“It couldn’t have been bad.” Her face darkens. “He’s a hero, kaa-san. They don’t do bad things.”

She ruffles his hair though her expression is still closed off. “Don’t lose that naivety, honey. Get dressed, we’re going to see that nurse of yours.”

He does so with a bit of assistance. Wearing a shirt is much too difficult but letting his jacket hang open is more than doable. Especially after the pain medication he takes kicks in. It leaves him drowsy and he doses off.

Recovery Girl looks him over and immediately finds the stitches. “How did the stitches break?” she asks, looking to his mother.

“I didn’t even know they were broken.” His mother frowns, and though she is behind him, her gaze feels like a hot poker on the back of his neck. He swallows. 

“And the cuts on his hand?”

Blood rushes to his face. “I-I punched a mirror,” he offers, weakly.

Recovery Girl hums, not believing it for a second. “I see.” He flushes further.

She bandages the cuts, her pace even and measured. "You've had experience with stitches." It is more statement than a question as she checks the stitches once more. "You've done them often?"

“A few times.” He looks over his shoulder to his mother. Her face is blank as though giving him the choice to explain. “I’m pretty c-clumsy.”

A lie that bad is only a truth, the voice says.

She sprays the right side of his face with something. It seeps through the gauze and bandages. He sees more than feels the bandages disintegrate and fall off. The cold air stings and pain flares up in long and sharp streaks like a whip on a cattle’s flank. He closes his eyes and grits his teeth because the pain only worsens.

Recover Girl sprays something on the wound again. Blessed numbness seeps through his skin. He almost cries at the relief. She applies a thin layer of a salve before reapplying the bandages and gauze.

At the very end, her lips extend, and she gives him a kiss on the forehead. Instantly, he feels exhaustion take over and only his mother's strong hand keeps him from falling back.

“You’re going to be tired most of the next week,” she explains. “I can’t heal you too much without risking you running out of energy. Which could put your body in shock and in the worst case, total organ collapse. The most activity you’re allowed to do is walk.”

He nods weakly. “Thank you.”

“Go get some sleep.”

Izuku leans on his mother and partly on the cane as they head back to the car. He forces himself awake until they’re home. The couch is comfortable and close enough to the kitchen that Izuku can get there is he absolutely needs to. It also has the benefit of being near the TV.

He wakes again in a few hours. His throat is parched, a headache brewing and a dull sort of pain reverberates through his bones. A bottle of water and two pills rest on the table. He swallows the pills and drinks greedily. A flashing light draws his attention. His phone, which he has forgotten about, is only a stretch away.

He expects maybe a message or two at best. He doesn’t expect his phone to be visibly slowed as it processes every single message. He reads through them slowly: Kirishima who is awkward and apparently terrified of his mother; Iida whose first message is stilted and formal, but the later have more empathy, and he even has the audacity to give him a link to a folder which he promises will have notes and homework for the next week; Uraraka who seems to write using more emojis than words; Asui who sends pictures of her and Ashido doing random things and a promise for ice-cream and maybe, just maybe a threat to braid his hair; Ojiro who is so profusely apologetic that Izuku’s heart breaks and he wants to force himself up and out the house to find him because no one should feel that guilty over Izuku; and Shinsou is displeased.

 

[Friday; 1521] Shinsou: Staying late?

[Friday; 1530] Shinsou: Replying isn’t that hard.

[Friday; 1540] Shinsou: Rumour is someone in our year got hurt. Know who?

[Friday; 1603] Shinsou: Okay, whatever. You can talk to me when you’re ready.

[Friday; 2003] Shinsou: Why the hell are you so angry at me?

[Saturday; 1000]: Shinsou: I know for a fact you’re up. I found out from Jin who’s bloody murderous by the way.

[Saturday; 1214] Shinsou: Stop ignoring everyone.

 

It is the last message from Shinsou that worries him the most. It is less a message and more an order to meet him at the café tomorrow morning. And something about the lack of warmth or dry humour worries him, makes him think Shinsou is angry at him personally, and not just worried.

 

[Saturday; 1500] Shinsou: Anteiku. Tomorrow. 1100. Delete my number if you don’t show up.   

    

The next morning after he sees Recovery Girl, his next destination is the café. Anteiku is as pristine and welcoming as ever from the outside.

“I’ll be fine, kaa-san,” he says, hobbling out of the car. He still needs the cane, less because of his injuries and more because of how exhausting each healing session leaves him.

She smiles, ruffling his hair. “I’ll be right here if you need help.”

“You can do other things. I’m pretty sure there’s a lot of things more important than waiting in a parking lot.”

“You’re my son,” she says as though that answers everything.

“Okay?”

He walks in and is greeted by a purple-haired girl, both eyes red on black. It should look creepy but for her smile which is what he imagines angels look like when they smile. And when he describes Shinsou, she nods and leads him to his friend.

Shinsou looks more tired than usual. His eyes are completely bloodshot, hair a mess and he seems twitchy from too much caffeine. He navigates his way through the cats, avoiding jabbing one with his cane.

“Hey,” Izuku says.

Shinsou looks up and sees him. His eyes widen as he stares at Izuku, not saying a word.

“C-can I sit?” he asks, shaking the cane just a tad.

“It’s not like I can stop you.”

Izuku sits. He’s not sure what to say, not when Shinsou looks angry because strong emotions rarely ever grace the boy, and he’s never seen any but joy.

“I’m sorry,” he offers because that’s as good a place to start as any.

“You should be. I had to find out second hand from Jin what happened. And even then I barely know because no one’s saying anything to me.”

He looks down. “I’m sorry.”

“I thought we were friends.”

“We are.”

“Then why on earth would you not respond?”

He sinks lower in his sit. “Because I forgot about my phone and that’s not an excuse but right now I’m in pain and about to pass out and I’m sorry and—”

“Izuku,” Shinsou interrupts sharply. He looks up and sees Shinsou ready to cry. “Do you understand how worried I was? You can’t just get hurt like that.”

Izuku tilts his head. “You’re not… angry?”

“Of course, I am,” Shinsou snaps, “but I’m more worried.”

And that is when a cat jumps on his head. They all freeze. And then Shinsou burst out laughing. Izuku joins in with a chuckle when the black cat leans over and stares him upside down. It licks him with its rough tongue on the nose.

He hears a snap and startles, the cat leaping off and landing on his lap. Shinsou has his phone out.

“I’m sending that to Uraraka.”

His eyes widen. “What, no. Don’t you dare.”

Shinsou laughs again. “Too late.”

His phone vibrates. And then vibrates again. He pulls it out and has to put it on silent before he worries it might die. He knows that picture is going to haunt him the rest of his life, but he can’t find the energy to care, at least not when Shinsou smile is brighter than the sunlight on seawater and softer than moonlight on snow.

“Since when are you friends with Uraraka?”

“You’re the one who wants everyone to be friends with everyone.”

“I don’t see what’s wrong with that.”

Shinsou shakes his head. “I hope you never do.”

*****

Monday is when he understands exactly how profound boredom can be. Yes, seeing Recovery Girl takes up part of the morning. Yes, reading Iida’s impeccable notes and doing homework takes up time. Yes, there is a backlog of books and documentaries waiting for him. But all of that doesn’t take up more time than usual. And without the time spent in class or exercising or just generally being stressed, he has little to truly occupy his time.

Bothering his mother is out of the question after the one time he did it in the morning. He finds her in her room, hunched over a folder.

“Kaa-san,” he ventures.

She startles, frantically hiding the folder from view. “Izuku, are you alright?”

“I should ask you that.” Her eyes are red from crying.

She smiles gently. “I was just looking at some baby photos.”

“S-sorry.”

His mother wipes away her tears. “It’s not your fault,” she reassures though it only makes him feel guilty.

He sits on the couch and plays with strings of shadowstuff, twisting it this way and that with nothing more than will. And when it eventually disintegrates in the light, he observes the time. It has been consistent throughout the day, as has been the time it took to make the shadows.

It takes him little effort to reach into his shadow and retrieve a notebook. He shakes off the errant globules of darkness and flips to the page with his costume. He'll have to redesign and modify it. Thankfully, he won't pay a single cent. UA, as an apology—or as hush money according to his mother—will be paying for his next costume and the copy he would keep personally, as well as all of his costumes whilst he is at school. 

“Metal conducts heat,” he says out loud. “Gotta change that. Ceramic plates instead as a backing. Thicker material on the vest. Don’t want to get stabbed by my own armour again. Oh yeah, find out what Aizawa uses for his ropes and maybe add a non-conductive surface to it. Maybe?”

Shut up already, the voice says quietly. You’ll wake them up.

“Wake what up?”

No, no, no, you fucking bastard. Don’t ever ask that. He hears the crackling of flames and something so high pitched that he winces. Fuck. Now the ghosts are looking for me.

The voice goes away, and with it the static that he only now notices. Izuku shrugs. This is in no way, shape or form the worst thing that he has experienced.

He chooses to stretch as Recovery Girl ordered to pass the time. They aren't particularly strenuous, but with his injuries, it feels like trying to carry the weight of the world. His legs quiver and a thick layer of sweat covers his body. All he wishes it to pass out. Unfortunately, he has standards. The shower afterwards helps ease some of the pain.

The next two days pass in much the same way. Do homework. Investigate the more benign parts of his quirk. Make designs. Do some card tricks. Reply to the trickle of messages he gets throughout the day. Fail to do some basic stretches. Repeat. 

Wednesday is when he makes new discoveries of his quirk. He sits on the front stairs, in the shade cast by the balcony. Everything hurts and all he wants to do is pass out on the couch, but the very thought of walking that distance makes his injuries hurt in anticipation. So, when he falls through his shadow, Izuku is more annoyed at the pain that comes from landing on the floor than he is intrigued by the discovery. When he exits the distorted reflection of his room, he winds up on the lounge, walking out the shadows falling on a darkened corner. He blinks at this then falls asleep on the couch.

On Thursday the isolation hits him. Early in the morning, the voice hurls curses and damnation at him. By midmorning the shadows take a life of their own, rising and undulating and living in some perverted way. His lower back hurts more, throbbing in time with each shadow rising. Even turning on the lights does little to banish the sense that creatures vaster than mountains and older than life are observing, judging, and perhaps even stalking him.

And when the sensations get worse and worse and worse, and he’s left panicked and a second away from calling his mother, he decides to skip that. Why should she waste time? There are knives in the kitchen, all of them sharp and he picks up the sharpest one he can find.

The pain of the knife slicing through flesh is nothing compared to the pain he is already in. But it is something to latch on to for pain brings clarity and with it comes focus. It is only halfway through the first cut does he realise maybe there is a reason everyone wants him to go for counselling. The pain, though, grounds him as does the smell of blood. He pauses, bloody knife in hand and runs his tongue over his teeth. His sharp tooth cuts through his tongue and he yelps, dropping the knife.

He swallows the blood, not willing to risk it becoming sentient and leading a rebellion against him. At least, not in the home he shares with his mother.

He looks at the scene and knows that if anyone sees this there will be a trip to the mental asylum. And he’s read how little those actually do to help—more often they are dumping grounds for people whose quirks affect them mentally, and the people there are left to rot and, in the very worst, they are forced to survive against each other.

Cleaning up the mess is second nature as is bandaging the cut on his thigh.

The small space of the apartment is too claustrophobic for him to handle. It may be stupid, and his mother might chew him out—no worse than if she were to see the latest wounds—is she discovers it, but he can’t stay here. It isn’t safe, not with voices baying with madness and shadows rising of their own command.

The outside world is bright, blindingly so. It banishes the shadows that cling to him and his cane. And so long as he walks, he can ignore his memories of the darkness hiding half a step out of sync with the real world. He walks long past the point his legs just want to give out because stopping means dealing with the possibility of going home. And his mother isn’t there to ground him, and he doesn’t care how childish it is to want his mother so badly.

“Boy!”

He turns, startled, and sees a man with cross-shaped pupils. “Jin-sensei?”

The man tilts his head. “You’re standing outside my dojo.”

And he is. He can see the sign and wonders how the hell he got there. Because he couldn’t have walked that far, not in his current state.

His legs give out. Jin catches him. “Look like shit.” But he helps Izuku into his dojo and onto a bench. The place is quiet, but it is midweek and too early for school to have ended. Only a few adults work in the back with a man that looks like he could be Ojiro’s dad, but they are too busy to care for them.

“It’s not so bad.”

“Can you walk across room?” Izuku’s face pinches in frustration. “No. Have you spoken to Shinsou?”

“Yeah. He was a bit upset with me.”

“Not as angry as Ojiro. Had to send him home. Boy looked ready to murder someone. Like the one who hurt you.”

Izuku sighs, tired of explaining this over and over again. “It was an accident.”

“An accident includes death threats? How things change.”

“He’s always like that.”

Something dark peaks through Jin’s eyes. “Always? A violent child like that is not fit to be hero.”

“So, what, he should be a villain? Everyone makes mistakes. We just have to know when to forgive them.”

“You, I think, would forgive your murderer. Another conversation that is.” His features soften ever so slightly. “Why do you come here? Not to train.”

Izuku looks away. “I just couldn’t be at home.”

“Why? What battle do you flee from?”

“I’m not fighting anything.”

“No, you are losing fight. But sometimes retreat is a better option.” The man stands. “Stay here as long as you like. None will harm you. And call your mother. She will worry.”

He stays there, watching people train and fight, for another hour before letting his mother know. She’s very much ready to leave work, and only the best reassurances—a lie is a lie is a lie—that he just needed to stretch his legs stop that. When he is ready to leave, just before school ends and he must deal with more people coming in, Jin practically throws him into a taxi.

He cooks to take his mind off everything. It helps a little to hold the voices at bay, and if he focuses completely on the task at hand then he can almost ignore the eyes watching him from dark nooks and crannies. Only for a minute or so does he contemplate using the knife for something other than cutting vegetables.

When dinner is ready, and his mother still is not home, Izuku starts worrying. He paces back and forth, regardless of how much strain it puts on his body. Before his legs give out again, he steps outside and sits on the steps in the warm light of the setting sun. The shadows are long, but he can feel people walking, can hear them talking, and can imagine them simply being alive in a way that is tangible. They aren’t the dead that live or gods dreaming of their final cataclysmic battle that reshaped worlds.

No, they’re human in their simplicity.

He feels his mother well before he sees her. She walks with someone else. When they turn the corner, he sees Kacchan’s mother talking to his, both looking awkward and upset.

“Izuku,” his mother says when she finally sees him. “What are you doing out here?”

He smiles. It doesn't hurt so much anymore. "It's warm out here. Hi, auntie," he greets the blonde woman who hasn't aged a day. Beside his mother, she looks young enough to be her daughter.

“Hello, Izuku,” Kacchan’s mum says. “We haven’t spoken in a while.”

His mother coughs. “Mitsuki wanted to talk to you about… Katsuki.”

“Okay?”

A pained look crosses his mother’s features. “If you need me I’ll be a shout away.”

“Sure, kaa-san. Oh, dinner’s ready.”

His mother sighs. “Of course, it is.” She walks up the stairs and into their home. She leaves the door slightly open but Izuku feels her walk out of earshot.

“Do you think I could sit down,” Kacchan's mother asks, pointing at the step.

“You’ll get your skirt dirty.”

She smiles, eyes crinkling. “I think I’ll survive.” She sits elegantly though it makes Izuku wince because white is a nightmare to clean. 

They sit in the sunlight, silent but for the screech of tires. It is calming to hear another human breathe and simply be, without anything otherworldly about them.

“You wanted to talk to me about Kaachan.”

 “Yes… Katsuki.” She hesitates. “Why did you argue for the asshole?”

“Because he’s a good person at heart.”

“You have every reason to hate him. Inko told me you’d scar because of what the fucker did.”

“Scars fade. Being a hero is dangerous. What’s the point of being a hero if we can’t forgive each other.”

“That’s not the point. Heroes are supposed to protect people.” She sighs, and Izuku thinks she might be ready to cry. “The little fuck got his anger from me. I was too lenient and now it’s only because you’re too kind for this earth that my kid’s not in prison.”

“I wasn’t going to let that happen. I don’t want to see him become a villain.”

“He doesn’t have a choice but to be a hero.” He looks to her, confused. “He has a sealed red order now.”

Izuku quirks a brow. “I’ve heard of them.”

“If he ever commits a violent crime he’ll be tried as an adult,” she explains. “And if he does so after being an adult, he’ll be charged for what he did to you regardless. Eight years in a maximum security prison no matter what.”

“That seems unfair.”

“No, it’s too fair. He can choose to be good and just, and nothing will ever come from what he did to you. Or he can be a little shit and go to prison.” She ruffles his hair. “I’m happy I still have my son. But I’m not happy with the son I have.”

Izuku flinches, pulling back. “What, no. You can’t treat him like that. He deserves better than that.”

She stares at him for a long moment. “I think you deserve better than you believe you do. I’ll make sure my son doesn’t hurt anyone again.” She smiles and it’s the sun reflected off broken glass. “But thank you.”

She stands. Izuku tries to join her but loses his footing halfway there. She catches him.

He looks away. “Sorry.”

She ruffles his hair one last time. “I think you’re a better hero than most.”

****

Sunday comes faster than he’s prepared for. He’s come to school alone, finally strong enough to walk without the cane. Recovery Girl checks him over, fussing over the very minor cuts and scrapes he’s received from trying to train before his body was ready.

The wounds on his torso have healed well. He will always have three short scars from the ceramic lacerating him, but shirts will cover that up.

She lingers on the long cut down his left forearm. He’s long given up on caring since she’s seen it many times.

“Izuku, I won’t pry,” she says, “but I will ask that you be sincere with your counsellor.”

“Do I have a choice? I have to go, or I get kicked out.”

She wraps a thin bandage around his face. “It was not meant as a threat. We want you to be safe and healthy. Not insisting you speak with a trained counsellor would be abdicating our responsibility to you. Did you not chastise us for doing the same with Bakugou? And no, it isn’t any different because it’s you we’re talking about now.”

 “So, I don’t have to go?”

“You can technically not go but we’ll have to call your mother. And if she cares about you, then she’ll also insist you go.”

“That’s not much of a choice.”

“I suppose it isn’t, but it is your choice to behave belligerently. But you can also choose to be honest and sincere. And maybe get some help. We can do what we can, but we need your help to help you.” She finishes tying the bandages. “It’ll scar badly. But you can choose to get skin grafts when you’re older.”

“Why not now?”

“The surgery is complex and the healing process even more so to perfectly restore your face. It would leave you in the hospital for months." Her eyes dart to the side only briefly. "And it would require your mother's consent."

He swallows. “I see.”

That is all they say about it. He spends the rest of the day cleaning and packing meticulously, nervous in a way he hasn't been in a while. Thanks to Iida, he won't be behind the class. But tomorrow he can finally take off the bandages and see how bad it truly is.

Monday morning comes too quickly. He stands in the bathroom, staring at his reflection in the new mirror. The bandages are the only shield he has.

“You can’t hide forever,” his reflection says snidely. “I’ve suffered far worse because of you. This is only fitting.”

His hands tremble as he raises them to the clip tying the bandages together. “Will this make you feel better?”

The reflection cocks its head. “No.”

It disappears and for a moment there is mist. It clears up and his true reflection returns. It moves in time with him and offers no snide comments.

He takes a deep breath. “This can’t be harder than dying.”

It is.

The bandages fall away. It starts at his chin, very light pink. The scarring deepens as it progresses along the right side of his jaw, thicker where the plates had burnt straight through his skin and thinner where they were connected by the elastic material; the scarring lessening as it winds its way up his cheek and even is lower ear is affected. His neck is a starburst of deep red.

And somehow, he knows that no matter how bad it looks, it is magnitudes better than it would be without Recovery Girl. The scarring will clear up in some places with time but knowing that doesn’t stop him from crying.

“I guess you look like a monster now.”

He isn’t sure who says that, maybe him and maybe the voice. In the end, it will never matter.

Chapter Text

‘The age of samurai is long past. Oaths of fealty, of honour, and of compassion are gone. The morals and ethics that once stood as pillars of our society have faded, first to cultural degradation of foreign influence and then to the Second Dark Age. The New Heroes must be held in high regard, and no dishonour shall ever come of Hawkmoon’s name, but they were paid mercenaries of a fracturing United Nations. For there to be true stability for years to come, we must once again find our morals.’

—Excerpt from ‘The Pillars of Moral Heroics’ by Ryo Asuka and annotated by Fumikage Tokoyami.

Every step he takes down the stairs is shaky, one hand gripping the rail and the other pulling at his hair nervously. His mother is in the kitchen and this will be the first time she sees him, sees the monster beneath the flesh.

She doesn’t hear him when he enters the kitchen. “Kaa-san,” Izuku whispers.

“Hey, honey,” she says without looking, still packing his lunch. “Just a moment.”

One final portion of pork cutlets—spicy even form a distance—goes in a metal lunchbox, before she packs it all in his lunch bag. For a moment he wants to smile for who else could know his favourite meal? His smile dies as she turns.

Her eyes widen, and she looks him over quickly, expression finally settling on sadness. His heart breaks.

She knows you’re a monster, the voice says.

“Izuku, what are you doing to your hair?” He startles as she approaches, gently prying his hand out of his hair. She cups his face, casually, not at all interested in the burns, before smoothing his hair out.

Some dark well in his chest seems to disappear. “What?”

“It looks like a mess. Sit down.” She pushes him to a seat where a simple breakfast has been laid out. “Stay still. Was it getting too long?”

He blinks as she separates thick strands of his hair and twists them together with deft fingers. “Aren’t you mad at me.”

“For what?”

“Looking like this.”

Her fingers still. “You usually look neat,” she says as her fingers resume their motion.

“That’s not—”

“—What you’re talking about,” she interrupts. “I know. I also don’t care. You’re my son.”

“You can’t keep saying that like it’s the answer to everything.”

She snorts, amused. “I’ll stop saying it once you understand it is the answer. Want to hear a story?”

“Do I have a choice?” He pops a slice of apple in his mouth, crunchy and tart. “Sure.”

“Your father was—is—bad with names. Really bad. He never remembered my parent’s names. You were too young to remember, but I didn’t let him speak at the funeral because he would have gotten it wrong. And he really wanted to name his kid. And they were all bad names, from Sarada to Setsuna and Apollo.”

Izuku chuckles. “It couldn’t have been that bad.”

“I think I still have the list somewhere. The point is, he did everything in his power to name you. He took me on trips and did all the work when I was pregnant. It was hard having two kids fighting in my stomach.”

Izuku pulls away. “Two?” he asks, glaring when she tries to turn his head around. “No, you don’t get to say that and ignore it.”

“I’m not. But I’d rather do two things at once.”

“Oh.”

“Yes, oh.” She turns his head and resumes her work. “Two of you, yes. We could name you both if we wanted. Izuku is the name I chose for you. Midoriya is my family name, and your father would come to take it after you were born. He was… special, like that. But your brother he called Mikumo.”

She is wistful as she speaks. Izuku gulps, knowing the shape of the story if not the details. “What happened?”

Her hands still, fingers trembling. “An accident. When you’re a mother you just know certain things. One day, two weeks before I was meant to have you, I knew something was wrong. Wednesday at three minutes past one I woke your father up and made him drive me to the hospital. He probably thought I was crazy, but he loved me enough to listen.

“They scanned me and… and he was dying. His umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck. They operated. I held him as he took his last breaths. They looked like clouds of lights, and they were the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.”

Izuku wipes away his tears. “I-I’m sorry,” he chokes out.

Warm arms wrap around his shoulders. “It wasn’t your fault. Just an accident. That was his quirk, we think. He breathed clouds of plasma. I think your father knew and that’s why he chose that name. Mikumo. Beautiful Cloud. His gravestone reads ‘Mikumo Atakani’ in honour of your father who loved him as I love you.”

He clutches her arms, lets her warmth cover his grief. A brother who he has never heard of and whom he now must mourn.

“Why are you telling me this now?”

“So that you understand you’re my answer to life itself. I remember you being so still and quiet, your eyes closed and chest flat. I thought I lost both of you and I don’t know what I would have done without you. And then you opened your eyes—green just like mine—and saw your brother in my arms. Izuku, you cried all through the week.

"Without you, Hisashi and I would have divorced. I don't care that you have a scar. I've never cared how you've looked. I only care because you're hurting yourself. Izuku, my darling boy, you’re the earth and stars all at once.”

“I love you, kaa-san,” he whispers.

“And I love you as the sun loves the moon. How many times have you looked at the full moon and found it beautiful even if it does have craters and scars? Doesn’t it still look beautiful?”

He grips her arms tight his fingers turn white. Tremors rack his body, a volatile mix of soul-crushing grief at a brother he’s never had the opportunity to love and know, and the ever-present love of his mother that has seen him through every bout of madness and panic. She is good and kind and just in ways he can only ever hope to be.

“I hate my reflection,” he says suddenly. “It hates me just as much.”

“I know, honey.”

“I hate my scars.”

“I know.”

“I hate that everyone thinks I’m unhealthy because I’m willing to forgive people. I forgave dad when he never came back. And I know he’s probably dead. I know I’m never going to see him again. And it hurts so much I can’t breathe. But I forgive him.”

“I know.”

“I forgive you for not telling me about my brother. Mikumo. I never even met him, and I feel like I've known him my whole life. I always wondered why there were three bedrooms and it makes sense now. It was always for him. Would he have wanted to be a hero? Would he have liked me? Would he have accepted me when I'm a patchwork medley of scars?"

“He would have loved you more than even I can. He might never have wanted to be a hero, but I think you’d always be a hero to him.”

His shaky breathing hitches. “I don’t know if I can go back today.”

“You can stay as long as you want.”

“But I don’t know if I’ll ever leave if I stay. And kaa-san, I can’t stand another day here all alone.”

“I’ll support you no matter what you choose. Because—”

“I’m your son.” He blinks. “I’m the younger one, aren’t I?”

“Yes. You’ve always been my little boy.”

*****

He chooses to leave and walk forward. This is his home but staying here any longer is simply hiding from his problems. And he'd much rather run because whether it is away or towards his problems, you have to put one foot in front of the other and move forward.

The whispers follow him on the train. Mouths move and eyes roam over him, always staring at his scar, and only because of his earphones does he not hear whatever cruel words they have for him. Doing a card trick or two helps distract him from everything else.

When he looks to the side, Shinsou is right there beside him. It startles Izuku, but Shinsou’s eyes are warm if tired. The boy says nothing, seemingly content to allow him his peace.

“Thank you,” he says when they get off the train and on to the platform.

“At least you aren’t apologising.”

Shinsou tells him of the week he’s spent away and the tension building: Aizawa is equal parts merciless and forgiving, seemingly more tired than usual; All Might is never seen outside of class, but his training exercises are always accompanied by another teacher; second-hand accounts from Uraraka place the class as being in a state of constant frustration, and Tokoyami’s nearly been in a fight twice that week alone with some upperclassmen.

“Tokoyami?” Shinsou nods. “That makes no sense.”

“People have been pretty quiet about… about what happened. Rumours are going around about what happened. Everyone has their own version of events.”

“What’s that got to do with it?”

“Everything.”

He stays quiet, wanting to avoid the sudden heat that takes over his friend. Everything these days seems to be his fault, one way or another.

“Midoriya,” Uraraka calls as he enters the gates.

He looks and sees her waving broadly, her smile bright as noon. Iida and Kirishima are with her as well as Tokoyami standing further back.

“Hi.” He waves back uncertainly. A glance over his shoulder shows Shinsou looking just as bewildered. “What are you guys doing here?”

“Waiting for you,” Kirishima says, his grin toothy and just the slightest bit forced. “We heard you were coming back today.”

"As class representative, it was my duty to see you here today," Iida says formally, stiffly.

Izuku smiles. "When did you become the class rep? Honestly, I don't think there's anyone better suited to it."

Iida shuffles and adjusts his glasses. “Yes, well we held the vote in your absence. The responsibilities have been more than I anticipated without my vice.”

Uraraka bumps Iida before he gestures wildly. “He means you.”

Izuku chokes on his spit. “I w-wasn’t even here.”

“I voted for you,” Kirishima says the jabs a thumb in Tokoyami’s direction. “So, did feather-duster over here.”

“That is not a title I accept,” Tokoyami says but there is no heat to it. He looks to Izuku. “I felt it only right I use my vote on someone who deserved it.”

“You barely know me.”

“I know enough, Midoriya. And you certainly are worthy of my vote.”

He runs a hand through his hair to hide that it shakes. “I don’t think I can do it,” he whispers, shaking his head.

“I can’t think of anyone manlier for the job than you,” Kirishima adds. “I mean, you just keep on getting up no matter what.”

"Yes, let's perpetuate some more patriarchy whilst we're at it," Uraraka says, looking to Iida.

"Women have played a pivotal role in our society, Kirishima. What of Hawkmoon and all the greats heroines…”

Izuku watches him gesture wildly as he lectures Kirishima who seems to wilt under the onslaught of Iida’s words. Uraraka, though, has a warm smile on her face.

“She’s terrifying,” Shinsou whispers, nearly startling Izuku for he had forgotten about his friend.

“She kinda is.”

“What are you boys saying about me?” Uraraka asks, and though her tone is warm Izuku gets the distinct impression it hides more than she lets others see. “Nothing bad, I hope.”

Izuku gulps. “Nothing?”

“Uraraka,” Tokoyami says suddenly, harsh enough that it stops Iida’s tirade for there is genuine anger in his voice. “Stop antagonising him.”

“And this is why you’re always getting in fights. He doesn’t need someone defending his honour.” There is venom in her voice, and it shocks Izuku as he takes a step back.

“You think it better to needlessly aggravate him?”

“I think maybe he’s not a fragile princess who needs rescuing because you have a guilt complex.”

Izuku swallows, taking another step back. His eyes burn. Shinsou’s hand is a warm anchor on his shoulder.

“You guys need t—”

“He’s just been hurt,” Tokoyami says over Kirishima. “He does not need this on his first day back.”

“I think he needs friends—which you aren’t—who don’t act—”

“Enough!” Iida roars. “Both of you stop this immediately. And don’t you dare say another word. This behaviour is reprehensible.”

“No requested your opinion,” Tokoyami says snidely.

“Are you gonna fight with everyone you see?”

Izuku takes a breath. He isn’t ready to deal with this, not now. He starts walking and has no interest in anyone calling after him. Today is his first day back and his friends are already fighting.

This is your fault, the voice whispers.

He closes his eyes. Takes a deep breath. Finds himself in the bathroom.

It should worry him that he has no clue how he got here but there is cold water he can throw on his face. He sees a scarred boy in the reflection, a boy only a mother can love.

He hears the door open. Kirishima appears in the reflection, worry writ plain upon his features.

Izuku sighs. “S-sorry I left.”

“No, dude, you don’t need to apologise for anything.” Kirishima runs a hand through his hair. “Look, they’ve kinda been at it for a bit. It’s not your fault.”

“They were arguing because of me. I think that’s the definition of fault.” He turns and smiles bitterly at the redhead. “You know I took off the bandages this morning. I found out some stuff about my family. My friends are arguing and I’m forcing you to listen to me complain.”

Kirishima says nothing, simply watching him cry.

“Aren’t you going to say anything? This is my fault. I’m this scarred freak and I can’t even go a minute without crying and—”

The boy steps forward suddenly. Izuku tenses, ready for a blow or an insult. He doesn’t expect the arms that wrap around his shoulders and bring him close.

“W-wh—”

“I think you need a hug right now,” Kirishima says gently and it’s so at odds with the casual strength hr always seems to have. “We thought maybe we shouldn’t bring up the scars. I guess we were wrong. Look, things have been tense ever since that day. No one knows what’s going on but none of that is your fault.”

“It is,” Izuku whispers, wondering if his tears will ever run dry. “It always is.”

“Man, people are just worried. You’re our friend and we’re all dealing with things badly. Tokoyami’s taking things too far, Uraraka’s being spiteful, Iida’s a nervous wreck who won’t say anything and Shinsou’s just avoiding everyone.”

“A-and you?” he sniffles.

Kirishima hugs him tighter. “I’m just worried about you. No one’s considering what you need. If you need a shoulder to cry on, that’s fine. If you need someone to talk shit with, well I’ve read the book. And if you just want a fight I can take a few hits.”

“I’m not going to punch you.” But he smiles anyway. “I might just kick you though.”

Kirishima huffs. “Yeah, you would.”

When Kirishima pulls away, Izuku feels less like a train wreck. There is so much earnestness that he can’t even feel embarrassed.

“Thank you.”

Kirishima grins a toothy grin. “Any time.”

The class is subdued when they finally leave. More than one person looks like they want to say something, and Mineta is stopped by a harsh glare from Iida before he can so much as open his mouth, but they seem content to ignore him. He notices the desks have changed a bit. Kouda sits near the door, and there is an empty desk right behind him. Kacchan’s, he realises, and to the left of that desk is Iida and behind is Ojiro who he’s yet to say a word to.

Izuku can’t help smiling even if he does thing their worry is ridiculous. Kacchan won’t hurt him, not intentionally.

“Your mum went all out,” Ashido says, startling him from a card trick. He looks up to see her inspecting his hair.

He puts a hand there self-consciously. The braids are thick and rope-like on the sides and wrap around to the back. It makes him blush to realise how odd he must look now.

“It’s not a bad thing,” she adds quickly.

“I think you look fabulous,” Aoyoma says from the other end of the class. Somehow, everyone ignores him.

He’s saved by Aizawa entering the class. The man looks more tired than usual, and there’s an aura of tension to him.

“Good, at least you’re quiet,” he says then focuses on Izuku. “Midoriya, they voted you vice class rep. Do you actually want the position?”

“N-no,” he squeaks out.

“Fine. Yaoyorozu, you're the new vice. Now, can we please get through the week without attacking upperclassmen"—He looks to Tokoyami and Ojiro—“because I don’t want to suspend anyone any longer, and making unreasonable requests of Lunch Rush. Also, if you’re done with classes, have a valid reason for staying late. I’m tired of emails asking if I’m keeping you late. You know who you are.”

Classes are peaceful. The teachers don’t coddle him which Izuku appreciates more than he can express. When Uraraka makes a joke at his expense, he laughs before Tokoyami can get angry though he does smile at the boy.

During lunch, he shows them how to play the Zimbabwean variation of Crazy Eights which his mother showed him a few days ago. The rules are confusing for them at first but Uraraka seems to have a knack for any card game, and she makes Ojiro pick five cards with a gleeful smile and seems to have a personal reason to consistently skip Shinsou’s turn.

They have PT in the afternoon. Izuku is ready to enter the locker room when Aizawa pulls him aside.

“Sensei?”

The man sighs. “Midoriya, you can join the class when Recovery Girl clears you. No sooner. Don’t be difficult about it.”

“But—”

“No. You’ll only delay your recovery.”

“Yes sensei.”

They speak no more of it. Izuku watches them, a part of him jealous that they get to enjoy the feel of wind in your hair, the burning of muscles pushed to their limits and the joy of overcoming your limits. There is Iida, fastest of them all. There is Shouji who’s many arms make him the strongest of them all. He catalogues their physical abilities by habit.

He rubs at his scar as it starts itching. Recover Girl impressed upon him the importance of not scratching no matter how bad it got.

A shadow covers his notebook. He looks up and stumbles back from mixed eyes, one like ice and the other steel.

“Todoroki?”

The boy says nothing. Then, he hands Izuku the paper he holds. “They’ll help with the scarring.” It is a list of words that a few months ago he wouldn't be able to pronounce. 

He sees the large burn scar over the boy’s left eye and understands. Taking the paper, he says, “Thank you.”

Todoroki doesn’t move. His eyes seem to watch Izuku. “Do you fear the flame?”

“Huh? What?”

Todoroki shakes his head minutely. “It doesn’t matter.” He turns to walk away.

“Wait, stop,” Izuku says but Todoroki continues walking. “That was weird.”

The rest of the day progresses without fanfare. Once the last bell rings, Izuku backs his bags. Looking up, he’s startled to see his friends waiting for him.

“Why are you all standing there?”

“We’re walking with you to the train station,” Iida says.

“Right… You guys realise I have to go see a counsellor.”

“Nope,” Uraraka says, cheerful as ever. “We can wait.”

Izuku closes his eyes. Opens them. Says, “Just go home. I’ll be fine.”

He waves back to them on his way out. It takes him a moment to realise there’s a second set of footsteps following him. Looking over his shoulder, he sees Tokoyami.

Izuku stops. “You really don’t have to wait for me.”

“I do,” the boy says solemnly. “I owe you a debt I can never repay.”

“You don’t.”

“I very much do. Please don’t argue with me on this.”

He very much wants to. But there is an earnestness to Tokoyami that he can’t dislike. “Fine.”

*****

There is a man sitting at a desk before the counsellor’s office. When Iuzku tells him that he has a meeting the man lets him in. Tokoyami wishes him luck before he leaves.

The office is warm, lots of pastel colours and splashes of orange here and there for variety. There are a couch and a single chair across a glass table. It gives the illusion that there is no barrier between him and the red-haired woman with oversized glasses.

"Dr Makinami,” he greets politely, hands clutched together tightly.

She smiles and inclines her head to the seating. Izuku sits on the single chair made of green fabric. The cushion is firm if not stiff, and the back seems to conform to his every muscle. It is, plainly put, incredibly comfortable.

“And you must be”—she looks to the file on her desk—“Izuku Midoriya. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

“Y-yes.”

Her face opens as she smiles. “Before we start I’d like you to know I have a quirk.”

Izuku frowns. “Okay?”

“It’s a sort of empathy quirk,” she explains. “It lets me know a bit more about what you’re feeling when you say something. It doesn’t tell me everything by any stretch, but if you’re angry I’ll know if it’s anger and something else. I just want you to know that.”

There is an almost musical quality to her voice, a cadence that makes him think of dancing in the rain.

“What does that have to do with me?” he asks, voice cracking. “I don’t have a choice to be here.”

She leans forward, hands folded on the table. He wonders how often she has to clean fingerprints off it.

“And what makes you say that?”

“It’s probably all in that file of yours.” He nods to it. “So, let’s get this over with.”

“I’ll let you in on a secret. I haven’t actually read your file. I know your name and that’s about it.” She winks. “I’d rather get to know you as a person than you as a document to examine.”

“That’s just ridiculous,” he says, unbidden. “What if I was dangerous? What if I wanted to hurt someone?”

“Do you?”

“No, that’s not the point. How do you know you’re not making things worse by not knowing?”

“Experience and practice.”

He rolls his eyes. “Sure. Use that excuse.”

She hums. “And what makes you think that’s an excuse?”

He snorts, folding his arms across his chest. “It’s what adults always say. You all think you know better because you’re older. I don’t think age makes people wiser.”

“What does, then?”

“Kindness. Forgiveness.” He smiles bitterly. “The sort of things I’m being punished over.”

“I take it you’re talking about the incident that led to you being here?” She adjusts her glasses with her left index finger. “Would you like to talk about that?”

“Do I have a choice?” He looks away. “You’re just going to tell them everything I say.”

“Is that what you believe” She tilts her head when he nods. “I think I understand. My name’s Hikari Makinami. I was born in Okayama and my favourite colour is orange. I’m allergic to cats but I own three of them. My mum’s a nurse and I never knew my dad. My best friend Asuka’s an idiot but I wouldn’t replace her for all the money in the world.”

Izuku looks to her in confusion. “What are you doing?”

“You don’t trust me, and I’ve given you no reason to do so. I can promise you that what we speak off will always be private unless I have reason to believe you’ll hurt yourself or someone else. Other than that, all anyone will know is if I think you’re getting better.”

She thinks you a broken vase to tape back together, the voice whispers. She doesn’t know everything about you is broken.

“I’m not broken,” he snaps, angry suddenly. “I got hurt. I forgave the person who did it. That doesn’t make me broken.”

“I never said you were broken.”

“If you’re trying to make me better that means you think there’s something wrong with me. Something broken.”

She frowns. “I want you to acknowledge that you’re twisting my words. I don’t think you’re angry with me because I can feel more than a bit of self-loathing from you.”

“I don’t hate myself,” he says quickly. He hates the things hiding inside.

One brow rises magnificently, and it reminds him of a cat. “Do you believe that?”

He looks away, the stitching on the couch suddenly very interesting. “I do.”

“You’re not the first person who’s come in here with a chip on their shoulder about counselling. You won’t be the last. I don’t doubt you could lie your way through this since deception isn’t an emotion.”

“So, this is pretty useless.”

“But you can choose to make the most of your time,” she continues. “Think of it this way, you could spend an hour lying to me—though I think you’re more the silent type—or you could be sincere. I won’t even ask for honesty and trust, only sincerity. I can help you through whatever you need help with so long as you try.”

Izuku closes his eyes. “Fine.”

“Alright. How’s about we start with the incident that brought you here?”

He remembers fire and pain, terror and so, so much fear. The sight of Kacchan’s wide eyes, the blinding blast from those massive gauntlets, his plea for help. He can still taste every flavour of rage from Kacchan, can tell apart the cold anger like a bitter ice-cream from the hot inferno that reminds him of mildly burnt meat.

“I d-dodged in the wrong direction,” he whispers, hating how weak his voice sounds. “I got hurt. That’s all.”

“I don’t think it is.”

“What do you expect me to say?” His voice cracks and unshed tears burn at his eyes. “Everyone’s told me I should be angry. Why? I could have jumped the other direction and none of this would matter.”

“Izuku, do you feel that you’re at fault for that?”

He sighs, knowing exactly what’s coming. “Yes. I should have known better. I do. I just…

“I don’t think forgiveness is unhealthy. Far from it.” Izuku opens his eyes to see her earnest expression. “But I want to understand your thought process a bit more. You see, forgiveness is hard. It is rarely an easy thing to look a person in the eye and tell them you absolve them of their crime against you. It makes me think you don’t consider what happened to you to be an injustice of some sort.”

“But it wasn’t. Accidents happen. You can’t get upset over them.”

“Do you have any friends?” she asks suddenly. Izuku frowns but nods. “I want you to think of one of them, the one you’re closest to. Whoever it is, I want you to focus on them.”

Shinsou comes to mind immediately. The boy he pictures smiles and looks to Izuku as if he is someone worth existing, and not a monster that needs to be put down. A smile comes to his face, unbidden.

“Just like that,” she continues. “Now I want you to imagine them hurt.”

He flinches. “No,” he snaps, standing. He takes a breath before One For All activates or his shadow does anything more than mirror his movements. “I am not doing that.”

“That anger, that righteous indignation is important. You’re feeling that from just imagining your friend hurt. Imagine them lying in hospital, broken and dying.” He can’t, not without breaking. “Now, imagine forgiving the person who did that.”

His fists clench tightly. “I could never…” he trails off, understanding blossoming. “I see what you did. And no, it’s not the same.”

“Would you like to sit first?” Her question is so reasonable that not doing so would be rude. “Why isn’t it the same?”

“Because.” He searches for an answer and it terrifies him that he can’t. “Because I’m different.”

"In what way? From what I can tell, you're not any more durable than the average person."

“Because it wouldn’t matter,” he shouts. “I just-it just wouldn’t fucking matter if I died.”

There is silence. He can’t look at her, doesn’t want to see the disgust and revulsion that will be on her face. Because why couldn’t he just shut up and stay quiet for once in his life.

“Izuku,” she says all too gently as if calming a rabid dog, “I need to ask you a delicate question. One you might not feel comfortable answering, but I think it’s important. Have you ever had suicidal thoughts?”

He swallows, wishing the room would eat him up right now. The scar on his forearm burns and thinking on it fills him with shame—first All Might and now this woman who doesn’t know him, doesn’t have reason to care.

“W-why does it matter. I don’t… I don’t want to die.”

“I believe you,” she says after a moment. “But I just need to know. It’s not at all uncommon,” she adds, “and I will have to inform someone if I think you may harm yourself now. But it doesn’t apply to anything in the past.”

The impulse to lie comes immediately. He can already see the shape of it—a deflection first, maybe indignant anger before unravelling a complex web: at first an admission of hurting himself, maybe a pattern of behaviour followed by a tangent to the scar and how much he hates it. There is enough truth that it isn’t a lie.

And yet he’s so tired of lying, and of deflecting.

Lie, the voice commands harshly, raw as though it has been shouting. You’ve already told her too much. She is not your ally.

And you are? He asks, angry at the audacity of a voice in his head telling him how to behave.

I am the untold lie. I am that which keeps you sane.

“Yes,” he says finding it strange how dull his voice is.

She lets out a breath, almost relief. “Izuku, it's not rare to have thoughts like that nor is it something to be ashamed of."

Don’t believe her.

“I was going to lie about it,” he admits suddenly, voice still dull. “I had it all worked out.”

“Thank you. You can’t believe how happy I am to know that.” She coughs, and it sounds less a distraction and more like an actual cough, the kind people get at the tail end of a cold. “Would you like to talk about it?”

“About what? The lie?”

“You could speak on that,” she says after taking a sip of water from a bottle he only now notices. “But I meant more on the time you felt that way.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean the…” She sighs. “I think you respond best to bluntness. Did you have a plan, at any point, of how you would kill yourself.”

“I did,” he says, eyes closed and mind blank. “I very much did.”

“You did have a plan?”

He brings his hands together. “I tried to die,” he says, bitter and angry and tired all at once. “The knife was sharp. The anaesthetic made it painless. I was just done and sick of it all. And I needed answers.”

The air is heavy, charged with tension. “Answers to what?”

“To life.” A tear escapes his closed eye. “To me. If I died maybe there wouldn’t be darkness anymore. I lived, unfortunately. I know what it feels like to come so close and yet fail so hard.”

Do you hate me? The voice asks, a mix of regret and fear.

“I don’t hate you. I just want you to go away.”

“Izuku," Dr Makinami’s says, bringing him back to reality. “Who are you talking to?”

He smiles blandly. “No one of any importance.”

Eyes closed as they are, he can’t tell what expression, if any, she makes. “And are there a lot of people of no importance you talk to?” she asks carefully.

“Just one.” He closes his heart to all emotion and opens his eyes. “Can I go now? I think I’m done for the day.”

 She meets his gaze, her eyes so warm and yet failing to do anything more than aggravate him. “Alright, I think we’ve made a lot of progress.” She reaches for one of the cards on her desk. “If you ever need help, please call me. Anytime.”

“I won’t.” He takes the card. “No need to be a bother.”

He feels raw and strung out when he leaves, scars throbbing and demanding attention. Rubbing the long one down his forearm does nothing but make it itch and he wants to take a knife to it and pluck out everything because the pain he understands, not whatever this suffocating feeling is. The shadows are harder to ignore, and he wonders if diving into the darkness would be a better option. At least there, broken things are the norm and he can understand the peculiar brand of physics the endless void employs.

But that wouldn’t be fair to Tokoyami who’s waiting for him on a bench, a book opened on his legs. He looks up, red eyes never threatening.

“Midoriya…” he trails off.

Izuku takes a deep breath. “What are you reading?” he asks impatiently, hoping it will bring distraction.

Tokoyami stares at him for a long moment. Then he nods and stands, tucking the book under his arm. “’The Pillars of a Moral Character’ by Ryo Asuka,” he says, walking. “It has brought me comfort often.”

Izuku nods though Tokoyami will not see it. “Wh-what is it about?”

Tokoyami hums. “He speaks of honour, of duty and the repayment of debts. I harbour a demon within me, Midoriya. One that seeks to corrupt me at every turn. This book has always been a guiding light when the dark seeks to consume me.”

“It sounds interesting.”

“Perhaps. Perhaps not. I find I had very much forgotten his more important teachings.”

“Which is?”

Tokoyami looks over his shoulder, and maybe frowns—Izuku can’t tell, not with how alien his features are.

“Empathy,” he says solemnly. “All men are equal in death. But in life, we must always remember we are one people no matter our appearance.”

The stress on the word makes Izuku frown. "People bullied you for your looks, didn't they?"

Tokoyami tenses, foot hovering an inch off the ground. "Yes." He exhales and continues walking in the waning light. "I once gave into my demon's taunts and… it was not pretty. My behaviour was unacceptable. I've spent every day since learning to control myself and my impulses."

He pauses. Izuku watches him lift his hands, staring at them. The wind blows, ruffling his feathers. They aren’t pitch black but three shades away from charcoal.

“We are ultimately responsible for the consequences of our actions. If we give excuses then we have failed in our duties, both to ourselves and to our fellow men. That is why I believe I owe you a debt, Midoriya. If I never try to repay it, then I may unwittingly be walking a path to darkness.”

He turns to face Izuku. He is shorter but only just. His red eyes are determined, brilliant embers in the night.

“You are kind, Midoriya, and you forgive as easily as breathing. Should I ever be able to repay this debt, then I believe I will be able to escape the chains seeking to drag me to the dark below.”

Izuku freezes, his blood running cold. Tokoyami smiles, heedless of the sheer shock stunning Izuku.

“But even should I fail, in trying will I not become a better person?” He bows his head. “Death is the final darkness and its siren call impossible to ignore. But until then I can try.”

They continue walking to the train, Izuku still a bit dazed from how Tokoyami so casually spoke of the realm of nightmare creatures, regardless that he used it only as a turn of phrase—there is no impossible weight to the phrase when Tokoyami says it, no resounding echo of infinity—and perhaps in awe of someone whose code of ethics is so beautifully simple and precisely complex.  

At the train station, Tokoyami stops. He thrusts the book in Izuku’s hand.

“Huh?”

Tokoyami makes a sound of amusement. “I believe you will find more answers in it than I will now.”

“Y-you can’t just give this to me.”

“Worry not on the matter.” He takes one of Izuku’s hands and places it over the cover, enveloping Izuku’s hand in the process. It is warm, and oddly intimate, not at all what he expects from this dark and mysterious boy.

“I do not know what you are going through, and I am not good with people. My behaviour earlier today is irrefutable proof of that as I pushed both you and Uraraka away in my… arrogance. There are many lessons this book has taught me. And if even one helps you then I will consider it leaving my possession a worthy goal.”

He nods once more. “Your kindness is a strength, Midoriya. The world would do well to have more of you.”

Tokoyami lets go and walks off before Izuku can regain his bearings. There is something regal to him, almost like a king. The casual confidence is something Izuku wishes he could have. Crying all the time is in no ways dignified. 

He gets home. Food is ready, and he eats in silence with his mother. She doesn’t push, and he promises he’ll talk to her later. But right now, he’s too tired to even consider it.

An envelope rests on his on his bed. The paper is worn, faded and creased. He opens it. Inside is a picture of his mother in a hospital gown looking exhausted, sweat seeping through the gown. Within her arm is a small bundle of blankets.

Another picture shows the bundle to be a baby. His eyes are dark as midnight and so so bright, and his hair a shade of black that seems to absorb all light. His mother still holds the baby, but there are clouds that shimmer with every colour, a bolt of lightning connecting two of them.

“Mikumo,” he whispers, clutching the picture close. “Hello brother. My name’s Izuku.”

Even the dead have names, the voice says. A tendril of darkness rises and picks up one of the pictures. Mikumo Atakani. This name will be mine.

“Don’t you fucking dare,” Izuku snarls. “You have no right.”

I asked you to name me. You chose not to and cast me away. But the name of the brother you killed is more suiting.

“Lies.”

Yes, a lie it is. But what am I if not the lies you tell and the truths you hide.

“Please, just no. Don’t take him from me.”

I will keep your secrets, Mikumo Atakani says. I will be the keeper, the lock and key.

“I hate you,” he snarls. “I hate you so fucking much.”

The voice—Mikumo, now—leaves. It takes with it the static that fills his mind. Izuku takes one of the pictures and stares at the brother whom he never met but will always love.

Izuku sits alone and mourns. 

End of Season I: Descent

Chapter Text

Season II: Recovery

Chapter 13 to 24

On is the first pillar. This is reciprocity. It means to acknowledge and repay the debts one owes. The debts that bind us are the foundation of any society. Power itself is a debt [Who owes this debt, Dark Shadow?] that is owed to those who are powerless. The great heroes of prior ages embodied this ideal as they fought with the great powers to protect the masses harmed by dictators and warlords. In turn, the freed masses used the energies to build a better world atop the foundation made by the great heroes.

—Excerpt from ‘The Pillars of Moral Heroics’ by Ryo Asuka and annotated by Fumikage Tokoyami.

The complex is on the outskirts of Mustafu and in a gated part of the city. In many booths and in security rooms, Fukmikage Tokoyami can see guards carrying rifles—hopefully of the rubber bullet variety. The only unifying factor of the guards is that they all have mutations and wear white ceramic animal masks instead of regular helmets.

He presents a seal with UA’s insignia and an official government letterhead at the first checkpoint. The woman there inspects him thoroughly, patting him down, running his back through an X-ray scan and forcing him to show Dark Shadow so that even the demon might be evaluated.

Fumikage bears this peaceably. He can fault many things but not diligence. He has seen security failures on the news and knows the dangers of anything less than professionalism.

He is led to a waiting room where a man sits behind a desk, burning orange eyes drooping with weariness. He has a thick layer of short fur on his arms and neck and head. Nothing extreme compared to many other mutations.

“Sign this form,” the man says, sliding the form towards Tokoyami.

He takes it. “What does it cover?”

“Privacy agreement. You don’t say anything about the quirks these kids have, and you don’t disclose any of their information.”

He pauses at one clause. “Formal censure on my heroics file for a minor violation of personal information.” He flips the page over. “Expulsion if I reveal their quirks. And legal action up to, but not totally inclusive of charges of endangerment of minors, assisted homicide in the event of death and… charges of treason.”

“It’s a lot of responsibility.” The man smiles sadly. “But I think you’ll understand when you see them. We just need to protect them from negative influences.”

“I very much doubt Aizawa-sensei would send me here if he had worries I would be unable to handle the responsibilities.” He signs the form, his signature elegant. “And if I were to hazard a guess, the children very likely have mutant quirks.”

The man nods once more and takes the form back. The back of his hand has quills, tiny and sharp, not thick mammalian fur as Tokoyami once thought. “Let’s go see the kids.”

He shows Tokoyami through the complex. One thing he notes is how everything is reinforced: a hole that looks to have been caused by a punch shows extensive layers of steel mesh between layers of concrete and a shock-absorbent material; the ground, though solid wood on the surface, shows cement where a deep gash runs across the ground; and the structural support pillars look to be made of a polymorphic material the emits a pleasant hum when Tokoyami bumps into it.

“It’s a simple way to keep track of them,” the man explains after helping Tokoyami up. “Outside of following the destruction.”

“Are they always so… rambunctious?”

The man has Tokoyami enter his biometrics into a machine at the end of a hallway. He even has Dark Shadow do so, and though the demon complains, a deep thrum of interest emanates from it.

“The area past here is where we let them play without restriction. Be prepared for projectiles.”

The door is unlocked and Tokoyami gets his first view of the space. It is indoors like the rest of the complex but it looks like an endless . The waning light of the sun streams through from where there should be a west wall and it illuminates the stream, spots of light dancing across the short bridge connecting the two landmasses—where the south-west area is thick with plants and vegetation, the north-west, or the area to his right, is grassland with only a statue of a fox interrupting it. The space is beautiful and it makes him wonder how they achieved the effect.

Dark Shadow materialises without his prompting and catches something barrelling towards him. It looks like a kid with red fur and dark rings around his green eyes, features similar to a racoon. The kid smiles at Dark Shadow and waves at Tokoyami before sand materialises and pushes Dark Shadow away. The kid falls to the ground and shakes the sand out of his fur.

“Hey, we’ve never had a birdy before,” the kid says, a radiant smile lighting up the entire room. “And you’ve got a thing.”

I am not a thing, Dark Shadow growls but there is no true malice in it.

“What did we say about barrelling into people, little tanuki.”

The kid pouts and Fumikage feels his heart melt just the slightest bit. “Don’t. But he’s fine.” The kid’s sand grabs Fumikage by the hand. “Come on. Let’s show you to the others.”

The rest of the group is just as diverse as the first child: a girl with feline features and burning blue fire; a boy with pink eyes playing with coral; one who looks like a very fury human the slings lava at another child who makes steam; a kid with a horse’s snout being flown around by a girl with wings; and finally a brawny child who flicks ink and Dark Shadow.

He finds he can’t dislike the children even when they pile on him and keep him on the ground with their weight, or when they find a way to cover him in ink and stick him to a tree. Dark Shadow is perpetually there to defend him if things become too chaotic, or if these absurdly strong children forget their strength which can shatter boulders. By the time his two hours are up, he is sweating profusely and only standing because of Dark Shadow’s aid.

“I feel like you did nothing to help,” he snaps at the demon, unfair though it is.

You’re just jealous I can last longer than you, young crow.

The man whom Fumikage had forgotten about chuckles. “They’re a handful. It’s why we only want people who can endure them if they’re having a bad day.” His cheer vanishes. “You understand why we don’t want you speaking about them.”

“Impressionable children with diverse quirks and greater base strength than most people? Yes, I understand fully.” He stares the man in the eye. “You accepted me because of Dark Shadow, not simply because of my mutations.”

The man brushes a hand through the thick quills on his head. “Yes. You understand what it’s like being a mutant. Not just someone with sharp claws or tiny horns. They used to live in a special village. It was peaceful. Quiet. Lots of space for them to play and be free. A place for them to feel at home with their parents.”

Tokoyami inhales sharply. He knows the form of this story, the nature of the beast and all its sharp edges. 

“The parents died keeping them safe from people who hate mutations, who hate quirks in general. I saw the aftermath and I sincerely hope you never come across anything like.” The man smiles bitterly, and Tokoyami echoes the sentiment. “That statue of a fox you saw? There were nine of them before. Now there are eight. They made it as a memorial to a kid braver than most adults will ever be. You want to be a hero, and maybe one day you’ll be called on to make that kind of sacrifice. I hope you never have to, but should you, I hope you are strong enough to win regardless.”

They say no more. When he arrives home close to midnight, his mother is still awake and watches him reproachfully. Fumikage observes her, hawk-like where he is a crow, through the corner of his vision.

“If you have words to say, then do so. But do not force me to stew in this uncomfortable silence.”

His mother chitters. “Give me your form so I can sign it. I’m forced to stay up late because of this foolishness you insist on.”

He hands her the form. “My dreams are not foolishness. I will be a hero, regardless of your displeasure. My scholarship is proof that I am capable.” He takes it back after she has signed it. “Your chastisements have been heard, noted, and acknowledged.”

Breakfast the next morning is awkward as always. His mother berating his every decision to be a hero. His father silent as a statue, speaking only through occasional gestures. Eventually, it becomes too uncomfortable and Fumikage leaves with his breakfast only half finished. His father’s displeasure follows him all the way to school.

He knocks on the door to Aizawa’s office and opens it to find the man napping against the wall in his sleeping bag. Fumikage still finds it amazing that he can sleep anywhere without the slightest hesitation.

“Aizawa,” Fumikage says and waits for the man's eyes to open. "I have the form and my report."

“Leave it on my desk and take a new one for tomorrow.” Fumikage does so. “Did you learn anything?”

He thinks on it for a moment. The children are all great even if they are more energetic than Fumikage ever was, and seem to function purely on optimism and fun. He could talk of them as far as his contract allows.

Why were they there? Dark Shadow asks only to him. Speak the truth and don’t hide from it.

“Yes,” he says after a beat of silence. “Life is cruel.”

*****

Toshinori Yagi feels his age more with each passing year. Five decades is not a long time to have lived, but there is a toll that is taken by being a hero, something a civilian will never understand. It is not like being a soldier or police officer. No, there is something much graver in knowing that only your actions stop a society descending to chaos and anarchy. And even then, he can never be too sure that this society he fights for is the right one.

But that is not his responsibility. He will leave it to history to determine if this society was moral and just. They can only do that if he fulfils his duty to protect them against All For One. He is the final enemy, a barrier to a truly just society. And when the great enemy falls, Toshinori will retire and leave this world in the hands of his successor.

A successor whom he has so failed and who he has avoided out of shame. Aizawa’s reprimand wakes him in the dead of night often now, and his waking moments are plagued by thoughts of his failures. Much of the trust he once commanded simply by being All Might has been lost. Someone else always accompanies him during his lessons outdoors, and though the shame bites at his pride, he is not foolish enough to believe it unjust. The media, always vicious, speculate endlessly and only the many decades of his service have kept his position intact. 

Izuku waits for him at the beach. His successor kneels in the sand, hands resting on his knees, in meditation. A soft glow suffuses his skin, an aura of power that will one day grow and undoubtedly outstrip Toshinori. Not yet, but one day regardless.

He is still as a statue as Toshinori approaches, the only motion from him being the occasional sparks of green lightning and the sea breeze ruffling his partially braided hair. When he comes close enough, Izuku lifts his head and looks over his shoulder.

Toshinori sees the horrible scar, feels his heart sink and his resolve shatter as the memories of his failings assault him, before he sees the smile of someone to whom forgiveness is easy as breathing, and to whom kindness is the space between breaths.

“All Might,” Izuku greets, joy and unbridled optimism colouring his voice. The glow disappears as he stands.

He raises a hand, both in greeting and to forestall Izuku’s words. “Please, I gave you my name for a reason, young Midoriya.”

The boy tugs at his hair. "It just feels a bit odd calling you Yagi. Especially when you're all…" His gesture is wide-reaching.

“I see.”

All Might lets the power of One For All fade. The vitality fades from his body, and whilst the process is uncomfortable he is used to it, and for the sake of his successor, a bit of pain is nothing. One day his powers will fade fully, and he hopes that the final enemy has fallen by then.

“You can call me Toshinori,” he says, voice weak.

Izuku frowns. “Toshinori-sensei,” he decides.

The innocence there makes him smile. “Yes, I suppose that is acceptable.” Without One For All, he isn't much taller than Izuku. Good, it makes things easier that way. “There is something I must say to you and I have been avoiding it.”

The boy’s frown deepens, pulling at his scar and making it look so much worse.

“You’re not getting sicker, are you?”

All Might laughs despite the pain it causes. Of course, he would consider someone else first. “No, young Midoriya. At least, no more than I already am.”

That doesn’t lift the boy’s spirit. “A-are you upset with me?”

“No, Izuku, I don’t think I ever could be upset with you.” He sighs and drops to one knee so he can meet Izuku as an equal. 

The boy takes a half-step back, almost fearful. “T-then why do you look so upset? You’re smiling but you’re not happy.”

“You know me all too well. Midoriya, my boy, I came to apologise to you.”

His successor opens his mouth. Closes it. Rolls his eyes.

“Okay, this makes sense. You feel guilty and upset or something like everyone else.” The boy sighs. “The counsellor tried explaining it.”

“And did it make sense to you?”

“A bit.” Izuku kicks at the sand errantly, sending a spray of it to the side. “We talked about a lot of other stuff.”

He rests a hand on the boy’s shoulder. “You do not have to tell me. What you spoke off is private, and you should not feel pressured to tell anyone else.”

“Okay.” Izuku lets out a relieved breath, and the tension he hadn’t noticed disappears. “I’m not angry with you.”

“You should be. I failed in my duty to you.”

That startles a laugh out of the boy. “I guess even you fail.” Izuku smiles brightly as the full moon on a clear night. 

“I am only human.” He squeezes the boy’s shoulder. “Just like you.”

“It’s easy to forget. You’re just too big and bright some days.” He tilts his head. “Oh. That’s why you want me to call you by your name.”

“Yes.”

“Well, Toshinori-sensei, I’m not angry with you. I forgive you and I know you probably think I’m doing it because there’s something wrong with me bu—

“There’s nothing wrong with you.”

“But,” Izuku continues regardless, “I think forgiving other people is what good people do. And heroes are good people, so if I can do that then doesn’t that mean I can be a hero?”

His words are simple, the words of a child who hasn’t seen the true extent of darkness. And yet, there is sincerity and that is never wrong.

“You will be a great hero, young Midoriya.”

*****

The reassurance of his hero follows him as the days pass.

School is peaceful even if Mineta is a little shit he wants to punch after a particularly vicious comment, and he has to deal with Asui and Ashido both deciding his hair is their new favourite toy—they do, though, take him for ice-cream as they promised. Aizawa makes him wary for the man is nicer to Izuku than anyone else, which means he’s grouchy and plays mind games, but he doesn’t single Izuku out past simple reprimands here and there.

As long as he remembers All Might’s words, then he can calm his breathing easier each time he wakes in the middle of the night, cold sweat clinging to his skin, and his scar burning with the memory of pain.

He has another session with his counsellor on Friday. She greets him politely.

“So, I think we covered a lot of ground last week.”

He grunts. “Sure.”

“I wanted to talk about who you were talking to last week.”

He stills, static filling his mind. She’ll lock you up, Mikumo says.

“No,” Izuku says.

“Alright, how’s about—”

“No, just no.” He stands, indifferent to how this will look on his record. “No. I am not doing this right now.”

He walks out, not once looking back.

The weekend comes too fast and he finds himself being dragged through a shopping mall with his friends. This is the first time he’s seen them in anything other than their school uniforms or hero costumes. He isn’t surprised that Uraraka and Kirishima are both dressed in bright colours, or that Ojiro looks as though he simply picked the first things he saw. He finds himself surprised that Shinsou looks like he’s out of a magazine catalogue that all the cool kids read.

It is Tokoyami that gives him pause. Dressed in a black shirt, black vest, black trousers and bright red shoes, he looks like the cover for a goth magazine.

“Someone likes their bright colours,” Ashido says when she sees him.

Tokoyami huffs. “I would prefer not to stand out.

“You kinda stand out the most,” Kirishima says, “but hey, no one’s judging. Be as edgy as you want.”

“I am not edgy,” he snarls right back.

Outside of that, they seem to get along. Uraraka follows Tokoyami when he splits off to see a store for the occult and even comes back with a small bag of her own. Iida wants to lead them through a strict order of stores which lasts half a second before Asui drags both Kirishima and Ojiro to another store for some school supplies. Shinsou disappears into a cat store before Iida even starts reprimanding them for splitting off.

“So how are you handling the news,” Ojiro asks him at the end of the day.

“Handling what?” he asks.

“Bakugou coming back.”

His vision goes white. He blinks it away and finds himself in class, Tokoyami sitting on his desk and having a conversation with Kaminari whom Izuku has yet to speak to.

“You back with us?” he hears Uraraka ask, suddenly standing right beside him. Tokoyami is on the other side of the class. “You spaced out for a bit.”

He shakes his head, letting the confusion fade away. “M-must have just been stuck in my head.”

“That’s good to hear.”

He feels Kaachan well before he enters the class. Silence reigns and no one says a word as he takes his new seat without complaint. He can tell Kaachan is angry but says little. It is a tense sort of anger, and he can taste guilt in the air.

Why would he be guilty? Izuku wonders.

“Midoriya,” Present Mic says, “do you know the answer?”

He blinks and sees the English question on the board. It’s just after lunch, has to be. “The second one,” Izuku says softly.

“That’s—”

“Hey Izuku,” Kirishima says, the setting sun framing his features. “You doing alright?”

He takes a deep breath. “What?”

“Yeah, you’ve just been in a bit of a daze all day. I mean, you even tore Kaminari a new one at lunch.”

Izuku swallows, confused. “I’ll be fine.”

“So, you won’t need any help?” Kirishima asks, this time in class. “I mean, it looks like some pretty hard homework. We could get a study group and everything.”

The boy smiles but nothing about it calms Izuku.

“What day is it?”

“Tomorrow, Thursday.” Izuku freezes. “I mean, we can always reschedule if you want. You look like you haven’t slept in a few days. You barely got through the maths test.”

“N-no, th-that’s… that doesn’t—”

He sits across his therapist between one thought and the next. She smiles gently.

“It’s good to see you. You missed our meeting on Tuesday.”

He stares at her for a long moment. None of this makes any sense to him.

“I wanted to talk to you about—”

“What day is it?” he asks, interrupting her. His hands shake so he clenches them together and squeezed.

“It’s Friday. Why?”

What the fuck? He takes a deep breath and focuses on the burnt orange vase in the corner. It’s real and there and present. The couch is comfortable but textured well. The air sharp from the AC.

“Izuku,” Dr Makinami says, drawing his attention. “You’ve been quiet for the last ten minutes.”

He swallows. “I-is it still Fri-Friday?”

“Yes.”

He looks to his hands. “I can’-I don’t even… It was Wednesday, and I was just talking to Kirishima. No, no, no. That was Monday, right? But we were at the mall.” He looks up and meets the worried gaze of his therapist. “How is it Friday?” he whispers.

He blinks. She is blurry. Tears, he realises, obscuring his vision. “Please tell me it’s still a Friday.”

“It is,” she says, voice calm and steady. He latches on to that. “Izuku, how much of the last week do you remember?”

“I don’t know,” he shouts. “I don’t fucking know.”

“What was the last thing that happened before this happened?”

“We were at… the mall? And what? Nothing happened. They just talked about Kaa—"

Something shakes him. He looks and sees his therapist, more frazzled than he’s ever seen her. “Izuku, I’m right here. Just listen to my voice and focus on it.”

He feels something warm and wet run down his nose. His fingers come away red. “What the fuck did you do to me?”

“Izuku,” she says, “I didn’t—”

“Not you,” he snaps, looking to the darkest corner of the room where a fake plant rests innocently. “Mikumo, what the fuck did you do to me?”

You are not ready. Your mind will break.

“You do not get to decide that.” He’s standing, fists clenched and very ready to blow through the wall. “You stole his fucking name and now you’re doing this.”

“Izuku, you’re—”

“Shut up,” he says without looking at her. “Why the fuck are you doing this to me?”

You did this to you. You hid and retreated in the dark and made me stand in the light.

“What the hell are you talking about?”

You fear him. You hide from the truth, and he is the truth you cannot face.

“What. Truth. Mikumo.”

The first truth. The original. You tried to forget but every time you see him, you are reminded of the truth. You chose to forget everything but a few moments.

“That’s not possible. Things don’t work like that.”

Everything is possible to you, if only once. I am sorry for what comes next.

He feels a needle in his neck. He pulls it out, startled, and finds it to be a dart. Eyes heavy, he turns to see his Dr Makinami, Aizawa, and someone he’s never met before.

“You fucking traitor.”

Izuku smiles for what else can he do as his legs give out. Strong arms catch him as darkness engulf him.

*****

Shouta Aizawa wonders if one day this boy in his arms will ever stop being a problem. A formless terror always seems to grip Shouta when Izuku is involved. Now, to see what looked like a psychotic break in his student makes him wonder how much is his fault.

The boy is light in his arms, his muscle purely functional and not bulky. He lays the boy down on the couch, careful not to jostle Nezu currently on his shoulder. The bright red bloom along the boy’s jaw is a monument to his failings.

“What happened?” he asks as Nezu jumps off his shoulder, landing on the armrest. The principal looks the boy over.

Dr Makinami takes a moment to compose herself, adjusting her glass. “I’m not sure.”

“Isn’t it your job to know?” The question is unfair, and they all know it.

“Aizawa,” Nezu says, “please reign in your emotions. You’ve always been good at it. And Mifune, please call the boy’s mother immediately.”

He sighs. “Doctor Makinami, any answers you have would be greatly appreciated.”

"You need to understand that I'm only sharing this because I have a valid concern he is a danger to himself, and perhaps others."

“Patient confidentiality.” Nezu nods. “We can only help him as far as we understand. He was shouting at the wall, correct? A hallucination?”

“I can’t say for certain. In our first session he started speaking to someone else, and when I pressed him he wasn’t comfortable answering. I tentatively put schizophrenia as a diagnosis.”

Aizawa’s fists clench. He takes a deep breath and releases the tension.

“Tentatively?”

“I’m not a fan of putting a diagnosis without more information. But I think that might have been wrong.” She looks to Izuku. “He’s been dissociating.”

“What does that mean for him?” He’s a hero and a teacher, not a psychologist.

“It means that he’s distancing himself from traumatic memories,” Nezu says quietly, his usual cheer gone.

“Dissociation usually shows itself in people trying to distance themselves from trauma, yes,” Makinami says, “and that can be dealt with through cognitive behavioural therapy. But he’s showing symptoms of dissociative amnesia, and from the first session and this one, he’s either experiencing waking hallucinations. Or, he’s suffering from an identity disorder.”

The doctor runs a hand through her hair. “It started on Saturday form what he said. Has anything happened in the last week that might have reminded him of a traumatic event?”

“Shit.” He looks to Nezu who nods gravely. “Katsuki Bakugou returned from his suspension on Monday.”

“Describe his behaviour for me?”

 “He’s seemed confused at times. More often he’s been uncharacteristically angry, and his grades have shown a steep decline. As well, he’s failed to respond to his name at times.”

The doctor hums and walks to her desk. She picks up the file there and scribbles quickly.

“He was conversing directly to his hallucination. He called it Mikumo.” She flips a page. “There’s no indication of a Mikumo in his family records.”

“There isn’t,” a new voice says. Aizawa turns and sees Inko Midoriya, frazzled. His fists clench again because everything about this woman is abhorrent.

"Mrs Midorya, you arrived quickly.”

She walks to her son and kneels beside his unconscious form. She touches his forehead tenderly, in a sick parody of a concerned mother.

“I wanted to make sure he stayed for his session,” she answers.

"Mrs Midoriya, I’m Doctor Makinami. You son’s therapist. If you know who Mikumo is, then it would greatly help us.”

“Why? It has nothing to do with you.” She looks to Aizawa, eyes hard. “I don’t even know what’s happened to my son.”

“He’s hallucinating a person called Mikumo,” Aizawa responds, just as hard. “Who might be another personality from what I understand.”

Her eyes close, face running through a gamut of emotions before settling on blankness. “And you’re certain of this?”

“As certain as I can be with such limited information,” Dr Makinami says. “Ma’am, frankly, he’s lost the better part of a week because of the dissociation. He seems to have created an entire personality to deal with a truth he doesn’t want to confront. He asked Mikumo that directly.”

“Mikumo, how long will you haunt me?” Her eyes open, devoid of any emotion. “Mikumo Atakani is my son.”

“That’s not in any records we—”

“He lived for exactly forty-seven minutes,” Inko snaps. “I told Izuku about his twin last week. I didn’t think this would… Why would he?”

“That’s what we’re trying to understand,” Nezu says gently. “We want to help your son. His quirk is a hidden one, yes. And those are invariably traumatic.”

“He fell and hurt himself.” Aizawa wants to snort, call the lie out for what it is. Falling always seems to be the excuse an abuser uses. But he doesn’t. There are more important things to deal with than a personal vendetta.

She touches the braid of white hair tenderly. “It was a head injury. He hasn’t been the same since. Most days are fine. But some of them are… bad.”

“Bad in what sense?”

"He's off balance like the world is falling apart. Sadness, maybe." She shakes her head. "He punched a mirror. I thought he was just upset over his scars but… he said his reflection hated him."

“Was there-is there anything else?”

"Not that I'm willing to say."

Shouta snaps. “Are you really going to keep quiet after—”

“Aizawa—"

He ignores Nezu. “After he had a psychotic break? He needs help and we need information to help him.”

“That’s enough, Aizawa.”

Inko almost looks amused. Almost, if not for the pure rage in her eyes. “The attitude of the teachers here makes me question the quality of this institution. Whatever issue you have with me-well take them and keep them away from me.” She looks to the therapist. “Can you help him?”

Dr Makinami looks between the three of them. “I’m not a fan—”

"I frankly do not care what you're a fan of."

“I am not a proponent of prescribing medication,” Dr Makinami says after a moment, "especially not when I lack an actual diagnosis, but I can prescribe a broad-spectrum atypical antipsychotic."

“Do it. I don’t care what you have to do, but I will not lose my son to this.”

 

Chapter Text

Gimu is the second pillar. This is piety and forgiveness in turn. Sometimes debts cannot be repaid through conventional means, and it is the debtor's responsibility to be pious to the debt-holder in lieu of payment. But it is also the debt-holders duty to accept not all debts can be paid as they pleased, and to forgive their debtors [Is forgiveness a foreign concept to you, Dark Shadow?].’

—Excerpt from ‘The Pillars of Moral Heroics’ by Ryo Asuka and annotated by Fumikage Tokoyami.

The alarm rings, shrill and piercing. It means Izuku needs to get up. Ponderously, as though a massive ship turning, he leans over and silences it.

“Get up,” he whispers through the haze of his mind.

Lethargy grips him. He knows it’s Tuesday, knows that if he doesn’t get up then he’ll miss another day of school. But he can’t find the motivation to care.

The door opens. It heralds his mother, looking tired and worn. Guilt washes over him like a wave, tears threatening to spill.

"Hey, honey." She sits beside him and runs a hand through his hair. "You gonna get up?”

He grunts, too indifferent to do anything else.

“Alright,” his mother says gently. “I brought your medication.” She shakes a clear bottle. The blue pills within rattle threateningly as a viper.

“Kaa-san, no,” he whispers, pulling away. “I hate… what they do to me.”

She smiles gently. “You know you need them.”

“I don’t.” The tears fall. “Please don’t do this.”

“Has Mikumo spoken to you recently?” He doesn’t answer. “Take the pills, Izuku.”

He does. The numbness is intense and any interest he has dies with it. His phone always shines with the light of unread messages, but they are so distant. It is a struggle to eat anything, but he forces the pork cutlets down with the red pill he must take.

The darkness abandons him, the monsters seemingly indifferent to him now. He can stand in the dark and know he is truly alone. Sleep is quiet, dreamless, and only now does he realise how horrifying it truly is to not feel anything. Even the cruellest nightmare would be better than this haze.

The cycle continues on Wednesday and Thursday. He pleads with his mother, takes the pills at her insistence, and tries to work up the energy just to breathe again. On Friday he tries to run. He makes it all the way out of his bed and to the beach. Barely a mile in, his body betrays him and Izuku has to find a bin to be sick in. He shambles home, shaking violently. The couch is comfortable and unchallenging. He sits there for hours until his mother returns, and switches on the TV for him. He wonders if he greets her and then lets go of the thought.

On Saturday the haze fades somewhat. Or maybe he’s simply getting used to it. He takes his phone and there are dozens of messages waiting for him. A vague sense of guilt passes through him. It takes hardly any effort to force a smile—and the rush of endorphins is so so beautiful for he feels something more than dullness—and send a group message. More messages flood in but he doesn’t have it in him to respond.

On Sunday he decides perhaps enough is enough. “Kaa-san,” he says to her from his spot on the couch.

“Yes, honey?” She walks over and ruffles his hair gently. “You need anything?”

He takes a deep breath, trying to remember why he called her over. “I want…” He frowns. “I need to do something. And you won’t like it.”

She doesn't. Not in the slightest. He has to drag up every bit of emotion and passion not quashed by the drugs to get her to listen. In the end, it is a single plea that sways her.

“Please, kaa-san.”

The house is larger than the one he shares with his mother. Larger, yes, but there are signs of damage. Dark scorch marks litter the pastel yellow walls, and there is a hole in the wall. The garden is well maintained and shows no sign of damage.

 “Hello, Izuku,” Kaachan’s mum greets, brushing her muddy gloves across her apron. “I’m not sure I like this idea.”

He blinks slowly. “You don’t have to.”

She looks to his mother. “It’s your choice.”

His mother sighs. “I’d rather do it here instead of having him leave in the dead of night.”

Izuku very nearly flushes. It had been a consideration. An option he would have taken if she hadn’t agreed.

“Alright.” Kaachan’s mother walks to the door. “Katsuki, you little fuck, get your ass here.”

“The fuck you say, bitch,” he hears Kaachan roar from inside. “Say that again. I fucking dare you.” The boy’s footsteps are thunderous, and he shoves through the door violently.

“What the…” Kaachan trails off once he sees Izuku, his expression running through every form of sad anger Kaachan knows.

“Kaa-san, I’ll be fine.” He looks to her until Kaachan’s mother leads her to a spot just out of earshot but still in sight. “Hi, Kaachan.”

Kaachan takes a shuddering breath. “The fuck are you doing here?” he shouts but there is no heat to it.

“Why do you think I’m here?” he asks in turn.

Kaachan’s fists clench. The flowers and dirt might mask the scent of nitroglycerin, but Izuku will always know it intimately. His scars burn hot in remembrance.

“Because you’re a fucking bleeding heart,” Kaachan says at last, without venom but always with anger. “Because you were right when you said I could never be a hero. And you fucking had the audacity to show me pity.”

He frowns, trying to remember saying that. He can’t.

“I never said that.” Before Kaachan’s perpetual anger can turn hot, he adds, “I can’t remember a lot of things. I might have said that but it wasn’t-no, it… I don’t know, Kaachan, but I wouldn’t say that.”

Kaachan takes half a step forward. “Can you make some fucking sense? Why the fuck are you acting so weird?”

"They're making me-I'm… I'm not fine." He glances at his mother who’s expression is tense. “They put me on meds. I can’t feel things properly.”

Kaachan stays silent for a long time.

“Say something.”

“You’re broken,” Kaachan says hoarsely. “I broke you.”

“I’m not broken,” Izuku snarls, teeth bared. "Don't you dare-not you, never you. You have no right."

Kaachan watches him. And then, slowly, he sits on the step. It brings them to eye level.

“I don’t,” he agrees softly, angry only at himself. “But you’re the crazy fucker who thinks I have a chance.”

“I’m not crazy,” Izuku whispers. “I’m-I’m not.”

“You’re the one who told Zapper to stop being a dick to me just as I was about to blow him the fuck away.”

There is something so fundamentally wrong in seeing Kaachan with his hands clasped together, elbows resting on his knees, and almost calm. Izuku can taste the anger in the air still, but none of it is directed at him. And even then, there’s more guilt than he wants to stomach.

“I don’t remember that,” he admits, terrified because just how much did Mikumo take form him?

“Fuck, do you even remember the day we matriculated? Do you remember that conversation we had?”

Izuku swallows. “No. I just-you were being nice and left me alone.”

Kaachan stares then huffs. "It's me. It's fucking always about me, you shit." He laughs suddenly, broken and bitter. "That is just so fucked up. Look at us. What a pair we make. Just two fucking broken people who don't know how to deal with anything."

“I’m not broken,” he snaps, startled at the heat in his voice.

“You know me, but I also know you.” He leans forward and only now does Izuku see the tears he’s fighting back. “Deku, no Izuku, how did you get that scar.”

He points to Izuku’s temple where the streak of white hair prominently shows. “What?”

“How. Did you. Get it?”

“I f-fell,” Izuku whispers, terrified very suddenly. “I fell.”

“I thought so.” Kaachan reaches out, but when Izuku flinches he lets his hand fall. “Here’s the truth you’re running from—”

“No!”

Kaachan startles. “You’re that fucking afraid. What do you think will change if you know?”

“N-Nothing.”

“You’re a piss poor liar. Fucking tell the truth.”

He bites his lips, one sharp tooth slicing straight through. He wipes the blood away with the back of his hand.

“The truth.” He glances once more to his mother, aware that he can run and never face this. “The truth is that I might not be able to forgive you.”

“You shouldn’t,” Kaachan says, softer than Izuku’s ever heard. “I pushed you down. I ran because I’m a coward and don’t deserve to be a hero.”

Something in him breaks. He can feel it shattering like glass and slicing his insides. And yet, seeing Kaachan bare his teeth in righteous anger directed only at himself frees Izuku. It is the closest to kindness that Kaachan can come to.

 “I don’t-I can’t forgive you.” Izuku closes his eyes. “But I don’t hate you. I never could.”

“You should,” he hisses. “If any fucker has the right, it’s you. But you’re a stupid ass bleeding heart who doesn’t know any better.”

That startles a laugh out of him. “H-Hawkmoon said all life is precious.”

“The fuck does that bitch have to do with shit?”

“It means I think your life has meaning,” he says, strongly, unwavering despite the haze. “It means you’re worth being forgiven, even if it takes me a while.”

“You’re a fucking idiot,” Kaachan roars but there’s no anger there, just a boy who’s never learnt to be quiet—who never needed to learn for when you are the strongest everyone must hear you roar.

“I am,” he agrees. “I’m an idiot. But I want to be a hero.”

He leaves. The drive home is quiet, and thoughts are difficult to string together. Despite that, he feels as though some anchor that had been dragging him down is… not gone, but not as heavy. He forces a smile for his mother when they get back.

“Thank you, Kaa-san,” he says.

She hugs him and though it is warm, much of her kindness fails to penetrate the haze. He wants to sleep and never get up again.

Instead, he simply says, “I think I need to go back to school,” and knows she will burn the world down to see it happen.

*****

He wakes up exhausted on Monday morning, wrung out and despondent. Curling up in his blankets and pretending that the world didn’t exist seems a more viable option with each passing option. It takes all he has to roll out of bed and land on the floor. once he’s there on the floor, once he’s made the first step of the day, everything comes just a tiny bit easier. Taking a walk is nowhere near as strenuous as the runs he used to take, but it feels much harder. But with each little act like making his bed or forcing a smile for his mother or taking a shower and eating breakfast builds up inertia. He almost feels normal—or maybe he’ just getting used to the numbness when he enters the gates of UA.

They seem different today. Less hallowed and sacred, and more testaments of strength. They are enduring, yes, but they will never be eternal. They are gilded but the gold and silver sparkle was just his own bias. It doesn't make the sight he once saw less true, only different.

He sees a familiar face. It brings the slightest warmth to his heart.

“Ojiro,” he calls out.

The blonde turns, startled, his eyes widening upon seeing Izuku. He gapes, mouth wide, before he regains his composure and shuts it.

“Midoriya… you’re back?” The question is cautious, more tentative than he is used to from Ojiro.

His grin feels weak and paper thin, but it is the best he can do right now. “Yeah, I am.”

“You didn’t-we thought you weren’t—”

Izuku shrugs, walking closer. "I didn't know until last night. But I'm here if you’ll have me.”

Ojiro shakes his head slowly, looking at Izuku as though he’s a complicated chess piece. His smile, when it comes, is small, just a mild rise at the corner of his lips.

 “Yes, always.” He claps Izuku on the shoulders. It nearly brings him to his knees. “Come on.”

And though he finds it condescending that Ojiro uses him as an armrest, the casual indifference to where he's been is overwhelming. His smile turns warm as Ojiro tells him all about what he’s missed. It isn’t overly interesting, but he feels included in their lives, even like this.

“USJ?” he asks when Ojiro mentions it.

“I sent you a message about it.”

Izuku lowers his head. “I didn’t really read them.”

“Don’t worry about it.” Ojiro claps him on the shoulder again. “Yeah, we’re going there for training. Do you think…”

"I don't plan on missing any more school."

“Good,” Ojiro says uncertainly. “Good.”

The class is quiet, uneventful. The teachers are content to leave him alone, but after Present Mic skips past him for a question he raises his hand and feels the entire class watching him. Izuku answers the question, but something about the simple act diffuses the tension that has permeated the room whilst he has been unaware.

He leaves a bit later than usual with Tokoyami, having stayed behind to ask Cementoss a few questions regarding the homework he missed and working out a schedule to submit it—apparently getting hurt, having a mother who threatens to sue at the drop of a hat, and going through a mental break entitles you to not having to actually do homework; and whilst that appeals to the part of him that just wants to nap all day, the part of him that wants to be a hero rebels against the very idea of taking advantage of the kindness.

Tokoyami is quiet on the way back, and seemingly content with the silence. He could very well be a statue, one that moves and has feathers perhaps, but the indifference to the silence would be the same.

“D-do you remember what you said to me?”

“We’ve spoken on many matters,” Tokoyami replies, not unkindly.

He flushes but soldiers on. “You said you have a debt you want to repay. I think, maybe, I get what you were saying. Maybe just a bit. I'm supposed to accept the way you want to pay your debt might not be the way I want it to be paid?"

“The second pillar, Gimu.” Tokoyami makes a sound of acknowledgement.

“But I still don’t get why I can’t just forgive you and be done with it.”

"Hmmm, perhaps think of it this way." He raises on hand and weighs his next words on it. "By my actions, you were harmed. I am at fault. And if I am at fault, then do I not owe you a debt?" He raises his other hand. "But how must it be repaid is the question. Should I heat a metal rod and burn my face?"

Izuku stumbles, feeling sick. “Never.” A shudder racks his body.

“Why not? Would it not be equivalent exchange?”

“That’s….”

“Cruelty for cruelty is not the way of a moral society. So, if I cannot directly pay you that way then I must find another. And even should you claim to forgive me, I am still uncertain if you understand the gravity of that action.”

He looks away. “I do,” he mutters. “I do.”

“Really now?”

“I saw Kacchan yesterday.”

A hand on his shoulder turns him around. Tokoyami’s avian features are contorted in anger. "What would possess you to confront him?" he says, calm, controlled, and half a step from shouting. "Do you have any idea what he could have done to you?"

His laugh is bitter and broken. “More than you know.” He pulls away from Tokoyami’s grip because no matter what, he is still stronger than anyone else in his class. “You were right. I hadn’t forgiven him.”

Tokoyami watched him for a moment. Then nods. “That is progress and that is important.”

They walk in silence again, meandering through the city. He texts his mother, so she doesn’t worry, and on a whim, he takes a picture with Tokoyami next to a sports shop, the boy doing his best to stay out of the picture. 

The beach is quiet and empty. Izuku leans on the railing and inhales the scent of seawater untainted by rot and corruption. He could stand here watching the sun slip past the horizon for all eternity, unmoving as the stars in the sky. 

“You find peace here.”

He looks to Tokoyami and finds the boy sitting on the ledge, legs dangling freely and elbows resting on his knees. Precarious though it looks, the boy seems none too worried about the possible drop to the ground. Maybe confidence in his quirk, maybe confidence in himself.

“I… do?” He inhales, smelling and tasting the salt in the air. “I do.”

“We all need that which calms us.”

“What else do you do?”

“I find a level of distraction in video games. Books have always had many lessons to be learnt. Meditation, as well. And I study the occult.” He glances at Izuku out the corner of his eye, almost as if expecting a reproach. “You don’t find that shocking?”

“Why would I? I’ve seen what the darkness looks like.”

He takes comfort in the warmth of the sun, in the all too real breathing of Tokoyami, and the chill of the sea. Those feelings, and the haze in his mind, ground him. It makes it simple to not think of what could be lurking down there.

It takes hardly a thought to draw a piece of shadowstuff, hardly larger than a pebble, to his hand. He tosses it in the air, getting a feel for the weight—which exists only should he choose it—and raises his arm.

In the space between breaths, he grasps for the quirk his mentor bestowed upon him. Not much of it, just a tiny scrap that hardly makes his senses tingle.

With a flick, the shadow pebble soars over the beach and lands on the water for but a moment before it continues on its way, one skip after another until it is too small to see even the wake of its passing. Izuku smiles and rubs his hand, bruises deep beneath the skin already forming.

“I get that it’s scary trying to trust someone,” he says, wincing when he flexes his hand, “with something like that. But I’m starting to understand fears can be conquered. And it’s easier when you have a friend.”

“You’re talking about your quirk.”

Izuku nods. “And yours. I don’t know much about yours, but I know what having a voice in your head is like.” He rubs the back of his hand along the bones, feeling for breaks. “Do you know why I was gone for a week?”

“In truth?” The breeze ruffles his dark feathers. “No. They said you were sick.”

“That’s… I guess that’s accurate. My quirk drove me-no, I guess it was all me maybe.” He takes a breath and starts again. “My quirk did weird… things to me. I started hallucinating a voice and it got worse and worse. And seeing Kaachan after what happened kinda just-well, it broke me.”

Tokoyami hums deeply. “You are here, now, and that is all that matters.”

“Maybe,” he concedes. “It took the name of my twin, Mikumo.”

“I didn’t know you had a twin.”

“I don’t.”

Tokoyami shifts uncomfortably. “Oh, I didn’t mean to—”

“It happened a long time ago,” he says, more bitter than he expects. “The point is that I know what you’re going through, probably better than anyone else. Maybe I don’t know all the details, but we can try.”

“I think, perhaps, that I would not take issue to that.”

 He goes home, happy for once. Dinner is ready, which makes him feel guilty, but he makes up for it by cleaning up after the meal.

“I’m happy for you,” his mother says, kissing him on the forehead and leaving.

In his room, he pulls out his homework and gets started on it. Maths comes first—easy as breathing—followed by the backlog of literature homework he has. After a particularly hard-line stumps him, he picks up the pill bottle and rolls it in his hand. The shake and rattle of the red pills distract him. 

“I hate these things,” he says.

*****

The glass is spotless, as they all should be. It serves as the perfect vessel for the ice, and then a respectable amount of gin, a can of dry tonic, and a slice of lime. Kurogiri hands the glass to the patron, a villain he has yet to speak with, along with a coaster.

He says nothing as the villain drinks it one gulp. It is not his job to teach them manners. No, he makes the drinks and keeps the bar orderly. They are not his only duties, but they are the only duties this villain has any reason to know of.

The cloth on his sleeve is discoloured. He sets it with the other dirty cloths and retrieves a new one to wipe down the mess the villain leaves because of course, he would completely neglect to use the coaster.

When the bar is empty, he switches on the screen to the side. It flickers to life, though the image is darkened, and he can hardly make out any details but a hazy outline of what might be a man.

“Sensei,” he greets politely. “You wished to speak to me?”

“How goes the preparations?” The voice is clear and dark, but not malicious. It used to send chills through his gaseous body.

Now it is normal.

“The boy you sent to us provided a map of the location. I verified the information myself.”

“Good, it saves you unnecessary work,” Sensei says sincerely. “Heroes always provide their own downfall. And what of Tomura?”

“He prepares our… comrades.”

Sensei chuckles, more a growl than anything else. “You think little of them. Perhaps rightly so,” he concedes. “But they all have value.”

“As pieces on a board?”

Whatever sense of humour he got from Sensei disappears. His mist body freezes as even with the barrier of distance and technology between them, the great villain’s absolute malevolence is terrifying. Because distance means nothing to a man this powerful.

“Do not,” Sensei says, voice dripping with sheer cruelty, “ever consider your allies as pieces on a board. That is the way of heroes like Endeavour and Best Jeanist. We are better. We must be. Do you understand?”

“Y-yes,” he croaks, “sensei.”

The malevolence disappears. The glass falls from his limp hands as he slumps forward on the counter, his senses still operating on a flight or warp the fuck away reaction.

“Good,” Sensei says genially, all previous hints of ‘obey or die’ gone. “Please do make sure Tomura eats. It would be disappointing if he collapsed of exhaustion.”

“Understood.”

“And notify me of any changes regarding your quirk.”

The call ends. He takes a few minutes to calm his frayed nerves. Once he is certain he can do anything without collapsing, he pulls out a lunchbox from the fridge in the back room. He adjusts his vest and puts on hand in his pocket. He looks the picture of calm and casual.

With a though, a warp gate opens, and he steps through. It takes only a moment to go from one place to the next.

This moment lasts for an eternity. Kurogiri exists both on either side of the gate and within it all at once. This is nothing unusual.

But things have been different recently. There is something watching him, observing and judging his every action in this formless void dancing with sparks of green lightning. It makes him feel nauseous for he knows if he ever had more than a moment—eternal though it is—to look at what observes him, something fundamental would break. He wants to run and flee in terror. Any rational and mortal creature would want to.

Kurogiri in the void becomes the warp gate that the Kurogiri in the other room walks through.

It worries him. Even when they burnt a city and held back an infestation, his quirk had not changed to any extent. Now, though, it is alien even to him.

He strides through, not allowing an inch of his unease to show through to Tomura. His ward sits on a rooftop, playing a handheld game, and utterly ignoring ignorant of his presence.

“Tomura,” he calls.

“Just wait. Nearly got a new high score.”

Kurogiri will never understand this blatant addiction to games his ward has, or even why Sensei permits it. There is a certain appeal to the games that he can appreciate in their interactivity, but the depth and time Tomura puts in them bothers him.

He walks forward and forms another warp gate right below the main device and sends it back to the bar. Tomura stands abruptly, the two halves of the controller still in his hands and looks ready to punch Kurogiri.

He thrusts the lunchbox in Tomura’s chest before he can get a word out. “Sensei,”—he always finds it fascinating that the mention of their leader always silences Tomura—“sends his regards. He also suggests you don’t forget to eat.”

Tomura huffs. “I don’t need a reminder.” Still, he takes the lunchbox and opens it.

“How were the preparations?” he asks, taking the controllers.

His ward sits, much in the same position as before. “I don’t like them.” He takes a bit out of the meal. “They’re useless.”

“Why?” he asks, genuinely curious. Planning and logistics are his duties for Tomura hardly ever has a plan past ‘attack, attack, attack’ no matter how much Kurogiri drills their importance in his head.

“We’re taking a high-level tank, a DPS beast, a support class, and a fucking trash mob to fight the end game boss.”

“I see…” Those terms mean little to him. “Regardless of how you feel, our allies are not disposable.”

“They’re only good as a distraction.” Tomura snorts. “You didn’t even fucking like them.”

“No, I did not. I still see them as disposable.” He sighs. “But Sensei would very much disagree.”

 

Chapter Text

Giri is the concept of moral duty. All people have duties: to their families, to their employers, to their allies, to their contracts, and to themselves. Giri is to hold these myriad duties in balance, to grant them each the weight they deserve without neglecting any other. A good father does not neglect their children in favour of their work, regardless of their position, for to do so is to fail their moral obligation to those they sired. Even his Imperial Majesty balances his family with his duties to the realm.

—Excerpt from ‘The Pillars of Moral Heroics’ by Ryo Asuka and annotated by Fumikage Tokoyami.

The sun is close to setting when Izuku sees Tokoyami. The avian boy wears loose black clothing, a bit worn but very likely what he uses for training. Izuku wore much the same with his green tracksuit.

“I didn’t think you’d come,” Izuku admits.

Tokoyami huffs. “Had I not wished to come, I would have conveyed my thoughts directly. I do not have any obligation to watch the children today.”

“Children?”

"Do not worry overly much about it. What was your intention with this training?”

“I kinda didn’t think it through all the way.” He wrings his hands nervously at Tokoyami’s disappointed gaze. “I-I mean, I just didn’t know anything really about your quirk and I kinda need to if I want to figure everything out and—"

“Worry not on it,” Tokoyami interrupts, one hand raised. He sits, cross-legged, on the sand. “Sit. You are too nervous for any training to be effective.

He flushes, still comfortable. “Well…”

"I did not mean it as an admonishment. It is merely the nature of any power the traverses the dark. Without control, we are dangers to those we care for.”

Izuku sits as Tokoyami does, placing the back of his hands on his knees. The position is uncomfortable, not one he’s used to.

“Anyone can have a dangerous quirk. It doesn’t make us a danger.”

“That is not how the world will see it. The nature of our powers means they will see a villain first should we lose control.” His red eyes are like embers in the dark. “People fear the dark, as they rightly should. You wield the darkness directly. I have a demon. Will they be as forgiving to us as say, a person with a strengthening quirk?”

A frown graces his face. “But we have laws to protect against that.”

“We have laws against discrimination over mutations.” Tokoyami cocks his head, ruffling his feathers. “Not everyone follows these laws.”

“That’s not-it’s not—”

“Fair? Hardly. But it is the way of the world. Very many are put in prison for hurting others when their quirks manifest. Do you think that the imperial heir could not have walked away free after what he did to Taiwan?”

“What he did made him a villain,” Izuku says strongly. “Even the crown bows to the law.”

Tokoyami makes a sound of acknowledgement. “Regardless of the atrocity, can you truly say his anger was without cause? I hurt others by listening to the whispers of my demon. I do not claim his actions just or even his retribution proportionate, but he acknowledged his moral failing by committing seppuku.” He shakes his head. “It is those emotions that we must never give in to. It is why I meditate. And why I shall teach you how to meditate. We must strive to never become as the villains who purged Shikoku.”

“I’ve never been good at the whole empty my mind thing.”

“Neither have I, and I have trained for years.” He pauses, assessing Izuku. “You don’t have to sit like that if you find it uncomfortable.”

Izuku shifts and kneels in kiza, grateful as his right leg has already gone numb. This position, though, he can maintain for hours.

“What now?”

“Now, close your eyes. Focus on your breathing.”

He does so. Inhale, hold, exhale. Inhale, hold, exhale.

“Do not force a pattern. That is not the point.”

“This would be easier if you told me the point.”

He hears Tokoyami click his mouth shut. “The point is to focus on what is. You breathe all the time. Listen to your body simply be. It is yours and it is. Just as the waves and the sunlight and the cold breeze. These things are real. They are not the words of a demon trying to corrupt you. They are not the voice of your failings and guilt.”

Put like that, it makes a bit more sense. He breathes and lets it be. There is a pattern there, one waiting for him to decipher. His initial inhale is always sharp. He breathes again. A shuddering pause follows. Another breath. A long inhale at the end of a single inhale.

He holds it, sometimes for a second or maybe two or three. It seems to be always just as long as he needs it to be. It doesn't follow the shrill screams of something burning in his mind or the echo of monsters singing the end of all life.

And each exhale is always slow, drawn out. It is never rushed, even if there are resounding footfalls in his mind. 

“Do you understand, now?” Tokoyami says, breaking him from his reverie and dispelling the feeling of… not peace or acceptance, but maybe just the lessening of annoyance.

“It is easy to lose yourself and be uncertain of what is and what isn’t,” Tokyami continues, “and whilst the particulars of your situation are different from mine, some things are inescapable. Sand is coarse. Water is wet. The living breathe. The wind does not whisper sweet nothings.”

“I guess,” he says, not giving any attention to the monsters hiding in the darkness. To do so is to invite them in. “Do you do this often?”

“Daily. Especially when Dark Shadow is crueller than usual.”

Izuku snorts, raising his hands defensively when Tokoyami glares. “I-I’m sorry, but the name’s a bit redundant. I mean shadows are just different gradations of darkness.”

He would know. He could point at each of the seventeen gradations in the area, could give them each separate names were he inclined for they are as different as green is to ultraviolet. And even if there is a shadow writhing and bubbling, Izuku ignores it for to give it attention would be to permit whatever hides there to glimpse the real world.

“I was a child when I made that name. I see no reason to change the name.”

“I’ve never met it,” he says. “Dark Shadow.”

“You know he does not like you.”

“I do, but I can’t do anything about that if I never speak to him.”

Tokoyami tilts his head, considering. “As you say.” He takes a deep breath.

Something dark rushes from his torso. It is large and wrong to look at, a piece of impossible matter brought in the real. Burning eyes of yellow pierce him with their intensity, judging, assessing, and finding him wanting. It smells of shadows at dawn and formless smoke and, weirdest of all, old roots.

 You, the creature—no, Dark Shadow—snarls.

“Dark Shadow!” Tokoyami snaps, his posture rigid with tension. “Calm yourself.”

The creature turns its attention back to its master. You brought me out at dusk, crow prince. Do you think a spineless slave like you can hold me?

“You’re not very nice,” Izuku says, forcing a veneer of calm.

And you stink of carrion corpses. It moves to loom over Izuku, its large claws twitching in anticipation.

“I took a shower this—”

Dark Shadow rushes him, claws raised to eviscerate him.

“No!” he hears Tokoyami scream.

Izuku rolls back just out of reach and draws thick ropes of dark matter from his shadow. The ropes rush forward at his command and wrap around the creature’s claws. They break a moment later, but that is long enough.

He lights the flare. Bright light illuminates the beach, almost blinding. Dark Shadow shrinks, whimpering and scuttling away from Izuku as he approaches. It hides behind Tokoyami, terrified.

“Okay. You really don’t like me.” Izuku forces a smile for Tokoyami. “I’m fine. Really.”

The tension bleeds out of Tokoyami, slowly but ever so present. He shakes, perhaps stress or perhaps tiredness.

“He’s never done that before,” the boy says quickly, an edge of hysteria to his words. “He doesn’t just attack people.”

“Maybe you should sit down.” He throws the flare to the side, sitting. The light is bright enough that Dark Shadow is still small, but at least now he can see Tokoyami without squinting.

Tokoyami falls to the ground in a heap, taking deep breaths.

“You okay?”

“Just… exhaustion.” Dark Shadow wraps protectively around Tokoyami’s neck, glaring at Izuku. “There is only so much energy to go between us, and I used much of mine in trying to restrain Dark Shadow.”

Betrayer, Dark Shadow says weakly.

“Stop it,” Tokoyami snaps, taking a deep breath. He watches, mesmerised, as Dark Shadow slowly seeps through his clothing and disappear.

“He really doesn’t like me.”

“I… I warned you,” Tokoyami says slowly.

Izuku shrugs. “You did. Does Dark Shadow always drain that much of your energy?” he asks suddenly.

“Only when we don’t work in concert.”

“Right. And do you ever let him out at home, just to like do stuff.”

“Yes. It is sentient. To chain it forever would be cruel.” Tokoyami frowns. “You have reason to ask these questions.”

“Just a hypothesis. Using my shadows makes me tired because it takes a lot of concentration.” He raises his hand, still bruised from using One For All yesterday. “But using the strengthening part makes me physically tired. They operate on two different sources of energy.”

“You’re saying Dark Shadow draws on my energy exclusively, and not his own.”

“Or maybe the other way around. Anyway, it’s just a wild guess.”

“One that might have merit.” He looks to his hands. “Perhaps it is fate that I met you.”

“There’s no such thing.” Izuku looks to the side where the shadows threaten to bubble over. “There’s no one writing my story and deciding my every move.”

“You don’t find the possibility intriguing. Who is to say our lives are not a tapestry of pre-ordained decisions? Can it be anything other than destiny that two people with quirks of a similar nature went to the same class and circumstance forced them together?”

“I don’t like the idea. I have the right to make my own choices. There isn’t some god out there deciding my every action.” The further he looks at the darkness, the further he can see teeth that drip with rainbow ichor of dead gods. “Even gods die.”

"Then they were not true gods."

Izuku laughs suddenly. “Maybe not but we still get to make our own choices. If we didn’t then what’s the point in trying. Wouldn’t you just be dragged to the darkness no matter how much you fought if that was your destiny? If you think you can change then it’s hypocritical to believe in destiny.”

Tokoyami hums. “Perhaps there is merit to your words. But I do not believe it can only be random chance. I could have just as easily gone to Shiketsu. In fact, I did receive an offer from them, yet I chose UA.”

“Fine, whatever. We can disagree on this some more. Tomorrow?”

Tokoyami nods. “Tomorrow, yes. I believe there is much I can learn from you, Midoriya.”

*****

Izuku walks off the train, Shinsou beside him. The boy is quiet, not particularly odd, but there is a weight to his silence today. It takes him a long time to work up the effort to speak up.

“Is your cat alright?” he asks. Hastily, he adds, “You’re just, um, looking a bit upset.”

Shinsou stops and purses his lips. “That isn’t why… and no, it’s not your fault before you even go there. You’re not the main character of this story.”

Izuku feels his cheeks warm because that was exactly where he was going. "Sorry."

A warm hand comes to rest on his shoulders. Looking up, he sees Shinsou smiling, but there is no true warmth to it.

“Don’t worry, I’m just being a bit insecure.” The hand nudges him forward gently, and Izuku starts walking. “I’m just... we’re friends, right?

A deep pit settles in his stomach. “Is this-are you…” He shakes his head, steeling his nerves. “Do you not want to be friends anymore?”

Shinsou’s grip tightens, and the pit in his stomach deepens as Shinsou stays silent. What did I do? he thinks as they enter the gates.

“I should be asking you that,” Shinsou says finally. “You haven’t really been around recently. Even when you’re with me, you’re barely there.”

Izuku frowns. “I’m sorry?” he ventures, uncertain.

“I get you went through some shit, but can you at least try to let me help? You spent more time with bird-brain than you do with me.” He glances at Izuku sideways. “You think I don’t know why you go home late all the time.”

One exhale. Pause for two seconds. Inhale.

“That’s not-you can’t just take it like that.” He scratches at the burn scar before he can realise the action. “I-I’m not ignoring you. But, you just won’t get it.”

“You’ve never even tried,” Shinsou says, louder now.

“Why do I have to tell you everything?”

“Because that’s. What. Friends do.”

Every word is clipped, dripping with anger. Izuku steps back, left arm trembling. “Shinsou, just calm—”

“No, you do not get to tell me that. Not without being honest.”

Izuku wants to reply, honestly at that. But no words escape his lips. They can’t, not when Shinsou’s eyes are dark with anger.

Someone grabs him and pulls him back. He nearly stumbles as Kirishima steps in front of him, shoulders tense and back straight.

“Maybe, you need to take a step back,” Kirishima says, cheerful in a way that doesn’t feel at all true. “It’s not very manly. Come back when you’ve calmed down.”

He can almost feel Kirishima’s sharp grin, all sharp teeth.

Shinsou says nothing. The tension rises until the boy sighs. “Fine,” he says, stalking past the two of them, and glaring at Izuku.

Kirishima lets out a whoosh of relief, his stiff posture relaxing. “I didn’t think he’d listen.”

“Wh-what did I—”

“Nothing. It’s not your fault.” Kirishima’s grin warms. “You’re not responsible for everything people do.”

“Feels like it some days. He said I’m not there, even when I’m around.”

He stares expectantly at Kirishima until the boy deflates. “I guess you’ve been a bit… distant, maybe, since you came back.”

He doesn’t need to say ‘for the second time’ for Izuku to hear it. “In what way?”

Kirishima bites his lip. "You're just, I don't know, not as manly as usual." His friend turns red as his dyed hair. "You zone out all the time. And when you do say something it sounds like you're talking through someone else."

Izuku closes his eyes, fists clenching. “I’m sorry I’m not perfect,” he snarls.

“I didn’t mean—”

“It’s fine,” he says sharply.

He walks to class, angry on the surface, but more despondent deep down. It bothers him that they can’t accept who he is, bothers him that they coddle him but don’t have the decency to say anything to his face. He barely musters a response for Asui and his glare is hot enough that Iida turns right around the moment he sees it. He avoids everyone at lunch and sits on the roof alone, left to his thoughts and the deck of cards he shuffles and splits ceaselessly.

Aizawa has their last class that day, and the man immediately zips up his sleeping back once the bell rings. Izuku stays behind until everyone is gone.

“Sensei.”

A hand snakes out and removes the goggles. “Yes, Midoriya.” His teacher doesn’t move from his spot on the ground. 

“Did you really expel your class two years ago? Or was that just a… a logical ruse?"

Aizawa frowns. “It was the truth.”

“Wouldn’t they need powerful quirks to get into 1-A?”

“That’s not what I’m looking for. Yes, one commanded the winds, and another would probably make a great underground hero. They were powerful, but they didn’t have the right potential. You idiots still show just a tiny bit of potential, and I’ll drain every last drop of it to make heroes out of you yet. Was that all you wanted to know?”

“Here’s the work I missed out on.” He holds out the binder.

Aizawa blinks, standing quickly. “You weren’t under a time restriction to submit it.” He takes the binder. “Why?”

“I guess I didn’t want to get into any bad habits,” he says. “And my mother would be upset if she knew I was being lazy.”

“Your mother?” Aizawa asks in a slow, measured way as he sets the binder on the ground.

“Yeah.”

Aizawa looks him over. “Have you tripped recently?”

Izuku flushes. “No,” he mumbles.

"I did tell you that you could come to talk to me at any time. You haven’t taken advantage of that.”

“I wasn’t sure you were being serious about that.”

“Do I look like I make jokes?”

You look like you need to sleep, Izuku thinks.

“No sensei.” He frowns, thinking of the conversation he had with Tokoyami. “Do you think our laws protect people well enough?”

Aizawa cocks his head. Unzips his sleeping bag. Steps out.

"That's not a simple question to answer," Aizawa says, pushing his hair out of the way. "And it's a broad question. I take it you're talking about heroes and quirks. Listen, by and large, our laws are designed to protect people from misuse of quirks. They’re not always perfect, but there’s a reason we fight to uphold this society.”

“Someone told me that a lot of people are branded villains because of a bad quirk activation.”

“Are they branded villains or are they held accountable for their actions? You need to understand that the older a person is, the harsher the law holds them accountable. Even if it is a hidden quirk that activates, an adult has life experience a child does not.”

“But hidden quirks are activated through trauma,” he says, keeping his hands from brushing the scar at his temple. “You can’t expect someone from, I don’t know, an abusive home to not lash out when their powers activate.”

Aizawa stills. “And did you lash out when your power activated?” he asks, voice level and calm.

“No.” He shakes his head. “I just tripped and got hurt badly. I don’t think that’s the same thing.”

“You trip a lot,” Aizawa says, his fists clenching for some reason. He sighs, fingers uncurling. “Alright, think of it this way: should we let people get revenge against those who hurt them?”

“No,” he says quickly. “If we do that we go back to the lawlessness of the second dark age.”

“Then why should we let violent quirk activations go free.”

“That’s not the same thing. What you’re talking about is someone wilfully choosing to hurt someone else. You can’t just pardon that. What I’m talking about is a mistake that happens under stressful situations.”

“Like Bakugou?”

Izuku freezes, heart tightening. “Kaachan is different.” He takes a deep breath. “I need to get going. Mum will be upset if I’m late.”

Aizawa sighs. “As you say.”

 He doesn’t want to meet Tokoyami in the evening. He’d much rather just go to sleep, maybe even go for a run to work off some of his frustration. He is grateful, then, when Tokoyami takes one look at him and decides meditation is the order of the game. They sit in silence, watching the waves crash against the beach, until the sun has set, and darkness envelops the world. There is a silence to the darkness, one that reminds him of everything he is hiding from. The darkness hiding a step out of sync always calls, and he is very much too terrified to gaze into that darkness. Right now, there are no voices insulting him, no waking nightmares, just people he struggles to understand.

“Thank you,” he says before they part. “For not making me talk about it.”

“Sometimes silence is more beneficial than talking about it. It gives you a perspective that communication fails at. My father’s silence has taught me that.” He stretches his back, pops resounding in the quiet. “But that does not mean to endure alone.”

He takes that advice to heart the next day with his counsellor. She smiles benevolently across the glass divide.

“Hello, Izuku. We haven’t spoken recently. How are you finding things?”

He glances outside the window and for a moment thinks he sees a thread longer as three men. He blinks, and the odd sight disappears.

“Fine, I guess.”

She adjusts her glasses. “You guess?”

“I don’t know what you want me to say.” He runs a nail against the coarse fabric of the couch. “What am I supposed to tell you? That everything feels numb except when it’s not. That my friends are angry with me and I don’t know why? What the fuck do you want from me?”

“If that is what you want to tell me, then yes. We can start in that order if you like.”  He doesn’t refuse. “How are you handling the medication?”

“I’m tired all the time,” he admits. “Most of the day is just… blank, I guess. I’m there but nothing sticks out except maybe an hour or two.”

“And why exactly does this bothers you?”

His finger pauses in its path. “A-are you seriously asking that? Do you really think I enjoy this?

“I’d like you to realise that you are putting words in my mouth. I’m asking why it bothers you because I want to know if you understand how the feeling is affecting your life. Does that make sense?”

“I guess.” He taps his finger in time with his heartbeat.

“Do you have any hobbies you enjoy?”

“I… read.” He purses his lips. “And run. I watch TV sometimes.” Said like that his life sounds hollow. Empty.

“And what do you like reading? I’m a fan of spy thrillers myself.”

“I… wasn’t expecting that.” She smiles, nodding for him to continue. “I like reading stuff about quirks.”

“I take it you’ve read the classics. Ononoki, Saruhiko, Salvatore and the like?” He can’t help the smile that crosses his face. “You know, there’s an elective in your third year that covers that. I think you might enjoy it.”

“Aizawa-sensei told me about it." He fights the urge to blush because that memory goes hand in hand with the embarrassment of Aizawa calling him out for his clumsiness.

“Would you say you get along well with him? And your other teachers?”

He scratches at his burn scar, then remembers he’s not supposed to do that.

“He’s… thorough? High standards and logical ruses all the times. I don’t like them.”

“And why is that?”

“Because heroes shouldn’t lie. Heroes must be better. I mean, where do we draw the line between lying and manipulating?”

“Do you think perhaps you’re upset that you don’t see through his ruses all the time?” Izuku frowns. “I’ve been here a few years, so I know a bit about his teaching methods. Do you think you’re learning to think things through a bit better?”

“You still shouldn’t have to lie to teach a lesson.”

“Not every lie is harmful. We lie to ourselves every day. Sometimes you’ll face situations where a lie is the most beneficial option. You’re a fan of All Might, aren’t you?”

No, I just have posters, pyjamas, shirts, CDs, a signed notebook, more figurines than I can count, and his quirk. Not a fanboy in the slightest.

“Who isn’t?”

She rolls her eyes playfully. “Well, doesn’t he say he smiles all the time for other people, even if he doesn’t actually feel happy. Isn’t that a lie of sorts as well?”

“I don’t think it is. I think… I think maybe Mikumo would agree.”

She pauses. “Has he been speaking to you recently?” she asks slowly, cautiously.

He shakes his head. “No. I just-it’s the sort of thing he’d say.”

She jots something down on her file. “Did he lie often.”

Izuku looks to the side. Her office is high up, and he can see the forests surrounding UA from here. In the distance, he can make out the bright glint of one of the fake cities they use for training. A bird flies past, a dark streak against the green and grey world, free in a way he can hardly understand. 

“I think I was the one who lied,” he says after a long pause. “The keeper, lock and key. That’s what my brot… no, what it called itself.”

“And who were you lying to?”

Another bird joins the first. They fly, no, they dance around each other, flying so close they might collide, only harmony driving this aerial dance.

“Myself.” He looks to her now. “Please don’t ask me what I was lying about. I don’t-I’m not ready.”

“Alright. We can come back to this later.” She scribbles once more, the scratchy sound of pencil on paper noticeable in this quiet room. “Why don’t we talk about your friends being angry with you? What makes you think that?”

His burn scar itches, more intensely now. He scratches his arm instead. “Because they told me.”

“And what exactly did they say?”

“That I’m never there even when I am. Because apparently, I have to be perfect all the time no matter what happens. It’s not my fault I’m like this. I didn’t choose to take these meds,” he says, louder at the end. “And now I’m not good enough. I’m not manly enough.”

He wipes at the tears before they can fall, hating how everything leaves him about to cry, hating more the times where he feels little.

“And what do you think would make you good enough, as you put it?”

“Aren’t you supposed to be the one telling me that?” He sees her quirk a brow. Izuku sighs. “Maybe if I stop crying all the time. Or mumbling. Or stuttering. Or looking like a monster.”

She adjusts her glasses. “Scars don’t make a person a monster.”

"You don't think they're important.?" He thinks of the image in the mirror and the scarred stranger that looks back. "Well, I do. I have to see this face every time I walk into a bathroom. I see this face in every mirror. Fuck, I can't even take a bath without seeing it."

“Serious injuries always take a long time to heal. Recovery Girl lets you get back quickly, but she can’t get rid of the scars. And you’re fully healed physically long before you have a chance to really process the event. I think in many ways you’re still processing things. Your scar and Bakugou. Mikumo and the week you spent out of class. Your relationship with your friends.”

“Thanks for reminding me all the ways I’m fucked up.”

"I don't think you've, pardon my language, fucked up as you say. In my opinion, you only really fuck up when you stop trying. You don't have to succeed all at once, Izuku. The most important step you can make isn’t the first one or the last, but simply the next step.”

“That sounds like something straight out of a self-help book,” he says, lips curling in disgust.

“It wasn’t. And I get the sense you’re less angry at me than at yourself for wanting to believe that.”

“How the heck can you… oh, yeah, you have a quirk.” She nods. “Okay, fine, explain that to me.”

“Alright. Consider it this way. What has happened can’t be changed. All you can really do is decide the future you want to see. And you can only do that by making choices now, as in, taking the next step. Painful experiences have taught me the most important step a person can take is always the next one. Bakugou hurt you, but you took the hard step to forgive him wh—”

 “I didn’t,” he interrupts, looking away. “I didn’t forgive him. Everyone was right about that. I’m not-I don’t know if I’ll ever be ready. But I want to. And I don’t think that’s wrong.”

“Wanting to forgive someone is never wrong. I think it’s part of the healing process.” She leans back, relaxing fully in her seat. “I also think choosing not to forgive someone isn’t wrong.”

“That makes no sense.”

"Why? You are the wronged party in this. Confronting someone isn't always the right answer for everyone. If it hurts you more and doesn't aid you in healing, then why should you? I think it's infinitely more important to have the capacity for forgiveness and understand when it is the right time to forgive someone. And never is a perfectly valid answer."

Izuku cracks his knuckles, savouring the release. “So, I shouldn’t forgive Bakugou even… no, that’s not what you’re saying, and I know it.” She smiles benevolently. “I get that forgiving someone is hard, but I feel like I’m being selfish if I don’t forgive him. Or Shinsou.”

“And Shinsou is the one you’re fighting with?”

“I don’t know if you can call it a fight. He got angry with me for not… telling him everything about my life.” He sounds bitter, knows it from the way his bones chatter and his spine tingles.

She cocks her head. “A few weeks back I asked you to imagine a friend of yours getting hurt. Do you remember that?”

“How could I not?”

“Was Shinsou that friend?”

He sighs. “I think you know the answer to that. Yes, he was.”

“Okay. Did he say he wanted you to tell him about everything in your life? Were those his words verbatim?”

“No.”

“Then what did he say?”

A sense of numbness washes over him. “I don’t want to talk about this anymore.”

“I think maybe Shinsou isn’t upset because you won’t tell him everything, but because you won’t trust him with anything despite how much he cares for you.”

He stays silent no matter how hard she pokes and prods. The rest of the hour goes by like this.

*****

Walking home after the end of his session, Izuku takes his time, enjoying his music and the simple cadence of step-step-breathe. He is so engrossed in this that he fails to hear the sirens before he turns the corner and sees a police barricade. Lights flash, yellow tape blocks the road, and a line of uniformed officers in riot gear stand ahead of the few heavy response crew milling about.

Izuku sprints forward. He knows the gear they are wearing: advanced carbon nanotube riot shield for protection; quick hardening containment foam for restraint; shotguns loaded with rubber bullets, and stun batons. He shoves past a boy near his age, glimpsing a small girl no older than twelve backing away from the police line before it happens. 

The little girl in a dirty sunflower dress opens her mouth. A sound louder than jet engine tears through the air. Windows shatter and cracks form on both the ground and on the walls. He covers his ears, but it does little to alleviate the sheer raw strength of her power. The boy behind him is unfortunately hit by the shockwave and falls to the ground bleeding.

She runs out of steam a few moments later, eyes red and face slick with tears. “Stay away from me!” she shouts, voice high and reedy and all too much like a girl scared and unsure of her surroundings.

“Stand down or we will subdue you,” one officer roars, clapping his stun baton against his shield.

The girl glares. “No. Leave me alone.”

She takes a deep breath. It happens quickly. “Take her down,” the officer yells, even as his subordinates react. The loud bang of a gunshot goes off, and the girl goes flying like a ragdoll. She slams into a wall. He watches, numb, as another officer sprays her with containment foam. It hardens, and the little girl disappears beneath the cocoon.

“Villain down,” the officer says to his microphone. “I repeat, villain down.”

“What are you doing?” Izuku whispers, shocked to his core. Louder, he shouts, “What the hell are you doing?”

The officer looks over his shoulder, frowning. “Apprehending a villain,” he says.

“That’s a little girl.”

Grey eyes narrow. “That was a villain who just hurt five—make that six—civilians and someone get that boy treatment right the fuck now. I don’t care how old she is.”

Izuku takes a step forward. He isn’t sure when he starts running, but he barrels past the police tape regardless.

Something hard and painful hits him. His back hits the ground, all the air leaving his lungs. He groans.

“Boy,” the officer says, his foot on Izuku’s chest, “I’m gonna give you one chance to stay the fuck down before you interfere with a police operation and I have to take you down as a villain.”

The boot digs deeper. Izuku winces, fighting the urge to call shadows or One For All to fight back. He knows he can win the fight, but he also knows it’s breaking the law.

“What did she do?” he cries.

The officer leans down. “She had a tantrum. She had a god damned tantrum and killed three people. That’s what she did.” He taps his baton against Izuku’s shoulder. “I’ve seen kids like you. You think you know everything. You think you know how simple things should be. Yours is a life of fucking luxury.”

He leans back, taking his leg off Izuku. A groan escapes him, his chest still a line of pain.

“I have a job to do. It involves keeping brats like you safe from killers like her.” The officer sighs and lifts Izuku to his feet with a rough hand. “Go home to your daddy before you get in trouble.”

Izuku swallows, terrified because the man's eyes are frigid, indifferent. He knows he could fight. But he knows just as well that this monster has a team of officers with their guns at the ready. He wouldn’t, couldn’t, under any circumstance win.

What will it matter if he fights? There’s no one here to have witnessed this, no one who will care but him.

He walks away in shame, hating every fucking excuse he gives for his cowardice. He has no words for his mother, no interest in her kindness. He sits alone on his bed, crying well into the night.

And when the report comes out the next day of a girl with a violent quirk activation apprehended by diligent police officers, Izuku pukes. He thinks back to his conversation with his mother so long ago and understands she was right that life isn’t as simple as monsters and humans.

No, there are monsters, humans, and human-shaped monsters.

Chapter Text

‘Ninjo is to be compassionate. Without empathy, we cannot call ourselves human. Regardless of the form we take, we are one people breathing the same air on this world. Mutations are abundant, and the human species is near extinction, but these are only surface level changes. The soul remains the same, our karmic cycle forever constant [What will become of you when I die, Dark Shadow?]. And even should you not believe in the soul, and in karma, believe then in your fellow people. Only when we are kind and compassionate do we truly achieve greatness. Tyranny and dictatorships have created monuments, but these all fall in time. But the strides of the compassionate are felt to this day. No longer are people enslaved, ruled by cruel lords, or restricted from education for whatever petty reason. Ninjo is the greater breaker of all chains.’ 

—Excerpt from ‘The Pillars of Moral Heroics’ by Ryo Asuka and annotated by Fumikage Tokoyami.

Sunflowers follow him everywhere he looks. There, hiding in that yellow signpost. Here in the yellow lines on the ground. Everywhere, for the sun is the head of that ominous sunflower. Every little girl is that same scared little girl, broken and crying and terrified. Everyone in uniform morphs into the officer, cold grey eyes devoid of warmth, threatening in an all too real way, implacable in their cruelty, indifferent in their execution of the law.

He shivers just thinking of them.

A boy with grey eyes, no older than ten and innocent of that officer’s crimes, makes Izuku want to run up to him and shake him hard and fast, shake him until every bit of potential cruelty falls out and nothing but a bright and sweet boy remains.

Too scared, he looks away and puts in his headphones. He looks for something soothing: rock and metal are too reminiscent of the girl’s shrill scream; J-pop is too happy, too innocent for this day; classical too melancholy, and when it isn’t he hears thundering footsteps in the piano and terrified pleas in a violin. He gives up eventually and settles into silence.

The class is excited, and Izuku is uncertain as to why until Aizawa tells them to get dressed for the trip to USJ. Izuku follows the herd of students to the locker room. He takes the case with his costume and dresses in a corner, careful always to keep any scars from peeking.

The mouth guard bothers him, and he stares at it in silence. It isn’t the same as the one before, similar in style, yes, but not in execution. This is designed to protect against heat first and blunt force second. And yet, his hands shake because he can’t stop thinking of fire and pain and why why Kaachan, what did I ever do to you? You were always the best. I’m not a threat. No, no, no

He takes a breath. Accepts what is. Secures it around his face.

It fits comfortably, and he tells himself that the burning is all in his mind, and not real. The shape of it hides much of his scar but for a few splotches near his cheekbones, and the collar of the cape hides his neck.

In the mirror is someone who might be a hero, bright green and dark lines, thick gloves and boots for functionality, a dark vest for protection, and a cape darker than midnight. This is a hero, in truth. Not the coward underneath.

“I’m not,” he whispers, hating how noble this reflection looks. There is no nobility in leaving a little girl to cry, to beg and plead, and do nothing but flee as a coward would, and not behave as the successor to the greatest hero of this age would.

I’m so sorry. I couldn’t save you. Please forgive me.  

“MIdoriya.”

He turns back and sees Ojiro dressed in his modified keikogi, looking as strong as ever. He smiles at Izuku, no idea of the thoughts swirling in his head.

“You doing alright?” he asks gently. “Aizawa will ditch us if we’re too late.”

“He wouldn’t. I mean, he can’t.” Izuku frowns and thinks of the man’s behaviour. “He would.”

“Come on.”

His frown deepens. “What do you want from me?” Ojiro makes a sound of confusion. “Y-you haven’t said a word to me all week.”

“You very much looked like you wanted some time alone. And if you need a bit more that’s fine as well.” His expression doesn’t change from the kind smile, even as he turns and walks away.

“Wait,” Izuku calls. “You just wanted to talk?”

“Yeah.”

Izuku swallows. “Okay.”

He lets Ojiro talk about his week, and the things at the dojo: apparently watching Shinsou have his ass handed to him is always a delight, one that Ojiro is more than willing to help with; he has plans to maybe take part in the national karate league after their exams, but that all depends on what nonsense UA puts them through.

He finds himself between Ojiro and Asui in the bus, Ashido, Iida and Kirishima opposite him. Seeing the redhead leaves ash in his mouth.

“No card tricks,” Ashido asks before he can really process Kirishima.

“Hm? N-no. I left them at home.” The lie is technically true. He left one deck at home. Two more are hiding in his shadow.

“Aww, I wanted my free entertainment for the day.

“You could have brought your own,” Asui says lightly. “Midoriya, why are you and Kirishima fighting?”

His eyes widen, and he notices that Kirishima looks away. “What gave you that idea?”

She shrugs. “You guys haven’t been talking to each other. Or with anyone else.”

“Is this really the right time for this conversation?” That’s Ojiro, already defensive.

“I say what I want. Am I wrong?”

Izuku swallows, uncertain of what do say. And by the shifting of the shadows in the bus, everyone is paying attention. He flushes under the weight of the attention.

“We’re not fighting,” Kirishima says. “I was just being a bit of a dick. It wasn’t very manly.”

“Oh, you’re still running from your problems,” Ashido says, smile just the slightest bit mean but mostly disapproving. “I thought you’d grown out of that.”

Kirishima takes her elbow without wincing, as he always does. “Yes, miss my power is awesome and I’m going to lord it over everyone else.”

She sticks out her tongue. “I’m pretty sure Midoriya has the most interesting power.”

He blinks as everyone focuses on him. “Ummm, n-no?”

"Well, you did kick a robot to death," Uraraka calls from her spot near the back beside Bakugou.

“And you can make shadows,” Asui says. “Do you have two quirks?”

He wonders if his eyes will ever get tired of blinking in shock. “No. J-just different applications of the same quirk.”

“You can’t expect—”

“Mosaic power quirks exist,” Todoroki says, cutting through everyone. This might be the second time Izuku’s heard him speak.

“Mos what quirks?” Kirishima asks.

“People whose quirks express themselves in various ways,” Iida says, formal and already in his lecturing voice. “Commonly known as grab-bag quirks. They have multiple minor powers in addition to their main powers. Like a fire emitter who can sense heat, has heat resistance, and perhaps something completely random. Alternatively, it can manifest as two or more seemingly unrelated powers.”

“That is just not fair,” Ashido says. “So, what’s your main power, Midoriya?”

He shrugs. “No idea. Hidden quirk remember?” And it’s not like I’m going to tell you I can warp, walk between worlds, make shadows, and that I have All Might’s quirk.

The bus stops before the interrogation can go any further. Iida, excitable as always, tries to force them to leave in a single orderly line. It lasts only a second until Uraraka skips past with a cheerful smile and drags Iida with her.

He walks outside and immediately zooms in on the most important person there. “Pro hero Thirteen,” he says, delighted and shocked in equal measure.

“Welcome everyone,” they say in a voice impossible to determine the gender od, and spread their arms wide, “to Universal Studios Japan.”

“What!” is the collective response of the class.

“Thirteen, please,” Aizawa says.

“Take away my fun, won’t you? Anyway, this is actually the Unforeseen Simulation Joint which UA has been kind enough to let me build.” She gestures at the massive dome. “In here, you’ll experience a variety of environments to simulate rescue operations. Please, do you very best.”

They’re led through up the stair by the two teachers, most of the class chattering excitedly.

“I love Thirteen,” Uraraka says, grabbing his hand and dragging both him and Iida up the stair faster.

“Not so fast,” Izuku says after nearly tripping on the stairs. "They're your favourite hero?" he asks once Uraraka’s walking at a more respectable pace.

“Of course.” Iida barely manages to avoid the arm she swings in excitement. “They look like an astronaut and their power’s called Black Hole. We're the only two space-themed heroes in Japan. And she acted in the remake of Gravity."

“I didn’t watch that,” Iida says.

She turns on him, eyes burning. “We. Are. Watching it. This Weekend.”

“You can’t just decide…” Iida trails off as he glare intensifies. “Which theatre we’re watching it at,” he adds. “That has to be a group decision.”

“Fine,” she huffs and skips ahead.

Izuku sighs in relief and follows. He listens intently to Thirteen go over the many environments in the building and applauds when she talks of using their powers responsibly to help others—I couldn’t save you, I’m so so sorry—no matter how scary their powers might be. He glances at Tokoyami and catches his gaze.

They both freeze at the same time. Izuku feels the rip in reality, so wrong and intrusive that he’s amazed no one else looks sick. He looks to it, past Aizawa who only now stiffens, and sees the formless mist darker than ink.

The others see it.

But he sees past it. The people that walk through—all of them mutants, he notices errantly—aren’t anywhere near as important. Something dark and impossible and utterly wrong lurks in the background. He hardly notices Todoroki bump his shoulder, too engrossed in wondering how the fuck the abyss is staring back at him in the real.

“Don’t!” Aizawa snaps, causing them all to freeze. “Thirteen, keep them safe and retreat.”

“Understood.”

“Wait, what?” someone shouts a moment before Aizawa leaps forward.

He can’t win, Izuku thinks. He specialises in one-on-one capture. He isn’t All Might.

“Don’t underestimate him,” Thirteens says, making him realise he said that out loud. “Head to the gate, now. Move!”

Someone grabs him and drags him forward. He sees Todoroki’s mixed eyes looking back at him, a question there. Izuku nods and the boy lets go, letting Izuku run on his own power.

“Don’t trip,” Todoroki says, and Izuku would flush if he wasn’t so terrified.

The gate’s far, and Izuku curses UA’s tendency towards the ostentatious because why the fuck are the stairs so far from the door?

He curses, even more, when he feels the world break ahead of them. The formless mist rises out of the ground, yellow eyes like Dark Shadow’s glaring at them.

“Greetings young heroes,” the mist speaks, voice deep and rich. “We are the League of Villains. Forgive the intrusion but our invitation was lost on the way. It seems the grand attraction is not here. Tell me, where is All Might?”

“Fuck off,” Bakugou roars but he doesn’t move, “you shitty piece of—”

“How is one so uncouth a hero? Regardless, my job is simply to scatter you all.” The mist rises like a tidal wave and surrounds them in a dark dome. Izuku shakes, seeing eyes larger than worlds watching him past the mist.

“And torture you to death.”

Izuku feels himself fall and screams. This is nothing like his quirk. His world shifts and he exists in many places at once: he tastes dunes of arcane bone ash and breathes the void; monsters dance above and below, and nightmares stalk from the corners of time; his body is still in grasp of the villain; his body exists in the abyss; and his body slams into a body of water. The multiple instances of his existence, each a paradox, resolve, and only the Izuku in water remains.

Oh fuck, he thinks, his body sinking. His costume is heavy, lots of cloth and armour, and fighting against it is difficult. And he doesn’t want to drown again.

He nearly misses the villain in the water. The villain looks too much like a shark, teeth sharper than razers and intent on slicing him in half. He wonders if his armour will survive an encounter with those teeth.

Thankfully, he doesn’t have to experiment. Asui slams into the villain, sending him deeper into the water. Her tongue snakes out, wrapping around Izuku, before she propels him like a rocket through the water to the surface.

He gulps sweet air. And then he lands on a hard surface. Izuku groans, his torso still sore from the police officer—yours is a life of luxury, kid—and his baton.

With a grunt, he forces himself up to see Mineta land beside him. He reaches over the edge and helps Asui up the last section.

“This is bad,” Izuku says, watching the villains swimming towards them.

*****

Toshinori Yagi sits alone in contemplation. His students are away at the USJ facility, and whilst he wants to go there, he has no right to be present. The moment Aizawa heard his name amongst the candidates, the man had done everything in his power to see All Might removed. Even if he found the way Aizawa went about removing Toshinori to be petty, he wasn’t going to start a fight. He has two decades on the man, and that age gives him perspective. Toshinori can acknowledge his failings, and right now perhaps he isn’t the best person to be with the class.

His successor, no, Izuku, makes him blind and arrogant. He can see that, can accept that where Izuku is concerned his decisions will never be rational or unbiased. Even so, he worries about the boy, and having him so far away makes Toshinori anxious.

He paces from one end of the room to the other, considering the consequences of heading there right now. For one, Aizawa will go ballistic on him. Two, the Principal will be upset with him. Three, there's no guarantee something won't happen on the way. 

But if he does go, Toshinori will know for a fact Midoriya is safe and sound.

In the face of that one reassurance, nothing else matters. One For All fills his body with the strength and raw power that makes him the Symbol of Peace. He loosens his tie and walks towards the door.

It opens without his input. He sees no one until he looks down and sees the principal.

“And where exactly do you think you’re going?” the rat-dog-bear-thing asks in his perpetually soft voice. It sends chills down his spine as it has since he was a teenager and likely will after he’s six feet under and Izuku is dealing with the world’s problems.

“Principal Nezu,” he greets weakly, “your fur looks pristine as usual.”

“It’s the keratin,” the principal says, walking forward intently. “Humans just can’t reach that level of lustre. But let’s talk about this first.”

A tablet is thrust in his hand. He takes it, reading the title: ‘Where is All Might’ takes precedence before, ‘Should We Trust the Symbol of Peace’ and other headlines like ‘All Might: Hero or Failure’ and ‘An Inside Look at UA’s Suspect Teaching Methods’.

“Sit.” He does so tiredly. “The media smells blood. I’m glad you’re smart enough to not be under the spotlight right now. I expected you to jump out and deal with every incident like a child. Whilst you might be able to deal with incidents better than police officers, you have a successor to train and focus your energy on. Tell me, do you know what helicopter teaching is? “

“No, sensei,” he mumbles, feeling smaller than the principal.

“It’s a teacher who doesn’t trust their student to grow on their own. You’ll have to learn to balance taking the direct approach and letting your successor learn on his own.” Nezu jumps on the table. “If you hover too close you’ll smother any potential the boy has. And worse even than that, you’ll create a carbon copy of yourself.”

“Midoriya is nothing like me,” he says, proud and guilty in equal measure.

“No. He’s shy and painfully awkward, with a tendency towards self-destructive habits and who knows what else at home,” Nezu says, glaring as if all of this is somehow his fault. “But he is a kind boy with a big heart. A boy who wants desperately to be a hero, who is innovative and doesn’t follow the archetype of a flying brick like a certain symbol.”

Sweat drips down his neck. “I’m worried something will happen if I’m not there.”

Principal Nezu huffs. "Things happen even if you are there. You should look guilty. You made a mistake, but you have tried to make amends and for that, I will forgive you. In return, I ask that you listen to me when I say stop rushing. If the children are in danger, Aizawa will call or send a runner. That Iida boy most likely if communications are down.”

Toshinori sighs, deflating. The logic is sound. He leans back and gets comfortable. The tension never leaves and might even be made worse by the Principal’s interrogation. But no matter how much he tries to distract from the feeling of dread that licks up and down his spine.

The dread has the same taste as the day Nana fell.

*****

Shouto Todoroki is a man of determination. He knows the cost of failing, has seen it first-hand. Failure is not an option, and never will it be. He knows the pain of waking up early each morning and training till every part of his body wished to give up. Training from dawn till dusk with no break in-between is nothing more than an annoyance.

He is a person of will. There are times when he has wished to give up, but the consequence of any failure has driven him forward. Pain is nothing more than an annoyance he has been conditioned to ignore. Broken bones are little more than irritations, hypothermia an easily treated irritant.

It is why he doesn’t panic when the black mist forms around his classmates. He glances at MIdoriya, a boy terrified of everything—and very likely overmedicated—whose quirk made Shouto wonder which parent he inherited the shadows from, and which parent he inherited the strength. Because there is no way he has a grab-bag quirk. He knows what those look like, and neither he nor Midoriya has one.

Seeing his strength makes him wonder if All Might really is a monster like Endeavour underneath his heroic demeanour because anyone who told him Midoriya isn’t All Might’s bastard child was a fool.

He would know. After all, the blood of two great quirk lineages runs through his veins. A song of ice and fire runs through his veins, a dance of centuries-old blood cultivated and bred to a single pinnacle: the winds of winter in one half, the flames of hell in the other.

He will only ever use one half.

Reactions honed through brutal training grant him the awareness to spread ice outwards from his landing point. The mist has yet to clear, and he may very well be attacking allies, but he can thaw them out.

The ground is slanted, buildings half submerged beneath the ground. It looks like a landslide. He scans the crowd of frozen villains. No, not a single classmate in the area. Good, he won’t need to worry about them and can unleash the full might of his frozen left half.

There is power in blood, the power of unstoppable quirks, and he knows form whispers in the darkest corners of the internet that his blood nearly caused a clash of kings. The Emperor supposedly sought to unify his mother’s ice quirk with the two quirks that the Crown Prince inherited to create the first triple-quirk, and Endeavour had fought back just as hard. There are rumours, perhaps baseless, but he knows Taiwan sunk around the time his parents were wed. 

“Torture us to death?” he questions, sliding slowly towards the villains. “You people aren’t any better than common thugs.”

He twists to the left and craps the pole trying to take his head. Frost runs down it, and exactly five feet—always five feet, never more, never less—later, it expands outward into a block of ice, trapping the villain within.

He sends a wave of ice behind, not caring particularly much how many villains there are. His power is overwhelming.

“You aren’t strong enough to take down our class,” he says, breaking off a spear of ice from the villain. “What gives you the belief you can take on All Might?”

He doesn’t know many of the things his classmates take for granted: his knowledge of a mall extends only to the stories his sister, Fuyumi, has spoken off; there are days where he wonders why his brothers enjoy playing soccer in the courtyard; and more often, he wonders what it will be like to sleep in on the weekends as his siblings do.

But he most certainly knows the allure of quirk inheritance. He knows a high rank as a hero means nothing for personality. And he knows a parent harming their child is more common than the world wants to admit. And negligence is no excuse for All Might.

What is the point of chasing that spot if the number two hero was a monster, and the number one is perhaps just as bad?

He listens to the villains beg for mercy, and spill everything they know. It takes longer than he would like, time in which the situation could have deteriorated. None of them is high up enough to know the details, but their knowledge is enough. He scans for the central plaza where Aizawa had engaged the group of villains.

It takes him a moment to figure out where he needs to go. A moment longer to double-check it’s the right direction. There. He lets ice form and glides across the frozen highway.

*****

Fumikage Tokoyami finds himself in the cold. His light-eating cloak flutters as he takes in the environment. A desolate wasteland of ice and snow stretches as far as he can see, dimly lit by some sort of half-light. He spots one of his classmates, Kouda he thinks, nearby and groaning in the snow.

Tokoyami walks over and kneels beside his quiet classmate. “Are you injured?”

Kouda looks at him and shakes his head. He gestures with his hand. The movements are too quick for him to get everything, but he understands the general intention.

“Come. We must escape.” He holds out his hand.

He hears the crunch of snow. The sound is nearly buried beneath the raging snowstorm, but he is tense, terrified that a villain is near.

Dark Shadow, he calls, flicking his arm to the right where the sound comes from.

The demon of his soul rushes past, larger than it has any right to at this time of day. He feels Dark Shadow grab someone and moves to stand between Kouda and the villain.

The scream makes him frown. When Dark Shadow doesn’t attack further, his frown deepens.

“Let go of me, Tokoyami,” the person says loudly.

She’s one of yours, crow, Dark Shadow says and drops the person.

It takes him a moment to understand that the floating pair of gloves is his classmate. “Hagakure?”

“Thanks for not eating me.” She pats Dark Shadow who croons and leans forward affectionately.

“Forgive me. I was unaware other allies were present.” He stares at Dark Shadow who seems to have no intention of leaving her side.

Why are you playing with Madame Nudist?

Dark Shadow chuckles, the sound reverberating through the ground. I want you to say that again, slowly this time.

“Wait, what did you say?”

“It is of no concern,” he answers quickly. “Come, we must leave before the villains find us.”

Kouda signs once again. He parses through the sign language, glad his former teacher made him suffer through it.

"Holing up will leave us vulnerable to attack. Worse still, doing so when we have no proof, but general caution, of a villain's presence, will make us useless. Our best bet is to head towards the central courtyard and regroup from there."

“I like this idea.”

“Dark Shadow, return.” Hagakure pats it one last time before it obeys. “I… I have no sense of direction. Do either—”

“That way,” Hagakure interrupts, pointing behind him.

Kouda signs agreement. “Acceptable.” He walks forward, then pauses. He thinks of the last time he was in a team and how badly it went due to his arrogance.

“Hagakure, you have the greatest stealth skills. It would be in our best interests for you to scout ahead.”

“You’re just trying to get rid of me,” she says lightly, but he can hear the tension in her voice. “If I spot something I’ll run right back.”

“Come back if the cold begins to affect you negatively,” he adds. “I’ll loan you my cloak should that be the case.”

“Aww aren’t you just a gentleman.” And then she’s off, leaving footprints in the snow.

He looks to Kouda and sees the sheer fear on his features. “Worry not. I will defend you should we encounter any enemies.”

Tension drains from the boy’s face. He signs once more, his fingers faltering in the cold.

"We all have disadvantages. Were we in the desert arena I would be of no use. Without animal life, your quirk has lower viability at the present moment.” Tokoyami hums as they set off. “Still, I will require your assistance should any villains get close. I will do my utmost to prevent that, but one can never be certain where villains are concerned.”

They walk in silence for a few minutes, both checking every direction they can. The silence is eerie and the cold biting. He unclasps his cloak and throws it to Kouda when the boy starts shivering.

"I can draw energy from Dark Shadow to keep me warm," he lies when Kouda tries to hand it back. "The darkness sustains me."

I’m not carrying you if you pass out, Dark Shadow says.

I'll have no need of your assistance.

The cloak is small on Kouda’s massive frame, but it covers him better than the simple shirt and shorts. Tokoyami focuses on walking, and not on the cold seeping cutting through his underclothes. Eventually, he will be unable to hold back signs of the cold.

He underestimates how quick that moment comes. He grits his teeth as a particularly savage gust goes straight through his underclothes. His hands are clenched tightly in his shorts, but he can hardly feel it.

Do you trust me? Dark Shadow asks before materialising outside his body.

You know I do not. He sighs, feeling no malice from Dark Shadow. Do what you will.

The demon wraps around his torso. Tokoyami tenses but doesn't fight as the darkness covers his upper body. It isn't warm and is frankly terrifying, but neither does it let the biting wind cut through his torso and arms.

He sees Kouda watching. “I told you the dark sustains me.”

There is a certain pressure Dark Shadow exerts, partly physical and partly mental. It feels almost like the demon is smothering him, pushing away the part that makes him who he is. He grits his teeth and trudges on, knowing he has no other choice and hating it all the same.

“Tokoyami,” Hagakure calls a few seconds before she—her gloves really—appears. “The exit’s only a few minutes away past the town. I didn’t see anyone.”

“That is fortunate.”

Dark Shadow tenses around him. There’s someone here, it snarls in his mind.

“Do the conditions worsen?” he asks, scanning the area and trusting Dark Shadow to watch his back. He has no choice.

“Nah, we’re good,” Hagakure says. He looks intently at her. He sees a shimmer of light, a distortion that bends the shape of her glove.

Dark Shadow needs no words to unwrap around his torso and rush forward. The demon slams into someone as Hagakure screams again and Kouda scrambles behind Tokoyami.

With the person in hand, Dark Shadow rises and then smashes the person in the ground. He, for that groan can only be male, appears as his quirk fails.

“Good job,” Hagakure says, thumb raised.

Tokoyami ignores her as Dark Shadow brings the man. The man is bald and devoid of any hair.

“How many of you are there?” he questions.

“Fuck off,” the man snarls, slipping between being visible and translucent.

“Dark Shadow.” The demon squeezes, making the man grunt in pain. “I would like not to have violent behaviour on my permanent record. But I would dislike an ambush even more. Tell me how many of you there are.”

Dark Shadow applies more pressure. The man’s face pales. “Me,” he blurts out. “It’s just me.”

Tokoyami tilts his head. “I find myself hard pressed to believe you.” Dark Shadow squeezes further. “Do you believe him, Hagakure?”

“I think he’s telling the truth,” Madame Nudist says, voice wavering. “Why don’t you calm down, Tokoyami?”

Dark Shadow applies more pressure. The man screams, his pained grunts pleasing to hear. A hand on his shoulder pulls him back. He looks at Kouda who frowns.

“Stop,” the boy says softly.

Since when the hell can he talk? Dark Shadow whispers in his mind.

“There’s no need to get that violent even if he is a villain,” Hagakure adds.

“He was not being honest.” Tokoyami sighs. “Dark Shadow release him.”

The demon hisses. For a long moment, he wonders if he'll have to fight the entity. It drops the villain who lands in the cold.

“Do either of you have restraints?” he asks, ignoring the cold.

Kouda signs no and Hagakure shakes her head.

“Kouda, I will trust you with his security. Come, let us go. And be prepared for an ambush.”

He doesn’t say ‘I told you so’ when they’re done dealing with the villains in the city. No, he has too much dignity to embarrass his allies like that. He does, however, choose not to restrain Dark Shadow as it breaks down the exit.

He has a good view of everything from this high up. Including Izuku, Asui and Mineta hiding in the water as Aizawa battles the purple monster.

A battle he is losing.

*****

Bakugou comes out of the darkness swinging. His fist hits nothing but air. He fumbles the landing, but a hand grabs him before he can hit the ground. He sees Yaoyorozu holding him upright.

“Get off me, bitch,” he snarls, stepping away.

“Stop being so difficult,” she says, frowning.

He doesn’t get a chance to say anything before his instincts scream at him to move. He shoves her forward and dodges back before a massive fist slams the ground, shattering it. Katsuki lets off an explosion, dodging around the massive villain—villains, he amends, seeing the dozen behind the giant mutant—and kicks low, his speed enhanced by an explosion.

It sweeps the rhino-like villain to the ground. He doesn’t spare the villain another glance, already dodging the knife-hands of another. Bakugou weaves between the blades, glancing at Yaoyorozu who seems to be holding her own with a large pole for the moment. Good. He doesn’t want to know how fucked he’ll be if she gets hurt, especially not when he has a red order hanging over his head.

And his counsellor will have some shitty things to say if he doesn’t try. Not that he ever feels guilty about her fucking words or is even mildly terrified of how raw and haggard he’ll come away from their next session. Like all their prior sessions ever since that day.

He surges forward between swings and shoves the villain with his shoulder. She hits one of her allies, and both go tumbling to the ground.

The ground shakes, and he loses his balance. He looks to the side and sees the first villain, the one with a rhino's horn and a thick hide, on his feet. Shit, he thinks of the raised fist.

A loud shockwave slams into the villain. The rhino falls to the ground, clutching at his bleeding ears. Katsuki looks to the side and sees Jirou advancing, her speakers pumping out the loud noise.

He takes the opportunity and blasts forward towards the villain. The auditory attack cuts off before he enters its conical path.

He fires off an explosion and spins around. His elbow slams into the villain’s face. He feels the horn snap and break. He downs the rhino with a parting kick.

Katsuki lands.

A glint in the air is all he sees before the knife stabs him in the shoulder. “Fuck off,” he roars and finds Jiro already pelting the villain with a belt of knives around her shoulder with sound waves. 

Yaoyorozu grabs his wrist before he pulls the blade out. “Don’t touch me, bitch.”

“You’ll make it worse,” she says. “We need a plan.”

She holds out her hand, sparkles forming in her palm. A fucking grenade forms in her hand. “Holy fuck—”

“Jirou, close your eyes,” Yaoyorozu shouts, not heeding him in the slightest.

Jiro jumps back, twisting and covering her eyes as Yaoyorozu throws the grenade. Katsuki is many things, but stupid is not one of them. He shuts his eyes. The grenade goes off with a loud bang, the flash bright enough that he sees the light through his closed eyes.

“We need a plan,” Yaoyorozu says whilst the villains are still disorientated. She’s right. Even with the three they’ve taken out, there’s still near two dozen.

“We have one,” Katsuki snarls. “Emo bitch, pin them down and I’ll break their shitty faces in. And you make shit to keep them divided.”

“That’s not—”

Katsuki pulls the knife out, and roars, “Don’t fucking argue with me. It’s the best plan we have.” He wishes he still had his grenadier bracers to blast these stupid fucks straight to the stratosphere. But there is no way in hell Aizawa is ever giving them back.

And Katsuki has no intention of asking.

“He’s right,” Jiro says, eyeing the recovering villains warily.

Yaoyorozu sighs. “Fine. Let me bandage the wound.” She has a roll of gauze in her hand already.

“Then hurry the fuck up.” He watches the villains warily as Yaoyorozu bandages his shoulder. That bitch with the knives will need to be taken down first. All of them with ranged abilities would need to go down.

The moment Yaoyorozu is done, Bakugou rockets forward. He fights with savage ferocity, never once retreating. Every blow is meant to debilitate, and if that fails the blows stun so he can flow into another attack. He takes a punch to the face when he dodges too late, and a hammer to the side when a villain tries to rush Yaoyorozu.

He grits his teeth through the pain. It doesn’t matter. This pain is temporary, and he’ll bear no scars from it.

But he'll fucking hate himself if he lets someone get hurt again.

Katsuki elbows another villain to the side and lifts both hands. A group of them are on the ground, pinned by Jiro’s sonic attack.

He ignites the nitro-glycerine in his palm. The explosion is massive and slams into the villains. They go flying, shouting in pain.

Katsuki shakes out his hand, feeling the strain of forcing an explosion that large. Everything hurts. He can hardly see out of one eye, a mix of blood and swelling. His breathing is ragged. But there are still five villains left.

He flows into a ready stance. “Come at me, you half-assed pieces of shit.”

Being loud has its advantages. It means everyone focuses on him and few of the attacks are directed at the girls.

He hears a whoosh from behind. Something large and spinning crosses the distance between him and the villains. It slams into two of them, wrapping around and cackling wildly with electricity. They scream before the electric shock renders then unconscious. Their compatriots back away in fear.

Katsuki smirks. This is his kind of fight. A hero versus a villain. No shitty backstory lasting a decade, no regrets, and certainly no green eyes fucking begging for mercy.

He cracks his knuckles. “Bring it, cunts.”

When the last villains are beaten, Katsuki looks around. “This was too fucking easy,” he snarls.

“They weren’t very tough,” Yaoyorozu says. “Good for us.”

He shakes his head, his mind racing. “These guys weren’t here to fight All Might.”

“But—”

“Bitch, shut up,” he snaps. “These fuckers are trash, literal fucking trash. They’d be lucky to take on some loser who only has self-defence training.”

“They’re a distraction,” Jiro says.

“No shit. But why…” He scans the area. There’s the entrance to his right. Logically, Aizawa should be directly ahead of him, on the other side of the dome, fighting the group of villains. And that purple fucker.

I can’t be the only thinking the same thing. They’re dumb as fuck, but not all of them are stupid. Especially not Deku. And…

“That fucking idiot,” he roars and starts running.

He ignores the two bitches behind him, and rockets forward across the lake. His shoulder burns but that pain is nothing compared to his fear.

He fires a blast at the wall and leaps through the rubble.

It takes him about three seconds to realise how fucked they are. Aizawa is down, bleeding and broken, next to an unconscious Asui and a blubbering Mineta. The only thing standing between them and death is Izuku who’s fucking talking to the villain with too many hands.

*****

Ejiro Kirishima decides he dislikes fire. And villains. Actually, he dislikes villains when everything’s on fire. The fact that a combination like that exists fuels his anger as he clobbers a villain straight on the nose, bones crunching and blood spurting out.

He wrings his hand out nervously and wipes the blood off on his skirt—and yes, he knows it has a technical term, but it looks like a skirt and he doesn’t care what anyone thinks because his manliness isn’t fragile—and nope, he doesn’t even want to imagine exactly what possible infections these villains have. When was the last time they showered? He wonders, sniffing. Never.

“Kirishima!” Ojiro calls out, breaking him from his reverie.

He has a second to see the villain with the giant club. Less than a moment to harden his face because that club is moving real fast and oh, this is what it’s like to fly, he thinks before hitting a wall, and this isn’t manly at all.

Blinking the white spots away, he sees the villain rushing him. He sighs. Fine, let’s be manly. He keeps up the act of being disorientated until the last second, then hardens and leaps forward. His shoulder, harder than steel, slams into the villain's gut. The villain gasps and Kirishima feels something wet run down his neck as the villain falls.

He grimaces and wipes off whatever it is. "This is not manly," he mutters and elbows the villain coming from behind.

Ojiro swings by and runs on the wall—so manly—before springboarding onto another villain. His tail lashes out and the villain goes down.

“That all of them?” Kirishima asks.

Ojiro looks at him. Looks at the villain groaning on the ground. Kicks him in the face.

“Now that’s all of them.”

“Oh, come on, he was down. That wasn’t manly.”

Ojiro shrugs. “Be manly when we aren’t fighting for our lives. Though, if this is the quality of villains, then we have little to worry about.”

“What about the giant thing?” He shudders, remembering all those teeth. At least he smiles when he showed his teeth.

“Aizawa will deal with it. He won’t let a student deal with…” He stares at Kirishima in horror.

It takes him a moment to catch up. “You don’t think he’s dumb enough to pick that fight?”

“He fought the zero-poi—”

Kirishima’s running before Ojiro finishes that sentence. Damn it, Izuku. For once in your life don’t pick a fight with the biggest thing in the room.

A dark blur flits through his peripheral vision. He barely sees the villain before the knife flashes too close for comfort.

Ojiro slams into the villain and shoves him forward. “Go,” his friend roars as more villains appear. “Keep him safe.”

Kirishima nods and sprints.

He’s past the gates when he sees the scene. Villains litter the ground, broken and beaten but for three of them—the mist villain, the creepy guy with too many hands, and the giant purple monster. And, of course, Izuku’s kicking the monster.

His body glows with the same brightness he took down the zero-pointer. The kick is perfect, straight out of the textbook, and Kirishima knows that even given time to prepare, that punch would break him.

And the monster takes the manliest kick he’s ever seen from someone who isn’t All Might and doesn’t fucking flinch. Oh shit.

The monster grabs Izuku’s arm. “No!” Kirishima screams as it lifts its other hand up.

He sees the terror on Izuku’s face, meets those green eyes one last time as the monster’s hand comes down.

*****

Izuku surfaces after Mineta and Asui, taking deep a lungful of sweet air. He doesn’t want to think of the harrowing experience of fighting underwater against those villains ever again, so he puts it out of his mind. No one needs to know of his embarrassing performance or how Asui and Mineta had to save him a few times over.

Especially not when he has more important things to deal with. Like saving Aizawa from the giant purple thing currently crushing him.

“Stay here,” he whispers to Asui. “Whatever you do, don’t come out.”

Intellectually, Izuku knows this is a bad idea. Every shred of rationality that he has begs with him not to do something so stupid. But he has no other choice. There’s no guarantee that the heroes will be here quickly enough, no matter what the mist villain says.

He’s out the water before he can berate his decisions any further. Three sets of eyes focus on him.

“H-hey there,” Izuku says.

“Midoriya,” Asui hisses, and he hopes that his cape hides her.

The villain with too many hands takes a step forward, tilting his head. “Hey?”

“Tomura, right?” The villain nods and Izuku forces a smile. “I’ve got to say you did a great job isolating us like this. Sensor array down, no communications, and we’re even scheduled to be here for another few hours. Honestly, the execution of this plan is perfect.”

“Thank you?” The villain scratches at his neck. “You know I’m still going to kill you, right?”

Sweat drips down his neck. “Dying’s overrated. But what does that actually accomplish?” He moves forward slowly, never once taking his eyes off Tomura—he can feel their shadows well enough that they can’t ambush him.

“We prove All Might isn’t infallible,” the mist speaks.

“Okay, yeah, sure. But people already know that.” He points at his burn scar. “I mean, if you’ve read the news you’ll know people are calling him out already. And if you kill us, all you really do is galvanise the people against you.”

The purple creature shifts, digging Aizawa deeper in the ground. Izuku gulps.

“People are just going to see this as a cowardly attack. I mean, you told us you were here for All Might.” He nods at the mist villain. “He’s not here so you’ve already failed your objective. Killing us makes you seem petty, especially since we’ve been taking down your cronies left, right and centre.”

“Trash mobs are disposable,” Tomura says after a silence.

“Midoriya,” Aizawa groans, “Run.”

The Nomu grinds Aizawa’s face into the ground. Izuku swallows nervously, knowing that at least one life will rely on his actions.

“Okay, so you don’t care about your allies as well? Got it. Do you think anyone’s going to trust you after this when they find out?”

Tomura laughs, raspy and grating. “You’re right. You’ve got a high intellect stat. But you really should have invested points in charisma. Failing speech checks sucks, doesn't it? We'll just have to kill you and your friends before leaving."

Izuku blinks and realises he might just be fucked. “I really wouldn’t recommend that.”

“Why—”

Like lightning, One For All fills his body. Every nerve sparks to life, every system in his body moving in unison. He dashes forward, a blur to everyone. He’s past Tomura and the mist villain before they can react.

The purple monster watches him the entire time, never once rising from its position. Izuku smirks, and fills his leg with One For All, and kicks the creature with everything he has.

The shockwave from the blow is massive. The ground tears apart, throwing up heaps of dirt and dust, and from the way Asui makes a sound of pain some of it might have struck her. He hears glass shatter and the echo of the blow reverberate. He lets the power he inherited fade away.

It takes him a moment to realise something critical: his leg doesn’t hurt.

He glances at it and finds no injuries. And then he glances at the purple monster watching him indifferently.

“Kill him,” Tomura says calmly.

Izuku’s eyes widen. He tries leaping back. A massive hand grips his leg, crushing everything there casually. He sees the Nomu raise its hand and brings it down.

 Time slows and Izuku watches the fist descend.

Okay, I have at best one chance to get out of this. Let's see. Can't fight it head-on. Wait, I can sink through my shadow with this thing. Yeah, that's a better option. Wait… I don't have One For All active. My reaction time isn’t that fast.

Oh, I’m dead, aren’t I?

Time resumes. The fist strikes true. Izuku dies.

*****

Yours is the strength of the king, Izuku Midoriya. The king must always be the strongest, the fastest, and the most dangerous. The king must equal every challenger. By your sacrifice do we live and by our grace shall you be without equal.

Take from your kingdom the bounty and tribute. Plunder the worlds of dead gods and the realms of undeath. All that you have surveyed belongs to you. All strength shall flow to you. By our strength will you match your enemies. 

Rise, young king. We will sing your name. All we ask is that you destroy your enemy.

*****

The world falls silent. It is a silence of three parts.

The most obvious is the lack of wind rustling clothes or the rippling of water. It is harrowing and haunting, this silence after the shockwave of the final attack. There is no wet thud of bits and pieces of Izuku Midoriya splattering the ground. There is no clink as the discs of his vertebrae strike the ground, propelled by the Nomu’s punch. No, all of these things float suspended in the still air.

The second silence is harder still to understand. There is a boy named Mineta who stares in horror, his face transfixed by the rictus expression between terror and dread and grief. Yet he makes no sound, not a breath to disturb the world, and not a movement to shatter this silence. He is not the only one: there is a villain called Tomura, stuck a moment before scratching his scabbed neck, and his compatriot Kurogiri who’s mist body no longer hisses. There are heroes in training who see and are silent; a boy called Tokoyami whose grief runs silent but hot; a boy sometimes called Kaachan, but mostly Bakugou, who feels a new type of rage; a boy called Todoroki who doesn’t know why he falls still on his glacial highway, only knows that he must for the world demands it.

The final silence is hardest still to understand, and yet simpler than the rest. You can sit for hours and only begin to notice it in the water, cold and wet and too too still. It is found in the chilled spines of terrified students, the breaking heart of a teacher who has failed so hard, and the triumphant dread of a villain. This is the silence of anticipation, of a change that will alter everything.

But silence is not forever. The sun is bright and overpowering, but night falls all the same. Sound returns. The final vestiges of sanity flee with the silence.

The world breaks.

The air around what remains of Izuku takes on a different quality, glassy and shimmering. It might be considered beautiful in another time and another place. For a long moment, everyone who can see this abnormal sight watches clear crystal rise like a pillar.

And then it shatters.

Something—for it can never be called a person, animal, or creature—appears where once there was crystal. It is large as the Nomu and might be considered a biped. There are two legs that are at once a raptor’s talons and a drowning god’s tentacles. It possesses two arms that have more eyes than a spider colony should have, eyes the have seen past infinity and found it lacking. It can even be considered to have a torso with mouths that eat time and space and light.

This thing is what the third silence waited for.

It has no head but for pulsating horns that drip with true dark older than eternity and horns between which a universe is born and dies and lives again. Something that reminds one of a mouth rises to eat the universe—never mind that the mouth is only teeth from every direction. The mouth opens once more, and the world falls silent, waiting expectantly.

The creature that should not be roars and the world screams in pain.

Kurogiri is many things. Calm. Collected. Patient. He is none of those things right now. He has felt the terror of the monsters watching him from the endless mists and knows that should he truly glimpse them his mind will break. This is not that, but something infinitely more terrifying than those monsters. He forms a warp gate beneath Tomura through sheer instinct alone. And it might be crazy to risk it, but he slips through one as well. They land on the domed roof of one of the environments just as the nightmare roars.

Shouto Todoroki hears the howl of misery and triggers memories of a lonely child begging and pleading to be saved. The sound rips straight through his soul. He knows this cry and knows the futility of it. There is no protector to come. All of them will leave—mother, mother, why would you betray me, why why why?—or they will become the enemy—fear the flame, Shouto, fear it and run—for the world is cruel and uncaring to the weak. Fire comes to life unbidden as his tears fall. They burn and burn and burn all while Shouto cries, remembering the day his mother betrayed him, the day she went mad and all he saw was an unending fire in her grey eyes, monsters dancing in the madness. He may not see what makes the roar, but he can feel it in his blood and bone.

Fumikage Tokoyami stares at the thing that should not exist, not here in the real where heat and energy rule. Dark Shadow grows even larger than it should in the light, its form wrapping around his body, an armour against the influence of the thing that corrodes the barriers between real and darkness. It shields his mind from the madness of this thing that wishes to break his mind. A King rises, Dark Shadow says in his mind. Will you greet your peer? Unbidden, his legs walk towards the battle, uncaring of the two students who collapse to the ground, unshielded from the nightmare made manifest.

Katsuki Bakugou sees a shambling abomination in his one good eye, a creature with too many eyes and teeth dripping liquid darkness, arms that twist and expand and exist in too many places at once; and in the other, the one swollen and bleeding, he sees a boy greater than he is, a boy too kind and forgiving, the boy beneath the monster. And Katsuki understands one fact: were Izuku anything less than sunlight given form, then he would be dead.

Eijiro Kirishima wonders exactly how fucked they are. He isn’t sure if fucked even begins to describe the situation. Because that unmanly thing shouldn’t exist. Every cell in his body pleads with him to run, to flee this thing he has no words for. But he can’t. His friend is there, somewhere. Even though he should be dead—and the memory of Izuku’s torso pulverised will haunt him forever—he is not, and that means there is an opportunity. Somewhere. Maybe. First, he has to make sure he isn’t caught up in the fight between the Nomu and whatever has become of Izuku. How the fuck is he still sane if this is his quirk? He wonders and leaps to avoid the massive tear in reality heading his way.

Minoru Mineta feels his mind break under the strain of this impossible creature. It shouldn’t exist. Izuku Midoriya is dead, he saw it with his own eyes. But now, in his place, a dark god walks in the mortal world and every step it takes distorts reality. There are monsters hiding in the distortions, nightmares older than time and they see him, see everything that he is and could never be, and they find him wanting. The shambling abomination battles the Nomu, but every blow it makes is simply absorbed. Every slice it makes is simply regenerated instantly.

The god roars once more, the sky tearing apart, and raises a hand. Green lightning crystallises in its grip. It passes judgement and the world is engulfed in a blast of light.

*****

Izuku wakes up on his bed. He knows this place. He’s woken up here more than once. Each time after dying.

“I need to get back.”

He shifts and has to hold back a scream of pain. His right leg, the same one the Nomu broke, is a bloody mess. And it hurts worse than anything he’s felt before. Tears sting his eyes but he grits his teeth through the pain.

“This isn’t good,” he says, reaching over for the first aid kit he always keeps in this place. “My leg’s wrecked and I have no idea what’s going on.”

There is an aesthetic in the kit, and he jabs it straight into his thigh, uncaring of the dosage. The pain lessens slightly but considering he can see bone then he'll take any relief. Removing the bandages, Izuku takes a deep breath and braces for the pain.

It doesn’t help. Wrapping the bandages around his bloody leg is like scraping a raw wound with a hot poker. When he’s certain he won’t bleed out immediately, Izuku lies back.

Okay, let’s think. I just died out there. That’s bad enough as it is. But everything that’s ever killed me was destroyed by the time I got back and holy shit I’m going to be responsible for murder. Fuck, fuck, fuck my life.

He grits his teeth and rolls off the bloody bed. His leg is a siren call of pain, and the world white, but he fights through it. He drags himself to the door through sheer will alone. It is slow, painful work to lift himself to the doorknob.

Izuku braces himself. Opens the door. Steps out.

The world is quiet when he returns. It takes him a moment to adjust to the brightness. The Plaza shows signs of combat—the crater he lies in, charred and scorched as though through a lightning bolt; splatters of blood every here and there; a bloody Aizawa-sensei barely holding on to consciousness beside an incoherent Mineta, and Asui who doesn’t move. 

“Midoriya,” Aizawa-sensei whispers, staring at him in something like shock, something like horror.

His skin crawls beneath that gaze. “Aiz—“

A loud crash interrupts him. He turns his head to the entrance where the sound came from.

“Never fear!” a loud voice booms. “I am here.”

Izuku doesn’t bother to wipe the tears of relief. So long as All Might is here, nothing can go wrong. He gives up fighting to stay awake.

“Midoriya,” he hears someone calls as the darkness closes in on him.

*****

“H-hey there, if you’re hearing this, um, then I’m not around… Call back later?”

Inko Midoriya listens to the voicemail for the third time, dread coiling in her gut. She knows Izuku, knows he would have answered with at least a message if given the chance. The last time he hadn’t responded to her had been that horrible week when she thought he son would be lost to her.

She paces. After a full minute of that, she calls the school. No one answers. She calls again to the same response. Her hands shake. Why wouldn’t UA at least have a secretary answer her calls? There is nothing on the news to say, nothing on their website as well.

She shakes her head. Inko isn’t some hapless housewife who waits on someone else. She has both a car and a destination, and no matter how much she dislikes UA, she won’t let that pettiness get between her and investigating. Not when it comes to her son’s safety.

Someone waits outside her door, fist raised as though to knock. The boy has purple hair and looks as though he needs to inject caffeine directly in his veins to function. She knows from prior experience that it’s not a very good idea. 

“Mrs Midoriya,” the boy greets, shifting warily.

Her brow quirks. “Shinsou, I believe.” He startles. “Izuku talks about you all the time.”

“I see.” Shinsou swallows, nervous. “Is he… Is he here? I wanted to talk to him.”

Her lips thin in distaste. “You don’t know where he is?”

“We haven’t-I’m not… We had a fight. I was being selfish. I just wanted to apologise.” She stares hard at the boy who fidgets. “His class had a field trip. I thought they left school early.”

She hums in thought. “Unfortunately, they didn’t. Shinsou, I think it might be best you go home. Don’t worry, I’ll tell Izuku you were here.”

“Do you think—”

“He’ll call you back? Maybe. But right now, I need to go to UA. And they had best have answers.”

Chapter Text

‘The Imperial House of Japan has existed far longer than any other monarchy and is currently the only legitimate monarchy to hold any power. Following a long period of obsolescence after the events of the Second World War, the Imperial Family showed a resurgence of power during the Second Dark Age. The then Crown Prince, 128th Emperor Yamamoto manifested a fire-related quirk that cemented the power of the Imperial Family as a major power. All Emperors have, since then, shown exceptionally powerful quirks.’

—Excerpt from ‘Examining the Japanese Imperial Family: An American’s Perspective’ by David Hayter. 

Shouta Aizawa stares at the boy on the hospital bed, unconscious and bandaged heavily. Perhaps not so heavily as he is, but he remembers seeing Izuku’s leg crushed.

He also remembers watching the boy die.

The memory of what came after, the monster hiding just beneath the surface, is vivid and he very much doubts it will ever leave him. Regardless, he can put it out of mind and forget about it—he has seen much and learnt better than most how to compartmentalise his thoughts. Later, when he knows his students are safe, and in the silence of his home, he can unpack what he has witnessed. Right now, though, he wonders just how badly he has failed Izuku Midoriya.

He thinks of the pale scar on the boy’s left forearm, a constant reminder of a suicide attempt. And now he has to question whether it was an attempt or if it was successful. Were it the latter, then it is amazing the boy was anywhere near as sane as he is, especially if his delusions were brought on by his quirk’s nature. That didn’t even account for his mother, who Shouta worries is more reprehensible than he thought possible—not only abusive, but perhaps even aware of, or party to, his suicide attempt.

Midnight enters, looking frazzled and not at all cheerful. “Shouta,” she greets then sees the principal on his shoulder. “Nezu.”

“Is it done?”

“Not all of them were happy to sign an NDA,” she says. “Not that I blame them. I’m not a fan of them myself.”

“It just covers key information on another student’s quirk. Ensuring Midoriya’s privacy and security is of critical concern.”

“That’s what I told them. They still think it’s bullshit. Those who saw want to know. Kirishima and Bakugou put up the biggest fuss. Tokoyami just signed it without question. Everyone else wants answers.” Nemuri yawns, stretching and showing off her curves. “So, do I.”

Shouta sighs. “That still won’t work on me.”

She sticks out her tongue. “You’re still a boring little boy.” That brief instance of pleasure vanishes. “I’ve flagged some students for psych evaluations. Hagakure and Kouda don’t seem to be dealing well with what they saw. And Mineta…”

Shouta closes his eyes and accepts his failings. “How bad?”

She smiles at him, gently as though he might break. This is the same smile she gave when he failed his first licensing exam, the same curve of her lips as when he failed a hostage situation and civilians died year back. He braces for he knows nothing good can come from something so gentle.

“He’s completely catatonic, Shouta.”

“Fuck. Just fuck.” He rubs his forehead. “I’ll deal-I’ll talk to the parents… shit, just fuck.”

“Aizawa," the principal says, his voice an anchor that Shouta grasps. “I will deal with the parents. Nemuri, thank you for the report and your hard work. I’ll keep you informed of any major changes. For now, make sure the authorities don’t use this as an opportunity to snoop into our business.”

She forces a smile. “You know it,” she says before leaving.

The Principal jumps off his shoulder once she is out of hearing range. He observes Shouta, assessing him. His gaze lingers on the broken arm and the head injury.

“You’re certain you watched the boy die?” Principal Nezu asks, his voice cheerful as always. Shouta doesn’t believe he feels that way.

“You doubt me?”

“Aizawa, you’re half-dead on your feet and probably need some therapy for an acute stress disorder.” The principal sighs, paws reaching to his pocket where Aizawa knows he keeps a pack of smokes. “It isn’t lack of trust so much as needing confirmation.”

“He died. And became… something I don’t have words for.”

The Principal twirls a cigar. “His mother will very likely be here within the hour. I have a task for you.”

“What is it?” he asks, numb and still thinking of the students he failed.

“Ensure that she allows all medical attention to be done in-house. And make certain she doesn’t permit a third party to do the quirk assessment.”

His eyes narrow. “What are you planning?”

“Many things, unfortunately.” The principal watches him, eyes dark with knowledge. “Do you think you can decipher them?”

“I’m not stupid enough to think I can. And I’m too tired to bother.”

“There’s a reason I like you, Aizawa. Intelligence without arrogance. Compassion with rationality.” Nezu places the cigar in his mouth. “Impress upon Midorya senior the importance of keeping Izuku’s quirk secret. What would villains think if they knew of this?”

“Do you really think he’s safe in a home like that. If she knew, even had the slightest inkling of his quirk, why wouldn’t she take him for quirk counselling?”

“Put aside your feelings. I need you to complete the task I’ve set out for you.”

“She’ll threaten to sue, regardless.”

“Why yes, she will. And we’ll point out she likely had knowledge of an incredibly dangerous quirk without informing us, in clear violation of our terms of agreement. And because it’s a quirk matter, it will completely bypass the civil courts and go to the government. It might go as high as the Ministry of Defence. And even I’m not powerful enough to protect the Midoriyas from that.”

He takes a step back. “You think they’ll…”

“Experiment on him in an underground base for the next few decades? Yes. You humans are naturally predisposed to cruelty. The nature of power, I suppose.” Principal Nezu removes the cigar and balances it on a claw. “Cruelty weighted against power. Perfectly balanced, as all things should be.”

“Not every human is like that.”

“No.” He shifts his claw slightly and the cigar falls to the ground. “Just enough to tip the scales.”

Nezu raises one paw “Villains who will see his power as an opportunity or a threat.” He raises the other. “The government who will see the same. And two wildcards. Take a guess at them.”

Aizawa wants to sigh. At thirty the principal still sees him as a student.

“The media,” he says immediately.

“Good. They can potentially ruin Izuku’s life if they don’t follow quirk censorship laws. Or even if they decide not to respect his privacy rights. And the last?”

“His mother’s lawsuit?”

“That might bring attention, but it is something we expect. No, there is a power higher who act as they please without accountability. Tell me, Aizawa, can you name our current Emperor?”

“The imperial family? Why would—"

“You forgot to answer my question.”

Aizawa allows a frown. “No. I can’t.”

“I occasionally reread that… manifesto on combat you wrote. Know your enemy was the first thing you spoke of. Perhaps the most important thing you wrote. But how can you gather knowledge when you don’t even know who your enemy?”

"Why would they be our enemy?" he asks, genuinely curious, secretly dreading the answer. "They've never interfered in UA before."

“Oh, they have. I’ve dealt with it as I’ve dealt with any threat. Anyone so secretive is a potential enemy. Any group powerful enough to sink a nation should be feared. And I refuse to let one of my students be a victim of their games.” The principal’s watch beeps. “That would be the boy’s mother. Go, make sure she doesn’t get any ideas. No one wants the media prying into the boy’s home life.”

“What secrets are you hiding?”

The principal laughs. “I’ve seen human cruelty first hand, Aizawa. The greatest secret is knowing what you people truly are. Cold. Callous. Cruel. It is the only reason I’ve managed to keep UA as independent as it is. Now go. Oh, emphasise your injuries whilst you’re at it. A reminder, perhaps, of what you did to protect the son of a woman you loathe.”

That laugh, high and bright and terrifying follows him as he leaves.

*****

Neither dream nor nightmare haunts his slumber. Dreams are nothing more than lies he tells whilst asleep, and he knows the nature of his lies. And nightmares are just memories of the abyss he has at night.

This is neither.

Izuku walks down a hallway filled with colours and lights, every shade of the visual spectrum and some outside stream by him. He reaches and touches the lights. They part around his form, physical in a way light is not. He shrugs. This is nothing unusual.

Ahead of him, maybe a mile and maybe a world away, are seven pairs of eyes. They watch him as he approaches.

Instinct guides him to bow before them. He rises and says, “Hi.”

They do not speak in words. But something in the way they shift worries him. There is a void in the back. He knows in his blood and bone that there should be another pair of eyes watching.

Protect us, they say in a voice that is lightning and power.

One reaches out. It seems so achingly familiar. Izuku reaches out.

Harsh light greets him. Izuku blinks slowly, knowing that somehow, he is in the real. There is something just beyond his grasp that he knows he should be searching for. But the harder he tries, the further it flees.

The world is heavy in a way that can only be opioids. He looks to the side and sees his mother sleeping fitfully. That is nothing worrying. He assesses his body: upper body fine outside of a few light scratches; left leg bandaged mildly; right leg swaddled in bandages with a metal brace around it. Izuku takes a deep breath a lets his worries pass away. He can feel the leg, muted as the pain is, and knows that it will heal one day. And if it does not, he will do with it.

“Kaa-san,” he whispers.

Her eyes flutter open. There is a moment of disorientation before she focuses on him. “Izuku.” She crosses the distance between them and hugs him. “Don’t ever do that again.”

He pats her back, uncertain of what she means but willing to abide by her wants. “I won’t. What happened.”

She pulls back. “How much do you remember?”

“Everything until I got punch by a giant purple monster.” He manages a weak smile. “Not great for memory retention.”

She doesn’t return his smile. “Kaa-san… how bad was it?”

There are a set of files on the chair next to her. She hands them over. “Here’s the report.”

Izuku skims through it, reading multiple lines at once and still processing the information as well as a normal person would. He closes his eyes when he is done. “Fuck.”

“Language,” she snaps automatically.

“S-sorry.” He shakes his head. “They know that I…”

“Not everything. Some know you come back and… well, you read what happens when you come back.”

Izuku shudders. “People saw that.”

She nods. “Only a few.” Then she sighs. “Honey, there isn’t anything left to do but damage control. We have to get a quirk assessment.”

“If people know…”

“That’s why we’ll get it done through the school.” Her expression darkens. “Your… homeroom teacher and I had a talk. The school will do the assessment and deal with your recovery. All of it in-house. Nothing will get out. And I’ll burn the world down to keep you safe. You know that, right?”

He lets out a breath he didn’t know he was holding. “Okay, I think I can live with that.”

“Alright. Recovery Girl’s ready to start with the scans whenever you woke up.”

“How long?”

“It happened yesterday.”

He frowns. “You’ve barely slept.”

“Stop worrying about me,” she says gently. “If we get these tests done then we can go home and try to figure everything out from there.”

Two hours later, after many numerous scans, he waits patiently with his mother for the results He’s not certain how he feels about practically being forced to undergo a quirk evaluation but he’s not about to argue with it, not after reading the report of the USJ incident from those involved—perhaps most telling is that Kacchan’s report had no cursing or shouting and that Dark Shadow spoke in Tokoyami’s stead whilst the boy signed.

When Recovery Girl returns she does so alone, a stack of files in her hands. She nods to his mother though the motion is stiff, and her features are hard.

“For the sake of your privacy, I’ll be the only one here. These are the only copies of these documents, and all information has been scrubbed from the computers.”

“I take it that won’t apply to his quirk assessment?” his mother asks.

Recovery Girl shakes her head. “No. That is directly related to our ability to teach your son. But these files are pertinent only to you but for a few safety precautions I'll note in his school file."

Izuku frowns. “So theoretically, if I got hit by a car then the hospital would have to call kaa-san to get my medical files?” A nod. “That’s ridiculous.”

“Many pro heroes have been killed by villains who gained access to their medical files and had information on their mutations. The laws are incredibly strict on the matter. Especially in a case as unique as this.”

“It’s fine, honey.” His mother rubs his arm in reassurance. “We can get a medical bracelet if you’re that worried. Now, what can you tell us?”

Recovery Girl sits, sighing in relief. She places the folder on the table.

"Your son exhibits no outward signs of a mutation," Recovery Girl begins, "but he shows a large swath of internal mutations. Notably, these mutations are tied to his spinal column and the rest of his bones. This first CT scan shows the… most notable change at the base of his spine.”

She hands a file to his mother. He looks over her shoulder and freezes. The image is in black and white and shows what he thinks is his pelvis and part of his spine. But right where his spine begins is a bright red orb—and the more he looks at it, the more he can hear the dirge of the dreaming dead—and jagged shards growing out of his vertebrae.

“What is…” his mother’s grip on his arm tightens. “What am I looking at?”

“Here’s a view of the rest of his spinal column.” Recovery Girl hands over another set of images.

He knows what a spine should look like. The picture he sees reminds him of that. Except for the long stem starting at his brain and going halfway down his spine. Or the odd structures growing around the stem almost like a protective cage, and the white nodes dotting his back. He knows what nerves look like and wonders why they're connected to the red orb at the base of the spine.

“This is an internal cross-sectional look of his right femur.”

The bone is hollow, is the first thing Izuku notices. Then he notices the crystal lattice growing throughout it. He knows there should be marrow and veins. And maybe they are there but he can’t pick them up with his limited medical knowledge.

“I took a random sampling of five other bones and found all of them to be hollow—similar to a bird—with the same lattice structure growing around his spine," Recovery Girl explains. "The only reason you don't weigh less than you should is that the crystals are dense enough to counteract the hollowing of your bones. From the sample I took, the crystal is extremely resistant to compression.

“Ingenious, really, because compression is the greatest weakness of a bird’s bones. And since they’re internal, your regular bone surrounding the lattice protects against torsion.”

Izuku looks to his mother in horror. Sees the same expression mirrored in her. Clasps his hands together to stop shaking.

“And what does this mean for Izuku?”

“My greatest worry would be red blood cell production. I’ll prescribe a series of supplements to counteract any possible side-effects. In addition, I’m taking the initiative to reduce the dosage of your anti-psychotics. With such an atypical neural network, I’m hesitant to keep him on such a high dosage. We’ll discover more information during the assessment proper and see how Izuku reacts to his quirk being nullified.”

“The same thing that nearly killed my son,” his mother snaps.

“We need to know why. Right now, your son is showing aberrant mutations. From his public records a year ago, he showed no signs of change. If we don’t test the limits of these mutations, then we’ll be unprepared if anything else happens.”

*****

“Alright, Midoriya, in your own words describe your quirk,” Aizawa-sensei says, voice strained.

Izuku’s fists clench, knowing this is his fault—only at his insistence is his mother napping somewhere nearby. “Have you gotten any sleep, sensei?”

Aizawa is silent for a moment. Then, “No, but I’ve operated under worse circumstances.” Izuku struggles to understand how that’s possible. The man has more bandages than exposed skin and looks ready to fall over.

“I-if you’re sure…”

“I am. If it makes you feel any better, I promise I’m going to sleep for the next two days straight.”

It does.

He takes a breath to steady himself. The pain in his leg is a dull throbbing thing, nowhere near as bad as the burn—Kaachan, what did I ever do to you?—wound. And though he leans heavily on the cane, he knows he could stand on his own power, unlike the last major injury.

“Shadowshield,” he begins, “is a quirk that expresses itself through two primary methods. The first is through emittance regarding shadows. I can generate physical shadows from my own shadows—and yes, I know I could do better with the terminology—which is affected by the surrounding light. If it’s too dark there isn’t enough contrast for me to generate shadows, and when it’s too bright my shadow is too small to do the same. The cape was a workaround.”

He forms a thick rope of shadows and tugs on it. “When directly tied to my shadow, the constructs are significantly stronger.” Izuku changes the shadow to a needle and fires it off. It disintegrates under the harsh lighting. “When not attached to my shadow it loses most of its cohesion.”

Izuku rolls his shoulders. “The second method is similar to a strengthening quirk.”

He allows a tiny portion of One For All to fill his body and hobbles—step-step-tap—over to the punching back. He takes another breath, centring himself. Don’t break, don’t break, don’t break. Then he punches the bag. It explodes, sand spilling everywhere, as the chain holding the bag snaps.

Izuku wrings his arm out, surprised that there are no bruises or broken bones.

“I only have conjecture as to why the strengthening portion manifests,” he lies easily. “Based on the reports of what happened after… after the Nomu attacked, I can only assume I’m drawing power from that.”

“On the matter of what… you became, has that ever happened before?” Aizawa asks.

Izuku shrugs. “I don’t know.”

“You died, Midoriya. There’s no way a person could sustain that much damage and still live.”

I guess I’m not a person. “Okay, and?”

“I’m going to be blunt. Have you died before, Midoriya?”

He closes his eyes. “You think I’m suicidal, don’t you?” He laughs, then. “I mean, can you really be suicidal if death doesn’t affect you? I know the flavours of death. I’ve felt my last neurons firing and felt my heart beat its last.”

It is bitterness that makes him lift his sleeve and reveal the long scar there. “I bled out to experiment on my quirk. I’ve broken my neck and learnt the taste of poison. Do you know carbon-monoxide is surprisingly peaceful? You just lose consciousness and then you’re gone.”

He looks to Aizawa and sees the unmitigated horror on the man’s face. “Pain brings clarity, sensei. I know that better than anyone. That expression you have is exactly why I never wanted an assessment the first time. Once a truth is known it can never be unlearnt.”

Aizawa walks towards him. Izuku resists the urge to flinch and merely closes his eyes, bracing for whatever is to come. A pair of heavily bandaged arms wrap around his shoulders and pull him close.

“I’m sorry, Midoriya,” Aizawa says gently, shocking Izuku. He’s never expected such softness from the man.

He doesn’t know what to do.

“For what?”

“I think I understand you a bit more.” Aizawa pulls back and looks him in the eye. “Just because you can come back doesn’t mean your life has no value.”

“It just means I have no excuse for not risking—”

“No,” Aizawa says sternly. “That’s not how it works. Just because you can come back doesn’t mean you can heal indefinitely. You’re going to have a limp. You already have scars. If you keep up the way you have you won’t be able to help anyone. Do you understand, Izuku? Your quirk only heals what kills you, not anything else.”

He knows that. His face always itches, and his leg is in a thick cast. He knows the consequences better than anyone else.

“I want to be a hero, sensei.”

“Being a hero doesn’t mean hurting yourself on purpose.”

“If I can save only one person then any pain is worth it,” he tells Aizawa and smiles. “There was a girl in a sunflower dress. I couldn’t save her. I don’t-I never want to feel that… helpless.”

“You can’t save everyone.”

“I know. It doesn’t change how I feel.”

Aizawa sighs. “Does your mother know you’ve died before.”

Izuku shrugs. “I’ve probably told her. Why?”

“It’s fine.” Izuku doesn’t believe that, not with how tight Aizawa’s grip is. “Let’s get through this assessment.”

“Okay.”

They test the nature of his shadow constructs, quantifying everything from lifting potential to how long they can naturally sustain themselves in the light. It leaves him exhausted, his brain aching from the strain. Recovery Girl administers painkillers as necessary to keep him going.

It is the final test that he dreads. They attach sensors and monitors all over his body.

“I’m going to erase your quirk, now,” Aizawa-sensei says, tense.

Izuku nods. “Okay.”

The man’s hair rises, his eyes a bright red. The moment his quirk disappears terrifies him. The shadows seem to vanish, and his sense of perspective vanishes alongside it. His back is a line of burning hot pain, and the base—where now he knows the dead dream in a crystal orb—of his spine makes him think someone has shoved a white-hot spear through it.

He grits his teeth through the pain, not caring that his skull feels ready to split, that his nose bleeds heavily or that every part of his body hurt.

The pain disappears. Izuku gasps, listing to the side. Aizawa catches him, and Izuku has to take long breaths to still the pain.

“Midoriya.”

“G-g-give me a mom-moment,” he says shakily. Izuku pulls away from Aizawa and wipes the blood running.

“Here.”

Izuku takes the proffered napkin gratefully and holds it to his nose. He checks the floor for bloodstain, terrified of what they might do if he isn’t paying attention. There are none, thankfully.

“I think that’s enough for today,” Aizawa says in a tone which brooks no argument, looking to Recovery Girl. “You go get some rest, Midoriya.”

“Yes, sensei.”

“And if you have any problems at home, please call.”

Izuku tilts his head curiously. He’s not certain why Aizawa thinks he has problems more important than not being able to die properly. It’s not like Izuku has told them anything about the warping portion of his quirk. And he has no intention of doing so if possible.

“Okay.”

*****

It is late in the afternoon when they finally get back. His mother helps him up the stairs, the hand on his shoulder a warm reassurance that nothing bad will happen, not when she is with him.

“What was dad like?” Izuku asks his mother from the second-floor landing.

“He was… quiet, almost like you get sometimes. Kind to me but he had no social skills to speak of. And dependable in his own way.” She shakes her head. “He’s the only reason we can afford UA. Or this house.”

Izuku frowns as she deposits him on her bed. “I thought your salary—”

“Covered the most prestigious private hero academy in Japan and a townhouse? You’re a bit naïve, honey. You either have the money or qualify for either a scholarship or government grant.”

“So, dad’s what? His insurance money? Pension? Whatever is covering all that.”

“Yes.”

“I see…” He frowns. “No, I don’t see. What exactly did he do?”

"He was in risk management. Do you want to see some pictures?" She stands before he can answer and walks to her closet. After a bit of rummaging, she pulls out a worn trunk, sturdy and solid with bronze latches.

She drops it beside his seat on her bed. Izuku opens it. Inside, are photo albums. Dozens of them, some the cheap plastic kind and other leather-bound. He grabs the most expensive looking one, one with a latch that he thinks might be actual gold.

He expects to see a multitude of photos per page. Instead, only a single photo of his mother in a white dress greets him. She looks to be in her mid-twenties at the very oldest and smiles broadly. He notes the pins in her hair and the very complicated braids.

“I haven’t looked through that one in a long time,” she says, ruffling his hair gently.

“You looked beautiful,” he whispers, and he can see where age lines will one day grow and grant her a more dignified appearance.

“Are you saying I’m not?”

He groans. “Kaa-san, you know that’s not what I’m saying.”

She ruffles his hair. “I know.”

He flips over to the next picture. It is his mother standing next to Kacchan’s. Her dress is a burnt orange and she smiles extravagantly, her hand intertwined with his mother’s.

"We went to university together. Well, more like I took a first-year elective and met her there. Izuku, the stories I could tell you of all the places we visited.” She laughs, her voice a windchime. “Actually, I think she met her husband at a casino.”

He nods, flipping the page over. And freezes. He sees a man he knows can only be his father. The man isn’t tall, much shorter than in Izuku’s hazy memories, dark of hair and freckled heavily just as Izuku is. There are lines on his face, not the sort you get from stress or happiness.

“Dad was older than you,” Izuku says, numbly.

“By about fifteen years,” she says and threads her fingers through his hair. “It’s a lot, I know, and maybe even a bit archaic to you. But he was always a gentleman even if he was a bit clueless. We didn’t even do it un—”

“I do not need to hear that,” he shouts, a cold chill running down his back.

She chuckles. “I thought you wanted to know about your parents.”

He flushes. “Not about that.” He shudders. “Wait… You said dad discovered his quirk on a date or something with you.”

“He did.”

“Then that means he didn’t discover it until he was in his thirties. That’s just…. How?”

“He was always a cautious man and pretty harmless. I was the intimidating one in the relationship.”

“I can imagine.” He traces a finger over his father’s features and the white uniform he wears in the picture. Izuku blinks. “But he’s wearing a military uniform. That makes no sense. And you told me he was afraid of getting hurt.”

“He never wanted to tell me the story.” She rubs his shoulders.

“He lied to you?”

“No,” she says sharply. “Never. That was one thing he never did. He never lied to me, not once. But there were things he never wanted to tell me, and I respected that decision.”

“Kaa-san, I’m asking because that’s not a military uniform. At least, not a standard one. Both the rank insignia and the colour are wrong. The army wears black and the navy changed to blue.”

Her grip on his shoulders tightens. “What do you think it is?”

He takes a deep breath. “Kaa-san, only the imperial family uses white anymore.” He looks to his mother, sees her ashen face. “You really didn’t know.”

“No.”

“You said he was involved in risk management. What company did he work for?”

She doesn’t answer. The doorbell rings, cutting through the silence. His mother glares at him before he can so much as lift his leg.

“I’ll get it.” She’s gone before he can reply. He strains his hearing but hears nothing. “Izuku, Shinsou’s here.”

Izuku blinks. Forces his leg off the bed. Stands unsteadily with the aid of his cane. He's getting sick and tired of the thing already and hopes he never has to touch it again after his leg is healed. He hobbles down the stairs.

Shinsou stands awkwardly in the entryway, looking for all the gold in the world that he’d rather have his teeth pulled out. He waves uncertainly.

“Hey.”

Izuku forces a smile. “A-are we still fighting?”

“Do you want to fight?”

“No?”

“Then I guess we’re not fighting.”

His mother chuckles, reminding them both that she is present. “Well, if you two aren’t fighting, how would you like to join us for dinner?”

Shinsou’s eyes are wide. “I wouldn’t want to impose.”

“You aren’t. Just make sure you let your parents know if you plan on staying the night.”

That is how he winds up watching TV with Shinsou on the couch, dirty plates and cutlery strewed across the table. His mother is long gone, not that Izuku particularly blames her. The day must have been horribly long for her, what with not sleeping.

“Midoriya, what do you do for fun?” Shinsou asks, flicking through channels.

He looks up from his book, Hawkmoon’s memoir he inherited from his father. “I like reading. And training.”

“And let me guess, you’re reading something about heroics.”

“I like that.”

Shinsou sighs. “Midoriya, as far as I can tell, everything you do is related to heroics. You read about heroics. You train so you can be a hero. You go to a school for heroes. When was the last time you did something that wasn’t related to it?”

“But that’s what I like.” He frowns. “When we went to the mall.”

“Right… and when did you go to a mall before that?”

“Maybe a year or two ago. I usually just order my supplies online.” His lips thin. “I watched that Godzilla reboot… No, wait, I missed that. There was the Best Jeanist book signing… that I also missed. Huh?”

Shinsou reaches over and plucks the book away. “We’re picking the trashiest show and watching that. And it’s going to have nothing to do with heroics.”

“Okay,” he says, indifferent.

Shinsou picks some traditional martial arts movie. There are no heroes, no explosions, and from the image quality, it looks to be something from the last century. I thought they had 8K back then? He watches the movie, not really caring for it much.

“You don’t like it,” Shinsou says, disappointed.

“It’s not that,” he responds quickly. “I just don’t watch movies much.”

“You watch documentaries on heroes, don’t you?” Izuku flushes. “Fine.” Shinsou changes the channel and soon the screen is filled with images of the New Heroes in some war-torn country or other. 

A smile crosses his features, unbidden. “Who’s your favourite?” he asks Shinsou.

“Now you’re excited. Maybe… Graviton Lance. Yeah, I think I like him the most.”

“Huh? I never expected that.” No, he really didn’t. The simple looking man with a massive spear is the last person he expects Shinsou to admire.

“I’m not as easy to read as you are. He reminds me of me.”

“You’re both… men?”

Shinsou chuckles. “Yeah, we are. But not that. We’re both outcasts in a way. He was a defector from an enemy state. I have the quirk I have.” Shinsou looks away for a moment. “Except some idiot wouldn’t leave us alone.”

“Who?”

“Someone a bit too nice in both cases. Someone who doesn’t really care about their personal safety. Someone strong.” He looks to Izuku, smiling sadly. “You’re an idiot if you can’t figure out I’m talking about Hawkmoon. And you,” he adds.

Izuku blinks. “W-wait what? I’m not anything like Hawkmoon.”

“No. I think you care about people too much. She knew when to let people go.”

He considers Shinsou’s words for a long minute, a beat of silent contemplation to the backdrop of heroes from another era. He thinks of Kacchan and knows he would accept any overtures of friendship from him. He thinks of everyone he’s met and come to know. He thinks of how he would go to the end’s of the world to protect and would fight any threat if it meant keeping them safe. And he knows he would never let go. 

“You’re right,” Izuku admits. “But I don’t think that’s wrong. I want to save people.”

“That’s why you’re at UA.”

“No, it’s not just that. I would have still tried to save people even if I didn’t get to UA.”

Shinsou makes a sound of consideration. “I don’t think you’d make a good vigilante. The law—”

“I know the law says. I could quote it verbatim. But, I think if I can save one person, only one, then I think it’s worth it.”

“You can’t save everyone. Not even All Might’s that strong.”

He laughs, almost bitter, mostly surprised. “That doesn’t mean I can’t try. You said I’m like Hawkmoon. Do you know what she’s famous for saying? The one quote that always gets misattributed. Any place can be paradise, Shinsou, so long as we try. If we all tried, just once in our lives and only once, to save someone else… can you imagine how beautiful everything would be.”

“That doesn’t change the laws. It doesn’t change society.”

“I want to be a hero, but I want to save people more.”

“And that’s why you’re a good person. But Midoriya, no matter how many people All Might saves it doesn’t change things enough. The UA exam isn’t fair, and I know people who placed lower than me got into the heroics course.”

“Is it—”

“It’s worse sometimes,” Shinsou pre-empts. “What do you think it’s like growing up with a villain’s quirk?”

“No one—”

“They do, and you’re the first person who isn’t like that.” He shoves Izuku gently. “Thank you. But my quirk isn’t flashy like yours. People will always see you and respect what you can do. And they’ll always wonder if I’m a threat. I’m not bitter, but I know what people will think. I’m just lucky enough that I got into UA. I have a shot at a future. I’ve seen what happens to people who get rejected.”

“Do you think I don’t know what that’s like?” Izuku brushes aside the flare of white hair. “I basically lived my life quirkless. I know it’s not fair and that people can be cruel, but that doesn’t make them bad people. It doesn’t mean they’re not worthy of being saved. People aren’t monsters.”

Shinsou says something in response but Izuku doesn’t hear it. The shadows behind Shinsou are twisting, making shapes and he knows them intimately. He sees sunflowers and thinks of that little girl, so scared and traumatised. He remembers his failings that day, the guilt and the shame.

“Midoriya.” Shinsou shakes his shoulder. “What are you looking at?”

Shinsou twists to look behind. Izuku reaches out and grabs his chin. “Just look at me, Shinsou. Don’t look anywhere else.”

A massive sunflower made of twining shadows and secrets older than time looms over Shinsou. It doesn’t cast a shadow or darken the room, but Izuku worries over what might happen if his friend sees it.

“I’m h-here, right?” he asks.

Shinsou frowns and grabs Izuku’s hands. He doesn’t try to remove them. “You are. Are you okay?”

He huffs, glancing nervously at the long petal that reaches out for Shinsou. “I’m not broken,” he snaps, and the petal pulls away.

“I never said”—something rises from the ground, maybe a crocodile, and snaps up the giant flower in its maws—” you were.”

Izuku swallows. “Sorry. I just get… upset when I think someone says that.”

Shinsou smiles, tiny and small and brighter than anything else in the room.

“I’ll remember next time I want to see you flustered.”

“Y-you troll.” Yet he smiles. A long hour later, when the show is over, and he feels tiredness wash over him, Izuku asks, “You really think I’m like her?”

Shinsou groans, opening his eyes. “You both have braids.”

Izuku shoves him. “Be serious.”

“Yeah. You remind me of her.” Shinsou closes his eyes.

“Yui Ikari whom Hawkmoon eclipsed.” Izuku feels a smile cross his face as he thinks of his father’s book. “I think I’m fine with that.”

He wakes up, sunlight streaming in. He finds his face squished awkwardly between Shinsou’s arm and the sofa. A groan escapes his lips as he sits upright. A sharp pain in his neck reminds him why pillows were made. He pokes at his cast until his leg wakes up.

“Do you know you drool?” Shinsou mumbles.

Izuku looks to him, face hot. “You have no proof.”

“I already shared the pictures with Ochaco.”

With a sense of dread, he grabs his phone and opens the group chat. The very first unread message is a picture of him leaning against SHinsou’s shoulder, droll leaking out his mouth. And the two dozen responses are all, in some way or other, mocking him. Especially those from Ochaco.

“I hate you.” Shinsou lifts a single brow, a silent question there. “Fine, you know I don’t.”

A shower later, and Izuku feels slightly more like a normal human being. He tells Shinsou to grab whatever clean set of clothes he wants and is rather surprised when he comes back looking like he has a fashion sense and didn’t simply grab the first thing he saw. Izuku knows that plaid shirt is his, but he never once thought to roll up the sleeves or wear the dark shirt underneath.

“Thanks,” Shinsou says.

“Izuku, honey,” his mother calls from the stairs whilst they’re playing a simple game of cards, “don’t forget to take your medication.”

“Yes, kaa-san.” Izuku shows his cards, an ace of spades with a jack-queen-king. He knows Shinsou doesn’t have anything as powerful, and there aren’t enough cards left for it to matter. He shifts his bad leg and grimaces.

“I can grab it for you,” Shinsou says, tapping his brace, and not at all looking bitter that he lost. “No need for you to suffer.”

Izuku shakes his head. “It’s okay, I’ll grab it.” He doesn’t let any pain show as he moves to an upright position.

“What don’t you want me to know?”

He looks to Shinsou and sees him frowning. “N-nothing.”

“Midoriya, I know you. And I know when you’re trying to lie. Whatever it is, do you really think I’ll leave?”

He stares a Shinsou, really looks at him past the bags under his eyes and the tired lines marring his face. And all he finds is sincerity.

“The truth,” he says slowly, uncertain, “isn’t something I’m good at.”

“I know.”

Izuku sighs. “Do you remember how I was gone for a week?” He waits for the nod. “I don’t know what you heard about USJ, but it wasn’t…. well, my quirk is the reason. And it wasn’t pleasant.”

He lets shadows rise and grasps them in his hand. “It has psychological effects on me.” He smiles bitterly. “My therapist thinks I have dissociative identity disorder.”

“I don’t know what that is.”

“Lucky you.” And then, after a pause, “That was cruel. I’m sorry. It just means I sometimes can’t tell what’s real and what’s not. When Kacchan came back, I basically lost that entire week. I can’t remember most of it.”

“Sounds fun not having to remember Cementoss drone on for an hour.”

Izuku stares at him, incredulous. And then he laughs. He sees Shinsou’s tiny smile.

“Thank you.”

“You don’t like people making a fuss about you.” And though there is a note of disapproval, Shinsou adds, “You want to help me with the maths homework?”

“Okay,” he says because maths is simple and easy stuff, even if he must deal with the medication affecting him.

He walks Shinsou through problems on trigonometry and perhaps has a mild rant because Shinsou has no idea what a cosine or a tangent is. He’s drawing a unit circle and splitting it into quadrants before his brain can catch up with his mouth.

“…and that’s basically what an inverse cotangent is. Pretty stupid, I know, but it works out.” Shinsou stares at him as if he’s grown another head. “If you tell me you think an inverse cotangent has any practical use at a hero academy then I’m done. Just pack and never talk to me again.”

Shinsou tilts his head, mouth opening but no sound coming out. He grabs one of the many dozen papers on the table and scans it quickly.

“Midoriya, I don’t even know what a Laurent series is or what it has to do with trig. What do these symbols even mean?”

He shows Izuku one. It makes him frown. “That’s an imaginary limit as epsilon goes to infinity. Pretty simple all thing considered. I mean, it’s not like I’m trying to explain gravity waves to you.”

Shinsou bites his lip. “I literally don’t know what to do with you. Wait a minute.”

Okay,” he says as Shinsou pulls out his phone.

After significantly longer than a minute, Shinsou puts his phone aside. “Laurent Theory is taught at universities. So are gravity waves.”

“And?”

“You’re an idiot. You’re genuinely an idiot.” Shinsou looks to the ceiling and mumbles something, a curse perhaps, or maybe a prayer. “Izuku, just take these to Ectoplasm when you see him next. Just do it and tell him you were trying to explain basic trig to me. I can’t even…”

Izuku frowns but gathers up the papers. They don’t look particularly interesting to him but Shinsou is always weird. “If it makes you feel better.”

They eat breakfast quietly. Izuku has a few laughs for Shinsou really is a child when it comes to eating, and the shirt he gave the boy is quickly stained.

“How do you even get through school with a clean uniform?”

“Napkins. Lots and lots of napkins.”

Izuku chuckles and tells Shinsou to grab a clean hoodie from his closet.

When the doorbell rings, Shinsou is up and walking to it before Izuku can even bother finding his cane. His friend opens the door.

“Hey Shinsou,” Uraraka’s bright voice filters through. “It’s so sweet you’re always with Izuku. You’re even wearing his clothes.”

Even from here, Izuku can see his friend flush. “Well—”

“You gonna let us in,” Kirishima says. “Hey, Midoriya, Shinsou’s blocking the door.”

Izuku blinks slowly. He still can’t see them, blocked as they are by Shinsou’s thin frame. Kirishima grabs Shinsou by the shoulders and moves him aside as if he’s a cardboard cut-out.

Kirishima’s grin is wide and toothy. “Hey man, you doing alright?”

“I guess?”

He watches incredulously as Kirishima picks a seat and gets comfortable as if he owns the place. Uraraka waves and pats his shoulder as she passes by.

“Your manners are atrocious,” Tokoyami says. Izuku looks to him and finds him still at the threshold of the home.

“You’re just a boring old crow,” Uraraka says, sticking her tongue out.

Izuku swallows. “You can come in, Tokoyami.”

He does so, nodding in gratitude. “Thank you.”

“Why are you guys here?” He considers his question for a moment. “Not that I don’t want you here it’s just that I didn’t even think you’d be coming and—”

“You’re rambling,” Shinsou says, shutting him up. “I called them over.  I didn’t think it was fair to monopolise your maths brain. We’re all pretty bad at maths here.”

“Man, you just don’t want to let Midoriya know you were worried,” Kirishima says. 

“Why you—”

“Your crush is pretty cute,” Uraraka says pleasantly.

Shinsou flushes. So does Izuku.

“I don’t have a crush.”

“And you’re not wearing Midoriya’s hoodie,” Tokoyami says sarcastically, rolling his eyes.

“I’m not gay!”

“It’s called a man-crush, no worries,” Kirishima adds. “Tell your masculinity to man the hell up.”

Izuku runs a hand through his hair. “Can we not, please?” There’s just something about the idea that makes him want to shudder.

Uraraka laughs. “We’ll behave. Right, Tokoyami?”

“Speak for yourself. Now, Midoriya, we were promised help with maths. Provide it.”

Izuku just shrugs. It takes him the better part of an hour to get them through the pile of homework that Ectoplasm assigns each weak without fail. He learns a bit more about them in the process: Kirishima is useless at visualising objects; Uraraka is absolutely atrocious at algebra; and Tokoyami is just plain horrible at maths, almost disgustingly so.

“You weren’t kidding,” Kirishima says, looking to Shinsou. “Why have you been holding out on us?”

“I just found out today. Someone has a whole bunch of secrets.”

Izuku blinks. “I don’t even get why you guys think this is special.”

“He’s also an idiot,” Uraraka adds.

“Why does everyone keep calling me that?”

“I find myself inclined to agree with their assessment.”

Izuku watches Shinsou look at his phone, his expression closing off as he reads the message he has received. "I have to go," he says, standing. "My cat's still sick."

“Milquetoast again?” Uraraka asks, which makes Izuku frown because even he doesn’t know the names of Shinsou’s cats. He’s not even sure how many Shinsou has.

“Yeah.”

“Aw, sorry man,” Kirishima pipes up.

“It’s fine.”

“No, it isn’t.” Uraraka grabs Shinsou by the wrist. “I’ll come with you.”

Shinsou startles, neck scarlet. “What—”

“Bye guys,” Uraraka says cheerfully as she drags a weightless Shinsou with her. “See you at school.”

“I’m being kidnapped,” Shinsou says loudly, his body hovering above the ground.

Izuku watches all of this in bemusement. When the door is shut, he looks to Tokoyami who looks very close to having an aneurysm if he doesn't laugh soon, and Kirishima who seems absolutely starstruck.

“Calling it now, she’s the manliest out of all of us.” Kirishima grins. “She really does whatever she wants.”

“Indeed…” Tokoyami holds in the laughter for three more seconds. And then he’s on the ground, clutching his side as he laughs silently.

It is one of the odder things Izuku has seen. Not least because he didn’t know Tokoyami was capable of anything other than solemnity—even his anger was dignified.

Izuku shrugs and stands, grabbing his cane. He hobbles over to the fridge and grabs an apple, biting into it. Too tart really but compared to the things he’s eaten before he’s not too worried. The chances of it mutating his spine are low.

He looks back to see Kirishima and Tokoyami watching him warily. “You alright, man?”

He taps the brace around his leg. “I mean, I’ll be fine in a few days.” And then he sighs. “I… I read your reports about what h-happened. I just don’t-why are you guys… You’re just acting like nothing happened.”

Kirishima’s smile is strained, sharper and colder. “Not everyone saw what happened. I mean, I did. I know feather-duster over here did, and whoever was with him. Bakugou saw. Mineta and Bakugou, too, yeah. But not everyone saw even if people felt some scary shit happening, man. We’re not even technically allowed to talk about it.”

His brows furrow. “Why not?”

“NDAs,” Tokoyami answers, “that we were all required to sign. Privacy and censorship laws aren’t taken lightly.”

“So, you aren’t allowed to talk to me, about my own quirk, because of a signature on paper?” He asks this slowly, unsure if the question sounds just as ridiculous outside his head. It does. 

“Pretty much, yeah.” A bit of warmth bleeds back into Kirishima’s grin. “And I mean, I’m not gonna ditch you just cause you get real scary once in a while. Women do that once a month. I mean, I’ve seen you grin when you’re upset and that shit’s scary as hell.”

“Indeed, it is. More so when you’re bleeding.” Tokoyami nods at Kirishima. “Or when your uniform is torn to shreds.”

“Yeah, you’re really bad with keeping your clothes intact.” Kirishima jabs a thumb to his chest. “That’s why my costume basically leaves me shirtless.”

That startles a laugh out of Izuku, so much so that he drops his apple. But there is a genuine warmth to the back-and-forth, one that makes him understand why they actually came today.

“Thank you,” he says. “You guys are just…”

“YouR friends, man. We ain’t going to ditch you ever.”

Tokoyami huffs. “Speak for yourself, cretin. I only have interest in easy maths homework.” His features soften. “Regardless, Midoriya, no matter how odd your quirk is, I will not permit you to flail alone in the dark.”

*****

Kurogiri cleans his bar obsessively until not a single speck of dust remains. And then he cleans the bar again. He does this ceaselessly for hours on end, hoping against hope that he can forget the memory of the abomination that the boy had become. In the corners of tables, he sees broken edges of space and in his bottles, he sees the curves of time. A cold chill sweeps through him when he holds a knife, the image morphing to a pulsating horn that pulses with liquid darkness.

He takes down the final mirror in the upper floor of the bar. So long as they are gone, they can’t reflect the distorted image of who—what—he was in the past. He can’t see the too skinny man who left his child alone, the pathetic monster that bled out in an alleyway from a knife-wound if not for Sensei’s timely arrival. Above all, not seeing his reflection means he can’t see futures that never are but sometimes could be: he can’t see his hands wrap around the neck of his kind wife, and later bash his child’s tiny skull in a future that never will be; he can’t see his white uniform stained red in blood on the Emperor’s order, his misty body barely able to handle infernal flames as he and Sensei, along with others, purged entire towns; and so long as the mirrors are gone, he can never be plagued with memories of millions drowning in Taiwan, their calls haunted by the realisation that there won’t be salvation.

Installing extra lights is a precaution he's never taken before. He takes it a step further by using chemical lights as opposed to regular fluorescent ones as those won't go out. Each light banishes the shadows just a tiny bit more.

When Sensei summons him, Kurogiri politely asks that the room be lit up. He creates a warp gate and walks through. Reality bends under the weight of paradox once more as there are three Kurogiri’s once more: the one in the bar, moment before walking through the warp gate, and whom flees a monster with teeth that fill the world; a second who grasps one of the many bolts of green lightning and throws it, tearing a hole in spacetime; and the third who enters Sensei’s room.

The universe destroys the paradox, realigning in a disorientating snap. A bright light fills the room. He notices an orb emitting pleasant orange tones above him, and watches it circle round his head.

“How many of our allies did you manage to recover from incarceration?” Sensei asks, not bothering with small talk.

Kurogiri swallows. “Not as many as you would like.”

“I trust you did what you could considering the situation.”

He stares at the orb, tracing its lazy orbit instead of meeting Sensei’s gaze.

“Do you find this quirk interesting?” Sensei asks.

Kurogiri looks to Japan’s resident cryptid and is shocked to see his face uncovered for the first time in nearly a decade. His eyes are closed as they always are, but he knows the man can see him perfectly.

Sensei still waits for his answer. “I suppose it has practical applications.” He looks down at his shadow, tiny due to the light. “How is Tomura?”

Sensei tilts his head and considers his question. After a beat, he says, “Traumatised. There is much he must learn, strength of will and mind both. We’ll see how much of his memories will have to be… excised.” There is a hint of something sinister in the air. “I believe you have a clearer report for me?”

The tension and fear return. For a long moment, he is frozen, unable to say anything past the memory of mouths that eat light and gravity and everything warm in the world.

“Kurogiri,” Sensei says, pulling him from his waking nightmares. “If you find the memories too difficult, I am willing to remove them.” He says this kindly, patient as a grandfather who has seen every child under the sun. 

He braces himself. “I would rather keep them,” he says as politely as possible. He doesn’t like the idea of anyone rummaging through his memories. And no matter how horrible they are, no matter how much they haunt him, he refuses to give up the events that make him who he is—he refuses to give up his wife and child, his crimes and glories, and all the tiny events that build up to make Kurogir the villain and the weak man of his youth.

“As you say, Kurogiri. I trust you to make your own decisions.” Sensei leans forward in his chair, the medical wires and tubes following the motion. “I am not a hero who micromanages ignorant children fresh out of indoctrination school.”

“It was…” he begins but trails off. “You know my quirk has been behaving oddly. What happened was that but worse. It shouldn’t exist, Sensei. The boy died and something from the deepest pits of damnation rose up.”

“Something straight out of the abyss,” Sensei says slowly, prodding.

Kurogiri shivers despite that his body is made of gas. “That describes it aptly. When I travel through warp gates it’s like I’m travelling through a place filled with darkness and monsters.”

Sensei stays silent for a few minutes. Kurogiri stands under scrutiny, resisting the urge to wilt beneath this archvillain’s consideration. Not out of fear as he knows Sensei has a vested interest in his quirk at the very least, but rather because there are plots within plots hidden behind skeletons in sealed vaults that Sensei navigates always. And he’s not certain he wants to be involved in this scheme.

“We travelled through the darkest abyss aboard a train to infinity,” Sensei says at last.

“Hm?”

“Nothing. Forgive an old man his ramblings.”

“You never ramble,” he ventures, calling the villain out on the poor lie.

Sensei chuckles, delighted. “No, I never do. But your words made me nostalgic. A long time ago, indeed.”

“This happened? Sensei, this was almost as bad as Shikoku.”

“Perhaps not this but the nature of events,” Sensei explains. “Don’t worry, matters will resolve themselves as always. All things do.”

“I don’t know if I want to learn more about your plans.”

Sensei nods. “Other matters then. Has our little informant come through with additional information?”

Kurogiri relaxes. “Yes. We have the layout of the stadium. His unravelling quirk makes him useful.”

“Yes. Expulsion from a prestigious school tends to breed resentment. I will leave Tomura to decide how best to utilise his quirk. Just remind Tomura to show some restraint. Civilian deaths galvanise the populous whereas destruction of protected infrastructure breeds fear.”

“I’ll be certain to remind him.”

“Take care, Kurogiri.” Sensei hums. “Oh, don’t forget to scout Stain.”

“I’ve never heard of Stain.”

“He seems to be an interesting fellow. Localise him. Tomura has lessons to learn. Stain will teach him strength of will.”

“And strength of mind?” Kurogiri asks. “You said he lacks that as well.”

“Oh, I’ll let young Midoriya teach him that.” His smile is sinister. “I take it you have no issue with that?”

Kurogiri shivers. “No.”

Chapter Text

‘Quirks are the great equalizer to military power. One person can hold the might of an entire battalion. The imperial family knew this all too well. They and their retainers have been the primary reason Japan was never assaulted during the Dark Age, the New Age or the Golden Age. Their strength has been whispered, but only recently did we witness the true extent of their strength. Taiwan may have had its issues, but in a single moment of anger, twenty-million people died. Even Titan killed fewer people.'

—Excerpt from ‘Examining the Japanese Imperial Family: An American’s Perspective’ by David Hayter. 

He does not know what he expects when the message comes. Kirishima and Tokoyami are both gone, and the lack of the warmth and constancy of their friendship—and perhaps the greater knowledge that petty fights can be overcome so long as there is sincerity—trails behind their backs as he bids them goodbye, terrified that perhaps everything they say is a lie, but also knowing his insecurities cannot measure against the final smile Kirishima sends his way.

There is no name attached to the message as he has never felt the right to do so in recent years. Ten digits stare back at him, unique in a way that no other set of digits arranged in that exact order can ever be. Not for the numbers are unique—human counting limits are trivial to someone for whom imaginary numbers are just as real as the rest—as numbers, or that even the order with which the numbers fell but simply because they hold personal significance for Izuku.

The next morning, he wakes up two hours before dawn and heads out, leaving a note plastered to the fridge. He knows his mother will be frantic if he gives no indication that he willingly left and wasn’t perhaps kidnapped by the monsters in his mind made real. There is a forest that grows through a large portion of Mustafu, close enough to his home that even with the brace it isn't an insurmountable distance. He hikes the distance, taking joy in the pain of exercise even if his leg feels like a hot thread of pain, and his walk is more an energetic hobble than a brisk hike.

When he reaches the summit, he takes a moment to look around and finds no one else there. There is a tree, thick, knotted and gnarled with age that looms over him. Izuku hobbles to it. There, under the lowest branch, are a set of indentations. He caresses the letters there: ‘IM' and ‘KB'. 

“I haven’t been here in years,” he says to the wind. “We wrote our names here. Back then, I thought we’d be friends until the very end. Izuku and Katsuki. Kacchan and Deku. Just the two of us. You were gonna be number one, and I’d always be right there with you. What do you want from me?”

He turns and nods towards Kacchan. His once friend looks tired and haunted. He very likely hasn’t slept at all over the last few days, and from the way his fingers twitch he seems to be running purely on caffeine to function.

“What do I fucking want?” he snarls. “I fucking want the truth. You don’t get to just act like you’re quirkless and then turn into… into whatever that shit was.”

“The truth? The truth is that you pushed me, and I haven’t forgiven you.”

“I know what I fucking did. But you don’t just get—”

“Why?” he interrupts. “Why do I have to be perfectly honest and open with you. You want the truth. I don’t know what that was.”

Kacchan watches him, assessing Izuku in a way that only he can. Then, “Bullshit. Fuck, if you knew about that you’d experiment every step of the way.” Izuku freezes. “Right there, you bitch. Don’t fucking try to lie to me.”

Izuku clenches his fists and takes a step forward. “Why does it matter so much to you?”

And then Kaachan is too close, his hands gripping Izuku’s shoulders tightly. He stays still, watching Kaachan tremble even as he looks ready to cry. There is no malice in his red eyes, only self-loathing.

“Because I need to know,” Kacchan whispers weakly, fearful in a way Izuku has never heard. “I need to know if I…”

Everything he knows of Kacchan rushes to the forefront and he knows, just knows he could say break the boy before him. For a second he considers malice and cruelty, considers shattering every single hope and ambition Kacchan has in much the same vein he has tried to do to Izuku. He considers all of this for a single moment.

And then discards every cruel machination. This is my story, he thinks, and I want it to be kind and just.

He leans forward and wraps his arms around Kacchan’s back. He tenses, almost as if he expects Izuku to crush him.

“You did,” Izuku says softly as a silk dress on a summer day. Kacchan’s shaking intensifies but Izuku only holds him tighter.

“I didn’t want to acknowledge the truth. I thought I could hide from it and it nearly broke me. Kacchan... I don’t-I can’t forgive you, not right now. But I don’t hate you and I never will.”

His shoulder is wet. “You should,” Kaachan says hoarsely, clutching his shoulders tightly. “You fucking should.”

“Maybe,” Izuku acknowledges. “No one else knows. Just me. And I won’t ever tell anyone.”

“They’d send me to prison.” Izuku smells something sweet. Nitro-glycerine, or sweat in this case. “They’d have every reason to. You’re still fucking trying to save me.”

When Kaachan pulls away, Izuku lets him. His face is a rictus of emotions, none of them happy. Kaachan’s hands tremble and he stares at them.

“I’ve killed before.” His laugh, when it comes, is equal parts hysteria and bitterness. “There are villains who fucking haven’t and I—oh fuck me sideways—I have. Fuck, I can’t… You turn into that whenever you die. Why the fuck am I still here?”

Izuku shrugs. “Because the pole ultimately killed me, not you. You just… well, you helped a bit.”

“Fuck!” Kacchan turns to the side and lets off an explosion. It leaves a deep gouge in the ground and more than one tree topples over. His chest heaves.

“A-are you done?” Izuku limps past Kaachan to the edge. He sits and lets his legs dangle freely, patting the spot next to him. It takes a few minutes for Kaachan to join him.

“This is so fucked.”

Izuku laughs, rubbing his brace. “You have no idea.”

“What happens now?”

“I guess that’s up to you.” He looks to Kachan and forces a smile. “You can choose who you want to be.”

“My counsellor says shit like that.” Kacchan’s hand rises. Tentatively, as though the world watches, he brushes a finger against Izuku’s burn scar. “I did this to you.”

“Yes.” It is a battle not to tense or flinch away as Kacchan traces the outline of the scar. “Would you do it again if you had a second chance?”

“No.”

“Then you’re not the same person who did this. I don’t care what anyone else thinks.” He pulls away to face the horizon. The first rays of dawn creep across the dimly lit world.

“We can all change. We’re not robots running on the same lines of code. Hinata Ononoki only cared about the law in her youth, but she disregarded that in favour of human compassion. Hawkmoon gave Graviton Lance a chance and together they beat Titan.” He reaches out, almost as if to grab the light. “The sun always rises. No matter how terrifying the darkness is, no matter the monsters walking beside you, the sun always rises. And each new day is just a chance to be better.”

They sit there in silence as the sun rises. It has been years since they last did so. They aren’t friends, not by any stretch. There is too much history there for that, no matter the steps they have both made. But perhaps for one specific moment, this Sunday and no other, this dawn which has a singular quality that can never be replicated, they can both pretend the past is passed.

And then, “You’re a fucking bleeding-heart pansy who can’t make speeches worth shit.” 

Izuku’s laugh carries across the summit, heard only by the two of them.

*****

Home is quiet. His mother is gone somewhere, and he is glad that she trusts him enough to leave him alone. Because it means he won’t have to explain his decisions. Too much time s been spent injured or recovering from injury, and he knows too much of his muscle mass is already gone. Not enough that he looks significantly smaller to other people, but enough that it worries him regardless.

He packs some supplies. Shoulders his bag. Sinks to the darkness below.

He dives deep and quick, not sparing time for any of the residents who won’t harm him but for the eye which he uses to accelerate his healing. They all live too high up where time runs close to the real world. No, he needs the patches where time has slowed to a crawl and days here are hours in the real.

Some patches are deadly such as the time he wanders into a world of darkness and barely manages to flee lightning bolts from the ashen one high in his castle. Spiders and anything resembling them are marked for death and fall beneath his shadows. When hunger strikes, he befriends hounds that exist in the corners of time and they show him how to hunt ethereal serpents vaster than worlds. One is enough for him, and he leaves the massive corpse to the hounds though they will have to contend with crows of feathers like glass unshattering. The serpent tastes odd, more a dream of eternity than anything else, but it is surprisingly edible.

He chats with a young god tended to a doll in a dream and listens to their tales of a world consumed by blood and beasthood and the suffering of the past. And whilst interesting, Izuku doesn’t really care and vanishes the moment they are focused on the approaching abyss walker.

In an underwater city, he learns the names of slumbering gods but is smart enough not to call them forth. In a place that looks exceedingly like Christian Hell, he barely manages not to get his face crushed by a green giant who slaughters hellish creatures, a song of doom following its steps.

All of this he sees and accepts as a normal day. Every step of the way he trains his body once more until he collapses in exhaustion. And then he gets up to flee a bird larger than his home. At the very least he gets all the cardio he needs this way.

Somehow, he runs all the way to the birth of a universe, not caring that it is hot enough that nothing short of the impossible should manage to witness it. And what is he if not impossible? He watches it and mourns the loss of the true darkness that came before. Regardless, though, he watches the way gravity, electromagnetism and both the strong and weak forces unify into one singular force. He fills his notebooks with the maths of it all, not wanting to forget.

He finds a quiet spot across a lake of chaos flames. The place is devoid of any entity that he might fear. Good. He’s a bit tired of fighting creatures off.

The live wire of One For All is ever-present, always waiting just past the edge of his thoughts. He grasps the power of his mentor’s quirk and allows it to flood his body. Physical strength fills him, enters the spots of weakness and empowers them. He looks to his arms and finds them glowing with diffuse light.

“Okay, let’s try this.” He focuses inwards and lets some of the power bleed off. Sparks of green lightning arc across his fingers. “Even less.” More power leaves him, lightning arcing away from his body and towards the darkness until only a dreg of energy remains.

He inhales and savours the strength of his lungs, so much stronger than his baseline. He flexes his hands and knows he could crush a brick without a thought even with this tiny percentage of OFA. 

“Two, maybe three percent,” he says to the quiet. Considering how little time he’s had to focus on his mentor’s quirk, he is surprised he even has that much.

He slides into a ready stance. Slowly, ever so slowly, he flows through his katas, favouring technique over speed. Sweat drips down his neck as he fights against One For All, the power wanting nothing more than to be used.

Instinct tells him to stop battling.

“Fine.”

His next kick is swift and graceful. He pirouettes with the momentum and strikes with his fist. His movements come faster and faster. Shadows rise, constructs of his imagination, and he shadow-boxes against them. Each strike breaks them, but there is resistance, just a tiny pushback against his limbs. It becomes less a battle and more a dance.

A gust of wind blows by, gargantuan in its intensity. And yet, it doesn’t knock him over. Instead, it gives extra weight to his kick. Another gust and his punch comes faster. He can’t see what makes the wind for it flits past the edge of his vision. He becomes a whirlwind of movement, grace and motion perfected.

He dances with whatever makes the winds, relaxing more and more as it matches his movements no matter how unexpected. When he leaps high, a gust of wind lifts him higher. When he shatters the ground in an immense axe kick, the wind helps him slide into his next stance.

He doesn’t know how long he dances with the creature. It could have been minutes or hours or years. All he knows is that his energy is joyful and sheer.

After one final punch, he stops, panting harshly. His body is bright, steam rising from it and green lightning flickering. He looks to the landscape, sees the hills and valleys formed by the power of his blows. One For All flows through him in its entirety, not the pale vestige he started with.

“How?”

//I granted you a taste of your power, Oh bearer mine//

One gust of wind heralds the creature. It is a dragon—and he rolls his eyes because of course, it is—of a different sort, slender and spindly where the others were gargantuan. And, oddly enough, it doesn't try to be larger than a galaxy. He can’t feel the heat of the godflame beating in its chest like the other dragons he’s met, nor are its hands even vaguely human-like, and it lacks a tail.

“What are you?” He wants to reach out and touch those thin spikes along its spine and examine the obsidian talons.

//My nature does not matter, oh shadow king// Its wings tuck in and it lowers its head, bowing almost. //A boon I shall grant you//

“Ummm no. My mother told me never trust deals with mysterious entities.”

//Wise she is, oh king mine// It lifts its head to the skies and opens its maw.

It sings a clear note that echoes across the universe. It tells a story with its song. A race of wish-granters that flew across the world in search of a mythical traveller. And when they found it protected by creatures eternal for no harm would ever truly kill them, not when their ghosts forever resurrected them, they fulfilled the wishes of the undead. And for their kindness, they were slaughtered. 

//They took my tail. I am the last, oh king mine, and this shall be my last wish//

This is the last of the wish-granters. Grief crushes him. “I’m sorry,” he whispers. “I’m so sorry. But I can’t accept your offer.”

//I will save you in time to come// it pleads and spits in his direction.

A giant sunflower made of shadows lands beside him. It is the same sunflower that he thought might harm Shinsou only a few days ago. Izuku swallows. This creature is the same one that protected his friend from Izuku’s power.

//For nothing, friend of the king, I saved

//Freely, the king, my bones you will wear

//Without cost, the king’s disciple, my wings to bear

//A boon and a curse, you must accept//

He looks to the dead sunflower. The dragon is honest, whatever else it might be. He would bet his life that the dragon doesn’t even know what a lie is. “What happens if I don’t?”

//One untruth and a pair of truths this one Eao shall impart

//Elder, free once more, hunt the heart of fire it shall

//Naraka, ally to come, betrayed by your shadow hands

//Mother, beloved by all, madness will befall//

He freezes and swallows. There is a risk to what the lie might be, but he doesn't like the idea of his mother harmed. "Fine. I'll accept."

//You wish to save, oh hero mine.

//The power to save one friend, your boon shall be.

//The knowledge to save one friend, your curse shall be//

Light consumes the dragon. Its scales fall away as its flesh disintegrates. Izuku watches sadly as the dragon dies. When the light recedes, all that remains are its bones. Izuku bows his head and mourns the dragon.

He leaves and returns home just in time for dinner. He sneaks to the bathroom and showers before his mother can get a look at all the various fluids covering him, or the fact that he’s clad in a dream. He kisses his mother on the cheek before bed.

“Promise I’ll make you dinner this week.”

*****

The next morning comes too quickly. Izuku groans, stretching his sore muscles. In the bathroom he sees the person in the mirror: some of his hair is white and braided only on one side; a large burn scar runs down the same side; deep lines mar this boy’s face. Izuku sighs but forces a smile. It tugs at his scar, and though it looks horrific he doesn’t care how other people see him anymore.

He grabs his medication from the drawer. He removes a red pill and pops it in his mouth.

Why are you taking those? Mikumo Atakani asks.

Izuku chokes, coughing harshly. “Why are you back?” he asks once he can breathe properly. “I just got rid of you.”

Mikumo laughs. I am the untold truth. I am the keeper, the lock and key. And I was busy doing stuff. I only managed to kill one of those ghosts. They need to start paying rent if they want to stay.

Izuku leans forward and washes his face with frigid water. He scrubs at it, hoping in vain that the voice will leave. It does not. If anything, it starts organising the monsters in his head and feeds some of them to the echo of the godflame burning in the back of his mind.

He looks to the medication. “Is there even any point in taking this stuff anymore?”

Mikumo hums in consideration. I am not your enemy, Izuku. But I will play the part of the villain if I must. What harm is there in taking those pills? Has your life not been more… stable, perhaps?

“Oh, so villains attacking my class is considered stable?” He frowns. “Did you know what would happen when I died?”

Does it matter? He hears the snap and pop of burning parasites, and shiver. Take your pills. I will remember the lies.

The voice leaves, taking with it whatever creatures had hitched a ride in the recesses of his mind, and Izuku does the same. What other choice does he have but to walk forward and stand tall against the monsters he sees in the waking world?

He steps over a dead cat, and after his shadow crosses it nothing remains, not even a splatter of blood. Bitterness colours his laugh. When he looks to the rising sun and lets his eyes unfocus, it is joined by a few more, all of them orbiting as electrons do—not that he cares for the analogy of an outdated model.

“Is this my curse?”

He grins at a couple who stare at him and watches them scurry away. Izuku shrugs and decides to forget their fear and the nightmares hiding half a step out of lock with reality.

The class is quiet, and he is one of the first there. Kaminari and Sero chat quietly between themselves but fall quiet when Izuku appears, as do Yaoyorozu and Todoroki who both watch the spectacle. He braces for the worst.

“Midoriya, rumour has it you took on that purple thing by yourself,” Sero says casually.

It is not, at all, what he expects. “Ummm, y-yeah.”

“God damn it,” Kaminari snarls as Sero claps him on the shoulder.

“Told you so. Give me my money man.” Izuku watches incredulously as notes exchange hands. “Had a bet going on the rumour was true. Kaminari here though you were too sweet to harm a fly.”

“Midoriya, sweet?” Kirishima says just before wrapping an arm around his shoulder. “Nice, maybe. But sweet. Have you seen him smile?”

Izuku flushes and pulls away. “M-my smile isn’t scary.”

Kirishima grins. “Believe what you want, but when you’re annoyed that smile is the scariest shit I’ve ever seen.”

They sit and Izuku lets Kirishima drone on about some sports team or other between card tricks.

“I can’t believe he tried to dive. No one falls for that anymore. He definitely deserved that red card. Four of diamonds.” Izuku shows the card to Kirishima. “How do you always do that? Anyway, I still say the quirkless soccer league is way better. That’s just pure, raw skill and human physical ability. Everyone’s on the same playing field.”

Ashido pops up behind Kirishima and leans heavily on his shoulder. “You’re just upset you never won any one-on-ones against me.”

Kirishima bats her hands away. “Oh, come on. It’s not like you ever played fair.”

“I’m 5’3 and a girl. I still dribbled until you fell over how many times exactly? Hm?” Kirishima face turns a shade of red just shy of his hair. “At least all the hair product makes you a bit taller.”

Izuku flicks a card and it lands erect in Kirishima’s hair. Ashido chuckles as she tugs the card out. “See. More product than I use.”

“You—”

The conversation dies out as Kaachan enters and takes his seat. No one says anything for a long pause. And then, without looking back, Kaachan gives them all the middle finger.

Izuku snickers because of course Kacchan would do that. Iida comes in later with Uraraka and Tokoyami, and though it takes him a few minutes he does manage to get everyone in their seats when Aizawa enters.

Their teacher is still covered in bandages, looking more a mummy than anything else. And Izuku isn’t too sure how many evolutionary forms their teacher will go through before reaching the final stage—a caterpillar, then a hero, and now a mummy.

“Huh, you’re all quiet. Great. Let’s get some announcements out of the way before you hear some horribly incorrect rumours. Mineta’s withdrawn from the academy.”

Izuku blinks. “W-what?”

“You heard me right,” he says bluntly. “Hagakure and Kouda are also taking a leave of absence whilst they recover.”

Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Tokoyami’s fists clench. More importantly, he sees Dark Shadow’s luminous eyes observing him unseen to anyone else.

“And.. and Asui?” Ashido asks fearfully.

“She’ll be here later today. Last minute medical check-ups.”

A relieved sigh follows that, and the tiniest fraction of the tension now permeating the class bleeds away.

“Aren’t you going to tell us why they’re gone?” Jirou asks.

“Oh, you mean break at least twelve laws regarding privacy and more school policy than I remember?” Aizawa asks snidely. “Sure. I’ll do that.”

Jirou wilts beneath his glare.

And then, “That was fucking unnecessary you mummified cunt,” Kacchan says, his feet still on the table. “I’m the resident fucking asshole. Get your own damned niche, you inconsistently written, shitty ass side character.”

Izuku can’t help the laugh that escapes his lips. And though Aizawa glares at him, too many people are already laughing for it to matter.

“I guess I’ll skip the rest of the announcements.”

And though that moment brings some levity to the class, the tension remains, taut and ready to snap at the slightest tug. He tries focusing on anything but why those three aren't here anymore—you, you, always you, the monster playing at humanity—such as his lessons.

“That’s not technically incorrect,” Izuku says looking outside the window. “It just has to do with English being a mess of contradictions. ‘An’ is used before words like horrific and hotel because the first letter isn’t pronounced in French. Admittedly it fell out of fashion for a few centuries until Hero notably revived the practice.”

“Midoriya.” Izuku blinks, and looks to Present Mic, only now just noticing everyone staring at him.

“W-what?”

Present Mic hums. “Come see me after class.”

Izuku goes back to watching the outside world, enjoying how bright and simple it is. There aren’t any hidden spaces or patches of impossible logic. No, just birds and trees and people and something that looks like a person stretched out over a few metres. Izuku blinks and it is gone when he looks again.

And when class is over, he waits patiently for Present Mic to finish packing his bags.

“Midoriya, how many languages do you speak?” Present Mic shoulders his bag, the leather sort with a single strap. 

He frowns. “J-Japanese and a bit of English.”

I haven’t had anyone correct me on that yet. I’m surprised you know Hero used such eccentric language. Not too many people in Japan notice that.”

“Why not?”

“Because ‘an’ and ‘a’ get lost in translation. You’d have to read the English transcripts.” He pats Izuku on the shoulder which makes him tense. “You want to see something interesting?

He hands Izuku the sheaf of paper in his hands. He sees his name and frowns. “This was last week’s homework essay.”

I asked you to find a topic you found interesting and write about it. That’s an essay on the Voynich Manuscript and its ties to the Indo-Iranian branch of languages, notably the Caspian Dilami translation of the Atharva Veda.” Present Mic smiles. “I was planning on submitting this for peer review with your permission.”

His eyes widen and he takes a step back. “W-why? There’s no-nothing there.”

“Considering that you haven’t noticed I’ve been speaking French and English interchangeably, I’m willing to take a chance that there is something there.”

It takes him a moment to go over their conversation, and really focus on the words Present Mic was saying. And yes, he does recognise the other languages his teacher was speaking.

You speak the litanies of dead gods, Mikumo says. The words of all men are known to you.

“O-okay,” Izuku says, removing a pocket tissue before nay blood runs down his nose.

“Are you okay? I can take you to the nurse’s office.”

Izuku waves away the concern. “Happens all the time. S-send it if you want.”

He is out the door before Present Mic can respond. The bathroom is empty, thankfully enough. Nobody is around to watch him reach into his nose and grasp the serpent’s head before pulling out the rest of it, nearly a metre long. Its body is only partly physical. Most of it is a dream of its parent that Izuku ate in the abyss.

Every time I think I’ve seen you do something weird, you pull some new shit out of some orifice.

“Shut up, Mikumo.” He crushes the serpent and flushes it down the toilet. “You do not get to say that when you’re literally a manifestation of my psychosis brought back to life by a wish-granting dragon. Do you even understand how absurd your existence is?”

Is that what you believe me to be?

He shoves Mikumo further into the recesses of his mind before heading for lunch. His friends are already gathered at a table. He raises a brow as there are two tables joined together, Kaminari, Sero, and Jirou all joining the usual group.

Izuku freezes at the sight of Asui who laughs easily with Shinsou. She sees Izuku and waves. “Your powers are bullshit, Midoriya.”

He takes a deep breath and sits, forcing a smile. “They are.” He grabs three decks of cards from his bag. “A-are we playing anything?”

“Let’s play the ultimate game.” Kirishima claps his hands together. “Whoever wins gets a favour from everyone playing.”

“We are not gambling,” Iida says. “That goes against the code of conduct—”

“That only covers an exchange of goods,” Uraraka says, smiling broadly. “It doesn’t mention favours.”

“But, but—”

“You should read the code of conduct better.”

Izuku hands out cards warily, watching Uraraka because he’s never seen anyone shut down Iida so effectively. They play a variation of crazy-eights, and with the limited amount of time, the three people with the highest count are eliminated each round. Ojiro, Kaminari, and Jirou don’t make it past the first round.

“So, Midoriya,” Uraraka asks and plays a seven to skip Kirishima’s turn. “What did Present Mic want from you?”

Two Jokers and a two are played before it’s Izuku’s turn. He's tempted to roll his eyes because he knew it was coming and plays an ace of spades. "He just wanted to talk to me about last week's essay."

Tokoyami ends the round with a three of diamonds. Izuku doesn’t need to check their cards to know Ashido, Sero, and Tokoyami won’t make it through. He shuffles the decks, puts one way, and hands out a fresh round of cards.

“Did you talk to Ectoplasm?” Shinsou asks, playing an eight to change the suit to hearts.

“Haven’t seen him yet.” Izuku’s joker makes Kirishima curse even as his friend picks up five cards.

“I sense a story,” Uraraka says. “I want it.” She is still smiling kindly when she closes the current round of play, ruining whatever ambition Kirishima or Asui had for winning.

It leaves only him and Uraraka in the finals. He lets Kirishima shuffle the cards.

Shinsou coughs. “He thinks university level maths is easy.”

Izuku has to catch the deck of cards when Kirishima drops it. He sighs, not paying any attention to everyone who is watching him.

“H-he’s exaggerating.” Izuku hands out cards until he and Uraraka have five each. 

“Do I look like the type to exaggerate?”

“He raises a good point, man,” Kirishima says. “Shinsou looks too tired to exaggerate.”

Statistically, getting a hand to close the game on your first turn is low, but this variation of crazy-eights lets people play double and triples of the same card number. It isn’t impossible, just rare. Izuku is forced to blink when Urarka does so.

“I guess I win,” she says cheerfully.

Izuku looks at his cards numbly, wondering exactly why he agreed to this nonsense.

“Don’t worry, I won’t make you do anything too embarrassing,” Uraraka reassures, but it sends a chill down his spine despite her perpetually sunny smile. He sneaks a glance at Shinsou and sees him fixated on her, a small smile gracing his features.

Later, after their final lesson, maths with Ectoplasm, he stays behind. He hasn’t really spoken to the man before.

“Yes, Midoriya?”

“Doesn’t Support make better prosthetics?” he blurts out before his mind can catch up with what he said. Izuku flushes a very bright red.

Ectoplasm takes a step with his peg leg and the clack of wood on tile echoes across the room.

“That’s exactly the issue,” Ectoplasm says, not in the slightest insulted. “Anything better counts as a Support item when you’re a hero and I don’t care enough to deal with the licensing paperwork. Was that all you wanted to ask?”

“N-no. I was helping Shinsou—”

“General Studies, I believe?”

“Um, yeah. I was helping him with some homework and he said I should show you these.” He hands Ectoplasm the papers.

With the skin-tight suit, Izuku can’t tell what expression he makes as he goes through the papers. Then, he turns around and grabs a piece of chalk, and writes a question on the board.

“Answer this if you can,” Ectoplasm says.

Izuku grabs the piece of chalk and begins answering the question. He doesn’t let any embarrassment show over the fact that there’s a huge gap between the question and his answer because Izuku is nowhere near that tall. He writes across all three boards, leaving scribbles on the sides explaining the assumptions he’s making for the proof.

He wipes off chalk dust and turns back to Ectoplasm.

“Where did you learn this?”

“T-this was easy. It’s not like I tried writing up the grand unifying theory.” He shrugs. “Actually, I’d need a few dozen more boards to even try.”

“Well, I suppose I’ll pull you out of class.”

“But I like maths.”

Ectoplasm laughs, deep and full-bellied. “There’s no point in wasting your talents. Midoriya, you used a Laplace Transform to answer a question that I used as a bonus at Mustafu University when I was an assistant teacher. I had grown adults with maths degrees complaining about the difficulty of it.”

“It’s nothing special.”

“Go home, Midoriya. I’ll see about getting you a placement exam.”

The next day, instead of having maths in the morning, he is called to Principal Nezu’s office and given a maths exam. Under the watchful gaze of the principal, he answers the two questions and gets through only three of the bonus questions at the end. They aren't hard, but Izuku can only write so fast when he’s nervous and the principal makes him want to flee in terror.

He deflects the questions of his classmates until they get the hint that he doesn’t want to about it. Once classes are over he packs quickly because there are things he wants to do. Except the door is blocked by what looks like an army of students.

“What business do you have with this class?” Iiad asks, gesturing wildly.

“Oh, we just wanted to see the competition,” a blonde boy at the front says, looking them over. “Rather disappointing I must say. The vaunted 1-A with students that placed lower than us. You see, some of us are wondering why no one’s been moved up when you’re down three students. Especially the general studies students.”

Do you wish to know a truth, Shadowshield? Mikumo asks. One free of cost.

“Fuck you, you shitty side character. Who the hell do you think you are taking up the spotlight? You think anyone’s going to remember your generic ass threat or your poor as fuck dialogue?”

“Oh, the villain-in-training needs to speak up every now and then, I suppose.”

That sets Izuku off and he walks forward.

Do not fear a mimic for mimicry is fear, Mikumo whispers. Say his name without fear.

“Hey there. Monoma, right?”

Once named a fear has no power.

The blonde blinks, startled. “How do—”

“Look, I kinda promised my mom I’d cook dinner for her, and you’re blocking the door.”

That throws him for a loop, leaves him unbalanced. “What?”

“You know, I get why you’re upset with the way the entrance exam and class placements are done. I really do. What I don’t get is why you’re threatening us.” He glares at Monoma, enjoying the way he steps back. “If you have a problem, why don’t you start a petition and take it to the school board. It’s not like we can change school policy.

“So, stop calling Bakugou a villain when you have no interest in following legal procedure. Because I’d put my name on a petition. But I’d never agree with someone who thinks they can attack people who’ve done nothing other than trying to learn just because you feel slighted.”

Izuku grins and it makes everyone fall silent. He lets just the slightest hint of the nightmares he’s seen peak through the smile and is pleased when they move out the way. 

“There it is,” he hears Kirishima shout.

He claps Monoma on the shoulder. “N-now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some cooking to do.”

*****

“How are you?”

Fumikage Tokoyami looks up, yawning. He is tired from watching the children last night. He does not regret it for they are always a delight to watch and interact with. Even though some days they make elaborate pranks.

“Tired. The children were… more difficult than I anticipated. And I argued with my father.”

“I’m sorry.”

He blinks, trying to understand why Midoriya is sorry. He attributes it simply to Midoriya’s nature.

“It is not your fault. I simply have never learnt how to deal with his silence. With his unspoken expectations.”

“Still, it can’t be fun arguing with your parents.”

“No. But it is what is. Life is sometimes cruel in the hand it deals.” Fumikage looks away “He is an intimidating man. Tall and built like a mountain. Just as silent. I… sometimes antagonise him needlessly.”

Izuku sits. “You wanted to talk?”

“I was remiss in my actions,” Fumikage says from his perch on the sand. “I promised to aid you through your difficulties. I thought merely that aiding you in understanding what is and is not would be adequate.”

Izuku Midoriya, his… friend—yes, it felt right to call him that—frowns, an expression that he so commonly uses that Fumikage wants to erase it and teach him a new expression. It pulls at his scars, a reminder of Fumikage’s greatest failing.

“I think it helped a lot.” Midoriya reaches out and lets the tide wash over his hand.

Fumikage scoffs. “Not enough. I thought that perhaps I understood shadows and darkness. I realise now that I was a child mired in false nihilism seeking meaning to something I found inherently meaningless.”

“I’m not going to point out which words you used w-wrong.”

“I thank you for that.” He raises his hand and lets the light of the moon filter through the gaps between his fingers. “It does not change my intent. I believed it all so simple. I spoke of chains seeking to drag me when I knew nothing of the dark below.”

He says it this time with the full weight of understanding. When he says it, he lets his memory of the impossibility that became of Midoriya lend credence to this simple word that seems to embody everything that could never be in the real world. The phrase is the loudest silence, the cold flame of creation, broken space and sundered time all wrapped up in a promise of smoky blood.

He looks to Midoriya and sees the way his friend stills and then relaxes the same way you do a large dog running at you at dusk, fangs bared and mouth frothing until it jumps on you and licks your face in greeting. That instance of hesitance in seeing what potentially can be a threat and having that fear alleviated is what he sees in Midoriya.

“You barely even saw it.”

“Perchance a glimpse of freedom is enough to unshackle oneself.” He clenches his raised hand, the moon’s luminescence blotted out. “I do not wish to stumble blindly in ignorance. By what means may I truly repay your debt if I do not know your struggle?”

“A lot of people are asking for a lot of answers these days.”

“Who else can even begin to understand your battles if not I.” Darkness wafts off his fist. From it, his first companion and sometimes ally rises.

Dark Shadow is truly massive, and almost immediately Fumikage feels his energy drain. He steels himself for to show even the slightest weakness is to fail, and failure against Dark Shadow is always a portent of doom.

Prince of crows, it greets snidely before turning to Midoriya. You smell of the dreaming dead and crystal nightmares and carrion corpses.

“That’s an upgrade,” Midoriya says and flicks Dark Shadow’s encroaching claw away casually, as though not worried.

The malice of Dark Shadow permeates the air, the weight of knowledge lost pushing against his shoulders, and makes Fumikage fearful. He tastes blood and knows he has bitten through his tongue. He leans over to spit the blood out.

Perhaps he would if a hand hasn’t closed around his beak.

“Swallow it.” Midoriya’s eyes are bright, glowing green with a promise of wisdom that should never be known.

He glances at Dark Shadow who watches indifferently and knows it will not aid him. Traitor, he thinks as he swallows the blood.

Midoriya lets go. “The blood of kings must not be spilt. Tell me, oh crow mine,” Midoriya—no, this is something that wears Midoriya’s skin, a wish with intent—says, “do you wish to become strong?”

“What are you?”

A dying wish, perhaps, Dark Shadow muses. He accepts.

“No,” Fumikage snaps, backing away from the two—three, perhaps if you count Midoriya’s flesh body—of them. “You will not make my choices.” He pulls on the chain that binds him to Dark Shadow and watches it flow back to his body.

“The wish of my bearer,” the thing says. “A boon to save. Accept my offer you must, oh crow mine. Save you, this king shall.”

It reaches out with Midoriya’s hand.

“Honour your debt, oh prince mine. Knowledge already paid for, this one Eao offers. And from strength does knowledge spring forth.”

There is a promise there, one he is terrified to accept.  To accept is to know, and now he is aware that some things can never be unlearnt once known. And yet, he feels the chains of duty and obligation that bind him to Izuku Midoriya.

He takes the hand and for a single wavering moment, he sees what it truly is, sees the dragon behind the boy, a wish in its maw and the memory of a hunt beneath its wings.

“Show me,” he whispers.

The world shatters. The real fades away. Only true dark remains.

 

Chapter Text

‘It is known that the Imperial Household employs special talents, sometimes they are drafted once, and others they will go on to work as an Imperial Agent. Those that do not swear oaths of fealty but remain affiliated go on to be Special Assets. The rarest, those who swear the oaths of fealty and protection to the Emperor, become members of the Royal Guard. These men and women are given dispensation to act with the Mandate of Heaven, and when operating under that Mandate, they are the highest authority in any given area. All Imperial Agents, regardless of rank, are granted permission to wear the white of the current Chrysanthemum Dynasty…’

—Excerpt from ‘Examining the Japanese Imperial Family: An American’s Perspective’ by David Hayter. 

The breeze is cool, crisp as a fresh apple and tart as a lemon. He inhales it deeply, savouring the way it burns a line through his nose and down to his lungs. The wind simply is, and there is a beauty to simply existing that Izuku appreciates.

Mikumo, unfortunately does not. Explain again why you thought making a deal with a wish granting dragon was smart.

Izuku sighs, his thought disturbed by the pitiful screech of something dying in his mind. “I love kaa-san enough to put up with you.”

Sure, sure, sure. But have you considered I’m not your curse. I’ve done nothing but help even though you left me to burn you bastard. It burns, I burn, we all burn. Everything bu

He feels no guilt in locking the mad voice somewhere far away. When All Might comes, Izuku is standing ready.

“Hi,” Izuku greets, smiling broadly.

“My boy,” Toshinori-sensei, and not All Might, begins, “how are you? You were… in a terrible state when I found you after the villains attacked.”

Izuku shrugs, kicking the sand. “Well my leg was crushed, and I got punched to death. Not fun.” He very intentionally ignores Toshinori’s convoluted range of expressions. “Anyway, you kinda never talked to me afterwards.”

He coughs, blood splattering his fist. Izuku frowns and makes certain to watch it. You could never be too certain what happened to blood if you forgot to watch it.

“I was investigating the matter with the police, Young Midoriya.”

Izuku nods. “The law is important,” he agrees. “Can you tell me anything about it?”

Toshinori sits and gestures for Izuku to do the same. “You know they’re called the League of villains. It’s unknown exactly what their goals are. Some claims it’s for societal revolution, some said it was to kill me, and some said it was to get revenge.”

“Those are pretty much the same things,” Izuku says, watching Toshinori blink slowly. “You’re the Symbol of Peace. If you die, then one way or the other things change. I mean, Endeavour becomes number one but he’s not a symbol. He’s not a rallying cry, you know. No matter how bad things get, so long as you’re here then everything will be fine.”

Toshinori clasps his hands together. He looks so small hunched over. “That is a heavy burden for a single man to carry.”

Izuku rolls his eyes. “Then you shouldn’t have become an ideal. Even Hero and Hawkmoon weren’t symbols. They were just women who tried to make things better.” He runs his hand through the sand taking pleasure in the simple resistance there. “Ononoki said we have to hold heroes to the highest standard. You kinda made a new standard.”

“She was speaking of the law, my boy.”

“And isn’t that what you are? A just and compassionate law. You’re the best of people and the hero we need the most.” Izuku takes Toshinori’s hands in his own, and leans forward, smiling brightly. “I don’t know how hard it is for you to be you. But I have friends who help me get through things. No matter what, I’ll be here believing in you.”

Toshinori stays silent, weighing his words. “Even if there are things I haven’t told you.”

“I thought my friends would abandon me if they knew what I was. If they knew about my quirk or the fact that I have a long list of problems.” He squeezes those gaunt hands tighter. “I barely know them, and I can’t imagine a world without them. I think that’s why Hawkmoon said what she did. So long as we try then any place can be paradise. And it’s a lot easier to try if there are other people helping you. If that makes sense.”

Toshinori smiles benevolently. “It makes more sense than you can imagine. You’re a smart kid.”

He flushes and lets his hands fall. “I just quote smart people.”

“Taking the lessons of those wiser than you is a form of wisdom. One that took me a long time to learn, sadly.” His chest heaves, and he says in a strong voice, “A true hero saves not only a person’s life, but also their spirit.”

“Who were you quoting?”

“Nana Shimura.”

“I-I’ve never heard of her.”

Toshinori’s smile is sad, a pervasive sadness that comes only from years of mourning. “She was my mentor, Izuku, and the greatest person I knew.”

He swallows, uncertain.  “How did she…”

“She fell in battle. She died proudly for the people she loved.” Toshinori pokes him in the chest. “Even if things get confusing always remember to smile. That heart of yours will always guide you true.”

Those are the last words they share. Though he wishes to speak more with his mentor, time runs short and missing school is not an option. He bumps into Shinsou on the train, nearly knocking his friend over. He accepts the shove in return without complaint.

“You and Uraraka are close,” Shinsou says whilst they walk. Or as Shinsou walks and he limps. It isn’t particularly noticeable, but it does affect his gait.  

“I guess. She’s pretty nice.”

“And you… like her?”

Izuku cocks his head. “Of course. She’s super nice.”

Shinsou seems to deflate. “I guess she is.”

“What’s wrong? I know I’m not—”

“It’s not your fault. I guess it’s mine.” Shinsou ruffles his hair. “Don’t worry. I just-It doesn’t matter.”

Izuku stops. “I think it matters if it’s making you this upset.”

“Please stop. It’ll just make things worse.”

“No. I don’t get it, I won’t pretend I do.” He grasps Shinsou’s shoulders. “I don’t really get everything about people. But my therapist tells me telling the truth is good.”

Shinsou’s face is scrunched up almost as if he is about to cry. “I like Uraraka.”

There is something to this he is missing. “I don’t think it’s possible to not like her.”

You idiot.

“No. I mean, I like her.” Shinsou gestures wildly, just as confused as Izuku. “Really like her.”

“Okay…?” He frowns. “I’m not going to pretend I get it—”

“I want to ask her on a date,” he shouts, startling Izuku. “Every time she smiles it makes me happy. Every time she wins I think she’s beautiful. And you two are just… so fucking perfect.”

“We barely spend any…” he trails off, because that’s a blatant lie. He spends as much time at school with her as he does with Tokoyami. Which is significantly more than the time he spends with Ojiro or even Shinsou.

“I don’t like her like that.” It feels awkward to articulate these feelings. “She’s nice and I think she deserves the world, but I don’t really want to…” He makes a gesture hoping it encapsulates everything he doesn’t have words for.

Then he decides to do what he’s best at and pulls Shinsou into a tight hug. “Um, you can do your thing. I don’t-I mean, I’m not… Look you can ask her out on a d-date. I promise I won’t get mad at you.”

“You always think people are mad at you.”

“They usually are.”

He says goodbye to Shinsou, waving him away, and heads to the building for the Heroics course. It still bothers him that Shinsou is separated like that, almost as if he were lesser because of his quirk. He shoves the annoyance away as he heads to class. It wouldn't be fair to anyone else to inflict that annoyance on them.

“Midoriya.”

Izuku looks back and sees an orange haired girl dragging the boy Monoma with her.

“Y-yes?” he asks, wary.

“Tell him.”

Monoma hesitates which makes the girl slap him. Izuku steps back as Monoma just rubs the back of his head.

“We started a petition like you said. Itsuka forced me to.”

Izuku watches the two of them warily. “Okay? And?”

The girl sighs. “We want your signature. You’re from 1-A so it—”

“Where do I sign?”

“Just like that?”

“I said I’d sign a petition.” He smiles, this time gently. Monoma still flinches but Istsuka shoves him forward.

When they give him a tablet—because no one still uses paper to get signatures anymore—Izuku signs it. He returns it to Monoma with a nod and heads to class.

He takes his seat, waving to Kaminari as he walks past, and is in the process of shuffling his cards when Iida approaches.

“Midoriya, I wish to ask you a few questions.” Iida adjusts his glasses. “Why did you tell them to make a petition? 1-B, that is.”

He splits the deck. “Because the system isn’t fair. You speak to Shinsou all the time. He’s a smart as anyone here and his quirk means he can win any fight without bloodshed. Sure, it might not work if you’re prepared but everyone has a hard counter. Anyone who can go intangible basically makes All Might’s power useless. Aizawa-sensei would probably win against Endeavour in a fight. No fire means he’s just left with his fists, and we all saw sensei take on a mob.”

He lays out five cards. Draws another and places it on the first card. Draws a second and repeats it the process, moving faster with each new card. It is a simple game to count cards like this.

“Being a hero isn’t just about punching giant robots. It’s a lot more than that. If we decide that then a lot of people fall through the cracks. Andile Sithole said peace is possible so long as we try and be better. And choosing only one criteria for being a hero doesn’t make us better.”

The last card is a four of diamonds as he expects. He looks up and sees Iida observing him.

“W-what?”

“You don’t get nervous when you’re talking about quirks.”

“Yeah, stop showing off, Midoriya,” Kaminari shouts. “You’re making the rest of us look bad.”

Sero punches Kaminari’s shoulder. “That’s because you don’t study.”

Iida goes over to stop them when Kaminari tackles Sero. Izuku ignores them, glad that Iida has them under control when Aizawa-sensei enters. Their teacher is still covered in bandages, but his gait is smoother than it was on the weekend.

“Can we get through this without any rude interruptions?” He looks straight to Kacchan who only scoffs in disgust. “Oh, you’ll let me do my job? Great. Well, in case you weren’t sure why the other classes mobbed you yesterday, here it is: all of you are taking part in the Sports Festival next week. Don’t embarrass me. Actually, anyone who doesn’t make it past the first round is getting expelled.”

“You know, the more you use that threat the less effective it gets,” Kirishima says. “I mean, at this point are you really going to do it?”

“You can go right ahead and fail in the first stage if you want to find out. As added incentive, scouting for your initial internships is done through this. If you fail, you might not have any offers and well… you’ll be shovelling shit for a government lackey for that week.”

“For some reason I don’t believe you.”

Aizawa shrugs. “Go ask some of the second years.”

“Sensei,” Iida says, “if that’s the case then may we use the school grounds for training purposes.”

“So long as you get a faculty member. Without one, you won’t be able to use the school facilities after hours.”

“Thanks, sensei, you’re awesome.”

“You’re welcome…” Aizawa looks over the class slowly. “No. I’m not doing it. Get someone else.”

“Come on, you’re our homeroom teacher.”

“And that somehow makes me the only person you can ask? Go bother Midnight or someone else who actually cares about you.”

“Sensei,” Izuku says. “Please.” He smiles as earnestly as he can.

Aizawa pauses. “I hate all of you. Fine, get consent forms from your parents. And coffee for me.”

“You know, Midoriya,” Kirishima says, “I take it back. That smile is terrifying.”

*****

Shouta Aizawa dozes lightly on a couch in the teacher’s lounge. He does so only because Nemuri and Hizashi are in the room, arguing about some reality show or other, and he can trust them to have his back. It is because of this trust that he doesn’t pay attention to the heavy footsteps nearby.

Something smacks him in the chest. Aizawa opens his eyes to see 1-B’s homeroom teacher, Sekijiro, looming over him, displeasure radiating off him in waves.

“This is your fault. Fix it.”

Aizawa lifts the files on his chest and skims through them. It is a petition to re-evaluate the current method of assigning students to the specific programs in the school, one that would deemphasise the giant robot portion of the exam.

“How is this my fault?” he asks tiredly. “Board of Governors and Nezu deal with this stuff.”

“Look at the first signature.”

He can’t help the laugh that escapes his lips. “Of course, Midoriya would do this. Still don’t see how this if my fault.”

“This all started because you wouldn’t accept any students from 1-B.”

Aizawa sits up. He may not particularly care for Sekijiro but the man is deserving of his respect. He cracks his neck.

“I’ve read the files of every student in first year. I can tell you their quirks and their strengths. And even were I inclined to fill my empty seats, which I’m not, there’s a kid in general studies whose quirk makes him better suited for hostage situations than anyone else in this school, including faculty.

“There’s a girl in Support whose genius is just as versatile as a student who can literally create whatever she wants if she eats enough. Frankly, at this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if Yaoyorozu secretly is a bored god pretending to be a student.”

He doesn’t let his mind focus on that thing Midoriya became because madness isn’t worth it, and he’s tried it once already. There are students he is responsible for, and though he regrets failing Mineta, Kouda, and Hagakure, there are still seventeen other students who need his guidance.

“You want some of your kids in 1-A? Well, you can wait until next year when I’m not the one with final say over who stays in my class.”

They’re glaring at each other. And though it might be childish, Shouta has no intention of backing down. And if I don’t get any more students then I can’t fuck up even more.

“This is getting out of hand,” Nemuri says. “How’s about you boy’s settle this with a bet. The sports festival’s starting next week.”

“I see where this is going,” Aizawa says with a sigh. “If I win, no one gets to speak about which students I leave in my class.”

“And if I win you accept my three choices without question.”

“Sounds fair to me.” Nemuri claps. “Alright. Whoever has the most students in the final wins.”

“That doesn’t sound very fair,” Hizashi pipes up from his seat. “Shota has seventeen to Seki’s twenty.”

“And who’s fault was that?” Sekijiro questions snidely.

Something about that sets him off. “You know what, no. Not only will I have the most students in the final stage, only my students will make it to the semi’s.”

Silence. Then, “Someone just threw down the gauntlet,” Hizashi announces, standing. “Ladies and gentlemen, this sounds like the start of something beautiful. Three to one odds of Shouta winning.”

“Four to one,” Principal Nezu says, alerting them all to his presence. The principal is immaculate as ever and his eyes dark with knowledge.  

Shouta sees Ectoplasm trailing behind him, holding a briefcase in one hand and a large stack of papers in another.

“Well, the betting pool is officially open,” Hizashi continues just as loud, walking over to the whiteboard and scribbling the details of the bet. “One month’s salary starting bet at minimum. You better win, Shouta.”

Nemuri takes the marker. “Now that the dick measuring contest is over, let’s get to the fun bet. Who’s coming first? Nezu, you got any odds for us?”

“Always.” He laughs hautily. “You’re all paying for my vacation this year. Who is your pick this year, Nemuri?”

“Hmm? Yaoyorozu.” She writes that on the board. “Uraraka’s my second pick.”

One by one the teachers give their picks for victor and their alternative. He is not surprised when Sekijiro chooses two of his students.

Ectoplasm, though, genuinely shocks him. “Midoriya then Bakugou.”

“That kid’s a twig,” Nemuri says. “Did you see how Uraraka beat him at his own game this week? He’s gonna lose.”

“He shows a level of intelligence no other student comes close to possessing.” He nods to Nezu. “He’s been assessed to have university level knowledge of mathematics—”

“Oh shit.”

“—and based on his apparent ability to make even Shouta give in to his demands, I don’t doubt his ability.”

“You know what, I’m betting for Midoriya as well,” Present Mic says. “Kid’s a polymath now.”

Shouta narrows his eyes even as everyone pays more attention. “Explain,” he says harshly. Anything involving Midoriya instantly gets his heart beating quickly.

“Calm down, you grouch.” He waves away Shouta’s frustration with an ease that comes only from knowing him for decades. “He handed in an essay that I sent for peer review.”

“Did you now?” Principal Nezu asks, cutting through the sounds of shock. “With his permission, I sincerely hope.”

Hizashi laughs nervously. “I asked, and he said yes. Anyway, the kid wrote an essay on the connection the Voynich Manuscript—”

“The what?”

“It’s this weird thing some guy in the fifteenth century wrote, and no one’s been able to decipher it if it’s even an actual language. Anyway, he suggested that the manuscript was written in a corrupted form of a Caspian Dilami translation to the Athara Veda.” Present Mic gestured wildly. “And for those of you in the audience confused, he used the translation of an ancient language to another ancient language to decipher a centuries old mystery. And he explained all of this without noticing I was speaking English and French to him.”

The silence is thick and heavy. “Bullshit,” Nemuri says. “That’s sound like a power wank fantasy.”

“You wanna see the paper? Well too bad, you suck at English. How many times did you retake English when we were at school?”

“I am inclined to believe Hizashi,” Ectoplasm says before it can devolve into a fight. “The boy shows a deep understanding of higher level mathematics. That he shows the same knowledge with linguistics is not so difficult to believe.”

“This is ridiculous,” Sekijiro says.

“It is,” Nemuri agrees. “But… he did submit a paper on how the anti-quirk riots that happened were exactly as Saruhiko Ando predicted for his last assignment. The best after that was some copy-pasted bullshit.”

Shouta can’t help but chuckle regardless that Hizashi looks at him worriedly. “Linguistics, mathematics and a knowledge of quirks and quirk philosophy.” He chuckles again. “So somehow, we completely missed a polymath because we were more interested in his ability to punch giant robots. And I nearly expelled him.”

“You what?”

“This is why I say the exams should be changed,” Aizawa adds. “Every single year I argue it needs to be changed and this is exactly why. The kid’s probably smarter than all of us, and I’m the only person here without a doctorate in something.”

“He wishes to be a hero, Aizawa,” Nezu says. “Regardless of his intelligence, we cannot deny him on the grounds that he has talents in other areas, not when he still has the potential to be an incredibly powerful hero. So long as he chooses to remain at this institution, we have an obligation to give him an opportunity.”

*****

The next day, Izuku has his consent form signed despite the initial protests of his mother. And though he goes to maths class, the usual worksheet is replaced by a stack of papers deriving the equations for a Kepler orbit. Izuku sighs because just about every assumption made is wrong and the paper is stained red with ink in a few minutes.

And once he’s done with that, he has to fix the issues with another paper simulating the orbital model of a three-body problem. Which is easy enough, but he’s starting to suspect Ectoplasm is using him as a free marking system.

“Midoriya.” He looks up from his work. “I would like to thank you.”

They have a few minutes before their next class and Izuku had chosen to get started on the homework Ectoplasm assigns him.

“For?” He asks Tokoyami.

“Aiding me in becoming stronger.” Tokoyami smiles in that odd way of his. “Truly, you are a good friend.”

Izuku isn’t completely sure what he’s talking about but smiles anyway. “You’re welcome?”

In the afternoon, when classes have ended, and the world is cast in hues of orange, some burnt and some burnished, does he assemble with the other students at the field under Aizawa’s baleful glare. Neither Todoroki nor Yaoyorozu are there, which doesn’t surprise him since they both got in on recommendation and probably don’t need the training. But he does pause as Kaachan isn’t around.

“You have three hours,” Aizawa says, taking a deep swig of the coffee Uraraka brought. “Don’t break anything.”

He finds himself dragged aside by Ojiro before he can decide otherwise. “We’re sparring,” he says.

“Okay.” Izuku closes his eyes and feels for the power his mentor granted him. There is the highway of unbridled energy, ever-present and waiting. Izuku grasps the tiniest fraction of a fraction, less than half a percent.

His body does not glow, and no green sparks appear. But there is a strength to his limbs that he knows he would never reach naturally.

He nods and Ojiro springs forth. They trade blows with a familiarity that comes only from being taught by the same teacher. Ojiro is still faster than he is, still more mobile, as even though One For All enhances his abilities he is only at the upper-bounds of peak human physicality.

Ojiro is simply more skilled than he is. Izuku has instinct born from fighting monsters—that tail of Ojiro’s is exceedingly tame compared to barbed tails that travel through portals—and it lets him keep up. He might be able to anticipate a bunch, but his body is still too slow to evade it fully. And when he does open some space, his limp keeps him from closing the gap fast enough.

An hour later, Izuku taps the ground. “Yield.”

Ojiro helps him up for the nth time. “Your form is better.”

“If you say so.”

“I do.” He nods. “How are you holding up after…”

“USJ? I think I should be asking you that. I was unconscious for most of it. I barely know what’s going on with you and everyone.”

“You always have a lot on your mind.” He raises his hands in a placating gesture. “I’m not saying it’s your fault or anything like that, Midoriya. You just have more to deal with than me. And I don’t think it’s fair of me to worry you over—”

“What if I want to know? You never even tried to ask if I wanted to know.”

“You would have said yes, no matter what.” Ojiro frowns and squats, gesturing to Izuku to do the same.

He kneels instead, annoyed that he’s getting involved with the ground once more.

“I’m terrified,” Ojiro says bluntly. “Not of you, before you even go there. I just don’t know anything. Kirishima, Asui and Tokoyami can’t say anything or they’re going to be fined and censured by the government. Do you know how scary it is knowing Mineta’s gone? That Kouda’s gone. And we can’t even ask why.”

“I’m so—”

“I’m not blaming you,” Ojiro says calm as ever. “I’m just letting you know how I feel. Every time I look away it seems you’ve just been hurt. I can’t protect you because you’re so far ahead of me.”

“Please tell me you aren’t going to do the debt of honour thing like Tokoyami.”

That startles a smile out of Ojiro. “No. But you were taught by Jin Mo-Ri. He doesn’t teach people for the sake of it. I know he’s taught heroes before, but you’re the first person he’s ever taught Renewal to. You’re my friend, and you’re a person my teacher thinks is worthy of passing his secrets to. I don’t want you to get hurt. I never will.”

Izuku inhales.

He thinks of his conversation with All Might, thinks of how he told his mentor that his friends were amazing and realises those words are not enough to encapsulate the kindness and patience they reserve for Izuku. He wonders if there will ever be a time he will be worthy of them.

In time, brother mine, you will be their downfall, Mikumo whispers.

Izuku exhales.

With that escaping breath, he buries his sadness deep beneath the surface.

“I don’t know how to be a better friend,” he admits. “I can-I mean, I just want you to know I’m here. I trust you. I don’t want you to think I’m too busy or whatever to talk.”

Ojiro nods.

“Okay. I’m afraid of a lot of thing. I’m afraid my quirk isn’t useful. It’s a mutation that barely makes me better than the average fighter. I can’t block attacks like Kirishima or make things float and I don’t control shadows. No matter how strong I get, I’m always going to be stuck with human limits. I can’t… I can’t break past them with technique everyone else can. I’m just human.”

Izuku opens his mouth to argue, then closes it. He will listen, calmly and patiently. Even if the words tear through him and leave him feeling numb. Because he understands those insecurities. There was a time he was a quirkless, and more than anyone else he understands the limits of the human body.

“I’m worried you’ll forget about when I can’t keep up. Your quirk means you’re gonna make it to the big leagues no matter what. And one day none of you will have time for me. You’l be too important by then. This festival’s a just for me to prove that wrong. If I can get an internship from it then maybe, just maybe I can make it.”

“I believe in you,” Izuku says once Ojiro has fallen silent. “I’m not ditching you ever.”

Ojiro shrugs. “No one can guess the future. And don’t you dare make a promise you can’t keep.”

Later, he spars with Iida only for fifteen minutes before he realises that if Ojiro is fast, then Iida is a speed demon. He lands on his back for the sixth time and decides that there are better things to do than enter an intimate relationship with the ground. And whilst he is thankful for the distraction, he does resent how his side hurts and his right hip joint protests with every step.

It takes a bit of searching, quite a bit of getting lost, before he decides to ask Aizawa-sensei for directions.

“Where can I find Tokoyami?”

Aizawa looks up from his laptop. Izuku doesn’t want to imagine how exhausting it is to both watch them and deal with his work, especially not when he’s swaddled in bandages.

His teacher points to one of the gyms, a smaller one they haven’t ever used before. Before he goes, Aizawa asks, “What do your parents do, Midoriya?”

“Um, my mom has an office job. And my dad’s gone.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t know he wasn’t…”

Izuku shrugs. “Oh, he’s not dead. He just, went missing when I was five. Not like I needed him or anything.” He forces a grin. “Last I heard, he was working in risk management. Thanks, sensei. See you later.”

He walks towards the gym before Aizawa can ask more questions. The gym is flooded with light and Fumikage sits in the centre, the picture of perfect concentration.

“Hey,” he calls out, not wanting to startle the boy.

Tokoyami grunts and stands. His tracksuit is stained with sweat.

“Midoriya. How goes your training?”

He rolls his shoulder, wincing. “Well, I’ve learnt the ground gets comfy after the twentieth time you’re slammed into it.”

Tokoyami chuckles darkly. “Indeed.”

“And you?”

“I have spent most of this time trying to split the different currents of energy. You were right that Dark Shadow drew power from me and never once touched his own reserves.”

Izuku smiles. “Good to hear. I didn’t think that would make you so tired.”

“Dark Shadow is not interested in paying rent or sharing with others. I keep the lights on to weaken him. He becomes more amenable to splitting his energy two ways like this.”

“Anyway, do you want to spar?”

Tokoyami does. Battling him is completely different form Iida and Ojiro. It takes him a few exchanges to understand why. Where those two are trained for, and have quirks suited to, close combat, Tokoyakmi is purely a ranged fighter. He uses Dark Shadow almost like a gun, firing it off and hoping to get the hit. And sure, Dark Shadow can turn around, but it is still bound to things like inertia.

He dodges Dark Shadow’s fast extension and closes the gap despite his limp. Tokoyami pedals back. Too slow.

Izuku doesn’t put much power into the punch but it still sends Tokoyami sprawling to the ground.

Tokoyami raises a hand in surrender. Izuku helps him up, not caring when Dark Shadow bumps him aside and fusses over its master.

“You’re going to need to be more careful,” Izuku says. “Anyone faster than Dark Shadow’s turning radius will give you problems.”

Tokoyami rubs his chest, wheezing. “Again.”

“Are you sure?”

The glare he receives roots him to the spot because it’s not mere annoyance there. No, there’s a rage that seeks to bubble over and explode outwards.

“Yes,” he grounds out. His friend takes a breath and the threat in the air vanishes. “Forgive me. I inherited my father’s temper.”

Do not underestimate me, Shadowshield, Dark Shadow snarls, angry now where its master is not. There is no wish empowering you now.

He blinks. What?

It’s not important, Mikumo says.

This time, it goes a bit differently. Dark Shadow stays close to its master, not going on the offensive in fear of being caught out. It makes little difference. This is like fighting Ojiro if the blonde wasn’t skilled and technically gifted in martial arts.

He chooses to take the slower path to victory. He strikes relentlessly, moving faster and faster until Tokoyami is drenched in sweat and Dark Shadow reacts slower and slower. He talks the opportunity to slide past Dark Shadow and plant an elbow squarely in Tokoyami’s gut.

He has a punch ready when Dark Shadow returns, wrapping around its master’s torso. When his fist strikes true, it feels like punching dragon scale. The pain startles him enough that he forgets to moderate his skill level. He pirouettes on instinct, and his heel lashes out to hit Tokoyami on the head.

Pain. Then darkness.

He blinks away the darkness, feeling someone shake him. Tokoyami is crouched over him, red eyes worried.

“Midoriya, can you hear me?”

“St-stop shouting.”

“I’m not. I believe you have a concussion.”

Izuku shuts his eyes. The light is too bright. “How? I didn’t-what even…”

“Something I have been working on. Worry not on the matter. Let’s get you to Aizawa.”

Aizawa takes on look at him and pulls out a small flashlight. He flashes it in Izuku’s eyes.

“Not a concussion,” he concludes. “You just have a headache. Take some painkillers and get some rest.”

Izuku takes his advice. Perhaps four pills is excessive, but it does get rid of the ringing in his ears.

As the weak goes by, he becomes more used to the movements of his classmates: Iida, surprisingly, seems to favour all offense all the time whilst Ojiro is more cautious; Ashido is like a ballerina when given the chance to use her acid, and Sato is an absolute powerhouse when he’s had enough sugar. He knows that they all keep things back and practice at home. Izuku does the same, meditating for weeks in the abyss as he inches closer and closer to using a full percentage of One For All without hurting himself.

Sparring with Tokoyami always bothers him. Not because it is difficult—Izuku is more than fast enough even with his limp to close the distance—but because sometimes when he’s gotten past Tokoyami’s defences, and the boy is exhausted, he finds himself waking up in pain. 

“Okay, what was that?” Izuku asks, drinking from the bottle Tokoyami gives him.

“Do you trust me?”

“Yes,” Izuku says quickly. There is no one else who knows as much of his quirk outside his mother.

“Then trust me when I ask you not to worry. Just as you have much to learn of your quirk, I too have lessons still be taught. You aided me in walking this path. I ask you trust in me.”

“I’m going to worry because we’re friends. It’s not about trust.”

“Perhaps it is not. If you wish to know, I will tell you. You are one whom I can only ever tell the truth.”

His sincerity is obvious to Izuku. He can feel it in his bones. There are chains, invisible, yes, that bind them together. They pull and slacken the longer he knows Tokoyami. And in this one case, whatever duty Tokoyami feels is like a noose around Izuku’s neck. He could get the answer, but something would change between them. Perhaps not for the better.

“Promise me you’ll come to me if you need help.”

“Always.”

*****

Shouta Aizawa is ready to go back home and deal with his other duties. Only another two hours, maybe three at most, and he can finally pass out. That is his plan until he gets a message from the Principal to meet at a location outside the city. He considers throwing his phone away and pretending he never saw the message.

He can’t do that. He is many things, and Nezu’s most trusted confidant is one of those. It also comes with very many responsibilities that only Nemuri and Hisashi know, and only because he can’t be in three places at once despite what Nezu may think.

Calling Nemuri this late at night doesn’t bother him. He knows she’ll be awake, probably binge watching some show. Insomnia, apparently, is the great equaliser in life.

She answers on the third ring.

“Hello Shouta,” she purrs sensually. “I think I can change my plans for you. You know I’m always ready for late night visitors.”

“You’re in pyjamas and don’t have makeup on. You probably look like a mess. Even if I was interested, I wouldn’t get anywhere near that.”

He hears her chuckle. “That’s just part of the fun. We’ll make a man out of you yet.”

Going home and saying fuck it all sounds very appealing right now.

“Okay. Here’s what you’re going to do. I need you to do some digging on Hisashi Midoriya.” He cocks his head, remembering the day Izuku nearly broke. “Actually, it might be Hisashi Atakani. Use whatever backchannels we have to the police and government. Just do it quietly.”

She hums in consideration. “What brought this on? I know you’re worried, but this is digging deep into the kid’s background.”

“Know your enemy.”

“Are you being serious?” He stays silent. “Fine. Get me something nice tomorrow.”

He calls Hizashi next. His friend is most likely asleep right now. It takes about six rings before Hizashi answers.

“Hizashi, I need a favour out of you.”

“It’s midnight,” he says groggily. “Bother Nemuri.”

“She’s already doing something for me.”

“Okay. I’m interested now.”

“Go to my home and get the files in the safe, third level. They have all the details for what I think is an exchange of escaped villains with corrupt cops. Track them quietly. Make sure you don’t get the cops involved. We’re using them to monitor which groups are active.”

“Don’t have to tell me. I know how it works. I expect answers tomorrow.”

With his two other jobs for the day dealt with, Shouta can get on with Nezu’s request. This is the real reason he is forever exhausted. Where other teachers like Vlad can call it a day once the kids are gone, he is forever stuck dealing with threats and problems.

He might complain if he didn’t love UA as much as he does.

As it is, he simply drives to the location in silence, mildly amazed that he doesn’t fall asleep at the wheel. The facility is outside city limits and secluded from any other signs of human habitation—the closest charging station for his car is twenty minutes away.

Nezu is smoking when Shouta arrives. The principal jumps off the bonnet of his modified vehicle and lands on Shouta’s shoulder. Nezu waves and the gate opens.

Shouta walks through it. “Why am I here?”

It leads to a simple reception area. A woman in very normal clothing greets them. The only sign that she’s part of the staff are the holographic sigils on his shoulders. The woman leads them through the facility, saying nothing.

He notices that it’s clean and lacks the smells of antisceptic or sickness that he expects. And it’s bright and warm, inviting with all the plants—real plants, not fake plastic crap—and strips of grass lining some of the corridors.

It isn’t at all what he expects from a mental institution. No, it looks like the sort of place rich people go to when they’re old and about to die.

“All UA students are being kept here as per your request, Principal Nezu,” the lady says once they’ve reached a doorway.

“Thank you. We won’t need your services to return.”

The woman bows and leaves. Shouta watches her go warily. “Do I want to know?” He gestures at the sealed door.

“The Sports Festival generates quite a bit of revenue. A lot of it goes to this place to keep it open. In exchange, they don’t always report the prior affiliations of certain individuals to the authorities and certainly never to the media.”

“Sometimes you scare me.”

“Only sometimes? Shouta, what reason would she have to tell me something I already know?”

It takes him a moment to figure it out. Shouta sighs. “Because I didn’t know. Why are you still trying to give me lessons?”

“Because I need you to be ready. This attack at USJ is only the prelude. It’s a sign that the pieces are in play and everyone is moving to win.”

“You make it sound like a war.”

“Life is a war.”

Nezu jumps of his shoulders. There’s a biometric panel on the wall near the floor, suited only for Nezu. More proof that he really does control this place.

The metal bars on the door retract and the door hisses open slowly. Soft orange light greets him. The hallway is surprisingly longer than he expects. It still has the same vibrant paint and plant life, odd due to the security required to enter the area.

Shouta follows behind Nezu. The rooms are large and look more like a studio apartment than the white padded rooms the media has conditioned him to expect. A glass barrier separates him from the residents. Only some of the rooms are occupied but each occupant shares one commonality: they don’t register Shouta or Nezu on a higher level.

“These are all UA students?” he asks after they pass a male with wickedly sharp claws extending out of his hands, feral eyes tracking his every motion.

“Former students, yes. I take special care to ensure our reputation isn’t tarnished.” The rodent points to a winged mutant with steel feathers. “Killed his sibling after a psychotic break about two years before you became a teacher. I’m glad we retrieved him and dealt with the situation before the media discovered.”

Dread creeps down his spine. “How long have you been doing this?”

“I’ve been protecting UA since before you were born, Shouta.”

He stops at room where a student hangs from the ceiling on a thick strand of spider silk, spinning languidly. His bed is cocooned in the stuff.

“This doesn’t look like protection.”

Nezu chuckles. “You see her?” He’s pointing at a lady surrounded by arcs of lightning and floating in meditation. “She got recruited as part of a volunteer team to Chile. She lost control of her powers and caused her plane to crash. Lost her memory. We found her five years later acting like a god over a newly discovered tribe. And what do cruel gods expect?”

Shouto swallows his rising gorge. “Ritual slaughter?”

“Of course. How could you expect anything else? It did, however, support a theory that quirks are spread through a vector. It supports why East Asia, where the first quirk appeared, has the highest percentage of quirks but regions like Iceland, South America and New Zealand have the lowest percentages.”

“It worries me that you can speak so casually about this.”

“You get desensitised. Three students are just the beginning.”

He glares at the principal’s back as they descend to a lower level. “Don’t joke about that.”

“How old are you again? Thirty? Sometimes I forget how young you are. You aren’t really old enough to remember the last time this happened.”

He shudders. “That worries me more than you can imagine.”

The principal hums. “Some twenty odd years, before your voice broke, an interesting thing happened.”

There’s only one thing the principal can be talking about, only one event that’s engraved onto the psyche of every Japanese person alive.

“Taiwan.”

“Yes. Taiwan. Twenty million dead on that island. Then the purge of Shikoku. The anti-quirk riots starting in Hokkaido.”

“I was there,” he snarls, suddenly losing control of his emotions. “I lost my mother to black fire. Stop acting like I don’t have anything to do with it.”

“My apologies. That was never my intent. But as a child you wouldn’t really have paid attention to what happened to the hero academies. You see, some idiot in the government thought the students could be used to help.”

“No.” He can’t imagine sending out any of his students during that chaos.

“Not a bad idea in theory. Rescue and relief efforts would have alleviated the overburdened pro heroes. But of course, they found themselves on the frontlines. Some because they were arrogant and thought they could make a difference. But mostly because extremists with guns don’t differentiate between adults and students. I think, on average, every hero academy lost one in three students.”

That’s the same as losing seven of his students. He’s already lost three. Four more and the statistics will line up. He takes a breath. Forces down his rising horror. Follows behind Nezu as they reach the lowest level.

“I told you I would handle the parents,” Nezu says, gesturing to the first of the rooms. “Do you understand why now? I doubt you would have the stomach to look them in the eye and tell them this is the best option.”

He’s staring at Mineta. The boy is awake, eyes wide, but focusing on nothing. He is strapped down to  is bed, arms and neck bloody and raw from what look like recent scratches. The boy hasn’t been here longer than three weeks, and his state makes Aizawa sick.

He startles when he notices Hagakure. It’s like staring at a floating hospital dress. “Toru,” he whispers, approaching. “Hagakure.”

The floating dress remains where it is, still but for the mild rustle of the air conditioning.

“She’s non-responsive. As is Mineta. Kouda shows mild signs of possible recovery.”

Aizawa looks to the boy. He’s huddled in a corner of his room, staring at the two of them. Kouda’s eyes track his motions, but they are glassy and unfocused. There is only a vague indication of higher thought, and he wonders how much is merely a projection of his worries.

“How did you get their parents to agree?”

“Humans are simple. You respond well to sincerity and empathy.” The principal meets his gaze. “Plainly put, I manipulated them into accepting hush money. A large cash injection and a guarantee of the best medical treatment in Japan is usually enough. Besides, they knew the dangers when they permitted their children to enter a school for heroics. The terms are rather plain in the agreement.”

“I’m starting to worry that you have plans within plans you’re not telling me about.”

“You never ask.”

“And that they aren’t to our benefit.”

The principal stops. “Shouta, be very careful of your next words. This isn’t a threat, I’ll just be severely disappointed if you haven’t put any thought into them.”

“You just admitted to manipulating parents into accepting hush money because we messed up.”

“I did. I’m doing some very cold calculus. On balance, of the three, Hagakure’s quirk is the only one whose loss is noticeably detrimental. She would have made an excellent covert operative.”

He feels something churn in his stomach. “Is that how you look at my students? As pieces on a board? As assets to be used?”

“No.” The wave of relief that floods him is embarrassing at his age. “I see children whom I have failed. I wish, sincerely, that I could have spared them this. But I must also look at things as a cost-benefit analysis. It may have cost me three students, but I’ve ensured Midoriya remains at UA and not any of the other hero academies that pump out easily mouldable soldiers for the government to snatch up.”

“It always comes back to him. That kid suffers enough at home. He doesn’t need that kind of treatment from us.”

“He’s a tactical asset, perhaps strategic. It’s only conjecture, but he became that… thing when he died. Drop him in hostile territory and you can win many battles.”

“That’s against so many rules in the Second Geneva Conventions.”

Nezu laughs, a hint of his cruel intelligence shining through. It is moments like this that remind him just how terrifying Nezu is when he isn’t acting the role of a perpetually polite principal.

“You sweet summer child,” he says, contempt and pity in equal measure. “If I was a general and I had to invade a country, I’d fire Midoriya right at their most important cultural monument and let him wreak havoc. It would destroy moral. And if the negative aspects of his powers propagate memetically, then you may not even need to send additional soldiers.”

His fists clench tight until his knuckles hurt and his bones creak. “He’s not a soldier or a piece on a chessboard.”

“But that’s what we all are. I don’t like chess. It’s too… limited. Shogi, perhaps, but too many people use chess metaphors to bother with changing. You’re my right hand, Shouta. The queen on my side, I suppose. I’ve groomed you to be spymaster and general both. Strength of mind and strength of will. You have both in spades. Come, we’ll use this exit.”

The abrupt change in tone throws him for a loop. He follows the principal’s direction to a side passage leading further from the entrance.

“Tell me the truth,” he says eventually, resigned to being a cog in the principal’s plan. “Who are we fighting?

“The world. The entire world. I plan on keeping UA independent from the government. The crown is much too powerful to not consider an enemy.”

“And the villains. You said nothing about them.”

Nezu snorts. “Those are a given. And if you had any inclination to work with All Might, then I might tell you more. Until then, I’m keeping you out the loop.”

He stops. Closes his eyes. Pushes down the anger.

“You trust him. Of all people, you trust him.”

“Why yes. He has uses that you do not. Just as I have Power Loader deal with the security of our data networks or how I have Snipe perform duties you cannot stomach—you would, I think, be surprised by the number of reprisals we experience from China, Australia and the Taiwanese Remnant. UA decides the face of heroics in Japan, and for that we are and always will be a target. It takes much to ensure our freedom to operate.”

This late into the night, or perhaps this early in the morning, Shouta has little energy left to argue with Nezu. The principal will do as he pleases, and Shouta won’t be able to do much about it.

It is on the way back that he sees something that stops him dead in his tracks. There is nothing truly unique about the room

“Rei?” he asks, unsure if that blue hair and those red eyes are real. “Is that Rei?”

Nezu nods. “Yes.”

“How?”

“A drug overdose. It’s had some… negative psychological effects.”

He forces down any sympathy he has. After all he’s heard, he knows how cruel life can be to those undeserving. And this girl had made her choices.

“I knew she had little potential, but this is disappointing.”

“Not even the slightest bit of empathy for your former student. And you call me cruel.” Nezu jumps on his shoulder. “You did expel her and the rest of the class. Don’t you consider this your fault?”

Shouta snorts. “She made her choice. It’s sad, but she had no drive to be a hero. She could have been as powerful as Stormwind if she cared.”

“That’s why she’s being kept here. Her powers are such that no one wants to maintain responsibility of her. She hasn’t used them once since she was admitted.”

“Odd. I always needed to tell her to stop using her quirk outside school. She enjoyed flying.”

“I wonder, would she have been a just hero where Stormwind chose the role of tyrant? Perhaps she had the power to become the next Symbol of Peace. Hero, may she forever be at peace with her lover Legion, is undoubtedly stronger than All Might. And Stormwind stronger still. That’s a lot of power you chose to let loose.”

“She had the power but not the drive.”

Nezu sighs. “If you hadn’t expelled her I could have convinced Hawks to take her on as an apprentice. Why couldn’t you have just waited until I came back from my vacation? Just three more days.”

Shouta rolls his eyes. “Get over it.”

It takes him a while to get to his destination. With how close it is to dawn, he probably won’t be getting any sleep. Unless he gets Iida to organise the two hours he has with the class in the morning. That sounds like a great idea. It means two whole hours of sleep and time he doesn’t have to spend with irreverent brats.

And he’s not certain if he can deal with children. Because looking at them means he must consider much more than just getting them through the year. After what Nezu has shown him, he must consider their futures long after they leave the institution.

Right now, though, he can ignore that and observe his target from the vantage point of a roof, hidden underneath an awning. He’s covered from two directions, his back exposed but he is certain he’ll be able to notice anyone trying to ambush him from there.

There is enough space for him to set up the high-powered scope, the field drone command module, a wideband EM signal detector and a few other odds and ends. He had thought this might be excessive when he was loading the equipment, but he’s starting to wonder if he’s packing too little surveillance equipment.

The compound isn’t his target bit it’s very close to it. And the amount of security it has is mildly ridiculous. Especially since it isn’t a gated community of any sort. No, it’s just a bunch of townhouses hidden by dead-end streets, lots of trees, and the ring of two-story homes he’s very certain contain only security guards and observation equipment.

He’s spent a lot of time doing reconnaissance in the past and he knows the apartments are too quiet. There aren’t any lights on from people who would be awake at this hour. There aren’t any homeless people sleeping on the benches despite how well protected they are from the elements.

The security is immense and comprehensive, the sort that requires military grade sensor equipment to observe. He is glad, then, that Power Loader can make equipment like that in his sleep and knows when not to ask questions.

The Midoriya household is just outside the compound. It is smaller, less ostentatious than the rest. It looks like an afterthought, the sort of place someone with a decent insurance pay-out can afford, not the very obvious home of a secret millionaire. It is unassuming, noteworthy only because it is very clearly where the poor people in the area live.

Except, the longer Aizawa observes the area, the more certain he is that the household always has at least two people observing it at any given point. It takes him even longer to find the security grid and note how it seems isolated from the rest of the community, a singular defence rather than a village wall. The amount of money for that level of security is staggering.

His phone vibrates. It is Nemuri.

“Yeah?”

“Nothing so far. The man is a ghost. He’s got hits up until around his early thirties then he basically vanishes. He’s in maybe one picture with Marasu Bakugou that I could find, but everything’s disappeared.”

“Data scrubbed?”

“By professionals. The kind that cost a lot of money. Or some really shady connections.”

He looks back to the home with its very impressive and well-hidden security system. “Any guesses?”

“Nothing right now. Standard pyrokinesis quirk so there’s no reason for him to have been recruited by a black-ops group. He got a bachelor’s degree in finance, a master’s in data analysis, and worked in a risk management firm. Honestly, Occam’s Razor says he ran away from his marriage or that he’s secretly a villain. Either or on balance of probability.”

“Find out what you can about this area. Title deeds. Previous owners. Prior construction contractors. Anything. Just forward me stuff as you find it.”

“Okay, sounds…”

“What is it?”

“Someone’s bouncing a signal off my computer. How the hell am I being hacked remotely in real time?” He hears her rummage through her stuff over the phone, her movements sounding frantic and her breathing rapid.

“Nemuri? Talk to me.”

“Unplugged it at the power source. I’ll have Power Loader check it tomorrow and run it on a private network. This thing is more encrypted than a government server. How the hell did anyone get access?”

He suddenly becomes very aware of someone behind him. He turns, ready to fight, but finds a man wearing a dark overcoat and holding a holographic emitter.

Shouta curses. “I’ll call you back,” he says before ending the call and pocketing the device. “Didn’t know you had jurisdiction here?”

He’s staring at the bright emblem of the imperial household, the white chrysanthemum. Every teacher at UA knows that type of hologram emitter. You very literally can’t copy it, and it only activates to a single person’s biometrics and only when those vitals matched an acceptable deviation of baseline vitals.

There’s no denying the person before him legitimately works as an Imperial Agent, and Shouta may just be fucked. Because at best he’s dealing with one of their paper pushers.

“The moment you stayed here for more than five minutes we mined all of your data,” the man says, his voice soft and without seeing his beard Shouta would think him a woman. “I’m surprised Nemuri noticed the signal.”

“Don’t call her that,” he snaps.

“Would Midnight suffice?”

For some reason, that sounds like a threat. And Shouta isn’t certain he can win this fight. He remembers in the wake of USJ how Nezu had admonished him for knowing nothing of the imperial household and had taken it upon himself to learn more. And everything he had learnt made him very much doubt his chances of winning a fight. Especially if this man is part of the Royal Guard.

If that was the case, he’d need Endeavour to level the playing field even slightest bit.

“I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you’re here to observe Izuku Midoriya, one of your students, and not any of the other residents.”

“And if I’m not?”

The man huffs. “I won’t kill you if that’s what worries you. I won’t break our agreement with you.”

“I’ve never made any agreement.”

The man tilts his head in confusion. “You represent UA. As far as the world, or the portion that matters, your words are the same as UA’s. Have you never wondered why people simply listen to your words without question?”

He keeps his expression blank. He’s never really noticed that. It also worries him that Nezu is still keeping things from him.

“What is this place?” he asks instead. “Why the hell do you have so much security here? And who the hell are you?”

“I’ll answer only because many of my subordinates still hold you in high regard. Yes, we do acquire a few of your students occasionally. There are residents there that provide critical information for us. And my title is Itinerant.”

“Let me guess. They’re political asylum seekers, spies whose covers have been blown, and a few reformed villains.” The man inclines his head just so. “And the Midoriyas? They have the most security.”

The man shrugs. “Whatever your issue with the Midoriya Inko, I could care less so long as you keep it to regular work hours outside of this area and within the confines of legality. But Eraserhead, don’t you dare come here again. We have too many vested interests that don’t come into conflict with yours.”

“I think they do.” Because if these people are protecting Inko, or know about Izuku’s quirk, then he has more problems when it comes to Izuku than he imagined.

“We’re not looking to recruit the boy if that’s what you’re worried about.” It’s only part of what worries him. “His quirk can be a danger, so we’re here to ensure no villains attempt to apprehend him.”

He doesn’t expect the candour. “And you expect me to believe you don’t want to use his quirk.”

“Shadow generation and a powerful strengthening ability. I’m interested in its origins. Whatever discoveries you make, I’ll learn of. You’re a guinea pig. Go tell your rodent master to stay out of our business. We won’t consider this a violation of our agreement.”

The man disappears in a wave of something that hurts Shouta’s eyes to look at, perhaps broken time. He looks around and takes note of how he is alone. He removes his phone and finds it functional. He makes a call.

“Nezu, we have a problem.”

“One to ten.”

“Eight, maybe eleven. It seems the imperial family have an interest in Izuku.”

Chapter Text

‘Do not underestimate the power of numbers. Skill does not matter when there are too many people to move safely. Knowledge falls to the wayside when there are multiple quirks interacting in new and different ways. Greater numbers can be both a boon and a curse.’

—Excerpt from the recovered 'Tenets of Combat' likely authored by an underground hero or vigilante.

Dr. Makinami’s office is much the same as always. A glass desk to give the illusion that nothing separates them. The green fabric couch Izuku always sits on. The fake plants in their orange vases. And the doctor herself, fiddling with her glasses.

“Hello again,” she begins. “How are you feeling?”

“Worried, I think. We’ve got the Sports festival coming up.”

“And do you feel you’re ready?”

“I’m not… I don’t really know. I’m training but I don’t know if I can do well.”

“Why do you say that? I feel like you’re smart, and you obviously have a strong quirk to make it into 1-A.”

“I have a flashy quirk,” he corrects, bitter. “That’s what really separates 1-A from the other classes. I’ve missed a lot of time being injured and… dealing with Mikumo.”

She frowns. “Have you been talking to him recently?”

“No,” he answers truthfully because Mikumo has been quiet all day. “I just think of what happened often.”

“You know, if you feel you aren’t ready because of medical reasons you can opt out of the Sports Festival.”

“I didn’t know about that.”

“It’s rare but it does happen on occasion. Sometimes students get too injured for one reason or another. UA wouldn’t force someone to take part if they couldn’t. And what’s happened to you certainly counts. I saw you limping when you walked in.”

He rubs his right leg, painful in a constant and dull way ever since the Nomu attack. There are pale scars, long tendrils where the flesh was restored by Recovery Girl’s quirk. These scars, at least, can be hidden like those across his torso.

“It’s minor” he says resolutely, “It just slows me down a bit.”

“That’s another injury in addition to your prior incident. I may not be a physician, but repeated physical trauma stacks up. You need time to heal.”

He thinks of the weeks he’s spent in the abyss, fighting, healing and training. “I’ve had enough time. And I’m not going to give up before I even try. If I don’t make it far, then that’s alright. But I have to try. You said the next step is the most important.”

“I did.” She smiles and looks to her file. “A few weeks back when we were talking about Mikumo, you said that you often lied. I’d like to revisit that.”

He inhales. “Okay.”

“You said Mikumo described himself as ‘the keeper, lock and key’ of a lie you told yourself. I wanted to ask you about that.”

“I wasn’t… ready to admit the truth. Omission is still a form of lying.” He looks away from her. “I didn’t want to accept that something happened. And it drove me….”

“Is that lie why you attempted—”

“In a way, yes. In a way, no.” He rubs his forearm. “It’s not simple. I can’t really explain it.”

“You can try.”

“There were answers I needed. And at the time, doing that seemed the only way to find them.”

“I’m going to stop you there.” She shifts, watching him with the slightest bit of apprehension. “You’re saying you tried taking your life to find answers to a lie. And that worries me because I don’t know how you’re looking for answers now.”

I walk through shadow and enter a world where the impossible is mundane, where death has no meaning and life is anathema.

He says none of that. “I talk,” he says instead. “Grabbing a knife isn’t an answer. Pain brings clarity. It grounds me, but I can’t just stab myself and expect that to solve my problems.”

“You don’t know how relieved I am to hear you say that.”

“I think about it sometimes when it’s too noisy and I can’t tell what’s what.” He pauses, and frowns. “I haven’t really felt that way for a while now.”

 “Since you started taking the medication?”

I told you to keep taking the pills for a reason, Mikumo whispers. I am not the enemy.

“Yes. They don’t leave me sick and tired and drained all the time.”

“They’re not meant to fix everything. But they do help. You just have to be willing to take the next step.”

He accepts her words and walks home alone. There is a certain truth to them that he can accept. The longer he thinks of his life so far, the more he can accept that everything he has faced matters less than he once thought, and the worries of the future are nothing compared to making a decision in the present.

Dinner with his mother is silent. He is distracted by thoughts of the Sports Festival and how far he will go. He can use One For All better now. Given time, he can let the strength of his mentor’s quirk empower him to the edge of human potential. With more time, he can exceed those bounds for a single moment without shattering his limbs.

Even without that, his shadows are always present. He hopes that the Sports Festival doesn’t take place at noon, or at least his portion in it doesn’t, as his shadows will be useless then.

“Kaa-san, are you… are you coming tomorrow?”

They’re seated in the lounge watching a show she likes. He hasn’t paid any attention to it, letting the words wash past him and occupied with one of the books from the shelf. It’s another book from his dad’s possession.

His mother looks up, a gentle smile on her lips.

“Only if you make me a promise.” He nods because there is no promise he would not fulfil for her. “Promise me that if I come tomorrow, you’ll do everything in your power to win.”

He scratches his burn scar, confused. “I will?”

“No, not like that.” She leans forward and touches her forehead to his. “Izuku, honey, don’t treat this like a game. Open your eyes because Japan will be watching. Show them how strong you are. Abandon whatever fears you have. Just keep looking forward and never stop. Retreat and you’ll grow old with regrets. Hesitate and you’ll die with those regrets.”

He stares deep in her eyes, seafoam to his forest. “I will.” He takes another breath to centre himself. “I will.”

That resolve follows him the next day. He walks with his back straight and head raised. It is a lie for he feels nervous and panicked, but he knows that wearing a lie long enough makes it a truth, or perhaps an untruth.

His confidence does not imbue him with any sense of direction. He has a map, every student does, given to him by Aizawa, but even with it he’s found himself in every wrong spot: the booth he thinks someone might be giving a presentation, a room where all the gas lines originate and a pale haired security guard inspecting them, and even all the way outside through a secret entrance Kamui Woods guards—explaining why he was out there had made the hero laugh, and though he has given Izuku directions, he still finds himself one level underground.

Before he can take a flight of stairs down, someone pulls him back. He looks and sees Ojiro who looks exasperated

“Your sense of direction is horrible,” Ojiro says, not letting go.

Izuku shrugs even as he is dragged along. “It’s only bad in the r-real world.”

Ojiro sighs, playing with his phone. “Good thing we went looking for you already

“We?”

“All of us. Your friends,” he adds. “Except Tokoyami. He got lost as well.”

He can’t help the smile even as they walk through the door. His classmates are there, and the conversation quietens when he enters.

Kirishima waves. “I know you said you have a bad sense of direction but man, you probably get lost in your own house.”

“I o-only did that once.”

He accepts the jokes at his expense as he sits between Uraraka and Kaminari. Uraraka teases him endlessly and distracts Iida with innocent comments on Tokoyami’s behaviour before the class rep can lecture her. He watches her juggle a conversation with Kaminari whilst also explaining why the Gravity remaster is the best movie to have come out of this decade to Ojiro who smiles through it all.  

“Midoriya.”

He looks up and sees Todoroki walking—no, pacing with the tense energy of a predator—towards him, one hand in his pocket.

“To-Todoroki?” he asks, feeling just the slightest bit of dread from this boy whom he’s seen ice an entire building without breaking a sweat. He doesn’t miss the way Uraraka tenses or how the group falls silent.

“Objectively, I think I’m stronger than you are now,” Todoroki says, mixed eyes cold. “But All Might has his eye on you.”

Izuku tenses. “Wh—”

“I don’t care about that,” Todoroki cuts through. “I just know I’m going to beat you.”

“Hey man,” Kirishima says, placing a hand on Todoroki’s shoulder. “There’s no need to start something.”

Todoroki bats the hand away. “We’re not here to play at friends. I came here to win, something you’ve all forgotten about.”

“That’s—”

“You’re right,” Izuku says, standing. He hates how he must crane his neck up to meet Todoroki’s eyes, but he refuses to back down after that insult. “Everyone here wants to win. Even the students from the other courses. I just don’t get why you have a personal problem with me.”

Izuku grins. “Objectively speaking, I think you’re stronger.”

Knowledge, shadowshield, Mikumo says. He challenges you whilst holding back strength. You will match any challenger. He is nothing compared to you.

“Man, you need to stop saying…” Kirishima trails off as Izuku’s grin becomes just the slightest bit sharper.

“Objectively speaking, you have no reason to come after me. But if you want to come after me, that’s fine. I’ll give it all I’ve got.”

“Good. It won’t mean anything if you don’t when I win this tournament.”

Izuku lets a memory of nightmares bleed through his grin. “But if you come at me with anything less than your full strength, you won’t win.”

“This is foolish,” Tokoyami says. “And regardless of who wins your fight, I am winning this tournament.”

“Don’t get arrogant, you fucking flightless fowl,” Kaachan roars. “I’m gonna blow you the fuck away. This is my tournament arc, not yours.”

“Ah, that’s some cute alliteration,” Uraraka adds, perpetually cheerful. “I hope you have some when I send you to the moon because I’m winning.”

*****

Inko Midoriya finds her way through the stadium, checked no less than three times on the way to the parent’s section. The area already has some of the parents: a woman with a hawk’s head, maybe a crow, and her silent husband who is a mountain of muscle; two who look too like a frog to be anything but the Asuis. Other still, whom she cannot recognise. 

“Inko.”

She looks at Mitsuki Bakugou who sits beside her husband, her arm around his neck. The woman is both wary—for good reason—and inviting as though she has any right to be, not when it was her son who harmed Izuku so much.

“Mitsuki,” she says, walking over. “Marasu.”

Despite that, there is nearly two decades of friendship between them. She holds Mitsuki accountable for her son’s actions, and she may never forgive her, but she can choose to not hate her. Izuku is many things, kind as the warm valley and joyous as the last summer evening, but cruel is not one of them. And she knows he will never forgive her if she doesn’t choose to be better and let go of her anger and hate.

It helps, perhaps, that ever since what happened they have spoken. Hours upon hours under the stars, tipsy and passing a joint from hand to hand, did they speak of failings and regrets and motherhood. She wonders often if they are simply perpetuating a cycle: Mitsuki and Inko, Izuku and Katsuki. A tale of two generations, and whilst the details may be different, the essence of the story remains the same. Two people meet. They become friends. A bitter fight. An incident that sparks, if not forgiveness, then the ability to take steps forward.

Will our grandchildren do the same?

She takes a seat beside them. From here, she can see the entirety of the battleground, and they are conveniently opposite the massive screen for whenever the camera’s focus on the action.

“Inko, dear, how are you?” Marasu asks affably. “Mitsuki here has—”

Mitsuki tightens her hold around his neck. “Nope, your speaking privileges are officially revoked, you shit stain.”

“Yes, dear.”

That easy interaction reminds her of Hisashi. Or, at least the parts of their marriage that was happy. It is that thought that makes her notice something.

“Is that the imperial family?” she asks, pointing to another booth filled with people in white uniforms. The stands above and below the booth are devoid of people. They seem to interact like normal people, but the white they all sport taints that visage of normality.

They may still pay reparations for their crimes, and will continue doing so for decades, but she can never forget the horror of watching Taiwan sink due to one man’s rage. She remembers Hisashi in the days after that, closed and withdrawn and much too terrified of the mundane. It never seemed strange to her at the time. After all, the collective psyche of Japan was traumatised to know one of their own, the first in line to succeed the Emperor, committed a crime like that.

I should have been more insistent on answers.

“Not anyone in the line of succession,” Marasu says, winking at his wife. “I think there might be a few agents, but the Royal Family wouldn’t leave the palace. Too easy to attack this place.”

The students start streaming out from one of the gates. She can barely make out her son amongst the sea of blue. He walks confidently, and she hopes he takes her words to heart.

“Things can change.”

Midnight makes an announcement that she pays no heed to. One of the students, Iida she believes, walks ahead of the group and onto the stand.

“Katsuki was supposed to give that,” Mitsuki says softly. “Little shit fucks up everything.”

“Can we not? Please?” Marasu leans forward in his seat, removing Mitsuki’s arm from his body. “I’m surprised they’re going with a race this year. Last year was the puzzle arena. This seems just a bit mundane after that.

“They wouldn’t put on a bad show,” Inko says and nods towards the imperial booth. “Not with them watching. They don’t do anything in half-measures.”

“Speaking from experience?”

They all know he means Hisashi. They all remember her wedding day when he appeared in his white uniform, short but imposing, the picture of panache—the perfect mix of boldness and grace, and that day is memorable as well for him tripping on the steps to the alter. And go on to not a single offer of explanation as to why he could wear their symbol and colours so casually.

She has been too afraid to ask and chose to put it away from her mind.

Mitsuki elbows her husband just as the race starts. The students stampede to the exit and almost immediately a bottleneck forms.

“Foolish,” someone says to her left. Separated by two seats is a man in a black jacket with cross-like eyes. “Some will have no patience.”

Almost on que, ice spreads and traps the students. “Your son smart to stay back.”

She looks down and sees Izuku standing behind the massive crowd, still as a statue.

“How do you—”

“Same hair,” the man interrupts. “Green not common hair colour. Name Jin. Pleasure to meet you.”

The man is odd, she decides, after glancing at his leopard pelt dress. She’s not sure if his getup is in support of a student, if he’s a hero—she can list all of the major ones and some of the more obscure ones because of Izuku—or perhaps eccentric enough to simply walk around with his torso revealed.

Still, she is polite. “Inko. The pleasure is all mine. Is one of your children competing?”

She barely sees Izuku move. In one motion he’s behind the crowd and in the next he’s landing in a roll on the other side, sliding with his momentum instead of battling the slick surface.

“Brilliant.” She feels the moment his attention turns towards her, the quiet sense that she’s sitting beside an apex predator deigning to walk amongst ants. “Not children. Students. Three of them. One with tail.”

She finds the blonde boy. “Ojiro.”

“Student at dojo since child. Watch.” The robots appear then, and she observes Ojiro flip above one and break it apart with a flick of his tail even as ice encases the rest.

“Second being carried.”

She sees Shinsou being carried by four students and marvels at the audacity of it all. “Shinsou.”

“How the fuck do you know everyone?” Mitsuki mutter more to herself than anyone.

“Other student difficult boy. Kind. Smart. Has good instinct.”

“Who is it?” She watches Izuku stand before one of the robots. When it brings its arm down to punch him, he simply steps to the side and crouches, spinning with the moment. She watches shocked as he sweeps its legs out and causes it to crash to the ground. She knew he was strong, especially with All Might’s quirk, but it is rare that he uses it so casually.

“Acceptable. Little wasted movement. Form not horrible.” The odd man seems to smile with his entire body, everything about him loosening. The mild fear she has felt vanishes.

She thinks on his words. Her eyes widen. “Wait, you can’t—”

“Teach him I did,” the man says. “Form and technique. Had hoped he would show you my dojo one day. Seems he forgot.”

She can’t help the snort. “He does.”

“Forgive me for not introducing myself earlier.” He nods his head, bowing almost. “Jin Mo-Ri. Teacher of Taekwondo. Please forgive atrocious Japanese. From Korea.”

“It’s fine.” And then, because she is kind and knows too much, she says, “You know who else trained him?”

He raises a brow. “You speak Korean as well. Both you and your son are exceptional.”

Do you know?” she repeats more insistently.

“When the hell did you learn Korean?”

Inko smiles at Mitsuki, bright and false as a mirage in the desert. “I’ve had some free time.” And she has heard the litanies of dead gods, knows the shape of their names and the formless runes that draw them forth.

“The Symbol of Peace,” Jin says. “Once my student as well. All things in this story are cyclical. The past becomes the future becomes the present.

He has enemies. Enemies I fear he has not told my son. He is young and still believes the world is black and white. Heroes and villains. Humans and monsters.

Jin crosses his leg, ankle on knee. “All Might is not the best teacher. A good man, and a greater symbol, but he has never had to become a teacher. He does the best he can with what little he knows.

My son is permanently scarred because of his failings.

Mitsuki grunts. “Who the hell is that?” she asks, pointing at the kid who slides across the now frozen tightropes rapidly.

“Endeavour’s son,” Mashiro says. “Got in on recommendation from what I heard. Seems he deserved it. Look at how far ahead of the pack he is.”

“Our shit stain’s right behind him.”

“Neither win this round,” Jin says to them. “Wait until final section. Surprised you might be. Easy bet is not always right bet.”

“We’ll see.”

“Yes.” In Korean, he adds, “Scars heal. Burn scars have treatments.

He’ll miss out on the rest of the term if we try those treatments.

He hums. “I am no doctor but medical technology has advanced. Whom did you consult with?”

“Recovery Girl.”

And no other specialist did you seek? She is many things, but infallible is not one of them. No single person can know all medicine. Investigate further, you should.

Inko frowns. There are other reasons she will not speak to a man she hardly knows. How much of her son’s quirk Jin knows is unknown to her, and even if All Might trusts the man, she is unwilling to place that kind of trust in a stranger. Her son may face threats if she gets help from an outside specialist. She has no choice but to trust in the school.

At least, until Izuku is strong enough to stand alone. The moment he is, then Inko will rain down brimstone and ash on the school.

There are other institutions, Shiketsu and Ketsubutsu in Japan, and she doesn’t doubt Izuku’s abilities to find a placement in any of the other great campuses around the world: Toledo Research Institute in in Spain where the tyrant Stormwind died in peace; Hero Memorial Academy in Zimbabwe where Hero, a heroine matched only by Hawkmoon, died in agony with her lover Legion on the day of their union.

She has options, but if Izuku is far away then she cannot protect him in those foreign lands. Here, at least, she knows of two hero agencies that specialise in extractions that she can contact immediately if her son is ever kidnapped. All Might will do everything in his power to see her son safe. And if all that fails she has one last option.

Her gaze drifts to the Imperial booth once more. Hisashi wore their uniform at their wedding. Every month without fail, her account receives a deposit large enough to cover their needs, more than any pension for a single risk assessor should receive. A year after Izuku was born Hisashi gave her the location of a safety deposit box and told her to use it if she was ever in any trouble.

She hasn’t opened it, terrified of what it might hold, and never having need to do so. But with the attack on USJ, her resolve falters. She is ready should the day come and she must unearth those old secrets.

“That’s an interesting obstacle,” Mashiro says, pulling her from her thoughts. It makes her realise that she’s missed a good chunk of the event. “A minefield to slow the pack leaders down. Katsuki can’t stay in air that long and Endeavour’s boy can’t use his ice.”

“He could build a bridge that arcs over it,” Inko says immediately. “So long as he’s careful, it won’t touch the minefield and no one else can skate across the ice as fast as he can.”

“That was… insightful.”

Inko shrugs. “Izuku spends a lot of time on quirks. Some of it rubbed off on me.”

“Speaking of him, what the fuck is he doing?”

She looks for her son and finds him kneeling at the edge of the minefield. The others can’t see it, but even though the magnification isn’t high enough, she can still somehow peer past it. He is hunched over to increase the area of his shadows, and his hands are pressed firmly on—in, her mind supplies—the shadow. Shapes and patterns form in the darkness just out of reach, the swirling edifices of eternal monuments that live and die every second.

“Winning,” she says just as a tendril of shadow, perhaps a handspan wide, shoots across the minefield.

Izuku jumps on it and sprints forward. Behind him the shadow-bridge disintegrate, but ahead of him they are strong as ever. She can see how tendrils of darkness reach out from his shadow and reinforce the bridge as he sprints, chased by Katsuki and Endeavour’s son.

And yet, though he has a limp, his sprint is exceedingly fast. For a moment she thinks she sees green lightning. And then he is gone, leaping forward and crossing the distance to the exit. He fails the landing, and instead of sliding gracefully, he tumbles through the exit.

Inko hides her face in here hands at the sight of Izuku, face planted in the ground, and ass up for all the world to see. She wants to clap, really, she does.

“He’s got style,” Mitsuki says, giggling. “Wasn’t Hisashi in that exact position right before the altar? Like father like son.”

“I tried very hard to forget that.”

When Midnight announces a ten-minute intermission, Mitsuki grabs her husband. “Let’s find some food.”

“I see your diet lasted three whole days this time.”

“Honey, shut up.”

“Yes, dear.” He nods to Inko. “Want anything?”

“Not really.”

“That means she’s starving,” Mitsuki says, dragging her husband who waves as they leave.

She listens to some of the other parents take advantage of the intermission before the next round. There isn’t ay reason for her to leave, not when Marasu will probably bring back enough food to feed the entire stadium.

She watches as one of the staff members makes eight platforms of concrete held up by pillars. There are handholds and scaffolds on the pillars leading to the platform, and a haphazard collection of bridges connecting the pillars.

How did you know he would win?”

Had faith. He is a smart boy and has good instincts.

I still don’t really know who you are? All Might trusts you and let you train my son.

I’m just a stranger from a far away land.” He smiles. “My story has ended. I have no part in these events. You shouldn’t worry too much about my placement. I’m not even a side character. I just pop up as I am needed. Izuku is the hero, and sometimes I teach him.

I don’t like that answer.”

He sighs. “Jaecheondaesong. Name have meaning? No, I think not. Useless name to you. Search all database. Find nothing. A teacher I am now, nothing more.”

The silence between them is tense until the Bakugous arrive. As she expects, Marasu has enough snacks to last them a camping trip and most of them end up in Mitsuki’s hands. She eats quickly, and Inko will always be confused at how she manages to eat so much so quickly without looking like a pig.

Midnight walks onto the field and a pillar forms beneath her, bringing her high above the crowd. She poses extravagantly.

“Marasu, if you’re looking at her then I’m divorcing you.”

“She’s not as beautiful as you.”

Inko rolls her eyes as Midnight speaks.

“Boys and girls, ladies and gentlemen, get ready for the second phase of the sports festival. This round is called Zone Control. Teams of two will be randomly chosen. You and your partner will be chained—kinky, ain’t it?—together, and will have to scale the pillars and reach the platform above. Whoever holds a zone for five minutes will capture the zone. But any enemies on the platform will stop the capture. Thanks to our lovely Support department, each platform will change colour from the outside in. Once it’s fully changed colour, the zone is locked, and the team moves on to the next round.

“Here’s where it gets real interesting. Even if you do evict the team there first, you still need to neutralise the zone, and that takes half as long as they held it for. So, if they held it for two minutes, you need to neutralise it for one full minute. Have fun, kiddies.”

Marasu hums. “Interesting. They’ve never done this before.”

“Didn’t they have the cavalry battle two years back?”

“That’s because they were short one class. Some teacher expelled all the students in their class.” He points to one of the platforms. “And that’s not as interesting. This here forces students to work with someone new, maybe someone they hate. And the chain limits their range of motion so unless they have some good synergy they’ll lose. And even if you do get up there, the longer it takes for you to capture a zone the harder it gets.”

“Oh.” Inko swallows, understanding the intent behind the design. “Each captured zone funnels people to the next one until you’ve got twenty teams fighting for one zone. That’s gonna be a bloodbath.”

Jin chuckles deeply. “Can you hold territory? Take a zone quickly, and your victory guranteed.”

*****

Izuku is nervous. He’s already figured out the nature of this game before he finds himself chained to a pink-haired girl with goggles, one Mei Hatsume from Support. She is bright and boisterous, smiling easily and not at all caring that he has horrid scar.

“This game is ours. Let’s take the first platform.”

They’re all waiting near one exit, bunched up.

“N-no,” he whispers. “Let’s get to the edge of the group before the rush starts.”

She frowns but doesn’t fight him as he leads her to the right side of the group. “Do y-you have anything that can get us up there quickly? The red platform.” It is the fifth platform, close enough that they won’t spend too long getting to it but far enough away that he knows it won’t be anyone’s first choice.

“My jetpack. Why aren’t we going for the first one?”

He glances back to the group. He doesn’t know what powers they each have, but he knows the real dangers.

“Area abilities. If they’re smart, they’ll try taking out everyone quickly.”

Her eyes widen. “I think I like you.”

“T-thanks. Stand cl-closer to me.” She does so, and the proximity makes him flush. “If it’s ice use your jetpack immediately. If it’s lightning, give me a moment. And if it’s anything else, I kinda have no plan.”

She nods, and they wait anxiously for the round to start.

It comes all too soon. A loud bang and a bright flare herald the start of the event. They crowd barely gets a collective step when lightning surges along the ground. There are screams as students freeze and collapse to the ground, their muscles seizing up.

Izuku smiles. He and Hatsume both stand on a platform of shadow. And shadow is many things but conductive is not one of them.

“Got you,” Hatsme says, wrapping an arm around his waist. She is taller than him. Her invention comes to life with a loud growl and then they’re flying in the air.

The crowd roars when they land on their platform. Hatsume waves back. Izuku isn’t so cocky as to not pay attention to what’s going on.

He watches Shinsou drag Kaminari who seems to have lost a good third of his IQ points. A smile graces his features when he sees Shinsou avoid the first two platforms and head to the third. Unlike him, Shinsou must take the bridges and stairs up the pillars.

When the ice appears and freezes the contestants, Izuku is glad he got the hell out of dodge because Todoroki looks livid. He doesn’t bother with subtlety and an arc of ice leads straight to the closest platform. He drags a still twitching Ashido with him as he glides to the platform. Once he’s at the top, he freezes the platform and the pillar making it impossible for anyone to ascend it.

Izuku swallows nervously. That’s the person he just challenged.

I will stand by you when we defeat him, brother mine.

“He’s strong,” Hatsume says. “You look scared. Are you guys rivals or something?”

He shakes his head slowly as Dark Shadow extends to one of the platforms. It compresses, bringing with it Tokoyami and his partner Kirishima. He knows they’ll make a strong team together. That’s three of his friends. He hopes more make it to the next round.

“I th-think we’ve shared maybe a hundred words. He s-spent most of them telling me he’s out for m-my head.”

“That doesn’t sound…” She trails off as Iida sprints across the field carrying Uraraka on her back. She tenses, ready for a fight as they get near them. And then they run right past. “Huh?”

“They have no reason to contest this zone,” he explains. “Not when there are other free zones. We won’t have to fight anyone.”

Uraraka taps Iida on the shoulder. Izuku watches amazed as Iida runs straight for the pillar. And then he’s running up it in defiance of gravity.

“That’s ridiculous.”

“Not really. I think everyone understands on an instinctive level. We’ve had this zone for what? Three minutes. Even if they boot us off, it’ll take six and a half minutes to capture it. Better to fight for one that’s just been taken.”

She huffs. “Good for us but I didn’t get to show off my inventions.”

“Well, you b-basically won the round with your jetpack. Everyone will remember that.” He smiles at her, pleased that she doesn’t grimace at the way it pulls his scar. “And the further you go; the more people will notice them. People came here to win, Hatsume. If you spend your time showing off, then no one will care. If you make it even as far as the quarters, then I bet… I bet you’ll be scouted by every big name. But if you aren’t here to win, then you might as well bow out. People are drawn to strength of will more than anything else.”

Shu huffs. “You shouldn’t hurt a girl’s feelings like that.”

“Huh?”

She offers him a smile. “You know, I was just gonna try and show off, but I think… I think you might be right. If we have to fight against each other I won’t hold back.”

He smiles. “I hope you do well.”

Izuku watches the red of their platform reach the flag and observes the way it creeps up it. Once it reaches the top, a bright red flare shoots off.

“Our first winners,” Present Mic says through the speakers, “are Izuku Midoriya from 1-A who’s come first in both rounds.”

The crowd roars, the sound stunning Izuku. It is loud enough that the platform vibrates.

“And his partner Mei Hatsume from the Support Department. Let me hear you roar.”

The crowd obliges. Hatsume waves, spinning on the spot and the crowd goes crazy. She seems to revel in this adulation, and Izuku is happy for her, but he doesn’t care much for it.  

He meets Todoroki’s gaze across the stadium. There is nothing but hate and anger in that gaze.

“Seven platforms left. Fight forever, students!”

*****

The world resolves in a flash of green lightning. A doorway forms and the World Walker traverses the distance between universes in a single step. This one takes stock of its surroundings: darkness, infernal and eternal plagues the land; creatures of shattered dreams and nuclear fire stalk the lands, battling arch dragons bathed in the godflame.

“Well, this is new,” the operator within the World Walker says. One step takes it away from the battlefield and to a new destination.

This place is like glass reflecting the light of creation. Bright enough that it would blind any normal creature, drive them mad with the mere reflection of one of the greatest acts of existence. This light is proof of life, not its meaning—inherent or otherwise—but the simple fact that life exists.

And right in the centre, incongruous though it might be, railroad tracks stretch across this endless plain. The World Walker steps follows the path, walking endlessly and observing an eternity pass by overhead.

Creatures are birthed by this light, but every light gives rise to shadows and their natural enemies awaken from the darkness. Their war lasts millennia, and at the end, only two remain. They light the fallen corpses of their allies in the first flame of creation and send them back in time to the very beginning, to fight the war anew. The cycle repeats, two more added to the original that made it to the end, until a critical mass is reached. It is not the salvation they think it is, and nightmare come through, draining them of life until none remain.

It is an interesting enough diversion for the World Walker to observe until the destination is reached. A train, nearly a hundred cars long, waits patiently. Investigating it reveals modern amenities but nothing of any interest until the driver’s car.

There is little out of place except for the conductor’s hat on the chair. The World Walker takes it and inspects it. ‘Master Railroad’ it reads.

“How… odd?” It is not as bright as it once was, but it will do. “What happened to your corpse? It’s always supposed to be here.”

The World Walker sets fire to the train and observes how the flames fail to consume it fully. Scorch marks appear where there should be nothing but ash. The World Walker ignore it once the flames dies out.

“I wonder if you’ll like this hat, shadowking.” Twirling it in one hand, the World Walker adds, “This hunt is to end soon. I’m coming.”

A bird carrying the weight of two galaxies swoops down in assault, its screech shattering this perfect glass. The beat of its wings banishes the light that birthed the universe. The World Walker set it aflame and watches it crash to the ground a few metres away. Its feathers are each a record of a people, a testament to their glories and failings. Taking two at random, the World Walker attaches them to the hat.

“No matter what stands in my way.”

 

Chapter Text

‘Strength of body is to be physically fit and able to manipulate your quirk with competence. This is the ability to take a blow and keep going. Speed, strength, and durability are the core foundations of this tenet. If you can end a battle in a single blow, then you can rescue civilians faster. If you are fast enough you can avoid an engagement entirely. And if you are durable, you can hold out until help arrives.’

—Excerpt from the recovered 'Tenets of Combat' likely authored by an underground hero or vigilante.

When the second round is over, the platforms are brought down and Izuku finally relaxes. The last platform, the one Kaachan held, had seen absolute carnage. There are close to a dozen teams groaning on the ground, battered and bruised and some suffering mild burns. Kacchan shows no signs of exertion despite all the people he’s beaten.

Look harder, Mikumo snarls as Kaachan lets his partner, the green-haired girl from 1-B, lead him away.

He frowns. Kaachan’s breathing is even and steady, and his arms don’t tremble from exhaustion. What am I… oh, he’s letting her lead because he’s too tired to argue. It’s a… lie?

Izuku, along with the other seven teams, head towards Midnight who posses extravagantly. It reminds him of exactly why she’s an R-rated heroine, though it does make him wonder why she is commentating. If anything, All Might would be better simply because he has a better image.

You haven’t been reading the news, Mikumo says with a hint of humour.

When the hell have you been reading the news?

When you’re asleep.

“Are you gonna untie us?” Hatsume asks, lifting her chained hand. With how much taller she is, Izuku rises off the ground. “He’s nice and all, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t want that kind of commitment.”

Izuku flushes. “P-put me down.”

“Ah, I don’t think he likes it rough,” Midnight says, cracking her whip. “Sweet baby boy, I’ll wait till you’re a few years older before breaking you in.”

“Midnight-sensei, please refrain from saying such statements,” Iida says sternly. “Firstly, it’s morally reprehensible. Secondly, he’s a minor.”

Midnight rolls her eyes. “So boring. Anyway…” She turns around and waves to the audience, raising her mic. “Ladies and gentlemen of the audience, I present to you the victors of the second stage. Give them a round of applause.”

Hearing an audience of fifty-thousand strong clap is like hearing the harshest crack of thunder, loud enough that his bones feel like they’re shaking.

“Alright contestants, the final stage of this sports festival is the tournament. Brackets will be randomly chosen. The rules are simple: win by knocking your opponent unconscious or pushing them out of bounds. If you look at the screen, your matchups are shown.”

Izuku looks and finds his name beside Ashido’s. He glances in her direction and sees her grinning. He shudders and looks back at the screen. The rest of the matchups are as follows: Tokoyami and Aoyama; Ibara, who he thinks might be the green-haired girl, and Kirishima; Kacchan and Sero; Yaoyorozu and Hatsume whom he hopes wins; Uraraka and Kaminari; Shinsou against Testuetsu who can only be the silver-skinned boy; and Iida who’s stuck with Todoroki.

He can make guesses as to who will win, but even that isn’t a certain thing. Whilst he can hope his friends win, that only means they’ll have to face each other later. Already he is stacked up against someone he knows and cares for in Ashido.

“We’ll have a thirty-minute intermission and then it’s non-stop fun, starting with the recreational activities. Good luck, kiddies, and get some rest in. You’ll need it.”

They are shepherded through the tunnel where Midnight finally releases them from their restraints. Izuku rubs his wrist, still sore from Hatsume’s constant tugging. Before he knows it, an arm is draped heavily over his shoulder.

“Man, you’re killing it today,” Kirishima says and then jabs his thumb at Todoroki. “I thought you came here to win. You got us all excited with a challenge and you’ve lost both times.”

Todoroki looks indifferent, but the longer Izuku meets his blue eye, the longer he feels like his veins will freeze from the cold rage there.

“Don’t be mean,” Uraraka says, bumping Kirishima with her hip. “Come on, let’s grab some food.” She grabs Kirishima’s hand and pulls him with her. Before she leaves, she grabs Shinsou hand as well, and his tired looking friend turns a bright red.

Izuku watches this, bemused as always.

“Your class is weird,” the green-haired girl, Ibara says. “I kind of like it.”

“Fuck off, you cunts,” Bakugou says, stalking away. “I have better shit to do then listen to you make nice.”

They eat lunch in the cafeteria. Izuku can barely stomach his meal at the thought of fighting Ashido who seems to not care. If anything, she seems to revel in the idea. Uraraka brings an intensity to their conversation that he’s never seen in her before, and he can’t help the small smile at the entranced expression Shinsou has.

“Excuse me,” Tokoyami says as he stands.

“Where you going, feather-duster?” Kirishima asks.

“Don’t call me that, you fool,” Tokoyami snaps.

“Would you prefer crow? I’ve got a dozen more nicknames waiting.”

Tokoyami turns, the set of his shoulders angry. “My business is my own. Do as you please.”

“What’s got him so upset?”

Izuku sighs. “Y-you’re being mean.”

“It’s just a nickname.”

Izuku shakes his head. “Not for him.” He pushes his tray aside and stands. “I’m heading to the booth.” He grabs his tray.

“Don’t get lost,” Kirishima calls as Izuku walks away.

He does get lost and spends most of the hour walking through stadium with no idea how to get anywhere. He passes the gas room once more and encounters a man dressed in a formal suit whose body seems to unravel before his very eyes, the same guard he saw inspecting the gas lines earlier. Izuku blinks but ignores it. He has a security badge and he’s seen other people dressed similarly.

Eventually, after Ectoplasm encounters him and takes pity on him, Izuku finds the booth for the contestants. He doesn’t blush as he takes a seat.

“You got lost.”

“Shut up.” He sinks further into his seat as the first contestants are called onto the stage.

Tokoyami and Aoyama walk up to the stage from opposite ends, both looking composed.

“Who’s gonna win, do you think?” Uraraka asks.

“Tokoyami,” he says in the same instance that Kaachan says, “Bird-brain.”

He looks over his shoulder and meets Kaachan’s burning red eyes. Something passes between them and Kaachan nods.

“Come on, Aoyama isn’t useless. His quirk is literally Tokoyami’s hard counter,” Kirishima argues.

Izuku shakes his head even as the fight starts. Aoyoama wastes no time in firing a dazzling bolt of light.

“Yeah, but he gets sick if he fires for too long,” Izuku says as Tokoyami side-steps another bolt, not even having summoned Dark Shadow. “His attacks are too telegraphed.”

The moment Aoyama falters, his knees buckling, does Dark Shadow appear and cross the distance, slamming into his enemy. Aoyama grimaces as he’s flung out of the ring and Midnight calls the match.

“Show off. Well, wish me luck,” Kirishima says, grinning.

“Good luck?”

“That is the least manly way you could have said it.”

“S-sorry.”

They say no more as Kirishima leaves for his match against Ibara. “You don’t think he’ll win?” Uraraka asks.

“He’s at a disadvantage. From the way she won the zone defence, she’s got great area denial.”

He nods as Midnight calls the match and Kirishima rushes in. Ibara’s hair moves and digs deep through the floor. A thick tendril of green vines rises up and blocks Kirishima’s path. He barrels through it, only to face another green wall.

“He’s lost,” Izuku says a moment before green walls encircle Kirishima. Soon, they can’t see Kirishima at all behind the cage, and it rises gently in the air and is placed outside the ring.

Midnight calls the match without much fanfare.

“Area denial and capture techniques are hard counters to strengthening quirks. Even certain mutations.”

“You really know a lot about quirks,” Iida says from behind him. In the background, Cementoss repairs the arena with his quirk very easily. 

Izuku shrugs as Bakugou and Sero enter from opposite sides of the arena. “Just a hobby I picked up.”

“I don’t think it’s a hobby if your entire life revolves around it,” Shinsou says. “How many notebooks on quirks do you have?”

Izuku frowns. “All of them? About eighty or so. I mean, only about half are about quirk combat.”

“Do you do anything fun, Midoriya?” Uraraka asks.

“I went to the mall with you guys.”

“That was like a month ago.”

“Shinsou made me watch a movies last weekend,” he adds and only then realises how pitiful that sounds.

“He clearly didn’t do a good job. So, who’s winning this one.”

“Kacchan,” he says instantly. He feels the way the mood dies down and adds, “He wants to win more. Their quirks are about equal but…”

He trails off as Midnight starts the match. Sero’s tape arcs across the arena. Bakugou leaps to the side, aided by an explosion. Another and he’s rocketing towards Sero. Sero fires off more tape with his free arm. Kaachan just ducks low and lets off a quick explosion that pushes Sero back. Kaachan’s within Sero’s guard in a moment and his elbow slams into the boy’s sternum.

They watch in silence as Kaachan grabs Sero by the arm and flips the boy over, pinning him with a knee and bending his arm painfully. Sero taps the ground and Midnight calls the match.

The next two matches are over quickly: Kaminari, who still hasn’t recovered his IQ points, faces off against Uraraka who jumps high in the air to avoid Kaminari’s predictable lighting surge and takes him down with a vicious uppercut; and Testuetsu who has no idea about Shinsou’s quirk responds to him and is forced to walk off the stage.

“This will be an interesting battle,” Tokoyami says, having returned a few minutes ago. “A ranged fighter against the fastest person in the class. Todoroki will lose if Iida is fast enough to close the gap.”

Izuku isn’t so certain. From what he’s seen, outside of surprising Todoroki, he doesn’t have any real weaknesses. His ice is fast, capable of amazing area denial, and instantaneous.

When the battle begins, Todoroki wastes no time. Frost creeps across the ground and then rapidly expands in massive blocks. Iida’s already on the other side of the arena and slides around Todoroki’s next attack.

Frost spreads in two separate directions and ice sprouts in a large ‘V’ shape, with Iida right at the centre. He crouches and then he’s in the air above Todoroki. His foot comes down. Todoroki blocks it with an ice-covered arm. The ice shatters and Iida leaps past him. 

“Speed is his weakness,” Tokoyami says as Iida dodges more ice.

“No, it fucking isn’t,” Kaachan snarls and Izuku can’t help but agree. “You fucking deserve to lose if you can’t figure it out, Deku.”

Something changes about Iida. Blue flames leave his engines and then he’s moving fast as lightning. He spins past slabs of ice like a blur and kicks Todoroki so fast Izuku can barely track it. The audience gasps as Todoroki goes flying.

Izuku watches the boy tumble across the field before righting himself, one hand on the ground. Frost spreads in a path to Iida but it seems so slow in comparison. He can do it, Izuku thinks just as Iida is enters close range. The ice expands an inch behind Iida and even from so far away, Izuku can see the shock and realisation in Todoroki’s eyes. Come on Iida, he thinks as Iida leg is raised and ready to smash Todoroki’s face in.

Then the fire appears.

He watches as a single stream of fire sparks to life, bright and hot enough that Iida is forced to dodge to the side instead of finishing his kick. The audience gasps in shock, and Iida hesitates for half a second. In that half second, the fire vanishes as frost spreads across the ground. Ice forms in massive, misshapen clumps, becoming larger and larger the closer they got to Iida.

Izuku blinks dumbly at the massive shadow now covering a good portion of the stadium. His hands shake at this monstrous hill of ice, sharp and jagged as crystal nightmares.

“Oh fuck,” someone says.

Izuku agrees completely with that sentiment. He wants to run and hide. This level of power over the material world isn’t something he’s seen in the real world with his own two eyes. Hawkmoon and Hero are legends, but even they didn’t control the landscape like this. The only person he can think of with power like this is the former Imperial Heir, and that man sunk an island before committing seppuku.

A warm hand covers his own. He looks to Tokoyami who seems resolute, a bastion of dignified regality that Izuku can’t help but admire. Right now, he can see Tokoyami battling the entire world without faltering once.

“Calm yourself,” he says resolutely. “No foe is insurmountable.”

He speaks true, brother mine.

“I don’t know about you but that seems pretty insurmountable,” Ashido says. “Who even speaks like that?”

He doesn’t pay attention to them, or even to Yaoyorozu’s battle with Hatsume. His mind is too preoccupied with Todoroki’s battle because if Iida, who is both faster and a better martial artist, stood no chance, then how is he to win. He doesn’t pay much attention to Hatsume’s victory—she used some sort of capture device and dragged Yaoyorozu high enough in the air with her jetpack that their classes vice rep was forced to surrender.

“You’re a useless fuck if you can’t figure it out,” Kaachan snarls as Izuku walks past his chair.

“Hey, man, cut it out,” Kirishima says.

“Fuck off you side character. Deku, you saw it. Stop over analysing shit. You know his fucking weakness.”

He has a point. Stop thinking too much.

Izuku is left with those words as he faces off against Ashido. He knows her quirk and has made guesses as to some of her limits. He nods to her and focuses on One For All, letting it’s power fill him.

“Contestants at the ready,” Midnight roars. “Fight.”

The whip of her crack punctuates the start of the battle. Ashido lobs a globule of acid at Izuku. He tilts his head and lets it streak past him. There is no point in moving his entire body. She slides towards him, much faster than he can move.

He wonders between dodging globules of acid if she could possible dissolve Todoroki’s ice. And then he realises how rude it is not to pay attention to her.

Izuku dashes forward which catches Ashido off-guard after his passive defence. She flings her arm out, a crescent of acid blocking his path. He pirouettes and flows around the acid. He couches low and sweeps his leg out as he did to take out the robot in the last stage.

Ashido goes down hard.

Before he can close the gap, she spews acid out of her side. Izuku scrambles to the side, hearing his clothes sizzle.

Too close, he thinks and leaps forward. He knees her in the side, his heart clenching painfully at her grunt, and brings her down with a flip.

He has his knee on the small of her back and wrenches one of her arms back. He feels sick because it reminds him of how Kaachan won his fight.

“Y-yield, or I’ll dislocate your s-shoulder.”

She grunts. “You give shit threats. You better win against half-an-half.” She raises her head to look at Midnight. “Yield!”

“Midoriya wins and moves on to the next round.”

The crowd roars and Izuku helps Ashido up. “S-sorry about that.”

She huffs. “You better not be sorry about winning. You don’t hurt a girl’s pride like that.”

He’s left bewildered as she walks away, whistling a jaunty tune and waving. It’s like she considers this loss to be a victory of sorts, as if she is simply revelling in the battle and not the outcome.

“I don’t get girls,” he mutters.

He doesn’t head straight back to the booth. Instead, after mistakenly finding the toilet—which he is grateful for—and being given direction by the same security guard who he learns is called Nagisa, he finds himself in a secluded part of the stadium. Izuku sighs in the corridor and heads to the sunlight. Of course, he would get lost again.

“Midoriya.”

I need to get lost better, he thinks as he turns and sees Todoroki who seems tense and frazzled.

“Y-yes?” He takes a step back and his back meets the wall.

The boy huffs, and places one hand in his pocket. “I won’t hurt you. I think you have enough of people doing that in your life.”

“Wh-what do you—”

“Tell me,” Todoroki interrupts, “are you All Might’s child?”

Izuku blinks, because that is the absolute last thing he ever expects to be asked. He presses his fingers painfully into his thigh. He doesn’t wake up from this surreal dream.

“You’re connected. He’s been watching you from the beginning. And he pays more attention to you than anyone else.”

“That’s because we have similar quirks.”

Todoroki shakes his head. “You knew him before he came here. You even have the same quirk.”

“What? No. I have a grab-bag quirk. You even said so yourself.”

“I was lying for you sake,” he admits. “The speed and strength you show make no sense for a grab-bag quirk. You have two quirks, Midoriya. One from All Might. I know because I have two. You saw the fire.”

Todoroki raises his left hand and a tiny wisp of flame appears. His expression is pinched and haunted as though he relieves a painful memory from the simple act.

“You know my father is Endeavour and his quirk Hellfire. I inherited this curse from him. He married my mother and I was sired. Two quirks, just like the Imperial family has done for years.” He raises his right hand and ice coats it.

“I know what two quirks look like. So, don’t play that game.” Todoroki sneers. “Did he force your mother into a marriage?”

Izuku’s heart beats loud in his chest. “N-no. He’s the number one hero. He wouldn’t-I mean, he’d never f-force himself on my mother.” He shudders at the very idea.

“He has some integrity despite what he’s done to you.”

“He’s done nothing to me,” Izuku snarls, angry enough that his shadow is vibrating. “You’re right, I do know him. But you don’t get to say anything when you know nothing about me.”

Todoroki closes his eyes. Takes a breath. Opens them again.

“You’re right, I don’t know anything about you. But I know people.” Todoroki looks away, a sheer tiredness coming over him. “People who are powerful can hide behind their position. They can hide whatever they want, and no one will ever know. We call them heroes. You worship anyone with that name. And from what I’ve seen, you’re willing to forgive anyone no matter how much they hurt you.”

“That’s not…”

It’s kinda true. You gotta admit he’s not spewing bullshit.

“At least you won’t try to lie about it. I asked you once if you feared the flame. That is the only lesson I ever learnt from my old man.” Todoroki touches his brilliant burn scar. “My mother shouted that as she poured burning water on my face.”

Izuku can’t help the sharp gasp that escapes his lips. Not even for a single second can he imagine his mother harming him unintentionally, let alone on purpose.

“The people closest to us hurt us the most,” Todoroki says quietly. “All Might knew Bakugou would come for you and he didn’t stop him when he destroyed half the building. You might be willing to forgive him for what he did to you, but I won’t excuse it.”

He slams his left fist against the wall, the noise echoing through the hallway. Todoroki’s breathing is ragged and sharp.

“I hate my flames. I thought you of all people would understand. I started a fight with you to prove something. That I don’t need this curse to be the best hero. I’m not going to perpetuate another cycle of silence and cruelty. I’m not going to become my father. I’m not gong to become everything I hate.”

Every inch of Todoroki vibrates, an electrifying potential yet to be reached. Despite the tension building, he never makes an intimidating move towards Izuku as he walks past.

“Todoroki,” Izuku says before the boy goes. “I don’t know you and I don’t know a lot of things. But I know a lot about quirks. I’ve seen the way your arm freezes over. If you really had two quirks, then your body would be able to handle the cold.”

Todoroki is still. “You’re right.” For a second, Izuku’s heart soars. “You do know nothing.”

He knows your power and its potential in the very depths of his soul. He wishes to break the chains of his legacy and use you as the hammer with which to do so, Mikumo says. He does not understand that a personal hell can only be escaped through more suffering.

“I know you think that beating me means you’ll beat All Might. But I’m not him. You can’t break a cycle by perpetuating it.” Izuku grabs Todoroki by the shoulder and twists him around. “I want to be a hero and I can’t be the best if I don’t use all of my power. Neither can you.”

“Don’t touch me.” Todoroki bats his hand away. “This hellfire is a curse. I’ll be the best without it.”

Why won’t he listen? Izuku wonders desperately. Please, just listen to me.

“Power is power,” he blurts out, hoping it will get through. “Only you get to choose how to use it.”

Todoroki doesn’t respond. Izuku watches his classmate walk away, unsure of what to do now.

“I can’t save anyone,” he whispers.

*****

Enji Todoroki watches his son battle a boy of the Iida lineage. He is too like Ingenium and his parents before to be anything other than an Iida. His skills shine through as he outmanoeuvres and predicts Shouto’s attacks. It makes him consider that perhaps his training of Shouto’s physical capabilities has been too lax when the boy is forced to summon his flames to win.

He scoffs and heads to the lower levels. People move aside from his impressive frame wreathed in flames. They aren’t hot flames. He long ago learnt to regulate their temperature. Now, with no enemies present, they exist only to intimidate.

He leans magnificently against a wall as Shouto leaves his match, moisture lining his right side. Enji can’t necessarily see heat, but he can sense it acutely, and right now Shouto’s left side runs hot. The boy’s eyes narrow as he sees Enji.

“You used your fire.”

“What of it?” Shouto says, one step away from a snarl. “I don’t need your power to win. I never will.”

 Enji scoffs. “Words don’t matter, boy. You made a promise and broke it before you even had to fight that Midoriya boy.”

His son’s fists are clenched tightly. “That has nothing to do with you.”

“It has everything to do with me. Fear the flame.” He leans forward to lean over the boy forward. “Show me your resolve or I will intensify your training.”

The boy tenses, fear washing over him. “I’ll win,” Shouto snarls, stalking past. “I don’t need your power.”

Enji watches the boy leave, disappointed. He is still too weak, too raw and unrefined. His anger is fragile, a newly-frozen pond instead of an impenetrable iceberg. His passion is formless and dim, a flickering candle in the dark as opposed to an eternal wildfire.

Your son is still weak, Rei. His heart is brittle ice. He inherited his weak will from what you became.

Enji shakes his head. No matter what, Enji will not permit such weakness in the boy. So long as he has yet to master his fear then Enji will beat it into him. He wonders if he will have to separate the boy from Fuyumi to temper his resolve and discards the thought almost immediately. Doing so is cruelty without purpose. Fire needs oxygen to burn, and Fuyumi is a source of oxygen for Shouto. It would choke and snuff out whatever steel the boy had, and then Enji would have to begin anew.

He does not care much for restarting Shouto’s training program. It is an unnecessary waste of time. Inefficient. Wasteful.

So lost in his thoughts is he, that Enji is caught off-guard by the polite, “Hey.”

He knows that voice and would never mistake it.

“Long time no see,” All Might says politely.

He glances over his shoulder. “All Might.”

The man wears a suit, the same one he wore last year to Edgeshot’s promotion and smiling broadly as though nothing can harm him. It pisses Enji off. He might not see heat, but he can sense it, and right now the flames of All Might’s powers are weak and waning.

He’s found a successor, Enji thinks. The Midoriya boy. You disappoint me, Shouto. Trying to recreate this grudge is meaningless. `

“We haven’t seen each other since that press conference ten years ago,” the number one hero continues blithely, oblivious to Enji’s mounting anger.

What right does this man have to find a worthy successor when Enji cannot, a successor with another powerful quirk to add onto All Might’s? How many generations had the Imperial family bred for dual quirks? And All Might has achieved that in a single generation with one child.

Of his own children, none had displayed dual quirks prior to Shouto, and he is a disappointment. Not for his physical weaknesses, but the weakness of his heart. The weakness of his determination and will.

“What was it you said?” he questions darkly. “Heroes must save not only a person but their spirit. Useless lessons to teach.”

All Might raises his hands placatingly. “Come on, we can have a cup of tea and talk about it. Maybe talk about raising the next generation. Your boy is strong. Maybe there are teaching lessons you can show me.”

For a moment he contemplates telling the man off and being done with this conversation. But there is something so unbelievably earnest from this fading flame that he cannot help but stay.

“The answer to that is simple. Teach them to fear.” He lets his flames intensify. “Teach a child to fear the flame and they will not be burnt.”

All Might frowns. “I don’t think that’s something I can agree with. What point is there in fear? It only stifles a child.”

“If you fear for your survival, you will learn to fish. If you fear weakness, you will become strong. And if you fear the dark, you will build a fire.”

“People can’t learn to smile if they’re afraid. And if they can’t smile then they can’t learn to be better.”

Enji shakes his head, disappointed. “I suppose there’s nothing more to speak of if you have none of your own words.”

“Why would you think that?”

“Because you’re not Nana Shimura.”

All Might rocks back on his heels, eyes wide, and nearly trips on the stair. “You remember—”

“How can I not when you parrot back her words incessantly,” Enji snaps, his flames burning hotter. “You’re a pathetic rival. No matter how hard you try, you will never be her. Stop trying and become your own man.”

Enji walks away, heedless of whatever All Might says because this man disgusts him. Strength without will to temper it is no strength. It is just an illusion, a dream or maybe a nightmare.

And Enji knows all too well the danger of nightmares.  

“Your life will have no meaning if you die trying to be her.”

With how weakly All Might’s power burns, that day may come sooner than anyone is prepared for.

Chapter Text

‘Strength of mind: this determines your tactical and strategic thinking, your ability to plan and anticipate the enemy’s movements. Experience is the greatest teacher as knowing the ‘Art of War’ verbatim will not teach you how to react to someone who’s Quirk lets them change the battlefield with impunity.’

—Excerpt from the recovered 'Tenets of Combat' likely authored by an underground hero or vigilante

Inko Midoriya watches the matches with interest. She knows many of them battling today: Tokoyami, dark and imperial who wins with ease; Kirishima whose loss breaks her heart even is she knows it was his worst possible matchup; Uraraka who wins without using her powers, exploiting her enemy’s weakness viciously; and Iida who was so close to victory against Endeavour’s son. She knows their names because Izuku talks of them constantly, and from the way his voice swells with warmth, she knows they are worthy of his love.

She watches her son win against Ashido and feels ill. It is the exact same way that Katsuki won his battle.

Do not worry,” Jin Mo-Ri, one her son’s teachers, says in Korean. “Had you not seen Katsuki do the same, you would not be so upset.”

She frowns. “I told him to win. How he wins matters. If he wins like that now, then what will he become later.”

“Perhaps. But consider that he had no other way to win whilst also respecting his opponent. It was the expedient method. It was also kinder than taunting her with a protracted battle. He was paying her no attention for most of the battle. And when he did pay attention, he won easily.”

Inko shakes her head as the intermission is called. “I’m going for a walk,” she says to Mitsuki before heading out.

It gives her the opportunity to think and to clear her head. She doesn’t like the idea of her son looking to Katsuki as inspiration for anything. A stand sells crepes and she indulges in one as she walks without thought to where she is going.

She spies Endeavour stalking across one of the hallways as she travels the bowels of the stadium. When she sees Izuku leaning pitifully against a wall, she wonders what has him so sad.

“Izuku.”

He looks up, the sadness clearing away. “Kaa-san. Are you lost as well?”

She shakes her head. “No. You’re the one with the bad sense of direction.” He huffs. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing, I…” He sighs, eyes scrunching in frustration. “What’s the point of being a hero if I can’t save anyone?”

She places her hands on his shoulders. “Who are you talking about?”

“Would you ever hurt me?” he asks suddenly instead of asking, eyes bright in a way that terrifies Inko.

“Never. I could never.”

His shoulders shake as he tries holding in his tears. “Then why would”—He takes a shuddering breath—“Was dad kind to you?”

“Always.” She pulls him close. “You have to explain if you want me to help.”

He holds her tight. “I know. But it’s not my secret to tell.”

“You have a waiting room, right?” He nods against her. “Let’s talk there.”

She is not foolish enough to let Izuku lead her there. Instead, she asks him for the room number and finds her way there, glaring at anyone who so much as looks at them wrong. There is a TV showing the Festival and she seats Izuku before the screen.

“You’re my son,” she says. “I’ve told you before what that means to me.”

“Mikumo.”

She isn’t ready for the pang of loneliness. For a moment she imagines him standing behind Izuku, perhaps the tiniest bit taller with hair as dark as Hisashi. It is just a vision of her long-held grief, not an objective truth.

“Yes, him. You are all I have left in this world. I could hurt you no more than the sun could stop shining.”

The next contestants take their spot. Katsuki walks up one end whilst the girl Izuku won with does the same from the other end. The girl has a metal harness in addition to her jetpack.

“And Hisashi was always good to me. He was never cruel to me. Quiet, maybe, but never silent. Just like you get sometimes.

When the fight begins, the girl moves quickly, the harness seeming to aid her movement. She is fast enough to run past katsuki’s explosions even if the boy doesn’t attack ferociously. Her jetpack activates suddenly and she jukes in the opposite direction much faster than Katsuki can turn. Something metallic flies through the air and wraps around Katsuki.

A grappling hook, she thinks.

The girl pivots on the spot and Katsuki, tied to the end of the grappling hook, spins through the air. The crowd roars but Inko doesn’t share the sentiment. Something about Katsuki is too calm for him to be worrying.

“Oh,” Izuku says just before Katsuki grips the wire with both hands. The explosion breaks the wire and sends Katsuki flying.

Except, he lets off an explosion and rockets towards the girl. His speed, aided by gravity, is faster than the girl’s reaction time. He slams into her and a cloud of smoke forms.

They wait a few anxious seconds before the smoke clears. Katsuki stands over an unconscious Mei. He nods to the girl when Midnight calls the match and stalks off the field.

“He respects her,” Izuku says.

“Maybe. Why can’t you tell me who you want to save?”

“Because if I tell you, I think you’ll guess why. And that might as well be telling the secret.”

Tokoyami enters the arena alongside the green-haired girl that beat Kirishima. He seems unconcerned by the possibility of her quirk despite it being a natural counter to his abilities.

When she takes his hand, she finds it shakes. She squeezes his hand until the shaking stops and a semblance of calm returns to him.

“Alright. Do you think you can save this person?”

“I don’t know. But I have to try again.”

When the match starts, the girl’s vines dig deep into the ground just as Dark Shadow launches across the field. The dark creature—elder tree, her mind adds without approval—slams into a wall of vines and Tokoyami is forced to dodge the tendrils that rise up beneath him.

More vines appear where he lands and only Dark Shadow’s quick attack slices through them and free Tokoyami.

“This isn’t good,” Izuku says as Dark Shadow drags Tokoyami away from danger. “She’s already taken over too much of the field.”

And she has. Dark Shadow vaults across the field and pulls Tokoyami with it until the are behind the girl.

 The moment they land, vines break through the ground and wrap around them. Tokoyami and Dark Shadow struggle futilely as more vines surround them.

When Midnight rises from her seat to ask a question, Tokoyami roars back a response.

“He can’t win…”

Izuku trails off as the darkness surrounds Tokoyami. Something large emerges from his torso similar to Dark Shadow but nothing like it at all. Where Dark Shadow seemed a shadow, this thing has obsidian scales that suck in the light and ropy muscles and gleaming claws sharper enough to cut through the vines as though they are paper.

The massive arm retreats into Tokoyami’s body through the same portal it appeared in. The girl is wary. The stadium is silent. And Izuku hand shakes so hard she worries he will break her hand by mistake.

“No, no, no,” he whispers. “Damn it, why didn’t you tell me?”

“Izuku, that looked like—”

“A dragon,” he intones gravely, “from the abyss.”

When a flood of waves approaches Tokoyami, he shouts something. Dark Shadow lifts him just as the arm returns, this time with claws coated in dark fire.

The fire hurts her mind to look at. It reminds her of the time Izuku spoke of the birth of the universe, his eyes bright and feverish and bleeding. The dark flame doesn’t so much burn as it does unravel the very existence of the vines until not even ash remains.

Her stomach lurches at the sight of these flames. They are too familiar. She knows how they work, has seen them many times before. Her grip around Izuku’s hand tightens. He is here, and she uses that certainty to ground herself to the now.

Tokoyami lands on the stadium floor, heedless of the patch of dark fire beside him. His head is held high and his back ramrod straight. He says something to the girl. She looks to Tokoyami and then to the dragon’s arm, before surrendering.

Midnight calls the match to the silence of the audience. The fire burning around the claws extinguishes and with it so do the flames still burning on the field. Mother and son watch Tokoyami walk away, head held high in victory.  

“Izuku, how did he get to the abyss?” she asks numbly.

“I don’t-I never took him there. I swear I didn’t.”

“I believe you.” She takes a deep breath. “Izuku, I don’t think you’re the first person to touch the abyss.”

He looks to her, the very expression of horror. “Kaa-san, d-don’t make… please tell me you’re making some horrible joke. Please.”

“I’m sorry.” She wipes away his tears before they form. “I told you about the anti-quirk riots. They didn’t happen for no reason. When Taiwan sunk, quirkless people called for the head of the Imperial Heir. The Emperor stayed silent, and just when things were getting worse, Shikoku happened.”

“The villain a-attack?”

“Is that what they tell you in school?” She shakes her head. “Izuku, the entire region went from peaceful to a battlezone in a single night. It was civilians fighting officers fighting villains fighting the imperial guard. It was madness and chaos. And at every single hotspot there were reports of dark fire.”

“No, that’s not p-possible.”

“We don’t know the reach of your quirk. We barely know anything. Who’s to say someone else couldn’t travel the abyss or call on the godflame?”

“H-how do you know that name?”

She blinks. “You said it before,” she lies for the first time to her son.

He doesn’t notice. “I can’t…”

She merely holds him as the next contestants take the stage. She can’t show her fear or hesitance. Because she never once thought of why Hisashi was so withdrawn in the days after the event. Everyone was shaken, everyone was tense. Even her husband in his white jacket that he rarely wore.

And yet, all she remembers is how silent he had been in the early hours of the morning, watching the aftermath of the event with her. It worries her now more than ever the possibility of his connections and how much chose not to tell her.

What did you do, Hisashi?

 

*****

Ochaco Uraraka has questions. So many questions. All the questions, in fact. She isn’t the only one in their booth with questions.

“Did anyone else just see the giant arms,” Kirishima asks, eyes so wide she worries they’ll fall out, “or the fire. You know the black fire. That fire.”

Ashido elbows him. “Stop being stupid. We all saw it.” She glances around the booth. “Right?”

Ochaco wants to sigh. Maybe if Iida were here, he would be able to get them to behave better. But no one has so much as seen a glimpse of him since his loss. She wonders if he’s alright and decides she’ll call him in the evening.

“I’m confused,” Kaminari says, only half lucid. “Why did he have four arms?”

“Kaminari, dude, do us all a favour and shut up.”

Ochaco, being the decent human being that she is, says, “Don’t be mean. He’s really stupid right now.”

Ashido glances her way. “You’re really vicious. I’ve read comment sections less vicious that you.”

“No, I’m not. Tokoyami will tell us if he wants to.” Ochaco stands and waves. “I have someone to beat.”

She hopes to see Tokoyami on the way down and get some answers out him even if it would be easier to pull blood from stone. She does not.

Ochaco shrugs and puts on her best smile as walks to the arena. The audience is silent compared to how they were when Bakugou fought so she twirls and waves extravagantly. That garners some attention at the very least.

Shinsou is there already, staring at her intensely despite the bags under his eyes. I’ll get him some chamomile tea right after I beat him, she decides. She may have a winning streak a mile long but she isn’t cruel.

“Contestants ready,” Midnight says through the speakers. “Fight.”

Neither of them moves.

“You should just give up,” Ochaco says. “I know all about your quirk and—”

“Really?”

Ochaco snaps her mouth shut and merely glares at Shinsou. He sighs.

“I guess you do know all about it,” he admits, and raises his fists. “But I’m not giving up just because you asked.”

Who is she to deny him his right to fight even if she does find it stupid?

She rushes forward, ready to win this fight quickly. His quirk is devastating in the right circumstances but so long as she refuses to answer anything he says, then he might as well be quirkless. And she knows his close combat skills are lacking.

When his elbow strikes her across her jawline, she admits she may have underestimated him a bit. She fails to dodge the knee to the side or the punch to the kidney. Ochaco grits her teeth through the blows and rolls back the first chance she has.

Her side is a mass of pain and she spits out some blood. Wiping her mouth probably leaves red smears but she doesn’t care too much.

“That was mean,” she says and watches him blush. Guilty, maybe?

She is more cautious this time. He narrowly avoids her first palm strike and scrambles to grab her wrists before the second. With his torso open, Ochaco takes the opportunity and knees him in the side. He gasps in pain.

Before she can tag him with her powers, he slams his head forward. She hears her nose crunch and feels like an explosion has gone off on her face.

Okay, I’m ending this, she thinks before kneeing him in the side again.

She twists and breaks his hold on her writs before slamming her palm straight into his sternum. She slides forward and pulls one of his arms back as she kicks his ankle to unbalance him. Without gravity to hold him down, he topples over easily right onto her shoulders.

She hoists him in a fireman’s carry and dashes to the edge of the arena regardless of his kicks and blows. She tips him over and deactivates her quirk. He slams onto the ground with a gasp of pain.

“Shinsou is out of bounds,” Midnight announces just before the crowd erupts into applause. She gives them a thumbs up.

“You’re vicious,” Shinsou whimpers from his spot on the ground.

She extends a hand to the boy. “I’ll make it up to you.”

Shinsou smiles weakly at her, and she feels her heart skip a beat. He takes her hand gently. “Want to go on a date?”

It takes her a moment to process the words he has just uttered. A second more for her face to flush red.

“What, you can’t just-why would—” She stops uttering coherent words.

She stops only when Shinsou laughs. “I guess I win this round.”

“I hate you.”

“That’s not a no.”

*****

The doorway appears, and the World Walker becomes one with the material world. The abyss fades away in streaks of green lightning, and the real-world beckons sweetly.

It is a room, large as an auditorium, that the World Walker appears in. A single desk frames the room, and the man sitting behind it wears the purest of whites. A chrysanthemum carving looms over the man, real gold blades crossed beneath the flower, a reminder of the dynasty he represents.

The Emperor raises a hand to forestall the guards in the room, all wearing the perfect white uniform of the Royal Guard. They are all powerful, and were they not owned by the Chrysanthemum throne, they would easily be contenders for the number one hero spot.

“You. You died.”

The World Walker acknowledges this with a nod and approached. The operator within speaks and the Emperor listens.

“I ensured they were protected.”

The World Walker considers this. Finds it lacking. Reminds the Emperor of his place.

“You saved my son, and I will forever be grateful that he lives. My debt is repaid.”

The World Walker breathes the godflame and sets the Emperor’s desk alight with infernal fire. The Emperor does not move and shows no fear. He waves his hand, an order to the people in the room.

The Royal Guard move to enforce their Emperor’s directive.

The World Walker forms a doorway between himself and the bolts of lightning and lets them pass through to the darkness hiding beyond mortal understanding. Another doorway opens as the agent creates a field of electromagnetic potential that would crush a human easily. The creature beyond the doorway eats the electromagnetic field, neutralising the guard.

One moves fast as the light itself, so fast that the World Walker would fail to react under any other circumstance. But there is a creature in the abyss that makes deals as it breathes. And in exchange for protection against light, the World Walker would let it feast upon light itself.

A pillar of obsidian rises and protects the World Walker from the first physical strike. The agent creates dozens of beams of hardlight, all strong enough to carve a hole through a mountain of steel. The obsidian pillar eats of the light, sapping the agent of her power until she collapses. 

A warp quirk attempts to engulf him in waves of frozen time so the World Walker shunts that power to a distant sun in the abyss. Another doorway opens to a small singularity and the concept of time breaks down around the agent, and he is trapped in a loop of his last five seconds, unable to escape.

And as all this is happening, dozens of illusions fill the air. There are monsters and nightmares and a normal human being would be crushed by the weight of these illusions. They illusions have mass and could very well harm. The operator within the World Walker stares at these illusions in contempt before opening a doorway beneath their creator and depositing her to the other side of the Imperial Villa. The illusions vanish with her disappearance.

Despite all of the World Walker’s preparation, the sudden bolt of superheated plasma almost catches it by surprise. Almost and only because of the operator’s sudden hesitance at the sight of the green wave of superheated death, hot as the sun but tightly contained and focused. The World Walker takes control once more and finds a creature within the abyss that will be able to handle this heat. In the same moment, dozens of doorways appear over the humans in the room to protect them from the immense heat. The agent almost looks chastised by his actions. The World Walker takes pity on the child and simply shunts him out the room without much malice.

And before the last can steal enough kinetic energy to punch a hole all the way through earth and out the other side, the World Walker opens a doorway to an area of infinite negative mass and waits very patiently until the woman understands all of the kinetic energy she generates is sucked away by that negative singularity. And when she does, the World Walker opens a doorway to the same time loop trapping her ally and leaves her in it.

It is over soon. These six Royal Guards who could invade and hold a city collectively, and individually are equal to All Might or All For One lay on the ground, damaged but still drawing breath.

And yet, despite the strength of the World Walker, the Emperor shows no fear.

The Emperor watches the World Walker but does not activate his quirk. What point is there in ripping the Imperial Villa apart when the attack will not harm the World Walker? It is this man’s greatest weakness. His control of the earth eclipses all who came before. To the Emperor, raising a mountain is simple. But the magnitude of his powers mean that he cannot use it against anything less than a large town.

“Are you done having a tantrum,” the Emperor asks patiently, almost like a parent scolding a child. “I expected more of you.”

The operator within the World Walker speaks again.

“The boy was innocent of any crime. I killed my son to save my son. That boy called me father, thought I was his father, and looked to me for protection before it was done. He cursed me to his dying breath. All of that just to please the masses.”

The World Walker does not care for the rebuttal of this man who can silence volcanoes and silence tectonic plates.

“Tell me what you want and begone.”

The World Walker does so with pleasure. In a few minutes a new accord is struck and the World Walker steps through reality to the darkness. Travelling across the abyss is an exercise in navigating streams of relative sanity and avoiding the true dangers here. A winged creature, the secret-keeper itself, proves its benevolence and permits the World Walker to ride in the wake of its gargantuan wings.

That shortcut deposits this one near the bones of a dragon. The World Walker inspects this creature. Its frame lacks the echo of the godflame and its bone structure is more serpentine than that of other dragons. It is still warm to the touch, but its last wish has been spent. It simply waits for the wish to be fulfilled in full.

When a patch of the unreal lines up with the mortal coil, the World Walker forms the doorway and banishes the barriers between worlds. With a mighty step vaster than reality, a new room becomes reality.

A man sits in this shrouded room, the hiss of a breathing mask filling the air, and the beep of life support increasing in tempo for a moment as All For One inspects the World Walker. The great villain is silent for a long moment.

“Are you the reason the Imperial family’s increased security these past two days?”

The World Walker offers no answers and instead asks a question.

“You are still a rude man,” All For One says. “And yes, Shikoku shows no signs of contamination. Tell me, did you believe you could live a life of mundanity after what we did?”

The World Walker does not set anything on fire. It is a close thing.

“It took me a few months to piece everything together. I do not find myself annoyed, you see. It is incredibly rare for one man to move both I and the Emperor. My people diverted attention and you accomplished the Emperor’s mission. It was a brilliant masterstroke.”

The malevolence of All For One permeates the air. The World Walker would collapse if not for having witnessed the indifference of gods. As it is, this is nothing more than mildly interesting.

“Do not attempt to do so again. My patience runs thin. Do not forget that I am the strongest man alive. Your powers will not protect you from my wrath.”

The operator within the World Walker laughs. “You may be that,” the Operator says without fear, “but even the strongest man must be polite and offer his guests tea. It’s been a long time since I had any.”

All For One lets the malice fade from the air. Soon enough, the two are seated and drinking tea. Speaking as though they are allies when they are the furthest from it.

The World Walker finds this unnecessary but it is the wish of its operator. And so it cedes control and waits, patiently cataloguing any and all threats.

Chapter Text

‘Strength of will: this determines the formless aspect of combat. There is no weakness, only strength. There are no failures, only setbacks. There is no defeat, only tactical retreat. This precept can be broken down to that. It is not merely a mindset but the complete refusal to accept anything but a positive outcome. Defeatism, even for a single moment, is a step away from death in this field.’

—Excerpt from the recovered 'Tenets of Combat' likely authored by an underground hero or vigilante

The light turns red and then green again. Izuku watches it cycle for a few seconds. He stands and smiles at his mother.

“It’s time.”

She smiles gently. “Do you have a plan?”

“Not one you’ll like.” He shrugs. “It’s a bad plan but it’s the only plan I have. He has one weakness I can exploit.”

“If you’re going to do something I’ll hate, then at least win with style. And not with your ass in the air.”

Izuku flushes the brightest red and retreats from the room. He performs a quick breathing exercise and walks towards the tunnel that will lead him to his battle. A sigh escapes his lips when he sees the man before him.

Endeavour leans against a wall, his massive frame seeming to dominate the hallway. Fire swirls around his costume, and it makes Izuku wonder what material it is made from. His eyes, the blue of tainted snow, track Izuku with casual indifference.

“Boy, I recommend you give up.”

Endeavour pushes off the wall. He settles lightly, much lighter than Izuku thinks possible of a man that probably weighs as much as All Migh—without the benefit of a quirk that dds muscle mass.

Izuku forces a smile. “My mo-mother wouldn’t want that. And I don’t think you have any useful lessons.”

“Fear the flame boy, or it will consume you like your friend.”

Izuku grits his teeth. “You know, I think you’re strong. But I also think you’re a fucking idiot.” Endeavour perpetual frown deepens. “Fear the flame. That’s nonsense and we all know it. Whatever you think of your quirk, you don’t get to tell your son to fear his.”

“You know—”

“Nothing. Yeah, your son told me that. And I think you’re both idiots. I’m going to win, and I’ll prove you both wrong.”

Endeavour watches him for a moment. And then the man has the audacity to laugh, deep and full and much too malevolent for a hero.

“You are a fool, boy.”

“Maybe,” Izuku snarls. “But I know your son will never become you. He’s not a monster hiding behind his position. And I’m going to show him that it’s his fire, not yours. Get out of my way.”

Endeavour shakes his head, but he does tilt his body enough that Izuku could squeeze through if he hugs the wall and hunches over.

Show him your strength, Mikumo whispers, and Izuku is inclined to agree.

He only needs the tiniest fraction of One For All to shoulder-check Endeavour as he walks forward. The man is forced to the side by the unexpected strength. And maybe Izuku will have bruises on his shoulder, but they are worth it to hear Endeavour scoff in annoyance at being shoved aside by a boy half his size.

“The flames will consume and enslave you,” Endeavour says calmly, but the way his flames burn hotter belies the façade, “just like that boy.”

Izuku glares at him out of the corner of his eyes. Endeavour simply raises a brow.

“Endeavour, I don’t care who you are or how strong you are, but if you ever threaten my friends”—he lets the madness of the abyss bleed through his glare and sees Endeavour’s flames burn hotter—“I. Will. Break you.”

He doesn’t look back at the man. He is nothing to Izuku. Not now. He understands then why so many can hate heroes when Endeavour is one. Regardless, he puts the thought of Endeavour away and walks into the sunlight.

The light is harsh, but not blinding. Thankfully, it is a few hours after noon and he can call upon the inky darkness of the abyss if necessary.

He meets Shouto across the arena, not caring what Midnight or Present Mic have to say. Right now, in this moment, only he and Todoroki exist.

“I talked to your father,” Izuku says whilst Present Mic hypes the crowd. “You’re not him and you never will be. And that’s because of a choice, not because of you quirk.” Todoroki says nothing. “I’m going to save you despite yourself.”

The anticipation builds in the air. Izuku feels the flow of One For All, the power of eight generations rising to a crescendo within him.

Midnight cracks her whip and the battle begins.

Todoroki slams his foot into the ground, a line of frost leading from it. Chunks of ice expand outward in a path of devastation that would give any person pause. It is an unstoppable wave, the likes of which perhaps even All Might would consider a worthy challenge for a few seconds.

All of this does not matter to Izuku. He has seen Todoroki fight and he knows the boy’s weakness.

The onslaught of ice grants him the cover to dash to the opposite side of the field and sprint along the edge of the ice, hidden from Todoroki’s vision. He slides into view and sees Todoroki still watching his last spot.

In a second, he closes the distance like a flash of green lightning. Todoroki’s eyes are wide. Izuku slams his knee in Todoroki’s side and watches the boy list to the side.

Izuku pirouettes around the sudden spike of ice that rises from the ground and sweeps Todoroki’s legs out from under him.

The boy rolls to the side, frost streaking towards Izuku.

Izuku takes a single step forward and ice forms behind him. Todoroki has a singular expression of shock as his attack fails for the second time today.

He punches Todoroki in his unprotected side. When Todoroki makes a half-turn and freezes his right side, Izuku grabs him by the arm and flips him over.

“You’re going to lose,” Izuku says calmly even as Todoroki scrambles back, trying to put some distance between them.

Izuku shoots off a shadow pole and watches Todoroki dodge around it. He is tempted to sigh for only a moment. And then he closes the distance once more. He barely manages to dodge the ice encrusted fist. It is a close thing, but he does it, and kicks Todoroki in his left side. It is the side where his fire would be. Without it, it is one glaring weakness.  

It sends Todoroki flying but he lands in a three-point crouch. It doesn’t matter if it gives Todoroki the distance he needs to use his ice. When the ice rushes towards him, Izuku merely raises his hand and channels One For All to his finger.

Bang.

A shockwave of raw force tears through the ice and sunders Todoroki’s offence. It may have cost a finger, but it is worth it to see the fear in Todoroki’s eyes.

“Without your fire, you have a giant weakness.”

*****

“Oh snap,” Ashido says. “How the hell is he winning?”

Ochaco wants the answer to that as well. Even with Iida’s performance against Todoroki, she never thought her classmate would be manhandled again. And even during that fight, he never seemed anything more than mildly annoyed instead of outright fearful.

“I knew Midoriya was manly but damn,” Kirishima says as Izuku flicks a finger and releases a shockwave of force that breaks Todoroki’s ice.

She watches Izuku close the distance faster than Todoroki can form ice and knee his opponent in the side, the same side he’s attacked since the very beginning of the battle.

“He figured out the fucker’s weakness,” Bakugou—and she hates how he thinks he has a right to speak—says in contemplation. “He can’t make his ice instantly. At least, not the huge shit. It’s why he always fucking leads with frost on the ground first.”

Her eyes widen. “Oh, that’s why the ice formed behind Iida.”

“Wait, what?” Ashido asks.

“When they were fighting, right at the end, the ice formed just behind Iida.”

“And the bitch finally gets it. He’s got a five-foot casting radius and then he can make a fucking glacier. Without that shit, well…”

They watch as Izuku spins low to avoid Todoroki’s punch. Izuku twists as he rises, and his heel tags Todoroki’s shoulder. She watches in silence as Izuku hits Todoroki in the same spot over and over again and feels the slightest bit sick. There is no warmth in the way Izuku holds himself. Everything about him is calculating and unfeeling, a machine more than the boy who smiles as bright as the sun despite his scars.

Todoroki sends frost behind himself, hidden from Izuku’s view. At exactly five feet now that she knows to look for it, the ice forms, expanding rapidly and circling in an arc around Todoroki that protects him from Izuku. Todoroki takes the second he has to make more ice even as he backs away.

She understands why when a shockwave tears through the ice and Izuku dashes past Todoroki’s shattered barrier. He flips through the air and lands right before Todoroki, so close in any other situation she might make an inappropriate joke.

Instead, she watches in silence as Izuku grabs Todoroki by the collar and punches him in the side. Todoroki gasps, and she can just imagine the pained sound. Especially when Izuku does so again. Then for a third time.

“I feel sick,” Kirishima says.

Ochaco agrees completely. This isn’t like Izuku. If he had wanted to end the fight, he would have. Instead, he leans forward and says something to Todoroki that they can’t hear.

“Oh, you fucking cunt,” Bakugou roars. “What tragic as shit backstory does half-and-half have that you’re trying to save him? You fucking idiot.”

“Bakugou?” Kaminari ventures warily as Izuku sends Todoroki flying. “You okay there, buddy? How’s about you calm down before you do something you’ll regret.”

Bakugou glares at Kaminari. “You’re a shitty ass side character that just recently got some lines so fuck off.” Ochaco watches amazed as he takes a breath and leans back in his chair. “He’s trying to save Todoroki for some bullshit reason.”

It sounds ridiculous coming from Bakugou’s mouth. But that also lends it credence. She doesn’t like him, probably never will, but she can’t deny that he and Izuku have known each other far longer than she has. And she knows from every errant comment Izuku makes about Bakugou, or vice versa, that the two know each on an almost instinctual level.

Also, there’s the fact that Izuku has just broken another finger instead of ending the fight cleanly.

*****

Izuku feels tired. Not physically even if his hand is just a mass of hurt right now, but emotionally. He doesn’t know how to save Todoroki except to show him how weak he really is by hiding from his powers.

And doing so makes him feel like a bully.

He forms a shadow pole, makes it hard as steel, and smacks Todoroki’s ice encrusted arm. The ice shatters and Todoroki grunts in pain, reacting too slow to avoid Izuku hitting him in the side with the pole.

This isn’t a fight. It’s nothing more than cruelty.

This is how Endeavour taught him to fear the flame, Mikumo tells Izuku as Todoroki forms wall after wall of ice. You use the same methods of control and submission. Are you not the same?

Maybe, but right now, I need you to shut up.

Izuku takes a step to the right to dodge the spear of ice flying through the air. When the second spear comes, Izuku is ready. He reaches out to grab it and spins on the spot, not once losing his momentum, before sending it back enhanced by One For All’s power.

The spear crashes against Todoroki’s barrier, breaking enough of it that he can see the terrified eyes of his opponent. He knows that fear well. It’s the fear of facing something you can’t beat. 

The fear only grows more when Izuku raises his right hand and flicks his index finger, breaking it once more. The pressure wave breaks through the remains of Todoroki’s barrier.

“Right now, I think you should stop screwing around,” Izuku shouts, panting harshly.

He has taken a few blows but most of the pain he feels comes from breaking his own fingers. But that pains brings clarity. It doesn’t matter that he has broken every finger on his right hand. Not when he has a chance to save someone. What point is there in being a hero if he can’t save a classmate whose story he knows, let alone a random civilian he has never met?

For a fleeting instance, he remembers the girl in the sunflower dress. Her cries of pain rock him to the core, and the pleading look she had that day makes him ashamed. He lets the memory fade away.

Right now, right here, there is someone begging to be saved. He wonders how strong a person must be to experience all Todoroki has and still stay so sane, to want to be kind and compassionate where those before him were not. To want to move past the shadow his father casts and become his own man.

Todoroki’s mismatched eyes are a mirror to his own pain and hurt and longing, hidden behind any barrier that could be produced. For Izuku, it is a smile and right now he can’t muster a smile. For Todoroki, it is his cold demeanour. Izuku has seen it crack, but he has yet to see Todoroki take a step back in fear. 

When the ice comes, Izuku is indifferent. He jumps over it and comes down in a vicious axe kick that breaks through each barrier of ice that Todoroki forms. It connects with the boy’s shoulder and Izuku hears the pop of a dislocation.

Izuku lands in a crouch and surges forward, his chest slamming into Todoroki’s torso. He punches Todoroki in the face. His broken fingers shriek in pain but Izuku ignores that feeling.

“It’s your power,” he screams, punching Todoroki’s bloody face once more. “Only you get to decide. You can’t beat me. How the hell do you think you’ll be the best without your flames?”

He slips past ice and grabs Todoroki by the throat before slamming him into the ground.

“Your fire covers your every weakness,” Izuku snarls, tightening his grip around Todoroki’s throat. “So why the hell do you think it’s his flame?”

Todoroki slams his hand on the ground. Izuku is completely blindsided by the slab of ice that hits him in the face. The world goes white as he flies through the air. He lands hard on the ground. Instinct is the only reason he dodges the ice spear.

“You can’t win against me like this.” He spreads his arms wide. From his shadow, dozens of dark darts fly towards him, all hard as diamond. They aren’t meant to hit Todoroki, only destroy his barrier.

“If you don’t use your flames you’ll just become bitter and do the same things as him.”

His eyes sting, and maybe it’s ice particulates, but he is sure they are tears. Because Todoroki looks to him with a gaze that pierces his core. Something so broken it can’t be repaired stares back at Izuku—It is pain so fundamental and natural that no one notices because who notices that you have two arms and legs; they would notice the absence of a limb, but not presence of the limb itself.

But when something is broken like that, it can be repurposed and recycled. Something new, and perhaps something beautiful, can be built from shattered hopes and broken faith.

The wisp of flame is almost invisible in the bright light. It is a single point of heat that can one day bring life if it is nurtured properly. It is the first prayer to existence, that formless light that gave rise to energy and entropy and the forward arrow of time.

But just as it can create, it holds the power to incinerate everything in its path because passion without direction is harmful, and even the hottest hate will one day burn out and leave nothing but cruel desolation—and it makes him wonder if that is what became of Endeavour, that perhaps no one was there to save him when he needed it most.

Izuku knows this because some days when he sees injustice he simply wants to give in and let the monsters hiding in the dark roam free and take their bounty from the world. But so long as one person begs for salvation, Izuku refuses to give in.

Todoroki’s very eyes are a plea to be saved, and Izuku won’t give up until he does so.

That single flame births an inferno, a raging maelstrom of flames long suppressed that they feed greedily on oxygen and burn brighter, consuming themselves in an uncontrollable blaze of resentment and fear and yearning.

He can taste the smoke of damnation, the echo of hell, and feel the prayer in Todoroki’s soul as heat sears Izuku’s lungs with each breath he takes.  

“Why would you try to save your enemy?” Todoroki asks, his voice cracking.

But those words are Izuku’s absolution and lift him past the mire and muck of the past, banishing memories of that little girl in his sunflower dress and his failings as a person. Perhaps one day he can save the world, but right now he’ll settle for saving the person right in front of him.  

“I want,” he chokes out through the heat burning his throat, “to save everyone!”

Do you know the cost of your oath, dear brother?

The flames lessen in intensity until they only cover Todoroki’s body like a protective shroud, a benediction against present day threats and the cruelty of his past.

The ice on his right side melts away, proof that the flames they belong to him and no one else. The fire causes the ice pillars to melt, and already Izuku can see how Todoroki’s body loosens, strength returning to it. He no longer hunches over his bad side, half a step away from collapsing.

No, he stands tall, engulfed in the flames of the eternally damned.

The grin that comes to Izuku’s lips is as easy as breathing. The need to win, to prove himself the strongest against a foe, permeates his grin. But that feeling shares space with the absolute joy of saving someone. Because it proves that he isn’t defined by his quirk, that he isn’t a monster wearing human skin.

You are that, but I accept the monster.

“Amazing,” Izuku whispers, ignoring Mikumo, when the ice has melted, and only superheated steam remains.

He never once expected this level of power. Injured and broken, Todoroki can reshape landscapes. He wonders what heights his classmate will reach unshackled by the legacy of his father’s fears. For a moment, his vision wavers and he sees Shouto sitting on a throne of ice and burning his enemies with fire.

“Why are you smiling?” Todoroki asks, eyes haunted but free all at once. “With those injuries, how the hell can you smile?”

The flames make his burn scars itch. They remind him too much of that fateful day against Bakugou. But if he fears the flame, then isn’t he proving Endeavour right? And he will never let Endeavour be right.

“Because you’re you,” Izuku says joyfully, “and I’ve never seen anything burn more brilliantly than you.”

Steam rises from Todoroki’s eyes. “You’re a fool.”

“I’m still going to win.”

Todoroki closes his eyes for a moment.

“Thank you.”

In an instant, Todoroki slams his foot on the ground. Ice, massive and gargantuan, forms immediately. There is no delay, no trail of frost to herald this attack. His one weakness is gone.

The deluge of ice surges forward, faster and more imposing than everything prior. It promises his demise in a frigid grave, forgotten and alone beneath a glacier. Izuku summons forth the inky blackness of the abyss but even he knows any shield he forms will crumble beneath the raw power behind the ice.

One For All permeates his arm, more than he can handle yet. He punches the air and a blast of force tears through the ice. And though his arm may scream it pain at being broken, it means nothing to him compared to the sight that greets him.

Fire so hot it melts the ground and ignite the very air surrounds Todoroki. This is fire hot enough to melt steel and nothing Izuku has can face that. He smells the ozone of ionised air and ashen corpses.

You have the basics, Mikumo says, and for a moment he feels his shadow vibrate. All that you have learnt is with you.

Izuku accepts the truth of that. Everything he has accomplished has been built on a few basics. And he chooses to rely on them today.

He twists with the momentum of his punch. He channels One For All through his right leg, forces his shatter arms in a position to stabilise his body. And prays that Cementoss’ barriers are strong enough to withstand this.

The explosion comes faster than his kick. It tears through the arena and the barriers Cementoss puts up. It is inexorable in its march, an unyielding attack fitting someone literally bred for the strength of their quirk. This attack is a song of the fire of hell and the winds of winter, one of the strongest natural quirks in the world.

There are a few he could name more naturally powerful, but none with this perfect mixture of utility and raw destructive capability.

But none of this matters to Izuku.

He has faith in the power his mentor granted him, faith in the skills Jin taught him and that he honed through battles against nightmares.

For a moment, he feels seven fiery shadows standing behind him, guiding him through this kick.

There you fucking are, Mikumo snarls, distracting him slightly.

He tilts his torso halfway through the kick to lower his centre of mass, arches his grounded foot to improves his posture and lifts his stabilising arm a few degrees high. Every ounce of strength he can draw from One For All leaves his leg in a single flawless kick of perfect form.

Hwechook, he thinks.

His shadow vibrates in anticipation as the two attacks meet.

The world erupts, an explosive shockwave of heat and force and two wills battling for victory. It is the strength of One For All and Hellfire clashing, a battle of legacies and broken children standing defiant against the weight of expectation.

It is a battle to be free of the past and to find the meaning of salvation.  

That, however, is an earthly concern and right now, in this singular moment, Izuku is above them. He has spent months memorising this kick, the most basic that Jin Mo-Ri taught him. In the heat of the moment, bruised and injured, Izuku perfects his form until nothing exists to him but that kick.

Slowly, the dust and smoke dissipate, and he opens his eyes to devastation. Deep gouges litter the ground, each thick as his arm is long. Broken chunks of stone and ice cover the landscape. Dozens of shards of ice surround him, embedded deep in the earth.

It takes him a moment to notice the trench that spans the length of the battlefield, cutting straight through broken barriers of ice and concrete, stopping only at the last barrier, taller and thicker than any Todoroki has formed before

A deep crack run through the ice. Without that barrier, any civilians would have been directly exposed to his blow. He feels sick because so many could have died from his carelessness. And only Todoroki’s battered form encased in ice has kept them safe.

“Todoroki is out of bounds,” Midnight says.

The world is silent. He doesn’t want the silence to end, doesn’t want to be greeted by the hatred and revulsion for someone who so callously put civilians in danger.

“Midoriya!” he hears someone—and something tells him it can only be Shinsou—yell.

That single shout starts a cascade. Dozens, then thousands chant his name. Izuku doesn’t cry though it is a close thing.

He lowers his leg slowly. Every movement of his broken limb is agony, but he fights through the pain of torn muscles and broken bone. He fights through the pain to raise his right arm in victory.

The roar of the crowd is deafening and for a single moment, Izuku has no fears.

A sharp pain brings him back to reality. He looks down and sees the red seeping through his blue shirt. It takes him a moment to see the shard of ice in his torso.

He falls back and hits something hard. He glances back and sees a wall of darkness. It dissipates as Izuku collapses.

I am not your enemy, brother.

*****

The stadium is silent as the vacuum of space. For a single second, there is no noise as though the world stands still. Perhaps it is because of the battle they have just witnessed. Perhaps it is because Endeavour’s son has just shown power to rival a natural disaster given a few years. Or perhaps it is because her son demonstrated even more power.

When they shout her son’s name, Inko is quiet. So too are Mitsuki and Jin Mo-Ri and the rest of the people in their section of the stand overshadowed by a gargantuan mountain of ice. They stay silent because of the hundreds of ice shards floating in the air, held back only by Inko’s extended hand.

Her brain hurts. Something deep in her chest hurts as well. Her arms shake as she holds back what would very easily have been the deaths and maiming of an entire section of the audience, perhaps a thousand people in total.

“Inko,” Mitsuki whispers, “how the—”

She shrugs. It breaks her concentration and a few pieces clatter to the ground. “Practice.”

Instinct guides her next motion. She sweeps her arm out—a part of her brain breaks as she reaches for knowledge beyond mankind—and the ice converges in sweeping patterns, forming runes that name a dying god trapped in the vortex of sundered time. She clenches her fist—her eyes open fully for the first time and she sees past the world and to the monsters hiding in forgotten futures—and the ice is crushed tighter than anything else on the planet as her power goes beyond anything she has tried before.

“Holy shit,” Mitsuki says.

Indeed,” Jin Mo-Ri agrees.

They do not see tiny black hole floating in the air, perhaps a picometre wide and not yet dangerous. It takes her no effort to flick it away straight to the sky before the others can notice it.

Mitsuki catches her when she stumbles. “Hey, stay with me,” Mitsuki says.

“I’m fine,” Inko replies. “Just… just give me a moment.”

“Honey, how’s about you take her to the ladies’ room,” Marasu suggests, and it might be the smartest thing he’s said all day.

“Alright.”

That is how she finds herself in the washroom, cleaning her face clear of the blood that dripped from her nose. Mitsuki hovers worriedly in the background. Eventually, though, she convinces Mitsuki to leave her be for a few minutes in exchange for visiting the nurse’s office.

She is grateful because she doesn’t want Mitsuki to see what will come next.

Inko has seen many things because of her son’s quirk: the birth of a universe reflected in his eyes; the scratching madness of spiders telling her of their god; birds that sing of a herald that carries galaxies on each wing. Izuku does not know much of what he does without thought. He hums the dirge of gods dying when he cleans the house and speaks the true names of demons whilst doing his maths homework.

And she knows there is yet more knowledge that she can never know without her mind breaking. Already, it feels like someone has torn away a good chunk of her brain matter.

Even were that true, it would not change her certainty that something is crawling in her torso. Applying her power internally is dangerous because organs count as small objects, and one wrong move will see her dead. But the thing in her is distinct in shape, and to the sense that lets her decide which object to grab, it looks like crystalline madness.

Her stomach lurches as she forces the thing up through her throat. Its legs skitter through her flesh and the feeling makes hew queasy, but she pushes past the sickness. She rips it out of her mouth.

The thing reminds her of a serpent and a spider and a dream all at once. It isn’t real but for the bright red crystal held in its ethereal ribcage. The longer she looks at it, the more she is reminded of the red orb at the base of her son’s spine seen through an MRI scan. But this thing has eyes within eyes within mouths within eternity within more eyes. Those eyes speak secrets, and the mouths let her see a truth.

Her brain hurts the longer she allows this parasite to live. It begs to be spared for what crime has it committed but give her strength?

//Mother, mother, shadowking sire, let this one continue. Let this line of tribute continue. Let this one grant you eyes//

Inko crushes it with her power.

“I don’t need your help to see.”

She flushes the mass of bloody dreams down the toilet and checks her makeup. She applies some foundation and fixes her eyebrows. There, now she looks composed. As though she hasn’t had a conversation with a remnant of a dead god.

Mitsuki waits for her anxiously. Inko forces a smile, one that has enough earnestness to be believable. There are many things Izuku has taught her, and this is one of them.

“Are you really going to make me see the nurse?”

“Fuck yes. You just had a nosebleed from using your quirk.”

Inko decides against arguing. It would take too long to explain that a nosebleed is nothing compared to what she has seen. “Lead the way.”

“I thought you could only move one object at a time.”

“Practice, like I said. That was just a lot more than I’m used to.”

“Do you think maybe you might have been a hero?” Inko pauses mid-step. “Maybe if we weren’t so stupid in our twenties.”

She continues walking. “That was… never my dream.”

“Why? It could have been if you practiced more and we drank less.” Mitsuki shakes her head as they turn around the corner. “I can’t with my quirk, but you could.”

“It wasn’t what I wanted. Everyone thinks ‘hey, maybe I can be a hero’ when they’re young. That’s just what it is. But if I became a hero I never would have met Hisashi. And without him, Izuku. We can play what ifs all day long, but it doesn’t matter. Not when I have my son.”

When they reach the nurse’s station, she sees a few people in the pale green garb of EMTs having an argument with one of the teachers from UA. Inko watches as they go through the motions of an old argument and decides to ignore it. They aren’t of any importance.

A nurse other than Recover Girl looks her over quickly and pronounces her fine outside of mild case of quirk overexertion. Inko glares at Mitsuki who shrugs.

She looks behind as someone enters the room. “There you are,” Recover Girl says. “You’re here to see Izuku?”

“No? I couldn’t see the end of the fight.”

Recovery Girl frowns. “Well, he won’t be able to compete in the next round.”

“How bad?”

“He shattered some bones and suffered a stab wound.”

“Fuck,” Mitsuki says.

“He’ll heal,” Recovery Girl continues, “but I don’t want him competing in that state. And I’ve personally removed him from the roster to stop him competing regardless of anyone’s wishes.”

Inko can agree with that. She has only one task for him and that was to do his very best. And now the world has seen how powerful her boy is, powerful enough that he can absolutely dominate Endeavour’s son.

“Fine,” Inko says. “Is he awake?”

“Unconscious.”

“Alright. I’ll come visit him later.”

*****

Kurogiri drinks his beer slowly. It is cold, and filling, full-bodied wheat beer flavoured lightly with peach. It takes the edge off and does not leave him inebriated like drinking a glass of whiskey as Tomura does. Together, they watch the Sports Festival.

“Has our rogue placed the explosives?” Tomura asks absently as they watch a girl grow vines and battle the boy with the crow’s head.

It takes Kurogiri a moment to understand the question. “That is a character class?” Tomura nods, annoyed. “Then yes. The gas lines and structural supports have been targeted. With the false identity Giran provided—”

Tomura waves him down. “I didn’t ask for a fucking wall of text. What kind of badly written J-RPG do you think this is?”

“I wouldn’t…”

On the screen, the bird-boy’s body is consumed by darkness and a scaly arm extends from it. Sharp claws slice through the vines as though they are wet paper. Kurogiri watches the boy land and say something, perhaps a threat, to the green-haired girl. When they next engage, the reptilian arm returns.

Except this time its claws are wreathed in black fire.

Kurogiri opens a warp gate without thought and steps through it. He does not care that reality breaks and there are three versions of him. He is indifferent to the streaks of green lightning. No, even the fact that the pathway has a hill of frozen time doesn’t matter to him.

Sensei’ room is shrouded in darkness. The man looks to him and cocks his head. This isn’t normal. Kurogiri would never come here without a direct summon from a man who could kill him as easily as humans render entire species extinct each day—so easy that most will never notice until an entire ecosystem is dead.

“What has you so troubled, Kurogiri?”

“You told me to ask no questions that night, so I didn’t. I didn’t ask why we were working with the Royal Guard even if I hated it every step of the way. I didn’t ask why we were obeying his orders. I didn’t ask why we were slaughtering mad civilians and leaving the heroes alone. I didn’t—”

“And now you wish for answers,” Sensei says, interrupting his tirade. “You wish to know if the bloodshed was worth it if a mere boy can utilise that cursed fire.”

“Yes. We drowned Shikoku in blood, and you swore to me that the cost would be worth it. That Ino’s death would be avenged if we did it.”

“Indeed.” All For One leans forward. “I spoke to our dear World Walker.”

Kurogiri takes a step back without thought, terror gripping his formless body. “No, no—fuck me.”

All For One chuckles. “That is an acceptable reaction.”

Even without truly having limbs, Kurogiri’s hands shake. “We played our part that night. We owe nothing.”

“I agree fully with you. Both of you wanted an answer to the same thing and it remains the same. The infection was contained. This boy, regardless that he wields the godflame, is not contaminated. No, he is something else entirely. Something new.2

“We can’t risk him becoming a conduit.”

“So ready you are to consign a child to death.” All For One shakes his head. “No. I will not permit the execution of this child.”

“Sensei, please.”

“Would you kill Akane if she were infected?”

Kurogiri freezes, the very idea making him ill. She is dead with her mother, and it is his greatest regret that their killers are not all dead. All Might still remains.

“This decision is final. We will observe his progression. If I find him liable to become a conduit, then I will personally deal with him.” Kurogiri bows his head. “But not a moment sooner. There have been few chances to fully study this phenomenon. I will not allow your fear to ruin it.”

All For One waits until Kurogiri nods. “Understood.”

It may be petulant, and perhaps will earn him a reprimand, but Kurogiri opens a warp gate before Sensei dismisses him.

Tomura startles when he returns. “The fuck is wrong with you?”

“You are too young to understand.”

Two boys walk onto the stage. One is Midoriya who became that thing after dying, and the other is the spawn of Endeavour. Their battle is cataclysmic. Kurogiri watches stunned as these two children show power that perhaps even All For One might consider taking seriously.

“Hey, Kurogiri,” Tomura says, too light to be anything pleasant, “tell him to set off an explosive on both Midoriya and Todoroki.”

It takes him a moment to understand he means their agent in the stadium. “They are children. Sensei will be displeased with their deaths.”

“Todoroki is fucking broken enough as it is. Let’s kill the piece of shit before he becomes a raid boss. And if Midoriya becomes… that thing, then the government will neutralise him for us.”

Kurogiri inhales because no part of this plan sounds like it will go as Tomura envisions. Still, he makes the call and relays the orders. He is loyal to All For One, perhaps to his death, and right now his command is to nurture Tomura.

“This goes against his wishes.”

Tomura shrugs. “Who cares?”

I do, Kurogiri thinks but does not say. You won’t be punished. I will.

And yet, watching Tomura play his game and rage at his loss, Kurogiri does not fear the consequences. Watching him shout about the unfairness of lag only makes him more willing to accept what will come.

Chapter Text

‘The anti-quirk riots are a reminder of the limitations of heroes, and in this particular case, the negative effect their presence has. Quirks are a form of power and this is an indisputable fact. Even without being a hero, having a powerful quirk means you will enjoy a life of privilege above the masses with weaker quirks. But to have no quirk places you at the bottom of social classes, regardless of wealth. This casual disregard of such a large percentage of our population led to what it always inevitably does: revolt and unrest.’

—Excerpt from ‘Questioning the Modern Age of Heroics’ by Andile Sithole.

Izuku opens his eyes to a white ceiling. A hospital, or rather, the nurse’s office. He is surprised that he isn’t covered in bandages. He sits up and reaches for the cup of water on the table, drinking deeply. He sets the cup aside and looks to his right hand which throbs with a dull sort of pain. There are splints taped to his index and middle fingers that he broke twice over against Todoroki. 

A twinge of pain in his side makes him frown. He lifts his shirt and sees a starburst scar, undoubtedly where the shard of ice impaled him. He sighs. Another fight, another scar.

Your body breaks. Soon, they will see the monster beneath.

“Keep quiet,” Izuku whispers.

The curtain separating him from the rest of the ward is pulled back abruptly, revealing his mentor. Izuku smiles, taking in the too big suit he wears.  

“Toshinori-sensei,” he greets, and waves the man who can do no wrong.

The tension Izuku hasn’t noticed leaves his mentor’s frame. “My boy, you’re… I’m glad you’re alright.”

“Just a few broken bones. And a stab wound, I think. Nothing major.” He poked the starburst scar. “Not as bad as being stabbed in the kidney that one time.”

His mentor pales for some reason. “Those are major injuries.” He takes the free chair. “I’m going to say something you won’t like, but I want you to listen, and I want you to not argue.”

Izuku is many things. Stupid is not one of them. Willfully ignorant of the things that may haunt him, perhaps, but not stupid.

“You don’t want me to compete,” he guesses with a sigh, and is pleased—or perhaps disappointed—with the way Toshinori leans back in shock. “I can still fight. It’s a broken arm. I’ve fought under worse situations.”

“You don’t have to fight every battle. That’s not a hero’s job. We fight the battles we can and try to lead by example.”

“My mother wanted me to try my hardest. You’re asking me to give up right at the end. If I lose the next fight, then that’s fine because I’ll have done my best to win.”

“The way you win is important.” Toshinori ruffles his hair. “You could have won right at the beginning. Why were you trying to save you Todoroki?”

Izuku swallows. “Because he’s someone I can understand. And he needed to be saved from himself. Did you see how bright he was?”

“I did. But that’s not the only reason you went so far as to break your fingers twice over.”

Izuku tests his bandaged fingers and finds them still stiff. “There was a girl a few days before USJ. Couldn’t have been more than eight. She wore a sunflower dress. I failed to save her. You know what the article said? ‘Young villain apprehended before fourth murder by police’. She didn’t even want to hurt anyone. It was an accident and she didn’t have a chance…”

The silence between them builds, an oppressive and cold thing like a stormfront of negative potential.

“Do you think the police did the wrong thing?”

He feels betrayed for a moment. “Of course. She was a scared little girl who had a powerful quirk. Now we’ll never know the why behind what happened. That was a quirk activation, and people died. And that’s a tragedy but locking her up doesn’t solve anything. It just… perpetuates a cycle of violence and hatred. And if we do that then we’re no better than villains.”

Izuku forces down the pain. “I know what happened. I’m just as responsible as that officer. And don’t tell me I’m not. I was scared. I could have helped, and I chose not to. There’s no excuse for that. A true hero doesn’t support injustice.”

“I am truly sorry you had to experience that, my boy.” Toshinori closes his eyes and sighs. “I wish I had the power to change everything and stop incidents like that from happening. But if I did, would I not be forced to compromise my morals and become a dictator?”

“If I had a choice for a dictator it would be you. If one person must lead, then I can’t think of anyone better than you.”

“Your faith in me truly bring me joy. But no. I can lead by example and battle great villains in the hopes that people will follow my ideal. I can campaign for better mental health wards in Hokkaido and demilitarisation in Shikoku, but until the people learn to trust the neighbours, then they will not aid someone so far removed from them. Someone they see as lesser.”

“That’s cruel.”

“It is. People are not bad, my boy. But not everyone is willing to take the same risks that we do. And they do as much as they can. Much of the money from this festival will go to charity. Endeavour’s agency donates a significant chunk of its revenue towards mental health institutions in the Tokyo region. And things are becoming better. The military presence in Shikoku has decreased. The last seventeen years have been peaceful in comparison to what they were when I was your age. This is, I believe, the final ode to villainy before it collapses.”

“How can you be so certain?”

“Do you remember when I told you there are secrets I have yet to share?” Izuku nods. “When this festival is over, I will tell you some of them. But until then, rest. Take joy in your accomplishments. There aren’t many who can boast the raw power you showed today. Besides, Kamui Woods will get annoyed if I ditch guard duty any longer.”

Izuku laughs. “You’re a terrible example.”

Strength fills Toshinori as he becomes All Might. He grins and gives Izuku a thumbs up. “Then I will strive to be better. For your sake. If we take life one step at a time, then we’ll always meet the rising sun.”

Still laughing, he cocks his head. “I don’t recognise that one.”

All Might grins his electric smile, the same one that reassures Izuku that life is worth living. No matter its injustices or cruelties, that smile renews his faith.

“No, I would hope not. I was told very recently I was not my mentor and that I should not emulate her by a man I… I admit I did not see him as an equal. And yet, only he remembers Nana and sees things no one else does.”

“I’m glad?”

“As am I. There are things I still have to learn.” He ruffles Izuku’s hair. “That lesson I learnt from watching you.”

He bats the hands away, not caring that his fingers throb painfully.  “What?”

“Your resilience is a thing of beauty, young Midoriya. You keep on moving forward, no matter your setbacks. Stay out of trouble.”

All Might leaves him but there is a warm afterglow to their conversation, one that permeates every iota of his being. There is no man who can compare to his hero, and he is very specific to say ‘man’ for even All Might cannot compare to his mother’s unbridled love. And yet, that he can teach the greatest hero a lesson is the greatest reassurance he has ever received.

Recovery Girl appears and checks him over quickly. It is routine at this point, which he supposes isn’t a good thing. She pronounces him to be healing if he doesn’t do anything exceptionally stupid.

“How is he?” he asks, nodding to where Todoroki still sleeps.

Recovery Girl huffs. “Always worrying about everyone but yourself.” Izuku ducks his head. “He will be fine. Bruising, mostly, and a few cracked ribs. Nothing that won’t heal soon.”

“That’s… good.”

“Yes. I don’t agree much with children fighting each other, but I suppose you will do as you please. That’s why I’m here.”

“Did you finish with my scans?” When she raises an inquisitive brow, he adds, “Analysing them, I mean.”

“Hm, that. Not yet. You saw how outside standardised biology your body is operating. I’ll need a bit more time. And we’ll schedule another test in the coming week.”

Izuku feels a shadow approach the door, one that certainly doesn’t conform to a standard human shadow, just as Recovery Girl’s watch beeps.

“If you promise to behave yourself,” she says, “I’ll let you have a visitor.”

“Promise.”

Recover Girl nods and walks over to the door. He isn’t shocked to see Ojiro enter, though he does scratch the back of his head at whatever Recovery Girl furiously whispers at him.

He meets Ojiro’s gaze and before he knows it, his friend is right by his bed and has hands on his shoulders. He grips Izuku tightly as though if he doesn’t use every ounce of strength in his body, then Izuku will fade away to smoke and shadow.

“Hey,” Izuku says, gripping Ojiro’s forearm with his bandaged arm.

Contact, sometimes, is more important than the words that accompany them. And in the few months he has known Ojiro, quiet words and a gentle smile are the best ways to soothe his hurts. Izuku smiles, and though it hurts his broken fingers, he squeezes.

“I’m right here,” he promises, knowing the nameless fear Ojiro holds and loving him enough to alleviate it. “I’m fine.”

Ojiro opens his mouth. Closes it. Takes a long breath as though he must re-evaluate everything he had planned on saying.

“No, you’re not,” Ojiro says quietly, frantically. “Why did you—can you please, just for once, not get hurt doing anything? Why didn’t you win?”

Izuku purses his lips. “I thought I did.” All Might would certainly tell him if he was disqualified or something.

“You know what I mean. You could have won that in the first minute, no broken anything.”

“I couldn’t.” He adds hastily when Ojiro’s face darkens, “It wasn’t about winning. I just, I guess I was trying to help him.”

“You shouldn’t have to break your bones to help someone.” Ojiro’s tail brushes one of Izuku’s bandaged fingers.

“I know. But it was the only option I had. It’s not my story to tell but…” He looks to the bed where Todoroki rests fitfully. “I had the chance to help him. Even if it meant breaking every bone in my body, I wasn’t going to abandon him.”

Ojiro watches him, assessing him deeply. Then, he sighs, the weight of his gaze vanishing with that soft exhale.

“That’s the kind of thing you say about us.” Ojiro gestures to himself and Izuku realises he means everyone he considers a friend. “You know, Shinsou was right about you picking people and deciding to keep them. I don’t even know him and now I have to be nice to him.”

Izuku doesn’t blush. It is a close thing. “Maybe not. He doesn’t… seem like the type to sit at a table and play cards.”

“I’m not the type.” Izuku tilts his head at that. “You co-opted our lunches and made us play cards because you hate the idea of all of us not being together. And now I owe Uraraka a favour.”

“I had forgotten about that.” He winces, wondering if she will come collect soon. “Has she…”

“I think Kirishima has to come to school with his natural hair next week.”

“That’s not very nice.”

“You realise she’s got a mean streak a mile long beneath that smile, right? She can be as vicious as an internet comment section when she wants to be.” Ojiro chuckles, a deep and soul full sound. “That’s probably why Shinsou has a huge crush on her.”

“You know?”

“Everyone except you and Uraraka knows. We’ve been taking bets on how long it’ll take for him to ask her out. Because Shinsou is too terrified to try.”

“You guys are terrible.”

He laughs because why had he any expectation of perfectly civil behaviour from the group he has formed through his own sheer force of will. Perhaps a day will come when he doesn’t pause and wondering why on earth he is so lucky to have them by his side when he is not worthy of their kindness and compassion, no matter their occasional petty fights. In the future, perhaps, when he is old and his hair white, he may stop. But that is a long time from the present. 

“Hey,” Ojiro says, poking him in the shoulder. “You still with me?”

His question is gentle, more a promise than a request for information. Unspoken is the knowledge that Ojiro will give him all the time he needs.

“Yeah. Just… thinking. Thank you.”

Ojiro’s smile is unsure but genuine. “You’re welcome. I’m going to head out before Recovery Girl kicks me out. Don’t go picking up anymore strays whilst I’m not looking, alright.”

“No promises.”

Ojiro leaves silently, waving with both his hand and tail though Izuku doubts his friend notices just how expressive his tail can be. There is an answer to his every thought in each swoosh of his tail, an emotion to each twitch and a quiet rebuke each time it is stiff.

Todoroki groans loud enough that Izuku frowns and gets out of bed. His legs are good, but he takes care not to rip open any of his chest injuries as he limps to the other bed. Todoroki’s eyes are just clearing past the disorientation of waking when Izuku sits in the chair there.

“Hey,” Izuku says, “you’re just waking up.”

Todoroki winces. “Too loud.”

“Stop being a baby,” Izuku says, voice softer now. “I didn’t hit you that hard.” That is a lie, a rather blatant one.

He hands Todoroki the bottle of water and watches him take a single sip, then a deeper gulp, chilling the water with his quirk. The boy grips the bottle tightly, and had it been thin plastic it would be crushed.

“Did you win the tournament?”

Izuku shrugs. “No. I racked up too many injuries to compete. Well, Recovery Girl’s officially pulled me out of the tournament.”

Todoroki nods and looks to the monitor on the wall. He says nothing for a long few minutes, and Izuku observes him consider his next words through each minor twitch and tiny tremble in his neck muscles. Despite all that, his face remains a blank slate.

“I think you would have won.”

There is something so factual in Todoroki’s monotone voice, as though he speaks of the sun rising in the morning.

“Maybe. But I’m glad I could help you.”

Shouto raises his left hand and stares at it. “Did you really? I used it, but it… doesn’t change the past.”

“No,” Izuku agrees. “But my therapist says the most important step you can take isn’t the first or the last, but the next step.”

“That sounds like something out of a cheap self-help book.”

Izuku chuckles. “I told her the same.” Todoroki hides his surprise perfectly. “It does sound stupid.”

“Then why are you repeating words you find stupid?”

“Because the meaning behind them isn’t stupid.” Izuku runs a hand through his hair. “I guess maybe it just means accepting the past has happened, and it did make you who you are now, but that you can change the future with your choices now. You told me a lot about yourself when you didn’t have to. Here is a truth about me: I tried to kill myself.”

He says this with a smile. Todoroki only inclines his head as though he understands all too well what Izuku speaks of.

“You’re supposed to react and get upset.”

“Why? What will doing so change?”

“The point I was trying to make is that I’m not the same person as back then. You said I would forgive anyone who hurt me and that might have been true a few months ago. But I don’t forgive Bakugou, and maybe I never will, but I can choose not to hate him. I can choose to be kind even if we’ll never be friends again. And you can choose to use your hellfire without it being Endeavour’s flames.”

Todoroki closes his eyes. “A conversation can’t change a decade of pain.”

“No, of course not. But admitting the truth is the first step to fixing something. It’s your flame, not his, and that’s the objective truth.” It is a risk, and perhaps he oversteps his boundaries, but Izuku raps his knuckles against Todoroki’s chest. “One day you’ll believe it right there.”

“I’m not ready,” he says slowly. “Not yet.”

Izuku grins. “That’s fine. Take all the time you need. I’ll be right here to kick you in the face if you start acting stupid.” He points at the monitor as the final match begins. “Let’s watch this for now.”

*****

Ochaco Uraraka is kind and optimistic and gentle. She has a vicious streak a mile long that she hides behind cheerful smiles. And she may or may not have a crush on Shinsou, but that’s not the point.

Right now she’s annoyed and for good reason.

“Why not?” she demands of Midnight, her voice drawn tight and furious in the back of her throat.

She and the pro hero, alongside Tokoyami and Bakugou are in one of the contestant rooms being briefed on how the tournament is changing. She would prefer it were Bakugou not here for any reason.

Like getting hit by a train.

“Extenuating prior injuries.” Midnight cracks her whip before Ochaco can ask another question. “And don’t go asking me about them. He’s entitled to his privacy.”

“This is bullshit.”

She cracks her whip again. Ochaco wishes, somewhere beneath her confused smile, that she would actually hit Bakugou.

“So you brats get to fight each other in a beautiful melee to make things fair.” Midnight licks her lips. “I hope you… enjoy, this three way as much as I do.”

Ochaco shudders and is gratified to see the expression—stance more than anything—of disgust that Tokoyami makes. Bakugou, surprisingly, simply scoffs.

Ochaco is annoyed not because Izuku isn’t competing, but because she can’t beat him down. Oh, she certainly is upset that he has hurt himself but at this point Ochaco is resigned to Izuku being an injury magnet. No, she just wants to prove herself against her favourite person. Not that she will ever let Izuku, or anyone, know.

She has a reputation to maintain.

And without Izuku, she’s stuck fighting Tokoyami and Bakugou. She feels bad for thinking it, but Tokoyami is something of a beta male. He’ll fold the moment Ochaco decides to win. At best he’ll look dignified whilst losing. And all the random bullshit he has shown today won’t make a difference. What is a burning reptilian arm compared to the force of gravity itself?

Nothing, that’s what.

She will settle for breaking Bakugou tonight. She isn’t cruel but Bakugou is someone she cannot abide by. Plainly, she hates him and only her love for Izuku stops her from antagonising Bakugou. Only her force of will has managed to stop Ojiro from strangling Bakugou multiple times, and only her persistence had gotten the rest of the squad—and yes, that was exactly what she calls them—from going after Bakugou in retribution. Not because she cares for the asshole, but because Izuku would cry and Izuku crying is the saddest thing in the world.

But hey, Izuku can’t complain if she beats Bakugou down in a fair fight. Nope, that would be hypocritical after the nonsense that was his fight against Todoroki.

“I guess I’m stuck battling you fucks.”

Tokoyami huffs, glaring out the corner of his eyes. “There will be no victory for you this day.”

“I’ll fucking break you in—”

“Boys,” Ochaco says, threateningly, “how’s about you leave the measuring contest until the fight.”

Thankfully, they abide by her wish. She cracks her neck at her starting position, one point of the equilateral triangle Cementoss has highlighted with differently coloured cement. Bakugou and Tokoyami are paying her no attention as Present Mic screams some inane commentary that gets the crowd roaring.  

She knows how both will fight. Tokoyami will stay at range and seek to eliminate her first with Dark Shadow whilst protecting himself with whatever those giant scaled arms are. And Bakugou will probably charge straight at Tokoyami to finish their dick measuring contest.

No plan, unfortunately, survives first contact with the enemy.

“I’ll take you both on,” Bakugou roars, throwing her for a loop. “Come at me fuckers.”

Ochaco quirks her brow because she isn’t stupid. She knows Bakugou is many things: arrogant, narcissistic, vain, rude, irreverent, and violent; but he is not stupid. He has a plan and it involves both of them fighting at once.

“Your arrogance will be your downfall.” Tokoyami looks to her and nods once, as though he expects her to obey without question.

Big mistake, she thinks as Dark Shadow arcs towards Bakugou who simply bats it away with an explosion, not moving back a single step.

With the smoke rising in the air, Ochaco charges forward low to the ground. She tags pieces of rock as Tokoyami and Bakugou have what amounts to an intense staring match between explosions and Dark Shadow’s attacks.

She is fully prepared for Bakugou’s careless explosion in her direction. It doesn’t prepare her for the force of it. She tags a few rocks as the force of the explosion makes her roll until she is behind Bakugou, and then she dashes forward.

Another explosion comes her way. As the smoke obscures them, she pulls off her jacket and makes it weightless, leaving it there. She gives it a nudge forward and circles silently around Bakugou as he fires of another blast at her jacket.

With such low visibility, and not being able to touch her, Bakugou won’t be able to tell it wasn’t her. She waits until the distinct sound of Dark Shadow’s screech reaches her before launching forward.

As she thought, Bakugou is not expecting her. She watches the way his eyes widen as he tries to move his arm into position.

Too late.

Ochaco kicks him in the face but takes a light explosion to the torso for her troubles. It pushes her back towards Tokoyami.

She bares her teeth at Bakugou, taking joy in the blood leaking from his now broken nose. One drop isn’t enough as penance for what he has done to Izuku, what he has gottent away with because Izuku is kinder than the life, but it is a start.

“Rush him together,” Ochaco commands before Bakugou can fully regain his bearings.

Tokoyami doesn’t argue with her and together the two of them rush Bakugou.

He fires off his largest explosion so far which forces the two back. But Ochaco sees the way his arms shake.

Everyone has a weakness. If even Todoroki who can freeze a stadium has a weakness, then Bakugou certainly does.

And apparently it is the recoil to his explosions.

She circles him like a predator and places herself just in front of Tokoayami, blocking him with her body. It looks like a defensive move.

Neither of them will realise she has already won this match.

“Hey, Kaachan,” she taunts and is pleased with the wild rage that enters Bakugou’s eyes. “Wanna see something cool?”

“I’m going to break you, bitch.”

She presses her fingertips together. “Look up.”

Bakugou does so. She is gratified by the pure fear on his face even as he lifts one hand high and braces it with his free hand. She sees him exhale in preparation as the rocks come crashing down.

The explosion he emits is the largest she has ever seen him produce, well in excess of even his gauntlets. The shockwave slams into her and sends her flying back into Tokoyami who catches her.

It is unfortunate, then, that this is all part of the plan.

She taps his body and makes him weightless. His red eyes widen in shock as Ochaco kicks off his chest like a springboard.

It sends him flying over the boundary—that scaly arm emerging too late to anchor him before he crosses the line—and Ochaco directly towards Bakugou who breathes heavily, not understanding his loss.

He doesn’t have a moment to react before she is on him, her palms making him weightless, and her mass forcing him to the ground. She twists his arm back as she slams her knee in the small of his back. His grunt of pain is music to her ears.

“Surrender or I dislocate it,” she snarls.

“Fuck off, bitch,” he says just as heated as he tries to wiggle away.

Ochaco shrugs before twisting.

Bakugou roars in anger.

“Look, I don’t really know how to do this properly,” she admits, “and I’ll probably break something first. So, how’s about you respect women, stop calling me a bitch, and surrender or I keep on twisting?”

“Like hell.” She isn’t shocked to see him move his free hand in position to blast her away. So, she twists hard.

Bakugou doesn’t lose his composure even as he roars in pain. This might not be a nice thing to do, but Ochaco wants to win. And she really wants to break Bakugou’s arm.

She twists once more and hears something snap.

“Bakugou is unable to continue,” Midnight says, cracking her whip for emphasis.

The crowd’s roar is magnificent, and the one thing she wants to hear.

Ochaco rolls to the side and stands over Bakugou who cradles his arm. It is twisted at an odd angle and undoubtedly causing him a great deal of pain. Yet, he doesn’t even make a grunt of pain. His teeth are gritted, and his face contorted, but he refuses to let her gain another victory over her.

She can respect that even as she wants to punch him in the face.

“You’re a crazy bitch,” he says steadily.

She glares full force at him. “Call any woman that again and I’ll break your other arm.”

“Fuck you.”

*****

Izuku can’t take his eyes from the screen as Uraraka stands victorious over Bakugou, a grin as vicious as a bloody blade gracing her soft features. She is feral and savage and—

“Beautiful.”

He can, for a moment, understand why Shinsou admires her.

Todoroki grunts, bringing him back to reality. “Terrifying.”

“That too.”

There is little more that can be said between them now. They watch in silence as the diversionary activities take place, cheerleaders and quirk showcases and even a quick running event to give the audience time to use the restroom and find food after the tournament arc.

It gives Izuku the time to meditate lightly and assess the condition of his body. He catalogues the various places where he is stiff and develops a recovery regiment for the coming few days.

Izuku looks behind him as the door opens, breaking him from his thoughts. It is the security guard with the unravelling quirk he has seen each time he has been lost in the bowels of the stadium. The man has a soft smile and his red eyes are warm.

“Is Recovery Girl here?” the guard asks, his voice gentle as a warm gust of air. “We just had a bit of a staff injury.”

Izuku shakes his head as he stands, walking towards the man who he realises looks no older than eighteen, a far cry from the wrinkled face he remembers from the few times he saw the man before. Odd, but perhaps that is part of his quirk, and his badge looks official.

“No?”

The security guard shrugs. “Sorry about this,” the man says before throwing something. Izuku sees the way his body thins to nothing even as the object—a thick cylinder, green with dark ridges—travels in an arc towards him.

It happens quickly. Heat and concussive force emanate from the small device. Izuku watches the blast wave travel in slow motion, rushing through dozens of plans. He has just enough time to call on the shadows, and twist around with One For All enhancing his every movement.

And see Todoroki, eyes wide, and reacting too slow to make a difference.

Izuku decides right then and there, that he will not let this person he saved die. His efforts will not be for nothing.

Walls of shadow rise and are shattered immediately by the concussive force. It flings Izuku towards Todoroki, and he realises that there is absolutely no way they can survive in this room. Not with the shrapnel and fire and force.

But there are other places he can reach.

He does not need to think for the shadows to engulf both him and Todoroki in it’s clammy embrace. And though his spine flares up suddenly in pain, Izuku feels himself sink through the darkness with Todoroki.

*****

When the explosions go off, they hit strategic areas throughout the stadium. The gas lines, the pumping veins and arteries of the stadium, priority targets, increase the damage of the otherwise contained explosives, setting off a chain reaction of fire and destruction throughout the building. Along with the emergency power sources and exits, this attack is designed to cripple any form of response possible.

Fumikage Tokoyami stands before a mix of people in white imperial garb and black suited government agents when the explosion happens. They present him with orders to submit to questioning for subversive activities. A blast of force tears through the wall behind the officials. Only Dark Shadow’s decision to wrap around its master saves Fumikage.

Inko Midoriya is with the parents in the booth when the ceiling above them cracks first, then collapses as some of the parents scream. She raises her hands and holds back the avalanche of concrete. Cracks run through the ground beneath them and Inko is forced to divert her attention to hold the ground together. Her body feels like it is ripping apart from the strain of keeping everyone alive.

Shouta Aizawa does not know why he suddenly leaps to the side and pulls Hizashi below the table with him. He does this purely on instinct, and his instincts have rarely proven him wrong. Rock and stone fall on the table, a thunderous rain of possible death.

Enji Todorkoki is a man who has seen many ambushes and taken part in them as well. He senses the heatwave seconds before it comes and jumps forward, putting himself between the explosion and the students behind him. He slams his hands together and expels a deluge of flame until a wall stands between him and the explosion.

Katsuki Bakugou is stuck on the receiving end of the merciless teasing of Ashido and Kaminari when the walls around them collapse. He sees a cinderblock falling to crush Yaoyorozu and rockets towards her. He barely makes it in time to slam her out of the way. But he can not get far away enough to stop his already broken arm being crushed by the block. He stifles his roar of pain and raises his other hand in the direction of the arena. He knows there is only one wall between them and protection, but if he uses too much force then it may damage the superstructure even further. It takes all of his concentration to direct his palm’s sweat to one spot, more to shape his perfectly, and even more to channel the explosion into a single thin beam of destruction. He meets Yaoyorozu’s eyes as darkness takes him. “Save them.”

Toshinori Yagi stands outside the stadium in preparation of the victory speech when the explosions occur. He shares a glance with Kamui Woods who stands guard with Mt. Lady before leaping over the stadium walls in one easy bound. He lands in the centre of the stadium and takes in the devastation: entire sections of the stadium burn; bodies are crushed beneath rock and stone; children and civilians shout and scream in terror. But he also takes in the response: Ochaco Uraraka coordinates a group of students to rescue the civilians in their area; Cementoss creates ramps and impromptu supports across the stadium; and in the distance he can see Young Mei holding up a wall with one of her inventions. All Might forces a grin and moves towards the nearest fire.

The man who was once Chizome Akaguro but is now known only as Stain stands over the fallen body of Ingenium when he sees the billboards light up with messages of the bombing at the Sports Festival. He grunts in annoyance. “Your heroes will find you,” he says to the bleeding hero, “before you die. Tell them I will hunt all of you fake heroes. This society breaks because of you, and I will not permit it any longer. Tell All Might I am coming for him. He can’t hide forever behind his position.”

*****

Izuku is in pain when they pass through the shadows, but not in so much pain he fails to realise they aren’t in the distorted version of his room. No, they aren’t anywhere near that place. He also has no idea where they are right now.

“What the hell?” Todoroki asks, looking around wildly, his eyes wide and frantic and taking on that creeping horror Izuku has long been accustomed to.

Izuku understands his shock. After all, they lie on a pool of solid quicksilver. In the sky a creature with long wings battles a dying god, the aftershocks of their blows birthing galaxies and ripping through time itself, each swipe of infinitely long claws leaving entropic cracks that splinter to fractal patterns of madness. He hears the howl of the hounds hiding in the corners of time. He tastes dreams of elder trees on the smoky breeze.

Stop wasting time, Mikumo snarls viciously in his mind. You must protect him from the madness.

“Todoroki,” Izuku grunts, and pushes up with his arms. When his classmate doesn’t respond, he says, “Shouto, look at me.”

Todoroki turns slowly, his expression every version of horror and realisation. It is so odd to see them on someone else and makes him glad in a cruel way that he never brought his mother here.

“What is this?”

“A truth,” Izuku says, “that you were never meant to know. This is the truth of my quirk. Come here.”

Todoroki does so slowly, his gaze trapped by the sight of abominations battling in the sky that is a void that is infinity that is the end of all mortal things and the realm of gods. It is a kaleidoscope of godflame and true dark and life that does not abide by the rules of men.

“I need you to kneel,” he commands.

Izuku takes a shuddering breath and shrouds his hand in the inky blackness of the abyss, tempered only by the sanity he wishes to enforce.

“I need you to trust me,” he says before Todoroki can move back. He places the hand against Todoroki’s eyes and lets his shadows filter the world with a hint of rationality.

“What did you do to me?”

“I’m protecting you. You’ll go mad without it.” Izuku closes his eyes as Todoroki turns, observing the abyss once more.

“This is madness.”

He agrees even as he reaches for his back and pulls out whatever is stabbed through him. Izuku draws shadows and shoves them through his back to plug the bleeding. Todoroki hasn’t noticed, and Izuku is glad, but he can’t keep this a secret. Not if they wish to survive.

“Yes. And if we stay here too long, we’ll get eaten by something.” He takes another breath as his control over the shadows wavers. “I need you to carry me.”

Todoroki whirls around. He looks odd with that veil of shadow over his eyes. “Why?”

“Because I can’t feel my legs.” Izuku forces a blood-stained grin. “I think my spine was severed.”

End of Season II: Recovery

Chapter Text

Season III-A: Revelation

Chapters 25-42

‘The disparity between those with quirks and those without will always be a cause of friction and tension. With power comes inequality, and quirks are another form of power. The ebb and tide as power exchanges hands will inevitably lead to conflicts. Look to Vancouver Island whose system of heroics we adopted without thought. They suffered, and still do suffer from insurgencies and protests. Japan has yet to face the same issue due to the unifying presence of the Emperor and the overwhelming power of hero agencies. Yet, for all their strength, they do not fairly treat the people of Hokkaido who have the highest percentage of quirk related mental illnesses. The Imperial family is permitted to act freely and never steps in to eliminate the threat of villainy. Inevitably, these tensions will reach a boiling point and a new wave of anti-quirk riots will erupt.’

—Excerpt from ‘The Effect of Heroics’ by Saruhiko Ando.

Izuku keeps his grip on Todoroki firm as he can with just his arms. His limp legs are hoisted between Todoroki’s arms and sides as the boy trudges across a desert of green sand.

They say no words as Todoroki carries him, stopping occasionally when they find caves with crystal spires emitting the light of reverse entropy. They stop only long enough for Todoroki’s body to be rejuvenated—truthfully, the light of the crystals changes the direction of the arrow of time for a few hours; too short for Izuku to heal his spine—and for Izuku to reapply the shadowed veil over Todoroki's eyes. 

Without the veil, Todoroki is exposed to the full horrors of the abyss. With his powers misbehaving ever since his spine was severed, and he believes the red orb at its base to be damaged as well, Izuku is deadweight.

He is also Todoroki’s only hope of surviving the infinite wastelands.

Todoroki kneels and lets Izuku slide partially off his back. He uses one forearm to stabilise himself in the awkward position, his other arm tight around Todoroki’s neck.

Todoroki forms shards of ice and hands them to Izuku who bites through them easily, swallowing them as the only form of water they have available. Todoroki does the same though Izuku notices he takes a few minutes longer than usual before picking Izuku up again.

“I’m sorry.”

Todoroki says nothing and keeps on walking the path that will lead to a higher layer of the abyss. There is a way to track how long they have been travelling. Todoroki’s stride is even and constant, each step taking about the same stretch of time and covering the same distance. All Izuku needs is to measure the time it takes for a single step—point eight three four seconds—and count how many steps he takes. Of course, he accounts for variance in stride and standard deviations, but the answer is still chilling.

Will you hide the truth? Mikumo asks, genuinely curious.  

I don’t know.

They near the next waypoint a long time later. It is a shimmering barrier of ephemeral time, constantly fluctuating with neither rhyme nor reason. Izuku taps Todoroki’s right arm. His classmate lifts his arm and places it against the barrier.

Ice spreads rapidly, a massive wall reaching to the heavens above and the horizons to either side. And then, the ice shatters. Shards as large as building crash to the ground, kicking up explosions of sand. Todoroki ignores this and walks past the waypoint.

The giant skeleton appears suddenly and without warning, eight too large heads and more decaying wings than a caterpillar has legs. Izuku points to the largest head, the one with a giant sandworm caught in its vicious tusks. The sandworm writhes in agony, its lifeforce slowly being consumed to return this dead thing to life.

“What do you see?” Izuku asks.

Todoroki takes a deep breath even as he forms a highway of ice to the head. “The sight you gave me show a creature with multiple heads eating a giant worm.”

“And what does your soul tell you?”

Something swoops towards them. Todoroki stomps his foot on the ice ramp and a large spear emerges from it, striking the creature through the wing.

He does this with the same ease as the last five over the few hours they’ve been in this layer.

“I see a nightmare consuming the warmth of life.”

Izuku nods against Todoroki’s shoulder.

“Both are wrong,” he says softly. “The worm is a godling of the desert mind, and that winged creature lost a battle in the diamond dust rebellion. Now it’s having a conversation on who should own this desecrated world.”

Todoroki shudders as they land on the skull. He takes care to keep his distance from the giant worm and its field of eternal starvation and dryness.

“It’s dead,” Todoroki says instead. “It looks and feels dead.”

What measure is alive to ones who have felled stars and consumed the void which binds?

“I’m not sure what life looks like to you,” Izuku admits. “This thing is having a metaphysical conversation with a godling of this world to determine who will control the desert. You see it eat, and if you had the same senses I did, you would see how its consciousness moves through the deep desert. It thinks and has intent, and though you may not perceive them, it has senses as well. What is that if not life?”

“Your senses that apparently aren’t working but are fucking telling you all this.” Izuku’s upper body stiffens around Todoroki who sighs. “Sorry. I’m angry and tired and upset.”

“I know. And it’s my fault." He points Todoroki to what might be an eye socket on another creature but here is simply a molten pool of refracted time. "That piece of shrapnel severed my spine and crippled my powers. I can use them a bit, mostly as a plug to stop the bleeding and to figure out where we're going next. But it’s all hazy. I used to be able to make worlds of shadows here. I was… I suppose I was a God here once as well.”

He lifts his hand and concentrates hard. A tiny wisp of shadow surrounds his index finger. But, he feels the shadows keeping whatever remains of his spine intact fade away. The pain hits him hard in a wave. He grits his teeth and forces the shadows to reform. 

“You alright?” Todoroki asks, his voice strained.

“I’m fine.”

Todoroki stops where the eye of refracted time starts. “You’re not because I’m seeing the things your powers are hiding.”

Izuku concentrates harder on Todoroki and the shadows keeping his classmate sane. He solidifies them, anchors them to memories of the beach where he met All Might; all the happiness and joy and warmth of that moment against this desolate world.

“Better?”

“Yes.” Todoroki skates across a thin railing of ice right to the centre of the eye. “How long have we been here?”

“Do you really want the answer to that?”

“Yes.”

“Three days.”

*****

Inko Midoriya holds a room together through the sheer force of her will, moments after the explosion that tore through the stadium. Only she stands between the other parents and certain death.

And she feels her body breaking with the strain.

Her nose bleeds heavily, and she feels something in her brain snap—in the cracks of her mind she hears the endless chittering of spiders and their unhallowed gods. She can see how her hands pale as the blood flow to them is constricted, turning blue at the tips in the few seconds that she has her quirk active.

The beat of her heart is erratic, oscillating from a thunderous staccato to mind-numbing silence for two beats. A part of her vision is dark, perhaps from exhaustion or perhaps from blindness.  

“Out,” Jin Mo-Ri orders, standing tall and serene before the danger. “Hallway part of superstructure. Move!”

Thank you, she thinks as Mitsuki ushers her husband off the ground.

Her friend does her best to pick up one of the parents who is unconscious, a deep gash across her forehead. It galvanises the other parents to get the fuck up and help. Because if they don’t then Inko’s sacrifice will be for nothing.

“Will stay,” Jin says once he’s managed to get the last civilian out the door.

“Don’t be a fucking idiot,” Mitsuki snaps. “It’s going to collapse any moment.”

Jin looks to Inko, assessing her for a moment—no matter that she is losing hold of the outer edges of the ceiling and smaller stones tumble to the ground.

“Quirk is speed. Will escape with Inko.” He nods to her and places a hand on her shoulder. “Release power when ready.”

Inko takes a long breath even as something in her neck cracks painfully. “Now.”

There is a rush of air and a blur of motion. When she regains her bearings, Inko is in the hallway. The stand they were just in collapses, an onslaught of rock and steel and concrete that would have killed them all.

Only now does she smell the smoke and the familiar scent of glycerine from Mitsuki’s sweat. Her legs give out and someone grabs her, laying her down gently against a wall. 

“That’s not practice,” Mitsuki mutters.

“Can we please just not do this.”

“I agree,” Marasu says, looking her over once with trained eyes. “Come on.”

He lifts her, hoisting Inko’s arm around his shoulder. Any other day she would be galled by having someone practically carry her, but right now everything hurts and she wants to feel safe.

“Where are we going?”

“Anywhere that’s safe,” someone else answers.

It gets harder to stay present. Her brain hurts from the strain of holding a room together. She blinks and loses a few minutes, finding herself carried over Marasu’s broad shoulders.

“Stay with us,” he says softly.

She blinks and they’re in another part of the hallway, this one better lit and not completely ruined. Her head sways and she gets a look at Mitsuki helping another parent and Jin at the front of the pack. One of the rooms they pass has a glass wall and it creaks ominously.

Wait, that… that shouldn’t be making that sound—oh shit.

She is too slow to recognise the creaking for what it is.

Inko is no hero and lacks the instincts that make one. She only reacts after the glass wall shatters and instinctively catches the small shards of glass without looking.

A spike of pain drills through her mind as she calls on more power than she should have. It’s like looking at the past and present and a shimmering barrier of frozen and ephemeral time.

But it gives her the power to catch most of the shards.

The pieces of glass that would have killed them all fall to the ground, shattering into a thousand pieces and forming the runes of to summon a dying god. She nudges one out of the way errantly before things get worse.

She is too late to stop everyone being hurt. The woman with a hawk’s head is peppered with glass along her side and bleeds heavily.

“We need to find medical supplies quickly,” someone says.

“Fan out. Pick a direction. If you find any rooms marked green, they should be sealed safe rooms.”

Inko would help if not for Mitsuki keeping her down. She understands her worry. Inko is tired and the world wobbles when she tilts her head. That doesn’t include the horrible nosebleed she has or the creeping darkness in one eye.

“Don’t you dare move,” Mitsuki orders, pressing torn cloth to her nose.

Inko simply nods and leans her head against the wall. Her neck hurts, she notices. She looks to the woman bleeding on the floor, her towering husband holding a bloodstained shirt against her side as he applies pressure to stem the bleeding.

She closes her eyes for a moment.

It is a moment that seems to last forever. Her mind drifts across all that is and can never be, to places that should have no name and times yet to come but still long past. Somehow, she sees a churning vortex of chaos and a tower of spiders, climbing the endless links to a shadow and a wisp of flame.

Someone shakes her awake.

The vision vanishes and she is back in the dark corridor. The world is made of simple atoms and gravity and time moving in one direction.

She looks up to see Marasu, weary and tired and close to breaking like everyone else. And yet, there is a core of steel resolve that gives her hope.

“Hey, we’re moving her to a safe room.”

Inko blinks and sees Tokoyami’s mother being loaded onto a makeshift stretcher, made from the remnants of a long dress and tattered cloth. The towering form of her husband carries one end of the sling, his face a mask of silent and bloody rage.

“How long was I out of it?” Inko asks, not wanting to spend any more time thinking about the invisible but bloody chains surrounding the man's forearms. They bear a legacy of rage and death, the weapons befitting a god of war made human.

“Be gentle,” the husband says in a gravelly voice to Jin, who nods and takes the other end.

Marasu helps Inko to her feet, keeping her steady when she wobbles. “Not long enough. You look like you’re about to pass out.”

“I think I did.”

With his help, she walks forward, leaning heavily against his bulk. Mitsuki is somewhere ahead, talking intensely and, surprisingly, politely, with one of the other parents.

They are a convoy of broken and scared civilians being led through the dark bowels of the stadium by a foreigner and a doctor. It could be worse. None of them are dead. Yet.

It becomes hard to focus. Her mind hurts and her eyes burn with smoke. She closes them, trusting in Marasu to guide her forward. And focuses on ignoring the sounds of something crawling in the walls, something with too many legs and too many beady eyes.

When she next rises from the murk of exhaustion, she’s been laid against a corner of a room. It is bright, almost blindingly so, but smells surprisingly clean. It takes her a moment to understand that there are likely oxygen tanks pumping clean air into this room.

The safe room is still structurally sound by her estimation when she casts her senses outward, and someone has lit the chemical lights, bathing the entire room in harsh light. There are sixteen of them in total, some staring dully in shock and some shedding tears. It is Marasu who tends to the injured with the medical supply after he has stabilised Tokoyami’s mother.

“If we don’t find a way out, then we might not all make it through this.”

It is the single thing she hoped no one would mention. Not because she is avoiding that truth—no, her son taught her the consequences of ignoring truths—but because it leads to the cascade of voices shouting.

Inko bears it for exactly a minute. Then she stands and walks towards the door, the voices dying down.

“The hell are you doing?”

“The room we were in,” Inko says through the silence. “The floor collapsed. We can crawl through there.”

Mitsuki stares at her, equal parts shocked and angry. “You’re being fucking ridiculous and you know it.” She glances at her husband. “You have to agree.”

“Busy,” Marasu mutters as he tends to Tokoyami’s mother, his training as a physician coming to use.

“I can help,” Inko says and offers a gentle smile. “That’s all that matters.”

That is how she finds herself accompanied by Jin Mo-Ri and Mitsuki Bakugou through the dark bowels of the stadium, back to the room that they very nearly died in. The room that very nearly broke all that she is, scattering her mind to a thousand different realms to be consumed by the monsters waiting above clouds of blood.

Marasu Bakugou tends to the wounded in the safe room, guarded by a massive mountain of a man who she assumes is Tokoyami’s father. Surprising considering how tiny his son is by comparison.

Jin is surprisingly strong despite his lean frame and he moves rubble away from the door easily. She helps even if Mitsuki tells her to conserve her power for later. They enter the room that Inko held together through only the force of her will.

The hole through which they will crawl reminds her of a descent into madness. The red lights and destroyed nature of the room only lend credence to that. The smoky air is no reassurance but she has no other choice, not after volunteering.

It terrifies her to think she may be the strongest person in the area. The others don’t have quirks suited to this like Mitsuki or completely lack quirks. If they must crawl through a dark tunnel then it is in their best interest to have someone who can hold back the danger if it collapses.   

Jin leads the way through the tunnel, not at all intimidated by what they are about to do. She nods to Mitsuki before going in second.

Space is cramped, and she is grateful that she has shed a few pounds. A barb of metal scrapes her shoulder but she ignores it, only whispering a warning for Mitsuki.

Inko raises a piece of metal. It causes the rubble to shift.

Her powers come to life and she holds their impending death back with only her mind. She whispers the name of a dying god and solidifies the barrier. She isn’t sure what the cost of that will be later, but she has little choice if they are to survive.

She moves faster, nose bleeding and mind cracking under the strain. Jin catches her when she exits the tunnel and they wait anxiously until Mitsuki exits.

“Give a moment.”

Inko lets her power fade and the tunnel collapses. Good, she’d much prefer a ramp. She brings her hands down, her power compacting the tunnel. Metal groans and concrete shatters beneath her might until a ramp between the two levels exists.

“You ever going to tell me what’s going on with your quirk?”

Inko rolls her eyes tiredly, blinking away the darkness.

"I've never practised and pushed my limits until the last few years. Can you just accept that I'm not going to remain the same person you knew?”

Something snaps.

She sees the steel cable speed towards her and faster than the thought to it takes to stop it. She fully expects to lose her head by the force of the braided steel cable.

A gust of air and Jin stands between the cable and her, one arm raised casually to stop it. He doesn’t even flinch when it strikes him. In fact, it bounces back as though it hit a wall of diamond.

Stay vigilant,” Jin growls, his eyes already scanning the rest of the floor they are on. "There." He points to a stairwell where the upper level is collapsed beneath the rubble. 

They walk down the stairs, Jin taking the lead. It gets darker on the lower level, most of the lights having been destroyed.

“I think there’s someone under there,” Mitsuki says, pointing to a pile of rubble.

Inko rushes over fast as she can with how painful everything is.

She is careful to lift the topmost pieces of rubble first. She can’t tell what state the person beneath the rubble is in, but she can’t risk possibly worsening their condition. They’re strapped for time and resources and an escape route. They can’t add another injured person to that list.

There comes a point when the load has lightened enough that the person beneath claws their way out.

Except it isn’t a person but a shadow, deep and miserable. There is a sudden whoosh and she finds herself a few feet away between Jin and the shadow creature. It stumbles forward and the shadows dissipate.

Jin catches the person.

She raises her brow, partly shock and partly amusement.

Mostly though, it is simply profound exhaustion.

“Tokoyami?”

*****

Fumikage Tokoyami awakens slowly.

He blinks through the haze of darkness until he realises, he is very literally in the dark. Smoke chokes his lungs and his torso is a mess of pain.

Reaching out and finds something solid and heavy above him. He pushes with his arms first, and then, after planting his feet firmly on the object, he pushes with his entire body.

It creaks ponderously, and though his legs strain badly, he doesn’t stop until it is shoved aside. Red light fills his world.

Emergency lights, he realises as he crawls through the small opening, ignoring the concrete and metal shards that scrape his skin. He groans once he’s out of what might have been his tomb and rolls to the side.

A dead body greets him.

It is a woman by the soft line of her jaw and the long cascading hair now burnt and in clumps. Both her body and uniform are charred, tattered white strips of fabric the only things denoting her status as being part of the Imperial Household.

He notices this errantly in the back of his mind, cataloguing those facts without much thought.

The rest of his mind is more focused on turning to the side and vomiting.

It is nothing like the horrors the wish that wore Izuku’s body as a second skin showed him in the true dark, but it is a horror all the same. Perhaps worse for those were horrors beyond the ken of mortality and the mundane laws of spacetime.

This is someone he had been talking to, even if she had planned on arresting him, and now she is dead and gone.

“Dark Shadow,” he croaks, throat burnt and lungs full of smoke.

The demon rises slowly from his body, its form small despite the dimness. He senses weariness and hurt from his companion.

You’re up, it says, its weakness mirroring his own.

It glances at the dead woman and then places itself between Fumikage and the body without prompting.

Close your heart to the pain.

Fumikage looks around, glad for his companion. There is rubble beneath him, and to the left, the steel superstructure seems to have collapsed. Ahead, where the should be a door, there is a small mound of concrete. He doesn't look to the right where the dead body lay covered by Dark Shadow’s bulk.

He doesn’t want to think of what might have happened to the other bodies. There were five, maybe six people in this room with him.

“What happened?”

Explosion. I can’t tell if it was a quirk or manufactured. Dark Shadow snakes away from the corpse. I was too busy keeping you alive.

Fumikage bows his head. “You have my thanks. But we need an exit route.”

You could stay here and wait to be rescued. Moving things might damage the superstructure further. And the only way to move things is…

“To summon it,” Tokoyami finishes even as he stands. “It is still shackled. It will obey.”

Give it any leeway and it will consume you. Dragons are creatures of the abyss. It knows no love, no compassion, no loyalty. Only the laws of power.

Fumikage scoffs. “Just like I give you leeway. Move this rubble aside.”

Dark Shadow obeys without question, though Fumikage senses displeasure from the demon. It takes a few minutes for the rubble blocking the doorway to be removed. The hallway beyond is dark with only flickering emergency lights casting it in sickly ambience.

He chooses a direction at random and walks to the right. With his sense of direction as bad as it is, he’s more likely to find an exit at random, letting chance and probability dictate his survival.

Fumikage keeps a hand on the wall and walks slowly, unwilling to risk placing his entire weight on what may be a collapsing floor waiting to happen. The hallway ends in a wall of rubble and a stairwell with only partial access. The stairs leading higher are collapsed whilst those below are dark, hidden even more, and remind him eerily of the battle trial.

This time, though, Dark Shadow does not battle him. The demon is ever-present at his shoulder, watching for falling rubble should the need arise. And, should Dark Shadow fail, Fumikage has another option now.

He hears quiet whispers as he descends. It makes him quicken his pace. Perhaps it is people that can help. And even if they cannot, he is honour bound to help.

Turning the bend, he finds a group of civilians sitting or kneeling or lying unconscious on the ground. There is an air of desperation to them, heightened by the red gloom and the ashy air. He wonders if everyone is like this, at least those graced by fate to live another day.

Will you be their hero? Dark Shadow asks him and only him.

Fumikage takes a deep breath.

“Hello there,” he says for it is the only thing he can think of.

A man, perhaps in his forties, with dark hair rises from his spot by the wall. He shambles towards Fumikage with the air of someone forced to be in charge and not used to the responsibility. The others look at him tiredly, their energy seemingly reserved only for themselves.

“You’re the boy from the finals,” the man says, voices gravely from smoke and ash.

Fumikage looks past him and at a woman whose breathing is laborious. “Yes. I will ensure you all make it out.” He bows his head in respect for his elder. “What is the situation?”

The man’s glare is hard. “Why the hell should I trust you? I had family in Shikoku.”

And like that, Fumikage understands his hostility. So many died that night and his dragon wields flames the same colour. It is why members of both the government and the Imperial Household had nearly arrested him before the explosion.

“I take it you have family elsewhere? If you choose to oppose me, then I find it unlikely for you to see them again.”

“Why you—”

“Had you the power to do so, you would have escaped already. As it stands, you have not.” He nods to a man who has bandages on his neck and shoulder stained red. “I take it you found the medical supplies. I commend you for that. Now, let me save you.”

“Just trust… the d-damned brat,” the lady with laboured breathing says, more a pained wheeze than anything else.

The man looks to her, his features darkening with shame. He turns back to Fumikage.

“I don’t like you. My sister was burnt to death by those flames.”

“You do not have to find my presence calming. But I only ask that you let me help you and fulfil my duty.”

After a long moment, the man nods. "Help them."

Fumikage sniffs, smelling the air. “Tell me the situation.”

The man points back to the stairwell Fumikage came from. “The floor above us is closed off with rubble and the staircase higher is collapsed. Down here the only path has a sealed blast door.”

It takes him a moment to place the door in his mind. “That is the path we must go. I will unseal the door.”

“There’s no power.”

Fumikage nods as he walks down the hallway. He checks some of the civilians—the woman with laboured breathing, and he knows too little to help treat her; the man with bits and pieces of shrapnel in his neck and side, bandaged heavily and fitfully unconscious; a girl with a large gash on her forehead, unconscious; and a teenage boy crying with his blank eyes wide and staring at nothing, the sight disconcerting but one Fumikage must ignore as he is not Midoriya who always knows what to say.

The sealed doorway is bulky and made of interlocking steel slabs. He knows there is a manual override, one that should appear on the opposite side of whatever caused the door to appear. Fumikakge orders Dark Shadow to inspect the topmost sill.

The override is on the other side, Dark Shadow says.

Fumikage nods. “Stand back,” he orders.

It takes a second for the man to comply. He focuses on his soul and the chains connecting him firstly to Dark Shadow, and secondly to his latest creature.

He tugs on the chain. Commands in his mind, Slice through the door delicately. Allows the dragon’s arm to emerge from his torso, forcing it smaller than it was during the stadium.

The black scales seem to suck in the little light they have. Its five claws on strangely human-like hands are the only source of light, a reflection of a future sliced away. It stabs through the central crease, and with only the force of the muscles in its scaly paws, it forces the doorway open a smidge.

Fumikage feels his energy drain as he summons the other arm. The dragon’s arms push the doorway open fully. He can see a sliver of light in the distance, perhaps the outside world or perhaps just a bright light.

Either way, it is more hope than they had before.

“Get everyone out,” Tokoyami hisses through clenched teeth. “Now.”

The doors want to close and strains against the two arms. Tokoyami stands between the arms and the doorway, sweat dripping down his neck. He has little energy after the match with Uraraka and Bakugou, even less after the explosion and Dark Shadow saving him. And now, the dragon draws upon his tiny energy reserves to keep the door open.

But he lets none of his weakness show. If there is one thing he knows about heroes it is that they may never show weakness when rescuing civilians.

The man whose sister burnt to death by godflame rushes the lady and the little girl to the other side quickly. Fumikage looks over back as he lifts the man with shrapnel in a fireman’s carry, ducking beneath the dragon’s arms and laying the man gently against the wall. It is the teenager who takes the longest as he actively resists any attempt to be moved. When he hears something above snap, his hand is forced.  

“I’ll get him,” Fumikage snaps through clenched teeth. “Get to the other side.”

The man nods without question and scrambles to the other side as a piece of rebar falls from the ceiling.

Dark Shadow, retrieve him.

He feels the last dregs of his energy vanish as Dark Shadow grabs the teenager and drags him to the other side, depositing him roughly even as concrete falls to the ground on both sides of the door. The dragon’s arms vanish without Fumikage’s strength to sustain them.

He sees the doors approaching, giant steel slabs of death he can’t avoid, not with how he is between them. And then, he feels something tug him back to the hallway they were in before.

Dark Shadow surrounds his body as concrete and rebar fall. He doesn’t fight as Dark Shadow puppets his arms to catch a long piece of steel. Fumikage collapses beneath its weight, but it does not crush him. He breathes rapidly as other pieces fall on him.

He is glad he is not claustrophobic right now. The weight is immense, and alone he would be dead. It is only the union of his physical body and the power of his first companion that he even has a chance at survival.

What now? Dark Shadow asks when they are buried beneath the rubble.

He is also glad he chose not to fight Dark Shadow. There is a comfort in knowing the impossible shadow that is part of his quirk protects him from the weight pressing down.

I don't know. The override is on the other side so hopefully, they will find people to open it and find me.

Do you believe that?

I must. How long can you protect me like this?

A few minutes at best.

Then we must have faith that fate does not wish we perish this day.

Despite their disagreements, Dark Shadow is still his oldest companion. Wrapped in his misty form of unbridled potential, Fumikage feels at peace.

He thinks of the story the man at that special day-care told him, a story of children of bravery unmatched as their village hidden in leaves was destroyed by hateful people. Under the crushing weight of rubble, minutes from death, he wonders if dying for a few civilians is all his life will amount to.

He thinks of Midoriya and knows his friend would make the same decision without hesitation. And there is no one he respects more.

Still, it hurts that this is all he will amount to. A scared boy dead beneath the rubble.

Faith is a fool’s gambit, Dark Shadow says, always knowing his thoughts, but I think you humans need it. This may be my last life cycle. I don’t know what will happen once you die. Maybe I’ll go screaming back to the void-which-binds to my people. Perhaps my existence truly is chained to yours eternally. But, I don’t hate you. I think your life will have meaning.

That makes him smile.

Thank you, my friend.

How long have we been together?

A decade now since I reached for you.

A long time for humans. When you tore me from my home, I lost most of my memories. Instinct is all that remained.

I’m sorry. I always will be. But I was a child who has no idea what they were doing.

I know, and I forgive you. Ever since you went back there, my memories have been coming back. Not all of them, but bits and pieces. I’ve lived longer than this world, perhaps longer than your universe. I’ve seen eternal Ayatan Sculptures and gods in the frames of war eternal. I’ve led the council of my people by virtue of being the oldest and I pioneered our final life cycle. You took me as a weak new-born after my final rebirth. I should hate you. But despite all that I’ve seen, you’re the first to call me a friend. I don’t regret all that I’ve learnt amongst your kind.

Perhaps in the future, we will be able to understand you better.

Dark Shadow hums in his mind. You must never let that happen. The abyss is anathema to true life. I don’t know why, but humans touching other aspects of the abyss should never happen. Even though the void has touched life here, it should not have happened to this extent. It is the godfflame that reigns supreme here. There are too many quirks and bloodlines tainted by eternal dark.

Is that truly so wrong? I would never want to imagine life without you.

Is that your command, my prince? Dark Shadow physical form vibrates and Fumikage’s nostrils clear, letting him breathe unimpeded. There are too many kings, here. I hate your friend, though I understand why now more than ever. He is the shadowking, and the deep abyss is his to claim. He is anathema to void life and true life both. Too human and too nightmarish at once. But you are also a king who has chained me to your will. A king of slaves.

Do not call me a slaver.

Dark Shadow chuckles. It is what you are, my prince of crows. One of three though none should exist.

The thought makes him uncomfortable. What then does that make him, truly? If he is to die today, then he would rather not have that be his last thought.

Do you think they’ll miss me? He asks, changing the subject badly.

Dark Shadow humours him. Who?

The children. They’ll be alone without me.

They have their caretaker.

Yes, but he isn't… he's a mutant, but he's not young. They don't relate to him as they do me. They look up to me.

Dark Shadow thrums, the sensation oddly soothing. Then visit them after this is done. This is not the time to give up on your dreams.

I never did get a real sword. I still want one.  

You’ll have one, Dark Shadow says, and even Fumikage knows it to be a weak reassurance. It’ll be magnificent. Long and sharp and maybe even on fire.

Fumikage would laugh if his chest wasn’t being crushed. The impending certainty of death crushes the little cheer he can muster in this situation.

He hears footsteps moments before someone says, “Ah, shit, this way’s closed as well.”

Fumikage opens his mouth and shouts, “Help.”

“Oh shit, there’s someone here. Someone help me move the rubble."

He hears another set of footsteps, no, two more. “Move, Mitsuki.”

You were right about faith, Dark Shadow whispers in his mind.

The omnipresent weight of the rubble lightens as pieces of it are removed. Slowly, he feels the spectre of death that had been looming over him vanish. The moment he can, he claws his way past the last layer of rubble and tumbles out onto the ground. Someone catches him. He looks up to see a man with stars for eyes.

“Tokoyami?”

He looks to the side and sees Izuku’s mother.

“Mrs Midoriya?" He lets Dark Shadow fade away, the dark armour disintegrating and leaving him in his soot-covered gym clothes.

“Thank you,” he says to the man and steps back cautiously, instinctively knowing something is strange about the man.

There is another adult with them, a blonde woman who looks like Bakugou’s older sister. Which he knows can’t be right because Bakugou doesn’t have a sister.

He stretches his back and feels something crack loudly. “I am glad you found me.”

“We weren’t going to leave you,” Mrs Midoriya says, dried blood staining her face “We’ve been looking for exits but the upper floors are wrecked. We had to crawl through a hole to get to the floor above us.”

Fumikage nods. “That doorway should lead to the arena, but rubble has collapsed it on either side.”

“Mitsuki, Jin, why don’t you guys check if there’s a way to open it.” She pulls him aside to the staircase and forces him to sit. “You’re shaking.”

“Am I?” He looks to his hands and finds them trembling. “How odd.”

"You're experiencing a stress reaction. How do you feel?”

“Nothing. I don’t… feel anything, right now.” And yet, there is a deep pit in the bottom of his stomach, a gnawing sensation that he is terrified of looking at.

She holds his gaze, her eyes shining brightly in the dark just like her son's. Her features are harsh in the red light, sharp and angular. The is a strength to her that he can't place.

She is nothing like his simpering mother.

“Where you with my mother?” he asks sharply. “And father?”

“They’re safe for now. They’re in a room where the superstructure is still strong. There’s clean air and medical supplies.”

He exhales slowly. “Secure panic room. There are a few in the stadium. Now we just need to break past the rubble there.”

“The godflame can melt that door,” Mrs Midoriya muses.

Fumikage stills, ice running down his spine. It is the name the fabric of the abyss branded in his bones when he chained the dragon to his will.

He looks to Izuku’s mother, really looks at her past the superficial features, and senses the echoes of ancient knowledge in her eyes, the cold tendrils of nightmares coiling around her neck, and the spectre of witnessing eternity around her shoulders. Most of all, he sees the spectre of a dead god attached to her soul, endless eyes observing him back and long legs wrapped around her.

“You’re aware of its true nature,” he says at length. “He told you of that place.”

Her smile is tight. “I’m his mother,” she says as though that is all the answer that matters and perhaps it is. “And I’m not happy he took you to the abyss.”

“Forgive me, but I reached for it long before I met your son.” He lets Dark Shadow materialise for a moment, just long enough for her to truly see his companion. “I suppose that is no excuse for not asking your permission.”

Her lips are thin, eyes drawn in. “No, it isn’t. But it isn’t my place to tell you how to live your life.” She looks back to the door. “Why haven’t you burnt through the door?”

“Can you not smell it? The gas in the air.” He inhales once more and yes, it still is in the air. “I did not wish to risk setting off another explosion.”

She nods. “Alright. Stay here and I’ll open the doorway.” He moves to stand but is stilled by her glare. “I don’t care if you’re training to be a hero. One day you’ll be a hero, but right now you look like a scared kid. So, keep your but on that step and don’t move.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

She observes him for a moment before heading towards the door. She says some words to Bakugou’s mother, a harsh and whispered argument that he can’t hear. The man adds something to the conversation which only sets Bakugou’s mother off, and right now she looks just like her son. It makes him wonder how much of what Bakugou is—was, an insidiously forgiving voice that sounds like Midoriya whispers—results from his parents, and how much is simply who he is and can never be changed.

She’s right. You’re experiencing a stress reaction.

“You don’t even know what that is,” he whispers as Izuku’s mother extends her hands and he watches her lift the rocks through some unknown force.

But the more he pays attention to it, the more he can see an echo of dying gods in unhallowed words, immaterial runes of power forming in the patterns her power leaves behind.

It’s always been a give and take between us. I can amplify the negative emotions you feel. But I can also take them away. You don’t need them right now. I’ll return them with interest later.

He grimaces. “You’re more trouble than you’re worth.”

With the rubble gone, Izuku’s mother thrusts one hand forward and pulls the other back. A surge of power, perhaps invisible to normal humans, pulses out from her at the action. The dragon chained to his soul focuses on her as the door groans and creaks. Slowly, like the petals of a lotus, the door unfurls in snaps of broken metal and stems of deformation.

She stumbles, only to be caught by Bakugou’s mother who whispers something tenderly to her. Izuku’s mother shakes her head and steps forward, wobbling, and pushes both hands forward. The rubble on the other side slides forward. Bakugou’s mom catches her before she falls and helps her to the ground.

Fumikage stands and walks over as the adults talk amongst themselves.

“She will be fine,” the man says. “The others no. We need to get them.”

“We’re not leaving her alone.”

The man shrugs. “Boy can watch her.” He’s looking at Fumikage.

“This is ridiculous.”

“Mitsuki,” Izuku’s mother says, exhaustion colouring every word. “Please, just go. We’ll be fine here.”

“Oh, you can’t be fucking serious.” She throws her hands in the air and walks with the man, meeting Fumikage’s gaze for a moment. “You keep her safe, you hear.”

"Yes, ma'am."

Fumikage picks a particularly large stone and sits beside Izuku’s mother. Her eyes are closed, features tight with pain.

“What is your quirk?”

She opens just one green eye. “Moving objects with my mind.”

He hums. “With that level of power, you could easily be a hero. What was it originally before the darkness altered it?”

“I don’t have to answer that.”

“No, you do not. I always thought my quirk was Dark Shadow, that creature you saw just now. It seems it has always been to bind the creatures of the void to my soul.”

“The dragon was why you went to the abyss,” she guesses. “You were looking for power.”

“Partly,” he says honestly. “I was fulfilling a personal oath and completing a final wish. I've told you about my quirk. Will you return the courtesy?"

“You’re very politely arrogant. Not good with people in the slightest, are you?” He would flush if not for his feathers and the soot clinging to him. “I could move small objects with my mind. Now, well, I don’t know if I have an upper limit.”

“General telekinesis.” He thinks of the power she drew from. “You were invoking a dead god with your power.”

“I know. Izuku’s told me more about the abyss than he should have. And some things cling to him on occasion.”

They stay in an uncomfortable silence until the rest of the adults are brought down and they head outside to the arena. The centre which is untouched by destruction has been converted to a makeshift field hospital, with Cementoss make more stable structures with his power.

He stands with his father as his mother is carried to a critical tent, her side bleeding badly despite the bandages. His father stays silent, a looming presence behind Fumikage. It is the only comfort he will ever receive from the man, paltry though it is. The assurance that his rage and violence is not directed at his son, at least not now.

“Will she live?” he asks of the man who sired him.

And just as he expects, he receives no answer. Fumikage sighs. “I’ll be with my friends.”

Fumikage looks to him in confusion and follows his gaze to the side where Uraraka and Iida are setting up supplies for another field tent with Shinsou and Kaminari.

He feels eyes watching him and sees All Might. The hero nods to him from across the stadium. There is no expectation in his strong gaze, just the reassurance that any action is permitted. He walks towards his friends and forces his tense limbs to loosen. He smiles at Shinsou who has dropped a box.

Only then does he notice the thick swathe of bandages around his hand is because his friend is missing a finger.

Fumikage swallows, feeling guilty for his weakness when others are strong.

“Where do you need me?” he says, staring at that hand missing a finger.

*****

Izuku decides that of all creatures he hates, spiders rank the highest. He can only grip Todoroki tightly as his friend fights a horde of the creatures, each chittering step on steel making him shiver.

They’re climbing the corpse of what might very generously be called an elephant, but one that is the fetid remains of something consumed from the inside out. He can see the miles long spires that could be considered a ribcage, the twining row of repugnant tusks upon which creatures are burnt in dark flame, their futures consumed by the flames and the lines of tribute the kindling to this massive pyre.

The waypoint is somewhere inside the elephant, which means climbing it. And the only way to do that is to scale the gleaming yellow chains tying it down to the vortex of churning chaos, a vortex that has already consumed an ethereal serpent long as a continent.

Each link takes Todoroki hours to scale, and Izuku dangles uselessly on his back. It surprises him that Todoroki has the pure physical strength to scale what amounts to a vertical cliff face whilst carrying a cripple.

That, and face off against a horde of spiders.

When Izuku looks down, he can see the thousand thousand corpses of dead spiders, each large as a building and each with a glowing red orb protected by their steely carapaces. Shouto has killed so many of them that they form a tower of corpses, the base of which is fathoms below the vortex of chaos. And still, there are more. 

Todoroki sets Izuku down in a hollow where the chains have chipped. At that scale, a small chip is the size of a cave. He's breathing hard when he sets Izuku down, rougher than he usually is. Izuku doesn't complain that his arm is grazed by metal chips or that his unfeeling legs are probably in a bad position.

With his left hand, Todoroki makes a thick shard of ice and extends it to Izuku. They’ve done this often enough that Izuku doesn’t hesitate and snaps it in half and chews a chunk. It doesn't taste as ice should, there's some quality that affects time itself distorting the flavour profile.  

A loud shriek pierces the air. It is a battle cry from the host of enemies seeking their death.

Todoroki sighs. “Give me a moment.”

He forces himself up and walks towards the entrance of their temporary rest stop. Izuku watches him walk to the edge before jumping off.

He’s getting used to this place.

Izuku looks to his brother, a shimmering apparition who sits on a steel mound like the king of a fallen kingdom. He looks so similar to the image he sees in the mirror that it startles Izuku. Their colouring may be different as Mikumo has dark eyes and darker hair to Izuku’s light green, but anyone who could see them would assume them twins trying to look different.

“That’s not a good thing,” Izuku says as a high-pitched whining fills the air, the sound of steel grinding on steel at high speeds. “I can’t help him.”

I’m sorry, brother mine. Things will become worse. The chains of this dark universe are slowly forcing you into a role. You must become a caricature for the sake of this world’s theatre.

Izuku blinks. “What?”

I truly am sorry. You are his guide and burden. The universe acknowledges this role you must play. But without the entirety of your powers in the skin you wear, you can’t escape the weight of Todoroki’s story.

In the depths of his soul, he understands. Without the power that makes him Shadowshield in the real world, that makes world-ending dragons and ancient trees call him shadowking, he is nothing more than a puppet.

The wailing of a host of spiders dying reaches him, a chittering sound in his bones of crushed carapaces and dead dreams and legions singing a violent dirge: //A thousand curses upon you, corpse of the shadowking. The debts of your kin must be paid in blood//

Izuku ignores it as best he can. They aren’t the first to demand he pay a debt, but it’s only been since he returned to this place. He isn’t certain what has changed between the few real days since he last came here and the Sports Festival, but something drives the denizens of the abyss into a frenzy.

When Todoroki returns, he is covered in blood and broken armour and feathers. He walks towards Izuku, stumbling at the last moment and crashing to the ground.

“Fuck.”

He scrambles towards his friend, dragging himself across the ground with his arms. Shouto’s breathing harshly but silently, his pupils dilated beneath the veil of shadow that keeps him mostly sane.

He places a hand over Shouto’s chest and feels the rapid beat of his heart. Beneath that common sound of the mundane living is the song of ice and fire that make up his soul. The sound is discordant, waning the longer they spend like this.

“Your body’s failing,” Izuku says bluntly.

“How much longer?”

“You’re slowing down,” Izuku says, ignoring the question. “You haven’t eaten since the stadium. How are you managing?”

“Survival training with my father.”

“Not pleasant?”

“No. Are you going to tell me how long we’ve been here?”

“Six days now, Going on seven.” He taps Todoroki’s cold arm, a fine layer of ice clinging to it. “Your ice is morphing, changing to suit this world. Those crystals that kept you going have altered it, granted it properties of entropy. But it isn’t a substitute for food.”

Todoroki sighs and pushes himself up, grunting with his exhaustion. He pulls Izuku and wraps his useless legs around his waist. A cloth ties Izuku’s legs to Todoroki’s waist so they don’t interfere and they set off once more, climbing the seemingly endless chains.

It takes them another two days of fighting hordes of spiders and climbing the thick chains before they reach the summit, and only because the distance is relative in the abyss. Todoroki carries him to the hollowed-out husk of the elephant and together, the journey to another layer of the abyss.

The first thing Izuku can tell of this new layer is that they are in something like a cave, the ground too smooth to be anything but the physical litanies of a god and too bright to be anything other than prayers from a throne world.

In the centre of the cave is a creature of many arms, a distorted vision of humanity’s gods of war. It possesses antlers dripping slimy fluid skyward, a head that vaguely reminds him of an octopus, and legs like a raptor.

Izuku blinks before tapping Todoroki on the shoulder. “There’s food.”

Todoroki tilts his head to see Izuku out of the corner of his eye. And his gaze is every type of perplexed.

“You’ve got to be shitting me.”

The creature finally notices them, standing from its throne of blood and war made physical. It raises a dark weapon, one that emits a thick smoke of darkness and carries a burning edge. Instinctively, he knows it to be an infernal engine shaped by the godflame’s heat.

A Blade of Disparity, Mikumo whispers, awestruck. I never thought I’d see one.  

Izuku ignores him and instead grins at the approaching monster.

“Godlings taste delicious.”

Todoroki, thankfully, is interested in living and that means killing the godling. It isn't a particularly powerful creature, hardly capable of doing more than swinging that sword and sending continent-shattering waves of power.

And in this place, that level of power makes you insignificant.

Hours later, Izuku is deep in the torso of the creature, parting potentially healthy flesh from the bits that will poison them slowly. The thing he generously calls a heart for it channels most of its power is his main priority, hidden beneath layers of alien metals and complex logic and flesh that exists at different points in time.

Eventually, he finds it and rips out the crystal and bone spur heart, as large as his torso. He carelessly tosses it to the side, and with only his arms pulls his way out of the eviscerated body of the godling. He lands roughly on the ground and drags his body to the small bench made of alien glass with one arm, the other holding the heart.

Todoroki is somewhere to the side, not willing to watch this act of butchery. Personally, Izuku thinks he’s something of a pussy after killing an endless horde of spiders.

“This will give you strength,” he says, once he’s finished preparing the heart and moved on to the other bits of flesh. These will be for Izuku, the dregs for he has no right to claim the heart.

“It’s alive. And not organic.”

“That’s not the point, Todoroki. I’m not sure why you keep on using rationality to classify life, but here, metaphors are more important. You killed it.”

He pokes Todoroki in the chest with his bloody hand. It leaves a smear of ichor on Todoroki’s ripped uniform. From the way Todoroki winces, it may be mildly acidic. 

“And by eating this heart you will consume its strength. Humans call it the law of the jungle. Some gods call it sword logic. You ended the concept of the creature, and now you need to eat wholly of its flesh to survive.”

The heart shines brightly, still carrying the last wishes of the godling.

Todoroki is pale, hand trembling. “I can’t even tell if you’re just mad and sincerely believe this or…”

“Or?”

“That you know what you’re talking about.”

Izuku shrugs. He finishes slicing the nasty portions of the creature like the unhallowed colony of void leeches, and hands Todoroki the ichor covered heart. The ichor is every colour of the rainbow and, in another time, would have looked beautiful to Izuku.

“Cleanse it with your flames.”

Todoroki hesitates, just long enough for Izuku to realise it isn’t anything as simple as being wary of eating the heart or anything mundane. No, it’s something they absolutely do not have time for.

“Oh, for the love of everything good and just in the world, are you seriously hesitating because of your fucking daddy issues. No, shut up, and listen to me. We’re trapped and fighting for our survival. We only have each other. If you collapse, something eats me. If I lose concentration, you go mad. Stop fucking things up worse.”

Todoroki lets him rant a few minutes more. Izuku doesn't care that his argument soon loses steam and he is being humoured more than anything else. 

“Are you done?” he asks dryly, to which Izuku nods. “I know something will change if I use my fire. They’ve changed just like my ice has.”

Izuku looks around. The cave system behind the god’s throne isn't physical even if he can sit on the ground and slam his fist against the wall. It is a latticework created by a litany sung by endless rows of thralls and paradox runners. The spot he’s currently sitting on is the part of the litany where they describe in gruesome detail the tortures they will inflict upon entire star systems in the name of the god if it appears.

It probably won’t.

Todoroki has already killed it.

Mostly.

“We’ll be fine. Use it and burn that god in your image.”

Todoroki closes his eyes. Takes a deep breath. Calls upon his fire.

Izuku understands his earlier hesitance. The flames aren’t the bright crimsons and warm yellows he remembers, they aren’t the colours of summer and sunset. No, this red is the red of congealed blood, the blood of a corpse left to rot for a week. The yellow is the yellow of pus, the colour of sickness and plague.

It is fire, hot as any can be, but they are not the same. And in the echoes of the flame, he can hear the screams of the dead and forgotten, people damned—through torture, through bondage, through their own sins—and the dreams of those Todoroki killed, the spiders begging for forgiveness and all the rest.

Todoroki looks at his flames in disquiet. And then, with a resilience Izuku will always admire, he incinerates the physical form of the dead god.

For a moment, it returns to life and Izuku curses. It emits a scream that tears apart the crystal lattice that is their current world.

And then they are falling.

With a defiance that amazes him, Todoroki grabs Izuku with one hand even as he continues purifying the god returning to life. They battle, creatures of concept more than the physical: the god declares its right to exist, citing the legions that sing its name; Todoroki counters with the memory of slaying the god beneath waves of ice; the god counters with a psychic scream that Izuku counters with a mist of shadows even if his back bleeds; and Todoroki rejects the reality the creature tries to impose upon them.

Fire races across the world, purifying and cleansing the monsters in bondage and the influence of the dead god.

When they land in the next world Izuku holds the heart out to Todoroki. He meets Todoroki's eyes and does his best to impress the importance of what comes next.

“Consume of its flesh and grow fat with strength.”

Todoroki eats it without question.

*****

Momo Yaoyorozu is stressed. Partly because she’s trapped in a collapsing structure. Mostly because of one person.

“We are so screwed,” Kaminari says for the third time in the last a minute.

“Stop panicking.”

“Jirou, check Bakugou,” Momo says, knowing someone must take charge and having no other options. “Kaminari, check for any medical supplies.”

“How the heck is that going to help?”

“It’ll get you to keep quiet. He gave us the answer,” Momo says, looking once more at the tiny hole Bakugou blasted.

There are cracks spreading out from it, and eventually, it will all collapse under the strain. But it will also be their salvation.

“How the hell is this going to help, Yao-Momo?”

The new nickname throws her for a loop for a moment. She likes Jirou. The other girl’s bluntness is refreshing. And after USJ, they have an experience that can’t be replicated with anyone else.

“It’s an intentional weak point,” she explains, “that Bakugou gave me to use. He knows my quirk and how it works. This is a simple physics problem."

She generates seven thick bolts and a pneumatic bolt gun, very intentionally ignoring how the ceiling above them creaks, threatening to crush them.

“The resonant frequency of steel is much higher than concrete.” She loads the first bolt and brings the nozzle to a point a metre above the ground on the wall.

“How the hell was he supposed to know you were going to do this?” Kaminari asks, staring at Bakugou.

She pulls the trigger and the bolt embeds itself in the wall.

“He didn’t. This is just one possible solution to the problem.”

She fires another bolt beneath the first and the final an inch above the ground. She repeats the pattern a metre to the right. The final bolt goes between the topmost two.

“Okay, but how does that stop the entire wall crumbling?” Jirou asks as she checks Bakugou’s pulse once more. She nods to Momo. It means he will live despite the shattered arm and the fever gripping him even in the throes of unconsciousness.

It is a bad wound, one that might have long-term consequences. But receiving that wound means that he gave Momo a chance to keep them all alive. 

Momo activates her power and makes multiple long strands of a silky material. She is glad she recently checked the chemical composition of the material in the scientific journal that came out last month in preparation of the Sports Festival.

“What are those?”

“A meta-material that transfers vibrational waves perfectly.”

She braids the material between the bolts quickly. It takes her no more than a few minutes but each minute they spend here is another opportunity for the superstructure to collapse.

“This makes no sense,” Jirou says. “Unless… you know I can’t generate sound waves at the frequency.”

She stumbles a bit, not having expected that limitation. Still, basic physics is her friend. 

“That’s why we need Kaminari.”

Momo creates a simple audio amp and a more complicated modulator.

“Me? I’m pretty useless.”

“No, you’re not.” She hands Jirou the audio amp cable and Kaminari one from the modulator. Then, she attaches connections to each of the metal bolts.

“Jirou, blast that with the highest frequency you can. Kaminari blast that with as much electricity as you can”

“You know—”

“We won’t ditch you.”

She meets his eyes, steady as a mountain, and sees the fear hidden in them. “I promise.”

He nods, swallowing thickly. “Okay.”

She nods to Jirou who blasts the audio amp with a frequency that makes her teeth chatter. Nowhere near high enough just as she said. She nods to Kaminari who takes a deep breath before bright yellow lightning fills the room. The sound goes past hearing range. It doesn’t stop her stomach from churning.

The hole becomes larger, the cracks spreading and the concrete falling to the ground as a fine mist.

The section of the wall crumbles beneath the combined power of the setup. She holds her breath and thankfully, the crumbling stops when the metal rods fall out of the wall. She checks the ceiling. Good, still relatively stable. She switches off the setup and smiles at Jirou.

“Help me carry Bakugou.” She hoists his good arm over her shoulder.

Jirou rolls her eyes. “I don’t even like him.” Still, she props Bakugou up by the waist, carefully avoiding his ruined arm.

“That’s exactly why. We’ve got to be better.” She nudges Kaminari forward, glad that in his… less mentally capable state, he is docile to her suggestions.

“He’s violent and vindictive.”

“He is. But he got stabbed for our sake back at USJ. And he risked his life to help us escape.”

“It doesn’t change what he’s done.”

Momo nods as they emerge in the light of the arena. “It doesn’t. But he’s trying to be better. We don’t have to be cruel.”

A medic with a stretcher runs towards them looking frazzled by the devastation. With his help, the two of them get Bakugou on the stretcher. And when Momo asks, he points her to a supply station for the two of them to help. They tie Kaminari to a post so he doesn’t go wandering around and causing trouble in his addled state.

The work is long and tiresome, but no matter how hard she tries it never seems enough. There is always one more person who needs medication from this box and a medic who needs a new IV line from the ambulances that stream in; Kamui Woods co-opts her power and has her generate thermal blankets until her vision wavers and Mt. Lady forces her to sit and eat a ration bar.

Whilst she sits, she catalogues those placed further away and covered in simple blankets. They are those dead. Already there are hundreds of dead civilians, and she knows the death toll will only rise. All she can do is hope no one she knows is amongst the dead.

Hours later, when it is done and everyone in critical condition has been or is currently being attended to, she sees Iida talking to an official in dark uniform. His posture is stiff as though receiving bad news. She calls his name when he walks past but does not hear it. There is a blankness and silent rage that frightens her so she does not follow. Uraraka and Shinsou and his real friends are nearby. They’ll help him.

There is someone who needs, if not a friend, then a friendly face.

*****

Katsuki Bakugou awakens in pain. His right arm is a burning line of pain. He grits his teeth through the pain, fights through the haze of darkness, and opens his eyes fully. The darkness he thinks might be another layer of unconsciousness turns out to be the nighttime sky.

He is on a stretcher, one of many. There are rows upon rows of stretchers filled with people with injuries ranging from simple head wounds to significant burns. The only unifying factor amongst them is that they are all relatively stabilised. No one, even the person who is more bandage than thick red fur, needs any further attention at the moment.

Katsuki looks to his arm in a temporary sling. It is bandaged heavily, specks of red dotting it. He tentatively twitches a finger and feels a line of pain explode through the arm.

“Fuck!”

It is his dominant arm, already dislocated this morning and recently crushed by rubble. He doesn’t know how well he will recover, can’t even guess if they’re just holding off on amputating it until a later date when the stadium doesn’t still have pockets of fire and everyone has been sorted and sent to the hospital.

“Hey, you, don’t do that.” Katsuki looks to the side and sees a man in a luminescent vest that has a bright red cross and the Caduceus sign. “We just stopped the bleeding. Don’t make it any worse.”

The more he looks, the more people he can see in the same medical vests. There are dozens of police officers and more pro heroes that he remembers when the Sports Festival began.

“Will I lose it?” he asks, voice breaking at the idea.

He knows he has done some shitty things and doesn’t deserve the forgiveness and kindness so freely given, but it doesn’t change how he feels. He wants to be a hero and he doesn’t know if he can become one without an arm.

“Look at me,” the medic orders. “You’ll need to go through surgery, and you might have issues with mobility and feeling in that arm. But you aren’t losing it, you hear?”

He lets out a breath he didn't know he was holding, relief gripping him in its cool embrace. The medic reaches for something in his pouch and hands Katsuki two pills.

“Take those for the pain. And don’t try to leave until we give you permission or we’ll sedate you.”

“You can fucking try,” he snaps without any heat.

The medic rolls his eyes. “You’ll be just fine, kid.”

“Don’t call me that,” he mutters to the retreating medic.

He looks around and spots some of his classmates helping. The fucking crow and the zombie and Uraraka are all helping move supplies from one tent to a group of medics operating under chemical lighting. It is only then that he notices the scent of illness and death, so pervasive before that it was indistinguishable from the gust of fresh air that cleanses the foul air.

“Bakugou.”

He glances over his shoulder and sees the mother of fucking creation herself. “The fuck you want bitch?”

She falters, her smiles dying a bit. He only feels guilty for a moment until he remembers he has a crushed arm and can be as spiteful as he likes.

It’s not like anyone expects anything other than a violent, brash thug.

I’ll be the villain in your story if it